Shifting the Paradigm in High School Math: How We Implemented Common Core in the Classroom
Our journey to implementation of CCSS started about 6 years ago. We looked at the new CCSS standards, which represented a major change in how math is taught and how math is learned, especially the standards for mathematical practice.
It was immediately apparent that mathematics instruction had to change. We could not rely on supplementing textbooks written for the old California State Math Standards, nor just show our students how to select the best of 4 multiple-choice answers on the end-of-the-year state test. We would have to get them to think and reason mathematically!
The Lay of the Land: A Little Background About Us
I teach at Soledad High School. It is a medium sized school, about 1,300 students located in the center of the lettuce fields in Monterey County, California. This region of California produces most of the lettuce grown in the United States and agriculture is a multi-billion-dollar enterprise in Monterey County.
Most of our students are the children of the people who work in the fields, mostly of Spanish speaking cultural descent, and while the parents care very much about the education of their children they have, on average, less than a high school education themselves. Over 90% of our students qualify for free or reduced-price meals.
Nonetheless, our students are hardworking and focused on the possibilities for their future. As a mathematics teacher in my 16th year of teaching I feel privileged to work with these wonderful kids.
Criteria for Implementing Common Core: Letting Students Take the Lead
Recognizing the need and with the help of our local County Office of Education, we developed a set of criteria that our mathematics department team would use to evaluate a new Math Curriculum.
We were looking for a curriculum that provided Focus, Coherence, Balance, and Rigor. We wanted it to follow the lesson structure recommended by Phil Daro, who served on the writing team of the Mathematics Common Core State Standards. Each lesson should consist of a task that students work collaboratively and alone to develop, solidify and practice important mathematics. The tasks should:
- Be rich, real-world learning tasks that create the problem-solving skills necessary for our students to be college and career-ready.
- Prompt students’ mathematical thinking, develop understanding, and foster intuitive approaches to problem solving.
- Allow for multiple experiences of the same standard and promote access to the standards in multiple ways.
- Have a low-threshold and high ceiling; meaning that there are access points for all students and opportunities for extensions.
Mr. Daro explained that by working through tasks, students will experience the conceptual understandings and use those to acquire the specific problem-solving skills necessary for mastery. He also said that the instructor needs to launch the task giving students enough information to access the work, but not so much as to make the task boring. Mr. Daro referred to this as making sure students have enough tools in their kit to do the work, but NOT to do the work for them.
The other key activity of the instructor is to monitor student work and select and sequence student work for presentation at the end of the lesson. Every day, in one way or another, each student shares their work and compares it with that of others.
We decided that the integrated pathway was going to be more academically effective for our student demographics, and in line with how secondary math is taught in other countries, where students are performing at a higher level than in the U.S.
Using OER Content for Our High School Math Common Core Curriculum
After a good deal of research and discussion around the criteria we developed, the best integrated option for our district was the Open Education Resource (OER) curriculum available online from the Mathematics Vision Project (MVP). We especially liked how the ideas from Dr. Margaret Smith’s book Five Practices for Orchestrating Productive Mathematical Discussions were incorporated into the teaching cycle by MVP.
Since MVP was an OER, we could leverage savings to reinvest in the development of teachers and our school leaders in how to use the new curricula and the new teaching methods required to go along with it.
Our Strategy for Rolling Out a New High School Math Curricula
The integrated pathway of Math I, Math II, and Math III has been fully implemented over a period of three years, allowing the teachers and students to make as smooth a transition as possible.
Starting with our freshmen, we started with MVP Integrated Math 1. The following year we added MVP Integrated Math 2 for all sophomores who had taken Math 1 as freshmen. By the third year, we were fully implemented with all freshmen taking Math 1, all Sophomores taking Math 2, and all Juniors taking Math 3.
Two Keys to Successfully Implementing a CCSS Math Curriculum
Make Professional Development Ongoing and On-Demand
To effectively teach a rigorous high school CCSS curriculum, many teachers need to strengthen their understanding of the Common Core Standards, deepen their knowledge of high school mathematics, and gain fluency in using the eight Effective Teaching Practices put forth by NCTM in Principles to Actions (2014) that are high-leverage and connected with essential learning outcomes for students.
