Teacher resources and professional development across the curriculum

Teacher professional development and classroom resources across the curriculum

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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!

Tornado Season: The Science of Storms

weatherinteractiveWhile we welcome warmer temperatures, the spring’s surly weather has us watching the skies. This year, despite a slower than normal start, the storms are starting to ramp up. See the NOAA site to compare monthly and yearly tornado counts. Understand the science behind this fascinating, if not frightening, weather phenomenon.

High school students identify the conditions that lead to dangerous tornadoes on the Powerful Storms page of the Weather Interactive. The virtual Storm Chaser activity allows students to track storms through Tornado Alley.

Watch elementary classrooms explore how light affects weather patterns, including wind and storms, in Science in Focus: Shedding Lightworkshop 8

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

Frederick Law Olmsted: Urban Planning as Art

Frederick Law Olmsted / engraved by T. Johnson ; from a photograph by James Notman. LC-USZ62-36895

Frederick Law Olmsted / engraved by T. Johnson ; from a photograph by James Notman. LC-USZ62-36895

In 1857, Frederick Law Olmsted (b.4.26.1822) and Calvert Vaux designed Central Park in New York City as a work of art, a space distinct from the urban life. Learn how this park was deliberately designed and constructed with a sensitivity to nature in Art Through Time, program 10, “The Natural World.”

See the “Lagoon Bird’s-Eye View” photo of Olmsted’s design of the Chicago World’s Fair site in Activity 2: Campaign for World’s Fair 2010 of Primary Sources, workshop 5, “Cans, Coal, and Corporations.” Consider how this city design and the design of Central Park have inspired future urban landscape plans.

Frederick Law Olmsted was also a writer. He wrote about the differences between Northern and Southern societies during the 1850s, and critiqued the slave labor practices of the South vs. the paid labor of the North. Watch the video for A Biography of America, program 9, “Slavery.”

Eadweard Muybridge: Photography Pioneer

Eadweard Muybridge portrait, by photographer Frances Benjamin Johnston, LC-USZ62-33083 (b&w film copy neg.)

Eadweard Muybridge portrait, by photographer Frances Benjamin Johnston, LC-USZ62-33083 (b&w film copy neg.)

English expatriate Eadweard Muybridge, born on April 9, 1830, took daring steps, cutting down trees and venturing into dangerous places, to get landscape photographs that would distinguish him from his contemporaries. See the story of his shot, Falls of the Yosemite, taken in 1872 while on a six-month trip West in Art Through Time, program 10, “The Natural World.”

Read how Muybridge developed photography techniques that captured human and animal movements in new ways in American Passages, unit 8, “Regional Realism.” Muybridge also invented the zoopraxiscope (image #8245 in the archives), a device that projected a moving image from still sequences.

In the video for workshop 6, “Possibilities of Real Life Problems,” of Private Universe Project in Mathematics, ninth graders are asked to solve how fast a cat, captured in a series of photos by Muybridge more than 100 years ago, was moving in frames 10 and 20.

Find a slideshow of 17 of Muybridge’s images of Guatemala in Teaching Geography, workshop 2, “Latin America.” Below each slide is information about the content of each photo and questions to compare the past with the present.

Where is the Water: California and Beyond


The expansion of agriculture contributes to the threat against irreplaceable resources like water in many parts of the globe. Learn more in The Habitable Planet.

California has been facing a major water shortage, but that shortage is not just a problem for the state alone. Much of our produce in grocery stores across the country comes from California farms and orchards that depend on this much-needed resource. While officials debate ways to regulate water use, everyone hopes for rain. (If you’re wondering about how much of a drought your own state is in, click on the Drought Monitor.)

Understand California’s current drought by viewing three side-by-side photos, taken by NASA February 2011, 2013, and 2014, showing the decreasing water table around Lake Tahoe in Essential Lens: Analyzing Photographs Across the Curriculum. This compiled image is part of a larger unit, “Earth, Climate, and Change: Observing Human Impact,” for middle and high school classrooms. View all unit materials here.

This isn’t California’s first time feeling thirsty. One of the worst droughts occurred in 1975. In Economics U$A: 21st Century Edition, unit 3, “Supply and Demand,” economics analyst Richard Gill explains what the experience of water shortages teaches us about the nature of consumer demand.

Oregon: A Fight for Water, the first case study in The Power of Place, unit 10, “Regions and Economies,” examines the environmental costs of technology developed to harness scarce water resources to support agricultural production.

Consider the issue globally. The Habitable Planet, unit 8, “Water Resources,” discusses what drives the world’s demand for water and what happens when groundwater is depleted. Also see informative animations from the video on this topic.

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.

