UPDATE: This was posted two days ago, and because of some feedback, I had made the decision to pull it down.  Today (10/11/12) I blogged about the fact that I “blinked”. However, I had some great feedback given, and because of it, I’ve reposted my initial blog. Thank you to those who set me straight.  A good kick in the rear is never a bad thing! 🙂

This is the first year in three years that I’ve “taught” math in the classroom.  As math teachers go, I’ve had my fair share of  “how in the world does that work” moments in class.  However, I like to believe that I’ve moved my students forward into the next year’s class with a solid, if not unexciting grasp of how math works, ways to do problems, and the ability to solve problems.

This year, I’m struggling.  I’m looking at a math curriculum called GoMath! and using bits and pieces, so I can’t really blame that. I struggle with the idea of efficiency vs. understanding.  I love math and the ability that problems have to make us scream out in frustration, yet, keep us hooked in for more.  I love that sense of accomplishment after figuring out that patterning that happens inside of a set of number.  My students, they don’t have that love right now.  They struggle with basic computation, not seeing those patterns, and reverting back to blocks and pictures.  I have no issue with this, none.  I know that students will develop at different rates, I get that.

My issues come from two areas:

1) Test scores: If we are being judged (and we are now a SINA school) by our students and their ability to score well on tests, am I doing them a disservice by allowing them large blocks of time to figure problems?  Shouldn’t I be working not only towards that understand, but showing and expecting efficiency on problems?  Should a two digit by two digit multiplication problem take a half sheet of paper to solve when it can be done much more efficiently with the standard algorithm?

2) 7th and 8th grade: My second issue comes from knowing what lays in front of them.  A very close friend of mine is in 6th grade, and I know she’s working furiously to prepare students for 7th and 8th grade, just like I am for her grade.  For her, when they leave 6th grade, this where they are split and work from a much more difficult text.  It’s a dividing line between what is elementary and what is secondary.  Again, am I doing my students a disservice by NOT preparing them for that classroom?  I know they must have efficiency going in because if they don’t they will be swamped, period.

This something that keeps me up at night (along with finding other math materials). I feel like I’m an excellent math teacher, but I struggle trying to work within our ideals of problem solving in the elementary, yet, preparing students for what 6th grade and beyond will look like, a land with much more work, no blocks, and less time.

Efficiency or understand? Is there a happy middle ground? If you find it, please show me the way!