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Student Treasures

    What it is: Student Treasures is a free publisher that will publish student work into bound books. This program is highly motivating for students because they see their work result in a 4-color, hard bound, professionally published book. How to integrate Student Treasures into the...

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My Simple Show: Create your own explainer videos for free!

Posted by admin | Posted in Anastasis Academy, Character Education, Create, Foreign Language, Government, History, Inquiry, Language Arts, Maker Space, Middle/High School, Phonics, Primary Elementary, Science, Secondary Elementary, Social Studies, Teacher Resources, Technology, video, web tools, Websites | Posted on 22-09-2016

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Create  explainer videos free with My Simple Show!

What it is: My Simple Show Video Creator lets students easily create professional level “explainer” videos. The finished product looks just like a Common Craft video, so cool! The step-by-step tool helps students think about storyline and the flow of explaining a concept.

How to integrate My Simple Show into the classroom: My Simple Show is a fantastic option for digital storytelling. Students begin by choosing to write their own script, or by uploading a Power Point presentation. Next, they can choose from one of many templates to start from, or alternately, start from scratch. The templates are an awesome option because they give kids an outline and break down the story telling/explaining process. For each step in the process, it guides students with a prompt and with some examples. My Simple Show auto-magically picks up words in the script and suggests pictures. Students can use the pre-selected images, choose an image from the My Simple Show library of images, or upload their own image or picture. In the final step, students add audio. This can be computer generated or students can record their own audio. The finished product is pretty impressive! Below is a video I made quickly today.

My Simple Show’s obvious use is for explanatory digital storytelling, but it would also be a great way for students to reflect on a field trip, tell a story, retell new learning (pssst. this is an awesome way to check for understanding!), or create their own “textbooks.”

Students can use My Simple Show to explain a historical event, introduce a biological process, introduce a physical law, summarize literature, summarize a biography, discuss pros and cons, explain a law, etc. Use My Simple Show to create whole class stories where each student contributes a portion of the explanation or story.  This type of video can be made over a few weeks using classroom devices as a writing center.  This would be a fun way to create an A to Z type book of learning, reflections by students after a unit, a 100 day video,  fact vs. opinion video,  a class video of poems, a phonics video, or a class video about a field trip that students took. Students can take pictures of science experiments and create a digital video detailing the experiment with text, images, and student voice reflections included.  The finished product can be shared with parents and families easily through YouTube, Vimeo, or downloaded as a MP4 file.

For a back to school night activity, take a picture of each student to add to a class video and record students sharing an explanation of a school day. This same idea could be used in preparation for parent-teacher conferences. Students can create a video about their learning during the quarter/trimester, record thoughts about why they are proud of the work they did, and add reflections.  These can be shared as a starting point for conferences, at the end of the conference, parents have a keepsake. My Simple Show could also be used for character education. Give the students a scenario or problem, and have them work out a step-by-step explanation or solution.

Because of the voice recording capabilities, My Simple Show, would be a great way for students to practice a foreign language.  They can illustrate a word or phrase accompanied by the audio.  Classes could work together to create a “living” digital glossary.

Be sure to give your students access to My Simple Show in your Maker Space, it is a great option for students to choose!

Tips: My Simple Show has video guides that lead students through each step of the process…I definitely recommend watching these at least once as a class or for the first round of creation!

Swift Playground: Apple’s free app that teaches kids to code!

Posted by admin | Posted in Analyze, Apply, Create, Fun & Games, Inquiry, iPod, Maker Space, Math, Middle/High School, Primary Elementary, Science, Secondary Elementary, Teacher Resources, Technology, Understand (describe, explain), video | Posted on 19-09-2016

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Swift Playground Learn to Code Apps on your iPad!

What it is: Swift Playground is an awesome new app from Apple that teaches kids how to code in Swift. This free app for iPads uses games to teach kids Apple’s coding language used to create apps. Students can drag and drop code, and easily edit the code to customize it. The code can be instantly run so students can test out their code and see if it works. Best of all, in those instances that the code they put together doesn’t work, Swift Playground has debugging tools and hints built-in to help students rectify any problems. Students can also code with Swift from scratch making the app endlessly adaptable to any skill level.

