Sunday, February 27, 2011

Read Across America 2011 and The Beauty of Geometry

This week on The Gateway we are focusing on two very important basic 21st century skills: reading and ‘rithmetic (Read Across America and fractals, if you want to get specific) We spend a lot of time planning, discussing, and implementing ways to improve our classrooms with technology. As important as this is, I feel sometimes we need to step back and be sure we are covering the basics as thoroughly as we can. Math and reading are essential skills, and teaching these subjects in a way that will encourage children to really enjoy them is very important.

Students will use reading and math in the “real world” constantly throughout their lives. Without a good grip on reading, especially, many tasks will be very difficult for students to master. Many classrooms will be celebrating Read Across America Day this year on March 2nd in honor of the birthday of Dr. Seuss and his passion for encouraging literacy. Joann’s post included links to our blog entries from last year with resources and ideas for this celebration. Please look through these ideas to see if there are some that will help your celebration of this important event. Reading Rockets, the NEA, and Seussville have created a few new resources for this year to make your literacy event even more meaningful.

Reading rockets created Family literacy bags, which help teachers put together kits to send home with their students to engage with their parents and improve their reading at home. There are 2 good new ones for K-2 students, just in time for Read Across America Day. The bags include different kinds of hands-on activities to engage students and their parents. Check out The Lorax and Green Eggs and Ham. Both of these would be great to send home with students, or you could pick through the activities to use in class.

If you go to the Seussville site, you can click on the link called 2011 NEA’s Read Across America Guide to get their 2011 Science Explorabration Guide. I liked the ideas in this compilation, because they tied literacy into quite a few different science themes.

Another project called Read Around the Planet was intriguing to me. The project connects schools so they can use videoconferencing to connect for Read Across America Day. We are already past the deadline to sign up for this year, but it’s something to consider for next year. You can see the kinds of projects that classes are doing on their site. The idea could be implemented on a smaller scale in your school this year. For instance, one class could perform for another, or maybe you could even split your class in small groups to present their favorite books to one another in a creative way.

All of the above resources focus on the importance of literacy as the backbone of understanding in all other subjects. One of these subjects is geometry, a class where students often have a hard time connecting to real-world applications. Joann collected resources this week on The Gateway on the subject of fractals. What in the world is a fractal? Read Joann’s post to learn more, and play with this virtual manipulative to see how they work. You can use a tool like this to get your students interested in the beauty they can discover through math. This collection from Cut The Knot called Interactive Mathematics Miscellany and Puzzles has a lot of math resources, puzzles, games, and explanations in all different areas of math. If you scroll down to the pink section titled Fractals and Chaos, you will find plenty of tools and detailed descriptions to explain fractals to your class.

To end my discombobulated column trying to cover reading and fractals in one post, please also look at this other neat resource on The Gateway. This is a collection of math sites that have been chosen on the 10 Cool Sites page over the years. They may not all have something to do with fractals, but you could find a site that is just what you are looking for a struggling student or a student who is looking for a little extra.

~Peggy's Corner - 2/25/2011~

Fractals: Am I Repeating Myself?

March 2 is Read Across America Day, the annual tribute to the pleasures and importance of reading founded in 1998 by the National Education Association. Across the U.S., schools, libraries, community organizations, and other entities will celebrate the joys of reading and observe the birthday of Dr. Seuss, whose endless creativity inspired the event. You can find resources to help celebrate the day here, and additional classroom ideas here. Happy reading!

I’ve written about my non-love affair with geometry before, but I have to admit that I have a weakness for fractals. Fractals are geometric shapes that repeat themselves, each part of which is a smaller copy of the original shape. The mathematical term applied to this notion is called self-similarity, but to a non-mathematician like me, fractals are like little halls of mirrors, where the shape decreases in size with each reiteration. They are found in abundance in nature, in the patterns of clouds, fern fronds, coastlines, and so forth. They are, in a word, cool.

Fractals are appealing on many levels. Most students are appropriately impressed (at least for the short term) when shown images of how fractals occur in nature, both on earth and in space. Yet when confronted with new or sometimes challenging material, students often ask how such material is relevant to their lives – what good is it? Aside
from creating amazing patterns (and thus used to great effect in various types of art), fractals are in fact are widely used in a host of industries, including engineering, economics, biotechnology, computer science, and entertainment. Fractals, for example, are used in the design of computer networks, most notably in how data traffic patterns are configured. They are also used in data and digital image compression, with the advantage of offering little to no pixilation difficulties that are commonly found in jpeg and gif formats. Microsoft used fractal data compression when it issued its Encarta Encyclopedia, where thousands of articles, color images, and animations were compressed into less than 600 megabytes of data.

