Classroom Design: 5 of My Favorite Classroom Tools

 

As my teaching friends around the country are shifting from summer reflections to the physical task of setting up classrooms,  I was reminded of my mother’s advice over the years: “You’re only as good as your tools.”

Each year, each of us head to office supply stores, Target or teaching resource stores, with the shopping dilemma: What will make my classroom  function more efficiently, versus What’s just a waste of money?

Today’s post is a pictorial sharing 5 back-to-school, classroom supplies that I loved enough to go around photographing! Each of these proved itself an asset to the students and myself throughout the full year, contributing to our classroom community, student organization and our ability to reach our goals — and each was resilient enough to be reused again this year.

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 Electric Pencil Sharpener

pencil sharpenerBetween teaching and parenting and keeping a home office, there are 2 supplies that have most consistently failed: staplers and electric pencil sharpeners. I had tried (to the death) 3-4 pencil sharpeners before this one won my heart.

Let my experience be to your benefit as I can testify that this is the only pencil sharpener that has (1) sharpened fast and effectively, (2) performed consistently and (3) this is key: did not die, jam or otherwise self-destruct.

Purchasing info: Staples ClassMate Heavy Duty Electric Pencil Sharpener (blue). Pictured on the shelves at Staples in July, with a lower price than currently listed online ($51.79).

 

3-Hole Punch

hole punchIn my home office and in the classroom, I am neurotic about keeping binders rather than file folders. I frequently have students hole-punch work to maintain for reflection or reference throughout a unit, as well. Binders keep things neat, accessible, in order and revisable — which helps students and myself make the most of our printed materials.

A 3-hole punch isn’t hard to find — but one that cuts reliably, holds up to repeated use (including by impatient students) and can do multiple pages with little hand stress… is worth getting excited about. That’s why I fell in love with the Swingline High Capacity Light Touch. With 20 lb./12 page capacity, it really does cut through pages cleanly with little effort — and it stood up to a year’s pounding in the classroom, still ready to go. It’s worth noting that “light touch” is huge benefit in hole-punching, as it’s easier to keep pages lined up (avoiding those mis-punches that run off the edge of the page) if the user isn’t having to pound to cut through.

Purchasing info: Pictured in its box on the shelves at Staples (current price: $29.99). Also available from Amazon (current price: $19.97).

 

 Attractive Eco-friendly Clipboards

clipboardsI am big on fostering a tribe-clubhouse spirit within my classroom, and one thing the students love most is the mobility provided by our classroom clipboards. Not necessarily a new idea. But…here’s my nerdy thing: I think our class enviro is more fun when things are cute.

I bought about a dozen decorative clipboards from ecofriendly collections available at Staples and Target. We had each of the sport and animal patterns pictured at right (kitten, puppy, football, soccer) from the Staples collection, as well as several attractive graphic patterns like the one at left, and some pretty, graphic florals (from Target Greenroom). The kitten was most popular, even after he’d been edited to sport a curly mustache by one of my doodlers.

Organization tip: I kept clipboards available  in my “student station,” standing on end in an inexpensive ($2) bin from Target’s dollar section.s0660155_sc7

Purchasing info: the sport and animal designs (pictured at right) are from StaplesStaples Fashion Clipboards ($3.99 each).  Floral and graphic pattens are available at Staples (the blue and green clipboard at left, with matching desk supplies) and at Target. Target’ Greenroom prints and florals are quite cute and can be purchased in stores or online:  Greenroom Eco Clipboard Assorted Patterns (product numbers: DPCI : 081-05-1608;  Online item # : 13460045). Pricing is comparable for all 3.

 

 

 Invitation-sized Envelopes

envelopes for flash cards

Staplers, pencil sharpeners, hole-punches, even clipboards… I get the point of all of these — but why envelopes?  One of my favorite new adaptations this last year were interactive notebooks. For reading, history, science, vocabulary — any notebook where students might be taking notes — I did everything I could to help them make those notes interactive. They turned pages into flipbooks, illustrated notes, added flaps so notes could be studied as a game… it was awesome.

One approach students liked was taping an envelope onto a notes page, which they could use as a pocket for flash cards, so we were in the habit of using an envelope for each unit. Students also used them for other interactive projects, like securing an imaginary letter onto a lapbook.  They were a surprisingly handy supply to have.

41Vsv8FrE+LPurchasing info: the best tip might be to include “stray envelopes” as a request, if parents send in materials for recycling in the classroom. The envelopes I used were leftover from invitations my sons hadn’t used a couple years back, so essentially free. You might check recycling depots, if your community has those. Otherwise, I wasn’t too set back by the price to buy a box of envelopes as shown here: At right, a box of 100 Columbian brand envelopes from Amazon (currently $7.45) or, pictured in the store at left: 100 “Invitation” envelopes by Staples ($12.95).

 

 

Message Board for Due Dates

due dates board

One of the things I loved about my classroom last year was that it had tons of board space. I had a huge bulletin board outside my classroom with a grade-level theme; here was a small one inside the door with our character theme; another small one for our class jobs; and a large one I used for student resources; then there  was a small white board for posting homework assignments and a huge white board for everything else. Tons. STLL…

One of my favorite purchases was this small white board. Why? Because, right by the door, whether students were on their way in or out, it told them what was due today (or due within the next couple days).  One of the biggest things middle schoolers are learning is to keep organized, and it is a big skill to manage not just start dates for projects but what to turn in, when. Separating this list from the assignment board helped underscore the “end zone” nature of turning things in.

Don’t need a “due date” board? Other teachers on my hall had a small whiteboard for a quote of the day, question for morning meetings or daily goals (I’ll post about my daily goals board another day).

s0757264_sc7Style & hanging tips: How cute are the stripes on my board? I dressed up the cheap board I bought using Washi tape in order to incorporate it with the adjoining board. This was a class-design spurge, that came in handy throughout the year (color-coding books, drawing lines on the board, covering unattractive surfaces).  Mine was a splurge at $3.49/roll at Staples — although you can get it for much less via Amazon ($2 and less/roll, with variety of patterns and manufacturers).  How did I hang the board without breaking my school’s “no nails” rules? 3M Poster hanging strips (I think 6 held it; $2.59-3.49), available at Target, most convenience stores or use the link to order from Amazon.

Purchasing info: my board was by Board Dudes from Target ($19.99) — it made it through the year and is reusable, but is not my top recommendation. Mine was foam core and dented easily; stronger ones are melamine. More options: Costco: Quartet Dry Erase Board ($39.79), or Universal Dry Erase board from Amazon ($25.47).

