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Nov 18, 2011

Test Taking Strategies

Many classroom teachers struggle with how to get students to slow down on tests, read all the instructions, double check work and follow basic, test taking strategies that can, in the high stakes world of standardized testing, mean the difference between a passing score and...summer school.

This statistics question has been making the rounds. It is elegant and wonderful for many reasons.

First, let's just say this is a basic, classic, statistics question, with a twist. It forces the reader to pay close attention. I think, in a math classroom, the students who assumed they knew how to answer the question would probably get it wrong because they wouldn't read it entirely or carefully. In a test prep classroom it could easily begin a conversation about test taking strategies, the importance of slowing down, reading every word, double checking work, the list goes on and on. 

There's a online "IQ test" that was making the rounds a few years ago. I used to use it in my classroom the day or two before the standardized tests were given. I did it to break some of the tension the students were feeling, to remind them of the test taking strategies we had reviewed in prior weeks, and to underline the importance of reading slowing and carefully. This one statistics question can start the same type of conversion.

There's also a classic "follow all instructions" test out there that I've seen over and over again given to middle school students. I was able to find a copy of it here.

Do you have any questions like this? How do you engage students to focus on some of these skills?

Nov 15, 2011


What a great site! Much like the Khan Academy but with a sole focus on Calculus, integralCALC (Krista King's site) brings Calculus to the people. Each topic has a text description and a video description.  Ms. King's approach is simple and easy to follow. The videos cover one topic only making the focus on the content clear and easy to understand.

One of the nicest aspects of the site are the quizzes that follow each section. With feedback for each correct answer this is a great way for students to review before an exam or just to make sure they've understood the tutorials.

This would be a great resource for anyone taking AP Calculus as a junior or senior in high school.  Students can use the tutorials and quizzes to ready themselves for quizzes and exams or to help as they move through homework problems.

As students begin to ready themselves for the AP Exam in the spring you can go through the quiz questions as a class or in groups as part of the review process. Because of the explanations attached to each correct answer the quizzes are not just guess and check but a way for students to understand why an answer is correct.

Besides the textbook and you (the teacher) what other resources to you give your AP Calc students? 

Nov 11, 2011

Romeo and Juliet

This week the blog is focusing on high school English resources. This is the third of three posts. There is a contest running this week associated with the content focus. 

How can you talk about high school English without talking about Shakespeare? There is so much out there to "help" teachers with the complicated text and it can be overwhelming. Instead of trying to choose one, I have compiled a list of the sites that I think have the best resources for teaching Romeo and Juliet to Freshmen students. 

Folger Shakespeare Library: A curriculum guide is available that is really wonderful and very thorough. Among many other things the guide contains two lesson plans but, even if all you do it use the character guide on page 5, I recommend it. This curriculum guide goes with the Folger edition of the play (also worth a look). While I realize many schools do not use this edition of the play clearly, the guide could be used with many different editions of the play.

No Fear Shakespeare: Shakespeare is daunting enough for students but for those that have reading difficulties or are English language learners it can be frustrating to the point of giving up. No Fear Shakespeare will help. The play is laid out on one side of the page while on the other is the "translation" of the play into modern English. A great cheat sheet for struggling learners or to help all students. You can make the decsion to print specific sections out for students or just give them the link.

Interactive Folio: The Canadian Adaptations of Shakespeare Project have put together an interactive version of Romeo and Juliet. The text of the play is on the left side of the screen. Pieces of the text are underlined in red. When you click on the underlined words and phrases an annotated definition pops up, a video or audio clip depicting the line pops up or an explanation of what the name or phrase is referring to pops up. Think of it as interactive footnotes. It's a great tool. For students, used to a true multimedia experience, this is a very interesting way to present the play. It must be read but, there are interactive pieces that enhance the experience and help the student build a deeper understanding of the play. 

Almost every English I teacher has to teach Romeo and Juliet. How do you?

Nov 9, 2011

Poetry 180

This week the blog is focusing on high school English resources. This is the second of three posts. There is a contest running this week associated with the content focus.

Billy Collins, former Poet Laureate of the United States put a project together to make poetry an active part of a high school student's day, every day. Poetry 180 was simple: list 180 poems, have them read. While I'm not sure the program took off in the way Mr. Collins was hoping, his collection of poems remains immortalized on the web.

Each poem has a footnote, a bibliography entry, and many poems have a one or two sentence explanation at the top of the page.  All the poems were specifically chosen for high school students. This will ensure that, although the subject matter may be a bit unfamiliar, the language is clean, the content is non-sexual and the reading level is on grade level for high schoolers.  

