Common Core Assessments: PARCC vs. SBAC

I’m learning more and more about Common Core and the impending assessments beginning in 2014. Something that really caught my eye today was presented by Dr. Julie Miles in a Pearson Common Core Institute presentation on the ABCs of assessments.

The differences cited between PARCC and SBAC are:

The PARCC Assessment Consortia is focused on an improved accountability system centered on student achievement and growth; whereas,

The Smarter Balance Assessment Consortia is focused on an improved instructional system centered on student and teacher performance.

While I will agree that student and teacher performance is essential to our progress, I’m not sure that it is more important than student achievement and growth and therefore warrants an assessment specially targeted toward performance. I fear that kind of focus keeps us stuck in the middle of teaching to the test for score rather than targeting real student growth. After all, is teacher performance indicative of student growth? Who are we assessing, teachers or students?

I’d like to hear your thoughts! Convince me they are equally valuable or that SBAC is the way to go.


Advisement Curriculum

students collaboratingWriting advisement curriculum for high school has been a priority for my time over the past few months. The content includes one lesson per week, for every week of the school year. Each grade level 9-12 receive a different lesson – one that intentionally builds upon previous content.  We complete weekly site visits to see the curriculum in action with the intention of learning for ourselves the strengths and weaknesses of the content, while also evaluating the engagement of the students with the purposely built student-centered content. With this additional information, we can also model or coach teachers to manage a student centered environment with small group activities if this is a unfamiliar setting.

From our brief experience thus far, we have learned the following:

  1. When schedules are tight, Advisement is the first “class” to be cut or interrupted.
  2. Advisement hours are often used as a study hall, social experience, or nap time.
  3. Any required content and resources must be 100% complete so that no planning or prep is required since “Advisement” is not the teacher’s area of specialty.
  4. Teachers must be committed to teach the provided lessons because they believe and know that for many students, without it, they will not be prepared for life beyond high school.
  5. The students must understand that Advisement is a class and there is much to be learned during this time.

My greatest challenge through this experience is rooted in what I believe to be a lack of confidence by the teachers in the students. The project was originally a result of  a school improvement grant  in a failing school. Upon our first visit, it was obvious to me why this was a failing school. The traits included, but certainly not limited to, a lack of any school or staff sense of community,  a significantly low graduation rate impeded by poor student attitude and a low level of respect for education, and even a lack of professionalism by the staff.

I am not naive enough to think that a quality Advisement curriculum would all of a sudden turn around the school, but I am hopeful that bit by bit, it will make a difference. There is hope the kids will realize there is a day coming when they will be solely responsible for themselves and their livelihood. With proper planning, dedication, and perseverance, they can achieve their dreams. In other words, it is in our design that they will begin to believe in themselves and their ability to achieve.

However, in order for that to happen, the teachers need to believe not only in the value of the curriculum content, but in the kids and their abilities. The standards need to be raised – for attendance, achievement, and engagement. In my own classroom experience, I set very high expectations and always found that the students will rise to it. The overachievers will always surpass, but the goal was to get as many as possible beyond the basics. Even if the content is not your area of specialty, it is designed to be a collaborative, stimulating class with real world application and includes the integration of technology. Challenging kids, especially low performing teens, can seem to be insurmountable task at times. However, these kids, our communities, and our nation, deserve educators who are committed to the challenge because they strive to make a difference in the future of these young adults.

There is plenty more writing and fine tuning to be done for this project, so I would love for you to share your suggestions for content that should be addressed during this valuable time.  Please consider life skills, soft skills, and even study skills.  Thank you!

Top Picks at TCEA

tcea2013In only 48 hours at TCEA, I was experiencing content and sensory overload. An amazingly large vendor hall provided a vast array of quality and engaging technology solutions for your school, all sure to extend the learning experience and solidify a 21st century experience for students. My top 5 picks include….

1. Atomic Learning – professional development for teachers, students, and parents.
Without a doubt, the implementation of any online learning program brings with it a set of challenges and obstacles, while also offering great opportunities to extend and enhance learning to audiences who would otherwise be without it. Online professional development is facing the same dilemmas as student programs; and without a doubt, rigor, engagement, and collaboration are essential components to designing an effective online experience. Atomic Learning has newly released instructor led PD courses, under the Atomic Catalyst brand. Earn up to 20 hours of continuing ed credits or graduate credits after completing the rigorous 6-week courses. Check out the course list and reserve a single seat or get your team on board to enhance your collective knowledge of tablet use for students with special needs or integrating common core into your tech friendly lessons.

2. Air Watch – mobile device management for iPads and 1-to-1 devices.
Air Watch is embracing the one-to-one initiatives in the education space and has a dedicated team attending to the needs of this specific customer. Empowering mobile learning in the classroom is an appropriate tagline for Air Watch’s mission. Check out the features and solution options online to enhance the security of your mobile devices, as well as understand the hierarchical options for teacher and admin control.

