Just another WordPress.com site

Archive for the ‘Integrated curriculum’ Category

Research Skills Are Part of the Common Core!

Students must become efficient, effective, and ethical researchers

~school, college, career, life~

Common Core Literacy Anchor Standards

Research to Build and Present Knowledge

7. Conduct short as well as more sustained research projects based on focused questions, demonstrating understanding of the subject under investigation.

8. Gather relevant information from multiple print and digital sources, assess the credibility and accuracy of each source, and integrate the information while avoiding plagiarism.

9. Draw evidence from literary or informational texts to support analysis, reflection, and research.

Address these standards (informational literacy) systematically–don’t allow your students to leave your team with a hodge-podge of strategies for locating accurate information quickly:

  • Identify the specific skills students need in order to meet standards.
  • Create a team folder on the school server or a team wiki where all of the materials can be located in a central location so everyone has access.
  • Adapt and add to lessons as needed.  The librarian/media specialist should be the team’s number one resource–bring him or her lots of freshly baked cookies and other goodies.
  • Design a team plan of action for teaching and reinforcing information literacy skills across the curriculum. Set up a calendar and hold one another accountable.

teachers working together1. Identify places in the curriculum that are a natural fit for these skills.

2. Divide these skills up and teach them in the context of units across the curriculum.
3. Remember! Every assignment does not have to include the entire research process.  Some assignments may only include locating resources and evaluating them for reliability, and others may focus on taking notes, paraphrasing, and summarizing.
4. Chunk up research assignments into segments with checkpoints in order to monitor student progress.

Check resources on the web for ideas, lessons, and resources:

Big 6The Big 6: Information and Technology Skills for Student Achievement (http://www.big6.com/ and http://www.big6.com/kids/). These sites are multi-faceted and include some free lessons, descriptions of units where teachers have integrated the Big 6 components, and free resources such as graphic organizers and note taking templates.  This is also a commercial site and offers products and staff development.  They take advantage of social networking tools such as Twitter and Facebook, and also have a RSS feed. This approach has six components in the process:

  • Task Definition
  • Information Seeking Strategies
  • Location and access
  • Use of information
  • Synthesis
  • Evaluation

Noodle Tools (http://www.noodletools.com/) is a subscription site that also offers free tools that are extremely useful. Their free tools include “Choose the Best Search,” a tool to help identify how to use search engines and their features for efficient searching and several resources for becoming an expert in the tricky world of citations.  There are also some interesting resources for teachers including one very valuable one on being an ethical researcher.

ISTE Standards (http://tiny.cc/ISTE144) are published by the International Society for Technology in Education.  These standards are related to the entire world of the integration of technology into education and are worth a close look. The third standard relates directly to research and information fluency:

Students apply digital tools to gather, evaluate, and use information.


  • Plan strategies to guide inquiry.
  • Locate, organize, analyze, evaluate, synthesize, and ethically use information from a variety of sources and media.
  • Evaluate and select information sources and digital tools based on the appropriateness to specific tasks.
  • Process data and report results.

21st Century Information Fluency (http://21cif.com/) This is a commercial site that was originally connected to the Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy. There are free tutorials and wizards that help both the budding and accomplished searcher become even more proficient with information fluency skills.  Many students often feel because they use the internet so much that there is nothing new to learn.  The search challenges on this site will test the skills of each and every student.

University of Maryland University College (http://tiny.cc/Research574) Although this site is designed for older students, it has resources that are useful to teachers.  It is divided into seven modules: Doing Research, Copyright, Using the Library, Call Numbers, Finding Books, Finding Articles, Finding Websites.

One last note…if you really want to your students to internalize the research process so that they can apply it to situations beyond the classroom, allow them to research topics that interest them!

This posting is adapted from Chapter 8 of Teaming Rocks! Collaborate in Powerful Ways to Ensure Student Success — available from AMLE (AMLE.org).


New Twist On Canned Goods Drive!

