Thursday, November 06, 2014

A 7 Year Old + Intentionally Obtuse Math Homework is a Potentially Explosive Mix

My second grader had a full-on meltdown over her math homework this morning... to be sure, there were a variety of factors in play, tiredness, perhaps thrown off by having Tuesday off, etc. But this was also one of those Common Core worksheets where kids have to apply a specific math strategy, in this case, adding two digit numbers by decomposing them a bit so that you're adding groups of 10.

This is often a good idea and worth teaching, but the fact of the matter is that this particular presentation did not make it seem easier at all. It just seemed like a harder, more obtuse approach than the traditional method.

By the time I took over at the breakfast table, she was essentially done, except for howling over the last bonus question, which in the past might have been a more interesting variation on the day's theme, but today the approach seems to be to prepare kids for badly worded multiple choice questions on high stakes tests by intentionally giving them a badly worded multiple choice question at the end of every worksheet. I'm not being cute or flip when I say that, that just seems to be the strategy. In this case, Vivian was upset because she seemed to understand that since this was a bubble question she was not supposed to write the answer to the addition question in the blank in the prompt, but since the bubble answers were just about how to best decompose the addition problem not solve it, it drove her nuts to not have any place to write the "answer" to the addition problem.

This was an illuminating experience in understanding first hand why some parents get their knickers in a twist about this stuff. Put together a high-strung kid and a high-strung parent, and this'd hit critical mass real quick.

The funny part to me is that second grade math homework, in general, is just a waste of time anyhow. There is no benefit whatsoever to sending this stuff home -- even if it was of much higher quality. Unfortunately for the Common Core, most of the people who like it also like sending home homework. Make a mental note for future elementary math reformers -- cut the homework, or make up some fake palliative exercises designed exclusively to keep parents happy without screwing up the pedagogy.

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