One teachers fight to prevent another school shooting


Originally posted on Momastry, this account of one teachers efforts to prevent bullying, one class, one student at time is inspiring and brilliant.  Her efforts are something I plan on encouraging my staff to do with our own Middle School population. To paraphrase one part of the account – teaching is not just about learning math.  

A few weeks ago, I went into Chase’s class for tutoring.

I’d emailed Chase’s teacher one evening and said, “Chase keeps telling me that this stuff you’re sending home is math – but I’m not sure I believe him. Help, please.” She emailed right back and said, “No problem! I can tutor Chase after school anytime.” And I said, “No, not him. Me. He gets it. Help me.” And that’s how I ended up standing at a chalkboard in an empty fifth grade classroom staring at rows of shapes that Chase’s teacher kept referring to as “numbers.”

I stood a little shakily at the chalkboard while Chase’s teacher sat behind me, perched on her desk, using a soothing voice to try to help me understand the “new way we teach long division.”  Luckily for me, I didn’t have to unlearn much because I never really understood the “old way we taught long division.” It took me a solid hour to complete one problem, but l could tell that Chase’s teacher liked me anyway. She used to work with NASA, so obviously we have a whole lot in common.

Afterwards, we sat for a few minutes and talked about teaching children and what a sacred trust and responsibility it is. We agreed that subjects like math and reading are the least important things that are learned in a classroom. We talked about shaping little hearts to become contributors to a larger  community – and we discussed our mutual dream that those communities might be made up of individuals who are Kind and Brave above all.

And then she told me this.

Every Friday afternoon Chase’s teacher asks her students to take out a piece of paper and write down the names of four children with whom they’d like to sit the following week. The children know that these requests may or may not be honored. She also asks the students to nominate one student whom they believe has been an exceptional classroom citizen that week. All ballots are privately submitted to her.

And every single Friday afternoon, after the students go home, Chase’s teacher takes out those slips of paper, places them in front of her and studies them. She looks for patterns.

Who is not getting requested by anyone else?

Who doesn’t even know who to request?

Who never gets noticed enough to be nominated?

Who had a million friends last week and none this week?

You see, Chase’s teacher is not looking for a new seating chart or “exceptional citizens.” Chase’s teacher is looking for lonely children. She’s looking for children who are struggling to connect with other children. She’s identifying the little ones who are falling through the cracks of the class’s social life. She is discovering whose gifts are going unnoticed by their peers. And she’s pinning down- right away- who’s being bullied and who is doing the bullying.

As a teacher, parent, and lover of all children – I think that this is the most brilliant Love Ninja strategy I have ever encountered. It’s like taking an X-ray of a classroom to see beneath the surface of things and into the hearts of students. It is like mining for gold – the gold being those little ones who need a little help – who need adults to step in and TEACH them how to make friends, how to ask others to play, how to join a group, or how to share their gifts with others. And it’s a bully deterrent because every teacher knows that bullying usually happens outside of her eyeshot –  and that often kids being bullied are too intimidated to share. But as she said – the truth comes out on those safe, private, little sheets of paper.

As Chase’s teacher explained this simple, ingenious idea – I stared at her with my mouth hanging open. “How long have you been using this system?” I said.

Ever since Columbine, she said.  Every single Friday afternoon since Columbine.

Good Lord.

This brilliant woman watched Columbine knowing that ALL VIOLENCE BEGINS WITH DISCONNECTION. All outward violence begins as inner loneliness. She watched that tragedy KNOWING that children who aren’t being noticed will eventually resort to being noticed by any means necessary.

And so she decided to start fighting violence early and often, and with the world within her reach. What Chase’s teacher is doing when she sits in her empty classroom studying those lists written with shaky 11 year old hands  - is SAVING LIVES. I am convinced of it. She is saving lives.

And what this mathematician has learned while using this system is something she really already knew: that everything – even love, even belonging – has a pattern to it. And she finds those patterns through those lists – she breaks the codes of disconnection. And then she gets lonely kids the help they need. It’s math to her. It’s MATH.

All is love- even math.  Amazing.

Chase’s teacher retires this year –  after decades of saving lives. What a way to spend a life: looking for patterns of love and loneliness. Stepping in, every single day-  and altering the trajectory of our world.

TEACH ON, WARRIORS. You are the first responders, the front line, the disconnection detectives, and the best and ONLY hope we’ve got for a better world. What you do in those classrooms when no one  is watching-  it’s our best hope.

Teachers- you’ve got a million parents behind you whispering together: “We don’t care about the damn standardized tests. We only care that you teach our children to be Brave and Kind. And we thank you. We thank you for saving lives.”

- See more at: http://momastery.com/blog/2014/01/30/share-schools/#sthash.2acZX1YQ.dpuf

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 Stancoe.org)

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.

Corporal Punishment – the debate continues


It may come as a shock to many that Corporal Punishment is legal in 19 states across the country.  According to this map the states in red allow it in some form;

19 States in red allow some form of Corporal Punishment in schools.

While opinions are strong on both sides of the debate, the debate remains alive and in some places in the country growing in numbers for a refinement of what Corporal Punishment is and just how far is to far and just how far is not far enough.

While it didn’t make it off the floor, one lawmaker in Kansas is pushing for harder Corporal Punishment allowing teachers to leave redness and bruises on children who are found to be breaking the rules in schools.

The bill which failed, is for many a sign that Corporal Punishment is not something that is going to quietly go away, as one National expert pointed,  “Paradoxically, I think it’s a good sign, and I’m totally against all spanking,” Murray Straus, co-director of the Family Research Laboratory at the University of New Hampshire, tells Yahoo Shine. “It’s a sign of desperation on the part of people trying to hold back the century-long development of more humane treatment of children. Even if it passes, which is unlikely, it’s not going to change the trend.” 

With Corporal Punishment laws trickling back into the spotlight, it brings to light the different ways in which schools address discipline especially in states that have banned it.  In my own state a well known Charter Network is dealing with its own questions as parents speak out harshly against padded rooms.  The argument – a room so small should not be a place to keep a child with discipline problems.  According to this news report, in the state of Washington, where spanking and hitting are illegal, parents are struggling with the notion of placing an unruly child in a padded “safe” room.

And these articles are just the top of the iceberg in an on growing and long discussed debate.  Blogs like MHBenton’s Blog and Newsy Guide along with websites like Stophitting and Corpun highlight just how much of a discussion Corporal Punishment is.

In a day in age where schools and school districts are faced with increasing numbers of students who push back and lash out,  the options facing the adults whose job is to protect the innocence around them is limited and sometimes not enough when more and more schools find themselves in a situation with one of their own students holding a loaded gun and pulling the trigger.

That doesn’t mean that I believe that violence solves violence.  On the contrary, I believe that across the country we are faced with a growing problem and I can honestly say, I don’t even know where to begin with a solution.

At the heart of student learning – Engagement (a.k.a – 3c!!!)


As I said in my earlier post, my current focus on education is on dealing with the sweeping changes and reform that seem to be facing much of the country.  And for anyone who finds themselves facing the Danielson Framework for Teacher Effectiveness then it should come as no surprise that I decided to start my re-blogging efforts with none other than the heart of the framework —

Engaging Students in Learning

or

as we in Danielson speak most often see it

3c!

In order to support that, I have decided to start logging websites, links and documents that support a deeper understanding of student engagement.  Those who may ask why start with 3c – well to be perfectly honest, it is the point of teaching – engaging our students, helping them learn, showing them the way.  I didn’t need the staff from Teachscape to tell me that 3c – Engaging Students in Learning is at the heart of the framework.  I am an educator, and every good educator knows that an engaged student is a student who is learning.

The teacher effectiveness tab is a work in progress.  Check back often as I discover more sites that support the framework.  Until then, hopefully my meager collection of links for 3c will support higher student engagement in classrooms around the country.

Dealing with Danielson


Lately, as many educators find themselves grappling with rubrics and frameworks that have been adopted, adapted, and adjusted to meet the needs of school districts across the country to satisfy local, state, and federal funding.   From the watchful eye of Race to the Top to private sourcing, to media scrutiny education has found itself in a battle to prove that it is accountable for the actions of everyone – students, teachers, administrators, districts…you name it.

And while the constant pressure to please and appease everyone seems overwhelming at times, as a tax payer in a district with higher than even high taxes, I find myself tore between my job that demands I account for every bit of feedback and my own personal issues with a system that has is turning to some key members of the educational world and taking their writing as scripture.

Given that few changes will come to the system in terms of a reversal with the same rapid speed in which they were implemented (for many of us seemingly overnight), the teachings of Marshall, Danielson, and Marzano will stay firmly in place – for now.

