I have the luxury of having a stepson who loves math and does really well and a stepdaughter who hates math and struggles daily, giving me insight into both ends of the spectrum on student performance. While preparing my Common Core lessons, I began to see that, although my Common Core lessons will look quite a bit different than my old lessons, it is very possible my kids will probably still feel the same way about math as they do now. During a recent trip to get ice cream, I talked to the two of them about my new lessons to get a better idea of why they feel the way they do about the subject of math.
When I met my wife, my stepson Logan was in kindergarten and Kenzie was in third grade. Since that time, it was very apparent that Logan was talented when it came to math, and Kenzie was going to fight her way through it year after year. This year, Logan will be in sixth grade, but taking a seventh grade math class, while Kenzie will be in eighth grade and in eighth grade math.
During our trip for ice cream, I asked them:
- What are your feelings about math and math class?
- Why do you think you feel that way?
Kenzie was the first to respond and said she hated math class and the subject of math. However, she did say she likes to “add, subtract, multiply, and divide.” So I asked her why she didn’t like the other stuff in math and she replied, “It’s really hard to read a problem and figure out what to do. I’m really bad at that and usually get the wrong answer.” In my experience, this is true of Kenzie. She would rather you tell her what to do in any situation in life than to sit and figure it out on her own.
When Logan answered he said, “That’s the part I like about math. I like to figure stuff out and get the answer.” Since I have known him, Logan has always been this way. He loves to solve puzzles and is always asking questions about anything in like that he doesn’t fully understand.
When thinking about Common Core and how it is going to “fix” student understanding of math, I start to question how that will happen. Since we are moving toward a more inquiry-based style of teaching and learning, I feel Logan will excel. It’s possible he will like math even more than he does now. However, Kenzie will struggle even more. If her biggest problem with math is figuring out what to do and math classes will now be filled with those situations, she will have to fight even more to understand.
My hope for my classroom is that I am able to challenge those students who already do well in math and also entertain those students who dislike math. I feel that if I can create fun activities that students similar Kenzie would enjoy doing, I may be able to create an environment where analysis and learning can take place. I know this for sure, the way I taught my class before didn’t work for kids like Kenzie. Students like Logan could show up, do the work, and get an A. Students like Kenzie were uninterested, rarely learned much, and were always behind. Maybe the hope for Common Core is that, since there are fewer standards, the extended amount of time will help struggling students take their fragile knowledge and turn it into a deeper understanding.