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!
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!
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.