In a high school English setting this collection could be used as prompts during a poetry unit (and beyond). Because the collection is annotated, it could be the first stop for students to make if they need to do a formal analysis or paper on a specific poem or poet or, it could simply begin or end each class period; a way to get students settled and in the correct frame of mind.

Lastly, you can simply move through the poems as Mr. Collins intended, with his ultimate goal in mind: "Hearing a poem every day, especially well-written, contemporary poems that students do not have to analyze, might convince students that poetry can be an understandable, painless and even eye-opening part of their everyday experience."

How would you use this collection?

Nov 7, 2011

Persuasive writing

This week the blog is focusing on high school English resources. This is the first of three posts. There is a contest running this week associated with the content focus.

Spoof ad by Adbusters
Adbusters is an interesting magazine. I struggle with whether or not it is appropriate for school for a variety of reasons that I will not focus on in this post (although I'm happy to have the conversation in the comments section of this post) but I did use it in my classroom. I used it as a way to introduce and teach persuasive writing.

The artists at Adbusters create spoof ads to help get the magazine's message across and the ads are very powerful as a vehicle to force the reader to stop and think about the way advertising persuades us on a daily basis.
Real ad by Absolut Vodka
Many of the spoof ads look very similar to the actual advertisements one would see in a mainstream magazine. Showing students copies of each ad so they can compare, seeing how long it takes someone to ask: 'Is this a real ad?', and having a discussion about how students are reacting to each ad is a way to begin the discussion of persuasion and how to write in a persuasive voice.

Using these ads in my classroom was a way to engage students. At first, they always assumed they knew what they were looking at: the images were familiar, the alternate message is subtle, and the artwork is distracting. I could always tell, by watching my students' faces, when they realized they were not looking at a regular ad. It jarred them just enough to help them focus a little more and begin to ask questions of me and their classmates. These ads were concrete examples of persuasion and they helped shape and guide the discussion of how to write a persuasive essay. I used them as the anchor point: "if we go back to the ad how does this...?"

The usual topic for persuasive essays in a high school English class is for students to take one side or the other of a controversy. The conversation that begins by using Adbuster's spoof ads can help get students in the correct frame of mind to be introduced to an outline or graphic organizer for a persuasive essay, it can help demonstrate the subtleties of persuasion that can be so important in these types of arguments or, it can simply be a way to catch and hold student's attention at the beginning of, what can be, a tedious process.

How do you teach essay writing in your classroom?   

Nov 4, 2011

Punkin Chunkin

The time between Halloween and Thanksgiving seems to be a perfect storm of distraction for students. I think it's the sugar high combined with the promise of not one but two vacations. The goal, at all times, is to engage and teach students but during this time of year it seems exceptionally difficult to reel the kids back in.

I believe I have found an (unorthodox) solution: Punkin Chunkin. I have seen this special on TV in recent years and it has grown exponentially since it's inception.

From a historic point of view, trebuchets, 'centrifugals', catapults and 'torsions' are just some of the contraptions built by the teams competing. In a middle school setting students could learn about medieval weapons, how they were built, what they were used for and, see video of how effective they were. Video clips of each of these contraptions with an explanation of how they work can be found here: Working in teams middle school students could study each type of weapon, do a presentation and, as a class, make a comparison about which they think is the most effective weapon. Extra credit could be given to students that watch Punkin Chunkin on November 24th and do a short write up.

From a high school science point of view students could study the physics behind each weapon, design their own and present to the class.  The presentation would include estimates on how far their contraption could throw, fling or catapult based on angle of elevation, force and mass of object.  Again, extra credit could be given to students who watch the show and do a write up maybe even a presentation for the week after Thanksgiving.   

At first I thought this was a bit far-fetched but there's a huge amount of science and math that goes into these contraptions and the devices are historically accurate with the exception of the materials being used. The videos are just fun to watch and the show is just a great hour of television.

I will say that the site is a bit overwhelming. Do not hesitate to comment with questions about where specific things are. I'm happy to send direct links.  

Oct 31, 2011

Cells Alive!

Cells Alive! is a site focused on cells (I know, I know, not a surprise).

Jim Sullivan has offered his entire 30 year career of capturing live cells on camera. There are some great interactive animations and some really amazing "caught on film" clips of cell reproduction.

Check out cell biology. This section contains two fill-in-the-blank type charts for animal and plant cells. You can choose whether to hoover over the animation or the list of terms at the bottom of the screen. Underneath the animation is an annotated list of for each term which can give students far more information about each part of the cell. As well, everything in the interactive section of the site is very cool.  

