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How to Successfully Transition to the Common Core for Math

Gathering the necessary resources and developing a solid plan is essential to implementing the Common Core

The rigor of the Common Core requires a depth of thinking that is unfamiliar to many students. To begin teaching to these new standards, teachers must invoke different tools and methods. In this web seminar originally broadcast on June 6, 2013, administrators from Howard County (Md.) Public School System shared their phased Common Core transition plan, as well as their collection of online resources for students, teachers, and administrators.

L. Stanley Bowlsbey Chair of Education, Graduate and Professional Studies
McDaniel College (Md.)

When you think about the implementation of the CCSS, what’s most important to you? It’s one thing to say that these are common standards; it’s another thing to say in my school district, this is what CCSS looks like. As an administrator, when you think about your role, you need to think about what you need in terms of professional growth to ensure you’re ready and able to lead others to the CCSS implementation. Which aspects of your implementation are you unsure of? What are the challenges you and your district are facing? Frankly, this becomes a classroom question. Maybe there is a lack of access to particular materials or the transition from elementary school to middle school is not smooth. You need to examine how processes and content domains impact actual instruction.

Elementary Mathematics Coordinator
Howard County (Md.) Public School System

When we first began to think about our district’s transition to the Common Core, we first looked at how the CCSS curriculum would impact our instruction. In turn, we began a discussion on professional development for our teachers. We also knew we had to align some of our local assessments, as well as address the issue of communicating the changes that would be occurring to our parents, community, and school board. We knew we had to collaborate with various offices and discuss how this shift was going to impact the students in their programs. Perhaps one of our biggest focuses was our administrators. We know how important the role of the administrator is in instruction, as well as in leading and guiding the changes that needed to occur.

Instructional Facilitator, Elementary Mathematics
Howard County (Md.) Public School System

We started with our kindergarten curriculum, which we designed a year before roll out. All aspects are tied to the scope and sequence of CCSS, and we plan to revise and adjust each year. Our curriculum is available electronically as a collection of connected resources. We decided to use a WikiSpace so all of our teachers could participate and add resources without needing any high level technology skills. This site is for grades K-5 and free of charge to anyone. The site for first graders is located at To access the other grades, just change the number after “grade.” On the left side of our site, we highlight planning resources that are available online for teachers. There are 120 optional homework sheets for teachers, which are each attached to a specific scope and sequence.

All resources are aligned to a Common Core standard. If you were to click on “I O A3,” you would see what the standard is, as well as the scope and sequence that we’ve determined for our teachers. We also highlight essential questions and important vocabulary. Not only do we provide essential understanding and essential questions, but we emphasize that the focus needs to be more than just “what do I teach on Monday?” It’s about understanding what I’m teaching on Monday. Every page and standard has connections to web resources. We have included games and centers, collection of lessons for teachers that are aligned with our exemplary measures of math instruction, student resources, and video segments.

Sammons: We knew we had to change our local assessments. We knew also that teachers needed a way to assess their instruction on a daily basis. So we provide a lot of examples of formative assessment that teachers can use during and after instruction. We also provide ways of collecting data within a classroom that reveal where students are in mastering the mathematics. This should help teachers plan for instruction and meet the individual needs of their students. We also are looking closely at sample questions from PARCC and Smarter Balanced and sharing those questions with teachers so they can understand what students will be expected to show.

SanGiovanni: We’ve found that providing local assessments were helpful for our teachers because they could then spend their time focusing on instruction. At the same time, those assessments became the driving force behind our teachers’ instruction, and the assessments weren’t as formative as we wanted them to be. So we now provide student learning targets broken up by standard, formative assessment tasks that help our teachers understand what students should be able to do, a system rubric, and a progression of skills and concepts. Teachers can modify and use the formative assessment tasks however they like. This allows teachers to meet the individual needs of their students, as well as gather actionable data that drives where they go next. This actionable data also informs school improvement plans.

Sammons: Our biggest challenge was the development of our professional development plan. We wanted to include not only the practices but also the content at the various grade levels. We knew the importance of developing the pedagogy and helping teachers understand the necessity of deep questioning in the classroom. Our math coaches act as ambassadors of CCSS and have begun meeting at schools without coaches four times a year. They help the K-2 teachers understand the CCSS and also help 3-5 teachers understand what is coming for them. After school, we offer quarterly long-range planning sessions. Teachers can come at the beginning of the quarter, see the standards that are coming up that quarter, and discuss and understand them with their peers. This, though voluntary, has been very successful. The Wikis provide professional development as well. We provide background information so teachers understand the mathematics behind the standards.

SanGiovanni: What are the resources and messages we want to deliver to our parents? Why the CCSS? Why the change? How are we going to engage our parents and other community members and organizations? One way to engage stakeholders was to have joint meetings with other Maryland districts, so we could tackle common problems together and make sense of the challenges we face. Utilizing math coaches for family math nights has been helpful, as have focus groups with teachers that provided direction and consideration that sometimes administrators can overlook.

Senior Director of Curriculum Design
DreamBox Learning

At DreamBox, we combine rigorous elementary math with a motivating environment and our intelligent, adaptive learning engine to differentiate for students in real time. We engage students in thinking and developing vocabulary and conceptual understanding. Students are always doing the thinking and actively mathematizing their world. We have experienced classroom teachers on staff that build our content to be adaptive and responsive with useful feedback as students progress through ideas. The content is also aligned with the CCSS.

To watch this web seminar in its entirety, please go to: