Search this blog

Friday, April 27, 2012

TED-Ed an Idea Worth Sharing!

I am sure that you have heard all about TED talks and have probably seen a few of them.  TED talks are all about “Ideas worth sharing.”  Well, the TED people have come up with another “idea worth sharing” for educators, called TED-ED (  This website (in Beta) features video lessons some awesome features:
1.     The videos are all a collaboration of an educator and an animator!  (=fun)
2.    Each video is accompanied by a lesson:  short comprehension questions, deeper thinking    questions and extra resources! 
3.    When you register, you have the ability to “flip” the lesson for your use- you can customize the lesson to meet your student’s needs or use it as is. 
4.    It is so easy!! 

Take the Ted-Ed tour and you are ready to go!  
I was up and running in 10 minutes:
1.     I selected the humorous video “Why do Americans Vote on Tuesdays?” ( You will have to watch it to see why)
2.    I watched the videos, clicked through the “Quick Quiz” “Think” and “Dig Deeper” tabs and selected the big orange button “Flip this Lesson”
3.    Editing the lesson could not have been easier.  You can keep their questions and/or add your own.  I made some of my questions easier for younger students and used the common vocabulary that we use with the SCAN critical thinking strategy.  I added my final thoughts and declined to add any links. 
4.    Click on the publish button (you are warned that you cannot edit after that)and you are given a unique URL to share  -Check it out!  How cool is that?

One more FANTASTIC  feature:

You can take ANY Youtube video and flip into a  TED-Ed lesson!  All you need to do it click on the Youtube link, select your video and Flip it!  I immediately saw one of the Mythbusters videos and could imagine the potential of this option in the classroom.   Hmmmm….I wonder if I could somehow make our Ellen’s Dance Dare Easter at the Bee Hives video (just a typical Easter Sunday with the family) into a lesson?

Bottomline:  TED-Ed is an amazing tool to customize a video into a lesson to get kids thinking and writing!  So easy even a cave girl could do it.  Try it, they’ll like it!!

crossposted at

Friday, April 20, 2012

Could Money be the Key to Keeping Kids Engaged?

Who doesn’t like money?  Money could be the key to keeping students engaged in learning to the bitter end.   After just filing our taxes and trying to figure out the finances for elder care, calling financial literacy fun was the furthest thing from my mind, but the need for it was clear. 

Can financial literacy be fun?
Apparently, when you are a student practicing these skills it can be fun (just like practicing being an adult is more fun than actually being one!).  I recently talked to a principal who thought money could be the answer to increasing math instruction in her school.  She was not referring to spending money however, but offering students 45 more class period of math per year through financial literacy- a “fun” way to increase math skills.  I know another who used classroom money as part of her classroom management system.  Students would receive their pay coming in the door, the amount would be decreased if they came in late(just like the real world!).  She had a great system of "paying" students for proper behaviors.  Students could purchase items that she got free from conferences with their money.  They did think it was fun!

Will this cost us money?
It turns out that there are lots of free financial literacy resources out there.  I would start with the free classroom money pack which features money patterns, transaction sheets and teaching ideas- perfect for any classroom.   Another resource, from the blog post entitled “Financial Literacy can be Fun” is the BizWiz program from the BizWorld Foundation for free if you use it this year ($189 value).

Your tax dollars at work
You can find more fun financial literacy activities from The Mint or our United States Treasury offers free (your tax dollars at work) downloadable math lessons called  Money Math: Lessons for life.

Games for Sponge or Enrichment Time
Any teacher could offer these games to do as an enrichment activity for students with “extra time”:  Rich Kid Smart Kid or Money Island .

Looking to include some critical thinking?
Try out the Cleveland Fed’s free activity book entitles “Great Minds Think:  A Kid’s Guide to Money” for middle schoolers.   and have students work their way through some personal financial decisions.
You could also have students try out the “Money to Spend” SCAN scenario at where they will look at money issues from the different perspectives built into the scenario.

