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Friday, December 30, 2011

Simple Ways to Exemplify Good Character

Sometimes people fear technology because they say that we need more face-to-face time, more personal contact time, etc.   Kids need to learn how to interact with each other in both worlds.  Skills that you teach them, such as communication and collaboration, are equally important in the physical and the virtual classroom.  Creating a safe and caring environment through mutual respect is also the basis of any classroom.  But what does that look like?

The Caring Environment
Do you have to be a child psychologist and delve into their personal lives?   Do we need to take the time to teach character?   Do you have to share details of your personal life in order to prove yourself human?  The fact is that we are always teaching – as parents, as adults, as educators.  As Barry Schwartz points out in his TED talk on practical wisdom, “the camera is always on.”  We have to do more than recognize and address bullying; we have to embody good character.  What does that look like in the classroom?
I have had the opportunity to teach with all kinds of top-notch characters in my 33 years.  I love the diversity of style, personality, and instruction that each of us brings to the classroom.  When it comes to demonstrating and earning respect, one colleague stands out.  This person was passionate about American history.  She was tough and had very high standards. Many students were shocked to earn their first C ever in social studies.  There were never any discipline problems or behavior nonsense coming out of her class.  I remember there was always a line of concerned parents to see her at conference time.    What I also remember is that when there were former students in the building, they always wanted to go see her! 

What was her secret? 
Was she giving out candy?  How could she be so tough and yet command such high respect and admiration?  Why did they like her and her class so much?  Then I started to notice, she did the little things.  She greeted every one of her students by name at the door.  She knew their names on the second day of class.  She was passionate about her teaching.  She showed them that she cared:  she cared about them both as individuals and cared about their education. She made them feel that the 40 minutes she had with them was the most urgent 40 minutes of the day.  Her time and their time with her were very valuable.  Her enthusiasm and refusal to get sucked into nonsense that takes away from learning was catching.    Students rarely left her class, not because they were not allowed, but because she made them feel it was too important to miss.

What Can You Do?
I know that there was a lot more learning going on in that classroom than the objectives written on the board.   Could it be that simple?  Could these simple demonstrations of character, caring and a passion for what you are teaching make such a difference?  It sure seems like a good start.  What better way to begin a New Year?
cross posted on Technology Integration in Education

Friday, December 23, 2011

Discussing Discussions

As an old dog, always looking for a new trick, technology has taken on a large role in my professional development.  Beyond the faculty room and my colleagues, workshops, blogs, classroom, and webinars, this year I have discovered the discussion group to be one of the most valuable tools in my professional development tool box.  While I shied away from being involved in the original discussion groups on listservs, email groups that focused on one subject area, I have discovered that there are many online discussion groups full of great educators with all kinds of expertise, just waiting to give you advice and support at the click of the mouse.   Most recently, educators in the Teaching Writing Forum on the English Companion Ning had a great discussion centered on Problem Based Research.  All it took was a simple question – Have you done this?  How does it work? - to let the learning begin.  The input on this conversation ranged from great idea starters, mechanics, critical thinking strategies, to assessment.  Beyond the discussion forum, groups form around common interests and you can sort them by most active, etc.  What a great way to share ideas and resources!  In this community alone, there are 46 groups ranging from “Free to Educators” to “Collaborative Projects.”   Some of the other communities where I have found supportive, creative, active, and practical groups are the ISTE Community Ning,, and LinkedIn.   Check them out!  Find a group and get in on the action.  You will find the feedback and creativity of these collaborative groups to be invaluable in professional growth as you do not have to reinvent the wheel.  Why not take advantage of the free advice of your colleagues and share some of your own?  Hmmmm...maybe I should start a discussion group on discussion groups!  What's your favorite?

