Teacher resources and professional development across the curriculum

Teacher professional development and classroom resources across the curriculum

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Exit Slip: Discussing Race in the Classroom and at Home

33508728 - high school students taking part in group discussion

Reading through my Facebook feed the last several days, I see a lot of discussion about race in response to recent police violence towards black men. I feel encouraged by the people who are taking a stand against racism and by how many parents are asking for help discussing the police shootings and race with their children. There are currently resources available that help parents and teachers think about these issues at home and in the classroom. 

For guardians and teachers of younger children, start with this article from The Washington Post by Brigitte Vittrup, associate professor of child development at Texas Woman’s University. She writes about the problems with intentionally avoiding discussions about race with children. She emphasizes that parents should not assume their values will rub off on their children: “Silence about race removes the opportunity for children to learn about diversity from their parents and puts it in the hands of media and misinformed peers.” Not only that, but discouraging conversations about race for fear of offending people can lead children to see race as a taboo subject. Vittrup offers examples of how to respond to children’s questions.

Consider the following readings and resources for older children and students. In “Uncomfortable Conversations: Talking About Race in the Classroom,” an interview between NPR’s Elissa Nadworny and H. Richard Milner, author of the book Rac(e)ing to Class: Confronting Poverty and Race in Schools and Classrooms, Milner shares examples of how and why teachers should incorporate students’ experiences outside of the classroom into their curriculum on a regular basis. He invites educators to be creative and do research to be able to understand their students and the communities they live in. He also asks that schools not accept high suspension and expulsion rates of minority students, but to problem solve instead. What is going on and what can we do to change this?

StoryCorps.org offers a powerful way to share life experiences, accomplishments, and open discussions about race. For example, Alex Landau tells his mother, Patsy Hathaway, what happened when he was pulled over by Denver police officers one night in 2009 and how the stop still affects him in “Traffic Stop.” In “Eyes on the Stars,” Carl tells StoryCorps about his brother, physicist Ronald E. McNair, who was the second African American to enter space and lost his life in the 1986, NASA Challenger mission STS-51-L. As a little boy with big dreams, he fought for his right to use the public library.

And of course we need to continue to work hard at developing our students’ analytical, problem solving, and discussion skills. Apply ideas from the following blog posts throughout the school year:

Teaching Students to Analyze Sources of Information

How Can Schools Prepare for Discussions of Controversial Issues (Part II)

As parents, teachers, and community members, we have a lot of work to do. I invite you to share comments and any helpful articles or resources on this topic in the comments section. Peace.


Image copyright: stockbroker / 123RF Stock Photo

Bring Digital Literacy and Citizenship Skills to Your Class


Ms. Ferrales students participate in a class discussion on the Haitian Revolution in Reading & Writing in the Disciplines.

Before my class started blogging and creating digital stories, they had many questions regarding online use of blogs, social media platforms, and YouTube. Some students, rightfully so, were concerned about their privacy. Some students were more concerned about their communication and the digital footprint they would be leaving. As a result, before we were all comfortable with displaying our work digitally, we needed to address these concerns.

When it comes to digital citizenship, there are several elements (including elements of digital literacy) that are important to discuss and understand. Mike Ribble identifies 9 digital citizenship elements. In my classroom, I found myself covering the following:

Privacy/Security Many of my students were concerned that their blog posts would be read publicly. We had a conversation about ways to keep our work private on YouTube and blogging platforms. Of course, it still exists digitally; however, it’s important for them to know that they have options to keep their work private and to only share it with specific people.

I encourage students to make their work public, because that’s one of the ways we’re able to leave a professional digital footprint. As long as their work is professional and appropriate, it benefits them to share it publicly to create their digital portfolio and open themselves up to make professional connections.

In terms of security, students needed to familiarize themselves with options to keep their personal information private. It was also necessary to learn about virus protection, spam filters, and block options.

Digital Communication When it comes to communication, many students will be wary of writing and publishing online for the first time. Students are mostly concerned about being vulnerable with their thoughts and ideas, as well as their writing and composition. Encourage hesitant students to share their work with their peers before they publish. This will help alleviate some stress about other people reading their work, since it’s already been read by someone they know.

