Saturday, December 7, 2013

Interactive Rubrics

      While reading Phil Gobel's blog, I came across an interesting post from Edutopia- Michelle Lampinen's thoughts on using interactive rubrics as assessment for learning. Especially as a Social Studies teacher, I found this a powerful way to augment the ways that I assess students. Yesterday, in fact, my students completed a RAFTS prompt in which they were to explore thoughts on the Articles of Confederation from viewpoints of stakeholders at the time- large state residents, small state residents, women, and slaves. After having read Lampinen's post, my thoughts immediately turned to how powerful an interactive rubric could have been for this instance- I could have linked students to specific articles detailing each role's experience, as well as provided resources to help with quoting sources- a skill my students have historically struggled with, as well. Certainly, for future writing prompts, I will make every effort to make rubrics more interactive- in fact, I can easily see how this one rubric for performance task could be the "hub" for a unit. Students could click and self pace through the selected content and skill-based videos, and then complete the task when they have finished. This would be especially powerful in a setting where 1:1 technology, or a BYOD policy existed.

References: Lampinen, M. (2013, December 3). Interactive rubrics as assessment for learning. Retrieved from

Reflection on "7 Things You Should Know About Virtual Worlds"

Recently, I came across Educause's short introduction to virtual worlds. Within this short piece, the authors describe a scenario where a student doctor interacts with virtual patients while being supervised by her instructors. In this scenario, the instructors are free to pause the interaction at any time to provide feedback on developing patient relationships. The thought of this seems intriguing to me- I imagined a lesson in which I sent my students into a virtual world with a discussion topic- perhaps to research and share their findings about a historical event. From there, I could moderate and adjust the flow of conversation as necessary by providing feedback. This seems like a neat laboratory to try a real constructivist approach to lesson development. Has anyone tried, or can offer recommendations about virtual worlds that might work for that purpose?

References Educause (2006, June). 7 things you should know about virtual worlds. Retrieved from

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Lesson Study in Social Studies

Recently, I had the opportunity to read an article by Anne-Lise Halverson on Edutopia.  In it, she describes how she uses the process of "lesson study" to augment the development of her pre-service teachers during their internship years. In short, here is what the method looks like-

"1. Plan a study lesson that focuses on one goal.
2. Teach the study lesson. 
3. Observe others who teach the study lesson.
4. Debrief the study lesson experience."

Halverson goes on to report that this process has had glowing reviews from both her field supervisors and her internship students, and I can definitely see why. This model is ideally how I would like to teach, and (in my idealistic worldview) what teachers should strive for. In collaborating to plan the courses that I teach, my coworkers and I are definitely adept at steps 1, 2, and 4. However, time is always the enemy when it comes to teaching, and we rarely, if ever, have the opportunity to observe each other. It might also require a bit of a "culture shift" to be truly effective. What suggestions are there for finding these opportunities, and creating this more collaborative culture?

References: Halverson, A. (2013, November 21). Pre-service social studies teachers meet the lesson study method. Retrieved from

Reaction to Educause's Reading on Google Apps

     Although somewhat dated by this point, Educause's article introducing Google Apps is a great springboard for anyone that hasn't yet taken advantage of the opportunities offered by this software. As a teacher who teaches three subjects (and collaborates with others for each), Google Docs has proved indispensable for unit planning and resource gathering. We don't have to be in the same place to collaborate, and all we need to do to submit our plans is share them with our supervising Dean. It truly makes the planning process much more efficient.
     Google also hosts several other apps, although the one I would next like to recommend is Google Forms. Google Forms does wonders to collect data and organize it in a meaningful way. For example, my building currently uses it to track accommodations and modifications provided to students with IEPS or underachieving students. It has gone a long way to reducing the amount of paperwork with each of these tasks- we only need type a few words and check a few boxes to have a detailed spreadsheet compiled. When used correctly, it is certainly a great tool in reducing the educator's workload. I would recommend that any educator that isn't already using Google Apps to start with these two.

