Math was my greatest nemesis throughout my years in school. As far as I was concerned, my teachers could have been speaking Swahili and I would not have been more confused. The connections between numbers made no sense to me and I had no foundation for understanding different operations. When I was in my junior year in college, I took a class called "Teaching Elementary School Math I." It was while I was in this class that I learned (or at least grasped) for the first time that addition was the process of combining 2 or more groups into one. Now, I knew how to add and could even do it successfully (lol) but I had no idea why I was adding. When my professor asked us how we would explain addition to elementary students and one of my classmates answered that she would show them how it was combining small groups into one bigger group, I was thrilled. The proverbial lightbulb went off! That was the start of a journey that I have been on for the last 27 years. While I am passionate about reading and words and writing, my personal crusade has been focused on making sure my primary students UNDERSTAND why they do what they do in math. I don't want them to just be able to solve a problem. I want them to be able to explain how they solved it and why it worked. I eventually became a Marilyn Burns junkie. I found her approach to teaching math a wonderful way for students to really "get" math. I have tried to integrate her lessons into the standard math curriculum for the last decade. I always believed what I was doing was best for my students, but I never had the opportunity to see if it had any impact.
This year, I am in a new position. I am working as one of the ESE co-teachers at my school. I am officially assigned to grades K-2, but have recently started spending @30 minutes a day working with a fifth grader who has some math deficiencies. It has been a great experience because it has allowed me a glimpse into the math life of a student who lacks the same information I did. He can follow the steps of computation perfectly. He cannot recognize when his answers make no sense. He has very limited number sense. He has reinforced my belief that it is not enough for primary teachers to teach children how to solve mathematical problems. Primary teachers MUST teach their students WHY the answers they get are correct. Students may be able to pass a basic math test, but if they are unable to explain how and why they arrived at their answers, they are not successful math students. I believe teachers need to stop accepting a grade as the only proof that a child has mastered a skill.
I think this is why I am so excited about the CCSS. They will require all of us to make sure that our students truly understand not only the" hows", but also the "whys" of math. Hopefully, no more students will go through school with the same Murky Math Brain that I did.