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Friday, November 20, 2015

Not Yo Momma's Current Events: Use the news to get them thinking

 Watson Glaser Interview Report
In my never ending quest for Truth, Justice and the American way, oh wait, I mean teaching kids how to think, not what to think (which should lead to truth, justice and the American way), and to provide curriculum that is “challenging, exploratory, integrative (I had to look ‘integrative’ up, but now that I know what it means, I am in) and relevant,” I am always in search of great new resources and topics to get kids thinking and writing.
The focus of my search is to find hot topics that get kids to debate, collaborate and negotiate.  Using their natural enthusiasm for arguing, and the SCAN critical thinking strategy, my objectives are to:
1.      Make curriculum relevant by connecting standards to real world events
2.      Use the right questions to go beyond the standard who, what, where, when and why
3.      Provide great resources for finding kid-friendly articles
4.      Provide a tool that pulls 1-3 together and allows students to share their work globally (the SCAN tool at is free and does just that!)

Recently, I worked with a 6th grade class at the Mt. Olive Middle school and helped them develop their own topics for critical thinking (SCAN) scenarios.  SCAN is an acronym for four critical thinking questions that goes beyond the 5 W’s and can help students take apart complex problems, look at other perspectives and collaborate on viable solutions.  (Training our future world leaders – imagine if our leaders right now worked on some of the very serious and complex issues with a visible strategy and respect for different perspectives?  But I digress…..)

Lesson plan and resources to get them thinking
Groups of four students worked collaboratively on a template shared through google docs.  The template asks for a summary of the scenario, four different perspectives and short constructed paragraphs for each point of view.  While I was armed with some suggestions for hot topics in the news, they preferred topics that were closer to home! (Funny, I tried to steer some teachers this summer into doing a SCAN on The African Lion Hunt, and they, too, preferred to write their own on a topic close to home – Blizzard Bags –or Should Schools embrace Edays? Check the SCAN library for the lesson they wrote).

This was the plan:  
Copy this SCAN Lesson template in your google drive and share with the kids
1.      In groups of four, find a topic that people with different viewpoints were talking about.  This could be posed as a question (ex.  Should we have four day work weeks?)
2.      Identify four roles (stakeholders) with differing viewpoints.
3.      Together, write a short introductory paragraph for the scenario, including some of the viewpoints.
4.      Individually research a point of view, find evidence that supports it and record the link. (Sometimes, I provide articles, sometimes they have to find their own).
5.      Individually, write a short constructed response for each perspective.  Each perspective should include 3 issues or ideas that is important to them with supporting evidence or reasons.
6.      Provide links to articles that provide evidence or reasoning for that point of view.

Here are the topics that the students chose to research and write for SCAN lessons along with links you can provide to kids as informational text.  You can have your students work through the SCAN questions in an online discussion by setting up the lessons from the SCAN library, or have them write their own.
Should we have longer lunch?

Should we have recess in Middle School? 

Do we need a double period of Language Arts?

What should we do about our aging technology?
·         Technology Refresh

Should MS students be allowed to select their own schedules?

Highly motivated by the relevant topics and the knowledge that their work would be shared with me and the rest of the world through the SCAN tool’s library, the students worked diligently to complete their scenarios, which were then posted in the SCAN tool.  Why not have your students check out and evaluate their lessons?  Or better yet, challenge them to write their own?  Select topics in your subject area and get them writing and thinking!

Friday, October 2, 2015

You Can't Beat Real Face Time!

This morning on the news I saw a video, sure to go viral, of some college girls at a baseball game, each one so absorbed in their phones and taking selfies, not one looked up when the batter had a hit and the crowd roared! 
Looking up and around you, interacting with each other, smiling face-to-face, can enrich your life and improve your ability to reach your students, be they k-12, college or adult learners.  Last summer, I broadened my perspective by visiting classrooms in the slums of Zambia, this summer, I broadened my horizons by spending some quality time with quality educators. 
Real Face Time
I have to thank, ISTE,  NJPAECET2, and Boston CUE Rockstar Camp, NJAMLE Summer Skills Sharpening Event and of course my sponsor, TregoED for giving me the opportunity to share and grow this summer and fall, … but most of all, I have to thank those educators (check out some of my PLC- those involved in #njamle #njpaecet #cuerockstar #njed #edcampNJ) who dedicate their professional time (and a lot of their personal time) sharing so we can offer kids and colleagues the very best we have to give.

