Pink Slime?!? A teachable moment indeed!!!!

This past week there has been a lot of talk about…


The buzz about this whole Ammonium hydroxide food additive, affectionately know as “pink slime” is clearly pretty much gross.  The fact that McDonald’s is actually healthier then a school lunch in terms of the pink slime scale is down right disturbing. I won’t even lie – I have a secret love of a steamed school cheeseburger and let my daughter eat school lunch everyday (though that is being reconsidered).  And while I am dealing with the idea of putting something in my body that looks like it came out of a Ghostbuster

movie – the reality is – Pink Slime is a teachable moment indeed…how you ask???  Read on – and hear how my school is going to use this wonderful ousted dirty secret of American Schools as a catalyst for teaching!!!

Several years ago the Super Size Me, Morgan Spurlock craze hit hard.  For the kids in my school McDonald’s is a food group in and of its self so we decided that one of the best ways to reel the kids in was to get them to think about what they eat.   The unit of study was a persuasive essay unit that revolved around the book Chew On This: Everything You Don’t Want to Know About Fast Food by Charles Wilson and the movie Super Size Me became mentor pieces as the students learned about the food they eat and then began an intensive project in the food that we put into our body and the effects of eating such foods.

Now with the revelation that “Pink Slime” may very well be in the lunch that the students eat – the teachable moments are endless and so cross curricular…

  • LITERACY - A letter writing campaign to the superintendent (or in the case of NYC the chancellor) petitioning against the use of the additive (regardless of whether or not the food product is considered safe)
  • SCIENCE - A science lab into what “pink slime” really
  • SOCIAL STUDIES - A intensive geography project of where “pink slime” is banned and not banned or the ways in which it moves around the globe or the history of “pink slime” or a study of the countries that ban or do not ban pink slime
  • MATHEMATICS – An in-depth graph and analysis of the use of “pink slime”
  • HEALTH –  The effects of “pink slime” on the body
  • ART - A sculpture or painting project depicting “pink slime” and its effect on people, industry, society

Their is so much that can be done with one article and the ways in which you can infuse one topic into all the different content areas really just shows that something as news worthy as pink slime not just a simple news story, it is a teachable moment, and a way to meet the ever growing demand to bridge the real world with the class…therefore I say bring on the SLIME!!!!

DoK is not a verb and it is not Blooms Taxonomy in a circle!!!!!

There has been a lot of buzz about DoK (Depth of Knowledge) levels by Norman Webb.  First and foremost before I go any further on DoK I want to make it very very clear.  

DoK is not a verb!!!

To many people in education are throwing around the term DoK without having a true understanding of what it means. It drives me craze when I hear someone say, “You lesson was not level 3 DoK’ed throughout consistently.”  

The DoK wheel is not just something that you hand to teachers and say – “here go and make sure that you put some DoK in it.”  Rather it is a way of developing a lesson or activity that scaffolds the thinking and in turn the learning to engage students in a higher cognitive level of thinking and application.

So exactly is DoK and how can you implement it in your teaching?

Depth of Knowledge Levels by Norman Webb

As the wheel indicates there are four levels - recall, skill/concept, strategic thinking, extended thinking.  By planning with these four levels in mind, the theory is that you will create highly engaging lessons that will tap into a students highest levels of cognitive thinking.


When considering a project it is often times necessary to tap into prior knowledge and the idea of the students recalling their understanding of a given concept.  This sets the foundations for anticipated learning.  Think of recall in terms of a entry slip, anticipation guide, do now.  Something that gets the kids thinking about what the focus of the lesson or activity will be while ascertaining what they know about a concept if anything. For example you ask the students in a science class to name different kinds of animals.  The students provide you with a list of animals.  You have the foundation that the students know the difference between animals and non-animals.


Once there is a foundation of the knowledge base obtained through recall, then in terms of DoK the next step in the lesson development and delivery is skill/concept.  You are basically beginning to engage the students in a deeper level of thinking.  To not just simply remember something that they learned but to begin to tap into that learning and use it to learn more. The teaching point of the lesson, the place where the students learn something new. In its simplest form think about it like this – you have asked a students to name animals.  You have generated a list, moving up on the scaffolded levels of DoK the next logical question could be, “what is the difference between a dog and a lizard?” The question is now at the heart of what you are trying to get the students to understand that within the Kingdom of Animals there are mammals, reptiles, birds, amphibians, insects, fish, etc.  These questions begin to encourage the students to make comparisons and dig a little deeper into their thinking.

