Core Talk: The Core Arts are on the Scene!

On June 4th, 2014, the National Coalition for Core Arts Standards (NCCAS) launched the National Core Arts Standards, providing teachers with a framework to improve, update, and implement their art curriculum. Written by over 100 teachers and educators, the standards validate art as one of the core subject areas taught in the classroom.  The Core Talk Team reported on the structure and content of the standards (see article here) after attending the National Art Education Association (NAEA) 2014 Convention in March. To celebrate the Core Arts Standards’ June 4th release, NCCAS lined-up a webinar panel of 18 teachers, educators, and artists to share their thoughts on the standards.  Many panelists praised the standards for their breadth, inclusivity, and goal to prepare students with 21st century skills.  Here are some of our observations after listening to the panel discussion:

  •  “Right-Brain” Thinking:  Jaune Smith, part of the advisory committee for the NCCAS, noted that the Core Arts Standards emphasize “right brain thinking” by emphasizing creativity over memorization. This emphasis on critical thinking over fact-recitation fits well with other college and career readiness standards trends.
  •  Common Language: Dr. James Catterall (UCLA Graduate School of Education) commented that the standards provide sequential training across years and teachers, providing a common language for the arts.  Students will learn arts terminology with far more consistency across the grades.
  • Media Design as a Core Art form: Comprised of five “pillar” art forms, the Core Arts Standards include “Media Arts” as a cornerstone of the new standards. Several speakers applauded the standards for teaching the “aesthetic of technology.”  For example, one panelists observed how well the standards harness the breadth and complexity of digital media, underscoring art’s relevance in 21st century education.
  • Lifelong Learning: Many panelists praised the standards for framing art as part of a student’s “lifelong skills.”  According to the panel, the Core Arts Standards don’t just simply “teach art for art’s’ sake;” rather, art becomes an indelible part of a student’s life whether it manifests as a hobby or profession.

While the Core Arts Standards represent a new frontier for K-12 arts education, these standards definitely do face some not-so-new standards education challenges.  Panelists mentioned that educators will be rolling up their sleeves to start formulating professional development and implementation plans for these new standards.  Additionally, Robert Lynch, CEO of Americans for the Arts, stressed that implementation plans must integrate with other subjects for effective use of the standards. No new updates surfaced on Core Arts Standards assessments or states signing on to “adopt” the standards.  We will stay plugged-in for these and other Core Arts updates, so until then…

…stay classy, Standards Enthusiasts!

Core Talk: The “evolution” of South Carolina’s Science Standards, now available!

As the Core Talk Team has followed the stir surrounding South Carolina’s 2014 Science Standards, we are excited to report that all content (except High School Biology) is officially available! Core Talkers may recall the heated debate about including evolution, intelligent design, and the phrase “natural selection” in the standards (for example see this article linked in the Core Talk News Feed).  That debate actually rages on within the SC legislator, which explains the delayed release of the High School Biology standards. The rest of the new SC science are available for requesting schools in Atlas.

These new science standards include Academic Standards, Conceptual Understanding, and Performance Indicators.  Similarly to the Next Generation Science Standards, there are also Science and Engineering Practices at each grade level as well as a nod to Crosscutting Concepts across the science disciplines. Otherwise, the standards’ structure resembles the 2005 version, though each strand offers more content specificity. For example, Earth Science standards contain subjects such as:

  • Earth’s Weather and Climate
  • Exploring the Sun and Moon
  • Exploring Weather Patterns
  • Stars and the Solar System

The South Carolina State Department of Education emphasizes that these indicators are not curriculum: “[The standards] are not sequenced for instruction and do not prescribe classroom activities; materials; or instructional strategies, approaches, or practices.”

Core Talk will keep a sharp eye out for movement on the High School Biology standards still to come, as well as implementation stories and news on these new science standards. Until the next time…

…stay classy, Standards Enthusiasts!

Core Talk: A (not so) “standard” take on grading from NCTM

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(Forrest Clark on standards-based grading) 

Husband and wife duo Forrest and Elizabeth Clark of North Thurston Public Schools in WA state treated NCTM participants to an innovative (and entertaining) session on the third day of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics Annual Meeting & Exposition.  While much of the conference honed-in on large-scale standards-based assessments or integrating formative assessment, the Clarks dove right into exactly how to go about grading in the standards-aligned world.

