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Singapore Math

Monday, February 19, 2024

Thou shalt not use an arrow for an equal sign!

Shot from Tiesha Sanders/Facebook

The above grade one math question from Texas is debatably ill-posed. However, the child answer of “7 ones” is “non-mathematically creative” or “irreverently correct.”

The teacher’s reply to the mother that “… this is the new math they have us teaching.” would puzzle many math educators outside TrumpLand. Arguably, the correct answer to this routine question has little or nothing to do with “new math” or “new new math” or whatever politically correct mathematical term we want to christen it.

The child’s “correct” answer that was marked wrong by her teacher defies logic. The use of an equal sign instead of an arrow would have minimized any misunderstanding whatsoever.

In “fine” Singapore, few teachers and parents would disagree that similar grade one place values questions are deemed routine. The chances of any local school teacher or tutor using arrows rather than equals signs for these drill-and-kill questions are quasi-zero.

Even for this ill-posed elementary math question, in the first part, if a child has correctly inserted the digit 7 under the ones column, and to expect them to give the same answer for the fill-in-the-blanks for the number of ones, it doesn’t sound too logical or commonsensical. The problem poser is unlikely to ask (or expect) for “7 ones” twice!

MAGA math: 7 ones ✔️

Insisting that the answer of “7 ones” is equally valid as “27 ones,” or denying that “7 ones” is incorrect, due to the way the question is posed, sounds like the mathematical equivalent of an ex-president insisting that he didn’t lose the election, albeit all the facts or results proved otherwise.

If the child isn’t wrong (because the parent isn’t wrong), and the teacher, too, isn’t wrong, so who’s right then? Could two conceptual negatives give a concrete positive?

Logically & truthfully yours

© Yan Kow Cheong, February 19, 2024.