Time and Money: Where are they in the NCTM Standards?

I was surprised, shocked even, to have such difficulty in locating anything about time and money in the NCTM Standards (2000).Telling time and knowing how to identify and count money are two critical skills we must teach elementary students. In the decade that I taught five- to ten-year-olds, these topics were definitely on my agenda and I rather enjoyed teaching them in differentiated ways.

The NCTM Standards serve a crucial purpose wonderfully. The level of detail and thoroughness in general to the approach of teaching elementary mathematics is outstanding. Many use Principles and Standards for School Mathematics as a bible of sorts, making sure to hit all the topics and concepts in the best possible way. Because of my high regard for the NCTM and the guide, I am more astonished that they have almost entirely left out money and time.

Perhaps it is because of the age level I taught that I place so much weight on understanding the pragmatics as well as larger, more abstract concepts of money and time. But really, shouldn’t we be returning to these topics throughout a student’s learning career? Initially with money for instance, there’s the basic identification of coins and bills and their values, and learning to count and make change. But then there are much larger concepts like assigning value, trading goods and services, the history of commerce, and looking ahead to what the world economy may experience. Why not include some of these in the standards? Surely identifying coins and their worth is as important as knowing the difference between a rectangle and square?

Each day in this culture as adults we are mindful of the time. Students in schools are expected to arrive on time and are remain until dismissal. Surely telling time, and all its discrete pieces, deserves to be attended to in the Standards? Currently it is only mentioned as an example of measurement. I am trying to understand how these things could have been overlooked, or perhaps ignored or dismissed.

On the NCTM website Questions and Answers, there is this response:

Time and money are wonderful and important components of any primary grade mathematics experience; however they are not points of focus in the sense of the Curriculum Focal Points concept. In fact, one could say that time and money could (maybe should) provide the context for number and algebra focal topics at these levels. As for when these are taught, certainly they are introduced early and extended through the grades, with the sophistication of time zones and monetary exchange serving as valuable contexts at the intermediate grade levels.

I can almost agree with that, but I know that unless specifically outlined, many teachers will not focus on these topics. Sure, by second grade we have the expectation that students can manage the bare basics, but what about the fourth-, fifth-, seventh-, or eleventh-grade student? Perhaps if we did a better job exploring these systems in schools, we could do a better job as adults outside of school managing our own time and money.

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