There’s never enough time to blog and reblog all of the interesting resources we find during the week, so we decided to start a Best of the Week List where we share all of the education-related blogs, articles, apps and resources we come across every week.
Reading and Language Arts
Technology in the Classroom
I thought I knew my geography, but after ten attempts to locate the Tabernas Desert, which I learned is the only desert in Europe, I was brought to my knees! The cool thing about World Geography Games is that, despite my frustration, I still managed to have fun—and something tells me that I’ll never forget where the good old Tabernas Desert is located again.
World Geography Games gives users their choice of a wide variety of interactive quizzes that include questions about:
- Bodies of water
- Metropolitan areas
- And other topics that will test and challenge your brain
All 193 members of the United Nations (UN) are included in the quizzes. Added to these lists are Taiwan, Kosovo and Vatican City. Not-sovereign nations and territories—Greenland and Puerto Rico, for example—are not included.
This is the first in an ongoing series of posts inspired by How I Work, a bi-weekly series on one of our favorite sites, Lifehacker. As educators, we like to know how other educators work, how they live, and how they play, so every other week we’ll be featuring a new interview with a new teacher. This week, we’ll hear from Marc Hamlin, an English Language Arts teacher from West Greenwich, Rhode Island.
Location: Exeter- West Greenwich Regional Senior High School, West Greenwich, RI 02817
Desired location: Eventually, I want to move on to teaching at a local community college. I want to “age with the profession.” I can’t say I’ll have the same relevance or world view of a 15 or 16 year-old when I’m in my late 50s-early 60s.
Current work title (administrator/teacher/school technologist, etc.) Also, what grade do you teach?: It’s interesting. I taught ELA at my school for the first 8 years of my career. Then, I had an opportunity to teach educational technology for 10 years. It was fun, but 10 years of teaching in “The Bunker” (room with no windows) can really warp your perception of reality. Then I went back to my first love, ELA, and here I am, but with a strong technology skillset. I’m all about integrating technology into lessons to improve learning.
Area of expertise (subjects you teach or have an interest in): ELA, computer technology, web design, computer networking and network design, relational database management systems (RDBMS) with languages like MySQL.
Do you have a specific long-term career goal?: Yes, I want to start creating instructional videos on YouTube. I really think it’s now, not the future.
Languages you have studied or currently speak: Well, It’s funny. On my father’s side, they came from France and Belgium. On my mother’s side, they came from French-speaking Canada (Quebec). But the language was taken out of them when they went to school (My mother spoke French until she went to school.) They were told not to speak French at home. It was all about assimilation, then.
As a consequence, I speak the French I learned in French class- “Un petit peu.” I feel I’ve lost a good deal of my cultural heritage as a result. When I look at Hispanic students, I think, “Yes, learn English, but don’t ever stop speaking your language. Once you lose that, you lose your cultural treasures.”
The project you’re most proud of: The “Sweded Video Project” is my very favorite. Inspired by the Jack Black/Danny Glover/Mos Def film, “Be Kind, Rewind,” the project centers around creating stories (or adapting stories read during the semester) to a five-minute “short attention-span” theater.
Imagine breaking down Moby Dick to 5 minutes. It’s breathtaking. It’s not merely about how we tell stories, but why, after all these thousands of years, we still gather around an electric campfire to hear and tell each other stories. And unlike other group projects, each student has a clearly defined job, with a “deliverable” at the end of the process. That part is 70% of the project grade. The video is only 25%. They make a movie poster using Photoshop to promote their movie- 5%. We have a large-format printer that allows us to print to poster size. We put these posters up in the hallway to promote their videos. Then, we roll out a red carpet at “premiere time” and “movie day” becomes a party, a human coming-together. I’d like Arne Duncan to put that through his testing regime and see what he comes up with.
Favorite technology gadget for the classroom: I’m a big fan of BYOD (bring your own device). As long as your platform isn’t too esoteric, most devices can play nice-nice with web 2.0 tools out there. I’m now exploring a site called exittix.com to facilitate some formative assessment strategies in my classroom, but we’re not 1:1 yet. Until then, 5-up (hold up five fingers, students self-assess their competency before and after a lesson) will have to suffice.
