Back to School for Teachers, Students and Parents

back to school math

 

Now that Labor Day is behind us, it’s safe to say that most of country is back at school. In honor of this new beginning, I decided to share three of my most favorite posts for teachers, students and parents.

Five Things Math Teachers Wish Parents Knew

In this post, I asked veteran middle school teacher, Tiffany Choice, to share her advice for parents on how to help their kids succeed in math class. Her advice is golden, and stupid-easy to follow. In fact, none of her ideas involve learning new math methods. Huzzah!

Ten Things Students Wish Math Teachers Knew

I polled the high school and middle school students I know to get this great advice for teachers. If you teach math — at any level — do yourself a favor and take these to heart. Students aren’t asking for the moon.

Ten Things Parents Wish Math Teachers Knew

And there’s one more for teachers. Those of you who are parents see both sides of this equation. The homework wars are real, kids are stressed out and parents feel sometimes powerless to help.

If you’re a parent who needs even more support — and who among us doesn’t? — check out these bonus posts, where I outline ways that you can help your child become a master mathematician — or at least leave math class not feeling like a dummy!

Lowering Homework Stress: 5 easy steps for parents

Five Math Resources for Confused Parents

And of course, I’m around to answer your questions and give you support. Let’s get this school year off to a great, mathy start!

 Photo Credit: loop_oh via Compfight cc

Got a question or comment about any of the above resources, share in the comments section!

 

Math at Work Monday: Louisa the Greeting Card Designer

Weehah cards

 

Nothing says hello to a new neighbor like sending a greeting card or an invitation. And cards can mean so much in times of grief or illness. Those special little messages to pull the heart strings have to come from somewhere, right? Louisa Wimberger, founder of Weehah Greeting Cards and Invitations has built a business around these special messages. From greeting cards to invitations, she makes some of the best cards available.

Can you explain what you do for a living?

I design and create greeting cards and invitations. I sell them through my website, at retail shows and festivals, and also wholesale them to stores.

When do you use basic math in your job?

I use math all the time! For example: I use QuickBooks to invoice customers. I have to determine the cost of my supplies and my time in order to come up with a reasonable retail price ($3.95 per card or 10 for $35) and wholesale price ($2.25 per card).

I keep a budget, make purchases with credit cards, and pay that off monthly. On occasion, I hire someone to do mindless or repetitive tasks for me such as packaging cards. I learned that I have to pay someone per piece, and not by the hour!

I have to order cardstock and envelopes almost every week. My cardstock sheets come in 8.5 x 11 or 11 x 17 usually. So, when a customer wants 100 flat cards that measure 4.25 x 5.5 each, how many can I get per sheet? The list goes on.

Do you use any technology (like calculators or computers) to help with this math? Why or why not?

I use QuickBooks (for invoicing and budget/bookkeeping) and occasionally a calculator (to figure out measurements for things, mostly).

How do you think math helps you do your job better?

If it weren’t for math, I wouldn’t be able to actually make any money doing what I do!

How comfortable with math do you feel? Does this math feel different to you ?

I haven’t usually liked math in the past, but I have learned to appreciate (and even sometimes enjoy) it in the context of my business.

What kind of math did you take in high school? Did you like it/feel like you were good at it?

I think I took Algebra and Geometry but not Calculus. I never, ever felt like I was good at it. I glazed over a lot. I excelled in English, and that came naturally. Math was a push for me almost all the time. (And yet, I did pretty well on the math section of my SATs, oddly enough!)

Did you have to learn new skills in order to do the math you use in your job? Or was it something that you could pickup using the skills you learned in school?

I did not learn new skills. I more had to learn the theories people have behind how to price things, which doesn’t seem exactly like math to me.

Do you have a question for Louisa? Would you like to check out her cards? You can find out more about her at her website.

Photo Credit: Louisa Wimberger, Weehah

Common Core Common Sense: The Series

Common Core Standards

It’s been a blast going unraveling five myths about the Common Core here at Math for Grownups. And I’ve gotten a lot of terrific feedback from commenters. In case you missed any of these posts, I thought I’d put them together in one package. Enjoy — and be sure to share your thoughts in the comment sections of each post!

