Saturday, March 26, 2011

After a Disaster

This week we have a guest columnist, Terry Smithson the Director of Marketing for JES & Co., covering the topic of disasters and disaster recovery. Peggy will be back in a few weeks.

You might wonder what qualifies me to write on disaster and recovery. I worked as the Education Strategist for Intel previously and after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, I both created and led the Hurricane Education Leadership Program (HELP) team for 2.5 years in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Texas, and Florida. The HELP team included 39 for profit companies, 11 foundations, 7 non-profits, education press, and political figures from the 5 Gulf States, the U.S. DOE, and several celebrities. I share Joann’s feeling that our hearts and prayers go out to all those teachers, families, and students that are affected by the recent tragedies in Japan. We pray you are safe and find the strength needed to recover and move forward. We have many teachers In Japan that use the Gateway.

The education process shuts down immediately after a disaster and rightfully so. The first priority is life saving and survival. Then after a period of time, the education process must resume in order to not lose a generation of students. In order to do so, makeshift schoolrooms are set up anywhere they can be which may be a group of students and teachers meeting under a tree, in a gymnasium, at someone’s home, etc. What is sorely missing is access to education resources. Thus, we are very pleased that the resources in The Gateway to 21st Century Skills are accessible by everyone and free. As communications return, all the teacher needs is a computer, laptop, or hand held device and connectivity.

After a disaster, many students do not understand what, why, or the dynamics behind the disaster. The resources Joann selected this week will help students understand the cause and effect of these nature caused events. Disasters can be particularly traumatic to children. Sometimes, it can be difficult to determine the extent of the psychological trauma, and whether or not professional mental health services are indicated. This checklist is one way to assess a child’s mental health status. Here is a FEMA booklet on how to check on kids’ mental health after a disaster or traumatic event.

Researching Natural Disasters is a resource to research types of natural disasters and create a booklet on how to protect them. Natural disasters come in many different forms. In order to be better prepared, students should be familiar with the various types of disasters that may occur in their regional areas. All students should also recognize natural disasters that occur worldwide, such as floods, hurricanes, tornadoes, tsunamis, winter storms, wildfires, electrical storms, volcanic eruptions, and earthquakes. Students also need to know how to use the Internet and a collection of books to collect information about the different events. Using desktop publishing software, students learn how to create a brochure that will include a brief description of the event, safety precautions, and photos to enhance the project.

Here is a resource that focuses on how Federal Disaster Relief can be used to learn about the politics of disaster aid. In this lesson, students examine the use of federal disaster relief. They then create a classroom wall chart, detailing the roles of the various individuals and agencies involved after the declaration of a “major disaster.”

These are just a few of the many resources available on The Gateway involving the study of disasters. Joann has chosen many more resources to feature throughout the week on Facebook and Twitter, so please join us there to learn more!

~Peggy's Corner (By Terry Smithson) - 3/25/2011~

Japan: Disaster Relief

Millions of people around the globe have been thunderstruck and horrified by the devastating earthquake, tsunami, and resulting nuclear crisis that have unfolded in Japan in recent weeks. Stark images of the utter destruction left in the tsunami’s wake replay continuously on news reports, leaving viewers wondering how the affected communities can possibly rebuild after such a tragedy. Where does one start? The sheer scope of the destruction seems overwhelming.

Many older students will likely remember Hurricane Katrina, the deadly hurricane that ripped through the American Gulf Coast in 2005, causing over $81 billion dollars in damage and killing over 1,800 people. Katrina ranks as the most costly natural disaster in American history, and one from which the Gulf states are still struggling to recover. Depending on their ages, students may react to the news of disasters such as the earthquake in Japan and Hurricane Katrina in different ways. Younger students look for reassurance of their own personal safety and that of their families, while older students want to understand how such catastrophes occur, what can be done to prevent them, and how they can help the affected communities.

Last fall, Peggy and I wrote columns on natural disasters, specifically on how to prepare for one and how to respond should a disaster occur. In my column, I offered resources on safety preparations, community rebuilding, and how the human body physically reacts in response to traumatic events such as a natural disaster. In Peggy’s companion column, she offered excellent ideas on how to tackle this often difficult topic in the classroom. I encourage you to take a look at them both.

