After many years teaching mathematics at the Israel Institute of Technology, Ron Aharoni was offered the opportunity to try teaching at the primary level. He thought it would be easy. Upon discovering how difficult it actually was, he decided to write this book. It puts together teaching tips and simplified but fully developed explanations of large parts of elementary mathematics. He combines his academic expertise with his classroom experience to describe approaches to addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, fractions, decimals, and percentages.
Arithmetic for Parents is a very enjoyable read: quick, easy, light, digestible. The mathematics is explained in a way that almost any high school graduate will understand. Aharoni illuminates the inner workings of arithmetical algorithms, making the logic clearer even to someone who is well practiced in math. He offers a glimpse into the minds of children, explaining how to break down arithmetic into bite-size pieces appropriate for students who need or want to see the exact process in order to make sense of it.
The main question I have about the book is about its target audience. The title implies that the book is intended for parents, but the majority of the tips are for teaching to an entire class, not one child. Furthermore, at least in American society, the adults who are most likely to pick up a book called Arithmetic for Parents (elementary teachers or concerned parents) are also likely to have a basic understanding of the mathematics involved. Therefore, a few of the mathematical definitions and explanations offered strike me as overkill, running the risk of being perceived as condescending.
Aharoni bases his book on his experience with education in Israel, and so his assumptions include a more accelerated general curriculum and no kindergarten. Therefore, some of his suggested timeline differs by up to two years from what is done in America. While this is a minor detail for elementary teachers to deal with, for a concerned parent it could cause serious worry that his/her child is falling behind expectations.
All in all, I am very glad that I read the book and feel that I benefited from what it had to offer. I intend to teach elementary school eventually, and several of the pedagogical tips will come in very useful for teaching a struggling student and locating students’ misunderstandings. Ultimately, Aharoni does a fabulous job of breaking down algorithms and explaining thoroughly why each step is occurring and how to make sense of it. His ability to understand and address young children’s difficulties in mathematics is impeccable.
Megan Bovill is a native of Saco, Maine and is a senior Mathematical Sciences and Human Development major at Colby College in Waterville, Maine. Upon graduation, she will be teaching secondary math in Baltimore, Maryland.