Math core changes to hit all Park City middle-school grades
March 22, 2011
Utah is one of a consortium of more than 40 states with plans to change the approach to math and language arts curricula. The new common core is expected to improve students’ understanding and their depth of knowledge on the subjects.
The differences associated with the new approach are most significant in math and will be first implemented during middle-school years, according to the Park City Curriculum Director Lori Gardner. Utah lawmakers first called for the changes to apply to grades six and nine as part of a phase-in that would eventually roll into seventh and eighth grades and then extend to elementary and high schools.
But the realignment in the Park City School District put the two grades at the open and close of the middle school years, which led to teachers wanting to offer the common core in all classes, Gardner said. District administrators deemed it would be more beneficial to start teaching the new common core in all four middle-school grades, rather just two of them.
"The teachers in both seventh- and eighth-grade, in reviewing the core, felt it was superior to what they were teaching," she said. "Students would benefit by moving forward with the new common core."
The current math curriculum creates almost a fragmented teaching structure, according to Treasure Mountain International School math teacher Andrea Payne. Many middle-school students go from learning basic concepts in algebra 1 to geometry before they return to the advanced concepts of algebra 2 and then proceed to algebra 3 and trigonometry, Payne said.
The common core will group similar topics together and will allow teachers to spend more time teaching them in greater depth, according to Payne. Basic and advanced concepts of the same types of math would no longer be split among different classes, but taught all at once, she said. Topics wouldn’t be cut from the curriculum, but the organization would allow teachers to cover a topic from basic to advanced understanding within the same lessons.
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Payne said many students would benefit from the new approach.
"Will all students understand it better? No. Because I truly believe there is math readiness that each individual possesses that, until your brain is ready to receive that information, you’re not going to get it," Payne said. "I think that there will be more students understanding mathematics than there are now."
Administrators are currently working toward ensuring every teacher receives the kind of training and professional development he or she will need for a large-scale change like this, Gardner said. Currently, Ecker Hill and Treasure Mountain teachers take one day each month to focus on next year’s lesson-study, Gardner said.
Park City School District is also collaborating with Canyons, Granite, Wasatch and other Northern Utah districts in order to send teachers to trainings that would otherwise not be available to them. Much of the training is set to take place during the summer, Gardner said.
Rolling the common core out in all four grades at once will cut the difficult transition period in half, according to Payne. But, she said, it could still be a painful change to make until the full benefits can be measured in a few years.