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Common Core-ner Archives

Common Core-ner
June 5, 2015

Fair warning: The rigors of the new Common Core will have us starting up the next school year at a quicker pace than usual, with less time spent on review.  Therefore, it’s all the more important to help our children avoid the “summer slide” – the loss of skills gained during the academic year. 

Of course, we want all our children to enjoy the freedom and adventure that summer brings, without feeling stressed with drills and worksheets.  So, the best advice I can give is simple:  Read!  Read!  Read!  Summer provides the chance to read leisurely and for pleasure.  Better still, summer gives families the time to enjoy reading together – an opportunity to really strengthen students’ comprehension skills – a key learning objective of the new common core. 

So, in addition to logging summer reading through Rheem’s Summer Reading Program, talk together about what family members are reading.  Use a “thinking out loud” approach to reading by:

  • Discussing what happened and asking “why?”
  • Making predictions about what will occur next
  • Highlighting or collecting favorite passages (this could be a fun journal or scrapbooking activitiy)
  • Making connections to something in one’s own life

Also, Check out Scholastic’s free on-line summer reading program that could provide an additional motivation for students.  This site also provides book lists and activities. 

Happy Reading! And Happy Summer!

Common Core-ner
May 22, 2015

If you’re the parent of a Rheem 3rd, 4th, or 5th grader, you’ve likely heard your child talk about the “SBAC tests.”  These “next-generation assessments” are aligned to the Common Core standards in English Language Arts and Math, are taken on the computer, and include performance-based tasks which require students to apply their knowledge and skills (rather than simply answer questions using a multiple-choice format).

Rheem’s 3rd – 5th graders will be taking a brief survey in the coming weeks so that we can better measure their comfort-levels with both the technology components and the specific content of these tests.  A huge thank you goes out to our computer teacher, Ms. Gillian O’Connell for facilitating the SBAC testing sessions as well as collecting this valuable feedback from our students.

Parents should expect to receive individual score reports in approximately 8 weeks after all students have completed testing (late July).  Learn more how the SBAC tests are designed to improve teaching and learning as well as to provide accurate feedback.

Common Core-ner
May 8, 2015

Oftentimes, I hear parents say “My child is learning math differently than I did.  I’m not sure how to help him!”   It’s true that instead of just memorizing algorithms, students are now asked to understand and explain how the math “works.”  I recently discovered an NBC affiliate in New York that does a series called “Homework Helper” designed to assist parents with this change.  Watch several short videos that show a “common core approach” to several math problems.  

Common Core-ner
April 24, 2015

We are pleased to announce that teachers and students will begin using a new K - 5 math textbook, Math Expressions by Houghton Mifflin, during the 2015-2016 school year.  Special thanks goes to Rheem’s 1st and 5th grade teams who participated in the piloting process during this school year to provide important input into the selection. Details about the selection process and the benefits of this new common-core aligned textbook.

Common Core-ner
April 10, 2015

Rheem School is pleased to be the “host” site for the 3rd Cycle of the Writers’ Workshop Lab sessions.  That means that the teachers from both Los Perales and Camino Pablo Schools join us at Rheem to work and learn with our students.  All teachers at a specific grade level meet with our consultant, look at student work, discuss best practices, and problem-solve any areas of concern.  The grade-level team also goes into a Rheem classroom to observe a writing lesson led by the consultant.  This is an exciting opportunity for both the teachers observing and the students in the specific “lab” classroom. 

The Unit of Study for each grade level and the specific Rheem Lab classrooms are listed below:

Kindergarten – Opinion Writing in Ms. Inzeo’s classroom
1st grade – Realistic Fiction in Ms. McKinnon’s classroom
2nd grade: Poetry in Ms. Guidi’s classroom
3rd grade: Fairy Tales in Ms. Ralph’s classroom
4th grade: Realistic Fiction in Ms. Drury’s classroom
5th grade: Argumentative Writing in Ms. Bornfleth’s classroom

I had the privilege of sitting in on the first of these meetings (for 5th and 1st grade) on Tuesday, April 7.  “Wow!” pretty much sums up my impression of this work. Teachers are highly engaged, consultants demonstrate successful writing lessons as well as great classroom practices, and our young learners get the benefit of “showing off” for teachers from around the district. I am very proud of our Rheem students and teachers.