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Ripped from the Headlines

How do we keep our lessons relevant and rigorous?  Use information ripped from the headlines and a critical thinking strategy. 
Some of the best lessons are ones that apply the skills we are teaching to relevant scenarios.  Just looking at the headlines for today, I can see at least 10 engaging complex situations that students could use to practice their problem solving skills.  Current events can and should be used to increase our student’s exposure to informational text across the disciplines, as required in the common core.
 Today’s headlines include obvious connections with science, social studies and language arts curricula.  Quick discussions in science can come from posing questions that will apply scientific principals and environmental issues to the news – Should we have a bear hunt to control populations? Should parents opt out of children’s vaccinations?   Should raw milk be legal?  Who is responsible for paying for flood damage?  Should fracking be allowed? 
In social studies, current events can be used to look at current laws, cultural diversity, and society -What are the criminal charges resulting from a suicide in connection with cyberbullying?  Should Egypt ban the drinking of alcohol, bikinis and mixed bathing for tourists? Should local police in Arizona help enforce immigration laws? Should we change marriage licensing laws to take advantage of wedding tourism?  What can be done to decrease the amount of homeless children? Should people be able to bet from their computers or cell phones? Each of these news items give perspectives on complex issues that ask our students to think beyond just facts. 
 Language arts teachers are given the daunting task of keeping our students engaged in reading and writing everyday.  All of these current events can be used in the language arts classroom to increase reading and comprehension of informational texts.  Using the SCAN critical thinking strategy rather than the usual: who, what, where, when, how, and why, students will not only gain a deeper understanding of the problem but they can take their thinking one step further and propose their own solutions.
Using the SCAN strategy is easy (SCAN-See the issues, Clarify the issues, Ask yourself what’s important, and Now, what should be done?).  You can provide a simple, relevant lesson by having students read the article,highlight or research perspectives (from the article or other sources), brainstorm the issues, clarify the issues, determine what is most important and propose what should be done.   
Check out this great article about a school policy on cell phones.  The article includes points of view from board members, the board attorney, students and parents.  There are also some great opinions expressed in the comment section! 
To use SCAN with “no tech,” have students read a hard copy of the article, put them in groups to represent a point of view and discuss the issues. They can record their issues on paper or on poster sheets.   Jigsaw students so that each point of view is represented in a group and have them clarify their issues, determine which issues are most important by voting with dots from different color markers on the issue lists. Have students work together to determine what action should be taken.  A simple article is the basis of a simple lesson that includes active reading, critical thinking, collaboration, and relevant content! 
Go high tech and have students discuss the issues online through the SCAN online tool.  The lesson is free through this month.  Simply go to, (register-it’s free), and set up the lesson through your dashboard, print out a student worksheet, give students the url and they will be guided through the SCAN process online!
Either way, combining current events and critical thinking is a simple way to bring rigor and relevance to your classroom!

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Bill of Rights 2.0

Does the Bill of Rights need to “catch up with the times?”  How does the Bill of Rights, written 200 years before Facebook and Twitter, apply to the digital age?
December 15th is the day that the Bill of Rights was ratified in 1791.  This is a great day for us all to examine whether or not the document is still relevant today.  Do your students know their (Bill of) rights?  Use these teen-related current events to get your students reading, writing, discussing, and understanding how the Bill of Rights applies to them .

Can they do that?  Use these links to get the conversation going.
A teenage girl tweets her 60 followers about her impressions of the Governor (with some expletives).  The governor calls her principal.  Should she be disciplined?   See news clips on Youtube

A 21 year old male vents about having his car towed by creating a Facebook group page against the towing company.  Can he be sued for defamation

A high school senior posts a parody of his principal by creating a fake Myspace page.  Should he be suspended? 

Other Resources to use with Students
Check out these resources for other games, lessons and activities to celebrate Bill of Rights Day:
In response to a parent call to the school, all lockers are searched.  Now one student is suspended for having his Boy Scout knife in his coat pocket.  Should he be punished?  Have students discuss this FREE SCAN lesson “Locker Search and the Fourth Amendment” from different perspectives.  Set up the lesson for your private online discussion at
Smartboard lesson:
Games and Lessons:
Freedom of Tweets lesson
Technology has changed our way of communicating and has made reaching the masses very easy.  Our students should be aware of what protections they have under our Bill of Rights AND should think about what, if any, changes should be made to meet the needs of this new digital age.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Want kids to think historically? Go to the Source!