Each of them has their pluses and minuses in their own right and while I advocate for none – I am now in my own state of “Dealing with Danielson.”  And thus, have come to learn that the best way to handle it, is to embrace it.

And I don’t say embrace lightly.  My time with the rubric has not been limited to a few months and a quick cram before I was forced to apply it to a teacher in the middle of the lesson.  I don’t believe it is easy for anyone to attempt such a feat and truly believe that should not be the case.  I have found over the last three years of my scaffolded push deeper into the frame, that while there are some competencies that have been argued to be more “essential” then others, the reality is that each competency, each part, while a craft in and of itself, does not work in isolation in the classroom.  Rather, to truly have a deeper insight into a teachers practice and the areas where they need to continue to hone their craft, one really has to look at the framework as a whole rather then a sum of it’s parts.

While I have not found myself blogging as much as I would like lately because my attention has been needed elsewhere, I realize how much I miss this forum and the opportunity to continue to dialogue on the teachable moments, the moments where learning comes full circle and the “ah ha” moments come to life.

As I continue to “deal with Danielson,” I will work harder to share my insight, resources and questions with those outside of my safe haven.  In order to be a better system, we need to share with each other, learn and support.  Then and only then do we make the changes that Danielson, Marshall, Marzano and those well before them hoped for.

More Blooms and DoK….(this time in visuals)


While the frames of thinking continue to shift back and forth between Bloom’s Taxonomy and Depth of Knowledge, Cobb County ESOL has some great resources (with a focus on ELL’s) but can be applied to all of our students. So happy Friday – enjoy some charts and feel free to share how you use them in your class.

Bloom’s Taxonomy

While I normally do not  gravitate to Bloom’s Taxonomy charts, I think this one is great for students.

Bloom’s Peacock!!!!

Depth of Knowledge

It is not often that I come across a DoK chart that is not a circle, but this one sums up DoK in another student friendly visual.

DoK – my hero!!!!

and another:

DoK – Yeah!!!! (Sorry its a PDF)

Both of these charts are just some of the great resources that can be found on this site.  Along with some other great charts to help create those teachable moments….

The Opt-Out Debate


For students in grades 3 – 8 today marks Day 3 of the three-day New York State English Language Arts Assessments.  The state tests are finally here and the combination of relief, anxiety, stress, excitement is overwhelming both teachers and students.  The majority of the students in the state of New York walked into their schools yesterday, took a deep breath and braced themselves for no less than 90 minutes of the hardest exam ever to be given by the State of New York over the course of three days.

Hence the relief, anxiety, stress, and excitement.  The sentiments were felt by teachers and students alike.

  • Relief that the test is finally here which means that it is almost over and the rest of the year with be test-free.
  • Anxiety that the work in preparing for this will not be enough.
  • Stress that it will be too hard, that the kids won’t finish.
  • Excitement that the hard work all year was not for naught, that the students finished, that they worked to the ability we believed they could work.

The daughter of my school’s literacy coach came home from the test excited that she learned something new from the test.  But she was not the norm.  For the most part the test came and went and the stress of the moment was replaced by the usual comings and goings of the day. Only to be repeated and repeated again.

While the majority of the students cycled through just another year of testing, albeit, not like any other year, but still another year, another subset of students added themselves to a growing group of students who have decided to OPT-OUT!

A term that was almost unheard of two years ago, when New York joined adopted the Common Core Standards and a small number of families had their students refuse to take the state examination.  For the most part these students simply stayed home during the exam, but this year the opt-out movement is growing…and growing.

Students across the state of New York came to school yesterday with the following letter - Refusal Letter.  A letter that many schools across the state knew was coming but didn’t really know what to do with.   The notion that students would simply walk into school and say, “I am not taking this test.” was as much a change as the test itself. And while some superintendents in the City of New York are declaring that students who opt-out will not be promoted (a level 2 mastery of the New York State assessments is required for promotion, or is the case now completion of a portfolio which requires the student to demonstrate level 3 mastery, and in my opinion is far more difficult than even the new state tests).

Please don’t get me wrong, I firmly believe in civil disobedience when warranted.  However, as an educator for many years, I am trying to understand what message we are sending our students by having them take part in the Opt-Out.  What was the message  instilled in them? Did it empower a generation of students to believe that they can opt-out of anything that they don’t want to do?  Did it drive the notion that their parents will fix everything in a letter?  Did it divide communities with in schools between the students who tested and the students who didn’t? Did it foster the belief that they don’t ever need to take a test? Is it the students that don’t want to take the test or is it the parents pushing a different agenda? Probably none of the above, but it’s questions that came to my mind.

The reality is that life, here in the United States or otherwise is filled with tests.  SAT, PSAT, ACT, GRE, LSAT, MCAT, Drivers exam, civil service exams, high school entrance exams, certification exams.  There are tests and there are laws around tests.  Some of them include;

  • 1898 Williams v. Mississippi ruled that literacy tests and poll taxes were not a violation of the 15th Amendment.
  • 1978 Regents of the University of California v. Bakke ruled that  it is unconstitutional to give separate testing to students other than “white” for purposes of admission.
  • 2003 Gratz v. Bollinger ruled that giving minority students a predetermined amount of points for their  “race” on an admissions exam was unconstitutional.

If the supreme court can decide that it is not unconstitutional to give its residents a literacy test to get your voter registration, why is it that this year there is a sudden determination that it is “unfair” to test students.  Didn’t we all take tests in school growing up?

While I firmly believe that teacher evaluation needs to be reexamined and that testing is not the only answer, the notion that “(testing is), taking the fun out of learning.” is a bit extreme for me.  The students in my school have done some wonderful fun work this year that have supported some of the same things that they were tested on.

Considering that US is a global leader, wouldn’t we want to prove our education prowess with some concrete data?  Don’t we want to show the world that our students are academically ready to face challenges with concrete solutions on a global scale. On some level doesn’t the state tests show that?

Until we can come up with an uniformed way to do so, I would hazard a guess that the test will remain, especially with PARCC finding its way in front of students during the 2014 – 2015 school year. Commercialized or not, the likely hood of that assessment not being used by students in at least 34 states is slim to none.

Yet, the articles and the controversies that surround the test are multiplying.  From the Opt-out to the unpaid product placement, even if the tests were perfect, they will forever be flawed.  The days of testing quietly coming and going are gone.  In an age of high stakes testing anything that assesses our students is going to be controversial.   Just take a look at some of the articles surrounding this years testing;

Yet at the end of the day, New York compared to other states seems to fall somewhere in the middle when you consider that  Texas tests 45 of the mandated 180 school days while North Carolina tests about 10 hours of the 1,025 instructional hours. In comparison, New York seems middle ground testing the majority of the students in garde 3 – 7 about 6 – 7 days a year.

Every state tests.  While the tests vary, no matter where you go in the country, students will face testing.  Maybe the debate should be on the national level and not the state one.  If we are moving to a “national” testing system then why isn’t the Opt-out debate in congress now?  Instead of teaching to the test or against the test or for the test or about the test, maybe we can just find the moments that matter, the standards and skills they really need so when they do test, those teachable moments will count for even more.

Would someone please define good teaching?


As I stared at the video I was supposed to write a faux observation for I rummaged through the myriad of rubrics, write-ups and points of reference I have filed away in my head under the blanket umbrella I commonly refer to as “good teaching.”

This “second year social studies teacher in NYC” was engaging her students in a lesson on the first amendment. She posed questions to her students about the pretend case at hand – a girl who believed her freedom of religion was violated for wearing rosaries - and structured her class to promote both small and whole group instruction.

During the course of the ten minutes. This still novice teacher posed questions which groups of students discussed first. She had clear systems for management and not one student in her class disrupted the flow of learning. During whole class conversation she called on a different student every time to share their group thoughts to the ever evolving and developing debate on the violation of first amendment rights.

While there was no concrete plan for capturing informal records of assessment, I did make note that it was the group and independent work part of the workshop model.

Yes, she did start many questions with the word “what.”  Yes, the conversation during whole group was often student to teacher. But she did demand her students justify their response with concrete evidence. She did make sure they formed a valid argument for their opinion and she did not allow any question to go to whole group before it was discussed in a turn and talk.

She incorporated technology. She actively engaged during the small group conversation. She supported students who were struggling and she encouraged students who were not to keen on participating.  I could not help but be impressed.  I know I wasn’t that good during my second year.

But as I stared at the paper which I was to write the observation on, I could not help but notice those around me finding the lesson filled with fault. From the amount of times she started a question with “What,” to the teacher to student questioning, it seemed as if this still fairly new teacher was doing anything but “good teaching.”

