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When her teachers aren't smart enough to see that their problems are flawed

post #1 of 107
Thread Starter 
OK, totally not dissing teachers here.

I'm guessing gyou have to let most things slide, but...

We had a parent conference yesterday with dd#1's teachers. She's doing great, etc. They were excited to have stumped her (for the first time) with a math problem. So, of course, I asked what the problem was.

Quote:
There are five ducks all together. Two are on the beach. The rest are in the water. How many are wet?
So, of course, I blurt out, "well, there's not enough information to solve the problem." They look at me like I've got two heads, so I explained that the ducks on the beach could be wet if they had just gotten out of the water, or they could be dry. More stares.

Dh thinks it's no big deal. I think it's one tiny incident, BUT dd is five and not quite old enough to defend her thinking against teachers who are telling her the RIGHT answer is three. I do realize we are at the beginning of a long educational road, but clearly our dd can do 5-2=3 hanging upside down in the dark, KWIM? My problem is that they thought the MATH challenged her and they don't see the flaw in their problem.

Any BTDT?
post #2 of 107
Honestly? I think that is where you teach her not to over-think problems when handed a sheet of math problems at school. It is an important skill to be able to figure out which option is most likely being asked.

There are ways you can do this that don't discourage her original thinking, but do help her narrow her thinking to be accurate for the specific situation and context.

ETA: how you frame your explanation is critical here. I highly doubt her teachers "aren't smart enough" to see "flaws in their thinking." If you have that little respect for her teachers to honestly think that a 5 year old is more knowledgeable of basic kindergarten skills and thought-processes, you run the risk of teaching her to be patronizing, condescending and arrogant.

If you tell her, "yes, often times people are not clear enough in their directions to immediately know what they are trying to communicate. At those times, either ask them for clarification, or, in the case of a test question, go with the most obvious explanation" you are more likely to teach her that poor communication and unclear instructions are a common part of the human experience, and give her the tools she needs to (a) switch her thinking process to one that is appropriate in each situation, and (b) help her learn the communication skills that we all need to understand each other.
post #3 of 107
Thread Starter 
OK, so you think I'm being ridiculous. So work through it with me then.
I'm trying to figure out how to deal with these things in the big picture so my child will not have her thinking so narrowed and dumbed down as to no longer have any original, creative or radical thoughts. Sure, I want her to see what people want, but I still want her to be able to think in her own way. I disagree with you that the answer is obvious.

As to the format of the work. The children - this is kindergarten - are given the word problems one per sheet with lots of space to draw a picture and then write a solution. It's kindergarten.
post #4 of 107
Well, then either her drawing wasn't clear enough to demonstrate her thinking, so she needs to work on creating more precise pictures, or you frame it as "you are right! All of those things *could* be true! How creative of you to think of each of those other options! But, let's figure out what the teacher is most likely asking."

I don't think you are being "ridiculous" but I do think it is far more common that you realize, and unless the kindergarten teacher is in her first year of teaching, she's already seen this exact same situation with other students.

An example of a more precise drawing:

three ducks in the water, two ducks on the beach, on a rainy day with puddles on the sand. She then writes, "three ducks are wet, unless it is raining. then all five are wet."

While it is important that people always remember that the obvious might not be the answer, if any of us countered our boss with the type of bantering you are describing, we wouldn't last long.

you are right that we need to make sure our children/students don't lose the possibilities in their thinking, but we also need to make sure they learn that sometimes, the obvious way is the one to choose.
post #5 of 107
I agree that there is some ambiguity in the problem. You didn't say, though, what answer your DD gave to the teacher. What did she write on her paper?
post #6 of 107
You may also want to encourage your dd to ask the teacher if she feels that there is more than one acceptable answer, in her opinion. It's likely not too early to help her develop her ability to repectfully communicate how she is perceiving the question and that she sees valid alternatives, especially if you want to preserve this skill.

