Sunday, February 28, 2010

The Evolution of Teaching Science


When you were in middle school what was your least favorite subject? Was it Math, ELA, Science, Social Studies, Art, or was it something else? I have often posed this question to college students enrolled in a teacher preparation program. Invariably, the top 2 answers are always Math and Science. Even more telling, Science always wins the “unpopularity contest” by a landslide.

I proceed to continue my line of questioning and ask them why they feel this way. The answers vary but the consensus is that they do not see the point of science. Simply put, it is not relevant to their lives. I then follow up by asking, “What is the purpose of science?” This question usually gets all kinds of responses like to learn about life, machines, chemicals, weather, and other big scientific words. I then respond, “The purpose of science is to learn how things work.”

This in short is the problem with the current approach used to teach science. Much time is spent doling out vocabulary words that do not help the student understand science content. In fact, the use of acronyms and scientific words succeeds in only confusing students more. Many educational experts have stressed the importance of using hands on materials and have advocated for the purchase of Science labs. Unfortunately, the high cost of science materials has been a major obstacle in assuring the meaningful teaching of science. Additionally, many science teachers do not have the pedagogic background to teach science in a way that is meaningful. It is no wonder that many college students avoid majoring in Science programs as science is viewed as bad medicine. Subsequently, only 29% of United States middle school students are considered proficient or above proficiency in the area of Science on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) exam. Even more disturbing, Middle School students have shown no progress since the last NAEP exam.

In an effort to address this educational crisis, our government and private foundations have devoted money to various grant programs including the Math Science Partnership Grants, National Science Foundation Grants, Toshiba America Foundation Grants, America Honda Foundation Grants, Motorola Innovation Grants, and various Science Scholarships. Thanks to the Math Science Partnership program, school districts across the USA have offered its teachers professional development in the area of Math, Science, as well as Science Technology Engineering Mathematics (STEM). Similarly, other funding sources have given students the opportunity to use state of the art science equipment in a hands-on manner.

However, many of these grant programs have not fostered the paradigm shift needed to transform Science Education in a manner that will address the needs of the 21st Century Student. This is because many of these grant programs are limited in their mandate as they simply require that pedagogues take college level courses in the area of science. However, the grant programs do not require direct instruction with students. In fact, student after school programs are discouraged. Additionally, the audit of these grant programs amount to simple bean counting. Another words, the external evaluators will count how many teachers took 30 hours of course work. However, they will not assess the effectiveness of the given course work. Subsequently, it is no surprise that the elementary cohort of schools showed only modest progress on the most recent NAEP Science Exam.

With this in mind, I propose the following;

1. Require the infusion of technology in all science courses. This is essential as technology gives students access to; virtual labs, science experts via video conferencing, USB Science probes, authentic science data with a computer, real-time computer based models, and other innovative science practices.

2. Require that every science lesson have a hands on component during which the student will perform the science concept, demonstrate the science concept, or create a presentation on the scientific idea in their own words.

3. Provide veteran and new science teachers with the requisite training and resources needed to teach science in a hands-on manner. This initiative would require professional development that is carefully designed to address the knowledge gap that many science teachers have. Similarly, pre-service programs must address the knowledge gap as well.

4. Future Science Grants should directly target the middle and secondary schools. This in turn will ensure that limited funds are directed towards the student population that desperately needs sound science education.

5. Hold vendors and Higher Education Institutes accountable for the services they provide. All too often we direct accountability measures towards the pedagogues but turn a blind eye to the content providers mentioned above. This in turn has resulted in sub-standard professional development services from content providers. With this in mind, professional development offerings given by vendors and colleges should be observed and evaluated. The results of the evaluation should then be made public via the What Works Clearing House web site.

Final Thought- Naturally, it goes without saying that these ideas only scratch the surface of this very complicated issue. However, it is clear that our current practices must change. In short, we must reverse the trend in which a shrinking number of students enroll in science-based programs during their post secondary years. In a quest to address this perplexing issue we must be prepared to invest properly and welcome educational change.

Innovative Ideas That Make Sense for Those Hungry for Math Instruction

It is a mistake to suppose that requiring the nonmathematical
to take more advanced math courses will enhance their understanding
and not merely exacerbate their sense of inadequacy.
-- William Raspberry

I have a dream. A recurring dream and I don’t think I’m alone. In fact, I just had this dream AGAIN last night. My dream is that I am contacted by someone from my undergrad school who tells me that they discovered there was a mistake in their records and I didn’t actually pass algebra (sometimes this is geometry, but usually algebra) so I will need to go back to school for a semester and take the class or all my degrees will be canceled. I’m shocked to learn this but confirm it is true. So I enroll in the class and once there I struggle with the class and hate it as much as I did when I was actually in high school and college.

What does this mean? When will I ever use this?

That was my math mantra and to my frustration these questions were left unanswered by my instructors and met with rolled eyes from other students who wanted to move on because they had accepted that math had a god-like quality and was not meant to be questioned.

Recently, the PBS News Hour featured a series of YouTube math videos that cover everything from basic addition to calculus. In them, the narrator poses a problem, and walks through the steps to solve it. After just four years, these videos have attracted tens of thousands of students a day, and are used by schools and students around the world.

Yet as popular as the videos are, and, as powerful as they certainly have been for those having difficulty with a concept, it still doesn’t answer those two questions that resulted in my distaste for the subject.

