Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Out of your Core Subject Comfort Zone

In order for students to excel on standardized tests, most of their learning must focus on core subjects.  Teachers are often most comfortable teaching in these areas, anyway, since they are the focus of most teachers’ formal training.  Success in core subjects ultimately brings funding to schools.  The amount of time and money allocated to subjects like art, music, and P.E. demonstrates the attitude that these subjects are “extracurricular,” and less important than the core subjects.   With decreased funding, the regular classroom teachers who value these extracurricular subjects find themselves scrambling to teach them as best as they can.  As a science teacher by trade, the thought of trying to teach my students about art (especially modern art) puts me way out of my comfort zone. 

In situations like this, I am very grateful for the Internet and for the opportunity to borrow ideas and plans created by teachers who are specialists.  I don’t need to become a modern art buff to come up with a great plan.  I only need to know how to find a great one online.  I have always supplemented my lesson planning with ideas I find online, but sometimes finding successful ideas can be hard.  It also can be hard to judge the quality of a plan I find online and to figure out where it will fit in my curriculum.

Luckily, Joann does the hard work of discovering good plans each week that relate to our chosen weekly topic.  These lessons have been cataloged on the Gateway, making them easier to find in the future when you might want to teach about that particular topic in your classroom.  They have also been mapped to standards.  After you select a plan you like, you can use the standards selection tool at the bottom of the record to determine which standards the plan fulfills in your state.  Easy, right?

Now, back to modern art and my foray out of my core subject comfort zone.  There are ideas on the Gateway to help your students use their creativity to create their own modern art.  This can be as simple as letting them create marble action paintings, a fun activity for kids from kindergarten up.   Depending on the age of your students, you can decide on how much art history and terminology you want to cover.  It’s fun to witness the movement and physics of the marbles as they roll around creating art.  With a little creativity of your own, you could find some good connections to different core subjects like physics, math, and language arts.

If you are ready to include even more art in your classroom, check out this plan for teaching middle and high school students to create modern figure sculptures with sculpture wire and aluminum foil.  You’ll be amazed by how they turn out!  I have never made a sculpture like this before, but now it’s on my list to try.  I think it would be a really neat follow up to a literature unit, with students creating models of their favorite character in a story. 

These are just two examples of modern art activities featured this week on the Gateway.  Whether you want to teach about art history, art terminology, or just get your students’ creative juices flowing, you should be able to find something to fit your needs. 

We have heard from a few of you about certain topics you want to know more about.  Please continue to share your ideas and questions on our Facebook and Twitter pages.  Thanks for being part of the conversation and learning about new and useful tools and resources!

~ Peggy's Corner - November 11, 2011 ~

Modern Times: Teaching Modern & Contemporary Art

Students rarely feel blasé about modern and contemporary art. Generally speaking, they are either captivated by it or bemused by it – “Geez, I could do that!” is a common response. Whatever their attitude, student reaction to such art is honest and visceral. One byproduct of the “I could do that” attitude towards modern art is that students often find it more accessible and less intimidating than other types of art that stress realism.  Less intimidating material tends to allow students to approach the subject with less trepidation and with more tolerance regarding mistakes that can occur when creating their own artwork.

Strictly speaking, contemporary art generally refers to art produced since 1945, although the term now includes work done more recently. Modern art usually describes a movement that began in the late 1800s and lasted until the 1970s, and includes types of art such as Surrealism, Cubism, Pop art, Fauvism, and others. Since the contemporary and modern art movements overlap, the terms are sometimes used interchangeably, although contemporary art more often reflects social issues than modern art. Common themes in contemporary art, for example, include human rights, economics, global warming, and politics, which provide great opportunities for cross-curricular instruction. In many schools, art instruction often focuses on more traditional forms of art, where students often imitate the works of various famous artists. While this method certainly has value, students can gain much more from the experience by simultaneously learning about and discussing not only the elements and principles of art & design, but also how to think, respond to, and express new ideas using a visual language.

