Part of me would like to blame Mrs. Ripple, my 5th AND 6th grade math teacher. But I know it’s not really her fault that I hated, no, loathed, math.
I hated math because when they skipped me from 2nd grade to 4th grade they forgot to mention I would be missing the multiplication tables.
I hated math because it took me longer than most of the other kids to figure out the problems.
I hated math because I couldn’t get straight A’s like in my other classes.
I hated math period. And I sort of hated Mrs. Ripple. But I don’t think she liked me much either.
Despite my hatred for and attempts at avoiding math, it has followed me to the cooking I love to do, in the small business I own and operate, in the taxes I must file every year, and in the homework my children bring home at night.
To be fair, my children learned at an early age that I would be of little use to them when it came to their math homework. My archaic knowledge is evident when I look at their worksheets. I am not talking about calculus either. I am referring to what we called long division. When I scratch out a problem for my daughter to follow, she looks like I am writing hieroglyphics! I wonder what she would think of my slide rule?
Sharing my own personal experience with math will hopefully shed some light on why I have fallen in LOVE with flexible grouping in math at SA and why I think it’s a brilliant concept. To me, testing a child for each individual unit of a particular math curriculum only sets them up for success. Even among four daughters all from the same two parents, there is a huge difference in each of their abilities to process certain concepts quickly. While fractions made perfect sense to the daughter who loves pizza, another daughter found long division to be more like a puzzle that she would picture in her head and solve. Some of them could speed through certain topics and others understood the concept but needed a few more minutes to solve for the answer. Either way, I long for them to feel confident and successful in their study of math.
I know it is very normal for kids to learn at different speeds and levels of understanding. The big difference for my older 3 daughters is that some of them were “tracked” into math levels at a young age and either grew discouraged or challenged. For my youngest daughter, her experience with a more flexible grouping approach in math class began 5th Grade, kept up her confidence and her desire to try harder. She didn’t care about what level of math she was in, her energy was focused on the new material. She didn’t panic over quizzes and tests because the teachers carefully communicated the idea that even if one particular unit was more difficult to understand, she might sail through the next one. I saw her give a higher level of “try factor” knowing that one difficult unit didn’t “label” her a poor math student for the whole year.
Another key aspect of the flexible grouping in mathematics was the rotation of the 3 Fifth grade teachers for each unit among the different levels of math. Each teacher brought their own strengths to the subject and my daughter benefitted greatly from the diversity.
Perhaps the notion I heard growing up, that boys are better at math and science and girls are better at language arts is grossly wrong and outdated.
I hope so!
I do know, however, that it is crucial that my daughter not repeat my relationship with math. I want her to feel confident and okay with making mistakes and learning what comes easily and what doesn’t. Self knowledge and understanding is a first step in successful overall learning and flexible grouping in the math program allows for that and more.
The blog post was written by Gretchen S. Hansen, Current Parent and Sewickley Academy Trustee.