The Language of Mathematics

Bianca NTP

As anyone that works with students will tell you, it’s not always about what you teach them, but the things that they teach you. This spring, FLOC staff has been working hard enrolling and placing more students and tutors into our programs for the spring semester.

One of our new students, Bianca, attends a French immersion school. While reading through her application and gathering some pertinent information to include for her tutor, I noted her school on her student placement. In Washington DC, I am very used to seeing bilingual schools that our students attend, but this was a first for me.

During her first tutoring session, while getting to know each other, she and her tutor discussed her school. Bianca, one of our new 7th graders, has been at this school since first grade, and every subject is taught in French. When they transitioned into the curriculum, her tutor, Ben, wanted to see how well she knew unit 5, which is multiplication and division facts.

Example of a long division exercise using the French style.

Example of a long division exercise using the French style.

During the session, he asked her to switch roles with him and explain him the concept of division. After a little pause, she explained that she can only describe it in French. Bianca then illustrated the box for the long division symbol, which looks completely different from the way most schools teach it. In case you are wondering, the word division in French is répartition. Math may be a concept that is universal but, as her tutor realized, some of the explanations can still be lost in translation.

(Catherine Brenner is an NTP Site Coordinator at FLOC).

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