Strategic Thinking

Once there a knowledge base and an introduction to the skill/concept moving around the circle brings you to level three on the wheel.  To me this is where most teachers try their hardest to get their lesson to be because it is enough of a challenge but does not push to far away from a comfort zone.  This is the point in a lesson or activity that kids begin to really engage in the topic. The kids have already created a baseline of their knowledge through recall, they have be taught a concept through the mini lesson and now they are ready to begin to really engage in the material and begin to do that higher cognitive thinking. For example, the students know animals and they have been given a lesson on the different types of classification, so they are ready for an activity in which they begin to analyze the different between mammals, reptiles, fish, amphibians, birds, etc.  They then are engaged in an activity in which they have to determine what the characteristics of different classifications are and where animals belong in those classifications.

Extended Thinking

This last level on DoK is in my opinion the hardest because it requires a level of creativity that often challenges the core of a teachers goal in a class.  It is very easy to get up in front of a group of students and lecture.  It is however not easy to guide the students through an activity that has them prove why something is right or wrong.  However, when a student is able to apply their understanding of a skill or concept, then the student is truly demonstrating mastery of it. So, in this lesson that about animals, the students could be engaged in an activity that has them read about a new species of animal.  After the reading they would have to determine where a new species belongs based on characteristics of the animal and justify their decision based on the their understanding of animal classification and using specific similarities of other animals in that classification.

What really got me when I started staring at DoK how it was different from Blooms Taxonomy.  And the reality is that while there is a lot of overlap the underlying principles differ slighting in the thinking.  DoK sees learning as needing all the levels while often times with Blooms there is a belief that you can pick a level and just teach at that. Now that DoK has become so common in my school, I now find myself pushing to use it more as a foundation for planning.  However, the more I really thought about it, the more I realized that I was doing this anyway without putting a specific title on it.  

But if your still a little nervous about the whole DoK thing – then try to simply just think about the ways in which you ask a question or the kind of question you are asking.  Instead of falling back on the rote recall – try to compare or contrast.  It opens the door to far more interesting and engaging students and conversations, especially with the push for Common Core Standards and a level of learning that demands students be engaged in higher cognitive levels of thinking.

Hands on – becoming part of the investigation!

One of the best parts about planning science as a coach is when I am able to bring in projects and activities to the students that allow them to become part of the investigation.  Over the years I have stumbled upon or participated in a couple of great opportunities that really connect the classroom to the read world and give students the chance to become part of the investigation.  And the best part – it all free!!!  (well almost)


The Mastodon Matrix Project

This project, which is in conjunction with the Museum of the Earth in Ithaca, NY allows classrooms to be part of the investigation by sending your classroom Mastodon matrix filled with pieces of bone, hair, rock, etc that is at least 9,000 years old.  Students are instructed to search through all the different elements in the dirt, identify them, catalog them, and then send everything back to the museum with copies of their findings.  The research is added to the growing collection from schools around the country.

Now I am sure that some people are wondering if anyone finds anything worth looking at in the project.  The answer is yes, yes, and yes.  Just check out this article from Livesicence which describes the 4th grade class that found a piece of 11,500 year old Mastodon hair.

For more information about the project email -


This international project is one that incorporates earth science and space by providing classrooms with seeds that have been exposed to conditions similar to those on Mars.  The project which is funded by a bunch of different organizations in Canada allows US schools to participate.  Classrooms are sent two different kinds of Heinz (yes Heinz as in the ketchup) tomato seeds and asks the students to do a blind study on which plants grow better.   The data is then collected and added to data from some 13, 000 other classrooms for analysis.

The classrooms do get to keep the tomato plants and the tomatoes that grow so it is a bonus for kids to watch the plants grow and produce food.


So I said in the beginning of the post that the projects were free (almost)  Well this is the almost free one.  I have scoured the net looking for a free site that lets you report the weather but to no avail (if someone knows one – please share!)

The program, which is all over the country provides you (at a cost) with everything and I mean everything that you need to report the weather from your school.  With over 1000 cameras at many of their host schools, the students truly become part of the science of meteorology.

Now even though the program is not free, it does give students the chance to engage daily in the real life science behind weather and often times put the students at the heart of predicting the often unpredictable weather.


Now, I am sure that there are more projects out there, and if you know any of them, please feel free to share them here.  The more we are able to expose our students to real work investigations, the better we are able to educate them.  As the Chinese proverb says -











Textbooks or Technology???

