Going All In with Common Core

AnnMaria talking on 1890 telephone

Our game testers range in age from five years old (to determine appropriateness for the academically gifted) to early thirties.  We also have a few educational experts, an elementary teacher, two middle score math teachers and three staff members with doctorates in education.

Among us all, we spend a lot of time looking at educational technology, trying to adopt and expand on really good ideas, and learn what not to do from those that find boring or confusing.

In the process, we’ve noticed that a lot of the same old technology has been re-labeled as “aligned with the Common Core”. Yet, when we look at these games, web sites or other applications, they are exactly the same as they were several years ago, with just a new branding.

On the contrary, we’ve spent the last two months writing test items and math challenges that match up exactly to common core standards. More than that, our on-line pre-test, quizzes and in-game challenges are strikingly similar in format to the types of items students will be expected to answer. They ARE different.  Students are expected to drag and drop numbers to the correct point on a number line, move objects around to illustrate how many widgets will fit in a box and other different types of problems than the typical multiple choice.

We started this move to alignment with common core computerized testing over a year ago. We became even more convinced of its necessity when we saw the drastic decline in test scores with the new standards. Given the lack of access to current technology in many reservation schools and homes, we can almost guarantee the same precipitous drop will happen when the students we primarily serve begin taking tests online – UNLESS they get some preparation in this type of testing first.

Despite the fact that many of the schools still use Windows XP and versions of Internet Explorer that are limited, I made the decision to develop tests exactly to match the types of items students will be given on the computerized assessment of common core standards. If you look at our tests from two years ago and today, they difference is immediately obvious. There are very few multiple choice items. In their place are items that require everything from a number to an explanation to dragging and dropping.

Our current games are aimed at fourth- and fifth-graders. We do have one question on probability in Spirit Lake: The Game, but that will be replaced this year. As much as it pained me not to include statistics (I specialized in applied statistics in my doctoral program and have been a statistician or statistical programmer for much of my career), the fact is that statistics are not part of the common core standards until sixth grade, and so that material had to be put off until next year when we are developing games for sixth graders.

Some of the common core standards – like moving statistics – I was not completely sold on, but the fact is, this is what teachers will be expected to teach and students will be expected to learn at specific grade levels. These items are how students are going to be expected to demonstrate what they have learned.  I decided if we were going to say we were aligned with common core, we were going to go all in and do more than slap a new sticker on the same old thing.