Stop Spinning Wheels, Start Spinning Webs

by Lisa Hansel
April 3rd, 2014

Last week I quoted a great piece by Annie Murphy Paul on the importance of analogies (and, by extension, broad knowledge for making analogies) for innovation. That piece left me thinking about one of my favorite analogies for what knowledge does for our ability to learn. Knowledge is like a spider’s web—the bigger your web (i.e., the more knowledge you have), the more new knowledge sticks to it. Credit here goes to Jessica Lahey, so I’ll gladly let her explain:

Remember when you were in high school or college, in that class where nothing seemed to stick? No matter how much you studied? For me, those classes were Indo-Iranian Mythology and Greek and Roman Mythology. I was overworked (long, not particularly interesting story), exhausted, and frustrated by my inability to keep it all in my head. I did not have enough of a knowledge base to be able to link the stories of Hera’s jealousy to Hercules’ labors to what it might mean if Atlas shrugged. These stories are all linked, and knowing one story helps me remember another because the details of those stories form a sticky net, like a spider web. Once I have accumulated enough threads of knowledge, my net is fine enough to catch the new fragments of knowledge that came drifting by.

And that’s when the magic begins. That’s when connections across subjects begin to happen, when a reading of Great Expectations can evolve into a discussion of the Victorian Era, Frankenstein, Icarus, the tower of Babel, and Prometheus unbound.

Of course, as Lahey knows well, we all start building our webs long before college. The more opportunities we have to learn, the bigger, stickier, and finer our webs will be. Lahey is making sure her children—and students—build webs that even a Darwin’s bark spider would be proud of:

My youngest son, Finnegan, is in third grade, at my Core Knowledge school. Three times a week, he leaves the comfort of his classroom and attends a bona fide history class. Not “social studies,” but capitol-H History class. Content. History. Facts.

This month, he’s learning about the Vikings and Rome, Leif Erickson and Julius Caesar. When he gets to fifth grade and Dr. Freeberg’s reading of The Odyssey, he will have a context for the journey of the hero, lust for power, and land, and exploration. This might evolve in to discussions of Napoleon, colonialism, and slavery. In sixth grade, when I finally get my pedagogical talons in him, his web will be sticky enough to hold on to Julius Caesar, the geography of the Roman Empire, the literal and figurative meaning of “alea iacta est” and the controversy surrounding the quote “Et tu, Brute?”

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Spider web at sunrise courtesy of Shutterstock.

Now, a new study, published in the April issue of Cognition, shows the early stages of web building. By 19 months, babies are already starting to use what they have learned to acquire new vocabulary. While the Cognition article is well worth purchasing, the summary by Northwest University’s news team offers a good overview:

Even before infants begin to talk in sentences, they are paying careful attention to the way a new word is used in conversations, and they learn new words from this information in sentences.

For example, if you take an infant to the zoo and say, “Look at the gorilla” while pointing at the cage, the infant may not know what exactly is being referred to. However, if you say, “Look! The gorilla is eating,” the infant can use the word that they do know—“eating”—to conclude that “gorilla” must refer to the animal and not, for example, the swing she is sitting on.

The zoo scenario mirrors the method the researchers used for their experiment. First, infants at ages 15 and 19 months were shown several pairs of pictures on a large screen. Each pair included one new kind of animal and a non-living object. Next, the objects disappeared from view and infants overheard a conversation that included a new word, “blick.” Finally, the two objects re-appeared, and infants heard, for example, “Look at the blick.”

“After overhearing this new word in conversation, infants who hear a helpful sentence such as ‘the blick is eating’ should look more towards the animal than the other, non-living object,” said Brock Ferguson, a doctoral candidate in psychology at Northwestern and lead author of the study. “We show that by 19 months, they do just that. In contrast, if infants heard the new word in an unhelpful sentence such as ‘the blick is over here’ during the conversation, they don’t focus specifically on the animal because, after all, in this kind of sentence, ‘blick’ could mean anything.”…

“What’s remarkable is that infants learned so much from hearing the conversation alone,” said Sandra Waxman, senior author of the study, the Louis W. Menk Professor of Psychology in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences and faculty fellow at the Institute for Policy Research at Northwestern. “This shows how attuned even very young infants are to the conversation around them. It also shows how well infants build upon what they do know to build their vocabulary.”

Between research like this, initiatives like Too Small to Fail, and advances like the Common Core standards calling for “content-rich curriculum,” perhaps eventually we’ll have a society in which all children have excellent opportunities to build their webs.

 

We Teach Beauty

by Lisa Hansel
February 27th, 2014

What is the purpose of our public schools? It’s a question some answer quickly—too quickly, and too easily—with “college and career readiness.” I’m not against those things, but they seem to me to set the bar too low, so low that many of our students don’t buy in. It’s all utility, no passion, a monotone call to hop on a conveyor belt toward becoming a worker bee. (I’m not saying that’s what the adults intend, but the teenager in me remembers it that way.)

There is a loftier goal, one that would appeal to many youth but that, sadly and wrongly, tends to be reserved only for our most privileged: classical intellectual and character education—the type of liberal education that opens the door to the highest forms of freedom. This form of education gets the college and career part done by intentionally embedding necessary knowledge and skills in humanity’s enduring questions.

At Ridgeview Classical Schools (a charter with an elementary, a middle, and a high school), the curriculum is so carefully planned that even simple grammar lessons are infused with a higher purpose. I haven’t (yet) had the pleasure of visiting, but I feel like I have after reading a terrific new policy brief on the school by William Gonch. Gonch, with the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, wrote the brief for AEI’s Program on American Citizenship. Here’s Gonch:

One important element of the Ridgeview approach is the way in which texts and assignments are made to do double duty, so that assignments teach grammar and logic while introducing students to profound ideas and artistic beauty. T. O. Moore, the founder and first principal of Ridgeview, describes the way in which the school integrates skills and core knowledge:

A classical education requires more than functional literacy, however. It teaches students high standards of grammar, precision in word choice, and eloquence. Throughout his education, the student will be exposed to the highest examples of eloquence attained by the greatest writers in the language.

“. . . I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him.” Shakespeare

“These are the times that try men’s souls.” Paine

These sentences are entirely grammatical. They could just as easily be used to teach grammar as “I come to help Jane, not to hurt her.” By preferring Shakespeare to an anonymous “See Jane” sentence we teach three things rather than one. We teach grammar. We teach cultural literacy. We also teach beauty. Our purpose is to introduce students to the masters of the language so they will begin to emulate them.