I came across an article the other day that had me completely fascinated.  The article posted on many news sites, originated on Live Science which in and of itself is a great site – a must check out for content area teachers!

Anyway, the article describe a recent theory that during the Triassic period, the die off that killed over half of the marine life in the oceans and paved way for the dinosaurs did not come about as a result of many volcanic explosions, rather it came from a smaller explosion that led to a small increase in temperature that in turn triggered the release of methane gas into the waters and in turn killing marine life.

How cool – the earth can “burp!”

So I immediately began to think about which science classes can use this information and how we can begin to embed in into the curriculum and how we can compare theories.  My list of what to do with it was endless because my reality is this is how my school collects and presents information to the students – because  we don’t have textbooks.

Yes – I said we don’t have textbooks (now the one caveat to that is that this past year the math department did get textbooks for the students in math class, however, as the coach I am reconsidering their use as I don’t necessarily believe that they were more successful with them.  The ones that were the most successful with them are the ones that only used them for independent and group practice.)

Now, I know that the reality is that most schools have textbooks.  I would be hard pressed to meet a teacher out there that in the very least does not have a student or teacher copy of a textbook in their content area.

I won’t even lie – for the teachers in my school they are almost coveted because we rarely use them, but nonetheless there are enough floating around as resource.  Yet, the decision was made a long time ago not to use textbooks for the students.  Now at this point some of you must be thinking – how do they possibly teach and what do they possibly to guide the students in an effort to ensure all the standards are met?

Simple – we use technology.  Now before you completely tune out to reading the rest of this post because you think we have some amazing elaborate technology system – hear me out.  We do not have a one to one ration with our students in terms of iPads or computers.  There is a lab and we do use iPads but the majority of the students are not touching a piece of technology every moment of everyday instead they have access to it as their teachers see necessary based on their current unit of study and the progress of the unit.

So why did we turn away from textbooks?  And more why do I think more schools should.  Simply siad – they are outdated – here are some examples why -

Case in point, if you went into five science classrooms that study the solar system, I bet each and every one of them would tell you the textbook says that Pluto is a planet.  I bet none of them cover the fact that Pluto has four moons;

I would argue that there is no textbook out there that covers new discovery that Ancient Egyptians wielded heavy weapons -

or these two recent articles on animals that were thought to be extinct are back – the Blue Iguana and the very rare Kihansi frog.

Now, I am not saying that textbooks are the demon behind the failing education system.  However, I do think that we can get into a rut in using them and often times forget that we are a few clicks away for a host of new stories that, well, make the textbooks in our classroom pretty outdated and rather boring.





Earthquakes, Tsunami’s and Youtube!

So I am probably behind the times on this – but if you are studying earth science, specifically EARTHQUAKES then this site is a must!

USGS – Earthquake Hazards Program

This site shows the most recent earthquake activity which is completely fascinating.  Just check out how active the US has been with earthquake activity in week preceding July 10th

Earthquake activity July 3 – July 10

I think that studying earthquakes is one of the best activities in science – mostly because odds are – they are really happening somewhere in the world.  Plus with all the technology now a days, it is easy to have real footage of earthquakes at your fingertips or well at least through a quick search on youtube,

When I was supporting a 7th grade science teacher during her unit of study on the earth – it was shortly after the earthquake in Haiti.  One of the best pieces of earthquake footage in my opinion came from a stationary camera in Haiti – take a look for yourself.

What makes this video so great in my opinion is that it takes out the human side of earthquakes, the side we normally see of the tragedy and leaves the science – what it looks like and in many ways what it feels like to be in an earthquake.

Another series of great videos that we used this year from the Japan earthquake highlighted more of the devastation of tsunami’s.  What really stood out when we showed the footage to our students was their confusion with the tsunami waves.  They had this vision that a tsunami looked like a huge wall of water and a 50 foot wave crashing over a city.  The idea that it was a smaller wave but a continual movement of water was difficult for them to comprehend and something that they only really began to understand after watching the videos below.  Check them out;

This is just a general video of the wall of water and how it moves towards the coast.  It is interesting to see how quickly but in many ways how slowly it moves.

In this video you get a good picture of the general size of the waves.

In this one you have a better idea of the destruction of water.

The five most important minutes of a class…

There is no question, the more I walk the halls between transitions from class to class that the make or break moment of any lesson, any class is the first five minutes.