This week, I’m featuring all-new resources for all ages on disaster relief and emergency management in the wake of a natural disaster. Throughout the week, I’ll be featuring many additional lessons and activities on our Facebook and Twitter pages, all focusing on disaster relief and how such disasters affect our communities. Finally, on behalf of the entire Gateway team, I’d like to extend our heartfelt sympathy to everyone in Japan. Our thoughts and prayers are with you.

Be Disaster Safe: Emergency Management
Subjects: Health, Safety, Government
Grade: 3-5
In this lesson, students learn that communities have systems in place and that agencies cooperate to take care of the community’s needs during emergencies and disasters. This lesson was produced by the American Red Cross, the nation’s premier emergency response organization since 1881. In addition to providing international and national emergency relief services, the Red Cross also offers safety information resources for parents, teachers, and students.

Dealing with Disasters
Subjects: Geography, Earth science, Civics
Grade: 6-8
In this lesson, students will study potential natural hazards in their community, report on local hazards in small groups, and discuss community preparation and response for one or more of these forces of nature. This lesson is a product of National Geographic Xpeditions, part of the National Geographic Society. The site offers all kinds of lesson plans, daily global news, and interactive games that focus on geography and foreign cultures. This lesson is aligned to U.S. national geography standards.

Disaster Relief – Power, Generosity and Leadership
Subjects: Economics, Civics, Character Education
Grade 9-12
Students will research problems caused by a natural disaster and cite examples of aid provided in an effort to help those devastated populations. They will investigate the role of the four economic sectors in responding to the needs. They will participate in a collection campaign or other service project and learn about organizations to which they can contribute their philanthropy. Students carry out the project, track their results, advocate for the cause, and reflect on their participation. This lesson was produced by Learning to Give, the curriculum arm of The LEAGUE, which is a school-based system that combines lesson plans with community service events. This lesson is aligned to national, state, and some international education standards.

~Joann's Picks - 3/25/11~

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Connecting the Dots

Over the past 100 years or so, stars seem to have disappeared from daily life. Our ancestors didn’t take the stars for granted; for them, the night sky often served as compass, clock, calendar, and a rich source of inspiration for tales of mystery and wonder. Skyscrapers and light pollution have dimmed the brilliance of the night sky for many of us in the 21st century, but for those who happen to stop for a bit and look upward, the sky’s glittering patterns are still there for the gazing.

The constellations that appear nightly in our skies are the same ones that our ancestors have viewed for millions of years. Constellations are groups of stars that appear to form patterns in the sky, and that can be perceived as figures or designs. In an attempt to better understand the vast world around them, ancient civilizations named and assigned stories to the constellations, many of which are still noted today. Many of the constellations’ names and stories are derived from classical mythology, which makes them a wonderful topic for teaching across the curriculum. Science classes, of course, can easily incorporate the study of constellations into a regular astronomy unit. English and language arts classes can take advantage of students’ enduring love of the Percy Jackson series to learn more about the stories behind the constellations, and perhaps create their own constellation myths. Social studies classes can discuss the importance of constellations to civilizations throughout history, and how various cultures assigned different interpretations to the same star or groups of stars, and which reflected their cultural beliefs and customs.

The viewing of constellations requires no special equipment, just a swath of night sky, a marked star map or guide, and some patience. If cloudy skies or light pollution obscure your night viewing, online alternatives are available and great tools for classroom use. At this point, the only constellation that I can reliably identify is Orion, the Hunter, but I’ve vowed to learn at least several more by the end of summer. Finding constellations can be a remarkably powerful experience, and a way to remind ourselves that despite our frenzied and full lives, we’re still all part of something much larger and grander than ourselves.

This week, I’m featuring three resources on constellations for different grade ranges, and will be highlighting many more resources on this topic throughout the week on our Facebook and Twitter pages. Please be sure to join us.

Glowing Constellations
Subjects: Art, Astronomy, Language Arts
Grade: K-3
Students choose and research a constellation, then use pictures to help design an accurate bas-relief replica of the constellation. This lesson was produced by Crayola, maker of art supplies. Crayola also offers lesson plans, an online certificate maker, and other resources for educators.

