April 30

Historical Images

I was working with a teacher friend the other day who wanted her students to find historical images to create a timeline showing the trek of Abraham across a map.  She wanted the students to add images which show what significant events took place along the journey.  This teacher’s students were studying world religions and their impact on our culture but why wouldn’t this same concept work for most any journey?

I can see students creating the journey of Chaucer’s pilgrimage in Canterbury Tales or Lewis and Clark’s Expedition or a number of other journey’s through time and place.  One place to find free public domain historical images is by using the Getty Search Gateway in The Getty Museum’s Open Content.  Download and reuse of the historical images is free so long as the image is attributed to its source.

Students could use this resource to create a timeline or digital storybook as well as showing the journey of a historical trek across a map.  Used in conjunction with a tool such as PicCollage to create a virtual poster would make a dynamic visual aid for a presentation.  Dig into history and see it in images!

April 29

Math Photo A Day Challenge

Last week I learned of an interesting mathematics project.  Richard Byrne’s blog, Free Technology for Teachers mentioned a project started by a third grade Canadian class.  The project urges students to take a photo and post it online.  Photos should be focused on things representing various topics and concepts in math.  There is a different prompt for each day in May.

A copy of the teacher’s calendar outlines the topic for each day and invites others to post their own images with the twitter hashtag #mathphotoaday.  Andy McKiel invites others to participate using Instragram as well.

What a great way to review the concepts students have studied throughout the year!  I could see this same idea working in middle and high school math classes.  The teacher could showcase the different photos posted and a class discussion and review session would be student-directed.

Why wouldn’t the same concept work for most any content-area class?  All the teacher needs to do is create a calendar list of topics and concepts – and even that could be a collaborative effort of the teacher and students.  Students could be asked at the end of class to write a reflection explaining how the image posted depicts the topic or concept.  Students could look at the images and select the one most accurately representing the topic or concept and justify their selections.

What ideas can you come up with to have students to collaborate in a photo a day challenge?

April 29

Out Early Due to Weather!

Yesterday was a tumultuous day around here.  The weather predictors had sent out notices last Friday to warn school officials of the impending threats of high winds, heavy rains, and possible tornadoes.

I drove to my first school stop in a downpour which made it difficult to see very far past the front bumper of my vehicle.  Then, I dashed into the school amidst the falling rain.  While I was there, word came through the cafeteria that our district would be dismissing two hours early in hopes of avoiding the anticipated high winds or possible tornadoes predicted for the normal afternoon dismissal time.  When it was time for me to trek across the street to my next school, a new wave of thunderstorms hit.  So, by the time I got into the second school, I was much like a drowned rat and was scrambling to get as many items on my agenda checked off as possible.  Well, posting to this blog is one of the items which did not get attention.

In honor of such a tumultuous day, here are some suggested resources for teaching lessons about weather…

Weather Wiz Kids 

This site has several different weather-related topics in addition to the tornado information. Weather Wiz Kids Since I remember making these as a child using jars, my favorite discovery on the site was information about how to create a tornado in a bottle.  I also learned that the heaviest recorded hailstone weighed two pounds!

National Wildlife Federation



NWFHere you will find Climate and Tornado Activities and Lessons.  There are ideas targeted for a full spectrum of grade ranges and ages.  Sources for these lessons come from The Red Cross, Scholastic, Inc., National Geographic, Teach Engineering, and more.  I think my favorite link was one which encouraged students, working in groups, to Build it Better by designing a structure which withstands tornado level winds.

Discovery Education

Discovery EdUsing the multitude of resources found within Discovery Education’s site, there are videos, audio recordings, math is incorporated into this lesson which utilizes the Fugita Scale to measure tornado intensity.  Middle-level grades are the target audience but the lesson could be adapted for most any grade-level.

Yesterday we had high winds, high water, and tornado damage here in Middle Tennessee.  The weather is sunny outside here today but the weather predictors are suggesting that might heat up the atmosphere and make our area susceptible to more turbulent weather today.  Stay safe!

April 25

One Site/Many Uses = Padlet

One of my favorite friends when it comes to online tools is Padlet.  It is sort of like a good pair of shoes that you can wear all day…or that favorite jewelry which accessorizes so many ensembles and makes everything look fabulous.  There are so many different ways to put this workhorse to use.

Padlet home

Padlet is sort of like a virtual bulletin board.  Participants with the link to a Padlet wall can double-click or double-tap and add a virtual sticky note.  Then, can add their name and a more extended message.  When creating a Padlet wall, creators can choose from backgrounds provided or upload their own image.  The layout can be set at random or as a threaded post similar to a discussion board.  There are many options to make each different Padlet wall different and unique.

