5 Tech Tools to Help Prepare for Common Core Assessments
- By Anna Martin, Shannon Smith, Jesse Wray
With the first round of Common Core assessments complete, districts around the country are experiencing the technology shifts that Char Shyrock, director of curriculum at Bay Village Schools (OH) foresaw at the Connecting the Dots Conference in 2013. To address these shifts, here are our recommendations for tech tools that will help teachers and students prepare for the next round of computer-based Common Core assessments.
1) Lightning Grader
One of Shyrock’s major suggestions was that districts need to consider how students’ data is being collected, shared and analyzed. Lightning Grader is an online assessment program provided to districts at a cost of $2 per student. The program gives teachers and students access to instant, standards-based feedback. Teachers can use Lightning Grader to create flexible assessments that allow for a multitude of responses, including multiple choice and essay questions. Students can take these assessments on paper and then have them scanned, or they can simply take them online (which has the added advantage of giving students experience with taking computer-based assessments). Each question that teachers create by can be linked to Common Core standards, which are already uploaded into the program. Individual student and whole class reports show scores and measure progress by each standard.
Lightning Grader also allows teachers to communicate students’ progress to both students and parents. This feedback includes student report results, along with teacher comments on student progress. The program also enables teachers to share assessments within their district and with other districts.
2) Utah Education Network Science Interactives and Illuminations: Resources for Teaching Math
Shyrock’s next suggestion is to look at what tools are available for students to use for simulations and as manipulatives for modeling mathematical or scientific thinking. A key point to understand here is that computer-based simulation programs and manipulatives need to change depending on the grade level of the students. For example, modeling can be a very effective practice for teaching kindergarteners mathematical concepts like counting and basic shapes, but as these students progress to higher grade levels, those concepts become the foundation for other, higher-level concepts like addition and subtraction, multiplication and division, geometry and algebra. When students progress to higher levels, they no longer need the modeling of the basic skills; instead, they require new manipulatives and simulations to help continue the learning process.
The good news is that Shyrock herself maintains a website of resources specifically tailored to help educators integrate technology for programs of all ages. It includes links to practice PARCC questions and other sample materials that could help both students and educators prepare for Common Core exams. Another link from her website connects to a document containing the various means educators can use to incorporate technology into their lessons for math, science, English language arts and more.
When it comes to manipulation and simulation, one resource that stood out for integrating technology into science for all grade levels was Utah Education Network (UEN) Science Interactives. The website has free interactive games for students and lesson plans for teachers.
Looking at mathematics, Illumination: Resources for Teaching Math offers lesson plans for math teachers along with interactive activities for students of any grade level, but it also offers information on free mobile apps for phones and tablets that can be helpful outside of the normal classroom environment.
3) FASTT (Fluency and Automaticity through Systematic Teaching and Technology) Math
Another of Shyrock’s suggestions was to incorporate learning games to improve mathematical fluency. One program designed to specifically address the skills outlined by the Common Core Standards is FASTT Math. A downloadable program available for $7.50 per student, it includes 18 different games designed to help students in second through eighth grade improve fact fluency. (The Common Core standard states that all students should be fast and accurate with addition, subtraction, multiplication and division by the end of third grade.
The FASTT Math website cites research claiming that, when used as intended, the program helped reduce recall times and provided practice for accuracy in basic level operations. The program also offers progress monitoring for educators, which allows then anytime access to see which students need additional intervention.
Shyrock also mentioned that districts should encourage students to work collaboratively to solve real world problems. To accomplish this, a growing movement has begun in the gaming community. The mission of games that attempt to create positive change is to bring together people who spend many hours gaming and use their combined effort to solve important societal issues.
One of these collaborative games is Eyewire, which was developed in an MIT lab to help scientists map the human brain. To play this game you need no scientific background; learning happens as you play. The unique aspect of this game is that ordinary people and students have the ability to contribute to the understanding of the human mind through the mapping of neurons.
At this point, around 90,000 people from 130 countries have signed up to help with this task. While contributing, users can communicate with others through chat while mapping the brain. Individual users can also compete with other users and teams by earning points and rank through their ability to map the brain.
Shyrock’s final suggestion was to ask how students can use technology to conduct research and design their own experiments. INFOhio contains a wealth of resources to assist teachers and students in accomplishing these goals.
The “Students & Parents” section of the website offers a range of resources in a variety of formats, including stories, articles, maps, videos and games. These resources cover a variety of topics in multiple languages (including English, Spanish and French). Parent resources include information about books and reading with children, homework help and how to help children use INFOhio.
The “Educators & Library Staff” section of the website includes the “IMatrix.” According to the INFOhio website, "Many experts in application of the Common Core for Reading and Writing recommend that students all have a minimum of three or four rigorous research experiences, embedded in multiple content areas, throughout each school year. Articulation of these learning opportunities requires interdisciplinary planning, coordinated assessment plans, and identification of appropriate content applications. IMatrix helps schools identify key vertical alignment and interdisciplinary alignment for essential student skills."
The “Webinars” section of this site links to a number of trainings that address Common Core, including one called “Tech Tools for Online Testing.”
The site’s “Curriculum Toolbox” links to many resources that can help educators prepare students for the Common Core. “Research 4 Success” is an online course designed for students in 11th and 12th grade. The course’s six modules aim to provide students with the skills to conduct successful research in college and careers. Another tool in the Toolbox called “Ask, Act & Achieve” is aimed at a younger audience. It guides students through a research project, from developing a topic all the way through publishing and evaluating the final product. Finally, the Toolbox contains a link entitled “INFOhio’s Tech Skills for Online Testing.” This section offers interactive links that allow students to practice the technology skills the need for online assessments, as well as tabs that suggest ways for teachers integrate these skills into the curriculum.