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

How Teachers Can Take Charge of Their PD

NetworkCircle123rfIsolation in the classroom is a serious feeling that many teachers suffer. I was definitely one of them. I felt very isolated when I started teaching and could not relate to most of my colleagues. There was very little time for colleagues to meet in person and a lack of PD opportunities. Many of them were great teachers, but I needed to connect, collaborate and share thoughts and ideas on teaching.

When I became digitally active and connected, I realized that many windows of opportunity opened up for me all at once. Being connected and active on the digital sphere means a lot more than occasionally maintaining social media accounts. It means connecting with like-minded individuals who share your interest and passion in teaching and learning. This sharing is a two-way street: you learn and you give it right back by sharing your knowledge.

As a whole different world of opportunity opened up to me by being a digitally connected educator, this translated into improving my pedagogy and teaching strategies in the classroom. It also allowed me an opportunity to really reflect on my teaching, make sure it’s relevant, and pass on the knowledge of digital citizenship to my students.

There are so many available pathways for professional development that teachers can seize without having to rely on their school or department. Teachers can take charge of their own professional development by taking advantage of the following opportunities:

EdCamps: These are free professional development unconferences run by educators for educators (some include parents and students). Edcamps are a great way to have your voice heard and to contribute to topics you care about. Sessions are chosen the morning of the event, and what’s empowering about them is that anyone can choose to facilitate a session. Edcamps are also known to trend on Twitter because many of the attendees share their knowledge and learning using the event’s hashtag, making for a great opportunity for global learning. I organized EdCampToronto, and it was a great way to meet so many wonderful educators. The best part is we still keep in touch.

Webinars/Online Courses: With these great PD opportunities, teachers learn about a specific subject area relating to their teaching and pedagogy. There are so many courses, and webinars allow teachers to learn and master teaching and pedagogical skill sets on their own time. Annenberg Learner offers workshops and courses that cover a variety of subject areas and teaching strategies. They also partner with Colorado State and PBS TeacherLine to offer graduate credits and CEUs.  EdWeb.net is another great website that offers webinars on a regular basis to connected educators. By being connected, educators can share their progress and reflect on their practice.

Twitter: Being a connected educator means that an educator is using 21st Century tools to connect and collaborate with other educators to improve their pedagogical practice. On Twitter, the connections you make are global and diverse. By joining Twitter chats, one is able to connect with people from across the globe, share ideas, resources, and tips. Some of my favourite chats are #EduColor, #WhatIsSchool, and #T2Tchat. Twitter chats are great prompts for important conversations about education. Those conversations don’t often end when the chat does. They keep going, evolving, and changing as relationships are built between educators.

Blogging: When I became connected, many educators encouraged me to start blogging. Conversations on Twitter are amazing, but blogging can take Twitter’s micro-blogs (tweets) and expand on those thoughts and ideas. Blogging can also open up a world of opportunity for educators, where writing can reach a global audience and act as a prompt to great conversations. Here is a post I wrote about blogging for beginners.

Educators have a choice now when it comes to teaching isolation. We can choose not to be isolated. We can choose to connect with others to share our experiences, successes, and failures. When we stop waiting, and take charge of our own professional learning is when we start to grow as educators and as people.

What are your favorite types of formal and informal professional development? Let us know in the comments below.

Copyright: rawpixel / 123RF Stock Photo

Fighting for Equality in Schools

stampequalityBvBEdIn 1954, a legal team led by Charles H. Houston and Thurgood Marshall persuaded the United States Supreme Court to decide in favor of Brown in Oliver L. Brown et al v. Board of Education of Topeka (KS) et al., which helped end legal racial segregation in schools and other public facilities.

Before Brown v. the Board of Education, the federal case of Mendez v. Westminster (1946) challenged the segregation laws of California public schools. Find out about this case in America’s History in the Making, unit 20, “Egalitarian America.”   See the historical significance of the case in the Archives.

Watch part 1, Ending School Segregation: The Case of Farmville, Virginia, of the video for Democracy in America, program 5, “Civil Rights: Demanding Equality.”  In 1951, black students staged a strike in Farmville, Virginia to end segregation in their school. Their protest may have been a catalyst to significant change in all American schools. Use the questions below the video to discuss this case study and Brown v. the Board of Education.

