Tag: common core

compare contrast

How to Compare and Contrast Authentically

compare contrastTo students, knowing how to ‘compare and contrast’ sounds academic, not real world, but we teachers know most of life is choosing between options. The better adults are at this skill, the more they thrive in the world.

Common Core Standards recognize the importance of this skill by addressing it in over 29 Standards, at every grade level from Kindergarten through Twelfth Grade. Here’s a partial list:

Analyze how two or more texts address similar themes or topics in order to build knowledge or to compare the approaches the authors take. (K-5 and 6-12 Reading Anchor Standards)

With prompting and support, compare and contrast the adventures and experiences of characters in familiar stories and With prompting and support, identify basic similarities in and differences between two texts on the same topic (K Reading Standards–2)
Compare and contrast the adventures and experiences of characters in stories and Identify basic similarities in and differences between two texts on the same topic (1st grade Reading Standards–2)



Playful Learning–What a Great Idea

playPlayful Learning (Parents’ Choice Gold Medal website) is a well-done, professional-looking website that  offers advice, projects, and visual images touting the benefits of education through play. The reader is drawn into the child-centered imagery and strong basic colors, wanting everything on offer so their child’s play areas can look and work as described.

Let’s back up a moment. Play as the vehicle of education is not a revolutionary idea. Pedagogy has long recommended ‘play’ as a superior teacher for youngers–

Play is the great synthesizing, integrating, and developing force in childhood and adolescence. –PsycINFO Database Record 2012 APA,

The play of children is not recreation; it means earnest work. Play is the purest intellectual production of the human being, in this stage … for the whole man is visible in them, in his finest capacities, in his innermost being.~ Friedrich Froebel

In general, research shows strong links between creative play and language, physical, cognitive, and social development. Play is a healthy, essential part of childhood. —Department of Education, Newfoundland Labrador

Young children learn the most important things not by being told but by constructing knowledge for themselves in interaction with the physical world and with other children – and the way they do this is by playing.” –Jones, E., & Reynolds, G.  “The play’s the thing: Teachers’ roles in children’s play”


Book Review: Common Core Literacy for ELA

Common Core Literacy for Ela, History/Social Studies, and the Humanities: Strategies to Deepen Content Knowledge (Grades 6-12)Common Core Literacy for ELA, History/Social Studies, and the Humanities: Strategies to Deepen Content Knowledge (Grades 6-12)

by Katherine S. McKnight

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

View all my reviews

Dr. Katherine McKnight is an author, educator and consultant. She regularly publishes in professional journals and has written eleven books including titles like The English Teacher’s Survival Guide and The Elementary Teacher’s Big Book of Graphic Organizers--recipient of the 2013 Teachers’ Choice Award.

Three of her books are on Common Core, the latest being Common Core Literacy for ELA, History/Social Studies, and the Humanities: Strategies to Deepen Content Knowledge (Jossey-Bass 2014). When I saw this book on my Amazon Vine list, I was excited to read her thoughts on effective delivery of these far-reaching Standards.


How to Teach Students to Solve Problems

tech tipsOf all the skills students learn in school, problem solving arguably is the most valuable and the hardest to learn. It’s fraught with uncertainty–what if the student looks stupid as he tries? What if everyone’s watching and he can’t do it–isn’t it better not to try? What if it works, but not the way Everyone wants it to? When you’re a student, it’s understandable when they decide to let someone tell them what to do.

But this isn’t the type of learner we want to build. We want risk-takers, those willing to be the load-bearing pillar of the class. And truthfully, by a certain age , kids want to make up their own mind. Our job as teachers is to provide the skills necessary for them to make wise, effective decisions.

It’s not a stand-alone subject. It starts with a habit of inquiry in all classes–math, LA, history, science, any of them. I constantly ask students questions, get them to think and evaluate, provide evidence that supports process as well as product. Whether they’re writing, reading, or creating an art project, I want them thinking what they’re doing and why.

Common Core puts problem solving front and center. It comes up in ELA (“Students will be challenged and asked questions that push them to refer back to what they’ve read. This stresses critical-thinking, problem-solving, and analytical skills that are required for success in college, career, and life.”), but is inescapable in Math. In fact, students cannot fully meet the Math Standards without understanding how to effectively approach the unknown. Consider the Standards for Mathematical Practice that overlay all grade levels K-12:


tech q & a

Dear Otto: How do I prepare students for PARCC Tests?

tech questionsDear Otto is an occasional column where I answer questions I get from readers about teaching tech. For your privacy, I use only first names.

Here’s a great question I got from Terry:

Any help for identifying and re-enforcing tech skills needed to take the online PARCC tests (coming in 2014-15)? Even a list of computer terms would help; copy, cut, paste, highlight, select; use of keys like tab, delete, insert; alt, ctrl and shift. There does not seem to be any guidelines as to prepping students on the “how to’s” of taking an online test and reading and understanding the directions. It would be great to take advantage of the time we have before the PARCC’s become a reality. Thanks!

Between March 24 and June 6, more than 4 million students in 36 states and the District of Columbia will take near-final versions of the PARCC and Smarter Balanced efforts to test Common Core State Standards learning in the areas of mathematics and English/language arts. Tests will be administered via digital devices (though there are options for paper-and-pencil). Though the tests won’t produce detailed, scaled scores of student performance (that starts next year), this field-testing is crucial to finding out what works and doesn’t in this comprehensive assessment tool, including the human factors like techphobia and sweaty palms (from both students and teachers).

