Common Core math problems

So the common core posts are going around again on Facebook. Seems like a lot of people are upset by the unusual strategies being presented for teaching math.

For no good reason, if you ask me.

During college I was a member of College Republicans and our chapter was very strongly divided into two factions. Our candidate, Jack Kemp, was labeled a liberal (because he dared work on social programs that might actually help the poor), while their cadidate, George H. W. Bush, was the true conservative. I was very suspicious of Bush’s plan to institute a nationwide curriculum for all students. I am suspicious of anything done at the federal level, and I was shocked other conservatives were not. That experience was actually a major turning point in my political thinking which eventually led to my decision to drop the label of Republican, but I am still suspicious of anything done via any centralized “command and control” methodology.

So, that’s what I don’t like about Common Core. These alternative math strategies, on the other hand, are not the problem.

The latest outrage is centered around the 108 step division problem from this video.

During her presentation, the concerned mom says this …

skipping rote memorization of multiplication tables is hindering their ability

On that point, I absolutely agree - but if some of her other statements are true, I have to say the problem is with the textbook or the teacher.

Teching math is a hard. The teacher is trying to teach students how to solve problems, how to think about numbers, and how to see relationsships and such. The best way to learn math is to do math. Unfortunately, one can’t “do” math until one knows how. That’s why strategies like the one described in the video are supposed to be used. The problem with the “common sense” solution ( 90 / 18 = 5 ) is that students might not know to do that. We know it from experience, but part of the teacher’s job is to give students who do not have that experience different approaches to the problem so they can see how the numbers “fit together,” which will eventually help the student know how to solve the problem in two steps instead of 108.

When I was in fourth grade, we were told to just “do it this way” whether we understood it or not. I’m a math and numbers nut, so I understood what was going on, but I can tell you that not every student understood when to divide, when to subtract, etc. My experience teaching math tells me that many students simply guess at which operation to use, or use those “short cuts” their teachers or parents show them, but those invariably leads to poorer thinking - not better.

It is much better for students to learn by experience.

If a teacher is telling students who already know what to do that they are “getting it wrong,” that’s a sign of an ineffective teacher and/or a bad textbook.

What amuses me about all this too is that all of a sudden parents have an issue with solutions that don’t make sense because it’s not how they learned it - but teaching math ineffectively has always been an issue. Common Core did not cause this problem.

Both of my children are very good at math. My daughter, especially, thinks in numbers and really gets how numbers work. When she was in second grade we had a lot of issues because her teacher insisted that subtraction had 18 steps. Becky did not get that and neither do I. Subtraction has one step - you subtract one number from another. The teacher was confusing one algorithm for figuring a subtraction problem - not everyone needs to use paper and pencil to solve a subtraction problem. No doubt learning how to do that algorithm MIGHT be helpful to some students - maybe even all - but it’s not subtraction!

Teaching strategies is a good thing. Teaching them as the ends - instead of the means - is the problem.