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Common Core: Inspiring the Best in Our Students through Cross-Curriculum Collaboration ~ Eric Slifstein and Kim Hardwick

One of the hallmarks of the Common Core Standards, the rigorous learning goals being implemented in more than 40 states across the country, is the greater collaboration they empower among teachers and students. By creating better continuity across states, districts and even classrooms, the Common Core is helping educators to share best practices and ideas to unlock students’ full potential. Gone are the days of teaching in silos.

While much of this partnership is taking place at the state and district level – in one recent study more than two-thirds of school districts reported that local teachers are developing curricula – it’s happening on a more micro level as well. Within schools, educators are encouraging students to apply skills across subjects and helping to reinforce foundational skills by integrating concepts from one class to the next. This synergy, in turn, has created a more logical progression of learning and promises to help accelerate student development.

Take, for example, the work going on within the halls of Clayton Huey Elementary School in Suffolk County. Students here actively engage in lesson plans to develop basic math and number fluency skills using a range of techniques, like drawing, base-ten grouping, and other tactics, in addition to traditional memorization and recitation. But when math class ends, their learning does not.

In physical education classes we are able to bolster many of these concepts through lively, hands-on activities. Students might count out how many times they can jump rope and then form the number on the ground. They might convert minutes and seconds to time races or use basic addition skills to count scissor kicks to measure the length of the gymnasium. While it may sound like pretty basic stuff to adults, for kindergartners and first-graders these activities put numbers and simple functions into practice – all while providing a constructive outlet for their inherent energy.

What’s more, for many students who struggle with concepts on paper, applying them to physical activity often helps make it “click.” Suddenly, nine minus seven makes more sense when counting an advantage a team might have in a game of tug-of-war. Ratios and conversions may become less daunting for a child when timing themselves as they run different lengths of the gym. The combination of activities and lessons is endless, and the understanding for children invaluable.

The importance of physical education is well documented. Children who don’t have an outlet for their natural energy – which is tremendous – are more likely to experience behavioral problems in class. Last fall there were several reports of schools considering doing away with recess and arts and recreation classes because of pressures for students to achieve to high education standards. That would be a mistake, and what’s equally as bad is that such proposals play into the misconceived notion that high academic aspirations are just too much for our students to meet.

In our experience as educators, children consistently rise to the expectations we hold for them. And when we fail to set adequately challenging goals, they often fail to achieve all they are capable of. The Common Core does set rigorous learning benchmarks, but these are necessary to ensure students get on, and stay on, a path that prepares them for high-level learning, and ultimately for a college or career of their choice.

Inevitably, some students will fall short of these goals, as they did under New York’s previous education standards. That doesn’t mean an elementary, middle-school or even high-school student is doomed if they do. In fact, quite the opposite; it gives parents and teachers an honest assessment so they can address those learning needs and ensure that students have the resources to get back on track.

The transition to the new math and English language arts standards set forth by the Common Core has come with its own struggles. According to a Scholastic study last fall, more than eight in 10 teachers said implementation has been challenging. Yet teachers remain enthusiastic, buoyed by early improvements in student outcomes. In the same study, 84 percent of teachers who worked closely with the Common Core said implementation is going well, and more than two-thirds reported a positive impact on their students’ ability to use critical thinking and reasoning skills.

The Common Core has ushered in a new era of education, both for teachers and students. No longer are we tied to ineffective models that failed to adequately prepare our young people to reach and succeed in high levels of learning. No longer are we masking true proficiency in low expectations or setting kids up for remediation by systematically lowering the bar. Instead, we are creating an atmosphere in which teachers and students can collaborate together to unlock their full potential. Now, as these seeds begin to take root, is not the time to turn back.

Eric Slifstein has been teaching Physical Education for 19 years at Clayton Huey Elementary School in Center Moriches New York and was the 2013-14 Suffolk County Elementary Physical Education Teacher of The Year.

Kim Hardwick served as an English teacher for 14 years before heeding a call to administration. She’s been a principal for the past 9 years and is currently the proud principal of Clayton Huey Elementary in Center Moriches, NY.