Share this story:
California is one of the many states implementing the new Common Core standards, which are sparking debate and controversy across the country.
I graduated high school in 2012, so I missed out on the Common Core. But when I went to Meadow Homes Elementary in Concord, California, I was curious — what’s all the hype about?
Passing the play structures and the drawings on the wall, I got nostalgic for grammar school. Then I met Principal Mary-Louise Newling and got a reality check.
“I find the math to be eye-opening,” she said. “I found what is required of students to be humbling. I guess I was shocked. I think all of my teachers were taken aback when we actually attempted the test.”
Newling likes the Common Core, but admits it’s a big transition. The standards require students to explain their work in writing, even in math. That’s complicated when the majority of her students are English Language Learners.
Just when I thought I couldn’t be any more intimidated by the Common Core, I met the students. A bunch of bubbly fourth graders.
When I asked them if the Common Core is hard, most of them said, “No!”
These kids weren’t scared at all by the Common Core. In fact, they wanted to spend the whole afternoon doing math problems with me, and showing me strategies.
First — the box method for multiplication. Savanna Burris did an example problem for me, and then explained, “I like this way because you can understand it more than the (traditional) way. It’s just easier because you get to break it up.” She scribbled on my notebook with the kids gathered around. Here’s the problem: 8 x 14.
“We draw a box, and for a two-digit number, you can break it up so 8 x 14 is really 10 + 4, and you’re multiplying it by 8. And so 8 x 4 equals 32, and 8 x 10 = 80,” she said.
In a nutshell, they’re breaking down a multiplication problem into two simpler problems. Why do 8 x 14 when you can do 8 x 10 and 8 x 4 and add the two products?
I explained to the kids how I was taught to do that same multiplication problem, but they didn’t like my way at all.
Their way of doing division was even harder than multiplication. And again, these fourth graders used a method I have never heard of: the “hangman method.” It’s also hard to explain, but not hard for these students to get to an answer for 180 divided by 8 in a matter of minutes.
I asked the students, “Is it hard when you guys take homework home and try to have your parents help you?”
Paulina Munoz told me, “No, because it’s not like really that hard for me so I don’t really need help from my mom and dad.”
I still wasn’t convinced. Why were these kids so excited about this approach to math that feels like a lot more work?
I asked their fourth grade teacher Jessica Beerbaum. “They’re stuck at first,” she said. “And sometimes they’re stuck at first with describing. We’ve gone away again from A, B, C, or D being the right answer, or teaching an algorithm to approach a mathematical issue. So, we have to get away from that easy answer thing.”
Ten fourth graders in Concord, California don’t speak for everyone. And that one kid who didn’t say much, she might hate the Common Core. But as many adults across the country struggle with the new standards, these kids seemed surprisingly eager and willing to embrace something new.