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Recently, I took a group of Iowa State University students – all of whom intend to teach in public K-12 schools after graduation – on a three-week study abroad to Rome, Italy. When we weren’t enjoying all the gelato and carbonara the city offers, we were studying disciplinary literacy: that is, the specific ways students consume, understand, and produce knowledge in and across the disciplines.

During our course, we discussed a variety of disciplinary specifics, including best practices for infusing discipline-specific classroom talk, writing, comprehension, and assessment into our instruction. As a way to demonstrate their ability to foster their future students’ disciplinary literacies, my students completed a disciplinary unit plan comprised of five Iowa Core-aligned lessons. That our group came together from a variety of academic backgrounds – students who planned to teach agriculture to elementary students, history to middle school students, and English to high schoolers – deeply enriched our conversations.

Newly minted Romans of five days, our group bravely ventured on bike tour through the heart of Rome. We did not know at the time that this decision was a brave one.

That realization came later.

The experience proved to be one of the most challenging, and rewarding, moments of our trip.

We arrived at the bike shop early on our first Sunday morning in Rome. There we met our endlessly patient tour guide, Miguel, who was born and raised in Rome. Miguel spent several minutes helping us adjust the bikes for our comfort, all the while explaining what we could expect during the nearly four-hour tour. Be careful of uneven bricks in the road, and of cars that frequently run the lights, he cautioned. As much as possible, move as circular unit, not a single file line, or we will be divided, he calmly explained. Wide-eyed, we nodded, all secretly hoping we wouldn’t meet an untimely end at the hands of a rogue Vespa.

Uncertainty was etched on my students faced. I’m sure it was on mine as well.

Our trek started off a bit rocky: Some of us hadn’t ridden a bike in years, and none of us had ridden a bike through a major world city with, quite literally, ancient roads. We moved through the city, stopping to enjoy the sites: cruising downhill past the Colosseum, circling the Pantheon, and climbing the Spanish Steps. We snapped pictures. We ran into stationary objects and narrowly missed colliding with lackadaisical pedestrians. We took turns laughing at our many bike-tour-in-Rome faux paus.

At each stop, Miguel provided us with background information on the magnificent site in front of us. But he also prepared us for the next leg of our mission: what to expect when we traveled through the more car-heavy fashion district; to walk, not ride, the bikes through crowded city market of Campo de’Fiori.

Each time we stopped at a site, I couldn’t help but notice how my students interacted with Miguel. When he dismounted his bike and turned to face the group, they instantly stopped their conversations, leaned in closer and, once Miguel finished speaking, asked him clarifying questions. If the spellbound looks on their faces were any indicator, my students recognized that Miguel’s expertise was vital to their successful navigation of an unfamiliar environment. Their rapt engagement was the stuff teacher dreams are made of.

As we continued – more collectively cohesive and comfortable with each stop – I began to reflect on how the experience served as a metaphor for what teachers of disciplinary literacy must do in order to welcome students into the disciplines. Researchers in the field of literacy education have described the ways in which disciplines act as communities. And, just as communities of people enjoy and intimately know their own unique practices – their ways of doing things – so, too, do disciplines have distinct practices that mark them. Though not an academic discipline per se, the bike tour certainly required us to understand and apply a unique set of rules, or literacies.

Still ruminating on the experience, the next morning during class, I asked my students to complete a quick write, responding to the questions:

  • How did the bike tour require you to “read” the texts around you to draw conclusions?     
  • What discipline-specific skills did you need to apply to successfully complete the tour?     
  • What did it feel like having to learn a set of practices with which you were unfamiliar?     
  • How can you relate this experience to your own future teaching of disciplinary literacy?

When we came back together to discuss our writing (I completed the assignment, too), students buzzed sharing their thoughts. My students discussed how humbling it was to learn how to navigate a new terrain, particularly when the new experience was one they experienced so publicly. They expressed feeling uncertainty, embarrassment, even anxiety at times. Some students admitted they had to fight the urge to quit and go home. This led us into a discussion about the implications for our own disciplinary practice. How might riding a bike in Rome analogously speak to helping students understand the particulars of science, math, history, or English-language arts? 

One resounding commonality emerged: the important role of our tour guide, Miguel. Time and again, students voiced their appreciation of Miguel, who did not assume our understanding of the unfamiliar practices or terrain. Instead, Miguel prepared us for the realities to come: what to look for, avoid, and expect. How to navigate the city safely while calling our attention to spectacular sights that might have otherwise escaped our attention.

Though riding a bike through Rome was second nature to him, Miguel took care to make explicit the practices he, through years of practice, now effortlessly applied. Miguel discussed; he modeled. He (quite literally) led the way. He did not make us feel ashamed for not knowing how to work within a reality that, though easy for him to navigate, was challenging, even daunting, to us.

We deeply appreciated Miguel and his efforts to initiate us into his community. But what would have happened if Miguel, an expert at his craft, had assumed we knew how to navigate the streets of Rome? Likely, my students would have experienced frustration. They may have even given up on the task entirely.

Similarly, what happens if a teacher, an expert in her field, does not make clear the processes she engages when solving an inequality, evaluating a primary source, or balancing an equation? The students will experience frustration. They may even give up on the task entirely. 

