21st Century Curriculum | Feature

How to Fine-Tune Your Common Core Curriculum

As school districts across the nation scramble to meet the February Common Core State Standards Initiative (CCSS) mandate, The Rose Academies in Tucson, AZ, are already 100 percent compliant. A group of four public charter high schools, The Rose Academies provide an alternative education setting designed to meet the needs of at-risk students and others who haven’t been successful in traditional learning environments.

Shannon Pfleiderer, director of curriculum and instruction, said the charter schools started worked towards CCSS compliance in 2012. “Many of our materials that were developed over the last two years were built around the CCSS concepts,” he said, “and based on the prototypes that we have access to.”

As the schools’ administrators and teachers continue to learn and explore the depth of CCSS and define mastery from a Common Core perspective, Pfleiderer said the team has embraced technology as a key facilitator during the process. One of those tech tools is online eLearning solution OdysseyWare, which provides virtual textbooks and other content that students access on classroom desktops and laptops.

Before selecting a new platform, The Rose Academies shopped for software options and even considered sticking with their existing setup. “Our previous software provided a reasonable virtual textbook and allowed us to author and sequence our own materials,” explained Pfleiderer, “but we wanted more functionality and multimedia—and a more modern interface—all while meeting the Common Core standards.”

Because of the population they serve, The Rose Academies already have some experience managing and addressing developmental learning gaps. “Long before CCSS came along, students came to us needing remediation and re-teaching,” Pfleiderer said, so that any virtual textbook and content provider she chose would have to address those content gaps, provide external links to additional resources (for reinforcement), and help the schools comply with CCS. “We needed software that would help us address brand new concepts for students in a non-threatening manner that somehow meshed with the students’ past experiences,” he said.

Making the Grade

After exploring the online curriculum options on the market, Pfleiderer and his team chose OdysseyWare for several reasons. They liked the way students and teachers could send messages back and forth, comment on lessons, and directly access lessons through the messaging function. Pfleiderer said the schools were also looking for an interface that would allow teachers to author and modify the curriculum in a way that not only met CCSS requirements but that also engaged students.

The district rolled out OdysseyWare’s web-based platform in early 2013, and the curriculum is now accessible to The Rose Academies’ students anytime, anywhere, and is designed to reach digital natives who are often challenged by the constraints of the traditional classroom. Pfleiderer said that, in addition to supporting the schools’ CCSS initiatives, the platform also fits well in blended learning and team teaching environments.

For example, a typical journalism class (where the school’s annual yearbook is produced) may find students presenting ideas and getting feedback from teachers—just like in a “regular” classroom. When that discussion wraps up, some students hit the computers and begin editing and publishing the yearbook while others work one-on-one with teachers to have their questions answered and their study points covered. “In our blended learning environment, students are ‘self-paced’ but not ‘self-taught,’ ” Pfleiderer pointed out. “They can move ahead at their own pace or get the additional support that they need; it all depends on the individual student.”

The schools’ curriculum platform supports that mission by providing virtual textbooks, course content, placement tests, skills diagnostics, and credit recovery options. “It’s our primary source of content; it’s the meat of what we use,” said Pfleiderer. On the CCSS side, The Rose Academies leverage the related content available from OdysseyWare and then supplements it on an as-needed basis. “We can modify, re-sequence, eliminate, or add lessons, and use the authoring tools to enhance the lessons that are already on the platform,” Pfleiderer explained. “We can really dial in and make sure the software meets the needs of our students.”

Filling the Knowledge Gaps

When it comes to filling the student knowledge gaps that The Rose Academies are all too familiar with, Pfleiderer said, “Students are independently engaging the content and mastering the concepts.” And thanks to a robust professional development approach centered on both weekly and daily training sessions, The Rose Academies’ teachers have also embraced the platform. “Our principals work with, coach, and observe teachers to see how the team dynamic is working,” said Pfleiderer, “and to make sure instructors know how to address standards across all subjects, including language arts, math, social studies, science, fine arts, and electives.”

Pfleiderer said that the schools will continue to refine their approach. “We’re at 100 percent compliance right now, but we’re still learning how to use OdysseyWare to teach the CCSS as it is written,” said Pfleiderer. “We’re pretty comfortable with the February deadline and where we stand in terms of addressing the standards, developing the student skills, and filling in the knowledge gaps as they surface.”