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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.)

Loitering at NCTM

This was on an older, now deleted, blog of mine.  Causing Trouble at TI Workshop reminded me about it.  Someone might enjoy it…

Loitering at NCTM

Last week I spent my spring break loitering at the math teachers conference in Anaheim.  I learned so much it’s been hard to contain it all.  Here are some of my observations:.

I learned that no-one checks your badge to see if it’s counterfeit.

If you stay at the hotels, the daily parking is $16 where if you only drive in for the day it is $8.  And if you park in Garden Grove and walk, it’s free.  I would think the nightly hotel bill of $160 would offset some of the parking expenses.

I was pleasantly surprised when the parking attendant remembered me from my visit two days earlier.

If you buy a hot dog and soda at the Anaheim Convention center it costs $9.50.  I would think the $180 registration fee would offset some of the hot dog expenses.

I learned that $180 is actually inexpensive for a conference of this size and that the many vendors probably made up the difference.

You can get a lot of free stuff from vendors who want you to spend your school’s money on a lot of expensive stuff.

There are schools that can’t afford the expensive stuff so their teachers spend their own money on less effective substitutes.

I learned that far too many teachers spend their own money on less effective substitutes.

A cheerleading competition was scheduled next door.  (I assume it was to cheer on the math teachers.)

People came as far as Australia.  (To the math convention.  I don’t know about the cheerleading one.)

I met a principal that wants me to move to New Mexico.  (I assume it was to teach there.)

I met a teacher from Compton, California that doesn’t think merit pay based on student performance is fair when she has Algebra classes with 40 plus at-risk students while other districts have more motivated classes of thirty students or less.

She told me that she is considering quitting.

I met a surprisingly large number of people who were looking for the boat show.  (They must have walked in from Garden Grove and didn’t see the directions.)

I discovered there is free wireless available on the second floor of the Anaheim Convention Center but not anywhere else.

I did learn some math teacher stuff but won’t bore you with the details…

Causing Trouble at TI Workshop

This post reminded me of the following story:

So far, my only NCTM conference was in Anaheim in 2005. Between sessions I attended the TI workshop on the TI-Navigator™ Classroom Learning System, or whatever they had at the time.

It really is a cool system. You can have students do work on their calculator and wirelessly send you the results. You can give quizzes, get instant feedback and adjust your instruction. You can also display an image and have students interact with it, which we did in the workshop.

To demonstrate linear regression the TI representative displayed some image similar to:

The participants were asked to plot a point anywhere on the bridge’s fence line. These points, as well as their calculator number, showed up on the image. Most of the teacher-participants were very obedient and picked a point exactly on the line. Somebody wanted to see what would happen if he picked a point which wasn’t even close to the fence line.

The resulting picture looked like…

The TI guy happily showed us how to find and graph the equation which looked like:


After a long pause the presenter said, “That’s never happened before…”

I was starting to feel bad for the presenter when some annoyingly helpful teacher pointed out the point in the corner. Another teacher noticed the calculator number next to the point…

I was quietly hiding my calculator number when the presenter commented on turning something like this into a teaching moment…

Photo from Windsordi.