What's Up, Doc? Well, Here's Some Teaching Resources

By Randall Freeman, PhD

Right about now, parents and caregivers are wondering how to successfully help their children with their learning in school. You may feel a bit out of sorts, especially with some new terms and phrases being bandied about. Like Common Core, Extended Learning, etc.

A few years ago, I created a website to help everybody – teachers, parents/caregivers, students – to access the enormous number of educational resources that are available on the Internet. There are so many resources; you may not know where to even begin looking for them.

My website, titled Dr. Freeman’s Educational Site (I know, not much creative thought here), is located at http://drfreeman.webs.com/. I have regularly updated it in order to simplify helping you with your child’s learning. There are sections for teacher, parents, and students.

Hopefully, this column will help you to begin easily navigating your way through my website.
On the main page, there is a yellow pull-down menu at the top. Parents, click on MORE and you will see 4 STUDENTS and TEACHERS & PARENTS. These are the most critical sections for you to assist your child and you with easing learning. There are numerous links to assist you in simplifying your life. Think of these links as your Yellow Pages® to online educational resources.

I have divided the links by subject area and – hopefully – by age groups. These links should assist you in your search for learning and practice.

There are also links to special needs issues, including autism and the like. These links will enlighten you on what families of special needs children deal with on a daily basis. They will increase awareness for us all.

There is a section on the Common Core State Standards. I am not here to attempt to convince anybody to accept or reject these standards. I believe that the majority of us have already made up our minds about CCSS. The fact is that the Common Core State Standards are now required in all public school districts in California, so I am providing (objective) information about CCSS. Check out the links for the benefit of your child and yourself in understanding what they are and are not.

In teaching the CCSS, a particular link is very useful for understanding by both teachers and parents/caregivers. The link is www.teachingchannel.com. It is located under the heading TOP WEBSITES 4 TEACHERS and is the second link from the top. The Teaching Channel provides short tutorial videos for each CCSS standard and is clearly marked as such.

My intention for this column and my website is to make everybody’s job just a little easier. Regarding Common Core, I am refraining from an opinion piece on it, simply providing you with the resources to understand it and how to make your child’s learning somewhat simpler. Even if you vehemently disagree with Common Core, it is good to know your enemy. It is the law for public schools as of now.

Randy Freeman and his family have lived in Menifee since 1993. Randy teaches kindergarten in Perris and his wife Karen teaches first grade here in Menifee at Freedom Crest Elementary School. They are the parents of four daughters: Daniela, 17, and 13-year-old triplets Sarah, Holly, and Megan. Randy earned his PhD in early childhood education in 2011 and has served on the Menifee Union School Board since 2008. As he explains it, this makes him Karen's boss for the first and only time in the marriage. His column will appear here every other Tuesday.

Menifee Mom: Parents, Give Common Core a Chance

By Karen Thomas

Common Core seems to be the buzzword these days. With the school year in full swing and this being the first year of full implementation of Common Core at our schools in Menifee, it's a good time to share my first impressions, at least in the theory behind it.

How it comes through in implementation, I admit, is a different story. Though I'm no expert, I have done some research on the subject to know how it will affect my kids.

When I entered my freshman year of high school (like my daughter this year), my class became the "guinea pigs" for testing an education reform centering on "Outcome Based Education" that was supposed to take over in Oregon. With that program, it seemed that core curriculum was thrown out the window and instead teachers were supposed to focus on developing qualities in the students.

For four years, the focus was on ensuring we became things such as Effective Communicators, Quality Producers, and Collaborative Contributors. The idea was that there is such a vast amount of ever changing information out there, it is better to teach kids how to learn for themselves instead of trying to pack information into their heads.

It was a big change. Having experienced that, I have a different perspective than many on what happens when change hits our schools.

One very positive aspect of Common Core is that there will be uniformity of standards among different states in our country. We have had many opportunities to move, and each time I have looked in depth at the test scores as well as standards taught at different schools in different states. I can verify that California has had the highest standards of all places I've researched.

When No Child Left Behind compared the performance of different states, they weren't comparing apples to apples. Each state set its own timeline for when standards were taught and wrote its own tests to align with that. So, when we were testing our third graders on multiplication, other states were waiting until fourth grade.

Not only does this create an impossible situation to compare states' performances, but it makes it difficult for families who move around. Their child may either repeat a good part of a year's worth of curriculum, or find themselves behind, depending on where they are going.

But let's get to the meat of the issue -- the change in curriculum. It is clear that in some ways there are fewer standards the kids have to learn. However, the idea is that those standards will be taught more in depth so that they are actually understood. Gone will be the days of blindly following math formulas, for example. Instead, the kids will learn why the formula works and how to apply it to real life situations.

Similar to the Outcome Based Education I experienced, Common Core focuses on teaching kids to read non-fiction material, make sense of it, and do something with the knowledge they gain.

