Monthly Archives: February 2013

A Must See for all in Education

What We Have Done as an Educational Community is Priceless

Change. In education,we are accustomed to seeing changes in philosophy, funding, materials, focus, ideology, scheduling, and leadership. Right now, we are in the middle of the biggest change in our careers, and what we have been doing as educators is priceless.

The difference between this change and the zillions of changes before it, is that now we have a connected community. There should be no district, school, or teacher working in isolation trying to figure it out alone. Since the last major change, we as educators have pulled together. We have organized ourselves on every level, from superintendents to classroom teachers and everyone in between . We have posted our opinions, knowledge, and resources on blogs and websites and twitter. We have shared like no other industry. We have stepped up for our districts, our schools and our students to make education better for each and every learner. We have demonstrated professional generosity on a level never seen before. So it is there that we will learn and grow…and change…together. This change will not be like ones before. We will make it work for our students and for our districts,  and we will make it more cohesive… because we are working together.

You’re in a Global Project. Now What?


There are so many great organizations and global collaborative project options, so just jump in! Once you get your feet wet and figure out the terrain, it’s time to make global projects work for you by specifically addressing your curriculum. You’ve opened up your classroom to the world to allow your students to connect and learn with kids all over, but curriculum standards are different around the world. It is easy to make the project not only collaborative, but also individual to suit your needs.

I’ll take a project my class finished recently to demonstrate how to tailor a project to fit your own needs. Using Data to Understand the World was a collaborative project between Illinois, Alaska, Taiwan, Canada, Costa Rica, Ireland, and Australia.  It spanned grades 3-6. On the surface, it was a project to compare geography throughout the world by tracking data (temperature, precipitation and sunlight), and then discussing topics (animals, plants, and land forms). Each participating teacher agreed to provide the data and to participate in a conversation among classes. I could have left it there, but I used the project as a backbone to integrate my curriculum. In our district, the 5th grade curriculum includes:

  1. Ecosystems (Science)
  2. Compare and Contrast (Language Arts)
  3. Informational writing (Language Arts)
  4. Data and graphing (Math)
  5. Culture (Social Studies)

So to address those things, I included these aspects:

  1.  Ecosystems: I used my science text-book as we worked. Then I assigned deeper investigative research on the relationship between sunlight, location to the equator, hemispheres, and the ecosystem.
  2. Compare and Contrast: Students chose two countries to compare and contrast animals and discussed how geographical location effected animal population.
  3. Informational writing: Students chose a country’s plant posting and wrote an informational piece after researching.
  4. Data and graphing: We used the data from around the world each month to graph and chart. We learned about mean, median, mode while comparing the counties and relating that to distance from the equator. I used my math book to teach these lessons while we worked.
  5. Culture: throughout the project, we discussed culture as we Skyped, discussed, interacted with kids and teachers.

In addition, we used as a place for students to interact directly. I taught digital and global citizenship, collaboration, and technology while we worked online.  Schools participated on different levels and to different degrees, so I used that to frame my collaborative connections.

I chose Using Data to Understand the World in this example, but this can be done with any global project. So far this  year, we have worked with iEARN and Flat Classroom, and through This individualization can be done with any project, so start small. Also, take advantage of the other teachers out there. Educators that are online in global projects are  there to mentor and help as well. There is an amazing network of teachers online that welcome questions with open arms, so don’t be shy! Professional generosity is abundant. Jump in!

Here are some great places to start:


Flat Classroom

Global Classroom


Directing Change While Riding an Elephant


Switch, How to change things when change is hard, takes a fresh and powerful look at something everyone in the education field, on any level, is facing. The authors start with this premise: We all have two forces inside us at play: the elephant and the rider. The rider is our rational side: the planner, the willpower, the analyzer. The elephant is our emotional side: the doer, the motivator, the energy.  We must appeal to both in ourselves, and in our organizations, to effectively create change.

The rider provides the planning and direction, and the elephant provides the energy to do.  The riders use the analytical side to inspire understanding through spreadsheets and presentations. The elephants use the emotional side to inspire motivation to act and to continue on.

If you reach the riders in your organization but not the elephants, you will have understanding of the situation, but without motivation to do anything. Often the item gets tabled to discuss yet again. If you reach the elephants in your organization but not the riders, you will have passion but without direction. If the rider isn’t exactly sure of the direction to go, he tends to lead the elephant in circles.