There are rules for downloading the information but if you stay on the site (instead of downloading) you can use almost everything for free. The goal is to get you to purchase individual downloads and, if you become a heavy user of the site, it may be something to think about. Purchasing the downloads is how the creator of the site funds this project.

In a Biology classroom this could be used to introduce or help visually explain different concepts in cell reproduction. In a middle school science classroom this could be used to help study the different parts of the cell or talk about relative size of different objects (see How Big is a...?).

This is the type of site I love to find. Someone with an expertise has decided to share. Have a great time exploring the site and using this in the classroom.  

Oct 21, 2011

NASA/NSTA Web Seminars

Instead of wandering aimlessly through NASA's teacher resources, how about a guided tour? 

The NASA Explorer School project (NES) has sponsored a series of PD web seminars focusing on STEM. NES gives educators access to NASA: their scientists, research, missions, and facilities.

You can "attend" the web seminars live (each is offered a couple different times during the school year) or you can watch an archived version of them. The advantage of attending them live is the ability to interact with the presenters and other teachers. Each seminar focuses on a NASA activity, discusses implementation strategies, classroom modifications, ideas for extensions.  The project planners clearly understand teachers' schedules since most of the seminars are during after school hours.

These types of projects support NASA, support teacher groups (in this case the NSTA), support technology in education, and they are just that little wow factor students are expecting. What more could you ask for?

Oct 19, 2011

Minute Physics

Ernest Rutherford said: "Physics is the only real science. The rest are just stamp collecting." I'm not sure I agree with this Nobel Prize winner (especially since it was in Chemistry) but, following his lead, I present another physics resource. 

Minute Physics, a channel from Henry is a series of minute-ish long videos covering different physics concepts. The music is calming, Henry's voice is clear and his explanations concise. The animations are simple and easy to follow.

What a wonderful way to start a class, allow the teacher to take attendance, introduce a concept or begin a critical thinking exercise.  In a high school classroom these videos could introduce the concept for a lecture, an experiment or a just a fun way to get the juices flowing after lunch. In a middle school classroom this could be used to blow the minds of some of students and, help answer the question, why is the sky blue? Check out there is no pink light. While is won't answer the exact question, why is the sky blue?, it will begin a conversation about light, wavelengths and how reflection works that many younger students will understand.

Explore and enjoy!!

Oct 17, 2011

Creative Commons

Creative Commons is a site that holds a huge amount of information.  Much of it is legal in nature but there is a "search engine" that will allow you to do searches focused on free resources.

Content licensed under creative commons is free to use, reuse, share, modify and call your own. It was created by individuals who have chosen to share their content/material without any want of payment. In some cases the content can even be used for commercial projects.

The search engine allows you to search a number of different sites with creative common content. This can take some time but when using this engine you never have any questions about copyright or licensing.   

Explore a little and see what you find.

Oct 14, 2011

Amusement Park Physics

Alright all you Physics teachers out there, are you trying to find a fun way to connect the concepts of friction, force and energy (potential and kinetic)? Well, I think we've found one: Amusement Park Physics has students use all their base knowledge about friction and energy and apply it to a real world problem: designing a roller coaster.

The nice thing about this little flash "game" is the physics focused feedback.  After the roller coaster passes or fails its test run (if it fails you get to watch the little car fly off the track or crash and burn) you can hoover over each section of track and get specific feedback about why that selection worked or did not work and then go back, and re-design the track. 

An entire experiment or presentation project could be done. Students could set up tables with what sections they choose and why for each trail. Group presentations could be done to display:
1. What roller coaster worked and was "most fun".
2. What problems the group ran into.
3. All the physics behind each section.
4. Equations explaining speed and the potentail energy of the coaster.

This could be turned into a wonderful, problem based experiment for 11th and 12th graders taking a physics course in high school.  In an AP Physics class the addition of ALL equations and math needing to be shown and explained would bump things up a notch.

Oct 12, 2011

Taylor Mali - "What Teachers Make"

This is not a typical post for me but, I am feeling a bit down. I continue to try to find positive things online about teaching and teachers but they are few and far between.  Amongst stories of teachers sleeping with students and scandals of cheating on standardized tests are stories of state level governments trying to take control of pension funds and do away with tenure.

I left the classroom eight years ago and many of the reasons had to do with people's inability to see reform as a good thing but, there are limits. Standing on the necks of our teachers and looking down at them is not the appropriate place to begin a conversation about reform.

I see the generalized view of teachers in this country as one of a group of lazy people who enjoy their summers off, so focused on their salaries and benefits that they would rather strike (with the children suffering) then just take what they're offered. This group of people are not to be treated as professionals.

