The Standards...Stairsteps to Success - Math Coach's Corner

The Standards…Stairsteps to Success

Written by Donna Boucher

Donna has been a teacher, math instructional coach, interventionist, and curriculum coordinator. A frequent speaker at state and national conferences, she shares her love for math with a worldwide audience through her website, Math Coach’s Corner. Donna is also the co-author of Guided Math Workshop.

Standards Stairsteps to Success

As we finish our second wave of state testing, I am reminded how critically important it is that teachers know and teacher their standards for each math concept. Whether your standards are the CCSS or the Texas TEKS, they are vertically aligned to ensure that concepts are introduced in a way that allows students to build upon a solid foundation.  Let’s look, for example, at fractions.  I am paraphrasing the Texas TEKS, but you’ll find that the CCSS are very similar.

1st Grade

At the most basic level, students learn to partition (divide) shapes into two or four equal parts and describe the parts using words.  They also learn to identify examples and non-examples of halves and fourths.

2nd Grade

Students continue to partition objects, but now they add eights to their repertoire.  In addition, they understand that the more parts a whole is divided into, the smaller the parts.  That is a huge concept!  Up until this point, 8 has always been bigger than 4.  But now, we tell kiddos that 1/8 is smaller than 1/4.  Students needs lots of concrete experiences to truly understand that concept. Finally, students understand how many fractional parts it takes to make one whole and count fractional parts beyond one whole.  In other words, it takes 4 fourths to make a whole, so if I have 6 fourths, that’s more than a whole. In 2nd Grade, students do not use formal fraction notation at all. Everything is done using words only–one fourth, two eighths, etc.

3rd Grade

In 3rd grade students are introduced to formal fraction notation–the numerator and denominator. They learn about unit fractions–the idea that 1/is one part of a whole divided into b parts. So 1/4 is one part of a whole divided into 4 parts. Their understanding of fractions goes beyond partitioning a whole and extends to identifying fractions on a number line and with sets of objects. Equivalent fractions are introduced with concrete materials, pictures, and number lines.  Students compare fractions with either the same numerator or denominator, further reinforcing that the larger the denominator, the smaller the pieces.

4th Grade

Students learn to compose and decompose fractions with objects and pictures.  Essentially, they are learning the concept of adding and subtracting fractions with like denominators. This concrete foundation helps them to avoid the common misconception that 1/4 + 1/4 = 2/8.  If I put together 1/4 and 1/4, now I have 2/4.  Equivalency and comparison are now accomplished using a variety of methods, which should be built on fraction sense. Understanding, for example, that 7/8 is very close to a whole, while 2/6 is much closer to 0.  Or that 4/6 is greater than 1/2, while 3/8 is less than 1/2.  The relationship between fractions and decimals to the tenths and hundredths is introduced.

5th Grade

At this point students are asked to add and subtract fractions with unlike denominators–a skill totally dependent on an understanding of equivalency.  They are multiplying a whole number and a fraction (1/4 x 3 or 3 x 1/4).  There is no way this will make sense to them without an understanding of unit fractions and addition of fractions with like denominators (3 x 1/4 is the same thing as 1/4 + 1/4 + 1/4).  Students divide a unit fraction by a whole number (1/4 ÷ 2) or a whole number by a unit fraction (2 ÷ 1/4).  The standards stress that this should be taught with objects and pictorial models.

Each and every step in this process is crucial. Personally, I like seeing the vertical progression of each math concept from Kindergarten up to 5th Grade. As a classroom teacher, of course you must be most familiar with your grade level standards. Keep in mind that often includes not only what you will teach, but how you will teach it (concrete, pictorial, abstract). But I would suggest you take it a step further and familiarize yourself with the standards of the grade level before and the grade level after. Knowing the standards the students should come to you with will help you do a quick preassessment prior to teaching and it will also help you pinpoint and fill in the gaps students might have. Understanding what is to come will give you a better understanding of the standards you are supporting.

The standards might not always be easy to understand, but unpacking them must be a part of planning for instruction. Make sure your step up that staircase is solid!

Fraction Pizza Bingo

7 Comments

  1. Pam Smith

    I really love this format for communicating the standards the emphasis of making sure your step creates a solid climb for students. Have you done this in a similar format for other standards?

    Reply
    • Donna Boucher

      Not formally, Pam, but I’m always looking at the standards from that point of view. It’s also a great activity for a math vertical team, if you have one on your campus. Each grade level can pull out their standards for a given skill and the team can create a progression.

      Reply
  2. Rebecca Wright

    What resources would you recommend for a middle school (6-8) with little experience/PD/resources for assessment and curriculum development?
    6 teachers total. Varying levels of experience.

    Reply
      • Rebecca

        I will check out those books.I think I may have something similar or an older version. My district does not have a purchased textbook or program for 6-8 math. The teachers are creating their own curriculum and assessments however they have little background in doing so. I am looking for resources to help facilitate assessment writing and curriculum development. I have compiled many from online, just wanted to see what you would suggest so we can work to a cohesive 6-8 math program.

        Reply
  3. Becky M.

    Can you recommend a beginning of the year assessment or software that we could give our 2nd graders that would show us each student’s strengths and weaknesses in math? It would help us target those weaknesses quicker.
    Thanks,
    Becky M.
    Borger, TX

    Reply
    • Donna Boucher

      Becky, the book Teaching Number in the Classroom contains a series of diagnostic tasks that assess number sense, along with activities to help strengthen areas of weakness.

      Reply

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