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Monday, October 28, 2013

Witchful Thinking: Trick Them into Learning on Halloween

Lily Jones confesses to be a Halloween Grinch in her latest blog post, but there are plenty of creative teachers devising ways to mix the fun of the holiday in their witches’ cauldron.  The last #njed twitter discussion had my tweeps coming up with applications for every grade level and subject area. 

Ideas from the pumpkin patch
@principalarc had kids decorate pumpkins based on lit characters.  Here are some guidelines for that activity.
@mrnesi remembers predicting the volume of a pumpkin – other suggestions include counting ridges, seeds, graphing, averaging, and estimating with pumpkin seeds.

Or the candy store
Although some would rather not ruin their festivities with negative aspects of candy, you can do a lot of math with a bag of it:  count and graph, weigh for accuracy, look at nutritional information, calculate the calories in your trick or treat bag.

Or costumes from the old trunk upstairs
@wwpscience Theme it for the class. If reading a book with the class, costumes of characters. I gave credit for dressing up as scientists.
Dress as literary characters, scientists, historical figures, etc.
Or the science lab
Great experiements @dandanscience offers spooky science experiments
 @mrnesi – feely bags- record notes, make predictions.

Did I miss your subject area?
Of course, Jerry Blumengarten, better known as @Cybraryman1 has got you covered with his wonderful collection of links and resources for every aspect of Halloween. 
There are tons of potential writing prompts for Halloween, but what about the critical thinking component?  Are you hitting the common core?

Ratchet up their thinking
Let’s circle back to our self-proclaimed Grinch, what if your town was carefully considering cancelling Halloween?  This is the premise of the free SCAN lesson, “Should We Cancel Halloween?”  The scenario starts:
Due to some recent vandalism in your town, the town council is discussing canceling trick or treating this year.  You have been invited to the town meeting to decide what action should be taken.  After listening to the concerns of parents, students, police and council members you will help develop a plan of action for Halloween night.

Of course, using the SCAN tool, students would take on the roles of those in the meeting, visit web resources to gather evidence to support their point of view and discuss and clarify the issues online.  From this collaboration, they would decide what should be done.  Throw in a little civics with a discussion around whether the government has the right to cancel a holiday!   A little critical thinking, a little creativity and a little common core all swirled together in a witches brew!

To access this lesson and learn more about the SCAN online discussion tool, check out this short video.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Teachable Moment: 3 Things the Government Shutdown and Graffiti Have in Common

What does the government shutdown have to do with a graffiti artist in NYC?  First, both arise as teachable moments, an unplanned opportunity to connect social studies, language arts, and the arts to real world current events.  Second, resolution of the issues will take the ability to see other perspectives and compromise.  Third, they are both “complex situations” with plenty of different perspectives that can teach students to think critically about such questions as:
  • How do rules protect individual rights as well as meet the needs of society?
  • What are the responsibilities of a good citizen? 
  • What are the responsibilities of our leaders?
  • What are the lessons that can be learned from current events?
  • What role does social media or the media, in general, play in our perspective of events?

No time like the present
Many educators feel they might not have the time to talk about current events, but with increased expectations for critical thinking, evidence-based persuasive writing, and literacy skills in all subject areas, hot news stories can hook your students and encourage them to develop critical thinking around the issues. 

Embrace, deface or erase?
Look at the issues surrounding the famed (or infamous?) British graffiti artist, Banksy, who is taking up an “artist’s residency” this month in New York City.  Each day in October he is “installing” art in a New York City neighborhood.  The art, sometimes whimsical (he has painted “the musical” under some other NYC graffiti so that it read Playground Mob – the musical) or complex as the painting of horses at war with night vision goggles, or beautiful as this truck transformed into the ultimate diarama.  His graffiti/art is drawing crowds and creating quite a buzz in social media as people strive to discover and share it before it disappears.

Ask your students
Is this person an artist or a criminal?  Should his art be covered up or protected from other graffiti behind plexiglass?  Should we embrace or erase?  Are the people defacing his art any different? Being outside the law is part of his popularity, should he be stopped?

There is a great lesson in the SCAN library that can give your students a head start in their critical thinking.  The Graffiti:  Freedom of Expression or Vandalism? Scenario in the SCAN tool at provides 4 different perspectives, guiding critical thinking questions and a private discussion area for your class.  (The SCAN library holds over 100 other free scenarios that teachers can use with their classes.  For a short video about the tool or how to set up a lesson go to 
You can add these links to your lesson to provide background research to help students develop their perspective:

Video news clips:

News stories:

Don’t miss this opportunity to use this event as an opportunity to think critically about our laws and responsibilities as citizens as well as consider how compromise, civil discourse and different perspectives all come to play in the resolution of the problem.

Make another connection
Use these Best Resources on Compromise and Best Resources to help Understand the Federal Government Shutdown compiled by Larry Ferlazzo and posted on his blog “Websites of the Day” to take student thinking one step further.  How do those same essential questions apply to this situation?

NOTE:  The SCAN lesson library and discussion tool is 100% free to educators. This SCAN lesson was inspired by MaryAnne Molishus elementary class project