Let’s Be Clear, Common Core Math Isn’t All Sticks, Dots, and Blocks…


Changes to math instruction happening as states implement the Common Core State Standards put students who are naturally gifted at math at a disadvantage, claims Cindy Moor, a Maryland parent.

“It’s crazy. It’s stupid,” Moor writes in the Delmarva Daily Times. “At what point do we stop teaching our kids to manipulate numbers with sticks, dots and blocks—and start teaching them the real properties of numbers?”

Many parents who are unfamiliar with the Common Core may share that feeling. But contrary to Moor’s claim, these changes help students develop strong fundamental math skills at earlier grades, which empower them to succeed at subsequently more challenging levels of learning.

A “math check” by the Collaborative for Student Success explains: “It’s important for kids to learn multiple approaches to solving math problems so that they can choose the approach that works best for them and so that they develop a full understanding of the concepts before they move on to more challenging levels.”

That doesn’t mean students aren’t still expected to learn the basics and traditional problem-solving techniques. The Common Core requires students to have a firm grasp of conventional approaches like multiplication tables and fluency with the standard algorithms. But by introducing multiple approaches to problems, the Common Core helps student build a conceptual understanding of numbers and functions.

For students, those changes to instruction help them prepare for more challenging material. A Facebook post from a teacher in Idaho articulates that shift in action:

“We whipped through this in a day because they were able to conceptually understand the idea of splitting the area of a rectangle into easier to compute pieces, and then finding the sum of the pieces. Is this method the most efficient for multiplying simple two digit numbers? Probably not. But is there a PURPOSE for exposing students to this kind of thinking early on? Totally! … I just love seeing Common Core working!”

As parents learn more about these changes, they too are seeing the benefit.

“Like many parents in the early years, we were confused by the math in particular and not very supportive…[But now my twin daughters] understand math concepts so completely after learning ‘that crazy way’ in elementary school that I am a huge believer. They reason and understand. They do not memorize and move on,” says Marianne Sullivan, a fellow Maryland parent.

Moor notes that one of her biggest complaints is, as she puts it, that if a student doesn’t show their work they will “bomb the test.” That’s not true. Some questions do ask students to explain their reasoning – but Moor overlooks that questions like those help teachers ensure that students have a grasp on the subject and haven’t guessed their way to a right answer.

But not all questions require students to meticulously map out each step of a problem. And what’s more, for a long time tests and homework have required students to show their work. That’s not unique to the Common Core, as Moor suggests.

Common Core math standards are designed to help students build strong fundamental skills at earlier grades, which in turn help prepare them for high levels of learning—all the way up to college- and career-level material. That should be something all parents can support.