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Common Core State Standards were adopted by 41 of the states by 2014. Since then, numerous studies, feedback, and blowback has been received about the standard initiative. It’s simple to say: The nation is divided. And, at the beginning of every year, more and more adults are choosing a side.
Unfortunately, in the middle of the great debate are our children, who are trying to work through the problems presented to them. Common Core Math is a divisive topic. It’s so divided that there are Facebook groups with over 50,000 members all bound by their mutual hatred of Common Core Math. Many people feel passionate about its benefits and its flaws and readily tell anybody who will listen to their opinions on the topic.
Common Core Math, at it’s most basic form, is a system of providing students with tools to think critically and quickly when required to compute math. The math that we were raised with relied heavily on the use of rote memorization and drills to reinforce solutions to basic problems. Common Core aims to develop critical thinking skills over rote memorization.
This means that instead of being able to compute a multiplication table perfectly, students will have the foundational skills to apply any number to any problem and solve it.
It sounds pretty good, right? So why are parents still outraged by the use of Common Core Math?
Any quick Google search about Common Core math will yield the results, “Parents! You’re not supposed to be the teacher!” articles by the hundreds. And in theory, yes, parents should be supporting classroom instruction, but not at the cost of becoming the teacher themselves. The problem comes into play when parents attempt to help their kids with their homework and quickly realize that they don’t understand the homework themselves.
But what about the new era of learning that we’re getting ready to dive into virtual learning? Every single district in the entire country is approaching distance learning differently. Still, the common thread is that classroom instruction is going to most likely be shorter and less effective than it has been in the past.
This is, in large part, because small cohorts of Zoom classes are going to meet 1-3 times per week for an hour, and in that time, a teacher will be expected to teach, differentiate, and remediate from their computer screen. Gone are the days of one-on-one instruction after school. At least for a while.
With this new frontier, the idea that parents are not the teacher becomes a little twisted. In fact, for many parents, they are either going to be the primary teacher or their child’s number one resource.
But what happens when parents aren’t equipped to reinforce Common Core Math at home? How does it affect children? These are the somewhat scary questions that parents are faced with during this new era of education, and it will soon become apparent if Common Core Math is teachable even when students aren’t in the classroom.
Common Core Math is designed to lay the foundation and build the skills for critical thinking, analytical skills, and mental math. The goal, in short, is to give kids the tools to answer complex math problems when they are processing through a problem in the real world.
To do this, Common Core Math relies heavily on the use of diagrams that help students quickly process through math problems regardless of the complexity.
Common Core Math has eight core benchmarks:
These benchmarks were created through combing through leading state and international math curriculums, research, and contributions from education professions.
The goal of these benchmarks to guide students learning to specific targets, as opposed to trying to cover everything possible in a school year and barely scraping the surface.
With these benchmarks, students will have a richer learning experience.
Naturally, Common Core also aims to increase test scores (which will increase district funding) and combat students falling behind in the first place.
On paper, Common Core checks all of the boxes for things that a parent and educator would want for their kids. Specifically, that Common Core is preparing students for more advanced math and adulthood. That’s a win, right?
So if Common Core is doing all of these things, then why are parents still complaining about it?
What is the big deal with parents and Common Core anyways? In 2015, Common Core had been adopted in 43 states and became the benchmark “standards” for students K-12.
Before 2010, school districts relied heavily on state-specific standards and district-mandated curriculum maps. This means that parents, teachers, and administrators contributed to the conversation regarding what was taught in the classroom and that the values of the region were more accurately reflected in what was being taught.
While not Common Core-aligned, I can’t help thinking about my own schooling experience growing up. Growing up in rural Colorado, our gym featured a rock wall, outdoor activities, and to me, it felt “normal.”
My husband, from even more rural Wyoming, had a different experience. His P.E. classes had yearly units of hunter’s safety and line dancing. When we talk about our different backgrounds, I think it’s so odd that he had these units, and he thinks it’s such a boujee thing that we had a climbing wall.
Now imagine what students in Chicago, L.A., or New York would think about learning line dancing through high school?
These types of regional differences, while drastic, represent how school was before Common Core. Except instead of line dancing, it was math class or English.
As such, they felt that the expectations of Common Core, processes, and assessments were, in essence, being shoved down their throats.
People are invested in the education that their children receive, and so they want the public school system to reflect their values. This could mean a hunters holiday in Wyoming or schedules to accommodate farming seasons (in Colorado, many of the ski resort schools have a schedule to accommodate students who work at the ski resort).
The great thing about this system is that students can receive an education that meets their needs for their specific location. And all of these are fun examples, but what happens when a state starts making curriculum decisions that don’t match your values.
This is a similar conversation that surrounds the Common Core State Standards. When a national curriculum standard is adopted, stakeholder’s voices are no longer as loud; it’s harder to advocate for student’s needs, and the freedom to choose is taken away from the people who interact with students the most.
Educators are proud people (and rightfully so!). There are millions of teachers who invest their time, energy, and money into their classroom to build a community of passionate learners. Many felt that Common Core put them in a box (and maybe a box they didn’t fit in).
Many felt that their professional expertise was not as valuable as implementing Common Core in the classroom.
One of the biggest things that upset parents about Common Core was that it was different.