   When trying to get students to think critically about historical events, what better place to start than primary sources?  As the new Common Core Standards call for increased reading of challenging informational texts in a range of subject areas, teachers will be looking for easy access to primary documents and strategies to help our student’s comprehension of this type of reading.   Simple strategies that ask questions of our students help to guide and document their thinking.
The Library of Congress ( provides sets of primary sources.   They also provide a “Teacher’s Guide and student worksheet ( with a strategy for helping our students think critically while using the documents.  The strategy is based on questions that will have students observe, reflect, and question.  
Thanks to Jennifer Hanson, Marcy Prager, and Ann Marie Gleeson from for sharing a number of wonderful links to primary documents, resource guides, articles and teaching strategies at their workshop at the recent NCSS Annual Conference.  PrimarySource also provides a series of questions and a student worksheet to guide critical thinking on informational texts. Their Primary Source Analysis worksheet provides questions to determine the what, when, who, why, and questions students may have.   They also provide classroom-ready activities for students on their site as well as great links to sites that provide primary sources.
TregoED provides a critical thinking strategy and online discussion tool that takes student thinking one step further.  The SCAN online discussion tool at allows teachers to link primary sources to lessons help students learn and appreciate point of view.  Students determine the issues that are important to each point of view represented, collaborate and analyze the actions that were taken and discuss possible alternatives to gain a deeper understanding of the event.  Students begin to think historically as they work through the questions from the SCAN critical thinking strategy (See the issues, Clarify the Issues, Ask What’s Important, and Now, what’s next?) on such events as the Boston Tea Party, Manifest Destiny, or the Patriot Act. 
Primary documents are a great way to increase student reading and comprehension of informational texts.  For links to more resources for primary documents, check out the resource tab in this livebinder.

Monday, November 28, 2011

6 New Ways to Look at Pearl Harbor

“Successful problem solvers are the ones that can look at a problem from a new angle, consider alternate points of views and deal with several sources of information all at once.”  (Habits of Mind # 4 - Think flexibly.)  Why not take a look at these resources and use the power of personal accounts and different perspectives on Pearl Harbor to help your students practice flexible thinking.
#1.  Visit this site to provide a wide range of perspectives from personal accounts to maps and photographs to establish the logistics of the attack on Pearl Harbor.
#2 Consider why the Japanese would want to attack the US consider why the Japanese would want to attach the US
#3 Have students look at these primary documents, oral histories and survivor accounts and describe the perspective of the writer.
#4 – Compare text book accounts between a Japanese text book and their own. -Activity 2
#5 – Look at different perspectives from eyewitness accounts. 
#6 – Try the free lesson “A New Approach to Remembering Pearl Harbor” using the SCAN tool at .  Register (it’s free) and set up the lesson, send students to the unique url to help them understand the merits of looking at history from all perspectives as they discuss the new visitor’s center at Pearl Harbor featuring the Japanese perspective.  Based on this article -

Friday, November 18, 2011

Is technology ruining our students’ ability to think?

After spending lunch with some colleagues and lamenting over our parents’ increasing frustration with dementia, I cannot think of anything to be more thankful for than the ability to think clearly.  I am following all of the recommendations for hanging onto my mind (doing Sudoku, reading two books at a time, etc.) as my children have pointed out numerous times that I am losing it.  This got me to thinking about thinking (habit of mind #5)-is it a use it or lose it proposition?  Will “there’s an app for that” take the place of problem solving for our students?  How can we use all these wonderful tools and resources to increase our student’s capabilities rather than just teach content and measure their innate abilities?  Let’s take a look at the first three habits of mind that Arthur Costa described in “Describing 16 Habits of Mind”:  persistence, managing impulsivity, and listening to others with understanding and empathy and “respond with wonderment and awe” (habit # 12) at how integrating technology in the classroom can help us build these habits into their lives. 
Persistence, “sticking to a task until it is completed,” is a habit that many students could use practice with.  Is it that they just “give up” because they do not have the ambition to proceed further?  Or is it that they just do not know how to proceed further?  Have simple tools, like Google or Siri made it too easy to get an answer?  Opening our students’ eyes to a variety of resources, problem solving and research skills beyond a simple Google search is a great way to help them develop persistence. 
The second habit, managing impulsivity, or “jumping to conclusions” is often demonstrated by students who shout out answers or think before they act.  Just providing wait time before students can raise their hands or insisting that students read comments over carefully before hitting send can go a long way in helping them manage simple impulsivity.  Students need to be asked to “stop and think” and “clarify” what they mean (the first two steps of the SCAN critical thinking strategy), when they enter into a discussion, either online or in the classroom.
Listening skills have been at the top of teachers’ wish lists for a long time.  They are needed even more desperately now as we bombard each other with messages at lightning speed.  In many cases, listening carefully is now increasingly transformed into reading carefully.  Either way, our students need to practice this communication skill.  Using web 2.0 tools gives us a great opportunity to reinforce, monitor, and moderate discussions and consciously work these “habits” into our students’ daily lives. 
Web 2.0 technology gives us the chance to re-open the discussion on classroom discussions.  Students learned the basic rules of classroom discussion in kindergarten. Moving the classroom discussion to the internet allows us to moderate and reinforce those rules and practice in a new venue. Why not work in some good “habits of mind?”

