Supporting DoK (and Bloom’s)

If you have read any of my earlier posts on Bloom’s and DoK you know by now that I have long since filed Bloom’s taxonomy under the section in my brain as antiquated. Long since replaced along side some other education strong holds such as;

  • Differentiation (replaced with Entry Point into Learning)
  • Rigor (replaced with Stamina)
  • Aim (replaced with Learning Objective)
  • Questioning (replaced with Scaffolding)

The irony of these changes is that regardless of the word or phrase the goal is the same – in some way, shape, or form – supporting students in learning.  Which is why it could be very easy for someone to argue that DoK is just a new way of presenting Bloom’s Taxonomy.  Its just a new circle, with less words, the goal the same to take kids from the lowest level and bring them to the highest.  In the case of Bloom’s its to move from the bottom of the famous triangle to the little section on the top.  While in DoK it’s moving from one side of the circle all the way around to the other side, again moving students from the basic to the advanced.  And while I could spend hours and write paragraph upon paragraph on why I push my teachers to support instruction through the lens of DoK rather then Bloom’s, I rather post documents and resources that support teachers in the transition and or implementation of Webb’s Depth of Knowledge, especially when they hear their supervisor ramble on and on or quickly mention that the school is not going to use ” this wheel” instead of “that wheel.” :-)

So to that end and without further ado – some DoK resources (which I find are not as abundant on the web as material to support Bloom’s)

Hess’s Cognitive Rigor Matrixes The matrixes (which are subject specific are a great tool to support lesson planning and development when implementing DoK)

DoK Descriptors - Descriptors for subject areas outside of the ones on the Matrix (though I am including a descriptor for writing that is too good to ignore.)

Blooms and DoK (side-by-side) and more - this is a great visual to support transition from Blooms to DoK (from the website

Visual Supports while I am sure there are many video’s this one is easy to follow and to the point

NYC DOE’s website has a lot of great resources beyond this video on implementing DoK

One of the best quotes that I keep seeing over and over about DoK is that DoK is not a “target” its the “ceiling.”  As educators, we want to push all our kids to reach the ceiling, not just aim for a target.  By doing so every moment becomes a teachable one and every moment becomes great.

Challenge thinking with the real world…

As the Common Core Standards continue to dig deeper into curriculums across the country, more and more teachers find themselves looking for ways in bridge the real world with the classroom.  While, it may not seem like a difficult task to connect content to the world around our students, finding a constant supply of material that is interesting and challenging can become as much of a struggle as breaking down the core standards themselves.

Over the last couple of weeks, as my school has moved deeper into a state test sophistication unit, we made the decision to use part of the students class time in Science and Social Studies to embed more reading strategies through the incorporation of non-fiction reading.  While the idea to do this seemed not only logical but also easy, the reality is, coming up with an endless supply of grade appropriate non-fiction reading materials for the students has been one of the most challenging experiences we have met with the Common Core.

Of course we turned to test preparation books and websites like edhelper, but after a while the selections we picked for the students seemed to discourage reading rather then engage them.  Therefore, to keep the students interested and create the opportunity to foster inquiry within the classroom, I have turned to the internet for articles that bring the real world into the classroom by creating an immediate teachable moment.

Below are just a couple of the stories that I have come across that really allow teachers to touch on some of those essential reading strategies that the Common Core demands (like inferring, comparing and contrasting, predicting, analyzing, and evaluating) while finding the teachable moment in the content area and making the real world connection (woo hoo!!!);

Japanese Scientist Develops First Violin Strings From Spider Silk - A fascinating story and one that can really push kids to compare and contrast this before the spider string violin and after

Largest Hailstone Confirmed In Hawaii - A pretty straightforward article, and a pretty cool one too – works well for talking about main idea

Texas Man Survives 30 Hours In Gulf Of Mexico  – this news write up of the story provides a lot of opportunity for inferencing

Fossil Foot Bones Hint At Mystery Walker - great story for vocabulary in context (words in the article include metatarsal, speculate, reminiscent, and elucidate)

Super-earths “In The Billions” - a news story that really lends nicely to predicting

Skittles Commercial “Liar, Liar”  Insensitive To Bullying – An interesting article that really challenges kids to think and would lead to a great discussion on author’s purpose (is it to tell or persuade?)

Texas Schools Begin Exams As Districts Call For End To High Stakes Testing – Not only is this article close to home for most students, there is a lot of opinion in it from people for and against the testing.

The more that we bring the real world in to the classroom, the greater the connections will be made, the more the students will begin to really find the intrinsic value of learning – those amazing teachable moments!!!

Common Core references the Bible as a mentor text…New York City bans far less controversial…

As the Common Core continues to slowly infuse into curriculum more and more teachers around the country find themselves reading lines like;

Grade 8, RL9 – “Analyze how a modern work of fiction draws on  themes, patterns of events, or character types from  myths, traditional stories, or religious works such as  the Bible, including describing how the material is rendered new.”

