Thursday, December 16, 2010

The National Education Association and The Gateway to 21st Century Skills: Bringing Valuable Digital Resources into the Classroom

Each new school day is a chance for educators to bring their personal best to the classroom. Unfortunately, important issues like budget cuts in schools, standardized testing, elimination of extracurricular activities, and the responsibility to connect every lesson plan to state standards can take away from the true beauty and fun of teaching. Many teachers can be overwhelmed by the issues surrounding education because they take away from what they do best: teach. The National Education Association works to support their members to make sure they can be the best teachers they can be. One NEA sponsored program that is particularly special to us, The Gateway to 21st Century Skills, is a good example of how the NEA strives to support educators.

National Education Association Executive Director John Wilson spoke about the value of digital resources and the importance of The Gateway to over 60 education organizations at the Global Learning Resource Connection meeting this November in The Woodlands, Texas. His interview with Tech & Learning covered the benefits of The Gateway, the importance of global literacy, the National Education Technology Plan, and the future of schools in a struggling economy. This week, I will summarize some of the points made by Mr. Wilson, and in the following weeks Joann and I will feature resources and ideas that speak to the issues he brought up in his interview. Joann highlighted resources about mock trials this week, which is an excellent example of teachers doing more with less in a tough economy by utilizing free resources.

The NEA and the team at The Gateway to 21st Century Skills want all educators to have access to the plethora free resources and tools available online to improve their teaching. We will continue to keep you up to date on timely resources, research, and tools available here in our weekly columns (which are archived on our Gateway blog site) and on our Facebook and Twitter pages.

Here is a summary of John Wilson’s talk on the importance and usefulness of digital resources for K-12 students and beyond:

What is the Gateway?

In his interview, John Wilson introduced The Gateway as a valuable portal that offers teachers lots of opportunities to find lesson plans aligned with state standards. This alignment is very important since it allows teachers to find high quality resources that meet the specific standards that they need to teach throughout the year. As states begin to adopt core standards, the lesson plans and activities on The Gateway will be aligned with those as well.

How can teachers teach and think more globally?

The NEA is a founding member of the Partnership for 21st Century Skills. A key skill students will need in the future is global literacy. We live in a global community, and it is increasingly important for students to understand different cultures and languages from around the world. There are many useful resources catalogued on The Gateway to help teachers increase students’ global literacy, and we will go into those resources in more depth in the weeks to come. Joann and Peggy need to help educators harness new technology to bring other countries and cultures into the classrooms. The Gateway team will also look into the options available to teachers and discuss these ideas in our columns and social networking sites.

How will the NEA support teachers as schools implement National Education Technology Plan?

Mr. Wilson stressed that the NEA will support awareness at the state level of what’s going on in the plans in Washington. We will also strive to provide support on The Gateway. The NEA is working with the Lincoln Center on a program called Imagination Conversations to help teachers. Innovation is very important, and we have discussed it a few times this year. We will continue to hold these conversations, because, as John Wilson explained, “It’s time for our country to reclaim our role as the innovators of the world.”

What do you say to schools struggling with a challenging economy?

Mr. Wilson said that no matter what the economic situation looks like, we need to give our students the best we can offer every year. The Gateway can be a big part of this goal by providing teachers with as many useful tools as possible to do more with less. This has been an underlying theme in our discussions throughout the year, and will continue to be on the top of the list for the team here at The Gateway to 21st Century Skills. These conversations will help educators become more efficient at using their resources and more innovative in their teaching.

Another point Mr. Wilson made was that communities need to step up and help fund education when government falls short. We need to have constant conversations on the topic, and be sure educators understand where they can find funding. This is another area we plan to cover in our Gateway conversations in the next few weeks.

~Peggy's Corner - 12/9/2010~

Law & Order

One day last year, my middle schooler came home in a huff, incensed that his English class would be conducting a mock trial for characters from Lord of the Flies. He wasn’t exactly sure just what a mock trial was, mind you, but he was sure that it didn’t sound like fun, and he didn’t want to be a lawyer someday anyway. So what was the point? Despite his initial misgivings, the mock trial was a big hit with the students, and it turned out to be one of my son’s favorite activities from his English class that year. It was the first year that the teacher had tried a mock trial activity, and it was so successful that she’s decided to use it again this year.

Mock trials are simulated trials that allow students to learn about trial rules and the judicial process. The point of such an exercise in the classroom is not to “win” the case being presented, but to give students some insight into how trials work. Mock trials can be highly effective learning tools for helping students to develop their critical thinking, reasoning, and oral presentation skills. Students must examine the issues at hand from multiple perspectives in order to build their arguments – not only to defend their positions, but also to anticipate their opponents’ strategy in presenting their side of the case. The use of mock trials, with their emphasis on clear, focused oral delivery, can also be a highly effective method to use with students who are not native English speakers.

The beauty of mock trials at the K-12 level is that they can be used in virtually any subject area. Historical and literary figures are obvious choices for any mock trial, but the possibilities are endless. Think outside the box and be creative. Studying diseases in science? Put a disease on trial! Is Facebook a benefit or a hindrance to students? Conduct a trial and see what happens. We all know that art is subjective, but what about art for public spaces that potentially divides a community? Hold a mock trial to decide the fate of the artwork in question, and explore what the definition of “art” is in the process. Mock trials can also be used to help define classroom or school-wide issues, as well as to further explore current topics, such as the BP oil spill, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, and the escalating tension between North and South Korea. For younger students, characters from fairy tales, popular books, and historical figures offer a wealth of choices for a mock trial activity.

This week, I’ve selected two mock trial resources for middle school and above that focus on historical events. For younger students, I’ve selected a teacher’s guide that is a comprehensive plan for incorporating mock trials into your curriculum. Throughout the week, I’ll be featuring numerous mock trial activities and resources for all ages on our Facebook and Twitter pages, including one similar to the Lord of the Flies activity mentioned at the beginning of my column. The use of mock trials in the classroom can be a creative way to pack a lot of content into an activity that’s both fun and effective for students and teacher alike. Enjoy!

Mini-Court – Mock Trial Activities for Grades K-2: Teacher’s Guide
Subject: Civics
Grade: K-2
This free booklet features one five-day lesson plan for grades K-1 and another for grade 2. The purpose is to help teach young children about the legal system. Mock trial activities are included. This guide was produced by the New Jersey State Bar Foundation, which provides training and education materials to help teach the public about the law.

A Question of Justice: The Boston Massacre
Subjects: US History, Civics
Grade: 6-8
In this lesson, students will learn about the Boston Massacre and its subsequent trial, consider the positive and negative arguments from both sides, and produce a simulation of the trial. This simulation can take the form of a play, mock trial, debate, a series of newspaper accounts, or even a recreation of the actual event. In producing the simulation, students will critically study and analyze primary source documents and pictures, as well as organize and synthesize second-hand accounts and commentary about the Massacre and the trial. This resource is a product of the National First Ladies Library, a national archive that educates the world about the American First Ladies and other notable women in history.

Judgement on Nuremberg: A Student Mock Trial of Julius Streicher
Subjects: Civics; World History
Grade: 7-12
The purpose of this lesson is to introduce students to the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg and its precedent-setting role in extending the reach of international law. This lesson provides opportunities for students to learn and apply some of the legal principles of Nuremberg: to understand the role of hate propaganda in inciting groups to action both during the Holocaust and today; and to understand and discuss the legal and political impact of Nuremberg today, including the investigation and trial of suspected Bosnian war criminals at the International Tribunal at The Hague, and the prosecution of suspected Nazi war criminals. This lesson was produced by the Vancouver Holocaust Education Centre, a teaching museum and a leader in Holocaust education in British Columbia, Canada.

~Joann's Picks - 12/9/2010~

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Global Warming – How can it fit in YOUR classroom?

This is the moment when we must come together to save this planet. Let us resolve that we will not leave our children a world where the oceans rise and famine spreads and terrible storms devastate our lands. ~Barack Obama

This week on The Gateway to 21st Century Skills, Joann is highlighting resources about mass extinctions. The relationship between mass extinctions and global warming makes it a surprisingly relevant topic in students’ lives. The topic can be tailored to work with many age groups, and you can use elements from the theme in all different subject areas. Lessons and activities about extinction can lead classes to investigations into other areas such as global warming, understanding the scientific method, community service, math, and debate skills. Extinction investigations like the ones we are featuring this week might truly resonate with your students and pique their interest. If you are like many teachers, your year is so packed with required topics, standards to cover, and tests to take it’s hard to include lessons on things that aren’t directly related to those requirements.

