MONROE CO, NY (WROC) — Teaching math has dramatically changed over the past few decades and parents are trying to keep up.  

A slump in math education through the early 21st century within the United States triggered the desire to improve how the country educated students in both math and language. That became known as the common core and was adopted by New York State in 2011. 

The common core is no exam or even curriculum. The focus is on guidelines that show where a student should be in his or her knowledge at a certain grade level.  

While there may be certain aspects of the common core followed in private schools, there is more freedom to use different methods, like at Harley School in Rochester.

“They might all be 8 or 9 years old,” said Margaret Tolhurst, third grade teacher at Harley, “but every single one of them needs something different. So, we try to provide activities that can provide to all those different needs.”  Tolhurst has been teaching at Harley for 28 years. 

Many of the students had parents that went to Harley and the school wants to push students toward a love of math. “The most important thing for all kids is to like math, to feel that they’re good at it. In third grade, that’s the main objective.” 

An understanding of math translates to liking math, according to Mathnasium co-owner Asiya Ali. The math center helps all grade levels to become proficient in math by working closely with the student, their teacher, and family. 

“We’re in there because our main purpose is to help kids,” said Ali. She says a lot of her work does follow common core standards. “It’s more of a focus on conceptual understanding, so whereas traditional math is more like procedural.” 

Common core methods have been in place for about 10 years and data on whether it works has so far been inconclusive. A quick example would be 12 x 3. Traditional way might be to memorize this and get to the answer of 36. Common core teaches this as a distribution. Imagine (10 x 3) + (2 x 3) that gets to the answer of 36. 

“Some of the strategies that they’re actually introducing at the elementary level,” said Kim Reisinger, an 18-year veteran teacher at Greece Arcadia, “To encourage number sense have some algebraic connections.” Reisinger is a master teacher, a designation from the state that shows further education to encourage growth into the STEM fields. She has watched how common core education has changed the way teachers work. 

“Kids have to interpolate what the problem is asking, which strategy should they be setting up, and then see if their answer makes sense compared to what was starting,” said Reisinger. Some of the biggest changes may be a shift away from teacher centered at the front of the classroom to a more student-centered classroom. 

According to students, this has been a different strategy than what parents have seen before.  

“They just think it’s different,” said Karli Dennis, an 11th grader at Arcadia, “and they’re kind of surprised at how much it’s changed.” The focus in early February was with the program Desmos, a free online graphing tool to show how certain equations look. 

“My parents specifically still don’t get it, they’re technology confused,” said Edwin Santos, a student that wants to be a police officer. His ability to use technology has helped put an image to the paperwork. “You would have to go step-by step for each individual point for the X and Y axis, so using this makes it just 10 times easier.” 

According to Reisinger, students see more word problems that connect the numbers to real life, something that is different thanks to common core standards. That puts some frustration into parents’ minds.  

“I hear more about math anxiety than I do about strategies, which then makes them uncomfortable to learn or to see a different viewpoint because they themselves weren’t confident in math,” said Reisinger. 

To raise that confidence in the parent’s education, Reisinger suggest to have your student teach you and that education is learning in itself.  

New York State is implementing a “Next Generation” of learning standards this year that will continue to tweak the common core.


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