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## COMMON CORE

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It’s been a blast going unraveling five myths about the Common Core here at Math for Grownups. And I’ve gotten a lot of terrific feedback from commenters. In case you missed any of these posts, I thought I’d put them together in one package. Enjoy — and be sure to share your thoughts in the comment sections of each post!

### Myth #1: Common Core is a Curriculum

This is perhaps the most pervasive misunderstanding. In fact, the Common Core Standards are simply that: standards. In education-speak, this means they are statements of what students should know, upon completing a course or grade. Common Core does something a bit more than other sets of standards, giving a clear expectation of the depth of this understanding. >>read the rest

### Myth #2: The Standards Omit Basic Math Facts

While grabbing a latte at the local Starbucks a few weeks ago, I ran into a friend of mine. She was taking a break from teaching cursive to high school students at a nearby private school’s summer program. “Kids don’t learn cursive in elementary school anymore, and so they can’t sign their names,” she explained. “Kids aren’t even required to learn their multiplication tables these days!” >>read the rest

### Myth #3: The Standards Introduce Algebra Too Late

One of the reasons for Common Core is to be sure that when students graduate from high school they are ready for college and/or the job market. And these days that means having some advanced math skills under their belts. But if you read the Common Core course headings, algebra is not mentioned until high school. >>read the rest

### Myth #4: The Standards Require More Testing

Perhaps the most controversial aspect of the U.S. education system is standardized testing. And for good reason. There are a myriad of problems with these tests – from their links to private companies to their use as teacher evaluation tools. >>read the rest

### Myth #5: Common Core is Overflowing with Fuzzy Math

First, a definition: fuzzy math is a derogatory term for an educational movement called reform math. Therefore the claim of fuzzy math isn’t so much a myth as an attempt to insult  the way that many math teachers and education researchers advocate teaching mathematics to K-12 students. >>read the rest

Know someone who could use an education on what the Common Core standards for math reallysay? Forward them this link. Or tweet about it and post on your Facebook page.

In recent months, there’s been a tremendous amount of buzz regarding an educational change called Common Core. And a ton of that buzz perpetuates down-right false information. There’s so much to say about this that I’ve developed a five-part series debunking these myths — or outright lies, if you’re being cynical. This is the last post of that series (read Myth 1Myth 2Myth 3 and Myth 4), which began in August. Of course, I’m writing from a math perspective. Photo Credit: Watt_Dabney via Compfight cc

### Myth #5: Common Core is Overflowing with Fuzzy Math

First, a definition: fuzzy math is a derogatory term for an educational movement called reform math. Therefore the claim of fuzzy math isn’t so much a myth as an attempt to insult  the way that many math teachers and education researchers advocate teaching mathematics to K-12 students.

Second, some history: in 1989, the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (disclaimer: I was once a member) published a document called Curriculum and Evaluation Standards for School Mathematics, which recommended a newish philosophy of math education. The group followed with Principles and Standards for School Mathematics in 2000. School officials and curriculum companies responded by implementing many of the approaches offered by the NCTM and as a result, the way we teach mathematics began to change. This change is what advocates call reform math and critics often call fuzzy math.

Before the NCTM’s publications, math teachers focused on the math — in particular series of steps (algorithms) designed to get the right answer to a problem or question. With reform math, educators became more focused on how students best learn mathematics. Suddenly, context and nuance and “why?” were at least as important as the answer. And it is true that Common Core Standards for Mathematics are largely based on the NCTM’s publications.

If this is truly fuzzy math, then we don’t have a myth here. (Although, to be fair, there is a legitimate branch of set theory and logic called “fuzzy mathematics.” But somehow, I don’t think Common Core critics using this term have real math in mind.) I include the fuzzy-math criticism as a myth because it suggests that teaching math in a conceptual way is a bad idea.

Throughout this series, I have asserted that the best way for students to understand and remember mathematical concepts is by returning over and over to the concepts behind the applications. Why is 24 such a flexible number? Because it has eight factors: 1, 2, 3, 4, 6, 8, 12 and 24. Students who really get this will have an easier time adding and subtracting fractions, reducing fractions, simplifying algebraic expressions and eventually solving algebraic equations through factoring.

This is numeracy, folks.

