Why Everyone Needs to Stop Criticizing the Common Core

By now I’m sure you have seen videos plaguing the internet bashing the Common Core. As a math teacher, I would like to say that every last one of these videos insults me.

I would say 7 times out of 10 (10/10 if they’re parents of elementary school children) as soon as someone finds out that I am a math teacher, their first question is “so what do you think of the Common Core? Isn’t it stupid/unnecessary/tedious/revolting?”

To which I politely say, “you think the math that you were taught in school is simple ‘mental math’ but do you know WHY you do math the way you do?” And their response is either 1) “Yes,” and then they proceed to explain the process by which they do math (which, by the way, is not an actual answer) or 2) I don’t care WHY it works.

And that is exactly what is wrong with the current education system and why Common Core was created.

After just one week and a semester, I can already see why the Common Core is so necessary. I teach kids who lack the basic understanding of arithmetic. My students are mostly juniors and seniors who are learning advanced algebraic concepts. They can handle “solving for x.” They know that what you do to one side you must do to the other. But once they move their 7 over to the other side, they ask me for a calculator (ask is the wrong word. They flat out state they cannot do it without one) to figure out 7-13. Better yet, when they balance equations they never stop and ask why we must do it that way. WHY? Because these students lack the basic number sense that was missing from their early education, and by the time they get to me, the damage is almost too great. Students have become so used to not caring why math works the way it does, it’s so hard to turn them back. They are numb to the greatness of math.

Take a look at this video:

I found this in an article in which the last line states “Heaven help us.” They criticize this teacher because she took “56 Seconds to Explain 9+6=15.” 56 SECONDS! ARE YOU KIDDING ME?

But what absolutely no one seems to consider is how these students who learn addition this way will handle math later in life. Sure, you learned how to add in 10 seconds as a first grader and maybe now your first grader’s teacher is spending 10 days teaching your daughter how to add. But think about it this way: do you know why you used to add the way your teacher taught you? If your answer is “yes. You add the ones side and then the tens and you carry the one if necessary” then your answer is completely and entirely incorrect. THAT is not the basis of addition. That is not HOW addition works.

Let me explain: Common Core takes the concept of decomposition and allows students to analyze each individual number in a problem. Instead of looking at 9 at face value, it shows students to look at 9 pictorially (e.g. IIIII IIII) and also in terms of other numbers e.g. 9 is 1 away from 10, a number that is much more comfortable to work with. There’s a reason why we all learned the concept of estimation and rounding. We can then work with numbers that are easier for us to deal with. It’s essentially the same thing here but it takes into account accuracy and what good is math if it is inaccurate?

It’s the same concept when it comes to subtraction. Instead of looking at 34-16 and carrying the one, we want to decompose these numbers and analyze their position with regards to other numbers. 16 is 4 away from 20, which is 10 away from 30 which is 4 away from 34. We take 4, 10, and 4 and get 18, and guess what! 34-16=18!

Doesn’t that actually make more sense instead of trying to subtract 4-6 and borrowing a 1 from 3? Why do we do that anyway? Because some old dude a long time ago realized that works. Why do we teach it that way? Because someone somewhere realized it’s much faster to teach kids subtraction this way instead of showing them why it actually works.

The problem with this is students take number operations for granted and later in life never stop to question anything in mathematics anymore. This is why so many students hate math. It doesn’t MAKE sense to them because no one taught them TO make sense of anything. Or that there is any sense in math at all. We take an already abstract concept and keep it as abstract as possible. The “old fashioned way” of learning subtraction works, but who cares if it doesn’t even make sense?

In a couple of years (or maybe by the end of the year) your first grader will have a better grasp on subtraction than you do. THAT is what Common Core is doing for this generation. THAT is what Common Core was designed for. So that in 10 years when I teach the student that learned arithmetic from the Common Core, he will have a much better grasp of the advanced algebraic concepts I send his way. Because he will have the number sense to understand and even question why it works the way it does.

Thank heavens for the Common Core.peace, love, math, Miss K