The Common Core Standards address
some of the discrepancies between how US
schools teach their students mathematics and how students are taught in higher
ranking countries (Finland,
S. Korea, Hong Kong, Japan,
Singapore). In the US, math instruction is generally
slow and easy for the first several years.
There is so little application and so much rote practice that many
students never have the opportunity to learn to generalize their math knowledge.
I believe this contributes to tremendous frustration (and confusion) for older
students as they learn more challenging math. In addition, I see many schools
whose standardized test scores look really strong in early-mid elementary
grades but plummet in middle school. Lack of connection, lack of problem
solving skills and lack of true mathematical understanding at the foundational
levels turn kids off and set them up for failure.

In my years with Kumon, many of
my brightest students were happiest when
they could act as “number crunchers” and
fly through their work. In fact, this is what the program promoted. In Pinecone, I have found very few of
incoming students, regardless of grade, feeling comfortable explaining their
thinking. They simply know that they know the answers. It seems that the
ability to put their thinking into words was never cultivated, and by the time
they were 11 years old, they saw no need to put math into context. But isn’t
lack of context, paired with lack of challenge what makes math “boring” for
kids?

This is why Pinecone focuses so
strongly on word problems, beginning with the T.I.N.S. series for the younger
ones (Thought, Information, Numbers, Solution Sentence). We require that students think through the
problems, identify the processes to use, find the most efficient solution, make
sure they have answered the problem, then check their work to see if it makes
sense.

The Common Core Math Standards
will shift focus from number-crunching to more real-world application. I think eventually, this will engage students
more strongly, and ease the transition from basic skills to higher math with
all its applications.