Content Area Focus

Fast and Furious – Keeping Up with Changes at NYSED

The New York State Education Department (NYSED), like many other states educational agencies, is undergoing massive restructuring due to the Race to the Top (RTTT) funding initiative. There are many arguments to be made about whether the RTTT program is worth it or just another national political toy. It does not matter which side one falls on – the reality is that there are many changes that are coming down to New York schools beginning this fall.

The amount of information, and the resulting changes, are coming out incredibly fast from NYSED. Law passed last year require NYSED to implement many new programs this fall, including the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), and a new evaluation program for teachers and principals. As I have been trying to maintain a handle on what is going on, my personal recommendation for those trying to get their heads around what is going on in NYSED boils down to 2 items:

  1. Take approximately 2 hours to watch the presentation, “Bringing the Common Core to Life,” by David Coleman, a chief architect of the Common Core State Standards.
  2. Read the news updates from NYSED Race to the Top page. You can subscribe to the news updates via a listserv or RSS feed if you like.

Two hours to watch a presentation? Yes that is a long time to recommend you take, but it is worth it. David Coleman is a key player in the CCSS. He is a compelling speaker, and when you listen to him, he really does bring the standards to life. He gives examples of what the CCSS will do differently and better. He takes time to provide one specific example in ELA (Martin Luther King’s Letter from the Birmingham Jail) and and one in Mathematics (6th grade fractions). He then extrapolates those specific examples to demonstrate how the CCSS promote deeper learning on less topics, which is a different direction than current New York State Standards.

What watching his presentation has done for me is provide a framework for understanding the CCSS, and how they complement, and then improve on, what we already do. He acknowledges that New York does great work already, but that by shifting the focus, and depth, we can do better. He very eloquently describes how all subjects (Science, History, Technical Subjects the Arts, etc.) play a key role in the CCSS. His presentation is very motivational in investigating the CCSS more deeply.

The news updates that come from the NYSED RTTT page are an easy way to keep up with decisions and issues the State is dealing with right now. For example, a memo from John King, Senior Deputy Commissioner for P-12 Education, was released last week. In it he includes the updated time line for implementation of the CCSS, and asks for model lessons from teachers, with guidelines for submission that are correlated to the new standards. Reading this memo alone, and the accompanying documents, shed a lot of light on where the State is at in terms of the RTTT implementation. The time line for implementation is aggressive. NYSED appears to be pushing for all teachers to introduce CCSS lessons next year, and not just grade 4-8 teachers of ELA and Mathematics.

As I read the news updates, I find it prompting me to keep up with what is going on with the state education governing body, the Board of Regents. Each month, the Board meets for 2 days to govern education policy. Each meeting covers an incredible amount of topics with far reaching scope. The meeting this month on May 16th and 17th deal with multiple topics related to the RTTT initiative (also known as the Regents Reform Agenda) and consideration for revising graduation requirements for high school students.

It is hard to feel the impact of actions at NYSED and the Board of Regents in day-to-day work, but what is going on now at the state level is going to be felt directly by everyone in the very near future.


Content Area Focus Digital Citizenship Learning People

Technology Integration in the New NYS Teaching Standards

New York is a winner of the Race to the Top funding initiative sponsored by the federal government. There is a whole host of passionate conversation about what RTTT means for education. I’m going to skip that part of the dialogue for now and focus on what has been going on in New York, and specifically on what has already happened at the state level and the implications for the very near future.

For the past 2 years during the state’s involvement in applying for and winning a RTTT grant, the Board of Regents has actively been implementing parts of what it calls the Regents Reform Agenda (RRA) (sorry for the multiple acronyms – it’s easier to type). The RRA is essentially the plan in place to carry out the items specified in the RTTT application.

One of the components of the RTTT application is an updated performance review process for teachers and administrators. New York had to change its application, which was rejected in the first round, to reflect a more concrete process in which to demonstrate an updated review process. In May of 2010 new law was passed by the legislature – section 103 of the laws of 2010 specifically addresses teacher and principal performance review. The new section of the education law, 3012-c, can be found here.

The law indicates that teachers and principals must be evaluated on a combination of student performance (40%) and personal performance (60%). Regarding the 60% based on personal performance, the law states, “The remaining percent of the evaluations, ratings and effectiveness scores shall be locally developed, consistent with the standards prescribed in the regulations of the commissioner, through negotiations conducted pursuant to article fourteen of the civil service law.” (Section 3012-c(2)(h))

The standards prescribed in the regulations of the commissioner (as mentioned in the law) were just approved by the Board of Regents at the January 2011 meeting. They come in the form of the New York State Teaching Standards. There are seven standards, with underlying elements and performance indicators, that outline the skills necessary for teachers. These standards were designed so rubrics for performance could be developed. The work group putting together the teaching standards stopped short of developing specific rubrics, as there are other groups working on that right now. For a list of FAQs surrounding the development of the standards, click here: Teaching Standards Q&A

Here is the full document with the newly adopted NYS Teaching Standards: New York State Teaching Standards

So in the age of technology and its use in the classroom, where does New York State stand in terms of what teachers should be doing with technology? One of the questions from the Q&A document provides some light:

Q. Is there a separate standard for a teacher’s use of technology?
A. The ability of educators to use a variety of technological tools, techniques, and  skills to inform and enhance teaching, learning, and other aspects of  professional performance is crucial to their effectiveness in today’s learning environment.  Since technology is such a prevalent factor in today’s world and is included in so many aspects of teaching and student learning, a decision was made to infuse technology throughout all of the Standards rather than to isolate it in a single Standard.  Therefore, references to the use of technological resources, knowledge, and skills are found throughout the Teaching Standards ( e.g. Elements I.6;  II.6;  III.4;  III.5; etc. ).

Technology, or technologies, is referenced 11 times within the standards – below are the specific references. Take a look and see what you think. Please note that I am only showing any mention of technology. Some of the items items are elements within standards, and some are performance indicators within elements.

  • Teachers demonstrate knowledge and understanding of technological and information literacy and how they affect student learning.
  • Teachers use technological tools and a variety of communication strategies to engage each student.
  • Teachers incorporate a knowledge and understanding of technology in their lessons to enhance student learning.
  • Teachers explore and use a variety of instructional approaches, resources, and technologies to meet diverse learning needs, engage students, and promote achievement.
  • Teachers incorporate instructional approaches and technologies to provide students with opportunities to demonstrate mastery of learning outcomes.
  • Teachers engage students in the development of multidisciplinary skills, such as communication, collaboration, critical thinking, and use of technology.
  • Students utilize technologies and resources to solve real world problems.
  • Teachers organize and utilize available resources (e.g., physical space, time, people, technology) to create a safe and productive learning environment.
  • Teachers ensure that all students have equitable access to available resources and technologies.
  • Teachers use multiple measures and multiple formats, including available technology, to assess and document student performance.
  • Teachers advocate, model, and manage safe, legal, and ethical use of information and technology, including respect for intellectual property and the appropriate documentation of sources.

I like the fact that technology is not a separate standard, as it needs to be used as a tool. I like the fact that ethical use is specifically mentioned. I like the statement, “students utilize technologies and resources to solve real-world problems.” As a matter of fact, I think every statement included in the standards related to technology is excellent.

I wonder how this is going to play out. Since the annual professional performance review (APPR) is a locally-negotiated item, how will these standards come into play when the review document is created? According to the state, there are a number of pilots underway right now to test various types of rubrics to support the standards. As with any measure of professional performance, the meat and value of the review will come with the details of how the measurement is done.

The new New York State Teaching Standards represents a top-down model for improving teaching and learning, motivated by the Race to the Top initiative. We are going to spend a lot of time transforming current systems to this new model – I hope it’s worth the time and effort.

Content Area Focus Learning

Linking Design Questions, Instructional Strategies and Technology Tools

This coming school year our professional development program is focused on Marzano’s Art & Science of Teaching. Cross-district teams organized by grade or subject area (“Design Teams”) will be meeting to focus on design questions brought up in the book. Over the course of the next 3-4 years we will undergo district-wide conversations around the following design questions:

What will I do to…

  1. …establish and communicate learning goals, track student progress, and celebrate success?
  2. …help students effectively interact with new knowledge?
  3. …help students practice and deepen their understanding of new knowledge?
  4. …help students generate and test hypotheses about new knowledge?
  5. …engage students?
  6. …establish or maintain classroom rules and procedures?
  7. …recognize and acknowledge adherence and lack of adherence to classroom rules and procedures?
  8. …establish and maintain effective relationships with students?
  9. …communicate high expectations for all students?
  10. …develop effective lessons organized into a cohesive unit?