It is depressing. Why would you want your children taught by people who felt this way?

I am reminded of a conversation I had with my mother, a 30 year veteran of the K-12 classroom who holds a PhD in education:
"Mom, I'm going to get may masters degree and start teaching."
"Why in God's name would you want to do that?"

If teachers feel this way, no wonder others view the profession in such a bad light.

...And then, Taylor Mali's "What Teachers Make" shows up in my inbox one more time and I

Here's to teachers.

Oct 10, 2011

Target Practice

Karyn Hodgens, a math teacher on is creating math lessons with real world applications.  It sees simple but taking into account prior knowledge, the dynamics of groups, what can really be taught (e.g. no dice because it promotes gambling) and the length of a traditional class period and the parameters become pretty tight.

 Target Practice is a great example of a teacher using what she has, teaching a new concept in a practical way and having students stretch beyond their grade level within math.

The video is a bit long but you can easily write out a lesson plan as you follow along.  There's also a great tip about compasses and large circles, with reference to another video. Even if all you take from this video is that reference, it's worth it.

A nice little project with the outcomes being students that understand the concept, build something together, expand their knowledge and enjoy themselves in a math class.  Sounds like something to pay attention to to me.

Oct 5, 2011

Documentary Dish

Documentary Dish is a great site with videos covering space, nature, technology, history, the environment and health. Videos range in length from 2 minutes to a full 50 minutes and longer.

The videos would work great as an introduction to a particular unit or lesson. 

Check out the Galapagos Volcanoes video in the nature section.  It could be used to discuss volcanos, the Galapagos Archipelago or as an introduction to species diversity. It's a quick (5 minute, 30 second) but beautiful and engaging video.

The 55 minute video about the Wright Brothers in the history section is a great way to illustrate how experts and innovators work through problems and teaches about the Wright Brothers.

Lastly, check out the shows section.  A dozen shows with multiple episodes covering topics about space. 

I found a couple broken links, mostly videos that have been removed from youtube but overall, this is a great repository of videos that can be used with a number of different age groups in a number of different content areas. 

Oct 3, 2011

Who Am I? - A History Mystery

The American History Museum has a great little flash game: Who Am I? After looking through the museum's online exhibit: The Price of Freedom (section three covers the Civil War) and beginning to study the Civil War this game could be used in a number of different ways.

Using primary sources (writings ad objects) individuals involved in the Civil War are quickly brought to life. This simple, short game could be used as a discussion starter, a project starter, a class ending activity or even, a way to introduce a Civil War unit.

In a middle school or high school classroom students could play the game, pick one of the individuals and, using the game as a jumping off point, could do more research on the individual to create a presentation for the rest of the class. It is a wonderful way to make a topic, like the Civil War, more relevant to students.    

Sep 30, 2011

Microsoft add-ins

I found two add-ins for Microsoft Office 2007 and 2010: one very practical and one novel and kinda fun.  Check them both out and see how they can help:

1. Academic Lists Templates: It seems a bit bland at first but how long have you sat at the computer trying to create an assignment sheet, a simple, professional looking contact list for back to school night or figure out a way to help students get organized with a homework organizer.  With this list of templates, instead of struggling with Microsoft Office and wasting time creating these yourself, work more efficiently and search these templates...and now I sound like an infomercial.

There are 32 templates in all, some designed for Word and some for Excel. Take a look and see if any could help make you a more efficient teacher.    

2. Microsoft Mouse Mischief: If you are running Office 2007 or Office 2010 check out this cool add-in Microsoft has developed.  By downloading it for PowerPoint you can create a presentation that allows students to interact with the presentation as you run through it.  This is a great add-in if you are a teacher that usually uses PowerPoint presentations to supplement lectures.  There are a plethora of sample lessons to inspire or, just download and use and, the video tutorials are fantastic.

This little program would be a great way to create test prep lessons that aren't excruciatingly boring for the teacher and students. It could be used with pre-readers as a way to learn colors, numbers or letters. Almost any topic that forces students to recall facts can be practiced, in a whole class setting. As well, in a lecture setting, check-in questions could be throughout the presentation to make sure that the class is following along with the teacher.  If the majority of the students aren't correct, it may mean you need to take some more time with that section of the content.  

There is a but coming: The add-in is a free download but there are technology costs involved.  USB hubs are needed along with a class set of wireless mouses.  There are many, many grants out there that allow for this type of expenditure or, it may just be in your department's or school's budget.  Check out the add-in, see if it would be useful for your classroom and/or school and then figure out how to pay for the hardware.