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Teaching our Students to Argue

It may seem that in this land where bullying has become a crime, we are trying to eliminate arguing from our classrooms.  On the contrary, it is more important than ever to bring arguing into the classroom and teach our students how to deal appropriately with different points of view.  Certainly we should not be leaving it up to the media to model arguing.  It is crucial that we not only model good arguing, but teach it as well.   The art of arguing incorporates many higher level thinking skills.  It is time for us to hold our own “rally to restore sanity” in our classrooms (to borrow from John Stewart) and teach our students civil discourse.    We need to take debate and persuasive writing out of isolation and practice them regularly in all content areas. 
Online discussions are a great way to learn the practice of “arguing” or persuasive writing.  I think it is important that we give our students a jump start with the rules of netiquette before they jump in.  Our students have been taught throughout their education many rules that apply to our classroom discussions (raise your hand, listen to others, be polite, etc).  Can the same be said for rules for online discussions (be polite, don’t use all caps, remember the person behind the avatar, etc)?  Unfortunately, our students often think that their internet spaces are places devoid of adults or rules.  We are increasingly finding that “arguments” and discussions that start out online are spilling over into our schools and classrooms.  We need to be proactive and teach them that althought they do not always have to agree, there are similar rules for online discussions that will result in polite and respectful conversations.
Modeling, practicing and monitoring online classroom discussions is a great place to start.  There are some great resources for online discussion rules like “Interact with Tact” from or “guidelines for discussion” or the “Dos and Don’ts of Online Student Communication from Collaborize Classroom.  This features great sentence openers for when students don’t agree, such as “Rebecca’s comment made me think about….” Or “Although Zach made a strong point that__________, I think….” Or “I respectfully disagree with Lawrence’s assertion….”  I have students use the SCAN tool from which offers rotating free lessons and has students role play different perspectives on hot topics such as “Should we allow students to bring cell phones to school?” to practice their persuasive writing and online netiquette skills.  It is a great way to get all students engaged in the discussion and practice their online communication skills. How do you teach the great art of arguing in your classroom?

Friday, November 4, 2011

Do We Idolize Technology?

Based on a NY Times article about a school in Silicon Valley that has banned technology in favor of books and hands-on experiences, one of the questions asked in an Education Week forum was “Does Technology Inhibit Deeper Learning?”  There is no doubt in my mind that using technology can be likened to eating cocoa puffs.  Kids love it, but in and of itself, it does not have much nutritional value. Technology is no different than any other tool in education it is how you use it that determines the depth of learning. We could certainly ask, “Does paper inhibit deeper learning?” It seems to when it is used as a worksheet full of lower level questions.  Just like any other tool, it is not technology that inhibits or deepens learning, it is what you do with the technology that elevates your activities into the D quadrant-bringing both rigor and relevance into your lessons.  The internet and technology 2.0 tools can be used to encourage thinking, synthesis, writing, and building a deeper understanding by creating activities that develop those skills.  To stick with the coco puffs analogy, some technology tools have been fortified with vitamins and whole grains, like the SCAN tool that has built in higher level questioning, and some technology teachers will need to fortify the activities themselves with tools like 
Do we idolize technology? 
One statement in the deeper learning debate declared that we tend to “idolize technology.”  Do we think that just using technology will help prepare our students for the 21st century?   Have we put the purchase of technology for technology's sake as first in our school budgets?  I would like to think that we consider our learning objectives and select and purchase the best tools for the job.  I do not believe that technology should replace hands-on activities. It is far more valuable for students to build a robot, than to simulate the building of one or to look through an actual microscope at their own cheek cells rather than find a jpg on Google.  I don’t think the choice should be between science equipment or computers.  I would hope that we could see the value of both in the science room. There is no doubt that there are some who idolize technology, but the majority of classroom teachers seek to select and provide engaging and thoughtful activities for their students, be it with technology or with good old fashioned pond water.   It would be nice to have both available!

