STEM and Common Core (or why I placed my kids in a magnet program)

I will preface this with a giant disclaimer that you need to do the research on programs in your area. Sticking a label on a school does not automatically make it wonderful.

So if you’ve read a bunch of my posts, you will know that once upon a time, I was a high school science teacher. As such, I had a pretty solid command of math since to earn my bachelor’s degree in Chemistry I had to take quite a few math classes (think Calculus for multiple semesters). So when I had kids and I started looking at common core and where they would go to school, I took a good hard look at the programs around me.

Let me tell you a secret before I go any further. I was horrible at math when I was a kid. No, I’m not kidding. Horrible, like struggled and could not grasp some of the most basic skills that I needed. Eventually, I figured some things out and math got better. I mean, if you’re going to study science you need a grasp of math or you’re going to be in some trouble. Math and I are now friends but we weren’t always.

This brings me to common core. I have heard so, so many people complain about common core and the ridiculous posts that show up online about how the poster could do their kid’s homework so much faster and they’d get fired for attempting to do math the way it’s being taught. Here’s another secret. How you teach math is NOT common core. The common core is a set of standards that says what children should know or be able to do at a certain point in their education. Generally, this is probably not a bad thing.  There’s a set for english and math and you can read them here: Common Core Standards

The confusion lies in a fundamental shift that occurred in HOW math was taught which happened at about the same time. Let me explain a little more. See, if you are older than about 30, you probably learned math using standard algorithms. Those are the things like you carry the one or borrowing from the left. How most people go about solving simple math problems like 137+28 or 335-271. Those algorithms are fantastic and fast. The problem is that if you are one of those over 30 people, nobody ever explained WHY those algorithms worked. You simply memorized a set of rules and followed them. If you were like most students, you had no clue why you were doing this, you just did it. Sometimes your answer was right and sometimes it was wrong and life went on.

The method that we use now, this seemingly “stupid” thing that asks for students to show their work or write out long elaborate answers? Stuff that looks like this: Common Core math examples

“That’s dumb!”

“Why do all that when you can just…?”

“Why all the work?”

“What difference does it make?” (I see this a lot with multiplication problems)

Here’s why. When you teach kids this way they learn something called number sense. It’s a kind of intuitive understanding about how numbers work and how we can manipulate them. When it’s done correctly, kids can not only explain how to do the algorithms (they still get taught, FYI!) but they can explain why it works. Even better, they can look at an answer and determine whether it looks correct. The end result is students who are better at math and are capable of solving more complicated math problems, more easily. Because they understand how the numbers work. It’s not just a bunch of memorized steps with no meaning. Even more importantly, it gives kids a solid basis for higher level math like algebra and gives kids the ability to solve problems multiple ways. Isn’t that what we want??

Well, it’s for sure what I want with my kids. I want them to be able to think through a problem. Believe it or not, this way of teaching math allows that. My kids do math that at their age, would have had me lost and in tears. If I’m honest, the number sense that they have took me years to figure out on my own, something that many people never figure out, which is why you have so many people who see math as useless or they just give up.

My kids go to a public magnet school (it’s not a charter school!). They teach math this way. Even better they are a STEM school and use the engineering design process. If you’ve never seen this, look here: Engineering Design Process. They are very good at problem solving because they are taught to use this consistently. It’s pretty awesome. Please, before you judge something as stupid, take the time to understand why we are doing it. Teachers have several years of classes in curriculum and how to teach. Just because it doesn’t look like how you did it doesn’t make it wrong or bad. It just makes it different. Different can be good.


What is this thing, a weekend?

A month ago, my weekends consisted of me dragging myself out of bed at 5:30, being at work by 7am and being there until 7pm. Repeat on Sunday.

This past weekend I cleaned both of my kids’ bedrooms, spent copious amounts of time sleeping, cleaned up a bathroom and went to a birthday party. I think I could get used to this whole weekend thing. I don’t even mind having to work some of them, as long as I don’t have to work ALL of them.


