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Friday, December 30, 2011

Simple Ways to Exemplify Good Character

Sometimes people fear technology because they say that we need more face-to-face time, more personal contact time, etc.   Kids need to learn how to interact with each other in both worlds.  Skills that you teach them, such as communication and collaboration, are equally important in the physical and the virtual classroom.  Creating a safe and caring environment through mutual respect is also the basis of any classroom.  But what does that look like?

The Caring Environment
Do you have to be a child psychologist and delve into their personal lives?   Do we need to take the time to teach character?   Do you have to share details of your personal life in order to prove yourself human?  The fact is that we are always teaching – as parents, as adults, as educators.  As Barry Schwartz points out in his TED talk on practical wisdom, “the camera is always on.”  We have to do more than recognize and address bullying; we have to embody good character.  What does that look like in the classroom?
I have had the opportunity to teach with all kinds of top-notch characters in my 33 years.  I love the diversity of style, personality, and instruction that each of us brings to the classroom.  When it comes to demonstrating and earning respect, one colleague stands out.  This person was passionate about American history.  She was tough and had very high standards. Many students were shocked to earn their first C ever in social studies.  There were never any discipline problems or behavior nonsense coming out of her class.  I remember there was always a line of concerned parents to see her at conference time.    What I also remember is that when there were former students in the building, they always wanted to go see her! 

What was her secret? 
Was she giving out candy?  How could she be so tough and yet command such high respect and admiration?  Why did they like her and her class so much?  Then I started to notice, she did the little things.  She greeted every one of her students by name at the door.  She knew their names on the second day of class.  She was passionate about her teaching.  She showed them that she cared:  she cared about them both as individuals and cared about their education. She made them feel that the 40 minutes she had with them was the most urgent 40 minutes of the day.  Her time and their time with her were very valuable.  Her enthusiasm and refusal to get sucked into nonsense that takes away from learning was catching.    Students rarely left her class, not because they were not allowed, but because she made them feel it was too important to miss.

What Can You Do?
I know that there was a lot more learning going on in that classroom than the objectives written on the board.   Could it be that simple?  Could these simple demonstrations of character, caring and a passion for what you are teaching make such a difference?  It sure seems like a good start.  What better way to begin a New Year?
cross posted on Technology Integration in Education

Friday, December 23, 2011

Discussing Discussions

As an old dog, always looking for a new trick, technology has taken on a large role in my professional development.  Beyond the faculty room and my colleagues, workshops, blogs, classroom, and webinars, this year I have discovered the discussion group to be one of the most valuable tools in my professional development tool box.  While I shied away from being involved in the original discussion groups on listservs, email groups that focused on one subject area, I have discovered that there are many online discussion groups full of great educators with all kinds of expertise, just waiting to give you advice and support at the click of the mouse.   Most recently, educators in the Teaching Writing Forum on the English Companion Ning had a great discussion centered on Problem Based Research.  All it took was a simple question – Have you done this?  How does it work? - to let the learning begin.  The input on this conversation ranged from great idea starters, mechanics, critical thinking strategies, to assessment.  Beyond the discussion forum, groups form around common interests and you can sort them by most active, etc.  What a great way to share ideas and resources!  In this community alone, there are 46 groups ranging from “Free to Educators” to “Collaborative Projects.”   Some of the other communities where I have found supportive, creative, active, and practical groups are the ISTE Community Ning,, and LinkedIn.   Check them out!  Find a group and get in on the action.  You will find the feedback and creativity of these collaborative groups to be invaluable in professional growth as you do not have to reinvent the wheel.  Why not take advantage of the free advice of your colleagues and share some of your own?  Hmmmm...maybe I should start a discussion group on discussion groups!  What's your favorite?

