## Parent Questions from Jo Boaler Night

**Questions about the Common Core approach**

*We got to where we are in math and science using the old ways of teaching math. Why would this new way be more successful?**You’re spending a lot of time distinguishing between computation/calculation and deeper math. Don’t you think both are important?**Do you mean that practicing is obsolete at this era? Computers can do calculating and kids should not focus on computing numbers? What if they do practice problem solving but still have the ability to compute fast? What if technology is not available?**I get the idea of the video making the math problem a “word problem,” but don’t they have to know the formulas to apply? And how do they remember them?**What is your thinking on homework? Is it still valuable? Should teachers be correcting it?*

The Common Core provides a set of standards that are focused, coherent, and rigorous. Focusing deeply on fewer concepts allows students to gain strong foundational conceptual understanding. Developing coherence across grades allows students to build upon deep conceptual understanding from earlier years so that each standard is not a new event, but an extension of previous learning. All students should take rigorous courses that balance conceptual understanding—the ability to access concepts from multiple perspectives, discuss them, and apply them to new situations—with procedural skill and fluency.

The Common Core does not eliminate computation, calculation, practice, or homework. Rather it seeks a balance in which conceptual understanding is not sacrificed for memorizing procedures. There is an emphasis on enabling students to make sense of the math and seeing math as a way to solve real life problems. Students become better problem solvers when they understand both the problem and the concepts involved in solving it. In the traditional approach, many students have memorized formulas but don’t know when to apply them. Students who develop a deep understanding of mathematics can derive the formula when they need it, know when they need it, and don’t apply the wrong formula to a situation because it’s the one they have memorized. Homework and practice are still valuable and teachers should have a system to capture their students’ progress, but teachers might rethink the purpose of homework, perhaps scaling down the number of problems with the expectation that students show their thinking and demonstrate understanding using multiple representations.

**Questions about detracking**

*Regarding detracking: the concept is good, but what about English learners and highly disruptive or apathetic kids? They are slowing down my daughter’s 7th grade science class.**Can the untracked class work in a class of over 30 students and 1 teacher, with maybe 1 student teacher? Class now includes “special” learners and “honors” students.**Jo Boaler’s example of a multi-dimensional classroom had about 15 students. How much participation is feasible in a classroom of 30-35 students?**In spite of data supporting that grouping by ability is no longer the way to go, parents are deeply concerned about losing honors tracking/grouping. How do you address our concerns of ungrouping kids who, before this heterogeneous approach, loved math; who may now be in a class of up to 35 students, a few of whom can be disruptive?*

Separating students by perceived ability level into different classes creates distinct classroom cultures. In lower-tracked classes, students receive more procedural activities and what is reinforced is often behavior instead of academics. In higher-tracked classes, students are often over-accelerated, meaning that they may cover more material but still stay at a surface level. Both conditions are a disservice, in that math is narrowly defined as skills and answer-getting, with students feeling anxiety about performance. Detracking improves the classroom culture for a large number of students who otherwise would not have access to high academic expectations or motivated classmates; this includes students in both the high and low tracks. Additionally, criteria for placing students in high or low tracks have often involved those narrowly defined conceptions of math learning. With the new Common Core Standards for Mathematics, the content standards and the Standards for Mathematical Practices expands what it means to do and learn math.

The SFUSD core curriculum was developed to support heterogeneous classes. Shifting the emphasis away from getting the right answer quickly and toward deeper thinking and discussion opens who feels included and successful, thus decreasing disruptive or apathetic behavior. Tasks and problems are designed to provide access and challenge all students.

When students feel their ideas are valued both by the teacher and fellow students and know they can contribute to whole class learning, there is more buy-in and collaboration. Students come to see that they can do math and take more responsibility for their own learning and work to support each other by being inclusive and helpful. Students who are a part of a supportive community also take more risks, advocating for their own learning by asking questions to solidify their understanding.

