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13 Nov

A New Approach

What is so different about the new Common Core State Standards for math? Perhaps the main distinguishing factor is the intent with which the standards were written. Their design is in sharp contrast to state standards of the past that merely divvy out math concepts to each grade level in hopes of addressing each topic by the time a student graduates high school. Instead, the CCSSMS were developed with a deeper commitment to equipping students with the ability to become users of mathematics, rather than absorbers of information.

Major shifts in Common Core Math:

Deeper Focus on Fewer Concepts:

No longer is math instruction a frantic race to cover many topics in a limited amount of time. The CCSSMS are designed to “narrow and deepen the way time and energy is spent in the math classroom.” (achievethecore.org) Rather than scratching the surface of numerous topics, the work for each grade level is structured so that students can attain a richer level of understanding of fewer concepts, providing a solid foundation for the work to come.

Coherence across Grade Levels:

The CCSSMS progress coherently from one grade level to the next. The standards are no longer a series of disjointed events, but rather a structure of connected ideas that logically flow together and make sense.


When focusing on major topics for the grade level, the CCSSMS, conceptual understanding, fluency, and application must be pursued with equal intensity.

  • Conceptual Understanding: Provide a number of varying perspectives to allow students to see math as more than a set of prescribed steps or procedures.
  • Procedural Skill and Fluency: Structure class time to allow students to master core functions with speed and accuracy to make more complex concepts and procedures accessible.
  • Application: Students have opportunities to apply math in a variety of contextual situations. Students gain skills to apply mathematics to other disciplines.

Tips for Successful CCSSMS Implementation:

1.     Foster a problem-solving, reasoning, discussion-rich environment. Present students with real-life math situations that require them to apply multiple concepts to find solutions. Encourage students to consider a variety of strategies and solutions and explain their thought processes verbally and in writing.

2.     No Gimmicks: All too often, students come to believe that learning math is little more than memorizing steps or adding mnemonics to their “bag-of-tricks.” CCSSMS calls for students to understand the math behind the steps. Give students concrete opportunities to model mathematics and derive their own understanding of concepts rather than limiting them to a set of memorized procedures. For example: Dividing a fraction by a fraction is more than “Keep the first fraction, Change the sign from divide to multiply, Flip the last fraction.” Facilitate an investigation that empowers students to model the math and recognize these steps themselves.

3.     Learn the Math: It has been suggested that CCSMS has the potential to fail if teachers continue to teach math the way they were taught. We must recognize that these standards require a radically different approach to teaching mathematics that isn’t necessarily available in textbook form. Teachers must first examine whether they understand the “why” behind the math before teaching the concepts to students.

Resources for Educators:

  • Website: Illustrative MathematicsAt this site, educators can select any standard at any grade level to see illustrated examples of the mathematical work that aligns to it. Each example is available in PDF format and provides a student task, along with a commentary and illustrated solution.
  • Website: Achieving the Common CoreThis site provides instructional support & alignment resources and implementation planning tools in the form of PPT presentations, fact sheets, and PDFs.


Achievethecore.org, Key Instruction Shifts of the Common Core State Standards for Mathematics, http://www.achievethecore.org/downloads/Math%20Shifts%20and%20Major%20Work%20of%20Grade.pdf, Retrieved November 2012


Hannah Conner
A+ Educators Education Specialist

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