Monthly Archives: October 2015




Units of Study

PORTS is proud to announce the completion of the PORTS Unit of Study Common Core Alignment Project.  All of the Units of Study are aligned to the Common Core State Standards. It has been exciting to note that our videoconference presentations are already aligned with the Speaking and Listening standards prominant in the CCSS:

Speaking and Listening: Flexible communication and collaboration
Including but not limited to skill necessary for formal presentations, the Speaking and Listening standards require students to develop a range of broadly useful oral communication and interpersonal skills.  Students must learn to work together, express and listen carefully to ideas, integrate information from oral, visual, quantitative, and media sources, evaluate what they hear, use media and visual displays strategically to help achieve communicative purposes, and adapt speech to context and task.

To register for a PORTS distance learning program, complete the PORTS Registration Form (PDF) and email it to your local PORTS Program Coordinator or the PORTS Interpreter listed for a specific Unit of Study.
PORTS Registration Form (PDF)

5E Lesson Plans
PORTS is piloting a new format for our lesson plans called the 5E that better aligns with the critical thinking skills being promoted by Common Core State Standards and the Next Generation Science Standards . The 5 Es of teaching science with inquiry are Engagement, Exploration, Explanation, Elaboration, and Evaluation. Our newest units of study, Mammals and Monarch Butterfly Life Cycle and Migration, are written in a three column version of the 5E lesson plan that shows teachers what to do and say, what types of probing questions to ask, and how students might respond.



Explore the art and architecture of the ancient Greeks and Romans through the art and artifacts of Hearst Castle (6th grade)

Ancient Civilizations Unit of Study


Soon students can explore the coastal resources of Point Lobos Natural Reserve and learn how Marine Protected Areas are being used to help protect them.

For now, you can check out the following units of study which are already discussing Marine Protected Areas.
Elephant Seals
Tidepool Ecology
Salmon Lifecycle
Science of Habitat Restoration and Protection

We will also soon unveil our new Marine Protected Areas online modules here.

Coastal Resource Protection Unit of Study


Explore Anza-Borrego Desert State Park to discover its stories of change, preservation, extinction and protection. (4th and 6th grade)

Desert Stories Unit of Study


Students are introduced to the evolutionary history and adaptations of the northern elephant seals at Año Nuevo State Reserve. (7th grade)

Elephant Seals Unit of Study


Learn about the California Gold Rush from Columbia State Historic Park. (4th grade)

Gold Rush Unit of Study


Explore the topic of immigration through the stories and lives of those who came through the US Immigration Station at Angel Island State Park.

Immigration Unit of Study


Explore the mystery of Monarch butterfly lifecycle and Migration from Natural Bridges State Park. (Kindergarten – 3rd grade)

Monarch Butterfly Life Cycle and Migration Unit of Study


Find out about the unique redwood forest ecosystems of Humboldt Redwoods and Prairie Creek Redwoods State Parks. (6th grade)

Redwood Ecology Unit of Study


Students are introduced to the life cycle of salmon and the importance of watersheds for their survival at Del Norte Redwoods State Park (3rd, 6th grade)

Salmon Lifecycle


Students discover how human impacts degrade some of California’s native ecosystems and habitats while getting a first-hand look at the work California State Parks has done to restore the coastal sage scrub habitat at Crystal Cove State Park. (6th-8th Grade)

Science of Habitat Protection and Restoration Unit of Study


Engage students in researching information about their state representatives, the law-making process, and how they, as citizens, have a voice in government. (8th (adaptable for other grades)

State Government Units of Study


Experience life at the ocean’s edge and find out why life in the tide pools is no day at the beach. (4th, 5th grade) new test

Tide pools Units of Study


Baldwin Hills Scenic Overlook is a great place to observe weather. Students will learn about weather, climate and the story of this unique park in Los Angeles. (5th grade)

Weather and Climate Unit of Study


Explore how mammals are different from other animals by learning unique features of mammals and comparing them to reptiles, insects and others. (Kindergarten-2nd grade)

What is a Mammal? Unit of Study


Check out what else we have to offer!
(K-12th grade)

Other Programs 


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Online Learning That Engages Students

Passion In Education has been utilizing Edgenuity since it’s opening in 2010.  We have assisted many students and parents.  Students need options in education to meet their needs.  If your student is currently struggling and needs another form of learning, check out The Bridge Virtual Academy for support courses, getting ahead, advancing in courses not offered in your current school and more.

Click here for a demo.

Here is the Course List:TBVA AD 2015

Enjoy the learning process.  Find what works best for your learning style.