Yes, the BIBLE.  The whole church and state thing seems to blur when the bible is a mentor text.  But why shouldn’t it be.   It is the most read book of all time right? The Core standards push students to take their prior knowledge and use it as they engage in activities that challenge their high cognitive thinking skills.  I have built units of study on this very foundation and blogged about things like Norma Webb’s Depth of Knowledge.

But just when I thought we were moving forward,  New York City seems to have almost done a 180 on the idea as they released to publishers their banned word list.  In my opinion, this has to be one of the most ridiculous lists I have ever seen in all my years in education! Links to articles two articles on the story are here and here and here.

The list composed of 50 or so words or topics that they strongly suggest do not seem on standardized tests range include;

  • Religion (well that is a given)
  • Halloween (because it has Pagan undertones – even though schools still wear costumes and celebrate it)
  • Birthdays (because Jehovah’s witnesses do not celebrate them – but the rest of us do?)
  • Holidays in general (because of Atheists – and last time I checked we get a lot of vacation for holidays)
  • Dancing (because some cultures don’t allow it…but the rest of us have an unfair advantage for having danced!)
  • Dinosaurs (because it challenges Creationism – so much for evolution)
  • Wealth and Poverty (as a topic because it may make kids who are poor jealous – I am at a loss on this one…)
  • Aliens or reference to out of space creatures (apparently science fiction is to much!)
  • Witchcraft and sorcery (so much for reading about muggles and butterbeer)
  • Give human characteristics to animals or inanimate objects (guess we don’t need to worry about personification as a literary device.)
  • Disrespectful to authority or authority figures (Arab Spring/Occupy Wall Street is out – 1984, here we come!!!)
  • Homelessness (yeah we should definitely avoid this topic, why teach the kids about this problem and possibly affect change?)
  • Expensive gifts (I wonder what they consider expensive?  A homeless person would probably consider a mylar balloon expensive!)
  • Vacations and Prizes (Again – no words…)
  • Loss of employment (This one may be the first off because loss of employment is effecting almost everyone – so back to being neutral)
  • Violence (yeah, so I guess the test makers need to be told no graphic depictions of murder or rape for the elementary school children)
  • Catastrophes and disasters (that current events stuff like Japan Earthquake, or tornado, or hurricane is way to much – seriously?)
  • Terrorism (“because that is way to scary” – and that is a quote from the news article! – I don’t a NYC public school child that can not recite the “See Something, Say Something” mantra that is everywhere in NYC..but yes, way to scary!)
  • War and bloodshed (yeah that would be an unfair advantage to any kid that reads, uses the internet, or watches tv)
  • Weapons (I wonder what they define as a weapon – pencils can be weapons in schools…hmmm….)
  • Slavery (seriously – this historical fact is apparently racist – but great news for all those taking American History regents – they don’t have to study this huge part of our past…)
  • Excessive TV (define excessive…)
  • Junk Food (really???  I thought this was a food group for kids these days)
  • Video Games (yeah most kids these days have never played one…not!!!)
  • Popular Music (well there goes any chance at tapping into that prior knowledge – so much for using the mp3′s to our benefit)
  • Bodily functions (should be interesting to see how they are going to write those biology tests without human body function stuff which of course is part of the New York’s own state standards)
  • Cancer (I guess HIV/AIDS is okay…or heart disease but Cancer is a big NO!!!!)
  • Celebrities (So biographies are out because isn’t anyone who has a biography in some way a celebrity?)
  • Computers or swimming pools in the home (but not in a library or park – that is okay – in the home it is unfair for those economically disadvantaged)

I know that I sound bitter when it comes to some of these topics, but that’s because I am.  Why are we hiding from the topics that have helped shaped the diversity of New York? How is avoiding them being “culturally sensitive?”  Isn’t prior knowledge at the core of developing domain knowledge which is what every student needs to really tap into their intrinsic wish to learn?  Some of the topics on this list are just so far fetched.  I know that the goal of teaching is not not teach to the test.  However when the tests go nation wide in 2014 with the PARCC assessments, teaching to the test is just going to be a reality because the stakes get even higher.  That said – can we as educators not worry about teaching kids poetry that includes personification because that is banned?  Some of these taboo topics are at the core of our curriculum. The Core Standards reference personification – Grade 6 L5.a Demonstrate understanding of figurative language, word relationships, and nuances in word meanings. by interpreting figures of speech (e.g., personification) in context.  Yet, New York State will not allow it on their standardized tests.

It almost feels as if the list was created by a bunch of people who have never met kids in a conference room on the top floor of some office building were people just randomly shouted out the topics that came to their head (except maybe “Give human characteristics to animals or inanimate objects” that one sounds like they may have gone to a computer for some help for the well known literary device).  I just wonder how and why they think that in this day in age hiding from the topics that are all around the students is a good thing.  If it is to give the students a level playing field then just skip the test thing all together.  Otherwise next thing we know they will ban farms for a setting – because all kids who have picked a pumpkin or an apple on a school field trip will have an unfair advantage!!