Without question, most teachers will agree that that every moment is precious, but there is something about the first five minutes that can set the stage for an amazing class or one that is lackluster, unproductive, and in general a waste of what could have been a great day.

Now that is not to say that you can not save your class if you have had a disastrous start.  I do believe that on occasion you can, recover, but it takes time of which we often as teachers have little to spare.  Therefore, why not start the lesson right.

In my opinion, having observed many teachers in many subjects, I do believe one of the biggest challenges teachers face in the first five minutes is brought on by themselves. Very simply put, they don’t teach. Instead of starting right away, the first five minutes becomes time for business, reorganizing, etc.  After awhile, students catch on that there is nothing important happening at the beginning of the class so they linger in the halls a little longer, they talk with friends, they don;t rush to get themselves ready for the lesson.  In general they waste the time much like we do as teachers and then in turn we get angry they are late, talking, not ready and we have suddenly started on a bad note.

So how do we prevent this loss of time?  I guess that depends on the teacher – but here are a few suggestions that I have seen work successfully in getting the students to work quickly and starting the class on a good note;

  • Start your lesson with a Do Now – “not just a do this and sometimes I will walk around and look at it do now” but one that is graded or at least turned in for some credit.  If the students know that it matters to you, then in turn it will matter to them.
  • Consider a Quick Quiz – these can be on anything from the material covered in the lesson before to something as simple at 2+2, as long as the student’s know it counts as a grade and that it only happens in the first five minutes and they can not make it up.  It won’t take long for them to be in their seats to make sure that they getting the points they deserve.
  • Distribute Entry Slips – these quick questions are the similar to an exit slip and often times allow the students to foster deeper thinking about the lesson.  It is also a good way to help the students make connections and think about what they have already learned.

Now, many teachers may already be doing these things, but the key to them is to do it in the first five minutes and not accept it after those five minutes.  The longer we linger in the doorways as a teachers and beg the students to join us the more time we lose and the less control we have.

The first five minutes.  In so many ways the difference between success and failure.  Five minutes that we as educators decide whether we want to be productive or whether we want to lose the students before we even gave them a chance to start.

The teacher desk…ugh!!!

So before I get into this post – I want to be very clear, I have a desk.  Largely because I don’t have a classroom, rather an office as the schools academic coach it is a necessity that I have a place to hold meetings.  However, that said, I will also say that I did not have a desk until I became a coach.

I do believe one of the best things that a teacher can do is get rid of their desk.  Yes I know that the thought of getting rid of your desk is in many ways inconceivable, however, I do believe that the day my desk was taken from me was one of the scariest and most liberating days of my life as an educator.

My desk was an integral part of my teaching.  I could not imagine a single day without having it as a focal point in my classroom.  It was my space.  The untouchable area.  The “don’t go near that spot” in the classroom. And my students knew it.  They knew not to go near the desk.  Even when I asked them tog et something off of it they tiptoed around it like it was holy ground.

I had no intention of removing the desk from my classroom.  However, my supervisor saw otherwise and all but took the desk out of my classroom, amidst my protests.  I was devastated.  My whole world as I knew it as a teacher was flip turned upside down.  Yet as I stood in my doorway watching my classroom crumble, my supervisor looked at me and said, trust me – you will thank me for this.  At the time, I wanted to scream at her.  But in time – I thanked her time and time again.

Losing my teacher desk in many ways, gave my classroom over to my students.  It is easy to say my classroom, but in reality a productive thriving classroom is one that belongs to the students.  There was no longer the my classroom/your classroom with my students.  Every part of the room belonged to them and there was a new sense of pride and ownership.

I also discovered that without my desk, I did not find myself buried in paperwork because there was no were for me to pile it.  I had to regroup and review more often.  My students received feedback on their work faster, my room was cleaner and overall production in my classroom was better.

Even now in my office, I find that my desk is more of a place for students who need some space to do their work.  Most of them don’t know what to do when I tell them to sit there.  They are all used to the “untouchable” area of the the teacher desk, yet I find when they do sit there and get to work, their are quite productive and consider it a privilege to work in the usually off limits space.

As a coach, when I tell teachers they should get rid of their desk, the have the same look of horror on their face that I had over five years ago.  And while I do not just remove the desk from their room the way my supervisor did, I encourage them to let go.  To remove the paperweight, the clutter spot, the off limits section of their classroom.  Time and time again, I find if I can get them to trust me enough to remove it, they find they have similar experiences that I had in liberating themselves from paperwork and creating a more student centered room and not a teacher centered one.