References: Educause (2008, March 19) 7 things you should know about Google Apps. Retrieved from

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Reaction to "The Biggest Hurdle to Flipping Your Class"

     In his post on Edutopia, educator Jon Bergmann speaks to what he believes is a teachers' biggest hurdle in "flipping" the classroom- the way teachers think about how to use their class time. I am certainly supportive of the notion that a flipped classroom helps students "learn how to learn"- I have embraced that concept since I began my teaching career. ( I often tell my students, especially in these days of Common Core shifts that I care more about their ability to read, write, and speak effectively than I do their ability to recite historial facts- history is just the vehicle I use to expand those abilities.....but I digress). However, my biggest hurdle to truly flipping my room is that, despite what media and others would have us believe, is that many of my students simply just do not have regular access to technology that would make a flipped classroom feasible. In my current position, I feel I would be flipping for maybe 60% of my students- the rest would require traditional instruction. For me, this is one of my largest personal struggles with this program- seeing all the ways in which technology can enhance instruction, but not being able to implement them with fidelity.

References: Bergmann, Jon. The Biggest Hurdle to Flipping Your Class. Edutopia. 18 Nov 2013. Web. 26 Nov 2013. Retrieved from:

Reaction to Richardson, CH 6

In Chapter 6 of his book, Will Richardson speaks to the power of combining our various social networks into a personalized learning network- in other words, using RSS feeds and social bookmarking to create an easy way of aggregating material relevant to your needs and interests. To be truthful, prior to this course, I hadn't used RSS much. However, I have used Delicious in the past to collect links for my students to use for research projects (I suppose I used this as kind of the "cheater's" way- instead of letting them find my own information, I provided them with more targeted searches). I can see a great potential in combining these two technologies, and certainly moreso in a school environment that is more technology-rich. Also, upon reading Richardson's description of Diigo, I am certainly excited about the possibility to use it to annotate webpages- this might provide an excellent way for me to model appropriate research and reading strategies for my students. It will certainly be a project to play with over my upcoming breaks.

References: Richardson, W. (2010) Blogs, wikis, podcasts, and other powerful web tools for classrooms. Thousand Oaks, California: Corwin

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Reaction to "Teaching Your Students How To Have A Conversation"

     Like them or not, I think it's rather telling that the Common Core State Standards include standards for speaking and listening. Logic would suggest that these standards were created because students show some deficiency in their ability to converse, at least in the traditional sense (texting, tweets, and status updates aside). While I certainly am an advocate of technology, I do buy into the notion that it has harmed students' conversation skills, as well as their ability to pick up on the subtleties of communication. There are probably other factors involved in this decline, but in this post at least, I'm not concerned with those. What I am concerned with is an excellent post from Allen Mendler on Edutopia.
     Mendler takes the time to illustrate several strategies aimed at coaching students through having both formal and informal conversations. While many of them seem elementary, it is truly amazing to consider their impact, especially in the "read/write/speak more" push in the Common Core. I had already implemented some of these prior to this posting, and have seen seismic shifts in the way that students communicate with each other during fishbowl discussions, as well as think-pair-shares. It's certainly a worthy read for anyone who says "why won't these kids just respect each other?" It's not that they won't, it's that sometimes, they just don't know how.

Mendler, A. (2013, November 5). Teaching your students how to have a conversation. Retrieved from

Reaction to "Changing the Teaching of History, One Byte at a Time."

     In his November 14th post to Edutopia, Sam Wineburg discusses an issue facing history teachers worldwide. In an era where even the material captured in textbooks is suspect, as is much of the information on the web, how are we to train our students to cite evidence (one of the Common Core key shifts) when there are so many low-quality sources available? While Mr. Wineburg is clearly advertising the work of his group, his core point is that primary sources, ones originating from the periods being studied, are probably the most valuable in education. This a point I would certainly agree with- I enjoy guiding my students through the analysis and dissection of sources, which (sometimes) leads to engaging discussions. I have yet to avail myself of any of the lessons his group offers, but I am certainly considering them in planning upcoming units,

Wineburg, Sam. (2013, November 14). Changing the teaching of history, one byte at a time. Retrieved from

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Reaction to "The Biggest Lie Students Tell Me (And How To Turn It Around)"