Padlet vocab

One of my math teacher friends keeps a permanent Padlet for homework questions.  During after-school hours students can post questions relating their homework assignment.  Then, if the teacher notices that eight students in a class has questions relating problem six – a bit of revisiting of that particular kind of problem and concept is in order.  Otherwise, the teacher knows which students need one-on-one remediation or a more personalized focus regarding the problem or concept.  The Homework Question Padlet is a starting place for class discussions the next meeting time of the class.  For more ideas, visit the Padlet Gallery to see things like a weekly planner, a bucket list map of places to travel, a decorating design board, vocabulary word wall, etc.

Padlet presentation

One of my social studies teacher friends had students create virtual posters using Padlet walls.  Students could work in collaborative groups to create an information wall where they could add links to resources, images as references, and text which explained facts and provided dates.  Then, other students in the class could visit the wall and offer comments or ask questions.  These later because interactive review boards for students to use in studying for a unit test.

Padlet definition

One of my English teacher friends used a Padlet wall as a place for students to contribute comments, questions, and ideas about a piece of literature.  An in-depth online discussion took place long before the piece was discussed in class.



padlet christmas listA science teacher used a Padlet wall as a place for students to post their selection of research report project topics.  The teacher provided a list of suggestions.  Students chose one and posted their choice to the Padlet.  There was a first-come-first-served rule and nobody could choose the same topic as somebody else.  There was no question of who had first pick because the sticky notes were time-stamped.  There was also no question as to who had not completed the assignment because each student was responsible for posting his/her name on their sticky.  The teacher had no hassle because the Padlet provided students a way to self-monitor.

Padlet signupAnother instructional technology coach friend uses a Padlet as a back-channel conversation area.  During a professional development session, participants can post questions which come to mind that do not have an urgency and can be answered later.  Other participants can answer or the tech coach can post an answer later.  Anybody can reference the Padlet wall at any time during and even after the PD session.  So, information can continually be relayed to all participants on a virtual bulletin board.


Other ideas which have cropped up have been to use it as a ‘parking lot’ for questions or comments (much like the back-channel idea).  Another teacher uses it to be a collective area for students to post resources relating to a common topic or theme.  I’ve seen it used to offer upbeat comments to lift class members up – a place for everyone in the class to put a star by somebody else’s name.  I’ve seen it used as an announcement board for teachers and class members to post important information about upcoming tests, review sessions, or assignment deadlines.

Padlet Question

April 24

Tennessee Essay Contest

Tennessee Department of Education is launching first-ever ‘Why I am Thankful for My Teacher’ essay competition.  Students may submit an essay that is no longer than 500 words by 5 P.M. on Friday, May 9, 2014.

All Tennessee public school students in grades K-12 are eligible.  K-3 students are welcome to record their thoughts on video which is under 90 seconds.  One winner from three categories will be selected: K-3, 4-8, and 9-12 grades.

Submissions can be made online using this submission form.  Email the application (Word doc or a PDF) form and essay to Educator.Communications@tn.gov or mail a hard copy to (former Williamson County student) Ashley M. Ball at Tennessee Department of Education, Andrew Johnson Tower, 9th Floor, Nashville, TN 37243

April 23

Critical Thinking in the Fish Bowl

A common teaching strategy is to utilize a fish bowl approach as a model to demonstrate a skill or practice that is desired for all students in a class to emulate.  It is an easy strategy to showcase analysis, evaluation, or just richer discussion.  Steps for Setting Up a Fish Bowl are simple.

To demonstrate and practice critical thinking, present the class with a question or a statement relating to the class topic being studied.  Allow students to reflect individually for a few minutes and encourage them to jot down notes for how they will respond to the question or statement posted.  While students are reflecting, assign students a number/color/suit of cards, etc. which will make it simple to separate into small groups of 4-5.  Next, set up an inner circle and an outer circle.   Choose one small group to transition to the inner circle and remaining students in the class will form the outer circle.

Encourage students to participate in a conversation sharing their response to the question or statement originally posted.  Remind them to present justification to support their response, referencing a text, image, or other media specifically as justification.

After the inner circle has discussed for a few minutes, ask the outer circle to evaluate the discussion using two criterion:

  • Student dynamics and process (Did they speak clearly?  Did they listen respectfully?  Did they show manners when others were speaking?  Were they polite and focused on the topic?)
  • Content (Did they draw evidence to support their opinions?  Did they reference the source?  Did they remain focused on the topic?  Were their ideas original and unique?)