Art, however, is not simply about ideas. While one component of art education is certainly to highlight and nurture the creative spark in every student, students also learn valuable skills. Students learn how to translate their ideas into a workable piece of art – a complex process that involves planning, making mistakes, regrouping, editing, and execution. In this way, students develop confidence in their abilities to create their own art, and to think of new ways to express themselves through art. In developing these skills, they also begin to learn how to critically approach and appreciate various types of art. This week, I’ve selected three resources on modern and contemporary art for various grade levels; many of the lessons are adaptable to a range of ages. Throughout the week, I’ll also be featuring several new lessons and resources daily on this topic on our Facebook and Twitter pages, so be sure to give those a look.

A Bug’s Journey
Subjects: Visual art, Language arts
Grade: 3-5
Students will explore contemporary artist John Baldessari's mixed-media work of art inspired by a 16th-century drawing of a beetle. After writing a story about a bug's journey, each student will create a mixed-media representation of a bug that is inspired by the contemporary artist's work. This lesson was created by the staff at the
J. Paul Getty Museum. The Museum offers a host of resources for K-12 teachers and students, including professional development opportunities, lesson plans, and interactive art features.

Color Scramble
Subjects: Visual arts
Grade: 5-12
In the 1960’s, Frank Stella became known for his minimal geometric paintings of concentric squares that used color to create visual movement. Each concentric square of color related to the next, whether they were harmonic or contrasting colors. In this lesson plan, students consider color relations and “paint” a Stella-style work with colored masking tape. This lesson was produced by Dick Blick Art Materials, a supplier of art goods for artists and educators. Dick Blick also provides lesson plans for teachers that meet the National Standards for Visual Art Education.

Introduction to Modern Art: Practice and Principals
Subjects: Visual arts, Writing
Grades: 10-11
In this lesson, students learn about several Abstract Expressionists and identify the ways in which they use color, line and form to express themselves. Students will learn about such artists as Red Grooms, Frank Stella, Stuart Davis, and Hans Hoffman. In addition, they will also learn about Stuart Davis, whose color theory may be contrasted with Hofmann’s. This lesson was created by PBS in support of its film Hans Hoffman: Artist/Teacher, Teacher/Artist. PBS provides many preK-12 educational resources and activities for educators tied to PBS programming, many of which are correlated to local and national standards.   

~ Joann's Picks - November 11, 2011~

Monday, November 7, 2011

Pour Some Sugar on Me

Flu and cold season is upon us again and if you are anything like me, a day of 30 coughing kids can make you want to go home and dive into a bath of hand sanitizer. Helping students understand what germs are and how they spread is essential for the health of you and your students this winter.  A class full of germ-conscious kids who properly wash their hands regularly would be great, right?  Joann and I featured germ-related activities in our posts about germs last year.  Be sure to check them out on our blog archive here and here. 

On a similar note, Halloween traditions can bring up a whole new set of healthy eating teachable moments for your classroom.  As the kids are slowly coming out of the sugar rush of Halloween and building up to the feeding frenzy (more commonly known as Thanksgiving) in America, teachers have a chance to set a good example and teach kids more about the food they are putting into their bodies every day.  I know that I had more than my fair share of added sugar on Halloween, and as I was enjoying it, I started thinking about the added sugar in my diet.  There are lots of nutrition related activities you can implement into your class, but this week I thought sugar would be a timely and appropriate topic.

How much added sugar are we really supposed to be getting anyways?  According to the American Heart Association, women shouldn’t have more than about 5 teaspoons a day (20 grams) and men shouldn’t have more than 9 (36 grams).  Children should be limited to 3 teaspoons (or 12 grams) of added sugar per day.  Most Americans get more than 22 teaspoons, a fact that might surprise some of your students.  These numbers don’t include the sugar naturally founds in food like fruit.  This is the sugar that is added into many foods for extra sweetness.

This fall, I want to help students hunt down the hidden sugar in their diets.  They probably have plenty of Halloween candy to use in this activity, so I plan to ask them to each bring in a few pieces.  If they don’t have candy, they can bring in wrappers and containers from other popular items like yogurt, cereal, soda, and other packaged snacks.  Unfortunately, the nutrition information isn’t on most fun-size candy passed out during trick-or-treating, so you might need to do some online research.  Looking up the information online is a good technology lesson in itself, or you can provide students a list of sugar content in popular candies.  This list is a good starting point.

