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Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Thinking Moves and Other Great Routines for Learning

We all know that learning doesn’t happen through the mere delivery of information or we would all be geniuses, after all information is coming at us a mile a minute these days.  Learning only occurs when we do something with that information.  For our students, that might mean that they can identify the parts, develop questions around, look at different perspectives, reason, make connections and synthesize explanations with the content they are given.

Thinking Moves
The people at Harvard’s Project Zero call these “thinking moves” and have demonstrated that they are the activities that lead to learning.  These folks have also substantiated what I have been saying all along “When kids have structures for learning, better learning emerges.” They assert that you can teach children learning routines, give them a repertoire of “thinking moves” from a very young age, that will deepen their qualitative and quantitative understanding of the world.  Learn more 
Sourced from:  The Cultures of Thinking Project at Project Zero Harvard Graduate School of Education
Now, that’s what I’m talking about!
Teaching kids how to think, connect and use the information that they are getting is the whole gist of any classroom.  So, what if you don’t get kids at a very young age?  What if they come to you without a repertoire of thinking moves?  Well, it is never too late to give them a “thinking routine” that can help them understand and clarify the issues, develop arguments, assess what is important and name what should happen next.  SCAN is the perfect thinking routine to introduce your middle school and above to a deeper understanding of the issues, regardless of the content area that you teach.  SCAN, explained in my last blog, is a simple thinking routine that is easy enough for adolescents to use and robust enough to be valuable for school leaders.

Bottom Line
Making good thinking processes routine for our students can help them become better learners and is giving them a tool that they can use for life.  Teaching kids how to think, not what to think, should be our ultimate goal. How do you promote thinking in your classroom?

BTW: Free Tech Tool gets them started
The SCAN online tool, a collaborative internet site due to go offline on June 30th, has got the SCAN critical thinking “routine” built into it.  With its engaging online discussion style and library with a variety of topics (plus you can write your own), it is a great way to get kids to develop that thinking routine and incorporate it into their daily lives and your daily lessons.  Check out this simple video to see how the free SCAN tool works.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Smart Thinking: Ideas and Resources to Drive them to Think

If you are a SCAN user, by now you have heard the bad news that the SCAN technology tool at TregoED is going offline in June.  The good news is that SCAN is more than an online tool, SCAN is a process for helping your kids be better thinkers.  You don’t need no stinkin’ computer for that!  Your brain is the best and most complex piece of technology you will ever own.  And just like any technology, you can always learn to use it better.

SCAN, simply put is an acronym for 4 questions that can help take a complex problem with different perspectives and break it down into manageable pieces:

1.        Stop and look at the situation….what are the most important issues? What are people concerned about?
2.       Clarify those issues – What do you mean by that?  When you ask a student to explain themselves you make them dig deeper than the facts.  What are the arguments for and against these issues?
3.       Ask what is most important.  Again, this step makes your students evaluate arguments and prioritize issues, a process that requires critical thinking.
4.       Now what?  The last step of this critical thinking strategy asks students to determine what should be done, synthesize a solution, make a plan. Use this graphic organizer to get them thinking with any scenario!

Drive them to think! 

So here are some recent hot topics (culled from and Newsela) that just beg for some SCAN critical thinking:
Do you think we should stop having Daylight Savings Time?
 Should Apple have to give the government the code to open their iphone?

Have students read the article, research a point of view, develop an argument, determine which issues are most important and devise a plan of action.  Let them work in groups, debate, collaborate and negotiate.  Check out this easy SCAN graphic organizer - smart thinking!

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Tech & UDL: Giving Students Voice and Choice

Teachers are faced with the challenge of meeting the needs, finding the spark, and moving a diverse group of students towards adulthood every day.  Designing your lessons so that they address all the different learning styles, strengths and weaknesses of our children seems like a daunting task. So how do we help every student succeed without being overwhelmed?  Universal Design for Learning (UDL) helps by providing a framework that breaks this task into manageable pieces.  Technology provides the resources and tools we need to design, deliver and assess those lessons. 

UDL is a framework that can help you design and plan accessible learning in your classroom.  Essentially, you examine your goals, materials, methods and assessments and provide a variety of options to make sure that everyone has equal access to learning.
CAST (Center for Applied Special Technology designers of UDL) proposes we do these 3 things to design lessons for all our kids:
1.       Present information (content) in different ways 
2.       Allow students to approach learning tasks (manipulate information) and demonstrate what they know (assessment) in different ways.
3.       Allow options that will engage students and keep them interested.