How to integrate Swift Playground into your classroom: Swift Playground requires no previous coding knowledge, making it the perfect tool for learning how to code. For those students who have experience with coding, Swift Playground is robust enough for even seasoned programmers to bring new ideas to life. Swift Playground begins with a series of challenges to help students master the basics, students use code to help characters navigate a 3D world. When the challenges have been mastered, students can build and manipulate their own code to dream up new creations. Use Swift Playground to get your students thinking logically and solving problems from new perspectives. The skills built as students learn to code are the same skills that will help students in other disciplines like math and science. I love the way Swift Playground starts out by giving students a fun environment of challenges to learn the basics of Swift, but also allows them the flexibility of drag and drop code, and allowing students to edit and write their own code. Swift Playground even features a special keyboard that includes the most common coding characters so that students don’t have to hunt through keyboards to find what they are looking for. As students advance in their skills, they can use code templates that allow customization with code. Beyond what most learning platforms allow, students will be able to adjust multi-touch interactions, the accelerometer, and the gyroscope. These features and abilities are such an awesome tie-in to conversations about complex math and physics! When students are finished with their creation, they can share it with others using Messages, Mail, or Airdrop. Students can even post videos of their creation for others to see! For those who are really soaring, Swift Playground code can be exported to Xcode (where the pros create apps).

Swift Playground-Learn to code on the iPad

Many classrooms don’t yet have time built into the day that is dedicated to coding. But perhaps once a week you use coding in math class as applied math, or use Swift Playground as part of a 20% time offering in your classroom. If those are unavailable, consider participating in Hour of Code.  Play with Swift Playground yourself and you’ll start recognizing tie-ins with other learning that your students are doing. When your students are proficient with coding in Swift Playground, they can start creating and reflecting on learning with the code they know.  Swift Playground is a fantastic resource to have available as part of your Maker Space! Maybe they create a new game to help them remember vocabulary, or math facts. Perhaps they build a world based on a historical event. Once those basics are mastered the application possibilities are endless!

Tips: Everyone can code! This isn’t a skill that only a few should possess. Even the youngest students can use Swift Playground, I’m talking kindergarten can use this app! If you are new to the concept of code, check out this crash course from Apple.

Hello Ruby: A whimsical way to learn about computers and programming

Posted by admin | Posted in Anastasis Academy, Apply, Character Education, Create, inspiration, Knowledge (remember), Primary Elementary, professional development, Secondary Elementary, Technology, TED Talk Tuesdays, Understand (describe, explain), video, Websites | Posted on 03-02-2016

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Hello Ruby is the world's most whimsical way to learn about computers, technology and programming.

 

What it is: Hello Ruby began as a whimsical children’s book by Linda Liuka meant to help kids learn about computers, technology, and programming. Hello Ruby has since escaped the pages of the book, and now Ruby continues all of her adventures in exercises, games, and apps. It is well suited for primary kids, but truly anyone (adults included!) can learn something from Ruby. The story of Ruby is beautiful, it begins with a unique, different girl who is surrounded by her unique and different friends-all with different abilities. Ruby loves learning new things, and hates giving up. She shares her opinions boldly, and is funny. Her secret superpower is being able to imagine impossible things. Her interests include maps, secret codes, and small talk (she should offer a class…I hate small talk!). Each of her friends is equally interesting and dynamic! Beyond the Hello Ruby book, the website is packed full of goodness. There are downloads for your students where they can print their own blank game boards to create unique games, an opportunity to help Ruby organize her wardrobe for dress code, practice building a universal remote control, a ‘what is a computer’ activity, and My First Computer where students can design their own computer!

Watch the TED talk above for the passion behind Hello Ruby!

How to integrate Hello Ruby into your classroom: The Hello Ruby site has a special educator page to get started with Hello Ruby in your classroom. You’ll find lesson plans, educator stories, and resources to help you get started with learning and teaching programming yourself. All necessary components are included on the Hello Ruby site! The lesson plans and ideas included are brilliant and go beyond most lesson plans you’ll find for programming. This is immersive programming that puts students in the middle of the action and has them discovering and acting as inquirers. Hello Ruby is a wonderfully whimsical way to teach students about computers and programming. If you are new to the world of programming, this is the place to start. The ground work for learning to code is all here. Hello Ruby introduces your students to programming but also beautifully engages them in logical thinking, problem solving, and critical thinking exercises. It is genuinely brilliant!

