March 4, 2013
“Ms. Brooks, are we going to have to think today?” Denisha says as she walks into the room. I’ve found it interesting how often this question arises in my Common Core Math 1 classroom.
For the past five years, I have taught Algebra 1 and enjoyed it. I worked hard to interweave real-world applications into the material so my students were introduced to math that was meaningful. Eventually, though, the dreaded question would always arise: “When will I ever use this?” I would search in my Rolodex of applicable reasons for why students would need systems of equations or quadratics, only to come up with a small, irrelevant list that only mattered for their futures, but was unrelated to their current lives. I yearned to find a way to make Algebra relevant because of the package in which the content was delivered, and soon after, I discovered the Common Core State Standards.
I was bedazzled by the opportunities and freedom the Common Core gave me. It meant creating curricula and instructional strategies that would inject more relevance and expand learning opportunities for my students. Inside of the new Common Core-aligned textbook that described teaching slope solely in context, I found myself like a kid in a candy store. I reflected on my secondary education and remembered having to memorize the equation for slope, “y-y over x-x”. I knew that formula backwards and forwards. There wasn’t a set of ordered pairs you could give me for which I could not calculate the slope. And yet, if you had asked my 13-year-old math-loving self, I couldn’t have told you a single application of where to find slope in the real world, and I had definitely not heard of rate of change.
When I taught slope in Common Core this year, I never used the word or formula until a month after we had been studying linear equations. Remarkably, with the introduction of this new material, I have seen an increase in higher-level thinking by my students. They not only understood that linear equations had a constant rate of change, but they could find it in a table, from ordered pairs, and off a graph, and it was all in context, a much deeper level than was ever required of me. My students told stories in the form of slope and y-intercept, such as, “If I owned a pizza shop and charged $5 for each pizza and charged $5 for delivery, how much money would I make?” Story writing was their favorite part of this unit, and it made the curriculum so real that students found themselves “inside” the math. This demonstration of the highest level of learning blew me away; I never thought students would be able to create scenarios demonstrating their knowledge of linear relationships. Math went from memorization to creation through the lens of real-world concepts.
Common Core has taken my applied-algebra class from a run to a sprint. As I demonstrated to N.C. Legislators, when math is in context and is meaningful, it is easy to learn and understand. Inside of Common Core, the old horrific question became a wellspring of applications for where students intersect with mathematics; not only things that they would see in their futures, but also things they experience now.
And so, the answer is “Yes, Denisha, today, and every day, we will be thinking.”
Lauren Brooks delivered an empowering, engaging presentation during The Hunt Institute’s 10th Annual North Carolina Legislators Retreat. To learn more, click here.