Sierra College Trains High School Math Teachers to Take Action to Meet Common Core Education Requirements

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In preparation for meeting the new Common Core mathematics requirements, teachers from Placer, Nevada & Sacramento counties built catapults and conducted other engaging hands-on activities during a four-session Hands-on Algebra training provided by the Sierra College Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) Collaborative.

Teachers launch balls with catapults that they built themselves at training in teaching new Common Core for Mathematics.

The goal of this professional development series is to demonstrate how teaching applied mathematics leads to student success.

In October, over 20 high school teachers challenged with teaching to the new Common Core Mathematics Standards completed a four session, two month, Hands-on Algebra training presented by Sierra College Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) Collaborative., in partnership with Placer County Office of Education.

Accustomed to delivering scripted instruction related to the California Standards Tests (CST), these teachers actively participated in the training to experience and practice hands-on teaching methods.

In one session, the math instructors used wood shop tools to build catapults that can demonstrate real math applications to students. As part of the training, they took their catapults outdoors, launched balls and collected data. The teachers learned how to use an activity and gather real data used in an equation to demonstrate the parabolic curve of the launched ball. To make the lesson even more relevant to students in Northern California, the teachers were given examples of ski and snowboard designs that use a parabolic curve to improve maneuverability on the slopes.

With the pressure to meet the new Common Core education requirements, this Hands-on Algebra participatory training is a springboard for teacher success, explained Carol Pepper-Kittredge, Director, Center for Applied Competitive Technologies, Sierra College.

“The goal of this professional development series is to demonstrate how teaching applied mathematics leads to student success,” said Pepper-Kittredge. “The training is focused on preparing math faculty to use the Common Core Standards of Mathematical Practice. The applied approach will help to provide students with the mathematical foundation they need to further their education and succeed in STEM careers.”

According to Jeanne Villeneuve, Sierra College STEM Hands-on Algebra Trainer and Mathematics teacher at Del Oro High School in Loomis CA, the new Common Core standards add a new dimension to instruction. “Now in addition to learning mathematical content, habits of mind are emphasized. Students must persevere and use logical reasoning to demonstrate a depth of knowledge and an ability to apply what they have learned,” said Villeneuve.

She says that teaching students applied academics works. “When my students built the catapults, the x and y intercept on a graph finally made sense,” said Villeneuve. “The y intercept is the height of the ball prior to being launched and the x intercept is where the ball hits the ground. Before we built the catapults, the concept was abstract. The hands-on experience made it tangible and they stopped getting the intercepts confused.”

Denise Miller, Mathematics teacher at Foresthill High School in Foresthill, CA, thought the training was timely. “This workshop was exactly what I was looking for to learn best practices in teaching Common Core and to engage my students,” said Miller.

“Collaborating with other teachers and trying new methods has given me great ideas. After seeing it in the training, I had my students use graphing calculators to investigate how graphs change when the equation changes instead of my usual teacher-directed instruction. The students reflected on what they noticed and made conjectures. They were more engaged and enjoyed using the technology,” said Miller.

In the final professional development session, teachers demonstrated the hands-on portion of lessons that they adapted for use in their classes. One teacher used a bungee jumping demonstration with a doll to model the slope of a linear equation. Another instructor developed a lesson where a landowner sells gold claims and needs to maximize his profit by dividing up equal plots of land with ropes and stakes on an irregular shaped property. A team of teachers demonstrated an activity where participants go outside and lay lines of large cards that are stitched together on the ground to represent the x axis and y axis. Participants were assigned values of x to plug into an equation and then stood on the corresponding point. While standing on their points, the teachers extended their arms to teammates to represent the graph of the equation.

Teachers agreed that it was very valuable to learn from each other and participate in their peers’ hands-on demonstrations of mathematical concepts that were tied to relevant real world examples, explained Pepper-Kittredge. “Through the training, they gained experience with hands-on lessons that they can use in their classrooms to help students connect math to their world. When students see how math is applied, they gain a deeper understanding,” said Pepper-Kittredge.

California Common Core State Standards: Mathematics was adopted by the California State Board of Education to prepare students for the 21st Century Global economy. The nationally based standards use mathematics to solve problems, use real-world situations for applying mathematics and are intended to foster mastery of mathematics through hands-on demonstrations.

About Sierra College STEM Collaborative
The Sierra STEM Collaborative is funded by the California Community College Chancellor’s Office to create a pipeline of students interested in technical careers. Students can pursue Welding, Mechatronics, Engineering, Drafting & Engineering Support, and Environmental Studies and Sustainability -- Photovoltaic at Sierra College. in Rocklin, CA. For information, go to or contact Carol Pepper-Kittredge, Sierra College at (916) 660-7801.

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Sue Michaels

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