More of the same, Dept.

Another in a long line of articles with the theme “COVID-19  has pushed parents into learning the Common Core math methods along with their kids”. This particular article asks whether this is good or bad, but comes to the typical ed-journo conclusion that learning the Common Core way is a good thing. Here are some highlights from the article along with some questions I had for anyone who cares to comment.

“Over the past 40 years, education research has emphasized that teaching math should start with building students’ understanding of math concepts, instead of starting with formal algorithms, according to Michele Carney, an associate professor of mathematics education at Boise State University.”

Question 1: What research was this?

Question 2: How has this been working out for the past 40 years?

“Educators say the point of these early-learning strategies is to help kids establish the foundation they need to truly understand the math algorithm that most parents learned. The goal is that students are comprehending the numbers, instead of just memorizing values, formulas and procedures.”

Question 3: What does it mean to “truly understand the math algorithm”? If we are talking about the invert and multiply rule for fractional division, does “true understanding” mean knowing the derivation? Or does it mean being able to illustrate it with pictures. And if the latter, is it limited to whole or mixed numbers divided by a fraction, or does it include division by two common fractions?

Question 4: Is there any peer-reviewed solid evidence that learning the standard algorithm prior to “deep understanding” has been detrimental? Or is Constance Kamii’s so-called study on the “harmful effects” of standard algorithms on young children the one you’re hanging your hat on?

“Crook doesn’t fault parents for their confusion or frustration with elementary math. She wasn’t familiar with the Engage NY math methods until three years ago. Now, she appreciates the methods because kids learn multiple tools to find the right answer, and can build on the strategies that work best for them.”

Question 5: You do realize that many of us for whom the traditional methods was said to have failed us learned strategies such as making tens without being directly taught. And that after memorizing the times table, we used the facts over and over and learned all about shortcuts and tying it to many concepts like left to right addition or multiplication to get estimates?

You know that, right?


2 thoughts on “More of the same, Dept.

  1. This kind of nonsense gets me angry, because not only do teachers buy into it, but they convince a lot of parents to buy into it.
    Personal story: My grandfather (born like 1896 or something) had a 6th-grade education. He apprenticed to a plumber in New Orleans when he was 12. He eventually started his own plumbing business and was quite successful; successful enough that he sent all 8 of his children to Catholic school.
    I am pretty sure he just knew algorithms, like how to calculate percents, and how to add and subtract, and how to deal with fractions since most pipes are given in fractional diameters. I guess he knew what a diameter is too. My point is, this was before computers – the guy retired by like 1960. And he didn’t have “deeper understanding” he just knew how to “cipher” as they said in the olden days.

    So let’s look at what “deeper understanding” has done for today’s kids. On a quiz I gave to 9th-graders, I gave a price of a car with tax, gave the tax rate, and asked them what was the original price of the car. Apparently, a car can only cost about $200,000 even if you only paid $10,000 with tax. Or the car cost $500 and you paid $9500 in tax. This is deeper understanding.


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