Saturday, March 27, 2010

The Art of Science

Leonardo da Vinci once wrote, “Study the science of art and the art of science.” As an artist, observer, scientist, and inventor, da Vinci showed us the importance of having a well-rounded set of skills and knowledge. Many of us aspire to create this kind of thinker in all of our students. 93% of Americans agree the arts are vital to providing a well-rounded education, according to a 2005 Harris Poll commissioned by Americans for the Arts. Meryl Streep asserts that “Young people who learn the arts do better in every phase of their lives.” Despite this, funding for art education is one of the first things many districts decide to cut when budgets are tight.

The National Gallery of Art provides online resources that students and teachers can use to incorporate art into classes in all different subject areas. The three resources Joann highlighted this week include abstract art, Dutch art and artists, and digital photography. If you browse through the NGA site, you might find some activities that will challenge the right side of your students’ brains. The digital photography resource, in particular, can be very useful to classes who are keeping a blog.

As of today, The Gateway has over 4000 resources related to the arts. When I narrowed my search with the keyword “art,” I came up with a list of 240. Many of these activities would be great for an art teacher in a school that still has funding to support this valuable education. For those of us who are not art teachers, there are some useful art-related tools as well. One collection that strives to incorporate the arts into many subject areas is ArtsEdge from The Kennedy Center. You can access this free collection on The Gateway with this link:

The ArtsEdge compilation of resources allows you to type in a secondary subject to find lesson plans that combine art and your particular subject. This is similar to clicking on a secondary subject facet in a Gateway search. I thought math might be a hard subject to relate to the arts, so I typed in Math for my secondary subject. I came up with a list of 20 lessons that ranged from K-12 in the subjects of visual art and math. I was intrigued to see lessons about drawing with geometric shapes and patterns, architecture, measuring, and even using math to study one of Aesop’s fables.

I looked further into one lesson, “Mandalas and Polygons.” Mandalas are symmetrically-designed polygons and are a form of art in many cultures. This resource reminded me of my 7th grade math teacher, who was famous in our school for doing handstands and cartwheels in front of the class to keep us interested. (I haven’t personally tried this technique, but I remember loving it as a student!) At the beginning of our geometry unit, we made string art projects, or mandalas, to display in our room all year. This project was useful for illustrating how curves can be formed from straight lines. Students in the class really got into the project and the mandalas added a lot of color to our room throughout the year.

Have you done any art in your classes this year? Do you incorporate art history in any of your lessons? Browse The Gateway to see if there are art activities that can improve some lessons you are already planning to do. I’ll close with the wisdom of John F. Kennedy, "Above all, we are coming to understand that the arts incarnate the creativity of a free people."

~Peggy's Corner~

State of the Art

We all know that the current economy has forced schools to make some difficult cuts. In some districts, arts education is being downsized, or eliminated entirely. Throughout history, the arts have been central to people’s enjoyment and understanding of the world around them – art is deeply embedded in all world cultures. Art can be incorporated across the curriculum in a variety of ways: using different types of media to illustrate a book report, to highlight historical events, to illustrate or explain scientific theories – the possibilities are endless. The resources below are a sampling of some free online tools from The National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC, one of the crown jewels of American museums. Created in 1937 for the American public by Congress and financier/art collector Andrew W. Mellon, the Gallery has long been instrumental in educating visitors about art. The NGA – far from being a fusty mausoleum – has created the Art Zone, a neat nook on their Web site where users can create interactive art online. All animations require Adobe Shockwave.

Subjects: Art
Grades: K-12

Your students can get in touch with their inner Jackson Pollacks or other abstract artists with BRUSHster, an interactive painting tool that allows them to create art online. Colorful and easy to use, the program is appropriate for students of all ages and experience levels. BRUSHster offers over 40 online “brushes” of all sizes in addition to various textures and transparencies; there are also over 25 different special effects where students can blur, ripple, fragment, smudge, and blend colors. The program can be used to design screensaver art, as well as wrapping paper, notecards, and similar items. The “Auto” feature is a handy option for very young users, who may find the multitude of choices overwhelming.

Dutch Dollhouse
Subjects: Art
Grades: K-12

Vermeer is one of my favorite artists, so I was immediately drawn to Dutch Dollhouse, an interactive 17th century Dutch house where users can redecorate rooms, add figures, and so forth. The various rooms of the doll house are representations of rooms in paintings by famous 17th century Dutch artists, and include a kitchen, art studio, courtyard, and other rooms. Here, students can change the lighting (day to night, for example), create decorative objects, and add, remove, or relocate objects from room to room. The program also includes a fun virtual lacemaker, an important economic industry for generations of Dutch.

