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Posts tagged ‘teaching strategies’

10 Great Ways to Make Your Kids Smarter

I’ve always been a Newsweek fan. And in the last year or so, I’ve gotten really hooked on their digital offering, The Daily Beast. A recent Beast article caught my attention that I think we as teachers need to look at.

Written by Sharon Begley, Buff Your Brain: 31 Ways to Get Smarter in 2012 says

If the information isn’t in there, no amount of brain training will tell you how the Federal Reserve system functions, why the Confederacy lost the Civil War, the significance of Picasso’s Demoiselles d’Avignon, or why Word just crashed.

Yet that’s what we all want—to know more, to understand more deeply, to make greater creative leaps, to retain what we read, to see connections invisible to others—not merely to make the most of what we have between our ears now, but to be, in a word, smarter.

The title is fairly self-explanatory. We can make ourselves smarter. And not just by a little bit but what Begley describes as raising our IQ by a “staggering” 21 points. It got me thinking.

If it’s our job as teachers to make our kids smarter, are there any takeaways from the article?

You can read the piece yourself but I think the answer is yes. Here’s what I got out of it.

Get News from Al Jazeera

This may be my favorite. The basic concept here is is simple – don’t shut yourself out from new ideas. A 2009 study found that viewers of Al Jazeera English were more open-minded than people who got their news from CNN International and BBC World. (I’m going out on a limb here and suggest the same would go for for Fox News viewers.) A huge part of thinking historically is being able to see and understand different perspectives. So it doesn’t have to be Al Jazeera but you need to require that kids read, view, and listen to a variety of sources.

Toss Your Smartphone
I’m a big believer in using technology and mobile devices as part of what we do. But the research is pretty clear – constantly checking email, interrupting thinking to text or to go on Facebook disrupts focus and saps productivity. Learning in the 21st century requires the use of a wide variety of tools. Design your instruction to encourage deep thinking.

Go to a Literary Festival / See a Shakespeare Play
I combined a couple here. Reading the Bard has been shown to engage the brain more actively than most contemporary texts and watching is even better. The point here is that we need to use more fiction and non-fiction stuff in our lessons. Great poetry, prose and novels can engage kids and provide very cool historical context

Follow These People on Twitter

There are some very smart people out there. Not all of them are on Twitter but here’s a list I put together a while back that’s still pretty good. Use Twitter to connect your kids with experts and others outside your classroom.

Hydrate
Every doctor will tell you that dehydration forces the brain to work harder and dampens its ability to work well. It’s sounds silly but passing out bottles of water to your kids is not a bad idea. Water breaks during block schedule? Another possibility. Encourage students to pack in refillable bottles in book bags? Yup.

Check Out iTunes U
iTunes U has awesome free stuff. Podcasts, audio clips, documents. There are university and K-12 channels that provide you and your kids access to some of the best thinkers in the country. Did I mention it’s free?

Visit MoMa

You probably won’t be heading the Museum of Modern Art anytime soon (Though MOMA and other great museums have iTunes U content and handy apps.) but viewing art, photographs and images has been shown to increase retention of content. You can make your kids smarter by incorporating images into your instruction.

The Pomodoro Technique
This time-management strategy aims to make you productive using nothing more than a kitchen timer. Use it to break your presentation or your student’s work into 20-minute blocks, taking a short break for reflection and maybe a water break; the frequent rests aid mental agility.

Zone Out
A string of studies suggests that zoning out and letting the mind wander – especially when you don’t consciously realize you’re doing it – allows the brain to work on important “big picture” thinking. “Sleeping on it” is not an old’s wife tale. It provides time for your brain to make connections and see relationships. Purposefully plan for discussions and brainstorming to happen over more than one class period. Then be sure to go back to review and reflect. This could be written, small group or large group. (maybe even all three!)

Write Reviews Online
Anyone can be a critic on the Internet – and your kids should too. Typing out their opinions will help them to better understand their own thinking. This could be book reviews on Amazon, guided prompts on your own Edmodo site, on news sites or in Blackboard CourseSites blogs.

You can make your kids smarter. Pick one or two of these. Maybe five. And start using them in your class. The good news? You’ll get smarter too.

 

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The Conspirator in the Classroom

No, I haven’t seen it yet. But the trailers look good, the reviews aren’t bad for a Civil War period piece and it seems like a great way to end a unit on the Civil War or begin one on Reconstruction.

