Are You Smarter Than a First Grader?

First grade math…piece of cake…I got this.  Oh wait.

Please excuse me for a minute while I rant about first grade math.

As a mom/parent, my number one goal is for my kid to be better than everyone else’s.  Don’t even lie and say you don’t agree.  We aren’t allowed to say it out loud, but we want our kids to win first place.  Nobody wants to bring home the green ribbon.  What’s the green ribbon?  Exactly.

Well, as it turns out, my son hasn’t quite achieved gold medal status in math.  Not even close, and of course, being the competitive loving mother that I am, I want to help him get there.  So every day for 30 minutes after he gets home from school, we do this dance around the kitchen table called math.  And I can’t even begin to describe the amount of frustration that takes place during this dance.

Kid:  “I hate school.”

Me:  “No you don’t.  School is awesome. You love school.”

Kid: “No, I hate school.  I only like lunch and recess.”

Me:  “Don’t say ‘hate’.”

Kid:  “I really dislike school.”

And thus we dance around the table for another 20 minutes about how much he does/doesn’t hate/dislike school.  Geez!  And we still have yet to look at an actual number.

Once we finally sit down, he pretends to listen to me explain the directions.  Then I make him read the directions.  Then we look at each other like “huh?”

First grade math is not what it used to be, friends.  It’s complicated.  It involves things like ten frames, part part whole mats, number lines, number charts, etc, and all of these things are basically Greek math to me because I’ve never learned how to use any of them, and I have to sit here and try to teach my kid to learn how to use them, and it makes me want to poke my eye out with his Angry Birds pencil.  ARGH!!!

Here’s the problem.  Math has changed.  A LOT!  I learned math a completely different way than my son is learning math.  I was good at math.   It came very naturally to me.  It clicked.  I often see things in terms of numbers, and when someone needs to know what 24% of something is, I can blurt it out with limited effort.  But my son can’t, and it doesn’t click for him, and he gets really frustrated, and truthfully, I don’t really care if he is the best in math.  I just don’t want him to struggle…for anything…in anything…and all I want to do is help him.

So I went to Google.  I googled “part part whole mat” because what the eff is that?  Well, as it turns out, it’s pretty simple, and after watching 3 YouTube videos, I kind of sort of understand it.  In college, I took 12 hours of Statistics, 3 hours of Calculus, 3 hours of Trig…all upper level math classes, and I made A’s.  But I had to go to YouTube to figure out how to help my son with his first grade math. 

We worked on the whole part part mat, and I taught him how to use his number line to help him with his addition and subtraction, and when he left the table, he was smiling…a big partly toothless grin, and I felt triumphant.  I ran into my husband’s office.  We high fived.  I danced a little jig around his desk, and we all celebrated because I saw that look on my son’s face.  That “ah ha” moment.  The light bulb illuminated.

Today when he came home from school, I couldn’t wait to ask him about math and how it went, but I waited until we made it home so that my husband and I could both bask in the joy of my son’s excitement. “Hey, how was math today?”

He looked down.  No partially toothless grin like I expected.  And then he said, “My number line at school only goes to 20.”  Our number line at home goes to 30.  (the number line his teacher gave me to help him understand math). The thing that gave him the light bulb. What the @#$%^$#@!! 

 

I immediately sent my son upstairs and then began a complete temper tantrum where I used a lot of grown up language but still stomped my feet and folded my arms and said things like, “He needs a new teacher. She’s clearly trying to sabotage him.” And my husband said, “Dude,” (yes, he calls me “dude”) “you need to take it easy.” Which prompted me to storm out of his office, go to my closet, and call my best friend who is an elementary school principal and sort of my hero.

I told her the situation, adding some colorful insights/language, and she listened for a really long time, and then she said, “Are you done being an asshole for a minute?” And I said, “Yes.” And she talked me off the ledge. She told me that my son’s teacher is not a terrible teacher and that she’s only using the tools that she’s given. She then went into a 20 minute long lesson on math and the way kids learn, etc., and I listened to every word. (She reads this, so I have to say that.)

What I took away from her lesson is this: I don’t understand the way my son’s teacher teaches him, and because it’s different than the way I learned it, I’m terrified to teach him “my way”. And I don’t think I’m alone.

We don’t get text books anymore like our parents did. When I had homework that my parents didn’t understand (and they had their moments of confusion, too), my dad would take my text book into the other room for thirty minutes and then come back in completely able to help me. We are lucky in so many ways with technology, but sometimes, I don’t want to have to Google or YouTube. Because even with that, it may be wrong. I need to know how to use the tools that he is given, and I don’t think our teachers understand that we don’t know these things. I want a lesson. I want my teacher to teach me to teach my kid. We aren’t given any sort of “how to’s”, and then we send our kids to school wondering if they’re supposed to follow their teacher’s rules or ours, and we wonder why they can’t get it. I think I could benefit from a lesson in first grade math, a serious, sit down at the tiny desk with my No. 2 pencil and learn the way my kid is being taught. Because at the end of the day, the answer is, “no.” I am not smarter than a first grader. And that’s ok.

I have a conference in 30 minutes where I’m going to figure this all out. I’ll post a video on YouTube for the rest of you. Also, I’m going to get to the bottom of the discrepancy in number lines because that’s just bullsh*t.