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What About You?

What are your favorite back to school supplies for getting your classroom ready?  Today, I shared tools that helped my classroom run more successfully, but I know we can all wax on about our favorite borders or cutouts or bulletin board design or theme… (Last year, mine was zebra borders that matched these zebra puff-stools for our library corner!)  Share your favorites or link to your own posts in the comments. You know everyone loves to hear other teachers’ ideas.

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If you like this blog, be sure to subscribe using WordPress’s follow option or via the email option. If you have a blog about teaching or writing, as well, leave a link in the comments.  I love to connect with other educators and writers.

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Literature & Writing: Exploring Character with Word Hoard Activities

word hoard post

 

How many times do you come across a great activity and your mind is instantly racing with all the ways it could be applied to create more dynamic or student-centered learning?

I had exactly this reaction to a Word Hoard activity shared by librarian and young adult author Megan Frazer Blakemore as part of the Teachers Write virtual writing camp for teachers this week.

First, check out the original sources for Word Hoards and Teachers Write:

  • 1907364_876609592353825_1937506217078596531_nTeachers Write: Author Kate Messner is the co-creator and host of a fabulous “virtual writing camp” for teachers and librarians, called Teachers Write. Follow that link to Kate’s blog for more about the program and all the fabulous authors who volunteer to lead it. This is my second year participating.
  • Word HoardsCheck out Megan Frazer Blakemore’s Thursday Quick Write prompt which shares how she first discovered Word Hoards, the uses she’s found for them and her writing prompt for exploring your own characters. You’ll also see the dozens of examples participants shared in the comments.Blakemore_MeganFrazerWeb

What is a Word Hoard?

As Megan explains, a word hoard is a list of words that can be generated by a group to start a writing activity. (Really, go back and read her post — in respect of her copyrights, I’m not repeating it here.)

How I Used a Word Hoard for my Novel

Following Megan’s prompt, I used her activity as a way to more deeply clarify my understanding of 6 key characters in the novel I am revising.

I immediately felt the value: to generate a word hoard for each character, I had to close my eyes and imagine myself fully inside that character’s skin. Shallow efforts would not have been meaningful: I emotionally wallowed down into each, letting details from the writing bring them into view. I imagined details of their backstory or the setting of one of their scenes or their history with another character or a particular possession or memory.

Once I was fully “there,” I wrote down one word that character would think of, and then another until I had at least 10 words per character. Some feedback on how the process worked for me:

  • My format: I could have done this in a journal or on a legal pad, but I do all my novel work in Word. In Word, I used the simple insert-table button from the toolbar to create a table 6 wide and 2 tall (1 column for each character, 1 row for their names then I listed the words in a second “row”; I could have made 10 rows, but this was simpler). See activities below for how students might vary formats.
  • One at a time or all at once? I tried rotating through the characters, listing one word at a time for each. This was fun, as I felt the contrast as I went along, but it was inefficient going in and out of character (which would tempt someone not to take the time to get deep into character), so I finished the lists one character at a time. That pattern — one word each, then finish each character’s list — might be a good way to go, as you get the benefit of contrast and efficiency.
  • Make it work: I let the list be shorter (say, 5 words instead of 10-15) for minor characters.
  • An editor’s pass. Although this is a brainstorming activity, make your hoards powerful by going back when you’re done. Mark out words that aren’t that strong, or add definition to those that really resound. If I said motorcycle for my main character, I might add crash or the make and model of the bike his father raced, or one powerful sensory detail like the smell of oil.

Word Hoards as a Writers Workshop Activity to Develop Character and More

word hoard screenBy the time I had 2-3 words per character, I could immediately distinguish clear differences between my characters. Each character’s word hoard revealed a very different voice and tone. One character wants peace, another wants action, one wants revenge, another to save the world. And the young son? Just wants to play with his cars.

Clearly, the voice of each character would reflect that.

In guiding students to write fiction in a workshop, reflect and practice how that would extend throughout the writing:

  • dialogue — what the characters say but also what they hide; how emphatically they speak or when they choose to be silent
  • actions — including hand gestures, nervous ticks, irritation or boredom
  • author’s tone toward the characters
  • relationships between characters — what does it reveal if a character says he wants peace but falls for a woman who wants action? how might a son who just wants to play with his cars be impatient with a mother obsessed with solving a crisis? Extend this to the world around them: how will the character who wants revenge be punished or judged?
  • setting — what elements of time or place impact the words in your character’s hoard, or how are the story’s time or place obstacles to the character?
  • other details — writing settings and details is not just about painting a picture, but about revealing the filter through which each character sees the world. How does each character’s hoard suggest the kinds of objects or details that character would notice? Add those.

Literary Activities Using Word Hoards

Considering how fun it was to watch my character word hoards take shape and how deeply they pulled me into understanding character, I immediately envisioned ways to use hoards for fun literary activities.

  1. What character am I? In literary circles, pairs or even whole group, students each envision one character from a book that the class or circle has been reading. It should be from a book with several characters, or else students might select characters from a short list of books that they’ve all recently read (hey, great way to review for midterms or finals). On a card or in their journals or blog, students imagine they are that character, really working to get as deep inside that mind as they can — this is the fun of it. Students brainstorm a list of 10-12 random words that would come to that character’s mind. They do not write down the character’s name on the list (they might use one side of a card for the name and the other side for the list, like a flashcard). Game options:
    • In pairs, students call out or reveal one of their words at a time, taking turns. Goal: see who can guess the other’s character first. When finish, trade partners with another group, working around the room for as many cycles as desired.
    • Small groups could face off against each other, similar to the game for pairs, keeping score to see which team could identify the most characters.
    • The same thing could be done whole-group, for reading groups needing closer modeling or review.
  2. Individual Practice. As an alternative literary review, students work independently, creating a T-chart or other graphic organizer with space for each major character in a literary work. Students then either brainstorm their own words from the minds of characters, or identify the actual words used by the author to signal the distinctive characteristics of each.
  3. Organization for literary analysis. Student creates a graphic organizer as a brainstorming step prior to writing a literary analysis that evaluates a single character or compares different characters from one or more works. The student can evaluate the power of the words in their brainstorming: weak words can be crossed out. Really powerful words might be highlighted or circled, and the student might look for quotes from the text to illustrate them. Arrows or other relationship signals can be drawn to develop connections that might be made during their analytical essay. These relationships can be numbered, to begin organizing them into paragraphs. Ultimately, the word hoard should generate character-specific and revealing word choice to be used in their analytical writing.
  4. Creative fun in interactive reader notebooks.  Word hoard lists might be a menu alternative for interactive reader’s notebooks. I am a huge fan of the participatory nature of interactive notebooks. Rather than in a structured list or chart, hoarded words could be written in illustrative fonts, circled in concentric ripples, written in colors, illustrated with doodles, drawn with icons indicating relationships between other hoard words or other characters, illustrated in ways that connect the character to setting or other literary devices, or just reveal the fun and excitement the reader feels about the book or character. This kind of an interactive notebook page could be taken further with flaps, envelope pockets, or other 3-dimensional options.