And I’d be crazy not to mention the impact Edmodo.com has had on my classroom. Parents, students both know what is expected of them, and when. Not to mention the fact that I don’t lose out to snow days anymore. And it’s a place for students to distill what they think about a work or a topic before they are asked to comment, at night, in a thread.
Next conference/professional-development event you’re planning to give or attend: I’ll be attending something called “Writing Strategies to meet CCSS” which is supposed to be good. I’m going with my department on 3/17. If it doesn’t work out, well, there’s an Irish bar across the street from the conference site. So after the conference, I may have to go in there for a debriefing.
How many hours per day do you usually work?: As a teacher of ELA, I often work 10 hours per day. At 48, I can’t work as long or as late into the night as I used to. When I first started, I’d be up until 12, 1 am…Now I have rules for myself. Like, “Don’t bring home more than you can evaluate in one night.” Otherwise, that “teacher bag” can become something of a nemesis.
Are you an early-riser or a night-owl?: It’s also seasonal, and generational. Used to be a major night owl back in my younger days. Hated mornings. Now, I’m in bed by 9:30-10 p.m. because I’m up at 5:30 for work. I like to get in early- 6:30 or so, plan, think, and pray that God gives me the wisdom and the words to help every single kid I encounter. I pray for certain students who I know are in turmoil. And I pray for good cycling weather.
Do you have any pets or kids (names and ages)?: I have one kid. She’s black, has four legs, never changes clothes, and she’s an obedience school dropout, but I love my dog Holly, a black lab-weimaraner mix.
Next city/country you want to visit: I’m headed to England and Scotland in April with a group of students on an EF Educational Tour. Just got back from Paris, France in November (Thanksgiving). Paris blew my mind. It’s a jaw-droppingly gorgeous city.
Favorite vacation place: It’s simple enough, but hard to get there (from the northeast, USA)- Maui, Hawaii. Went there a few years ago and did not want to come home. Don’t ever go there during February break. It will seriously mess you up for life. It really is paradise on earth. Why anyone would want to live anywhere else is beyond me.
Favorite book: Gabriel Garcia Marquez’ “One Hundred Years of Solitude” is my all-time favorite. You hear about “Macondo” and the house of mirrors and you wonder what is going on, and why all these people in the novel have the same names over the generations, and then, in about the last 50 to 100 pages, it hits you, and you can’t put the novel down until you’re finished. And then your mind explodes with reverence for Garcia Marquez’s genius.
Favorite song: Right now, Joe Pug’s “Hymn 101.” He’s picked up Dylan’s crown, shined it up, and it fits.
Do you have a Twitter account we can follow you on?: I have a twitter account: @mrhamlinewg but because Twitter is blocked in our school (I’m behind the Iron Curtain) I don’t use it very often. Yeah, I need to get writing.
We know MAT graduates do great things, but this morning we’re swelling with pride. Over the weekend, we came across Quick Key, a free application that turns smartphones and tablets into optical scanners so teachers can quickly grade quizzes, tests and formative assessments.
Why are we swelling with pride, you ask? After browsing the Quick Key site, we realized that the genius behind Quick Key was Walter Duncan, a graduate of our Master in the Art of Teaching program! In addition to congratulating Walter on his new application, we’d like to share two videos to give you a better sense of what Quick Key does.
Mission US has been on my list of websites to blog about for a while now and after revisiting the site, I’m glad I finally got around to sharing it. Mission US is a multimedia project that immerses players in their choice of three interactive games. History and Social Studies teachers will especially appreciate this site.
Below you’ll find a brief description and accompanying trailer for each game. Be sure to check back often; Mission US promises new games are on the way!
Mission 1: “For Crown or Colony?” puts players in the shoes of Nat Wheeler, a printer’s apprentice in 1770 Boston. They encounter both Patriots and Loyalists, and when rising tensions result in the Boston Massacre, they must choose where their loyalties lie.
Mission 2: “Flight to Freedom,” players take on the role of Lucy, a 14-year-old slave in Kentucky. As they navigate her escape and journey to Ohio, they discover that life in the “free” North is dangerous and difficult.
