Sunday, May 29, 2011

Sneaky Grammar

In a world of conversations carried out through short text messages and 140 character Twitter updates, new abbreviations seem to be creeping into the English language as many grammar conventions are going out the window. Smiley faces are being used as a new punctuation mark. Although students are writing more than ever, this writing might not be good grammar practice and it is often teaching them habits that are hard to break. It’s up to K-12 teachers in all subjects to encourage good grammar to prepare students for college and their future careers.

Grammar is a subject that lends itself well to interdisciplinary study. Just as good grammar is crucial for success in many areas of life, it should play an important role in every subject in school. In addition to using proper grammar ourselves, we can use activities like the following ones to buff up our students’ grammar skills while we are teaching in other areas.

Although math and grammar don’t seem to go hand in hand, there are ways to incorporate grammar into a math classroom without sacrificing the time students spend learning math. In lessons like Monstrous Math, students get to use their artistic skills and practice writing while gaining a better understanding of fractions. We featured How Big is Hagrid? in our columns on Harry Potter resources. It’s also a great example of combining writing and math. Check it out to see if you agree!

It can be very helpful for students to explain new math procedures to one another as they are learning. You can make this even more fun by having your students create stories, comics, posters, or pamphlets that explain math techniques in a fun way (using proper grammar, of course)! Allowing students the choice of how they will present the information lets them pick something they will enjoy. If you grade with a rubric, be sure to include a section for grammar. This type of activity is particularly useful in math since students can keep their finished products to review the material later.

Science classes often require writing, but science teachers may be leery of grading grammar since it’s not their area of expertise. Much to my students’ chagrin, I like to dedicate one section of the rubric (and a portion of the grade) to grammar. I don’t go through and turn the reports into a sea of red, I just give students feedback if their grammar needs improvement. You can also make the lab reports more fun to write (and read) by assigning them in non-traditional formats. Students can present their findings as stories, persuasive letters, or mysteries to start. If you get creative and have fun with the assignments, the students will, too.

Don’t forget that when a subject is fun and you are excited about it, your enthusiasm will rub off on your students. If you are rocking out to the Schoolhouse Rock songs Unpack Your Adjectives, Conjunction Junction, or any of the others you might remember from your childhood commercial breaks, your students will probably laugh at you, but they might secretly enjoy it! Speaking of teaching with music, look at this blog post by Nik Peachey. He shares some neat tools to help teachers use song lyrics to teach particular grammar conventions. See if you can catch a grammar error in his post…it happens to the best of us!

As I read through this column on my computer, I’m checking nervously for the telltale green squiggly lines that will call me out as a grammar novice. Phew! It looks like I’m safe this time. LOL! Thanx 4 reading. Catch u nxt wk.

~Peggy's Corner - 5/27/2011~

The Abuse of Apostrophe’s and Other Sad Grammar Tales

English grammar can be tricky stuff. Students (and many adults) labor over the correct usage of “lie” and “lay,” as well as when to use “who” instead of “whom.” Many of us also have our personal grammar pet peeves – mine happens to be the rampant misuse of apostrophes, as in “The Walton’s welcome you to our home!” or this one from a recent political mailing: “Every state has it’s unique resources.” I hate to admit it, but grammatical errors such as these set my teeth on edge. President George W. Bush, who was frequently flummoxed by the English language, regularly absorbed the slings and arrows of outraged grammarians worldwide for his linguistic gaffes. Yet, in this age of texting, does proper grammar still really matter? We all pretty much know what people mean, despite bad grammar, right? Does anyone still really care?

I’m going to argue “yes,” and I’m not alone. People who write and speak well are automatically treated with more courtesy and respect than people who demonstrate poor communication skills. Numerous studies show that the use of poor grammar in spoken and written statements reflects negatively on the speaker/author, and that people who use bad grammar are instantly perceived as less intelligent, less educated, less reliable, and less trustworthy than people who use proper grammar. Studying grammar can be deadly boring (I feel your students’ pain!), but it’s an essential skill to master. The use of proper grammar becomes more important over time, and bad grammar is tolerated less as the perpetrators age. According to ACT, professors rank grammar as the most important skill to attain for students entering college, while high school teachers feel grammar is the least important skill. The disconnect between these two differing views can have some very real consequences. Most college professors have a zero tolerance policy for bad grammar in their classes, and students are expected to articulate themselves properly in both their writing and speech. There are also countless stories of businesses who have lost lucrative accounts because of grammatical errors in their promotional materials or presentations; even a single error may cause clients to question the company’s attention to detail, their ability to perform, the quality of the product or service itself, and the company’s overall level of prestige in the marketplace. In short, the use of bad grammar puts the offender’s very reputation at stake.

