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Using the Common Core Standards Scandalously to Bring Freedom to Learn

At Anastasis Academy we use the Common Core Standards as a basic framework to start from.  We don’t purchase ANY boxed curriculum. At all.  At least not in the typical fashion.  We tailor learning to meet the needs of our students.  All of the resources we purchase are purchased with specific students in mind.  So, if a piece of curriculum meets the needs of a student, we purchase that.  If a lesson plan, or a video, or a book, or an app helps that child to be successful in learning, we purchase that. The Common Core Standards act as our guide not our goal.   I know, scandalous. We don’t see the Common Core Standards as needing to be prescriptive of when and how a child should learn.  Instead, we recognize that there are some foundational, basic skills in learning that help students in other learning, discovery and creativity.  Quite frankly, the Common Core Standards are underwhelming. They leave SO much to be desired if they are viewed as the learning objective. If viewed as a baseline, a door to other learning opportunities, everything changes.  There is freedom in that. At Anastasis, we don’t have grade levels.  Instead we group students based on developmental level taking into account academic abilities, the social/emotional and maturation.  In any given class, we could have up to a 3-4 year spread.  We recognize that children don’t develop at exactly the same rate.  They must be given flexibility in their learning and not forced through a curriculum based on an artificial pacing guide.  We believe the same is true for the standards.  While the standards give a nice framework, there is no reason why a 6 year old should be expected to master all of the standards in first grade.  There is no reason why a 6 year old should be limited by the standards in first grade.  I’m sure that we don’t use the Common Core Standards quite like anyone else.  We pay little attention to the grade level of the standard.  Instead, when a child has mastered a standard, we move them to the next level of challenge regardless of the grade level the standard falls in.  Because every child in a class could be working on a different combination of standards, we have a very low teacher/student ratio.  We have 12 students to every teacher.  This allows us to truly work with students where they are at.  We use Mastery Connect to help us keep track of student progress. Our students are involved in the process of coming up with learning goals.  I know in most cases this responsibility rests solely on the shoulders of the teacher or the curriculum company.  Students should have a say in their learning.  If they don’t, we are doing a disservice to them.  The problem we quickly ran into: students couldn’t easily read and understand the standards so that they could weigh in.  Have you read the Common Core Standards? They are ridiculously full of eduspeak BS.  I mean honestly, do they have to make everything sound so convoluted? I ended up rewriting the standards in student friendly language so that our students could work with teachers to create learning goals for each block (five week period).  Below, you can see my re-written versions for first-sixth grade standards.  I’m going back through the seventh and eighth grade standards for some additional tweaking. First Open publication – Free publishing – More 1st grade Second Open publication – Free publishing Third Open publication – Free publishing Fourth Open publication – Free publishing Fifth Open publication – Free publishing Sixth Open publication – Free publishing Our students are so brilliant in the way they plan their goals for each block.  One of our intermediate students showed me a video yesterday that he put together to show which standards and goals he had set for himself and his action steps to get there.  It is seriously creative.  As soon as he has it uploaded to YouTube I’ll share. Whoever decided that standards should be printed out and posted during the lesson that addresses them should be ashamed.  Who is that for, honestly?  The standard cards that get posted are full of the eduspeak. They aren’t for students. Standards have gotten a bad reputation in the education community.  The way they are being used is distasteful to say the least.  Standards are being used to make every learning experience look exactly the same regardless of the child. They are being used to sell curriculum.  They are being used to help students pass a test. They are being used to judge teacher abilities. They are being used to determine funding. They are being used to churn out a generation of kids that have the exact same skill set. I like standards.  I like that there are food standards that ensure that the food I eat is safe.  I like that those standards don’t dictate which dishes end up on my table. I like that they don’t hinder chefs from being creative with food.  I like that there are standards for the safety of children’s toys.  I like that those standards don’t dictate how creative a toy maker can be.  I like that they don’t dictate how a child can play.  I like that there are standards in the construction of my house. I like that those standards don’t keep me from personalizing my house.  I like that those standards leave plenty of room for creative architecture and design.  Standards that are used as a framework and baseline allow for freedom.  They give us a starting place and let us create and work all the way around them.  When you view the Common Core Standards this way, they aren’t mind numbing, they are freeing.  They help us empower students with the building blocks of learning so that they have freedom in learning. They give students enough of the skills and foundational understandings to build on in any direction they would like. I realize that this view of the Common Core Standards isn’t where most of you are.  For most of you the standards are very prescriptive. Very limiting. A very narrow view of what it means to be educated.  My hope is that by sharing the way we scandalously use the standards, other classrooms and schools will be able to make changes toward freedom in learning.  My hope is that more schools would break free from the boxed curricula and testing.  Students should experience freedom in their learning.  All teachers should experience the freedom that comes with really being a teacher (as opposed to script reader and test giver). If I could change one thing about the Common Core Standards it would be this: get rid of the grade level separation of standards.  Let it just be a continuum of learning.  It is so silly to think that children should be able to master learning because according to the standard, they are the age for it. It is so silly to think that a student couldn’t possibly master standards well above their age.  I call BS on both. We have students who exist in both camps. Our goal is to empower students as learners.  Our goal is to do what is right for every child.  Our goal is freedom in learning.    

