Tougher standards are the new normal

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Shaw explained that social studies and science are often mixed in with their literacy and math lessons. There was a unit on colonial towns, where her students, through a variety of reading activities, learned how children in America’s earliest days lived. They also studied Christopher Columbus and the Pilgrims.

The biggest change with Common Core, Shaw explained, is the inclusion of more non-fiction reading in the curriculum, although nursery rhymes and fables are still used.

While Shaw said students generally work independently at the centers, the structure also provides her more one-on-one time with each child. At every station, children are thinking analytically and are gaining a deeper understanding of each lesson, Shaw explained.

A new approach to math

Two plus two will always equal four, but the way students arrive at the answer has changed, as number bonds have been introduced to math lessons as part of Common Core.

In Debora O’Connor’s first-grade class at the James A. Dever School, she regularly gathers the children on a rug in the corner, and works on math skills. On a large display board, she draws three circles — two on the bottom representing the two numbers to be added together, and one on top to represent the answer. These diagrams are known as number bonds, and are a visual representation to help children understand addition and subtraction.

“We’re basically doing algebraic thinking,” O’Connor said, adding that the concept is a new approach that requires students to really think.

One of the biggest benefits to this new concept, she noted, is that all students seems to grasp it. Those students who would have been expected to struggle in the past are thriving in math now. She expects that next year, second-grade teachers will notice a big improvement in skill level when her students move up.

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