This session emphasized straightforward “do’s and don’ts” for standards-based grading (peppered with some charming marital banter).  The Clarks’ findings for best practices in standards (and especially Common Core-aligned) grading stemmed from their hands-on work as educators in the middle and elementary schools of North Thurston.  Here is a brief summary of their advice:


  • Identify the individual benchmarks/learning targets an assignment assesses 
  • Grade each learning target individually
  • Mandate that students”re-test” learning targets for which they did not achieve proficiency
  • Communicate actively with parents about shifts in the grading system–early and often
  • Make math (or other subject) assessments consistent across courses at your grade level
  • Offer re-teaching and extra support outside of class for students who have yet to reach proficiency on certain standards/learning targets


  • Synthesize grades for individual learning targets into one or two “overall” grades–this could lead to overlooking a gap in the student’s learning the student achieves an “overall” proficient score
  • Incorporate behavioral elements into grades (e.g. tardiness, lateness on homework, etc.)–communicate behavioral issues to parents through other methods besides grades
  • Blend a non-proficient grade with a proficient grade from a re-test to reach an averaged grade (the presenters compared this to the driver’s test–if a person fails a driver’s test but proceeds to pass later, the DMV does not combine the two scores)
  • Jettison your “old,” non-standards-aligned assessments; rather, analyze and edit them to align with standards

It was clear that the attendees at this session appreciated and absorbed this frank, evidence-based expertise on standards-aligned grading.  The Core Talk Team will continue to relay innovations and advice in the standards-based assessment world, and until then…

…stay classy, Standards Enthusiasts!

Core Talk: NCTM’s “fightin’ words”

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(Dr. Steven Leinwand leads our session)

It’s a balmy and perfect 70 degrees here in New Orleans where the Core Talk Team has attended some rousing sessions on Common Core Mathematics implementation at the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics Annual Meeting and Exposition 2014.  While the cacophony of the French Quarter Festival (of music) echoes around us, NCTM has made some noise of its own with the freshly-released Principles to Actions: Ensuring Mathematical Success for All.  According to two of its authors (and in the humble opinion of this Core Talk teammate),  the Principles represent one of the most forward and blunt directives to shift pedagogical mentalities toward Common Core-guided teaching.

Our team attended two sessions presented by authors of the Principles to Actions–one session by Dr. Steve Leinwand and another by Dr. Daniel Brahier.  Here is a sneak-peek at the concepts and content within the Principles:

  • Eight research-driven Mathematical Teaching Practices that align with the CCSS-Mathematics standards and dovetail especially with the CCSS-M Standards for Mathematical Practice
  • Overt emphasis on equity in mathematics, specifically closing achievement gaps along gender and racial lines
  • Plainly-stated “unproductive beliefs” about mathematics learning and alternative “productive beliefs”, for example (to paraphrase):
    • Unproductive Belief: Students can apply math only after mastering basic “paper and pencil” skills and math facts
    • Productive Belief: Students can and should apply math immediately to “real world” scenarios using 21st century technology even as they endeavor to master the “basic skills”
  • An innovative focus on defining “professionalism” among math educators.  Professionalism includes deconstructing grade-level and subject “silos” to ensure coherent learning progressions and collaborative professional development.

Perhaps most strikingly, both Dr. Leinwand and Dr. Brahier described the Principles as an implementation guide for the Common Core mathematics standards–a sort of “handbook” for instigating mentality shifts necessary to focus on college and career readiness.  While they both also emphasized that the Principles should by no means be the only CCSS-M implementation resource, they said it can play a key role in reorienting teachers, math coaches, and administration toward the demands of CCSS curriculum.  Unlike a standards document, however, the Principles are short (only 117 pages of content) and meant for “cover to cover” consumption rather than dissection and piecemeal analysis.  More to come from NCTM as we learn about next steps in CCSS-M implementation.  Until then…

…stay classy, Standards Enthusiasts!