But the consequences of giving up in an academic setting are far more dire than bailing out of a bike ride. Without a disciplinary leader, students are left to navigate unfamiliar terrain with no one to show them the way. Without a teacher to welcome them into a disciplinary community, students are left on the fringes of their classroom, a marginalization that will likely make it difficult for them to meet mainstream markers of success.

As facilitators of disciplinary literacy, it is our job to make clear for our students what to us comes naturally. Moreover, it is our job to be generous with our expert knowledge. This generosity allows us to usher our students into our disciplinary communities rather than to dismiss them as outsiders. By warmly inviting our students into a disciplinary community, we show students they are valuable, capable members of our classrooms.

I am often asked how teachers can work toward creating more disciplinary-rich experiences and environments for students. The bike tour experience revealed to me a new understanding of how we might more efficiently honor our work as teachers of disciplinary literacy. 

We can be explicit.

We can be generous.

We can be Miguel.

Check out the Department’s Statewide Social Studies and Science Leadership Teams’ disciplinary literacy professional learning opportunities:

Find additional resources from national organizations:

  • CEEDAR Center Disciplinary Literacy Course Enhancement Modules - A compilation of resources intended for use in the development and enhancement of teacher and leadership education courses, as well as for professional development programs for practitioners.
  • Literacy Design Collaborative - An open education resource that offers educators practical and proven tools, templates, and instructional procedures for improving students’ ability to read and write complex text with intention and deliberate purpose in every subject. Sign up for a free CoreTools account.
  • Knowledge Matters Campaign - Connects the research behind knowledge and language comprehension.

Posted by : jeanne.dyches

Standards are often seen as checklists. “Yeah, we do that already” is sometimes a common sentiment. I also hear, “There are so many standards, so we must prioritize which ones we teach.” So, what is the purpose of standards and how should they be used?

Simply put, standards outline what students should know and be able to do in a certain content area, but the implementation of standards is much more complex. First, standards impact individual teachers, but they should also impact districts from a systems perspective. Many standards are written to build upon one another and Iowa’s new K-12 social studies standards are no exception. Consider the two standards below:

Inquiry Anchor Standard Inquiry Standard
Gathering and Evaluating Sources 1st Grade SS.1.3. Determine if a source is primary or secondary and distinguish whether it is mostly fact or opinion.
Gathering and Evaluating Sources 9th-12th Grade SS.9-12.3. Gather relevant information from multiple sources representing a wide range of views while using the origin, authority, structure, context, and corroborative value of the sources to guide the selection.

The first standard is a 1st grade standard from the Gathering and Evaluating Sources anchor standard and the second standard is from the same anchor standard in 9th-12th grade. As you can see, this anchor standard gets more complex as students move from grade to grade. Individual teachers might look at the standard that applies to their grade level and think about what it means for their own classroom. They might unpack the standard by looking at the verbs used and think about the complexity of the standard. Once that is done, they might think about how the standard would be used within a unit of instruction. Could this one standard show up in multiple units or should it only be used once? In this case, the standard might show up in multiple units throughout the year. Perhaps the teacher might introduce this concept in the first units of the year and keep building on it throughout the year. It might not be until several units into the year that a teacher would summatively assess this standard with students. In this sense, standards cannot be seen as checklists, but a spiraling bridge helping teachers and students in recognizing and continually revisiting what they know and are able to do with growing complexity over time.

A district might need to think about some of the same things a teacher would, but would need to also consider how the standards work together in a PK-12 system. In thinking about the standards used above, there are broad implications for districts. For example, a district would need to have K-12 vertical and horizontal discussions so that the standards are not viewed in isolation. Additional questions to think about could include:

  • How much time are we devoting to social studies at the PK-5 levels so that these standards can be best implemented?
  • What are the social studies standards in the Iowa Early Learning Standards (IELS) used in our preschool program?
  • How does our kindergarten program build upon the IELS to provide opportunities to revisit and build upon concepts and standards provided in preschool classrooms? How can these be reinforced?
  • How are social studies standards reflected in our own classroom environments and actions to support not only content but conceptual learning, i.e. democracy and individual voice in classroom meetings, etc?
  • How much professional development in social studies is available to teachers across the district?
  • What does quality social studies instruction look like PK-12? (A helpful tool to use might be the Best Practices Rubric.)
  • How do we know if students in our district have mastered the Iowa Core social studies standards? What do we do if they have not?
  • Do we have common assessments to monitor and measure mastery of the Iowa Core social studies standards?

The statewide professional development being offered this year helps address how to put the standards together into cohesive units of instruction and make sense of the standards as a system, rather than a checklist. This is the second year of implementation for Iowa’s new social studies standards. So, what is happening to support implementation this year?

Questions? Contact

Posted by : stefanie.wager

Originally, when I began including the “why’s” behind my art lessons, it was simply to coax my seventh graders into deeper levels of engagement. Yet while all fully participated, had fun, and mastered the rubric objectives, my kiddos could not independently recall or apply the learned content in the next lesson. In trying to prompt recall, I’d say, “Do you remember what we learned about color schemes?” In response, as if hearing the words for the first time, their puzzled expressions spoke volumes. When I began to acknowledge their struggle for basic understanding, it was then I realized the greater importance of “why”: the facilitation of transfer.

