Common Core State Standards for Social Justice?

May 10, 2011 3 comments

I have mentioned the CCSS before in my first post as being yet another version of standards for education. I first heard about them in one of my last staff meetings as a teacher at a K-8 charter school in Indianapolis. We were all sitting together in the gymnasium/lunchroom and shown a video released by the Indiana Department of Education introducing the Common Core State Standards. As I remember it, it seemed like an advertisement for a new and improved set of standards. The video also stated that teachers would still be accountable for teaching the old, Indiana state standards as we transitioned into the era of CCSS. You could almost hear a collective groan from my colleagues. More standards?

When I first started this project I thought it would be interesting to develop a curriculum that utilized new technology for the purpose of motivating and engaging students.  When I presented my idea to my professor, I stated that it would be aligned to existing standards because I believed such things were necessary for teaching and I also wanted to make my design marketable for today’s educational market. I also believed that the standards did not prevent me from teaching in an innovative way. For example, I can teach students about photosynthesis (an ever popular topic in eighth grade science) through a traditional, textbook based lesson or I can let them explore the topic on their own in a more open process involving computer supported collaborative learning. I suppose I accepted that there must be standards in education and I was willing to work with them instead of against them. What a convenient position to take.

But what happens when you start questioning the motivation for having standards in education? For me, I have found that I cannot find a satisfactory answer. I have also discovered that people become really uncomfortable and unwilling to have a conversation with you when you broach the subject, especially when they work in education. I do not have an answer yet, but I was surprised to learn that Phil Daro, co-lead author of the CCSS for mathematics, sees the standards as a vehicle for social justice. To paraphrase Dr. Daro, we have to make sure that every kid gets enough math to have decent opportunities in life.

Is that why we should adopt the common core? To achieve social justice? Can a set of educational standards deliver such a promise? Should it?

I hear this rhetoric often in my work. We are teaching students X because we want them to have a “real future.” We want them to have a “decent opportunity.” We believe that teaching them mathematics, science, English, and social studies will help us accomplish this mission. I want to know, have we considered other alternatives? Have we critically examined if the processes we engage in truly match our goals? Why are we so focused on the future, instead of working in the present?

It is hard for me to believe that my students learned about photosynthesis because they too wanted to have a “decent opportunity” for a “good” life. I would imagine some of them learned about it because they were truly interested in understanding the world around them, some maybe felt parental pressure to earn a good grade, or maybe they did buy into the “just in case” ideology of school. Will any of them sacrifice their opportunity for a good life if they do not understand photosynthesis? I could say yes but that is because I know it is covered again in high school biology and I do not want them to fail that course and have it show up on their transcripts.

The common thread here is that these are things we, as adults, want for our students. What about what students want? What about discussing what really motivates them to learn this material? We are so focused on the future that we lose sight of the joy and curiosity students bring with them to the classroom. What about learning just to learn and letting the rest be a byproduct of that process?

Just a thought.


iPads for kindergartners?

May 5, 2011 4 comments

I subscribe to’s “Digital Directions” newsletter and read an article about the use of iPads with kindergarnters. A school district in Maine is advocating for more iPads in kindergarten classrooms. Critics point out that there is little research to demonstrate the effects of such technology (positive or negative) on early childhood learning. Also, some fear that valuable social experiences will decrease as technology increases its presence in the classroom. On the other hand, advocates claim that it is a tool for expression and creation, like a marker and many other items found in kindergarten classrooms.

I must admit that when I saw the title, my first reaction was kindergartners? It does seem like a young age to be using iPads, but when viewed as another resource in the toolkit of an early childhood educator it begins to make more sense. Also, because it utilizes a touch screen it seems like it would be perfect for young children! I guess it depends on how you perceive the role of technology in the classroom. Is it just another tool, or is it replacing teaching and social learning?

Read the original article here iPad Use Among Kindergartners Sparks Debate.

Categories: Miscellaneous, Technology

Is creativity as important as literacy?

April 27, 2011 4 comments

Here’s another wonderful talk from Sir Ken Robinson about creativity and education. After watching it, please respond to the poll below.

Categories: Miscellaneous

Can you make your education “future proof”?

April 26, 2011 Leave a comment

Future-Proof Your Education on Prezi

A friend of mine sent me this link. I really like the platform, it is much more engaging and interesting than a powerpoint. I didn’t enjoy all of the embedded videos, especially the one about the creative commons and the college promotion video. But I thought the three TED talks about visualizing data were wonderful. What a great example of the blend between art, science, and technology. My first thought was, I want to learn how to do that! Then I thought I bet students would want to create their own pictures with data about their own lives. Maybe teaching students how to ‘compress knowledge’ would be a valuable skill in the age of information. It would give them an opportunity to tell their own story. Does this “future proof” your education? Not necessarily. I think a more important question is, does your education serve you now? Are we meeting that benchmark? I am afraid not.

Categories: Miscellaneous, Technology

Life Equations

April 22, 2011 1 comment

Life Equations.

Dan Meyer has a knack for coming up with innovative ways to engage students in math. Especially, his creative use of video footage in lesson plans. What I would like to see is students using the cameras to create, share, and solve problems with one another. That would be even more exciting!

Read this article about Dan Meyer and watch the embedded video!

See more of Dan Meyer’s ideas in this TED Talks. I couldn’t agree more with his statement that as educators, many of us our selling a product to a market that is not interested, but forced by law to buy it. I wrote about this very same thing in a writing assignment for another class. I believe we must strategically market educational reform if we expect students, teachers, administrators, parents, and government officials to buy into it. We are not just selling the idea of education to unmotivated students, it has become part of our cultural currency.

Where the Boys Are…

April 22, 2011 Leave a comment

A classmate sent me this video after I talked about my project in class. It has made me think about what kind of culture we create in schools and how it affects both males and females. The behavior guidelines we have set for students are very narrow. I remember one student telling me, “you’re not my mom!” Though I certainly wasn’t, I think it must have been frustrating for him to have women breathing down his neck all day. I may be another female in the education profession, but I will think differently about how I design curricula materials so that it is not biased to one sex.

Passion-Based Learning for the 21st Century

April 21, 2011 Leave a comment

Passion-Based Learning for the 21st Century.

My friend just sent me this interview with Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach and “passion based” learning. I like her approach for several reasons. The first because it echoes my own ideas about what changes must occur, and secondly because she is not advocating for something so radical that it cannot be practiced in today’s educational system. I have read a lot of teacher bashing reports lately, and I am not wanting to add to them. But maybe teachers act as their own worst enemy by not willing to change their own beliefs about teaching and learning. I myself have been guilty of blaming students, administrators, parents, and the standards for my own inability to try something new. And sometimes, this could be the reality, but I do believe it is less about trying one new thing then it is about changing your philosophy. What will it take to cause such a shift?