Monday, July 8, 2013

Using Classroom Tech to Meet CCSS

We had the opportunity to write an article for a recent issue of Education Magazine. We thank Dustin Chambers and his staff, and recommend you check out their publication at the link above. Below is the text of our article.

Accepting the viewpoint that the Common Core State Standards is a blueprint for education creates a number of issues educators are required to tackle.  One issue is recognizing that the new standards only detail the student outcome, not how that outcome is learned by the student.   Assuming there exists an implementation plan at school that has already addressed the “why and what” outcomes to learn, teachers now need to address the “how.” How do I, a third grade teacher, create opportunities in my classroom that will ultimately lead to college and career readiness? How do I teach students so the outcomes are truly learned?

We find this a very exciting proposition, and indeed a great time to be an educator.  Accepting the opportunity that lies before us, how will we incorporate the CCSS, while also addressing other educational prerogatives, such as integrating 21st century skills, project-based learning, and the complexities of technology? Our philosophy – remain focused on student outcomes!

Regardless of your school’s access - 1:1, BYOD, or a couple of tablets in the classroom – technology does more than just balance the playing field.  It offers opportunities to meet the standards, address 21st century skills, allows for differentiation, provides for creativity and choice, and most importantly, pushes students to reach those higher levels of thinking. Creativity is no longer about those who are skilled in the visual and performing arts.  It’s about taking what you know and applying it to new and different situations. It’s taking what was imagined and making it real. Technology helps make that happen.
Let’s be clear though, technology must be in the hands of the student.  Our goal is to identify tools that students can choose within learning opportunities that will allow them to do more that meet the standards. Technology opens the doors to discover the world around them, learn collaboration skills, and work responsibly, all while absorbing the appropriate curriculum. Correspondingly, technology should not just replace paper and pencil. Here’s an outline on how to set your students up for success.

Create units that include multiple standards  Developing the unit requires time on your part. Once done, and if done well, it requires little time once in the students’ hands.  Start by researching the myriad of Open Educational Resources (“OER” in the parlance) and other top unit resources. We like Buck Institute’s PBL site, Common Core Curriculum Maps, LearnZillion, and the National Science Digital Library.  Also check out Curriki, Lessonopoly and California Learning Resource Network.  Be sure your units allow for:
  • Collaboration - Don’t confuse group work with collaboration. True collaboration means students working together to solve real world problems, create effective videos, write narratives, and so on. Time spent learning how to collaborate is a life skill  that will serve them well. By the way, “collaboration” is clearly delineated in the ELA anchor standards.
  • Peer Review - Another important skill to learn.  Peer review is not spell checking, nor is it a “this is great!” Google Docs comment. It’s helping one’s peer meet the criteria of the task as defined by BOTH the teacher and the student collaborative group.
  • Rubrics - Let the students know what you are looking for.  Having students participate in rubric creation has its benefits too.  
Address an Essential Question  Each unit should require students to address a broad question that, once answered, assures you the students have met (and exceeded) the grade level standard. Questions like, “Of all the root causes of the Civil War, which one impacted the South most significantly, and why?” allows students to delve deep into the economic, political and social aspects behind the war.  They have to understand all the causes, then draw conclusions based on their research. The breadth and depth of responses will make it clear who’s learned the material and who’s providing filler or fluff.

Require Unique Outcomes  The opportunities for choice is key to students reaching higher levels of thinking and redefined learning.  Whether your classroom is BYOD, tablet based, or uses a computer lab, students should be able to access a variety of technology tools to produce their work. ELA anchor standards are specific to integrating and evaluating content from different media resources, and to produce unique work using technology.  

The concept of digital storytelling allows students the opportunity to convey their thoughts, ideas and evidence in a manner that engages both the presenter and the audience.  Here is a short list of some of our favorite web-based digital storytelling tools. They are all easy to use and require little from the teacher in terms of ‘set up’ for students to be successful.

Pixorial - A powerful web-based video editor that students and teachers will find easy and fun to use.
WeVideo - Another web-based video editor that has built-in collaborative capabilities.
Animoto - Create slideshows with images, video, music and transitions. Great for comparing themes, characters or settings. The “free” version is limited to 30 seconds of video.
VoiceThread - Another collaborative solution for sharing a story. Students create “conversations in the cloud,”  based upon images, text and audio they add.  VoiceThread allows the audience to comment on or continue the story.
Comic Creation - Comic creation allows students to share their learning in imaginative ways. Ideal for second language and emerging English learnings.  There are a number of free tools online, but watch for ads and inappropriate material.  Consider ReadWriteThink Comic Creator, a simple and fun choice Note: it does not allow saving work - must complete in one sitting.
HelloSlide - A fun slideshow creator that adds speech to text!  Add your own images (created in Google Slides, for instance), type out a script and let the suave English guy verbalize it for you!

Has a Performance Component  Having a larger audience encourages students to create work that in no longer “just good enough.” Who sees the end results of your student projects? Is it just you and the those in that classroom?  If the answer is yes, consider using technology that broadens the audience.  Some web tools, like VoiceThread, allow viewers to leave feedback. Presentations, speaking and listening opportunities are all important ELA components.  Blogging - either at the class or individual student level - is another powerful tool to speak to a wider community and engage your students.  

It’s easy to get distracted or frustrated by the “next great thing.” By focusing your objectives, and plan using the framework described above, you’ll raise the bar for student learning. Students will be more engaged, and after you do a bit of heavy lifting planning your approach, outcomes and rubrics, you can become a “guide on the side” to help your students craft some awesome outcomes. We think it’s very likely you’ll be amazed by the results!

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