If you are a parent of a student in the public school system, then you are not a stranger to evenings at the kitchen table struggling with a frustrated kid who can’t figure out the math.
You sit next to them as they try to show their work the way their teacher has asked, and you both sigh heavily before saying, “that’s it! This isn’t how I learned it! Why are they making it so complicated! It’s math!!”.
This is a common occurrence on my own Facebook wall; each year, parents lament their struggles about their children’s math homework.
But here’s the reality: kitchen tables in 2005 had students who struggled with math too. Math is challenging for many students, and the fact is it isn’t Common Core that has changed that.
Parents may struggle to help their child with Common Core, but it’s in large part to their mindset about the new process. As parents begin to dig into Common Core math, they will find that it is easily applied to student’s homework. The issue is a parent’s resistance to change.
“This isn’t how I learned it!” is the penultimate problem with parents helping with Common Core. Since it’s different than what they know, they naturally want to disagree with it.
The problem is, when parents air out their frustrations, their children hear them, and in turn, begin complaining about homework too. This is a vicious cycle that is difficult to break, and what it does is produce kids who worry, stress, and hate math.
One of the things that teachers hated the most about Common Core was the removal of the freedom to teach what they wanted to in the classroom. Specifically, when it came to content and process, teachers felt that they were expected to follow a script that had them teaching a specific thing, at a particular time, on a specific day.
In theory, this idea sounds like it has some benefits. Including that if a child moves in the middle of the school year from Oregon to South Carolina, they wouldn’t necessarily skip a beat during their move. They would be able to pick up exactly where they left off at their old school.
But what about students who needed extra help?
Who were on IEPs?
Who wanted to explore a topic more in the discussion?
Teachers and parents were worried that with Common Core students who didn’t fit the mold would fall behind even more. What would happen if a student was reading Romeo and Juliet for the first time and wanted to talk about a thematic element in more depth? Was a teacher required to stop the conversation and move on to satisfy the Common Core expectations?
This didn’t even touch on the fears surrounding Common Core standardized testing– if students were inept at fill-in-the-bubble questions, did that mean they would fail?
Overall, parents are teachers still worried about the idea that Common Core strips students of their natural curiosities, interests, and excitement about learning.
Let’s dig into a few of these diagrams to understand their value a little more clearly.
Conceptualization is the idea that students should be able to see the numbers and manipulate them tangibly. This means that the use of manipulatives is essential for students in algebra.
Through the use of manipulatives, students are more equipped to think about abstract numbers, negative fractions, and more.
We all have seen the class number line in school. It is the line, with a beginning and ending point, that has numbers noted on each tick mark as it counts up to the endpoint.
The number line seems straight forward enough, so why does Common Core Math change how students process on it?
Students are expected to make “jumps” when adding on the number line. To do this, students make equal “hops” on the number line. So, for example, if you had the problem 40 + 46, a student would start on the number 40, make four hops of 10 total, and then five hops, and one hop to reach the answer 86.
The grid is a helpful tool for students to do quick math as well. To use it, they must look at the grid, and then do mental math to reach the result.
In this example, how many x’s, do you need to reach 10? Easily you can see that one box is empty, so you would only need 1. You don’t have to do anything math, and this is the goal for our students.
By giving them enough practice on problems with the grid, they can quickly process numbers to reach an answer.
The grid can be used for addition and subtraction problems, and while it is important for students to understand how the grid works, remember the goal is for them to know how to process through problems using mind math (since that is the life skill).
Yes, the diagrams seem silly to the untrained eye. There are certain things to note that might explain their worth in the classroom.
One reason there appear to be more diagrams in Common Core Math is because students are learning more complex math than what we learned at the same age. Take the coffee video. Parents think the teacher in the video is trying to teach two-digit multiplication, but she’s actually demonstrating something much more complex.
In the video, the teacher is showing how numbers work and laying the groundwork for students to understand double distribution. With these skills, students will be able to extend into unknowns and polynomials.
The other person is merely applying an algorithm that works for two-digit multiplication with known variables. The person enjoying their cup of coffee hasn’t extended their thinking to how numbers work.
That’s the thing about the diagrams being used in Common Core Math. They are giving students real tools to apply their knowledge in future critical thinking problems. They will be able to extend their thinking beyond surface value to understand more complex math problems.
With all of the values of Common Core Math, it still is widely unpopular and disputed amongst states. Certain states chose not to adopt Common Core Math at all.
Many states are navigating these new waters in different ways. Some states are removing Common Core standards and replacing the curriculum with a Common Core-esque curriculum under a different name. Other states are removing it entirely without a replacement, leaving teachers to fend for themselves in creating a rigorous enough curriculum to prepare students for the future.
Other states are continuing to develop their resources for Common Core, fully relying on the school’s test scores to determine if Common Core is effective.
Whatever states are doing, one thing is certain: Common Core is still causing people to ask more questions than finding answers.
Common Core Math is a divisive topic. Parents and educators fall on each side of the argument, and they are passionate about their opinions.
In the center of the argument are students who are trying to understand the content well enough to apply it to their schoolwork and use it correctly.
As a review, here are the key points, Common Core:
Even though Common Core has been around now for almost ten years. It’s amazing to see how many parents still loathe its presence in their children’s classrooms.
Are you a lover or hater of Common Core Math? Let us know!
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