Monthly Archives: October 2013

Response to Activism: Math letter from a 10 year old

A friend posted her daughter’s math curriculum complaint letter on Facebook.  It was so good I had to respond.

Dear Charlotte,

Congratulations on your thoughtful and downright important letter.  Since Mayor Bloomberg is probably too busy to write back to you in the waning days of his administration (or he might be in Bermuda right now), I took it upon myself to respond.  As a principal and a lifelong fan of mathematics, I urge you to continue your activism and to speak truth to power.

All the same, I disagree with some of your comments and I want to offer an alternative view.

I assume by the “new math curriculum” you are referring to the Common Core Standards, or at least some new program that was bought by your district in order to align with Common Core.   Dictating that there is one “way it is supposed to be done” is antithetical to Common Core.  In fact, your teachers should be urging you and your classmates to explore and learn a variety of ways to solve problems.  As long as the answer is correct (barring any errors in arithmetic), all ways are valid—but only some are efficient.  You should be learning the difference, and learning to choose and apply the best strategies for a given situation.

Based on your example, it sounds like in your classroom you have been explicitly taught to do multidigit division with one particular strategy.  If so, that’s not cool.  Instead, I hope your teachers in Port Washington instead are showing you a variety of ways to divide, and letting you and your classmates argue about what is best.  In doing so, you will not only discover a fast method that works for you, but you will gain a little more number sense in the process.  The kids in your class who will be confused by dropping zeros are the very ones who need more practice trying different strategies, to be flexible with working with different orders of magnitude, and more freedom to make up their own strategies, not less.

So in the end, while I’m telling you that I disagree with you, I think we actually agree on a lot.  If you school could explain the purpose and philosophy of Common Core math standards better to you and your classmates, you might not be writing your essay.  Instead, you would be saying, “Thanks for letting us try all these different methods, just like grown up mathematicians, and settling on what works!”  And then, “Thanks for showing us the standard algorithm of long division too—it makes much more sense now that we’ve tried a lot of other different methods.”

Oh and one more thing: I think front end estimation is awesome too.  (I’m not sure what the adjustment is, but it sounds useful.  And please don’t give up on estimating to check; with more practice, you and your classmates might find how useful it is…grown ups who deal with big numbers estimate to check all the time.)

Good luck and keep up your thoughtful math learning and your taking action!

Posted in Common Core Standards, Education Policy | Leave a comment