Today's kindergarten isn't the nap and playtime you remember - East Valley Tribune: East Valley Local News

Today's kindergarten isn't the nap and playtime you remember

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Posted: Thursday, August 11, 2011 2:44 pm | Updated: 11:22 am, Fri Aug 12, 2011.

A deeper knowledge of how numerals work together. A richer understanding of grammar rules.

Thousands of East Valley kindergartners entered their classrooms in the past few weeks, met their teachers and sat down to work.

Not only is this not their parents' kindergarten, it's not their older siblings' either. This year, these 5-year-olds are among the first Arizona students to learn under the newly adopted national program known as the Common Core Standards for language arts and mathematics.

Lawmakers and education boards across the country in 48 states have voluntarily adopted the standards as a way to raise the bar in all schools nationwide and to provide uniform learning, no matter where a student attends public school.

All public kindergartens across Arizona are putting the standards into place this year. Some East Valley districts are also rolling out first grade. Most will add first and second grades next year.

By the 2013-14 school year, teachers in all grade levels will be using the national standards that determine what students learn. Teachers can still decide how to teach the information.

It's setting the stage for a national benchmark test that will eventually replace the AIMS, possibly as soon as the 2014-2015 school year.

So what will students learn in kindergarten this year? Beth Baker, the K-12 math coordinator for the Gilbert Unified School District, said there will more focus on what numbers are and how they relate to other numbers, rather than just learning to count them.

"What is four? How many is four?" Baker said as examples. "There's more of a focus on the bonds of what numbers make: ‘We have eight, but how do we get to 10?'"

And instead of just learning that a square has four corners, kindergartners will learn actual terms for shapes. (A square has four "vertices;" a triangle needs three.)

Students in upper grades will eventually be asked not just what the answer is to a math question, Baker said, but to explain how they got that answer.

In language arts, students will be trained to better understand the context of stories, said Gilbert's Dorsey Middaugh, the district's language arts and social studies coordinator for kindergarten through sixth grade.

"The big picture is when students are listening to stories and learning to read, they're taking life experiences and connecting it with them. That's when they internalize stories and become critical thinkers," Middaugh said.

Like math, the language arts Common Core Standards for older grades will include deeper understanding of text.

"Seventh-graders will listen, ask questions, form an opinion and perhaps even change their opinion," she said. "They're going to be expected to read more information text," such as textbooks, historical journals, and nonfiction.

Kindergarten teachers in Gilbert - and all other East Valley school districts - spent time last spring in training, coming up with lessons plans to use with the new standards, education leaders said.

Tara Brady, mom to a kindergartner at Mesa's Harris Elementary School in the Gilbert Unified School District, said she's excited about the revamped kindergarten class.

"I'm ready for him to be challenged. I think he'll be bored if he doesn't get a lot of curriculum and pushing from the teacher," she said.

Rita Giacopuzzi, grandmother and guardian to another new kindergartner at Harris, enrolled him in a preschool program last year to prepare for this year.

"It just seems they have so much more to learn," she said of kindergarten now. "During the summer, I gave them a lot of school work."

Parents can help, Baker and Middaugh said, by asking their children lots of "why" questions or having them explain decisions more at home.

Parents should also "read, read, read" to their kids, they said.

Right now, students in kindergarten through second grade do not take Arizona's Instrument to Measure Standards. Second-graders are tested on the Stanford 10, a national test. But most schools use "benchmark" tests throughout the school year at all grade levels to see how students are doing with the standards and to help teachers know what needs to be reviewed.

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