It can be a real trick to find a way to incorporate activities into your existing curriculum without just piling extra activities on top of it. When you discover a theme (such as extinction) that you think will be successful in your classroom, there are a few ways you can make it a part of your curriculum while still teaching all of the standards you need to cover during the year and preparing your students for the standardized tests they will be taking.

If you know what standards are covered in a particular lesson, it’s much easier to find a perfect place for it in your school year. Figuring this out can be a very time-consuming task when you have to look up standards for every lesson you want to do. You may find that the new lesson will be a perfect replacement for one you have used every year. A great tool for this type of discovery is the standards suggestion tool on The Gateway. When you find an activity you like, make sure you view the full record of the activity by selecting the “View, Share, Comment” button. Choose your state and subject at the bottom of the record and click “View Standards.” This will give you a head start on figuring out where to use the lesson in your class.

Another thing to consider as you try to incorporate new themes like this is that you don’t have to teach everything about the topic to use it successfully in your classroom. You aren’t creating experts on every topic you teach, you are using the topic to create interest and to teach the particular skills your students need to learn during the school year. If you are a science teacher, you might want to focus on the science behind global warming or meteor strikes. Social studies teachers can bring out the historical aspects of the topic. Math teachers can use extinction data to teach students to analyze data, graph results, and make predictions about the future. English classes might debate possible causes of past mass extinctions or the probability of future ones.

Some teachers I know have been very successful at including a variety of topics to meet the needs of the varied types of learners in the class by assigning a few home learning assignments throughout the year. You can select a list of possible topics with activities that you find on The Gateway, and let your students fly with the rest. You will be sure that the appropriate standards are being covered, and the students will have a feeling of freedom and responsibility for learning the topics they chose themselves. If mass extinction is a topic you want to include in your class, check out the resources Joann featured in her post as well as the following 3 that I found on The Gateway this week.

Climate Change Kids Site from the Environmental Protection Agency - games, links, animations, and related teacher materials for teaching students about global warming.

Creative Climates activity from National Geographic Xpeditions – a simulation where students head up a climate observation post and create a climate map of the different climate zones.

Mercury Rising: Bearing Witness to Climate Change from Fusionspark Media– a virtual expedition of the Monteverde Cloud Forest in Costa Rica. You can use this with your students to see how the earth responds to global warming.

~Peggy's Corner - 12/3/2010~

Disappearing Act

There have been at least six well-documented mass extinctions on Earth over the past 500 million years, a phenomenon that has both puzzled and intrigued scientists for centuries. Various types of organisms on Earth become extinct fairly frequently, but mass extinctions are distinguished by the large numbers of species that become extinct over a relatively short period of time. The Cretaceous-Tertiary extinction, responsible for the demise of the dinosaurs some 65 million years ago, is perhaps the most famous mass extinction. It’s forever branded into our brains from being the topic of feature films, artists’ paintings, and numerous books.

Yet mass extinctions are not the dramatic fare served up by Hollywood renderings. Many students tend to think of mass extinctions in technicolor, special effects-laden terms, with enormous quantities of dinosaurs dropping in their tracks in one fell, dramatic swoop. In reality, mass extinctions tend to happen much more slowly. The scientific rule of thumb is that an event qualifies as a mass extinction if 20-50% of many diverse organisms on Earth become extinct over a period of not more than one million years. The majority of scientists today believe that we are currently in the midst of another mass extinction, caused by humans and our inhabiting virtually every part of the globe. Named the “Sixth Extinction” or the “Holocene extinction,” this event is characterized by decreasing biodiversity as a result of human activity. Many scientists believe that, collectively, the human species has the ability to halt the current extinctions; this viewpoint could make for interesting classroom discussion and debate.

There are numerous theories about what has caused mass extinctions in the past. The Ordovician extinction that occurred 444 million years ago is thought to have been triggered by gamma rays, while the Cretaceous-Tertiary extinction is believed to have been prompted by a large asteroid crashing into the Earth near Chicxulub, Mexico, and sending up vast quantities of dust and debris into the atmosphere. Recently, some scientists have posited that a dark satellite orbits the Sun once every 27 million years, each time smacking a flood of comets out of a celestial cloud at the edges of our solar system and sending them crashing to Earth. Other scientists chalk mass extinctions up to natural evolution, or Nature’s version of hitting a reset button. Students must realize that at this point, all of the theories surrounding mass extinctions are just that – theories. For the time being, no one really knows what ultimately caused mass extinctions in the past. While some theories are more plausible and have more adherents than others, the ability to discuss the various theories is a valuable exercise in critical thinking skills at all grade levels.

My picks this week all focus on the concept of mass extinctions, with age appropriate resources for various grade levels. I’ll also be featuring many more lessons, articles, and other resources on mass extinctions throughout the week on our Facebook and Twitter pages, so please be sure to take a look.

Dinosaurs 1: Where Are the Dinosaurs?
Subjects: Paleontology, Natural History
Grade: K-2
The extinction of a species can be a difficult concept for younger kids to grasp. In this lesson, students explore the concept of extinction by studying dinosaurs. This lesson was created by Science NetLinks, which offers standards-based lesson plans and resources that are reviewed by scientists and educators.

Big Burp: A Bad Day in the Paleocene
Subjects: Ecology, Biology
Grade: 5-6
The focus of this lesson is global warming and the Paleocene extinction. In this activity, students will be able to describe the overall events that occurred during the Paleocene extinction event, describe the processes that are believed to result in global warming, and infer how a global warming event could have contributed to the Paleocene extinction event. This lesson was prepared by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Ocean Explorer program, which provides public access to current information on NOAA scientific and educational explorations and activities. While most resources here focus on the marine environment, there are also resources related to other scientific areas as well.

Extinction in the Classroom
Subjects: Natural History, Paleontology
Grade: 10-12
Using images of evidence from the fossil record, students are asked in this lesson to consider whether dinosaur biodiversity was stable, growing or diminishing at or near the end of the Cretaceous Period, and to identify those species that have successfully survived this 65 million-year-old mass extinction event. Students will also evaluate different theories explaining this last great mass extinction event, and have a chance to share and debate their insights with their peers. A French version of this resource is also available here. This resource was prepared by the Canadian Museum of Nature, which is Canada's national natural history museum located in Ottawa, Ontario. In addition to lesson plans, the Museum also offers educational workshops, activities, and games.

~Joann's Picks - 12/3/2010~

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Kids Who Care – Community Service in the Classroom

Developing responsible and productive members of society is one of the main goals of education. Teachers work very hard to engage their students and make them experts in each particular subject area, but it is important for us all to step back and look at the big picture of our students’ development from time to time. We are subject area teachers, but we are also in charge of working with other teachers and parents to instill values and motivation in our students that will carry them through the rest of their lives.

As a seventh grade student, I was assigned a semester-long community service project in my social studies class. Students were allowed to choose just about any type of community service, and many of us found projects that we really enjoyed. I volunteered in a nursing home helping out with activities and interviewing residents for a monthly newsletter that I wrote and published with a friend. I remember my hours of service that year, and I think back to the rewards often as I try to fit in volunteering in this hectic schedule I call life as an adult. Students of all ages can benefit from this type of community service, and the public will benefit, too!

The Gateway to 21st Century Skills has an extensive collection of lesson plans, activities, and units focusing on civics and character education. Searching for community service led me to some great units for students of all ages. One unit I liked was a three-lesson community service unit for 6th-8th grade students called ECHO, ECHO, ECHO: Each Can Help Others. The lessons include persuasive speeches and students’ commitments to philanthropy in one of three different areas outlined in the unit. Middle school students could also benefit from The Social Action Project, a hands-on service project to teach students more about civic responsibility. In this unit, students will be able to choose a social issue that interests them, find an organization that deals with that issue, volunteer for that organization, and create a presentation about their experience. Along with teaching about philanthropy and community service, units like these help students develop their presentation and public speaking skills.

Middle school (or junior high…depending on where you live) is a wonderful time to introduce a topic like civic responsibility. Students are going through a lot of changes in their lives and trying to figure out what kind of people they are and what kind people they want to become. The first two units focused on that age group, but it’s never too early to start teaching kids that they are part of a community and that they are big enough to make a difference. Living in a Community is a K-2nd unit of 5 lessons that teaches students about the community in their classroom and in the bigger world around them. It helps to show them why it is important to take responsibility and help out in this community. Protect Your Melon is a unit for the same age group that emphasizes one community issue: bicycle safety. The unit introduces the vocabulary and ideas of philanthropy and allows students to help create their own bicycle safety program for their community, including a fundraising drive to raise money and donate helmets to children. Students get work together for a common goal, which will hopefully be very motivating for them. They also get to see the effect of their project when they see how many helmets they are able to afford.