Actually, that’s just one of their purposes. As Gonch explains, Ridgeview uses Socratic, discussion-based classes in which “students spend their time interpreting texts and interrogating arguments and assumptions.” In K–8, its curriculum is guided by the Core Knowledge Sequence, and throughout K–12, the “Hirschean idea that Americans are defined by certain shared ideas and ideals, and that a school is the main vehicle for passing on those ideas, is central to Ridgeview’s understanding of civic education.”

Education for freedom is invigorating, but not easy. As readers of this blog know well, the critical thinking it takes to interrogate a text depends on having extensive relevant knowledge. Ridgeview’s curriculum is intentionally designed to build that knowledge starting in the early grades:

Ridgeview’s faculty have designed their curriculum as a coherent whole; ideas and approaches that are introduced when students are six or eight years old are developed, expanded, and drawn into increasing complexity as students turn 12, 14, or 18. One parent described this as a “cycling back process:” the curriculum introduces young children to a simple form of an idea, an intellectual method, or a story, and then brings it back recurrently in increasingly complex forms. A student might read a picture book of Greek myths in first grade, Edith Hamilton’s Mythology in sixth grade, and Euripides’s Medea in ninth….

The climax of the Ridgeview experience comes when students write their senior theses. The thesis is a 25–32 page research paper that asks students to sum up and reflect on their education. Students often describe the paper’s question as “What is the meaning of life?” or “What is the good life?” Students draw on texts that they have read throughout their schooling, especially the landmarks of their 11th­ and 12th­grade literature classes: The Scarlett Letter, Huckleberry Finn, Moby Dick, The Apology of Socrates, Nietzsche’s Thus Spoke Zarathustra, Crime and Punishment, and Heart of Darkness.

Because the thesis is the climax of students’ work, students begin thinking about it early in high school. Whether or not they talk about it explicitly, they know that the questions they ask about the nature of honor in the Iliad, the law of consciousness in Emerson’s Self-Reliance, or the nature of the American political community in Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address will return in their final papers and that they will have to draw from those texts a theory of the good life that they can defend before their parents and peers….

But the senior thesis, the final product of a self-conscious community of inquiry, might be the most individual thing that any student does. John Herndon, a high school history teacher who frequently advises thesis writers, urges students to address the question by asking, “Given everything I’ve seen in my education up until this point, what can I actually put stock in?” Students … have read Augustine and Plato but also Nietzsche and Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. Necessarily they must pick and choose, rejecting some texts (at least partly), while making others their own. And they must do it in full view: Herndon says that, standing in front of their peers and fielding questions from their teachers, “They can’t hide anymore.”

As a result, students have a unique freedom to interrogate their own lives and experiences.

If there were one thing I wish all educators would understand about classical education, it is the dedication to questioning. All too often, I see specific traditional content derided as indoctrination. But I never comprehend this point of view. It seems to me that all of the works that have stood the test of time push readers to question themselves, to juxtapose ideas, to see that things are never as simple as they may seem, to see that a good life is one of striving toward ideals, not meeting concrete goals. I understand and agree with those who say traditional content alone is too narrow, that students benefit from more recent and varied perspectives. That’s a yesterday-plus-today approach that can create great challenges for students. It stands in stark contrast to those who wish to toss yesterday out of the curriculum, to leave students anchorless, without the power to use longstanding questions and ideals to keep pushing humanity to better itself.

“We teach grammar. We teach cultural literacy. We also teach beauty.” Now that’s a Core Knowledge school!

Ridgeview

Ridgeview’s homepage. Seems far more gripping than “Where Will You Work Someday?”

Knowledge Is Sticky Stuff

by Lisa Hansel
February 20th, 2014

Earlier this week, I highlighted a terrific new book, Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning. Today’s post is a short follow-up to point out just how sticky Core Knowledge’s approach is.

By intentionally introducing topics in early grades and then deepening and extending knowledge of those topics in later grades, Core Knowledge exemplifies several of the highly effective practices explained in Make It Stick. Lucky us, we get to see them at work in Heidi Cole’s second grade classroom using Core Knowledge Language Arts.

In this 5-minute video, we see Cole engaging her students in the last read-aloud in the Early Asian Civilizations domain. It’s about the Chinese New Year, and it gives students an opportunity to recall what they learned about the phases of the moon in their first-grade Astronomy domain.

 

Cole Chinese New Year Fall 2013

Click here to watch 5 minutes of Cole’s read-aloud on the Chinese New Year.

 

As you watch, you’ll see six well-established methods for learning, all of which are explained in Make It Stick:

1) Retrieval practice: Recalling information strengthens memory. Cole pauses her read-aloud to give students time to share what they recall about the phases of the moon.

2) Feedback: Retrieval works even better with feedback; accurate memories are reinforced, while failed or inaccurate recall is corrected. Cole engages students in conversation, asks questions, and provides feedback about the moon.

3) Spaced-out practice: Having time pass between recall and feedback sessions results in longer lasting memories than cramming. This example with the phases of the moon is just one of hundreds of instances in which information is intentionally repeated and expanded within and across domains in CKLA.

4) Prior learning: As stated in Make It Stick, “all new learning requires a foundation of prior knowledge.” For Cole’s students growing up in rural North Carolina, the Chinese New Year is likely a totally new concept. The read-aloud makes it easier to learn about by comparing the Chinese New Year with New Year’s Eve celebrations that are more common in America. In addition, drawing on their knowledge of the moon helps them make sense of a celebration that is wonderfully different from their personal experiences.

5) Elaboration: Discussing new information in your own words and connecting it to things you already know makes learning more efficient and longer lasting. Cole engages her students in elaboration by frequently pausing during the read-aloud to ask them questions.

6) Larger context: Similar to prior learning and elaboration, being able to tie something new to a larger context with which you’re already familiar facilitates learning. The key here is that the larger your store of information is—i.e., the larger the context you already have in memory—the more you learn. Cole’s read-aloud is not an isolated exercise; it is embedded in the much larger context of the many history and science domains that build on each other. By the time Cole’s students begin the third-grade domain Astronomy: Our Solar System and Beyond, they will have a rich scientific and cultural understanding of the moon. That larger context will be sticky indeed, making the new information much easier to learn.

 

UPDATE: For those who would like to see more of Heidi Cole’s read-aloud, here’s a 33-minute video.