Photo Op
Subjects: Art
Grades: K-12

Photo Op is an interactive tool that the NGA bills as a “two-part introduction to digital photography and image editing.” The program allows students to use a virtual camera to capture images, and then edit them online. Users can employ the editing tools to radically change their image; features include the ability to warp, change color, mirror, and make collages from their images. In the process, students can learn about focus, lighting, shutter speeds, layering, filters, and image composition.

~Joann's Picks~

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Variety is the Spice of Life

There is an amazing variety of educators on The Gateway to 21st Century Skills. We are linked together by the common goal of making a difference in the lives of our students while still having time to maintain a life of our own outside the classroom. We teach a wide range of grade levels and subjects, and we all want to equip our students with the right skills to succeed in the 21st century. When we cook a meal, we need a full set of spices to create just the right flavor. In teaching, we need to use a full range of tools and types of activities to complement the variety of students and teachers working together to become productive members of 21st century society.

The 21st century skill Joann focuses on in her picks for this week is financial literacy. This is a very timely topic right now, and students and teachers are exposed to the problem in the media and at home every day. Please take some time to look through the resources this week, even if you don’t think you will be able to use them directly in your class. The beauty of these examples is in the variety of activities they include and the extension activities that you can use to engage even more of your students.

The lessons from Thirteen Ed Online are good examples of well-planned activities that aim to reach students with all different learning styles. The first resource, CyberCurrency, starts with a group brainstorming session to create a class learning discovery chart, clips from a PBS show to introduce topics, and a simulation to illustrate the benefits and limitations of the barter system. You are letting your students learn by seeing, hearing, and doing.

Looking back at the resources we have highlighted over the past ten weeks, I see all kinds of activities that get our students thinking in different ways. The Gateway has lots of standards-based resources that can meet your needs with little or no modification. Not all of our resources give you this kind of variety straight out of the box, though. Sometimes you have to put a little work into varying the types of activities you present to your class. If you feel like you are stuck in a rut and doing the same types of activities every day, be sure to look at extension activities included with many of the resources. These can help you add more variety to your lessons.

The following examples stick to the theme of financial literacy learning, but they can easily be adapted to another skill you are working on right now. Do your students like to get up and move? Make giant coins and bills out of poster board, and have them jump on the correct denominations to answer money questions. Do they learn best by teaching one another? Split up the important points you want to cover, and allow small groups to present the ideas to their classmates. (Don’t forget about some of the neat presentation tools we have talked about in previous weeks!) Are your students hands-on learners? Maybe you can have them to create their own currency to simulate a store in your classroom to see how well it would really work. In the example from Thirteen Ed Online, they use paper donuts as currency. Using real donuts as currency in your class “store” could be a fun and memorable way to help students understand the limitations of the donuts as a form of “money.” Many students can also benefit from writing down what they learn at the end of each activity. Using a journal with your students at the end of the lessons can be a good check of understanding for you, and it may help your students see what they are learning as well.

You work hard and spend a lot of time preparing lessons each day. Whether you plan your lesson completely from scratch or adapt one you find online, take it one final step and make sure you include enough variety to appeal to all the different learners in your classroom.

~Peggy's Corner~

Example of a comic strip assignment for a Chemistry assignment:

Find a huge variety of lessons on

For the Love of Money

Do you love to spend money? Most Americans do. I recently read that about 43% of American families spend more money than they earn each year. That’s a horrifying statistic, and one that obviously deserves attention. The ability to understand money, and how to make informed decisions regarding money management, is the basis of financial literacy. The current economic recession has also spurred lawmakers to re-examine the importance of early intervention, and the need to beef up financial literacy courses in American schools. The following resources are a sampling of financial literacy lesson plans by Thirteen Ed Online, the educational Web component of WNET, PBS’s leading station in New York. Thirteen Ed Online offers free standards-based lesson plans and classroom activities, online mentors, workshops, and online reviews of curriculum-based Web sites in addition to instructional television. All lessons are aligned to McREL and NCTM standards. It’s our hope that resources like these will keep your students “talkin’ ‘bout cash money – dollar bills, y’all” – but in a financially literate way.

Cyber Currency, Currently
Subjects: Economics, Math, Finance
Grade: 4-6

Ever heard someone complain that the barter system would be simpler or more effective than using currency? In this unit, students learn the limitations of the barter system, and understand the traits of an effective system of currency. The lessons use games and an episode of the PBS show Cyberchase to teach students the value of currency, how to save money, and earn simple interest. The unit offers some great hands-on learning opportunities, such as incorporating a classroom general store from which students can “purchase” items, converting foreign currency, and lots of other extension activities to help kids learn the importance of being financially literate.

