Monday, November 25, 2013

Are You Smarter Than A Fifth Grader?

They have made a TV show about it - that should have been my first clue.  If I been paying attention I would have noticed just how many facebook posts refer to it and usually include reference to the parental consumption of a calming glass of wine.  Perhaps you need to have a personal connection before you take notice - you know like when you want to be pregnant and aren't and it seems that every other woman in the world is.  Or when you buy a new model of a car and then all of a sudden it seems to be the only model of car on the road.

But I didn't notice until now - or if I did, I was smug that it didn't apply to me and let it roll out of mind without a backward glance.  Now, I feel your pain, I get the need for a sympathetic ear - I am reaching for the bottle.  The reason?  Fifth grade math homework.

I find myself transported back a few decades, sitting looking a my ruled jotter (Brit speak for workbook) and wondering out loud (and by wondering I mean whining) why I could possibly ever need to know how to multiply fractions or divide 10365 by 264.
I now know the answer to that question.  I now know,  that as suspected back in the 80's when I was proclaiming loudly that "when I grow up I'll just use a calculator,"  that I was right. I do. Just. Use. A. Calculator. Or Google.  Either way - I do not sit down with a pencil and multiply, divide, bring down and add to find out the answer.  I have a college degree and am on my second career.  I still have no use for that knowledge. I probably would never choose to do my own taxes, an app on my phone is much faster and more accurate at converting foreign currency. There are many solutions for the math problems out in the real world and even those who excel at math use them.

So, why do I find myself feeding the ten year old the same line?  "It's a process, it's a practice, you will use these skills in different ways later in life.  It's basic math facts - you will need to know if you want to do more complicated math or physics for example."

I only partly agree - knowing the process is good - but I think she could just use a calculator for the actual calculation division, subtraction, multiplication and addition parts of the sequence.  Watching her frustration I question myself.  When are we going to acknowledge the high tech world we live in when teaching math?  We let a cash register work out the cost of our purchases and tax at the store. We let the gas pump tell us how much we owe.   We use our home computers or hand held devices to work out any number of things for us. Architects, engineers and accountants all use apps and programs to work out that which was previously done with pen, paper and a ruler so why are we still torturing our children with long division, multiplication of fractions and times tables?

It's frustrating, it's hard, it makes us feel stupid.  I have been giving the ten year old's homework problems to anyone who walks into my home (I know you are thinking that I know how to show my guests a good time) and they have all had a hard time getting to the answer.  I had one of the design engineers from the winning America's Cup yacht scribbling away at my dining room table for 15 minutes before he could solve one of the ten year old's homework problems - a man who does precision calculating in a high stakes environment all day long!

We need to re-think this.  In the meantime - I will keep the drinks cupboard well stocked.


  1. No. I am definitely not smarter than a fifth grader, which is scary because I'm about to have two of them.

  2. My son's really smart, he went to Nursery New York City and I'm not sure if he's smarter than me. Lol


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