We all have strengths and weaknesses. Math tends to find itself on the weakness list quite often. And, because it is a requirement in school and a weakness that is literally tested, it finds itself on the hate list quite often too.
Though I do believe every individual has a unique brain with strengths and weaknesses, I also believe nothing is impossible for that fatty, squishy controller of our lives. As a math teacher in the high school level, I had empathy for the students who felt math was being forced on them. It was. I tutored many students and friends in college who had degrees in things like landscape architecture or had plans to take over their family farm, and they were REQUIRED to take calculus… hmmm. I also had a special place in my heart for many of the art students, and they unfortunately tended to hate my subject. I loved them! They hated my role in their life.
Stop Saying the CORE Curriculum and Standards are Stupid
There are many math topics, even in the Algebra level class that are cringey for me to “force” onto students. What we need to remember are the standards used to separate the topics of math and sort them into a year-long “class” are human made. The standards we have are expected to be taught and learned based on a belief they are common math situations in life, or they are important CONCEPTS to be taught.
Here is one of the expressions every math teacher has heard – When will I ever use this? (Even with my empathy, please insert my eyes rolling here.)
The standards in place are not the truth for what everyone will encounter in life. Still, they are great suggestions and CONCEPTS for what people may come across. The education system boards and leaders, or whatever they are called, recognized the need to have some standards in place. Thus, the Common CORE Curriculum was created and launched in 2009. Since then 41 states have adopted it and attempted to implement.
Now, I am NOT going to go into the details of the CORE Curriculum. I have some links that I will share about facts and what the CORE consists of:
Read the Standards. This site is put out by the Common CORE Initiatives organization. There are links here to the standards for reading and literacy and math.
Myths Vs. Facts. Addresses common misconceptions with “facts”.
It is important to note the disclaimer of the organization:
“While the standards set grade-specific goals, they do not define how the standards should be taught or which materials should be used to support students.”
To say the CORE Curriculum is STUPID or that we should not have it is like saying baby/children benchmarks and milestones are stupid and we shouldn’t have them. I happen to use my Baby’s First Year Milestones as a guide all the time. There is a lot of development and things to watch for as babies grow. The CORE Curriculum is the same- a guide, or an outline, for a lot of developmental math topics, ideas, and concepts.
There are many actual curriculum designing programs out there. The two I am most familiar with when I taught was “Backwards Design” and “Concept-based Teaching”. These approaches were used in my school as the vehicles to implement the CORE. These are what could be criticized with a little more understanding from me.
Again, I will not go much into these here, but I actual was a believer in these approaches. The idea behind both of these styles of teaching consisted of having students learn, explore, and work through learning a concept. Ideally students could be presented with larger, more real-world problems which housed key skills and concepts within it. For example, instead of doing worksheets of repetitive iterations of exponential models, students would look at a situation of bacteria growth, research how bacterial multiplies and grows, discover bacterial grows fits the exponential curve, and begin to work and practice with how to work with that exponential model. The definitions, algorithms, and rules would come with the students working through the problem-solving process of questioning, researching, and finding answers.
I get excited on the possibility of getting others excited. The problem is what excites some does not excite others. I could pour my passions into trying to design an amazing unit for my students- hours of unbalanced time dedication. What it came down to is- though the concept of problem-solving is so important, skill building too was important and ideally built in, BUT there never was enough time. There was not enough time for me to create the thorough unit, and there was not enough time for students to explore and develop the concept through the unit.
Much of math and the TRUE learning experience is BEING COMFORTABLE WITH NOT KNOWING something and FINDING answers. The learning experience in most schools today is about knowing what is on the test and memorizing those things. When teachers try to make class a more TRUE learning experience, students get upset because they don’t know how to learn the TRUE way. The students and parents get upset and scared of the state of unknowing. All they can think about is will I still get an A because that is what colleges want to give out scholarships.
I do want to note I do remember a lot of large scholarships for project creation types of tasks. I also remember thinking in high school those were way to much work, and I could just go for the straight A’s and volunteering.
Here is another saying any math teacher these days hears- “Why can’t my kids just learn how I was taught?” *Me wanting to curl up in a ball because this would be the saying I would hear after late, late nights of trying to teach the TRUE learning experience.
There is a saying that the math curriculum is “a mile wide and an inch deep.” The CORE Curriculum and all of the supporting instructional methods that they tried to come out with was supposed to alleviate the shallow teaching of math. It felt more like we were given a great guide (the CORE) and some ideal sounding goals … BUT, we were needing to reinvent and revolutionize.
I have begun to complain what I think is wrong, and I am not offering any constructive information. I am someone who can make strong arguments in favor of the CORE Curriculum and someone who can make strong arguments against it as well. I do not have an answer completely for how to revolutionize our math learning that I do believe needs revolution.
How I am Approaching Toddler Math
I do believe I have a basis and good foundation of how I want to approach math with my toddler, Abe. Basically, these little minds need to be comfortable with having a problem and figuring it out. They need to want to figure out something. Sometimes my tactics of teaching includes bribery, which is not the best, and sometimes I have the joy of seeing TRUE learning happening with my son because he is just curious and working through what I am presenting with him. I have posted some toddler math activities on graphing, sorting/counting, and subitizing.
Whatever the topic I am trying to get through to Abe, whether it is math or not, I think the most important thing is you are feeding the skill, and not harming it by tests or pressures. If your child is not ready for it, I believe I would not push it. That is one of the harms of having the CORE, or the standards that we do. Educators tend to push because of the expectations of schools and parents in meeting these standards. Students get frustrated, and parents get frustrated when their child isn’t doing well. This cycle is harmful and not real learning.
Figure A: CORE Curriculum Kindergarten Math Standards
Please stay tuned, next week I will be writing on the following dealing with this topic:
How to approach TRUE learning with number sense vs the shallow number recognition. The CORE is grades K-12, so I had to look at the kindergarten standards. My state uses GOLD standards for the preschool level that I will look at for next time.
The use of kids’ games and books with math topics. There are some good math kids books out there, but there really needs to be more. I am actually working on that. I have written a little story, and am working on illustrating it. My next step will be to publish it… That will be a post in itself soon.
An Analogous Toddler Math Activity
I wanted to share a little activity Abe has been doing. I thought it was pretty clever when it occurred to me. This activity is more towards the shallow side of math skills- the skill of recognizing the symbols we have created to communicate value… aka, number recognition. I want to say most of my teachings of Abe so far has been focusing on number sense. This is far more important to me than Abe seeing 3 and knowing it is pronounced three.. Yet, it is obviously important to have him recognize our created number system.
This activity just consists of one of those key lock boxes with number dials. I put some little Hershey’s kisses in it, and I told him the code to unlock. Three, six, three, seven. He knew 3, but he had to guess what number was 6 and 7 was. We kept working with those numbers, and when he got it right, he would unlock the special surprise inside. I had to help a lot by drawing the numbers and helping him with the dials. When he masters this code, I will be resetting the code for new numbers for him to work with.
So, as you can see, it is not very deep, but a little one can get familiarity with our number symbols. It is fun, and kind of catchy.
At first, I thought it ironic I made this the picture for this post on what I hope is a deeper thinking post on math curriculum. But, I think it is perfect. There are a lot of catchy trends and claims out there and most are not very deep. The truth to unlocking the secrets to teaching math lay in the understanding of nurturing the existence of interest and expanding it. Nurturing the curiosity and skills of anything takes time and being comfortable with no easy answer.
Thanks for taking the time for my rants. Please feel free to comment, and I hope I gave a little perspective of the struggles of a math teacher as she faces working with her toddler and hopes dearly to nurture a love for math in her own children.