Friday, May 30, 2008

Ultra-High Speed Internet2

Sometimes, the main obstacle between your middle schoolers and that absolutely amazing videoconference, collaborative project, or virtual field trip is your school's Internet connection. Meris Stansbury, assistant editor of eSchool News, reports on a solution: Internet2. More and more K-12 schools are connecting to this 100 gigabits per second network.

The Internet2 network was expanded 10 years ago to allow K-12 schools to gain access to Internet2 through partnerships with any of the 206 universities currently members of the network. Last year, about 4,300 districts total were in partnerships with member universities. Schools do need to have the right network infrastructure. But the investment yields a lot of great benefits for the district, the schools, the teachers and especially the students. The ultra-fast connection makes everything easier and finally possible. At the March conference of the Consortium for School Networking, presenters showcased some of the projects happening in schools, including:
  • In Barrow County, GA, K-12 schools "have used a high-definition video link to the Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta to control cameras and view images of sea life remotely from their classrooms; learned calculus from Georgia Tech instructors using a "virtual whiteboard" application; and interacted with researchers on the ocean floor near Gray's Reef National Marine Sanctuary just off Sapelo Island, Ga."
  • The National Library of Medicine has created the Visible Human Project that has "complete, anatomically detailed, three-dimensional representations of the normal male and female human bodies." In addition, the University of Michigan "created two- and three-dimensional navigational browsers through which students can take a virtual tour of the human body."
  • Project Lemonade brings students in grades 3-8 together from across the world to engage in "real-world problem-based" activities.
Universities also collaborate more with K-12 educators, offering assistance with using Internet2 in the curriculum, professional teacher development, and collaborative opportunities between university faculty and K-12 educators. Students love it, too. Ron Saunders, superintendent of Barrow County (GA) Schools, said, "We've found that kids are glued to the Internet2 presentations, and participation is at a high. We're trying to get them interested in STEM [science, technology, engineering, and mathematics], and this seems like a great way to do it."

SOURCE: "Internet2 expands schools' possibilities" 05/27/08
photo courtesy of Ack Ook, used under this Creative Commons license

Thursday, May 29, 2008

The Impending Gale, Coming Soon to a Middle School Near You (Hopefully)

Middle schoolers love video and computer games. And at North Hills Junior High School in Pennsylvania, they're like the spoonful of sugar that helps the learning go down. Daveen Rae Kurutz reports in The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review on a new educational game being tested at North Hills Junior High that mixes algebra, earth science, geography and Spanish.

The Impeding Gale is an online game that is similar in design and play to World of Warcraft. In the game, students are disaster relief volunteers engaged in an adventure. The game, created by Eric Hardman of the National Network of Digital Schools, has the same chat components as other online games, but this past semester, teachers have turned that off so students focus on the adventure and the academics in the game.

Students love the chance to play for a purpose and avoid the boredom of reading textbooks and filling out worksheets:
"A lot of times I get bored just reading a textbook or doing worksheets, but this makes us more apt to pay attention even if it isn't a subject we're really interested in....It's fun, but educational, not like some of the games out there like Guitar Hero where you aren't learning. I'd do this in any class."
"You get so tired of reading out of a textbook it makes you fall asleep....This definitely makes you remember things differently. I feel like I'm catching on better."
The Impending Gale is a pilot project, the National Network of Digital Schools' first foray into the traditional classroom and its first project to focus more on academics than linking teens socially. Only the North Hills district of Allegheny county is participating so far. Hopefully, after this successful semester, The Impeding Gale will be more widely available. We can also hope that NNDS and others will create and test more games like this that combine subjects in a fun virtual learning environment for our middle schoolers.

SOURCE: "Video game supplies adventure for North Hills students" 05/27/08
photo courtesy of ground zero, used under this Creative Commons license

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Lynne Endres' French Video Game Project

It is a little outside of the scope of this blog, but this story is too great to pass up. Cara Bafile has another great teacher profile in Education World on Lynne Endres' sixth-grade French capstone project -- designing and producing a video game.

Endres teaches at Shanahan Middle School in Lewis Center, OH. She decided to blend her sixth graders' love of video games with their need to review the French they had learned in a fun and engaging way. After looking at examples of the kinds of games they can make -- Endres limits them to a template of three game types, memory, matching and a Tetris-style game -- students spend time talking about "requirements of the project, and such aspects of it as choice of content, pronunciation, mechanics, game choice, file management, creative thinking strategies, use of time and resources, and working well with a group" and learn other skills like how "to process different data types and to make voice recordings and pictures to include in their games." Students then work in pairs or groups of three to create their game and an outline. Once the outlines are approved by Endres, the students move to production.

With a grant, Endres bought a projector for whole-class game viewing, laptops, microphones and other equipment for students to use in producing their games. Other students at the school and in Endres' other French classes have access to the student-created games. They find them not only fun and educational but love that they can know who the creators are and can tell them face to face that they played their game or liked it. Student game creators also tell Endres about the comments and compliments they get, something Endres says "is very empowering for the students."

Endres shows great pride in her students' work and the benefits other students get from the games:
I have a student who is cognitively delayed, and he used the games my previous students had made to review his numbers....He was able to count to forty-five orally in French, even though someone of his cognitive level might typically only count to about ten. I have several autistic students who benefit greatly from these games. Creating the games gives students a sense of efficacy because they know that they are making something that will be used to teach someone else and not just an assignment that will be graded and set on a shelf or tossed away.
The games aren't available on the school website, unfortunately, but maybe they will be in the future. It's a great idea for a final project in any subject.

SOURCE: "Video Gaming for French Review: Starring: Lynn Endres" 05/13/08
photo courtesy of badjonni, used under this Creative Commons license

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

LIVEbrary Lesson Plan #10: The Blue Jean Book

LIVEbrary Lesson Plan #10:
"The Jeans Scene"

Subject: World History
Age Range: 12-15
Grade Level: 7-10

- Reading
- Assignment
- Quiz
- Discussion Questions


"The Jeans Scene"
an excerpt from
The Story Behind the Seams

By Tanya Lloyd Kyi
Published by Annick Press
Reprinted here with permission.

~ Behind the Seams ~

Check the labels on your blue jeans. Were they sewn in the United States? Canada? Britain? Probably not. Jeans may have been born in North America, but they aren't made there much anymore. Because of the rising costs of labor, many jeans companies moved their factories to developing countries in the 1980s and 90s. Australia used to produce more than half of its own jeans. Now, it makes less than a third.

Some American jeans companies simply moved their factories across the border from California to Mexico. While workers in California had been making $10 or $12 per hour, workers in Mexico could be found for as little as $7 per day. The city of Tehuacan, Mexico, has the lowest minimum wage in the nation and is home to 700 clothing manufacturing companies. The industry earns $450 million each year and blue jeans are the most popular product made there.

Wages are just as low -- or lower -- in other countries. In Honduras, a woman sewing clothes for export might make $139 a month, and in parts of China, about $64. In Bangladesh, a similar worker makes just over $18 each month.

