Elsewhere on Yup’s blog we have written about debates around homework within the field of education. For families, homework can be a struggle. Managing the logistics around homework help - like finding time and focus - can be stressful. Navigating the content of your child’s assignments presents another layer of difficulty.
Parents may especially struggle to support their students with their math homework. Some caregivers doubt their math expertise or ability to recall their former math skills. Others may even feel positively anxious about tackling a math assignment. In fact, “math anxiety” is a widespread phenomenon, with approximately 93% of American adults experiencing it to some degree, according to a 2011 study. Meanwhile, other adults may feel confident going into a math homework session, but then quickly realize they can’t decipher their child’s assignment.
If your child’s math homework looks markedly different from your own, that’s in part because over the last ten or so years, there have been some big changes in how it is taught..
How the Common Core has changed teaching and learning in math
The Common Core State Standards represent the most recent and sweeping change. Beginning in 2009, school and state leaders, content experts, and teachers developed the Common Core to delineate what students should know and be able to do in math and English language arts at the end of each grade-level (K-12) in order to be prepared for success after high school.
The math standards have made some key shifts from previous standards and curriculum:
Common Core-aligned instruction moves away from speed -- something previously viewed as a sign of achievement. Maybe you remember, for instance, timed multiplication tests, where the objective was to get all of the answers correct as quickly as possible.
Teachers, too, had to sprint in their teaching. Math teacher and author Chris Danielson observes that teachers and students were expected to cover far too many topics in a given year with too little depth. In addition, Danielson notes, topics were disconnected and tackled piece-meal, without a sense of how concepts and skills in math build on and relate to one another.
The Common Core standards were designed to help teachers and students focus more deeply on fewer topics. They have also been developed in such a way that each standard is not a “new event” but rather reinforces or extends what students have learned before, supporting a more holistic understanding of math.
Prior models of math instruction over-emphasized memorization or rote use of specific procedures. In other words, students learned a kind of math with one answer and one right way to get there (i.e. a certain equation or mnemonic device).
However, this kind of approach does not support student success. The Programme for International Student Assessment, for instance, found that among their global sample of 13 million students, the lowest-achieving students were ones who approached math as a subject that calls on memorizing, whereas the highest achievers approached math from a conceptual framework.
The Common Core emphasizes conceptual understanding and application, alongside procedural skills and fluency. So, while the standards continue to ask students to practice (and keep practicing) key functions, they also aim to help students see how they can engage with math problems and ideas from many angles and using many strategies, as well as to express and apply those experiences in different situations.
While the changes effected by the Common Core may make students’ math homework seem unfamiliar or intimidating to parents, these changes are for the better. Jo Boaler, a professor of math education at Stanford University, argues the Common Core promotes more authentic and generative ways of teaching and learning in math:
“Mathematics is a broad and multidimensional subject. Real mathematics is about inquiry, communication, connections, and visual ideas. We don’t need students to calculate quickly in math. We need students who can ask good questions, map out pathways, reason about complex solutions, set up models and communicate in different forms. All of these ways of working are encouraged by the Common Core.”
In this way, Boaler affirms, the new Common Core standards - and the teaching practices that support them - shift math from being a “performance subject”, where the goal is to produce correct answers without error, to a “learning subject” where it’s clear that understanding and application are the goal, and that there are multiple ways to get there.
Yup is your homework support team
As parents adjust to the shifts in math instruction, Yup is here to help. Yup offers unlimited, 24/7 math support, so that students and caregivers aren’t on their own when it is time to tackle homework. Our tutors bring expertise across all math subject areas and are trained in the Common Core. The Teaching Framework they follow is aimed at driving long-term understanding, not just following rote procedures and answer-getting. Parents are even welcome to sit in on our text-based sessions, if they would like to learn alongside their kids, too.