Looking for more?
Search for financial literacy at or check out these additional resources from Edutopia
Please add your resources and ideas!

Friday, April 13, 2012

Suddenly, I'm all a twitter!

I was talking to a class of 7th graders about sharing information in our world.  We are working on the NASA MMS challenge to determine why the mission is relevant to them and find a way to spread the word.  They had some great ideas about writing articles, editorials, youtube, facebook, blogs, etc.  But no one mentioned twitter.

Twitter for the Not So Famous
It turns out that most of these students thought that it was only for famous people.  They were shocked to hear that even people like me had followers (I am a little shocked myself sometimes).  The truth is that I’m a little slow to the bandwagon, some tools have come and gone before I even get to use them.    I have been a registered user for some time, but not an active one.  I too, did not immediately see how it could be useful. 

Hashtags meant something totally different in the 70’s
I started noticing hash tags at conferences.  At first, I was a little chagrined that people were “texting” during my presentations, then  I realized they were “tweeting” out some of my nuggets of wisdom and some of their “aha” moments.  What a great way to hear everyone’s nuggets.     Of course I had to first learn to decipher the language and determine what #@ RT’s and mentions were (just ask your kids).  I then began to see a lot of potential for using twitter as professional development tool.   Carrie Jackson summed up the key reasons why it can be a valuable tool for us in her blog “Twitter 101 for School Leaders: Four Reasons to Join the Conversation."

But what about the kids?
It was not until I saw how some students from Dublin ISD in TX were using it, that I saw the value of using twitter in the classroom.     They had used twitter as a research tool, to determine attitudes in their community, to lift school morale and improve school and community communications.    It got me to thinking.

I imagine that the benefits for leaders in education, may be the same benefits that our students can get. Imagine all of the latest science and technology information they can get by following NASA?  How great would it be for each student to post an “aha” moment to your class hash tag after reading an assigned passage?  Why not take it outside the room and share their key understandings and insights with the world?  Imagine being able to post new ideas and get feedback from their peers all over the world.  What a great way to connect kids with experts in the field!

What are the risks?
Of course, anything “out there” has some risks, but there are plenty of tools that can be kept private to teach students proper “netiquette.”  The world of twitter is a world of breaking news, it is Facebook feeds on steroids.  It is chock full of great articles and resources.  Seems like it could be a great way to engage kids in their own learning.

We are connecting our students in Texas and New Jersey, through the MMS Challenge.  Sounds like the perfect opportunity to get this whole twitter thing going with my students.   I am sure there may be some risks and challenges, but I’m diving in and taking the kids with me!  Any nuggets for me?

You can follow me @sanwoz, you can see what the kids are doing at #mmschallenge.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Great Interactive Resources for Earth Day

Looking for some great ideas and resources to help celebrate earth day?  Want to break up the testing blues, get kids thinking and writing in an engaging way?

Paper or plastic?

Start a discussion on something that is both relevant to them and authentic.  They may not be able to directly influence gas prices or oil drilling, but they can certainly make wise choices in their own lives.  Start with the simple question “paper or plastic?”

Check out this great interactive lesson “Battle of the Bags.” Videos and interactive sections provide students with different points of view on the Paper vs. Plastic debate.  Assign students a point of view to focus on, have them debate, write persuasively or use it to provide background information for a SCAN session.

Follow that up with a four perspective discussion using the simple SCAN (see the issues, clarify the issues, assess what’s important, now what should we do?) critical thinking strategy built into the SCAN discussion platform at  "The Environmental Debate:  Paper or Plastic" is one of over 100 free scenarios.

Want a hands-on experiment to go with it?  Try out this free lesson to determine “Which kind of trash bag breaks down the fastest?"

Let students see where their garbage or recyclables go on collection day by selecting and following their trail at "Beyond the Barrel" site for kids.

