Friday, 24 January 2014

Grammar & Conventions - Common Core (Part 1)

California is currently considering requiring schools to offer pre-k or transitional kindergarten to an expanded age group to better prepare them, particularly those who are disadvantaged, for the rigors of early education.  A glimpse at the new Common Core Standards for Kindergarten Grammar may help this decision.

Since this is going to be a somewhat long resource, we'll be having this as a four-part series of blog posts.

1. Capitalization

Capital letters, or uppercase letters, make words stand out on a page. In general writing, a capital letter is used for the first word of every sentence. Certain words are always capitalized: the personal pronouns I, and I’m; and proper nouns (days of the week, months, holidays; and names of people, places, and things).

Examples of capitalization:
  • I’m going shopping the day after Thanksgiving with Antoine.
  • I am excited to go to the movies with Sandra.
  • This year Christmas is on Sunday, December 25th.

2. Complete Sentences

A complete sentence contains a subject and a predicate that work together to express a complete thought.

Examples of complete sentences:
  • John spent his afternoon coloring and reading.
  • Chelsea goes to the doctor today.
  • I love to swim at the lake.
  • Keshav likes to ride his bike.

3. End Punctuation

A period (.) is used to end a sentence. It may also be used in initials, abbreviations, or as a decimal point. A question mark (?) is used at the end of a sentence when a direct question is asked. An exclamation point (!) is used at the end of a sentence to express strong feeling.

Examples of end punctuation:
  • Period: Ashton won the pie eating contest.
  • Period and Decimal Point: The pizza was $5.00.
  • Question Mark: Are you coming over today?
  • Exclamation Point: Happy Birthday!

Stay tuned!

Thursday, 9 January 2014

What is the Educational Shift in California going to be like?

What is the new 21st century, "Common Core" learning going to be about?  What should it be about?  What does this transition really look like?

There are some extreme examples out there (which are also extremely successful).    For example, the John Stanford International School in Seattle.  This is a public elementary school with a primary focus on global education.  All students take some classes in either Japanese or Spanish.  Instead of studying Pilgrims and Indians every fall, these students do social studies on Asia, Africa, Australia, Mexico and South America.  The kids interact through video-conferencing with students in Japan, Africa and Mexico.  The aim is to build "international-mindedness".  They learn about the American Revolution with views from Britain and France.  They learn how to grasp issues across national borders.  They develop from early on an understanding of nuances and complexity and a balanced approach to problem solving.

What does this mean for California?  With the acceptance of Common Core Standards, there are now funds available to help CA schools make a transition to be more like those focused on global education.  In addition, the number one skill identified by hundreds of business leaders as necessary to teach from a young age is technology.  At the Seattle Stanford school, for example, first-graders learn to use PowerPoint and other Internet tools.  There is now funding available for CA school districts to train teachers in the use of appropriate technology for the classroom as well as provide that technology.

So...  what should still be taught the old way (memorizing facts, learning details "in case" they are ever needed) and how much should be aimed at the newer way (group projects, computer research, learning concepts on an "as needed" basis)?  Memorizing the state capitals, the major rivers in South America, and the elements of the periodic table were all very important in my elementary education.  I don't remember much of it.  This is typical of the kind of information that is poorly retained unless it is routinely used and applies to any number of old-school assignments.  It is also information now available at a keystroke.

Should all of this just be dropped then?  No, not all.  What is important is to build a substantial fund of information in order to make sense of reading materials beyond elementary education.  Mastering the fundamental building blocks of math (Pinecone!), science or history is critical to understanding more complex concepts.

The Common Core is an attempt to achieve the right balance between such core knowledge and what educators call "portable skills" -- critical thinking, making connections between ideas and knowing how to keep on learning.  CCSS  takes some of the more successful aspects of education in Singapore, Belgium and Sweden and focuses on teaching more key concepts in depth.  Students should learn, for example, the key causes of the Civil War and understand that the periodic table reflects the atomic structure and properties of the elements.  They should learn key theorems in math, the laws of thermodynamics in science, or the relationship between supply and demand in economics.

A newer and increasingly critical skill to be taught is how to evaluate information for truth and reliability.  Many kids are used to just Googling information, then cutting and pasting into their reports with little regard for the source of this information, much less how to evaluate it.  Students need to learn to be discerning consumers of information and to research, formulate and defend their own views.  In an age of overflowing information and proliferating media, kids need to rapidly process what's coming at them and distinguish between what's reliable and what isn't.  It's important that students know how to manage, interpret, validate and act on information they receive.  They need to be taught how to do this in school.

So... the shift should be toward the "how's" and the "why's" along with learning how to evaluate the information.  It should encompass the learning of how to find and manage information, then how to communicate it and work collaboratively to produce something innovative.

The transition from desks lined up facing a teacher at the chalkboard explaining concepts, assigning reading that contains facts to be memorized which is all aimed at preparing students for an agrarian or manufacturing career --  to the classroom that prepares students to be global trade literate, sensitive to foreign cultures, conversant in different languages and able to master the creative and innovative skills (seeing patterns where others see only chaos) to learn to think across disciplines (design and technology, math and art that produce YouTube and Google) and be able to stay flexible in ever-changing careers by continually self-learning -- will be challenging and exciting.  We must do it.

Stay tuned!