Saturday, December 27, 2014

Reflecting on My Journey through Common Core

I am linking up with Passion in Portable Land and her Remember, Reflect and Goal Set Linky!!!
                           Passion in Portable Land      

The Importance of Reflecting
Reflecting on my teaching is something I do everyday, pretty much all day.... One of the reasons I created this blog was for me to journal and reflect on my teaching.  I am hoping that not only can I learn from my journey and reflections, but I can learn and share with others as well.....

Learning about Common Core
This is my third year teaching 8th Grade Common Core Math.  It was four years ago that I first heard of  the new Common Core Standards.  Our district wanted to get a head start on the transition to Common Core, so our Math Department started getting training and planning days. We spent a lot of our planning days researching, planning and attempting to create curriculum.

Teaching 8th Grade Common Core Math (Year One)
Our first year of teaching Common Core was rough.... Our curriculum was all over the place because we were not familiar with the standards. Our first year of teaching Common Core was full of frustrations because the students were not understanding the concepts and were not making the connections.  The biggest problem was that the students were what seemed to be "unable" to think.  :o(

The planning and pacing for our first year was guided by our training instructor and put together by us without much knowledge of the Common Core Math Standards.

This is the order of our Math 8 Common Core Units for year one:
Unit 1 - Rationality and Exponents
Unit 2 - Functions
Unit 3 - Bivariate Data and Statistics
Unit 4 - Linear Relationships
Unit 5 - Geometry

I learned a lot that first year of teaching Common Core.  I realized that everything we taught was taught in isolation and pretty much out of order. I realized why the students were not making the connections I was hoping for.  So that summer, I spent the entire summer redoing the pacing, lessons and creating new curriculum.

Teaching 8th Grade Common Core Math (Year Two)
I put a lot of thought into the order of the pacing and how I could pace the curriculum so the students would make the connections between the concepts.  The first thing I realized was that our Numbers and Rationality unit would be better taught in the 2nd semester. I knew that the concept of square roots and exponents would help the students make the connections with the geometry concepts. The other changes I made were how we taught the concepts that were related to linear relationships.

This is the order of our Math 8 Common Core Units for year two:
Unit 1 - Linear Relationships
Unit 2 - Functions
Unit 3 - Simultaneous Equations
Unit 4 - Bivariate Data and Statistics
Unit 5 - Rationality and Numbers
Unit 6 - Geometry

Another change I made the second year of teaching Common Core was starting "Teams" with my Math 8 students. I had used "Teams" with my Honors Algebra and Geometry classes and had such great success,  I knew I had to implement that same strategy in my Math 8 classes. I was nervous about doing "Teams" with my Math 8 students, so I didn't start "Teams" until 4 weeks after school started.  I wanted to get my students used to my rules and procedures first.  I wanted to be comfortable with it.... :o)

For the Math 8 warm-ups we did a "Blast From the Past".   Each student had a notebook.  Even though the students were sitting in teams, they did the "Blast From the Past" individually.  I would then call 5 students to the board to show how they solved the problems.  I realized after the first half of the year, that it really was more of a "Time Passer" for many students.  I was lucky if they even simply copied the problem down, yet alone solved it.  So for the second half of the year I changed the way that I did the "Blast From the Past" problems.  I had the students do the problem as a "Team" on a "Team" whiteboard.   Wow, what a difference.  I encouraged them to discuss and solve the problem as a "Team".  This definitely worked well considering I started this strategy halfway through the year.

The "Blast From the Past" and the "Do It With Me" and "Now You Try" problems were really the only things the students didn't do as a "Team".   I created a lot of "Team Tasks" which really helped the students to discuss and work together.  I have previously blogged about the structure of my "Team Tasks".  This structure is key to the success of collaborative teams and the students' learning.

The second year of teaching Common Core went a lot better than the first year.  I had a great group of students that were willing to try and weren't afraid to "Think".  The curriculum was flowing. The students were engaging in discourse and seemed to be understanding the Common Core Standards so much better than the year before.

