Prospecting For Treasure

Always prospecting for the next treasure of an idea.

Teaching Fourth Grade Math In 2012

On Tuesday and Wednesday of this past week I attended school district professional development for teaching multiplication and division.  Much of it was not new to me, but some of it was.  It left me with many unanswered questions and I wondered what is going on in math instruction in other parts of the country.

During the first part of the class we spent time looking at the NEW Iowa Core Standards, which is really just the Common Core Standards.  Up until now, Iowa has had their own set of standards.  I remember asking two years ago why we didn’t just go to the Common Core Standards then, if that’s where we were headed anyway.  Well somehow in the two weeks since school dismissed for the summer, we have moved to the NEW Iowa Core Standards.  I’m not sure when.

Along with the standards we looked at the Common Core State Standards for Mathematical Practices and the instructor referred us to the Thinkmath Website. Here is a link to the Math Practices page. She repeatedly tried to impress on us that everything is going to be different now.

The Math Practices  for Elementary School are:

  1. Make sense of problems and persevere in solving them.
  2. Reason abstractly and quantitatively.
  3. Construct viable arguments and critique the reasoning of others.
  4. Model with mathematics.
  5. Use appropriate tools strategically.
  6. Attend to precision.
  7. Look for and make use of structure.
  8. Look for and express regularity in repeated reasoning.

Go to the website for explanations and examples.

Is this different from when I started teaching fourth grade math, fifteen years ago?   Yes, but I don’t see that it’s much different from what I’ve been doing for the past two to four years.  We do lots of problem solving in our classroom, and students take a big role in presenting their thinking to the class.  Despite popular opinion, most classrooms do evolve, at least the ones I’m familiar with do. The teachers at my school and throughout the district have devoted a lot of time to “unwrapping standards” and developing an understanding of Common Core Standards in every subject area.

The big difference comes in the way people view and interpret the standards.  I view them as minimums.  I must be sure that my students can do at least this much by the time they leave 4th grade.  As I read the standards, I don’t see that there is only one way to teach these skills. In this training we were explicitly told that we are to stay within our grade level and to go deep.  So they view standards as limits, not minimums.  What this means for kids is that my 4th grade students are not to be taught the traditional algorithm for either multiplication of large numbers or long division — AT ALL!

All of the materials shared with us at this training, and at any I have taken in the past two years come form the book Teaching Student Centered Mathematics, by John Van de Walle. 

We were advised to begin with about fifteen minutes of review. Lessons are to be set up so that students work on solving one or two word problems during a class period.  We spend about seventy-five minutes on math each day.  They should use “Invented Problem Solving”.  In other words, they figure out how to solve the problem on their own using whatever works for them.  I am not supposed to teach students “Key Words for Problem Solving” because that limits their creative thinking.  After they have worked individually on the problem, they will work with a partner to solve this same problem.  After everyone has solved the problem, we are to have everyone show their work, being careful to explain their thinking to the class.

After I have followed this plan for quite a while, I can teach students how to use the Area Model for  solving multiplication problems.  The same goes for division.  I can eventually teach them Partial Quotient Division, but I am not to teach them the standard long division algorithm.  They won’t learn that until sixth grade, if they need it at all.  I am only to teach them the area model and partial quotient division near the end of the unit. Despite the fact that parents and most of the world know the more traditional algorithms, my students are not to learn them.

Teachers will need to write most of these real world story problems for their students, because we don’t have materials that have been provided for us.  When it comes to writing problems for students to solve, we were told to choose problems that force kids to think beyond simple concepts.  We are not to start with easy problems and progress to harder problems. Kids need to plunge right into the more difficult concepts. I have always believed in building a foundation before moving into increasingly complex concepts.

I worry about what all of this means for my students in the future.  Will they have the necessary skills to move on to higher mathematics in high school and college?

I spent the first day of class thinking a lot about retirement.  By the second day, I had developed a plan for my classroom that I can hopefully live with.

So, have things changed this much in your state?  What’s going on with math instruction in your school district?  Is this happening everywhere, or just here in the heartland?  I am really prospecting for some ideas here.

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June 16, 2012 - Posted by | Common Core State Standards, Education, Math, Uncategorized | , , ,

1 Comment »

  1. Hi Barbara,
    I too attended my first PD for transitioning to the CCSS this past week. We started with a general overview of the CCSS and a tour of the Louisiana DOE website to learn where to access the standards, I attended the math breakout session after the general introduction was given. I was excited to learn that I will have the opportunity to go deeper with each standard for fourth grade than I previously could with our grade level expectations (GLEs).

    Yes, it is going to be a huge shift away from teaching traditional algorithms to having students explore and reason their way to solutions. Hopefully this will lead to students having a deep understanding of what math is, instead of just doing some steps to reach a solution.

    The next two years are transitional years for grades 2-12 in our district, with K and 1 beginning the CCSS implementation this coming year. I know it took years for teachers to transition from standards and benchmarks to our state’s GLEs. I only hope that they will make the transition to CCSS more quickly.

    I have begun to collect resources that I find helpful. One site I found very useful is the
    Utah Core Standards.

    Comment by plnaugle | June 17, 2012 | Reply


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