Core Ideas: A New Approach to Science Standards

Over the past year we’ve followed the adoption of the Common Core State Standards and have written on how the standards will aid educators and parents hoping to ensure that their students graduate ready for the rigors of college.  Earlier this month the New York Times reported that Achieve, Inc. is working to create a set of national standards based on a new framework for science, which was created over the course of the past year.

As the Times reports:

It is the latest in decades of efforts to improve the science knowledge of American students, who have typically ranked in the middle of the pack on international comparison tests. The research council, which is the operating arm of the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering, last weighed in on science education standards in 1996.

A new framework for improving American science education calls for paring the curriculum to focus on core ideas and teaching students more about how to approach and solve problems rather than just memorizing factual nuggets.

While the implementation process could take several years, Achieve has plans to complete its work on the standards by the end of the year, and is set to make drafts publicly available before then.  In an increasingly competitive global environment, it’s encouraging to see more groups support the effort to elevate educational standards across the U.S. and to improve the content knowledge of our students.

Using Social Media in Math Education

Tip of the hat goes to Scholastic’s Math Hub for pointing to Sokikom – a new math website that manages to employ social media to keep students engaged in math activities year round.  Math websites are nothing new, but Sokikom has introduced a unique element by creating a massive multi-player social learning game directed toward elementary school students.  Here’s Math Hub’s own description of the site:

The research-based program is based on Social Learning Theory, the idea that people learn by observing others’ behavior and using these observations to model their own behavior. Sokikom has created a safe, fun environment where students can join teams, compete with each other, and develop their math skills.

The game is aligned with the Common Core State Standards and NCTM Focal Points and follows the guided discovery learning model, which allows students to explore different solutions to each problem. The program also features Challenges, individual learning activities in a self-paced environment. In addition to games, there are also animated lessons with adaptive instruction for students who need additional help.

Sites that utilize social media are proliferating at a rapid pace and we are just now beginning to see the educational potential of such exciting applications.  It’s good to see that so many are interested in extending instructional time beyond the classroom.

The Daring Librarian

Check out this recent interview with Daring Librarian, Gwyneth Anne Jones, for her thoughts on the future of librarians and the role of media specialist in facilitating literacy across formats.  Be sure to check out her thoughts on transliteracy and what it means to be facile with multiple formats.

Literacy Across Content Areas: The How is as Important as the What

Here’s Rebecca Alber offering a strong argument for literacy as a critical skill across the content areas:

Here’s one way to look at it: Content is what we teach, but there is also the how, and this is where literacy instruction comes in. There are an endless number of engaging, effective strategies to get students to think about, write about, read about, and talk about the content you teach. The ultimate goal of literacy instruction is to build a student’s comprehension, writing skills, and overall skills in communication.

Ask yourself, how do I mostly convey the information and knowledge to my students? Do I turn primarily to straight lecture, or teacher talk? Or, do I allow multiple opportunities for students to discover information on their own?

Alber’s right.  Much recent attention has been given to STEM education and the importance of retaining our edge in areas like mathematics, engineering, and technology.  And the Common Core State Standards has recommended that students engage in increasingly sophisticated texts each year in order to prepare for the rigors of the post-secondary world.  Engaging students in a wide variety of text is, as Alber argues, an important way to improve a student’s comprehension skills. 

She goes on to remind us of the importance of matching texts to readers:

The days of believing that we could hand informational text or a novel to a student and assume he or she makes full meaning of it on their own is a teaching mode of the past. Whether we like it or not, regardless of the content we teach, we are all reading instructors.

Scaffolding the reading by using effective strategies for pre-, during, and after reading, such as: previewing text, reading for a purpose, making predictions and connections, think alouds, and using graphic organizers will support all our students, and not just struggling readers and English learners.

Another onus not only on English teachers, but all teachers as reading instructors? We need to inspire both a love for reading, and build reading stamina in our students (this means eyes and mind on the page for more than a minute!)

Because students must wrestle with higher levels of reading material and a greater proportion of informational text, the Lexile Framework provides an additional way to target students at their own reading level.  By matching students to text at their level, educators can help facilitate reading growth.  Additionally, using student Lexile measures can be an important part of determining which classroom strategies to employ and how much scaffolding may be required, whether in literacy or other content areas.

Be sure to read the whole thing for Alber’s specific recommendations on incorporating literacy across content silos.

Skillful and Flexible Teaching with the Quantile Framework for Mathematics

In the January 2011 edition of Educational Leadership (subscription required), Deborah Loewenberg Ball and Francesca M. Forzani argue that, although the general layperson believes teaching is a simple and non-specialized skill, there are, in fact, many aspects to teaching that require specialized training, cultural awareness, empathy, and insights into student thinking and processing, and in-depth insight into the content they are teaching.

