Gail Marshall
At the core

If Common Core created a personal Facebook page, the relationship question would be answered this way: " "It's complicated." " 

Scanning the Twitter feeds, social media comments and news articles makes it clear that assessing this change in education is a challenge. How do you measure " "messy?" " Students, teachers, administrators, politicians and parents all are at different points on the spectrum.

Love it, hate it, revise it or debate it, Common Core has all eyes on the classroom, education leaders say. Much of the angst reflects legitimate concerns over implementation timing and high-stakes impacts. At the same time, there is a chorus of voices talking about the nature of learning that is at the heart of the Common Core movement.

We sampled a variety of experts from across the country to share their vision and experience about this game-changing movement: an Illinois author whose ideas are flipping the classroom time structure upside down; a tech-savvy New Jersey principal who once was " "that guy" " squelching the interference of technology into his school; an East Coast student who one day hopes to design video games, among others.

All have their own answers to the essential question: What should learning and teaching under Common Core look like?

A real-time example
It could look a lot like the work of Sarah Almeda of New Milford High School in New Milford, New Jersey, according to her principal, iste member Eric Sheninger, an award-winning administrator and author of the book " "Digital Leadership." " He recently posted an animated video project she created at school on his popular blog, A Principal's Reflection.

Sarah is a vibrant, loquacious high school student who wears a signature derby hat. For an assignment her sophomore year, Sarah and her classmates first had to read the book " "Out of Our Minds: Learning to be Creative," " by Ken Robinson. Her animated project was called " "Let's Make Some Good Art." " She watched two videos, wrote a script and put together her presentation using a graphics tablet and the software Bamboo Pad, Quicktime to record the computer screen as she drew and iMovie for the editing.

Her final seven-minute video uses multiple sources to analyze and describe her own creativity in writing and illustration: what inspires and stifles her creativity, whose creativity she admires, who has helped her learn to express her creativity and, finally, what schools can do to better enhance all students' creativity.

Her suggestion to the schools: " "Do away with the ranking systems. I hate grades. It's like getting quality checked and stamped Grade A student, Grade B student, Grade C student. Getting told what you are from a young age, people start to believe it. I know so many people who still cry over their grades, as if getting a C on a biology test actually means you're not going to college, getting a job or be able to support a family. Why do students cram and cheat on tests? Because we are made to believe the grade is more important than actually learning. Instead, school should make us feel more excited about learning new things and about ourselves, to discover what we are really capable of doing. Because that is what the world needs now." "

The power of creativity
Her principal was there that day to watch Sarah's and her classmates' oral presentations. Sheninger describes them as " "amazing." " When Sarah's turn came, it was a good thing he was there because " "I had to use my administrative privileges to get the YouTube video to work for her (students will be advocating soon for unrestricted access)," " he says.

" "Once her video began, everyone was floored," " he says. " "I can honestly say this was one of the best, most inspiring, thought-provoking student presentations I have ever seen. Not only was it created entirely through self-directed learning, but it also sent a strong message about how powerful creativity is to learning for our students." "

Within two weeks, Sarah's commentary on creativity spread to far more people than just her classmates and principal. More than 8,500 people viewed her video nationwide on YouTube, largely spread via Sheninger's social media network.

In about seven minutes, Sarah demonstrates the heart of Common Core's higher-level thinking standards. It's creative; addresses real-world problems; demonstrates digital fluency; interests students; gives students power over their own learning; demands research, reading, writing, analysis; grapples with an issue; states her opinion and backs it up with rationale. It is student-centered and crosses disciplines. Sarah did not just use media, she also was a creator. (Danielle Shanley, director of curriculum and instruction for New Milford Public Schools, developed this activity.)

Sheninger turned this one-day experience into a collaborative resource for all teachers and administrators by posting the rubric, video, lesson plan and even the software Sarah used on his popular blog. That, too, is part of the plan.

" "Our biggest asset is being connected learners ourselves," " he says. " "We are not alone, and no one has to be alone. You can find answers, strategies and solutions that the real-time Web and social media provide us. That is a great starting point. The work we are doing anyone can find, adapt and replicate. We are not hiding it from anybody. We want to be transparent and share in the hopes that others will share with us." "

A glimpse into the future classroom
If Sheninger, Sarah and her teachers at New Milford are examples of carrying out the Common Core standards, what is the picture with the red line through it? Think of the classroom stereotype of a teacher standing at a whiteboard lecturing, students quietly sitting in their seats, facing forward.

