Sunday, May 3, 2015

Montessori Math not Memorizing Math

I came across an article entitled, “Memorizing Math is Wrong – This Study Shows Why,” which lead me to another article by USNews & World Report called, “Should We Stop Making Kids Memorize Times Tables?”  Both articles are interesting.  Upon reading both, I was instantly transported to my mom’s car in third grade when I was forced to continue to try and memorize my times tables by repeating them.  I remember hating every minute of it.  

Math was one of my better subjects up until about sixth grade.  I didn’t love it, I was just able to do it and get good grades.  From what I can remember it was because I did the work and memorized as I was told.  As I got older, math class became a great struggle for me.  It made no sense, I could apply very little to what was assigned and I lost a great deal of interest in it.  This carried on all the way through the well-respected all boys catholic high school that I went to and Jesuit College.  Not even tutors helped me to do more than just barely get by, especially when it came to geometry. 

Once I graduated college and became an assistant at a prominent Montessori School in Houston, my relationship with math began to change.  The vast materials were amazing, life changing, and the variety in which a child could learn how to do an operation was mind-opening.  Then I took the elementary training course that summer.  It was then that I knew my life and my way of understanding math would never be the same.  Scratch that, not even my way, but now there was a way that I did understand and memorizing did not matter.

As an elementary teacher, I have become known as being very good at math and teaching it.  Something that I never would have thought others would think of me.  But, I think there is something more to it and it is not really about me aside from a couple of things.  Parents of our present children have horrible memories when it comes to learning math.  What we are able to teach our children now is mind blowing, but it has been around for over a hundred years.  Most parents today do not realize that so when they see their fourth year child starting to understand what the algebraic expression of the binomial cube is, they are blown away because they definitely did not learn and understand that in elementary, let alone at around age 10.  This is not an exception to the rule, this is the norm in an authentic Montessori program.

A call to action would be to look for or make sure your child is in an authentic Montessori program.  One that encourages different ways of learning and teaching it in more than one way.  Not just with math.  However, it is a shame to think that something as universal as math is so misunderstood because it is so dominantly taught by way of rote memorization.  If your child does not understand it, if you do not understand it and cannot apply it to the real world, than what is the point, really? There is a way for your child to be happy, to be educated.  That way is an authentic Montessori program where they can thrive and understand what they are doing and why they are doing it.  Learning is not merely a means to an end, but rather a journey that is rewarding, practical and enjoyable.   


Thesis writing service said...

Informative site. Math is not a simple thing

Matthew Simberg said...

Thank you for your comment!

Norma Morris said...

I totally identify Matthew (my son's name by the way) experience with math was similar to yours - I was able to make good grades in my GT class until high school - when memorization and application collided! Thankfully, I also formed a new relationship with numbers and mathematics in my Montessori teacher training which grew during my internship as I handled the materials daily. What a blessing to experience. I wish all students had the opportunity to tap into their math heads through the Montessori Method before becoming completely turned off by the whole thing! - Norma

Anonymous said...

I like your insight on math. Math is very difficult when you are learning it from abstract principles and memorization. Memorization isn't all that bad bur you must understand how you arrived at the answer first. My children learned math in the Montessori classroom, but did not really understand it until they started using the Singapore Math system.

Singapore math teaches students mathematical concepts in a three-step learning process: concrete, pictorial, and abstract. The first of the three steps is concrete, wherein students learn while handling objects such as chips, dice, or paper clips. Students would learn to count these objects by physically lining them up in a row. They would then learn basic arithmetic operations such as addition or subtraction by physically adding or removing the objects from each row.

Students then transition to the pictorial step by drawing diagrams called "bar-models" to represent specific quantities of an object. This involves drawing a rectangular bar to represent a specific quantity. For instance, if a short bar represents five objects, a bar that is twice as long would represent ten. By visualizing the difference between the two bars, students could learn to solve problems of addition by adding one bar to the other, which would, in this instance, produce an answer of fifteen paper clips. They can use this method to solve other mathematical problems involving subtraction, multiplication, and division. Bar modeling is far more efficient than the "guess-and-check" approach, in which students simply guess combinations of numbers until they stumble onto the solution.

Once students have learned to solve mathematical problems using bar modeling, they begin to solve mathematical problems with exclusively abstract tools: numbers and symbols. The system has been used successfully in Asia for many years and is now making its way to the US.

This method can easily be adapted to the Montessori way of learning. At the very least it can be a great supplement to what they learn in the Montessori classroom.

Unknown said...

Thank you very much for your comment and I will look into that as well!