Teaching Channel “Reading Like a Historian”

Question mark

Question mark (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This past week our school has been focused on the use of questions in the classroom. As I began looking into the many approaches and types of questions teachers can use effectively in the classroom I came across a great video on the Teaching Channel. This video was titled “Reading like a Historian“. I found this video quite informative and a great starting point for our teachers to begin discussing the use of questioning in the classroom. Take a look and tell me what you think or stories you have of using questioning in the classroom.

Click here to watch the video on the “Teaching Channel”

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Learning not brought to You by the letter A

The video below is a great example of really looking at what motivates people to learn.  So often schools seem to miss the mark in motivating their students.  There is an intrinsic motivator in all students, the key for schools and educators is to tap into this to really achieve success.  Simple saying that all students are motivated by grades leaves out a huge portion of the students population.  Many students are not motivated by grades and often are turned away from school by them. Watch the video below as Dr. Tae discusses how many students are motivated today.

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The Friday Mystery

Mysterynet.com is a great class opener website.  I have often used this on Fridays to engage and settle them down for class. This site has many different mysteries to solve. Typically, I would display a “Get a Clue” or “Solve It” mystery that the students could see as they enter the classroom. Once the bell rings I allow the students some time to try and solve the mystery. They become quite engaged in trying to figure out the mystery often well before the bell rings. This activity has led to some great class discussions about a variety of social topics but best of all it has engaged them and settled them down on a Friday afternoon so I can start my lesson.

Give it a try at the following address:  http://www.mysterynet.com

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F What Is It Good for?

image used from: johnryanrecabar.wordpress.com

Over the past week and a half I have again been struggling with the ubiquitous grade “F”.  As I have had meetings about student achievement, or lack of it, I have come back to the question that I ponder every year.  Is the “F” really a needed grade? The letter “F” brings many connotations to light and none of them are positive.  An “F” grade not only demoralizes the students but often times it is an affront or insult to the parents as well.  The questions comes down to what are teachers trying to tell the students?

The use of the “F” shows the how our current system of education is antiquated and needs to be revamped.  Our current system of education is predicated on the industrial revolution.  This system emphasizes process and final product.  Students are conditioned to go through the process and then turn in their product.  At this point they forget what they have learned and move on to the topic or task.  This could not be farther from what our society needs right now.

Our society today is about constant change.  Most people work in three or more fields in their lifetime, as opposed to the one stable job of the past.  In many industries there are no longer final products but rather versions of products.  It is this sense of change that education needs to start incorporating into the education process.  Our society is always working to improve on past products.  Things are not created and then forgotten but reworked and improved.  This is how our education process should be teaching students.

The emphasis in education should be on the learning process.  If a student does not meet the objective of the class, they should take another look and create another version that will meet the standards of the course.  Students need to learn that unlike the past, today’s society is going to require that they become life long learners.  They are going to have to return to school or a trade school at various times in their lives to get upgrades on their knowledge.  In this type of educational system, there is no need or purpose for the “F”.  We are not telling students, “You failed and don’t get it,” but rather, “This version did not work too well.  See if you can improve on this.”  This is a big shift in educational philosophy but one that will better prepare our students for the future.

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20 Student Favorite Cartoon Creators

As I watched Tom Wujec’s TED talk today I was struck by the simplicity of his message. All teachers know that a good visual is key to success in the classroom. But what really intrigued me was the concept of students creating visuals to cement their learning. Over the past two years I have noticed that students who create visual projects in my class often retain information better than those who wrote papers.

In my project based classroom one of the most popular mediums for students projects has become cartoon creators. Not only do students enjoy creating these projects but the the process of taking their knowledge and depicting it visually on paper seems to be very effective in their learning process. I have often talked to students about one of their projects that they created at the beginning of the year and not only can they tell me about the project but they still remember the underlying concept taught at that time. This has always intrigued me and led me to create a long list of cartoon creators for students to use.

For those of you interested in giving this a try here are 20 of the most popular cartoon creators my students like to use.

  1. GoAnimate.com
  2. Toonlet.com
  3. Toondoo.com
  4. Pixton.com
  5. Chogger
  6. Comic Creator
  7. Comic Lab
  8. Make Believe Comix
  9. Strip Creator
  10. Strip Generator
  11. Zimmer Twins
  12. Do Ink
  13. Comic Strip Generator
  14. Comic Master
  15. Captain Underpants
  16. Comicbrush
  17. Marvel Comic Creator
  18. Witty Comic Creator
  19. Cartoon to Customize
  20. Bitstrips

Top Five-Creative Projects- “Book Creators”

The Cat in the Hat by Dr. Seuss, 1957
Image via Wikipedia

Over the past two years I have been exploring project based learning.  I have asked students to come up with creative ways to present what they have learned in class.  My students have amazed and inspired me with their ideas.  One project that seems to be really popular this year is creating picture books for younger students.  They take the concept learned in my class such as “explaining why the Articles of Confederation failed” and create a book that would teach this concept to younger students.  I have found that these projects really re-enforce what they have learned in my class.  As students put these concepts into terms that younger students can understand they really gain a more developed understanding  themselves of the topic they are covering.  I have been amazed at the the learning that takes place in some of these projects. Here are the top five book creators that my students like to use.

