Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Top Ten Think Abouts Numbers 7-4

Top Ten Think Abouts are some concepts of pedagogy that I heard from Robin Fogarty and Brian M. Pete. Fogarty and Pete are a married couple who entertainingly deliver important and useful tips and activities for teachers to implement in their classrooms. This post has a prequel and a sequel.

In this post, I will give you some more educational musings that got me thinking about ways I could improve my teaching. This list is by no means comprehensive, but it's a good place to begin considering change. I've  put them in a Top Ten format providing 7-4 in this post. My rankings may not be necessarily yours, but I do hope that you find them thought provoking.

7. What do we want kids to know? (Standards) How will we know when they know it? (Assessments)

What research says:
Learning in a nutshell. What do they need to know, and how are we going to get them there? There are copious amounts of research that supports the use of formative assessment in the classroom--too numerous to mention in one post. The brilliance of formative assessment is that it lets you know if you students are understanding what you want them to discover. If they are not, you get the chance to take a new direction in order to satisfy your teaching goal.

One of the main hurdles of using formative assessment is the large amounts of standards and curriculum educational systems need to cover and the lack of time to do it. How many times have you just plowed through a concept because you were running out of time; plowed through even though you knew your student didn't fully understand?

I have--several times.

Common Core standards in Math and Language Arts have been adopted by most of the states in the union. The Common Core may help alleviate the pressure of quantity with more of a focus on quality. Make room for formative assessment. The practice of formative assessment will inform you of what your students need. That's what we are there for.

What it might look like:
I have posted a few formative assessment ideas on this blog already. Please check here, here, and here.

6. Frequently ask your students to think about: How does ___ connect to something you already know? How might you use ___ in the future?

What research says:
The essence of number 6 is schema and application. According to educational researchers Dr. Debra Pickering and Dr. Robert J. Marzano, building background knowledge is essential for literacy. Pickering explains that the way new information "sticks" in long-term memory is due in large part to having background knowledge or a "connection" on which new information can attach. Think about a time when you were trying to learn something new and it strikes you that you've experienced something like this before. Remember how much easier it became to learn that new skill?
Having students realize that there is an audience outside of the classroom walls can make all the difference when they are creating and learning. Think about when you are having students create some artwork. When you tell them that you plan on hanging the work in the hall--Whoa! That changes the ball game. Suddenly students become a little more careful about creating something worth showing off to the public. Students also should realize that learning is global and for every age. Also consider the idea that when you teach the material to others you learn the material even better.

What it might look like:
One of the most powerful examples of connecting new concepts to schema is learning a foreign language. Maybe you've studied a "romance language" in high school or college? Do you recall the term cognates? A cognate is a foreign word that is very similar to a word in your native language.

Try this: Read the Spanish verb danzar, what English word do you think of? If you thought dance, you'd be right. Danzar is a Spanish cognate to English speakers. If you have ELL students, you can utilize cognates to your advantage because linguistic cognates activate schema, and thus will have a much better chance of "sticking" in the brain.

5. Flexible lesson planning: What will we do if/when they don’t know it, or already know how to do it? (Re-teaching and extension)

What research says:
Differentiated instruction is a huge topic, too big for a small part of a blog post (Dr. Tomlinson describing D.I. in a series of quick videos). However, the idea of keeping your instruction "on it's toes" is a wise tactic. Dr. Carol Ann Tomlinson, author of several globally read books and articles, and oft cited researcher on differentiated instruction, says active planning is one of the vital aspects of ensuring student learning success. Finding out what your students need and how to best help them get there is the "common sense" of differentiation.

What it might look like:
According to Tomlinson, there are several areas teachers could differentiate instruction. One of the areas is student interest. For example, the objective is to build upper body strength in students during physical education class. The physical education teacher can offer a lot of different options to increase upper body strength that students may choose from: weight lifting, rock wall climbing, a circuit of several low impact upper body activities, kick boxing, etc. The student will complete the objective by doing what they want to do. This idea is flexible for students who need more or less upper body work.
4. Active, Engaged, Involved.

