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At the Core of Common Core

Apple and education books in class

Through papers and practice exercises, mathematics education professor Dawn Teuscher works to ease the transition for grade-school math teachers into the new government-issued curriculum requirements.

Since Common Core—a set of academic standards to unify the K-12 curriculum nationwide—was first introduced in 2010, it has been met with strong opinions and arguments about its worth. Common Core was created to ensure that students are taught the same mathematical concepts in the same grade levels in every state. One goal of Common Core is to help students not fall behind or get ahead if they ever have to change schools.

Teuscher has taken part in researching Common Core, and together with her colleagues she published a paper in January 2015, titled, “Common Core State Standards in the Middle Grades: What’s New in the Geometry Domain and How Can Teachers Support Student Learning?”

“It’s very politically charged,” Teuscher said. “[This research] is providing a thorough examination of a very politically hot topic, and it’s trying to provide all stakeholders . . . with a better understanding of what Common Core is, and how we can . . . help all the stakeholders that are involved.”

This research delves into what changes have occurred due to Common Core—specifically in geometry content for grades six, seven, and eight. These grades are said to be the most affected by Common Core.

“We went through and looked at geometry in . . . elementary school through junior high,” Teuscher said. “We found that 52 percent of the middle grades’—grades six, seven, and eight—learning expectations were new. So over half of the learning expectations that our teachers need to be teaching . . . are new.”

Teuscher found three main concepts that have been introduced into the curriculum: geometric transformations, drawing and constructing two-dimensional geometric shapes, and understanding a proof of the Pythagorean theorem.

“It’s important for parents to realize that . . . it’s not just the kids that are struggling through this, but the teachers are having to struggle through this as well,” Teuscher said. “They are being asked to teach things that they possibly never learned.”

These new concepts have either previously been taught in high school, or they are new concepts to be taught altogether. With such a difference, Teuscher saw the importance of giving guidance to those affected by Common Core.

“[In our paper] we provide different activities for each of these three areas . . . to help the teachers understand the concept,” Teuscher said. “[We have] activities they can use with their students that will help middle school students delve into the mathematics and build on their current understanding of the mathematics.”

Teuscher hopes that as implementation of Common Core continues, others will receive the help they need to overcome the challenges they are facing.

“It’s not going to go away. And if it’s not going away, what can we do with our research?” Teuscher said. “How can we best help those who are charged with implementing it?”

—Camilla Stimpson, College of Physical and Mathematical Science