Celebrate National Dance Week (April 22-May 1)

ConnectwArts_frogThis National Dance Week, get your students dancing to the rhythm of learning with the following ideas:

Teacher Kathy DeJean’s students use dance to brainstorm where they will travel, and Scott Pivnik’s young students learn a West African dance as part of a school-wide study of Africa in The Arts in Every Classroom, “Teaching Dance.”

Middle school students use dance to explore the laws of motion, and math students interpret the idea of circles using dance movements in program 3, “Two Dance Collaborations,” of Connecting with the Arts: A Teaching Practices Library, 6-8. Watch a science teacher and a dance teacher engage students in a lesson on anatomy as they attempt to answer the question, “Can Frogs Dance?” in program 11.

Share how you will keep your students moving in the comments below!

Share How You Are Teaching About Refugees and Immigration


How are you teaching about the topics of refugees, displacement, and immigration? Are your students discussing current events? Are they undertaking research to understand and debate causes and solutions? Are they thinking about how these issues affect their local and larger communities, and what it means to be a global citizen?

It isn’t always easy to discuss current events with students. There are many different feelings and approaches to bringing potentially controversial topics to the classroom. We are interested in hearing about this from you, and sharing your insights and ideas with other teachers. Submit your writing to blog@learner.org for consideration, and check back often to read, support, and comment on posts by other teachers.

What Can I Write About?

Here are some ideas for topics for your blog posts, but you are not limited to these topics. We recommend the posts stay between 250 and 600 words.

  1. Describe a lesson plan or activity that you implemented in your classroom about refugees or immigration that went well.
  2. What is an activity you tried that resulted in unexpected or rich student conversations or personal insights?
  3. How do you address community concerns (whether from parents, students, or administrators) and support multiple points of view?
  4. How do you talk about current events, such as a refugee crisis, with elementary students?
  5. How have you taught students about the differences between migrants and refugees?

Some additional requests and notes:

  • Don’t forget to proofread your submissions, and include links to resources if any are mentioned.
  • It is helpful but not necessary to submit a photo to go along with your post. If you submit a photo of students from your classroom, please confirm that you have asked and received permission from their parents/guardians to post the photo on the Learner.org blog site. (We will not post their names or the name of their school.)
  • We reserve the right to edit posts for clarity and length.
  • We will let you know if your post is selected for publication on our blog via email.
  • Please include the following information with your materials:
  1. Your name
  2. Title for your post
  3. Subject/Class
  4. Grade level
  5. School location (city or state)

We look forward to hearing from you!

Image copyright: iqoncept / 123RF Stock Photo

Resources for National Autism Awareness Month

autism awarenessreport issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in March 2014 concluded that autism now occurs in 1 in 68 births in the U.S. Take time during Autism Awareness Month to learn about the strengths and challenges associated with this brain disorder.

The World of Abnormal Psychology
, program 11, “Behavior Disorders of Childhood,” looks at challenges and solutions for families who have children with behavior disorders. Autism is discussed specifically at 42:06.

Gain a historical perspective of autism and learn current beliefs about why autism occurs by watching The Brain: Teaching Modules, module 29, “Autism.” Also, hear Dr. Temple Grandin talk about overcoming the challenges of her autism by focusing on her strengths.

Students with autism often have trouble paying attention. Learn how to minimize distractions in the classroom environment that demand students’ attention so that they can focus more on learning in Neuroscience & the Classroom, unit 4, “Different Learners, Different Minds,” section 5, What teachers can do.

Share success stories with your students. The video page for unit 4, “Different Learners, Different Minds,” includes video and audio clips of Dr. Stephen Shore and Dr. Temple Grandin talking about their abilities as individuals with autism. Temple Grandin was the opening keynote speaker for #SXSWedu16. You can watch her speech “Helping Different Kinds of Minds Solve Problems” here. Also read our blog post “Think Like an Animal” on Dr. Grandin’s accomplishments.

