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Monday, April9, 2018

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

Monday, February12, 2018

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

Wednesday, January10, 2018

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

Sign up for the Social Studies Update newsletter.

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Posted by stefanie.wager

Wednesday, December6, 2017

random letters on a blue backgroundThere is a lot of excitement in the state of Iowa when working with students with significant disabilities. More than ever, educators are making efforts to align instruction with the Iowa Core Essential Elements. Why is this important? Because all students can learn and should have the opportunity to do so. This mindset means more rigorous instruction and aligning goals that are “appropriately ambitious,” which is encouraging to me, as I am both an educator and a parent of a child with significant disabilities.

During the past two years, I have had the opportunity to work closely with the Iowa Significant Disabilities Specially Designed Instruction Leadership Team to work toward literacy instruction for students with significant disabilities. This team looks closely at Iowa’s Specially Designed Instruction (SDI) Framework, which includes Diagnosis for Instructional Design, Design for Instructional Delivery, and Delivery for Learner Engagement and Engagement of Learning (see below). The SDI Framework is a building block for the work that is going on in the classroom setting.

Iowa’s Specially Designed Instruction (SDI) Framework

In my coaching role, I have the opportunity to work with teachers to dive into instructional data that drives next steps to best meet students’ needs as a readers and writers. We look at individual students, as well as the whole class. To create a literacy rich environment, we have added multiple resources including Koppenhaver and Erickson’s The Four Blocks Way comprehensive literacy instruction model which consist of guided/shared reading, self-selected reading, and working with words and writing. We have also added core vocabulary in our rooms to assist with communication needs throughout the day, the use of alternate pencils, word walls, Smart Partners Communication Strategies, classroom libraries with multiple-age appropriate genres, and the Iowa Core Essential Elements. Every two weeks, a team consisting of teachers, the building literacy coach, the AEA school psychologist, speech language pathologist, assistant technology consultant, the building principal and me meet to discuss the SDI Framework, student progress, and data. We have seen a tremendous shift in how we approach pedagogy when working with students who have significant disabilities. We all see the students as readers and writers, we see their potential, and we see that what we are doing is making a difference in these students’ lives. 

As I said earlier, I am an educator and a parent as well. More than ever, collaboration and communication with parents is necessary. Parents need to know they are an important team member when setting literacy goals for their child. They need to make sure that the goals are appropriately ambitious and the instruction is meeting their child’s needs. Most parents that I speak to do not have a clear understanding of the Iowa Core Essential Elements and the instruction that takes place to meet these requirements. It is our job to make sure they are informed.  State leadership teams will continue to spend countless hours utilizing data to make alterations in their application of SDI.  A large component of this is listening to stakeholders, and making data-driven decisions that will greatly impact our students with significant disabilities in a positive way. I see administrators going into classrooms watching lessons and they are overjoyed with what they are seeing. Regardless of our roles, we as educators know all students can learn and should have the opportunity to show their strengths as they continue to work toward their literacy goals. 

Education is a team effort and with all constituencies working together the continued implementation of SDI will only serve to further empower the learning of students with significant disabilities.

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Posted by Dawn Bonsall

Tuesday, November7, 2017

pencil on notebook paperStudents are no longer the only ones planning, experimenting, and dissecting when engaging in lab experiences. Educators in my district have participated in the transformation of job embedded professional learning from a traditional “sit and get” professional learning time to Learning Labs, a dynamic method of collaborative planning and classroom observation, where teachers are actively involved and feel ownership in the learning. 

Knowledge gained in this type of learning adds richness to the discussions found in Collaborative Teaching Teams as we strive to develop a Professional Learning Community mindset in our district.  

With the implementation of the Iowa Teacher Leadership and Compensation framework, collaboration in these labs with the assistance of instructional coaches helps teachers blend standards and create a clear vision for learning targets and instructional practices that guide learning.

The process toward quality learning begins with the standards and includes monitoring where students are in relation to where they need to be.  So what does this look like in our school district?  It begins with the teacher and instructional coach conferring about a lesson, crafting a focus question centered on standards and learning targets, and discussing how the standards will be assessed.  

Learning targets used to move students toward mastery of the standards are delineated and formative assessments are determined that will inform instructional practices and provide differentiation along the way.  A lesson is then co-planned, and teachers are invited into the classroom to observe, using a note-taking sheet to provide feedback to the teacher during a debriefing session later in the day.  The purpose of the task of the observing teachers? To note evidence of student learning and observations about practices used during instruction.

