I Don’t Have 11 Fingers!

Lisa Moberg Current Affairs, Education, Education Policy, Elementary, Life in the Classroom, Mathematics, National Board Certification, Parent Involvment, Professional Development, Teacher Leadership

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“I don’t have 11 fingers!” wailed one of my students, hysterical over her second grade math worksheet, which included the equation 11-3. As this is the end of the school year, I truthfully felt like going into the hallway to yank out my hair and gnash my teeth with that statement. But the moment of truth made its glorious entrance as I was silently praying for patience and counting to ten. My student was sitting amongst her peers in a small group setting, receiving intervention to address their gaps of understanding in addition and subtraction. One student proudly piped up- “I subtract from ten and then add one more!” Another student added, “I add from 3 until I get to 11.” The quietest member of the group shouted excitedly, “Punch 11 and count backwards 3 fingers!” And they kept giving more ideas: “Use your number line, create a ten frame, try a hundred chart…..” I stopped counting to ten and felt immensely proud of these students. But then I also realized that they were using strategies from the Common Core math lessons I have given them all year long. They were the proof of the pudding- Common Core has equipped my students with more strategies to accurately solve math equations and look at numbers in different perspectives.

As the Arizona Congress has been meeting, discussing, and deciding the fate of using Common Core standards in the public education system, several politicians are quoted as feeling more comfortable giving the local districts and parents the control over the education standards taught in the classroom. Once again, the “threat” of succumbing to a “socialist” educational community (aka Common Core standards) has heightened the hysteria of uninformed public officials. When listening to the political talk shows on the radio and television, learning math “the new way” with Common Core strategies sounds confusing and inessential to comprehending math. Yet after three years of learning new strategies to solve mathematical equations has given even the most confused learner different tools to be successful. If we gave the local districts and parents the power to create their own math standards, do they have the training and experience to keep up with the expectations of our global 21st century educational community? A parent angrily asked me recently, “Why aren’t you saying ‘carrying’ and ‘borrowing?’ I can’t help my child anymore with her homework.” Will it help our students to receive new state standards from people with a similar mindset, comfortable with the “old math” and frightened to try the new?

What does riding a bike, potty-training, and telling time all have in common? Children can learn all three very quickly when given the materials, observed a demonstration, received positive reinforcement, and then provided permission to FAIL. Think about it—how quickly did you learn to ride a bike when the training wheels were taken off and you scraped your knee? You learned to trust the sense of balance very quickly to succeed. We have had three years to plunge in head-first into a scary and intense learning environment as teachers- internalizing unknown standards to successfully implement in our classrooms. There have been times I have fallen flat on my face, but I picked myself up to try again. In the beginning of this transition, the students struggled with the new strategies and vocabulary, and there was a learning curve. But now they are beginning to thrive under the challenges expected from them.

It’s time that Arizona trusts and supports the teachers- we are maintaining our momentum to become and produce balanced, competitive learners throughout the nation and the world. It’s time that Arizona embraces the funk, feels the pain of defeat and failure, and then picks itself up and try it again.  Let’s not give up on Common Core!


Lisa Moberg

El Mirage, AZ

Adventure is my middle name. Although I have never sought it out, it somehow finds me, especially in teaching!! These past 16 years of my teaching career have been an exciting voyage in education, stretched between two different states, three school districts, and six grade levels (Kindergarten - 5th grade). After teaching in Washington State for six years, I moved to Arizona and have taught at a Title 1 school in the West Valley for ten years.

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Comments 2

  1. Sandy Merz

    Your anecdote at the beginning is pretty darn impressive. And I don’t want to diminish your pride at seeing how much your students have grown. I felt it too, just reading int. But I’d take issue with some of the statements that follow. Along with teachers who support CC, there are plenty of parents. And along with parents who don’t, there are plenty of teachers. One fair reason for not supporting the standards is the phase in and the testing. Your young students, having grown up with the standards, could well be ready to take the 9th grade assessments when they’re in 9th grade. But my current 8th graders, who are taking 9th grade algebra have not – and the sample questions from AZmerit are easily two years ahead of where my students are now. There has been little consistency in how districts and schools have “plunged” into the Core. Teachers pushing the CCSS have relied too much on the condescending uninformed parent argument as if that’s the only argument against the standards. I’ve spent all year trying to convince my students that the new test is in its early stages and not to worry about their performance, but they are as stressed and depressed as ever at what they’re facing. And they know this is not the same as falling off a bike because this is a year end test, not a formative assessment. And parents don’t get blamed when their kids fall of their bikes, but teachers will surely get blamed for student performance on the CC assessments. Personally, my school is under the power of a court appointed “special master” because of a deseg law suit some 30 years ago. He’s told us we will lose our Title 1 funding if we’re not up to a “B” on whatever grading system they come up with. How’s that for permission to FAIL?

  2. Jen Robinson

    How exciting! We recently had a teaching applicant teach a math lesson in 3rd grade. She created a circle map and the kids proudly shared different ways to solve the problem. Just like your kids, some of our quietest kids spoke up and defended their answers. Love how Common Core pushes kids to think! Thanks for sharing this post!

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