# Parent Needs Opinion on Math and Show Your Work

Discussion in 'Elementary Education' started by James Piette, Nov 2, 2020.

1. ### James PietteRookie

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Nov 2, 2020

My son is in 8th grade in a new middle school, so we don't have much experience with the teaching staff. He's always been exceptional at math, but did poorly on his first assessment. I've setup a meeting with the teacher, so I'm going to address this directly with him, but I'd love some objective feedback on my perspective that his teacher is being too rigid in his requirements for how my son shows his work. I'm an engineer and I completely understand the need to show your work in math. Understanding the process is much more important than getting the right answer, especially at his stage. However, it looks to me like he showed his process, but since it doesn't match the 'template,' he's getting docked points(as far as I can tell, he got 0 credit for all these problems). I'm not particularly worried about the grade, but my son often has a unique approach to math problems that I find fascinating and I'd really hate to have a teacher that discourages that creativity when it's something that should be fostered.

I've put the questions and his answers below. I can see some places where he could have added additional steps (and he got #2 in the first part wrong), but I think he shows his method and approach clearly. I'd love for feedback to the contrary.

Evaluate the Following Problems: (SHOW ALL WORK)
1. (12-x)+18-27÷x; when x=3
9+18-27÷x
9+18-9
18

2. 3m²-2m-9; when m=-2
-6²+4-9
36+4-9
36+4-9
31

3. (2x²-2x+6)(x+1);when x=4
(32-8+6)5
(30)5
6

Simplify the Following Polynomials: (SHOW ALL WORK)
1. -5(3p-5)
-15p+25

2. 2x(3x+4)
6x²+8x

3. (2k-5)(3k+6)
6k²+12k-15k-30
6k²-3k-30

3. ### Ima TeacherVirtuoso

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Nov 2, 2020

Not only are you new to this school, your child is new to the staff there. Ask for clarification from the teacher first. I know that my math teachers often wanted us to show every single step at first, then We could skip steps once the teacher was certain we were doing okay.

My DH is a math major who ended up teaching middle school. I’m going to see what he says. I’ll report back.

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Nov 2, 2020

Man, do I relate to that. What my poor mother went through with the three of us and our math teachers was nuts. One struggled with new math, one was like your son, and one with "happy math". My parents had old math, which made sense to the mathphobic child, but points were docked for using old math methods. I was forced to use "happy math", which is all well and good until you get to higher level algebra when it doesn't work anymore. I didn't learn long division until I hit division of polynomials in HS. Senior year, I stopped doing my math homework because I lost so many points for "formatting errors" that it wasn't worth my time to do it.
IMO, it's ridiculous to give no credit for skipping a step or two so long as it's clear that the child did the work and grasps the concept. Take a point off or partial credit maybe, but 0 is silly. Heck, I had a chem teacher who gave partial credit for correct steps that led to a wrong answer.

I'm betting there's supposed to be a step that just substitutes the value of the variable, e.g. (12 - 3) +18 - 27/3. For the simplifying, it's supposed to be broken down action-by-action, so distributing the -5 to the 3p as one step, then to the -5 as another. If I were you, I'd ask the teacher how detailed each step is allowed to be and if every action is supposed to be a different step, like if all exponents can be dealt with at once, or if it's one by one. Find out if actions on the same level of OoO can be done in one step, or have to be separate.

5. ### Ima TeacherVirtuoso

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Nov 2, 2020

DH just got home from work. He says that he wants to see the steps where the number is substituted for the variable. He said while it’s all well and good when the kids can skip steps on “pretty” math problems, it will not serve them well when they get to the upper level classes where the math isn’t always pretty.

He says that yes, he would have taken points off if the instructions say to show all steps and some are skipped.

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6. ### a2zVirtuoso

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Nov 2, 2020

I don't see anything odd about how he approached the problems just that he didn't bother to write the substitution step. I suspect if he wrote the equation out with the value for X substituted he may even have gotten away with, in some cases, doing two steps in the same line, but failing to write the substitution value does not show he knows the value is substituted for X even though the calculation happened to be correct. A child who mentally substituted 2 instead of 3 and miscalculated could come up with the same numbers.

7. ### James PietteRookie

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Nov 3, 2020

Hi all. Thanks for all the replies. I'm looking forward to talking with the teacher and helping both my son and he to understand each other. Hopefully there's some middle ground as they learn each other's style. I think my biggest issue is if there is more expected for the first couple polynomial expansions. I don't see any value in writing down an additional step. Here's what I believe was expected (I'll know after I meet with the teacher tomorrow.)

