Teacher resources and professional development across the curriculum

Teacher professional development and classroom resources across the curriculum

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National Environmental Education Week (April 14-20)

HabPlanet_earthDiscuss current and future environmental problems, including possible solutions, with your students. The following resources provide ideas for science, social studies, and literature classrooms:




  1. Hear thought-provoking views and research findings from experts in the field, including entomologist E.O. Wilson in The Habitable Planet, unit 13 video, “Looking Forward: Our Global Experiment.”
  2. Two interactives in The Habitable Planet allow you and your students to manage an energy crisis. The Carbon Lab explores how human influence on carbon output affects the future health of the Earth’s atmosphere.  In the Energy Lab interactive, try developing a portfolio of energy resources that cuts back on CO2 and considers the pros and cons of multiple sources of energy.
  3. Gage Reeves asks his 5th graders to relate their reading about global warming and climate change to events and products in their community in Teaching Reading 3-5 Workshop, classroom program 13, “Reading Across the Curriculum.”
  4. Consider the possible conflicts that arise when living in a future society affected by significant global warming and other challenges by reading “Parable of the Sower” by Octavia E. Butler.  The Expanding Canon: Teaching Multicultural Literature, session 7, “Critical Pedagogy,” includes an audio clip of the author and a synopsis of the story.
  5. Learn about where oil comes from, how it is extracted and used for energy, and the effects of using oil as an energy source on the environment in Earth Revealed, program 26, “Living With Earth, Part II.”
  6. Explore environmental mysteries like the causes of ice ages and consider how life shapes the earth in Planet Earth, program 3, “The Climate Puzzle,” and program 7, “Fate of the Earth.”
  7. Economic stories show how pollution is a “negative externality” that can have serious consequences for economic efficiency in Economics U$A, unit 8, “Pollution and the Environment.”
  8. The World of Chemistry, program 17, “The Precious Envelope,” explains ozone depletion and the greenhouse effect on the earth’s atmosphere.

Cultivating Young Poets

Write in the Middle_3A 7th grader recently gave me a wonderful gift. She invited me to read an anthology of poems she wrote in 6th grade. Zoe’s poems were sensitive, wistful, beautiful, and silly. As I read them silently, she was drawn back to them and read each one aloud as a critical reader of her own work. I saw a frisson of pleasure when a poem hit its intended mark. Some, from her more mature 7th grade perspective, she pronounced “childish.”

In Zoe’s poems, I could also see her 6th grade teacher’s approach to teaching the art of writing poetry. The anthology included cinquains, haiku, clerihews, and acrostics. In other words, Zoe’s teacher had given her students accessible models of poetic forms and content, laying a safe foundation on which young writers could express their own emotions and observations.

Whether your students are eager to read and write poetry or are resistant to the craft, they will benefit from this approach. Two learner.org video workshops demonstrate techniques that you can use to cultivate your young poets.

In “Gaining Insight Through Poetry” in Teaching ‘The Children of Willesden Lane,’ high school teacher Chris Mazzino uses “copy change” to help students thoughtfully empathize with the children portrayed in the holocaust memoir they read as part of a citywide reading program. Copy change involves using another writer’s structure as the scaffold for your own work.  Here, Mr. Mazzino and his creative writing students are exploring what it feels like to be an outsider. He uses the student-written poem “Will They Ever Learn?” (page three of PDF) to instigate a discussion of “otherness.” Afterwards, students copy change the poem to express their own experiences and emotions. In this instance, the copy change technique provided an accessible model and a safety net for encouraging teens to share emotions they might otherwise keep to themselves.

In Write in the Middle: A Workshop for Middle School Teachers, workshop 3, “Teaching Poetry,” two master teachers—Vivian Johnson and Jack Wilde—share how they help their students develop as readers and writers of poetry. Both teachers emphasize the importance of immersing their students in poetry throughout the school year to ready them for formal writing units. Mr. Wilde breaks down resistance by providing his students with accessible poems than can be understood on the first reading. Ms. Johnson makes the writing process non-threatening to her 8th graders by presenting forms such as found poetry and list poems.

These teachers agree that close reading of model poems is essential, but they don’t dwell on interpretation of abstractions. They do hone in on structure, word choice, rhythm, and line breaks. They examine techniques students can transfer to their own writing and use with power and purpose. Mr. Wilde uses Mekeel McBride’s poem “The Truth About Why I Love Potatoes,” a fun five-stanza poem that views the potato from five perspectives, to help students discover how ideas can be handled in poetic form and what poems can do that prose can’t. He asks, “What can you learn from Mekeel about writing a poem?” One student responds, “You don’t have to say a potato is a potato, but what else could it be.” At this point, his students are ready and eager to write their own poems based on McBride’s model.