Cross-Curricular Connection: Historical Figures

I also happen to be a history teacher and could see these same activities being adapted to play with famous historical characters.

  1. Add a word hoard to a lapbook on a famous explorer.
  2. Use the who am I? game above to review important people at a unit’s end.
  3. Use the same process of organizing for literary analysis to compare key figures when writing an essay comparing inventors or political figures.

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How About You?

If you have been participating in Teachers Write, do say hello in the comments here. How have the prompts been going for you, or what inspiration have you found?

Summer is a great time for brainstorming and expanding our professional learning networks. What resources or a-ha moments have been most revealing for you?

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If you like this blog, be sure to subscribe using WordPress’s follow option or via email. I love to connect with other educators and writers.

Boards set up by subject, unit or skill. Mrs. T's Middle Grades

Boards set up by subject, unit or skill. Mrs. T’s Middle Grades

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Friday Links for Educators 06.27.14

summerAs much as we educators sigh a relaxing ahhhhh at the thought of our summer months, for most of us, the months “off” are a time for reflection, reading, and deepening our understanding of all that we do in the classroom.

This week’s Links for Educators captures some of the best articles I’ve come across recently. If these resound with you, I’d love to hear from you in the comments — or share your own links (including those to your own posts), as well.

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Technology in Writing Workshop: When Students Take the Lead

Two Writing Teachers has long been one of my favorite blogs, and this post by Tara Smith shares great insight into how Google docs and other technology have enriched successes in her writing workshops.

Notes on Teaching Writing Using Tech

More along those lines… Heard of grass-roots PLN ed-camps? This document shares a list of resources that were shared by various teachers at EdCamp Chicago for using technology in teaching writing.

How to Engage Your Strongest Readers

I came across this great post by Pernille Ripp when link to it was tweeted by Edutopia. Activating gifted or advanced readers is an important class focus, and Pernille gives great approaches for keeping these readers inspired and challenged.

Are Children’s Books Darker Than They Used to Be?

Whether you’re a librarian, English teacher, teacher stocking a classroom library, writer of children’s lit or a parent… you’re bound to, at times, have questioned the themes of certain kid-lit or young adult lit today. Teens fighting to the death for the right to eat? Kids in deathly battles against evil lords? Kids telling lies that end in murder? What on earth?! This article at The Guardian is an interesting discussion of what place darkness has in children’s and teen’s literature.

Preventing Bullying with Emotional Intelligence

This article at Education Week acknowledges that bullying awareness has left educators well-versed in defining bullying and perhaps with an arsenal of approaches for clamping down on symptoms, but contends that punitive approaches do not solve the problem. Rather, educators should focus on teaching emotional intelligence, enabling potential bullies to learn to regulate their own emotional state and for bystanders and victims to better cope.  A useful definition of emotional intelligence appears several paragraphs in.

9 Questions to Optimize Your Collaboration

I loved this list of questions shared by John Wink at his Lead Learner site. If you plan with a teaching team, you can relate to how this list of questions would help optimize the effectiveness of every collaborative meeting to the benefit of teachers and students.

 

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What About You?

What resources are inspiring you most in reaching your summer goals?  Feel free to share your thoughts on today’s links in the comments, or share great links you’ve found, including to posts on your own blog.

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If you like this blog, be sure to subscribe using WordPress’s follow option, or via email. I love to connect with readers and fellow teachers or writers.

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Boards set up by subject, unit or skill. Mrs. T's Middle Grades

Boards set up by subject, unit or skill. Mrs. T’s Middle Grades

 

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Friday Links for Educators 02.21.14

February has been far from a “quiet” teaching month in my 5th grade.  All the average planning has been interrupted, one after another, with special tasks:  Planning itineraries and menus and walking groups and field notebooks for March’s overnight field trip to St. Augustine… Planning, coaching and hosting the Lower School Spelling Bee… A day away from school to attend the Daughters of the American Revolution essay contest awards ceremony and luncheon… Time out to attend the 2nd grade play, to celebrate our Valentine’s Day party and a day off for Presidents’ Day…

Award CeremonyThey’re great distractions.  Two of my boys placed 1st and 3rd in the Spelling Bee.  In the exciting final rounds, my student was up against his 4th grade brother, the 2 of them cheering each other on in a fabulous finish for 1st and 2nd!  In the DAR essay contest, girls from my Social Studies classes won 1st, 2nd and 3rd for 5th grade, and our school took 12 of the 16 awards, overall!

But, next thing you know, the month is nearly gone.

As we continually adjust our schedules to fit in these events in lower school, my big focus has been on writing and rewriting my lessons and their formative and summative assessments.  Each week, I come across such fabulous resources through the organizations and individual educators I follow online, and I share some of the best links I came across, below, as the second installment of Friday Links for Educators.  Enjoy reading!

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7 Questions to Ask Before Giving an Assessment

This piece is partially directed at educators responsible for purchasing assessment tools, but struck me as a great series of questions to consider in everyday assessments — whether tweaking last year’s assessments for a coming unit, writing new assessments or modifying assessments for differentiating learning.

An Interview with Grant Wiggins: The Power of Backwards Design

Principal Ben Johnson’s November interview with Grant Wiggins on Edutopia is a powerful discussion on the value of putting assessment at the center of planning rather than as “an afterthought.”  I was glad to read this, as I was just looking into a workshop with Wiggins and Tighe (his co-author).

Newsela

This isn’t a single article but a whole site I’ve just come across and really love. Newsela is a fabulous opportunity to help students build literacy skills with some of the most stimulated reading: daily news articles appropriate for differing reading levels.  It’s an empowering opportunity to allow students to select an article that interests them, while sparking their interest in reading through real world events.