Core Talk: Be not afraid! (…of engineering in the NGSS)

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(NSTA attendees hard at work against the Boston skyline)

As the Core Talk team keeps its ears open for NSTA 2014 conference buzzwords, “engineering” has proven quite prolific!   To tap-in to this theme more directly, we attended “Applying NGSS Engineering Standards to Classroom Practice” with Mary Haggerty of WGBH Educational Foundation. As teachers weave NGSS Engineering practices into their curriculum, Ms. Haggerty brought to our attention four major misconceptions students, in particular, have about engineering.  She also discussed four messages educators can use to promote engineering (and combat these misconceptions) to student populations. Here are the misconceptions:

Four common misconceptions about engineering are:

-          Engineering is not creative

-          Engineering is only applied science

-          Engineers have to be smart in math and science

-          Engineering is a career for white, male students

These misconceptions are especially insidious because the NGSS curriculum exposes students to engineering often for the first time—students rarely have prior experience with engineering principles, etc.  Thus, these misconceptions are extremely influential and important to address.  At this session, Mary displayed four messages that we can use now to help students engage in engineering:

Mind-changing Messages:

-          Engineering is for creative problem solvers

-          Engineers make a difference

-          Engineering is essential for the health and happiness of humans

-          Engineering is a way to shape the future

While these phrases may not seem revolutionary, Mary’s study showed that teachers who clearly presented these ideas in their classroom saw an increase in interest and confidence among students who previously displayed little or no interest in engineering. As a bonus: emphasizing these phrases did not deter students who were already engaged.  It’s a win-win!

We’ll continue to keep our ears open for tips on implementing NGSS Engineering standards (and other disciplines.) Until then…

…stay classy, Standards Enthusiasts!

Core Talk: An NGSS Refresher from 2014 NSTA Conference

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As the Core Talk team continues its 2014 National Science Teacher’s Association (NSTA) annual conference adventure, we have noticed the following prominent themes: STEM integration, methodological shifts in science ed, Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) implementation, and delving into the newer components of NGSS.

For those of you who may not be so familiar with the NGSS, there are eight Core Disciplinary Ideas (DCI) that comprise the standards.   While many of these DCIs will look familiar to teachers—life science, ecosystems, heredity—there will be one fresh addition that may give some pause: Engineering, Technology, and the Application of Science.  We’d like to provide you with an overview of an NSTA conference session presented by Carolyn Jacobs and Martha Seer addressing the DCIs (including Engineering integration)!

First, a general overview of the NGSS…

-          Include all grade levels: K-12

-          Faciltate integration with other content areas (i.e. social studies, language arts)

-          (Ideally) aligned-curriculum entails 2-4 major projects each year

-          Focus on three major steps:

  • Defining and delineating problems
  • Developing possible solutions
  • Optimizing product design

Before going deeper, we should first define engineering and technology (remember, good science involves defining your terms!).  Engineering is “processes used by an engineer when solving problems.”  Technology involves all human-made systems and processes, (e.g. computers, chairs, and even pencils).   NGSS scaffolds Engineering skills and concepts into spiraling progressions; thus, students  revisit and build upon their engineering knowledge each year.  So, every year students will:

-          work with projects that allow them to ask questions

-          brainstorm ideas

-          plan a methodology

-          create a product

-          refine/improve their product

While these concepts and actions seem abstract, NGSS anchors these progressions in practical application. Students and teachers contextualize this work in the “real” world of engineering–how would an engineer ask this question, plan their inquiry, and solve this problem?  Emphasis on practical application threads throughout all of the DCIs including Engineering.

One resource Carolyn and Martha recommended today at NSTA was the website  For teachers who are nervous about integrating engineering into their classrooms (perhaps for the first time), there are videos that portray careers and innovations in engineering for your students to explore.  The site also includes and professional development for teachers (with lesson examples that align to NGSS).

It seems that this will be just the beginning in the new wave of engineering in education.  Educators and the NGSS authors hope that including Engineering so overtly will demystify the world (and careers) of engineers for students, helping them become stronger critical thinkers prepared for their next steps after high school.

 We’ll keep an eye on these new developments in NGSS, so until next time…

…stay classy, Standards Enthusiasts!

Core Talk: STEM integration thoughts from an NGSS author!

Jenny NSTA STEM photo

It’s a beautiful day in Boston, MA, home of the 2014 National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) National Conference. This conference is chock-full of engaging Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) sessions and our team has had a hard time choosing!

