What Common Core 'Looks Like': Word Problems and More

What Common Core 'Looks Like': Word Problems and More
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EducationWorld asked educators and other experts for concrete examples of how Common Core is changing instruction for the better. Below is what tutoring center owner Christopher Lien shared.

By Christopher Lien

Lien is a franchise owner with Tutor Doctor, the leading “at-home” private tutoring franchise worldwide.
What’s your best concrete example of how Common Core-aligned instruction is qualitatively different from previous models of instruction?
A popular “word problem” is given to kindergarten and first-grade students to help them learn division. They start with a group of 40-50 small blocks they can handle on a table top. The problem statement reads, “Two classes are going to the zoo for a field trip. A number of parents will drive the students to the zoo in their minivans. Each minivan can carry 5 students. If 43 students will go to the zoo that day, how many minivans will be required?”
Some students will initially count and separate 43 blocks from the others, and then separate them into groups of 5. Other students with slightly more math sense or practice may immediately form groups of 5 blocks until they’ve reached 43, or 45 students. How they process the final group of 3 blocks is interesting – some want to add them to the other full groups of 5, and others might freeze and feel unsure of how to process a group of blocks fewer than 5. This is where they learn about remainders, and once they realize it’s okay to have a less than full group of blocks, it opens up their math sense requisite to division skills.

What’s your best concrete example of how student learning is enhanced due to Common Core-aligned instruction?
One of my daughters is a visual learner and was initially having difficulties understanding numbers. Multiplication and division didn’t come naturally for her. When presented with different visual methods of solving a multiplication problem, she rapidly increased in number sense skill and eventually became better able to solve problems without needing visual representations. The visual methods included grids of dots and rows and matrices of squares. Once she had rows or groups of ten squares, she could group them together to solve two-digit or three-digit problems.

What is the biggest challenge of implementing the Common Core?
Misinformation or misunderstanding of the nature and objectives of Common Core have sometimes resulted in parents’ fear, cynicism and skepticism. Homework can initially appear foreign from the parents’ prior experience, and some conclude they’re unable to assist their children with homework. A closer look and steady patience can help parents perceive the critical thinking aspect of the lesson, and eventually fears and unfamiliarity can subside.

What advice do you have for schools that are struggling with the standards?
Communication is paramount to alleviate concerns parents have about Common Core and the specific methods of implementation used in their schools. Communication forms should include frequent Web site updates of curriculum or text samples and outlines, public assemblies in the evenings or on weekends so more parents can participate, brief videos showing actual classroom sessions where students are learning Common Core lessons, and parent-teacher conferences to discuss the distinction between prior and new methods of student skill assessment. Once parents get both information and the opportunity to ask questions, they’ll rapidly feel more at ease with the new direction and become more supportive of their schools’ efforts.

pic by Pink Sherbet Photography
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