Happy clicking!

Sep 28, 2011

Ancient Egypt

Each year in elementary school students delve deeply into a specific theme as a way to teach research skills, problem solving, critical thinking and long term planning. In almost all cases it is the first major project for students.

Ancient Egypt is one of the more popular themes and there are many resources available. The British Museum has a great online exhibit broken up into 10 different sections.  Each section is made up of three areas: story, explore and challenge.  The story area (a-day-in-the-life) includes images and a glossary.  The explore section uses primary documents from the museum to help teach details about Egyptian life and the challenge area is an interactive activity that range from board games to "ask an expert".

A well developed exhibit and teaching tool, teachers could use the story area in any section to introduce Ancient Egypt in a whole class setting.  The explore and challenge areas could also be used in a whole class setting or, for older elementary students, these areas could be used as the jumping off point for a research project.

Sep 26, 2011

YouTube Annotations

This is for all you teachers who proudly wave the tech-geek flag.  The annotations tool built into YouTube is a novel, interesting and powerful tool that will allow you to add hotspots, hyperlinks and text bubbles to your videos.

Roi Werner does a fantastic job at explaining how to annotate your video by demonstrating throughout his series of videos how each option works.  As soon as I read the article and then watched the videos my mind began racing with possibilities.

In any K-12 classroom this feature of YouTube could be used to introduce topics.  A teacher could record a short introduction and then pose a simple multiple choice question.  When the student clicks on the response it would link to a video explaining the response.

Individually or in groups students could build projects with the finished product being a multimedia, annotated video with links to websites covering their topic of research.  Along the way they would become more tech-literate: learning how to validate sites and confirm sources before adding them to their finished product.  Just remember, if they are linking to other videos they need to be youtube videos.

I know, I know, I can hear you saying "There's the rub. I can't ask my students to do research on dogs skateboarding or out of focus home movies."  My response is, remember, Khan Academy started on YouTube and there are other, amazing resources on YouTube if you know where to look.  YouTube has an education channel where, as a teacher, you can feel comfortable allowing students to explore.  There are many different catagories set up in YouTube to help guide and filter the viewer.

So, explore, try something new, ask you students for help.  You may all fall into a teachable moment.   


Sep 19, 2011

SmARTt History: Art. History. Conversation

For high school students who are serious artists; those planning on going to art school or major in fine arts at a university there are very few serious art classes they can take at the high school level. In the past there have been AP Art History classes but they are now few and far between.  As well, at the college level, the founders of this website state, "We are dissatisfied with the large expensive art history textbook. We find that they are difficult for many students, contain too many images, and just are not particularly engaging".

smARThistory attempts to overcome the founders issues with art history textbooks by creating a site that allows students to hear what experts have to say about specific pieces of art ranging from Ancient Cultures to the Post-Colonial Age. There is usually a small article accompanying the video 5-10 minutes long) and the public can make comments about the piece or the commentary.

As a classroom resource high school teachers can use this site as a way to introduce students to important pieces of art that they may not be able to get visuals of otherwise.  As well, for serious art students looking for an AP Art History course, this may be a way to build a curriculum.    

Elective budgets are being slashed across the country.  This resource is a nice way to continue to bring primary documents into an art classroom and helps to cover state standards for high school art classes. Students could do an exploration of a specific time period, could compare pieces and materials used from different time periods or artists and, along the way, be introduced to famous works that they may otherwise, never see.

Sep 16, 2011

Bloom's (Revised) Taxonomy - Interative

This is not the type of post I normally do but Bloom's Taxonomy was such a huge help to me when I was teaching and developing educational products that I thought it was important and relevant.

Bloom's Taxonomy is a structure to help explain the different levels of questioning.  It has been revised recently and there have been many attempts to explain the revisions.  This interactive diagram is one of the best explanations I have seen. The diagram is set up so mousing over each square pops up an example of an activity that matches the level of questioning.

In many cases teachers are asked to make sure classroom assessments cover all levels of Bloom's taxonomy and this diagram would be very helpful in doing that. The diagram is written so that teachers of all grade levels can see examples of different question types. This is a great resource for all new teachers, teachers of new subject areas and teachers writing classroom assessments for the first time.

Sep 14, 2011

Hispanic Heritage Month

September 15th marks the beginning of Hispanic Heritage Month and the National Museum of American History has put together a series of lessons that help celebrate.  The entire list of lesson plans can be found on the Smithsonian Education site but there are some standouts:  

From Vaquero to Cowboy:   Lessons teaching about the Mexican and Spanish heritage of the American cowboy.  Primary resources and music is used to help K-12 students understand the roots of the modern day cowboy. Following NCTE standards, lesson plans are written for all age groups.