The engineering and manufacturing industries also rely on the benefits of fractal geometry. The strength of coiled springs, for example, can be tested in several minutes as opposed to several days as a result of fractal modeling, and agricultural and civil engineers use fractal simulations to determine the best design, layout, and location of pipes and settling tanks related to ground seepage and water filtration. DNA sequences have been determined to show fractal patterns, which has led to new research for applications in biotechnology, and fractal theory, specifically the Mandelbrot set, is widely used in predicting stock market prices. Students may be most interested to learn that fractals are widely used in computer graphics and animations for the film industry. Like those rain droplets running down the dinosaurs’ skins in Jurassic Park? Those were created by using fractal models, as were planet topographies in various Star Wars and Star Trek films, among many others.

My picks this week offer a variety of lessons and activities on fractals, all products of Shodor Interactivate. A project of the Shodor Education Foundation, Interactivate offers interactive Java-based resources in math and science. All lessons are aligned to a variety of state and national education standards. Please be sure to also check our Facebook and Twitter pages throughout the week, as we’ll feature many more resources on fractals for a variety of ages.

Introduction to Fractals: Geometric Fractals
Subject: Geometry
Grade: 6-8
This lesson outlines the approach to building fractals by cutting out portions of plane figures. Students are also introduced to other classic fractals, such as the Sierpinski Triangle and Carpet as they iterate with plane figures.

Sierpinski’s Carpet
Subject: Geometry
Grade: 6-8
In this online activity, students step through the generation of Sierpinski's Carpet – a fractal made by subdividing a square into nine smaller triangles, and then removing the middle square. This activity allows students to explore number patterns in sequences and geometric properties of fractals.

Prisoners and Escapees – Julia Sets
Subject: Geometry
Grade: 9-12
One of the most famous fractals, the Mandelbrot Set, is made up of Julia Sets. Julia Sets, in turn, are known as prisoner sets. This resource provides a brief overview of the notion of prisoners and escapees as they pertain to iterative functions. A prisoner ultimately changes to a constant while escapees iterate to infinity.

~Joann's Picks - 2/25/2011~

Monday, February 21, 2011

You Say You Want a Revolution? Connecting the Russian Revolution with Current Events in Egypt and the Middle East

Whoever wishes to foresee the future must consult the past; for human events ever resemble those of preceding times. This arises from the fact that they are produced by men who ever have been, and ever shall be, animated by the same passions, and thus they necessarily have the same results.
- Machiavelli

Joann’s explanation of the Russian Revolution tied the events together for me much more clearly than I can remember from history class. This is a problem… I should know a lot more about history! Granted, I was a science major in college, but as we discussed last week, it is very important to create well-rounded students. Why should we teach our students about historical events like the Russian Revolution? I think the answer lies in quotes like the one above from Machiavelli. In order for our students to become productive, inquisitive, and informed members of society, they need to learn and understand major events in history that have shaped different cultures throughout the years. Even if a student decides to major in science or engineering, we want each of them to understand past events so they can use that knowledge to understand similar events in the future.

Joann selected some great resources this week for teaching about this historic revolution in your class. She will be featuring them all week on our Facebook and Twitter pages, so be sure to follow them so you won’t miss a thing. She has chosen activities for different subjects and grade levels, even some art lessons.

As a preview of the kinds of extra activities Joann is featuring, look at the Russian Revolution Simulation, a great resource catalogued on The Gateway. In this lesson, students get to act out the roles of the characters involved in the Russian Revolution. I really like the way it allows them to feel like a part of the history, so they might be able to empathize with individual characters to better understand that person’s feelings and motivations that led them to act a particular way. This empathy is especially important right now, as media coverage in the Middle East is allowing students to experience another revolution taking shape before their eyes.

As protests for democracy sweep across nations in the Middle East, we have the chance to experience history first-hand with our students. I have been talking with different teachers about how they have been discussing the events with their classes, and a surprising amount of them haven’t been able to fit any time into their schedules to cover it much (or at all).