The NGSS emphasize an injunction for educators to incorporate more STEM curriculum into the K-12 learning environment (for example, see NGSS Appendix F). Our pre-conference sessions focused on just that: Integrating STEM into the classroom. Dr. Cary Sneider, Core Talk’s “neighbor” at Portland State University, and Mariel Milano of Orange County Public Schools led the series.

The series began with deconstructing the National Research Council (NRC)’s definition of STEM literacy:

The knowledge and understanding of scientific and mathematical concepts and processes required of personal decision making, participation in civic and cultural affairs and economic productivity.”

Participants broke-down this definition into the four components of S-T-E-M. After our collective discussion of how science, technology, engineering, and mathematics individually integrate into STEM education, Dr. Sneider and Ms. Milano steered our session toward incorporating these items in any classroom (not just in traditional “STEM” subjects).   Integrating STEM can be downright intimidating, so the presenters outlined three “more-digestible” scaffold approaches:

1)     Multidisciplinary integration connects independent disciplines through curriculum that is connected by a common theme or unit.

2)     Interdisciplinary Integration connects multiple disciplines by a key concept or skill that is apparent, but more embedded than the multidisciplinary approach.

3)     Transdisciplinary Integration is built upon real-world student inquiries and concerns. Students have the opportunity to use their STEM literacy to study and solve a real-world problem that they identified.

Creating integrated STEM activities will build STEM literacy but as a standards enthusiast, don’t forget about your standards!  The presenters underscored that integrated STEM activities should build on standards-aligned content and skills. Activities should be rooted in context, not simply executed through trial and error.

For more information, we strongly suggest you read Cary Sneider’s newest collaborative book, STEM Lesson Essentials.  More to come on NGSS implementation but until then…

…stay classy, Standards Enthusiasts!



Core Talk: What to Expect When Expecting (The Core Arts Standards)

News, updates, and general hustle and bustle surrounding the upcoming Core Arts Standards embodied day one of the National Art Education Association (NAEA) 2014 Convention. The writers and NAEA leadership were all very forthcoming with information, including the framework of the standards, release dates, and next steps. Progress reports were shared as well as a call for additional feedback from conference participants—a big day for breaking standards news in general!

Standards Framework

The new Core Arts Standards stem from a UbD-like approach: the writers generated Essential Questions and Enduring Understandings that led them to create the 15 Standards (more than the 6 from NAEA’s previous version), slated for release in June of this year.   Five foundational arts disciplines will have their own set of standards:

  • Visual Art
  • Media Art
  • Dance
  • Theater
  • Music

The Standards revolve around what the writers have defined as the 4 “Artistic Processes,” which include:

  • Creating
  • Presenting/Producing
  • Responding
  • Connecting

The Core Arts Standards will combine both anchor and performance standards (not unlike many recent sets of college and career readiness standards), and the standards aim to bring art teaching to a contemporary level. The writers emphasized that the Standards are not curriculum but rather a guide to shift art instruction from “art-making” to “meaning-centered art-making.”

Implementation and Assessment

 The writers and NAEA have learned from their standards roll-out forbearers, and are already tackling resources related to implementation and assessment. Among these resources are the Model Cornerstone Assessments. As the name suggests, these are meant to be models or exemplary assessments that teachers can use when designing their own standards-aligned assessments. These are still in development and will be released later this summer.  The writers may already have implementation realities on their radars because most of them are classroom teachers themselves.  These folks hail from all over the US, from various kinds of school districts (large and small) and diverse settings (rural and urban). They were deliberate in not including any language of instruction so that teachers will have the freedom to bring their own knowledge in teaching the Arts.

The Future

Like NAEA’s previous set from 1994, the writers for the 2014 Standards kept in mind that the new set need to be relevant for years to come.  The writers tried to avoid:

  • Bias toward specific media
  • Bias toward a style/period in art history
  • Rigidity in the grade-level breakdowns

The base Enduring Understandings will serve as a great reference for teachers who are planning their curriculum.

The working draft of these standards is on the NCCAS website; NCCAS and SEADAE will approve the final version in the coming weeks. NAEA created a video, among other resources, to underscore major differences between the old and new Standards. For a correlation analysis between the Common Core and the Core Arts Standards, refer to the College Board report found here.  We will keep you tapped-in to the Core Arts Standards news as it develops, until then…

…stay classy, Standards Enthusiasts!


