Why is Math Taught Differently Now?

What is “new math” or Common Core math? One example is this “new math” check floating around the internet. Do you know how much is it written for?


According to an article by Hemant Mehta, the check writer (Doug Herrmann) didn’t actually understand what he was talking about so it’s for two different amounts. In the box where you write the amount, the ten-frame is wrong—it’s written as an non-existent eight-frame. However, if some logic is applied, the amount is $8.43. The line where you write out the amount in nice cursive? It’s written with a correct ten-frame box—$10.43. By the way, Mehta assumes the system of 0’s/circles and X’s is $0.43. He’s not really sure since the system appears to be Herrmann’s own creation. I assume it’s based off separate method for illustrating/explaining math.

Don’t understand ten-frames? I highly recommend reading Mehta’s article, The Dad Who Wrote a Check Using “Common Core” Math Doesn’t Know What He’s Talking About. Mehta explains what a ten-frame is, as well as how to use it. He also reinforces that Common Core is a set of standards, not a curriculum .Article Bonus: Mehta compares new math to Food Network’s Chopped.

So, why is math taught differently now? You need your brain to think, not to compute. That’s what the device(s) you carry around all day are for! “New math” or “common core math” teaches students multiple methods and the reasoning behind it before getting to shortcuts. Plus, you use it every day to make change (if you still use cash!)

Want a more visual explanation? Dr. Raj Shah explains why there has been a shift in mathematics education.

Why is Math Different Now from raj shah on Vimeo.

Dr. Raj Shah explains why math is taught differently than it was in the past and helps address parents’ misconceptions about the “new math”.

Dr. Shah is the owner and founder of Math Plus Academy (www.mathplusacademy.com) an academic enrichment program with two locations in Columbus, Ohio. Math Plus Academy offers class in math, robotics, programming and chess for kids from KG to 9th grade. Math Plus Academy is on a mission to show kids the joy of mathematics and science.

Guest Post: What Grade Level Is The Best To Start Teaching Keyboarding Skills?

Guest Post by: Chassie Lee

How old were you when you first started to touch type? Today 3-year-olds are fully familiar with touch-based sensory stimuli. They know that their fingers can make a screen change color, start playing music, or launch their favorite app game.

Keyboarding skills are an essential technological skill children must master early in life. Just how early, though? As education becomes decidedly more technology-driven, from accessing educational software on the cloud to delivering MOOCs where thousands of students attend lectures, education is currently undergoing a massive facelift.

Keyboarding skills are essential mainly because they’re now an indispensable part of education. Students are required to take tests on computers or online, and they need to complete assignments and carry out research on the web, all of which needs basic to advanced touch typing skills. The more competent a typist is, the more time they save and the more accurate the result.

Therefore, if we are looking for the response to the question “at what age should formal keyboarding skills be taught?” it’s obvious that the answer is “as soon as possible.” In terms of resources and student cognitive capacity, that would roughly translate to students in 1st or 2nd grade. During Common Core tests in Sioux Falls, it was revealed that third graders lack the keyboarding skills necessary to efficiently complete their tests.

The essay questions the third graders were expected to answer by typing them out caused difficulties for the students, not because of lack of knowledge, but because of their lack of the necessary typing efficiency. If schools are to expect students to touch type exam answers they need to offer them the tools and skills to do so.

1st and 2nd grade students can familiarize themselves with touch typing basics so that they can have an acceptably efficient typing record that will allow them to participate in Common Core tests. Some schools do favor touch typing skills and have already phased out cursive learning in order for children to learn keyboarding.

Damaging presumptions

Even though technological literacy is now part and parcel of primary school curriculum, there are still many teachers who assume that students already know how to touch type, and so devote their IT class time on other modules.

However, keyboarding requires practice and guidance to fully master. When it comes to typing accuracy and technique, without a formal tutor or the help of touch typing software the student cannot achieve their full typing potential.

Touch typing has several different components that must be mastered before a student can call themselves a proficient typist. Children need to be taught the art and science of keyboarding early on, ideally around the 1st or 2nd grade, to ensure they can easily complete assignments and tests on computers

Even if your child’s school overlooks touch typing in favor of other IT skills, you can always make use of online free touch typing resources to help your child become a better typist. From typing games and apps to online videos and ebooks, there are quality resources online to help students master the art of keyboarding.

About the Author: Chassie Lee is the Content Expert for eReflect – creator of Ultimate Typing EDU which is currently being used by tens of thousands of happy customers in over 110 countries.

