So You Think You’re Ready for Common Core Math?
The Common Core State Standards are going to require levels of thinking and conceptual understanding to which many students have never been measured. To prepare students for what is to come, instructional procedures need to change. This web seminar, originally broadcast on April 25, 2013, explored the benefits of introducing game-based instructional software in readying students for success with the Common Core and the next generation of assessments.
One of the key differences we see when we look at the Common Core State Standards is the new standard of mathematical practice. The eight standards put forward the idea that reasoning and mathematical thinking are critical skills to have. I think it’s significant that the first standard for mathematical practice in the Common Core discusses students “making sense of problems and persevering in solving them.” Students need to become problem solvers.
When you examine the CCSS curriculum, it is evident how students are supported in persevering to solve problems. Here is a brief example of something I find interesting about the way these standards are written. For the third-grade fractions standards, it is mandated that everything must be related to the number line. This is very different from the way most curricula are written. This means that students are continuously focused on conceptual understanding. Another thing that is heavily referenced, especially with fractions, is the notion of using visual models.
Notice that while procedures and processes are part of the standards, they are not the primary focus. The primary focus is that students need to actually understand how this stuff works. This has significant implications for how teaching needs to occur, and for the tools that are going to support that teaching. One sobering thought to bear in mind is that technology has been around for a long time in education. The expenditure in the U.S. on technology in education is growing exponentially yearly. However, student test scores have not been increasing at that rate. We do need to be careful about predicting what impact technology is going to have on student performance outcomes. Sometimes technology just replicates the classroom experience.
For example, students may watch videos online. It’s great that there is increased access to a greater variety of information through this medium, but ultimately, the style of instruction is the same. It’s not changing the instructional paradigm. When we can use technology to literally change the way teaching occurs, I think that is where we are going to start seeing really big gains in student performance.
I used to teach in the U.K. There, I lectured and the students wrote down everything I said. When I moved to the U.S. to become a teacher in Los Angeles, my style of teaching just didn’t work that well. I had to dig deep and reinvent how I taught. I had to reexamine everything I was doing, which was a great process to go through. I had to think about how to get the students interested in math and how to get them to understand what was going on behind the procedures. It led me to use manipulatives and models in class to get the students to be hands-on. If technology is going to have an impact, it needs to support those conceptual and hands-on style lessons. ST Math from the MIND Research Institute is an instructional software program with learning assessments and reporting that supports both conceptual understanding and the requirements of the Common Core.
Our district focus is to constantly try to get our students to meet and exceed standards. We’re working on making sure our teachers and students are prepared for the deeper and narrower focus of the CCSS. Previously, we thought we could rely on “spiraling,” where students may or may not have been introduced to a concept in third grade, but were bound to see it in fourth or fifth grade.
The Common Core is not built that way. The scope and sequence are rigid. If you were supposed to have learned something in third grade, you better have learned it in third grade because you’re expected to apply it in fourth grade and beyond. We are now looking for fluency, for efficiency and accuracy. We are seeking deep understanding, for students to know more than just the isolated facts. To truly understand things deeply—that’s a big and different concept. Application is important in the Common Core, especially choosing to apply the right concept without prompting. We are working on this balance of intensity, fulfilling deep understanding, and making sure students have sufficient practice.
In fall 2011, we were approached about instituting a pilot program of ST Math in our district. After implementing the program in two elementary schools, our other elementary schools started clamoring to use ST Math because the students and teachers in the pilot were delighted about its success. During the 2012 school year, we began using the program in the rest of our elementary schools. We witnessed a lot of student progress in math during that period, and the only variable that changed from the previous year was the introduction of ST Math. In 2012, our pilot students made giant gains in their math achievement. Improvements were so remarkable that our State Department of Education wanted to know exactly what had changed! The answer was ST Math.
In one of our elementary schools, among third graders, the growth rate of students meeting or exceeding standards was 22 percent. What we did at the district level was mandate that every school submit a plan that would involve each third and fourth grader having access to the program 90 minutes every week. ST Math works in our district because the principals, teachers, and students work together. Progress is tracked at the student and class level, and the principals meet with teachers to analyze the data and discuss specific objectives. We have approximately 100 teachers teaching with ST Math; when I asked them about it, they all cited the same strengths in the program.
They universally say that students love the program. Students and teachers have learned it’s okay to grapple with challenging material before finding success. ST Math discreetly notifies teachers when a student needs help. However, they are only alerted after the student has attempted something ten or fifteen times and still cannot grasp a concept. That persistence piece of the CCSS is really being reinforced here. We are seeing students helping each other solve problems, but also competing to meet their goals, which is a great motivator. Students see connections with their regular math instruction because teachers are able to adjust the order in which the content is presented in ST Math. Students are motivated by keeping track of their individual progress and seeing growth from pretest to posttest. Our teachers are saying that the visual representations offer another way for students to learn. So when certain teachers may lean toward a lecture style of teaching, their students are still getting a Common Core style, hands-on approach to content.
Students learn to take risks, and gain confidence from their success in solving problems the right way. As a superintendent, it’s nice when your teachers say “we like this and we want more.” We also polled our students to get their perspective on the program. My favorite quote was: “I’m not scared any more when my teacher says we’re going to do fractions.” The students tell us that they like learning the math concepts and learning the real math language. They like that it’s okay not to get the answers right the first time, because you need to think to learn. Students are seeing the connections between ST Math and their classroom math work.
To watch this web seminar in its entirety, please go to: www.districtadministration.com/ws042513