New York schools have begun aligning instruction with the New York Common Core standards; full implementation in grades 3 – 8 is scheduled for the 2012-2013 school year. The new Math standards require six shifts in instruction as outlined by Common Core co-author David Coleman in a video series produced by the Department of Education and New York PBS stations.
Shift 1: Focus
This first shift narrows and deepens the curriculum to the study of essential concepts beginning in the primary grades. Rich instruction in whole numbers, addition, subtraction and measuring quantities in the early grades will build the conceptual underpinnings for true understanding of numbers.
With fluency in these high-leveraged concepts, students will be able to tackle more complex ideas such as time, money and temperature, areas of study that now are taught alongside the essential concepts even though students have not yet mastered the skills necessary to understand why, for example, ten dimes equals one dollar.
Authors of the Common Core have identified the skills that predict students’ success in Math and have made these the focus of the Math standards. Teachers will have the time to ensure all students master the core concepts rather than having students race through a broad array of topics, developing only a cursory understanding of each.
Shift 2: Coherence
Learning within and across grade levels will be coordinated so that students will develop layers of knowledge, one building on the other. This will require an effort by teachers and school principals to design instruction so that each new area of learning is an extension of previous learning.
Shift 3: Fluency
Students will develop speed and accuracy with simple computations. While not mandated by the standards, the use of calculators for simple computations should be limited giving students the opportunity to develop a level of automaticity with Math facts that will facilitate understanding of more advanced concepts in Algebra.
“You should know your multiplication tables like you know your own name.” – Commissioner John King
Shift 4: Deep Understanding
Students need to thoroughly understand basic Math concepts so that they will know when and how to apply Math skills to unfamiliar and unexpected problems. While the fluency command of the third shift seems to point to rote memorization, this fourth shift requires students understand why, for example, two-thirds plus two-thirds equals one and one-third.
Shift 5: Application
Students need to apply Math skills beyond Math class. Science formulas and Social Studies data all require Mathematics. With deep understanding of Math concepts students will know when and how to apply skills.
Shift 6: Dual Intensity
Math instruction will be rigorous both in understanding concepts and practice in application.
David Coleman notes that people often say “I’m not a Math Person.” but this dichotomy, “Math person” or “not Math person”, is false. Someone with a deep understanding of foundational Math concepts acquired this knowledge at some point in their education; one expectation of the Common Core Standards is that all students will acquire the knowledge necessary to become fluent in Math.
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