New Math: Does it Add Up?

MGN Online
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RENO, NV - When you think about math, you often think of worksheets full of equations and working through several steps to get to the right answer. The common core curriculum shows there's much more to it. This fall marks the third year of implementing common core standards in elementary schools, but the new math is still a learning process for many students and even parents.

For many eight-year-olds, there is one subject in school they all dread: math. For Stewart Dugas, it's no different.

"Sometimes it can be really tricky and I don't like that," he said.

Dugas is going to be in the fourth grade at Jesse Hall in the fall. When his mother tries to help him with his math homework, it just confuses him even more.

"When my teacher teaches us, my mom teaches me differently so it's difficult," he adds.

"Oh it's frustrating. He gets frustrated, I get frustrated," said Petie Dugas, his mother. "I'll try to do it the way he did it, but some of the answers, it doesn't make sense how he got them."

That's because he's learning a completely different way of doing math. The Nevada Department of Education is moving to a more multi-dimensional approach to encourage critical thinking at an early age.

"We had standards that were very low and were very standards-based, and so they were into very small bites and when you start to break things down and you only see a small piece of it, you lose the big picture," said Denise Trakas, the Washoe County School District K-8 Mathematics program coordinator.

They're trying to raise the standards with a more rigorous curriculum. Many argue math is math; you only get one right answer and many ways of getting there. This is just one of them.

"We want to get in their brains now," Trakas said. "We want to understand how they're thinking so we can better support them into higher levels of mathematics."

Teachers want to build a foundation early. For example, instead of carrying in addition, students break down each number into partial sums. Forty plus 20 can be seen as four tens plus two tens is six tens, which is 60.

It seems simple enough, but for those who are used to the old approach, these new rules are harder to grasp.

"Sometimes he doesn't come up with the right answers and he's wondering why and he's asking me and I can't answer him, except the correct answer I know what it is," Dugas said.

So, the question many parents have now is why fix something that's not broken?

"Students are just doing what the teacher says and mimic behavior, which gets us into short-term memory," Trakas said.

Trakas adds that she's seeing students make more sense of a problem and develop arguments that will help them better prepare for the future. However, some parents don't think young kids are ready.

"Who's to say when he gets to algebra or whatever that might be easier with that way they're teaching them, but right now in elementary school, I don't think it's that helpful," said Dugas.

Trakas says the WCSD does offer classes for parents through the schools. The Nevada Department of Education hopes to have the common core standards completely implemented by the 2015-2016 school year.