“I don’t have 11 fingers!” wailed one of my students, hysterical over her second grade math worksheet, which included the equation 11-3. As this is the end of the school year, I truthfully felt like going into the hallway to yank out my hair and gnash my teeth with that statement. But the moment of truth made its glorious entrance as I was silently praying for patience and counting to ten. My student was sitting amongst her peers in a small group setting, receiving intervention to address their gaps of understanding in addition and subtraction. One student proudly piped up- “I subtract from ten and then add one more!” Another student added, “I add from 3 until I get to 11.” The quietest member of the group shouted excitedly, “Punch 11 and count backwards 3 fingers!” And they kept giving more ideas: “Use your number line, create a ten frame, try a hundred chart…..” I stopped counting to ten and felt immensely proud of these students. But then I also realized that they were using strategies from the Common Core math lessons I have given them all year long. They were the proof of the pudding- Common Core has equipped my students with more strategies to accurately solve math equations and look at numbers in different perspectives.
As the Arizona Congress has been meeting, discussing, and deciding the fate of using Common Core standards in the public education system, several politicians are quoted as feeling more comfortable giving the local districts and parents the control over the education standards taught in the classroom. Once again, the “threat” of succumbing to a “socialist” educational community (aka Common Core standards) has heightened the hysteria of uninformed public officials. When listening to the political talk shows on the radio and television, learning math “the new way” with Common Core strategies sounds confusing and inessential to comprehending math. Yet after three years of learning new strategies to solve mathematical equations has given even the most confused learner different tools to be successful. If we gave the local districts and parents the power to create their own math standards, do they have the training and experience to keep up with the expectations of our global 21st century educational community? A parent angrily asked me recently, “Why aren’t you saying ‘carrying’ and ‘borrowing?’ I can’t help my child anymore with her homework.” Will it help our students to receive new state standards from people with a similar mindset, comfortable with the “old math” and frightened to try the new?
What does riding a bike, potty-training, and telling time all have in common? Children can learn all three very quickly when given the materials, observed a demonstration, received positive reinforcement, and then provided permission to FAIL. Think about it—how quickly did you learn to ride a bike when the training wheels were taken off and you scraped your knee? You learned to trust the sense of balance very quickly to succeed. We have had three years to plunge in head-first into a scary and intense learning environment as teachers- internalizing unknown standards to successfully implement in our classrooms. There have been times I have fallen flat on my face, but I picked myself up to try again. In the beginning of this transition, the students struggled with the new strategies and vocabulary, and there was a learning curve. But now they are beginning to thrive under the challenges expected from them.
It’s time that Arizona trusts and supports the teachers- we are maintaining our momentum to become and produce balanced, competitive learners throughout the nation and the world. It’s time that Arizona embraces the funk, feels the pain of defeat and failure, and then picks itself up and try it again. Let’s not give up on Common Core!
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