Strategies for Addition and Subtraction

Here is the latest blog from Utah State Office of Education’s David Smith, elementary math specialist.

David Smith

David Smith, Elementary Mathematics Specialist

“Let’s go invent tomorrow rather than worrying about what happened yesterday.” -Steve Jobs

Sometimes we hear from parents and some teachers that they would love us to go back to teaching math the way they learned it. They say they can’t help their students because the work doesn’t look the same, it’s all in a new language. The kids complain their parents are telling them to do the math in a different way than their teacher did and it is confusing. Why is all this happening?

The Utah Core State Standards in Mathematics put a premium on understanding the why (conceptual understanding) as well as the how (procedural understanding, skill, and fluency) and the application of mathematics. All three aspects are equally as important. The standards don’t try to reinvent mathematics. But they may and do take a different path than they did in the past. Why? Because of a great deal of evidence that our past methods of teaching and learning math failed a great many of our students.

Marilyn Burns, in her book Math: Facing an American Phobia says, “Even in the face of widespread failure in learning mathematics, we seem to want to cling to educational methods with a nostalgia for them that has long outlasted their usefulness and has perpetuated failure. The way we’ve traditionally been taught mathematics has created a recurring cycle of math phobia, generation to generation that has been difficult to break. We start young children with counting and move them along through arithmetic, then on to algebra, geometry, trigonometry, and so on. The ‘and so on’ depends on whether or not the student sticks with math, which means not falling off the ladder of math progress in school. But an alarming percentage of the people in our country have fallen off the ladder and feel like mathematical failures. And once people fall off the ladder, there seems to be no way for them to get back on.

. . . Children must be helped to learn mathematics in a better way than we were, so that mathematical limits do not shut them out of certain life choices and career options.”

You can read the rest of the blog at

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