Encourage struggling writers to try out different platforms and see which ones are more comfortable for them to use. Many students might prefer the idea of micro-blogging, as opposed to blogging, and that’s perfectly fine. There are platforms such as Tumblr and Instagram that work really well as micro-blogging tools. Podcasts are another great platform for students to express their thoughts. In Reading & Writing in the Disciplines, “Writing for New Media,” watch as journalism students learn to consider the multiple perspectives of their audience and the importance of data collection while creating podcasts on the topics of their choice.

Digital Etiquette Just as there are etiquettes we need to adhere by in real life, there are ones we should follow in the digital world. It’s important for students to learn and understand that anything they put out in the digital world should exemplify their behaviour in the real world. Ask students this: “Would you say this to someone face to face?” If the answer is “no”, they should rethink publishing it.

Having a discussion about what digital citizenship means helps students to see that our presence digitally is no different than in real life. Our identities, work and behaviour need to always model professionalism as they tell the world more about who we are than we may realize. It’s also very vital for educators to remind students that once something is published, it has its own permanent place online, even with the delete option. This fact should not intimidate us or students, but it should be a reminder to only put work out there that shows that we’re good citizens.

For an example of how to bridge discussion skills from the face-to-face classroom to an online community, watch Reading & Writing in the Disciplines, “Designing the Classroom to Support Understanding.” Students practice respectfully and confidently discussing their ideas about controversial topics in the classroom and take those skills with them to online discussion forums for homework.

How are you teaching digital literacy and citizenship?

Lessons for Independence Day

Chemistry_fireworksAs you are enjoying your holiday picnics, parades, and fireworks, reflect on the history and science behind Independence Day.

Revolutionary Perspectives,” of America’s History in the Making, reveals the political wrangling that led up to the Declaration of Independence and other state constitutions.

Watch A Biography of America, “The Coming of Independence,” to see how English-loving colonists were transformed into freedom-loving American rebels. Program 5, “A New System of Government,” presents the outsized personalities that came together to hash out new systems of government for the American people.

Do you know the lyrics for the Star Spangled Banner beyond the first stanza? If not, find the words and an audio clip in the American Passages Archives.

What causes the different colors of light in fireworks that make us ooh and aah? Find out in Chemistry: Challenges and Solutions, unit 3, “Atoms and Light.”  Click on the video link and start at 12:05 to see a colorful demonstration of various metals throwing off different colors of light when burned in The Flame Test segment.

End of Year Reflections by Students in a Student-Centered Class (Guest Post)

Hot Air Balloon Rally, September 2014. Copyright: svetlana57

Today’s guest post is by educator Kelly Garner (@GarnerRockstars). Her End of Year Reflection caught my attention on Twitter because it demonstrates that her classroom is exceedingly, if not bravely, student-centered. I asked her to share her students’ reactions to the school year in a guest post. Here it is:

In today’s classrooms there is a mindshift. We are preparing students to enter a world that provides them with opportunities that will demand that they can problem solve, collaborate, communicate, fail, and succeed. We have to focus on creating personalized learning environments and instruction for our students. We must allow students to practice making choices. In my class, students can sit where they want, choose their own research topics, decide on their product, and how they will share their learning with others. They complete many projects throughout the year, and I consider myself a facilitator of student learning.

At the end of every year I take some time to reflect with the students about the school year. This year our reflection led to some great discussions of their favorite projects. Some examples were creating a film for iPadpalooza Youth Film Festival, TIGER Talks (mini TED Talks), Backyard Getaway PBL, using the MakerSpace, 3D printing, creating Kahoots, and more!

I could tell you the things that students learned, but more importantly I wanted to share some of their feedback. Here’s what they said:

“I learned how to research better and how to have better time management.”

“I learned to open up more and that it is ok to ask questions.”

“To be creative and to believe in yourself.”

“How to be responsible.”

“We learned that you can’t take words back once we say them.”

“That things are not always easy.”