Woven into these questions are  Marzano’s strategies for Classroom Instruction that Works. My role as a design team facilitator is to help link strategies to technology tools that improve learning.

Last year I did an extensive book analysis of Using Technology with Classroom Instruction that Works, where the strategies are analyzed for which types of technology tools can support them. Click here to review the final summary, along with links to individual strategies.

As we move into the design team process, I am thinking more about the link between strategy and tool. I just recently came across a very nice interactive graphic that depicts Marzano’s 9 strategies for classroom instruction that works, from a website titled Curriculum Portal (click the image below to go to the interactive graphic at the site:

We have an extensive toolset to help students learn within the strategies. Here is a sampling of the tools we have:

These tools fall withing the categories of technology as defined in Using Technology with Classroom Instruction that Works:

  • Word processing applications
  • Spreadsheet software
  • Organizing and brainstorming software
  • Multimedia
  • Data collection tools
  • Web resources
  • Communication software

For me the important thing is that questions about learning begin with the need, not the tool. A question that begins with, “How can a (wiki, blog, etc.) help students…” is incorrect in my book. A question that begins with, “How can students deepen their understanding with a (wiki, blog, etc.)…” is more like it.

I’m looking forward to some great conversations!

Content Area Focus Learning

Fear of Google Docs

This fall we will be rolling out Google Apps for Edcuation district-wide. With the snap of a finger, all 12,000 students and staff will have access to Google’s cloud services. OK, so it’s more than the snap of a finger, but with the skillful work of our dedicated IT technicians and developers, it will appear to be a snap for the users, as it should be.

Some of our ELA teachers are planning their writing curriculum for next year, and want to convert to digital journals, RTLs, and more. They are very excited that with Google Docs students can create and collaborate on writing pieces from any computer and share them with each other and the teacher. As they were talking, one teacher said the following (this is a paraphrase):

My fear of using Google Docs is that the students will not be able to handwrite well enough for the assessment at the end of the year.

Ow. Yikes. This is not a case of a technology-fearing teacher (she is totally together w/respect to students & technology). This is a case of the reality of the dichotomy between what we should be doing and what we have to do. At the end of the day (year), students must handwrite essays in those ridiculous, arcane, blue books that have haunted education for a century. These great teachers did not see this issue as a deal-breaker at all, and simply came up with a game plan to have students do enough hand written practice along the way to make sure they are OK for the exam. It’s a shame they even have to consider this issue.

I know that the writing process for me is completely different when I word process compared to handwrite. I could not be a blogger if I had to hand write and scan in my entries. I think totally differently when I type as compared to write. This, combined with the fact that I’m an immigrant to this type of writing, makes me wonder just how bad it is for our natives who type and text all day, and then for a few hours a year are forced to handwrite the things that judge them the most on their progress!

There is a glimmer of hope on the horizon for assessment (if it is in fact possible that assessment is a useful thing). When I took my certification exams for the School Building Leader and School District Leader recently, they were completely computer-based. New York State contracts with Pearson to administer the exams at Pearson testing centers. I was able to sit in a secure, comfortable environment with a good functioning computer and type to my heart’s content (it had better be a secure, comfortable environment with a good functioning computer since each test costs $400…). I remebmer taking a pilot version of the exam which was hand written and it was not a good expereince. The good news about the exams is not only that they are computer-based, but that the essays are human-scored. That is a win-win in my book.

What is the fix for this? Simple – if we have to give assessments, then we have to provide an environment where the students can take them on a computer. Perhaps New York State will have to begin investing in laptops so every student in the state who normally takes a paper exam can do the same thing on a computer. That is a lot of computers, but at the same time, the increased benefit to student success and savings in paper is well worth it.

Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial Images:
Pens on Parade by Abizern
fast fingers by KatieKrueger

Content Area Focus Learning

MUVEs Finally Make Sense in Education

Multi-User Virtual Enrionments (MUVEs) have been around for a number of years. Second Life is by far the most well known. For at least a couple of years I have had a Second Life avatar (Coffee Roffo), and participated in a number of different events “in world”. As hard as I have tried, I have never seen where the effort involved was worth the results. Most of the educational events have been live presentations where a group assembles virtually, and listens to/watches a presentation. Woo-hoo. I have found other virtual meeting spaces such as Elluminate, WebEx, or even good old Skype to be more productive for synchronous meetings/presentations.

