November 21

Translating News

In today’s public classroom we are always looking for ways to differentiate and meet the needs of our students.  One way to do that is by using a variety of reading materials.  I just discovered the resource News In Levels.  This site offers world news stories that are written on three different levels.  There are also accompanying videos which have narrators reading the text of the article.  Wouldn’t this serve as a wonderful resource for English Language Learners?

UPDATE!  Since this site now offers a chat option, teachers in our district would probably not want to link directly to the site if you are wanting students to read and listen to the audio provided.  It would be better to create a copy of the text for the different levels to prevent exposing them to the chat feature.

I think this concept also provides us with a valuable strategy as a teaching tool.  Students could be assigned to write about local news events and create a video which accompanies the text.  The video could then be used to teach ELL students who are learning English.  Video creators might be required to use certain vocabulary or to incorporate different conventions of the English language to reinforce grammar and mechanics lessons.

This also would be a great way for world language learners to practice conversational use of the language they are learning.  Students again could produce a news report about a local event, attraction, or point of interest.  Then, as they read the script, the video would incorporate images which relate to the topic.  Other students in the class could be assigned to read their peers’ text, watch the videos, and post comments which practice the language they are learning.  Audio comments could also be created using a simple tool such as Vocaroo which would allow students another means of practicing conversational use of the language they are learning.

I love it when something can serve more than one purpose and I think News In Levels does just that by serving as a resource as well as a mentor piece!

November 20

Videos for Teaching, Learning, Primary Documents, Mentor Texts…and More!

I love it when we can relate what students are learning in the classroom to real-world knowledge, events, and skills.  I recognize that some things are building skills (things we have to know so that we can learn something else).  For example, we have to learn letter sounds and blends before we learn words and words before sentences and sentences before paragraphs…

I think it is great, though, when we can implement something that ‘lives’ outside a classroom model.  I recognized one of these opportunities this morning.  I was sent information about C-Span Classroom and noticed all the informational teaching and learning tools available on the site.  There are categories such as Bell Ringers, Timely Teachable Videos, On This Day in History, and more!

What drew me to the site in the first place was the notion that there were Comparative Government Lessons available.  These are short videos about contemporary issues in government and business.  I can see the Timely Teachable Videos serving as a fabulous resource for teaching terminology such as Lame Duck, Voter Targeting, and Mid-Term Elections.

I can see this site as a wealth of primary sources for information pertaining to history, current events and issues, economics, government, and literary studies.  Why wouldn’t the resources found here serve as a ‘mentor text’ of sorts?  Wouldn’t it be a great way for students to teach one another vocabulary, issues, and history?  Students could use these videos and video clips as a model for creating their own videos.  They might teach about our own or another country’s government.  They might teach about national issues or local issues.

C-Span is sponsoring a contest for middle school and high school students.  Students are encouraged to create a 5-7 minute documentary focused on the topic:  “The Three Branches and You”  The documentary should tell a story that demonstrates how a policy, law, or action by either the executive, legislative, or judicial branch has affected you or your community.  For more information on the contest visit C-Span Student Cam.

I can see this site as being a valuable resource for many content areas.  Wouldn’t the current events segments fit well into math, science, world languages, and language arts classrooms as well as the obvious…social studies?  Check out  C-Span Classroom and think about including it as a resource for your curriculum…or a model for a student assignment.

November 19

Tips for Classroom Technology Success

The LEGO Education Advisory Panel is a made up of 50 experienced educators across all levels who advise the LEGO group on how to meet the needs of educators and students.  They recently shared strategies to help teachers implement education technology in the classroom.

1.  Be sure to teach the concept that failure is an important and expected part of the process. What we learn from each failure or mistake is the important part and will lead to the next version, or improved iteration in the problem solving process.  – Beth Brubaker, grades 1-8 Project Specialist, North Idaho STEM Charter Academy

I think this is one of the things we forget to teach children – that failure is also important and is a part of the learning process.  As a student, my son was one of those lucky kids who had things come to him far to easy most of the time.  I don’t think he really struggled with learning until the last semester of his college undergraduate studies.  Part of the problem was that he didn’t really know how to study and think deeply as an academic.  He was a thinker but not necessarily an academic thinker till that late in his life.

