School Matters

Cambria's grammar and middle schools take on the Common Core

Special to The CambrianDecember 17, 2013 

According to Kendra Brewer, sixth-grade math and science teacher, the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) “make teaching creative again.” In conversations with her; Bob Watt, principal at the Cambria Grammar School; and Sarah Moore, a fourth-grade teacher, there was a sense of excitement about what the CCSS will mean for their students. They are all in the early stages of implementation, with a number of challenges ahead. But they are undertaking implementation of the changes enthusiastically.

At present the school district is investing heavily in professional development; seminars and workshops put on by the county Office of Education.

Watt said that his teachers currently are piloting the new math curriculum in the first and fourth grades.

Moore added that the new approach engages the students to a greater degree. She will divide them into groups and give them a problem without providing a solution.

The first reaction may be frustration. Often, frustration is followed by the students devising methods to solve the problem.

She can share the solutions with the class and, through questions about the solutions, help all the students learn the necessary process. She noted that, “with the Common Core, we teach more in depth. We ask the students to show how they arrived at a solution and to explain their process.”

When discussing the impact of the new standards on teachers Brewer noted that the faculty will have to spend more time planning lessons. Curriculum will not be as formula driven and may be taught at different times and in different ways from classroom to classroom. The objective is to meet all the standards by the end of the year. But the specifics are up to each individual teacher.

One of the challenges in implementing CCSS is the change in annual assessments.

Watt noted that his faculty will have to prepare students to use computers for testing, including, for instance, drag-and-drop techniques that will be required to answer some questions. While Coast Unified School District is well situated through its investments in technology, he expressed concern about districts that do not have sufficient computer labs to prepare all their students. He wonders whether the results of the assessments will give truly apples-to-apples comparisons, especially in the early years.

All three emphasized that the focus of the CCSS is to prepare students for college and career by developing skills in the K-12 education system that are necessary once the students graduate. Part of the change in teaching method will be to relate math problems to real life issues.

The expectation is the students will look at a problem and realize why it’s important to learn how to solve it. In the language arts, there will be an increased emphasis on information texts, developing the critical reading skills that are necessary for college texts or information gathering once in the workforce. The foundations for these skills will be developed as early as kindergarten and each year will build successively.

This concludes the series of columns on implementation of the CCSS. However, successful implementation is viewed as necessary to bring our education system up to worldwide standards of excellence. So I expect to revisit the topic from time to time updating our schools’ progress.

Ted Siegler’s “School Matters” column is special to The Cambrian. Email suggested topics to him at soroka@ix.netcom.com.

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