Saturday, February 23, 2013

Will The Real Common Core Please Stand Up?

The Common Core State Standards officially go "live" in 2014.  In the meantime, teachers are working diligently to understand the CCSS and are trying their best to create lessons that are fully aligned - now.  Yet, are the lessons that are being created really...truly... specifically...Common Core?

Will The Real Common Core Please Stand Up?

I recently took notice at the material that is on Teachers Pay Teachers as well as in and about the internet world and I found that although teachers are calling lessons "Core" - they may not be "Core" at all.  Core lessons use questioning techniques that are deep and meaningful.  Core lessons also expect students to be able to explain their thinking and reasoning.  Additionally, Core lessons foster collaboration and the use of technology and students need to make sense of problems and need to be able to show reasoning with those problems.  Administrators and teachers alike need to sit down and take a good, hard look at the definition of the Common Core and fully become aware how to not only implement a CCSS lesson, but how to design it using multiple facets of the CCSS. That's what makes the CCSS rigorous and multi-layered.

A few weeks ago at PS101Q in Forest Hills, NY, an event was held to address the Common Core: A Common Core Fair Night.  The event was a success - but not without the efforts of the PS101Q staff.  The night showcased what a CCSS lesson looks like for parents to expose them to the rigorous work that their children are doing and will be expected to do for years to come.

One teacher in particular, Mr. Stabenau, who teaches visual arts at the school, jumped in to also demonstrate a CCSS lesson.  He wasn't teaching a CCSS Math lesson or a CCSS Reading lesson, but what he did was truly, 100% Common Core.  With his reading of Happy by Miles Van Hout, Mr. Stabenau elicited emotion from his [parent] students while showing them the illustrations as he read the book to them.  The parents were asked to express an emotion that they connected to while Mr. Stabenau read the book aloud and then to illustrate a fish of their own with pastels.  The emotion that they came up with was written on the back of the paper.  To tie up the demo lesson, Mr. Stabenau asked his parents to hold up their pictures to the rest of the group to see if they could guess the emotion by studying the illustration.  The group tried to guess each other's emotions that were being transferred to the paper in what was a very entertaining portion of the lesson.  Mr. Stabenau was able to connect CCSS literacy, communication, and a hint of writing within the visual arts world - and it worked amazingly well.
Happy by Miles Van Hout

The point here is that the Common Core can be interpreted in numerous ways.   It's how teachers are able to connect multiple disciplines to one another in order to get the most out of their lessons.  For example, the use of SMART Boards and a Social Studies lesson with video clips and informational texts....the use of a document camera and interactive whiteboard hooked up to a microscope in Science with a journal to write down what is being observed....students in a technology class that are creating interactive timelines for Women's History Month using an online web service like TimeToast...these are all Common Core lessons and projects - all designed to dig allow students to find out more...and to connect one curriculum area to another.

Take a look at your "Common Core" lessons and projects and see if what you have created really is "Common Core"...or just an impostor.

Check out MasteryConnect, it's simple to share and discover common formative assessments and track mastery of state and Common Core standards. They have a free CCSS widget that can be placed on your school's web page, or on an app for your mobile device.

Find Adam on Teachers Pay Teachers for Common Core aligned lessons and projects and follow him on Twitter @ps101hyman.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Why Teachers Need To Blog

Very often, school administrators will ask new teachers to keep a reflective journal so that they can note their professional growth and allow themselves to see the big picture. In essence, they are asked to sit back and think about what they planned, how their lesson was delivered, decisions that are being made, what's working, what's not working, etc., etc. The writing process in this case forces teachers to slow down and honestly give themselves a chance to catch their breath.

Enter blogging for teachers.

Blogging allows teachers to not only be reflective about their teaching practice, but to also connect with teachers on a world-wide scale. Educators can take their ideas, expertise, and communicate to others in the profession what is cutting edge and innovative.

Take, for example, technology-related, Common Core-aligned projects. Recently, I had my 5th and 6th grade students create a multiple-step math word problem in groups of two. Now, this isn't anything really special. This type of assignment takes place all the time, no doubt. Regardless, here's what made it remarkable: I had the pairs of students not only create a multiple-step math word problem, but they had to use Prezi (a cloud-based presentation application that allows for real-time collaboration and sharing) to showcase their problem and show how to solve it in two distinct ways using different strategies. Not only was this innovative, but very Common Core with the technology/math/presentation marriage. Students were completely engaged and highly motivated...and needless to say, I was extremely happy to see that they were able to produce some amazing work.

