Saturday, January 20, 2007

Fuzzy math video

Parents who are bewildered by the kind of math their children are exposed to in school should watch this video. A parent who is also an atmospheric scientist demonstrates how multiplication and division problems are done with this new-fangled math. Incredibly confusing stuff for a kid, done to avoid standard algorithms.

This link of the video called Math Education: An Inconvenient Truth takes you to the YouTube site. The video has sparked a lively discussion at YouTube that includes a few defenders of fuzzy math. This is an example:

Kids will "learn math" if they are given an opportunity to discover. Kids want to explore things. If you tell them that this is the way to do it, you have (for many, but not all) squelched their creative energy. They are reduced to just finding the answer. Kids want to understand the language of math. In the standard division algorithm, we use the term "goes in to". What does that mean to a kid just beginning to learn the concept of division? What is a "remainder"?
This is what I don't understand. If kids are so eager to discover, why are they not discovering on their own outside school? If this were true, nearly every child would be math proficient.


NYC Educator said...

Great point.

On a marginally unrelated topic, my daughter's favorite subject is math. I can't figure where I went wrong.

ohdave said...

My daughter is a second grader and we are just beginning to see how the everyday math works. Alas she is a student in my own district (I work at the secondary level). She is beginning to do two column addition according to this method. It seems logical in addition, but the math example in the video is just insane.

Wow. Thanks for posting this.

Chanman said...

Great info. I have read about "fuzzy math" many times, but this is the first time that I ever gotten a true introduction to the reality of it by watching the so-called math put into action.


Pissed Off said...

No wonder kids get to hs and college and can't do any math.

I tutored a girl going to college for elementary education. she had a whole textbook devoted to this junk.

The sad thing is that legislators and books salesman would blame the teachers for the failure of this method. They would say "The teachers just don't want to write new lesson plans."

Jen said...

I have many mixed feelings about all of this. My kids' district uses Everyday Math. For them, it's been great. They have a far better understanding of numbers/math than I did at their age. I was good at math, but that was because I was good at following instructions. I learned what to do (the algorithm) and did it. I didn't know why I did it or why it worked nor if I'd been asked to think of another way to explain what I did could I have done that.

I hated when my mother would look at my homework and try to "explain" or show me another way. I wanted to follow the rules and be done.

My kids' school did emphasize basic facts too, though I won't say all the kids got them. Then again, if you go to a lot of adults, they can't do math either. They can do long division, but they don't know *when* to do it. They can't solve basic word problems because they can't figure out which rule they need to use. It's not a new problem, it's an old one.

All that said, I think that one thing the elementary school started doing recently was a very good idea. They made any struggling kids pick ONE algorithm in 3rd/4th grade for each thing they needed (multiple digit multiplication, long division) and stick with that. Most of the kids who advanced quickly really had already done that -- they could tell you different ways to solve a problem, but if there were a test or homework, they'd just use one way.

So, I don't really know the answers here. I know that whenever I hear people railing on about EM, I'm conflicted though, since my own kids have gotten a far better math education than I did, but I'm not sure that this is true of all kids.

happychyck said...

It seems to me that the examples shown in the video ask students to think in a different way. That's not always a bad thing. But I think with addition, subtraction, muliplication, and division, it is necessary to be able to do calculations quickly and accurately. The other methods look like they would take longer, and with all the numbers listed, it migh be easy to get confused.

PeppermintKiwi said...

Just ... wow. This makes very little sense to me -- as much as it's good to think outside the box and let kids explore, this method seems to take twice as long and use twice as much work.

It drives me nuts when the middle schoolers I work with (afterschool program) ask for homework help and the following takes place: I give the most straightforward way to solve the problem, they go "nooooooo! you're doing it wrooooong." And then they do some complicated work that gets the both of us confused.

CrypticLife said...

Nothing is particularly wrong with knowing the multiple algorithms of EM, but I don't think the algorithms used (or not used) are really the main problem.

It's the lack of practice.

The loudest complaints aren't that students can't do multi-digit computation, it's when students are having trouble with 6*4 that people get upset.

My wife was concerned about our son's math education in TERC, so she started teaching him with Kumon at home. He can now has memorized his multiplication and division tables (he also spent a few minutes to learn to do this with negative and mixed negative-positive factors), and is just starting multiple digit multiplication. He's in first grade.