Friday, October 28, 2011

6 Election Day Activities and Resources for your Classroom

Election time is the perfect time to put critical thinking skills to work.  What a great way to demonstrate how to organize your thinking around a complex issue.  There are lots of resources out there to help you get students thinking and writing around Election Day.
Why not start with helping kids identify the key issues?  This first step in the SCAN critical thinking strategy is a great way to start chunking the huge amount of information surrounding our elections.  Check out this election day lesson plan “What are the Important Issues?” from  The lesson help students identify the issues and vote on which ones they think are most important. 
Follow up that lesson with the free “Election Issues” lesson at  This lesson has students representing special interest groups (tax reform, healthcare, environment, and jobs) in a discussion about what the most important issues are in the upcoming elections.  Just register and set up the free lesson from your dashboard.
Why Vote?  This page from has all sorts of lessons to teach about why voting is important, political cartoons, political parties, etc.   
Looking for some writing ideas?  How about this unit built around elections using
How about a lesson on how technology has affected our elections for the campaign to the voting booth? This lesson explores the effect of technology on political campaigns.  Covering the Campaign Trail:  Technological Progress or Temporary Chaos?"
Technology will also affect our experience at the voting booth.  In the not-to-distant future, our students may soon be voting from their phones. Students can read this article from Science Daily and write a response including benefits and drawbacks of mobile voting.  Have them practice using short constructed responses to SCAN questions (What are the issues?  Clarify the issues.  Assess what is most important.  Name next steps-what should be done?).
Our students are inundated with political debates,issues, and advertisements; get them in on the action!

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Online Discussions: Trick or Treat?

I love Halloween!  There is something about wearing a costume that is fun and liberating!  Who does not love to pretend to be someone or something else for a night?  I guess that is the appeal for many when they choose to represent themselves as someone else online. 

We often hear of the negative aspects of children using online discussion formats.  Hiding behind screen names is often the impetus behind cyber-bullying, etc.  However, using screen names and avatars in online discussions may also be the impetus for our students to get engaged in class discussions.  Guiding conversations, monitoring input and documenting transcripts of discussions can provide the supervision you need to eliminate the risks of using this format with your students.
Classroom discussions are usually dominated by a few “alpha” students who are eager to participate.  We can all envision those students, hands stretched high, waving fingers, literally or figuratively saying “ooo, ooo, pick me, pick me.”  How do you get that student who is desperately trying to NOT make eye contact with you or anyone else in the classroom involved in the conversation?  Social media may be the answer. 
I have seen web 2.0 tools such as, and the SCAN tool at TregoED  transform students from reluctant participants to vigorous commentators.  Online tools offer students a platform that they are familiar and comfortable with and give students a voice that is heard with equal merit to the rest.
Properly supervised, social media can help us get all kids in on the conversation and allow them to practice the skills they need to carry over to those times when their conversations are not monitored.  My experience has been that the benefits of online classroom discussion outweigh the risks.  What has your experience been?

Monday, October 10, 2011

What's stopping you? Top 5 obstacles in our classrooms.