A sculpture of Pooh Bear made out of canned goods and jars of peanut butter

Pooh Bear

During the recent NELMS conference, the elevated walkway between the Westin Hotel and the Rhode Island Convention Center  was populated with whimsical sculptures of critters, earth moving vehicles, and angry birds. The sculptures, created out of canned goods, were part of a project to support the Rhode Island Community Food Bank.

  Canned goods sculptute of a bulldozer

Teams could adapt this event for their own service learning projects. Often schools have canned food drives.  Why not have each homeroom or each team design sculptures out of the cans they collect and open the exhibit to the community for viewing as part of the plan to build awareness of the issue?  Or, the designs could be part of a project – based unit focusing on a driving question such as What is the long-term impact of hunger and starvation on a society? Part of the exhibition could include information and/or solutions the students have discovered through their research.

Several Common Core anchor standards could certainly be addressed in such a unit:

  • Read closely to determine what the text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it; cite specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions drawn from the text.
  •  Integrate and evaluate content presented in diverse media and formats, including visually and quantitatively, as well as in words.
  • Write arguments to support claims in an analysis of substantive topics or texts, using valid reasoning and relevant and sufficient evidence.
  •  Write informative/explanatory texts to examine and convey complex ideas and information clearly and accurately through the effective selection, organization, and analysis of content.
  • Write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, well-chosen details, and well-structured event sequences.

More importantly, students would be delving into a long-standing and relevant issue that affects every state and country. Think about taking your annual canned food drive to a new level!

  • Help your community
  • Build students understanding of a real-world problem
  • Involve students in seeking long-term solutions

Canned goods sculpture of a lobster in a pot.

Poster of categories in the Rhode Island project

Lewis & Clarke Dine at the White House: Middle School Students Engage In Research

Teachers report  they are being discouraged from doing interdisciplinary units because of the Common Core. That’s just wrong-headed thinking!  Recently.  I was at Eastport – South Manor Junior-Senior High School on Long Island and talked with Ken Hanlon, a social studies teacher.  He shared with me details about an interdisciplinary unit his team developed that focuses on the Lewis and Clarke expedition.  The culminating activity is dinner at the White House with President Thomas Jefferson.  Students assume roles and each brings a guest.  Their charge is to discuss the flora and fauna they discovered along their route to the Pacific as well as to speak in detail about the Native Americans they met. Students use primary source material to do their research. Excerpts similar to the one below are available online:

June 28, 1804
William Clark

(They repair the perogue, clean out the boat, sun their powder and woolens, examine their goods, weigh the specific gravity of the two rivers, speculate on the headwaters of the Kansas, and write about the decline of the Kansas Indians)

… I am told they are a fierce & warlike people, being badly Supplied with fire arms, become easily conquered by the Aiauway & Saukees who are better furnished with those materials of War, This Nation is now out in the Plains hunting the Buffalow…the high lands come to the river Kansas on the upper Side at about a mile, full in views, and a butifull place for a fort, good landing-place, the waters of the Kansas is verry disigreeably tasted to me.


Ken described  the students’ enthusiasm for this project which didn’t surprise me. The unit provides just the right mix of academic rigor with active learning to engage and intrigue young adolescents.

We didn’t talk about the Common Core but as I flew home I reflected on my day and thought about this unit. An interdisciplinary unit such as Ken’s one on Lewis and Clarke provides teams a great opportunity to work together to help students master the Common Core standards.  Immediately these anchor standards came to mind:

Reading primary source material is certainly a way to address Reading for Key Ideas and Details

 Read closely to determine what the text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it; cite specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions drawn from the text.

Determine central ideas or themes of a text and analyze their development; summarize the key supporting details and ideas.

Analyze how and why individuals, events, and ideas develop and interact over the course of a text.


There are multiple opportunities in an interdisciplinary unit to address Integration of Knowledge and Ideas 

Integrate and evaluate content presented in diverse media and formats, including visually and quantitatively, as well as in words.*

Interdisciplinary units usually include research and the development of a product to demonstrate learning.  That work most certainly addresses the standards related to Research to Build and Present Knowledge

 Conduct short as well as more sustained research projects based on focused questions, demonstrating understanding of the subject under investigation.