     In his October 22nd post, Jose Vilson addresses one of the phrases that I have heard many times from my students- "I can't do this!" In many cases, this has become an ingrained belief in my students, coming as the result of being left behind in several of their classrooms throughout the years. Fortunately, Vilson does provide some clues on how to start addressing this problem, many of which I have already used in my instruction.
     Perhaps the most valuable insight Vilson provides is focusing on what the student "can" do- assessing at which step of the process the student is having trouble, and providing corrections at that point. However, unlike Vilson, I would not recommend making a protracted conversation out of this- I try to limit "helping" conversations to about 30 seconds at the most. One model I use to accomplish this is Fred Jones' "Praise, Prompt, Leave" strategy, in conjunction with his conceptualization of Visual Instruction Plans. This helps to limit the disruptions that might occur while I am otherwise focused on helping a student.
      Another possibility is that offering students "breaks" within reason in an appropriate strategy. By the end of the day, many students have reached their capacity for seat time, and express their frustrations through "I can't do this" or other disruptions. Allowing for small brain breaks has definitely made a difference in my instruction, and helps to keep students more engaged. I would recommend this post to anyone who also hears that phrase in their classroom.

References: Jose Vilson (2013, October 22). The biggest lie students tell me (and how to turn it around). Retrieved from

Reaction to CH 8: Podcasting, Video and Screen Casting, and Live Streaming

    In chapter eight of his book, Will Richardson explains in detail the benefits of the various kinds of "casting" a teacher can do- podcasting, videocasting, screencasts, and the like. Having encountered these media in my daily life, as well as creating them in other classes, I can definitely speak to the benefits they can have in the classroom. As a teacher that implements Edmodo in the classroom, I had often found myself inundated with questions about how to perform some of the more basic tasks on the site- opening an attachment, completing an assignment, or attaching work to a post. To address this issue, I created screencasts that guided students through some of the more common functions- this allowed me to spend less time addressing procedural issues in class, and more time addressing content and knowledge gaps.
     Of course, I can see applications of this for content as well- it makes a lot more sense to record the in-class goings on than to try and catch absent students up during the few moments you can spare with them. I have also used such videos as an aid to my direct instruction as well. On the whole, these technologies can do much to address some of the stress that teachers face.

References: Richardson, W. (2010) Blogs, wikis, podcasts, and other powerful web tools for classrooms. Thousand Oaks, California: Corwin

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Reaction to "5 Powerful Questions Teachers Can Ask Students"

     Being in the position of hosting a student teacher during this first semester, I find myself offering a great deal of coaching. One thing that was often brought up in education courses was the concept of "wait time," but rarely are students given the chance to practice using that strategy until their actual student teaching experience. Likewise, beginning teachers are often told to ask a lot of questions, without much guidance in how to develop them. Blogger Rebecca Alper helps to address these issues in her piece on Edutopia.
     Of the five questions she offers, I am particularly a fan of "What questions do you still have?" It gives the impression that there are always opportunities for learning to continue, and that just because the instructor has gone through the planned material does not mean that there isn't further discussion to be had. Too often, I think, students consider instructors as a comprehensive source on any topic (when the truth often is that we are anything but!). Framing the question in this way allows us to develop further questions for study, and allows me to direct them to resources that they can use to answer those questions.

References: Alper, R. (2013, October 31). 5 powerful questions teachers can ask students. Retrieved from

Reaction to Richardson Chapter 7

    Richardson (the author whose book I have been chronicling in my previous posts) takes great care in chapter 7 of his book to explore the possibilities that offers in the classroom. These possibilities are things that I had not previously been aware of- I haven't really used Flickr in any meaningful way, outside of a few image searches. Of course, it certainly has benefits of "flattening" the world as a social site, but the feature I am most excited about is the annotation tool.
     Many of the Michigan Social Studies GLCE's deal with analyzing traditions/lifestyles of classical cultures. On a related note, one of the Key Shifts of the Common Core standards is to increase students' ability to cite evidence from a text in making an argument. Flickr's annotation tool seems as though it could be the perfect item to address both objectives. For example, I can envision an assignment where I allow students to choose from a collection of photos related to Ancient Rome, and then have them annotate specific parts of each photo to highlight interesting points of architecture, as well as to hypothesize about what such buildings might have been used for. Similar exercises might be undertaken for an exploration of Neolithic-era stone tools and the like. The possibilities here seem endless, and I am excited to work on ways to integrate this into my classroom.

