July 1, 2013 9:31:40 AM
Sarah Fowler - firstname.lastname@example.org
With Common Core State Standards set to be implemented in all Mississippi classrooms for the 2014-15 school year, area teachers are preparing for the change in curriculum.
In June, approximately 20 teachers attended an intensive workshop at Mississippi University for Women to learn how to use Common Core in the classroom.
Teachers from every school in the area, both county and city, attended Creating Collaboration in the Common Core Classroom, commonly referred to as C5. The workshop is funded through a grant from The Improving Teacher Quality Grant Program.
Created by the National Governor's Association and the Council of Chief State, Common Core curriculum was conceived in 2009. While Common Core, which is primarily math and language arts based, is not yet mandated by the U.S. Department of Education, 46 states and the District of Columbia have adopted the curriculum.
The curriculum is heavily focused on technology and teachers have learned new ways to create lesson plans that incorporate more than one subject.
Cassandra Hall, a sixth-grade science teacher at Columbus Middle School, has been a teacher for seven years. Hall said the month-long project helped her understand Common Core to the point where she will be able to share what she has learned with her teaching peers.
"Coming in we kind of knew a little bit about it but this has really helped open up some doors," Hall said. "We've learned how to create thematic units to incorporate all subject areas -- science, history, language arts and math -- so we've actually created one for our school. We're all sharing the units at each table so we will have several ready-made units to incorporate with our other coworkers. It's been very beneficial."
Pam Wiygul, who also teaches at Columbus Middle School, said C5 has helped her understand what to expect of the new standards.
"It seems like, now, we have a more basic, broader understanding of what exactly is expected for us to teach the Common Core, and to go through each of the strands that we need to meet each of those objectives," Wiygul said. "Students are going to have to be more broad in their thinking. The students themselves have to facilitate and take it upon themselves to solve the questions and get the information that backs up why they thought that particular answer was right or wrong."
Wiygul said that unlike the current curriculum -- called Mississippi Curriculum Test -- Common Core challenges students to think on a deeper level.
"It seems to me that with Common Core the students will step up and really think for themselves. The teacher kind of guides them vaguely in the direction they need to go but the students really come up with the answer,' she said. "With MCT, the students had these set of choices but with Common Core you're not going to have those choices anymore. The (students) are going to have to come up with the choices themselves and that (requires)deeper thought into what they're actually doing."
She added that the technology aspect of Common Core is essential to student success.
"We've learned a lot about technology, things we can utilize in our lesson plans to make Common Core adaptable to our students," Wiygul said.
Hall said thanks to new applications for iPads, students are learning through new and improved ways.
"In particular, we've been focusing on the iPads and technology resources," Hall said. "The whole world is going to come to that at some point. We've learned so many new apps, so many new ways to implement technology, that I think will engage the kids when they walk in."
Hall is intrigued by Common Core's approach of combining multiple subjects into one class.
"Right now, the main focus is on math and language arts but we've found several ways to incorporate history and the science aspect of it," she said.
Hall said that Common Core is quickly approaching and both students and teachers need to be prepared. She said training sessions like the one offered at MUW are important to the program's success.
"Times are changing so we've got to change so we can be ready to compete globally with other schools," Hall said.
Sarah Fowler covers crime, education and community related events for The Dispatch. Follow her on Twitter @FowlerSarah