The Common Core has hit home for me, literally. I received from my daughter’s school a kindergarten common core workbook, and, as you might imagine, I have ‘issues’ with it.
My daughter’s school, like most schools, is having a budget crisis. So when I think that these workbooks each retail for about $30, I question if this is the best use of scarce funds.
Now I will be the first to admit that I am no expert in early childhood learning. When my daughter was three months old I devised a plan for her to break the world’s record for youngest person to solve the Rubik’s cube. Using ‘incremental’ learning, I bought a Rubik’s cube and removed all the stickers except for two white stickers. The idea is that I would have her learn to get the two white stickers together. Then, as a reward, I’d add another sticker and keep doing that, adding a new sticker each time she mastered the new cube, until all 54 stickers were put on the cube before she turned four. I didn’t force her to do the cube, knowing that she might resent it. Instead I’d leave the sticker-less cube lying around in places where she might notice it and pick it up on her own. Needless to say, she never showed any interest in the mostly black cube and is now nearly six years old and has no interest in the cube whatsoever.
I also don’t know much about what kindergarten math was like before the common core. For all I know, what is in this workbook is not very different from what they have been doing before that. I’ll be interested in hearing from people who are experts in early childhood education and who can tell me if I’m being overly harsh on what I see in this book.
A good teacher, like the one my child now has, does know how to take even a crummy curriculum and adapt it to make it appropriate for the class. There could be inexperienced teachers who don’t yet know how to distinguish good resources from bad resources and who will do what the book says. There also could be situations where a principal forces teachers to do it ‘by the book’ and not use their professional judgement — the principal at my daughter’s school seems to be more flexible than that. But even so, when tens of thousands of dollars are spent on bad books and surely the interim assessments and analysis that go along with them, then that is just a big waste of money which I’d rather see a school use to offer more special events, programs, and field trips to make school a fun place for my child.
Each page of the book features in large letters the words ‘TEST PREP’ so any administrator who claims that they don’t encourage test prep for kindergarteners is lying. Also notice that these kindergarteners are getting early practice in bubbling. The directions for this are “Trace the number. How many counters woul you place in the five frame to show the number? Mark under your answer.”
The directions for this one are “Which numbers show the sets that are put together? Mark under your answer.” Clearly both 5+3 and 7+1 are correct, though I guess they want the students to write 7+1.
The directions are “Listen to the subtraction word problem about the animals. There are ____ _______. Some are taken from the set. Now there are ____. How many were taken from the set? Circle and mark an X to show how many are being taken from the set. Trace and rite to complete the subtraction sentence.” These aren’t even the correct instructions! It should say that there are ____ ____ and ____ are taken from the set, how many are left, I think. So this is, as the title of the lesson says, ‘Algebra’ — for kindergarteners. So for number one there are four sea horses and one is facing to the left and three are facing to the right. It is not clear which ones are staying and which ones are leaving, but according to the problem the three facing to the right are leaving so this represents four minus 3. But who says that moving to the right is leaving (or just facing to the right, really?)?
Here is another type of ‘algebra’ problem. “Mark under the number to show how many are being taken from the set.” This time the right facing turtles are circled with a big ‘X’ over them to represent they are being taken away.
“Tell a subtraction word problem about the beavers. Trace the numbers and the symbols. Write the number that shows how many beavers are left.” Well it seems to me that there are three beavers while just one, not two, have left the raft. There is one who is maybe starting to leave, but it is equally likely that he is actually climbing onto the raft. Maybe there are one and a half beavers on the raft?
“Listen to a subtraction word problem about the birds. There are some birds. Four birds are taken from the set. Draw more birds to show how many you started with. How many birds did you start with? Write the number to complete the subtraction sentence.” Here is another type of ‘algebra’ problem. Look at the wording of the oral prompt: “There are some birds.” There ‘are’, or there ‘were’? “how many you started with,” seems like a strange way to say that. The student didn’t start with the birds, so why the ‘you’? What a way to make a five or six year old hate math (and penguins for that matter).
“Which shapes could you join to make the rectangle above? Mark under your answer.” I’m a big fan of manipulatives in the classroom. At my home, my children (I also have a two year old son — his Rubik’s cube training has not begun yet. I’m not going to make the same mistake twice. He’ll start three months before his fourth birthday. Guinness here we come!) love playing with magnetic shapes that can be made into three dimensional figures. But it seems pretty feasible that the two triangles and the square might be able to be made into a rectangle, though the answer is the second one with the two right triangles. I don’t think a question like this should ever be a multiple choice question unless the students are provided with the actual shapes so they can play around with them to see which one works.
“Which shape does not roll? Mark under your answer.” So first you have the explanation of ‘roll’ with the soccer ball and the arrows demonstrating the rotation of the ball. There is no reason why a kindergartener who has not spent time trying to put together IKEA furniture by looking at diagrams like this would understand what roll means from this picture, though of course every child knows the concept of rolling. And then look at the answer choices. The cylinder doesn’t roll very well when it is upright like that so it isn’t clear if that is part of the answer though a cylinder will roll if it is on its side. Then the sphere of course does roll, but what about the cube? The answer is intended to be ‘no,’ I guess, but a cube most certainly does roll. In fact, what do you do with cube shaped dice? You ROLL them!
For the other three questions on this page, these seem more like physics problems. I can argue that you can stack spheres for question 2. Have they ever seen a can of tennis balls? Cones can also be stacked. Ever see a box of ice cream cones? For number three, I’d say that all things can slide, even the sphere. Put any onto an ice skating rink and push them and see.
I don’t know. These seem pretty useless to me. It’s not that they are so difficult, just that they are not accomplishing much. My sense is that they have done ‘backward planning’ to get the students ready for whatever common core material they are expected to do when they are in high school so they are trying to set up for those things now. But I’d much prefer my child to explore math at this young age in a way that is more like a game and less like a test prep manual. This might make her good at bubble tests but not someone who likes math or will chose to study it further as soon as it is no longer required. Fortunately I trust my child’s teacher to try to find some good in this material and to not waste time on the stuff that is pointless.