This learning can not happen without the opportunity to move beyond worksheets, grades, and confined rows of desks. We have to provide students with choices and opportunities to fail. We shouldn’t assign a grade to students when they are “learning” content. In my class, I don’t assign grades or use a scale system to assign a value to their work. So in turn, the students don’t receive any extrinsic motivation. Therefore, I asked my students, what motivates them to work in my class. Their answers were:

“I can research and learn without worrying about a grade.”

“I get to make choices here.”

“I am not told minimums or given a box to work in.”

Two of my favorite projects this year were the youth film projects and TIGER Talks. For the youth film projects, students were given the opportunity to work independently or in groups. We invited a storyboard artist, Mark Bristol, to come and share filming and storyboarding techniques. During the project, students had to create storyboards, participate in peer review, receive feedback, and edit. The process is long, but the finished product is rewarding. They collaborated, created, and had many ah-ha moments. As a result of their hard work, four of my student groups moved on to the semi-finals. We had many successes and many fails. One of the most important steps in any project is reflection. This is a must and will provide the most successful learning experience for students. We also viewed and critiqued the semi-finalists, which led to a discussion of what they were going to do differently next year.

Another great project this year was the TIGER Talks. Students were allowed to pick a topic that they were passionate about and create a 2-3 minute talk that they memorize. They then create a slideshow, using pictures, keywords, or quotes. The finished products were remarkable. Students stood in front of parents and peers and talked about topics like World War II, Jump Roping, Stop Smoking, Dinosaurs, and more. They were AMAZING! Public speaking is a skill that we can’t practice enough. They were excited about this because it was their topic, their passion, their voice!

I want to end with a few more statements from my students about their reflection of the year. I asked them what would they tell their teachers, if they could tell them anything:

“Why do teachers tell us they are getting us ready for life, when in fact many things I am taught I will never use in life?” 

“Why grades? I know this is the only system we have right now, but we need to find a better system.” 

“When I do an assignment I am concerned about what grade I am going to get.” 

“I would tell my teacher that I would like more advanced work because my regular work is too easy.”

“I would tell my teacher I am bored of doing worksheets.”

“We need to learn more soft skills, not just facts.” 

I challenge you to reflect on your school year, write down your ah-ha moments. As you prepare for the next school year, think about opportunities to give students a voice and choice. How will you create a personalized learning environment for your students next year?

Need ideas for writing your own end of year reflections? Read our blog post. Also, share your comments and questions about Kelly’s post below this post.

What Students Can Learn From Scientific Studies (Topic: Genetically Engineered Crops)

DNA_GE interactive

Learn about the process of genetic engineering and how it is used to develop new medicines in the DNA interactive.

The Issue: Genetically Engineered Crops

Since the first genetically engineered (GE) crops were approved for commercial use 20 years ago, debate has raged over whether they help or harm the environment, and whether foods that contain GE crops are safe to eat. (This concern is the driving force behind campaigns to require mandatory labeling for products that contain GE crops.)

In May the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine released a multi-year study that reviewed several decades of evidence on these questions from studies conducted around the world. The study was carried out by 20 experts from fields including biology, medicine, crop science, ecology, law and sociology.

Broadly, the report concludes that there is “no conclusive evidence” that GE crops harm the environment through effects such as out-competing other species and reducing biodiversity. It also finds “no substantiated evidence” that foods from GE crops are less safe than foods from non-GE crops. But the study also raised some concerns. Notably, some insect pests and weeds have evolved to be resistant GE crops or to weed-killers, which makes them much harder for farmers to control.

In the Classroom

The National Academies report is an excellent focus for discussions with high school biology and environmental science students about genetic engineering and concerns over genetic modification of plants. The study’s website allows readers to search findings and recommendations from the report and see the evidence that the committee reviewed on each topic – for example, the effects of GE crops on biodiversity on farms, or the evidence supporting or refuting linkages between eating GE crops and developing cancer, food allergies, or other health problems.

