# primary maths homework

Discussion in 'Mathematics' started by susie-wong, May 14, 2011.

1. ### susie-wong

Not sure if this is the right place for this but am in need of some advice please.
My son is at primary school and has been set a piece of maths homework this weekend, the problem is its about odd and even decimals. I have always thought that only whole numbers can be odd or even, and decimals, fractions etc cannot be classified as either. I am currently teaching maths in a secondary school (although not maths trained - I am science trained) and have been doing so for about 3 years now.
My problem is, how do I approach this? I don't want to undermine his school teacher, but equally I dont want my son (and others) being taught misconceptions. I don't want to go into his school and for them to think I'm being picky and awkward, nor do I want to ignite some primary vs secondary teachers knowledge row.
Its not the first time this has happened - a few months ago my son came home with a list of calculations to do (eg 4 + 12 x 2 = ?) When I explained that there is a proper order for the calculations to be done in, and 12 x 2 should be done first then 4 + 24 he told me they'd been told to just do them in the order they were written.
Am I just being picky, or do you think (as I do) that they need to be taught things in the right way now so they don't get confused later on? I am sure these pieces of work were given as my son and some of his classmates are quite bright so the teacher is trying to come up with 'harder' work for them, but I don't know how to approach it.

2. ### alabasterNew commenter

mathsisfun http://www.mathsisfun.com/definitions/even-number.html gives the definition of an even number as being an integer that is divisible by 2, so I would go with that, so decimals cannot be classed as odd or even.
Order of operations is important, and if she is giving the brighter kids these questions as extension work, then she should be teaching them the correct order of operations IMO, otherwise when they get to secondary school they will continue to these kind of problems incorrectly.
I would be tempted to go and have a chat with her. Remember, a lot of primary teachers struggle with maths, and she probably doesn't realise.

3. ### MasterMaths

It is also possible that the teacher HAS explained it properly and the pupil hasn't noted the instructions accurately. Does the homework actually have the words "odd decimal" and "even decimal" written BY THE TEACHER on it? Similarly, with order of operations, have you seen the marked homework? If 4 + 12 x 2 = 28 was marked as wrong (or = 32 was marked as right) then that's very different to being told by the pupil that "miss said to just do it in the order they were written".
(OK - potential for offending you and/or your child over, phew, that was uncomfortable!!)
So, I'd definitely look into it and try to speak to the school about it, but go into it with an open mind. A good way to start would be to look at the marked work and any resources prepared BY the teacher. If these show that the teacher is making fundamental mistakes then it surely MUST be addressed.
Good luck!

4. ### FlippantFlyer

Don't worry to much. When they reach secondary they virtually start from a clean slate and things can be put quickly right if they have misconceptions. Additionally they remember very little maths, other than times, tables in the transition between schools - luckily! When it comes to precedence of order of calculations, many cheaper calculators use basic left-to-right anyway which can confuse the issue.

5. ### DMNew commenter

I once send a polite* note to my daughter's middle school maths teacher explaining that she (the teacher not my daughter) was a bit muddled about the order of operations. My daughter's homework included questions such as 17 - 5 x 2 to which my daughter answered 7 and the teacher corrected to 24.
Big mistake. Blimey, talk about a frosty reception at the next Parents' Evening. Every comment was dripping with sarcasm ("... but then again you probably already know that too don't you?").

* I really chose my words carefully so as not to offend (not my usual form admittedly)

6. ### alabasterNew commenter

Really??? How many kids come to secondary thinking that to multiply by ten you stick a 0 on the end of the number, so 2.5 x 10 = 2.50. And how many kids think that c=3 always? It takes ages to get rid of these misconceptions, if we ever manage to get rid of them. Wouldn't it be much better if they were just taught correctly to start with?

7. ### FlippantFlyer

If you are not managing to rid students of misconceptions perhaps that has more to do with your teaching, but I agree, it would be better if taught correctly from the start.

8. ### DeborahCarolNew commenter

That's appalling, DM.
As a trainee primary school teacher some years ago, I remember seeing a Year Four had changed all her division 'remainder' answers into 'decimals', by simply substituting a decimal point for the 'r'! The work had been marked right. I showed her work to the teacher, who said 'Yes, that's fine.' As, through tentative discussion, it became apparent that the teacher didn't understand, ashamed to say I didn't pursue it with her, but talked to the child 'secretly' later!

9. ### Betamale

Thats a bold statement
As a parent I would write a polite note. You never know the response (as per DM) but its worth a shot.

10. ### susie-wong

Many thanks for all the comments
In response to the above question, the work asked pupils to chose numbers from a list (all were decimals) and then subtract one from the other and then decide whether the answer was odd or even.
I am trying to work up the courage to approach the teacher - am not looking forwards to it!