The Yankee’s have a new kid in town…ribbit, ribbit!!!

Yesterday word of a new addition to New York City’s diversity was announced…a little creature that has been hiding in the urban jungle, doing what a lot of New Yorker’s try to do – keep a low profile…

There is a new frog on the block

Scientists at Rutgers University started to notice a difference in the croak of this frog, leading them down a road in which they discovered an entirely new DNA profile of this leopard frog.

So one who is not from NYC may wonder how a frog goes unnoticed in a place that is often considered a concrete jungle?  By hanging out near Yankee Stadium of course!  What makes this such a teachable moment is that it almost brings to life the idea that there are so many unknown animals in the world.  And this little frog is a perfect example that those unknown animals could be in anyone’s neighborhood.

Now, I will be the first to admit, that maybe just maybe the building of the New Stadium for the Yankees in what used to be a huge park for the kids in a very tough area of the Bronx used to play in might have had something to do with the discovery of the new unnamed leopard frog because the its habitat was greatly encroached upon and it very likely may have been driven to a smaller habitat making it easier to find.

But in terms of teaching and learning there is so much that this one little news story has to offer;

  • How does new construction effect the habitat of animals? (Social Studies)
  • How can effectively share space? (Math)
  • How are new species discovered? (Science)
  • What are the differences between animals?  How can you determine the different characteristics? (Science)
  • How do you announce something formally? (Literacy)

Considering the questions above, students can analyze urbanization and then develop their own species and create their own press releases using this little frog as a model.  A cross curricular study indeed.  The real-world to classroom connections are endless and in many ways a great way to get kids involved in something that is tangible and obtainable creating tremendous buy-in and ownership of a students learning. All because of one little frog with a chirpy little croak instead of a groan can do!

Pinterest in the classroom

Every once and a while I learn about a cool website and I get completely sucked in to website or application that to me seems to have endless uses for the classroom.


Pinterest is one of those sites.

While I am sure that it is not new to a lot of you out there, it is to me and I am amazed how many resources are available for teacher on this social networking site.

So how exactly does Pinterest work for the classroom?  Well the premise behind it is simple.  People post pictures they have taken or find on the web.  The pictures link to that person’s site or the site where they found the picture.  For example here is a screen shot of a search for process charts on pinterest -

Screenshot of a search on pinterest

If you see a picture that really catched your attention – you click on it.   Then you have two options, you can pin it to one of your own boards or you can follow the link to the site or do both.  For example, a search in the education board led me to this “pin” -

When you click on this photo it takes you to the website.  Which most times opens you to a great website with lots of valuable information.  Having only just started searching the site, I have already come across some great ideas through visuals and descriptions and the great thing is, if you are just in the mood to scan you can repin a post to your own board and save the research for later which I find so helpful because all these great ideas are in one place!

The site is truly worth taking a look at, especially if you are a visual person.  It is also a great way to connect with other educators around the country and share great ideas and for all the iphone users out there it is an app!

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.

Connecting the real world to curriculum…some jump start ideas – Part One

So, I am going to make a conscious effort to write at least a couple of times a week.  If not for the fact that so many cools things seem to come across my desk, but for the sheer fact that if I get these cool ideas up in a post up at least I know where I can look that really cool idea, that I usually forget – so to that end – REAL WORLD CURRICULUM TIE-IN IDEAS PART 1 – begins for your reading pleasure!!!!

Internet info graphic.

I was forwarded this infographic by my father as he thought I would be interested in looking at the data.  Which I was.  Bt the second I saw it, my head started spinning with ideas for math class.

A day in the internet

So why this info graphic and why am in the process of writing a great math lesson around this info graphic.   in this one document is amazing.  The students could simply graph the data – which is not that difficult but a good graphing lesson nonetheless.  But what I really envision is that groups of students work to take apart the info graphic and create a graph in multiple formats on or two facts from the chart and then dive deeper into the significance of it.  Research the history and the trends and then graph that data.  Then with the facts in front of them in visual format a report on the implications.

For example if we send that many emails in one day, what would it look like if it were mail?  How much would it cost based on the cost of a stamp assuming all the mail were just in going to someone in the United States.  What if it were mailed a year ago? Three years ago?  How does that change the cost.  The possibilities are endless as much as they are amazing.

Debris from Japan Earthquake

Several articles have recently been circulating the web on the fact that all that debris from the Japan earthquake is slowly creeping towards the Pacific coast of the US.