The poet Theodore Roethke wrote, “Imitation, conscious imitation, is one of the great methods, perhaps the method of learning to write.” And, as you’ll see in these videos, imitation can put students on the road to profound and beautiful invention. What a gift!

A Jazz Festival in Your Classroom

World of Music_jazzAs the weather warms, jazz festivals will be springing up all over. Why not celebrate spring and Jazz Appreciation Month this April by holding a jazz festival in your classroom? A key word search for “jazz” on learner.org returns a host of resources that you can use to guide your students to appreciate this uniquely American musical genre and to understand its influence on culture here and around the world.

For example, American Passages: A Literary Survey, unit 11, “Modernist Portraits,” describes the dramatic social and cultural changes that Americans experienced during the years between World War I and World War II.  Jazz provided the soundtrack for these changes and had a profound influence on visual artists, poets, and novelists who sought to capture its images and rhythms. Use the American Passages archives to find audio and visual artifacts from the Jazz Age that illustrate the innovation and energy of musicians and writers such as Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, Langston Hughes, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Jacob Lawrence.

Try asking students how structure, improvisation, and collaboration—aspects of jazz adopted by so many artists working during the modernist period—can be applied in their world. The Problem-Based Learning activities included in unit 11 could be presented as a way to put a jazz spin on collaborative projects in school.

Jazz up this historical exploration by inviting a local performer or your school’s jazz ensemble to play for your students and to discuss the unique interaction of structure, improvisation, and collaboration in jazz. Or check out Exploring the World of Music, program 11, “Composers and Improvisers.”  At 9:09 you’ll find a great discussion from saxophonist Joshua Redman about the role of improvisation in jazz. In program 10, “The Shape of Music,” the segment that begins at 8:52 illustrates why collaboration is essential to improvisation in a group performance.

What are other ways to use jazz to inspire learning in the classroom? I’d love to hear your improvisations!


Maxine Kumin and Setting in Poetry

Literary Visions_12_KuminLandscapeAre you and your students writing poems for National Poetry Month? Watch Maxine Kumin read her poetry and hear how setting echoes the themes in her work in Literary Visions, program 12, “A Sense of Place: Setting and Character in Poetry.” Start at 21:54 in the video. Kumin says, “I’m a poet of the seasons. I’m a poet of the natural world.”

6 Ways to Get to the Bottom of the Ocean

earth revealed_wavesWhy are the oceans that cover over 70% of the Earth’s surface so enchanting? Many people head to the seaside to relax in the sun and listen to the waves roll in and out. Others use beaches as playgrounds for volleyball, building sandcastles, and swimming in the surf. A chance to glimpse fascinating ocean life draws visitors to aquariums all over. The smell of salt in the air and the rustling of grasses on the dunes inspire poets of all ages.  Celebrate National Week of the Ocean by exploring and appreciating the ocean with your students using the following resources:

1. Learn about the large-scale ocean circulation patterns that help to regulate temperatures and weather patterns on land, and the microscopic marine organisms that form the base of marine food webs in Habitable Planet, unit 3, “Oceans.”

2. Dive into Earth Revealed, program 4, “The Sea Floor,”  to learn how scientists use technology to study the geology and biology of the bottom of the sea.

3. Explore the relationship between rocky landmasses and the energy of the ocean. See illustrations of wave movements and their impact on the shores, and study how the greenhouse effect could impact sea level and coastal lands in Earth Revealed, program 24, “Waves, Beaches and Coasts.”

4. Use cyclic functions to track the height of tides as they come in and go out in Learning Math, session 8, part A, Cyclic Functions, Tides.

5. Understand global water distribution, the cycle of water from ocean to atmosphere to land, and the effects of human activities on our finite supply of usable water in The Habitable Planet, unit 8, “Water Resources.”

6. Peer into the future of energy by examining how experimental ocean power systems harness energy and the challenges of using such systems in The Habitable Planet, unit 10, “Energy Challenges,” section 8, Hydropower and Ocean Energy.


Attention and Autism

daydream iconWhen I create resources for teaching and learning, I keep in mind the different kinds of learners that are in any given classroom where a teacher uses the content or activity.  In that classroom will be students with a range of learning style preferences, talents, cognitive or physical challenges, and socio-economic backgrounds. Some of those students will have autism.

The Autism Society designates April as National Autism Awareness Month, prompting me to spend some time learning about autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and what parents and teachers can do to create optimal learning environments for children with autism.

I started by asking the mother of an autistic 7th grader what she wishes educators knew about the needs of students with autism. She told me that her daughter Nina can be resistant when asked to perform specific tasks, and that it’s important that teachers don’t interpret “I won’t” as “I can’t.” Her daughter succeeds when teachers offer alternative approaches to engaging Nina in the work at hand. It’s helpful to understand that “I won’t” may be a coping mechanism some students use in response to classroom distractions or feeling pressured. When students get something wrong the first time, it is helpful to give them time to rethink their responses and try again.

