Podcast Episode 35:
The Common Core Controversy: "Old Math" v. "New Math"

I have a bit of a pet peeve (or several, if we’re being honest)...


I get rather tired of posts on Facebook saying that they will absolutely not use “Common Core” and they want a recommendation on a curriculum that doesn’t use Common Core.


As you may recall from my previous episode on Common Core, there’s not much to really be against, if you really dig into it. Check out that episode (episode 5) to learn more about what Common Core is and what it isn’t and why I think it’s a good thing, overall. (Though not perfect, of course!)


This week, I’m talking about Common Core again, this time with some examples of what actual Common Core curriculum looks like and why you might not be able to tell it apart from other math curriculums.


We’re talking about “Old Math” v. “New Math” and what the problem around math instruction REALLY is!

Audio version: www.DecodingLearningDifferences.com


This is Decoding Learning Differences with Kimberlynn Lavelle. This episode is the common core controversy, old fashioned math versus common core or new math. In episode five, we talked to the episode is called common core what too many people misunderstand. And we talked about what common core is and what common core is not. And we really looked at, we focused on the standards,

right? The common core standards, because that's really all the common core is there is no common core math. There are common core math standards. So in this episode, we're going to be getting into a little bit more of what is the common core math. When people say common core math, or sometimes they just say common core, but they mean math or they'll call it new math and some of that.

So we're gonna kind of go more into, what does it actually look like versus what is the actual standards which we had talked about in episode five? So if you have not listened to episode five, please go back, listen to episode five, it was called common core with too many people misunderstand. So let's start by talking about what do people mean when they say old-fashioned or traditional math is basically,

they mean the way they learned it, right? Oh, it's the traditional way. The old fashioned way. I just, I like, I, you know, and sometimes they're being a little self-deprecating about it and they'll say I just like the old fashioned way, and I don't understand this new way. I just need to teach my kid the old fashioned way.

And it's just, and that's honest, right? They don't understand it. They don't know, they didn't learn anything else. This is what they're comfortable teaching. And it's not that there's really a problem with teaching it. Obviously, plenty of folks have learned that way and have been successful. But when you're teaching something a certain way, because you don't understand the other way,

and they're both teaching the same thing, maybe there's a reason that you're not understanding the other way. Maybe you don't understand math as deeply as you could, if you took some time to learn the other way. And I also have a hard time with what, what does that even mean? What does the other way even look like? So going back old fashioned math,

traditional math was once new math, right? It was once brand new someone invented it at some point and the algorithms that we use and that we often think of it as like just traditional math. Just, just give it to me this way. Those algorithms were developed by mathematicians who are looking for and what they were doing. So they developed these algorithms to come up with something a little bit faster.

Sure. And we learned those algorithms. But the problem is if we jump to teaching the algorithm, without teaching that understanding that baseline foundational understanding kids really struggle sometimes to recognize when they're making a mistake or when should they do this versus this, they get kind of jumbled up. And that was something I noticed a lot in my early years of teaching before common core standards came into place.

I still see it at times, but usually in kids who are struggling and who are trying to just jump to just give me the fast way, right? And we try to give our kids shortcuts to make things easier, We often make things harder for them. That one's going to be hard for a lot of people to really grasp. When we try to give our child shortcuts to make things easier for them,

we are often making it more difficult for them in the long run. Right? If your child doesn't understand how to add two numbers and you try to give them shortcuts so that they can do it faster and move on to the next milestone, you're leaving gaps in their understanding. They are going to struggle. So I strongly encourage you to back it up a little allow for that foundational understanding and the entire time I've been a teacher.

And before right. Everything I've learned also all good teaching forever has encouraged a foundational understanding of what kids are learning and not just jumping to getting like performance basically. Right? You have to actually learn how to do the thing. You have to understand how numbers work in order to really be successful in math, longterm, we can get kids to perform tricks,

basically where they're, they can do something that they don't really understand. They can subtract a hundred digit number minus a hundred digit number because we can teach them how to do it, but they might not really understand why the process, the pattern that they're doing work. So then if old-fashioned math is really just shortcuts and maybe not, how was designed, what is common core or new math?

Like I said, common core is really just a set of standards. It's not in math style. It's not a set of math strategies. It is really based on standards that are just about getting kids to understand things really and make sure that they have a variety of strategies that they can pull at any point to figure out how to solve something. Whichever strategy will work best in that moment for that person use a strategy.

So you do see all these different strategies that we didn't learn. And you're like, wait, what's going on. But they're really good strategies. And they actually existed before common core came into existence, right? They didn't like just appear. They were already there. They just got a lot more weight. When common core standards came around and people started paying more attention to them and integrating more of them because they do a better job of teaching that foundational understanding.

So what is 46 plus 38. Now I don't really care if you know how to solve this, or if you get the right answer, I should say, I don't care if you get the right answer. What I care about is how do you solve it? So think for a minute, how exactly do you go about solving this problem? Everybody,

there are so many different strategies. I saw a different post on Facebook a week or two ago, different problem, but different people were doing different strategies for a very similar type of problem. It was a two digit plus two digit number and everybody had their own strategy of how they do it. And guess what? Most people didn't stack it and add six plus eight carries of one,

four plus three plus one or one plus four plus three. Right? It even that there's different strategies. And when you do six, even if you did it that way, when you do six plus eight, do you do eight? And then you add six more or do you count one, two, three, four, five, six, seven,

eight, nine, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14. How do you do that? Or do you just know six plus eight is 14 because you've memorized that as a matter of fact, even in that, right? Even in the first step of the standard algorithm, I've given you three different ways to solve just that first step. And then we have the one in the four and the three,

if I stacked 46 on top of 38, it would be in that order. But maybe I stopped with the other way. Maybe I'm going to start with four because it's the biggest number. And then add on three. And I know four plus three is seven. I know one more. So common core is really about asking kids to analyze how they do things and learn from others,

how they do things. One of the big ones that I do with my students is called number talks. And it's giving a problem like this and asking kids to share how they solved it. So you might not have stopped it at all, right. You might've said, well, 38 is almost 42 more would make it 40, 40 plus 40 is 80.

