Great Learning at Linked Learning Convention 2018!

I had a fantastic time at the Linked Learning Convention! So many educators from all over came together to learn about how to make the high school experience engaging for students while preparing them for college and careers through industry themed Pathways. I even got to meet an inspiring young chef who is a senior at an alternative school in Oakland who came to present at the conference about work based learning. IMG_0978

The Community Science Workshop Network was on hand to provide opportunities for participants to tinker, make, and explore their world through STEM and the Environment.

I was honored to present two sessions: Integrated Curriculum Design Studio and CCASN’s College and Career Pathways Leadership Guide.


I hope to see folks at Educating for Careers Conference next week where I will be presenting CCASN’s College and Career Pathways Leadership Guide: New Tools to Solve Problems of Practice on Monday, March 5 at 1:15-2:30 in Room 308 of the Convention Center.


Integrated Curriculum Design as Professional Learning!

Integrated curriculum is an approach to curriculum development where multiple content areas are “integrated” into a coherent learning throughway creating an engaging, relevant program of study for students.

Learning-Tree-Colour-low-resIntegrated curriculum also fosters collaboration because interdisciplinary team’s can come together to design.

College and Career Pathways lend themselves to Integrated Curriculum design because the conditions for industry themed course work are part of a day’s work! Teachers need support to design in this way and Administrators have an opportunity to leverage Integrated Curriculum Design as Professional Learning for teachers. Teachers thrive when they learn while they build curriculum in collaborative teams!

I will be presenting an Integrated Design Studio at the Linked Learning Convention next week in Anaheim if you want to learn more.

 Orange County Ballroom 4





California Model Five-by-Five Placement Reports & Data for Accountability Dashboard Indicators

Five-by-Five Colored Clickable Tables!

The new CA accountability system is here! It combines five Status and Change levels creating a five-by-five grid that produces twenty-five results. The colored tables provide a way to determine the location of a school or district on the grid and is a great way to see a district at-a-glance!

Performance for state indicators is calculated based on the combination of current performance (Status) and improvement over time (Change), resulting in five color-coded performance levels for each indicator. From highest to lowest the performance levels are: Blue, Green, Yellow, Orange, and Red.

The five color-coded performance levels are calculated using percentiles to create a five-by-five colored table (giving 25 results) that combine Status and Change.

Here is an example English Learner Indicator report

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The reports are available for:

The Chronic Absenteeism Indicator is not ready for prime time yet. Stay tuned. State data on this indicator will be available in the fall.

For easy access to the reports navigate to the California Model Five-by-Five Placement Reports & Data portal.

Enter the district into the field to access the 5 X 5 Report. You can click on the interactive report to expand the view.

One of many powerful uses for this handy data view is to conduct Community Asset Mapping by indicator. Since you can see the district at-a-glance, teams can identify potential school site assets in the district for potential replication of best practices.

What else might the reports good for?


College and Career Readiness: Expository Reading and Writing Course

The Expository Reading and Writing Course (ERWC) is a High School English class that leverages high interest, non-fiction text and rhetoric to prepare students for the rigors of college reading and writing demands.

In the current assessment landscape for California, students need to score a Standard Exceeded on the ELA CAASP (Smarter Balanced) or receive a 3 or higher on an AP English exam in 11th Grade in order to be “College Ready” and skip the Early Placement Test for CSU and UC Admissions. Here is a graphic:


Students have an opportunity to be “Conditionally Ready” if they take the ERWC as their senior English class and receive a “C” or better. This is HUGE for many students.

I am proud to support ERWC teachers!

Here they are in action:



Common Core: From Learned Dependence to Learned Independence


During workshops that aim to deepen knowledge of Common Core State Standards (CCSS), I hear a consistent message from teachers – “My students are already behind with the current standards so it is no surprise they struggle with the new, more rigorous standards?” Or, “My students are high performing but we are afraid they won’t perform well on the SBAC Assessment performance task.” These are valid concerns. Often our instincts are to scaffold pretty heavily so students don’t experience too much difficulty. We want them to feel comfortable in class and stay as motivated as possible. In some cases, complex text and challenging math have been systematically removed from the hands of our struggling students albeit with the best of intentions. The consequences are stark. Many students, especially our lower performing students, have become very dependent learners and have not built the academic muscles necessary to excel at the table of scholarship. While our high performers don’t struggle as much, they too are pretty dependent and how well are we meeting the needs of those kids who already know it? Students at all performance levels need 21st century skills so they can have options when they graduate.

The key shifts in the CCSS ask us to interrupt this dependency cycle by ensuring that all students experience complex texts and tasks that require critical thinking and deep levels of engagement. There is a key document linked here provided by Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium outlining their emphasis on Universal Design for Learning (UDL) that is not a “one size fits all” approach but rather utilizes “flexible approaches that can be customized” that “gives all individuals equal opportunities to learn.” The CCSS challenge us to think K-16 for all learners. But how will we do this?

