Well, there you have it. Right there in black and white…my reaction to seeing my 4th-grade son’s math homework, and not having a clue how to help him. It was long-division for crying out loud. It’s supposed to be easy, right?
The worksheet he brought home baffled me. One section had something that resembled the long division I learned as a kid, but there were twice as many numbers as I would have expected. There was also a giant ‘7’ that extended the length of the page, which had numbers on both sides. What was this stuff?
Another section had a box called an ‘area model.’ It looked exactly like what we were taught to do to find the area of a room – length measurement on one side and width measurement on the other. …only this was being used to solve a long division problem. I scratched my head and hoped he didn’t ask me for help. …he did, of course, and I was clueless.
If you’ve got kids in elementary school, I know you can relate to this. They no longer teach math the way we learned it. Initially, this frustrated me. I knew it would take only ten minutes to show my son how to do long division the traditional way, and he’d get the right answer. But I also knew that wasn’t what the teacher was looking for. I just didn’t understand why.
Why Was I So Frustrated?
My initial Facebook post turned into an interesting exchange between friends (fellow parents) confused by Common Core Math, and those who ‘get it’ – including a few current and former math teachers.
Parent comments we’re pretty consistent: “Teach kids to use a calculator” “This is bizarre and scary” “Common Core makes me want to homeschool.”
On the flip-side, others seemed to like it: “This will help them think mathematically, which will help with word problems/applying math concepts in the real world” “It’s different from how I was taught, but it resonates better with my guy.”
My teacher friends were also strong supporters of Common Core math.
As I read their comments I softened a bit on the topic. Maybe there was something to this new math? My son had done pretty well with it, so maybe I was the problem? Why was I so frustrated?
…but that’s not all.
I Needed to Know More
That night, I walked into the school library and saw more than 20 other confused parents sitting quietly at large wooden tables. I found an inconspicuous spot in the middle of the group, and one of the teachers handed me a packet of blank math worksheets.
Things kicked off with the principal telling us how the teachers approached him with the idea of hosting 4th Grade Parent Math Night and offered to do it all on their own time.
Then, one of the teachers led a group of kids through an activity she called a ‘number talk.’ She wrote a math problem on a flip chart and the kids, sitting on the floor around her, worked it out in their heads using common core techniques. It was impressive.
That’s when I got what I wanted – an explanation of why elementary school math has changed.
The new way:
1. Helps kids see and build the numbers, which makes it easier for them to understand why they’re doing the problems in the first place.
2. Emphasizes visualization over memorization
3. Builds problem-solving skills
4. Teaches kids that there’s more than one way to solve a problem
They also showed us this video:
…then it was time for the parents to get to work. The teachers walked us through various ways to solve multiplication and division problems. We were then given time to complete our worksheets, with the teachers roaming through the room answering our questions. And yes, I had questions.
Nearly two hours after the meeting began, I felt like a fourth math whiz.
What I Really Learned
I now know HOW to solve problems using the techniques being taught today, and I’m ready to help with homework. I also understand WHY math is different now. And I think it’s a smart change, made by smart people interested in seeing kids succeed in a world that’s much different than the one I grew up in.
The less obvious lesson is that I recognized that I had been a victim of my own bias. I jumped on the ‘new math is a waste of time, just teach it the easy way’ bandwagon before I understood what it was all about. I didn’t ‘get it’ so I didn’t like it. Thanks to some great Facebook friends and some amazing teachers – I realized I’d fallen into the bias trap.
The best way to tackle bias is through education. I offer a sincere ‘thank you’ to the teachers who organized 4th Grade Parent Math Night. Now I can solve a long division problem using a Magic 7. I’m also reminded that no matter how evolved or educated we think we are, we need to constantly check our biases and never – ever – stop learning.
P.S. – For a small fee I’m happy to teach you how to use the Magic 7 to solve a long division problem. 🙂