One of my favorite colleagues, Mike Fannin, always pushes me to be a better teacher by asking those really reflective questions that there is no right answer to. Today Mike, a social studies teacher, sent me one of those really fun and irrational anti-Common Core articles and asked my thoughts. Once my blood pressure returned to normal range I begin to really think about how to put into words what Common Core did for my classroom.

Before Common Core I was a typical math teacher. I had my curriculum maps and and state standards which read like a skill and drill check list that I marked off one by one whether the kids understood them or not. I used really “great” methods and math terminology like “butterfly method”, “keep switch flip”, “leave opposite opposite”, and so many more that I would love to forget. I moved to Kentucky the year that KCAS (Kentucky’s Common Core) was adopted and thought “how different could it be?” The answer to that question can be answered easily with a quick peak inside my classroom today.

Today, my classroom is cognitively busy and alive with excitement about numbers. We no longer focus on skills, timed tests, facts, or catchy phrases to make students remember things that have no meaning to them. Today, we do math talks, counting circles, estimating, and reasoning instead of direct instruction. We take the time to understand numbers and their meanings rather than memorizing facts. I don’t drill random formulas and information into students heads so that they can remember it long enough to pass a test rather than understanding it to a depth that can be applied to real life.

I really do understand the reason so many parents seem to get upset about the “new math” associated with Common Core. After all, it is change and change is difficult but here is what I know. I have talked to tons of adults and not one has told me that they have to take skill and drill tests daily at work or risk being fired. When I ask what they have to do at work I get a lot of answers but there is always a common theme, in real life we are no longer asked to use math as a check list of skills that we either know or don’t know. Instead real life is about using the math to solve real problems, to be a critical thinker, to reason, and actually understand what is happening around them. Those are all the things along with many more that Common Core has brought to my classroom.

As I hear about states repealing Common Core and more and more anti Common Core material being pushed out there I have thought a lot about what will happen to my classroom if Common Core is removed or replaced as my standards. The answer the that question is nothing. You see, Common Core has already forever changed my classroom. I will never be nor to do I want to be that teacher from 5 years ago that was more worried about test scores and a check sheet that student understanding. I can never go back to that boring dull classroom when I have seen kids come alive and get so excited about really understanding math for the first time. No amount of reform, or Facebook posts, or anti-Common Core rants can take away what Common Core has already brought to my classroom.

Something to think about…my grandfather was born in 1870. He finished third grade. In the last arithmetic book he had were problems in which he had to triangulate the height of a haystack. 🙂 I don’t remember (except for very stupid word problems) ever getting the idea in school that math had anything to do with life. But my grandfather’s math book was all about practical math for daily life.

I agree completely! There is a lot of merit in putting math in context for students.

‘Today, we do math talks, counting circles, estimating, and reasoning instead of direct instruction.’

Have you noticed that when children help each other with maths, they find it natural , a lot of the time,to ask the child who is best at maths if he or she can give them some direct instruction as to what to do?

How do we , as teachers, stop children giving each other direct instruction?

The thing that helped me the most was the use of Jo Boaler’s How to Learn Math for Students Course. The course is all about helping students take ownership of their learning and getting them to buy into the fact that everyone can do math at a high level and that the only way we learn is by making mistakes. I have found that since we completed the course my students are much more willing to take risks and rely on their own knowledge much more than their classmates.

Why would we need to eliminate all direct instruction? An occasional “I’m stuck! What’s the next step” seems like a good thing. It’s how I’m learning how to make apps…

That said, if a student has a “well, I can’t do this, so I’ll ask Trey” mindset, then I’d be looking hard at whether my math talks and counting circles and reasoning activities were set up so that the “ask Trey” kiddo was engaging in them, or if that kiddo was pretty much lost…

Oh I agree completely. There are times when I do still do direct instruction and I think it still has its place. The point I was trying to make is that it is no longer the main instructional tool in my classroom and instead I work much harder at helping kids conceptualize rather than memorize.

If they’re taking risks and owning their knowledge … that’s awesome. (Since I work with the adults that somehow missed out, I tend to imagine the worst ;))

Thank you!!!!! This is very well stated and needs to be heard. As a high school math teacher I can’t wait to see the kids come to us that have fully been instructed in common core. Thank you for teaching and for putting a positive light on common core.