Showing posts from 2011

Comic Books and Chemistry: a Perfect Match!

When I was in 8th grade my history teacher had us learn about economics through, of all things, a comic book, and now almost 40 years later, I can still remember it. So what does that say about learning? It says to me that the material, which I found incredibly boring, was presented to me in a medium that engaged me-hence I truly learned it. Later when I got to high school I found myself bored to death in a chemistry class and distinctly remember having to memorize the periodic table. Why I had to do that, when I could have just looked it up when I needed the information, I'll never know. I did it, but didn't care about the information or understand why we were learning it, so I remembered if for the test and promptly forgot it. Sound familiar?

But after looking at the University of Kentucky site The Periodic Table of Comic Books by John P. Selegue and F. James Holler, I wish I could go back and study it this way. Like the economics unit in my Junior High days, I would probabl…

Standing Up in Class: an Option to Enhance Learning for Students

Think about how you position yourself when you read a book, use your laptop or peruse through a newspaper or magazine. Chances are sitting in a hard, straight back chair in front of a small desk doesn't rank high on your list. In fact as I write this I'm stretched out on a chaise in our living room with my computer resting on a portable laptop desk. Fact is we all have preferences as to how we'd like to be positioned when doing these tasks, so the question of why do we limit student options in this same area is a natural one to ask. We need to break out of the mindset of what the classic classroom looks like. Schools need to adapt for the betterment of the students; the students shouldn't have to adapt to the physical aspects of the school.

The graduate program I went through at Lesley University met for one weekend a month; we would start at 5pm on Friday and go till 10, then go from 8-5 on Saturday and Sunday. Now for much of that time we were up and moving, but duri…

Student Voices on "Education Evolution" We Learn Creatively

Sir Ken Robinson posted this video on Facebook, and I am so glad he did. It's been my contention all along that the real positive changes in our educational system are going to come from the students up, and these young people are making their voices heard loud and clear. Now it's up to teachers, administrators, government officials and other stakeholders to listen and act. Please go and check out what these students are producing, as they hit it right on the head.
From their site "Welcome to edevolution, a video project thought of and created by G/T  middle students in the Dallas/Fort Worth area. Thank you for taking time to watch the video and visit this website! For more information about what the Education Evolution is and what it means, take a look at a quick summary of us here or head to the blog page. Don’t know why you’re here or came here by accident? Watch the video anyway!"

Bring a Poem to Class that You Don't Understand

I love this idea tweeted by Carol Jago, she writes, "Don't be afraid to bring a poem you don't understand to class. Model your own process for making sense of what's on the page- what's obscure"
What a great idea to make sense out of something in front of and with the students in your class. Modelling this process will pay huge dividends with all students but especially those who give up easily saying they don't understand something. Of course these instances should be tempered by the fact that we should make meaning for ourselves based on a close reading of the text and not worry so much about what the author intended when he or she wrote it-it may be a fun exercise but who really knows?
Teachers should feel compelled to give up some control in the classroom and admit when they don't know something, while encouraging everyone to figure it out together. This has been a very important practice in my classroom, as it makes it okay to be wrong or not know …

More Practical Examples of Formative Assessments

Check out the West Virginia Department of Education site for some more examples of formative assessments. Some great ideas here. Thanks to teachersharetp for the Twitter link to the site.

Harvard Professor calls Lecture Outdated and Largely Ineffective

Reading Dennis Pierce's excellent article in eCampus News on Harvard professor Eric Mazur's discussion that lecture is an outdated and largely ineffective way for students to learn. It seems like every day we read about or hear someone discuss the inefficiency of lecture as a tool for learning. So the question remains, why do so many educators keep up the practice? One possibility is that many people tend to teach the way they were taught and so the system propagates itself. If that's the case, then we need to break the cycle, and so, once again, we call for a paradigm shift in the way we prepare students to learn.
The article goes on to say "educators need to transfer information... but students also need to do something with this information to make it stick—not simply parrot it back during a test, but actually assimilate it and take ownership of it, so they can apply this knowledge in a different context. If students can’t do that, he said, then they haven’t…

"Why Alternative Education Needs to Go Mainstream"

An interesting piece from Good Education on using alternative education models for all students. You can read the entire piece here. Something to really think about.

