Numbers Haven’t Changed; Why Has Mathematics Instruction?

Have you ever sat down to help your child with his or her math homework and then been utterly perplexed at the methods your child’s teacher requires? Have you seen funny posts on social media about ‘new math’ with seemingly unsolvable questions? Mathematics instruction has changed significantly over the past several decades, and today there are a few popular (and competing) ‘schools of thought’ that may be in use at your child’s school.

First, a brief historical perspective. From the 1920’s through the 1980’s there were various waves and trends throughout the US, ranging from The Activity Movement of the 1930s, which promoted the integration of subjects in elementary school, and argued against separate instruction in mathematics and other subjects, to the New Math groups of the 1950’s, which introduced curricula that emphasized coherent logical explanations for the mathematical procedures. However, by the 1980’s it was clear that American schools were rapidly falling behind the rest of the developed world in mathematics particularly.

Two reactions emerged: the first, developed by The National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, focused in decreased reliance on paper and pencil calculation, and the removal of calculus from the list of requirements for higher education. The other reaction was written by a commission appointed by the U.S. Secretary of Education, and emphasized assessment, rigor, and standardization. It should be clear which side became the dominant force in educational methodologies in the 1990’s and 2000’s when NCLB was introduced and school funding became at least partially dependent on standardized scores against national levels of achievement. Presently there are a multitude of arithmetic instructional methodologies, all aimed at helping students achieve competence on the Common Core State Standards, given as the PARCC in New Jersey.

Everyday Math is actually a successor to the recommendations of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics mentioned above, and relies upon real world examples, repetition and multiple strategies to solving problems. Everyday Math instruction is heavily text based, but does offer many options for differentiated instruction and adaptation for a variety of learning styles.  GO Math! is a much more interactive curriculum, with preset lesson plans. This makes it easier for newer educators, however it can limit classroom flexibility and may not suffice for all levels of learners. The other common math instruction you may have heard about it Singapore Math. As the name implies, this method was developed in Singapore and emphasizes teaching students to become proficient in fewer mathematical concepts at greater detail as well as having them learn these concepts using a three-step learning process: concrete, pictorial, and abstract.

No one method will ever be ideal for every single student, but all these methods are effective for many children. If your child is have trouble with classroom math instruction, contact us today to schedule an assessment. We offer homework help, skills practice and enrichment, and our professional tutors have experience with students with a wide range of abilities.