Science of Diseases: Going Viral in a Bad Way

52034657_mWhen a song or video goes viral, it’s good news for the artists who created it. When a viral infection causes a human epidemic, it’s the opposite. Viruses are infectious agents that reproduce by injecting their genetic material into living cells. They cannot be killed by antibiotics, which are designed to stop infections spread by much larger bacteria. Viruses cause some of the deadliest known diseases, including Ebola, smallpox, HIV, and influenza.

The newest virus to make headlines is Zika, which is spread by mosquitoes. It was discovered in Uganda in the 1940s, but few human cases were reported until it started appearing in Pacific islands in 2007. Now Zika is spreading in Latin America, where researchers are trying to determine whether it causes birth defects in newborn infants whose mothers have been infected.

Viral epidemics can be frightening, as the world saw in 2014-15 when Ebola killed more than 11,000 people in Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Liberia. Unit 6 of Rediscovering Biology, “HIV and AIDs,” explains how viruses attack our immune systems, and why we need to understand the virus’s life cycle to develop effective treatments. Many medical experts now view HIV/AIDs as a treatable chronic disease, thanks to antiretroviral drugs (although getting these drugs to everyone who needs them is still a major challenge).

Many factors shape the odds that any one of us may be infected by a virus. To assess the risk, we need to know how the virus spreads; where humans may become exposed; and whether they have defenses available, such as vaccines or protective gear. The Habitable Planet’s interactive lab on diseases lets students explore how several simulated diseases spread through populations and the steps that we can take to counter them.

Viruses are an active and fast-moving area of biomedical research. Virologists have identified some 2,000 species of viruses that cause infections in plants, animals, and humans. And some important risk factors for viral infection are increasing today. For example, climate change is expanding the range of vectors that spread viral diseases, such as the Aedes aegypti mosquito, which transmits Zika, chikungunya, and dengue fever. And the expansion of global air travel is bringing more humans into contact with diseases and with each other, increasing the likelihood of spreading infections. Some experts are worried that people who attend the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil could carry Zika virus, which is widespread in Brazil, home with them.

Dr. Pardis Sabeti, a computational geneticist at the Broad institute and Harvard University and host of Annenberg Learner’s Against All Odds: Inside Statistics series, led work by an international team to sequence the Ebola genome during the 2014-15 outbreak. Their research showed that the virus was mutating rapidly during the early phase of the outbreak, which helped public health responders determine which treatments would be more or less effective.

In this 2016 TED talk, Sabeti explains the importance of international cooperation to understand and stop viral epidemics. “This is not the first outbreak of Ebola, it will not be the last, and there are many other microbes out there lying in wait,” she says. “We have the technology and the capacity to have the upper hand over viruses, but we can only [succeed] if we do it together.”

Image Copyright: jpgon / 123RF Stock Photo

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

Science and the Flint Water Crisis

No waterThe ongoing crisis over lead-contaminated drinking in Flint, Michigan has shocked many Americans. In April 2014 the city switched its drinking water source from the City of Detroit’s system to the Flint river as a cost-saving measure. Almost immediately, residents started complaining that the water looked, smelled and tasted strange, but state officials insisted that it was safe to drink. Tests by academic researchers soon showed that the water was highly corrosive, and was leaching dangerous levels of lead from Flint homes’ aging pipes. This crisis has brought attention to additional states, such as Pennsylvania and New Jersey, facing lead contamination concerns.

This ongoing disaster offers many lessons about government, risk and public health. It also shows how directly relevant science is to our daily lives, and the right and wrong ways to think about exposure to environmental hazards.

Unit 6 of The Habitable Planet, “Risk, Exposure, and Health,” describes the process that scientists and health experts use to measure potential exposure to hazards in our environment and assess whether they are dangerous. In Flint, state regulators did not follow this process. Rather, they contended for months that there was nothing dangerously wrong with water from the Flint River.

But when residents turned to a team of engineering professors and students from Virginia Tech University (whose leader, Marc Edwards, was a prominent expert on drinking water contamination), these researchers came to a very different answer. First, they predicted that Flint River water would be corrosive, based on their knowledge that it was heavily treated with chlorine to reduce contaminants. Second, they confirmed this hypothesis by testing Flint River water in their lab. Third, they theorized that because state regulators had decided to use the river water without adding anti-corrosive chemicals (a standard water treatment step), it was likely to leach lead from old pipes and lead pipe solder in many Flint homes. Fourth, they confirmed this by testing tap water samples collected by Flint residents.

Now Flint residents are receiving bottled water, while state officials debate options for replacing the city’s lead pipes. Access to safe drinking water is also an urgent problem is many other cities worldwide: see unit 8 of The Habitable Planet, “Water Resources.” In addition to pollution, expanding agriculture, damming, and wasteful use are straining water supplies in many places, and global climate change is altering hydrological cycles. Watch this site for information from the United Nations about World Water Day on March 22, which will focus this year on “Water and Jobs.”

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