Cicely Woodard has the daunting task of helping eighth-graders understand and even enjoy math. Five days a week, she leads her students at Nashville’s Rose Park Magnet Middle School through the intricacies of graphs, formulas and equations. It’s knowledge she knows they’ll need to get into college.
Testing the Common Core in Tennessee
Helping struggling students: A view from one math teacher’s classroom
Even on tough days, she says, “There’s nothing in the world I would rather be doing.”
Woodard thinks her mission became a little easier this school year because of the Common Core, a set of education standards for math and English language arts that have been adopted by Tennessee, along with 44 other states and the District of Columbia.
“I am definitely a fan,” says Woodard, 35, who has been teaching for 11 years. “I am so excited by the thinking and the learning that kids are doing now, and the way that they are able to express themselves in the classroom. It’s really exciting to hear them talk and use all of the math terms to explain their thinking and construct arguments.”
On a recent Friday, Woodard began her honors algebra class by asking students their answers to homework problems. The conversation didn’t end with a number—even if it was the correct one. Students had to explain their strategies for reaching particular answers. When one boy realized he’d come up with the wrong figure, he and the rest of the class talked about why he was wrong and what he should have done differently.
A few minutes later, Woodard led a discussion of how to determine whether a problem has one solution, no solution or many solutions. She gave her students a problem to work on that had only one solution, but that didn’t mean the assignment was simple. Not only did she want students to use two different mathematical strategies to solve the problem, she also wanted them “to be able to explain your thinking using complete sentences and correct punctuation.”
While I see plenty of political – and even philosophical – criticism of the Common Core, I’m not seeing classroom reports of failure. The exceptions, I should say, come from states (like NY) and schools (like this one in DE), where the Common Core is implemented as a tightly controlled curriculum script. What a terrible idea!