Most of us raising children right now grew up somewhere between the late 70s and late 90s, when school was a place where we went to memorize lessons. You know, when hanging out with our friends in the hallway or at the high school football game was our main priority, cliques most definitely a thing and landlines were our main form of communication. Back then, the world just seemed a little smaller and a little safer.
But just as the times have changed, so has learning and along with that was a major shift in curriculum to the common core standards. A big part of the common core curriculum that I see posted about all the time on my friends’ social media pages is none other than “new” math. But if we take a second to really stop and think about it, new math is actually a really great concept and teaches our students a great deal about mathematical understanding. As a fourth grade teacher, I see my students apply the concepts they learn in math to other subjects like science, reading and in everyday life.
The point of the common core standards was to help students better understand the WHY. When you and I were in school, we memorized, memorized and then memorized just a little bit more. Multiplication facts, math algorithms, long division, and so on. But can you say that you truly understand what all those algorithms are for, how they are used and where else they can be applied? Probably not. I wouldn’t be able to if it weren’t for the fact that I teach it everyday. I’m going to break down the four major operations—addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division—and explain how the new math is really helping our students.
Addition and Subtraction:
These two operations are all about place value and number sense.
It’s understanding that when I subtract, I don’t borrow from the next place value. (I mean, are you ever giving it back?!) I’m exchanging. I’m exchanging one ten for ten ones, or one hundred for ten tens.
When we add, we give more to the place value to the left. It’s building the number up and making it bigger. So, every time we reach ten, another digit goes to the place value to the left.
I teach my students strategies and develop these skills from the concrete to the abstract. We start with numbers to 20 until we finally reach the millions in fifth grade. We start to recognize patterns and uniformity among numbers. We teach kids to strategically think about numbers and compose and decompose them. We build these concepts to focus on their function. Without a strong number sense, students ultimately struggle to apply mathematical concepts and reason to all the topics that follow.
Multiplication and Division:
The concept of multiplication begins in second grade when students start looking at patterns of repeated addition. This understanding leads us into the idea of multiplication and that multiplication is a number repeated numerous times. Of course, we want to teach students to be more efficient and multiplication is a great way to do that. We then start building their understanding of multiplication and division and how they work together. The foundational concepts of multiplication and division lead students to a better understanding of fractions, area, volume, surface area.
The idea is to master skills throughout each grade level so that students can build their knowledge and understanding of all operations. It’s not about the memorization in the beginning, it’s all about the understanding.