What does it mean to "Do Math"?

What does it mean to "Do Math"? When students are doing math, what does it look like? Does it look different at different grades? For different math topics? When you're in school compared to outside of school?

The Common Core Standards for Math helps provide a vision of what it means to "Do Math." Let's look closely at the Common Core Standards for Math.

The Common Core Standards for Math are made up of two sets of standards.

  1. Standards of Math Content: The K-12 math concepts and skills broken into domains of mathematics (e.g., number and operation, algebra, funcitions, statistics and probability, etc.) depending on the grade level. These standards progress from grade-to-grade to build a cohesive network of topics within a structure of mathematics.
  2. Standards of Math Practice: The Math Practices are the "habits of mind" of doing mathematics. The Math Practices are the actions (i.e., behaviors, thinking, etc.) people do with the things we call math content.

When we say "Do the Math", I think of the Math Practices.

The eight Standards of Math Practices are the same for all grade levels K-12, which become more fully developed as the doer of math matures.

As teachers implement CCSS math, focusing on the Standards of Math Practice is vital to our transitioning from the old standards, assessments and instructional practices to those that students need to be college and career ready. I'm not the only one seeing the importance of shifting our instruction to ensure that students are engaging in the Math Practices.

The Math Practices and Smarter Balanced

Smarter Balanced assesses students' performances of Standards of Math Practices. Check out the Claims for the Mathematics Summative Assessment, which describes the four claims that Smarter Balanced will find evidence for as students complete their grade level assessments. Notice the direct connection to the Standards of Math Practices.

The Math Practices and Higher Education

Institutes of higher education highlight the importance of the Standards of Math Practices. Check out the University of California Board of Admissions and Relations with Schools (BOARS) Statement on High School Mathematics Curriculum Development under the Common Core State Standards. BOARS is the organization of that oversees the UC A-G course approval process.

There are two sentences in the statement that really struck me:

  • In the first paragraph, there is this one...."Developing a coherent mathematics curriculum that is fully consistent with the CCSSM will involve much more than simply reordering topics to be covered."
  • In the last paragraph, there is this one...."It is BOARS’ expectation that courses developed in accordance with either sequence will receive subject area “c” approval provided that they satisfy the course requirements for area “c” presented in the A-G Guide and that they support students in achieving the Standards of Mathematical Practice given in the CCSSM."

These statements tell me that to receive UC course approval for new math courses, we will need to demonstrate that courses and instruction will engage students in the Standards of Math Practices on a real and frequent basis.

As we continue to transition to Common Core Math, we need to keep the Standards of Math Practice at the forefront of our professional work, including our professional learning. We should strive to know deeply the Standards of Math Practice.

  • What are they?
  • What do they look like in the classroom?
  • How do we continue to shift our teaching practices to engage students in them (see Principles to Actions)?
  • How do we support our district and site leadership to understand the shifts as well (see Principles to Actions)?

We want our students to be active doers of math, not innocent bystanders of math.

What are your thoughts on this? Please share.