Friday, December 23, 2011

Mindset: The Difference Between Good Teachers and Great Teachers

After reading Mindset by world-renowned Stanford University psychologist Dr. Carol Dweck, I have gained new insight into the field of education. Dr. Dweck, in decades of research on achievement and success, has discovered a truly groundbreaking idea - the power of our mindset. Dr. Dweck states, "For twenty years, my research has shown that the view you adopt for yourself profoundly affects the way you lead your life."

Dr. Dweck suggests that there are only two types of mindsets in this world. The fixed-mindset and the growth-mindset. In her book, she writes about the difference between fixed-mindset teachers and growth-mindset teachers.

In her research, Dr. Dweck found that "Fixed-mindset teachers often think of themselves as finished products. Their role is simply to impart their knowledge. But doesn't that get boring year after year? Standing before yet another crowd of faces and imparting. Now that's hard."

In contrast, Dr. Dweck found that "... human qualities, such as intellectual skills, could be cultivated through effort." This is what she refers to as the growth-mindset. Dr. Dweck believes that "In this mindset, the hand you're dealt is just the starting point for development. This growth-mindset is based on the belief that your basic qualities are things you can cultivate through your efforts."

Alfred Binet, the inventor of the IQ Test, once said, "Without denying individual differences in children's intellects, he believed that education and practice could bring about fundamental changes in intelligence."

After reading and analyzing the Mindset, I have acquired several takeaways that I will always remember and apply to my teaching. I hope that you find my takeaways useful and valuable as much as I do.

My Takeaways

All students need to be challenged and nurtured. Below are some examples of what to say to students who are reluctant to participate in learning, provided by Marva Collins (Chicago Teacher).

"We have work to do. You can't just sit in a seat and grow smart ... I promise, you are going to do, and you are going to produce. I am not going to let you fail."

"None of you has every failed. School may have failed you, but you have never failed. However, you must help me to help you. If you don't give anything, don't expect anything. Success is not coming to you, you must come to it."

"I am not going to give up on you. I am not going to let you give up on yourself. If you sit there learning against this wall all day, you are going to end up leaning on something or someone all your life. And all that brilliance bottled up inside you will go to waste."

"If you do not want to participate, go to the telephone and tell your mother, 'Mother, in this school we have to learn, and my teacher says I can't fool around, so will you please pick me up?' "

For the love of learning: Quotes from the Mindset

Marva Collins (Chicago Teacher) "I have always been fascinated with learning, with the process of discovering something new, and it was exciting to share in the discoveries made by my students"

"What are growth-mindset teachers teaching students en route? To love learning. To eventually learn and think for themselves. And to work hard on the fundamentals."

"If schools are for learning, why aren't they just as much for teachers' learning?"

"I think about what I find fascinating and what I would love to learn more about. I use my teaching to grow, and that makes me, even after all these years, a fresh and eager teacher."

"A good teacher is one who continues to learn along with the students."

"It's been said that Dorothy DeLay was an extraordinary teacher because she was not interesting in teaching. She was interested in learning."

The difference between a Fixed Mindset and a Growth Mindset

cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo by Andreas Pizsa

Below are some FAQs from the Mindset.

What makes a great teacher?

"The great teachers believe in the growth of the intellect and talent, and they are fascinated with the process of learning"

Are mindsets a permanent part of your makeup or can you change them?

"Mindsets are an important part of your personality, but you can change them."

How can growth-minded teachers be so selfless, devoting untold hours to the worst students?

"The answer is that they're not entirely selfless. They love to learn. And teaching is a wonderful way to learn. About people and how they tick. About what you teach. About yourself. And about life."

Are great teachers born or made?

"It starts with the growth-mindset - about yourself and about children. Not just lip service to the idea that all children can learn, but a deep desire to reach in and ignite the mind of every child."

My Reflection on the Mindset

I am definitely a growth-mindset person, but I didn't always used to be. I discovered that I was a growth-minded person during my senior year in college. I became so passionate about education that I started to become an over-achiever and I realized that persistance and dedication could help me to achieve my life goals. Now, as a fourth-year teacher with a Master's in Education, I am beginning to notice that that my passion for learning continues to grow with each day passing.

A question that still bothers me is what separates a good teacher from a great teacher? I know what distinguishes them, but I still don't know why. Is it possible to get good teachers to become great teachers? If so, how? Does it start by their mindset changing from fixed to growth? If so, how can we effectively do that?

