December 19

Keep students learning even during inclement weather!

We have been seeing several predictions around here about there being lots of inclement weather this winter.  Even this morning my back deck was a solid sheet of ice that I slid across on my way to the truck!  Like any teacher or student, I really look forward to having some snow days.  How fun will it be to cozy up to the fire with a steaming cup of hot chocolate and see snow falling right outside my window?  Dreamy!

As dedicated educators, we also keep in our minds that when students are not in our classrooms, they are not preparing for The Big Tests.  So, here are some ways you might provide challenges for students to keep learning even when they are not in your classroom.  After all, there is only so much sledding, snowman-building, and cocoa-drinking a person can do, right?

Well…maybe not.  Here are some ideas to extend student learning anyway!

  • Create a Google Form with some multiple choice questions modeled like those found on The Big Tests and post it to the class webpage.  Use Flubaroo to grade the Form and email the results to students.
  • Post a list of questions or math problems and ask students to find tutorials using resources such as Kahn Academy, Discovery Education, or SAS Curriculum Pathways which explain the concepts.
  • Post another list of questions or math problems and ask students to create tutorials like those modeled in the previous resources using apps such as Educreations, Prezi, iMovie, Sock Puppets, ScreenChomp, or LEGO Movie Maker.
  • Encourage students to create flash cards or games which relate to vocabulary, terms, dates, or concepts which relate to class that can be shared with students upon return to class.  Or, they could use apps such as Quizlet, Haiku Deck, or Flippity and email links to their friends!
  • Ask students to create a webquest which explains everything a person needs to know about… for geography, historical cultures/civilizations, science concepts, literature pieces or authors, etc.
  • Post a topic and ask students to collect two or three links to current events in the news which relate to the topic and explain the relationship using documentation from the source.
  • Post links to primary documents and ask students to create an essay or infographic which explains the relationship of the documents.
  • Post links to primary documents and ask students to create an essay or infographic which explains the impact of the document, event, or person on today’s culture, society, laws, or practices.  Students could use tools such as Google Apps for Education’s documents, presentations, PiktochartPrezi, or Easelly.
  • Post links to primary documents and ask students to find two or three more resources which would fit together with the ones you post.  Ask students to write an explanation for why those resources were chosen and how they fit together. Students could use resources such as Discovery Education, Library of Congress, NetTrekker, or Google Scholar in their search.
  • Post a topic and ask students to use NPRDiscovery Education, Library of Congress, NetTrekker, or Google Scholar to search for related articles, videos, images, or texts.  Then, ask students to write a comparison of the resources discovered using each search tool and make a proposition explaining why the results are so varied.
  • Post reflective questions and ask students to respond via Edmodo, Google Classroom, KidBlog, or Edublogs posts.
  • Provide students with a piece of literature and ask them to create a musical score.  Ask them to explain when the different songs might need to be playing and why those specific pieces were chosen to represent that area of the text.
  • Provide students with a piece of literature and ask them to choose artwork or create artwork which should be used in a textbook-style publication of the text.  Ask students to write an explanation for why each piece of artwork was chosen.
  • Choose a short story or historical event or a historical figure and ask students to write a script for a play which relates to the topic.  Ask them to select actors or actresses who would play the roles in the script and explain why they chose each.
  • Ask students to create a trading card or infographic about a historical figure, important scientist, book character, or event.
  • Ask students to research an important person relating to the standard/topic of study.  Then, have them envision another career for that person and explain why their traits and talents would make them a good candidate for that alternate career.
  • After reading an outside reading book, ask students to create a comic strip which describes and recommends the book to another reader.  Students could create the comic in Google Draw or use a tool such as Make Beliefs Comix or Comic Master.
  • Ask students to record temperatures of various locales and create a graph comparing them.
  • Students can create science experiments using ice cubes and water.  Recording changes over time with a camera or with drawings and descriptions, students can explain changes over time as they write their lab report.  The information could be shared with peers who might duplicate the experiment to see if they get similar results.
  • Have students watch televised weather reports and create predictions for different parts of the country.  Then, watch future newscasts to check their predictions.  Finally, they could write an explanation of their accuracy or inaccuracy and conclude why.
  • Students could create simple machines such as levers, wheel and axels, and pulleys with household items.  They could write a description and share it in a class post or email to another student.  The second student could attempt to replicate their machine and send a photo to the originator.  The originator would then share a photo for comparison.  Both students could write reflectively about the experience.
  • Students in any high school science course could create lab experiments using household items and share it with their teacher and classmates.

