kitchen table math, the sequel: Help Desk, Common Core edition

## Thursday, February 27, 2014

### Help Desk, Common Core edition

Two weeks ago, when our high school administrators gave a presentation devoted exclusively to Common Core "shifts" ("shifts," not "curriculum areas") the principal told us that henceforth math will be taught as modeling first and foremost. All math, it seems, in all math courses.

That strikes me as a terrible idea. Dreary, too.

Math for math's sake, math as a liberal art, math as a thing of beauty...math in my district is apparently a vocational art, not a liberal one. Kids are going to be explaining their answers a lot, too. (The explanation we saw opened with the words "We used the rules we have learned about discriminants.")

If you have thoughts, let me know.

SteveH said...

"If you have thoughts, let me know."

What would you like to know, the same old stuff? Clearly this is vague at best. It's like a politician talking about Uncle Sam and apple pie and expecting to corner the vote.

"modeling first and foremost"

Is this exactly what he/she said? The problem with so many presentations is that they never get past vague generalities. Ask what that means, exactly. Ask them to give you examples of classroom practices and how they fit into an overall curriculum.

It's one thing to value modeling (whatever that is) and quite another to define how you get there; top down or bottom up. (I don't think they have a clue to what they are talking about.) We all know, of course, that what they really want is student centered, teacher as the guide-on-the-side learning from the top down.

Also,

"Shift 4 - Deep Understanding - Students deeply understand and can operate easily within a math concept before moving on. They learn more than the trick to get the answer right. They learn the math."

is vague and meaningless unless they define what is mastered in each grade and what performance levels are required. Besides, this is completely wrong. One cannot be successful in math using rote tricks unless the tests are incompetently bad.

Have them define what "operate easily" means exactly, and what they will do if students don't reach those grade level expectations.

"Shift 6 - Dual Intensity - Students are practicing and understanding. There is more than a balance between these two things in the classroom – both are occurring with intensity.

"Occurring with intensity?"

Is it possible to ever get them to be more specific?

autismplusmath said...

I think you’re earlier reply from your superintendent of schools provides some guidance. They developed a plan without sufficient input and problem-solving from folks in the trenches. I have read plenty of these types of “big picture” view project plans, both in education and the business world, and I can tell you that the reports usually sound quite convincing that the team will accomplish everything they set out to accomplish. But only if you accept that they have a complete picture of their environment and the real challenges to success.

On a related point, the best IT system rollouts that I have seen have not only obtained the input and real world perspectives of the people in the trenches but they also (1) have set up communication channels during the first few days or weeks to obtain feedback from folks in the trenches of what’s working/not working, and (2) have a team already set up and championed with fixing the problems ASAP.

Your opportunity to be the change agent of reason, as I see it, is to work to set up those communication channels during the first few months of CC and to also be on the committee charged with solving issues as they come up. I will leave it to your imagination to come up with a convincing argument for your superintendent. Considering that some of the issues may relate to parent complaints or concerns, having some parents on the committee could be helpful, or at least more interesting.

At a classroom level, it’s obvious that they are doing the formulaic writing prompt response nonsense where every child will write by the end of the year in the same exact format (“We used the rules we have learned about oxymorons to divide jumbo shrimp.”) This is the antithesis to creative or effective writing, but it is much easier and manageable to teach a formulaic response than to carve out classroom time to actually teach a student how to effectively demonstrate their understanding of a mathematical concept in writing. In fact, the type of writing expected of students in math class is often quite shallow compared to how it could be used to develop deep mathematical thinking. It is a few years old, but I consider Dr. Hsu's primer on “Writing math in paragraph style” to be the gold standard on developing deep mathematical thinking through writing in the classroom.

What I would ask of my district, and which I think is a reasonable request, is for their CC experts to create rubrics for these writing prompts and to provide examples of graded writing for each possible score so that your department has consistent agreement of what constitutes a 4 out of 5 response versus a 2 or 3 out of 5 response. I would also request these examples before the end of this year so that you can hit the ground running come the fall, rather than it be mid-October and teachers still clueless as to how to appropriately score the writing prompts.

But other than that, I really have no suggestions to offer :-)

Glenn Laniewski
Blog:
Autismplusmath
Latest Post:
Math Video Challenge Registration now open!
http://autismplusmath.blogspot.com/2014/02/math-video-challenge-registration-now.html

SteveH said...

But that's assuming that these educators really care about input. It sounds more like they are just telling parents what they are doing because they have to. They load the presentation up with the usual happy talk of critical thinking and understanding, and they pull out the old strawman of rote learning.

Even if they are open to input, that would not include raising specific issues like asking them to define exactly what mastery is required on a grade-by-grade level and what, specifically they do if kids do not meet those levels.

It's the same old stuff.

One can try to be constructive, but that won't get the change that's needed. One can use the bully pulpit to raise these questions, but don't expect a happy response. You have to build some sort of critical mass of parents to effect any change, but how can you effect change when the schools really, really, really don't like what you want to do?

In math, you need to drive the expectations backwards from the high school AP Calculus path. That's the way we got rid of CMP math in middle school. Clearly, they did not have a curriculum path for students to honors geometry as a freshman in high school. It was there in black and white. This is required to get to calculus as a senior, and that path was missing.

You have to force the middle schools to get and use real math textbooks that provide a proper curriculum path to the AP calculus sequence in high school. Our schools chose the Glencoe series, which isn't bad. A key bonus was that they had the lower tracks use the same textbooks, but go at a slower pace. One thing that helped in our state was a change that required all 7th and 8th grade classes be taught by teachers with certification in their subject.

OK, now we're ready to push higher standards and less fuzzy learning into the lower grades, but we're stuck. Our schools use full inclusion and differentiated instruction. Nothing will budge Everyday Math out and nothing will change what's in the hearts and minds of K-6 educators. In some ways, they love Common Core. It allows them to talk fancy educator talk but never deal with defining a specific STEM curriculum path in K-6. They will just point to those who have made it to calculus, but never know (or care) how it happened.

My current view is that one has to force schools to publically define exactly how they track kids in math in 7th grade (for most schools). In our schools, many parents were surprised when their kids were put into the lower track. Some were told that it was better to be successful and then work their way up a level later, even though that rarely, if ever, happens. Parents need to know that by 7th grade, a STEM career is all over for many kids.

Our town uses class grades (very fuzzy rubrics) and a placement test (that few know about) to track kids in math in 7th grade. The test is taken in the later part of 6th grade and few parents know about it. I didn't see it coming and I tried to keep up on these things very carefully. I think the school doesn't want parents to see the actual test because it is heavily dependent on mastery of basic skills.

However, any attempts at getting our schools to publically and exactly define this tracking process has met with resistance. They claim that the test is just one small part of the decision process. However, they also resist any attempt to get them to define the needed level (rubric number?) in Everyday Math one has get to prepare for the top math track. This has to be done. Common Core does not deal with STEM by definition, and educators can't seem to deal with pushing honors and AP expectations down past the K-6 pedagogy and curriculum barricades. I'll call it the fuzzy wall. It's impenetrable.

Catherine Johnson said...

OK, I just listened to the relevant portion of the high school principal's presentation & posted a transcript.

"We really look at modeling as the way to really permeate through all of the different levels of mathematics at the high school level."