Assignment: Education – New Math Curriculum

Students learn new strategies to solve math equations

“Who can tell me what math strategy we are going to practice with today?” asked Melissa Scriver, Northside Elementary second-grade teacher.

The curriculum used in math classes throughout the School District of La Crosse is about offering choices.

“I’m going to give you a word problem, and you’re going to set up a math mountain,” said Scriver.

A math mountain is one of the strategies used to teach second-grade students how to add and subtract.

“They’re understanding their math facts,” said Scriver. “They’re learning them. But they’re not memorizing them with flash cards. They’re seeing how things can literally build up to a total.”

The Math Mountain gives students a visual strategy to see how numbers can be added and subtracted to make new numbers.

“You have your total at the top and you get to see the variations of the numbers that are partners, or add-ins, that come together to make that total,” said Scriver.

For some people who learned math by memorizing math equations, these new strategies don’t add up. “I do understand the frustration,” said Wally Gnewikow, La Crosse School District math supervisor.

But the math supervisor said there is a reason the common core standards are requiring educators to introduce new ways to solve math problems.

“You learned one way to solve a problem. Most of us did. Most of us, of my generation, learned one way to solve math problems,” said Gnewikow. “We’re trying to incorporate higher-level thinking skills so that students are actually able to use those skills to solve problems.”

This new skill set is intended to help students work through real-world problems after they graduate from high school.

“Developing them so that when they go out into the workforce and they’re handed a problem, not just an equation, not just solve these two things, but a problem, we want them to be able to figure out and assess, ‘What skills do I need to solve this problem?'” said Gnewikow. “And then they use those skills that they learned with the traditional math to solve the problem.”

So educators are starting to build a foundation for problem solving by introducing more word problems at the elementary school-level.

“If they are taught a different way of thinking about math, it won’t become such a foreign idea to them,” said Gnewikow. “Even that by the time they get to 6 th /7th grade they’re used to that, rather than our generation where a lot of us were very scared of word problems.”

To remove the fear, students are being taught multiple strategies to solve problems, including traditional ways of adding or subtracting simple math problems.

“Eventually, the students, as they go through the years, will be allowed to use whatever method they so choose,” said Gnewikow. “But we believe them being taught different ways to solve problems at an early age will help them with those higher-level math thinking skills.”

“It’s a game,” said Scriver. “You have a path and you have many paths in some cases. It’s whatever path you take.”

The hope is that by offering choices for solving math problems, the solutions will equal more than just memorized facts.