3. E-beam (Luidia) – a cost effective way to turn any ordinary whiteboard into an interactive experience for students.
E-Beam offers a variety of lower-cost solutions for creating an interactive classroom including wireless keyboard and mouse control of your board from anywhere in the room, annotation of any software or web content, and the ability to record lessons at the single click of a button. Imagine students being able to review today’s lesson at home by watching a brief video while completing homework activities. We all know interactive teaching engages users and EBeam offers a solution you can afford today.

4. iSchool Initiative – a student led, non-profit organization dedicated to inspiring students and educators to become lifelong learners. A digital learning revolution, educational apps, and professional development encourage all parties in education to launch into technology and make learning fun today and always.

5. LeanPad – the only proven educationally purposed tablet solution.
The LearnPad was demonstrated at TCEA by Educational Resources and their website is currently devoted to this high quality solution. Not only was it purpose built for education, the LearnPad has won the 2013 BETT Best Digital Device award. The best feature, in my opinion, is the super easy, INCLUDED cloud-based management platform which allows teachers to control individual student content and deploy any amount of content through a quick snap of a QR code. Because the LearnPad is an Android device, teachers can use any flash content, store digital curriculum on SD cards, or attach additional devices through USB. Therefore, the options for easy classroom use are far superior to the iPad.

Learning in a new light



Today I depart for TCEA 2013 in Austin, Texas. This year’s topic: Learning in a new light. In other words, workshops and conversations will focus around technology integration, mobile devices, Google apps, engaging learners, BYOD, project based learning and other 21st century beset practices. It’s bound to be an engaging and invigorating experience for those us who are tech-loving and tech-learning educators.

I will be attending a focus group for Atomic Learning and primarily wandering the exhibit hall to not only network for my consulting services, but to see the latest and greatest gadgets, solutions, and services for K-12 education.

It’s an exciting time for education. I feel a renewed hope that we are making strides in our ability to teach life skills, engage learners with meaningful content utilizing effective technology, while moving away from worksheets and rote memorization with little long term effect. I am excited to embrace the most innovative solution for the classroom!

Watch this space for feedback!

Does your learning style affect your chance of success?


Child with LEARN blocksI was watching the morning news when a new University of Phoenix commercial caught my attention. The setting shows a variety of people trying to put together a bookcase. One woman is reading the directions included in the package before even attempting to build anything; a man dumps out the entire contents of hardware on the floor while he randomly grabs pieces of wood based on the box’s image; and another woman has the instructions displayed on her propped tablet device, selecting tools from a properly ordered tool shelf. You see the out of sequence, random characters and those who follow each step to the letter. But in the end, each builder has a completed, sturdy bookcase. The key message is: Everyone has their own way of doing things and learning is no different. I love it!

But the commercial got me thinking… Does you individual learning style affect your chance of success in life?

In life, I’m a very orderly, structured person. That’s doesn’t mean I read the instructions from start to finish before completing a task. In fact, when cooking I often read the directions as I go, or even not clearly enough and find out a bit too late that it wasn’t yet time to add that ingredient or I shouldn’t have added it all because it was a ‘topping.’ I am a confident cook, so I don’t feel pressured to understand all the details before I start. I just say “oh, well” and continue on. Improvisation or modified recipes offer a unique result. When my mother cooks like this, my father often complains that the food is very good but he’ll never have it ever again because there is no record of the real recipe.

In my computer lab, I would often provide students with instruction sheets of how to accomplish a certain task. These tip sheets were designed for the kids who required the step by step instructions in writing in order to support their process and truly learn how to do it. Certain learners never seemed to let me down. Every week, they would delight in letting me know that the specific directions I had typed weren’t the only way to solve the problem. I  would remind them to use the process that makes the most sense to them. They are lots of shortcuts in technology, but they don’t appeal to all users. I also felt it was better to teach lower level learners the full process and once they master it, they can apply the shortcuts. I wanted them to know how they achieved the end result. If they could teach one another a shortcut, all the better!  Goodness knows, I could have spent the entire class period discussing the different ways to reach the same result with the software. Investigation and creativity need to be a part of the learning process too.

Success in an online learning program as offered by University of Phoenix can certainly be affected by the student’s learning style, but that doesn’t necessarily equate with academic success. In fact, you can find research from multiple sources to argue either end of the spectrum. Active Learners do not do well in online learning, Reflective Learners only like to work independently and therefore thrive in distance learning – or the reverse. In fact, John Battalio from Boise State University discusses this issue in his paper, Success in Distance Education: Do Learning Styles and Multiple Formats Matter? Battalio’s research conclusion states “offering both collaborative and self-directed versions of the same course would therefore appear useful. Active learners made significantly higher semester grades in the collaborative version, whereas reflective learners overwhelmingly preferred working independently.” Therefore, he suggests two different versions of the course to meet the needs and preferences of the learner.