I have a tendency to over-think. I spent a lot of time up at the teacher's desk asking for clarification (even in early elementary) and defending my answers. Once in awhile, the teacher would give me credit. I doubt if they ever questioned my intelligence, and my teachers were patient with me. It did help me fine tune my test taking abilities as I learned through trial and error what the answer the test maker was likely looking for. By the time I was in high school, my alternative thinking was more valued.
post #7 of 107
To be entirely honest, this is one of the reasons I don't want to send my kids to school. That's a very simple example, but ambiguous questions are a plague and quite frankly I think that teachers should be discouraged from asking them. The question in your example is one that I would expect a LOT of kindergarteners to have difficulty answering/defending adequately, gifted or not.

I also don't think that it's reasonable to expect a kindergartener's drawing to fully illustrate their thought process. Lots of kindergarten children couldn't draw a representation of a duck that anyone would recognize, let alone a beach, an ocean, rain, and puddles. In fact, I'm pretty comfortable saying that I couldn't do it right now with a pencil and twenty minutes. I'd be seriously irritated if anyone expected my five year old to pull that off.
post #8 of 107
I mostly agree with spedteacher, but I also am interested in what your DD said when you asked her about this. I'm sure she can do 5-2 = 3--so can my daughter, but the word problem process is really different...she has to understand what they are asking, and this question is sort of confusing (not even for the reason you mention, necessarily).
post #9 of 107
I asked my 2nd grader this question to see if she'd see the ambiguity, and she said, "Well, it's either three, four, or five." I asked how she'd answer if she saw that question at school, and she said, "three". I do think it's possible to see all the possibilities but understand what the teachers are looking for, though it would be harder in kindergarten, partially just because your dd doesn't have the experience with story problems and tests and teachers to understand how they work. But I think that to understand that all three answers are possibly true but at the same time to understand what answer they're looking for is a useful skill. At least as useful as "5-2=3".
post #10 of 107
I just asked my K dd this question. Her answer was 5. When I asked her why, she said all 5 were wet because all 5 were in the water at some point if they were on a beach. She can do simple subtraction such as 5 - 2 = 3, but she did not perceive this question as a math problem. Even if she had, she still might have come up with the same answer.
post #11 of 107
The answer they wanted was three.

If she wants to give an answer other than the one expected of her (3) she needs to be prepared to defend her answer. I do think this is a very difficult job for a K, and I really think that in K-3 ambiguous questions should be avoided.

What I have done in the past with young kids was say, "you are right. The answer could have been xyz. I don't think it was a very good question". I have not spoken to the teacher about it, but I have written in margins on tests when I thought the answer should have been granted credit.

For an older child, I would probably say :the teacher is looking for this kind of response; you can give it or give an alternate one - if you give an anternate one, though, you will have to give more detail as to why

It is sad, in a way, the easiest (and thus promoting laziness? and people pleasing?) way is to give the teacher what she wants.
post #12 of 107
Quote:
Originally Posted by spedteacher30 View Post

While it is important that people always remember that the obvious might not be the answer, if any of us countered our boss with the type of bantering you are describing, we wouldn't last long.

.
I don't think this is an appropriate comparison. A teacher is not a boss. I think it is dangerous to say a child should not question a teacher on an academic issue because the teacher is the one in charge. FWIW, I have absolutely asked my supervisors for clarification without any issues.
post #13 of 107
You know, I'm 36 years old and I still remember two questions I got "wrong" in third or fourth grade.

One was "what do all living things need?" I said "sunlight." (I didn't know about the life forms around deep-sea vents back then. ) It was marked wrong, and the teacher said the answer was "other living things." When I questioned her, she said, "If you left a baby out in the sun without anyone to take care of it, it would die."

The other one was "what's the most important organ in the human body?" I said the brain, and the right answer was supposed to be the heart. In both of these cases, the teacher didn't see any ambiguity in the question or any sense that there could be more right answers than the one they had in mind.

I don't have good advice for the OP, I just am kind of amazed that all these years later, this topic brought these incidents so vividly to my mind.
post #14 of 107
Quote:
Originally Posted by Rivka5 View Post
You know, I'm 36 years old and I still remember two questions I got "wrong" in third or fourth grade.

One was "what do all living things need?" I said "sunlight." (I didn't know about the life forms around deep-sea vents back then. ) It was marked wrong, and the teacher said the answer was "other living things." When I questioned her, she said, "If you left a baby out in the sun without anyone to take care of it, it would die."
Because "all living things" translates to "human infants"? There are plenty of living things which don't require other living things.

