Sunday, September 26, 2010

Rock me like a Hurricane

As a recent transplant from the Gulf Coast of Mississippi to Northern California, I am fascinated by the science surrounding hurricanes. I suppose this interest in natural disasters will soon grow to include earthquakes and wild fires…more on that in a future post. Living in southern Mississippi, I saw the lingering aftermath of the powerful storms that can make landfall and devastate entire regions. The most interesting thing about hurricanes to me is the science behind the predictions of where the storm will make landfall and how strong it will be. Unlike many other weather events, people have a lot of warning before a hurricane reaches land. Meteorologists use all kinds of different skills and tools to make these predictions as accurate as possible. No matter where you live, you can harness your students’ interest in these weather phenomenons to teach many aspects of science and math. Let them become amateur meteorologists to really gain an understanding of these storms.

There is some great information available on the web for teachers wanting to explore hurricanes in the classroom. The Weather Wise Kids site has a good overview of hurricanes and the science behind them. It uses kid-friendly language and graphics, so it shouldn’t be too overwhelming for younger kids. I also really liked the lesson plans she included at the end, many of which are already catalogued on The Gateway as well. These activities, including an online hurricane creation simulation, a tool to “aim” a hurricane using weather conditions, and a reading comprehension activity would work great along with the activities Joann suggested in her post. My favorite science demonstration they suggested can help you introduce the concept of air pressure to your students. If you can get your hands on a glass bottle with an opening big enough for a hard boiled egg to almost fit in, you are all set. You HAVE to try this one, its fun! If you haven’t seen the experiment before, you can get a basic idea by watching this news clip from TeacherTube.

A lot of the science behind tracking hurricanes and predicting their paths comes from the data collected by the Hurricane Hunters , an Air Force Reserve squadron based at Keesler Air Force Base in Mississippi. Their website is very informative for kids and adults interested in how they fly into hurricanes and other storms to collect important weather readings. One of my favorite parts of the site is their Hurricane Hunters Cyberflight, where you can see what happens during a typical mission into a storm.

If you are looking for other links and information about hurricanes, Weather Underground is a great place to start. I spent a fair amount of time on the site during the hurricane seasons, tracking tropical storms and hurricanes as they made their way across the ocean. They have a huge collection of online links including storm footage, blogs, historical storm data, and much more. If you do one of the storm surge activities Joann recommended in her post, I highly recommend that you show your students what a storm surge has done in past hurricanes. This is a really complete blog on Weather Underground that details the storm surge destruction all along the gulf coast during Katrina. I choose this particular post because the author includes some video footage of the storm surge during Katrina and lots of pictures of the destruction.

Last but not least, search for the keyword hurricane on The Gateway. If you haven’t found a hurricane activity that will work for you in Joann’s or my post, you should be able to find one that meets your needs with a simple search of the site. Don’t forget that we have a new state standards suggestion tool. Once you find a lesson you like, click on the green “View, share, comment” button below the description of the activity. At the bottom of the detailed description, you will be prompted to enter your state, subject, and grade level. When you click on the “Suggest Standards” button, you will get a list of standards that you can cover with that activity. It’s that easy! After you try the tool, we would love if you would take the short survey to see how we can make it more useful for teachers.

Let a fun and educational hurricane activity push your students out of a rut in their science and math studies this month! I hope you are able to spark some new interest in the science of weather. It’s going on all around us.

~Peggy's Corner - 9/25/2010~

A Mighty Wind

A confession: I’m sort of a weather junkie.

Much to the annoyance of my children, I can happily watch The Weather Channel for hours on end.

“It’s the same thing over and over,” says my son. “It’s boring.”

“They’re not even showing our weather!” my daughter splutters. I tell her that even though we’re not presently in Barcelona, I still care about their weather.

I’m not exactly sure why I like watching weather-related events so much, but I do. Maybe it’s a reminder that, even in the 21st century where we’ve bent so many aspects of the natural world to our collective human will, the forces of nature remain a power that can’t always be controlled despite our best efforts. It truly is bigger than us.

