Category Archives: In the Classroom

Give Your Students an Edge on Standardized Tests

by Tom Klonoski

illustration of pencil filling in bubble-style test answer sheet

Image courtesy of Becris at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Like it or not, standardized test scores are the primary way of measuring U.S. school performance. With much at stake for both teachers and students, teachers should try to give the kids in their classrooms every possible advantage to help them succeed on the tests.

Most districts gear their curricula toward skills related to the content of tests. In addition to covering content, teachers can give students an edge by including a unit on test-taking strategies, preferably close to the month of the test. Here are some key strategies to give your students a boost.

Before the Test

Get familiar with the test form and question types.

Try to find a practice test on the website of the test publisher. Administer it to your class under a time control. This will help students become familiar with both the structure of the test and a timed format. Afterwards, discuss the test, focusing on any directions the students found confusing. If the publisher does not provide a practice test, use a search engine to see if anyone else has created one. The goal is to get students familiar with question types and how to answer them.

Encourage students to arrive at school on testing day feeling rested and energetic

A healthy mind and body is essential for good test performance. Tell students to get plenty of rest the night before a test. Also encourage them to eat a good breakfast. Tell them to make time for breakfast at school if they aren’t able to get a complete one at home.

Get your students in a good frame of mind immediately before the test.

One of the biggest issues on testing day is nervousness that affects performance. In the days before the test, lead your class in breathing exercises focused on relaxation. Long, deep breaths are the key. When students have become comfortable with this routine, they will be able to use it to their advantage just before the test and even during it. On testing day, make sure you allow time for a bathroom break in the half hour before the test. Just before passing out the test, lead the class in unison to say, “We got this,” or any other statement of affirmation that you think appropriate.

During the Test

 Work with your students on these during-test strategies in the weeks leading up to the test.

Read the directions carefully

Following directions is especially important on writing tests. Often a student will begin writing about a prompt and become involved with the flow and organization of the writing. This can result in the writer’s focus wandering away from the topic of the prompt and focusing on the wrong content. Encourage students to create a plan before they start writing. The plan can consist of either a basic outline or graphic organizer. The content of the plan should consist of key points and support. Underlining key words and phrases in the prompt may help them with this task.

Review the answer sheet during and after the test

If the test involves filling in ovals on a test form, students must be careful not to accidentally skip questions and fill in ovals in the wrong rows. Get them in the habit of checking their answer sheet every five questions to make sure they are on the right row. For example, they would check after question 5, after question 10, and so on. They can also check the clock at those times to make sure they are working at an appropriate pace.

Don’t get bogged down on difficult questions

Every test contains items that take longer to complete than other items. Tell students that if they are having trouble with an item, they should just skip it and come back to it at the end of the test. Emphasize that if they do skip an item, they must also skip the corresponding row on their answer sheet. Remind students that even partial answers can receive points on short-response or extended-response items.

One additional advantage of all of these strategies is that mastering them will give students confidence about the test, which can also contribute to an improved performance. Finally, help students to keep a good perspective about the test. They should be satisfied with trying their best; if things don’t turn out well, there will be other opportunities down the road.

The Presidency (pre-election) ebook now available!

The History of The Presidency

A limited edition ebook for today’s tech-savvy student

ap-preelection-presidency-cover-092116Contemporary classrooms ought to represent contemporary students—students born of the New Media Age. In the past, students learned dense subjects like science, history, and math from standard textbooks. Today, publishers are creating interactive, educational resources that compliment traditional textbooks and grab students’ interest to encourage learning.

Together the Associated Press and Green Light Learning Tools have created The Presidency (pre-election), a multimedia overview of the U.S. presidency, that does just that—connects students to the content to encourage learning. In an innovative approach to marrying news coverage and curriculum, students can not only read about the executive branch and presidents but also directly hear the words and see video of the presidents as they learn about them. The Presidency (pre-election) features award-winning photos and video culled from AP’s rich historical archive, and it pairs them with clear, succinct, age-level appropriate explanations.

Students have information available at the touch of their fingertips—literally! With the swipe of a finger students can access videos, presidential debates, interactive timelines of the U.S. presidency, quizzes, and slideshows.

The ebook is primarily for students in grades 4–8, but is a valuable resource for anyone interested in the presidency. It also includes a glossary of academic terms and their definitions and three chapters—The Executive Branch, Electing a President, and Election 2016.

The Presidency (pre-election) is available for download on iTunes for $5.99, and is compatible with Android devices, the iPad 2 or later, and the iPad Mini.

