Integrating Technology into the Common Core Classroom [Guest Post]

The following is a guest post by Karen Larson and Gene Tognetti


Integrating the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) creates a number of opportunities for educators. Once teachers develop classroom implementation plans that address the “why and what” student outcomes to be learned, teachers need to address the “how.” How do I, a third grade teacher, create opportunities in my classroom that will ultimately lead to “college and career” readiness? How do I teach students so the outcomes are truly learned?

This can be an exciting proposition, and indeed a great time to be an educator. It is a golden opportunity to improve teaching practices while we incorporate the CCSS. It’s also an opportunity to reassess and address how other educational goals, such as integrating 21st century skills, project-based learning, and the complexities of technology, are blended into curriculum plans. One important goal: remain focused on student outcomes!

Regardless of your school’s access -- 1:1, Bring Your Own Device (BYOD), or a couple of classroom tablets – technology does more than just balance the playing field. Technology offers opportunities to meet the standards, address 21st century skills, and allows for differentiation. It also provides for student creativity and choice, and most importantly, pushes students to reach higher levels of thinking. Creativity at school now means taking what you know and applying it to new and different situations. It’s taking what was imagined and making it real. Technology helps make that happen.

Let’s be clear: technology must be in the hands of the student. Technology opens the doors to discover the world around them, learn collaboration skills, and work responsibly, all while absorbing and mastering the curriculum. Technology should not just replace paper and pencil; a good paper-based graphic organizer replaced with an electronic version adds no student value unless additional collaborative or other higher-level thinking tasks are included. Here’s an outline on how to set your students up for success using technology to enhance learning, meet the standards, and exercise those higher-learning skills so important to their future.

Create units that include multiple standards

Developing the unit requires time on your part. Once done, MORE time can be spent working with students so they get the most out of their learning. Start by researching the myriad of Open Educational Resources (“OER”) and other top unit resources. We like Buck Institute’s PBL site, Common Core Curriculum Maps, LearnZillion, and the National Science Digital Library. Also check out Curriki. OERCommons includes Open Educational Resources from multiple locations and is certainly worth a close look.

Be sure your units allow for:

  • Collaboration -- Don’t confuse group work with collaboration. True collaboration means students working together to solve real world problems, create effective videos, write narratives, and so on. Time spent learning how to collaborate is a life skill that will serve them well. By the way, “collaboration” is clearly delineated in the ELA anchor standards.

  • Peer Review -- Another important skill to learn. Peer review is not spell checking, nor is it a “this is great!” Google Docs comment. It’s helping one’s peer meet the criteria of the task as defined by BOTH the teacher and the student collaborative group. This is a LEARNED skill, and not one that you can assume students know how to do.

  • Rubrics -- Let the students know what you are looking for. Having students participate in rubric creation has its benefits too.

Address an Essential Question

Each unit should require students to address a broad question that, once answered, assures you the students have met (and exceeded) the grade level standard. Questions like, “Of all the root causes of the Civil War, which one impacted the South most significantly, and why?” allows students to delve deep into the economic, political and social aspects behind the war. They have to understand all the causes, then draw conclusions based on their research. The breadth and depth of responses will make it clear who’s learned the material and who’s providing filler or fluff.

Require Unique Outcomes

The opportunities for choice are key to students reaching higher levels of thinking and redefined learning. Whether your classroom is BYOD, tablet based, or uses a computer lab, students should be able to access a variety of technology tools to produce their work. ELA anchor standards are specific to integrating and evaluating content from different media resources, and to produce unique (not plagiarized!) work using technology tools.

The concept of digital storytelling allows students the opportunity to convey their thoughts, ideas and evidence in a manner that engages both the presenter and the audience. Here is a short list of some of our favorite web-based digital storytelling tools. They are all easy to use and require little from the teacher in terms of ‘set up’ for students to be successful.

  • Pixorial -- A powerful web-based video editor that students and teachers will find easy and fun to use.

  • WeVideo -- Another web-based video editor that has built-in collaborative capabilities.

  • Animoto -- Create slideshows with images, video, music and transitions. Great for comparing themes, characters or settings. The “free” version is limited to 30 seconds of video.

  • VoiceThread -- Another collaborative solution for sharing a story. Students create “conversations in the cloud,” based upon images, text and audio they add. VoiceThread allows the audience to comment on or continue the story.

  • Comic Creation -- Comic creation allows students to share their learning in imaginative ways. Ideal for second language and emerging English learners. There are a number of free tools online, but watch for ads and inappropriate material. Consider ReadWriteThink Comic Creator, a simple and fun choice Note: it does not allow saving work -- must complete in one sitting.

  • Haiku Deck -- Create simple, beautiful slides that support student presentations, not drive it. Add images (both supplied and your own) and minimal text.

Has a Performance Component

Having a larger audience encourages students to create work that in no longer “just good enough.” Who sees the end results of your student projects? Is it just you and the students in that classroom? If the answer is yes, consider using technology that broadens the audience. Some web tools, like VoiceThread, allow viewers to leave feedback. Presentations, speaking and listening opportunities are all important ELA components. Blogging -- either at the class or individual student level -- is another powerful tool to speak to a wider community and engage your students.

It’s easy to get distracted or frustrated by the “next great thing.” By focusing your objectives, and plan using the framework described above, you’ll raise the bar for student learning. Students will be more engaged, and after you do a bit of heavy lifting planning your approach, outcomes and rubrics, you can become a “guide on the side” to help your students craft some awesome outcomes. We think it’s very likely you’ll be amazed by the results!


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Karen Larson is an Academic Technology Specialist for the Santa Clara County (CA) Office of Education; serves as treasurer of Silicon Valley CUE (Computer-Using Educators), and was a very early adopter of 1:1 computing in her classroom over ten years ago.

Gene Tognetti is vice principal of St. Leo the Great School in San Jose, California, is the vice president of the Silicon Valley CUE and provides a wide variety of ed tech training for many organizations in the San Jose area.

Karen and Gene co-author the Common Core and Education Technology blog, which reports on practical, classroom-proven tools for Common Core and more.