The knowledge of proper grammar cuts across the curriculum, as it improves skills needed in all subject areas. The use of good grammar sharpens writing skills and helps students to craft clear, powerful prose. It also allows for better speaking skills; as the habit of clear communication becomes internalized, students become more attuned to what proper speech sounds like. Grammar is also an exercise in logical thinking, as students discern different parts of speech, their relationships, and how to refine them further. The enforcement of proper grammar in all subject areas, then, is important in order for students to learn and internalize the rules more quickly, and thus, more naturally.

My picks this week feature a variety of resources that are enormously helpful in helping students to learn proper grammar. I will also be featuring many more grammar lessons, resources, and examples of grammatical errors on our Facebook and Twitter pages throughout the week, so please be sure to check those pages regularly.

Writing Correct Website Content: A Guide to Grammar, Punctuation and Vocabulary
Subjects: Grammar
Grade: 3-12
English grammar can be very confusing, even to native speakers. Although this site is aimed at people writing for Web sites, this handy collection covers many aspects of English grammar that can cause confusion to students and adults alike. This index of resources was provided by eBizWebpages, a site that offers software and services to build Web sites. Hats off to Ben in Mrs. Hughes’ class at Monument Charter School for recommending this resource.

Creative Videos for Basic Grammar Concepts
Subjects: Grammar
Grade: K-2
In this lesson, students make videos to help enhance understanding of action verbs, pronouns, nouns, proper nouns, and adjectives. This resource is a product of 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.

Bad Grammar
Subjects: Grammar
Grade: 8-12
This lesson uses a video parody of rapper Timbaland’s “The Way I Are”, and examines the bad grammar and slang used in pop music. Students will learn common terms like, “ain’t”, “got no”, and “we be”. They then discuss why pop songs often have bad grammar and spelling and also whether these terms are really all that bad. Be aware that the video does show a woman in lingerie; if you prefer, you can just use the printed lyric sheet instead of the video (included in resource). This lesson is offered by English Advantage, which offers lesson plans and activities for teachers of English as a second or other language.

~Joann's Picks - 5/27/2011~

Monday, May 23, 2011

Bright Ideas

The cover of my newest Popular Science announces the 5th annual Inventions of the Year. As I read through some of the ideas, I wonder why I didn’t think of them! The inventions, including a handheld bedbug sniffer, armored stun gloves, and prenatal disease-detecting pens, were mostly developed in peoples’ homes and school laboratories. About half of the featured inventions were created by students, again leading me to wonder how we can inspire students to develop a lifelong drive to create and innovate.

If necessity is the mother of invention, then invention must be the mother of entrepreneurship. If students don’t have the ability to create a product or idea, they won’t have anything to produce, patent, market, and sell. Joann is featuring entrepreneurship resources this week, and I have chosen resources to develop skills for inventing and innovating. We don’t want our students to become smart little drones who are really good at filling in bubbles with number 2 pencils. (Can you tell we are in the middle of standardized testing at our school?) Ensuring the students have the required knowledge is necessary, but we want them to use that knowledge to become the innovators and entrepreneurs who can change the world.

I wrote a blog post on the topic of inventions last August, which can be found here. I still love George Margolin’s idea that all kids are born inventors. We need to find a way to foster kids’ spirit of innovation so they continue to be inventors throughout their lives. I feel like this is an area that we often glaze over due to a lack of time. The following activities will challenge kids’ creativity and give them practice inventing and creating. (Shh…don’t tell your students, though, because they might think you are just letting them have fun.)

One of the hardest part of including something “extra” like inventing or entrepreneurship in students’ education is figuring out how to fit it into subjects that are already jammed with standards to be met. In my search of The Gateway to 21st Century Skills, I found teaching resources for inventing that could find a place in classrooms of all different subject areas. Don’t forget that if you find an activity you like, you can use the Standards Suggestion Tool at the bottom of the description. This will help you determine where the activity fits within your state standards so you can find the best place for that activity in your curriculum.

Here is an resource to get your students thinking about making something new from something old. The activity, “Is It a Thingamajig or Thingamabob?” challenges students to create something new from junk. You can expand this simple idea to create a “creation station” in your classroom, where students are encouraged to come and tinker when they are “bored.” There are plenty of similar creative activity ideas on the Gateway to help get the creative juices flowing at your school, and we will continue to discuss encouraging creativity in future posts.

Once students have an idea and a prototype of a creation or invention, they will need to know how to test it. “Testing 1,2,3” shows students how to test an invention using one of my all-time favorite activities, the egg drop experiment. I like this activity because students come up with so many solutions to one problem.

You can challenge students to solve other simple problems that relate to units in all different subjects. Adding a hands-on component could make the unit more exciting. Check out the following examples for cross-curricular ideas.

