Teacher resources and professional development across the curriculum

Teacher professional development and classroom resources across the curriculum

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Have You Flipped Your Classroom Yet?

Rear view of class raising handsIn January, CBS News produced a feature story on the flipped classroom, thrusting the model even further into mainstream discussions of education. Accompanied by glowing reviews from a high school physical science teacher and his students, the three-minute segment referred to flipped classrooms as “a ray of hope” for students and parents struggling with applying concepts learned in class to their homework.

In simplest terms, the flipped classroom inverts the traditional teaching paradigm, introducing new concepts, typically via video lectures, that students can watch outside of the classroom at their own pace. Applying the information learned during lectures – what used to be considered homework – then takes place in the classroom under the supervision of the teacher.

As the students from Warren Township High School in Gurnee, Illinois noted in the CBS feature, benefits of the flipped classroom model include being able to pause and rewind lectures, focusing on segments or concepts they struggle to grasp. Teachers are then free to set aside time for collaborative work and address the needs of individual students, challenging those who excel and zeroing in on the struggles of those who lag behind. Ideally, a flipped classroom changes the teacher’s role from “Sage on the Stage” to a more effective “Guide on the Side.”

The cons of the flipped classroom, however, were not properly addressed in the news segment. Tech inequity is the most glaring obstacle to achieving an effective flipped classroom, although some educators are finding ways to address that issue.

In addition, passive lecturing, whether delivered via online video or in the classroom, is not the most effective teaching method.

The presentation of the flipped classroom model as a miraculous solution to a myriad of educational problems is also misguided, especially since it may not fit with every teacher’s instructional style or curriculum. Rather than a solution, the flipped classroom should be viewed as a potential tool that could help educators create a more collaborative, engaged classroom.

Annenberg Learner offers many resources for teachers interested in implementing a flipped classroom. Since a flipped classroom does not necessarily introduce all core concepts via video lectures, Annenberg’s online interactives can serve a similar purpose and be completed by students as ‘homework.’

For example, the Democracy in America series, program 11, “Public Opinion: Voice of the People” interactive prompts students to create an effective poll that will accurately gauge public support for a specific policy, in this case waste incineration. After watching the unit’s accompanying video, students can complete the interactive, which could then be used as a starting point for a collaborative or group polling project in the classroom.

Similarly, the Rediscovering Biology series program on Applied Genetic Modification allows students to engage in an interactive, animated case study to explore the practical details of genetic engineering. After watching and completing the case study at home, students will have a practical example of how genetic modification applies to their lives, making in-class projects and discussions feel more relevant.

Considering the recent water crisis in the American Southwest, teachers may also find the online text and video from The Habitable Planet, unit 8, “Water Resources,” helpful tools to connect real world issues to their classroom. After reading all or parts of the online text, students can then complete teacher-made activities that address water supply issues.

These are just a few examples of how Learner.org resources can help you flip your classroom. Search the site for more content in all subject areas to find videos, and online texts and interactives that your students can work through at their own pace at home, freeing up your instruction time for engaging activities.

Sharehow you might be using Learner.org to flip your classroom in the comments below.

How to Build Effective Collaborative Groups

ssin action_groupworkFor many educators, the resolutions that really matter are the ones they make in August in anticipation of the new school year. Maybe you’ve resolved to integrate more technology resources into your instruction. Maybe you’re determined to tackle some classroom management issues. For the sake of this post, let’s say that you’ve decided to make your lessons more student-centered.

So, how does the sage exit the stage? Create conditions in which students build skill and knowledge while you assess progress and maintain an organized and productive classroom. Take a look at “Groups, Projects ,and Presentations,” a component of Social Studies in Action: A Teaching Practice Library, K-12. Although the series centers on teaching Social Studies, the practices illustrated and explained in the “Groups, Projects, and Presentations” video are relevant to all academic subjects and grade levels.

In the K-12 classrooms presented in the video, the spotlight is on the students as they work collaboratively toward common goals that require problem solving and decision making. Their teachers encourage students’ active involvement in their own learning in ways that reinforce and personalize knowledge.

The video points out key factors in planning and implementing students’ collaborative creation of projects and presentations:

Creating Group Structure: What teacher hasn’t planned a terrific group project to see it go horribly awry (one student shoulders all the work or nothing gets done at all) because the group dynamic wasn’t right?  5th grade teacher Kathleen Waffle (5:06) starts her planning by assessing which of her students are natural leaders and makes sure one of those students is in each small group. Her groups are heterogeneous, not only because students who have learning challenges benefit from group support, but also because all students benefit from learning to value the different skills group members can contribute to the project as personal strengths emerge. She remixes groups every four to six weeks so that students learn to work with different personalities, just as they would in the real world.

