Tuesday, June 28, 2011

CORE STRENGTH

Why do so many students struggle with math?  Sometimes I think we are grasping at straws trying to come up with a way to get students to grasp math.  Yes, I know that students should have a variety of strategies to solve math problems, but is it not possible that this variety adds to math confusion for some?  Perhaps we are (however rightfully constructivist it is) giving students the opportunity to construct their own methods for solving math problems without making sure they have the solid foundational number sense that will aid them in the process.  Perhaps, as an example, offering up strategies like the lattice method is premature for many. 

Does the lattice method really promote understanding?  My son, who struggles with math, uses the lattice method to multiply multi-digit numbers.  If someone were to ask me if I thought the lattice method connects my son to a real understanding of multiplication, I would also have to say “no.”  It is just his preferred technique because it has brought him the most success, in terms of getting correct answers.

Where am I going with all of this?  Two words...Core Strength.  I think something core is missing.  I  believe that students who struggle with math missed something foundational in their early math learning.  The problem with current math education, in my opinion, is that we RUSH so many of our children into math arena that they simply are not ready for.  Yes, there are some kids who are brilliant with numbers from a very early age.  These kids should be able to be in math arenas that challenge them and cater to their exceptional math abilities, but that is another discussion altogether.
What is the solution? I suppose defining what deep math understanding entails is a good first step.  This has been done, in the form of a document titled “The Common Core Standards for Mathematics,” written and published by the Common Core State Standards Initiative.  Here are the links to both.
The Common Core Standards for Mathematics is written as a guide to bring deep mathematical understanding to students in the U.S.  Many states have adopted these standards.  The guide is broken down into Standards for Mathematical Practices and Standards for Mathematical Content.  The Standards for Mathematical Practices list eight areas in which students should exhibit mathematical ability.  The Standards for Mathematical Content break down what students should learn in each grade, K-12.
As a teacher, I will find the breakdown helpful in determining what is to be taught to whatever grade I end up teaching.  As a teacher, I will find the practices helpful as a means of assessing student progress and ability.  I sincerely hope that, as time goes on, these guidelines will succeed in providing foundational number sense so important to successful math progression.

Finally, in my quest to find math curriculum that is both effective and relevant to students, I have been looking into Montessori math.  I am very drawn to the Montessori philosophy and approach to learning, how they connect math to everyday life, and how they combine hands-on engagement with simultaneous integration of number operations and facts memorization.  I am wondering if Montessori methods might be the answer (or at least part of the answer) I am looking for.  I plan to do more research.  In the mean time, this link and video are worth checking out.


Introduction to Montessori Math video

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