In the end, does it really matter how we get from point A to point B?  No. It should be the goal of every learner to find the most meaningful and effective way to capture the information, skills, and strategies they need and want to know.

Western Michigan University offers Learning Styles Exploration plan for students. There are, after all, numerous factors which will affect academic success, beginning with, environment (i.e. time of day, health, lighting, noise level); psychological factors (i.e. motivation, stress), learning style (kinesthetic, auditory, visual); personalities (left brain vs. right brain); learner types (analytical, reflective, introvert); or even medical issues (i.e. repression or amnesia). There is no perfect fit. It’s what works best for you.

This is why dittos are wrong for kids. This is why choice is so important in the classroom. It’s about student centered learning, life skills, collaborative learning, and personalized learning. It can never be about a teacher’s preference for a specific process.

For instance, in high school, I slept through every single history movie shown. I worked part time, was on the drill team and served in numerous other clubs & organizations, and in additional to keeping up with my homework, I was lucky to get six hours of sleep a night. Turn the lights off in class and show movies about something I found completely irrelevant and boring did nothing for my ability to learn the content. Active learning, small group collaboration, project based learning, anything like that would have kept me not only awake, but engaged.

Even today’s digital native teachers aren’t using technology in a robust way in the classroom, even though it offers substantial ways to appeal to a variety of learning styles and give kids control over their learning. For more info on this topic, check out the article, Taking a Closer Look at Teachers’ Technology Shortcomings. There’s no doubt we’ve got a lot of work to do when it comes to meeting learners where they are and giving them the skills they need to achieve success they seek.

Advisement Discussion: Bullying

Erasing bullyingThe holidays got the best of my free time and stifled my creative technology genes and instead, I focused on my love of baking and shopping. But it’s a new year and life is good! I’m working on a consulting project developing curriculum materials for high school advisement. The completed project will cover vast topics, none of which will require deep analysis simply due to time restrictions, but each are equally important to student success.

One significant topic we’re covering is bullying. Unfortunately, this is a not a foreign topic to any of us. Even if you were fortunate enough to avoid bullying as a child or teen, chances are you witnessed actually attacks, but certainly you’ve seen the horrid reports on the news which have sadly resulted in suicide.

“Sticks and stones may break your bones, but words can break your heart.”  ~ Sue Ellen Fried

Several years ago, I was the victim of a bully in the workplace. It took some time for me to identify it as bullying because I didn’t expect to see such behavior in a professional setting. But it’s real in the workplace, at home, at school, and maybe even in the local store. Selfish, unkind, and demanding people are forcing their negative attitudes and anger upon others in an effort to make themselves feel more powerful. In my case, my colleague would walk into my classroom and begin berating me in front of all my students. There was no concern over the audience or the topic, and you never knew when she would strike next because you couldn’t begin to guess what set her off.

Throughout our research, we’ve discovered a lot of resources for the topic of bullying, but it’s challenging to pick out what works best, and what speaks to the heart of your audience. My mind and heart like to live in an idyllic world because I want to believe that people are indeed good, generous, and thoughtful. But I know that’s not true, regardless of how much I wish it were.

I’ve completed a bit of research and found the following to be some of the top ways to stop bullying:

1. Educate people to identify bullying

2. Establish a culture of acceptance, tolerance, and respect

3. Be more than a bystander; don’t give bullying an audience, set a good example, and help victims get away

4. Walk with awareness and confidence

5. Step away from bullying by leaving in a powerful, positive way

6. Protect yourself by discounting negative words from others with positive self-talk

7. Be persistent in getting help

8. Use physical self-defense as a last resort

9. Save all evidence of cyber bullying

10. Do not retaliate

Much of these suggestions sound easier than they really are, especially if you are a tormented victim who doesn’t see any way out. Any comments or suggestions for successful programs and initiatives are greatly appreciated!

PACER Teens Against Bullying
Seventeen Magazine
Kid Power
Mom Logic

Common Core Assessments…A breakthrough for transient & military families


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Common Core State Standards (CCSS) have finally opened the door to consistent, quality education standards, particularly for transient and military families. What once represented significant challenges for families facing regular moves, especially during the high school years, now promises to set a higher standard, better prepare students for college and career readiness, and help avoid the challenges of transferred and equivalent credits.

Recently, I was challenged to learn more about what is set to come after the CCSS – the PARCC Assessmentassessment piece. I’ve heard plenty of criticism. Schools don’t have the infrastructure, the hardware, the digital divide is far too present even today to make this successful. Then, I started doing research specifically for the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College & Careers (PARCC). Wow, was I surprised! There is some serious homework being done behind the scenes.

