How Common Core is Changing Math Instruction (For the Better)

How Common Core is Changing Math Instruction (For the Better)


One obvious trend that is seen in many educational forums nowadays is the implementation of Common Core State Standards (CCSS). These national standards are sparking discussion and controversy everywhere. And boy, are there are concerns about the standards.

Standards are not the same as curriculum; they provide a base of information to be taught, but not how the information needs to be taught. Teachers should still use differentiation and creative ways to present and teach the standards. Education needs to stay current with the times. We need to update curriculum regularly, and the CCSS can be considered the latest update.

Common Core Updates Instruction in Practical Ways

The CCSS are founded on a few key shifts. For mathematics, there is a greater focus on fewer topics--this means students should become experts in areas. The in-depth standards for math are based on conceptual understanding, procedural skills and fluency, and application. Students can spend time learning about a major focus topic in great detail, instead of glossing over several topics. The math is not set up to be harder; the students are meant to understand and apply it better. We are teaching math so that students can understand it well enough to apply and use it the rest of their lives.

The CCSS for math also include a set of mathematical practices that are essential for mathematical thinking. If a student is able to model a problem, they can make some picture (visual representation) of the problem, reason out a process to solve the problem, and use the picture to help communicate and explain their process clearly to someone else. If the student has a wrong procedure or struggles with the problem, then they have the opportunity to persevere through the process. This is the type of student we want to educate--someone who will work hard and not give up.

At the End of the Day, Students Benefit

I work hard with my students on problem solving. Most want a quick reply to “Do I add or subtract?” They want all problems to be the same so they can just multiply and subtract to find out all the answers without thinking about whether it makes any sense. They don’t want to think about the problem or how to solve it.

Common Core is asking us to give students the opportunity to improve their skills and become avid problem solvers. Students will rise to the expectations, as long as they are reasonable. After all, I find it reasonable to expect my students to read a problem a couple times to clarify their understanding of the situation. I find it reasonable to expect my students to be able to draw or make a visual representation of the problem. I also find it reasonable for students to be able to explain their process whether written or oral.

But that’s not all--we need to help teach students to think for and believe in themselves. When it comes to solving math problem, a teacher’s biggest influence is teaching students to believe in themselves, and to try and persevere. I am sometimes amazed by the creative thinking my students do when they begin to believe in themselves, and are not confined by one method. If my students can do that, then I have done well as an educator.

Common Core Sets a Standard for Teachers, Too

I mentioned the CCSS are the most recent update to standards, but it is likely to be adjusted and changed in the future. I believe it is my job as an educator and professional to stay current and adjust to updates, as I would expect doctors to stay current and adjust to updates in their job.

CCSS were written to help provide a quality set of standards for all students and help them become real-world problem-solvers. I expect my students to research, find information, and justify their findings. I would also expect teachers should model this practice as CCSS are implemented, and not just dismiss the standards because they are new, difficult, or require training. CCSS can’t be implemented overnight.

Teachers need to train, adjust, and practice implementation, and true acceptance of CCSS will take time. My students don’t become great problem-solvers after their first try, but they will become better with opportunities and practice, and the same can be said for teaching CCSS. It may not be smooth or great at the beginning, but few things are.

I have asked my students to try their best to learn new information, so I should be willing to do the same. I hope to emanate the skills that Common Core supports, and that I expect my students to use.

For more information on the Common Core, visit

NOTE: This article is part of EdSurge's Fifty States Initiative (representing the state of New Mexico). 

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