Common Core, Art, & Courage
for 21st Century Learning  
December 2014

In This Issue


CEI Helps you move forward


Common Core ELA Assessments


Courage, Bullying, & Training Needs


Common Core Math & Cognitive Demands


TECHNOLOGY Competition


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 Technology Checklist
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  • Administrators, teachers, and school tech specialists can submit.
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The new book by Peter Yarrow, Paul Stookey, and Mary Travers visually tells the intimate story of Peter, Paul, and Mary and their music. In their own words, the three describe their 50-year journey to America's heart. Many photographs have never before been published.

Bruce Wexler's Activate program, described in a previous WOW! is back in the limelight with a new version soon available. Read about recent studies on physical exercise and ADHD that corroborate the Activate's
 approach to
working with children with ADHD and check out the Intuitive Version.


NAESP Releases New Competencies for Leading Pre-K-3


This standards document defines new competencies for principals, and outlines a practical approach to high-quality early childhood education that is critical to laying a strong foundation for learning for young children from age three to grade three.



heart centered
 Single and bulk copies of Heart Beaming books for your schools.


Do your teachers and administrators need ideas for adapting  Common Core materials?
CEI has a web page devoted to many aids and links.
Click here!




Stu Tables

CEI offers a wide array of workshops with distinguished faculty who deliver timely, up-to-date workshops for schools and districts.
Check out the possibilities!

Hot Topics:
STEM, Reteaching, Neuroscience, Compassion
& many more.

 Newsletter editor:

Carolyn Lieberg 

Dear Educators:

As we consider 21st Century Learning, CEI is convinced that educators at the forefront will be working to transform schools to keep current with the best 21st century practices. This is not a new theme for CEI. At times in recent years, CEI has written about the schools of the future. We have considered their curriculum, technology, instructional strategies, assessments, leadership, social emotional learning, neuroscience, and even the configuration of classrooms and the structure of schedules.  We have also advocated for personalized instruction and other ways to engage students with an array of strengths and needs as schools are being transformed.


In this month's Wow!, we look at the future through the lens of best practices in implementing high standards, assessing student learning, and promoting courage. We also introduce to you some CEI star trainers. We invite you to reflect on this over the next month as you enjoy your holiday season, making plans for implementation in 2015.


How CEI Can Help You Move Forward  

By Christine Mason, CEI Executive Director
As CEI looks to the future, we believe it is critical for schools to continue to consider the needs of ALL students. Within this context, we are again considering "what's next?" What will come after the current emphasis on rigor and high academic standards? And as we consider the value of ancient teaching traditions for furthering student interest, we are delighted by some highly creative ways that the arts are making a comeback in education.
Like other educational leaders, we believe that keeping up with technology is important. Keeping up with innovations in general and striving to be leaders are also impressive goals -- goals that suggest that schools that avail themselves of the foremost experts will move forward more comfortably, with greater ease and confidence. However, in considering America's needs, we must consider the needs of the world as well. CEI believes the world will be a better place with more heart centered education, and hence we try to provide guidance across these areas.

CEI Trainers

To help support your educational needs, CEI has a host of trainers. We are highlighting some of our newest additions below.


Also see our recent blog post to get updates on the important work in heart centered education by Peter Yarrow, Dr. Rony Berger, and Dr. Yotam Heineberg and in neuroscience by Dr. Bruce Wexler.  We are also particularly pleased by the response we have had to the module that I deliver on inquiry-based or problem-based learning. This fits well with STEM and collaborative learning.


Here are a few of our star trainers:  


Kevin Manning, Astronomer, Look Up to the Stars

In collaboration with the CEI, Kevin offers workshops for educators on using astronomy as an interdisciplinary approach to education. Participating educators will learn how to access robotic telescopes, take photographs of planets, galaxies, and nebulae and use image processing tools to bring out detail in these photos the same way that professional astronomers do. They will also learn how to create thematic units that tap the talents and enthusiasm of students across disciplines.


Kevin has also developed the following workshops: Survival on the Moon, Messier Object Search, and Capture the Colorful Cosmos with NASA's MicroObservatory. He can present these as professional development events for teachers and administrators or can deliver these directly to students. Kevin can help guide student discussions, assist students in accessing robotic telescopes, take photographs of planets and galaxies, teach students to read star charts and more.


