Follow by Email

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Learning About the English Language Arts Common Core Standards

This is part three in a three part series describing the Common Core Standards. In part one I discussed that the word “common” means we have a common goal and will use common language. However, we will not be lock-step with other schools across the country and the curriculums we use to accomplish our goals under the Common Core Standards will be individualized to our students and their needs.

In part two of this series, I discussed the math standards and in this third part, I will describe the English Language Arts (ELA) Standards, which are structured differently than the math standards. Jennifer Fox, Jackson County Intermediate School District Curriculum Consultant, said that the shift to the Common Core standards “represent the shifting of necessary skills over time through societal demands.” These standards focus on reading, writing, speaking and listening, and language strands.

Students are learning to read and understand more non-fiction through lessons that focus on locating evidence in the text to help them ground their thinking about a piece of literature. For example, rather than simply reading a book, taking a test over the book, then moving on to the next book, teachers tie literature together by relating one book to another. Because text complexity is an important aspect of reading which will help students to develop a deeper comprehension, Mrs. Dagenais, Columbia Middle School ELA teacher, is having her students to complete cycles of reading and then writing their reflections, then repeating the cycle. The cycles help students gain a deeper comprehension. She also said that she emphasizes “supporting the reflections with evidence from the text.” She teams with the science and social studies teachers to have her students complete at least one writing piece.

The literacy standards require students to integrate technology and digital resources with writing. Our first graders in Mrs. Hawkins class at Columbia Elementary School are using the Story Bird website to produce blogs and satisfy the standard which says, “Use technology, including internet, to produce and publish writing, and to interact and collaborate with others.” She commented by saying that she “can use this site to post private notes to my students about their writing and that family members may also comment on their child’s writing.” She added that her “students can go home, sign on to the blog, read and comment on other students work.” Mrs. Hawkins feels that by blogging, “it is a great way to collaborate and the kids are so excited to hear what someone other than their teacher has to say about their writing!” By using technology students will learn the strengths and weaknesses of different technological tools and know which one will work the best as they complete tasks in the future.

Mrs. Hawkins students are also working on the standard which says, “Write routinely over extended and shorter time frames for a range of tasks, purposes and audiences.” Mrs. Hawkins says that her “students will most likely communicate with their audiences primarily through the internet or text. They are much more comfortable with a tablet and stylus than a pencil and paper.” In this way they are being prepared for both college and career. She commented that “allowing them multiple options for writing provides more opportunities to find a form of writing that really connect to.” 

When moving from grade to grade students are expected to accomplish the standards, review and reuse the ELA skills and techniques they reached in earlier grades, then progress onto the future standards. Mrs. Schmidt, an ELA teacher at Columbia Middle School said that, “The beautiful thing about teaching ELA is that many, many standards are incorporated into one unit by writing an argument piece.” For example, she relates that her “students will learn how to locate and interpret credible research, formulate an argument and support both sides of the issue, demonstrate proper citation, write in MLA format and present in class. This extended unit incorporates many standards from speaking and listening, reading informational text, and writing standards from Common Core standards.”

If you have questions regarding Columbia School District, please call me at 5175926641 or email me at

Monday, March 24, 2014

Understanding the Math Common Core Standards

This column is the second in a three-part look at Common Core Standards. While the first article focused on a general overview of Common Core, this column takes a closer look at Math Standards and part-three will review English Language Arts Standards.

Many of us remember “New Math” or even “Basic Math.” While Common Core is, for most of us, a new way of thinking about math, it is not the same as “New Math.” Experts in Common Core often refer to this way of thinking as inquiry-based, which is designed to promote a deeper understanding of math.

Over a decade ago I heard Michigan State University professor William Schmidt, one of the authors of the Trends in International Math and Science Study (TIMSS) speak on the fact that the math curriculum in the United States was “a mile wide and an inch deep.” He compared our curriculum and all of the things we expect students to learn to the curriculum in other countries, who at the time were doing better that the U.S. was on international math tests. It was amazing to see the charts and graphs and then begin to understand that something had to be done to assist our students learn math in a much deeper way.