One of the most frightening things about the youtube video is the apparently huge percentage of the EM books devoted to completely non-math subjects (atlases and the like). The way to get better at math, is practice. Atlases suck that time up.

I'd also advise everyone to check websnarf's video reply, he makes a pretty convincing demonstration of the efficiency of the standard algorithm.

Instructivist said...

EM's algorithm is inefficient but practicing place value and expanded notation is a good thing.

One the other hand, TERC' algorithm is a disaster. It leads to complete working memory overload and it is highly confusing to have to keep track of so many sideshows.

Another thing that hasn't been brought up is that the example shown used friendly numbers, e.g. 20 is twice 10 and 5 is half of ten. If you don't limit yourself to friendly numbers, then the sideshows explode.

Stewart said...

My son started EM last year in 4th grade. He started 4th grade having tested at or above grade level. After one year (4th) of EM he tested out as a second month 4th grader. Basically he learned one month of math in the 9 months of his school year. He was in the top 70% and dropped to the bottom 30. Througout the year I tried to help him with his homework but made little progress. Time that had in the past been spent productively doing math homework degenerated into frustation.

Toward the end of the year I did some research on EM and started realizing the problem was not my son, it was the curriculum. It was suggested by someone I met online that I get a traditional math curriculum and teach him myself on the side. I bought the Saxon Math 4/5 lesson books and he started doing them over the summer.

When school started (5th grade)he was back in the top 70% and testing out "calendar" wise as a 6 or 7th month 5th grader. His 5th grade teacher even bragged on him saying he was a "whiz" on his facts.

I have written letters to the editor of my local newspaper that have been published and been interviewed by the same paper for a front page article. Very little came of that. The teachers at my son's school basically gave me cheerleading lectures on how great EM was when I went into complain. One even told me not to worry about my son's inability to do equivalent fractions, (he got an F on that). She said he would pick it up later in the "spiral". It turns out she was on the selection committe to bring EM in. Unfortunatly he got the "pure, stait" EM from her. I understand some teachers taught traditonal math on the side, when the math police (read principal) weren't around. Lucky them.

It is extremely frustating to see how inefficient and awful EM has been for my kid. It's also a chore to keep him doing the Saxon after school, (5/6 now).

The video you posted is great. Thanks.


Instructivist said...


Thanks for sharing your experience.

The shame is that this fuzzy stuff makes kids hate math, when it could be enjoyable, as with Saxon. Kids need a sense of accomplishment and mastery, and they are not getting it with this fuzzy stuff.

"I bought the Saxon Math 4/5 lesson books and he started doing them over the summer.

When school started (5th grade)he was back in the top 70% and testing out "calendar" wise as a 6 or 7th month 5th grader. His 5th grade teacher even bragged on him saying he was a "whiz" on his facts."

And then the success will be attributed by the school to wonderful EM.

You may want to take a look at

Lots of parents there in your situation. I also contribute heavily to that site.

Oregonian Kid said...

I am 14 and even though I live in Oregon I was taught the cluster mode of multiplication. I remember not understanding the standered methods until someone told me to 'break it down'. This saved me, I was and am still able to get through promblems IN MY HEAD faster than other people. I use that logic to solve everyday stuff too and I definatly think it helped.

I still, however, cannot long divide,that is how I found this site in the first place. As i watched the video my eyes went out of focus at that part, ive had years and years of re-teaching, tutors, in in short, I have been taught the traditional method, it just doesnt work for me. I guess I think differently that most people, but not in a bad way. I am in all the accelerated programs at my school, I just don't get lond division. I hope that others can, but my calculator is faster than paper. I can use a pencil, but if its to complicated to do in my head, why would I 'waste valuble class time' on writing it out?

Like I said, I just found this randomly, and I am kind of in the middle on this subject. I think in the cluster method, there is nothing wrong with that, but I must say that my Mom hasnt been able to help me with my homework since 4th grade (and she is a college graduate who works in accounting).

Instructivist said...

"I am in all the accelerated programs at my school, I just don't get lond division."

Maybe you just sped by it too fast.

It's good to see a young student write so well.

There is nothing to long division. You can learn it in three seconds.