What does this mean? When will I ever use this?

The classes are ideal for the student who has accepted math should not be questioned, but for a student like me where the real learning lies beyond the “how” and into the “why,” such videos are of little value without the answers. Academic studies and anecdotal evidence alike support a simple (and perhaps obvious) fact: students learn best when the instruction is meaningful and relevant. This is particularly true in mathematics where, starting in the middle grades, content becomes increasingly abstract. During my high school and math classes, while I was often the only one to actually speak up, I don’t think I was alone. In hindsight I probably had silent supporters in the shadows too embarrassed to share their frustration.

To take this to a real-world example let’s take the algebraic concept of “slope” which is defined as “rise over run,” “∆y over ∆x,” or “y2 – y1 over x2 – x1.”


What does any of this mean to me? Does any of this make sense? Isn’t this just another procedure/algorithm to memorize? And, “Why should I care?”

My answer to the equation: Nothing; No/Yes; I don’t.

While the aforementioned videos are a valuable tool for differentiating instruction, for me reformatting traditional content for YouTube and the iPhone helps students learn the algorithm better, but the fundamental questions are left unanswered and my annoying mantra still exists.

What does this mean? When will I use it?

These are not just good questions, but critical ones. Like many students, I was led to believe Algebra was an isolated subjected created for the sole purpose of teaching critical and higher order thinking skills out of context. But the reality of what math actually is, that they never taught me in class is that math is:

1) A set of logical tools that we [humans] created to
2) Explore the world around us.

Math skills such as slope were not, as many students might assume, codified in the Big Bang. Divide thy riseth by thy runeth was not the Eleventh Commandment. Instead, at some point in our human development we had a question, we needed a tool, and this is what we came up with. To illustrate this point, here’s another real-world example.

Question: what are percents, and why did we invent them?
Answer: because they allow us to compare things that are otherwise difficult to compare.

In one store, we save $4 for every $10 that you spend. In another, we save $9 for every $25. Where should you shop?

There are any number of ways to approach this. One method would be to compare how much we’d save if we spent the same amount: we could spend $50 in both stores, and save either $20 or $18, respectively.

But what if the numbers weren’t so clean? What if, instead of $10 and $25, the amounts were $12 and $25? Here, the “multiples” approach is a bit more cumbersome, yet the underlying question remains: Where should we shop?

At some point in our history, mankind faced a situation like this and said, Lets just pick some number and compare everything to that. For whatever reason, we picked 100. So now instead of finding a common multiple, we simply ask, How much would we save if we spent $100 at each store.

So when could we use this?

According to the Wheel of Fortune wheel, bankrupt should come up once out of every 24 spins. If in an actual episode it comes up three times in 60 spins, can we conclude that the show is rigged? For every 100 spins…

Babe Ruth got 2,873 hits in 8,398 at-bats, while Ty Cobb got 4,189 hits in 11,434 at-bats. Who did better? For every 100 at-bats…

That’s the logic of the percent. It’s not magic. It’s not ordained. It’s simply a useful tool.

What about slope? A traditional source might ask us to calculate the slope between (16 , 629) & (32 , 729). But if a student is only taught the procedure, what does he actually know, and how long will he remember it?

But what if we instead approached the problem as:
The 16GB iPad costs $629. The 32GB costs $729. How much is each additional gigabyte of hard drive space?

With this simple question, a student might reason:
  • Slope
    If an additional 16GB costs an additional $100, then Apple is charging $6.25/GB.
  • Y-Intercept
    If Apple charges $6.25/GB, then 32GB would cost $200.
    But since the actual cost of the 32GB iPad is $729, the base-cost must be $529.
  • Equation
    The cost, C = 529 + 6.25g
  • Evaluation
    Based on the equation, the 64GB model should cost 529 + 6.25(64), or $929, but it actually costs $829.
    Therefore, iPad pricing isn’t linear.

Of course, this emphasis on context does not mean that math classes should revolve entirely around real-world problems such as Wheel of Fortune, batting averages and the iPad. At its extreme, this would be just as limiting as rote-procedure, albeit in the opposite direction.

Instead, effective math instruction involves a three-step process:

1) contextualize a problem to explore a skill ($/gig)
2) generalize the skill (change in y due when x increases by 1)
3) apply the skill to a wide-range of real-world topics (effect of music tempo on running time, marginal benefit of another piece of Halloween candy).

Unfortunately, teaching too often addresses only the second step. It’s understandable, then, why so many students construe mathematics as an arbitrary collection of meaningless steps; why so many ask why they have to learn it; and why so many absolutely hate it.

Fine. This all sounds good. But don’t teachers already feel overwhelmed by the demands of teaching? Won’t this approach take three times as long? Doesn’t the author get that I have to cover this material before the end-of-year test?

These are legitimate questions. Fortunately, addressing the meaning behind and applications of mathematics has a strange effect: it actually saves time, and allows teachers to cover more material in more depth, and with better results.

The earlier question about saving money at a store? In the “spend $50” approach, we implicitly addressed months of instruction: common multiples; the lowest common multiple; equivalent fractions; simplifying fractions; and ratios & proportions. We then extended this to percents with the “out of 100” step, and could have easily included decimals by asking, How much do we save for every one dollar that we spend?

