Common Core math

I’ve been reading a lot lately about Common Core. It’s a big deal, even to homeschoolers, because of how it is changing the face of education in the U.S. I think there are a lot of things wrong with it, and I think educational standards should be left to the states, the “laboratories of democracy,” so that there’s always another state trying something different for us to compare ourselves to.

But this isn’t really about that. This is about all of those little “Common Core math” scans that people put up on news sites and blogs. You know, like this: There are tons, and I can see why the parents complain.

In a lot of cases, I can actually figure out what the question is asking, because we’re doing Singapore math. Common Core math seems to be at least partly based on Asian math techniques, so I recognize some of the techniques that it is attempting to teach.

So, for some of these problems, I think that this math technique *is* a good way to teach students. Parents seem to be choking over concepts as simple as number bonds, but number bonds are a great way for kids to see the relationship between numbers.

However, some of the problems I can’t even figure out what they’re asking. I don’t even think it’s always necessarily the math technique that’s at fault, it’s sort of like… like a language arts teacher was handed an Asian math book and told to adapt it for American schools. The wording is terrible, the construction of the problems is awful. The implementation is just basically all wrong all around.

I think the implementation issue is a big reason why we don’t need to have the federal government taking charge of school curriculum to such a degree (and despite whatever private funding it got here and there, the reason most of the states are doing it is that the federal government wants them to). Bureaucrats are not the best people to make math programs.

But I think there’s a bigger problem that we’re seeing with parents posting pictures of their kids’ math problems and how they can’t understand them… and that’s the fact that parents can’t understand them.

Now, I understand that many parents learned with a different math system, where 15 – 7 was taught by memorization, rather than by recognizing that 15 is made up of 10 and 5, so since you can’t easily subtract 7 from 5, you subtract it from the 10, getting 3, then add that to the 5 to get 8 as your result. But even though parents didn’t learn under these methods, kids are apparently getting sent home with math problems using new math, with the expectation that their parents will help them, but the parents have no way to learn the new math.

I think that, if teachers are going to send home math worksheets for kids to do as homework, and especially if there’s an expectation that parents will help them if they need it, then the teachers need to also send home a packet of information (or a link to a website) that will explain any “new math” terms and concepts that they need to know. I don’t think any parent would need more than a 30-second introduction to the concept of “number bonds” before they’d get the idea of what their child’s homework was asking for. It would be hard to include a complete explanation (especially with examples) on every worksheet, but a website or a packet of information at the beginning of the semester could put the parents on the same page.

I once read a book, I believe it was the biography of Richard Rodriguez, where he talked about his difficulties with English in school. His family spoke Spanish at home, and he was having trouble learning English. His teacher told his parents that they needed to start using English at home, too, so that he could get better at it.

The problem was that his father didn’t speak English very well. So when they switched to English, his father went mostly silent. He no longer led the household, he no longer contributed to the conversation. He became a silent figure in the corner. His influence on his children’s lives was lost to a language barrier.

I think that, if we allow changes to curriculum to separate parents from being able to understand what their children are learning in school, we experience something similar to what Richard’s father did. We end up in a situation where our kids can’t ask us for help. Where our ignorance of how to do first grade math (in the new technique) means, to our students, that we just don’t know how to do things nowadays. That what parents know is out of date, and their teachers are to be trusted for real, modern information.

I think that this attitude is dangerous if it spills over from math into other things. Is it far-fetched to think that, because our children think that we aren’t clever/modern enough to understand math, that we also don’t know what we’re talking about in regards sexual education, or character education? Perhaps the “new” ideas in those, as well, are just not something that we can understand, and so we’re not to be listened to there, either.

I hope that the backlash against Common Core is successful, and the attempt to federalize education (even more than it is already) is dropped. I don’t know if it will be. But even though I homeschool my own kids, so they won’t be learning with it, I fear for the children of this country. I fear that they will get an inferior education through it that will damage our economy even further, as we graduate students who know less and less. And I fear that the Common Core will drive a wedge deeper between children and their parents.


Geography spines for next year

In an attempt to simplify my geography program a bit for use with my next two girls, I’ve been looking at nonfiction geography books that might work for the program. Last time I went through it, I tried to get an easy geography book from the library for each of the countries we spent a few days or more on.

However, this time through, I’d like to use some of those books that have a page or two on each of many countries, and not get all the individual books. Mostly because, with younger kids, I’d rather just read a few pages about each country and not a whole book. Some of the countries may be duplicated in the books, but I’d still rather read a short page spread from one book one day, another book another day, than try to read a full nonfiction book. It will be more repetitious, but that might be a good thing.

Some of the books I’m looking at are:

What the World Eats
Children Around the World
Children from Australia to Zimbabwe
My First Atlas

From last year, I’ll still be using:

Children Just Like Me
A Life Like Mine

I won’t be using “A Child’s Introduction to the World,” because that one is a little too advanced for the kids this time.

