Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Dec 29 2010

Pre-School is -1 Grade

I was putting my little brother to bed. He is 8. Out of the blue, he suddenly goes, “Do you know what I just realized? I’m halfway through halfway through with school until college.” I asked if he meant a quarter, and he said yes, that works too. Then he explained that there are 12 grades and he’s in 3rd grade, and 3+3 = 6 and 6+6 = 12.

I pointed out that there was also kindergarten, and he didn’t want to count that. He said that was 0 grade. And if you went to pre-school, then those are negatives. If you went for three years, then that’s -3 grade, then -2 grade, then -1 grade, and then kindergarten.

These are the tired ramblings of a small child. CHECK OUT THAT NUMBER SENSE.

Granted, I think my little brother is a genius. But I’ll also grant that his class is probably full of third graders who can think comfortably and fluently about mathematics in their daily lives, just like that.

What I need to know is why I have some eighth graders who can’t think through that level of mathematics with that level of ease. (I obviously have many kids who can, please don’t get me wrong, but we’re not talking about them right now.) Did my brother learn that at his public school school? Did he learn it at home? Could he have learned it in one or the other, or did it have to come from both places together? Is there any way it’s possible, as a fourth grade teacher recently suggested to me, that my kids could do that in third grade and have forgotten by now?

I know this is the classic cause-of-the-achievement gap question and I’m not going to stumble across the answer any time soon, so I’m sorry to beat a dead horse, but still. We shouldn’t have to change my kids’ entire lives to mimic my brother’s for them to be successful…but there has to be something we can change so that the difference isn’t so ridiculously stark. What is it?

3 Responses

  1. I have a soon-to-be 8-year-old brother as well (he’s also a genius, I believe :-D), and I ask myself your same questions – and my students are 9th-12th graders.

  2. i’ve been wondering the same thing. my 7th graders this summer couldn’t make the connection between decimals, fractions, and percents, so i’m trying to be really deliberate with my second graders about fractions as parts of a whole before i connect to percentages. my summer kids also couldn’t grasp negative numbers at all, but i remember it not seeming super weird to me in middle school. such a good question. why is abstract thinking, if that’s what this is, so foreign?

  3. Abby

    I wonder if it is because your brother is understanding it in a context that matters to him, not being told in language that is foreign in a way that won’t connect to his life. Not that YOU do this, but I loved to explore math concepts just like that in elementary school, until middle school where I was told I had to think about numbers a certain way or it was wrong.

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