and you vet teachers are going to say "well DUH!" I went in yesterday to talk to my Super about my students (We have an interum principal and no Vice so he's my only source of higher power advice) and their math. They are SUPER low and very frustrated with their multiplication and division skills (well me too). I told him I spent 3 weeks trying to get them to understand multiplication. He tells me, "you have to teach them all the stuff you have to teach them to get to the test. You can't spend time trying to reach them all or even half because you won't get to where you need to be come test time" WELL NO WONDER THESE GUYS DON'T KNOW MULTIPLICATION AND DIVISION!!! Their past teachers didn't get to spend enough time on it! They had to move along with half the class not understanding the concept! And then they get to 5th grade and they don't know the basics! ARGH!!!!

Duh. My wife was incredulous when she saw how fast the first grade curriculum went through addition. Fortunately, she'd been working with my oldest since the beginning of kindergarten. He's gifted, but he knew the multiplication tables before the start of first grade. By second grade he had done long division. Even my non-academically gifted second son (in first grade) is blisteringly fast with addition and subtraction, though, and has begun work on multiplication. But this was all through extensive practice at home.

I feel your pain, my grade 6 students can't do long division. I have a grade 8 who says he forgets as well, though I taught him how last year, so I'm frustrated that he's forgotten, because he was able to do it last year. We don't even have standardized tests, just a new curriculum.

Sadly, this is so true. I think the other cause of the non-retention is that in 1st and 2nd, kids don't spend enough time with hands-on examples and practice. I tutor a second grader now and started playing a multiplication game with her so we can practice it all year long. She won't even be expected to memorize products until 3rd grade at her school, but I know they are going to jump right in to paper and pencil work. That's just not good enough.

I never had hands-on activities when I was young and my retention was fine. My take on it is that our brains have become so changed due to technology and not having to manually compute. Everything we do is technology based and we are not using important centres in our brains that form these important connections. I don't have an easy answer to the problem, but that's my theory anyway.

When i was ST in England, we hasd a whole bunch of kids who were way below expectations (actually, the kids who seemed to be the gifted ones were doing about average work, they just seemed gifted because many of their peers were low)... I had a bunch of 2nd/3rd graders who didn't have a sight vocabulary, and people were wondering why they were struggling with writing chapeter stories. Gee, people, they aren't even READING chapter stories yet, I wonder!!! Many of the same kids were struggling with multiplication and division, but they also couldn't do simple addition problems. No wonder! I think there's been a huge shift, unfortunately, of teaching how to do the algorithm or get test answers right vs understanding what you're doing and why. Regardless of how "wonderful" the test scores look on paper, I don't think it's helping us in the long run...

If you don't have the algorithm down, there will be no "what you're doing" to understand. It's far easier to go from procedure to concept than concept to procedure, IMO.

I have been at all ends of the spectrum so I can see how rushed things are. At 3rd grade we are teaching to the test. I felt bad for the kids who needed more time with the concepts but I was kindly told that I couldn't hold back a whole class for the one or two who didn't get it. I tried spending extra time with these kids but it was still a struggle. If a child is counting on their fingers in 5th grade something is wrong. Not all kids can memorize the facts. All kids should be able to do basic math but quite honestly how many of us use calculators to help us solve math problems rather than calculate by hand. We should be making sure that these kids know how to use available tools to solve basic math problems. I actually had one frustrated 5th grader tell me that he was going to marry a woman who could do math and balance the checkbook!

I agree! (though I do believe that some students' brains are wired in a completely opposite fashion. An algorithm, for those students, is meaningless and therefor has no chance of being retained in memory until it has meaning.... so I find myself explaining the meaning with hands on manipulatives etc., teaching the algorithm and then plugging that back into the meaning once more. Seems to help for both types of learners.)