If you are working with music or studying the science of sound, a fun creative project for your students is designing their own musical instruments. I did this in middle school, and I loved it. You can take pictures of their final products to display in “The Virtual Museum of Music Inventions.” My soda bottle flutes could have really taken off if I could have shared them like that! In a physical science or physics class, you might want to try the “Inventions Using Simple Machines Project” or the online Levers and Pulleys Rube Goldberg machine building activity.

Inventions and innovations have played a huge role throughout history. The Library of Congress has a fun online game for students to learn about some of these inventions. Try playing the game “What in the World Is That? Ingenious Inventions Throughout History.” I played the game, and trying to figure out what these unusual inventions were was a fun challenge. Make the activity even more meaningful by having each student find and research one unusual invention to create your own game. When you get to the Library of Congress site, click on activities tab at the top, and “What in the World is That” is the last activity listed.

Encouraging our students’ creativity will help improve their problem solving abilities. We want our students to grow up and be able to solve problems, fix things that need fixing, and ultimately make our world a better place to live. I hope the resources above will help you increase the amount of creative activities available to your students.

~Peggy's Corner - 5/19/2011~

Taking Care of Business

What do Bill Gates, Jay Z, and Martha Stewart all have in common? They’re all highly successful people who started with an idea, raised capital, and grew their own businesses and brands. In short, they’re entrepreneurs.

The United States has a long history of entrepreneurship, and it currently ranks third in “entrepreneurial friendliness” behind Denmark and Canada, and just ahead of New Zealand and Australia. According to the U.S. Small Business Administration, small businesses in the U.S. generate more than half of our nation’s gross domestic product, currently employ more than half of the private workforce, and create more new job opportunities than large businesses each year. If entrepreneurship, then, is so important to our nation and to our students’ futures, why does it receive so little attention in the classroom?

That’s a rhetorical question, of course. Schools are continually pushed to do more with less, and limited budgets, reduced staff levels, and the increased focus on test scores all contribute to the time crunch and academic subject squeeze felt in many classrooms. Entrepreneurship is usually integrated into social studies lessons at some point, and often not until the middle or high school grades. That’s a shame, because at its basic level, entrepreneurship is about innovation, creative thinking, and calculating risks – all skills that students should start to learn early on. We live in a world that is increasingly driven by efficiency- and innovation-driven economies, and the skills taught by the study of entrepreneurship helps students to navigate more confidently through them. In studying entrepreneurship, students can more fully imagine what it would be like to be a business owner, a venture capitalist, or an inventor. Through hands-on entrepreneurial exercises, students learn time management, interpersonal and organizational skills, and leadership – all qualities that are highly desirable to employers and essential components to being a productive citizen.

My picks this week focus on entrepreneurship lessons for a range of grade levels, and all include a hands-on activity or real-world component to help connect the students to the material. Students are much more engaged in learning if the material seems relevant to real life, and entrepreneurial education can certainly fit that bill. As always, please be sure to check out our Facebook and Twitter pages, as we’ll be featuring several new lessons, activities, and other resources on entrepreneurship each day for the entire week.

I Want to Be an Entrepreneur
Subjects: Economics, Business
Grade: 3-6
In this lesson, students will create and advertise a business while learning the meaning of the words entrepreneur, advertise, profit, and loss. Students will also film commercials to advertise their business. This resource is from 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.

Could You Start a Business?
Subjects: Business, Economics, Math
Grade: 7-12
This lesson plan will teach high school students about the importance of financial management for a small business. It will help students learn the concepts of business costs, positive cash flow, credit, and proper financial management in running a business. Students will learn the tools for basic financial analysis, and will investigate why the business in the video segments was not successful. As an extension activity, they can brainstorm ideas for a model new business, given what they have learned about the financial needs of a new business. This lesson was produced by Thirteen Ed Online, the educational Web component of WNET, PBS's flagship station in New York. This free service features everything from standards-based lesson plans and classroom activities to a multimedia primer, online mentors, and reviews of curriculum-based Web sites.

Business Ownership: How Sweet It Can Be!
Grade: 9-12
In this lesson, students research the three basic types of business organization: sole proprietorships, partnerships, and corporations. Considering the advantages and disadvantages of each, they function as consultants offering advice on which form of business is best suited for different business scenarios. The case studies all feature real- life entrepreneurs who started businesses producing chocolate candy and cookies—they all result ultimately in “sweet” success stories. Once students have made their recommendations, they are provided the identities of their clients and asked to prepare reports that tell the rest of the story—what happened to each founder and business.
This lesson is from the Council for Economic Education, an organization that advocates for better school-based economic and personal finance education at the K-12 level. The Council also offers K-12 economic education programs, which focus on the basics of entrepreneurship.