Encourage students to read, write, and communicate with others even when not in class.  They should be involved in activities which promote creativity.  Just because there is a snow day that doesn’t mean learning has to stop!  There will still be time to curl up in front of the fire and sip some hot chocolate.

December 18

Reflection as a Way to Analyze Thinking and Creativity

As a language arts and reading teacher, I always thought one of the most valuable parts of my lessons were the times when I asked my students to reflect on their thinking and learning.  Believe it or not, that is also one of the most valuable parts of a teacher’s work – reflection.

Reflection takes time and often teachers don’t think we have any extra time for thinking back on something that is already done and passed.  I know it is difficult to set aside time for thinking back, but truly, it is one of the most important things a teacher can do for him/herself and, more importantly, for our students.  When we reflect on our teaching, we become much more deliberate in our teaching and we become much better teachers.

What does reflection look like?  It can take on several different looks.  One way of doing this is to simply read our students’ reflections on their thinking and learning and see what kind of impact our lessons make.  Then, jot down our noticings about our students and make a plan for the future.  Quick, simple, and insightful.

Reflection is an exercise which helps guide teaching.

Anybody who has been in a recent professional development session with me knows that I am always nudging teachers toward engaging students in critical thinking and creativity.  I frequently suggest that teachers consider their own lessons and give a personal rating to evaluate where on the spectrum of SAMR model their students’ work falls.  Usually I see some eyes get large and sometimes even hear a couple of groans because we tend to think we are pushing our students to think and think deeply on a regular basis but when we stop and reflect or analyze, we realize that we are not reaching the highest standards we set for ourselves and our students.

With all the focus on rigor these days, I urge teachers to take some time to reflect and really consider how we create rich environments where all of our students are thinking and learning at the highest levels.  Try this exercise to better understand the cognitive depth of the tasks you require of students and to improve the rigor in your instruction:

  1. Make a list of every task you ask students to do in your class for a week (or maybe even two or six).  Include homework or on-going projects as well as the classwork (warm-up exercises, guided practice, independent practice, etc.) when you are making your list.
  2. Sort the tasks into categories according to the SAMR chart – above the line/below the line.  Pay close attention also to see if your above-the-line assignments are mostly modification or redefinition and your below-the-line assignments are mostly substitution or augmentation.
  3. Analyze the groups you created.  What patterns do you see?  Is there a reasonable distribution?  Do more of your tasks fall below the line?  Do more of the above-the-line assignments really have students thinking deeply and creating?  Do you notice anything unexpected?
  4. Take some time to make notes on how you can use a similar plan next year with modifications so that your students are doing more critical thinking and employing more creativity.
  5. Map out your future lessons using the same analysis process and look for ways to ‘bump up’ the work your students will be expected to perform.


  • The SAMR model is not a sequential one.  Students do not have to achieve mastery at a substitution level before moving to a modification or redefinition level of assignment.
  • These levels are also not developmental.  Even the youngest students in early elementary years are capable of strategic thinking, critical thinking, and creativity.  It might look different for those students than it would for a high school junior but it is possible at every developmental level.
  • Students need a variety of tasks and assignments for well-rounded development.  So, mingle the assignments and tasks together.  Yet, focus on pushing students to the highest level of thinking each day.

You may even want to ask yourself these questions when you are mapping out your future lessons:

  • What kinds of thinking am I asking my students to do routinely?
  • If my own child were participating, what would I want him/her to be doing in this class?
  • What is the most effective way to spend the limited classroom time I have to encourage deep thinking and creativity in my students?

