California Educator

March 2013

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> COMMON CORE COMMON CORE Commonsense Math Standards BY FRANK WELLS It's like asking students to solve difficult problems and make extensive computations with fractions without once telling students what a fraction is. NEXT MONTH Is the smarter balance smarter? Coming soon: • Getting ready and transitions • Implementation challenges: lessons learned from pilot schools • Science: the next generation 36 California Educator March 2013 F ewer topics and greater depth argues that states have already had a de facto are among the goals of the newly curriculum dictated largely by textbooks adopted Common Core State Math that share the same basic content — content Standards (CCSMS), which California will that is often defective. An example is askbegin implementing in the 2014-15 school ing students to solve difficult problems and year. The new standards pare down topics, make extensive computations with fractions realign content to and across different grade without once telling students what a fraction levels, and eliminate redundancies that hinis. Content that doesn't really build on itself, der students from building on what they've along with an erroneous "earlier is necessarlearned before. ily better and more rigorous" philosophy, has Emphasizing focus, coherence and rigor, placed students at a disadvantage and made the new standards modify what were already math needlessly discouraging. widely regarded as some of the strongest To illustrate a difference between current standards in the nation, so that students are practice and the new Common Core, Wu better prepared for college or careers. compares two approaches to adding fracThe new standards' focus on depth is tions. Currently, students are taught a welcome step for many. Critics of current a formulaic procedure — find the lowest practices say U.S. math courses cover too common denominator, multiply, fiddle with much with too little understanding. While the fractions in some comprehensive way U.S. students fared quite well and then calculate — bypassin the Trends in International ing any sense of actually Mathematics and Science combining things (learned Study (TIMSS), those nations when adding whole numbers) that performed better actually or understanding the conneccovered fewer topics. The U.S. tion between adding fractions fourth grade curriculum omits to whole numbers. only 17 percent of the TIMSS The Common Core approach topics, while Hong Kong stuto the same problem puts the dents cover only half. emphasis on making sense of the The U.S. eighth grade curcomputation. Students learn to riculum addressed 30 topics, place fractions on a number line, Hung-Hsi Wu the Japanese, only 10. Some learn that addition means findexperts argue that fewer topics ing the total combined length lead to better mastery of content and thereof the segments representing the numbers in fore higher test scores. The new standards question, learn to find a common (not necesattempt to offer students that path to mastery sarily lowest) denominator, and finally see and better understanding. that addition is combining things after all. As UC Berkeley professor emeritus of a result, adding fractions is no longer a topic mathematics Hung-Hsi Wu has written and that has too many students searching for the presented extensively on the subject. He classroom exits long before the bell rings.

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