Monday, January 6, 2014

Wanny's Words - Math and the Common Core State Standards

By Wanny Hersey
Superintendent/Principal at Bullis Charter School

Schools across the country are shifting their instructional practices to align with the new Common Core State Standards (CCSS) that have been widely adopted by 45 states in the U.S.  In California, districts have begun in earnest to modify their programs to better align with the English Language Arts and Math standards that aim to narrow the scope of skills taught in each grade level while providing a deeper understanding that promotes critical thinking to better prepare students for the 21st century.

As you know, this type of rigorous, in-depth understanding in all subjects has always been an expectation for our students at BCS, and we are thrilled to see a national movement that is also aligned to that end.

The BBC recently hosted a parent education forum with Philip Gonsalves, Director of Mathematics Curriculum and Instruction at West Contra Costa Unified School District, who talks to educators and parents throughout the state about math and the CCSS.

During his presentation, Philip highlighted the main shifts in mathematics instruction and the “8 Standards to Mathematical Practices,” which are the underpinnings for all math instruction in grades K-12:

1.     Make sense of problems and persevere in solving them
2.     Reason abstractly and quantitatively
3.     Construct valuable arguments and critique the reasoning of others
4.     Model with mathematics
5.     Use appropriate tools strategically
6.     Attend to precision
7.     Look for and use structure
8.     Look for and express regularity in repeated reasoning

As you can see, these practices are aimed at taking math instruction and learning from lower-level thinking (multiple choice answers, “drill and kill” instruction) to higher-level thinking (solving problems in multiple ways, requires non-algorithmic thinking).

At BCS, students use Everyday Math (EDM) in grades K-5 and progress to College Preparatory Math (CPM) in grades 6-8. Both programs are closely aligned with the CCSS, emphasizing deeper, conceptual understanding of mathematics and allow students to develop mastery through direct instruction, group problem-solving, and hands-on application.

Math instruction at BCS focuses on conceptual understanding to provide deeper learning opportunities at all grade levels

Our Leadership Team has been working with the Curriculum Leadership Council at the Santa Clara County Office of Education for the last 2 years to help lead the implementation of CCSS.  The team leaders have been providing workshops and teacher-to-teacher training to support our staff as they work to design lessons and assessments that are further aligned with the CCSS.  As you may have noticed, report cards for every grade level have also been re-written to reflect the CCSS this year.

Our team leaders noted early on that much of what we are doing at BCS, especially with our Project Based Learning (PBL) units, already integrate the CCSS.  Because we have teachers who are familiar with creating lessons that promote higher-level thinking, we have been asked to participate in local and statewide consortiums as educators in California work to update their curriculum instruction.  For example, we have teachers participating in the Silicon Valley Mathematics Initiative (SVMI) to work with researchers and school leaders to provide the most effective math instruction.  And a small group of BCS teachers are collaborating with teachers from Portola Valley School District in a lesson study – an opportunity to design a lesson together, observe the other teachers deliver the lesson, and then provide feedback for their peers.

If you would like to learn more about what BCS has been doing in the area of CCSS, please attend our board meeting on Monday, January 6, 2014.