
Tammy Jo Schlechter 
Common Core
Standards first came on the scene for me when I attended South Dakota’s
MathScience Conference in Huron in 2010.
I joined a breakout session where the topic was the proposed Common Core
Standards in Mathematics. I decided to try them on for size in my own math
classroom with permission from my principal at the time. I was curious to see how they would fit with
what we were already investigating for math concepts, and I was pleased to find
that these standards aligned well with what I was already observing in the
classroom.
Broadly speaking, these standards just make good sense and are actually standards
for solving problems in reallife settings.
They encourage students to persevere and make sense of what is going on
in their lives, reason through problems, make viable arguments, and be able to
critique the reasoning of others. They
help students identify what’s needed to solve a problem and to communicate with
others about their thinking. The old adage “think smarter, not harder” comes to
mind. Common Core Standards promote this
type of common sense thinking.
My study of and training in Common Core Math Standards have opened the door for
experiences that have positively impacted my students. I have learned the importance of cultivating students’
productive dispositions, so they remain engaged as we encounter new and
possibly difficult math concepts. The
students and I investigate math together in a more effective sequence and
structure. Strategies that I had already
been using—for example, questioning and differentiation of instruction—are validated
by Common Core Math Standards. After
working with these standards, I felt like someone had sneaked a peek into my
classroom!
Here’s a specific example. Because the Common Core standards emphasize deep
understanding, I have chosen to teach my students a method for division of
fractions that is much different from the way I learned this concept. Division
of fractions is found at the 6^{th} grade level in the Common Core Math
Standards. The algorithm many of us
learned for division of fractions involved inverting the second fraction in the
equation or expression (also known as the divisor) and multiplying.
With training, I have learned to create opportunities where students come up
with ways to represent division of fractions that can be illustrated and follow
the rules that they have learned with division of whole numbers. This deepens
their understanding and helps them visualize what they are actually
dividing. Sometimes students eventually
get to the shortcut of inverting and multiplying, but many times they leave 6^{th}
grade dividing fractions using strategies you would see when we add fractions
(using a common denominator) or multiply fractions. To sum it up (and I’m not talking addition
here…giggle), we can divide fractions and give ourselves a visual
representation of the division taking place.
With the invert and multiply strategy, it’s difficult to picture the
actual division event.
I love learning about new ways to solve math and having students share how they’re
thinking about the math. In my
classroom, also known as “Camp Math a lot,” we think about math not so
differently from the way we did when I was in middle school. What is different is that not just the
teacher, but the students, are allowed to come up with the strategies. Teachers have to be more on their toes now
perhaps, because we need to understand the math concepts deeply enough to
recognize student thinking that is viable or where they are having
misconceptions. I was well on the way
with more effective instructional strategies before Common Core came along;
however, with these standards implemented statewide, opportunities to discover
engaging best practices for instruction is more likely for all of us
teachers rather than just a few!
Tammy Jo Schlechter teaches middle school math in the Custer School District. She was a candidate for 2014 South Dakota Teacher of the Year.