When looking at ingredients, remember that the sugar content is usually listed under carbohydrates. Sometimes it’s hard for students to figure out which sugar is naturally occurring and which is added, but the numbers will give you a rough idea of the amount of added sugar.  The amounts are generally listed in grams, a weight measurement students might not be familiar with.  They might be more familiar with a volume measurement like a teaspoon.  What does a gram of sugar look like?  The following idea is for an activity that will let students see the amount of sugar in each of their snacks.

For this activity, I will start with 3 baby food jars (or snack size zipper bags) in the front of the classroom, each one representing the maximum amount of daily added sugar that kids and adults should get per day (3, 5, and 9 teaspoons).  After a discussion of added sugars, I will let the kids research their own snacks and create jars or bags of the amount of sugar in each of their snacks. 

For kids old enough to do the math themselves, there is roughly 4 grams of sugar in each teaspoon (this can vary slightly by granularity of the sugar, but it makes for a easy conversion for kids to use).  They can simply divide the number of grams of sugar by 4 to determine the approximate number of teaspoons of sugar in the snack.

I will also make a few examples, so I am sure there is a wide range of snacks.  I will do an example bag for a can of soda, a sweetened yogurt, and a typical serving of a sugary cereal.  Once the kids have created their bags of sugar, I will let them creatively present their results to the class.  It might be a neat exercise to line up the bags with their wrappers in order of how much added sugar they have.  If we do this, we can make a class chart so we can remember and compare our results. 

Here are some more Gateway resources that will help you study added sugars with your class:

Reading Labels: Which Snack is the Best Choice?

Put Your Favorite Beverage to the Test

Good Snack, Smart Snack

Sugary cereals

Candy bar fractions

~ Peggy's Corner - November 1, 2011~

The Dead Zone: The 1918 Flu Pandemic

Pandemics are frightful things – a widespread illness that strikes suddenly and virulently, leaving thousands or even millions in its wake. While horrific pandemics like the Black Death are today largely confined to the pages of history books, modern-day pandemics such as cholera, malaria, and AIDS continue to ravage many parts of the world. One of the most terrifying pandemics occurred nearly 100 years ago, towards the end of World War I. The 1918 flu pandemic swept the globe, killing an estimated 50-100 million people worldwide in the span of two and a half years. In the U.S., the flu struck over a quarter of the population; in a single year, the average life expectancy in the U.S. dropped by 12 years.

The 20th century saw two flu pandemics in addition to the 1918 outbreak. The 1957 and 1968 outbreaks were relatively mild, with the global death toll reaching about 2 million and 1 million, respectively.  In 1918, governments worldwide instituted strict rules to try to prevent the spread of infection. In the U.S., stores were forbidden to hold sales, and face masks were required to be worn in public. Public gatherings such as funerals and weddings were limited to 15 minutes, and those who violated the flu mandates were required to pay heavy fines. Medical supplies and caskets were in short supply, and many communities lacked enough manpower to bury their dead in a timely fashion.  For many people, the horrors of war had been replaced by the even greater horrors of disease. Finally, at the end of 1920, the flu seemed to burn itself out, and life slowly returned to normal.

The 1918 flu pandemic offers rich primary source material for students to investigate; there are many photographs, personal letters, and news accounts online. For younger students, the advent of cold and flu season is a good time to revisit hand washing techniques and lessons on how germs are spread. Older students can explore how viruses work and mutate, and discuss how pandemics affect communities, the economy, and public health policies. This week, I’ve selected three resources on the flu for various grade levels.  I’ll also be featuring several new lessons and resources on this topic each day throughout the week on our Facebook and Twitter pages, so be sure to check those pages regularly.

Let's Learn the Flu FACTS
Subjects: Health, Science
Grade: 1-3
In this lesson, students will learn the difference between a cold and the flu, including the symptoms they each present. Students also learn some precautions they can take to avoid getting sick. This lesson was produced by Scholastic, a leading children’s publishing, education, and media company.

