Parents and teachers are faced with a volcanic eruption of curriculum claiming to deliver the Common Core State [sic] Standards. Here’s a look at one coterie (check out the third meaning: a group of prairie dogs occupying a communal burrow) gathered under the Verizon Foundation umbrella. Verizon invites Partners to join them at Thinkfinity to bring “thousands” of Common Core standards-based lesson plans from “leading educational organizations” to teachers.

Click on Thinkfinity and faster than you can say “Bill Gates” (who did, after all pay for the development and promotion of the Common Core) you will have a lesson for middle graders on exciting verbs in “Hamlet” and a lesson plan on “Phonic Generalizations in Chrysanthemum” for the K-2 set.

The thing writing about education entrepreneurs is that you never have to make anything up to get a laugh.

But who’s laughing now? Chrysanthemum happens to be one of my favorite books-ever. More about this later. First, let’s look at what’s going on here.

First off, these lesson plans come with a Seal of Approval:

Seal of approval

All Verizon Thinkfinity content is endorsed by our content partners [emphasis added], the nation’s leading education organizations, who either develop or review each resource. Each of these organizations is a recognized leader in the specific discipline for which they create Thinkfinity content.

Wowser! Here’s this endorsement claim in greater specificity: 55,000 standards-based K-12 lesson plans, student materials, interactive tools and reference materials are reviewed by the nation’s leading education organizations to ensure that content is accurate, up-to-date, unbiased and appropriate for students.

Who are these partners who have developed or reviewed lessons such as verbs in “Hamlet” and phonics in Chrysanthemum and judged them “accurate, up-to-date, unbiased and appropriate for students?” You should take a careful look, as you are likely paying membership dues and sending off donations that aid and abet this operation.

Here’s how these partners are described at Thinkfinity, so we can assume it is a self-definition. Go to each Partner site, and will see a link to Thinkfinity. . . so website browsers will be driven to the Common Core lessons.

Verizon Thinkfinity Content Partners produce the program’s nine discipline-specific, standards-based Web sites. Each site includes lessons for teachers, activities to use in and out of the classroom, games for young children and teens, adult literacy resources and reference materials for anyone in the education field, as well as for parents and afterschool practitioners.

  • ArtsEdge
    Created by the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, ARTSEDGE provides resources and examples for teachers to teach in, through and about the arts. The site includes lesson plans, advocacy and professional development resources, and up-to-date information on arts programs from around the world.Extra Information: ArtsEdge is an education program of the Kennedy Center “with the support the U. S. Department of Education and Verizon Foundation.”
  • EconEdLink
    Developed by the Council for Economic Education, EconEdLink provides teachers and students with lessons and classroom learning activities based on economics topics in the news and real-time economics data. EconEdLink content is designed to help integrate economic concepts across the curriculum as outlined in the Voluntary National Content Standards in Economics.Extra Information: Harold (Terry) McGraw, III, Chairman Emeritus, Chairman, President & CEO The McGraw-Hill Companies is a lifetime Board Member.
  • EDSITEment
    Presented by the National Endowment for the Humanities, EDSITEment features lesson plans and additional classroom resources about art and culture, literature and language arts, foreign language, history and social studies. It also serves as a gateway to the best humanities sites on the Web and features a monthly theme-based teaching resource calendar.Extra Information: “Due to a very large number of submissions from authors wishing to work with EDSITEment as writers or reviewers,” EDSITEment has suspended their call for lesson plan writers/reviewers for 2012.
  • Illuminations
    Designed by The National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM), Illuminations is the comprehensive source for instruction and learning materials based on NCTM’s Principles and Standards for School Mathematics. The site makes math engaging, interesting and challenging through interactive applets, standards-based lesson plans and other teacher resources.
  • NG Education
    Developed by the National Geographic Society, the NG Education site brings geography,social studies, and science to life for educators, learners, and their families—in and out of the classroom. The free education resources at harness National Geographic’s iconic media, research, and exploration to support high quality, standards-based instruction and student-centered learning. The site features multimedia activities,photo and video galleries, a growing reference library, and interactive mapping and collaboration tools. This next-generation site replaces Xpeditions, which is now an archive.Extra Information: Education Foundation Board members include the founder of The McKenzie Group.
  • ReadWriteThink
    Developed by the International Reading Association (IRA) and the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE), ReadWriteThink provides educators and students with access to the highest quality practices and resources in reading and English language arts instruction. The site features standards-based lesson plans, interactive student materials and a dynamic literacy calendar.Extra Information: Here are the Advisors and the Content Review Board.
  • AAASS Netlinks
    Developed by the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Science NetLinks provides resources for K-12 teachers and students. The site includes lesson plans, interactives, hands-on activities and reviewed resources, all of which provide opportunities to bring science and technology discovery into the classroom. Science NetLinks resources are matched to Project 2061’s Benchmarks for Science Literacy.
  • History ExplorerDesigned and developed by the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History, the Smithsonian’s History Explorer is a gateway to innovative, standards-based online resources for teaching and learning American history. The site brings history to life through artifacts, primary sources and online tools for the classroom, afterschool activities and home.Extra Information: To deliver the standard of “understands national symbols through which American values and principles are expressed” students can make a pop-up American eagle Extra Information: Since 2009 the Smithsonian Institution has received $50,000,000 from the Bill and Melina Gates Foundation
  • Wonderopolis
    Developed by the National Center for Family Literacy (NCFL), Wonderopolis helps families discover the wonders of learning in everyday life. The daily Wonder of the Day feature offers bite-size bits of learning for families to explore together. With its question-and-answer format, the Wonder of the Day provides a nugget of information about the title question, suggests a family-friendly activity to extend the learning, and lists vocabulary words and additional resources to take the learning even further./li>

