If you have a kid in school, you’ve probably noticed that their math homework looks different than yours did an undisclosed number of years ago. And you may have moaned about it—“What’s with all the crazy steps? These equations took me seconds to answer in Mrs. Winkleman’s fourth-grade class!” Hey, I’m not here to debate the value of the current instruction approach known Common Core (though from all that I’ve read and heard from math educators, it’s largely a huge step in the right direction). But I can help you come to terms with the change.
In response to Nick Douglas’ piece “Do Math in Your Head With These Mental Math Tricks,” some readers noted that Common Core helps kids make such connections intuitively by using number sense. If you’re like me, a person who learned math mostly through rote memorization, you might be a little confused about what that means. In that case, a good place to start is at the beginning. Commenter noodlesintheface had a smart suggestion for parents: Go through the Khan Academy’s arithmetic program, starting with the pre-K or kindergarten courses.
Noodlesintheface, who has no affiliation with Khan Academy, did just that, and tells us through email that the free online curriculum was “surprisingly fun and engaging” and “helped ingrain a lot of the mathematical concepts that I couldn’t fully explain in K-12 but could still apply the rules and get the right answer.” For example, the parent writes that the curriculum “focuses on place value in a way that I didn’t learn back in the ‘80s, such as ‘What number is the same as 1 ten 18 ones?’” (Yep, it’s 28.) “Ten frames”—a visual showing 10 as a bundle of ten ones—was also a new concept for noodlesintheface, along with visualizing addition and subtraction along a number line.
A sample question:
Noodlesintheface went through the entire K-12 math curriculum, but just doing the pre-K or kindergarten course will give you a general grasp of the philosophy behind Common Core math. I tried it and my first thought was, “Huh, this does make a lot of sense.” It’s certainly a better alternative than spending the next 12 years railing against Common Core on Facebook, as I’ve seen many moms and dads do during homework time. While tackling the math problems, you might even find yourself eager to learn more, or at the very least, less afraid.
Noodlesintheface tells us there’s been an unexpected benefit of letting their daughter watch the whole process: “I can model good behavior of overcoming math difficulties with perseverance.”