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Common Core Help for Parents: Educators and Parents Can Work Together

A friend of mine forwarded his child’s math homework to me the other night. His son is a third grader at a great school in the community in which I live.  His son’s homework had a problem like this, and both the father and son were at a loss for how to solve it.

parents-understand-common-core-math

Parents having a hard time understanding Common Core Math need support from educators as we make the shift together.

There are a few important things to note. Number one, the amount of attention “New Math” and “Common Core Math” has received in the media has been non stop and very negative. This leads to parents feeling frustrated with schools for not communicating this new shift in mathematical thinking. In some ways, this is a failure on our school system, but in other ways it is a lesson to not always believe everything we read/see in the media. Much of the information out there is false.  For example, many parents ask me, “Why don’t you just teach the traditional algorithm?” We do teach it, but we teach a whole lot of understanding before introducing it so they don’t have to memorize a meaningless set of procedures. Luckily this father is open minded since he did not have a great experience with math himself as a child, and he wants to do his best to learn along with his child.

The other thing that is so common when parents are frustrated with Common Core Math, is that they haven’t been taught to think of math as a problem to solve, as a puzzle. Instead they look at it from the angle that there must be only one way. How can you blame them when they were taught math this way? It isn’t their job to learn this new shift in thinking without any support from us. We all go back to what we know, and what they know is that they were taught to memorize. This same attitude is common for children in their math classes as well because teachers are trying to shift to deeper thinking activities for our students.  (Sadly, math curriculum/textbook companies in the U.S. is not there yet.) This is a HUGE shift that will take time!

So in the meantime, let’s work together with our parents about math. Actually it doesn’t matter if your school has adopted Common Core Math at all, these are positive messages for ANY parent. Let’s tell them:

  1. It’s okay that you don’t know the answer immediately to your child’s homework. Math is not fast anymore, in fact it should be both slow and messy. Many times there is more than one way to solve it or show your thinking.
  2. Ask your child questions like it’s a puzzle that you are trying to figure out together.
  3. Try to google your way through it…I was able to solve ratio tables last night with Khan Academy, something I haven’t thought about since middle school.
  4. Be open minded and positive about it.  Sometimes adult’s (both teachers and parents!) negative attitudes about math will transfer to the student, causing even more stress and anxiety.
  5. If all else fails and there is no way for you both to figure it out, write a note to the teacher. We’ve all had to learn this math differently as well, and we get it! We won’t be upset with your child for not finishing!

By the way, here is how I thought about that problem above. If you thought about it a different way, I’d love to know your solution!

parents-understand-common-core-math2

Parents, keep on advocating for you and your child.  We need to know if you don’t understand, and we can all make math meaningful if we learn together. What other positive messages would you like to tell parents so that we can work together?

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Build A Strong Math Culture With The Standards For Math Practice

With all of the current criticism about the CCSS and “Common Core Math” (I put that in quotes because that phrase has been driving me crazy, now that is another blog post in my mind), I’ve been happy to see that the Standards for Mathematical Practice have been left alone.

I’m glad that they’ve been left alone in the criticism because the Math Practice Standards are all encompassing thinking habits, more than they are standards to be met.  They encourage us to teach mathematics more as a learning subject than a performance based subject. Math absolutely should require lots of messy critical thinking, deduction, discussion and reasoning.

Someone last year said/asked me, “I just don’t understand what these standards are for.  What are they?” I explained them the best way I could, since I had just spent a month researching them to know them better:

  1. The math practice standards are a set of math habits, ways in which we should think about math. (That sounds so simple, but the way the standards are worded, it has driven many of us crazy while trying to understand them.  Reason abstractly and quantitatively? Huh?  It sounds like a completely different language!) The standards are all about developing positive habits and attitudes about math.
  2. They allow students to explore math as a learning subject.  They begin to understand that math is not about the teaching asking a question, and the student must answer it correctly. Most importantly they begin to see the connection to their lives.  Math connects so beautifully to real life, but because the U.S. has such a worksheet culture, we’ve lost that connection.
  3. Math from K-12 has the same underlying theme with these standards. As the years tick by the content standards become more complex, but the practice standards remain the same.  With the Standards for Mathematical Practice, we can develop a very positive culture surrounding mathematics.  A culture of persevering when encountering a problem, making sense of the world with math, using prior knowledge to solve new problems, being precise and reflective, patterning to find faster ways of working, explaining our thinking, understanding others thinking, knowing what tools will best help to solve problems, and connecting the world with abstract numbers and symbols. This all makes us excellent THINKERS.

