You have often read Gary Rubinstein’s sage insights into the hoaxes associated with “miracle schools,” charter schools, and Tesch for America.

But his fist love is teaching mathematics. That is also his profession. So, in this time when face-to-face instruction is imperiled, Gary has prepared some lessons to share with parents, teachers, and students.

*With this pandemic going on and so many people learning math through videos, I’m making a series of videos that I hope helps some parents and teachers help their children or their students learn math.*

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**When complete, this will surely be over 12 hours long, starting with addition and ending with trigonometry. So far there are three videos that go from kindergarten through about 3rd grade, ending with the dreaded ‘long division.’ *

This post includes a playlist and the first three lessons.

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I am currently trying to help my grandson and daughter with my grandson’s remote math. First, I had to review some of the understandings and operations with my daughter who hasn’t added and multiplied fractions in twenty years. It took her about thirty seconds to catch on because it was all in a dormant part of her brain. She just had to get the content “out of mothballs.”

I “taught”(rote memorization of basic algorithms/facts) both of my kids math (grades 1-4) and they learned ALL the basic math skills very well. What our district provided in math curriculum was some really weird test prep (and this was before common core!) that didn’t amount to anything that could be taken to the next higher level. My kids hated “mommy math” but I told them they would thank me later when they had to take the higher maths. Guess what? Both have said that what I “made them learn” has saved them from the problems that many of their friends are now facing in the higher maths. I even got a “thank you”. I hope Mr. Rubenstein’s videos are “back to basics” so that parents are able to easily understand in order to help their children learn the skills that are necessary for life AND for higher math education.

imagine believing in building blocks rather than facades

Was there a video contest to see who could make learning basic arithmetic as obtuse and confusing as possible? If so, I guess we have the winner here. The presentation is remarkably similar to the second place finisher, Khan Academy.

UGH! I didn’t watch the videos since my kids are older. So his videos are common core math infused with mental math tricks, I guess? Not what the kids need and not what any sane adults need to make learning/helping easier. My gosh, why can’t they just teach math the way it has been done for centuries and forget about all the “quick tricks” that the kids will learn anyway once their brains develop and they use math in daily life. Glad I tortured my kids with my “mommy math”! It seems like those that have an innate ability to understand higher maths are the ones who are unable to teach the basics or to break it down for most to understand….maybe this is Mr. Rubenstein’s case?

I don’t think you could call these “common core math infused with mental math tricks.” They’re just little illustrated conversations showing basic processes, and different ways to arrive at answers. I found them rather nice 😉

Gary, Gary, Gary. I have taught math K-3. I’m currently an Intervention Tutor for Language Arts. As I work with children who are struggling with learning to read, I use their math books occasionally as so much of math now involves reading. I’m afraid you’ve fallen into the trap that I fell into when I taught all Whole Language because my own children learned to read before formal instruction. Now I understand that my children are NOT the norm for literacy just as yours are NOT the norm for math. Everyone has different strengths–my children’s strength was literacy and your children’s strength is math. So, what you “see” with your (and potentially your children’s) rmathematical mind is not what everyone sees. I learned very quickly that most children benefit from explicit phonics instruction which enables them to quickly get past the basics and onto comprehension. Memorizing the math facts and the simple algorithms gives all children the tools to succeed. I have seen many students so confused by all the breaking down of two digit addition problems that they just shut down. They decide that they HATE math. Sigh. How terrible is that? And the biggest problem is that rather than just exposing students to different ways of thinking and letting them chose what works for them, we spend inordinate amounts of time on all the methods–and then waste MORE time testing them all. (And using the results to say our schools are all failing.) All of us are not going to get the Pulitzer Prize or the equivalent prize in math, but all our children deserve to be taught the basic tools so they can move on easily to problem solving. I’d be surprised if parents watching your video wouldn’t be scratching their heads wondering how their 6, 7 or 8 year old could possibly understand it. Some children easily learn this. For most it takes too much time so the basics get short shrift. I’m happy to see there is at least movement toward having children memorize the math facts. (Watching my granddaughter (in her senior advanced math class) waste time with repeated addition rather than instantly knowing the product was disheartening. I could go on about spiral curriculum, but I leave it with my conversation with the Gifted and Talented teacher about whether or not to memorize the math facts. She turned and pointed to the “Minute Math” sheets the GT students (who regularly win regional prizes) who each morning start with math facts–so they can get on to problem solving. I rest my case about knowing the basics as the path to higher level thinking. Kathleen Mikulka

If there was a Pulitzer Prize for blog comments, I would award it here.

We’re seeing a carry over of this type of instructional obfuscation in the sciences with NGSS. Gary and everyone else who thinks that 6, 9, or 12 year old children should be treated like proto-adults please, please think about the damage you are doing to the confidence of novice, and completely concrete learners.

