Common Core Math Homework Tips for Parents

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Are you confused by your child's math homework now that US schools are shifting to Common Core Standards (CCS)? You are not alone! The changing emphasis to increasing problem solving, critical thinking, and deeper understanding have led to homework that looks different than what we brought home when we were children. Here are some of the ways that the new Common Core Math Standards have changed from our time in school and tips to help you support your child in completing their math homework.

Before we get into those differences, be careful to Watch Your Own Attitude About The Work. It is really easy to express your initial frustration and confusion about a homework question in front of your child. What you want to avoid is giving your child the impression that you think the work is impossible to do or inappropriate to complete. Even if you have concerns about Common Core Standards, your child's assigned homework is something you want to support your child doing. The rigor of the new Common Core Standards is meant to teach our children how to think critically and deeply. 

Fewer Skills Taken To a Deeper Level 

Compared to the new standards, we parents learned a big hodge-podge of math skills that was meant to give us a broad understanding mathematics. We would spend a few lessons or a few weeks on a given topic or concept. Today's standards have shifted to what children really need to know and to understand very deeply.

This means that they will be spending more time to really build important mathematical skills. 

What To Do - Make Sure Your Child Stays Caught Up

When we parents were in school, we might have just been able to wait for the next math unit to come around if we got lost or didn't understand something in math.

Today's kids will spend enough time on a concept that they need to really understand it. If your child misses school, they need to get caught up. If your child is having trouble understanding a particular math skill, they need to get help

Math Skills Are Built Sequential Across The Grades 

The new Common Core Math Standards are designed to build on one another from one grade to the next. When we parents were in school, if we didn't learn something in math we were often able to learn it when the review unit came up in a later grade, or it was just a broad topic math skill that we never saw again. Today's standards are designed to build on last year's knowledge.

What to Do - Seek Extra Help If Your Child Is Not Keeping On Grade Level 

School teachers have a variety of ways to check each child's progress and understanding of the grade level math skills. If your child is below grade level, seek out extra help from the school or a tutor to bring your child up to grade level as soon as possible. Without having the skills that are required to build on, your child will become increasingly lost and fall further behind.

Math Facts and Formulas Are Related to Real Life Concepts 

The new standards expect children to know how to apply the math that they learn to real life.

What that usually means is lots of word problems. When we were in school many of us had math homework that asked us to memorize math facts or plug and chug numbers into a formula. Today's homework is filled with story problems and questions that ask that the different numbers in a problem mean and how they relate to each other.

What To Do - Help Guide Your Child Through Their Word Problems

When your child comes to you with a math word problem they are struggling with, you can try to one of two strategies depending on the type of problem:

Story Problem: These are the problems that tell a story and then ask a question.

An example using unit rates is "Mary is at the grocery store and she wants to buy a bottle of ketchup. Bottle A costs $3.99 for 20 ounces, and Bottle B costs $2.59 for 16 ounces. Which bottle of ketchup has the best unit price?"

Have your child read the problem out loud to you. Next, ask your child what the problem is asking them to find. In our example, the problem is asking us to find the best unit price. If your child cannot find what the problem is asking for, underline the word or words that tell what the problem wants you to find. In this case, that would be "unit price." At this point, ask your child if they know what to do next. If they do not, you can help them find the information in their book or notes on how to compare ratios. It is important to guide them in solving the problem themselves rather than you solving it and showing them how. You may have to go through this tutoring strategy several times while they adjust to learning how to solve story problems on their own. If they continue to need help identifying what their math homework problem are asking them to do after a few weeks, let their teacher know and ask for guidance.

How The Numbers Relate Question: These are questions that ask students to explain what a number means or how it relates to another number in the problem. Here is an example using slope intercept form (y=mx+b): "Tommy signs up for a new cell phone contract. Tommy has a monthly fee of $25 and he is charged $5 per hour of talk time. What is $25?" 

Begin as we did in the last example by asking your child to read the problem out loud to you. Then ask your child what the problem is asking for. If your child cannot tell you what the question is asking for, underline the question words. If they still do not understand what the question is asking, find a way to paraphrase the question. This will require some creativity on your part. Resist the urge to tell them the answer! They need to learn how to solve these on their own. Some example paraphrase questions are "What variable do you think that would be in the equation, y,m,x,or b? Is $25 a rate, the base fee, or his whole monthly bill? Where would $25 go on the graph?"

Your guidance and support offered to your child while they complete their homework will help them to become successful with these new standards. Also, be sure to check with your child's school about what the school is doing to shift to the new standards, and what else you can do for your child at home.​

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