Parents' frustration with distance learning -- "Common Core Math Methods"

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Interesting article. At first I thought the article was saying that for many parents, helping their kids with their math homework was the hardest because maybe they weren't all that great at math themselves.

But the real reason is that the "Common Core" math methods used in primary school these days involve new tricks ("grouping") to solve the problems. The methods that we are all used to have been replaced, so if you're going to help your kids with their work, you'll need to learn the new paradigm. Sigh.

https://www.cnn.com/2020/09/08/us/distance-learning-problems-parents-trnd/index.html

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(CNN)It's a truly humbling moment when your child asks you to help diagram a sentence or solve a grade-level math problem and you, a functioning adult with a diploma and years of experience, draw a complete blank.

Anyone with school-aged children can probably relate. And as many schools start the year with virtual learning, parents are trying to summon even more of that long-forgotten knowledge.
Helping your child navigate Zoom tech support can be daunting. So can balancing work and household duties with making sure your children are engaged and learning.

But the single biggest challenge, many parents say, are the math topics taught through Common Core -- a standardized teaching method rolled out in 2010.
 
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Our parents had the same frustration as did I with my sons.

The usual complaint when helping with a math problem was "No that's not how the teacher did it." and when asked how the teacher did it " I don't remember" and finally after several fruitless minutes "Oh now I get it."

During a school open house, the math dept head talked about their teaching methods. I asked about why kids can't bring their tests home. The response was that's against school policy, we only have a limited number of test problems and we don't want the students passing them on to other students.

However, you as a parent are welcome to stop by to view the test questions provided the teacher is available and you've made an appointment and your boss lets you leave work early so you can get there.

My old HS math teacher said those teachers were just too lazy to make up new problems for their tests and makeup tests.

The end result was the graded homework was too late to fix mistakes that then cascaded onto quizzes and tests. Your kid does poorly and you are helpless to help them short of getting them a regular tutor to fill in for the missing feedback.

We did in fact get a math tutor and he was great. He had several students come in one by one. While waiting for your tutoring time, he would give you a quiz to work on. Tutoring time was spent reviewing the quiz and any questions you had and things progressed from there. He was an amazing tutor.

However, nowadays we also have Khan Academy and that's a great step in the right direction.
 
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  • #3
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But the real reason is that the "Common Core" math methods used in primary school these days involve new tricks ("grouping") to solve the problems.
A disclaimer: 'm not very familiar with what is in Common Core math at the elementary level; my math teaching experience is lower-division college level, and mostly ended back in '97. Also, it's been many years since my son was in the primary grades.
However, I have seen some of the new techniques that are used for teaching division, and I'm very skeptical about it, as well as many of the other concepts involving arithmetic.
The usual complaint when helping with a math problem was "No that's not how the teacher did it."
An important thing about elementary grade school teachers is that they very seldom have strong math skills. The chart here, https://www.businessinsider.com/her...age-sat-score-for-every-college-major-2014-10, shows that Education majors are in the bottom quintile of SAT Math scores, with an average score more than 100 points below those of the highest scoring majors.

I'm also very skeptical about people who get PhD's in Education. When I was still teaching, one of my fellow instructors attended a program at the local university, and was granted a PhD in Education. One of the Chem instructors asked her, "Why didn't you opt for a real degree?"
My old HS math teacher said those teachers were just too lazy to make up new problems for their tests and makeup tests.
That would be my guess as well.
 
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Most of my math tutoring with my son was when he was in high-school where I encountered the attitude I mentioned above which extended into other subjects as well. My wife covered the grade school stuff since her schooling in Taiwan was superior to what we learned arithmetic-wise. Basically, her mental math is beyond my ability to compete with (hehe but I know Calculus).

One interesting thing to note is that US teachers stop at 10x10 multiplication tables whereas in other countries they extend it to 12x12 or even further to 20x20. Granted its repetitious to learn 20x20 tables but it does increase your ability as a kid to memorize things setting a higher bar which they can meet and it gives you a lifelong boost in that it encompasses so much of what we do with respect to mental math.

