Friday, October 17, 2014

Understanding Common Core

As a teacher that has had the opportunity to be trained on Common Core I have strong beliefs that if these standards are used as intended they are not terrible and actually lead us to a more cohesive way of educating our kids.

In Education there have always been standards, things that the state and districts say teachers must teach their students by the end of the year.  My first 5 years or so of teaching it was kind of an each teacher for himself type mentality.  The 6th grade teachers had their S.P.I's, as the standards were called then, the 7th grade teachers had their own set and 8th grade had their own set.  As far as I know/remember no one ever thought about looking to see if we were teaching the same things from grade to grade.  As students came to us we just assumed that our students did not know the things listed on that S.P.I list and we taught until we covered all 36 (maybe more maybe less) of them.

Makes sense right?  As long as I teach my students what they need to know to do well on TCAP its all ok right?

This is where Common Core State Standards (CCSS) come into play.  Before delving into the actual we as teachers have to accept the fact that out kids know stuff.  Someone other than us, me Mrs. Ward or you Mr./Mrs______, did teach our kids something.  That maybe our fellow colleagues did do their job and teach.  Its a crazy thought but once you can let go of the thought that I have to teach this, once you get brave enough to just throw your students an assignment to see if they can figure it out you'll be surprised how much they already know...

So what does all of this have to do with Common Core?  The Common Core Standards were built on the idea of progression.  For example in Kindergarten students are introduced to equations in the form of:
          Write all the facts you can think of that equal 9.

Then in first grade Students must be able to answer a question similar to:

           For each equations state whether it is true, if not explain why.


By sixth grade it looks more like this:
          Can these two expressions b equivalent?  Give and example that would make them equivalent            and an example that would lead to two expressions that are not equal.
                     4x + 3x = 3x +20

In 7th grade students begin to write their own equations from real world situations.

Through these grade levels you should see a progression in K students are learning what it means to have a math problem equal something.  In first grade it gets a bit more complex, students are introduced to the idea that our math problem may not always equal what is on the opposite side of that equal sign.  The idea progresses through third, fourth and fifth grade...  (this information can be found by simply googling common core progressions expressions and equations)...  until middle school Where by now students should have a complete grasp on what it means to be equivalent.  Standard 6 EE 4 Says identify when two expressions are equivalent....

Is that not what we have just shown that our students have been being taught since kindergarten??!!??

So this goes back to the idea that if we as educators trust each other, our students probably know more than we give them credit for.  I recently attended a training that used the term 'unfinished learning'  to me it made perfect sense.  As a 7th grade teacher I should be able to give my students a word problem and have them write equations from a word problem because they already understand variables and equivalence.

Here recently with the adoption of the CCSS, teachers have began to accept that their students know stuff when they walk through the door but we expect them to be ready to dive in head first into something new.  If we don't show our students how what we are learning today relates to something they already know they will be able to make connections.

Back to the 'unfinished learning' business...  in 6th grade the students were just beginning to get good at identifying equivalent expressions and understanding variables therefore in 7th grade  I cannot just throw a word problem in front of them and expect them to be able to write an equation.  I need to go back to expressions and say, hey remember these?  what can you tell me about them?  Why is there letter in my math problem?  What does this letter mean?  etc....  pull that previous learning out of them and then build on it...  The idea of understanding expressions and determining if they are equal is now going to grow into, look at this word problem, is something being added, subtracted, multiplied or divided, what is the thing that is unknown, and what are we wanting it to equal in the end?

But for this natural progression work we need total buy in from teachers from Kindergarten all the way through high school.  Teachers will only buy in with proper training and proper training will only come if the state feels EVERYONE is on board with the idea.  That EVERYONE is mainly the parents.  Parents we as teachers need your support, yes the 'tasks' that come along with common core are more challenging for your child but isn't that what we want?  Don't we want our children challenged and not just drones picking A B C or D.  and yes the teaching strategies that come along with common core may not be what you are used to but again sometimes we need to let our children struggle before we give them a hand.

In any case my ramblings may make sense to you they may not but in the end if we overthrow CCSS before ever giving it a whole hearted try there will be new set of standards with new challenges that some people will like and others will not.

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