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I Don't Understand Common Core Math

My Daughter Is in Third Grade, and Her Math Homework Is Confusing the Hell Out of Me

Girl is looking tired while doing homework

Parenting is hard work in a million different ways, but if you would have told a pre-child me that one of those struggles would include third grade math, I'm pretty sure I would have laughed in your face. And how wrong I would have been. You see, I may be a writer who's more interested in style than mathematical formulas, but I've always considered myself fairly adept at numbers. I mean, I can figure out what's 20 percent off any given price in a flash.

Seriously, though, I took honors math classes all throughout high school, and while that seems like at least 10 lifetimes ago, surely I should still retain the ability to help my 8 year old with her math homework, right?! Um, apparently not, because this year, math has gotten real. She's moved way beyond questions like what's two plus two to multiplication and division problems with solutions that require terms I've never heard of, like arrays, number lines, tape diagrams, and dot plots.

I guess I have Common Core to blame (even Mr. Incredible can't figure it out), not that I'm even completely sure what Common Core even means. Is all math Common Core now? Or are we only torturing grade schoolers with math that seems unnecessarily complicated and head-scratchy? I guess I get the basic Common Core concept — teaching kids strategies to think through simple problems that will also hold true as they progress to more difficult ones, or to provide "number sense," as I've heard it explained — but in theory, to me, it feels a little like rubbing two sticks together to start a fire when you have a pack of matches in your pocket.

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Luckily, my daughter's teacher seems to have realized that modern math is way above most of today's parents' heads. The bulk of my daughter's daily homework sheets come with links to YouTube videos that walk her through the process of solving most of the problems. But once she comes to the end of those tutorials, it's me she's looking at to help her finish her worksheet and check her answers.

The answers I can handle. Of course, I know that four multiplied by five is 20, but am I sure that the array and tape diagram she created to prove that equation are done correctly? Not even a little bit, sometimes even after I've employed the help of Google and texted a third grade mom friend.

Last week, it got so bad that I found myself being scolded, then schooled by my daughter when I evidently gave her the wrong process to complete a problem. In that moment, being instructed on the right way to solve a simple multiplication equation by my 8 year old, I had an epiphany. Maybe this was exactly the point of Common Core, of the inexplicable complexity of third grade math: it forces kids to teach their clueless parents and not the other way around. And learning by teaching might just be the most effective way to learn of all. Sure, it's perplexing, but it might also be genius.

Image Source: Getty / Teresa Short
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