Spaghetti and Shifts

Transitioning to a new set of standards, with as many stakes that are placed on the assessments that they are based upon, can be a scary thing.  As an educator, many questions pop into your mind:

  1. What changes will there be to the standards?
  2. How will those changes affect my teaching?
  3. How will the changes to my teaching impact my students?
  4. What is the assessment going to look like?

These are all legitimate concerns and ones that myself have had.  Thankfully, a wonderful consultant, Dr. Matthew Ohlson, came to our school and provided us with several professional development opportunities to clarify some of the gray areas around our new standards and what our teaching will look like.

His analogy for any adjustments our teaching will go through because of the new Florida Standards (think Common Core here) is like a classic, family recipe.  You would never throw out Great Grandma Ferrari’s spaghetti and meatballs recipe because you want to update it!  No, instead you would perhaps add a bit more pepper, sauté the garlic in roasted red peppers instead of tomatoes, or you would add hot sauce.  Changing everything about your teaching because of the new standards would be like going to McDonalds and expecting their menu to be all sushi and no burgers.  Small changes to the instructional practices that you’re already making in four areas is the key.

The four areas to consider when creating lesson plans and instructional strategies:

1.  Rigor

2.  Student Engagement

3.  Collaboration and Culture

4.  Deeper Knowledge

The way that Dr. Ohlson presented these four areas to us was through a tower building challenge.  Four tables were setup with a pile of uncooked spaghetti, one marshmallow, and masking tape.  Each table was identified with one of the four new standards themes: rigor, student engagement, collaboration & culture, and deeper knowledge.  The task was for each group to use the tools they were given to build the tallest tower that would support the marshmallow at the peak for a minimum of 30 seconds.  Here is my team’s final product:

We didn’t win; we came in around 2nd/3rd place.  It was a fun and creative, hands-on activity.  After we were done talking trash and “congratulating” the winners, we sat back in our seats and talked about how this activity related to the four areas, and how we could use an activity like this in our classrooms.


Have students measure the angles or write a justification as to why they chose to build the tower the way that they did

Student Engagement

All students would fully participate, even if they were not the ones that were doing the building.

Collaboration and Culture

There’s a reason why these sorts of activities are used for team-building.  All members had to work together to collectively create this tower.  Ideas were shared, trial and error, and of course the trash talk.

Deeper Knowledge

Students would understand why their towers would be able to support more weight, utilizing elements of physics and geometrical shapes. (As you can see, my English background leaves me in the dust when it come to Sciency things)

When we were all done, Dr. Ohlson showed us this TED Talk video:

How could you use an activity like this in your classroom?

What shifts have you made to your own teaching to address increased rigor, student engagement, collaboration & culture, and deeper knowledge?

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