I'm Too Stupid for My Second-Grader's Math Homework

The other day my 8-year-old son brought home his weekly envelope of class work for me to review, and among his spelling worksheets and carefully crawled mini-essays and crayoned drawings, I spotted a sheet of subtraction problems that looked slightly ... odd. He had two problems to solve, both fairly basic, but he also had three columns on the page in which he had been required to use different strategies to solve the problems. The first column looked perfectly familiar to me: one number was on top of the other, with a line drawn underneath both and his answer below. The second and third columns, however, made exactly ZERO sense to me no matter how long I peered mouthbreathingly at the "strategies."

I have long dreaded the day when I could no longer help my children with their homework because their knowledge had surpassed my own -- but I hadn't quite imagined it would happen in the SECOND GRADE.

To be honest, this isn't the first time his work has stumped me. I'm embarrassed to admit that the first time his spelling sheet said to circle the word with the long vowels, I had to slink away to my computer and quickly Google the difference between long and short vowels. I'm even more embarrassed to admit that I've performed that exact search more than once since then, because my brain apparently has a nano-sized trebuchet installed in the grammar sector.

But at least the long/short vowel thing can be sorted out fairly quickly, and there are handy songs for helping small children and forgetful adults remember certain rules ("When two vowels go walking, the first one does the talking ..."). When it comes to my son's math work, however, I'm pretty much at a loss. I mean, does this all make sense to YOU?

The first strategy is comfortingly familiar, but I have no idea what's going on in the next two columns. What's with the blocks? What are all those lines? Is this really intended to make math easier? Is it normal that after staring at it for 10 minutes, I had to take two Motrin and lie down in a darkened room for a while?

I'll be the first to acknowledge that I am painfully, almost medically stupid when it comes to math, but I do have a grasp on the concepts of basic two-digit subtraction. At least I thought I did. This business of drawing what looks like a hopscotch board combined with a mystical (to me) diagram reminds me of that old Calvin & Hobbes cartoon:

My own boneheadedness aside, I'm glad my son is being exposed to different ways to look at the same problem. I assume the end goal here is to increase the odds that one of the strategies will click, reducing the number of kids who struggle because the standard 'do it in your head' way doesn't work for them. It's just ... well, I feel bad I'm already so far out of my element. Lines and squares? Dude, I'm sorry, but until your teacher sends home a little parents-only worksheet for those of us who either never used manipulatives or forgot them because it's been haarrrrrrrrummmph years since we were in second grade (I'd draw some boxes to figure out just how long but suffice to say A LONG-ASS TIME), you're on your own.

The fact that I can't understand his assignments definitely doesn't bode well for the future, either. Soon enough he'll know that I can't do algebra, I've forgotten nearly every last word of Spanish except "Dos cervezas, por favor," and I couldn't draw an accurate map of the United States if you held a gun to my head.

Seriously, this is about what it would look like:

Oh, I can already picture the pitying look my child will give me when he realizes the spiraling, endless depth of my cluelessness. It'll be like the time I asked him if there was an actual point to Minecraft or not.

Have you been stumped by your (young) child's homework yet? What's with these newfangled math concepts?

Image via Linda Sharps

homework, elementary school


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the4m... the4mutts

Lmfao!!! This was hilarious. I feel your pain, and have had similar things happen recently.

We just started home schooling about a month ago partially because of shit like this. It was mostly my 5th grader's work. They send a packet, with ZERO instructions on how to complete advanced algebra (my son is quite gifted) but then put a note to parents about "Something, something, we haven't gone over these yet, blah blah, please help your child,yadda yadda THEN GRADE THE ASSIGNMENT" wtf? I need some wine.

My son started failing hw, because they were expecting parents to teach the new stuff. I couldn't even ask my son "okay, show me the process the teacher used, and we'll figure it out together"

I felt like a complete idiot. Luckily, his dad has a bachelors degree, and is a math genius. Too bad his dad and I are divorced, and I had to call dad over to my house to teach ME how to do the assignments. Awkward.

With home school, I have TONS of resources at my disposal, can help my kids more, and have learned a lot.

But your blog? EXACTLY how I felt up until last month.

nonmember avatar Misha

Oh yes! I too have a second grader and have had the same experience. I end up confusing the work even more and it's led to frustration. DH does a better job grasping the difference methods. So he handles math and o handle spelling and reading.

2baby... 2babymomma

The column with the blocks you take the biggest number and count back by tens until you get close to how much you are taking away then continue with ones.the one with the lines you take the big number as if it had a zero at the end so it becomes 80 and the smaller number becomes 20 subtract them you get 60 them 6 minus 5 is 1 so the answer is 61.

nonmember avatar Mom in MA

My first-grader hasn't brought anything like that home yet, but the second column looks pretty basic to me--they're teaching the kids to do subtraction step by step. The original number is on the bottom, then you move upward (why upward? I don't know, but that's how they did it) by tens until you've completed all the tens in the second number, then you move to the side by ones until you've completed all the ones in the second number, and there's your answer.

In other words, the answer for 57-23 is being expressed as

57-10=47 (one ten has been removed)
47-10=37 (another ten has been removed, for a total of 20 being removed)

37-1=36 (a one has been removed, for a total of 21 removed)
36-1=35 (a second one has been removed,for a total of 22 removed)
35-1=34 (a third one has been removed, for a total of 23 removed)

Why this method is helpful I don't know, but if it was really confusing you I hope this has cleared it up.

gabe05 gabe05

I think I decided to homeschool while getting my master's in education when my instructor explained that the best use of homework is to give assignments for material you are about to cover.  40% of the parents will help the child do the homework and teach the difficult material.  60% will not complete the assignment.  Then, in class when you teach the material, 40% of the kids already know how to do it and therefore don't need to be taught and in fact can help their fellow classmates.  That way, you will be able to give everyone individual assistance and everyone will learn the new work.  Yeah, I'll teach my own kids at home, thanks!

arose74 arose74

My kids school is doing a math night because too many parents were struggling with the same thing. Basically just to teach parents. Just something to suggest to your school principal.

Frost... FrostyMelted

Easiest step. A calculator.

nonmember avatar MoJo

Welcome to the wonderful world of Common Core lol. The math standards have to be taught this way so it aligns with the standardized tests the kids will be taking. Envision and Pearson are the publishers of this math curriculum and testing. The sad part of this is, we as parents can show our children how to solve the problem "the old-fashioned way", but if the students don't solve the questions using the Envision methodology, they will be marked as incorrect (even if they get the right answer). There are some good things about Core Curriculum, but stuff like this is just downright frustrating to students, teachers and parents alike!

Rando... Randomlady

I had never seen that method EVER in all my years in school, have never seen it on an ASVAB or any other huge test. What's the point? Isn't the normal way the best anyhow? Top number minus bottom number= answer...


I love my kids to the death, but if I had to repeat elementary school AGAIN, I will absolutely just die!   I have a set a twins and what cured me from ever having any more kids once they hit junior high/middle school level was the freakin' ELEMENTARY school phase.  This was the late 90's/early 2000...my poor children--coming to me for help was wasted...I messed them up a couple times--I was frustrated as heck because I was thinking back to my years of elementary...I use to literally freak out when they asked me for help because their homework was SOOOOO different.  Thankfully, they made it.  They are now in the 4th year of college.  But, seriously, the school system really need to send instructions home to parents as they are teaching this new way of doing things.  The parents who are willing to be involved REALLY need to learn how to do it too or those poor kids will have to struggle alone and that is not good for everyone involved.  I feel your pain.

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