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Mathematical Practices Make a Difference

Ali Crowley
I'm a high school math teacher in Kentucky, a state that not only adopted the Common Core Standards but also began full implementation of them in math and English classes this year (currently 46 days away from high-stakes testing!). To be honest, I have had no choice but to welcome them with open arms. And yes, the lack of professional development and resources cause daily frustrations.

Yet I can also report that my students are learning mathematics this year at a higher level than ever before.

Every math teacher should understand what the common standards promote: 1) greater focus (fewer topics, deeper understanding); 2) coherence across grade levels; 3) conceptual understanding beyond just getting the "right answer"; 4) speed and accuracy in calculations; and 5) modeling and applications.

When I first started teaching 11 years ago, I was given a class roster, a textbook, and a list of when each section of the textbook had to be "covered" (one of my favorite pre-CCS verbs). Oh, and I mustn't forget the laminated chart of the state math standards: I was to mark these so that a visitor could see that I was teaching exactly what I was supposed to.

Those days are over. I focus now on the standards for mathematical practices and provide my students with the tools that they need to delve into topics more deeply. For example, my Algebra 2 students are solving polynomial equations using a variety of methods. And—for the first time in my teaching career—I feel the students really understand the connections between an algebraic equation, the graph of that function, and its complex roots. The problem-solving approach makes a difference.

When I talk about how the common standards have elevated the rigor of my teaching, people accuse me of drinking the Kool-Aid or having ulterior motives. But for me, the proof is in the pudding. My students have shown me that emphasizing the core values of the mathematical practices (modeling, collaborating, applying, problem-solving) has improved my teaching. And they are better prepared for life after high school.

Yes, the lack of resources and professional development surrounding the standards is frustrating. However, I hope that math teachers will see that the standards naturally accompany and highlight good teaching methods that are already in place, such as high-level questioning and student collaboration.

And who better to provide professional development than classroom teachers? I hope teachers will lead the transition to the common standards—and that administrators will afford teachers with the tools (and most importantly, time!) they need to learn, collaborate and share their knowledge with others.

Ali Crowley teaches Algebra 2 and AP Calculus at Lafayette High School in Lexington, KY. A National Board-certified teacher with 11 years of experience, she is a member of CTQ's Implementing Common Core Standards team.

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