Saturday, September 13, 2014


Apparently there is some controversy around new teaching standards, methodology, etc., collectively known as the 'common core.' OK, so this blogger knows nothing about it, other than snippets of radio discussions on the topic that he has heard, such as that it emphasizes that kids should learn "... to think more critically, to understand math rather than merely memorize formulas..." and so on...

OK, sounds rather unexceptional... What does seem weird however, is some of the reporting on "new techniques" for teaching math:
  • On one broadcast I heard about 'skip counting.' Kids in a 3rd grade class were solving word problems, and it went like this:
Samantha: "There are five classes in third grade. Each class has nine students. How many students are in third grade?"
Narrator: "You can figure this out by multiplying nine times five which is easy if you know your times tables, but not all of these third graders know their times tables yet. But they have other ways to solve this problem. Samantha uses skip counting"
Samantha: "Nine, eighteen, twenty seven, thirty six, forty five."

The teacher then asks for another way, "... any other strategy?"  One kid suggests using a number line "You could count nine five times on a number line..."
Hmm, granted this may not be the best exposition of what skip counting is, however in this case (to this blogger) the 'skip counting' looks exactly like multiplying nine times five using a times table (!) just leaving out 'nine times one is..., nine times two is...', and so on...
  • On another NPR broadcast I heard about addition, apparently now being done from left to right when adding two numbers together... (note: other than stating that was how it was being done they didn't go into specifics).
OK... Once again this blogger doesn't really know much about the subject, so silliness like this might well have been part of the pre-common core teaching of math. It is clear however that people feel very strongly about this; that all concerned are clearly talking past one another; and that the situation hasn't been helped in the least by the politicians who have jumped into the discussion (usually dragging in other issues and biases).

Hopefully we can at least all agree, using either common core techniques or the old-fashioned method, that 2 3/4 plus 1 3/4 gives us 4 1/2. Apparently this is not clear to someone with a Ph.D in Mathematics Education. Ouch!

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