After I got Terry’s email, I polled my PLN to find specific tech areas they felt their students needed help with in preparing for the Assessments. I got answers like these:

“They had to drag and drop, to highlight, and they had to compare and contrast. They had to write a letter. They had to watch a video, which meant putting on headphones. They had to fill in boxes on a table. There were a lot of different mouse-manipulation tasks.”

“Students are asked to retype a paragraph to revise. My students can’t type fast enough!”

“…questions [are] a mix of multiple-choice, problem solving, short-answer responses, and other tasks. Students had to drag and drop answers into different boxes.”

It boils down to five tech areas. Pay attention to these and your students will be much more prepared for Common Core assessments, be it PARCC or Smarter Balanced:


Students need to have enough familiarity with the keyboard that they know where keys are, where the number pad is, where the F row is, how keys are laid out. They don’t need to be touch typists or even faciley use all fingers. Just have them comfortable enough they have a good understanding of where all the pieces are. Starting next school year, have them type fifteen minutes a week in a class setting and 45 minutes a week using keyboarding for class activities (homework, projects–that sort). That’ll do it.


Common Core Writing–Digital Quick Writes

Here’s a free lesson plan from the newest Ask a Tech Teacher book, How to Achieve Common Core with Tech–the Writing Strand. This covers K-8, 208 Standards, and has 28 projects.writing

BTW, the lines at the front of each step are to track progress in case you don’t complete it in one class period. Feel free to print out for classroom use:

Essential Question

How does writing often and briefly improve skills?


Students use digital Quick Writes to integrate writing and critical thinking practice into any discipline.  They use a variety of age-appropriate digital tools to prepare their work. Through these short, fun writings, students develop fluency, build the habit of reflection, and informally assess thinking.

Big Ideas

Writing routinely for short periods of time, for a range of tasks, purposes, and audiences, makes students better writers.


Internet, drawing program, quick write links


common core

11 Things I Love About Common Core

America’s first public school opened in the mid-1600’s to only a handful of hungry students. Most colonists agreed education should be done at home, not in a one-size-fits-all schoolhouse. Even in the late 1700’s after John Adams famously pronounced, “There should not be a district … without a school in it, not founded by a charitable individual, but maintained at the public expense …”, it took until 1918 before all children were mandated to attend public schools.

Even though no one agreed on what students would be taught, a condition that continues to this very day. To misquote William Butler Yeats, often it was more about filling the pail than lighting the candle.

Today, over 3 million teachers and 99.000 public schools educate the almost 50 million schoolage American children at a cost to the taxpayer of over $590 million–but here’s the kicker: lessons are delivered in accordance with 50 separate state education standards. No wonder we struggle to be even ‘average’ on the world academic stage.

The National Board of Governors changed all that when 45 states supported their Common Core State Standards. Adopted in 2010, it immediately found a busload of detractors, engendered fierce arguments, but perseveres in its effort to reform how America prepares its children for college and career. I’m not going to debate these guidelines today. Instead, let me share the top eleven things I love about the new Standards that are now the law of the land all over the country:


Common Core: A Lesson Plan for STEM (on Bridges)

common coreHere’s a free lesson plan from the newest Ask a Tech Teacher book, How to Achieve Common Core with Tech–the Math Strand. This covers K-8, 114 Standards, and has 20 projects.

BTW, the lines at the front of each step are to check off the skill–track progress in case you don’t complete it in one class period. Feel free to print out for your classroom use:

Essential Question

How can I use practical and theoretical knowledge to solve a problem?


Students virtually construct a viable, affordable bridge and submit it (if age limits met) to a national competition. They use theoretical knowledge in a practical application.  When done, they reflect on importance of both theoretical and practical in problem solving.

This lesson contributes to the rigor of your school’s math program, defined by Common Core: … Use of technology differentiates for student learning styles by providing an alternative method of achieving conceptual understanding, procedural skill and fluency, and applying to authentic circumstances.

By the end of this unit, middle school students will review all eight Standards for Mathematical Procedures, 3 W and 3 RST standards, as well as embrace an authentic experience in problem solving and the practical applications of math knowledge.

Big Idea


Common Core Language: Teach Your Students to Speak Like a Geek

common coreHere’s a free lesson plan from the newest Ask a Tech Teacher book, How to Achieve Common Core with Tech–the Language Strand. This covers K-8, 87 Standards, and has 8 projects.

BTW, the lines at the front of each step are to check off the skill–track progress in case you don’t complete it in one class period. Feel free to print to out for your classroom use:

Essential Question

Why is appropriate vocabulary essential to academic success?

Lesson Summary

Students teach each other domain-specific words through presentations. This reinforces vocabulary, as well as presentation skills.

By the end of this unit, 3rd-middle school students will review up to 7 L, 4 SL, and 1 WHST, as well as authentically use and review Tier 3 vocabulary (or optionally, Tier 2).

Big Ideas

  • Words are beautiful.
  • Knowing Tier 3 vocabulary helps students understand the subject.


Internet, Speak Like a Geek assessments, Speak Like a Geek sign-ups

Teacher Preparation