2.  Remember that when lesson planning at home, you should also test any new website, app or tool on the school computers or tablets you’ll be using with students. It’s always a bummer to find out mid-lesson that the school’s filter has blocked the resource or that there are compatibility issues that must be fixed in order for it to work correctly.  – Breigh Rhodes, 2nd grade, Rollins Place Elementary School

This is one of those concepts I think we all have been guilty of committing.  Planning is the key to success – the old mantra of fail to plan and you are planning to fail holds true.  It is important to test things out – especially when integrating technology because there are loads of variables and having a site or resource blocked by the school filter doesn’t need to be one of them.

3.  Make sure to read the terms of service and privacy statement for apps and websites regarding the age of the user. Let parents know how the tool with be used in class and obtain their permission.  – Leanna Prater, District Technology Resource Teacher, Fayette County Public Schools

This tip shouldn’t be a problem for teachers in the Williamson County School district since it is district board policy to vett all software and online resources prior to implementing use in the classroom.

4.  Provide daily opportunities for students to be creative with technology as a tool to support curriculum objectives in a variety of ways. Students will quickly learn to use the technology made available to them as they collaborate and work to research, explore, and produce a final product or project. Student engagement involving technology is most successful when students are given the opportunity to employ technology daily in a variety of ways and create projects that show their level of content mastery.  -Mary Meadows, Curriculum and Instruction Coordinator, Villa Duchesne and Oak Hill School

I think this tip is probably the most important one of them all!  Students are proficient users of technology for socializing and entertainment purposes.  However, they don’t readily know how to use their devices as a tool for learning.  So, we are charged with teaching them to do so.  After all, technology is a daily part of our lives and seems to only continue to become more and more a seamless part of our lives when we utilize all the capabilities of technology.

5.  Don’t solve problems for your students. Provide support, give hints, teach the basics, but try not to solve the problem for them. When I find myself operating the technology myself, I know I’m doing too much. I also tell the kids the same thing when I see them doing the work for other students, however good the intention.  -John Heffernan, Technology Coordinator, Williamsburg Elementary School

Part of the learning process is becoming familiar with the tools we choose to use.  We cannot become the experts in all devices as well as the facilitator for learning.  So, we need to stick to being the facilitator for student learning.  They have to become the experts and drive their own learning.

6.  Cultivate a good (great) relationship with your technology staff. But remember, they exist to make technology work for you, not to tell you what technology is acceptable for you to use. This is a fine line to walk sometimes.  -Ian Chow-Miller, Teacher, Frontier Middle School, Graham, WA

Instructional Technology Coaches are available in our district (and most other districts as well) to support teachers at integrating technology and good teaching practices in their classrooms.  Call on them for support!

November 18

Geography Awareness Week – Mapping

One of the best resources I have found for student learning when it comes to practicing map skills and mapping is National Geographic Education.  Just last week I was using an aerial map to show a realtor friend an aspect of our property and noticed that the property line shown barely incorporated our house.  Yet, the real property line where there are metal pins in the ground is quite far away from our house.  I got an explanation from the cartographer about flat map distortion that I didn’t really understand.  However, what really made it more clear for me was a video on the National Geographic Education site which described and explained The Cartographer’s Dilemma.

I also found a lesson which uses an orange to demonstrate map projections and distortions when charting something that is three dimensional on a flat page.  The lesson was called Investigating Map Projections.  An activity which intrigued me was Mapping a London Epidemic in which students analyze patterns of cholera in areas of London similar to how Dr. John Snow did in 1854.  Wouldn’t this be a great cross-curricular assignment for students who are reading literature which consider epidemics like Caroline B. Cooney’s Code Orange does in relation to Smallpox.  What if an ecology class took on the assignment to research and project the consumption of a variety of seafood?  They might use the information found in the National Geographic Fisheries and Seafood Consumption activity.     Another Environmental Science topic I thought would be interesting and engaging when mapping is one focusing on Mapping our Human Footprint where students study and discuss the extent to which students have influenced the Earth.  Makes me wonder if it is possible to map our digital footprint?  What would the geography of that look like I wonder?

November 17

Geography Awareness

Geography Awareness Week is on the horizon.  (Did you know there was such a thing?)

My first thought when I learned about that was…what a great opportunity for teachers to work on map skills with students!  I’ve had teachers Skype with cartographers to talk about the profession and how maps evolve over time.  I’ve had classes who create a map based upon the knowledge they gained about a town by reading a piece of literature (To Kill a Mockingbird).  I’ve had folks who used maps to help create graphs and charts.  So, map skills are used in a plethora of ways and utilize a variety of tools.