Kevin tours the country, making presentations to schools, libraries and community centers. In addition to currently lecturing across our nation, Kevin has worked as a consultant with NASA, the Chandra X-Ray Observatory launched on the space shuttle with the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, and other ground-based observatories and with Brookhaven National Laboratory. He has presented workshops and lectures over the years at libraries, public schools, observatories, and science centers, including such places as Tufts University, State University of New York at Stony Brook, the NSTA National Convention, AAAS Breakfast with Scientists, and the National Parks Service.  



Dr. Renee Sandell, Visual Artist/Educator

Working with CEI, Dr. Sandell now brings her art education and museum experience to schools. CEI is enthusiastic about the value of arts integration to not only developing art skills but also in furthering interdisciplinary student engagement and literacy.


A National Art Education Association (NAEA) Distinguished Fellow and the 2013 National Art Educator of the Year, Dr. Sandell has served as a consultant to school systems, museums, and cultural organizations. She incorporates museum studies in her teaching along with writing. For the past nine years, Sandell has facilitated Artful Adventures, university-museum partnerships in Washington DC, connecting preservice art educators with original art works at The Kreeger Museum, The Phillips Collection, National Museum of Women in the Arts, the Smithsonian American Art Museum and the National Portrait Gallery. 


SummerVision. Dr. Sandell is founder and director of NAEA's SummerVision program, that uses her Form+Theme+Context (FTC)™ approach to balanced seeing for a 4-day expeditionary engagement, exploring diverse museums as vital learning sites while building a professional learning community (PLC). Now in its 6th year, having served 200 participants from around the globe, SummerVision  2015 is expanding to take place in America's Heartland as well as the Nation's Capital.   


Marking & Mapping™. To foster artistic literacy in everyone, Dr. Sandell has created "Marking and Mapping." According to Sandell, "In art and teaching -- especially in today's increasingly visual world, marking and mapping provide easy access to one's innate creativity... Everyone can easily engage in this kind of data visualization for meaningful communication and pleasure." This workshop can be customized for schools and other organizations.


Conversing with Works of Art. This hands-on, multi-sensory workshop is designed to foster careful observation and the discovery of visual forms, themes, feelings and contexts embedded in works of art. Each participant is guided through a unique, in-depth personal "conversation" with a postcard-sized art reproduction using playful materials and creative strategies, to explore the artwork's layers of meaning and interdisciplinary connections. The workshop, which can be adapted for K-12 and adults, concludes with lively group sharing of discoveries.



Elizabeth Parry, Engineering Educator -- STEM

Elizabeth Parry assists CEI in delivering highly engaging STEM workshops for teachers and administrators. Ms. Parry is an engineer and consultant in K-12 STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) Curriculum and Professional Development and the coordinator of K-20 STEM Partnership Development at the College of Engineering at North Carolina State University. For the past fifteen years, she has worked extensively with students from kindergarten to graduate school, parents and pre-service and in-service teachers to both educate and excite them about engineering.  


Mentoring for STEM. As the Co-PI and project director of a National Science Foundation GK-12 grant, Parry developed a highly effective tiered mentoring model for graduate and undergraduate engineering and education teams as well as a popular Family STEM event offering for both elementary and middle school communities.


STEM Research. Ms. Parry's research interests include learning style and pedagogical connections, assessment and evaluation of K-12 learning through engineering principles,  the impact of both poverty and family on STEM attitudes and success and "preschool to practice" engineering topics related to pipeline, diversity, retention and outcomes.  She has authored over 30 papers on K-20 STEM education issues.  


Current projects include providing comprehensive professional development and program consulting for multiple elementary engineering schools, serving as a regional hub partner for the Museum of Science, Boston's Engineering is Elementary curriculum program; and participating in the Family Engineering project.  She currently serves as the chair-elect of the American Society for Engineering Education K-12 and Pre-College Division. 

Preparing for English Language Arts Assessment:

Supports and Strategies


by Elijah Mercer, CEI Education Policy  and Communications Intern
 Reading and writing are critical pieces to students' success in all college classes, as well as the workforce. Schools across America are grappling with how to increase rigor and readiness for college and the workforce. (See the 3-minute video that accompanies this drawing.)

Keeping Interest High

While Common Core ELA shifts may cause some teachers to change their instructional practices, it does not mean they can't make lessons fun or engaging. This may be particularly important for students from traditionally underprivileged communities. Just as there have been achievement gaps, there are opportunity gaps for students.