The difference between my students knowing visual art concepts (like color schemes) and understanding them is their ability to transfer that knowledge to new experiences and disciplines, to explain the concept in their own words, or to even teach it to another. If my aim is for learners to integrate artistic learning as they move through different art classes, or more important, throughout life, I had to ask myself, “Do my assessments really prompt students to think critically and make connections that show true understanding?”

Olivia Gude noted, “Many in the field of art education have perhaps become too complacent about using the finished artwork as the only evidence of student learning” (Sweeny, 2014, p.10). Given our national standards history, our coziness with assessment denoting mastery of knowledge and skills is understandable. However, our new standards offer pathways to artistic ways of thinking — creating, presenting, responding, and connecting — that require us to shift from product-based experiences to process-based ones.

Unpacking Iowa’s Fine Arts Standards

If our “why” is to cultivate makers and problem-solvers able to respond to and appreciate the world around them, we must acknowledge the need for multiple assessments that reflect the layered and integrated, process-based nature of art production. We value what we assess, and what we assess communicates to students (and other stakeholders) its importance. As content advocates, we can attest to our disciplines’ potential to teach connective knowledge and skills related to academic success, but what evidence do we actually gather to reflect and nurture the transfer of big idea outcomes needed in life?

These big idea teachings that foster Artistic Literacy are found within Iowa’s Fine Arts Standards’ Enduring Understandings (EU) and Essential Questions (EQ). EU’s are the long-term outcomes sustaining the whole-child focus of our work. EQ’s promote thoughtful inquiry and “conceptual connections” that deepen learning and facilitate transfer of these outcomes.

In creating curriculum and assessment to aid acquisition of big idea outcomes, I determined to unpack standards while linking skill development to its EU’s and EQ’s. I found using the “Inside Out” Method, a resource offered on the Iowa Fine Arts website, allowed me to both clarify my thinking about transfer goals and envision multiple activities throughout the production process. As a result, my unit performance tasks not only encouraged and examined what learners could do, it also promoted transfer by helping learners understand and articulate why artistic learning is important to them.

Using the “Inside Out” Method Worksheet

As noted in both the National Core Arts Standards (NCAS) Conceptual Framework and in our Department of Education Fine Arts Standards Guidance Document, use of McTighe’s and Wiggins’s Understanding by Design (UbD) Framework® can guide us in determining outcomes, evidence and performance tasks through a backward-thinking approach to curriculum planning. The Understanding by Design (UbD) Unpacking Standards “Inside Out” Method worksheet utilizes a three-stage process to “carefully think through what will count as evidence of real learning” (McTighe & Wiggins, 2012, Module A: The Big Ideas of UBD. Good Design = ”Backward” Design section, para 6).

To illustrate how I used this tool to promote teaching of big idea outcomes, and therefore the facilitation of transfer, let me review the “Inside Out” Method steps used to create the linked Visual Art and Theatre examples.

VA-Cr.1.1.7a Unpacked
TH-Cr.1.1.7a Unpacked

  • In stage one, I identified desired results by asking questions like “What is the ultimate transfer wanted as a result of this unit?” [This is the Anchor Standard.] “What should students know, understand, and be able to do?” [This is the Grade / Proficiency-Level Performance Standard.] “What enduring understandings are desired?” [This is the EU.] What essential questions will be explored in-depth and provide focus to all learning? [This is the EQ.]” After recording the Iowa Fine Arts Standards information in the appropriate worksheet sections, I analyzed the standard to note nouns (for what), the verbs (for action) and adjectives/adverbs (for clarity).
    Then, I pulled together the standard, EU and EQ to articulate and summarize the transfer goal (indicated in blue text) by asking “What should a student be able to do independently when the learning is done?”
  • In stage two, I began thinking of performance tasks and assessment evidence by asking questions like “How will I know if students have achieved the desired results?” “What evidence will I want to see of students’ understanding and their ability to use (or transfer) their learning in new situations?
    With a goal to push past the art product towards transfer and acquisition of artistic processes, I created multi-part learning experiences that allowed students to actively construct meaning of big idea outcomes.
  • To complete the UbD Framework, in stage three (not reflected in the worksheet examples), I would next create the learning experiences and instructional plan.

Iowa’s Fine Art Standards conceptual structure (Artistic Processes, Anchor Standards, and Performance Standards) and its philosophical foundations (Enduring Understandings and Essential Questions) make big idea outcomes attainable. And, with our rotation schedules and class offerings resulting in fine arts programs of 30 to 60 days, masterful teaching and learning that can make day-to-day, week-to-week, and year-to year connections that grow in sophistication, is vital. 

Use of the UbD Unpacking Standards “Inside Out” Method worksheet can both advance the teaching of the knowledge and skills developed throughout process-based experiences and the learner’s understanding of its value. More important, it does this while gathering evidence about the profound, whole child development that results from education in the arts.  Unpacking standards has strengthened my practice as an art educator. It has been exhilarating to witness my students deepen their understanding, grow more engaged, and make insightful connections as a result.

