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California elementary school teachers challenged by Common Core
TUESDAY, JANUARY 21, 2014 12:15 PM

California elementary school teachers who use the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) this year will also use new methods of teaching. The CCSS require students to demonstrate a deeper understanding of math concepts. Because the CCSS are more challenging than any standards students faced before, some instructors are finding it difficult to transition into a different teaching style.

Changing standards
Students will face dramatic changes in academic standards in the years to come. In order for students to meet the CCSS for math, they must learn a lot more. Kindergartners should have the ability to count to 100 (instead of 30, as was required by California's previous standards) by the end of the year. Students in the second grade must show efficiency in adding and subtracting within 20, and must understand place value. Third graders should possess a working knowledge of multiplication and division and know how to use that information in real-world situations. Learning elementary geometry has become less about identification and measurement and more about the process of building and deconstructing shapes.

According to Jeanie Behrend, a math education professor at California State University at Fresno, elementary school teachers' biggest challenge comes in the form of changing methodologies. Educators need to focus on problem-solving strategies instead of basic computation in order to help their students meet the CCSS requirements.

Teaching how to teach CCSS
In 2009, state governors and education experts created the CCSS. The developers of the CCSS hoped that standards that focused on advanced mathematical and reading comprehension skills would create more capable high school graduates. California also believed the Standards would help students reach greater achievements and adopted the CCSS in 2010.

To help gauge the progress of implementing the Standards, students will first take practice tests aligned to the CCSS in preparation for the statewide assessment in spring 2015. So far, some instructors find teaching math in a hands-on way difficult. According to Behrend, educators who taught math before the Common Core had it easy.

"It's easy (for teachers) to focus on memorization of facts and memorization of procedures without really identifying the important mathematics behind them and teaching those concepts to students," Behrend told EdSource.

Some people have the option of entering a program where teachers re-learn how to instruct using the CCSS. Jaime Button, a third-grade educator in Shasta, Calif., enrolled in a three-year training program offered by her county's Office of Education. In the program, teachers will learn how to no longer focus on memorization. They will spend more time on the foundational concepts of math skills. They will also learn how to use different hands-on instructional materials like counting chips, puzzles and word problems in their curriculum.