As part of the “apoyo escolar” (before/after school academic enrichment; literally “school support”) program that Maggie, one of the Maryknoll sisters, runs at the local parish, I’ve actually done some real subtraction in the last few weeks.
Children in Bolivia only go to school for half a day; some go from about 8 a.m.-12 p.m. while others go from 2 p.m.-6 p.m. Consequently, the program that Maggie coordinates also has a morning and afternoon session, in part to help children with their homework and in part to keep them from wandering the barrio or staying home alone when they’re not at school.
I began my time at the morning session a couple weeks ago by moving around to different children until I found that 6/7-year-old José David really needed help with subtracting multiple-digit numbers in problems that require borrowing. When I looked at his paper, most of his problems were wrong. Though I couldn’t remember all the vocabulary necessary for explaining math problems in Spanish, Maggie—and José David himself-- helped me fill in the blanks, and then José David and I were off, subtracting and borrowing our way through when seemed like a lot of problems. In reality, we didn’t do that many; José David just needed extra time to count on his fingers or use an abacus to subtract and I needed to remind him to borrow. By the end of the session, I was able to talk José David through a problem, and José David was able to do a few things on his own, but the test of our time together would come the next day. Would he remember anything we had done? Would he be able to subtract 1 from 9 without counting on his fingers?
Well…he remembered! José David showed up the next morning, came right over to me with his notebook, and actually looked eager to do math. While not any better at subtracting in his head, José David remembered how to borrow and he stayed focused for a long time. Pretty cool. :)