I was having coffee with a friend the other day, and she asked if I tutor math. I responded that I tutor math and absolutely LOVE it. She then looked puzzled and said "Well, isn't math all weird now?"
I immediately understood what my friend meant. She was referring to the recent changes to math education due to the Common Core Standards and how a lot of parents and teachers are a bit concerned about the "new way" of doing math.
She's right, the way we teach math now is "weird" compared to the way that most of us learned mathematics in school. When we were in school, we were expected to memorize our facts. We were expected to learn the "rules" and certain ways of doing different problems. Math was treated like a machine. Put answers in, compute, solution comes out.
The problem with how we learned math is that the meaning and understanding of the concepts often got lost. I learned how to "carry the 1" when multiplying without really knowing why I was carrying or what that really meant. I also called it a "one" without really thinking about it actually being a ten, or hundred, or thousand that was being carried over to the appropriate place.
Instead of just teaching students the fastest or easiest way to solve a problem, teachers are now showing their students how to think mathematically.
Often, when I was in school I would look for a "rule" needed to solve a problem that was presented. But sometimes a "rule" isn't all that is needed to find an answer.
I used to think of math as computing. Now I think about math as problem solving and connecting concepts.
Let's face it, in life we are often presented with problems, mathematical or otherwise, that we don't know the "steps" or rules to solving. The beauty of math is that there are many different ways of solving the same problem. Math is fluid, and we want students to know that. The "new" math, shows students how math works visually instead of just telling them. It encourages them to work out the meaning of what they are learning by drawing, writing, and talking about the concept. Gone are the days of sitting in rows in math class silently working out the problems on page 103.
When students understand how and why certain math concepts work, they are more likely to carry that knowledge into other math concepts. Fluid understanding of numbers and problem solving increases math ability and achievement. For example, if a child understands fractions and how they work, that knowledge will bleed over when they are introduced to percentages or proportions. If a student uses an array to understand and represent multiplication (which may seem complicated for a simple concept), they will be able to use an array to understand much more complicated concepts in algebra.
The "new math" also aims to help students understand how numbers can be manipulated. Students who understand that when presented with 5 + 8 they can move the numbers around to make 10 + 3 (which is a much easier addition problem) will be able to do larger problems in their head.
LIke with anything, common core math isn't 100% perfect. Standards can always be improved, studied, and improved some more. The teachers who are teaching to these new standards learned math the "old" way like you and I did. They have had to study and practice doing and teaching math in this new way.
I, too, have had to study the common core math standards and their implementation to help my students succeed in the classroom. I have found, that with most concepts, the "new" way has helped me problem solve and compute more efficiently.
New is scary. And implementing new ways of doing math can be messy and complicated for everyone involved. But, with my whole heart, I believe that this change will benefit our students far beyond what we can imagine in the long run. It may take some work from parents, teachers, tutors and mentors to make sure we understand math deeply enough to help the children in our lives, but I know we can do it.
If you are looking to learn more about the new math, go check out one of my favorite free resources, Khan Academy. This site has great videos that often cover the "new" way of approaching concepts.
As always, I am here to help you and your child succeed. If you have any questions about common core math, or any other subject, please don't hesitate to reach out. You can reach me at 208-996-0497 or firstname.lastname@example.org .