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?”
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?
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