A quick review:

After Abraham Lincoln’s assassination, seven men and one woman are arrested and charged with conspiring to kill the President, the Vice-President and the Secretary of State. The only woman, Mary Surratt, owned a boarding house where John Wilkes Booth and others met and planned the simultaneous attacks. Against the back-drop of post-Civil War Washington DC, with conspiracy theories running rampant, a  reluctant lawyer agrees to defend Surratt before a military tribunal. The lawyer begins to think that Surratt may be innocent and is being used as bait in order to capture her son, the only conspirator to have escaped.

To help, there are some handy teaching resources out there.

Teaching History has some awesome resources including a link to University of Missouri at Kansas City’s the Trail of the Lincoln Conspirators that includes images, newspaper articles, and excerpts from the trial transcripts. Use these original documents with your students to compare the actual material related to the trial to the movie’s version of events.

Teaching History has its own set of materials and guiding questions plus direct links to other primary sources, lesson plans and exhibits.

The group responsible for the movie, American Film Company, has put together a great Teacher’s Guide and a list of books, lesson plans and teaching resources. I especially like their Party Like It’s 1865 document – a list of period food recipes and quiz questions.

I’m curious what others who have seen the movie think about the historical accuracy, story line and possible uses in the classroom.

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Tip of the Week – Sit Down Quiz

As part of our Teaching American History grant, I get the chance to hang out in the classrooms of some great teachers. Last week, it was lessons by Nathan McAlister and Keil Hileman. Both teach middle school and have been recognized for their ability to motivate students.

And it was during my time in Keil’s class that I saw a very cool strategy that I hadn’t really seen before. Some of you may already do this but since it’s new to me, I’ll just call it Sit Down Quiz. Keil used the strategy as a way to review past material and assess student knowledge at the same time.

It’s pretty simple.

Give kids time to prepare for the quiz. Keil told his kids:

You have to share one thing from the reading, from the video we watched or something you saw / heard / read outside of class that connects with our topic. You’ve got 60 seconds to get ready. Go!

He used the 60 seconds to take roll and get organized. Keil then had every student stand up. He proceeded to  select students one at a time to share what they knew. Once a kid had shared their content or had answered a question, he allowed them to sit down. This made it very easy to see who had contributed and who hadn’t. It also ensured that everyone participated.

And because kids shared stuff from all over the place, the content was completely and totally random. But as the teacher who knew the content, Keil was always directing the discussion back to the specific topic. While some students were allowed to sit after sharing a minimal amount, Keil used the Sit Down Quiz with other kids as an opportunity to focus on higher order questions. He asked kids to make connections with what was shared by students before them, to refer back to prior knowledge, to compare their information with the text or to predict how their information might tie in with other content.

Keil also used the Quiz as an opportunity to share mini-lectures on specific topics, especially if it seemed kids weren’t making proper connections.

I like this. Kids clearly knew that they were expected to take part and to have something ready to share. Because kids never knew who he would pick next or what question he might ask, they all stayed engaged. Keil didn’t do this but if you need more documentation, ask kids to write a quick summary paragraph that outlines what they shared and how it connects with your topic. They should also include new content from the discussion.

The day I was there, Keil used this activity with 31 eighth graders and 32 seventh graders. Both times, he spent about 15 minutes with the strategy.

Sit Down Quiz seems like a quick and easy way to check for comprehension, review content and activate prior knowledge. And with practice, it would be fairly easy to do but remember that underneath there’s a lot of stuff you’ll need to stay on top of – classroom management, review, assessment, thinking skills, content presentation. But it’s all stuff that’s good for kids.

Have fun! Let me know how it turns out.

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Tip of the Week – Google News Timeline may be coolest tool ever

Okay . . . maybe not the coolest tool ever. But pretty stinking close.

Google Labs released Google News Timeline about a year ago and I’ve been using it ever since. And I’m very impressed.google-news-timeline

It works a bit like the basic Google Search page but focuses obviously on just news stories. I see this being huge for history, social studies and current events teachers. You simply type in a few search terms such as Abraham Lincoln and Google News Timeline spits out a timeline of news stories about my topic.

Google describes the tool as:

a web application that organizes search results chronologically. It allows users to view news and other data sources on a browsable, graphical timeline. Available data sources include recent and historical news, scanned newspapers and magazines, blog posts, sports scores, and information about various types of media, like music albums and movies.

The cool part?

If I type in a date, say . . . 1865, I get news stories from . . . wait for it . . . 1865! Stories from the period about Lincoln’s vice-president, ongoing overseas negotiations and his assassination. Sweet! You can obviously look for more recent dates and events as easily as earlier ones. The ability to drag the timeline back and forth and the list of news stories up and down gives you tons of “searchability.”