The curriculum seemed "Pretty Good"....  But after taking the SBAC Practice Test and Field Test, I knew that "Pretty Good" was not "Good" enough.  Although I knew that we were definitely on the right track, I knew that we were no where close to being rigorous enough....  So that summer I once again gave the curriculum a makeover..... I was determined to get this right.... :o)

Last summer was the summer between years two and three of teaching Common Core.  It was last summer that I started my blog and journaling my ideas for my 8th Grade Curriculum.  I spent the entire summer researching, reflecting, and creating new ideas to add to the 8th Grade Common Core curriculum.

Teaching 8th Grade Common Core Math (Year Three)
I knew that the order that we taught the concepts in the second year was perfect, I just tweaked them slightly.  Over the summer I also created additions to the curriculum that helped the students to make the connections between linear relationships that I was looking for.  :o)  I will blog in more detail about the changes I made that really helped my students with linear relationships...

This is the order of our Math 8 Common Core Units for year three:
Unit 1 - Linear Relationships
Unit 2 - Functional Relationships
Unit 3 - Simultaneous Equations
Unit 4 - Bivariate Data and Statistics
Unit 5 - Rationality and Numbers
Unit 6 - Geometry

We are only half way through year three, but so far this year I have seen my a lot of difference in my students' learning and understanding of the math concepts compared to the first two years.  I can't tell you how exciting that is... :o)

This year I made a lot of changes to my classroom structure.  I previously blogged about my classroom structure and my "collaborative teams".   One major thing I did was to start teaching with "Collaborative Teams" from day one. This year my goal was to "Make Math Social" and really work on the students discussion and discourse.  I have seen the growth in my students this year through that discussion and discourse.  I knew that this change in my classroom structure would also help the students' Growth Mindset and persevering through struggle and that too has proven to be true.  :o)

My students have been doing so well this year and having a lot of success.  Even though I thought that maybe it was because of my new ideas that I had added this year, I wanted to get the students' opinions. So before the students left for break I had the teams reflect on the first half of the school year and think about what classroom strategies helped them the most.

Here is a list of the most common responses I received from the teams.

  • Team Tasks because it increased our knowledge of the concepts when working with our team to solve the problems.
  • Post It, Prove It because it helps us to explain and prove what we did. 
  • Color-coding the guided notes because it helps us see the connections within the concepts and lets us know what is important.
  • Worthwhile Wednesday's because it helps us increase our skills individually. 
  • Making us be precise because it helps ups explain everything in detail.
  • Random groups every week because it helps us to learn from different people.
  • Word of the Day because it helps us with the math vocabulary you want us to use.
  • Reminding us to persevere because we will always struggle with math problems.
  • Your color-coded posters on the wall because it helped us remember the concepts.
  • Our great teacher because she would push us to try our best.  This is my favorite :o)
After reading through the students' responses I realized that it was my new ideas that were helping my students and it was nice to have validation by my students that they knew that too.  This validation makes me realize that my hard work IS making a difference.  And my goal is to continue to "Persevere" through my "Struggle" as I make this journey through teaching Common Core.  :o)

Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog.... :o)


  1. Wow! You are a ROCKSTAR!!! What a powerful reflection. I have to share this with my team because we are in our FIRST year of implementing Common Core...I mean Florida Standards (Common Core with a few tweaks). We are like you were three years ago unsure of ourselves, curriculum, and our students don't know how to think either. Your reflection has given me hope and inspiration that this will get better as long as I continue to reflect and change along with my students. I am a huge proponent of cooperative learning structures! I utilize many Kagan Cooperative Learning Structures in my classroom all day everyday! I'm going to give my students a learning interest survey when we return from winter break! I'm interested in what they say. Thanks for linking up! I'm so glad you joined the blogging world this summer!


  2. Found you through the link up and I too am encouraged by your reflection! I am an 8th grade ELA teacher in FL and am going to read all about your teams - I know adding more social activities would be a good idea! Thanks,


    1. Thank You So Much... I hope my ideas are of some value in your classroom.... :o) Let me know if I can answer any questions... :o)