I've just entered my second year of university, and, like any other new horizon, this one is filled with its own unique set of challenges and obstacles. Getting my first apartment, paying bills, and trying to navigate my way into adulthood to name a few. However, there is one formidable foe that is staring me straight in the face, and no matter how much I try to run away from my responsibilities, this is one that I cannot escape.
My relationship with anything mathematical has been somewhat strained over the past 18 or so years. Coming from a family with a background heavily focused on math and science, imagine, to my dismay (and to my parents' as well) when I struggled to quite literally put 2 and 2 together in most of my math classes. My academic performance was acceptable enough, but was the result of large volumes of blood, sweat, and tears. As I started to develop more and more into the quasi-adultish person I am today, and my interests became skewed far and away from maths and sciences, I became impassioned with the idea that my inability to comprehend math concepts was actually a sign of my artistry and turned me into some sort of young philosopher. "But how can there be only 1 right answer???" I pondered to myself. "There is no one absolute truth...the world is not black and white but many shades of grey". I griped how math didn't allow any room for creativity, complaining to my grade 9 math teacher that I found math a "soulless" subject (I was clearly not a pretentious child at all). But I digress.
Math was a subject that haunted me all throughout my high school career. But then, when I entered the sphere of higher education as a shiny new froshie, it was to my delight that I realized no one here would force me to do math. University was a happy place filled with unicorns and fairies and devoid of anything math-related or anyone forcing me to do math. At last, I would no longer be personally victimized by the good folks at Pearson Education.
Alas, this tale does not have a happy ending. For during course selections of last year, much to my chagrin, I realized my program required me to take a full-year Statistics course in a subject area of my choosing. For one more year, the math curse looms. So that's where I'm pretty much at in my feels towards this subject area. But I've been attempting to critically think about what it is that so repels me from the idea of doing math (and no, none of my pompous 14-year old musings have factored into this thought process). My best guess so far is that I was never interested in math because I didn't see its practical functions. I didn't understand where all the numbers and equations were coming from, and I didn't understand why it even mattered that I learned them in the first place. And I know I'm not the only one who feels this way. Many a person has probably thought long and hard about real life situations involving buying 70 apples and subtracting 24, or when they would ever need to use the quadratic formula when going about their day to day lives.
For all practical purposes, math never made sense to me. And this issue is something that is in contention right now in America, with the introduction of the Common Core Mathematics. This is a new way of teaching and learning math that has been introduced into 46 of the 50 states. The focus of the program is to help children better understand the reasoning and processes behind solving math problems. Just to give you a visual, let's say you have to solve the following math problem: 52-32. Most people would probably just tell you that it's 20, without having to put much thought into it at all. However, if you tried to explain to someone why or how this works out to be true, they probably would have a harder time grappling with this task. The Common Core standards aim to bridge this gap, focusing on concepts, rather than computation.
However, not everyone is impressed with the new standards. In fact, I first learned about the whole Common Core controversy after stumbling upon this Buzzfeed post:
The story behind this involves a frustrated father who thought he would give his kid's school their just desserts by writing out a cheque to them using Common Core math. Even though I knew very little about Common Core standards at this point, my first reaction was to go all anti-establishment, "stick it to the man" and side with the parent in question. However, I decided to dig a little bit deeper into what this program is really about. After doing so, I realized that I'm maybe not as anti-establishment as I had hoped.
Most people who have beef with the Common Core standards say it's inefficient in comparison to the way we've been teaching and learning math so far. Why would you forgo fast and easy, tried and true techniques that take two steps to complete, and instead break down a problem into 5 or 6 unnecessary steps? Furthermore, the Common Core standards run all the way from kindergarten to grade 12 math. There have been many reported incidences of kids, especially younger ones, getting into crying fits because they don't understand what is happening or what to do, and since the system is so unfamiliar to parents, they are of little to no help either. In an article for the National Review, David G. Bonagura Jr. explains that "6 and 7 year olds do not yet possess the ability to think abstractly". While the Common Core teaches basic addition and subtraction through the process of decomposition, Bonagura's son had no clue what it was or how to do it, but he could memorize the answer to 13-4.
It was at this point that I started to have beef with the beef. As someone in constant pursuit of valid explanations or elaborations that would help me put some sort of sense to the concepts I was learning, I started thinking that myself (or others who learned in a way that was similar) could have really benefitted from learning math in this sort of fashion. Curious to know what the infamous Common Core problems were really like, I Googled, and one of the first things to pop up was an article entitled, "The Ten Dumbest Common Core Problems". However, many of the "dumbest" problems were indeed dumb, but this was due to clerical errors rather than the problems or curriculum itself.
While this can certainly be considered a "dumb" error on the part of administration or quality control, a worksheet gaffe has little to do with the actual problem or teaching standards themselves. A number of other problems listed in the article were considered "dumb" because they required kids to explain how they were able to work out the problem at hand. This sentiment was echoed by Bonagura, who has some serious issues with the fact that kids are being made to "explain the problem and solution in multiple sentences", citing that this does not help kids to learn or understand mathematical concepts in any way.
After reading this sentence, I had to laugh.
At the height of my anti-math crusade in grade 9, I had decided to pepper one of my algebra tests with a bit of anarchy, refraining from solving the problem and writing a paragraph explaining how I would have gone about solving the problem, had the question asked me to do so, rather than to simply write out a particular equation. Because I technically was not wrong in my analysis, my little act of rebellion earned me full marks.
In my opinion, the Common Core isn't a terrible thing. Yes it may be awash with administrative errors, and yes it can be very confusing and drawn-out for those of us who are used to more rote memorization techniques, but in the grand scheme of things, it represents progress. With the implementation of these standards (which for the record, aren't a technically required curriculum, and are taught in conjunction with the more classic methods of learning), the education system is starting to embrace new learning styles and is also opening up to the idea of concept-based learning and understanding as a foundation for academic success. It still needs to be worked on, but just like a math problem, sometimes you have to go through a few different strategies to figure out the best way to move forward. And for the naysayers who think Common Core math is too confusing because they've never seen it before- chances are, most people have used Common Core math at some point in their life. As one Facebook commenter put it:
When you look at it this way, the Common Core may actually be making math more relevant and applicable to real life scenarios, answering that ever so important question, "When will I actually use this?"
Speaking of money, if anyone is wondering how much Frustrated Father's (see above) Common Core cheque is actually worth, you could try and work it out for yourself. If you did, you'd probably find that it's in fact, worth nothing. While Common Core standards may employ different teaching and learning methods, the basic numeracy that is uses is the exact same as plain old math. Essentially, Frustrated Father managed to do very little in my eyes except make himself look quite silly. He is also a perfect example of the fact that while Common Core may not necessarily be needed, Common Sense definitely is.