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This Isn't the Math We Grew Up With!

by : Tiffany Tunnell
posted on : 1/28/2015 2:47:15 PM

It’s 6:00 pm on a Wednesday. You look across the table to find your child distraught over their latest math assignment. You know what I am talking about. That “brow furrowed with frustration” look, the watery eyes of defeat, the emotional signs of
discomfort and despair.

Face it, your child is struggling, and they certainly aren’t alone.  More crucially, you may be
wondering,”Why is this homework so different than mine was when I was growing up and how can I help, when I don’t understand the methods they are using?”

Now there are many articles out there about the Pro’s and Con’s of Common Core, but whether you agree with them or not, the math your kids are bringing home is not the same math you did 15, 10, or even 5 years ago. Your children are now being asked to not only solve math problems using completely different methods, but they also are expected to incorporate language skills to communicate the process!

You’ve probably noticed that, although the number of homework problems has greatly diminished this year, many problems can easily take 10+ minutes to solve, based on their complex nature and sometimes ambiguous wording.  No matter how you feel about it, this new homework is causing some overwhelming emotions within your children.

You may also find that, more often than not, you are unable to help your child understand the lesson!  This newly developed curriculum requires much more than recognizing math patterns, math facts, or traditional algorithms to solve problems, but why?  Common Core Standards have made their way into our classrooms and now we are forced to deal with the challenges that come with change, which leaves one to wonder whether the curriculum writers are making math harder for kids than it needs to be?

To illustrate some of the differences in basic skill building, let’s start by showing a recent example of a 2 x 2 multiplication problem. (approximately 4th grade according to Common Core). 

Super Cinema Movie Theaters bought 59 boxes of gummy candy. Each box of gummy candy contains 38 packs. How many total gummy candy packs did the theater buy? 

Below the traditional method of solving this multiplication problem is compared to two other ways to solve this problem using methods that curriculum writers suggest students use in order to develop a deeper understanding of the multiplication process.



While all of the above examples incorporate both multiplication and addition, the “traditional” example on the far left, seems, to most people, more straight forward, concise, clearer, and easier.  Yet, it is frowned upon currently, with many teachers marking correct traditional answers as incorrect.  Why does teaching these different methods eliminate the need to teach the traditional way?

Jessica Lahey, in her article Confusing Math Homework? Don’t Blame Common Core, states “Common Core is only a set of standards, lists of competencies or skills, that kids need to know by the end of a given school year. Standards require what skills will be taught, while curriculum dictates other details, such as how a given skill is conveyed to a second grader.” So if you are having trouble understanding the homework your child is bringing home, keep in mind the type of materials, textbooks, and questions are to blame, not Common Core itself.

Which leads one to wonder why schools have stopped teaching the traditional methods altogether, and not a balance of both traditional and nontraditional methods. Students need to learn strong foundational math skills, but they also need to learn patterning and problem solving skills.  Many math professionals view this dramatic shift in curriculum as making math far more confusing than it has to be.  MathRise
founder, Todd Crosner, states "Math is math. Numbers are concrete and do not change. Only the way we perceive the numbers changes. Common Core's intent is for us to perceive numbers differently than we have in the past. This may ultimately turn out to a big mistake. It’s killing confidence in our youth.  My suggestion is balance.”  Don’t be afraid to show your children traditional methods, but also to show other approaches which may be what they are using at school.

If you still aren’t seeing enough progress, seek outside resources like those offered at MathRise Learning Centers.  MathRise focuses on teaching children strong foundational math skills through its unique 1 on 1 learning programs which allow for the integration of traditional and nontraditional problem solving. These customized programs allow children to learn by asking questions and working toward a deeper understanding by creating strong foundational, patterning, and problem solving skills.  For more information call 623-536-7679. 

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