Future lab dates at Rheem are as follows:

April 16 – K and 2nd grades
April 21 – 4th and 5th grades
April 23 – K and 3rd grades
April 28 – 4th and 5th grades
April 30 – 2nd and 3rd grades
May 5 – 1st and 4th grades
May 7 – K and 2nd grades
May 12 – 1st and 5th grades
May 14 – 3rd grades

More information about the Writers’ Workshop curriculum we are using.

Common Core-ner
March 20, 2015

On Monday, March 9, Rheem teachers participated in their fifth Staff Development Day with our Educational Writing Consultants.  It was a day for us to reflect on our efforts with Writer’s Workshop; to celebrate successes and share lessons learned.  This year has been a learning year not only for our students, but also for our teachers.  Our teachers are making a significant shift from “teaching the writing” to “teaching the writer.”  This change enables teachers to provide clear, explicit teaching strategies through mini-lessons, then confer with small groups and/or individuals as they include these strategies in their own unique pieces.   It’s a lot of work (for both students and teachers!), but it’s exciting to see our students write with more unique “voices” and to gain writing stamina.

This shift can impact parents as well.  Parents often ask, “How can I help my student with their writing?”  Well-intended parents will often focus on grammar, spelling, and organization of writing, all important strategies when editing a final piece.    However, during the writing process, parents can be most supportive by engaging in discussions about what the writer is trying to express.  An article that includes tips for parents to become effective writing partners.  As always, thank you for your support!

Common Core-ner
March 6, 2015

This year, Rheem 3rd – 5th graders, will participate in Common Core aligned SBAC testing during the designated two-week periods listed below:

Grade Level

Testing Weeks: Math and English/Language Arts


April 20 – May 1


April 27 – May 8


May 4 – May 15

The SBAC tests are un-timed, but based on the estimated testing times, students will be working on the test for 45 – 60 minutes a day during their assigned weeks.  Specific testing times each day will be determined by each classroom teacher.  Please avoid scheduling appointments during the weeks that are designated for your child’s grade level.

To learn about the types of questions on the computer-based test, you and your child can view the practice test.

  1. Click on Student Interface Practice and Training Tests
  2. You are automatically logged in as a Guest.  Click on the “Sign In” box
  3. Select the Grade Level and Click on Yes

Common Core-ner
February 20, 2015

As our curriculum shifts to align with the Common Core State Standards, our assessment program has shifted as well.  The California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress (CAASPP) has replaced the Standardized Testing and Reporting (STAR). Last year, our 3rd – 5th graders participated in a “field test” which allowed them to experience the computer-based testing and new types of questions.  This year, all students in 3rd – 5th grade will participate in the full version of CAASPP, and we will receive individual score reports on student progress.

More information on these computer adaptive tests, including a link to practice tests which are available on-line.

Common Core-ner
February 6, 2015

At the Staff Development Day on Monday, January 26, Rheem teachers worked with MSD consultants to plan Opinion Writing units to meet Common Core State Standards.  Also, “lab sessions” have begun again this week, which mean our teachers are meeting for half-days in grade-level teams to look at student work, problem-solve areas of concern, and observe students engaged in a writing lesson lead by the consultant.  These are powerful opportunities for our teachers to observe and discuss best practices.  

Opinion writing is essentially about expressing ideas, supported by information and a thoughtful point of view.  Overview of what is expected of students at each grade level in the area of Opinion Writing.

Common Core-ner
January 23, 2015

Rheem teachers and students continue to use the Lucy Calkins Unit of Study to guide this year’s focus on Writing.  At this point in the year, students have completed the Narrative Writing Unit and are currently working on the Informational Writing Unit. 

On the Staff Development Day on Monday, January 26, Rheem teachers will continue their work with MSD’s Writing Consultants to prepare for the upcoming Opinion Writing Unit.  By identifying key qualities of strong opinion writing at each grade level, teachers will gain insights and develop strategies to design effective lessons for this unit. 

Read the specific expectations for your child when writing narratives, informative/explanatory texts and opinion pieces.

Read student samples of each of these writing genres.