References: Richardson, W. (2010) Blogs, wikis, podcasts, and other powerful web tools for classrooms. Thousand Oaks, California: Corwin

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Reaction to Teachers: Staying Positive in Trying Times

Blogger Heather Wolpert-Gawron wrote an interesting piece that shares an anecdote about how she observed one of her colleagues burn out on teaching. This is too real a problem in many schools- I saw it in my previous position, and am fearful that one of my colleagues in my current position is undergoing the same sorts of changes. Of the strategies that Wolpert-Gawron offers, I think the most critical, (at least for me) is knowing your own limits as a teacher. Too often, in an effort to be a good employee, I've seen teachers say "yes" to tasks that probably stretch their abilities and time management skills to the limit- I too, have been guilty of taking on things that probably didn't get the full attention that they deserved. However, it is very empowering to be able to say "no" once in a while- not for selfish reasons, but because I'd prefer to do a few things well instead of many things adequately. I think it has increased my job satisfaction overall- I feel more proud of the work I do when I manage my commitments in such a way. This, along with Wolpert-Gawron's other tidbits, are useful advice in trying to keep our collective heads above water in this difficult profession.

References: H Wolpert-Gawron. (2013, September 30). Teachers: Staying positive in trying times. Retrieved from

Reaction to Planning For Engagement: 6 Strategies for the Year

     I am currently hosting a student teacher, and this experience has done much to confirm my hypothesis; many teachers don't really have "classroom management" problems, rather, they have "engagement" problems. When students aren't invested in the work they are performing, there will, of course, be an increase in disruptive behaviors. And so, when sorting through my feedly account, I came across an article highlighting just that-ways to increase engagement in the classroom.
    Of the strategies discussed by Joshua Block in the blog post, providing authentic assignments and allowing students to present and perform, I think, are the most powerful. Firstly, I feel that students need to see that their work can be connected to real-world tasks- therefore, I often engage them in tasks that real historians will do. I don't necessarily teach the American Revolution through textbooks, instead- a rich variety of primary sources offers the the details I am hoping for students to acquire. By analyzing these primary sources as historians do/did, students gain a much deeper understanding of the topic than what a textbook might provide.
     I am also a fan of allowing students to present their work to people other than When possible and appropriate, my students engage in gallery walks to provide both affirming and adjusting feedback on the work of their peers. Knowing that their peers will evaluate them often pushes students to succeed at the task- they don't want to be the student that receives only adjusting feedback! Both strategies, I think, are key to increasing student engagement.

References: J Block (2013, October 1). Planning for engagement: 6 strategies for the year. Retrieved from

Reaction to Richardson, CH 2/3

     In chapters two and three of his book, Richardson discusses the pedagogy behind using blogs (like this one!) in the classroom, and provides practical strategies for doing so. It's certainly an inspiring read, and got my creative juices flowing regarding how I might implement blogs in my own practice. I envisioned a classroom where each student maintains their own blog and performed virtual "gallery walks" to provide feedback to the authors of an individual work. A truly paperless classroom that eliminated turn-in boxes and homework excuses. A shining example of how technology can be used to enhance (and eventually replace!) what can be done in a brick-and-mortar classroom...

     And then my enthusiasm was quickly dampened by the fact that due to the demographics of my student body, many of them would not be able to establish or maintain a blog from home- a reliable internet connection is understandably low on the list of spending priorities in some of their households. Establishing blogs using school-provided technology isn't an option at the moment either- we have a lonely laptop cart that is fought over tooth-and-nail. Many of my students do possess smartphones, but I'm not currently aware of any reliable, free blogging app that might be suitable for our purposes. What suggestions do you have, readers?

References: Richardson, W. (2010) Blogs, wikis, podcasts, and other powerful web tools for classrooms. Thousand Oaks, California: Corwin

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Reaction to Richardson: Chapter 1

This post is written in reaction to Will Richardson's book "Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts and Other Powerful Web Tools for Classrooms." A full citation is offered below.

