Today's three R's: Reading, riting and . . . rain forests?
By John Carlson
Arithmetic has always been a kid killer. You remember it - the multiplication tables, the flashcards, the endless, sweaty sessions at the blackboard.
Now, finally, they're making math fun, with cartoons, pretty pictures and lessons for the kiddies on how to become environmentally responsible little citizens.
Get a load of this, straight out of the Des Moines school district fourth-grade math book:
"Walter didn't recycle. He dropped trash outside. One night in a dream he saw what could happen to the world if everyone was as thoughtless as he. Walter saw a polluted, treeless world."
The book tells how Walter woke up, jumped out of bed before dawn and sat there in his pajamas, sorting trash. His favorite birthday present wasn't the toy laser gun or the inflatable dinosaur, the authors said. It was a new tree.
No fooling. This is actually in the fourth-grade math book, on Page 322, which, boys and girls, is a number.
On the next page is a suggestion to all the kids that they consider joining the Tree Musketeers, a national group that plants trees.
Then, in the math part of the exercise - I knew it must be there somewhere - it says that if Walter's "local group" of 20 members plants 240 trees, and each kid gets the same number of trees, how many trees will each member plant?
That's in what they call the "Tree Releaf" chapter.
A few pages away, in the section headed "Rain Forest Math," the boys and girls are told that 100 acres of rain forest are cleared each minute.
Did you know that farmers in Central America work hard to save the rain forest? The fourth-graders do. It's in their math book.
They learn about water, too, because the math book reminds them that "Every Drop Counts."
"Can you think of a way to save water in your home, school, or neighborhood? . . . Persuade others to use water your way. Describe your plan in a report."
I especially like the two-page drawing of a little neighborhood that shows some nice people using water wisely and some bad people wasting water.
The kids could have a class plan to help conserve water, the book suggests, and take shorter showers. Or they could flush the toilet one time fewer each day, or they could do something really important:
"Powerful fifth-graders attend Adamsville School in Bridgewater, New Jersey. They raised more than $1,000 for the Yanomani people in the Brazilian rain forest."
The authors say the New Jersey kids raised the cash by selling cookbook, and they slip in a sentence about how there are 50 recipes in the book and each one is two pages long. How many pages in the cookbook?
In case that's too hard, they ask the students:
"What ways can you think of to answer this question? Can multiplication help?"
In the calendar section, the fourth-graders are told about a package that was sent on May 29. How many days until it was delivered on June 5? Why did the the authors pick June 5? Because, you silly people, that day is marked in our math book calendar in big red letters as "World Environment Day."
And, "Many cultures use masks to tell about history. This mask from Zaire (there's a picture) is the mask of a royal ancestor. It is worn in ceremonial dances. The congruent triangles on the forehead form a pattern. Use congruent shapes to make a mask that tells about your culture or history."
It shows a picture of a kid cutting up paper for a mask and recommends the fourth-graders explain all this in their journals.
The Des Moines district also bought books for all the third- and fifth-graders, shelling out $326,000 to publisher Houghton Mifflin.
They could have patched a lot of leaky ceilings with that $326,000, couldn't they? Not that it matters anymore.
Finally, here's a gem out of the fifth-grade book:
"The number 0.001 shows one-thousandth. Add 0.001 and 0.001 on your calculator. . . ."
That right. On your calculator.
It's a good thing they've got the kids using calculators, since there aren't many addition or multiplication tables in the books.
Instead, they estimate answers, round off numbers and are told what to think about our polluted world.
Jerry P. Becker Dept. of Curriculum & Instruction Southern Illinois University Carbondale, IL 62901-4610 USA Fax: (618) 453-4244 Phone: (618) 453-4241 (office) (618) 457-8903 (home) E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org