February 2

Schools in central Maine focus on Common Core

The new standards, adopted by 45 states and the District of Columbia, have been controversial in some circles, but local teachers say they are meant to better prepare students for college and work.

By Susan McMillan smcmillan@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

It was time for math in Abby Shink’s third grade class, but instead of pulling out pencils and workbooks, the students gathered on the carpet to talk things out.

click image to enlarge

TALKING NUMBERS: Readfield Elementary School third grade teacher Abby Shink listens Wednesday to her class work through an equation with a “number talk,” an instructional activity RSU 38 uses to get students to discuss and critique arguments in math, as required in the Common Core State Standards.

Staff photo by Andy Molloy

click image to enlarge

TALKING NUMBERS: The clock behind Readfield Elementary School third grade teacher Abby Shink is adorned with equations as she listens Wednesday to her class work through an equation with a “number talk,” an instructional activity RSU 38 uses to get students to discuss and critique arguments in math, as required in the Common Core State Standards.

Staff photo by Andy Molloy

Additional Photos Below

THE STANDARDS

The Common Core State Standards define what students should learn in each grade, with a progression that’s supposed to ensure that they’re ready for college or the workforce by the time they graduate from high school. Here are a few of the standards in math and English language arts.

Math: measurement, data, statistics and probability

Kindergarten: Classify objects and count the number of objects in each category.

Grade 3: Draw a scaled picture graph and a scaled bar graph to represent a data set with several categories. Solve one- and two-step problems using information presented in scaled bar graphs.

Grade 7: Use random sampling to draw inferences about a population.

High school: Make inferences and justify conclusions from sample surveys, experiments and observational studies.

Reading: craft and structure in literature

Grade 1: Identify who is telling the story at various points in a text.

Grade 4: Compare and contrast the point of view from which different stories are narrated, including the difference between first- and third-person narrations.

Grade 8: Analyze how differences in the points of view of the characters and the audience or reader (e.g., created through the use of dramatic irony) create such effects as suspense or humor.

Grade 11-12: Analyze a case in which grasping a point of view requires distinguishing what is directly stated in a text from what is really meant (e.g., satire, sarcasm, irony, or understatement).

Source: Common Core State Standards Initiative

Shink wrote a simple addition problem, 33 plus 57, on a large notepad for her students to solve in their heads. Students quickly raised their thumbs to show they’d figured it out, and Shink called on one after another to explain their solutions. All of them had the right answer, 90, but what Shink was really after was the process, the “how.”

A “number talk” like this one Shink led in the fall is one example of ways that discussion and writing have become a bigger part of math lessons since Readfield Elementary and its district, Regional School Unit 38, started implementing the Common Core State Standards.

Teachers in RSU 38 and other districts across Maine and the country are adapting instruction for the Common Core, a set of expectations for what students should learn in math and English at each grade level. The standards are supposed to help prepare students for college and the workforce by teaching them to learn independently, analyze information and communicate clearly.

The math standards, for example, say that students at every grade level should be able to construct an argument about why something is correct and critique the reasoning of others, and by the end of third grade they’re supposed to fluently add and subtract numbers up to 1,000.

So as one stone on the path to meeting those standards, Shink gave her students 33 plus 57.

Some students said they swapped the order of the numbers to make it easier to count up by 10s, which they’d just learned was allowable based on the commutative property of addition. Using strategies learned in earlier grades, they broke down the numbers in different ways, so that some added 30 and 50, then 3 and 7, while others added 33 and 7 to make 40, then the remaining 50.

Every time a student presented a solution, Shink encouraged the others to say whether they agreed or disagreed, and why.

Students are encouraged to find different strategies to solve a problem. The traditional algorithms, such as stacking one number on top of another and carrying the ones, are supposed to come later, after students have come to understand the mechanics behind the math.

The Common Core has drawn fierce opposition in some places, including a petition to repeal the standards by voter referendum in Maine, but Shink said what little resistance she’s encountered has been a result of parents missing the familiar algorithms and memorization in their children’s homework.

“I’ve had a few parents say, ‘Why are you not just teaching them this way? This is how I learned it,’” Shink said. “Usually when we talk about it and I explain it, they’re fine.

“I say that the way that we’re teaching it now, I think that kids have a much deeper understanding of numbers and they are much more flexible thinkers about how numbers can be put together and taken apart. And that they’re thinking a lot more creatively about how to solve problems and show their thinking and explain what they’ve done.”

New national standard

Maine formally adopted the Common Core State Standards in 2011, launching school districts on a multiyear process to understand the standards and adapt to them.

The current school year is supposed to be the year of full implementation, and the impact is becoming apparent in homework assignments, reading lists and the words teachers use when talking with students.

(Continued on page 2)

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Additional Photos

click image to enlarge

TALKING NUMBERS: Readfield Elementary School third grade teacher Abby Shink leads her class Wednesday through a “number talk,” an instructional activity RSU 38 uses to get students to discuss and critique arguments in math, as required in the Common Core State Standards.

Staff photo by Andy Molloy

click image to enlarge

Madison West starts writing about how “hamsters are very. . .” during a writing workshop last fall in Jessica Gurney’s classroom at Manchester Elementary School.

Staff photo by Joe Phelan

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Jessica Gurney talks to her students before they start a writing workshop last fall at Manchester Elementary School.

Staff photo by Joe Phelan

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Zion Armstrong, left, thinks about what to write next as classmate Justin Stein works next to her on the floor during a writing workshop last fall in Jessica Gurney’s classroom at Manchester Elementary School.

Staff photo by Joe Phelan

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Jessica Gurney talks to her students before they start a writing workshop last fall at Manchester Elementary School.

Staff photo by Joe Phelan

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Mason Pare, left, tells Ed Tech Jessica Dwyer about his plans to write about monster trucks during a writing workshop last fall in Jessica Gurney’s classroom at Manchester Elementary School.

Staff photo by Joe Phelan

click image to enlarge

Jessica Gurney talks to her students before they start a writing workshop last fall at Manchester Elementary School.

Staff photo by Joe Phelan

click image to enlarge

Erica Belz, left, and Faith DiFazio sketch as they start a story during a writing workshop last fall in Jessica Gurney’s classroom at Manchester Elementary School.

Staff photo by Joe Phelan

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Jessica Gurney, left, talks with Grace Leach during a writing workshop last fall at Manchester Elementary School.

Staff photo by Joe Phelan



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