Whatever Wednesday – Shifts In Mathematics

Hello all! Today, I wanted to write about something near and dear to my heart….math. I know that actually sounds crazy. But I am a math person. And an elementary school teacher. Sometimes those things don’t go together, but for me they do. You can read a little more about my math journey {here}.

This past year, I worked hard to turn my classroom into a Common Core classroom. Especially in math – because it’s my favorite thing!

Once I started working towards becoming a Core Advocate, I learned about the 3 Common Core Shifts for Mathematics. These shifts completely opened my eyes!!


The shift that really spoke to me was the first one – FOCUS.

This shift stood out to me because it’s basic premise makes. so. much. SENSE. And it’s exactly what teachers like me have been saying for a long time.

“We try to teach WAY too much.”

“There’s not enough time to teach EVERYTHING in the standards.”

“Kids don’t remember the important things from year to year and I feel like I’m starting over!”

“The curriculum is a mile wide and an inch deep.”

I know I’ve said ALL of those things. And said them over and over for a very long time. So when I first heard about the shift towards FOCUS, I thought that my head might fall off from all the nodding. I was completely flabbergasted that this idea was finally being addressed!

This shift takes us away from a “mile wide/inch deep” and pushes us as educators to narrow and deepen how we spend our time in the classroom. The call for focus wants teachers to give a majority of their time to the major work of their grade. I know I had to repeat this to myself many times. You mean, the CCSS WANT us to slow down and spend real, actual time teaching things that will move kids forward? And you are telling me that we should NOT spend time on things that aren’t important for that grade level?

Doesn’t that make so much sense?? We already knew that we didn’t have time for EVERYTHING that the previous standards wanted us to do. We knew this. So the CCSS allows us to spend our time on the things that REALLY matter to student learning.

In fact, the standards ask us to spend 65-80% of our time during the year on the major work of our grade level. 

Let me give you an example. I teach 5th grade, and I have taught 4th and 3rd grade in the past. When I started really looking at the focus that the standards ask for, I read my 5th grade standards over and over, trying to make sure that my instruction was aligned. I found something shocking, people. Mean, median, range, and mode…NOT in my 5th grade standards. I kept looking, because I was sure I was just missing something. I mean, I have a whole unit in my resource devoted to measures of central tendency. But it’s just. not. there.

So what does that mean? It means I can let something go. Thank you 6th grade teachers!! My students will be learning about measures of central tendency, but not until 6th grade. I can use that time to focus on the major work of MY grade: multiplication and division of whole numbers and fractions! All that instructional time, back to the focus of 5th grade. WOOHOO!

So, let’s do it!! Let’s get rid of the “fluff” that won’t give kids a solid foundation moving forward and only devote our time to what’s actually in the standards! Let’s give them the focus that they deserve. Let’s spend our time digging deeper into mathematics and mathematical thinking, and less time speeding through a million skills and standards.

From the Common Core website: “This focus will help students gain strong foundations, including a solid understanding of concepts, a high degree of procedural skill and fluency, and the ability to apply the math they know to solve problems inside and outside the classroom.”

Couldn’t have said it better myself…


If you would like to learn more about the Shifts here are some resources for you:

Achieve the Core: Shifts in Mathematics – At this link, you can find information about the major work of each grade level, and general information about the Shifts.
Core Standards website: Key Shifts in Mathematics – You can read more about all 3 Shifts here.

Achieve the Core: Instructional Materials Evaluation Tool – This is a tool you, or your district, can use to determine in your resources or textbooks are Common Core aligned.

What steps are you taking in your Common Core journey? Or what questions do you have? Leave comments or questions below. Let’s start a dialogue to help us all improve our practice!

This Post Has One Comment

  1. Ms. O

    Boy howdy. So if I get stuck trying to figure out all of the proper terminology for programming the Star Wars Sphero robot to measure the perimeter of the room I can ask you? Or figuring out the proper angles for coding practice? Already found myself lost and having to do some review. Decimal place value, that I can handle. Non-fic section is a natural real life example. Beyond that? Won't even tell you how many times it takes me to count/balance lost book fines or bookfair deposits. :/

    Says the secondary English/Spanish undergrad major.

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