Common Core Strategies for Teaching Math (and why they really are a good idea)

I am so happy to host Mrs. BBZ’s guest post because she does an incredible job of demystifying the strategies. As a child I had no idea why I “carried the 1” when doing addition. I just did it by rote. These strategies would have helped me to actually understand addition and subtraction with regrouping rather than just following the steps. And that is HUGE!

When I think of Common Core math, I’m reminded of a conversation I had with a teammate during planning. Our school system had just begun the transition to Common Core, using Scott Foresman’s “Investigations” series as a core curriculum. We were knee-deep in base ten blocks, number lines, and hundreds boards. She said,

At the time, I nodded vigorously and agreed – these “new” ways of solving problems were taking too long, and kids just didn’t “get” it. More accurately – I didn’t “get” it.

At the time we were wondering why in the WORLD the Common Core recommends students don’t learn the algorithm for adding and subtracting until fourth grade. A lot of us were even throwing out those number lines and teaching kids the algorithm anyway.

It took a while to convince me, but I now strongly believe we shouldn’t be throwing out the “new” ways of solving problems, just because they’re time-consuming – there are actually some really important reasons why all these crazy strategies help kids in the long run. I promise.We used to teach kids directly. We said, “These are the steps. Follow them and you will get the right answer.”

Maybe we even sang a cute song  …

Sound familiar? When we teach this way, though, do kids really understand what they’re doing?

Some students do understand, but many don’t know what they’re doing – they’re just following the steps.

Just like we know that some kids are stronger auditory or visual learners, and most are kinesthetic – kids don’t all solve math problems the same way. They need a variety of different strategies that they “get” without having to memorize a series of steps. Check out some of those options (there are SO many more than just the good ‘ole number line).

That’s the other issue with the “old” way of adding and subtracting – if you forget any steps, you’re lost.  With the Common Core strategies, students develop their number sense incrementally along the continuum of learning. They are able to connect concrete objects to numbers. All of these “new” strategies offer opportunities to build up to ten, add tens, and truly understand how to compose and decompose numbers.

So…what about the grocery store? Are we still going to use a number line there? The answer is no. All of these strategies are building toward a crucial milestone: mental math. All of the work with the properties of addition and subtraction, counting off the decade and building to a whole ten – all of that is done so that students can accurately and flexibly solve problems in their head.

For a summary of these strategies that you can send home to parents, please download this freebie or check out this presentation.

Of course, we’re living in the digital age. While we practice and practice so that we can use mental math and solve problems flexibly and accurately, it’s much more likely that our students will walk up to the cashier with the memory of their elementary teachers’ words in their heads and …

Ms. BBZ is currently teaching second grade in Georgia, after teaching a Gifted and Talented immersion class at a Title I magnet school in North Carolina for several years. Her passions are conceptual math, integrated learning, and character education for students. You can find her online at her blog, as well as at her Teachers Pay Teachers store.

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