Likewise, the iPad example addressed most of the topics surrounding linear functions. Yet were any of the steps arbitrary? Was there any place where students would have asked, What does this mean?, or When will I use this?

Of course, this is not to say that rote practice does not have its place in math education. But for students like me, the practice comes after the fundamental questions are answered. The practice is not a substitute for learning procedure or a replacement for understanding. But, practice, after-school tutoring programs and drills-based YouTube videos play a more effective role after, “What does this mean? When will I use it?”has been answered.

In the end, true innovation and lasting progress in math education will come not by repackaging or rebranding methodologies, but by emphasizing meaningful and intentional instruction. And this requires math teach-ers, not simply math do-ers. Once a context is set for the videos in the Frontline special their on-demand nature has a more valuable place.

At its heart math is simple. We would do well to pull back the curtain and remember that.

Math is a tool. It’s a tool that we created—that we continue to create—to make sense of the world. And in our efforts to guide students through math, we can’t ignore the world. We can’t ignore the sense. To do so is to ignore mathematics itself.

I imagine some math teachers, many who grew up just accepting the idea that it was okay to teach math without answering these questions, may agree with this philosophy but feel it would be unrealistic to expect them to be able to answer these questions for all math concepts. Furthermore, they already have a curriculum to follow, standards to meet, and a textbook they use. How could one begin to teach this way???

There is help in a site featured in the New York Times’ Freakonomics blog this month in a post called, “Making Math More Appetizing” The blog explains the site as follows: Mathalicious provides free math lessons, including supporting materials, for teachers and parents. The organization hopes to “transform the way math is taught and learned by focusing not only on skills but on the real-world applications of math, from sports to politics to video games to exercise.” So far, they’ve used the Pythagorean Theorem to determine how big a 42-inch TV really is; used percentages to examine environmental issues; and asked whether music can kill you.

The site is broken down in two ways:


Middle School Math
Algebra II


Fractions, Decimals, Percents
Functions & Equations
Graphing & Plotting
Number Sense & Operations
Probability & Statistics
Ratios & Proportions
Shapes & Measurement

The lessons are written in an ease-to-use, teacher-friendly format which makes sense since the site founder was a public school math teacher and later a math coach who worked with teachers to improve instruction by teaching for conceptual understanding and relevance. This site helps provide the answer for students like me who were hungry for the answer to the questions “What does this mean? When will I use it?” before being able to consume an out-of-context lesson. With a foundation like this, kids may find they no longer need tutors, and the question of "when will I use this?" will be a thing of the past.

This post was written jointly by Lisa Nielsen, The Innovative Educator and Karim Kai Logue, the founder and CEO of Mathalicious, which creates meaningful and real-world math content for parents, students and teachers.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

A Cheap and Easy Student Response System for Students with Access to Computers

Student response systems are a powerful 21st century tool that really provides educators with an insight into the minds of their students in ways never before possible with such ease and efficiency. Readers of this blog and those who've been to presentations or classes I teach are familiar with my favorite system Poll Everywhere. What I love about the site is that it lets you create and administer polls via cell phone texting so there is no additionally technology required. However, in cases where all students/participants have access to computers, QuickieQ might be a better option.

QuickieQ ( offers a polling and assessment system that was built by a teacher for a teachers and has many features that educators might want. First off, QuickieQ seems to offer a wider variety of question types than Poll Everywhere, such as multiple choice, true/false, yes/no, short answer, fill in the blank, essay, ranking, sorting, “check all that apply” with an optional “other” text field, and numerical. QuickieQ also has a confidence indicator that allows the responder to designate how confident they are in their answer. This would make for some great classroom discussions and really allow educators to get a virtual peak into the minds of their students.

QuickieQ allows you to assign point vales to each of the questions and will autoscore multiple choice, yes/no, true/false, short answer, fill in the blank, and numerical questions. The instructor can manual score all question types. Scores can be reported to the responder automatically at the end of a question set. According to the QuickieQ creator a soon-to-be-released update will allow the instructor to email results with comments to the responders.

Another highlight of QuickieQ is its ability to be used without a pre-made question list. With QuickieQ you can create questions easily and quickly during a live session. This would come in handy during a classroom discussion, where the conversation and students may dictate the questions being asked. When using question lists, the instructor can designate the pace that the questions are asked. For example, one teacher I heard of uses QuickieQ in an AP English class, asking one question at a time and stopping to discuss the responses after each question is asked.

Other educator friendly features of QuickieQ include: no student accounts to manage, question list sharing, simple URLs to share with responders, iPod Touch/iPhone formatting, and that it seems easy to learn and simple to operate. QuickieQ has a special, low-cost price for educators and runs $21 per teacher per year for a 35-responder license. QuickieQ is web-only at this time, so there is no SMS option.

At the low cost of $21 per year this is an effective an affordable option for classes where students have one to one access to laptops at home or school. In cases where students don't have access to computers, Polleverywhere or student response systems are a better option.

If QuickieQ seems right for you, watch this video to learn how to get started.

Friday, February 26, 2010

What Might a 21st Century Literacy Class Look Like? This!

As an innovative educator I often write about fantastic tools that teachers can incorporate into practice. But, what might a 21st century high school literacy class look like? Here is a glimpse into a class I would love to be in if I was a student today.


