Category Archives: Uncategorized

Integral to Instruction: Assessment

“Assessment should always have more to do with helping students grow than with cataloging their mistakes.” — Carol Tomlinson

Assessment in an integral part of instruction determining whether or not the goals of education are being met. It is used to measure the current knowledge that a student has. It meets many needs for many individuals. Through assessments we continually ask the questions,

Are we teaching what we think we are teaching?

Are students learning what they are suppose to be learning?

Is there a way to teach the subject better, therefore promoting better learning?

Assessment affects decisions about grades, placement, advancement, instructional needs, curriculum, and in some cases, school funding.

Teachers are engaged in assessment every minute they are in the classroom. As teachers, we are always observing, noting, and evaluating. Because assessment in completed integrated into the fabric of curriculum, our evaluations are just as accurate (or not) as the classroom experiences we design for our students. The learning standards and Common Core lead us to give particular kinds of assignments. The key is to offer a variety of assessments, both formative and summative, to help our students show us they are meeting the learning targets.

I am currently in the process of designing a multi genre inquiry unit on WWII and the Holocaust with a social studies teacher and amazing colleague.

The unit brings social studies and English together in order to promote coteaching and collaboration among these two content areas with a focus on building students literacy skills and historical knowledge.  Combining the new C3 social studies standards and the Common Core literacy standards promotes critical thinking, close reading and students creating their own multigenre text on a specific topic and theme about World War II.

For the final project (and summative assessment) students will create a Multi-genre blog that incorporates five different texts (fiction and nonfiction) grounded in specific historical documents to highlight a common theme prevalent in WWII.

Reading closely and writing narrative, argumentative, and informative/explanatory are core learning targets for 8th grade students as described in the CCLS. There are limitations to each of these writing genres when taught in isolation. Allowing students analyze, synthesize, and evaluate historical text (primary and secondary sources) in multigenres allows students to see the depth of history and personal accounts. This in turn builds empathy and understanding that history is living and breathing. Allowing students to be researchers and writers enables students to use higher order thinking and comprehension skills while at the same time tap into 21st Century skills as digital citizens and creators. Students will utilize technology for research and writing to produce a blog that presents their understanding and learning of this inquiry unit on WWII and the Holocaust.

Additionally, throughout this four week unit there will also be formative assessments to help teachers gauge students knowledge and understanding about historical events and the writing process. Formative assessments range in “formal and informal assessment procedures conducted by teachers during the learning process in order to modify teaching and learning activities to improve student attainment.”

Examples of formative assessments for the unit include:

Teacher observations

Student-teacher reading and writing conferences

Weekly Literature Circles Discussions and Reading Notes Presented on Google Slides

Weekly Articles of the Week with Written Short Response Reflections with Actively Learn

Fishbowls, Socratic Seminars, and Class Discussions

Constructive Quizzes

Graphic Organizers

Google Forms

Summaries

Write Arounds

Sketchnotes

Jigsaws

Self Assessments & Reflections

 

 

 

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Good Game Reads: 8 YA Books for MetaGames & Gamers

Video games are their own literary genre driven by narrative and story. As my colleague and friend Katie Egan Cunningham states, “Stories surround us, support us, and sustain us.” Whether you are gamer in search of a good story or books to hook your gamer -students, here are 8 young adult books worth reading that tap into gaming, puzzles, ciphers, quests, and LARPs.

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It’s All Fun and Games by Dave Barrett (Nerdist, 2016) is about two friends who get caught in a LARP (Live Action Role Play) gone wrong. Not long after the adventure begins, the friends find themselves transported from Earth to a world filled with both magic and danger. Suddenly, what Alison expected to be a weekend being geeky turns into a fight for survival against brigands, kobolds, and other nasty characters as the group tries to finish their mission or at least get back home.

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In Click Here to Start by Denis Markell (Delacorte Press, 2016) twelve-year-old Ted Gerson has spent most of his summer playing video games. So when his great-uncle dies and bequeaths him the all so-called treasure in his overstuffed junk shop of an apartment, Ted explores it like it’s another level to beat. And to his shock, he finds that eccentric Great-Uncle Ted actually has set the place up like a real-life escape-the-room game.