Quote:
The other one was "what's the most important organ in the human body?" I said the brain, and the right answer was supposed to be the heart.
What kind of school did you go to...

Mamazee... there is a BIG difference between a second grader and a kindergartener. I would fully expect a second grader to be capable of explaining their answer, but I'm not sure that's a reasonable expectation to have of a kindergartener.
post #15 of 107
Shouldn't the correct answer be none? Ducks have a waxy coating on their feathers that repels water, so they never really get wet.
post #16 of 107
IME, school is full of these kinds of questions. I have very clearly told my children that you have to figure out the answer the question/teacher/test is looking for if you're looking to get the mark. If you want to go in a different direction, you will likely have to explain your thinking and/or lose the mark. That's just school - the teachers mark on what they can see and what they expect. The rest of the time we encourage an attitude of being a life long learner - school's just a part of that.

What actually bothers me more about the scenario described is that the teachers thought they'd stumped your dd. This demonstrates that they're not seeing her.
post #17 of 107
I don't think the issue here is the validity of the question- I taught 4th grade for 5 years and I accidentally asked unclear questions all the time.

I think the real issue is that the teachers were "excited to have stumped her for the first time." That just sounded weird to me.


P.S. I agree with the PP that solving word problems requires a whole different set of skills than simple addition/subtraction. The fact that your DD can do 5-3 doesn't necessairly mean she could translate a word problem into that correct equation.

P.P.S. This may be taking the conversation far afield, but not overthinking a problem is a very valuable skill to learn. After all, the standardized tests that really MEAN something (SAT, ACT, PSAT) include bad questions in every single administration, and it doesn't matter what you think- you have to choose ONE answer. And you only have a limited time to complete the test, so agonizing over all the possibilities will kill your score. I work in a high school now, so I know whereof I speak.
post #18 of 107
I attribute my math anxiety and test anxiety to the extremely ambiguous questions in my younger years. I sit with dread and stare at ambiguous questions, terrified and trying to figure out what they really mean.

:/ Not that I really want to tell everyone this...but IMO I think emotional support is just as important as academics. Especially in a 5yo.
post #19 of 107
I read a homeschooling book recently where the parents recounted an incident where their child (in K or 1 I think) got an answer marked incorrectly that was actually answered correctly, even the teacher admitted. When pressed, the teacher (under duress, in a meeting with the principal) said that it was a second grade level question that their daughter shouldn't know. So they marked it wrong. The principal agreed. Apparently the school couldn't favor the kids that were ahead because it would make it harder on the kids that were not.

Not surprising they homeschooled after that.

The most obvious question I can think of is: why was a second grade level question on the test if they expected the kids not to know it (and penalized those that did)?

I also remember in high school getting a 100% on every quiz, test, and assignment in my etymology class, to get a 98% (A, not an A+) for the quarter. When asked, the teacher said "a 100% means you know everything there is to know about the subject, which neither you nor anyone does". Believe it or not, I loved this teacher, real Robin Williams in Dead Poet's Society kind of teacher. He was right in essence, but his thinking was not at all relevant to the type of system in which he was teaching, where I even could get "100%"s.

We, too, are homeschooling, BTW!
post #20 of 107
Quote:
Originally Posted by eilonwy View Post
[color=Indigo
Mamazee... there is a BIG difference between a second grader and a kindergartener. I would fully expect a second grader to be capable of explaining their answer, but I'm not sure that's a reasonable expectation to have of a kindergartener.[/color]
I agree that there's a big difference between the two ages. I don't think she would necessarily be able to explain it, just that in the long run it's valuable to not overthink questions, and that rather than complaining about bad questions, it might be more useful to teach her to figure out what they're looking for. As Belia explains:

Quote:
This may be taking the conversation far afield, but not overthinking a problem is a very valuable skill to learn. After all, the standardized tests that really MEAN something (SAT, ACT, PSAT) include bad questions in every single administration, and it doesn't matter what you think- you have to choose ONE answer. And you only have a limited time to complete the test, so agonizing over all the possibilities will kill your score. I work in a high school now, so I know whereof I speak.
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