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Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Quick Links to Help you Ward off Classroom Insanity (yours and theirs)

It’s that time again!  Vacation countdown has begun and with that, the corresponding chaos that occurs in all of our lives!  I have a recollection of years ago, kids coming in to class moaning “not another word search!”- one of the special holiday lesson treats we had in line for them!  Well, times have changed and there are lots of learning activities and opportunities to get their attention this last week of school!

Media Literacy
This is the best time of year to examine how toy ads influence children…why not watch some commercials with kids and dissect them.  Check out these lesson ideas and resources from Middle Web .
Speaking of media literacy – is now a good time to delve into the issue of fake news? 

Try these activities out!
Looking for Winter Holiday Lesson Plans and activities?  Try these from NEA.
Want to get their attention?  Watch this video about dividing your attention with your students…sure to amaze them. (Try it...takes just a couple of minutes).
See if your kids can identify these objects that have been magnified?  Can they take their own close up pictures to see if you can identify them?  Your perspective

Some quick links to share with kids to keep the learning going!
I just cannot get enough of the website “The Kids Should See This” – Smart Videos for Curious Minds of All Ages!  There are so many great categories – How things are made – Robots – Orchestras – Poop – something for everyone.  Let them pick a category, show the video and ask what they are curious about!

Take some deep breaths!

Take some time for yourself this holiday to laugh a little, read a juicy novel for fun, recharge with family and show gratitude (yup…apparently that is good for your health in 31 different ways!) 

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Top 5 Take-Aways for your MS Classroom

I’m one of the lucky ones.  I have been able to go to a couple of great national conferences over the years?  What makes them so great?  People!  Sharing!  More People! More Sharing!  Yup, you can do all that on social media, but how cool is it to meet those people you connect with on social media and not be limited by the amount of characters you can write?
When I do go, I am always on the lookout for creative ways to connect to kids and teach the standards.  Assuming that you might “want some of that”…I will share my top 5 takeaways of this year’s findings with you: 

1.       Got a kid who is intellectually curious?  Hook them up with a “Weekly dose of Curiosities and Puzzlements!”  Check out for some great resources to get them thinking! 

2.       Spaghetti Towers – you’ve probably been challenged to build a spaghetti tower in your lifetime.  Simple materials, design challenge, etc.  Who do you think are the most creative people working on this challenge?  Check out this Ted Talk to find out!  While accepting the challenge (and failing) during session at the conference, the leaders kept adding constraints like “oh no, you are now working with people who do not speak your language, no talking for the next 5 minutes).  Fun, challenging, team building, design work, STEM principles, etc.

3.       Always looking for new tools!  Check out the Student-driven Blended Learning Classroom presentation page from @Mr_Hallerman and @haydabeck to see some examples organized by use – Create tools, Save tool, etc.

4.       Play Like a Pirate – Yup Quinn Rollins (@jedikermit), Curriculum Specialist at Granite Public Schools uses toys to teach Language Arts, History, Science.  Using us as his model classroom, we did some really great things with Playdough and Toy Packaging – he has included lots of templates on the right side of his home page to get kids writing bibliographies, etc.  Good stuff…funny guy, engaging activities…even Dave Burgess himself was participating!

5.       And then there’s S.N.O.T.  – stuff not on the test (not the real name of her session but….) by Debbie Silver. Wow.  So much powerful stuff in this workshop, I invited her to come to speak to us directly.  Have you seen this video?  Pretty powerful statement to get you thinking about how screen time is taking away from our ability to connect in person.  Check it out.  Great advisory topic. Can we auto-correct humanity?  Or How about this video “There’s no Dishonor in having a Disability?”

Debbie’s workshop made me laugh, made me cry, gave me specific strategies and activities to connect to my kids and help them connect with the people aroud them.  Check out her books Deliberate Optimism (co-authored with Jack Berckmeyer) or Fall down 7 times Get up 8-Teaching Kids to Succeed.  Like a breath of fresh air, she will help you bring out the joy in your life and your teaching!  Come see her in person at the NJAMLE Annual Conference on March 

crossposted in Right in the Middle - the NJAMLE Blog

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Challenging Minds and Imaginations to the Bittersweet End!

It’s that time of year – a time when our children’s minds are most likely outside the great classroom doors.  Why not capitalize on that feeling and help them take a visual trip out into the world. Both you and your students could easily get lost exploring these great sites:

Want to get kids thinking and wondering?  
Try these sites to find all kinds of interesting videos that can launch a lesson or great discussion
 “The Kids Should See This – Smart videos for curious minds of all ages!” – Great videos “not made for kids, but perfect for kids” curated by Rion Nakaya and her children! 
Wonderopolis – What are you wondering? Explore a huge bank of questions posed by children or have your kids pose their own?  I searched for skin and found answers to Why do we have skin?  Why does your skin wrinkle in water?  Why do people have freckles?  Why do snakes shed their skin? And more! Have your students check out the wonder of the day or post their own wonders! Sign up and Ian Byrd sends you a “weekly dose of curiosities and puzzlements.”  This month’s links included:
1. Embroidery On Rackets- Love it! An embroidery project using tennis rackets in place of fabric.
2. 3 Earths! - Astronomers detected three Earth-sized planets orbiting a red dwarf star 40 light-years away. They may be habitable, and are targets for follow-up surveys.
3. Largest Dive Coaster - From Cedar Point, it’s Valravn, the roller coaster with the largest straight drop. From the safety of my kitchen table, that drop is pretty thrilling!
4. Building On Sand?-Reinforce loose dirt with some stiff material and it can hold a carform a freeway on-ramp, or be the wall of a building! Great engineering video.
5. Photos From Up High-Amazing photography of normal scenes from up high. Love the shipping containers!

Google takes you there
Thanks to Rich Kiker who shared all kinds of great
Google driven or related free adventures at the Garden State Summit - amazing for any age.
Tour a museum without leaving your room at the Google Cultural Institute

Do you remember playing where in the world is Carmen Sandiego?  Try this modern version called GeoGuesser game that incorporates Google maps with a game to guess the locations.

Google Cardboard – Got Google Cardboard?  The gizmo designed out of cardboard to work like the viewmasters of old! (I actually just ordered my viewer for free from a box of Frosted Flakes)  Download an app on your phone insert it into your cardboard and away you go on 3D adventures.  Check out these apps - New York Times VR and amazing expeditions!

Speaking of locations
You have got to check out these Google Street View Treks:
Petra – Explore the city carved out of stone.
Abbey Road Studios- Did you know the Harry Potter movies were made here?
Gombe, Tanzania – Explore the area where Jane Goodall’s research on apes is based.

While you’re at it, take a look at these apps.  Simply amazing!
Elements 4D – Part toy, part chemistry experiment….app
Anatomy 4D (note, must be 17 to download)

Take your mind on a visual vacation!  Let your kids follow their passions!  Explore all the coolness the web has to offer and keep them thinking!

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!