Flocabulary: Educational Hip-Hop

Getting students to writing poetry in class is torturous.  Most students don’t seem like to poetry…except for the fact that frequently it is shorter than prose.

But song lyrics!  Students LOVE music.  I can’t seem to get them to get those ear buds out of their ears.  Poetry and song lyrics are rather similar in terms of objectives teachers seek to have students learn and practice, but the latter is a much more desirable medium.

Flocabuary is a website that “presents academic content in a highly-engaging, contemporary format.”  It has hip hop songs about language arts, vocabulary, social studies, science, and math.  Videos are tailored for students of all grades, from kindergarten through twelfth grade.  All videos come with downloadable PDFs of the song lyrics.  Lyrics also appear on the video website page (no downloading required).

Want to ask students challenging questions without spending hours of your own time watching and re-watching the video to write them?  Flocabulary already has several questions written for class discussion.  Content great for classrooms because it is aligned with the Common Core, especially with English/Language Arts and math.

It is a paid service, for the most part.  There are pricing plans for classrooms, schools, districts, home, after school, and virtual school.  Some content is available for purchase on CDs and DVDs.  However, there are a few videos available for free.  There is also a free trial available for 14 days.

Bonus: the website has a “classroom view” which turns off ads and distracting navigation menus.

I used the Pit and the Pendulum rap as a lead-in for students to write song lyrics about several of the Edgar Allan Poe stories we had been reading.  I was looking for a way for students to utilize several literary terms in a way that was more appealing than poetry.  It was definitely a hit!  Students took to the challenge by making spoofs of popular songs, adding more literary terms and length than I required, and surprising me with their creativity.

“Fact-checking attacks on Common Core school standards”

This article was written by Cara Fitzpatrick, Amy Sherman, Jeffrey S. Solochek and originally published on Monday, October 21st, 2013 at 6:01 a.m. on PolitiFact.

It seems many people know about what Common Core is and isn’t. However, many people have not actually explored some of these claims, simply reiterated something they heard, adding their own two cents or interpretation. Unfortunately, this has led to a game of telephone.

As states surge toward full implementation of Common Core State Standards for public schools, the din is rising from some fronts to pull back.

In Florida, Gov. Rick Scott, whose tea party base offers perhaps the most strident opposition, is listening. In open forums Scott requested last week, people stepped forward to give their views. Criticism ranged from what’s taught in English class all the way to conspiracy theories involving iris scans.

PolitiFact Florida reviewed comments from the hearings and found that several of the most dramatic criticisms aren’t backed up by the facts. Here is a brief review of some of their findings. (See individual reports for more details.)

Common Core refers to a set of national education standards adopted by 45 states, including Florida. They came out of years of discussion between private nonprofit groups and state education departments.

The goal: to better prepare students for college and careers and ensure that students in different states learn the same academic concepts.

The Obama administration has used its education grant process, Race to the Top, to encourage states to use the new standards, but no state is required to adhere to Common Core.


One frequent complaint at the hearings is that teachers were not involved in developing the standards.

The Common Core State Standards Initiative, the official group that organizes the standards, says that’s not the case.

We wanted more evidence, so we talked to teachers who actually participated in the process.

Becky Pittard, a Volusia County elementary math teacher, served on a team that developed math standards. She said she was puzzled by any suggestion that teachers were left out.

“I can tell you the equal sign standard is there because I insisted,” she said, referring to a first-grade guideline on understanding the meaning of the symbol. “There was impact.”

Many states assembled teams of teachers to review the new standards, including Florida. Deputy chancellor Mary Jane Tappen sent an email to selected teachers in November 2009 expressly for that purpose.

“You are receiving this email because you are a trusted and respected expert in your field,” Tappen wrote. “Florida must provide input on this very first drafty draft of the Common Core National Standards by December 4. … I will be collecting and compiling all our work into one Florida response.”

PolitiFact Florida rated the claim that teachers weren’t involved in creating the standards as False.


Another claim: Common Core standards will dramatically increase the amount of personal information the federal government collects.

“There are over 300 data elements the government is going to be collecting about your children and about you,” Tim Curtis, an activist with the tea party group 9/12, said in Tampa.

His claim has a kernel of truth: Florida requires school districts to keep student information. Some of it is required by the state, while other elements are optional, or only kept at the local level, such as bus stop numbers. The list includes students’ race, test scores, attendance and many more factors.

