Collaboration – Integral in Common Core Assessment


abeo school change This post originally appeared on Abeo School Change’s blog, an education design and implementation group that partners with schools and systems to make powerful learning a reality for every student. View Original >


One on the most striking and pleasant surprises that I encountered in the Common Core Standards, was the prevalence of Collaboration. This alone says that we are on the right track with common core. What is a needed 21st Century Skill? Collaboration. What does Sir Ken Robinson say is required for a change in education? Collaboration. He says eloquently, that “collaboration is the stuff of learning.” What are experts and writers calling out for in books such as Curriculum 21 edited by Heidi Hayes Jacobs, and 21st Century Skills by Bernie Trilling and Charles Fadel? Collaboration. Whenever I conduct a training with teachers as ask them what they want their students to be able to do when they leave their classroom or school, what is the hot word? Collaboration.
If we truly want and need this for our students, they will need to teach and assess it. It needs to be leveraged in the grade book. This of course means we need to arm educators with the skills to effectively teach to the standard of Collaboration in the classroom.

Let’s be honest. I doubt many of us have our state standards by our bedside as inspiration reading. But I would say the standards including collaboration can allow for exciting and engaging teaching and learning. Here is the power from the English Language Arts & Literacy in History/Social Studies, Science, and Technical Subjects.
K-5 and 6-12 Speaking and Listening
1. Prepare for and participate effectively in a range of conversations and collaborations with diverse partners,
building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively.

This standard is even broken down with specific criteria for each grade level. Collaboration is going to look similar and different across grade level. Your job is to figure out an assessment that will accurately show that they have performed that criteria and made that criteria clear to all partners in the student’s learning, from the parent, to the administrator. Collaboration is best seen in solving a problem, so of course, I am bias towards PBL, Project-Based or Problem-Based Learning. This sets an authentic task in motion for students to work on collaboratively to problem solve.

So what could an assessment look like? Let’s use the example above as our focus. Here the content of the actual collaborative effort is completely open. In fact, this could be done across the classroom. Although this is defined as a Listening and Speaking Standard, there is no reason why it couldn’t be leveraged in a variety of disciplines, as it is a 21st century skill. So what could show these criteria regardless of the content?

Perhaps students create a portfolio defense for a one on one with the teacher, bringing a variety of pieces of evidence. Perhaps students create a podcast articulating how they solved problems and met criteria for collaboration. Perhaps students journal daily to critical thinking prompts on their collaboration, which is then collected as a summative assessment at the end of the unit or project. Perhaps teachers use a rubric to grade them as they actually work in class on specific day.

Of course these great summative assessment ideas need to be supported with ongoing formative assessment. Journals could be used as this as well as a summative. If you plan on grading students on collaboration, then you must provide feedback to the students using the rubric as the focus piece. You can set goals with groups and let them know you will specifically look for that in the future. You will need to collect drafts of a podcast and give specific coaching on what they can do to make it better. Again, you cannot assess what you do not teach, and good teaching includes useful, ongoing formative assessments.

There of course are more places to “push” and explore in terms of assessment of Collaboration. Perhaps you have students work collaboratively on a Common Core in a project that has a culminating product that showcases they know that standard. The key is to have both a Collaborative product, to grade them on collaboration, and an individual product that holds students accountable to the other Common Core Standard. If students are creating a research project that is targeted toward to a Common Core Research standard, have them create one product collaboratively and a separate on their own. Look, you have head students accountable to two powerful Common Core standards that are rigorous and real. Just remember you must teach your students how to collaborate before you can assess how well they do collaborate. This is good practice.