Gather relevant information from multiple print and digital sources, assess the credibility and accuracy of each source, and integrate the information while avoiding plagiarism.

Draw evidence from literary or informational texts to support analysis, reflection, and research.

Collaborating  to address the complex array of Common Core literacy standards just makes sense. Historically, interdisciplinary units  are known to engage young adolescents at high levels.  When students are involved in positive and meaningful learning experiences, achievement will increase.

My thanks to Ken Hanlon for allowing me to share this idea with my readers.

Middle Level Education Institute–On the Maine Coast!

Flyer for Middle Level Education Institute

Visit Our Website


For All of the Details!


Working on the Common Core –Together!

The vast majority of states have bought into the Common Core State Standards Initiative which means teachers will be expected to address them in their classrooms.  At first glance the CC seems to be just about English/Language Arts and Mathematics. “Phew!” may be what other content teachers are thinking—but not so fast!!!!

The Standards insist that instruction in reading, writing, speaking, listening,
and language be a shared responsibility within the school…The grades
6–12 standards are divided into two sections, one for ELA and the other for
history/social studies, science, and technical subjects. This division reflects the
unique, time-honored place of ELA teachers in developing students’ literacy
skills while at the same time recognizing that teachers in other areas must have a role in this development as well. (CCSS)

Everyone shares the responsibility for the literacy standards of the Common Core.  What a wonderful opportunity to teach in an interdisciplinary manner!   Let me give you an example…

The CC (in literacy) has anchor standards as well as grade level expectations. Two of the anchor standards in writing are

1. Write arguments to support claims in an analysis of substantive topics or texts, using valid reasoning and relevant
and sufficient evidence.
2. Write informative/explanatory texts to examine and convey complex ideas and information clearly and accurately
through the effective selection, organization, and analysis of content.

So…students must learn how to identify and use evidence from different sources other than just their own experiences to back up an argument or conclusion they have drawn, and they have to write clearly.  Look at the language in these anchor standards–relevant and sufficient evidence, convey complex ideas, effective selection, organization, and analysis.

These are not skills the average seventh grader possesses; they are going to need to see lots of models, have opportunities for multiple practices, and receive descriptive feedback on what specific steps they need to take next to work toward mastery.  The science or social studies teacher cannot expect that just asking students to write an piece analyzing data they have collected will produce good results. They need to teach the process of writing such a piece.  That’s where her language arts colleague will be a big help–language arts teachers are all about writing process!

Here’s a scenario that popped into my head after reading a post on Middle Talk by Charlie Lindgren (retired K-12 Science Coordinator from Massachusetts) related to a workshop he attended at Harvard University about teaching with the fossil record. Charlie’s enthusiasm for all things science just billows out from his posts, and I always check out the sites he recommends even though I have a very shallow background in science. This time he posted fascinating photographs of fossils, and I imagined a combined science – language arts mini unit in writing that focused on drawing conclusions, using specific evidence, and writing with clarity.  Here are the steps I envision:

1. Combine the language arts & science classes
2. The science teacher does a Think Aloud describing what she notices about the fossil Compsognathus Solenhofen

  • Picture of fossil of a Compsognathus(?) Solenhofen's head


  • size of the head using the coin as a scale
  • teeth

3. She invites the students to add their observations as she charts the observations.

4, The language arts teacher takes over to model how to take these observations and use them as evidence when responding to the prompt, “What conclusions can you draw from the fossil about this dinosaur’s appearance, behavior, and habitat?”  Using a Google Docs document that will be available for everyone to refer back to, he thinks aloud as he starts to type. His text is projected on the screen with a LCD projector. He stresses using the observations as evidence to back up his conclusions. For example when he writes that it was a carnivore he uses specific information about the size and shape of its teeth.

5. About half way through his writing he invites the students to help him.  They get into a discussion of its probable size based on length of its head.

6. He finishes his think aloud by doing some rearranging of sentences so the organization makes more sense and ends with a spelling and grammar check.