Students will not become numerate (think literate but with math) without a solid, conceptual understanding of mathematical ideas and properties. Numeracy does not typically evolve from memorizing multiplication tables or long division or pages and pages of practice problems. (Disclaimer: some kids will certainly become numerate regardless of how they’re being taught, but many, many others won’t.)

Numeracy is a life-long quest concentrated between the ages of five and 18 years old. Grownups can gain numeracy, but isn’t it better for our kids to enter into adulthood with this great understanding?

If Common Core critics want to call this whole philosophy “fuzzy math,” so be it. Just know that the ideas behind reform mathematics are deeply rooted in research about how kids learn math, not some ridiculous idea that was made up in the board rooms of a curriculum development company or smoke-filled political back rooms.

In short, the problems with Common Core math are not found in the standards themselves. Instead, the application and heated discourse are clouding Common Core’s real value and promise.

Got a question about the Common Core Standards for Mathematics? Please ask! Disagree with my assessment above? Share it! And if you missed Myth #1, Myth #2, Myth #3, Myth #4, you can find them hereherehere and here.

In recent months, there’s been a tremendous amount of buzz regarding an educational change called Common Core. And a ton of that buzz perpetuates down-right false information. There’s so much to say about this that I’ve developed a five-part series debunking these myths — or outright lies, if you’re being cynical. This is the third in that series (read Myth 1 and Myth 2), which will continue on Wednesdays throughout August and into September. Of course, I’ll be writing from a math perspective. Photo Credit: Watt_Dabney via Compfight cc

### Myth #3: The Standards Introduce Algebra Too Late

One of the reasons for Common Core is to be sure that when students graduate from high school they are ready for college and/or the job market. And these days that means having some advanced math skills under their belts. But if you read the Common Core course headings, algebra is not mentioned until high school.

Up to this point, the math is referred to by the grade level, not subject(s) covered. So at first glance, this looks suspiciously like there is no mention of algebra in middle school. You have to dig a little deeper to learn that tough algebraic concepts are covered in the middle school standards. In fact, algebra is introduced (in an extremely conceptual way, with no mention of the word algebra) in kindergarten!

The Common Core math standards are divided into domains — or mathematical concepts. Here is the full list:

• Counting & Cardinality
• Operations & Algebraic Thinking
• Number & Operations in Base Ten
• Number & Operations — Fractions
• Measurement & Data
• Geometry
• Ratios & Proportional Relationships
• The Number System
• Expressions & Equations
• Functions
• Statistics & Probability

Of this list, you can find algebraic ideas and skills in at least four domains: Operations & Algebraic Thinking, Ratios & Proportional Relationships, Expressions & Equations and Functions. (You can argue that algebra appears in others as well.) In kindergarten, students are introduced to the idea of an equation, like this: 3 + 2 = 5. They also answer questions like this: What number can you add to 9 to get 10? (Algebraically speaking this question is x + 9 = 10, what is x?)

Variables aren’t introduced until much later, in 6th grade, when students are expected to “write, read, and evaluate expressions in which letters stand for numbers.” At this point, students begin to learn the language of algebra, with vocabulary words like coefficient (in the expression 3x, 3 is the coefficient) and term (in the expression 3x – 6, 3x and 6 are terms). Also in 6th grade, they start solving simple equations and inequalities, like 4 + x = 7 and 5x = 15.

In 8th grade, radicals and exponents are introduced, and students learn to solve simple equations with these operations. In addition, they graph lines and put equations into point-slope form and slope-intercept form, and begin solving systems of equations (pairs of equations with two variables). They also make connections between an equation of a line and the graph of a line. Finally, functions are introduced in 8th grade.

All of that happens well before high school, leaving lots of time in high school to delve into polynomialsquadratic equations and conic sections.

But here’s the most important thing: under Common Core, students are given a tremendous amount of context for all of this math, as well as time to develop true numeracy. This can speed along algebraic understanding. For example, students who are fluent with multiples and factors of whole numbers and decimals will have a much easier time learning how to solve equations by factoring. That’s because they will have the foundation of factoring or expanding. They will be able to use the distributive property with ease and focus their attention on the new concepts being presented.

In other words, this slow build develops numeracy.

So don’t let the Common Core headings fool you. Algebraic concepts and skills are meted out throughout the grade levels, allowing students to truly understand foundational concepts and fluently perform basic algebraic skills well before high school begins.

