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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!