We’ve had math coaches, administrators and other teachers pass out posters to put up in our classrooms. We’ve seen freebies and posters that we are meant to download and print. We’ve put them up on our walls with very few of us digging in to what they actually mean. I WAS one of those people. I had a poster of the kid friendly standards up for two years, and it wasn’t until last year that I realized one of the standards was completely inaccurate on the poster.  I had never bothered to check, and I assumed that the source knew the standards.  Can you blame me? I didn’t have the TIME to dissect what each one means.  It felt like another thing…another plate to spin…another added responsibility. I truly didn’t understand the importance of the standards to create a culture.

When I decided to figure out what they really mean, introduce them to my students from the start of the school year, work through the problems with them, and embed the language in the classroom, the culture really changed. We became mathematicians who could work through anything. It was remarkable. We put our work on the walls to help remind us that these were to be a part of our classroom daily.  We truly became vicious problem solvers, we worked together and math was about learning.  Math became FUN.

After a month of research I created posters, problems and activities to help myself understand them, but also to help teachers understand them, too.  (Feel free to check out the preview which walks you through the first standard.)

Build a culture by introducing, working with and revisiting the Standards for Math Practice.

Build a culture by introducing, working with and revisiting the Standards for Math Practice.

Even if the Common Core goes away (which it most certainly will, and already is in many states), I will always keep the Standards for Mathematical Practice.  It is a foundation in which we can all build upon, year after year!

 

11

Transform Problem Solving: Push Them to Explain Their Thinking in One Simple Step

A few weeks ago it was time for our daily problem solving block in math class, and I looked over a few shoulders to find the most aggravating thing. The answers written (sometimes incorrectly) with nothing else.

So here was the problem (from Practice Problems for Multiplication and Division):

Jessie bakes cupcakes for her local business.  Six orders were called in on the phone. Each order included a half dozen cupcakes. How many cupcakes should she make?

Young learners are notorious for answering math problems like this:

Problem Solving Answer

That’s it. Granted it is the correct answer, but no explanation of their thinking or their strategy. SO aggravating for a teacher who is constantly pushing for students to explain their reasoning.  SO not in line with the math practice standards and what they are pushing students to do.

So I implemented a little game to help transform problem solving, specifically targeting how they are explaining their thinking. This poster is up hanging on my chalkboard:

Problem Solving Explanation

Here is how the “game” works:

1.  A student rolls the dice.

2.  Whatever we land on is the preferred method of communication for the day. The students must try to explain their strategy on their papers using:

  • words to describe the steps taken to solve the problem, including how you arrived at the answer.
  • a picture or a model of the problem.
  • a number sentence to show how the problem was solved.
  • tools (manipulatives) to act out the problem. We typically gather around a desk (each student has their own bag of tools) to see how they solved it.
  • FREE choice means just that, they can use their favorite way to solve the problem (maybe some other creative strategy beyond any of these four).
  • Teacher’s choice. This is kind of awesome because I can ask them to use number lines, graphs, skip counting or some other type of strategy that is appropriate to the problem type.

3.  The same student reads the problem out loud to the class (twice).

4.  The students solve the problem on their paper as many ways as they can (choosing their best way first), but when they explain it they should try to use the method of communication that was rolled.

5.  Two students are asked to come up to the board to show how they solved the problem, and explain their thinking. At least one of the students must have used the method of communication that was rolled.

Since I’ve started to use this, students have gotten better at showing their work, which in turn has made them better at explaining their thinking verbally. It also leads to awesome questions asked of the students who come up to explain their strategy.

Here is what that same problem looked like after we rolled the dice and asked that same student to use the strategy of a model/picture:

Problem Solving Explanation

Additionally, the other student who came up used a number sentence.

Problem Solving Explanation

Both great strategies!  I love that it encourages the use of different ways to explain, especially when some students get in a rut by only one strategy or one way to explain.  It has also been a big help to students who have trouble putting their picture into number sentences.

The best part? The kids think it’s like they are playing the lottery every day.