Subjects: Mythology, Astronomy
Grade: 3-8
In this lesson, students will "connect the dots" to form constellations from stars, recognize some famous constellations and the myths behind them, and compare their perspectives to the perspectives of other students and ancient peoples. This lesson is offered by the Sloan Digital Sky Server (SDSS), a project that uses current data to make a map of a large part of the universe. In addition to offering data for astronomers, SDSS also offers educational resources and games for teachers and students.

~Joann's Picks - 3/18/2011~

Constellations in Science and Mythology
Subjects: Art, Writing, Astronomy
Grade: 9-12
This project requires students to research constellations and produce illustrated books suitable for third to fifth grade readers. The books must include the story and mythology behind the constellation, information about the two brightest stars in the constellation, and Messier objects found in the constellation. This lesson was created by Debbie Scheinberg, a high school science teacher at Cherokee High School South in Marlton, New Jersey.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Let’s Get Motivated!

“There are two levers for moving men: interest and fear.” ~ Napolean Bonaparte

We cannot effectively teach our students things they do not want to learn. Unless we can figure out a way to motivate students to want to learn what we are teaching, they might sit through classes and memorize the necessary material to pass a test, but students aren’t likely to retain that information for very long after the test and they probably won’t gain a lifelong desire to learn more about that subject. Which “lever” should we be using as teachers to motivate our students? I have known a few teachers who try to motivate with fear, but for better or worse, I could never seem to strike fear into my students. My best bet for motivating students is to make what I am teaching interesting to them. If I can’t make the subject alone more interesting, I need to find a way to tie the learning to a subject that is something that piques students’ natural interests. This sounds easy enough, but it is something teachers need to keep in mind throughout their teaching and planning.

In order to make the topics I teach more appealing to my students, I need to figure out what types of things occupy their time outside of the classroom. I can’t expect students to invest themselves in a subject they aren’t interested in or that is not related in some way to their lives. It’s also very helpful if students are able to anchor the new learning to an existing interest that they know a lot about already.

What are your students into this year? Do you know what types of books and activities they enjoy during their free time? The beginning of the year is a good time to survey kids and find out more about their likes and dislikes, but you can continue to take this “interest pulse” throughout the year so you can take advantage of their interests to continue to motivate them throughout the year. They really seem to enjoy learning about the teacher’s interests, too. Do you have a sports team you love? A favorite hobby? A community organization you support? You can build lessons on your own interests, too, and students might feel inspired to learn more about the things you are passionate about.

According to a study of intrinsic motivation in the math classroom by James Middleton, Joan Littlefield, and Rich Lehrer, students first choose to engage in activities that they personally deem interesting. If they don’t immediately find an activity or subject to be interesting, they base their decisions of whether or not to fully engage in that activity on whether or not it is stimulating or challenging enough for them while still allowing them enough personal control that the activity doesn’t become too difficult to handle. If a teacher can’t build this interest on the merit of the subject alone, tying the subject to an outside theme is a logical step to take.

I got to thinking about the topic of motivation when I read Joann’s latest post about Harry Potter resources for the classroom. As a big Harry Potter fan, I think the resources Joann presented are really exciting. She has found some unique ways to tie the theme of Harry Potter into many different subject areas. If you have Harry Potter enthusiasts in your class, these lessons and activities may be just what they need to excite them about a subject for which they might not have a natural interest. If you have a class full of muggles who aren’t interested in Harry Potter, you should be able to find a theme that they enjoy and you can tie into your curriculum.

The subjects and themes that interest your students are as varied as the students themselves. These interests are constantly changing. Once you have an idea of themes you might want to tie into your lessons, search The Gateway to find lessons and activities that might fit in. We’d love to continue this conversation on our Facebook and Twitter pages to help you find resources and collaborate with other teachers who might have some great input.

