In 2007 the Federal government appointed a group of educational professors, researchers and stakeholders (school administrators, parents, and teachers) to study and advise on ways to foster greater knowledge of an improved performance in mathematics among American students. This group reviewed 16,000 research publications, listened to 110 public testimonies, reviewed 160 organizations’ written commentaries, and 743 teacher surveys. There were 3 main findings that came out of the this study:
- The K-8 math curriculum should be streamlined to emphasize the most critical topics in early grades.
- Rigorous research on how children learn should drive math instruction, emphasize conceptual understanding, procedural fluency, and automatic recall of facts.
- High quality instruction uses both student centered and teacher centered strategies.
This was basically the birth of our Common Core math curriculum today. My question to you as teachers is are all three of these guiding principles being followed in your math Common Core curriculum? As an outsider looking in #1 has definitely happened as I see many topics being skipped or moved up to the next couple of grade levels. On #2 I see great emphasis on conceptual understanding, but almost to the point of sacrificing procedural fluency and automatic recall of facts. Just remember the latter two are just as important as conceptual understanding. On #3 I see much more student centered activities today, but some teachers have gone overboard in eliminating direct instruction (teacher teaching in front of the classroom accompanied with good “checking for understanding”) altogether.
One last point that really bothered me about this study is what the guidelines left out. There isn’t a word in there about problem solving. What is the purpose of even doing math if we are not using it to solve problems. Maybe they just figured that was a “given”.
My point here is to be careful not to “throw the baby out with the bathwater.” Make sure as you teach mathematics you keep in mind the huge body of research that has already been proven that works well in helping students to learn mathematics, and that all three of these guiding principles are included in your instruction. And oh yes, don’t forget to include some problem solving.
Source: Brown, Carolyn, “A Road Map for Mathematics Achievement for All Students Findings from the National Mathematics Panel” Center for Comprehensive School Reform and Improvement Published 2009