Image Copyright: vectorfusionart / 123RF Stock Photo

Bring Humor to Your Classroom

Day of the Dead artwork in Mexico, from Art Through Time, "Death"

Day of the Dead artwork in Mexico, from Art Through Time, “Death”

Knock knock… You know how everything feels a little better after a good laugh? Humorist Larry Wilde founded National Humor Month in 1976 “to heighten public awareness on how the joy and therapeutic value of laughter can improve health, boost morale, increase communication skills and enrich the quality of one’s life.” The following Learner resources will help you bring humor to your classrooms:

Watch interviews with some of America’s wittiest journalists including Dave Barry and Andy Rooney in News Writing, program 12, “Column Writing and Editorial Writing.”

Experts discuss the humor associated with public art related to The Day of the Dead holiday in Mexico in Art Through Time: A Global View, program 6, “Death.” (Watch the first part of the video.) Also view artwork by José Guadalupe Posada.

Analyze the use of humor in political cartoons about the Stamp Act crisis of 1765 with the Image as History interactive in A Biography of America, program 4, “The Coming of Independence.”

Romantic comedies have been a part of American culture since the 1930s. American Cinema, program 5, looks at how this film genre uses humor to explore themes of gender and sexuality.

And don’t miss the Cinema interactive, which compares the actual script of a scene from Nora Ephron’s comedy, “When Harry Met Sally,” with those of aspiring screen writers.

Share how you bring humor to your classrooms in the comments section.

Teaching—and Honoring—Introverted Students


Photo credit: Scott Robinson via flickr (CC BY 2.0)

When people talk about what makes a great teacher, they often say things like “She really knows how to get the shy kids to participate” or “He calls on the kids who don’t raise their hands.” People generally believe that quiet students are shy, and that their shyness is a barrier to learning that their teachers must constantly charge until it’s demolished.

Is this description accurate? Is quietness the same thing as shyness, and is shyness a clear-cut problem for students? Or could it be that those quiet students are just introverts?

As labels go, “introverted” carries less stigma than “shy.” We tend to believe that shyness is a bad social habit people must get over, while being introverted (or extroverted, for that matter) is a personality trait that can’t be erased. According to a 2001 study, teachers in general tend to define quiet students as shy—although the two are very different—and criticize quiet students as “less intelligent [students who] would do more poorly academically than would exuberant/talkative children.”

Teacher Sherry Armstrong describes how she fell into the trap of trying to “help” quiet students: “I have always considered myself ‘compassionate’ by not putting them on the spot, but deep down I have always thought that I am doing them a disservice by allowing their quietness to continue to be such a barrier.” Her policy of requiring quiet children to speak more in class “for their own good” began to ring false to Sherry as she learned more about introverted students.

Of course, teachers aren’t the only ones; other students often label quiet classmates as dumb, or slackers, or wimps who are afraid to speak out in class. The modern drive to have students work together in groups exacerbates the problem introverted students face. Susan Cain, author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, points this out:

… Most schools are designed for extroverts. …When I was going to school, we sat in rows [of] desks [and] we did most of our work pretty autonomously. But nowadays, your typical classroom has pods of desks—four or five or six or seven kids all facing each other. And kids are working in countless group assignments. Even in subjects like math and creative writing, which you think would depend on solo flights of thought, kids are now expected to act as committee members. And for the kids who prefer to go off by themselves or just to work alone, those kids are seen as outliers often or, worse, as problem cases. And the vast majority of teachers report believing that the ideal student is an extrovert as opposed to an introvert, even though introverts actually get better grades and are more knowledgeable, according to research.

Introversion is not a problem to be overcome; it’s how millions of people operate in the world every day—students included. Just as teachers try to support the different learning styles of different students, so should they try to support their introverted students just as much as their extroverted students. Here are a few tips:

  1. Learn to distinguish between shyness and introversion. As Sarah Sparks puts it, “shy children tend to hover anxiously just outside a group [of] children, while introverted children play quite happily on their own and [do] not attempt to approach other children.” This applies to work style as well as play style.
  2. Give students a mix of group and individual assignments and class time. Groups are all about being monitored by one’s peers, sharing all of one’s thoughts, and brainstorming out loud. These are all challenges for introverted students who work best alone and prefer not to speak until their thoughts and ideas are fully formed. Give introverted students a chance to do this without being accused of not pulling their weight in a group.
  3. Talk with your introverted students—privately. Take opportunities to speak with them privately, in a relaxed way, so that you can do two things: let them know that you understand them, and confirm that they are keeping up in class.