Common Core-ner
January 9, 2015

Make learning about the Common Core one of your 2015 New Year’s Resolutions!  With both supporters and critics of the Common Core State Standards speaking out, it’s important to be informed to better understand the issues (and to make your own informed opinion).  Start with the basic by taking a look at these resources:

Top Ten Things Parents Need to Know About the Common Core Standards

Parents’ Guides to Student Success (overviews of English/Language Arts and Math Standards by grade level)

Myths vs. Facts about the Common Core

Common Core-ner
December 5, 2014

Gift-Giving with the Common Core in mind!

‘Tis the season to be shopping for what will make your child happy.  So, think about what excites and interests them… Dinosaurs? Cooking?  Sports?  Crafts?  Now, find a non-fiction book about that topic to delight and inspire your child.  That’s shopping with the Common Core in mind!

The common core curriculum puts more emphasis on reading non-fiction.  Why?  Because research shows that non-fiction reading promotes student success.  Nonfiction helps students develop their background knowledge and even “expertise” on a subject.  Also, non-fiction often includes headings, graphs, charts and other text elements that promote organizational and complex thinking skills.  Best yet, students are motivated to learn more about topics that interest them, so they become very engaged in high-interest non-fiction texts, often slowing-down or re-reading to fully comprehend the content.  Remember, when it comes to reading, more is more!

Learn more about how non-fiction reading promotes student success.

Keep in mind that the best non-fiction books to purchase are the ones that your child is most excited about.  Also, keep in mind that non-fiction material comes in a variety of forms – consider magazine subscriptions, how-to books, and atlases.  However, if you need some ideas, see lists of non-fiction titles organized by topic and grade level.  

Common Core-ner
November 12, 2014

During the upcoming parent conferences, your child’s teacher will likely review the 1st trimester report card with you.  As this is a transition year for our district as we begin implementation of the Common Core Standards, we want to let you know that our report card is also in transition.  Information about the revisions you may see to the report card during this transitional year.

Common Core-ner
October 31, 2014

All Rheem teachers are focused on delivering math instruction that is aligned to the Common Core Standards.  One of the ways we are supporting this transition is by participating in a Mathematics Curriculum Adoption during the 2014-2015 school year.

Learn more about the mathematics adoption process and how Rheem staff, students, and parents will be involved.  We are looking forward to having new math textbooks for the 2015-2016 school year!

Common Core-ner
October 10, 2014

At the Moraga School District’s Oct 2nd Parent Ed evening, over 200 parents learned about how we are working to support students to meet the new writing standards through a “Writers’ Workshop” approach.  The essential beliefs of a Writers’ Workshop include the following:

  • Writing can be taught
  • Writers create authentic texts
  • Writers need choice
  • Writers need feedback
  • Writers us a process

Parents also learned about the components of a Writers’ Workshop model (from “mini-lesson” to “celebration”) and what Writers’ Workshop looks like across a unit and across an entire school year.   Parents also had the opportunity to experience Writers’ Workshop for themselves!

Rheem’s Common Core-ner will provide information throughout the year on this topic as well as ideas of how parents can help their young writers at home.  To begin with, do you know what the writing standards are for your child at his/her specific grade level?  Read the specific expectations for your child when writing opinion pieces, informative/explanatory texts and narratives.

Common Core-ner
September 26, 2014

Parents’ Guide to Student Success

Are you familiar with the key things your child will learn this year at his/her specific grade level in both English/Language Arts and Mathematics?  The National PTA has published a “Parents’ Guides to Student Success” for every grade level starting with kindergarten through high school.  These guides provide a comprehensive overview of Common Core academic standards as well as ideas of how parents can help at home.  Informative guide.

Common Core-ner
May 9, 2014

Common Core has been in the news a lot lately.  Even the entertainment industry has gotten in on the act – with Common Core being featured on both the Cobert Report and The Late Show with David Letterman in recent weeks.  As someone who enjoys satire, I certainly appreciate the humor, but worry that the facts may be getting lost in the punchline.  As educators and parents, it’s important that we can separate the “punchline” from the “reality.”  Therefore, I encourage you to access the “Myths vs. Facts” page on the Common Core website.  

Common Core-ner
April 25, 2014

How is Smarter Balanced different from other assessments?

