Sunday, January 8, 2012

The CCSS is a "Great Opportunity"

I just returned yesterday from the JMM, and it was a great conference as usual.  This post is not going to be a conference report.  That will come from the MAA and AMS newsletters.  Instead I want to share a little gem.  The CCSS is short for Common Core State Standards.

After the IBL Centers meeting on Friday, I had a front row seat to an amazing interaction between John Worrell, a student of R. L. Moore, and Paul Sally.   John approaches Paul, as Paul is leaving the meeting room, to say hello.  Paul asks John, "How old are you?"  John replies that he is 77.   Paul admits that he is in his 80th year.

Then with all the fire and passion of a 21 year old basketball player that just hit a game-winning shot, Paul proclaims that the CCSS, with the process and practice standards, is a unique opportunity to revive American mathematics education to the highest levels.  IBL is a critical component of this as is the preparing and training of K-12 teachers.  Paul shouted out that he is going to live 20 more years and see that achieve this goal.  It was a special moment indeed!

The adoption of the CCSS presents to the mathematics community a unique opportunity.  It is a once in a generation opportunity.  Reform efforts over decades have brought us to position where we have the potential to not just reform, but more importantly transform American mathematics education.

The CCSS have at the heart the kinds of things we want from students such as problem solving, critical thinking, justification, making conjectures.  To implement this adequately can only be done through active learning pedagogy.  I do not know of a system that can accomplish these things through passive, solitary work on rote skills.

Some challenges:

  • Professional develop of K-12 and college instructors
  • Appropriate curricula
  • Educating and supporting administrators and parents about how they can support IBL classrooms
  • Mentoring and coaching students in a new (perhaps foreign to them) active learning paradigm
It's a big job.  I'm cautiously optimistic.  If there is a time to rally people to get behind something in education, this is it.