Sometimes, overseas production means not only lower wages, but lower workplace standards. An American delegation that went to the island of Saipan in the South Pacific to investigate factory conditions found some people there working almost as slaves. Recruiters had charged these people up to $7,000 to get them a factory job, then forced the people to work in bondage until the "debt" was paid off. Companies buying clothes made at these questionable factories included at least two major American jeans makers.

In 2003, a New York-based labor group brought a worker from a Honduran sweatshop to Manhattan. They staged a protest outside the store of a popular designer jeans maker, claiming that the jeans inside were made in sweatshops where workers were treated unfairly.

People who had arrived to shop stayed outside on the sidewalk instead, listening as the 19-year-old girl described her factory, where workers were limited to two bathroom breaks a day and were forced to work overtime without pay. They weren't allowed to talk to each other, in case they slowed down or tried to start a union. They were also regularly tested for pregnancy and HIV. Workers who tested positive were fired.

As the young woman continued to speak, reporters began to join the crowd of would-be shoppers. By the next day, the worker's story had made newspaper headlines and the company was rethinking the way it handed out contracts.

~ Sweatshop Shock ~

Sweatshops don't operate only in developing countries. In 1995, police raided an apartment complex in El Monte, California, where they found 72 Thai immigrants sewing clothes for 69 cents an hour. The workers had been smuggled into the country and threatened with murder if they quit working or escaped before they "repaid" the smugglers for their journey to the United States. Some of the immigrants had been held there for more than two years.

Many Americans were shocked by the news of sweatshops operating in their own country, but a 1994 government study found that half of clothing factories in Los Angeles paid less than minimum wage, and more than 90 percent broke health and safety laws.

~ Jeans and the Power of Teens ~

By the year 2000, 13- to 17-year-old shoppers became the number one buyers of denim. Jeans makers depend on millions of young shoppers choosing to buy their jeans every day. That gives teens the power to influence how these companies operate.

How can you be sure you're buying jeans made in respectable factories? You can't tell whether jeans were made in India or Mexico by holding the denim up to a light, but you can start by reading the label, and you can often check the company website.
  • Does the company supervise its contractors?

  • Does it ban the use of child labor?

  • Does it make unannounced visits to its factories to monitor safety standards?

  • How does it deal with contractors that break the rules?
You won't find the answers to these questions on all company websites. If you can't find the information you're looking for, try e-mailing or writing the company's public relations department.

When enough people write letters about their concerns, companies will listen. After all, teenagers are these companies' biggest market. Indirectly, teens control the blue jean world!

# # #

Copyright 2005 by Tanya Lloyd Kyi. Excerpted from THE BLUE JEAN BOOK: The Story Behind the Seams." Published by Annick Press, ISBN 9781550379174 (library binding), ISBN 9781550379167 (paperback). Reprinted with permission. For more information, please visit Thank you.


Clothing Conundrums

Jeans companies have made big efforts to convince buyers that clothing manufacturing is a fair and balanced business. Have they succeeded?

Your assignment is to research where your clothing is made and decide whether you support the labor and environmental practices involved.

First, work with a partner to read the labels on your clothing. Was it made in America? Mexico? Overseas? Using tacks or sticky notes, mark your findings on a world map.

Once your entire class has marked the map, note the countries that seem to produce the majority of your clothing. Then, see what you can discover about those places. What is the minimum wage? What are the working conditions like?

Next, break into groups and choose one of the following topics to research. Larger classes may want to assign each topic to more than one group.

Topic One: You're an environmental organization. Can you find out how making jeans impacts pesticide use, irrigation, and water pollution? Are there eco-friendly jeans options available to teens? What are they?

Topic Two: You're a labor union representing American workers. What concerns would you have about the wages and working conditions at clothing factories? How can you make shoppers in North America more aware of sweatshop practices? How can American workers compete for jobs against low wage workers in developing countries?

Topic Three: You're a child advocacy group, concerned about child labor in clothing factories. Can you find out how widespread this problem is? What are American clothing companies doing to stop it? What more could they do?

Topic Four: You're a manufacturer's trade group, interested in bringing the lowest prices to American shoppers. What is the best way to mass produce cheap jeans? Do you think most shoppers care whether their clothes are ethically or environmentally produced? What can you do to support jeans manufacturers and retailers who make a commitment to fair trade?

You can find more information on pages 56-65 of THE BLUE JEAN BOOK. You can also ask your teacher or librarian for assistance finding relevant books and magazines. Here are some useful Internet sources for information:

The Center for Sustainability

Good Environmental Choice Australia

Maquila Solidarity Network

Don't forget to name your group! When you've finished your research, present your group's views to the class.


NOTE: Quiz answers are available to teachers upon request from Quiz answers will be revealed during online classroom visits and will be made a part of the transcripts of those visits.

1) Multiple Choice. What is the main reason jeans companies site for moving their factories to developing countries?

A. lower taxes
B. lower labor costs
C. less government oversight
D. disagreements with labor unions

2) Multiple Choice. Which of the following groups spends the most money on blue jeans?

A. cowboys
B. farmers
C. teenagers
D. Hollywood celebrities

3) Factories with poor labor practices, known as "sweatshops," exist in which places?

A. China and Bangladesh
B. Honduras and Saipan
C. America and Canada
D. All of the above

4) True or False: You can always tell where jeans have been made by reading the labels?

5) True or False: Consumers have little control over where their jeans are made.

  • Do you think American shoppers know where their clothes are made? Do they care? Why or why not?

  • Jean companies are always trying to find out what teenagers think is cool. What do you think is the next thing in jeans? What is the most interesting thing you've seen someone do with a pair of blue jeans?

  • If you were going to launch your own clothing company, what kind of jeans would you manufacture? Would they be high fashion? Eco-friendly? Cheap or expensive?

  • Would you change the brand of jeans you buy if you found out the manufacturer was using underpaid child labor or violating environmental laws? How can you find out whether the company who made your jeans is engaging in fair trade?

  • When teens protested against companies using unfair labor practices, it caused Live Strauss & Co., Nike, and other clothing companies to change the way they do business and monitor subcontractors more closely. Can you think of other ways teens have used their purchasing power to change corporate or government behavior?

Copyright 2008 by Annick Press. All rights reserved. Printed here with permission of the publisher. Please request permission from before posting this lesson plan in any public place. Thank you.

Immune Attack!

More and more educational games pop up each month, some more fluff than substance. Meris Stansbury at eSchool News reports on a new game from the Federation of American Scientists (FAS) that meets the high standards you want for your students. And it's free.

Immune Attack was created by immunologists, teachers and "learning scientists from institutions such as Brown University, the University of Southern California, and Escape Hatch Entertainment." Henry Kelly, president of FAS, said of the game's focus on the immune system, "We felt the subject lent itself perfectly to an attempt to use game technology to convey sophisticated knowledge while retaining interest in the phenomena." The game was tested in schools before its release.

Immune Attack uses three-dimensional simulations whose images were created by medical illustrators for scientific accuracy. The game also has features like conferencing and auto-tutoring to appeal to and help students at all levels and to promote individualized learning. It also has an assessment tool so you can see how much your students have absorbed. Immune Attack is meant to supplement rather than replace a lesson in the class and to be used in conjunction with other materials and lessons. At the FAS website, you can download the game and also find a teacher's guide with tips on using the game with your students.

