Monthly Archives: February 2014

PARCC Navigation and Accessibility

In a few weeks, PARCC will be field testing the new online assessment with over 1 million students in PARCC states.  About 100 of those students come from our district.


Where can teachers (and parents) see sample test questions?


Teachers, parents, and students have a number of resources available to them.  You can go directly to and see sample tests for English Language Arts (ELA) and Math.  Click here for a tutorial on how to access the sample tests and why it’s important to start looking at them now.  Click here for a tutorial on how to find the answers to the above tests and their point values.  Yes, different questions have different point values.  In fact, a student may incorrectly answer a math problem but still score points if they have correctly explained their rationale in the text box.


Just how different is this digital test compared to “fill in the bubble” tests?


The Arizona Department of Education (ADE) has released sample test items.  ADE has done a great job of embedding the digital tools in the test.  Click here to see the dramatically different digital testing environment.  What did you notice was different?


  • tabs
  • rubrics
  • typing
  • highlighting text
  • drag and drop
  • sliders

PARCC has released the first (of two) tutorials on navigation and accessibility.

This first release includes navigation and some accessibility features and a second tutorial will be released in mid to late February 2014 with all item interaction types.

As of just earlier this week, PARCC has also released information on graphing calculators for high school students.  Click here for a free download of Texas Instruments calculator.


What are these “computer tools” and “accessibility tools”?

highly encourage all students, parents, and teachers to go through the tutorial designed by PARCC.  There are so many “computer” things students need to know in order to take the test.  For instance, there are some questions which can have more than one correct answer.  Students need to know how to tell if a question allows for “multiple select“.  Hint, it’s all in the radial buttons.  Do you know what that means?  More importantly, do your students know what that means?  The writing portion will be scored based on a rubric, and PARCC has put the rubric right there……….on a tab.  What if your student doesn’t know they can select the rubric to see what the scorers will be looking for?


Click here to go directly to the tutorial.






Which features do you think your students will struggle with the most?  What can you do to support your students over the next few weeks so they don’t struggle?

What Does Common Core have to do with Project-based Learning (PBL)?

What is PBL?You might be surprised to learn that there is a direct connection between preparing your students for Common Core and the PARCC exam and using project-based learning in your classroom.  Project-based learning is a great tool to have in your teacher toolkit as you make plans and efforts to prepare your students for the deeper thinking and higher difficulty of the Common Core Standards.

The new standards aim to prepare students for college and career readiness.  Project-based learning (PBL) is a great way to prepare students for Common Core because it emphasizes significant content and real-world outcomes.

Consider the following quote from David Ross, director of professional development for the Buck Institute for Education.

Everyone knows that content is king and Common Core wears the crown. Significant content is one of our eight Essential Elements of PBL. Make an easy connection: Significant Content=Common Core.  Now let’s use a shorter word. When designing a rigorous, relevant, and engaging project, Common Core is the “what.” But what about the “how?” In our minds the answer is obvious: PBL is the solution for Common Core implementation. PBL is the “how.”

 Of course, we realize that PBL is not the only way to help students master these new standards. As states move toward implementation of the Common Core, however, more and more schools and districts are focusing on PBL as their go-to instructional strategy to prepare students for deeper thinking. Next-generation assessments aligned to the new standards (still in development at this writing) are expected to emphasize application of knowledge rather than recall of facts. Here, too, we find common ground with PBL, in which students demonstrate and share what they know or can do through performance assessments. For PBL veterans, student demonstrations of learning are not new at all. They’re an essential element of every project.

 Common Core Standards for English Language Arts include tasks that are very familiar to people who know PBL:

“Conduct short as well as more sustained research projects based on focused questions”

“Prepare for and participate effectively in a range of conversations and collaborations with diverse partners”

“Use technology, including the Internet, to produce and publish writing and to interact and collaborate with others”

“Conduct short research projects to answer a question (including a self-generated question)”

Common Core Standards of Mathematical Practice also echo PBL best practices. The math standards set expectations for students to do real-world problem solving, use mathematical modeling, apply statistical analysis, and communicate their understanding. “Mathematically proficient students can apply the mathematics they know Loading…to solve problems arising in everyday life, society, and the workplace,” according to the Standards of Mathematical Practice. Such applications naturally have a place within high-quality projects that ask students to use mathematics concepts and procedures in authentic contexts.  (Excerpted from the book PBL for 21st Century Success: Teaching Critical Thinking, Collaboration, Communication, and Creativity, published by the Buck Institute for Education, 2013)

doonlinecoursesIn the Whiteriver School District, the Tech Ready Grant is currently developing STEM lesson plans for every grade-level that implement Common Core standards.

