Common Core on a Mission

How Common Core, Marzano’s Design Questions 3 & 4, and project-based learning foster students’ thinking skills for the future.

Here’s an example of a fairly typical city public school mission statement : “Our mission is to be a learning community that provides a safe, caring, quality education for students in order to prepare for the possibilities of tomorrow.”

Does your school’s mission statement, and your personal mission statement, reflect your level of instruction?

In education, a mission statement should be a reflection of the instructional practices that we employ in our schools. “Safe” and “caring” most teachers understand intuitively. But “a quality education” is harder to define. And – helping students “prepare for the possibilities of tomorrow”? Are we educators, or fortune-tellers?

Common Core and Marzano Design Questions 3 &4: Back to the Future

Actually we don’t need a crystal ball or psychic powers. To get kids ready for real-world future challenges, schools have to provide opportunities for students not just to skim the surface, picking up skills, but to truly deepen their new knowledge. Students must learn to generate and test hypotheses centered on their new knowledge – they need to take that big leap into higher-order thinking skills (and if you’re using the Marzano Model, you recognize Design Question 3 and Design Question 4.) Here’s why: Being able to analyze, to test an idea, to apply a concept, are the higher-order skills students will need to navigate a future whose features we can only guess at today.

Are you preparing your students for the possibilities of tomorrow? And how do you know?

Ask yourself these two questions.

1. As a teacher, am I providing students with the opportunities to practice new knowledge and question their knowledge by incorporating 21st century skills (problem-solving, analysis, judgments and decisions)?

2. Am I creating activities to develop skills in decision-making, problem-solving, experimental inquiries, and investigating? 

These skills – practicing and questioning new knowledge, decision making, investigating—are outlined in Dr. Robert Marzano’s New Taxonomy, Level Four: Knowledge Utilization. And they pack a double whammy: They also support the guidelines of the Common Core State Standards

Here’s even better news. According to Dr. Marzano’s research, general effects of generating and testing hypotheses show a 15-29 percentile gain for student achievement. These percentages are promising!

An approach to developing “critical thinking skills,” Design Question 3, is forged through repeated exposure to knowledge. Likewise, to get students “questioning new knowledge,” (Design Question 4) teachers must provide opportunities for students to make predictions and reexamine those predictions through the use of cognitively complex tasks.

Project Based Learning: Quality Counts

One way to put the “quality” in education is to get students working toward understanding and resolving a problem. Project-based learning (PBL) and contextualized teaching and learning (CTL) are great ways to do this.

According to Diane McGrath, students engaged in PBL activities “work in groups to solve challenging problems that are authentic, curriculum-based, and often interdisciplinary.” Good projects are often generated from a driving question, and they incorporate those 21st century skills, we’ve been talking about. Doesn’t that sound a lot like the goals of Common Core?

You can create quality projects for all grade levels and subjects. Here are a few project based learning examples, all of which draw on investigating, problem solving, decision making, and/or experimental inquiry.

Elementary :
        Invasive insects are eating the leaves off flowers and plants around the school campus.  Students can investigate and determine ways to stop the insects while still allowing them to contribute to the environment

Middle School:
        Students advise a design company who wants to make the school campus more attractive for students to learn and use technology.  What financial and educational issues must they consider, and what will draw students to increase their use of technology on campus?

        The students, as shareholders in a local bank, determine whether their bank should open a small bank in the school media center.

High School:
        The local Health Department asks students to develop a comprehensive plan to educate students on infectious disease within their high school.

        As members of the “School Improvement Team,” students have to brief the principal on the cost and benefits of installing new lockers. Use mathematical principles such as volume and surface area to determine the cost of the lockers and the design of the lockers. The goal is to provide the most space and the least cost.

        The students are members of the city’s tourism society.  The city wants them to create a tour guide for visitors that reflect classic literature from your summer reading list.

Resources. For more on Project-Based Learning, see:
PBL Project-Based Learning: A Resource for Instructors and Program Coordinators
IMSA PBL Network
McGrath, Diane. 2003. Artifacts and Understanding.

How are you teaching 21st century skills in your classroom? Share your experiences or ask us a question in the comments section below.

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