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Friday, February 22, 2013

You Don't Have to Re-Invent the Wheel to Ignite your Classroom

I think that teachers are a lot like pilot lights….we always have a little flame flickering waiting for something to ignite us so we can heat up our classrooms.   I have had some great professional development opportunities lately and I am lit.  I have been an imagineer in the Magic Kingdom of PD at FETC, found golden nuggets of wisdom at TCEA in Texas and got some sweet tips and tricks at PETE-C in Hershey, PA. 

I keep a Google doc called “Aha moments”  to record the highlights of my journeys.   I learn just as much presenting as I do being a participant. As I am one of those people that has to be reminded that I even have the world at my fingertips with a camera and Google in my pocket, my aha moments might be a bit less of a splash for you.
Don't re-invent the wheel!
One thing that I always think is eye opening is that we don’t have to invent everything ourselves. Back in the olden days, you may have had a colleague that would share that test or activity that they made up or maybe they wouldn't.   The thing is that technology has made it very easy to share with the world,  and not just for those people who are willing to stand up in front of the crowd and present.   With web 2.0 sites, everyone has the opportunity to easily share what they do in the classroom…so you don’t have to “reinvent the wheel.”
Use Web 2.0 Libraries and Galleries
A lot of the popular web 2.0 tools that are out there give people the opportunity to make their work public.  Before you use one of those tools, take a look in the “libraries” or galleries that already exist in a lot of these tools.  At best, you will find something you can use tomorrow, at the very least; you will find a model or example you can build off of.
Here are some prime examples:
Livebinders are a great way to organize links, pictures, and information on a topic that kids can use in class or at home.   There is a vast library of Livebinders that teachers have made and shared in their library.  Check out this timely one on US Presidents for kids or  Web 2.0 Tools for Reluctant Writers, Common Core Middle Grades Math which features a great tab for students!  Click on the featured binders tab and go through the list of topics on the right hand side to find a binder that suits you. 

Edcanvas is another way to present pdfs, photos and text, videos, etc. on a canvas – again that students can use in class and have access to at home.  Check out some of the featured canvases in the gallery in each subject area:  Photosynthesis, Physical Geography, How Big is Infinity?

Interested in flipping your classroom?  Get your students registered into Collaborize Classroom (it’s free!) and check out the great library of critical thinking questions based on short videos, photos, literature, science social studies, etc.   Register here for your own private classroom. is another way to flip your classroom – great short videos are accompanied by simple questions and critical thinking prompts.  Once again, there is a library of videos and a quick and easy format so that you can make them your own.  Take a look at the Case to extinguish the words Good and Bad or the 3 Minute Guide to the Bill of Rights.  You can even get professional animators to visualize your concepts. 

The SCAN tool at TregoED, which helps students learn how to see different perspectives and a write argumentatively, has a library of scenarios with built in problems to solve based on historical or current events for online discussions using the SCAN critical thinking strategy.   A great way to get them thinking and writing on hot topics.

Bottom line is that web 2.0 tools are by nature tools that we add content to and share!  Take advantage of the collaborative nature of these tools, read, revise and reshare!  It is a great way for all of us to ignite our classrooms.

Friday, February 15, 2013

How old is too old? Writing and Resources on Term Limits

Today’s headlines touted that Senator Lautenberg, 89, the oldest member of the US Senate has decided not to run for reelection.  Really, at 89?  The Pope stepped down last week, at age 85, because he thought he might not have the stamina to do the job.   Suffice it to say that neither Congress nor the Vatican have term limits.  Should they?  I remember the minute I stepped into my classroom at the Middle School at the ripe old age of 23, the kids look at me as if I was old!  Now, the staff does.  I know that when budget time calls for RIF’s, some of our younger teachers would love to see term limits!  I have to say that the latter half of your career is prime time for learning and implementing new ideas.  There is something to be said for knowing the nuts and bolts of the job so you can spend your time finessing your skills and learning new ones.  But I digress….
The Term Limit Debate
When our Constitution was first written, there was no mention of term limits.  The 22nd Amendment, ratified in 1951, restricted Presidential terms to a maximum of two terms.   Only one President, Roosevelt, served more than two terms.  
History, Civics, Language Arts and the Common Core
President’s Day is a great time to look at the debate on term limits.  The Common Core standards call for students to examine multiple perspectives and analyze points of view.  Why not have students analyze evidence (pros and cons) from multiple texts and synthesize their own thoughts on term limits?  Seems like a great way to integrate social studies and language arts while developing key critical thinking skills.
Start your students with this recent Gallop Poll  or article from USA Today that states that most Americans would like see term limits.  Have your students read about the pros and cons of term limits from various sources, write an argumentative essay, blog or speech and then finish by having them take a poll using one of several simple polling tools available online.  
Your students can look at some of these resources for different perspectives:
 Do you believe in Term Limits? Political Debates and Polls
The Term Limit Debate from
Give them a strategy
Just like a graphic organizer helps your students organize their writing, critical thinking strategies can help them organize their thinking.  Looking at term limits from different perspectives gives students the opportunity to practice SCAN:
See the issues:  What are the important issues, both pro and con from your perspective?
Clarify the issues:  What do you mean by…..?
Ask what’s most important:  Which issues are most important in terms of seriousness or urgency?
Now, what should be done? :  What do you think is the best solution to resolve the issues?  Remind students that solutions do not always have to be pro or con, they can be hybrids of the best ideas suggested.  The SCAN tool and resources at can help you get them started.
As we celebrate President’s Day having students practice good citizenship by participating in civil discourse around an authentic issue is a great way to get integrate civics and argumentative writing.  Check out Teachers’ Hub to find more Presidential Writing Prompts and Top 12 President Day Activities

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Do Kids Deserve a Second Chance?

Well the term “superbowl” took on a whole new meaning for me, as I got hit with a stomach virus in the second half, but it did give me the opportunity to watch some daytime television yesterday.  I ended up watching for NYC Mayor Ed Koch’s funeral.   I have to say, I ended up smiling and crying.  He was truly a character, a beloved family man, consummate politician and visionary.  There is no doubt that he has had an impact on the city that he loved. 

As President Clinton read from some of the letters that Koch had sent him during his presidency, one in particular, struck a chord.  Ed Koch believed that all children deserved a second chance.  A real second chance.  He wanted young people who had gotten in trouble to have the chance to start fresh.  Clinton quoted “…they should be given a chance to serve in AmeriCorps, or do something else, and then, if they got their GED and they stayed off drugs, their records should be sealed and their convictions should be purged. So that if ever they were asked again in life did they have a criminal conviction, they honestly could say no.”  His proposal was simple, but included programs, training, treatment and educational opportunities.  After five years with no further trouble, they would receive executive pardons and have their records expunged.

Get Kids Thinking
Of course this simple proposal seems to have many complex issues.  And of course, it would make a great SCAN session, writing prompt, or critical thinking exercise.  What do your students think?   Should young people be given a second chance?  On a large scale – should young people who have been arrested for nonviolent crimes be given a second chance?  What about on a small scale:  do we give them a second chance in school?  Is there a way to help students start over?  Do children’s reputations follow them from grade to grade, teacher to teacher?  How do we let students redeem themselves?  Should students be given the chance to redeem themselves academically?  Can they start over?  

Get them thinking, researching and writing.  What are the perspectives?  Issues?  Solutions?

What's your perspective?