~Peggy's Corner - 3/10/2011~

Just Wild About Harry

It’s been nearly 14 years since the publication of the first Harry Potter book. The first generation of Potter fans has now likely completed college, having grown up alongside the books’ protagonists that they’ve grown to love. Although sales of the Harry Potter series have slowed since the publication of the final book, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, in 2007, a new crop of readers continue to discover the series each year. According to Scholastic, the American publisher of the Harry Potter series, there are currently 143 million copies of Potter books in print in the U.S., and 400 million copies worldwide. Kids in high school and middle school still tell me on a fairly regular basis that they are trying to wean themselves off the series, and ask for alternative book recommendations. If my town is a literary barometer of any kind, then the series is still in brisk demand: our public and school libraries regularly replace existing copies of the Potter series, due to constant use.

One of the beauties of the Potter books is that they speak to students without moralizing or condescension. There are many themes running throughout the series, but the ones that seem to resonate the most with students include power, survival, fitting in, good versus evil, and oppression. These themes reflect what many students – in the throes of adolescence – experience daily in their own lives to some degree. Students are naturally interested in situations that they can relate to, and are likely to be more vested in lessons where they feel some emotional or intellectual connection. While using the books in English Language Arts classes is a natural choice, there’s no reason to limit the use of the novels exclusively to these classrooms. Introducing Harry Potter-themed lessons across the curriculum can be a fun and interesting way to interject something unexpected in a seemingly straightforward lesson, and perhaps invigorate some of the topics that students often find less than interesting.

My picks this week all make innovative use of Harry Potter characters and events across the curriculum. I’ll be featuring many more Harry Potter-themed lessons, activities, and other resources for a variety of ages and subjects throughout the week on our Facebook and Twitter pages, so please be sure to visit those pages regularly. Lots of great ideas, and no wands necessary.

Harry Potter Math Stories
Subjects: Math
Grade: 1-3
These addition and simple multiplication word problems use characters and situations from the Harry Potter novels. An answer sheet is provided. This resource was produced by MathStories, a math site devoted to helping students in grades 1-6 boost their math critical thinking and problem-solving skills.

Introduction to Primary and Secondary Sources
Subject: Research skills
Grade: 4-8
What if you had the scrap of paper on which J.K. Rowling wrote the beginnings of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone? In this lesson, students pretend that they are doing research for a biography of the author J.K. Rowling. They will examine examples of sources of information and decide which are primary sources and which are secondary sources. This will give students an introduction to primary and secondary sources in a familiar context, and prepare them for further study. This lesson was published by Florida Memory, an online project of the State Library & Archives of Florida. In addition to lesson plans and other educational resources, the site also offers interactive exhibits, photo collections, and documents of Florida history.

Genetic Traits in Harry Potter
Subjects: Biology, Life Science
Grade: 7-11
In this lesson, students review or learn genetic terms and concepts, such as DNA, chromosome, gene, allele, homozygous, heterozygous, recessive and dominant genes, genotype, phenotype, complex traits, Mendelian inheritance, and Punnett Square; and apply them in identifying possible inheritance patterns and genotypes of magical ability demonstrated by several characters in the Harry Potter series. This lesson was produced by the U.S. National Library of Medicine (NLM) at the National Institutes of Health. NLM is the world’s largest medical library, and offers a plethora of materials, information, and research services in all areas of biomedicine and health care.

~Joann's Picks - 3/10/2011~

Monday, March 7, 2011

Germs: Creating an Understanding to Build Healthier Schools

“Hand washing is the single most important thing you can do to prevent the spread of germs and to stay healthy.”
~NEA Health Information Network

Germs seem to spread in a classroom like wildfire. Once on student gets sick, it’s only a matter of time before there are more and more empty desks in the class and the pile of make-up work to hand out and grade is on the verge of toppling over. As a teacher trying to avoid these germs, it is worth your time to help your students learn about simple ways to stay healthy. According to a pediatrician I talked to today, flu season is hitting a little late this year, so now is the ideal time to teach kids about staying healthy. Washing your hands is a basic skill that is often thought of as a skill that students should bring with them from home. Everyone knows how and why we wash our hands, right? Not always. Students and teachers who understand how germs are spread and how washing hands can prevent this spread are much more likely to take the time to wash their hands throughout the day.

