Teachers return to class to learn about new Core Curriculum
At Haywood County Schools, like most public schools across the nation, things are changing. Gone are the days of rote memorization and math problems that only allow one process of deduction. Gone is a curriculum that's "a mile wide, an inch deep," as Associate Superintendent Bill Nolte called it.
Ready or not, here comes the Common Core State Standards, a bundle of new education philosophies and benchmarks that have been adopted in 45 states and three U.S. territories thus far. This shift — away from recall and toward more critical thinking and real-world skills — is massive for teachers, and Nolte knows it.
"And I know we built the plane first and then we told them how it works, but we do that all the time in life," he said.
It was Wednesday morning, and he was speaking from the the hallway outside a Canton Middle School classroom which was filled with a different crop of students than normal. Instead of youngsters, teachers from across the district were seated in rows of desks as they learned more about the ins and outs of the Common Core.
Every instructor in every grade was doing this in one classroom or another, with middle- and high-school teachers at CMS and elementary instructors at Waynesville Middle School. While teachers have been using the Common Core for nearly two months and have had instruction in it in the past, Nolte hopes additional work days like this will help the continuation of the transition. They might also, in his words, show teachers the "urgency and necessity to change" to the new system.
"I think if we do a good job with our staff people, we'll do OK," he said, adding "the key is do we really understand the new curriculum and how it works?"
For his part, he does, and not just through the eyes of an administrator. Nolte, a former principal and teacher, is licensed to teach middle-school science and biology. As he sees it, the big difference between the old and new system is what he calls "critical response." This new curriculum is focused on how students think and deduce, not so much on how they remember.
As an example, Nolte explained that in the old curriculum students might have to identify the parts of cell. In the new one, they might have to explain what a cell does. When Nolte himself was in school in Tennessee, he had to remember that his home state was the 16th to enter the union. If he had been learning under this new philosophy, however, he might have had to explain why Tennessee was the 16th state.
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