Sam is a eleventh grader, who has struggled with ELA courses in secondary school. He is accustomed to the cycle of failure after years of low and barely passing grades in elementary school and repeating eighth grade before being allowed to continue on to high school. Although eager to learn and eventually finish high school, Sam has already failed two quarters of English. He is frustrated by the continuing cycle. He often finds himself bored and unmotivated in school which he thinks might have something to do with his less than stellar performance and motivation. He has friends that feel the same way and they notice there are other students in their classes that seem to have stronger educational drive and performance. He's just not one of them.

An alert English teacher took notice of Sam and recommended that he participate in a unique class of students with similar academic needs. He was given a chance to participate in an online credit recovery program to make up the credits lost by failing the two quarters of English. The Credit Recovery Program is an internet based curriculum for high school students. Students work individually and at their own pace using laptops. Each course is organized into units based on each of the 7 standards. Each unit has lessons composed of several different activities. The units and lessons are structured to address varying learning styles and so include audio, video, animations, interactive segments as well as traditional text. Participating students have a teacher/mentor (NYC DOE teacher?) who has been specifically trained in online instruction and can focus on individualizing instruction for each student. Students receive timely feedback on assessments. Sam knows that he must complete all activities and receive a grade of 70 or better in order to move on to the next lesson or unit.

In New York City there are seven English Language Arts performance standards that high school students must meet. They are: E1) Reading E2) Writing E3) Listening, Speaking, Viewing E4) Conventions, Grammar, and Usage of the English Language E5) Literature E6) Public documents E7) Functional Documents. In our online learning credit recovery model students must demonstrate achieving mastery in each area. One area that Sam failed in 9th grade English Language Arts was ELA Standard E1b: Read and comprehend at least four books on the same subject, or by the same author, or in the same genre. In this case study we will take a look at how Sam was able to demonstrate mastery in the 21st century classroom.

The Learning Journey

Sam reports to school at the beginning of the school day and picks up his laptop from the OLC (Online Learning Cafe). Although all 25 students taking a variety of classes report there, they can use their laptops in any of the school's various study spaces connecting to the internet through high speed wireless connectivity.

Sam logs on to his laptop where he has his online bookshelf filled with a variety of texts including contemporary literature (both fiction and non fiction), magazines, newspapers, textbooks, and more. These books were part of the previous unit he completed that addressed Standard E1A. As Sam logs on he thinks, “Wow, if reading was like this before, I probably wouldn’t be taking this class.” Sam’s bookshelf is made possible through a variety of partnerships with entities such as the Public Library, NetTrekker, Book Glutton, LuLu, Blurb, Blogger, and Google Books. Here Sam has a collection of every book he has read since entering the school and all those he plans to read.

Sam is actually excited about demonstrating mastery in this area because as he clicked on the standard in this module his animated teaching assistant explained that this standard is intended to encourage students to invest themselves thoroughly in an area that interests them. He learned that such an investment will generate reading from an array of resources, giving him more experience of reading as well as increased understanding of a subject.

Huh, he thought to himself. I had no idea that this is what we were supposed to be doing when I failed this in ninth grade. The teacher just showed us bins of raggedity old books and magazines and told us to pick one we liked. I didn't like any of em and was left with a bunch of books about Ronald Reagan.

Sam was excited to dive into this work and have a chance to read about things that interest him, but what would he choose??? Sam clicked on the interest survey which he was excited to take. The system has his profile for reading level, grade, gender, and first language, and produced a series of questions. Based on the interest survey, he decided he wanted to do deep reading about curling. He came to this conclusion because his interest profile suggested he select something in the area of sports...perhaps something in which he participates or watches. Following the Winter Olympics he and his dad had become fascinated with the topic and in fact even signed up for a curling league. He thought this would be a great way to find some reading that maybe he and his dad could do together.

When he entered the virtual reading room and typed the topic into the system he instantly got hits based on his profile: reading level, native language, grade, and gender, from all the partner sites along with options of how mastery could be demonstrated. Of the various choices Sam would have to pick four different readings in which to demonstrate such mastery to meet the standard.

Sam selected the following:

Sam realized that he only needed to select four sources, but that didn’t matter. He was really interested in reading all five. Maybe more. He wasn't sure if this was okay though, so he looked to see which of the ELA facilitators was online. He saw Ms. Michelle was online and sent her an IM asking if he could choose five rather than four selections. "Sure!" Ms. Michelle replied with a smile emoticon. You can always choose a bit more and then just select your top four picks to be assessed. That is a smart strategy."

Sam wondered if perhaps he could interest any of the other ELA students around the country to study this topic too. He posted the question on the system message board and hoped someone else might be interested in this topic too as it would be fun to collaborate. He also jumped over to his Twitter account and sent out a tweet: If you're interested in curling, DM me. I have some great materials to read. Sam instantly got five responses to his tweet. He was excited to start building a personal learning network around curling.

Sam was excited to start by taking a look at Sweep Magazine. The digital format was fantastic. Sam immediately thought his dad, who’s in the over-40 crowd, would love that he could zoom in on any text or photos in the magazine. Sam also appreciated being able to select the “Listen” option not only because it was helpful for certain difficult-to-read sections of the magazine, but also because he thought it would be interesting to learn about curling as he was getting ready in the morning for school. Even though he couldn't take the laptop home, he realized he could still listen to it because the magazine had an accompanying podcast he could listen to on his personal iPod. Sam DMed those who tweeted him with a link to the magazine.

