Teaching in a way that engages students in the Practices of mathematics, science and engineering will involve change. As our group has grappled with what it means to teach with the Practices we've come to realize that transformation can occur through a series of small changes that we've come to call the “shifts”. Shifts can be anything from a change in perspective, to employing a known technique in a new way, adapting a new technique, or incorporating something entirely new in our instruction. Generally, shifts are small moves or changes, but we have seen that they can have large results, especially when combined and when consistently applied over time. As our work together on the Practices has evolved over time our group has worked together to identify several key shifts that have been important for us in adapting our teaching methods and classroom environments so that the Common Core Math Practices and the Next Generation Science and Engineering Practices can come to life for our students and and in our classrooms. In the sections below we first describe the essence of each shift, provide our rationale for the importance of that shift ,and then provide some ideas for how you can implement a similar shift in your own instruction.


From seeing students as blank slates...

     To remembering that every student brings a unique set of experiences and interpretations that influence their learning

Students come to our classrooms with ideas and ways of thinking based on their life experiences. They are not blank slates and their previous experiences act as lenses or filters for learning. As teachers we need to remember that each student is unique with useful ideas and life experience that we can leverage in our classrooms.


From students learn to think like the teacher by following and accepting teacher thinking...

     To the teacher learns what students are thinking and helps students build their own understanding

Similar to Shift 1, the idea here is to open the classroom to alternative ideas and ways of thinking that can be examined and refined over time. When students are given opportunities to examine and build their ideas through structured interaction, there is potential for lasting and meaningful learning to occur. The teacher’s job becomes less about imparting knowledge and more about facilitating learning.


From the goal is getting a single correct answer...

     To the goal is to develop a well-reasoned explanation supported with evidence

If we want students to value what they are learning they need to own it. By creating an environment where the goal is to explain phenomena or solve problems through well-reasoned approaches, we can help students understand that there are reasons behind the key ideas in math and science.


From one method of solving is right or best...

     To multiple ways of solving (and maybe multiple answers) are planned and valued

Closely related to shift 3, this shift helps us remember that there may be several productive pathways to explore in any given situation. We want to create classrooms where students follow multiple routes to solving problems or answering questions.


From the teacher or text (authority) validates student answers…

     To validation of answers / explanations stems from examination of multiple sources of evidence

This is similar to shift 3, but here we want to push ourselves to consider what the students think they are up to in our classrooms. Is it that they are trying to repeat ideas that are given to them or is it that they are trying to work as a group to really make sense of the intellectual challenges posed in the classroom? As we tried to incorporate the Practices in our classrooms we began to see that the source of authority was an important consideration.


From mistakes are to be avoided or immediately corrected…

     To mistakes and alternative ideas should be expected, respected, and inspected as a valuable part of the learning journey

Mistakes are a valuable part of the learning process and can be used strategically to increase understanding. We have started taking a public stance in our classrooms that mistakes are often productive and this has led our students to be more forthcoming about their thinking.


From understanding is like a light bulb, OFF or ON…

     To understanding is a complex process that ebbs and flows

As we learn we repeatedly move into and out of understanding. Embracing the complexity of what it means to truly understand an idea can push us to employ new teaching methods and create a different kind of classroom. Engaging in the practices requires students to explore and revisit ideas in different ways allowing new insights to emerge over time.


From teacher rescues students from struggle and frustration…

     To teacher promotes a sense of wonder and productive struggle

In order to have an “a-ha” moment, a student must first be in a place of struggle. A sense of wonder means that the student is curious and recognizes that she doesn’t know or understand something. When we struggle through something we feel a great sense of accomplishment when we get to the other side of it, but the satisfaction cannot come without the initial struggle.


From students work independently, listening and responding mainly to the teacher…

     To students work collaboratively, listening and responding to each other

Learning is a social activity and finding ways for students to have authentic exchanges about their thinking can lead to deeper learning. The Practices provide many opportunities for students to work together in productive ways.


From a good teacher has all the lesson details planned ahead of time and sticks to the plan…

     To a good teacher plans well but also flexes well in order to adapt to student needs

Being truly responsive to student ideas means that a one-size-fits-all lesson plan is impossible. Anticipating student thinking, planning for adaptability, and being flexible is important as we shift our classrooms to support engaging in the Practices.