Myth #1: Common Core is a Curriculum

This is perhaps the most pervasive misunderstanding. In fact, the Common Core Standards are simply that: standards. In education-speak, this means they are statements of what students should know, upon completing a course or grade. Common Core does something a bit more than other sets of standards, giving a clear expectation of the depth of this understanding. >>read the rest

Myth #2: The Standards Omit Basic Math Facts

While grabbing a latte at the local Starbucks a few weeks ago, I ran into a friend of mine. She was taking a break from teaching cursive to high school students at a nearby private school’s summer program. “Kids don’t learn cursive in elementary school anymore, and so they can’t sign their names,” she explained. “Kids aren’t even required to learn their multiplication tables these days!” >>read the rest

Myth #3: The Standards Introduce Algebra Too Late

One of the reasons for Common Core is to be sure that when students graduate from high school they are ready for college and/or the job market. And these days that means having some advanced math skills under their belts. But if you read the Common Core course headings, algebra is not mentioned until high school. >>read the rest

Myth #4: The Standards Require More Testing

Perhaps the most controversial aspect of the U.S. education system is standardized testing. And for good reason. There are a myriad of problems with these tests – from their links to private companies to their use as teacher evaluation tools. >>read the rest

Myth #5: Common Core is Overflowing with Fuzzy Math

First, a definition: fuzzy math is a derogatory term for an educational movement called reform math. Therefore the claim of fuzzy math isn’t so much a myth as an attempt to insult  the way that many math teachers and education researchers advocate teaching mathematics to K-12 students. >>read the rest

Know someone who could use an education on what the Common Core standards for math really say? Forward them this link. Or tweet about it and post on your Facebook page. 

Common Core Common Sense: Myths About the Standards, Part 5

Common Core Standards

In recent months, there’s been a tremendous amount of buzz regarding an educational change called Common Core. And a ton of that buzz perpetuates down-right false information. There’s so much to say about this that I’ve developed a five-part series debunking these myths — or outright lies, if you’re being cynical. This is the last post of that series (read Myth 1Myth 2Myth 3 and Myth 4), which began in August. Of course, I’m writing from a math perspective. Photo Credit: Watt_Dabney via Compfight cc

Myth #5: Common Core is Overflowing with Fuzzy Math

First, a definition: fuzzy math is a derogatory term for an educational movement called reform math. Therefore the claim of fuzzy math isn’t so much a myth as an attempt to insult  the way that many math teachers and education researchers advocate teaching mathematics to K-12 students.

Second, some history: in 1989, the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (disclaimer: I was once a member) published a document called Curriculum and Evaluation Standards for School Mathematics, which recommended a newish philosophy of math education. The group followed with Principles and Standards for School Mathematics in 2000. School officials and curriculum companies responded by implementing many of the approaches offered by the NCTM and as a result, the way we teach mathematics began to change. This change is what advocates call reform math and critics often call fuzzy math.

Before the NCTM’s publications, math teachers focused on the math — in particular series of steps (algorithms) designed to get the right answer to a problem or question. With reform math, educators became more focused on how students best learn mathematics. Suddenly, context and nuance and “why?” were at least as important as the answer. And it is true that Common Core Standards for Mathematics are largely based on the NCTM’s publications.

If this is truly fuzzy math, then we don’t have a myth here. (Although, to be fair, there is a legitimate branch of set theory and logic called “fuzzy mathematics.” But somehow, I don’t think Common Core critics using this term have real math in mind.) I include the fuzzy-math criticism as a myth because it suggests that teaching math in a conceptual way is a bad idea.

Throughout this series, I have asserted that the best way for students to understand and remember mathematical concepts is by returning over and over to the concepts behind the applications. Why is 24 such a flexible number? Because it has eight factors: 1, 2, 3, 4, 6, 8, 12 and 24. Students who really get this will have an easier time adding and subtracting fractions, reducing fractions, simplifying algebraic expressions and eventually solving algebraic equations through factoring.

This is numeracy, folks.

