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.