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Ready Player One by Ernest Cline (Random House, 2012) has popped up on many high school summer reading lists and my students would tell you this book does not disappoint. Set in the year 2044, where reality is an ugly place, teenage Wade Watts really feels alive is when he’s in the virtual utopia known as the OASIS. Wade’s devoted his life to studying the puzzles hidden within this world’s digital confines–puzzles that are based on their creator’s obsession with the pop culture of decades past and that promise massive power and fortune to whoever can unlock them. When Wade stumbles upon the first clue, he finds himself beset by players willing to kill to take this ultimate prize. The race is on, and if Wade’s going to survive, he’ll have to win–and confront the real world he’s always been so desperate to escape.

Steven Spielberg is directing a film version of this book that has a release date of March 2018.

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Laura Ruby’s book new series York: Book One the Shadow Cipher (Walden Pond Press, 2017) takes readers on an exciting treasure hunt through a city’s past to save the future. The protagonists, two twin siblings and their neighbor journey around New York and into the city’s past, both real and fantastical, as they encounter a henchman, delve into the bowels of the Old York Cipherist Society (a group of either learned scholars or paranoid cranks), and try to decide whom they can trust. Along the way, there’s action and peril, including a scene involving a giant mechanical insect that eats dirt and sometimes people; but at key junctures, it’s each child’s individual talents that lead him or her to solve a particular element of the puzzle.

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Looking for more adventure and games? Caraval by Stephanie Garber (Flatiron Books, 2017) mentions the game of life and love throughout this story about a dark carnival organized by the notorious Legend. Protagonist Scarlet and her sister sneak away from their father and their home to attend and play at the Caraval. Scarlett has been told that everything that happens during Caraval is only an elaborate performance. Nevertheless she becomes enmeshed in a game of love, heartbreak, and magic. And whether Caraval is real or not, Scarlett must find her sister Tella before the five nights of the game are over or a dangerous domino effect of consequences will be set off, and her beloved sister will disappear forever.

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The Reader: Sea of Ink and Gold by Traci Chee (Penguin Random House, 2016), my FAVORITE book this year, is exploding with puzzles and adventure. After Sefia’s father is brutally murdered, she flees into the wilderness with her aunt Nin, who teaches her to hunt, track, and steal. But when Nin is kidnapped, leaving Sefia completely alone, none of her survival skills can help her discover where Nin’s been taken, or if she’s even alive. The only clue to both her aunt’s disappearance and her father’s murder is the odd rectangular object her father left behind, an object she comes to realize is a book—a marvelous item unheard of in her otherwise illiterate society. With the help of this book, and the aid of a mysterious stranger with dark secrets of his own, Sefia sets out to rescue her aunt and find out what really happened the day her father was killed—and punish the people responsible. This November the next installment is out, The Speaker: Book Two of Sea of Ink and Gold — I cannot wait!!

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Tetris: The Games People Play by Box Brown (First Second Books, 2016) is a graphic novel that explores the history of Tetris and unravels the complex history to dive into the role games play in art, culture, and commerce.

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Another graphic novel, Level Up (First Second Books,2016) by Gene Luen Yang presents a coming of age story of the dilemma of personal goals verses parental approval. More specifically, video games vs. medical school!

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Reflections & Takeaways from #ISTE17

How do you envision technology in your classroom?

How do you utilize technology with your students to promote deeper learning, critical thinking, and creativity?

How do you see technology enhancing your teaching goals?

Technology is transformative. It is more than an instructional tool. Teachers need to decide for themselves the technology tools they should use for instruction to benefit student learning. Today is about understanding the possibilities and gaining more knowledge for teachers to embed technology more fluidly into their daily classroom practices and curriculum.

Where better to help answer these questions, learn from edtech leaders, and be inspired to integrate technology in meaningful and creative ways to support our students as learners and digital citizens than the International Society for Technology Education Conference (#ISTE17).

This year, #ISTE17 was held in San Antonio, Texas with 18,000 attendees and more than 5,000 edtech companies, start ups, and industry leaders (Google, Microsoft, Apple). The conference was jam packed for five days of workshops, panels, key notes, playgrounds, poster sessions, and exhibitors.

