So, the title should hopefully alert you to the fact that this blog is going to MOSTLY be a POSITIVE view of Common Core (which I will refer to as “CC” in many cases for the purpose of saving bytes). I think I should quickly alert you to a few other things before you read on though:
- I have NOT done extensive research into Common Core. This blog is not intended to be a the world’s definitive source for information on Common Core. This is simply my opinion based on the information I have from my kid’s homework, my educational background (bachelor’s degree in Mechanical Engineering), the few videos I have watched, the ACTUAL common core standards that I have reviewed, and the articles I have read. I have done some research and have formed an opinion. That is all. You are welcome to disagree (see item 3 though).
- I am going to focus ONLY on the math side of CC because it is what I see the most controversy over and it’s what interests me most and it’s what got me fired up to write this blog.
- I have been and plan to continue to be both HONEST and GRACIOUS in my writing about this subject. I would ask that you are the same in any comments you may make. Attacks on character, conspiracy theories, and rude comments are not appreciated. As I write this, I just watched the new Cinderella movie with my girls and so I would ask you to “have courage and be kind“.
- I already mentioned conspiracy theories in the last point, but just to make it even more clear…this blog does NOT deal with the motives behind CC, who came up with it, Bill Gates funding of the standards, or any other conspiracy-like theory. I have heard everything from “this is intended to dumb our children down and make them into submissive worker bees” to “this is intended to provide a new billion dollar market for services to aid teachers and schools in teaching common core”. I don’t know anything about any of that.
What is Common Core?
I think it is important to make a point right from the start here:
- Common Core is NOT a curriculum or a methodology. It is a standard. It does not tell teachers how to teach math to students. It does not make up math problems for students to solve daily in the class room. It simply provides a standard set of things that students should know at the end of each grade.
With that said, curricula have been and are being developed to teach to the standard. So, I won’t say that all the arguments of “common core math is stupid” are irrelevant but I think it is important to note that the CC is not a curriculum that teaches weird math. The weird math is taught to help students understand the concepts needed to meet the standard.
My kids are in Kindergarten. Here is one of the Common Core math standards for their grade level under the “Operations and Algebraic Thinking” Section:
Decompose numbers less than or equal to 10 into pairs in more than one way, e.g., by using objects or drawings, and record each decomposition by a drawing or equation (e.g., 5 = 2 + 3 and 5 = 4 + 1).[/important]
The problems that come home from the curriculum that our school has chosen (we use Engage NY) seem to teach them how to decompose numbers as required by this standard. The standard does NOT dictate how to teach them that.
What Started It for Me?
- The Math Problem: There is a class of 18 students. The teacher has them count around the room by a number (as in counting by 2’s or 5’s or 10’s) and when they get to the last student they are at 90. What number did they count around the room by?
- The Arkansas mother’s way of doing the problem: Divide 18 into 90 to get 5. Simple.
- The Common Core way: Draw 18 circles, put one hash mark in each circle and keep going around until you have drawn 90 hash marks. How many hash marks are in each circle? Answer = 5. As the video points out, this takes “108 steps”.
- The Math Problem: 530 – 270.
- The “right” way according to the video: Just do the algorithm. Write 530 on top of 270, draw a line under it, subtract each column, borrow from other columns if needed, etc. The standard arithmetic algorithm. If you do it right, you get 260.
- The Common Core Way: Add 30 to both numbers to get 560 and 300 and then subtract. Clearly, the answer is 260.
This one makes me like common core even more, too! I will tell you why in a minute.
Why I Actually LIKE These 3 Problems
1) Let’s start with the last problem in the picture above. 32 – 12 = 20. The “common core way” (which is actually not dictated by CC) seems to take way longer and doesn’t even really seem to make sense the way it is written. Let me try to give you the thought process behind it though. It goes something like this:
- If I start at 12 and count up to 32, I can figure out the difference between 32 and 12.
- I know how to count easily by 1’s, 2’s, 5’s, and 10’s (most kids do by 1st grade). So, one option is to get to the nearest number ending in 5 or 10. There are many options here but I will choose to count up 3 to get to 15.
- Now, I can easily count by 5’s to get to the nearest number ending in 0 (10, 20, 30, etc). That takes me to 20 and the total I have now counted is 8 (3 + 5).
- Now, I can easily count by 10’s. So, I will add 10 to get to 30. The total I have now counted is 18 (3 + 5 + 10).
- Now, I can see that I am only 2 away from 32. So, I will count up 2 more. The total I have counted is now 20 (3 + 5 + 10 + 2)
- You go to Starbucks (or your favorite coffee shop…no coffee discrimination here) and buy a coffee for $3.27 and pay with a $20 bill. How much change are you owed?
- If you were asked this question on the spot, my guess is that you would not write 20.00 on top of 3.27 and draw a line under it and do the algorithm. If you were going to just do that, why not pull out your phone and use the calculator?
- Here is an example of how you MIGHT think this problem out in your head: $3.27 + 3 cents = $3.30. $3.30 + 70 cents = $4.00 (total added is now 73 cents). $4.00 + $16.00 = $20.00. Change should be $16.73 (3 cents + 70 cents + $16). That is just ONE way you might do it. It’s no different than the 32-12 problem shown above.
- It begins teaching kids concepts that they will NEED for higher level math such as algebra where subtracting or adding things to both sides of an equation is essential to solving the problem. It teaches them that they can manipulate the numbers to see the problem differently and still get the right answer.
- It teaches them that they can manipulate the numbers in ways to make the problem easier to do in their head (much like the coffee example above). In this case, when you add 30 to both numbers, the answer becomes much easier to simply SEE. You most likely won’t need the algorithm when you see 560 – 300, and even if you do, there is no borrowing from other columns like you would have to do in the original problem (which makes no logical sense…it’s just a learned operation/trick).
- The point of the “108 step” exercise is not to get the answer in the fastest way. The point is to understand WHY dividing 18 into 90 gives you the right answer.
- You could argue that the circle and hash mark method is a dumb way to show students why the answer is 5. However, again, that is a curriculum thing and not a CC thing. There are many ways to teach students how that works visually. This is just one way. The point here is NOT efficiency but rather understanding.
One Last Example
For this part of the blog, I want to give one last example/resource in the form of a video. This video, in my opinion, is a short and very good explanation of why we are teaching kids math this way now. It is less than 8 minutes and will give you a few more examples of why this is a GOOD way to prepare kids for math in regular life as well as in higher level courses.
More To Say
- The Standard algorithms are STILL TAUGHT!
- Teaching math this way is not new.
- How my childhood prepared me for Common Core Math
- What I think parents can do to help their kids with Common Core Math
- Why I think it’s too early to throw this out
- How I think we are sabotaging ourselves by opposing CC because we don’t understand it
- The problems I see with Common Core