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Phoenix Forward magazine

How to bring Common Core into the classroom

Common Core

If you’re a teacher who’s anxious about requirements of the Common Core State Standards Initiative, don’t be, says R. Lewis Cordell, an instructor in the education program at the University of Phoenix San Diego Campus.

“The ‘core’ of Common Core is an age-old strategy — that students need to be able to explain and support responses [by] citing evidence,” says Cordell, a longtime high school teacher.

Here, experts explain what teachers can do to integrate Common Core standards into their lesson plans:


Use technology to work collaboratively.

Students must think critically under Common Core — examining complex, real-world subjects in a multifaceted way and then working together to solve the resulting problems. To accomplish this, Cordell uses the free Google Apps™ suite to teach multiday lessons.

Cordell’s class members open Gmail™ accounts to connect to the Google Docs™ program so they can talk about assignments among themselves and to Cordell in real time in and outside the classroom. “I love Google Docs,” Cordell says, “because it allows the teacher to check students’ progress any time, while encouraging students to leverage technology.”

Students can share written notes and image files such as charts and graphs via the Google Docs program, and comments via the Gmail and Google+™ Messenger applications.

For example, Cordell instructed his class to use the Google Apps suite to discuss why the U.S. Postal Service considered cutting Saturday mail delivery. “Students examined the reasons behind that decision — changes in mail volume, revenues and technology — before writing an argumentative essay,” he explains.


Make books come alive online.

Deborah Baker, a course developer for the College of Education, suggests using Google Lit Trips — free downloadable files that connect locations in popular literary works to the Google Earth™ mapping service.

“One Lit Trip links the middle-grade book ‘My Brother Sam Is Dead’ with Revolutionary War battlefield images,” she notes, “helping students make interdisciplinary connections required by Common Core.”


Teach web-searching skills.

WebQuests, Internet treasure hunts that help students search for information, are a perfect fit for Common Core’s language arts standards, says Julie Allen, a course developer for College Extension, which manages the University’s continuing education for teachers courses.

“WebQuests help students build vocabulary, do research and determine whether information … on the Internet is reliable,” key components of the new standards, Allen says. WebQuest.org offers free sample quests and tips to create them.


“Flip” your classroom.

In the flipped classroom, new information is presented outside of class as homework instead of in a traditional lecture, encouraging students to learn at their own pace and dig deeper into material. Cordell uses this teaching method at his high school and recommends the TEDEd lesson-flip tool.


Make learning a video game.

This is a great way to teach real-world math concepts, Baker says, citing the Hunt Institute, which used “Angry Birds” to teach quadratic equations.

Allen recommends programs such as Trimble SketchUp that use geometry to teach building design. Teachers and students can also use free video game-design software, such as Gamestar Mechanic, to create multimedia lessons.


Teach in teams.

The interdisciplinary nature of Common Core encourages teachers to work collaboratively across subjects.

“Say you were a math teacher teaching statistics and probability,” Baker says. “The math teacher could provide the math instruction, then students could take that across the hall to the science teacher, where they might study tornadoes and then calculate the probability of a tornado happening in their area. Students could then discuss the socioeconomic impact of the tornado in social studies class.”


Encourage note taking.

Common Core, Baker says, requires more focus on analysis of texts, such as news articles and government reports, an essential skill for college and careers.

You can teach text analysis through annotations, commenting on complex texts in real time. Programs like Diigo help students highlight, bookmark and share comments on texts with one another. Writing notes directly onto texts also works.


Practice assessment tests.

Depending on your state, Common Core student assessments will be administered by either the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium or the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, says Cordell, who suggests using the consortium’s sample test questions and answers in class.

“You can gauge whether your lessons are hitting Common Core targets,” Allen observes, “while simultaneously preparing students for the assessment test.”

Cordell encourages teachers to be creative. “We’re on the cusp of a major revolution,” he says. “This is the magic time to try anything you want.”

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