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Why Common Core Math Is the Key to Creative Problem-Solving

Common Core was baffling until I realized it was about teaching multiple ways of getting to the same answer. That’s when the light bulb went off.

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BY Amy Vernon - 01 Mar 2016

Common Core math standards get slammed a lot. I see posts on Facebook all the time from people bemoaning these baffling ways children are being taught math these days. Not like the simple way we were taught back in the day, when we walked three miles uphill both to and from school.

I'm not going to belabor all those examples, as that's not really what this post is about. But here: Let me Google that for you.

I'll admit, the first time I saw my son's elementary-school math asking him to use the array method or to write a number sentence or to use the counting-up method of subtraction, I was baffled. "This isn't how I was taught math. The way I was taught math made sense. What is all this gibberish?"

But as I spoke to my boys, I realized they were learning multiple ways of solving problems. They'd already learned the way I learned. Now they were learning a new way. And next week, they might learn even a third way.

The light bulb went off. My children were being taught that there's more than one way to solve a problem. Even a problem that has an absolute answer, such as "What is 6 times 9?"

See, that's how things work in real life. Even when there's only one "right answer" to a problem (protip: There usually isn't only one "right answer" in business), there are many ways of getting there. Some people are more visual and need a way to see all the moving parts. Some people are more literal and need a straight line.

Neither way is better. If the person who's more visual only has the option of the literal method or the person who's more literal only has the option of the visual method, then neither is going to be solving the problem. Or at the very least, that person will struggle with getting there.

So next time you have a problem that simply won't be solved. Step back. Stop thinking about it the same way. Look at it from a different angle. Try pulling it apart and putting it back together in a different way. Count up.

After all, "That's not the way we used to do it" isn't a very good reason to resist looking at things differently.


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