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Understanding the new math

WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 01, 2014 10:46 AM

The Common Core State Standards have certainly changed the way teachers approach math and English/language arts. Though the Standards are not a curriculum, the benchmarks they present lead educators to take a different teaching approach. The changes that occurred between old and new Standards of math are large, but they may not be obvious to everyone. Here's a look at how Common Core math compares to old methods of teaching the subject:

The heart of math
Previous methods of teaching math included what many call "plug and chug." In this format, students learn a set of formulas that they then use to answer questions. They often weren't taught why the formulas worked, only that they did. While this method certainly got students through school, it did not teach them to think outside the formula and use other tools. Common Core math attempts to show students the "why" behind formulas. Instead of being told to use them, students will learn how the formula works and how to pick the right one to solve a problem.

The Common Core approach to math education is more in line with what professional mathematicians do. They have to use their knowledge of how math works to pick appropriate formulas when solving complex problems. They must be creative, and their deep understanding of the subject guides them. Mathematicians can also explain why they do what they do, a skill the Common Core helps students achieve. 

Supporting the changes
Though Common Core critics seem to have negative views of new math Standards, the sentiment is not shared by professionals. According to USA Today, every major mathematical society is on board with the Standards. In fact, members of the Conference Board of the Mathematical Sciences said "the Common Core State Standards are an auspicious advance in mathematics education." Such an endorsement exemplifies just how important a shift the Common Core brings to math.

Examples of new problems
Knowing how the Common Core approaches math and that professionals support it, many may still wonder what the alterations mean in the classroom. Here's a specific example of the old math approach compared to the Common Core:

High school: Students at this age work a lot with algebra. In the past, they may have been asked to solve an equation such as "If 3(y-1) = 8, then what is y?" The Common Core would use the same equation, but have students use it differently. For instance, students might have to figure out two equations that have the same outcome as the one they were initially given.