Why Does Money Have Value?
Subjects: Economics, Math, Finance
Grade: 6-8

Ask your students (or most adults, for that matter) why money has value, and you’re likely to be met with vacant expressions. Just why does money have value, anyway? This lesson examines the evolution of money and its financial worth, how goods are valued in different currencies, and the necessary structure and means for the exchange of goods. Additionally, students also learn the basics of financial markets, and, through an extension activity, they can research the currencies and exports of various countries.

Finance and Responsible Lending
Subjects: Economics, Math, Finance
Grade: 9-12

Subprime mortgages were a major player in the financial meltdown that has resulted in our current economic recession. Poised on the brink of adulthood, high school students need to know how banks function, and how money is borrowed and lent. The sheer number of Americans who either ignored or simply didn’t understand the banking process and how money is loaned underscores how vital it is to master this content. This lesson discusses the basic concepts of creditworthiness, consumer credit, and interest rates. Students analyze the types of services that banks provide, and why. They also learn how financial institutions decide who is a candidate to receive credit, and how interest rates are set on different types of loans.

~Joann's Picks~

Check out for more great resources.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Combat Cyberbullying with Cybercitizenship

In previous posts, Joann and I have advocated the use of Web 2.0 tools and other emerging technologies in the classroom. We have tossed around ideas about using cell phones, wikis, and social networking in class. Teachers are using these tools to help students understand, summarize, collaborate, and present ideas in subjects from art to math and everything in between. Many of these tools allow for a greater level of interactive communication among students and between students and teachers. With this increased interactive communication, there is a new platform for the age-old problem of bullying. According to CyberSmart!, who provided resources focusing on this issue, “When kids are intentionally and repeatedly mean to one another using cell phones or the Internet, it’s called cyberbullying.” Preparing our students for success in the 21st century includes preparing them to deal with this type of cyberbullying, both in and out of school.

Just as schools must take traditional bullying seriously, we need to look at the problem of cyberbullying carefully. Cyberbullying can be very harmful to our students. Many schools and districts are taking a stand by blocking certain sites and applications to avoid the bullying, but that can limit what teachers and students can do in class. A recent discussion on Twitter, #edchat, revealed a fear among many educators about the inappropriate use of the internet in school and a fear of cyberbullying. Our focus in this week’s discussion is how students can prevent this negativity so they can use cell phones and the internet positively in class. EnGauge created a list of important 21st century skills and a featured skill is interactive communication. Today’s students need to understand the proper etiquette and rules of this type of communication to use it effectively. The CyberSmart! resources Joann highlighted this week on The Gateway help students and teachers better understand the problem of cyberbullying and what they can do to stop it or avoid it all together.

If you follow Joann’s links to each of these resources, you will see that each of them connects you with a letter to educators about cyberbullying. This letter was very helpful to me, since I had a very limited knowledge of the problem. Each of the activities is self-explanatory, and shouldn’t require adaptations to fit into most classrooms. The activities and worksheets can be a discussion starter for students and teachers on the subject. There is a printable flyer to send home with students, too. This is important for getting parents into the conversation, since much of the cyberbullying our students are facing probably occurs outside of school.

Allowing your students to do a short, multimedia project on the topic might be a fun way to help the ideas from the lesson sink in a little better. I like letting my students pick what type of project they want to do from a list, so I have all different types of projects to grade at the end. This creates more variety for me, and a little choice seems to make students more excited about their work! Some ideas I have used are creating a short commercial on the subject, designing a comic strip, or writing a picture book to help younger students learn about cyberbullying. Better yet, actually have your students present their projects to another class at the end.

For some lists of web 2.0 tools you can use for student projects and presentations, please refer back to the links and examples in our posts on tech tools for teachers. We have a discussion about the subject on our Facebook fan page as well. You can use the links to create a list for students to choose project and presentation ideas from. Encouraging creativity can add variety to the discussion of this challenging topic and allow your students to open up more on the topic. If you have any ideas or comments about cyberbullying and its’ role in 21st century education, please share them with us. We love to see how these resources are working for you.

~Peggy's Corner~

Meet the e-Thugs

Remember Nelson Muntz from “The Simpsons”? He’s the bully with the simian brow and Cro-Magnon build. In many ways, he represents the stereotypical bully in our collective consciousness – physically intimidating, not very bright, and a social outcast. Recent studies, however, have found that most bullies – boys and girls – are self-assured, often popular kids that crave power, and who will use just about any means to secure and flaunt it. The Internet and cell phones have become frequently used venues in which to conduct aggressive behavior, and many schools struggle with how to effectively combat online bullying.