My goal as teacher-leader, is to continue to learn and grow with my students and help good teachers become great teachers. I truly believe that the research in this book coupled with my ambition and passion for education, will help me to achieve my goal!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

My Three Acts of a Real World Math Problem

Dan Meyer, an inspirational writer, speaker and teacher (whom I met at the Siemens STEM Institute), is helping math teachers across the country stimulate the curious minds of our students. Meyer proposes that teaching mathematics should be like having your students watch a movie. In a typical movie, there are three acts. Act One engages the audience. Act Two is when the conflict surfaces and the plot develops. Act Three is when the conflict is resolved and a sequel is expected.

Today I was at the gas station, filling up my tank to go home for the holidays, when I noticed that it was taking an unusual amount of time to fill up my tank. At one point I thought to myself, "I wonder how long this is going to take?" Then a lightbulb went off! I thought, this is the perfect example of a math problem to share with my students. So, I took out my smartphone and recorded the data at the gas pump.

Below you will find my Three Acts of a real world math problem.

Act One

Ask your students, "What questions do you have after watching the video?"

Possible questions that the students could ask:

  • How long will it take to fill the tank from start to finish?
  • How much money will it cost to fill the tank?
  • How many gallons will it take to fill the tank?

Act Two

What resources will your students need before they can resolve their conflict? What tools do they have already? What tools can you help them develop?

Ask your students, "What information do you need to know to answer your questions?" "How can you get these answers?"

Information that is needed to answer the problems:

  • What specific vehicle is getting gas at the station?
  • What is the size of the gas tank? 
  • How many gallons will it take to fill up the rest of the tank? 

Act Three

The Third Act pays off on the hard work of Act Two and the motivation of Act One.

After students solve the problem, prove that their answer is correct.

Problem: How long will it take to fill the tank from start to finish?

Answer: 13 min. 52 sec.

The video starts with the following information:

$44.75 and 13.126 gallons

After 1 minute, the data shows the following:

$47.87 and 14.042 gallons

If I divide the difference in gallons for the duration of one minute, I will get the amount of gallons entering my gas tank per minute. (You could also divide the prices instead, they are the same ratio)

13.126/14.042 = 0.989 gal/min (gallon per minute)

Now, if I multiply the gal/min by the total amount of gallons, I should get the total time it would take to fill the tank.

0.989 x 14.042 = 13.871 minutes

Now, 13.871 tells me that it takes almost 14 minutes, but i want to know the exact amount of seconds it takes.

So, in order to get my seconds I will multiply 0.871 x 60 (seconds) to get 52.26 seconds.

Therefore, my final answer is approximately 13 minutes and 52 seconds.

The Sequel

How far can I drive my car after my gas light comes on?

Information needed (and provided from the visual in Act Two):
  • My gas tank can hold 16.9 gallons of gas
  • It took 14.893 gallons of gas to fill my tank after my gas light came on. 
  • 2010 Subaru Foresters average 22 miles per gallon.

*For more information, resources and online applications regarding math education, visit my related blog posts:

Dan Meyer Resources:

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Camera, Set, Mathematics!

To remain competitive in the global economy, our students "... should be able to use the logic of Algebra and the spatial reasoning of Geometry to understand and solve real-life problems. These mathematical practices equip learners with the ability to solve complex problems and think critically about issues unrelated to mathematical concepts. With these skills, our young people will have the potential to do amazing things – in math, in science, or whatever field they choose to pursue." -

If we want our students to become productive, contributing citizens of the United States, then we need to change the way that we are currently teaching math in our schools! We need to integrate inquiry, problem-solving and real-world application into our math curricula. Students should be engaged in creative, critical thinking when they are solving problems. Teachers should articulate that there are multiple ways to arrive at the same solution to any given problem and allow students to struggle in order to make discoveries on their own with guided facilitation and appropriate scaffolding.

Dan Meyer, an inspirational writer, speaker and teacher (whom I met at the Siemens STEM Institute), is helping math teachers across the country stimulate the curious minds of our students. Meyer proposes that teaching mathematics should be like having your students watch a movie. In a typical movie, there are three acts. Act One engages the audience. Act Two is when the conflict surfaces and the plot develops. Act Three is when the conflict is resolved and a sequel is expected.

To help math teachers understand Dan's analogy of teaching math to watching a movie, I am going to analyze his resources that he provides on his dy/dan blog:

Act One

Introduce the central conflict of your story/task clearly, visually, and viscerally, using as few words as possible.

Your first act should impose as few demands on the students as possible — either of language or of math. It should ask for little and offer a lot.

Here is an example of Act One.

Act Two

The protagonist/student overcomes obstacles, looks for resources, and develops new tools.  What resources will your students need before they can resolve their conflict? What tools do they have already? What tools can you help them develop?

