by Sarah Einselen
Get 11 teachers and an Indiana Department of Education math specialist in one room, throw in a dash of Common Core educational standards, and what do you get?
A buzzing, sometimes emotional discussion among the teachers, some of whom have already been working with the new standards this year.
Kindergarten and first-grade teachers transitioned to teaching according to the new Indiana Common Core math and English/language arts standards this year. Second-grade teachers are set to follow them into the Common Core come fall, then in 2014, the rest of the teachers — from third grade all the way through high school — are currently expected to switch to teaching according to the Common Core.
That is, if the Indiana Legislature doesn’t pull the state out of the Common Core national initiative. Some state senators have pushed to separate Indiana from the standards and the 45 other states that have adopted them. Logansport curriculum director Jackie Danhauser has been told the bill is unlikely to get support in the representatives’ chamber, she said.
In the meantime, Danhauser brought two IDOE curriculum specialists to train Logansport’s kindergarten through fifth-grade teachers in how to adjust to the Common Core standards.
“There’s a lot of energy and emotion because it’s making them think differently than they have in the past,” Danhauser said.
The specialists worked with teachers at each elementary, three grades at a time, for a few days last week, demonstrating several teaching strategies and giving them an idea of how each grade’s standards build on the previous grade’s.
“At no other time in Indiana standards have you had to know what’s going on in the other grades, but this is important,” Laurie Ferry told a group of Franklin Elementary teachers Friday.
Ferry, an IDOE K-12 math specialist — in fact, the department’s only K-12 math specialist — explained that students will have to have certain things mastered in every grade before teachers can teach material in the next grade up. Those things are designated as part of each grade’s “mastery bucket.”
First-graders, for example, will have to understand how to add and subtract sums up to 20 — in two or three different ways, and in several different visualizations, like pennies or a bar graph.
In that way, the Common Core standards mean students will have to “show evidence of their understanding, not just spit out a memorized version,” said Danhauser.
“If they can’t show me another way, they don’t have that conceptual understanding.”
Many of Logansport’s elementary teachers have already been wrestling with the Common Core standards, including Connie Peattie.
“Especially today, it changes our mindset, how we look at things,” said Peattie, who works with a couple of younger teachers in first grade at Franklin Elementary.
The standards change the processes that she uses to teach, pressing her to use more manipulatives and putting the teacher in more of a facilitator role.
“It’s a process toward finding an answer,” explained Peattie.
Although she’s taught for 23 years, including a decade as a first-grade teacher at Franklin, Peattie has slowly adjusted to the new standards, with help from the younger teachers.
“We do look at it a different way now,” she said, and have shared ideas with each other about how to teach differently, too.
Her students haven’t fought back at the changes, she added — they’re open to trying anything.
During a break in the teacher training session, Ferry said about 60 percent of her job is going to schools and training teachers on how to teach under the Common Core math standards.
“Because [Danhauser] has done so much, I came in with them being much further along than many of the schools I work with,” Ferry said.
Still, the teachers peppered her with questions and requests to explain parts of the standards more fully.
Common Core standards are “more focused at each grade level,” Ferry said.
“The saying is, ‘A mile wide and an inch deep.’ That’s what the Indiana Academic Standards do,” she added. Common Core standards go deeper.
“It’s definitely a paradigm shift,” said Ferry.
She was quick to explain that just because the teachers had to change the way they taught for the standards didn’t mean they had been teaching wrongly in the first place.
“They care about kids, they’ve been doing the right thing ... under the old standards,” Ferry said.
Now, they’re adjusting their methods — “they just need to know where the target is.”
Sarah Einselen is news editor for the Pharos-Tribune. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 574-732-5151.