The Common Core State Standards have certainly raised some controversy – debates regarding the amount of work for teachers, poor student performance, federal regulations versus state’s rights, and the legitimacy of the Standards themselves. I’m sure there are other arguments; but as I mentioned in my last post, I believe our educational system is on the right track by adopting the Standards.
I didn’t come to this conclusion immediately. Initially I believed the Common Core Standards to be a great effort at uniting America’s educational system, but also understood the annoyance of those against big government policies. After listening to many of my teacher friends complain about the implementation of the Standards, I decided to dive in and study the Standards in depth to gain a better understanding of their content and development.
I began my journey by reading the mission statement and “About the Standards.” I looked at the key points in English language arts and math, and I examined all of the Anchor Standards. I then read the introduction to each of the Standards and printed out the math and ELA Standards to study while I traveled. This became my go to reading material when I wasn’t allowed to use electronic devices during take off or landing! As I studied, I also looked for the consideration of technology in the design and ways technology could be used in the implementation of the Standards. I used Diigo to bookmark and highlight all of points that I felt to be significant. (You can see my notes here.) Out of everything I read, I pulled out three critical points, which I’d like to address.
First, the Standards are “designed to be robust and relevant to the real world.” I am a strong believer that students must understand that education isn’t about sitting at a desk listening to a teacher lecture, but education is about making sense of our world. I have seen so many teachers fall into the rut of teaching to the test… whether that is following the structure of a textbook or making sure that every state standard is covered one by one. Teachers are so consumed with getting everything done that students become overwhelmed by the sheer amount of content being introduced but never deeply examined or they are bored by the lecture, worksheet, test routine.
The Common Core Standards were designed to be more rigorous, allowing teachers to slow down and delve deeper into the material. This is crucial as studies reveal that focusing on in-depth learning of concepts supports richer understanding and results in improved performance overall. By cutting back on multiple topics, teachers should be able to focus on central concepts and create experiences that are more meaningful and relevant to the students’ lives. Dan Meyer does an amazing job exemplifying this.
Second, the Standards do not “dictate curriculum or teaching methods.” I love Sir Ken Robinson’s TED Talk titled, “Do schools kill creativity?” in which he explains why educational systems should nurture creativity. I believe that teachers are some of the most creative people on earth, but due to the pressures mentioned in my last point, many have completely lost eagerness to be creative. Because the Standards “focus on results rather than means,” teachers are now given the time and flexibility to be creative without being restricted in the process. The Standards also call for students to “engage with the subject matter and model understanding.” How can teachers not utilize their own creativity when they design lessons that engage students and encourage student creativity?
Finally, the Standards take an interdisciplinary approach. I am a firm believer that education should be fluid; curricula should be designed to promote interconnections between and among the content areas. The ELA Standards call for an increase in “literacy and vocabulary in social studies, science and technical subjects to build knowledge, gain insight, and broaden perspective.” Rather than using a textbook to teach individual subjects, teachers might use trade books, informational texts, and primary sources to impart content knowledge related to social studies or science while also teaching conventions, effective language usage, and vocabulary, all of which is essential for reading, writing, speaking and listening. The Math Standards call for students to “analyze situations, model understanding, construct arguments, and critique the reasoning of others.” Students must be able to communicate effectively to justify their understanding of mathematics and apply it to practical situations in everyday life. None of this can be done without a solid grasp of language skills.
While I do not believe that the Common Core State Standards are a silver bullet in education, I am convinced that as a nation we are on the right track. I outlined three points that I believe support the implementation of the Common Core and I have found many other great points within the Standards (especially ways to incorporate the use of technology) that I discuss in my professional development sessions. My desire is for the Common Core to be the beginning of a fundamental overhaul of what and how we teach. Our students deserve to be engaged in authentic, real world, rigorous learning experiences that focus on the meaningful application of core academic knowledge.
Now that the Standards are being implemented, teachers, schools, and districts are faced with the challenge of successfully building a rigorous curriculum (aligned to the CCSS) that is built around 21st century competencies - critical thinking, creativity, collaboration and communication while also incorporating the use of technology. Recently, a friend loaned me a book I believe to be extremely relevant to this challenge:
Teacher as Architect was written by educators to be a guide in “instructional design and delivery for the modern teacher.” It walks the reader through the steps to become an “architect of learning,” and it provides the tools and resources needed to build the aforementioned curriculum. Teacher as Architect addresses the questions, “What does it mean to be a modern teacher? How has education changed over time?” And, “What are the best practices in education for our 21st century learners?”