Each of us are in different places in regards to our understanding and comfort with the new standards. To learn more about teaching Iowa’s Fine Art Standards, take advantage of five new self-paced modules now offered via AEA Learning Online that can be bundled together for license renewal credit or purposely selected to differentiate your own professional development. The module topics include: Overview of Iowa’s Fine Arts Standards, Understanding Iowa’s Fine Arts Standards, Applying and Connecting Iowa’s Fine Arts Standards, Assessing Iowa’s Fine Arts Standards, and Resources for Implementing Iowa’s Fine Arts Standards. You can access them here. I encourage you to investigate enrollment with your Personal Learning Community (PLCs) or independently to enhance your own teaching and learning potential.

If you have any questions or comments, feel free to reach me at


McTighe, J., & Wiggins, G. (2004). Introduction: The logic of backward design. In ASCD, Understanding by Design professional development workbook. (pp. ?-?). Retrieved June 6, 2018, from ASCD:

McTighe, J., & Wiggins, G. (2012). Understanding by Design framework [White Paper]. Retrieved June 6, 2018, from ASCD:
McTighe, J., & Wiggins, G. (2012). Module A: the big ideas of UbD. In ASCD, Understanding by Design, guide to creating high-quality units (pp. ?-?). Retrieved June 6, 2018 from ASCD:
Marilyn G. Stewart (2014) Enduring Understandings, Artistic Processes, and the New Visual Arts Standards: A Close-Up Consideration for Curriculum Planning, Art Education, 67:5, 6-11, DOI: 10.1080/00043125.2014.11519285
National Coalition for Core Arts Standards, (nd). National core arts standards: A conceptual framework of arts learning (pp. 1-27). Retrieved June 8, 2018 from NCAS:
Robert Sweeny (2014) Assessment and Next Generation Standards: An Interview with Olivia Gude, Art Education, 67:1, 6-12, DOI: 10.1080/00043125.2014.11519252

Additional Learning Resources

Eisner, E. (2002). The Arts and the creation of mind. In Chapter 4, What the Arts Teach and How It Shows. (pp. 70-92). Yale University Press.

Poulin, J. (June 4, 2014) What You Need to Know About the New National Core Arts Standards. Retrieved June 25, 2018 from Americans for the Arts Blog:

McTighe, J., & Wiggins, G. (2012). Understanding by Design guide to advanced concepts in creating and reviewing units (pp. ?-?). Retrieved June 6, 2018 from ASCD: (this is where I found the 2.0 version of unpacking worksheet)

McTighe, J., & Wiggins, G. (2007). Moving Forward with Understanding by Design User Guide (pp. ?-?). Retrieved June 6, 2018 from ASCD:

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Posted by : cappie.dobyns

Activist and author Maya Angelou left behind many legacies, including her regard for self-reflection as a means to improve one’s self and situation, which is illuminated in one of her unforgettable quotes: “I did then what I knew how to do. Now that I know better, I do better.”

Following this same line of logic, as educators, we have known instructional coaching increases student achievement and based on recent research included below, we know that content-specific coaching has an even greater impact on student achievement. However, even with this knowledge there is a lack of commonly used teacher observation and evaluation rubrics that encourage content-specific feedback. Most rubrics focus on generic aspects of instruction, such as student engagement, with little focus on what is being taught (Aligning Content and Practice: The Design of the Instructional Practice Guide). 

To support content-specific coaching and aligned instructional practice, the national nonprofit organization Student Achievement Partners ( created the recently revised Instructional Practice Guide: Coaching Tool, which is part of a Suite of Tools, and focuses on the specific actions teachers and students should take to address the Shifts required by college- and career-ready standards. When we talk about aligning to the standards, it is far more than just the alignment of the standards to courses, units, and lessons. For instructional practice to be aligned to college- and career-ready standards, the content must be featured at the center of the lesson. Aligned instructional practice can be observed when the content and teacher’s instructional choices allow students to fully access the standards’ complexity.

To fully understand aligned practice, you must first understand the Shifts in order to apply the "Actions" and "Indicators" of aligned instruction. The “Core Actions” and the “Indicators” of the behaviors they promote are based on the Shifts.

The three Core Actions in ELA/Literacy are:

  • Core Action 1 - Focus each lesson on a high-quality text (or multiple texts).
  • Core Action 2 - Employ questions and tasks, both oral and written, which are text-specific and accurately address the analytical thinking required by the grade-level standards.
  • Core Action 3 - Provide all students with opportunities to engage in the work of the lesson.

Note: In ELA/Literacy, each guide is specific to either K-2, where reading comprehension lessons are based in read aloud and listening, or 3-12, where students are reading.

The three Core Actions in Mathematics are:

  • Core Action 1 - Ensure the work of the lesson reflects the Shifts required by the Iowa Core Standards for Mathematics.
  • Core Action 2 - Employ instructional practices that allow all students to learn the content of the lesson.
  • Core Action 3 - Provide all students with opportunities to exhibit mathematical practices while engaging with the content of the lesson.