Unit 13 of Annenberg Learner’s Rediscovering Biology course, “Genetically Modified Organisms,” provides a detailed overview of how scientists genetically modify different types of organisms. The expert interview with Rebecca Goldburg, senior scientist with the advocacy group Environmental Defense, summarizes major concerns about environmental impacts of GE organisms. And Annenberg’s Genetic Engineering interactive shows how human understanding of genetics has evolved and enabled us to modify organisms.

The study is also a good peg for discussing how scientists tackle problems that cross boundaries between different fields. To analyze the impacts of GE crops and recommend ways to manage them, experts need to understand many different areas, including genetics, plant breeding, ecology, insects, environmental health, sociology (to assess how using GE crops affects farmers and rural communities), and law. According to members of the study committee, they each learned much from discussing studies and evidence with their colleagues.

Many complex problems require scientists to team with colleagues from different disciplines. And even when scientists work within their own fields, their work increasingly requires collaboration and communications skills, as well as understanding of scientific facts and concepts. Annenberg Learner’s Michele McLeod examines why scientists need to collaborate and communicate in this recent post.

To explore this theme using the GE crops report, look at the panel members’ backgrounds and ask your students: What could this person tell you about GE crops? Or try the same approach with another inter-disciplinary problem, such as the spread of Zika virus. How could a weather expert, or a psychologist, help governments develop strategies for curbing Zika outbreaks? Discussions like these can help students think about what other science courses they may want to take, and about the power of teams to solve problems.

What’s On Your Summer Reading List?

Bookstackbylake123rfYou deserve to relax a little. What better way to relax and escape than by reading about what interests you? It is hard to find time to pick up books just for fun during the school year. Kick back with that book that has been calling your name all year, or choose one from the programs below.

Escape into exotic worlds of fiction by reading books like The Tale of Genji and One Hundred Years of Solitude. Watch Invitation to World Literature to hear how artists, dancers, and others connect with their favorite reads. Go to the Connections section to find modern popular interpretations of these stories.

Take emotional journeys and visit landscapes of the mind with some of America’s greatest poets in Voices & Visions. Elizabeth Bishop lived both in Brazil and Maine, and captured the spirit of these places and their people in her poems. Feel the pulse of land and water in “The Map” and the murmurings of old people in “The Moose,” in program 1.

Langston Hughes evokes the rhythm of the people and the landscape of the African continent in “The Negro Speaks of Rivers,” in program 6. Stream the video or play the audio while closing your eyes and seeing the words paint the images.

Brush up on American history and culture while reading works by great authors. Visit American Passages to find an extensive list of writers and to explore writers and their works by themes such as “The Spirit of Nationalism” and “The Search for Identity”.

If math and science are more your speed, peruse the bibliographies from Mathematics Illuminated and Physics for the 21st Century. For example, in Mathematics Illuminated, “Geometries Beyond Euclid,” the bibliography list includes Brian Greene’s The Elegant Universe: Superstrings, Hidden Dimensions, and the Quest for the Ultimate Theory and Lederman and Hill’s Symmetry and the Beautiful Universe. Also, find book suggestions in the “Further Reading” sections of each unit in Physics for the 21st Century.

Read Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring and learn about her contributions to the environment on our blog.

What books will you read this summer?

Image copyright: perhapzzz / 123RF Stock Photo

Great Outdoors Month: Parks, Oceans, and Gardens


Yellowstone National Park. © luckyphotographer / 123RF

There’s no doubt we all benefit from outdoor activities like hiking and kayaking. Leisurely strolls in woods and along the beaches, while observing nature, help us relax and inspire meditation. Physical activity, including gardening, also sends endorphins to our brains, warding off depression, and makes us fit and healthy. During Great Outdoors Month, get moving and explore some of the U.S.’s national parks, urban centers, oceans, or even your back yard. The following resources offer some suggestions for appreciating the outdoors:

Ecosystems in National Parks

In any trip to a national park or forest you are likely to encounter flora and fauna that comprise an ecosystem. Get a better understanding of how all these organisms—predators, prey, and producers—interact and coexist. Try keeping an ecosystem in balance with the Ecology Lab from The Habitable Planet.