Setting a Purpose: Setting clear, purposeful goals that keep the students focused is a key factor in the success of groups projects. Teacher Rob Cuddi (12:45) creates a set of essential questions. These anchor students’ research and discussion as they work in small groups. Cuddi also uses the questions and student responses as an assessment tool. The students respond to the questions in their journals at the beginning of the project and again at the end.

Rubrics, often student-created, also help provide purpose.

Determining Team and Individual Roles: When students work in collaborative groups, they all share responsibility for a successful outcome. It’s also important that students take individual responsibility for their learning. High school teacher Tim Rocky (19:04) gives individual team members specific roles: reader, recorder, facilitator or process keeper. Most importantly, he doesn’t assume that students know how to work effectively in small groups. He asks a “fish bowl” group to model the process while he provides feedback and guidance.

Creating Assessments: Assessments (21:19) like scoring guides or rubrics not only provide purpose and focus; they also make assessment or grading less arbitrary. They give teachers concrete evidence of student progress or point to areas in need of improvement. You can also assess by listening to group discussion. You might hear something that signals a group’s need for your input on its process or for additional resources. Students may use rubrics to evaluate each other and to understand how their own work will be evaluated.

When you invite students to take a collaborative approach to group projects and presentations, you are giving them a stage on which they actively seek knowledge and own and share their learning. One of Osvaldo Rubio’s fourth graders (16:22) says it best of working with his peers: “They tell me what they know, I tell them what I know, and we put that all together and it makes a lot of difference…”

These teachers provide lots of practice for the kinds of collaborative interactions the students will encounter throughout their lives.

What kinds of collaborative experiences will you offer your students in the coming school year? We would love to hear your ideas for projects.

New (Online) Literacies for Your Elementary Researchers

TeachRead_5Are your 3rd-5th grade students learning the skills they need to conduct online research? Last year the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project conducted a survey of over 2,000 advanced placement (AP) and National Writing Project (NWP) teachers to determine their perspectives on students’ research habits and the impact of technology on their studies.

The survey report How Teens Do Research in the Digital World concludes that virtually all (99%) survey participants agree “the internet enables students to access a wider range of resources than would otherwise be available.” At the same time, a significant majority of these teachers strongly agreed that students expect to be able to find information quickly and easily using the internet. 83% felt that the amount of information available online is overwhelming to most students. 71% agreed that today’s technologies discourage students from using a wide range of resources for their research. 60% agreed that these technologies make it harder for students to find credible sources of information.

There’s a lot that 3rd to 5th grade teachers can do give students the foundational skills they need to tackle rigorous research projects throughout their academic careers AND address the Common Core State Standards that concern informational text:

  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.5.7 Draw on information from multiple print or digital sources, demonstrating the ability to locate an answer to a question quickly or to solve a problem efficiently.
  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.5.8 Explain how an author uses reasons and evidence to support particular points in a text, identifying which reasons and evidence support which point(s).
  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.5.9 Integrate information from several texts on the same topic in order to write or speak about the subject knowledgeably.

Check out session 5, “New Literacies of the Internet,” in the video workshop Teaching Reading 3-5. In the video, Donald Leu of the University of Connecticut clarifies some of the differences between reading narrative text and reading informational text, and then defines five skill areas that students need to draw on to learn from online information.

  1. Identifying important questions: In the video you’ll see educators helping students generate questions on topics such as global warming and colonial American history. Good questions lead to good searches.
  2. Searching for information: Young researchers can too easily get in the habit of clicking on anything that turns up on a search results page. The teachers in the session 5 video walk students through taking a close look at search result summaries to make inferences about which sites will be the most useful.
  3. Analyzing and evaluating information: You can learn a lot from an “About Us” page. When was the information created? Who created it and why?
  4. Synthesizing information: Dr. Leu points out that synthesis is different on the internet. In print, the text is contained. Online, the text is constructed as students navigate from link to link. Skimming and scanning with purpose are important here. Students need to practice monitoring themselves to keep from getting distracted from their purpose for reading. Graphic organizers to the rescue!
  5. Communicating information: Students can practice safe and authentic online communications by sharing their research efforts with other students. How about 3rd graders creating a shared list of the “best” sites for learning about Egyptian civilization?

You can use the session’s Literacy Practice Portfolio to reflect on your current practice and to plan for implementing new techniques. And when today’s third grader astonishes his future AP teacher with his online research acumen, you will hear distant applause.