If all the above happened in the lesson,  if the class was engaged and each student was able to develop an opinion about the first amendment and the violation of civil liberties, how was what she did not good teaching?

What is good teaching anyway?  Doesn’t good teaching mean that the students take away something with them?  Doesn’t a good teacher teach students to transfer skills?  Doesn’t a good teacher foster a level of caring and respect?  Was I missing something? Did I overlook an 800 pound elephant in the classroom? I went to the web and found myself staring at video after video of classroom lessons.  I asked;

Is this good teaching?

Is this?

What about this?

After watching a bunch of videos and considering the many times I have watched a live lesson I found that I could even answer my question.  So I referred to my frames.   The notion of such may seem new but it has always been there.  For example ASCD developed and chart in 2007 that highlighted the areas of good teaching.

qualities-of-good-teachingThis idea of “good teaching” has really pushed itself to the forefront of all things education.  Districts and states are throwing around the likes of  Danielson, Marshall, and Marzano as the be all end all to what good teaching looks like, feels like, and sounds like.  But I can’t help and wonder if we, as a system, are losing sight of what we used to see, in an effort to fit the mold of a predefined rubric.

Don’t get me wrong, I have learned much about observation and evaluation thanks to the coaching and support that I have received using the Danielson Framework.  I have read the books and seen the positive outcomes of evaluations of teacher effectiveness under Marshall and I have even gleaned from the website how Marzano also supports effective teacher development.

But that is me, and when you are surrounded by current and future school leaders, who have watched the same 10 minutes as you and you find yourself in the minority it is hard not to wonder where we as a system are going wrong.  Doesn’t everyone know that just because you start a question with “what” doesn’t mean the question is not complex .  For example;

  • What does the first amendment cover? – basic recall
  • What care some things that you think might contribute to…? – a “what” question that is much more complex.

Doesn’t everyone know that under the Danielson rubric at least (and the one that NYC is pretty much locked into for a rating system) that an example of effective questioning and instruction could include “many students actively engaged in the discussion” or “discussions that allow students to talk to one another, without ongoing mediation by the teacher?”  Isn’t it clear to everyone that “a plan for a lesson that is well structured, with reasonable time allocations is an effectively developed lesson?”

Or is it just me, did I want to see something that wasn’t there?  Did I believe because I did not see management problems or students running around out of control that there was active student learning when there wasn’t?

When it comes down to it, it’s not so much what happened during the course of the 10 minute video, it’s the fact that there was such a disparity between the rating of the lesson among the participants in the room.  Teaching can not simply be based on a value-added test score.  If we can not come to an agreement on what good teaching is as observers, how can we possibly find the teachable moment to guide teachers into what it should look like?

Steubenville in the middle and high school classroom


It is reminiscent of stories that one may have overheard in the hallways and cafeteria of any school.  Not one about race or ethnicity. Not one about the unfair science test.  Not one about the latest dance craze.  We have all seen it.  A group of boys talking about the “wavy” details.  A group of girls huddling around another helping hide her anger or tears before she goes “od.”  Huddled whispers, half sentences, the inkling of the long night of events pieced together through notes, shared text messages, and rumors of everything streaming on YouTube. Someone always talks.  Someone gets scared.   Someone always breaks.

The incident doesn’t matter much, a fight, a pregnancy, someone to drunk to move, a sexual assault. The nature of the event doesn’t matter as much as the way in which the “secret” gets out. And it always gets out. Always.  It used to be words, stories, rumors.  It used to be “he said, she said.”  Not anymore.

In an age where technology is everywhere, the students involved in the Steubenville rape case are in many ways just as anonymous as the protestors outside wearing masks.  They are any teenager, getting drunk, getting stupid, getting caught.  The difference is social media, pieced together a story, thanks in part to their classmates, acquaintances  friends.  Their own combined ignorance, in a day age where it is far to easy for someone to post something on the internet, where, regardless of how hard you try, will remain for an entirety trapped in a web far to twisted and woven for anything to escape.

And as the dust settles on all the Steubenville kids, because the reality is they are kids, the futures they had ahead of them, no matter how bright, will forever tainted by their ignorance and by the adults who finally decided enough was enough.

But as adults, especially adults in education, we (not just those in Steubenville) should be making sure we educate our students to not follow in their footsteps.  As people across the country cry ignorance and disgrace, the real story, the one that will not garner the media attention,  lies in the days ahead in how we as a society move forward.

If Steubenville fades into just another 15 minutes of infamy for a languishing town, the ignorance will be on our parts.  Not just on the teenagers who didn’t think they did anything wrong.  As educators, we must use Steubenville, and what happened, to prevent and educate our own students on what happens when you “don’t think.”  As educators we know the “what if’s,”  “the consequences for our actions”  “the reality of playing in an adult world.” Yet our students, some of whom may have lived a night very reminiscent of the night similar to the now infamous one, need to hear, need to consider, the events of Steubenville and to think about what happens when they forget morality, humanity, and the deep dark wooing of the world wide web.

As an educator one may wonder, how when there is so little time to do anything in a day, we can possibly find time for something like the events in Steubenville, Ohio.  But Steubenville is at the very core, exactly the story we are trying to teach our students to grapple with.  With the Common Core and developing an argument everywhere in schools Steubenville affords us a chance to bridge classroom and newsroom.  An opportunity to wade through fact and opinion to develop a logical argument.  A chance to identify  observe, formulate, and prove, how one night can start off so right and end up so wrong.

However, it is not easy with everyone else’s opinion out there. From the beliefs that the police covered it up, to the protestors demanding that football is not as important as sexual assault, many of the articles around the case are a splattering of facts in a sea of opinion.  A lesson in itself as we work with our own kids to determine credible and incredible sources.

Amid the chaos of “breaking news in Steubenville” one may wonder where to begin.  How do you bring Steubenville into your classroom so few reporters paint a picture of the town, the events, and the ways in which the people of the failing steel town live.  So few that offer a glimpse of how these people have reacted to their town being thrust into the international scene over something that many think is an overreaction from a noisy outside world.

Yet a few have captured the essence of the the real tragedy, the deeper series of events that unfolded providing a platform from which to begin. Yahoo! Sports writing Dan Wetzel has been following the trial through his writing that often reads more like narrative non-fiction rather then a snippet from the Daily News.

Bringing his writing in the classroom, his portait of a night gone horribly wrong and the days that follow will allow anyone who reads it to draw their own conclusions about the events and develop their own opinions of the case and the town that has now become synonymous with the immorality teenagers.

On a social and emotional level, Wetzel’s words, or for that matter any articles or new clips that allow for a classroom of middle or high school students to weigh their own moral conscience are where we as educators should be focusing our attention as we continue to bridge the gaps between textbooks and real world.  Deeper questions that need a deeper thought process beyond, “No I do not believe in the death penalty,” or “Yes, I believe women have a right to choose.”

While these are important to have an opinion on, when you ask a teenager who has posted or watched a fight on Youtube before to consider whether they “would they have posted the video or pictures of the young girl passed out,” the question becomes a little more personal.  A little more real.   As an educator, if you pose to your class, “Would you have stood by and watched this girl being sexually assaulted,” when you know that several in your class have recently watched their own classmates fight on the street, the question becomes a little more personal.  A little more real.  As an educator, when you pose to the least and most popular student in the grade the question – “Would they have helped the girl,” the question becomes a little more personal. It becomes a little more real.  It becomes such the reality of Steubenville is at its essence all of our realities.  All of our communities have teenagers, who on a weekend make plans to have a good time.  No one plans for it to go horribly wrong. No one plans to hear about it in the hallways of our own schools.

The lessons learned in Steubenville become lessons we should be instilling in all of our children.  The story of Steubenville is a way to bridge the classroom to the read world in a way that none of us really want to do but all of us should be doing every chance we get.  Whether we like it or not Steubenville is more then a teachable moment, it is a life long lesson and one that should not quickly forgotten. 

THE RECANT- Banned Word list is now banned…


Very quietly yesterday the New York City department fo education, withdrew the official banned word list with much less fanfare than their announcement of it.

“After reconsidering our message to test publishers and the reaction from parents, we will revise our guidance and cut the list of words to avoid on tests. We will continue to recommend companies to be sensitive to student backgrounds and avoid unnecessary distractions that could invalidate test scores and give an inaccurate assessment of how students are doing. New York City schools teach the broadest, richest curriculum in the nation and we can’t let this distract from the important work going on our classrooms.”

