I was listening to the Tom Joyner Morning Show while I was on my way to work last week and Sherri Shepherd (former host of The View) was on the show talking about her son and school. She first began talking about how her son was growing up and then the topic turned into a conversation about this “new math” or the Common Core Math. Sherri was saying how the math that is being taught now is very different from math that she was taught when she was in school. Her son attends a private school (obviously) and when she approached the teacher about the math the teacher’s response was that she could give her a list of websites that would help her learn the math strategies.
Sherri Shepherd is like most parents when it comes to this “new math” as they call it. The math is not new, however the strategies that are being taught required a different thought process which gives the illusion that it’s something new.
Level 1: Counting All Counting all is the first addition strategy that any student encounters when they first enter any preschool program. The students are learning that numbers have meaning and value. When students enter kindergarten they usually continue using this addition strategy to add single digit numbers until they enter 1st grade. This is an good strategy to use, however it is not an effective addition strategy to use because first grade students are required to learn how to add two-digit numbers. By January a 1st grade student should have made the transition from using the level 1 counting all addition strategy to the level 2 counting on addition strategy.
Level 2: Counting On First grade students are supposed to be adding using the counting on addition strategy. They should be able to identify the largest number and then count on while adding the appropriate amount of numbers. Some people would say that this strategy should be easy to teach and learn, however I am learning the that the opposite is true because every student does not have the same number sense. This addition strategy requires a student to do 3 things: identify the largest number, identify which number to stop at, and count the correct amount of numbers that are to be added. Transitioning to the counting on strategy sometimes never happens for many students because they will revert back to counting all because their underdeveloped number sense not to allow them to make the transition.
Level 3: Recompose-Make a Ten The level 3 addition strategy’s name Making a Ten, can trick many educators and parents into thinking that mastering this skill is very simple. This however, is the furthest from the truth! This strategy requires a high cognitive (thinking) ability because the students will have to decide how they want used the numbers to make a ten. Then after choosing the numbers that they want use to make a ten they will use the level 2 strategy counting on to add. If a student has not made the transition from counting all to counting on they will not be able to master recomposing to make a ten. Many students in grades 3rd-5th are not able to recompose numbers to make a ten because their understanding of numbers stopped at counting all the numbers making it virtually impossible to reach their full math potential.
When I hear people like Sherri Shepherd say that this “new math” is difficult if she understood that mathematics is much like reading, because it has levels that students must master to become a mathematically proficient student. So many middle school students struggle with foundation skills such as addition and subtraction because they did not learn effective addition or subtraction strategies or use tools such as the number line to add or subtract. Sherri Shepherd’s observation of her son’s math is a correct observation but it’s not nothing new. It’s teaching elementary mathematics with precision and greater depth so that students are not just memorizing facts but are learning how to connect strategies and concepts thus creating a mathematically proficient 21st Century math student. Now that’s something new!