Monthly Archives: July 2016

Informations About Technology in Your Humanities Classroom

In Neil Postman’s The End of Education: Redefining the Value of School, published in 1995, the seemingly clairvoyant social critic explains how “the computer and its associated technologies are awesome additions to a culture.” But, he continues, “like all important technologies of the past, they are Faustian bargains, giving and taking, sometimes in equal measure, sometimes more in one way than the other.”

Twenty years later, Postman’s words ring truer than ever. In my experience, technology has the powerful ability to help teach and illuminate, preparing young people to succeed in a world that champions digital expertise. Still, I try to remain vigilant and make purposeful use of technology, realizing when it is not only unnecessary but may even hinder intellectual growth and development.

Sometimes I choose to implement technology in my humanities-based classroom, and sometimes I choose not to.

With Taking Notes
In my high school courses, I strive to act as a guide-by-the-side, with students engaged in debate and discussion. They use technology, when appropriate, to answer their own questions. Since I rarely lecture, most students don’t feel a need to take copious notes or hide behind a screen. They control their learning. For teachers with larger classes who may view lecturing as a necessity, check out an intriguing 2014 study published in Psychological Science, “The Pen Is Mightier Than the Keyboard: Advantages of Longhand Over Laptop Note Taking.”

I recently spoke to coauthor Pam A. Mueller of Princeton, who explained that laptop note takers often record a lecture verbatim, even when instructed not to, resulting in poorer processing of content. “You don’t have to be selective, you don’t have to think about what [content] means,” she told me. “Whereas when you’re writing longhand, it’s slower, which forces you to process the content more deeply.”

With Self-Directed Learning
Along those lines, I also coach students to think about what constitutes credible information, and where to find it online. This is a crucial skill to master, no matter what profession an individual ultimately pursues. At school and at home, students use the internet to explore subjects that interest them and make sense for the course. As online learning tools advance, I believe teachers will become all the more responsible for guiding students to appropriate sources, rather than teaching material directly themselves. I’m definitely in good company in this thinking. “I think kids in 20 years are going to walk into school and pick their peers for the day,” Curtis J. Bonk, professor of instructional systems technology at Indiana University and author of The World Is Open: How Web Technology Is Revolutionizing Education, told me. “And they’ll be coming from all over the world. They’ll just hit a little map, and they might even pick their teachers for the day coming from the Philippines and Singapore and other places.”

With Research
It may be true that students know how to access digital library databases, but not all know how to make effective use of them. Repositories like JSTOR, for example, provide access to thousands of academic journals. Unlike in a quick and instantly gratifying Google search, however, students must enter precise keywords to get a successful search result. That calls for preliminary research, and as vast and informative as the internet is, it doesn’t always yield the most academic search results. It’s always a good place to start, but I’m a fan of also directing students toward printed materials. There is still much to be said for searching for books in a quiet library, especially since the internet doesn’t provide free access to much scholarship.

With Writing
In an increasingly digital age, students must practice more than just academic writing. They need to practice communicating online and using a first-person narrative to promote themselves and their ideas. They need to know what to share, where to share it, and how to attract an online audience. I also teach my students about hyperlinking, which Vicki Davis, author of Reinventing Writing: The 9 Tools That Are Changing Writing, Teaching, and Learning Forever, tells me “can change everything” from how writers footnote to how readers access information. In my classes, I also introduce students to writing opinion pieces. I’m eager to see them share their work online, and I often ask permission to share their work on The Gator, the student-run news site which I also advise.

With Proofreading
With the projector on, I often model how I proofread, with students scrutinizing how I write and rewrite a sentence, word, or paragraph before moving on. I try to explain my thought process, as well as why something doesn’t sound quite right to my ear. I then break students into groups of two or three and ask them to edit an anonymous piece of student work to share with the class. Unbeknownst to them, I sometimes throw in sections of my old high school or college essays, or even drafts of articles I’m currently working on. When I reveal myself as the author, students are surprised to see my mistakes and achievements. Students also upload their work online for peers to inspect or comment on. This year I’m excited about incorporating voice annotations, using Turnitin, to offer additional feedback on written work.

The Best Tips for Math Success

e3Many students feel like knowing how to do well in math is an inborn skill, something that can’t be learned. But the truth is that anyone can be successful in math – they just need the right strategies.

Jerry Brodkey, Ph.D., has taught math for over twenty years, from Algebra I to AP Calculus. Over time, he has developed a list of recommendations that he discusses with the parents every year at Back-To-School Night. Here are Brodkey’s top ten tips for performing well in math.