If you are looking for community service activities for 3rd-5th graders, start with Time, Talent, Treasure and Economics. This unit allows students to choose one of 3 quilt-making projects. The students participate in the project by giving their time and talents to create a quilt for others in need. This is a good example of combining community service with creativity and art education.

All of the activities I have highlighted above are from . This is just a sampling of the activities from Learning to Give and other sources that are catalogued on The Gateway to help you bring philanthropy and civic education into your classroom. Please check out both sites to find more activities to meet your needs.

~Peggy's Corner - 11/25/2010~

Monday, November 29, 2010

The Importance of Being Earnest

Last year, one of our local schools was named a National School of Character. This was a proud moment for the town, and especially for the teachers and the students. The school’s administration and staff consistently work diligently to help the students develop and abide by core values, such as honesty, respect, and integrity. The goal is not to simply create a caring, safe, and inclusive learning environment, but to also develop the students’ ethical and moral compasses. While there is intense pressure on educators to prep our students for the next assignment, the next grade, and the next standardized test, we need to keep in mind the overarching goal of education: to aid in the development of our students in becoming compassionate, active, and successful citizens.

Over the past decade, the realization of the importance of character education in schools has grown. While some critics initially branded the movement as a touchy-feely outgrowth of rampant political correctness, many educators now acknowledge the value of character education in creating a strong and positive school culture. When I was a K-12 student back in the Dark Ages, concepts such as respect and integrity were expected and discussed in passing, but not necessarily internalized into the school’s culture. Drafting a comprehensive character education program on paper is relatively simple, but creating and institutionalizing a quality character education program is very difficult in practice. In order to succeed, it requires total buy-in and commitment from every school employee as well as the students over an extended period of time. It’s a gradual process, perhaps, but one that can be instituted in a series of steps. On The Gateway’s Facebook and Twitter pages later this week, I’ll be featuring many character education resources, including guides to help you get started in developing and implementing a program at your school.

Character education goes far beyond hanging posters that urge students to “share and care”. A successful program needs to permeate all aspects of the curriculum as well as the school environment, including the cafeteria, the playground, and the gym. We all desire for our students to develop and exhibit core ethical values, and to be able to independently discern the difference between right and wrong. A good character education program can help students to develop a lifelong sense of compassion, justice, and the ability to feel passionately about causes that affect us and our communities, even when faced with possible opposition from peers or others. There is too much emotional and intellectual malaise in our society today, and character education may well be one approach to help turn the tide. The resources below give some great ideas on how to incorporate some character education into your classroom, and please remember to check out our Twitter and Facebook pages throughout the week for additional resources and information.

Character Education Podcasts
Subjects: Language Arts, Civics
Grade: 4-6
In this lesson, students conduct research, write scripts, and independently record podcasts. Each month, students focus on a different character trait, and create and record a podcast highlighting that character trait. The target audience is the other students in the building. The podcast will include tips on how to demonstrate the trait, highlight students who exhibit this trait and other useful information. Guests from the school or community may be invited to participate in the podcast. This resource is from Digital Wish, a non-profit that seeks to modernize K-12 classrooms and prepare students for tomorrow's workforce. On the Digital Wish web site, teachers can create wish lists of technology products for their classroom. Donors then connect with their favorite schools and grant classroom wishes through online cash or product donations. Check them out at

Responsibility and Community Service
Subjects: Civics; Character Education
Grade: K-3
This lesson plan teaches students that each of them has responsibilities to themselves, their families, and their community. Students discuss what makes a good citizen, examples of good personal and civic responsibilities, and how we all have a responsibility to help others. This lesson is a product from the American Bar Association, which encourages judges, lawyers, and other representatives of the legal profession to volunteer in schools to help students learn about American law in action.

Peace Partners
Subjects: Character Education, Writing
Grade: 7-12
In this lesson, students research the similarities of historically conflicting cultures and then negotiate and write a peace agreement to promote them. This lesson was produced by Character Counts, a character education program offered by the Josephson Institute Center for Youth Ethics. The Josephson Institute is a non-profit organization that seeks to develop and deliver services and materials to increase ethical commitment, competence, and practice in all segments of society. In addition to free lesson plans, they also offer publications, training, and other services.

~Joann's Picks - 11/25/2010~

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Digging Deeper into the First Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving in America is a time for students and teachers to take a little break from school to reflect on the history of our country and to give thanks for all that we have. For many, it’s a time to take a vacation where we eat WAY too much and get up at crazy hours of the morning to get a head start on the Christmas shopping! In an attempt to help students understand the origin and the meaning of the holiday, many teachers teach Thanksgiving lessons during the time before the holiday. Some teachers choose to focus on the gratitude associated with the season, hoping to instill some of that thankfulness in their students. Other teachers choose to focus more on the historical events in the United States that inspired the holiday. Interactive internet resources can bring the classic study of pilgrims and Indians to a new level. We can do more than make neat hats and hand turkeys!

My search of The Gateway to 21st Century Skills for Thanksgiving activities led me to a couple of good resource collections that I want to share with you. The first group of activities is from The Learning Network: Teaching and Learning with the New York Times. These current event based activities extend the topic of Thanksgiving in many unconventional ways. Their lessons are divided into three categories: food and meals, history and culture, and politics and current events. Some lesson topics include the biological effects of overeating, challenges of cranberry farming, American Indian Art, and considering the phenomenon of Black Friday. The site also includes printables, related New York Times articles, and older primary sources for student research.

Scholastic has also put together an extensive compilation of First Thanksgiving activities. Their “Everything for Thanksgiving” site includes lesson plans, interactive web tools, archives of live chats and webcasts, book recommendations, and a virtual field trip to a re-creation of the Plymouth plantation (or Plimoth, as the pilgrims would have spelled it). We tried out the virtual field trip and the virtual tour of the Mayflower. They were both very nicely done. The lesson plans include guides to help teachers use the online tools in classrooms of all different levels.

Using Plimoth Plantation’s “You are the Historian: Investigating the First Thanksgiving” site is like taking your students to an interactive museum exhibit, without all the hassle. The site allows students to view a letter written by a Plymouth colonist, the only eyewitness account of the 1621 harvest celebration, including a translation and a historian’s notes. They can tour a typical colonist’s home and see what daily life was like for members of the Wampanoag tribe. The investigation includes an online tool for students to create their own mini museum exhibit (a printable poster). You might also choose to use this activity as a starting point for a larger investigation. If you do that, you could consider assigning a slide show (try Animoto), a glog, or something we recently discovered: a Museum Box as a culminating project. We found Museum Box in an iLearn Technology blog post. Thanks to Kelly Tenkely for always sharing her finds!

I hope this Thanksgiving season finds your class full of grateful students who are ready to learn all about how the holiday started. Between these collections, Joann’s picks for this week, and our suggestions on Facebook and Twitter, you will be sure to find a Thanksgiving activity that will tie nicely into your plans.

~Peggy's Corner - 11/19/2010~

Giving Thanks

I pretty much haven’t met a holiday that I didn’t like, but Thanksgiving is kind of special. It’s relatively low-key, and the notion of taking some time to really appreciate what we have – and to give thanks for it – is a winning notion. Each day most of us relentlessly multitask in order to wring the most benefit out of every possible millisecond. Some of us juggle work that needs to be reviewed and graded, attend to student needs, coach sports teams, and oversee a host of other activities. Many of us live from deadline to deadline (and paycheck to paycheck) and generally run on all cylinders from dawn to late night. It’s hard – modern life is hardly the days of leisure predicted by 19th century futurists. Yet despite the stress and the constant need to always be “on”, available, and present, most of us have much to be thankful for.

Yesterday in the classroom, the teacher asked her students to write down what they were thankful for. There were some of the predictable third grade answers, such as “candy,” and “my Xbox,” but some were quietly profound. “I’m thankful for my granpa’s keemotherpy” was one. Another student wrote that she was thankful for her family – not an uncommon entry in the class, except that her father had recently rejoined his family after several tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan. This is the perfect time of the year to perhaps ask your students what they are thankful for. What are you grateful for?