~Joann's Picks - 5/19/2011~

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Bringing History Home: Learning from the Nonviolence of the Freedom Riders

Growing up, I can remember sitting through quite a few filmstrips in class, trying not to let the buzzing of the reels lull me to sleep, wondering why we were watching it in the first place. Was the teacher just trying to fill the class period with something, since they hadn’t come up with a better plan? Thinking about using documentaries like Freedom Riders from American Experience got me contemplating the value of using movies in the classroom and how teachers can do this most effectively.

The Freedom Riders were inspired by the values of Mahatma Gandhi to stage their own nonviolent protests in the 1960’s to bring racial justice to the southern United States. Their historic ride on public transportation was well documented in words, pictures, and videos. This footage of the rides and the hatred and violence they encountered along the way was collected along with interviews of surviving Freedom Riders into a PBS documentary called Freedom Riders. This movie can be used in a history or social studies class as an inspiring story of how young people can truly make a difference in the world.

With so many historical documentaries available on DVD and streaming online, teachers have a plethora of movie choices instead of the often-small selection of grainy filmstrips to check out of the library in the past. The better selection of movies alone won’t make much of a difference, though, unless we combine the movie viewing with engaging activities. How can we be sure our students are getting the full benefit of the movies we show in the classroom? We don’t want students to forget what they saw before they make it to their next class. We want to inspire them to take what they learn from a movie and do something with it.

PBS’s American Experience and WGBH’s Teacher’s Domain released a Democracy in Action teacher’s guide to make it easier for teachers to bring Freedom Riders into the classroom. The format of this guide divides activities into pre-viewing, viewing, and post-viewing. If you plan your activities this way, students will be more engaged as thy watch the film and you will be able to follow up the viewing with activities to challenge and extend students’ thinking about the topic. I have been tempted to just pop in a movie to fill a class period without planning, but the information would most likely go in one ear and out the other, hardly a valuable use of my students’ time.

Democracy in Action puts together readings with a list of questions for students to answer before they view Freedom Riders. A pre-viewing activity like this can hook students into a subject before they watch a movie about it, keeping them engaged as they watch. One of these questions challenged students to create identity charts for some Freedom Riders and themselves. I like open-ended activities like this since they allow students to think critically about the topic and to form some opinions, making the movie even more interesting for them. When creating pre-viewing activities of your own, you might consider listening to music from the era and assigning a hands-on activity to get more of your students’ senses involved.

It’s helpful to have something for students to do during a movie viewing in class. I usually create an advanced organizer with questions to answer during the film. If you are expecting your students to give thoughtful answers, you might want to consider stopping the movie periodically to allow them to collect their thoughts. I find it helpful to preview the movie myself while answering the questions on the advanced organizer to be sure I know where I should pause the movie. For question ideas for Freedom Riders, please see WGBH’s teacher’s guide. The guide includes detailed readings and open-ended questions that require students to think about the people involved in the Rides and what they would have done if placed in the same situation as these young people were put in during the early 60’s. The guide also tells you when to stop the movie to allow time for students to answer questions.

What is your goal in showing a movie like Freedom Riders in your classroom? If you are aiming to inspire social action and build students’ character, your post-viewing activity should reflect that. I like the final reading and questions in the guide, and I think you could build a valuable activity from one group of questions in particular. These questions read:

“What do you see as the civil rights struggles of today? How might these issues be addressed? What role might the courts play? What role might individuals and groups play? To what extent is the philosophy of nonviolence a useful way to address today’s challenges?"

Mahatma Gandhi inspired the nonviolent tactics used by CORE in the planning of the Freedom Rides. After students think about the questions from WGBH, try helping them discover an issue of social injustice they want to change. One example I immediately thought of is bullying, but your students may have plenty of other ideas. Guide them to think about how far they would be willing to go to change that issue. They can come up with a plan of action, and depending on how much time you can dedicate, they can turn the plan in, actually carry the plan out, create a song or skit about the injustice, or do something else that you feel would get them to think about the situation deeply and to empathize with the people involved.

Watching a movie like Freedom Riders can bring history alive. Watching the movie, answering open-ended questions, participating in discussions, and creating a plan of action for current social issues will help your students understand that they are a part of history.

When you are looking for quality activities and other resources, search The Gateway to 21st Century Skills to find ones that meet your needs. The Gateway has a Standards Suggestions Tool, so you will be able to see how each activity meets your state standards. We have featured resources each week on a particular topic and we support these resources with two columns on the home page that will help you bring that topic into the classroom. We announce other pertinent resources daily on our Facebook and Twitter pages. If you would like to read about any of our past topics, you can read them on our blog. We hope you will join our community and be part of the conversation!

~Peggy's Corner - 5/14/2011~

Freedom Fighters

The early 1960s was a tumultuous time in modern civilization, and especially in American history. The American presence in Vietnam was rapidly increasing, violent crime statistics rose dramatically, riots blighted many urban areas, and racism was still prevalent in many parts of the country. After the quiet social conformity and conservatism of the 1950s, the upheaval of the sixties shocked many people and brought about a maelstrom of social change.