"Let's move the blood away from your feet and  seat." -- Brian Pete

What research says:
Physical activity, even the simple act of walking, improves blood flow to the brain. The blood brings oxygen and glucose which helps the brain function better (The Franklin Institute). Fogarty and Pete suggest getting the students active (walking around the room, stretching, dancing, handshakes etc.) before beginning an engaging activity.

Engagement in an activity improves learning, according to Michael Prince author of Does Active Learning Work? A Review of the Research. When you mix blood flow inducing movement with engaging activities and offer students a way to involve other people with their learning, you have a good recipe for success.

Students become the "teacher" of the material by sharing what they learned with peers or with someone at home.

What it might look like:
You want your students to engage in an activity to review some key vocabulary about butterfly metamorphosis.

You get them out of their seats by playing music. You tell the group that they should high-five classmates until the music stops. They should pair up with the person they were high-fiving when the music stopped.
Students engage in a game like AB Pyramid (think $10,000 Pyramid).
Have students think about who they could teach these key vocabulary terms to when they get home. Have parents or siblings sign off on your student's daily planner to verify that they shared the information at home.

The top three Think Abouts will be posted soon.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Top Ten Think Abouts: Numbers 10-8

Top Ten Think Abouts are some concepts of pedagogy that I heard from Robin Fogarty and Brian M. Pete. Fogarty and Pete are a married couple who entertainingly deliver important and useful tips and activities for teachers to implement in their classrooms. This post has two sequels 7-4 here and 3-1 here.

In this post, I will give you some educational musings that got me thinking about ways I could improve my teaching. This list is by no means comprehensive, but it's a good place to begin considering change.  I've put them in a Top Ten format giving you 10-8 in this post. My rankings may not be necessarily yours, but I do hope that you find them as thought provoking as I did (and do). 

Here is the Top Ten List 10-8:

10. If we want kids to be better writers they need to engage in rich talk.

What research says:
Rich talk (p. 10 on the pdf.) is a "cornerstone for comprehension" according to, noted educational researcher, Miriham Trehearne in her book Comprehensive Literacy Resource: For 3-6 Grade Teachers. (There are literacy resource books available for Preschool, Kindergarten, and 1-2). The key is to provide rich talk opportunities between peers to foster student thinking, and meta-cognition; which will translate to their own writing.

What it might look like: 
You have provided students will a great article on how polar bears are listed as a threatened species due to the melting polar ice caps. You give your students time to digest this piece by giving them time to talk to each other about the article. (I have previously posted some cooperative group activities here, and here that you might want to try).

Rich Talk
Students might discuss how the author made his or her point in the article. When they go to write their own article they might think about what they have written. Having been given the opportunity for rich talk, they may ask themselves: "Is this passage confusing in my story?" "Did I make my point clear?" "What do I need to change in order to say what I want to say?"  They are thinking of making their writing better due in large part to the discussions they had with their peers. Rich talk helps them recognize good writing when they experience it.

9. Create a culture of risk-taking and mistake making--mistakes are a gateway to learning.

"Take chances! Make mistakes!" -- Ms. Frizzle

What research says:
How many of your students play video games? Game play can offer a non-threatening-mistake-making space according to Dr. Jane McGonigal of the Institute of the Future and Marc Prensky, author of Digital Game-based Learning. Students learn by making mistakes in a lot of cases because, in general, the video game world is low risk. If Mario runs into a Koopa Troopa (little turtle guy), Mario starts over again to give it another try. The player has learned that next time she must jump earlier. Students who feel it's not risky to fail are more willing to try again, and again, and again...until they are successful.

Establish a low-risk and safe environment. Urge students to do as Ms. Frizzle says, and watch the creativity flow and the learning happen.

