Tag Archives: common core

The latest “Common Core” worksheet

You have seen this on Facebook.

Original (Click to enlarge)

Ugh what a mess.

Please share the annotated version widely.

I’ll say what I have to say (comments closed) and move on. If you wish to discuss further, hit me up on Twitter or pingback to the blog. Want to talk in private? Click the About/Contact link up top.

Also, Justin Aion—middle school teacher extraordinaire—wrote up his views on the matter. You can read them over in his house.

Here goes…

The intended answer

Dear Jack,

You only subtracted 306 from 427, not 316. You need to subtract another 10 to get the correct answer of 111.

Sincerely,

Helpful student

The purpose of this task

I cannot say whether this was the right task for this child at this time because I do not know the child, the teacher or the classroom.

I can say the following:

  • Analyzing errors is a useful way to encourage metacognition, which means thinking about your thinking. This is an important part of training our minds.
  • The number line here is a representation of a certain kind of thinking—counting back. The number line is not the algorithm. The number line records Jack’s thinking. He counted back from 427 by hundreds. Then he counted back by ones. He skipped the tens. We can see this error because he recorded his thinking with a number line.
  • Coincidentally, the calculation in question requires no regrouping (borrowing) in the standard algorithm, so the problem appears deceptively simple in its simplified version.
  • This task is intended to help students connect the steps of the standard (simplified) algorithm with reasoning that is based on the values of the numbers involved. Why count back by three big jumps? Because you are subtracting 300-something. Why count back by six small jumps? Because you are subtracting something-something-6. Wait! What happened to the 1 in the tens place? Oops. Jack forgot it. That’s his mistake.

So what?

The Common Core State Standards do require students to use number lines more than is common practice in many present elementary curricula. When well executed, these number lines provide support for kids to express their mental math strategies.

No one is advocating that children need to draw a number line to compute multi-digit subtraction problems that they can quickly execute in other ways.

The Common Core State Standards dictate teaching the standard algorithms for all four arithmetic operations.

But the “Frustrated Parent” who signed that letter, and the many people with whom that letter resonated, seem not to understand that they themselves think the way Jack is trying to in this task.

Here is the test of that.

A task

What is 1001 minus 2?

You had better not be getting out paper and pencil for this. As an adult “with extensive study in differential equations,” you had better be able to do it as quickly as my 9-year old.

He knows with certainty that 1001 minus 2 is 999. But he does not know how to get the algorithm to make that happen.

If I have to choose one of those two—(1) Know the correct answer with certainty based on the values of the numbers involved, and (2) Get the correct answer using a particular algorithm, but needing paper and pencil to solve this and similar problems—I choose (1) every time.

But we don’t have to choose. We need to work on both.

That’s not Common Core.

That’s common sense.

[Comments closed]

Ginger ale (also abbreviated list of Standards for Mathematical Practice)

We have some of these mini cans of ginger ale in the house this week. I am not sure where they came from; only that my wife bought them. Normally we only have sparkling water around, not pop (nor soda, nor…)

ginger.ale.1

So I’m looking at the can instead of grading like I should be and I notice the “25% fewer calories than regular ginger ales” claim.

And I think what any skeptical consumer ought to think. Sure fewer calories in the mini can. Duh.

Then I see this:

ginger.ale.2They have controlled for the size of the can. Nice. This one has 60 calories per 7.5 fl. oz. Regular ginger ales have 90 calories per 7.5 fl. oz.

I am briefly satisfied. And impressed.

But wait! 60 is 25% less than 90? ARGH!

Two possible explanations:

  1. 25% means at least 25%, and Seagram’s chose this nice simple number over the more complicated 33\frac{1}{3}%.
  2. It really is exactly 25%. But we know that calorie counts are rounded to the nearest 10 calories.

This second explanation leads to a sort of lovely task. How can we characterize the set of possible calorie counts for 7.5 fl. oz. of Seagram’s and of regular ginger ale so that, (a) the counts round to 60 and 90, and (b) one number is exactly 25% less than the other?

Extra credit: Which standards for mathematical practice are you using as you solve?