It’s currently hurricane season, which in the Atlantic lasts from June 1 through November 30. In the Eastern Pacific, the season starts a bit earlier, on May 15. The term “hurricane” is actually a regional term given to tropical cyclones that occur in the Atlantic, the Northeast Pacific, and the Southeast Pacific oceans. The term “typhoon” is given to those tropical cyclones that occur in the Northwest Pacific, while “tropical cyclone” is used for just about everywhere else. They are mighty storms, born from a recipe of warm ocean water, warm moist air, and areas of low air pressure. To be classified as a hurricane, the storm must have winds of at least 74 miles per hour, while the strongest storms – Category 5 hurricanes – have winds that reach 156 miles per hour and above.

Hurricanes can obviously wreak terrible destruction; New Orleans and other areas affected by Hurricane Katrina five years ago are still struggling to recover from the devastation. Fortunately, most hurricanes are more benign storms, and understanding the science behind them is a fascinating melding of earth science and physics. My picks this week all focus on hurricane resources, and we’ll be featuring many more lessons, activities, and information during the week on our Facebook and Twitter pages.

The Surge of the Storm
Subjects: Earth Science, Measurement, Meteorology, Physical sciences
Grade: 5-12
In this hands-on activity, students investigate how a hurricane’s storm surge affects the low-lying areas of coastal regions. Students determine the distance inland that the storm surge will reach and simulate the destructive force of a storm surge. This lesson was created by SEACOORA (Southeast Coastal Ocean Observing Regional Association), which gathers coastal and ocean observing data and information in the Southeast United States. They offer lesson plans and activities, as well as tons of information about coastal areas and the ocean. Lessons are aligned to national education standards.

Researching Hurricanes with Technology
Subjects: Earth science, Meteorology, Physical sciences
Grade: 9-12
In this lesson, students learn about the formation, power, and history of hurricanes. The lesson also integrates Internet research and the use of several different types of technology. This lesson is offered by ALEX, a project of the Alabama Learning Exchange, an award-winning education portal that provides lesson plans, education-related podcasts, best practices, and Alabama professional development activities. Lessons are aligned to Alabama Content Standards.

Subjects: Earth science, Meteorology
Grade: 6-8
Students in this hands-on activity discover the effects of wind speed and water depth on the height of waves during a hurricane. The activity includes adaptations for older students, discussion questions, suggested readings and extension activities, a grading rubric, and more. This lesson is offered by Discovery Education, which provides digital resources to schools and homes with the goal of making educators more effective, increasing student achievement, and connecting classrooms and families to a world of learning. The activity is aligned to McREL standards.

~Joann's Picks - 9/25/2010~

Monday, September 20, 2010

Behave Yourself!

Your classroom is a unique space that you create and reinvent each year to best serve your students. Throughout my years of school as both a student and teacher, I have seen many different types of organization and systems of management. The main thing I have learned from seeing all these spaces is that the style that works best in each classroom is as unique as the teacher in charge. You might walk into one classroom that looks to be in a complete state of chaos while another room contains students quietly learning in their seats in organized rows. Your first impression might not necessarily be correct about which one is a better learning environment, since it is very dependent on the teaching and learning styles in each group. Through your years of teaching, you have probably figured out what works best for you. If you are still new to teaching, you may be experiencing some behavior issues right now that you can solve by tweaking the way your classroom is managed. It’s never too late to change the way you do things to help your students learn more effectively.

The way you manage your classroom is the foundation of the success of your teaching each year. Without a strong foundation, you can present wonderful lessons and activities, but you probably won’t get the results you are hoping for. How is your perfectly planned activity going to work when you have the distractions of student misbehavior going on all around you? How will your students learn when nobody was able to hear the instructions? Why are your students doing so poorly on their tests when you went over all the information in class?

