El Gringoqueño

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Mad World NewsAngry Mother Destroys Common Core by Writing This on Her Son’s Test

Mad World NewsAngry Mother Destroys Common Core by Writing This on Her Son’s Test.

Now, I think this is somewhat funny, and mock outrage is all fun and games until someone loses an eye. Just in case you want to take this seriously and get your panties in a bunch, read my rebuttal.

I’m not necessarily for these weird exercises (as I’ve gotten them with my kids, and they make me feel stupid), but I do think that being able to approach unfamiliar problems in different ways is a good learning tool.

It dawns on me that these sorts of things are ways in which to experience learning in a classroom that is decoupled from one’s previous education. For example, in a mixed ethnic and socioeconomic classroom you have kids who have previous experience with particular problems and the manner in which they are solved. They have parents who have given them a head start, so to speak – flash cards at home, reading at bedtime, camps, computers, etc. Others in the class may come from single parent households, lower economic strata, or have some sort of cultural obstacle when faced with the  “standard” pedagogy. They may not have had those experiences outside of school, like others in the classroom.

As a result of the standard exercises, those who are disadvantaged in that system come to believe they are not as smart as their peers, when in fact they are just not as educated. These new and abstract exercises, I believe, push boundaries of excellence in the classroom, while not necessarily disempowering those with advantage. The more educated kids will still have their experiences (no one is taking that away), but what you are doing is evening the playing field and not allowing the artificial inequity of society to intrude into the classroom learning environment.

The way we get to the right answer has changed so much in recent years. Even the tools we use to solve differential equations have changed. Mathematica anyone? The tools we use to accomplish tasks in this world are many and varied. Slide-rules used to be heavily used in engineering, but I doubt you’ll find anyone proficient these days. At one time, the slide-rule was the “right way” to solve the problem. We adapted and invented new tools, a new “right way” to get the answer.

If nature hates a monoculture, why have it in the classroom. Make the ways of learning as many and varied as there are little brains on this earth.

So I think that focusing on learning new and varied approaches, good and bad, creates an agility for learning that one might not get doing it the “right way,” especially when the “right way” may become obsolete in a few years.

The most important future skill is going to be:

Solve this problem which you have never seen before with tools that haven’t been invented yet.


  1. So I looked at the son’s test, trying to understand what the mom was so outraged about. First of all, the goal of the exercise is not just “doing the math,” (the student who gets the problem right WILL have proven to KNOW the math) the exercise uses math as a universal language to understand others. The exercises is valuable to 21st century skills like coding across cultures and facing the fact that there might be an error in the code and you need to figure it out and figure out how to explain it to members of the team that live in Australia or Germany or China. The exercise sows the seed of bridging over differences, promotes flexible thinking (which is enhanced with bilingualism and the awareness that there is more than one way to say things).
    The question asks the student to understand another’s mistake and explain it. The mom obviously would prefer there were only one right way to do it and not bothered to build a greater understanding for the group. Her reaction was more of a status quo, hold on tight to what is, because there is only one way and she resents, resists and puts down people who just don’t get her one way.
    But like you said, the 21st century is about learning how to learn, teaching students to think critically about their process so they can imagine new ways and new solutions.
    By the way I think the mistake on the number line was that the little boy jumped back 100+100+100 and then did 6 unit jumps and forgot to jump back the 10. The total amount being discounted was 316 which can be decomposed by its value position as 300+10+6. I am sure differential equations are way harder and am sure the mom could have figured this out if she had not been so quick and put so much effort into being “outraged”.

    • Jim

      September 27, 2014 at 6:26 PM

      And that is why you are project leader, Laura! Very well put. I hadn’t even stopped to consider what the exercise was actually trying to teach. *smacks forehead*. It’s not necessarily even about math, but working in a team, understanding someone’s error, and communicating to a third party.

      Those are the skills necessary for the 21 century!

      • Its the kind of skill that might have prevented the mayor fiasco of the iOS 8 roll out. 😉 Somebody said, ” yea it works” and did not consider its effect on older equipment. The mom in the mock outrage story would have been “what do you mean it crashes your phone? It works on mine!” Problem NOT solved.

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