It may seem like the math students are getting lately is a little schizophrenic. On one hand, they have the most traditional kind of addition and subtraction practice, and, on the other, they have some weird assignments which asks them to figure out numbers by wildly guessing.

The choice of topics and approaches here is dictated by the District. Teachers are now given an “instructional guide” – it used to be called, more accurately, a “pacing plan” – and told what topics should be taught in what order. To make sure we follow it, students are given tests every quarter on the topics that are mandated in the instructional guide. Teachers are given some suggestions as to the assignments, but we really have a fair amount of latitude here.

Now, I’d change a few of the details of this plan, and I’m not always the biggest fan of the quarterly tests, but I think there’s a lot of good thinking behind it. That’s more than I can say for some other not-to-be-named district curriculum innovations.

Kids need to know the techniques – what mathematics teachers call “algorithms – for solving arithmetic problems. And the need some practice at this to get good at it. I do not think I was insistent enough about this at the start of this unit, and I think that much of the blame for the low scores can be laid, alas, at my feet. That’s why I’m giving them the worksheets now and demanding to see the work, not just the answers.

But more important than this, students need to learn to start thinking like mathematicians. And mathematicians play around with numbers and get fascinated by patterns. They learn patience as they approach problems in different ways.

To help the children think like mathematicians, but still have fun, we have a program called “Hands-on Equations.” This program is widely used not only in LAUSD, but throughout the country. It allows students to learn to understand the basic concepts of algebras – variables and equations – using a bunch of little plastic game piece and number cubes. There are 30 basic lessons. Really, lessons 11 and above only make sense to middle school students. But the earlier lessons, particularly 1 through 7, work well with children as young as third grade.

We did lesson 1 today. I think that a few of the students really got the idea. More will get it when we do the second lesson, probably towards the end of next month. I’ll showcase a bit of the program at the Back-to-School Breakfast.

**Homework**: (1) Study spelling. (2) Do crossword puzzle. (3) Addition and subtraction worksheet. (4) Page 2 of cursive book.