Run… Keep running.

So, now that I have nothing to do with my days (since I don’t start working for another week) I have started running every day. I think I am mostly surprised at how little it has affected my pace. However, I’ve run 6 miles in one go and I am really happy with that. I’ve been debating a half marathon in November and where I am seems like a really good starting point for that. I’ll have to wait and see what happens once I start working. Of course, we only work three days a week so it’ll be interesting to see what it does to my running. Clearly, after working for twelve hours, I don’t anticipate wanting to run three or four miles but I may go before work. My shift is an 11am to 11 pm one so it’s not typical hours. I could conceivably run before I go to work.

First I have to get through my orientation from 8-5 for five or six days.


Endless Frustration (or my kid has ADHD)

So, I’ve been spending a lot of the free time I have reading about ADHD because I am of the opinion that data is always helpful. While I don’t have it, my youngest does and it provides both me and her an endless supply of frustration. I thought I’d share this video because Jessica’s explanations are always helpful to me and they may help you.

How to Explain ADHD

Please know that there are tons of resources out there if you need to know more. I may do a post of my current ones at some point. I’m sure there will be more on this at some point. It’s been a heck of a journey and it’s only just begun…


What a school year. It’s been a momentous one, to say the least but it’s finally over. I graduated and next week I’ll be taking my boards. That is definitely making me nervous but I know the task is attainable so I keep taking deep breaths and reminding myself that I had some incredible teachers. They believe I can do it so I can do it.

The impending licensure of also means that my days of working all weekend, every weekend are almost at an end. That fact alone makes me giddy. I want to do all the things! All weekend! Honestly though, I will spend plenty of time at home because that’s how life goes and there’s a lot that needs to be done in the house. Having the time will be good.

Next year, my oldest will start 5th grade. For us, that’s the last year of elementary school. It also means helping him figure out what he wants to do for middle school. He insists that he wants to stay in the STEM track but we’ll see after he has a chance to look at the middle school options next year.

My youngest will be starting third grade. We will see what testing brings us with her ADHD. They also want her to be tested by the school psychologist to make sure there’s nothing that’s being overlooked. I love data, so I’m fine with that. The more I know, the better a decision I can ultimately make. I think that she may need more challenging work – she jumped seven reading levels this year – but we will see what happens.

I will be looking at BSN programs. Hopefully by January, I can start working on that. I want to go back to teaching eventually and I need to have a master’s for that. Plans are flexible but it’s always good to have a plan. That’s my plan for now.

When I look back at everything that has happened since I quit my job teaching I can’t help but be grateful. The path has not been smooth and I’ve had moments where I wasn’t sure where to go next. I imagine that will happen again. One thing I’ve discovered is the truth in the lyrics that John Lennon sang – “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.”

I will leave you all with this. Today was high school graduation around here. I watched the clips from the school where I once taught and realized that if I walked into that building, very few adults and none of the students would know who I was. Time goes on and while I look back and wonder at times, I know for sure that the decisions I made were all the right ones. They seemed hard at the time and I thought they might have been wrong but I know now that they weren’t. I have grown and changed, as has that school. If I could go back in time, this is one decision that I wouldn’t change. Unless it was to say that I should have left sooner. I trust that I had things to learn while I was there and I hope that I learned what I needed to. And maybe it was just this – things will be ok.


I haven’t vanished

You probably thought that I had given up on the whole blogging thing. You would be wrong. I did have a stretch where I had a lot of work to do and it seemed as though a million little tasks popped up. Then I got a cold. However, things are slowing back down. School is getting ready to be done for the semester (yay!) and the end is in sight. Stuff happens.

I am going to give blogmas a try. Posting everyday in December may not happen – and the posts may not be all that long – but I’ll give it my best shot!

That’s all I have to say today. Happy blogging. 🙂