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Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Parent Tips for the Common Core Mathematics

Many have likely witnessed the extensive media coverage over the past several months about the Common Core Standards and the assessments that have been designed to measure those standards.  From trusted news sources to blog posts to viral videos on Facebook it is clear that there are many questions about the new standards that have left many parents wondering why there seems to be a “new way” and an “old way” to solve mathematics problems.

In fact, these “new ways” have been around for quite some time.  It’s important for us to distinguish between a new way of teaching and learning and a poorly worded worksheet that has gone viral on the internet.

This article will help to frame some of the thinking behind the changes represented in the new 2011 standards and provide some helpful resources to parents to work with their students at home.

PhotoMath (

This smartphone application, available in the Apple, Windows, Amazon and Android Stores, has been a revelation for us in recent weeks since a professional development provider shared this application with our teachers.  According to the application’s website this app provides “instant results” as “PhotoMath reads and solves mathematical problems by using the camera of your mobile device in real time.  It makes math easy and simple by educating users how to solve math problems.”   By simply scanning your phone’s camera over any printed mathematical equation the application instantly solves the problem and with the push of a simple button the app completes a step-by-step “human like” problem solving of even the most complicated algebraic equations.  And, as the website states, they are “constantly adding new.”

The takeaway for teachers and parents could be the realization that classwork and homework needs to be assigned in a completely different way.  Much in the same way the calculator allowed us to arrive at the answer and the focus shifted for decades to making sure that you “show your steps,” we now need to think about the fact that a new technology provides the students with both the answer and the steps.

If this is true, then what does this mean for the student?  The argument is similar to those from History class.  If a student can easily google facts and dates then the shift in instruction needs to move from memorizing facts and dates to guiding the student to be an evaluator and thinker.  The student needs to recognize which facts can be verified and determine the reliability of the sources.  The mathematics student needs to become a mathematical thinker.  It is no longer sufficient to just solve the problem and show the steps.  The student must be able to explain and understand how she arrived at that solution.

PhotoMath has many great possibilities and could be very helpful for parents assisting students with their home assignments.

Massachusetts 2011 Frameworks

With the publication of the 2011 Massachusetts frameworks for Mathematics the state provided educators with the Common Core standards and added additional standards adopted by the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education in December 2010.  Many of the additional standards in Massachusetts are pre-kindergarten standards that were developed collaboratively by early childhood educators from the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, the Department of Early Education and Care, and early childhood specialists from across the state.  According to the frameworks, “these pre-kindergarten standards lay a strong, logical foundation for the kindergarten standards.”

Any parent or educator who has questions about the new standards should first read through the 2011 Frameworks.  We have incorporated much of the information about the new standards into parent presentations and previous articles and shows on public access television because it is critical that all members of the school community understand the guiding principles and standards for mathematical practice that are now embedded along with the grade level standards for all students.

All current Massachusetts frameworks are available here:

Additional Resources

For more parent information about the common core we recommend the site Achieve the Core (  This site provides information for educators, administrators, parents, and students about the shifts in the standards and some of the research behind the decisions for these shifts.

Finally, a website that is designed to help parents to understand the grade level expectations is Milestones (  According to the site, Milestones is a “free online collection of videos aimed at helping parents understand grade-level expectations in grades K-5. Milestones show students demonstrating what success looks like in reading, writing and math, grade by grade.”

We hope that these tools and sources of information will assist parents in working with students to better understand the key shifts in grade level expectations for mathematics.