The Massachusetts Common Core Curriculum implementation starts this coming school year. As a District Team, we’ve looked at how the standards are expressed with increased attention to Focus, Coherence, Clarity and Rigor. In Lowell, we began our look at the new standards by defining exactly what these four terms mean. One idea that has stuck with me as we work on preparing materials for our colleagues is that the standards are not “intended to be new names for old ways of doing business. They are a call to take the next step….”
Where this becomes apparent is in looking at clarity as applied to the Common Core. I’ve been taking these standards apart since early June now, and each time it amazes me at how clearly each grade levels’ responsibilities for student learning is spelled out.
As a Third Grade example, our former Frameworks (2000, 2004) 3.N.10 asks students to “Add and subtract (up to four-digit numbers) and multiply (up to t2o-digit numbers by a one-digit number) accurately and efficiently”. This standard corresponds to the Common Core 3.NBT.2, “Fluently add and subtract within 1,000 using strategies and algorithms based on place value, properties of operations, and/or the relationship between addition and subtraction.”
For me the new standard is truly packed with specifics. Fluently add should mean that no matter what the strategy, students can perform the operation without hesitation.
Using strategies and algorithms based on place value does not mean the standard algorithm — in fact the standard algorithm does not become specified until later grade levels (Grades 4 & 5). What this standards tells us – clearly – is that all students need to be able to perform addition and subtraction within the thousands place using relationships – such as friendly number strategies – or using a process reliant on place value (decomposing and then adding partial sums for instance).
While we may have students who are ready to record these problems using a standard algorithm, unless the student thoroughly understands and can explain the use of the standard algorithm – thereby demonstrating that the student is ready to use a standard algorithm – the student should use some other process for computation. Blindly applying a process without the knowledge of the what and why is no longer accepted.
To me, this is refreshing – a recognition that understanding and comprehending a mathematical topic with depth, and rigor is of importance. The wording itself of the standard is clear and direct.
As we explore the Common Core, we discover that there is much more clarity about the level, or depth of thinking, to which we need to bring our students. And that is a good thing.