What it might look like:
You have introduced the concept of addition to your little guys. Because you have fostered their risk-taking behavior while learning, you have a classroom full of students steeped in natural curiosity and inquiry as they try to figure out different ways to explain and make sense of addition. What they are not doing is looking to you for the answer even though they know you know. They want to take risks to learn because they are allowed to.
8. P.M.I. Take a topic and discuss the Pluses, Minuses, and what was Interesting.

What research says:
Mona Lisa
When you had to make a decision, have you ever "weighed the pros and cons"? P.M.I. is essentially that--a way to practice decision making skills. Daniel Pink, author of A Whole New Mind, believes that jobs in the future will need people who can think for themselves, invent, design, and make decisions. These qualities might sound familiar, they are 21st Century Skills.

What it might look like:
You've just helped your class of artists research painters who have used oils as their medium. You decide that now is a good time to use the P.M.I. strategy. While some work in small groups, and others by themselves, they come up with the positives, minuses, and what was interesting about the use of oils.

Positives: oils offer rich colors and interesting textures
Negatives: oils are harder to clean, and more expensive
Interesting: Da Vinci's Mona Lisa, van Gogh's Starry Night, Picasso's La Guernica, Monet's Water Lilies, and countless other masterpieces were done using oils

Your art students have a better idea of whether or not they should use oils as their medium of choice for their next piece of artwork.

Stay tuned for 7-4.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Formative Assessment Activities (Serial): Tear and Share

This is the third of several posts dedicated to formative assessment activities that you could use in your classroom. Today's activity comes, once again, from Robin Fogarty and Brian M. Pete, presenters both on (In)Formative Assessment. Fogarty and Pete use ideas based on Spencer Kagen's cooperative learning structures.

One note before I share the strategy. Fogarty and Pete mentioned that the expectation of complete sentences should be in play here. Students will write an answer, but make sure it has their reasoning behind it. Example: I think this strategy is wonderful, because it makes students collaborate, and has students think on a high level.

Tear and Share
This strategy is a Bloom's goldmine. With this strategy students will have a chance to: remember, understand, analyze, evaluate, and create. Students work in teams of four to answer four questions about an article they read, a chapter from a novel, or a video they just watched (or whatever you want to assess). After careful analysis of their teammate's work, students will come up with a summary of each question to share with the class. 
Here's how it works.
You'll Need:
  • To generate ahead of time four questions (or let the class create four questions after experiencing the learning)
  • A journal page or piece of paper for each student*
  • Some way to archive their final synthesized answers
  • Scissors are optional
 * Technology integration idea: allow students to collaborate on a Google document.

What to Do:
  1. Students get into groups of four, and count off 1-2-3-4. (Find nifty ways getting students in groups here, here, and here).
  2. Students experience the information (article, chapter, video, etc.).*
  3. Student should write down the questions leaving enough room for their answers.
  4. Students respond to the four questions by quick writing on a sheet of paper. (For your overzealous writers, make sure they are careful about using the back of the paper because they will be tearing this into four sections soon).
  5. When a student is finished writing his/her answers, he/she will carefully tear or cut (the noise of tearing encourages other group members to finish up) the whole sheet into the four questions and their answers.
  6. When all students are finished they hand their answers to each other. Number ones get the first question, number twos get the second question, and so on.
  7. After collecting their teammate's answers, the students read and synthesize  each of their teammate's entries into one cohesive summary.
  8. Once each group is done, they share their summaries with the whole class.
  9. The whole class can work together to create the best answers to each question based on what each group reported. Suggestion: Distribute created answers as part of a study guide.
*You could also let students see the questions before experiencing the information.

Imagine that the students just read an article on the 19th Amendment.
Question 1: If Susan B. Anthony survived to see the 19th Amendment passed, what would she say was the biggest factor in granting women the right to vote?
Example answers from the four group members:
1. I think she would say that all of the marching was the reason because they made people take notice.
2. Susan B. Anthony would say that picketing in front of the White House was the biggest factor because it forced the president and congressmen think about giving women the right to vote.
3. Ms. Anthony would be proud to say that peaceful protests were the key because they would not be ignored.
4. Susan B. Anthony would say Harry Burr's mother's note was the biggest reason why they passed the amendment.

