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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.