In counterpoint to 10x10 and beyond:

https://blog.wolfram.com/2013/06/26/is-there-any-point-to-the-12-times-table/

Similarly the Japanese limit times tables to 9x9 but with extensive memory drills, mnemonic schemes and speed competitions:

https://www.japantimes.co.jp/life/2002/10/11/lifestyle/chant-away-to-calculation-competence/

Of course, one can't neglect some common basic knowledge:

A Sufi Story from the Middle East

A scholar asked a boatman to row him across the river. The journey was long and slow. The scholar was bored. "Boatman," he called out, "Let's have a conversation." Suggesting a topic of special interest to himself, he asked, "Have you ever studied phonetics or grammar?"

"No," said the boatman, "I've no use for those tools."

"Too bad," said the scholar, "You've wasted half your life. It's useful to know the rules."

Later, as the rickety boat crashed into a rock in the middle of the river, the boatman turned to the scholar and said, "Pardon my humble mind that to you must seem dim, but, wise man, tell me, have you ever learned to swim?"

"No," said the scholar, "I've never learned. I've immersed myself in thinking."

"In that case," said the boatman, "you've wasted all your life. Alas, the boat is sinking."

http://www.storyarts.org/library/nutshell/stories/boatman.html
 
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  • #5
vela
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Interesting article. At first I thought the article was saying that for many parents, helping their kids with their math homework was the hardest because maybe they weren't all that great at math themselves.

But the real reason is that the "Common Core" math methods used in primary school these days involve new tricks ("grouping") to solve the problems. The methods that we are all used to have been replaced, so if you're going to help your kids with their work, you'll need to learn the new paradigm. Sigh.
The choice of grouping as an example is a particularly poor one. If a parent can't understand grouping, I would say it's because they aren't great at math. Plus I remember a form of grouping taught when I was in elementary school, but to be fair, not a lot of time was spent on it, if I recall correctly.

What's sad is the attitude of one mother quoted in the article, who said "I refused to do the math portion of anything," leaving that responsibility to her husband. It tends to foster the idea that it's okay to give up on math because "it's too hard!" and the stereotype that girls aren't good at math.

The sense I got from the article is that these frustrated parents view learning as an unpleasant chore, and that's what they're teaching their kids. I get that it can be annoying to parents that they can't answer questions off the top of their head, but the flip side is that it's the good opportunity for parents to show their children how to deal with subjects they don't already know.
 
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One interesting thing to note is that US teachers stop at 10x10 multiplication tables whereas in other countries they extend it to 12x12
Is that true? I was taught to memorize up to 12x12 (back in the '70s), and I seem to recall a year or two ago my niece (from Wisconsin) telling me they had to learn up to 12x12.
 
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I was taught to memorize up to 12x12 (back in the '70s),
Same for me, but it was back in the mid-50s.
 
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Quick story about multiplication tables and an "aha" moment that I had as a kid...

I was having trouble memorizing the multiplication table (10x10 for me), I think in 1st or 2nd grade. There were just some combinations of numbers that I got confused on and sometimes I was off by a digit or two. I was watching TV at home one night when the "Beverley Hillbillies" TV show came on, and I started singing the theme song at the start of the show. When I was done, my dad said, "So you can memorize that song, but you can't memorize the multiplication table?"

Whelp, that gave me pause, and I realized that I just wasn't putting enough effort into memorizing the multiplication table. Things went much more smoothly soon after that. :smile:
 
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Is that true? I was taught to memorize up to 12x12 (back in the '70s), and I seem to recall a year or two ago my niece (from Wisconsin) telling me they had to learn up to 12x12.
Yes, they still do this in some places to 12x12. My nine year old little girl demands that I quiz her on the table! She’s obsessed. She even quizzes me in the car while I’m driving. Bath time is her math, physics, and philosophy (she’s curious about death right now) free-for-all! I love it.
 
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12x12, late '60s... maybe the excuse for stopping at 10x10 is that "dozen" is now considered archaic ?

Meh, make them go to 16x16 to be modern.
 