I found Teacher as Architect to be insightful and highly relevant to the challenges teachers are currently facing. The hands-on style of writing allowed me to interact with the content. The tools and resources better equipped me to construct engaging curricula appropriate for the 21st century learner. Accompanying the book is an online resource library based around the book’s four core principals that maximize teaching effectiveness. The library also contains professional development kits complete with PowerPoints, PDFs, activities, and guides for facilitators and participants. A Questioning Flip Book is a part of the tool kit and is another remarkable reference to help teachers plan and effectively use questions in lessons. For anyone in education... it is a must read!
Just after I wrote my last entry regarding STEM education and critical thinking, I stumbled upon an article in The Economist titled, “Best and brightest… Only a few countries are teaching children how to think.” The article summarized Amanda Ripley’s new book, The Smartest Kids in the World: And how they Got That Way. I was absolutely amazed with the first paragraph in the article describing an American company forced to open factories abroad due to the lack of skilled workers in the U.S.
"…the skills [needed] to fill even [the] most basic factory jobs require workers to think critically. Graduates of local schools are often unable to read or do simple maths."
Wow, this was so similar to what I had been writing about earlier that I picked up my iPad and ordered the book.
I began to read and couldn’t put the book down. The author follows three foreign exchange students to Poland, Finland, and North Korea as she investigates the successes and failures of these educational systems. Her description of Finland’s educational reform in the 1970’s parallels the reform efforts taking place in America’s educational system today, and her analysis of their educational history, policy, and culture reveal two key factors essential to educational reform: academic standards and teacher quality. Not only that, but the largest contributing factor for success was not the amount of money spent on technology in the classroom nor student engagement, but “rigor”—clear and high expectations shared by students, parents, teachers, administrators.
"To give our kids the kind of education they deserve we must first agree that rigor matters most of all; that school exists to help kids learn to think, to work hard, and yes, to fail. That is the core consensus that makes everything else possible."
Ripley does an outstanding job of illustrating the need for critical thinking and the implementation of rigor into our school system. I highly recommend this book especially to educators and parents, and I believe that the American educational system is on the right path as we adopt the common core standards. (To this, I will speak more in my next entry.)
Recently, I was reading an article titled "How Technology is Destroying Jobs" published in the July/August MIT Technology Review. While this article has no direct connection to K-12 education, I found it to be quite relevant.
The article summarizes ways in which technologies like the Web, artificial intelligence, big data, and improved analytics are automating routine tasks and eliminating traditional white-collar jobs. ln the article, David Autor, an economist at MIT points out that computers are taking over tasks like bookkeeping, clerical work, and repetitive production jobs in manufacturing, while jobs requiring creativity and problem solving-skills aided by computers have proliferated. These new technologies are widening the income gap between the tech-savvy and everyone else.
I began to contemplate the implications of this concept… the need for software engineers and computer programmers is growing exponentially, which means a greater need for science, technology, engineering, and math education. According to the 10-year employment projections by the U.S. Department of Labor, of the 20 fastest growing occupations projected for 2014, 15 of them require significant mathematics or science preparation.
However, if we adequately educate our students in math and science but do not teach them creativity or problem solving skills, how can we expect these students to apply their knowledge once in the workforce? The fastest-growing jobs in the U.S. from 2000 to 2010 reflect the demand for highly technical skills and those lower-skill jobs that are hard to automate. As educators, we must instill a spirit of exploration and innovation in our students.
STEM education should be more than just teaching science, technology, engineering, and math, we must teach our students to think critically and creatively in all academic areas. This article clearly illustrates how economic growth in the 21st century will be driven by our nation's ability to both generate ideas and translate them into innovative products and services. Here are some resources that emphasize STEM education, as well as creativity and innovation.
The Design Squad Nation website is an online community that grew out of the Design Squad television series that aired on PBS KIDS. The site for educators, parents and engineers provides lesson plans, activities, animations, video profiles, and episodes that target kids ages 8 and older. The goal of Design Squad is to give kids a stronger understanding of the design process, and the connection between engineering and the things we all use in everyday life.
3M and Discovery Education partnered to bring the Science of Everyday life into your classroom. Lesson plans, activities, interactives, videos and more are designed to capture students' curiosity and engage your classroom in the scientific thinking process; while having fun! Aligned to national standards, these exciting inquiry-based lessons address key areas of life science, physical science, earth science, technology and innovation using common materials you can find in your classroom.
eGFI stands for “Engineering, Go For It!” and it is sponsored by the American Society for Engineering Education. An interactive website, magazine, teacher and student newsletter and resources all promote and enhance K-12 STEM education.
Teachers TryScience provides teachers with free and engaging lessons, teaching strategies and resources which are designed to spark students’ interest in science, technology, engineering and math. What’s more, the site features collaboration tools to enable teachers to discuss and share effective instructional practices.