Making math into art isn’t ‘deeper’

Common Core standards are making math education even worse, writes Marina Ratner, a Berkeley math professor emerita, in the Wall Street Journal.

As a sixth grader at a Berkeley public school, her grandson was required to “draw pictures of everything,” she writes.

. . .  of 6 divided by 8, of 4 divided by 2/7, of 0.8 x 0.4, and so forth. In doing so, the teacher followed the instructions: “Interpret and compute quotients of fractions, and solve word problems involving division of fractions by fractions, e.g., by using visual fraction models and equations to represent the problem. For example, create a story context for 2/3 divided by 3/4 and use a visual fraction model to show the quotient . . .”

Who would draw a picture to divide 2/3 by 3/4?

This requirement of visual models and creating stories is all over the Common Core. The students were constantly told to draw models to answer trivial questions, such as finding 20% of 80 or finding the time for a car to drive 10 miles if it drives 4 miles in 10 minutes, or finding the number of benches one can make from 48 feet of wood if each bench requires 6 feet. A student who gives the correct answer right away (as one should) and doesn’t draw anything loses points.

Core math requires “convoluted and meaningless manipulations of simple concepts,” Ratner writes.

. .  . the Common Core’s “deeper” and “more rigorous” standards mean replacing math with some kind of illustrative counting saturated with pictures, diagrams and elaborate word problems. Simple concepts are made artificially intricate and complex with the pretense of being deeper—while the actual content taught was primitive.

Common Core’s math standards are lower than the standards of high-achieving countries and lower than California’s old standards, Ratner concludes. “They are lower in the total scope of learned material, in the depth and rigor of the treatment of mathematical subjects, and in the delayed and often inconsistent and incoherent introductions of mathematical concepts and skills.”

Ratner is wrong on the facts, responds Bill McCallum, a math professor who helped write the standards. Here’s his post on drawings in the Common Core.

With 25 minutes and a whiteboard …

Gregory Euclide whiteboard artwork

© Gregory Euclide


Teacher Gregory Euclide started drawing on his whiteboard to relieve stress during his 25-minute lunch break at a Minneapolis-area high school.

Euclide’s paintings are made from things lying around the classroom, such as whiteboard erasers, paper towels, brushes, spray bottles and Japanese Sumi ink, which is made from soot, water and glue.

Students were distressed when he wiped out the artwork, so he decided to release a series called “Laid Down & Wiped Away” chronicling his classroom whiteboard experiments. Here’s Euclide’s Flat Works 2012.

Life without math

If a car is going 80 miles per hour, how long will it take to drive 80 miles? It’s not obvious to the woman in the video, even after her husband — possibly now her ex-husband — asks her to think about “miles per hour.”

This is Why Tracking Needs To Be Brought Back to Math Classes, writes Lynne Diligent, who overcame math anxiety as an adult. Some students need concrete explanations of things that are obvious to others.  Diligent also writes about how teaching math is like teaching drawing skills. Students need to learn how to see in a new way.