Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Common Core Haters, You Really Should do Your Homework!

***DISCLAIMER*** This blogger in no way endorses, supports, or advocates for Common Core State Standards, or any other federal or state legislation that robs educators of their autonomy in the classroom!

This news report just came across the virtual desks of a group of fellow teachers. We hashed it out, and came to the realization that this news reporter doesn't know 1) a thing about these standards, and 2) what is involved in the "old way" of doing simple math problems, and 3) how this strategy works.

How many times have you seen a video like this over the past 6 years?

I see two faulty lines of reasoning in this example which leads me to believe these opinion pieces are not meant to inform the public nor are they produced with the kids in mind. They are just simply haters who are gonna hate, no matter what the cause. And to be honest, I think it makes everyone who jumps on their bandwagon look like a bunch of numbskulls!

First, this guy (news reporter, NOT teacher) doesn't use an example that makes sense. Those of us teaching second graders this strategy are NOT using examples that DON'T require regrouping or higher order thinking. It is a strategy to apply in those exact situations. Second, just like all of the other CCSS haters out there, he oversimplifies the old school way.

Note to haters and hater lovers: It's only as simple as you make it because your K-2 teachers labored for hours to help you "get it" the way you got it! And chances are, your parents were complaining to anyone who would listen that this "new way" of doing math was ridiculous and should be thrown out of the schools.

Here's the real background to all that "simple subtraction" when using a subtrahend that requires regrouping:

Step 1 involves at least 3 other steps. Sure when you are using numbers like 23-3 you can eliminate those extra steps, but problem is, most of the problems our students will come up against later in life won't be that simple! What's more, when we tell them over and over again for 3-5 years that you can't take 5 from 3, it confuses them when they start working with negative numbers. Not only does this way bog down the processing power of our students, it also creates false mathematical reasoning that comes back to bite them in a few short years.

Instead, we start by teaching math partners, grouping in 5s and 10s. Students learn to quickly recognize partners of 5 and 10, this starts the same time they are learning to count to these numbers, so it's natural. Then we teach them to add, and that subtraction and addition are intrinsically connected (ok, maybe not that term). But they learn number bonds rather than addition/subtraction facts, helping them automate the fact families 2+3=5, 3+2=5, 5-3=2, 5-2=3. Then we teach them about place value, that 10 ones can be grouped to make 1 ten, and so-on. All of this groundwork is laid BEFORE problems like this are introduced.

Compare that "old way" to the real thought process of the "new" and "overly complicated way": 

Now our student sees this problem in all of its component parts. They are quick to find partners of 5 and ten, and they've developed mental math strategies that help them build up (the natural counting order) rather than count back (and get stumbled over 13, 12, 13). Just as in the case of the old way, most of this thought process isn't written out, it takes place in the competent mind of a young learner.

The question here isn't whether one way is more difficult, or even developmentally appropriate. It's which method lays a better framework for future maths. What is the purpose of K-2? Isn't it to help students develop the fundamental skills of reading and computing so they can tackle the more challenging content that will be thrown at them for the next 10 years? Decomposing numbers, using ten partners, and looking at subtraction problems as missing addend problems may be new ways of teaching fundamentals to second graders, but it's not "new math." The numbers still all follow the same rules as work together the same as they always have, no legislation has the authority to change that!

Here's a look at that first problem the news reported attempted to explain. First, there is no need to break this problem down once you've separated the tens and ones. This "new math" looks like this:
Looks pretty simple, doesn't it? 

No, this doesn't do this justice, let me see the examples that require regrouping to solve, side-by-side. And while we're looking at these, think about 2 things. 1) which one will cause less frustration in the middle grades when kids are going crazy with hormonal changes and life is just starting to get real? 2) which one requires the student to memorize less steps, thus freeing up valuable processing space for solving real life problems? AKA which skill transfers better into the real world of buying groceries and paying taxes?

And I just have to clarify, if the news reporter would have done his homework to learn how to use this strategy, and still chose the same problem, it would have looked like this: 

Final thoughts: News reporters, parents, and even concerned citizens, if you are going to complain, berate, and deride a way of teaching something, please, PLEASE do your homework! Stop making yourselves look like fools. When you jump on an emotionally charged bandwagon and retweet and hashtag everything you see that is against the same issue, without scrutinizing it, you are just giving the case into the hands of those you oppose! 

Dear teachers, tutors, and other educators, help me get the word out, pin, share, like, tweet, and repost (with a link back please) to help inform these poor uninformed haters! ;)


  1. I find a lot of complaints about CCSS come from people who do not really understand the reasoning behind the math. Natural mathematicians do these strategies in their heads.

  2. So much truth in this post. I am not anti nor pro common core. It's just another thing that has come down the pike. Whether it sticks around or not remains to be seen. But as I've tried to explain to parents over and over, these strategies are not new. They have been around for a long, long time. And strategies are not gospels; they are not "THE WAY" to solve the problem. They are just another way to look at solving the problem. Most of all, reports like this, I believe, are to serve one purpose, to rile up the haters and get them to comment on the post, thereby upping their social media presence.

  3. I teach at a private school so we don't use the common core. That being said, I think that most of the posts that I see complaining about it are posted because the person does not understand basic math concepts. It really is not that much different from what was already taught, at least at my school. (number bonds we call fact families; we still teach place value) The issue comes because parents do many of those steps in their heads whereas we have to show the steps to children so they understand. The more a child understands how math actually works, the easier it will be when they get older! Great post!

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