Perhaps the only thing worse than being a teacher’s kid, is being a teacher’s spouse. My husband is both. His mom and dad were both teachers when he was growing up – and his dad was teaching at his high schools! The worst possible fate, right? His dad was also a principal, but luckily after my husband graduated, and in another town. So, yes, it could have been worse for him.

He doesn’t remember this happening to him, but I am always experimenting on my children. I try out new games, and practice my mini-lesson and conferring language, and I read them the books I am previewing for lessons planning. This week, I decided to give them a break and experiment on my husband.

The next conversation with Cathy Fosnot and Stephen Hurley on VoiceEd.ca takes place tonight. We were challenged to solve a problem in preparation for the learning we are doing. I teach grades 2 and 3, and thought this was a problem that would not be appropriate for them, but I wanted to try it out myself. Here is the problem:

**A neighbourhood store is selling 12 cans of cat food for $15. Another store is selling 20 cans for $23. Which is the better deal?**

You can watch a teacher introducing this to some students here.

My first thought was, “Division algorithm”, but I am pushing myself to think in new ways, so I did it like this:

I found halves of each side, until halves no longer made sense. Then I found 3rds for the first store, and 5ths for the second store, all in order to find out the price per can of food at each. I feel confident I am right. (Which I only mention because I don’t always feel confident when I don’t check my division with the standard algorithm. I’m getting better! I teach primary students, and haven’t taught anyone older than grade 4 for a really long time, so division isn’t something I’ve had to think about as a teacher in a really long time. I have taught basic, beginning division of course, but mostly I’m focused on adding and subtracting – the Number Sense, Addition and Subtraction Landscape skills.)

On a whim, I decided to ask my husband to do the same. He is not a teacher, so hasn’t done any learning about math since he was a kid, unless you count the stats class he barely survived when he was working on his master’s degree. Here is what he did:

I conferred with him after, and you can see how well that went. 🙂

Here is the interesting part for me: He has always been good at math. He plays cribbage too quickly for me to learn from him, and has done so forever. He calculates in his head really quickly, and can seriously look at numbers and just know (as he indicated in our conference!) He is a social worker and has to do math all the time, but all of it is calculating, and all of it the same week after week. He calculates mileage, works with money, figures out time sheets for the people he supervises. He’s had this job for 15+ years though, so he doesn’t ever have to problem solve with math. Or at least he rarely has to. Mostly, he figured out how to do this 14.75 years ago, and now he just does the same thing week to week. And he does it every day/week/month – so lots of practice.

The problem really came for him when I asked him to explain. He was so irritated with me for pushing him to talk about his strategy, how he knew what he needed to figure out, why he needed to divide. He had trouble putting his thoughts into words, and that is not typically a problem for him at all.

This is one of my favourite things about teaching math now: I’m not just training kids to do math tricks. I’m teaching them to be math thinkers, and math communicators, and math users.

(Update: Click here and you can listen to Cathy Fosnot and Stephen Hurley talk about the math in this problem, including my solution.)

I think that this would be an interesting post to look at as a staff, when we discuss math thinking and learning. What can we do then for kids like your husband? What might they need compared to the child that doesn’t understand where to start? This makes me think of the line in the K Program Document: “Why this learning for this child at this time?” Children often need different things to get to their next step. As an extension of this, maybe adults do too.

Aviva

The thing I love about it is that he has used such a traditional approach, and can’t even explain why or what it means. He is clearly good at computation! But he doesn’t mathematize, or justify, or explain. To me this is one of the interesting things about the trend in math teaching now. Kids might not know how to do everything, but they sure can explain things!