Bottom Line
Twitter is a great place to connect and share, but all the twitter chats in the world will never surpass working face to face with people.  Replacing semi-colons and parentheses with real smiles and eye contact activates mind and soul– just ask a dog.  In this day of political ridiculousness, fault finding and mounds of paperwork- gathering with lots of people that are passionate about their profession and the children they touch is rejuvenating, exhilarating, and challenges you to improve on what you do every day.

Head Out
These are just some of the upcoming free or cheap opportunities (these are in my area, but are being replicated all over the nation) to put your devices down and look each other in the eye. 
Conferences put on by professional organizations: 
Edscape, October 17, 2015
Teacher’s conventions:  NJEA Convention – Are you going?  Are you a Middle Level Educator?  Let’s do coffee!  Follow @njamle #coffeeEDU or visit or the NJAMLE table for details!
Edcamps:  EdcampNJ- keeps getting better every year!  Join us on November 21 at Jonathan Dayton High School in Springfield for a day of great conversations, networking opportunities and learning.
And easiest- Walk across the hall, you will be amazed at what your colleagues are doing!
Okay…. so this one is not face to face, but it is a great opportunity to connect in a unique way and learn:
Book Talks:  Edmodo Book Talk: 17,000 Classroom Visits Can't Be Wrong by Antonetti and Garver
The Edmodo Group code is 4thanw  Hosted by Brad Currie and Robert Mullen

Where will you get your next real “face time?”

Friday, August 21, 2015

5 Great Back-to-School Resources

Have you been in calendar denial all summer? Being prepared helps you feel better about your transition back to work.  Why not take a look at some of these great resources to give your students a jump start for a successful new year?

Did you know that when teachers greeted students at the door, on task behavior in the first ten minutes of class increased from 45% to 75%? (Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 2007).  Sounds like a great simple tip to start the year (or class) off! Greet them with a smile!

Plan A, B or C? Do what's best for your kids

1.      Love this list of 14 Things teachers should never do on the first day, not because I agree with them, but because I like to hear other perspectives! Ask the kids for their perspective and go from there.  (Sounds like a great SCAN lesson to me!)

2.       Larry Ferlazzo has put together a whole collection of Best Resources for Planning the First Days of School which includes everything from icebreakers to developing relationships.

3.       Speaking of developing relationships – How do you get off on the right foot Developing Relationships with Difficult Students?  Check out these four simple strategies to help you forge a positive teacher student relationship.

4.       These activities will help you learn more about your students and Help your Students start off with a Positive Mindset.

5.       NEA provides some great resources from classroom setup to working with parents in their Back to School Guide

The first days of schools are an exciting transition period for all of us!  Unlike your new back-to-school outfit – it costs nothing to get a new first day of school attitude that everyone will enjoy!  

Friday, May 8, 2015

May Days! Engaging Students to the Bitter End!

May Days! May Days! 
The most challenging part of the year has begun. Time to get creative!  I attended a webinar the other day by @aaronquigley where he mentioned Fishbowl Debates as a teaching strategy to get students engaged in problem based learning.  Fishbowl Debates turn out to be a great way to get kids thinking about different perspectives, an important part of any higher level thinking!

Fishbowl Debate Basics
So what is a Fishbowl Debate?  You arrange your seating in a circle with a small circle of 4-5 chairs in the center.  Assign different points of view to groups of students on issues or questions from history, the headlines, politics, novels, etc.  Each group discusses the question from their assigned perspective in the center of a circle.  After each group has shared, students can discuss the issues with peers from other groups.  Aaron’s adaptation “the deep dive” – had representatives from each point of view in the center and students on the outside researching support material and tagging in when they had something to say.  Check out some other great variations of this teaching strategy from the site Facing History and Ourselves.

Fishbowl Debate Resources
So how do you pick a topic for your debate?  Why not look to the headlines? is a great source of high interest articles offered in different reading Lexiles to differentiate for your students.  They also have great Pro/Con articles like “Are Federal Regulations needed for E cigarettes?” that provide an easy start to any debate. is also a great site that provides different perspectives on many hot topics.