I was lucky, I got to go to a lot of conferences, had a flexible curriculum, had my own computer lab with my own network that I was the administrator of and had less pressure than the top four content areas.  I tried and integrated lots of technology and online tools in my classroom and shared with anyone that would listen.  However, not everyone was so lucky, even in the same building.  I set out to find out what the obstacles were to integrating some great technology tools.  Here are the top 5 in my neighborhood:
1.       Content.  You might have a great tool to share with lots of great opportunities but if teachers do not see how the tool fits in with the content that they teaching at the moment, they hesitate to spend time on it or forget about it when it does fit in. They do not want to use technology just for technologies’ sake.  It should not be a stretch.
2.       Signal.  Wifi is not always dependable in schools.  Certain classrooms get no signal, within classrooms there are dead spots.  We have had to have students all sit on one side of the room or go to the board to connect and then go back to their seat.  There are very few spots in our 10 year old state of the art middle school where you can even get a cell phone signal. 
3.       Getting started.  By the time the students get the computers off the cart, start them up (slow in some places) and log in (where are their passwords?), you may have lost valuable instruction time and their interest.  AND you need to have time to debrief and have students log out and put them back on the cart!  Sometimes sites require logging in and registration just to add to the fun.
4.       Access.  We have multiple carts of wireless (see number one) computers, a media center lab, 2 computer labs (open at various class periods) and a small CAD lab.  You have to sign up early and often to get the computers.  There are whole blocks of time when whole labs are out of circulation because they are reserved for various and sundry class “diagnostic tests” – ex. Learnia, etc.  Classes may be too big to have one-on-one even in the labs. 
5.       Risky.  You get the computers, get the kids logged in, have them sitting on the side of the room with the signal and when the kids get to the website that you tried at home it does not work the same as in school.  Or you are worried that the students are going to go off on their own and get into some kind of trouble. Or you just are not as confident using the new tool as using your old tools.  It can be scary to be in front of a class risking total failure.

What's stopping you? What obstacles do teachers have in your place?  What do you do to work around these?

Friday, September 23, 2011

Celebrate the Freedom to Read: Use Banned Books Week to Get Them Thinking!

Are your students’ favorite books on the list?  Celebrate the freedom to read by celebrating Banned Books Week!  Have students take a look at the top 10 challenged or banned book list for 2010 list to see if they have read any of the books.  Students will see some of their favorite series – Twilight, The Hunger Games, Harry Potter- on the list of banned and challenged books.  How do they feel about banning these books from the school library? Have them go to this great google map  (found through Richard Byrne’s Free Technology for Teachers blog) that pinpoints banned or challenged books in their state!  Tie it all together with a guided online discussion with your class using the TregoED SCAN tool and the free lesson “Book Banning and the First Amendment.”  (Free until Oct 1, 2011) Students will use the built in problem solving strategy to increase understanding, recognize point of view and develop reasoned solutions to book banning. TregoED is offering a free webinar on September 27th to get you started. 
Extend this lesson further by discussing banned websites! There are plenty of websites that are blocked from schools.  Is this necessary?  Who should get to decide what is appropriate and what is not for our students?

Friday, September 16, 2011

Linking Literature, Bullying and Critical Thinking

Bullying has been around for a long time.  I just finished reading Lord of the Flies (published in 1954 and my first library iPOD download) and was thinking about Piggy, the poor boy, who was overweight, wore glasses and had asthma- a stereotypical character, ripe for bullying.  Despite the fact that he was the best thinker of the boys, he was ignored and belittled, and (spoiler alert) eventually killed.  As I said, bullying has been around for a long time.   Why do we now need laws to protect kids?  For one thing, bullying can go viral now; it can follow you into the bus, the playground, halls, classroom and then right into your bedroom at home.  Thanks to our communication networks, for some there is no escape.  It is too easy to “share” gossip, pictures, and comments with friends, neighbors, countrymen (and women) and in fact, the world.  We as educators are now being told that we need to develop policies and training, increase supervising and enforcement, intervene and educate.
While most school districts are taking care of the nuts and bolts at the administrative level, teachers are looking for ways to teach this in a meaningful way.   Giving students a strategy to “SCAN” a problem (See the issues, Clarify them, Ask what is important, and Name next steps) such as bullying is a great way to help them deal with complex situations when they arise in their lives. The FREE lesson – School Violence:  Jake-Victim or Threat at allows kids to look at a bullying situation from four different perspectives.  What better way to develop empathy, than to have them step into someone else’s shoes and work together to find a solution to this dilemma? 
You can use the SCAN strategy with or without technology, using the four steps to guide discussion on solving problems from different character perspectives presented in literature.  The engaging SCAN online tool can increase student participation in the lesson as they are guided through the steps in a discussion platform that they love.  This is an authentic and relevant way to teach standards of proper online discussion techniques, empathy and a critical thinking strategy.  You can even enrich lessons with links and resources to deliver increased content - all free. 
Register for a free SCAN subscription which will give you access to a wide array of lessons covering bullying topics – such as teasing, cyber-bullying, Facebook and privacy, etc (as well as current events, social studies, health issues, etc.)  You can even post your own lessons, or have students write them, directly tied to your curriculum.  Imagine the power of students writing bullying perspectives from the points of view of the characters in novels like The Outsiders or Lord of the Flies, posting them in the tool and then using the SCAN strategy to develop solutions to the problems!

