This article appeared in the online magazine in June 2013:

Math teachers prepare for Common Core standards

By Daniel Friedman | June 3, 2013

Your kids need to be smarter and better educated to get decent jobs when they graduate from college. Many states, including Arizona, have adopted Common Core State Standards to better prepare children for the job market.

Implementing new standards in education isn’t like flipping a switch. At the most basic level, teachers need to know if the textbooks and teaching materials they already have will work for the new standards. On a more complex level, they need to modify their the lessons, sequence and teaching approach to meet the new standards.

The Arizona Mathematics Partnership, led by Scottsdale Community College, was awarded an $8.7 million, five-year grant by the National Science Foundation to help 300 middle school math teachers understand and teach the new mathematics Common Core Standards.

Math gets more difficult during the middle school years. Algebra rears it’s ugly head and equations move beyond basic operations. Parents often bow out of helping their kids in middle school because it gets more complex and they haven’t factored polynomials recently.

I spoke to Scott Adamson, a math teacher at Chandler-Gilbert Community College. He is working with teachers this summer at a five-day Summer Institute at Scottsdale Community College, but that is just a small part of the program. He also visits teachers at their schools, observing lessons and giving feedback on how to implement the new math standards.

The new standards include the usual content standards. like this one for sixth grade:

6.RP.3. Use ratio and rate reasoning to solve real-world and mathematical problems, e.g., by reasoning about tables of equivalent ratios, tape diagrams, double number line diagrams, or equations.

This is a standard for third grade:

3.OA.7. Fluently multiply and divide within 100, using strategies such as the relationship between multiplication and division (e.g., knowing that 8 × 5 = 40, one knows 40 ÷ 5 = 8 ) or properties of operations. By the end of Grade 3, know from memory all products of two one-digit numbers.

Adamson says the current math textbooks don’t really line up with the new standards but having teachers create their own entirely new lessons to match the new standards isn’t practical. It takes hours to design a lesson, create the materials and the assessments to go with it.

He works with teachers to help them implement the new standards as efficiently as possible. If they try to create all new lessons “they’ll be burned out by October,” he says.

In addition to the content standards, the Common Core standards include Mathematical Practices:

1. Make sense of problems and persevere in solving them.

2. Reason abstractly and quantitatively.

3. Construct viable arguments and critique the reasoning of others.

4. Model with mathematics.

5. Use appropriate tools strategically.

6. Attend to precision.

7. Look for and make use of structure.

8. Look for and express regularity in repeated reasoning.

Adamson says getting the correct answer is not enough “The heart of it is, what do we want out of our students? It is not to mindlessly perform steps and arrive at answers without understanding why and how they got their answers,” he says. One example he gave is students should understand why multiplying a negative number times a negative number yields a positive number. (You remember that, right? -3 x -7 = 21)

Really, the new standards with the mathematical practices are building an intellectual framework within which the content standards are learned and understood, says Adamson. A calculator won’t help “construct viable arguments and critique the reasoning of others.”

The new standards will demand more of your children as well as their teachers.

Teachers in the Arizona Mathematics Partnership program will get 200 hours of professional development, and a $2,500 stipend for their efforts. In addition to SCC and Chandler-Gilbert, other partners in the project are Glendale Community College, Chandler Unified School District, Deer Valley Unified School District, Florence Unified School District, Fountain Hills Unified School District, J.O. Combs Unified School District, Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community Schools and Scottsdale Unified School District.

Parents will need to support their kids and send them to school willing and able to work to meet the new standards in math and English language arts which will be assessed for the first time in the spring of 2015.

Read the Arizona Common Core Math standards.

Find out everything you can about the standards.

Tags: Arizona Mathematics Partnership, Arizona schools, Common Core Standards, math, Scottsdale Community College, teachers

Daniel Friedman

Daniel Friedman is a staff writer and photographer for RAISING ARIZONA KIDS magazine.