The bottom line is that teachers need to take time to be reflective...and blogging can hit on just that. By taking on a blog, you can reach out to others and reach deep down inside your own take on education. So, take the blogging leap today and start your very own personalized reflective'll thank me later.

Follow me on Twitter @ps101hyman

Monday, February 18, 2013

Perfect Marriage: Google Docs & The Common Core

How did Google know that Google Docs and The Common Core State Standards would be such a perfect marriage?  Chances are, they didn't.  Regardless, the idea of Google Docs and it's many technological uses completely lends itself to the Common Core and college and career readiness. Whether Google had some sort of cosmic inside scoop about the CCSS or not, you couldn't have paired two ideas any better.

Let's face it, technology is no longer just something that happens.  No way, no how.  Technology drives everything and that means education too.  Google Docs and it's online, cloud-collaboration has been gaining lots of steam over the past couple of years.  So much so that I've started using it with my 5th and 6th graders over that same time period.  Really, it's uses are endless and match the Technology Common Core State Standards so well that you couldn't have made it a better match.

Here are some uses for Google Docs that I have used...and work!

1. Collaborative Projects

What's better than getting two or three students together in a collaborative group to create a living document on any nonfiction topic they want to work on?  Let me tell you - nothing is better.  I realized the power of Google Docs and it's influence on today's technological, 21st-Century students when on one random Tuesday evening around 10:30 in the evening, I checked in to grade some of the projects that students were working on.  To my surprise, there were a few groups working collaboratively on their projects -- all pulling their weight and all giving it amazing attention.  Best of all, when I entered into their documents, there was such an excited energy to see their teacher in their document...being able to give feedback and say, "Great job!".

2. Brainstorming and Project Organization

Students should take time to plan out their work and their projects for optimal end results. When I pair students together or create groups for projects, I always suggest students use Google Docs as a forum to gather their ideas and brainstorm.  Students not only can get together in a school-based setting, but can continue their planning at home -- or on the go with the Google Drive app on their phones and iPads.  It doesn't matter what project it is - Prezi, PowerPoint, etc., etc. - the idea to use Google Docs to gather ideas it priceless.

Tip:  I always choose one project at the start of the year (after I have introduced how to use Google Docs to my students) and have my students sit on opposite ends of the classroom - and not with their partners or group members.  I tell them that they can't say a word to one another, but can talk to one another as much as they'd like....using their fingers and the chat feature!

3. Staff & Professional Development 

Forget about the students - how about your staff?  Google Docs is a fantastic way to get your staff all working on one document for professional development.  Teachers and staff can work on monthly planning calendars, overall curriculum projects, homework, or goals - and work on it without even having to be in the same room.  Teachers can not only share ideas and opinions by using the chat feature within the document as  they take place in real-time, but they can accomplish their work in a fraction of the time that it used to take.

The bottom line:  Google Docs aligns to the Common Core by using technology to do the work that the Common Core demands.  Use Google Docs and the technology with your CCSS lessons and projects - your students will be ahead of the game...and that's worth it.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

The Worldwide Common Core

The introduction of the idea of the Common Core a couple of years ago has certainly added some juice into the education field.  It's something like a booster shot that was long overdue.  But how big is that field now?  Statewide?  Countrywide?  Worldwide??  Well, worldwide may be a stretch, but it certainly has the power to make it there, if it hasn't already.

Let me explain.

The new CCSS, which is slated to go full speed ahead in 2014, has done one amazing and positive thing:  collaboration on a worldwide scale.  Likewise, services like Common Core Questions which has created beautiful novel-study assessments for teachers and web services like TpT (Teachers Pay Teachers) has opened to the door to a level of collaboration between teachers never seen before.  Throw in Twitter's ability to get the word out and the numerous other educational organizations out there and you have a recipe for greatness.  Why?  Why not??  Teachers from educational power-house states like New York, Massachusetts, and California are now teaming up with talented teachers from 40-something other states who have signed on to the new CCSS.  Add a sprinkle of the world education market like England, Finland, and Japan, and magic, there is something amazing brewing.  

