A friend of ours, who has a child in the third grade, passed along this page from the third grade homework book for Everyday Math. This “Family Letter” is used to introduce parents to what is coming up in the next chapter. Our friend’s note included the words “troubling” and “irritating” to describe the contents of the Family Letter.
To some extent, I feel like this is an episode out of The Twilight Zone, where I can almost hear Rod Serling say “Imagine if you will, a school, like many schools, except that the third grade children count on their fingers because they don’t know their addition facts yet. You have just entered (pause), the EDM Zone.” Key weird music.
Do we really feel comfortable with a program that encourages third graders to count on their fingers and draw pictures to figure out addition problems? Shouldn’t they have mastered their basic addition facts in first grade? Not according to the Teacher’s Reference Manual for Grades 1-3. On page 196, the table indicates that the “Hard facts” (like 8+7) should be mastered by the end of third grade. At least Common Core is forcing mastery to an earlier grade.
And is this the best way to teach multiplication? Are our children really going to learn multiplication by counting on their fingers and drawing pictures? Now if “computing in one’s head” means recalling number facts automatically, then they are partly right. But I would interpret that phrase as meaning the students are actually figuring out a multiplication problem like 3x8 by thinking something like, “I know 3x4=12, and twice 4 is 8, so 3x8 must equal 12 +12 or 24.”
Herein lays the problem with Everyday Math, and its proliferation around the US. It says all the right things, and any teacher or administrator can point to these statements to defend the curriculum. For example, who can argue with “Automatically knowing basic number facts is as important to learning mathematics as knowing words by sight is to reading.” In execution, however, it fails miserably. And when it fails, the publishers can always claim that the implementation by the school was flawed.
Our friend goes on in the e-mail, “So then I read more of the letter, which notes that soon the kids will learn the lattice method of multiplication. I only glanced at what that method entails but it looks pretty ridiculous. But what's worse is that the letter tells parents why they are teaching this method and the reasons are like "because it is historically interesting"! Not because it's a method that leads to fewer errors, or one that is faster or some other sensible reason.”
The exact quote on the Lattice Method is “Third Grade Everyday Mathematics introduces the lattice method of multiplication for several reasons: This algorithm is historically interesting; it provides practice with multiplication facts and addition of 1-digit numbers; and it is fun. Also, some children find it easier to use than other methods of multiplication.
Let’s take each one of these reasons.
1. Historically interesting: this is another meaningless statement. I am sure there are very few if any third grade students who care about the history of the method dating back to “Hindu origins in India before A.D. 1100.”
2. Provides practice: EDM is so desperate to convince parents that it provides practice for multiplication and addition facts that it has to use multiplication problems to support its claim. Isn’t that a bit like saying we practice spelling by spelling words? And couldn’t the same thing be said about the traditional algorithm?
3. It is fun: in the Teacher’s Reference Manual, the authors state that “To our surprise, lattice multiplication has become a favorite of many children.” Why? Because they are spending time drawing rather than practicing math. Fun or results? No wonder they call this Math Lite.
The Teacher’s Manual also claims that the methodology is very efficient. I have already dealt with that fallacy in a previous post.
The Manual goes on to say you can use lattice multiplication for “problems that are too large for long multiplication (i.e., the traditional algorithm) or for most calculators…” Since the traditional algorithm is more efficient, the first half of this statement is also fallacious. And isn’t it interesting that the justification for not teaching the traditional algorithm is that we can always use a calculator, but we should learn to use lattice multiplication because it can handle problems calculators can’t? My solution: get rid of the calculators and get rid of lattice multiplication (i.e., stop wasting time), and focus on the traditional algorithm. Better yet, get rid of Everyday Math! Send it to (pause) The Twilight Zone.