John Fallon, ceo of Pearson, an iste corporate member, was a keynote speaker for a Microsoft Global Learning Forum where he was blunt about what the future classroom should not look like:

" "Technology is disrupting, to use the phrase of the moment, pretty much every other activity and industry. It is transforming the way children and young people play, access information, communicate with each other and learn and yet, so far, it has largely failed to transform most schools or universities or teaching and learning in many classrooms and lecture halls. We are failing to engage many young people. Research by academics at the mit Media Lab, for example, suggests that students' brain activity is nearly non-existent during lectures. As professor Eric Mazur of Harvard University's physics department puts it, 'Students are more asleep in lectures than they are in bed.'" "


Jon Bergmann, an education consultant from Lake Forest, Illinois, and an iste member, is a busy man, best known for speaking internationally about books he co-authored with Aaron Sams, " "Flip Your Classroom: Reach Every Student in Every Classroom Every Day," " and its sequel, " "Flipped Learning." " (Both books were published by, and are available through, iste). He agrees we need to revise our thinking about what an effective classroom looks like. What may look chaotic on the outside may actually be anything but. " "Kids sitting passively and listening to somebody drone on is not learning even though some people think it is. For some kids it is, but for a lot of kids, it's not." "

The quick backstory is that two science teachers, frustrated when they have to repeat teaching to accommodate absent students, use technology to record their lectures for students to view on their own.

There is a big bonus: videos work not only for the students who are absent, but become lifesavers for students with limited language abilities, students who don't take notes well or who need to hear the explanation more than once to understand. The teacher is then able to clear out precious class time to engage the students interactively, using their new knowledge to solve real-world problems, engage in a personal project that excites them and collaborate on a group activity. 

While speaking at a school, Bergmann got a surprise: three teachers wanted to flip their classroom. " "Cool," " he said, " "so what do you teach? They said, 'We are the P.E. department.' Whoa, whoa, whoa. What do you mean? And they said, 'We want our students to move their bodies.' Generally, they spend far too much time telling them how to instead of actually moving. There are short videos on the different games that they play and different activities they do like how to swing a bat, how to play a specific game and how to do a certain type of yoga. The students watched the videos and came to class and did what they saw on the videos." "

Where students want to live
Paula Don, director of education technology for the School District of Philadelphia and an iste member, recently conducted a delicious " "aha!" " moment. During a professional learning session, she heard the room go silent a roomful of educators suddenly stopped shuffling in their seats, stopped talking to their neighbors, stopped looking at her, intently engrossed instead with what was on their computers.

" "Stop!" " she instructed the class. " "What made you suddenly go quiet?" "

Don had referred the class to a real-time website called worldometers.info. They were fascinated with the constantly changing data on subjects such as how many people in the world are dying of starvation, how many people are being diagnosed with obesity, how many computers are being sold at this second versus tablets. 

With that, she engaged the session in a lively discussion of questions they might ask their students to think about that were contained in that data: Look at the number of Tweets being sent versus the number of books being printed. How many Google queries are being sent at this very minute? How much money is being spent on weight-loss remedies in the United States today? How many acres of forest were lost today?

" "This is inquiry and analysis into the real world," " Don says, " "tasks that are all over Common Core. This is where the kids want to live." "

Sheninger confirms that the engaged classroom is not just a place where students are excited, but their teachers and administrators are learning, as well.

" "As a principal and educator," " he says, " "you could not ask for a better day. We witnessed our students shine when given the autonomy to produce a learning artifact that is meaningful, relevant and reflects the importance of student voice. The conversations that resulted during and after the presentations act as catalysts to empower students to take action and work with us to create an even better school." "

And what about that dreaded test panic? " "There is one other significant takeaway I learned from my students this day," " he says. " "When it comes to creativity and learning, standardized tests are one of the most significant inhibitors." "

(Read the research that supports Jon Bergmann's description of what an effective classroom looks like.)


ISTE Standards assist in navigating Common Core
ISTE may not have the calm, reassuring voice of Siri, but when it comes to navigating Common Core, it can help to keep you on the right road.

Wendy Drexler, Ph.D., ISTE chief innovation officer, makes it clear that just as the organization is technology agnostic, it is program agnostic as well. Devices and programs come and go over time, but the ISTE Standards remain consistent. " "There is a lot of controversy around the Common Core, but it does exist; it has been adopted in many states, and teachers are having to work toward it," " says Drexler. " "Having the ability to support teachers as they try to make that change is where ISTE sits." "

The ISTE Standards are laid out separately for students, teachers, administrators, computer science teachers and coaches, but the heart of the standards starts with the students.

" "The focus should be on what we want students to be able to do," " she says. " "The ISTE Standards are focused on active learning. The teacher standards are there to facilitate the teachers' ability to help the students meet the student standards." "

One of those standards, for example,addresses research and information fluency.

" "Literacy is no longer about reading a book on paper," " she says. " "It is about digital literacy and being able to vet resources, to recognize a valid resource. You might look at the ability to locate, organize, analyze, evaluate, synthesize and ethically use information. That is perfectly in line with what Common Core is trying to do from a literacy perspective." "

Perhaps most valuable is ISTE's power to bring people together. " "One of the things ISTE does well," " Drexler says, " "is create communities of professionals who share what they do in the classroom. That goes a long way to help integrate technology that relates to Common Core." "
— G.M.