Beyond the introduction to technology and coding, I love the Ruby character and all of her friends. Each is unique and different, and that is celebrated! Hello Ruby celebrates identity and the uniqueness of everyone. Use it as part of your classroom character development. At Anastasis, we’ll use it as part of the Who We Are inquiry block and Detox week.

Tips: The Hello Ruby book comes in English, Finnish, and Swedish. Soon it will be available in Dutch, Hungarian, French, Japanese, Korean, Latvian, and Polish as well.

Thank you @leadanddesign for sending me Linda’s Ted Talk!

How We Got to Now: a student created mini museum

Posted by admin | Posted in Analyze, Anastasis Academy, Apply, collaboration, Create, education reform, Evaluate, History, Inquiry, inspiration, Knowledge (remember), Middle/High School, Primary Elementary, Science, Secondary Elementary, Understand (describe, explain), video, Websites | Posted on 04-02-2015

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In November, I wrote a post about the book/PBS documentary series “How We Got to Now” by Steven Johnson. If you haven’t read this book or watched the series, it is a must! Truly, this is one of those books that has stayed with me. I’m not the only one. Students from 1st-8th grade at Anastasis have become fascinated with Steven Johnson’s journey through the six innovations that made the modern world. The way that Steven weaves the story is remarkable. It reminds us just how interconnected the world is and that innovation doesn’t happen in isolation, but as a result of connection. This book, perhaps more than any we’ve read as a school, has reminded us of the beauty of inquiry. What happens when hunches collide and people pursue those hunches.

I love the way that Johnson explores innovation through these 6 lenses. Instead of offering up the typical “heroes” of invention, Johnson introduces students to concepts that span hundreds of years of invention and many of the unsung heroes. The six innovations include: glass, time, clean, light, sound, and cold. I’m telling you, the way that Johnson helps kids see connections in innovation and invention is brilliant! So much the way that inquiry works. :)

In my first post, I wrote about how our students had imagined these innovations as a series of dominoes. Each new discovery leads to the next. Much like dominoes creating a chain reaction. The students have spent the last months exploring each of the 6 innovations in-depth. In addition to the PBS series, they’ve spent time really digging into each innovation that led to the next.

How we got to now-Anastasis Academy

@dweissmo really took on this project with her students. The process wasn’t without it’s frustrations (for teacher and students) but the end result was absolutely incredible! Honestly, I couldn’t have imagined a better outcome than what I saw today when Deb’s class unveiled their mini museum. Before I get to that, let me lead you through the process of how this project came together.

First, Deb’s class watched each of the How We Got to Now @PBS documentary series. The students took notes (in Evernote, through sketchnotes, etc.) about each innovation. The class would also debrief after each video and talk about what surprised them, encouraged them about the invention process, the key players, and the timeline. @dweissmo is a master at leading these conversations. Her enthusiasm is infectious and the students caught her passion. Steven Johnson also has a way of presenting the unfolding of each innovation in a way that hooks your interests and keeps you marveling and making connections long after the video is over. After watching the documentary series, Deb put each of the six innovations up on her wall and asked students to write their names on a sticky note and choose which innovation that they were most excited to learn more about.

Students chose which innovation they wanted to do a more in-depth study of and would, ultimately, create dominoes based on.

For the dominoes, we snagged a bunch of the flat-rate shipping boxes from USPS. The students painted them different colors according to the innovation they were studying (a different color for each innovation). Next they took all of their notes and research and started creating their “dominoes” with information about that innovation. They quickly realized that there was SO much to say about each innovation, that it didn’t fit on their domino. The kids decided to create websites where they could add a little more in-depth information about the innovation. To make it easier for the museum audience, they connected the websites and webpages they built to QR codes for each domino. You guys, these are 4th, 5th, and 6th grade students!!! I’m so proud of them I could burst. They built their websites using Wix (a wonderful and amazing WYSIWYG editor). The QR codes were built using Google’s URL shortener which also happens to include a QR code. On the back of each domino, the kids affixed their QR codes. Some of the kids also created videos that were included on their website. (If you are interested in seeing these websites, all are linked here.)  All of this was done over the course of a few months as the kids continued on their inquiry journey of How We Express Ourselves, and How the World Works.