Thursday, September 8, 2011

New Year's Resolutions-organize those links!

A friend of mine just posted a picture of new sharpies on FB with the comment “I love a fresh supply of Sharpies.”  She was unpacking her supplies for the school year and even after 10 plus years was excited about a new beginning.  Many others have posted that they have set up their classrooms and are ready to go.  Kids and adults alike all face a new school year with anticipation- new  supplies, fall clothes and new resolutions.  I always started out with a bunch of “this year, I am going to….” dreams.  I usually had visions of staying organized or at least making it look like I was organized.  I have a tendency to cover flat surfaces in my own organized fashion, but I digress.  This time around, I am trying to organize my resources.   Check out this list of eighty online tools, references and resources.  Although eighty of anything can be overwhelming, and it is nice to have these links all in one place but how could I organize them?  Or how could I consolidate them with my other resources?   I really like using Livebinders because your links are organized just like a binder with a working page embedded in the binder.   You can start different binders for different topics and give kids a URL to get there (no emails necessary!).  I have also just started my own Delicious bookmarking site and am trying to learn the fine art of tagging to keep them organized.  I would like one of those tv shows to come in and give my virtual closet of resources a makeover!  Any other suggestions?

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

10 Great Resources for 9/11 Activities

In less than 2 weeks, we will commemorate the 10th Anniversary of September 11, 2001.  Most of us remember the day, where we were when we heard, etc.  However, many of our students were not even born yet.  What lessons do we want them to learn from that event?  There are a number of angles that you can take to and a number of resources available.  Here are some great links:
  1.  September 11th gives us a wonderful opportunity to talk about religious tolerance. You can find a whole series of useful lessons at Teach Tolerance . 
  2.  The  Social Science Docket from the NY/NJ State Councils for the Social Studies has DBQ’s, interdisciplinary lessons on US Response, National Memorial, popular music, terrorism, etc.
  3.  Take a look at how events of 9/11 have affected American civil liberties using lessons from the Bill of Rights Institute
  4.  Focus on the positive character traits of the rescuers and heroes of 9/11 with this lesson on civic values.
  5.  You’ll find a series of graphic organizers that focus on the evolution of terrorism and the response to it from 
  6. A free great activity with kids gathering on oral history first hand can be found at Choices.
  7. Look at our response to September 11 using this PowerPoint of Political Cartoons
  8.  There are lots of resources at Teacher’s HUB  including video writing prompts, science connections, and a teacher’s discussion guide.
  9. Get kids talking this free lesson from the SCAN library at TregoEDPatriot Act:  Security or Freedom
  10. Bring out the arts using this lesson from Teacher Planet focusing on poems and painting.
While our students will not get the same “kick in the gut” feeling that witnesses had that day it is important for them to understand the lessons that we can glean from such a horrific event.  Use this opportunity to teach them empathy, tolerance, and the importance of our rights and freedoms.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Why can't we be friends?

There has been a lot of discussion in the wake of the new law in Missouri which bans teachers from "exclusive” interaction between teachers and students on Facebook both positive and negative.   (Click here for video.) Some praise the law as making the internet a safer place for our children, while others criticize that it brands all teachers as sexual predators.  I know there are lots of teachers doing great things and making great connections with students using social networking and also understand that there is a line.  I can very clearly remember my first principal (in 1977 before social networks) telling us that we should not be “friends” with our students-they have plenty.  I also am aware that there are plenty of things that go on in our students’ lives that we are unaware of and we might better be able to make connections with them by understanding the whole child.   With that, as a long time union president, I have seen that mixing your social life with your professional life can be risky.  Teachers’ behaviors are held to a very high standard, most students are shocked to even see us at the grocery store.  Does Google+ make it easier for us to keep our social lives separate from our professional lives by allowing us to create circles?  Are laws such as this really necessary?  How will these laws be enforced, will all teachers’ online social accounts be scrutinized?  I would like to get my students to do some critical thinking about these issues.  I am interested in gathering all stakeholders' perspectives – students, parents, teachers and concerned citizens to help them create some viable solutions.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Great Summer Reading