Want to increase engagement and participation?  Hold an electronic Fishbowl debate.  Did you know the free SCAN tool at TregoED provides scenarios with questions and different perspectives that students can discuss in a private online discussion platform?  Included are links to articles or you can add your own.  Check out the latest lessons:  “Vaccines:  Should all School Children be Required to get Them?”  or “Should E Cigarettes be Regulated like Tobacco?”  (Both lessons use articles from that offers them in different reading levels.)  The SCAN tool has built in critical thinking questions to keep the conversation going.
Either way, high tech or low tech, teaching strategies that link to relevant and interesting topics, provide different points of view and encourage students to consider different points of view are a great way to get kids engaged and thinking any time of year!  
More ideas for the end of the year:

What activities have you found to keep them engaged and learning?  Please share!

Monday, April 6, 2015

New Roads to Learning-for This Generation

 The overarching goal of our framework for K-12 science education is to ensure that by the end of 12th grade, all students have some appreciation of the beauty and wonder of science; possess sufficient knowledge of science and engineering to engage in public discussions on related issues; are careful consumers of scientific and technological information related to their everyday lives; are able to continue to learn about science outside school; and have the skills to enter careers of their choice, including (but not limited to) careers in science, engineering, and technology.”
                     Next Generation Science Standards

Wow!  Doesn't that sound nice?  In fact, I am pretty sure that that is exactly what I tried to do my whole career!  Nothing new here.  Or is there?  I was so lucky to have spent my career in a place where I was either supported or encouraged to be creative and make all lessons “hands on” or at least be left alone to my own devices!

Beyond Sharing Stories-Take Them with You
I have had some amazing opportunities over the years from joining a group in the early 80’s that used something called the Electronic Information Exchange System (EIES- pre-www, now called the “internet”) to connecting teachers and students together to share data on local rivers to traveling with a team to the Rain Forest in Hawaii on a Dodge Grant to visiting classrooms in Zambia to recently being invited to watch a missile launch at NASA.  The best thing about these opportunities is that kids could come with me.  The richness of our lives always carries over into the classroom.  However, the changes in technology have allowed us to go beyond “sharing stories” – now, with simple tools like Google Hangout, you can have the kids experience it with you in real time- if not literally, than digitally.
Sometimes there are Bumps in the Road- 
On my most recent journey, I attended the Launch of the MMS mission and offered to connect with classrooms through Google Hangout, while we were there. How cool is it that you can carry the class around with you, allowing them to interact with professionals, other students, and actually see all the artifacts in the museum, etc?  Madelaine Travaille, from High Point Regional HS in NJ, is one of those educators that opens her classroom doors and windows wide when opportunities knock!  Despite some glitches in our first attempts at connecting, she was willing to try to make it work the following day to offer her students a unique experience.  Great learning opportunities are not always as safe as having your notes on the board or a pre-made PowerPoint, but staying in that safety zone of scripted learning does not prepare your students for the imperfection of the real world.  (Nor does it teach them persistence and problem solving!)  Check out our imperfect Google hangout video here.
Jennifer Miller, Extraordinary Educator from TX, connects kids regularly with STEAM professionals, here she  interviews Dr. Patricia Reiff, true Rocket Scientist, from Rice University

Students at High Point Regional High School listen to Troy Cline, MMS Outreach Specialist

Open the Door to Next Generation Learning
My point is…that it is now easier than ever before to reach the overarching goals of the NGSS. Technology has flattened the walls of our classrooms so that our students can witness the beauty and sometimes devastation of the world, speak directly to experts in the field, connect their learning to the real world, and have the skills and knowledge to enter the profession of their choice.  The barriers are coming down, you just have to be willing to open the door when opportunity knocks. 

Monday, March 9, 2015

Get Real! Check out the Science happening Right Now!

This week your students can become a part of history!  They can become part of a team made up of artists, social media, NASA officials, and more to help celebrate the launch of the Magnetospheric MultiScale (MMS) mission this week.  What’s that, you say?  The MMS Mission is a set of 4 satellites that will be launched this week to study magnetic reconnections in the magnetosphere?  Still not clear?  These four satellites are going into space to study the explosions that cause “space weather.”  These explosions of energy can wreak havoc with our electrical systems, astronauts, other expensive satellites and our everyday tv, radio and phone transmissions. 

The first challenge
A couple of years ago, I was given the opportunity to help develop lessons around a new NASA Mission, The Magnetospheric Multiscale Mission (MMS) a mssion that was not even going to launch for a couple of years.  Our mission (and we chose to accept it) was to design a lesson that would teach kids around the world what the mission was all about and why it was important AND we had to include a social media component.  We decided to design a truly authentic mission and turn that challenge around to our students.  The MMS Challenge was born. Students from all over participated and shared their videos, artwork, models and activities that would teach other children about the MMS Mission.  Check out what students have done to meet the challenge.