Of course since the release of the banned word list there have been a host of comments from people who support the list to people who have managed to use all the words in one well written commentary.  SFNY whose post on gothamist.com so eloquently managed to point out his feelings on the list is with the following thoughts;

“It writes itself!!

A celebrity’s abuse of alcohol (beer and liquor), tobacco, or drugs at birthday celebrations (and birthdays) leads to impairment of bodily functions and cancer (and other diseases). 

Other catastrophes/disasters (tsunamis and hurricanes) afflict addicted celebrities who act like overgrown children when dealing with serious issues.  Coping mechanisms include smoking cigarettes and masturbating to computers in the home which is a crime that can lead to death and disease, divorce, and stunted evolution. 

Celebrity addicts are also addicted to expensive gifts, vacations, and
prizes, gambling and Halloween costumes.  Rarely victims of homelessness, the celebrity addicts indulge their habits in homes with swimming pools that often have ample grounds for hunting, whether it be hunting for junk food or in-depth discussions of sports that must prior knowledge gained from celebrity sportscasters. 

Extreme addiction can lead to loss of employment, and other disorders such as stockpiling nuclear weapons, obsession with Occult topics (i.e. fortune-telling), parapsychology, politics, and pornography.  In extreme cases, the celebrity addict may plunge into psychosis and poverty, become enraptured with Rap Music, or preoccupied with religion, religious holidays and festivals (including but not limited to Christmas, Yom Kippur, and Ramadan) and Rock-and-Roll music. 

Occasionally the celebrity addict will run away to join the real-world Society for Sex Slavery And Terrorism that they’ve experienced in the past on sets for television shows and video games.  Such traumatic change of circumstance will cause hallucinations of vermin (rats and roaches), real and imagined outbreaks of violence, war and bloodshed (using weapons like guns, knives, etc.) and involvement in witchcraft, sorcery, etc., a tragic real-life end to what started out as mere psychological escape.” - Written by SNFY on gothamist.com

Of course, many have pointed out that this list is just about testing and should not be the curriculum itself, but the truth of the matter is that if the students are not ultimately going to be tested on it then a teacher’s time (or at least part of it) will be spent on teaching something that will and activating that of so very important prior knowledge.

It would like to believe that a state who contracts a vendor to develop standardized testing would have the foresight to option a company that would at least have an understanding for what is developmentally appropriate for students and use the time and resources to focus on much more pressing matters like curriculum development or data analysis rather than developing lengthy banned word lists.

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!!

Titanoboa – In NYC!?! Awesome!


Just when you thought there was nothing new that could makes it presence known to what many people call “the greatest city on earth,” something that only looks like it could be dreamed up in a Hollywood film lab is calling Grand Central Station its temporary home.

The Titanoboa depicted in drawing

The snakes true size can be seen for the first time in NYC own grad central station as a precursor to the April 1st première of the Smithsonian special – Titanoboa: Monster Snake!

Grand Central Station has a monster visitor

What makes this discovery such a teachable moment is that it is so new.  Discovered in 2009 in a Columbian coal mine (which is also a hot bed for fossils) by scientist Dr. Carlos Jaramillo, the snake is believed to have lived and competed with a killer crocodile that measured in a small 23 feet (small next to a 48 foot snake of course!)  When we often find ourselves teaching about fossils and the discovery of them in times that are far removed for anyone’s memory, this discovery is so current and so reachable, that it really brings the world of paleontology to life.

This video below digs deeper in Jaramillo’s thoughts about the snakes discovery;

To bring the snakes ginormous size to an even greater reality, the replica is going on tour across the country – a true opportunity to see this amazing fossil find up close and personal.  But if you want an idea just how big this prehistoric predator really was these pictures really give you an idea -

Anaconda vs. Titanoboa fossil comparison

As as a city bus!

and if that is not enough – this video on what a zoo would have to feed Titanoboa if it were around today should bring it even more to life.

I can’t say I disappointed I won’t get to see one for real, I don’t think I want to really meet a giant anaconda, let alone this great-great-great-great grandfather of our version of a monster snake, but inspiring the kids with this amazing story – well that is a super exciting!

Detachment – another Dangerous Minds meets Freedom Writers or something more?


This weekend Adrian Brody’s movie, Detachment opened in New York.  The movie slatted to roll open across the country is a movie about the American Education system and two of its major players – teachers and students. Set in an urban High School in a hard neighborhood, the movie claims to show the real battle brewing in American Education through the lives of both the teachers and the students and the struggle between detaching and attaching to the person behind the role.

This is not Hollywood’s first time depicting the difficult world of the inner city school system.  How can anybody forget Michele Pfeiffer in Dangerous Minds trying to get “hardened” students to dissect Dylan Thomas poems as they balance her assignments and running a gang.  Or Hillary Swank portraying Erin Gruwell as she turned a class of students from apathetic to vested in their learning with a marble notebook.

Both these films got the Hollywood treatment, but Detachment looks different. As an inner city school teacher for the better part of the last decade, there is no question that I have been caught in the same web of emotion with my own students over the years, wondering what else I could have done to save them, if my efforts to try to give them something more were enough.

Its hard not to start to feel for students who should be focused on being a kid and not facing the ever difficult adult world at the age of 7.  But all to often that is what inner city school teachers are faced with and the older the students get the more the apathy sets in, turning the task of teaching into a battle.

While I haven’t seen the movie yet – it does seem that for the first time in a long time Hollywood chose to focus on a real issue in urban education, using the same emotions that real inner city teachers experience.  Maybe for once a film will be real and gritty rather than fake and overdone.  You will all be the first to know when I get a chance to see it :)

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

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…

PINK SLIME!!!

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!!!!

Hunger Games, Catching Fire and Mockingjay vs. Crossed, Matched, and Reached….


Before I even being this post, I want to be very very very clear – there are some serious SPOILERS in what I am writing so if you a diehard believer in not knowing what the end of a book is about – let alone any details from part of a great piece of fiction…then I would urge you not to read.

That said – I also want to be very clear that I am going to through my two cents in about two trilogies that are really big now in the Young Adult genre but Ally Condie has not released Reached yet and it is not due out until November.

And finally, I have made the decision to on occasion “review” some great books that I have come across over the years that work really well with even the most difficult of students in a hope that I can share some ideas with others out there.  So there is not going to be a lot of plot recall and character traits but rather thoughts and ideas that I have about the use of the books in the classroom.  The teachable moments of the books!

Hunger Games

The Hunger Games Trilogy

So there is clearly a bit of a craze sweeping my school as the count down to the movie release draws near.   The movie adaptation of Suzanne Collin’s Hunger Games is rumored to be as good as everyone had hoped and I am not going to lie – when I first heard about this book I was completely and totally turned off by the idea.  I hands down refused to read it and I like utopia/dystopian literature.  A lot.  I even have the 8th graders in my school study utopian/dystopian literature each year. But the concept of the book and the people around me oohing and ahhing over it, I just completely shut down to it and read anything else but the Hunger Games.  That is until I saw the movie trailer.  96 hours later, I am reading the last line of Mockingjay - “But there are much worse games to play,” having visions of the arena in my dreams and totally enthralled with the ways in which Collins managed to create such depth, irony, and imagery in her characters and plot lines.  Suzanne Collin’s not only am I jealous, you are genius!

Matched Trilogy

Matched Trilogy (So far...)

Ironically, I read the first two books in the Matched Trilogy by Ally Condie before I dove head first into the Hunger Games. It was hyped up in my school as much as the Hunger Games.  In fact, for our Utopian Literature study several of the classes used it as a mentor text because of the beautiful way in which Condie describes a utopian society.   What is killing me now is the third book is months away.  Crossed left me with so many questions.  I am impatiently waiting to find out what happens to Cassia and if she ends up with Ky or Xander or dare I say it – no one!

In the classroom

Having read these books, it is remarkable how similar and different they are.  Students using these books as mentor texts can find themselves studying a myriad of skills and concepts all of which are at the foundation of any literacy class.