In 1960, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Boynton v Virginia that segregation in interstate bus and rail stations was unconstitutional. Despite the ruling, many stations in the southern U.S. continued to maintain separate terminals for blacks and whites, and many buses still designated “blacks only” seating. Determined to focus national attention on the lingering racial discrimination, the first Freedom Ride rolled out of Washington, DC on May 4, 1961. These Freedom Riders consisted of seven black and six white activists seated in two public buses, all intent on testing the effect of the Supreme Court’s ruling in the deep south. The Riders experienced a relatively quiet trip until the second week of their journey, when they began to endure severe beatings, jail terms, the torching of buses, and complete indifference by many police forces and medical staff through parts of Alabama and Mississippi. While the Freedom Riders never made it to their ultimate destination in New Orleans, their courage, determination, and strict code of non-violence sparked many supporters, and ultimately forced the U.S. government to end the abuse and enforce civil rights laws.

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Freedom Rides. Several reunions and functions are planned to commemorate the event, and to celebrate the 400 black and white Americans who ultimately participated in the Rides. There is also a great deal of buzz about a new PBS American Experience documentary entitled Freedom Riders, which will premiere nationwide on May 16, 2011. This WGBH production explores in depth the Rides, the people involved in the movement, and the social issues that fueled the movement. This week, I’ve selected three resources for various grade levels that feature age-appropriate lessons about the Freedom Rides. Please be sure to check out our Facebook and Twitter pages as well, as we’ll be featuring several new lessons, activities, and other resources on the Freedom Rides each day for the entire week.

Democracy in Action
Subjects: Civics, U.S. history
Grade: 9-12
Despite federal laws outlawing racial segregation, interstate bus travel through the American South in 1961 still reinforced segregated sections in buses and terminals. In the spring of that year, a group of civil rights activists (Freedom Riders) rode buses into the South to challenge this ingrained bigotry and challenge the local customs that allowed racism to continue. This teacher's guide examines the Freedom Riders and who they were, the social climate in America in the early 1960s, how the media influenced political and social events, and how citizens can shape democracy. The teacher's guide is meant to accompany the 2011 film "The Freedom Riders" produced by WGBH, the flagship Boston PBS station. Please note that this teacher's guide does contain some offensive language and terms relating to race. The authors of the guide decided to include the "N" word to honestly communicate the harshness of the bigoted language of the time. This guide was produced by WGBH and Facing History, a global organization that works with teachers to develop curricula to combat racism and bigotry and promote involved and humane citizenry. WGBH produces myriad educational television shows, including American Experience, the nation’s longest-running history television series. WGBH also produces educational materials for teachers.

Civil Rights: Freedom Riders
Subjects: Civics, U.S. History
Grade: 3-4
Students learn about the civil rights movement in the United States, with particular focus on the Freedom Riders in 1961. Students will learn about some of the men and women who made great personal sacrifices to stand up for what they believed, even when it was scary and difficult to do so. The lesson also contains many suggestions and adaptations for students with limited proficiency in English, as well as below grade-level students.
This lesson was created by Teacher Created Materials, which publishes quality research-based educational resources in all curriculum areas for teachers and students at all grade and skill levels. They also offer some free lesson plans and other educational resources.

The Freedom Riders
Subjects: Civics, US History
Grade: 6-8, 9-12
In this lesson, students will use a primary source — an NBC news report from 1961 — to investigate the Freedom Rides, and to explore segregation in the South and the tenets of nonviolent protest. This lesson contains adaptations for grades 6-8 and 9-12.
This lesson was created by Teaching Tolerance, a division of the Southern Poverty Law Center. Teaching Tolerance is dedicated to reducing prejudice, improving intergroup relations, and supporting equitable school experiences for students. They also provide free educational materials to teachers and other school practitioners in the U.S. and abroad.

~Joann's Picks - 5/14/2011~

Thursday, May 12, 2011

The Genes Will Tell: Take it to the Lab!

The study of genetics and heredity has been a part of science curriculum for quite a while now. Biology teachers can use the experiments and discoveries of Gregor Mendel along with Darwin’s explanation of natural selection to teach students the inner workings of genetics and heredity. Although I find the subject fascinating, students may tire of doing endless homozygous and heterozygous crosses on worksheets. Some of these worksheets and “boring” lessons can be replaced by some of the unique activities featured in Joann’s Picks and on our Facebook and Twitter pages this week. For example, instead of figuring out what the offspring of two pea plants will look like, students can learn the same concepts by working out crosses between characters in the Harry Potter books! If students aren’t excited about figuring out the phenotypes and genotypes of real animals, maybe they would learn better with Dragon Genetics. Joann will be featuring many more fun resources like this throughout the week.

