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Nonfiction Matters
Inside Nonfiction Matters

Another Meaning of the “Common” in Common Core

Whenever Myra, Mary Ann and I talk about CC we stress the third “c,” collaboration — meaning librarians working with teachers and administrators. But I just read a review of a new book that made me think of the idea of “commonality” in a different way. Mark Peterson’s book Galileo’s Muse is a new general interest academic title (I just ordered it so cannot yet comment on style) that argues that a key to understanding the Renaissance is in seeing the way mathematics — more than science — permeated all thought — music, painting, sculpture as much as astronomy, physics, philosophy. I can’t wait to see how he makes his case. But it made me think about CC — what if when we teach kids about the Renaissance that linked with lessons in the kinds of math they were developing and understanding: math would no longer be a set of skills and tests, it would also be an exploration of a moment in the development of mind and culture.

It does not take much to see that CC encourages this kind of cross-disciplinary thinking: ELA teachers will be reading NF a good deal of the time, so the most natural step is for them to be coordinating with content area teachers. The broadly humanistic approach comes up in many CC discussions. But rarely for math. Some years ago Rosen began a series that explored the math of various cultures as expressed in the buildings and art. I was thrilled to see those books — series publishing at its best in that the idea, the concept, was so fresh, and not something that would have worked well in single hardcover books. I did not find the invidual books as successful as the concept, and not sure it is still going. But it did point the way to a kind of commonality, a place of overlap, we don’t usually explore.

What if we were to expand this even further — what is NF (or IT) but everything about the world? PE should overlap with physics and math in sports science — play a game in PE, gather some data from what the class just did, make that the substance of math and science lessons for the day. The cross PE with history — measure people in the class, then using archaeology determine size of people at some other time, try to fiture out energy expended in their days to get food, or heat, or warmth. Opening the door to more IT means opening the door to every way of thinking, gathering information, and making sense of it — it is not yet another walk through the textbook same old same old.


  1. Myra Zarnowski says:

    For those of us who have been teaching for a long while, this idea is a throw-back to thematic teaching. We were encouraged in the past to make connections across disciplines. I remember making big webs with these ideas. In fact, Ohio State University had a publication in children’s literature called “The Web” in which they made big webs of connections among books and subjects. I am delighted to see this thinking resurface. It made sense then, and it makes sense now.

  2. Dr. Aronson,

    I am a music teacher at Pine Valley CSD in Chautauqua County, NY, and will have the honor of meeting you on the 30th. As a music educator whose second passion is history, I am in whole-hearted agreement with your take on CC and the unspoken third element: collaboration.
    I have a number of music projects that (I believe) would fit in well with other discplines to strengthen the connections students make in each. Admittedly, my weakness is implementation of these (i.e. measuring out the details, making time with my colleagues, ensuring that our timelines align, etc. to make these projects happen).

    My hope for the 30th (and for our upcoming school year) is that our faculty can together find creative, realistic ways to collaborate with one another to create projects that make meaningful connections for students in both their disciplines and mine.