Finn’s math: One (correct) solution is enough

“Huck Finn” is subbing for math teachers who are away from class learning how to teach to the new Common Core standards. Finn worries that teachers will be told to require students to find multiple ways to solve the same problems, he writes in Out In Left Field.

There’s nothing wrong with finding multiple ways of solving problems.  But in early grades, students find it more than a little frustrating to be told to find three ways of adding 17 + 69.  Putting students in the position of not satisfying the teacher by producing a correct answer and showing how they got it unless they find multiple ways of doing it is a recipe for 1) disaster and 2) rote learning, the bugaboo of the purveyors of “find more than one way to solve it”.

If a student can do a proof or solve a problem correctly, he or she shouldn’t “also have to do 25 fingertip pushups,” Finn believes.

When my daughter had to do a “problem of the week” in pre-algebra, the last question always was: How do you know your answer is correct?  She’d write: “I double-checked my answer,” leaving out the fact that she’d double-checked with her smart friends or her father, who majored in math at Stanford. I think students were supposed to say they’d solved the problem in multiple ways, but nobody was dumb enough to do the extra work.

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  1. Genevieve says:

    I have recently been working on drug calculations for nursing school. We had to learn three different ways and then pick one. After the first class time, we have only had to perform the calculations in the method we preferred (and show our work).
    I might also mention that we were taught the three ways and didn’t have to discover how we might possibly determine accurate doses.

  2. While this is kind of peripheral to your main point, your final example isn’t necessary about multiple solving methods. For example, if you are supposed to solve a quadratic equation for x, the way to verify it’s correct is to plug the solution into the original equation and see if it gives an equality. This kind of verification is pretty routine for people who actually use math in the real world. In other cases you might apply a common-sense test, like realizing the diagonal of a photo frame couldn’t really be 0.3 inches.

    This would be less applicable at the elementary school level. Sure, you could verify a subtraction problem by adding the result to the subtrahend (or whatever it’s called) but that’s just as tedious.