Tangled Up in Common Core Math

by | Sep 11, 2018

Remember that infamous scene in Disney’s Tangled, when Rapunzel decides to leave her tower?  She’s torn between her own feelings of glee and guilt as she decides to go out into the world to see the lights.

Much like Rapunzel, I was excited to check out the new Common Core Math Standards.

Then my own children started bringing home Common Core Math homework (cue the scary music). Suddenly, I felt myself getting angry at the way homework was going.

I would find myself rolling my eyes and thinking, “What was wrong with the way we were taught?”

Math became hard and confusing at as I stumbled through the homework trying to understand this new way of representing your thinking.  As a math tutor, I was frustrated because I hadn’t ever thought this way!

In 2012, I decided to face my own misconceptions about the Common Core Math Standards.  I read the standards beyond the grades that I tutored and the pacing guide.  I gained a new appreciation and a complete picture!

I know that celebrities and comedians like to paint a picture of students being smarter than the Common Core Standards, (ahem–Stephen Colbert) and I laugh right along with them…because using those methods as an adult is crazy. The point is, the methods being taught in lower grades help students do mental math, giving them the building blocks to do harder mathematics later on.  It teaches them to be critical thinkers.

 

 

 

 

All these years later, Common Core Math is still a thorn in parents’ sides as they struggle to help their child with homework. As I was preparing to write this, I worried I might be speaking to a small gathering of crickets – but instead, I have seen that a vast majority of adults and students are still quite upset about Common Core Math.

Look at some of these comments on a video Vox created about Common Core Math:

CC Stupid.PNG CC Trash right answer.PNG Why change it.PNG

This is proof that it’s still hard for most parents and students to wrap their heads around WHY we changed the way we teach math.

It comes down one thing.

In general, children and adults in the United States stink at math.

It’s not all our fault – the way we’ve been taught for over a hundred years perpetuates the problem. We’ve been trained to think math should consist of memorized, rote procedures, and we do very little thinking about the concepts behind the numbers.

Studies show that on a scale of 1 to 5, 29% of adults score at a level 1 or below in math, which means they can do basic computations but they can’t handle two-step problems. To illustrate, let’s look at an example from the 1980’s.

Which burger is the better deal?

A&W released a new hamburger to compete with McDonalds’ Quarter Pounder. This hamburger contained a third of a pound of beef and performed better in taste tests than its competitor – the Quarter Pounder Hamburger.

A&W released the burger to the public at a lower price point than McDonald’s only to find the public snubbing the idea. A focus group was formed and they discovered the real problem.

Americans didn’t understand that a third of a pound of beef was more than a quarter pound. They had wrongly believed that the four in 1/4 meant that it was bigger than 1/3.

We rank 27th in developed countries for math.

For a country that brings home a lot of gold medals in the Olympics, that’s gotta sting! But as Mojo Bro mentioned in the comments above, WHY change the one thing that is the same no matter where you are on the earth?

Why Use the Common Core Method?

During the late 1980’s and 1990’s, research about how our brain learns math blew all traditional math methods out of the water. As it turns out, teaching the concepts behind the algorithms and procedures lead to deeper understanding and critical thinking, a skill I think we all could agree our future generations need more of, not less.

Even though math is the same, no matter where you are on earth, it’s not taught the same everywhere.

Common Core Math is closely related to math being taught in Singapore, Hong Kong, and Switzerland. These are the countries performing at the top of this field, which means exposing our children to their way of doing math should lead to more competent math thinkers.

So how do we make sense of all these changes in math?

Why does so much of the Common Core math look so strange?

This video by VOX may help you understand a little more.

I know what you’re thinking – “Yeah, Adrianne. That’s nice and all, but I can’t even help my child with her homework.

It always ends in tears or hours of watching YouTube videos trying to grasp what in the heck is going on!”

As a parent, I get it. I’ve even been there. It’s as frustrating as trying to get your tween to stop playing Fortnite and unload the dishwasher that was done a week ago. You want to help with math homework, yet you feel stuck between your child and her teacher.

Your child can’t seem to remember the procedure the teacher taught that day and the teacher left you out in the cold without an example so you can see how it is supposed to be done.

What is a parent to do and where the flip are the textbooks to help?

A Wider Perspective

No matter what your feelings are about the Common Core Math Standards; it takes time for teachers, children, and parents to adjust.