What tips do you have for identifying and supporting your introverted students?

Teaching and Learning About Our Brains

EEG head coveringBrain Awareness Week, organized by the Dana Alliance for Brain Initiatives and the Society for Neuroscience, promotes the public health and personal benefits of brain research. The following resources from Learner.org offer intriguing insights into the brain and the mind, and will help you teach about this organ and explore how brains work to help you maximize students’ learning potential.

In Discovering Psychology, program 3, “The Behaving Brain,” neuroscientists study abnormal brain functions related to amnesia in order to determine normal brain patterns. Also try the Human Brain interactive to test your knowledge of the brain’s role in human activity.

The brain can be incredibly resilient. For example, many children born with hydrocephalus, a childhood disorder of excess fluid in the brain, can lead normal lives. Discover how in module 7, “Brain Anomaly and Plasticity: Hydrocephalus,” from The Brain: Teaching Modules.

The series Neuroscience & the Classroom: Making Connections shares what brain research tells us about learning. For example, in unit 5, “Building New Neural Networks,” Harvard professor Kurt Fischer describes the plasticity of the brain and how to incorporate new concepts into neural networks.

Test your knowledge of what your brain does for you with the Human Brain Interactive from Discovering Psychology.

What were you thinking?! I know we’ve all asked that before. Learn what fMRI studies reveal about teen brains in Neuroscience & the Classroom, unit 2, “The Unity of Emotion, Thinking, and Learning.” Watch “Good Idea?” to discover why teenagers and adults think differently about dangerous behaviors.

Explore these additional resource links for teaching and learning about the brain:

Discovering Psychology, program 4, “The Responsive Brain” and program 13, “The Mind Awake and Asleep

Rediscovering Biology, unit 10, “Neurobiology

The Mind: Teaching Modules

How to Incorporate Music in Your Subject


March is Music in Our Schools Month and educators are urged to make a case for including music education in the K-12 curriculum. It would seem to be an easy argument. According to Christopher Viereck, Ph.d., Developmental Neurobiologist in Residence for The Music Empowers Foundation, ongoing music education creates “new connections (‘wiring’) between brain cells.” Music education “also benefits students in other academic domains,” writes Viereck in Music Education and Brain Development 101, the first of many articles in the Your Brain on Music Education series.

Still, despite the substantial amount of evidence that supports the claim that music enhances learning, music programs in budget-strapped schools are often considered niceties, not necessities. There are ways to incorporate music into lessons, should formal music programs face the axe, however.

Let’s take a look at some examples of resources and classroom activities:


High school and college students can study how the Greeks applied mathematical thought to the study of music in the video and online text for Mathematics Illuminated, unit 10, “Harmonious Math,” section 2, The Math of Time.

Learn how sound waves move through the air in section 3, Sound and Waves.

Section 6, Can You Hear the Shape of a Drum?, asks if it’s possible to deduce what object makes a sound based on the frequency content of the sound.

World Languages

The Teaching Foreign Languages K-12 video library provides two examples of how to incorporate music into language lessons. Watch “French: A Cajun Folktale and Zydeco.” At about 20 minutes into the video, students are introduced to Cajun music. See how the teacher builds excitement for what students will be learning and how music helps students better understand cultural traditions of the people who live in that particular region of Louisiana.

Music can take students from the Bayou to Ancient Rome. In this mixed-level Latin class at Westfield High School in Chantilly, Va., teacher Lauri Dabbieri uses music to help students understand the difference between translation and interpretation, as well as to make historical connections to Roman culture.

Social Studies and Language Arts

The Middle Ages: Early music provides an echo of the past, allowing students to connect to people, cultures, and arts from long ago. Using The Middle Ages interactive, students test their ears by determining which of the instruments used by medieval musicians match the sounds they hear.

The Renaissance: Elementary music specialist Sylvia Bookhardt teaches students about Renaissance society in The Arts in Every Classroom,Teaching Music.”