A slash and burn drive?

Diane’s intro says Gary’s profession is teaching math, so his context is going to be much larger than himself & his supposedly math-brained kids. Which is not a given: my kids’ dad is a mathematician, I am decidedly not; we ended up with just 1 out of 3 like him.

Not sure he’s saying ‘don’t memorize tables’ at all. I didn’t hear that. I take these little videos as aimed at the parents, just showing them some ways to conceptualize how the processes work, for their “toolkit” when teaching their kids. These little sessions would be a fun way to supplement learning times tables etc – I can imagine using them to ‘prove’ whether a table is correct, or perhaps contains some ‘errors’ snuck in by Mom or Dad.

I learned rote tables as a kid – did well in geometry [proofs etc] but barely got through midsch algebra [1] & hisch algebra[2]. Even tried auditing a friend’s algebra classes in the school where I taught hisch French in early adulthood– still no dice! But then I spent a decade at an office job where I worked continually with figures in order to compare proposals. I swiftly acquired these sorts of concepts & alternate methods, & became adept at mental math and estimating order of magnitude. [I’m a bit better at that than math hubby].

My 2 not-so-mathy kids gained similar skills through hisch jobs (cashier, delivering pizza [calculating tips], etc) and doing their first 2-3 yrs of tax returns by hand. I conclude that the difficulty some of us have at school is that you don’t really have the opportunity to repeat ad nauseum the same processes. You barely grasp one thing before a higher-order process is on your plate.

Starting with addition and ending in trig in only twelve hours?

Not a bad condensation given that it normally takes twelve years.

He should not reveal his secret, else he will be out of a job.

That’s nothing SDP, I’m currently producing a series of one hour science videos:

Caterpillars to Recombinant DNA

The Water Cycle to Astro Physics

Linear Motion to Quantum Mechanics

Terrariums to Fusion Reactors (Hands On!)

Do you have a site? I have a rising Jr taking Physics this year and may need some help since school will likely be hybrid or online for some time.

Can I get your email? I have loads of physics activities and companion instructional materials. It will be best if I send you a slash drive with all of it loaded on. Pro Bono.

flash drive

Slash and burn drive?

Did you used to be RageAgainstTheTestocracy, by chance?

Are you for anything or just against?

Stiil am

I can barely read the scribbles.

Why do so many adults insist on over-complicating simple ideas for children who need the opposite? As long as math instruction seems like nothing more than tricks-with-numbers, even the successful students are left wondering, “What’s the point?” And few math teachers ever address this mystery lurking in every math student’s conscience.

For what it’s worth, Rubenstein teaches high school math at a school with some of the most advanced math students in NYC. Not sure if that explains the what you’re seeing, but thought it worth mentioning.

His video series is intended to help parents, many of whom probably struggled with math when they were in school. The trend via Common Core has made a challenging subject for many, much more difficult; especially at the elementary level. Kathleen M has hit the nail squarely on the head. Gary is typical of that brilliant college professor we all had who just couldn’t understand the basic level of instruction needed for non-intuitive novice learners to be successful. NGSS or “Common Core Science” (beware if you are a NY parent with kids in K – 12) will do nothing but foment frustration, confusion, and misunderstanding. CA is ahead of NY and it has been a miserable failure.

Fair enough. (I am a parent of two NYC K-12 students. My daughter had a class with Rubenstein and she liked it and she liked him.)

I’m sure he’s a great fit for the majority of very smart and earnest kids at Stuy. He probably should have limited his vids to the secondary level for advanced math students. Common Core math has no place at the elementary and even middle levels. Unfortunately the basic skills needed by most are being suffocated by a philosophy that mistakenly believes that children need to understand (and be able to explain) all the variations of math operations on a conceptual level. Making math abstract for concrete learners was always a fool’s errand.

Gary is such a love. What a kind thing to do 🙂

My comment wasn’t meant as a criticism of Rubenstein, it was a criticism of common core math. I do wish that he would spend some time in a primary classroom so he would see how counterproductive it is. If it’s necessary to do remedial math for parents (even those with advanced degrees) doesn’t that show that something is wrong? It would be very powerful for people with his expertise to say, Enough. I can’t say it often enough, let’s deeply teach the basics so all children have the tools to move on.

sigh. I really don’t get how talking about dividing up 10 cookies among 2 kids is common core math.

Dividing up 10 cookies it not CC math. GRs focus on Fact Families is good old fashioned math fact memorization. GRs explanation of double digit addition is CC math and what we are making young children do. That’s confusing to most 7 and 8 year olds–not to mention (have you seen the division and multiplication grids?) the number of times to make simple addition errors.

For what it’s worth, I did not read your comments as criticisms of Gary but as criticisms of ways of teaching math to young children who are not ready for certain concepts and approaches.

As an elementary teacher, you understand better than anyone that teaching math to young children is not the same as teaching math to young adults.