By far the most popular map tool is Google Earth.  A simple mapping assignment might be to ask students to create a map from their home to school.  The student could use Google Earth and ask for directions.  Then, using the snipping tool, they could capture an aerial view  and capture a map where they draw in the route or the boundaries of their parent’s property.  Then, they could write a narrative explaining the route and describing landmarks one would see along the way as a descriptive writing assignment.

The future of food is the theme for this year’s Geography Awareness Week.  Another great mapping resource is National Geographic Mapping.  This site features a map and activities which focuses on where some of the world’s staple crops are grown.  At this site students can create their own Geo Tour or learn about Cartographic Couture.

Help your students become more geographically aware by asking them to select news headlines and search for a map with specific pinpointed indicators showing where the headline references and explain how the headline impacts their own life.

What are some ways you can incorporate Geography Awareness Week into your lessons so that your students don’t wind up like the voice in Alan Jackson’s song (I watch CNN but I’m not sure I can tell you the difference in Iraq and Iran)?

November 13

New Terminology

I, for one, am thrilled that our language is an evolving entity which grows and changes with the times!  I know that may seem odd for a dyed-in-the-wool English geek to admit, but it is true.  Think about it, we could still be speaking Olde English and everything would sound like Beowulf or The Canterbury Tales or even something far more modern like a Shakespearean drama.  Can you imagine this southern drawl uttering, “In me thou see’st the twilight of such day As after sunset fadeth in the west…”  Really?

The English nerd in me does learning and using new words, though.  The newest word I’ve learned this week is: annotexting.  According to Mike Fisher and Jeanne Tribuzzi of Curriculum 21, annotexting is “a process that involves the collection of thoughts, observations and reactions to reading that show evidence of critical thought. These annotations, rather than being on paper, can be collected with different web tools so that students can collaborate, both locally and globally, around the conclusions that they will ultimately draw from their reading.”

Since annotations make thinking visible, annotexting takes that process a step further.  It allows for interaction and collaboration between a group of people and a text.  One tool which works wonderfully for such an exercise is Diigo.  To see the article which introduced me to this new term as well as my highlights and annotations using Diigo, simply create an account and go to the article entitled Annotexting.  Be sure to check out the annotated text example provided and the example discussion rubric within the article!

I see this as an exceptional tool for students to share ideas and thoughts with one another as well as their teacher.  Using such a tool makes text become a living, breathing, document because students are contributing to it and keeping it a draft of a greater body of thinking, writing, and reading.

Students and teachers could also use the features in Google Apps for Education by uploading or copy/paste a text into a document, sharing it, and using the highlight and comment tools.  Another layer could be overlain by using the Google Add-on Kaizena which offers a voice recording option.

November 12

5 Tips for teaching with MoMA

Every subject area could benefit from infusing a bit of The Arts into the classroom practices!  In today’s world we have easy access to all sorts of artwork.  So, bringing famous works into the classroom is as easy and as close as a click away!

I recently saw a YouTube video entitled Five Tips for Teaching with Works of Art which was produced by MoMA Education.  The focus of the video was to share strategies for engaging students with artwork.  After giving it a little thought, I realized that the video could also serve as a tutorial for engaging students in learning in any content area.

Tip #1: Ask open-ended questions.  When we ask open-ended questions in the classroom, we let students know that we are expecting them to think.  Usually, the answer to an open-ended question requires the student to think in order to come up with an answer.  Often, this type question requires that a student justify his/her answer.  Just those two simple tasks encourage students to dig deeper and know more.  The open-ended question doesn’t have to be life-altering.  It could be something as simple as this: What do you notice?  Open-ended questions, just like fabulous works of art, can be used in any content area classroom, even math where we generally think the answer has to be right or wrong!

Tip #2: Layer the information. Getting feedback from students involves all sorts of strategies and techniques.  We, instructors, have to ask the right questions.  We also have to employ wait time – give students an opportunity to think and construct meaning and an answer to the questions we ask.  We tend to want to give all the information up front but it is important to encourage student response and layer the information in.  We have to encourage students to offer contributions and ideas into a conversation – to invest as a way of engaging with the lesson.  An easy way to do this is to acknowledge the students’ answers when they offer up what they noticed.  Then, follow-up with a question encouraging them to explain, expound, or justify their answer.