 

Teaching Martin Luther King, Jr.

by EmmaEarnst
January 20th, 2014

I used to “celebrate” Martin Luther King Day by reading a book to my students on the Friday before they were out of school for the national holiday. After reading it, I would talk about his accomplishments and the impact of his contributions to American culture. I felt like I was really helping my kids to understand the significance of this great man! Once I started teaching using the Core Knowledge Sequence and the CKLA [Core Knowledge Language Arts] program, I realized that as good as my intentions were in years past, I had merely exposed my students to Dr. King and just skimmed the surface.

—Cathy Kinter

As Cathy Kinter, a second-grade teacher turned curriculum coordinator at Thomas Jefferson Classical Academy, notes, Martin Luther King, Jr. Day provides teachers with a timely opportunity to teach about the civil rights leader. But she also raises a crucial point: teaching content according to the calendar can lead to superficial learning.

What to do? By using both the Core Knowledge Sequence and CKLA to create a content-specific, coherent, grade-by-grade curriculum, teachers at Thomas Jefferson have solved the calendar dilemma. Every teacher knows that King and the U.S. civil rights movement are taught in depth twice: in second grade and in eighth grade. As a result, teachers in other grades are free to use the national holiday to celebrate King; they make connections to the content they are teaching without taking on the responsibility of teaching a full unit on King—or worrying that they are just skimming the surface.

Image courtesy of Minnesota Historical Society.

In her kindergarten classroom, for example, Jan Tucker introduces her students to King and extends their recently acquired knowledge of fictional characters by drawing comparisons:

We make connections back to our previous read-alouds from CKLA such as King Midas, Cinderella, etc. We discuss what we must to do accomplish our dreams: the sacrifices and the successes. As the children are working, we discuss how they are not learning all of the information about Martin Luther King and they will learn a lot more about his contributions in second grade.

In first grade, Terrany Wright’s students discover more about King, while building enthusiasm for further studies of him the next year:

I read a book on Tuesday after the students were off for the holiday (I do this because I want my students to begin by making a personal connection to Dr. King before I even read about him). I begin by asking the students if they know why they did not have school yesterday. My line of questioning will vary depending upon the answers they give me, but I always want my students to “figure out” that they were off from school because of the effort and contributions of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.: the man they are going to hear about in the book. I attempt to increase my students’ attention and enthusiasm by telling them that Dr. King was such an important man in American History that they are going to learn even more about him in second grade!

In second grade, Thomas Jefferson students preview King on his national holiday, and then study him in more detail during the Fighting for a Cause domain. This domain follows a whole series—starting in kindergarten—of U.S. history domains. As such, students use their knowledge of the Constitution, slavery, the U.S. Civil War, and segregation to reach an understanding of how King’s vision and leadership helped (and is still helping) make America more equitable and free. Says second grade teacher Heidi Cole,

If the goal is true understanding of Civil Rights, it is logical to acknowledge the celebration of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day and inform students that they will soon be learning why this man is such a significant hero to our world. Later in the year, when teaching about him within the context of the Fighting for a Cause domain, students can be reminded that we celebrated his legacy with a national holiday in January.

Benefitting from students’ deeper understanding of King, the civil rights movement, and the larger premise that all men are created equal, third-grade teachers use Martin Luther King, Jr. Day to revisit and reinforce those concepts. Teachers Alenia Scism and Cecelia Greengrass even connect King to what they are learning in the Ancient Roman Civilization domain. Says Scism,

I start by helping the students recall what they learned about Dr. King and his accomplishments in second grade. Then, I read the book March On! by Christine King Farris. The children will write about a dream they have and what they are going to do to make their dream a reality. I connect the contributions of MLK back to the Ancient Rome domain where there were different classes of people (patricians, plebeians, slaves) and they were treated differently and had different rights.

By eighth grade, students have the broad knowledge needed to grasp King’s place in the pantheon of leaders seeking greater equality. History teacher Eric Scriggs explains,

I teach about Martin Luther King during the Civil Rights domain, which is in February. Prior to this, I introduce him in relation to Thoreau and Ghandi. I also connect his achievements in regard to the 15th Amendment as we study the Constitution. We cover Jackie Robinson, Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King, and Cesar Chavez in the same unit which ties into the Fighting for a Cause domain from second grade.

The teachers at Thomas Jefferson Classical Academy are making the most of their carefully constructed curriculum. By using Martin Luther King, Jr. Day as a time to introduce and remember the great civil rights leader, they’ve built their students enthusiasm for a deeper dive into his life and legacy.

Culture Trip

by EmmaEarnst
November 26th, 2013

Lucky me! I just checked off an item on my bucket list—a trip to Altun-Ha, a Mayan city in Belize. For the past couple of years, I’ve been reading about early American history. Actually walking through the ruins—and learning yet more from an incredible tour guide with Mayan roots—gave me even greater perspective and insight. Most importantly, it left me eager to study even more.

Returning to work here at Core Knowledge, I’ve been considering how to give students similar experiences. Certainly, most students are not going to take a trip to a Mayan, Aztec, Incan, or other early American site because they happen to be learning about it in school. Most are not even going to see less exotic places like the Statue of Liberty, Angel Island, the White House, or the Alamo before they graduate. (I graduated long ago and have still only seen one of those four!)

It’s important to realize, though, that every location—whether the farmlands of Nebraska or the urban epicenter of New York City—has historic and cultural experiences we can offer our students. Through careful choice, planning, and collaboration, we can give our students a sampling of such opportunities. A recent (in fact, the first major) study on the effects of field trips on students has shown what many have long taken for granted: field trips offer measureable learning benefits to students, including an increased retention of factual knowledge pertaining to their visit, developing understandings based on that knowledge, historical empathy, tolerance, and a higher interest in returning to museums. These effects, moreover, are generally much larger for students from less-advantaged backgrounds.

The significance of offering our students such cultural experiences is obvious, and yet the field trip is becoming less and less common in our schools. As the study documents, the trips that are happening are often not learning-based, “enrichment” trips, but “reward” trips to movie theaters, sporting events, and amusement parks that offer little educational value. With what small budget a school may have for field trips, it can make the most of those dollars—instructionally speaking—through careful planning: teaching students (and getting them excited) about the place in advance, visiting it to contextualize and deepen that knowledge, and then learning yet more about it after the trip.

