Can’t read a watch? Blame algebra

Common Core‘s Lynne Munson bought watches for her preschoolers — a dinosaur wristband for her son, a Rapunzel watch with pink and purple hands for her daughter — on her way home from a math conference. The Swatch salesman was surprised she didn’t go digital, she writes in I Can’t Read My Watch! Algebra Is to Blame.

Munson wants to teach her kids to tell time. That’s a skill many watch buyers lack, said the salesman, who said he’s rarely successful in teaching customers to tell time. They just buy a digital watch.

Telling time is not doing math, but it requires knowledge of math fundamentals, Munson writes.

 You cannot tell time on a traditional clock without knowing that numbers are symbols that represent units, or without some basic grasp of estimation and ratios.  In other words, if you cannot tell time, it most likely means that you would still struggle with third and fourth-grade math concepts.

Munson thought of political scientist Andrew Hacker’s New York Times op-ed, Is Algebra Necessary?, which argued against requiring algebra because some students find it difficult. She disagrees:

With regard to mathematics, the problem is not that we are teaching too much of it—but that we are teaching math ineffectively.  The expectations and architecture of the new Common Core State Standards in Mathematics can help to remedy this.  Faithful implementation of those standards will support districts that want to adopt curricula that unfurl mathematics in a rational, coherent program and that jettison approaches that are illogically sequenced and that overuse and abuse manipulatives.

Common Core, which has created a curriculum map for English Language Arts and is working on map for math, will create New York state’s math curriculum from pre-K through 12th grade.

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  1. Pfft, how about the parental units teaching johnny or jane to read a clock with analog hands…my 6 year old niece has known how to do this since she was about 4.

    Where does parental responsibility start (rather than blaming the educational system).

    The casio waveceptor watch I’m wearing has both tradition hands for hours and minutes, and a digital window at the bottom for added functions. The one advantage is that it synchronizes daily with the radio signal sent out from Colorado so that I don’t have to adjust it manually.

    Learning how to tell time is something that a kid can learn to do with a little bit of training, it’s really not that hard.

  2. Roger Sweeny says:

    With regard to mathematics, the problem is not that we are teaching too much of it—but that we are teaching math ineffectively.

    Perhaps those two are related.

    Joe came back from his vacation unhappy, not because he had done too many things but because he had done them ineffectively.

  3. Well, it has been well documented that students in ES (grades 1 thru 5 in the U.S.) who get poor instruction in mathematics will continue to struggle with math during MS/High School (grades 6-8, 9-12) which will result in major problems later in life.

    • No, it hasn’t. Children who struggle with math will continue to struggle. Wow, there’s a scintillating insight. There’s no evidence that children who struggle with math were taught badly.

  4. Cranberry says:

    I remember learning to tell time in 2nd grade.

    Swatch does make a good watch for learning to tell time: The Flik Flak. These watches have not only the numerals 1 -12, but also their minute equivalents, 5, 10, 15, etc, on a small exterior band. They do have a preschool line.

  5. I’m good at algebra but have a tendency to misread analog clocks. Not because I don’t know how to but because I’ve not very good at the spatial sense part of it. It isn’t a problem with clocks that display all 12 numbers, but with the ones that only have a 12 at the top. I hate those!

  6. As a child my proficiency at maths made me distinctly worse than my classmates at telling the time from a traditional clockface. Most of them had passed through the stage of having to *work out* that the minute hand at a certain angle meant a certain number of minutes past the hour. They simply perceived it at a glance. I was still counting five, ten, fifteen and so on, but very fast, so I was nearly as good at telling the time as they were.

    I finally learnt to tell the time at a glance when someone gave me an extremely cool Swatch with a plain black dial and no figures at all

  7. If we’ve gotten to the point where large swaths of the population can’t even read time anymore, then we’re much closer to either ‘Idiocracy’ or ‘1984’ – or both – than I feared…

  8. Claire Boston says:

    “Those who cannot handle mathematics are not fully human; at best, they are a tolerable sub-human who has learned to bathe, wear shoes, and not make messes in the house.”

    -Woodrow Wilson Smith,
    ‘Time Enough for Love’ by Robert Heinlein

    The ability to do math is something that is uniquely human. Unfortunately, too many of those tasked with teaching our children in elementary school are themselves unable to do basic math, either through fear or because they themselves were never taught. But if I ever have another teacher tell their class “math is hard” like my daughter’s 4th grade teacher did, I think I’ll organize a mob to tar-and-feather her (and it is almost always a ‘her’).

  9. When my daughters were about four or five I let them know that when they can tell time on an analog clock I will get them their own watch. Two down one to go! My recently turned five year old begins kindergarten in a few weeks and she may have her watch on by the first day of school… My two older girls are both now in gifted math programs in 5th and 7th grade respectively. As a high school teacher I am frightened by the large and growing number of students who can not tell time and seem to be PROUD of their innumeracy. This year part of my evaluation is based on my students “success”, I would love for that to include my three daughters that I have been teaching since the day they were born and continue doing so today. And no, I do not mean homeschooling formally.