A couple of weeks ago, a good teacher friend of mine posted a link to this article by Brett Berry on her Facebook page. Now, this friend historically has not been a fan of math, but she took some required math courses this summer and came back with an excitement that I had not seen in her before. So, when she posted this article, it became a must read for me. And as I read my concerns about common core math melted away…
You see, when someone comes to me at CenterPoint with math concerns, 99% of the time his/her difficulties stem from not being able to connect the numeric algorithm (symbols) with the mathematical concepts the symbols represent. I often hear, “I get a picture of what they (the teacher/ textbook) want, but I don’t understand what they are doing on paper.” Or, I get it, but I just don’t get math. Parents are confused because their child can add and multiply but can’t memorize their math facts.
Understanding concepts is life…it takes time and experience…but once learned, it lasts a lifetime. It is hard to explain on paper, but easier to show and to conceptualize. Algorithms (2+2=4; 4 x 5 = 20) are memorized and cannot be experienced without tying them to concepts. Memorizing can produce fast results! And our society likes fast…BUT memorizing does not produce lasting results. Memorize it for the test and forget it. Historically, in our school system we want results fast…therefore, after an introduction to number sense in kindergarten and a little in 1st grade…we begin to memorize. And we have bred a society that largely “doesn’t get math”…because to truly understand math, one must EXPERIENCE it.
Chances are good that if I asked 10 random people their opinion on algebra, more than half would not have positive things to say. Yet, algebra is life. Have they not experienced life? More likely, they have not experienced MATH enough to tie it to algebraic concepts. Ideally, this would happen at a young age and continue throughout our school years. In the end, the majority of individuals would walk away with not only an understanding of the concepts but also the ability to knowingly put them into use.
If I gave you a choice of learning through experience that would provide life-lasting results versus learning through memorization which would provide quick but limited long-term results, which would you choose? Which is more cost effective? Which is more time effective in the long run?
I ask these rhetorical questions to make a point….concept based learning is at the root of common core math. For those of us who have only experienced algorithmic mathematics….formulas and memorization….it seems so laborious! But what ethical engineer would be stingy on time and materials when building a foundation in an earthquake-prone area? He would never get insurance…he would be asking for disaster. Do we build our educational houses on ROCK or SAND? A concept is rock…life lasting….sand is fluid…moving wherever the wind or waters carry it. It takes a little longer at first (and for kids that are introduced at an older age it seems crazy to the outside) but once a solid foundation is laid, algorithms make sense, and math becomes our friend and constant….not something to be feared and avoided.