These teachers already have the next few weeks of their lessons planned out; a novelty for me, who is planning to think about stopping my procrastinating tomorrow. In all seriousness, it is wonderful to have a plan, and it is very important to teach all the things we are required to teach during the year. That being said, making our plans flexible enough to expose our students to the authentic learning they can get from experiencing real life events is a worthwhile challenge for every teacher.

In a social studies or history classroom, you could create a wonderful unit exploring a revolution in the past, such as the Russian Revolution. During that study, you could allow your students time to watch media coverage of the current situation in the Middle East, or assign it as homework. In the past, this would entail watching news coverage on tv at school or at home. As media has changed over time, there are plenty more outlets to learn about current events like this. It’s hard to know where to start looking for quality information, so I turned to my PLN on Twitter for help. I decided to send out the following tweet to all our followers on Twitter and to the social studies chat people (#sschat) and the #edchat people. I did this as kind of an experiment to see what kind of support I could find on these social networking sites.

“Anyone have ways to incorporate events in Egypt and Middle East into different subject areas? All ideas are appreciated! #sschat #edchat”

Right away, I received a suggestion of one blog with a collection of many different resources for learning about the protests and revolution in Egypt. If some of these resources become more permanent, we will catalog them on The Gateway so they are easier to find. For now, please look at Larry Ferlazzo’s edublog for some ideas. Another response suggested building Egypt events into other subjects with songs of freedom and protest from United States history. A few of examples were, “People Got To Be Free” by The Rascals, “Revolution” by The Beatles, and “Get Up, Stand Up” by Bob Marley and the Wailers.

Last year, we featured Garbage Dreams, a resource from PBS about people who collect and recycle garbage in Egypt. This video and accompanying lesson explore a very poor sector of Egypt’s population, many of whom might have been involved in the recent protests. In response to the recent events in Egypt, ITVS (part of PBS) has created a collection of resources called Egypt & Democracy including this resource along with other videos and lesson plans relating to the subject. This is another good place to start if you want to include the Egyptian Revolution in your plans this month.

~Peggy's Corner - 2/18/2011~

Revolution Solution?

Over the past few weeks, the world has watched while Egypt has been in the throes of a revolution. The story of a country beset by repression, poverty, and civil unrest, and ruled over by an immensely wealthy and out-of-touch leader, is not new. In fact, it’s a scenario that has occurred repeatedly throughout the centuries, and is likely fated to play again in the future.

In the early 20th century, Russia was a vast country with the third largest population in the world. Although the major urban areas were centers of rapid industrialization, much of the country was still an agrarian society where workers toiled under primitive conditions. The Russian people, too, were diverse, with great disparity in their economic, religious, and cultural situations. Presiding over the country was the middle-aged Imperial Czar, Nicholas II of the House of Romanov. The Romanovs had ruled Russia since 1613, but by all accounts (including his own), Nicholas had not been adequately prepared for the rigors of running a country. His reign continued a cycle of national repression, high taxes, food shortages, labor strikes, and deplorable working conditions, all of which contributed to growing public discontent, and anger towards the monarchy.

The Russian Revolution is often viewed as a sudden, climactic event, culminating with the brutal assassination of Czar Nicholas II and his family. In reality, the revolution occurred in stages, with long periods of civil unrest, repression, and public protests. Ultimately acknowledged as a kind and religious man by those who knew him, Czar Nicholas was nonetheless an ineffectual leader and uninspired politician. His country in shambles, he retreated to his palaces and a life of unimagined luxury. To critics of the czar, the famous jeweled Easter eggs created for the Romanov family by Fabergé came to symbolize the monarchy in their opulence, privilege, and utter uselessness. Forced to abdicate his throne during the first part of the Revolution in February of 1917, Czar Nicholas and his family were gunned down later that year by Bolsheviks, thus definitively ending the imperial era in Russia and casting the country into civil war. Preferring style over substance, and completely out of step with the needs of their country, the Romanov story is ultimately a tragic one.

The Russian Revolution was a pivotal event not only in Russian history, but for the world at large as well. Decades later, the Bolsheviks morphed into the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, which lasted until the late twentieth century and whose political philosophies still guide some countries today. My picks this week focus on the Russian Revolution and the end of Imperial Russia, and the dichotomy between two very different worlds. Throughout the week, I’ll be featuring many additional resources on this topic on our Facebook and Twitter pages, so be sure to check those as well.