Got a question about the Common Core Standards for Mathematics? Please ask! Disagree with my assessment above? Share it! And if you missed Myth #1 or Myth #2, you can find the here and here.

In recent months, there’s been a tremendous amount of buzz regarding an educational change called Common Core. And a ton of that buzz perpetuates down-right false information. There’s so much to say about this that I’ve developed a five-part series debunking these myths — or outright lies, if you’re being cynical. This is the second in that series (read the first here), which will continue on Wednesdays throughout August and into September. Of course, I’ll be writing from a math perspective. Photo Credit: Watt_Dabney via Compfight cc

### Myth #2: The Standards Omit Basic Math Facts

While grabbing a latte at the local Starbucks a few weeks ago, I ran into a friend of mine. She was taking a break from teaching cursive to high school students at a nearby private school’s summer program.

“Kids don’t learn cursive in elementary school anymore, and so they can’t sign their names,” she explained. “Kids aren’t even required to learn their multiplication tables these days!”

Well, I know for a fact that multiplication facts are covered in math classes across the country, including those in our fair city. But there’s this idea out there that third-graders are using calculators to find 8 x 2. While I don’t doubt that this has happened on at least one occasion, it’s not a trend in education. And math facts are a part of the Common Core.

The Common Core Standards emphasize critical thinking. And without a foundation in basic facts, students will not be able to apply critical thinking skills to problem solving of any kind.

Sure, there is no Common Core Standard that says students must be able to recite the multiplication tables 1 through 12 by heart. Instead, Common Core focuses on the concept of multiplication — which is pretty darned complex — encouraging teachers to illustrate multiplication with arrays (the picture below is an array), equal-sized groups, and area. The difference boils down to this: We grownups probably memorized that 8 x 2 = 16, while today’s students might figure it out on their own with a drawing like this:

## • • • • • • • •

The array above gives context to multiplication. Students can see for themselves that there are two rows of eight dots and 16 dots in all. The simple illustration even offers students a way to discover (or remember) the math fact themselves before memorization naturally occurs. In short, it’s much more meaningful than flash cards.

And while the example above is very visual, the idea behind it is flexible, allowing students with different learning styles to understand multiplication. A more kinetic (tactile) student can arrange 16 pennies in an array. A student with an aural learning style can count the dots out loud — in rows, in columns and in total. And so on.

There are plenty of other math facts included in the Common Core Standards, from the properties of number systems to formulas for area and volume. But I admit, you won’t find anything like, “Students will recite the value of π to the ninth decimal place.”

And this is a great change from more traditional approaches. Because, nothing sucks the life out of learning like memorization. Besides, can you remember the formula for the surface area of a cube? If not, could you figure it out or find it online? In my opinion, we want students to kick ass in the figuring-out option — to know that a cube has six sides that are exactly alike, and that surface area is figured when you add the area of each of the sides. Knowing those little details means that a formula isn’t necessary.

So yeah, Common Core hasn’t eliminated math facts. They’re just not front and center, leaving much more room for critical thinking. And that’s a good thing.

Got a question about the Common Core Standards for Mathematics? Please ask! Disagree with my assessment above? Share it! And if you missed Myth #1, you can find it here.

Not all of us are parents or teachers, but I’ve long asserted that education is a “public good,” something that each and every one of us should be very, very concerned with. When kids don’t graduate or graduate with poor critical thinking skills, a lack of curiosity of the world around them or a dearth of basic math, reading and writing abilities, everyone suffers. And in a world where STEM-based employers are recruiting and paying more, we owe it to the next generation to do better.

(This is not to say that our educational system doesn’t have some absolutely enormous issues in other areas. Perhaps the biggest problems our schools face are not academic at all. I believe that if our country took a good, hard look at poverty, violence and teacher care, we’d make huge strides in the right direction. But this post is about academics.)

Enter the Common Core Standards. For decades, each state has developed and cultivated its own standards – or objectives required by each basic course, from history to language arts to biology. But over the last 20 years, a movement has grown to standardize these objectives across the country. With this umbrella of standards, what little Johnny is learning in Arkansas will be similar to what little Patrice is learning in Maine.

Right now, the Common Core Standards only cover English (language arts) and math. They’ve been adopted by 45 states. (Alaska, Nebraska, Texas and Virginia haven’t adopted them at all, and Minnesota adopted only the English language arts standards.) Standards for other subjects are in the works, including science and social studies.