Teaching is a complex, multi-faceted skill because, to be effective, teachers must first identify   how each student’s experience base influences his reasoning powers. Educators must diagnose various student misunderstandings of content using more than intuition. The “high-leverage practices” that Ball and Forzani suggest include becoming familiar with the family or cultural background, utilizing sophisticated questioning skills in order to identify any misunderstandings, developing an awareness of student needs based upon their differing learning styles, as well as accessing intricate content level knowledge.

Additionally, teachers must help students make and articulate those connections. One free resource available for mathematics teachers that will help them organize those connections and order topics in mathematics is The Quantile® Framework for Mathematics.

In the Advanced Search of the Math Skills Database or in the Quantile Teacher Assistant, teachers can find Knowledge Clusters for various math skills and concepts as they align to the curriculum of their state and grade level. Each skill or concept within the Quantile Framework has a Knowledge Cluster that consists of the prerequisite and supplementary skills. The prerequisite skills and concepts are those skills or concepts that are necessary in order to be successful with the identified or primary skill in question. Additionally, the Quantile Framework also provides impending skills – the skills that come next, the skills that a primary skills is building toward.  The Quantile Framework makes it possible for an educator to transform separate skills in mathematics into a structured study of the content.   The Quantile Framework also makes it possible to easily access task analysis for any particular math skill or concept.  Additionally, each skill or concept is organized by Quantile measure – essentially a difficulty measure – which offers insights into the difficulty of the material they will be teaching in a unit.

With time and thoughtful consideration, mathematics teachers will find the Knowledge Clusters helpful in developing their approaches for new material, informing their expectations of student reasoning, and identifying which lessons students will manage easily based upon the Quantile measure of the identified math skills and concepts that match that lesson.

Students in North Carolina, Wyoming, Kentucky, Oklahoma, and West Virginia already receive Quantile student measures on their NCLB assessment.  And partner products, like Scholastic’s SMI report student Quantile measures every time a student completes an assessment.  If you haven’t already, be sure to take a look at the free resources on the Quantile website, including the Math Skill Database and Quantile Teacher Assistant.

Piazza: Homework as Social

As we’ve noted, social media sites have recently begun expanding their reach into the educational sphere in a variety of ways.  As the NY Times points out, this reach now extends to homework sites, including a new free service, Piazza:

Students post questions to their course page, which peers and educators can then respond to.  Instructors moderate the discussion, endorse the best responses and track the popularity of questions in real time.  Responses are also color-coded, so students can easily identify the instructor’s comments.

Piazza’s supporters claim that what sets this service apart from other educational software services, such as Blackboard, is their rapid response time.  They also claim that “Piazza [gives] students a community…” and provides students the opportunity to be more interactive with their fellow classmates. 

The impact of social media giants, like Facebook, Twitter, and Skype, has been that consumers now expect instantaneous feedback.  Piazza’s attempt to harness the power of social media is an attempt to satisfy this expectation.  Piazza allows students  to collaborate and receive assistance at the speed they’ve come to expect.  Kudos to Piazza for utilizing social media to improve the educational experience.

Looking to Finland

Here’s a recent USA Today editorial offering a useful reminder on the importance of continuing to look outside our borders for inspiration.  As the editorial reports, the U.S. ranks a dismal 32rd in math achievement, which does not bode well for a future in which many of the new jobs over the next two decades will be found in science, engineering, and technology – fields that require extensive math education.  Education reformers would do well to take notice of Finland’s extensive efforts at education reform:

Finnish schools frequently employ a second teacher in the classroom to focus on the struggling students. This allows those students to get specialized attention while remaining in the same class as their peers.

Most remarkably, Finland appears to have solved the problem of teacher burnout that plagues our system. In the USA, roughly half of all new teachers quit in their first five years. Too many of those remaining lose their passion for the profession but are almost impossible to fire.

Finland avoids this by getting the best teachers and giving them tools they need to thrive. It subsidizes the education of would-be teachers, helping to attract bright students who can begin their careers debt-free. It then puts them through a battery of tests, training seminars and internships to make sure that they are ready before they step into the classroom.

Finland’s restructuring of their education system has been both comprehensive and dramatic.  But they must be getting something right.  And their effort to ensure the recruitment (and retention) of quality classroom teachers appears to be paying dividends.  A host of organizations are currently wrestling with the most effective classroom and systemic reforms.  Here’s hoping that teacher quality remains an essential element of any serious reform effort.

MetaMetrics is an educational measurement organization. Our renowned psychometric team develops scientific measures of student achievement that link assessment with targeted instruction to improve learning.