Examining the PARCC Initial Set of Test Items and Tasks

I’ve been keeping an eye on PARCC (as you should, if you are a Common Core state moving into a PARCC assessment). The group recently released what it is calling “Initial Set of Test Items and Task Prototypes). It’s important to note that the information flowing now from PARCC are not necessarily test items of record, but merely examples to demonstrate what PARCC is shaping up to look like for our students (and for us, since let’s face it, we need to know how our students are going to be assessed).

View the Test Items/Prototypes page at PARCC

I started in the sixth grade area, of course (since that is what I teach). My initial observations are that the resources are handy. I appreciate at least how PARCC. For example, if you look at the link for the Grade 6 Narrative Task, you can see two questions from a piece of reading from a real novel (in this case, Julie of the Wolves), and if you click on the link for more specific information, the PDF shows how the answer would be scored, the rationale for the score, and how it connects to the Common Core frameworks. That at least takes some mystery out of the development of the assessment. (for now, anyway. Who knows what changes are still in store?)

Another link took me to a “constructed response” to the reading, and this turns out to be a task in which students are asked to write a short story that extends their thinking around the text they have read. Their fictional story should use a character from the reading but also demonstrate understanding of the original author and use evidence from that story to inform their own story. I like that idea, and it at least shows PARCC has some focus on narrative, fiction writing.

I’d also suggest you check out the expanded (draft) PARCC rubric around narrative and analytic writing, as it is a helpful guide. I noticed many alignments already for our own school writing rubric.

And finally, PARCC has released an updated Model Content Frameworks. If you are a PARCC state, you should check that out.

Overall, I appreciate the information. The more I can get, the better I feel. I’m still worried, of course, and the lack of real information about or PARCC so far has increased my concerns (given that the timetable for implementation in our state is as early as next year for PARCC). I still need more time to read, absorb, and think about what PARCC has put on the table, and I welcome your thoughts, too. Whether we buy into Common Core and PARCC (or Smarter Balance, if that is you), the shifts are here and in front of us. Information is what need. This may be a trickle, but at least it’s a start.

Peace (understanding PARCC),


Book Review: Capture the Flag

Kate Messner’s Capture the Flag intrigued me mostly on the issue of setting. How do you use an airport locked down in a snowstorm as the entire setting for a mystery story? Messner shows how, as her three young protagonists work frantically to discover a stolen flag (of great national and historical importance) before the storm clears and their flights leave. I was reminded a bit of Agatha Christie, for some reason. Not so much for the writing — their styles are very different — but for the claustrophobic nature of the setting, and of course, the wily intelligence and persistence of the detectives.

In this novel for middle school readers, Messner brings together three young people — Anna, José, and Henry — who begin as strangers sitting together at a gathering in Washington DC with respective relatives yapping it up with other adults, and end up teaming up in the airport after they learn that the flag in question has been stolen. The three kids suspect the thieves are not only in the airport, but so is the flag. The story unfolds at a quick pace, with its fair share of red herrings and dangerous situations, and Messner weaves in themes of politics, immigration and secret societies to fill the pages. She even leaves open the very real possibility of a sequel — a wise move for these three kids who have proven their worth when the flag gets recovered and the thieves exposed.

Oh, and can I just say: the cover to this book is very cool and intriguing.

Peace (in the stars and stripes forever),


What Teachers Make: Paying it Forward with the Gift of a Book

Before the end of the school year in June, I had read Taylor Mali’s What Teachers Make (in praise of the greatest job in the world) book of essays about education, which is like an extended riff off his very famous poem about teachers. It was one of those books that did not deserve a place in my bookcase. No, it deserved to be in the hands of another teacher. So, I wrote a little note in the inside cover, asking the person who got the book to read it, and pass it along to another teacher. (I think Bud Hunt gave me this idea of passing the book forward. ).

As it turned out, one of the participants in a workshops I gave over the summer around Common Core was the teacher in whose mailbox at school I had put What Teachers Make. She’s a colleague in a grade below me, and I figured she would enjoy Mali. She sure did, gushing about the essays and thanking me for turning her on to Mali, and then I asked her the question that was on my mind: Did you pass it on?

She did, and now I wonder if the book will make its way through various networks in our school district, and as I consider that, I think: that surely was a good investment that takes advantage of the physical network of teachers that I am part of. I love that idea of a book of inspiring essays slowly making the rounds, and I hope the book doesn’t fall into the hands of someone who just files it away. That book is meant to be read, and appreciated, by teachers. And it would be different if our principal or superintendent had given us that for a reading assignment, don’t you think? There is something in the power of grassroots connections among teachers, and we don’t always figure out how to use those connections to our advantage.

Maybe someday, the book will drop in your hands, too. If so, read it and pass it on, won’t you?

Peace (in the story),

PS — here is Taylor Mali, slamming his poem that inspired the book:



Book Review: Middle School Get Me Out of Here

Middle School: Get Me Out of Here is the second graphic-infused novel by James Patterson (he, of many many books) with writer Chris Tebbets and illustrator Laura Parks about the middle school life of Rafe Khatchadorian, a budding artist with an incredibly imagination matched by an incredible ability to get himself into extreme trouble. Here, Rafe is starting seventh grade at an arts magnet school but his family is in upheaval, as the diner where his single mom works has burned down and mom has lost her job. So Rafe, his sister and his mom need to move in with his grandmother in the city, and start anew.

