Monthly Archives: February 2012

MUST SEE Common Core Math Resources Document

For those of you looking for Common Core Math Resources: Go Here

Readying the Present and Next Generation of Math Teachers for Common Core Standards

This past week I had the pleasure of presenting on the Common Core Learning Standards (CCLS) to a large group of SUNY Plattsburgh graduate and undergraduate Education majors at the Queensbury Branch Campus.  The students were bright, knowledgeable, ambitious, and curious, and their questions about implementing the Common Core as future educators were spot on. We started the four-hour session with CCLS math, and then moved on to literacy. They got it. They appreciated what the standards offer, and the instructional shifts the standards demand.  They empathized with the anxiety classroom teachers have for the new assessments coming down the pipe, and in particular, the anxiety of mathematics. I was touched by the number who remained after to thank me and probe further for information on the standards, and I drove home feeling pretty darn good about the SUNY Plattsburgh Education Program.

SUNY Plattsburgh and other colleges and universities with education programs around the nation are at a turning point in teacher preparation, especially in the area of mathematics. The instructional shifts associated with literacy will be manageable, but the math shifts will require more math savvy teachers who have the confidence and self-efficacy to build and expand students’ math knowledge and skills. Math savvy teachers are desperately needed at the elementary level where the stakes are so high. How post-secondary education programs adjust programs and prepare education students for the Common Core Math Standards will be interesting and vitally important in graduating students with strong mathematical literacy, reasoning, modeling, and problem solving skills.

Beyond college, school districts must provide time and structure for focused, sustained math professional development that gets at what good math instruction looks like, the math principles underlying the pedagogy, and the six instructional shifts of Common Core Math. Districts that proactively work now in Professional Learning Communities to look at and revise their curricula, instruction, and assessments around the standards will be well ahead of the curve. There are some good resources that are evolving with the Common Core, yet educators and administrators around the nation are struggling to find what they need. As with my SUNY Plattsburgh audience, educators are most interested in finding materials and resources to bring the Common Core Standards to life in their classrooms, particularly in the area of mathematics.

In my prior blog, I spoke of some outstanding resources from the University of Arizona, PARCC, and EngageNY. This morning I viewed a webinar from the Northwest Regional Comprehension Center (NRCC) on Implementing the Common Core State Standards for Mathematics, a webinar I learned about through the U.S. Dept of Education-funded Center on Instruction. Dr. Brad Findell, a member of the Mathematics Work Team for the Common Core Standards, presented  on Common Core Standards  implementation  in  rural schools, response to intervention, and implementation  resources  and  suggestions. Dr. Findell’s presentation with PowerPoint was outstanding, as were the resources he recommended. In addition to the ones I posted in an earlier blog, his suggestions include The Mathematics Assessment Project (MAP), Common Core Videos from the Hunt Institute, Phil Daro’s SERP Institute videos, and Inside Mathematics.

People do better when they know better, and so it goes in the world of education. We can ride the Common Core State Standards and its concomitant instructional shifts successfully by focusing our efforts on developing strong mathematical foundations in our future teachers, and by providing quality professional development to those already in the classroom. There really is no choice if we hope to ready students for 21st Century success.

Common Core Standards, Instructional Shifts, and Great Teachers and Leaders Impact Student Learning

Yesterday’s headline in Ed. Week’s Curriculum Matters blog was eye-catching: Study: Common standards unlikely to boost student test scores. Ouch. My guttural response was, What?! Are they serious?? Is that possible?? How could the Common Core standards not be good for student achievement?! Perhaps others who read the article felt differently, but as a RttT Network Team member, it’s always a little unsettling when someone attempts to poke holes in the standards. I’ve worked with teachers, principals, and superintendents who are actively developing curricula and assessments around the standards, and I know first hand the rich impact they are having in schools across the state. So I drilled deeper and went to the study itself: The 2012 Brown Center Report on American Education: HOW WELL ARE AMERICAN STUDENTS LEARNING?

Published by the Brookings Institution, the study indeed predicts Common Core Standards will not affect student achievement.  Tom Loveless,  Senior Fellow at The Brown Center on Education Policy and the study’s author, writes, “The empirical evidence suggests that the Common Core will have little effect on American students’ achievement. The nation will have to look elsewhere for ways to improve its schools.”  However, Loveless also cites the Fordham Institute’s conclusion that the ELA and Math Common Core standards are better than existing standards in nearly forty states, and that there will be reduced variation in achievement results between states.

