The type of thinking that children today are being asked to do through Common Core standards in Florida is much more complex than the basic arithmetic and spelling of the past.
Students now need to problem-solve, discuss and defend answers, becoming proficient thinkers and communicators. I find our new standards to be one of the best changes in education in quite some time.
I have been a teacher and a student in schools in different states. I moved rather frequently in my early life between North Carolina and Florida. There was very little continuity in the coursework between the two high schools that I attended and even less in the rigor of the material.
As I became an adult and a mother, it was very easy to see the differences in what my children were learning in school and how much earlier skills were introduced.
The schools that my children attended here in Florida focused more on being a global learner. Our world gets smaller and smaller with the invention of new technology. With our society becoming more and more interconnected, we are starting to see that we in the United States truly are not an island. We must be world communicators, innovative thinkers and problem-solvers. With the switch in standards and the implementation of the eight mathematical practices, our students are on the right path.
The Common Core State Standards seem to be getting much attention, but for the past two years, kindergartners and first-graders have been taught the Common Core State Standards for math and reading. These standards are clearly laid out and include the progression that students typically follow when learning to read.
Each year, the standards build on themselves like a ladder. In math, there are specific skills in each grade and then eight practices that are the same from K-12. This will be the biggest shift in teaching for teachers. The majority of the learning and work will fall on the students. Teachers will shift from lecturer on a center stage to a facilitator of discussions to guide inquiry-type learning in the right direction.
I have had the privilege of attending numerous training sessions with Juli Dixon, professor at the University of Central Florida and co-author of the Sunshine State Standards, at math coach trainings in Pasco County. I realized that allowing students to engage in math talk, critique one another and defend their own reasoning is such a powerful teaching tool. Students are engaged and learn to think about how they are learning.
In this sense, the math and language arts standards overlap. Both call for reasoning and justifying their thinking. Just in the first few practices, the verbs show the depth of knowledge it would take to complete the tasks. Here are the eight mathematical practices:
1. Make sense of problems and persevere in solving them.
2. Reason abstractly and quantitatively.
3. Construct viable arguments and critique the reasoning of others.
4. Model with mathematics.
5. Use appropriate tools effectively.
6. Attend to precision.
7. Look for and make use of structure.
8. Look for and express regularity in repeated reasoning.
None of the above can be accomplished without some discussion and problems-solving among peers. Students become active in the learning process. These discussions are directly linked to the speaking and listening standards found in the English Language Arts Standards beginning in kindergarten.
Common Core is a set of national — not federal — standards. That means that states have collaborated together to have a consistent system of standards across the country. Groups such as governors and education commissioners, parents, teachers and researchers all had input in the development of these standards.
Through these higher standards, I know we will better prepare our students to be college- and career-ready by end of their senior year of high school.
Hope Taylor teaches at River Ridge Middle School in Pasco County. She wrote this exclusively for the Tampa Bay Times.