Math instruction is changing in the Sanger Unified School District. If you were to walk into a Sanger Unified classroom during a math lesson, there is a good chance you might observe one of the following scenes:
- A teacher reminding students they are "DOK (Depth of Knowledge) kids", saying, "You've got to show me different ways of solving it."
- Students holding up laminated cards with large QR codes to answer multiple-choice questions, while the teacher scans the answers with an iPad to get immediate feedback and adjust the lesson.
- Groups of students rotating through stations ("math centers"), collaborating with well-defined roles (reporter, facilitator, evidence finder, manager, note taker).
- A teacher giving a number talk and having students explain the reasoning behind their answers... "You can't say, 'I just know'", the teacher reminded the students.
If you were to talk to the students about the shift to Common Core that has taken place in their math classes, you would hear them say:
"Last year there was lots of individual work. This year there is more group work and collaborating with partners."
"Last year they would give us a book, and we read it, learn it, and take tests. This year we are learning WHY it works, talking with our peers, and discussing why the answer is right or wrong."
"Last year the teacher gave us the steps. This year we have to find our own steps to answer problems."
Funded by a grant from the S.D. Bechtel Foundation, the Capacity2 Professional Development Program is designed to support K-8 teachers in making the instructional shifts required by the Common Core State Standards in Math (CCSS-M) within the Sanger Unified School District. The CCSS-M requires a shift away from teacher-directed instruction to a more balanced approach which includes student collaborative learning. Effective implementation of CCSS-M requires more student-centered instruction that provides students opportunities to share knowledge, engage in meaningful learning experiences, and to apply what they learn.
Beginning with the 2013-14 school year, all K-8 teachers in the district are receiving increased support for implementing the CCSS-M from District Instructional Math Specialists and Curriculum Support Providers, as well as five full days of professional development each year. Program goals include deepening teachers' math content knowledge, facilitating articulation of the new standards across grade levels, and developing a growing bank of lessons, assessments, and resources for classroom use.
ERC serves as the external evaluator for the Capacity2 Program, collecting evidence of shifts in math instruction through classroom observation, and student focus groups. Classroom observation focuses on five areas of emphasis in the professional development:
- Student collaboration
- Students explaining mathematical thinking both verbally and in writing
- Students solving problems in a variety of ways
- Student use of technology
- Student use of precise mathematical language
ERC also holds student focus groups at selected schools with culturally diverse, gender-balanced groups of students. The focus groups are designed to elicit student perceptions of math and math instruction (do students enjoy math, how clearly math is being explained, etc.), perceptions of the shift in math instruction (the difference in how math was taught the year prior vs. Common Core, and how this affected students' learning experience in Math), and perceptions of math instructional practices (what type of instructional practices are being used, and to see if students understand the purposes behind them).
The evaluation evidence from the Capacity2 Program clearly demonstrates that the shift to Common Core math instruction is taking place effectively and does not have to be painful, and that students and teachers alike stand to benefit from this new approach.