Along comes another virutal world environment, River City, a research project from Harvard. In this world, students are given the task to go back in time to determine why the people in the town of River City are sick, and what can be done about it. It is a great scenario in which participants have to use detective skills and lots of science application to figure out what happened. Students in our school participated and enjoyed the experience. The limitation with River City is that once the scenario is done, there is no more to do in the world.

This year we had a 6th grade class participate in another virtual world research project, Quest Atlantis (QA), from Indiana University. QA is a virtual world project in which there are multiple learning opportunities in multiple content areas. For the pilot, this class participated in a mission called Spacenik, where the goal was to determine how to deal with an asteroid that might be on a collision course with Earth. The task involved processing a lot of complex data, making judgements, and recommending to NASA a course of action. I worked the entire scenario as if I were a student, and it was hard. There was a lot of reading, analyzing, and writing to do. In addition to content-specific tasks (missions and quests), there is a whole virtual environment where students can earn credits that represent good character traits, get “jobs” to help other world members, and more.

With Quest Atlantis, suddenly MUVEs make sense. What sets Quest Atlantis apart from the other MUVEs I’ve seen is that is provides multiple true learning scenarios. If Second Life is the whole world, then Quest Atlantis is the school. It is a virtual learning world, and not just a virtual world. It is a focused, high-level place where students are challenged to do some great things.

Quest Atlantis is still an active research project, so it is not open to the general public. If projects like this are the future of MUVEs, then there are some great opportunities to come.

Content Area Focus Learning

The Writing Process

Clear, articulate, concise writing is important for our students. The mind of a middle schooler may often be anything but clear, articulate and concise 🙂 (and that is OK). What strategies can we use to help students acquire and integrate learning of the writing process?

Better Answers is a writing program we are working on here at Heim. It is a structured writing response model that builds on the strategy of cues, questions and advance organizers. The “Better Answer Sandwich” graphic sums it up best (click to enlarge):


Using this organizer, students are directed through the writing process using specific, direct organizational ideas. The program has been used in lower grades in the past, and is now being rolled out across the school.

How might technology support this process?  One way is with a new web resource we are piloting, the Glencoe Online Essay Grader. Teachers can assign essay topics to students, and students complete the essay online. In my first looks at the resource, there are tools that can be provided to students to formulate answers very much like the sandwich model. Additional supports (if desired) for students in this environment are sentence structure advice, spell and grammar check, and sentence diagramming.

Other technology resources to support the writing process include:

  1. Create a template in a word processing document that includes the steps of the Better Answers process. Students download and complete an essay using the steps as a framework.
  2. Use brainstorming and organizing software (such as Inspiration) to have students graphically complete the steps of the process, and then convert the graphic diagram to a word processing document.

Better writing is always a goal, and there are many technology tools to support it.

Content Area Focus Learning

Worksheets and the Internet

Content Tech
Ideas for Technology Use in the Classroom

Using a worksheet to research information on the Internet and fill in the blanks is a popular activity. In its most worksheetfundamental state, this is a form of the strategy cues, questions, and advance organizers. Students use questions on the worksheet to (hopefully) guide them through a website and acquire the necessary information.

When a worksheet is fill-in-the-blank, it tends to be a regurgitation of information found on the web. How might the strategy be more beneficial to the students in order for them to be not only exposed to the information, but begin to acquire, integrate and personalize the knowledge?

A word processing document set up as a KWL chart is one option. Since the students will be using the Internet for the research, using the computer to create the document is easy. Begin with a brief warm-up where students type what they know about the topic. After some sharing, move on to having them type what they want to know. Through the use of questioning, direct students to note any other information they should want to know if they did not come up with the questions on their own. During the investigation process, students look for the information based on their own inquiry, making the process more meaningful. At the end of the lesson, students indicate on the word processing document what they have learned. The entire document can be submitted or posted electronically with ease.

Worksheets structured to use the technology available can help to increase the acquisition of knowledge in many ways. Other thoughts/ideas most welcome!