Here are five key ideas, themes, and takeaways I found dominating the event:

  1. It’s not about the tech, it’s about meaningful and purposeful teaching and thinking. Author and Edtech leader Alice Keeler (@alicekeeler) tweeted, “Tools don’t teach. If you’re looking for a magic bullet look in the mirror.” Students learn best by doing. Many of the tech trends throughout the conference highlighted games, play, and hands on learning. Technology integration must have a clear purpose, tap into standards, have clear goals for the role of technology in enhancing the teaching goals, and be adaptable to meet different learning abilities, subject areas, and grade levels. Technology Integration should have the following components: students are actively engaged in using technology as a tool, students should use technology tools to collaborate with others, students should use technology tools constructively to build rather than simply receive information. Technology should be authentic (to solve real world problems meaningful to them rather than artificial assignments). Lastly, students should use technology tools to set goals, plan activities, monitor progress, and evaluate results rather than simply completing assignments without reflection.
  2. ISTE unveils the new Standards for Educators (and Students). After ten years, ISTE has updated their standards to focus on next generation teaching and learning.  The ISTE Standards for Educators are your road map to helping become empowered learners. These standards deepen practice, promote collaboration with peers, challenge us to rethink traditional approaches and prepare students to drive their own learning. The ISTE standards coincide with Common Core Learning Standards to maximize student success.ISTE Standards for Educators

3. Maker Everything. Makerspace is here to stay and it is only getting bigger. Makerspace is not just tinkering but teachers are using it as a way for students to deepen their understanding of a concept, lesson, and idea. Makerspace does not have to be a stand alone club or activity, many educators shared their integration of maker space across the curriculum.Screen Shot 2017-06-29 at 3.48.08 PM

One of the coolest Makerspace ideas I saw at a poster session was shared by Heather Lister and Michelle Griffith of Brannen Elementary in Brazosport ISD. Their poster session was jam packed with maker space ideas, suggested supplies, challenge cards, and project examples. Heather shared a World War II Map of Allied and Axis Powers that could light up with copper sticker tape and LED circuit stickers.

4, Next Generation Learning NOT 21st Century Learning. Let’s eliminate the saying 21st Century Learning. What does that mean, anyway? It is 2017 and we are almost 20 years into the 21st Century. Here are 8 habits of Next Generation Teachers as defined by Andrew Churches. How would you rate yourself?

Adapting the curriculum and the requirements to teach to the curriculum in imaginative ways.

Being visionary and look ideas and envisage how they would use these in their class.

Collaborating to enhance and captivate our learners. We, too, must be collaborators; sharing, contributing, adapting and inventing.

Taking risks, having a vision of what you want and what the technology can achieve, identify the goals and facilitate the learning. Use the strengths of the digital natives to understand and navigate new products, have them teach each other.

Learning and continue to absorb experiences and knowledge to stay current.

Communicating and fluent in tools and technologies that enable communication and collaboration.

Modeling behavior that we expect from our students.

Leading is crucial to the success or failure of any project.

5. Sketchnote It & BookSnap It, Blog It, Podcast It, Vlog It. Because we live in a visually rich digital culture there are so many different ways to share, reflect, and show our understanding and learning. People are sharing through Twitter, Instagram, Podcasts, Blogs, and Videocasts. Sketchnoting and BookSnaps are additional ways to help present learning and thinking. Sylvia Duckworth shared a Sketchnotes for Educators Workshop at a playground session I attended and Tara M. Martin, Booksnaps founder, presented an Ignite Session on Booksnaps for learning. Sketchnoting is a great tool that I have shared with my students to showcase their learning and understanding. In the new school year, I will offer Booksnaps as an option for students to share their reading and thinking about a text. The booksnap below was created by Tara M. Martin.

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Legends of Learning #ISTE17 Rally for Educators

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The following is the speech I presented to the attendees of edgames startup Legends of Learning rally for educators at ISTE.

Thank you to Legends of Learning for hosting the ISTE Rally for Educators and their mission to help teachers make classrooms fun and productive learning environments through research driven curriculum-based games. I am honored to speak with you tonight and to be included among amazing educators, Jahana Hayes and Dallas Dance, and with all of you here at this rally. Tonight is about celebrating teachers and inspiring heroes in all of us.