(Image courtesy of Shutterstock)

I once worked for a historical society in Charlottesville, VA, where I would occasionally lead groups of youngsters from local elementary and middle schools through a particular exhibit in our museum or a place in our town. Wanting to create a meaningful experience, I sent teachers pre-visit materials containing (among other things) background information on the place, ideas, and/or people we’d be learning more about during their visit. When students arrived, I would pre-assess (through a lively conversation) to determine what they’d retained so far and tailor my presentation and activities (as much as I could) to their knowledge level. I even created “Students will be able to…” goals for the day and designed my plans around them. At the end of our day, I would tie what the class had just learned with what they already knew, and—whenever I had an enthusiastic teacher committed to following up—what they were going to be learning in the future. Occasionally, I’d even hear from teachers about how they discussed their museum trip later in the year to tie in another concept or figure.

By setting such outings in the context of larger learning goals, field trips don’t even need to take students to new or extraordinary places. I once led a group of fifth-graders to the Downtown Mall here in Charlottesville—a commercial space that most, if not all, had visited before. But by learning about the history of the pedestrian street, and then looking for and talking about specific, historic parts of the mall that the students would never notice on a normal visit, they saw it in a completely new way. Likewise, kindergarten students at Brevard Academy CFA recently visited an orchard to support the Plants and Farms domains in the Core Knowledge Language Arts program. Visiting a place that may have seemed ordinary to adults offered these little ones the opportunity to witness and better understand farm animals, how a farm works, and the lifecycle of an apple tree.

By giving students the proper framework for a field trip—even to a not-so-unusual place, students will get the maximum benefit from their trip: retention, understanding, empathy, and a desire to visit and understand other cultural institutions in the future. Certainly, my experience at Altun-Ha is a testament to this—without the same, now automatic framework for learning and exploration, I’d never have been compelled to sojourn there or so enjoy doing so.

Traut Core Knowledge School Earns a Blue Ribbon

by Lisa Hansel
October 1st, 2013

These 5th graders’ Battle of the Books is just one way Traut focuses on literacy.

 

Congratulations to Traut Core Knowledge School on being recognized for excellence as a National Blue Ribbon School.

This 20-year-old school is the brainchild of more than 80 parents who saw a need for a school that would develop students’ skills and character through a content-rich curriculum. They knew that by building knowledge and teaching democratic values, their school would level the academic playing field. When Traut’s doors opened in 1993, it was the first Core Knowledge school in Colorado, and there were fewer than 50 Core Knowledge schools in the entire nation. Traut proved to be the best kind of leader—one worth following. Today there are more than 50 schools in Colorado using the Core Knowledge Sequence as the basis for their curriculum.

To those who know the school’s founding principal, Art Dillon, this leadership comes as no surprise. In addition to his 30-year career in public education, including 13 years with Traut, Dillon completed 39 years of active and reserve military service. In 2006, he retired from both Traut and from the military, where he had become a Brigadier General and Commander of the Wyoming Army National Guard. Dillon left Traut in great shape, having won Colorado’s John Irwin Schools of Excellence Awards each year from 2003 – 2006.

Mark Wertheimer, Traut’s current principal, took over for Dillon in 2006. With his commitment to parent-teacher partnerships, Core Knowledge, and character education, Wertheimer was a perfect fit.

According to the U.S. Department of Education, National Blue Ribbon Schools “share some key qualities. Their leaders not only articulate a vision of excellence and hold everyone to high standards, they stay close to the real action of teaching and learning. Mutual respect and trust run deep in their cultures. The whole school community embodies a sense of collegiality and commitment and members are supported by mentoring and professional development. Data from many sources are used diligently to adapt teaching and learning to support every student. Families and educators work together in partnership.”

Traut does all of these things—and more. Staff, parents, and students make up a tightknit community, and everyone is dedicated to helping students grow and learn. In recent years there has been a focus on better progress monitoring and rapid remediation, enhanced special education services, and more consistent and challenging instruction for advanced mathematics students.

Traut’s content-rich instruction engages students in learning about other countries’ cultures, foods, art, history, music, and more.

 

Wertheimer explained, “Our foundation is built on choice in education, with the key aspects of our school represented by our Pillars – Parent Partnership, Character Education, Core Knowledge, Mature Literacy, and Student Responsibility.” These pillars are not just hollow terms; they really do guide everything the Traut community undertakes. For example, parents comprise half of the school’s Site Base Management Council and students grow into independent learners because their character, responsibility, and literacy work is all well integrated. As the school wrote in its application, even “Core Knowledge is not an end in itself, but rather a means to achieve an excellent grasp of information and the ability to use that information thoughtfully.”

Remarking on the Blue Ribbon, Wertheimer immediately focused on Traut as a whole, saying it “is a testament to the hard work of those who have gone before us as well as our current parents, staff, and students.”

A testament indeed. Bravo!

 

Traut’s community grows ever closer through events like this teddy bear picnic.

 

Children Are Curious and Capable—and Teachers Should Be Too

by Guest Blogger
September 26th, 2013

By Heidi Cole

Heidi Cole, a National Board Certified Teacher, teaches second grade at Thomas Jefferson Classical Academy—a public charter school in Forest City, North Carolina.

For the past seven years of my 13-year teaching career, I have educated second graders using the Core Knowledge curriculum. With confidence, I can say that I have not only “taught” my students about ancient China, the War of 1812, Westward Expansion, and the Civil War, but my students have truly “learned” something about these topics. Before moving to a Core Knowledge school, I would never have believed that children would be capable of learning about these sophisticated topics at such a young age, much less enjoy doing so. However, through the use of Core Knowledge’s Listening & Learning strand, which is part of the Core Knowledge Language Arts program, my students brighten as history comes to life during our literacy block.

The texts featured in the program are designed to enrich the vocabulary of our students and build their comprehension as they delve into domains typically reserved for middle and high school students. Seven- and eight-year-old children listen attentively to stories about immigrants who entered America through Ellis Island in the early 1900s, and then respond to questions in which they showcase their knowledge about the push and pull factors which lured these foreigners to a “land of opportunity.”

Each year parents comment on how much they are learning at home from their second grader. Long gone are the days when the children shrug when asked what they learned that day in school. It has been replaced with students begging for trips to see the Statue of Liberty, or asking if the family can travel to Baltimore just so they can witness the site where Francis Scott Key crafted the words to our National Anthem.