Faced with directing change in your organization, these things can guide you:

  1. Direct the Rider. What feels like resistance is often lack of clarity. Provide crystal clear direction.
  2. Motivate the Elephant. What looks like laziness is often exhaustion. You can only go on willpower for so long until you are exhausted. It’s critical to engage people’s emotional side.
  3. Shape the Path. What looks like a people problem is often a situational problem.  When you shape the path, you make change more likely to happen no matter what the rider and the elephant are doing.

There is so much information in this book that this simple review cannot do it justice, but if you are faced with creating change in your organization, you may want to check it out. It goes on to give clear examples of these principles in play, and specific scenarios modeling how to use these guidelines. It also appeals to both the rider and the elephant, so it’s an excellent ‘group read’ for any organization going through change.

Text Complexity 101


Text Complexity…that phrase has been tossed about a lot since the launch of the Common Core State Standards conversation, but aside from that, it really is just good teaching practice to monitor and increase text complexity. So, for those of you that have been busy trying to keep up on the zillion other things in education, here’s a very brief introductory overview with some links for further information.

What it is NOT:

Text complexity is not necessarily more or longer. It really isn’t about higher reading level per se, more homework, or even more reading.

What it IS:

Increasing text complexity is a way to provide rigor in thinking and understanding by including texts with complex vocabulary, sentence structure and text organization. This can be done at every reading level and with any length text.

In light of the Common Core State Standards, the document identifies three inter-related aspects of text complexity: qualitative analysis, quantitative analysis, and matching readers with texts and tasks. The authors define each of these as follows:

Qualitative evaluation of the text: Levels of meaning, structure, language conventionality and clarity, and knowledge demands.

This can best be measured by an actual attentive human being.

Quantitative evaluation of the text: Readability measures and other scores of text complexity.

This is usually measured by computer software. This takes into account text complexity features such as: sentence length, word length, and text cohesion.

  Matching reader to the text and task: Reader variables (such as motivation, knowledge, and experiences) and task variables (such as purpose and the complexity generated by the task assigned and the questions posed).

Again, this is a human job.

As you can see, monitoring text complexity is no simple task. A trained teacher  can effectively provide students with increasing levels of text complexity in a variety of formats. The key is training and practice. I see teachers all over the country working with Professional Learning Networks to increase their understanding and skill. Here are a couple really solid places to go for information. Find a group you resonate with and follow along through RSS feed, twitter, or facebook. There is no end to the professional generosity in our field.

Engaging Educators

Burkins and Yaris 

Darren Burris 

Increasing Rigor in Your Classroom


Rigor, (and its counterpart, text complexity), has been the focus of my latest professional quest. As teachers, we know that rigor is key to high standards and high performance, but how do we ensure appropriate rigor for each child in a class of diverse learners? Well, of course providing for that diversity is the continual challenge for teachers in so many areas every day in classrooms around the world.

This ongoing quest to ensure rigor sent me out into the twittersphere and beyond, where I ran across an upcoming webinar by Barbara Blackburn hosted by Eye on Education.  As I did my usual online vetting before I spent an hour of my time, I saw that my favorite team, Ben Curran and Neil Wetherbee from Engaging Educators,  had interviewed Blackburn some months back. That was a good sign in my book, so I registered.

It was worth the hour. She had some great ideas that could be used in your classroom tomorrow. Layering texts by starting with a simpler version, and then after background knowledge has been established, layering in a more complex text, is an effective strategy that I’ve used often. Using multiple texts for each student to investigate a topic provides opportunity for differentiated rigor, as well as possibilities for comparison and more complex thought.  Her Question Matrix for Opening Focus is not only good for widening the class conversation, but a good way to teach thinking skills. She even provided a word problem template for math.  And just like any good party, attendees left with a bag full of helpful downloads. I do not own Dr. Blackburn’s book, Rigor is Not a Four Letter Word (second edition), but looks like it may be a good guide and toolbox to increase rigor in your classroom.

The conversation about rigor and text complexity will no doubt continue in the many online Professional Learning Networks, so let’s make sure keep each other posted as we go!

World Education Games: Uniting the World in Learning


Practice is on! The World Education Games are right around the corner. Compete with 5.5 million students in about 250 counties in Math, Science and/or Literacy.

My class logged in for the first time today and  had a chance to try the practice sessions. They are really excited to participate. The students are matched up randomly for the one minute practice sessions. They are able to move up in difficulty as they play. They are especially excited to see which counties their partners are in. Registration is quick and easy.