The Best Teachers Don’t Do What They’re Told

I actually happen to get great advice at the school where I teach, so can’t say I entirely support this title, but I like this piece for teacher, Terry Heick’s, insistence on preserving passion above cowed compliance.  While her title sounds defiant, her strategies are clearly about being at the top of your game, using researched practices, well-planned and demonstrated lessons.  In this sense, her advice is about keeping out ahead of the curve of administrative feedback.  I’m all for “Olympic level” teaching.

You Think You Know What Teachers Do, Right?  Wrong.

Don’t skip reading this powerful essay by Sarah Blaine.  The link above takes you to where it has been shared on the Washington Post Answer Sheet column, but it originally appeared on Sarah Blaine’s blog, Parenting the Core.  Blaine was once a classroom teacher, then a parent, and left teaching for law school.  This essay is a powerful tribute to all teachers do, beyond what nonteachers might imagine.  It’s one of my favorite recent reads.

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What About You?

How has your teaching week been, or what great reads have you found?  Feel free to share your thoughts on today’s links in the comments, or share great links you’ve found, including to posts on your own blog.

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If you like this blog, be sure to subscribe using WordPress’s follow option, or via email. I love to connect with readers and fellow teachers or writers.

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Boards set up by subject, unit or skill. Mrs. T's Middle Grades

Boards set up by subject, unit or skill. Mrs. T’s Middle Grades

Friday Links for Educators 01.24.14

Tour of NASA, Cape Canaveral, FL. c Elissa Thompson

Tour of NASA, Cape Canaveral, FL. c Elissa Thompson

Ah, January. Starts out slow: everyone back from holidays, refreshing December’s learning, slowly starting new units… Not so much!  Somehow, entering dates for spring semester makes it clear how quickly we shifted from the “start of the year” to “is that really May I’m planning for?”

With all the demands of regular planning, we’re also looking ahead with resolutions for a new year. For my own part, I’m reflecting on what has been going well, but pushing myself to where I want to grow and improve next.

All of that includes some great online reading.  Below are some of the best reads for this week.  As always, be sure to let me know what you find useful, what you would like to see more of, or leave your own links in the comments.  Have a great week!

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What Students Can do When the Reading Gets Rough

This is actually one of my favorite reads, lately: a great article that gives concrete advice on what is really needed when students bog down in reading — concrete to-dos for student and teacher, alike.

The National Research Center on the Gifted and Talented

As much attention as education might put into differentiating to reach struggling students, it can be to easy to overlook the need to differentiate with enrichment for gifted students. This site is rich with information and links for resources to benefit gifted learners.

Say What? 5 Ways to Get Students to Listen

This is a great piece on Edutopia with approaches to modify to engage student listening — a great tool for to increase student success by avoiding missed instructions or learning.

A Simple Way Teachers Can Learn to Make Apps

Make our own apps?  This link utterly fascinates me and terrifies me, at once.  Haven’t you had a moment where you thought, “If only there were an app that would…”?  What if you could write (and sell?) that app yourself?  If anyone tries this out, be sure to let us know how well it worked!

Re-dos, Retakes and Do-Overs

The idea of do-overs was hotly debated in a recent Twitter thread, as the need to differentiate and allow genuine learning is held out against a fear that do-overs devalue grades. From a series of videos on differentiated instruction,  Rick Wormeli gives his perspective.

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What About You?

This week, my reading came about while looking for resources on specific approaches in differentiation and assessment.  What goals are you working on in your teaching?  Are you registering to attend a workshop or conference, or are there blogs or links you’ve found useful?  Let us know what your challenges, successes or favorite resources have been, by sharing in the comments.

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If you like this blog, be sure to subscribe using WordPress’s follow option, or via email or RSS feed. I love to connect with like minded bloggers!animal-bird-arctic-blue-bird-done-blue

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Friday Links for Educators 01.03.14

399541_3011751576580_1346241175_3144364_1580577812_n_crop1

From a trip to the Museum of Natural History, c. Elissa Thompson.

On my other blog, one of my favorite ongoing resources has been a weekly roundup of Friday Links for Writers. In the same spirit, today begins the first post of Friday Links for Educators.

Although I run across dozens of great resources each week (how else do we get to thousands of pins on our Pinterest boards?), the Friday Links will focus on the 4-6 articles or resources I found most meaningful.

With each post, I encourage you to let me know in the comments which resources were most useful, what you’d like more of, or share your own finds or posts of the week.

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Taught by Finland

Have you had the “Finland is no. 1 in education” statistic thrown in your face during a dinner party debate, while non-educators list what should be corrected with United States’ education? (I’m raising my hand to that one.) So, wouldn’t it be interesting to hear from an American educator now teaching in Finland?  It was interesting to read what teacher Tim Walker says he is learning from teaching in Helsinki — not necessarily what one might expect.

50 Education Leaders Worth Following on Twitter

This list, shared by Jeff Dunn on Edudemic, may be from October 2012, but is up to date in sharing many of the educators I recommend following on Twitter. (If you want my own list, or want to share your own favorites, check out my Twitter for Teachers: Best Tweeters and Hashtags for Educators to Follow.)

Classroom Behavior? There’s an App for That

In this article at Edutopia, 5th grade teacher from Newark, DE, Lisa Mims, shares her recommendations for the classroom behavior app, Class Dojo. A great 8th grade teacher at my school had shared his experiences using this app within his subject-area classes this past year, but it was great to hear Lisa’s experience in using the app with 5th graders — particularly with how using the app on her phone allows her to report remotely as she differentiates with groups in and out of the room. The headline link takes you to her post; link on the company name takes you to their site for vendor info.

Common Application Essay Questions

The post, from Veritas, shares the common application essay question topics that were revealed for college applications for 2013-14, and may be of interest for anyone teaching writing to students 5th grade and up.  My school places a heavy emphasis on writing and on character, and I agree with the post’s concept that reflecting on one’s own experiences is a writing challenge that stumps many young writers.

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What About You?

How has your teaching week gone, or what resources are you most excited about this week?  We’d love to hear from you in the comments.

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If you like this blog, be sure to subscribe using WordPress’s follow option, or via email. I love to connect with readers and fellow educators!

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Peter Pappas's Taxonomy of Reflection

Peter Pappas’s Taxonomy of Reflection

Using Pinterest in the Classroom

Mrs Ts Middle Grades Pinterest scrn

If I were to share one way that technology contributed to great classes this week, I’d have to say, “Pinterest.”  Here’s the thing: friends might assume I mean using Pinterest to find great resources. That is true.  I do find examples of good organization and learning approaches on Pinterest.