 

Effective Teachers (post by Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory)

CfA effective teachers blog post

A new study shows that teachers who are familiar with misconceptions about science as well as the science itself have students who are much more successful in learning.
Credit: SAO SED

Originally posted Friday, May 03, 2013 by Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory*

Everybody wants teachers to be knowledgeable, but there is little agreement on what kinds of knowledge are the most important. Should a teacher have a deep knowledge of the subject matter, or is it better if the teacher has an understanding of what students think? Is there some optimal combination of different types of knowledge? Discussions of such issues rarely make use of data but instead are based on indirect methods of gauging teacher knowledge. The answer is important: Beliefs about teacher knowledge shape both the policies regulating how teachers are prepared, certified, hired, and evaluated as well as programs that provide ongoing professional development for practicing teachers.

CfA scientists and science educators Phil Sadler, Gerhard Sonnert, Harold Coyle, Nancy Cook-Smith, and Jaime Miller have published a study that quantifies several aspects of teacher knowledge and their relevance to teacher effectiveness. The team finds that one key factor in improving student performance in science understanding is teacher familiarity with the popular science misconceptions. The students of those teachers who both knew the material and understood the reasons for misconceptions improved in their test scores significantly, more than twice as much as students of teachers who only knew the material. The study, which included a sample of 9556 students and 181 teachers, is an important step in evaluating how to train better teachers.

For additional information on this topic, check out the following links:

Science Daily, “Understanding Student Weaknesses”

Education Week, “Knowing Student Misconceptions Key to Science Teaching, Study Finds”

American Education Research Journal, “The Influence of Teachers’ Knowledge on Student Learning in Middle School Physical Science Classrooms”

Learner Express, “A Student Tries to Explain Why There Are Seashells on Top of Mount Everest and the Formation of the Himalayan Mountains”

A Private Universe

Learner Log, “Are you smarter than a Harvard graduate?”

 

*reposted with permission from Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory site with additional links added

7 Ways to Celebrate National Family Month

FAMILYblocksNational Family Month runs from Mother’s Day to Father’s Day, May 12 to June 16 this year. Here are some fun and educational activities from Learner.org that you can do together to build those family bonds:

1. For middle and high school children, choose any of the content courses with Web sites and create a scavenger hunt.  Write questions and have the family search for the answers. Time each person and reward the first person to finish with all the correct answers. Good resources for this activity include:

American Passages: A Literary Survey

Mathematics Illuminated

Earth Revealed

Physics for the 21st Century

America’s History in the Making

The Power of Place: Geography for the 21st Century

Voices and Visions

2. Gaze at the Moon and keep a journal. Use the Moon Journal activity from Looking at Learning… Again to track changes in the moon’s appearance. The pages include questions, materials, and instructions for the activities.

3. Follow the migration of monarch butterflies and report your local sightings on the Journey North site.  Kids have their own page where they can watch videos of monarchs hatching and other natural phenomena.

4. Learn and practice French or Spanish with the family by watching French in Action or Destinos.

5. Document your family’s history and then create a family history quilt as an art project.  The library Arts in Every Classroom, program 12, “Borrowing from the Arts to Enhance Learning,” shows a classroom where students create these quilts. Go to about 22 minutes into the video.

6. Play a board game to help kids learn fractions. You can recreate the Fraction Tracks game shown in program 5 of Teaching Math: A Video Library 5-8.

7. Solve the Eric the Sheep puzzle in this interactive from Learning Math: Patterns, Functions, and Algebra.

 

Share your own inspired ideas by posting them in the comments below.

Teacher Appreciation Story: Why doesn’t my teacher like me?

(contributed by Larisa Kirgan)

Eating Caterpillar“a, a, a, a, a, a, a, b, b, b, b,…”

This is not fair! All of my 3rd grade classmates are spending free time talking, playing games, and in general, having fun. I am stuck at the bulletin board writing the alphabet over and over and over. Why is my handwriting such a big deal? Why doesn’t my teacher like me?

Weeks later, the same teacher informs me that I will be co-hosting the 3rd grade talent show. I am not happy about this. It means more work and speaking in front of a gymnasium full of students and families. She pulls me aside and says, “You can do this. You will have to work hard and put your mind to it. But I know you can do it.” Easy for her to say, she isn’t the one who has to stand on stage. I don’t understand why she keeps picking on me!monarch illustration

It took me several grade levels to mature enough and realize that this teacher was not picking on me at all. On the contrary, she saw something in me that I had not yet. She saw my potential to not just get by, but rather to excel.  She taught me that I had to push myself to be better. Things may not come easy in life, but if I worked hard, practiced and put my mind to it, I could surpass my expectations.

My 3rd grade teacher did not care to be my favorite teacher, instead she wanted me to be the best student I could be.  That made her a GREAT teacher.

