Leaders in Learning

FUESD Administrators & Leaders, 10/4/13, Volume 1, Edition 3

Common Core Corner

On Friday, October 4, 2013 I had the opportunity to participate in a "Math Walk" in the Vista Unified School District. As many of you know, the VUSD has partnered with Dr. Jo Boaler from Stanford University in their implementation of the Common Core Sate Standards in Mathematics. She has worked with their teachers and teacher teams, school and district leaders, and parents. In terms of teacher training, she focused on the middle school level last year, is continuing that work this year, and has begun to work with the K-5 schools.

We began the Math Walk at the Vista Academy for the Visual and Performing Arts, a K-5 school, and spent the morning there. After lunch, the Math Walk moved to Madison Middle School. In addition to Dr. Boaler, we were accompanied by Cathy Williams, the VUSD Director of Mathematics, each school's principal, and a district level Math TOSA.

This issue of Leaders in Learning will describe my day as a participant in the VUSD Math Walk, what I observed, what I heard, and what I learned.

Dr. Boaler Meets with the Teachers

Dr. Boaler and Cathy Williams met with the VAPA teachers in an informal, voluntary "Roundtable" discussion before school began. Teachers came with questions and insights that they wanted to share with Dr. Boaler.

A few of the questions that were asked, and her responses to them are:

1. My English Learners are having a hard time with the more challenging math vocabulary and language demands in the Math CCSS. What would you recommend?

The "Number Talk" format is a good one to introduce and model using math terms and vocabulary you want students to understand. Cathy Williams recommended this book, which all K-8 teachers in the VUSD have:

Parrish, Sherry D. 2010. Number Talks: Helping Children Build Mental Math and Computations Strategies. Sausalito, CA: Math Solutions.

2. I am grappling with the issue of homework, what I think I should be doing, what parents are used to, and expecting. What should I do?

Limit the number of problems you expect students to work with and choose the best ones. Integrate writing into every nights homework. "What did you learn in math today? Use words and drawings to explain," is a great way for students to summarize what they learned, and these explanations tend to become richer the more students are expected to do this as part of their homework."

3. My students continue to have a hard time embracing that mistakes are an opportunity to learn and grow. How can I help them get past that?

There is a pervasive pattern in U.S. schools of having kids practice or do what they already know and can do. So, as they get older, the more uncomfortable they will be with working with their own errors. It is important to reinforce effort, improvement and tenacity, not correct answers.

4. Is there an app that you would recommend?

Wuzzit is an excellent app for students, 3rd grade and older. Enrich.org is also an excellent resource for teachers who are looking for math puzzles and games.

Begin With the End in Mind

Wednesday, October 9

  • Dreambox Demo at San Onofre School

Friday, October 11

  • DII Model Lessons, William H. Frazier

Monday, October 14

  • Columbus Day, School Holiday

Tuesday, October 15

  • CCSS Course Planning, Grades K-4, District Office, Rooms 5 & 6, 8:00AM - 2:30 PM
  • Gateways Demo, La Paloma, Rm. 23, 8:00 AM - 2:30 PM
  • Principals Council/PLC, 1:30 PM

Thursday, October 17

  • 8:00 Coaches Cadre

Friday, October 18

  • CCSS Course Planning, Grades 5-8, District Office, Rooms 5 & 6, 8:00AM - 2:30 PM

Monday, October 21

  • DII Model Lessons, San Onofre School
  • Assistant Principal Academy, 8:00 AM, Room 302
  • 6:00 PM Governing Board Meeting

Tuesday, October 22

  • DII Model Lessons, Fallbrook Street School
  • Team 2 Principals Walk-Thru, Mary Fay Pendleton (Joe D., Joe, K. Chad, Leonard)


After the teacher roundtable, Dr. Boaler, Cathy Williams and the school's principal met with parents. It was a regularly scheduled Coffee with the Principal, but with a CCSS Math focus. The audience were largely parents of ELs, who had headsets for translation. If you have similar coffee meetings with parents, your TOSA would be an excellent resource to share key shifts, examples of student work and lessons in CCSS Math with your own parents/PTA.

Dr. Boaler shared these ideas:

What was...

  • A computation with speed focus.
  • Research has verified that there has been a pervasive pattern of failure and insecurity in math, and cited a 70% failure rate in Algebra nationally.
  • Math has the power to crush student motivation; people in the U.S. particularly think that in math, you either have it or you don't.
  • For parents whose children were doing well in the old system, there is little desire to change.

What is...

  • Whenever there is change, there is opposition.
  • The new standards are based on decades of research, and are equity focused.
  • The new standards focus heavily on problem solving and thinking, fewer, deeper.
  • Parents need to change their messaging to their children ... "Math is great, you can do it!" (versus the "I wasn't good at it, either.")
  • Parents need to work hard at letting their children struggle.
  • Avoid the memorization of facts at all costs mentality.
  • Tips: Have your son or daughter restate in their own words what they are being asked to do, draw it or make a visual, explain what you are doing.

Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood

We spent two hours in classrooms at the Vista Academy for the Performing Arts, and two hours in the afternoon at Madison Middle School. The challenges that most of our teachers in Fallbrook are encountering in the initial implementation of CCSS Math were also observed and heard during our Math Walks at these two schools.

  • Teachers are spending a disproportionate amount of their time planning lessons based on the new standards.
  • Though there were math textbooks in every classroom, the instruction that was observed and the materials that were used were teacher created, or adapted in every classroom.
  • Teachers were grappling with how to differentiate during a lesson, especially for their higher end students.
  • What was observed in the classrooms reflected the training and support that the teachers had received; number talks and multiple representations of the math concepts being learned were the most common strategies we saw.

Big image

Be Proactive

A few key take aways from my participation in Math Walks in Vista on Friday:

  • Teacher and student interest and enthusiasm for the new standards and instructional approaches was clearly evident in almost every classroom.
  • A consistent structure for training, support, coaching and feedback facilitates teacher effectiveness and motivation, and reflected the unique instructional culture in the VUSD.
  • Almost all of the Grades 7 & 8 CCSS Math classes were not leveled and were heterogeneously grouped. Students appeared challenged and worked well collaboratively.
  • The consistent presence of an effective instructional framework (EEI in San Marcos, DII in Fallbrook, for example) is essential for effective implementation of new standards. Some of the new approaches - Number Talks, students explaining and/or defending their thinking and reasoning, sharing math projects, defaulted to pervasive patterns of one at a time engagement. Research and our experience reminds us that more engagement results in more learning.
  • Be sure to check out or save the links to grade level CCSS Math lessons in the teachers' edition of Leaders in Learning that Aimee Plette publishes. She will provide links to a primary, middle and upper grade math lesson in every edition for teachers to watch, hopefully in collaborative teams. This is a great, low pressure way to continue to grow in the implementation of the new standards.

Sharpen the Saw

Here is a nostalgic look back on air travel, and your age. If you have heard of or ever flown on BOAC or Pan Am, welcome to my world!