  • Both Collins and Condie use a female as their main character and stick her at the heart of a love triangle.  Very Twlightesque, but makes for a more modern read and far from the more standard guys likes two girls which one does he choose.
  • Both stories take place in the future.  While it is unclear how far into the future, but most definitely the future.  Yet both authors manage to keep many of our current societies elements, routines, and rituals which make the plot more obtainable to young readers.
  • Both girls are confused.  Torn between what they believe to be right and what they want to be right or fair or just.  The emotional journey of Katniss and Cassia is at times hard to pull yourself away from.
  • Both societies control and the idea that that control can take different forms compared to our current societies control makes for very interesting analysis
  • Morality is also heavily tested in both these books.  While clearly there is little way for Katniss to avoid killing people in the arena Cassia herself has to deal with death in terms of the fact of her sorting people into a job that means certain death.
  • The male characters (Peeta/Gale and Ky/Xander) add interesting complications to the story rather then being the complications.  On the surface they seem to be the main conflict but they are a sub conflict to Katniss and Cassia’s defiance against something far stronger.
  • The societies in both trilogies have a lot of underlying similarities that are interesting to compare to each other and then to the idea of utopia and dystopia

There are so many more themes that I could pull out of the books, but the reality is, I believe that as educators we have to find what strikes us the most in a book and then teach those elements, my list only touches on a couple of themes.  Either way, I urge anyone and everyone to read both these trilogies if you haven’t.  These books are more than just books where you ask your students to recall events, they challenge themes, ideas, and prove symbolism, imagery and irony in ways that few books do. There is so much here to challenge students higher cognitive thinking skills. These books are so rich that rote recall of the story line does not do they justice.   This Hunger Games Assessment  is just one example of how I am doing it with my school. It pushes the kids to think, make choices, all while citing evidence and digging deeper into the text

I know with the Hunger Games release days away everyone who hasn’t read the books is scrambling to get through them, but the Matched trilogy has already been optioned by Disney and the movies will be here before we know it.  So if you havent done so – bring these great books to your students.  I mean they must be good if they have been banned….

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.

Recall

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.

Skill/Concept

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.

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 “goo.gl.” 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 :)

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!!!

Breaking the ice…


For many schools across the country, especially inner city schools, one of the first challenges of the new year is creating a culture of collaborative and partnership between teachers.  This is a particularly challenging task when, schools see a turnover of teachers and the staff looks new from year to year.

This year, that challenge is facing my school head on as we welcome 11 new teachers (1/3) of our staff to our school for the 2011 – 2012 school year.  And while some schools just introduce the new staff with a quick “hi” during the first staff meeting, ignoring the fact that there are new personalities, strengths and areas of growth with the new staff is something that should not be ignored.

And while we all have been subjected to “ice breakers” and wondered why we have to go through the process of finding someone who likes our favorite flavor of ice cream, or milling around the room looking for everyone who has a birthday in the same month as ours, there is some merit to these activities and a purpose that is deeper then just wasting time.

That said, my school staff will not be working together to put themselves in order based on the date and month they were born, but we will be engaging in some ice breakers that have some deeper underlying implications and will hopefully help people understand the ways in which we work and think.

Personality Compass

It is rare that I engage in an activity that completely changes the ways in which I work with people but this activity did just that for me.  The activity breaks people up by their personalities;

Everyone is asked to determine on their own where they fit in.  Then in groups, you work together to highlight your strengths and then share with the group what you do well.   What makes it so great is that one of the biggest problems in working with groups is people’s different personalities, but knowing what type of personality you are as well as the types of the people in your team definitely help to bring a better understanding of where conflict may arise and how to get past it.

If you facilitate this activity it is a great one to start with because the rest of your professional development activities can work around the varying personalities, you can group people together that work well together or on the flip you can easily pair opposite personalities (North/East) (South/West) creating more of a challenge.  I think that is activity is a must for all teams that work together!!!

Stranded

What I like about this activity is that it is asking people to come to a decision in a short period of time.  If you add the element of the different personalities then this one really challenges the team.

Working together to decide what items to save if you were stranded on a remote mountain in the middle of the winter is a great way to encourage people to work together to get to the heart at what is not only important for them but also for the group.  It also challenges people to make compromises.

Creating a Yacht

The activity is more of a paired one that could create some interesting dynamics if you have people work together that have had difficulties in the past.  It is also a great way to help merge the new and the old and provide someone that the new people can turn to as they transition in.

Because of the hands on nature of this one, it is a great way get people to have a little fun while also promoting friendly competition as only the best yacht will hold the most pennies.  Additionally, it is a great science activity and it opens the door to modeling a lesson for teachers.

Totem Pole

This activity is also very hands on.  The supporting document is simply the options for the participants to chose from as the activity itself is pretty easy to explain.  Everyone should be given a piece of paper, and art supplies to create their own section of a Totem Pole.

What is great about this activity is that brings art and history together (Art for the obvious reasons – your creating your totem pole segment picture) and history because the facilitator can touch on the significance of totem poles and why they were used.

I also like the idea that it is something the whole staff created and it can be kept in the teachers center or room the staff works in as a reminder of each persons different strengths.  If it is posted on a wall with the key it is a great way for people to be reminded of where each and every staff members strengths are.

 

Even though there are a ton of activities about there, these have come out of intense research and planning in an effort to find ones that not only showcase possible teaching strategies but to also model lessons as well as provide people some self reflection and some insight into the people who they will be working and collaborating with.  The goal is ultimately to  facilitate an open line of communication between the old and new staff as well as create relationships and partnerships with the entire staff from the beginning.

The Mindset List


Each year Tom McBride a professor of English and Keefer Professor of the Humanities and Ron Nief,  emeritus director of public affairs at Beloit College get together and create the mindset list.   The list came about in 1998 when these two men felt it was important that the professors at Beloit college have a good understanding of the mindset of the incoming freshman class.

If you have never read the mindset list before, you are missing out, especially if you are an educator.  Because the reality is, we often times get tunnel vision about our students having certain assumptions about how they think and what they perceive as “normal.”

This years mindset list hit a nerve for me on certain ideas.  But before I elaborate, read it for yourself;

The Beloit College Mindset List for the Class of 2014

Most students entering college for the first time this fall—the Class of 2014—were born in 1992.

For these students, Benny Hill, Sam Kinison, Sam Walton, Bert Parks and Tony Perkins have always been dead.

1. Few in the class know how to write in cursive.

2. Email is just too slow, and they seldom if ever use snail mail.

3. “Go West, Young College Grad” has always implied “and don’t stop until you get to Asia…and learn Chinese along the way.”

4. Al Gore has always been animated.

5. Los Angelenos have always been trying to get along.

6. Buffy has always been meeting her obligations to hunt down Lothos and the other blood-suckers at Hemery High.

7. “Caramel macchiato” and “venti half-caf vanilla latte” have always been street corner lingo.

8. With increasing numbers of ramps, Braille signs, and handicapped parking spaces, the world has always been trying harder to accommodate people with disabilities.

9. Had it remained operational, the villainous computer HAL could be their college classmate this fall, but they have a better chance of running into Miley Cyrus’s folks on Parents’ Weekend.

10. Entering college this fall in a country where a quarter of young people under 18 have at least one immigrant parent, they aren’t afraid of immigration…unless it involves “real” aliens from another planet.

11. John McEnroe has never played professional tennis.

12. Clint Eastwood is better known as a sensitive director than as Dirty Harry.

13. Parents and teachers feared that Beavis and Butt-head might be the voice of a lost generation.

14. Doctor Kevorkian has never been licensed to practice medicine.

15. Colorful lapel ribbons have always been worn to indicate support for a cause.

16. Korean cars have always been a staple on American highways.

17. Trading Chocolate the Moose for Patti the Platypus helped build their Beanie Baby collection.

18. Fergie is a pop singer, not a princess.

19. They never twisted the coiled handset wire aimlessly around their wrists while chatting on the phone.

20. DNA fingerprinting and maps of the human genome have always existed.

21. Woody Allen, whose heart has wanted what it wanted, has always been with Soon-Yi Previn.

22. Cross-burning has always been deemed protected speech.

23. Leasing has always allowed the folks to upgrade their tastes in cars.

24. “Cop Killer” by rapper Ice-T has never been available on a recording.

25. Leno and Letterman have always been trading insults on opposing networks.

26. Unless they found one in their grandparents’ closet, they have never seen a carousel of Kodachrome slides.

27. Computers have never lacked a CD-ROM disk drive.

28. They’ve never recognized that pointing to their wrists was a request for the time of day.

29. Reggie Jackson has always been enshrined in Cooperstown.

30. “Viewer Discretion” has always been an available warning on TV shows.

31. The first home computer they probably touched was an Apple II or Mac II; they are now in a museum.

32. Czechoslovakia has never existed.

33. Second-hand smoke has always been an official carcinogen.

34. “Assisted Living” has always been replacing nursing homes, while Hospice has always offered an alternative to the hospital.

35. Once they got through security, going to the airport has always resembled going to the mall.

36. Adhesive strips have always been available in varying skin tones.

37. Whatever their parents may have thought about the year they were born, Queen Elizabeth declared it an “Annus Horribilis.”

