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Posted by on in Common Core Standards

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Recently on multiple platforms, Robert Pondiscio talked about reading on his way to standing up for Secretary of Education John King. We disagree about his praise of King for making all the correct word noises, but he's made a point worth repeating about the improvement of reading.

Every teacher of low-income children and English language learners  has had this moment: You’re sitting with a student, working line by line  through a text, grappling with what should be fairly simple  comprehension questions.

“Did you read it?” you ask. “I read it,” the child replies. “But I didn’t get it.”

This is what reading failure often looks like in a struggling school.  A child can read the words on a page in front of him, but he can’t  always make sense of them.

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Posted by on in Common Core Standards
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April 22nd is Earth Day. I’ll be spending it in my daughter’s elementary school, helping to coordinate an all-day “Science Day” for a building full of eager kindegarteners through third graders.

It wasn’t until I had kids and started looking at their curriculum that I began to wonder how key ideas and concepts could be relayed to some of our youngest learners. Earlier this academic year, I marveled at how my daughter’s third grade teacher was able to make science (astronomy in particular) come alive for the class, while using it as a strong, teachable moment to reinforce the Common Core. Imagine that, being able to teach students science, while also teaching to our expectations around English-language arts, teamwork, critical thinking, and the like.

When it comes to the environment, my kids sorta get it. They understand that recycling is important, and will begrudgingly help as we both place our trash in the requisite bins in our garage and then haul them out to the curb each week. And in past years, as previous Earth Days have rolled around, they’ve been quick to come home with new lectures to preach at us. But it has never really gotten at the issue of how one can take a concept like the environment and Earth Day and really make it an integrated part of a student’s learning path.

Regardless of the subject matter, we know that, to be most effective, classroom lessons have to be tied to student interests. This is particularly true with younger learners. One can’t just get up in front of a class of second graders and begin to lecture them on the environment, the causes of World War I, or cell biology. No, we have to find ways to link content to the student. This means both what is taught and how it is taught.

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Posted by on in Common Core Standards


Not a day can go by without someone criticizing the Common Core State Standards or blaming the Common Core for all that ails our public education system. And while assessments are usually the prime target for Common Core haters, the standards’ emphasis on non-fiction texts have drawn greater scrutiny in recent months.

No, I'm not going to (AGAIN) rise the defense of Common Core and all that it stands for. Instead, I’d just like to provide a terrific example of how an exemplary educator can use the expectations under Common Core, mix it with a non-fiction topic, couple it with student collaboration and teamwork, and produce a final learning experience that is a winner for all those involved.

Full disclosure here, I am completely bias. The teacher in question is my daughter’s third grade teacher. Earlier this school year, she had students work in pairs to develop “marketing” brochures for each of the planets in our solar system. Students did research and identified key facts. They organized those facts to make a compelling argument. They were then asked to present their findings as if they were travel agents, trying to convince families to visit a particular planet. Bunches and bunches of Common Core standards and expectations, all wrapped up in a project-based science lesson that demanded teamwork and critical thinking.

Here’s the brochure my daughter and her partner came up with. They were tasked with marketing Uranus, and played up the terrific aspects that a cold, ice planet could offer a little kid.

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Posted by on in Common Core Standards


Last week I had the opportunity to attend two days of Curriculum Mapping Boot Camp with Dr. Heidi Hayes Jacobs and Dr. Marie Alcock in New York City. Here are five of my takeaways:

  1. Be a critical consumer of others’ systems. Prior to the conference I had read three curriculum design books by Dr. Heidi Hayes Jacobs and four books by Larry Ainsworth. They’re all good! (And feel free to contact me for specific recommendations based on your wants/needs.) However, we do not want to blindly copy and paste a system into our schools. We must be critical consumers and adapt the work of others based on the needs of our students. Also, as an administrator, I cannot justify a decision/process simply because “It says so in the book!” I must be able to understand and clearly communicate the why behind our actions.

  2. It’s not about “filling in the boxes.” If the teachers with whom I am working equate curriculum mapping to completing a template, we are doing it wrong. Dr. Marie Alcock announced this sentiment repeatedly throughout the conference. We must realize the decisions we make will affect the education and lives of our students. Furthermore, by comprehending the importance of the map creation process, teachers will (1) be more likely to actually use the maps, which is not always a given, and (2) be able to explain/turnkey the process to those not directly involved.

  3. Maps should be living and breathing documents. Alright, maybe they won’t actually be able to breathe, but they should be created in a way that they can easily be updated whenever necessary by multiple users. In other words, make use of “the cloud” through programs such as Rubicon Atlas or Google Apps for Education. Educators need to know what they are accessing electronically will always be the most current version, and they will not have to cut through red tape (or wait for just the right moment) to make changes that are in the best interests of their students.

  4. Emphasize the what (content), but also the how (pedagogy). This is an idea to which I can relate, as in a previous post I quoted Dylan Wiliam, “...pedagogy is curriculum, because what matters is how things are taught, rather than what is taught.” If I’m an “ineffective teacher” when teaching the “wrong thing,” I’ll still be ineffective when teaching the same way with properly aligned content...On the second day of the conference, Dr. Jacobs emphasized the how when she presented on technology integration, makerspaces, learning spaces, and more. Also, I almost jumped out of my seat when she highlighted an edSurge article written by my colleague, Kayla Delzer (@MrsDelz).

  5. Curriculum mapping is not easy. The process in Pennsylvania was made even harder when the state reconfigured the Common Core State Standards to create the PA Core Standards. By law, 85% of the standards must be adopted, but these changes have not made our lives easier. As a result, collaborating with educators from other states is not as seamless as one would think. In my opinion, this lack of consistency negates one of the main advantages of the standards, opportunities for states to (thoughtfully) “borrow” from one another.

I look forward to experiencing how these takeaways (and everything else I learned) can ultimately benefit the students of my current school district.

Which one of these takeaways resonates with you? What are your overall thoughts on curriculum mapping? How have you made “it work” in your school or district?

Connect with Ross on his blog and on Twitter.

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Posted by on in Common Core Standards


Technology has fundamentally changed how stories are told and information is conveyed. Today, the most engaging content includes not just writing, but also video, audio, and photos—and it’s just a matter of time before new media add to the mix.

Those developments have made me rethink a rigid emphasis on teaching formal, academic history writing, the kind that embraces dispassionate, object analysis aimed at a more plausible account of cause and effect. Since earning my master’s degree in history from Brandeis University, a top liberal arts school in Waltham, Massachusetts, I haven’t composed a single piece of history writing.

Moreover, I question whether history teachers (myself included) do enough to provide students with relevant skills, easily and obviously transferable to the real world. I don’t have one history publication to my name, but I have published several articles in The Atlantic and Edutopia—and Spin Education has garnered me some recognition.

All of this isn’t to say teaching the historian’s craft can’t help students develop real-world skills. I’m forever grateful for studying under Prof. Antony Polonsky, widely regarded as one the world’s top Polish historians, if not the preeminent authority. Through him, I learned to strive toward reason and clarity, not just with history, but also with anything I pursue. All the same, as much as I admire Polonsky and all that he did for me, I’m unconvinced that teaching the historian’s craft is the best and only way to teach reason and clarity—especially with Web 3.0.

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