Can you do this 1st grade math homework?

Can you do this homework problem? Photo: David Sommerstein

Can you do this homework problem? Photo: David Sommerstein

The NCPR news team is interested in hearing about your experiences with and opinions about the new Common Core standards in New York’s schools. Please e-mail news-at-ncpr-dot-org and share your thoughts with your name and where you live. We’d love to hear from parents, students, teachers, school leaders, and anyone else with insight into how Common Core is reshaping our education system.

We’ve been hearing a lot about the controversy surrounding the Common Core, how parents are raging against state education commissioner John King, how teachers fear they’re being assessed unfairly, and how there’s widespread agreement that this has all happened very, very quickly.

But if you don’t have a child in school, it’s hard to know what the Common Core actually is, in terms of what’s happening in the classroom and what parents are reacting to.

My daughter’s in first grade. She gets two to three pieces of homework a night – math, spelling, and reading a (very short) book. That, in itself, has been a shock to the system for us and our six year-old. But that’s a debate for another day.

We took the photo above of a particularly perplexing math homework problem. My wife, my daughter, and I stood and puzzled over this one for the better part of ten or fifteen minutes before we took a shot in the dark and moved on.

Can you solve it?

I now know that “doubles plus one” means, for example, 4+4+1=4+5=9. The kids are learning to memorize “doubles” as a shortcut to adding without having to count fingers every time – 1+1, 2+2, 3+3, etc. They use many ways to reinforce the concept and the memorization, including drawing pictures, changing where the equal sign is, etc. “Doubles plus one” is just extending the concept. The idea, according to Common Core, is that students are improving their “fact fluency” and finding “repeated reasoning and structures”. In other words, they’re learning strategies to add faster. Cool.

The teachers and the students talk about this in the classroom. The thing is, the parents are left out of the loop. The homework doesn’t tell the parents what a “doubles plus one” is. The result is parents get frustrated trying to help with something they can’t seem to understand. And we’re not talking trigonometry here. This is adding to 10. I’m sure some parents just walk away. Lots of parents are talking about this stuff in the hallways as they wait to pick up their kids at school.

I have to say, this problem is really not far from average. The directions on the homework sheets are frequently obtuse. At least one that came home was grammatically incorrect.

I’m in no way blaming the teachers. I love my daughter’s teacher. I bet she, like so many other teachers, is frustrated, too. As Steve Todd of St. Lawrence & Lewis BOCES told me, one of the biggest problems with the Common Core right now is a lack of communication with parents on the concepts taught because the teachers haven’t had time to develop their own curricula or properly digest the curricula they’re using.

“The instructions on the assignment sheet may not communicate what it is the teacher is hoping for the student to be working on,” says Todd. “The student asks the parent for help and the parent is at a loss because they say, oh golly, this is different from what I’ve seen. That’ll get easier with time, and I think much of this, in my book, I would chalk up to the speed of the implementation, and that’s one piece of the process that is still a work in progress.”

This one piece of homework is one tiny slice in the big story about implementing the Common Core in New York. We want to hear more stories from more points of view.

As I mentioned above, we’re interested in hearing from as many of you as possible who are having an experience with the Common Core, as a teacher, as a student, as a parent, as an administrator. Please drop us a note at news-at-ncpr-dot-org (that’s a regular e-mail address but writing it that way helps avoid our account getting filled up with spam (or so I’m led to believe)). Make sure you include your name, where you live, and the best way to reach you.


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22 Comments on “Can you do this 1st grade math homework?”

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  1. Pete Klein says:

    If I understand the question correctly, there are only two numbers on the top line that can be doubled and by adding one to equal any of the numbers on the lower line.
    2 + 2 + 1 = 5
    1 + 1 + 1 = 3
    To put it as algebra, 2y +1 = x.
    Thanks for the fun.

  2. Sean Niestrath says:

    Don’t see the issue here. There have been and will always be “new” methods to teach math, English, etc. as long as there are professors who must do research and be published. I am the product of an experimental math program, and my brother, ten years younger is the product of another. When I have trouble understanding an assignment my child can’t complete, I write a note on the assignment to the teacher asking for clarification. Critical thinking and problem solving is an important life skill. Most children do not develop that until mid to late teens, but being exposed to it early should do no harm if the learning environment is healthy. I thought the homework was obvious and fun.

  3. To say that Common Core has been rushed is an understatement. It is the outcome of a thoroughly corrupt process driven by ideology with no meaningful input from teachers. It makes the education of teachers superfluous, and that seems to be its goal.

  4. Mary Bregg says:

    If 2y +1 =X is the solution to this problem, where is the 7 to answer the 3+3+1? Also, don’t you think algebra is a little too advanced for a 1st grader?

  5. Michele S says:

    I had to laugh when I saw this worksheet because 4 years ago, this would have given me apocalepsy. I saw this now and instantly knew it meant doubles, like 2 + 2, or 4 +4, plus one. This is supposed to help you add using mental math, because once you know your doubles, you can add one in your brain. The worksheet is pretty pathetic and the directions are pathetic. This type of math has been driving parents crazy since 1989.

  6. Michele S says:

    I had to laugh when I saw this worksheet because 4 years ago, this would have given me apocalepsy. I saw this now and instantly knew it meant doubles, like 2 + 2, or 4 +4, plus one. This is supposed to help you add using mental math, because once you know your doubles, you can add one in your brain. The worksheet is pretty pathetic and the directions are pathetic. This type of math has been driving parents crazy since 1989.