But those requirements have existed for decades — long before Common Core came along. States collect the data to help them make decisions.

The U.S. Department of Education has routine access to some data, but that data is aggregated and stripped of personally identifiable information.

In fact, laws predating Common Core prohibit a federal database of personally identifiable information on students.

“Florida has no plans to change the data it collects that is linked to Common Core,” said Florida Department of Education spokeswoman Cheryl Etters.

We told Curtis that multiple educational experts said Common Core doesn’t require new data collection.

“I can shoot that claim down with a single explanation,” Curtis said. “The Polk County school district began to do iris screening on school children and they did so without notifying their parents. They did so as a result of the beginning of the implementation of Common Core.”

According to the Florida Department of Education, the screening was intended to route children onto the proper bus and wasn’t related to Common Core.

We rated the claim that Common Core means 300 points of data being collected as Mostly False.


Another criticism of Common Core is that it will reduce the reading of fiction and literature.

“Common Core expects English teachers to spend at least half of their reading instructional time at every grade level on informational texts,” said Sandra Stotsky, an education professor at the University of Arkansas and staunch critic of the Common Core. Stotsky didn’t respond to a request for comment.

Common Core standards do emphasize informational texts, particularly in history, social studies, science, and other technical subjects.

And news reports suggest that English teachers are using more informational texts in their classrooms as they move to the Common Core. An Oct. 15 story in The Hechinger Report found one teacher replaced the novel The Great Gatsby, with a memoir, The Glass Castle.

However, the idea that English teachers must spend half their time on informational texts misreads the standards.

Common Core follows a framework that spells out percentages of literary versus informational texts by grade level. It calls for a 50 percent/50 percent split in grade four, with an increasing emphasis on informational texts in later grades. In grade 12, the split is 30 percent/70 percent.

But those percentages are meant to reflect the sum of student reading, not just in English.

To meet the 30 percent threshold for literary reading at grade 12, an English teacher would have to focus on stories, novels and plays, said Timothy Shanahan, a retired education professor and a member of the English Language Arts Work Team for the Common Core State Standards Initiative.

PolitiFact Florida rated the claim that English teachers must spend half their time on informational texts as False.


One of the most dramatic claims we found against Common Core came from published materials from the Florida Stop Common Core Coalition. The standards aim “to instill federally determined attitudes and mindsets in students including political and religious beliefs,” states a report on the group’s website.

We found nothing in the standards that suggested any level of government was telling students what political or religious beliefs they should personally hold.

So what evidence do the critics have for saying the Common Core will instill political and religious beliefs?

The coalition’s report zeroes in on lists of hundreds of data elements a school district might keep on its students. The report linked to a screen grab it created of data elements from the National Education Data Model.

The list shown includes “voting status” and “religious consideration” and “religious affiliation.”

But this is not a required list of data for all states or school districts to collect.

So why are the fields on voting and religion even there?

We interviewed Alexander Jackl, chief architect of Choice Solutions, Inc., an education data software company. He’s also one of the original authors of the National Education Data Model.

The data fields are all optional, and the fields for religion are useful for private, religious schools, he said.

We contacted several Florida school districts to ask if they collect data on voting status, political affiliation or religious affiliations, or if they plan to start doing that with Common Core. They all said no.

The Florida Department of Education does not require school districts to ask about those subjects and has no plan to do so under Common Core, Etters said.

So the evidence — a computer model that has a data field for voting status or religion, typically used by a private school — is a far cry from the federal government attempting to instill particular religious or political beliefs. We rate this Pants on Fire!

The Intricacies of the Common Core

The origin of the Common Core State Standards as well as who produces the assessments, who handles the data, and the true motivation behind their implementation is rather foggy. It is rather intricate and not altruistic.

After viewing the video, I am struck by the intricacies of the Common Core and that seeing this entire web actually made a lot of sense. I am not surprised there are a lot of hands in the “Common Core pot”. It is complicated and I am no fool to think only one company was responsible for it all.

The Bigger Picture: It seems to me that there is so much dissonance in the United States government and country because we refuse to negotiate. Congressmen (and Congresswoman) must win, and if the person someone is speaking to will not support them, then they will find someone who will for a better price. In order to hide the fact that altruism is dead, an intricate web of puzzle pieces is created so that each piece can claim altruistic motives, and the web is too complicated for the average person to understand and/or untangle.

