Tuesday, December 15, 2009


Drilling in math is fun. At least, it was for me in elementary school. I keep coming across the idea that "drill is kill"; I've seen it so much that I have almost started to believe it. But then I think back to what I remember about elementary school math. In 6 years of math (kindergarten was not so academic way back then...), I have only four memories of what I did in math:

1) In 2nd grade, we made little colored picture cards with the times tables on them. For instance, all the "two times" would be pink pencils, "three times" yellow bears, and so forth. We used the cards to practice our times tables.
2) In 2nd grade, we wrote all the numbers up to 1000 in a book made of ten sheets with a grid for 100 numbers on each sheet.
3) In 6th grade, we did timed drills on arithmetic. I thoroughly enjoyed the competition with myself and my classmates to accurately recall and write the answers in these one-minute drills. Probably because I usually did very well. :)
4) When we learned to calculate interest, I was proud of being able to calculate and show my work for ten consecutive years of compound interest all on one line of paper; I don't think the teacher appreciated my itty-bitty writing.

Why did I enjoy, or at least remember, only repetitive activities? Aren't repetitive activities supposed to be mind-numbing? (As an adult, I do find repetitive activities boring, but children aren't just little adults.) There's not a constructivist, "fuzzy math" activity up there, although I suppose you could still find elementary school children today counting up to 1000 jelly beans in a group at some point in their schooling. Imagine my surprise to read today that editors of The Mathematics Teacher, in refusing a paper for publication, stated that "rote drills do not constitute an authentic mathematical practice". Apparently, I didn't actually do math in elementary school. Funny, I ended up a top math student in high school (the kind that went to state contests) and earned a BS in mathematics. All that "inauthentic" math practice back in elementary school gave me a good foundation for mathematical achievement later on. Remembering my own past, while anecdotal and not likely to convince any true believer in the stultifying effects of math drills, helps me be more firm in my resolve to give my children the kind of math foundation I received. I bet in a few years they'll beat me on timed drill contests!

No comments:

Post a Comment