MS. REBECCA SHEIR
I'm Rebecca Sheir. And welcome back to "Metro Connection." Today we're talking about traditions. In just a bit we're going to discuss some holiday traditions, but first, let's hit the books and learn about some pretty radical changes in the traditional ways we teach kids math. D.C. and Maryland have joined more than 40 states in embracing what's known as the Common Core Standards. That's an effort to establish uniform expectations for what students should learn every year, from kindergarten through high school. D.C. Public Schools rolled out new reading standards last year. This year, students are learning how to do math differently. Kavitha Cardoza brings us this crash course in this new approach to education.
MS. KAVITHA CARDOZA
Counting the times table is just one of many ways students in Jerriel Hall's third grade class learn math. They especially love it when they get to stomp their feet or twirl around, but as soon as they get too noisy or off track.
MR. JERRIEL HALL
Scholar position means sit in your place with your hands on the desk and be quiet. Once students have settled down, they continue with the lesson, making angles with their arms.
Show me intersecting lines. Parallel. Touchdown.
The Common Core State Standards are an effort to get away from the often criticized mile-wide-and-inch-deep approach to teaching in the U.S. Under the old standards, D.C. public school teachers, like Hall, covered 45 topics. This year they have to cover 28. That brings the U.S. more in line with high-achieving countries such as Finland, Japan and Singapore. Hall says third grade is a critical year, but in the past he had to race through challenging topics such as multiplication and division only to find his students didn't quite understand or remember what he taught. Now, he says, he has almost twice as much time to cover topics.
We just spent about six to eight weeks on fractions. And that was beautiful. Last year when I taught fractions I spent about maybe three weeks.
Hall says fractions are the building blocks of math. If students don't master concepts here, they will have to struggle later with algebra. He does say teaching is far more challenging this year.
It is definitely forcing me to think of activities and strategies, getting them to reason with each other and lesson planning around showing our work in different ways, like in diagrams or in number lines or in tables or using our arms.
Daniel Assael teaches seventh grade math at Deal Middle School in northwest D.C. He likes that students can no longer guess the answers to a math question. They really have to understand the concept to answer questions accurately.
MR. DANIEL ASSAEL
In the past, they would have gotten a formula, here's the formula, here's some examples, try and figure out what the area of this trapezoid is. Whereas this year, they get a refresher on the area of a triangle, that should be enough to figure out the area of a trapezoid.
Some students weren't buying this new approach.
Where's the formula? Why can't I have a formula? Just give me the formula. I'll be able to do it. But the whole idea is that students develop that on their own. So that when they're faced with unfamiliar situations they're more apt to try and tackle it, rather than just shut down.
The Common Core Standards are far more rigorous than DCPS's previous standards. Assael says his advanced students love the new material, but he worries about his struggling students.
This is almost another barrier because you're asking them to do so much more.
Amadour Jomuada is helping 10th graders after school.
They are similar because they have the same angles.
MR. AMADOUR JOMUADA
Did you figure out angle C?
No. I just guessed.
No. You need to find this out.
Find it out, okay.
But we know that three angles…
He teaches at Benjamin Banneker High School in northwest D.C. Jomuada says it's a challenging time for students and teachers, even at this high performing school, because students are still transitioning.
So we are doing Common Core in our 9th graders and they are not ready because in their 8th grade they were not taught with the Common Core.
He likes that there's now an emphasis on real world applications. His students learn about proportions by figuring out the height of the different buildings in D.C. or volume by studying how the shape of different bottles affects how much water they hold. And Jomuada says students always want to learn lessons about percentages by calculating discounts in a mall. He says they had an Aha-moment recently when they realized a 15 percent discount on top of a 20 percent discount, wasn't a 35 percent discount.
And then, oh, man, I was outsmarted right there. Okay. Mr. Jomuada, I need to be with my mom all the time so that I can tell her that, oops, that's not the right thing because this one right here is better than that one. They love it.
Several math teachers in D.C. are concerned the Common Core State Standards have been rolled out too fast, with little professional development to support these significant changes. They work longer hours scrambling to find lesson plans and worry these rigorous new standards will mean a drop in test scores. Michael Coen, president of the non-profit Achieve, that helped write the new standards, says test scores may well fall, but they will be an honest and accurate reflection of how students in the U.S. are doing.
MR. MICHAEL COEN
The students will not have gotten dumber, right. The teachers will not be worse. The schools will not have failed, but we will have held our students or begun to have held our students to a higher standard that is necessary in order to prepare students for success after high school.
But more than anything, educators, such as Daniel Assael, the 7th grade teacher, are hoping the new Common Core State Standards will help change the conversation around math, so it's no longer a subject everyone's afraid of.
And unfortunately, it has been something that has been accepted. Oh well, I wasn't good at math either when I grew up, so it's okay. You'll be good at other things. Whereas, it's not okay.
Because he says the skills you need to solve a math problem, critical thinking, creativity, precision, persistence, those aren't just math skills. Those are life skills. I'm Kavitha Cardoza.
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