An example of this process in action is a science lesson our Learning Lab team observed that was focused on the question: How can I demonstrate science and engineering literacy?  Students designed and tested models, recorded their observations in their science journals and engaged in a student discussion protocol. The discussion was rich and filled with the vocabulary found in the student science notebooks which contained Newton’s Laws and corresponding notes. I heard one student say: “I hear what you are saying, but would you add more detail to your explanation?” It was interesting to hear them connect the concepts from their designs and Newton’s Law with real-world examples. 

The final step was the creation of an ABCDE paragraph – assertion, background, citation (data, text, and diagram), discussion, and end.  This writing organizer provides a connection to the ELA writing and speaking and listening standards embedded within the science classroom. The lesson was filled with student engagement, higher order thinking, and critical conversations, one where I gained a newfound respect for the power of student conversations focused on learning and application.

Our day ended with a debriefing session.  Each person who had been part of the observation gave reflective feedback to the teacher, asked questions, shared what they had learned, and the conversation ended with the teacher’s reflection on the lesson. The host teacher explained what she learned from the lesson, what changes she would make, and what her next steps were going to be based on the evidence of student learning.  

The choice of a student-centered learning lab was a good fit for our middle school science department team as teachers strive to use student evidence in daily decision making and possess a strong sense of collegiality and commitment to continuous improvement.  It was a powerful learning experience for the teacher, and observers and ultimately for the students – establishing a learning-centered culture for all. 



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Posted by jschmidt@maquok...

Wednesday, October4, 2017

5 speed gear shiftWhen I was a classroom teacher, I had an underappreciation for how important understanding the Shifts in the mathematics standards, Focus, Coherence, and Rigor, were to implementing “The Iowa Academic Standards for mathematics.” I knew the three Shifts as a list, could parrot them back when asked and understood what the definitions meant.

The Why

However, since I did not have a deep understanding of the Shifts and the relationship to the implementation of the standards, I treated the standards as a checklist and called it a curriculum, but they are neither. This lack of understanding prevented me from making the impact on curriculum, instruction, pedagogy, or assessment practices that I wanted to make in my classroom. For example, if I understood the first Shift, Focus, then I would have spent more time on linear functions than my curriculum recommended because it is one of the major works. As a result, I feel my students were not as prepared to be College and Career Ready to successfully pursue career-training programs, the military, and attend college without taking a remedial math course.

In the article The Structure is the Standards, Phil Daro, William McCallum, and Jason Zimba, the authors of the Common Core State Standards Mathematics, explain what the standards are: “The standards are meant to be a blueprint for math instruction that is more focused and coherent. The focus and coherence in this blueprint is largely in the way the standards progress from each other, coordinate with each other and most importantly cluster together into coherent bodies of knowledge. Crosswalks and alignments and pacing plans and such cannot be allowed to throw away the focus and coherence and regress to the mile-wide curriculum.” 

These authors are describing the Shifts in instruction and the relationships that cannot be ignored to fully implement the standards in the way that better prepares students to be College and Career Ready for the world today.


The What

The Shifts are Focus, Coherence, and Rigor and the order is purposeful. Without Focus, then Coherence and Rigor are less likely to happen. Likewise, without having Coherence, Rigor is unlikely to happen. An educator will see evidence of these Shifts across the grade-levels, grades, and daily lessons.  

  • Focus – across the grade level, not during a single lesson
  • Coherence – in lessons that build on prior learning meaningfully and in lessons that successfully connect supporting standards to major work of the grade
  • Rigor – daily, within a daily lesson, as defined by the particular lesson standards

There are many resources to learn about the Shifts:



Before the adoption of the mathematics standards, mathematics education was a mile wide and an inch deep, with too many topics to cover at each grade level. If it still feels like that now, then focus may be missing. Focus is a greater focus on fewer topics that happens across the curriculum and not in a daily lesson. The major works and clusters of a grade level can take up to 85 percent of classroom time. The Focus on Number and Operations and Algebraic Thinking in K-8 is intentional to ensure students are ready for the expectations of high school and those of College and Career Readiness.

Resources for Focus

Coherence is linking topics within the grade and thinking across grades. Mathematics topics are connected understandings and cannot be taught through tricks and mnemonics. Within a grade, “supporting” standards are labeled as such because they have very strong connections to the major work of the grade level. As educators, what we do in the fall matters for the spring; likewise, what we do in kindergarten matters for high school. The Coherence Map linked below is dynamic, and is frequently updated with new resources such as tasks, progressions, and assessment items. Some of these resources can be used to identify learning gaps in the standards or used for extension activities.

