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Is Common Core Math Bad?We live in California, and we got lucky because our district started transitioning to Common Core when our daughter was in kindergarten. At least she didn’t have to go from one system of learning to another. While I certainly heard a lot of arguments against Common Core math, I personally don’t think it’s inherently bad. In fact, in many ways Common Core is closer to “European math” both my husband and I learned in our schools. At least "in theory" of Common Core, math is not supposed to be treated not as a collection of recipes which you need to follow just so to arrive to the result. Instead, the goal is to teach you to cook “from scratch” fully understanding “ingredients” that go into formulas and calculations. We also like the focus on proving your work. The challenge, however, that many interpretations of Common Core (and our language-focused second grade teacher) think that proving your work means writing an essay about your thinking every time the proof is required. Luckily, in the first grade and now in the third grade we were blessed with better math teachers, and, after all, any curriculum only as good as the teacher who teaches it.
There is one thing, however, that worries me somewhat about Common Core math – a lack of differentiation between stronger and weaker students. Last year our Common Core-obsessed second grade teacher told us that Common Core is able to support differentiation for the strongest with different level of tasks, but we haven’t seen it at all. This year we see it more – again, I think ability to differentiate depends more on the teacher and on their stash of materials than on particular curriculum. Anyway, we learned from our last year's experience not to rely too much on school to challenge our little mathematician, and here is what we are doing at home to take math deeper and further.
Going Further in MathIt is used to be that you would need to evaluate and buy expensive curriculum if you wanted to accelerate your children in any subjects. Online learning changed our lives in a major way. When our daughter was younger, she really benefited from Dreambox with its online manipulatives and a unique reward system. Unfortunately, their reward area changes as tasks progress to about third grade, and our then 6 year old Smarty did not like the rewards designed for older students, so we discontinued Dreambox then and switched last year to Khan Academy. I wrote about many reasons we love Khan Academy – it fit my daughter’s self-directed learning style perfectly while giving me both visibility and control over what she is doing. Smarty has just officially finished 4th grade of Khan Academy math and already itching to start the fifth grade exercises.
Going Deeper in MathEven though our daughter “works ahead” in math, we are not on a mission to accelerate her, because we want her to enjoy her childhood. This is why we want to “slow her down” in terms of getting into more and more complex math topics and go deeper instead strengthening her ability to think logically, apply creativity to math challenges, and solve multi-step problems. Here are a few resources to do that:
There are workbooks, and then there are “math books”. The big difference between those is if the focus is on repetition or on challenging students to go deeper in their understanding of math concepts. Here are a few math books that I particularly liked.
Math Detective – a book that exercises reading comprehension, logic, and math. Every long word problem is presented in a story and then a set of questions is given to a student. Smarty did this particular book (it's a series) in grades 1 and 2, but it's targeted towards 3 and 4.
Think a Minute. I love this one, because the tasks require creative and lateral thinking and also challenge spatial skills. The one we have (B1) is for grades 4-5 and most tasks are “appropriately hard” for our third grader.
Mind Benders – Classic logic word problems which already come “prewired” with “logic matrix” that we eventually learned to construct for logic problems in grade 8 or so. Smarty really enjoys them but requires a bit of handholding/scaffolding to help her reason out the answers.
Primary Grade Challenge Math – I’d say that this one is my favorite, because every chapter introduces a way to solve the problems presented later in a chapter, and each chapter has 4 levels of difficulty, so the book is appropriate for students of different strengths. We are finishing this book now, and I am getting ready to get the next one in the series – Upper Elementary Challenge Math.
Math GamesMath is not only about solving problems on paper. Many board games really hone “think ahead” skills needed for math. Check out my post Board Games for Brainy Kids for our favorite math games.
Other great recommendations for board games: