The Truth About Common Core Math
Contributing Author: Katherine Stearns
I’m going to start with a truth bomb: I think that the Common Core Math Standards are great. In fact, I think that they have a really unfair reputation- and I’m here to stand up for them, and show you how I use them as the foundation of my classroom organization.
Understanding the Why:
I decided to start by making the purpose of the standards known to my students. We did an activity using Padlet (another great Ed-Tech tool) where students shared why the standards existed, and read their classmates’ responses. I was lucky enough to get students who had heard about the standards already, so my ‘Why’ question got answers like, “So everyone in the country learns the same thing,” and “So my teachers don’t teach me random things”. We elaborated on those ideas, because they’re not wrong! We also discussed the idea of going “deeper, not wider” and how having around 25 standards for 5th grade allows us more time to truly explore each topic. It’s so worthwhile helping your students truly understand why they’re doing something. There’s no reason to expect we would do anything without knowing the reason; why should we ask our students to do that?
Understanding + Mastering the Common Core Standards:
Then we addressed the standards themselves. The language is so overwhelming; they’re virtually inaccessible to students. I rewrote each standard as an “I Can” statement, and I gave each student a personal copy of all of the I-Can’s on one sheet, so they could “check” each standard off as they mastered them. To figure out who has finished and mastered each standard, I use the Analysis report in Front Row, choose the strand, and look at students who have Achieved with Low or No Difficulty. They LOVE being able to “check” something off, but what they love more is looking back at everything they’ve already checked off. “Look at how much I’ve done this year!” is a frequent cry in my room. Additionally, I created short, 7-question assessments for each strand as their “final” mastery- we take those as a class when we are finished with a topic.
After my students knew what the CCSS were and why we were learning them, I was determined to make them visible daily. Each of my anchor charts has the corresponding strand code (for example, 5.NF.1) in the top left corner. Additionally, when we take notes in our Interactive Notebooks, they write the strand code in the top left corner. That strand code and its matching I Can Statement are on the Focus Wall (more on that later) where they can see exactly what we are working on, which page those notes are on in their notebook, and which charts on the wall correspond. They can also see how far along we are on their checklist! Everything runs so smoothly that I sometimes forget that this is all new to them.
The centerpiece of my room and my love for the math standards is my Mathematical Practices Focus Wall. This is where we post our standards, our I Can Statements, and the 8 Mathematical Practices. This is where it all comes together! Each I Can Statement that we are working on (this changes about once every week-three weeks, depending on the standard) is posted. But the most beautiful thing about this wall is the dissection of that standard. As a class, we spend about 5 minutes at the beginning of each new standard breaking that I Can Statement into 8 pieces- “Keep Trying,” “Think About Math,” “Talk About Math,” “Model Math,” “Use Math Tools,” “Check Your Work,” “Look for Structure,” and “Look for Patterns”. We discuss where and how in that standard we can use all eight of those mathematical practices, and we leave it until we’re ready to move to the next standard. At all times, my class can look at the board and say, “There’s my standard, that’s what I’m aiming to learn, and I can get there by implementing those eight mathematical practices.”
The hard truth of the matter is that my students love the CCSS. They’ve told me they feel organized, they feel like they’re on track, and they feel like they know where they are and where they’re expected to be at any given time. Furthermore, they love the freedom to do problems using multiple strategies and paths to find an answer, which the CCSS provide for. They love Front Row, not only because they earn coins and have a mascot, but because it so perfectly aligns with everything that they’re living in my room every day. I feel like I have made math accessible and fun for all of my students, and Front Row helped me achieve that (along with a lot of classroom organization trial & error!)
Katherine Stearns is a 5th + 6th grade math teacher at North Canaan Elementary School in Connecticut. This her 3rd year at her current school but, beforehand, Katherine was a 2nd + 3rd grade classroom teacher in Hartford. Katherine aspires to become a principal one day, and is currently pursuing her Master’s degree in education leadership. She is also a Front Row Ambassador, a beloved member of the #FrontRowATeam.