The result of many conversations, lectures, research projects and meetings with top mathematicians from across the country is the Common Core Standards. The Standards provide students with the understanding and expertise students will need to be successful in their life after school, such as in college, trade school or in their work place. Students learn to justify why a particular mathematical statement is true, rather than simply memorizing many math facts. Even though the correct answer is very important, the Common Core Standards allows students to figure out how to solve a problem, and then asks the student what mathematical imperative or method was followed to solve the problem. The journey a student takes to solve a problem is just as important as the final answer.

Over the past year our teachers at Columbia Elementary and Columbia Middle School have spent a great deal of time working through the Common Core Standards. Recently, one of the first grade teachers told me that her students love math and ask if they can expand math time. One example she used was that when her first graders were working on learning about fractions, they use play dough or clay. They are able to touch and feel the size differences in the fractions as they work on a deeper understanding of fractions. After each exercise, they reflect and discuss their understanding of what they learned.

In another example, teachers use tactile objects called manipulatives to figure out multiplication. They may use blocks to form a multiplication problem like 3 x 4. They could use 3+3+3+3 or 4+4+4; they could arrange the blocks into a rectangle with three rows of four or four rows of three. Some students may have three groups of four or four groups of three. Students may also use visual objects such as graphs, lines, and circles to help solve a problem. When watching our teachers work with students during their math lessons, they may have students in groups sitting at desks, sorting and arranging manipulatives that may be eaten like fruit loops, or sitting in a group on the floor working to solve a problem together.

Our children are excited about this new way of learning math, but they may still have questions. One of my friends watches her grandchildren after school. She recently told me that sometimes she cannot help the youngest boy who is a kindergartner. When she gets stuck, she calls over the fourth grader, who understands the new Common Core Standards and he gets to be the expert. In addition to a new way of solving some of the problems, there is new terminology that comes with the Common Core Standards. If your child or grandchild is using math terms that are foreign to you, be sure and email your child’s teacher and they will help by giving you the definition and an example.

If you are interested in learning about Columbia School District or the programs we provide to our students, please email me at or call 5175926641.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Learning About Common Core Standards

As a parent or grandparent of a school-aged child you have probably heard of the new “Common Core Standards.” To help students become successful in the increasingly prevalent global economy after they graduate from high school, the Common Core Standards provide the same high standards and academic platform for every child across the county.

Initially designed by teachers and researchers and adopted in 2010, the Common Core Standards for language arts and mathematics are now being voluntarily used in forty-five states. While the standards set forth objectives and goals, Common Core is not a curriculum. These standards translate into learning strategies that seem quite different from the traditional curricular activities that existed when we were in school.

The integration of technology through the Common Core Standards is integral to enhancing your child’s learning environment and becoming successful in a 21st Century technologically advanced world. Teachers will use various forms of technology as a platform for student learning. For example, recently a group of students created webpages that incorporated and applied academic knowledge about the 13 Colonies. The students used research strategies, combined with writing and editing text, along with knowledge of basic webpage design to integrate the information into a cohesive format which they shared with their peers.

When using Common Core Standards, teachers use their extensive knowledge of math and language arts to develop lesson plans and adapt instructional strategies best suited to increase learning activities that will benefit their students. The standards teach our children to use analytical strategies to deeply understand and apply their learning. Students will use critical-thinking and problem-solving skills to collaborate with each other academically. Some of the settings for academic discussion strategies your child’s teachers will use include one-on-one, small group, student presentation and whole class learning activities. The students will work to integrate, implement and assess informational sources using logical reasoning strategies to broaden their base of understanding.

While Common Core Standards do not include science or social studies, the Next Generation Science Standards are available and are being used in much the same way as our teachers are using the Common Core Standards for language arts and mathematics. The language arts standards address many of the goals and objectives used in a social studies classroom.

