George Lucas Educational Foundation
Common Core

We're All Teaching the Common Core Math Standards

The Common Core's eight Standards of Mathematical Practice are bigger than math class, reaching deeply into curriculum possibilities for every K-12 subject area.
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As a math teacher, I would ask my students to write. They would complain that it was math class and they should not have to write in math. I would tell them that there's no such thing as "math day" out in the real world. Outside of school, math is integrated into everyday tasks and work tasks. While numbers in isolation are rarely useful, writing about what the numbers mean is important for clearly communicating ideas.

Mathematics is modeled in almost any field. Common Core standards ask students to do research, look at real-world contexts, make sense of the world around them, and be able to reason and justify conclusions. The eight Common Core Standards for Mathematical Practice can be applied in any subject area. Here are some suggestions for how we can all be teachers of the Common Core math standards:

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1. Make sense of problems and persevere in solving them. (CCSS.MATH.PRACTICE.MP1)

Any subject area can ask students to make sense of problems. Rather than giving students step-by-step instructions where everyone's outcome is the same, pose an interesting problem or question for students to figure out the solution. The problem does not have to be a math problem -- every subject has things that students can figure out. The solutions need to be more than a quick answer. To persevere, students should work their way through solving a multi-phase problem. The answer to one part becomes information they'll need to answer the next part.

2. Reason abstractly and quantitatively. (CCSS.MATH.PRACTICE.MP2)

Use numbers to reason. All subject areas have data that can be analyzed. If teachers are posing DOK 3 and DOK 4 problems, students need to look at evidence, make sense of it, and draw conclusions. This is done with textual evidence as well as numerical data. Have students analyze the water crisis in California. Part of that is looking at the data on rainfall, crop irrigation needs, farmers' crop outputs, household water use, etc. Every class should have students looking at this data, analyzing it, making charts, and drawing conclusions.

3. Construct viable arguments and critique the reasoning of others. (CCSS.MATH.PRACTICE.MP3)

Piggybacking on the previous standard, students should defend their arguments with data that they've reviewed. Viable arguments don't have to be about numbers. Every subject should have students construct an argument. Doing peer evaluation allows each student to critique others and defend his or her own reasoning. Students can also critique the reasoning of authors of texts. This can be done in any class.

4. Model with mathematics. (CCSS.MATH.PRACTICE.MP4)

Math is present in everyday applications. How does your subject area utilize math? Whether in art, music, history, economics, or science, we all have uses for math. How are math concepts represented in your subject area? Make an effort to expose your students to the ways in which your subject area models math.

5. Use appropriate tools strategically. (CCSS.MATH.PRACTICE.MP5)

When students are faced with a problem, do they realize that they need to utilize a ruler, protractor, computer, or spreadsheet to solve it -- without your telling them? All classes can use spreadsheets to organize information. Tools do not need to be math tools specifically. In the course of their everyday lives after graduation, students will need to decide whether they should they use a text document or spreadsheet, create a flowchart or timeline, use one of many collaborative or web 2.0 tools, or punch numbers into a calculator. Now is their chance to learn the best strategic use for these tools and many others.

6. Attend to precision. (CCSS.MATH.PRACTICE.MP6)

Students tend to give vague answers, so we must work with them to be specific and back up their statements with evidence. This evidence doesn't have to be with mathematical numbers. When dealing with data and numbers, students should be able to come up with a precise answer whenever it is required.

7. Look for and make use of structure. (CCSS.MATH.PRACTICE.MP7)

Every world language has patterns and structure for students to observe and analyze. Looking for patterns and structure in history should already be occurring. In any subject area, students could be seeking patterns and structure to give them a deeper understanding of a problem.

8. Look for and express regularity in repeated reasoning. (CCSS.MATH.PRACTICE.MP8)

All students should be continually evaluating the reasonableness of their intermediate results. Throughout the process of solving any problem (not just a math problem), students look for things that repeat. When writing an essay, they're using a similar structure throughout the writing process.

As you construct your lesson plans, consider which of these eight mathematical practices you can include. Quite possibly, you're already including some of the practices in your Common Core lessons. If we want to strengthen students' reasoning and numerical literacy skills, we can't just relegate the mathematical concepts to math class. The more cross-curricular thinking we apply to our lesson plans, the more opportunity students will have to find value in what they're learning.

How do you use the Common Core math standards?