The Power of Google for Education

Colleges and universities find new ways to work and learn with Google for Education

Posted: Thursday, October 22, 2015

Editor’s note: In this post, we’re sharing some of the great work that colleges and universities are doing with the help of Google for Education tools. To learn more about Google’s solutions for higher education, come visit us atEDUCAUSE – the largest higher education EdTech event in the US – October 27-30 in Indianapolis, at #1110 in the Expo Hall. We’ll be demoing the latest products with Googlers, administrators, professors and students givingshort presentations throughout the week. And if you can’t attend EDUCAUSE, be sure to join our webinar with University of Texas at Austin on November 17th at 2pm EST / 11am PST.

Many higher education campuses are home to tens of thousands of students, thousands more staff, and dozens of buildings and academic departments — not to mention online learners. How do you create community and enable collaboration in academic settings that are the size of small cities, while making it easy for everyone on campus to learn and work together? Millions of students, teachers and administrators at colleges and universities around the world use Google Apps for Education to access their coursework from anywhere, communicate at any time, and share ideas for academic projects. In fact, the majority of U.S. News & World Report’s top 100 universities use Google Apps. Here’s how several major universities have brought professors, students and departments closer together.

Bringing Google’s best solutions to campus

Introducing new technology tools often means adoption delays and integration headaches. At schools likeGeorgetown University (case study), where Google is already the top choice of many students and faculty for email and collaboration, using Google Apps for Education for official school business was a painless transition.

The high awareness of Google Apps, and its seamless integration with other systems, was also a deciding factor at North Carolina State University (case study). “For the students, many of whom were already using Google, it really was a no-brainer,” says Sarah Noell, an assistant director in the school’s Office of Information Technology.

Schoolwide solutions unify large campuses

At the very largest universities, like the University of Michigan (case study) which has 43,000 students, separate schools and departments often choose their own email and collaboration tools — which means there’s no consistent way to share documents or manage email across the vast university community. With Google for Education, Michigan was able to unify all of its 19 schools under one collaborative solution. “When Google Apps for Education was introduced, there was a huge sigh of relief,” says Jeff Ringenberg, a faculty member in the Electrical Engineering and Computer Science department. “Previously, it was very difficult for students and professors to keep their information synchronized.”

Professors and students work anytime, anywhere

Not only do schoolwide collaboration and productivity tools unify campuses, they make it easy to tap into course syllabi, reading lists and progress reports from professors. At Brown University (case study), moving from Microsoft Exchange to Google Apps meant students no longer needed to carry their laptops around – they were able to choose any device on campus or pull out their mobile phones and immediately be productive. “All you need is a web browser,” says Geoffrey Greene, Brown’s director of IT support. “It doesn’t matter if you’re on your PC at home or on your Chromebook at work; you can do anything from any machine, anywhere.”

The students running Brown Market Shares, a food distribution program, use Google Drive to share meeting agendas and customer check-in sheets. “Using a Google Doc for our weekly meeting agendas, is useful because we can each add items to it before the meeting at any time of the day or night,” says Meagan Miller, an undergraduate student and Brown Market Shares’ communications coordinator.

Security and privacy help research and learning flourish

With anytime, anywhere access, students and teachers need assurance that their projects can only be accessed by their chosen colleagues. Brown decided to adopt Google for Education in part because the university needed to protect in-progress research while encouraging collaboration from the campus community. The University of Texas at Austin made a similar choice: “What happens in the classroom should stay in the classroom,” says Christy Tran, a student intern working in CIO Brad Englert’s group. “Students can trust that they’ll have a safe learning experience.”

Better communication and feedback beyond the classroom

At UT Austin, home to 51,000 students, it’s not easy for professors to touch base with all of their students face-to-face. Google Apps lets feedback happen outside of class time or office hours. “I may only see students in class three hours a week, but we’re working together and editing classwork all the time, even on weekends,” says Angela Newell, a faculty member of UT Austin’s McCombs School of Business. “It allows us to move projects along much faster, and we can increase camaraderie with students.”

The University of Michigan’s Jeff Ringenberg collaborates with other teachers on his Electrical Engineering and Computer Science course syllabi and exams using Google Docs. “It eliminates the need to send thousands of versions back and forth,” he says. “We’ve streamlined the process of writing an exam, which frees me up to focus on communicating with students as opposed to generating content.”

There are many more stories about colleges and universities that are are re-thinking the ways they learn and work. If you’re in Indianapolis, we hope to see you in the EDUCAUSE Expo Hall at #1110. And if you can’t make it to the conference, be sure to join our webinar with University of Texas at Austin on November 17th at 2pm EST / 11am PST.

