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Thursday, February 23, 2012

Current Events Prompt Critical Thinking!

I remember “doing” current events back in my day (you know – when the current event was “new vaccine for polio” or “teacher burned when stoking the coal fire”).   We tore them out of the paper, identified the who, what, where and why and if called upon read them aloud in class.  I don’t ever think that I connected the current event to my studies or to my life.  Today students are bombarded with current events in every way imaginable.  Teachers that make the connections in their classroom, reap the rewards. 

Award-winning Lesson

One such teacher is MaryAnn Molishus from Goodnoe Elementary School in Newtown, PA.  Just like many other teachers, Mrs. Molishus set up a bulletin board to welcome her students (with the help of her daughter).  The graffiti style lettering and a local news report on vandalism in her town inspired a critical thinking problem solving project for her students.  What better way to help her 5th graders understand the essential questions “How do rules protect individual rights as well as meet the needs of society?” And “What are the responsibilities of a good citizen?” than to help her students see this popular art form from different perspectives.

Teaching Perspectives

Maryanne developed a scenario for the SCAN tool with four perspectives (art historian, property owner, graffiti artist, and police officer) and enriched the lesson with some online resources.  Using the online discussion tool, students explored the issues and suggested solutions to the problem.
Maryann was thrilled that “they not only learned about this community issue but learned to discuss a topic, consider other points of view, stay on point while chatting online and understand that there are many facets to one issue.”  To further enrich the lesson, students went on to examine new proposed legislation set to ban the sale of spray paint to minors in their home state.  They were encouraged to determine a position on the new law and write to their government officials to persuade them to vote for or against the law. Now, that’s making a lesson rigorous and relevant!

Reaping the Rewards!

Mrs. Molishus was able to integrate community issues, reading, writing, research, government, digital and community citizenship starting with a current event and the SCAN tool from TregoED.  She not only addressed the standards that students must meet in social studies, but also encouraged them to appreciate other perspectives and participate in the democratic process.  Kudos to you Mrs. Molishus for creating a lesson that gets them thinking and congratulations to your students on a job well done!

Note:  You can find Mrs. Molishus' lesson "Graffiti:  Freedom of Expression or Vandalism?" in the TregoED SCAN library

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Find the time to upgrade your lessons for the 21st Century

Over the last few weeks, I have heard some great ideas for making my lessons more effective in the classroom.  I am not resistant to change and technology integration, but like most, I don’t always have time for all of the logistics.  Guess what, I just found the time!
This is my lucky month.  No excuses!  I have an extra day!  Inspired by Heidi Hayes Jacobs (at FETC) I am going to take one small step and upgrade just one lesson for the 21st Century. Why not ask your principal if you could leap over one faculty meeting and spend the time upgrading the content, skills and assessments to bring it into 21st Century ?  Surely you have one lesson that could use an overhaul!   Technology can provide ideas, content, tools to help you do just that.

Looking for some ideas?  Visit  for a comprehensive library of lessons that reflect upgrades in content, delivery, and assessments.

Upgrade your content by linking to videos from youtube or schooltube to give students a visual introduction to lessons.  Use Google News to search for current events on specific topics.  Visit the Library of Congress site to find primary documents.  There are many new ways to upgrade your content.  Did you know that Wikipedia is now considered as reliable as Encyclopedia Britannica?

Incorporate the 4C’s – creativity, collaboration, critical thinking and communication.
Is brainstorming part of your lesson?  Use wallwisher, linoit, or edistorm – simple post it note tools.  Students can see each other’s postings, reflect and comment on them.  Media and other resources can be attached to postings.

Do you hold class discussions?  Get kids started with a prompt in a discussion tool, like Collaborize Classroom  including visuals, informational text, etc to start the discussion at home.  Collaborize Classroom, a free discussion platform has a whole library of high quality questions that can be copied to your classroom site with the push of a button.

Are you looking for problem or challenge based learning?  Use the SCAN tool at TregoED to teach students a problem solving strategy based on the acronym SCAN.  Use the free problem based scenarios to have your students participate in a session practicing true collaboration.  Lessons are easy to set up and students just log in with a screen name (no registration, passwords, etc.)

No matter what you chose to upgrade, technology can decrease your workload, increase student engagement and give them opportunities to practice 21st century skills within the content.

Take advantage of of leap day!  Take the time to take the first step.  (And while you’re at it, why not ask your principal to take the leap and let you use the time at another faculty meeting sharing your successes?)

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Give Me 5 - Critical thinking at its best!

This was their challenge:  Give me 5!