Even if you are hopeful that Common Core Math will just be a blip in history, we need to stop putting our heads in the sand and get comfortable with these ideas.

Keep in mind that Common Core Math are standards, not curriculum.

This means they are guidelines for states, school districts, and teachers to follow. How those entities interpret the guidelines, and the curriculum they select to teach, can vary widely which is why you get some pretty crazy math problems out there!

Implementing the Common Core math standards is like playing a game of telephone with kids.

The standards are more perfect coming from the source, but as they are implemented down the line, they can become warped. Also, many teachers are not yet comfortable with the standards either, which affects the types of problems they select for their students.

A teacher may want to teach a child how to prove a multiplication problem by constructing an array, but they may not realize that giving students large numbers to construct defeats the purpose. In that case, methods used to aid the concept are a hindrance rather than a vehicle for understanding.

For example, my cousin shared a crazy multiplication problem and took to social media to share her rage about Common Core Math. The teacher wanted students to use an x to represent the quantity of one and have them draw an array of 5 x 23.

When Common Core Math defeats the purpose.

That’s 115 Xs a student would have to draw!

This is clearly a misunderstanding of what is appropriate for a 4th-grade student.

A more effective way to teach this idea would be to have a student draw base-ten blocks to represent quantity. When the representational drawing becomes a burden and detracts from teaching the concept, we lose its effectiveness and everyone gets grouchy.

I am asking you to keep a little perspective and think about the teacher giving out the work. It may be that as a teacher, they are just now starting to develop these skills themselves. Give them some grace.

Kick Misunderstanding to the Curb

There is a lot of misinformation about what the Common Core Math standards are, exactly.

You can find some of the right information and gain a wider perspective on math with these helpful articles:

Learn to Help Your Child

Instead of complaining about Common Core Math, dig in and learn a little more right alongside your child.

Take the time to go to the school with an open mind (no crossing your arms and scowling at the teacher!) and watch a math class.

I think you’ll be surprised to see that much of what you learned as a student is still present in math classes today but it goes much deeper.

Common Core math standards allow kids to focus on what they already know about learning math.

They start with the concrete, move to representational, and then into the abstract.

On the other hand, we parents have spent our years learning math in the abstract, just manipulating numerals on a paper with procedures and not really understanding why. It’s gotta stop.

When we start with concrete models of how numbers work, we are building a framework that allows students to use the standard algorithm with ease and minimal errors. They begin to understand how to use math as it occurs in their everyday lives.

Notice Math in Real Life

As a tutor, I often hear parents whine (yes–it really sounds like whining) that they never use the math they learned in school. They’ll even do this right in front of the child they brought to me for tutoring!

Math is real life, parents!

It’s balancing a checkbook, baking, planning a party, ordering supplies, putting out fires, buying groceries…I think you know where I am going with this. At the beginning of 2018, Time Magazine published a list of the 50 Best Jobs in America.

Here are the top five:

  • Data Scientist
  • DevOps Engineer
  • Marketing Manager
  • Occupational Therapist
  • HR Manager

Every one of those jobs uses at least some math, and the majority of them use quite a bit.

You do need math for everyday life – whether it’s in your job, or just functioning at home. Common Core Math has the potential to do a lot of good. If we can just stick with something longer than just 5 years in education (PLEASE allow teachers to get comfy with this math), we’ll have a more competent population.

The implementation of Common Core Math Standards is key.

We need to take the time to properly educate and introduce parents to these standards or we will always be facing resistance.

Common Core Math can prepare students for jobs, strengthen their critical thinking, and open their minds to the concept that there are several ways to solve problems.

When Your Child Is Still Struggling

If you’ve done everything you can – tried to understand Common Core Math methods and visited your child’s class to see how math is taught – and your child is still struggling, you may want to get them a tutor.

We offer multisensory math tutoring here at Math for Middles.  All of our tutors are well versed in Common Core Math and can support your child to do better in math. You can connect with us here.

Let’s stop getting tangled up in emotions about Common Core Math and do our best to support our children.

Adrianne Meldrum

Adrianne Meldrum

Owner of Math for Middles

I’m the owner and creator of the math videos here at Math for Middles.  I’ve tutored students for over ten years.  When I am not creating here, you’ll find me down by the river with my family.  Interested in working with me?  Connect with me here.

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