Double extra credit: Which of my abbreviated list of standards for mathematical practice (see below) are you using as you solve? And which was I using as I gazed at my can of ginger ale?

Prof. Triangleman’s Abbreviated List of Standards for Mathematical Practice.

PTALSMP 1: Ask questions. Ask why. Ask how. Ask whether your answer is right. Ask whether it makes sense. Ask what assumptions you have made, and whether an alternate set of assumptions might be warranted. Ask what if. Ask what if not.

PTALSMP 2: Play. See what happens if you carry out the computation you have in mind, even if you are not sure it’s the right one. See what happens if you do it the other way around. Try to think like someone else would think. Tweak and see what happens.

PLALSMP 3: Argue. Say why you think you are right. Say why you might be wrong. Try to understand how someone else sees things, and say why you think their perspective may be valid. Do not accept what others say is so, but listen carefully to it so that you can decide whether it is.

See also my Desmos graph of this relationship.

Decimals and curriculum (Common Core) [TDI 6]

The Decimal Institute is winding down. This week, I have a short post outlining the relationship between our discussion these past weeks and the Common Core State Standards (with links). Then next week we will wrap up with a summary of what I have learned and an invitation to participants to share their own learning.

Screen shot 2013-11-04 at 9.27.08 PM

The Common Core State Standards build decimals from the intersection of fraction and place value knowledge. Fractions are studied at third grade and fourth grade before decimals are introduced in fourth:

Use decimal notation for fractions with denominators 10 or 100. For example, rewrite 0.62 as 62/100; describe a length as 0.62 meters; locate 0.62 on a number line diagram.

One of the issues we have been wrestling with in the Institute has been how much decimals are like whole numbers and how much they are like fractions. In light of this conversation, I found the following statements about comparisons interesting.

  • CCSS.Math.Content.1.NBT.B.3 Compare two two-digit numbers based on meanings of the tens and ones digits, recording the results of comparisons with the symbols >, =, and <.
  • CCSS.Math.Content.2.NBT.A.4 Compare two three-digit numbers based on meanings of the hundreds, tens, and ones digits, using >, =, and < symbols to record the results of comparisons.
  • CCSS.Math.Content.4.NBT.A.2 Read and write multi-digit whole numbers using base-ten numerals, number names, and expanded form. Compare two multi-digit numbers based on meanings of the digits in each place, using >, =, and < symbols to record the results of comparisons.

These all refer to comparisons of whole numbers—at grades 1, 2 and 4. Comparisons of decimals appear at grades 4 and 5. For example:

  • CCSS.Math.Content.4.NF.C.7 Compare two decimals to hundredths by reasoning about their size. Recognize that comparisons are valid only when the two decimals refer to the same whole. Record the results of comparisons with the symbols >, =, or <, and justify the conclusions, e.g., by using a visual model. [emphasis added]

The phrase, Recognize that comparisons are valid only when the two decimals refer to the same whole, struck me as odd. If I am comparing 0.21 to 0.5, I need to make the whole clear, but if I compare 21 to 5, I do not?

This seems to be an overcommitment to decimals being like fractions rather than like whole numbers. Or not enough of a commitment to the ambiguity of whole numbers.

In any case, the treatment of decimals in the Common Core State Standards is probably one of the major challenges for U.S. elementary teachers, who may be accustomed to curriculum materials that emphasize the place value similarities of decimals to whole numbers rather than the partitioning similarities to fractions.

I will provide some examples of pre-Common Core U.S. curriculum in the Canvas discussion to support this claim. Join us over there, won’t you?

Non-U.S. teachers, please share with us your observations about how these standards relate to curricular progressions you are using. An international perspective will be quite useful to all of us.

And please start thinking about what you can do in the coming weeks to share/demonstrate/document/extend your learning from our time together. Consider it your tuition to the Institute.

What is “the standard algorithm”? [#algorithmchat]

Richard Skemp wrote, in “Relational Understanding and Instrumental Understanding,” about faux amis—those pesky words in other languages that look like words you are familiar with, but which mean something else entirely. Skemp argues that the word understand is like this—different people use it to mean completely different things. This leads to misunderstanding

And so I fear it is with the standard algorithm.

