Common Core Math: How to Help Your Kids

Even if you know nothing about Common Core math, we share homework help tips from experts.

Do you remember the days when 5+5=10? For parents who grew up in the ’80s and ’90s, it was that simple. But now, as many of us help our kids with their homework using the new Common Core math standards, we find ourselves scratching our heads when the correct answer is revealed to be 4+4+1+1=10.

Designed to boost students’ critical thinking and analytical skills, Common Core math requires students to show how they reason their way to the right answer, using vocabulary words like doubles, strategies like doubles plus one and picture drawings of number bonds and tens frames.

Unpopular with parents (just Google for memes mocking Common Core), this curriculum created in 2009 was designed to give every state a universal set of standards to measure learning and comprehension.

We went to the source for tips to help parents. Dr. Jason Zimba was a lead author of the Common Core State Standards for Mathematics. He currently serves as the executive vice president of mathematics at Amplify, a publisher of next-generation curriculum and assessment programs.

Zimba says that while the old way of doing math is still required in school, it can be confusing if a parent is only seeing it through unfamiliar ways of thinking.
He offers advice for parents when it comes to helping their kiddos with Common Core math and other modern learning methods:

Have an open channel of communication with the teacher

The No. 1 way to know how your child is progressing in math in school is to be in regular contact with the teacher, Zimba says. One mistake parents often make is to check in with the teacher only around report card time. By building a relationship with the teacher, parents can learn what is expected of their child to be on grade-level math.

Think about your own relationship with math

Zimba cautions parents not to use negative phrases when talking about math, even though it might be tempting to say ‘I was never good at math.’
“Our children are watching us for cues on how to relate to math,” he says. “Kids will internalize whatever they hear. If they realize math isn’t important to you, they won’t think it should be important to them.”

Look for ways to show interest in math

Whether it is measuring ingredients in the kitchen, calculating a tip at a restaurant or evaluating a credit card offer in the mail, Zimba encourages parents to show their kids that math matters and has real-world applications.

“It’s never too late to repair our relationship with math and decide that we can be math people,” he says. “Try to find ways to put math into lots of everyday interactions. They’ll soon see that math isn’t something that the school is making them do — math is actually something that people do.”

Prepare to be amazed

Did you know that there is no largest number? Having these types of conversations with your child leads to math curiosity.

“Math is mind-blowing,” Zimba says. “There’s no shortage of points of possible fascination that we can hook into.”

Don’t panic if a math problem is unfamiliar to you

Look at a challenging math problem as an opportunity to model curiosity and perseverance. If all else fails, Zimba says, students can ask the teacher for help the next day. In that case, parents should follow up with their child to see how the math problem turned out to show that they are a learner, too.

Know basic math facts

Knowing the basic addition and multiplication facts helps build a foundational knowledge. Zimba suggests using flash cards at home or using online practice apps like Multiplication by Heart.

Act out world problems

Whether it is using paperclips or pennies, acting out a world problem can help give kids a visual understanding of their math problem and encourage them to see solutions in a different way.

Show interest in your child’s thought process

Even if you don’t know how to do a certain math problem, Zimba says you can still ask your child valuable questions such as “how did you think about that problem?” When you turn a problem into a conversation, you get to the type of analytical learning a teacher is trying to foster.

Don’t solve a math problem for your child

Learning math is a minds-on, hands-on, intense effort. If we don’t let our students struggle productively, we will be short-circuiting their learning.

“Solving the problem for them may work on tonight’s homework, but if we keep doing it, they can be in trouble for the learning that comes next that depends on the learning that came before,” Zimba says.


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Lori Orlinsky
Lori Orlinsky
Lori Orlinsky is an award-winning journalist and bestselling children's book author. She is the mom of three little ladies who keep her on her toes.

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