Consider using provocative, ambiguous questions to frame learning and provide real world lenses to set purpose for authentic learning using technology to enhance engagement. Put engaging, relevant text related to the question in front of students frequently starting off with shorter, accessible complex passages working towards greater text length and complexity reading goals. Students need to learn how to annotate and summarize text across content ideally utilizing consistent procedures. We need to make the invisible, the language of our disciplines – text structures, academic vocabulary – visible to students so they can express the sophistication of their thinking and access core content successfully.

Most importantly this work needs to be built in collaboration with teachers! In my collaboration with teachers around Common Core, I see that teachers really get it! They understanding the need to move students towards independence and how time crunches and incoherence have led dependence. When given some tools to collaborate – to sort, anchor, calibrate and share ideas, teachers and instructional leaders have the expertise. We just need to get them the right tools and get out of their way!

Common Core and Assessments: Creating a Performance Task Culture in Classrooms

One of the biggest shifts for educators coming from Common Core is to re-think the way we assess students. We are coming out of the multiple-choice standardized testing era and entering a new world of testing. But is it really new? The Common Core shifts testing from more rote memorization of content and process of elimination to the performance task! Well what exactly is a performance task and how does this differ from what we currently know as standardized testing? A performance task requires students to apply their knowledge. Students must do something with content. But isn’t that what real writers and mathematicians do? Exactly! The Common Core performance task seeks to make assessment more authentic and connected to college and career readiness by focusing on real world applications of knowledge. Sound simple? Well it is and isn’t. Part of bringing our education system into the 21st century is to recognize that there has been a big disconnect between what and how we learn and school and what colleges and employers require. CEOs have made it clear that they need candidates that have solid writing skills and can think critically on their feet. Businesses need folks who can collaborate, work effectively on teams and have strong presentation and technology skills. Time and time again, successful candidates not only have the steak but also sizzle! So how then do current forms of assessment align to 21st century skills? They don’t! That’s where the Common Core performance task comes in. Imagine a student at a computer. First she will watch a video and take notes on screen as she watches. Then, she will read a few articles also taking notes while she reads. Next she will complete constructed response questions in writing and finally, she will write a well thought out essay from a prompt using all of the materials she has been exposed to as resources for her essay – on demand and all on the computer. This is what a Common Core English Language Arts performance task looks like. Students will do something with content. Similarly in math, students will be presented with math problems that don’t have just one right answer but multiple possibilities that give them the opportunity to show what they know and also get partial credit for knowing some and not all of the math. A 6th grade Math performance tasks asks students to design a community garden with a set amount of variables in an hour and a half. Again students are asked to do something with content.


So what does this do to the landscape of teaching especially in the culture of teaching to the test. I’ve actually heard some teachers say that Common Core assessments are worth teaching to. The jury is still out on how the testing will get rolled out and we have a long way to go to feel that confidence. However, it is clear that we need to rethink how we do business in school. If students are going to engage in performance tasks then we, as educators need to create a performance task culture in our classrooms. A performance task culture will mean getting out of kids way so they can do stuff with our content. We need to bring back portfolio assessment and problem based learning. We also need to have students perform on demand in authentic ways so they build their muscle as critical thinkers, as writers and mathematicians, as presenters and team players.


But where do teachers and administrators begin? One way that can be very effective is to collaboratively analyze released performance tasks ( or, map the skills that surface back to the Common Core Standards and then create mini-performance tasks that are embedded with current content. For example, instead of writing the tried and true 5-paragraph, heavily scaffold and processed essay, think about creating a learning progression with current content that culminates in a process that mimics the ELA Common Core Performance task where students watch a video, read articles, answer constructed response questions and write an essay. Consider using content that is familiar to students when you are first establishing a performance task culture so that students experience some success and then you can increase their independence as the culture gets established. Another key here is to think about generating learning outcomes and activity progressions based on ambiguous provocative questions that students tackle. For instance say I am teaching Romeo and Juliet as a core text. I might ask students: How do the decisions we make impact our lives? The question lends itself to the play as students can chart the decisions that were made that led to the couple’s ultimate doom, but it also broadens the discussion and allows for exploration of a variety of texts and media sources.

California’s Common Core State Standards: An Overview for Parents

What is the Common Core?

The new Common Core State Standards (CCSS) are a national set of educational standards adopted by 48 states that represent the work of the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices (NGA Center) and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) in collaboration with educators across the country. The CCSS have clear focus on what students need to know and be able to do in order to be successful in college, careers and beyond. The CCSS call for a change in what and how we teach students to better prepare them for the demands of the global economy. The state of California adopted California’s Common Core Standards (CCCS) in August of 2010.


 Why do we need new standards?