Here is some information for anyone with students or children ages 4-18:

What is the World Education Games?

  • The World Education Games is an annual global online challenge to get all students (4-18 years of age) excited about learning, and to give the top students in all schools an opportunity to see how they measure up against the best in the world.
  • Free entry allows all students to get involved and celebrate their education with equal opportunities.
  • Split over three days and focusing on literacy, mathematics and science, the World Education Games is a hugely exciting and engaging way to promote learning and education across the world.
  • Our partners UNICEF and Samsung work with us to promote our key message of Education For All.

How and when can I sign in and begin taking part?

  • The registration period for the World Education Games opened on February 1, 2013. 
  • Registration is FREE, quick and easy and can be done through the website
  • When registering, you will be able to specify whether you are a teacher, parent or student and will be sent log-in details accordingly, by email. As soon as you (or your students) are registered, you can sign in immediately to begin the “warm-up” practice period. During this time, all users will have full access to the three event platforms to prepare for the main days of competition in March.

1 February – The Games platform opens for registrations and the official warm-up period for students begins.
5 March* – World Literacy Day
6 March* – World Math Day
7 March* – World Science Day
22 March – Global award presentations begin with the Official World Education Games Awards Ceremony, to be held in 2013 at the Sydney Opera House.

*Note – events begin as soon as it is the designated start date anywhere in the world. Based on your geographic location, this may be the previous calendar day in your country.

Look Out World! Here we come!

We discovered an egg in Liberty and Justice's nest!

We discovered an egg in Liberty and Justice’s nest!

What an incredible year we’ve had with our global projects! We are heading full steam into winter with a couple new ones. The students in Scoil Iosaif Naofa Kinvara, Co Galway, Ireland are our partners in learning about an amazing man named Francis O’Neill. Coming from Ireland in the height of the Great Potato Famine to  Chicago, IL (very near to us), and ultimately becoming the Chief of the Chicago Police Department, as well a well-known and respected musician and collector of Irish Folk music, his life is full of rich history. We are learning lots about geography, world history, United States immigration and culture. We met our partners on Skype last week and we are off  to a great start. Please check our wiki out!

And then there are eagles. Two eagles in particular, Liberty and Justice. By watching them on webcam, and researching collaboratively with partners in Iowa, North Carolina, Canada, and The Netherlands, we are becoming experts in habitat, lifespan, symbolism, protected species laws, anatomy, and other birds of prey. There is so much to learn from one bird that is admired worldwide.  As we went on the webcam today, we saw that Liberty had laid an egg! You can find that project here. This is a Flat Classroom® project.

Lastly, our day takes us to fantasy. No, not daydreaming during math, but actually studying the elements of fantasy writing with Mrs. Parisi’s class in Long Island, NY. After we finish reading The Lion, Witch and the Wardrobe and discussing the elements, we will be writing fantasy stories collaboratively with a partner across the county. Follow along as we learn!

Hearing the kids complaining about having to leave their work as they lined up for recess today was music to my ears.

Meeting our partners in Ireland.

Meeting our partners in Ireland.

And our Irish partners meeting us.

And our Irish partners meeting us.

The Global Classroom Project

After several months in the making, it’s time to formally launch the new Global Classroom Mentors project, fulfilling a key goal of Global Classroom 2012-13. 


We know what it’s like to get started with ICT and global projects … It can be a very difficult, challenging road; yet almost all of us have been informally mentored along the way.

Connecting and working with an experienced mentor makes a HUGE difference, and this is something we are hoping to share more widely through our new Mentor Teacher Contact Directory; helping teachers new to ICT and global projects find a source of support and guidance as they embark on their global journeys.

The directory, which can be accessed via our project wiki, is designed to help teachers find a mentor who works in a similar grade level and time-zone. You can connect with a mentor through email, Skype, Twitter; and request…

View original post 255 more words

Irish-American Connection

Screen shot 2013-02-02 at 8.24.18 AMOur new project with St Joseph’s National School (Scoil Iosaif Naofa) in Kinvara County, Galway, Ireland.  We will be working with  Máire O’Keefe’s class to research a man whose life touched both Ireland and Chicago through his music and his  travels from a Cork County farm during the Great Potato Famine to the Chief of the Chicago Police Department. Join us by following along!