Student Achievement Partners offers an Instructional Practice Guide professional development module, which includes a review of the three instructional Shifts in ELA/Literacy and Mathematics, and activities and discussions based on the Core Actions that will prepare participants to use the Instructional Practice Guide as a resource for observation and reflection.

You can find a set of companion resources in the Instructional Practice Guide Suite of Tools that all use the same language to describe the specific, observable actions that demonstrate whether the Shifts are being implemented in instruction. Educators can use the resources in the Suite to plan, observe, and norm expectations around aligned instruction. Each of the tools can be used on its own, but they are designed to be used together to facilitate conversations about college-and career-ready-aligned instruction.

The four main tools in the Suite include:

  • Coaching Tool - Names the specific actions (“Core Actions”) and behavioral indicators (“Indicators”) to look for to determine whether students are getting to the intent of the standards through the content of the lesson. This set of observable actions and indicators helps teachers, coaches, and peers identify evidence of where and when standards-aligned instruction is taking place. The tool, revised in August 2018, can better support you in identifying instructional areas to focus on and in reflecting on your goals all year long.
  • Beyond the Lesson Discussion Guide - Supplements the Coaching Tool rubric. Since each Core Action and Shift cannot be observable in every lesson, this guide offers questions for teachers and coaches to consider to ensure effective college- and career-ready aligned implementation over the course of the year.
  • Lesson Planning Tool - Takes the Core Actions and Indicators of the Coaching Tool and reframes them as prompts to consider while planning. The Lesson Planning Tool encourages teachers to plan lessons in a way that will ensure the Shifts will be observable in instruction.
  • Instructional Practice Toolkit and Classroom Videos - Offers a professional learning module to support understanding of planning and instruction aligned to college- and career-ready standards for ELA/literacy and mathematics through the observation of a lesson and analysis of a lesson plan and student work samples.
    • Supplemental Lesson Videos - Additional full-length lesson videos, lesson plans, and student work samples to supplement the content found in the Instructional Practice Toolkit.

For more information on the research support for content-specific observation, read Aligning Content and Practice: The Design of the Instructional Practice Guide, which details the research underpinning the Core Actions and Indicators of the Instructional Practice Guide Coaching Tool and explains how the design of the tool supports content-specific observation and feedback.

Now that we know better, we can do better. Take time to explore the tools and resources that support aligned instruction to the Iowa Academic Standards in ELA/Literacy and Mathematics and share them with educators in your district to improve teaching practices and increase student achievement.

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Posted by : destiny.eldridge

Educators are focusing heavily on future ready practices in their classrooms. One way to do this is through personalized and authentic learning experiences where students engage in the Universal Constructs (skills like critical thinking and problem solving) by working on a local project or solving a local problem through collaborative efforts with businesses, organizations, and community members.

Naturally, these projects are interdisciplinary and in them, the Iowa Academic Standards can really come to life for student learning. Teachers at Danville Community School District are approaching the Iowa Science Standards through an innovative learning program called Iowa Learn Excel Achieve Develop (ILEAD). With the adoption of the new standards and the shift toward a more student-centered learning of science – moving from covering materials to discovering concepts and ideas – students are engaged in their learning by exploring natural phenomenon and are challenged to come up with solutions with the new focus on Science and Engineer Practices.

Danville CSD and New London CSD have piloted an authentic, student-centered program in which 11 pilot students receive core and elective credit. Through a sharing agreement, two teachers from Danville and two teachers from New London are the project mentor teachers who oversee the student work. Through the ILEAD program (which occurs during 6th, 7th, and 8th hour of the school day), students engage in authentic projects in partnership with local businesses and industry.

Danville CSD science spotlight

Through ILEAD, Danville students are able to get an Environmental Science credit. Gail Kunch, Danville’s secondary school science teacher, worked with students in an independent study fashion, providing feedback on students’ projects and guiding them through the necessary learning that comes about in engaging in authentic projects.

“The students not only gain valuable science experience but they really are gaining those 21st century skills we need to see more of in our core classes,” Kunch said.

One of the big projects students are undertaking as part of the environmental science course involves a partnership with local Department of Natural Resources representative, Caleb Waters. The students have been following the work of the Lake Geode Restoration project; the lake is just six miles away from the Danville High School.

Throughout the project, students were engaged in writing professional emails and setting up meetings with Waters and were an integral part of the planning efforts for the Danville’s Earth Day Clean Up of Lake Geode and Geode State Park on April 20.

ILEAD students lead their peers in this day of cleanup to show that teams of students can make an impact on their environment. The students are currently working on a second part of the project involving GPS mapping and naming of new trails around Geode. Students will have cross-disciplinary experience integrating technology in their map design of the trails and they will physically be able to go out and explore the trails for their project. Some of the standards that rise to the surface through this experience are the following:

HS-LS2-7. Design, evaluate, and refine a solution for reducing the impacts of human activities on the environment and biodiversity.*

HS-ESS3-4. Evaluate or refine a technological solution that reduces impacts of human activities on natural systems.*

HS-ETS1-3. Evaluate a solution to a complex real-world problem based on prioritized criteria and trade-offs that account for a range of constraints, including cost, safety, reliability, and aesthetics, as well as possible social, cultural and environmental impacts.