Rotate the inner circle to allow another small group to demonstrate/model critical thinking and discussion.  Allow the outer circle to evaluate again.  Discuss the differences in performance of the two groups.  Each group could be allowed a chance to sit in the fish bowl and a whole class discussion/evaluation could take place at the end of class.

This helps lay the ground-work for small-group discussions to take place.  It also helps lay the ground-work for online discussion boards.

April 22

Providing Evidence

With the new rigorous strands and formats for high-stakes testing, making a claim and justifying the assertion is a requirement for students.  Like anything else where high student performance is expected this requires practice.  Just like a ball player needs lots of practice to perform well in a game, just like a dancer needs lots of practice to perform well on stage, a student needs to practice making a claim and justifying the assertion in order to perform well in testing conditions.

One way to have students practice is to require them to fill in the gaps.  A non-threatening way to start such practice would be to project a strong image or photograph on the wall and ask students to describe or explain what is happening.  When I was a classroom teacher, I used classic prints such as Renior’s Luncheon of the Boating Party or photographs such as one from The Beatles’ Abby Road Photography session or something simple such as a snapshot of my own flower garden or mailbox.  I would start by asking students to jot down things they noticed and give the illustration a title at the top of their page.  Any detailed image could be suitable.  The image could be something iconic as mentioned or it could be a partial image made right on the school campus such as the corner of a roof overhang or a segment of a photograph of a stack of folding chairs.

From student ‘noticings,’ I would ask them to write a brief (3-5 sentence) description or explanation of what was happening in the photograph near the bottom of their paper.  Most any answer students would concoct could be correct.  The point was not for students to describe or explain exactly as I would have, the more important part of the exercise is their justification of the assertion they made.

Next, to fill in the gap, students would be required to provide evidence from the photograph to back up their beliefs.  Students could write the process they used to derive their assertion.  They could explain what they see by offering justification from what was depicted.  Students were free to be creative and imagination in such a case.

The next step for this sort of exercise might be to discuss how or why illustrations were selected as companions to text in their literature book or an outside reading book.  From there students would be expected to answer an open-ended question relating to a text and pull evidence from the text to justify their assertion.

Using such a building exercise helps students to understand how to think critically and support their ideas.  It also provides practice in writing their thoughts and justification.  Finally, it teaches them to look back at what they have studied or read and dig a little deeper.  Starting with an image that is easily interpreted in more than one way helps to scaffold and promote student success.  So, it is helping students to fill in the gaps and alleviate the holes they might have in the process of justifying their assertions when the justification is really more important than the assertion itself.

April 22

Taking the Test Apart:

For the past week, I have been examining different ways to analyze those questions found on high-stakes tests and utilize practice questions to support student learning.  For some different strategies at teaching students to pick the questions and answers apart, visit the following posts:

Students can look at their own data and determine what standards they need to readdress for mastery.

Return the most recent formative assessment to students and post a list of standards.  Ask students to look only at questions they struggled to answer or questions which they answered incorrectly.  Students should determine what standard their difficult questions fit into.  Then, they should focus on that standard and dig in and learn more.  The teacher becomes a facilitator who focuses, guides, and advises students toward learning more about the skills and knowledge they need in order to be more successful.

April 21

Taking the Test Apart: Use the Answer to Create the Question

Last week I began a series of different ways to utilize the data from formative assessments and apply that toward further supporting student learning.  I shared ideas like Sometimes just taking it apart helps get it together.  Then there was Taking the Test Apart  where students actually analyze what sort of answers might be offered on high-stakes multiple-choice assessments.  Next came time for students to analyze an answer and determine if it is a correct choice or not and explain why, providing justification for their decision.  This strategy I called Taking Apart the Choices and Knowing the Wrong Answer.  Today, lets look at another strategy where we take the test apart…

Assign students to small groups or pairs.  Project only the answer selections for students to see.  Identify the correct answer and ask students to write the question.  This really makes students look at questions from a different perspective.  It is always interesting to see different ways that students determine what might be asked.  It leads to a different kind of analysis.  It makes students think – really think.

Socrative.com might be a wonderful interactive tool to use for this exercise.  Ask student groups to post their question in an open-ended question format.  When all student groups have posted their question, discuss them.  Then, ask students to vote for the one they think is most appropriate and most likely to be the ‘real’ test question.  Then, show students the original question and discuss it and the answer choices and how they fit together.

Taking the test apart – sometimes the answer choices are all that is needed!