Students will not become numerate (think literate but with math) without a solid, conceptual understanding of mathematical ideas and properties. Numeracy does not typically evolve from memorizing multiplication tables or long division or pages and pages of practice problems. (Disclaimer: some kids will certainly become numerate regardless of how they’re being taught, but many, many others won’t.)

Numeracy is a life-long quest concentrated between the ages of five and 18 years old. Grownups can gain numeracy, but isn’t it better for our kids to enter into adulthood with this great understanding?

If Common Core critics want to call this whole philosophy “fuzzy math,” so be it. Just know that the ideas behind reform mathematics are deeply rooted in research about how kids learn math, not some ridiculous idea that was made up in the board rooms of a curriculum development company or smoke-filled political back rooms.

In short, the problems with Common Core math are not found in the standards themselves. Instead, the application and heated discourse are clouding Common Core’s real value and promise.

Got a question about the Common Core Standards for Mathematics? Please ask! Disagree with my assessment above? Share it! And if you missed Myth #1, Myth #2, Myth #3, Myth #4, you can find them hereherehere and here.

Common Core Common Sense: Myths About the Standards, Part 4

Common Core Standards

In recent months, there’s been a tremendous amount of buzz regarding an educational change called Common Core. And a ton of that buzz perpetuates down-right false information. There’s so much to say about this that I’ve developed a five-part series debunking these myths — or outright lies, if you’re being cynical. This is the fourth in that series (read Myth 1Myth 2 and Myth 3), which will continue on Wednesdays throughout August and into September. Of course, I’ll be writing from a math perspective. Photo Credit: Watt_Dabney via Compfight cc

Myth #4: The Standards Require More Testing

Perhaps the most controversial aspect of the U.S. education system is standardized testing. And for good reason. There are a myriad of problems with these tests–from their links to private companies to their use as teacher evaluation tools.

While I’ve said from the start that it’s not fair to judge the Common Core Standards based on their implementation in individual states, it’s also not fair to pretend that the standards and testing don’t go hand in hand. States aren’t abandoning standardized testing any time soon, so don’t hold your breath.

But what we do know for certain that the adoption of Common Core Standards does not mean more testing–in the long run. In fact, there is no testing requirement inherent in the adoption of Common Core. None!

However, as states move from previous standards to Common Core, there will be some changes in testing. First, student may take two sets of standardized tests–at first. In these situations, one test is the one aligned with the state’s previous standards. And students may take practice tests, based on the Common Core Standards. Usually this translates to more testing during one school year, with only one test score used for student placement or teacher and school evaluations.

Because the Common Core Standards focus on critical thinking, Common Core-aligned tests will probably look a little different than the all-multiple choice tests that we’re all used to. Students are required to show their work and may even be asked to explain how they came to their answers. Here’s a two-part example, which corresponds with the third grade math standards:

A. Fill in the blanks below to make a number sentence that represents the drawing:

Common Core

________ x ________ = ________
B. Put the dots below into five equally sized groups and write an equation that represents the drawing.

•  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  

Answers:
A. 4 x 6 = 24 or 6 x 4 = 24 or 8 x 3 = 24 or 3 x 8 = 24, etc.
B.   •  •  •      •  •  •      •  •  •      •  •  •      •  •  •      •  •  • 
3 x 5 = 15 or 5 x 3 = 15 or 15 ÷ 3 = 5 or 15 ÷ 5 = 3

There’s something going in the above problems that’s difficult (or impossible) to measure with multiple choice questions. First, students are asked to draw as a way of problem solving. Second, there are multiple correct answers.

(Psst. Want to test your third grade or fifth grade math skills? Take one of the Math for Grownups math quizzes. No one has to know your score. Promise!)

So while Common Core does not eliminate testing or prevent test results from being used inappropriately, if the tests are well constructed–and dang, that’s a big if–students have a much better opportunity to demonstrate critical thinking and the open-ended nature of mathematics. That’s not more testing, that’s better testing.

Got a question about the Common Core Standards for Mathematics? Please ask! Disagree with my assessment above? Share it! And if you missed Myth #1, Myth #2 or Myth #3, you can find the herehere and here.