Mission 3: “A Cheyenne Odyssey,” players become Little Fox, a Northern Cheyenne boy whose life is changed by the encroachment of white settlers, railroads, and U.S. military expeditions. As buffalo diminish and the U.S. expands westward, players experience the Cheyenne's persistence through conflict and national transformation.
Just as we posted a blog about five of our favorite virtual field trips, Richard Byrne went and outdid us. Apparently, he stumbled upon the holy grail of virtual field trips: a website called AirPano. We didn’t discover the site, but we’ll be darned if we’re not going to share it with you anyway.
AirPano is a site jam-packed with high-resolution, spherical panoramas shot from a bird’s eye view. In addition to the 200 panoramas, you’ll also find 360 degree videos, a photo gallery and news stories.
To take a virtual field trip of the Roman Colosseum in Italy, click here or on the image below.
They respond to texts differently than you do
One of the most exhilarating things about teaching reading and discussing texts is that they can be viewed through a variety of lenses. Texts, like language, are malleable: they mean different things to different people.
There are too many students who share this experience: At the teacher’s request, students prepare a response or opinion piece on a book, but receive low marks because they did not give the “right opinion.” If you’re asking for an opinion piece, hold up your end of the bargain and accept it for what it is. Reward students for their efforts, allow them to revise their work, and help them develop their ideas.
They can’t read as fast as their peers
Why are we always in such a hurry? Slow down and allow your reluctant readers to set their own pace, even if it means they “fall behind.” They may be slower than their peers, but one thing is for sure: pushing them to read faster isn’t going to help build their confidence, their comprehension or their enthusiasm for reading.
They are anxious about reading aloud
Students are often asked to read aloud; less often are they given the opportunity to silently read the text first. This might be worth reconsidering.
If you’ve ever agreed to read publicly, chances are that you requested the opportunity to review the text before you stood in front of an audience. Why? Because you didn’t want to stumble over words or make silly mistakes. Naturally, our students feel the same. Most real-world reading happens silently, so doesn’t it make sense to allow our students the opportunity to read silently before shining the spotlight on them?
They are preoccupied by “The Test”
You may not be able to completely abandon the multiple-choice test, but when given the chance, allow students to respond to what they’re reading. With your guidance you can help readers make connections and actually discover themselves in a text. Instead of posing questions that have predetermined answers, try some of the following:
- What about this really excites (or bothers, or puzzles, or challenges) me about this book?
- Should the character(s) have done something different? Why or why not?
- What would I have done in this situation and why?
- What caused this situation?
- What are the consequences?
- What does this have to do with my life?
- Do you see any similarities between this book and any of the others you’ve been reading?
They read texts that adults don’t value
We’ve been using the phrase “reluctant readers,” but the fact of the matter is that we don’t really believe any of our students are reluctant about reading.
All of our students read—they read all the time, in fact. If you need proof, give something a try: Ask your students if they text. Ask them if they update their Facebook pages or write on their friends’ walls. Do they like gossip magazines, comic books, blogs, and foreign films? We bet they do.
If we want our “reluctant readers” to shed their reluctance, we must acknowledge that their “texts”—no matter how low-brow we consider them—are legitimate forms of reading.
I work in the dark. I mean, it’s not pitch black in my office, but I only flip the switch to those eye-melting fluorescents when I absolutely have to.
It’s unusual, I know—but the fact of the matter is that I work better in dim light. I can’t think or write otherwise and according to a recent study, my quirk may actually have a drop of science to it.
According to the findings of a 2013 study by German researchers Anna Steidle and Lioba Werth, darkness may actually reduce feelings of constraint and spark creativity. Here’s what they reported in The Journal of Environmental Psychology.
One key experiment featured 114 German undergraduates who were seated in groups of two or three in a small room designed to simulate an office. The room was lit by a single fixture hanging directly over the group’s desk. The amount of illumination varied with each group: some received only 150 lux (dim light), others 500 lux (the recommended lighting level for an office), and still others 1,500 lux (bright light).
After a 15-minute acclimation period, each group was asked to work on “four creative insight problems” that required creativity to find a solution. After two minutes, groups were asked to report their level of self-assurance, how free from constraint they felt and the degree to which they felt externally controlled. Here’s what the researchers found:
Those in the dimly lit room solved significantly more problems correctly than those in the brightly lit room. They also felt freer and less inhibited than their intensely illuminated counterparts.