A new kind of Classroom for 10 million students and teachers

Posted: Wednesday, October 21, 2015

In a junior high class in Queens, New York, Ross Berman is teaching fractions. He wants to know whether his students are getting the key concept, so he posts a question in Google Classroom and instantly reviews their answers. It’s his favorite way to check for understanding before anyone has the chance to fall behind.

Across the country, in Bakersfield, California, Terri Parker Rodman is waiting at the dentist’s office. She wonders how her class is doing with their sub. With a few swipes on her phone, she finds out which students have finished their in-class assignment and sends a gentle reminder to those who haven’t.

Google Classroom launched last August, and now more than 10 million educators and students across the globe actively use it to teach and learn together, save time, and stay organized. We worked with teachers and students to create Classroom because they told us they needed a mission control – a central place for creating and tracking assignments, sharing ideas and resources, turning in completed work and exchanging feedback. Classroom is part of Google’s lineup of tools for education, which also includes the Google Apps for Education suite – now used by more than 50 million students, teachers and administrators around the world – and Chromebooks, the best-selling device in U.S. K-12 schools.

Here are a few of the stories we’ve heard from teachers and students who are using Classroom.

Learning better together

We built Classroom to help educators spend less time on paperwork and administrative tasks. But it’s also proven to be highly effective at bringing students and teachers closer together. In London, fifth grader Kamal Nsudoh-Parish stays connected with his Spanish teacher while he does his homework. “If I don’t understand something, I can ask him and he’d be able to answer rather than having to wait until my next Spanish lesson,” Kamal says.

Terri, who teaches sixth grade at Old River Elementary School, also observes that Classroom can strengthen ties and improve communication. “When a student doesn’t turn something in, I can see how close they are,” she says. “In the past, I couldn’t tell why they didn’t finish their work. I was grading them on bringing back a piece of paper instead of what their ability was.”

Resource room teacher Diane Basanese of Black River Middle School in Chester, New Jersey, says that Classroom lets her see her students’ minds at work. “I’m in the moment with them,” she explains. “We have dialogue, like, ‘Oh, are you saying I should use a transition?’ We’re talking to each other. It’s a better way.”

Removing the mundane

By helping them cut down on busywork, Classroom empowers teachers to do even more with every school day. “I no longer waste time figuring out paper jams at the school photocopier,” says Tom Mullaney, who teaches in Efland, North Carolina. “Absent students no longer email or ask, ‘What did we do yesterday?’ These time savers may not sound like much, but they free me to spend time on things that I consider transcendent in my teaching practice.”

In Mexico City, teachers at Tec de Monterrey high school and university switched to Classroom from an online learning management system that often added complexity to their workflow instead of simplifying it. Professor Vicente Cubells says he’s found the new question feature in Classroom particularly useful for short quizzes, because he can quickly assess learning and have an automatic record of their responses and grades. “The Classroom mobile apps have also become essential for our faculty and students, we use them to stay connected even when we’re not in front of a laptop,” Cubells said.

Giving teachers superpowers

Teachers are some of the most innovative thinkers in the world, so it’s no surprise that they’ve used Classroom in ways we never even imagined.

Elementary school teacher Christopher Conant of Boise, Idaho, says his students are usually eager to leave school behind during summer break. But after using Classroom last year, they wanted to keep their class open as a way to stay in touch. “Classroom is a tool that keeps kids connected and learning as a community, well beyond the school day, school year and school walls,” said Christopher, who continued to post videos and questions for his students all summer long.

These endless possibilities are the reason why Diane Basanese, a 30-year teaching veteran, says that Classroom is the tool she’s been looking for throughout her career. “It has made me hungrier,” she explains. “I look at how I can make every lesson a hit-it-out-of-the-ballpark lesson.”

Growing our Classroom

Ever since we began working with teachers and students, it’s been rewarding and encouraging to hear their stories, collaborate to find answers to their problems, and watch those solutions come to life at schools and universities around the world. Lucky for us, we’re just getting started.

Graduation Rates on the Rise!


U.S. Graduation Rates on the Rise

The majority of states also shrank achievement gaps for minority and low-income students.

Graduates tossing caps into the air

Preliminary graduation rate data shows more students are graduating high school in the majority of states.

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High school graduation rates in the U.S. are again expected to rise.

Preliminary graduation rate data from the National Center for Education Statistics show that the vast majority of states, 36 total, saw increases in overall graduation rates during the 2013-2014 school year.

“The fact that graduation rates are up – something is different out there,” U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said Monday. “There is something in the water. These preliminary numbers give me hope that it will continue to get better.”

