The
other day my 8-year-old son brought home his weekly envelope of class work for
me to review, and among his spelling worksheets and carefully crawled
mini-essays and crayoned drawings,** I spotted a sheet of subtraction
problems that looked slightly ... odd**. He had two problems to solve,
both fairly basic, but he also had three columns on the page in which he had
been required to use different strategies to solve the problems. The first
column looked perfectly familiar to me: one number was on top of the other, with
a line drawn underneath both and his answer below. The second and third columns,
however, made exactly ZERO sense to me no matter how long I peered
mouthbreathingly at the "strategies."

I
have long dreaded the day when I could no longer help my children with their
homework because their knowledge had surpassed my own -- but **I hadn't
quite imagined it would happen in the SECOND GRADE**.

To
be honest, **this isn't the first time his work has stumped me**.
I'm embarrassed to admit that the first time his spelling sheet said to circle
the word with the long vowels, I had to slink away to my computer and quickly
Google the difference between long and short vowels. I'm even *more*
embarrassed to admit that I've performed that exact search more than once since
then, because my brain apparently has a nano-sized trebuchet installed in the
grammar sector.

But
at least the long/short vowel thing can be sorted out fairly quickly, and there
are handy songs for helping small children and forgetful adults remember certain
rules *("When two vowels go walking, the first one does the talking
...").* When it comes to my son's math work, however, I'm pretty much at a
loss. I mean, **does this all make sense to YOU**?

The first
strategy is comfortingly familiar, but **I have no idea what's going on in
the next two columns**. What's with the blocks? What are all those lines?
Is this really intended to make math *easier*? Is it normal that after
staring at it for 10 minutes, I had to take two Motrin and lie down in a
darkened room for a while?

I'll
be the first to acknowledge that I am painfully, almost medically stupid when it
comes to math, but I do have a grasp on the concepts of basic two-digit
subtraction. At least I *thought* I did. This business of drawing what
looks like a hopscotch board combined with a mystical (to me) diagram reminds me
of that old Calvin & Hobbes cartoon:

My own
boneheadedness aside, **I'm glad my son is being exposed to different ways
to look at the same problem**. I assume the end goal here is to increase
the odds that one of the strategies will click, reducing the number of kids who
struggle because the standard 'do it in your head' way doesn't work for them.
It's just ... well, I feel bad I'm already so far out of my element. Lines and
squares? Dude, I'm sorry, but until your teacher sends home a little
parents-only worksheet for those of us who either never used manipulatives or
forgot them because it's been *haarrrrrrrrummmph* years since we were in
second grade (I'd draw some boxes to figure out just how long but suffice to say
A LONG-ASS TIME), you're on your own.

The
fact that I can't understand his assignments definitely doesn't bode well for
the future, either. Soon enough he'll know that I can't do algebra, I've
forgotten nearly every last word of Spanish except "Dos cervezas, por favor,"
and **I couldn't draw an accurate map of the United States if you held a
gun to my head**.

Seriously,
this is about what it would look like:

Oh,
I can already picture the pitying look my child will give me **when he
realizes the spiraling, endless depth of my cluelessness**. It'll be like
the time I asked him if there was an actual point to Minecraft or
not.

**Have you been
stumped by your (young) child's homework yet? What's with these newfangled math
concepts?**

- Cafe AmyS

on Feb. 19, 2014 at 10:33 AM