Then came the full moon. Any teacher will tell you that the full moon does something to children. Perfectly wonderful, reasonable children are suddenly unrecognizable and cannot make a decision or work together to save their lives. This is a real thing! This full moon coincided with class decisions about how to set up their museum. And much chaos ensued. Despite the full moon, the kids were able to come to a decision about how they would set up their museum for the rest of Team Anastasis and families to enjoy. For all of the trouble they had coming to a decision, they did a remarkable job in the end! They created a sort of maze/labyrinth to walk through with dominoes along the journey. They decided to organize the dominoes not by innovation, but instead as a timeline so that you could see the interconnectedness of innovation. They had a station set up with clips from the How We Got to Now PBS series, a station where kids/parents could download a QR code scanner and learn how to use it before going through the museum, the actual domino mini-museum, and a place to reflect on the museum afterward. It was incredible!!

What was truly inspiring was watching the other classes (and parents) journey through the museum. Kids of all ages were SO engaged and impressed with what Team Weissman had put on. They spent time sitting at each domino and learning more about the innovations. They asked questions. They told Team Weissman what a neat website they had built. They connected with each other and learned together. Seriously, I couldn’t have dreamed up a better scenario. As the 1st-3rd grade class was leaving, they stopped and asked some of Team Weissman, “could you show us how to do QR codes and websites for our Body Tracings?” This is what learning looks like!

After all their hard work, the kids sat down and reflected on what could have gone better. What they would like to do differently for their next museum. They congratulated each other for a job well done. They talked about how hard the project felt at times and how very proud of themselves they were when they persevered through the hard parts. They made plans for the next opportunity to share it.

And now for our next trick, Team Weissman is creating their own inventions…How We Get to Next! These are so brilliant, I can’t wait to share them!

If you are joining us for the 5sigma Education Conference (and I hope you are!!), you will get a first hand look at the How We Got to Now mini domino museum and hear from the students who created it.

 

 

 

Everything I Know About Education, I Learned from Big Hero 6

Posted by admin | Posted in Anastasis Academy, education reform, Grade Level, inspiration, professional development, Teacher Resources, video | Posted on 11-11-2014

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Yesterday, Anastasis teachers took some of our students (we auctioned ourselves off to the highest bidder) to see Big Hero 6.

It. Was. Brilliant.

We give it two thumbs up and five stars.

I loved the inventiveness, the curiosity, and sheer ingenuity of the characters. I loved the development of each of the different personalities. I loved that the main character’s catch phrase becomes “just look at it from a new angle.”

During the movie, one of our students looked at me and excitedly whispered, “Mrs. Tenkely, this movie is SO perfect for us! That is exactly what we do at Anastasis! Aren’t you glad we get to see THIS movie?!”

She could not be more right, this is what we do at Anastasis. We look at problems from lots of different angles and recognize that learning is ongoing and there is often more than one way to solve a problem. I’m so excited that our students can verbalize this!

Disney is a fantastic story teller, Big Hero 6 is no exception. As I reflected on the movie, I kept making connections between the movie and the way that we teach. Like everything else I encounter, I watched with an educator world view. As such, I thought I would follow in the footsteps of my friend @thenerdyteacher and write an “Everything I know about education, I learned from a movie” post.

