Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Zeen: A Beautiful Way for Students to Display their Work

I'm always on the lookout for great ways for students to share their work--and especially with authentic audiences. Zeen looks like one of those ways! (Thanks to @mrsebiology for the tip.)

A screengrab from Go explore!

Tuesday, February 26, 2013


In Science Methods today we were talking about teaching geology. We did several different activities: mineral identification, modeling the rock cycle, examining plate tectonic maps. I missed sharing this site in class--we just ran out of time! (Too much fun stuff...)

The U.S. Geological Survey has some really great resources to help support science and geography teachers. They have different kinds of maps available, for free, to encourage teaching geology and map skills to students at all grade levels.

In particular, I was fascinated with this interactive map page displaying information about recent earthquakes:

A screengrab from the USGS Earthquakes page.

You can customize the map to show earthquakes of different magnitudes and different lengths of time. It gives precise information as to when and where the earthquakes take place. (The legend button in the upper right-hand corner is helpful for understanding the coding scheme used on the map.) You might be surprised to see how many earthquakes have occurred in the past week or month--truly, we live on an active planet! 

This page could be a great seed for a mini-lesson. How might you use this with your kids?

Perception and Reality

Take a couple minutes to watch this video. It's pretty interesting... 

It got me thinking about how often in schools we make snap judgments of our students and their abilities. Our immediate perceptions may not, in fact, give us the full story of who they are and what they can do.

This was just a great reminder for me to get beyond the immediate and look more deeply at my students. What are their gifts and talents--and which ones might not be instantly apparent? What are their strengths? What are their weaknesses? And how might what I initially perceive to be their weaknesses in reality be strengths? Where am I judging too quickly? How can I help students use their unique gifts to foster a learning-centered classroom?

I hope this gives you a moment to pause and reflect as well.

(Thanks to my friend Grace for sharing this video on Facebook.)

Images You Can Use Without Feeling Guilty

Don't be this guy, right?
(Thanks to
I love to include images in presentations and on my blog, and I know enough about Creative Commons licensing to search for content that meets criteria, and I know how to label the content I grab. But occasionally I still wonder if I'm doing it right. Copyright is complicated!

I think most educators--myself included--really want to do the right thing. Most teachers don't deliberately set out to break copyright law. But we might not know just what's required of us, or we're in such a rush to get things together for our lessons that we don't make the time to ensure that we're doing things right.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Teachers and Copyright

I'm occasionally part of a twitterchat on Saturday mornings (#rechat -- "Rethinking and re-imagining education" -- @johntspencer moderates...if you're a teacher on Twitter, you should follow him. Smart guy, and he'll challenge you to think about your teaching practice.)

This past Saturday, our chat centered on teaching digital citizenship. Several fellow chatters suggested that we need to stop differentiating between digital citizenship and "real life" citizenship. The implicit here is that digital life is part of "real life" and the rules should be the same. That is, your online rules should be the same as your offline rules.

I basically agree with this; people should be courteous, honest, kind, polite, helpful, and respectful whether they are online or offline. I want my students to be people of integrity no matter the venue! That said, I still think we need to teach students how to have good manners--both online and offline. And further, we need to model this for our students as well.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Books for Boys: The Joys of Mythology

Mythology is just good fun. Great stories packed with heros and villains and gods and giants and monsters and angst and humor and all kinds of weird names.

I think reading myths can provide a good opportunity to talk about faith perspectives with your kids: comparing their beliefs with beliefs held by others. And certainly there is a cultural perspective that can be learned by reading the myths of a particular group of people. Add to this the fact that many fantasy stories seem to connect to characters and themes that appear in mythologies (Joseph Campbell, anyone?) and you've got some pretty strong reasons to try and hook a middleschooler on myths.

Because the stories are so great--battles, monsters, good & evil--I've found that these stories readily hook many boys. My favorites are D'aulaires' books; both the Greek Myths and the Norse Myths are excellent!

Of course, there are lots of other collections of mythologies from around the world, and D'aulaires' aren't the only ones around. But I think pretty highly of them--perhaps nostalgically, since I loved them as a child--and they've stood the test of time...still great today. Classic stories, classically told.

For a more contemporary take on the Greek myths, I might recommend the Percy Jackson series. Here mythology takes a turn into fantasy. Imagine a world where the Greek gods are real, and the monsters and heroes from Greek mythology are also quite real and hiding just out of plain sight. And then imagine that you are a young adolescent who has to come to terms with the fact that his absent father is actually one of the Olympians and you have a pretty good introductory plot summary to The Lightning Thief. Engrossing stories--Rick Riordan is a fantastic storyteller!--that pull the drama and comedy of the classic myths into contemporary society. A great series!

And if you give the Percy Jackson books a shake and enjoy them, you might go on to Riordan's take on Egyptian mythology--similarly told, translating classic stories into contemporary society--the Kane Chronicles. I've only read the first book in the series, The Red Pyramid, but I thoroughly enjoyed it, and would definitely recommend it for the middle school (5th-8th) crowd. Action-packed storytelling that teaches you quite a lot about ancient Egyptian culture, society, and mythology. I'm hoping to read the next two books soon.

Do you have other mythological favorites? Please share!