Beyond Baseball: The Life of Roberto Clemente: Geared towards middle school students this series of nine lessons celebrates the remarkable life of Roberto Clemente.  Using the online exhibit and the supplied lesson plans students learn about a remarkable man and, the difference between the public and private lives of their idols.

Sep 12, 2011

Squirrelly Behavior

The National Zoo has done a great job at utilizing their scientists to help introduce students to the scientific process. One of the big complaints about K-12 science is that the students very rarely "do science".  Students learn about scientific topics and content but they rarely behave in the way scientists behave on a daily basis.  Squirrelly Behavior is a great example of "doing science" in the classroom.

By using squirrels as the subject almost any student in the country (or world) can  recreate the experiment.  Scientists from the National Zoo introduce the topic and the experiment and, the site a step by step lesson plan, worksheets already created and, a data entry page which outputs a pie chart identical to the one the scientist uses in her presentation.

For late elementary or middle school students this lesson gives students a real world example of animal field work.  They will work in pairs or small groups, observing animals, recording data, analyzing and displaying data and drawing conclusions. This is a great lesson to introduce the scientific process, field work or group work into a classroom.  

There is one plug in necessary for the video so make sure the computer you are going to show the 10 minutes video on has the correct plug in installed.


Sep 9, 2011

Self Portraits

Self portraits are complicated.  They are never just what the artist sees in the mirror but are a reflection of the artist's character.  For me, the most interesting thing about self portraits is that the artist can tell whatever story they want, what the audience sees is exactly what the artist wants them to see. 

This concept may be difficult for young artists to grasp but it is an important one.  A well done self portrait can tell a story that very few other mediums can express. 

The National Portrait Gallery has a lesson on self portraits that is very complete and helps students understand the importance of expressing themselves.  The lesson plan uses the tremendous resources of the gallery to show many different types of self portraits and how to talk through them, asking questions that will help students look beyond the face starting back at them. 

The lesson plan is geared towards all students, K-12, and can actually be used by all of them.  This would be a great way for students in any K-12 classroom to introduce themselves at the beginning of the school year.  It could also be used as a serious study of self portraits in a high school level art class.  

Sep 7, 2011

September 11, 2001

Photo by Andrea Booher
The 10th anniversary of September 11th is coming up this weekend and it is an event that I continue to react emotionally to.  I was a classroom teacher in 2001 and on the way to work my (now) husband called and told me to turn on the TV as soon as I got to school.  I then spent most of the day watching TV with my students, allowing them to call their parents, many of whom were in the armed forces and trying to explain what was happening.  We were/are in Austin, TX, home of, at the time, the newly elected President Bush and there was some concern that Austin would be a target.  I had built a computer lab in my classroom and, as the day progressed, one of the things I did with my students was have them go to the news sites and refresh on a regular basis to see how quickly the story was changing and unfolding.  It became a good lesson in technology, real time information gathering and how to decide what was a site with valid information.

How do you teach the events of September 11th? It can be taught in many ways depending on the age group.  First, very recently, a digital archive has been released.  This is just an information dump and, some images are graphic so I think it would only be appropriate for high school students and searching it should be in a very guided way.   

Tribute Art and 9/11: This is a fantastic, very detailed lesson plan that allows almost all age groups to discuss September 11th in a totally non-political, non-religious way.  There is also a whole list of lesson plans to choose from if this one is not what you're interested in.

Lastly, the September 11th Memorial has opened to the public and there are resources available.  They have a "Teach + Learn" section that I have discussed above. As well, Flight 93 has been memorialized in Pennsylvania. 

Sep 5, 2011

Eyes on the Solar System

NASA just released this extremely cool tool for exploring our solar system. There are some very simple features: changing the date and time, speeding up and slowing down time and jumping from satellite to planet to comet.  There are also some very complex tools: size comparison, measurement and ride along features just to name a few.    

You do need to download plug in to use Eyes on the Solar System so teachers trying to load this on classroom computers may run into some problems but, it is a very safe plug in and, if you can get around the IT blocks and get the plug in downloaded, you'll be in great shape.

In an elementary classroom you could use this in a whole class setting to compare the size of planets, satellites and moons since they have a visual comparison feature. In a middle school setting this could be used in a whole class setting  or by individual students to explore different bodies in space as well as use the more advanced, number based measurement system. In a high school setting students could use this individually or in groups to study orbits, compare the sizes of planets and other bodies. At all levels this tool could be used to simply explore the galaxy and give students a different perspective.

