Common Core Math Problem Solving

My take is that the standards are in line with effective programs, such as Singapore Math, but textbook publishers and other curriculum providers are creating confusion with overly complex explanations, ill-written problems, and lessons that confuse pedagogy with content.Many of the “fuzzy math” complaints seem to focus on materials that ask students to engage in multiple approaches when tackling arithmetic problems.

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Note, too, that the Singapore problems—typical of what I’ve seen in Singapore Math—are text-lite.

The emphasis is on numbers, manipulating numbers, and problem solving.

The standards themselves are unambiguous that students will master the best and most efficient ways to do arithmetic, and any curriculum that does not give top billing to standard algorithms in the pertinent grades is not aligned with the Common Core.

Because math users and teachers want more than procedural fluency from students (because they want young people actually to the math problems they answer so that they are ready for more advanced math), the Common Core leave plenty of room for teachers to go beyond the standard algorithm to ensure that students understand how numbers work.

Second, publishers should emulate the clarity and precision of Singapore Math rather than reinventing the wheel and coming up with one that doesn’t roll straight.

If they fail in that quest, nobody should buy what they’re selling.Take, for example, this middle school problem, also drawn from Singapore Math: Unfortunately—but perhaps predictably—as more publishers work to align their math programs to the CCSS, there is ample room for screw-ups. He also tweeted a few examples, including this one: 6 students are reading books for book clubs. In the model below, each box represents one student in the group.They are reading one of the following stories: Story A: Matilda Story B: Magic Tree House Lions at Lunchtime Story C: Superfudge 1/2 of the students are reading Story A. Complete the model based upon the information above.The standards ask that students understand what it means to add to and subtract from; the difference between parts and a whole; and to be able to demonstrate these understandings in more than one way.For example, beginning as early as first grade, students are expected to …Write one letter A, B, or C in each box to represent the story each kid read. Yet the confusion doesn’t arise from the math; it’s the fault of the English.The problem includes students (who have no names), book titles, letter labels for the books that are different from the titles, all buried in a problem that is meant to be about comparing fractions with unlike denominators.They aim to clarify and focus on answering the problem.In other words, the model is used in service of understanding and answering a clearly defined problem. If models confuse more than the math itself, they have lost their utility.Is this another instance of “maximum feasible misunderstanding,” as textbook publishers and educators misinterpret the standards in ways that undermine their intent (but perhaps match the interpreters’ predilections)?Or are the Common Core standards themselves to blame?


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