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Putting math standards into motion

Tips for translating Common Core into classroom instruction
Linda Gojak, NCTM president, speaks at last year’s NCTM Annual Meeting & Exposition.
Linda Gojak, NCTM president, speaks at last year’s NCTM Annual Meeting & Exposition.

Giving math teachers the training and classroom tools to effectively implement the Common Core is the biggest challenge school districts face when it comes to improving achievement.

That’s why making teachers comfortable with the new standards will be a driving force in many of the sessions at this spring’s National Council of Teachers of Mathematics’ (NCTM) conference.

But the standards alone will not ensure improvement in student learning, says Matt Larson, a featured speaker at the conference taking place April 9-12 in New Orleans. What’s needed, Larson says, are the “Principles to Actions" that NCTM will release at the conference. 

“The primary purpose of Principles to Actions is to fill the gap between the adoption of standards—Common Core, state or provincial standards—and the enactment of practices, policies, programs and actions required for successful implementation of those standards,” says Larson, who was a member of the writing team that created the principles.

The Principles to Actions focus on teaching and learning, access and equity, curriculum, tools and technology, assessment and professionalism. At the conference, Larson says he will explain why new “actions” are important to teachers, schools and administrators, especially right now as implementation of the Common Core becomes more widespread.

“Although standards provide guidance for mathematics education, they do not prescribe the conditions that are necessary for mathematics to work for more students,” he says.

Larson is a former member of the NCTM Board of Directors and is now curriculum specialist for mathematics at Lincoln Public Schools in Nebraska. In these roles, he has worked with school district leaders nationwide and observed that successful Common Core implementation requires districts to consider far more than the prescribed standards.

“In my experience, I have learned that the districts must address access and equity to quality curriculum and instruction for all types of learners; provide updated and new curriculum instruction materials; give teachers and students access to appropriate technology tools; develop effective assessment of student learning; and ensure professional development opportunities for teachers,” he says.

The Common Core will be the focus of various conference presentations and discussions, says Linda Gojak, NCTM president. The three primary authors of the Common Core math standards—Philip Daro, William McCallum and Jason Zimba—will speak about effective teaching practices and resource evaluation methods. The authors compare today’s math lessons with the example that a dealer agrees to mail you an expensive Grecian urn, one piece at a time, according to

“Many districts are now working on using Common Core, and just as many are not there yet,” says Gojak. “It’s the right time to share what we’ve learned and help districts as they get underway.”

Professional development

Another hot topic at the conference will be training teachers to “truly impact change” in math education, Gojak says.

“We’ll take a look at the materials available to support teachers, including technology-based resources, and examine how school district administrators can determine what is most useful,” Gojak says.

Larson adds that providing adequate PD is one of the greatest challenges of implementing Common Core. At the conference, he will share successful PD approaches that he’s observed. One such approach is to set up professional learning communities in which teachers form teams of educators to revamp curriculum based on the new standards.

“Districts also find it useful to partner with college departments of education or mathematics to improve teacher knowledge and skills,” Larson says. “As administrators, we must give teachers access to new and updated instruction materials, technology and resources.”

More math resources

  • Core Math Tools, downloadable free from the NCTM website’s resources page, provides software tools for algebra and functions, geometry, trigonometry, statistics and probability. It’s appropriate with any high school mathematics curriculum and compatible with the Common Core. Students and parents can access the tools outside the classroom. 
  • “High-Yield Routines for Grades K-8,” is a book written by Ann McCoy, Joann Barnett and Emily Combs. The authors present seven easily implemented mathematical routines for different grade levels. Each chapter begins with an example of how the routine might look as it is implemented.  
  • STatistics Education Web (STEW), from the American Statistical Association, is an online collection of peer-reviewed lesson plans for K12 teachers. The site guides teachers to activities appropriate for their students’ maturity levels. 

Harriet Meyers is a freelance writer based in Maryland.