But what I’ve come to love about Pinterest is the way I use it as an interactive bulletin board for sharing resources with students throughout learning.  Since last spring, I have been using Pinterest as an interactive, technologically empowered bulletin board of resources.  Not only does it keep multimedia tools readily sorted for use, but it is an engaging tool in our class community as students use certain boards throughout our day.

This post shares how I use Pinterest in the classroom in 3 parts:

  1. How I set up a Pinterest account specifically for use in the classroom
  2. 20 strategies for how I use boards
  3. An example of Pinterest in a lesson this week (which continues a lesson first mentioned in this post, 3 for Thursday: Checklist for Project-Based Learning, Request for Retest and Taxonomy for Reflection).

Here is my Mrs. T’s Middle Grades Pinterest account, mentioned throughout this article. Follow me so I’ll see yours as well.

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First, here is my Pinterest set-up:

  1. Create a classroom account.   Before using Pinterest in the classroom, I set up 2 separate Pinterest accounts.
    • For the classroom, I set up a separate Pinterest account called Mrs. T’s Middle Grades specifically for resources used in class. Nothing goes on there except what would be appropriate for students to view.
    • Anything else I want to save — pretty places I’ve traveled or great shoes I saw or anything else personal, and even professional links not related to teaching — goes on a personal Pinterest account that students don’t see.
  2. Store pins where you’ll find them quickly.  The key to making Pinterest a useful resource is to store pins where they can be accessed quickly.  The best strategy is in how you name your boards, since Pinterest allows you to name and move boards, whereas pins remain sorted in the order you pinned them.
    • For subject-content pins, name boards by subject and unit. For example, I collected lots of great pictures of animal species and articles on discovery of new species onto a board named “Science  {plants & animals}” making it easy to view all these pins together during our current life science unit. Similarly, content-area pins on the Boston Massacre and Declaration of Independence go onto a board named “US History {Road to Revolution}.”  For English, creating a board for a novel unit allows you to collect pictures and other resources students use to visualize an historic novel, for example.

      Boards set up by subject, unit or skill. Mrs. T's Middle Grades

      Boards set up by subject, unit or skill. Mrs. T’s Middle Grades

    • Where resources overlap, create boards for subject area then skill.  Language Arts skills tend to be used throughout the year rather than in single units, but can be sorted into boards for Reading (which I break into fiction, nonfiction, reading notebooks, etc.), Writing (with individual boards for certain skills, like research, inference, and comparison/contrast), Spelling and Vocabulary, etc. I set up a single board for Grammar, but have considered dividing pins into separate boards for nouns, verbs, sentences, etc., to be more organized during units.
    • Name boards by process. I’ve grouped other pins into boards that name the process I use them for, such as “Reading Notebooks,” “Writing Prompts,” “Reading {alternatives to book reports},” “Groups and Discussions” and “Interactive Notebooks.” In these cases, I’ll be looking for a pin example while performing one of those processes (see more on how I use them below).
    • Special activities. See more about students, below, but I have boards of resources we use during classroom breaks, indoor recess, holiday crafts, etc.  A “Technology” board groups links to Pandora and other tools we might use in class.
    • Where it’s helpful, I’ll repeat a pin onto more than one board, so the hunt for a pin goes faster. For example, a popular song we used for learning state capitals shows up in “Geography,” as well as in “For Students” and “Recess.”
    • Periodically shuffle your boards so your most relevant boards are quickly visible near the top.  My boards are organized so that student boards are at the top, then start-of-day boards, then subject area boards for current units, then tools, etc.  Unit boards for other times of the year are allowed to shuffle to the bottom.
    • (Notice I’m only listing boards for pins I use with students. I do also have planning boards for things like classroom organization or assessments, and professional development. These are kept toward the bottom.)
  3. Follow good people, and save only useful pins.  You “follow” people or organizations on Pinterest to see what others are pinning.
    • I follow some of the amazing teachers from my own staff, some great blogging teachers, several professional organizations (Edutopia  and ISTE are fab pinners), and other educators I admire.  Here are people I follow on Pinterest .
    • I only pin materials that I think will be useful, and I readily prune — deleting pins or unfollowing as needed to focus what I’m seeing. (It goes without saying: I screen carefully and don’t pin things that are controversial or inappropriate.)
    • Half of my pins are repins of sources I found on Pinterest, but the other half were found through email, newsletters, Twitter, searches and other reading. (I’ve shared more about best ways for educators to use Twitter here and best tweeters to follow here , or here is my educators list on Twitter.)
  4. Create a fast link to Pinterest.  I am able to access any link stored on Pinterest as fast or faster than any other app on my system.  A simple Favorites tab gets me there readily while online. If you wanted students to have quick access, you can include a direct link in the links list on your Edline class page or other school webpage. Students can be given a direct link to a pin by including it in an assignment posted on Edline or email.

How I Use Pinterest While Teaching

That was all just set up.  How do I use Pinterest boards with students?  Like many teachers, I use several of my boards during unit planning. For example, in our recent nouns unit, I created a noun rules foldable for our interactive notebooks from an example I found on Pinterest.

But I’m more focused in this post on sharing how I use my boards as an interactive resource during teaching or as independent resources for flipped learning.