    Will Richardson takes care to point out that as the digital revolution has progressed, the field of education has been "very, very slow to react (pg. 6)." He goes on to state that this has left the traditional K-12 school and its teaching philosophies at odds with the way that its students now think about learning. If we're honest with ourselves, we can conclude that Richardson is right in his remarks. It is evident when students groan at another worksheet, complain at the weight of a textbook, or rebel against a cell phone policy. They know that there are other, more interesting ways of learning; they have by and large not met the educator who is willing and able to facilitate them.
     To that end, while I would love a school with a 1:1 student-to-technology ratio, I think a better substitute would be a "bring-your-own-device" policy for schools that are unable to provide technology. In one of my previous positions, I had students use twitter (during instruction!) to post and respond to questions, and later revisit topics of conversation. Apps such as Google Drive and Edmodo allow for students to collaborate, research, and publish assessment pieces in a way that is more familiar to them- all of which can be accessible, even in rudimentary forms, via a smartphone. Unfortunately, many schools still see this personal technology as an evil, and do what they can to outlaw it. Such policies run counter to the way that our students are motivated to learn, and I think that their education is left wanting because of it. We should be in the business of meeting students where they want to be engaged; not dragging them kicking and screaming to a classroom.
    And so, when possible, I will make a commitment to embrace these technological tools in my classroom. I believe that it can only make me a better instructor, and my students more successful learners.

References: Richardson, W. (2010) Blogs, wikis, podcasts, and other powerful web tools for classrooms. Thousand Oaks, California: Corwin

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Reaction to "Simple Ways to Cultivate Happiness in Schools" by Elena Aguilar

"Simple Ways to Cultivate Happiness in Schools" by Elena Aguilar

     Recently, while scouring my newly created RSS aggregrator (a neat tool in and of itself) I came across an opinion piece written by Elena Aguilar (link above). That this piece even exists is evidence enough that school is not always a happy place for some students- this can be for any number of reasons, and is not the focus of the article. Instead, Aguilar offers seven strategies that can help teachers and members of the school community increase happiness, and by extension, improve the culture and climate of a school. While some of these strategies are admittedly geared for elementary students, there are a few that I would like to highlight for possible use in a secondary classroom.
     One strategy that Aguilar offers is to "get outside." She offers the following logic- "Being outside, even for just a few minutes a day, can heighten our state of well-being. We breathe fresh air, feel the elements on our skin -- the warmth of the sun, the sting of wind, the moisture of rain -- which connects us to the natural world." Oftentimes, I find my self anxious about being cooped in the school building for an entire day- it is certainly natural that students might feel the same. Therefore, where safety and comfort permit, I would find it beneficial to conduct parts of (or even an entire) class outside. Many of the same tasks accomplished in the classroom (reading, writing, and speaking) could just as easily be accomplished on the soccer field's bleachers or under the shade of a treeline. The weather might also be useful as a teaching tool- discussing Washington's time at Valley Forge might certainly be augmented by a brief exposure to the cold. Expanding the learning environment outside of the four walls of the classroom can certainly have benefits for student learning and well-being.

     According to Aguilar, students may also find it beneficial to "move your body" for this reason- "Moments of movement are great and our brains start producing the endorphins that make us happy right away." Truly, having experienced the longest of all possible staff meetings and professional developments, I frequently appreciate the opportunity to move by body- students should be afforded the same opportunity during our lessons. Not all kinesthetic movement has to be learning-related in my opinion- sometimes, it's just helpful to engage in silly songs or dances to help expand students' comfort zones and build a more cohesive classroom environment. In my experience, these moments have also helped to refocus students, and sometimes leave them wondering when the next "wiggle break" might occur.
     Of the remainder of Aguilar's ideas, I don't know that I'd much want to incorporate them into my classroom. However, these two simple sorts of activities can certainly be useful in improving school culture and climate. I am fortunate to have an administration that supports these, and students that welcome the opportunity. I will continue to use these skills in my educational practice.    

Article Citation: Aguilar, E. (2013, October 10). Simple ways to cultivate happiness in schools. Retrieved October 15, 2013 from