Coming to Terms with Common Core Math

I've struggled a lot with kindergarten this year.  Between the homework, our teacher's maternity leave and too much TV watching I've had a lot of frustrations. What really worries me going forward, though, is the Common Core standards that will be dominating my childrens' educations.

SONY DSCUp to now I've really only experienced Common Core in the realm of mathematics (I ranted on this before in "UnMastering Math") and like many American parents, I'm frustrated, confused and upset by what I see my 5 year old bringing home. In a frustrated stupor one day a few weeks I go, I took my ranting to Facebook and honestly, I'm really glad I did.

While I expected supportive responses from other irritated parents, what I got was help, explanations and the rationale behind what I though was a ridiculous homework assignment for my kindergartner (for the record, I still think the assignment was beyond her scope of understanding because if it hadn't been, we wouldn't have been so frustrated over it).

The exchange between myself and my teacher friends (some of whom are also parents) went like this:

ME: Kindergarten homework today: There were 3 cats, 5 dogs and 4 horses at the vet. How many legs were at the vet? Draw a picture and write a number sentence to match the problem.
Ok, so I'm not a teacher of Common Core Mathematics, but isn't that multiplication? And doens't one need to know addition before they can do multiplication?
Add it to the reasons I hate Common Core Mathematics!

 Hubby’s Best Man’s Wife and Elementary Teacher (WET): You can use repeated addition for that!

ME: I assume that means 4+4+4+4+4+4+4+4+4+4+4+4...which is ridiculous to ask of a kindergartner that has to use her fingers to do 4+4!

WET: Have her use manipulatives and draw a model. Anything will do. Coins, beans, Barbie shoes, whatever! Sounds like a tough problem for K, but hopefully this is only practice for her, like homework should be.

ME: And this is why I hate Common Core Mathematics  She drew the animals but was unable to accurately count the legs. I walked her through with adding in her head (a skill I'm trying to reinforce) then touched on adding double digits (12+20+16). It really is a ridiculous problem for Kindergarten and the way we did it is probably not the way the teacher wanted, but I DON'T CARE!

WET:  I'm hoping her teacher is just expecting her to be able to count up. If she can make groups of 4 objects for each animal (or even just draw circles with 4 dots inside to show the groups), and simply count out all of the objects or dots, she can find the answer more easily. I'd have a lot of questions for that teacher too!

ME: Oh, WET, if only you or Mr. WET were her teacher! I know her teacher doesn't make up the homework, unfortunately. It is the same across all kindergarten classes which is super sad since my daughter is in the advanced class. How are the typical children expected to do this stuff?!?!?! (For many other reasons, though, I do really miss her original teacher who is out on maternity leave. Just hoping she actually comes back next month!)

Ballerina Friend and Elementary Teacher (BET): Yes: It's to get kids to think of things in groups, and to count them more than one at a time. Don't let her individually count each leg, but think of ways in which she can "skip count" or count in groups. This builds the mental flexibility in order to later tackle multiplication. Kids who only count in singles, or can't readily and easily see groups of things struggle with multiplication (among other bigger math concepts). Trust this teacher : )

ME: That's what we ended up doing to figure out how many legs for each animal. I held up 1 finger for each animal in each group (so 3 for the cats) and had her count 4-8-12, etc. It worked but I still maintain she should know her addition facts before tackling multiplication! (and she's still in kindergarten...)

BET: Next time do as the WET was suggesting: draw a circle to represent the animal, and 4 lines coming from it, one for each leg. Once you've drawn all the animals, see if you even count by twos all the way. Then, if that's successful, try the skip counting by 4's. You could even put a dot on each set of two legs, to help her see that you've counted them. Anything to make it visible to her and to help her connect the action of counting in groups to the pictures representing each group. Otherwise math is simply abstract concepts and a bunch of rote memorization of facts. Neither of these things build flexible thinkers who can tackle any future problem. Not necessarily arguing for or against Common Core, just in favor of a strong foundation for future mathematics concepts : )

My Middle School Algebra Teacher (MAT): I have to interject something not related to the specific problem, but in general. Common Core Math is not a "thing". Common Core is a set of national standards that many states have adopted to raise rigor and college and career readiness in this country. The are trying to reinforce that being able to UNDERSTAND the CONCEPT of repeated addition is different (as BET suggests above) than memorizing facts, as well as many other critical concepts for math and problem solving. If your school says they are teaching Common Core Math, they are not accurately telling the whole story. As a high school math teacher, I can say, from experience, there is no Common Core Curriculum, only companies that sell their own version of a curriculum with a Common Core label on it. They way it it taught is still up to the teacher, school, district or state. Where I teach, it is up to teachers to teach the students so they learn the standards they need for the next level and for life. I will get off my soap box now...I just don't like parents to not be informed about Common Core.