I have heard it said that the use of this phrase (repeatedly) in the Common Core State Standards was a compromise (although I cannot find a source for this—leave any breadcrumbs you can find in the comments, won’t you?) It would satisfy some parties who believe that the standard algorithm is an essential seawall against the encroaching fuzzy math tide, while leaving the precise nature of the standard algorithm unspecified would appease those who argue that alternative algorithms are helpful in developing and maintaining children’s number sense.

But if a compromise owes its precise nature to the fact that different parties will interpret the terms of the compromise differently, has there really been a compromise? Have we really made an agreement when we disagree about its meaning?

What is an algorithm?

Karen Fuson and Sybilla Beckmann, in their “Standard Algorithms in the Common Core State Standards” cite a CCSSM Progression document.

In mathematics, an algorithm is defined by its steps, and not by the way those steps are recorded in writing.

Hyman Bass, in his article from Teaching Children Mathematics, “Computational Fluency, Algorithms, and Mathematical Proficiency: One Mathematician’s Perspective” agrees.

An algorithm consists of a precisely specified sequence of steps that will lead to a complete solution for a certain class of computational problems.

So far, so good. We have accord on the meaning of algorithm.

What is the standard algorithm?

The definite article in the phrase the standard algorithm seems to be important to the alleged compromise I referred to.

Here, for example, is Hung-Hsi Wu on standard algorithms.

[T]he essence of all four standard algorithms is the reduction of any whole number computation to the computation of single-digit numbers.

Wu states the following steps for the standard algorithm (.pdf) for multidigit multiplication.

To compute say 826 × 73, take the digits of the second factor 73 individually, compute the two products with single digit multiplier— i.e., 826 × 3 and 826 × 7 — and, when adding them, shift the one involving the tens digit (i.e., 7) one digit to the left.

He explicitly allows for moving left-to-right, as well as inclusion of zeroes instead of shifting. But explicit attention to place value in the process of working the algorithm seems to be proscribed.

Contrast this with the following figure (click for full-size version) from Fuson and Beckmann.

Screen shot 2013-05-22 at 9.22.54 AM

This figure is labeled “Written methods for the standard multiplication algorithm , 2-digit x 2-digit”. Note in particular methods D (lower left) and F (upper right). Method D shows that we are thinking 6 x 9 tens as we work the algorithm. Method F suggests that we are thinking 6 x 90 as we work.

But wait. The lattice method is an example of the standard algorithm?

Recall that an algorithm is defined by its steps. In Wu’s standard algorithm, you may proceed from left to right, or from right to left; either is acceptable. The lattice has both left/right and up/down steps, and you may do the single digit multiplication steps in absolutely any order.

I cannot imagine that Wu would count the lattice as a standard algorithm, and I seriously doubt he would count partial products (method D) in that category.

All of this got me thinking about whether there are any non-standard algorithms for multi-digit multiplication in the viewpoint that Fuson and Beckmann present. Pretty much every multiplication algorithm I know is in that Fuson and Beckmann figure. Every one except the Russian Peasant Algorithm, that is.

an alternative

I have argued that the compromise of using the standard algorithm but not specifying the standard algorithm in the Common Core is problematic because different people mean different things by it. The lattice is explicitly counted in the standard algorithm by Fuson and Beckmann, but our agreement on what constitutes an algorithm (a precisely defined series of steps) implies that the lattice constitutes a different algorithm from (say) partial products. Both cannot be the standard algorithm.

But here is an alternative. What if Common Core, instead of using the language of the standard algorithm used the following construction: an algorithm based on place-value decomposition.

In this case, 5.NBT.B.5 would read:

Fluently multiply multi-digit whole numbers using an algorithm based on place-value decomposition.

This construction would seem to include all of the algorithms in Fuson and Beckmann’s figure; it would make clear that the Russian Peasant Algorithm does not count; and it would be more transparent than the standard algorithm.

Until and unless I receive cease-and-desist notifications, I will go ahead and use this version in everything I do.

For your convenience, I have rephrased the various citations below. You can thank me later.

4.NBT.B.4 Fluently add and subtract multi-digit whole numbers using an algorithm based on place-value decomposition.