All materials have "suggested proof of mastery" which include a student activity as well as a reflection which is what his online teachers reviews and assesses him on using the unit rubric. Students can submit alternate activities for approval and any of the class facilitators in that content area may approve. For Sweep Magazine Sam decided to engage in selecting three articles to share with some friends who might enjoy by posting a link on with an accompanying status update on Facebook. Sam was excited because he knew this would help build his curling-focused personal learning network even more. The post had to indicate something about the article and why he thought those tagged would find it of interest. Sam also had to make at least three comments in response to his friends in each update. These conversations were pasted into Sam's reflection that is shared with the teacher and make up a part of the reflection assessment. The online facilitators read each reflection with the authentic writing samples and provide feedback as well as a grade to students. In many cases this might include tips, tutorials, or one-on-one sessions with the online facilitator to strengthen a particular skill. Students that do not pass are required to engage in the scaffolding activities and resubmit their work. Students that do pass also have the option of engaging in the scaffolding activities and resubmitting their work for a higher grade but this is optional.

Note: As part of the high school curriculum all students learn how to create a responsible digital footprint and Twitter and Facebook are a part of this. In some cases students have set up both a separate personal and student profile. In other cases students have chosen to have one profile only. Sam fell in the later category.

Before the end of the class someone responded to Sam's message on the system bulletin board. Another student said he was interested in reading about curling too. Sam messaged him back with a note expressing his excitement and a link to his bookshelf. Next, Sam shared his bookshelf and assignment selections with his adviser who he was looking forward to connecting with tomorrow during their weekly online Elluminate webinar session.

Here are the other activities Sam engaged in during the semester.

Sam subscribed to the Skip Cottage Curling Blog: Sam selected to comment on at least three entries as part of his activity. Sam challenged his dad to do the same. They ended up in a virtual debate through their comments on the ethics of one of the players. The online conversations bleed into some interesting dinnertime chats and an interesting reflection for his teacher.

Sam borrowed The Curling for dummies book from the public library. His assessment option choice for this book was to write a review that would be submitted on as well as select at least three reviews from others on which he would rate and comment. Of course, this wasn’t as easy as it sounded because Sam kept finding that his Dad had taken the book to work. Eventually they both read the book and commented on one another’s work.

Sam started his dive into learning about curling with a Curling article from Wikipedia. His activity for this reading was to use something he found or learned from his curling study to add to the article. Sam started with the resource section and added in the blog he was reading. Sam also wrote about the ethics controversy of the player he had read about in the blog.

The final reading that Sam did on the topic was How to Get on a Curling Team from Book Glutton. Sam was excited to learn that this book had actually been published on Book Glutton from another student who had taken the course across the country. He wrote the book as part of the E2 Writing standard. In the back of Sam’s mind he was thinking about a book he might publish that could be interesting for other students to read. The activity selected for this book was that Sam had to make at least three comments in the book and reach out to another reader to set up a time to read a passage that he particularly liked together with that reader and discuss it on Book Glutton. Sam loved this activity. He contacted the author and his own father and the three of them had a Book Glutton online discussion on several different passages. Sam was online from school, his dad during his lunch break at the office, and the author from her gym which had wireless internet.

Sam’s goal was to finish two activities per quarter and figured the first four would be the ones for which he submitted his reflection assessment. Sam ended up finishing all five activities in the two quarters and submitted them all. He appreciated the feedback and insight from his online facilitator and hoped she didn’t mind the extra work he was giving her. He IMed her in the chat box to see if it was okay. She said, "Sam, I've been really impressed with your work and would love to read an additional submission."

At the completion of the unit Sam was thrilled. He had developed a terrific community of friends with who he could read, write, and converse about curling. He had started on his curling team and got many of his actual friends involved too. "Hmmm"...he thought. "I wonder when the summer Olympics will begin. I've always been interested in beach volleyball and now I know some smart ideas to get started."

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

100 Video Sites Educators Should Bookmark

Editor's Note: I recently shared A Collection of Classroom Videos to Use in Your Professional Development and More! This post courtesy of The Accredited Online Colleges blog is a perfect suppliment to the on-demand response I received from my PLN.