Russian Imperial Eggs
Subjects: Art, World History
Grade: PreK-5
This lesson introduces young students to Imperial Russia in the early 20th century. Each Easter, Nicholas II, the last czar of the Russian empire, gave his wife and mother each splendid jeweled eggs. Students will learn about the royal family’s Easter tradition (but not the family’s ultimate fate), and create their own jeweled eggs crafted in the style of Fabergé. This lesson was produced by Crayola, makers of the ubiquitous art supplies. Crayola also offers lesson plans, an online certificate maker, and other resources for educators.

The Russian Revolution
Subjects: Geography, World History, Government
Grade: 7
In this lesson, students explore the events leading up to the Russian Revolution using online video clips and activities. Students also research the geographical and cultural effects of Russia’s expansion, and discover why the country entered a near-regressionist state as it emerged from absolute monarchy to communist state. This lesson was produced by the Core Knowledge Foundation, a nonprofit and nonpartisan organization that develops curricula, provides professional development for educators, and publishes educational books and other materials.

The Faberge Eggs: Mementos of a Doomed Dynasty
Subjects: English, Art, World history
Grade: 9-12
What to the things we treasure tell us about ourselves and the culture in which we live? The significance of the Fabergé eggs can be interpreted in several ways. They can be appreciated for their fine craftsmanship and for the family memories they represented to the Romanovs. On the other hand, their fragility and extravagance can symbolize that family's world of insular, imperial privilege. In this lesson, students will create an exhibition of items treasured by their families and reflect on the personal and cultural significance of these items. The exhibition process can be divided into Social Studies, Visual Arts and Language Arts lessons, either by working with the teachers of each of those subject areas or by teaching as one unit. This lesson was produced by PBS Treasures, a series of videos and lesson plans that examine the stories behind masterworks of art and nature.

~Joann's Picks - 2/18/2011~

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Physics is Phun! Studying Energy in Your Classroom

Our discussion of Leonardo da Vinci last week started a great dialog about how to create well-rounded students who are willing and motivated to learn in all different subject areas. I think Kelly Tenkely stated it perfectly in her blog, Dreams of Education, “True learners are multidimensional, they are passionately curious about the world around them.” As we shift gears this week to discuss physics resources, we want to be sure the resources we present are in line with this goal of creating passionate, curious learners throughout the grades. The NEED Project fits the bill with their physics resources that look at the subject of energy through many different lenses, including language arts, drama, music, and math.

What do you remember most about your high school physics class? Do you have painful memories of endless equation memorization and pencil-and-paper problem solving, or did you have a teacher that took a more hands-on approach? Now that many of us are in our teacher’s shoes, we are in charge of creating classes that will equip students with the skills they will need to be inquisitive problem solvers throughout their lives. We want students to look back upon our classes with fond memories as they move forward in life with the kind of curiosity that led Leonardo da Vinci to make some amazing discoveries.

Most students won’t come to your class with a natural curiosity about every subject they need to learn. Often, they are not really interested in subjects they can’t connect to the “real world.” It is up to you to inspire this inquisitiveness with activities that challenge them to question things happening in the world around them. This type of curiosity isn’t only required in upper-level science classes. It needs to be fostered from the early grades on.

Where would physics activities fit into your classroom? Students are constantly exposed to the topic of alternate energy sources, energy conservation, and petroleum dependence in the media, so studying energy can be a great way to introduce physics to even the youngest students. For an example of how to do this, look at The NEED Project’s “Energy on Stage,” a set of energy plays you can use with primary and secondary students. These plays are a creative outlet for students and they bring the topics and ideas of energy and its many different sources to students in a unique way. The NEED Project also created an activity called “Transportation Fuels Rock Performances,” where students write and perform rock songs about alternate transportation fuels. Who knows…maybe you’ll find the next American Idol! I especially liked these two resources since they bring some of the fine arts into the classroom that many of our students are missing with cutbacks in programs like music and drama.

The NEED Project also has some groups of activities that can be implemented over a series of lessons. “Fossil Fuels to Products” presents petroleum and natural gas energy sources from their exploration to their final products using hands-on activities with ties to social studies, language arts, and technology. “Wind For Schools” brings in the discussion of alternate energy sources and lets students use actual data from wind turbines, a great real world experience for students and teachers.

