December 24

Merry Christmas!

Christmas in the snow


I hope your holiday break is restful and rejuvinating and finds you ready to enter the new year with enthusiasm and love of life itself!

Christmas is a time for sharing love and today I’m sharing a couple of mine.  I stumbled across a posting this morning that I thought was worthy of sharing.  It combines a couple of things I am a bit familiar with: technology and farm-life.  I hope you enjoy it!

(To learn what I learned about this greeting, hop on over to HERE.)

December 7

Math Idea That Strikes My Fancy

As a student math was not my thing.  I struggled to memorize my multiplication facts.  Plugging numbers into an equation didn’t seem to be purposeful.  I didn’t see the need to learn something just for the sake of knowing it or memorizing it just for the sake of knowing it.  I think my teachers might not have done such a good job showing me the real world connections that math has to my daily life.  I finally came to the conclusion that I just don’t have a “math-mind.”  That made a huge impact on me forever.  I have always shunned anything that entailed the use of math.  So, as an instructional technology coach, I sometimes struggle when it comes to making suggestions and supporting the math teachers on my school teacher leader teams.  As a result, I am always on the lookout for new online resources to offer to those folks and today I have one to share! offers several options for including inquiry into lessons.  I see it as an option to spark that inquiry flicker in students so that they might learn more about mathematics and the important role it plays in our lives.

The site offers several resources.  There is a blog, some professional development webinars, and other resources for teacher development.  There are also classroom examples and math fair problems.  When I stumbled upon some of these links, the creativity leapt forward in my brain.  My favorite example is called Snow Day Phone Chain.  It offers the idea that using a phone chain is far more efficient at getting the word out about a snow day school closing than sitting in front of the television waiting for the Snow Bird announcement.  The problem asks students to calculate the number of students who would be contacted during a specific period of time.  There are extensions to have students continue calculating and using their math skills.  To me, this was a wonderful example of the real-world use of mathematical calculations and I would have been excited to figure out the answer.

There are also links to rubrics and to other suggested sites such as The National Council of Teachers of Mathematics and many others.  The concept of the website is that learning is an inquiry process.

I highly recommend you math (and science) teachers to check out the ideas offered on this site.  I feel certain there are ideas that you could easily adapt for use in your own classroom.  I think I would have been more curious to solve a problem like the snow day example if for no other reason but to see how long it took for my friends to contact me and how quickly I might be able to turn over and go back to sleep!

December 4

Down the Stretch (Part 5)

Now that Thanksgiving is past and the end of the calendar year is coming to a close, it seems as if the gates have been opened and we are at a gallop.  I’ve been sharing a series of ideas relating to collecting data in preparation for the cumulative semester exam.  We have looked at various concepts for gathering quick, formative data including:  exit slip, list-making, a two-column-chart, and waxing poetic.  I am a firm believer in the power of writing.  I adhere to the concept that we don’t really know what we think till we see what we write.

Students don’t have to be limited to writing in an English class.  Writing for math (or science or art or social studies or any content area) can be just as powerful.  It also really can spell out what a student understands and for what he/she doesn’t have a complete grasp.

Of course, I would be remiss if I didn’t point out the power of blogging.  I am still a firm believer and consumer of blogs.  I learn loads from reading the blogs of others but I also learn loads from writing my own blogs, both this one and my personal blogs: Out of the Blue and Recipes from Out of the Blue.  There are all sorts of tools available such as this one, Edublogs, and using a Google Site as a blog.  These are not static documents and offer students a chance to collaborate and offer feedback and converse about education.

Journals are also powerful ways to clarify and assess student thinking.  Think about using an intrigue journal as an assessment tool.  Ask students to list a certain number of interesting, controversaial, or resonant ideas found in the reading material or a video or a lesson as a whole.  A requirement to include page numbers or a link and a short rationale for their selection.  Their response could be limited to a word count or not.  Online posts could also require responses or comments from their peers.

A misconception or a truth could be posted and students be required to explain why they agree or disagree with it.  Again, documentation to justify their response can be required to provide support for their perspectives.  Once again, there could be a requirement for students to share their posts and offer comments and feedback to one another.

A sixty-second post is a quick, easy way for students to provide information via writing outlining their knowledge of a topic or concept.  Simply set the timer and expect students to write all they know.  If a Google Document is utilized and submitted, students can revisit their work and revise it to include documented support and references to resources to improve their grade or to earn a recorded grade.

For short, quick works, such as the sixty-second post, a tool such as a Padlet wall could be used for crafting the post or for linking to a Google Document.   Google Classroom might be used as a way to post to a discussion board or submit a document.  Using a simple checklist provides students a means for crafting their post with a purpose and provides the teacher with a simple and quick means for assessment.  Here is a simple example:

  • Includes pertinent facts and information relating to the topic
  • Follows the conventions of the English language for grammar, usage, mechanics
  • Provides supporting documentation
  • Statements are accurate and on target
  • Demonstrates grade-level work
  • Completed in a timely manner

Now that we are headed down the stretch and racing against time to be certain that students have a grasp of content knowledge and required skills, formative assessment is more important than ever.  It truly guides what is taught or what needs re-teaching.  It informs us of what is understood and what needs more work.  Most importantly, it helps to clarify student thinking and solidify that knowledge in their brains.

For more ideas about formative assessment check out:

Dipsticks: Efficient Ways to Check for Understanding

53 Ways To Check For Understanding

December 3

Down the Stretch (Part 4)

As we head down the stretch to wrap up the first semester of school, this formative assessment series has focused on ideas for collecting data in order to determine concepts and ideas that might need revisiting prior to a cumulative summative exam.  So far we have looked at various ways to use an exit slip or list-making, and a simple two-column-chart.  Another way to add a spark and challenge students is to employ the use of poetry.  I know, I know.  Everybody isn’t an English teacher and doesn’t have to teach poetry.  However, that doesn’t mean poetry isn’t a powerful way to challenge students to think.