Resources for Coherence

Rigor can be described as three-legged stool because it requires that educators balance conceptual understanding, procedural skills and fluency, and application with approximately equal intensity.

Resources for Rigor


The How

Want to learn more about the Shifts in mathematics and how to impact curriculum, instruction, pedagogy, and assessment? Join the IA Core Advocates for Mathematics. This is a community of Iowa educators interested in learning more about the Shifts and their impact on ensuring all students in IA are College and Career Ready in mathematics.

Call to Action: Join the IA Core Advocates - Mathematics today and participate as much or as little as you like: G+ groups, Twitter Chats, webinars, or just receive the email updates.


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Posted by april.pforts

Tuesday, September5, 2017

It has been 10 years since the Legislature first established the Iowa Core Standards as the required standards for all Iowa students. We have learned through different professional development: leadership training, Investigations, Deeper Investigations. Certainly by now, everyone knows everything they need to know to implement the Iowa Core, right? It would be a mistake to make that assumption. 

The Iowa Department of Education’s Bureau of Standards and Curriculum is hard at work to ensure that the Iowa Core standards are the best for K-12 students and that we support the best resources and materials to implement them. Since the adoption of the Iowa Core standards, former Governor Terry Branstad issued Executive Order 83, which requires that the Department of Education maintain a regular cycle of standards review to continually improve the standards. This means that the standards will change as Iowa’s students learning needs change; the standards will continue to be updated so they always represent our best thinking about what students should know and be able to do.

This also means that the state may be adopting new sets of standards, as we did in the cases of science and social studies. We’ve learned going from adoption to implementation usually takes a three- to four-year plan. We are in the first year of our Social Studies implementation plan. The plan directs teachers and teacher teams to attend the Area Education Agency-led social studies standards overview professional development. Using information from that training, teachers need to identifying and gather materials and resources they’ll use to teach to the standards. Social studies teachers are strongly encouraged to use the Best Practices Rubric to reflect on their current teaching practices. Through reflection, educators can determine if best practices are the focus of their instruction. These are two important actions every social studies teacher should be taking and there are others outlined in the plan, in addition to actions for districts, AEAs, instructional coaches, and parents.  

While Social Studies is focused on learning the new standards, science, in year three of its four-year Implementation Plan, is focused on implementing the standards in every K-12 science classroom in the state. The Science Implementation Plan spells out yearly actions for teachers, teacher mentors and model teachers, districts, and AEAs. This year, all educators should continue to attend professional development. The focus of the training is on gathering and using evidence of three-dimensional learning. Teachers should regularly be using resources such the EQuIP rubric to evaluate lessons, units of instruction and instructional resources and modify lessons/materials to more completely align with all dimensions of the standards.

Literacy and Mathematics are launching a new Iowa Core Advocate Network this fall. Through monthly webinars, Iowa Core advocates will gain a deeper understanding of the shifts required by the Iowa Core and the best standards-aligned resources, tools and instructional practices in English/language arts and mathematics. This network is a community of teachers, teacher leaders, instructional coaches, AEA consultants, and others interested in learning more about the shifts and their impacts on instruction. Also, the Iowa Core advocate will be keeping abreast of the best tools available to support standards implementation. Interested educators can register by completing the Iowa Core Advocate Sign-Up Form:

In addition to the required standards, the Department now has undertaken the writing and approval of voluntary standards, beginning with Fine Arts standards, the first set to go before the Board of Education this November. In addition, the Department has convened a highly qualified group of computer science stakeholders to make recommendations regarding writing standards in that curriculum area.

So, while standards may seem like “old news,” we are working to make sure they represent the best current thinking around academic learning K-12 and that we have the best support possible for schools and teachers. The content consultants in the Bureau of Standards and Curriculum are passionate about their respective content areas and it shows in the work that they do. I have been a lead on the Iowa Core since its inception and I have never been more excited about the work that we are doing and its potential to impact Iowa’s students.

Posted by rita.martens

Tuesday, August8, 2017

winding roadFor 15 years, I taught high school social studies at North Scott Community School District in Eldridge, primarily in the subjects of geography, sociology and psychology. During most of those years, our curriculum was guided by the previous Iowa social studies standards. Those standards helped to guide my instruction and frame my courses in meaningful ways for my students, and gave me a framework for assessment of the student learning in my class.

