An overview of Common Core (CC) Math curriculum reveals parental complaints may be well-founded. Excerpts from the “Common Core Math homework helper for parents” video (link), led by an elementary school math teacher, include:
- Addition using Base 10 for first graders and up
“…Our young learners might not be all together comfortable thinking about what 9+6 is. They are quite comfortable thinking about their friend 10. 10 is emphasized in our young grades as we are working in a base 10 system. So if we can partner 9 to a number and anchor 10, we can help our students see what 9+6 is.”
“Common Core (Math) asks students to explain their work in pictures, numbers and words. This is a way a second grader might explain their subtraction problem in pictures….”
- Subtraction using place value chart (second grade)
The story problem is 37 minus 16. “The first thing we are going to do is to build our whole.” The whole is 37. “So our second graders know how to decompose the number 37.” The left side of the teacher’s working paper includes large boxes and the word Tens at the top. The right side of the paper has numerous smaller boxes and the word Ones at the top. The teacher proceeds to explain putting dots in squares, representing 10s and ones and taking dots away to find the answer. (Melissa Holmes, WGRZ Buffalo, NY 9/3/14)
CC Math is similar to this 2007 video (link) exposing how Everyday Math was also ineffective. Though these methods do eventually get to the correct answer, they are contrary to how the brain learns math. A study of 7-9 year old (link) children’s brain activity while solving arithmetic problems, published 8/17/14 in Nature Neuroscience, confirms what we know. Drilling children on simple math facts: addition, subtraction and multiplication reorganize the brain, enabling children to make the necessary shift to memory-based problem solving.
Memorization (skill development) of fundamental math stabilizes brain connections required for more complex math achievement. (Kids’ brains reorganize (link) when learning math skills, Associated Press 8/18/14) (Hippocampal-neocortical functional reorganization underlies children’s cognitive development Qin, Cho, Chen, Rosenberg-Lee, Geary & Menon 4/29/14)
Common Core Math on steroids is the recent push to adopt a language other than English to improve math proficiency. English has over two dozen unique number words, but Chinese just nine. Eleven is purportedly the start of the trouble, followed by the teens, which start with the wrong number, as in fourteen. Other languages would translate 14 into ten plus four. (Sue Shellenbarger, Wall Street Journal 9/10/14)
Similar to phonics reading instruction, when math is taught correctly, children learn quickly. Middle-schoolers attending an independent summer school in Portland, OR, moved up from fifth grade math to eighth grade math in five weeks of daily lessons. Director Lanita Duke said the math teaching methods used are not revolutionary. Students study fractions, decimals, prime numbers and other basic building blocks of math. Duke planned to offer the program for a fourth summer if she were able to raise enough money. In contrast, Portland Public Schools 6 week summer program for struggling middle school students generated negligible gains in reading and math for fifth-graders. Sixth-graders made about half a year’s progress. (Betsy Hammond, Oregonian 10/4/2000)
“The human number sense has roots in evolution… (specific areas of the brain) play a significant role in early numerical development, to the extent that their disorganization can create a lifelong impairment in arithmetic.” (Arithmetic and the brain (link), Dehaene, Molko, Cohen and Wilson, Current Opinion in Neurobiology 2004)
The National Council of Teachers of Math had promoted calculator use in the early grades. Early elementary are the years vital for memorizing math facts. In addition, brain research shows that writing out numbers by hand with pencil and paper helps the brain learn math.
If drill of basic skills in math reorganizes the brain and prepares it for more complex math, do math artwork and confusing problem solving methods disorganize the brain for more complex math? Our sluggish economy suggests there may be a correlation. Decades of ineffective math curriculum and instruction portend a “catastrophe” according to math professor James Milgram in the CC documentary “Building the Machine” (link).
Lincoln Public Schools has adopted the Common Core digital math curriculum, Go Math, for K-6. Common Core Math would certainly promote frustration and uncertainty. There’s always a purpose in nonsense. What does it accomplish? Expert testimony in “Building the Machine” confirms learning outcomes for Common Core Math do not prepare students for courses in Science, Technology, Engineering or Math (STEM). Ask your school board member the reasons for adoption of Go Math. What are the goals for students?
Student and parent goals would be successful mastery of math: grade level proficiency or higher. Numbers don’t have behaviors. They don’t make us uncomfortable or befriend us. Limit math class time to content and strategies which organize the brain for math and prepare it for more complex math. “The direction in which education starts a man will determine his future life.” (Plato, The Republic) and that of his country.