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Four great tips on how schools can use technology for Common Core

Mark Strassman, senior vice president of product management for Blackboard, shares four tips to help schools prepare for the Common Core

common-core-blackboardReady or not, Common Core is coming. The national educational standards for K-12 schools will officially debut in the 2014-15 school year, and it is bringing a new way of teaching and learning with it. These new standards will change how teachers teach, what teachers are teaching, and how students are evaluated.

Some school districts across the country still have work to do before these changes take place. But the good news is that the right technology tools will ease the transition for all stakeholders.

Here are four tips for how your school district can use technology to prepare for the Common Core:

1.       Train up with online collaboration tools

Districts are focused on getting teachers trained not only on the deeper subject matters, but also on feeling comfortable using online tools in the classroom.  And, as studies show, the most effective way to get anyone familiar in an online learning environment is for them to take online classes themselves. By conducting professional development via digital tools teachers learn, and learn to embrace, the same technologies that their students will use for their Common Core “digital competency” evaluations.

Technology-enhanced training offers cost-cutting convenience and also enables ongoing collaboration. For example, third grade teachers from across an entire district can regularly come together online to create materials and share best practices. In the high-stakes environment of preparing for Common Core standards, giving teachers a way to consistently connect with peers allows them to be more efficient while helping them feel less isolated by building a network of continuous support.

A shining example is Cobb County School District, which has spent three years getting teachers ready for Common Core. Leveraging technology such as collaborative online training sessions and video feeds help the district reach teachers wherever they are and when they have time to learn, with the ultimate goal being to conduct 90 percent of Common Core training online.

“We knew we would have to show our teachers what Common Core looks like,” says Christine Osborne, an online learning specialist in Cobb County School District’s professional learning division. “This has proved to be a great way to do that while also honoring outstanding teachers who are models of success.”

2.       Don’t reinvent the content wheel: Use open content repositories to share resources

Teachers are busy enough with teaching classes, planning lessons, grading papers, and tutoring. Add to this workload the need to compile course materials that meet new standards and you’ll be looking at very exhausted teachers.

The good news is that there is a plethora of standard-compliant course materials already out there. Textbook publishers have been working toward Common Core for several years, and educational resource providers like Khan Academy offer a wealth of materials and lesson plan ideas that meet the standards.

Technology can play an important role in helping teachers easily share and reuse rich materials and lessons plans. Encourage teachers to share these resources—and the ones they create—using open content repositories. By taking advantage of great ideas that are already out there, teachers not only save precious time, but also better ensure they are rebuilding courses in line with standards.

3.       Acclimate students to how they will be evaluated

Under the new standards, most summative assessments will be conducted online. So students need to understand tech tools before they log in for their first test. Online formative assessments will help students get comfortable with online test taking, as well as enable them to continuously evaluate their mastery of the material before the end-of-year test.

Common Core’s individualized learning components require students to be more accountable for their academic performance. Online learning tools can help them stay organized and connected to helpful resources while allowing them to track their own progress through always-available assessment data, including targeted and multimedia feedback from their teachers. Students will always know what’s required, what’s due next, and where they stand.

4.       Keep parents informed with communication tools

Parents are an important part of the Common Core process, and districts must communicate regularly with parents and other members of the community who will see changes in how children are learning. Let them know what’s happening, when changes will take place, and where to go with questions.

Online and mobile tools are a great way to keep stakeholders informed. Websites, social media, texts, and eMails are essential for keeping in touch with working parents, and communication management tools ease the logistics.

Cobb County has a Common Core button on its website homepage that links parents to bilingual information about the standards and the district’s rollout. Some individual schools have conducted webinars for parents and then posted those sessions for anytime, anywhere access.

Getting online tools in place today ensures smoother communication when their children start coming home with new assignments and are graded on new standards. Plus, it starts an ongoing conversation with parents about expectations and how to measure their kids’ progress.

With the right strategy and tools, districts can capitalize on what they know, train to fill any gaps, and keep all stakeholders informed as they move along the path to Common Core success while creating a culture of continuous improvement and collaboration that will yield excellence in the Common Core classroom.

Mark Strassman is the senior vice president of product management for Blackboard.

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