, Salem, MA

September 21, 2012

Column: A new way to teach math

Nancy McLaughlin
The Salem News

---- — Adopted by 44 states including Massachusetts, the Common Core State Standards for Mathematics (CCSS-M) was created to ensure that all students in grades K-12 are college- and career-ready in mathematics. The Salem Public Schools are gearing up for full implementation of the CCSS-M in the 2012-2013 school year. The Framework for 21st Century Learning and CCSS align and support each other.

The new Massachusetts Curriculum Framework, a subset of the CCSS-M, was distributed to every Salem teacher in grades PreK-12 last September. Page four of the introduction states: “These standards are not intended to be new names for old ways of doing business. They are a call to take the next step. It is time for states to work together to build on lessons learned from two decades of standards-based reforms. It is time to recognize that standards are not just promises to our children, but promises we intend to keep.”

The CCSS-M includes eight Standards for Mathematical Practice (SMPs). These eight practice standards describe the varieties of math practices that math teachers will seek to develop in their students. These are the habits of mind employed by proficient users of mathematics. These standards focus on what it means to do mathematics and will help to support our students to be math learners and thinkers in ways that will serve them K-12 and beyond.

Some examples of the standards: SMP2 (reason abstractly and quantitatively) is making sense of real-world problems and attending to the meaning of quantities and units, not just how to compute them. SMP7 (look for and make use of structure) is stepping back for an overview of the mathematics: if you multiply 42 by 5 you may easily break apart the 42 and multiply each part (40 + 2) by the 5. Students often use visual arrays to picture what is happening when they multiply.

SMP8 (look for and express regularity in repeated reasoning) is looking for efficient methods to solve problems, paying attention to patterns in calculations (e.g. 30 + 53 = 33 + 50) and checking on the reasonableness of intermediate results. These practices can bring reasoning and coherence to standard topics in elementary, middle and high school.

The first step toward applying statewide initiative for mathematics is the Salem Public Schools’ Scope Sequence and Pacing guide. This curriculum map will inform each grade level which standards will begin the year, along with pacing the remainder of school year. This curriculum pacing will be posted to an online site and will guide each math teacher toward common curriculum and instruction.

The second step toward insuring faithful implementation of state-mandated standards-based instruction is assessment. Assessment is a major component of the learning process. In 2012, the Salem Public Schools administered standards-based math assessments to all students in grades K-8. This common assessment helped our teachers use data to improve instruction and to provide accessibility support to student groups. This year, Salem will be using a new assessment tool from Achievement Network. “ANet” will be our partner in promoting accountability to boost mathematics achievement.

The new Common Core mathematics standards are a balance of understanding, fluency and applications of mathematics. Our collective goal is to make certain that every student, every teacher, and every parent/guardian is aware of the importance of mathematics in solving everyday problems.

We not only call students to be fluent with mathematic facts and the properties of operations, but we also want students to be able to apply what they are learning to solve practical problems in the real world.

Watch for upcoming opportunities for parents and guardians to attend two-hour sessions to acquaint you with the mathematics every child is learning. If you would like to discuss any aspect of mathematics learning and teaching, please feel free to contact me. My contact information can be found on the Salem Public Schools’ website ( or call 978-825-3607.

Please join us as we foster enthusiasm, excitement and a love of mathematics!


Nancy McLaughlin is the Salem Public Schools’ director of mathematics, K-8. This is one in a regular series of columns from the Community Advisory Board for the Salem schools.