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Smarter Balanced Practice Tests

30 Apr

Click Here: Smarter Balanced Practice Tests

I just received this email from the ETNews Listserv from the Office of Educational Technology at the NH Department of Education.  It is a SBAC in New Hampshire update written by Stan Freeda.  I encourage everyone to experience this assessment.  It will provide a clearer understanding of what our children will experience in a year when they take this assessment for the first time.

Click Here: Smarter Balanced Practice Tests


The Smarter Balanced Practice Tests were released in the spring of 2013 to help students and teachers understand the format of the Smarter Balanced test as well as the tools and resources that are available to make the test more accessible. The refreshed Practice Test scheduled for release in May 2014 includes new questions and performance tasks. Enhancements also include additional embedded universal tools, designated supports and accommodations. The practice tests in English language arts/literacy (ELA) and mathematics for grades 3 through 8 and 11 each include approximately 30 questions as well as a new performance task in ELA.

The updated Practice Tests more closely mirror the operational assessment and includes the following features:


  • Questions that include the range of item types expected to appear on the operational assessment, including a new question type that allows students to enter information directly into the cells of a table
  • Questions that span a range of difficulty for the grade level from “very easy” to “very difficult” and performance tasks that utilize more open-ended response types to allow students to explain their thinking on complex, real world problems
  • Improvements to question wording, format and directions based on input from experts in content and accessibility and accommodations experts


  • New or revised reading and listening passages
  • Improvements to question wording, format and directions based on input from experts in content and accessibility and accommodations experts
  • Questions that include the range of item types expected to appear on the operational assessment, including matching tables and short-text questions
  • Revised scoring rubrics for teacher use


  • For the math assessment in every grade, glossaries are available in 10 languages and several dialects
  • Full stacked Spanish translation available for the math assessment in every grade

Accessing the Practice and Training Tests

The Practice and Training Tests are not compatible with all operating system versions and web browsers.  See Operating System and Browsers Compatible with the Practice and Training Tests for detailed information on compatible operating systems and browsers.

Take the Practice Test


Important Limitations: The Practice and Training Tests provide a preview of the Smarter Balanced assessments, but they do not encompass the full range of content that students will encounter on the spring 2014 Field Test or on the operational assessments, and should not be used to guide instructional decisions. In addition, students and teachers will not receive reports or scores from the Practice or Training Tests. Although the operational assessment system will be computer adaptive, the Practice and Training Tests follow a fixed-form model.

Math Workshop at Underhill School

22 Jan

Math Workshop

Click the link above to view our newest addition to the Underhill School blog family.  Amanda Stark, our Title I math tutor, has compiled a variety of resources and information regarding our implementation of Math in Focus at Underhill School. We believe the more we can communicate with our families and community, the more our students will learn!

The Library Link: CCSS – How can I help you? Let me count the ways…

29 Aug

The Library Link: CCSS – How can I help you? Let me count the ways….

Follow this link to Karen Landsman’s post that reiterates the sentiment mentioned in my blog post about the value of the school librarian.  She is instrumental in ensuring we are addressing the many facets of the Common Core.


Education Week: Common Core Thrusts Librarians Into Leadership Role

19 Aug

Education Week: Common Core Thrusts Librarians Into Leadership Role

We’ve been discussing for some time now the highlights of the common core.  This article speaks directly to some of the major differences between our old standards with the new.  The article touches on inquiry (how to ask “fat” questions, researching processes–essentially IIM), text complexity, and maintaining the role of literature in students’ lives.  Finally, it describes the important role the school librarian has in helping teachers implement the CCSS.  As we enter into our 2013-14 school year, we’ll be asking that this symbiotic relationship between classroom teacher and school librarian become more collaborative than it already is.

Click the link to visit the article

Minecraft – Do You Know What It Is?

20 May

20130520-205648.jpgIn order to discover what and how our students think, it is beneficial to look into their interests. Many of our students may spend an inordinate amount of time building various creations on Minecraft. I have just recently begun scratching the surface of this game, and I’ve realized the extent to which this game could be leveraged for educational purposes.

Follow this link to read Ashley MacQuarrie’s brilliant list of ideas in how Minecraft could be, and is in some cases, used in education.

Nonprofit Hopes To Get Kids Excited About Computer Coding : NPR

5 Mar

Nonprofit Hopes To Get Kids Excited About Computer Coding : NPR

For an interesting perspective on the outlook of computer coding in education, click the link above.  The last quote of the article is, “he’s convinced that in the 21st century, learning to code will become as useful – and frankly, as necessary – as learning to read.”