While formal professional development from the publisher’s authors or math experts is extremely beneficial, teachers should also work in their PLCs to share their learnings and resources to accelerate and deepen their implementation.
The ability to access PD videos and presentations and colleague’s work is especially important when there is high teacher turnover. For us, our new teachers do not have experience teaching MVP and need a way to get up-to-speed quickly.
Build Teacher Preparation into the Weekly Workflow
It is essential for teachers to anticipate student responses as they prepare to facilitate a task. Only by working the tasks themselves can teachers really find what students might struggle with and which misconceptions might come up. Anticipating is best done with colleagues through collaboration. Additionally, teachers and students need to engage in discourse and the Eight Mathematical Practice Standards, which will likely not happen if time is not spent doing the task prior to teaching it.
The CCSS Curriculum materials are written at grade-level, which presupposes students coming in with the knowledge that they should acquire in a K-8 CCSS curriculum. If a district has been slow to implement at the K-8 level, then students will not have the prerequisite skills; likely teachers will need to prepare just-in-time scaffolding to ensure that their students have the prerequisite skills to access to the grade-level curriculum.
Furthermore, the CCSS Math materials require grade-level reading ability and many students need help in that area too. Teachers may need to prepare how they will work on reading comprehension specific to mathematics. We have developed several graphic organizers that are used to enhance understanding of the core curriculum.
How Technology can Help Overcome the Challenges and Accelerate Implementation of CCSS Curricula
New and experienced teachers need an efficient way to access all the core and ancillary materials from the OER publisher. They also need a way to attach and share these materials with their colleagues, including PD materials, their own and co-created materials (assessments, remediation materials, graphic organizers, etc.) related websites, and lesson notes. For MVP, we found a Curriculum Management Platform (CMP) called Lessoneer that meets our needs.
Not only does Lessoneer help us organize and access our instructional materials, but their Common Core Building Blocks helps us deepened our understanding of the CCSS Math standards. With the Building Blocks, for each standard there are unpacked skills and concepts, aligned academic vocabulary, sample questions stems and prompts, and sample sentence frames. They also show us which tasks in MVP cover the standard.
Supporting Student-Centered, Differentiated Learning in High School Math
After finishing their weekly or daily preparation, teachers need to share materials with all their students as well as specific material to certain students—e.g., for remediation or extension. If students are accessing the materials digitally, the most common way to share is via an LMS. If a teacher is using a curriculum management platform, then they can pull the material right into an LMS assignment via the CMP’s LTI application.
It’s not just a one-way street with teachers only pushing materials to students. For a task-based curriculum like MVP, students will produce work in-class for a given task that shows how they access the mathematics in various ways and intuitively take multiple approaches to the task.
If students are creating their work on paper (e.g., a chart), they can take a photo of their work with their phones or school-provided devices and submit their work via the LMS. If students are starting with a PDF and they have a touchscreen device with a stylus, then they can use Word or another document editor to write on the file, save it as a new PDF, then upload their changes to the LMS.
This is not only useful for students to submit homework and to build up a portfolio of work, but it’s also critical for on-going teacher training. It helps teachers understand gaps in students conceptual understanding and what could be improved for next school year.
Shifting the Paradigm is Challenging, but It’s Possible with the Right Content, Tools, and Strategy
Looking back at our journey, we have learned much about the challenges and rewards of implementing a rigorous CCSS math curriculum. We find that all students can access this material to at least some degree, so our goal of a heterogeneous classroom, mixing students of all levels, is possible. Our highest achieving, hardest working students can think deeply about the mathematics while those who are less willing to put forth the effort still pick up a great deal.
We are moving in the right direction where our mathematics curriculum is accessible, high quality, and available to all students regardless of whether they have a teacher with years of experience or a rookie.
It takes a great deal of effort to promote high level thinking among 9th and 10th graders but it is so rewarding when the ‘Ah ha!’ moments come!
Lessoneer is a Schoology NEXT 2017 sponsor. Visit their booth during our user conference to learn more about them and how they work with Schoology's LMS.