Tip #3: Incorporate activities.  Not all students have the same level of comfort when answering whole-class, verbal questions.  Sometimes we should ask students to write, draw, or create an answer to our question.  This is a great place to incorporate physical activity such as hands-on creating or integrate technology.  Ask students to write their response to the questions you ask, create a blog post, or contribute to a discussion board.  When we engage students in other types of learning in addition to dialogue, we are now making room for responses we might not get through a simple conversational question and answer session.

Tip #4: Make connections.  When students make a connection to the topic or task at hand, that makes learning become a personal experience.  The more connections a student can make to the topic, the deeper the learning experience.  The connection between information and ideas makes the learning become more a part of the student’s body of knowledge that is permanent.  I will forever be a lover of Robert Frost poetry.  Of course, Frost was a master with words and conveyed ideas, places, and emotions with his writing.  The main reason I became a lover of Frost’s poetry is because a teacher pointed out to me as a very young student that Robert Frost was a dairy farmer before he became a famous poet.  Wow!  Now there was something to which I could relate – I grew up on a dairy farm and many of the word images created by Frost were based upon that rural connection – one I shared.

Tip #5: Reflect.  In order to allow students to really own their learning, we must give them time to reflect and synthesize what they have learned.  Basically, students need to think about what they have been learning – take time to ruminate on what they have been ingesting.  This could be something as simple as completing a K-W-L chart or asking an open-ended question requiring students to think about what they have been learning.  This could also be a simple expectation of taking some time to reflect and write down what they have learned, what they have been thinking, or what is the main idea or take-away from the lesson for them.  I’m a firm believer in expecting students to document their reflection and I do this for two important reasons.  First, students are forced to do a bit of thinking and commit that thought in some way – by writing it, Tweeting it, or illustrating it in some way.  Secondly, this helps the student to clarify his/her thoughts and hold onto them for later.  When documenting or committing their thoughts physically in some way, the student is applying a deeper layer of thinking and reasoning.

Of course, it goes without saying that incorporating a work of art into the lesson also adds a different layer of thinking to any lesson.  Students could be asked to consider the relationship of the art work to the lesson.  They could be asked to compare or contrast.

(which might be a science topic such as weather or chemical reactions…

van gogh starry night

 …or it could be a social studies topic such as migration or political policy…

Map of world


…or a math topic such as radius, angles, or miles-per-hour…

bicycle wheel…a piece of artwork could relate to a literature work or could be an actual literary work.)

boring art

No matter whether we are teaching with MoMA or we are teaching with the tips from MoMA, these strategies uphold the tenants of good teaching and more engaged and effective learning.

November 11

Veteran’s Day

There have been parades and programs honoring our country’s veterans for the past several days.  The stars and stripes are flying to remind us of our heroes and what those veterans have done to protect the freedom we enjoy.  As I was cruising through social media yesterday, I noticed different former military folks or children of military folks posting photos of veterans in honor of their duty to country and us.

I think about the dedication of these folks and appreciate their devotion to country and freedom especially today.  As a school teacher, I often found that some of my students selected becoming a member of the military for a variety of reasons.  I’ve had students tell me that by joining the military they were working toward earning money for an advanced education.  Other students wanted to operate certain machinery or gain certain skills such as flying airplanes.  Some students even admitted that they were going to join the military as a way to figure out what on earth they were going to do with the rest of their lives.  I’ve never had a student tell me he or she was planning to join the military to become a hero or to sacrifice for us, the remaining citizens.  Yet, that is exactly what these folks do.

I am grateful for those who want to serve our country and join the military.  I’m grateful for the time they devote to learning specific skills and perfecting a trade.  I’m grateful that there are those who are willing to serve so that those who are not excited to do so will not be drafted into service.  How terrible would it be to be forced to do a job that you strongly opposed to doing?  That is just another freedom we enjoy today that our ancestors did not.  The United States of America has an all volunteer military to protect and serve our country with pride.

Thank you for your dedication.  Thank you for your patriotism.  Thank you for your pride.  Thank you for your service.

November 11

Content is First/Pretty is Second frequently have teachers ask me for suggestions of different ways students can create digital posters integrating mobile devices into their classroom activities.  One of my favorite suggestions is to encourage the use of an app called Pic Collage.  There is a version for Android as well as iOS systems.

