Monday, November 24, 2014

Scientist and educator with Sanford Research support proposed K-12 science standards

Dr. Jill Weimer
Liz McMillan

Dr. Jill Weimer leads a research team for Sanford Research and teaches in the Department of Pediatrics at the Sanford School of Medicine, University of South Dakota. Liz McMillan is the Curriculum Education Coordinator for Sanford Research. The two of them recently wrote a My Voice column for the Argus Leader, explaining why they support the proposed South Dakota K-12 science standards.

My Voice: Support developing science standards:

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Common Core enhances 'Camp Math a lot'

Tammy Jo Schlechter

Common Core Standards first came on the scene for me when I attended South Dakota’s Math-Science 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 real-life 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 6th 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 6th 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.