It doesn’t matter if you’re a veteran teacher or a newbie just now taking college courses — finding new ways to get students engaged in the classroom is always a great thing. One way many teachers are reaching out is with the multitude of material found on the web, allowing them to turn everyday lessons into a multimedia experience. You can find a great amount of helpful material on these sites, including videos to augment your lessons, lectures to inspire students, documentaries to show them how things work, and loads of additional videos to help you become a better, smarter teacher.
Educational Video Collections 
These sites are full of videos on a wealth of topics that can help grab your students’ attention.
  1. Teacher TubeOn this site, teachers can post their own educational videos and find videos made by others on virtually every topic out there.
  2. Edublogs.tvVisit this site to search through a great collection of educational content.
  3. EdutopiaSponsored by George Lucas, this site contains some great lesson plans as well as an assortment of lectures and inspiring videos.
  4. You Tube EduCheck out this site to get access to the great content offered by YouTube, but narrowed down to all but educational videos.
  5. EduTubeHere you’ll find educational videos on just about every topic you could imagine.
  6. Classroom ClipsIf you’re looking for teacher submitted and approved video and audio content for your courses, give this site a try.
  7. neoK12This site believes that kids learn better by seeing and doing, and offers a wide range of educational videos and games to help them do it.
  8. Scholar SpotDesigned with both students and teachers in mind, this site has lots of educational content including lectures, animated videos and inspiring news stories.
  9. OV GuideIf you still haven’t found the video you’re looking for, consider paying a visit to this site. It will help you search through hundreds of sites for the best educational content on the web.
  10. Cosmo LearningThis educational site offers videos that can work well for students from grade school as well as those geared towards high school or college students.
  11. Google Educational VideosHere you’ll find instructions on how to search through Google Videos and bring up only those that relate to education.
  12. LectrOn this site teachers and students alike can find free lectures from learning institutions around the world.
General Video Collections
These sites do offer some great educational content, but contain other types of videos as well.
  1. HuluHulu carries a lot of everyday, pure entertainment TV shows, but it also streams programs from PBS and National Geographic that can be great for classroom use.
  2. Internet ArchiveThis site compiles videos from all over the web, giving you access to archives, public domain movies and a whole lot more.
  3. TEDGet your students or even yourself inspired with the amazing lectures posted on this site.
  4. MIT WorldHear from some of the world’s foremost scholars in lectures provided by MIT.
  5. TVO Big IdeasOn this site you’ll be able to hear from some big names in business, politics and activism and get a look at how they feel about some of the bigger issues facing our world.
  6. Big ThinkCheck out this site from video programming that asks you to truly think about a topic. Not all videos may be appropriate for the classroom, but there are definitely a few that could spark some interesting conversation.
  7. The Open Video ProjectIf you want access to loads of public domain digital video, go through the archives collected on this high-tech library site.
  8. @Google TalksHear from experts in fields like history, technology and business in this impressive collection of lectures from Google.
  9. Forum NetworkThis PBS site is absolutely full of video lectures from authors, academics and thinkers, but you’ll also find some great free PBS programs on topics that are especially relevant to history, science and technological education.
  10. UChannelOn this site you’ll find video lectures from some of the most prestigious institutions around the world.
Teacher Education 
Check out these sites to find some videos that will help you learn more about the subjects you teach and the technology you use.
  1. Academic EarthVisit this site to see a wide range of lectures and courses from schools like Yale, Princeton and MIT, giving you the opportunity to learn more about your subject matter without spending a dime.
  2. Teacher Training VideosIf you need a little extra instruction on working with technology or students with ESL needs, check out the free content on this site.
  3. iMovie in Teacher EducationThis site will show you how you can use iMovie, and by extension videos and interactive experiences, more effectively in your classroom.
  4. Classroom 2.0 VideoThose who struggle with implementing technology in the classroom should check out the videos on this site. You’ll learn how to do a wide range of technological tasks and there are lesson-worthy videos on the site as well.
  5. Atomic LearningUse the videos on this site to find out how to harness the power for 21st century technological tools for more effective teaching. Most of the content comes at a cost, so you may want to try to talk your school district into sponsoring it.
  6. iTunesUTake some of the free courses and lectures on this site to brush up on your knowledge of your specialty subject matter or just about anything else.
  7. Videos for Personal DevelopmentCheck out this site for a listing of some truly great personal development videos that will help your general teaching skills as well as your technological knowledge.
  8. Learner.orgWhile you will find a great deal of video content that can be of use in the classroom, the real wealth of this site lies in the great personal development materials for teachers.
Lesson Planning 
These video sites offer some great content to add to your lesson plans, and many are geared towards students so they can use them at home as well.
  1. Teachers DomainCreate a free profile on this site and you will get access to hundreds of lessons with accompanying videos, photos and other media.
  2. Meet Me at the CornerThis site offers students educational programming, book clubs, podcasting lessons and even virtual field trips–all great additions to lessons.
  3. WatchKnowDesigned for younger students, this site is home to some great educational videos on everything from inspirational biographies to ESL help.
  4. BrainPOPWhile not all the content on this site is free, teachers can still find some great animated videos on a wide range of topics on this site for use in the classroom.
  5. Kids Know It NetworkThis site contains videos on topics like dinosaurs, biology, geography, history and math that are free to use and share.
  6. Khan AcademyThis not-for-profit organization wants people everywhere to have access to educational content, and on their site, you can find instructional videos on numerous topics.
  7. Awesome Stories VideoUse the videos on this site in all kinds of lessons. You’ll find content that ranges from discussing the lives of penguins in Antarctica to the role of African Americans in WWII.
  8. Nobel Prize LecturesWhy not augment a lecture about a famous face in history with a real clip of them giving a Nobel Prize lecture or a documentary about their life? You’ll find both here.
  9. John LockerChoose a subject like history, science or even sports on this site and you’ll get access to some amazing educational content.
  10. Teachers’ TVThis site is a goldmine for teachers, with videos posted by subject, grade level, popularity and with the added bonus of a special section for professional development as well.
Science, Math and Technology 
On these sites, the videos focus on the fields of science, math and technology.
  1. Green Energy TVTeach your students about the latest innovations in green technologies with free videos from this site.
  2. Research ChannelThe programming on this Internet TV site highlights some of the latest research being done in science, technology, medicine and even the humanities so you can educate yourself and your students on the next big things.
  3. BioInteractiveExplore biology with a little help from this site, offering videos and animations that can be a big help in teaching complex topics.