– Do all of the homework. Don’t ever think of homework as a choice. It’s the most important way that students practice and master the concepts taught in class. Set up a regular time and place that make doing the homework feel automatic.
– Fight not to miss class. Math class moves fast, teaching a new concept every day. What students do today builds towards tomorrow. Math punishes absences; to keep up, students have to make time to come back and learn what they missed. So if there’s an optional appointment to be made, take care not to schedule it during math.
– Find a friend to be your study partner. We all have reasons for legitimate absences. So find a friend who will take good notes when you’re gone and will call that night to fill you in on the homework. This is good practice for the real world, where building positive relationships is necessary to thrive. In more advanced classes, it’s a good idea to build a study group to practice for tests.
– Establish a good relationship with the teacher. High school teachers have up to 175 students, so it’s important to distinguish yourself. During the first week of school, introduce yourself. Let your teacher know that you are interested in her class, and welcome the opportunity to learn. Ask questions that show you’re paying attention. Parents should also introduce themselves, via e-mail or at Back-To-School night. Teachers respond best to students who show that they care about the class.
– Analyze and understand every mistake. Our culture has become perfection- focused, and it’s tempting to ignore our mistakes. Students want to pass over a mistake made on homework or a test, to just let it go. But it’s important to fix mistakes and understand why they were made; otherwise we’re doomed to repeat them. Take time to figure out the thinking behind a mistake, and figure out how to do it right. Ask the teacher if you’re unclear. In advanced classes, it can be helpful to write a paragraph of reflection about why errors were made.
– Get help fast. If a student realizes that something is difficult, he should seek as much help as possible as quickly as possible. Teachers are very receptive to requests for extra help. Straighten out misunderstandings before they start to snowball.
– Don’t swallow your questions. Questions are the vehicle by which we learn. If you have one, ask it. Chances are that many of your students have the same question. Saying it out loud will help you, your classmates, and the teacher. Asking good questions is a lifelong skill, and school is a safe place to practice. The more questions we ask, the easier it gets. A good teacher will respect all questions. If you feel that your teacher embarrasses you for asking a question, talk to your parents and have them tell the administration; this is a serious problem.
– Basic skills are essential. Quick: what’s 9 times 7? To be successful, students must be able to answer this correctly in their sleep. The multiplication tables are the basis for most high school math problems. If your child doesn’t know them, practice! Make flash cards, buy a computer program, and practice, practice, practice.
– Algebra I must be mastered. Algebra I skills are crucial to later math courses. Students must master skills like solving systems of equations, graphing, slope, and simplification of radicals. Don’t push students to take Algebra I until their teacher says they are ready. And if their Algebra grade is below a C, strongly consider re-taking the class. Even in Calculus, most problems consist of one difficult step, followed by ten steps of Algebra.
– Understand what the calculator is doing. It’s not enough to know how to use the calculator; students need to know what the answer means. They should ask themselves what the calculator is doing for them, and always analyze the calculator’s answer. For instance, if the teacher asks for “the square of negative three,” many students will type in “-3^2” which gives the answer “-9.” But the real answer is “(-3)^2”, or 9. Students should play around with their calculators and become familiar with the way they work.

In today’s highly technological world, math classes have taken on a new level of importance. Brodkey’s tips can help every student do her best in every level of math. No matter what college or career a student is considering, doing her best in math will maximize her options for the future. Our math games make math more engaging as students develop skills in number sense, arithmetic, geometry and more.

Tips to Build Background Knowledge

e2The question then becomes, how do we build children’s background knowledge? Core reading materials often encourage us to activate, support, build on, and tie to children’s existing knowledge base. But what do we do when there is no existing knowledge base? Or when there is little to build on? If you asked us, for example, to read an elementary physics text building on our previous knowledge base of physics, you would likely see blank stares, akin to a deer in headlights.

This issue becomes even more complicated in the age of Common Core State Standards (CCSS). The CCSS place a premium on the amount of background knowledge we provide to children prior to reading a text. It’s not that the standards negate background knowledge or its contribution to comprehension; rather, the authors of the publishers’ guidance to the CCSS emphasize close reading, developing knowledge through text, regarding the deliberate and careful analysis of text as the gateway for developing independent readers (National Governors Association Center for Best Practices & Council of Chief State School Officers,2010).

Although at times, this clash of perspectives might seem like a catch-22, the problem is solvable. Teachers can effectively build children’s background knowledge early on (Neuman & Wright, 2013). However, at the same time, we must recognize that knowledge is not just accumulating facts; rather, children need to develop knowledge networks, comprised of clusters of concepts that are coherent, generative, and supportive of future learning in a domain. Here’s how we do it:

– Begin by teaching words in categories. For example, you can try something as simple as this: “I’m going to say the following words:strawberries, bananas, papayas, pineapples. They all are a type of… (fruit).” Categories of objects begin to develop concepts, and the use of generic nouns (fruit) has been shown to be highly related to language and vocabulary development.
– Use contrasts and comparisons. For example, you can give children puzzlers like, “Is an artichoke a type of fruit? Why is it or is it not a kind of fruit?” Puzzlers help children think outside the immediate context and consider the reasoning behind these contrasts and comparisons, which can further their understanding of categories and concepts.
– Use analogies. An analogy is another type of comparison, but this time the comparison is made between two things that are usually thought to be different from each other. Analogies help children build knowledge because they compare something new to something we already know. For example, try something like, “bird is to feather as dog is to… (fur).” Children can use similes (comparisons using the words like or as) or metaphors (comparisons without using like or as) to build new knowledge.
– Encourage topic-focused wide reading. Reading builds knowledge, but wide reading has typically been interpreted as reading about a lot of different topics, demonstrating breadth rather than depth in reading. Try this variation: Encourage children to identify an interest and read as many books as they can on one topic. What you find is that children will develop a deeper knowledge and expertise on a topic. These interests will drive children to read more.
– Embrace multimedia. We often think that direct experiences are the most compelling ways to build knowledge. As many teachers can attest, there is nothing more thrilling than watching children engage in learning through direct experiences or seeing their delight and excitement on field trips and other activities. Although it is certainly not a replacement for real-life experiences, multimedia can often provide a wealth of information that we could only wish to experience firsthand. Further, it can introduce children to important words and concepts in a highly motivating way and build a shared knowledge base among all of your students.

