Common Core math

Just came across this nice column in the USAToday that explains my own parental experience with common core math.  My son isn’t learning all the same algorithms that I did– he’s actually learning to understand math:

As a professional mathematician, I’m as firmly against fuzzy math as they come. Common Core lays the foundation for students to have a better grasp of mathematical concepts than present standards and sets higher expectations for teaching and learning.

If that doesn’t sound fuzzy, there’s a simple reason: It isn’t.

To appreciate the changes under way, and perhaps to understand the anxiety provoked by Common Core, it’s helpful to look at math before the core.

Too often, it has been “plug and chug” math. In this approach, math is a bunch ofmemorized rules that don’t make much sense. Follow the rules, and you will get the right answer. Do something different, and you’re likely to get it wrong. “Analytical thinking” consists of figuring out which rule to apply. There is limited need for originality, explanations, or even genuine understanding. Learning enough rules will allow you to solve the problems you are given. Do this for enough years, and you may firmly believe that this is what mathematics actually is. If your kids are asked to do something different, you may be up in arms…

Common Core saves us from plug-and-chug. In fact, math is based on a collection of ideas that do make sense. The rules come from the ideas. Common Core asks students to learn math this way, with both computational fluency and understanding of the ideas.

Learning math this way leads to deeper understanding, obviates the need for endlessrule-memorizing and provides the intellectual flexibility to apply math in new situations, ones for which the rules need to be adapted. (It’s also a lot more fun.) Combiningcomputational fluency with understanding makes for problem solvers who can genuinely use their math. This is what businesses want and what is necessary to use math in a quantitative discipline…

The higher expectations laid out by the Core have been endorsed by every major mathematical society president, including the American Mathematical Society and the American Statistical Association. They called the Common Core State Standards an “auspicious advance in mathematics education.”

But, the Tea Party knows this is bad for your kids because Obama.  Or something like that.  Meanwhile, NC’s wise leaders will ensure that my kids now have math standards that fit the unique mathematical needs of North Carolina (whatever they are).  Hopefully, though, as in other states the wiser heads will largely endorse Common Core standards under a different name and that should be enough to placate the Tea Party rubes.

About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State

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