Common Core for our Youngest Learners….. a Positive Beginning!



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FWSU is ready to implement the COMMON CORE STATE STANDARDS (CCSS), and we are committed to making school engaging for children.   In order to be “Career and College Ready”, our youngest children must believe they have something important to share, and they must stay excited about their learning.  Our mission is to hook our youngest and most eager learners.  They must ask their own questions and answer them.   They must solve big problems and use their inquiry to make sense of their world.  They must construct meaning.  They must want to run into school!

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Children thrive when teachers offer them new and different ways to express themselves.  These pre-schoolers are using digital media to draw and sequence, talking about their stories as they work with an adult.


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Block play is critical to the development of young children and supports many Common Core learning targets.    Through the manipulation of carefully chosen blocks and props, children develop spatial awareness and problem solving skills as part of their elaborate system of play.  Adults quietly observe and facilitate.  This child’s teacher asked a few honest questions and provided alternate language for the child to use as he describes  the story he had created.   She took a picture to document the detail of his work and scripted his story.

The teacher taking the picture below began a math lesson on measurement with these boys.

"He's really big- maybe 50 boards....   How big are you?  "

“He’s really big- maybe 50 boards….   How big are you?  “


The Common Core places emphasis on reading multiple types of text, both in print and digital forms.   Young students need practice to build their reading stamina.  They must learn to pay close attention to details, use phonics to figure out words they do not know, and use text features to locate important information.   These students each have their own book boxes with books they can read and learn from.  They have dedicated time during the day to read independently with “just right books”-  a  time that they learn to be independent and enjoy literature that they choose.

image Parents should expect children to be engaged in challenging reading, writing and problem solving tasks as a result of the Common Core.   At the same time, they can expect students in FWSU to be joyfully interacting with each other and with their world –  laughing, singing and sharing along the way!

 "Hey Mr. Dodge-  did you see the porcupines?   How many quills?"

“Hey Mr. Dodge-  did you see the porcupines?   How many quills?”


Are you looking for more information on the COMMON CORE STATE STANDARDS as they relate to your young child?    The National PTA offers A Parents’ Guide to Student Success.  Click on the link for a quick 2-page summary of Common Core Standards at each grade level.

“Part of our job has not changed –   we must continue to instill WONDER, HOPE and LAUGHTER within our children.  What better way to help them become “Career and College Ready”?        Mary Lynn Riggs, FWSU Director of Curriculum
























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First graders  examine a milkweed plant and work as a group to gether information and make sense of new information for a science investigation.  Students learn to participate in conversations with others by linking their observations and comments to the remarks of others.  They need opportunities and coaching to learn to ask and answer questions of each other,  to gather information, and to gain a deeper understanding- all skils demanded by the Common Core.


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“Children must see themselves as leaders in a world where they can lead.”

Children learn early to share different ways of thinking and to understand that there are multiple ways of solving a single math problem.    They learn to describe their thinking and to listen to the thinking of others- and they do  not need an adult to always guide that process.


Schools Get Ready for Math Common Core


FWSU teachers have been preparing for full implementation of the Math Common Core State Standards (CCSS). They have been meeting quarterly by grade level to plan their curriculum and instruction to align with the CCSS. This summer FWSU will offer a course designed to provide teachers with strategies to do more challenging work and yet reach all students in the math classroom. Next year all teachers will fully implement the Math Common Core.

A classroom poster highlighting math practices.

What does this mean for students?

Teachers will narrow and deepen their focus on key math concepts at their grade level. Students will learn fewer concepts but will need to understand and explain the concepts in greater detail than in the past, and those concepts will be connected throughout the year. Students will need to do more than know the trick to get the right answer; they will need to understand and explain their math reasoning to others. As in the past, student will be expected to develop speed and accuracy with simple calculations; they will still have to know their math facts. And finally, students will be expected to use math and apply the appropriate math concepts in real world problem-solving – when they are engineering cars for the STEM Fair or calculating the average temperature for a winter that will never end.

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Pi Night at BFA encourages conversations about math.

What will parents see?

The teacher will no longer work page-to-page in the math textbook. Expect students to skip pages, do writing and draw models in mathematics. Students’ math assignments will go beyond the worksheet or the word problem that the teacher might have assigned in the past. Parents can help students develop patience in solving difficult problems and encourage them to solve problems in multiple ways – “Can you do this in another way?” Some parents may have to bite their tongues and ask questions, not provide answers. Adults can help students by asking them explain their thinking. They should expect to hear math language when talking with students.

The Common Core demands a revised mathematics curriculum and renewed teacher planning. By next fall, teachers will be using an FWSU Math Curriculum that fully aligns with the CCSS.


If you are curious and would like to see what is coming, please check the resources below:

A Focus on Inquiry in GEMS Social Studies

Target 1. Student-Centered Learning –  FWSU students will engage in personalize learning involving collaborative inquiry, problem solving and creative learning opportunities.

Action Step – Highlight, create and model innovative learning opportunities that promote collaborative inquiry, problem solving and creativity for students and staff.

