Scores of Siskiyou County teachers and administrators representing 10 school districts toiled under taskmasters in the Mount Shasta High School gym Sept. 26. The exertion was mental, as trainers put them through the rigors of understanding a new educational model called Common Core.

Scores of Siskiyou County teachers and administrators representing 10 school districts toiled under taskmasters in the Mount Shasta High School gym Sept. 26. The exertion was mental, as trainers put them through the rigors of understanding a new educational model called Common Core.

California is one of 45 states that have adopted Common Core Standards. The new standards are designed to be relevant to the real world, reflecting the knowledge and skills that students will need for success in college and future careers.

"How would you like to be part of experiencing the Common Core struggle?" Mary Walls asked the crowd of about 140 just before the first test. She said the exercise would put the educators under the stress their students will feel when learning under Common Core State Standards.

The test consisted of two parts, about 15 seconds of a video showing a 6th grade teacher in class with kids well versed in Common Core teaching technique, and a gridded answer sheet with Depth Of Knowledge criteria, levels 1-4, running across the top, and down the side six classifications of learning objectives: remember, understand, apply, analyze, evaluate and create.

The educators' task was to identify the box in the grid that lay in the intersection of the learning objective and level of Depth of Knowledge demonstrated by the kids in the video.

"It's not easy," said Walls of Common Core technique. "It's hard work." She and her InnovateED colleague, Jay Westover, told their trainees repeatedly this approach to learning fosters discussion and critical thinking. InnovateED is an education consultation company that partners with school districts to implement academic programs.

"Which is the correct box?" prompted Westover.

At the Dunsmuir Elementary School table, teacher Susan Keeler and Superintendent/Principal Helen Herd read through the criteria and agreed on a box under DOK Level 2. At another school's table, they came up with a different answer.

Neither was wrong. Under Common Core, it's the argument that counts, the discussion about how one comes to a conclusion.

"They had to defend what they claimed," said Walls about the students in the video. "The Common Core argument is evidence based. This way you peel away more and more layers of understanding."

Keeler said Common Core represents a higher level of thinking. "They have to make inferences from what they read, not just find a sentence and say that's the answer."

Herd sees the change as exciting. "Students will actually understand what they've learned, not just give back information," she said. "The difficulty is the time it takes to make the change. We're altering a system that students and parents are used to."

Westover said Common Core State Standards is scheduled to implemented in all California schools by the beginning of the 2015-2016 school year. He said educators have "this year and the next" to learn the new model.

Integrates entire school

Herd said Common Core State Standards reminded her of the way she was taught in grade school. "We used to call it thematic learning," she said. "The teachers would decide on the theme, and do an in-depth study of that subject all across the school."

A few tables away, Dunsmuir High School educators came to a similar conclusion. "It's not math, English, social studies and history. It's school," said Dunsmuir High School Principal Ray Kellar. "That's what school is going to be now."

"The answer is not multiple choice now," said English teacher Jeff Cannon. "The learning is conceptual. It will start the synapses firing, and begin a journey toward the answer."

Kellar believes this will be good for students. "We want them to be productive thinkers," he said.

Westover, in his opening comments, said Common Core was developed after businesses reported back to researchers that students coming out of American schools today do not possess the knowledge necessary to fill positions in their companies.

"The ultimate reason for Common Core State Standards is to give students the skills for work, and to give students the skills for college," he said. "To give them the skills to be successful in life."

He said the reason for the training he and Walls gave the educators was to give them the skills needed to translate their curricula into Common Core lesson plans. "Figure out how it works best for you," he said.

Westover urged his audience to not take this five-hour first look at Common Core as something to endure and forget, entreating, "Whatever you learn here you have to go back to your schools and use."