  1. Quick access to multimedia links for teaching.  Pinterest is one of my favorite ways to stash fast links to film clips I’ll use during lessons.  For example, my “US History {Road to Revolution}” board has links from the History channel, as well as several of the John Adams HBO series clips I loved using to capture the emotion colonial delegates went through in debating war with England and ultimately ratifying the Declaration of Independence.   I may also have these links imbedded in a PowerPoint or Smart file for a class presentation, but can get to all of them quickly through the board without having to open other software.  I can use comments on the pin to note how I use the individual clips. Or, see below for how those clips can become flips or bellringers.
  2. What’s great, is the “flipped” aspect of a Pinterest board, as the resources are always available, not hidden in a computer file.  For example, half a dozen students in my grade are currently researching to write essays for the Daughters of the American Revolution essay contest. I can steer them to my Road to Revolution board to use the same resources I’ll use later in the year as flipped learning.
  3. Display samples. The process-based boards mentioned above are great go-to’s for visual examples when introducing a project, previewing lapbooks or interactive notebooks or options for book reports, holiday crafts, etc.
  4. A filter. Using any online resources, one concern is in being able to control inappropriate material that pops up in frames or ads. One reason I like opening resources in Pinterest is that I don’t have to click through to the original source when viewing with kids, which helps screen against some of those unknowns on YouTube and elsewhere. I like having this one extra layer of protection in screening materials for students.
  5. Bellringers and prompts. Throughout my boards, I have photos, videos or articles pinned with a comment beneath them for how I can use them as a bellringer, prompt or other class activity.  For example, a “Science {bellringers}” board has a dozen How Things Are Made clips for students to watch. These could be used as a flipped assignment, small group activity, opportunity for cross-curricular connection, or bellringer, with little additional planning for implementation, as they are already loaded for student access.  Because the boards were designed for student use, I can safely direct students to the board to complete the activity.
  6. I have several boards that are specifically intended for students, and I sort those to display as the top row of boards.boards for kids 3
    • Games, videos and websites for home study and practice are saved in a board titled “For Students.”
    • If I come across resources parents might be interested in (like an article on setting up a homework space, or how to encourage a reluctant reader, or ways to study spelling), I save this kind of link in a board titled “For Parents.”
    • My next few boards are titled “Books” and share anything on great reading for (broken down into boards for each of these) upper elementary, middle grades and young adult.  They include books I love, or books highly recommended by students or others, to help when students are looking for a reading suggestion.
    • The next few boards are for students to use during our morning warm-up and break times. “Classroom inspiration” is an option for one of our classroom jobs, as the student can select an inspirational saying to display during morning work time. “Random funny stuff for kids” is a hit, collecting silly things we watch for fun when rain forces an indoor break or recess.
  7. Quick access to frequently-used tools. My boards are full of resources I use often, from music, to videos, to games, to maps or pictures.  I may have equally convenient links to these tools in various PowerPoints or web pages, but know I can find them quickly from a centralized Pinterest board.

A Recent Lesson using Pinterest

Last week, my students had just finished a 2-week project where they pretended to be scientists discovering an island of new animal species, observing animal traits (in a pile of stuffed animals) and then researching online to find the actual taxonomy of the 7 levels of scientific naming and then sorting relationships between the different kinds of animals.  It was a fun project.

Monday, I wanted to transition from their own experience to the next material we would cover. Our “Science {plants & animals}” Pinterest board provided the perfect interactive segue.  The dozens of great animal pictures I’ve pinned onto the board created a vivid visual. Just scrolling through the pictures together was more stimulating than pictures in the textbook would be. But over recent weeks I had pinned several articles from scientific publications announcing actual discovery of new species and even a new genus.  Opening this board in class on Monday, I allowed student interest to drive our discussion.  Students shared their project experiences, and we explored different pictures from the board to follow their continuing curiosity to learn more.

I would have been okay opening any link they expressed interest in (knowing I’d only saved links safe for this purpose), but knew I would ultimately steer them to one of the scientific discovery articles to anchor the lesson.  As we reached that article, I was able to make Common Core connections to reinforce the parts of nonfiction text, while making real world connections between the project they had completed and the process scientists actually go through when discovering a new species in the field. Text in the article helped them practice scientific naming conventions, observation of animal traits, and relationships between living things, while building their confidence to know that what they had just done paralleled real world scientific discovery.

A Parting Thought

Later this week I was struck by comments shared by Innovative Educator Lisa Nielsen (in her post Has Google Replaced Teaching?) where “digital native” students expressed their preference to follow their own curiosity in seeking answers through technology, rather than being led by a teacher’s instruction.  While I’m sure she was polling older students than my 5th graders, I think her concept is key in the satisfaction I sensed in students in using the interactive plane of a Pinterest bulletin board rather than me leading a more linear plan through the lesson.  My classroom feels empowered and energized when we use our Pinterest boards — as these resources are something we own together, rather than something I “do” to the class.

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3 for Thursday: Checklist for Project-Based Learning, Request to Retest and Taxonomy for Reflection

It’s Thursday and I am home from school with 2 sick boys who are fighting the flu… Unexpected day home from school means that, between loading a movie on cable and cooking lunch, Mom is celebrating an unexpected 7 hours free for planning. Sorry you’re sick, boys, but, “Whoo-hoo!!”

Free time also leaves time for reflection, and impetus for this week’s post: how discovery (or re-discovery) of 3 great resources took a well-planned week from great to fabulous.

This “Three for Thursday” post shares 3 great resources for you to use, then I walk through how I applied them in my own classes.  If any of these resources or examples resound with you, if you have similar links you want to share or if you want more resources like this, please share your thoughts in the comments.

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3 Great Resources

1.  Checklist for Evaluating Project-Based Learning

Checklist for assessing a project for learningI’ve been at my school for 4 years now, but took over a new grade and different subject matter last spring, so frequently find myself planning completely new lessons. Between the new grade, recently rewritten (fab) curriculum and an increased focus on differentiation, not to mention my own curiosity, it’s really common for me to be writing plans for new projects. New is great.

But, well, there’s always the “test pancake” truth: it can take that first implementation of a new lesson to discover its weaknesses.  Nothing is worse than getting to the end of a great project but seeing all the, “It would have been even better if…”

I re-discovered this great “Project Based Learning Essential Elements Checklist” on Pinterest today, and it was perfect timing. I’m partway through implementing a new project that is going better than I could have expected — but even then, the checklist helped me discover where I might have missed opportunities.

The checklist has you assess your project plans, asking questions to evaluate how well you have addressed these essential elements for learning from projects: focus on significant content, develop 21st Century skills, engage in in-depth inquiry, organize tasks around a driving question, establish a need to know, encourage voice and choice, incorporate revision and reflection, and include a public audience.

Applying this evaluation before implementing the lesson allows you to bypass the “test pancake” stage so that students achieve genuine learning outcomes, with interest, rigor and depth.

2.  Request to RetestRequest to Retest

Whether you are working from a standards-based curriculum or are simply differentiating to work with a struggling student, teachers find lots of reasons students need the opportunity to retake a test or redo an assignment.  A request for retest might come from a student or parent, or you may identify a need for retesting of missed concepts based on data or observations.  One of the challenges becomes how to manage the individual needs. The value of retesting isn’t in repeating the assessment; the goal is to identify obstacles, reteach concepts where necessary, and give the student strategies to reflect and learn from whatever went wrong. The student who forgot to study has one strategy to conquer, while the student with gaps in prior grammar instruction has different skills to address.

It was perfect timing for me to come across this tweet during #sbgchat  on Twitter last night:

Reading the article’s 12 steps had me linking back through a few examples of forms for Request to Retest that I’d pinned on Pinterest.