Immune Attack is aimed at high school biology students to help them better understand the links between classwork and real-world illnesses and treatments. High school teachers are being recruited to evaluate the game, too. Still, it can be a valuable tool in middle school and a great way to draw your game-loving students toward STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) subjects and careers.

SOURCE: "Scientists release educational computer game " 05/22/08
photo courtesy of katmere, used under this Creative Commons license

Monday, May 26, 2008

Introducing Tanya Lloyd Kyi

Tanya Lloyd Kyi began her writing career as a poet in high school, producing pages and pages of really bad poems that her mother adored. Her love of writing led to the University of Victoria, where she took creative writing and English.

Tanya’s early writing jobs were as a newspaper reporter and brochure writer for the government. She also worked as a dishwasher, busgirl, server (her parents own a restaurant), an aerobics instructor, and, most recently, a graphic designer, before returning to writing full-time.

In her spare time, Tanya likes to run, play ultimate Frisbee, bake, and read. She also harbors a secret love of video games, chocolate chip cookies, and chick flicks. Her favorite meal is breakfast, her favorite color is blue, and her favorite children's book is A Wrinkle in Time.

Tanya grew up in Creston, B.C., and now lives in Vancouver with her husband. She has plenty of ideas for future books, but is taking a short break from writing to spend some time with her two-year-old daughter, Julia, and her baby son, Matthew.

She also enjoys cooking and reading, and would like to add gardening to her list of hobbies but is spending most of her time with her daughter.

Tanya's most recent book, BURN: The Life Story of Fire (2007), explores how fire has shaped our planet, our history, and our imaginations.

Jared Lester, Fifth-Grade Jester (2006), is a charming and humorous tale of a boy's determination to realize his dream of becoming a court jester.

Rescues! (2006), ten remarkable, fast-paced, and tension-filled stories from around the world, is her second book for the True Stories from the Edge series. A fan of non-fiction and fast-paced, action-packed stories, Tanya's husband came up with the idea for Fires! (2004), her first book for the series. Perhaps Tanya was drawn to the idea because of her own experience with fire. In grade eight she and her friend Michelle were working in her bedroom, creating a science fair project about lightning. For the display, they hung a static generator through some cotton ball "clouds." Unfortunately, cotton balls proved flammable -- and so did the bedroom!

The Blue Jean Book (2005), is the story of how denim jeans rose from their origins with hardscrabble miners and cowboys, to their popularity among laborers, rebels, and the incurably hip.

Interactivities for Middle School

Looking for some new Web 2.0 tools and activities? Or wondering what might work for your students? Linda Starr outlines some great options in Education World. The resources range from writing tools and guides to interactive lessons and explorations for specific grades or all ages. Some that may work well in middle school include:
  • GeoGame which has a variety of games to help students learn geography
  • ThinkTank which helps students brainstorm and organize topics and subtopics for reports and research
  • Power Proofreading which helps students hone their editing and proofreading skills
  • Playwriting-in-the-Round, a site coordinated by Jonathan Fairman of the Cleveland School of the Arts with project design by Nancy Schubert from the University of Minnesota and Mary Todd Kaercher of Grandview Middle School which involves students across the country in collaborative playwriting
  • Knowing You Is Knowing Me which exposes students to other students of differing cultures, through partner schools in multiple countries, and their own with the goal of increasing students' self-knowledge and their knowledge of the world around them
  • Amazon Interactive where students can virtually explore Ecuadorian Amazon and play a game in which they plan and manage an ecotourism venture
  • The Valley of the Shadow: Two Communities in the American Civil War, a digital archive with "thousands of original letters and diaries, newspapers and speeches, census and church records left by men and women in Augusta Country, VA, and Franklin County, PA"
  • Beyond the Fire: Teen Experiences of War guides students through the experiences of teens living in war zones and in times of armed conflict
  • Ocean Explorer from NOAA gives students "near real-time access to a series of multidisciplinary ocean explorations"
  • A virtual tour of a U-505 submarine from the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago
  • Visible Proofs, which has "[t]hree online activities and three lesson plans introduce forensic medicine, anthropology, technology, and history"
  • Geosense, an online geography game you can play against others to test your knowledge
  • The U.S. South Pole Station site from the National Science Foundation with a webcam at the station, a video tour and other resources
  • The Encyclopedia of Life which is trying to catalogue every species on earth and is packed with great pictures and other resources.
And that's barely half of the sites Starr lists. There are fabulous K-12 and all-ages sites like the Underground Railroad, Comic Creator, Project Poster, and PandaCam. The article was first published in 2005 so check any link before you get excited about it. At least 3 of the sites listed for middle school students in the article are no longer active or have moved.

What are some of your favorite interactive websites for middle schoolers?

SOURCE: "The Interactivity Center" 2005
photo courtesy of Randy Stewart, used under this Creative Commons license

Friday, May 23, 2008

K-12 Science Online

There are thousands of websites with science content or lesson plans or activities but where do you start? How do you know it's any good? How can you avoid wasting your time? Sean Cavanagh reports in Digital Directions on three great sites to go to for science resources.

The best-known site in the article is the National Science Digital Library, supported by the National Science Foundation. The resources range from K-12 to college. The search engine gives more focused hits than a general search engine like Google. "Pathways" offers a series of links "arranged by the library in cooperation with outside organizations, which offer specialized information grouped by topic, grade level, or some other designation" on chemistry, biology, computer science and other subjects. All material is reviewed before being put on the site and is removed if it becomes out-of-date or proves to be questionable. Most of the resources are free but look carefully--some links charge a fee for resources.

The National Science Teachers Association also offers online resources for K-12 teachers. Since the NSTA wants to reach as many science teachers as possible to help increase the quality of science instruction across the board, vetted resources are offered at the website free of charge. Soon, NSTA hopes to organize all its resources for teachers under a single Learning Center site. Two of the most popular resources at the NSTA site are SciLinks, "which offers teachers connections between textbook topics and NSTA-approved Web resources," and SciGuides, which organize lesson plans and activities by topic for easy reference.

Teacher's Domain offers multimedia resources for science. Teacher's Domain was developed by WGBH in Boston. Links at Teacher's Domain provide brief essays. discussion questions and videos. While studying tsunamis, for example, students can click on a map of the Indian Ocean to see the science of how the wave formed and caused the destruction it did.

With so much on the Web to choose from, it helps to know of a few trustworthy and vetted online resources to help you round out this school year or plan the next.

SOURCE: "Finding Online Science Sources" 01/23/08
photo courtesy of spacepleb, used under this Creative Commons license

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Who Can You Trust?: Websites for MS Social Studies

Staff writers at Digital Directions point to the need for critique and analysis when using Internet sources in your middle school, or any level, social studies classes. For example, one of the first matches in a Google search on Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., will be The site bills itself as "a valuable resource for teachers and students alike." But the site is hosted by Stormfront, a white supremacist organization and is packed with false and misleading "facts" and PDFs and posters that call for the repeal of Martin Luther King Day and promote King as a "liar, cheater and traitor."