As Rheem 3rd – 5th graders are participating in the Smarter Balanced Field Tests, parents may wonder how these tests differ from the STAR tests of the past.  Below is the explanation provided the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium:

Smarter Balanced is guided by the belief that a balanced, high-quality assessment system—including formative, interim, and summative components—can improve teaching and learning by providing information and tools for teachers and schools to help students succeed. Timely and meaningful assessment information can offer specific information about areas of performance so that teachers can follow up with targeted instruction, students can better target their own efforts, and administrators and policymakers can more fully understand what students know and can do, in order to guide curriculum and professional development decisions.

Smarter Balanced assessments make use of computer adaptive technology, which is more precise and efficient than fixed-form testing. Teachers, principals, and parents can receive results from computerized assessments in weeks, not months. Faster results mean that teachers can use the information from optional interim assessments throughout the school year to differentiate instruction and better meet the unique needs of their students.

Smarter Balanced assessments will go beyond multiple-choice questions and include short constructed response, extended constructed response, and performance tasks that allow students to complete an in-depth project that demonstrate analytical skills and real-world problem solving.

Take a look at SBAC sample items.

Common Core-ner
April 11, 2014

This past week, Rheem 5th graders joined thousands of other students in California by participating in the Smarter Balanced Field Tests, designed to measure their understanding of the new common core requirements.  Again, this is a “test of the test” -- a unique opportunity for our students and staff to experience the new testing standards and format in order to best prepare us for the official test launch in spring 2015.

For Ms. Hillhouse and our 5th grade teachers, administering these new field tests required lots of scheduling adjustments to coordinate the use of technology (we are practicing on two platforms: desktops in the Computer Lab and Chromebooks in the classroom), and helping each other and the students problem-solve the computerized format.  A very unscientific survey of our 5th graders during lunch time revealed the following comments:

“It was kind of fun, but I couldn’t find the strike-out key.”

“It was hard to type in fractions and mixed numbers.”

“My computer wouldn’t work, so I used a Chromebook.”

 “I like pencil and paper better.”

“I like using the computer way better!”

“Sometimes it’s hard to remember where the highlighter and other tools are”

“The math was a bit challenging, and I didn’t like typing a paragraph.”

“They should make it so you could read it or listen to it!”

“Chromebooks are fun!”

From both the teachers’ observations and students’ perspectives, we are getting a lot of important information on how to best meet the challenges of this new testing format.  Our 4th graders will be taking the Field Tests April 21 – May 2, and our 3rd graders will being the Field Tests on Monday, May 5th.   We will continue to rely on the lifeskills of patience, flexibility, cooperation, and perseverance to help us through!

For more information about the Smarter Balanced Field Tests including practice questions, please click here: Smarter Balanced

Common Core-ner
March 21, 2014

Last evening’s Parent Education Event, “Common Core Standards: ELA and Math Instructional Shifts,” provided parents with the opportunity to learn more about the transition to the Common Core curriculum.  If you didn’t have an opportunity to attend, we encourage you to review the "Parents Backpack Guide to the Common Core" – a 2-page guide that is designed to help parents understand how the standards will affect your child, what changes you will see, and what you can do at home to help your child in the classroom.  

Common Core-ner
March 14, 2014

Parent Education Opportunity!

What will the transition to the Common Core mean for my child?  What will my child be expected to know and do? How can I help my child when I wasn’t taught this way? Why does my child have to explain his thinking and find more than one way to solve a problem?

If you have found yourself wanting answers to any of the above questions, please come to the Moraga School District’s Parent Education Event on Thursday, March 20, from 7:00 – 8:30 p.m. in the JM Library.   The topic for this evening will be “Common Core Standards: ELA and Math Instructional Shifts”. All parents are invited to become a student and participate in common core ELA and Math lessons, and learn more about your role in supporting your child(ren) as we transition to these standards.
Fourth grade classroom teachers Scott Barnett and Clare Fallon will present a 4th grade common core Math lesson, and 6th Grade JM CORE teacher Dawn Lezak will present a 6th grade ELA lesson. These presentations will also include how technology is being integrated into the curriculum as a common core learning and teaching tool

Parents will learn about instructional strategies that engage students, how students are adjusting to a new way of learning and how families can support new types of “common core” homework.  Common core educational resources for families will be available for parents attending this event.

We look forward to your attendance, participation, and support.  