Research has shown that all learners benefit in a heterogeneous setting (including in schools with larger class sizes). The research has been conducted in a variety of settings, including urban districts, in the US, in England, and Australia. All learners benefit from the variety of thinking that is expressed, including more able students who benefit from the need to explain their thinking clearly and concisely. Creating explanations serves to consolidate and enhance their understanding, while other learners benefit from the explanations. All students studied have improved their performance compared to tracked classroom settings. To read more about the research on detracking, see: http://www.sfusdmath.org/articles-of-interest.html

**Questions about high achieving students**

*How do we help a student who is a high achieving learner vs. the other students in the classroom?**Do high performing kids get bored with the slow pace of the curriculum?**What is the district's approach to students who need more advanced math? At a time when there is a lot of talk about preparing students for the future (STEM jobs) there should be pathways to support students who want to advance in math.**I am also interested in how her idea of not tracking students fits with Stanford’s Gifted and Talented program (formerly EPGY). Keeping our non-struggling learners engaged is key to having them reach their true potential.*

The SFUSD core curriculum provides rigorous math tasks that allow access for many types of learners. The tasks and activities are designed to be highly engaging, promote productive struggle, and often have multiple solution strategies. This allows students many opportunities to delve deeper into the mathematics, strengthen their understanding of concepts and explore mathematics related to interesting real-world situations. Rich tasks provide natural opportunities for extensions that students often identify themselves or that the teacher can offer students for deeper investigations that are the heart of a STEM-oriented education.

It’s not about going faster, it’s about going deeper. The US is suffering from a massive over-acceleration of students in high school that is contributing to a declining rate of students choosing STEM majors once they are in college. The SFUSD core curriculum challenges students who are used to successfully getting the right answer quickly to deepen their understanding by explaining their thinking and understanding other students’ thinking. This approach asks students to use multiple strategies and make conceptual connections, which helps develop the types of complex thinking that are called for by the research and business innovation communities.

Students working on challenging tasks in heterogeneous groups develop communication and collaboration skills that go beyond the math content. In heterogeneous groups, students are more likely to experience the benefits of learning together, appreciating different perspectives, and building upon one another’s strengths, which makes them better prepared for college and the workplace. Businesses are often looking for employees who are skilled and successful at working in collaboration with others because it allows for innovation and efficiency.

**Questions about the course sequence**

*Will current 8th grade students be prepared for what’s required of them in High School math?**What do you think about delaying algebra for all students until High School? Advantages? Disadvantages?**As part of the Common Core Curriculum, is there a path for my child to take Calculus in High School without having to take extra classes?**If tracking students is proven to be detrimental, will honors courses be removed from the Common Core Curriculum?**In light of tonight’s presentation, could you discuss the advantages and disadvantages of the pathway decision by the SF Board of Education in their adoption of the Math Common Core?*

The Common Core describes a progression of algebra from Kindergarten through Grade 8 that leads to the CCSS Algebra course in high school. CCSS Math 8 introduces extensive new mathematics content traditionally taught in high school—linear functions, transformational geometry, and bivariate statistics. CCSS Algebra and CCSS Geometry are built upon the extensive development of the core concepts in CCSS Math 8 (linear functions and equations, transformational geometry), so 8th grade students will be prepared for high school courses.

The SFUSD course sequence is based on a belief that students learn best in heterogeneous classes that hold high expectations for all students. The curriculum was created to address standards that spiral or progress through the grade levels. The 8th grade curriculum focuses on formulating and reasoning about expressions and equations, grasping the concept of functions and using functions to describe quantitative relationships, and analyzing two- and three-dimensional space and figures using distance, angle, similarity and congruence. These are critical foundational skills in preparing students for algebra, geometry, and statistics in high school.

Algebra 1 was traditionally a high school course that only a small number of students took in middle school, but over the last 15 years there has been a push to accelerate increasing numbers of students (or in the case of California, all students) into middle school Algebra 1. As a result, record numbers of students are failing and repeating Algebra 1, especially students from underserved communities. By moving Algebra 1 back into 9th grade for all students and replacing it with CCSS Math 8—a course that explicitly develops concepts needed for success in Algebra—students will experience more confidence and success because they have time to do mathematics with each other, discussing their learning, examining each other’s work, and building a deeper understanding of concepts.

