Sunday, April 29, 2012

First Impressions of The Common Core

I have been hearing about The Common Core for about a year or so now on Twitter and other mediums. Still, it wasn’t until a couple of months ago when I began working on a team, with five other educators throughout our district to write a K-5 Gifted Scope and Sequence, that I actually took the time to read through The Common Core.  As I read through the introduction, the key design consideration and the standards themselves I actually got very excited about the possibilities. Sure it is wonderful that most of the country will be working towards the same standards and that the overall goals are to prepare students to be college and career ready.  However, the more time I spent exploring them three main principles caught my attention: 1) that the standards suggest interdisciplinary approach, 2) that critical thinking is expected across all content areas and 3) at their core they were about learning strategies that students can be use while exploring any new content and/or problem.

 Also, while I was in my early exploration of the Common Core, I had the pleasure of hearing Dr. Heidi Hayes Jacobs at FETC in January 2012 and viewing Alan November’s TEDxNYED Talk.  It was then that my brain really began to imagine what putting these standards into practice might look like. I was picturing classrooms involved with curriculum models like; Problem Based Learning, Inquiry Circles, Challenge Based Learning and other Constructivist Learning Models. Along with, school hallways and classroom websites full of meaningful and well developed student driven projects. 

Then a couple of weeks ago the buzz started about The Common Core a bit closer to home. Since this has happened I feel that what  has taken the lead focus in many conversations has related to the assessment and materials. These things are important and in no way am I saying that they should not be discussed. I am just not sure that these topics should be taking the lead in early conversations. It would be like gathering a group of college freshmen together who want to be Certified Public Accountants (CPA) to discuss their future. Then leading the conversation with the format of the CPA Exam and which specific software to buy so that your customers' IRS audits will be most effective.

Honestly, I truly think The Common Core could bring about some real exciting changes to education, but as educators we need to be involved. With that said, I would like to suggest every educators go to The Common Core website, download the standards, read, explore, discuss and think critically about them. Let’s approach these standards the same way we would want our students to approach our curriculum. We would expect them to start by reading the actual document, think, reflect, discuss with their peers and then build something from the knowledge gained. Seriously, here is our chance let's lead by example.

Thursday, April 26, 2012


In the summer of 2007 I took a week long writing instruction workshop that was simply amazing.  We read A Writer's Notebook: Unlocking the Writer Within You by Ralph Fletcher, which is a wonderful book to use with students. Also, during our time we each created our own Writer's Notebook in which we wrote a lot. I have pulled mine out from time to time while working with students the several years and have continued to write in it. Today, I pulled it out to add an entry while working with my second graders. As I pulled out my Writer's Notebook I began to read a few of my past entries, which is when I ran across an entry on Wonder. I do believe the official assignment was a quick write on something we wonder about, and for what it is worth here is what I came up with.

Honestly, it is truly hard to write about one thing that I wonder about. You see, I wonder about so many things, I guess the thing to do is write about wonder itself.  It is one of the things that allows to me to feel alive. If we never took the time to wonder true learning won't take place nor would any sustaining change occur.  For instance, what would the world be like if Christopher Columbus  never wondered about sailing around the world or astronauts didn't wonder what was out in the universe. Without wonder would anyone explore the spiritual or emotional sides to thing. Truth is, we would be very shallow creatures without wonder in our lives.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

One Take Video/ Book Trailers

During the Discovery Education Summer Institute in 2010 and again while attending The DEN FETC Pre-Conference in January I learned about One Take Video from Dr. Lodge McCammon.  Basically,  One Take Videos are videos shot in one take with no editing needed. I had a ball in these workshops and loved that these activities lead to many deep conversations around the content we were working on. However, until this spring I had not attempted to use this with my students, but the last couple of months we have been able to fit several One Take Videos in to our curriculum. One of my favorites has been my second grade reading group's Patricia Polacco's Paperslide Video Book Trailers. I am a big fan of assigning projects and activities that cover as many standards as possible. Within The Common Core Language Arts Standards second grade students will be asked to: 

-Retell stories including key details and demonstrate understanding of their central message or lesson.
-With guidance and support from peers and adults, develop and strengthen writing as needed revising and editing.   
-With guidance and support from adults, use a variety of digital tools to produce and publish writing, including in collaboration with peers. 

 I could not have been more pleased with how these videos turned out and at the same time allowing us to hone the above standards. Thank you Discovery Education and Dr. Lodge McCammon for adding this fun and innovative activity to our to curriculum and classroom.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Another Email

This is a copy of an email I sent out to the staffs of the two schools I work with this year. 

Every once in awhile I am asked about what we do in Oneco's Gifted Program or what is meant by "We are a Laboratory and NOT a Factory" and I do my best to explain. I have talked about Constructivism Learning Theory, Challenge Based Learning and students honing a multitude of cross curriculum academic standards through their experiences. Yet, the process goes much deeper than that. Recently, I read a fantastic article from 2008 "School as Inquiry" by Steven Wolk and thought it really does a great job of explaining the principles behind our projects and activities well. Different verbiage is used, but the principles and concepts are the same. In fact another author said it best-"Well, as long as real, student-driven inquiry is at the core, what's in a name?" I think my favorite quote from the article is,"An inquiry-based schools at there very best do not just practice inquiry with their students, they also invite -even expect- teachers to use inquiry to improve their practice." With that said, please know that I am consistently working to improve our process and helping prepare students for their futures through these types of activities. I have read several books that have explored these principles. My favorite being Starting from Scratch by Steven Levy that was given to me by Linda Rollyson (one of the BEST) before she retired five or six years ago. Also, strategic reading skills have been incorporated into our endeavors; including the lessons from both The Primary and Intermediate Comprehension ToolKits throughout the last three years.  I am currently devouring and loving the book several of you are reading Inquiry Circles: Comprehension and Collaboration by Stephanie Harvey and Harvey Daniels (thanks Liz Reilly for the recommendation). I actually will be part of an informal book club based on this book with a teacher or two from other schools. As well as, being in constant communication with other teachers from around the world implementing Challenge Based Learning on Apple's Challenge Based Learning Community Website , Twitter, Facebook and email.