In addition to lessons that ask students to consider the concept of gratitude, many schools also focus on traditional Thanksgiving themes, such as the Pilgrims, Wampanoags, the Mayflower, and so forth. The Gateway has a rich collection of lessons and activities that can be used in the week leading up to Thanksgiving; three lessons are highlighted below. The resources that I’ve featured this week ask students to think about Thanksgiving in different ways and perhaps from a different perspective than they have previously – a good pre-holiday exercise in critical thinking skills! As always, I’ll be featuring a multitude of lessons, activities, and other K-12 resources from The Gateway and other entities on our Facebook and Twitter pages. Please take a look.

Happy Thanksgiving to all!

Become a Thanksgiving Historian
Subjects: US History, Technology, Research skills
Grade: 2
Students may be surprised to find out that some ideas they have about the history of Thanksgiving are actually myths. In this lesson, students become true "Thanksgiving historians" by completing a Venn diagram about the Wampanoag people and the Pilgrims with information acquired through Internet searches. This is a great lesson to help students develop online research skills, as well as separate historical fact from fiction. This resource is a product of the Alabama Learning Exchange (ALEX), an award-winning education portal that provides best practices, lesson plans, and educational podcasts. This lesson is aligned to Alabama Content Standards.

Thanksgiving: A Turkey’s Point of View
Subjects: Writing
Grade: 3-5
Things may not always be as they first appear! The purpose of this lesson is to expose students to several stories from different perspectives. They will compare and contrast different points of view on the same topic, and write a story from a character's point of view. This lesson by Laura Beeler is part of HotChalk Learning, a portal that provides an online learning management system and lesson plans to educators.

Thanksgiving Mourning
Subjects: English, US History
Grade: 6-12
Much of the Thanksgiving story focuses on a peaceful, cross-cultural exchange between the "Pilgrims and Indians." While it's true that the Wampanoag and the Planters shared in a harvest celebration, within fifty years, the Wampanoag would no longer be a free people. In this activity, students will review two written works by Native American authors. They will examine how diverse groups can perceive shared experiences differently, and review commentary from indigenous writers about Thanksgiving. This lesson is a product of Teaching Tolerance, a division of the Southern Poverty Law Center. Teaching Tolerance is dedicated to reducing prejudice, improving inter-group relations, and supporting equitable school experiences for students. They also provide free educational materials to teachers and other school practitioners in the U.S. and abroad.

~Joann's Picks - 11/19/2010~

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Classroom Detectives: Bringing the Real World to Your Students

You are sitting at a meeting with other teachers at your school talking about topics you want to cover this year. A couple of biology teachers are trying to figure out a creative way to teach carbon dating. The chemistry teacher is asking around to see if anyone knows of a good method for teaching chromatography. An English teacher is trying to think up an assignment in persuasive writing. The conversation could go on, but the principal steps to the front of the room to start the meeting. Discussions of field trips, state standards, and test score improvement are going on all around you, but your mind is still on the earlier chat. Is there a way to tie all these topics together to make a more meaningful educational experience for our students?

What if you could work together with other teachers to create a cooperative unit teaching all of these topics using a forensic science investigation? If you are not in a setting that allows for this kind of cooperation between teachers, you can do an investigative interdisciplinary CSI unit in your own classroom. It’s especially fun to do something like this as we get into the holiday season and students seem to start losing focus. The most time-consuming part of doing a unit like this is planning and practicing the activities. Luckily, there are lots of quality resources available on the web that have been tested in classrooms like yours.

The forensic science resources catalogued on The Gateway to 21st Century Skills will be very helpful to you whether you are planning to do a few activities or a long unit. To see if any of these activities might work in your class, start your Gateway search here. This list of 24 activities will show you the variety of topics and disciplines you can teach in a forensic science unit. There are resources available for many different grades, but most resources seem to be aimed for junior high and high school investigations.

One activity that interested me was Ernies Exit: Blood Typing Lab from Science Spot. I really like how the activity is designed for teachers who aren’t able to order specialty supplies from scientific suppliers. It is designed with everyday materials, and there are lecture notes and nicely designed worksheets and directions. If you like this lab idea, look through the entire 8th grade quarter-long unit here. There are some great ideas you might be able to adapt for your classroom, and they all include tips and worksheets.

Another well-designed lab about Ink Chromatography led me to a different set of forensic science lessons designed for 5th through 12th grade students. These activities from the Shodor Education Foundation are also nice since they can be done mainly with household materials. One that I am very interested to try with younger students is a lab for extracting DNA from yellow onions. You can access their list of forensic science activities here. This page also has links to some really neat online mysteries that you can use in a class with computers or in a computer lab. Check out these mysteries from Access Excellence created by the National Health Museum. Activities like this can add an element of fun and mystery-solving to your classroom without a whole lot of extra preparation.

Forensic science investigations aren’t only for science classrooms. The online mysteries above could be used in many different subject areas. An English classroom could include reading a mystery and writing a persuasive essay trying to convince the reader of a particular character’s guilt or innocence. A teacher could even hold a debate in class about the mystery. The Forensic Sketch Artist combines visual art and technology in an investigation, showing students that there is a lot more involved than chemistry and biology in forensics.

Teaching is a challenging job. You are constantly trying to hook your students so that they will be engaged in their learning. Tapping into online resources like these can help you bring quality activities into your class while still getting sleep at night! If we each try to implement one or two high-quality units like these each year, soon you will have a class that students won’t want to miss.

~Peggy's Corner - 11/12/2010~

Forensic Files

Two summers ago, our local school department offered a one-week forensic science summer camp for older elementary students. Most of the kids were not there by choice, having been enrolled by their parents who thought that the course sounded “fun.” The teacher, having taught this course a few times before, was used to the student foot-dragging and wistful stares out the window at their unencumbered brethren playing outside, blissfully free from the tyranny of overly ambitious parents. The course focused on the investigation of an environmental crisis where local fish were killed by toxins in the water. The course, based on an actual event, asked students to analyze water quality, fish anatomy, business practices, town relationships, and environmental events in order to determine who – or what – was responsible for releasing the toxins into the water supply. Within 30 minutes on the first day, all the students were hooked.

Much credit must be given, of course, to the teacher. She was engaging, thoroughly prepared, knew her science inside and out, and was a gifted storyteller. The kids were captivated. What also captured their interest was the sheer mystery of the case, and how they had to create and recreate various scenarios in order to solve the puzzle of the dead fish. The course offered them hands-on detective work (testing water samples and dissecting perch) coupled with basic research such as reading through police reports, witness accounts, weather reports, and other data. By the third day of the course, all the students fairly blew by their peers on the playground outside in their haste to get to the classroom. That’s what I call success!

Forensic science has garnered much attention recently. It plays a prominent role in TV shows like The Forensic Files, Law & Order, CSI, and Dexter. Forensics is an incredibly diverse scientific field: there are forensic dentists, forensic veterinarians, pathology, and other specialties. At its most basic level, forensic science is a rich melding of modern technology and good old-fashioned storytelling. There’s something appealing about methodically working backwards on a problem – taking the evidence left at the scene of the crime or event – and attempting to retrace and recreate the events in order to figure out what really transpired. As the students discovered in the summer course, forensics also involves presenting or supplying scientific evidence in court cases. It’s possible to include some aspect of forensic science in a multitude of subjects, then, and not just in science class.

My picks this week all focus on some aspect of forensic science. While the resources below are appropriate for upper elementary through high school students, I will be featuring age-appropriate resources for all ages on our our Facebook and Twitter pages throughout the week.

Ink Chromatography
Subjects: Physical science
Grade: 5-12
Who wrote the ransom note? This ink chromatography lab uses common household materials to determine which pen actually wrote the note. This activity was created by the Shodor Educational Foundation, a non-profit research and education organization dedicated to the advancement of science and math education, specifically through the use of modeling and simulations.

CSI Podcasts
Subjects: Writing, Physical science, Technology
Grade: 6-8
Everyone loves an (imaginary) crime scene! In this lesson, students create a series of podcasts to help them solve crime scenes, and later review the material for tests. They’ll learn about mammals and ecology for a poaching scenario, microscopes, bacteria, fungi, and protists for an epidemiological-type scenario, and genetics for blood typing. This lesson is a product of DigitalWish, a non-profit whose mission is to modernize K-12 classrooms and prepare students for tomorrow's workforce. Teachers create wish lists of technology products for their classroom, and donors then connect with their favorite schools and grant classroom wishes through online cash or product donations.

Crash Scene Investigation
Subjects: Math, Algebra, Functions, Patterns, Physical science
Grade: 9-12
In this online simulation, students virtually help the highway patrol recreate a deadly crash by examining the evidence and calculating the forces. The simulation includes supporting materials, such as real crash scene photos (no gore), a glossary of terms, and a teacher’s guide. This resource is offered by Edheads, a non-profit organization that creates educational web experiences that are free to teachers, students and parents. This simulation is aligned to national and Ohio state standards.

