Adjusting Math Terms for the Common Core World

Valerie Faulkner of North Carolina State University argues for a shift in the mathematical language we use.  The Common Core should give us pause and force us to reconsider the terminology and vocabulary we employ in describing certain skills and concepts.  Here are a few examples:

Old Habit (eliminate)                                     New Habit (adopt)

Defining equality as “ same as”                   Defining equality as “same value as”

Calling digits numbers                                    Clearly distinguishing between digits, numbers and numerals

Addition makes things bigger                      Addition is about combining

Subtraction makes things get smaller      Subtraction is about difference

Let’s borrow from the tens place               Use regrouping, trading, decomposing

Multiplication makes things bigger          Teach 3 structures of multiplication

Divison makes things smaller                     Teach the different structures of divisions,

Doesn’t go into                                                 Prepare students for later learning by using accurate language

Saying “and” means decimal point         Don’t create false rules for language using and

Canceling out                                                   Explicitly use and discuss the idea behind simplifying

Referring to “the answer”                           Use the model or the relationships to justify your answer

Guess-and-check as a strategy                 Teach systematic math representations


Old habits die hard, but this is food for thought as many districts get farther into implementing the Common Core.

  • Carol

    Interesting thoughts colleagues…but what if the test is using the new terminology! Personally I think we need to use the language that will be used on tests…so long as we are using tests to measure progress.

  • Denise Smith

    What really matters is the student understand the math concepts. Whether they think addition makes things bigger or combines things is “splitting” hairs. It’s about what makes logical sense and real life sense to the student

  • OptimistInChief

    Maybe next time, don’t use tabs when you need a table.

  • Ed

    These are all side issues, easy to waste time on, bore students to an even greater death than the McGuffey Reader. So typical of overschooled teacher types, who have forgotten what it’s like being a student forced to sit in class for hours every day, as opposed to being a professional grad student who knows the game inside and out and has an investment in it.