As an incoming teacher, I thought that establishing control and a classroom routine were the most intimidating part of my new job. It can be very overwhelming, and it is very important that you find support to help you succeed. Where can you find this kind of support? You might be lucky enough to have another teacher in your own school who can be a mentor as you find the best way to manage your classroom. If you haven’t been able to find this kind of support in your school, try finding a group of educators online where you can connect. Many teachers have created their own support groups, or PLNs (Personal Learning Network) on Twitter to help them with problems and supply them with ideas and links from all over the world. There are other groups on sites like Facebook that can help you connect and join in conversations with other educators, too. Try The Gateway’s Facebook page and Twitter page to start!

When I first started teaching, my cooperating teacher gave me the book, “The First Days of School” by Harry and Rosemary Wong. The book helped me a lot with the initial setup of my classroom and with setting the groundwork for rules and behavior in the classroom. Technology has changed (a little) since then, so if you don’t have a copy of the book, you can get the e-book.

If you are having behavior problems in your class, or if you want to head them off now before they start, check out some of these tools on the Gateway. If you search classroom management on the homepage, you can refine your search by clicking on keywords like student behavior or behavior problems to find some resources that will work in your class. We have some useful tools catalogued on The Gateway from Dr. Mac’s Behavior Management Site. The Behavior Management Checklist and Ways to Catch Kids Being Good would both be helpful to new teachers or teachers who need a little help perfecting their behavior management plans in their classrooms.

There are all different kinds of weekly chats on Twitter to support educators. This week’s new teacher chat focused on classroom rules and how to best implement them. You can join in the chat or search for ideas from it with the Twitter hashtag #ntchat. There were some really neat ideas for implementing and maintaining rules in the classroom. The main theme seemed to be that the most effective rules are created with the students, not just for them. Students will be much more likely to follow rules they understand and helped create. Most members of the chat seemed to think that when you are creating rules, less is more. Some people recommended no more than 5 rules, some suggested 3, and a couple of people liked the idea of one simple classroom rule: “respect.” One fourth grade teacher and her class created this Animoto show of their class rules and expectations. You can read a full transcript of this week’s new teacher chat and check out all the links about classroom rules here.

~Peggy's Corner - 9/17/2010~

Classroom Organization & Management

It’s the start of a new school year, and by now everyone is settling in. For those teaching younger students, you probably have a good idea of which kids may work well together, and which students are best kept apart during instruction. New teachers may still be tweaking the arrangement of their classrooms, trying to figure out the best way to maximize space and promote an effective learning environment.

When I was in graduate school, those of us about to start our teaching practicums fretted not about our organizational skills, but about classroom management. Not surprisingly, research has shown that newly-minted teachers express the most anxiety regarding classroom management and potentially disruptive student behavior. Research also states that one of the most frequently-cited reasons for leaving the teaching profession is unruly student behavior.

What initially appears to be two disparate topics – classroom organization and class management – are actually two symbiotic elements that together help form a well-run classroom. Educational literature is rife with studies and commentaries from teachers about the effects of a comfortable, organized work environment and the beneficial effects on student learning and behavior. While not a panacea for all classroom challenges, good organizational skills help to maintain order in the classroom, maximize student productivity, and provide a model skill set for students to emulate.

My picks this week focus on classroom organization and management resources that can be used for a variety of ages and classroom settings. As always, please check our Facebook and Twitter pages throughout the week for additional resources and information on these topics, and consider sharing your own comments and tips on organization and management techniques on our pages.

Prevention & Intervention for Effective Classroom Organization & Management in Pacific Classrooms
Subjects: Classroom management, Organization
Grade: K-12
We all know that classroom organization and management are ongoing processes that directly impact student learning. This resource outlines numerous practices for creating a classroom system that is both preventative and interventional. While the resource is written with Pacific classrooms in mind, the information is certainly applicable to classrooms in all geographic regions. This best practice is part of a research series by Pacific Resources for Education and Learning, a nonprofit organization that serves the educational community in the U.S.-affiliated Pacific, the continental U.S., and other countries throughout the world.