Too many of our students question what is the purpose of school today? Ask why do I have learn this and how is this going to help me after school and beyond? In a time when students can jump on the internet and Google answers to the questions they have, we, as teachers, need to show young people the relevancy of school and inspire students to help make the world a better place. You are the educational heroes, the teachers who inspire our students to love learning in our content areas, share our passions for science, math, English, history, art, music, technology, and more. And it is not only about disseminating information. Teachers must build relationships with students,  instill compassion and kindness all in a matter of 40 minute periods each day.

If we look closer into our students’ lives, we can learn so much more that can inform our teaching and methods. According to Nielsen, the average U.S. gamer age 13 or older spends 6.3 hours a week playing video games. Now, the Center for Public Education reports that, “students receive 1,000 hours of instructional time per year, depending on the grade level.”  That calculates to 3.3 hours of instructional time a week for ONE subject.The math is obvious, our students are getting twice as much game time as they are learning time. Most of the learning time that students are receiving is traditional in the sense that teachers are teaching at students. Students are the receivers of information whereas in a game, a player is immersed in the game world using problem solving, critical thinking, collaboration, and quick thinking to win the game and level up.

So, what if we harness our students’ strengths as gamers and game players to help teach our content area and tap into the elements of gamification to help develop problem solvers, readers, and critical thinkers? This can be an Epic Win for both teachers and students.  

Four years ago I was introduced to gamification as a classroom methodology while attending a local Edcamp. I admit that I am a Scrabble nerd, enjoy Jeopardy from time to time. I cannot resist a game of Pac Man and I love playing Dance Revolution with my daughter. Video gaming was not my strength or passion years prior. But the heart of gaming, the theory of gaming elements, and my interests are piqued.  

Gamification is an approach to learning that connects meaningful gaming with content objectives to re-engage students and boost learning.  Gamification is about transforming the classroom environment and literacy instruction into a game. It requires creativity, collaboration, and play. There are numerous ways to bring games and game playing into the classroom to promote learning and deepen student understanding. Whether teachers are looking to bring in some aspect of gaming into their class or use a game platform across the curriculum, you can bring in elements of gamification to enhance learning and student engagement, tap into the Common Core and meet ISTE Standards.

When my students are playing video games, they are using many skills – facts and information are tools to solve problems in context. Failure is a source of feedback and learning, collaboration is necessary, and learning and assessment are tightly integrated.  Gamification is not worksheets for points. Effective games are customized to different learners and students are encouraged to take risks and seek alternative solutions. In classrooms today, it’s not only about learning content material, students must experience and build the necessary skills to be creators, innovators, and problem solvers in order to develop critical thinking and improve academic achievement.

In my own classroom, gamification has helped me to engage many of my students, build collaboration and teamwork, and boost their literacy skills.  All year long, my students must uncover the mysteries and powers in the Books we read. Students might earn badges for completing different tasks or collect points during an adventure quest to show their learning and thinking about a text. The goal is for students to LOOK CLOSER and CRITICALLY at their world and the information that we are bombarded with visually and in print. There are puzzles, quests, and challenges with each unit. Students must unlock the secrets hidden in text and go on scavenger hunts and Amazing Races to show their understanding and knowledge. There are side quests to differentiate learning, boss battles, badges, and mysteries that help unlock the legends, themes, and pertinent information.  The game is always evolving in my class with treasure, experience points (XP), and gold points to be amassed. 10,000 experience points offers “Enhanced Vision,” a power and privilege that allows students who have leveled up to 10,000 XP or more to preview the final exam before the actual exam. In the past two years a dozen students have achieved this feat and their names top our leaderboard as reminders to new players that this win is achievable.

Ava, a student in my classroom this past school year told me that gaming in our 8th grade English class was a fun learning alternative which has made her a stronger English student. She went on to tell me striving for game points throughout the school year strengthened her work ethic and improved her writing and reading skills, which overall improved her grade. As a teacher, gamification has allowed me to coach students to be successful readers, writers, and critical thinkers. My students learn by doing, collaboration, and quest based adventures. Gamification fits across all content areas, not my classroom alone.