After 10th grade, students can choose to take an Honors Algebra 2 course that compresses CCSS Algebra 2 with Precalculus, which allows them to take AP Calculus in 12th grade. Unlike the earlier practice of having students accelerate in math by skipping a course, the Common Core necessitates that acceleration only occur by course compression—learning the standards from more than one year during a regular class period over one year. The option for compression supports students who wish to graduate from high school prepared for specialized studies in STEM in university settings.

Having one core sequence provides focus and coherence as schools and teachers implement the CCSS-M and supports equity by creating one path for all students to experience rigorous mathematics. We believe that secondary schools do not separate their students into an honors track and a regular track—or into other tracks based on perceived ability—until students choose course pathways at the end of 10th grade.

**Questions about teacher training**

*Will there be special training for teachers? Where and what?**How do we ensure teachers are properly trained?**Given the challenges of teaching to a heterogeneous classroom, what extra resources is the district providing to ensure that all students are challenged appropriately? What is the district’s plan to ensure that teachers are adequately trained and rewarded for successful differentiated instruction?*

The Math Department is primarily supporting teachers with implementation this year through a Math Teacher Leader program. Each school site has teacher leaders who are receiving professional development and in turn, share their learning with teachers at their school sites. Teacher leaders attended a 3-day summer institute before the beginning of the school year and continue to meet in grade-level bands several more days throughout the year. These professional development days allow teacher leaders to make sense of the standards and core curriculum, learn about effective teaching strategies for productively increasing student discourse, and help them develop and organize the professional development for teachers at their site. Teacher leaders are also providing feedback on how the units of study should be revised for next year.

All teachers are invited to attend any of several professional development sessions offered after school hours on topics relevant to the new units of study. These topics include math talks, using rich math tasks, and areas of major content shifts such as units fractions, place value, transformational geometry, modeling, and statistics. The Math Department website (www.sfusdmath.org) is updated regularly and holds a large amount of information for educators, teacher leaders, parents, and our community. Learning the Common Core content and practices is an ongoing process for all of us.

More generally, the members of the Math Department are working together with teachers on a daily basis: we plan and deliver the professional development for teacher leaders; we organize and support the teacher curriculum development teams; we organize the writing, editing, copying, delivery, and revision of the core curriculum units; we coordinate with other people and departments in the district to answer questions, support joint efforts, provide input, and solicit feedback; we work with schools and classroom teachers to help with collaborative planning and when possible, with modeling lessons, observing teachers, and giving feedback.

**Questions about testing and assessment**

*I understand how this [the Common Core] can be implemented for student’s learning, but how can this be implemented for student’s evaluation?**How do you evaluate and grade students in this system? What earns a high score? What earns a low score?**What is the purpose of continuing the CLA testing? It seems to be perpetuating the fixed mindset—timed rigid testing.*

The evaluation of students’ learning is based on the work that they produce, including non-written, participatory evidence. There are several ways to gather these evaluations. Teachers can closely observe their students as they work and take notes. Students can produce an individual product based on their small group work. Most evaluations of students are meant to help the teacher determine where the student is on a learning continuum, so that the teacher can plan the next steps to take in their instruction. There is a large body of research that says evaluative feedback does not enable learning and in fact often causes the student to stop learning. Feedback that is based on next steps for improvement has proved far more effective. With this in mind, student evaluation in the form of grades should be limited, while feedback in the form of next steps should be prolific.

In the elementary grades, we have rewritten the Standards Based Report Cards to reflect the new standards. Students will be evaluated over the course of the academic on the new standards using a ‘1-4’ scale indicating their progress towards mastery. Rubrics for each grade are being developed as we speak and will be available next year.

The district Common Learning Assessments (CLAs) are a vehicle to gather data about student learning at three designated points during the academic year and use the information as a formative assessment to guide instruction. Embedding the constructed response and performance assessment questions from the core curriculum Milestone Tasks in the CLA reduces the amount of testing for our students at all grade levels. CLAs should not be viewed as a hard and fast grade of students’ progress.