Some of the articles that speak to this include;

Midway Atoll Expecting Japan Tsunami Debris Soon

Japan Tsunami Debris ‘to reach Hawaii in the next few days’

Japan Tsunami Debris Spreading Across the Atlantic

In addition to these articles (and these are only a few of them) there are also some great videos like this one;

When I first started reading about this phenomena my mind started racing.  The amount that the students could learn from this real life problem is just overwhelming.  The math component alone is outstanding.  Students tracking conditions, wind, weight, storms variables.  The ideas are endless.  20 – 30 million tons of debris around going to eventually hit the coast of the Pacific US.  The problem that we are facing as a nation is a real one and one that does not have a solution.  My mind thought about an art project that involved recycled garbage.  A Social Studies/English project that had the students creating a plan of action for the towns that would be effected and what the policy is if you find debris.  There truly is an amazing amount of learning through a real world problem – and one that the students have a foundation for because the earthquake is not that far removed from their memory and on the off-chance that it is – there is plenty of video out there to remind them.

With all that said – why am I posting this – well I am hoping that the those of you who stumble onto my blog will share your own thoughts on these two ideas and help me shape the projects, that when put together will be posted for everyone to use.  So thoughts anyone?  What real world connections to classroom projects do you envision with these two different topics?

Taking a break to work…I discover slideshare!

I never anticipated that when September rolled around, I would find myself in the midst of so much work that something as simple as posting on my blog would be a complicated and often overwhelming task, that of course has taken a back seat to so many other things, albeit very exciting things, but still other things that kept me from blogging.

So much has happened and there is so much that I want to talk about with the Common Core and the New Teacher Effectiveness laws in New York State and assessment, and even the prospect of opening a new middle school, that I decided instead of just throwing everything out there at once, I would take a step back and get back to what got me blogging in the first place – really cool programs that make really cool teachers even cooler!

I am sure many of you already know about SlideShare.  Considering it is tied to LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, and every other social networking site out there, I am sure for many of you I am talking about the coolest new thing in my life and you are thinking – “Wow! She is behind!!!”  But what makes SlideShare my new best friend is a fun little thing that is popping up all over the place – a QR code.

Okay so hear me out.  I have to give a presentation on a new school proposal.  I have two minutes to get everything I want to say about this school out.  Two minutes is nothing and there are lots of other people prosing a new school along side me.  So I start thinking what can I do to be different.  Sure I can make a brochure.  I can make a postcard.  I can hand out a flyer.  But to me that is all old and done – over and over and over again!

So I decide I’m going to make a powerpoint presentation and I am going to make sure anyone and everyone who wants to see it can – when they feel like it. How you ask?  SlideShare and a QR Code!!!!  You create a powerpoint.  You upload it to SlideShare.  You take the link to your powerpoint and you copy it in “” which is googles tiny link extension.  Then google creates a tiny url and a QR Code.  Which I must say are popping up everywhere these days.

Then what you do with the QR code and your slideshow on SlideShare is up to you.  I personally put it on my business cards and pasted them out.  And since SlideShare tracks how many views your powerpoint presentation has had, I know a couple people have actually looked at it.  Which is reassuring.

Either way the whole thing is a very forward way of thinking and also pretty “green” and in terms of the classroom and teaching, it is a super easy way to share stuff with parents, students, etc. because lets be honest so many many people have smart phones these days and QR readers are free apps!

So check out my pretty basic PowerPoints presentation on my new school and some of the other PowerPoints I have on slide share – just scan the QR code below!

Or of course the tiny url for the SlideShare site :)

Debunking Danielson

Daneilson….Charlotte Danielson…heard of her?  If you haven’t and your in education, it is pretty safe to assume you will – SOON.  Her research and subsequent methodology is in many ways the “new way” in which many states are looking at as a research based way to rate teacher effectiveness. In New York, it seems that her word is quickly becoming scripture.  But with all the hype in how we rate teachers in an effort to smoke out the bad ones and elevate the good ones to saint like status, the power of the Danielson framework may be a step in the right direction in terms of creating a common language for school administration to provide meaningful feedback in turn directly impacting instruction. So what is the framework and what are the implications and why now?  All questions I have been uncovering answers  for as my school becomes part of the year two pilot across the country.


I could very easily fill a blog post and then some on who Charlotte Danielson as she has a wealth of knowledge and experience behind her, but in a nut shell she is an expert in the field of curriculum development and instruction having worked with school across the country and the world in this field.


While this one I am still discovering myself, her theories behind effective teaching lie in 6 domains of which there are 22 competencies.  The range in engaging student learning, to questioning, to management, to assessment.  You name it, she has covered it and then some.  For NYC, it means 6 of the competencies in three of the domains.


While I have yet to meet the teacher that has mastered education according to Danielson, I have quickly seen that in order to be effective chalk and talk is out.  The students need to talk, to engage with one anther, to think rather then be told, to inquiry.  The lower you ask the students to think and comprehend on  Bloom’s and DoK the less likely you will feel successful on the framework.

All that aside, in an age where the test is the be all end all to a students success, the implementation of the Danielson framework seems to pull back from the one test and puts more of  the focus on the classrooms and what is happening during instruction time.  That does not mean assessments don’t count, on the contrary, they count and some, but it is multiple measures of assessment, over the course of the year, combined with instruction, that paint a picture of effectiveness or ineffectiveness.