5.NBT.B.5 Fluently multiply multi-digit whole numbers using an algorithm based on place-value decomposition.

6.NS.B.2 Fluently divide multi-digit numbers using an algorithm based on place-value decomposition.

Reading group [#algorithmchat]

The article, “Standard Algorithms in the Common Core State Standards” by Karen Fuson and Sybilla Beckmann, published in the National Council of Supervisors of Mathematics journal last fall, was recommended to me this weekend.

It’s a weighty one, and relevant to conversations we have had on blogs and on Twitter in recent months, so I didn’t want to read it alone. I asked who was in for a reading group and got quite a few responses.

The article is available through Beckmann’s website (scroll way down to the “Some Other Papers” heading).

I have no experience organizing this sort of thing, but it seems that a hashtag is appropriate. I have investigated the matter and #algorithmchat is both clear on Twitter and communicates at least part of our purpose.

I considered trying to organize synchronous discussion, but it seemed too controlling and impossible to establish. So I vote we discuss by hashtag on Twitter. Anyone who ends up being moved to go long form can include include the #algorithmchat hashtag in a tweet to their post.

I have not read the article yet. It was passed along to me  by a colleague with whom I was  leading a professional development session. She really appreciated the comprehensive nature of the piece (again—it’s a long one).

I have respect for the work of both authors. Fuson’s clear research-based descriptions of what children have to do in order to understand “number” has been very helpful in the work I do with elementary teachers, and I used Beckmann’s Math for Elementary Teachers book for a few years in my courses, where I found it to be the best of the available formal textbooks for these courses. I no longer use a textbook for these courses, but if I needed to, I’d go back to hers for sure. I met Beckmann at a conference a few years ago and I found her thoughtful and open to conversations about learning (not always the case in mathematicians writing textbooks, I have found).

It will probably be midweek before I can carve out time to read the piece and weigh in. In the meantime, I encourage you all to dig in as you are able, say ‘hi’ on Twitter and pass along your longer tidbits in the form of blog posts, and (if you are so inclined) interpretive dance.

Oh, and invite your friends, relatives and enemies to the party. This will be fun.

I don’t think they mean that

Thanks to John Golden (@mathhombre) for the find.

From the Common Core State Standards Progressions document on the 6—8 Expressions and Equations standards:

The “any order, any grouping” property is a combination of the commutative and associative properties. It says that sequence of additions and subtractions may be calculated in any order, and that terms may be grouped together any way (p.5).

Performance assessment: ratios

It’s time for a performance assessment.

This is not multiple choice.

If you have been reading along, you know that I advocate talking math with your kids as the mathematics equivalent of reading with them 20 minutes a day.

Furthermore, you have surely read each of my thousands of words on Common Core’s vision of ratio, rate and unit rate.

And yesterday I proposed a bit of alternate text for the Progression on Ratio and Proportion.

Your assessment task is this.

The task

Imagine you have a 12-year old daughter. She has been learning about ratios and is assigned the task of finding real-world applications of them, as found in the media. She comes across an article that interests her. You strike up a conversation about the excerpt below.

Defend or critique any of the following claims:

(1) The Common Core Progression on Ratio and Proportion will be helpful to you as a parent in discussing the relationship between this passage and her homework.

(2) The distinctions being made (among ratio, rate and unit rate) in the Common Core Progression are useful and meaningful for interpreting this passage.

(3) The discussion proposed in yesterday’s post will be helpful to you as a parent in discussing the relationship between this passage and her homework.

(4) The distinctions being made in yesterday’s post (among ratio, rate and unit rate) are useful and meaningful for interpreting this passage.

The passage

Joe-urban discusses parking at urban grocery stores:

However, David Taulbee, Architectural Manager of Publix, notes that parking at many of their urban stores is full only at peak times, so that sacred parking ratio of five per thousand is called to question, particularly if the store has other parking options nearby like shared, on-street or bicycle parking.

(N.B. That’s five parking spaces per thousand square feet of retail space.)

Your work will be scored on the basis of relevance and the use of evidence. It will not be scored on the extent to which you agree with the scoring committee’s views on these matters.