Active Game-Based Learning


This post originally appeared on The Whole Child blog, an ASCD initiative to call on educators, policymakers, business leaders, families, and community members to work together on a whole child approach to education. View Original >


OK, so I am a gamer. Not that I have the time anymore, but I do venture now and again into a game, whether a first-person shooter (FPS) or role-playing video game (RPG). I am also a big promoter of Game-Based Learning (GBL) and Gamification. To clarify, GBL is when games are used to balance the learning of subject matter through gameplay with specific learning outcomes in mind. Gamification is applying the concepts of game design to learning to engage in problem solving. Again both are geared toward building student engagement and learning important content. GBL is one method that creates not only a great opportunity to engage students in content, but also keep them active.

Brain-based learning research tells us that being active in and around rigorous learning can help keep students energized in the learning. During the activity, oxygen-rich blood flows to the brain which increases the ability to concentrate. John Medina, published a great book about how movement can increase learning. PBS did a story about a school where students took active “brain breaks” that kept students moving around the classroom. There are many ways to integrate activate movement on a regular basis for students, and using video games is another opportunity.

Microsoft’s Kinect is the key to using games for learning that require movement. Kinect demands students physically interact with the content in front of them. Whether it’s jumping in an obstacle course or moving hands to push buttons, the body is not only engaged in a game, but also in movement. Although it may seem like a far cry to link these games to authentic learning outcomes, the idea is to balance the gaming with the learning; increasing blood flow and engagement while gaming increases concentration for learning content. The other good news is that there are a plethora of resources in this area, some from Microsoft itself. They have a library, some with specific targets toward physical education, which has activities and lessons for students. These classroom activities align the video games to the Common Core State Standards (although they could be a bit more specific), and indicate which video games are necessary. I highly recommend going to to create a funding opportunity for a Kinect in your classroom.

In addition, a Twitter friend of mine, Johnny Kissko, has dedicated much of his work to using Kinect in the classroom with his website KinectEDucation. His site is complete with not only lessons that are tied to specific games, but also applications that can be downloaded and purchased. Because there are so many resources out there, there is no reason for a teacher to not give it a shot. Using video games, and specifically the Kinect, can allow us to harness the power of brain-based learning and the engagement of video games to create student concentration and engagement.

Online Learning Needs True Student Collaboration


abeo school change This post originally appeared on Abeo School Change’s blog, an education design and implementation group that partners with schools and systems to make powerful learning a reality for every student. View Original >


Steven Johnson
, the author of “Where Good Ideas Come From,” was recently featured on CNN where he shared his ideas from his TED talk aired earlier this summer. Learning does not occur in isolation. Great ideas do not occur in isolation. Why then are most online courses structured in a way that fosters mostly the teacher-student relationship?

If we look at the way many learning management systems and courses are setup, it is still very traditional. Students have an assignment, they complete it, and they turn it in. The material is geared toward multiple learning styles, but authentic learning style of collaboration may not exist. Now there may be occasions where discussion board posts are required, or peer review. In fact the best online teachers are using these tools synchronously and asynchronously. The best teachers are doing their best to create activities and routines that foster student interaction and collaboration. But is the curriculum and structure set up in a way that requires collaboration, problem-solving and critical thinking?

One of the biggest strengths of online learning is fosters true student-teacher relationship in order to create an individualized education plan. Parents say this, teachers say this, and students say this. Julie Young, CEO of Florida Virtual Schools, recently shared in an article that “it is perhaps one of the greatest ironies of online learning that teachers and students often find it more personal than the classroom experience.” She then goes on to advocate for more hybrid programs, in order to balance face-to-face learning with online. I would agree that with the hybrid model, you can build face-to-face experiences that foster more collaboration, but this is one idea.

If we truly want the 21st century skills, we need to create online environments that truly require collaboration, problem solving and critical thinking. Are students working together to problem solve and create while still being held accountable individually? Are the student forums open so that students may collaborate? Are students leading discussions and live class meetings? Are students allowed voice and choice in their assessments? These are just some of the questions that educators of the online world need to consider.