My school is in rural western North Carolina, but I have yet to receive any backlash from parents or community members, even when we study difficult issues like slavery. While slavery is certainly a delicate issue for any child to absorb, it is vital in the role of helping young children understand the dynamic of our country during the Civil War era. During our study of this topic, my students embrace the stories of hardship faced by slaves in the South. The result is empathy, followed by a desire to learn more, and the hope of a slavery-free world. Hearing the stories of slavery through the eyes of a child such as Minty (Harriet Tubman) helps children make important connections. We are able to have discussions about the horror of families being torn apart forever, and the dehumanization of African Americans during this time. The Core Knowledge Listening & Learning Civil War domain does an outstanding job of exposing second graders to this sensitive topic, while fostering concern for those impacted throughout history.

After learning about slavery this past school year, my students composed some of their best persuasive writing pieces. As the example below shows, they successfully wrote to a plantation owner from the perspective of a southern abolitionist. Such wonderful writing would not have been possible without true understanding of how this issue impacted the lives of others.

Awareness of slavery also helps prepare students with the necessary background needed to later understand the Civil Rights domain. During our study of Civil Rights, my students conjure up knowledge about the sensitivity of slavery, allowing them to better recognize why inequality had its firmest grasp in the southern states. Because many of my students lack exposure to culturally diverse experiences, this classroom exposure is crucial because it fosters an opportunity to develop connections to our history. Providing such strong background knowledge at a young age will enable these learners to develop a deep level of understanding about our country’s history and its government.

For too long now, educators have underestimated what children are capable of learning and content has been watered down. In a time when many elementary schools are denying students access to geography, history, and science, Core Knowledge provides a refreshing approach to education. How wonderful that during our literacy time, children hear stories about Confucius, rather than a fictional wise man. How great that students learn about the building of the transcontinental railroad, instead of reading a random story about trains.

If children are capable of learning such material, why deny them the opportunity to do so? If we are going to take valuable time in school to teach children how to read, why not also provide an opportunity to better understand their world? By the time my students enter fifth and sixth grades, they may not remember every detail of ancient China’s history, or the battles fought during the Civil War, but they will certainly possess enough background knowledge at that point to take their learning to a whole new level.

 

The Boredom Charade

by Lisa Hansel
September 24th, 2013

As Mark Bauerlein explained, boredom is a top reason students give for dropping out of school. Why?

There are lots of possibilities—many noted by the commenters on Bauerlein’s post. Yesterday I mentioned watered-down curricula and insufficient teacher guidance. Since this forum is all about knowledge, these seem to merit a little extra discussion. Two points are particularly important: (1) topics students know little about may seem boring and (2) holes in students’ knowledge can be downright scary—feigning boredom is easier than admitting to being lost.

Both of these can be addressed with a content-rich, grade-by-grade curriculum in the hands of expert teachers.

Gina DiSipio-Parrish, a second grade teacher at Pioneer Preparatory School (where 67% of the students are English language learners and 94% quality for free or reduced-price lunch), has found that building knowledge often leads to future interest:

All of the lessons spiral and build on each other year after year so that children are repeatedly exposed to the academic content. As a result, students are able to deepen their knowledge base as they progress through their educational career. For example, in second grade students will learn about ancient Greek civilizations, and listen to Greek myths. Then in sixth grade, children will have the opportunity to read these same myths themselves and build on their prior knowledge. We all know that the more a child already knows about a topic, the better their attention and the more increased their interest and subsequent learning experience.

Perseus and Medusa courtesy of Shutterstock.

There’s no reason for young children to take an interest in ancient Greece before they know anything about it. Yet, with a knowledgeable, skilled teacher helping them understand ancient Greek life and beliefs, the topic becomes fascinating. (Has anyone ever thought Medusa was boring?) Even better, as DiSipio-Parrish points out, the foundation she provides greatly increases the odds that her students are looking forward to reading some myths themselves later on.

This interaction between a strong curriculum and a strong teacher is the heart of a great education.

The intentional, coherent building of knowledge that DiSipio-Parrish describes is ideal, but real life is rarely so smooth. What might happen to a student who entered Pioneer in sixth grade? Would she be looking forward to reading Greek myths if she had never heard of ancient Greece—or worse, if she still struggled with fluent decoding? Doubtful. What if her previous school spent much of fifth grade on Greek myths, would she be eager to read them again? More doubtful.

As Daniel Willingham has explained, enjoying learning—maintaining curiosity—depends on being challenged at the right level:

Solving problems brings pleasure. When I say “problem solving” here, I mean any cognitive work that succeeds; it might be understanding a difficult passage of prose, planning a garden, or sizing up an investment opportunity. There is a sense of satisfaction, of fulfillment, in successful thinking…. It’s notable … that the pleasure is in the solving of the problem. Working on a problem with no sense that you’re making progress is not pleasurable. In fact, it’s frustrating. And there’s not great pleasure in simply knowing the answer either.

This is why a strong curriculum is just a starting place. A strong teacher has much to do in customizing that curriculum to create the right level of challenge for each child. If Pioneer’s new sixth grader has never heard of ancient Greece, rapid intervention to provide context is crucial. Without it, boredom is the best case scenario—total lack of comprehension, disengagement (driven by the need to save face), and those first few steps toward dropping out are possible. In contrast, if our new student has already read many Greek myths, an advanced unit may be in order. Or, a better use of time may be condensed units on any content Pioneer teaches in earlier grades that the new student had not yet learned.

Boredom is a symptom—not a problem to be solved by selecting more entertaining content. Our bored students may need help in developing perseverance and grasping the greater purpose of their schoolwork. They may need gaps in their knowledge and skills to be filled. They may need a more challenging climb. At different points, most students probably need all of these things.

 

Ignorance Isn’t Bliss: “Five Pillars” of a Good History Education

by Lisa Hansel
August 28th, 2013

Last week, the hard work of educators at Minneha Core Knowledge Elementary School in Wichita, Kansas, was overshadowed by ignorance. Like dedicated educators across the country, those at Minneha had thoughtfully decorated their school to pique students’ interest in the studies to come. For a fall unit on Islam, this bright bulletin board was on display—temporarily.

This photo, which was posted on Facebook, went viral. It was accompanied by a caption claiming that the school had “banned all forms of Christian prayer.” That’s not true, but that detail is not as important as the larger embracing of ignorance that it conveys. When a responsible citizen sees something in a public school that he or she does not like, what’s a reasonable reaction? Is it acceptable to post a photo online without making any effort to learn about the context and without any regard for how the ensuing debate may affect students? Are such actions really something other responsible citizens should reward by showering them with attention?