April 18

Teaching Young Writers

Sometimes we have to take time and pause to ask ourselves what it is we really are doing in this profession of teaching.  Are we teaching content?  Are we teaching skills?  Are we teaching students?
I like to think that most of the time when I was in the classroom, I was teaching students.  There was some content that we dug into and tried to make a part of our body of knowledge.  There were skills my students needed in order to be prepared for the next level of reading and writing – no matter if it was for further course-work in a later grade or if it was to be successful communicators in life.
Yet, sometimes my students came to me feeling much like I did at their age.  They were convinced they weren’t writers.  They didn’t like to put forth the effort for fear that they would be corrected or that their paper would be returned bleeding profusely from the teacher’s red pen.  In the grades I taught, we were always preparing for some sort of writing assessment – and students today still are.  So, I firmly believed that part of my job as a teacher was to help students feel confident as writers and approach the blank page with that confidence.  I wanted them to feel like they could address the question asked – whatever it might be.  I wanted them to feel like they could express their ideas.  I was teaching young writers.  So, first I was charged with just getting students…to write!
When I was a classroom teacher, I learned that one way to get students to recognize that they each have stories to tell and that each of them is a writer is to give them some freedom and give them a model and give them some boundaries.  Then, turn them loose.
I always tried to write with them.  This would give me a model to share and provide them opportunity to learn how to ask for feedback and suggestions from their peers.  The following poem is one way I would nudge these young adolescents toward realizing their stories needed to be shared and they have an innate ability to write.  Calling it free verse poetry kind of opened some doors and it also helped me to teach them to show, not tell with their writing.
They were challenged to describe, providing details…to paint a picture with words.  With this particular assignment, I would ask students to write descriptive phrases of themselves.  The assignment helped me to learn about my students and it was a magnificent way to get students to feel successful and proud to publish and post their work for others to read.  After I shared an example about myself that I crafted when I was drafting the lesson plan, I would generally choose somebody else I knew well to describe as I wrote alongside them.  Then, I would model how to seek feedback and suggestions by projecting my efforts and asking my students for suggestions and feedback.  I would point out a place where I was struggling for just the right word.  I would ask for feedback to see if something needed to be revised for clarity or brevity.  I would seek editorial guidance.  Then, my students could turn to one another and ask similar questions.  It helped them to see what sort of suggestions writers needed and helped them to feel knowledgeable enough to offer ideas.  I always pointed out that when seeking creative feedback, they still owned their piece and didn’t have to apply the suggestions.  It was always their choice there.  Yet, it was important to consider and apply suggestions when the conventions of our language were in question – to look at punctuation or spelling corrections offered by their peers with a critical eye.
My writing alongside them about somebody else also offered them an idea for crafting a poem like this as a gift to somebody when a purchased gift might not be possible.  In this particular poem, I described my Granny.  I called it Living Southern History at that time but in honor of my Granny’s passing on yesterday, I’m changing the title to:
A Piece of Southern History
Tea Parties in the living room when nobody else was around;
curling up next to the fire place with a book that was once read by my Mama;
frolicking through the fields like Anne and her friends at Green Gables;
rolling into a ball near her when the wicked witch and that scary wizard were after Dorothy;
tromping through the plowed fields and picking up arrow heads;
pulling weeds and transplanting flowers from a shady bed to a place with full sun
The sweet fragrance of blossoms nodding in the breeze;
fresh turned soil crumbling through my fingers as we planted the tender little plants
that would later fill our pantry and table;
smoke tickling at my nose while it lulls the bees into calm so we can gather their honey;
fresh vegetables bubbling on the stove;
light, fluffy, golden biscuits rising in the oven while we scrub flour off the cabinet’s red rim
Golden shafts of wheat nodding in the bottom of the bowl
after we’ve licked the last syrupy sweetness of a maple banana sundae;
cool, creamy ‘coffee’ which makes me feel grown up;
buttery layers of golden bread started at our fingertips as dough on that red-rimmed cabinet;
crispy bacon topping tender tomatoes freshly picked from the garden;
chocolates selected from a large Whitman’s Sampler box
Screams coming from me when I thought I saw an ‘alligator’ scrambling across the floor;
Listening to stories of her past for hours on end;
hearing about where she lived as a child growing up;
learning about her life with “Maahh-vin” and raising her children;
that deep southern drawl that is unmistakable to my ears
Smiles at me just because I came to visit;
short, nubby fingernails at the end of work-worn hands
a turned up nose that has been transmitted through three generations;
salt and peppered curls encircling her smooth skin like an angel’s halo;
a soft, sage-green, fully, gathered, shirt-waist ‘airplane’ dress;
twinkling blue eyes above deep dimpled cheeks
A strong, intelligent, friendly, admirable role model for me
My Granny
Lily Esther Walker Pratt