Interesting business. I wonder what would happen if we dimmed our classroom lights during testing, problem-solving exercises and group work. Could it make our students more creative?
To read more about Steidle and Werth’s study, you can find a summary here.
Ernest Hemingway liked his martinis dry, his cats six-toed, and his sentences economical. The new Hemingway app doesn’t come with vermouth or felines, but it does promise to make your writing as “punchy and compelling” as Papa’s.
Here’s how it works: You paste your copy into the app and an algorithm color-codes it. If you’ve pontificated, a chief Hemingway sin, the app will tell you so.
Text highlighted in red denotes a passage that is too long and complex.
Yellow means you need a grammar lesson.
Green shows you where you’ve used passive voice. For example, “He was moved by her” should be rewritten to say, “She moved him.”
Blue text means that you’ve used adverbs. Get rid of those too!
I think students might get a kick out of this. Just to show you how it works, I plugged in a paragraph from one of my blogs.
According to Hemingway, I am not quite a hack, but close. One of my sentences was overwrought; another was super overwrought. My other vice: I write at a grade 13 level. “Scrap it!” says Ernest.
If you’re teaching Hemingway, or looking for another activity to pair with your lessons about Papa, check out one of our other blogs, “Teaching Flash Fiction: A Novel in Six Words.”
Listening well—actively and deeply—is a skill that requires both attention and intention. It starts with our ears (making sense of words as well as the speaker’s tone) but also involves our eyes (body language says a lot). In a world increasingly cluttered with information, getting students to listen mindfully is a challenge. Julian Treasure suggests in a TED Talk that we are actually “losing our listening.” Teaching students to listen better will help them to succeed in your classes, as well as to engage more deeply with the world.
When you want your students to explore a specific topic or question, here’s a small group strategy to use that encourages active listening (along with offering all the advantages of collaborative learning).
Before starting this activity, review the following guidelines with your students:
First, you must listen with openness: suspend your judgments and biases and listen for those things with which you agree as well as those you might challenge.
Second, listen with curiosity: engage your desire to learn and understand, rather than to try to fix anything or simply offer your own point of view.
Third, listen respectfully: listen without asking questions that interrupt the speaker; jot these down and save them for later.
Fourth, listen schematically: listen for patterns, trends, and for what is not being said.
Fifth, listen intentionally: decide what you intend to do with the information you’ll learn.
There are only two rules:
- Each person in the group must speak once before anyone can speak a second or third time.
- If someone asks a question, someone else must answer it before another comment can be made.
Step One: Break the students into small groups of four or five.
Step Two: Give them the topic or question that you would like them to discuss.
Step Three: Each group should identify or appoint a group leader who will make sure the rules are followed and time is observed.
Step Four: One person begins by saying something about the topic or starting point question; the others listen using the guidelines noted above.
Step Five: Another student asks a follow-up question or comments about what has just been said.
Step Six: Repeat Steps Four and Five until everyone has spoken at least twice, or for a specific amount of time.
Step Seven: The group leader, with help from the group, summarizes the conversation and identifies any patterns or insights that emerged or developed.
Step Eight: Report out to the class.
You could follow this activity with a reflective journal entry, asking students what surprised them (it may be the difficulty of listening actively) and what new or interesting points/ideas they learned.
The first few times you try this, you may need to float around the room, encouraging students to stay on task. Once they get the hang of it, you’ll find this activity combines active listening, active learning, collaborative learning, and writing, all strategies that help students to probe and reflect on their own learning.
Artze-Vega, Isis. “Active Listening: Seven Ways to Help Students Listen, Not Just Hear.” Faculty Focus: Higher Ed Teaching Strategies from Magna Publications. 10/1/2012. http://www.facultyfocus.com/articles/teaching-and-learning/active-listening-seven-ways-to-improve-students-listening-skills/
Mankell, Henning. “The Art of Listening.” The New York Times. Opinion. 12.10.2011. http://www.nytimes.com/2011/12/11/opinion/sunday/in-africa-the-art-of-listening.html?_r=0
Thanks to Lisa Dresdner, Ph.D., Norwalk Community College, and to Dr. Judith Ableser, director of the Oakland University Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning, for this tip.