Clicking the title of the articles will open another tab with the text of the article. And depending on the source, you might even get a pdf of the actual paper. You can also add more “queries” – basically more newspaper and media choices. Find out more about how the Timeline works on Google’s help page.

It’s a great way to find and gather primary sources documents pretty easily. Depending on the age of your students, it’s also a great place for kids to do research.

Have fun!

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Abe Lincoln, the Civil War and Social Media

One hundred and fifty years ago, America’s citizens were wrapped up in their own election excitement. An Illinois Congressman named Abraham Lincoln was locked in a tight race with three other candidates including Southern Democrat John Breckinridge and Northern Democrat Stephen Douglas.

With the majority of northern counties in his pocket (despite any campaigning or speeches,) Lincoln easily won the electoral vote. “But as we approach the 150th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s election and the long conflict that followed,” says author Tony Horwitz

it’s worth recalling other reasons that era endures. The Civil War isn’t just an adjunct to current events. It’s a national reserve of words, images and landscapes, a storehouse we can tap in lean times like these, when many Americans feel diminished, divided and starved for discourse more nourishing than cable rants and Twitter feeds.

In an electronics-saturated age, (we’re forced) to exercise our atrophied imaginations. There’s no Sensurround or 3D technology, just snake-rail fences, marble men and silent cannons aimed at nothing. You have to read, listen, let your mind go.

And the New York Times just started a pretty cool way to read, listen and let your mind go. Using a blog called Disunion, the NYT will tell the story of the Civil War in a series of weekly roundups and analysis, by Jamie Malanowski, of events making news during the corresponding week 150 years ago. Written as if in real time, this dispatch will appear every Monday. Additional essays and observations by other contributors, along with maps, images and diaries, will be published several times a week.

It looks like a great way to engage students with actual content. I like the way that the story of the period

revisits and reconsiders America’s most perilous period — using contemporary accounts, diaries, images and historical assessments to follow the Civil War as it unfolded.

Add the RSS feed and you’ll get Disunion delivered straight to your news reader. Use a variety of primary source analysis worksheets to help kids break the information into manageable chunks and develop some essential questions to guide instruction. You might even pick and choose your favorite posts and create your own document reader for next spring when you hit the Civil War in your curriculum.

If nothing else, use Disunion as your own private professional development to increase your content knowledge of a specific period. This week I learned more about Head-Stompers, Wrench-Swingers and Wide Awakes. Pretty sweet stuff!

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(hat tip to honorary historian Jerry Butler!)

Tip of the Week – 6 Word Memoirs

I’m always looking for a good way to help kids organize and review information. Graphic organizers are great for that. But sometimes you just need a quick tool that provides not just a way for kids to cement learning but something that helps you measure learning.

A few months ago, I ran across something called a Six-Word Memoir. Developed by the online SMITH magazine, Six-Word Memoirs are a lifetime compressed into six little words. The project became so successful, the magazine published several books full of the miniature bios. Others, including the AARP site, also began publishing Six-Word Memoirs and the New Yorker has an interesting article on the process.

Some samples from people you might know:

  • Stephen Colbert
    “Well, I thought it was funny”
  • Joyce Carol Oates
    “Revenge is living well without you”
  • Aimee Mann
    “Couldn’t cope so I wrote songs”
  • Terry McMillan
    “I have to constantly reinvent myself”
  • Dave Eggers
    “Fifteen years since last professional haircut”
  • Dominic Arizona Bonuccelli
    “Xenophile escapist tumbleweed globetrots, finds self.”

Some from people you probably don’t:

  • Went to market, found a wife
  • Paris at eighteen: Enchanted for life
  • Omaha Beach: 52 years after Dad
  • North Pole cold, fellow travelers warm

I think you could have kids do the same thing with people that they are studying. And while people would be easier I’m betting your kids would come up with some great Six-Word Memoirs for places and events as well. By forcing kids to summarize a person’s life (or the “life” of a place or event), you help them focus on the big picture.

Possible history examples?

  • Abraham Lincoln
    “Split wood, split country, saved it”
  • Ghandi
    “Lost battle, won war, was hungry”
  • Abigail Adams
    “Six words!? Must have more letters!”

When students are finished, have them share and explain their six words with others. You could use this as a very informal sort of assessment during and at the end of learning. But I might even try this as a more formal type of test by asking kids to write a Six-Word Memoir and then having them write an essay type answer explaining why they selected those six words. I might also ask them to describe those words that they choose to leave out of their memoir.

Have fun!

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