This one example shows that along with the excellent and well-vetted comes the spun, the misleading and the outright false:
Sitting at a computer, students can browse collections such as the photographer Mathew Brady’s classic pictures from the Civil War, or watch Thomas Edison’s early films through the Library of Congress’ site. But elsewhere on the Web, they may stumble across sites that deny the Holocaust took place or that propound other wild and inaccurate claims.
The best way to handle this, with middle schoolers especially, is to recommend sites for them to use for research and collaborative organization or interested researchers projects that have been vetted by you, a professional who are reliable. In a bid to help and spread the word, the Library of Congress holds free teacher-training sessions at national conferences and in Washington, D.C., that include "strategies for helping students examine Web sites to determine if information is authentic."

Another big help is a new website hosted by the National History Education Clearinghouse and supported by a U.S. Department of Education grant. The site features "best practices, teaching materials, lesson plans, policy and research, and professional development for instructors" along with a customized Google search to "provide primary sources and places to get primary sources that have been checked for authenticity." Other reliable websites listed in the article include:

SOURCE: "Critiquing History, Social Studies Sites Requires a Skeptical Approach" 03/06/08
photo courtesy of dbking, used under this Creative Commons license

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Science 2.0?

From Web 2.0 to Math 2.0 to Science 2.0 -- Dave Powers, at his Do the Math blog, speculates on what Science 2.0 might look like in the classroom. He focuses on Web 2.0 tools that can help create the Science 2.0 classroom.

In his post "What Science 2.0 Could Look Like," Powers lists several free Web 2.0 tools that can be useful in a science classroom and one tool that he says is "worth the money." Powers' list includes:
  • Google Spreadsheets, "a free way to create a collaborative data sheet to record the results found during an experiment" (you can tour Google Documents to see all the features)
  • Slideshare which allows you to put Keynote and PowerPoint presentations online
  • Google homepage for organizing RSS feeds and online discussions
  • Wikispaces for Educators to make private or public wikis and "to create an online textbook, an online lab book, or a website for students to share links and to conduct discussions"
  • Vimeo, a video-hosting service for "publishing student videos, teacher tutorials, and other video files" and where viewers can comment on videos
  • Jing Project to capture screenshots and record video
  •, a concept mapping application similar to Inspiration for "map[ping] out the connections between science concepts such as the food chain or the water cycle"
  • Diigo, a social bookmarking tool that lets you add sticky notes or highlighting to shared articles and websites
  • Create a Graph for graph-making
And Powers feels that ed.VoiceThread is worth the price, about $60 for an account that can accommodate up to 100 students. ed.VoiceThread allows for multimodal presentation of results, experiments, research, or new findings. Students can also discuss at ed.VoiceThread. ed.VoiceThread is the K-12 version of the free VoiceThreads.

With so many resources available on the Web for learning, sharing and using findings and information, hopefully more science teachers will turn to the Web and Web 2.0 tools to stimulate and motivate their middle schoolers.

SOURCE: "What Science 2.0 Could Look Like" 04/07/08
photo courtesy of Stephen Barnett, used under this Creative Commons license

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Got Discovery Education Science for Middle School?

One of the bigger challenges in the classroom is engaging all the students -- the quick, the impatient, the deliberate and "slower," those who need extra repetition or personal attention, the bored, the disengaged, the social butterflies. Maya Payne Smart reports in Edutopia on Discovery Education Science for Middle School that combines e-books, video, virtual labs, glossaries and more in a service that can appeal to all your students at once.

Discovery Education Science for Middle School costs about $2000 a year per school. In that package are educator-vetted resources meant to capture the interest of "students with diverse interests, knowledge, aptitudes, and learning styles in the earth, life, and physical sciences." The service has adaptations that help slower learners or those with disabilities. For example, most e-books come with audio assistance so students can hear the text as well as see it, a boon for particular learners. Some of the available videos have closed-captioning. And for those students speeding through the middle school curriculum, the service offers additional resources. When students are absent, they can log in from their house and keep up with their lessons at their own pace. This Discovery service is also excellent for extended student absences. And your classes can stay on track if you have to miss a few days for illness or professional development.

Discovery Education Science also offers in one package a lot of resources that schools couldn't necessarily afford if acquired separately. Emma Haygood, who teaches science and technology at Berrien Springs Middle School in Michigan, said "The service offers a lot of interactive labs the kids can work on that I wouldn't otherwise be able to have in my classroom. And because it's on the computer, makes noise, and is interactive, they think it's the greatest thing." Since students work at their own pace, interruptions during the day, like special events or assemblies are less of a problem.

Tracie Belt, who teaches life science at Shorecrest Preparatory School in Florida, praised the multimodal offerings of Discovery Education Science. It's easier to blend art, language arts and social studies with science and technology with Discovery's interactive glossaries, image libraries and videos. With Discovery Education Science, all these resources are in a single, easily navigated space that lends itself not only to individualized and differentiated instruction but also to collaborative learning. The virtual labs, though no substitute for all hands-on learning, "still stimulate their thinking and allow them to test their predictions," Belt said.

Discovery Education Science for Middle School also includes online assessments and grading tools to help you track your students' progress and determine grades. If your school has the cash and is trying to move to more collaborative and project-based learning, you can find more information at the Discovery Education Science website. You can even sign up for a 30-day free trial to see how it works and if you're interested in using it with your students next year.

SOURCE: "Cooking Up a (Virtual) Laboratory: Discovery Education Science Delivers" 5/1/08
photo courtesy of TheAlieness GiselaGiardino²³, used under this Creative Commons license

Monday, May 19, 2008

Susan Graham: Not Your Mother's Home Ec Teacher

When my mother went to high school, the class was called Home Economics and the goal was to make efficient, modern housewives out of every young woman in the room. By the time I went to high school, Home Economics was insulting and starting to be phased out. But as Family and Consumer Science (FACS), the course is more than sewing and dish cleaning -- it's history, social studies, Web 2.0 tools, economics, global studies and critical thinking, especially in the hands of Susan Graham, who has taught FACS for 25 years. She writes at A Place at the Table about an excellent FACS lesson centered on the labels inside her students' shirts.

For a week, Graham's eighth graders looked at the labels in their shirts and marked the country where each was made on a map using sticky notes. As the stickies accumulated in China and Central America, students were confronted with the question "Why?":
A quick look at the stickie-infested map makes it clear that clothing construction is concentrated in China and surrounding nations and in Central America. Why? Because clothing construction is low tech, requires minimal infrastructure, and the work force is usually women and children. A quick Internet search indicates that the average wage in many of these countries is less than $5,000 a year and that, in many cases, children younger than my students are working six-day weeks to produce those clothes.
Conversations and Internet searches about social justice, child labor, outsourcing, the U.S. trade deficit, and the economy in southwest Virginia, where they all live, followed. And the next day was spent on a sewing project that, Graham wrote, will help them
develop a greater appreciation in the future for the people who will construct the clothing they wear. They will be better consumers—more likely to look at quality of construction. But the most important thing they will learn is to manage their own time, set their own standards, assess their own work, live with their own mistakes. These are Career and Technical Education skills that will serve them for a lifetime.
Graham makes FACS about creating, thinking, learning and thriving. As one of her eighth graders said, "This is my favorite class because instead of telling us a bunch of stuff, you let us do stuff that makes us figure out why we need to know stuff."

