Core confusion

When parents don’t understand their child’s homework assignment these days, they put it online.

“The new Common Core curriculum continues to confuse and flummox parents and children alike,” writes Twitchy, which highlights a first-grade assignment using number bonds.


The text reads:

Use the number bond to fill in the math story. Make a simple math drawing. Cross out from 10 ones or some ones to show what happens in the stories.

There were __ ants in the ant hill. __ of them are sleeping and __ of them are eating. 9 of the sleeping ants woke up. How many ants are not sleeping?

When I was in first grade, I learned to add and subtract one-digit numbers. I don’t think we got to “borrowing” till second grade. We didn’t design story problems. Number  bonds had not been invented.

I also was baffled by this kindergarten math problem, which includes a number bond. When I was in kindergarten, we learned to count to 100. We had no homework.

A math teacher defends a “Common Core” math problem that’s gone viral on Facebook.

About Joanne


  1. If the standard subtraction algorithm is too hard for someone to learn, making it more confusing is *not* the answer! Using the machete of stupid is not going to cut a clear path.

  2. I can’t understand the incessant drawing with this math. We use Singapore, and it uses number bonds up to second grade and uses word problems a lot. It also suggests manipulatives and drawings. But, it also teaches the standard algorithm. It explains why borrowing/carrying work (that’s why students do so much work regrouping). But, once students can do the work, they no longer have to draw pictures all over the place – pictures are a tool, not a goal.

  3. Well, those such as the math teacher would have more credibility if there weren’t so many “straight A” math students entering college only to find they can’t do the math required for majors such as engineering and physics.

    Those little tricks they’ve become enamored with are useful but they don’t translate into processing complex algorithms to do useful work. Teach the algorithm method; expose them to the tricks. Kind of like learning how to do your job right step by step that works regardless, then learning how to do it well and faster by using tricks of the trade.

  4. cranberry says:

    Teach the standard algorithms. Practice said algorithms, until the students develop “number sense.”

    In the “defense” of the “New” way, 15 is supposed to be “easier” than 12. It’s not, not if you know your addition and subtraction facts. A student should be able to look at the given problem, and _see_ that the digits in the ones places cancel each other out. Only the digits in the tens place are involved in this problem.

    Making simple problems more complex does not make students better at math.

  5. Sigivald says:

    What irks me is that neither of those are “Common Core”.

    I mean, they might be compatible with it, but it doesn’t specify either method.

  6. No one first proved that the old way of teaching arithmetic was ineffective (the “old way” that held sway from the time of Fibonacci and the _Liber Abaci_ in 1202 and the year 1960 or so). Then, no one proved that this new way was actually better. Then the new way was rolled out all over the country to cripple generations of students.

    You know, you should always assume incompetence before turning to conspiracy, but some of this crazy stuff is just too crazy to be simple incompetence. It seems like someone is TRYING to make simple arithmetic (and therefore, all higher math) almost impossible to learn.

    Tar and feathers is too good for these people.

  7. Imagine using the algorithm in the second image if the problem was “12-32= ” instead of “32-12= “… All of the steps carefully chosen to use addition instead of subtraction would fail in ways that would be nearly impossible to teach around.

    Good luck, kids!

  8. As Geordi La Forge said to Montgomery Scott in the TNG episode “Relics”:

    Just because something is old doesn’t mean you throw it away.

    If kids understand old fashioned way of doing math (the way most people who graduated from schools up until say the early 1990’s did it), you’ll always get the right answer.

    Perhaps it’s time to bring back School House Rock to TV? I loved multiplication rock, esp. Naughty Number 9 🙂

  9. Crimson Wife says:

    I don’t understand the methodology in the 2nd paper. Singapore math would’ve taught the child to split the 32 into a number bond of 30 + 2 and the 12 into a number bond of 10 + 2. 30- 10 = 20 and 2 – 2 = 0. 20 + 0 = 20.

    Number bonds really aren’t a hard concept to grasp.

    • Crimson Wife says:

      Another method that Singapore teaches is 32 – 10 = 22 and then 22 – 2 = 20.

      • Yeah – my kid never liked the number bond method too much, I think because he already knew basic arithmetic. The second method (yours, not the example), he uses all the time to do mental math when he can’t visualize the columns. I see a lot of complaints about students learning these other methods instead of just the basic algorithm, but the stepwise method lets my kid subtract thousands from each other in his head. He’s been known to ask why I write down problems, since he doesn’t always do rows of borrowing if paper isn’t handy.

    • If you start using rational logic, some PhD is not going to sell books.

      Keep in mind edu PhDs experiment on children and have to come up with something “new”, whether needed or not, or they wasted all that time in grad school, won’t get tenure, or get invited to speak.

      • Thinly Veiled Anonymity says:

        I wish I could say that wasn’t true, but it’s true. And not just for education.

        There are quite literally shelves and shelves and shelves of craptastic academic work churned out every year that doesn’t really get read, doesn’t really matter, and is mostly just wrong — all because someone needs to make tenure.

  10. This is a really stupid problem to try to use this method on.

    I agree with the link that students SHOULD have enough number sense to see that 3000 – 2999 = 1. The example that includes “You pay for an item that costs $14.30 with a $20 bill. How much change do you get?” is also an ideal answer for this type of computation.

    This type of computation absolutely should be taught. There are far too many people who do not see that ‘a – b = c’ is equivalent to ‘a = b + c’, and although they learn to do it by rote in algebra class, they do not really understand that they are the same. This leads to terrible errors in algebra class such as ‘x + 2 = 2x -> x = 2x + 2’.

    This type of computation, however, should NOT be the only method taught, and it should not be used on problems such as this where it is a stupid way to solve the problem.

    • The biggest mistake we made in algebra I (circa 1977-78) was the fact that we could do algebra, but couldn’t add, subtract, multiply, and divide 🙂