1. -5(3p-5)

-5 * 3p + (-5)*(-5)
-15p+25

My son says that second step makes it less clear to him, and I agree. Sure, it clearly shows what the method is, but I'd argue so does the answer. I would NEVER write that middle step when solving a problem. In fact, one of the teacher's example problems was solved using the steps below, so he skipped that step as well when he started with a more complicated problem. If you can skip it here, why can't it be skipped when it's a simple problem to begin with?
(x+1)(x-3)
x(x-3)+1(x-3)
x²-3x+x-3
x²-2x-3

8. ### TeacherNYMaven

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Nov 3, 2020

I hope the teacher can explain his expectations to you but I'm hoping you and your son will abide by whatever conclusion is reached. YOU don't see any value to writing down the additional step but since you aren't a teacher, and more specifically, not your son's teacher, it isn't really your call. It's a good idea to reach out to teachers when you have questions but at the end of the day it's the teacher's decision how they want things done.

9. ### James PietteRookie

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Nov 3, 2020

My first thought was of course we plan to abide by whatever conclusion is reached, and I don't anticipate any issue with a conclusion we're OK with. I've already talked with my son that this may be a case of suck it up and do it. However, the more I thought about it, the more I disagree with the sentiment of this post. Successful education relies on collaboration of teachers, students, AND PARENTS. I'm coming at this from a reasonable position, but since I've engaged in the conversation, I expect a better justification than 'that's the way I want it.' I'd even accept "it's important to see this relationship because it's a basis for something we will do later" I know my son, I've spent a lot of time talking about and teaching him math. I know how he thinks and how he learns. I am acutely aware that I'm not a teacher, that's why I created this post in the first place. I was trying to understand if this was just great teaching, or if the teacher was using outdated concepts, and should be more flexible in how the problem is solved. I really don't know this teacher so I have no idea if he's good or bad. Most teachers are good, some are great, but let's face it, there are a few bad ones too. In many cases it's not even a matter of good or bad, but a poor match of teaching/learning style. When that happens I think it's reasonable for both the teacher and the student to adapt a bit.

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Nov 3, 2020

Forcing students to show work is helpful in diagnosing errors. But, you can't tell students to only do it when you'll get the answer wrong. Haha. You have to set up good habits from the start.

Do I personally cringe over the policy being forced on those with creative fluency and manipulation and a grade reflecting compliance vs. grasp of the standard? Sort of. But, don't tell anyone I said that. It's akin to mutiny. It's a pretty common policy.

Don't fall on this sword, man. Just smile, tell him to comply, and discuss with the teacher more important things like learning goals, engagement, and communication options. Grading policies are really, really low on the totem pole as to what makes an effective teacher. They're just hoops to jump through. But, does the teacher connect with and care about the students? Do they value bringing math into the real world context? That's the gold, there.

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11. ### James PietteRookie

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Totally agree. This is not the hill to die on. I only care about the grade as much as my son needs to maintain a B average to get credit for algebra so he can start with geometry as a freshman. I know he's capable of learning the content, he's just having trouble with the methods of this particular teacher (and due to being virtual half the time). The school is doing 4 week rotations of classes, so he's only 2 weeks in on this class. Part of the issue was some misunderstanding on how the content was delivered on virtual days. We're getting it figured out. I'm realizing my son isn't quite as good at self-diagnosing stuff he doesn't understand as I thought he was, so I'm getting more engaged more often than I have been. I'm sure it'll all work out fine.

12. ### a2zVirtuoso

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Nov 3, 2020

All more reason for your son to write every step down and get in the habit.

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Nov 4, 2020

Consistency is paramount. I would say that's universal across subjects, but especially so in math and science. If the teacher skips a step in one place, but not another, then makes an issue of the skipped step, that is a big problem. I would absolutely point out the inconsistency.

I could see, at some point, allowing short cuts. But if it isn't time for that yet, one way to avoid skipping steps might be to label the property being used, i.e. Associative, Commutative, Distributive, Multiplicative Identity:

(x+1)(x-3)
x(x-3)+1(x-3) Distributive
x²-3x+1(x-3) Distributive
x²-3x+x-3 Multiplicative Identity
x²+(-3x+x)-3 Associative

Or the teacher could set a good example and be consistent, be a good example, and not skip steps he expects his students to show.