Image courtesy of christopherl on Flickr

Content Area Focus

Content Tech: Google Lit Trips Followup

Content Tech
Ideas for Technology Use in the Classroom

A few weeks back in Content Tech we looked at Google Lit Trips as unique way to study literature through geography. In Mrs. Calandra’s English 9R class, we used the Lit Trip as part of their study of The Odyssey by Homer. Reading this book can be a daunting task, and the Lit Trip was a great tool to help students’ understanding. The project went very well, and here is what Mrs. Calandra has to say about it…

“The Google Earth Lit Trip was really awesome! Not only was it cool and interesting for the students, it also genuinely increased their comprehension of the text, as evidenced by the very high final test scores. The Odyssey is a challenging piece of literature, both in terms of its language and its content; using the Lit Trip enabled students to understand Odysseus’s journey much better. Overall, benefits of the project included learning to use the technology effectively, better comprehension of the story, and increased understanding of the time period, culture, and geography of that area. I wouldn’t want to teach The Odyssey again without using the Google Earth Lit Trip!”

Each student was assigned a book (in The Odyssey, each chapter is called a book) and the product each created was a placemark in Google Earth which included:

  1. A synopsis of the book
  2. Responses to higher-level questions regarding the book
  3. A picture selected by the student to represent the book (selected from Creative Commons Flickr images through FlicrStorm)

Specific directions for how students accomplished the above are in a wiki page (a link to that page is later in this post). The best way to see the student work is by downloading the .kmz file which contains all of the placemarks they created. You’ll need Google Earth installed on your computer to view this file. Click on the file below, choose to open it with Google Earth, and enjoy their work.

9r-odyssey (click to download file)

Additionally, this was my first time ever reading The Odyssey. I was enjoying the work the students did so much that I took some time to create a movie interpreting their work. The words and pictures in the video are from the students and the audio and sequencing was selected by me. Check it out…

Get the Flash Player to see this content.

So how did we manage the project? Students read 1-2 books per day in class and for homework. I created a wiki page with directions (click here to see that wiki page) and then worked with the first 4 students on creating a placemark. Those students then showed the next group how to do the placemark, and so on. So over the course of 2-3 weeks, the group helped each other create their own version of The Odyssey Lit Trip. Mrs. Calandra began each class with a review of the Lit Trip in Google Earth, and then a presentation of placemarks by students. The final product is a very rich experience that really helped the students understand The Odyssey at a whole new level.

I’m looking forward to embarking on more Lit Trips in the future!

A big hat tip to David Jakes for his workshops that helped push me to bring this project together.

Content Area Focus

Content Tech: Google Search and the Wonder Wheel

Content Tech
Ideas for Technology Use in the Classroom

You may be noticing a Google theme to Content Tech recently…I’ve been attending a BOCES workshop on the multitude of Google tools available, and the list continues to grow.

There is a new search tool recently released titled Wonder Wheel, that provides a visual representation of search results. This can be really helpful for students trying to understand a topic.

Try this…

  • Think of a topic you might ask your students to research
  • Type the search terms into Google
  • When the results come up, directly under the Google logo, click Show options…


  • In the left sidebar, near the bottom, click on Wonder Wheel


Google displays a visual representation of the search terms, with related topics around it. Search results are on the right side. Click a related topic, and the wheel will re-center, with new related topics surrounding it.

(click image to enlarge)


This tool could provide some helpful visual cues as students do their research. Notice that there are some other options for search results in addition to the Wonder Wheel!

Content Area Focus

Content Tech: Google Advanced Image Search

Content Tech
Ideas for Technology Use in the Classroom

Following up on the advanced Google search tip last week, an advanced image search in Google presents some very useful filters. Today we’ll look at one way to do an advanced image search to find copyright-free images.

Items produced by the U.S. Government are free from copyright (since we all pay for the government with taxes, we get to use the stuff 🙂 ). This includes images found on government websites. Students looking for images that are OK to use can do an advanced image search and restrict the results to government websites (sites that end with “.gov”).

To search for images at government websites only:

  1. Go to Google, click on the link for Images, and then click on Advanced Image Search (it’s to the right of the search box)
  2. On the advanced image search page, type in the search terms in the top box
  3. Near the bottom of the search page, in the field that reads “Return images from site or domain,” type .gov (include the dot before gov)
  4. Click on Google Search, and the results you get should only be images from government websites.

Notice in the Advanced Image Search page that there are other filters for searches including type of image (clip art, line drawings, etc.), file types (.jpg, .gif, etc.) and image size. These filters can be a great help in improving image search results.


(click to enlarge)