Set Math Teachers Up to Succeed With Common Core

Many adults claim to be bad at math. I hope as math teachers incorporate Common Core State Standards (CCSS) for Mathematics, more students will learn to appreciate – even love – math. Students who develop this drive will appreciate math as adults, and be well-positioned for tomorrow’s jobs. With adequate resources and opportunities for collaboration, teachers will rise to the challenge of supporting students with the new standards.

CCSS requires a different approach to teaching that asks students to be computationally fluent, to master math concepts conceptually, and to develop problem-solving processes which serve them beyond their classroom. Instead of giving answers when a student is struggling, teachers will need to support students to persevere – to develop critical thinking skills while getting to a solution. Likewise, teachers will need to support their students to construct viable arguments about their answers and critique the reasoning of others. It will be about the journey as much as the destination.

This approach is challenging for many new teachers. I know, because I recently led a pilot project to help beginning teachers push students' thinking and their own practice toward CCSS for Mathematics. Many initially said they found it difficult to put these standards into practice, since CCSS requires them to understand what students are thinking during different parts of lessons while also advancing students’ ability to communicate how they’re solving problems.

To reach all students, teachers in the pilot collected initial assessment data on what students already knew with respect to the standard they were teaching. We then focused on using ongoing formative assessment to learn what, how and when each student was learning. Collectively, we also uncovered our own need to learn how to build students’ literacy skills. I identified Mathematics Assessment Project’s Classroom Challenges and New Teacher Center’s Oral Language Development website as valuable resources, and rolled them out in a systematic way that included individual mentoring for each teacher.

Teachers said the first time they attempted lessons aligned with the standards, it was difficult – for them and their students. But it got easier. Through classroom observations, intensive mentoring and regular collaborative opportunities with others, teachers grew in their ability to use pre- and post-assessments of students and to tie the results to lesson planning. They learned to help students articulate how they solved problems.

One teacher reported, “the second time I used a Classroom Challenge, the students were much more relaxed and secure in exploring the problem, arguing about their approaches, and considering alternatives from their classmates.”

Teachers reported that their practice was changing, and students were learning. “The post-assessment really made it clear how much students learned during the lesson,” reported one Algebra teacher.

I’m excited to bring this learning to many more teachers across the country this fall through a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) – a free online course from New Teacher Center available through Coursera. Learn more about the course, "Common Core in Action: Math Formative Assessment,” and sign up.

CCSS for mathematics represents a huge opportunity for our students’ future, and also a substantial change in a teacher’s practice. Let’s make sure all teachers get the support and resources they need – including intensive mentoring for new teachers – to expand their repertoire of strategies, and time to collaborate on ways to successfully adapt.

July 24, 2013