Minneha’s curriculum is based on the Core Knowledge Sequence (which is a preschool through eighth grade outline of essential knowledge). As anyone who takes 30 minutes to skim the Sequence knows, any curriculum based on the Sequence  will provide a well-rounded, historical examination of all five major world religions. Just as our nation’s founders intended, the Sequence also explores the centrality of religious tolerance to a strong, well-functioning, democratic society.

Minneha and the Wichita Public Schools are to be congratulated for offering an excellent response to the brouhaha:

Religion is an important component of the history of civilizations. Minneha Core Knowledge Magnet students cover the five major religions of the world—Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism and Islam—as part of their Core Knowledge magnet curriculum. The students study civilizations throughout time, throughout the world, and cover religion with a focus on the history and geography in the development of civilizations.

The bulletin board that originally caused the concern does represent the 5 Pillars of Islam—in a historical context of their studies. There is also a painting of the Last Supper hanging in the school as part of the study of art and the Renaissance period. The students at Minneha have received these lessons for years as part of their Core Knowledge curriculum. A photo taken of a bulletin board without context is misleading, and some have taken it out of context without having all the information. Because of the misunderstanding that has been promoted by that one photograph, the bulletin board has been taken down until the unit is taught later this fall.

Minneha is a Core Knowledge magnet school. As a school of choice, more than 60 percent of Minneha’s students apply for admission to the school in order to receive the Core Knowledge education that is the foundation of the school. As part of the Core Knowledge curriculum, which is overseen by a national foundation devoted to Core Knowledge education, children are introduced in the early grades to major world religions, beginning with a focus on geography and major symbols and figures. In the fourth grade the focus is on history, geography and the development of civilization. The purpose is not to explore the matters of theology, but to understand the place of religion and religious ideas in history. The Core Knowledge goal is to familiarize, not proselytize; to be descriptive, not prescriptive.

The heart of this matter is not one’s values or beliefs—it is a simple recognition that human history can’t be taught without devoting significant time to studying religion. One might even consider the five major world religions to be five pillars of an excellent history education.

Let’s take a closer look at how religion is covered in the Sequence. We can see the intent and progression of the study of religion just by looking at how religious content is framed. The following guidance is provided for early grades teachers:

Teachers: Since religion is a shaping force in the story of civilization, the Core Knowledge Sequence introduces children in the early grades to major world religions, beginning with a focus on geography and major symbols and figures. The purpose is not to explore matters of theology but to provide a basic vocabulary for understanding many events and ideas in history. The goal is to familiarize, not proselytize; to be descriptive, not prescriptive. The tone should be one of respect and balance: no religion should be disparaged by implying that it is a thing of the past. To the question, “Which one is true?” an appropriate response is: “People of different faiths believe different things to be true. The best people to guide you on this right now are your parents or someone at home.”

In fourth grade, the studies remain historical, but become more in-depth, so similar guidance is offered:

Teachers: Since religion is a shaping force in the story of civilization, the Core Knowledge Sequence introduces children in the early grades to major world religions, beginning with a focus on geography and major symbols and figures. In the fourth grade the focus is on history, geography, and the development of a civilization. The purpose is not to explore matters of theology but to understand the place of religion and religious ideas in history. The goal is to familiarize, not proselytize; to be descriptive, not prescriptive. The tone should be one of respect and balance: no religion should be disparaged by implying that it is a thing of the past.

In sixth grade, building historical knowledge is still the primary goal, but the study becomes more analytical:

Teachers: The World History guidelines for sixth grade begin with a study of ancient civilizations introduced in earlier grades in the Core Knowledge Sequence. Topics include Judaism, Christianity, and the civilizations of ancient Greece and Rome. The focus in sixth grade should be on the legacy of enduring ideas from these civilizations—ideas about democracy and government, for example, or about right and wrong. After this study of lasting ideas from ancient civilizations, the World History guidelines pick up the chronological thread from earlier grades with a study of the Enlightenment. You are encouraged to use timelines and engage students in a brief review of some major intervening events in order to help students make a smooth transition across the gap in centuries between the ancient civilizations and the Enlightenment.

The following excerpts from the Sequence show the primary examinations of the major world religions. (For a comprehensive look, see the Sequence itself, which can be downloaded for free.)

Excerpts from Pages 34-35: Grade 1

World History and Geography

II. Early World Civilizations

  • Judaism
    • Belief in one God
    • Story of the Exodus: Moses leads the Hebrews out of Egypt
    • Israel, Chanukah, Star of David, Torah, synagogue
  • Christianity
    • Christianity grew out of Judaism
    • Jesus, meaning of “messiah”
    • Christmas and Easter, symbol of the cross
  • Islam
    • Originated in Arabia, since spread worldwide
    • Followers are called Muslims
    • Allah, Muhammad, Makkah, Qur’an, mosque
    • Symbol of crescent and star (found on the flags of many mainly Islamic nations)

Excerpts from Pages 61-67: Grade 2

World History and Geography

II. Early Asian Civilizations

B. INDIA

  • Indus River and Ganges River
  • Hinduism
    • Brahma, Vishnu, Shiva
    • Many holy books, including the Rig Veda
  • Buddhism
    • Prince Siddhartha becomes Buddha, “the Enlightened One”
    • Buddhism begins as an outgrowth of Hinduism in India, and then spreads through many countries in Asia.
    • King Asoka (also spelled Ashoka)

See also Visual Arts 2: Architecture: Great Stupa, re Buddhism.

