Perhaps you’ve seen this meme, or one like it, floating around the internet? It’s cute and funny, but it always makes me realize what big misconceptions exist about CCSS math instruction. Let me give you an example.

In my 4th grade math intervention group, we’ve spent a lot of time on mastering multi-digit multiplication this year. The CCSS has shifted mathematics to have:

##### 1- A focus on the Standards

##### 2 – Coherence across grade and within major topics of the grade

##### 3 – Rigor, including a) conceptual understanding, b) fluency, and c) application with equal intensity

Because I’m currently working with the group of 4th graders in my building who have shown the least success with multi-digit multiplication, my focus on this skill is more critical than ever. First of all, this skill is a big focus in the 4th grade math CCSS. In fact, students cannot have success with any of the sub-skills in the first domain (Operations and Algebraic Thinking) without this skill. It’s also threaded throughout their work in three other domains of the 4th grade standards (Numbers and Operations in Base Ten, Numbers and Operations – Fractions, and Measurement & Data). Commitment to mastery of this skill is important in the coherence of math instruction in 4th grade and future grades.

In order to offer the rigor needed to be fully sufficient with this, or any, skill, conceptual understanding is important. Mathematical conceptual understanding allows a stronger coherence between grade levels because when students know why math works, they can use their skills to build greater understanding. Additionally, the application required of the CCSS assumes students understand content well enough to manipulate it. This is where CCSS gets a bad rap on the internet.

With the group of 4th graders I’m working with, they really need to understand what multiplication means and what they’re doing when they use a traditional algorithm. One way to scaffold conceptual understanding of place value and multiplication is by using the area model for multiplication. The argument against this is, “But I learned how to multiply the old fashion way just fine!” The reality is – I did too. However, I’m not sure that I ever exactly knew the purpose of two lines of numbers, a carried three and a ‘place holder’.

The problem with teaching students to use the area model is that not all parents understand 1) what it is and 2) why we use it. The lack of understanding is frustrating to families and when the media and social media get ahold of that, memes like the one above spread like wildfire! One way to solve this problem is to send home content newsletters that explain what parents often refer to as “the new way to do math.” Usually I find creating my own parent information sheets (like this one – multiplication-parent-letter) gives the clearest information, but there are some free, pre-made materials out there that are great starting place too!

##### Check out:

##### Eureka Math’s Parent Tip Sheets

##### Everyday Mathematics Home Link Letters

#### What are some ways you help communicate with families about the reasons behind the shifts in the mathematics CCSS? How is teaching math conceptually received with your students and families?

Oh, and yes, if you are wondering,* I do teach the traditional multiplication algorithm*! After all, CCSS calls for procedural fluency. Plus I’ve never used the area model in the hardware store! Happy math teaching!

### Alisa Louie

I grew up here in Western Washington, wanting to be a teacher for as long as I can remember. As the oldest child in my family, I had plenty of opportunities to "practice" teaching my younger siblings. I enjoyed this. They may not have. :) When I'm not working, I enjoy outdoor activities with my husband and our two Australian Shepherds (whom are far too spoiled for their own good!). I also love spending time with my family, being an auntie (to the cutest kids ever to grace this planet!), hosting dinner parties for friends, crafting, taking photographs and shopping.

#### Latest posts by Alisa Louie (see all)

- Extreme Teaching - February 7, 2017
- Nobody Leads Alone … And Does It Well - January 29, 2017
- Every Student Succeeds Act - December 8, 2016

Patricia Gustin says

Students need to learn math at the conceptual level so that they can understand Algebra. As Ruth Parker notes in Making Number Talks Matter, “You can’t really do mental math without doing algebra. This is algebraic reasoning at its purest level. Multiply 24 by 31 (20 + 4) times (30 + 1) is analogous to (2x + 4) times (3x + 1). The area model is HUGE in Algebra 2. Yes, students need to know the algorithm but, more importantly, they need to understand how the algorithm works or students will continue to experience Algebra as that math that kept them from graduating from high school and Algebra 2 as the math that kept them out of college. Those are pretty high stakes. So stick to your guns and keep communicating with families.

Tom White says

We teach the area model as well, and it really helps my 4th graders understand the concept of multi-digit multiplication. In fact, some kids use it as their go-to method. why not?

ejohnstonteach says

I find myself defending common core math more than anything else as a teacher, and I don’t even teach math! Part of the problem is people making blanket statements about math and common core, but part of it is also curriculum and/or district implementation decisions being blamed on common core. I have had many parents talk about the method that their kid “has” to use or that the kid gets it wrong if they don’t use that method. I try to emphasize that common core is all about kids knowing and understanding multiple ways of finding a solution/solving the problem, but too often other schools have been part of making the bad rep.

Douglas Ferguson says

Interestingly enough, many of the approaches used in CCSS were how my dad taught me to do math in my head. I remember telling him that was not how my teacher taught me. Now the tables have turned! I definitely try to validate parent approaches and that there are many ways to solve math problems. I do stress that understanding the “why” is very important even if we go for “efficacy” in the end. Good thoughts Alisa!

Jill Escalera says

HA! I have definitely seen that meme and many others floating around online, most posted by parents who are feeling beyond frustrated by the difficulty of CCSS in homework! It is SO important that we are communicating with our parents about the rigor, expectations, and how we intend to meet targets because they are so critical for success! (Plus, they’re voters that impact educational legislation that could impact CCSS). For us in K, I communicate by posting SHORT (15 seconds max) videos to my Class Dojo feed showing parents snippets of lessons to help kids with at home. Whether it’s a song or chant, or simply videoing a child thinking through a number talk, I think parents find it helpful when they have a window into the actual classroom to see how we are teaching.

Aaron Brecek says

Now that everybody has a calculator in their pocket, Number Sense is much more important than computation. Like you mentioned, going through the operation without the “why” is hard. The “why” is so important. I like the newsletter and the methods highlighted because it really gets at that idea of number sense and the construction and destruction of numbers which is so important at the higher levels. Great post!