When students take on a project they are passionate about, it creates the need to know more. Learning becomes relevant and this is where the learning comes alive and can reach students beyond a textbook or a paper they will turn in and forget about. When you put them in a position to make an impact and have an authentic audience for their work, their buy-in is great and long-term memory prevails.

The ILEAD projects such as the Danville environmental science project are supported with the help of consultants at the Great Prairie Area Education Agency (GPAEA) and the Iowa Authentic Learning Network (ALN), a network for resources, projects, and professional learning originating in GPAEA and Green Hills Area Education Agency. In this case, the 21st Century Learning consultant at GPAEA helped to serve as the broker of local projects by working with local chambers, city partnerships, community colleges, IOWA STEM, and other stakeholders who are passionate about future ready learning.

In part, this work is just a foreshadowing of what is yet to come with the recently approved Statewide Work Based Learning Clearinghouse. The clearinghouse will be an online repository of various work-based opportunities for students statewide. Not only will it include a place to post opportunities such as internships, job shadows, tours, and connection to experts in different fields, but it will offer a wide variety of projects from which students from all over Iowa can engage that teachers can easily embed into their classes as curriculum.

For another example check out this 7th Grade Social Studies Example and for more on embedding authentic learning as curriculum contact Laura Williams, or attend the Future Ready Learning Event on June 13.

For more information about projects as science curriculum, contact

Posted by : laura.williams

Fine ArtsIowa adopted statewide standards for Fine Arts covering the K-12 areas of dance, media arts, music, theatre, and visual arts last November. It has been a long time coming and many fine arts teachers across our state are rejoicing. 

We know the arts promotes creativity, critical thinking, collaboration, global awareness, and self-discovery within our students. We thank the Iowa Department of Education for responding to the public request to adopt these standards and we are excited it has been approved by the State Board of Education.

Iowa’s Fine Arts Standards are the 2014 National Core Arts Standards (NCAS), with minor revisions in the strands of General Music and Theater. The standards unite the disciplines of Dance, Media Arts, Music, Theater, and Visual Art. For the first time, the fine arts disciplines share a common language and standards structure; all disciplines are now united by four artistic processes and eleven anchor standards. The artistic processes and anchor standards, serving as a foundation for all of the fine arts regardless of grade level or art form, are built on the bedrock of critical thinking, artistic literacy, and inquiry.

When I first heard about the NCAS Standards for Music, it was overwhelming. Change is often difficult and at first glance, these seemed so very complex. But I gave myself some time and then sought out professional development through various arts organizations. I gradually came to understand the beauty of these standards. They are amazingly inclusive, thorough, and rigorous, yet also allow teachers flexibility of curricular design.

A major focus of the new standards is the shift from emphasizing the artistic products to emphasizing the artistic processes a student actively engages in when studying the arts. The emphasis is a departure from “Did the student complete the task and complete it well?” to “What did the student learn from beginning to end of an artistic task?”  We know that, whether students are in an elementary art room or high school theatre classroom, fine arts students are constantly planning, revising, communicating, collaborating, refining, critiquing, and presenting; these vital skills are emphasized and clearly represented in our new standards, regardless of grade/proficiency level or fine arts discipline. 

I encourage you to access the Guidance for the Implementation of Iowa’s Fine Arts Standards, written by the Iowa’s Fine Arts Standards Adoption Team who led the standards adoption process in our state, to gain an understanding of the connections across the arts to advocate and support the artistic learner. It gives succinct information of work at the national level done prior to state standards adoption, and tips on how to read, understand, and implement Iowa’s Fine Arts Standards. There are helpful links for assessment and guidance on using the standards for students with disabilities. Additionally, the document concludes with a discipline-specific section, which offers lenses through which to view each unique art form through the standards. Taking time to read it will give you a clear idea of the structure and nature of these standards.

I believe you’ll see that much of what you are already doing will line up nicely, yet you will also be motivated to make changes in order to boost critical thinking, emphasize inquiry, and elevate the artistic experience for your students. By aligning your teaching practice to Iowa’s Fine Arts Standards, you will ultimately enhance the artistic growth of your students by underscoring artistic processes rather than final performances or products.

One specific “A-ha!” moment I had while implementing these standards is the understanding that the four artistic processes (Creating, Responding, Connecting, and Performing/Presenting/Producing) are not meant to be equally implemented all the time. All four processes do not need to appear in each lesson or even each unit of study. The balance will be different for each artistic foci and we need to thoughtfully consider the balance unique to our specific art form and classrooms. The Model Cornerstone Assessments serve as a wonderful resource in showcasing how the processes and standards can work together in different ways in different units of study.

We know when students engage in artistic experiences, there is a unique sense of euphoria, connectedness, harmony and balance. These experiences help students imagine new possibilities. They add a much needed spark to academics and enhance student’s lifelong wellbeing. 

By 2020, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), major depressive illness will be the leading cause of disability in the world for women and children. Mental illness is on the rise in Iowa and that one tool we can give our students is finding the comfort art can bring to their lives. The safety, beauty, belonging, and self expression art promotes could be one of the ways a student rides out the storms of depression, anxiety and just stress in general. 