A key for success is that a Request to Retest form gives the student a process for reflecting on their gaps in understanding of a concept, as well as what learning strategies are or are not working. The student then takes ownership of what they could do to improve learning for the new assessment and proposes the date for doing so.

A variation in formats is whether only the student signs the request (upper middle school and high school) or if a parent might sign also, to be kept in the loop of where a student is expressing gaps in learning. Or, say, lack of time to complete assignments after sports or due to an illness, or other concerns.

3. Taxonomy for Reflection

Peter Pappas's Taxonomy of Reflection

Peter Pappas’s Taxonomy of Reflection

So you evaluated the project, kids completed it and retested if necessary. Done deal. Or is it?

In teaching writing, one of the valuable steps we always tried to work in was periodic portfolio reflections, to give students a mindful time to observe their attention to targeted concepts, growth in abilities and goals for future work.  “Reflection” also showed up along with revision in the “essential elements” of project-based learning in #1, above.  But, in a busy schedule, this is an easily overlooked step if you don’t have an effective tool ready for students to use. In writing classes, we worked to have portfolio reflection forms that a student could use to assess specific styles of writing.  But what about projects?

Heart goes pitter pat: I absolutely fell in love with this Taxonomy of Reflection by Peter Pappas, which walks kids through a series of questions that build deeper and deeper absorption of the learning their completed activity demonstrated.  Click through to his post explaining his whole concept.

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How Did These 3 Make My Week Sing?

What my students are working on:

In science, my objective for the last 2 weeks has been to transition from the diversity of cells, to introducing the 7 levels of scientific classification of life (you know: kingdom, phylum, class, order, family, genus, species). Great. Basic strategy: film clips and teaching the mnemonic “King Philip came over for good spaghetti.” Blah.

Lightbulb: I told my 5th graders to read the lesson and then, by Monday, bring in 5 stuffed animals from home.  In our first class, they formed groups (their choice), tossed the animals between them and imagined they were a team of scientists who’d just discovered these unknown species on a deserted island.  They had to be real animals (say, not a long-haired glitter-corn), but they were supposed to imagine they were discovering them for the first time, and trying to figure out what they were and what other animals they were related to by observing the animal traits their book told them scientists use for classification.

Clearly, the kids were having a blast sorting their stuffies, and measurable lists were amassing in their interactive notebooks of the traits they “observed,” like diet, environment, means of movement, response to stimuli, live/egg birth, etc.  Next step: back at their seats, animals stowed, they now shifted to pairs and selected the best 4-5 animals they would use to research online to find the actual 7 levels of classification for the real species. The field observations in their notebooks serve as formative assessments, and each pair, team or individual (their choice) is then producing a poster that displays 4-6 animals in columns, with a picture, scientific naming, and those described traits as a summative assessment.  In doing so, they are drawing connections to how similar/different naming reflects the similarities and differences they observed between the species they are presenting.

It was a project that was going better than I could have hoped.  But: (1) I still had a handful of students who hadn’t done well on the cells quiz from the week before, so needed reteaching/retesting. And, (2) as well as the project is going, I don’t want to get to the end of it have that moment of thinking, “Shoot, I wish I’d…. to get more out of it.”

So here is how I used the 3 tools:

1.  Using the checklist for project-based learning helped me really test how thorough my planning had been in designing the project.

Some examples of what I learned:  Evaluating with the checklist affirmed that the project would help kids practice and demonstrate understanding of scientific classification, and offered measurable opportunities for formative and summative assessment. It affirmed that the activities would test and develop their understanding more deeply than book-based question-and-answer or films alone would have. Students were clearly collaborating, communicating and otherwise practicing healthy 21st century learning strategies. Their excitement throughout the activity affirmed the value of letting them choose the animals they used (rather than other sorting activities, like sorting shoes), and students were productive and effective in choosing working partners and the scope of their final product (I was surprised how effective, not lazy, they were in deciding the best number of animals they would review on their final poster).  Challenges in the project pushed them to revise and discover gaps in their understanding, which is good.

But one weakness I noticed is that, in a rush to use their notebooks to move on to research, I was limited in how much feedback I could give them between steps. This is one of my overall challenges for this year: to consistently work to provide frequent and timely feedback for students to build deeper learning. Reviewing their field observations and requesting revision prior to the online step would be good. I should also have asked students to print and submit their typed lists of scientific names prior to the weekend, so I’d have time for making more thorough comments before moving to the final project next week. As it is, I may have to provide feedback on the run during work time — good, but not as good. The checklist also has me evaluating whether or not students clearly perceive the “need to know.”  I think the activity demonstrates why the levels of classification help scientists understand animals better, but the checklist provoked me to have students write that connection at some point, in their journals or as a question on a final assessment.

2.  Coming across that Request to Retake gave me a fabulous tool for managing the needs of those students needing to retest on the prior “cells” lesson. It helped me focus my intentions in retesting and gave me a venue for having the students reflect on what happened and what they will do (or need) to improve understanding of the concepts. I am still hovering between a long and short version of the form, but think this will be a permanent tool in my differentiation toolbox throughout the year.

3.  The taxonomy for reflection is like icing on the cake: it will be a great final step to the project. While the students will clearly remember that they had fun playing with stuffed animals in class, and they may be happy with how their posters turn out, taking them through the taxonomy of questions will get them to reflect on what they actually did, how well it went, what they could do next with the information, how what they learned was important, and how they might use it again.

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What About You?

How has your teaching week gone, or what resources are you most excited about this week?  We’d love to hear from you in the comments.

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Twitter for Teachers: Best Tweeters & Hashtags for Educators to Follow

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Earlier this year, I posted Twitter 101 for Teachers: Steps for Getting Started on Twitter, sharing the key steps for how educators can crack Twitter and discover its usefulness as a great information resource and way to connect with other educators around the world.

If you are new to Twitter or social media, read that post to discover how to make Twitter useful for you.

One of the keys shared was to find useful people and organizations to follow.  A good tweeter to follow is not only someone with useful information, but one who uses Twitter well.

The list below shares more than 30 of the most useful people, organizations and hashtags I’ve found on Twitter, for educators. Clicking any of the user names will take you to that tweeter’s profile on Twitter, where you can then click the “follow” button to add them to your feed. (You need to be signed in to your Twitter account.)

Find me on Twitter:  @elissafield – I tweet about teaching, writing and current events.

