My Way

“And now the end is near and so I face that final curtain….I did it my way.” Frank Sinatra. The Chairman of the Board. Derek Jeter’s Gatorade send-off commercial got me thinking the other day about this song and what it means to me. It started as a normal math class for me in 8th grade. I was called on by my teacher to answer the problem and show my work. I went to the board and did just that. But, there was a problem. My answer was correct, but I did not solve the problem the way the book told me I had to. I did it my way (and showed my work correctly), but it was not the “way” of the math textbook. So, my teacher had me stand up on my desk and told me to start singing Frank Sinatra’s, My Way.


He fed me the lines as I stood on my desk, gazing out at my classmates who were laughing and looking at me as if to say, “I am glad that is not me.” Thankfully he had me stop as a few tears started to roll down my face. How does one get the answer right, yet can still be wrong?

Fast forward some 30 years to my 5th grade math class. I am teaching many different algorithms as students explore which ones they are most comfortable with (partial sum addition, trade first subtraction, left to right subtraction, etc) for addition and subtraction. I shared my “singing” story with the class as we began our unit, knowing that we would be exploring a variety of algorithms, with the ultimate goal of finding what works for each student. I even reenacted the scene from my 8th grade class and started to sing for the kids. I was actually impressed that they had heard of Frank Sinatra. My singing has not gotten any better but the reaction from the audience was still the same. Laughter!

The traditional, “one way only” approach to math has moved in a positive direction to include more creative “ways” of solving problems. Traditional methods still have a valued place in education, however, it is nice to see more creative problem solving methods move to the front of the class. Maybe the new song we should be singing is “Shake It Off,” by Taylor Swift. It does remind me that my way is not the only way and your way may be better for you than my way, so we should shake it up a bit. Plus, it has a nice ring to it.