A new challenge
Fast forward to today….the mission is launching this week and we are once again asking students to become an integral part of the team.  What better way to demonstrate in a very real way, the wide variety of careers involved in such an undertaking than to talk to some of the people that are directly involved.  We would love to have your students meet our team, learn about the mission and share through social media.  Our team includes Father of Digital Art Laurence Gartel, NASA MMS Education Outreach TEAM, NASA MMS Social Media Team, students and teachers. 
Introduction to the mission
There are a number of great short videos that you can use to introduce your students to the mission.

More Resources
Another way to get your students acquainted with the purpose of the mission is to use the SCAN tool at TregoED to learn and discuss why the mission is important from different points of view.  SCAN is a free, private online discussion tool.  Teachers should register at and set up the SCAN lesson, Space Exploration and You: SCAN the NASA MMS Mission to get a unique URL for their class discussion.  Each step of the SCAN critical thinking strategy will allow students to See the important issues, clarify them, Assess what is important and Name next steps.  Students discuss the issues from the point of view of an astronaut, student, electric company owner, and satellite company owner to determine how the MMS mission could have an impact on their daily lives. An engaging way to get them talking about the mission in a real time online classroom. 

Find lesson plans and activities that your students can do to learn about the mission. 
Make the math-science connections by mapping out the size of one of the satellites in your classroom with this activity.

Get them involved
Encourage your students to participate as a journalist, scientist, artist or engineer and share their knowledge of the launch through social media.
Details coming soon (email me at if you want me to email you the details) on how you can join a student led team, on the afternoon of March 11 or 12. Meet the Father of Digital Art Laurence Gartel, NASA MMS Education Outreach Team, NASA MMS Social Media Team, and other NASA MMS Officials and follow and post on our social media channels (#magrecon):

Thursday, January 29, 2015

How can you resist the (Science, LA, Character Ed) lessons of Deflate-gate?

It’s that time of year…a long winter stretch where many of us will need a recharge.  Why not re-energize your classroom with a topic that seems to have everyone talking!

Deflate Gate!   
Although there are probably a number of reasons why you might not want to discuss deflated balls in the middle school classroom, the great tie-in to the science curriculum, character education, sportsmanship, research and writing may overcome them all! Deflate Gate is a STEM PBL waiting to happen!  

Start with a little research
Have your students list all of the things that they “need to know” in order to investigate what happened.What are the facts? What are the precise rules that are involved? How did the rules come about?  
Listen to the coach’s scientific explanation.  List the science vocabulary and determine if he was using it correctly.  What do real scientists have to say?

Become a "PSI CSI"
Get them experimenting!  This is a great opportunity to have students see if they can replicate this experiment done on some footballs.
Have them design their own experiments to discover the effects of temperature on air pressure using balloons. Have them measure the diameter of the balloon at room temperature, and then after being in the refrigerator or the freezer.  Collect data.  Graph the results.  
Have them bring in their own footballs to measure PSI and see how much theirs differ from each other.  Which ones are easiest to handle? Throw? Lots of good science here:  measuring, graphing temperature vs circumference, graphing temperature vs PSI (with a good bike pump), determining variables (why weren't all the balls affected?).
Check out this "just released" Kahn Academy video on deflate-gate.  Sal asks "Does the Ideal Gas Law" show that there was no foul play?"

What about the cheating aspect?
If it is discovered that the winning team’s footballs were not properly inflated, on purpose, should there be consequences?  Perhaps your students might be interested in why some people cheat?

Some argue that the balls would not have made a difference in the outcome of the game.  Others argue that the integrity of the game is at stake and the team should be punished.  The team has been caught cheating before, but at this time it is unclear exactly what happened.  Should the team be held responsible?  If you punish the team do you punish the fans?  What actions would be fair?  Is it “just a game” or a billion dollar business that is supported by fans who expect better? 

Why not let your students get in on the conversation and collaborate on a solution using the free SCAN tool at  Set up the lesson titled “Sports, Cheating, and the Big Game” to get them talking and writing.

Deflate-gate has everyone talking?  Will it be part of your classroom discussions?