As you also understand all too well, assuming that it is is one of the big problems with common core math and something for which criticism is richly deserved.

I just wish Jason Zimba (a mathematical physicist who wrote the CC standard (in his garage, so he claims) had consulted with folks like you who actually teach young children.

What a concept, eh?

Thanks. That’s what I meant. And I LOVE all the aspects of Whole Language–you just need to add explicit phonics instruction. KM

Wow, I wasn’t expecting this to get such a negative reaction. I do hope that as the series progresses and I get to the upper levels that I’ve been teaching for so many years, people think they are more useful. I do want to say that I’m not a big supporter of ‘common core’ math. My children have been taught dozens of ‘tricks’ for doing mental math and I agree that they were not developmentally ready for most of them. The same thing happened when my daughter took after school chess lessons when she was in Kindergarten. She was loving playing Chess and just having fun, but then the teacher started teaching all the ‘theory’ and suddenly she hated Chess and still does to this day 12 years later, so I do not think of myself as a ‘common core’ cheerleader or supporter. I think that it depends on what you wanted the goals of these videos to be. For the first video, I was just trying to say that I think kids should be able to do something like 8+5=13 when they finish Kindergarten. Whether they do that by counting on their fingers or by relating it to something they already may know, like that 8+2=10, it seems to me like a reasonable goal. The fact that a 35 minute video described, for me, everything I would want my own child to learn in Kindergarten, I hope does not signal that I have wildly unreasonable expectations and no understanding of child development.

Part of this is that I wanted parents to be able to help their children and I was trying to show a little bit about what might be called ‘mental math’ since I do think it is something relevant. But if you watch the videos carefully, and maybe you did but maybe you didn’t sit there for almost 2 hours watching them, you’d see that there are places where I show that ‘common core’ often takes things too far too the point of being counterproductive.

Math education is pretty mysterious. After 12 years of learning math, sometimes for 90 minutes a day, it seems like much of it does not stick. Most adults can barely do any math so the idea to improve math education is something that I support. Now changing anything from the old ways does run the risk of making it worse and I understand that. But getting comfortable with the fact that there are only a few ways to add two digits and get to 10 is something I think is useful. Also in math a very big concept is how to take something that you already know and how to use it to find something out that you don’t know is something that comes up over and over in higher math. Whether or not students can be ‘trained’ to think in this way by giving them ‘easy’ examples is maybe questionable.

Certainly there is disagreement about how to get kids to naturally develop these skills without forcing them on them too quickly. I feel that the TERC program overdoes it with too many tricks and abstractions and that common core seems to be based on that. I also have seen a series of books that tries to formalize elementary school math so much that it becomes incomprehensible. I’m sorry that for some people these videos are in that category. I guess these are just my opinions, I don’t to be an expert in early childhood math education. After about 4th grade even the ‘common core’ isn’t so different from the ‘old ways’ so I hope the rest of the series is less controversial.

I still do like that the videos have generated discussion about the pros and cons of different ways of introducing math to kids so feel free to keep the conversation going and let me know what you think of future videos in the series.

Gary, Thanks for taking the time to respond. The fact that you are surprised by the reaction of elementary teachers points out a problem with K-12 communication–which is always a problem. Those early experiences are the foundation upon which you build. You mention that so many adults have trouble with math. Once again I think that was an issue with math instruction in the 70s and 80s when it was first suggested that students didn’t have to memorize the math facts. I’m not sure how old you, but I am 75. EVERYONE in my school knew the math facts, could tell time and could make change. A number of young teachers have shared with me that they still don’t know the math facts automatically and it is an embarrassment and a hindrance. I hope this conversation continues. But here is a challenge for parents: Memorization–whether it was math facts or poetry or the Gettysburg Address–was homework. My 6 brothers and sisters and I learned the math facts by reciting them each night to my parents. This is in no way to suggest that math shouldn’t be differentiated so that students who can move more quickly to challenging problem solving. It may sound old-fashioned, but it works.

I memorized the times tables in elementary grades and never forgot them, still use them.

For sure! Nowhere in my video series did I say or imply that students should not memorize the times tables. Maybe I need to make this more clear in the next videos.

You didn’t, but Common Core programs do. Many schools–depending on the decades in which their teachers and administrators received their degrees–are still insisting that children will just learn the timetables as they problem solve. Some schools in my experience actually forbid teachers to encourage children to memorize them. The problem with most programs is that even as they de-emphasize the timetables using, e.g., repeated addition, the programs move from concept to concept too quickly so there is no time for an emphasis on the importance of quick recall of the facts, i.e., memorization. An additional issue is the use of calculators in elementary classrooms which makes administrators and parents feel that memorization is unnecessary–until the standardized test says, No computers for this section! Thankfully, I think the tide is turning on this one.