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‘Food for Thought’ Category

  1. Common Core State Standards at ASCD

    July 7, 2011 by David

    Although not an advertised topic for the ASCD Summer Conference, the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) seemed to be a part of most of the sessions I visited. And for good reason: 43 states and DC have fully adopted them and are already working on a cross-walk from their current state standards to the Common Core. Oh, and by the 2014-15 school year there will be assessments created by two state consortia that will evaluate student progress on these new standards. I am disappointed that the state I taught in, Washington, has only provisionally adopted them pending the state legislature giving the final OK. The State’s lack in embracing the CCSS was part of the reason their application for the Race to the Top grant didn’t go very far, not to mention that delaying will only mean less time to get ready for those assessments and more educators feeling rushed to align their curriculum, not to mention simply become introduced to the standards and fully understand them. Heidi Hayes Jacobs put it this way: “Good information lowers anxiety. Lack of information causes it.”

    The speakers at the conference all recognized that the CCSS are the new reality but to a one, they emphasized the importance of really reading the standards, really understanding them, but cautioning that the goal is not to meet the Common Core Standards but to meet the standards along the way.

    Here are some of my favorite anecdotes about this idea:

    • Standards, or the CCSS, are like building codes: The ultimate goal is not to meet them. You don’t say, “I’m going to build a house to code!” That’s understood and says nothing about the design of the house.
    • When building a house you don’t make the blueprint up along the way. In other words, you still have to have a plan, or a goal. The standards inform this goal but don’t dictate it.
    • Content acquisition is the means, not the end.
    • Standards are the design considerations.

    Another theme that came up again and again was what some speakers called “unwrapping” or “unpacking” the CCSS. This close and careful reading of the standards has to do with taking an individual standard or anchors and pick out the verbs, nouns and noun phrases, and key qualifiers and determining their meaning local curriculum, instruction and assessment.

    For example, CCSS RI.8.9 says:

    Analyze a case in which two or more texts provide conflicting information on the same topic and identify where the texts disagree on matters of fact or interpretation.

    Paying attention to the important parts of speech you get:

    Analyze conflicting information and identify disagree(ment).

    As an English Language Arts teacher, or a teacher who expected the students to read in their class (hint: that’s everyone), it is also important to understand how this particular standard has increased in sophistication from, say 6th grade:

    Compare and contrast one author’s presentation of events with that of another (e.g., a memoir written by and a biography on the same person).

    Furthermore, both of these standards are the grade level equivalent of the overall anchor (#9, in this case), or what the students should be able to do by the end of the year:

    Analyze how two or more texts address similar themes or topics in order to build knowledge or to compare the approaches the authors take.

    Overall I am very happy that this educational movement for common standards is here and pleased that those advocating for it are reminding everyone that they are not the end goal, they are student learning and deep understanding. Which leads me to my next topic, Understanding by Design …

  2. ASCD Summer Conference

    July 6, 2011 by David

    If there was one theme I kept encountering over and over at the ASCD Summer Conference in Boston was that good education is hard work and you can’t just port over a program, make a few tweaks and WIN. A component of this theme is that educators really need to understand the philosophy and pedagogy behind great ideas like Understanding by Design or even the Common Core Standards before really working with them. It seemed like in every session I went to it was a good hour to two hours of background and scaffolding the instruction before the speakers touched upon the meat of what they were there to discuss.

    As mentioned, Common Core came up a lot and just as often were words reminding you to really read through the standards, give your staff time to really get to know them, and yet they are still just something to do along the way to real learning, they aren’t the goal. They inform the goal, but don’t dictate it.

    You still need a goal, what do you want students to know or do? When you are building a house you don’t make the blueprint along the way. Similarly, when you are building a house you don’t say, “I’m going to build it to code!” and leave it at that.

    I also enjoyed how everything at the conference (well, at least the sessions I went to) were woven together and they all built on each other: Use Understanding by Design to set some meaningful goals, create useful and credible assessments (GRASPS), meet the Common Core Standards along the way and put it all together with Curriculum Mapping.

