‘Making Ten': It’s Not New Math

By Liana Loewus — February 04, 2015 2 min read
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The Common Core State Standards suggest several strategies for teaching early addition and subtraction, including one called “making ten.”

That strategy—which I used as a teacher myself years ago, though I called it “jumping to the tens"—asks students to find number combinations that equal ten. The common standards use this example:

8 + 6 = 8 + 2 + 4 = 10 + 4 = 14.

“Our mind thinks about tens quickly,” Gary Harvey, an Ohio math coach explained in a story I wrote recently about common-core math trainings for parents. “It’s just a natural way of putting things together.”

When I talk to non-educators about the common standards, many say they use “making ten” intuitively when doing mental math—though they may not have learned it formally or realized it had a name. Math teacher and writer Barry Garelick offers proof that the method has been in use since at least 1955, when it showed up in his 3rd grade textbook.

In a recent blog post, William McCallum, one of the lead writers of the common-core math standards, points to a Fox News interview in which Texas Governor Greg Abbott decried the common standards in mathematics. The governor cited a widely viewed WGRZ segment in which a teacher demonstrates what making ten looks like (see below). “You’ll find it’s going to take you more than a minute to see how a teacher teaches a student to learn how to add nine plus six,” Abbott, whose state has banned the common core, said on Fox.

Many critics of the common math standards have used this “it takes too long” argument, saying the standards overcomplicate what should be simple math. In another recent NBC piece, reporter Rehema Ellis said the common-core method of teaching subtraction takes “three times as many steps to get to the same answer.”

But as proponents of the standards point out, the goal of these methods is to help students eventually do mental math more quickly, and with bigger and more complicated problems. Teaching the strategies requires slowing down in order to speed up.

Isn’t that true of most learning? To improve your bat speed, you first have to break down your swing. To walk, babies first have to toddle—even though crawling seems faster.

In his blog, McCallum explains that strategies like making ten are a step toward memorizing math facts, which the standards also require. Plus, the methods offer transferrable skills. “If you know why 9 + 6 = 15, then you also know why 9 + 7 = 16, 9 + 8 = 17, and so on,” he said. “You get a whole bunch of math facts for the price of one.”

McCallum ends the post with what’s arguably a virtual mic drop: “It’s a pity, however, that Governor Abbot didn’t look at his own state standards before mocking this method, since Texas follows exactly the same progression at exactly the same grade levels.”

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Curriculum Matters blog.