There’s a discussion board at Thinkfinity, and when a school administrator asked how to “add complexity” to reading instruction, someone at Edsitement! (National Endowment for the Humanities) offered a link to Vengeful Verbs in Hamlet, advertised as a lesson for middle graders.

Learning Objectives

  • Students will be able to identify and define the verbs Shakespeare uses to convey the meaning of the scene
  • Students will exchange the verbs from the scene and replace with more vivid and more generic ones to see how that changes intention of the scene
  • Student will be assess their ability to define vivid and generic verbs used by Shakespeare by solving a crossword puzzle

When I taught 7th and 8th graders, the Language Arts coordinator who was as sensitive as a turnip about the needs of children of any age, was in love with behavioral objectives. I refused to write my lesson plans in her required format, telling her to hell with all this Students will malarkey; the best a teacher can ever say is a student might. The Language Arts coorindator decided to turn over lesson plan checkoff duties to the principal.

The writer of this lesson says that the popularity of ghosts in the Harry Potter series offers inspiration for the teacher to present “Hamlet” as a ghost story.

The first time Hamlet sees his father’s ghost (Hamlet, act 1, scene 5, lines 13–31) is one of the most dramatic moments in theatre and a prime opportunity to teach the often dry and boring subject of verbs.

Through the ghost of Hamlet’s father, students receive an introduction to the language of Shakespeare in a context they can understand. In this lesson, they will learn to distinguish generic verbs from vivid verbs by working with selected lines in Hamlet’s Ghost scene. Students will then test their knowledge of verbs through a crossword interactive puzzle. In Hamlet’s own words: “the readiness is all.”

Learning Objectives

• Students will be able to identify and define the verbs Shakespeare uses to convey the meaning of the scene

• Students will exchange the verbs from the scene and replace with more vivid and more generic ones to see how that changes intention of the scene. . . .

Then students can move on to the crossword puzzle

There’s lots more. . . for those with a strong stomach.

Moving on to Phonic Generalizations in Chrysanthemum. As a reviewer noted, “If you were to single out the one picture book author that most successfully puts their finger on the pulse of children’s hopes and fears, the award for Greatest Long-Distance Therapist would go to none other than Kevin Henke.” I am not one to proclaim absolutely about literature but I state here absolutely and unequivocally, Kevin Henke did not write this beautiful book to teach young children about vowel pairs.

And I would suggest that anyone who is tempted to venture into this territory after readying Chrysanthemum should first read Dante’s Inferno, where he describes the seven degrees of hell. I recommend this one with bold illustrations by Barry Moser.


Students will

  • Learn how to look for the vowel pairs ow, ew, and aw in unknown words
  • Recognize the common and alternative sounds for ow, ew, and aw
  • Use context to determine which sound works in a word
  • Spell and read words containing these vowel pairs

Introductory session

1. Read aloud Chrysanthemum by Kevin Henkes.

2. After reading the book, remind students that Chrysanthemum was named after a flower and that every time Victoria said something bad about Chrysanthemum’s name, Mrs. Chud said, “Thank you for sharing that with us, Victoria. Now put your head down.”

3. Ask students what common sound they hear in the words flower, now, and down.

4. Using the overhead projector and overhead letter tiles, demonstrate the word now, explaining that the vowel combination ow often stands for the sound in now.

5. Distribute letter tiles or squares to individuals or pairs of students, and ask them to follow along with you through a few sample exercises. . . .

And on and on and on.

Just two lessons out of 55,000 available. Those with the heart for it can explore Thinkfinity for the other 54,998.

Remember, All Verizon Thinkfinity content is endorsed by our content partners [emphasis added], the nation’s leading education organizations, who either develop or review each resource. Each of these organizations is a recognized leader in the specific discipline for which they create Thinkfinity content.

Those of you paying dues to the National Council of Teachers of English and the International Reading Association may want to ask them to explain their endorsement.

Free advice to NCTE, IRA, and all of the rest of these education entrepreneurs: You need to issue disclaimer statements warning people to proceed at their own risk, not offer endorsements assuring people that you have examined and approved these lessons as appropriate.