**Fair warning and spoiler alert, if you haven’t seen this movie yet, you might want to wait on this post.** 🙂

Without further ado, here is Everything I Know About Education, I Learned from Big Hero 6:

  • The main character, Hero, thinks that he knows his own path in life (illegal robotics fighting) until his brother, Tadashi, shows him a new way. Tadashi doesn’t try to convince Hero with words, instead he quietly leads and exposes him to a new way of seeing his options.
    • Lesson: Some kids need to be shown/exposed to new ideas and perspectives. A lot of kids aren’t motivated by tests and grades, so they choose apathy (in whatever form that takes). As an educator, it is up to me to help kids see their options. It is my job to help them realize that they are more than a test or grade score. We can’t take for granted that kids will see that on their own.
  • Tadashi takes Hero to the “Nerd School” lab where he works and introduces Hero to his friends. It is Hero’s curiosity and desire to tinker with new ideas that leads him to the decision to use his talents.
    • Lesson: We need to capitalize on the natural curiosity that kids have. We need to give them lots of opportunities to tinker with new ideas. We need to support them and help them to see what their talents are.
  • Big Hero 6 has two lead characters that are strong, smart females. They are brilliant! One is a little edgy and the other is a totally girly fashonista. Both are brilliant inventors.
    • Lesson: Duh, girls are scientists and inventors, too! Never underestimate what any of your students can do. Every single one of them is unique and has gifts that should be cultivated!
  • Nerd School is cool. Like, really cool.
    • Lesson: Own your geek and help your students own their geek. Help your kids see the beauty in whatever they are passionate about. Help them own it. Teach them not to apologize or feel bad for the gifts they have (regardless of what others may say). Nerd school is way cool.
  • When the friends of Tadashi come together to support Hero, they all become heroes.
    • Lesson: Together our ideas are better. Help kids understand that we can appreciate ideas that are different from ours and that each new insight adds to a bigger whole.
  • Hero needs friends after Tadashi dies.
    • Lesson: We need each other for moral support. We don’t always know what is happening in our student’s lives. Those that push us away the most, may also be the very kids who need us the most. Help students connect, help them see each other’s genius. At Anastasis Academy, one of our teachers does an activity (throughout the year) called “speed friending.” Each student is connected with another student where they have an intentional 2 minute conversation where they have to go deeper than surface level. I have never seen whole classes of students gel and support each other the way that @lancefinkbeiner‘s kids do. And these are Jr. High students. There is something to connection.
  • Human connection trumps technology (I’ll avoid the spoiler here, but you will know it when you see it).
    • Lesson: Technology is cool and can be the catalyst for amazing learning, but it is not the main thing. The main thing is human connection. As teachers, we deal in humanity. Make sure that is always the focus in your classroom.
  • “There is someone in there, I have to go in.” Twice in the movie a character makes a decision to face danger on behalf of another.
    • Lesson: No child left behind. Really! We have to have this attitude in our classrooms (failed political strategies aside). It is up to us not to leave kids behind. Our job is to do the dangerous thing and go in after them. They all matter.
  • Baymax is the greatest robot ever. The connection he makes with other characters (even with the limitations of his programming) is really fabulous.
    • Lesson: Technology can be used as a connector. I’ve seen this over and over again. See: Blogger Alliance, and even today I got an email from the production company that created the How We Got To Now series. They read my blog post and sent it on to Steven Johnson (the author and host of How We Got to Now). Excitement and joy ensued. Technology connects your students to the wider world and can enhance human connection.
  • In the movie, every character has an attitude of possible. Of, “we can figure it out.”
    • Lesson: We can foster grit. We can help students develop an attitude of possible. They can figure it out. They can find solutions, they are genius.

Big Hero 6 might be top 10 Disney movies. It really is pretty brilliant. It encourages creativity, science, math, invention, and innovation. All things that I want to foster at Anastasis.

 

If you are an administrator, Big Hero 6 might be the perfect movie to take your staff to as a professional development outing. Just saying.

We are hosing an education conference in February! Join us for a weekend of inspiration, conversation, and implementation. Early Bird Registration through the end of November!

