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If Common Core is the What, Then What’s the How?

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Before you read this post, take a moment to watch the video above, depicting what our “standardized students” might do in a real-life situation, such as a job interview. 

Do click it to watch it. It’s only 3 minutes long and you’ll be glad you did.  

This video parody struck me the other day as a bit of an exaggeration, but maybe not so much…  Sure, it’s a parody, but can’t we see the truth in it too? I know I can and I shake my head.

And I think of the shift from No Child Left Behind standards and the shiny, new Common Core State Standards.


What I’m noticing

As we get past the “unpacking stage” of exploring the CommonCore standards, educators are starting to notice that a checklist of infrmation covered isn’t going to to it anymore. We have to have our kids doing things. Experiencing things. Working with information in ways that we’ve not had our students do since the inception of the No Child Left Behind era, 12 years ago.

As professional learning consultants, we see it. We see the recognition of “this is different” flash over the faces of the educators in our workshops. And then just as quickly, we see the panic of “Oh. My. Gosh. How in the WORLD am I going to do this?” set in across their already-tired brows. They leave with the recognition they’ll have to do something different, but what?


How do we shift away from being told what to tell the students to memorize?

I’ve been working with Project and Problem-Based Learning now for over 6 years, as a classroom teacher, a director of a school, and now as a PBL consultant to K12 schools. I get it. My teachers get it. The teachers with whom I work eventually get it. 

It’s about learning by doing.

It’s about active learning. Empowered learning. Student-driven, student-directed learning. The teacher as a guide and facilitator, whose expertise is actually about teaching and learning and not posing as content experts. It’s about students learning they can…   (insert whatever you want here)   . It’s about putting the excitement back into learning which traditional schooling has pretty much driven out of kids’ hearts. It’s about helping kids Learn to Love to Learn (L2L2L).

It’s about self-discipline. It’s about time management. It’s about building information resources and skills in order to build the future, whatever that may hold. It’s about learning how to prioritize tasks. How to find high-quality information in a whirlwind of misinformation. It’s about creating new content out of old ideas. It’s about valuing the foundations of humanity. It’s about connecting with the world. It’s about connecting learners with themselves.

It’s about learning by doing. Learning by being.

It’s not about teachers delivering facts to nerve-deadened teens. It’s not about spending even one more moment teaching test-taking skills. It’s not about learning how to recognize test-writers’ tricks and knowing to answer “C” when you’re in doubt.

It’s not about the fact that the 1815 Battle of New Orleans raged for months after theWar of 1812 was already declared over by the Treaty of Ghent in December of 1814 because the leaders didn’t get the message in time to save those lives, and knowing that it was considered the greatest American land victory of the war, commanded by Major General Andrew Jackson.

It’s not about those isolated Google-able facts any more. It is about learning by doing. About Project Based Learning. It’s about Problem Based Learning.

And looking at the Common Core, you can see that the standards are no longer information-delivery only. Students are expected to know how to DO things!

So what does that mean for our classrooms? Through the unpacking process, many teachers are beginning to recognize that business-as-usual in schools isn’t how it’s going to be. Some will try to “do” the CommonCore through their worksheets, but they won’t be successful.

No, it’s going to take a real change to really do it right.


Contact Ginger for more information about PBL and the Common Core.

(cross-posted at

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