The Holocaust: The series TeachingThe Children of Willesden Lane’ offers resources to help middle and high school students better comprehend survivor Lisa Jura’s story of loss, resilience, and ultimate triumph. Mona Golabek, Jura’s daughter, wrote The Children of Willesden Lane to honor her mother, who was spared the cruelty of the death camps thanks to the Kindertransport (children’s transport). In all, the operation saved nearly 10,000 children. Music played a central role in Lisa Jura’s life and is integrated into this memoir. Find the music downloads here.

The Fifties: Explore an emerging American teenage culture, including the influence of the transistor radio and a young man named Elvis Presley, in A Biography of America, unit 23, “The Fifties.”

Read “A Jazz Festival in Your Classroom” to find resources for incorporating music into social studies and language arts classes. Teach your students about the Jazz age as historical context for reading works by Langston Hughes, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and more.

The Arts

And if you do have room in your elementary school’s schedule and budget for incorporating a music program of any scale, explore The Power of Music: P-5 Teaching Inspired by El Sistema to see how educators use music programs to build students’ confidence and sense of community.

Share ways you are incorporating music into your classrooms in March or any time below the post.

Teaching Collaboration: Deeper learning and interpersonal skills

StackofHands123rfIn a recent TED Talk, computational geneticist Pardis Sabeti told of a tidal wave of Ebola cases coming from Guinea to a clinic in Sierra Leone. The medical team there collected samples of the virus and shipped the deactivated samples back to Sabeti’s lab in Cambridge, MA. The team worked round the clock to decode the genome of the virus from the samples in order to help health officials devise large scale treatment plans. Almost immediately, the amount of data they produced outpaced their ability to analyze it. Sabeti asked for help from the larger scientific community via the internet.

In similar fashion, physicists studying high-energy proton collisions from the Large Hadron Collider at CERN sifted through astronomical amounts of data to find the unique pattern of the then-theorized Higgs Boson. More than 2,800 collaborators from 35 countries analyzed different segments of the data and identified the markers of a significant interaction. Watch Physics for the 21st Century, “The Fundamental Interactions,” from 5:39 to 7:42.

Collaboration on the job

These are just two instances of the high-stakes international collaboration needed to battle epidemics and solve complex puzzles. But the daily business of science also requires individuals who can work in teams to question and support their colleagues. Workers at a bio-tech startup must understand technical terminology, explain their conclusions and roadblocks with colleagues, and function effectively as a unit. “It’s important that everybody sees the data, understands why you’re concluding what you’re concluding, and at least agrees that the next steps are probably the right next steps,” explains Aaron Oppenheimer, head of the team.

Working together to solidify learning

Teachers at the middle and high school levels can help students to develop the skills of collaboration: listening, presenting ideas, and questioning to work through more difficult material and find answers that they could not find working on their own. Each classroom lesson in Reading & Writing in the Disciplines includes learning objectives in three areas: content, literacy/language, and engagement/interaction. In this blog we share examples from science classrooms, but collaboration is a key skill in all disciplines and is supported by the Common Core Anchor Standards in College and Career Readiness.

Chemistry teacher Martin Berryman bonds his classroom management practices to student engagement and interaction as his class of 32 individual thinkers learn to work collaboratively. He assesses their group work as well as their group interaction.

Biology teacher Mary Murphy forms study inquiry teams so they can apply new knowledge to an unfamiliar problem. See how her students support and challenge each other in tackling a problem, using scientific discourse, and applying their understanding of transcription and translations processes.

Getting started on collaboration

Students practice the foundational skills of collaboration and scientific discourse in earlier grades, learning to listen to peers, asking about their reasoning, and sharing the result of a new idea. Amy Miles points out opportunities for her students to engage in conversation while reading a complex text on rock types.

Building a collaborative classroom requires a shift in practice and expectations. Taking it a step at a time and comparing notes with your colleagues in your school or here on Learner Log will get you started in the right direction. Visit “How to Build Effective Collaborative Groups” to find more suggestions for supporting student collaboration in the classroom.

Image Copyright: ammentorp / 123RF Stock Photo