The arts keep the joy and love of learning alive. Let’s promote these standards by starting discussions with our colleagues to improve student comprehension. With these standards, we can work together to promote statewide equitable access in quality artistic experiences for ALL students, regardless of race, disabilities, gender, sexual orientation, or cultural heritage. We need to accept our students’ modes of self-expression and encourage their journeys through artistic endeavors. Together we are better and together we’ve adopted statewide standards for the arts that unite our disciplines under a common framework. We have created and will continue to create resources for understanding those standards.

What insights or questions do you have concerning Iowa’s Fine Arts Standards? I hope you found this blog helpful in some way and if you have specific questions or comments, I encourage you to post them here or contact me at

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Posted by : michelle.droe

In Principles to Actions, the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) calls for the implementation of tasks that “promote reasoning and problem solving” (p. 10) as one of eight “research informed teaching practices” (2014, p. 7). We argue that the implementation of high-level tasks affords opportunities for teachers to then engage in the other research informed teaching practices recommended in Principles to Actions. These teaching practices include using and connecting mathematical representations, facilitating meaningful mathematical discourse, posing purposeful questions, building procedural fluency from conceptual understanding, supporting productive struggle, and eliciting and using evidence of student thinking (NCTM, 2014). For instance, students cannot be prompted to make connections between mathematical representations if the task does not afford the opportunity to do so. Further, teachers and students cannot make connections between mathematical representations if they all create the same representation. 

Project TASK supports approximately 80 elementary teachers in their identification, implementation, and reflection of high-level tasks. In grade-level groups (K-5), six instructional leaders comprising faculty from Drake University, math consultants from Heartland AEA, and teacher leaders in Des Moines Public Schools are providing sustained professional development around the implementation of high-level tasks. 

Rich Mathematical Tasks

To get started, we provided teachers with three print resources: Teaching Student-Centered Mathematics (Van De Walle, Lovin, Karp, & Bay-Williams, 2014), Problem Solving for All Seasons (Markworth, McCool, & Koziak, 2015) and Mine the Gap (SanGiovanni, 2016). We used Teaching Student-Centered Mathematics to provide teachers with rationale and a foundation for teaching through problem solving. Problem Solving for All Seasons offers rich tasks organized around cultural activities that occur during the four seasons. Iowa Core standards and Standards for Mathematical Practice are identified for each task. Mine the Gap includes hundreds of tasks that promote thinking and reasoning aligned to the Iowa Core State standards. In Mine the Gap, there are subsequent tasks that follow up or add to the primary tasks, which promote continued mathematical opportunities for students. After teachers pose tasks, we ask them to reflect on task implementation and student work. 

We chose one task per month for all teachers to pose to their students. For example, we asked the fourth and fifth grade teachers to pose Task 17A from Mine the Gap, Grades 3-5 (see below). 

Mathematics figures that represent 1/4

We found Task 17A to be particularly productive for our students because their experiences, background knowledge, and perspectives on fractions differed immensely. Because of this, the conversation and deliberation between the students was tremendous! 

Through our project work, we are learning more about how students respond to tasks and how we can adapt tasks to make them more productive for students. We asked our third grade teachers to pose The July Fireworks Task from Problem Solving for all Seasons (Markworth, McCool, & Kosiak, 2016) below: 

The city of San Francisco is planning a very special fireworks show for the Fourth of July. In addition to their standard fireworks, the organizers are including special fireworks that will go off at specific times, as shown in the table:

Firework Timing
White Chrysanthemum Every 2 minutes
Blue Bloom Every 3 minutes
Red Explosion Every 5 minutes

If the organizers want to start and end the fireworks show with all three of these special fireworks going off together, how long could the fireworks show be? Explain your reasoning.

Teachers found that the task was inaccessible to many students. Thus, we generated a list of adaptations that could be used to make the July Fireworks Task more accessible:

  • Change the task to include just two fireworks
  • Change the number choices to 2, 3, and 4
  • Change the order of the fireworks to have Red Explosion first. When students were listing multiples, they did not go very far in their counting. If Red Explosion is first, students might go farther in their listing of multiples.

An adapted Fireworks Task could be given before the original to provide students with an entry point. 

Teacher Julie Zimmer wrote the following reflection about the benefits she sees from her involvement with Project Task:

I feel very fortunate to be a part of Project Task and have enjoyed seeing my students develop confidence as mathematicians. I have a culturally diverse class with varying mathematical background, who have grown from the weekly exposure to rich tasks related to the Iowa Core standards. It is amazing to see their self-esteem increase regarding their ability to work through meaningful problems when given an opportunity to make connections to the problem and converse with others. One of the most important things I have learned is to incorporate visuals at the beginning of every problem. This allows all students the ability to formulate thoughts and ideas related to the mathematical task in a non-threatening way. In addition, it incorporates the arts, which is a building goal as a Turnaround Arts school.