Joann’s Picks this week include lessons and activities to teach students about germs, microbes, and bacteria. Throughout the week, our Facebook and Twitter pages will also be featuring daily ideas for implementing the study of germs into your class. If you don’t already follow us on one of our social networking sites, I recommend that you do, so you won’t miss out on any of the great ideas we highlight every day.

I read an NEA forum where teachers were sharing simple ideas they had used in the classroom to teach their students about germs, and I thought a couple of them were really neat. These activities would be a wonderful addition to some of the lessons Joann suggested in her column this week as well as the many other resources you can find when you search The Gateway. Both of these activities will help students see how easily germs are transferred from an affected person’s hands to all the surfaces they touch throughout the day. They are simple enough to use with classrooms as young as kindergarten and would work well as a visual introduction all the way up through a high school health class.

Activity 1: Who’s Sick?
Supplies: 1 baggie with 2 tablespoons of flour per student, 1 teaspoon of baking soda (to “infect” one plastic baggie) , plastic spoons (at least 1 per 2 students), vinegar

Sometimes people can be carrying germs before they even feel sick. You can infect the people around you with a cold or the flu without even feeling sick yourself. To demonstrate this, pass out a baggie with 2 tablespoons of flour to each student. (Before you pass them out, add 1 teaspoon of baking soda to one of the bags and mix well.) Don’t tell the students what is in the bags, but tell them one of the bags has pretend “flu germs” in it. Instruct each student to find a partner. They will give that partner a plastic spoonful of their powder. Their partner will mix up the powder in their bag and give their partner a spoonful of the powder back. The students will pair up at least four times following the same procedure. To see how many of the students have the “flu germs” in their bags now, add a little vinegar to each bag. If their bag has baking soda (or “flu germs”), it will react to the vinegar and bubble. You can discuss how germs are spread, how many people ended up with the germs at the end of the activity, and how they could have prevented spreading the germs. Depending on the math skills of your students, you might decide to use the activity for computing percentages and proportions as well.

Activity 2: Glitter Germs

Germs can easily spread from one person to another, especially in a small space like a classroom. You might be surprised by some of the places they end up!

Ask for 3 volunteers to have pretend “germs” on their hands. Put glitter on these three students’ hands. (Remember: a little glitter goes a long way!) The 3 volunteers will then shake hands with 2 people each. Class can then run normally for a while. Soon, you will see traces of glitter on all different surfaces of your classroom and the students’ clothes and bodies. There are “glitter germs” everywhere! After you notice plenty of glitter transfer, you can begin a discussion about the movement of these germs and why it is important for us to wash our hands.

In your discussions, the question may come up of which places are the “germiest” at school. You can use this article and online diagram in “Where Germs Lurk” from the NEA Today Magazine to help them understand. This is also a great starter for students to do some research of their own (either online or library research or maybe even a scientific collection for older students.) Can there really be more bacteria on a school cafeteria tray than on a school toilet seat? Will I ever be able to drink out of a water fountain again? Yuck!

A good discussion starter about germs and washing hands is a music video from Sid The Science Kid called “Journey of the Germ.” It’s a really good visual representation of how a germ travels from person to person. “Just Wash Your Hands” is a song and music video from Bill Nye The Science Guy. It’s a catchy tune that might be best for the primary grades, but older students might get a kick out of it too. I know Weird Al did a parody about germs, too. You can find plenty of other fun examples if you search YouTube.

On the subject of YouTube, many of you have said that YouTube is blocked at your schools, making it unavailable as a tool for sharing educational videos with your students. You can find lots of great videos on TeacherTube, too, but this site may be blocked in many schools as well. A wonderful kindergarten teacher I know suggested downloading this browser extension that lets you easily download YouTube videos to your computer from home so you can use them in class, even if YouTube is blocked. He tested it with both Windows and Macintosh, and it seems promising.

If you are trying to implement some type of germ education in other disciplines, there are plenty of things you can do. In English and social studies, students could write poems, persuasive letters, or research papers about germs or the spread of a particular illness in history. Older students could create a presentation, video, song, or brochure to teach younger students about the importance of washing your hands. In math, students could look up figures and statistics about germs and bacteria and use these to calculate percentages, probabilities, and more. There are probably many other ways you can bring this topic into what you are currently studying so that you can continue to keep your classroom a healthy environment to you and your students.

