Innovators. Problem Finders. Environmental Stewards. Compassionate Citizens. Creative Artists. Rigorous Thinkers.
Am I referring to the movers and shakers in Silicon Valley or the highly valued entrepreneurs of the world? Maybe the business minded moguls living large in SF’s Financial District?
Nope. I’m talking about our kids in public schools in California, ages 4-17.
You guys, we have a great thing going right now in terms of public education in Sonoma County. We have highly skilled professionals in the classroom. Students are eager to learn and to engage in new and purposeful ways. We also have districts valuing professional development and technological integration statewide.
Realigning My Expectations and Ideologies
This is an exciting time to be an educator. The last few years I’ve been inspired to make big changes in my curriculum, to stretch myself, and to keep up with cool tech tools. What prompted me to reassess my yearly syllabus, to get way outside of the comfortable box? Yup, those two words that are typically met with criticism or disdain, Common Core.
I find it interesting that most opponents of Common Core have never actually thoroughly investigated it. Common Core is not a textbook curriculum that one can pilot in a classroom. It’s not a one-size-fits-all approach to education. Nor is it “backward math” as some may argue. Common Core is a mindset, it’s an approach to teaching and learning that I personally find to be sensible and refreshing.
At its core (pun intended), it is an approach that values digging deeper, making connections, evaluating strategies, using evidence, making mistakes and thinking creatively. It is the opposite of “dumbed down” learning as suggested by social media memes and videos. In contrast, it challenges students to explain their thinking and conceptually understand the why behind their learning, and then it pushes them to effectively communicate their methods in defense of their solution. This shift in education has led to the decline of the regurgitating robots and the ascension of the independent innovators.
Not Your Mother’s Math
Granted, Common Core had a shaky start. Publishers hastily developed curricula, some of which was atrocious. There was a push to adopt programs that were not well-developed, let alone piloted, and some districts found themselves with content that should not have been printed.
It was during this time that Common Core got a bad rap. Some people saw it as simply math problems on a page, rather than a shift in an educational mindset. It seemed like those same photos were circulating all over social media, citing “fuzzy math” and going back to the “old-fashioned” way (except the meme was misspelled and said “old-fashion way”). Admittedly, the current assessment connected to Common Core also leaves something to be desired, but it is still a work in progress. Unfortunately, many took that ammunition and ran with it, and their fixed mindset has not allowed them to consider what Common Core actually translates to in the classroom (Sidenote – Please come and sit in our classrooms and see what it going on, seriously, we welcome you anytime).
The New Reality: An Emergence of Invested Learners
I have been a middle school teacher for the last 16 years. That means I’ve served approximately 1,600 students. The caliber of thirteen-year-olds coming through my doors impresses me. My current eighth graders have been in the Common Core bubble for the last seven years. They are resilient, highly collaborative, tech savvy, global thinkers. And I’m not just saying that out of bias. They came to me that way.
Through the implementation of Common Core, these students have mastered over the last seven years the art of authentic learning. Students have taken charge of their education, and can therefore dictate how they learn best. They can assess a situation and approach it in the way that works for them. Students know their strengths and weaknesses and understand that making mistakes is encouraged. They no longer have a “fixed mindset” that paralyzes their learning, they know that a “growth mindset” allows their brain to form new, lasting connections. (The Growth Mindset study by Stanford Professor, Carol Dweck). And the best part is, I think they actually care. Students invest in their education on a whole new level, and that is what I find to be most rewarding as an educator.
Common Core allows for collaboration; among peers and between the student and the teacher. I am no longer the giver of knowledge, dumping in facts and SAT words and diagrammed sentences. I am a partner, learning from my students, while exploring ideas through literature and making real-world connections. We are doing more with less. We are looking deeper and thinking critically, while taking more time to internalize information. Consequently, we are no longer concerned with the outcome, as much as we are the process.
Embracing the Changes as a Lifelong Learner
Does this mean that sometimes I don’t get thrown off by the homework my third grader brings home? Nope, I totally do. I have to reread the directions and work really hard to get myself out of my own mental math jail. I have to tell myself that I learned it differently, but I know that my brain can grow and learn math in an even cooler way. In fact, when I see my third grader’s homework, I’m sad that my math experience was so debilitating and limited. And when she shows me a “new way” to solve an “old problem” I am inspired. Probably because at heart, I too am a lifelong learner, and stretching my skills right alongside my own kids is pretty dang inspiring.
Illustration Credit: Sylvia Duckwork, images used with permission.