"Research shows that alternative education—small learning communities, individualized, personalized instruction, a low student-teacher ratio, and support for pregnant or parenting students—works to get dropouts back on track. But ironically, notes creativity expert Sir Ken Robinson, current education reform efforts like the federal No Child Left Behind Act are "rooted in standardization" even though we know that a quality education should "be about personalization."
Robinson, whose lecture on how schools kill creativity is the most watched TEDTalk of all time, was part of a forum on dropout prevention hosted last week by the HeART Project, a Los Angeles-based arts education nonprofit. If what we now call "alternative education" methods became mainstream, said Robinson, "we …

Ted Talk: Sebastian Seung "I am my Connectome"

Okay, so I may have gone "connectome crazy" here, but this Ted talk by Dr. Sebastian Seung is incredibly interesting and very accessible even for an English teacher like me. Give it a look-I'm sure you'll enjoy it and learn something important about the brain.
Sebastian Seung: I am my connectome | Video on
Here's more on Sebastian Seung, Ph.D on the MIT website.

Learned a new word: the "Connectome"

I always enjoy learning new words, and I came across one this morning connected to one of my latest interests-brain research-and it's called the connectome. Here's an excerpt from the article Brain's Connectome from Branch to Branch appearing on Neuroscience News:
"With some 70 billion neurons and hundreds of thousands of kilometres of circuits, the human brain is so complex that, for many years, it seemed impossible to reconstruct the network in detail. Each neuron is linked to about a thousand others by means of finely branched projections called dendrites and axons, and communicates with them using electrical signals. The connections between the cells are critical for brain function, so neuroscientists are keen to understand the structure of these circuits – theconnectome – and to reconstruct it in a three-dimensional map."
According to a connectome is a "synapse-resolution mapping of connections between all neurons in a model organ…

Matt Damon speaks out for teachers and creativity and against standardized testing at SOS Rally in DC

Matt Damon’s speech at the Save Our Schools rally, July 30, 2011

‘I think you’re awesome!” 
I flew overnight from Vancouver to be with you today. I landed in New York a few hours ago and caught a flight down here because I needed to tell you all in person that I think you’re awesome. 
I was raised by a teacher. My mother is a professor of early childhood education. And from the time I went to Kindergarten through my senior year in high school I went to Public Schools. I wouldn’t trade that education and experience for anything. 
I had incredible teachers. As I look at my life today, the things I value most about myself— my imagination, my love of acting, my passion for writing, my love of learning, my curiosity— all come from how I was parented and taught. 
And none of these qualities that I’ve just mentioned— none of these qualities that I prize so deeply, that have brought me so much joy, that have brought me so much professional success— none of these qualities that make me …

Deepak Chopra: "Video Game that aids in meditation and relaxation"

We have a Wii system in our house, and we have a great time playing the games, especially together, doing Wii Fit, playing Endless Oceans, Let's Dance II and Zumba to name a few. The thing I love about all of those games is that there is no killing, violence or destruction in any of them-they are all putting out positive messages while helping with personal health and well-being. This seems to be the case with Dr. Deepak Chopra's new game called Leela, "an ancient Sanskrit word meaning 'play,'" according to "Leela is described not as a game, but as a groundbreaking experience, combining ancient relaxation and meditation techniques with technology, to bring focus, energy and balance to one's life." I'm not into endorsing products, and this one doesn't come out until November, but I can get behind the idea of increasing relaxation and meditation techniques with students and parents, many of whom are stressed out beyond belief…

Valedictorian Speaks Out Against Educational System

Dovetailing nicely with my last post about making school fun and making learning have meaning for students, I came across this speech by high school valedictorian Erica Goldson on the wonderful site The Innovative Educator. In less than ten minutes, Erica is able to eloquently point out the fallacies in our educational system and challenge educators to make a paradigm shift. It's worth a look.