SOURCE: "Don't Be Too Quick to Label Me!" 5/7/08
photo courtesy of M. Kelley, used under this Creative Commons license

Friday, May 16, 2008

LIVEbrary Open House - Podcast and Transcript

We had a successful Open House here at the LIVEbrary on Thursday, May 15. You can take the Open House Tour yourself any time by listening to the podcast and following the transcript below. Here's a link to the podcast:

Podcast of Annick LIVEbrary Open House
(WAV File, 30 minutes, audio only)


The podcast includes producer Steve O'Keefe explaining the mission of the LIVEbrary program. There's a quick recap of Season One, "Media Awareness," from Fall of 2007, and an introduction to Season Two, "World History," running through Spring of 2008.

The LIVEbrary On Demand program is described as an effort to put teachers in charge of the LIVEbrary by allowing them to select the software used, the authors they want to chat with, and the date and time of their chats. Each LIVEbrary On Demand online classroom visit includes a live chat with an author trained in online communications, a moderator, and a LIVEbrary Lesson Plan.

Charis Cotter, author of Kids Who Rule, described the LIVEbrary training she received and how she's already using those skills to reach out to classrooms she can't possibly visit in person.

Our blog editor, Dr. Dedra Johnson, is also on the podcast discussing her process for selecting stories for the blog. She highlights a few of her favorite posts.

Here's a transcript of the sites we visited during the LIVEbrary Open House. You can follow the links while listening to the podcast, if you like.


Sample LIVEbrary Blog Post
Copyright-Free Artwork Sources

Sample LIVEbrary Lesson Plan
for Shari Graydon's book, Made You Look
Web Version:
PDF version:

Skype Chat Transcript for Made You Look with Shari Graydon

The Annick LIVEbrary Web Site

List of Books, Authors, and Lesson Plans in LIVEbrary On Demand

List of Books & Authors for Fall 2008 (Science) and Spring 2009 (Health)

Google "LIVEbrary" to see News Coverage, Linkage, and Spread of Program
Web Search:
Blog Search:

What's Out There Anyway?: techLearning's Site of the Day

techLearning has an excellent series, Site of the Day, that highlights an educational web site every day. Websites are submitted and presented with a description, the name of the author or publisher, tips on the content of the site and appropriate grade levels. You can check in daily or search the archives. Each Site of the Day story is brief, and you'll need to try out the sites yourself, but the features give a great peek at some of the gems in the huge sea of the Web.

Thursday's Site of the Day was Operation: Heart Transplant, an interactive site from NOVA. Students can engage in a virtual heart transplant, going through 190 steps, and also can learn more about the history of heart transplants. The site has lesson plans, too. Operation: Heart Transplant is suitable for middle and high school students. On Wednesday, the site of the day, submitted by Amanda Barton, was My Very Own Pizza, published by the Dairy Council of California. As the description says, the site "never once uses these important words: calories, carbohydrates, fats, saturated fats, fat-grams, etc. A clever teacher might use this fact to spark some interesting class discussions about how we are manipulated as consumers and/or about the growing problem of childhood obesity." The site is appropriate for all grade levels.

Dynamic Earth Interactives, featured on Tuesday, lets users poke around the inner structure of our plant and explore plate tectonics and processes like earthquakes and volcanoes. The site has excellent graphics and some critical-thinking activities. And the week stated with The Circus in America, also appropriate for middle and high school. The Circus in America has biographical information, pictures and audio dating from pre-1793 to 1940. The author is Lavahn Hoh at the University of Virginia.

Other Sites of the Day include The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Thomas Jefferson, Vincent van Gogh, BAM! Body and Mind: Ad Decoder, and guides on writing and grammar. It's easy to get a quick overview of a site and its offerings. Know any fabulous websites you've used with your middle schoolers? Check out the criteria for selection and then click "Submit your favorite Web Site."

SOURCE: "techLearning: Site of the Day" 5/15/08
photo courtesy of eschipul, used under this Creative Commons license

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Copyright- and Hassle-Free Images

Recently, a picture on this blog had to be removed. It was found through a Creative Commons search and carried permission for re-use. It turned out that the person who posted the image and labeled it for others to use didn't own the image.

The owner contacted this blog and the picture was removed, then replaced. When pulling together a class project, blog, wiki, video or Ning, it is important to not violate owner's rights or copyrights -- it can cause trouble for you and your students down the road. Errors are usually easy to fix but with a little work, you can avoid the hassle by directing your students and yourself to sites that have worry-free images for you to use.

There are dozens of sources for copyright-free images on the Web, some just for educators, some focused on particular image types or disciplines. Take a look at these sites for starters:
  • Flickr's Creative Commons pool is probably the best known source for images. Photographers allow varying levels of use of their images. Often, you can use an image as long as you give credit to the photographer and are not earning money with the image. Using the advanced search can help you find images that are free to use with proper credit.
  • Also pretty well known is Creative Commons search which taps Flickr, Google, Yahoo and other portals for images that have varying Creative Commons licenses. This search casts an even wider net than the Flickr pool, above.
  • Pics4Learning has copyright-free images in 48 different categories, ranging from American Sign Language to fractals to tools and machinery. The images in Pics4Learning have been donated by educators, students and photographers. It was created as part of the Partners in Education program by Tech4Learning, and the Orange County Public Schools Technology Development Unit.
  • OpenPhoto also has a great collection of free stock images. You can browse categories or use the search engine to find specific types of images.
  • U.S. Government Photos and Graphics at has images and graphics that can be used and reproduced without permission. Look carefully at your chosen image, though; some images are licenced. The images come from government departments like Agriculture, Customs, Defense, NASA and the Indian Health Service.
  • Wikimedia Commons has over 2 million "freely usable" images, video files and audio files. You can search by type of file or browse categories. Always check the copyright or Creative Commons license before using any image.
  • The Library of Congress American Memory collection is a great source of historical images but you must be careful about copyrights. Some images are free to use while others can only be used with the copyright owner's permission and possible fees. There is an advertising category that has great images for media literacy activities.
This wiki with a really long title has an enormous list of links for pages that offer images: Copyright-Friendly and Copyleft Images and Sound (Mostly!) for Use in Media Projects and Web Pages, Blogs, Wikis, etc.

Read carefully, and pick wisely, and be prepared for mistakes made by others or unclear permissions. In those cases, removing the copyrighted image is the best fix. If you are contacted by the owner of an image about a blog, wiki or student project, the same policy applies -- defer to the copyright owner and remove and/or replace the image. With so many options available, you and your students have plenty of image choices free of charge and worries.

SOURCE: "Copyright-Friendly and Copyleft Images and Sound (Mostly!) for Use in Media Projects and Web Pages, Blogs, Wikis, etc." 5/2008
photo courtesy of openDemocracy, used under this Creative Commons license

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

More Nings for Students and Educators

At the Social Networks in Education wiki, you can find dozens of Nings for particular subjects, professional development, French and Spanish, and classroom networks. Many of these Nings connect students globally and can be great tools for your middle schoolers. Or you can modify them to fit your plans and students, find some collaborators, or be inspired to change or add to some of your classroom practices.