With today’s technology and a much more detailed understanding of DNA and the human genome, students can go beyond punnet squares and Mendelian genetics to actually work with DNA. This is possible, even for classes with limited lab supplies. Movies and television shows are full of crimes and medical mysteries being solved with DNA analysis. What if our students had a chance work with DNA and learn how to use it to solve a mystery? Here is a sampling of resources that can help you do just that. Most of these activities were written for high school students, but some middle school clsasses could use them also.

Students can extract DNA from living organisms found in their own kitchens (and I’m not talking about that moldy bread in the pantry!). There are some well-written and easy to follow lab activities on the Gateway to help your students extract DNA from different fruits (Fruitful DNA Extraction) or an onion (Isolation of DNA from an Onion). This is a neat opportunity to see and even feel a real sample of DNA.

The shows on TV aren’t pinning crimes on produce, though, and we don’t have a crime scene with DNA evidence for our students to collect. The next best thing we can do on a low budget is a computer simulation that allows students to conduct a virtual experiment. PBS has a nice simulation to supplement a NOVA program. This simulation, Create a DNA Fingerprint, requires Shockwave, which is a free download from Adobe. This is an online crime-solving activity where students get first hand experience with cutting edge lab work without the expense of all the lab equipment. By the end of the experiment, the students have created a DNA fingerprint to compare to all the suspects. I recommend trying the lab ahead of time. I got the right culprit the first time!

One of the techniques in the above simulation is called electrophoresis, an important step in the process of creating a DNA fingerprint. If you are lucky enough to have a very well-stocked biology lab, you could do activities like Extracting and Analyzing Our Own DNA from the University of Arizona. These activities allow high school students to extract and analyze their own DNA with agarose gel electrophoresis, along with other labs. The activities culminate with a case study of Harris hawks in the southwest United States. If you want to do a simple activity with electrophoresis using household supplies, try building an electrophoresis chamber from The Gene Hunters. Students will have fun doing some of these crime-solving techniques they see on TV.

A while ago, we featured resources about the Russian Revolution in our columns. I found a neat connection to this topic as I was searching the Gateway for genetics activities. Recovering the Romanovs is an introduction to a genetics unit using the Romanov family. Students study the way scientists can use the link between DNA and hemophilia to separate the real Romanovs from the imposters. If your students studied the Russian Revolution, this would be a really neat cross-curricular connection.

~Peggy's Corner - 5/6/2011~

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

How Do Your Genes Fit?

One of the favorite pastimes of my parents and in-laws is to scrutinize my children and remark how each child resembles their respective sides of the family. My parents feel strongly that their grandchildren take after “our side” of the family in looks and temperament, while my in-laws feel equally firm that the children are much more like my husband and “their side”. I’m sure this same scenario is played out ad naseum in families worldwide; one wonders what happens in families with less-than attractive children.

Aside from providing families with endless hours of entertainment and debate, genetics and heredity are an important part of every student’s science education. Our genes are like little blueprints that provide instructions to our bodies and determine our physical traits. Humans, for example, have between 20,000-25,000 genes. Most organisms encode their genes on long strings of DNA called chromosomes, and there are hundreds (or sometimes thousands) of genes in each chromosome. In school, students learn about genes and patterns of inheritance by using Punnett Squares or other diagrams to help predict the likelihood of certain traits being passed down from parents to offspring. It’s a nice, visual way of keeping track of dominant and recessive traits, and of making sense of what can initially be intimidating material to learn.

The study of genetics has many applications for K-12 students. At the elementary level, kids study genetics to help understand where we come from, why we look the way we do, and why certain traits are inherent in some people and not others. For older students, learning about genetics helps them to explore concepts such as the selective breeding of animals and crops to promote healthier stock and medical research to help eradicate certain diseases and conditions. When I was in school, our genetics curriculum pretty much focused on Mendel’s work with cross-breeding selective strains of peas. While this material is still relevant, newer materials can offer additional ways to illustrate inherited traits in a fun way. This week I’ve selected three resources on genetics for various grade levels, each with a particularly fun or interesting twist that should appeal to kids. As always, I’ll be featuring several new resources each day on this topic throughout the week on our Facebook and Twitter pages, so please be sure to check in frequently.

Traits Bingo
Subjects: Genetics
Grade: 3-12
In this activity, students learn about genetics as they play a Bingo game where they inventory their own inherited traits. One of the nice things about this resource is that it is available in both English and Spanish. This resource is a product of the Genetic Science Learning Center at the University of Utah, which offers online activities, labs, experiments, and workshops for students, teens, and all others curious about genetics.

