School Districts Integrate Technology into Common Core-based Curriculum

As states emphasize the Common Core State Standards, school districts work on using technology to meet learning goals.

by / August 8, 2011 0
Students at the Center for Advanced Research and Technology in Clovis, Calif., work on an economics project. | Photo courtesy of John Forbes

As states emphasize the Common Core State Standards, school districts work on meeting learning goals with technology. 

Forty-four states and the District of Columbia have adopted the standards, and two state consortiums are designing assessments for them. On Tuesday, the SMARTER Balanced Assessment Consortium released draft content specifications for English language arts and literacy. And on Aug. 3, the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers released draft model content frameworks for public review.

Until two years ago, Iowa was the only state that didn't have state standards. The 100-plus districts in The Hawkeye State each had a version of their own standards.

In spring 2008, the Iowa Legislature passed the Iowa Core Curriculum. And just as districts were ready to implement the Iowa Core, Iowa approved the Common Core State Standards in July 2010. 

They had to shift gears and figure out how the Iowa Core, the Common Core and technology fit together in the curriculum with what they were already doing. And they're still playing catch up, said Stefanie Rosenberg Wager, curriculum coordinator and coordinator of the Teaching American History Grant and pre-AP programs at Des Moines Public Schools.

On the other side of the spectrum, the Center for Advanced Research and Technology (CART) in California has continued using the standards in the Common Core since it opened in 2000.

Clovis and Fresno unified school districts came together to reinvision and reinvent what high school looked like. They created CART, where 1,400 juniors and seniors spend half the day in inter-disciplinary classes. They have 15 learning labs organized around four career clusters. And the labs integrate both core academic content and technology.

Instead of having many different content standards, the Common Core has a few major things that students should learn. And it asks students to solve problems, collaborate and apply what they're learning.

"We see kids becoming more engaged in their learning, more interested in a subject area because they see the relevance behind it," said John Forbes, dean of curriculum and instruction.

Districts integrate technology into standards-based curriculum

And integrating technology is the key to what the school does. Forbes uses an example of two water glasses on a table to illustrate how schools approach technology.

Some schools place a small vial of dye next to the water glasses and say they have technology. But schools like CART put dye in the water so that it changes color. That's real technology integration.

And that integration needs to be driven by learning goals, said Judy Zimny, ASCD chief program development officer.

"The learning drives the technology always. It should never be that the technology drives the learning."

How the learning experience is designed is critical. And whenever you build a curriculum, you're aiming for a student outcome and figuring out how to measure it.

"If that plan is laid out correctly, the rest is really pretty easy to put together," Zimny said. "But just figuring out what those activities should be, that's the tricky part."

As Des Moines Public Schools works on its standards-based curriculum, Wager emphasizes that technology can help students learn if teachers integrate it into lessons.

"I'm a huge technology fan and a big techie person myself, but one of the things I think we need to caution people on sometimes is that technology is a tool, but it's not the be-all-end-all," Wager said. "Just putting a laptop in a student's hands doesn't necessarily equate to high-level learning."

Instead, the technology committee has been adding a sidebar to the standards to show what they would look like in the classroom. In that sidebar, they're including technology tools that can help students meet a standard.

For example, if the standards say to write an informational essay, the committee provides teachers with ideas of how to meet it through the lens of a technology tool. And since the history, science and technical subjects standards within the English Language Arts Standards are about 70 pages long, they need examples from district staff.

"If I just hand a teacher this huge document and say go forth and conquer, they're going to be overwhelmed," Wager said.

Districts prepare teachers for standards-based, technology-infused lessons

Most districts deal with bridging the gap between teachers who struggle to use email and teachers who lead their building in integrating technology, Wager said. And Des Moines Public Schools is trying to bridge the gaps through the vehicle of the common core.

At CART, teachers train each other. Some people are techno geeks who the school pushes to train staff and present at conferences. The school wants to continually challenge them to learn more and connect with other educators across the nation at education conferences.

On the other end of the spectrum, some teachers are afraid to use computers. The school supports them through a monthly Tech Tuesday training. And within the learning labs, groups of three teachers team together, so they support each other.

Along with involving teachers, the school encourages them to ask students for help.

"Our students have a wealth of knowledge," Forbes said. "And when we swallow whatever pride we have of thinking we have to know everything, we end up learning a lot and helping our students realize that they have a lot to give."

They already have a good grasp of which ed tech tool to use in different situations. But this year, they'll be focusing on collaborating in online spaces such as Google Docs.

CART has English, science and history teachers. But everyone is a technology teacher.

Forbes advises traditional high schools to be more creative than just changing a bell schedule (which his school doesn't even have) and adding a technology class at the end of the day. Instead, they can retrain the workforce and emphasize the importance of everyone being a technology teacher.

Tanya Roscorla Former Managing Editor

Tanya Roscorla covered ed tech from 2009-2017.