Tag Archives: Common Core

Off and Running in a Technology Infused, Project-based Learning Classroom!


Month one: hold on, here we go!

Camp! We returned from our three-day Outdoor Education trip in Wisconsin on Friday, so of course we started talking, writing and then blogging about Camp Timber-lee. Such enthusiasm and detail! Wow…sure pays to find something kids want to write about rather than forcing contrived prompts they don’t connect with.

We started our first Project-based Learning unit with Mrs. Parisi’s class in Long Island, The Denton DynamosUS Government: integrating reading, writing, history, and current events by studying some significant US laws. Students will trace laws back through time by reading and comparing electronic and paper sources. They are in teams of eight, four from the Dynamos and four from our class.  So far we’ve had two joint Skype lessons, and we begin collaborative research in Google Docs on Monday.

Today we meet the Wilderness Classroom team on Google Hangout before they head out on their journey. We will follow Amy Freeman and a team of geologists from UC Berkeley and MIT as they camp, canoe, hike, bike, and dogsled around the world to provide interactive classroom lessons. Here’s their itinerary.

  • Understand how the Slate Islands were formed.
    (September 2013) 
  • Explore the Boreal Forest by dogsled this winter and study a variety of topics including; weather, geology and erosion, watersheds, predator-prey relationships, wolves, the night sky, the physics of dogsledding, Ojibwa culture, Expedition ABC’s, and much more. (January – March 2014)
  • Explore the Amazon Rainforest. Join us as we follow in the footsteps of Theodore Roosevelt!
    (April – June 2014)

Then there is iEARN, (International Education and Resource Network )…where their motto is “Learning with the world, not just about it.” We will be joining a Learning Circle with classrooms around the world to engage and collaborate in the My Hero Project.

The 100 World Challenge! I’ve written about it before, so click the link for more information. The kids love this weekly challenge, and it really helps develop word choice.

Lastly math. Our district is currently in the process of adapting our math instruction to meet the Common Core Standards. The infusion of MangahighLearnZillion, and Khanacademy  have really helped with re-teaching while allowing me to get quick snapshots of who is getting it and who needs more support. This instant feedback is critical to my teaching as I reflect and adapt to meet the kids where they are. We’re taking our time to make sure the train isn’t going with no one on!

As I add tech tools to my students’ repertoire, I add them to our  Symbaloo page. They have access to this wherever they are. This site will grow and change as we go.

All in all, a great start to the year!

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I almost forgot! Our class song:)

PBL and the 21st Century Competencies

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PBL for the 21st Century Success: Teaching Critical Thinking, Collaboration, Communication and Creativity, looks like another wonderful edition to the Project-based Learning books published through the non-profit Buck Institute for Education (BIE).  Suzy Boss, lead author, and John Larmer, Editor-in-Chief  of BIE, summarized the book in their June 5th webinar. Although it was written for middle and high school, as 5th grade teacher, I think it would work for upper elementary as well. I’ll give a few highlights here, but it is really worth a closer look.

  • Focuses on integrating and explicitly teaching the 21st century competencies, the 4Cs: critical thinking, collaboration, creativity and communication
  • There are chapters that focus on each of the 4Cs that provide:
    • Example projects
    • Classroom ‘Look fors’ that we should be seeing over time to demonstrate learning
    • Infographics that deliberately explain how the Cs can be integrated in every aspect of the project
    • Rubrics to assess the Cs at all of the four stages of the project

In addition, you will find:

  • Research highlights throughout
  • Non-fiction emphasis
  • Alignment with the Common Core and explanations
  • Reflection prompts
  • Tech tips to help support the development of the 4Cs

You will find the webinar archived here.

The book, as well as their introductory PBL books,  can be purchased here.

You can find all of their webinars:

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What We Have Done as an Educational Community is Priceless

Change. In education,we are accustomed to seeing changes in philosophy, funding, materials, focus, ideology, scheduling, and leadership. Right now, we are in the middle of the biggest change in our careers, and what we have been doing as educators is priceless.

The difference between this change and the zillions of changes before it, is that now we have a connected community. There should be no district, school, or teacher working in isolation trying to figure it out alone. Since the last major change, we as educators have pulled together. We have organized ourselves on every level, from superintendents to classroom teachers and everyone in between . We have posted our opinions, knowledge, and resources on blogs and websites and twitter. We have shared like no other industry. We have stepped up for our districts, our schools and our students to make education better for each and every learner. We have demonstrated professional generosity on a level never seen before. So it is there that we will learn and grow…and change…together. This change will not be like ones before. We will make it work for our students and for our districts,  and we will make it more cohesive… because we are working together.

More on Text Complexity


Burkins and YarisThink Tank for 21st Century Literacy,  say if Text Complexity had a synonym it wouldn’t be hard, it would be thought-provoking.

In their post titled The Four Types of Text Complexity, they explore complexity along four dimensions. Many texts are a combination of these. In this post they give examples of books in each type below.

Complexity of knowledge: The primary purpose of the text is to communicate information.

Complexity of ideas: The ideas in the book communicate something substantive or connected to a universal theme.

Complexity of structure: The way the book is organized requires readers to stop and think.

Complexity of craft: The language, vocabulary, or sentence structure of the text demand attention. The author may employ devices, such as metaphor or alliteration, which make the meaning of the text more subtle. 