Students from low-income and historically underprivileged backgrounds and communities may not have the same opportunities or skill sets as their more affluent peers. As ELA standards shift to using more text-based evidence and informational texts, teachers must also help guide student thinking in this

regard, especially teachers with historically underprivileged, non-native, or struggling learners.


What are some practices you use? As we look to the future, consider some of the best educational practices that ELA teachers can use to implement the Common Core Standards.


Best Practices, Suggestions and Future Implications

Informational Text -- Nonfiction vs. Literary Analysis -- Fiction


Particularly striking is the increase to read more informational text as opposed to working on literature analysis in the classroom. Valerie Strauss (2014) in a Washington Post Op-Ed notes that schools should be doing either 50/50% (50% informational vs. 50% literature) of both, or 70/30% (70% informational vs. 30% literature). In college, students write more research-based papers with academic sources, as opposed to literary analysis.


Thus, the shift to use more informational texts means students will need to defend answers with specific evidence from these texts.

ToolsProviding students with tools and lessons on how to read informational texts using before, during and after reading strategies is an effective instructional practice, especially for K-5 classrooms. Tools such as think and read aloud, modified reciprocal teaching, and annotating provide some of the engaging strategies teachers use to increase students' reading comprehension levels and rigor.


Example. Because of the increased use of informational text, teachers also must shift to asking students to select answers based on the text.  When reading an informational text about how humans and bears behave, the teacher could ask students what is one way humans and black bears behave similarly, and then tell them to support it with information from the text. 


An  Essential Question chart is used to provide students with a graphic organizer to display evidence. 






Pinterest has many sites that have useful graphic organizers for citing evidence.  




Writing: Textual Evidence and Support

The Common Core Standards require students to use argumentative, fact-supporting and evidence-based writing. This practice is the basis for most college writing courses.


T-charts. Using tools such as t-charts can be extremely effective, especially if students must complete a major writing assessment at the end of a unit. Students can refer back to these t-charts when they have to cite evidence from the text in an argumentative, explanatory, or a persuasive essay. Rather than searching through multiple chapters to find evidence, students can complete weekly t-charts to organize evidence.


Combining small writing assignments for a final, longer paper. Students can complete smaller writing pieces throughout the semester, collating them for a final writing assessment. Struggling writers are given the opportunity to reflect on previous writing assignments, edit and modify them for the final product, and finish a better draft of a writing assignment or assessment if provided these supports throughout the semester.


Active games and movement to support learning. Engaging games can also help students with different learning styles and modalities. For example, in an eighth-grade classroom, I used a modified version of musical chairs as a way to help students remember the parts of an essay, as well to identify the best ways to write particular parts of an essay. Because my students were extremely kinesthetic learners and the class period was an inclusion class mix, a simple teacher-centered review would've lost student interest.

  • Step 1: In preparation, I hung essential parts of the essay (i.e. intro, body, conclusion, or thesis statement), around the classroom (i.e. transitional words and phrases, ways to begin a thesis, attention-grabbing strategies, etc.), as well as wrote and typed up parts of model essays to display around the classroom.
  • Step 2: Then students were instructed to stand up, and walk around the classroom until the music playing stopped.
  • Step 3: When the music stopped, I drew a student's name written on a popsicle stick out of a jar, and whichever paper was nearest, the student would read his/her statement or question, rip the paper down, and would answer the question.  (Watch for a fuller explanation in an upcoming CEI Blog post.)

Future Implications

There are many new standards the ELA Common Core Standards attempt to measure. The Council of Chief State School Officers released a statement in early December addressing actions they are taking in their Opportunities and Options: Making Career Preparation Work for Students report. This report challenges schools and districts to include career preparation and readiness as part of its curriculum. The announcement can be read online. From listening and speaking standards, to collaborative work environments, the Common Core is bringing high level standards to classrooms to maximize future student achievement.




Dixon, B., et al. (2012, May). Common core teaching and learning strategies. Retrieved from


Strauss, V. (2014, January, 18). Everything you need to know about the common core - ravitch. Retrieved from


Bullying -- Need for more Training, Enforcement, and Courage
by Denait Berhe, CEI Intern

How does your school address bullying?


Have students and staff had training? Do you have rules and clear consequences and policies in your handbook? Have notices been sent to parents so that they understand your school policies? Bullying -- the repeated acts of aggression, intimidation or coercion against a victim who is weaker than the perpetrator in terms of physical size, psychological/social power, or other factors that result in a notable power differential (Merrell et al., 2008) -- despite many efforts of schools and others, continues.


