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.