These are just four examples that show the diversity of resources you can find on the Project NEED website ( I spoke with one physics teacher who is on the Teacher Advisory Board for the project, and she had lots of wonderful things to say about the project and their quality activities. She told me that the NEED Project has been around for 30 years and continues to improve and design activities and curriculum related to energy. Their Teacher Advisory Board heavily influences the project. The activities are designed for teachers, which makes them a great fit for The Gateway to 21st Century Skills.

The NEED Project is hosting summer workshops, including their national workshop in Denver in July. If you apply for this, sponsors could support your participation. If you look at their website, you might even find a workshop closer to home. You can keep track of their events on their Facebook Page as well. (

Whether you are a new or seasoned teacher, it is easy to feel alone, especially when you are struggling to present a new topic in a fun and exciting way. Finding new activities like these might be just the support you need to unlock curiosity in some of your hard to reach students and students that display the type of curiosity of da Vinci. Whenever you are looking for new resources to use, be sure to search The Gateway. We will continue the conversation on our Facebook and Twitter pages, so be sure to join us there.

~Peggy's Corner - 2/10/2011~

You Got the Power

Every once in a while, the topic of American dependence on oil rears its head, is hotly discussed and debated by politicians and the media, and then recedes into the background. The current civil unrest in Egypt has once again prompted discussion as to the grave economic, political, and environmental challenges caused by the U.S.’s reliance on oil and other fossil fuels. Despite the warning bells that have been sounding for decades, the U.S. has been slow to rigorously explore and fund alternative sources of energy. Perhaps the recent increased attention to global warming and the high costs of petroleum-based energies will further spur development of other types of fuel sources.

Fortunately, students today are much more environmentally conscious than those even a decade ago, and are keenly interested in alternative technologies to produce energy that could reduce our reliance on fossil fuels. Kids are often introduced to the intricacies of energy and how it works through hands-on activities and well-planned lessons at school. Energy can be a slippery notion for some to grasp – it’s dynamic and fluid, and it can’t be created or destroyed, but instead transforms from one form to another. Nothing can happen without energy, and it’s a concept that is found in every branch of science, from biology to earth science to physics and so forth. Energy is about change and making things happen. It’s often confused with power, which measures the work done, or how quickly energy transformations occur. Once students have grasped the main tenets of energy and how it works, they can be turned loose to plan and perhaps develop their own ideas for energy technologies.

Educating students about energy teaches them about the idea of transformation and change, as energy intrinsically changes from one form to another. But the theme of change by way of energy can be expanded externally as well, as kids explore and brainstorm ways that energy can enact social change in the form of newer, more efficient energy technologies. New types of technology and new ways of applying existing energy technologies are always fun to explore in the classroom, and some products in development may surprise you. For example, I read of a current project to develop roads implanted with solar panels in order to melt snow, which frankly, can’t happen fast enough for me. This type of idea may initially sound far-fetched, but it and other nascent energy technologies are actual products in development with exciting possibilities.

The resources that I’ve selected this week focus on energy and force, two concepts that produce change. Each resource was created by The NEED Project, a nonprofit association dedicated to promoting energy consciousness and education. The NEED Project was launched in 1980 with a physics teacher from New York at its helm, and it works to bring balanced energy programs and curricular materials to U.S. schools. All of The NEED Project’s lessons are aligned to national education standards, and each unit contains a teacher’s guide as well as several labs and hands-on activities for students. I hope you enjoy them. As always, we’ll be featuring additional resources on energy and force throughout the week on our Facebook and Twitter pages, so be sure to check those as well.

Exploring Magnets
Subjects: Physical sciences
Grade: 1-4
Students explore the concepts of atoms and magnetic force with a variety of magnets and experiments, making predictions, recording observations and data, and drawing conclusions. The unit includes teacher demonstrations and center-based explorations for students.

Science of Energy
Subjects: Physical science
Grade: 5-8
In this unit, students learn about the different forms and sources of energy, how it is stored, transformed, and what it enables us to do. Students will also trace the energy flow of a system.