In addition to the users below, check out the most currently updated members of my teaching tweeters list on Twitter: Elissa Field’s Teach list

Resources:

@edutopia – Edutopia: “Inspiration and information for what works in education”; one of my favorite educational resources

@ASCD – “The international education association dedicated to providing programs, products, and services that empower educators to support the success of each learner.”

@MindShiftKQED – Mind Shift “explores the future of learning, covering cultural and tech trends and innovations in education”

@edudemic – Edudemic: “A dedicated community of educators and technologists looking to enhance learning.” (Cambridge, MA)

@ChildMindDotOrg – Child Mind Institute: “a nonprofit organization dedicated to transforming mental health care for children everywhere. Follow us for up-to-the minute news on child mental health.”

@NYTimesLearning – New York Times Learning Network – an online resource for teaching and learning, using news published in the NYTimes.

@IRAToday – International Reading Association

@writingproject – National Writing Project: a favorite, “focuses the  knowledge, expertise, and leadership of our nation’s educators on sustained efforts to improve writing and learning”

@TCRWP – “The Teachers College Reading and Writing Project is one of the world’s premier providers of professional development in the teaching of reading and writing.”

@Newsela – this is one of my new favorites: a website that serves up news stories on myriad topics, searchable by reading level, offering great current event reading for students of all ages.

@RWTnow Read Write Think. org – “free access to the highest quality materials for reading & language arts instruction”

@TED_ED – TED-Ed: “TED’s education initiative, is an online library of short, captivating videos that engage inquisitive learners all over the world.”

@LearnwithTED – similarly, a resource for using TED talks in learning

@KhanAcademy – Khan Academy: “Working to make a free, world-class education available for anyone, anywhere” — one resource, although not my favorite, for flipping classes

Top Educators, Researchers & Speakers:

(Several educators whom I admire – such as Carol Ann Tomlinson – are on Twitter, but seldom tweet, so are not included on this list.)

@RickWormeli – Rick Wormeli is one of my favorite educators

@arneduncan – go official: this is the official Twitter account for the U.S. Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan

@judywillis – Judy Willis: “neuroeducation consultant/lecturer, physician/neurologist, former teacher, How the Brain Learns author.” (Santa Barbera, CA)

@SirKenRobinson – Sir Ken Robinson, best known for his inspiring TED talks on education reform (Los Angeles, CA)

@buffyjhamilton – Buffy Hamilton: “Librarian & Learning Strategist for CPL who loves learning, literacy, stories, social media”

@unfragilekids – Leonard Sax, MD, PhD: author of several studies on gender differences in education (rarely tweets)

Teachers Who Tweet:

Lots of educators tweet (you, too? leave your user name in the comments below) and I follow nearly a hundred, but these are ones who resonated with me at the time I compiled this list.

@JulieDRamsay – “Educator with passion for student-directed learning; author of Can We Skip Lunch and Keep Writing? Collaborating in Class and Online;NBCT; blogger” (Birmingham, AL)

@stumpteacher – Josh Stumpenhorst: “father, husband, teacher, blogger, runner, presenter, learner, and disrupter…always looking to be better and stay relevant. (2012 IL Teacher of the Year)” (Chicago)

@InnovativeEdu – Lisa Nielsen: “Educator. Innovator. Author. Blogger.” (Manhattan)

@whatedsaid – Edna Sackson: I love this teacher’s blog (Melbourne, Australia)

@RobinDubiel – Robin and I routinely trade each other’s Pinterest recommendations, and she is often a great fellow-tweeter

@ChrisLehman – “Educator, speaker, author, dad”

@MicheleCorbat a co-moderator of #COLchat

MG and YA Authors:

@camphalfblood – Rick Riordan, author of Percy Jackson series and more

@RolandCSmith – Roland Smith, author of I,Q series, Elephant Run, Peak and more

@realjohngreen – John Green: “I write books, including Looking for Alaska and The Fault in Our Stars. (Books are like tweets, except longer.) I also make videos with my brother.” His videos are a hit.

@rebstead – Rebecca Stead, one of my favorite authors: “My books for kids: First Light, When You Reach Me, Liar & Spy.”

@KateMessner – Kate Messner: “Children’s author, reader, dreamer, educator, & TED2012 speaker”

@novaren – Nova Ren Suma: author of young adult books including Imaginary Girls and 17 & Gone

Hashtags:

#educhat or #edchat – matters related to teaching and education

#FLedchat – chats on Wednesdays at 8 EST via Tammy Neil (@MathNeil)

#edtech – tweets related to educational technology

#mschat – chats for middle school educators

#sbgchat – one of my favorite chat-threads, on standards-based learning and grading

#COLchat – community of learning chat – fab, positive energy

#STEM – tweets addressing focus on science, technology, engineering and math – including writing that addresses these

#gtchat – chats about education for gifted and talented students, for parents and educators

#MGlit – used for chats and other tweets related to middle grade fiction

#YAlit – used for chats and other tweets related to young adult fiction

#litchat – literary or book chats held several times each week

#YAlit, #MGlit or #kidlit – chats about young adult, middle grade & children’s lit

Twitter trick: Have you ever wondered what a hashtag stood for and didn’t know how to look it up?  Try this: http://tagdef.com/

(If you’re curious about a meaning and the tag is not listed on the tagdef site — as happened for me with #WTLconf12 — you can always tweet someone using the tag to ask them the meaning.)

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Feel free to add your suggestions or your own Twitter ID in the comments, and do look me up: @elissafield

Housekeeping takes time: if we are already connected on Twitter, check to see if I added you to the twitter list you would fit on by checking here. If not, private message me so I can add you.

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Wild Boys

An article in Atlantic this month titled How to Make School Better for Boys (by Christina Hoff Sommers) has stirred this recurring theme for me, again. I’ll share here link to her story, as well as this post from 2010 when I first began to agree that there is a crisis in the life of boys, especially at school. Here’s the Atlantic link: http://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2013/09/how-to-make-school-better-for-boys/279635/

I am a younger sister to an older brother who, to this day, I consider to be one of the coolest people on earth.

As kids, we were close in age (as close as possible without being twins) and seemingly understood each other well.  That is, I agreed his GI Joes were awesome, we cracked up hysterically over the same cartoons and both went wide-eyed over Batman or 007’s cool gear.  With family, we camped and fished and sailed and skied and rode horses and swam together.    So, fully ignoring his complete lack of interest in my dolls or anything pink, I was well into adulthood still assuming boys and girls – at least those of a common spirit – were pretty much the same.

For the scope of this blog, we’ll gloss over the first several years of marriage when I thought men and women thought the same, or…

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