Read two great books this summer that really got me thinking about the way we view our students.  Room by Emma Donoghue really made me think about how each child, teacher and parent views the world from their own perspective that should be considered when you are trying to work through problems together.   The Glass Castle a book by and about Jeanette Walls made me wonder if any of my students do not have food to eat or a place to sleep.  Some of our students come with such baggage that we are not often privy to.  I think that developing empathy and seeing other perspectives are key elements to good teaching. 

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Does Spelling Count?

Does spelling count?  That used to be the big question.  What students meant was “will you be taking off points for misspelled words?”  While using technology in class now, the question is essentially, “do we have to spell words right on purpose?”  I frequently use an online discussion tool.  Many students use text speak and emoticons whenever they are using an online tool in their personal lives, be it social media or mobile.  Students have learned a variety of ways to make their words become their voice, including emoticons, CAPITAL LETTERS, and lots of punctuation!!!!!!  Some teachers allow that style of writing while using online discussion tools because it increases their excitement and engagement with the tool, freeing them to “learn the way they live,”    Other educators feel that if you are using the tool for a class students should be practicing proper writing skills at all times, including spelling, sentence structure, punctuation, etc. What do you think?  Does digital writing count?

Summer school and technology

This recent article in Edweek addresses the fact that quality teacher’s need to be recruited for summer school work.  Quality teachers have quality ideas and methods.  Technology is a great hook for some of our reluctant learners and it seems to me that it should be more accessible (less competition) for teachers in the summer school programs.  However, I have this vision that technology may be essentiallly turned off during the summer months as computers get updated, re-imaged and stored away.  I also fear that some summer school teachers may not plan on using technology because they may think they are not working with responsible kids, making it a risky lesson for them.  What a missed opportunity!

Should it be legal for middle school kids to use Facebook?

When I asked a group of 7th graders how many of them had a Facebook page, more than half their hands went up.  When I asked how many of them were 13 or older, there were far fewer hands.  I had my students watch this video and use this new scenario:  “Should middle school students be allowed to use Facebook?” on the SCAN tool at TregoED.    I am using this as a prompt for a persuasive essay.  We could use your other points of view!

ISTE Keynote Highlights- what does the brain have to do with thinking/learning?

Great presentation by Dr. John J. Medina, molecular biologist, who laughingly wondered by ISTE would select someone from his field as they are not well known for exciting keynotes.  With great humor and energy, he made the following points:
1.  We know very little about how the brain works.
2.  Mythbuster alert:  what we do know is not always right - for example, we do not only use 10% of our brains, there is not a left brain, right brain dichotomy.
3.  Every brain is wired differently from every other brain and learns in ways unique to the wiring.
4. Every brain is wired differently from every other brain and learns in ways unique to the wiring. (Yes, I put that twice because it is important)
5.  What is obvious to you is obvious to you.
6.  Theory of mind (google ToM) can be active or passive and is sometimes referred to as empathy.  It is the one characteristic that can determine is a teacher will be successful.  It is the ability to look at a child and know that you have confused them or excited them, etc.  Can we teach a computer to do this?  Would we want a computer to do this?
7.  The emotional stability of the home is the biggest predictor of academic success.
8.  If he were to design a school based on what we know- students would wear uniforms (and they would be gym clothes) because it has been shown that aerobic exercise increases learning.
9.  His school would have a full aerobic program with pockets of time inbetween for learning (ironic - we do just the opposite now).
10.  Men are from Mars, women are from Venus
11.  There is a chemical called Kryptochrome which is the guardian of our sleep schedule.  Blue light (often given off by our electronics) can disrupt the chemical which may disrupt our sleep schedule.  This has the potential for problems for some of our students.
12.  What did I miss.......