If we are going to energize our students, we need to embrace technology with teaching methods that inspire and encourage our students to be motivated to learn, collaborate, and face obstacles in a positive way. Approaching learning as a quest or a mission can inspire adventure, collaboration, and results in a better learning experience and learning environment. This is because gamification and game based learning

  • Captures (and retains) learners’ attention.
  • Challenges them.
  • Engages and entertains them.
  • Teaches them.

Let’s think of Mario, Princess Zelda, and Monopoly as mentor texts to help us, as teachers and educators,  design interactive lessons that immerse students in meaningful learning experiences.

Teachers are game designers who build experiences that allows students to foster meaningful teamwork, take ownership of their learning, and persevere when faced with obstacles. Epic Wins, that is what we want for ALL of our students. Success in school as well as outside of school. By meeting students where they are at, tapping into their gaming strengths and skill sets we can enhance the schooling experience across all content areas and promote Epic Wins for learning and life.

About Legends of Learning

Legends of Learning helps educators make their classrooms fun, engaging, and productive learning environments through research-driven, curriculum-based games. Legends of Learning uses ongoing original research to create an edgame platform filled with an epic range of lessons for stronger subject mastery and classroom engagement. All games are based on state curriculum standards. Don your masks with Legends of Learning.

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Building Wordsmiths: 8 Activities for Teaching Vocabulary

Vocabulary is at the heart of the content areas we teach.  Each content has its own vocabulary unique to the understanding of the content material taught.  Some argue most vocabulary learning occurs independently. Most researchers would agree that you improve an individual’s vocabulary knowledge and comprehension through students immersed in a wide variety of reading and writing activities.

There is no one method for teaching vocabulary. Rather teachers need to use a variety of methods for the best results, including intentional, explicit instruction of specific vocabulary words. Teachers can also encourage creative approaches to spark enthusiasm.

Janet Allen, author of Words, Words, Words (1999), states, “Children and adults need to see and hear a word in meaningful context multiple times in order to know the word, somewhere between 10 to 15 times.” And with middle school and high school, variety is the key. Teachers cannot teach vocabulary the same way every time.

Reading is perhaps the most important element in vocabulary instruction.

So, how do I teach vocabulary in my English class?

Vocabulary is intertwined with reading and understanding a text. As a middle school English Language Arts teacher, I want to devise a way of teaching vocabulary in a way that does not interfere with students’ enjoyment and interest of a text. 

Here are 8 vocabulary activities to build wordsmiths in my classroom. The ultimate goals of all vocabulary development is for students to become independent word learners.

  1. Prefix Pursuit – All seventh graders in my school learn “SPROOTS”- Suffixes, Prefixes, and Roots. Every day the bell ringer or do now requires students learn 3 new Sproots to help students understand the structure of words and give them the tools to deconstruct complex vocabulary words. Create a prefix pursuit and have students collect the definition of the prefix from their classmates. For example, find someone who knows the meaning of “dis.” find a person who can use a “uni” word in a sentence, find someone who know the antonym of “anti,” and find someone who knows two words that begin with “cent.”
  2. Vocabulary Pre-Assessment – How well do I know these words? Post words on the SMARTBoard and have students put them in one of the columns that best describe what students know about each one. Columns can read, “Don’t know at all.” “Have seen or heard but I don’t know the meaning.” “I think I know the meaning.” and “I know the meaning.”
  3. Vocabulary Word Maps & Frayer Models – Graphic organizers are great tools to help students build a word bank of Tier 2 and Tier 3 words in the content area. Graphic organizers can require students to define the word, offer synonyms and antonyms, use the vocabulary word in a sentence, and draw a picture to help visualize the word.
  4. Alphaboxes – The Alphaboxes strategy (Hoyt) help students reflect on what they have read while engaging in vocabulary expansion. Given a grid with all 26 letters of the alphabet, students work together to find words for each box that relate to the reading selection. This activity generates discussion, questioning, and collaboration.
  5. MadLibs – This is a perfect strategy for math, science, and social studies content areas. Students are given a text passage with missing words to fill in, students apply content area vocabulary words to help the passage make sense. Include a  word bank to help students complete an accurate text.
  6. Vocabulary SudoKu – Create a grid so that every row, every column and every 3X3 box contains 9 different vocabulary words. Stack the sudoku boxes for more complexity.
  7. Magic Squares – Create a 3X3 grid for 9 vocabulary words and then write out a definition or explanation for each of the vocabulary words below. Students select from the numbered terms the best answer for each of the terms. If the students got the vocabulary words correct the total sum of the numbers will be the same across each row (horizontally) and down each column (vertically).
  8. Anticipating Content Through Vocabulary – This strategy helps to front load vocabulary in a reading or chapter. Give students a word bank of terms. Based on the words, have students make a prediction how the word will be used in the text. Then, have students write ten sentences that support that prediction. The sentences become a guide for their reading. When students are finished reading the text, students can go back to their prediction sentences and modify them so they are accurate in terms of the content of the reading passage.
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Recording Genius: Using Notebooks & Journals with Genius Hour