CyberSmart! is one organization that “gets it.” While their mission is to promote 21st century skills to increase student engagement and prepare them to succeed in an increasingly digital-centric society, CyberSmart! also addresses the importance of students’ personal safety and emotional well-being. Instead of trumpeting the dangers of the Internet and pulling out tired platitudes to “ignore the teasing”, they’ve developed a series of lessons and activities for K-12 students that aim to educate and empower kids when facing both traditional and digital forms of aggression. Also impressive are the supporting materials for each lesson: Student activity sheets, letters to educators about cyberbullying, downloadable home connections with topics for parents to discuss with their kids, extension activities, and optional Web 2.0 tools to further supplement the lessons. Each lesson is also aligned to the National Educational Technology Standards for Students. Bullying is a huge problem that needs more attention, and the materials from CyberSmart! are a definite step in the right direction. Huzzahs all around!

Group Think
Subjects: Bullying, Internet safety
Grade: 4-5

In this lesson, students learn how “mob mentality” can sometimes take over and drive certain situations. Afraid of upsetting the group’s balance (or becoming a target themselves), individuals suppress their own doubts or emotions, and “go along to get along.” Students here analyze the role of bystanders in bullying situations, and discuss how sometimes kids behave differently in groups than if they were alone.

Cyberbullying: Not a Pretty Picture
Subjects: Bullying, Internet safety
Grade: 6-8

Bullying via computers and cell phones has escalated in recent years, with cell phones rapidly becoming the weapon of choice. In this lesson, students discuss scenarios in which a friendly relationship turns into a bullying one. They also identify and note abbreviations and other textual clues to help reduce cyberbullying.

Acceptable Social Networking?
Subjects: Bullying, Internet safety
Grade: 9-12

MySpace might be dead, but social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter are thriving. In this lesson, students consider situations where one student creates a fake online identity in order to seek revenge or harass another student. Students discuss ways to resolve such situations, and brainstorm tips to help other teens avoid similar situations.

~Joann's Picks~

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Reading and Writing IN Arithemetics?

We cooked our green eggs and ham and walked around school in red and white striped hats, all in the name of the love of reading. Our students were able to hear different adults reading some of their favorite stories aloud. NEA’s Read Across America was a success, but let’s not let our focus on literacy, a core 21st century skill, waver just because Dr. Seuss’s birthday celebration is over. A firm grasp on reading and writing is essential for our students success in many other important 21st century skills.

To encourage student writing, Reading Rockets and bring us the Exquisite Prompt challenge. This is a monthly writing challenge for K-12 students to respond to prompts inspired by famous authors and illustrators of books for youth. These prompts cover a wide range of topics that make students think about subjects they might not have written about before. The fact that they are writing for a competition with prizes may inspire the competitive side of your students, too.

The prompts provided each month guide students to use specific styles of writing, and these styles vary between the grades and change from month to month. This variety is very appealing to many students. Some of the prompts ask for advertisement copy, reviews of products (real and imaginary), fables, altering classic stories in different ways, and many others. This partial list does not do justice to the scope of material in these contests, so please check out the prompts for yourself to decide how you can integrate them into your teaching this week.

Reading through all of the prompts inspired me to think about how we could incorporate creative writing into all different types of classrooms. We need to carry on the theme of creativity we gleaned from Dr. Seuss in the past week. The more we encourage our students to write for enjoyment, the more they will actually enjoy it! We don’t want our students to groan every time we want them to write. We should give them a chance to get creative and flex their writing muscles in all different subjects.

I don’t want to discount the importance of a five paragraph essay, or any other type of structured writing. One vital purpose of English is to learn the conventions of writing and how to use writing to convey thoughts to others. Understanding how to write in certain formats will allow the student to be a productive member of society. We need to also support all forms of writing in other subject areas not immediately connected to English class.

Math involves a lot of numbers, but there is a history behind the processes and many different methods for remembering and explaining these processes. A math teacher might be able to deepen students’ understanding of certain subjects by allowing them to write creatively on the subject. Perhaps students can explain how to multiply fractions in a Haiku or write catchy song lyrics to remember the order of operations in algebra!

