The idea for this post originated from an email discussing experiences with the “new math”.It evolved into this collaborative effort; a discussion between parents (and a Lead Learner as well) from two different states sharing their perspective on the new math method adopted by the Common Core Standards. We welcome your opinion – please share your thoughts in replies.
Tony Sinanis – Parent of a 4th grade student and Lead Learner
On June 2, 2010 the landscape of public education was changed dramatically when the Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts and Mathematics for grades kindergarten through 12 were officially released to the nation in their completed form. These proposed national standards, which came as a result of the 2004 report Ready or Not: Creating a High School Diploma that Counts, were developed because both employers and colleges were demanding more of high school graduates than in the past and because these same graduates were lacking in the skills and knowledge they needed to succeed. The Common Core State Standards were developed as an opportunity to create a clear and consistent vision and understanding of what students are expected to learn in school so that educators and families know what they need to do to support their students. Furthermore, the CCSS are intended to address the “educational crisis” that exists in our country and is reflected in our inability to compete in the current landscape of the global economy. Our children are reportedly lacking the literacy, mathematical and critical thinking skills necessary to compete with learners from other countries and secure jobs that are relevant in today’s world. These standards and the aforementioned crisis have led to the “new math” unfolding in classroom across this country.
New math, as it has been coined on social media, by educators and families, is extremely concerning to me as an educator and lead learner. You see, I was educated by the “old math” way and I turned out fine. I am able to compute numbers, shop in a store and manage myself at the bank. I think the math experiences I had as a child prepared me for a success life where working with numbers has never been a problem. Unfortunately, the current landscape of public education tells us that way of teaching was good enough; didn’t go deep enough and didn’t challenge students to master important concepts. So, here we are today, struggling with the new math – educators, students and families – all struggling with new math. I mean come on, who really understands bar modeling? And does it really matter in the end? I am not sold on the idea but for some reason many elementary kids in this country are being exposed to this concept, and many other new math concepts, and are being told that is the way they must solve the problem. Really? We want all our kids to use the same strategy no matter what their learning style? For me, this is one of the biggest problems plaguing our schools today as a result of new math!
With that being said, I think there are some significant upsides to the entire new math experience. First and foremost, we are introducing less concepts to children and we are challenging the children to explore these concepts at a deeper level. This focus on deeper understandings is important because it challenges the children to move beyond basic computation and apply concepts to different real life situations. Another piece of new math that I value is the idea that we are seeing an increase in the use of manipulatives during the introduction of new concepts so the children develop a concrete understanding before moving on to a more abstract one. It is a powerful evolution to observe. Finally, our children are developing stronger problem solving skills, which will serve them well in any scenario or situation. So, do I love everything about new math? No! Do I think we need to make some improvements? Yes! And the main thing we need to remember is that each of our children learn differently – some like the old way while others embrace the new.
Lisa Davis, Parent of kindergarten, 5th grade, and 7th grade students
Being the mom of 3 school aged children, you can be sure that the subject of “new math” has often been a topic of conversation. I also held the position of President of my elementary school PTA last year, the first year of implementation of common core in the state of New York.
I cannot tell a lie, none of the feedback from parents has been positive. For my daughter in 4th grade, the new math seemed less of an issue than for my 6th grade son. He had a rough time. As a matter of fact, so did his entire grade. The gaps in the curriculum proved very challenging. The pace was incredible, and the new “rigor” was certainly there. These factors on top of a transition from elementary school to middle school did not play in the favor of my son and his classmates.
At PTA meetings, I heard frustrated parents share homework questions, and discuss issues with helping with their children. Pictures were posted on Facebook and Twitter, showing 1st grade math problems that made even math majors scratch their heads.
Even with these experiences, I am not ready to definitively say that the new math is a failure. I still question where it came from, why it’s so different than the way we learned, and what created the need for such a change. But my inquisitive mind also wants to figure it out. I want to see why this is meant to be the answer we’ve been waiting for, that I didn’t realize we had questioned.
So we’ve been sold some promises. This new math will allow children to have a better number sense. They will be able to do “mental math” faster and at greater lengths than before. After a foundation of this math style, students will have a better understanding of math functions.
Ultimately, when asked my opinion on new math – I’m still undecided. There’s no question in my mind that new math was improperly rolled out. If the state had decided to begin new math in kindergarten last year, I think we would have been spared a lot of headaches. But as we can’t turn back the clock, I chose to be optimistic and hopeful that this new curriculum will deliver.
Gwen Pescatore, Parent of 1st grade, 4th grade, and 7th grade students
When I was taught math, we weren’t often just given a formula and set of numbers to compute. We were given a problem; one filled with words and numbers. We then needed to take the scenario and pull the pieces of information we needed to solve the problem at hand. Sometimes this meant completing several steps – and we always had to show our work and label our answers. Math was always real. It was calculating the tip for a waitress, the amount of carpet we needed for our room, how long it would take to drive to our vacation destination, how much time we would save if we increased our speed, and so on.
This part of the “new math” I am ALL for. I believe we need to show kids how what they’re learning in the classroom relates to their real life today and in the future. From here, I think I disagree more than I agree. I think there’s truth to the statement that “one size doesn’t fit all”. Showing our kids a variety of ways to solve a problem is wonderful. We not only appeal to different learning styles – but also ways to solve a problem in a variety of situations…but at what point are we throwing too many options at them? When does it simply cause confusion? When does it create a larger issue that you are spending so much time sharing the various ways to solve the problem, and not enough time allowing kids to become proficient using a select few? Also, why are we forcing kids to use a particular method to solve the problem?In my opinion, as long as they can solve the problem, show their work and explain why they chose the method they did – I say let them choose.
Personally, I feel lucky to be in the position we’re in at our school. When the math program changed over, we had several options to learn about it, what to expect as far as the writing and reading to come, and the timeline we should expect it may take our children to adjust. I have yet to see or hear people in our school or district sharing out math problems that they, as adults, struggle with when lending their child a hand doing homework as I’ve seen done in other places. I’m not saying there aren’t kids struggling. We do after all have a large ESL population. But…I don’t feel the struggles are as extreme.
Changes can be scary, especially when it can make you feel helpless and/or inferior. Schools need to do their part to eliminate as many of those fears as possible by providing families with information such as why there is a change, what “new math” looks like, an approximate length of time it may take for their kids to adjust…and where they can turn for help, when they need it, to be able to help their children at home.
A special thanks to Tony for being our first post collaborator! You can find Tony on Twitter at @tonysinanis and his blog at http://www.leadingmotivatedlearners.blogspot.com.