“Indoctrination in Common Core ELA textbooks”

A few weeks ago I saw a video on Facebook titled “Indoctrination in Common Core ELA textbooks”.  It was posted on June 15 by Aliēnātus: the truth is out there.  The goal was to open people’s minds to what was in the Common Core curriculum and that the curriculum is horrible because it “indoctrinates” students starting in the 1st grade.  According to the commentators in the video, the book(s) shown have been approved by the state of Utah.

I was outraged, but not by the curriculum, rather by the ignorance of the commentators in the video and by the comments on the video.  It still outrages me, thus, I have decided to embedded the video and share my thoughts.

My Issues with Statements Made in This Video

The commentators have no authority on the subject matter.  The commentators who are evaluating the curriculum have no stated background in teaching, curriculum planning/design, or education.  One commentator claims he has a 6-year-old (1st grader).  This does NOT make him an expert on what is taught or should be taught but isn’t being taught in the 1st grade.  It is apparent that he has not seen the entire K-12 system as a whole, its successes and its failures, from the standpoint of an educator.  He is a parent.  He may be an expert on the interests of his child, but that does not translate into the expertise of the educational goals for that grade.

The commentators’ narrow focus on the title, “Literature and Writing” ignores the benefits of working with content in different contexts.  Since the commentators are not well-versed in educational issues, they do not understand that one of the major problems of the American school system is that we pulled apart our content and put each one into different boxes called grade level and subject matter from which we were told to never deviate into another subject or grade level.  In other words, the 1st grade English teacher taught 1st grade English, which included reading, spelling, writing, and literature.  Students were not taught reading in 2nd grade science class because “that’s the 1st grade English teacher’s job.”  We now know this chunking to be very problematic and the term “cross-curricular” has entered the educational vocabulary.  Encouraging students to write about advocacy in a “literature and writing” class highlights that you don’t just write papers in an English class and talk about society in social studies, you can mix them!

It’s also important to note that writing is not just about the motor skills of writing letters and sentence structure.  Why should we waste students’ precious time writing about insignificant things like, “The sky is blue.  I like puppies,” when they are capable of so much more?  Many students have already grasped these basic verbal concepts by the 1st grade, thus, we are wasting their time by re-teaching the same concept with only adding the motor skill of writing.  We end up hindering the grow of their mental skills; and when their brain isn’t stimulated, students get bored, which can directly lead to learning, “nothing” all day and hating school.

The commentators project their adult understanding and definition of “advocacy” and cannot fathom that a 6-year-old can advocate for anything.  The concept of “advocacy” can be complicated or boiled down to a very simple basic element: standing up for what you think is right.  Isn’t that the exact same message behind the anti-bullying campaigns in elementary schools right now?  The commentators laugh and one says sarcastically, “Yeah, my six-year-old does that all the time.  She looks at what is wrong in the world and says how do I organize my people and my community to fix these social problems?”  By six years old, kids are able to identify things that are right and wrong as well as come up with ideas on how to change the status quo.  Why tell a six-year-old, “no, you’re only six, you have nothing positive to contribute to your family/house, neighborhood, your school, or your city”?  We’re not talking about six-year-olds organizing and starting a national revolution, but they can see that there are people who are starving and that creating a community garden and donating the food to a local food bank can help.  It’s also fathomable that 1st graders could organize a school-wide blanket drive to donate blankets to the American Red Cross for the upcoming winter.

The commentators ignore the intended audience of the curriculum guidebook that they mock.  The guidebook is written for a college-educated educator.  The voice and style of the paragraphs is written such that it will not be an insult to the intelligence of an elementary school teacher.  The educator is able to translate the broad concept of “call to action” into simpler words that each individual student will understand.  The concept of “call to action” really isn’t difficult to understand at all.  A six-year old definitely understands, “the sentence that says ‘I want you to clean your room.’ is a call to action because ‘clean’ is a verb, and a verb is an action, right?”  Why are we insulting the intelligence of six-year-olds?  If they are capable of understanding the concept, willing to learn it, and desiring more out of their education, then we should be teaching them.  It is the role of an educated, effective teacher to translate concepts from complex to simple.  Teacher guidebooks are written for the teacher, not the student.

The commentators have ignored the basic principles of persuasion: logos, ethos, and pathos.  Logos ethos, and pathos are Greek words that used to describe the three types of appeal that are used to convince people in an argument.  They are essentially logical appeal, credibility appeal, and emotional appeal.  These are very complex subjects that are repeatedly studied throughout middle school, high school, and college.  However, the commentators do not understand that the fundamental understanding of these complex concepts must begin early.  Since the commentators do not seem to have an education background, they have not experienced the problems that occur later when this ground work is not laid.  An effective elementary teacher is able to teach a very basic understanding of these concepts.