Subjects: Science, World History
Grade: 7-8
The focus of this teaching unit is to broaden students understanding of infectious diseases what they are, what causes them, how they are spread, and what can be done to prevent widespread transmission of these communicable diseases. Students will participate in a simulated outbreak and will also study the events of a historic epidemic that occurred locally. Given what they have learned, students will then be asked to predict whether such a widespread transmission of an infectious disease could happen today. This unit is a product of the Maine Public Broadcasting Network, which offers educational TV, radio, and other media to the public.

Cold and Flu
Subjects:  Vocabulary, Reading Comprehension, Health
Grade: ESL Intermediate
This lesson, for intermediate ELL students, focuses on vocabulary and reading comprehension related to colds and the flu. Students will engage in pre-reading activities, read a passage about colds and flu, and check their understanding in post-reading activities. Along the way, students will also learn about how to tell the difference between a cold and the flu, and how to treat the illnesses. This lesson was created by English-to-Go, part of the Developing Teacher web site for language teachers. The site offers web hosting for language classes and courses, as well as teaching tips, newsletters, lesson plans, and training courses.

~ Joann's Picks - November 1, 2011 ~

The Salem Witch Trials: A Google Search Story

Creating activities and units that effectively place students “in the shoes” of key characters in the past is what sets the best history teachers apart from the good history teachers.  Most people can describe events from the past to their students.  Many of them can even explain these events in a way that is meaningful and memorable.  Some teachers take it to the next level by introducing primary sources to their students, allowing them to see artifacts of the actual events so they can form a connection to the material they are learning.  The best teachers strive to create a bond between their students and the characters they are studying. 

Joann featured resources this week that do a good job of bringing the history of the Salem Witch Trials to life, and she will post more throughout the week on the Gateway Facebook and Twitter pages.  These lessons present the events in a meaningful and memorable way.  Even with well-planned lessons like these, it is nice to be able to modify certain parts for the particular learning styles and interests of your students.  One simple modification is to change or enhance the evaluation or summary activity at the end of the lesson.

A perfect concluding activity would “cement” the learning from the lessons, evaluate what learning has taken place, and form a lasting connection between the students and the historical characters they are studying.  This is a pretty tall order, and no single activity will be the best for every class, every year.  I have been researching some neat tools and ideas that I will share over the next few months as I try them out on my own and with students.

For a historical event such as the Salem Witch Trials, it might be hard for students to really empathize and connect with both the women being accused and the accusers. 
The mass hysteria that took place is almost unparalleled, especially in the timeframe of students’ personal experience.  Writing some type of a story involving the characters and events to share with the class is a good way to conclude a unit on these events.  A traditional story created by students on paper is always a valuable use of time.  It’s a creative outlet for your students and a good way to assess what they learned and can explain about the theme. 

If you are looking to bring some more technology into your classroom, you can probably find a good online digital storytelling tool to use with your students.  This will add variety to your classroom while still testing the same basic skills.  There are plenty of free online tools to help your students create stories in new ways.  These tools are are useful for other projects and demonstrations as well.  One very unique tool is the Google Search Stories Video Creator.  Until I tried it out, I had no idea how fun and educational it can be for students.  A Google Search Story basically tells the main ideas of a story by showing Google searches and results on topics within the story.  You will probably need to see one to really understand how it works.  The first time I saw a Google Search Story was during a 2010 Super Bowl commercial.  Do you remember this one

With the Google Search Stories Video Creator, students choose seven events to tell a story of what they learned.  This will help them think about the important parts of what they are studying and summarize their learning.  I attempted to create a Google Search Story from the viewpoint of an accused woman in Salem (if only she could have accessed Google!)  I am sure your students will be able to create even better stories when given the chance. I included my process so you can see how it works.  When you go the link, scroll down to the section titled “Make your own search story” to get started.

First I chose 7 search topics:
1.     Seventeenth Century Puritan beliefs
2.     Salem, Massachusetts devil possession
3.     Witchcraft
4.     Salem Witch Trials
5.     Proof of Salem witchcraft
6.     Salem Witch Trials Punishment
7.     Salem Witch Trials new findings

After seeing the results weren;t quite what I wanted, I changed my list to:

1.     puritan supernatural beliefs
2.     1692 salem girls fits
3.     17th century devil possession
4.     salem witchcraft proof
5.     salem witch trials
6.     salem witchcraft punishment
7.     1692 girls affliction new evidence

I used the “tips” section to improve my search results.  This will lead to some good learning about Google searches.  I also made my video more interesting by changing if I was searching the web, images, or news.  The only caution I have is to monitor this so students aren’t accessing any inappropriate content.  Your school’s internet settings should probably keep it pretty safe. 

