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I've always been a quick learner, but in elementary school and beyond I struggled big time with math. All the formulas that we were instructed to memorize and follow did not make sense to me. As I've gotten older, I've learned to that I do not process the world through formulas, but through concepts. I need to know why something works in order to really retain it. So when it came to even basic math skills, like borrowing in subtraction and later learning algebra, I quickly became bored and frustrated. I just assumed that I wasn't any good at math, and that's the way it would be forever.
I remember many school nights, lying in bed and looking at my clock. As I was drifting off to sleep, I would calculate the number of hours of sleep I would be getting before I had to get up again. I looked at my clock and almost immediately knew the answer, but it wasn't because I had memorized anything. In fact, a number would pop into my head and I wasn't sure how it got there. I wasn't even sure if that number was right, but it felt right. So I would use the traditional math methods I'd been taught in school to double check, and the number that initially popped into my head was, in fact, correct. Now that I've seen some Common Core math questions (posted by angry parents on Facebook), I learned that my brain was trying to perform the counting up method of subtraction that many schools are teaching today.
We are teaching our children's brains to "speak" mathematics instead of just following formulas.
Out of curiosity, I ordered and started working through a kindergarten Common Core math workbook, and I can understand why so many parents are frustrated. When you sit down with your child, and attempt to help them with their homework, you expect that kindergarten math will be something you can definitely handle. But when you start seeing things like "10 frames" and some of the more abstract ideas that are introduced even in kindergarten, I'm betting it makes a parent feel a little bit ignorant.
And I believe that's why we've seen so much lashing out against Common Core methods. We feel like we should have the answers for our children when they are as young as kindergarten. But what we need to do is look at Common Core as if it's a new language. We are teaching our children's brains to "speak" mathematics instead of just following formulas. And the funny thing is, that we actually do use these "new" methods, all the time. Watch this example of the counting of subtraction method and think about where you might've seen this in real life.
I also think it's important to note that Common Core Standards are not the same as the methods used to achieve those standards. The Common Core is nothing more than a set of standards that we expect our children to achieve by certain grade levels. It is not, in fact, the curriculum that you see floating around Facebook with ridiculous looking math problems.
In order to achieve the Common Core standards of enabling children to actually understand big picture concepts behind mathematics, many schools have turned to new curricula such as Singapore math and Everyday Mathematics. This is a difficult transition to make because just about every teacher that we have in our system was taught using the "old" method of mathematics that we all endured in elementary school. And some of us thrived on those math teaching methods, but in general, Americans are not great at math. In fact, our numbers are shockingly low compared to the rest of the world when it comes to math skills. A 2012 test ranked the U.S. a sorry 35th out of 64 countries in math proficiency. Who holds the top spot? Singapore, of course.
So, while the "old way" makes more sense to us because of that's what we've been taught, that does not mean that the "new way" can't make sense to our children and can't make math easier for future generations. It's a difficult transition, but for people like me out there who thought they just really stunk at math, this new way offers hope.