### 1. A High School Math Teacher’s Lament

Something’s not happening in middle school math.

For six+ years, students have been showing up in my Algebra 2 classes with little ability to think about (much less calculate with) fractions or negative numbers. You’ll hear this from any high school math teacher you talk to. And it seems to be true of kids in both advanced and regular classes.

Let’s talk about negatives…

My guess (based on no data) is that much like * cursive* or

*or*

**long division***or even*

**how to hold a pencil***, teaching*

**keyboarding***and*

**fractions***has been abandoned in middle school. With so much to curriculum to cover, with so many standardized tests to administer, and with calculators so ubiquitously present, I’m tempted to think that the negative numbers have been dropped by the wayside.*

**negative numbers**I know. I know. I’m whining. *Thing’s just aren’t like they were in the good old days. They don’t have to do what we had to do.* I’m fully aware of how this sounds. And full disclosure, the comment on an old report card of mine, *David isn’t learning his math facts*, might be important to add into this mix (although truth be told that was elementary school).

Yet it’s getting in the way of teaching Algebra 2.

### 2. A YouTube Video

This morning I watched a video on YouTube. The teacher was at a whiteboard teaching how to * solve linear systems of equations by elimination*. The core skill has little to do per se with the arithmetic of negative numbers. Yet if you don’t understand the arithmetic, you’re doomed.

I watch the video in disbelief as the teacher introduces elimination and the kids enthusiastically shout out the answers to the underlying arithmetic. They don’t hesitate. Their responses are instant — and correct. When asked to add -5 and 7, they shout “two!”, not “twelve”. (I have kids who will look at me as if I am from Mars when I say -5 + 7 = 2.)

Ok, who are these kids? Where is this school? That is obviously relevant. But then I look down and see that the video was filmed eleven years ago.

Is that really it? In the last decade, have middle schools simply abandoned teaching negative numbers? From my vantage point, it sure seems so. And as a result, if I am to teach the core skills, I am left with no alternative but to tell them “Go get a calculator.”

*And thereby I become part of the problem.*