~Joann's Picks - 11/13/2010~

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Off Key: Using Music in the Classroom

I love to read success stories like the one Joann shared about the new music teacher at her school. It’s wonderful to see a music teacher step out of their comfort zone to bring the love of music to students, but what about schools like the ones in my town that don’t have a music program at all? How far does a regular classroom teacher have to step out of their comfort zone to successfully bring some kind of music education into an already-crowded curriculum?

There’s nothing like walking into a kindergarten class and hearing the kids sing “My Uncle’s Ukelele” with abandon. You don’t know that one? I bet you learned songs about phonics, weather, and everything in between when you were in the primary grades, too. Primary teachers often have a special gift of being silly and singing with their students. In these younger grades, students really appreciate the silliness as they jump and dance to the tunes, getting out some energy and learning at the same time. As students get older, there is less time available for music with so much class time needed to prepare for tests and meet the standards required for each grade. With some creativity, you might be surprised at the small amount of time it will take you to integrate music into your lessons. Music may help your students prepare those tests and meet those standards instead of just taking up valuable class time.

Sensory triggers like sights, sounds, and smells can prompt emotions in students that help them remember facts and scientific processes in a fun way. Maybe you are not the type to sing or play an instrument in front of your class. Luckily, kids seem to appreciate our efforts even when our tone or pich is less than perfect! Thanks to the internet, you are not on your own. Even the least musically-inclined teachers can help their students learn with the help of songs, videos, and activities available for free on the internet.

I grew up with the educational videos of Schoolhouse Rock (Do you remember Conjunction Junction and How a Bill Becomes Law?) You can find lyrics to all of the old Schoolhouse Rock videos along with links to the music videos on YouTube. These videos might seem outdated, but I have to admit that I spent a little more time than I probably should have spent watching them. (It was in the name of research!) These videos have catchy tunes and are a fun and memorable way to introduce concepts to your class. The lessons they teach range from math to social studies to science. If you are looking for more contemporary videos, try They Might Be Giants. Their videos from “Here Comes Science” are very well done, and could be right at home in elementary to high school classrooms. If you search YouTube, you can find videos from their collection. A couple of my personal favorites are the biology song called “Bloodmobile” and chemistry song titled “The Elements.”Check them out…you won’t be sorry, and you might even learn something new!

Adding educational songs like these is one way to integrate music into your curriculum. There are other simple things you can do, even if you aren’t a music expert. History and Social Studies teachers may want to start a unit with popular songs from a particular era. Maybe you can play a different song each day to set the mood as students are coming into your class. Instead of assigning a report at the end of a unit, your students can demonstrate their knowledge by writing new lyrics to a popular song. One teacher challenged her class to make musical instruments from recycled materials for a class competition. This activity challenges students’ creativity as it helps them gain a better understanding of music and how instruments work. Another teacher used music and movement at the beginning of every morning to get her students’ wiggles out for the day. For more ideas about music integration search the hashtags #musedchat #musiced on Twitter.

Sing it loud and sing it proud! Let’s show our students that music can be a part of many different subjects in our lives this week. I will be using the music video “Solid, Liquid, Gas” with an experiment for sure, but if I sing along, I can’t guarantee it will be on key. At least we’ll be having fun!

~Peggy's Corner - 11/4/2010~

Musical (Comfort) Chairs

Helping out in the classroom the other day, I was surprised to hear the students clamoring to go to music class. Previously, the kids had always grumbled about music class, their complaints mainly revolving around the “babyish” songs that they had to sing, like “I’m a Little Teapot” and “Mary Had a Little Lamb.” Admittedly, I had kind of felt their pain; by the third grade, nobody wants to be linked to music that is associated with the preschool set.

The students’ change of heart was apparently ushered in along with a new music teacher. Their former teacher decided to retire a few weeks into the new school year, and her replacement – another seasoned teacher – has approached her music classes in a completely different way. She’s updated many of the songs that they sing, and also sprinkles her lessons with interesting musical theory and music history tidbits that are much more palatable to the kids this time around. She brings into class odd assortments of items on which to drum (with students counting beats), and other props such as balls and instruments from around the world.

To my mind, both music teachers were, and are, good teachers. In this age of instant gratification, with students reared on video games, cell phones, and on-demand this and that, it’s an increasing challenge for teachers to capture and hold students’ attention sufficiently during instruction. The former music teacher taught the way she’d been teaching for years, and probably the way she was trained to teach. Her methods were solid for many students over the years, some of whom continue to excel at music in college and beyond. Her replacement, who is about the same age, has decided to periodically push herself out of her comfort zone and modifies her instructional style to keep her methods fresh. Her effect has been immediate, not just in resurrecting the students’ interest in music, but also in their accelerated comprehension and mastery of the content.

We all know that school districts’ budgets are tight, and the importance of music education is often underestimated by some parents and financial stakeholders. Much research underscores the correlation between music and math skills: for example, students learn to count beats and figure out the length of notes by using multiplication and division. Music education also helps to develop higher thinking skills, as students think about complex musical patterns, and how their individual parts fit into a musical whole, or how they can augment various sounds, tones, and intonations to create variations on a musical piece. With art and music education always inching closer to the chopping block in many districts, it’s imperative for educators to periodically reassess their instructional methods. What works? What doesn’t? When does student attention seem to flag? What kinds of props, instructional delivery methods, and activities might be used to help convey the material in an effective, yet engaging, way? How willing are you as an educator to step out of your comfort zone?

This week my picks focus on music education resources from SoundTree, a company that produces turn-key learning systems for education that integrate music and technology. During the week, I’ll be featuring a host of additional music resources from SoundTree and other entities on our Facebook and Twitter pages, so please be sure to check them out.

“This Week in Music” Podcast
Subject: Music
Grade: 6-12
In this activity, students create short podcasts that highlight events such as birthdays, events, and other important dates from music history. Each podcast will be posted online for downloading. Students are required to compose a theme for their podcast episode, create a script, and may include listening examples (MIDI files, MP3 clips, etc.) to enhance their project.

Film Scoring in the Music Classroom: Duck and Cover
Subject: Music
Grade: 7-12
The students will compose music for a short segment of Duck and Cover – a movie from the 1950s on preparing for nuclear war – though the students will not know what it is about. Students will write a script and music to accompany the film clip.

Enhancing the Understanding of Singing a Round in the Early Elementary Grades
Subjects: Music
Grade: K-6
In order to sing and understand the concept of a round, the students will use the “piano roll” visual of a sequencer to “see” and practice singing their individual part as it relates to the other parts in the round.

~Joann's Picks - 11/4/2010~

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Paper Trails

As I finish making copies for the week for four first grade classrooms, I look down at the pile of worksheets and I am astounded by the sheer amount of paper these students will use and eventually throw away during a typical school week. Add school newsletters, announcements, and fundraising pamphlets and the paperwork coming home each day in students’ backpacks can become overwhelming. For families with multiple children in the same school, the problem is only compounded. As “going green” gains popularity, it only makes sense to tackle the topic of reducing waste with our students. Hopefully, allowing students to witness a problem and design solutions will help them become more aware and responsible citizens.

Are there ways to reduce the amount of paper we use every day in the classroom? For in-class work, you can try giving each student a small whiteboard. I cut a class set of white boards from shower board I bought at a home improvement store, and they work great for a lot less money than buying individual boards. If you have access to computers or a computer lab, there are lots of free games and activities available online that students can use for repetition and practice. Interactive whiteboards can be a great tool for learning in a less paper-intensive environment as well, although many of us aren’t lucky enough to get those, yet! For more structured work that is best practiced on worksheets, you might be able to save a little paper by doing double-sided copying.

After students learn more about the problem, they may start their own recycling or re-use programs. Some enterprising kids started collecting paper waste for recycling or re-use and made a deal with their teacher to have a party in class when they had collected a certain weight of paper. They created the plan and timeline and presented their ideas to their teacher. As the amount of paper they collected increased, they earned intermediate prizes, including the chance to hold a paper-airplane contest (created with recycled paper, of course), and a “recycled” art contest, where students were challenged to create artwork entirely from things that were meant to be thrown away. To help reduce the amount of paperwork created in the first place, one parent volunteer at my school offered to mark the classroom mailboxes of siblings so that only the oldest sibling in each household would get copies of school notes, saving a lot of paper over the course of a year.

