This Multiplication Doesn’t Add Up

| Learning | June 18, 2014

(My daughter is in third grade. Her regular teacher is on an extended medical leave for a few weeks, and the school gets a long-term substitute. After the first math quiz with the substitute, my daughter comes home in tears: despite the fact that she got all the answers right, her grade is very low. I go to talk to the teacher.)

Me: “Ms. [Teacher], can you explain why you gave [Daughter] a C on the math quiz? I have looked at it, and she got all the answers right.”

Teacher: “Although all her answers are right, instead of putting down what she was supposed to memorize from the multiplication set, she broke down the numbers and figured out the answer on the margin. See? The very first item is 12×7, and instead of just writing 84, like she was supposed to, she wrote on the margins: 10×7 = 70, 2×7 = 14, 10+14 = 84. She did the same for many of the items as well. She is supposed to memorize the answers, not work them out.”

Me: “Are you seriously grading my daughter down because she understands how numbers work? I agree that she should memorize the multiplication tables, and I will work on them with her, but it seems strange to demand rote memorization at the expense of mathematical reasoning.”

Teacher: “I understand your frustration, Mrs. [My Name], but girls often have problems with math even in this day and age. What if she figured it out wrong? Memorizing the answers is really more productive because she will always get it right.”

Me: “Actually, it’s Dr. [My Name], not Mrs. I am a professor of Mathematics at [Nearby University]. And no, girls don’t have any more problems with math than boys do, unless they get a completely inept and sexist teacher. For your information, figuring it wrong allows children to practice and learn how to do it right. Memorizing the answers without understanding the math behind them does nothing.”

(I talked to the principal about this substitute, but unfortunately she could not be removed from the classroom until the regular teacher came back. Thank God, it happened at the beginning of the year, and my daughter had a much better experience learning math with her regular teacher.)

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