However, as we begin to embark on a new trail with the passing of the new Iowa Core Social Studies standards, I cannot help but be envious of my colleagues who are still in the classroom. The new standards will bring about some positive changes to the “whats” and “hows” of Iowa social studies instruction. Among some of the changes which will have the largest positive impact are:

  • A focus on student inquiry, engaging students in the process of inquiry as the new inquiry standards outline skills such as developing compelling and supporting questions; analyzing primary and secondary sources of information to generate claims; drawing and evaluating arguments to claims; and communicating conclusions to inquiry rooted in evidence.
  • Deepening student learning by driving home higher order thinking through student-centered inquiry challenged by engaging in primary and secondary sources.
  • A renewed effort for intentionally addressing Iowa’s connection to social studies through standards addressing Iowa history.
  • A three-year implementation planned which includes professional development and learning on how to effectively implement curriculum using the Iowa Social Studies standards, along with an abundance of resources and tools that teachers will be able to easily access and utilize.

However, with change comes uncertainty and uneasiness. As a secondary instructional coach for the past two years, I have helped several teachers across multiple disciplines with their standards. Whether the work was individual, teach alike teams, or department-wide Professional Learning Communities (PLC) teams, the same questions seemed to surface every conversation:

  • Why do these standards matter anyway?
  • How can I cover all these standards?  I only have so much time and too much content.
  • Which standards are the ones I/we HAVE to cover?  
  • How do I break down these standards so the students can understand what it is asking them to learn?

As I prepare to help our district and potentially other districts implement the new Iowa Social Studies standards within the next three years, I anticipate the same types of questions. Here are some of the answers and insights into implementing the new standards.

  1. Should we prioritize and pick certain standards? This simple and complex answer to this question is no. The bottom line is this: If the standards are there, they are already deemed as important. As a part of the state of Iowa Writing Team for the new Social Studies standards, I know the research, time, and effort it took for that team to create the new standards. And then a second team of dedicated educators reviewed those standards through a lens of public feedback and revised and edited those standards into the document that the state of Iowa has today and was approved by the State Board of Education. It is now part of state law that ALL standards MUST be covered and mastered by the time a student graduates with a high school diploma. So for any district or teacher to eliminate the standards as being unimportant to their curriculum is a dangerous path to travel. It can lead to gaps in learning, and opens the door to different students in different classrooms getting a different education. I stated earlier that this is a simple and complex question to answer. Within any given unit of study for any grade level and/or course, you will have standards that are assessed and given a high priority, while other standards may be supporting standards that are covered but not necessarily to the same depth within that unit. However, ALL of the new Iowa Social Studies standards need to be covered and assessed at some point and time within the grade level and/or course.
  2. How can I include content standards, new “inquiry” standards, and Literacy in Social Studies standards? Over the past two years, there has been professional development available on the instructional shifts within teaching and implementing the Literacy in Social Studies standards. This professional learning is still available (contact Stefanie Wager at the Department of Education, or your local Area Education Agency for more information). As the state of Iowa released the new standards, they also released a three-year implementation plan. During year one, professional learning will be available through AEAs on the new Inquiry Standards, and eventually information and resources will be available on how to incorporate all three sets of standards into content units within each grade level/discipline.
  3. Unfortunately, school districts across the state are feeling the pinch of less time, less resources, and less finances to spend time on training teachers on curriculum development and planning. Many teachers and districts then fall into a trap of attempting to save time and money by simply fitting standards into their current curriculum. While this may be the fastest and easiest path to take with the new standards, it could lead to “watering down” the standards in a best case scenario, and worst case could lead to standards being misplaced or omitted from curriculum. As a teacher leader in our district, I have had to advocate for time and resources to help teachers and teams to work on aligning their standards and curriculum both within a class and across grade levels. Time and time again, this has led to discovering gaps in learning, content that is missing or needs to be eliminated, and a refined product where teachers can ensure that what they are teaching and what their students are learning is exactly what is being assessed.

The Social Studies State Leadership Team has spent countless hours developing and creating both resources and professional learning that will assist teachers, teacher leaders (such as instructional coaches), administrators and school districts as a whole implement the new Social Studies standards. Here are a few suggestions to prepare for this process in order to implement these standards with fidelity.