How We Got to Now: 6 Innovations That Made the Modern World

Posted by admin | Posted in Analyze, Anastasis Academy, Art, Evaluate, Geography, History, Inquiry, Knowledge (remember), Math, Middle/High School, Science, Secondary Elementary, Social Studies, Teacher Resources, Understand (describe, explain), video, Websites | Posted on 05-11-2014

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How We Got to Now: 6 innovations that made the modern world

At Anastasis Academy, we are in the middle of the inquiry block “Where We Are in Place and Time.” During this block our students are exploring orientation in place and time, personal histories, explorations and migrations of humankind, and the relationships between the interconnectedness of individuals and civilizations from local and global perspectives.  Serendipitously, Steven Johnson’s new book “How We Got to Now” just came out along with a PBS documentary. The timing could not have been better!! Steven looks at 6 innovations that made the modern world. In his telling about these 6 innovations, he demonstrates the inquiry approach in really brilliant ways. The interdisciplinary nature of this series is fantastic! I’ve been reading “How We Got to Now” (I highly recommend it!) and the students have been watching the new PBS documentary series by the same name as part of the inquiry unit. In addition to the book and documentary series, PBS has a brilliant How We Got to Now website for the classroom!

What it is: How We Got to Now with Steven Johnson is a website from PBS. The resources on the site are meant to support the documentary series (or book) and recommended for 6th-12th grade. At Anastasis, we are using it with students as young as 3rd grade and they are all getting something out of it and loving the connections of history and these innovations.

How to use How We Got to Now in the classroom: I love the way that Johnson explores innovation through these 6 lenses. Instead of offering up the typical “heroes” of invention, Johnson introduces students to concepts that span hundreds of years of invention and many of the unsung heroes. The six innovations include: glass, time, clean, light, sound, and cold. I’m telling you, the way that Johnson helps kids see connections in innovation and invention is brilliant! So much the way that inquiry works. 🙂

The How We Got to Now site has a great “Big Ideas” section that leads students to dig deeper into the six innovations and has provocations for students to continue making connections, learning, asking questions, and even coming up with their own innovations.

Students can explore and discuss how change happens and think about how we get to “next.”

As I mentioned, our students at Anastasis are really loving this block. They are enjoying exploring Where We Are in Place and Time with the help of Steven Johnson and through the lens of these six innovations. It has led to a lot of additional lines of inquiry and has also prompted our students to create their own innovations and inventions for the “next.”

As I was reading “How We Got to Now,” I couldn’t help but imagine a set of dominoes. Each innovation connects to something prior that sets off a chain reaction like the domino effect. I suggested to our classes that the students choose one of the six innovations to illustrate this way. The students will create a mini museum for our families to go through that is full of large cardboard dominoes with the inventions and catalysts of the chain reaction. The last domino will be their invention. I’m excited to see this come together!

Tips: Watch full episodes of How We Got to Now online here.

Are you interested in learning more about the inquiry model we use at Anastasis Academy? Join our conference in February! Early bird registration now available.

Kinesthetic Digital Story Telling @aerialanimation is amazing!

Posted by admin | Posted in Grade Level, Inquiry, inspiration, video | Posted on 26-08-2014

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I haven’t been a regular watcher of America’s Got Talent, but one of our families recently forwarded on this video of their friend Abigail Baird who is on the current season. Abigail is incredible. Her talent is Aerial Animation, digital story telling mixed with aerial dancing and acrobatics. You have got to see it!

As I said, she is incredible! This clip reminds me of a chapter in Sir Ken Robinson’s The Element. In it, he talks about the way that body movement and manipulation (the kinesthetic and rhythmic/musical multiple intelligences) are often overlooked in schools. What a shame! I love the creativity that Abigail uses to marry her talent and multiple intelligence gifting with story telling. This goes beyond just entertainment, it is a new method of communicating story. This is a fantastic video to share with your students. It is inspirational to see someone use their talent so creatively. We often think of storytelling very linearly and through paper/pencil and occasionally digital media, this is a great example of how to think outside of the box, create something new and think about all of the ways we can communicate.

If you are in an inquiry based school using the PYP, this would be the perfect video to share during the inquiry unit on How We Express Ourselves!

America’s Got Talent is on TONIGHT, you can vote for Abigail! I hope that you will vote for this incredible talent and creativity! Find Abigail on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Learn how to start your own school #principalcast #edchat

Posted by admin | Posted in Anastasis Academy, collaboration, Grade Level, inspiration, professional development, Reform Symposium Conference, Teacher Resources, video | Posted on 24-07-2014

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I had the great privilege of joining the fun over at #Principalcast on Sunday. Spike, Theresa and I had a great time talking and geeking about education and I shared our journey of starting a school. If you missed Principal Cast live, you can pretend you were there with us and watch/listen to the conversation below.

