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Common Core: Math class isn't what it used to be

By Jody Moore, Numeracy Coach at Cole Elementary School, and Mathew Portell, Literacy Coach at Cole Elementary School The move to Common Core math standards is causing some important shifts for math instruction at the elementary level.  The new focus goes well beyond the typical tasks and memorization you associate with math. Today’s students (and tomorrow’s successful adults) will succeed through collaboration and communication with others.

The old days of memorizing a multiplication table and doing it in your head just won’t cut it anymore. We now have to know the answer, but also know and explain how we got there. That’s where these two major changes come into play.

      1. Focus on the “Standard for Mathematical Practices”

        These practices ask us to focus on skills like problem solving, reasoning and communicating about mathematics. Students at all grade levels are asked to model and explain their mathematical thinking. For example, kindergarten students model number stories by using counters and concrete objects, while fourth graders model fractions with diagrams and drawings.

      2. Shifts in Content

        For an example of this, let’s look at the way we think about computation in the second grade. Many of us learned to add and subtract using a standard method: we line numbers up vertically and start at the right to add or subtract.

        Traditional Math

        But many of us adults use these procedures automatically without understanding why they work. With Common Core, second grade students are asked to use and show specific and different skills when adding and subtracting. Students may break numbers apart into hundreds, tens and ones. They can use strategies like compensation, adding on and constant difference. The key is that they are constantly asked to prove why their answer works and show how by using more than one strategy.

        In this example, we use an open number line to show how a student can find the difference between two numbers by moving to friendly numbers.

Contextual Math

Through this new way of thinking, students will have to understand the math processes, but they will also have to explain their work through writing. Under the old system, the main connection between literacy and math was the ability to read and solve word problems. These days teachers have to rethink how they teach math and make a direct connection between reading, writing, thinking and math. When this is done, we will develop children who have the ability to successfully solve problems.

The point of Common Core is to produce children who are career and college ready. We are ultimately preparing our students for unknown challenges in a global economy that will require the ability to think critically, collaborate and communicate solutions.