Whether the words are hard for a student or not will depend on the student, but we would share this complex text with students from a range of elementary grades, scaffolding it in read aloud, shared reading, guided reading, or independent reading, depending on the needs of the group. Selecting a complex text is much more complex than picking out a book in which students struggle with the words!”

I love the way Jan Burkins and Kim Yaris systematically look at each factor related to literacy from many different angles allowing us to absorb the enormous amount of information out there.  By following the breadcrumbs that their frequent posts leave, we can all keep up on the newest understandings and best practices in literacy. 

They have a digest of posts directly related to understanding text complexity here:  http://www.burkinsandyaris.com/text-complexity-blog-digest/               You can find them on twitter: @BurkinsandYaris

Collaboration as a Teachable Skill


Collaboration is at the forefront of the education discussion lately as a 21st Century Skill, so let’s take a look at what it looks like in instruction. First, what exactly does collaboration mean? Identifying that changes the whole discussion.

What does collaboration look like in many typical classroom situations?  An assignment that requires kids to work together is given. The students meet, make a plan, divide the up work, each adds their part, and they present together. Yes, they worked together and demonstrated what they knew, but did the collaboration itself create a situation that caused them to expand their own thinking?

True collaboration is the act of creating something new.  It’s taking the ideas and thoughts of more than one person, and not just laying them side by side, but allowing them to change and morph thoughts and ideas into a new, bigger, wider view that not only encompasses the individual ideas, but actually makes them better…changes them.  This is what I have been playing around with in my classroom, and I believe that creating the culture for this to happen is a critical piece to success.

Modeling and providing opportunities for this kind of melding is a first step. I demonstrate collaboration  when a student brings up a new view-point during a class discussion by verbally going through the process of expanding and re-shaping my own view in light of the new view. I also provide opportunities for the kids to practice changing each other’s sentences and paragraphs. One way I like to do that is to read a very vivid piece of writing. One that has a lot of feel but not a lot of physical detail. I have one student write a description of what they pictured. They hand it off and have the next kid, not just add to it, but to change things that include both kid’s pictures. After discussion, they may decide to take some out or change it even more. The result should be more than a side by side description, it should be a bigger vision than either student held originally. Opportunities for this are endless once you get going…as teachers, we are great at finding opportunities.  As the year progresses, I make a point of watching how groups are working collaboratively and guiding them. Now that it’s mid-year, I can notice the change.

This is not a skill that all people come by naturally. We can see that as adults in the working world. We all have so much to offer our fellow human beings, and our kids have a whole lifetime of opportunities in front of them. What a gift to have them adding to the world in this way from the very start.

What amazing things we could do with this on a district-wide level….but, that’s a whole other discussion.

Image credit: US and UK join forces to Create Nuclear Fusion Energy

Text Complexity 101


Text Complexity…that phrase has been tossed about a lot since the launch of the Common Core State Standards conversation, but aside from that, it really is just good teaching practice to monitor and increase text complexity. So, for those of you that have been busy trying to keep up on the zillion other things in education, here’s a very brief introductory overview with some links for further information.

What it is NOT:

Text complexity is not necessarily more or longer. It really isn’t about higher reading level per se, more homework, or even more reading.

What it IS:

Increasing text complexity is a way to provide rigor in thinking and understanding by including texts with complex vocabulary, sentence structure and text organization. This can be done at every reading level and with any length text.

In light of the Common Core State Standards, the document identifies three inter-related aspects of text complexity: qualitative analysis, quantitative analysis, and matching readers with texts and tasks. The authors define each of these as follows:

Qualitative evaluation of the text: Levels of meaning, structure, language conventionality and clarity, and knowledge demands.

This can best be measured by an actual attentive human being.

Quantitative evaluation of the text: Readability measures and other scores of text complexity.

This is usually measured by computer software. This takes into account text complexity features such as: sentence length, word length, and text cohesion.

  Matching reader to the text and task: Reader variables (such as motivation, knowledge, and experiences) and task variables (such as purpose and the complexity generated by the task assigned and the questions posed).

Again, this is a human job.

As you can see, monitoring text complexity is no simple task. A trained teacher  can effectively provide students with increasing levels of text complexity in a variety of formats. The key is training and practice. I see teachers all over the country working with Professional Learning Networks to increase their understanding and skill. Here are a couple really solid places to go for information. Find a group you resonate with and follow along through RSS feed, twitter, or facebook. There is no end to the professional generosity in our field.

Engaging Educators

Burkins and Yaris 

Darren Burris 

All things Common Core: Engaging Educators and Darren Burris

Engaging Educator’s Radio met with special guest Darren Burris, educator and Common Core curator extraordinaire, to discuss all things CC. I missed it but was grateful I had the opportunity to listen to the recording.

Information about the Common Core is coming at us from all directions, and what Burris is doing to curate all of this, showing all sides of the Common Core including critiques and concerns, has been impressive. The combination of Engaging Educators and Darren Burris is not matched in their handle on the CC in all of its facets.

Burris hopes that more eyes on the standards and assessments will broaden their application.   Go listen to the recording if you have any interest in the Common Core. There is no reason any of us should be creating CC content in isolation. This is an incredible example of educators collaborating on the most significant shift in our careers.  We can all not only follow along, but play a significant role in this change.

You can find Darren Burris at @dgburris on twitter and at: http://coreessentials.wordpress.com/ 

Engaging Educators are @engaginged on twitter and at: http://engagingeducators.com/