You can find all kinds of Nings, and some non-Ning networks, on the page. Some of the Nings made expressly to connect students and teachers globally are listed below:
  • FieldFindr aims to connect global volunteers with teachers and their students. Teachers can post looking for volunteers or people who have expert knowledge to enrich their classes' study of immigration, peace studies, playgrounds, and the Holocaust. Teachers can also search for other collaborators through posted comments.
  • The International Classroom, a social network created specifically for students ages 12-14 to be able to safely connect and share their experiences and cultures, and The French Connection, a Ning linking sixth-grade classes in the U.S. and France for French language study, are both closed. You must be invited to participate or learn more.
  • Rolling on the River is centered around the study of rivers and other bodies of water. It is a "a resource for global collaboration" where users can "[s]hare information, find global partners, and learn more about rivers, lakes, and oceans through participation and collaboration." An interdisciplinary exhibit can be seen at the Apple Learning Exchange. Teachers also share web resources and search for collaborators on specific water studies projects.
  • Museums and Students offers a portal to connect students with museums, their staff, and artists. It exploits one of the great aspects of Nings--the multimedia nature of interaction. Museums and Students has videos of artists discussing their works and processes, links for a podcast from the Columbia Museum of Art and other art-related podcasts, notices of art-education events and professional development opportunities, additional groups that focus on particular museums or topics, and forums on museums' online presence and the value of virtual tours.
Most of what you'll find on the wiki are class Nings -- many private -- and social networks for teachers looking for more information or colleague interaction and support as they use or learn to integrate Web 2.0 tools into their teaching and disciplines. As we slide all too quickly into summer, this wiki can be a great resource for new ideas, new friends, and inspiration for next year and beyond.

SOURCE: "Social Networks in Education" 2008
photo courtesy of openDemocracy, used under this Creative Commons license

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

NASA Connect

Another great, free program from NASA is NASA Connect, a series of math, science and technology programs made just for students in grades 6-8. Math, science and technology are blended and directly related to work done at NASA by researchers.

NASA Connect offers a series of programs each year that have three different parts:
  1. a thirty-minute television broadcast that your students can watch live or that can be recorded for later use
  2. a hands-on activity
  3. and an interactive web activity to promote use of technology on your classroom.
All three components are created to work together to show how math, science and technology are combined in real-life situations and research. NASA Connect shows are available on 130+ PBS stations, Channel One, and some cable access channels. A search box at the NASA Connect site can help you find your local station. The shows are also available online at NASA's Learning Technologies Channel. Video copies can be ordered from the NASA Educator Resource Center in your state or the NASA Central Operation of Resources for Educators. You can copy and show the shows multiple times as long as it is strictly for educational or classroom use.

NASA Connect is produced by the NASA Langley Research Center in Hampton, VA and is endorsed by the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM). As with many NASA educational programs and initiatives, the main goal of NASA Connect is to "establish a 'connection' between the mathematics, science, and technology concepts taught in the classroom and the mathematics, science, and technology used everyday by NASA researchers."

Once you register, you have access to the PDFs which describe the hands-on activities for each unit. Unfortunately, the site shows no new programs since April 2006 but the archives are available of past programs such as "Breaking Barriers: Solving Linear Equations©," "Team Extreme: The Statistics of Success©," and "The Right Ratio of Rest: Proportional Reasoning©." Hopefully, new programs are in the pipeline.

SOURCE: "About: NASA Connect" 2007
photo courtesy of Gaetan Lee, used under this Creative Commons license

Monday, May 12, 2008

Using VoiceThreads with Bill Ferriter

Laila Weir writes in Edutopia on sixth-grade language arts and social studies teacher Bill Ferriter and his use of VoiceThreads with his students at Salem Middle School in North Carolina. Ferriter had a hunch it would work since his students already spent time online outside the classroom. With VoiceThreads, he has been able to extend learning and interaction beyond the classroom walls and regular school hours.

VoiceThreads are "interactive media albums" that contain images, documents or videos that viewers can comment on in one of three ways: by typing a comment, recording an audio or video response, or drawing directly on the image, document or video. VoiceThread is easy to learn and use, a boon for teachers new to Web 2.0 tools and for students who may have varying levels of experience with technology. (A secure site for teachers and students, Ed.VoiceThread, has a fee-based service but one that "should pass even stringent school Web filters.")

Ferriter started small, posting VoiceThreads on a number of topics connected to classroom work and letting students respond voluntarily. He got so many responses, he knew he was onto something. Students are more likely to participate in a digital discussion where shyness and fears of embarrassment, very strong in middle school, are eliminated by nature. Students can also think ahead of time about their responses, something that isn't usually possible in an in-class discussion.

Students can participate in multiple conversations, eliminating another in-class discussion problem according to Ferriter: "In a classroom conversation, there's generally one strand of conversation going at any one time, and if you're bored by that particular strand, you're completely disengaged." One VoiceThread on Darfur elicited thoughtful responses and a lot of participation--Ferriter got over 60 comments from 36 of his 53 students.

The VoiceThread site has great tutorials to get you and students started. VoiceThreads can be private or published and can be embedded in a class or teacher website. Because you can use a telephone to leave an audio response, the need for microphones or webcams are eliminated for students or schools that don't have them. And this also makes the discussion accessible to students of varying levels of ability and technological experience. Ferriter has a wiki that has examples of VoiceThreads and lots of great tips for getting started.

SOURCE: "VoiceThreads: Extending the Classroom with Interactive Multimedia Albums" 04/16/08
photo: screencapture of a VoiceThread tutorial

Friday, May 9, 2008

Immerse, Connect, Understand and Excel with NBC's iCue

NBC News has created a free online learning community aimed at students 13 and up called iCue, which stands for "Immerse, Connect, Understand, Excel." Michele Greppi reports in TV Week that iCue has games, "peer talk," and video in a secure environment.

The Cue Card is central to iCue. A Cue Card is
a video player, flash card, note-taking tool, and trading card all rolled into one. With the patented 'flip card' technology, you can watch a streaming video from NBC News, and then 'flip' the card over for additional information from our producers. You can also jot down your own notes, add your own tags, and organize your cards in color-coded categories for easy study. Plus, Cue Cards can be shared with your friends and used in games and activities.
iCue also promises discussion forums, "hundreds" of current and historic news videos, daily challenge questions, essay challenges, and a Student Center that offers non-academic activities. The site is free to use and paid for by advertising. iCue debuted May 1 with a focus on election coverage. There are plan to create collections of resources for U.S. history, U.S. government and politics, and English language and composition, modeled after AP course outlines. The resources themselves, though, can be used to enrich or support non-AP classes.

The site was created based on research from the MIT Education Arcade. MIT will conduct a study on iCue's effectiveness at building critical thinking and communication skills in students. It will be interesting to see how helpful or effective iCue is as a service. Even so, free access to NBC news videos, past and present, can be helpful in any middle school social studies course.