Below is a video from

Why AppleTV & iPad beats Interactive Whiteboard….Every Time

5 Feb

Why AppleTV & iPad beats Interactive Whiteboard….every time. | Ryan Orilio.

Why AppleTV & iPad beats Interactive Whiteboard….every time. | Ryan Orilio

Ryan Orilio has outlined a detailed argument that highlights the benefits of the Apple TV versus an Interactive Whiteboard.  I cannot agree with him more.  The number of uses an ATV has far outweighs those of an Interactive Whiteboard.  We have one active ATV/projector/speaker setup currently in our building as a pilot this year. We will continue to examine its upside and drawbacks, but at the halfway point, the configuration looks very promising.

They CAN do it!

31 Jan


Check out the detailed description of the creation of a product to demonstrate 1st graders’ learning. She is very adept at describing the many steps in the workflow of the students’ creations. This project includes the basic knowledge of the butterfly life cycle, but the understanding of digital citizenship, too.

Click here to go to the Langwiches Blog. Pictures are included in her post for a more thorough description.

First Grade Workflow Fluency
January 31, 2013 21st Century Learning, 21st Century Skills, Featured Carousel, iPad 5 Comments

As first graders are learning about the butterfly life cycle, we wanted to stay away from usual activities such as coloring in a pre-printed coloring page. INSTEAD of such an activity (created by others) and a quiz about recalling the different stages of the life cycle as assessment, we decided to have students built on their knowledge and fluency of creating a collage and CREATING a visual of their learning. The digital visual was to become an artifact for their student portfolio.

Our first graders are working weekly on a Hebrew visual dictionary on the iPad PicCollage app. They are very comfortable with the app itself. We were ready to spill over from Jewish studies into their General Studies class and push them on their workflow (fluency) with the iPad.

we reviewed the stages of a butterfly
showed students a National Geographic video of the life cycle
modeled the creation of a PicCollage Butterfly poster by breaking down each step
embedded digital citizenship (images copyright issues)
emphasized the workflow of :
choosing appropriate tools/apps (critical thinking)
navigating to website ( workflow, information literacy)
searching for images (information literacy, critical thinking, creativity)
saving images (workflow)
switching apps (workflow)
browsing for images> importing images > editing images > adding text (workflow)
designing (creativity)
saving (workflow)
emailing final product (workflow, communication)

I was impressed by our 6 & 7 years olds to get to work, able to follow along the workflow path, some having a little trouble with spelling some of the words, but ALL comfortable with tapping, swiping, switching between apps, pinching in and out, editing, saving images and simply knowing that these images will be waiting for them in their Photo Album to be used in another app.

This activity was NOT about using the iPad app, it was about creating a visual of their learning. It was about workflow, skills and creativity.

The emailed collages, will be placed on student blogfolis with a written or audio reflection of their creation or learning process.

Interested in other “upgraded” activities for first graders and a butterfly unit? Take a look how last’s year first grade students created an ePub iPad book for the world as the culmination of their unit of study of butterflies.

But How Do You Collaborate?

29 Jan


Collaborating is hard! Teaching children how to collaborate is even harder. As adults, it is easy to forget just how explicitly we need to teach our students the unwritten social norms or rules we must follow in order to work together successfully.

Now, more than ever, we need to ensure our students are equipped to interact with others productively. The CCSS mandates that it happens and our students’ future employers have expressed the extreme need for this skill.

The blog post from Edutopia, written by Ryan Schaff and also posted on The Committed Sardine, provides ideas and structures teachers can use to help teach the discreet skills children must acquire in our schools. It’s a great read!

Deeper Learning: A Collaborative Classroom Is Key

Posted by Ryan Schaaf via Edutopia

What’s ideal when it comes to collaboration in our classrooms? Here’s one coveted scenario: several children gathered at a table engaged in a high-level task, discussing, possibly debating an issue, making shared decisions, and designing a product that demonstrates all this deeper learning.

As teachers, we’d love to see this right out the gate, but this sort of sophisticated teamwork takes scaffolding. It won’t just happen by placing students together with a piece of provocative text or an engaging task. (Heck, this deeper learning collaboration is challenging for most adults!)

In preparing our students for college and careers, 21st century skills call on us to develop highly collaborative citizens — it’s one of the 4 Cs, after all.