. Writing is an important tool in teaching foreign languages. Students can write about all different subjects in the target foreign language to get good practice in writing and conjugating verbs. If you are tired of reading the same types of essays week after week, you might want to have your students translate their favorite recipe (and bring in a sample…even better!) Maybe they can write a review of their favorite movie in the target language or an illustrated guide explaining how to complete their least favorite household chore. They should be able to use some interesting adjectives there!

P.E. is another story. We can’t integrate writing in that class…or can we? We can encourage writing in P.E. just like we encourage it in other subjects. Students are learning about all different types of sports, sportsmanship, and things like body parts and muscle groups. Help them absorb this information with some fun writing assignments. Spice up your running routine by assigning students to write “Jodies” to sing while running as a class. They can vote for their favorites at the end to keep it competitive. Help them remember anatomy terms and other information better by allowing them to create their own mnemonics to help with memorization.

I don’t think I have ever heard such class-wide groans as the moments after I announce a lab report assignment. Lab reports are an important aspect of the scientific process, but science teachers may be able to judge their students’ comprehension of concepts using other forms of writing as well. You might choose to allow students to present their procedures and results more creatively, such as in a graphic novel or comic strip. They can create a Power point presentation, or use another web 2.0 tool to create a stunning online presentation of their understanding of the experiment. Refer back to one of Joann’s previously highlighted resources for more technology tools that can help you incorporate writing in your classroom.

Writing is an essential life skill, and creativity is the key to making the process of writing fun and enjoyable for students. One of our goals should be making writing a lifelong endeavor for our students. I urge you to use resources from The Gateway to help you make this happen. The Reading Rockets sites we have highlighted the past two weeks have wonderful, free material for you to use. Using the tech tools we mentioned in past columns can allow you to add a lot of variety to the types of writing your students are doing in your class. It takes a lot of time to come up with completely original ideas of our own. It is really nice to know we have a place to collaborate and find well-planned activities and ideas we can incorporate in our classrooms right away. Enjoy reading all the great writing assignments, and we look forward to hearing what you did!

~Peggy's Corner~

Search for more great resources on The Gateway.

Reading and Writing Strategies

I decided to expand on last week’s Read Across America column by featuring a few more resources from Reading Rockets. The Reading Rockets project is an educational initiative of WETA, the flagship PBS television and radio station in Washington, DC. The project is comprised of PBS television programs, available on videotape and DVD; online services, including the Websites and; and professional development opportunities.

Elkonin Boxes
Subjects: Reading, Spelling
Grade: K-3

A few years ago, I was convinced that my kindergartner was a genius when I saw him sounding out words and drawing squares around each syllable of words he had written. How innovative! Well, while perhaps not a genius (he’s still pretty smart), I now know that he was practicing a strategy he’d learned in school. Elkonin boxes are squares drawn on paper or a chalkboard, with one box for each syllable of a word. Elkonin boxes help teach phonemic awareness by having kids listen for individual sounds in a word, and then marking where they hear each sound in its respective box. Each box, therefore, contains one specific sound, or phoneme. This classroom strategy explains how to create an Elkonin box, as well as providing blank templates and a list of suggested children’s books for students to use with their boxes. Additional ideas and adaptations are also provided for Spanish-speaking and other ELL students.

Writing Contest: The Exquisite Prompt
Subjects: Reading, Writing
Grade: K-12

The Exquisite Prompt is a series of monthly writing challenges designed as a classroom activity for K-12 students. Each month, writing prompts are presented by two famous authors for grades K-2, 3-5, 6-8, and 9-12. The prompts can be used exclusively in the classroom, or students can submit their writing for a chance to win prizes. Kids (and teachers!) can also view The Exquisite Corpse Adventure, an ongoing serial written and illustrated by notable authors and artists. As of this writing, 12 chapters have been published, with contributions from authors such as Lemony Snicket, Kate DiCamillo, Jon Scieszka, and others. I love the creativity of this resource – and the fun of tagging along on a rollicking adventure story as it unfolds.

Author Study Toolkit
Subjects: English, Language Arts
Grade: K-12

This toolkit offers a series of resources to help students critically examine an author’s life and published writing. The kit provides tips on how to conduct an author study, research authors, ideas for supporting projects, and more. One of the things that I like about this resource is that it provides a comprehensive plan for a complete author study, from how teachers can create author study centers in their classrooms, to print and online bibliographies for additional research help. I also like that the toolkit truly is appropriate for the entire K-12 range, with suggested activities and projects aimed at different age groups. The ability to evaluate and discuss an author’s characters, themes, and writing style is not only essential preparation for higher levels of education, but is also an important component to appreciating – and loving – good literature at all levels.

~Joann's Picks~

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