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April 25, 2013

Dream Team: Logan resident returns to classroom video project

Maconaquah teacher at intersection of tech, Common Core.

LOGANSPORT — Look for the intersection of tech-assisted teaching and more demanding education standards — that’s where you’ll find Cory Howard.

Howard, a Logansport resident and teacher at Maconaquah Middle School, was one of 200 teachers across the country chosen for this year’s LearnZillion “Dream Team.” The teachers will spend part of their summer making video lessons for LearnZillion, a company that distributes videos aligned to new Common Core educational standards.

Howard has taught middle-school math at Maconaquah for the last five years, he said, and before that taught math at Lincoln Middle School in Logansport.

He and the rest were chosen from more than 3,000 applicants this year based on their understanding of the Common Core standards being phased in across the country and their ability to create high-quality video lessons easily understood by students, according to a press release from LearnZillion.

The idea, Howard explained, is to help teachers or their students find ready-made ways to explain concepts either to complement what they’re doing in the classroom, or to supplement it for students who need extra review or want to work ahead.

“I’ll use them for like review-type lessons, maybe compare and contrast — you’re getting a different presentation to review or reteach,” Howard explained.

Students appreciate seeing examples different from what’s in the book, he said — plus they like “the ability to replay it, go back, pause it,” he added. “It kind of animates an example, instructions that you might see in a textbook. Now you’re seeing it, you’re hearing it.”

He’s referred to videos to grow as a teacher, too — for example, he said, to find how he might teach a concept he’s struggling to convey.

“To me that’s pretty huge,” he explained, “because you get to those certain levels and you might be the only eighth-grade math teacher in your building,” struggling to find other teachers to bounce ideas off of related to teaching specific content.

As part of the Dream Team, Howard will head to San Francisco in May for TeachFest, an intensive conference where teachers will work with Common Core experts, content specialists and fellow teachers to better understand the standards and how best to teach them.

Howard is one of about 30 teachers who’ll be returning to the Dream Team, he said. He first got interested in the project last year because it complemented what he was already working toward in the classroom — integrating laptops and aligning content with the Common Core.

“Since everybody is going to the Common Core standards, it really forced my hand to start learning more about this new set of standards that’s been phased in at the lower level,” he said.

Indiana adopted the Common Core standards in 2010 and began phasing them in beginning with kindergarten in the fall of 2011. The new standards should be fully implemented in kindergarten, first and second grades this coming school year, according to a timeline on the Indiana Department of Education website.

Officially, the Common Core will be fully implemented in all grades beginning with the fall of 2014, but many schools are transitioning grades three through 12 this coming fall in order to be ready.

Howard’s videos focused on seventh grade math concepts outlined in the Common Core, like dividing by zero or rewriting multiplication and division problems using the commutative property.

But while Howard had been researching the Common Core, it was his first experience making videos. What LearnZillion sought were 3- to 5-minute videos that combined a teaching presentation with audio explanations.

“It’s pretty challenging at times,” Howard said of the process. A video script and the visual plan for it go through vetting from a content expert, then the video goes to LearnZillion administration for a quality review.

Since he’s a returning teacher this year, Howard will help mentor other teachers new to the Dream Team.

“The ultimate goal is to keep continuing, growing a national community of teachers,” said Howard.

Sarah Einselen is news editor for the Pharos-Tribune. She can be reached at sarah.einselen@pharostribune.com or 574-732-5151.

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