Teacher resources and professional development across the curriculum

Teacher professional development and classroom resources across the curriculum

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How to Build Motivation in Your Classroom

Ican'tSometimes, as teachers, we have a tendency to blame the student for a lack of motivation. Have you ever checked off “lacks motivation” or “lacks effort” on a progress report? Yet we all experience times when we just are not willing to do what is being asked of us. The following resources will help you understand what enhances and hinders motivation to learn.

Failure and fear of it saps motivation. Nobody likes to fail, but an optimistic attitude helps us learn from a poor performance. In Discovering Psychology, program 12, “Motivation and Emotion,” discover how optimists are more likely than pessimists to succeed in challenging situations because they tend to reflect and try again. Teach students to understand that sometimes disappointment and failure are part of the learning process.

Another obstacle to motivation is perceived irrelevance of the topic. Neuroscience research tells us that we learn best when we are interested in what we are learning and see a connection between our studies and our lives. Find out why in unit 2, “The Unity of Emotion, Thinking, and Learning,” of Neuroscience & the Classroom.

Our environment also plays a role in how we feel and act. Create classroom environments that engage students using tips from The Learning Classroom: Theory Into Practice, program 12, “Expectations for Success: Motivation and Learning.” Watch how teachers ask questions instead of dispensing information, invite students to investigate and arrive at their own conclusions, provide opportunities to work on real-world problems, and involve students in helpful competition using cooperative grouping.

What does motivation look like in your classroom? Share in the comments.

Image Copyright: misstuni / 123RF Stock Photo

Physical Geography: Examining Earth’s Lithosphere

globeundermicroscopeDestructive earthquakes and volcanic eruptions often make headlines and prompt humanitarian relief efforts, though the forces that cause these events are, in fact, mundane and constant. Explore the physical processes operating in the lithosphere, the outer part of the earth that is the base of our continents and oceans. Dig into the following resources to learn about the role of plate tectonics in natural events such as volcanic eruptions and earthquakes, and how humans respond to the risks related to these events.

First, understand the workings of the tectonic plates. Students can study the structure of the lithosphere and plate tectonics using the Dynamic Earth interactive. Find maps of tectonic plates and explore how an earthquake in one area of the world can cause a tsunami in another.

In Earth and Space Science, session 4, “The Engine That Drives the Earth,” join scientists and students as they explore the forces behind volcanoes and earthquakes.

Next, examine humans’ relationship with the land. Witness how the small fishing island of Heimaey, Iceland saved its port from an erupting volcano in 1973. Watch the second half of program 6, “Challenges in the Hinterlands,” from The Power of Place. Start at 14:05 in the video.

Geographers study Tungurahua, a volcano in Ecuador, in order to prevent future tragedies after eruptions. Watch this case study in the second half of workshop 2, “Latin America,” of Teaching Geography. Start at 28:40 in the video.

Additional resources for teaching about the lithosphere:

Earth and Space Science, session 5, “When Continents Collide

Earth Revealed, program 6, “Plate Dynamics” and program 13, “Volcanism”

Learner Express, 40 short video clips with accompanying text. Ten videos on volcanoes and 13 on plate tectonics.

Image copyright: Serp / 123RF Stock Photo

Let Us Help You With Your Resolutions!

NewYearsResolutionsYou’re quickly approaching the 100th day of the school year, and you’ve decided to refine and refresh your teaching methods as you enter the long stretch from January through June. So far, many of your students are coming along nicely, but others are struggling. So you resolve to make a few changes to get all of your students excited and invested in learning. What resolutions will you make?


Can’t think of any? Using our resources, here are a few ideas you can try in your classroom:

Grade writing papers more efficiently.

Grading is often a tedious task. Resolve to make it a faster and more useful exercise. In Developing Writers: A Workshop for High School Teachers, Dr. Robyn Jackson outlines how to use color-coded rubrics. This format is faster for teachers because they spend less time writing the same comments and grading becomes more objective. Students can also immediately see which components of their writing need improvement.  Shuttle into 15:16 of the video program to watch this rubric in action.

Differentiate instruction.