October was National Bullying Prevention Month; however, on October 28, in a Bronx middle school, two young brothers of Senegalese descent were bullied, harassed and labeled as "Ebola" by their school mates. The boys recently moved back to the U.S from Senegal where they had been studying French. According to several news reports, their outraged father claimed that his sons were so disturbed and hurt by what happened to them that they want to go back to Africa. Although community activists, school officials and the New York City school chancellor stood by the victims and stated that there is no tolerance for bullying and stigmatization in schools, there is no report of a school staff, classmates or schoolmates intervening to help or to stop the attacks.   


Bullying Persists
Despite the limited progress made to curb bullying in schools, incidents such as what happened in the Bronx middle school reveal that schools are still struggling to prevent and eliminate bullying.

  • Many students continue to experience bullying on school grounds.
  • Usually bullies target students who are alone, who don't have friends and who are considered different.

Courage and Bullying

Courage on behalf of students and staff at schools is needed to put an end to bullying. Schools are the ideal places to cultivate students with compassionate and courageous hearts since schools are interactive communities where adult supervision is available for substantial periods of time. In schools, students can learn about compassion for others and about courage, through books, activities, through school and homework assignments or simply through school-wide mission and initiative.  

For example, teachers at the Bronx school mentioned earlier could include a section on Ebola, and teach how and why calling the two brothers "Ebola" was hurtful, and give the students a research assignment to learn more about Ebola and the preventive practices that are becoming more and more effective. The goal is to provide information to reduce fear and stop students from treating others who are different from them in an unkind manner, to instead teach them that such acts are simply unacceptable. Ideally, students with compassionate and courageous hearts would have befriended the brothers, welcoming them to the school and standing with them to prevent or minimize bullying.


A courageous act requires the ability to overcome fear and uncertainty to do what is right, and to stand to up to what is wrong. This requires students who are bystanders to stand-up to bullies or a bully safely, smartly, defiantly, surprisingly and yet compassionately. For example, students who are witnesses can choose not to join in the act, not to laugh at the act or stop the act. Most students don't intervene because they are afraid, are friends with the bully, or are not ready to lose their popularity or their sense of belonging to the group. What schools could do is to teach, train and challenge students who are bystanders to alert a trusted adult or school staff right away.


A courageous act usually inspires other courageous acts. Many people are inspired by the courageous acts of Mother Theresa, Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King as well as fascinated by Harry Potter, Frodo and Bilbo Baggins. Eliminating and preventing bullying is a collective effort, collective courageous acts fueled by collective compassionate and courageous hearts. School leaders, teachers, parents and other students always have the opportunity to model the acts of courage, compassion, kindness and respect towards others.  


Courage and Advocacy: Jake Ross and Minnesota Anti-bullying bill. The story of Jake Ross, an 11 year-old boy from Minnesota who tirelessly advocated for an anti-bullying bill should give inspiration and hope. Jake was a victim of an ongoing and repeated bullying as a 7-year-old 2nd grader. He suffered physical harm, verbal threats, intimidation and stealing. Jake showed great courage by doing what a victim of bullying is supposed to do, such as not internalizing the experience as his fault and notifying a trusted adult, his mother. In addition, as an advocate, he testified, lobbied, and collected over 500 petition signatures in support of an anti-bullying bill.  

Minnesota now has a bill for anti-bullying signed by the Governor last April. The Safe and Supportive Minnesota Schools Act is a comprehensive anti-bullying bill that will require all schools in the state to have an anti-bullying policy that clearly defines bullying, harassment, and intimidation, provides training and resources for students, staff, and volunteers and lays out specific procedures school staff must follow when bullying is reported.


Minnesota is not the only state that has either a law or a policy for anti-bullying. With the exception of the state of Montana, all states have anti-bullying laws or both policy and law. The federal government website has a range of resources for school leaders, teachers, parents and students to learn about and address bullying.  




Merrell, K. W., Gueldner, B. A., Ross, S. W., & Isava, D. M. (2008). How effective are school bullying intervention programs? A meta-analysis of intervention research. School Psychology Quarterly, 23(1), 26.


Note: CEI will be publishing a blogpost this week specifically on Ebola and courage, including some useful tips for schools regarding Ebola.