Is too much trash really a problem? What’s wrong with throwing away garbage? When stuff goes into the trash, it gets buried so we don’t have to deal with again, right? This may be true, but lots of garbage doesn’t end up in landfills, and the garbage that does get buried can take a really long time to decompose. One class created a mini-landfill in a plastic container with all different kinds of trash in it. They left it outside all year to see what would happen to the trash. How long do you think it would take a diaper to start decomposing in your own mini-landfill?

If you need to get your class moving, try this landfill game from PE Central. Kids can start thinking about issues with trash and recycling while they run around and let off a little steam. For a very different approach, Waste Management partnered with Discovery Education to create lessons about trash and recycling. You might find some useful ideas for your class in their Buried Treasure activities and lesson plans.

A great visual example of the damage uncontained waste is doing to earth is the pacific garbage patch, a huge mass of trash collecting in the Pacific Ocean. You can find lots of pictures and explanations of this phenomenon online. There is a detailed description of this and a couple of other major environmental issues in a free webinar from Maps101. Depending on the age of your students, you might want to show parts of it in your class or just use the information in your teaching. This blog entry is also very informative on the topic. It was neat to learn so much about garbage, a topic I didn’t know a whole lot about. That’s one of the best parts about being a teacher…learning with your students!

For a fun and interesting conversation-starter, watch this “mockumentary” that details the journey of a plastic bag from a parking lot to the open ocean, contributing to the mass of debris in the pacific garbage patch. The movie follows the bag as if it’s an endangered animal as it makes its way out into the ocean.

For more ideas in environmental education, be sure to visit the Environmental Protection Agency’s Environmental Education page. This page has a section for elementary, middle, and high school students. Their Kids Club has a great section on garbage and recycling with activities, science experiments, and more. I also really like their interactive game, Recycle City. It’s got a detailed introduction to the topic, an online game, and related activities.

We always like to collaborate and share ideas with other organizations we associate with on our social networking sites. Keep an eye on the National Environmental Education Association’s Facebook page for tips and ideas. Also, the Teaching Ideas site has an extensive collection of activities related to different themes. We discovered these collections through their Facebook page. Be sure to check the site in November for their theme “Saving the Planet.” Good luck, and have fun going green with your students.

~Peggy's Corner - 10/28/2010~

Talkin’ Trash

According to the EPA, the average American produces about four and a half pounds of trash each day, which amounts to a whopping 1,600 pounds per person annually. That figure does not include industrial waste or commercial trash – operations that produce much, much more trash than consumers.

Sometimes it’s difficult for students to conceptualize just how large these numbers really are. It helps, then, to use graphic examples when describing the problem. For example, according to WM Recycle America, each year Americans throw away enough aluminum to completely duplicate the full United States commercial air fleet. That’s a lot of soda cans! The same organization says that Americans toss enough glass each month to fill up a skyscraper. Examples such as these that are easy to visualize can really help to drive the point home for students of all ages.

Fortunately, Americans and many other countries have become much more conscientious about the waste we produce and how we can recycle materials instead of burying or incinerating them. Many schools have introduced their own recycling programs, and you can view many of their initiatives on YouTube or TeacherTube. Some popular measures include reducing or eliminating the number of days that the cafeteria uses foam food trays, refilling printer ink cartridges instead of throwing away used ones, and setting up paper recycling stations and bins throughout the school. There are many online guides and handbooks on establishing school recycling programs, some of which we’ll be featuring on our Facebook and Twitter pages this week; perhaps you’ll find something that inspires you to take greater steps towards establishing a “greener” school or community.

My picks this week focus on the trash or waste we produce, and how we can better reuse, recycle, or repurpose items to reduce the amount of garbage dumped into landfills or incinerated into the air we breathe. Students are naturally passionate about the Earth and “doing the right thing,” and the resources below offer some fascinating insights into trash, recycling, and human ingenuity.

Garbage Dreams
Subjects: Ecology, Economics
Grade: 6-12
In Cairo, the Zaballeen people survive by collecting and recycling trash; they recycle over 80% of the garbage they collect. In this online game, students take on the role of the Zaballeen, where they virtually sort, process, and profit from the garbage collected from Cairo’s neighborhoods. I like that this game takes the economic considerations of recycling into account as well as the obvious ecological benefits. To effectively grow their businesses, players can invest in various types of recycling equipment, which may or may not pay off. If they manage their businesses well, they can buy extra trucks, expand into wealthier neighborhoods, and perhaps hire additional workers to help in their recycling efforts. “Garbage Dreams” is produced by PBS as a supporting activity to their documentary of the same name. The game is aligned to national education standards.

Activity #2: My Water is Gray Water
Subjects: Ecology, Math
Grade: 5-8
In this activity, students determine the average amount of water they use during a typical shower and the concentration of soap in that water. The students learn the need to recycle gray water to allow plants, animals, and humans to survive in space. This activity was produced by NASA Quest, an educational initiative by NASA to provide educators, students, and space enthusiasts with information and activities that apply to real-world challenges faced by NASA’s space program.

The Rotten Truth About Garbage
Subjects: Ecology, Social studies
Grade K-8
This site takes an in-depth look at the complex issues surrounding municipal solid waste. This online exhibition is organized into four major sections: What Is Garbage?, There's No "Away", Nature Recycles, and Making Choices. The exhibit also includes numerous activities for students, ranging from oral history projects to trash audits. This resource was developed by the Association of Science-Technology Centers (ASTC), an organization of museums and science centers dedicated to furthering science education and innovation for the public.

~Joann's Picks - 10/28/2010~

Monday, October 25, 2010

A Classroom Disaster

Some things in the world…okay a lot of things in the world…are difficult subjects to tackle with students. When bad things happen in the world, especially close to home, how do we help our students understand what’s going on and what they are feeling? There are textbooks, lesson plans, and best practices in place to teach the core academic subjects, but the there is no clear-cut procedure for handling unexplainable disasters. Whether it’s a natural disaster or a man-made one, students are witnessing situations in real time and in more detail than ever. The unfolding events can be very scary for students and teachers. Discovering the scientific basis of these disasters and how to cope may alleviate this fear and give a feeling of control over the situation.

Depending on the age of your students, these explorations of catastrophic events can include historical comparisons, political discussions, service projects, and hands-on experiments. There are many different types of resources catalogued on the Gateway and other sites to help you introduce and study just about any type of natural disaster with your students. Joann will be posting a variety of examples of these resources daily on our Facebook and Twitter pages.

Where you live and the specific time of year influence the types of natural disasters you may need to teach about in your classroom. If you live in an area commonly hit with certain types of disasters, like earthquakes or tornadoes, it might be helpful to begin introducing the topic before a disaster strikes. No matter which type of disaster you need to learn more about, you should find some activities to start with on The Gateway to 21st Century Skills. Through different keyword searches on The Gateway, I found a lot of very creative and challenging activities to help you deal with all different types of disasters. One of the best parts about starting with these catalogued resources is that you can use the standards selection tool to determine how the activities will fit within your state standards.

There are quite a few other lessons and activities online that can complement the lessons you find on The Gateway. The following links are a sample of the variety of resources you might find useful. The FEMA site has a good overview of many types of natural disasters. National Geographic’s Forces of Nature activity allows you to pick a force (tornado, hurricane, earthquake, or volcano) to see pictures, maps, and case studies related to that force of nature. How Stuff Works, a Discovery site, has articles, pictures, and videos to help better explain disasters to your students. The link takes you to the wildfire page, but there are explanations and activities for other disasters as well.

The information and resources in those sites are all very helpful, but there is no replacement for hands-on experimentation of the forces at work in these disasters. This year we have discussed 2 specific types of disasters in our posts: hurricanes and oil spills.
In the study of hurricanes, students saw air pressure demonstrated in a really fun and memorable way as they witnessed an egg “magically” being sucked into a glass bottle. I have seen kids and adults alike watch this demonstration in awe. Once they can explain the scientific principles behind “trick,” they will have a much deeper understanding of how weather systems like hurricanes are formed. Students from kindergarten through junior high tried out the inquiry-based oil spill experiment introduced in our oil spill posts. There are hands-on experiments like this available on the Gateway for other disasters, too. For example, you can build your own tornado with soda bottles here. Finding and implementing activities like this can make your investigation into disasters much more effective and useful for your students. If you know of any activities to use in teaching about disasters, please share. Thanks!

