Full disclosure: I like the Mathematics Common Core State Standards. I also like the curriculum my school chose that aligns to the standards and uses multiple strategies to teach each math skill. As a teacher, I had my doubts at first. I myself didn’t understand some of the strategies and I had to work through them with my colleagues so I was prepared to teach them. But, once I learned these new strategies I realized how much sense they made. And, as I taught my students new math skills they understood concepts on a deeper level than I did at their age and they demonstrated their understanding throughout the year. The strategies being promoted in the Math CCSS are truly getting students to THINK about numbers and how they relate to each other. Using these new strategies, I see my students becoming more thoughtful mathematicians and problem solvers.

Now that school is back in session I have been seeing quite a few people using social media to express frustration with “Common Core Math.” This frustration also gets highlighted in mainstream media. (A friendly reminder that the Common Core State Standards are not a curriculum. They state what children should be able to do at each grade level, but it does not dictate a specific series of lessons for how to help students meet these goals.) After reading through comments online and talking to parents, I recognize that there is a genuine desire by parents to help their child at home. But, when the child comes home with homework, and they need help with what parents consider as “new math” I think conversations are going something like this:

Student: “I’m stuck, I don’t remember how to solve this problem.”

Parent: “What are you trying to do?”

Student: “Multiply.”

Parent: “What? That doesn’t look like multiplication to me. Why are you putting numbers in boxes? That doesn’t make sense. Here, let me show you what to do.”

Student (watching the parent solve with the algorithm): “But that’s not how Mrs. Mills taught us! I need to the area model! That’s not right!”

Parent: “This is how I learned. It works.”

From here, the student either listens to their parent and learns the algorithm faster than they are actually ready for, or the fight between parent and child continues, and the night is ruined. In either case “Common Core” almost always becomes the bad guy.

The above scenario is not fair to the student, the parent, the teacher, or to Common Core. I believe as teachers we need to do more to help parents feel empowered to help their child. Here are some ideas I’ve been contemplating…

- More than anything, I want parents to feel comfortable asking me questions. I would be more than happy to sit down with a parent, or even a group of parents and work with them. I need to re-evaluate my parent communication and make sure that I am making parents feel welcome in asking questions, not just about their child, but about what we are learning and how. I want parents to know that we can all be learners together, and it’s a good thing when that happens!
- We need to be very thoughtful about assigning homework. Personally, I am a homework minimalist. My main form of math homework last year was to use an online program. At my grade level we used a free version of a program that allowed us to set up our individualized classes. I could assign students specific assignments, and I could differentiate by assigning students lower or higher grade level work as needed. The best part was that there was a video that went along with each problem. When the student needed help, they could watch a video for support without having to ask a parent for help with a strategy they may be unfamiliar with. When I do send home math worksheets, it is at least a week behind of where we currently are in class. I don’t want them to practice a brand new concept on their own, which may lead to a similar discussion as above. Instead, I wait until students are comfortable with a strategy before sending them home to practice on their own. I believe if students and parents are having continual homework battles it will eventually do more harm than good.
- Give parents examples of the new strategies! Like students, parents need to see and hear how problems are solved with various strategies. There are many free online tools that demonstrate how to solve math problems using Math CCSS aligned strategies. If your school is using an online program, chances are there is a parent portal already built in. These online tools are extremely helpful, but what I actually want to do is start filming my own examples and post them for the families in my class. This way it will be exactly how I teach the strategies with the vocabulary we use in class. Actually, getting to the point where students are teaching the strategies and I’m sharing those videos would be even better!
- Another idea I keep thinking about but haven’t implemented yet is a “Parent Math Night.” Rather than waiting for parents to ask me questions, I would love to invite parents in and teach them the strategies their children are learning. I could invite just the parents from my class, or if there was more interest, make it a grade level event, perhaps even involve the whole school – but starting with my class or grade level to gauge interest might be best. To cut down on distractions, I think that I would make it “adults only” which would mean that we’d also have to have some sort of childcare available. As I think about something like this I still have many questions to sort out such as, is this a one time night where I teach the biggest strategies? Do I offer a night like this before each unit so parents are prepared for what is coming? Could this evolve into a “Family Math Night” and what would that look like?

I want education to be a positive experience for my students, and their families. With new standards and curriculum, I need to take the time to make sure my students and their families are comfortable with new strategies we are using. I think that this will take a different kind of outreach than I have done in the past. In finding new ways to help families, I think our bond will be stronger, and students will ultimately be the winners as they see everyone working together to help them succeed.

How are you helping families learn new math strategies so they can be a part of their child’s math education?

### Hallie Mills

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Kristin Leong says

I am with you on homework minimalism! Education expert Alfie Kohn has insightful ideas about this. I like to share his work with parents at the start of the school year to support my philosophy about reducing homework while being intentional about the homework I do assign. I appreciate your efforts to collaborate with parents in tackling student challenges.