  • What is the height of the basketball hoop? 
  • The distance to the three-point line? 
  • The diameter of a basketball?

Here is an example of Act Two.

Act Three

Resolve the conflict and set up a sequel/extension.

The third act pays off on the hard work of act two and the motivation of act one.

If we've successfully motivated our students in the first act, the payoff in the third act needs to meet their expectations.

Here is an example of Act Three.

The Sequel

Make sure you have extension problems (sequels, right?) ready for students as they finish.

  • How would the equation change if Dan shot from the free-throw line?
  • What would this new parabola look like?

Need another example? Check out the Three Acts with Video Implementation.

Act One

Which do you think is cheaper: a shower or bath? Why?

Act Two

What information will you need to know to solve the problem?

Act Three

Have your students solve the problem

The Sequel
  • How would the situation have to change for the answer to reverse itself?
  • How long of a shower can he have with the same amount of water he used for the bath? 


Many math teachers take act two as their job description. Hit the board, offer students three worked examples and twenty practice problems. Its clear to me that the second act isn't our job anymore. Not the biggest part of it, anyway. You are only one of many people your students can access as they look for resources and tools. Going forward, the value you bring to your math classroom increasingly will be tied up in the first and third acts of mathematical storytelling, your ability to motivate the second act and then pay off on that hard work. - Dan Meyer

To demonstrate Dan's Three Act instructional method, I am going to use a word problem out of a math textbook: 

Word Problem

Sunjana works for a delivery service.  She is paid $5.15 an hour, plus half of her cost for gasoline.  Her car is old and gets only 21 miles per gallon of gas.  If she drives a total of 86 miles one day and gas costs $2.59 a gallon, how much should she be reimbursed for gas?

Now, the context of this word problem is plausible, because it is a real-life situation and is relevant to the workforce (which, to be honest is better than most word problems).  However, the issue is that the question, or hook is typically at the end of word problems, when it should be at the beginning.  The question in the word problem, "How much should she be reimbursed for gas?" should be the introduction to the problem in order to hook and engage the students.  This delivery method stimulates inquiry by having the students ask their own questions in order to solve the problem.  

Let's break this down into the Three Act Model.

Act One
How much should she be reimbursed for gas? (students are now engaged and invested in the problem)

Act Two

Students begin to seek information that is needed to solve the problem by asking questions such as:

  • How much money does she get paid per hour?
  • How much does gas cost?
  • How far does she have to travel?
  • What is her car's gas mileage?

Act Three
Students use their collected information in order to solve the problem.

The Sequel
How much money will Sunjana save her company if she drives a car that gets 35 miles per gallon of gas?

Watch Dan in Action giving his TedTalks Presentation

My Top 25 Free Math Resources for Education

The President understands that math teachers have a unique role to play in the future of education.  To be a well-informed citizen and a participant in the knowledge economy, Americans must be mathematically literate.  We need to be able to do basic computation and solve complex problems. We must understand the magic of compound interest and how it affects our personal financial decisions.  We should be able to use the logic of Algebra and the spatial reasoning of Geometry to understand and solve real-life problems.  These mathematical practices equip learners with the ability to solve complex problems and think critically about issues unrelated to mathematical concepts.  With these skills, our young people will have the potential to do amazing things – in math, in science, or whatever field they choose to pursue. As professionals devoted to the teaching and learning of mathematics, you are the teachers, the school leaders, the professors, the curriculum developers, and the researchers who will shape young students' minds to be leaders of the future. -

If we want our students to become productive, contributing citizens of the United States, then we need to change the way that we are currently teaching math in our schools! We need to integrate inquiry, problem-solving and real-world application into our math curricula. Students should be engaged in creative, critical thinking when they are solving problems. Teachers should articulate that there are multiple ways to arrive at the same solution to any given problem and allow students to struggle in order to make discoveries on their own with guided facilitation and appropriate scaffolding.

To help with this problem, I am sharing my Top 25 Free Math Resources For Education that allow for student inquiry, exploration, and application. I hope you find useful ways to integrate these online resources into your instruction!

*For 21st Century Math Pedagogy visit my related blog posts:

Three Act Mathematical Problem Solving
Camera, Set, Mathematics!
My Three Acts of a Real World Math Problem

Inquiry and Application

Online Tools and Apps



Math in the Media

Other lists that you might find valuable

My Top 25 Free Science Resources for Education

Over the years I have accumulated and bookmarked hundreds of science resources in My Diigo Account.  As I was checking my email today, I stumbled across a really great Discovery Education resource for science ... so I decided to bookmark it!  Then I thought to myself, What am I ever going to do with all of my awesome science bookmarks?

