Still Counting Coins. Why?

January 12, 2015

Yes, I was against teaching counting coins as so-called “functional” skill.  Besides using a vending machine, it is hard to find another place where ATM or credit card wouldn’t be easier and more practical.  And yet, Robert spent a few hours over the period of two weeks doing exercises from Kumon workbook, “Dollars and Cents”. Why?

The exercises had value for Robert and for me.  For Robert because he was “learning” to pay attention while counting.  I was learning what were the obstacles to Robert’s calculations and how to remove them.

Robert never made an error when all the coins were of the same value. All quarters or all nickles.  He made errors mainly when the quarters were followed by nickles often assigning to  the first nickel the value of the quarter.

I couldn’t figure out what caused Robert to write 57 instead of 75.  Was that an error in counting or just in writing.

Another error Robert kept making was to write the sum of $1 and 10 dimes as $1.100 despite the fact that he could write 100c as $1.

I also noticed that my effort to slow Robert down by writing the values of coins under them before counting was leading to more confusion.  Robert began by writing the value of the singular coins, but soon he switched to writing the added value of coins, as if he was counting them together. For instance he wrote 10, 10 under two dimes, but then under pennies that followed the dimes he wrote 21, 22.

The irony is, that he was making between 0 and 2 errors on the page of 10 problems, but after I “helped” him with my suggestion to write the values of each coin, he kept making 8 errors on the page.

What is shows, that it is hard to help when the nature of student’s thinking is not understood by the teacher.  We install doubts instead of providing tools leading to independence.

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