The great inventors like Benjamin Franklin, Leonardo Da Vinci, and artists, musicians, and writers maintain journals and notebooks to record their thinking, ideas, and experiments. In fact, Benjamin Franklin once said, ““If you would not be forgotten, as soon as you are dead and rotten, either write things down worth reading or do things worth reading.”
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Job A1 10-123 Rough Journal

To catalogue students’ genius hour experiences over the course of the school year and semester, students created a Genius Journal recounting their investigation, planning, action, and reflections.

Genius journal could be as creative and artistic as a student chooses with a minimum of five entries that address the following:

Investigating

 

 

Define your genius hour goal based on personal interests

Explain why this project is important to you and something you are passionate about

Identify prior learning and subject specific knowledge relevant to the project.

Demonstrate the research you conducted to collect information, ideas, and knowledge

Planning

Articulate the guiding question for your project

Describe the steps you took to put the project in action

Describe the process and development of the genius project

Demonstrate how you managed your time and resources to bring your project to fruition

Describe where you might have had to change, revise, and revamp your project and why

Learning from the Experts

Interview a person you feel is a genius or can help you with your project, what insight do

they offer regarding carrying out your passions and project

Curate information about your project. What others are doing and have done

Who are the people in this field of study that have insight to share, what keywords have they presented

Taking Action

Demonstrate service and or product as a result of the project

Demonstrate your thinking skills and new understanding as a result of the project

Demonstrate communication and social skills

Reflecting

Evaluate the quality of your service or product

Reflect on how completing the project has extended your knowledge and understanding

Reflect on your own development of life skills and how you benefited from completing

this project

Reflect on whether you will continue your work on your genius project; why or why not

 

The journals would be evaluated on the criteria below:

Criteria
Quantity of Entries
Quality of Journal Entries
Original Illustrations, Diagrams, & Photos
Reflection
Grammar, spelling, mechanics, & punctuation

These reflections and entries would also work well as blog posts for Genius Blogs.

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Field Trip: Smithsonian National Museum of African American History & Culture

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Learning does not only occur in the classroom. I love taking my students on field trips and experiencing learning beyond the walls of my classroom. When there is an opportunity for students to travel beyond the borders of our city and state to make curricular connections, learning is exponential. This past holiday weekend I went to Washington, DC with fifty eighth graders to see the sites and visit the American Holocaust Memorial Museum, Newseum, and the Smithsonian National Museum of African America History and Culture.

The eighth grade humanities curriculum begins with Reconstruction and then moves through American History ending as close to the Vietnam War as possible. The books read in English Language Arts coincide with the themes and time periods students explore in order to make connections and critically analyze choices made throughout history.

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The Smithsonian NMAAHC is an amazing museum with  powerful artifacts and stories depicting African American History from Slavery until today. There were shackles that were used on slaves on display, parts of slave ships, and along the walls of this exhibit the numbers of slaves that originated on a particular ship, it’s origin, and the number of survivors from the travels. There were painting of slave ships, a slave cabin, and even American bonds that depicted slave images on the bills.