You can read Erica's entire speech on her blog America via Erica.

Dare We Ask...Make School Fun? Make Learning Meaningful to Students? Ahhh....Yes Please!

I've often asked teachers in our classes "when does school cease to be fun?" Years ago the answer was grades six or seven,  but now it's usually more like second or third. Why is that? Why does school have to be drudgery? Thinking back on my own high school experience in the seventies it was the same-classes were boring and little if any meaning could be put to why we were studying this material. 
Today's brain-based research is clear, if students don't understand why they are learning something or if what is being learned has no meaning, then that information will be dumped within seconds and learning will not occur.
So it begs the question...why are our schools still doing this to students? Why are they attempting to cram knowledge down students throats with the thought that this will come in handy later on in life or they need this subject to pass a test or get into college when it is known that it doesn't work?
Certainly high-stakes testing plays into th…

Ted Talks: Julian Treasure "5 Ways to Listen Better"

How many of our relationships, not only as teacher and student, would be improved if we were able to listen better? In another wonderful Ted talk, Julian Treasure discusses listening and gives 5 ways we can become better listeners. Worth a look.

How the brain keeps track of what we're doing

Being informed on how the brain learns just makes sense if you are in the education world. The August issue of  Current Directions in Psychological Science gives a different view on "working memory" by neuroscientist Robert H. Logie. Read the entire article at How the brain keeps track of what we're doing
 An excerpt: "We have a range of different capacities, each with its own function, and they operate at the same time" when we perform a task or think about something, says Logie. Within this "multiple-component framework," working memory capacity is "the sum of the capacities of all these different functions."
This "workspace" in the brain, as Logie calls it, allows us to do something while other functions operate in the background or to apply ourselves to a single task involving more than one function."

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Drama as a Teaching Tool

Drama is a performing art, an outlet for self-expression, and a way of learning.  Drama is an effective learning tool because it involves the student intellectually, physically, socially, and emotionally.  Activities in improvisation, pantomime, play-making, and scene reenactment serve to develop the creative potential in the participants and help to develop critical thinking skills. 
In answering the question, "Why teach drama?'", theater director and teaching artist Matt Buchanan has this to say: "Dramatic Arts education is an important means of stimulating creativity in problem solving. It can challenge students' perceptions about their world and about themselves. Dramatic exploration can provide students with an outlet for emotions, thoughts, and dreams that they might not otherwise have means to express. A student can, if only for a few moments, become another, explore a new role, try out and experiment with various personal choices and solutions to very re…

Using Drama to Create Empathy in Medical Education

Using drama to help train future doctors? Sounds like a great idea to me. Our present educational system from kindergarten through graduate school needs a major paradigm shift. The day has long passed, if they were ever there, when lecture was an effective way to get students to learn. In fact most brain-based learning research puts lecture at a 5-10% retention rate! That is horrendous!
It's very heartening to hear that the University of California, Davis is integrating medical studies with literature in an attempt to "generate future physicians with both scientific acumen and cultural humility." The article "Drama and Empathy in Medical Education" by Matharu, Howell and Fitzgerald in LiteratureCompass (2011), discusses how medical humanities training is often "lecture-based, not allowing for much student input," so the use of drama is an effort to remedy that.
The following is from the article's abstract: "Increasingly, undergraduate and gradua…

Kinesthetic Learning: We Learn Better on our Feet than in our Seat!

