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Common Core standards connect learning to life [Commentary]

Colleges and UniversitiesSchoolsElementary Schools

"Why do I have to learn this?" is a question that has haunted classrooms for years. Teachers spend a great deal of instructional time searching for connections to make learning meaningful for students. Education is evolving, and at the forefront of this change is the implementation of the Common Core State Standards. Teachers will no longer have to search for answers to why something is being taught. Common Core makes the connections teachers and students are seeking, and the result is better teaching and enriched learning.

Enter my class of 2026. Some members of this class will graduate from college with degrees in engineering, ready to enter the workforce, filling STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) positions across the globe. These students will have completed high school both college- and career-ready. They will be experts in civic engagement and ecological citizenship. They will be proficient writers, as it has become clear that a student's success is reliant upon his or her ability to write.

With the introduction of the Common Core framework, my fourth graders are spending their days deeply engaged in meaningful and rigorous learning. They are comparing and contrasting the treatment of themes and patterns of events in stories, Greek mythology and traditional literature from different cultures. They are talking about events and ideas in historical, scientific and technical texts, discussing what happened and why. They are conducting historical investigations through the examination of primary sources. They have spent time analyzing the work of our founding fathers in 1787, in order to understand the significance of the Constitution. They embrace democracy and are able to explain why the United States has maintained a strong central government. They are examining author's craft. They question why an author has chosen a particular style of language and how his words affect the reader. They are writing opinion pieces, supporting a point of view with reliable and valid information.

Many of their parents have shared their most recent dinner conversations, for example: "Mom, I am ready to climb Mt. Everest. I hope you will support me and here are my reasons why…" They are designing winter coats and utilizing the engineering design process to better understand thermodynamics and its relationship to textile sciences. They are explaining why fractions are equivalent to one another using visual fraction models and making connections to real life examples. And this is just the beginning.

These young citizens are learning how to engage effectively in collaborative discussions. They are posing questions, responding to questions, making clarifications and providing comments that contribute to the discussion. Most importantly, they are thinking before speaking and writing. They are thriving in a student-centered environment. They are addressing real life subjects, solving problems, answering complex questions and investigating global issues. They are immersed in a passionate, compassionate and animated classroom. Common Core State Standards are helping teachers create a learning environment in which these experiences are happening daily. Teachers are inspired by their students' eagerness and new-found curiosity for learning.

My colleagues and I are working diligently to create a seamless system of education, beginning in elementary school, that will prepare our students to meet the demands of a globally competitive world. Common Core State Standards provide teachers with instructional guidance to make these dramatic improvements.

American Education Week begins Monday. Parents are invited into classrooms for a first-hand look at what a school day is like for their children. It is a time to celebrate public education and acknowledge those individuals who are working endlessly to ensure each child is college and career ready.

Go visit your child's classroom. Great things are happening in schools across the state. Take a closer look at the level of rigor, at the challenges and at the connections to which your child is exposed each and every day. Research shows that parental involvement increases a student's achievement. Make this your responsibility. We believe in Common Core, and we need parental support. Explore, ask questions, investigate, and you will see how the Common Core is helping children improve their learning.

Amanda Ensor, a fourth-grade teacher at Church Hill Elementary School in Queen Anne's County, was the 2012 to 2013 teacher of the year in her region. Her email is amanda.ensor@qacps.org.

To respond to this commentary, send an email to talkback@baltimoresun.com. Please include your name and contact information.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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