38. Bud Selig has always been the Commissioner of Major League Baseball.

39. Pizza jockeys from Domino’s have never killed themselves to get your pizza there in under 30 minutes.

40. There have always been HIV positive athletes in the Olympics.

41. American companies have always done business in Vietnam.

42. Potato has always ended in an “e” in New Jersey per vice presidential edict.

43. Russians and Americans have always been living together in space.

44. The dominance of television news by the three networks passed while they were still in their cribs.

45. They have always had a chance to do community service with local and federal programs to earn money for college.

46. Nirvana is on the classic oldies station.

47. Children have always been trying to divorce their parents.

48. Someone has always gotten married in space.

49. While they were babbling in strollers, there was already a female Poet Laureate of the United States.

50. Toothpaste tubes have always stood up on their caps.

51.  Food has always been irradiated.

52. There have always been women priests in the Anglican Church.

53. J.R. Ewing has always been dead and gone. Hasn’t he? 

54. The historic bridge at Mostar in Bosnia has always been a copy.

55. Rock bands have always played at presidential inaugural parties.

56. They may have assumed that parents’ complaints about Black Monday had to do with punk rockers from L.A., not Wall Street.

57. A purple dinosaur has always supplanted Barney Google and Barney Fife. 

58. Beethoven has always been a good name for a dog.

59. By the time their folks might have noticed Coca Cola’s new Tab Clear, it was gone.

60. Walmart has never sold handguns over the counter in the lower 48.

61. Presidential appointees have always been required to be more precise about paying their nannies’ withholding tax, or else.

62. Having hundreds of cable channels but nothing to watch has always been routine. 

63. Their parents’ favorite TV sitcoms have always been showing up as movies.

64. The U.S, Canada, and Mexico have always agreed to trade freely.

65. They first met Michelangelo when he was just a computer virus.

66. Galileo is forgiven and welcome back into the Roman Catholic Church.

67. Ruth Bader Ginsburg has always sat on the Supreme Court.

68. They have never worried about a Russian missile strike on the U.S.

69. It seems the Post Office has always been going broke.

70. The artist formerly known as Snoop Doggy Dogg has always been rapping.

71. The nation has never approved of the job Congress is doing.

72. One way or another, “It’s the economy, stupid” and always has been.

73. Silicone-gel breast implants have always been regulated.

74. They’ve always been able to blast off with the Sci-Fi (SYFY) Channel.

75. Honda has always been a major competitor on Memorial Day at Indianapolis.

-Copyright 2011 Beloit College | 700 College St. Beloit, WI 53511 | 608-363-2000

Of course, I will admit some of these things went over my head because that is my mindset, but some of them really made me thing.  For example, number 20. – DNA fingerprinting and maps of the human genome have always existed.  I mean for me, even though I am not that old, I remember life before DNA.  I think it is rather amazing that the first use of DNA fingerprinting was 1986!

I also took pause at the first mindset - 1. Few in the class know how to write in cursive. With all the chatter and push back Indiana not mandating schools to teach cursive, it is interesting to reflect for a moment if that the current freshman class in college does not use it and they have been out of elementary school for a long time then why are we so worried about the next generation learning cursive.

Other notable mindsets to me were;

15. Colorful lapel ribbons have always been worn to indicate support for a cause.

30. “Viewer Discretion” has always been an available warning on TV shows.

32. Czechoslovakia has never existed.   

68. They have never worried about a Russian missile strike on the U.S.

Its small things, but things we often assume they would know is very much foreign to them and on the flip the things that they think are normal at one point in time did not have their place in our society.

All to often I hear teachers talk about “kids these days.”  The reality is that “kids these days” have a version of normal that is much different then our version of “normal.” The mindset list is one way to get a better understanding of “kids these days!” :)

P.S.  - The Mindset Lists for all the years starting with 2002 are available on the Beloit college website.  In addition several books have been published around these lists and I do believe that these while not a specific strategy or teaching tool are important to consider as we move into the first months of a new school year.

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 - mastodon@museumoftheearth.org

Tomatosphere

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.

Weatherbug

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 -

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

School Safety??? Budgets, children and protecting ourselves


Yesterdays news of a gunman on the Virginia Tech Campus got me thinking about school safety.

When I was in college, I had the rare opportunity to help out a friend and learn the dark side to school shootings.  At the time I wasn’t even considering a career in education so the idea of helping a friends day during some off time with some police training sounded fun.  Little did I learn that in that one day I would learn more about how to protect myself then I have learned in a life time.

My friend’s dad was a sniper who worked with police departments from around the country.  Columbine was still very fresh in all of our minds and police departments were rethinking how they would enter a hostile situation in the schools.

See what most don’t know that Eric Harris and Dylan Kelbold moved through the school on their killing spree quickly starting and ending their murderous rage in such a short period of time.  I mean watching it felt like forever but during our training we were told it the vast majority of the devastation was done in a matter of minutes.

Minutes. I will never get that out of my head.  What would I do to save myself in students if I only had minutes.  And now in the wake of many school having to make the difficult choice of cutting school safety officers like North Rockland Schools in New York I would share some of the suggestions I learned years ago.

  • Most schools have a signal for the teachers for an unwanted person in the building.  I make sure I ask every year what ours is to make sure it hasn’t changed.
  • During our training we were encouraged to be as observant as possible.  The more information we can give law enforcement the better.
  • Remember, police officers coming into a school don;t know who the shooter is – everyone is a suspect so don’t be alarmed if they yell and scream.  They are just doing their job.
  • Most law enforcement agencies work under the policy of KISS – “Keep it simple stupid.”  Their goal is to go it and get the target.  After Columbine they realized that they were spending to much time trying to secure the scene and not enough time removing the threat.
  • The most dangerous places in a school are the cafeteria and the gym, especially the gym. There is no where for you to hide in the gym.  At least there are tables in the cafeteria to hide under.
  • In regards to hiding.  Often times we tell our students hide under a desk or a table or a closet.  That is most school’s policies in a lock down.  I unfortunately will break that policy if the time every arises.  Hiding makes us targets.  It is very easy to shoot someone just sitting there.  It is far more difficult to shoot a moving target.
  • If you are moving with someone shooting in a building, it is best to run in a zig zag pattern.  The most unpredictable your movements, the better chance you have of being more difficult to aim for.

Obviously the goal is to get out of the situation.  That is best, the less time around the threat the better.  But that is easier said then done.  It is sad that we have this worry about to along with teaching but school shootings are a really threat and we as teachers need to be prepared for an angry parent or student. And with districts around the country having to face the difficult choice of losing safety officers in schools because of budget cuts the danger we face in the classroom is becoming even more of a threat.   I tell my students all the time, if they hear something, say something. As a teacher I do the same.

I look for the kids who are struggling socially.  The tend to be the ones who are most angry, who most have a grudge to deal with and then refer them to SBST (School Based Support Team).  I also tend to keep an eye on my own internal warning system.  If a student gives me that “vibe” I look to my colleagues for help.  I also never underestimate a kids threat.  He says he is bringing a gun to school – I assume he or she  is serious and not joking around.There is no glory in protecting someone who might turn around and kill you.  The last thing we need is another Columbine…

 

Yahoo Clues – a cool idea for math!!!


So, I was searching the net for information about Hurricane Emily.  I figured since there is a chance she may go up the east coast, I should probably take note and I also figured I would post about Hurricanes and teaching them in science when I stumbled upon Yahoo Clues and completely became wrapped up in playing with it for a couple of hours.

Basically you type in one or two different searches into the box and it provides all kinds of graphs about the topic based on people’s searches of the topic.  It shows trends, in multiple graph formats.  How cool!

For you type into the trend box – one or two searches as I did below;

and this is what I got;

To me, thinking in terms of math, this inforgraphic is great.  first it compares two different topics that interest the student.  Second it presents the data in multiple graph format including pictographs, bar graphs, maps and charts.  It is a teacher’s dream to have the data that instant in that many formats and on a topic of a students choosing.

Of course you don’t have to compare two different topics – you can compare one as show below -

You can also adjust the time frame by clicking one of the other options under the time section here;

which really adds a nice dimension for older students in terms of comparing graphs.

I think the possibilities for this tool are endless in the math classroom.  It really provides a quick way to set up two different topics to compare and provides a wealth of data.

I guess stumbling upon things can be good sometimes – and as for Hurricane Emily and the rest of my hurricane post – well that is now forthcoming, I need to go analyze my Yahoo Clues first!

ABC’s of Teacher Acronym’s Part One…SBG, RTI, BIP, and PBIS


Each year I feel like there are a whole bunch of new acronyms in teacher talk.  Often times when I first hear people use it I feel so behind because it seems as if I am the only one who is not “in the know” of this new program, or expectation, or plan, or whatever the case my be.