How do you meet the needs of diverse students in your class? Literacy expert Dorothy Strickland discusses key elements of effective instruction that build on student diversity in session 7 of Teaching Reading 3-5. In session 6, “Differentiating Instruction,” of Teaching Reading K-2 Workshop, you will learn how to apply research-based principles in early literacy.  Studying multiple writing genres? In workshop 5 of Write in the Middle, Mary Cathryn Ricker explains her philosophy on teaching multigenre writing so that it engages students: “I know that there are some students at the middle level who are very nervous about poetry, downright scared of poetry, and I want to make sure that they have a style of writing or a form of writing they’re going to be comfortable with.”  Also, watch as Jane Shuffelton customizes a lesson for different levels of learners in her high school Russian class.

Incorporate standardized test questions into routine assignments.

With more and more teacher performance ratings tied to standardized testing, it’s no wonder that many teachers resort to teaching to the test. But that needn’t be so. You can easily tie standard test questions into your regular class assignments. In workshop 4, “Research and Discovery,” of Teaching Multicultural Literature: A Workshop for the Middle Grades, Kathryn Mitchell Pierce explains that when students engage in critical reading beyond just literal recall of what happens in a book, they have skills which give them confidence to correctly complete a standardized test.

Communicate more often and effectively with parents.

You can do this by setting up a parent listserv for your class and by sending a weekly newsletter about what’s going on in your class, including specific projects, instructional practices, and materials that your students are engaged in throughout the year. There’s a good template for a parent newsletter in session 8 of Teaching Reading K-2 Workshop.  In Teaching Multicultural Literature: A Workshop for the Middle Grades, workshop 7, “Social Justice and Action,” Laura Alvarez talks about keeping parents informed by involving them in the actual lesson.

We’d love to hear about your resolutions for your classroom in the comments below.

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International Creativity Month: Invite Your Students to Play

artisticlightbulbThe beginning of the year is a time for resolutions and reflection. January is also International Creativity Month. Make a resolution to incorporate opportunities for students to flex their creative muscles into your lessons. Let them write, paint, dance, compose, brainstorm, and most of all, play!

Start from the beginning by learning why creative play is so important to a young child’s healthy development. Watch The Whole Child: A Caregiver’s Guide to the First Five Years, program 11, “Creativity and Play” to learn about the connection between creativity and self-worth and self-expression.

If you’re familiar with the link between music and mathematical ability in children, gain more insight with the documentary “Surprises in Mind,” which looks at children’s innate mathematical creativity and how a specially designed math program boosted students’ confidence in their mathematical ability and enjoyment mathematics.

Brain researchers have found a connection between creativity and dreaming, as explained in the brief clip “REM Sleep and Dreaming,” program 15 of The Brain: Teaching Modules.

Creativity is essential to teaching, just as it is an integral part of students’ learning in subjects across the curriculum. In Looking at Learning…Again, Part 2, workshop 5, “Infusing Critical and Creative Thinking,” Dr. Robert Swartz discusses the role of creative thinking in the learning process. Then see examples in the footage of Virginia Williams’s 4th-grade science class in Brookfield, Massachusetts.

Find ideas for creative learning experiences in the following resources:

Art Through Time explores creative expression through different cultures and historical eras. For example, program 7, looks at functional art used in domestic life around the world. Have students watch the video and then design and/or make their own useful art.

High school arts teachers will discover new ways to foster creativity with The Art of Teaching the Arts: A Workshop for High School Teachers. In workshop 5, watch how teachers foster respect and build confidence in students in a variety of arts lessons, including improv.

Draw ideas from Dr. Judith Ortiz Cofer’s interesting creative writing exercise based on truth and lies in Developing Writers.

The documentaries of American Cinema can serve as the basis for creative writing assignments. Students learn all about screenwriting in the related Cinema interactive.

See models of creative integrated arts units at the middle school level in Connecting with the Arts: A Teaching Practices Library, 6-8. In “Can frogs dance?“, a science teacher and a dance instructor ask students to compare human and frog anatomy.

How are you adding creativity to your lesson plans this year?

Image copyright: artqu / 123RF Stock Photo

How to Teach Global Awareness

Globe in palmAs world populations become increasingly connected, teaching global awareness is becoming more important. Many jobs focus on issues that affect global communities and require mindfulness about the similarities and differences of life experiences around the world. Prepare your students for participation in our international community now by integrating global awareness into your lessons using Annenberg Learner resources. Teaching global awareness in your classroom should feel seamless, no matter what subject you teach.

Literature and Language Arts

Part of living in a global community is learning strong conversational skills that include valuing each other’s strengths, listening well, and explaining thinking clearly. Ms. Bomer models these behaviors as she guides her 5th graders in thoughtful discussions of the text they read. See Engaging With Literature, program 2, “Voices in the Conversation.”

