Work Hard – Get Smarter. That is my new motto. As we embark on the new challenges and expectations associated with the Common Core curriculum we are expecting everyone [students, families, teachers and staff] to work hard and get smarter. We are not born smart. We “get smarter” through the acquisition of knowledge [learning] and through new experiences. The Common Core curriculum will help provide us with the road map for our students’ successes and allow them to “get smarter”.
Willsboro Central School District implemented the common core curriculum modules this year in both math and ELA because our forward-looking teachers participated in professional development surrounding the core last year. They also conducted a great deal of individual research and study on their own regarding the curriculum shifts and changes.
While there have been some challenges, frustration and skepticism, the majority of our teachers are now hooked on it. Through the curriculum modules and embedded teaching strategies provided on EngageNY, we are asking our students to think more and think differently than in the past. We always asked students to give us the right answers, but we are now asking students to evaluate and analyze those answers as a process. As someone said regarding math, we are not only asking students to solve for “x” but also figuring out (wh)“y”.
We have discovered, “thinking” is hard work; it is frustrating at times; it taxes the brain; and it is tiring. Many of our parents have said their children come home from school more tired this year. That is ok. Exercising the brain is just like exercising the body and the more we engage our students in the thinking process, the smarter our students will become. We need to continue to provide challenges for our students, and certainly never underestimate their abilities. Curiosity, perseverance, and a strong work ethic are needed for future success. As one of our math teachers, Margie Jaquish said, “I am excited to see the results after a few years of following the common core curriculum in mathematics.”
You Never Know
When our 7th grade English teacher, Meaghan Freeman, first reviewed the curriculum module regarding Sudan and the central text, A Long Walk to Water, she was skeptical regarding our students’ interest. However, they were so interested in the story and the challenge of the people of Sudan they wanted to become more involved. Through their interest, we hosted a presentation by Gabriel Bol Deng, one of the original Lost Boys of Sudan who shared his message about “The Power of Hope”. Our students have raised hundreds of dollars towards Gabriel’s goal of building a school in the Sudan. We did not expect to have this enthusiasm for the book and were thrilled with the result.
As part of the unit, one of the protocols included students participating in an activity called “Take a Stand”. Mrs. Freeman shared the following observation: “IT WORKED AND WAS AWESOME! The kids all shared and were respectful and actually moved based on how others’ comments were affecting their opinions. We only did it with one prompt and they asked to do it again. A great way to start my day.” Students have a way of amazing us!
Overall, we are pleased with the shifts in curriculum and with the successes we are experiencing with our students. As with any change, there are challenges; however, with an open mind and with a commitment to implement the curriculum, our students will gradually become better prepared for the world they will experience in the future.
Our teachers and students are working hard, and we are all getting smarter!
Stephen Broadwell is the Superintendent of Willsboro Central Schools in Willsboro, NY.