Teacher Appreciation Story: Everyone needs to start over.

erasing_clip artOne day in a college classroom, my professor did the unthinkable: She returned a writing assignment and told everyone that they had failed. She explained why the papers were missing the mark and asked us to redo the assignment. I admittedly felt shock and disappointment, because I hadn’t completely failed a paper before.  A couple of people left the classroom. Some, I learned, refused to rewrite their papers. One person even dropped out of the class.  Others, including me, saw the challenge and met her expectations. She was absolutely right and she was unapologetic in her frustration. She forced us to confront our weaknesses, and challenged us to write better and to think more critically. For that, I’m grateful.

Guts are required to challenge students in this way, especially if those students had been praised for years for what is, at best, mediocre work. And it takes guts to meet that teacher’s challenge. Over the months of the course, this professor shifted our focus from earning A’s to learning content and critical thinking skills. Her class was exciting, evocative, and challenging. We took risks, we learned to research well, we made mistakes and figured out ways to fix those mistakes.

In my own teaching experiences, I found it difficult to convince students that it is okay to make mistakes and it is okay to receive a critical analysis of their work, whether from me or their peers. Questions and criticism, when done without personal judgment, help us grow and strengthen our abilities. If praise is the only response we are seeking, then we probably aren’t challenging ourselves to work to our full potential. I didn’t truly understand this until I met this amazing college professor, because I had been so focused on grades and positive teacher comments on report cards.

How do you encourage your students to learn from their mistakes and react productively to constructive criticism?

 

 

 

 

Teacher Appreciation Story: All That is Seen and Unseen

Aster DaisiesBy the time I was nine years old I had changed schools seven times. As an already shy and reserved child, I had a difficult transition each time. However that all changed the day I walked into Mrs. Ito’s fifth-grade classroom.

We were to be Mrs. Ito’s last class. After 33 years of teaching she was retiring at the end of the year. I got a glimpse into how much she was going to be missed on that first day of school when I walked to our class and found scrawled across the chalkboard a message from a fourth grader’s parent that read, “PLEASE STAY JUST ONE MORE YEAR!!!”  I immediately felt special to be part of her last class. I had made it just in time.

I’m guessing she must have been in her sixties at that point, but you’d never know it. Her whole body shook with energy. Even when standing in front of the class, her leg would tap as she spoke to us. Her eyes crinkled up at the corners when she smiled, and she had a rich, hearty laugh that came easily.  She exuded positivity and joy. We just knew she was happy to be there each day.

Mrs. Ito’s positive influence stretched beyond the classroom for me though. Life at home was not always an easy one. My mom was single with four small children, barely making ends meet. She took in laundry and watched children for extra money, but it couldn’t cover much beyond the necessities, and sometimes not even that. One day my mom kept me home from school to help with my younger siblings so she could work. She sent a note with me the next day explaining why I had missed school. I can still remember feeling ashamed as I handed the note to Mrs. Ito. I wanted so desperately to please her and hated giving her a note that revealed that I had missed school when I wasn’t sick. She took the note and after reading it looked up at me with her crinkled-eye smile and said, “You know, if I had ever had a daughter, I would have wanted her to be just like you.”  I walked back to my desk bolstered by her words. If Mrs. Ito thought that highly of me, then it must be true.

As the year went on, Mrs. Ito pushed us. She challenged us. She never accepted less than our best.  But what she gave me is far beyond what can be measured in a test. She believed in me so convincingly that I had no other choice to believe in myself, too.

Teacher Appreciation Story: Remembering an Excellent Math Teacher

Desks in an Empty ClassroomI just learned this week that a well-liked math teacher at my daughter’s middle school passed away as a result of pancreatic cancer. It was a shock and surprise. My daughter had his class last year, so I was not aware that he had been sick. What I knew of the man was that he came to teaching after a career in finance. In addition to math, he taught his students that understanding math was a key to doing well in the world. He was a friendly but a very no-nonsense kind of person. My daughter liked him and she would report on things that he said in class, which was a rarity.

Thinking generally about teachers, one realizes that the good ones see how kids think and can have a great influence on them. They can also help us parents understand our kids as cogitative beings. To lose a good teacher, to illness or burnout, is to lose a potent resource to shape society. Sure, there are many intelligent and inspiring people who we hear about in the news or in books, but few do we get to watch and interact with face-to-face. Those are the teachers.

I was never able to speak to this teacher because the line in front of his table at teacher conference night was always too long.  I imagine the line will be even longer at his viewing. I feel sad for his family and sadder for the future kids at the middle school who will have missed an exceptional teacher.

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?