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Quick and Dirty Guide to CCSS Math

Written For Tutors

In all my years of tutoring (20+) I have yet to go through one full year without a major issue arising, in mathematics education, that tutors have to face.  This year (and over the past few years) that issue has been Common Core State Standards (CCSS).  Many tutors want to know how to help their students when standards have changed, or become more uniform across states.  These changes have resulted in the development of mathematics curriculum and use of new texts in many school districts.  However, although many states have adopted the CCSS, the standards do not require a specific curriculum or text.  (This leaves the door wide open for companies to sell their products claiming to be aligned with the standards.)  To make matters more confusing, many districts can make their own decisions about what materials to use to teach their students.  This creates a struggle for many tutors: the materials changed suddenly, the expectations are higher for students, and parents can’t begin to explain why their child struggles with the content.

In light of this, I have good news… for tutors!  The standards are for teachers to worry about; your concern is helping your students learn the material being taught.  Below I listed a few tips/strategies for helping your students during the CCSS era.  Many of the tips here are not original or new, but may be more relevant to the expectations placed upon students as a result of the CCSS.  So, let’s get going…

Please feel free to add to these or modify them to accommodate your students’ needs.  I hope this is helpful and will alleviate some stress!

  • Help students think critically and analytically – higher order thinking is an expectation
  • The standards are for teachers to use during instruction – no need to feel compelled to include them in your instruction
  • Know and understand the standards so you can help your students – know what your students are expected to do and understand
  • Tutor with the same confidence you had before CCSS adoptions – students will trust you more if they feel you are confident
  • Get your students accustomed to justifying their answers – if your students can justify their answers, then, most likely, they understand the concept taught
  • Change the format of the problems so you can check for understanding – students should understand the concept behind the problem rather than just the procedure for solving it
  • Know the language used in the standards – encourage your students to use and know it as well
  • Speak positively instead of negatively about the standards – if you resist the change, so will your students, but they will hurt in the end
  • Don’t panic – or your students will panic as well
  • Relax – so your students can relax and learn


  1. Common Core State Standards
  2. Common Core Math Standards
  3. National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM)
  4. National Research Council’s “Adding it Up”


Students Thinking Algebraically

A few days ago I experienced one of the most inspiring moments as an algebra teacher…  I gave my 9th grade students a quiz on solving equations (one-step, two-step, multi-step, literal, etc.).  One of the questions was a word problem that involved buying a season pass ticket to an amusement park versus buying single passes and making multiple visits to the park.  The first part of the question asked students to determine how many trips to the park they would have to make in order for the season pass to be the better deal.  The second part asked the students to write an equation to model the situation.  The third part asked the students to solve the equation.  Most of the students immediately solved the problem by writing and solving an equation.  When they read the second and third parts of the problem they were confused because they had already completed both parts in the beginning.  I was excited!!!!

This is why I was excited…  The students were initially asked to solve the problem using any method (it was an open-ended question).  Most of the students immediately wrote and solved an equation because that was their first thought.  These students were ahead of the test question!  They were already “thinking algebraically” before the question asked them to think algebraically.

After I collected the quizzes the students told me they were confused by the problem and wondered whether they answered it incorrectly.  I told them they answered the question exactly the way they should have.  I told them they were thinking algebraically and that is how they should be thinking.  They were pleased with my response!

The goal of algebra teachers should be to help students think algebraically.  When this happens, students begin to look at problems differently.  They begin to generalize situations and find solutions quickly (and accurately).  Thinking algebraically is a higher level of thinking that most students (and adults) never achieve.  Most of my 9th grade students are already thinking algebraically!  As much as I would like to take full credit for this, I can’t.  Their teachers before me did a phenomenal job and that makes my job easier.

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