Thursday, February 21, 2013


I had a student stay after my science methods class this afternoon to talk. It was a really good conversation--helped me think through some things for my teaching practice.

Basically, she was wondering whether I practice what I'm preaching to them about assessment. (I love to talk about assessment in science!) In particular, I brought up the idea of pre-assessing to find out what students know and using that to inform your instructional decisions. The longer I taught science, the more I did this. I think it honors the students as "knowers"--they likely already know some of the material I hope they will learn, and finding out how much they know, understand, and are able to do before I start teaching can help me make decisions. And if students already know the material, don't go on and teach it anyway, right? This is the part that can be hard for me...

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

The Things I Learned Became Part of Me

I came across an interesting piece in Huffington Post a few weeks ago about boredom in schools. It actually sounds a lot like an article I had published in Christian Educators Journal back in 2009. Simply put, students should not be bored in school. Period.

I'm not saying that every activity will be self-selected by the students or that they will be enraptured by every topic the teacher brings up. Sometimes school is just hard work. But let's not minimize the fact that hard work can be satisfying in it's own right! How do we get kids to start thinking that way too?

I once read that learning is the opposite of boredom. (Maybe we could also argue that learning is the antidote to boredom?) But I wonder sometimes if teachers are doing their part too? Are we really trying to be sure that students won't be bored in the classroom?

This might sound like a slippery slope towards "edutainment" or something like it. I don't really mean that, of course. But if learning is the antidote to boredom, maybe we need to get better at finding ways to make learning matter to our students, and maybe we need to think about how we foster learning in our classrooms.

What does this look like in practice? I have a few ideas...

Sunday, February 17, 2013

How to Twitter: A Visual Guide for Beginners

I've been talking a lot lately about Twitter and how great I think it is for professional development for educators. Last week I was presenting an EdTech workshop at a school in the area, and I mentioned Twitter as a resource. I had several folks there ask me some questions afterward, and they seemed excited to get started. I hope they find it as valuable as I have!

The thing is, it can be a little intimidating to get started with a social network that way. And even if you're fairly comfortable with Facebook, Twitter just isn't the same sort of thing. (But it can be a key part of your personal learning network, teachers...) 

I came across this great infographic from @edudemic earlier today; thanks to my Twitterfriend @ptaylorsjr for sharing it. If you're interested in getting started on Twitter, this might be a useful encouragement...

A cropped screengrab from
Click for the full infographic!

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Makers Among Us

I've read Scott McLeod's post, My Son is 8. He's a Maker several times over the past couple weeks. It haunts me, to be honest, because I could have written it about my own son. And I worry sometimes about how school will be for him. (Please take a few minutes and read it. Please.)

Maybe I'm actually a little worried about where school culture seems to be centered at the moment with so much emphasis on high-stakes testing and convergent, universal curriculum. I worry about how this affects creativity and motivation and engagement and true learning. What are students going to come away with? Excellent test-taking skills?

Monday, February 11, 2013

Heifer Village: A Simulation

Heifer Village: Nepal is an interactive simulation to help students think about poverty and community development. In some ways, it's similar to Third World Farmer, but it's more of a simulation than a game, if you want to get into semantic differences.

What I like about Heifer Village: Nepal in particular is that it leads participants through the steps and thought-process of developing a community-centered micro-loan organization. Through this structured simulation, participants can see the benefits of impoverished communities banding together to help each other out. I have dreams of getting students involved in providing micro-loans to such organizations themselves, through groups such as Kiva. (I hope you'll check out Kiva and think about how this organization might help you broaden your students' global view!)

In any case, a simulation like Heifer Village might be the first step. Check it out!

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Should Everyone Tweet?

Image courtesy James G. Milles - CC BY 2.0

Just read a great piece from George Couros (@gcouros--and thanks to my Twitterfriend, @ptaylorsjr, for passing this along) about whether everyone should tweet.

Interesting to me, because I've spent the last month or so pushing Twitter as a great PD resource. Now I'm thinking more about this...

Twitter has been a tremendous personal professional development tool for me over the past year or so. I'm very excited about the potential for other teachers to have that same experience--developing their own personal learning network via Twitter. I'm on the agenda for our next department meeting to talk about how I use Twitter and help get interested colleagues started.

But is Twitter for everyone?

Monday, February 4, 2013

Can Online Learning Improve Educational Productivity?

Graphic from 
I just came across this infographic via Twitter (thanks to @CarriSchneider.) Interesting ideas it promotes about online learning.

I've taught several online courses over the past few years, and I think much of what is presented here makes sense. I've taken a few online courses in my M.Ed work too--I'd say it's a little different than traditional face-to-face learning, but there may be some real benefits here as well.

The one hang-up I still have is the idea that computers can replace teachers. I know that's not the fundamental argument being made in this graphic, but I've heard it before, and it is alluded to at least in the facts and figures presented here. Recognize that I'm biased: as an educator, I'd like to think that the work I do is complex enough to not be rendered algorithmic.

But this does get me thinking more about how computers can assist with some tasks that are part of online learning. And I do use Edmodo in my own teaching practice to help facilitate (if not automate) some parts of my classes. But  enhancing is not the same as replacing, right?'s an interesting time to be in education, isn't it?

So, how do you respond to these ideas? What excites you about online learning? What do you think translates well to an online environment? What might not translate so well?