Monday, May 19, 2014

What Will Common Core Math Mean for me as a Parent?

When scrolling through my Facebook feed, which is full of news stations, educational organizations, my favorite companies, The Huffington Post, and of course my friends and family, the majority of the posts I see about the Common Core are negative. This concerns me because I worry that the general public isn't going to give it a fair chance. 

It is a major transition in our educational system, and it is not realistic to expect everyone to get it perfect right away. However, it isn't fair to turn completely against it before full implementation has even started either. 

Many of the negative posts are from parents who are frustrated with homework and blame it all on the Common Core. I have been frustrated with my child's homework, and that happened before Common Core! Haven't we all heard as parents, "That is not how Mrs. H taught me to do it." I am sure you will still hear those words out of your children's mouths next year when we start teaching with Common Core math curriculum. However, what I hope you will see is that your child is learning that there is more than one way to solve a problem. 

This core concept is embedded within all Common Core math curriculum in the form of the Mathematical Practices. These 8 practices are the behaviors that teachers will be expecting kids to engage in as they are learning the standards. 

You can see an explanation of these practices at

Doesn't it make sense to teach kids to use appropriate tools, construct viable arguments, and look for patterns? These are life skills our kids are going to be learning. I want my own child to learn to persevere, not just wait for the teacher to give him the answer. 

Here is a 4th grade sample test question from SmarterBalanced (the consortium that is creating our new state test).  Link to website: SmarterBalanced Sample Questions

Sample Question: The two-eyed space creatures, three-eyed space creatures, and four-eyed space creatures are having a contest to create a group with 24 total eyes. How many two-eyed space creatures are needed to make a group with 24 total eyes? (It then asks how many three-eyed and four-eyed creatures are needed for the group with 24 eyes).

The next part of the question says: Somebody told the five-eyed space creatures that they could not join the contest. Explain why five-eyed space creatures cannot make a group with 24 eyes.

This question asks students to use reasoning. They have to be flexible with their understanding of numbers and be able to explain how numbers work. There is not just one answer to figure out, it is not multiple choice, and the students have to work with the same number (24) in different ways to figure out the answer. I like this. Students can't just choose C, they really have to think. It is not unreasonable, and if students are taught to use tools and patterns, they will be able to draw a picture or use a table and figure this out.

I have been working very deeply with three new math programs that our Dry Creek teachers will be using next year: Pearson Digits, Houghton Mifflin Expressions, and Houghton Mifflin GoMath. In each of these programs, students are asked to work with the same set of numbers until they really understand them. They are asked to evaluate mistakes the publisher makes on purpose, explain why they came up with an answer, and discover if there is more than one correct answer. Aren't these great life skills? I want my child to be able to defend his opinion based on fact, but also be flexible and open to the ideas of others. This is what I think Common Core will do for our students, teach them to get along in life. 

Is technology involved? Yes. Students in Dry Creek will have access to Chromebooks starting in 2nd grade, and possibly even down to kindergarten. The SmarterBalanced test is all digital, so not only will students need to be flexible with their math skills, they will need to understand how to manipulate tech tools. You can help with this by having your children create and search on the computer. Knowing how to create a table in a Word document and organize numbers can help them figure out math problems. The offer to use technology might even help put off an argument! Kids love to use the computers as tools. Math facts are still important, so using sites like funbrain, or can give great practice with the idea of fluency with numbers. Technology is not going to go away, and the more students know how to do on a computer, the more adaptable they will be on the test, in the classroom, and in life.  (It's not all about the test, I promise).

Here is my advice for parents as we enter into this journey.

  • Keep an open mind. Your kids might not be asked to solve problems the exact way you were taught.
  • Bookmark this website: It has the actual language of the Common Core standards. If you are questioning the rationale behind an assigned piece of homework, look up the language of the standard. That will help you understand the reasoning behind the problem.
  • If your child gave it a good honest try, and you helped them as much as you were able but still couldn't figure it out, write the teacher a note. (I have done that this year, and I taught the curriculum my child was learning from!).
  • Don't hesitate to ask questions. You can email or Facebook message me anytime. I have parents send videos and articles they have seen asking me to help them interpret it. I don't mind helping make sense of it at all. I would much rather have a discussion than have parents stressing out. 
  • Keep the Mathematical Practices in mind. Praise your child when they are showing that they know how to use a number line or a diagram to solve a problem. That shows that they are learning the skills necessary to succeed in school and later on in life. 
I believe in the direction the Common Core standards are going to take education, and have seen some amazing teaching going on in classrooms as a result of the standards. The momentum is building within our teachers, and I am excited to see how teachers, students and parents develop their mathematical skills as a result. Whew! This post has been brewing for quite some time.