published Thursday, August 2nd, 2012

Math concepts coming to a Tennessee classroom near you

Jerry Griswold helps seventh- and eighth-grade students work through problem using fractions to solve equations during a math camp being held at the Chattanooga High School Center for Creative Arts.
Jerry Griswold helps seventh- and eighth-grade students work through problem using fractions to solve equations during a math camp being held at the Chattanooga High School Center for Creative Arts.
Photo by Dan Henry.
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Forget memorizing formulas, times tables and equations. A new set of math standards will require Tennessee students to fully master the why and how of math concepts as opposed to just coming up with the right answer.

Tennessee and Georgia are in the process of implementing the Common Core standards, a more rigorous and universal set of teaching standards. So far, 45 states and the District of Columbia have committed to fully implementing the Common Core.

Students at the Chattanooga High Center for Creative Arts got a first glimpse of the new curriculum this week as teachers held a three-day math camp. The standards require more hands-on problem solving and in-depth work than previous state standards, which teachers say required them to quickly skim over concepts in order to cover all the required standards.

"It's fewer concepts, but they go so much deeper instead of trying to do everything surface level," said teacher Amy Medley, who organized the math camp. "The research shows us that's really going to put us on par with other nations."

The new methods require students to justify their answers and encourages them to explore multiple ways of solving problems. Teachers said the self-struggle of learning helps students retain information longer and better understand concepts.

"If they're not struggling now, they're not learning," said sixth-grade math teacher Elizabeth Lawhorn, who's teaching at the camp.

She said teachers will reduce the amount of rote memorization work students do and work more on ensuring a deeper understanding of knowledge.

"Instead of giving them 20 or 30 multiplication or division problems, I could give three or four in-depth problems that have multiplication in them," Lawhorn said. "And they'll be real-world problems."

CCA ninth-grader Taz Robinson said the new way of teaching is more engaging and even made learning concepts easier.

"It really is a lot more hands-on," he said.

During the camp, the school hosted about 50 middle school students in the mornings and about 30 high school students in the afternoons. Principal Debbie Smith said the camp was designed as an opportunity to see how students would respond to the new standards and to give teachers an idea of what does and doesn't work.

"It was important to me to get a sampling of our student body," Smith said.

Teachers began implementing some Common Core concepts last year with the completion of the school district's in-house math K-12 framework, Smith said.

Proponents say that, by emphasizing problem solving, thinking and creativity, the more rigorous Common Core standards will better prepare students for college and the workforce. In Tennessee, the new standards will be paired with a new set of student assessments that will be common across participating states.

And by cutting down the number of standards required in Tennessee, teachers should have more flexibility in how they cover concepts, said Kelli Gauthier, spokeswoman for the Tennessee Department of Education.

Tennessee's standards previously required third-grade math teachers to cover 113 individual standards over a school year, Gauthier said, but only 25 standards are required under Common Core. While that's a large shift in what's taught, Gauthier said the change in standards puts focus on good teaching practices.

"The point is to get kids to be more engaged in their learning so they're not just memorizing the process but understanding why we use the process and how to apply it," she said.

about Kevin Hardy...

Kevin rejoined the Times Free Press in August 2011 as the Southeast Tennessee K-12 education reporter. He worked as an intern in 2009, covering the communities of Signal Mountain, Red Bank, Collegedale and Lookout Mountain, Tenn. A native Kansan, Kevin graduated with bachelor's degrees in journalism and sociology from the University of Kansas. After graduating, he worked as an education reporter in Hutchinson, Kan., for a year before coming back to Chattanooga. Honors include a ...

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