Clearly I missed something in Primary School Maths.

Last night I went to an Early Childhood Education workshop on numeracy. Pre-maths.

Now, I’ve mentioned before that my math isn’t so great. I’ve always blamed it on my synesthesia and the colours of the numbers getting mixed up.  Last night, I discovered that just might not be the case. Clearly I missed an important understanding of math.

The facilitator (yes, she was facilitating, not presenting) had to get us to do a few math problems so that she could make her point about learning and numeracy and where the preschool children have to get to.

The first question was “Harry has 3 cows and Mary gives him 5 more. How many cows does he have?

Easy, right?  Question for you… do you have 3+5=8 memorised? (I do.) or did you do this:

5-1=4 and 3+1=4 and I know 4+4 =8.

While you ponder that, here’s the next question.  “George has 9 lollies and Candace gives him 8 more. How many lollies does George have?”

Again, a long time ago I memorised 9+8=17.  (Or, rather, yellow +blue = black and purple)

But my son (7) does this:

8+8=16 +1=17

Ready for the next one?

“If I have 47 apples and Dad gives me 25 more, how many apples do I have?”

That was the sound of my brain screaming. Dutifully, I did the longhand:


But the other educators in the room were of course, faster than me. 

40+20 = 60 + 12 = 72
47, 57, 67 +5 = 72
47 + 3 = 50 +25 = 75 -3 =72

By now, my brain was really hurting.

And then the facilitator threw the big one at us.

“I have 5 baskets filled with 28 muffins each. How many muffins do I have?”

[Kermit panic flail] and Broot runs out of the room screaming. After I’ve been settled down, again I do it this way:

x 5

Which of course, everyone in the room found quaint. (And slow!)

5×30 = 150 – (5×2=10) = 140

28/2=14 x (5×2=10) = 140

Apparently, while the primary teachers never used to teach this method, students who thought out of the box were doing their sums this way anyways. Some of us (ahem, me!) never got that concept and therefore are pretty slow at this math stuff, even though we can get the right answer eventually.

But now, primary school children are all taught this part/whole concept of math, which makes sense and is much easier than the longhand form.  They don’t get taught my outdated longhand until secondary school!

When the facilitator did a round of “Did you get what you needed out of this workshop?”  my answer was “I think I’ve just improved my math skills.”

My husband is very thankful, because I’m the one who pays the bills and does the budget. Ha.


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About Broot

Thoughts about learning and life that are lost in a sea of blogs.

64 responses to “Clearly I missed something in Primary School Maths.”

  1. Mama Zen says :

    I know what you mean! I had to learn a whole way of doing math just to be able to help my little girl with her homework!

  2. Mary says :

    You may not be great with numbers, but you certainly can write well. Have a great day. Blessings…Mary

  3. Leslie Limon says :

    OMG! They’re teaching the same thing to kids in Mexico. I was just going over multiplication with my 8 year old daughter the other day, and was so confused by the “new” math. I even started writing a blog post trying to explain it, but it was too confusing! 🙂

    • Broot says :

      Yes, that’s one of the reasons I went to the workshop in the first place. To try and understand what was going on. I’m glad I did! Do they offer workshops like this in Mexico for parents?

  4. JennTheGamerMom says :

    Abby’s math (in the US it’s singular) is the same way (2nd grade). She was having trouble understanding one subtraction problem so I showed her the way I had learned it. She took this back to her teacher, who used it as a jumping-off point to explain yet a third way that I did not grok at all…

  5. solodialogue says :

    This is very cool. I learned it the way you learned it – the hard way (apparently) but in my head for several years I’ve been doing it the way you explained above which is a lot faster and easier. Thanks for such an easy to read and understand post about this subject! You are a talented writer (not easy to make it fun to read about math!!)

    • Broot says :

      Aww gee shucks, thank you! 🙂 Very true. My brain tends to shut off when math is the subject. I’m really glad I went to that workshop, actually. Made it a bit less scary.

  6. Betty says :

    Thanks for visiting my blog today. I love to receive new visitors.
    I usually do math the long way too. But the best way is usually with my calculator. haha

  7. mommylebron says :

    I home school my daughter using the public schools materials and the first time I came across this I might have cried. It was easy for me to understand because I do it like that in my head all the time. But to try and teach it? So, I let the tutor handle that part!

