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2012 Common Core Workshop: The Good and the Bad

Last week I attended a workshop on the Common Core State Standards. Some of the good things about the workshop:

Designed specifically for math teachers
I don’t know how many workshops I’ve attended which were taught by, and designed for, History/English teachers. They always say, “And this concept also applies to math teachers.” The concept might but the examples usually don’t. The attendees were also math teachers. It was good to discuss real life classroom issues with real life math teachers.

Demonstrated some great math tasks
Common core has a big emphasis on problem solving. The idea is to give students open ended problems which have more than one solution pathway. They showed us a variety of these math tasks and modeled how to use them in the classroom. (It was interesting to watch math teachers pounce on these type of problems. We also seem to have a competitive streak. Everyone wanted to finish first and, of course, get the right answer.)

Some great online resources
We also got a list of some great online resources including professional development modules. (I will eventually post the best links. The list is rather long.)

The workshop was also frustrating in some ways. (Note: none of these are the fault of the presenters. They did a great job.)

Unanswered questions
There are still a lot of things we don’t know. What will the CA state frameworks look like? What will the courses and textbooks look like? Will we still have the CA High School Exit Exam? How will the textbooks be paid for? How will the required computers be paid for? etc. The answers to these questions depend on the CA State Legislature, the CA Department of Education, the UC Regents, and our local districts.

Disorganized resources
The websites I mentioned above have a lot of resources, but they are scattered all over the internet. (There are a number of math teachers starting to organize them so this is probably a temporary problem.) They also had a list of about 50 different websites without much information about why I should visit them. One example is Utah Resources. I’m sure it has some great stuff but why should I visit it. No one has time to visit all 50 pages.

Too many standards
I was going to write a whole blog post on this problem but I’ll let the following slideshow speak for itself. (Each one of these lists was mentioned at the workshop. How many different ways can we say the same thing? Give me a list of less than 6 process standards and then let me do my job.)

2011 Common Core Workshop

Last spring I attended my first common core workshop and wrote the following:

Common Core Curriculum

People don’t like change.  There seems to be a lot of angst among teachers about the implementation of the Common Core Standards.

Some see it as a continued move towards useless high-stakes testing.  Others see it as another annoying thing teachers have to deal with.

This year I went to an seminar thingy where we learned more about the standards.  Teachers came from all over LA county.   Some of the details contribute to the overall angst.  The standards will be tested during the 2014-15 school year.  Textbooks and other materials will be available in 2016.  No I’m not kidding.

(According to the presenters.  I’m not sure how accurate that is since I’ve already found quite a few materials online.  Besides by 2016 textbooks will be obsolete.  Whether we still use them is a different matter….)

A lot of questions went unanswered:  Will we still have the STAR tests?  What about the High School Exit Exam?  The answers depend on legislation which hasn’t been passed by our not-at-all-disfunctional California legislature.

I’m actually looking forward to the changes.

1.  Process Standards:  The math standards are more aligned with the NCTM standards and include 8 process standards which emphasize a problem based approach.  These standards emphasize the process of problem solving not just learning content.   I admit students may not ever need to understand hyperbolas. But the process of learning about hyperbolas has always been valuable.  And now it will be emphasized.

2.  Computer Adaptive Testing:  The inevitable tests will be done on the computer.  As students get questions correct the questions get harder.  When they miss questions they get easier.  The advantage is fewer questions are needed to figure out what the student knows.  Another advantage is that it identifies what the student knows, not just what they don’t know.

3.  In high school, only juniors have to take the state mandated tests.  This should reduce the angst among 9th and 10th grade teachers.  There will be tests available for these grades.  But it looks like the data will be mostly used to help teachers.

4.  All juniors will take the same test. This really helps at our school…

(Thoughts on this years workshop coming soon.)

Content Standards Blasphemy

(I wrote this a year or so ago.)

The problem with problem solving….

Math teachers throughout time have said, “math is important to help you develop problem solving skills.”  And then they show you how to solve the problem and you know how to solve THAT problem.  When faced with a new problem you’re just as lost.

But that’s not the problem.

So we develop quasi real world problems that look open-ended…   But, in reality, we expect a certain outcome from the students.  We expect them to choose a certain strategy and come up with a particular answer,  or range of possible answers.  If they don’t, we help them by giving them a strategy.

That’s still not the problem.

The problem is the standards.  We look at a content standard and say let’s create a problem that utilizes that standard.  We give it to the student and they solve it a different way.  And we adjust and give the next students steps to solving the problem.  Now we’re back to helping the students more than we should because we’re overly attached to the standards.

I may be exaggerating but…  “real world” problem solving is not compatible with content based standards such as California’s.

Developing problem solving skills should be the goal, not understanding the difference between equations of ellipses and hyperbolas.

I hope the Common Core standards are better.

Cartoon by Carlson

(Click here to see how many educators cite the sources of their images.)