Possible synthesis of the four answers:
We think Susan B. Anthony would say that all of their hard work picketing, marching, and peacefully protesting for their rights were the keys to winning the right to vote. 
*Notice I didn't put in my summary the answer about Harry Burr's mother, because during my reading I thought that Burr's mother must have been moved to write the letter because of the work the suffragettes were doing.
This can be a very powerful activity for your students. Enjoy!

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

NumberNut: Interactive Mathematical Games and Instruction Website

I was directed toward Numbernut by Richard Bryne author of the blog Free Technology for Teachers.

Numbernut Key Features:
+ The games are easy to play, yet very engaging
+ The quizzes are simple and give immediate feedback
+ Includes a math glossary written in humorous and kid-friendly language
+ Based on California Department of Education Standards
+ Activities are broken into basic and advanced levels
+ Simple for students and teachers to navigate

I wish it had a way to embed the games into a blog, wiki, or website, so you could streamline the activities and quizzes for the specific content you're teaching at the time.

It also calls a rhombus a diamond...always a pet peeve.

There are several other sites like Numbernut created by the same company, Andrew Rader Studios.

Click here for more.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Formative Assessment Activities (Serial): ABC Graffiti

This is the second of many posts dedicated to formative assessment activities that you could use in your classroom. In the first post I described an activity called 3 Musketeers. Today's activity also comes from Robin Fogarty and Brian M. Pete, presenters both on (In)Formative Assessment.

One note before I share the activity. Robin Fogarty, Brian Pete, and Douglas Fisher (professor of Language and Literacy at San Diego State, and a presenter on effective group work) advise that the most effective groups sizes are 3-4 students per group.

ABC Graffiti
The groups must come up with describers, definitions, or synonyms for the topic or term that starts with each letter of the alphabet. Creativity points for the letters Q and X. Give a time limit of 3 minutes. 

You've been teaching on a topic, let's say it's local government, and you want to get a feel for what your kids know about local government so far. Use ABC Graffiti as a fun way for students to brainstorm concrete and abstract ideas about their learning. You can use it as a way to monitor their knowledge, assess their understanding, and as a guide for instruction modifications.

You'll need:
  • A large sheet of paper for each group.*
  • Markers are nice, but any writing utensil will work.
*Technology integration idea: Create a Google doc template and have small groups make a copy of the template. Student groups can type in their answers.

What to do:
  1. Assign roles: materials gatherer, scribe, encourager, and roving reporter (used as an idea spy if needed, and you decide when reporters can rove to steal good ideas from other groups).
  2. Each group has a large sheet of paper. The scribe draws a rectangle box at the top of the page (this is where the topic or term will be written). 
  3. Students write all the letters of the alphabet (nice and big, use the space) down the left side of the paper and onto a second column if needed.
  4. Provide the groups with the topic or term. The scribe writes the word you provide in the box at the top.
  5. All group members give suggestions as they work together. Give them 3 minutes.

The topic is Local Government
A: American way
B: Ballot
C: Congress
D: Democracy
So on.

A higher order thinking skill is prioritizing or ranking. Ask the groups to find on the graffiti sheet the top three most poignant words that describe the term. Have the reporter report the group’s top three to the whole class. Record the top three of all groups. Create a word wall. Facilitate discussions.

Bonus ideas:
  • Have students write a sentence or quick write about the term.
  • Have students create a compound word with part of speech and definition. This can help create a sense of ownership with words they create. For example, the words Democracy and Vote can be creatively combined to form Votocracy n. A system that allows for people to vote on important decisions.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Formative Assessment Activities (Serial): 3 Musketeers

Robin Fogarty and Brian M. Pete presented (In)formative Assessment at the 2010 Wildly Exciting conference I attended earlier this August at Grand Valley State University. They were very entertaining and informative. If you get the chance to see them, do so. You won't regret it.

