What Common Core Looks Like In A Second Grade Classroom

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The Common Core State Standards in reading and math have generated lots of attention and controversy, but what do they look and sound like in a classroom? Michigan Radio's Sarah Alvarez offers a peek at the standards at work in a second grade math class.


This summer, we're telling the story of the Common Core State standards in reading and math. 43 states, plus Washington D.C. are now using them. As teachers and students try to make sense of what's changing and what's not the NPR team wondered, what do the standards sound like in a classroom. Michigan Radio's Sarah Alvarez has one answer in our latest postcard from a Common Core classroom.

SARAH ALVAREZ, BYLINE: I have a confession. I have been intimidated by second grade math, just ask my daughter Mariana.

MARIANA ALVAREZ: It's confusing because - for like the addition, I use partial sums and you don't know how to use that.

S. ALVAREZ: I'd never even heard of partial sums. I should have just asked my daughter because being able to explain them is actually a Common Core standard.

M. ALVAREZ: Explain why addition and subtraction strategies work using place value and the properties of operations.

S. ALVAREZ: That's the exact standard. Donna Ramsey is my daughter's second-grade teacher.

DONNA RAMSEY: That's kind of a big thing in my mind in terms of what's changed about my teaching - it's not really all about learning the steps and memorizing them and being accurate anymore more, it's also being able to explain your thinking. Like, how did you know?

S. ALVAREZ: It's the end of the school year so Ramsey and I were curious - could these kids do it could? Could they explain partial sums? Ramsey asked for her students to give it a try.

EMMANUEL: My name is Emmanuel and this is Ezra, Mana and Gray.

S. ALVAREZ: Gray, take me through the first problem. What am I seeing?

GRAY: Its 356 plus 434. So first you take the hundreds and you plus them, and three plus four equals seven - so it would be 700.

S. ALVAREZ: So this what I'm watching. He's got these two numbers stacked one on top the other and he's adding them from left to right - they are working on it together.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: That's actually nine because you did not put the one. So it's actually nine.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: So then you can start to kind of see the answer.

S. ALVAREZ: They humored me while I showed them how I was taught. You guys went from left to right didn't you?


S. ALVAREZ: Ok, when I learned it, I went from right to left. Ezra you have a crazy look on your face.

EZRA: Yeah, because my dad does this all the time. He tries to teach me it.

S. ALVAREZ: If his dad is anything like me, we should get used to confuse looks from our kids. Not because of their homework but because of our math skills, and the fact that many of us were never taught how to explain our thinking. For NPR News, I'm Sarah Alvarez in Ann Arbor.

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