Thursday, March 27, 2014

A Math Teacher's Response to a Popular Story Shared on Facebook

I've seen this story from Yahoo! shared a few times on Facebook.  Usually when I see things on Facebook that I either disagree with or have a different opinion, I can just think, "Hmmm, that's not what I believe but it's okay, everyone is entitled to their own opinion."  This article, however, I was not able to shrug off so easily.  My poor husband has gotten an earful the past two nights as I've outlined my objections (he agrees with me) and contemplated what I would write in my blog post.

The article was written about a father's response on his child's homework.  I guess the father shared this on Facebook and got tons of shares and likes.  Here is what he wrote on the assignment:

Here are my thoughts...

Dear Frustrated Parent,

1. Why are you, as a parent, writing on your child's homework assignment?  To be funny?  To have something to post on Facebook?  How selfish.  Now you child has to go to school and turn this in to their teacher while not having a chance to actually do their own homework assignment?

2. Congratulations on earning an Engineering degree.  What an accomplishment!  I, too have a degree in Engineering!  Go us, we are smart!  However, in addition I have a degree in education.  With 10 years of teaching experience I can tell you that knowing math and teaching math are different.  It is disrespectful to assume that the math you know from Engineering automatically makes you qualified to determine how students learn mathematics.

3.  I can understand a parent's frustration that math education seems to be changing from how it was when we were young.  Change is hard… but it is necessary.  While your method of subtraction seems "easier" with less steps (and done in "5 seconds"), many students would have to learn this procedure and not really understand what they were doing.  If we expect students to simply learn a procedure (subtract from right to left, how to "borrow" etc) it actually makes number sense harder.  Think about how many procedures we had to learn growing up… for example, how to divide fractions: flip the second and multiply?! Why?!  Common Core Standards are leading our kids towards a deeper understanding of how numbers work, which leads to a better understanding of why a procedure like column subtraction actually does work.

4.  This assignment seems to be asking a student to critique the reasoning of another student.  It is not forcing your child to do a crazy procedure.  It looks like Jack simply forgot to subtract a "10" which is something that you did in the column subtraction, probably without realizing it.  You subtracted 2 - 1 in the center column but did you really think about how that was 20-10 because they are in the tens place?  Probably not.  Seeing how another student thought about this problem helps to deepen an understanding of what is going on when we subtract even if you so choose to use the column subtraction model.

5.  The Common Core State Standards are not only a list of what students should be learning at which grade.  In addition there are Standards for Mathematical Practice that are used in grades K-12.  These math practices aim to give our students the skills necessary to be successful in mathematics.  Again, I point to Practice #3 which asks students to "Construct viable arguments and critique the reasoning of others."  Don't we want our kids to be able to see things from another point of view?  I realize "Jack" is a fictional student, but your response to Jack that his method is "ridiculous" is something that I would never tolerate in my classroom.  Everyone's process should be respected.  Sometimes it is important to point out a more efficient way to solve a problem, but that does not mean that a different method is ridiculous.  Besides teaching math, my goal is to teach my students to be respectful and kind to others in our learning community.  Insulting others is absolutely not allowed.

6.  Check out this post where I talk about an article that outlines how America's way of teaching mathematics is broken and why a change is needed.  Common Core State Standards are not perfect and I'm not arguing that they are.  However, I'm excited to see the changes happening in mathematics education.  It is an exciting, scary, uncertain, and hopeful time to be a mathematics teacher.  Let's be respectful of all the teachers out there trying their best to transform into the best math teachers they can be.  Change takes time but in the end it will be worth it if we can get our kids to understand deeply.


  1. Yes! Annie, you were the first person I thought of when I saw this originally on Facebook. Your explanation is so good and speak to understanding what you are doing and not just using rote "tricks." To any nurse out there reading this, I would compare to the process that we went through in college of writing care plans. These could easily take us 12 hours per patient. We went through this long process over and over again so that when we started to work in the "real world" we had this thinking, processing behind us. We understood, so we could then in nearly a heartbeat apply a complex process to our patients.

    1. Thanks… great connection between our two fields. :)

  2. What a great post, Annie! I'm so glad you wrote about this too! I have lots of people in my facebook feed talking a lot of negativity about CCSS and it gets me so irritated, especially when they don't do their research and just complain for the sake of complaining. Like you said, the new standards aren't perfect, but they are a step in the right direction. Hopefully the general public will come around sooner or later, but it's always hard because I feel like people think they know what it's like to teach since they went to public school. Anyways, love your explanation!

    1. Thanks Michelle. I agree some people just love to complain! Your post on your blog about CCSS was great too!