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  • #11
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Some of my best friends were intimately involved with creating the common core math stuff, and they meant well, but I am motivated to recall my comment about the consequences of changing calculus books when we taught math in the department: namely, no matter how much better a given new book might be in theory, whenever we changed books, we had one year of confusion while the teachers learned the new book themselves. Hence since the teacher is more important than the book, it is always better to stay with the book they know. I.e. no matter how bad the current book is, the teachers have learned how to compensate for it, and when you change it, you throw the whole system out of balance for one or more years.

Of course this is not true for the tiny subset of good students who actually read the book and teach themselves from it. These may be the ones the professors who write the core identify with. But I am conscious that my friends involved in the common core have no chance to defend their work here. By the way, one of those friends has a math PhD in arithmetic geometry from Penn and held the prestigious Gibbs instructorship in the math dept. at Yale. My impression is that when she had children and observed what was being taught them in schools, her commitment switched to improving math instruction, and she is author of a nationally recognized book for teaching elementary school math. Although it is true that education majors score notoriously low in math, the math ed department at UGA requires their students to take significant amounts of substantive math courses from the math department, including say foundations of geometry, graduate algebra (Galois theory etc.)

My friend's book is excellent in my opinion, and could help frustrated parents. Almost the only negative amazon reviews are referring to the weight of the book for carrying around or the physical condition of the used copy received. It is quite expensive though.
https://www.amazon.com/dp/0321825721/?tag=pfamazon01-20

@berkeman: you made me laugh and recall my kid's experience in second grade. We splurged for the expensive private school and on the days before class started, I emphasized that he should know his multiplication tables at least up to 12 x 12, so as not to be embarrassed. When he came home I asked him if he had indeed been ready for this high end school, and he burst out laughing. When he calmed down, he explained that at this progressive school, they did the times tables one month at a time, and the first month was the zeroes times table. I had a little conversation with myself over the loans I had taken out to pay the tuition at this "school", but at least in terms of English training it did prove valuable.
 
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When he calmed down, he explained that at this progressive school, they did the times tables one month at a time, and the first month was the zeroes times table.
Then in a 9-month school year, they must have gotten only to the "8 times" row. Unbelievable.
 
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When I had to teach the grouping stuff, I tried to make up real world examples, like using old fashioned English money: i.e. given 5,000 pence say, how many pounds, shillings, and pence would that make, if you changed it all into the largest denominators possible? Or given 650 empty bottles, how many cardboard cartons holding 24 bottles, and cardboard six packs, and cases holding 4 cartons, do they fill ?

Of course the basic purpose of memorizing multiplication tables is to be able to actually multiply multiple digit numerals using positional notation, and since we use the decimal system, you only need to know them up to 10 x 10. For doing problems in your head of course, and for fun, it would be nice to know them up to 16 x 16, or 20 x 20. In our strange world you mark yourself off as an egg head if you happen to know what 17x17 is. I used to try to impress my class by flaunting such esoteric knowledge, or by using tricks like 19x19 = 20x20 - 40 + 1.
 
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@Mark44: yes when our son came home he had this guilty look, like he had a license to steal, since there were no challenging expectations on him at that school where he got to essentially play all day long.
 
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Of course the basic purpose of memorizing multiplication tables is to be able to actually multiply multiple digit numerals using positional notation, and since we use the decimal system, you only need to know them up to 10 x 10.
Well, up to 9x9 really. That's what I had in grade school, mid 1960s.

For someone who ended up doing more math than average, I had a difficult time memorizing the "times tables." I still remember in class one day, the teacher calling on us one by one, she asked me "seven times eight?" and all I could say was "uh... uh... uh.." then the kid behind me blurted out "fifty six" and I remembered that one from then on. Weird.
 
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Technically I agree, but it is hard to imagine someone who needs to use that method to multiply 10 by 10 (i.e. one digit at a time). I.e. I would have said up to 9x9, but I couldn't imagine someone not knowing what it means to move a decimal point.

By the way as I read your post I could not remember what 7x8 is either. That was always a hard one for me. I prefer 8x8 or 9x9, or 7x7, maybe I like the squared ones.
 