The Story of Stuff is a 20 minute online cartoon that traces our “stuff” from its creation to its cremation.  This video definitely represents one point of view.  Can your students determine what other points of view may be?  Can they pick out the persuasive language used? Use this video to launch a discussion that goes beyond the content.

National Geographic's "Human Footprint" offers a fun interactive site that allows children to see what their human footprint is on the earth.  There is a lot of potential for math lessons here as they calculate the number of loaves of bread or eggs you eat in a year and illustrate the impact of your choices.

Looking for more? has a great selection of links and resources on earth day:  You can find all sorts of great links and resources using their searchable data base of reviewed activities.

You can also find a great list of links and resources for Earth Day at Edudemic.

Earth Day is a great day to integrate technology science, language arts, math and history.  What will you be doing?

Monday, April 2, 2012

Can you prepare kids for testing AND teach them to think?

A friend of mine was substituting in a classroom yesterday with students taking a practice NJASK test.  The students were writing in response to an article about changing Pluto’s status from a planet to a dwarf planet.   She was left speechless after reading the students' responses.  They wrote things that were totally off the topic, drew ridiculous conclusions, and most did not answer the question, etc.  She noticed that the students were using an acronym to help them with the mechanics of writing.  The mechanics did not seem to be the problem.  She was really shocked at the student’s inability to come up with reasonable content in their writing.

Community Reading Assignments
In discussing this with a colleague, it was mentioned that a neighboring school starts each week with an article that every student, teacher and administrator reads.   This seems like a pretty powerful practice to me, especially if teachers and students were using a critical thinking process that gave them a common vocabulary to discuss it.  What a great way to get kids reading, give adults connections, start conversations, develop critical thinking (and of course, raise those test scores)! 

SCANning Complex Situations

Having a set of common questions for all complex situations is a great way to get students in the habit of thinking and helping them develop content for their writing.   Who might have a point of view or opinion on the topic?  Who are the stakeholders?  What are some of the issues?  Which issues are most important?  What do you think should be done?  These higher order thinking questions are the basis for SCAN, the critical thinking strategy from TregoED.  (See the issues, Clarify the issues, Ask what’s important, and Now, what should be done?)  Getting kids reading informational text and SCANning is an excellent way to give kids practice for high stakes testing.  Giving them articles with relevance and of high interest is part of the equation.  Many of our students know how to write, they get the mechanics, but how do they learn “what to write?”  That takes some critical and creative thinking.

Technology Makes it Easy

How can teachers fit one more thing in the day?  Why not use social media and discussion platforms to deliver the articles and start the discussions?  Leveraging student enthusiasm for writing in social media platforms, complete with the ability to share and respond to others' writing is a great way to get students enthusiastically contributing.  The benefits are many – students are more engaged, writing for an audience of their peers is incentive for more careful writing, reading other students work gives them models to work from and it is great way to practice reading and writing short constructed responses

The SCAN Tool

Of course, using the SCAN tool at TregoED is the perfect way to get students practicing the steps of SCAN as the questions are built right into the discussion platform.  You just select a scenario (or attach an article), students pick a point of view and they enter the discussion with screen names and avatars.   Using a couple of SCAN sessions within your content area can give students a better understanding of the content area and familiarize them with the questions.    Each one of the steps progresses up the scale of higher order thinking and with student’s playing different roles they support their points of view with gusto!  SCAN has a library of lessons dealing with current events, social issues, history, and science.  These problem-based topics are perfect for getting students to look at other perspectives on hot issues while teaching them a critical thinking strategy. 

Collaborize Classroom
Collaborize Classroom also offers a discussion platform where it is easy to link and article and use the SCAN questions to start the conversation.  Bottom line, kids like to write in this kind of platform, share what they wrote and comment on each others' writing.  Practicing critical thinking with relevant informational text is a great way to get students prepared for those dreadful questions asked on high stakes testing without making them “practice taking the test!"  Technology can make it relatively painless!  A win-win!