  4. ARKiveFor lessons about the natural world, this site is perfect. It contains a wide range of videos on the animal and plant life of Earth.
  5. Math TVIf your students are struggling to understand a mathematical concept, augment their lessons with some of the material found on this site.
  6. The Vega Science Trust VideosLet your students see potential science careers, discuss important issues and see inspirational figures in the field with videos found on this site.
  7. The Science NetworkSee interviews with big names in science that touch on important topics like stem cell research, evolution, neuroscience, genetics, learning and more on this site.
  8. Pop TechInspire your students with the videos found on this site, showing individuals who are using science, technology and plain old hard work to change the world.
  9. Channel NThis site is full of lectures and videos on the human brain and psychology.
  10. How Stuff Works VideosShow your students amazing and instructional videos through the content on this site.
  11. ScienceStageYou’ll find everything from videos of the Hubble Telescope to problems with human nutrition on this research-focused site.
  12. ExploratoriumCheck out the webcasts on this site to let your students hear from biologists, cosmologists, physicists and more.
  13. SciVeeGive your students a view into the real working world of science, with this site that allows scientists to post videos of their real-life research for students and other scientists to use.
  14. The Futures ChannelThis online channel is full of lessons and video clips on all types of math and science topics, from how to predict the weather to how to build stronger snowboards.
History, Arts and Social Sciences
Here you’ll find a great collection of videos to illustrate the past and help your students see the beauty of the arts.
  1. EASE HistoryWatch videos about historical events, campaign ads, and cultural values on this historical site.
  2. Kennedy Center ArchivesThrough this site you can show students performances from some of the most amazing musicians in the world.
  3. The Archaeology ChannelHelp your students to explore the history of mankind through the great free content offered here.
  4. Peoples ArchiveThis site collects the biographies of well-known people around the world told by the people who know it best–themselves.
  5. Steven Spielberg Film and Video ArchiveOn this site you’ll find an amazing collection of WWII-era footage of the horrors of the Holocaust.
  6. Culture CatchThis site will let you see some of the work being done by up-and-coming artists.
  7. Folk StreamsUse this site to show students documentaries about traditional and folk culture in America.
  8. Digital HistoryWith lesson plans and interactive online experiences for students, the videos found here are just the icing on the cake.
  9. History MattersThis site explores the primary historical documents central to understanding American history.
  10. Social Studies Video DictionaryYour students can look up vocabulary words in style with this video dictionary.
Video Tools 
If you want to share, upload or store your own videos, consider using one of these great online tools.
  1. Drop.ioYou can work with colleagues, parents or on your own in real time using this free online video and collaboration tool.
  2. DropShotsKeep your educational video collection private using this hosting site.
  3. ShwupStore and share all your educational media using this site.
  4. TonidoIf you’ve got your videos stored on your computer, this site will let you upload them to the web and play them in the classroom free of charge.
  5. StashSpaceCreate an account on this site and you’ll be able to store all kinds of video content.
  6. TrooviWith this site you can create an account to store all of your educational photos, videos and documents so you’re always prepared to teach.
  7. VidQue EduSearch through this site for other educational videos even if you’re not quite ready to post your own.
  8. SchoolTube.comThis site is a great social networking forum for students and teachers to share videos.
Network and Program Videos 
These video sites are maintained by TV networks, offering videos of their programming for teachers to use for free.
  1. PBS VideoWith this site you’ll be able to bring the great content from PBS right into your classroom for free.
  2. National Geographic VideoFrom nature to ancient cultures, you’ll find videos aplenty on this site.
  3. Nova Teachers Watch Video OnlineUsing this site you can show clips or whole programs from the television series Nova.
  4. Discovery EducationThe Discovery Channel has compiled the videos on this site just for teachers and students.
  5. C-SPAN Video LibraryStudents learning about government can see it in action through the videos here.
  6. iCueNBC News sponsors this site that offers great clips of important world events.
  7. History Channel Video GuideBring history to life through biographies and historical documentaries found here.
  8. Biography.comLet your students learn more about famous figures in history using the short clips from the Biography Channel found here.
  9. Educational Internet TVCheck out this site to find out about free educational channels from around the world that you can watch online for free.
  10. BBC LearningBBC Learning offers thousands of clips that have been pre-edited and selected to work well in the classroom.
Free Movies and Clips 
Visit these sites to get access to free documentaries, public domain films and short clips.
  1. Film Clips OnlineHere you’ll find short, and legal to use film clips that are perfect for the classroom.
  2. Free Documentaries.orgUse this site to find some free documentary films for the classroom.
  3. SnagFilmsThis site is home to a wide range of both free and pay film content.
  4. Top Documentary FilmsSearch through the documentaries on this site to find something perfect for the lessons you’re creating.
  5. Movies Found OnlineCheck out the search tool on this site to find whole public domain films online.
  6. ABC DocumentariesThis site offers free documentaries from an Australian television station, including many shorter TV programs that can work well in school.
If you’ve got no clue how to use a technology or want to see how things work in video form, these tutorial-filled sites should be your first stop.
  1. 5 MinGot five minutes? Then you have enough time to watch one of these great instructional videos.
  2. Wonder How ToNo matter what you’re trying to accomplish around the classroom, this site likely has a video to help you do it.
  3. InstructablesLearn how to make some great crafts that can accompany your lessons, play new games, or just figure out how to do something you’ve always wanted to do through this site.
  4. HowcastIf you want to know how to do something, this site is a great place to start looking for instruction.
  5. MindBitesYou can not only find great videos on this site, but you may even be able to earn a little extra when others use videos you post.
  6. W3 SchoolsWant to create a class website but don’t even know where to begin? This site offers some excellent tutorials on all the programming languages and tech expertise you’ll need.
Government and Organizations 
Go through these sites to get great videos and footage from the past and present of American history.
  1. The National ArchivesThrough this site you’ll get access to multimedia records that are held in the U.S. National Archives — a perfect addition to any history lesson.
  2. National Science Foundation Multimedia:Here, the NSF provides educators and interested learners with videos of nature, interviews, animations and a whole lot more.
  3. NASA e-ClipsUse these short clips as a way of showing students about our world and the universe that lies beyond.
  4. NASA TVFrom live footage of space shuttles and space stations to programming geared towards use in the classroom, this NASA site is an invaluable resource for teachers looking to add to lessons about space travel.
  5. Library of Congress Teacher ResourcesThis site helps bring together some of the best material offered by the Library of Congress for use in a range of lesson plans on American History.
  6. American Memory Motion PicturesIf you prefer to look through the material on your own, this site will let you search through the multimedia material held by the Library of Congress.