ME:  I understand what you're saying, MAT  (and I knew/know that as well!) Thank you for reminding me that I should be ranting about FLORIDA methods and workbooks, not necessarily Common Core itself!

MAT: Maybe you should move to Colorado and not have that problem

ME:  Trust me, MAT, if we could, I'd be on the next flight!

ME: SOOO...for my more knowledgeable about elementary math than me friends (AKA WET, BET, MAT and any other educators that want to get in on the convo...) Am I delusional in thinking that in addition to knowing how to problem solve and FIND an answer, it is also important to actually KNOW the answer for basic facts? I'm just trying to wrap my head around how children who don't know basic addition and subtraction (and later multiplication) are going to master advanced concepts.

WET:  Kids should be fluent with math facts, but it's always important that they understand concepts before really working on automaticity.

BAT: In Kinder they are still focused on counting and how it is related to the other operations.

Former Childcare Co-Worker, now Elementary Teacher (CET): I teach kinder and that seems advanced. Some of the kiddos could grasp it but really counting by five and tens is the only skip counting we do. And adding fluenty to five. That's in Oklahoma though

CET: Florida is known for being a trendsetting state in education though, and we use the Oklahoma set of standards but they are the same as common core

I've read many other blogger opinions on Common Core mathematics with many differing viewpoints.  I've learned a lot and and come to many conclusions, including coming to accept that my frustration with what my child is learning may not be just a Common Core issue, but could be specific to Florida and/or her school and/or her teacher.  And after my reading and conversations (many more than just the above) here's where I now stand on Common Core mathematics: I just don't get it.

I've ranted before about how I GET math and therefore I'm good at math. I have an inherent understanding of how numbers work and I guess that helped me easily learn math concepts and I became one of those (apparently rare) adults that find math easy.

So what causes me trouble with Common Core Mathematics is the methods they are using to teach children how numbers work. I see now that the way I was taught math may have left many of my peers frustrated and overwhelmed because they didn't understand the WHY of the mathematical processes we learned where as I was able, on my own, to see the reasoning (one reason I absolutely HATED proofs in Geometry...why do I need to explain it in 500 steps when it just is?!?!)

I want my children to also understand WHY numbers work the way they do and why we use the processes we do. But where I am lost as a parent is the process of learning the why. I think for those of us that know the processes (whether or not we understand the why behind them) have trouble seeing the value behind learning the why and also struggle with the process used to learn why because we were never taught it ourselves.

For me, where Common Core Mathematics is lacking is in parent education! If a child is going to have homework that is beyond their scope of independent learning, then parents need to be able to step in as support educators but how can we if we don't understand the new methods? I can look at a problem and know the answer and how to get the answer the way I was taught, but that's not how my daughter is being taught. I get frustrated with not being able to guide her learning. I get overwhelmed by the amount of time we spend on what I view as a simple problem. and I get irritated with the system that is asking so much of our young learners and not providing us parents with the proper support and education we need to help our children succeed.

It places us between a rock and a hard place. It makes us helpless and even worse, not helpful to our children. It causes us to have to relinquish control of our children's education when many of us want to be involved. It makes us disenchanted with the entire education system all because of a simple change is how math is taught.

BONUS: An explanation given to me by one of my best friends who is a first year first grade teacher on borrowing in subtraction: We were taught to just borrow, without an explanation as to why we could or should borrow. Children are now taught borrowing in relation to place value and that they are not just taking one away from the next number over. So, for example with 52-37 we were taught to change the 5 to a 4 and put a 1 in front of the 2 then do 12-7 and 4-3 to get the answer of 15. The only change is now teaching children that they aren't taking 1 from 5, really they're taking 10 from 50 and adding it to the 2 (basically changing it to 40+12 instead of 50+2). This is one of those concepts that was inherent to me as a learner but I can see how it would seem arbitrary to non-math thinkers when taut the "old" way. Basically, the process we use is the same but the intention and reasoning behind it is different: our generation "because that's how you do it" and this generation "you're not borrowing a number, you're moving 10 ones".

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