Avoiding PowerPointlessness
Subjects: Classroom management, Presentation skills
Grade: K-12
We’ve all been there – trapped in a mind-numbingly dull presentation where the speaker reads from each slide. This column offers suggestions on how educators can create effective presentations and add value to lessons, rather than simply using technology for technology’s sake. This resource was created by The New Curriculum, a site devoted helping teachers integrate technology into their classrooms. While the site is no longer actively updated, it still contains useful information for teachers.

Planning Matrix B: Objective Grouping
Subjects: Classroom management
Grade: K-8
This planning matrix is useful for grouping the objectives of a number of children in a single classroom into five domains (communication skills, self-help/adaptive skills, social skills, cognitive skills, and motor skills). This can help in planning activities to address the needs of a variety of students. The matrix was created by researcher Jason Wallin of Polyxo, a site devoted to those who teach children with autism. The matrix is suitable for use with all types of students.

~Joann's Picks - 9/17/2010~

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Vocabulary Soup

Martha from “Martha Speaks!” learns new vocabulary words by eating alphabet soup. If it was only that easy, schools would probably be serving alphabet soup before first period every day, and there would be a huge alphabet soup dinner the night before the SAT! Unfortunately, it’s not that simple, but there are lots of ways you can sneak vocabulary education into your classroom and make learning new words fun.

There are many unique vocabulary words tied to the different subject areas, so teachers in all these areas share the responsibility of developing large vocabularies in their students. You’re not off the hook just because you don’t teach in a language classroom! I had a high school calculus teacher that gave us a new vocabulary word for fun every day. He made sure to use the words in his lessons, and it was always very entertaining. I learned one of my favorite words that way: defenestrate…do you think you can use that word in a sentence today?

Students learn new words through direct instruction from their parents and teachers and indirectly as they hear the words spoken by their parents, teachers, peers, and in the media. We need to remember that students often rise to our expectations. If we use “big” words in class and expect them to also use these “big” words, we might be surprised at the amount of new words students can learn and use in and out of the classroom. It may be hard to start introducing new words to your students if you have never done it before, especially if you feel intimidated by learning new words yourself. What words will you choose? If you look around online, you’ll probably be able to find sites to help you develop your own vocabulary so you can share some new words with your students. Some dictionary sites like Merriam Webster have a word-of-the-day. You can subscribe, and a new word will be emailed to you every day. How’s that for an easy increase to your lexicon? If you are more of a smart phone person, there’s probably an app for that, too! When I searched for free vocabulary apps, I came up with a pretty long list. There are even some fun and slightly addictive games you can play on the iPhone and iPad like Words With Friends. There are other different Scrabble-like games for other brands of smart phones.

If you have an interactive whiteboard in your classroom, try finding a program that will help you incorporate vocabulary education every day in your class. One site from Scholastic should help get you started. If you search the internet, you can find even more free games and activities.

Often, you will come across words that are unfamiliar to your students while you are reading books or discussing topics. Take advantage of this reading time and explain the words to your students. This doesn’t always have to involve you reading in front of the class. Students can also listen to books online with sites like Starfall, StoryNory, and StoryLineOnline. If you are not reading the stories together, students can write down unfamiliar words to discuss later. You can also ask parents to continue this learning at home. Students and their parents can choose a “word of the day” as they read together. I did that with my kids this year, and it turned into a fun, ongoing game. Whenever they hear a past “word of the day,” later, they yell...DING! It’s a little noisy, but very fun to see them recognizing and remembering the new words they learn.

Don’t forget that you can always search The Gateway for more free vocabulary resources, games, and activities. We’ll see you there!

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

It’s a Good Thing! Martha Speaks

You know Martha.

Martha lives in a well-appointed house with nicely manicured grounds. Martha is creative, enterprising, and has a way with words. Martha is also quite the gourmand, and knows her way around a tureen of vegetable soup. I’m referring, of course, to the loquacious canine Martha, from Martha Speaks. First introduced in the children’s books by Susan Meddaugh and later turned into an animated TV series by PBS Kids and WGBH Boston, Martha Speaks focuses on vocabulary development for 4-to-7-year olds.