Bikini Bottom Genetics
Subjects: Genetics
Grade: 8-12
What happens when SpongeBob SquarePants marries SpongeSusie RoundPants? Students apply their knowledge of genetics to complete this worksheet to reveal what kinds of traits the respective offspring of SpongeBob, Squidward, Mr. Krabbs, and Patrick might have. This resource was produced by The Science Spot, a Web site designed by 8th grade science teacher Tracy Trimpe. The site offers science lessons, news, puzzles, teaching tips, and other materials.

Genetic Phenotypes of the Superheroes
Subject: Genetics
Grade: 7-9
Genetic differences exist in us all. In this lesson, students learn about phenotypes and genotypes, and that both the environment and our genotypes interact to make us what we are. Students will each research a male and female superhero and develop a list of physical traits and characteristics that these superheroes have in common, and also those unique to that individual. Students will then simulate a genetic cross of their two superheroes. This lesson is offered by TeachersFirst, which provides K-12 lesson plans and professional development resources for teachers. All materials on the site are reviewed by teachers.

~Joann's Picks - 5/6/2011~

Monday, May 2, 2011

Gifts and Talents

All of us do not have equal talent, but all of us should have an equal opportunity to develop our talent. – John Fitzgerald Kennedy

What does it mean to be “gifted?” According to the National Association for Gifted Children, “Gifted individuals are those who demonstrate outstanding levels of aptitude or competence in one or more domains.” So, are these always the bright, motivated, A-students in your class? Not necessarily. Are they students who are meeting their full potential? Not always. Are they identified as “gifted,” so a teacher knows to make special accommodations? In a perfect world, yes, but in the current economic situation schools have fewer resources than ever to identify and support this special population of students.

Gifted students have an amazing potential that can only be reached if educators are able to find ways to motivate and support the student to excel. Without this support, many gifted students get bored and stop trying. There are some special schools for profoundly gifted students who are identified by exceptionally high scores on tests like the Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children, the Stanford Binet Intelligence Test, and the SAT or ACT tests. More often, gifted students are served by regular schools with pull-out programs that meet once a week with a teacher trained to work with gifted learners. These programs (often called GATE, TAG, REACH, or G/T) are very nice for extending students learning. In schools that don’t have pull-out programs (and for the 4 days a week your gifted students are in the regular classroom all day), it’s up to the regular classroom teacher to find ways to challenge and encourage these gifted students to meet their full potential.

You may not have received special training in gifted education (in fact, only a little more than half of teachers have formal training in gifted education), but many of the techniques you probably learned in your teacher preparation program can be especially effective for gifted students. Interestingly, some of the best teaching techniques used in mainstream classrooms come from the study of gifted and talented education. These techniques include differentiation, grouping, cooperative learning, and acceleration, among others. These techniques have been documented to work well for gifted and mainstream students. Incorporating techniques like this in your classroom will be a benefit for all of your students.

Since gifted students can excel in different areas, with some excelling in multiple areas, there is no one-size-fits-all solution for providing support for these students in your classroom. For some teachers, it’s easier to “teach to the middle,” but differentiating your curriculum for different types if learners is much more effective. You don’t have to spend a lot of time modifying each activity you offer, just be flexible and allow the students’ abilities to be your guide.

When students struggle with a topic, you probably spend more time on it to reinforce the learning. If some students excel in the topic, make it a habit to help them dig deeper into the topic while others are reviewing. How can we encourage students to dig deeper?

- Ask open-ended questions
- Allow them extra research time in the library and online.
- Find “experts” in the subject that students can interview or shadow. This can be done in person, on the telephone or Skype, or through email.
- Find an academic competition for your students to explore the topic further. There are many competitions that challenge students in different ways. Some of these competitions include Future Problem Solving, Spelling or Geography Bees, National History Day, Science Olympiad, Math Counts, Odyssey of the Mind, Academic Decathlon, and more.

Some lessons or units just don’t “click” with certain students. How can we make topics engaging for more students?

- Challenge students to use different levels of thinking. Review Blooms Taxonomy, and try to connect activities in each lesson to the 6 levels of thinking. This will help you challenge all different types of students.
- Instead of assigning a particular project at the end of a unit, allow students to choose from a list of project ideas.
- If a student is bored with a topic they already understand, consider allowing that student to skip some assignments on the topic in order to have time for an independent project that will extend the learning on that particular topic. (curriculum compacting)

You may be having a hard time getting through to a gifted student in your class. I found some good insight from the National Association for Gifted Children. Their page includes information for parents and teachers as well as resources and activities, many of which we will catalogue for easy discovery on the Gateway. Hoagie’s Gifted Education Page is also a good place to start learning about “all things gifted.”

Our students are our future. If we support and challenge them, our high-achieving students have the potential to be great innovators, leaders, and teachers for the next generation. When you are looking for inspiring activities to challenge this special population of students, don’t forget to search the Gateway. We would love to hear what works well for you, so don’t forget to join us on Facebook and Twitter.

