Tag Archives: common core

Three Takeaways from PARCC’s Field Testing

by Helen Beyne

The first session of PARCC online assessment field testing ended last week. Over 400,000 tests were taken during this session with more tests to follow later this month. So, what can we learn from the PARCC rollout before the official test in 2015?

Remember—This is Just a Sample

PAARC, online, assessment, practice test

image courtesy of Stuart Miles / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Most of the students who participated in the first round of field testing took only one component (performance-based or end-of-year) in one subject area (ELA/Literacy or Math). When students take the test in 2015, they will take both components in both subjects. This difference could mean next year’s test will pose a greater challenge to students than the field test, but that remains to be seen.

Also keep in mind that PARCC plans to adjust the test based on field testing results. Assessment items are being looked at to make sure they do a good job of measuring the CCSS they are designed to measure. Individual test questions that were off-base in field testing could be removed or revised. No matter what, PARCC’s Common Core focus means that students can prepare for the test by practicing Common Core skills such as critical thinking and citing text evidence.

Consider the Learning Curve

Implementing any new process or technology involves a learning curve. Whether you’re familiarizing yourself with new hardware or upgrading your operating system, there will always be new commands and features to learn. These changes may be frustrating at times, but they are not impossible to handle.

The same principle holds true for PARCC. The computer-based approach to assessment is probably pretty new to you and your school. As a result, there may be tech problems and kinks to work out. During field testing, most schools reported a rocky first day, but smoother days afterward.

Before the official test, make sure your school’s computers and network meet the required specifications. On test day, consider having PARCC’s tech information and FAQs ready in case of a problem. Tech support is also available through the PearsonAccess call center. (See this PDF for the phone number.)

Talk to Your Students

It may be difficult to set aside the conversation that adults are currently having about PARCC, but if you do, you will see that students’ reactions to PARCC tend to be positive. Many students found computer-based testing more engaging than paper-and-pencil testing. This feedback could be because PARCC’s browser-based format reflects how students already use computers. Many students use computers to complete homework or consume media, and PARCC taps into similar skills.

Ask students about their PARCC experiences. If your students did not participate in PARCC’s field testing, have them try one of the practice tests available on the PARCC website. Whether individually or as a group, have students complete a section and share their reactions. Ask them about the technology and the content. Their answers are sure to be a valuable resource for your PARCC preparation.

Helen Beyne is a consultant for Green Light Professional Development. She has years of experience in creating innovative curriculum materials in reading, ESL, science, and social studies. She writes about IWBs and free online resources for teachers.

Dispatches from FETC

by Tom Nieman

A visit last week to the Florida Educational Technology Conference (FETC) proved worthwhile on a number of fronts—a temperature upgrade for me of about 40 degrees and a preview of the new classroom technology that will be released this spring.

Like anyone who attends conferences with regularity, I typically have a few questions upon entering the exhibit hall:

  • What’s new this year?
  • How does this year’s conference compare with earlier ones?
  • What can I learn about ________ that will make this show worthwhile?

My “need to learn” list included project-based learning, Common Core curriculum, and cloud-based interactive whiteboard technologies.

1.     SMART amp and Promethean ClassFlow

The “new” part of the FETC was easy this year as both SMART and Promethean were showing new cloud-based technology for using their interactive whiteboards. In the last few months, both companies have issued press releases touting their new software, called SMART amp and ClassFlow respectively.

Both amp and ClassFlow open up the previously closed IWB systems to engage with any mobile devices in the classroom, rather than the handheld response devices sold by Smart or Promethean. (ActivEngage attempted to work with other devices but was never a successful enough solution to be in wide use.) These developments are enabled by Google Drive. Teachers open a workspace within Google and can drag resources of almost any kind onto it.

Students and teachers can interact seamlessly. The SMART amp software seems open, intuitive, and easy to use. Promethean’s ClassFlow has more assessment features built in but depends more on loading student and teacher apps onto devices. Both of these exciting new platforms are now in beta versions and will be released later this spring. Being cloud-based, they hold the promise of being “device agnostic,” so that they will work on any platform, and the days of developing on both Promethean and Smart platforms may possibly be ending.

Here’s a quick video showing SMART amp in action.

These new IWB solutions take full advantage of touch screens, allowing a teacher to magnify or minimize images just by pinching or spreading fingers. Schools opting for projector-based IWB solutions or boards from PolyVision and other vendors will find that amp and ClassFlow work, up to a point, but definitely not as well as on the latest Smart or Promethean touch-sensitive boards.

2.     Edsby 

A “find” at this year’s FETC was Edsby, a cloud-based social learning platform. When I first saw their booth, I blurted out, “This looks like another Edmodo. Who needs another one of those?”

“I can tell you why,” replied Scott Welch, the vice-president of marketing of Edsby, and he did. Edsby saves work for teachers, not adding to it like so many pieces of software, primarily because it integrates with SIS software such as PowerSchool. Currently, schools that use Edmodo as a learning management system (LMS) have to go back and load the information into PowerSchool for their reporting requirements.

By creating a bridge from PowerSchool to Edsby, the work is done. Teachers do not need to load students into the system. Students are assigned to classes. Grades are calculated and posted for students and teachers. Parents can be alerted with a broadcast email that, say, testing will be done on two days next week and that students need to get their sleep.

Edsby, in other words, appears to have the right stuff. Every question I threw at Scott Welch he answered. Plus, it has an ingenious, simple pricing scheme—a penny a day, for everyone, students and teachers: $3.65 a year. I calculated in my head what the cost would be for my school system of approximately 9,200 students before I was two booths away—around $35,000 to connect all students, teachers, parents, and administrators. It’s worth a look in this day where data management has become so supremely important for schools.

3.     HMH, Pearson, TenMarks

Mention should also be made of some Common Core curriculum at the FETC. While everyone likes to imagine teachers have time to create all of their own lessons every day, that has become more difficult as rigorous new standards roll in. HMH and Pearson displayed new literature curricula aligned to the Common Core, and TenMarks displayed its Common Core math solution. None of these solutions is free, but they do the work of aligning lessons to the Common Core for teachers.


Stay alert for the release of the cloud-based solutions from SMART and Promethean. They herald a new day where students and teachers in 1-to-1 classrooms will be able to interact freely—and easily—minute-by-minute. Cloud-based solutions are transforming classrooms and education as we know it.

Tom NiemanTom Nieman is president of Green Light Professional Development and Nieman Inc., a privately held company that specializes in developing curriculum materials for educational publishers.

How to Find Free Primary Sources Online

by Erin Dye

Gettysburg Address primary sources

A handwritten copy of the Gettysburg Address | image courtesy: Manuscript Division, Library of Congress

Using primary sources is a critical part of effective social studies and English instruction. Primary sources—such as speeches, photographs, diaries, letters, and audio/video footage—are the original records of history. Many primary sources from previous decades and centuries have been digitized and are now available online.

Teaching with primary sources is important for two main reasons. First, students can use primary sources to construct their own understanding of history and improve their critical-thinking skills. Students need these skills to meet the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) for English Language Arts, which emphasize fluency with nonfiction and multimedia texts.

Second, and no less important, using primary sources can be fun! The possibilities for how to use primary sources are endless. For example, do you plan to teach the Gettysburg Address in your class? Why not enhance your instruction by finding an image of the actual document—written in Lincoln’s elegant script? Or share a photograph of the crowd gathered at Gettysburg to hear Lincoln speak? Primary sources like these show that history is more than a description of a speech in a textbook. It is a record of the words and experiences of real people. By using primary sources, students become detectives on a quest to understand the past.

Modern technology has made it easier than ever to access to a wide variety of primary sources. These websites can help you locate primary sources to improve your lessons.

The Library of Congress: The Library of Congress is the largest library in the world, and its website offers an abundance of primary sources related to history, culture, government, the arts. Its American Memory collections are easy to search, and the site offers fun ideas for how to use primary sources in the classroom. Consider using its “Today in History” feature as a bellringer to pique students’ interest at the start of class.

National Archives: As the official record keeper of the United States, the National Archives houses many of nation’s important documents, including the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. Its website has images of these documents, as well as many other records. The site also includes many helpful resources for teachers, including an online tool called Docs Teach. Docs Teach includes many types of primary sources, including written documents, audio and video clips, photographs, and maps. It organizes primary sources by time period to make finding information easy. Think about searching this site for photos or documents that connect to units of study or even particular times of year. As Thanksgiving approaches, you can even find and share fun photographs of presidents pardoning turkeys!

The Avalon Project: The Avalon Project at Yale University Law School is a great resource for primary sources related to U.S. and world history. Included in its collection are treaties, trade agreements, and presidential papers. Sources are organized by time period, beginning with ancient and medieval history.

Do you have other suggestions on where to find primary sources online? Leave your ideas in the comments!

Erin DyeErin Dye is a consultant for Green Light Professional Development with extensive experience creating digital materials for interactive whiteboards and iPads. She writes about IWBs and free online resources for teachers.