  • Take...your...time! This is a three-year process, and in order to implement the standards in the best way, teachers need to truly take their time and study the standards. What are they asking? What content do I need to adjust to support these standards? How can I make these standards accessible in order for all students to achieve proficiency?  
  • Seek help! Whether it be from a teacher leader who can research ways to unpack the standards and develop protocols for teacher teams to develop the curriculum, or from state of Iowa resources like the newly-revised Social Studies Resources webpage, or even from several professional learning opportunities that will be available on a local, regional, or state level, there is a wealth of resources and information accessible to all teachers and districts to assist with this important work.
  • Keep your focus on students! While this work in implementing the new standards will be difficult and time consuming, ultimately the new standards will help teachers and school districts provide a clear, consistent, relevant and challenging curriculum that will prepare all students for college or career education. It will allow teachers and school districts to challenge students to think in new and innovative ways that will prepare those same students to be productive citizens of our communities.


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Wednesday, July12, 2017

book with a key“At the intersection of poetry and literature sits drama.” Such were the words that framed the college-credit class populated with high school students. Much has been written about literacy standards and their integration into science and history classes, but do the standards effectively integrated into our K-12 literacy classes prepare our students for success in a college literature class? The best place to seek an answer for this question is by examining a college-level literature class and sample what is expected of students to be successful at this level.

I visited the college course Introduction to Literature at Eastern Iowa Community College (EICC) in Maquoketa. Maquoketa is fortunate to have an EICC satellite located next to the high school, making it convenient for our students to take college-level classes for dual credit while attending high school. Seth Archer, an EICC instructor, is an out-of-the-box educator who is passionate about making literature come alive for students. His challenging questions and layers of instruction prod students to think and formulate opinions. His expertise was evident as he led students to dig deeply into the meaning behind words, music, and performance. How do all three come together to create meaning?

This day was the class’s first foray into an analysis of the Broadway blockbuster Hamilton. Students had the book containing both text and performance photos from this play, adding a dimension beyond an analysis of the text as they listened to the music, analyzed written lyrics and examined performance photos.

The students were organized at tables with a partner. Directions were to reconfigure into groups of three and write discussion questions using concepts, terms, and elements the class had learned in a previous short story and poetry unit, questions designed with a focus on the musical Hamilton. Groups selected one of their questions to write on the board. A few student-created samples included the following:

  • In what ways does Hamilton take liberties with historical accuracy in order to connect with a modern audience?
  • How does the reoccurring rhythm found in the first stanzas of Hamilton’s “A Winter’s Ball,” “Guns and Ships,” and “Your Obedient Servant” describe Hamilton and forward the plot?

Standards used in this class extend those found in English-language arts (ELA) classes in high school. Those standards were:

  • RL.11–12.7: Analyze multiple interpretations of a story, drama, or poem (e.g., recorded or live production of a play or recorded novel or poetry), evaluating how each version interprets the source text.
  • RL.11–12.5: Analyze how an author’s choices concerning how to structure specific parts of a text (e.g., the choice of where to begin or end a story, the choice to provide a comedic or tragic resolution) contribute to its overall structure and meaning as well as its aesthetic impact.
  • RL.11–12.4: Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in the text, including figurative and connotative meanings; analyze the impact of specific word choices on meaning and tone, including words with multiple meanings or language that is particularly fresh, engaging, or beautiful.

Previously, the class had studied Emily Dickinson and Dylan Thomas, so they were asked to consider the following question: Does Hamilton hold up to the best poetry we have read?

Mr. Archer emphasized that when the lyrics are read, it does not feel like poetry. The words do not have the rhythm – the music holds the rhythm and establishes a mood that the words alone do not create. Students determined that the lyrics need performance to create the mood by bringing in additional contrasts. The class was encouraged to listen to the lyrics for tone and mood. Then a new layer was added as Mr. Archer described the costuming which provided the accoutrements of power.

As students compared the written lyrics to the photos from the performance, they considered how all of the elements alter what the audience perceives in terms of characterization. Their next step – what other songs would be good to analyze through the lens of lyrics, music, and performance?

As we examine the ELA standards at the secondary level, teachers are encouraged to take reading skills to a deeper level by integrating knowledge and ideas through an analysis of multiple interpretations.

According to Johnston High School English teacher and the 2010 National Teacher of the Year Sarah Brown Wessling, “The Core is designed to enhance the cognitive dexterity of our students by getting them to focus more precisely, to transfer more fluidly, to construct more readily.”

