When I was pregnant with Linda, I read an article in Scientific American about how math manipulatives actually make it more difficult for students to learn the concepts. I remember manipulatives from back in elementary school; I also remember thinking they were stupid.
Seems that they've found something more idiotic than manipulatives. Strategies.
Now, to the rest of us, strategies are plans of action. To third-graders learning multiplication, they're pictures.
Let that sink in a second. Third grade students are learning multiplication, but they're having to draw pictures to do so.
Bobbie's homework today included a page of word problems. Something along the lines of Jimmy has three boxes. Each box holds eight cars. How many cars can he store altogether?
Now, were you or I to come across that problem, we'd write out 3 x 8 = 24 and be done with it. But no. Bobbie can't do that. Bobbie has to use her strategies. Bobbie has to draw three boxes, and then eight cars in each box, and then number every freaking "car."
Actually, because Bobbie has me for a mother, she first wrote out the equation and solved it, and then went back and did the drawing. She also got a rant on how idiotic it is that they're being made to do these things.
Why are they doing this with mathematics? Exactly what is difficult about isolating the numbers and then the words which tell you what to do with them and then doing it? I could almost understand if this was kindergarten, but it isn't. It's third grade.
We learned a saying in Russian...повторение мать учения. Repetition is the mother of learning. Drills don't sound fun, but you know what? They work. San Antonio College actually has the best math program in the state. Know how they teach? The professor shows how to do a problem, and then you practice the same type of problem again and again and again until you get it. It works.
Math is incredibly simple. It really is. Just numbers. They go together in the same way every time. Mucking it up with anything else simply does not make sense.