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Effective Web-Based K–12 Common Core Tools … and They’re Free!

By James Careless - Posted Mar 1, 2013
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Worried about the Common Core State Standards? If you are a teacher, you don’t have to be. Granted, it will take time and effort to adapt your teaching plans to meet these standards. But there are a lot of tools that are available right now on the web to help you do it.

Best yet, the following tools are free, courtesy of the institutions and websites that are providing them!

The Library of Congress: A Truly Useful Common Core Resource

The Library of Congress (LC) is more than just the world’s largest library, with some 150 million primary sources in its physical collection. For teachers, the LC is also a profoundly useful and user-friendly Common Core resource, with the help starting right on the loc.gov/teachers page. The reason: The LC’s Teachers page provides access to lesson plans that have been designed to meet Common Core standards, while staying within the LC’s own academic guidelines.

“Our mission as an institution is to encourage people to turn to primary sources,” explains Stephen Wesson, one of the LC’s educational resource specialists. “Fortunately, the critical analysis required for students to research the Constitution and Declaration of Independence directly is exactly in line with the Common Core standards.”

For example, the LC’s lesson plan The Constitution: Drafting a More Perfect Union uses digital copies (available online) of George Washington’s amended rough draft, to show students how the Constitution was created through committee work. (It is intriguing to see words scratched out and new ones scribbled on the printed text in the first president’s own hand.) The lesson plan also provides detailed notes on preparing, presenting, and evaluating the lesson.

But that’s not all. With the click of a mouse button within the lesson page, teachers can check to see which Common Core standard the lesson plan on the U.S. Constitution meets. In this case, the lesson satisfies 10 Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts, Grade 1. The same tool lets users see which State Standards the lesson meets, e.g., New York State Standard Language Arts, Grade 1. It also shows compliance with national organizations’ standards; in this case, several standards in NCTE Language Arts Grade 1, among others. (Note: This lesson plan can be found at loc.gov/teachers/classroommaterials/lessons/more-perfect-union.)

“Our goal is to make it extremely straightforward and easy for teachers to meet their Common Core requirements,” Wesson says. “Thanks to this online tool, they can see which standards each plan meets at the outset, when they are looking through our lesson plans.”

In itself, the LC’s approach is extremely useful. But the library goes one step further, by allowing teachers to define first the Common Core standards they want to meet at the very outset of their search, by using the Common Core search box on the LC Teacher homepage. In fact, the box searches teacher resources based on Common Core, State Content, and national Organization compliance. These are the same qualities that were accessible within the U.S. Constitution lesson plan page.

For instance, query the LC database for lesson plans that meet Common Core Grade 3 standards for English Language Arts, and the user is given a menu that starts with Reading Standards for Literature teacher resources. These are specified in categories such as Key Ideas and Details, Craft and Structure, and Integration of Knowledge and Ideas. Click on Key Ideas and Details, and you’ll find links to 41 sets of classroom materials covering a range of historical lessons, everything from baseball cards to cowboys, the Great Depression, and the Chinese in California, 1850–1925.

“Using these tools, it is very easy to find the Common Core-compliant materials you need online,” says Wesson. “And yes, they are all free.”

Achievethecore.org: Steal These Tools!

Student Achievement Partners (SAP) is a nonprofit group that helped develop the Common Core standards. Since then, SAP has developed a series of tools for teachers to help them implement the Common Core, available at Achievethecore.org. These tools include wallet-sized cards that sum up the shift in educational standards in areas such as math: “Focus strongly where the Standards focus,” the card advises. “Coherence: think across grades, and link to major topics within grades. Rigor: in major topics pursue conceptual understanding, procedural skill and fluency, and application. …”

There is much more to Achievethecore.org than these Yoda-like wallet mantras: It truly is a useful repository of Common Core implementation tools. “The catchphrase for the website is ‘Steal These Tools,’ a message which resonates with busy teachers,” says Sandra Alberti, SAP’s director of state/district partnerships and professional development. “Anyone can use, brand, and/or customize the tools on the website without need for attribution. Our goal is to see these tools spread broadly in order to best support educators across the country in their daily work of implementing the Common Core State Standards.”

Among Achievethecore.org’s “stealable” tools are Professional Development Modules for teachers that include annotated PowerPoint presentations, facilitator’s guides, video resources, and activities for discussion. “The Publishers’ Criteria for Mathematics (K–8) and for English Language Arts/Literacy (K–12) are another popular tool,” Alberti says. “These documents were developed by the lead authors of the Common Core State Standards to guide publishers and curriculum developers as they work to ensure alignment in developing materials. The criteria are also used by educators as a resource for professional development and to inform instructional materials purchasing decisions.”

A third set of tools cover Close Reading Exemplars. “These are a set of well-developed exemplars of high-quality lessons around the close reading of texts. Achievethecore.org has a growing library of exemplars from Grades 3–12,” says Alberti. “The exemplars feature short texts and teacher guidance to lead close conversations in the classroom around the meaning of these texts.”

Yet again, all of these tools are free. This means you don’t have to steal them, but you can if doing so makes you feel better!

IllustrativeMathematics.org: Depicting K–12 Math in Line With the Common Core

Explanatory illustrations have long been a staple of effective mathematics instruction. IllustrativeMathematics.org takes this fact a step further by offering free online K–12 math tasks that are mathematically correct, educationally sound, and in line with the Common Core State Standards for mathematics.

“Using funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, we are working with about 250 mathematicians, math educators, and classroom teachers to develop the tasks,” says Linda Plattner, IllustrativeMathematic’s executive director. “The tasks show the year-to-year requirements of the Common Core Sate Standards. Using our website, teachers can be sure that the tasks they are using are as appropriate as they are effective.”

EduCore: An Online Education for Common Core Teachers

Ideally, teachers would be paid to return to college to learn how to teach the Common Core. But this is the real world—one in which the free EduCore website has stepped up to fill this educational gap.

Created by ASCD (formerly the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development) and funded by a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, EduCore is an online destination offering math and literacy lessons, plus other resources to help educators implement the Common Core State Standards. According to Sherida Britt, ASCD Tools for Teachers professional development project director, “This is a site where you can educate yourself about the Common Core first, and then dig into materials that will help you plan the courses you need.”

Also, EduCore allows users to sign up as members. In this position, they can save useful materials in their own My Resources repository and take notes on their own My Journal page. This material is then accessible on any web-connected computer, allowing the teacher to access the data at work or at home. Possible choices include EduCore’s Literacy Tools and Math Tools, both designed by teams of qualified educators.

“EduCore has been designed to be consumed at whatever rate works for you,” Britt says. “If you only have 10 minutes a day to watch an educational video, then you can. This said, working with the Common Core is not something that you can do the day before class. It requires education, and EduCore is here to help provide it—for free.”

The Last Word: Learn the Power of the Eraser

Free online tools such as those covered here make it affordable for teachers to tackle the Common Core. But what about the sheer workload of doing so and the fear inherent in moving from familiar ways of teaching and new, unfamiliar methods?

In response, SAP’s Alberti has some reassuring words about the Common Core State Standards: “These Standards send the message that in implementing them, we must start with the power of the eraser over the power of the pen,” she says. In other words, “Teachers must first consider what they will stop doing in order to effectively implement the Standards. When teachers understand this, the daunting nature of the Standards is often alleviated.”

Add free Common Core web tools, and the task of adapting to the Common Core is less daunting still. Admittedly, “Implementation of the Standards in order to support all students towards the goal of college and career readiness is hard work,” Alberti says, “but certainly hard work worth doing.”

James Careless is a freelance ed tech and technology writer. Reach him at james.careless@gmail.com.


 
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