Am I 100% sold on this model for teacher effectiveness - not yet – but I like the direction it is heading it.  It is about time we let the children inquiry and learn rather than just kill and drill to pass some exam that changes as often as the wind.

Because of Irene and Twitter

So what does one do, when one is in the middle of a hurricane?  Goes on twitter of course!  And when you have hours to spend on twitter because the cable is going in and out, you can get lost in the world of resources that are shared by educators who have embraced web 2.0!

I was very reluctant to twitter at first, but slowly, I am getting into the idea, if for nothing else the volume of information out there and the endless ideas that are being shared.  Some of which are, in my opinion awesome, cool, and just to good not to consider for your classrooms;

Faux Facebook Worksheet

So I kinda thought this was one of those things that could be helpful as a pre-assessment activity.  Soooo many of our students know Facebook better then basic multiplication and division that this template is such a easy way to get them engaged because they basically create a Facebook page and can do it without the internet.

What I like about this resource from @tcbird1  is the fact that it is self explanatory for most kids.  It provides a lot of places for pre-assessment for students.  What I caution is the idea of making this the main assignment.  As a PBL minded educator this is not a project and it is definitely not a problem – but it could be used in conjunction with other activities very nicely.

Story Board Work Station – Math

I think that this resource is great.  It is clearly geared towards lower grades but I could see my middle schoolers using this.  What I like so much about it is the cross content aspect  - as it specifically asks students to apply concepts they have learned in Literacy to complete a math problem.  The resource, which comes from @plnauge is such a great place to start if you are looking to set up a math center quickly but with one that really creates a simple problem.

(#) Hash tags

When I finally dove into the Twittersphere, I noticed these (#) tags at the end of tweets.  At first I ignored it but slowly I started to click on them and now I can’t live without them when I am on twitter.  The hash tags collect all the tweets that have the tag and put them into a thread so you can read them all together.  Makes it very easy to focus on one thing in the very big twitter world.  Some must follows in education are #edchat, #edadmin (if you want to know what is on the mind of school administration), #sschat, #scichat, #mathchat, #engchat, #PBL,  #midleved (for us middle level people) and #nwp (The National Writing Project.

Technology Tibits

One to of the other great things about Twitter is the fact that some many people who tweet also have blogs and some of the blogs are an amazing amount of resources at your finger tips.  Once such must is Technology Tibits.  David Kapuler @dkapuler is a great site for all things web and tech.  Applications abound and quick reviews of what they do make it easy to pick and choose what works for you.  The site also lets you subscribe for a quick and easy email of the latest and coolest programs out there.


Because of Irene, I have learned the power behind twitter and have built my PLN, ten fold to connect me with amazing educators worldwide who are ready and willing to help, support, and guide in the education world.  If your not on twitter – you should be!!!

PBL the ever changing education acronym…

Over the last couple of weeks as I become more ept in Common Core lingo and learning, I have encountered the PBL acronym used in lots of different ways.  For myself and the teachers at my school PBL has always meant – Project Based Learning and silly me thought that is what everyone else in the education world understood it to mean as well – boy was I wrong.    It seems that PBL stands for a host of different teaching methods in the education world and I figured since it surprised me there was so many, why not get to the bottom of at least three of the different explanations of PBL that I have found.

PBL – Project Based Learning

My training is in Project Based Learning.  I have found that over the years, the students that I have encountered remember the projects that they have completed more than worksheets and dittos that they often encounter in schools.  Project Based Learning is explained really well in this video created by BIE.

BIE host of amazing resources and videos that really get to the heart of Project based Learning and in many way tie in really well to the next use of the acronym PBL.

I love project based learning because there is a very specific goal for the students to meet.  They have to produce something.  They have to take pride in what they do and they can look back and say, “I made that.”  But often times project based learning lacks one element which The next PBL addresses and takes the Project based learning to the next level by adding the problem.

PBL – Problem Based Learning

While I have always based curriculum on Project based learning, Problem based learning seems to be more in line with what Common Core is asking us to do.  The simple definition of it is that a problem, not just a project is presented to the students.  As it is uncovered and investigated, students develop a project that in turn answers the problem.

An example of this in action can be seen in this video.  It is a project by nature but there is a specific problem

In traditional project based learning anything can be a project.  A project can be as simple as creating a diorama of the Globe Theatre or make a poster rising gas prices but with a problem the students have to investigate a problem that they come up with based on given parameters.

Even though I have been project based for so long, with the Common Core, I am really moving towards problem based learning.

PBL – Proficiency Based Learning

This one is very new to me but one that I am really interested in learning more about.  The idea that learning shoudl be proficiency based seems obvious.  I mean when you teach a problem or a project, isn’t the point to teach students to a level of proficiency?