If I take the two from the six, that four more. So it would be 84, 40 and 40. So I broken the six apart into a foreign and to put the two with the 38 to make 40, 40, and 40 is 80 plus four more would be 84. And maybe that doesn't make any sense to you. Maybe you did it another way,

right? Maybe you said, well, 46, four more would get me to 50. And now you're going to take four from the 38 to get you to 50. Or some people fix it all at the end. Like they kind of do what they want to do and then adjust at the end. Right? So like the, the, the 46 plus the 38.

Okay. 46 plus 40 is 80, 40 plus 40 is 80. So 86, but I added two in, so I got to take two away. So now I'm going to do 86 minus two at the end to get 84, so many different ways to solve this one problem. So many different ways. And the point is allowing kids to understand that.

Now, if you think about what we're doing in our head to do it quickly, by taking some from here and putting it there, it looks complicated on paper. And that's what people get irritated by. It looks so complicated on paper that it's really confusing for the parents trying to teach the kid. And they're like, you just do this. But a lot of what we're doing in our head is what we're trying to teach the kid to do on paper,

to kind of show them what you can break numbers apart and put pieces here and put pieces there and then put them together and you can manipulate things in different ways. So it's just a strategy. Okay? You don't have to agree with me at all really fast. I was going to show just a couple of examples of common core math. So if you're watching the video,

you'll see them. If not, I'm going to try to, if you're just listening on the podcast, audio only, you can go watch the video. If you want to see, I'll also link to where I got these examples. These examples are from engage New York, it's Eureka mouth. It is the entire thing is on the engage New York website, 100% free.

It's extremely comprehensive to the point that you might not like how comprehensive it is. It's really not designed as a homeschool curriculum or any kind of supplementary curriculum. It is a complete educational curriculum designed more for whole group instruction in a classroom. But so you can see there's actually this whole script. If you kind of see this, if you're looking, like I said,

at the video, if not, I'm just describing it. There's a script here of exactly what the teacher would say and expect students to say back in the conversation that would happen to get through this instruction. Examples that would be happening. It walks you through the whole thing on how to teach it. And then there's these worksheets. So this one was a grade four Work Lesson that I picked kind of randomly.

Cause I just knew like they're all very similar to what you would expect. So this one is just a grade four curriculum. It's just asking, what's the perimeter. What's the area. Yeah. Now personally, I don't like teaching perimeter and area at the same time because kids can get the two ideas confused on which is which, but we'll leave that alone.

So what they're showing here is there's a, and there's B and a has all these little boxes in the middle of it, B it doesn't show where the boxes are. So in a way you could actually count how many squares there are to figure out area B takes away that ability. So it's kind of forcing you to then figure out a strategy for that.

Right. And then a number two, there's no boxes at all. So you've got to kind of jump through, okay, so this one, I could do this, but how else could I solve it? Can, now that I have that strategy, I can do it without any boxes at all. Right? We're kind of step getting baby steps to get to where we want to go of just using the standard algorithm in the end.

Most common core does leave there. It just baby steps than there to make sure that they understand what they're doing. And it also gives other strategies to use it. So then it gets into more of an algebra where they gives the area and we have to figure out what one of the sides is. So again, this is just a worksheet for grade,

for a lesson, I should say, because it's more than just the worksheet. This is a second grade worksheet, and this might surprise you. This one is, is asking kids to, so it actually starts with sums to 10 with teen numbers and it walks them through three plus one is 13. Plus one is five plus one is 15 plus one is,

and they have to start making these connections of, oh, there's, there's like a pattern here, right? It's forcing them to recognize a pattern. They start getting a strategy mentally in their head, without it being all confusing on all of the paper, which is mostly what people get upset about. So there's a little bit that, and then it's,

this one is looking at figuring out like counting on and rounding and, and, and place value. So when, when you're counting a number, when does it go up to the next one? It's very like, hands-on tactile. What do I have to do? When does the value change and all of that. So it's, it's really building that base understanding.

So again, just some examples of a couple of grades. This is the, like I said, your Eureka math through engaged New York, 100% free. If you're interested in it, I'll put a link below. Like I said, it is extremely comprehensive and could be a little overwhelming for some people. 

So my parting thought for you today is what is your goal in teaching your child math?

What do you want your child to get out of it? So think about that for a little bit. What is your goal? If you want your kid to just do the math, then teaching the shortcuts can be faster. If you want your child to have a deep understanding of math and a solid foundation, I would encourage you to be open, to trying different mathematical strategies and try to understand what's happening in some of the common core,

new math worksheets, because it's really trying to build that foundational understanding and the biggest, most important piece of it is really the conversations that happen around it. So I'd love to hear what your thoughts are as always, whether you agree or disagree, email me Kimberlynn@DecodingLearningDifferences.com. And I can't wait to hear from you.



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