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Ripped from the Headlines

How do we keep our lessons relevant and rigorous?  Use information ripped from the headlines and a critical thinking strategy. 
Some of the best lessons are ones that apply the skills we are teaching to relevant scenarios.  Just looking at the headlines for today, I can see at least 10 engaging complex situations that students could use to practice their problem solving skills.  Current events can and should be used to increase our student’s exposure to informational text across the disciplines, as required in the common core.
 Today’s headlines include obvious connections with science, social studies and language arts curricula.  Quick discussions in science can come from posing questions that will apply scientific principals and environmental issues to the news – Should we have a bear hunt to control populations? Should parents opt out of children’s vaccinations?   Should raw milk be legal?  Who is responsible for paying for flood damage?  Should fracking be allowed? 
In social studies, current events can be used to look at current laws, cultural diversity, and society -What are the criminal charges resulting from a suicide in connection with cyberbullying?  Should Egypt ban the drinking of alcohol, bikinis and mixed bathing for tourists? Should local police in Arizona help enforce immigration laws? Should we change marriage licensing laws to take advantage of wedding tourism?  What can be done to decrease the amount of homeless children? Should people be able to bet from their computers or cell phones? Each of these news items give perspectives on complex issues that ask our students to think beyond just facts. 
 Language arts teachers are given the daunting task of keeping our students engaged in reading and writing everyday.  All of these current events can be used in the language arts classroom to increase reading and comprehension of informational texts.  Using the SCAN critical thinking strategy rather than the usual: who, what, where, when, how, and why, students will not only gain a deeper understanding of the problem but they can take their thinking one step further and propose their own solutions.
Using the SCAN strategy is easy (SCAN-See the issues, Clarify the issues, Ask yourself what’s important, and Now, what should be done?).  You can provide a simple, relevant lesson by having students read the article,highlight or research perspectives (from the article or other sources), brainstorm the issues, clarify the issues, determine what is most important and propose what should be done.   
Check out this great article about a school policy on cell phones.  The article includes points of view from board members, the board attorney, students and parents.  There are also some great opinions expressed in the comment section! 
To use SCAN with “no tech,” have students read a hard copy of the article, put them in groups to represent a point of view and discuss the issues. They can record their issues on paper or on poster sheets.   Jigsaw students so that each point of view is represented in a group and have them clarify their issues, determine which issues are most important by voting with dots from different color markers on the issue lists. Have students work together to determine what action should be taken.  A simple article is the basis of a simple lesson that includes active reading, critical thinking, collaboration, and relevant content! 
Go high tech and have students discuss the issues online through the SCAN online tool.  The lesson is free through this month.  Simply go to, (register-it’s free), and set up the lesson through your dashboard, print out a student worksheet, give students the url and they will be guided through the SCAN process online!
Either way, combining current events and critical thinking is a simple way to bring rigor and relevance to your classroom!

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Bill of Rights 2.0

Does the Bill of Rights need to “catch up with the times?”  How does the Bill of Rights, written 200 years before Facebook and Twitter, apply to the digital age?
December 15th is the day that the Bill of Rights was ratified in 1791.  This is a great day for us all to examine whether or not the document is still relevant today.  Do your students know their (Bill of) rights?  Use these teen-related current events to get your students reading, writing, discussing, and understanding how the Bill of Rights applies to them .

Can they do that?  Use these links to get the conversation going.
A teenage girl tweets her 60 followers about her impressions of the Governor (with some expletives).  The governor calls her principal.  Should she be disciplined?   See news clips on Youtube

A 21 year old male vents about having his car towed by creating a Facebook group page against the towing company.  Can he be sued for defamation

A high school senior posts a parody of his principal by creating a fake Myspace page.  Should he be suspended? 

Other Resources to use with Students
Check out these resources for other games, lessons and activities to celebrate Bill of Rights Day:
In response to a parent call to the school, all lockers are searched.  Now one student is suspended for having his Boy Scout knife in his coat pocket.  Should he be punished?  Have students discuss this FREE SCAN lesson “Locker Search and the Fourth Amendment” from different perspectives.  Set up the lesson for your private online discussion at
Smartboard lesson:
Games and Lessons:
Freedom of Tweets lesson
Technology has changed our way of communicating and has made reaching the masses very easy.  Our students should be aware of what protections they have under our Bill of Rights AND should think about what, if any, changes should be made to meet the needs of this new digital age.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Want kids to think historically? Go to the Source!

   When trying to get students to think critically about historical events, what better place to start than primary sources?  As the new Common Core Standards call for increased reading of challenging informational texts in a range of subject areas, teachers will be looking for easy access to primary documents and strategies to help our student’s comprehension of this type of reading.   Simple strategies that ask questions of our students help to guide and document their thinking.
The Library of Congress ( provides sets of primary sources.   They also provide a “Teacher’s Guide and student worksheet ( with a strategy for helping our students think critically while using the documents.  The strategy is based on questions that will have students observe, reflect, and question.  
Thanks to Jennifer Hanson, Marcy Prager, and Ann Marie Gleeson from for sharing a number of wonderful links to primary documents, resource guides, articles and teaching strategies at their workshop at the recent NCSS Annual Conference.  PrimarySource also provides a series of questions and a student worksheet to guide critical thinking on informational texts. Their Primary Source Analysis worksheet provides questions to determine the what, when, who, why, and questions students may have.   They also provide classroom-ready activities for students on their site as well as great links to sites that provide primary sources.
TregoED provides a critical thinking strategy and online discussion tool that takes student thinking one step further.  The SCAN online discussion tool at allows teachers to link primary sources to lessons help students learn and appreciate point of view.  Students determine the issues that are important to each point of view represented, collaborate and analyze the actions that were taken and discuss possible alternatives to gain a deeper understanding of the event.  Students begin to think historically as they work through the questions from the SCAN critical thinking strategy (See the issues, Clarify the Issues, Ask What’s Important, and Now, what’s next?) on such events as the Boston Tea Party, Manifest Destiny, or the Patriot Act. 
Primary documents are a great way to increase student reading and comprehension of informational texts.  For links to more resources for primary documents, check out the resource tab in this livebinder.