If you currently have a child enrolled in public elementary or middle school, chances are you have faced the same new challenge as many others—helping your child that is struggling with Common Core math homework. Proponents of Common Core assert that the standards are intended to help students gain a better understanding of math concepts. Unfortunately, students, parents, and even teachers are having a hard time understanding the methods themselves, let alone the reasoning behind them.
In an effort to encourage children to discover answers rather than memorizing them, many Common Core math lessons do away with traditional drills, repetition, and straightforward solutions. Instead, Common Core math problems generally use two or more steps when one will do, and require explanations for even the simplest of arithmetic so that students will learn “how numbers work”.
The most prominent example of Common Core math is the “Making Ten” method of adding or subtracting. Students are required to dissect numbers and create groups of ten in math “sentences” to achieve the result of simple addition or subtraction. Before, 8+5=13; now 8+5 means 8+2=10, 5-2=3, 10+3=13 (accompanied with a pictorial diagram). Students are no longer to count up or down, and memorizing solutions is discouraged in favor of some kind of heightened awareness of numbers.
Although Common Core purports to do away with rote memorization forms of learning simple arithmetic functions, it does no such thing. Instead of memorizing basic combinations of numbers, Common Core necessarily presupposes that students will memorize only certain combinations (such as those that “make ten”), and then combining those limited memorized solutions into a synthesized answer. Boiled down, this method of “discovery” is really only stacking memorized functions on top of one another in a convoluted process.
What makes some number combinations okay to memorize and some not? It’s not likely that anyone could answer that question satisfactorily.
Regardless, to assume that Common Core will discourage students from using other memorization short cuts is a sore inaccuracy. As children learn and progress, it is only natural that they begin to memorize certain solutions anyway. If a student solves 8+5 so many times, regardless of the process, it is inevitable that he or she will remember that 8+5=13. At that point, why should the student be forced to explain addition so simple that it is near impossible to articulate reasoning for it?
Memorizing basic arithmetic functions is the foundation of more advanced math. Hindering necessary early memorization could retard more advanced skill development. While it is important for students to understand how numbers work, it is more important that this understanding is but a facet of a student’s math education. When a student can solve arithmetic by plucking out memorized solutions from among their knowledge, they can use these building blocks to solve more complex problems. It is wholly unnecessary to work through an elaborate and tangled process of memorized terms to get but a piece of the solution that could have been found in a single step.
Do you think this new way helps or hinders students’ math abilities? Post a comment below to get a discussion going.