While you can certainly design a UDL lesson without technology, technology can help you find and organize great resources, to accomplish the challenging task of offering students voice and choice in the way they learn and the way they demonstrate that learning. Check out Karen Janowski’s comprehensive Wiki, the UDL Tech ToolKit with great tools for multiple means of presenting information, expressing learning and engaging students to help you remove the barriers for all learners.  Looking for more? Check out the resources in this livebinder, UDL Resources for Middle Schools

Implementation of the “Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA)” is right around the corner (Fall 2016). What better way to ensure that “Every student succeeds” than designing lessons that encompass the diversity of learning styles, interests and passions of our students.  

Friday, November 20, 2015

Not Yo Momma's Current Events: Use the news to get them thinking

 Watson Glaser Interview Report
In my never ending quest for Truth, Justice and the American way, oh wait, I mean teaching kids how to think, not what to think (which should lead to truth, justice and the American way), and to provide curriculum that is “challenging, exploratory, integrative (I had to look ‘integrative’ up, but now that I know what it means, I am in) and relevant,” I am always in search of great new resources and topics to get kids thinking and writing.
The focus of my search is to find hot topics that get kids to debate, collaborate and negotiate.  Using their natural enthusiasm for arguing, and the SCAN critical thinking strategy, my objectives are to:
1.      Make curriculum relevant by connecting standards to real world events
2.      Use the right questions to go beyond the standard who, what, where, when and why
3.      Provide great resources for finding kid-friendly articles
4.      Provide a tool that pulls 1-3 together and allows students to share their work globally (the SCAN tool at is free and does just that!)

Recently, I worked with a 6th grade class at the Mt. Olive Middle school and helped them develop their own topics for critical thinking (SCAN) scenarios.  SCAN is an acronym for four critical thinking questions that goes beyond the 5 W’s and can help students take apart complex problems, look at other perspectives and collaborate on viable solutions.  (Training our future world leaders – imagine if our leaders right now worked on some of the very serious and complex issues with a visible strategy and respect for different perspectives?  But I digress…..)

Lesson plan and resources to get them thinking
Groups of four students worked collaboratively on a template shared through google docs.  The template asks for a summary of the scenario, four different perspectives and short constructed paragraphs for each point of view.  While I was armed with some suggestions for hot topics in the news, they preferred topics that were closer to home! (Funny, I tried to steer some teachers this summer into doing a SCAN on The African Lion Hunt, and they, too, preferred to write their own on a topic close to home – Blizzard Bags –or Should Schools embrace Edays? Check the SCAN library for the lesson they wrote).

This was the plan:  
Copy this SCAN Lesson template in your google drive and share with the kids
1.      In groups of four, find a topic that people with different viewpoints were talking about.  This could be posed as a question (ex.  Should we have four day work weeks?)
2.      Identify four roles (stakeholders) with differing viewpoints.
3.      Together, write a short introductory paragraph for the scenario, including some of the viewpoints.
4.      Individually research a point of view, find evidence that supports it and record the link. (Sometimes, I provide articles, sometimes they have to find their own).
5.      Individually, write a short constructed response for each perspective.  Each perspective should include 3 issues or ideas that is important to them with supporting evidence or reasons.
6.      Provide links to articles that provide evidence or reasoning for that point of view.

Here are the topics that the students chose to research and write for SCAN lessons along with links you can provide to kids as informational text.  You can have your students work through the SCAN questions in an online discussion by setting up the lessons from the SCAN library, or have them write their own.
Should we have longer lunch?

Should we have recess in Middle School? 

Do we need a double period of Language Arts?

What should we do about our aging technology?
·         Technology Refresh

Should MS students be allowed to select their own schedules?

Highly motivated by the relevant topics and the knowledge that their work would be shared with me and the rest of the world through the SCAN tool’s library, the students worked diligently to complete their scenarios, which were then posted in the SCAN tool.  Why not have your students check out and evaluate their lessons?  Or better yet, challenge them to write their own?  Select topics in your subject area and get them writing and thinking!

Friday, October 2, 2015

You Can't Beat Real Face Time!

This morning on the news I saw a video, sure to go viral, of some college girls at a baseball game, each one so absorbed in their phones and taking selfies, not one looked up when the batter had a hit and the crowd roared! 
Looking up and around you, interacting with each other, smiling face-to-face, can enrich your life and improve your ability to reach your students, be they k-12, college or adult learners.  Last summer, I broadened my perspective by visiting classrooms in the slums of Zambia, this summer, I broadened my horizons by spending some quality time with quality educators. 
Real Face Time
I have to thank, ISTE,  NJPAECET2, and Boston CUE Rockstar Camp, NJAMLE Summer Skills Sharpening Event and of course my sponsor, TregoED for giving me the opportunity to share and grow this summer and fall, … but most of all, I have to thank those educators (check out some of my PLC- those involved in #njamle #njpaecet #cuerockstar #njed #edcampNJ) who dedicate their professional time (and a lot of their personal time) sharing so we can offer kids and colleagues the very best we have to give.