7. The next day the classes meet together again.  This time the students are paired up and asked to make observations about another fossil.

Picture of a Solnhofen Pterosaur fossil

Solnhofen Pterosaur

8. After 10 minutes or so, the pairs share their information with the classes.  Everyone can revise their list of observations as they listen to the report outs.

9. Individually the students respond to a prompt similar to the one their language arts teacher modeled the day before, “What conclusions can you draw about this dinosaur’s appearance, behavior, and habitat from this fossil?”  The students have a rubric for constructed responses they can refer to, and they also have the teacher’s model. They use Google docs so that their teachers can give them descriptive feedback on what is well done and what specific issues need to be addressed.

10. The science and language arts teachers divide up the class lists and each provides descriptive feedback to the students on their writing.

11. The students are given the opportunity to revise and edit and then the teachers assess the finished products using the rubric.  No letter or number grades are given, just the rating from the rubric–still developing, meets the standard, etc. The pieces go into the students’ writing portfolios that have selections from all of their classes.

The science teacher is pleased she was able to address specific content information about the fossil record, provide practice in the skill of observation, and offer direct instruction in writing in science.  The language arts teacher is satisfied because his students practiced using evidence in building a case.  When they do a similar lesson using literature or informational text, he will be able to make connections between finding evidence visually with identifying specific language in text. He is doubly pleased that students are writing in another class besides Language Arts!  The social studies teacher is intrigued.  He recently came across a site called Image Detective and is wondering if he can’t use the same process and rubric as students make inferences about historical events by exploring old photographs.

A picture of the Image Detective website

Image Detective

This scenario is meant only as an exploration of  the possibilities in addressing the Common Core, not as a lesson to be copied as is and implemented. I know that my readers can improve on it a hundred fold.

It is really important to remember that students will need multiple practices in varied contexts if they are to successfully meet these rigorous standards. However,  by working collaboratively, middle grades teachers can ensure their students tame the Common Core.

Charlie Lindgren’s fossil site: http://www.scienceofsand.info/sand/lessons/harvard.htm

Charlie also has a fantastic site on sands of the world: http://www.scienceofsand.info/   Who knew that sand was so varied and interesting!

More About Project-Based Learning!

Many teachers and teams want to know more about incorporating project-based learning (PBL) into their classrooms before they start experimenting with this curriculum approach.  I’ve seen evidence of this trend in the blog–an earlier posting on PBL has received many, many hits.  It’s time to share some more resources beyond the great ones at Edutopia from the January post.

1. The YouTube video below offers a visual explanation of project-based learning.  It was produced by BIE, an organization that advocates for PBL.

2, BIE’s website offers some tools and a blog that might be useful to an individual team member or the entire team when they are collaborating  on a PBL interdisciplinary unit.

3, Another website to check out is Project Based Learning.  This site offers a variety of resources including some strategies for getting started and online courses.

4, Project Foundry is an online management system for project-based learning.  Needless to say it is not free, but they do have a free 14 day trial–just enough time to get a feel for how it works.  The video below was created to help educators visualize just how Project Foundry’s management system helps both students and teachers write challenging projects and then manage them.

5. 4Teachers.org has PBL checklists that you can customize.  They can be created in either English or Español!

6. Webquests are online project-based units. They are collaborative in nature and provide scenarios for the students to explore. At Webquest.org there is a collection of units ready to use or to be adapted.  They have been created by classroom teachers and vetted for quality.  It’s possible to search their matrix in the QuestGarden by grade level and topic. Here’s a quick look at just a couple of possibilities:

a screen shot of webquests available at Webquest.org

Screen Shot of 6-8 Social Studies Matrix at Webquest.org

Become a Team That Teaches Effectively With Project-Based Learning

“In this study, Wieman trained a postdoc, Louis Deslauriers, and a graduate student, Ellen Schelew, in an educational approach, called “deliberate practice,” that asks students to think like scientists and puzzle out problems during class. For 1 week, Deslauriers and Schelew took over one section of an introductory physics course for engineering majors, which met three times for 1 hour. A tenured physics professor continued to teach another large section using the standard lecture format.