Male professor assisting schoolboys studying world map in classroom.


U.S. Students Are Terrible at Geography

States making the biggest gains include Alabama, Delaware, Illinois, Oregon and West Virginia. Only six states experienced decreases in graduation rates while eight states saw no change.

The majority of states also shrank the achievement gap for black and Hispanic students, as well as for low-income students, students with disabilities, and those learning English.

The U.S. has posted record graduation rates for the last two years, with the country’s highest-ever rate – 81 percent for the 2012-2013 school year – announced earlier this year. The NCES plans to release final graduation rate data this coming spring.

The announcement helps bolster the education agenda Duncan has aggressively pursued ahead of his departure from President Barack Obama’s cabinet in December. Since taking office at the beginning of the administration, Duncan has pushed states to make various changes to their education systems, including by adopting common and more rigorous standards, implementing teacher evaluations based in part on student test scores and expanding charter schools.

[READ: Parents Support Testing, but Think There’s Too Much]

Using competitive grants like those available through the Race to the Top program, he was able to spur such changes. But the strategy has also garnered him his fair share of critics, many of whom equate it with federal government overreach.

“The goal is to provide better outcomes for students who are underserved,” Duncan said. “To do that from Washington would be the height of arrogance. What we did try to do is challenge people to challenge the status quo.”

Duncan said, however, that he wishes he had used his executive authority sooner in some cases, including to relinquish states from some of the most burdensome requirements of No Child Left Behind in exchange for their implementation of new education policies.

A Pittston Area high school graduate raises his diploma in celebration as he walks back to his seat during a commencement ceremony Wednesday, June 10, 2015, in Pittston, Pa. (Andrew Krech/The Citizens' Voice via AP) MANDATORY CREDIT


Education Reforms Are Here to Stay

“A lot was done too slow,” Duncan said. “We probably should have gone to [NCLB] waivers a year or two earlier than we did.”

The news of graduation rates continuing to rise comes as the department is focusing on ways to boost the number of college graduates by reshaping the federal student loan system and making it easier for students to navigate the admissions process.

“Our goal is to lead the world in college completion rates,” Duncan said. “We’re thrilled high school graduation rates are up. A million more students of color are going to college. But the goal is not to go. It’s to graduate.”

Teachers Like Video-taping

.Screen Shot 2015-10-08 at 3.20.42 PM

Report: Teacher-Controlled Video Observations Improve Teacher Assessment Process

Report: Teacher-Controlled Video Observations Improve Teacher Assessment ProcessImage from a presentation of first-year findings via Harvard’s Center for Education Policy Research

Teachers who participated in a year-long study comparing video-recorded and in-person classroom observations found the video observation process fairer and more useful overall than in-person observations, according to a new report from the Center for Education Policy Research (CEPR) at Harvard University.

The report, “The Best Foot Forward Project: Substituting Teacher-Collected Video for In-Person Classroom Observations,” summarizes the findings of the first year of implementation of the Best Food Forward Project. The researchers studied 347 teachers and 108 administrators at schools in Delaware, Georgia, Colorado and California. Participants were randomly assigned to a treatment or control group. Those in the treatment group received a video camera and access to a secure site to store and view recorded lessons, and those in the control group continued to use in-person classroom observations.

Initially, teachers in the video group were reluctant to record themselves in the classroom but acquiesced when they were given the option of controlling the camera and choosing which lessons would be submitted for review. At the conclusion of the first year, the researchers found that allowing teachers to control the video observation process did not affect administrators’ ability to identify stronger or weaker teachers because “teachers who were stronger (or weaker) in their submitted lessons also tended to be stronger (or weaker) in the lessons they chose not to submit.”

Giving teachers control over the video observation process resulted in numerous benefits for both the teachers and the administrators, according to the report. For the teachers, it increased their perception of fairness and made them more self-critical of their classroom instruction. For the administrators, it enabled them to shift their observation work to quieter times of the day or week and resulted in reduced teacher defensiveness during post-observation conferences.

Other key findings from the report:

  • Teachers in the video group collected an average of 13 videos of their own lessons, even though they were only required to collect five videos;
  • Teachers in the video group rated themselves lower than those in the in-person observation group, particularly in the areas of time management and ability to assess student mastery during class;
  • Teachers in the video group reported they felt their supervisors were more supportive and the observation process fairer;
  • Administrators in the video group spent more time on observations and less time on paperwork than those conducting in-person observations; and
  • Although teachers had control over which videos they submitted for observations, administrators in the video group were still able to identify which teachers were struggling.