Don’t miss #Principalcast Sunday’s at 6pm MST, 8pm EST Follow @principalcast for the latest show information!

Thank you Spike, Theresa, and Jeff!

Also, in case you missed the announcement, Anastasis is hosting it’s first annual Education Conference in February!! Save the date for February 20-22 and plan to be in Colorado with us. You will not want to miss this conference. It is going to be EPIC! More details soon!

Sorting Through the Common Core (more to the story than Facebook)

Posted by admin | Posted in Anastasis Academy, education reform, inspiration, Middle/High School, Primary Elementary, professional development, Secondary Elementary, Teacher Resources, video | Posted on 26-06-2014

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In the past few months, “Common Core” has become a hot button issue for parents, educators, news media, and celebrities alike. Facebook feeds have been flooded with absurd worksheets, kids homework, and disparaging remarks about how the “Common Core” will ruin us all. The problem is, the “Common Core” really refers to two things. One is the standards and the other is curriculum. The two aren’t mutually exclusive, but are being used interchangeably as if they are one and the same.

In recent months, I’ve had parents ask for clarification about what the Common Core is. They want to be reassured that their kids aren’t anywhere near the absurdity that they are seeing online, in the news, or in the new Common Core documentary. Because there has been so much confusion, I created the video above to help explain what the “Common Core” is. I tried to keep it short so that it was manageable to watch without getting lost in the details and losing interest. I recognize that there is a LOT more to this topic than what I laid out. My goal with the video above was to help others understand what the “Common Core” is and what it isn’t.

Common Core Standards are different from Common Core Curriculum. As I said before, the two are not the same. The problem is that news media outlets, Facebook feeds, and celebrities use “Common Core” to describe both the standards and the curriculum. Sometimes they even mistakenly refer to the curriculum as Common Core Standards.

The standards are the United States attempt at bringing more continuity to learning foundations for kindergarten through twelfth grade students throughout the states. They are intended to ensure that all students receive the same base skills to build on in English Language Arts and Math. Most of the United States has adopted these standards and is making adjustments to accommodate the new standards. In the past, individual states each had state created standards. This led to a lot of disparity between the states about what was learned and at what stage it was learned. The result was a chasm between what students in one state learned that a neighboring state had not.

The standards were developed in partnership by a group made up of governors, chief state school officers, education groups, and corporations and foundations. The funding for the development of the standards came from the federal government (part of Race to the Top money) and the corporations/foundations involved. In the video, I show a Common Core Standards “family tree” that breaks this down a bit more. While I don’t love the idea of corporations funding the standards, I recognize that the money to make them happen had to come from somewhere. I wish that the “somewhere” wasn’t tied so closely with the publishing companies who make curriculum. I also noticed that the educational groups were labeled as “advisory.” It seems to me that the government agencies and the corporations/foundations should have been “advisory” and the educational group should have been the chief designers. Because I wasn’t right in the middle of the creation, I can only speculate how this went and hope that it was a true partnership where educators had a large hand in the outcome. Included in the creation were: Achieve (which includes Alcoa, Exxon Mobile, Microsoft), Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, the National Govenors Association, Council of Chief School Officers, David Coleman, Sue Pimentel, and Jason Zimba (who sold an educational startup to McGraw Hill), the National Education Foundation, America Federation of Teachers, National Council of English Teachers, and National Council of Math Teachers.

Standards are not a bad thing. They give a baseline and frame of reference to work within. As an educator, I see the importance of having a baseline of foundational skills that we can count on. The standards are written very generally. They are just over 60 pages long (k-12) and when you read through them you will see, they are pretty underwhelming. I like the generality of the standards, they leave schools and teachers open to using a wide variety of methodologies and resources to ensure that students get those foundational skills. They aren’t prescriptive of HOW to teach, they are just a guideline of what should be taught. Do I agree on the every single standard being totally necessary for every single child? No. But I do recognize the value in a society having a common set of baseline skills, the standards are a good beginning for that. One of the biggest problems I do have with the standards is the language used. If these goals are intended for students, shouldn’t they be written in student-friendly language that is easy to understand? Instead they are full of eduspeak and jargon. That should change!

