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February 19, 2013
 

LAHS participates in nation’s first “Common Core Aquarium”

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Los Alamitos High School, Common Core Aquarium

he following information was released by Los Alamitos Unified School District.

Bigger than a “fishbowl,” 200 Los Al teachers, students, counselors, and administrators took part in an aquarium-style lesson study of the instructional practices that will be required when the nation fully adopts Common Core State Standards in 2014.

In a year in which State Superintendent Tom Torlakson has proposed suspending STAR Testing in high school for students not in 11th Grade English or Algebra II, Los Alamitos High School is continuing to look for ways to raise the bar for student achievement and evolve instructional delivery to meet the demands of ever-changing student learning modalities. Specifically at Los Al this year, this has meant employing a system of Instructional Networking that allows teachers to observe colleagues practice in a format similar to doctors who go on “medical rounds” and hosting what’s being billed as the nation’s first-ever Common Core Aquarium – a live lesson study in which more than 200 teachers and students dissect a seminar constructed and delivered following the framework of the nation’s new assessment and accountability paradigm.

“The idea for the ‘aquarium’ came about because of two things.” Harvard-trained Principal Joshua Arnold said. “First, we’ve built a culture of networking and open doors as a result of our Instructional Rounds protocol this year. Sharing, reflecting, and analyzing lessons is just something we do around here. And, second, we want the opportunity to define what Common Core teaching will be for ourselves. We believe our teachers have tons of knowledge about what works in the classroom, and providing the opportunity to critique a lesson and apply it to a specific subject or context goes a long way towards tapping into that experience.”

The Common Core Aquarium, conducted on a school-wide Staff Development Day, featured thirty students situated in the front-center of a large college-style lecture hall on the Los Alamitos High School campus. In front of them (and eventually alongside of them and among them) was English teacher Crystal Jerabek, who delivered a lesson on “Media Analysis” in which the task was for students to “imagine they have been hired by a company to analyze the effectiveness of an ad campaign.” Behind the students, in a U-shaped seating gallery, was every Los Alamitos High School teacher feverishly taking notes on a steering protocol they were given at the beginning of the lesson. Meant to simulate an “aquarium,” in which observers watch a natural environment without disrupting or changing it, Los Al teachers studied the dynamics of teaching and learning during the lesson’s delivery and jotted down thoughts and reflections to bring up during the “debriefing sessions” that immediately followed.

“The real staying power, for me, was in the debrief,” Los Alamitos High school teacher Dan Bennett said.

Lead by Principal Arnold and Science Teacher Kathy Currie once the 55-minute lesson was over, two simultaneous debriefing sessions took place that split half the Los Al teaching body with the students that had just been taught, and the other half with the teacher who designed and delivered the lesson. The idea was for the two groups to separately focus their discussions on “teaching” or “learning,” and then switch who they debriefed with after 25 minutes so that they could experience both perspectives.

What came out during the debriefing sessions is exactly what teachers at Los Alamitos High School wanted – a direction in which to focus their future work when planning and delivering Common Core instruction.

In coming months, the school will investigate the following three ideas as identified by Friday’s aquarium:

  1. the gradual release of responsibility for learning during a lesson (sometimes referred to as the “I Do, We Do, You Do” instructional framework);
  2. defining rigor and adding depth and complexity to any unit study; and
  3. connecting disciplines within a single lesson and sharing the responsibility for writing across content areas.

Of the many benefits of The Common Core Aquarium, one is that it allowed for future areas of focus to come from the body of teachers that will ultimately be doing the work with the students. More “aquariums” will follow, and opportunities to observe and define Common Core teaching throughout the district’s ten schools are being planned by Education Services Assistant Superintendent Dr. Mark Johnson.

In the meantime, Los Alamitos Unified School District’s Superintendent Dr. Sherry Kropp said, “We will continue Igniting Unlimited Possibilities for Students by providing innovative forums for teachers to talk about the practice of teaching and to collectively define powerful, high-quality instruction.”

If you have any questions about the Common Core Aquarium at Los Alamitos High School, please contact Principal Joshua Arnold at jarnold@losal.org, or Assistant Superintendent Mark Johnson at mjohnson@losal.org.

Featured photo

As hundreds of teachers watch live, 30 Los Al students argue and defend their critique of an Axe Body Spray advertisement campaign as part of The Common Core Aquarium that took place at the school on Friday. Courtesy photo.

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