Young learners build their vocabularies in various ways. They listen to adults and other children around them, they ask questions about pictures and objects, they discover the meaning of words in context through watching TV, plays, and other types of media. Reading, of course, is perhaps the most vital component in vocabulary development for children and adults alike. Research has long established a strong link between students’ vocabularies and their reading comprehension.

Developing readers often benefit from peer-based reading activities, where two or more students read together. Many schools have instituted literature circles, book clubs, and other programs in which to encourage book discussion, and the attendant themes and vocabulary highlighted in various literary selections. Some programs include a mentoring component, where older students read to younger students, and vice versa. Such “reading buddies” programs are an effective way to model good reading skills, develop fluency, and enhance student self-esteem.

My picks this week focus on vocabulary development activities offered through the Martha Speaks Reading Buddies Program. These are activities that focus on developing literacy skills and word acquisition for young children. As always, please check our Facebook and Twitter pages throughout the week for additional resources and information on vocabulary development for a variety of ages.

Martha Speaks Reading Buddies Program
This cross-age reading program pairs kindergarteners with 4th or 5th graders to improve their vocabulary and foster a love of books and reading. Buddies watch a brief Martha Speaks episode that introduces new vocabulary words, and Buddies then use a variety of activities to reinforce the new vocabulary, such as reading together, journaling, or playing a game that reinforces the new words.

The Martha Speaks Read-Aloud Book Club
This book club provides a rich environment in which young kids learn to read thoughtfully and discuss books. The central theme is about dogs, where kids view an episode, listen to a book read aloud, discuss the book using new vocabulary, and participate in a hands-on activity. The kids are then encouraged to take library books home to continue learning about dogs.

The Experts Speak: Online Video Tutorials
These video tutorials are aimed at teachers and parents. Renowned literacy experts discuss the importance of teaching vocabulary and how to use up-to-date strategies. Topics include the impact of the vocabulary gap on later learning and how to overcome it; how to expand children's vocabulary; the importance and value of teaching "robust" words; and vocabulary instruction strategies for English language learners.

~Joann's Picks - 9/10/2010~

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Empower them with Literacy!

The theme of International Literacy Day this year, “Literacy and Empowerment,” reminds me of the scope of impact educators have on our students. We are not just teaching kids the basics of a particular grade level or subject; we are teaching them important life skills they will need throughout their lives. Giving our students the gift of literacy truly does empower them and opens up so many opportunities.

Primary teachers often get the opportunity to witness this transformation from non-readers to readers. I think the impact of a kindergarten teacher who loves to read and shares their enthusiasm for the written word is underappreciated. Teachers of these young students deserve the credit for empowering the elementary set with literacy. Unfortunately, many students in the United States and around the world miss this opportunity to start on the path of literacy at such a young age. The longer kids go without learning to read, the harder it is to teach them this important lifelong skill. To help these students, and to support emerging readers at all ages, it is important for teachers in all subjects and grade levels to stress the importance of reading and writing and to encourage literacy in as many ways as possible.

In an effort to support literacy education throughout the United States, The National Education Association sponsors and recommends many different programs, activities, events, and resources to help teachers easily implement literacy support into their classroom. The NEA created a downloadable literacy calendar for the 2009-2010 school year and summer. The resources are still very relevant and useful even in the new school year. You can browse all the resources in the calendar here. We will keep you updated on Facebook and Twitter with new literacy resources and recommendations by the NEA.

One of our favorite of the recommended literacy resources is The Exquisite Corpse Adventure, a unique serial story that is a project of the National Children’s Book and Literacy Alliance and the Library of Congress. Another useful tool to use with this adventure is the Exquisite Prompt Challenge from The challenge is over, but the site includes ways to implement the challenge prompts in the classroom.

The National Education Association also wants to help teachers celebrate this year’s International Literacy Day. They recommend the following sites for information and activity ideas for this event that focuses on reading from the global perspective: National Institute for Literacy, UNESCO, and the International Reading Association.

