Common Core Aligned Lessons: Rich Tasks, or Same Stuff, just re-aligned?

I got an email from Achieve just this week inviting teachers to start testing the lessons on the Achieve the Core website.

I was so excited! All of this with one search tool! I clicked through: There were lessons for every standard! I clicked again: For every grade! I quickly clicked on the lesson promising to teach students to find the zeroes of quadratic equations (that’s such an important concept and I was looking to expand on the rich task we used in the workshop). And then… Well, does anybody remember the sound the record player made when the needle would slip and slide across the vinyl??

Since attending Common Core Standards training this summer, where we learned how to implement rich tasks for conceptual learning, and learning about Dan Meyer’s work, I have been interested in sources of these strong lessons and in modifying many of my existing lessons. The Stanford class ‘How To Learn Maths’ cemented my desire to get even better at teaching math through numeracy, rich visualizing, and good questions to get students thinking about what the numbers they are using really represent.

Here is what I found:
My click on the quadratic lesson connected me to the website Share My Lesson. The lesson plan was beautifully written: standards, number of days, list of materials (hmmm, a graphing calculator, but not graph paper?), the detailed notes handout- one for each day of the two day lesson (fill in the blank), and even a group ‘discovery activity’. Further down, there is a chart with a column of expected student answers/misconceptions, etc. that looked interesting, (in fact, that was the best part) and another section with a three column ‘prior knowledge, current knowledge, future knowledge’ chart (although prior and current knowledge would seem to be the same thing, but current knowledge is apparently what they are supposed to learn in the lesson; which makes that future knowledge in my book!)

There isn’t any instruction on the formative assessment, although perhaps the teacher will make sure the blanks on the notes are correctly filled in…

I fast-forwarded to the instructions for the lesson: graph (using the calculator) four given quadratic equations and identify the zeros. Hmmm. How are they supposed to know this? I checked the prior knowledge column on the lesson plan. Nope. Nothing about zeros. The current knowledge column (remember: the goal of the lesson) was that the student ‘would be able to’ find the zeros of the factors of the quadratic. Factors? But we didn’t factor anything. Oh, wait, it says here that factoring is the next lesson! STOP!!!

Where is the rich task? Where is the productive struggle? Where are the mathematical practices?

This great lesson, common core aligned and all, appears to be more of the ‘feed kids details and have them take notes’. Even the group activity, having them find the differences in the graphs isn’t creating the conceptual understanding of what they are doing, what the graph represents…. Can you feel my frustration here?!

We (teachers) are going to have to undergo a shift in thinking about what good lessons look like. It is going to require kicking out textbooks and no longer training students how to get good at multiple choice tests. This is a paradigm shift. Yet, here is the Achieve the Core website leading teachers to more of the same dry, lecture heavy, notes and memorization-filled stuff!

In the interest of good reporting, I went to two other lessons, one for sixth grade on fractions, and one for eighth grade algebra. They were similarly structured.

If you are interested in what this national resource of lessons is offering – and interested in helping improve the lessons – then here is your chance (you might even win stuff!):

Participate in the Common Core Challenge:
1. Watch short videos of master teachers while using the CCSS Instructional Practice Guides
2. Apply what you saw to a lesson of your own
3. Tell them about your experience
About the winning stuff, the email said, and I quote, “As a participant, you’ll be eligible to win great prizes while helping to continuously improve tools designed to support teachers like you.”
The Common Core Challenge was developed as part of the Common Core Teacher Institute held on October 6th at NBC News’ Education Nation 2013.

This is your chance to give them feedback on these lessons. Let’s give our teachers every chance to succeed in the classroom, because this is the only way our kids will succeed. That success will transfer to a confidence that we won’t need standardized tests to see!

Seriously, though, sharing good lessons so that we don’t have to create our own and giving feedback to make good lessons better will allow us to improve what is happening with students across all disciplines, across all schools and across all SES.

I have found the most wonderful group of teachers and resources and community through the MTBoS site and through Twitter ( I am @the30thvoice), so I know my teaching is going to get better and my students are going to be challenged.

How a students starts is out of our control, but how a student finishes is in large part due to how he/she is taught. Be that teacher for your students!

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5 thoughts on “Common Core Aligned Lessons: Rich Tasks, or Same Stuff, just re-aligned?

  1. I am also encouraged by the intent of student-centered instruction. I totally agree that we have to carefully screen what we use with our students. One of the most powerful tools in my math teacher toolbox is a strong concept of what a rich mathematical task is and what productive struggle looks like. These tools were not part of my undergraduate teacher education, but developed through the years by collaboration and high-quality professional development. So much of what is out there is really just old stuff relabeled to sell as Common Core – BUT I would have expected more from Achieve.

  2. Not having seen the lesson, is it possible details were left out for good reasons, i.e., 1) the teacher would know how to fill in the blanks through prior knowledge, 2) lessons shouldn’t be rote repeat of a check list, rather broad swaths to guide instructions, 3) differentiation–adaptation to a particular group. I ask this earnestly as I spend a lot of time writing lesson plans and wonder if I need to make some changes.

    Thanks C!

    1. I was actually referring to the basic lesson activity: there was no rich task at the beginning of the lesson to begin the students’ thinking. There was a teacher led lecture, followed by students working out an algorithm. There was no activity that would lead to a conceptual understanding of what they were being asked to do. It was a beautifully written plan, tied to standards – very complete, and for the student, I felt it was the same way of teaching in new clothes.
      For my lesson plans, I choose a simple lesson or picture, let the students tell me what they think of it, what they need to solve the problem or answer the question, and then we start looking for patterns or relationships. It is just a different method, guided by my questions and their observations. It does require teaching the students how to think mathematically, because most students haven’t been asked to do this EVER.

      1. Eeuw (about the teacher-led lecture). I have found I love hearing student thoughts. I’m amazed what I learn from them (not really the goal but a nice by-product) and how they help form a productive lesson. I love that Common Core wants us as teachers to slow down, teach less but deeper. I feel empowered to listen longer to students, ask more questions.

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