For the last six months, I’ve been writing and editing curricula designed to meet the Common Core Standards for mathematics. I’ve gotten a pretty good feel for what they are, and I have to say that I like them for the most part. Here are some general thoughts I have:

Students will learn certain concepts earlier. I haven’t spent much time with the elementary level standards, but at least in middle and high school, various mathematical topics will be introduced earlier in the standards. For example, exponential functions (an equation with x as an exponent, like with exponential decay or compound interest) is covered in Algebra I, rather than Algebra II.

The result is two-fold. As the standards are rolled out, some students will be left behind. In other words, kids who started school without Common Core may have a hard time catching up or bridging the gap. Second, students will have the opportunity to learn more mathematics throughout their high school career. The idea is to better prepare them for STEM in college and careers.

The emphasis is on critical thinking. This part, I love, love, love. For example: geometry proofs are back! And rather than compartmentalizing the various branches of mathematics, students will make connections between them. I just wrote a lesson that looks at how the graphs, equations and tables for various functions – linear, quadratic and exponential – are alike and dissimilar. Previously, students may never have seen these functions together in the same unit, much less the same lesson.

This means that assessments will change. Students will be asked to explain their answers or verbalize the concepts. Expect to see much more writing and discussion in math class.

Applications, applications  applications. Math is no longer done for math’s sake. And this couldn’t be better news. As I’ve said here many times before, math is pointless until it’s applied. Students should get this first-hand with Common Core, which outlines very specific applications for various concepts.

The idea here is to demonstrate that the math they’re learning is useful. The result? Hopefully more students will choose to enter STEM careers or major in these fields in college.

Students learn in different ways. Modeling plays a big role in the new standards, which means that students can approach the math in a variety of ways – from visualizing the concepts to using manipulatives like algebra tiles to working out equations in more traditional ways to graphing. This way, students can enter the material from a variety of different doors. And that can translate to greater success.

Sure, there is a lot to be concerned about (most especially the gap that we expect to see in student performance), but from my perspective the Common Core Math Standards are a step in the right direction. It’s important to know that these do not form a federal curriculum; the states are still responsible for choosing curricula that meet these standards, and education resource companies are scrambling to meet these meets. (That means I’m very, very busy these days!) It’s also important to know that chucking old ideas and implementing new ones puts a huge burden on already over-taxed schools and school systems. Finally, there is no doubt that this initiative was driven by the textbook companies, which means we’re still beholden to politics and capitalism.

But in looking at the standards alone, I think Common Core is excellent. If we can implement the standards well and keep them in place for a while, I think our kids will benefit.

What do you think of Common Core? Share your thoughts in the comment section.

In recent months, there’s been a tremendous amount of buzz regarding an educational change called Common Core. And a ton of that buzz perpetuates down-right false information. There’s so much to say about this that I’ve developed a five-part series debunking these myths — or outright lies, if you’re being cynical. This is the fourth in that series (read Myth 1Myth 2 and Myth 3), which will continue on Wednesdays throughout August and into September. Of course, I’ll be writing from a math perspective. Photo Credit: Watt_Dabney via Compfight cc

### Myth #4: The Standards Require More Testing

Perhaps the most controversial aspect of the U.S. education system is standardized testing. And for good reason. There are a myriad of problems with these tests–from their links to private companies to their use as teacher evaluation tools.

While I’ve said from the start that it’s not fair to judge the Common Core Standards based on their implementation in individual states, it’s also not fair to pretend that the standards and testing don’t go hand in hand. States aren’t abandoning standardized testing any time soon, so don’t hold your breath.

But what we do know for certain that the adoption of Common Core Standards does not mean more testing–in the long run. In fact, there is no testing requirement inherent in the adoption of Common Core. None!

However, as states move from previous standards to Common Core, there will be some changes in testing. First, student may take two sets of standardized tests–at first. In these situations, one test is the one aligned with the state’s previous standards. And students may take practice tests, based on the Common Core Standards. Usually this translates to more testing during one school year, with only one test score used for student placement or teacher and school evaluations.

Because the Common Core Standards focus on critical thinking, Common Core-aligned tests will probably look a little different than the all-multiple choice tests that we’re all used to. Students are required to show their work and may even be asked to explain how they came to their answers. Here’s a two-part example, which corresponds with the third grade math standards: