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Fluency Without Fear – the Best Ways to Learn Math Facts – by Jo Boaler and others at Stanford

Here is a wonderful piece by Stanford math professor Jo Boaler.  I offer it not as part of the Common Core debate but because it lives in a world so far beyond that debate.  Whether or not you are a math person, so to speak, you will enjoy this. (more…)

Here’s a great Union Leader report on how NH students are getting exposed to computer coding

As a software business person, maybe I’m biased, but I’m excited about the recent efforts to interest students in computer coding.  Some may turn out to be interested enough to pursue STEM careers but anyone who tries coding will benefit from a deeper understanding of technical matters and the logical construction of things.  Students learn how to dissect and frog – why not learn how to dissect an ap? As the folks at, say, learning to code can “help students develop creativity, confidence, and problem-solving – which help in all information age careers.” (more…)

Are we allowing children to “make up their own meaning?”

Here’s a sentence from a longer comment from “Jane,” a retired “35 year teacher.”  She was commenting on this post about the great teaching going on in Rochester schools:

“Let me remind you that if these children are engaging in constructivist learning they’re making up their own meaning for the text and that is somehow acceptable.”

Jane knew I wouldn’t post her comment and she was right.  It was just too full of bile and insults.  But I do want to address her real point because it is the kind of misunderstanding you hear a lot.

There’s a good discussion of what Jane is talking about in a journal for the folks who develop curriculums for public schools.  The article itself is pretty long, so I’ve pulled out some highlights: (more…)

Trust teachers

I drove up to a great conference organized by Dartmouth students yesterday with Stuart Kahl, founding principal and CEO emeritus of Measured Progress in Dover, NH.  We moderated a discussion session on the Common Core and the Smarter Balanced assessment. (more…)

Dartmouth summit panel discusses important teacher preparation issues

Dartmouth’s Millennial Action Coalition put on a summit yesterday to discuss education and health care policy and how youth can play a leadership role is addressing the big policy issues facing the country.   (more…)

Open letter to signers of the open letter from Nashua Board of Education members

Open Letter Signers,

Your letter raises a number of questions.

You say that you are acting as individuals – but also as officials elected to oversee Nashua’s schools.  How is that possible?

And why are you willing to do board business – make a request of NHDOE – in a letter you say your are signing as individuals but that gives the impression you are signing as board members?

Are you trying to have it both ways?

You are a board majority.  If you really think that Nashua should choose its own annual test, why don’t you pass a motion saying that?

Maybe you realize that it is just not possible for each New Hampshire community to choose a different test for the annual “statewide assessment.”  If so, why do you put your names on a letter making that impossible request?

And why would you enlist Fairgrounds Principal John Nelson, who reports to you as board members, in your own personal political mission?  He says that he did not send his letter to the board and that you are using it in a way that is inconsistent with his intent.  Did you know that?  Did anyone talk with principal Nelson?

There are other errors, including the confused reference to a mythical future test, but my message is simple.

You have been misusing your board of education positions in a political fight over the Common Core.  There is no viable alternative to the Smarter Balanced test, nor is there a need for one.  You should rethink your position.


Bill Duncan

Yesterday’s PISA results stimulate a real discussion about the role of testing in learning

Yesterday’s PISA results will be the subject of a lot of debate and analysis but one exchange illustrates how rich the discussion can become when it goes beyond positional warfare:  Pasi Sahlberg, Finnish education guru, Alan C. Jones, a commenter on a blog, and New Hampshire teachers all go beyond the usual debates about the evils of testing to talk about meaningful learning for students.

When perennial education leader Finland lost its top spot in the PISA scores this year, Pasi Sahlberg, said (quoted here on Diane Ravitch’s blog),

Finland should not do what many other countries have done when they have looked for a cure to their ill-performing school systems. Common solutions have included market-based reforms, such as increasing competition between schools, standardization of teaching and learning, tougher test-based accountability and privatization of public schools. Instead, Finns must protect their schools from the Global Educational Reform Movement (GERM) that has failed to help schools to get better in other countries.

The better way for Finland is to ensure that schools are able to cope with increasing inequality, that teachers have tools to help students with individual needs, and that all schools get support to succeed.PISA results are too often presented as a simple league table of education systems. But there is much more that the data reveal.

….see the full post here.

That led to this very interesting comment by Alan C. Jones:

What Mr. Sahlberg is pointing out is the distinction between what Fenstermacher & Richardson (2005) have named “successful schools” and “good schools.” Successful schools require a quantifiable outcome that is evidence of student learning. Good schools focus on the process of education —balanced curriculum, ambitious teaching, inclusive environments—and let the test scores take care of themselves.W. Edwards Deming, the father of TQM, (who incidentally warned that his methods should never be applied to education), warned of the danger of end point measurement systems. Even in the private sector, Deming noted, the focus on quantifiable outcomes can distort the processes designed to produce quality. The shame of the accountability movement is taking away from children the opportunity to learn in a joyful and meaningful school environment — a good school. In the pursuit of successful schooling, administrators and law makers have been victimized by end point thinking. We will never be able to link what teachers do in classrooms with some quantifiable outcome. What we can do in schools is make every effort to make a child’s experience in school a meaningful one—the processes that teachers are pursuing in Finland.

New Hampshire teachers make the same point.  Angela Manning, 5th grade teacher at Portsmouth’s New Franklin Elementary School, said,

“Our teachers are saying, “Ok. This is a standard that we have to teach and we’re going to make it applicable to our students so it’s meaningful. How can we make it best for kids’ learning? The bigger things that are coming out of Common Core are that the thinking required will benefit these kids.

When it comes to testing, that will take care of itself.”


Bow High School English teacher Joy Dustin on how to get students to love reading – Concord Monitor

Back on October 8, Bow High English teacher Joy Dustin wrote in the Concord Monitor about the Common Core standards for English.  I missed it then but alert you to it now.   (more…)

Here’s how a Manchester fourth grade teacher has made the new standards work for her

singing class outsideDebbie Villiard, a fourth grade teacher passionately dedicated to the kids at Manchester’s Northwest Elementary School, has had great success with the new standards in her classroom.

Here’s what she told me a couple of weeks ago:

How big a change are the new standards?

Common Core standards don’t limit what I do in the classroom – they open doors.  I can use interesting topics from articles or chapter books and dig deeper into literature with the students.  I can teach them to look at the text, see who the source is and see if they believe it. That’s what the standard says.

What I’m teaching hasn’t changed drastically.  But we go deeper and spend more time on skills.  We don’t just teach something and move on.  In math, for instance, we do lots of different activities having to do with place value.  I try to make sure that not only can they do a paper and pencil task but, maybe, a task with place value blocks or a word problem or game that involves, say, adding five ten-thousandths to this number.  I try to make sure they really, really own those skills.

In English, we spend a lot more time looking closely at the text and answering real questions.  There’s no more, “How did you feel when you read that?”  Now it’s, “How did the character feel or why did the character do this?”

We do have teachers’ guides that help with questions on such things as identifying the themes, the skills and the vocabulary.  It’s all right there for the teacher.  But I don’t use those worksheets.

I’m looking for, “What are the things in the new standards that I need to use from that teachers’ guide?” – like identifying the theme, for example.  Say the theme in a given book is “friendship.”  I might draw from the questions in the teacher guide that deal with friendship but leave out the questions that say, “Describe a time when you had a friend”

We just have to pick the parts of existing materials resources that best fit the standards so we don’t have to start from scratch.


Amazing second grade teacher talks about how her kids are responding to the new standards

Jane Ellwood teaches second grade at Manchester’s Northwest Elementary School, where Principal Shelly Larochelle has been leading a savvy and effective rollout of the new state standards.  Here’s how Ms. Ellwood described her experience to me: (more…)