So how do we begin this scaffolded journey? Once we’ve shared with students the task or assessment they are challenged to complete with their group, here’s some suggested steps for supporting students in deep and meaningful collaboration:

Establish Group Agreements

Deciding on group norms, or agreements, right at the get go will give each student a voice and provide accountability for all. Although the Center for Adaptive Schools’ Seven Norms of Collaboration are to be used with adult groups, use them to inspire more “kid-friendly” worded norms to offer up to your students. Children (depending on the age) might come up with things like: “one person talks at a time,” “respect each other and all ideas,” and “no put downs.” A poster of the shared agreements can be displayed and when necessary, called attention to when a student or group needs a reminder.

Accountability is an important factor in group working agreements. Since a teacher must find creative and effective ways to monitor multiple groups working at once in the classroom, assigning roles can be incredibly helpful. For example, if students are working in a group of four reading and analyzing an article, say, on immigration reform in the United States, you may have “an investigator,” “a recorder,” “a discussion director,” and “a reporter.” For the group to be successful, each child must complete the jobs that accompany his/her role.

Teach Them How to Listen

Good listeners are both rare and valued in our culture. I share this with students. I also share how people who really listen (make eye contact, offer empathy, restrain from cutting others off in a conversation) are easy to like and respect.

Accountability is an important factor in group working agreements. Since a teacher must find creative and effective ways to monitor multiple groups working at once in the classroom, assigning roles can be incredibly helpful.

Save The Last Word is a great activity that allows students to practice listening. Provide several rounds of this structured activity followed by time for students to reflect on the experience and evaluate their own listening skills.

Children also need opportunities to restrain themselves from speaking in order to keep their attention on listening. Consider adding “Three then Me” to the class norms/agreements. This simply means that before one can speak again, they need to wait for three others to share first.

Teach Them the Art of Asking Good Questions

Have the class generate questions on any given topic, writing each one on the board. Decide on the most pressing and interesting questions of the bunch and discuss with students what makes these particular ones stand out. Talk about the types of questions that more often yield the best responses — those that are open-ended, thoughtful and sometimes even daring.

Describe how well-received questions are neutral and don’t sound as if someone is being interrogated. Introduce them to invitational questions stems such as, “When you think about ______, what comes to mind?” and, “Considering what we already know about ______, how will we ____?” As a scaffold, provide a handout with question starters for students to use during group discussions.

Students also need to know about wait time. Explain — better yet, demonstrate — that once someone in the group poses a question, there needs to be a few seconds of silence, giving everyone time to think.

Teach Them How To Negotiate

A group member who speaks the loudest and frequently asserts may get the most said but that doesn’t mean they’ll convince a group of anything. A good negotiator listens well, shows patience and flexibility, points out shared ideas and areas of group agreement, and thinks under pressure.

After sharing this list with students, generate together more characteristics to add to it. Indulge them in a brief activity called “Build a Consensus.” In this activity, set the timer and give mere minutes to group plan a mock birthday party, fieldtrip, or a lunchtime meal so they can practice their negotiation skills.

Model What We Expect

When it comes to creating a highly collaborative classroom, teachers need to model listening, paraphrasing, artful questioning and negotiation any and every chance they get. In a student-centered classroom, we really do very little actual teaching (in the traditional sense of the word). What we find ourselves mostly doing is facilitating learning experiences for whole and smaller groups. Sending our students out in the world with the incredible ability to effectively facilitate a group is a 21st century skill crucial to success in the university and the work world.

This reminds me of the design company IDEO. An employee there was promoted to guide a team in redesigning the shopping cart not because of seniority but because “he’s good with groups.” Ultimately, this guy was highly skilled at creating a space for all ideas to be heard, respected, and built on.

Group Brain Power

Learning, and higher-level learning such as synthesizing information from several documents or analyzing scientific data, can hit much deeper when done collaboratively. Let’s not forget Lev Vygotsky and his educational theory that proposes learning as a social process. And if he were alive today, he would most like agree with the saying, Two minds are better than one. He might even add, “Better yet, how about three or four?”

What strategies and activities help you develop student groups? In what ways has collaboration driven deeper learning in your classroom? Please share with us your successes.


Are Kids Really Motivated By Technology?

8 Jan

Read this:

Are kids really motivated by technology? | SmartBlogs SmartBlogs.

Then Listen to This:

2 Pi: Rhymes and Radii

Jake Scott takes the time to understand his students and know what motivates and inspires them.  The technology he uses capitalizes on his understanding of their interests.  This, I think, is a perfect example of how technology can be leveraged in education–better yet, how it should be leveraged in education.

Rock On 2Pi!