These are just a few aspects of Common Core, but they are the ones I really like. We complained a lot about the education reform I experienced in high school, but once I got to college, I did see the value in what we did. I knew how to find and understand information in textbooks and research journals in the library. I knew how to work independently as well as with a group. I could use my research and put together a presentation appropriate for a lay audience or a professional one.

What excites me about Common Core is that the goal is to develop these skills and qualities in our kids that will help them be successful in college and/or career, but it doesn't throw core standards out the window. The ABC's and 123's and everything else on up will still be taught. They are not getting rid of the standards, they are just making them common among the states.

The big complaint I hear is that the government is brainwashing our children. However, the federal government doesn't write the curriculum and they aren't the ones deciding how those standards will be taught. That is done at the local and state level. Common Core simply outlines what the standards need to be.

I know that there are a lot of challenges with Common Core. I think that our kids and teachers will struggle as we transition. It will be difficult to change their mindset with math, for example, that they can't just crunch numbers but they have to understand the concepts behind the number crunching.

I will say that I did very well in math and tutored a lot of my friends in high school, but I never fully understood it. Some would ask, "Why does that work?" and I would say, "I don't know, but it does. Just follow the steps."

Our country has been far behind others in our academic performance. We've also looked at moving abroad, and I can tell you the direction Common Core takes us is in line with the rest of the world. I even discovered recently that new versions of the SAT and ACT college entrance exams are being released that align with Common Core.

Will there be bumps in the road? Yes. Will our kids complain? Most certainly. Will we as parents get confused when they show us their math homework? Probably. I hope that doesn't all mean we will throw in the towel.

There will be changes to Common Core and tweaking that needs to take place, that is expected and part of any program, whether it be in education or the corporate world. But I do think the concepts at the heart of this change are good and needed.

Our job as parents is to support our kids and help them through this transition year. I can tell you from experience, when parents protest, it only makes the kids struggle more and mentally give up. So let our communication be that of cooperation and partnership with our schools, working to find solutions so that we can work together to make this successful and make our kids the best students in the world.

Karen Thomas is a stay at home mom of four daughters, has been on the PTA board at her kids' school for four years, and is a volunteer at her church, in addition to her activities as a volunteer soccer referee, a piano teacher, and a runner. Her column will appear here every other week. Comments are welcome.

What's Up, Doc? Lessons Learned from 'Star Trek' Series

By Randall Freeman, PhD

“Space, the final frontier…”

I was barely 11 years old when Star Trek first came to television. In the original three-year run, the starship Enterprise and her crew encountered many new life forms and met dozens of new civilizations. She also addressed many of the serious social and political issues of the 1960s.

William Shatner’s Captain Kirk and Nichelle Nichols’ Lieutenant Uhura shared TV’s first interracial kiss in the 1968 episode “Plato’s Stepchildren”. It followed by mere months the murders of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert Kennedy. It ironically appeared on the fifth anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, Nov. 22, 1968.

Star Trek did not shy away from important issues of any kind. The Vulcan philosophy of IDIC (Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations) was also introduced in 1968’s “Is There in Truth No Beauty?” The idea that people gathered together to accomplish a goal was greater than whatever goals could possibly be achieved on an individual basis was another breakthrough for television of the time. We Terrans can learn a lot from other civilizations if we allow ourselves to listen and observe with an open mind. We are greater together than apart.

As an impressionable 11-year-old boy, I became engrossed in Star Trek. I thought at the time that I was simply watching an outer space show. Upon reflection, I realized that it was much more than that.

Star Trek helped me to realize that prejudice was ridiculous. The episode “Let This Be Your Last Battlefield” showed me the insanity of judging people on appearance only. The entire planet of Cheron destroyed itself because the people who were white on the left side of their face and the people who were white on the right side of their face could not or would not accept these tiny differences in appearance.

There were many more such examples. I learned to realize what my own strengths and weaknesses were and to build upon my strengths while striving to strengthen my weaknesses. I came to realize that guiding young people into realizing their own potential was what my life needed to be directed toward. It took some time, but I came to accept and embrace that I was meant to be a teacher.

As a teacher of young children, teaching the curriculum is only a part of my job. Assisting the children to work toward what they aspired to be was another critically important part of my job. I should make it clear that it is not what I think they should be or what the family believes they should do, but what THEY want for their lives.

Individuals need to decide for themselves what they will do with their future. For those who love and support them, our job is to guide them along their path. Every person has a different path.

This is for me the essence of Star Trek’s message: Boldly Go Where You are Meant to Go. There is no Final Frontier.

Beam me up, Scotty.

Randy Freeman and his family have lived in Menifee since 1993. Randy teaches kindergarten in Perris and his wife Karen teaches first grade here in Menifee at Freedom Crest Elementary School. They are the parents of four daughters: Daniela, 17, and 13-year-old triplets Sarah, Holly, and Megan. Randy earned his PhD in early childhood education in 2011 and has served on the Menifee Union School Board since 2008. As he explains it, this makes him Karen's boss for the first and only time in the marriage. His column will appear here every other Tuesday.