How’s Tricks?

Posted on July 26, 2014


Another brief twitterfest on “tricks” and whether we should nix ’em or not.

I need to grab the picture of all the procedures for fractions in one place because I think it is a great springboard for duscussion.

I’m thinking that for some, this would seem to be a *great* “study aid.” Hey, just about all the procedures in one little place! Study, study, study, pass the test.

But to others, it exemplifies the problems with teaching tricks and procedures to get through a test. Trust me, after the test, those assorted procedures and tricks get muddied.

When silly math test stuff is done and you can get on with your life… Hopefully, you won’t have to actually take math in like college, where even in those lowly “non-competitive” colleges they sometimes expect you to do some math and… know which procedure to do when.

WOrse yet, they give you applications of things like fractions where it doesn’t look just like the math book… and as my last post reminded me… on the placement tests for college, pretty much *whenever they could,* if there was a wrong answer that you could get by Just Plugging In Something That Looked Right (even though it made no sense), the majority of students did. If most students got a question right, then … it didn’t have one of these “trick” answers.

But I say unto you, tricks do not need to be nixed. (Nixing three paragraphs about why… maybe later…) What if students were expected to be able to explain the *relationships* of those assorted fraction procedural rules and how you could get from one to the other?

I would say that one of the biggest problems with the shortcuts and tricks is the very nasty message students can build from them (whether or not it’s the message we’re “sending”): “okay, you’re not going to get this, so here’s what you can do instead of understanding it. Just plug in this trick.” Hence: “Ours is not to question why: just invert and multiply.”

On the other hand, when a student is learning perimeters and areas, an d I encourage a student to think “area — square ya!” it’s usually done with my marker at the white board making lightning-fast squares in space. My message: use this verbal or visual shortcut to access the right path in your brain to reinforce the understanding.

Our teachers have students “clear the fractions” instead of cross multiplying — but my review of “Death to Denominators!” avoids the word “canceling” — we’re zooming in and making everything proportionally bigger so they’ll have the same relationship… just easier to work with.

Posted in: math, math literacy