Perhaps it was because I already knew Rafe (from Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life), but I liked this book better than the first. And as with the first, the illustrations by Parks are wonderfully detailed, and provide a great partner to the written story, too. The pictures don’t just complement the text; they advance the story, and bring the reader into the mind of Rafe, with all of his quirks and imaginative ideas brought forth on the page. So, even as the story advances along linear lines, the illustrations provide various jumping off points for the reader. Here is a perfect example of a book that would not hold up without the illustrations.

I won’t give the story away, but suffice it to say that like the first book (where we slowly learn that Rafe had a twin brother who passed away when they were both three years old), this book has a family story that slowly unfolds, opening a window into the heart of Rafe and allowing him to see the world, and his own place in it, a little differently. I appreciate that in a book. The setting of middle school, particularly the seventh grade, gives Patterson and Tebbetts plenty of room for Rafe to feel isolated and connected and confused about a lot of things that come with the pre-teen years. It is Rafe’s art, and Parks’ illustrations, that give him, and us, balance.

Peace (in middle school),


Using Mozilla’s Pop-Up Video Tool on Dav Pilkey

Mozilla Popcorn Popup Videos

I’ve been interested in the various tools that Mozilla has been putting out around hacking the web (with HTML5), and my son was in a video class this summer that used the beta version of Popcorn, the new video tool of Mozilla. One offshoot version of Popcorn is Pop-up, which allows you to layer in pop-up text on online videos in a fun way. I decided to talk back to Dav Pilkey in a short PSA video he did around reading.

View my pop-up video here

You can access the tools via Mozilla’s Webmaker site. Things are still in beta, but all of these tools would be useful for the classroom, particularly around the idea of hacking the web. You can see my post earlier this summer about Thimble, the website creator education tool from Mozilla.
So go on, give it a try. Think of it all as emerging legit hacker tools for kids.
Peace (in the pop),

Book Review: Program or Be Programmed

I guess I must be late to the discovery of Douglas Rushkoff. But, better late than never, right? I just finished his Program or Be Programmed: Ten Commands for the Digital Age and I have to say, it was just what I needed: a perfect balance of a message that I try to articulate (put young people in the seat of knowledge and creation) with warnings about the shifts that are taking place in our culture around technology and digital media. In the end, Rushkoff is positive about the possibilities but the theme of needing to understand (if not create) the underlying programming of technology and be aware of its biases is a critical part of understanding our times.

I have more little sticky notes in this short book than I know what to do with but Rushkoff explores many interesting themes in lively writing and under the guise of technology and media have certain qualities that either complement or hinder our own desire and needs when we sit down at our devices.

  • Technology is built so that time is always in fast flow, but we are not built that way. We need time for thinking and reflecting, and we need to avoid the suck of digital media into the never-ending flow of information. He reminds us of the early days of email and chat rooms, where the slowness of connections actually forces us to think before we wrote and reacted to the writing of others.
  • He reminds us that we do have choices in what we do, but mostly, those choices are situated by the programmers. There is an illusion of choice, and illusion of agency, in our interactions with digital media.
  • Rushkoff talks a lot about identity (who you are and who you represent yourself to be), telling the truth in online spaces, and social compacts that we have (don’t sell out your friends in networking spaces). These ideas really do connect to what we need to teach our young people about digital citizenship.
  • He also explores the ideas of what it means to have openness on the web, and how sharing and stealing are two very different ideals, and why sharing progress is better for society as a whole than stealing it is. Yes, these ideas have been explored in a lot of areas, but Rushkoff again connects them to the social compacts that we all agree to (tacitly) as humans using technology to interact and create in these artificial spaces.

Finally, as the title suggests, he implores us to know something about the ways of programmers. He doesn’t necessarily argue that everyone should be a programmer (although it is interesting that Rushkoff is now part of the Code Academy, which is built around the notion of educating the public about code) but he does believe that some ancillary knowledge about the 1s and 0s underneath the source code provides us with an insight into the intent of the technology, and maybe provides us with a path to adapt it for our own needs.

Peace (in the program),


“The Tweets” Come to an End

Tweets title

I was tweeting out about The Tweets comic yesterday, releasing the series of comics in a series of tweets w/comics through the course of the day (except for the final one, which I had not yet finished). I had a few good responses but I am going to just put the rest of the series here in this post and provide you with a link to the Flickr set where the short-run comic resides now. If you missed yesterday, The Tweets was inspired by a news story about politicians paying for fake followers on Twitter. I got to wondering: who would get that kind of job? Well, Stew did. And Frank was there, too.

Go to The Tweets

Tweets 3
Tweets 4
Tweets 5
Tweets 6
Tweets 7
Tweets 8 final
Thanks for reading.

Peace (in the frames),

PS — you may notice my reference to another webcomic character, Boolean, in that last strip. I imagined he might be friends with these two dudes.

My New Webcomic: The Tweets

I heard a news story the other day in which presidential candidate Mitt Romney was accused of having “fake” Twitter followers as a way (I guess) of buffering up his likeability quotient. The piece then said that some companies will get paid to create fake Twitter followers (although Twitter will ban folks for life for doing that) and it occurred to me that someone’s job might involve being a fake follower. Thus, a quick webcomic about two friends who are unemployed called The Tweets. It’s nothing fancy. But I hope you get a chuckle. This will be a short-run comic. In other words, it’ll be over quick!
Here are the first two comics in the series. The guys are Stewie (tall dude) and Frank (small dude).
Tweets 1
Tweets 2


Peace (in what I hope is your funny bone),

PS — I am using the webcomic site — Strip Generator — for this one.