~Peggy's Corner - 4/29/2011~

Unwrapping the Gift(ed)

There is nothing more unequal than the equal treatment of unequal people
-- Thomas Jefferson

There are many hot button issues in education, but one of the most controversial topics is gifted education. Defining “giftedness,” and what to do with gifted students, is often a highly politicized and polarizing process. Education experts often disagree on how to appropriately measure giftedness in students, and those who push for gifted and talented programs in schools are often charged with elitism. Gifted education is not mandated in many states, so those school districts are not required to budget for it. As a result, gifted students are often overlooked; since they are “excelling” in their current programs, they are frequently left to shift for themselves, essentially ignored while human and fiscal resources are diverted elsewhere.

The idea that gifted students need less teaching and school resources is pervasive in American society. Parents and educators who lobby for the creation of gifted and talented programs generally receive little sympathy or support from the parents of non-gifted students, as well as from educators who already face tight school budgets. Yet the problems inherent in under-challenging students are of equal importance to the problems faced by special needs students who require additional support and resources in order to learn the curriculum. Students who are under-challenged in school often exhibit the same behaviors as students who are struggling academically – they become bored, lose interest in school, and may exhibit signs of depression and behavioral problems. Gifted students, because they are academically advanced, are also frequently assumed to be advanced in all areas. Instead, gifted students may struggle socially, desperately wanting to bond with classmates, but often rebuffed because they are perceived as “geeks.” Gifted students can also exhibit an inability to communicate at grade level, causing further isolation from their peers.

Schools that don’t offer formal TAG programs sometimes offer modified work, extra work, or enrichment classes for their gifted students. Teachers can provide modified assignments and/or challenge problems and assignments for their high-level students (or all students), and some schools offer more formalized programs, such as Math Olympiad, Odyssey of the Mind, science fairs, and the like. While enrichment programs sometimes receive criticism for requiring gifted students to do extra work rather than the same amount of work at a higher level, such programs can still fill a gap if the school does not offer other options for gifted kids. If a school allows, gifted students can also engage in independent study programs, or learning sessions comprised of other high-ability classmates with similar interests.

Most public school teachers will experience the pleasures and the challenges of both special needs students and gifted students at some point in their careers, and often in the same class. It’s extremely difficult to meet the needs of all students in a heterogeneous classroom, especially without teaching aides. But teachers should resist, as much as humanly possible, the temptation to just teach to the middle, and leaving both high-achieving students and those who need more support floundering at the periphery. Creating a repository of challenge problems and assignments that require higher-thinking skills ahead of time can help address the gifted students, and keep them engaged and challenged in class. This week I’m featuring three resources written specifically for gifted and talented students. Please be sure to check out our Facebook and Twitter pages as well, as I’ll be featuring several new lessons, activities, and other resources on gifted education each day for the next week.

Not Just for Gods and Goddesses: Greece Enrichment
Subjects: Language Arts, Geography,
Grade: 2 Gifted
This unit is designed as an extension of a second grade Ancient Greece theme. The students will learn vocabulary using the alphabet and words of Greek origin, enrich their research and creative writing skills, create topographical cookie maps and perform original theatrical monologues. This lesson was produced by the CoreKnowledge Foundation, an independent, nonprofit, and nonpartisan organization that publishes educational books and materials for educators.

The “T” in Art is for Thinking
Subjects: Visual Art, Research skills
Grade: 4-8 Gifted
This lesson provides fourth through eighth grade gifted and talented students with a research-based project, and can also be used with art and language arts students from sixth through ninth grade. Students will design and create a slideshow presentation as a vehicle for analyzing a painting. Using the art criticism process, students will describe and analyze the art elements and principles of design and provide an interpretation of a painting of their choice. Biographical information about the artist and contextual knowledge concerning the art period/movement and the associated historical times may be included. This lesson is a product of ALEX, the Alabama Learning Exchange, which is an education portal that provides lesson plans, best practices, and Alabama professional development activities. This lesson is aligned to Alabama state content standards.

To Be Or Not to Be: A Lesson Plan Written for Peter L. Fischl's Poster Poem:
"To the Little Polish Boy Standing with His Arms Up"
Subjects: English, Research skills
Grade: 9-12 Gifted
In this lesson, students will read, analyze, and discuss the poem “To the Little Polish Boy Standing With His Arms Up” by Peter L. Fischl. Some topics of the lesson include identifying victims, bystanders, and perpetrators in the poem, analyzing the author’s use of music, painting, sculpture, and repetition in the poem, and to speculate about the author’s desire for revenge. This lesson is offered by the Holocaust Teacher Resource Center, an organization which strives to combat prejudice and bigotry by transforming the horrors of the Holocaust into positive lessons. This site is sponsored by the Holocaust Education Foundation, Inc.

~Joann's Picks - 4/29/2011~