Conclusion

The importance of background knowledge is especially salient in the age of Common Core. To meet the demands of these new standards, children will be expected to develop knowledge through text, both narrative and informational, within specified difficulty ranges at each grade level. Informational text, in particular, is likely to have a greater density of conceptual language and academic terms than typical storybooks or narrative texts. Consequently, these texts will place increasing demands on children’s prior knowledge, further attenuating other risk factors.

Without greater efforts to enhance background knowledge, differences in children’s knowledge base may further exacerbate the differences in children’s vocabulary and comprehension. The imperative to foster children’s background knowledge as a means for providing a firm foundation for learning, therefore, is greater than ever.

Tips to Choose Read Aloud Books for Babies to Third Graders

e1How do you choose books to read aloud with your child? There are many things to think about: how interesting the topic or characters might be for your child; an intriguing setting, time period, or plot; the liveliness or beauty of the language; or how engaging the illustrations are. Some books are more appropriate based on social and emotional development at each stage of a young child’s life. Find guidance here in choosing great read alouds.

It’s never too early to start reading to young children. Babies and toddlers are listeners, building their vocabulary before they can even talk.

What to look for in choosing books for babies and toddlers:
Brightly colored pictures of simple objects.
Simple texts, rhyming, and repetition.
Books that introduce colors, shapes, counting, and letters.
Lift-the-flap and sturdy pop-up books to encourage exploration.
Board books and cloth books — perfect for young hands to manipulate.
See some of our favorite read alouds for babies and toddlers

Read alouds for preschoolers

Preschoolers are aquiring language skills quickly. They enjoy the sound of language — even nonsensical words — and a good laugh; after all, they’re developing a sense of humor!

What to look for in choosing books for preschoolers:

Bright, big illustrations.
Simple stories with basic plots.
Books that help answer a preschooler’s “why?” questions about their world.
Rhyming text, including the classics like Mother Goose and Dr. Seuss.
Classic stories with universal themes such as friendship and generosity.
Activity books that encourage exploration, observation, and play.
Bedtime stories to calm preschoolers after their busy days!
See some of our favorite read alouds for preschoolers >

Read alouds for kindergarteners

Kindergarteners — they’re growing up, and so is their taste in books. They’re developing empathy and relationships with other children.

What to look for in choosing books for kindergarteners:
Titles that explore kid interests, expand horizons, and offer exposure to different kinds of writing.
Stories that let them see how characters in different situations behave toward others.
Engaging informational texts with lots of colorful photographs or illustrations that help kindergartners build knowledge about the world.
Cumulative tales full of built-in anticipation, like There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly.
Longer stories or chapter books with thematically rich issues that lead to discussion and reflection.
See some of our favorite read alouds for kindergarteners >

Read alouds for first graders

First grade is when many children begin to read independently. But reading aloud with first graders remains not only a pleasurable but an important activity.

What to look for in choosing books for first graders:
Rich language — words and phrases that deliver complex meaning and imagery.
Stories with more complex plots that spark a desire to predict and learn what happens next.
Books that relate to the experiences of a first grader and feature characters similar in age.
Narrative nonfiction that’s full of fascinating facts yet reads like a story.
Silly stories and poems that have fun with words and sounds.
See some of our favorite read alouds for first graders >

Read alouds for second graders

Second graders are expanding their interests and putting ideas together in new ways. Books — timeworn or new, fiction or nonfiction, poetry or prose — shared aloud allow both adult and child to explore the world together.

What to look for in choosing books for second graders:
Old favorites — second graders may want to read the same book many times, even though you may have thought they’d outgrown it.
Characters dealing with the same fears, interests, and concerns that they experience.
Nonfiction genres that introduce second graders to biography, history, and real stories of nature and science.
Picture books that lead you to chapter books, such as Diary of a Spider and Charlotte’s Web.
Chapter books to read aloud that are rich in detail and above independent reading level.
See some of our favorite read alouds for second graders >

Read alouds for third graders

Empathy, experience, vocabulary, and a love of language continue to grow long after third graders can read by themselves.

What to look for in choosing books for third graders:
Books that tackle tough topics and lead to discussion that helps kids cope with daily challenges.
Characters they can relate to and learn from.
Stories that keep your read aloud lively and interactive and lead to lots of conversation.
Picture books that build knowledge and support connections to the complexities of the world around them.