Yet, Proficiency based learning takes on a different approach, replacing “seat time” the time a student sits in a grade as enough time to get to the next grade with the idea that they can advance when they show proficiency in a given standard.  It runs along the same lines as competency based learning or standard based learning.

Clearly, this one challenges some of the Common Core themes in the sense that students must be competent in a series of strands in order to move on which is what Common Core mandates yet, with the PARCC assessments on pace to determine a students progress it is hard to really imagine that Proficiency based learning will take a firm hold in the education model in the US because students will still be held to “the test.”

A school using Proficiency Based Learning can be seen here in this video:

Additionally, this article published by ASCD highlights the benefits of  proficiency Based Learning versus “seat time” and challenges the ways in which or education system determines how and when a student is ready for the next level.

So is there a school out there that combines all three.  I believe there are more than one.  One such example is the School of One in NYC.   I have been trying for a while to visit the school and I hope this year I can and report back on this innovative learning style.  Until then, this video highlights what they do and how they do it.

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.





Considering Paradigms in Education…and changing them…

There is little question most believe that the education system needs an overhaul. Some believe the overhaul is needed with the teachers with sides arguing the beat way to compensate them. Other argue it is the standards in education and what is being taught to our students. Some believe it’s the financial burden to educate our growing population and what is the best way to spend the funding.

I however, tend to believe while the above needs to be addressed the problems lies in the ways in which we teach our students.  I know this is an argument that I continue to come back to, but I really do believe that the heart of our problem lies here.

Sir Ken Robinson, in my opinion, hits the nail on the head in the following video titled – Changing Education Paradigms:

There are two parts to the video that really get to me about the ways in which we teach our students.

First, he says we tell them there is “one correct answer”, and “it is at the back of the book” and “don’t look.”  In many ways he is right – we have created several generations of students who know the teacher is going to give them questions, the answers are readily available and they have to do little self discovery to find it.

Second, the idea that kindergartens are divergent thinkers and then slowly lose it the older they get and the more schooling they have.  That idea really got to me – are we stifling our kids by educating them?  Are we creating generation after generation of a model of what an educated person is?  Is there really a definition of this?  I mean am I not an educated person because I don’t know how to change the brake pads on my car?  Or is the mechanic who can uneducated compared to someone like me with a masters degree?  Why are we trying to create a box in which all of our students are supposed to fit in?

Instead of molding an “ideal student” who can pass a generic test that often times really does not test anything other then the students ability to take a test – why aren’t we considering the ways in which we can tailor the education process to be as unique as each student sitting in the hundreds of classrooms across the country???

Why teaching current events helps teach well…everything!

As I continue to work through my Common Core Unit (which I will confess, I have made great progress in), I started to take a step back today.   I began to think about how I can connect the past, specifically the American Revolutionary War to what is relevant to my students today.  I mean the Revolutionary War is not that exciting for a kid in the Bronx whose mind is more on when he can get to the park to play baseball or who just sent him a text.  Even though the American Revolution  is very relevant to their lives and important in building domain knowledge, the reality is they really don’t care – that is unless we help them understand why they need to.

So I started thinking about what I have done in the past that has captured my students attention and in many ways it is what is current.  I tend to find that if I can somehow get them to turn on the news or check out the endless media outlets on the web, the students become engaged and often tend to find me the next day to tell me what they discovered on their own about the topic we covered in class.

More, I really have begun to rethink how I can use what is current to some how get the kids to connect the current to the past.  I rely on  CNN or Youtube  to often grab their attention.  And in terms of my focus on finding the argument or the basis of the argument, what could be better?

So, what is current (or what have I used) and how have or would  I made a connection – check out some of the videos below for that answer…

Casey Anthony verdict:

The reality is she is a hot topic.  Even though she may be old news by September, her case will not be and in Science class what better way to argue the merits of DNA and how it has effected the outcomes of trials, then her case.  Showing the clip as an introduction to a unit on DNA or Forensics would really set up a great foundation for a project on criminal investigation, and whether DNA (or the lack there of) has changed how juries make their decisions.  Taking it one step further – extracting DNA is a great project.  A great explanation of the materials needed and the steps to do it can be found here.

Chilean Miner Rescue:

I actually stopped everything I was doing in an Literacy class to afford the students the opportunity to watch this as it was happening live.  What followed was an amazing discussion of why they were trapped, how they survived, why the world was so involved, what was going to happen to them, and even why they had to wear sunglasses.  The bigger point was the students began to develop a sense of empathy leading not only to a discussion about the lives of the miners but why mining is important and the ways in which mining needs to have more regulation and safety checks.  (Oh and if you were to do this now – I would present the argument as follows: is it worth risking the lives of rescue workers and spending the money to save someone?

Population control:

Both these videos set up a great debate on the role of government and a couple’s right to have a family.  In Pakistan, the death of babies (especially girls) is on the rise and in China, the 31th anniversary of the One Birth Policy will be marked in September.  Both these videos set up a great argument based unit of the role of government in the personal decision of people or even a unit of Utopian/Dystopia societies!