The commentators have ignored the value of recognizing how someone is manipulating you in favor of focusing on the fact that we are equipping 1st graders with tools to manipulate.  A six-year-old has already experienced manipulation using all three types of appeal: in video and/or print advertisements, in overhearing an argument between their parents or other adults, or by engaging in an argument themselves.  It is imperative that students begin to understand how peer pressure works (usually a combination of all three, but typically lots of logical and emotional appeal) and how to avoid failing prey to it.

The commentators take issue with the example of arguing with their parents.  My gut instinct is that the reason parents were chosen is that they were looking for an authority figure that a child may feel comfortable arguing with, and it’s pretty safe to assume that each child has at least one parent (or guardian).  But I think the bigger problem is if you are worried that we are teaching six-year-olds how to argue back to their parents instead of simply obeying and doing as their told without incident…perhaps you need to re-evaluate your parenting style.  I mean..if you can be outsmarted or outargued by a six-year-old…then you probably have not taught your kids WHY you want them to do something, which is just as important as the WHAT.  Why don’t we want to equip our children as early as we can with the weapon of words instead of the weapon of fists?  Why do we want to enforce blind obedience, but then wonder why kids aren’t thinking for themselves?

The commentators fall victim to the exact “problems” they criticize in the teacher’s guidebook.  The commentators emphasize and pause on certain words to elicit an emotional response from the viewer.  They are trying to convince the viewers that this guidebook is indoctrinating students by using their “authority” as a parent of a six year old, emphasizing emotional words, and trying to insert sarcastic commentary as part of their emotional appeal.  The end goal of this video was not to objectively review the Common Core approved, curriculum guidebook for 1st grade in the state of Utah, but it was to stir up emotions and fuel rage-filled comments.

Broadening Reading Horizons

I have a young tutoring student this summer who devours books above her reading level at speeds even I struggle to maintain.  It was quickly apparent that one of our goals, a reading workbook, was far too easy, despite it being for the grade she will be in this fall.

I realized I needed to approach reading exploration from another angle.  I did not want to give her long books in tiny print that may be at her reading level but have content that may not be suited for an elementary mind.

I came up with a project that I titled “Broaden Your Horizons” that still allowed her choose books that interested her, pulled in some interests of the Common Core standards, challenged her a bit, and were appropriate for her age.  I wrote a list of criteria that any book choice needs to adhere to one or more of the criteria.  Here’s the list:

  • 2 general fiction novels
  • 1 graphic novel
  • 2 non-fiction books — 1 biography & 1 true story (“based on a true story” ok)
  • 1 anthology
  • 1 book you think might be a little too hard
  • 1 book from the Choose Your Own Adventure series
  • 1 book from the Best American Series (any year, any type—short stories, essays, science and nature writing, nonrequired reading, sports writing, magazine writing, science writing, mystery stories, travel writing, etc.)
  • 1 book from the Myth-O-Mania series
  • 1 book from the Dear America series
  • 1 book you don’t think you’d like but seems like a book you might like
  • 1 book where there is a movie version—must watch the movie after reading the book and write 2-3 paragraphs about the similarities and differences between the two.

I had no problem explaining what an “anthology” was or why I picked these criteria.  We discussed the list to make sure she was comfortable with the list.  I told her books could count in more than one category, so for instance one of the books in a series could be a book she doesn’t think she’d like but it seems like she might.  I also gave her a list of questions to pick from and write a couple of sentences each day she reads in a reading journal.  I want her to think about the text, but not write a paper.

Here’s the part that stunned me: she had never heard of Choose Your Own Adventure books.  I only had 2 left from childhood because I had so many of them my mom said, “choose two to keep and the rest we’ll donate to other kids to read”.  My tutoring student loves playing Minecraft and other non-linear video games and had no idea that there was a book, let alone a series, that functioned in a non-linear form.  I had Hyperspace and Journey to the Year 3000 that I told her she could borrow.  She asked if she could practice reading aloud and start reading in tutoring instead of waiting until later.  Of course I said yes!

I specifically chose the Choose Your Own Adventure series to have her read a non-linear book.  I was taken aback by her excitement for the non-linear format.  She was able to interact with a book…something she knew to be linear and unchanging.  It was just like a video game…with words.

