Teacher resources and professional development across the curriculum

Teacher professional development and classroom resources across the curriculum

Monthly Update sign up
Follow The Annenberg Learner on Facebook Follow Annenberg Learner on Twitter
Mailing List signup
Follow The Annenberg Learner on LinkedIn Follow The Annenberg Learner on Facebook Follow Annenberg Learner on Twitter

Writing Activity: Travel the Globe with Latitude Shoes

JN_latitude_shoesCheck out this writing project that’s a fun way to learn about latitude. Kathy Corn recently participated with her students at Mills River, Sugarloaf, and Hillandale Elementary schools in North Carolina.





“People everywhere are invited to put on a pair of Latitude Shoes and go for a ride. What would you see if you traveled around the world at your latitude? Write a story about your 24-hour adventure.

  • How fast and how far will you go?
  • Who lives at your latitude?
  • What countries will you visit?
  • What languages will you hear?
  • What seasons do you experience and what clothes do you need?
  • Everyone has the same photoperiod at your latitude, how does the climate compare?”

On the Journey North Web site, the page for this activity includes materials for the full activity; the science, reading and writing, and geography standards connections; a link to share your students’ stories; and a gallery of students’ illustrations and writing. This assignment could be used to assess what students have learned during Journey North’s Mystery Class.

How do you build a safe learning environment?

learningclassroom_5In this final Monday Motivation post for February, let’s reflect one more time on emotions and learning:

“How students feel affects whether and how they can learn. If they’re anxious or fearful they’re not going to be able to take in information. Teachers not only can learn to create a safe environment, they can learn to develop emotional intelligence. The students actually gain the skills of managing their emotions, solving conflicts, and interacting with others. And all of that can be taught and learned.”
Linda Darling-Hammond (Charles E. Ducommun Professor of Education at the Stanford University School of Education and adviser for The Learning Classroom)

For ideas on how to create an emotionally safe classroom to foster learning and how to deal with emotions and conflicts that can be an obstacle to learning, see The Learning Classroom: Theory Into Practice, session 5, “Feelings Count- Emotions and Learning.”

What are ways that you create emotionally safe, yet challenging, learning environments for your students?


Langston Hughes in Focus

LangstonHughes_Teaching Multicultural Lit_6

Writer Langston Hughes believed that art should be accessible to all. He used his poetic voice to speak to all Americans about racial, political, and economic justice. Biographer Arnold Rampersad wrote of Hughes, “His art was firmly rooted in race pride and race feeling, even as he cherished his freedom as an artist…” Use the following resources to introduce students to Hughes’ life and works, and to inspire students to use poetry and art as a means to both explore their heritage and call for public attention to larger issues within their communities.

  • See Teaching Multicultural Literature, workshop 6, “Historical and Cultural Context – Langston Hughes and Christopher Moore.” Stanlee Brimberg’s 7th graders learn about the experiences of African slaves in early New York, examine texts by Hughes, and create postage stamps to commemorate the African Burial Ground Memorial.
  • View the hour-long video on Langston Hughes in Voices & Visions.  Interviews, music, and dance performances convey his work and influence, discussed by James Baldwin and biographer Arnold Rampersad.
  • Hughes is a featured poet in the video for American Passages, unit 10, “Rhythms in Poetry.” Discover more about the author’s life and work and find teaching tips and questions for classroom study of Hughes’ poetry.

Why do teenagers often do stupid things?

Neuroscience & the Classroom“What were you thinking?” Raise your hand if you have ever said that to a teenager. Whether you are a parent or a teacher of an adolescent, I’m sure that question has crossed your mind at least once. Thanks to Professor Abigail Baird, we may not know for sure what teenagers are thinking, but we have a better idea of how they think. Of course, understanding how someone thinks helps us teachers respond more effectively to behaviors in the classroom.

Continuing with our February “Monday Motivation” theme on emotions and learning, let’s consider what motivates teenagers to partake in risky behaviors that can lead to broken limbs or poor grades. Professor Baird explains that adolescents engage in risky behaviors by over thinking dangerous scenarios. In her research, she found that both adults and teenagers responded to questions about risky behavior similarly: risky behaviors are bad ideas. However, she discovered through brain imaging that adults used the emotional centers of their brains when considering these behaviors, whereas teenagers used the underdeveloped rational sides of their brains. The teenagers were not connecting their emotional centers with abstract, unfamiliar experiences, which hampered their ability to make a good decision. Her findings underscore the importance of emotional relevance in learning, and help teachers understand their students and respond appropriately to their perplexing behaviors. See the explanation of the study in the video for unit 2, “The Unity of Emotion, Thinking, and Learning,” section 4, Making the Case, of Neuroscience & the Classroom.

Tell us your best “What were you thinking” moment with your adolescent students. How does Professor Baird’s research motivate you to think differently about how you respond to teenagers in your classroom?

Happy Presidents Day

photo by Instructional Resources Corporation

It’s already February and you’ve been working hard for your students. We hope you enjoy your day off on Monday, Presidents Day!

If you are teaching about the presidents of the United States, search Learner.org for free resources or check out our Pinterest board on Presidents for ideas.


Happy Valentine’s Day from Journey North: Owl Love

Barred Owl photo by Stephen J. Lang courtesy of Wisconsin Society for Ornithology

Barred Owl photo by Stephen J. Lang courtesy of Wisconsin Society for Ornithology

Whoooo’s Finding Romance? (from Journey North on Learner.org)

The calendar says it’s winter, but some birds have a different opinion. Many owls are in the middle of their spring courtship, and some are already sitting on eggs! Mother owls start to incubate their eggs the moment they lay them because, if an egg were to freeze, the developing chick inside would not survive. The mother spends all of her time sitting tight. Father owls normally do the hunting for both of them during this critical time.