If you adapt these practices, I’m willing to bet that your next reflective analysis of your teaching practices will look vastly different than this first one does.  No matter how you define rigor, the important thing is that we all need to plan lessons where our students are thinking deeply and are engaged in creativity on a daily basis.  Make it happen in your classroom!

December 10

Developing Good Credit Habits without Spending a Dime!

Looking for some good math or economics lessons?  Looking for ways to make students think?  econedlink has some great resources and ideas to adapt.

One of my favorite lessons is an interactive learning tool – almost like a game.  Developing Good Credit Habits helps students discover the secrets of developing good credit.  It also helps them learn how long it takes to pay off credit card debt, how to maintain a good credit rating, and how to amass consumer goods without running up credit card debt.

All of this without even spending a penny!


December 9

How much is this going to cost me?

When we borrow money, we first need to have a plan for how we are going to pay it back.  Sometimes, we don’t think about what the purchase is going to cost in the long run…after interest is added in.  Are you looking for a good resource to explain compound interest?  Investopedia Video has a great explanation of Compound Interest.

Wouldn’t this make a wonderful introduction to a math lesson?  or maybe an economics lesson?

What is your dream car/home?  How much does it cost?  How much will it REALLY cost?  Start figuring!

December 8

Renting or Buying a Home…Which is better?

Isn’t that a perfect intro to an economics lesson?  How much more ‘real world’ can you get?

If I was teaching in an economics classroom today or teaching a lesson in economics or even teaching an English class (which is far, far more likely!), I would use these two articles as a basis for students to consider:

Is it Better to Rent or Buy? and The Math is Changing

I would have students read the article and formulate an opinion.  Then, I’d ask them to create an infographic or an essay or a persuasive speech (or maybe all three!) which expresses their opinion.  Of course, I’d also require that they search for at least three other online articles which support their opinion and cite all their resources.

What other good ideas can you think of for using these two articles (or ones similar to them)?

December 1

Is there storytelling or “teacher-speak” in your class?

There is power in storytelling.

We know this because of the popularity of the craft of storytelling that has been handed down through the years since the beginning of time.  Here in Tennessee, we know this is especially true because there is an International Storytelling Center and Festival which promotes the idea!

A recent Emerging EdTech post had loads of ideas which encourage the use of storytelling to support learning and retention of knowledge.  Reading it prompted me to think of several lesson ideas.

One example provided by Kathy Schrock, the keynote speaker at the TLIPAD 2014 Conference, compares teacher-speak for explaining how to figure elapsed time and a video created by a group of teachers.  My thought was, why not use this platform as an assessment piece.  Ask students to create a way to explain how to figure elapsed time using a digital presentation – could be a movie but doesn’t have to be…  I have found that when students explain and illustrate or demonstrate a concept, we can easily tell what they know and where they are confused.  Plus, having such creations – using Schrock’s video example – would provide a quick and interesting mini lesson for future classes or as a review before an exam.

Another example was a video/song to help memorize the elements of the Periodic Table.  Again, wouldn’t that be a great assignment for students?  They could take the tune of a familiar song and re-write the lyrics to help explain a concept or to help memorize dates, facts, vocabulary, or tell about book characters, events, or the outcome of a lab experiment.  Students could also explain how to solve a math problem by creating lyrics to a familiar tune and create a music video.  Who doesn’t remember a catchy ballad better than a dry historical report?

In addition to creating music videos or musical (stories) to confirm their knowledge in a content area, students would also be demonstrating their knowledge of citing references, following a license agreement when using popular music, and integration of cutting edge technology.  Not every student would have to use the same movie-making tool or even have to make a movie in order to demonstrate knowledge.  Students might create a screen cast or infographic to tell their story.

Students might use apps such as iMovie, Pixntell, Sock Puppets, Educreations, SyncSpace, Videolicious, ScreenChomp, LEGO Movie Maker, Piktochart,, or programs and sites such as Microsoft Movie Maker or Google Story Builder as creation tools.  Are you a storyteller in your classroom or do you use teacher-speak?  Why not ask your students to tell the story of what they know?  It might surprise you!