And to comment on previous posters' posts: YES, we are so rushed. So rushed because the curriculum insists that we teach money in first grade, and time, shapes, geometry, pre algebra (yes!) patterns, greater than, less than, counting and writing to 100, place value until 100, symmetry, measurements, length and volume.... and addition, subtraction, (until 18!) word problems, double digit addition (no regrouping) and there is so much more. So what happens? we skim - (yes skim - there is no way we can claim to cover this all in depth) through each topic, and hope it sticks like spaghetti to the wall. And we make it sound good by calling it cyclical learning.... Every year we skim each topic, going one level higher than the year before in said topic because well, they learned the basics last year. Sure, it's a cycle. A vicious one. What are we doing teaching money when we haven't taught addition well enough or long enough that we and they are super confident in it? Don't misunderstand me - children in first grade CAN pretty much learn anything in math if they are taught on their level (well, almost anything) but does that mean we should spend time on it at the expense of addition and subtraction?? I will now step off my soap box.

I could have written this post! It's very frustrating because I need to teach these kids the basics so that when they get to third grade, their teacher can focus on third grade topics and preparing them for their standardized tests... not teaching them how to add, subtract, read, etc. I'm so glad I'm not a kid today...

Wow, this explains where so many of my frustrations come from. I have those 5th graders 5 years later in the 10th (or 11th or 12th) grade when they're repeating Algebra I because they don't know the basics well enough to grasp the algebra, but I've got to "keep plugging and cover everything that's on the test..." Right. I can teach 40 kids who can't multiply single digits how to factor. Uh huh. Yeah. I honestly have seniors who can't figure out what factor the numbers 2, 6, and 10 have in common. Not to mention my sophomores who think "take away" means we need to add. :| I have no great insight, but I definitely feel your pain.

MrsTeacher2Be - That is why I felt privileged to teach both elementary (3rd and 5th) plus one class of middle school math a day. It helped me on both ends to be a better math teacher. I knew where they were going and what it took to get there! This rush, rush, skim through everything nonsense is hurting our kids. They need time to problem solve, pose questions, play math games, try different methods and possibilities, work with other students, do brain teasers, puzzles, find patterns, see practical applications .....

So, how do we fix it? I'm not trying to be sarcastic. I see this same problem, but I don't know how to make things better.

I think we need to go back to basics. There should be no reason for first graders to be doing pre-algebra. They need to master addition and subtraction *first*.

I agree - let them get a firm foundation w/ addition and subtraction in first grade - and second grade. As a former 2nd grade teacher and a current 3rd grade teacher, I want students who KNOW the basic facts, period. I know they also need to have a strong number sense, so using 100s charts and patterning, greater-than/less-than activities, etc. is important, too. We use flexible grouping for our math classes, but as the teacher of the group that needs more time/hands-on, even I am struggling w/ moving on if there are some who aren't ready. Luckily, we are moving on to money and time, so I will pull those who struggled w/ subtracting across zeros in to work w/ me or our aide for 10 minutes of lunch recess for some one-on-one or partner work. Even so, there will be those who need additional support with money and time, so the cycle continues... My group doesn't need to spend a day or two on guess/check type problem solving...they can't figure out how to attack some of these problems independently - "There are 110 cars/trucks in a parking lot...there are 40 more trucks than cars. How many cars/trucks are in the parking lot?" We can attack it together - orally, with me modeling strategies. For my group, however, I will be thrilled if they can figure out "how many more" and "what's the difference" and "how many in all" - type problems. (And trust me - I am one of those "high-expectations" for all teachers who really believes in tons of problem-solving!)

I think my biggest frustration with Math in my province is that all curriculum K-5 has been changed in the last two years in order to focus more on the basics. This has led to teachers REALLY covering topics in depth. Oh yeah, did I say that all the K-5 Math curricula have been changed? What I meant was all but third grade! ARGH!

This was the same thing that had me so frustrated last year--in 5th grade we were supposed to be finding the areas of complex shapes including triangles, parallelograms, and TRAPEZOIDS! And then, they expected them to do it on the test in early March with fractions and decimals. We were still doing area with rectangles and just learning how to multiply fractions, but I'm sure they could all solve those complex equations. THen, a month later, I was helping a couple of 7th graders in pre-algebra with the same type of problems.

