Wednesday, March 19, 2014

In Defense of the Common Core

I hear a lot of Common Core bashing. My 2nd grader is one of the first to be educated with the Common Core, beginning from Kindergarten.  The math has changed from when you were a kid, we are aware.  Parents are frustrated.  I get it.  Not being able to explain things to your 7 year old who doesn't really want to do their math homework, and you don't get it put you in a less than ideal situation.

Half the parents I know posted this video when it came out, as a blow against the Common Core. In case you didn't watch it, here is the gist. There is a math problem.  The kids are expected to use a method that the mother in the video deems ridiculous.

Mr.Yamata's class has 18 students.If the class counts around by a number and ends with 90. What number did they count by?

Most reasonable people would simply divide 90 by 18 to get 5.  However, in this scenario, the kids are expected to draw 18 circles and make hash marks rather than treat this as a division problem. How ridiculous is this? Turning a one step quickie division problem into a 108 step problem.  What is the point of that? Let's throw out all the skills that are being taught and go complain to the school board.

The point of that is it teaches procedural knowledge. It gives them an alternate method to get to the answer. This may not seem important when we are talking about a simple division problem, but what if the problem is more complex?

In an Educational Psychology class I am taking, we were given a seemingly simple problem.  Here we are all graduate students. The majority of us have taken statistics in some form.  All but 3 of us took the NYS Math Regents Sequence. There were even 2 math teachers in the room.  So here is the problem:

You are making a fruit salad.  There are 5 fruits you can use - apples, strawberries, grapes, bananas, oranges.  The bowl you are using will only hold the salad if you limit it to 3 fruits.  How many different combinations are possible?

A. 10
B. 15
C. 20
D. 30
E. 120

The discussion begins. "Don't we use 5! and multiply out 5*4*3*2*1?" "No, you would would do that if the order were important." "I think she is right, but you have to divide it by something." "But what?  What do you divide by? Do you remember the formula?"

Then finally someone suggest we write it out.  A S G B O. Apple Strawberry Grape and so on.

ASG
ASB
ASO
AGB
AGO
ABO
SGB
SGO
SBO
GBO

So there are 10 combinations.  We as graduate students used a process very similar to drawing circles and making hash marks because not one of us remembered the formula to figure out combinations and somehow we got to the right answer.  Yes, if we could have recalled the formula it may have been quicker. Does that make our method less valid?

The point of the seemingly ridiculous exercise talked about in the video is to give the kids an alternate way to do the problem.  You can't always recall every formula for each problem by wrote. Occasionally you may need to figure something out using a less than ideal method, and that is okay. In this era of high stakes testing, it is important for kids to understand that there may be more than one method to get to the correct answer. You can also use a method like this to double check your work. So please, do all of the 4th grade math teachers a favor and cut them some slack.  They are teaching skills that will be useful in a variety of situations, even when you can't remember the formula.  

If you are curious the way you would do this problem follows.

5C3



n=5
r=3

(5*4*3*2*1)
(3*2*1)(2*1)

120
(6)(2)

120/12= 10

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

The Rules of Frozen Sheet Music


     I grew up playing Disney songs. I had a big thick Disney Songbook that I wore out, and had to replace because I loved it so much. I taught music lessons and often went back to the Disney songbook for various lessons.  I would teach Scales and Arpeggios from Aristocats as a fun way to teach modulations. Teaching music from Sleeping Beauty means you are actually teaching Tchaikovsky. "When I see and Elephant Fly" and "Cruella DeVille"are great songs to teach jazz patterns.

      When a movie like the Little Mermaid or Beauty and the Beast came out when I was a budding young pianist, one of the best parts was getting the sheet music and learning all of the songs.  Many happy hours were spent at the piano learning those songs by heart. So when Frozen came out, I knew that I would be buying the sheet music.  Somehow, now as a mother with children, my experience of the music was quite changed.

     First, when the book arrived, there had been milk spilled upon it within 5 minutes of it's entry into the house.  I should have taken that as an omen. I saw a post from Rants from Mommy Land on the Rules for Singing Frozen. I knew I had to put my own twist on the playing of Frozen songs.

1. There must be a child in my lap as I play anything from Frozen.  Playing piano around a child while also sight reading the music can prove challenging.  Sitting next to me on a piano bench is not acceptable.  Using pedals won't work either.

2. If it were up to me and my usual musical process, I would play the first song in the book, and then play through each one till I got to the end of the book.  This cannot happen. I have to play "Let it Go" first. Then there after some in fighting we may finally agreed on "Do You Want to Build a Snowman?"and then "In Summer" could be next. When I try to play "Reindeer are Better Than People" I was met with a chorus of nos.

3. The kids would be happy if I just banged out the melodies for their favorite songs. They really do not care if I play the chords and accompaniment or not.  When I try to play intros or bridges they get impatient.

4. If I miss a sharp or flat, they let me know "Mommy, you are not very good." They don't understand that the chromatics and modulations in "Let It Go" are a bit tricky, especially since the song is already starting off in A flat.

5.  I am not allowed to sing, ever, even if it is to help them with the words, or to correct their pitch.  Which leads me to -

6. Children singing Frozen are never off key, or at least you can't tell them that they are.  They can effortlessly sing a song that spans the entirety of 2 octaves, even if it means growling the low notes or screeching the high notes.

7.  I may not turn Frozen sing along time into a music lesson, in any way shape or form.  Frozen transcends notes and rhythms and any mention of "Peanut Butter" or "Every Good Boy Does Fine" will not be tolerated.

8. I can now only play Frozen songs.  Any attempts to play anything other than Frozen are met with booing.