The role of the media when covering a news story:

This video to me is one of the best examples of exemplifying the age old question of the media’s responsibility during a news story.  Does the media have a responsibility to prevent or stop something from happening or are they supposed to just stand their and let it happen?  In a literacy class this would really start a good debate.

These are just a few clips I have used or am planning on using this year to help spark the argument in the classroom and begin to touch on Common Core Writing Standard One.   Now of course, not one of these will work for my American Revolution Unit which is what I was aiming for in linking the past to the present but I am tossing around the idea of using footage from the Egyptian protests (which I did use this past year in class) to have the students dig deeper into the ideas of rebellion to affect change.

Even though it wasn’t tea being through into the bay or a bloody battle, some of the footage and commentary, like this one,

is a good example of how a group of unhappy people can work together to demand reform.

But you tell me what you think  is easier to grasp for our kids  - the video of Egyptian protests or  a picture of the Boston Tea Party like the one shown below;

The Boston Tea Party

The Boston Tea Party

Creating the argument…

As I have mentioned, I am in a week long workshop that is guiding me in the development of a unit of study on Common Core Writing Standard 1, which in many respects the Core Standards has deemed one of the most, if not the most important standard in the reform. Case in point -

“While all three text types are important, the Standards put particular emphasis on students’ ability to write sound arguments on substantive topics and issues, as this ability is critical to college and career readiness. English and education professor Gerald Graff (2003) writes that “argument literacy” is fundamental to being educated. The university is largely an “argument culture,” Graff contends; therefore, K–12 schools should “teach the conflicts” so that students are adept at understanding and engaging in argument (both oral and written) when they enter college. He claims that because argument is not standard in most school curricula, only 20 percent of those who enter college are prepared in this respect.” –  Common Core State Standards For English Language Arts& Literacy in History/social studies, science, and technical subjects: appendix a: research supporting Key elements of the standards, page 24


The standard, as it reads, pushes students through increasing levels of complexity in creating an argument supported by evidence to support their position on a given topic.  A skill, that is undoubtly necessary not just for College and Career Readiness but life in general.  The reality is we all have opinions and at one time or another have been forced to defend our position.

Think about it, at some point in your life you have had to defend your beliefs.  Whether it be on an age old argument like the death penalty, abortion, or gay rights or something current like the Casey Anthony verdict we take a side and we defend it.

Now I appreciate that these are often difficult topics that require domain knowledge and a broad spectrum of facts, but the reality is arguing is a pretty basic skill we all participate in, even young children.

How many times have you heard a child argue with their parents why they need ice cream or the newest pair of Nike’s? Even though this is more of a basic debate,  the child usually has a pretty solid case for their reasoning.  Ice cream is for many people a necessity! :)

As an educator, the idea of framing a question to create the argument sounds easy right?  Sure, I thought so, but the reality is, I am heading into my second day of guidance and I am still wavering on what the foundation of the argument should be for my unit of study.  I still don’t have a unit question I am happy with…

The unit I am developing is taking an in-depth look at the American revolutionary war in both English Language Arts and Social Studies.  My original thoughts going in to the unit were simple – the students would have to pick a side (either the loyalists or patriots) and defend why their side is right.  But what does the Unit Question for such an activity look like?  What does the unit assessments look like?  What do I want them to get out of this unit that they can take with them to the next unit?  What do I want them to learn that will stay with them for the rest of their life?

These questions have led me down an interesting path that has led me to revise my not only my unit question but my essential question as well because I have discovered it is not that easy to just create an argument and take students down a path of self discovery and learning.

There is little question that the assessment of this unit will be project based in nature.  I am a project based teacher and coach and push all my teachers to find the project to drive the instruction but the depth in which the projects have been don’t hail in comparison to what is expected with the Common Core.

A good visual representation of a unit assessment that is argument based and aligned with the Common Core can be seen in this video:

This video can also been seen on the Buck Institute for Education which has a bank of videos that support project based learning and the argument.

Moving forward, I will make sure I post the foundations of my unit and the unit as it becomes developed.  By then, I will have a better idea what my argument is going to be – I have no choice.  I have to come down to developing a question that will guide my students down a path that will help them begin to learn the foundations of argument.  In turn, I can only hope they can transfer those skills so when the newest pair of Nike’s hit the shelves they will have a bank of tools to convince their parents to buy them, or have a great job to be able to afford as many pairs as they want!

Acronyms as teaching tools

It is not uncommon that I get a paper that has “LOL,”  “TTYL,” “BRB,” “SMH,” or even more interesting there are times  I  will call on  a student and they will say “IDK, Miss” as if I am just supposed to know that the student doesn’t know the answer with those three letters.  Granted, I make it my business to know these acronyms and many more so that when I read a piece of writing, I have a vague clue what my students are saying, (but that is another soon to be written post on the intraticies of text speak.) so can begin the process of changing and converting their writing into something that resembles more of the formal practices of standard English.

