Where the inside of my mind leaks onto the screen.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Common Core Math: Did You Know?

Did you know that the Common Core (or the Utah Core Standards as our state's version is called) is neither a complete curriculum* nor a methodology?   It is simply a set of standards.  The Utah Core Standards do not tell teachers how to instruct or how to assess.  It just outlines stuff kids are supposed to know.  Did you realize that the how is left up to the districts, the schools, and the classroom teacher?

***I bet many people reading this DID know all of that!***

* "Curriculum typically refers to the knowledge and skills students are expected to learn, which includes the learning standards or learning objectives they are expected to meet; the units and lessons that teachers teach; the assignments and projects given to students; the books, materials, videos, presentations, and readings used in a course; and the tests, assessments, and other methods used to evaluate student learning."

I laugh a little when I see things like this, and I wonder if the person ranting has read the standards.  Here is an overview from fifth grade.

Grade 5 Overview (

Operations and Algebraic Thinking
Write and interpret numerical expressions.
Analyze patterns and relationships.

Number and Operations in Base Ten
Understand the place value system.
Perform operations with multi-digit whole numbers and with decimals to hundredths.

Number and Operations—Fractions
Use equivalent fractions as a strategy to add and subtract fractions.
Apply and extend previous understandings of multiplication and division to multiply and divide

Measurement and Data
Convert like measurement units within a given measurement system.
Represent and interpret data.
Geometric measurement: Understand concepts of volume and relate volume to multiplication and
to addition.

Graph points on the coordinate plane to solve real world and mathematical problems.
Classify two-dimensional figures into categories based on their properties.

Sure, I have seen some really different stuff out there as far as methodology goes.  One of my classmates demonstrated this on the board during my Master's program, and I thought, "WHAT??"  Not gonna lie - I don't get it.

Many parents are confused or concerned by the "new math."  I am too.  What we learned as "borrowing" is now called "regrouping," and other changes in the vocabulary of math can leave us all feeling a bit like we don't know how to help our kids.  

For example, the 2nd grade standards ask students to: 

"7. Add and subtract within 1000, using concrete models or drawings and strategies based on place value, properties of operations, and/or the relationship between addition and sub- traction; relate the strategy to a written method. Understand that in adding or subtracting three-digit numbers, one adds or subtracts hundreds and hundreds, tens and tens, ones and ones; and sometimes it is necessary to compose or decompose tens or hundreds."  

It sounds overwhelming, but if you look closely at the language of the standards, there are words like "or."  The standard basically says, "Students should be able to add and subtract and should have some clue of what they are actually doing."  I personally see no harm in that.

As for the complicated methods of multiplication, here's what the 5th grade standards actually say:

"5. Fluently multiply multi-digit whole numbers using the standard algorithm."

Which means "new math" is simply an alternative.  An extra step for the kids who might need it.

So what can you do if your student brings home math worksheets that you don't understand (or understand completely and think are pointless)?

1. Be patient.  Maybe this is just an alternate strategy leading up to the standard algorithm.

2. Learn something new.  It's not easy to replace the old vocabulary, but eventually "regrouping" will just roll of your tongue.

3. Read the Utah Core Standards.  Do the standards for your student's grade level mandate this new form of calculation?  If the answer is yes, feel free to continue posting pictures of receipts on Facebook and blaming the Core.

4. If you don't see anything about lattice multiplication, take a closer look at the math curriculum your district or school is using.  Complain to the district if you think their chosen math books aren't the best.

5. Take advantage of the wide variety of choices currently available in education.  If you don't like the math your school teaches, find some place that you agree with.

6. Take a closer look at the assessment portion.  Maybe your state's testing is what is driving the teachers to teach this way.  In many cases, it is the standardized testing, NOT the Common Core Standards that are redirecting education.  When the tests require methods other than the standard algorithm, teachers have no choice but to include the alternate methods in their instruction.  {If you want to know what Utah's new SAGE adaptive testing looks like, check it out here:  I highly recommend taking one of the math training tests.  I am actually pretty excited about the new method of math assessment because I think it tests math thinking not just computation skills.  Plus, for math geeks like me, it feels kind of like a game!}  If the asssessment is the part you disagree with, then complain loudly about that!

I'm not giving support for or against the Utah Core Standards.  I think there are pros and cons, and that's a discussion for another day.  I'm not an advocate for "new math" and all the alternate strategies for most students.  I've made decisions regarding my kids' education that reflects my opinions accordingly.  I'm also not suggesting that parents shouldn't speak up when they see things happening that they disagree with.  I'm just not wild about the generalizations and overstatements that weaken otherwise strong arguments.  Read the standards.  Check out the assessments.  Research the methodologies.  Investigate different math books.  And then discuss away!