Saturday, January 1, 2011

Starting Work with the Common Core State Standards

I just had a great introduction to the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) for Mathematics!  I have to admit, there's always at least a little trepidation in me when I look at a new set of standards.  I started as a Teaching Artist in North Carolina, then expanded to South Carolina.  Later I moved to Indiana and also travelled to Kentucky on a regular basis.  My programs remain the same no matter where I am, and it's been a bit of a bear to 'translate' what I do into the different languages of each individual state's standards.  But boy am I in luck now!  Now we have the CCSS which are being adopted by most of the fifty states; I am happy about possibly never having to 'translate' my program again, but I'm also really excited about the fact that these new standards are as much about habits of mind and real learning as they are about tiny pieces of specific content. 

I started hearing about the Common Core State Standards back in the summer, I think.  I went to the website and couldn't really figure out what they were about; even though I've worked with standards in four different states, as a Teaching Artist it's still really not my language.  Fortunately, I have an ace up my sleeve in the form of Math in Your Feet's co-creator, educator extraordinaire Jane Cooney.  This last week I was met up with her, and another fantastic math educator, Indiana University doctoral student Lauren Rapaki.  Together, they drew me a marvellous picture.  Here is what I understand so far...

It turns out that there are two strands to the CCSS for math.  One is a content standard -- I've taken a look with Math in Your Feet in mind, and there's still enough there to be relevant to the specifics of what third, fourth and fifth graders need to be learning.  What is exciting to me is the other CCSS for Mathematics standard, Standards for Mathematical Practice:

"The Standards for Mathematical Practice describe varieties of expertise that mathematics educators at all levels should seek to develop in their students.  These practices rest on important “processes and proficiencies” with longstanding importance in mathematics education. The first of these are the NCTM process standards of problem solving, reasoning and proof, communication, representation, and connections. The second are the strands of mathematical proficiency specified in the National Research Council’s report Adding It Up: adaptive reasoning, strategic competence, conceptual understanding (comprehension of mathematical concepts, operations and relations), procedural fluency (skill in carrying out procedures flexibly, accurately, efficiently and appropriately), and productive disposition (habitual inclination to see mathematics as sensible, useful, and worthwhile, coupled with a belief in diligence and one’s own efficacy)."
When we first developed Math in Your Feet, Jane went straight to the NCTM principles (mentioned in the above quote) as a tool for finding the big picture connections between percussive dance and elementary math topics.  Problem solving, reasoning and proof, connections, etc. have always been at the core of what this program is about but, somehow, the process of parsing it all down into state standards and indicators seemed to dilute the importance of the higher order thinking that happens when kids make percussive foot patterns and learn math at the same time.  The reason the CCSS for Mathematics look so promising to me is that the Mathematical Practices standard is at least half of what kids will be required to do in their math classes; my program is a great match for this kind of inquiry and approach. 

Here's the list of specific mathematical practices outlined in the CCSS, all of which describe the core work of Math in Your Feet:
Make sense of problems and persevere in solving them.
Reason abstractly and quantitatively.
Construct viable arguments and critique others' reasoning.
Model with math.
Use appropriate tools strategically.
Attend to precision.
Look for and make use of structure.
Look for and express regularity in repeated reasoning.
The CCSS appear to be not just a set of common standards and words on the page, but the development of a nation-wide agreement on educational goals and the language used to organize and describe those goals.  As someone who has had to learn how to speak the standards language of many different states, I am relieved and happy about having a common language describe my program to schools, teachers and others in the math education world.

I'm interested in hearing different viewpoints on these new standards, so please let me know how they affect you! 


  1. I can certainly agree that the CCSS are tremendously valuable for folks like yourself who are working across state lines. They should be equally important for state-specific teachers -- perhaps kids & families will come to expect the same things academically wherever they go. And students might be on equal footing, wherever they live. Of course, it'll only work to the extent that the CCSS are standards that are worth having. I'm glad you're finding them so!

  2. Hi Meg,

    Thanks for checking in! Yes, my view is probably different from people who work in school systems so I'm interested to hear what those folks think. What about you? Will it affect your work in the dance classroom any, to the positive or the negative?

    During my conversation with Jane and Lauren the other day (see above) it seems most of their effort right now is focused on figuring out how to make sure the math standards can actually be met in Indiana classrooms. They especially see a need to support teachers in the 'mathematical practices' portion, which is not something most classroom teachers are completely comfortable with, I suspect. That's always the rub isn't it? It's one thing to have a good idea, but another one all together to implement it.

    Anyhow, the arts are full of ways to engage children and develop all sorts skills the CCSS say are needed. Historically, though, the arts have often been the first to go when times get tough (or budgets get tight), but this new, very clear requirement for teaching higher order thinking skills opens up the possiblity that there's more room the table for what the arts have to offer.

  3. i am happy to know someone who is doing this sort of research, and your findings are a bit comforting to a mom who will be sending her kid into that standards based education system soon enough.


Thanks for reading. I would love to hear your thoughts and comments!


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