“Daddy, ask me a math problem.”
“OK. What’s 18 plus 6?”
“See, I just keep the 18 and then add 2 from the 6 to get 20. That leaves 4 from the six, and 20 plus 4 is 24.”
“Right. Good work.”
“Hey, SteelyKid. What’s 120 plus 180?”
“I just added the hundreds to make 200, and then 80 plus 20 is 100, and then I add them all together to get 300.”
“It takes a little while, though.”
“Yes, but you keep practicing, and getting faster.”
“Practice makes perfect!”
“That would take ten minutes, which is… six hundred seconds.”
“Very good. How did you know that?”
“Well, I know that five minutes is three hundred seconds, and ten minutes is five minutes plus five minutes, so three hundred plus three hundred is six hundred.”
“I’m very impressed, honey.”
There’s a lot of traffic on social media these days from disgruntled parents venting about their kids’ math homework and how they hate the way math is being taught these days. This is mostly blamed on the Common Core standards, which were put together in response to a genuine need– it turns out the math standards were written in part by a physics major a few classes ahead of me at Williams. (I didn’t interact with him at all, as far as I can recall, and my main association with him has nothing to do with physics or math, but that’s a different matter…) Parental anger about the new standards, mostly generated by the incredibly dumb way they were rolled out in a lot of places (and brilliantly spoofed on Twitter) is predictably causing politicians to flee them as fast as they can run while carrying fat sacks of cash.
Anyway, as a mild counterpoint to the massive parental ire, I thought I’d share the above conversations with SteelyKid, all from the last week or so. She’s very into math– to the point of demanding extra math problems with some regularity– and I have been extremely impressed with her math reasoning skills, as illustrated nicely in the above. She doesn’t just know a rote algorithm for adding numbers, but actually understands the meaning of the process, and cheerfully explains her reasoning. In fact, when I told her the “trick” for multiplying by ten of just adding a zero at the end, getting from 60 seconds in one minute to 600 in ten, she was unimpressed, preferring her method where she understood the steps.
Now, I don’t actually know that this has anything to do with Common Core math per se. I can tell you, though, that it’s not anything I taught her. This all comes from school, or possibly the after-school program at the JCC. We try to encourage her interest in math by making up problems on request, and pointing out cool math things when the opportunity arises, but haven’t been doing any formal instruction at home.
So, whatever it is that they’re doing in math classes these days, I’m all in favor of it. She’s in first grade, and confidently adds two- and sometimes three-digit numbers, and is basically doing proto-algebra (with the “five minutes is three hundred seconds…” business, and regular problems of the form “27 minus what is 22?”). I’ve seen entering college students struggle with this level of stuff, because they know algorithms but don’t understand the meaning.
So, anyway, thanks Common Core. More like this, please.