The entire point of my project idea was to show her different formats for content: a diary format, a non-linear format, and graphic novel format (which are different from comic books), as well as broaden her reading horizons to realize there are other types of books besides textbooks and fiction/”chapter books”.  I succeeded on my first day of the project and I cannot wait to see her broaden her reading horizons.

Which series was your favorite as a child?

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Wikipedia: How to Use It in the Classroom

You really should use Wikipedia in the classroom.


Wikipedia should not be the website version of “he who shall not be named”.  It is widely known that telling someone not to do something only fuels the desire to want to do the “forbidden” behavior.  So, if we don’t want students to use Wikipedia for research because it is inaccurate, we cannot simply tell students to stay away.  We have to show them.  We have to have them do something with Wikipedia for them to realize its potential and its weaknesses.

There are several ways teachers can show students the strengths and weaknesses of Wikipedia.  The first is a scavenger hunt.  It may take some time to develop the worksheet of inaccuracies; however, it will teach students lessons about Wikipedia far quicker than you can telling them.  You can find which pages have inaccuracies by asking Twitter followers, Googling “inaccuracy examples of Wikipedia” or something similar, or by the old-fashioned reading and checking.

The first part of the hunt should have students working (individually) searching Wikipedia for the answers to questions (but they don’t know the answers are inaccurate yet!).  The next day, after collecting the Wikipedia worksheet, hand out another worksheet with the same questions, only the students cannot use Wikipedia; they must find another source.  You can give them a list of specific main sites to pick from to ensure accuracy.  The next day, pass back the Wikipedia worksheet and discuss why/how come there are differences.  A variation on this scavenger hunt could require students to search an obscure topic in which the Wikipedia page and its references are the jumping off point for the questions.

Other ideas come from an article, “How To: Use Wikipedia in the Classroom Responsibly” by Adam Heckler (@adamvartek) on Fractus Learning; it was published on May 13, 2013.

  1. Learn the Rules
  2. Create an Assignment
  3. Choose an Article
  4. Edit, Edit, and Edit
  5. Evaluate Student Work

Learn the Rules – Despite what you make think, Wikipedia isn’t a free-for-all.  They have rules, listed on their Key Policies and Guidelines page.  Heckler sums them up:

  • Free content: All content submitted to Wikipedia must be original, since it will become part of the commons. Copying and pasting from other sources is a no-no.
  • Reliable sources: Third-party sources are required for all claims. They need to have a sturdy reputation for fact-checking and accuracy (e.g., academic journals).
  • NPOV: Short for neutral point of view, this means that all articles should be written without bias. Argumentative stances and outright advocacy are not allowed.
  • Good faith: Respect your fellow editors, and assume they’re acting in good faith. That is, avoid accusing others of deliberate malice just because you disagree.
  • Notability: When deciding whether or not to write about a certain topic, Wikipedia generally considers an article justified if the topic has been covered by a third-party.

Create an Assignment – Since Wikipedia is “riddled with mistakes”  and pretty much anyone can edit a Wikipedia entry…why not teach students how to use a wiki by copy-editing inaccurate Wikipedia entries rather than creating some fictitious wiki that will be abandoned after the class finishes?  Working on an assignment for Wikipedia is an obvious, real-world connection students can see and do right now.  They are contributing to finding accurate information, deleting inaccurate information, adding to the wealth of common knowledge, and can pick any topic they find interesting.  Teachers can even have students present their edited entries to the class to practice speaking and listening skills as well.

Have a student who is bilingual, trilingual, or multilingual?  Awesome!  There are an abundance of articles that need to be translated.  Wikipedia has a list of articles that need to be translated from a foreign language to English and a list of articles that have been translated…but not very well and need some cleaning up.  Have students who can’t seem to put their phone down because they are taking pictures and video for their Instagram or Vines?  There are many articles that need media created.  Give them a photo or video assignment.

If you need direction on which articles to pick, Wikipedia has lists of articles that need photos, need videos, and need copy editing.  Don’t forget Wikipedia has a guide to assist students with the copy editing process.

Okay–so once you’ve narrowed down your topic or focus, how do you pick a “good article” to edit?  Heckler has some great pointers:

  • Start with “stub” articles. Stubs are articles that are too short to be fully encyclopedic. You can find a list of them at this link. There are thousands of stubs, so your students should have no problem finding something to improve.
  • Progress to start-class articles. These articles are little more than stubs, but could also use a significant amount of work.
  • Try finding subjects that students know a lot about but that don’t have lengthy articles on Wikipedia yet. This helps them create new pages at length.