~Peggy's Corner - 10/21/2010~

Scorched Earth

A few weeks ago in Hungary, a reservoir ruptured, flooding several towns with 185 million gallons of toxic red sludge. The 12-foot high river of sludge killed nine people, with scores more hospitalized with chemical burns and other injuries. The effect on the environment and the people there is still unknown, and the scope of any lasting damage is likely to be unknown for many years. The sludge is a byproduct of refining bauxite into alumina, and is contained in numerous reservoirs in communities surrounding the aluminum plant. A few days after the disaster, a report surfaced that the plant had appeared on a short list of potential environmental disasters several years ago, while photographs taken of the Hungarian reservoirs months before the rupture clearly show degraded and leaking reservoir walls. As of this writing, the manager of the aluminum plant is the target of an official investigation, and the plant’s assets have been frozen. In the meantime, the people in the villages surrounding the plant are trying to put their lives back together in a devastated landscape.

Disasters, whether man-made or naturally-occurring, are an unfortunate fact of life. Pliny the Younger wrote vivid descriptions of the devastation caused by the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in 79 AD, while today, haunting images of toxic mud-splashed houses and flooded buildings in Hungary flash across our TV and computer screens. Disasters are a common thread in human history, binding past to present in a very real, dramatic way. The ability to stream live images or publish real-time descriptions of disasters has made such occurrences more personal regardless of where they occur: as fellow human beings, we are able to truly empathize with the afflicted communities, even as we experience it secondhand.

Students typically begin learning about disasters that occur in the natural world, such as earthquakes, hurricanes, and volcanic eruptions. Older students are able to delve more deeply into the topic, perhaps studying human-induced disasters, including their causes, their effect, and what preparations can be created to help prevent against a reoccurrence in the future.

My picks this week all focus on some aspect of disasters, including how stress from experiencing a disaster affects the human body, and how communities can plan for economic recovery after a disaster has affected their community. Throughout the week I’ll be featuring all types of disaster-related lessons and resources for all grade levels on our Facebook and Twitter pages, so please be sure to check those pages frequently.

Are You Prepared?
Subjects: Science, Language Arts
Grade: 3
Natural disasters come in many different forms. In this lesson, students conduct research into the different types of disasters and create brochures that highlight an event and feature ways to protect themselves. What I like about this lesson is that the focus is on safety preparations, which helps to reduce some of the “scare factor” of disasters for younger students. This lesson is a product of the Alabama Learning Exchange (ALEX), which offers lesson plans and educational best practices, as well as Alabama professional development opportunities. The lesson is aligned to Alabama Content standards.

Rebuild Your Community
Subjects: Economics
Grade: 9-12
This lesson focuses on priorities for a community's post-disaster economic recovery. It specifically examines the importance of the revival of the cultural, educational, and religious institutions in the Gulf Coast in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. Students examine the concepts of scarce resources, cost-benefit analysis, opportunity costs, and economic incentives in determining how to rebuild and revitalize a neighborhood. This is vital information that gets students to think more broadly about the aftermath of a disaster, and is a topic that is often overlooked in discussing disasters. This lesson is a product of Thirteen Ed Online, the educational online outlet of WNET, PBS’s flagship station in New York. The lesson is aligned to McREL standards.

Mental Health and Disasters: How Your Body Reacts During and After a Tragedy
Subjects: Health, Psychology
Grade: 7-12
In this lesson, students learn about how the body reacts physically to stress, and evaluate the long-term affects of stress on those whose lives have been impacted by disasters. Students evaluate and discuss the Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, and apply this concept to situations in their own lives. This lesson was produced by PBS Newshour, which offers news for students and teacher resources. This lesson is aligned to national standards.

~Joann's Picks - 10/21/2010~

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Teaching in “The Real World”…or The Missing Piece

What was your favorite subject in school? Was it one that had a really cool teacher? One you could sleep through without getting caught? One that was very challenging? One that you still actually remember what you learned? When I have asked kids and adults this question, I was surprised to find out that many people’s favorite classes have been the more challenging classes, but they are the ones that relate to their own lives. Through my years of working with students of all ages, I am constantly impressed with how well students of all abilities rise to meet our expectations. If we can create classes and assignments that are a lot of work, but not purely busywork, students might surprise us by showing more potential than we ever knew they had. I know this was true for me as a student in some of my more challenging math and science classes in high school. I was lucky to have some wonderful teachers who took the time to make their subjects interesting and relevant in their students’ lives.

I laughed when I read Joann’s description of her geometry class, because I think we have all had classes like that during our school careers. The teacher may have the best of intentions, but somehow the subject is lost on the students. Unfortunately, it’s easier for many teachers to just keep teaching the way they are teaching even when it’s not working. What would it take to help teachers like this get through to their students with quality challenges and real-world examples?

Creating a real-world connection is easier in some subjects than others, but teachers have accomplished it in all different subject areas, and we can learn from their successes. I think this is where an online PLN, a group of teachers who can share success stories and ideas on sites like Facebook and Twitter can be very helpful. Teachers have shared this camaraderie in their own schools for a long time, but the community can grow exponentially as you include educators from around the world. As your PLN grows and you start to read blogs and join in conversations, you will find more and more great ideas. Sometimes, I feel like I don’t have enough time to try out all of the wonderful ideas I read!

A few years ago, I taught a course called “Chemistry in the Community,” an introductory level chemistry class with a textbook that was entirely based on real-world applications for chemistry. I still got the questions about why we were learning things and when we would ever use it, but I had tools to demonstrate these answers. Students got to experiment with things like water quality, mining, farming, and fireworks to gain an appreciation and understanding of the role chemistry played in their everyday lives. The big ideas behind this curriculum inspired me to think about how well units like this would work in all different subject areas.

This week, we are focusing on geometry resources at The Gateway to 21st Century Skills. Joann presented some outstanding non-traditional geometry resources in her column and she will be posting more ideas every day on our Facebook and Twitter pages. Geometry is a subject with a lot of potential for including real-life problem solving applications for students. I found one thread on the Classroom 2.0 page that shows how teachers can share project ideas and links to build a better geometry class than Joann’s! Some of the projects would be really neat to make a geometry class more fun and challenging at the same time. Nancy Powell, a teacher at Bloomington High School, has compiled a really extensive list of ideas and projects, too. Some of her activities use Sketchpad, software you can purchase, but a lot of them are designed to be done without a computer. There is a LOT here, so be sure to take some time looking through them. As always, I highly suggest searching “geometry” on The Gateway to 21st Century Skills. There is a huge variety of resources catalogued there, including resources from Pi Across America (I just love the name!).

“It was missing a piece. And it was not happy. So it set off in search of its missing piece.” From The Missing Piece by Shel Silverstein

Are you missing a piece in your teaching? Join a group of educators, either in person or online, and let them help you turn your classroom into a learning hub for the real world. Have your students live geometry this year, not just learn about it.

~Peggy's Corner - 10/16/2010~

Like Geometry? Eucliding Me, Right?

Geometry wasn’t my best subject in school. In fact, I pretty much loathed it at the time. Perhaps it was because the class was scheduled after lunch, in an overly-heated room that induced a mouth-slackening torpor within minutes. The geometry teacher had the unfortunate belief that lectures were the only effective teaching method, and he obligingly droned on daily from his desk in the corner. Occasionally, to vary the lesson, he’d stand up. My classmates and I – usually excellent students – struggled against waves of drowsiness, our heads bobbing like too-heavy flowers on thin stalks as we’d start to drift, then jerk awake. Occasionally, one of us would lose the battle and doze off. The teacher, without missing a beat in his lecture, would quietly rise from his desk, glide behind the blissfully sleeping offender, and drop an enormous dictionary on the floor. Did I mention that I loathed geometry?

Fortunately, times have changed. Teachers illustrate geometrical concepts with hands-on activities, real-life examples, and varied methods of instruction. My kids have come home with math assignments that required them to measure the dimensions of a room to calculate how many gallons of paint it would take to coat the walls twice, constructed buildings out of craft sticks using various required geometrical shapes, and other types of problems. They still learn theorems and solve proofs, of course, but there is much more interaction in class and examples given of how these concepts are used everyday in the real world. For some kids, the gap between what they learn in some academic subjects and how – or if – they will ever apply this knowledge as adults can be a major component of their buying into learning the material in the first place, and answers the question “but when will I ever use this? Does anyone ever use the Pythagorean theorem after graduation??”

My picks this week focus on resources that expose students to geometry in unconventional ways. Math teachers already have effective methods of teaching geometrical proofs and theorems, and I want to offer something a little off the beaten path. These creative, hands-on geometry activities will hopefully capture student interest, and make geometry a little more palatable to those students who don’t see the value in learning geometry. I’ll also be featuring many more lessons, activities, and other resources on geometry throughout the week on our our Facebook and Twitter pages, so please be sure to check in to view them.