**Questions about textbooks and helping your children**

*Why don’t SFUSD students get common core textbooks or e-version or copy, but students from other districts do? My child’s cousin, who is also in the same grade, got a math textbook from CPM. Is it a lack of money? Or?**How are we supposed to support our kids in this new curriculum with no textbooks/workbooks/materials this year?**My daughter has difficulty understanding Math conceptually. How do I help her to move toward better understanding of math formulas and theorems and proofs? She never had a good grasp of her math facts when she was younger (3rd grade). I believe it is because of this weakness that she is in the current situation she is in today—struggling with math in High School (10th grade) and possibly in college in the future. What resources can I have her use to overcome this struggle now?**Given that most teachers come from a training tradition of “fixed” mindset, how do we help our students leapfrog over the entrenched practices of past generations?*

The SFUSD core curriculum is based on the beliefs that a curriculum is not a textbook and a textbook is not a curriculum. When students engage in interesting, challenging mathematics, they see the difference between deeply exploring math and following procedures outlined in traditional textbooks. With a curriculum that inspires a growth mindset and teacher training to support this understanding, students will have opportunities to access deep mathematics learning.

The process of creating a core curriculum began two years ago before there were textbooks truly aligned to the Common Core standards. The elementary core curriculum still makes significant use of the adopted Elementary Math textbooks, and the secondary core curriculum makes significant use of the College Preparatory Mathematics (CPM) textbooks, which are now aligned to the Common Core. SFUSD has made an agreement with CPM to provide all SFUSD students with free eBook access.

The Common Core emphasizes conceptual understanding along with procedural fluency. While the goal of learning procedures used to be application (e.g., learning to multiply in order to do bookkeeping), we now have calculators and computers for that purpose. Now the goal of learning algorithms and math strategies is to illuminate the number system and make connections between mathematical concepts. It is also very important to understand procedures conceptually and flexibly (for example, When do I divide? How can I figure this out with a visual diagram or with an equation?) in order to solve problems in the real world.

You can support your child when working on homework by asking questions such as:

- What are you trying to find out?
- Why does that work?
- Is there another way to figure it out?
- Have you tried drawing a picture or diagram of the problem?
- What have you learned so far?

**Questions about math games, resources, and programs**

*What math games do you recommend for 1st-6th graders? Not apps, but physical games.**What do you think about kids learning and playing with an abacus?**Have you seen the app Dragon Box?**What do you think of Khan Academy math?**What do you think about how math is presented in EPGY? Khan Academy?**What do you think of Kumon classes for kids?*

The Khan Academy and EPGY are resources to help students review procedures and algorithms. Kumon focuses on speed and computation. It is fine and helpful to know math facts quickly, but this focus omits deep understanding of mathematical concepts. Students should have more than memorization to back up their thinking; they need to understand the concepts used when solving math problems and have a “toolkit” of strategies to use when memorization isn’t enough.

Jo Boaler has some recommendations on her site for great Apps for kids:

http://youcubed.org/students/2014/math-apps-and-games-we-like/

**Questions about Jo’s presentation**

*Can I have the slide of what not to do and what to do?**Can we get a copy of the Do’s and don’ts of Math Practice for our children?*

Jo referenced Carol Dweck’s advice for parents about how to speak to their children. For more information, and to find the specific advice, see: http://www.mindsetonline.com/howmindsetaffects/parentsteacherscoaches/

**Question about politics**

*How can those of us that support the Common Core counter the conservative political opposition and the fear engendered by them?*

When you are in the position to have a discussion, state the facts: Common Core is a set of standards that emphasizes focus, coherence, and rigor. It is not a test, not a curriculum, not a set of homework problems, not a federal mandate, and not a teacher evaluation tool.

For more information, read this column: http://www.usatoday.com/story/opinion/2014/09/15/common-core-math-education-standards-fluency-column/15693531/