  8. Jenn @ You know...that Blog? says :

    I get this too (shocker, I know). I think like this also, which is how I can work out percentages in my head so quickly. Break it down into exact chunks, and then add the rest… makes sense! 😉

    Uhm… where’s your haiku, Madame?

  9. Broot says :

    My 3 (THREE!) Haikus are in the comments of your post, Madame. 😉

  10. eof737 says :

    Does it work is the next question? I remember memorization was the rule back in the day, but not as much these days. Add a calculator and you don’t even need to think. ahem … sometimes. 🙂

    • Broot says :

      Well, my son’s math is much better than mine. But that could be because hubby’s math is better than mine, too. It *seems* easier to me. But you’re right, calculators are good things.

  11. Blond Duck says :

    It may be because I’m blond, but I don’t get it.

    • Broot says :

      Maybe because you were already doing math the easier way and not the old fashioned way? I dunno. Not sure how to respond without knowing which part is confusing for you. 🙂

  12. Teje says :

    Hello! This was interesting … I use your way and I’m slow and bad with numbers, couldn’t we use only letters!? Letters I love. First questiongs were ok but buffins – who cares, lets eat them!
    Thank you for your sweet comments! Have a lovely weekend! Teje

  13. Teje says :

    …hhhmmm did I say I love letters…sorry about typing mistakes … I’m just having my morning coffee! Teje

  14. bluecottonmemory says :

    In our community, children are coming home with math that even engineer parents have trouble wrapping their minds around. I asked a teacher, “well, if an engineer can’t do it that way, then how will this math help them in the workplace.”

    I do like the idea that the math numbers, as you worked them out, allow more dexterity, making the numbers in a way more flexible (does that sound right?) – and so adding becomes less stilted. I have noticed, however, that my boys have a harder time with math in high school than I did (and I struggled though I got all the way to Trig). I’m thinking they are teaching to the test in H.S. and not teaching methodical, foundational concept building.

    I give you an A+ for such an awesome math lesson! I got it, but it hurt my brain, too, at first! LOL.

    • Broot says :

      Ah. That makes sense. My kids are in NZ though and I don’t think we teach to the test at the moment. Hopefully it will stay that way! 🙂 Thank you!

  15. Blond Duck says :

    I did your meme today!

  16. Joanne says :

    Wow! That sounds a bit crazy. Why are they teaching to those who think outside the box? I must admit that I do a little bit of this “roundabout math” when I have to do it in my head, but I think the old way is much cleaner if you can write it down. I do worry that educators are just screwing our kids up sometimes by making things too complicated. And I also think memorization works well with single digit math for young kids. I really hope I don’t see this at my daughter’s school. Happyt SITS day to you! I am enjoying your blog.

  17. Jessica@Team Rasler says :

    I’m glad you weren’t one of the parents who hates the new math! I’m an elementary teacher, and we started teaching these alternate methods almost a decade ago. I was amazed at how much faster I calculated answers in my head! I’ve met some parents who embrace it, many who tolerate it, and a handful who despise it. I work hard to explain that we don’t force the kids to do their math this way. We just teach it as an alternative. I also explain that it’s true that it’s faster for mental math if the numbers are relatively small, but slower if you have bigger numbers or a lot of calculations to do. That usually is what turns the haters into tolerators.

    Happy SITS day to you!

    • Broot says :

      No, I didn’t hate it at all. As I said, I learned a different way of looking at it and it helped me. 🙂 I think it’s all in the way it is presented. I was in a roomful of people who not only WANTED to be there, but were eager to learn. Makes it hard to go against the flow.

  18. Sharm's Outlet says :

    I undertand what you mean here… But I love how you assemble all this together… GOOD LUCK 🙂

  19. Barbara Albright says :

    ha-ha-ha – it’s always a good thing when the one paying the bills can handle the basic math. I can add relatively quickly in my head – usually the scorekeeper when we play cards. I would do the 28 things in five baskets by rounding up the 28 to 30 – because quickly I know 5 x 30 is 150. then subtract the 2 from 30 (for the 28) x 5 = 10 and subract that from 150 – to come at 140. i always round up then subtract the difference -works for me. and it’s where my brain goes automatically. interesting post. and really? i’m a writer – so more right brained – and we ALL go about writing in different ways – so why not in math too?

