“Aren’t You Teaching Them To Find the Wrong Answer?”

“I just don’t understand estimation. Aren’t you teaching them to find the wrong answer? Why don’t you just teach them to find the exact answer to the problem?”

These were the words that a parent said to one of my colleagues in my building at her parent teacher conference. The parent wasn’t angry, but was firmly questioning. My colleague told me that she was very caught off guard, because the new math series we are using is very “new” to her as well in her thinking. She is a veteran teacher of 22 years, and was taught to carefully calculate when she learned math. She was taught that there was ONE right answer, and that math is about finding that one answer. She has had trouble being fully on board with estimation as well.  She came to me because she was looking for what to tell this parent, as it wasn’t the first time she had heard this comment.

Whenever I’ve had this question, I usually present a scenario like this to parents:

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Without estimating (either before or after solving), many students make errors without even realizing it.  Teaching them to estimate allows them to practice the Standards for Mathematical Practice, especially standard number 1.  This standard expects students to make sense of problems and determine if their answer is reasonable. It is about thinking DEEPER, not just quickly or blindly solving problems without knowing if you are on track.  Estimation can help us find errors in procedures like the one above.

Teaching children to estimate does not teach them to get the wrong answers, it teaches them to think. Practice it the right way and students will become stronger mathematicians.


Math In Real Life: I Am The Worst Party Planner

So I am the worst, and I mean the WORST at estimating party needs.  In the past I have ordered pizza for my classroom and ended up with 6 extra pizzas.  Part of the problem is that I’m not very good at estimation (including how much less pizza an average third grader will eat compared to myself), but also I rarely practice this skill.

This year for our holiday party, it COMPLETELY slipped my mind to ask parents to volunteer to bring snacks, napkins, drinks, etc…somehow the day of the party was only 2 days away and I was in a bind.  As we all know, no one has tons of cash to throw around for holiday parties anyway.

So I was determined to NOT screw this one up.  I was going to go in to the grocery store with a calculator, the number of students in my class, and a tight budget. I felt good about this trip, I knew that it would be easier because I was calculating 1 candy cane per student, a handful of pretzels per student and 1 capri sun per student. I even found some napkins…on sale!

So get this! After the party I ended up with 2 leftover candy canes, 4 extra capri suns and a stack of napkins.

Why I have been historically terrible at this is sort of a mystery to me. It’s not like it is complex math, rather it involves using simple math in a complex way. This was not how I was taught math growing up, so I have to actually practice this to get better at it! It is why I created the Party Planning Awesomeness Project for my students.  It is the reason that I create all of the things I do, because I feel that students really do need to be able to practice these skills.

Check it out! We actually did this prior to our last math test, with a class goal. If we got 94% as a whole class average, we’d earn the party that the students voted for.  And…they did it! I now have another party to shop for, but this time the student did all the math!

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Thanks to these ladies: 4mulaFunFourth Grade StudioTeaching to Inspire in 5th, AND MissMathDork for the opportunity to link up! Apparently this is a monthly thing that they do, being new to blogging for only a few months, I had no clue how awesome this is.

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