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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.

Once you have checked out the Guidance Document, please look over the Quick Start Guide to Iowa’s Fine Arts Standards. I think these two items serve as a great introduction to our newly adopted Fine Arts Standards and will help you figure out where to begin. 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