The Intersection

The Common Core: Meeting Students Where They Are, Preparing Them for Where They Are Going

March 26, 2014

When I first met my student, Mary, in August, she had an infamous mantra. Every time I saw her she said to me, “Mrs. Woodard, I hate math.” Whether in the halls during class change, at my door just before class started, or even in the cafeteria, she had the same greeting. She told me stories of how she had struggled with math in the past and how her parents stayed on her about her failing grades. Enter the Common Core State Standards.

Mary now sees math in a different light. She discusses in small groups concepts that before would have frustrated her. She makes presentations, constructs arguments, justifies her thinking, and critiques the reasoning of others. She listens as her classmates explain how to solve the same problems in different ways. Mary’s hand flies in the air class after class as she asks questions of others and answers questions presented to her. Her written work has changed and her verbal communication is clearer. She tackles tasks that models real world situations relevant to her everyday life. Mary, like so many of my students, has become engaged in deep thinking about math concepts.

One day I asked my students what they wanted to do in order to earn some money.  I expected them to talk about their first jobs such as flipping burgers, mowing lawns or babysitting. My students dream big, so instead they began to offer careers like pediatrician, lawyer, physical therapist, and accountant. I turned to Mary, and with all sincerity she looked me in the eyes and said, “I want to be a math teacher.”  The girl who in August hated math has now decided to make math her career.

Mary’s story reminds me that through Common Core State Standards we can successfully meet students where they are and challenge them to go even further. Through these standards, Mary found a connection to math. No longer is math a bunch of abstract numbers. Math now has meaning. The relevance to life outside of math class is embedded in the way we teach and the way we assess the skills. I love that the Common Core calls for a balance between new skill acquisition, conceptual understanding, and application. It is that balance that has allowed me to engage students like Mary, while at the same time challenge those who have in the past been successful at math. Through these standards, no matter where they are, now students can master critical thinking, effective written communication, meaningful problem solving, and the ability to engage in discussions. It is through Common Core State Standards that I am convinced that my students are going to be better prepared for college and those careers that they are dreaming about.

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