The myth that Common Core is “new math” can spell disaster for teachers, kids, and parents. For one thing, Common Core has been around since 2010, so it’s hardly still in its infancy. We call the math NEW because we still don’t know how to teach the standards. As the 2014 Hechinger Report states: “As powerful and influential in reshaping American classrooms as the standards could be, they don’t include lesson plans, or teaching methods, or alternative strategies for when students don’t get it.” Some academics call this academic freedom. Others (including me) call it a road to academic confusion. And when it comes to a topic like fractions, the dearth of recommended instructional options continues to hold back students and not just for a grade but through adulthood.
“Virtually every time I ask teachers of algebra what they wish their incoming students knew, their response is ;fractions.; The results of this informal polling were recently validated in the National Survey of Algebra Teachers compiled by the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago for the National Mathematics Advisory Panel of the U.S. Department of Education.
I recently asked fifth-grade students to tell me where to place the fraction 9/5 on a number line. One student informed me that I couldn’t do that because the ;top number; was more than 5, and the number line went only to 1.” (Fennel, NCTM News Bulletin, December 2007)
Filling the Fraction Gaps and Accelerating Learning
As a 5th grade tutor, my directives from the math teacher – and from a kind of national movement because of the pandemic learning effect – have changed. I am no longer tasked to remediate students who have learning gaps; I am charged with accelerating their learning while I help them fill their learning gaps. As the Common Core introduction says: “What students can learn at any particular grade level depends upon what they have learned before.” And as Shakespeare once wrote: “therein lies the rub.”
I have a 5th grade student –Maya– who has difficulty adding and subtracting fractions with unlike denominators. Her parents are afraid to help her because they don’t know “new math.” She is embarrassed and has decided she just isn’t good at math. With all the ups and downs involved in the learning situation, it’s still critical that I help Maya understand how to add and subtract fractions with unlike denominators.
5th grade Fraction Common Core Standards for California
Here are the relevant Common Core standards for California that Maya’s teacher is covering with her class.
Fraction Gaps: Adding and Subtracting Fractions with Unlike denominators
I used Let’s Go Learn supplemental online instruction to help Maya fill the gaps. Rarely do student gaps occur at a student’s grade level, so I made sure that I started with related concepts she had mastered and built from there.
Here are the Let’s Go Learn intervention lessons I used to help Maya.
Lesson 115: Equivalent Fractions (3rd grade)
Lesson 134: Add Mixed Numbers with Same Denominators (4th grade)
Lesson139: Factors and Multiples (4th grade)
Lesson 149: Add Fractions with Unlike Denominators (5th grade)
If you’d like to know more about why fractions cause so many issues, you’ll want to read the Scientific American article on how culture and context influence understanding: Fractions: Where it all goes wrong.
Margy Hillman is an experienced educator and writer who develops learning experiences and products that engage the brain and trigger creative and critical thinking. As part of the Let’s Go Learn team, she studies the education environment and learning research, trends, and strategies, documenting the role of Let’s Go Learn products in transforming learning loss into learning gain. She has a BA in English and an MA in American Studies and K-12 and adult teaching credentials. In addition to her work with K-12 teachers and learners, she is an adjunct professor at National University in Strategic Communications.