  20. Morgan Kellum says :

    I had the same shock in helping my 3rd grader. At first I thought, “What in the world?!?!”. Then after I realized they were breaking down all the numbers, a little lightbulb came on in my head and I was amazed to discover the how and why of the math I memorized in school. Of course, my math-headed hubby didn’t share in my amazement … he just said, “Yeah. I already knew that.” Oh.

    Have a great SITS day! 🙂

  21. Lisa says :

    You lost me at the word “Math”! 😉 Happy SITS day!!

  22. Martine De Luna (@Dainty_Mom) says :

    Oh, God. I dread the day my son brings home Maths homework. Right now, I’m happy with counting his Sesame Street action figures every freakin’ hour of the day (He just turned two years old and can now count to 12.)

    I love how you use “Maths” and not “Math.” I went to British school all my life, and I always called mathematics “Maths.” Here in the Philippines (where I’m from and live), it’s “Math” like it is in the U.S., mainly from American influences. (Just sayin’, there is no significance to my observation other than that I find your use of the word familiar 😉 Happy SITS Day, again!

  23. Teresa - Embracing the Spectrum says :

    I do math in the short-hand too, so I can do it in my head. But I’m a teacher, and when you work with numbers for a while, it comes to you naturally. I know very few students who can do this.

  24. Tragic Sandwich says :

    Very interesting! I usually use the methods you do, particularly for addition, but sometimes with multiplication I use a method like the first one you describe. In this particular instance (dealing with 5s), I usually do this:

    28 x 10 = 280 / 2 = 140

  25. Jamie says :

    They are teaching the same way in the US. To me the new way seems a whole lot harder and longer but maybe I just haven’t grasped it yet…

  26. omgyummy says :

    Oh my word, my son would flunk out. He is brilliant but processes quite slowly, particularly math calculations so having him learn a method that adds in more calculations to get to the answer would just about do him in, I think. You have a high tolerance level, I would have walked out in frustration for sure 🙂

    Happy SITS day and good luck with that math stuff!

    • Broot says :

      Well I would hope that your son’s teachers would figure out this method wasn’t working for him and find a better one. We don’t all learn in the same way!!

  27. Belle Delos Reyes says :

    Wow, headache! I think I hate math even more! My daughter is 10 months old and I dread doing her homework with her… because that means I have to keep up and learn again! Hahahaha!

    But then again, I love learning new things… but I think i need more time learning this one.

    Enjoy your SITS day! 🙂

  28. jesterqueen1 says :

    You know what? They were trying to teach me that when I was in school. But they didn’t have the name “disgraphia” yet. Or nobody bothered to apply it to an honors student. I still have to just do what I can by rote, because otherwise, the numbers REFUSE to hold still.

    I remember looking plaintively up at my fourth grade teacher and telling her “the numbers are moving” and having her say, “well, it’s good you can approach this with a sense of humor” because she didn’t understand that the NUMBERS were MOVING.

    • Broot says :

      One can hope that now they have the word dysgraphia that they’ll pay attention when a student says the numbers are moving!! They didn’t have the word dyspraxia either, for my Hubby.

  29. Meredith says :

    I’m not sure if anyone has shown you this way to do multiplication, but this is how my son does it. 24 x 49=…then you do 20 x 40=80, and then 4 x 9=36, then 80+36=116. My son has autism and has dysgraphia, which someone else mentioned. We have always had to find a “trick” to teach him things, and for some reason, this clicks with him.

  30. MARIE COLE says :

    I think I will stick to the way I do it, the “old fashioned” way. 🙂

  31. Venus says :

    This is SO interesting! I hadn’t thought about it. I was taught the memorization of small numbers and longhand method for large numbers as well. However, I do find myself using a mix of that “classic” methodology as well as the more “mixed” method. I think I most often use the “mixed” method when doing division, especially if I’m ballparking and don’t really need an exact number. For instance, how many times does 15 go into 140? Well, 15 * 10 is 150, so it probably goes into 140 about 9 times plus some.

    I think it’s probably best to give children all the possible tools to find the way that works best for them, since we all learn and think in different ways.

    Happy belated SITS day!!

  32. Classic NYer says :

    You know what’s amazing? I was always one of those kids who did it the quicker way, but I had no idea what I was doing until you just laid it out so succinctly, haha! I would be the kid who the teacher would ask me to “show my work” and I’d have nothing to show so she’d assume I copied from the kid next to me until she discovered that the kid next to me had showed all his work and got the wrong answer anyway… It kind of does make you wonder why they wouldn’t teach it that way in school…

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