Good luck getting the word out about staying healthy and preventing the spread of germs. I hope you and your students stay healthy through the flu season. Don’t forget to wash your hands!

~Peggy's Corner - 3/3/2011~

You Make Me Sick!

Every November, I start steeling myself for the onset of virus season. Since most of the students in our school district elect to receive flu shots, the number of flu cases in our schools is very manageable and the symptoms are fairly benign. The dreaded norovirus, however, is a different story. While many people refer to it as “the stomach flu,” norovirus is actually an RNA virus that causes acute vomiting and diarrhea and is responsible for about 90% of all epidemic non-bacterial outbreaks of gastrointestinal illness in the world. It’s highly contagious, and spreads from person to person through touching contaminated surfaces or through ingesting contaminated food or water. I’ve had the amazing luck to have all three of my children stricken nearly each year, usually all at the same time, in the middle of the night, while my husband is away on business travel. I know – try to restrain your jealousy. The virus sweeps through the school system faster than cranky postings on Formspring.

I once read that the February vacation that is observed in most U.S. public schools originated as an attempt to break the cycle of illness that generally strikes schools in winter. Whether the vacation actually has any effect on containing outbreaks of illness in students, I have no idea. The thing about norovirus, though, is that it is nearly always completely preventable. The major cause of the virus (and others) is a lack of proper hygiene, specifically inadequate handwashing. We all know that any public building, such as schools, can act as ideal breeding grounds for bacteria and viruses. The chances of students contracting a virus increases as they become more mobile throughout the school. Changing classrooms, sharing desks, eating in the cafeteria, riding on the bus – all of these activities greatly contribute to students’ exposure to possible contamination. So, short of obsessively disinfecting all surfaces every hour, what can educators do to help limit the exposure to potentially harmful bacteria and viruses? Simple: remind and reinforce at every opportunity those handwashing lessons that most kids (should have) learned in kindergarten.

My picks this week all focus on bacteria and viruses (“germs”) – what they are, how they spread, and how they can be contained and eliminated. Throughout the week we’ll be featuring additional resources on our Facebook and Twitter pages, including the implications of bioterrorism, hands-on experiments with germs, the benefits of certain microorganisms, and much more. In the meantime, wash those hands!

Germ Busters!
Subjects: Health, Biology
Grade: PreK-5
Students create podcasts to apply their knowledge of germs, how germs are spread, and how resulting sickness can be prevented. The podcasts may then be used to teach students in the rest of the school about germs and their prevention. This lesson was produced by Digital Wish, a non-profit that seeks to modernize K-12 classrooms and prepare students for tomorrow's workforce. On the Digital Wish web site, teachers can create wish lists of technology products for their classroom. Donors then connect with their favorite schools and grant classroom wishes through online cash or product donations.

The History of Germ Theory – Grade 12
Subjects: Biology, Health, World history
Grade: 12
In this lesson students will learn the history of germ theory, from the 1600s to the present day. They will examine how germ theory developed and test antibacterial wipes for their "germ killing" properties. This lesson helps students learn the content of the indicators and benchmarks by weaving the history of germ theory with scientific inquiry as they "do" science and look at it through the eyes of scientists instrumental in the development of germ theory. This lesson is a product of the Ohio State Department of Education, and is aligned to Ohio state education standards.

Microbes: Too Smart for Antibiotics?
Subjects: Biology, Health
Grade: 6-12
In this lesson, students learn about how bacteria (germs) are spread, the benefits of microorganisms, and the threat posed by antibiotic-resistant bacteria. This lesson includes two handouts - one for grades 6-12, the other suitable for grades 9-12 (advanced or AP classes). This lesson was produced by Action Bioscience, an educational site created to promote bioscience literacy by the American Institute of Biological Sciences. Resources on the site include peer-reviewed articles and lesson plans. This lesson is aligned to national science education standards.

~Joann's Picks - 3/3/2011~