14. ### a2zVirtuoso

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I wouldn't be surprised if the teacher didn't explain that each time your son did not write the "initial setup" step. In the examples not substituting X is not showing initial set up. In your following example where you explain "steps were missed", the problem shows the initial set up and skips a step later. The example you gave could have also been solved using the FOIL method and the written setup would look much different.

Again, answers don't show that a student knows what they are doing. Kids can get the correct answer but arrive at it the wrong way. For example, the child who multiplies the wrong values but has calculation issues and writes the correct answer will show the right answer, but they certainly don't know the math. If the teacher just sees the end calculation, he won't know if the student actually multiplied the right values. The only thing that can be known is the end value was correct.

I will say I feel for your son. I hated writing the steps but in the end it served me well.

15. ### TeacherNYMaven

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If all of the teachers in the school are teaching it the same way then it should be adhered to.
Maybe that's a question that can be asked by the parent.

16. ### James PietteRookie

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Just wanted to post a follow-up after meeting with the teacher. He's a good teacher. He's a little 'old-school' but he's focused on the right things. The concepts and the process are more important than the mechanics, but clear steps and mechanics are good practice, both for limiting the risk of mistakes and making it easer for the teacher to identify problems. It turns out the teacher completely OK with skipping the step that I was concerned about. He's working very hard to meet the needs of all his students, and it takes a lot of time. For the virtual lessons, he often uses videos that are already created by others. In some cases they're not always perfect. He definitely has some flexibility, and neither of us is actually worried about the grade. His goal is to make them the best mathematicians they can be, prepare them for more advanced math, and most importantly, not add to their stress level in these trying times. I don't think his teaching style is necessarily a perfect match for my son, but I think my son will be better for it. I'm sure there will still be some struggles with problems being done the way the teacher expects, my son just approaches math different than most, but this meeting will help keep it from becoming a problem.

Last edited: Nov 4, 2020
17. ### tigger88Rookie

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I know I am coming in late on this but I just have to comment. I know your son is only in 8th grade now but my son (who is now grown) got his grades docked in high school because he didn't show his work either. My son was a whiz at math and could get the right answer BUT he could not show his work. He did it in his head but he could NOT put it down on paper. I truly think there are many students who are like my son who are being punished (by getting their grades docked) because they can't explain how they get their answers. I think math teachers should be more flexible in their thinking. Just my two cents and I know not all people will agree with me but that is fine

18. ### 3SonsEnthusiast

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Dec 17, 2020

I also have sons who skip steps. I always encourage them NOT to, and to write things down even when they can indeed do it in their head. Even when they're relatively simple. And even though my oldest son couldn't read his own writing much of the time.

It's getting into the habit of skipping steps that leads to eventual careless errors. The OP notes that his son got the second question wrong; if he had written out every step he may have gotten it correct (assuming he knows that the exponent needs to be done first -- if he doesn't, then writing out the steps would have shown he doesn't understand that and let the teacher know he needs to clarify, rather than the student just making a careless error).

I too wouldn't worry much about the grade itself, though a zero does seem quite harsh.

19. ### TeacherNYMaven

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Dec 18, 2020

If all teachers in lower grades were too flexible the students will have a big wake up call in college when their parents can't call their professors to complain if they get docked points for not showing steps. Let's just say I know from experience but I was lucky that my professor allowed me to redo the assignment and I wasn't docked any points.

20. ### AcesDevotee

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Not only that but if you do go into a field that requires validation — software development, computer engineering, engineering in general — you have to demonstrate exactly how you arrived at your answer. Just saying “this is the answer trust me” won’t fly. Even if it is the right answer, how do we duplicate it? And if we can’t duplicate it, how do we verify it?

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21. ### tuankiet153Rookie

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Last edited: Dec 19, 2020
22. ### TeacherNYMaven

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Dec 21, 2020

But maybe their parents can call their bosses and explain that they are very bright and creative and stop being mean to them

23. ### AcesDevotee

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Well everytime me and my P butt heads I call my hubby to sort things out.

24. ### Ima TeacherVirtuoso

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My EX’s mom called the factory where he worked to tell them that they needed to stop switching his jobs around because it was stressing him out. They took care of it . . . by telling him to find a job elsewhere.

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