Why do owls start nesting so early? It’s hard to be certain, but the timing does mean baby owls will be learning to hunt when inexperienced young mammals are in abundant supply and easy prey.

For more on owls:

  • See the owl facts page on Journey North. For example, find out how owls’ crooked ears help them calculate the exact distance to their prey.
  • Find a literature link to Jane Yolen’s Owl Moon.
  • Practice your owl calls using these recordings.

Finally, join Journey North this spring as we track how seasonal changes in sunlight affect the entire web of life. What signs of change are you seeing in February? Show your love for our Earth and report your observations of owls, butterflies, and plant activity on the Report Your Sightings page of the Journey North Web site.

Valentine’s Day in the Elementary School Classroom

Teaching Math_Valentine's DayOn Valentine’s Day, engage your elementary students in math and language arts lessons that revolve around the holiday. Here are some resources:


Our Teachers’ Lab activity, How Many Valentines? offers a fun way to connect the Valentine’s Day holiday with elementary mathematics.

Observe a fun 4th-grade math lesson incorporating the Valentine’s Day theme in “Teaching Math: A Video Library, K-4,” program 42, “Valentine Exchange.”

Demonstrate reasoning and proof through the mystery of love with an interactive activity on the Teaching Math: Grades 3-5 Web site.

Language Arts

See how kindergarten teacher Cindy Wilson uses the making of Valentines as a means of promoting her students’ oral language skills in Teaching Reading K-2: A Library of Classroom Practices, program 2, “Building Oral Language.”

Who Freed the Slaves: Using Primary Sources as Evidence

PrimarySources_LincolnConsidering Abraham Lincoln and the Emancipation Proclamation

In elementary school I learned that Abraham Lincoln freed the slaves. I held on to that belief for many years. It wasn’t until college that I was forced to confront what was, for me, an uncomfortable reality: preserving the union was Lincoln’s overarching objective, not emancipation.

It’s been 150 years since Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation. Despite his misgivings–and in spite of more convenient motivations that may have spurred his action—the proclamation was a key step toward ending “that peculiar institution” in the South.

It wasn’t the only step, however, as we learn in workshop 4 of the Primary Sources: Workshops in American History series. A convergence of events would ultimately end slavery.

The video in this workshop features teachers as students and asks them to study primary source documents to find evidence to support their points of view. Early in the video, teachers are asked to consider what Lincoln believed. As you watch the video, consider the different perspectives these teachers have. Was freeing the slaves a tactic? Or, as one teacher believes, did Lincoln act on a moral imperative? What happens when the teachers examine the primary source document?

How might this approach to teaching history be used with students? How might you ask students to report their conclusions?

Analyzing Primary Sources

As the Primary Sources workshops show, using primary source documents can give us a deeper understanding of historical events. You can also use primary source documents from the Civil War era to spur students’ imaginations.

As we learn in Artifacts & Fiction: A Workshop in American Literature, analyzing artifacts requires students to ask questions, explore possible answers, and draw conclusions.

A terrific tool to get you started is the Pair Finder. Select a literary movement and a discipline. The Pair Finder will provide an artifact, such as a painting, a photograph, or a commonly used item. When I paired Slavery and Freedom with Ritual Artifacts, for example, a picture of a painting that appeared on flags of the United States Colored Troops (USCT) was provided.

Use images like this to inspire a creative response in your students. For example, your students could assume the role of a newly freed slave and express how they feel when they see the flag and the men marching behind it. Ask students to write a journal entry to describe their thoughts and feelings.

Explore the Pair Finder and other primary source documents you find, and think about how you can incorporate these documents into your lessons.

Bringing it Full Circle

It has been a long time since I was in elementary school. It may not be fair to say, but I’m not sure my teachers were interested in exploring Abraham Lincoln’s contradictions. Why do you think the teachers in the Primary Sources video were willing to wrestle with that reality? How will their students benefit?

I, like one teacher in the video, still hold to the belief that Lincoln did, at his very core, abhor slavery and was shrewd enough to gradually introduce the idea of emancipation to a torn nation.

What do you believe? And what is your evidence?

Linking Emotions and Mathematics

Neuro_2_emotion_mathIn many classrooms, math is a bunch of numbers and operations seemingly unrelated to what students do in their every day lives. Math is not typically thought of as an emotional subject, but emotions help solve problems. People apply what they’ve learned from past experiences in order to act advantageously in future situations. In order to motivate students to solve math problems, it’s important that your students care about the problems presented. Why is the problem relevant to them in their daily life?

In this short video “Emotions and Math” for unit 2 of Neuroscience & the Classroom, hear Prof. Abigail Bard explain how actively engaging the brain’s emotional centers should not be separated from academic information in the math classroom. Also, witness a teacher engage her students in the math lesson by drawing from their daily experiences.

Share here with other teachers how you connect your math (or other subject area) lessons to real world situations in order to engage your students.

Take a Virtual Field Trip to See the Monarchs

Monarchs Wintering in Mexico, image by Elizabeth Howard

Monarchs Wintering in Mexico, image by Elizabeth Howard

Happy Friday! We hope you had a great week teaching.

Take a break and watch this amazing video footage (Video courtesy of Art Howard, Artwork) of the monarch butterflies roosting in Mexico. Journey North starts the spring monarch migration season off in Mexico with the sights and sounds of a butterfly colony.

If you’re feeling inspired and creative, write a poem. What words would a poet write while sitting below butterfly-filled branches?