Bottom Line
Twitter is a great place to connect and share, but all the twitter chats in the world will never surpass working face to face with people.  Replacing semi-colons and parentheses with real smiles and eye contact activates mind and soul– just ask a dog.  In this day of political ridiculousness, fault finding and mounds of paperwork- gathering with lots of people that are passionate about their profession and the children they touch is rejuvenating, exhilarating, and challenges you to improve on what you do every day.

Head Out
These are just some of the upcoming free or cheap opportunities (these are in my area, but are being replicated all over the nation) to put your devices down and look each other in the eye. 
Conferences put on by professional organizations: 
Edscape, October 17, 2015
Teacher’s conventions:  NJEA Convention – Are you going?  Are you a Middle Level Educator?  Let’s do coffee!  Follow @njamle #coffeeEDU or visit or the NJAMLE table for details!
Edcamps:  EdcampNJ- keeps getting better every year!  Join us on November 21 at Jonathan Dayton High School in Springfield for a day of great conversations, networking opportunities and learning.
And easiest- Walk across the hall, you will be amazed at what your colleagues are doing!
Okay…. so this one is not face to face, but it is a great opportunity to connect in a unique way and learn:
Book Talks:  Edmodo Book Talk: 17,000 Classroom Visits Can't Be Wrong by Antonetti and Garver
The Edmodo Group code is 4thanw  Hosted by Brad Currie and Robert Mullen

Where will you get your next real “face time?”

Friday, August 21, 2015

5 Great Back-to-School Resources

Have you been in calendar denial all summer? Being prepared helps you feel better about your transition back to work.  Why not take a look at some of these great resources to give your students a jump start for a successful new year?

Did you know that when teachers greeted students at the door, on task behavior in the first ten minutes of class increased from 45% to 75%? (Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 2007).  Sounds like a great simple tip to start the year (or class) off! Greet them with a smile!

Plan A, B or C? Do what's best for your kids

1.      Love this list of 14 Things teachers should never do on the first day, not because I agree with them, but because I like to hear other perspectives! Ask the kids for their perspective and go from there.  (Sounds like a great SCAN lesson to me!)

2.       Larry Ferlazzo has put together a whole collection of Best Resources for Planning the First Days of School which includes everything from icebreakers to developing relationships.

3.       Speaking of developing relationships – How do you get off on the right foot Developing Relationships with Difficult Students?  Check out these four simple strategies to help you forge a positive teacher student relationship.

4.       These activities will help you learn more about your students and Help your Students start off with a Positive Mindset.

5.       NEA provides some great resources from classroom setup to working with parents in their Back to School Guide

The first days of schools are an exciting transition period for all of us!  Unlike your new back-to-school outfit – it costs nothing to get a new first day of school attitude that everyone will enjoy!  

Friday, May 8, 2015

May Days! Engaging Students to the Bitter End!

May Days! May Days! 
The most challenging part of the year has begun. Time to get creative!  I attended a webinar the other day by @aaronquigley where he mentioned Fishbowl Debates as a teaching strategy to get students engaged in problem based learning.  Fishbowl Debates turn out to be a great way to get kids thinking about different perspectives, an important part of any higher level thinking!

Fishbowl Debate Basics
So what is a Fishbowl Debate?  You arrange your seating in a circle with a small circle of 4-5 chairs in the center.  Assign different points of view to groups of students on issues or questions from history, the headlines, politics, novels, etc.  Each group discusses the question from their assigned perspective in the center of a circle.  After each group has shared, students can discuss the issues with peers from other groups.  Aaron’s adaptation “the deep dive” – had representatives from each point of view in the center and students on the outside researching support material and tagging in when they had something to say.  Check out some other great variations of this teaching strategy from the site Facing History and Ourselves.

Fishbowl Debate Resources
So how do you pick a topic for your debate?  Why not look to the headlines? is a great source of high interest articles offered in different reading Lexiles to differentiate for your students.  They also have great Pro/Con articles like “Are Federal Regulations needed for E cigarettes?” that provide an easy start to any debate. is also a great site that provides different perspectives on many hot topics.

Want to increase engagement and participation?  Hold an electronic Fishbowl debate.  Did you know the free SCAN tool at TregoED provides scenarios with questions and different perspectives that students can discuss in a private online discussion platform?  Included are links to articles or you can add your own.  Check out the latest lessons:  “Vaccines:  Should all School Children be Required to get Them?”  or “Should E Cigarettes be Regulated like Tobacco?”  (Both lessons use articles from that offers them in different reading levels.)  The SCAN tool has built in critical thinking questions to keep the conversation going.
Either way, high tech or low tech, teaching strategies that link to relevant and interesting topics, provide different points of view and encourage students to consider different points of view are a great way to get kids engaged and thinking any time of year!  
More ideas for the end of the year:

What activities have you found to keep them engaged and learning?  Please share!