Common Core and the Fear of Change

I actually had little time today to sit and scroll through my Twitter feed, reading random bits from here and there about anything and everything. I had no agenda. I was looking for nothing in particular…just a diversion from my husband’s news program. In this endeavor, I ran across a conversation between Frank Noschese (@fnoschese) and what appeared to be several primary teachers. The conversation starter was Frank’s tweet about how sad it is that people think it’s bad to ask students to be more than just human calculators. I happen to completely agree with this statement. It frustrates me to no end when students (and their parents at times) want to skip over the discovery and understanding of a concept to memorizing the tricks that provide the shortcut to solving the problem. Then someone replied with this:

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{Me stepping on soapbox}
I see so many wonderful things going on with this student’s response. I see a student who understands that addition and subtraction are related (bless whoever his/her 1st grade math teacher was!) and he/she seems to understand when it’s appropriate to show one versus the other. This is the epitome of Math Practice 2 and 4–knowing that there are many ways numbers work and showing HOW they work in different ways. This student–assuming he/she continues to have strong teachers who foster this mathematical thinking–will OWN the math when he/she gets to middle school and high school.

However, in the conversation on Twitter that I witnessed, the teachers were upset that the student didn’t show the math THE WAY THEY WANTED–with the algorithm and that’s it. I personally think it’s brilliant how this student proved the algorithm using a number line. It’s very natural–yet the teachers in the conversation instead railed on Common Core because (in their estimation) it takes away what they have done in the past–what they feel is successful–textbook scripts with memorized tricks. What they fail to understand is that math instruction in the past (with the NCLB standardized tests forcing teachers to train students to be robots who spit out one correct answer from 4 choices) has limited our students. I’m seeing the result of that now in my math classes. A vast majority of my students have not learned how to WORK WITH numbers–they instead want to know “the right way” to “do” a problem in order to get “the right answer”.

The question most uttered within the four walls of my classroom is, “Did I get this right?” Instead of replying with “yes” or “no”, I respond with, “You tell me.” I WANT them to prove their thinking. It’s a long process, but one worth going through. But, the key in asking them to prove their thinking and explain what they know (which is Mathematical Practice 3–my favorite) is that I have to understand the math they’re working with–I have to understand the PROCESS, not just the tricks. And herein lies the crux of the issue most people have to Common Core math–they WANT the tricks because they themselves don’t understand the process. In order for our students to benefit from the restructuring of our learning standards, teachers need to get the professional development and training (which in my estimation has been lacking in most districts, especially when the focus is usually reading and writing) to become more comfortable with math concepts.

{Me stepping off soapbox}

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