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Common Core State Standards in the Classroom

Ms. Debbie Ericksen

Ms. Debbie EricksenMs. Debbie Ericksen teaches fourth grade at Adamsville Primary School in Bridgewater, NJ. Ms. Ericksen holds an MBA and previously worked for a Fortune 500 company in Human Resources. In 2001, she began her career in education as a substitute teacher and is currently in her  sixth year as a certified teacher. Ms. Ericksen is a member of the New Jersey Teacher Advisory Panel and a graduate of the 2012 Mickleson ExxonMobil Teacher Academy. She credits this experience with transforming how she teaches and deepening her practice of integrating Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) across subjects to excite students about the STEM fields using  hands-on classroom experiences. Through the academy, she has joined a network of educators that are passionate about STEM instruction and learned strategies to create lesson plans that focus on student inquiry, critical thinking, and innovation.

The Common Core State Standards ask teachers to incorporate mathematics and English language arts (ELA) across subject areas and include writing, speaking and listening skills in all subjects. In Ms. Ericksen's classroom, cross-curricular work is exemplified through her students' science notebooks. Students participate in hands-on science experiments and document their science lessons and results. The science notebooks engage students in critical analysis by "thinking like a scientist," and improve their writing skills. Students are asked to determine how to present their data while learning that results can be expressed in multiple correct ways, such as the choice between using a bar graph, circle graph, or histogram. Ms. Ericksen encourages all her students to become academic risk-takers and stresses within her classroom that practice and learning from mistakes are necessary to become a champion in any field.

In her own words…

What excites you as an educator about the Common Core in your classroom?

I am excited about the Common Core in my classroom because of what I see in my students. They learn to stretch beyond their comfort zone, navigate through frustration in order to achieve more than they thought possible, and develop creative solutions/conclusions to problems they are presented with. My students start the year on the shy side and within several months are able to confidently present their perspectives, provide support for their reasoning, and feel comfortable adjusting their thinking and/ordecision-making to compensate for mistakes in their understanding of concepts.

What is the biggest challenge in transition to the Common Core and how did you address it?

It's OK to not know. It's not OK to not try.The biggest challenge was convincing my students (and their parents) that they were able to stretch beyond their comfort zone and achieve great success in learning.  My students will tell you that "Difficult does not mean impossible."  It has been the mantra of our learning environment from the first day of school.  They have internalized that belief and have demonstrated perseverance in navigating through difficult concepts or problems. 

I came back from lunch one day and they had created a  poster during recess that said "It's OK to not know. It's not OK to not try." They signed all their names to the poster. I signed my name, too, and hung it on our wall. I will not take that poster down.

Why do you believe the Common Core better prepares students for the next grade level and ultimately college and careers?

I believe the Common Core better prepares students for the next grade level and, in turn, prepares them for college and careers because it establishes a framework for the teaching and learning process that encourages independent, critical thinking. If there are two skills that are needed in both life and career, it is the ability to think independently and to evaluate situations critically. Once those skills are established, students can chart their course and strive toward their ultimate  goals.

How has the Common Core encouraged collaboration in your school and classroom?

The Common Core has encouraged collaboration because teachers now have more opportunities to create projects and lessons that integrate all subject matter areas.  As a result, we are able to work together to share our expertise and develop learning experiences that benefit all of our students because we are focused on the same objectives.

What has been the impact of the Common Core on your students' learning?

Ms. Debbie EricksenThe greatest impact of the Common Core has been that my students become independent, critical thinkers.  They have learned how to approach concepts/problems from a variety of perspectives and develop solutions that are creative, relevant, and supported by information they have learned.