Coming Soon!

ap-postelection-presidency-cover-092116Stay connected with Green Light Learning Tools via Twitter and/or Facebook for news about the release of The Presidency (post-election), an updated edition that includes the outcome of the 2016 election as well as the new president’s inauguration speech.

 

Bring Presidential Debate into the Classroom

by Elizabeth Liberatore

A presidential debate is like a job interview. It is the final opportunity for a candidate to distinguish him or herself from the competition to earn the majority of votes. After two fiery debates, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump have one more showdown before the public heads to the polls and the Electoral College fills the position of president.

Presidential debates are significant in both the political landscape and classroom. As a learning tool, presidential debates aid in comprehension about the American government and democracy. Additionally, classroom debates enhance students’ critical thinking and public speaking.

With the debates between Trump and Clinton in full swing, there is no better time than the present to teach students about the debates and host debates in the classroom. Here are some ways to put past and present debates at the forefront of a lesson:

Political ethnographers

Designate different sections of a debate to small groups. The groups should be silent ethnographers, and take detailed notes on the content of the each candidate’s answers and the style of his or her performance. What is his or her tone of voice? What mannerisms are present? Does either candidate’s inflection change during the debate? Does this signify anything? Students should also identify the main idea of the argument and fact-check the information presented to ensure that it is sound. After students have completed their research, ask them to present their findings to the class.

Reference past debates

Watch the Debates is an archive of every presidential debate since 1960. The site allows students to easily navigate through more than five decades of election issues. Microsoft Pulse, an audience response tool, allows students to agree or disagree with the candidates’ responses and lets students compare their responses to those of other viewers. Watch The Debates is ideal for social studies teachers as it allows students to not only evaluate presidential debates but also understand the nation’s most serious issues. Students can use this site in conjunction with Google Newspapers to compare and contrast past election issues that dominated the headlines.

Create a classroom Twitter account

The first Trump-Clinton presidential debate was the most streamed debate ever. Twitter and Facebook’s live video feature allows audiences worldwide to watch the debates on their computers, tablets, and smartphones. The feature also allows viewers to participate in live conversation. In preparation for the final debate on Oct. 19, create a classroom Twitter account or Facebook page where students can interact with one another during the debate. Students should evaluate candidates’ answers, pose questions to their peers, and compare and contrast the first two debates to the third. Do the debates reveal what each candidate stands for? Are candidates being consistent? Are the candidates’ responses thoughtful? Were any of the candidates’ responses surprising?

Classroom debates

Another fantastic resource that both social studies and English teachers can benefit from is Join the Debates. Join the Debates gives teachers curriculum for free so that their students can have civil conversations in the classroom about the issues in the campaign cycle. Classroom debates enable students to become engaged listeners, collaborators, expand their vocabulary with domain-specific words, practice the art of persuasion, and become more proficient in public speech. Students learn all of this while also learning how important presidential debates or ‘interviews’ are in every election.

 

A Brief History of the Evolution of the Presidential Debate

by Tom Klonoski

The debates between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump occur at a critical time during the 2016 presidential campaign. With opinion polls showing a close race, the debates have the potential to swing the race in the favor of a single candidate.

Debates have not always been important factors in presidential general elections. They became significant only after the arrival of television in U.S. households in the mid-1900s. Prior to that, newspaper stories on campaign speeches played a much more important role.

The first presidential debate during a general election campaign occurred in 1960. Most people listening in on radio felt that Vice President Richard Nixon, a skilled debater, had triumphed. But those watching on television felt that Senator John F. Kennedy was the victor. Democrat Kennedy appeared calm and poised, whereas Republican Nixon appeared sweaty and nervous. It didn’t help Nixon that he applied his own makeup before the debate.

Youtube feature on Nixon-Kennedy debate

Another campaign in which debates played an important role in the public’s perceptions of the candidates occurred in 1976. In the second debate that year, President Gerald Ford, running against former Georgia governor Jimmy Carter, declared that the Soviet Union had “no domination of Eastern Europe” at a time when the USSR had military control throughout the region and dominated Eastern European governments. Ford, a Republican, had meant that the spirit of the Eastern European people would never be dominated by the Soviets, but he did not make this clear. Carter pounced on the apparent error and was deemed to have won the debate. He surged ahead in the polls and was able to hold off late gains by Ford to win the election.

