Bright kids who are used to getting answers quickly, and not having to work very hard at questions can develop habits that encourage speed, and the “easy way out”. Somehow, students must change those habits so that they realize that speed is not necessarily the critical route to success. Bright students must be given questions that force them to slow down, and to look more closely at their work. If they were ever in a situation, in their future, where they had a large amount of data to analyze, such as financial statements, scientific research, medical results, or even legal matters, they must have the skills necessary to be able to look at the details. These skills include having the patience to painstakingly go through what appear to be “non-consequential” numbers.
When sitting with a student a couple of weeks ago, going over the grade 6 material, she told me that she understood how to do the work on rationals, but kept making “little” mistakes, such as missing the negative sign. That negative sign changed the whole answer. She was feeling a little frustrated because it was those “little” mistakes that brought her mark down, even though she felt that she understood the concept. What she was missing was some more basic skills required for this course.
The skills needed for the grade 6 course are very similar to those needed in much of the Spirit of Math program. For example, as students progress through the grade 5 Order of Operations unit, one question, which is at least 10 steps long, is only worth 1 mark, and to get that mark, EVERYTHING in the question must be perfect – not just the answer. The procedures in the process are crucial, and are just as crucial as is the ability to find their mistake, if they made one. Students are held accountable to find the mistake by comparing their complex answer with others in their group. If they decided to do the question their own way, then they will very likely have got it wrong. They quickly learn that having a consistent method makes a task easier and much more efficient in the long run – that sometimes just following procedures in a certain way just works much better than being creative. There is a time to follow procedures and a time to be creative.
Students these days are inundated with technologies that have been specifically created to satisfy an immediate demand. Technology is fast, simple to use, stimulates a quick “good feeling”, and can be turned off when it gets frustrating. I feel that media has gone overboard with their promotion of quick fixes, and that marketing is so sophisticated now, that it is tough not to get “sucked in”. This sincerely concerns me because it is much harder now for parents to justify to their kids that hard work, patience, discipline and persistence are necessary skills. I strongly urge you to look closely at our curriculum, and look beyond the surface. Students who are able to succeed well in our program are those who work hard, and have the patience, discipline and persistence to do the questions. Even if your child doesn’t master the concepts behind all the math, they will have developed very valuable skills that are tough to instil. And, yes, it does take some work.
What are some of the skills we want students to learn to value?
2. Discipline to stick with a problem until it is properly completed.
3. Learning how to follow procedures.
4. The discipline to work hard to meet a standard; paying attention to the details and procedures.
5. The discipline to double-check your work, and to take it one more step: to go back and correct your work. It is OK to have a wrong answer. It is not OK to let that wrong answer stay there, if you know it is there, and if you have a chance to correct it.
6. Ability to talk to others in a meaningful way, to help others with their work.
7. Ability to find out where you went wrong, if you did.