Comparing two third grade math books

As I mentioned, I have recently started on a new project in creating a worksheet package for third grade. So... I have had to take a real close look on what exact topics are usually taught in third-grade math.

I have been looking at two third-grade (public school) math books. One is from 1978, the other from 1992.

I have been quite amazed at the differences between the two! I knew about the 'trend' in mathematics curriculum where topics seem to get introduced on earlier and earlier grades. But it was eye-opening to see it "in action" in comparing the books.

I think it's good for homeschoolers to be aware of this trend, too.

The 1978 book is full-color, illustrated, very clear layout, and fairly little text. The word problems are extremely word-scarce. They've even put little symbols in the text instead of words (for sandcastle or beaver or squirrel or an LP record player, for example).

The 1992 book is still full color of course, less clear layout, and this time lots of text. Each lesson starts with a "story" or example situation from real life that takes lots of text and almost the whole page.

The problems in the 1978 book are simpler, often just a bunch of calculation problems.

In the 1992 book the problems are much more varied, and there are always word problems included in every lesson - often also "critical thinking" problems. And, in every chapter between your 'standard' lessons there are 2 Problem solving lessons, a Decision Making lesson, Thinking Mathematically lesson, and Curriculum Connection and Technology pages.

Besides those, one great difference is in the amount of topics covered: the 1978 book does not have a hint of decimals, adding fractions, mixed numbers, statistics, probability, or long division. It also does not include measuring mass/weight. Division is only by 1-9. In the latter book all those are included, plus the division topics get to be more advanced.

The 1978 book is long - 321 lesson pages - but the 1992 book is just enormous in size: 516 pages.

And in 2006, mathematics texts haven't gotten any shorter: It is now routine for elementary texts to be over 600 pages long!!!

I can't but pity the teachers: how in the world can they go through all that? My guess is, they can't and don't. If you have better information on what teachers actually do, you're welcome to comment.

I'm not saying the things in the 1992 book aren't important. Word problems are important. Thinking mathematically is of course important.

But does it really help to study mixed numbers, probability, coordinate system, even long division on 3rd grade? Those topics are 'introduced' for a lesson or two only anyway - kind of 'exploratory' lessons. Are kids going to remember them?

In my mind, third grade is the grade to learn your multiplication facts and concept of division, and get better at addition/subtraction and bigger numbers and simple word problems.

My fear is that making the curriculum "mile wide" this way takes away from the 'core' topics, and thereby can actually hinder one's learning of fraction arithmetic later on, for example.

J. D. Fisher offers in his blog one viewpoint to the "long-book" phenomenon: that it is caused by linearization of texts. Students can't read reflectively so need everything spelled out, which takes lots of pages. That, and he also says that publishers cannot omit any content to make books shorter.

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