In 2000, presidential debates swung the general election campaign in the Republicans’ favor. Going into the first of three debates, Vice President Al Gore, a Democrat, had an 8 percent lead in the polls over former Texas Governor George Bush. But in the debates Gore came off as condescending while Bush appeared more likable. After the last debate, Gore’s lead had disintegrated and the campaign ended with one of the closest elections in U.S. history, with Bush winning in a controversial manner.

Photograph from 2000 presidential debate

Although the outcome of the first Clinton-Trump debate was widely portrayed as a Clinton victory, this result alone is unlikely to determine the election. There are still two debates to come, and unexpected developments in domestic and international affairs could also play a key role in separating the candidates in the minds of undecided voters. Only a major error in the debates would be likely to be an important factor in the election results on November 8th.

Photograph from 2016 presidential debate (image from www.wbur.org)

How to Create a Weekly Reading Routine

unpacking the standards

Image courtesy of yodiyim at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Reading standards are big and complex, embedded with at least three or four smaller skills that warrant lessons on their own. A weekly reading routine that ‘unpacks’ literature standards into bite-size portions helps students become masterful, independent readers.

by Elizabeth Liberatore

Plan to turn complexity into comprehension

Reading, like any activity, requires plenty of practice to perfect. You cannot expect piano students to master a technically demanding score by Chopin or Beethoven unless it is practiced in bite-size portions. Reading is no different. Only when students are routinely exposed to quality literature with embedded skills that reinforce standards can students raise their literacy and comprehension skills.

“Unpack” Literature Standards in the Classroom

But how do you make a reading lesson equal parts attainable and rigorous for your students? You “unpack it.” Reading standards today are big and complex, embedded with at least three or four smaller skills. Students need to “make inferences” while also “explaining what the text says explicitly” and referring “to details and examples in a text.” Any one of those subskills warrants a lesson unto itself.

Small, bite-size skills help introduce your students to academic vocabulary, high frequency words, and other proficiencies needed to master the larger standard. Once students learn the subskills within a standard—such as reading and rereading, annotating unfamiliar and/or repetitive words, locating literary devices, and so forth—they will approach the larger standard with confidence. Assessments of each subskill within a standard allow you to better gauge students’ trouble spots in mastering the overall standard.

Make It Approachable Without Compromising Rigor

How often should students be practicing their reading? According to Dick Allington, author of What Really Matters for Struggling Readers: Designing Research-based Programs, students ought to read 300 minutes every week. That’s a lot. Constant distractions like entertainment on devices such as computers or iPads and students entering and exiting the classroom can make it difficult to allot that much time to reading without shortchanging other subjects. Even when 15–30 minutes of reading is spent in after-school programs or as homework, the suggested 300 minutes per week will be met only if students practice a daily reading routine in the classroom. That is, students need to read daily and practice mastering the skills they need to unravel today’s complex reading and literature standards.

Planning is teaching—teach a plan! Pack two ingredients into each week: clear, explicit instruction of key reading skills and sufficient reading of engaging, complex texts across all subjects. Take time to unpack the reading literature and informational text standards and work through them methodically. Then challenge students with complex texts on which they can practice the subskills they need to master. As long as your weekly reading routine has a consistent structure that students can easily digest, you can be assured that their comprehension and literacy skills will improve with every lesson they complete.

Awesome Virtual Tours for the Classroom

by Emily Levison

Where do you want to go today? | Image courtesy of nattavut at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Where do you want to go today? | Image courtesy of nattavut at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Teachers face the daily challenge of making their lessons accessible to all types of learners. Virtual tours are an incredible tool to reach a wide variety of learning needs, spark your student’s interest, and bring the field trip into the classroom. With applications like Google Earth, we can view anywhere in the world at the click of a button. Virtual tours, however, take you inside or give a full and expansive view of iconic monuments, landscapes, or artifacts.

Here are a few great virtual tours to use in your classroom:

  1. Mount St. Helens

This virtual tour puts you at the top of Mount St. Helens and gives you a full 360-degree view. Help your students discover the way the landscape has changed by comparing images from 2003, 2006, 2011, and 2016. Explore many other iconic places at Fullscreen 360.

  1. U.S. Supreme Court Building

Let’s explore the U.S. Supreme Court – not just the exterior of the building but the inside and outside of each room. What better way to learn about Supreme Court cases than to put the students right there? Imagine teaching about key Supreme Court cases, like Brown v. Board of Education, and allowing your students to see the inside of the courtroom and imagine what it was like to be there.

