When Teachers and Standards Meet on Polar Ice: Inquiry, Literacy, and Rigor


ISKME’s “Teachers Advancing Common Core Learning” project addresses teachers’ familiarity with Common Core standards and multi-disciplinary learning through their collaborative authoring of new and adapted curriculum

The project is part of the Teacher Practice Networks Initiative, supported by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.


Cohorts of middle school and high school teachers from different districts in California and North Carolina are working together on polar ice. OK, they are not literally on the ice. Instead, they are shaping new and inspiring territory for teaching and learning about melting polar ice caps, a place where literacy, science, and math come together. These diverse subjects are being taught by teachers who normally don’t have the opportunity to collaborate on lessons and instruction. Their lessons aim to meet particular requirements of Common Core and other state standards, and especially, to bring interactive and engaging approaches to meeting these standards.

Here are two examples of lessons integrating science, math, and ELA that these teachers have created:

Consequences of Melting Arctic Sea Ice

Climate Change Science and Math Lesson Plan

These integrated lessons are being created as part of ISKME’s Teachers Advancing Common Core Learning, or TACCL, a project working to advance a model of teacher collaboration across disciplines.

How teacher collaboration across disciplines works in the project:

Three teacher leaders from different disciplines within the same school form a collaborative cohort. Together, the cohort members first agree on common lesson themes, essential questions, and learning objectives they want to address through an integrated lesson. At the same time, the teachers brainstorm and narrow in on a set of informational texts (e.g., video, data sets, images, non-fiction texts) that can address core content standards and associated learning objectives in their respective disciplines, as well as the CCSS literacy standards required in their subject area, whether science, social studies or math. In addition, they brainstorm and collaboratively construct ways of addressing inquiry-based learning through student tasks that focus on close reading, evidence gathering and analysis.

How multi-disciplinary lessons develop critical analysis and evidence-based thinking:

The lessons intend to engage students around a significant real-world issue, such as what might be seen as an abstraction, such as climate change, and transform it into a concrete, evidence-infused exploration for students. For example, in the Climate Change Science and Math Lesson, students are tasked with reading the primary source, “Arctic Sea Ice Decline,” an article from Weather Underground. Students are then asked to analyze the article and its accompanying data on melting sea ice. As part of close reading practice, students are expected to consider potential outcomes for the earth if the polar sea ice continues to melt, and to construct a sample equation that best models the current rate of melting for the polar ice caps, all based on textual and data analysis.

What ISKME tools and resources facilitate these processes:

The teaching cohorts can search for, collaborate, and author lessons using online tools created by ISKME, which aims to support collaboration around Common Core. These tools – or open educational resources (OER) -- are freely available at OER Commons (www.oercommons.org), ISKME’s digital library and networking platform, for OER.

To facilitate collaboration, teachers are using the platform’s Primary Source Hub, and Open Author, the integrated content authoring tool.in OER Commons. Using this tool, teachers may draw upon a lesson template created by ISKME for the project, or they can choose to construct their own formatted template in Open Author. The tool provides content editing, including easy creation of descriptive information, or metadata, so a resource can be discovered through search. The tool also provides the means to add a Creative Commons license to a resource, in order to specify how it may be used or reused legally by others once it is published and viewable by everyone.

The ongoing goal of this work is for educators to build a shared social architecture centered on rigorous multi-disciplinary, real-world problem solving and standards-based learning. Implementing Common Core demands radical new supports for teachers to collaborate. Together, they are working on ways to successfully shift their practices, to discover, use, and adapt high-quality open resources, and to go deeper into their core subject matter, regardless of discipline--and, all before the ice caps melt.


Image credit: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, https://www.flickr.com/photos/gsfc/, Licensed CC BY 2.0

June 24, 2015