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Common Core Math Changes Focus to Real Life Scenarios

Editor’s note: This is the fifth in a series on the difficulties students have learning math, and what methods some schools and teachers are using with success.

Common Core is going to bring big changes to the way school math is taught, but those new ways will improve students’ life skills, say local teachers and administrators.

The new Common Core State Standards, a national set of academic goals, will seek to get students to use math and explain how they use it in real-life situations, said Holly Vostad, a Godwin Heights North Elementary kindergarten teacher.

“It will ask questions like ‘How do you know?’ and ‘How did you figure that out?’ or ‘How else could you do that?’,” Vostad said. “I think it will produce better thinkers.”

Developed by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers, the Common Core State Standards are designed to provide common expectations for math, English, science and social studies.

Many educators hope the standards adopted by 44 states will improve U.S. students’ generally poor performance in math. Jo Boaler, CEO of a math education non-profit called YouCubed, has written that Common Core “gives more time for depth and exploration than the curricula it has replaced by removing some of the redundant methods students will never need or use.”

Less focus will be put on actual numerical answers and more on understanding the math problem, said Rusty Anderson, an algebra facilitator at Kent Innovation High. In the past, specific skills like adding, subtracting, multiplying and dividing were the focus, Anderson said. While these fundamentals are still needed, the Common Core focuses on using them to solve problems.

“Real-world problems are not just about math,” Anderson said.New math assessment tests will affect hundreds of Kent County students like Godwin-Heights North Elementary student Yasir Foster

Test to Measure Skills Still Up in the Air

Allison Camp, a Kent ISD math consultant, agrees with Anderson’s description. “It gets away from memorizing rules,” said Camp, who has been working with Kent County’s 20 school districts the past four years in preparation for the change.

Trying to do the math to figure out whether a name brand or a Meijer brand is cheaper is an example Camp gives of the types of math Common Core assessment tests will address. Buying a house and determining what loan and payment options are best is another example of how math is used in everyday living.

“Kids are going to have to look at a scenario to figure out what math they have to use,” Camp said. “Applications don’t help if you don’t know how to apply them.”

Testing aligned with the Common Core standards is expected to start next year in Kent ISD. But while Common Core has been approved by the Michigan Legislature, the proposed Smarter Balanced tests have not been approved by the Legislature to replace the MEAP tests. Recently, legislators asked for more time to study the test.

Judy Doran, a sixth-grade math teacher at Caledonia’s Duncan Lake Middle School, likes the Common Core standards and thinks they will force students to think more critically. She is worried about the testing, though. “I think some concepts are pushed at a grade level where not all kids are developmentally ready for the concept,” she said.

As for those who have criticized Common Core math, Anderson of Kent Innovation High thinks it’s because they are reluctant to change. “People have to be open to change,” he said. “It’s not necessarily the way many people learned math.

“It’s going to take open minds of learners, teachers and parents in order to make it happen.”


Common Core State Academic Standards from the Michigan Department of Education

Read the whole series: Making Math Add Up

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Linda Odette
Linda Odette
Linda Odette is a freelance writer and editor with more than 30 years of experience in journalism. She’s worked primarily as an editor in feature departments at newspapers in West Michigan, including the Grand Rapids Press, the Muskegon Chronicle and the Holland Sentinel. She lives in East Grand Rapids near the Eastown edge, has a teenage son and a daughter in college. Read Linda's full bio or email Linda.


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