For older students, sometimes the key to encouraging and developing the love of reading is to help them find books that speak to the events and feeling s going on in their lives. At any age, students find the most enjoyment reading stories that relate to their lives. Here is a great booklist put together by the NEA. These books were chosen by winners of the Winners of the NEA/Youth Service America program Youth Leaders for Literacy. For younger or struggling students, it is important to make reading and listening to stories fun. Try Storyline Online to allow your students to see famous people reading wonderful children’s literature. You can turn the captions on so your children can read along with the story. Also, watch these Citrus High School students share their love of reading and literacy with the world in their “Reading ‘Rox’” video. Maybe they can inspire you and your students to love it that much, too!

~Peggy's Corner - 9/3/2010~

Power to the People

Once you learn to read, you will be forever free.
– Frederick Douglass

On September 8th, the world will observe International Literacy Day, an annual reminder of the importance of literacy and global learning created by UNESCO in 1965. It’s an annual event to raise awareness about the role that literacy plays in our local and global communities.

Literacy is something that most of us don’t really think much about; reading and writing are second nature to many people, particularly those in developed countries. It’s easy to forget, then, that there are many, many people in the world who remain illiterate, in both developed and in undeveloped countries. According to UNESCO, there are a billion illiterate adults around the world — that’s over 25% of the world’s adult population —and two-thirds of them are women. Over 72 million children worldwide don’t attend school, and millions more children drop out of education each year. Those are staggering statistics.

The concept of “literacy” is defined differently by different groups. Traditionally, “literacy” has meant the ability to read and write. UNESCO has defined literacy as the “ability to identify, understand, interpret, create, communicate, compute and use printed and written materials associated with varying contexts.” Economists consider literacy rates as a way to measure a region’s human capital: literate people have higher socioeconomic status, are less expensive to train than illiterate people, and experience better employment opportunities and general health. As the concept of literacy expands each decade, the gap between literate and illiterate societies widens was well. What, ultimately, is the cost in both financial and human terms to those left behind?

The theme of this year’s International Literacy Day is “Literacy and Empowerment,” which made me think of the quote by Frederick Douglass shown at the beginning of this column. There are many stories of people trapped by their illiteracy — check our Facebook and Twitter pages throughout the week for links to their stories as well as literacy resources — as well as news accounts of girls and women in various world regions who are deliberately kept illiterate (and thus powerless) by extremist regimes.

The ability to read and write fluently, to comprehend information in various formats and contexts, and exhibit problem-solving skills all empower people, kids and adults alike. Literacy helps to dissolve barriers and unlock doors to greater learning and increased critical thinking skills. My picks this week all focus on literacy resources for K-12 and remedial students – I hope you enjoy them and find them useful. It’s also my hope, however, that as educators, you take the time to celebrate the joys of literacy, and the freedoms it bestows, with your students. Millions of others aren’t so lucky.

Knowledge Loom
Subjects: English, Language Arts, Literacy
Grade: K-12
The Knowledge Loom is an online teaching and learning community that offers monthly theme-based collections of promising educational practices. Topics typically include literacy and math instruction, equity, education technology, school organization, community involvement, and others. The Knowledge Loom is produced by The Education Alliance at Brown University, which develops educational products and services for school administrators, policymakers, teachers, and parents in New England, New York, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands.

21st Century Literacies
Subjects: English, Language Arts, Literacy
Grade: K-12
This Web project investigates how we read and understand the world around us. The site offers resources in basic language literacy, as well as visual, spatial, historical, cultural, information, scientific, media, political, and math literacies. This site is produced by NoodleTools, an educational software company that offers bibliographic and other research tools.

Girls Read: Online Literature Circles
Subjects: English, Language Arts, Literacy
Grade: 6-8
In this lesson, girls develop skills in reading, analysis, and written expression as they share their thoughts about literature with e-mail pen pals and in classroom literature circles. They also explore a larger literacy community when they visit and contribute to a website devoted to adolescent literature. This lesson is offered by ReadWriteThink, a reviewed site that presents free resources in reading and language arts instruction. The lesson is aligned to NCTE/IRA content standards.

~Joann's Picks - 9/3/2010~