4 Things Mathematics Teachers Can Do To Prepare for Common Core
Forty-five states are in the midst of implementing the Common Core State Standards. Want to get up to speed on the Common Core? Here are four tips for mathematics teachers.
Study the Standards for Mathematical Practice. Start by looking at the Standards for Mathematical Practice, the eight organizing principles that underpin all of the Common Core mathematics standards. The Common Core is unique in that it elevates ways of thinking about mathematics to the same level of importance as the results themselves. It is not a reinvention of mathematics! The Standards for Mathematical Practice offers a concrete guide for what it takes to think like a mathematician.
Do the Math. As a mathematics teacher, stay mathematically active. Challenge yourself (and your colleagues) to solve new puzzles and problems. Analyze your techniques and structures for finding answers, while keeping the Standards for Mathematical Practice in mind. Active engagement with your colleagues and with mathematics may illuminate how you can instill mathematical habits of mind in your students, and what the standards may look like in classroom practice.
Stay Informed. Follow discussions around Common Core, both at your district level and beyond. Education Week dedicates a section of its website to the standards. You can also monitor what is happening with Common Core assessment, even if this topic does not directly affect you this year. (It will, soon.) The two main organizations developing Common Core assessments are PARCC and SBAC.
5 Questions to Ask When Choosing a Common Core Mathematics Curriculum
Districts face an abundance of options when looking to purchase a mathematics curriculum. The introduction of the Common Core State Standards puts even more pressure on districts to make the right choice.
But how do staff charged with making curricular decisions evaluate which programs are based on the principles behind the Common Core, and which are merely re-packaged textbooks with a shiny “Common Core-aligned” label?
“A curriculum should be explicit about its organizing principles,” says EDC’s Al Cuoco, a mathematician and former teacher. “Evaluators of a program should not have to guess about a program’s intentions.” He offers five questions to help identify whether a curriculum prioritizes the Standards for Mathematical Practice.
Does it stress experience before explanation? Students develop the habits described in the Standards for Mathematical Practice by puzzling through problems and reflecting on their own methods for making sense of mathematics. While worked-out examples and careful definitions are important, students first need to grapple with ideas and problems. Definitions and theorems should be capstones, not foundations.
Does it emphasize essential mathematical ideas? A program with the Practices in mind makes a clear separation between convention and matters of mathematical substance. Knowing the quadrant in which an axis lies is a matter of convention; being able to apply the Pythagorean theorem is a matter of substance. Both are important, but they require different and textured emphasis. A careful look at the assessments provided with a curriculum tells a lot about how the program treats these important ideas, which lie at the heart of the Common Core philosophy.
Does it set high expectations? Students are born mathematical thinkers. But they often need help in developing and improving their reasoning skills, especially as the content becomes unfamiliar. A curriculum that helps students develop mathematical practices features a small number of important themes. It allows easy access to concepts while providing challenging mathematics. This low-threshold, high-ceiling design is essential.
How does it promote technical fluency? Expertise in numerical and algebraic calculation, proof, and graphing are critical for success in mathematics. A curriculum that embraces the Standards for Mathematical Practice treats these skills in thoughtful ways. Beware of endless pages of drill. Look for carefully orchestrated exercises that promote technical fluency within areas of mathematical substance.
Who wrote it? The people responsible for writing, editing, and field testing the curriculum should represent all parts of the mathematics community. This includes teachers, researchers, technology specialists, and administrators. It’s especially important that programs seek out the involvement of practicing mathematicians and scientists, as they have intimate knowledge of the critical-thinking skills that are necessary for success.