In online education, we are in danger of replicating a system that has only worked well for some. The traditional classroom, where the teacher is the center and the students do the assignment, has not worked for all. We in the world of education reform agree on this. We believe in these 21st century skills. We have seen brick and mortar and hybrid programs that have worked, where collaboration and innovation is occurring regularly. We need to look at these examples and learn from them. We need to ensure the structures and curriculum foster not only online individualized instruction, but collaboration for the purposes of innovation. As Steven Johnson says, “Chance favors the connected mind.”

Seven Ideas for Revitalizing Multicultural Education


This post originally appeared on Edutopia, a site created by the George Lucas Educational Foundation, dedicated to improving the K-12 learning process by using digital media to document, disseminate, and advocate for innovative, replicable strategies that prepare students. View Original >


“Not multicultural education, just excellent education.”
— William Ayers

I had the privilege of attending (and presenting) at the National Association for Multicultural Education International Conference last week in Chicago. Moreover, I got to sit down many of the influential and founders of the organization including activist and multicultural education advocate William Ayers and “founder supreme” of NAME, Dr. Cherry Ross Goodin. My goal was not only to learn the overall trends and themes for Multicultural Education, but also practical tools that teachers can use in their classroom. In my opinion, you need to have a crucial understanding of the underlying pedagogical and historical frameworks of multicultural education to be able to institute culturally responsive strategies and lessons in your classroom.

Increased Interest

Attendance approached 1000 people, a continued increase, signaling a revitalization in the conversation and interest. Leadership programs have been formalized with a mentor/ mentee format with specific objectives to help new members get involved. Personally, I was able to meet with almost every single person involved in the leadership of NAME, from the founders and president to keynote speakers and committee chairs. It was a rare conference where you can meet the leadership up close and personal and engage in authentic and courageous conversations. Institutes and workshop topics targeted all audiences and needs from a session on the challenges of implementing GLBTQ children’s literature in the elementary classroom to a session on an innovative teacher evaluation matrix that included quality indicators for culturally responsive teaching.

Below are some tips and ideas from the two aforementioned leaders on real strategies you can become a culturally responsive education and utilize practices of multicultural education.

1. Know your students.

Of course this is a given, but Dr. Goodin expressed that knowing about the background and culture of your students is crucial to building the relationship you want so that students can achieve. Ask them questions about their culture. Find moments to have students share. In order to build achievement, you have to build respect for who your students are.

2. Analyze Jacob Lawrence’s paintings.
Ayers notes that Lawrence’s famous paintings can provide fruitful discussion about African American culture, depiction and historical representations. Art is a great tool to engage in critical conversations about race.

3. Have students create a slang dictionary.

Ayers also suggested that slang is a great window culture. I have actually done this with my students. It can provide an opportunity for students not only to share their culture with each, but create their own. It honors their knowledge about their own cultures and empowers them by letting them know, your ideas matter. Example: Scrapper (n): a low riding Buick or Cadillac, that has an amazing sound system.

4. Use the standards as your framework and then find opportunities to embed multicultural ideas, literature, and materials.
Embedded multicultural education should be the focus, noted Dr. Goodin. Start with you learning targets and see what possibilities there are to engaging in multicultural themes, literature and more. That’s the best part of standards in my opinion, they are just the start. Let’s go beyond standards to create great multicultural classroom discourse.

5. Get them going with teen poetry competitions.
Ayers mentioned the documentary Louder than a Bomb, which chronicles the journey of a high school team through competitions. At the conference, we were even privilege by students from a local high school demonstrating their own. Inspiring. It is a great opportunity to build literacy skills and honor student voice. Students have amazing stories to tell, let them tell them.

6. Controversy is coming to you. Teachers often spend time closing it off.
I think that Ayers, like Dr. Goodin, was trying to express that becoming a multicultural educator is not as hard as it seems. Subjects, issues and controversy are all around us. Allow it into the classroom. Students are already talking or thinking about them. Use it to engage students in conversations on culture.