  1. Rare Book Room

Unlike other virtual tours that focus on exotic locales, the Rare Book Room allows visitors to digitally view the pages of almost four hundred books from some of the greatest libraries all over the world. Students can closely examine original copies of books from authors like William Shakespeare, Benjamin Franklin, Galileo, and Copernicus. Whether you are teaching social studies, science, language arts or mathematics this is a worthwhile resource to use with your students.

  1. Sistine Chapel

I have never had the privilege to travel to Vatican City, let alone the miraculous Sistine Chapel. This virtual tour makes you feel like you are right there, painting the ceiling with Michelangelo. Spin 360 degrees, zoom in and out and even enjoy the complimentary music from the Westminster Abbey Choir as you browse around this pristine work of art, just don’t forget to bring your students with you!

5 Free Resources for Science Teachers

by Mary Kate Dempsey

science resources

Image courtesy of jk1991 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Fun and informative websites and videos can improve even the most reluctant student’s understanding of science. Here are five of our favorite science resources to use in the classroom.

The Periodic Table of Comic Books

Show students who question the relevance of learning the periodic table this website. Click any element to see an array of retro comic book pages that mention or connect to that element. Sure, it can be cheesy, but even elements like molybdenum have been mentioned in comic books. Who knew?

SciShow

Hank Green, Michael Aranda, and Olivia Gordon strive to make science fun on their YouTube channel, SciShow. Their videos explain things from animal behavior to oceans to why babies smell good. The videos range from 3 to 10 minutes, and are a great supplement to classroom discussions.

Veritasium

Veritasium is another YouTube channel that makes science engaging. The videos cover topics from energy to animals. The channel features several playlists, including overturning misconceptions, experiments, and catchy, memory-aiding songs. It is wonderful when students question the real world applications of science class.

Wildscreen Arkive

This wildlife teaching resource for ages 5–18 contains professional photographs of animals accompanied by detailed descriptions, most of which are authenticated by scientists and researchers. Students can filter by species, conservation status, or location. The website also has fun games, activities, and quizzes. Check out the Educate tab for lesson plans and worksheets.

Sumanas, Inc.

Sumanas, Inc. is an educational publisher with the goal to make science easier to understand. Their website features short animations appropriate for high school students on topics such as mitosis, the moon’s phases, and synaptic transmission. The section “Science in Focus” animates scientific current events, such as antibiotic resistance.

The Best Special Education Apps for Teachers

by Mary Kate Dempsey

special education apps for teachers

Image courtesy of Vichaya Kiatying-Angsulee | FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Tablets and phones can be a huge asset for teachers working with students with special needs. Technology allows teachers to work with students at their ability levels. Below are some of our favorite apps for the special education classroom. 

Dragon Dictation (free – iOS only, similar apps are available for Android)

Speech-to-text apps are great for students who struggle with writing or typing. Dragon Dictation is one of the easiest to use and most accurate. All you have to do is open the app and speak into it. Once the app transcribes your words, you can edit it if needed and share through email or paste it into Google Docs.

Pocket Pond 2 (free – iOS and Android)

Have a student who gets overstimulated easily? Try Pocket Pond. Calming music plays while koi fish swim around a virtual pond. Students can play with the fish until they are ready to rejoin the class.

iReward ($2.99 – iOS)

iReward is a useful app that tracks tasks for students to accomplish to earn a set reward. The app supports multiple users, making it perfect for the classroom.

Time Timer ($2.99 – iOS, $0.99 – Android)

An easy to read and highly visual timer that shows how much time is left in the event in red and the time passed in white. This app is great for time management in any setting, classroom or otherwise.

SoundingBoard (free, with in-app purchases – iOS)

SoundingBoard uses symbols to help teachers and students who are nonverbal communicate easily. Crucially for teachers, the app supports multiple boards for use with different people. It comes pre-loaded with 20 symbols, and each in-app purchase after is $0.99.

Nulite Behavior Tracker ($19.99 – iOS)

Yes, this app is expensive, but it has excellent features that make it worth the upfront cost. Nulite is an app made especially for special education teachers that tracks student behaviors with date, duration, and notes for each student. The easily exported generated charts and graphs are great for sharing with parents and administrators.

Do you use apps in the classroom? If so, what apps do you use and would recommend to other special education teachers? Let us know in the comments!

Resources for Integrating Multimedia into your Classroom

by Erin Dye

Multimedia is a huge part of the Common Core. Two of the standards (RL.7 and RI.7, in most grades) explicitly call for analyzing multimedia, and other standards can be enhanced by the addition of high-quality multimedia. What do we mean when we say multimedia? It doesn’t only mean videos. It can be images, video, music, graphs, and interactives like infographics.