What to avoid:

  • Editing articles that are rated as “Featured” or another higher rating class. These kinds of pages are more difficult to improve effectively for inexperienced editors.
  • Editing articles on controversial subjects. Just use common sense!
  • Creating articles on topics not often covered by third-party literature.

Type of Writing – Make sure to remind students that Wikipedia entries are factual and unbiased.  They may be tempted or default to writing persuasively, so it is important to let them work on their own, but help point out something that is too persuasive.

Evaluate – There are a multitude of evaluation methods that can be used.  My favorite is having a rubric in which I can circle the grade (not just 1-5, but explanations of what 1-5 mean and the differences between each number) to assist in a quick evaluation during a short presentation to the class [read more about rubrics].  The presentation would include displaying the final product, the process/methods the student used, areas of issues/problems/trouble, areas of “genius moments” and a reflective statement on what the student would do differently next time.  The student would also hand in a 1-2 page reflection essay with this information written down so I can review it later when I have more time.

Wikipedia has several great uses in the classroom.  It may not be the end-all-be-all for research because of the high probability of incorrect information; however, Wikipedia can only get better with more edits, more media, and more translations.  It seems silly to have students create a class wiki about nothing that will be discarded after the end of the term.  From what I’ve read so far, the Common Core desires real-life connections, solving real-world issues, focusing on speaking and learning, writing informative text, and reading more non-fiction texts.  Using Wikipedia in the classroom, checks all those boxes.

“Inquiry Learning vs. Standardized Content: Can They Coexist?”

On my lunch break today, which was sandwiched somewhere in between covering for various teachers who were attending Individual Education Plan (IEP) meetings, I read an article through my Flipboard on MindShift by Thom Markham titled, “Inquiry Learning vs. Standardized Content: Can They Coexist?”

The short answer to the headlining question? Yes.  My only question?  Why is this even being debated?

Ok..stay with me, here…Let me explain why I don’t see a reason for debate.  My complete sentence answer is, “They not only can they coexist, but they must coexist.”  And I really think most teachers and parents would agree with the statement if we set the record straight on some terminology.

First, the words “standards” and ” formulaic” are NOT interchangeable.  I frequently here “standards” and Common Core being described as formulaic restrictions that will suffocate learning.  Standards are not prescriptive.  They do not tell the teacher to teach commas on Monday and prepositions on Tuesday.  They are the common foundation in which a teacher can build anything upon.  Standards are “the basics”.

Why do we need standards?  There needs to be a common foundation for teachers, other students, parents, and students to know what is minimally expected for them to know.  There should be some content standards.  For instance, by the end of the 1st grade a student in America should know the significance of the year 1776 to the United States of America.  Another reason: certain facts do not need to be cited in a paper because they are considered to be “common knowledge”.  This “common knowledge” should be defined somewhere.

There are various reasons basic content standards should be outlined.  It gives parents, educators, and tutors who teach privately (“homeschool”) to ensure the same common knowledge is being learned so that if in 5 years a switch must occur, from one district to another, from private to public education, etc., the new educator does not need to spend time “remaking” the common foundation.  This ensures that students who change education styles do not feel like they need to skip grades or be put in remedial classes because they are ahead or behind “grade-level”.

We know we need to teach skills.  We know we need to use a project-based learning environment.  We need to keep the individual accountable yet learn to work effectively in collaboration.  However, without this foundation, the content-based standards, we cannot reach the higher-order thinking required for project-based learning.

How can one create a new type of solar cell without a good grasp of mathematics or knowledge of what the suns rays are composed of?  How will student be able to solve problems if they don’t have the background knowledge to identify what the problem even is?  How will that person submit a research paper for publication in a journal or write a grant to produce a prototype if he can’t write a proper sentence?

Let’s look at standards in another way.  If we don’t have standards to minimally define the objectives of high school, then why do we even have high school altogether?  Think about the educational goals and objectives of high school.  How are they different from middle school or even elementary school? If we cannot even define the objectives we want students to accomplish in high school, there is a much larger problem than curriculum/methods of presentation.  How much of compulsory learning is actually “essential” to being a productive member of society and what is superfluous?

There are quite a few rhetorical questions in that last paragraph.  However, we really need to think about why we need standards versus what the standards should be.

