It's the middle of the daily math lesson and Julianne Kerschner tells her class to gather on the big blue carpet at the front of the classroom.

As her Mapleton Elementary School first-graders scramble for the prized seat next to their teacher, Kerschner asks for a volunteer. Before she can explain the task, 22 hands shoot into the air.

Kerschner lays four pencils of varying lengths on the carpet.

"Who thinks they can put these pencils in order from shortest to tallest?" she asks.

She chooses a student, who arranges the pencils according to length.

The lesson is about measurement, and Kerschner proceeds into a discussion about using things like paper clips or erasers to measure objects.

The Ohio Department of Education calls this skill "estimating and measuring lengths using non-standard units" and it's one of five math indicators related to measurement that first-grade students are expected to learn before they move to second grade. Besides measurement, there are five standards categories that together contain 45 math benchmarks — and numerous other indicators or skills — for Ohio students in preschool through second grade.

Ohio is one of 48 states working to develop more streamlined national standards called Common Core for math and language arts. The effort was initiated by the Council of Chief State School Officers, a nonprofit group that, among other things, works to improve education standards and assessment.

In a statement, CCSSO said the Common Core standards will be "fewer, clearer and higher" and will make clear "expectations for what students will know and be able to do grade by grade."

Kerschner said when the standards are adopted next school year, the number of indicators in Ohio schools will be cut 60 percent to 70 percent.

"Right now, we're touching on a ton of different skills instead of mastering a few each year," Kerschner said.

In her classroom, Kerschner begins each math class with a calendar study during which students spend about 30 minutes counting school days, learning place values, recognizing coins, identifying number and shape patterns and analyzing graphs that display the week's weather. Students then practice the facts they've learned, such as counting by two and recognizing even and odd numbers.

The idea, Kerschner said, is that through repetition and applying concepts, students learn better. And with so many skills to learn, solidifying basic knowledge is even more crucial.

"Basics are the really big thing," Kerschner said. "If they don't know the basics, you have to stop and re-teach and make sure they understand it."

Kerschner said that as students move on to higher-level math and begin taking state assessments, some of the most common mistakes are with simple addition and subtraction.

Mapleton is working with the Ohio Improvement Process and has identified district and building-specific plans in hopes of spurring higher student achievement.

Mapleton Elementary School principal Luann Kunisch said one of the elementary school's big math-specific goals is to improve number sense, or how children relate with numbers. So every classroom works on a problem of the day that deals with that concept.

"The goal is to raise the level of thinking so that when presented with the Ohio Achievement Assessment, they'll be able to analyze and solve a problem and explain how they got the answer," Kunisch said.

The school also is working to maintain continuity among grade levels and clearly define what a student should know as he or she leaves each grade. So once a week, Kunisch said, teachers in consecutive grades meet with one another before school to review the concepts students need to be learning.

Kerschner said some of the biggest issues she's facing with this year's class are attention-related. Students began the year clustered in groups, but she's had to shuffle seating arrangements and move students by themselves because they were having trouble focusing.

But, though the class may be moving at a slightly slower pace, Kerschner said she thinks students are beginning to grasp some of the concepts they were struggling with.

"I hear them every now and then making connections between something new and something we learned before," Kerschner said. "We are making progress." (…)


Source: Ashland Times Gazette –