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if it is asked as 8 times 7, I see it as "twice 28" which I know is forty plus sixteen.
 
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An important thing about elementary grade school teachers is that they very seldom have strong math skills.
Perhaps, but my wife is Montessori primary teacher and she might say, most people don't understand child development. Just because you're an expert in mathematics doesn't mean you know how to teach it to young children. She is more in favor of common core as it's closer to how they teach in Montessori which is curriculum designed with the science of whole child development in mind.
 
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Perhaps, but my wife is Montessori primary teacher and she might say, most people don't understand child development. Just because you're an expert in mathematics doesn't mean you know how to teach it to young children. She is more in favor of common core as it's closer to how they teach in Montessori which is curriculum designed with the science of child development in mind.
That's very interesting, thanks Greg. Do you know of any papers or other references for more reading? I wonder how my brain changed from those early days to now, in terms of how I process math problems.
 
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An important thing about elementary grade school teachers people is that they very seldom have strong math skills.
Fixed that for you.

Common core is the way most everyone I know in science and engineering thinks about math, it's just that they're trying to teach that mode of thinking to kids now (as opposed to the algorithmic arithmetic that we all grew up with). I personally think it's great: kids actually get to engage with math concepts instead of being drilled on how to multiply fractions quickly or whatever.

The practicality of knowing how to do tedious arithmetic by hand is largely in the past--calculators exist for a reason (After all, how many of us actually remember how to compute a square root by hand, if we ever knew in the first place?). Sure, an intuition for when the result of a computation doesn't "smell" right is important, but I'm not convinced that knowing how to do algorithmic arithmetic quickly is the exclusive path to developing that intuition.

I think it's probably more a function of familiarity and comfort with numbers, which is where the parents and teachers come in. Since a large fraction of adults in general (including parents and teachers) are functionally innumerate and even math-phobic--I'm mainly talking about the US here--it's not particularly surprising that they would wrestle with changes to a basic curriculum that they perhaps never truly understood to begin with.
 
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  • #21
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Just because you're an expert in mathematics doesn't mean you know how to teach it to young children.
And conversely, just because someone is an expert in child development, he or she doesn't necessarily know how to teach math skills to young children. This thread is about distance learning and Common Core math teaching, so my point is that elementary and middle-school teachers should also have something beyond one year of high school math. I'm not sure that getting a certificate to teach at the elementary level requires even one college-level math class, or even any science class, for that matter.
 
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I'm not sure that getting a certificate to teach at the elementary level requires even one college-level math class, or even any science class, for that matter.
My wife teaches 3,4,5 year olds. She needs to know calculus why? My wife has noted a common issue is that teachers teach how they were taught. This leads to generational stagnation and stubborness. Why we are teaching the same we did 50 years ago blows my mind.
 
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My wife teaches 3,4,5 year olds. She needs to know calculus why?
My remarks were about the primary and middle-school grades. Obviously, someone teaching kindergarten and below doesn't need calculus, but those teaching math at, say, 4th grade and up should have more than one year of high-school math, IMO.
My wife has noted a common issue is that teachers teach how they were taught. This leads to generational stagnation and stubborness. Why we are teaching the same we did 50 years ago blows my mind.
Well, 50 years ago puts us at 1970, and which was quite a while after I had graduated from high school. What exactly was so bad about the educational methods back then?

BTW, the educational methods at that time had produced scientists and engineers who were about to put men on the moon in 1969.
 
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Greg's comment about understanding how a child's mind develops reminded me of reading works by Piaget where he pointed out that his experiments showed that at a certain age children do not realize that the amount of milk does not change when you pour it from one glass to another different shaped glass. I would probably not have realized that when trying to teach volumes. So as always, teaching requires more of us, both knowledge of the subject and knowledge of instruction.
 
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  • #25
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So as always, teaching requires more of us, both knowledge of the subject and knowledge of instruction.
I don't disagree with that at all. It just seems to me that too many teachers at the K-12 level have very lopsided levels of subject knowledge vs. instruction knowledge.
 
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