A focus on depth of knowledge and text complexity in our instruction creates in our students an additional layer of analysis that can go beyond an English class and be applied in other subjects while developing authentic enjoyment of performance. It can also prepare our students for postsecondary success in a college-level class.


Principles for the Postsecondary Teachers of English (from the National Council of Teachers of English website)

Supplemental Information for Appendix A of the Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts and Literacy: New Research on Text Complexity (from Iowa Core website)

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Wednesday, May3, 2017

FocusLast spring, I attended the most inspirational professional development sessions ever. Steve Leinwand, one of the lead authors of Principles to Actions, Ensuring Mathematical Success for All, spent the day in Iowa with the Statewide Mathematics Leadership Team. I left feeling reinvigorated and committed to make a small, yet significant, change to my teaching.

Steve’s challenge to us was to think about how we can encourage colleagues to implement the teaching practices for effective mathematics instruction. It has to start with our own practice. This made me wonder, “how am I working toward implementing the practices in my own instruction?”

One of Steve’s main points really resonated with me. He said that it is ineffective to expect to change everything all at once. Instead, Steve proposed to focus on one practice, do it really well, and then add another focus later. This seemed so simple because it is easier to focus on one thing rather than several. That’s a change from the past, when too often I have found myself leaving a professional development wanting to try everything. Then, I rarely continue any of them because I did not allow the time for those practices to become an innate part of my craft.

From the reflection of my own learning experiences in mathematics and permission from Steve to focus on just one practice, I committed to focusing on implementing tasks that promote reasoning and problem solving. According to Principles to Actions, implementing tasks that promote reasoning and problem solving means that “effectively teaching mathematics engages students in solving and discussing tasks that promote mathematical reasoning and problem solving, and allow multiple entry points, and varied solution strategies.”

This focus has helped me improve my instruction because I now encourage a variety of strategies for solving problems from my students. Creating a space for students to discuss how different methods are similar and different helps me know that they are engaged in the mathematics and are experiencing mathematical reasoning and problem solving.  

The students are willing to share their ideas and discuss with each other how to find the most efficient strategies. We often compare and contrast their solutions and, when someone comes up with a new or interesting method, we will give the student naming rights for the method. For example, a new method for factoring polynomials might be called the “Charles Method.” They feel pride in finding a strategy that helps their classmates understand how to solve a problem. 

Before I had a focus, I used to use a number of open-ended tasks that easily lent themselves to this type of group work and discussion. However, some students would struggle to interpret these more complex tasks. I would usually give students a handout with the task printed in paragraph form at the top of the page; then, the task would be followed by questions for the students to answer. We would read the problem together as a class and I would instruct them to work together in small groups to answer the questions. I knew that this was not working for many students because often students would not know what they were supposed to do or even what the problem was.

Steve helped me to see how to improve the equity of access to these tasks and introduced to me a new strategy to present tasks to my students. He suggested that instead of introducing all of the text at once, introduce the text one line at a time. Using this strategy, revealing each line of information with a pause for students to think, allows students the opportunity to reflect on what their background knowledge tells them about the situation. This gets the students engaged with the task, the reasoning, and the problem solving.

For example, consider the problem of calculating the amount of fertilizer needed to cover a specific area. First, I would first tell the students that Anne wants to purchase fertilizer. Now I would ask the students, “what do we know about Anne?” Some students might suggest she’s a farmer, some might say she runs a golf course. Already, they are curious about Anne, and curiosity is a powerful engager.  

As I introduce each line of information, the students are able to narrow down what they know about the situation and refine their beliefs about the problem. This is the point where the magic happens: After students have all the information they need about the task, I ask them, “What is the question?” Usually the question I was intending them to answer is one they most frequently suggest, but often the students suggest other questions that are more interesting and challenging to answer.  

Sometimes I let them choose which question they want to investigate or I will purposefully suggest which one they might want to start with first. Rarely are there questions about what they should be trying to find, and even when students are stuck, they can correctly tell me a lot about the context of the problem. Usually this is enough to get them engaged and ready to start even the most challenging tasks. 

Having a focus of one of the practices has made a significant difference to how my students experience mathematics, reasoning, and problem solving. Focusing on one thing has allowed me to implement and refine my practice and for it to become an innate part of my craft. I will purposefully pick a new focus for next year.

Call to action:

  • Check out Principles to Actions Resources on the Iowa Core website.
  • Give yourself permission to focus on one practice at a time.
  • Pick the focus for the next school year.


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Posted by Mary Watson