Personally, I just started to venture into TpT (Teachers Pay Teachers) to see what was types of CCSS aligned projects and lessons were out there and to see how much CCSS collaboration is truly taking place -- and let me tell you -- it's booming.  Being in the education arena, I am fully aware of what the Common Core is and it's purpose.  That said, I started to create Common Core aligned (and technology-infused) lessons and projects to post and within hours, I had my first sale.  But it wasn't so much the sale that I was looking for.  It was the amount of fantastic material that is out there that I was interested in seeing.  TpT has over 81,000+ (and growing) free items on it's site...some of which are highly aligned to the CCSS.  Of course, you have to do some searching, but they certainly do exist.  And then there is the great stuff you can pay for - well worth it for the teacher who isn't totally clear as to the language and formats of the CCSS; not to mention what a time-saver it is for those teachers who lead a hectic life! 

The Common Core isn't a fad that will just disappear like past educational ideas.  Will it look the same a year from now...or five years from now?...probably not...but the basic foundation and idea of college and career readiness is something that we will be focused on from here on out.  And just like how the internet and technology has brought the world closer than ever before, so shall the ability for teachers worldwide to collaborate and share ideas, lessons, and projects unlike any time period before.  Educators are doing great things, I can see it already...and we haven't even officially begun.

Follow me on Twitter @ps101hyman and find me on LinkedIn at

Saturday, February 16, 2013

A Clear Common Core

Parents at PS101Q in Forest Hills,
NY attend a Common Core Fair to
learn and understand what the
Common Core State Standards
is all about.
On February 6th, 2013, PS101Q in Forest Hills, NY, an elementary school of about 600 students in PreK-6, held a Common Core Fair Night for parents, staff, and student teachers.  The purpose of the Common Core Fair was to communicate to parents what the Common Core is and what a Common Core lesson looks like in a classroom setting.  The goal was to showcase the Common Core so that our strongest supporters, our parents, would have a better understanding of the rigorous work that students are being exposed to and what is being done to get the job done before the mandated 2014 roll-out. 

So, why a Common Core Fair Night?

Back in January, parents attended a workshop regarding the new Common Core-like NYS Tests in both ELA and Math that their children were about to face.  I presented the information to the parents and every time I mentioned those scary words, 'Common Core,' there were more and more blank faces in the audience.  Parents simply didn't know what I was talking about.  They heard of the Common Core, but it was clear that teachers and administrators knew much more about it than they did.

It can't be said enough -- learning the Common Core as an educator is one thing -- explaining and communicating the Common Core to parents is a whole new ballgame.  

How it was done:

Teachers who are on staff at PS101Q volunteered to help convey the message by taking a Common Core lesson and delivering that lesson to parents as if they were students.  Upper and lower grade CCSS Math and ELA workshops were offered along with CCSS assessments, technology, Science, CCSS Math games, and even Visual Arts were offered.  The goal was to have parents experience different components of the Common Core across the entire spectrum of the curriculum.  Focus on high text complexities, the language of the Common Core, high-level thinking conversations, and the overall work that is being done to challenge students to become college and career ready was explained and demonstrated.  Best of all, the parents did the work that their children do so that they would be able to take their experiences home to further assist work that is continued long after a school day has ended.

To further draw parents in to this extremely important educational event, we also enlisted outside organizations and companies like Scholastic, Common Core Questions, Answer Underground, BrainPOP, Quizlet, Cacoo, Common Core by Mastery Connect, Pearson, SpellingCity, Watch-Know-Learn, TEQ, iThoughts, Wordflex, and Children's First Network 207 for additional help and support with give-a-ways, promotional material, demonstrations, and even free raffles.  All of the help we got was highly enthusiastic support and it really made the night feel whole.

Technology played a roll as well.  PS101Q's website displayed Common Core Fair Night information with a Google Forms registration link that would provide preliminary attendance numbers.  PS101Q's Twitter feed was also used to communicate the event along with reminders from Constant Contact e-mail blasts.  Of course, we went the old-fashioned route as well too -- sending home paper flyers.  

The bottom line -- spread the word to your parents regarding the Common Core, what it is, what it isn't, what it's intended to accomplish, and how it affects our teachers, students, and yes...parents too.