Yellowstone (Wyoming, Montana, Idaho)

Find pictures of Yellowstone in the archives for America’s History in the Making, unit 13.  For example, see a painting done by Thomas Moran as part of a U.S. Geological Survey expedition. Moran’s watercolors of Yellowstone were later used to convince Congress to establish Yellowstone as a national park.

Central Park (New York City)

Escape the hustle and bustle of New York City by ducking into Central Park. Learn about how Central Park was designed in 1857 and the design’s influence on urban natural spaces throughout the United States thereafter in Art Through Time, program 10, “The Natural World.”


Oceans cover over 70% of the Earth’s surface. As the school year ends, many head to the seaside to relax in the sun and frolic on the beach. Explore and appreciate the ocean using the following resources:


Marine phytoplankton. © United States Geological Survey. Image from The Habitable Planet, figure 12.

What is the structure of the ocean and what causes that painful “ear squeeze” in scuba divers? See The Habitable Planet, unit 3, “Oceans,” section 2.  Sections 6 and 7 describe the biological activity of the tiniest forms of ocean life, plankton, that form the base of marine food webs.

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.

Explore the relationship between rocky landmasses and the energy of the ocean. See illustrations of wave movements and their impact on the shores in Earth Revealed, program 24, “Waves, Beaches and Coasts.”

Use cyclic functions to track the height of tides as they come in and go out in Learning Math: Algebra, session 8, part A, Cyclic Functions, Tides. At the bottom of the page, watch the video clip to see a “real world” example of how to calculate tides from the Massachusetts Maritime Academy.

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.


Do you have a green thumb? Why not use that thumb to help track the migration of monarch butterflies? Journey North provides schools and individual citizen scientists tools and information for planting butterfly gardens and monitoring butterfly activity. The data collected and posted on the Journey North website is used to track seasonal change.  This page lists the types of plants you will need to host both monarch caterpillars and butterflies.

You can also attract hummingbirds by growing plants with their preferred nectar. Find instructions on the “Unpave the Way for Hummingbirds” page of Journey North.

Visit a virtual garden in Art Through Time, program 10, “The Natural World.” Find a photo of the gardens created by Henry Hoare II and Henry Flitcroft at Stourhead Estate in Wiltshire, England. Be inspired by the symmetrical arrangements that reflect a nature-taming approach to gardening.

How will you enjoy the great outdoors this month and this summer?

It’s Over Already/Finally? Reflecting on the School Year

93rd st school classsmsqSummer is the perfect time to pause and look back at the school year. How did it go? What challenges did you face? What improvements can you make for next year? Is there anything new you would like to try with your students next year and how can you prepare this summer? The following resources offer guidance with your reflections.

What is your teacher metaphor? As a teacher, are you more of a conductor or an air traffic controller? Have you ever tried to define your teaching? The Metaphorically Speaking interactive in The Next Move workshop spurs you to think of a metaphor to describe your teaching to others, and also to help you develop a focus. Read what other teachers have used as metaphors for their own teaching. Share your own metaphor and how this metaphor influences or guides your teaching in the comments section!

Did you struggle with keeping your students’ attention or motivating them? Neuroscience & the Classroom  shows how brain research can inform instructional practices. Learn to effectively manage a variety of learning styles and attention spans. Use the course’s search function to find the topics you want to explore.

Connecting With the Arts, program 8, “Reflecting on Our Practice,” provides strategies for solo and group reflection to improve curriculum and refine lesson plans.

How can you encourage literacy in the home? How can you better support your English language learners? How can you work on comprehension skillsTeaching Reading Workshop, K-2, offers reflection worksheets for each session. Glean ideas from these reflection sheets, and adapt them to other subject areas and grade levels.

Consider creating informal professional learning communities over the summer or build your case to develop them during the next school year. Critical Issues in School Reform, videos on innovation in professional collaboration, outline group reflection activities (like the Tuning Protocol and the Consultancy) that examine student work and classroom instruction.

Image copyright: ljupco / 123RF Stock Photo

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.