Mai-Tien Nguyen teaches math to fourth-graders Lauren Salyphanh (left), Malak Hadwan and Sneha Limbu. Photo: Paul Chinn, The Chronicle

I am an English teacher by training. That said, the more I learn about the “new math” and the Common Core State Standards in Mathematics (which goes into full implementation in our district this year), the more excited I get. I was always one of those folks that said, “I’m not a math person.” Now I realize… that’s not true! Math isn’t just about getting the answer quickly or doing calculations, it’s also about thinking critically, being able to problem-solve, and explain your thinking to others… “thinking like a mathematician.”

Learning about this new way to approach math makes me happy. My girls both have very different learning styles. This new approach will ensure they learn that doing well in math isn’t just about getting the correct answer, just as important is knowing how you got your answer and why the answer is important. We are moving away from being satisfied with rote memorization of math facts (the multiplication table for instance) and moving toward a fuller understanding of how math works. Don’t get me wrong, it’s important to know that 2+2=4 and be able to add accurately. But this information is useless if you don’t know how to apply it to solve real world problems.

Case in point: Students will be asked to take on complex performance tasks, which are multi-step exercise which allows students to apply a wide range of knowledge and critical thinking skills to solve a complex problem. Take a stab at the problem below below. This challenging problem can be done at the fourth grade level using manipulatives. It can also be done at the high school level using algebraic equations. I really like this example, because it illustrates that there is no right or wrong way to approach “real world” math problems. For this reason, these types of problems work well with various learning styles. Some students might draw diagrams or pictures, while others might create a table to solve the problem. Examples like the one below show how when we create rich engaging problems, we create opportunities for students at all levels to engage with math concepts in a way that is both challenging and appropriate.

This is called a "pile problem". It is a good example of the type of complex tasks students are being asked to undertake with this new approach to math.

This is called a “pile problem”. It is a good example of the type of complex tasks students are being asked to undertake with this new approach to math.

Does “Math Brain” Really Exist?

I have been lucky to get to work with the SFUSD Math Team this year, and I feel privileged to learn more about some of the great resources they are sharing to help teachers, parents and students learn more about the new approach to Math. (Check out their new website here!) Not only is the Math Team seeking to change the way we teach math (that math is all about right and wrong answers, or getting answers quickly) they are also out to change the very is the idea that some of us are born with a “Math Brain” or that some of us are predisposed to be “good at math”. Many of us grew up with this message. If we had bad experiences in school, we may have learned that we were “bad at math” and struggled as a result.

In that vein, I am posting a great video featuring an interview with Professor Jo Boaler, who teaches Mathematics Education at Stanford University. She talks about brain growth, mindset and learning. What she says may not only change the way you think about math, it may also change the way you think about learning. Check it out and leave your comments below.

Learn more about the new Common Core math standards:

Join the SFUSD Math Team and Dr. Jo Boaler, Stanford Professor of Mathematics Education

Learn about shifts in content and practice in the Common Core State Standards for Mathematics at SFUSD with Dr. Boaler. Click these links for flyers in English, Spanish, and Chinese. Or better yet, visit the SFUSD Math website for more information!

  • When: Thursday, October 2 / 6:00-7:30pm
  • Where: Presidio Middle School Auditorium 450 30th Ave. (Parking on the schoolyard.)
  • Translation and light refreshments provided

Related Reads: Not Your Mama’s Math: How the Common Core is Changing Math InstructionHow Does Good Differentiated Instruction in Middle School Math Look?Great Online Math Resources from PBS Education

Join the conversation! 2 Comments

  1. I’m pretty happy with the concept of Common Core as well. I read Amanda Ripley’s latest book where she cites how far behind we are with critical thinking compared to other countries. It’s not just about rote memorization, but about using what you learned in real life.

    Reply

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About alimcollins

Ali Collins is an educator, community organizer and mom. She lives with her husband and twin girls in San Francisco, CA.

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