Can’t read a watch? Blame algebra

Common Core‘s Lynne Munson bought watches for her preschoolers — a dinosaur wristband for her son, a Rapunzel watch with pink and purple hands for her daughter — on her way home from a math conference. The Swatch salesman was surprised she didn’t go digital, she writes in I Can’t Read My Watch! Algebra Is to Blame.

Munson wants to teach her kids to tell time. That’s a skill many watch buyers lack, said the salesman, who said he’s rarely successful in teaching customers to tell time. They just buy a digital watch.

Telling time is not doing math, but it requires knowledge of math fundamentals, Munson writes.

 You cannot tell time on a traditional clock without knowing that numbers are symbols that represent units, or without some basic grasp of estimation and ratios.  In other words, if you cannot tell time, it most likely means that you would still struggle with third and fourth-grade math concepts.

Munson thought of political scientist Andrew Hacker’s New York Times op-ed, Is Algebra Necessary?, which argued against requiring algebra because some students find it difficult. She disagrees:

With regard to mathematics, the problem is not that we are teaching too much of it—but that we are teaching math ineffectively.  The expectations and architecture of the new Common Core State Standards in Mathematics can help to remedy this.  Faithful implementation of those standards will support districts that want to adopt curricula that unfurl mathematics in a rational, coherent program and that jettison approaches that are illogically sequenced and that overuse and abuse manipulatives.

Common Core, which has created a curriculum map for English Language Arts and is working on map for math, will create New York state’s math curriculum from pre-K through 12th grade.