How did corn help civilizations thrive in the Americas? Why did slavery begin in the new world? How did potatoes impact Ireland? These were among the numerous questions students generated recently in Eric Hadd’s 8th Grade Social Studies classes at GEMS. Students completed an inquiry project which will serve as a common assessment at the 7th and 8th grade levels for schools in FWSU.The idea behind a common assessment is that a group of teachers will ask their students to complete a task which measures the same skill or key concept. The resulting collection of work will be examined by the group of teachers and they will discuss ideas for fine-tuning instruction to achieve improved learning outcomes.

Following some introductory learning about the Columbian Exchange, Mr. Hadd asked his students to formulate a probing question related to the massive transfer of plants, animals, technology, disease and culture between the old and new worlds which began in 1492. A probing question often asks how or why and requires an explanation, evidence and examples to support the answer. The ability of students to formulate probing questions is one of the standards addressed by the project.

Students then conducted research by locating quality sources and collecting relevant information that they used to produce a succinct, well supported answer. This research process along with citing sources and presenting results through appropriate formats is the other standard teachers have been looking at closely. Short research projects are an important part of the new Common Core State Standards that FWSU is continuing to implement across the curriculum.

The final phase of the project involved creating an infographic to provide an alternate and more visual way to share their research with others. Infographics were created using a variety of design apps on the students’ iPads. Most included images, timelines, graphs, maps, important vocabulary and a small number of key notes. When students shared their findings the infographic format made it easier to show others what they had learned, answer questions, and defend their conclusions.

potato blightMr. Hadd has found inquiry activities to be a valuable part of his classroom. Powerful learning takes place when students are allowed to go in-depth with a question they have chosen within a broader topic of study. When students formulate a question it is highly relevant to them, thus making inquiry a great way to personalize learning. The research and higher-order thinking of these projects also transfer well to other content areas and life activities.

FWSU Teachers will be meeting in teams during the January 21st inservice day and the discussions about student work will be a valuable part of planning future instruction.

BFA Second Grade Students Explore Measurement

TARGET 1 Student-Centered Learning FWSU students will engage in personalize learning involving collaborative inquiry, problem solving and creative learning opportunities.

ACTION STEP – Highlight, create and model innovative learning opportunities that promote collaborative inquiry, problem solving and creativity for students and staff.

Step into a second grade Math Classroom and you may see students creating their own tools for measuring items. It isn’t what it seems. There is no scarcity of wooden rulers here. Students are making their own “rulers” from cardboard to better understand the concept of measurement.  

Last week, children in Katie Haddock’s classroom needed to understand that 12 inches is equal to 1 foot – and that the standard measure of 1 foot may not be the same length as their own physical foot. Students learned why inchworms are called “inchworms” (they are equal to 1 inch) and then used this as a referent to create their own “inchworm” rulers with cardboard, paper, and glue. Once created and numbered, it became clear that there were 12 equal segments in their ruler, that they were “inches” (like the inchworm), and that they created a standard measure that everyone could used and then compare.  Following a session with scissors, colored pencils, and glue, students scattered about the classroom measuring, charting, and comparing the length of objects using their inchworm rulers. The talk among students was about what made sense, which object was longer, and how to measure accurately.

It all sounds very basic, but think about how children come to know the underlying concepts that are the foundation of the tools they use. The Common Core State Standards in Mathematics require that students understand the meaning and rationale behind everyday tools, and it only makes sense. These second graders were thinking about their “work” in the process of cutting and pasting. One little boy ended up with only 11 segments of the inchworm on his ruler, and went back three times to check himself, explaining “I need 12 inches, you know.  Where did the last one go?”

Children each make meaning in their own way, but they must be engaged, thinking, and problem-solving with each other to personalize their learning.  

Georgia First Grade Students Connect Math and Sunflowers

First grade students at GEMS used their math reasoning skills to answer questions during a sunflower activity on a beautiful, sunny afternoon.  Students collaborated to discuss and share their measuring, estimation, comparisons, and counting.

This year, teachers will embed the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) in mathematics into their daily math practice. These kinds of activities reflect the critical thinking and math practices that students will be asked to know and do. Teachers will be adapting and aligning existing curriculum with the newly adopted standards throughout the year as GEMS rolls out the implementation of CCSS Math Standards. The CCSS expects that students will apply their learning in real-world contexts.

Children in our schools are using outdoor “labs” to explore the natural environment while learning and applying basic skills.

Students compare using various forms of measurement – links, meter sticks, and tape measures.

Students work together to chart their results.

Off and Running!

The 2012/13 school has officially started for all faculty and staff of FWSU. This morning our school year began with a convocation led by district administration at BFA Fairfax. The newly-developed FWSU action plan was a focus of the morning presentation. Teachers John Tague, Denette Locke and Mary Fitzgerald presented a session for all teachers exploring the concepts presented in the Math Common Core. The enduring message is that “we are all teachers of mathematics.”

FWSU teachers learn more about Math Common Core.

This afternoon individual faculties met as groups to discuss and process a district-wide reading recommended by the FWSU professional development committee. The reading explored the personalization of education in the digital age that we now live.

John Tague and Denette Locke discuss the big ideas of the Math Common Core

Thursday and Friday teachers and staff will be meeting in their local schools preparing for the arrival of all of our students next Monday. We can hardly wait!!