    I will go into these later and in more detail but I am excited about all the great ideas I took away from the East Coast. Part of me wishes I had a district/school/class of my own so I could frame my thinking around them but I have always enjoyed thinking about ideas in their pure form, without being tied to a specific situation, or trying to fit them into a set structure; like trying to figure out how this new-fangled square peg will fit into the round hole we already have and works well for us, thank you very much.

  3. What are 21st Century Literacies?

    June 17, 2011 by Josh Caldwell


    What is information literacy in the context of an MMORPG?

    How do you assess learning in a tabletop RPG?

    What makes a proficient reader of graphic novels?

    How do readers approach text in video games?

    What literacies will be essential for 21st century learners?

    When will formal testing adapt to the shift from individual knowledge to social knowledge, and what will that assessment look like? (more…)

  4. Is Gamification Really a Bad Word?

    June 17, 2011 by Josh Caldwell


    The first day of GLS7 brought with it plenty of spirited debate and intense arguments, as you are likely to have with any diverse group of passionate professionals, but none so hotly contested as the validity of gamification as an educational tool. Commonly associated with social media marketing, gamification seeks to engage consumers by incorporating game mechanics (most commonly achievements or badges) into otherwise boring or unexciting activities, such as filling out surveys – in essence, it’s the Madison Ave version of hiding your dog’s pill in a block of cheese. This arguably crass, commercial interpretation of gamification has tarnished the concept of using game mechanics in education for feedback or recognition. As a telling tone-setter in his Wednesday keynote speech, Eric Zimmerman characterized educational gamification as the beginning of an “unholy alliance” between marketers and learning researchers; certainly a reasonable call to be careful and cautious about with whom and for what reasons we share student information, but is that really reason enough to eschew gamification outright. Is gamefication so tied up in commercialism that we can’t have a successful discussion about it in education without adopting new terminology? (more…)

  5. Text Based Adventures in the Classroom

    June 16, 2011 by Josh Caldwell



    You are standing in an open field west of a white house, with a boarded front door.
    There is a small mailbox here.

    This simple, succinct introduction opens the door to the rich immersive environment of 1980′s Zork, the most iconic example of the text-based adventure game genre. No graphics, no sound effects, just the richness of language to draw gamers into the experience. Though text-based games largely went by the wayside with the advent advanced graphical environments, it’s hard to ignore such games as examples of the beauty and power of language in an interactive narrative. Would that my Junior High English students possessed such descriptive prowess. (more…)

  6. Teaching Without Your Own Room – We Should All Be So Lucky

    June 9, 2011 by Josh Caldwell

    I haven’t had a classroom of my own this year – I’ve been a vagrant, a wanderer, a man without a country – and I’ve grown to love it.

    Mostly. (more…)

  7. Gamify Your Class Website

    May 9, 2011 by Josh Caldwell

    Atari Games

    Given my love of gaming and my interest in the motivational value of video games, I’m surprised (baffled, really) that I’ve only recently heard of gamification. It’s not that the concept is unfamiliar to me, far from it, but this new (to me) terminology has opened the door to a whole world of people attempting to gamify education. Empowered by my new $5 word, I went on a marathon search bender to find out how people are gamifying their classrooms.


  8. Video Game Level Design Reflects Challenges in Education

    May 5, 2011 by Josh Caldwell

    Thanks to my PLN, I scan through a ton of education articles every day, parsing much more information than I could hope to encounter on my own. Sometimes, though, the best finds come when pursuing my other interests. Sometimes I just can’t help but view everything in my life through my teacher-glasses.

    Case in point, Shaun Inman’s post about video game level design.

    Good level design coaxes a player into first discovering then utilizing their abilities in a variety of situations. It requires balancing revelation and repetition.

    Mentally I replace “level” with “course” and “player” with “student” – all of the sudden I’m back to thinking about my students (how do they get into my head like that???).