Kathleen Porter-Magee of the Fordham Institute puts Loveless’ paper in perspective. She notes, “As we have (The Fordham Institute) long acknowledged, standards alone will do little but adorn classroom bookshelves if not aligned to summative, interim, and formative assessments in terms of both content and rigor, and if not tied to meaningful district-, school-, and classroom-level accountability.” (Brackets added.) Porter-Magee defends her case citing the impact of high quality standards in Massachusetts on student achievement, and how even the lowest performing students in that state score higher than the national average. Add the role of effective teaching and Common Core instructional shifts to her argument, and the verdict is evident: standards matter, period. Ultimately, it’s what you do with standards that determines their net value.

Standards alone rarely impact student achievement. The complexities of student learning are huge, and variables influencing assessment results are significant. What students learn in school is highly correlated to demographic factors and teacher quality; with teacher quality oftentimes the trump card to student success. The “elsewhere”Loveless alludes to for the nation to improve its schools lies with the classroom teacher, building principal, and district superintendent. Standards alone can not affect student achievement without quality teachers. Research by Chetty, Friedman, and Rockoff (2011) demonstrate the impact of effective teachers on students, and we all know the tremendous influence of great teachers on individuals. If you have ever watched Sidney Portier in To Sir With Love, Richard Dreyfuss in Mr. Holland’s Opus, or Edward James Olmos in Stand and Deliver, with tissues in hand you are reminded how important teachers are in our lives. Those tear jerkers trigger memories and emotions in all of us. Most of us have had that one special teacher who connected with us, cared for us, encouraged and surprised us by unlocking our talents and capacities. These were the people who made a difference in our lives, and the ones we cherish deeply and never fully forget.

Great teaching combined with strong building and district leadership, sound curricula which breathe life into the standards, and assessments that document student, teacher, and principal effectiveness are the means by which Common Core Standards can indeed impact student success. Isolated and on a shelf, however, common standards will have no impact at all.

Good Math = Less is More + Common Core Instructional Shifts + Professional Development

Next week our WSWHE BOCES Network Team will deliver Math Common Core Learning Standards (CCLS) sessions to elementary and secondary teacher audiences. Our hook will be a Ted Talk by Dan Meyer, a secondary math teacher who teaches math the way it’s meant to be taught-through inquiry, problem solving, and relevance. We’ll then model a problem solving exercise we learned from Andrew Chen at a previous New York State Ed Department’s Network Team Training Institute, and then move on to the CCLS Math Instructional Shifts and phenomenal national resources to support those shifts. Our essential question is simple, “What do the CCLS for math ask of students, and what does this mean for educators?”

Math has had an image problem in this country for decades. I remember watching famed math teacher Jaime Escalante with Bill Cosby and others speak about the importance of math in Math…Who Needs It!? nearly 15 years ago! Among the film’s messages was the need to make math a priority and not minimize it by saying to our youngsters, “It’s okay if you’re not good in math, I never was either.” After all, we don’t hear people saying, “It’s okay honey if you’re not too good at reading, I never was good at reading either.” Math takes practice, math takes application, and math demands equal footing with literacy in our digital society. As Regents Research Fellow Kate Gerson reminded us at this week’s Network Team Training, the number one predictor of college success is high school algebra, and the number one predictor of high school algebra success is knowledgeable skill with fractions.

Good things have happened in the world of math since the 1990’s, particularly with the emergence of the Common Core State Standards for Math and its coherent focus on both procedural and conceptual understandings.  At the elementary grades, content has been reduced so students can develop a sound foundation in whole numbers, addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, fractions and decimals. With such a foundation, middle school students will have the skills and confidence to tackle statistics and probability, geometry, and algebra. By high school, students will fully appreciate the richness and value of mathematics to solve rigorous and relevant problems requiring persistence, creative thinking, mathematical modeling, and mathematical fluency. Successful implementation of the Math Common Core Learning Standards is not a given, however. How well we transform math instruction in this country will come down to how well we provide teachers necessary resources, time, and sustained quality professional development. It will also be imperative that all students have a teacher with a solid math background–a discussion item for a future blog entry.