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The museum states that the main messages of this exhibit include:

  • Slavery is a shared story resting at the heart of American political, economic, and cultural life.
  • African Americans constantly and consistently created new visions of freedom that have benefited all Americans.
  • African American identity has many roots and many expressions that reach far back into our past.

Walking through the History Galleries (I suggest you visit these floors first), there are artifacts like a Tuskegee Airplane, a segregated rail car, Emmitt Till Memorial, and hundreds of photographs, testimonies on displays that highlight the decades and movements of civil rights, and beyond.

Since many of my students read Melba Patillo Beals’ memoir, Warriors Don’t Cry, the artifacts like photographs of the Little Rock 9 during desegregation and a sign from a segregated bus station in Birmingham, Alabama were reminders of what Melba, and  others, experienced during her high school years at Central High School.

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The museum has over 37,000 artifacts from history that help show and tell American history and celebrate African American contributions. The upstairs galleries highlight the artists, writers, musicians, actors, politicians, and military heroes. The music contributions are tremendous and you will see Chuck Berry’s red convertible Cadillac, RUN DMC’s Adidas’ sneakers, and clothing worn by Michael Jackson and countless others. This exhibit rivals the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

There are learning opportunities for educators, one day workshops and a summer week long institute on race and identity. The museum states, “Our programs and resources are designed to ignite critical thinking skills and creativity, to generate self-pride and inspire life-long learning for diverse audiences.” To find out more about the professional learning events you can visit their website.

There is so much to see and reflect on. We did not spend enough time there and I cannot wait to go back. Attending an educator’s workshop is also on my list of things to do. As the museum states, “Race is an aspect of our American culture that is often ignored, glossed over or mishandled.  Additionally, to succeed in promoting equity, tolerance, and justice, childhood is the time to address these issues by understanding children’s development and encouraging positive feelings about their racial and cultural identity, as well as others’.  Working with youth makes it incumbent that educators are prepared to address issues of race whenever they surface such as in history or social studies lessons or when current events brings them forward such as events in our recent history.”

 

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To Kill A Mockingbird Socratic Seminar

This year I implemented socratic seminar into my classroom to encourage close reading. The trial scene in To Kill A Mockingbird is a perfect place to encourage discussion and deep reading. Prior to the seminar, students were to prepare a “One Pager” – A one pager is a single-page response to reading. Some might say that the purpose of a one pager is for students to own their reading and showcase their understanding with images and words.

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The One Pager Contains the following:

  1. Choose three or more meaningful quotes from the reading: passages/quotes that relate to the theme or main idea of the story. Be sure to use quotation marks, and include the page number where you found the quote.
  2. Provide a thought provoking explanation of the importance and meaning of the quote: (how does it help you, the reader, get a better understanding of the story, character, theme, etc.).
  3. Use graphic representations: a drawing, magazine pictures, or computer graphics that go with the piece you read, and the quotes you chose.
  4. Include a personal response to what you have read: this is NOT a summary of the story. This is a thoughtful, insightful response. Think about the message the author is trying to get across, how the author uses different types of literary devices (suspense, mood, point-of-view) to make the story more interesting. This response must be a paragraph minimum, with specific examples from the story.
  5. Remember the following guidelines for this assignment:
    •   It MUST be on a standard sized (81⁄2 x 11) unlined sheet of paper.
    •   It MUST fill the entire page (no white space showing)
    •   Writing MUST be in ink or typed…no pencil.
    •   Use colored pencils, crayons, or markers
    •   The title and author of the story (correctly formatted) MUST appear somewhere on the front of the paper.
    •   Reference the page number in parentheses after each excerpt.

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To help guide my students’ analysis of the trial scene in Mockingbird, I included eight (8) questions on the back of the one-pager assignment and suggested that students answer three (3) questions regarding the trial and to answer with direct textual support. The questions addressed how likely is it that Tom Robinson committed the crime of which he is accused, Mayella Ewell’s attitude about race, the response the children had to the trial, who is the mockingbird, was Atticus successful during the trial, and Atticus’ character displayed during and after the trial. For students not sure which quotes to pull from the text, these questions helped students hone in on some key ideas. In addition, they were the jumping off points for our Socratic Seminar.

