The Common Core isn’t making math hard because it hates kids. There’s a very, very good reason that the authors of the standards wrote complex problem solving into the Core and every parent in America needs to know it.

Facebook and the Common Core.

Facebook is very angry with the Common Core these days and it seems like math, even more than ELA, is getting the brunt of the animosity.

Let me show you what I mean. Raise your hand if you’ve seen this come across your News Feed in the last few weeks:

facebook and common core

At first glance—well, at any glance—this is an awfully circuitous way to solve what would otherwise be a simple problem. And for that reason, I don’t blame this “Frustrated Parent” for being frustrated. But there’s more to the story than just a third grade math problem. In fact, there’s a very, very good reason that the authors of the Common Core wrote this kind of problem solving into the standards, and every parent in America needs to know it.

Here are the two things I would tell any frustrated parent before they run off to vent on Facebook:

  • The Common Core requires that students learn the traditional algorithm (the one that we learned in school and takes five seconds) as well as this new, more complicated method for solving problems.
  • The point of teaching this method is not to solve the problem quickly,or even to solve it at all (sounds crazy, but stick with me). It’s to provide a deeper understanding of math that will make the more complex work to come (working out larger numbers, Algebra, Geometry, etc.) much easier.

The aim of CC math is two fold: solving and understanding. It’s about helping students solve problems the traditional way, but also about preparing them for life beyond elementary school. In the long run, this type of math will produce better engineers, mathematicians, and scientists. Asian nations have been doing this sort of thing for a while—there’s a reason they excel at math.

Don’t believe me? Check out this video posted on EngageNY that walks through solving a 3-digit addition problem using the Common Core math methods we’ve been talking about. Working through the entire process is a bit maddening—breaking every number into thousands, hundreds, and so on. It takes forever to solve!

However, watch what happens when the teacher uses the same general method to solve a more complex multiplication problem.

Going through the steps of decomposing numbers—breaking them into thousands, tens, and so on—you can see how being proficient at this method would actually make it easier to do more complex math. So while it’s laborious for smaller numbers, the kind that students encounter in their first few years of school, it’s clear that with a little practice, even mathematically challenged folks like me could do large multiplication problems easily. That’s no small feat.

And what’s more, it’s worth noting that this method has kids using functions like the distributive property and determining area as early as the third and fourth grade, tasks usually tackled much later on in Algebra and Geometry class. Can you see how these more advanced subjects will make a lot more sense to students when they encounter them in later grades, all because of the groundwork laid in early and mid-elementary?

And don’t think for a second that kids who learn math this way will have to sketch out boxes and circles to solve simple problems for the rest of their lives. With a solid understanding of place value, they’ll be doing math in their heads that will make them look a lot brighter than those of us who learned to add and subtract in the school of drill and kill.

Have I convinced you? Do you think that this kind of problem solving is worth the agony or should we go back to the way we’ve always done math? I’d love to hear what you think. Please feel free to sound off in the comments!

  • Facebook and the Common Core

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