Core Talk: Tips and tricks for new standards implementation- Takeaways from #ASCD14

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As the Core Talk Team meets and greets teachers out in the “trenches” of new standards implementation, we often hear the question: “What do I need to change in my classroom to integrate new standards?” We are excited to share some of the best practices we learned from the 69th ASCD Annual Conference.

Changing the Pedagogies

Dr. Robert Marzano led one of our first sessions where he explored how to update classroom instruction to accommodate new college and career readiness standards like Common Core (CCSS) and Next Generation Science (NGSS). As these standards emphasize “real world” application, classroom teaching/learning should also involve more authentic tasks—and less teacher-delivered instruction. Dr. Marzano recommended using the following strategies from his work, The Art and Science of Teaching for adapting curricula to the rigor and “real world” extrapolation involved with standards like CCSS:

  • Helping students interact with new knowledge by:
    • Identifying the critical content and focusing on these more essential curricular components with students
    • Pushing students to elaborate and make inferences from information
    • Asking students to engage in modeling* to apply their new knowledge
  • Helping students practice and deepen new knowledge by:
    • Comparing and contrasting new and previous knowledge
    • Having students examine their errors in logic and reasoning
    • Revising previously-taught knowledge
  • Helping students generate and test hypothesis by:
    • Engaging students in tasks wherein they must generate hypotheses
    • Encouraging students to not only test but revise their hypotheses based on data

To implement these strategies successfully, Dr. Marzano advised directly cultivating students’ cognitive and conative capacities. Cognitive skills embody more traditional concepts of academic achievement (test scores, IQ tests, etc.) while conative skills relate to mentalities and abilities to self-govern (avoiding negative thinking, resilience, capacity to accept feedback, etc.).  Standards like the CCSS and NGSS aim to cultivate both kinds of skills; thus, consciously weaving cognitive and conative elements into these curricular strategies can help integrate new standards in the classroom.

We look forward to sharing more standards implementation hints and tips from the experts!  Until next time…

…stay Classy, standards enthusiasts.

*For more information on “Modeling,” see the Core Talk original piece: Core Talk: Modeling frenzy at NSTA Virtual Conference

Core Talk: Modeling frenzy at NSTA virtual conference

The Core Talk team recently attended the NSTA virtual conference on NGSS Practices in Action.  The concept of “modeling” in the sciences was ubiquitous throughout the sessions, but what’s with this modeling focus? Is NSTA suddenly über-fashion conscious?

The increased emphasis on modeling fits with a larger shift in science education. As both Brian Reiser and Cindy Passmore emphasized, implementing the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) shifts how we teach science.


  • Science classrooms emphasized knowing about science facts
  • Students memorized what others had figured out
  • Experts call this memorization-based approach to science education an information frame.

With NGSS,

  • Science classrooms emphasize figuring out real-world phenomena
  • Students are challenged to explain how the world works
  • Experts call this problem-solving approach to science education a sense-making frame.

Modeling can serve a key role in transitioning from an information frame to a sense-making frame, especially as teachers implement the NGSS Science & Engineering Practices.

What are models? Cindy Passmore, the modeling breakout session presenter, defined models as “sets of ideas about how some feature of the natural world works. They are used for something, like explaining, predicting, and making sense of phenomena.” Classic “modeling” projects, like building cells from household goods, are not modeling at all. These are 3-D visual aids because students only recreate textbook facts. While models are visual representations of phenomena, modeling isn’t about the visuals.

Wondering more about how to use modeling in the NGSS classroom? Check out this article: “Modeling in the Classroom: How its done” on  Here is a brief set of bullets summarizing the article:

  • Present students with a hard to explain phenomenon, such as how does a seed become a tree, or why does the moon go through phases?
  • Students draw the observable and unobservable parts of what they think is happening.
  • Students generate questions when their explanations fail.
  • Fill in gaps with lessons and explorations
  • Revisit student models 2-3x throughout the unit; Students add to original explanations.

It turns out NSTA is on a modeling frenzy because representing ideas on paper helps students identify shortcomings in their understanding of curriculum, challenges students to communicate their ideas to others, and pushes them to incorporate new information into their existing concept of how the world works.  We look forward to tracking other innovations in NGSS curriculum as implementation unfolds, so until next time…

… stay classy, Standards Enthusiasts!

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