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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?