Common Core vs. Arkansas State Standards Take Two: Math

Math! It’s the subject we all love to hate. I heard you groan. Dan Meyers, math educator, says, “I sell a product to a market that doesn’t want it, but is forced by law to buy it.” I think a lot of people can agree that was true for them in school. I know growing up I was sure I was bad at math, wouldn’t get it, couldn’t get, and it must have been because I lacked that gene. You know which gene. The math gene.
Turns out, I was wrong. My first teaching job was math, science and social studies with 3rd grade. My family laughed. Loudly. In my face. They took bets as to when I would get fired. Turns out, we were all wrong. I get math fundamentals. At least I do now. Now that I have seen them taught from the ground up and used them frequently.
Math education has been heading in just that direction since just before I stepped on to the playing field. Mathematicians and experts on mathematics education have repeatedly proven and preached that we have to move past calculation and formulas and algorithms to get to what math really is. Math is the language that makes sense of our world. Math is a daily part of life. Math operates of very logical and meaningful processes.
Common Core takes that view of math and turns it into action. One of the major differences between AS and CCSS is that CCSS has the standards, but it also lists and defines 8 mathematical practices. These practices are behaviors of mathematical thinkers. They are habits such as “attending to precision” and “making use of structure.” Not only are these practices given, they are considered equally as important as the specific skills listed in the standards.
So what? Who cares if we have specifically listed habits of mathematical thinkers? I do. This is a game changer folks. Highly trained math teachers were aware of these concepts. Outside of that group of people, I venture to say few teachers had a functional understanding of these practices. Listing them and holding everyone accountable for learning these behaviors means every student has access to skills to become better mathematicians.
The CCSS also changed the game in another way. Skills taught in specific grade levels have been moved around. Some in very minor ways, and some in major ways. Rather than teach a lot of skills at every grade level, the CCSS authors set out a plan for mastering specific skills at developmentally appropriate grade levels.
For example, probability was a part of 3rd grade expectations in AS. In CCSS it has moved to 5th grade. Rather than teaching the basics of it in 3rd, then a little more, then a little more, students are introduced to the concept in a specific grade level. They then learn it from conceptual (using manipulatives and concrete objects) to application (word problems and scenarios) to abstract. All of this happens after students have had an in-depth education into number systems, place value, and computation.
All of this moving came with a serious hurdle. This hurdle is haunting teachers. It’s keeping them up at night. There are gaps. While the idea to phase in the implementation was good, it still was not perfect. Students have to play catch up in some areas.
The change in grade level for specific skills has also caused some brain drain for teachers. Elementary teachers have so many strategies to pull from. These strategies can be used in many ways. However, we get well practiced at which strategy pays of the most with specific skills. All new skills in our grade level means we have to recalibrate. Often it also means skills we have to relearn as well. We are just like you. If we don’t practice it, we don’t remember it.
There has long been a debate among educators, mathematicians, and community members about facts. Should students learn their facts? Is it necessary? Shouldn’t they just learning the meaning of the operations? The authors of CCSS say the whole argument is unnecessary. Reality is that fact fluency (quickly recalling basic facts) and concept development go hand in hand. They are both important to math education. While students should learn the meaning behind the operations, and they should learn the meanings well, they also need to develop quick fact recall. Otherwise, they become bogged down with computation during complex problem solving.
I know most of you are having flash backs to math class. Barely staying awake, you listened to lectures and formulas and solved problems in a textbook. Common Core shifts away from that. Students will be expected to solve real world problems using mathematical reasoning. We have been teaching students test taking skills and how to apply formulas. Now we will be teaching how to use math to figure out a scenario. Students will be expected to reason through multiple step problems, not multiple choice.
I haven’t heard from any of you out there, but send questions if you have any. I have posted links below. I’m also going to post a couple of videos.


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