Saturday, April 25, 2015

A Parent's Guide to Eureka Math

So, as if being a parent isn’t traumatic enough, you now have to help your child navigate the morass that is Common Core Mathematics. Number disks, number bonds, arrow method, decomposition, tape diagrams - what ever happened to simple addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division?

Considering the international comparisons of math achievement of our students, this is how U.S. students view the different branches of arithmetic...

During my time as a mathematics instructional coach, I have learned one very important lesson: As the nation transitions to the Common Core math standards (and its related shift in instructional practices), it is essential that we support the parents at home.

The students? They will roll with whatever we teach them. They will be just fine.

The teachers? Yes...they are going through a season of panic, but at least they are receiving professional development to get them up to speed.

It is the parents who are left out in the cold! They are the ones who are being asked to support their children at home with mathematics that they themselves did not experience as students. Parents need support!

What is Common Core?
The Common Core State Standards-Math (CCSS-M) is essentially a list detailing which math skills and concepts are taught at each grade level. Including the District of Columbia, 44 states have formally adopted the Common Core math standards. Some of the remaining states, while not formally adopting CCSS-M, are using their own list of standards that are remarkably similar to the Common Core standards. Politics...ugh.

The benefit of having such a consensus in standards across states is that for the first time in the history of the United States, we have the same expectations for what a student should learn regardless of their home address. A 4th grader in Massachusetts will learn the same high-quality math as a 4th grader in Mississippi, Montana, or Modesto. This is very, very powerful in our highly mobile society.

Why does math have to look different?
To understand why we need to teach math differently, let’s first take a brief look at our track record for math achievement in the United States. It is not a pretty picture. In international comparisons of math achievement of 4th and 8th graders, the U.S. average math score is typically below average or average (at best). We see this in the PISA and the TIMSS studies.

With respect to college readiness, we see similarly woeful results. Even at the most highly selective colleges and universities, students are entering college needing to take remedial math classes.

In response to recognizing that our math achievement track record leaves a lot to be desired, we need to change not only what we teach, but HOW we teach. This means there will be a much greater emphasis on teaching for understanding, rather than just teaching. Teaching for understanding looks very different from the “old” way of teaching in which the teacher showed the class how to solve a problem and then the students spent the rest of the period trying to mimic the teacher’s work. Here are a couple of nice videos that explain the difference between teaching and teaching for understanding:

Video 1 (Vox)

Video 2 (Dr. Raj Shah)

How can you support your child at home?
In order to teach for understanding, the teacher must begin with the presupposition that the student indeed can learn the mathematics being taught. Furthermore, parents and teachers alike must subscribe to the notion that mathematical achievement is a function of the students’ effort rather than the innate ability. In a cross-cultural study comparing parental beliefs about genetic influences on math achievement, American parents are far more likely to attribute math achievement to “good genes”, while Japanese parents believe that effort plays a key role in determining the level of a child’s math achievement.

Dr. Carol Dweck is a national leader on “fixed mindset” versus “growth mindset”. The fixed mindset is the most prevalent mindset in the U.S. and it is the belief that your ability to achieve is based on your inherent nature. The growth mindset is the belief that achievement is a matter of effort, not natural ability. How a parent responds to a student at home during homework time influences whether the child develops a growth mindset or a fixed mindset. Here is a video on Praise versus Effort.

Video (Trevor Ragan)

During homework time, make sure you do the following:
  • Provide a quiet place to do homework
  • Praise your child’s effort not speed
  • When your child gets stuck on a problem encourage the use of Google and YouTube to find help on the Internet
  • Go ahead and share your method (the old way). Ignore your child’s complaint, “That isn’t the way my teacher did it at school!” 
  • No tears! (You or your child.)

What if you don’t understand the math?

There are tons of online resources available to you and your child during homework.
This is where we will post all the Eureka Math files, documents, and other information that is specifically related to Pleasanton Unified School District.

YouTube videos made by our K-5 Mathematics Instructional Coach, Duane Habecker. Videos at
A constantly updated resource with all the latest information about mathematics in Pleasanton Unified School District.
“Tip sheets” are guides designed to provide you with module-by-module guidance for supporting your child’s study of math. Do you know how to make a number bond or use a rekenrek? Need a refresher on how to use a number line? Struggling to remember what a decimal fraction is? Don’t worry – they’ve covered that and much more.

Ultimately, if you and your child cannot figure out how to do the mathematics, just write a note to your child’s teacher. In your note, explain what you and your child tried to do to get over the hump. Ask the teacher to help your child at his/her earliest convenience. (The teacher was probably going to do this anyway.)

How a child perceives mathematics is largely determined by how a parent responds at home during homework. Keep an open mind. Ask your child what she does or does not understand. Exhibit a genuine interest in the math. And be willing to learn right along with your child.

Would you like the slideshow for this message? Click here.