# Making sense of conversions

My son, Jared, is in 6th grade.  He has told me he thinks it’s “cool” that I’m teaching 6th grade too.  According to him, we have stuff to talk about.  I can finally help him with his homework.  (Really?  Like I’ve never been able to help you with any of your other homework?!?  What the what?!?!?).  Of course I left that last editorial in my head, but I think I knew what he was talking about.   I think he meant that we are finally at the same grade level as teacher (me) and student.

On one evening, he was having trouble with conversions of measurements. This was his homework.

And this is what he showed me.

“Memorize the 3 steps.” Uh–no.

I was not thrilled to see “memorize” on my son’s notes.  It dawned on my husband and I that our son’s teacher has only been teaching a few years.  He’s probably used to just memorizing steps and procedures.  I don’t like to teach that way.  I like to teach for understanding.  I like to teach more conceptually.  I like to have my students make sense of a problem rather than “memorize” steps.

Just for kicks and giggles, I went to page 290 to see what is said.  This is what I found.

Here are the “steps” my son was asked to memorize

I sat and stared at his paper and at the “steps.” If my son didn’t understand and remember the steps, how could I get him to comprehend what they were asking?

I looked at the 1st question again.  “If 16 C = 1 gallon, then 8 gallons = ________?”  Rather than doing a fancy algorithm or proportion (which he hadn’t done in the curriculum–my husband had an issue with that.), I went back to the basics.  Let’s draw a picture.

16 cups are in one gallon (rectangles).  8 gallons with 16 cups in each.   Once I sat and explained the situation to my son, the lightbulb went off in his head.  “Oh mom, all you have to do is multiply 16 times 8 to get the number of cups.”  BINGO!

And the rest of the hour, we drew pictures, diagrams, and whatever else helped him make sense of the conversions.  And each time we drew a new picture, the lightbulb kept going off in his head.  (Proud Math teacher and Mom!)

The next day after school, I asked my son if his teacher said anything about the homework we did.   My son told me that his teacher said,you should have done it the way I told you too.”   ARE YOU KIDDING ME?!?!?

I “heart” Tina Fey.

MATH RANT – –   After close to twenty years of teaching math, this just blew me out of the water.  It is no secret that there are many ways to get answers to math problems.  I usually give the anecdote that there are many ways to get from here to New York.  Some ways are faster, some ways are slower, some ways are more expensive and that’s ok.  Pick which way works best for you…..as long as you get to NY.  Same goes for math.  It is our job and soul purpose to teach our students.  It is well known that one size doesn’t fit all.  One approach to solving conversions doesn’t work for everyone.  Why are we still having students memorize procedures if they don’t understand the problem?  What happened to making sense of things? It only happens to be the first standard of math practice!!!    It baffles me that this is from a newer teacher who hasn’t done any conceptual lessons and/or applications.   The whole thing blows my mind! Maybe it’s also the realization that not every math teacher thinks or teaches like me.

So what do we do?  Do we challenge teachers like this?  Is it worth the fight when they may not understand the importance themselves?

My son’s situation just proves that there’s more work to be done out there.  Teachers still need training.  And just because we, in our youth, learned to memorize procedures, doesn’t mean we actually made sense of things.

Math rant over. Disengaging.

Until next time,

Kristen