So I thought it would be helpful to share some of the more popular ones being used now and some resources that are pertinent to them and that  I have found helpful -

SBG – standard based grading

This is a newer one to me and when I first saw it I was like – “oh no, not another acronym” but I actually think there is a lot to this one.   Standard based grading is explained really well here  with lots of pictures and examples and here with a great write up from Educational Leadership.  basically you grade and assess students on the specific standard to measure their acquisition of meaning.

The term SBG is new to me but in NYC we have been using this method for a long time.  Not all students get A, B, C, D letter grades they get the 1, 2, 3, 4 level number system which equates to -

  • Level 1 – Far Below Grade Level Standards
  • Level 2 – Approaching Grade Level Standards
  • Level 3 – Meeting Grade Level Standards
  • Level 4 – Exceeding Grade Level Standards

In the middle and upper grades they also receive this grading system along with a letter grade.  So while a traditional report card looks something like this -

Traditional Report Card

A SBG Report Card looks more like this -

SBG Report Card

I think SBG is a very fair way to grade because it assesses students on specific skills not just general ones like English, Math, Science, etc.  But for a lot of people it is new and can be a difficult transition especially when kids are used to getting letter grades.

RTI – response to intervention

RTI was the hot topic at the ASCD conference this past year in San Francisco.  Basically it is a way to determine if a student has a learning disability and then do what is necessary to ensure a student is provided the correct services through an IEP.  Wrightlaw.com has a great list of resources and articles on RTI.

In many ways, we as teachers do this instinctively when we see a student who is struggling – but with the 2004 passage of the IDEA act (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) RTI has become much more a front in the education world.  Below is a good chart that outlines RTI -

RTI Model

RTI is a great means of supporting students with learning disabilities and once identified students with extreme difficulties should probably have the next acronym.

 BIP – behavior intervention plan

A BIP or Behavioral intervention plan is a legal part of an IEP for students with behavioral problems.  We use BIP’s all the time for some of our most difficult students.  Basically it provides an outline for all teachers of a particular student to follow to help ensure that a student is provided interventions that will help them learn.  For example a student who has difficulty focusing because of ADHD  may have a part of their BIP read – “after 20 minutes of sitting they can get up and walk around for 5 minutes if needed.”

An example of  some BIP forms;

BIP Review Form

Another BIP Review Form

 

BIP is great for students with documented problems and we have had a lot of success with them. But they don’t account for all students which is why I am also a big fan of PBIS!

PBIS – Positive Behavior Intervention and Support

or

SWPBIS – School-wide Positive  Behavior Intervention and Support 

Positive Behavior Intervention and Support has done wonders for many of the students and the teachers in my school.  Instead of constantly pointing out the negative behavior and feeding the negative attention, teachers reward the positive behaviors and in turn change the tone of the classroom.

At first it may seem difficult to not constantly point out the bad but often times the good students are not recognized.  In time the difficult ones want the attention to and they change their ways.  This video is a great way to see it happening in a school -

Now I am sure many of us are already doing this – but there are a lot of resources out there to support it and there is a big movement towards it.

I know that I have only covered a small amount of teacher acronyms and as I said, I will revisit this topic but until there – here are several good sites that have lists of many of the acronyms in education

Teaching acronyms 

More teaching acronyms

And of course if you have any questions – drop me a comment!!!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Globalizing our students….


Newsweek published an article on July 18 titled - How to Raise a Global Kid.  The article featured several sets of parents who have made the choice to raise their children in foreign countries and asked the question – “are we doing enough to raise “global” kids?”

It posed an interesting debate filled with lots of statistics about Western children and schooling and notion that schools in America and other “Western” countries are not doing enough to enough to make sure that students are globally educated.  It further goes on showcase how some families are taking it upon themselves to make sure their children are “globalized.”

Now, the article does make a point to let the readers know that these families have the resources and the means to uplift their families for lengthy periods a time and move abroad, a luxury that most of us do not have. And while the notion is nice, it is not a realistic reality for most.  However, it did make me wonder what I can do as an educator and a parent to better “globalize” my children and my students.

The reality is, for many families a vacation is a luxury and a vacation outside of their country is an extreme luxury, so what can be done to make sure that kids are exposed to cultures that are quite different from their own?  I say we turn once again to technology.

In a world that is so big, the internet makes us very small.  we have access to so much at the tip of our fingertips – if we know where to look.  As educators, there are endless options to resources to provide students with ways to experience different cultures besides simply typing in “China” or “Guyana” in a search engine.

  • Global School Net is a great site that allows teachers to participate or create a project that connects your classroom to classrooms around the country and world.
  • Iearn is another similar site that does the same – connecting classrooms and projects and creating libraries of student work and activities from the student point of view.
  • The Great American Mail Race is also a fun way for students to learn about different parts of the USA by simply mailing a letter to schools around the country.  Its simple enough and very interesting for students to get to know their own country, especially when you consider the fact that many kids never leave their town. (I mean, I have students who have never left their block in NYC!)
  • Penpals is also a quick way to link with one school in one country and provide the students with the opportunity to globally connect

Now, I know that these are no where near the immersion that you get when you live in another country but it is a start.  Students have access to other students from places far away from their cultures and norms and it does provide insight into live outside of their town.

So, what if technology is limited in your school – well then I would encourage educators to look to their museums and local resources to see how you can bring culture into the classroom face to face.

In, NYC and LA the Japanese Consulate will come and do a presentation on Japanese Culture.

Another option is Amnesty  International which is a great way for older to students to learn about Humanitarian issues and participate first hand in the struggle.

Of course, there is always the visits to the museum and other cultural institutions in your area if you are fortunate to have them.

So, while I can’t provide my students (or my kids) the opportunity to see this;

Newfoundland’s Goose Cove Iceberg in Harbor

or this;

A clay statue at Taman Budaya Yogyakarta in Yogyakarta

I can at least make sure I begin to connect them to the global world through technology and in my own small ways try to keep up with the kids of parents who are “globalizing” their kids through immersion.

Blooms or DoK???


During my summer institute on Common Core Unit planning we were provided several learning opportunities to better understand and apply Norman Webb’s Depth of Knowledge.  Webb’s analysis of learning presented all of us in the institute with a new way at looking at the ways in which we learn and challenged us to think – Bloom’s Taxonomy or Depth of Knowledge (DoK – for short).

Now, I am in no position to say which is better.  I am without question an educator that has always considered Bloom’s the bible on the ways in which I can challenge not only students but teachers to dig deeper and push harder into learning process.  Yet, after some time exploring DoK, I began to wonder if it is truly a better way to think about acquisition of knowledge.

For those of you who don’t know or use bloom’s taxonomy, the chart below is a good example of it’s purpose -

Bloom's taxonomy

This example came from this blog in a 2009 post and I think it is such a great explanation of the levels of thinking as it provides the students and teachers with a plethora of verbs and activities to use in the classroom.  Several of good examples can be found here -

Bloom’s Taxonomy 1 - a rose wheel for students in older grades.

Bloom’s Taxonomy 2 - a triangle example for students in younger grades.

Bloom’s Taxonomy 3 - a chart with the  a great list of the verbs for Bloom’s

Now, in comparison, DoK looks like this -

Depth of Knowledge

Other examples of DoK can be found here;

DOK 1- This chart has a good explanation of the process

DoK 2 - This chart really explains each level.

So now the question becomes, is one better than the other?  I will say this – I do like DoK because it tends to lean to the idea that learning requires all four levels, where is at times with Bloom’s learning can stop at the first level.  The again, you could argue that it can do that with DoK.

But honestly, I don’t know but I would love to hear what everyone else thinks.  What do you use?  Thoughts???

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!

Teaching to Generation Text…


There is little question that the current generation of students, especially those in middle and high school, are very much “wired.”  Odds are if you teach or know a pre-teen or teen they are very likely engaged on their phone, Ipad, phone, computer, something connected to the web and their ever-growing social circle.

To prove this staggering reality Lab42.com questioned 500 Americans between the ages of 13 and 21.  the results of their texting survey are below.

Check out this post, produced by Lab42:

Texting is everywhere: the group of friends at a restaurant engrossed in their smartphones with thumbs going a mile a minute, the co-worker smiling down at their phone during a meeting, and you’ve probably bumped into the person who was trying to text while getting off the bus (or maybe you’ve been that person). But when I think about who texts the most, it’s the tech-savvy generation of youngsters that instantly comes to mind. At Lab42, we decided to get the scoop on this finger flying phenomenon from the experts – today’s teens.