I’m sure you’ve seen these floating around (and more like it):

Common core math problem Common Core

 

This is Common Core Curriculum. The writers of the Common Core Standards do not endorse any curriculum. Anyone can label the curriculum “Common Core Aligned.” ANYONE. This curriculum is designed by publishers. The alignment to the Common Core Standards is a way for publishers to sell more. Publishers know that in the frenzy of states adopting Common Core Standards, there will be an urgency to get schools and students on the same page quickly (after all…testing). They also know that if they stamp “Common Core aligned” on their curricula, schools are more likely to purchase it so that their students are ready for the testing that is sure to follow. Here is the problem, publishers design curriculum to make money. I’ll go out on a limb and say that the money overshadows what is best for kids. The other problem: the same people who write the curriculum, write the tests. This forces a school’s hand to purchase the curriculum so that their kids can pass the tests (which is then incentivized by programs like RTTT). When they don’t pass the tests, the publishing companies conveniently come to the rescue with the latest and greatest new curriculum. The cycle repeats. This is not a new cycle within education, but it is one that is becoming more and more transparent. In 2012 Pearson, the largest publisher of curriculum, developed Common Core Standards tests.

The adoption of Common Core Standards does not require districts and states to collect more data. Unfortunately, the Race to the Top initiative incentivized the collection of more data. You see where this all starts to get really messy. Race to the Top also paid out $350 million to create computerized testing to more efficiently collect data on students. The downfall is that there are many, many schools across the United States who aren’t even well enough equipped with technology to give these tests.

Standards are not evil, but when coupled by unreasonable expectations of a one-size-fits-all system, they can be disastrous.

We use standards at Anastasis Academy, they are a framework that we can build on to ensure that our students are getting foundational skills that will carry them on in their learning. Instead of using boxed-curriculum, we approach the standards through the lens of inquiry, and build our own learning experiences based on the individual needs of every single student. Is it the most efficient it could be? No. But we are dealing with humanity, not widgets. This approach uses the standards in a way that truly does make them the floor and not the ceiling. They are a starting point, but they don’t restrict us. We choose not to use any of the “Common Core aligned” boxed curriculum. The one-size-fits-all isn’t what we want for our students. It doesn’t take into account the individuals that we teach. We choose not to give our students piles of worksheets, but instead give them learning opportunities that engage them as learners and leaders. Our goal is to apprentice our students in the art of learning. This is a very different goal than simply trying to get them through the textbook each year!

I encourage you to read through the Common Core Standards for yourself. You will quickly get an idea of how general they really are. When you see the popup of the Common Core, ask yourself if it is one of those standards that is the problem, or if it is the curriculum that is being used. If you are a parent, I encourage you to get involved with your school. Ask what curriculum is being used and why. Don’t feel bound by the tests (they are a poor measure of who your child is anyway). Encourage your school to look at ways that they can meet standards without being bound to curriculum. When those Facebook posts popup, speak out about the problem with better specifics “this curriculum is ridiculous, where is the real learning experience?!”

If you are a teacher, I get it-sometimes you don’t get to make the choice. If you have wiggle room and aren’t using a completely scripted curriculum, take advantage of it! Connect with other educators who are doing things differently. Look for ways that you can build foundational skills that aren’t tied endless worksheets and practice drills for the next test. Help your kids fall in love with learning. Be transparent, show them why you are passionate about learning.

Words of Wisdom for Memorial Day

Posted by admin | Posted in Anastasis Academy, Classroom Management, inspiration, Middle/High School, Teacher Resources, video | Posted on 26-05-2014

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Happy Memorial Day!

Last week, I came across an awesome graduation video from the University of Texas that Kevin Jarrett shared. I love the 10 steps that were shared by Naval Adm. William H. McRaven,to become a change maker. I edited the video down a bit (for our time purposes) and added an animated component. I’m excited to share this video with our students during the 8th grade graduation ceremony.

This video has fantastic words of wisdom for the end of the year, but would also be a great one to share at the beginning of the school year!