Thursday, October 29, 2009

Chinese Algebra

It's finally happened.

I watched my mother go through it, as she struggled over my homework papers in fifth grade, with numbers stacked neatly over an upside-down division symbol. I thought she was quaint, and perhaps a little crazy, as she cursed under her breathe over "that cockamamie stuff they are teaching you kids".

Now, bent over Daisy's pre-algebra homework, I'm encountering it for myself.

The New Math.

I had thought that my generation was a solitary recipient of the New Math. Perhaps, as with Vatican II, the New Math was one of the progressive offspring of the 60's cultural revolution that brought us phonics and Palo Alto readers, and destined to be the norm until the time of the next cultural revolution.

I see now that this is not so -- every generation has their own New Math. Like popular music and slang, the objective of the New Math is to isolate the previous generation, to distinguish them as out of touch and out of step with contemporary culture and learning.

Last night, the object of the exercise was "isolate the variable". 1/5t = 9. I carefully and dutifully explained about the use of the inverse of the modifier -- in this case, 5 -- on both sides of the equation. Daisy watched, frowned, and then howled, in frustration.

"That's not how we're supposed to do it! We're supposed to use the odey-podey!"

"The what-the-foozits?"

She demonstrated, using a combination of fractions above and below the line, with several arcs, leading around the equation and rendering the entire thing unreadable. She also got the wrong answer.

"Look, this isn't a bloomin' art project, it's an equation. Multiply both sides by the inverse of the modifier. See? Then you reduce the modifier in front of the variable to 1 and get the right answer."

She frowned again. "That's not how we're supposed to do it."

"OK, well YOUR way is giving you the wrong answer."

She drew a frown-y face next to my equation. She then announced that she would stop in to see her teacher in the morning about it, and stalked off to her room.

This morning, darling hubby talked with her math teacher, explaining the encounter from last night.

"Oh," she said, "you're using reciprocals. I don't teach reciprocals."

He looked at her, puzzled. "Then how on Earth do you isolate variables??"

"Oh, we use the odey-podey."

It appears we're doomed to that realm of quaint insanity, where my parents, and their parents before them, have dwelt since time immemorial. I'll bring my Supertramp albums to pass the time.


bhd said...


Sue said...

I am going to forward this one to Chloe's math teacher!! Same thing last night and night before...after she blew it on the last 2 math tests..

Ellie Creek Ellis said...

i teach at a middle school and i am AMAZED at what they are teaching the kids...and completely different...good luck in the next few years with those girls' homework help!

Mike Carter said...

what frightens me is that I have a mathematics degree - and I still don't know what they are trying to teach here. :-)

Lisse said...

OMG, is this what I have to look forward to?

We've had the new math fight here and ultimately, they wound up keeping the series but adding more math facts. Things started to improve after the 6th grade math teacher let slip to a group on parents night that the kids weren't coming in from 5th grade prepared to do 6th grade math. She didn't quite mean that literally, but it turned out to be a catalyst for some change.

I hadn't even thought about Algebra, which I used to actually like. Bleah!

winter said...

Damn odey-podeys. I learned the reciprocal method, too. What's wrong with reciprocals?

How sestive.