PARCC is a consortium of 24 states working together to develop a common set of K-12 assessments anchored in English & Math. 31 additional states have adopted the “sister” test, SMARTER Balanced Assessment, and of those 31, 10 states are in both groups and five more states sit on the outside looking in, not adopting either. Pilots for PARCC will begin in the 2013-14 school year, and the official test will launch in 2014-15.

I was asked, “Why do schools need PARCC?” There’s numerous answers – alignment to CCSS, to identify and address gaps to increase success for students, marking year-end achievement, periodic measures throughout the year, but more importantly for us military families – it’s a common metric – meeting standards in one state means students meet standards in other cooperating states. It’s not a fool-proof plan because there are two measurement tools instead of only one, but it’s a huge step forward!

Getting back to the hardware and infrastructure issue, I was pleased to hear key representatives from both PARRC and SMARTER say that regular interactions with schools, districts, and states have provided technology assessment data to clearly demonstrate how many devices are currently available, their specifications, the stability and extensiveness of a network, staff training, and more. The consortia aren’t just worried about developing a standards driven assessment designed to leverage new technologies, but also challenged to provide worthwhile content and data while also removing the element of guessing and choice elimination. Real time data with real world student performance just might give our nation the evolution it needs to create a sustainable workforce and bridge the expansive gaps in international education parallels.

Grants and federal programs do provide resources for schools to acquire the tools needed to make these assessments a reality. It means the schools and districts will have to do their own homework to find out what is available, how to access it, and how to best utilize the provided resources. But it can be done! And, then, there is the ultimate question – its one thing to bring in the technology and devices, but will the teachers be trained and prepared to adequately implement their use in a manner which will positively impact day to day learning, as well as improved overall achievement?

Well, that’s a topic for another day…


Everything you know about curriculum may be wrong. Really.


Everything you know about curriculum may be wrong. Really.

Article written by Grant Wiggins. I’m interested in creating a dialogue around this post, particularly the following…

“The educational thought experiment I wish to undertake concerns curriculum. Not the specific content of curriculum, but the idea of curriculum, what any curriculum is, regardless of subject. Like Copernicus, I propose that for the sake of better results we need to turn conventional wisdom on it is head:  let’s see what results if we think of action, not knowledge, as the essence of an education; let’s see what results from thinking of future ability, not knowledge of the past, as the core; let’s see what follows, therefore, from thinking of content knowledge as neither the aim of curriculum nor the key building blocks of it but as the offshoot of learning to do things now and for the future.”

I think Wiggins’ comments are connected to some of my previous posts and the concept ( or necessity) of making learning real for students, problem and project based learning, and moving away from assessment of facts and details while moving toward application and meaning of content and skills.

How does technology allow us to make this idea come to life in the classroom?


My brain hurts…

“My head hurts” usually means you have a headache; whereas “my brain hurts” Instructor needs helpoften refers to cognitive overload. How can you be sure that your next lesson or training session doesn’t overwhelm your learners and cause all that important information to just spill out over the top? Since our brains can only process so much information at once, over the course of a 6 hour learning day we need to be sure the students are not expected to manage more than they (or their brains) can handle.

Some suggestions for reducing the cognitive load and maximizing transference and retention are:

1. Use images instead of words in your presentation; talk to the visual reference and don’t expect your learner and read and listen simultaneously

2. Chunk your content (Use modules) – Break down the content into small parts separated by activities to practice and don’t forget to include sufficient breaks

3. Snuff the fluff – Time is precious and attention spans are brief, so be sure you aren’t inundating the learner with more than necessary. You don’t want the learner to lose the important pieces because they are too busy processing the fluff.

4. Heterogeneous activities – Interdependence from a wide variety of instructional groups and skill levels means less is required from the instructor because the learners bring a great deal of content and ideas with them. Allow sufficient time for brainstorming, sharing, and creating together.

5. Make it real – Providing choice opens up opportunities for application in the learner’s own space (work environment, interests, etc). The learner is more apt to implement new knowledge when it has value in his own world. This includes discussions, project based learning, or problem solving.

In other words, less is more in most learning environments! Make your experiences all the more valuable by allowing your students to set their own goals, personalize the journey, and find ways to immediately apply knowledge. Please feel free to share any success stories or questions so we can continue learning together.

Barzath, Jane. Learning Solutions Magazine. Nuts and Bolts: Brain Bandwidth

Windows 8 Feedback

I located this graphic  from Dot com Infoway about the top 11 features of the new Windows 8. I’m interested in any feedback or thoughts on the significant changes. While I’ve seen a brief tutorial and reviewed the literature, I haven’t been able to play for it myself.  Any thoughts on its ability to compete with Apple’s iOS?

Features of Windows 8