Math and Common Core: Challenge Problems, Math Talks, and the Fundamentals

Although homework completion and test prep always come first, free time at DreamCatchers has been dedicated to math.  Extra worksheets and online computer adaptive math programs were available that aligned with the concepts and skills being taught in class.  All students, with their tutors, were encouraged to tackle the challenge problems (sometimes called “Einsteins”) presented by middle school math teachers throughout the district.  Our students were encouraged to talk math with their tutors and in larger group discussions.  The eight Common Core Mathematical Practices guide our work.

Our DreamCatchers students took on “optional” challenge problems that feed into qualifying for the accelerated lane of math in middle school.  Many Palo Alto parents  expect and encourage their children to routinely work on these problems, but for DreamCatchers students it has only recently become a viable and rewarding option  because of the help they get from their personal tutors.

“Put away your pencils.  No paper.  No ghost writing in the air.  Certainly no calculators!  How would you solve 18 x 5?”  Seventh grade math teacher Richard Hung posed this problem and our classes of students and tutors came up with strategies that expanded everyone’s way of thinking about what might appear to be a straightforward multiplication equation.  See Stanford students' varying strategies and how educators like Prof. Jo Boaler encourage flexibility in mathematical thinking.

Working on the fundamentals is a key part of the DreamCatchers program.  Students who were done with homework practiced math skills either online with Front Row or with worksheets on positive and negative integers, ratios and fractions, linear equations or other middle school math fundamentals.  Private one-on-one tutoring time allows students to ask any and all of the questions that linger in their minds.  Tutors are encouraged to prompt deeper conversations.