By Emily McFarlan Miller email@example.com @emmillerwrites October 3, 2013 7:26PM
Dundee MIddle School teacher Kristine Pizzolato, uses hands-on modeling, a Common Core strategy, in her classroom.. | Joe Cyganowski-For Sun-Times Media
Updated: November 5, 2013 6:22AM
WEST DUNDEE — Some of the sixth-graders in Kristine Pizzolato’s class chatted excitedly as they sorted different colors of Fruit Loops into piles on their desks at Dundee Middle School.
Some concentrated hard on lining up their Fruit Loops in perfectly straight little rainbows across the paper towels.
Still others snuck the fruity cereal into their mouths when they thought nobody was looking.
But it wasn’t snack time, and Pizzolato reminded, “Do not eat until we are done counting.”
It was math class, and the students were using the Fruit Loops to model ratios, comparing the number of one color of cereal to another or to the whole. They then drew models of those fractions in crayon circles. They also watched and discussed a short video on the SMART Board at the front of the classroom that explained three different ways to write ratios, using the word “to,” a fraction bar or a colon.
That’s what the new Common Core State Standards looked like late last week in Pizzolato’s classroom.
It comes as a survey of 1,300 teachers across Illinois this spring revealed 80 percent work in school districts with implementation plans for the Common Core, according to the Illinois State Board of Education.
And the majority reported components of the new standards for math and language arts already were part of their current lessons this spring or were scheduled to become part of instruction this school year, ISBE said.
That certainly is the case in both Community Unit School District 300 and Elgin School District U46, according to district officials.
“This survey shows that Illinois administrators and teachers are working hard to implement these new learning standards so that students in our state can meet benchmarks set for their peers across the nation and in other countries,” said State Superintendent of Education Christopher A. Koch.
“We know implementation varies but generally involves a school-wide commitment to collaboration and professional development that allows teachers to develop and hone new approaches and integrate core content into all subjects. When these standards are implemented properly, students are able to master and apply their knowledge on a much higher and deeper level than ever before.”
What is it?
Illinois always has had state learning standards, ISBE said, and it was in the process of updating those standards for math and language arts when it joined an initiative started by governors and state education chiefs from across the country to develop common standards. Illinois’ hadn’t been updated since 1997, it said.
The benefit of common standards is a student moving from one state to another now will face very similar content and expectations, according to the state board. Graduates ultimately will be better able to collaborate and compete with their peers in the global economy, it said.
In August 2010, Illinois became one of 45 states and the District of Columbia to voluntarily adopt the Common Core Standards.
It also is one of 22 states, plus the U.S. Virgin Islands, working together with The Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers to develop a common set of K-12 assessments in English and math aligned to the Common Core Standards. The PARCC assessments will be ready next school year.
Already, the Illinois Standards Achievement Test, or ISAT, given to students in grades three to eight last spring was updated: 20 percent of the questions on that test were aligned to the Common Core, according to District 300 officials. Next year, that will be 100 percent.
The state board also this year raised the cut scores that determine whether students are meeting state standards on the ISAT to match the increased rigor of the Common Core. Districts 300 and U46 have gotten a first look at that data, which will be made public by ISBE at the end of the month.
And most Illinois school districts have begun to use those standards in the classroom, starting by establishing a school-based team to review the new standards and develop an implementation plan, the state board said.
What’s it look like?
“This is year two in the Common Core rollout for math. Last year was getting everybody up to speed as far as what the Common Core is, standards and practices. Now it’s applying what we know and finding the best materials that fit what we want to teach kids,” said Tim Bruell, math division head at Dundee-Crown High School in Carpentersville.
The Common Core is less about memorizing answers and more about applying skills, Bruell said.
It also creates a clear plan for what topics should be covered at each grade level, so teachers know what their students already have learned and what they need to know to be ready for the next grade, said Steven Shadel, math division head at Jacobs High School in Algonquin. And because, Shadel said, “we’re not teaching as much content as we did before, we’re going to be able to focus in and master skills.”
“It’s probably more difficult for teachers than students because we took those tests. Our students have been taking those tests for years,” he said.
“That’s why it’s important for us to take the test, see how it would feel and then model our instruction to meet that.”
What’s left to do?
That’s what every middle school math teacher in District 300 did at a Common Core training session that Shadel led on a late-start day in mid-September in the lunchroom at Dundee-Middle School. They bent over the lunchtables, working on problems that will be similar to those on the PARCC assessments for sixth- and seventh-graders.
One of the challenges of implementing the Common Core right now and sharing with the community what it will look like is that PARCC has not yet completed its assessments, Bruell said.
“Do we have a good idea what it’s going to look like and how it’s going to come across? Yes, we do. But until we have the actual assessment in our hands, we’re trying to hit a moving target a little bit because we haven’t seen the exact end product we want our kids to get to in a full form,” he said.
Pizzolato has been part of the team that has met to discuss the changes coming to middle school math, she said. The teacher has shared what she’s learned with other grade levels and departments at Dundee Middle School, tried out different activities and has gotten some feedback on them, she said.
She’s taped the new “eight mathematical practices” to the wall in her classroom, and last week, she pointed them out as her class practiced them: “Model with mathematics,” “Look for and make use of structure” and “Attend to precision.”
That’s different from the way class time previously had been organized — with 35 minutes of teacher instruction and 10 minutes of practice problems, Shadel said.
“Now we want to ask the hows and whys instead of just, ‘Here’s how you do it.’ ‘I love that you got to that point. Explain to me how and why you got to that point.’ That’s the biggest difference between classrooms five and 10 years ago and classrooms now. It’s not just, ‘Follow me and use my process every time,’” Shadel said.
Pizzolato added, “There are lots of ways to get to one answer.”
For more information about the Common Core State Standards, visit isbe.net/common_core/default.htm.