Counting Coins

Chances are that when you ask the teacher (or administrator) leading the transition classroom what exactly the students are learning in “functional mathematics”,the response will be, “Counting coins.”

I don’t have anything against counting coins.  I think that counting by dimes, nickles, quarters, and pennies can teach many important math concepts.  Through counting by tens, fives,and twenty fives the students can get a better grasps on decimal system and get an important introduction to fractions (1/4. 1/2, 3/4) and decimals.

Counting coins, however, is not a functional skill. At least not AS functional as its dominance in many  transition programs indicates. In today’s world this skill can be utilized only while buying snacks or drinks in vending machines.  Since, however, most of those items are unhealthy, the skill of counting coins should not be practiced there. When Robert returns cans and bottles, the machines do all the counting for him.

Even if he were using cash and not his debit card to pay his bills, Robert should not concentrate on counting coins in the change received, but on counting dollars.  Counting the change in coins would only distract him from paying attention to bigger bills, and might lead (I don’t believe that this might really happen) to being cheated of much more then a few pennies.

It is possible, that at some point, in this world which day after day becomes less compassionate, Robert will be homeless.  He might beg for money.  He might look for coins on the pavements of sidewalks all over the city, maybe then the skill would come handy.  But as I learned, when Robert considers something very important, he learns quickly, often without ANY instruction from others.

Despite everything I have written above, the skill of counting coins will come handy today, as I plan to open Robert’s piggy bank and place all the coins in the appropriate rolls before taking them to the bank and exchange them for paper bills. That means that Robert will be practicing counting by ones, fives, tens, and 25s.  upon returning from the bank, he will do something much more valuable.  He will count his dollar bills.

The fact that in so many school programs and programs for adults with developmental disabilities, counting coins is the pillar of “functional academics” is really depressing. It demonstrates the  great disconnect between the real needs of the individuals with disabilities and the people who, in one way or another, are responsible for them. It sadly indicated that those people are not learning.

Not learning, because, there are teachers and the professionals invested in special education, who already came to understanding, that there are other math skills which are much more needed.  Much more functional.

The first and the most basic is to round the amount of money to the higher dollar amount.  This way, when Robert is buying something that costs $3.28 or $3.99, he knows that he should give at least $4.00 (or $5 or $10…)

The collaborative program, my son attended in 2005/2006 school year was teaching just that.  That was not,sadly, something any teacher in his public school TRANSITION program has ever done. For the last 3+ years they have been practicing counting coins. Over and over and over.

As I said, I don’t have anything against practicing counting coins from the mathematical point of view. But this is not a functional skill even in those situation when Robert has to use money instead of his debit card.

I realized that clearly when Robert was trying to buy his watermelon flavored frozen lemonade in Roger William Park and Zoo.  It cost $3.50. Robert had dollars and a few coins.  He did not know what to give to the vendor.

Luckily, I could give him some clues.  Robert learned quickly and during the next visit to the zoo he handed seller $4.00. Oh, well, he forgot to wait for the change, but that is another lesson and another story.

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