  7. David Sommerstein says:

    That’s actually wrong, Pete! I got stuck on the same point you’re making. I was looking for 9s to make the 4+4+1.

    The correct answer is drawing lines to match the 1 at the top with the 2 at the bottom, creating a “doubles plus one” pair. The 4 should match with the 5, etc.

    The big problem is that the instructions are just so weird and vague.

  8. matt says:

    I’d bet the teacher and the kids know how to do this. I keep hearing parents yap about not being able to do kids homework. The parent did not sit through the lessons, why should they expect to know exactly what to do. If your kid is learning about Aztec history, do we expect parents to know the answers? My kid comes home with homework, sometimes he does it all correctly, sometimes he does things incorrectly. I let him get answers wrong, otherwise his teacher will think he understands it when he actually doesn’t.

    PARENTS: STOP DOING YOUR KIDS HOMEWORK!!!! Homework is used to evaluate whether a kid learned, not whether the kid’s mom can do it.

  9. Pete Klein says:

    You are being kind in saying the instructions are weird and vague.
    I would say the people who dreamed this math problem up need a refresher common core course in proper English.

  10. I figured out what doubles plus one is. But the instructions also said you had to match the each top number with its double plus one. 4 and 3 should have been matched with 9 and 7 respectively, but there are no 9 or 7 to match it to. That’s what’s so confusing.

    Perhaps the teacher explained in class how a kid was supposed to match a number with an answer that doesn’t appear. But somehow, I doubt it.

  11. Ok I saw David’s explanation. Fair enough.

    Matt, I definitely take your point. Here’s my question, though. Can a parent help a child with their homework without doing it for them? What’s the line between helping and doing it for them?

    I know when my sister was taking HS French, she asked for my help. What I did was highlight where she made errors but let her figure out what was wrong and how to fix it. That seemed like a good balance to me. Not sure what you think.

  12. The Original Larry says:

    If they want people to take Common Core seriously, they ought to correct the spelling, grammar, punctuation and usage mistakes one sees on the web site. It’s hard to support a program promoted by people who need remedial education themselves.

  13. matt says:

    O’Larry: Is that really the problem? Punctuation mistakes on a website? I don’t think anyone is not taking this seriously. Opponents and supporters seem to be serious about it.

  14. Matt: I think OLarry’s point is that it is an EDUCATION website. And that lots of spelling and grammar errors can be construed to be an indication that those implementing the program are either careless, hasty or don’t seem particularly concerned with the details. It’s why I cringe when I go into a school and see signs for the Boy’s and Girl’s rooms.

    This corresponds with the impression many have regarding its problematic implementation. It leads one to wonder: is the implementation problematic or is the program so structurally flawed that it can’t be implemented correctly?

    These sorts of errors on a sports or health care website would be one thing or on posts in a news forum. But we kind of expect those setting the curriculum to educate our kids to place a higher value on accuracy, to set at least the same standards for themselves as they do for teachers and kids.

  15. The Original Larry says:

    I agree, it’s very serious. If your goal is to properly educate children you ought to be to express yourself correctly and set some sort of example. What kind of credibility do they have if their web site looks like amatuer hour?

  16. SESZOO says:

    Like Pete I took just the 1s and 2s as being the only ones that could be doubled with a 1 added …Until they start presenting this in language a parent can understand , they will have nothing but trouble with the people , When mine were in school we were some of those parents that did try to help our children with homework ,not to do it but to take an interest and maybe help them to understand it better . We always had a relationship with our children’s teachers ,which if we were to get this back with only 50% right ,we would have questioned why it wasn’t explained better. Maybe the teacher in this instance explained just what they were looking for but how would the first grader explain to their parents what they were looking for when common English says different, I see a lot of trouble coming this year from parents who will feel way out of the loop when what they don’t understand ,as it turns out 1st grade math… Thanks Dave for the example and maybe make a series out of this keeping us that are no longer involved day to day involved .

  17. Peter Hahn says:

    Im guessing Matt is right. The teacher probably explained to the kids what ‘doubles plus 1″ means. The exercise seems to be a more thoughtful version of the 2-times tables for 1st graders. The parents need to ask the kids what the instructions mean. If the kids cant explain then the teacher needs to know and do a better job.

  18. matt says:

    I’d love to know how many of you were paying this much attention to curriculum before common core. Are people people critical being they are paying attention? Were you happy with how it was before?

  19. Matt: The increasing fetishization of standardized testing at all times is something I noticed in NYS as early as the mid-90s, have been pushed by then-DOE commish Richard Mills. It’s a major reason I opted not get into teaching as a profession after having done so in the Peace Corps.

    And I’ll notice you didn’t answer my question about where the line was between a parent helping with hw and doing it.

  20. Terry says:

    Teachers should have open communication with all parents. Parents need to be an ‘arm’ of the teacher in the after-school setting. Good support for the learner is a team effort. Good support fosters excellent outcomes in any situation.

  21. The strange thing is that in this context, doubles plus one really just means plus one.

  22. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    Let’s just face it, if your kids are in public school chances are they will end up in mindless dead-end jobs. Common core or whatever new fad they come up with next is meant only to train automatons for drone work of the future. Training your kids to do the same thing as everyone else, just like at the kennel club training facility, is setting your child up for a life of mediocrity. Stay, down! good boy…

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