    Shaun goes on to discuss the process of introducing and reinforcing basic skills and game parameters before presenting the player with tasks that require more sophisticated interactions. So, by gradually introducing new obstacles, players (students) are allowed to experience successful mastery of a skill before moving on to another. Then, just as players master the core skills, they’ve got to discover how those skills interact with other game elements. All of these building blocks have to be mastered and reinforced before a player can beat the game. You fail to master a skill, you don’t move on, you don’t win. The game doesn’t keep going without you, instead it ask you to practice until you’re reading to progress – at your own pace.

    What does this approach reveal about the learning aspect of games? Game design necessitates a balance of success and challenge; games that are near-impossible to succeed are no fun (except to the die-hards) and games that are too easy provide no engaging challenge. You can’t think about the final goal without deeply considering how to build in the frequent, achievable-yet-challenging goals that take you there.

    The message to educators – we need to spend more time on the level design. We need to teach players to run, jump, and shoot before we toss them at the final boss. We need to allow players to discover the parameters, reinforce skills, and make their own way through the levels. We can’t force a student a student onto level 2 when they haven’t mastered the skills to beat level 1.

    The article ends with some questions that will be very familiar to educators.

    How long should each level be? With what frequency do I introduce new concepts and threats? At what stage do single threat introductory screens become patronizing rather than educational? Repetition is necessary for learning but at what point does the lesson become too repetitive?

    I have a feeling that trial and error is the name of the game from this point on and a hope that experience will eventually start answering those questions before the handwringing sets in.


  9. TIL A New Word

    April 20, 2011 by David

    Today I learned about a word I had never heard before: pseudo-teaching (PT). I came across this term at a great blog Action/Reaction that has an entire thread devoted to it here. This word is used to describe something that looks like teaching, sounds like teaching, might even smell like teaching (but that’s probably the students …) but isn’t actually teaching. So how do you know? How do you find out if you are teaching or pseudo-teaching?

    Ask yourself, “What is the purpose of teaching?”



    I’ll wait …



    If you came up with something close to “so the students will learn” then we’re thinking along the same lines. But now here is another question, “How do you know when the student has learned something?”

    That’s the kicker. We might be used to students telling us about how boring or fun a lesson was or if they thought they learned something but how do we really know?

    Assess them. We’ll hold off with the caveat that the assessment must be aligned to the learning targets or intended outcomes so let’s just pretend for the sake of argument that it’s a great assessment that shows what the student knows and can do, or not, as the case may be.

    So back to the original question of how to pick out pseudo-teaching vs. teaching:

    1. Pre-assessment
    2. Instruction/practice
    3. Post-assessment

    How effective was Step #2? What was the change between 1 & 3? If the change was small (or even negative) it was probably pseudo-teaching.

  10. Education Should Be More Like Video Games

    April 14, 2011 by Josh Caldwell

    Achievement Unlocked

    Differentiated instruction, intrinsic motivation, meaningful rewards, achievable challenges, corrective feedback – sounds like a laundry list of traits associated with Good Teaching. It also sounds a whole lot like video games. Neurologist Judy Willis makes that case that video games can be not only powerful learning tools, but also a model for classroom instruction.

    Video games with levels of play allow the player to progress quickly through early levels if the gamer already has the skill needed. Gamers reportedly make errors 80% of the time, but the most compelling games give hints, cues, and other feedback so players’ brains have enough expectation of dopamine reward to persevere.

    Try, fail, learn through feedback, succeed, achieve reward. So why are kids willing to persevere through a challenging game, but not through a challenging school assignment?

    Good games give players opportunities for experiencing intrinsic reward at frequent intervals, when they apply the effort and practice the specific skills they need to get to the next level. The games do not require mastery of all tasks and the completion of the whole game before giving the brain the feedback for dopamine boosts of satisfaction.

    Who has the time to provide the kind of constant, and automated, feedback and reward we get from video games? Willis suggests individual goal setting based on incremental level progression.

    Free bar graphs downloaded from the Internet can be filled in by students as they record and see evidence of their incremental goal progress. In contrast to the system of recognition delayed until a final product is completed, graphing reveals the incremental progress evidence throughout the learning process.

    Forget gold stars, I think I’ll start providing Xbox Live style Achievements…

    [via Edutopia]