  1. Zooburst
  2. Flip Book
  3. Kerpoof Studio
  4. StoryJumper
  5. Storybird

For more links check out this link Digital Story Telling Book Creators.

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Don’t just teach them, teach them how they learn

Dominant learning style of target audience
Image via Wikipedia

This week as I was teaching my class different reading strategies they could apply to their textbooks.  I  brought up how everyone has a different learning style.  To my surprise many of them did not understand what I was talking about.  This concerned me.  I realized that not only do I need to teach these kids my subject specific content but I also need to help them understand how they learn.  It is very important that students gain an understanding of how they learn.  This provides them insight on how they should study and approach their learning.  With out this knowledge they are at a real disadvantage in their education.  So like a good teacher, I scraped my next days lesson and began looking at how I could help my students understand how they learn.

So the next day we discussed what the different styles of learning were and I had the students take an assessment that helped them find out what learning style best fits them.  In this process I found 10 great sites that contain great learning style assessments.  So if you find your self in a similar position as me in your class use these sites to help your students learn how they learn.

  1. Multiple Intelligences (Find your Strengths)
  2. What is your learning style?
  3. The VARK Questionnaire
  4. Free learning styles inventory, including graphical results
  5. Index of Learning Styles Questionnaire
  6. What are my Learning Strengths?
  7. Learning Styles Explained
  8. Multiple Intelligences
  9. Multiple Intelligences Inventory
  10. Howard Gardner’s multiple intelligence theories model
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Failure is How We Learn

I have always been struck by how education views failure.  Failure is how we learn!  So why is it that in education we punish students for failing?  We should encourage and motivate our students to try again, not punish them with a poor grade.  We live in a world that needs creativity and exploration of new ideas.  So as educators we should be trying to cultivate creativity.  Not every idea will be a success students need to realize that life is full of failures, but this does not mean to give up or just move on but reset and try again.  This fundamental idea really needs to be looked at in education.  Do current grading systems really work to cultivate creativity or are they pushing conformity?  As I begin a new year with my students I really am looking at ways to break this old mode of education and find ways to foster student creativity.  To accomplish this I need to keep students motivated and engaged this is my “One Thing” that I mentioned in an earlier post.  The world is changing and as educators we need to change with it to truly prepare our students for todays work force.

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Interested In Augmenting Your Classrooms Reality?

AR Game

Over the past year I have begun exploring different Augmented Reality learning environments for my students.  I had the good fortune of receiving 30 GPS enabled cell phones for my class that I could experiment  with the last three months of last year.  In that time I was able to piece together some Augmented Reality games for kids to play on our football field.  The results were astounding, the level of engagement and the conversations among students were highly educational and inspired me to look into this type of learning environment more. As I surfed the web I came across games such as:

I began to wonder why could we not use this type of technology in our classrooms.  Getting the students into the real world and interact with virtual items or people to solve real world problems.  While the games I employed were simple and crude do to the time frame that I was under last year I did find that the learning and engagement of the concepts I was trying to teach increased in all students.  Also the post game discussions about the topic were much more productive since all of the students had a stake in the conversation due to the experience they just had playing the game. So this summer I have been looking at creating different types of Augmented Reality learning environments to use in my classes next year.  If you are looking to create these same types of learning environments or know someone who is please contact me.  I would like to know what you are looking at creating.

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Want Gauge Your Students Quickly? Try Urtak

Often times we as teachers are want to receive input from students to assess their learning.  There are many different ways to accomplish this task, tests, quizzes, projects and presentations to name just a few.  However, sometimes I just want to know the opinion of my students on a particular topic or just to a quick comprehension check and do not want to have to create a test or quiz to gauge the classes progress.  There are many quiz makers and assessment tools that can be found on the web but one that I found to be simple to use in many different applications was “Urtak“.  This site allows you to create quickly and easily simple yes or no questions.  It then provides you some simple code that you can cut and paste on any website.  I have found that these can be very helpful in assessing student progress and engagement.  It can also provide teachers with some simple data to make future decisions for their classes.  Since the quizzes are only yes or no questions students are not as intimidated to answer them.  These types of questions allows for a good assessment of how the students felt about a topic or lesson at that particular moment.  You can find this resource at  http://urtak.com

Click the link below to see an example poll.

Would you use this?

Here are a couple of other links to great polling and survey websites and services.

  1. PollDaddy http://polldaddy.com/
  2. Survey Monkey http://www.surveymonkey.com/
  3. Zoomerang http://www.zoomerang.com/
  4. Survey Gizmo http://www.surveygizmo.com/
  5. Survey Pro http://www.esurveyspro.com/
  6. Mr. Poll http://www.misterpoll.com/
  7. Poll Code  http://pollcode.com/
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