There are multiple ways I envision using this app in the classroom to benefit learning.  Here are just a few…

  1. Build a classroom community of learners.  Student writers and collaborators need to feel comfortable with one another.  A simple way to promote becoming a community and open the lines of communication between learners is to get to know one another better.  Use Pic Collage to create a digital introduction.  Students can create an All-About-Me Pic Collage or could interview and learn about one another before creating an introduction of a peer.  Students could post the introduction to a class Wiki or Google Site as part of a class assignment.  The assignment could be graded by scoring the selection of images to depict different facets of an individual; correct usage of the conventions of our language including grammar and mechanics of writing; inclusion of specific facts and information; a reflective writing relating to the highlighted individual being introduced or the learning process of creating the Pic Collage.
  2. Create a book report.  Readers could share information about a book they are reading or have just finished reading.  They could highlight specific characters, the events which take place in a book, the author of the book, a comparison of a book and the movie based upon the book, etc.  Students could integrate a writing element by linking a written report or reflection or recommendation of the book.
  3. Use it as a pre-writing tool.  Richard Byrne suggests that it is helpful for students when creating a descriptive writing assignment.  “Students who struggle to get started on a descriptive writing assignment could benefit from first creating a photo collage about the event or concept that they need to write about. In thinking about the images that they select, they’re also thinking about what they will say about each image.”
  4. Even a struggling writer could use it as a blog post.  The student could create a Pic Collage about an event or a typical day to chronicle an experience for something such as a blog post, a field trip summary, a science experiment lab report, field notes from a discovery lesson, etc.  Fewer words/text are required when a photograph is included which makes the assignment more approachable for a struggling writer.  Then, it is also simpler for that struggling writer to simply write a more in-depth post about the Pic Collage explaining and justifying their reasoning for selecting different photos or describing what the photos are showing.
  5. Research and report background information relating to a topic or event.  When students are planning to read a classic text such as To Kill a Mockingbird, The Diary of Anne Frank, The Scarlet Letter, Canterbury Tales, etc., they can research to learn a bit more about the times when the classic work was written.  Students today have no concept of some historic ideas and the way our society and culture has changed.  Researching to learn about bygone eras helps students to understand and relate to the literature.  It also helps them to develop a concept of how events and people have made an impact on the way our world is today.  Students can find images, document the source, write brief explanations or captions describing what is depicted.  Then, they could be expected to justify why they selected each photo and the importance it holds in telling the story of the past.
  6. Showcase individual artwork or personal creations.  Artists could make photos of their drawings, paintings, sculptures and combine them to make an artist’s portfolio to show during parent/teacher conferences, prior to a sporting event, in the lunchroom to share with peers, etc.  Having a photo or digital representation protects delicate hand-made works of art or large pieces such as a piece of furniture from a cabinet-making class.  Yet, other students, parents, members of the community need to see what students are producing.  This can be a way of helping to prepare that future custom-furniture-maker to showcase and advertise his/her wares, for example.  Waiting in line at the concession stand between acts of a play or quarters of a ball game is a perfect time for spectators to see a video scrolling which shares different student creations.
  7. Create a scrapbook page or mini yearbook page.  Students in a fashion design class could create a portfolio of their designs or show the progression from folds of cloth to completed garment or decor.  Students in an architecture class could show the progression from blueprint to scale model to completed construction.  This could be a way for students to describe the steps of a project or a community service experience and document their efforts.  A Pic Collage could also explain the characteristics of a fictitious creature’s habitat and characteristics proving that the student understands the characteristics of specific scientific classifications and qualities.

There are all sorts of ways to assess student products.  A sampling of rubrics can be found HERE.  All that is required to have a high quality assignment is to stress to students via the rubric that content is first and most important and pretty is second but still a valuable portion.

November 10

10 Important Work Skills in 2020 infographic

What are the most important work skills you have in your work skill toolbox today?  Could you make a list of ten of them?  I think mine might look something like this:

  1. Keyboarding
  2. Reading
  3. Facilitating
  4. Creativity/Design
  5. Virtual Collaboration
  6. Problem Solving
  7. Risk Taking
  8. Persevering
  9. Coaching
  10. Communicating

I recently stumbled upon this interesting infographic and thought I’d share…Important Work Skills for 2020

For more information and further predictions check out a post at Top Ten Online Colleges where ideas about each skill and the six drivers of change are offered.