The results were dramatic: After the intervention, the students in the deliberate practice section did more than twice as well on a 12-question multiple-choice test of the material as did those in the control section. They were also more engaged—attendance rose by 20% in the experimental section, according to one measure of interest—and a post-study survey found that nearly all said they would have liked the entire 15-week course to have been taught in the more interactive manner.”

Source: Bright Futures: A Blog for Middle Level Education

So when teachers say to me, “Oh, you don’t understand high-stakes testing—I just can’t do that right now,” I say, “Oh, yes you can.” It’s not about ignoring the testing, the core curriculum, or the standards. It’s about allowing them to pick an entry point they’re really excited about…. When I was leading a small school in Georgia where we used this teaching approach, our students had to perform well on the state accountability tests if we wanted to remain open. So we would devote three weeks or so before the test to look at what we were learning through more of a multiple-choice, facts-based kind of lens. Our kids did great on the tests and then we got back to the kind of teaching and learning we all loved.

Many middle grades teams are intrigued with problem-based, project-based or challenge learning because they believe students will have to think more deeply and thus will develop critical and creative thinking skills more fully.  They also suspect that students are internalizing the content knowledge and skills, but they are afraid to transform their units into this type of engaging and rigorous curriculum and instructional approach for  fear standardized test scores might go down.  These days in too many states lower test scores mean bad evaluations for teachers and possible dismissal.  So despite both widespread anecdotal evidence and long term research results, many schools are unwilling to address student disengagement, poor attendance, and lack-luster achievement through the revision of their curriculum and instructional methods that invite active student participation and original thinking.

Should your team be willing to explore PBL but are unsure how to proceed, you will find many resources online to guide your work. In an earlier post I mentioned videos and the  How-To Guide on Edutopia. Another really good approach is the Critical Skills Classroom Program from Antioch University-New England. There is a training involved with this program, but you can read an overview of the methodology  on their website and access a bank of challenges created by classroom teachers–loads of great ideas here with supporting documentation including assessment tools.

I participated in a training many years ago and still rely on many of the strategies I learned.  What I especially found helpful was their three tier approach to introducing PBL to the classroom. There are three different tiers of challenges; each  becomes more complex and more authentic.  A teacher would probably get his/her feet wet with PBL by beginning with an academic challenge.  Here’s a brief overview:

1. Academic challenges

  • students have a problem to solve
  • problem comes from the unit under study
  • the purpose is for students to more fully understand the concepts involved
  • there is a public product
  • an example: create a website that explains the water cycle so that 2nd or 3rd graders can understand it

2. Scenario challenges

  • students have a problem to solve which replicates an authentic issue from the field of study
  • students assume roles that exist(ed) in real life–past, present, or future
  • students stay in the role as they research and problem solve
  • purpose: students delve deeply into content and learn how it connects to authentic issues
  • students present their solution to an audience, often including folks from beyond the classroom
  • an example: You are President Lincoln’s Cabinet and you need to make recommendations to him about slavery in the conquered areas of the Confederacy

3. Real-life challenges

  • students are given a real problem that needs a solution
  • students will need to go beyond the classroom
  • students hope to have an impact on their community
  • purpose: while working on a relevant and authentic issue, students learn through active inquiry
  • students have to present their solution/ideas to an authentic audience–school board, town council, local Congress person, etc.
  • an example: the young people in the community would really like a skate park–the challenge is to draw up a proposal (costs, design, etc.) and present it to the town selectmen

There are schools all over the country using PBL.  They may not label their curriculum as such, but it is.  I did a workshop at the Detroit Service Learning Academy and learned about one of their projects.  Many of their students suffer from asthma and the harsh institutional cleaning products used at the school exacerbated their health issues.  Students worked with local scientists to develop new products that would not make breathing problems worse. Think about the reading, math, and science skills and content the students had to master in order to solve this problem!

Other online resources to check out:

One last thought–what if PBL was used with school faculties to solve school issues?

Tag Cloud

%d bloggers like this: