What is the Deal with Common Core?
As I go around the district and give my introduction talk, one of the questions I am commonly asked is ‘Do you support the repeal of common core?’. While I am not a teacher (really the right person to ask about a teaching technique), I did take the time to learn about common core beyond the standard Facebook posts from parents complaining about the ‘new math’.
I thought this important because I’ve noticed several of my opponents coming out against it, and as an educated voter I wanted to see if there was something to it, or they were just being politicians playing to the crowd. I’ve always believed that a Representative should know something about a subject before having an opinion on it or casting a vote. So, like the life long student I am, I hit the books and the internet and learned about it.
Much of the issue is Facebook postings from parents that state their child ‘got the answer right’ but was marked wrong. As a teacher and a parent, I have dealt with the student that says “I don’t need to know how to do long division, because I have a calculator and it gave me the right answer.” Sometimes the point of the lesson is the process, not simply getting the right answer your way. Calculators are fine, I use them all the time, but first I learned to do it by hand. Once the understanding is there, you can take shortcuts. But understand first. Common core is no different.
Common Core Math
As it turns out, common core math is nothing more than developing a deeper understanding of math and being able to use it in real situations. Here is a side by side comparison between the old standard and common core:
Middle School Example of Old Standard
A bird flew 20 miles in 100 minutes at constant speed. At that speed, how long would it take the bird to fly 6 miles? (6/20) x 100 min
This question requires one calculation, using a formula.
And the Common Core Version
A bird flew 20 miles in 100 minutes at constant speed. At that speed:
(a) how long would it take the bird to fly 6 miles? (6/20) x 100 min
(b) How far would the bird fly in 15 minutes? 20 miles x (15/100)
(c) How fast is the bird flying in miles per hour? 20 miles x (60/100)
(d) What is the bird’s pace in minutes per mile? 100 min/20 miles
This question requires a series of calculations and reasoning. It measures if students understand why the formula works. While I used the given information (20 miles in 100 min) to solve many of the questions, we could have used mph (question c), pace (question d) or other approaches to solve as well, all that is needed is an understanding of how the problem is set up and how the mathematics work rather than memorization of a single formula.
Which student will have a deeper understanding and the ability to expand that understanding to similar problems?
Real Life Examples of Common Core
We are already using common core math as adults, we just don’t realize it. It is simply a series of ‘tricks’ we developed to make our jobs easier. I’m a doctor, so here is an example from my field. Carpenters, gunsmiths, and waitresses have their own tricks specific to their fields as well.
Many drugs are given by patient weigh, in milligrams per kilogram. We tend to weigh people in pounds. How do we convert. Say I have to give a drug that is dosed at 1mg per kilo to a 190 pound man.
The old way- use a calculator (if available) or long division to divide 190 by 2.2. (a kilo is 2.2 pounds). This gives us the exact number which is 86.36 kilos.
The quick way, divide 190 by 2 which gives us 95 kilos. This is a rough estimate.
A more accurate estimate is realizing that 2.2 is about 10% more than 2 so we take our quick estimate of 95 kilos and take 9.5 kilos away (10%), coming up with 85.5 kilos (less than 1 kilo error)
Finally, 5 kilos is 11 pounds (a pretty easy number to work with). 190 is 50 kilos (110 pounds) plus 35 kilos (77 pounds) plus about 1.5 kilos (3 pounds) for 86.5 kilos. Again, very quick and accurate.
The advantage of the last three ways is they allow us to do the calculation in our heads at the bedside (you don’t want to fumble for a calculator during a cardiac arrest).
This is the example having a level of understanding of math that allows us to use one of several methods available to us to solve everyday problems, and after we understand this approach we can pick the method that works for us. I personally tend to use the last two.
Some other examples- The simple trick of moving the decimal point to calculate the tip at a restaurant (getting 10% of the bill and multiplying it by 1.5 or 2 to get the tip, unless you are at Outback and my daughter is the waitress, in which case you multiply it by 3). If you are a backgammon fan and want to see an extreme use of these ‘in your head’ calculation tricks, look at a very detailed paper I wrote years ago called the ‘Northern Michigan Pip Count’.
Math is Cool When You Understand
Math really is cool. It can be fun. It can win you drinks in a bar (not to mention calculate the tip) and help you design bridges. The moon shot in 1969 was calculated on slide rules with engineers and astronauts estimating the decimal places in their heads- we landed because the people making those calculations understood math, they weren’t learning a formula for a test. We need to return to that understanding of math in our schools.
Parents did not learn common core. Some of us figured it out to some extent to make our jobs easier but really we weren’t taught to think that way. Medicine is taught by the principle- See one, Do one, Teach one. That’s how I learned to take blood pressures and put in central lines. If you want to help your kids understand common core math, have them TEACH it to you, and not only will you understand it, they will know it cold. But most importantly, you will do it TOGETHER.
To start it off, here is a really cool math trick…
Update Based on Parent Feedback
Ok, this post has been on the website for 12 hours and the Facebook page is going wild. Reviewing the posts, both pro and con, I am seeing a pattern and it is suggesting a solution.
1/ 90% plus of the criticisms are from parents that simply don’t understand common core, have not taken the time to learn it and have no idea how to help their kids with their homework. This is very frustrating. Another issue is that some teachers have made mistakes with common core, and these mistakes have made it to the internet as examples of why common core is difficult to understand. One key example was breaking down 5×3. This equals 5+5+5, but it also equals 3+3+3+3+3. The student put one answer down, the teacher was looking for the other, but both were not only correct, they demonstrate correct use of the technique. For some reason, the teacher marked it as incorrect, leading to all sorts of confusion.
A very clear example is the famous ‘Dad writes a check in common core’ story making the rounds on Facebook. This is very clearly discussed and worth the read.
2/ There is a strong sentiment to have local school board opt out of common core, without regard to any potential benefit in understanding.
3/ It is government overreach and if we are told we have to do it, we don’t want to do it on principle. Is this a valid reason? I’ll leave that to the reader to decide, but hope they will at least explore the issue before deciding they are against it.
Why are we not sending a ‘parent sheet’ home with the kids? One that explains, clearly, what the concept of the lesson is and how to set up and solve the problem. Once the parent understands that, helping with homework is a breeze. I think if we have the parents on board, with the help of the teachers, we can make this much easier.