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Common Core Possibilities... From the Sidelines

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Teach Plus celebrates Teacher Appreciation Week with a series of op-eds from teachers around the nation.


By Thomas Hakim

This Teacher Appreciation Week, I want to recognize eight Sontag Prize teachers from different states who helped inspire new, thought-provoking mathematics lessons for my students. We convened in Lawrence, Massachusetts, in April to teach a week of academic enrichment during students' spring break and would meet in the evenings to talk about education.

As I watched other teachers jot down lesson ideas on hotel notepads and reach for cell phones to type in web addresses of new education websites, I felt conflicted. On one hand, I was genuinely excited to learn from and with them. I spent the past three years collaborating with teachers in my home state of Indiana to adopt Common Core, and had plenty of my own student success stories to share. On the other hand, I felt like I was sitting on the sidelines, watching a movement pass me by.

A month ago, Indiana backed out of the Common Core State Standards to create a new set of Indiana State Standards. The people who worked to repeal Common Core in Indiana overlooked a valuable point: common standards enable talented educators across the country to collaborate, create, and share outstanding lessons that push students to higher levels of thinking and problem solving.

One of the teachers I met in Lawrence, Massachusetts, is a Master Teacher for the website In that role, he has created and uploaded over 100 Common Core-aligned lessons that teachers from all over the country can access for free. With the benefit of technology and a common standards language, teachers in different states now have exceptional resources at their fingertips. In fact, not only can I now download a meticulously planned Algebra lesson from a website like, I can also watch videos of Master Teachers teach lessons for the same standards on, and access planning guides for the same standards from a variety of states' Departments of Education.

For Indiana students and teachers there is still a big unknown. Our new Indiana standards that we will use next year have not yet been finalized. For now, I will continue to collaborate with colleagues from across the country shared because I have seen how Common Core-aligned instruction benefits students.

This year, while implementing the Common Core Mathematical Practices in my classroom, my students used a depth of math skills to design the floor plans for homes in a rehabilitated area of the city. They completed a cost analysis of different venues for an end-of-year class party and wrote a data-supported recommendation to the principal. They even proved mathematically that a Pizza Hut personal pan pizza has more crust per square inch than the actual pizza, an example that can serve as a reference point for the concept of surface area to volume ratios.

While students struggled at first with working through complex, multi-step problems, I have witnessed them understanding mathematics at a deeper level and making authentic connections. In the coming months and years, I hope that the quality resources available to Common Core states can be adapted for the Indiana Standards teachers and students in my home state will use.

Common Core provides an unprecedented chance for the nation's best educators to work in unison, and that level of collaboration will ultimately benefit students everywhere. Show your appreciation for teachers this week by recognizing the educators across the country who are using their professional expertise to make the Common Core Standards their own through innovation, planning, collaboration and professional development, all for the betterment of our nation's students.

Thomas Hakim is a secondary math teacher at Indianapolis Lighthouse Charter School and an alum of the Teach Plus Teaching Policy Fellowship.

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