You know, I taught third grade math for a while. I’d worked with younger kids before, but the rubber really meets the road in third grade math. That’s when reading comprehension rears its ugly head – sometimes it’s hard to suss out if someone doesn’t understand the actual problem posed or what math needs to be done to find that answer. That doesn’t even account for simple math errors once they correctly decoded the word problem and set up the math, but I’ve swerved a bit off track.

First grade is when they introduce addition and subtraction facts up through twenty. It’s when they first introduce the concept of sums and differences, too, and that when you’re looking for the difference between two numbers it means subtract. Kids are so concrete that it was (mostly) a simple concept to review, but there was one sort of subtraction that they got right away.

Billy has eight cookies. He gave three to Johnny. How many cookies does Billy have now? Oh, yeah, there’s nothing like a cookie problem to clear things right up. (this much) – (that much) = (what’s left). Things got a little tricker when you asked it a different way.

They bought five pizzas for the party. Extra people came so they’ll need eight pizzas to feed everyone. What’s the difference? (or How many more pizzas will they need?) For some reason kids flaked out almost every time when it wasn’t a straightforward take away problem.

Why am I talking about first grade take away problems? Because third grade is the perfect storm. Not only do the kids have to be able to read and comprehend the problems, they also have to correctly set up then execute the calculations. It’s a big spiral upward – each math level rests squarely on the foundation laid in the grade below and if that’s rocky? We’re talking tough times ahead. Which means every new year depends so very much on the teachers the years before because a truly attuned and dedicated teacher makes a world of difference.

Linda hosts Stream of Consciousness Saturday. This week’s prompt is “difference.” Whatever the word “difference” conjures first in your mind, write about it. Enjoy!