Go Common Core

A Resource for Teachers Transitioning to the Common Core

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Common Core Math: Conceptual Understanding vs. Practical Problem Solving Skills

The new Common Core math standards require students to develop a deeper, conceptual understanding of mathematical concepts.  While this is unarguably beneficial to students, should it be at the expense of learning how to correctly perform basic math calculations?  At least in my district, we are being told that the inquiry process and student discussion are of paramount importance.

Under Common Core, my students are expected to complete Formative Assessment Lessons (FALs).  Typically these are group projects in which students solve complex problems and present their findings using posters or other types of presentations.  Of course, because it is math, there are correct and incorrect answers.  However, we teachers are supposed to let students create their presentations with errors in calculations and share these findings with each other.  We are not to correct the errors, we have been instructed to simply facilitate discussion, and explain that some learners are more advanced with this concept than others.

I am concerned that Common Core may have put the cart before the horse with regards to math.  Practical math problem solving skills and conceptual understanding certainly should not be mutually exclusive.  Nor should one be sacrificed for the other.  However, when it comes down to priorities, I’d rather my students know how to correctly solve a proportion rather than create a model of the concept with the incorrect answer.

I’d like to hear about how other math teachers are handling the shift to Common Core. Do you still emphasize basic operational skills? What do you do if students are performing calculations incorrectly?



Common Core Lessons: Are they too difficult for the average student?

As I take my first steps into the muddy waters of Common Core, I’m rapidly discovering that my students are not adequately prepared for the rigor of these new types of lessons. At first, all of my students were excited at the prospect of creating their own learning, while I walked around merely “facilitating.” I wasn’t giving them any information, just encouraging them to make their own discoveries. But the novelty for many of my students quickly wore off, and was replaced by frustration.

As a TEACHer, I wanted to help, to guide, to show them. I knew that if I could just show them an example or two, they would feel more confident in solving these more complex problems. Most of them lacked the background knowledge to even attempt the tasks before them. They wanted so badly to “get it right.” I imagine most of this desire stems from years of being taught to take standardized tests. But also math IS a subject in which there IS a correct answer. It’s not open to subjectivity, which a lot of students actually like.

Alas, my limited Common Core training told me, and I in turn told the students, that the answer isn’t the important thing, it’s the process. This was a frustrating concept for both the students and me. I understand that constructivist learning is supposed to be a messing and daunting process. However, I fear that those learners who are already struggling may give up completely. Moving forward, I personally feel that as a professional, I will need to adjust Common Core lessons to match the ability of the students who are in my classroom. Perhaps some students will require quite a bit of skills review, scaffolding, and modeling. Perhaps a few will be prepared to jump in with both feet and figure things out completely independently. Likely, most students will be somewhere in between. And isn’t that a teacher’s job; we meet each student where they are and help them to go as far as they can?

I’d like to hear about the experiences of other educators. If you’ve already been implementing the new standards, are you finding the lessons too challenging for some students? How much latitude do you have to modify the lessons to meet the needs of your students?