It was a crummy week to be a teacher. Maybe that’s why I found special happiness on Thursday to walk into my house after work to the sound of my children’s laughter. They were crowded around a chromebook giggling, with my husband hovering nearby. “What’s so funny?” I asked. “An Incredibles 2 trailer has been released,” all three of them said at once. “You have to see it.” I plopped down on the couch to watch and soon I was laughing too. If you haven’t seen it, here it is:
Just at the point where Bob explodes into a full-blown dad-rant that ends with “Math is math,” my son exclaims, “It turns out our family is the Incredibles.” That made us laugh even harder. But it turns out that everyone isn’t laughing about “math is math.” In fact, some teachers are irritated that Pixar seemingly took a shot at the Common Core State Standards.
I’d like to offer a different perspective. Almost every school night for the last two years, I sit down at the dining room table to help my son with his middle school math homework. Most of the time, he doesn’t need help, just encouragement. This year there have been more times when he needs help with math and also science. One night last week I had to text three physics teachers to get help with something he was assigned. About once a week I ask “what do the kids without a science teaching mom do when they need help?”
When teachers are absent, we leave lesson plans for our substitute teachers to follow. When kids go home with their school assignments, they sit down at dining room tables to complete the work and their parents, who function essentially as de facto substitute teachers, try to help and support them. Without lesson plans. Without extra information or professional development or degrees in education, parents won’t necessarily understand what an assignment is trying to accomplish. Or how a skill is foundational. Or why we would try to solve a problem three or four different ways. They just want to help their kids. And we could probably do a better job at helping them do just that.
For two years, my son has been solving diamond problems in math. I didn’t know why. And neither did he. He just did them. This month he started factoring quadratics and one night at the table, he told me, “Mom, this is why we’ve been doing all those diamond problems. They make the thinking we have to do now easier.” That was a cool moment, but it took us two years and a lot of diamonds to get there.
Maybe Pixar meant to take a shot at the Common Core. Maybe, as others have pointed out, because the story is set in the 1960s when the phrase “New Math” was born, the shot they took is at that. Or maybe Pixar capitalized on the timeless, common experience that all parents have shared – that feeling when you look at the work your child does, work that looks different from what you did, and you don’t know how to help. The “math is math” rant makes us laugh, not because it’s about math, but because we have all been there about something.
For my part, I think the trailer makes the movie look great. I can’t wait to see it. Between now and then (June 15!), I am going to give some thought to how I can do a better job at helping parents support their kids while they learn chemistry.