• Jim Parks

The newest new math.

November 11, 2019

If you learned ‘old’ math, you may find ‘new’ math bewildering, and that can make helping with homework really challenging. It’s possible we’ll soon have an even newer math curriculum.

Many Americans learned old math: addition and subtraction, multiplication tables, and long division. Some may have absorbed linear equations in algebra and isosceles triangles in geometry. The new math entails a similar but different skill set. For instance, new math requires students to:

• Solve 12 times 37 using box multiplication • Answer 10 minus 7 using a 10-frame • Solve 57 minus 14 using base ten subtraction • Explain how to decompose numbers • Solve word problems using an open number line

If you are familiar with any of these new problem-solving methods, congratulations! You are ahead of the curve.

Unfortunately, the new math hasn’t been improving Americans’ performance on the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), a standardized test administered in 70 countries. In 2018, the U.S. placed 39th in math.

Jo Boaler, the Nomellini-Olivier Professor of Mathematics Education at Stanford University, and Steven Levitt, an economist and author, think we need to change what we’re teaching. In an opinion piece in the Los Angeles Times, they wrote:

“What we propose is as obvious as it is radical: to put data and its analysis at the center of high school mathematics. Every high school student should graduate with an understanding of data, spreadsheets, and the difference between correlation and causality. Moreover, teaching students to make data-based arguments will endow them with many of the same critical-thinking skills they are learning today through algebraic proofs, but also give them more practical skills for navigating our newly data-rich world.”

Get ready for 21st century math!