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~