Excerpts from Pages 84-87: Grade 3

World History and Geography

II. The Ancient Roman Civilization

B. Background

  • Define B.C. / A.D. and B.C.E. / C.E.
  • The legend of Romulus and Remus
  • Latin as the language of Rome
  • Worship of gods and goddesses, largely based on Greek religion
  • The Republic: Senate, Patricians, Plebeians
  • Punic Wars: Carthage, Hannibal

C. The Empire

  • Julius Caesar
    • Defeats Pompey in civil war, becomes dictator
    • “Veni, vidi, vici” (“I came, I saw, I conquered”)
    • Cleopatra of Egypt
    • Caesar assassinated in the Senate, Brutus
  • Augustus Caesar
  • Life in the Roman Empire
    • The Forum: temples, marketplaces, etc.
    • The Colosseum: circuses, gladiator combat, chariot races
    • Roads, bridges, and aqueducts
  • Eruption of Mt. Vesuvius, destruction of Pompeii
  • Persecution of Christians

E. The Eastern Roman Empire: Byzantine Civilization

  • The rise of the Eastern Roman Empire, known as the Byzantine Empire
  • Constantine, emperor who made Christianity the official religion of Rome
  • Constantinople (now called Istanbul) merges diverse influences and cultures.
  • Justinian, Justinian’s Code

American History and Geography

III. The Thirteen Colonies: Life and Times Before the Revolution

C. New England Colonies

  • New England colonies: Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Connecticut, Rhode Island
  • Gradual development of maritime economy: fishing and shipbuilding
  • Massachusetts
    • Colonists seeking religious freedom: in England, an official “established” church (the Church of England), which did not allow people to worship as they chose
    • The Pilgrims
      • From England to Holland to Massachusetts
      • 1620: Voyage of the Mayflower
      • Significance of the Mayflower Compact
      • Plymouth, William Bradford
      • Helped by Wampanoag Indians: Massasoit, Tisquantum (Squanto)
    • The Puritans
      • Massachusetts Bay Colony, Governor John Winthrop: “We shall be as a city upon a hill.”
      • Emphasis on reading and education, the New England Primer
  • Rhode Island
    • Roger Williams: belief in religious toleration
    • Anne Hutchinson

Excerpts from Pages 106-115: Grade 4

World History and Geography

II. Europe in the Middle Ages

C. Developments in History of the Christian Church

  • Growing power of the pope (Bishop of Rome)
  • Arguments among Christians: split into Roman Catholic Church and Eastern Orthodox Church
  • Conversion of many Germanic peoples to Christianity
  • Rise of monasteries, preservation of classical learning
  • Charlemagne
    • Temporarily unites the western Roman Empire
    • Crowned Emperor by the pope in a.d. 800, the idea of a united “Holy Roman Empire”
    • Charlemagne’s love and encouragement of learning

See also Visual Arts 4: Art of the Middle Ages in Europe: Medieval Madonnas and Gothic architecture. And see Music 4, Gregorian chant.

III. The Spread of Islam and the “Holy Wars”

A. Islam

  • Muhammad: the last prophet
  • Allah, Qur’an, jihad
  • Sacred city of Makkah, mosques
  • “Five pillars” of Islam:
    • Declaration of faith
    • Prayer (five times daily), facing toward Makkah
    • Fasting during Ramadan
    • Help the needy
    • Pilgrimage to Makkah
  • Arab peoples unite to spread Islam in northern Africa, through the eastern Roman empire, and as far west as Spain.
  • Islamic Turks conquer region around the Mediterranean; in 1453, Constantinople becomes Istanbul.
  • The first Muslims were Arabs, but today diverse people around the world are Muslims.

B. Development of Islamic Civilization

  • Contributions to science and mathematics: Avicenna (Ibn Sina), Arabic numerals
  • Muslim scholars translate and preserve writings of Greeks and Romans
  • Thriving cities as centers of Islamic art and learning, such as Cordoba (Spain)

C. Wars Between Muslims and Christians

  • The Holy Land, Jerusalem
  • The Crusades
  • Saladin and Richard the Lion-Hearted
  • Growing trade and cultural exchange between east and west

Visual Arts

I. Art of the Middle Ages in Europe

Teachers: Study of the following works of art may be integrated with study of related topics in fourth grade World History: Europe in the Middle Ages.

  • Note the generally religious nature of European art in the Middle Ages, including Examples of medieval Madonnas (such as Madonna and Child on a Curved Throne—13th century Byzantine)
    • Illuminated manuscripts (such as The Book of Kells)
    • Tapestries (such as the Unicorn tapestries)
  • Become familiar with features of Gothic architecture (spires, pointed arches, flying buttresses, rose windows, gargoyles and statues) and famous cathedrals, including Notre Dame (Paris).

II. Islamic Art and Architecture

Teachers: Study of the following works of art may be integrated with study of related topics in fourth grade World history: The Spread of Islam.

  • Become familiar with examples of Islamic art, including illuminated manuscript and illumination of the Qur’an (Koran).
  • Note characteristic features of Islamic architecture, such as domes and minarets, in Dome of the Rock (Mosque of Omar), Jerusalem
    • Alhambra Palace, Spain
    • Taj Mahal, India

Excerpts from Pages 130-137: Grade 5

World History and Geography

IV. The Renaissance and the Reformation

A. The Renaissance

  • Islamic scholars translate Greek works and so help preserve classical civilization.
  • A “rebirth” of ideas from ancient Greece and Rome
  • New trade and new wealth
  • Italian city states: Venice, Florence, Rome
  • Patrons of the arts and learning
    • The Medici Family and Florence
    • The Popes and Rome
  • Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo
  • Renaissance ideals and values as embodied in
    • The Courtier by Castiglione: the “Renaissance man”
    • The Prince by Machiavelli: real-world politics

B. The Reformation

  • Gutenberg’s printing press: the Bible made widely available
  • The Protestant Reformation
    • Martin Luther and the 95 Theses
    • John Calvin
  • The Counter-Reformation
  • Copernicus and Galileo: Conflicts between science and the church
    • Ptolemaic (earth-centered) vs. sun-centered models of the universe

Visual Arts

I. Art of the Renaissance

Teachers: Study of the following artists and works of art may be integrated with study of related topics in World History 5: The Renaissance.

  • The shift in world view from medieval to Renaissance art, a new emphasis on humanity and the natural world
  • The influence of Greek and Roman art on Renaissance artists (classical subject matter, idealization of human form, balance and proportion)
  • The development of linear perspective during the Italian Renaissance
    • The vantage point or point-of-view of the viewer
    • Convergence of lines toward a vanishing point, the horizon line
  • Observe and discuss works in different genres—such as portrait, fresco, Madonna—by  Italian Renaissance artists, including
    • Sandro Botticelli, The Birth of Venus
    • Leonardo da Vinci: The Proportions of Man, Mona Lisa, The Last Supper
    • Michelangelo, Ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, especially the detail known as The Creation of Adam
    • Raphael: The Marriage of the Virgin, examples of his Madonnas (such as Madonna and Child with the Infant St. John, The Alba Madonna, or The Small Cowper Madonna)
  • Become familiar with Renaissance sculpture, including
    • Donatello, Saint George
    • Michelangelo, David
  • Become familiar with Renaissance architecture, including
    • The Florence Cathedral, dome designed by Filippo Brunelleschi
    • St. Peter’s in Rome
  • Observe and discuss paintings of the Northern Renaissance, including
    • Pieter Bruegel, Peasant Wedding
    • Albrecht Dürer, Self-Portrait (such as from 1498 or 1500)
    • Jan van Eyck, Giovanni Arnolfini and His Wife (also known as Arnolfini Wedding)