For this infographic, Lab42 surveyed 500 Americans between the ages of 13 and 21 to find out the details on their texting habits. The survey uncovered some surprising results. Check out the infographic below to see how much teens are texting, who they’re sending messages to, and if they’re multi-tasking while their thumbs are typing away.

About the Survey

This survey was conducted online via social networks from June 9th to 16th, 2011 among 500 Americans between the ages of 13 and 21. This online survey is not based on a probability sample and therefore no estimate of theoretical sampling error can be calculated.  For complete survey methodology, please contact us at info@lab42.com.

So if these kids represent the true average (and I have a feeling they do) then this survey speaks volumes to the ways in which we need to consider how we teach our students.  In New York there is the almost age-old adage “don’t teach to the test.”  While it is simpler said then done not to do that – with the test scores meaning so much (especially for teachers in NYC) it is hard not to.  

That said, should the new adage be “teach to the text?”  Should we really be reconsidering the ways in which we teach our students.  Personally, I think so.  

Our students are used to communicating in a written way.  A way in which short sentences, abbreviations and acronyms are very much part of their every day reality.  (And lets face it – before you says “we need to teach them how to talk,” think about how much communication you do via email – and think about which emails you prefer – my guess is it is the short ones with quick questions or statements that are easy to read and respond too.)

Look at the stats.  34% of the kids surveyed spend less then 15 minutes talking on their phone.  71% of them prefer texting over talking.  Why?  My guess is the same reason I do – I can carry out multiple conversations at my convenience and the convenience of the other people on multiple topics.  In turn I get more done, prioritizing who needs what when.

More interesting to me is the fact that 14% of the kids that responded say they do most of their texting in class.  So if that is a reality, then instead of forcing the kids to hide their phones, not let them text, call them out when they do and start a war of words, why not just converse with these students in the modality that best works for them – via text.  

Also to take note is the fact that 52% of boys use apps for games while 56% of girls use apps for social networking.  Clearly, girls are spending more time socializing and boys are still being boys and playing which is not much different then the way I remember it.  They just are doing it differently.

In general, it may be time to consider the best ways in which we communicate with our students.  The natural thing for use to do as teachers is talk to them, but maybe we need to really think about whether they are truly listening and come up with new ways to communicate that get to the heart of Generation Text’s success.  Instead of complaining that kids these days don’t listen maybe it is us as adults who are not listening to them because they are quite clear with how they communicate, it seems it is us who is not hearing them.

 

Tag Clouds say a lot about Common Core’s Writing Standard 1


Next week I will be working with a group of educators creating a unit of study based on the expectations addressed in writing standard 1 of the Common Core. The prospect of such work is as exciting as it is scary. I mean I know the standards pretty well but I have yet to really begin to write curriculum using them.

Souring the great wide web this week, I discovered the blog from the site 19pencils (which the site as a whole is worthy of its own post) that had used tag clouds to highlight what the Common Core Standards focused on in literacy. It was at times perplexing to see which words were used more than others. And still requires some research on my part as to why people/characters like Peter Pan, Nicholai Gorgol and Paul Goble came up so often.

Anyway, I was curious what Writing Standard 1 in grades 6 to 8 looked like. I wanted to see if there were similar trends across grades or if there were glaring differences. My initial thought was that they would look very similar. You judge for yourself;

The tag cloud for grade 6;

Writing Standard 1 - Grade 6

The tag cloud for grade 7;

Writing Standard 1 - Grade 7

The tag cloud for grade 8;

Writing Standard 1 - Grade 8

So what I found most interesting where the words that were the biggest(used the most often) – RELEVANT, EXPERIENCES, INFORMATION, EVIDENCE and USE to name a few. Words like define, explain, compare/contrast, are not the focus anymore much like they used too be.

However, what was more striking to me was that there aren’t differences. The words seem to be used in the same frequencies across grades building more of a capacity rather than attempting to have the students do one thing one year and something completely different the text.

So you tell me – what do you think of the standards when you look at them in a tag cloud? Surprised? Expected? Disappointed? Remember this is just writing standard 1 which is persuasive writing, but still it says a lot about the lateral build which the Common Core has been touting.

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.

Schoology – thoughts?


I was fortunate enough to attend the ASCD conference this spring in San Francisco.  It was a great chance for me to listen to the best of the best speak and share on the trends and movements in education while at the same time also networking with the best and the brightest educators from around the country.

Anyone who attends a major conference will tell you that a must do is the exhibitor hall where the latest and greatest market their product in often times very elaborate very exciting displays and demonstrations.

Once such exhibit that I had the chance to talk with was Schoology.  I think that the premise is fantastic.  For those of you that have not heard of it or seen it in a quick summary check out the screen shot below:

That’s right – Schoology is “Facebook for School.”  It looks like Facebook, it feels like Facebook, it interacts like facebook, it is “Facebook for School” and it even has its own app!

So, of course I have created my schools account, but I have yet to really jump on board because I am super curious if anyone out there is actually using it. I mean I know that there are few kids out there especially by middle level that do not have a facebook account, but I am curious how they take to the Schoology version.

Do the kids like it?  Have they taken to it like Facebook?  Do the teachers use it to communicate?  Any thoughts, experiences, anything that anyone can share about it would be awesome.  I want to believe that this could be a great addition to the means in which our teachers at our school communicate with our students, but I want to hear what others think—

Creately via Twitter!


I tend to receive a far amount of tweets from a few key educators and educational institutions that have saved me the time scouring the web looking for the next great tech gadget, program, app, etc!  It has been pretty cool seeing what is out there all thanks to retweets. You go twitter!!!

One such interesting program that I have just discovered is Creately which allows you to create all kinds of charts with pretty cool graphics, text boxes, linking, etc.  It is similar to the app on the Ipad called Popplet (which I am not a huge fan of because I see it as far more limited unless you spend the money to have the upgraded version.    But then you still don’t have as many options as this).

In the short time I was playing around with it, I came up with a quick chart about the first social studies unit we do in Grade 7 -

My first Creately!!!!!

Now, in my opinion the benefits of this program are endless in the classroom.  Students in groups can make one big presentation and you can easily save them (unlike Popplet) and there seems to be many more graphics and options unlike Popplet.  As a teacher this is a quick and easy way to engage students and incorporate the technology aspect we are always searching for (and work in that Common Core too!!!)

It also seems to be very easy to work with, and I do believe upper elementary students can easily move through the program.  Of course, if you upgrade you have even more options.  Additionally you can use it online and offline.  However, it still does not have the one thing that I have been searching for (unless I missed it) which is the app/software/interent program which allows you to move between computers, tablets and the internet. :(

Common Core – Now what???


So if you are in most states in the country, all but seven (including Texas, Washington and Virginia) that have adopted Core Curriculum standards you have by now probably heard about them, maybe even seen them, and if you are lucky you have been provided a hard copy of this monstrous new movement in the future of education.

When I went to training last summer in Common Core, I was very much overwhelmed by the entire new set of educational standards that our students would soon be held to.  I had a lot of initial concerns as a coach but at the same time was really excited.

I wondered how I would be able to convince teachers to begin to implement this new initiative.  I mean my teachers like lots of teachers are very set in their ways, so a change like this is asking a lot.  I wondered how these were going to affect state testing (New York City is driven by the state exams) and how the new standards would change the assessments.

Mostly I wondered what it actually looked like in practice and I have to imagine that most people wonder the same thing.  I mean the Literacy standards include some exemplars but in reality they are random at times and seemingly inconceivable for the grade level they are assigned too.  More often the assignments seem to be random and lack the lesson end to help you understand how the product came to be.

Lastly, the standards do not include science and social studies which while I understand are often tailored to individual states (especially in Social Studies with local history becoming embedded in the curriculum) it is hard to see how to incorporate local curriculum with the new national standards.

In New York, the expectation is that the NYCCLS (New York Common Core Learning Standards) will be in place by 2014. A tall order for many districts who have yet to begin the transition process, yet in NYC the expectation is that one full unit will be in place this coming school year – a super tall order indeed.

But many states and districts are bringing the process of figuring out the best way to implement this monumental undertaking.  In Richmond, North Carolina, 100 educators got together to figure out the best way to begin unpacking the standards much like they are doing in Idaho Falls, Idaho.  Interestingly, the Indiana State Department of Education  is looking at what is no longer included in the standards like teaching cursive while some districts, like Florence, Arizona  are hiring new higher level administrators to help with the transition process.

In New York City, summer institutes are are being implemented to help teachers, administrators and support staff like myself learn how to embed and revise standards into currently successful units which will then be shared city wide as best practices and hopefully will provide me far more insight into these new but very exciting times in  education.