As the Columbia School District continues to implement the Common Core Standards into our curriculum, please feel free to clarify any questions by speaking with or emailing your child’s teacher or principal. The new standards will help your child be competitive with other children across the country. If you have any questions regarding the Columbia School District, please call 5175926641 or email me at

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Columbia School District

We Believe in Columbia School District! As a school family, we are proud to be a part of this community. Our excellent teachers and staff members strive for excellence as we diligently work with your student to increase his or her educational abilities. The Columbia School District, in partnership with the community, will provide a safe and positive learning environment, which will prepare all students to contribute and compete in a global society.

Our points of pride include strong academics which have produced high test scores, an award winning band program, high school pre-engineering courses which use project based learning to enhance each student’s skills, Advanced Placement courses that challenge our students and provide an opportunity for them to earn college credit, a preschool that provides a firm and enjoyable educational base for our youngest learners, and our excellent athletic programs which give our student athletes an opportunity to succeed. Columbia Central High School was awarded the Silver Medallion by U.S. News & World Reports and was honored as top school in Jackson County by Bridge Magazine.

We’re experiencing an outstanding year! In November community members passed a bond issue to give our students a safe, warm, dry and smart learning environment. We have partnered with Kingscott Architects and Granger Construction Management to remodel our buildings inside and increase safety for our students by redesigning our drop-off and pick-up areas. Phase 1 includes site work and new roofs. Phase 2 will focus on remodeling the classrooms, the addition of a secure entry vestibule at the elementary school, and remodeling of the entry at Columbia Central High School, Columbia Middle School and Columbia Options High School to create a secure entry area. Phase 2 also incudes new heating systems at all buildings, updated technology infrastructure and hardware, remodeling of common areas and playground improvements.

We hope you will find time to visit our schools as you participate in your children’s activities. You may sign up for on our weekly E-Letter update by sending me your email address. If I may assist you in any way, please feel free to call me at the Administration Office at 517-592-6641 or email me at

Monday, March 3, 2014

Our Children Are Becoming Digital Citizens

Recently I was involved in a discussion about the ways children are learning now versus ten or twenty years ago. My sons have friends who are parents and several of them have iPads for their children. My younger son, Jon, told me that he was using his iPad at one of his friend’s home and their nine-month-old daughter crawled over to see what he was doing and to “help” him. She was used to using an iPad application aimed at pre-toddlers. The children in our preschool are only three and four-years-old and they have an innate ability to pick up one of the iPads and navigate to their area of academic application without direction from their teacher.

As part of our goal to integrate technology into the curriculum, many of our Columbia Middle School students are using Chromebooks. A couple of weeks ago, one of our fifth grade students showed me how she was putting together a website with six pages. She was building the website as part of an assignment for her social studies class. She had to design a website to compare and contrast the New England states back in the Colonial days with today. This task involved research, a lot of learning and integration of her technological skills with her recent acquisition of knowledge.

At the February Columbia School District Board of Education meeting, three sixth grade students from Columbia Middle School demonstrated how to use the Chromebooks and how to open a new document and immediately share the document with their fellow students. The students were proficient and said how much they enjoy using technology when working with their peers for editing of documents and creating group projects.

Last week the Columbia School District Curriculum Council updated the Technology Integration Vision Statement to read: Columbia School District will provide reliable access to 21st Century technology in order to meet the diverse needs of all students, empowering them to be productive and responsible contributors in an ever changing global digital society.

Our teachers are excited to help students embark on new ways of learning through technology. In addition to providing professional development to teachers to help them have the tools to empower their students to use technology effectively, the Bond Issue proposals will provide updated wiring, additional wireless access points, new technology switches, and new computers and tablets. As we work to keep Columbia School District students and teachers up to date with effective, reliable access to technology, we will continue to relate examples of how our students are benefiting from the integration of digital tools into the curriculum. If you have questions regarding Columbia Schools, please email me at or call me at 5175926641.