Excerpts from Pages 153-160: Grade 6

World History and Geography

II. Lasting Ideas from Ancient Civilizations

A. Judaism and Christianity

  • Basic ideas in common
    • The nature of God and of humanity
    • Hebrew Bible and Old Testament of Christian Bible
  • Judaism: central ideas and moral teachings
    • Torah, monotheism
    • The idea of a “covenant” between God and man
    • Concepts of law, justice, and social responsibility: the Ten Commandments
  • Christianity: central ideas and moral teachings
    • New Testament
    • The Sermon on the Mount and the two “great commandments” (Matthew 22: 37-40)
  • Geography of the Middle East
    • Birthplace of major world religions: Judaism, Christianity, Islam
    • Anatolian Peninsula, Arabian Peninsula
    • Mesopotamia, Tigris and Euphrates Rivers
    • Atlas Mountains, Taurus Mountains
    • Mediterranean Sea, Red Sea, Black Sea, Arabian Sea, Persian Gulf
    • The “silk road”
    • Climate and terrain: vast deserts (Sahara, Arabian)

I hope these excerpts provide some much-needed context. Many thanks to Minneha and all the other Core Knowledge schools committed to ensuring that knowledge triumphs over ignorance.

 

TeamCFA Has the Right Formula

by Lisa Hansel
July 8th, 2013

Let’s face it: The Core Knowledge Sequence is just a pile of paper. The educators who show their students how to be true scholars are the force that transforms the Sequence into a content-rich education. Recently, I had the great pleasure of spending three days surrounded by about 200 such educators at the TeamCFA conference.

TeamCFA is a national network of charter schools that show how a coherent, cumulative curriculum can be the foundation for a strong educational community. In the 2013-14 school year, they will have 12 schools; by 2020, they plan to have 50. Their “ultimate goal is to graduate thoughtful, articulate youth who are prepared to become productive, accountable, engaged citizens.”

Since the conference was held in Indianapolis, the theme was “Accelerating Success: Finding the Right Formula.” Put the emphasis on accelerating. This network is committed to fostering a community in which the more established schools help the new ones; at the same time, even the best are striving to get better.

Jeff Ziegler, the chair of TeamCFA’s Academic Committee and the academic dean for Thomas Jefferson Classical Academy, gave a keynote address in which he set forth a clear path for accelerating success by engaging students and teachers in studying rigorous content. Ziegler began by reflecting on several works of lasting significance, and then transitioned into questioning his own education:

Why is it that I grew up almost altogether ignorant of Augustine, Aquinas, and Solzhenitsyn? Despite the good intentions, the sacrifices of my teachers, why is it that in all my years in the classroom, I never once read a single word of the works of authors of the depth, stature, and historical importance of Flannery O’Connor, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Franz Kafka, Mark Twain, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, George Eliot, Soren Kierkegaard, John Henry Newman, Herman Melville, Frederick Douglass, Goethe, Jane Austen, John Bunyan, Blaise Pascal, Cervantes, Machiavelli, Dante, and Aristophanes? The list goes on and on. Why did I leave the classroom with these major gaps, despite the thousands upon thousands of hours spent there?

I attended the same small-town public school in upstate New York that my parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents attended. During my junior year, while preparing for the state’s German exam, my teacher gave the class a copy of an old state exam from a dozen years earlier. I was amazed at how much more was expected of high school students in 1974 than in 1986. I came across textbooks from my parents’ time in the 1960s. I was surprised how much more substantive they were than some of the textbooks I was using. One day while speaking with my grandfather, who was a car dealer who never went to college, he recited from heart the eight stanzas of Longfellow’s “Village Blacksmith,” a poem he had been required to memorize in grammar school. I never once had to memorize a poem in English class, whether in grammar school or in high school, apart from four and a half lines of Shakespeare in tenth grade….

Another day, I stumbled upon my great-grand-aunt’s report card. I saw that my school was originally called a “classical union school” and that students were expected to study Latin composition and classical Greek in my little town in upstate New York shortly after the Civil War. I was a classics major in college, and Latin composition was an elective graduate-level course, and not an undergraduate course. In other words, my hometown’s classical union school of one hundred fifty years ago in some ways had higher standards in Latin than my alma mater did when I studied there….

I spoke about the gaps in my own education. I suspect that many, if not most of us, have similar gaps. If we teach the Core Knowledge Sequence, the students we’re teaching will know so much more than we learned in so many areas, finally reversing the progressive “dumbing down” of education….

My fellow teachers, we can’t give what we don’t have. If we love our students, we need to become autodidacts, to school ourselves. If we love our students, we need to take the time to learn more, so that we can give them more. My fellow teachers, and I speak to myself first of all, we need to get a life—a life of the mind….

In the years ahead, if individuals or groups should have their human rights trampled upon, or even despised as lebensunwertes Leben, “life unworthy to be lived,” will Martin Luther King, Jrs. arise from the ranks of our students, the future citizens of our nation, to defend the natural law that is engraved upon our hearts in the face of unjust civil law? Fifty years from now, on a sunny Saturday in spring, will our students have enough concern about the good of others, and possess a rich enough life of the mind, to invite others to discuss an important book with them? If the answer to these questions is yes, then it will be in part because we saw the rising tide of mediocrity, and swam against it, and taught our students things we never learned.

Ziegler’s whole talk was fascinating. You can watch and read it here.

While Ziegler and the other speakers were stimulating, the highlight was the school showcases that kicked off the conference. Each of TeamCFA’s schools had seven minutes to reveal its formula for success. They did skits, videos, and slideshows explaining how they build their school communities around ensuring that all of their students develop strong knowledge, skills, and character. All were impressive, but the showcase winner–Piedmont Community Charter School in Gastonia, North Carolina–was a showstopper. Fortunately, most of their showcase was a music video, which has been posted online for all to enjoy: http://bit.ly/14f94kJ.

Thought you’d never see a rap video with E. D. Hirsch’s Cultural Literacy? Think again. These kids have Core Knowledge swagger.