Secondary Science of Energy
Subjects: Physical science
Grade: 9-12
This unit explores the various forms and sources of energy, the main things that energy enables us to do, and how energy is stored. Students will also explain energy transformations and trace the energy flow of a system. The unit includes a teacher demonstration and six lab stations

~Joann's Picks - 2/10/20100~

Monday, February 7, 2011

Renaissance Students

Do you have a polymath in any of your classes? A what?? A polymath is defined as a very learned person with encyclopedic knowledge. A polymath is a person who thinks, explores, and experiments to become an expert in many fields. These are the kind of people who treasure lifelong learning (and people you definitely don’t want to go up against in Jeopardy!). I know I don’t quite fit into this group of experts, although I wish I could say I do. To create a thinker of this caliber is the ultimate goal of many educators.

In an ideal world, students would have an insatiable hunger to learn about the world around them. Teachers would simply be there to guide their learning and provide the resources students need to fulfill their curiosity. The study of art could lead to learning about science. Inquisitiveness could lead to new inventions and discoveries. Unfortunately, it doesn’t always work that way, and it is up to parents and educators to bring the love of learning and exploring new idea to their students so they will have the desire to continue fulfilling their curiosities throughout their lives.

There have been some great renaissance men and women throughout history, and Leonardo da Vinci is a perfect example whose life has been prominent in recent books and movies. Thinking about successful historical figures like da Vinci made me wonder what we can do as teachers to inspire students to embrace learning enough to become well rounded and learned like these people. After all, according to Leon Battista Alberti, “A man can do all things if he will.” How can we encourage this will to do new things?

Although studying the life and learning of da Vinci in your classroom probably won’t create a classroom full of polymaths or renaissance students, it might inspire students to think about the amazing things they could do with their lives. It can also serve as a great theme to tie together lessons from fields including art, science, and math. A perfect example of studying a variety of fields under the umbrella of one theme can be found in the yearly studies and competitions of Academic Decathlon teams. I’ll discuss that more in future columns, but it’s an idea to look into if you work with high school kids.

Math might seem a lot more interesting to students when it is presented within the theme of Leonardo da Vinci’s artwork. Drawing in perspective can be a lot more relevant to students when they can see how it has been done throughout history. There are a lot of well-made lessons on The Gateway to help you bring Leonardo da Vinci and his discoveries and studies into your classroom. The Boston Museum of Science did a wonderful job creating a science-based approach to studying the life and times of da Vinci. Browse through their site to see some ideas for incorporating this theme into your teaching. The lessons were designed for 4th through 8th grade students, but are adaptable to many levels. Here is a sample of what the Museum of Science has to offer:

Inventor’s Toolbox: An interactive site to explore the elements of simple machines with a game using three simple machines. This activity can be done online or as a classroom activity

Using Leonardo’s Window: A lesson in creating proper perspective in a drawing using a Renaissance technique of drawing a scene on a glass window.

How Far? How Small? A measurement activity where students measure the change of the apparent size of an object as it moves away from them.

Leonardo: Right to Left : An activity for students to experiment with writing in reverse.

~Peggy's Corner - February 4, 2010~

The da Vinci Code

Scientist. Inventor. Painter. Sculptor. Architect. Cartographer. Mathematician. Maverick.

The list of attributes goes on and on. If I wasn’t referring to Leonardo da Vinci, this type of person surely seems too good to be true. Mythical, in fact. Really, who can excel in all of these subjects, and more?

Leonardo da Vinci is often referred to as the quintessential example of a Renaissance Man, or someone who excels spectacularly in a range of disparate subject areas. Far from being a dilettante, da Vinci is widely considered to have been a genius, and has left lasting significant contributions in fields such as medicine, art, mathematics, and engineering. Nearly 500 years after his death, da Vinci’s creativity, brilliance, and the sheer audacity of his ideas mark him as one of the greatest minds ever known. Contemporary scientists, inventors, and artists regularly cite him as an inspiration, and his relevance still reverberates today. In 1994, Microsoft founder Bill Gates bought one of da Vinci’s notebooks for about $30 million. This particular codex – one of 30 – contains da Vinci’s theories and observations on scientific matters such as fossils, air, the properties of water and rocks, astronomy, and celestial light. His relentless curiosity in various subjects is something that many students actively respond to.