My main story spines will be:

Around the World in 80 Tales
Stories from Around the World
Lion Storyteller Bedtime Book
Lion Storyteller Book of Animal Tales
Stories from Africa

I will also be including various individual books from my library and my collection.

I’m thinking to make the schedule one Bible reading and two geography readings per day (one nonfiction and one fiction, where applicable, but sometimes both fiction if that’s what I have). I may also schedule some poetry, we’ll see. I figure that I can keep plenty of picture books on hand, and read one of those as well on days that we want a little more reading. But already sometimes we’re hard-pressed to get all the various readings and lessons done per day, so I don’t want to make it longer than I have to.

Also, with dropping off Native America and the general geography, it’s going to be harder to fill 36 weeks, especially as my current library system isn’t as robust as the other was, and I don’t have all those full nonfiction books to try to fit in.

I’ll be waiting for my newly-ordered books to arrive so I can catalog which countries they cover, then I’ll be getting started.

My other project that I’ll be starting on soon is making a notebooking journal to go with Science in the Beginning, the new book by Jay Wile. I have in mind to do a few simple games/activities for each section, so I think that will be fun to come up with.

New version of geography program for younger children–coming soon! Suggestions appreciated.

I have been contemplating what I want to do with my two middle daughters for next year, for their main curriculum (literature, social studies, etc.). Currently, Jenny is doing Sonlight’s P4/5 and Charlotte is doing P3/4. We’re on week 8 of P4/5, so that puts us on track to finish it somewhere around December. P3/4 isn’t really scheduled, so I’ll just keep going with that until we finish P4/5. Next December, Charlotte will be 4 and Jenny will have just turned 6. I had tentatively thought about doing Core A with Jenny, but I’ve been thinking about combining the two of them into a core together. So my thought is to do my own geography program with them starting when we finish P4/5, and then doing Core A with them together afterwards. That would mean starting Core A maybe around Fall 2015. At that point, Charlotte would be (newly) 5 and Jenny almost 7, the perfect time for doing Core A together, since it’s for ages 5-7.

I think the geography program will be the perfect spacer for them. However, I do need to go through and re-plan some of it, since I found that a lot of the library books I had planned on doing when we lived in our former neighborhood were no longer available once we moved.

Since I have to re-plan everything anyway, I have a few changes in mind as well. The first is to make it for slightly younger kids. It will be all picture books, leaving out the few chapter books that were in it before. I’ll also probably be leaving out the missionary books, or at least only include a few selections from them, because the writing is a little hard and no pictures. I’ll probably still include some of the “Little Lights” series, as those are easier. I’ll also be leaving out the additional nonfiction books on countries that I was getting from the library before. All of these changes will help it to be better for slightly younger kids.

Also, I’m planning to actually do some planning for the length and layout, instead of just putting in all the books on a country I wanted, and then figuring that was how long we would spend on the country. This time around, I want to aim to make it 36 weeks long, and to spend roughly the same amount of time on each continent (I may make it 4-5 weeks each for North American/Australia, because those two continents have fewer separate countries/peoples to cover, and then I’d do 6-7 for the other continents). I’ll probably leave off Native America, and I’ll leave off the “general geography” stuff, or I’ll spread it out throughout the program.

I had a hard time before getting the crafts and science activities done. I had a schedule so that I’d remember to put library books on hold at the right time, but I didn’t do anything comparable to remember to add things to my grocery list, and sometimes collecting all the supplies just made it not worth it. So this time, I’m going to try to collect and bag all of the supplies that I need for each craft or activity.

One last change I want to make is with the passports. I’m still going to use our printable passports, but this time I’m thinking to buy a sticker book I found online that includes all the flag stickers. I think it’ll be a lot easier to get it done if the kids just have to pull off a sticker and stick it in their book, then when we had to get our drawing boards out, and the glue, and put glue on the sticker, and put it in the book, and sometimes they got too much glue and it made the pages stick. I’ll still post my old flag file in case anybody would rather print theirs (although I won’t be able to guarantee that the flags will still match up, with the changes).

What I’d love from any readers who are interested in this geography program is, are there any things you’d like to see done? Do you have a country that you’d really love me to make sure is included? Do you have a book that you recommend? I’m mostly looking at books that portray the country as it is now (modern) and folktales, but I’m willing to include historical stories if they are really good stories.

I am going to look into posting the new version on a website and being able to post a download link here, so that people don’t have to post/email me about it. We’ll see if that works.

I’ll include both a booklist with books sorted by country, and also a schedule. That way, people who want it all scheduled out will be able to just start right away, but people who would just prefer to go through it in their own time with the book ideas can do so.