Once they have engaged their mind through visuals and conversations, students get to work on their own to grapple with the given tasks. They are more willing to try their best after making these connections to the problem. Then the real magic begins – when they share their thinking with others. They construct and defend their positions in a way that never would have come to life without these tasks. I have seen my students get excited about tasks and able to persevere through problems that they may have initially said were too difficult. Most recently, it came to life when defending why one part shaded out of four cannot be one fourth if the pieces are not equal. The opposing view was sure that it was one fourth because there was one shaded out of four, bringing to play the importance of size of fraction pieces.

Problem solving in mathematics supports real-world thinking and problem solving. The greatest challenge seems to be, “Where do I start?”  What we have learned and observed over the course of this professional development is that you simply start. Provide students with a rich mathematical task, that’s it! Watch, listen, and observe as students find and use strategies that make sense to them, reason through errors, collaborate with peers, and much more. Where will you start? What rich mathematical tasks make sense for you and your students?

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Posted by : jennifer.krieger

exclamation point in the middle of question markWhat do you remember about your K-12 social studies experience? Did you experience a classroom centered around exploring compelling questions? Did you analyze a variety of text, both primary and secondary sources? Primary sources are original sources from the time period and secondary sources are interpretations of those original sources. Did you have the opportunity to develop disciplinary arguments based off those texts? In other words, did you get the opportunity to think like a historian or geographer? Did you have the opportunity to identify issues in your community, state, nation, or world and think about how to address those issues? These are best practices in social studies that Iowa’s new social studies standards emphasize in order to prepare students for college, career, and civic life.

New standards often call for discussion and reflection on the instructional changes that will be necessary to best implement those standards. Iowa’s social studies standards focus on four instructional shifts that are needed in order to implement the standards with fidelity. They are as follows:

Craft questions that spark and sustain an inquiry.

Social studies is really about questions, not answers. Of course, answers are important, but it is the ability to wrestle with compelling and supporting questions and develop arguments around those questions that define good disciplinary practice in a social studies classroom. This shift asks teachers to purposefully develop compelling and supporting questions that can sustain inquiry throughout a unit of instruction.

Compelling questions are those that focus on the “big idea” of a unit of instruction. These questions are intellectually challenging, generally have no one “right” answer and compel students to argue with evidence in order to answer the question. Generally, there is one compelling question used throughout a unit. Supporting questions scaffold students’ investigations into the ideas and issues behind a compelling question. In other words, they are a way to unpack the compelling question. Generally, these questions get into the content knowledge students would need in order to effectively make an argument about the compelling question. An example:

Compelling Question: What would compel people to move to a new place?

Supporting Questions:

  • Why do people move or choose to immigrate?
  • What did immigrants experience when they arrived in America?
  • How does one’s culture influence where they choose to live?

Integrate content and skills purposefully.

Content is vitally important in a social studies classroom. But the application of the disciplinary skills of social studies is equally important. The shift asks for a balance between content and skills. In the above example about compelling and supporting questions, for example, you can see that the questions require students to access a lot of content in order to make an effective argument. However, students will need to have several social studies skills in order to be able to make an effective argument such as being able to analyze primary and secondary sources, the ability to deeply evaluate the claims a source is making, critique the reliability of sources, corroborate several pieces of evidence in order to make an effective argument, and write to name a few.

This shift also demands the use of multiple primary and secondary sources in the classroom. If students will develop an argument about the above questions, they must have access to multiple sources to help them make that argument. These sources should be tightly aligned to the compelling and supporting questions so that the inquiry can be sustained throughout the unit. 

Several examples of text sets that include compelling and supporting questions as well as primary and secondary sources aligned to those questions are available from the Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs website. The text sets were developed by the Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs and the Iowa Department of Education through a grant from the Teaching with Primary Sources program at the Library of Congress. More sets will be released in August 2018.

Provide opportunities for communicating conclusions and taking informed action.

To complete the inquiry process, teachers must now think about how they will purposefully plan for students to communicate their conclusions, and potentially take action as a result of the outcome of their inquiry. There is an expectation that social studies students practice citizenship in the same way they practice historical thinking, economic decision-making or geographic reasoning. As a result, students will need tangible opportunities both inside and outside of the classroom to consider, debate, plan for, and undertake action-oriented experiences that would culminate their academic inquiries.

Engage in rigorous, student-centered learning.

Civic readiness is a key component of the Iowa social studies standards. The idea of collaboration and student-centered learning is hard-wired into inquiry, but collaboration means more than just pairing up with other students to analyze questions or analyze sources. Rigorous student-centered learning is key for preparing students for participation in civic life.

The Iowa Department of Education has released a three-year implementation plan, with full implementation required in 2020. Implementation of Iowa’s new social studies is a process that will take time. Implementing new standards is not a task that should be done quickly or without deep thought. This year, our statewide professional development has focused on learning about these instructional shifts and the stages of planning for inquiry. In comparing this to the process of building a house, we are working on building the foundation first. Next year, we will work on building the frame of the house and get into the process of unpacking the standards. In the third year of the implementation plan, the Department will work on finalizing the exterior and interior of the house by focusing on what good assessment of the standards looks like. Each year, the Department will offer professional development and resources based on the stage of implementation we are in.

Iowa Social Studies Standards

Social Studies Resources

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Posted by : stefanie.wager