Makes me thankful my own kids are really advanced academically. And quick to learn...otherwise, what would happen to them?

EXACTLY!!!! Our school is now over-run by "labeled" kids... I think if we had more time to work with those students that were a little slower, we wouldn't have the labeling problem that we do. Don't get me wrong, those that are labeled get that way through a calculated process but we're probably only asking them to be labeled so that they can get help with their learning because we don't have time to do it ourselves and we care enough to want them to learn SOMETHING!

Go to curricula that actually work. Part of this is indeed getting back to basics as cmorris suggested and making sure the essential skills are covered and *mastered* first. If you take a look at curricula such as Kumon and Singapore math, the reason for the differences in performance are clear. Focus on getting off of manipulatives, and on more problem-solving including challenging word problems in fewer topic areas. Stop pretending the spiral curriculum advocated by programs such as TERC and Everyday Math work for most students. Personally, I would also be for breaking students into ability groupings and giving full assessments. A first grader who knows double-digit multiplication should not be forced into going through the rote curriculum of single-digit addition.

OK, true confession time: I am a bad mom. My kids are average kids. They receive average grades: mostly A's and B's, with the occasional "Oops!!!" grade. They're sweet and loveable and kind and great kids, and I love them to death, but they're average students. Apparently they're the only ones around. The president of my school put it very well years ago when he said that we no longer teach any "average" kids. It seems that every kid in America today is either learning disabled or gifted, with nobody wanting to be the parent or the teacher of a child who is neither. He, and our school in general, believes firmly that most of the kids we teach are indeed "average" college prep kids. We need to stop the rush to teach more kids more advanced material. Let third graders learn 3rd grade material, let middle schoolers learn middle school material, and let high school kids learn high school material. Yes, it's boring to review times tables over and over again. But if you don't, those same kids won't be able to factor when they hit my high school math class. And it's boring to teach grammar. But without it, those kids won't be able to write that high school paragraph or that college application essay. I think we need to return to basics for all kids and cut out a lot of the extras. A kid who really knows his basics will be able to learn all those extras when the time comes.

Yeah, I have high school students who can tell you the steps for writing a paragraph using "Four Square" or "hamburger" or any other of the writing program that were popular while they've been coming through, but can't spell, find the verb in a sentence, or write in actual complete sentences.

Alice, I couldn't agree with you more! I have had so many parents who expect their kids to get all A's, without realizing that a B means "very good." Everybody seems to forget that average means right where most kids are! I read a very interesting book this summer (can't remember the title) which argued that we are doing most kids a disservice by constantly raising expectations, which in turn increases the number of kids who aren't meeting them. In other words, the standards are higher, so expecting all the kids to master them is unfair. 3sons, I agree that the spiral curriculum is ridiculous. The idea of continuous review is great, but it can still be implemented into a program that moves in a sensical order. Why does it make sense to introduce 3 ways to write division before kids have even mastered multiplication? Why spend one day talking about capacity, and then not mention it again for 3 months?

So.... If the concesus here is that the current system is harmful, how do we go about convincing the "higher-ups"? Any serious suggestions?

That is the question. I have no idea. I sure wish they actually consulted real classroom teachers, though.

It will be difficult to convince the "higher-ups" when so much rides on test scores...imho... (Happy B'day amakaye!)

Yes, but I don't think many of the current curricula really prepare the kids for the test, either. If the kids are only exposed briefly to something in October, how many will really be able to answer a question about it in March? It's a vicious cycle, though--the standards, tests, and curricula all have to be in sync, but how do you get them all in the right place at the right time? It seems that they never quite match up right. (Thanks, tgim!)

This is one of the best threads I've ever read. People are targeting the problem and the solutions. How the heck do we get this across to the "powers that be" before we lose a whole generation of students - AND teachers! - both of whom give up under the impossibility of the expectations? What can we do as a group? Shoot, most teachers are so tired by the end of the day and so busy with papers and planning over the weekend that they don't have time to "protest." I wonder if a forum like this can start a grass roots movement...hmmmm (smile!)