Find teaching strategies for reading works by American authors with diverse ethnic backgrounds in Teaching Multicultural Literature: A Workshop for the Middle Grades.

Enhance students’ understanding of literary texts using cultural artifacts that provide background knowledge for the stories they read in Artifacts & Fiction.  For example, in workshop 6, “Cultural Geography,” students compare photographs and excerpts from Sandra Cisneros’s The House on Mango Street to understand cultural divisions in contemporary Chicago neighborhoods.


Fourth graders in a bilingual classroom use a Valentine’s Day card exchange to work on mathematical concepts and problem solving skills in Teaching Math: A Video Library, K-4, program 42. The students respectfully communicate in Spanish and English during the lesson. Use the cards as an opportunity for students to share expressions in their native languages.

Talk about genetic resistance as a global issue, and provide case studies. Against All Odds: Inside Statistics, program 29, “Inference for Two-Way Tables,” focuses on the research of the series host Dr. Pardis Sabeti. She uses statistical tools to examine possible genetic resistance to deadly Lassa fever in West Africa.

Integrate global awareness into lessons exploring the mathematical concepts of connectivity and networks, from Mathematics Illuminated, unit 11. This unit provides insights into various ways life is connected, from social networks to ecosystems. The video starts with 16th century poet John Donne’s concept that “no man is an island entire of itself.”


Essential Science for Teachers: Life Science, session 7, is about energy flow in communities. Define community and examine energy flow within a community.  Take these lessons a step further by providing students opportunities to explore energy flow among organisms in communities around the world.

Read about our earliest common ancestors to learn what makes us all human in Rediscovering Biology, unit 9, “Human Evolution.” Anthropologist Ian Tattersall explains how modern humans developed and migrated from Africa to populate the globe.

Teach students how demographers study human population dynamics by tackling questions on how population growth affects the environment and whether or not urbanization is a threat to humans’ quality of life. Go to The Habitable Planet, unit 5, “Human Population Dynamics.”

More resources from our collection that can be used to support global awareness in your lessons:

Art Through Time: A Global View

Invitation to World Literature

Bridging World History

The Economics Classroom, workshop 5, “Trading Globally

Economics U$A, unit 27, “International Trade

Human Geography: People, Places, and Change

Social Studies in Action Library, grades K-12

The Power of Place: Geography for the 21st Century

Image copyright: mtkang / 123RF Stock Photo

Why do Humans Migrate?

humanmigrateWhy don’t humans stay in one area? The following resources look at the causes of both early and more recent human migrations related to climate, economics, and cultural and political conflict.

Let’s start from the beginning with Bridging World History, unit 3, “Human Migrations.”  What do archeological and linguistic studies tell us about how early humans moved across Africa, Eurasia, and the Americas?

See this animation that explains Human Migration Hypotheses in Rediscovering Biology, unit 9, “Human Evolution.”

Teaching Geography looks at population growth and how cooperation and conflict influence movement across the Earth.  For example, workshop 5, “Sub-Saharan Africa,” features case studies on human migration in Kenya and South Africa.  Workshop, 2, “Latin America,” looks at how both cultural conflict and physical geography influence migrations across Guatemala, Mexico, and Ecuador.

The Power of Place includes several programs on human migration throughout the world. Unit 1, “Introduction: Globalization and World Regions,” Boundaries and Borderlands asks you to consider how the physical location of border towns, economic development, and U.S. border policy help shape human migration between the U.S. and its neighbor Mexico. Unit 10, “North America,” Cityscapes, Suburban Sprawl examines why Boston is full of different ethnicities and how the middle class flight from inner city to suburbia has affected farmland around Chicago.

The full list of regions covered in The Power of Place can be found on the website homepage.

Share other resources and activities you use to teach about human migration in the comments below.

Framing climate change: When textbooks cloud the issue

HabPlanet_12_surfacetempimageWorld leaders are meeting in Paris this week to negotiate a new agreement on slowing global climate change. Many observers say the chances for success are good: more than 180 countries have already pledged to take steps to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. But a recent study published in the journal Environmental Education Research suggests that U.S. text books are not teaching American students accurately about the scope of global climate change or the risks that it poses.