Recently, I read of a new trend among some colleges and universities to shorten their degree programs to three years instead of the usual four. Electives and other classes not directly pertinent to students’ majors are dropped, thus enabling students to graduate a full year earlier. The reason, of course, is economic. College tuitions are staggering, and increasingly out of the financial reach for many families. I understand the motivation behind such a restructuring, yet what is lost to these students? For years, higher education has followed a classical model of education, with students taking classes in a variety of subject areas, with the goal of being well-rounded and, well, educated. Will we lose potential da Vincis – Renaissance men and women – as a result? What if da Vinci had only focused on painting, or only on medicine – would his legacy still loom as large as it does today? Or has the notion of a Renaissance education in the 21st century become antiquated?

Whatever the case, one of the beauties of learning about da Vinci (and there are many) is that he’s a perfect subject for cross-curricular studies. While he’s widely studied in art classes, his ideas in engineering, mathematics, and medicine in particular lend themselves to fertile exploration in a variety of subject areas. My picks this week focus on different aspects of Leonardo’s many legacies, which will hopefully spark some students to develop and nurture their own nascent ideas. We’ll also be featuring many more resources on da Vinci and his ideas on The Gateway’s Facebook and Twitter pages throughout the week, so please be sure to check in. Lastly, if some students have difficulty identifying with da Vinci’s dizzying array of attributes, you can always let them know that he, too, had his lesser moments: he was apparently a chronic procrastinator.

Breaking the Codex
Subjects: World history, Science, Language Arts
Grade: 4-6
In this lesson, students learn about Leonardo da Vinci and his legacy. The lesson contains activities in which students create advertisements in honor of one of da Vinci's inventions, and attempt to copy his mirror-handwriting technique. This lesson is part of the Time Warp Trio series produced by WGBH, the flagship PBS station in Boston. These lessons offer concise overviews of historical time periods, and include two activities, curriculum connections and standards, handouts, and recommended books and links. All lessons are linked to national standards.

Leonardo da Vinci Activity: Vitruvian Man
Subject: Algebra
Grade: 6-8
How can we trust a drawing? One of Leonardo da Vinci's drawings is called the Vitruvian Man. It is based on a model of ideal mathematical proportions. In this activity, students will measure each other, chart their data, and test whether their respective arm spans equal their heights. This lesson is offered by The Math Forum at Drexel University, which provides expert math help services, online resources for teaching and learning, and curricular materials.

Theft of the Mona Lisa
Subjects: Art, World history
Grade: 7-12
The theft of the Mona Lisa created a frenzy when it was stolen in 1911. In this lesson, students will investigate the question, "What is an icon?" They will compare their impressions and interpretations of the Mona Lisa to the hypothetical opinions of other people affected by this painting. This lesson is also a natural starting point for a discussion about which images have become, or will become, icons in the future, leading students to investigate the following Life-long Learning Question: What shared understandings does an iconic image communicate? This lesson is a product of PBS Treasures of the World, which highlights the stories behind various masterworks of art and nature.

~Joann's Picks - February 4, 2011~

Thinking Critically about Racism

"The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically... Intelligence plus character - that is the goal of true education."
- Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

What an important point to consider as educators! We are not here to simply create students with more “book smarts” or skills to get by in the world more easily. All educators, from high school to elementary school teachers and administrators, are part of a team responsible for developing critical thinking and character in each student. This character development has many facets, and one important aspect of this character education is an understanding of racism. The opening quote came from an article written by Dr. King in 1947 for the Morehouse College student paper. I think the points he made in the article are just as applicable to teachers of every level today as they were in 1947. If we can begin addressing issues of racism with our young students, hopefully it won’t be as big of a problem by the time they reach college.

In honor of MLK Day and Black History Month, we chose racism for our topic this week on The Gateway. Joann selected some wonderful racism resources, and I want to encourage you to look a little deeper into some of the providers she suggested so you can find even more tools to help your students think critically about racism. Depending on the subject and level you teach, these tools may be helpful for creating lessons to use throughout the next month. If it won’t fit into your schedule during the month, you may just want to look through the sites and bookmark them to use in your class whenever a racism issue comes up that you want to address. These activities are not meant to just teach about the history of racism. They are created to teach students how to think critically about the problems of racism and how to solve them.

One activity that really caught my eye was a simulation using “The Sneetches” By Dr. Seuss. The activity comes from Teaching Tolerance. Their collection of classroom activities includes professional development tools as well as many K-12 resources aimed at teaching students tolerance in different situations. This site is very relevant to the discrimination we see today against particular groups of immigrants and ethnic groups in the United States. If you have witnessed any of this type of discrimination or racism in your school, or if you just want to prevent it, you might find some very useful activities here.

