Archive for November, 2010

I am currently working with a few teachers to put together a class that will use graphic novels to teach reading and writing. The component of the class that I am really excited about is having the students create their own stories using the online app GoAnimate.

Honestly, the whole class is exciting. The class is going to be designed for students who are struggling readers. We are trying to find a means of getting these students engaged in reading rather than just sitting there staring at the pages, and graphic novels seem like they might work. Of course, the reading of the novels provide ample opportunities for reading instruction. I was surprised, when looking through several graphic novels, at the depth of vocabulary many of the books provided. They also had super story lines.

As the students are reading, they will also be required to come up with their own stories and present them using GoAnimate. I have had students use this app in the past, and I am always blown away with what students produce. Creating stories in a cartoon format using this app requires a lot of higher thinking, much more than most would imagine. So, not only are students learning to write, they have to think of how to use their writing. It gives a real purpose for their writing.

Like I said, this is a work in progress. If you have any ideas or examples of where graphic novels and comics have been used to teach reading and writing, leave a note in the comments. I would appreciate seeing what others are doing.


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I have been working with several math teachers to try and integrate some real world math applications into the classroom. We are still working on different ideas, but here is a cool lesson that we came up with last week where students used cell phones to learn how to measure the slope of a line.

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Having students enter a writing contest is a great way to get them engaged in writing. The pessimist is going to ask, “What standards does that meet?” I don’t recall any of the standards that focus on writing contests. However, most, if not all, of the writing standards will be covered in the writing project that leads up to submitting work for a contest.

Students want to produce a meaningful product. Knowing that their work will be submitted with the chance of being published and winning prizes definitely boosts the engagement level. With this kind of project, there is a real purpose for their writing. Students are writing to an audience of more than one.

Here is a list of sites to help you get started in planning this kind of project for the classroom.

1. Creative Writing Contests by – This site has a good list of current writing contests and is updated regularly.

2. Freelance – Many of the contests on this list have an entry fee, but there are some free contests.

3. Poetic Power – These contests are more for the poetic inclined, but there are also some essay opportunities.

4. Stage of Life – Cool site with a monthly contest on varying themes that pertain to teen life.

5. Teen Ink – A large list of monthly contests. One of the current projects is to write interview questions and interview a person. The prize is an interview with a famous person. Pretty cool!

To find more cool writing contests for students, look at the following google searches:

writing contest , student writing contest , teen writing contest , free writing contest


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Yesterday, a teacher emailed me a link to the plans that he left for the substitute while he was gone. We have been talking about the concept for awhile, but now that I have actually seen them, my mind is spinning. These are so cool, and I think they have a ton of potential. Take a look at Mr. Howe’s work:

The cool thing about a sub plan like this is that the students time in class for the day was not wasted. Believe me, I am not taking a stab at substitutes here. They have a hard job, walking into a classroom and trying to teach a class that they most likely don’t know a whole lot about. Then there are the classroom management challenges. On top of this, the teachers rarely leave good plans. All of this combined makes for a very unproductive class period. With a plan like the one above, there is some structure that will get students engaged in a lesson.

I have done some rough math and found that approximately 10% of class time through the course of the year is spent with subs. This is a lot of wasted instruction time.

One question that has come up is, “How do teachers make the plans if they get sick in the morning and can’t make it to school?”  To remedy this, teachers need to make, well in advance, several “timeless” video lessons that will fit into any class at any point in the school year. Then, when the teacher is sick, they come in, prepare the room, write a note or two for the sub, and they are done. This is a whole lot easier than going in and writing out a detailed plan (which makes a sick teacher feel even sicker).

If there is anyone who has ever tried this, I would love to hear from you.

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I was thinking this morning about all of the TED talks that I have watched, and thought I would share a few that have had a big impact on the way I think about education. If you haven’t seen a TED talk, or don’t even know what they are, you need to watch a few. I am yet to watch one and feel that my time was wasted.

Here’s the list of a few that have changed the way I think:

1. Do Schools Kill Creativity by Sir Ken Robinson.

2. The Word Needs All Kinds Of Minds by Temple Grandin.

3. Can Kids Teach Themselves by Sugata Mitra.

4. How Youtube Is Driving Innovation by Chris Anderson.

5. Build A Tower, Build A Team by Tom Wujec.

I’ll be honest. As I started looking through the TED talks to write this post, I found several more that I really liked. Actually, I like all of them, so I guess this list serves as starting point. If you have watched any good TED talks, leave a URL in the comments.

Here’s one more that I really like:




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As educators, we are used to the busy rush. It is often a multi-tasking fiasco. Sometimes a teacher has so much going on, that it is hard to remember exactly what the end goal is. Is it writing up perfect lesson plans, grading papers, going to meeting, or entering endless strings of data? All of these might be important (I emphasize “might”), but we need to remember that helping others learn is what this whole process is about, and unless a person takes some time to learn themselves, leading others to knowledge is a hard task.

Time is an elusive entity. In the education world it is often nothing more than a legend, something that is remembered from times past and talked about in hushed and revered tones. Not many remember what having “free time” even means. Just think about having an extra hour in the day to read that novel that sits on the kitchen counter collecting dust!

A lack of time is one of the downfalls of education. In the rush to cram more and more information into the minds of students, educators are consumed by the demand to work more and time to pursue personal interests and personal inquiry is pushed to the side.

This is not good.

Educators need time to become energized through the discovery of new knowledge. Then, and only then, will they be truly effective in their jobs.

I am convinced that when a teacher is actively engaged in learning alongside students, the students will also become excited in what they are learning.

How do we do this? We carve out time. We get rid of some of the “airy” duties that we often do (I mentioned something about endless grading and data entry earlier) and start learning, and then we start sharing. This cycle of learning and sharing will build momentum and supercharge our school systems. Students will be excited to learn because they see that their teachers are excited.

Okay, I’ve done my venting for today.




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I remember video by Intel

Okay, so this is an advertisement for Intel, but I like the message. Things are a changin’ and they are changin’ quick. If we don’t jump on the bus it is going to leave us and our students behind!

This video was made in 2008. Listen carefully and see how things have changed even since the video was made!



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