Common Core-ner
February 28, 2014

Parents’ Guide to Student Success

Are you familiar with the key things your child will learn at his/her specific grade level in both English/Language Arts and Mathematics?  The National PTA has published a “Parents’ Guides to Student Success” for every grade level starting with kindergarten through high school.  These guides provide a comprehensive overview of Common Core academic standards as well as ideas of how parents can help at home.  Informative guide.

Common Core-ner
February 13, 2014

As noted in the January 24 post of “Common Core-ner,” students in 2nd -5th grades will no longer be taking the STAR test this spring.  Instead, students in 3rd-5th grades will be participating in Common Core Smarter Balanced Field Testing. This year will serve as a “test of the test”.  This is a unique opportunity for our students and staff to experience the new testing standards and format in order to best prepare us for the official test launch in spring 2015.

This week Supt. Burns posted a news article on the MSD website regarding the release of the California Department of Education’s new video that is designed to provide information to middle school students about the Smarter Balanced Field Test.  Although the video is targeted towards middle school students, it contains information that’s relevant for our 3rd through 5th grade students. The video introduces students (and parents) to the spring Smarter Balanced Field Test and includes answers to questions about what, where, how and why and, most importantly, the contributions students will make in helping to create 2014-2015 tests.  I would encourage you to take five minutes to watch this informative video.  View the video! 

Common Core-ner
February 7, 2014

Last week, this feature listed the “college and career ready” attributes in the area of English/Language Arts Common Core Curriculum.  Below is listed the 8 Standards for Mathematical Practice which “describe varieties of expertise that mathematics educators at all levels should seek to develop in their students” through the Common Core mathematics curriculum:

  1. Make sense of problems and persevere in solving them
  2. Reason abstractly and quantitatively
  3. Construct viable arguments and critique the reasoning of others
  4. Model with mathematics
  5. Use appropriate tools strategically
  6. Attend to precision
  7. Look for an make use of structure
  8. Look for and express regularity in repeated reasoning

Detailed information on each of these practices.

Common Core-ner
January 31, 2014

An important goal of the Common Core Curriculum is to prepare students to be “college and career ready.”  What exactly does that mean?  In the area of reading, writing, speaking and listening, college and career ready students will exhibit the following capabilities:

  • They demonstrate independence
  • They build strong content knowledge
  • They respond to the varying demands of audience, task, purpose and discipline
  • They comprehend as well as critique
  • They value evidence
  • They use technology and digital media strategically and capably
  • They come to understand other perspectives and cultures

For more detailed description of each of these attributes, please reference page 6 of the “California Common Core State Standards: English Language Arts & Literacy” document.

Common Core-ner (Testing Dates announced)
January 24, 2014

All 3rd-5th grade students at Rheem will participate in the spring 2014 Smarter Balanced Field Test, recently renamed by the CA Department of Education (CDE) as the California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress (CAASPP).  Students will be answering a sampling of on-line questions in both English/Language Arts and mathematics.  These assessments are aligned to the Common Core State Standards.  The CDE has also planned for students to complete a more extended assessment, or performance task, in one content area.  Field tests are estimated to take 3.5 hours per grade level.  Field tests are computer based and provide an expanded range of test questions compared to the STAR multiple choice tests.  During the transition to the new field tests, 5th grade students will continue to take the STAR content standards assessment in science.  More information about the Smarter Balanced assessments and the CAASPP. The MSD testing dates for CAASPP and STAR follow (most testing is planned before lunch):

  • Grades 5: April 7-April 18 (Field Tests) and May 5-May 16 (STAR Science)
  • Grades 4: April 21-May 2 (Field Tests)
  • Grade 3: May 5-May 16 (Field Tests)

Common Core-ner
January 17, 2014

Watch the short video that was shown at the Rheem PTA meeting on Wednesday, January 15 to provide parents with basic information about the development and goals of the Common Core Standards.

Common Core-ner
January 10, 2014

What’s all this hub-bub about the “Common Core?” Where did it come from, and what does this mean for my child’s education? A 3-minute video which explains how the Common Core will help all students achieve at high levels, and a list of “The Top 10 Things Parents Should Know About the Common Core Standards. ”These two links will provide a solid introduction to the Common Core.