Here in my little corner of small town USA, goal setting and hard work are highly regarded. Right up there with raising littles that use Ma’am and Sir properly, as in all the time. And for the most part, this is good stuff.
Honestly, when I visit most everywhere in America, we Americans are known to be goal oriented. Just as my town prides itself on hard work and dirt under the nails, city dwellers pride themselves on efficiency and fast paces.
Yet in a goal oriented society that greatly values “getting it done”, whether it be a small business with a unique quality product or a factory production with international trade capacity, problem solving gets fast tracked. What is the fastest, easiest, most cost effective solution? Get that done. Accomplish a goal. Now.
While this is all great when I am waiting for an oil change, the process of math education needs a slightly slower, less stressful route. In other words, give the kids a chance to absorb the universal language.
When it comes to teaching and mastering mathematical skills, the cheesy platitude that vaguely goes, “It is the journey that matters more than the destination; stop to smell the roses; etc” actually has it right.
In math, the process IS the important part. Rather than solving fifteen problems the same way, taking the time to solve three unique problems each four or five different ways is valuable. Looking at one problem from new angles helps us learn to think critically. When we allow children to slow down long enough to find new ways to do the same problem over and over again, we are giving them the confidence to step out of a box. In other words, it may be really exciting that little Johnny can solve eighty five thousand math facts a minute because he is talented at memorization and highly competitive by nature. But it doesn’t mean that adorable Eduardina who only finished three math facts in the same minute is less intelligent or isn’t as good as Johnny at math. My first request to Eduardina would be to explain to me how she solved the ones she did.
And though I tend to be the little Johnny in this situation (I can still claim title to Around the World Champion of my third grade class tied only with Landon Coleman), my youngest son is Eduardina.
Here’s how he sees 9 – 3:
(Stare at the ceiling and spin standing up while computing this train of thought. Not kidding.)…..9 is really 3 sets of 3 and 6 is two sets of three and 9 is the two sets of three plus one more set of three and then there’s that other set of three you want me to take away which could be 4 sets of 3 but I need to end up with 2 sets of three in the end which is really my 4 sets of 3 minus two sets of 3 and that would leave me 6. So 9 – 3 = 6. It is really a version of the doubles game if you think about it.
It’s right about here that my little Johnny brain explodes. Dear Lord, why does he not just accept the flashcards?
Yet, Eduardinas of the world quite possibly spent their minute noticing that 5 + 3 = 8 is the same as 4 + 4 = 8 and then decided to see if the teacher put any other doubles on the fun sheet because doubles are easy and she did those first and then noticed a pattern and then looked around the room to notice other patterns and was happily observing her surroundings, having accomplished 3 WHOLE MATH PROBLEMS IN A SHORT LITTLE MINUTE.
See the difference? (Hint: Little Johnny is super fast and Eduardina is super deep.)
Who is better at math?
Who grows up to be told math isn’t a personal strong point?
Little Johnny is a very useful, goal oriented American. We are all grateful for Johnny. Seriously. Again, I am a Little Johnny.
But Eduardina isn’t just spacey, and we need to be grateful for her too.
There is value in the process. There is value in Eduardina.
One day, Little Johnny will hang some pictures on a wall in his new office.
One day, Eduardina will design that office complex with a fountain in the middle that fit between two historic trees the city voted to save and still came in with specs for measurements giving each office 144 square feet because the occupants asked for these details and in this building with a glass menagerie and a family gym is the wall for Little Johnny…