Doug says

Hallie, well said! I think parents become scared and intimidated at the prospect of not being able to explain their child’s math. I taught 6th grade for years before the Common Core State Standards, and I had many parents in tears because they could no longer do their child’s math. It was too advanced for many of them. Now, some curriculum implementations of the CCSS are making parents feel this same way but much earlier on. They revert to the defensive “the old way was good enough for me” mentality without actually educating themselves. Our job is to help bridge that gap so that parents can better understand the improved standards, realize they don’t have to be so afraid, and learn along with their children. Well said Hallie.

Brooke Perry says

Your post last week on Facebook came at the perfect time! An old friend of mine was having trouble with how her 1st grader’s math homework was worded and she was reaching out for help on Facebook (and also expressing her frustrations). I read the homework and honestly, I didn’t know what to do immediately. Luckily I know exactly where to go to look up 1st grade Engage NY problem sheets and examples, but in that moment I could completely empathize with that mother who just wanted to help her son! I definitely think the key is open communication between parents and teacher and an emphasis on where parents can access help for their kids if needed at home. Thanks Hallie!

Lindsey Stevens says

Hallie, I am the parent in this situation. I think the online version would probably be my favorite. To be honest as a teacher, the wife of a teacher and a parent of two kids with lots of after school events it would probably just make me really sad to have to miss another after school event. I think having a clear way to communicate that questions aren’t a bother, maybe just strong email communication or some extra directions to parents sent home, on top of online might be really empowering and not overwhelming.

Hallie says

I completely understand how busy our lives are, especially as your own kids get older. It’s funny though, I still prefer to learn things in person, so having a variety of opportunities for parents would be ideal. You’re right, finding a way to make this not overwhelming would be key to everyone’s success.

Nathan Sun-Kleinberger says

Hallie it is refreshing to learn some explanation and unpacking of the CCSS Math vs the vitriol it is faced in the press and social media. I think having a Math CCSS night is a wonderful idea.

Teri Ross says

I do not agree with this common core, They are giving this new math to our kids, sending them home with something that we as parents do not understand we were taught to do math via algorithm then you send our children home to us and say help your kids learn their math but no you can’t do it the way you were taught you have to do it this new way that you have never heard of before. oh by the way GOOD LUCK

I have opted my son out of common core, I told the principal that algorithm was good enough for myself, my husband, our mothers,fathers and their mothers and fathers, that is how I am going to help my son with his math, he is really good at math doing it they way we as adults were taught but when he tries to do it the common core way he feels like he is stupid and I REFUSE to allow this to happen to him, I will fight every step of the way, I will tell every parent I meet that they can OPT OUT OF common core testing until it is removed from our schools. so if you are angry with the common core, go to this web page to print out the papers to opt out of the common core testing. http://cuacc.org/CommonCoreOptOutFormFrontBack.pdf opt out form

Parent Opt-Out Movement: Engine of Common Core Unraveling?

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/allison-hertog/optingout-is-silly-but-pa_b_7214478.html

https://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/wp/2015/05/03/why-the-movement-to-opt-out-of-common-core-tests-is-a-big-deal/

DO NOT ALLOW YOUR CHILD TO BE A GUINEA PIG OPT OUT OF COMMON CORE TESTING FOR YOUR CHILD….. IF THEY DO NOT HAVE 90% OF KIDS TAKING THE TEST THEY WILL HAVE TO REMOVE IT, PLEASE PASS THIS INFORMATION ON TO ALL YOUR FRIENDS TO TELL THEIR FRIENDS LETS WORK TOGETHER AND GET THIS CRAP OUT OF OUR SCHOOLS.

Hallie says

Teri, I understand your frustration and know that you are not alone. There are many reasons why students are being taught multiple strategies before they get to the algorithm. Here is a great video that helps explain why math is being taught differently than when we were students ourselves: https://youtu.be/uOMK6tmHUL8. I hope that as educators we are working with parents to help everyone understand the standards and the strategies being used in class that will help prepare students for the future.

Alisa Louie says

I love these easily-implementable ideas!

I’ve had success with a Common Core Night for families. It really helped get a universal understanding about the points you made, as well as resources, out there for parents!

Good luck on your family engagement journey!

Chris Gustafson says

Our middle school math department is hosting the first Family Math Night of the year. We usually do three and they are extremely popular. Tonight will focus on the sixth grade curriculum and how parents can understand the concepts and help their students. By spring the emphasis will be on what’s ahead in high school. It has really relieved a lot of anxiety for our parents as the math offerings have changed over the last several years.

Hallie says

I love to hear that you are having so much success with your Family Math Night! That’s fantastic and I like that it progresses throughout the year and gets them ready for high school too.

Kelly Pruitt says

Hallie, I’m right with you!!! I’ve noticed an upsurge in social media frenzy about ccss since school started. Thank you for these clear, practical ideas. I’m with you on the homework: minimal and only for skills kids have mastered, but just need some more practice. Thanks!

:)

Kelly