Common Core’s math method is different, not evil

It seems every time I turn on my computer I see another article blasting the Common Core State Standards Initiative.

Mocking math homework has become self-righteous entertainment.

Yes, there are some poorly worded problems out there. But let me explain, as a former teacher, why I support most of the homework being bashed online.

Picture yourself at the grocery store. You’ve got $10 in your pocket and need to buy two things: a $5.99 pack of coffee and a $2.99 gallon of milk. Do you have enough money to also buy a candy bar that costs $1.25?

Think for a minute about how you solved that problem. Did you line up a column of numbers in your head? Did you borrow and carry?

Probably not. Most adults would use mental math strategies. Maybe we would look at our cart and think “The coffee and milk come to about $9.” If somebody pressed you on how much they cost exactly, you might say “$9 minus 2 cents makes $8.98. So no, I can’t buy the candy.”

In primary classrooms all across America teachers are helping children develop a toolbox of strategies to use when solving math on paper and in real life.

This doesn’t mean that they aren’t teaching traditional algorithms like borrowing and carrying. It means they are teaching other methods, too.

If you are a Generation X parent or older, you probably experienced math in a different way. You might have learned math by flashcards, drill-and-kill and long lists of equations with a couple of word problems tacked on the end.

For many people, this type of teaching worked great. But let’s be honest, schools lost a lot of minds that way. You probably know at least one person who hates math. Maybe that even describes you.

My own experience was that I used white-knuckle memorization to get A’s all the way through college calculus. But I had very little understanding of what I was doing and was in no way prepared to go into STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields.

Once I became a teacher, I relearned math in a way that made sense to me. I learned that if you build a square number out of crackers, it is actually a square.

I learned to picture multiplication as giant arrays. I learned to see patterns in the hundreds chart. I learned to solve algebra problems with chess pieces.

Most importantly, I learned that if you teach children traditional algorithms too soon, you squelch their opportunity to deeply think. But if you give them lots of opportunities to manipulate numbers in creative ways, they will develop solid understanding.

Common Core isn’t evil. Your child’s math homework isn’t stupid. The only thing ridiculous is how social media keeps perpetuating misinformation to the detriment of our children.

Jennifer Bardsley is an Edmonds mom of two and blogs at teachingmybabytoread.com.

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