The Value of Common Core for Math: Cognitive Demand and Performance Assessments


By Lindsay Reeves, CEI Intern

As Common Core becomes one of the hottest topics debated in the education world, many educators are left wondering about the practicality and immediate effects these new tests will have on teaching objective subjects like Math. Prior to the Common Core, traditional multiple-choice questions  dominated standardized assessments, and teachers tried to teach students to engage in the process of elimination or put forth an "educated guess" to arrive at the correct answer. Now, however, teachers are given the responsibility of providing more rigorous instruction to adequately prepare students for the challenges they will face with the new types of standardized tests that go beyond the simplicity found in answering multiple-choice questions.


Cognitive Demand. Phrases like cognitive demand have become paramount in the discourse surrounding the implementation of the Common Core standards. For example, in previous years, students were asked to complete problems in math that required only correct answers. With the new standards, however, the correct answer may only stand as providing partial credit; the actual level of complexity regarding the method employed by the student in terms of arriving at the correct answer has now become the central focus guiding Common Core.


The questions that loom ignite inquiries like "What advantages are embedded in the new standards?"


With Common Core math, students can:

  • Make sense of problems and persevere in solving them
  • Reason abstractly and quantitatively
  • Construct viable arguments and critique the reasoning of others
  • Model with mathematics
  • Use appropriate tools strategically
  • Attend to precision
  • Look for and make use of structure
  • Look for and express regularity in repeated reasoning

How do these advantages play out in the new assessments?


An Example. In elementary schools, with traditional standardized tests, students got by with a counting strategy. Such a strategy allows students to use basic tools that require no knowledge of a multiplication algorithm; they can very, quite literally, count their way until the correct answer is found.


The old way vs. the new way

Elementary School Example 


Previous Math Question
CCSS Math Question
Each shirt costs $4. How much do 3 shirts cost?
Each shirt has 6 buttons. How many buttons are needed to make 7 shirts?
This question can be answered by a "count-all" strategy, in which you don't need to know your multiplication tables by memory to get the right answer.
This question requires automatic recall of multiplication tables to get at the right answer.

The problem shown above could easily present itself as a multiple-choice question. However, with those types of questions, even if the student selects the correct response, there is no true way of gauging the student's ability in mastering the standard specific to knowledge of multiplication tables. This notion lies at the heart of Common Core.


To help remedy this issue and gather more information on how students attack a problem, items that include performance tasks are replacing what used to be the typical multiple-choice question.


Performance Tasks

A performance task generally involves a type of stimulus (graphs, charts, statistics, etc.) and a question that prompts students to answer in a way that usually requires a written expression. Stimuli are not always necessary, but can be helpful in guiding students in their formulation of an appropriate response. This kind of item is most beneficial for problems that require a higher level of cognitive demand.


A Performance Task Assessed

In 2007, second grade students were tested nationally on a task developed by the Mathematics Assessment Resource Service. Students were given an item, entitled "Incredible Equations" and were prompted then to respond not only by "filling in the blank," but also by illustrating a portion of the problem that required an explanation. A maximum of ten points was allocated to students who answered all parts of the task correctly. Only a mere 11% answered all parts of the question correctly. This number seemed to generally shrink as grade levels increased (Performance Assessment Tasks). What can we learn from this?


As students move through school, the reasoning abilities that involve both "numbers and letters" have to graduate as well. It is no longer sufficient to "know" the right answer; it must be explained and defended. As assessments continue to evolve (as does Common Core), it becomes clearer that students must be more equipped to think critically and analyze effectively. "We not only want to find out what answers are correct, but to also come to understand how we negotiate and resolve differences in our knowledge bases. This is what it means to do mathematics." (Performance Assessment Tasks)




Common Core State Standards Initiative (2014). Retrieved from 


Old Standards vs. Common Core: A Side-By-Side Comparison of Math Expectations (2014). Retrieved from 


Performance Assessment Tasks (2007). Retrieved from  

January 2015


The wonderful thing about January is that it allows schools to have a fresh start. January is an ideal time to return with an uplifting vision, a renewed sense of hope and direction, and strategies to help staff gain skills and polish their teaching.


January to March need not be the months that drag by. Inserting exciting, stimulating, hands-on activities can strengthen your school community during a time that could otherwise be the endless winter months. Enjoy your holidays -- and reach out to CEI if any of our trainers or trainings speak to you!


Christine Mason
Executive Director, Center for Educational Improvement
CEI is collaboraating with the NAESP Foundation to bring innovations to school leaders.
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