Friday Links for Educators 01.03.14

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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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Peter Pappas's Taxonomy of Reflection

Peter Pappas’s Taxonomy of Reflection

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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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