Last analogy: if I asked you (in the USA) to go to McDonald’s and get me a medium Diet Coke (please), would you know what size glass I’m asking you to get?  Now let’s exchange McDonald’s for Burger King.  If they both have a Diet Coke machine and I asked for a medium Diet, would I get essentially the same thing?  Most likely, unless they recently changed cup sizes on me.  I remember a number of years ago some of the fast food restaurants changed their glasses sizes and suddenly a medium at Burger King was previously the large and I was charged more.  Standardization is what allows you to expect cups to usually come in 8oz, 12oz, 16oz, 20oz, and 32oz.  Once in awhile you may find a 10oz.  You don’t expect to find a 13oz cup at McDonald’s.  And how did the graphic designer know what would fit on the cup?  Standardization.  All McDonald’s restaurants have the same size cups.

Education standards function the same way as the cup.  Teachers are the graphic designers.  We make the difference between the look of the cup, but it’s foundation is still a cup.

Project-based learning must coexist with content standards.  Neither will thrive without the other.  It is a symbiotic relationship (a term learned in science class, yet here it is in another “subject”).

“Are we creating scavengers or readers?”

Truth be told, I’ve never been a fan of questions at the end of the chapter or even a worksheet of questions to answer as you read the selection. From a student’s perspective, they love them because they think–“Jackpot! I don’t have to read, I just have to answer the questions.” So they scan. They find the answer to the question. And even then, if they cannot find it within a couple minutes or it’s not blatantly obvious because it’s not bolded–they give up and claim, “it’s not in the book” or “I couldn’t find it in the book so I skipped it.”

I’m not sure at what point in a person’s education that the the desire to do as little as possible came to be. Perhaps, it is because schooling is legally mandated until the age of 16 (at least in the USA). Students view their education as something forced upon them rather than something they chose to do. Days, months, and even years of a student’s life is consumed with studying and memorizing information through classes upon classes that do not interest them, seem to have no connection to the real world (or more importantly, their real world) or because they are told they “have to” learn it. And when people are confronted with something they do not want to do, they will take the path of least resistance around it.

Perhaps the path of least resistance developed out of necessity. Students are overwhelmed with academic pressures, societal pressures, family obligations, and personal desires. Prioritizing is the only way students are able to (somewhat) handle all these pressures. Some people choose academics. Some choose family. Some choose society. Some choose personal desires. Once a priority ranking is established, students then try to cope with “getting through” the other pressures, rather than try to balance them. Skimming text is one such technique. And while skimming has it’s uses, students have abandoned reading for understanding in favor of skimming. They find the answer, but have no idea what’s going on.

Fred Ende recently published an article on SmartBlogs (SmartBlog on Education) titled, “Are we creating scavengers or readers?” He makes several good points about the scavenging method of reading versus reading for comprehension.

Brief Intermission: For those of you unfamiliar with the “scavenger” method of “reading,” it basically works like this:

  1. Read questions given to be answered.
  2. Seek location in informational text or literature where this answer might be located.
  3. Find keywords and/or “giveaways” in text material.
  4. Write answer down without reading for context or deeper understanding.

Notice that this approach doesn’t actually involve any “reading.” For lack of a better characterization, it’s not good.

Ende also points out that one of the Common Core’s goals is to remedy the issue of skimming versus reading for understanding by requiring students “supply evidence” from the text. However, Ende makes clear that “supplying evidence” doesn’t always yield in complete comprehension.

Seemingly, the Common Core State Standards (or Common Core Learning Standards here in New York) should address these concerns. And maybe, on some level, they do. However, when students are asked to “supply evidence from the text” on an assessment, it doesn’t necessarily mean that students will understand, or even consider, what was read. “Supplying” something is much less intensive than “explaining,” and much, much less intensive than “creating.” Yet, much of the sample and real questions I’ve seen ask students to respond to a prompt by supplying (or “using;” whatever that means) evidence from the text. Even local assessments that our districts are creating appeal to students to “find” evidence, without necessarily encouraging them to “think” about it.

“Scavenging” for information has several good uses. It is beneficial when trying to review a large amount of text to determine if it warrants further, more in-depth reading/analysis. Unfortunately, the skill of scavenging has been taught and reinforced year after year under the guise of “understanding”.

I do not know if Common Core will be the push to separate scavenging for answers and reading for comprehension. But I do know this: I will be the push to separate the two in my classroom. It may take me a few tries to word the questions correctly and to teach the difference. I will provide opportunities for students to hone both skills. I will not “produce” scavenger-only type readers. Why? Because that is the change I can make.