So why do we need a new national set of education standards? The traditional way we taught students in the past simply isn’t in alignment with the demands of college and careers today and in the future. The role of student as empty vessel and teacher as holder and giver of knowledge are antiquated. Common national standards and assessment will provide students learning goals that will be more consistent state by state and give us a clearer picture of how the U.S. performs internationally. Our school and schools throughout the country are working to improve teaching and learning so all children will graduate high school with the 21st century skills they need to be successful.  According to CEOs interviewed, the following skills were most sought after in potential employees:


  • Critical Thinking and Problem Solving
  • Collaboration and Leadership
  • Agility and Adaptability
  • Initiative and Entrepreneurialism
  • Effective Oral and Written Communication
  • Accessing and Analyzing Information
  • Curiosity and Imagination


The Common Core aims to “upgrade” the current way we teach content knowledge in English, Math, Science and Social Sciences by requiring more applied skills and independent learning. Students will need strong writing skills and be required to work in teams to collaborate to solve problems. Students will need to be able to make arguments and back up what they say with lots of evidence. They will need to be independent thinkers and learners. To make the Common Core live in classrooms, many changes will need to be made.


Changes in English Language Arts

In English Language Arts and literacy there are several changes that teachers and parents will need to consider. Students will, in addition to stories and literature, be required to read more non-fiction to learn important facts and background knowledge in history, art and science. They will need to read more challenging texts more closely and will be asked the kinds of questions where they will need to reflect on and analyze what they have read to find answers. Students will need to not only find the main idea or arguments presented in what they read but make arguments and provide evidence drawing from multiple viewpoints to support their ideas.


Changes in Mathematics

Like English Language Arts, the new Math standards focus on the application of “real world” math including problem-solving skills. The new math standards require students to develop a more solid foundation as they progress through the grades by going deeper with the concepts they will use as the math gets harder. The new standards are more connected and extend and build on previous learning.  In other words, we are trying to move away from only studying one math topic at a time, say for instance, fractions or algebra, to studying what math students need to solve the problem and how many ways can they solve the problem. The Math standards now point out the importance of teaching both Mathematical Content and Mathematical Practices such as problem solving, reasoning, argument and critique, using math tools and modeling.


Changes in how students are tested

Perhaps the biggest change is how students will be assessed. The current assessment system, STAR, will sunset (yay!) and new assessments will be administered in the 2014-15 school year.  The Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium is in charge of developing the new tests called performance tasks. Performance tasks ask students to demonstrate their knowledge. The tests will have less multiple choice and more variable option test items and much more writing will be required. The assessment will be on a computer and will adapt to students’ level of proficiency. The benefit of the assessment is it can give teachers and parents good information about what are strong areas and areas for growths for students. A performance task might ask students to use math to design a community garden or to argue for or against uniforms in schools.


So is this a good thing?

Establishing common education standards is one way we can work to address the disparity between individual state standards to ensure that all children, regardless of geography, socioeconomic status, or life history, receive an education that values their potential.

Common standards are good for students because:

  • They help prepare students with the background knowledge and skills they need to succeed in college and careers.
  • They help make transitions smoother for students moving to different states or districts because the learning goals remain consistent.
  • Clearer standards help students understand what is expected of them and allow them to engage in more self-directed learning.

Common standards are good for parents because:

  • They help parents understand exactly what students need to know and be able to do at each step in their education.
  • They help facilitate conversation between parents and teachers about how to help their children reach those education goals.
  • They assure parents that their children have access to the same high-quality education other students receive in other parts of the country.

Common standards are good for teachers because:

  • They allow for more focused professional development and promote collaboration.
  • They can inform the development of a curriculum that promotes deep understanding for all children.
  • They can give educators more time to focus on depth of understanding and richer units of study rather than focusing on “coverage” and “fitting everything in.”

The standards are research- and evidence-based and clearly articulate expectations to parents, teachers, and the general public about what students should know and be able to do as they progress through school and at graduation from high school. The National PTA has announced its support of the initiative.

Student success is the result of the collaborative work of educators, parents, policymakers, and the broader community to better understand what students need to build a promising future. The Common Core State Standards are an opportunity to strengthen this collaboration. For more information, please visit and

As one senior executive from Dell said, “Yesterday’s answers won’t solve today’s problems.” The Common Core Standards provides educators a roadmap more aligned to college and career readiness and are a potential strategy to solve tomorrow’s problems.


6 Strategies for parents to encourage creativity and critical thinking skills:

1.  Try to build in choice and flexibility – observe your child’s interests and offer a range of reading. Is my child in to fiction, graphic novels, or non-fiction? Reading should not be a chore.
2.  Read to your child often to model for them.

3.  Answer questions with questions whenever possible. Ask your child what they think the answer could be. Help them use reason and use the process of elimination.

4.  For the reluctant reader, ask them to replace the name of an animal or character in a story with a familiar name from your child’s life, a pet or friend will do.

5.  Use math to solve problems and calculate. Point out practical applications while shopping using money. Play games with your child. Encourage them to build and count and compare. Find numbers and patterns in everyday life!

6. Find out what motivates your child and help them develop curiosity by deeply exploring a topic. Don’t worry if all they want to read about is cats for a couple of months or if they tire of a subject and move on. Find the zone that’s right for your child.