However, in thinking about it, acronyms are some of our best tools we have as teachers.  Constantly looking for ways in which we can help the students remember a difficult concept or provide them with a quick fix when they are in a bind.  Now half the battle is in making sure they remember what the acronym stands for but the other half, have no fear, the part in coming up with the catchy phrase or word is here.  Well not all of them, but at least a good start.

I am not going to spend to much time in this post on acronyms we can use as teachers as I have started to collect them on their respective content pages, rather want to digress a little further into their importance.

Lets face it – I am sure all of you can think of one acronym that you learned in school.  For me it is “King Phillip Cleaned Our Filthy Gym Socks.”  Mrs. Collins said that to us so many times, I will never forget that the order of classification of animals and plants is Kingdom, Phylum, Class, Order, Family, Genius, Species.  It is just one of those things that has stuck with me and I am sure if you are reading this you have one too.

So why is it that in an age where students are surrounded by them and use them all the time do I see teachers shying away from them?  Trying instead to find another means to accomplish the same goal?  It worked for us – for me, I still know the order of animal classification, so why wouldn’t to work for our students?

I do believe one of the best things we can do as teachers is provide our students with the tools they need to survive in the world outside of the classroom.  Will I ever really need to know how to classify animals – probably not but I have learned to embrace acronyms as a way of life lately and I think I am not that scared of them because my teachers useda them often with me.

And if you are looking for more acronyms or have an awesome on to share check out the new and updates pages on the blog for a growing list of them by content area!!!

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.

New School Year…new baselines!

2010 – 2011 will prove to be an interesting one for many school districts around the country.   As more and more states change state wide assessments, districts adjust to fluctuation in funding, and teachers vary their methods to adjust to the new Common Core standards adopted by 35 states, big changes are facing the new school year.

To that end – the push for literacy in the Science and Social Studies classroom is a big school year goal.  In an effort to ease that transition, the push for non-fiction texts in these two content areas with more of an emphasis of fiction text in the English Language Arts classes should be one of the smoothest ways to increase literacy fluency across subject areas.  So where to begin – at the beginning of course – with a BASELINE!

Baseline’s are great tools – and provide a lot of information for teachers about their students current academic abilities.

FAQ’s on Baselines -

Who: Your students write it – you get to analyze it!

What: It is a writing assignment with no rules, no structure, and no guidance from the teacher.  You can have the students write about anything or be subject specific (i.e. – what do you know about the periodic table of elements?  or write me a poem…)

When: Baselines occur at the beginning of the school year or beginning of a unit.  In some instances you can do them at the beginning of a lesson but that time is better used by a do now, or entrance slip (a baseline on a very very very informal scale.)

Where: I find baselines easily done on looseleaf or a pre-printed lined paper with the focus.  The less direction by the teacher the better.

Why: Why not?  What better way to get to know what your kids can do and what they are thinking without the pressure of making sure you call on or conference with everyone.

How: Give the students the focus (i.e. “Write me a story?” or “What do you know about the American Revolution?”) and a specific amount of time.  Usually 2o – 30 minutes.  If the baseline is assessing their writing process you want to administer it over three days – day 1 – they write their story, day 2 – they revise and edit and day 3 – they publish.

My first target area for a baseline will be in just collecting the students background knowledge in social studies and science.  I know it sounds almost two simple, however, having them write this information down tells me a lot about their writing fluency.

  • Do they write in complete sentences?
  • Do they bullet out notes?
  • What is their spelling like?
  • Do they use correct punctuation and capitalization?
  • Si there a sense of grammar conventions?
  • Do they show some beginning, middle, and end – even if it is a sentence?
  • Do they have an understanding of fact and fiction?
  • Is there a voice in their writing?

Of course, the information that the students provide regarding the content is just as important.  It provides tiny clues as to whether or not they have paired a world of attention in previous years during these classes.  However, being able to get a quick snapshot of where your students are not only academically but also get a feel for how quickly they work and how long they can focus is invaluable in the first couple of days of school.

Additionally, it gives you the opportunity to target one or two areas that all or most of the students need improvement on as well as providing you your first tool to measure student growth.

So what do you do when you have a bunch of papers written all over in various states of completion? – Read them of course.  Baselines are not meant to be used for your first grade of the 1st quarter/semester – they are informal and informative to the teacher.  For the students it builds their sense of trust that everything they write or do will not be graded and it provides, the opportunity for opening an exchange of dialog between your students.

In the end, baselines, should become a regular part of the assessment process.  When combines with midlines and endlines they become invaluable to measure student growth and performance as well as provide you tremendous amounts of feedback on what your students learned and didn’t.  For the content areas, they are an easy way to start building literacy into the curriculum, without diving to deeply into the whole literacy thing – yet!