The study authors analyzed four sixth-grade earth science textbooks adopted in California to see how the texts described climate change. They found that although 97 percent of climate scientists agree that human activities are causing current warming, the books did not reflect this high level of certainty. Instead they made statements such as: “Some scientists believe that human activities can affect the climate of our planet,” obscuring both the strong consensus among scientists about impacts of human action and the fact that those impacts are occurring now. All four books also pointed out that “some” scientists believed current warming was due to natural variations in Earth’s climate. Only two texts listed specific actions that humans could take to slow climate change, and none specifically told students what they could do.

“The message was that climate change is possibly happening, that humans may or may not be causing it, and that we do not need to take immediate mitigating action,” the authors observed. This view, they contended, misrepresented the state of climate science. It also poorly described what scientists do: the texts often said scientists believed or thought certain things instead of describing how researchers analyzed data and drew conclusions from it.

What can teachers do to present a more accurate understanding of climate science? The study authors, Diego Roman of Southern Methodist University and K.C. Busch of Stanford University, offer some strategies:

  • Clarify what is known and unknown. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s fifth assessment report, published in 2013, states unequivocally that “Human impact on the climate is clear,” and describes many observed changes on land and ocean systems. Journalists covering the Paris conference have also written stories quantifying the impacts of climate change since 1997, when nations last tried to negotiate a global treaty to slow warming.
  • Explain the role of uncertainty. Two factors influence the strength of IPCC findings: the quality of the evidence (limited, medium or robust), and levels of agreement among scientists (low, medium, high). Statements expressing the panel’s confidence in various outcomes reflect specific judgments of how likely they are: for example, “virtually certain” means a probability of 99 to 100 percent, and “very likely” means 90 to 100 percent. Section 12 of The Habitable Planet, “Earth’s Changing Climate,” explains how scientists measure and analyze impacts of climate change to discern the human role. (Note, however, that the IPCC observations described in The Habitable Planet are drawn from an earlier report; the 2013 report linked above reflects the panel’s most recent statements and how Earth is warming and what impacts can be measured.)
  • Discuss the role of humans as agents in causing climate change. Roman and Busch argue that many texts obscure the human role in climate change by attributing rising emissions to abstract processes such as burning fossil fuels, without ever explaining who is doing the burning. Making the human role explicit leads to discussions about what humans can do to help solve the problem.

Beyond understanding climate science, deciding how society should respond to climate change is a social and political process. The California Education and the Environment Initiative, supported by the Annenberg Foundation, presents environmental science within a broader context of history and human development. To adjust to a changing climate, humans will have to develop better ways of sharing resources and protecting the most vulnerable nations from impacts like drought and floods. The Paris negotiations are just the first step.

News From Space: Liquid Water on Mars


#6003 Mars Crater Ice ESA/DLR/Freie Universitat Berlin/G. Neukum

Late last month NASA scientists confirmed that Mars has liquid water flowing on its surface, a finding that the agency’s planetary science division director called “tremendously exciting” because it supports speculation that the Red Planet might be able to support life.

Mars is extremely cold: the average surface temperature is about -60 degrees Celsius (-80 degrees Fahrenheit), far below the freezing point of water. Until now it was generally thought that all available water on Mars was contained in frozen ice caps at its poles. But by analyzing photographs that showed dark streaks running down slopes on the planet’s surface, scientists discerned that the streaks contained hydrated salts. That indicated that liquid water, either from Mars’ atmosphere or from underground, was dampening those areas.

Annenberg Learner’s Essential Lens: Analyzing Photographs Across the Curriculum course for middle and high school teachers uses photographs to demonstrate how scientists and engineers think about problems. It includes a case study that examines investigations of water on Mars to teach students about processes of science: posing questions, interpreting data, constructing explanations, and arguing from evidence. Students can compare geological features on Mars and Earth, form hypotheses about their functions, and look for evidence of water on Mars. Complement these with images and animations from NASA that were released to support the September 28 announcement.

And since a good movie hook is always handy in the classroom, note that NASA provided technical advice to director Ridley Scott for his just-released movie The Martian, which stars Matt Damon as an astronaut who is stranded on Mars in 2035 and has to figure out how to survive for four years until the next mission from Earth arrives. Planetary scientists have praised the movie as a well-told story rooted in sound science, with one exception: To generate a storm as strong as the gale that strands Damon’s character in Mars’ extremely thin atmosphere, winds would have to blow at over 10,000 miles per hour. But that’s a small issue to overlook in a movie where science is the star.

What’s in a Mole?