The one pager assignment was completed in class and then if extra time was needed, students could work on it outside of class. The quality of the one-pagers I received from 95% of my students was exceptional and helped to carry out a robust Socratic Seminar.

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The procedure for the Socratic Seminar included moving all the desks into a large circle for all the participants to see each other. Students put all books away and only had their one-pagers out in front of them with the text. I reminded my students that this is a conversation and not a debate, rather it is a chance to uncover deeper meanings about the author’s central ideas within the text and communicate our interpretations with the class. I told students that there are no right  or wrong answers. In even posted discussion stems on the SMARTBoard to help students frame their conversations and support one another throughout the discussion.

While students were speaking, I kept track of who spoke and contributed to the discussion in meaningful ways. I told students that in order to earn points during the discussion they had to speak at least three times and build on another’s point using specific examples. I told students that I won’t call on them to speak, they are to jump into the conversation and say something to receive full credit for the discussion. In one class, students spoke around the first question for more than twenty minutes.

I have to give credit to my amazing co-teacher for introducing me to both the one-pager and encouraging me to do a Socratic Seminar with my students. It was such a success that I wish I had done these activities earlier in the school year and conducted the seminar more often. This is something that I will implement with all the units that students read and write in the new school year.

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Technology to Aid the Struggling Reader:

ISTE, Capstone, Amplify & School Library Journal are collaborating and hosting a webinar on how to leverage technology to help new and struggling readers.

I am honored to be part of this panel discussion along with

K.C. Boyd, Lead Librarian, East St.Louis (IL) School District

Cynthia Merrill, Literacy Consultant

and Moderator, Kathy Ishizuka, Executive Editor, School Library Journal

During the webinar I will be sharing strategies and technology tools to aid struggling readers.

Technology tools that I use in my classroom to help support the diverse readers in my classroom include the reading platform Actively Learn. Actively Learn is an online tool with a library of thousands of texts and Common Core-aligned lessons that both teachers and students can interact with in real-time. In the reading platform, teachers assign pre-existing Actively Learn materials to students or upload their own content, then track student responses and activity using data tools within the platform. Students can interact with a text by digitally highlighting and annotating, responding to embedded questions and content, and leaving feedback and comments for peers. Students can translate the text in their home language and define unknown words within the platform. Students can mark their confusion within the text and the teacher is able to annotate the text with additional links for clarity and deeper meaning to support student reading. In my classroom I utilize Actively Learn weekly for Articles of the Week in order for students to make connections across texts and address current events.

Audio books are another tool beneficial to struggling readers. I love my Audible App on my phone and listen to books every chance I have including my commute to work and home. Listening to a text while reading can help students visualize and comprehend complex text. Students are using different skills when they are listening versus reading but research shows that students have a higher listening comprehension than reading comprehension. In addition, podcasts are great texts for students to listen to explore concepts and ideas. My favorite include NPR’s Radiolab podcasts and any podcast from author of Tools of Titans (2016), Tim Ferriss. Check out Tim’s Podcast with YA author Soman Chainani.

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Two great resources with more about technology tools and strategies to engage diverse student learners include  Jules Csillag‘s  Differentiated Reading Instruction and Robert Furman‘s Technology, Reading & Digital Literacy: Strategies to Engage the Reluctant Reader.
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Tech & Learning Live Boston 2017

Tech & Learning is one of the leading resources for education technology professionals. It’s website and magazine, Tech & Learning provide an inside look at issues, trends, products, and strategies pertinent to the role of all educators –including state-level education decision makers, superintendents, principals, technology coordinators, and lead teachers.

I will be presenting all things Gamification and Game Based Learning on Friday, May 12th at Tech & Learning Live (formerly called Tech Forum), a high-powered, one-day event that provides K-12 decision makers with thought-provoking content on the hottest topics of the day in education technology.

Rather than present in a traditional way with a powerpoint, we will be playing a game (of course)! Check out the Gamification Bingo game board that I created for participants to get into the action, ask and answer provocative questions, and engage in meaningful discussions on the possibilities gaming can offer teachers and students.

Want to play, BINGO wins are equivalent to completing the entire Bingo board.

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