The tutorials are a must and it's something the teacher really needs to play with before turning the kids loose on it.  

Sep 2, 2011


I "stumbled upon" iCivics at a online gaming conference I attended.  Looking through the program I noticed that retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor was going to speak.  Well, I couldn't let that opportunity get away! I was a bit perplexed about what Justice O'Connor was going to speak about but, iCivics was it.

Conceived by Justice O'Connor, iCivics is her answer to a concern that civics is no longer being taught in many middle schools and high schools.  The site is full of sophisticated, problem solving games dealing with all three branches of government and using real federal budgets and supreme court cases as source material.

Constitution Day is September 17th and iCivics already has a fantastic lesson plan up on their site.  I can not recommend this site highly enough. Appropriate for middle school and high school students games can be played individually, in groups or in a whole class setting. 

Aug 31, 2011

The Presidential Timeline of the Twentieth Century

The Presidential Timeline of the Twentieth Century should probably be named something closer to: A Timeline of the Presidents of the Twentieth Century but, despite the potentially confusing name, this interactive timeline is a wealth of information. 

The timeline starts with Herbert Hoover and ends with George W. Bush. Each president is introduced with a head shot and a brief biography but, that is only the beginning.

Click in the exhibits section and next to each president's name pops up some of the events (political or otherwise) that highlighted their tenure.  From Harry Truman's decision to drop the bomb to Bill Clinton's appointees to the Supreme Court, primary documentation is used to outline and explain the decisions and how they impacted the presidency.

There are many applications for a timeline like this.  It's a great place to start for students doing biographies of presidents.  It could be used in an American History class as an introduction to the 20th century or as a tool to use over and over and major events in American History are discussed. 

Along with the timeline, there is an educators link available where multimedia resources can be downloaded as well as lesson plan ideas and links other locations where primary documents can be found.

Jul 30, 2011

Touch Mathematics

In trigonometry, the unit circle is a circle with radius 1, centered around the origin of a coordinate plane.  Seems simple but, it helps in the understanding of trigonometric functions, the basis of high school trigonometry.  

Trigonometry is seriously studied in the 11th or 12th grade and can throw students for a loop in the same way that Geometry does.  The unit circle is a fantastic reference for them.  The interactive unit circle built by Touch Mathematics does much, much more than any static image could do. For students, connecting concepts in math is hugely important in order to gain a mastery over the content.  The interactive unit circle helps students to connect many of the concepts at the root of trigonometry: basic trigonometric functions, periodicity of trig functions, angle relationships between trig functions...the list goes on and on.

In a high school math classroom instead of the traditional, static, image of a unit circle that is handed out at the beginning of the year or pointed to in the appendix of some textbook imagine being able to pull this up each time a new concept is introduced that involves trig functions.   

Jul 24, 2011

Free Book Notes

This one is for teachers only. Especially new teachers.  One of the things that pre-service teachers are very rarely told is how much time it will take to get everything together for each lesson they teach.  It's hard!  As a first year teacher you're focused on lesson plans, classroom management and making sure you don't loose a power struggle with a student in front of other students. What I always forgot was: great lesson plan but who's going to get the materials I need?  Oh right, I need to do that too.   

While we don't like to think about it this way, many teachers, especially high school teachers, work in isolation.  Each one reinventing the wheel time and time again. Hopefully this site will help English teachers out a bit. is a bit clunky (mostly because it's free) but it also holds a lot of information. There are plot summaries, character descriptions, study questions, short biographies of authors, the list goes on and on.  As I said at the beginning, while I would not provide this website to students, it's a much more efficient way for high school English teachers to put together study guides and long term lesson plans for novels and plays they are reading in their classrooms.

MIT's famous Physics professor

Professor Walter Lewin is well known at MIT and by recording his lectures in 1999 he has become famous the world over for his energetic, interactive and engaging lectures about physics

MIT OpenCourseWare is way for the university to share it's wealth of knowledge with the world, for free.  While I highly recommend any of their lectures, Prof. Lewin's are among the most entertaining.

In a high school classroom these lectures could be used to help demonstrate concepts in physics when the teacher or school just does not have the necessary resources. 

With assignments, lecture notes, exams and solutions included in the mix a home schooled student could use this course as primary content.

Prof. Lewin's love of science is contagious.  I highly recommend these lectures for any science student whether they are struggling, gifted and talented, home schooled, or just bored. 

May 20, 2011

Khan Academy

For those of you who do not know the story of the Khan Academy here's the short version: Salman Khan began making short videos to help his cousins with math, putting them on because they were across the country from one another and the rest, is history.  If you'd like to see more of how the Khan Academy got started I suggest the interview he did with Charlie Rose.