Avogadro_Amedeo (1) copyWhat’s another name for a mole? Why it’s Avogadro’s number, (6.02 x 1023), a basic unit of measurement of molecules and atoms in chemistry. Celebrate Mole Day on October 23, from 6:02am to 6:02pm using the following resources:

Follow the evolution of the definition of a mole in Chemistry: Challenges and Solutions, unit 6, “Quantifying Chemical Reactions.”

See what Amedeo Avogadro (year 1811) looked like, his influences, and his impact on those who came after him in the Chemistry Timeline for Chemistry: Challenges and Solutions.

Use an activity that combines a familiar game with chemical calculations to help students visualize what a mole is in Reactions in Chemistry, workshop 1, “Atoms and Molecules.”

Your students can learn about isotopes, moles, and calculating atomic mass using The Periodic Table Interactive.

The Mechanical Universe…and Beyond, program 49, “The Atom,” discusses Avogadro’s number and its role in the development of atomic theory.

How to Incorporate the Arts in All Subjects

PuppetsArt is a valuable tool for students to learn how to express themselves, work through a process, work cooperatively, and gain respect and understanding for others. How can we teach the arts in all subject areas so that students benefit from the learning opportunities that art affords them? For more ways art instruction benefits students, read “Ten reasons why teaching the arts is critical in a 21st century world” by Elliott Seif.

Below are examples of the arts blended with other curriculum areas, helping students to draw out a deeper understanding and appreciation for both familiar and unfamiliar concepts.


See art as a tool to make meaning of our relationship with the natural world in Art Through Time, program 10, “The Natural World.”

Seventh graders combine science, dance, and language arts as they compare the anatomy of a frog and a human and then debate whether a frog can join a ballet company. Connecting With the Arts Library, program 11, “Can Frogs Dance?” has the video and student materials.


Mathematicians understand symmetry differently than the rest of us, as a fundamental aspect of group theory. Learn more in Mathematics Illuminated, unit 6, “The Beauty of Symmetry,” which includes a symmetry interactive. Students can manipulate a wallpaper design to practice common geometric motions such as rotation and reflection.

Language Arts

Students explore Greek myths using puppets in Connecting With the Arts Library, program 2, “Breathing Life into Myths.”

Artifacts & Fiction, session 1, “Visual Arts,” shows how visual art, paired with literature, can be used to enhance students’ understanding of the predominant culture and historical setting of a work of literature.

World Languages

Latin students learn the difference between translating and interpreting the language using music and literary works of Mozart, Vergil, and Cicero. See Teaching Foreign Languages K-12, program 24, “Music and Manuscripts.”

In Teaching Foreign Languages, program 29, “Interpreting Literature,” students discuss “Dos caras” (Two faces) by New Mexico author Sabine Ulibarri. They act out scenes and make comparisons to a painting by a local artist.

In program 27, “Interpreting Picasso’s Guernica,” students write and deliver radio newscasts interpreting the scene in the famous painting.

Social Studies/History

Fifth graders in The Arts in Every Classroom, program 6, “Teaching Visual Art,” view portraits, looking beyond the face for historical cues. They continue the lesson by creating new portraits that reveal clues to the lives of their subjects through clothing, expressions, and background.

Use the Focus In tool with middle and high school students to analyze photographs curated by topics such as “Protest and Politics” and “Economies and Empires” in Essential Lens: Analyzing Photographs Across the Curriculum. Also, hear a photo editor at National Geographic and a professional photographer discuss their work in the video “Story.”

Music and Art

Start a music program at your school based on the El Sistema program or borrow ideas from the programs presented in our new series The Power of Music: P-5 Teaching Inspired by El Sistema. The El Sistema philosophy presents music making as a collaborative process—one that teaches individual self-confidence, creates caring citizens, and builds cohesive communities. The program includes ideas for teachers of all subjects, not just music.

Watch art, dance, and theater teachers use scaffolding as they help students gain knowledge and fundamental skills while fostering creativity and active self-directed learning in The Art of Teaching the Arts, workshop 2, “Developing Students as Artists.”

Additional Resources:

To learn more about why arts education is important and how to connect the arts with big ideas in other subject areas, view Connecting With the Arts, program 2, “Why Integrate the Arts?”  and program 5, “What Are Connecting Concepts?”

These ideas just scratch the surface of all they ways arts instruction can be incorporated in other curriculum areas. Please feel free to share more ideas in the comments.