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Day of Play: Mechanical Bulls, Time Machines, Dancing and Mustaches

Posted by admin | Posted in Analyze, Anastasis Academy, Apply, Create, education reform, inspiration, Middle/High School, Primary Elementary, Secondary Elementary | Posted on 08-10-2012

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Maybe you have heard of Caine’s Arcade?  It is a little movement, started by an 8 year old.  This video will restore your faith in humanity and inspire you big time!  It inspired us at Anastasis Academy, so much so that when the second video came out, inviting us to a Day of Play, we were all in.

On Friday, Anastasis held our own Day of Play.  We collected boxes (lots and lots of boxes), tape, markers, pipe cleaners, glue, aluminum foil, rubber bands, tubes, scissors and paper.  Then, we let the kids at it.  There were no parameters, no specific rules or directions.  The goal for our students was to dream as big as they could. It is amazing what happens when you invite kids to dream and build apart from any rules or expectations of what the end goal is.  Our students (k-8) gathered in our big “all in” room and built to their hearts content.  The amazing part: no two ideas were the same.  We had plink-o, a fortune teller, a minecraft adventure, a time machine (complete with crystal), ski ball, tilt the ball, an old-school computer made of new parts, a hotdog/snow cone stand, dance dance revolution, ferris wheel, tanks, and a mechanical bull.  You read correctly, a mechanical bull.

The students spent about 3 hours dreaming and building.  Some had plans they created the day before, others came in with a blank slate.  After all of the building (and a break for lunch) we gathered to play each others games.  It was SO much fun!  Students even created their own prizes that could be won (mustaches and uni-brows anyone?).

The casual observer might have watched this all go down and seen chaos or a waste of time.  A closer look would have revealed the rich learning taking place.  The problem solving, critical thinking, discovery, planning, rich conversations, kids working together, designing, creativity.  Have you ever seen those words describe a worksheet? A lecture?  This was such a RICH learning experience in so many ways.  Best of all: it built and fostered a culture of working together, learning from each other and enjoying each other.  That is no small feat.

I saw genius today. I am SO proud of these kids, they truly are geniuses.  Two of our students (different classes and ages) built a tank together.  The tank shot rubber bands and launched a “cannon” water bottle.  These boys decided that the rubber band shooter and cannon should have a “safety” just in case something slipped so that they wouldn’t accidentally shoot anything.  The way they worked this out was truly brilliant.  The cannon water bottle was held in place by a popsicle stick safety.  The rubber band shooter was attached to pipe cleaner that kept the rubber band from releasing unless the safety was off.

Our youngest kids built and manned a hotdog/snow cone stand.  My favorite part of the stand was the signs that they created for it.  One of the signs read “Snow cones choose a color: limeade, raspberry, blueberry, grape.”  I love that it said choose a color, not choose a flavor.  SO stinking cute!

A dance-loving student created the cardboard version of dance, dance revolution.  She created a dance mat with different colors on it.  Then, she climbed behind her box and flashed construction paper colors. When the color showed up, the player had to step on the matching color on the mat.  Periodically, she would hold up signs that said things like, “you are on fire” or “fail”.  Brilliant!

Check out our Day of Play below:

Personalized learning should be available to EVERY child, every day. The Learning Genome Project makes that possible.  Please help me spread the word and contribute!

Comments (1)

[…] to create iPad styluses out of sponge and wire for less than 10 cents.  Last year we held an all-school day of play (highly recommend that!) and marshmallow/spaghetti tower challenge.  This year we have some fun […]

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