Students might begin by using the listing technique – listing a specified number of key words from an assigned resource.  This could be the textbook, their notes, a primary document, an online supplemental resource, etc.  Then, students could create a free verse poem with the words.  They might write a summary poem of their reading, notes, or a combination of resources based upon words chosen from a list compiled collaboratively as a class.

They might collaborate with a partner to create a poem for two voices explaining a concept or describing a process, person, or event.

Students could create a biographic poem using a formulaic approach or free-verse approach.  An example of a formulaic approach could include:

Line 1 – 3 adjectives to describe

Line 2 – 1 relationship

Line 3 – 2 nouns or things

Line 4 – 3 verbs or actions

Line 5 – 2 wants, needs, experiences

I think it would be interesting to read a poem about an animal or plant cell using such a formula.  It would also demonstrate a stronger depth of knowledge when the student is describing a biome or a historical person or event.

Making a list of different types of poetry and have students choose one type is a good way of providing differentiation while still challenging student thinking.  For example, students could choose from creating an: Acrostic, Haiku, Limerick, or Riddle.  Check out other poem types from which to choose.

Just because we are in that short stretch and heading toward the end of the semester, it doesn’t mean that we need to ease up or slow down.  Why not challenge students to think and report their knowledge in a way that is different and interesting at the same time?

December 2

Down the Stretch (Part 3)

We are in the midst of a series focused on formative assessment.  As we are in the stretch headed toward the end of the first semester, we often need to collect data in preparation for the major exams.  First, we looked at different ways to implement an exit slip or list-making.  Why not use another tried-and-true technique?  Today, let’s look at a simple T-chart as a means of formative assessment.

Students could be asked to list their opinions about content matter on one half of the chart and support those opinions using evidence from primary documents or the textbook or other resource materials.

Theories, ideas, or facts could be identified on one side of the chart and a comparison or contrast could be offered on the opposite side.  Students could be expected to explain or describe the similarities and differences between two concepts or ideas.

The steps of a math problem could be written out on one side of the chart and a descriptive explanation written on the other.  Steps of a scientific experiment or process could fill one side and an illustration sketched or photographed, uploaded, and added to the other side.

Important people or events might fill one side of the chart and an explanation of their importance noted opposite.

Things-I-know-for-sure might be detailed on one side of the chart and things-I-wonder or questions-I-still-have might be offered on the opposite side.

Again, a simple sheet of paper could be used for such an assessment but it would also be quick and easy to integrate technology as a substitute.  Tools such as a table in a Google Document or a Google Sheet are obvious and easy to create and submit as a check-for-understanding.  Another way to create a quick and simple two-column chart is through an infographic tool such as Piktochart or

December 1

Down the Stretch (Part 2)

Yesterday I began this series with a post promoting the concept of using an exit slip as a means of formative assessment.  Today, let’s look at another way to collect feedback from students and encourage them to reflect on thier learning.

How about asking students to create a list?  I live and die by my lists.  I’ve mentioned that I use all sorts of tools to help me keep up with the many lists I need to keep me on track.  For example, Google Keep helps me track books I want to read, my grocery list, and other reminders.  I use my calendar heavily to help me know where I need to be and when I need to be there.  I keep lists to remind me to complete tasks and lists to clarify my short-term and long-term goals.

Why not ask students to create a list to clarify and demonstrate their learning?

This could be done with the old David Letterman trick using humor and counting down.  What are the ten most important take-aways from this unit or this lesson?

Students might be expected to create a list of steps.  This would lend itself easily to science where an experiment was completed.  It would also fit well for a historical study where students listed steps that led up to an event or occurrence.  Of course, the list of steps for the solving of a math problem are obvious.  Students could also list the steps from exposition to resolution in a written piece.

This list technique could be done by asking students to create a vocabulary list.  The vocabulary might be an outlining of the most important concepts relating to the lesson, the unit, or a long-term study.  Students might be required to compile a vocabulary list describing a famous historical event, person, scientist, mathemetician, musician, artist, the main character of a fiction piece, or any other number of topics.  Then, a quick explanation of why the vocabulary is important or a definition of the term in relation to the topic of study would follow.

I often would ask students to make a list of things that might be found in the wallet of a famous person or a character in a story and explain what the significance of that item has to the wallet owner.  This clarified their thinking and made them look at the subject with a different slant.  This concept wouldn’t have to only apply to a famous person, it might apply to an animal in a certain biome or a character in a piece of fiction or a Terra Cotta Soldier in a tomb or a particular type of equation in math or a drop of water in the water cycle or…well, I think you get the idea.  I’ve asked them to list and explain the items in a vehicle’s glove box when the vehicle transported…  Again, critical thinking is required but a simple list is pretty easy to compile.

We use lists for ingredients and students could be asked to compile a list of ingredients for the topic at hand.  Then, take that list one step further and ask students to write an entire recipe.  Wouldn’t it be interesting to read a recipe for a Samarai or an X Chromosome or a peace treaty?

Integration of technology isn’t a must for such an exercise but it is also easy to seamlessly incorporate.  The list or recipe could be completed as a Google Document and submitted via Google Classroom.  It could also be created using a Padlet, Socrative, or a Google Form as mentioned in the previous post.  Lists can be created, illustrated, and verbally explained using Educreations, Doodle Buddy, ShowMe.  Lists could be completely audio with a tool like Vocaroo or fun and humorous as well as audio with Chatterpix Kids or Sock Puppets.

Just because we seem to be in the stretch doesn’t mean we shouldn’t still be stretching student thinking.  Why not put your own twist on that age-old technique of making a list?