Reading In Math: Calculating Centennials

We have to do math assignments every week because it’s in or school development plan. Many teachers complain about this, but since I teach reading and reading is not limited to the language arts, I like to present material that allow students to make connections across the curriculum. Sometimes I do story problems and ask the students to reflect in their journal how they used their reading skills to solve the math problem. But I like math. And I was explaining to one of my students today that I like the balance that is math’s concrete answers with reading’s need for interpretation.

So, this week, we did the Princeton Review Vocab Minute songs about the prefixes uni-, bi- and tri-. So my math question tied that in. I gave them the following information:

The United States became a nation in 1776. A centennial is an anniversary that occurs after 100 years. Using that information, answer these three questions.
1. When did the US celebrate its centennial?
2. When did the US celebrate its bicentennial?
3. When will the US celebrate its tricentennial?

I had to argue with students in my 4th hour class because they couldn’t figure it out. They wanted to divide and subtract and not think about it. They tried to add 200 years to the nation’s centennial to get the bicentennial. Am I missing something obvious? I don’t understand why these questions would be overly difficult, especially for 8th graders. And what does this say about the future of math education?

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