They had wonderful ideas and activities that they shared. I want to share them with you.

Two notes before I begin. Fogarty and Pete maintain that to get the most out of these activities, based on Spencer Kagen's cooperative learning structures (see below for video), students should move from activity to engagement to involvement. That is to say, students should begin with the activity; which leads to engagement with peers; which leads to involvement with the learning.

The second note is a quote from Brian Pete who said, "The learner is the one doing the talking." In essence, create more rich talk opportunities for your students.

3 Musketeers
Imagine you've just taught something to the class, and you want to see if they are getting it.
This activity is a way to get your students up and moving. "I don’t want the blood to be in your feet or your seat, but in your brain so you can maintain." 

Students get up walk around and put their hands in the air and “high five”. When three students high five each other at the same time they become a group. Three students per grouping is ideal. Adjust as needed. Once the groupings are established, determine who goes first by having them discover something about each other (birthdays, pets, lives closest to school etc.) For example: The student with a birthday closest to today, either past or future, will go first.

Each musketeer will share with the small group what information they recall (sharing with each other). Then have the small groups report whole group. 

Q: But what if the next group that goes says, "That's what I was going to say."
A: Ask them to either paraphrase, repeat, or add to what was just said. 

Small group discussion with application of the information. Before you have your students return to their seats ask them this, "With whom would you share this information you just learned?
This encourages students to self-reflect and conceptualize an audience other than themselves for this information. They will take ownership of the learning.

Try it out! 


Thursday, August 12, 2010

11 Techy Things To Do This School Year from Tech 4 Teachers

I'm following a blog called Free Tech 4 Teachers written by an amazing educational tech teacher Richard Byrne. I want to share his guide for 11 things you might want to try this year. Do all 11 or do 1 of them, it's up to you, but perhaps this year is the year to try something new?

How to Do 11 Techy Things in the New School Year -

Monday, August 9, 2010

Building Vocabulary

According to Dr. Debra Pickering, vocabulary knowledge is one of the highest predictors of academic success on standardized tests.

She went on to describe six guidelines to help students build vocabulary. She pointed out that these guidelines are not meant to be followed lock-step, meaning these guidelines are flexible depending on the needs of the students.

Help students develop sufficient initial understanding by:
  • Providing a description, explanation, or example of the new term.
  • Giving them an experience (story,  video, simulation, etc.).
  • Establish a record keeping system (some place to keep the terms). The notebooks should include: Term, Describe, Draw, and a Self-evaluation measure
  • Asking the students to restate the description, explanation, or example in their own words.
  • Asking students to construct a picture, symbol, or graphic representing the term or phrase.
Provide multiple opportunities for students to:
  • Engage in activities that help them add to their knowledge of the terms in their notebooks.
  • To discuss the terms with one another. 
  • Play games using the terms.

Here are some games Debra Pickering suggested:

- Word Association Game: (think 10,000 Pyramid)
- Show Me: (think charades)
- Quick Draw: (think Pictionary)

Check out these links for more information on games that build academic vocabulary:

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Wide Reading Idea: Quick Read

I learned that research indicates that schema helps information stick in permanent memory. Research also indicates that when students experience a wide variety of reading their schema improves--wide reading.

One idea I want to share in this post comes from a presentation by Dr. Debra Pickering, it's called, Quick Read. It's quite simple really, have your students read a variety of topics with focused themes. Expand their vocabulary--improve schema. Dr. Pickering suggested the following website resources to help teachers incorporate more wide reading.

Totally Absurd.com (America’s Goofiest Patents)

They All Laughed (Invention)
Mistakes that Worked (Invention)
Snopes.com headlines (reading and reacting)
Yahooligan Jokes
Don’t Know Much About series

Please share any topics or ideas you have.