These units are structured around Science, but also include Math and ELA Common Core standards as well as digital PARCC-type questions in the units.  The Science and Technology elements of the units are used to engage students as well as fulfill the need for informational text required by the ELA standards.

These units are being developed to give WUSD teachers access to PBL units aligned to their curriculum and resources without having to develop them from scratch.  Teachers will be given complete access to the units so that once they are implemented they will be able to make changes, extensions, and additions to the STEM units.

You can access the units that are being developed here.
Use the following login to explore the units:
(Username: wusdteacher  password: pass123)

PARCC Sample Test Answers and Rationale

Fourth graders in our district will pilot the PARCC test in a few months.  I know that many of you are looking for digital learning resources to prepare your students for digital testing next year.  A previous post about digital learning everyday was one of the most viewed posts we have ever had.

If you read that post, you were guided through steps to get to a practice test released by PARCC just a few days ago.  Many of you took the test relevant to your grade level and posted your thoughts and observations on our Facebook page.
The most common comment we received was, “Wow!  That was hard!” followed closely by, “Where do I find the answers to see if I was correct?”.
That speaks volumes.  These comments came from parents and veteran educators.  Yes, it really is that dramatically different from what we are accustomed to.
Without further delay, here are the steps to the answers and rationale.  Note: I could just put a link here, but I feel that each webpage is useful and offers more insight than this blog can offer.  I encourage you to spend time reading the websites and viewing tests from your grade level band (one grade below and one grade above).
Go to and click on “For Educators” tab at the top.
parcc online 2

 Click on “Sample Items and Task Prototypes”

 parcc sample items

On the left side, click the grade level and subject you are interested in viewing.

 parcc by grade level

I have chosen to highlight 4th grade, as they will be piloting the test this year.  For now, let’s look at Math.  By scrolling down, you will see 3 columns and prototype items.  Select one.

parcc prototype

On the left side, select the level you wish to view.

parcc prototype 2

Select a sample item.

parcc prototype 3

By selecting “Part A” at the top, you will be directed to the question page.

parcc prototype 4

Take a minute to read it and find the solution.  Thoughts?  Was it as easy as A, B, C, or D?  In fact, let me ask you this: how many equations did you have to do to find the answer to this one question?  When you click on scoring (at the top right), you will see that it was no less than 3 equations.

parcc prototype scoring

This page shows the solution, as well as the rationale.  Another new twist on the PARCC that we are not accustomed to is that students may get partial credit for questions.  For instance, this question is worth 6 points, and students can score anywhere on that spectrum.
When you are done looking at the prototype questions and getting the answers to your questions, return to the tab on your browser for PARCC online.

parcc prototype

This time, click one of the sample questions at the bottom.  For instance, Subtraction Fluency.

parcc 4th grade math

This question seems like a typical 4th grade question.  However, entering the answer may confuse some students. We teach our students to always start on the right side.  If they subtract 3-2, they will try to enter 1.  But, as an adult with experience with calculators, you know that the 1 will shift to the left when you enter the next digit.
I will highlight calculator games in the coming weeks on my series of STEM@home.  Check back in a week, when I walk you through the accommodations for PARCC (another eye-opener!).

Digital Learning Day, Everyday

Whiteriver Unified School District is taking a unique approach to preparing students for the PARCC assessment.  To give purpose and direction to the introduction of mobile technology, STEM units and Project-Based Learning are now driving training and instruction so that students are PARCC ready.  Students will engage with the technology every day in their STEM units.

The activities selected in the STEM units have been created to replicate the released sample PARCC questions.  The sample questions have been released so that teachers and curriculum developers and curriculum mappers will look at them.  They are to help guide a teacher in how to shift their verbiage, writing prompts, or classroom assessments.  They are not meant to be hidden; a surprise.  So, let’s explore some of them together.

“To get a true understanding of the range of rigor, item types and functionalities, users should try test items in more than just one grade, as each grade level does not have all item types. “

First, go to .  Click the For Educators tab at the top.

