Teacher resources and professional development across the curriculum

Teacher professional development and classroom resources across the curriculum

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What does great teaching look like?

TM K-4 students1

from Teaching Math Library, K-4, program 46 “Buffalo Estimation”

Are you new to teaching? Do you want to refine your teaching strategies after reflecting on your practice? One of the best ways to improve is to watch veteran teachers guide their students in the learning process. We encourage you to observe teachers in your school and to look to Learner.org for great classroom moments you can watch on your own time. Take ideas from our workshops that show real teachers effectively engaging with their own students. Here are a few highlights with additional resources listed below by subject:

Making Meaning in Literature
shows teachers facilitating discussions to create a literary community in their classrooms. For example, in program 4, teacher Tanya Schnabl’s students develop discussion questions and connect their experiences with the dilemmas in the assigned texts as they explore “government limits and personal freedoms.”

See examples of every step of an inquiry-based lesson, from fostering a learning community, to designing how students will explore the materials, to collecting and assessing data, in Learning Science Through Inquiry. In workshop 6, “Bring It All Together: Processing for Meaning During Inquiry,” watch the teacher draw out meaning from students’ observations of their soil decomposition experiment. Shuffle to 8:42 in the video.

Find ideas for teaching about civic engagement in Making Civics Real.  Teacher Matt Johnson leads his Constitutional Law 12th graders in applying what they’ve learned to new hypothetical cases that mirror actual students’ rights cases presented to the Supreme Court in workshop 8, “Rights and Responsibilities of Students.”

Other examples of effective teaching:

Language Arts and Literature Classrooms-

Reading & Writing in the Disciplines

Teaching Multicultural Literature: A Workshop for the Middle Grades

Write in the Middle: A Workshop for Middle School Teachers

The Expanding Canon: Teaching Multicultural Literature in High School

Mathematics Classrooms-

Reading & Writing in the Disciplines

Teaching Math: A Video Library, K-4, 5-8, 9-12

Insights Into Algebra 1: Teaching for Learning (high school)

Science Classrooms-

Reading & Writing in the Disciplines

Science in Focus: Force and Motion (K-8 teachers)

Reactions in Chemistry (high school)

Foreign Language Classrooms-

Teaching Foreign Languages K-12: A Library of Classroom Practices

Social Studies/History Classrooms-

Reading & Writing in the Disciplines

The Economics Classroom: A Workshop for Grade 9-12 Teachers

Social Studies in Action: A Teaching Practices Library K-12

Arts Classrooms-

Connecting With the Arts: A Teaching Practices Library, 6-8

The Art of Teaching the Arts: A Workshop for High School Teachers

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.

Fahrenheit Follows His Interests: Measuring Temperature

farenheit_celsius_thermometerGerman physicist and engineer Daniel Gabriel Fahrenheit was born May 24, 1686 in Danzig. After his parents died in 1701, he moved to Amsterdam where he developed an interest in making scientific instruments. This interest lead to the development of reliable thermometers, the creation of the Fahrenheit temperature scale, and the discovery that water’s boiling point can vary depending on atmospheric pressure.

Learn how Fahrenheit developed the temperature scale that bears his name and compare his scale with others that measure temperature in Chemistry: Challenges and Solutions, unit 2, “The Behavior of Atoms-Phases of Matter and the Properties of Gases,” section 3, Measuring Temperature.

Students can practice temperature conversions based on the Fahrenheit, Celsius, Kelvin scales and more using the British and Metric Conversions interactive.

Physical Science, session 7, “Heat and Temperature,” answers the question, “Why do we need three sets of temperature scales?” Remember to examine common ideas children have about heat and temperature as a prelude to planning your lessons on the topic.

Share your ideas for teaching about Fahrenheit and measuring temperature in the comments.

Food: Cooking Up a Tasty Lesson

Chem_10_cakeWhen you think of bringing food into your classroom, go beyond birthday cupcakes and end-of-year pizza parties by using the fascinating science and history behind our food and drink on Learner.org.

Brewing an aromatic cup of coffee requires the right amount of solutes in your solution, without releasing evil bitter flavors at the same time. Learn from baristas and coffee roasters the trick for making an excellent cup in “When Chemicals Meet Water: The Properties of Solutions” from Chemistry: Challenges and Solutions.

A proper balance of acids and bases is essential for baking a light and airy cake, making cheese, or avoiding poisoning by an overdose of lemonade. Find out how the pH scale works as we create and consume our favorite foods in “Acids and Bases: The Voyage of the Proton.”

The quest for exotic spices and foods spurred exploration and mixing of cultures. Food historian Jessica Harris explains that what we eat reveals our history and the culinary trends that were intertwined with major economic shifts. See the Hands on History segment in “Mapping Initial Encounters” from America’s History in the Making.

What is Huntington’s Disease?


Dr. Nancy Wexler of the Hereditary Disease Foundation and Columbia University recounts her research on the demographics, symptoms, and genetic cause of Huntington’s Disease in The Brain, module 12.

According to the Huntington’s Disease Society of America, Huntington’s Disease is an inherited brain disorder that results in the progressive loss of both mental facilities and physical control. The disease usually emerges when a person is between 30 and 50 years old and can gradually lead to death. There is no effective cure for the disease, but there are ways to relieve the symptoms.

In The Brain: Teaching Modules, program 12, “Huntington’s Disease,” watch as Dr. Nancy Wexler discusses her research on the demographics and causes of the disease. Look at the moral issues surrounding DNA testing to determine an individual’s risk of developing the disease.

Gene therapy, replacing defective genes with normal genes, is a technique researchers have investigated to treat diseases like Huntington’s. Consider the implications of gene therapy along with other types of genetic engineering using the DNA interactive.  Discussion questions can be found here.

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

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.

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.