Origami Cricket
Subjects: Geometry
Grade: 4-12
This is a neat activity that reinforces right triangle theorems. Students fold paper into various angles and triangles to form origami crickets, then flip them over to make the crickets jump. This activity is offered by The Math Forum, and was written by geometry teacher Cathleen V. Sanders.

The Building Blocks of Geometry
Subjects: Geometry
Grade: 3-5
In this hands-on activity, students explore geometric building blocks in the real world in order to describe the characteristics and relationships of points, lines, line segments, rays, and planes. Students build honeycombs, use geoboards, and other materials to illustrate geometric concepts. This activity is presented by Beacon Learning Center, an online professional development center that offers lesson plans and other educational resources. This activity is aligned to both state and national standards.

Ken Burns American Stories: Baseball Geometry
Subject: Geometry
Grade: 6-12
What do baseball and geometry have in common? More than you think! In this hands-on activity, students examine the surface area of baseballs, make imprints of them in clay to analyze the footprint, and corroborate their findings by calculating the ball’s circumference, diameter, and surface area. The activity also offers a quiz and hands-on extension activity. This resource was produced by PBS, which offers many educational resources and activities for educators tied to PBS programming. This activity is aligned to national math standards.

~Joann's Picks - 10/12/2010~

Monday, October 11, 2010

Changing up Your Lessons this Fall

Autumn is a time of great change and transformation in nature. As a child, I remember the awe I felt watching leaves fall and crunching across them as I walked on the sidewalk. As an adult, I am still in awe of the sights and smells of the season (and I STILL want to jump in the huge pile of leaves, even if it means I’ll have to rake them up again). This week, Joann and I collected resources that tap into this childhood fascination of the changes occurring in nature to teach lessons in many different subject areas.

You can bring these autumn changes into your classroom by using leaves to teach science lessons about photosynthesis, why leaves change colors in the fall, and more. Leaves can also be used in language lessons, art projects, and even math. Look at Photosynthesis: Don’t “Leaf” out Fall’s Most Important Lesson, a collection of activities from Education World for some fun interdisciplinary examples. There is a detailed description of photosynthesis and an explanation of the changing colors in fall, including an easy-to-read version of the explanation for younger students.

Colors in the Leaves describes a great autumn science experiment for all ages. In this lab, students discover why leaves change colors in the fall and why they start out green. It is an inquiry-based science lab using chromatography to separate the colors found in leaves (a spinach leaf in this case). The author of the activity did the lesson with students as young as first grade, but it would be interesting and informative through high school, as the students are learning more about photosynthesis and chromatography. Younger students would need more supervision, since there is acetone and rubbing alcohol involved, but the students wouldn’t need to touch any of the chemicals to benefit from the experiment.

Discussions from these science lessons might lead into a broader discussion of changing seasons. National Geographic Xpeditions has some lessons and activities to help your students explore this concept. Seasons is also a good primary level introduction to why there are different seasons. Students get to model the earth and sun with an orange and a flashlight, a demonstration I remember well from my school days. Sometimes it’s hard to beat an actual physical model of how things work.

Studying butterflies and moths is a popular activity to bring nature into the classroom for a quick and interesting view into life cycles. Metamorphosis is an amazing process for students to witness first hand. There are lots of different lesson plans available online, and it’s probably a good idea to read a few to choose the best parts for your class. Creepy Caterpillars to Beautiful Butterflies is a good second grade example to get you started. As I searched for more examples of this type of activity, I discovered that many metamorphosis lessons use the book, “The Very Hungry Caterpillar” by Eric Carle. I came across some very interesting vocabulary discussions regarding cocoons vs. chrysalises from The Butterfly House in St. Louis, “Butterflies emerge from chrysalises, moths emerge from cocoons.” You may or may not know this fact already, but the book has a butterfly popping out of a cocoon, which my 1st grader promptly corrected, so I should have been more prepared! Other recommended and more realistic metamorphosis books are “Waiting for Wings” by Lois Ehlert or “Butterfly House” by Eve Bunting.

As a primary teacher who plans for all the subjects or a secondary teacher that works in a team to plan and present units, you may be looking for thematic units to tie students’ learning together in many areas. Frogs: A Thematic Unit is a good example of how one teacher used the metamorphosis of frogs as a theme to teach many different subjects. When you implement a thematic unit, you are still teaching the same important math and English concepts you always would while you keep it interesting by connecting your subjects to one theme. If you want more frog activities and information to supplement your thematic unit, try the University of Wisconsin Sea Grant page. I need to try to make the origami frog!

Enjoy this time of change in your classroom. By this time in the year, hopefully you are starting to see some positive changes in your students as they begin to learn and grow in your class. (You might even be able to call it a student metamorphosis!) If you have any other autumn teaching ideas or insights, please share. I would love to hear how these types of lessons have gone in your classroom. We will be doing the leaf chromatography experiment soon, and we’ll post the results on the Gateway Facebook and Twitter pages.

~Peggy's Corner - 10/7/2010~


A few weeks ago, my third grader stopped in her tracks, flung her arms far apart, and breathed deeply. Nonplussed, I stopped and asked her what she was doing.

“Remembering the way summer smells,” she said.

I sniffed the air tentatively, but all I could really smell was car exhaust. We were in the middle of a plaza parking lot, after all.

I had forgotten this little scenario until this morning, when we awakened to temperatures in the 40s. As we waited for the school bus, my daughter raised her chin into the wind and announced that it now smelled like fall. “But I still remember how summer smells,” she said.

We live in New England, where summers are fleeting and – for me, anyway – fall arrives much too quickly. The leaves are changing color, pumpkins have appeared on doorsteps, and I can’t seem to keep my hands off a local farm’s seasonal cider donuts. Like spring, autumn seems to be a season when transformations are most noticeable. Plants go dormant, hornet colonies die off, and caterpillars begin constructing chrysalids. The world around us changes continuously via weather, seasons, human-induced development, natural disasters, and so forth. Many examples of transformation are all around us all the time, if we slow down to look.

The concept of metamorphosis has a long and rich tradition. Classic horror stories and legends depict werewolves, vampires, and various types of shapeshifters, all capable of transforming themselves into other guises. Around the year 8 A.D., Ovid published The Metamorphosis, which describes various tales of transformation. Although Ovid’s work is still widely read in academic circles, most people are more familiar with Kafka’s Metamorphosis story of Gregor Samsa, a hardworking salesman who inexplicably awakens one morning as a large insect. While his physical transformation is pronounced, his family too undergoes a metamorphosis in the story, prompting the reader to ask “what is human?”

Metamorphosis is most often demonstrated in the classroom via the lifecycles of various creatures, such as mealworms, butterflies, and frogs. The ability to view these species’ dramatic changes in a relatively short period of time is a fabulous way to illustrate the concept of transformation to students. My picks this week focus on some aspect of metamorphosis, whether it occurs in life science, literature, visual art, or elsewhere. I will be featuring many more resources for all ages throughout the week on our Facebook and Twitter pages, so please be sure to check in to view them.

The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka
Subjects: Literature, Writing
Grade: 9-10
In this lesson, students analyze the many interrelated literary elements and universal themes in Kafka’s seminal short story. Students are asked to delve much deeper into the story’s symbolism beyond Gregor’s literal transformation into a bug as they examine the effects of society, family, stress, and environment on the characters. This lesson is offered by LEARN NC, a program of UNC Chapel Hill School of Education that provides lesson plans, professional development, and other resources to support teachers. The lesson is aligned to North Carolina state standards.

Claymation Metamorphosis
Subjects: Art, Life science
Grade: 5-12
Like Gumby, but educational! This lesson provides an introduction to the basics of Claymation and media production using a familiar scientific theme — the metamorphosis of a butterfly. This lesson is produced by Blick Art Materials, an art supply company that also offers lesson plans and video workshops for teachers. The lesson is aligned to national standards.

How a Caterpillar Becomes a Butterfly
Subjects: Life science
Grade: K-1
This activity introduces young students to the life cycle of a butterfly. Students role play and draw the various stages that a caterpillar goes through to become a butterfly. Students also listen to and discuss Eric Carle’s classic book The Very Hungry Caterpillar. This lesson is offered by the Educators Reference Desk, a repository of lesson plans, resource guides, and AskERIC Q&A archives from the Information Institute of Syracuse at Syracuse University.

~Joann's Picks - 10/7/2010~