11. ### florapost

well - we primary school teachers may as well take the rest of the decade off then!
1. as someone else has said, if you can brush aside misconceptions so easily, well done - but secondary school teachers have been complaining for years (quite rightly) about the aggro of dealing with misconceptions on top of ignorance in transferees
2. primary teachers may individually struggle with maths concepts - that's why schools should have training, observation and reviews. it's called managemnet
as i work in my kids' primary - and as we do have management - i haven't had an issue like this - dm, sympathy, and suzie - good luck

12. ### LiamDNew commenter

Florapost,
You're cool. Sniping at primary teachers must be hard to accept but you are courteous and professional in your reponses. One question however, how proficient does a primary teacher need to be in Maths? What level and grade would you consider to be the minimum acceptable standard?
To the OP, you could round the decimals to the nearest integer then classify as odd/even.

13. ### MasterMaths

Strange timing for the last replies ... that aside, it would be interesting to know how the OP got on.

14. ### rohirrim

Primary teachers maths qualifications? level C at GCSE and pass the TDA maths test whilst a student. Maths ability? Extremely variable from downright "help" to brilliant. i've seen poor teachers become the maths specialists for their school because it would be good forcareer development. Never mind the pupils, eh?

15. ### DoitforfreeStar commenter

I've got Maths A level but I've forgotten an awful lot of what would be considered primary Maths and couldn't possibly teach it without a lot of revision, in spite of good looking qualifications on paper. On the other hand I don't have any English qualificatons beyond O'level butI'm interested in it so I could teach it, though I'm not up with all the appalling jargon and trendy teaching.
We've had loads of instances like the OP's. Mostly I explain to my child why it's wrong and leave it at that, but on the odd occasion I've felt I really had to mention it to the teacher the reception has indeed been quite frosty and very defensive.

16. ### sashh

I have a friend who is a maths teacher in Canada. he school is all all ages but the equivelant of primary has one teacher all the time and the equivelant of secondary have subject teachers.
BUT and I think this is great, the subject teachers do teach in primary occasionally, my frined is known as 'Professor maths' to the younger children who he might only teach once a year.

Maybe some input from specialist teachers would benefit all. I know some primary teachers struggle with maths (people I know personally) and I'm sure others struggle with other subjects.
Maybe primaries should have a link with secondary schools and swap teachers for the odd session, as well as giving professional support.

17. ### LiamDNew commenter

Was that in reply to my question? If so, thanks but It wasn't really what I was asking. I enquired of Florapost what she, with her "Primary Head" hat on, considered to be the minimum acceptable qualification.
Sorry I didn't make that clearer.

18. ### carriecat10Occasional commenter Community helper

Having started off as a secondary maths teacher and chosen to move to primary, I can honestly say that my (fairly good) subject knowledge for teaching at secondary level has not helped much at all at primary level.
Misconceptions occur for a number of reasons, not always because of poor teaching. However, I would say that if teachers in the early years do not have a secure enough understanding of how children learn, how to help children make connections (between various aspects of maths and between what they know and new learning) and the development of counting strategies towards calculating then these misconceptions can quickly become engrained.
The teacher's maths qualification is probably not particularly relevant until you get into the upper primary years. What is probably more important is that early years' teachers have a much more comprehensive knowledge of early maths.
Carrie

19. ### florapost

me? i'm a part-time primary gat course provider, with specific reference to maths - as my head knows my board name, if he sees this, he'll be laughing himself silly - the heads of maths doesn't come on here, so she won't care
1. to echo cc - at primary, pedagogy (sp?) is often much more important than knowledge - place value is an obvious example - an amazing % of children really don't get it - to have umpteen strategies to explain it to umpteen mindsets and umpteen ways of checking that kids really know what they are doing and aren't getting answers right by following apparantly useful but spurious algorithms requires cunning, persistence, flexibilty and ingenuity - but few qualifications in maths
2. when it does get tricky, i would expect (i) insets on tricky stuff (ii) regular reviews and observations and (possibly most important, as this seems to be where posters have had issues) staff being relaxed and confident enough to admit they don't know it all, are happy to accept information, and willing to pro-actively seek advice -
so: with my little smart-alecs, i'm being told all the time where i'm getting it wrong/doing it a wrong way round - why should i mind when i take my kids' advice on board and am so much smarter the next year?
in Y4, miss p had one of the best teachers in the entire universe - but when she (mp) challenged the word 'septagon', teacher checked in a dictionary, awarded miss p 'shapes expert of the week' and (non-sarcastically) sent other kids to double check answers with mp (which mp loved)
especially in Y5 and 6, where it can get difficult, staff are happy to check things they are unsure of with myself, the h maths or the dep head, who is also a maths specialist - oh, and kids who ask curve ball q's in lessons are also sent to me
and - we have some wonderful maths remedial teachers who get the kids and can help them cos they've struggled too - but by Y6, the dep head moves in cos then the help the strugglers need gets rathermore specialised
summary - attitude way more important than academic knowledge

20. ### fanofmaths

Absolutely agree. Early years are often dismissed in terms of maths content (just counting, adding up etc) but these fundamental concepts and understanding the progression within them are essential. Some teachers need more input on the fundamental concepts in maths and how to represent them meaningfully.