SOURCE: "NBC News Launches iCue for Students" 05/05/08
SOURCE: "iCue FAQ" 2008
photo: screencapture of the iCue homepage

Thursday, May 8, 2008

LIVEbrary Lesson Plan #8: The Seige

LIVEbrary Lesson Plan #8:
"Under Attack in
Renaissance Europe"
(for a colorful, downloadable PDF version, click here)

Subject: World History
Age Range: 9-13
Grade Level: 4-8

- Reading
- Assignment
- Quiz
- Discussion Questions


"Attack and Sortie"
an excerpt from the book
Under Attack in Renaissance Europe

Written by Stephen Shapiro
Illustrated by John Mantha
Published by Annick Press
Reprinted with permission.

Spanish forces encircled the Dutch town and began building fortified trenches, or "saps," they would use to safely move troops to the gates of the city. Professional sappers could extend a trench 6 meters (19.5 feet) an hour, filling five or six gabions with dirt to fortify the trench.

For a month the Spanish trenches continued their advance day after day. For the Spanish, everything was routine -- or as routine as work can be with cannonballs whistling overhead. Early one morning that changed.

~ The Dutch Fight Back ~

The first sign was a terrible cannonade from the Dutch guns. Gabions were torn apart and wagons smashed, and the Spanish sappers huddled deeper in their trenches. After a few minutes the clash of swords and the thunder of muskets could be heard. The Dutch had launched a sortie!

The waardgelders swarmed out of the town, through hidden gates called sallyports. They raced toward the besiegers' trenches. Workers and sappers fled in every direction, seeking to escape the ferocious Dutch troops.

~ The Spanish Forces React ~

Now the Spanish camp was alive with activity, as captains urged their men forward to rescue the endangered sappers. Would they arrive in time?

The Spanish had not been totally unprepared. The trenches were studded with small redoubts every 200 meters (650 feet) or so, each holding a squad of infantrymen. These soldiers rushed out to do battle with the Dutch.

While some of the Dutch soldiers held them off, others tried to destroy the Spanish trenches. Militiamen toppled gabions and set them alight, wrecked equipment, and smashed the sappers' tools. Reaching a few of the attackers' cannons, the Dutchmen drove a metal spike into the touch-hole of each, "spiking" the guns and damaging them beyond repair.

~ The Waardgelders Pull Back ~

Suddenly the Dutch began to retreat. The captain of the waardgelders had seen the approaching Spanish forces. His men had done enough damage for one day; they weren't ready to tangle with those veterans.

The Spanish let them go, protecting what was left of their trenches. The Dutch has done damage, but nothing that couldn't be repaired. They had delayed but not stopped the Spanish assault.

All was quiet for a few days as the Spanish repaired their trenches. But another surprise lay in wait for them.

~ Dutch Reinforcements Arrive ~

Outside the lines of circumvallation, a small Dutch force lurked. They had been sent from the main Dutch army to help the besieged town, but they were far too weak to defeat the Spanish army.

So far they had limited themselves to harassing the convoys of wagons that brought supplies to the Spanish. But now they took a dangerous new step and began an attack on the Spanish lines.

Amid the violent cracks of muskets and arquebuses, the Spanish commander wondered -- was this really an attempt to break the siege? He realized the truth too late: the Dutch attack was merely a diversion!

~ Dutch Horsemen Carry Cargo and News ~

On the other side of town, a hand-picked force of horsemen galloped to the lines of circumvallation. The diversion had stripped the line of Spanish troops, allowing the Dutch reinforcements to swiftly cross the lines and race for the town.

Catching the Spanish flat-footed, they quickly reached safety. A gate opened and they triumphantly rode inside. Although the riders were too few to make a real difference in the defense, they brought with them a small but valuable cargo. Each man had tied a few bags of gunpowder to his saddle -- enough ammunition to sustain the Dutch for several weeks.

Their leader was an experienced captain who had served under William the Silent, the leader of the Dutch revolt. He brought new hope to the town council. The Spanish could be defeated!


siege: a military operation in which enemy forces surround a town or building, cutting off essential supplies, with the aim of compelling the surrender of those inside

cannonade: a continuous bombardment of heavy gunfire

gabion: a wicker container filled with earth or stone and used in fortifications

sapper: a worker who builds a tunnel or trench ("sap") that conceals an assailant's approach to a fortified place

waardgelder: mercenaries or paid, professional soldiers hired to guard the entrances ("gates") to towns and protect the Dutch revolutionaries from the Spanish troops

sallyport: a small, easily secured door in a castle wall or other fortification. During a siege, defending raiding parties would "sally forth" or "sortie" from these ports and attack the besiegers

redoubt: a temporary or supplementary fortification, used as an entrenched stronghold or refuge

touch-hole: a small hole in early firearms through which the gunpowder charge is ignited

spiking: hammering a metal spike into the touch-hole of a cannon to render it inoperable

lines of circumvallation: fortifications made by besiegers around a town to keep supplies and reinforcements out

lines of countervallation: fortifications made by besiegers around a town to keep those inside from escaping

arquebus: a small Spanish firearm. At 1.2 meters (4 feet) long, the arquebus was considerably smaller than the musket (1.8 meters or 6 feet)

# # #

Copyright 2007 by Stephen Shapiro (text) and John Mantha (illustrations). Excerpted from the book, "THE SIEGE: Under Attack in Renaissance Europe." Published by Annick Press, ISBN 9781554511082 (library binding), ISBN 9781554511075 (paperback). Reprinted with permission. For more information, please visit Thank you.


Let's Play Labelillo!

You've never heard of "labelillo"? You're in for a treat.

For this assignment, you need a color printer, household glue or glue stick, scissors, a piece of paper, and a pen.

Next, print the magnificently detailed illustration John Mantha made to dramatize the action in the excerpt, "Attack and Sortie" from THE SIEGE. You'll find his full-color illustration as a PDF on the LIVEbrary web site or blog. If you go to this link in your web browser, you can download and print the PDF:

Next, see how many of the glossary words from the reading you can find in the illustration. Label them. Use the scissors to cut little labels and glue them to the illustration. It might be easier to write on the label before you glue it.

You can do this exercise as a team. One person can write the labels, another person can trim them, another person can glue them. Take turns putting the labels on the illo.

Are there other parts of the illustration you can label that are not in the glossary? How many things in the PDF can you identify? When you're finished, the result is called your "labelillo." Compare your labelillo with others in the class. __________________________________________________


NOTE: Quiz answers are available to teachers upon request from Quiz answers will be revealed during online classroom visits and will be made a part of the transcripts of those visits.

1) Multiple Choice. What is a waardgelder?

A. Dutch term for a gelding horse.
B. Renaissance artist who welds gourds together.
C. An elder who sits on the town council.
D. Professional soldiers hired to defend Dutch towns.

2) Multiple Choice. What is a gabion?

A. Soldiers who could talk their enemies to death.
B. A wicker barrel filled with dirt to fortify trenches.
C. A fortified section of a trench where troops are stationed.
D. A red sash Spanish troops were required to wear into battle.

3) Multiple Choice. What is a redoubt?

