I am sitting outside on the back porch writing a different blog post for this blog, and the sixth grader I babysit after school twice a week is working on her math homework. Periodically she looks over with a question.
Now, I haven’t taken math since pre-calc junior year of high school in 2012, but I feel like I should still be able to answer sixth grade pre-algebra questions. Sometimes I can’t remember an exact term and have to google it, which I am okay with, but today there have been two times that she asks me how to measure an angle. Both times I have answered with the way I learned, and both times she has told me “oh, yeah, I know that would work, but I can’t do it that way.” Her teacher had told them they had to use a certain process to find this angle, even though there was another, more simple and practical way to solve the problem.
In class we were talking about the fact that this is an issue a lot of parents have with Common Core. Adults should be able to help kids with their homework in the early years of schooling. This has become a problem with the Common Core standards because Common Core emphasizes focusing on one step at a time and staying on track in an effort to standardize. However, this means forcing children to come about an answer in the one way you are teaching in that lesson, but this is not realistic for the real world. Problem-solving is a multi-faceted issue with many different solutions often and coming up with an effective solution is more important than the way you come up with the solution.
I understand that teachers may want to isolate a technique so students learn and master it, but I do not think it should come at the expense of allowing kids to solve problems in the way that makes the most sense to them. Individuals have such varying thought processes and ways of approaching problems, I think it is deterring kids from developing their individual ways of approaching problems.
However, this individuality is highly valued in the work force where collaboration is key in order to get multiple perspectives and ways to come to a solution. Why then are we not allowing children to develop and express this in schools if the goal is “college and career readiness”?
I sympathize with parents who are struggling under the common core standards to help their children with homework. Not only do you want to be able to help, but not being able to do elementary-level work is upsetting as an adult!
The flaw to my argument against this way of teaching is I don’t have a suggestion for an alternative or solution to this problem. Like I said, I think it is important to develop specific skills, especially in math, and that is often what teachers are going for when instructing their students to solve problems in one specific way, but there has to be a better way. Schools have to stop trying to force children into a uniform box for twelve years, and then expecting creativity and diversity in skills in college and beyond.