The researchers have released a freely available toolkit to help teachers and administrators who are interested in piloting video observations. The kit includes “advice and a suite of resources for leveraging video technology for teacher development, choosing the right technology for the classroom, and protecting the privacy of students and teachers,” according to information from CEPR.

The Best Foot Forward Project report and the Best Foot Forward Video Observation Toolkit can be found on the CEPR site.

About the Author

Leila Meyer is a technology writer based in British Columbia. She can be reached

School or Prison?

Education Secretary Duncan Combats School-to-Prison Pipeline

Duncan to urge states to find paths other than incarceration for people convicted of nonviolent crimes.

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, left, greets STEM Academy of Hollywood principal Paul Hirsch after a roundtable discussion at Family Source Center in Los Angeles Wednesday, March 19, 2014.

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan greets a Los Angeles-area principal last year. Duncan is slated to give a major speech aimed at curbing the school-to-prison pipeline Wednesday.

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​When Secretary of Education Arne Duncan headed the Chicago Public School system, he asked staffers there what time of day the most kids were being arrested.

He was looking to curb the number of students who were going to jail, and assumed an early intervention program would be needed after school let out, the time he assumed most students were running into trouble. ​

He was stunned to learn, however, that the majority of arrests were occurring during the school day, in the schools themselves.

“Those calls to the police, to put kids in jail? We were making them,” Duncan is expected to say in a speech Wednesday at the National Press Club. “We were responsible. We had met the enemy, and it was us.”

Today, schools refer a quarter of a million students to the police each year, according to the U.S. Department of Education, a majority of which are boys of color and students with disabilities.

In a major speech aimed at curbing the school-to-prison pipeline, Duncan is slated to urge states and local school districts to find paths other than incarceration for people convicted of nonviolent crimes, something that the department says could save upwards of $15 billion each year. Then, using that savings, increase the pay for teachers working in the country’s highest-need schools.

That’s enough funding, the Education Department estimated, that if each state focused on its schools with the highest poverty rates, it would be able to increase teacher salaries by at least 50 percent.

“I’ve long said great teachers deserve to be paid far more,” Duncan is set to say. “With a move like this, we’d not just make a bet on education over incarceration, we’d signal the beginning of a long-range effort to pay our nation’s teachers what they are worth.”

Another way states could use their savings that Duncan is expected to outline: Create five positions at each states’ highest poverty schools for accomplished teachers who would mentor their peers received in return $25,000 pay increases. That, the department estimated, would cost just a quarter of the $15 billion in savings.

Of course the department doesn’t have the authority to require states or local school districts to implement such changes, and it’s unclear what sort of carrots it has left, if any at this point in the twilight of the administration, to incentivize states to adopt those changes. Nonetheless, Duncan urged them to be more creative in how they deal with young people convicted of nonviolent crimes.

Stock image of students studying in a library.

“We cannot lay our incarceration crisis at the door of our schools,” Duncan plans to say. “But we have to do our part to end the school to prison pipeline.”

More than two-thirds of state prison inmates are high school dropouts, according to the department. And an African-American male between the ages of 20 and 24 without a high school diploma or GED has a higher chance of being imprisoned than of being employed.

Earlier this September, Duncan visited an Illinois prison where he met with several young men who were incarcerated for a variety of crimes they had committed in their childhood.

“Many of them told us that from an early age they had to take care of their families, lacked meaningful job options, and felt completely alone in a world where nobody seemed to care about or believe in them,” Duncan is expected to say. “Every day, as a society, we allow far too many young people to head down a road that ends in wasted potential. Sometimes, we are complicit in the journey.”

Creating additional support systems for disadvantaged students, especially for young men of color, and neighborhoods hampered by violence has been a major priority for the Obama administration. Through programs like My Brother’s Keeper and Promise Neighborhoods, the administration has tried to provide resources to cash-strapped school districts with overburdened social workers and other critical support staff.

Duncan’s announcement Wednesday comes as many under-resourced schools are relying more on police rather than teachers and administrators to maintain discipline, and a growing number of districts are employing school resource officers to patrol hallways.

Policy groups were slow to respond to Duncan’s proposal Wednesday, but several civil rights groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union have already been looking at ways to slow the school-to-prison pipeline through negotiating memorandums of understanding between local school districts and authorities.

Todd Cox, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, a left-leaning think-tank, agreed that lack of opportunity too often puts people on a path into the criminal justice system.

“It is critical that we make removing barriers to these opportunities a priority if we are going to ultimately stem the tide of mass incarceration,” he said.​