In a nut shell the Khan Academy has grown from a few youtube videos covering Algebra topics to over 2000 videos covering economics, science and math.  You can find the Khan Academy at, still on and, now, as part of iTunesU.

I can see videos from the Khan Academy being used in tutoring programs, study hall situations, as a brush up on skills for parents and, as a way to teach students that it is sometimes more important to know where to find the answer than to know the answer.

I'm not sure the Khan Academy will turn education on it's head, as some have suggested, but I do think that it is forcing people to see that much can be done with very little.  


May 15, 2011

Who knew has a ton of resources.  I've always assumed the federal government had to have teaching resources considering they are constantly sticking their noses in to the business of the states but, it's not very well advertised. is a collection of teacher resources organized by subject and resource (animations, primary sources, photos and videos).  They also have a what's new section which is great if this is a resource that you continue to use.

Check out Our Documents in the primary document section. It's a page dedicated to teaching with the "100 milestone documents" as a way to teach American history. FedFlix in the videos section is another amazing resource; a collection of videos produced by the federal government covering a huge range of topics.

There are many more I could list here but best to explore for yourself and see what would be best to use in your own classroom.

May 14, 2011

Algebra Tutor

Algebra Tutor for Android phones is an amazing, free app that is not just for practice.  There are short lessons with guided practice and solutions with all steps worked out covering: Linear Equations, Polynomials, Quadratics and Scientific Notation. This is perfect for students that need a little bit of extra help or, parents who panic when their kids ask for help.

The practice section has a longer list of topics to choose from including fractions and variable expressions. The practice section has workspace and, like the "learn" section, you can choose to see the steps worked out.


May 13, 2011

The Smithonian Institute

Sometimes I wish I lived in Washington DC.  I love the Metro, I love walking around the city and, I love, love, love the Smithsonian.  A series of museums covering everything from pianos to American history to a zoo the Smithsonian Institute has the potential and the ability to help students find out information about almost any topic they are interested in. I also love field trips.  They allow students to explore new topics, to be exposed to "real world" learning experiences and are a great way to introduce problem based and project based projects into your classroom.

When I was teaching I was the lead teacher for all the 9th grade teachers in the high school.  One of the biggest issues with field trips was connecting them to what was going on in the classroom. The  students see field trips as a vacation from school and teachers didn't know how to get resources from museums for pre- and post-museum visits.  The Smithsonian Institute is not the only museum that is trying to fill this gap but, it is one of my favorites.  Below are a few links holding a wealth of information.

Smithsonian Education: The main search page for educators.  Notice you can search by keyword, subject or, state standard.

Smithsonian Collections: Are you looking for primary resources? This is a great place to start.  It takes some time and practice to become effecient at searching but using primary sources in your classroom allows you to bring museums into the classroom.

Museums and Zoo: Links to each of the museums, and the National Zoo. All part of the Smithsonian Institute.

May 7, 2011


Wordle: Declaration of Independence
Click image to see larger size.

Above is a Wordle.  It is a visual representation of whatever text you choose to enter into it's engine.  The cool thing is, as you can see from the image, the more a word shows up in the text, the larger it appears in the image. As an example I've chosen the Declaration of Independence.  Now, I know what you're saying: "the most common words in the English language are all that's going to show up".  Not so!!  In the options section of the program you can choose to block certain words.     

In a classroom setting a teacher could use this to introduce the concept of theme; the largest word is what the story is about.  You could have students wordle their own thoughts to see if main ideas emerge.  While technically not a graphic organizer, students who are visual learners will still find this helpful when discussing such abstract themes as main idea, theme and even character interaction and intention. 

NASA Education

NASA is one of my first loves.  I went to Space Camp and Space Academy, I read Space Camp the book and saw the movie.  I went to engineering school to become an astronaut.  Halfway through college I realized that education was really where I wanted to be and my life took a sharp turn but NASA has always been in the back of my brain.

The NASA Education site has some amazing resources on it.  Here are just a few examples:
For those of you trying to get girls interested in science, technology and math.  What better place to start that NASA? A collection of videos from women who work at NASA.  A great way to motivate and inspire.
NASA's Digital Learning Network. A collection of K-12 lesson plans in which students interact directly with experts at NASA.  Covering state standards, real world application, STEM and any number of other education acronyms, this collection will help inspire students and teachers.
Searchable bank of lesson plans for K-12 students.  Whether you're covering state standards, looking for warm-up or extra credit problems or introducing technology into your classroom.  These lessons will help you.