7. Don’t ask permission.

I appreciate Dr. Goodin’s authenticity with her statement. When you do what is right, you don’t ask permission. At the same time, if you are going to engage in controversy or potential courageous conversations, find and recruit allies in administration. In fact, there may be policies in place at the district level that protect you.

All in all, I left inspired to continue my work as a multicultural educator and scholar. Just remember, it is not as hard as you think. Culture encompasses so much of who we are, and can easily be leveraged in the classroom learning. If we seek to know our students and truly value them, our classrooms in turn will reflect it in practice.

Visual Art as Critical Thinking


This post originally appeared on Edutopia, a site created by the George Lucas Educational Foundation, dedicated to improving the K-12 learning process by using digital media to document, disseminate, and advocate for innovative, replicable strategies that prepare students. View Original >


We’ve heard this story before. The first thing to go in budget cuts is the visual art program or another related art. Proponents of arts education counter with the usual rhetoric on the importance of self-expression and creativity. I, myself, am a product of arts education.

From the early age of kindergarten I was in musical theater. I eventually transitioned in music as a focus, and was a choir nerd in middle school and into college. In fact, my participation in Jazz Choir kept me in school, as I struggled with depression as a young adult. I kept singing into college, where I led the jazz and a cappella ensemble, and participated in a semiprofessional jazz ensemble the Seattle Jazz Singers. Although my schedule no longer allows me to sing on a regular basis, karaoke continually calls my name. I’m sure many of you had have had a similar experience, where art remains a crucial part of your being. These stories alone say “Yes!” to arts education.

Well, I have another argument to advocate for arts education. Visual arts (as well as other arts) are an excellent discipline to build and utilize critical thinking skills. I don’t think we often give credit to the deep conceptual and interpretational thinking that goes into the creation of a piece of art, and this is often because art is treated as something separate from the core content areas. School does not need to be this way. In fact, I have recently seen two excellent ways that art can be used to wrestle with rigorous content from the core while allowing for creativity and expression.

I had the privilege of visiting High Tech High and Middle in San Diego, California. The first thing I noticed that art was vital to the culture of the school. Whether using physics content to create kinetic art with pulleys or to create 21st century resumes (see photo above), teachers embraced art as part of the culture of study.

Chris Uyeda was nice enough to sit down with me to talk about a recent chemistry project by his students. They were told that the common image of the atom was WRONG, and that they needed to create a pitch for a better representation of it. Chemistry and the study of the atom require deep conceptual thinking, some of which is hard to grasp. Chris saw art as an opportunity to have students critically think around the content to create a beautiful art piece. The student example below shows just one student’s take on a more appropriate representation of the atom through the motif of bees and beehive. Art was a great way to familiarize students with critical content they would need later in the course.

A colleague of mine, Dayna Laur, a social studies teacher at Central High School in York, Pennsylvania, worked with her art teacher colleague Katlyn Wolfgang to ingrate the study of art and politics. Edutopia featured their story and advice, and you can use some of their resources. The driving question for the project was, “How can art reflect and inform the public about policy-making agendas?” In it, the students had to collaborate across classrooms to create an art piece that had a message.

More than just making connections, the art students had to use their critical thinking skills not only to understand all the information and nuances of their public policy issue, but also to synthesize it into an art piece that conveyed a message. Students researched legislation, background information and other pertinent content. Instead of simply creating artwork with a message (which is a natural function of art), they had to wrestle first with critical content of politics and social studies before creating the art piece. Student examples are pictured above and below.

Teachers, your mission is finding ways to integrate art into the core subjects. Use your students’ creative impulses to bring a new purpose to interpreting, conceptualizing and critically thinking around content. This type of integration can work for ANY discipline. It will help to value art as not just a separate entity, but rather integral to the school culture. Art is important as a single subject, but also should be valued as core through rigorous integration. In addition to being a fulfilling part of your students’ lives, it can engage them in the core content.

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