"Phil, you are the teacher today. Tell me how we start solving the problem 2/3 + 1/4?" asked Paul Baker, Jefferson Middle School teacher.
"You create three parts," said fifth-grader Phil Harris as he drew three even lines in a box.
"Why did you divide the box into three parts using vertical lines, and how many need to be shaded in the box?"
Jefferson Middle School fifth-grader Phil Harris correctly solves a fraction addition problem during Paul Baker’s class.
"First, because the denominator is a 3 and secondly, because the numerator is a 2," said Phil. "Then I make four horizontal equal lines because the denominator in the second part of the equation is a 4. I only shade one box for the . If I add up my pieces I get 12, which is the common denominator. So, 8/12 + 3/12 = 11/12."
Phil completed a visual representation of adding fractions using the new Common Core Standards module, or a unit of study for a given grade level. The visual model helps students determine what the common denominator is in the equation.
"This helps me understand why I'm getting the answer," said fifth-grader Dustin Passinger. "I really like math, and you need to know how to do it in everyday life."
Jefferson Middle School fifth-grade math teachers, Baker, Mindi Lydell, Adam Mason and Stacy Monroe are piloting the recently released Common Core Standard math module in their classes. The new Common Core Standards ask teachers to focus by devoting more time and attention to the most important standards in a grade level. There will be six modules for fifth-grade math, but only one has been released. The group - whose students include a variety of skill levels, ESL and special needs students - meets once a week to discuss how they will implement the new module in their classroom.
"We make sure that we are all staying on the same page in terms of the module and our fifth-grade curriculum map," said the group. "We also prepare assessments that are given to all students. Students may be asked to solve problems on the NYS tests based on the rigorous expectations in the Common Core modules, so we want to be sure they are prepared."
Common Core modules build on prior knowledge. It starts with concrete examples like manipulatives, moves onto a visual representation like the picture exercise in Baker's class and eventually reaches solving just the equation. It is important that there is a coherence of learning.
"This process works especially well with struggling students. We have seen a lot of success in our students understanding the information when they move from the concrete to the abstract," said the Jefferson teachers.
Rigor is the most important new shift with the new Common Core Standards. New York state has defined rigor as fluency, deep understanding and application. Students will be asked to spend more time learning their addition, subtraction, multiplication and division facts. Students will also be asked to solve more word problems that are realistic and multi-step and may also have to "prove" their answer in a picture form on the New York state math test.
"It is important that we meet as a group to make sure that all of the unique needs of our math students are addressed," said the group. "All students, whether general or special education or ESL, need to meet state requirements. Because the Common Core modules are new, it only helps to meet as a group to work together to implement the module and work on our instruction strategies. We are only benefiting our students learning."