Unfortunately, the Internet is full of mediocre multimedia that isn’t worth analyzing. To find quality multimedia, check out trusted institutions that are known for high-quality content, such as museums or PBS Kids. Or start with our list below!

Literature

  • iBooks: While the best content is paid, keep on eye on the free section. If you are interested in a paid book, try a sample before you buy to make sure it has multimedia.
  • Google Play/Google Books: As with iBooks, most of the best content is paid. But many public domain children’s books include the original illustrations and the content is available without an Apple device.
  • Met Museum: The illustrated story “Marduk, King of the Gods” is great for younger kids. It features audio, sound effects, and pictures.
  • Storyline Online: One of my favorites is this collection of videos of celebrities (Betty White, James Earl Jones, many more) reading famous picture books.
  • Reading Rainbow: This subscription-based app for iPad and Kindle Fire is an extension of the classic TV show. A classroom edition is coming for fall 2015.
  • Library of Congress: A great, free collection of classic public domain books presented in a nice viewer
  • Edsitement Websites: This list of recommended websites from the National Endowment for the Arts includes many great interactives. Filter by subject for best results.

Informational

  • National Archives: Part of the DocsTeach collection, this site is a great resource for videos, plus virtual Google Maps tours on HistoryPin.
  • PBS Learning Media: Great repository for videos (such as a science series with Curious George) and interactive stories (includes some fiction for younger kids too).
  • Met Museum: This interactive Vincent van Gogh bio with images, maps, and more is great for a cross-curricular study of art and history.
  • Smithsonian Air and Space Museum: A fun interactive website about aerodynamics
  • MinuteEarth: Looking for great science videos? Try these short and informational earth science videos
  • FiveThirtyEight: This site applies statistics to everything from politics to sports to movies. Use it for engaging graphs and analysis for older students.
  • Teaching History: Need a site for history or social students? Check out these oh-so-helpful reviews of history sites.
  • Google Cultural Institute: Just explore this one. You’ll love it.

What sites are we missing? Add them in the comments below!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAErin Dye is Manager of Consulting Services for Green Light Professional Development and a Google Certified Educator. She has extensive experience creating digital materials for interactive whiteboards and iPads. She writes about technology integration and GLPD’s work in local schools.

Writing for an Authentic Audience: How to Get and Apply Great Feedback

by Amber Wilson

writing for an authentic audience

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Whether or not your curriculum is aligned with the Common Core, you know that good writing is well suited to its purpose and its audience. Likewise, you know that giving, receiving, and responding to feedback is an essential skill inside and out of the classroom. How can you incorporate these real-world practices in your pedagogy?

An authentic audience helps your students . . .

Write for a reason: To inform, to persuade, or to entertain. We often focus on teaching readers how to differentiate between text types, but writing assignments are sometimes less specific. Good writers are able to identify the traits of the writing modes, choose the best mode for the occasion, and create texts that are clearly and obviously persuasive, informative, or entertaining.

Get motivated: As discussed here and here, students are truly motivated by writing for real people.

Write to learn: Engaging fully with content (in all subject areas) requires a certain degree of processing. Encourage students to write before, during, and after projects and learning goals. In addition, your students will probably find that during the course of a unit or project, writing in multiple modes and for multiple audiences helps them process and connect information, leading to fuller engagement and deeper understanding.

Publish! One way is to have a class blog. See this previous post to learn more about getting started. You could also check out an alternate way to publish student writing, like pen.io.

Get feedback: Get on Twitter and tell the world that your kids have something to say. Use the #comments4kids hashtag and start the ball rolling. Then take the next step and guide students to read, understand, and respond to comments. For instance, ask students to perform self-assessment, then compare their assessments to feedback they received in comments. Or, encourage students to take feedback from comments into consideration as they revise and draft their writing.

Want to take it to the next level? Post about a book review and tag the book’s author, or post about a science project and tag a scientist!

Give feedback: Have student writers experience both sides of interacting with an authentic audience. Your students are probably already familiar with trading papers and giving feedback in class. You may also have worked with pen pals, or some other form of long distance communication. Get the best of both worlds by having your kids engage in a conversation about someone else’s published writing. Use #comments4kids to find student writing on a topic that your class is also writing, and invite your class to leave comments.

 

Let us know how you’re using online publishing and writing for an authentic audience in your class! Find us on Facebook, Twitter, or leave us a comment below.

 AmberAmber Wilson is a consultant for Green Light Professional Development.