Here is my final product.  

I was happy with how it turned out, although I don’t think it demonstrates as deep of an understanding as writing a paper and pencil story from the perspective of a person involved in the events in Salem.  It would be really cool if students could select and highlight certain search results, too.  I do think it is a great tool, though, and might go well with some type of a longer presentation. 

Do you us any digital storytelling tools in your classroom?  Which ones do you like best?  Let’s talk about it all week on Facebook and Twitter.  I will be researching more tools, so please let us know what you want to know.  

~ Peggy's Corner - October 27, 2011 ~

The Devil’s in the Details: The Salem Witch Trials

In a small Massachusetts village in 1692, two young girls began having a series of fits that quickly afflicted other girls and young women in the town. Finding no physical cause for the fits, local physicians quickly dubbed it the work of the devil. The girls were thought to be possessed through witchcraft, and they quickly accused three village women of having cast the evil spells. As the news rapidly spread through the New England region, other girls suffered similar afflictions in neighboring towns, and increasingly numbers of women (and some men) were thus accused of witchcraft. In the span of four months, more than 150 people stood accused of witchcraft in the region, and 24 died as a result. Some died in prison, but the majority were executed by hanging, or in one case, being crushed under the weight of piled stones. The event marks a sad and bizarre chapter in American history, and is now viewed as a cautionary tale regarding mass hysteria, as well as legal and moral rushes to judgment.

Life in 17th century New England was fraught with difficulties and moral repression. Belief in witchcraft and the supernatural was deeply ingrained in the community, and events such as infant mortality, crop failures, and the like were attributed to the works of the devil. Salem Village, the locus of the hysteria, was known even before the Trials as a hotbed of discontent in the region.  Villagers constantly bickered over property lines, livestock grazing rights, and perceived social slights and snubs. Religious extremism in the form of their Puritan beliefs also contributed to villagers’ moral intolerance, repression, and social isolation, making the town and others like it virtual tinderboxes waiting to ignite.

Over 300 years later, the Salem Witch Trials continue to fascinate historians and students alike. The topic is ripe with cross-curricular possibilities, ranging from U.S. history, English Language Arts, civics, religion, sociology, jurisprudence, and other subjects. There is a vast amount of primary source documents relating to the Trials available online, making it a great opportunity for students to hone research skills. This week, I’ve selected three resources for various grade levels that all focus on the Salem Witch Trials, and how such a travesty could happen.  I’ll also be featuring several new lessons and resources on this topic each day throughout the week on our Facebook and Twitter pages, so be sure to check those pages regularly.

Salem Witch Trials
Subjects: Language Arts; US History
Grade 3
In this lesson, students will be able to briefly summarize the Salem Witch Trials. They will learn about children’s lives in 17th century New England, and imagine what children’s lives were like during the Trials. This lesson was created by two teachers from Saugus Public Schools in Saugus, Massachusetts.

Dramatization of the Salem Witch Trials
Subjects: US History, Civics
Grade: 4-6
A simple play and follow-up activities can provide elementary students with an opportunity to compare fair and unfair trials. This activity can also provide discussion of why we have certain fair trial (or due process) protections under the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. This lesson was produced by the American Bar Association, a professional association for lawyers in the U.S. The ABA offers educational resources on the law aimed at students and for the classroom.

Colonial America: The Salem Witch Trials
Subjects: US History, Writing
Grade: 9-12
In this lesson, students will learn the basic facts about the Salem Witch Trials and the different theories for the hysteria. They will examine primary source documents, describe the characteristics of Puritanism and its role in 17th-century Salem, and write a fictional, first-hand account as if living in Salem Village in 1692, which reflects one or more of the theories. This lesson is a product of 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.

~ Joann's Picks - October 27, 2011 ~