Nina’s mom told me that her daughter, like many people with autism, is stressed and loses focus in environments that are noisy or cluttered. Reducing physical and mental abstractions is critical for gaining and maintaining the attention of all students. Neuroscience & the Classroom, unit 4, “Different Minds, Different Learners,” section 5, What teachers can do, provides techniques teachers can readily employ to help all students decrease their stress and increase their focus on learning. Simple and practical solutions like using a warm tone of voice or eliminating stressful and unnecessary activities such as pop quizzes help. Headphones block distracting noise and technology tools help students manage routine tasks.

Finally, Nina’s mom pointed out that her daughter doesn’t know that she is “different” and she shouldn’t be treated as if she were. That is to say, Nina, like every other student in the classroom, has worth, talents to cultivate, challenges to overcome, and a future ahead of her. This point is beautifully made in the “Success Story” video in unit 4. In the video Dr. Stephen Shore describes how the “autism bomb” that was dropped on him when he was a toddler became, as he says, “an asset” that makes him a better professor and a better musician.

As educators we share the goal of understanding and responding to all our students’ strengths and challenges. Finding ways to limit distractions and stress is a big part of that. What techniques do you use to help your students give all of their attention to learning?

Read and Write Poetry to Explore Identity


Carol O’Donnell’s students discuss dual identities, being caught between two worlds, in Teaching Multicultural Literature, workshop 1, “Engagement and Dialogue.” Poetry written by Naomi Shihab Nye is used to introduce the concept of exploring one’s own identity.

Naomi Shihab Nye was born in Missouri to an American mother and Palestinian father. She has lived in old Jerusalem and San Antonio, Texas and traveled to the Middle East and Asia.  Her work incorporates the voices and perspectives of Mexican Americans and Arab Americans. Nye is inspired by small things and everyday events, and she journals “because I wanted to remember everything. The quilt, the cherry tree, the creek. The neat whop of a baseball rammed perfectly with a bat. My father’s funny Palestinian stories.”  See more about Nye here and read her poem Half-and-Half here. Use her story and poetry to inspire your students to think about their own identities and what it means to be part of a multicultural community- whether your definition of community is as small as a classroom or as big as the world.

Nye says in an ALAN review: Anyone who feels poetry is an alien or ominous force should consider the style in which human beings think. “How do you think,” I ask my students. “Do you think in complete, elaborate sentences? In fully developed paragraphs with careful footnotes? Or in flashes and burst of images, snatches of lines leaping one to the next, descriptive fragments, sensory details?” We think in poetry. But some people pretend poetry is far away.


Using Representations in the Math Classroom

TM K-4 marshmallows copy

Second-graders create and discuss a bar graph based on the number of marshmallows they estimate each person in their class would eat on a camping trip. From Teaching Math Library, program 10.

“Show your work.” Teachers ask students to show their work to get a glimpse of how they are thinking through a problem. However, showing work is not just useful to the teacher. When students create representations (by drawing charts and diagrams, using manipulatives, etc), they work through their understanding of math concepts and develop problem-solving skills.

According to the NCTM Representation Standard, instructional programs . . . should enable all students to:

•    Create and use representations to organize, record, and communicate mathematical ideas
•    Select, apply, and translate among mathematical representations to solve problems
•    Use representations to model and interpret physical, social, and mathematical phenomena

The Teaching Math online courses look at various ways students from grades K-12 may represent their mathematical thinking. Observe student examples of representations and practice using representations to solve problems. See the session 5, “Representation,” section of each grade band: K-23-56-89-12.

See examples of different manipulatives in use for the algebra classroom in Insights into Algebra, workshop 1, “Variables and Patterns of Change.” Examples include teacher-made manipulatives – cups used to represent the coefficient of the variable and chips used to represent the constant terms –– or virtual manipulatives in the form of a computer program allowing students to examine graphs of change.

Students estimate the number of elk, bison, and pronghorn in Yellowstone Park in program 6, “Animals in Yellowstone,” of Teaching Math: A Video Library, K-4. At 11:50 in the video, the teacher asks students to explain and adjust their placement of estimates on a number line.

Students work in groups to identify a pattern and find a rule that determines that pattern in Teaching Math: A Video Library, 9-12, program 6, “Staircase Problem.” Students must explain their thinking using charts and paper blocks.

More resources for using representations in math classrooms:

Private Universe Project in Mathematics, workshop 6, “Possibilities of Real Life Problems

Learning Math: Number and Operations, session 4, “Meanings and Models for Operations