Helping Parents Understand Common Core

It seems every day I run into someone who is asking me (or really questioning me) about the methods we are using in math related to common core. And we have been doing common core for at least 6 or 7 years now. That means somewhere along the line, parents were left out of the conversation. We need to be helping parents understand common core a lot better.

I’m sure we have all seen the comments on Facebook regarding the “old fashioned way” vs “the new way” of doing math such as the one below that I “borrowed” from my cousin’s post:

Parents are confused… and angry. They don’t understand why we are taking extra steps to get to the answer. It’s very different from how they learned. I often hear or see these comments:

• Why can’t you just learn the easier (or quicker), old fashioned way?
• Math has been taught the same way for hundreds of years why does it need to change now?
• I’m not sure not sure why “methods” are needed when one will do the trick.
• What was wrong with the traditional method?
• Save all these extra special ways for the kids who need additional help, and stop holding the rest of the kids back.

Helping Parents Understand Common Core

Explain the Benefits

A while back I wrote a blog post debating the traditional algorithm versus invented strategies. In that post, I talked a bit about the benefits of using the invented strategies in the classroom instead of just the traditional algorithm. You can be helping parents understand the common core math strategies by informing them of the benefits of invented strategies.

Use an Analogy

Another way that you can help parents understand common core is through this analogy that I always share:

There are many different ways to get to my mom’s house. There is a really straight and quick route. There is an easy route that goes through the woods. There is a scenic route that is fun because it has lots of hills, but it is a bit longer. I know there’s a fourth route because my husband always takes it, but I can’t ever remember it completely and if I try, sometimes I get lost. It doesn’t matter which route I take (except that fourth route!), because I will always arrive at my mom’s house. No route is wrong.

Teaching strategies in math is EXACTLY the same. There are many routes to the answer in math. There is a straight and quick route. Some would call this the traditional method. There is an easy route. There is a route that is more fun (for me this is the expanded form/split strategies). For each individual child, the route is different. What one child finds fun, another child may find it confusing and it is the route that gets them lost. What another child finds as the “lost” route, another finds it as their “easy” route.

My point is, it’s not the route taken, nor the length of time to arrive, but the arrival at the correct destination. And, this is not “new” math. Children have been doing this for years– most just in their head.

Teach Parents the Way

If you are really interested in helping parents understand common core than you will need to teach them. Often parents feel angry because the child comes home with their homework and needs help. When the parent doesn’t understand what the child is doing, the child questions their parents’ ability to teach them. Some parents will teach the child the “old fashioned way” and the child then becomes frustrated with the parent because it’s not the “right way.” It becomes a tension-filled house, and then you’re the target!

The best way to solve this problem is to send home a note ahead of the unit explaining to parents the strategies you are teaching. Send home information about the method you’re teaching, why you’re teaching it, and how to do it for parents. Some ways that you can help parents understand how to do the strategies is by providing them with links on YouTube or Khan Academy that provide tutorials on implementing the strategies. Even consider providing copies of your notes.

Finally, be aware of how you are grading things. Another common complaint that I have seen over and over among parents is that their child will have the right answer but it will still be marked wrong because they didn’t do it the “common core” way, or the “new math way.”

The point of the common core method was to provide students with a “toolkit” of strategies to help them be able to solve math problems. On most state assessments (since I haven’t personally seen all), they don’t assess students directly on the strategies. In fact, common core doesn’t even give us a set of specific strategies to teach, hence the reason they can’t assess us on the actual strategies. They may show a strategy to a student and ask the student what the answer is, but that doesn’t mean the student has to solve that problem using that strategy. The student can still solve the problem using a different route (ignoring the worked out strategy on the page) and check for the answer in the multiple choice/type it in area. Again, the correct destination is the most important thing!

As teachers, we need to accept a child’s individuality to use whichever method works best for that child and not spend precious teaching time being upset because they aren’t learning a method that they don’t need. (Unless your district mandates it– but that’s another soapbox!)  If a child has mastered the SKILL – move on. 🙂

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