Thursday, October 16, 2014

More about Common Core, Number Lines and the "Frustrated Parent" Bullshit

Well, the Independent Journal Review has resurrected the story of the Frustrated Parent and the Common Core math problem. The writer, Caroline Schaeffer, writes the story as if this were new news, ignoring the fact that the story is already seven months old.

The IJReview has an axe to grind with Common Core, as this Google search illustrates. The problem is that all of the examples they cite are NOT examples from Common Core. They are straw men. We've been through this argument before: Common Core is not a curriculum; it's only a set of standards. The IJReview, like so many other CC opponents, ignores this fact. They build up their own straw men, knock them down, and say "See? Common Core is bad."

If the writers (and the editors) at the IJReview would read the real Common Core stuff at the official CC website, they would understand. A little research with an open mind can dispel an awful lot of ignorance.

But enough of that. Right now, I want you to remember way, way back to your grade-school and middle-school days. You were pretty good at learning all of that addition and subtraction stuff. Do you remember the kids in class who weren't all that good? They were labeled "dumb" or "slow." They ended up sitting in the back of the room. When they got frustrated and acted out, they were labeled "problems."

Education research has come a long way since you were that young. Since then, researchers have discovered that different children learn in different ways, which they call learning styles.  Students with a strong logical or mathematical learning style pick up the vertical method of subtraction (the way you do it) very easily. Students who are weak in this area, but who have a strong visual or spatial learning style, such as artists, or who have a strong physical or kinesthetic learning style, like dancers and athletes, may not understand the vertical method at first.

These visual and kinesthetic learners, however, will understand the number line immediately. They can use it as a crutch, or as training wheels on a bicycle, until they get the idea well enough to move on to the vertical method.

Or would you rather that teachers did NOT use all the tools at their disposal to help their students learn? Should we abandon this number-line method, as Frustrated Parent and all of  his fans loudly proclaim? Would you rather go back to the days when the dumb kids and the slow kids were relegated to the back of the room, where they could be safely ignored? God forbid we should allow our teachers to use the tools that might make them successful!

I recently had lunch with one of my former students, now 20 years old and a junior at college. Before she came into my 7th grade math class, she didn't like math. She was one of the "slow" and "dumb" ones. In my class, we used a number line and a marching Gummy Bear to learn about addition and subtraction — of both positive and negative numbers. She tells me that she remembers that lesson  (even though she no longer uses a number line). It was a turning point for her, and the confidence she gained from that one exercise changed her life. She ended up taking advanced math classes in high school, and she will be graduating from college with a minor in mathematics.

Her major is education. She wants to be a teacher.

One final note. If you think that it's simple and easy to teach the vertical method of subtraction to children, including the very difficult concept of borrowing, then you probably also think it's simple and easy to teach the vertical method of multiplication (also known as "long multiplication"), don't you? I know you do. I've seen some comments in the anti-Common-Core articles decrying the "box method" and other modern methods of teaching multiplication, and demanding that teachers teach it "the way we learned it."

So let's watch the Animaniacs demonstrate the simple and easy vertical method of multiplication — the way you learned it. Click here.

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