Kinesthetic learning or movement is a staple in our courses;  we use it all the time. We know it's effective with all ages from kindergarteners to graduate students, but do we have any brain-based research to back it up?
In his book How the Brain Learns David Sousa provides one explanation:
"When we sit for more than twenty minutes, our blood pools in our seat and in our feet. Within a minute [of getting up], there is about 15% more blood in our brain. We do think better on our feet than on our seat!Students sit too much in classrooms, especially in secondary schools. Look for ways to get students up and moving, especially when they are verbally rehearsing what they have learned" (34).
This also speaks to the fact that as arts-based educators we need to have the language to explain our methods to others. So next time you have the students up and moving and your principal comes into your room wondering what's going on, simply relay this information and then ask him or h…

Formative Assessment: Weekly Summaries

In our attempt to give concrete examples of formative assessment techniques, we go back to Debra Dirksen's 2011 article "Hitting the Reset Button: Using Formative Assessment to Guide Instruction" where she discusses weekly summaries.
She discusses having students "complete longer writing assignments in which I ask them to write a weekly summary reflecting on what they've learned from class discussion, activities, and reading during the week. To prompt reflection on personal learning, I ask students to respond to the question: What did you learn personally from class discussion, activities, and readings conducted this week? For evaluation, I ask, "How do you think what was taught this week, in class and through your readings, will work in the real world?" And finally, for transformation, I ask, "How will you personally use the information?" This is an opportunity for students to engage with the material and discover what resonates with them (Ta…

Formative Assessment: Thumbs Up, Thumbs Down, Thumbs All-Around

Another formative assessment which is simple and quick--letting you know immediately how well the students are understanding the concepts is the thumbs up and thumbs down technique. Just ask them how well they "get it" by giving a thumbs up or thumbs down sign. I also allow them to show degrees of understanding by putting their thumb anywhere on the spectrum between up and down (hence the "all-around" in the title).
Other variations, that I've heard teachers use, are to put the sign right up against the chest, so that others in the classroom have a hard time seeing it or having students close their eyes when they do it. These may be necessary in the beginning of the year, in some cases, but should wain as trust builds in the room and students learn it's all right to admit they don't understand something or that they are wrong about something.
It's quick. It's simple.There's no reading involved. It's just an easy way to check for understand…

Formative Assessment: When the Cook Tastes the Soup....

Ever have a problem differentiating between the definitions of formative and summative assessments? Well thanks to Debra Dirksen in her article "Hitting the Reset Button: Using Formative Assessments to Guide Instruction," she offers the following image from the work of Robert Stake (Scriven 1991:169):

 "When the cook tastes the soup, that's formative: When the guests taste the soup, that's summative." 
"As the cook, or teacher, we need to stop and taste the soup before we move forward with instruction. We need to design instruction so students can press the reset button and go back to learn what they missed the first time. We can use many techniques to assess student achievement and understanding."

This is a powerful image that clearly delineates between the two concepts and helps to cement them into the mind. It's also reminds us of the power of using metaphors, similes, images and figurative language in our teaching practices.

Formative Assessment: I Know What it is, but How Do I Do it?

Many of us know the theory behind formative assessments, but the burning question may be how do we use them in our every day teaching practices? In her article "Hitting the Reset Button: Using Formative Assessment to Guide Instruction" published in the Phi Delta Kappan (2011) Debra J. Dirksen gives numerous practical applications on how to implement FAs in the classroom. Here's a couple using quick writes:
"We can also use short writing assignments to check for understanding. One example is called "3, 2, 1."Students write three things about concept A, two things about concept B, and one thing that connects concepts A and B. A similar activity is called "Circle, Square, Triangle." After giving a presentation or engaging students in a learning activity, I have students describe three metaphorical ideas by responding to the following questions:
1. What's still going around in your head? In other words, what do you still not quite understand? 2. Wh…

Formative Assessment: The Missing Piece?

In light of today's high-stakes testing atmosphere and the sense that there is so much content to cover that teachers just need to push on and hope the students "get it," many educators may be using formative assessments, but are they using them effectively?. Is there a missing piece?In the report "Understanding How Teachers Engage in Formative Assessment" from the Spring 2010 edition of Teaching and Learning, Sondergeld, Bell and Leusner discuss this and point out the cyclical nature of formative assessments.

"Formative assessment continues to receive increased attention in the field of education as being a cost-effective method of improving student learning (Black & Wiliam, 2007). However, defining formative assessment is problematic since it is often viewed as any use of assessment to support instruction. In fact, when teachers hear about formative assessment for the first time, they often say, "I do that already." We define formativ…