We hope our sessions will add the necessary resources to teachers’ toolkits to successfully tackle the instructional shifts CCLS demands, and we want to remind teachers to scrutinize vendors’ products and make them their own. Teachers spend much time planning lessons that help students make sense of the content. However, we’re going to ask teachers to expend as much energy in their planning  to help children see meaning in what they are learning; which brings me back to Dan Meyer. Dan is one of those rare individuals who can strip away the fluff and Betty Crocker format of a textbook math problem and open it up for inquiry and relevance. Rather than have students follow a multi-step, sometimes wordy and confusing procedure, Dan poses a challenging problem in a simple question and lets children wrestle with the solution. He arouses their curiosity, and in so doing, cultivates self-directed learners. I don’t think you’d hear his children asking “Why do we have to learn this?”, or “Where will we ever use this math?”.

Our session priorities include a discussion on math anxiety and ways to reduce it in children, the PARCC Model Content Frameworks, Math Progressions Documents from the University of Arizona, and the Illustrative Mathematics Project. Time permitting, we will delve into Bill Daggett’s Rigor and Relevance Framework and some clips from Good Morning Miss Toliver. Our goal is to help participants identify evidence of the instructional shifts in the classroom, understand and use the various resources available for integrating the math CCLS into classrooms, and leave the session more confident about teaching and assessing the Common Core Learning Standards in their classrooms. Where there’s a will, there’s a way.

Making Light Work of Student Learning Objectives Through Teamwork and Sharing the Load

Many hands make light work. That’s a rule I learned growing up in a relatively large family of six children and a family dog. My mom stayed at home, and she somehow managed to keep the house spotless and the children well-fed. Granted, outside of severe weather postings, we weren’t allowed indoors unless it was time to eat or getting near bedtime. Six children and dog made for busy days and nights in our house, and my mom relied on everyone to help carry the load. Okay, some of us did more than others, and I guess my sisters would say I was in the “others” category. In any case, we shared the load and lessened the burden on mom.

Schools, districts, regional agencies, and state education departments are much like families as well, and each does a better job when people share the burden-particularly during this era of reform. Change can be burdensome. It is unsettling, unfamiliar, and most often, unwelcome. Race to the Top is about change, and some of its components are unsettling, unfamiliar, and unwelcome. However, there are also excellent elements of RTTT which can surely ready children for lifelong success and self-directed learning, including the emphasis on Common Core Learning Standards and Instructional Shifts, Data-Driven Instruction, tools to define and inform teacher and principal evaluation, and, dare I say it, Student Learning Objectives.

This past week, our Network Team held two full-day Lead Evaluator sessions for our region’s school and central office administrators. We know our audience members well, and there always is a social buzz at our sessions even though the sessions are RTTT-mandated. Our focus was on understanding and using the Student Learning Objectives (SLO) Guidance Document to begin the arduous task of identifying which teachers will need SLOs, the measures and evidences required, and so on. We also had our colleagues do a mid-year implementation assessment on the extent of instructional shifts in literacy and math occurring within their schools and classrooms. In spite of the uncertainties and varied levels of expertise and readiness around the topics, the days were well received and confirmed my belief that many hands make light work. People left feeling better about SLOs, and my Network Team colleagues breathed a collective sigh for a good day’s work.

Back to team work, one school district administrator during our first session shared with me a tool being used in his district to help staff understand and use SLOs in their schools. He gave me a hard copy and will be sending me the digital document so I can share it with all district administrators in the region. In another example of sharing the burden, I contacted a school principal prior to the workshops for help in designing templates administrators could use to organize their SLO information. I knew a template was in order, and this particular principal tends to stay two steps ahead of the curve in all she does. With her assistance, we were able to create a quality template that served its purpose well during the training sessions. The power of many hands.

I so love the African proverb, “It takes a whole village to raise a child.” In essence, it reminds me anything that truly matters in our world requires shared responsibility and team work. Many hands working together can make light work of the load, and so it goes with school reform. As we trudge through the change process, let’s be mindful of sharing best practices and being there for one another.