A. When you skip a question you're not sure about so you can come back to it later.
B. What soldiers do with letters from home.
C. A fortified section of a trench where troops are stationed.
D. A method of interrogating spies caught behind enemy lines.

4) Multiple Choice. What is an arquebus?

A. A small firearm.
B. A supply wagon.
C. A fortified trench.
D. A Renaissance dance craze.

5) Multiple Choice. What is a sortie

A. A method for dividing food during rationing.
B. Counterattack from forces defending against a siege.
C. A final attack designed to break through fortified gates.
D. A diversion staged to clear soldiers from a secondary point of attack.

  • What is a "siege" and how does it differ from other kinds of warfare?

  • What recent wars have had famous sieges? Can you find an example from the 20th century?

  • Why were the Dutch revolting against the Spanish from the year 1566 until the Peace of Westphalia in 1648?

  • What were some of the main points of contention between Protestants and Catholics during Renaissance times?

  • Can you name other wars that have been fought in part over a clash in religious beliefs?

Copyright 2008 by Annick Press. All rights reserved. Printed here with permission of the publisher. Please request permission from before posting this lesson plan in any public place. Thank you.

What Are You Twittering?

Chris O'Neal reports in Edutopia on Twitter's growing popularity with teachers and the varied ways they use Twitter. As a fast way to update and exchange information, Twitter can in some cases replace class blogs and discussion boards while also giving students and teachers up-to-date information and contact almost anywhere they are.

Twitter is a social networking and microblogging service that uses an instant message interface. The basic question is "What are you doing?" Answers are limited to 140 characters or less. Twitter can also be used with a mobile phone. Once you are signed up, you can follow other people by getting their updates. Profiles give basic information on users. You can also set your preferences to include specific followers. Twitter also allows you to block followers and report spammers.

Many teachers currently use Twitter to keep up with colleagues locally or anywhere in the world, to find and share new ideas or methods, and to get and give information on conferences, to further professional development, and to network socially. But it can also be used in the classroom. Some ways Twitter can be used:
  • To set up an account for students and parents to keep everyone up-to-date on class activities
  • To create brainstorming sessions for students
  • To provide space for students to share information from wherever they are as they work on a collaborative project
  • To update parents at the end of the week on assignments, upcoming events, classroom needs, volunteer opportunities, etc.
  • To have students group-write a story or other text
  • To remind students of assignments and events
  • To compel students to respond concisely to a prompt, topic, article or other resource.
It is possible to restrict who is part of your Twitter conversation, making it much safer for class use and especially with middle schoolers. You can also change or adjust who is following you and can disable updates for people you no longer want to follow. And because Twitter messages can't be edited once they are posted, it can focus students on editing and proofing themselves to avoid embarrassment, misunderstanding, or a lower grade. Are you using Twitter? How? What are the best uses you've found or heard about?

SOURCE: "Tweet Spot: Web 2.0 Educators Are Atwitter About Twitter" 04/30/08
SOURCE: "Twitter FAQ" 2007
photo courtesy of trekkyandy, used under this Creative Commons license

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Marty Kerzetski: Space Day Design Challenges and Project-Based Learning

Edutopia has a great page on project-based learning with teacher interviews on their use of projects and real-life results. In one Q&A, Marty Kerzetski, fifth grade teacher at Lackawanna Trail Elementary Center in Pennsylvania, talks about her use of Space Day Design Challenges with her students. These challenges "introduce her students to real-life science problems that astronauts face."

Kerzetski says that there are three design challenges, one based on handling emergencies in space, another based on creating an attractive and nutritious recipe for astronauts, and "Stretch and Fetch," in which a retractable arm has to be designed. For the project, Kerzetski and her students used ePals for discussion, questions and sharing of good ideas or resources with each other and students across the nation.

Another great feature of Kerzetski's project was the input of experts. Every week at ePals, students interacted with an employee of NASA, an astronaut, or other expert related to the designs students were working on. Kerzetski says this was excellent because "the experts would come and respond to the children themselves ... and they were very encouraging. They said, 'Great question,' 'Keep up the good work.' And that really motivated the kids."

Kerzetski thinks that some teachers avoid project-based learning because it often seems "easier to read from the book, give a worksheet, and move along that way." She herself, though, is a huge advocate of project-based learning and said in her Q&A that in projects, students
[...] direct their own learning. I set it up for them. I give them guidelines and then I kind of set them loose, but they do what they do best. Like I said, some kids will work on the drawing of the project, on creating the project, whereas other kids might work on the writing. But they work together, they share their ideas. They do the research together so everyone is involved. And then they switch their spots, and it just seems like they work to their strengths, and it gives them an opportunity to show where their strengths are.
SOURCE: "Marty Kerzetski: Project-Based Learning" n.d.
photo courtesy of soldiers media center, used under this Creative Commons license

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Introducing Stephen Shapiro

Stephen Shapiro was born and raised in Toronto. As a child, he was an avid reader and his first favorite book (or so his parents tell him) was Jelly Belly by Dennis Lee. When he was a little older, Stephen began to read as much as possible about history, including the occasional book beyond his level of comprehension. The first book he ever bought was a handbook on warships. His parents, after an initial period of shock, were supportive of this interest. They even allowed themselves to be dragged around to more forts, museums, and ships than they had ever wanted to see. In exchange, Stephen agreed to be dragged to art galleries (though he still complained). Surprisingly, Stephen reads more children’s books today than he did when he was younger, no doubt because his mother is a children’s book designer. Stephen now counts Loris Lesynski as one of his favorite children’s authors.

His latest book, The Siege: Under Attack in Renaissance Europe (2007), takes you inside the walls of a besieged community and also behind the lines of the attackers. Brought to life through dramatic storytelling and vivid illustrations, The Siege is an exciting look at Renaissance life during military strife.

Battle Stations! Fortifications Through the Ages (2005), features over 14 cunningly designed defences from around the world, both past and present.

As a lover of history and books, Stephen has always enjoyed reading about World War II--he just didn't enjoy writing it down until he co-authored (with Tina Forrester) Ultra Hush-hush: Espionage and Special Missions (2003). Stephen cites the non-fiction writing of Tom Clancy as a major influence for this book, particularly the author's ability to make military topics accessible and interesting to the general public--something Stephen hopes his own books can do for kids.

In the tradition of Ultra Hush-hush, Stephen wrote Hoodwinked: Deception and Resistance (2004), which plunges readers into the secret strategies and underground battles that helped turn the tide of WWII. Presented with historical accuracy and engaging storytelling, Hoodwinked tells 18 true, gripping stories from both sides of the conflict.

Stephen’s main interest is still history, just as it was when he was young. Although he dabbled in stamp collecting for many years, he finds he has less time for that now. In many ways, what interested him about stamps is what interests him about history: the thrill of the chase. With stamps it’s identifying, from a trail of clues, a stamp you’ve never seen before. With history, it’s the same process, except instead of stamps you’re working with facts.

Eventually, Stephen would like to write about history full time. With an almost infinite amount of material to work from, he says, the biggest challenge in writing about history is selecting the best stories. Naval history is an area full of particularly exciting stories that Stephen would like to explore in the future … and it might even give him an excuse to learn how to sail.