This is what it is all about!  The most impressive workshop I attended at TCEA was presented by students from Dublin ISD, TX.   It was inspiring to see the real tangible benefits of putting technology tools in the hands of students and focusing on 21st century skills.  It was like watching 21st century skills in 3D!
The challenge was based on these five skills:  Challenge, Collaborate, Research, Create and Assessment.   The students selected and effectively leveraged simple web tools in unique ways to achieve their goals.  The challenge they chose was to connect the schools and community to increase pride and school spirit.  They focused on the rich history of the town (home of the original Dublin Dr. Pepper) by connecting the schools with local museums.

Collaborate, Connect and Research
 How wonderful to see the students select and use the tools to do the job rather than have the 2.0 tools retrofitted to the project.  They started the challenge by brainstorming solutions to problems in both their school and local community.  Inspired by Steve Jobs, they sought to think globally and act locally.
They began their collaboration using TodaysMeet , a simple online meeting room to brainstorm solutions to community challenges from their school community to their local community.  This allowed them to post ideas, comment on posts and contribute 24-7 to the conversation.  They also used project share  as their workspace to “virtually” meet and share ideas, resources, etc.
Understanding the power of social media in their world, they chose to use Twitter (developing hashtags) and  Facebook to get the word out and increase school spirit, connect to local museums and increase community pride.  They also used Twitterfall  to research attitudes towards the Dublin Dr. Pepper plant shutting down production of the original Dublin Dr. Pepper recipe.  They continue to use these communication tools to improve school spirit and student participation by announcing school events, news, etc.

One of their solutions was to strengthen the connection between local museums and the schools.  Working closely with local museums, they created content, and contributed to off-site curriculum centers.  They made QR codes to link artifacts and information using Beetagg and Kaywa.    The created videos and posted them on schooltube to promote school spirit.

Are they making a difference?  In order to find this out, they used polleverywhere, a place to get responses to questions via text messages, to gather data about the success of their campaigns.  I have no doubt that this project will go further.
Bottom line, under the guidance of Jennifer Miller, these students were given the opportunity to problem solve, choosing tools to create an impact beyond their classroom doors.  This teacher has provided a true training ground for the 21st century.  No doubt, these kids will go far!

Friday, February 3, 2012

Making Black History Month Relevant to Teens

Want to make your black history month studies more relevant to your students? Get them to think historically by getting them to “walk a mile in someone else's shoes.” 

Check out these great resources to get your kids talking about the Little Rock Nine- nine black students their age who were among the first to step foot in white schools after sixty years of “separate but equal” laws.

Start the discussion

Check out this Collaborize Classroom topic from the TregoED library “Put Yourself in the Shoes of the Little Rock Nine” which uses an interview with Melba Beals – as she describes her point of view as one of the Little Rock Nine students.
Follow it up with the free lesson:  “Desegregating Schools:  A Historical Perspective” from the SCAN library at TregoED.  Students will discuss the issues of desegregation through the eyes of Linda Brown, parents, community members and local police as they work to resolve the problems that occurred when the schools had to desegregate with “all deliberate speed.”

More Resources: 

Primary documents:
Children’s nonfiction titles:
Online curriculum:
Background information:

Relevance and rigor:  the key to keeping kids engaged and thinking!

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Celebrating Digital Learning Together

Students in Mrs. Portland’s class in Pottsville Area High School, recently celebrated Digital Learning day by joining in a classroom discussion with students hundreds of miles away at Mt. Olive High School in NJ.  Digital Learning Day, organized the Alliance for Excellent Education, is a “nationwide celebration of innovative teaching and learning through digital media and technology that engages students and provides them with a rich, personalized educational experience.”  On Digital Learning Day thousands of teachers and nearly two million students joined in encouraging digital learning by trying something new and showcasing their success.

Classroom Discussions in the Cloud
Students used the SCAN tool, designed by TregoED to promote critical thinking on complex issues, to examine the issue of cell phones in schools from four different perspectives.  As they played the roles of teachers, administrators, students and parents they brought out the issues, benefits and drawbacks, of using cell phones in school and collaborated on ideas to develop a working policy or plan to resolve those issues.  As students used screen names and avatars, they could not differentiate their classmates from their peers at the other high school.   Unlike a regular classroom discussion where some students may overshadow others, online discussions include all participants in the discussion.  The SCAN tool walks students through a problem solving process in an engaging Facebook-like platform.  

Many issues were brought out during the discussion including the use of smart phones for research and emergencies, as well as the distractions that they could cause in the classroom. Students made many suggestions that would allow for their use, and take care of the problems they might cause. 

Putting 21st Century Skills into Practice
This inter-school collaboration was a great example of using digital learning to strengthen the learning experience.  As all students were thoughtfully engaged in the discussion of the potential impact and pitfalls of the beloved cell phone in the classroom, they were also practicing using the 21st Century Skills of communication, problem solving, collaboration and good digital citizenship.