Another site Joann found is RaceBridges. This site also has a great collection of resources to help students and teachers explore race relations and diversity. They even have a guide to help teachers create a diversity club for their schools. I really liked the fact that they tied the ideas of racism to creating an anti-bullying climate at schools, a topic that is immediately important for many schools today. There is a drop-down menu on the right side of the page where you can choose which type of lesson plan you want to view. Be sure to check out some of the lessons that include stories read by professional storytellers.

Racism is an important topic to cover at any time of the year. It might have the most impact on our students during times when they are seeing discrimination occurring in their schools or in the media. These are only a couple of resources to help you include a discussion of racism in your classroom. Please be sure to share any other resources you like and join our conversation on Facebook and Twitter to learn more.

~Peggy's Corner - 1/27/2011~

Primary Colors

Every year in the weeks between Martin Luther King, Jr. Day and Black History Month, teachers produce lesson plans and activities on the subject of race and racism. It’s an important topic, and one that is hopefully addressed throughout the school year as needed, rather than relegated to a six-week period each year. Still, the subject of race can present a challenge to many teachers, especially in a racially diverse classroom where misunderstandings can easily bloom.

Classrooms in the U.S., U.K., Canada, and other countries have become increasingly diverse, with students of different races, ethnicities, religions, and abilities comprising a typical classroom. Studies have shown that children notice racial differences from a very young age, but do not ascribe any particular sentiment to one race or another. Research also reveals that while most young children prefer their own race over another’s purely due to familiarity, they do not formulate negative opinions about other races. They note the physical differences, perhaps ask about them, and move on to something else. Racism rears its ugly head later in life, as a purely learned behavior.

In discussing racism in the classroom, teachers should note the difference between prejudice and racism, which are often used synonymously. Racism is a form of prejudice where one ascribes negative attributes to another person or group based purely on racial characteristics. Prejudice is a preconceived, negative opinion about something, usually untested by actual experience. I am, for example, prejudiced against tripe. I’ve never eaten it, and so therefore have no direct experience of it, yet I just know that I don’t like it.

Discussing racism with students requires thoughtful sensitivity and an awareness of the differences between the students, as well as their interactions with each other. Different ethnicities and gender can present additional challenges when discussing race in the classroom, and cultural differences can sometimes prompt seemingly prejudicial actions that can be mistaken for racism. To avoid the discussion of racism with students, however, may unintentionally suggest that it’s a topic that is too difficult or “wrong,” and best ignored. Diversity should be celebrated – a concept sometimes easier said than done, but essential to the fabric of strong schools and communities.

My picks this week focus on different aspects of racism, from a lesson on discrimination based on appearance for younger students to a high school lesson on the legal implications of racism in the U.S. I’ll also be featuring many more resources on racism on The Gateway’s Facebook and Twitter pages throughout the week, so please be sure to check in.

Anti-Racism Activity: The Sneetches
Subjects: Language Arts, Social studies
Grade: 1-5
In this early grades activity, students learn about unfair practices in a simulation exercise and then create plans to stand up against discrimination. This activity is a produce of Teaching Tolerance, a project of the Southern Poverty Law Center. The project offers free educational materials aimed at reducing prejudice, improving intergroup relations and supporting equitable school experiences in the U.S.

We All Have a Race: Addressing Race and Racism
Subjects: Social studies, English
Grade: 4-10
This lesson plan helps students to understand the concept of race better, to distinguish between prejudice and racism, and to learn ways to stand up against racism and to act as allies with students of different races. This is a basic beginning unit to consider race and racism with respect and discovery. This lesson was produced by RaceBridges for Schools, a project that provides tools and resources for teachers and students to motivate them to build stronger and more inclusive communities.

Racism: Law and Attitude
Subjects: US history, US government
Grade: 9-12
In this lesson, students will learn the difference between de facto and de jure discrimination in the United States, and understand the challenges in creating and enforcing laws that make certain racist actions and speech illegal. This lesson is a product of Discovery Education, which provides educational digital resources with the goal of connecting classrooms and families to a world of learning.

~Joann's Picks - 1/27/2011~