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California teachers seeking more training to get Common Core right

Teachers listen to a keynote talk at California State University, Long Beach, one of over 30 California Teachers Summit locations where they learned about Common Core instruction.
Adolfo Guzman-Lopez/KPCC
Teachers listen to a keynote talk at California State University, Long Beach, one of over 30 California Teachers Summit locations where they learned about Common Core instruction.

Teachers taking part in last Friday's California Teachers Summit training called on school administrators to provide more examples of how Common Core can be best taught, if they want it done right.

The summit provided teachers an opportunity to share best practices in teaching the new learning standards that emphasize concepts like problem-solving, critical thinking and collaboration. Many teachers sought concrete examples of how the skills can be taught across different subjects.

“So if we see teachers teaching using the Common Core, it may become easier for us,” said Dunia Zeineddine, an 11th-grade math teacher at Polytechnic High School in Long Beach. “Because I’m sure we have all the components. We just need to know what is it exactly they’re asking for.” 

Teaching the new standards has been a major challenge for many classroom instructors, about half of whom are not fully prepared to teach the Common Core, estimated Michael Kirst, president of the California State Board of Education, earlier this year.

Zeineddine was among about 600 teachers attending the summit at Cal State Long Beach, one of 33 training locations across the state. California State University, the New Teacher Center, and the Association of Independent California Colleges and Universities sponsored the event.

Many teachers have been finding it difficult to translate the Common Core concepts into lessons that build up skills in areas that are measured in new standardized tests.

High school teacher Jose Rivas, giving a keynote talk at the Cal State Long Beach summit, discussed his unusual way of teaching a physics lesson on rotational inertia.

“I am a third-degree black belt in aikido, and so is the other teacher. She’s a third-degree black belt in tae kwon do, so don’t freak out if she gets flipped around,” he explained before showing a video that shows Rivas flipping the other teacher in a martial arts move. His students’ mouths hang open.

It's the type of real-world lessons Zeineddine said she’d like to see more of to help teachers improve their Common Core instruction.

Laura Cortez, a 3rd-grade teacher at Extera Public Schools, liked seeing a technique where a teacher uses silence as a method for math instruction.

“It was teaching angles, and it was like the teacher was just quiet,” while pointing to a picture and giving students the time to figure it out for themselves, Cortez said.

Cortez and other teachers said they’d like administrators to give them more chances to brainstorm ideas with other teachers so they can share methods that work.

The free training at the California Teachers Summit came at the right time.

“Summer is the time when teachers are rebooting and finding ways to re-energize and remember what they’re about,” said Cindy Grutzik, associate dean of the Cal State, Long Beach School of Education.

One of the benefits of Common Core is that it doesn’t emphasize teaching to the tests as previous learning standards did, said Grutzik.

But the testing is not gone. This spring, California finished its first full statewide testing of students on the new standards.

Those first tests didn’t go so well in other states and California officials have warned that the first scores may not be stellar

Still, teacher Laura Cortez said she’s not worried about her students’ scores.

“I want to see them. I want to contact my principal and ask how my kids did. I’m excited,” she said.

She as well as students' parents will find out soon enough if the children did well. The standardized test results are expected out later this month.