You will see helpful links on the left side, like Model Content Frameworks.  We’ll discuss that on another blog post.  For now, look at New! Try out sample test questions:

Click on Try the Sample Test Items

Click the Sample Items Tab

Select your grade level on the left As you work your way through the test, list some of the testing vocabulary that you see.  For instance, the phrases “best supports that answer” and “the best evidence to Part A” come up frequently.  As a teacher or parent, you can begin to use that verbiage in your everyday interactions with the students.  In the writing portions, the phrase “cite your source” comes up often.  You can adopt that phrase as your own, by saying it (or writing it) for journal entries and formal writing prompts.  February 5th is Digital Learning Day.  Hopefully, our students experience digital learning everyday.  Afterall, digital testing requires digital learning.

Common Core Math Resources (Free of Charge)

It’s tough to know where to start when looking for Math resources online- there is so much good stuff out there. It’s even more difficult to know where to start when looking for math resources that are aligned to and address the common core standards. This list of math resources has been compiled by to specifically help get a handle on Common Core. I’ve added a few more resources to their list. Here they are:

The National Library of Virtual Manipulatives: This site is developed by Utah State University to support K-12. It includes plenty of online exercises.

Inside Math (videos and lessons): A resource for math educators that you should be familiar with.

Interactivate– Common Core Aligned Lessons:  A collection of digital interactive resources aligned to common core math.  Similar to NSDL below.

Learn Zillion – Common Core Aligned Lessons: Video tutorials, guided practice, and lesson plan downloads for teachers.  Read the TechReadyTeam post here.

Opus Math Problem Bank:  This is a search engine to find math problems aligned to common core.  It focuses on 7th and 8th grade.

Eureka Math– Common Core Math Maps: This is a pay site that has a free preview of their digital common core curriculum for grades K, 3, 6, and 9.

National Science Digital Library: Browse the Common Core Math Standards and find plenty of digital resources associated with key learning goals.

Math Video Sites:

Teaching Channel

I think you will find these sites a great help if you take a few minutes to look at them.


STEM@home: Math

STEM at home color

STEM, which stands for Science, Technology, Engineering and Math, is a term used by teachers to encompass lessons and projects which include these subjects. STEM units usually start with a problem. The teacher guides the students through discovery and experimenting to find solutions. STEM does not just happen at school. In fact, STEM can be very effective, engaging, and fun at home.

Over the last few weeks, we have been looking at the various aspects of STEM and how you can encourage your child at home.


math home

There are many ways to work on math skills at home. Playing games is probably my favorite. Never boring, usually loud, mostly funny, sometimes messy and always engaging. You most likely already have the supplies needed and can get started today!

Card Games:

There are as many card games as there are skill levels. If your child is young, you may want to play Quick Draw. Deal out the cards to the two players. One player calls “draw!” and the two players flip over their top card. Both players add the numbers shown in their head. The first player to shout out the correct sum keeps both cards. Play continues until all cards have been played. The winner is the player with the most cards.

This game can be changed ever so slightly to work on subtraction. Or multiplication. Whatever level your child is on right now, they can do this with cards. There are many great resources online. Making Math More Fun is an 89 page “book” online with 41 card games for all levels, plus cards to print out. (Click here to see the book)

If you don’t have a deck of cards, you can print them from the book mentioned above. Dollar stores usually have decks for $1. If you live near a casino, you can get used decks for free. Casinos have to change out their decks periodically to prevent cheating. The decks just pile up to be thrown away. If you go in and ask at the cashiers booth, they will more than likely give you a handful. I have done this every year for my classroom and have received over 100 decks of cards, for free.

Dice Games:

There are just as many dice games as there are card games. Do a simple Google or Pinterest search using “dice games for students” and you will find hundreds.

One of my boys’ favorite dice games was Two Dice Toss. You can use a pre-printed graph or make your own. You will also need something to write with (mine preferred crayons) and two dice. Player 1 rolls both dice and adds them up. They color in a box on the graph with the same sum. For instance, if they rolled a 2 and a 5, they would color in a box on the 7. Play continues until one sum reaches the top of the graph first. Or until your food arrives at the restaurant. (My boys used to love this game so much, I put two dice in my purse and we played at restaurants while waiting for our food)

A great online resource for dice games is They have games for one dice, two dice, dominoes, and coins.

STEM@home is a series focusing on bring STEM activities into your home. Read on and experience STEM@home today:

STEM@home: Science – Watching Science on TV
STEM@home: Science – Exploring national parks
STEM@home: Technology – Using apps to support your child