I was sitting next to my 9-year-old daughter at the kitchen table, her math book open, a pencil in my right hand, my left scratching my head, trying to reach back, way back … all the way back to when I was 9 and learned how to do this. To my left was my four-year-old on the floor, throwing a fit for a string cheese. Upstairs was my 11-year-old, in his room, supposedly working on his homework, but probably procrastinating with a freaking Rubik’s cube. Just another evening around these parts, I suppose.
I studied English in college. All of college. All 10 years of it. I’m not a fan of math, or science, or anything that uses a whole lot of numbers. To be honest, math is kind of a sore spot. I’ve never really gotten it, and once I finished with my last math class in college, I was pretty happy to put it all behind me. And then BAM, I had kids, and they came home with math they couldn’t figure out, and naturally they came to me for answers — and suddenly I was a man with two masters degrees feeling like he should be playing Banjo in the movie Deliverance.
But then, to make it all worse, once I did finally get it — once I finally reached back into the core of my memory to pull out how to find a missing angle, or solve for X, or recall the order of operations — my daughter looked at me, my work, folded her arms and said, “That’s not how my teacher does it. If I do it that way, I won’t get any points.”
And each time she did that, I wanted to stick my head in a cold bucket of water.
I had to remind myself that none of this was my daughter’s fault. None of it. And it isn’t her teacher’s fault either. She’s a very nice lady who spends a considerable amount of time tirelessly educating my daughter, and many other children in our community. But this, right here, is the frustration with Common Core math.
Now I know that some of you might be thinking: “Math changed?” Well, kind of. In an effort to unify curriculums and better prepare children for college, schools began teaching “number sense” so that students can better understand the why of math problems instead of just the what and how. Under the Common Core approach, students are now taught multiple methods of solving problems (including the “old” carry-the-one way so many of us are familiar with), as well as other new multi-step approaches. It’s these new ways of doing math that seem strange and overly complicated, and are making parents want live at the bottom of the sea where I assume they don’t do math.
All of us, every freaking one of us, all the parents, learned math in elementary school. Many of us, probably the majority of us, complained about it. We learned it without calculators, and without Google, our parents leaning next to us, hands in their hair, trying to recall how it’s done, and once they did, they looked at us with triumph, and showed us how it was done. And how did we respond? Well, we didn’t fold our arms and say, “That’s now how my teacher does it? If I do it that way, I won’t get any points.” We were grateful to have such brilliant parents.
Then together, we finished the math lesson just in time to watch “ALF” on TV. Or walk down the street to get ice cream. We still had family time.
But now, there seems to be more of a catch. Not only do we have to try to remember how to do the math problems, we have to learn new ways of doing it, when we are already short on time, and long on distractions.
I’m a father of three. I work two jobs to make ends meet. My wife works full time too. And yet, each evening, I find myself searching through the math book, then hunting online, trying to learn some new ways to do math as if I’m back in the classroom.
I hate it. It’s maddening. It makes me tired. In so many ways, I want Common Core to go away because the homework battle each night is already bad enough without trying to learn new ways to do math.
I know that there are some parents and educators who see the value of Common Core. And to be honest, like most parents, I have accepted that it isn’t going away. We are stuck with it. I will also admit that my children have a much deeper understanding of math than I ever did at their age, so that’s awesome. There is value. I also understand my abilities, and I understand that I will not enjoy helping my children with math, regardless of Common Core.
But what bothers me the most is that if I’m going to be home, helping my children with math I thought I understood, but now apparently don’t because of this math change, there need to be better instructions for parents.
Simple as that.
Some lessons. Some tutorials. Something to make it easier on parents who are sitting next to their child each night, doing some of the serious heavy lifting.
In so many ways, this makes me feel like parents were left out of the equation, and it’s causing us all to skip out on valuable family time to relearn math online, so we can help our children until late in the evening. And that sucks.
I have found some great resources online. For example, zearn.org has some amazing tutorials for both parents and children. Also, most schools have access to their textbook materials on their school website so you can see exactly what the teacher is going off of. Khan Academy also has a wonderful free collection of videos that really help, and this video by VOX gives some additional context.
But I’ve had to search for those, and each time I did, it robbed us of family time.
That night I was helping Norah, my 9-year-old, we worked on math until almost 9 p.m. And once I’d gotten done relearning math, I will admit, she looked up at me with the same admiration I gave my parents when they helped me figure something out. But there was no reason we needed to be working on math all evening, and with some better help for parents, we might have been able to spend some time together as a family.
Because as frustrating as is is to learn new ways to do math, skipping out on family time is what angers me the most about Common Core.