The Three Important Lessons Banning Cell Phones Teaches Kids

In his post “I lost something very important to me” Will Richardson shares three important lessons that banning cells teaches kids. They are:
1-It teaches them that they don’t deserve to be empowered with technology the same way adults are.
2-Tools that adults use all the time in their everyday lives to communicate are not relevant to their own communication needs.
3-They can’t be trusted (or taught, for that matter) to use phones appropriately in school.
I recently had a cell phone enriched lesson plan shared with me (stay tuned, will be posted shortly) by a secondary teacher who is empowering students to harness the power of cell phones in their learning. And guess what happened when he did? They came up with their own list of appropriate use.

Monday, February 22, 2010

When School Gets in the Way of Learning....Drop Out!

"If we teach today’s students as we taught yesterday’s, we rob them of tomorrow."
- John Dewey

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Elmo is so Happy to See You; An Exploration of Literacy in the Toddler World


Lala Lala. Lala Lala. Elmo’s World. Lala Lala. Lala Lala. Elmo’s World. Elmo loves his goldfish, his crayons too. That’s Elmo’s World!

Hi! This is Elmo’s World. Elmo is so happy to see you…

For parents with young ones this dialogue is very familiar. Many parents might find his high-pitched voice grating. However, you have to admit, the kids love it. In fact Elmo’s World is so well received it practically saved the Sesame Street franchise from extinction. Subsequently, every Sesame Street episode airs a minimum of 18 minutes of Elmo content. Elmo also appears in a number of additional skits throughout the hour-long program. With this in mind, why do our children relate to Elmo so well? Is it his fur? Is it his singing? Is it Mr. Noodle’s silly antics?

More importantly, is Elmo good for your child? Fortunately, Elmo’s World is based on tons of research. The show always starts with his song and salutations. Elmo then introduces the topic that will be discussed and shows a quick video montage of the concept. He then proceeds to ask Mr. Noodles or one of the Noodle siblings for assistance followed by asking children to elaborate on the concept. The topic idea is then reinforced through cartoon shorts and other types of media. Young kids love the Elmo’s singing and use of exaggeration to demonstrate a point. They also love the fact that the show is routine oriented, which makes it easier for learning to take place.

So… can Elmo really help my child? I think this largely depends on your child’s learning style. After all, literacy is a funny thing. Some children are born, start speaking, and never stop. Some children are slightly delayed and some children are well… developmentally delayed. Many of us wonder why does one child start copying the words around him/her and the other one does not? Many educators, psychologists, neurologists, and other so-called experts have postulated a number of causes for this calamity. And so it is. We diagnose the child and try to rule out the more severe problems such as hearing, severe neurological disorders, and so on.

While the diagnostic is an important starting point, it is in fact… just a starting point. Ultimately we must inspire children to get excited about language. How does that work? In short, the text must have meaning; the text must matter. In the great tradition of Froebel and Montessori Elmo’s use of visuals and cute songs can help bring meaning to words, concepts, and language. Like all media materials, it is important that the parent/educator takes the time to review the materials, watch how their child responds to the stimulus, and conduct the follow up activities at a later time.

For example, if a parent were using the potty segment, he/she might want to discuss that word and associated words prior to the video viewing. After the video viewing, the parent might want to ask some related questions, take the child to the potty, or read a book related to the subject matter. The same holds true with Dora the Explorer. Dora’s show is also research based, teaches problem solving, is great for ELL students, follows a sequential pattern, and takes many opportunities to reinforce the lesson of the day. However, in the end the parent/educator/caregiver has to determine if this program helps bring meaning to the text and must conduct the appropriate pre and follow up activities. Luckily Elmo’s web site has loads of resources. The following is a list;

Elmo Brushes His Teeth

100th Day of School (free e-book)

Parent Tips for Potty Training

Healthy Eating

I hope this has been helpful and now its time to sing Elmo’s song.