Why So Many Elementary Students Aren't Mastering Basic Math Facts
" . . . more time needs to be spent on mastery of basic life skills
in the early elementary grades."
by Lynne Diligent
One of the major problems with the "spiral" math curriculum is that in every grade, limited
and precious classroom math time is being wasted on unnecessary math concepts, given
the age of the students. Those who have put the spiral curriculum together have moved math education from practical, daily skills to incorporating many advanced and unnecessary skills
(for the age of the students). Many of these topics could be saved for higher grades (6-8)
and students would arrive better prepared, and intellectually ready.
Some important topics, which are covered briefly in the curriculum, but to which little or no time is devoted to practice
or mastery of these important life skills:
- "making change" for customers,
- knowing addition and multiplication tables by heart,
- knowing how to do the simplest operations without a calculator,
- being able to recognize a wrong answer when a wrong button has been pushed on a calculator,
- developing estimation skills, becoming competent in measurement and fractions (useful to cooks for halving or doubling recipes on a daily basis).
Consider: Are we not cooking anymore in American society?
Are we not hanging picture frames?
Are we not doing any home repairs or improvements ourselves? Is there never a need to count back change?
Does no one sew or do woodworking for pleasure anymore?
There is also a great disconnect in many classrooms between
the material students are working on, and on knowing the reason for learning it. Instead of letting students feel that
they are learning skills which can be useful to them NOW, so much time is wasted on learning concepts where the only use is for passing a test which seems useless to the child.
Younger elementary children are mostly concrete learners, and they love and appreciate fun concrete tasks to work on.
Below are five examples of the types of things I feel should be eliminated from the Grade 2 curriculum (for seven-year-old students).
Are the Chinese or Indian students spending time on these things at age 7? I doubt it.
(Editor's Note: See links below to related posts about Math education in Singapore, China,
In my opinion, more time needs to be spent on mastery of basic life skills in the early elementary grades.
One last point about the spiral curriculum. Math educator Brian Rude feels that the spiral curriculum should not be thrown out entirely, but that the problems are caused from barely touching on subjects each time, instead of cutting a bit deeper, so that information is retained. He points out, however, that if cuts are too deep, that there is a danger of never having time to return to that subject, and students will also forget. He feels a balance between the two extremes is best.
Immediately below are the five examples that should be eliminated from Grade 2. They include Quadrilaterals, Shapes, Congruent Shapes, Slides, Flips, and Turns,
You can find Lynne Diligent at her blog, Dilemmas of an Expat Tutor, where this post first appeared (with minor edits and additional links provided). We recommend visiting this link to read the lively and passionate comments in response to the post. Be sure to also check out Part 1 of this post: Math Tutors to the Rescue?
Related posts The Daily Riff:
Why Other Countries Do Better in Math - Should Parents Race to the Tutor?
The Chinese Curse: Is America next?
Education Arms Race: Bob Compton - Two Million Minutes vs. Yong Zhao
Math teacher, Bill Jackson, shares his recent Travel Journal To Singapore -
Five part series
Link to Day 1 - Part 2 - "The Professional Lives of Teachers in Singapore"
Link to Day 2 - "The Teacher Model In Singapore: What Matters Most"
Link to Day 3 - "The Creativity & Critical Thinking Initiative"
For more on Jackson's Travel Journal to Japan:
Day 1 & 2: Link - "What American Teachers Can Learn From Japan"
Day 3 & 4: Link Here - "A More Global Perspective On Teacher Assessment and Development"
Day 5: Link Here - Developing Creative Talents, Not Just Academic Skills
Day 6: Link Here - "Less Is More"
Day 7 & 8 - Part 1: Link Here - "Teaching For Students. Sounds Obvious. Not."
Day 7 & 8 - Part 2: Link Here - "Teachers Walking The Talk"
part 1 - Singapore Math Demystified! - Five Part Series
Part 2: Can Solving Problems Unravel Our Fear Of Math?
The Singapore Math Program philosophy - Problem-based, concrete-pictorial- abstract approach
Part 3: Singapore Math: Is this the most Visual Math? The Signature Bar Modeling Method
Part 4: How To Bring Singapore Math to Your School