So I thought, I know ... I'll share them with my Science Department Head in my school!  Then I thought, While I'm at it ... why don't I share it with the world?  So, I did!

Here you have it ... my Top 25 Free Science Resources List, purposefully organized for your viewing pleasure!  Those of you who are disappointed that I used bullets instead of numbers, I apologize ... but if you count them all up, you will see that there are exactly 25 links! I am true to my word! Enjoy!

Competitions and Challenges

For Learning and Understanding: 


Lesson Plans

Online Museums


Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Keep It Up America: We're Doing Something Right!

There seems to be a growing concern for improving America's education system more than ever nowadays. New policies such as No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top have been implemented in public education schools to increase America's standardized test scores in reading, math and science.

According to results of standardized testing, the United States is currently underachieving in education when compared to other developed countries around the world. Asian countries such as South Korea, Japan and China all outrank the United States in reading, math and science by a long-shot.

However, many of these countries are starting to question the significance of their scores and are beginning to rethink their educational beliefs.

According to the OECD, PISA 2009 Database, The United States ranks 14th in Reading, 17th in Science and 25th in Math, out of 34 OECD countries. South Korea ranks 1st in Reading, 1st in Math and 3rd in Science, thereby leading the world in education, supposedly. [1]

From a distance, South Korea's results look enviable. Its students consistently outperform their counterparts in almost every other country in reading and math. [2]  But cramming is deeply embedded in Asia, where top grades - and often nothing else - have long been prized as essential for professional success. [2]  Studying and cramming is getting so bad in South Korea that government employees gather at the office to prepare for late-night patrols. The mission is as simple as it is counter-intuitive: to find children who are studying after 10 p.m. and stop them. [2] In addition, Chinese families have been hiring test-prep tutors since the 7th century. Modern-day South Korea has taken this competition to new extremes.  In 2010, 74% of all students engaged in some kind of private after-school instruction. [2]

What I find interesting is how well the United States ranks in the categories of technology and innovation, which is often left out of the news and the media.  The United States currently ranks 3rd in Global Technology, and ranks 1st in Innovation; whereas, the Republic of Korea ranks 8th in Global Technology and does not even rank in Innovation. [3]  Lastly, in the category of the Overall Global Creativity Index, the United States ranks 2nd, whereas the Republic of Korea ranks 27th. [3]

My argument is that Korea may lead the world in standardized test scores, but the United States is leading the world in productivity.

What I find ironic, is that the countries that perform the best on standardized tests in reading, math, and science, do not necessarily perform the best on creativity and innovation tests.  Countries such as South Korea, are now starting to realize that their high test scores are not a good assessment of measuring student success outside of high school. "Across Asia, reformers are pushing to make schools more American.  For example, in China, universities have begun fashioning new entry tests to target students with talents beyond book learning.  And Taiwanese officials recently announced that kids will no longer have to take high-stress exams to get into high school.  If South Korea, the apogee of extreme education, gets its reforms right, it could be a model for other societies." [2]

The fact that a lot of Asian countries are undergoing their own education reform to become more American, should send a message to our policy makers!  If the countries with the highest rankings are trying reduce the pressure of achieving high test scores, shouldn't we be doing the same?  It makes no sense for America to push and push for high test scores, when the countries with the highest test scores are beginning to realize that their educational priorities need to be reevaluated.

If we can learn anything from this information, its that we shouldn't use just one assessment to measure the success of anything, let alone education.  Best-practice teaching tells us that students need to be measured by multiple, different types of assessments. For example, some students might perform better on standardized tests; whereas, others might perform better on project-based assessments.

What if the success of football teams was measured only by their total yardage? Would their rank justify their overall record of wins to losses?  Probably not.  Just because a football team has the highest rank in total yardage, does not mean that they are the best team in the league.  This is analogous to standardized test scores because the countries that have the highest test scores, are not necessarily the most successful and productive countries, overall.  Therefore, the United States should stop measuring the success of its education only on the scores of standardized tests.  We should account for several types of assessments to fully evaluate the success of our education.

In closing, if students are still going to be forced to have their potential success measured by standardized tests, then I would argue that the best method of assessment should NOT measure what students know; rather, it should measure what they can do with what they know!  Because the last time I checked, America is still sitting at the top of the GDP chart! [4]

For more information on the differences between American Education and Japanese Education, visit my blog post: My Japanese Exchange Program Experience

  2. Teacher, Leave Those Kids Alone, Amanda Ripley/Seoul, Time Magazine, December 5, 2011
  3. Creativity and Prosperity: The Global Creativity Index, The Martin Prosperity Institute, January 2011:
  4. World Bank Statistics:

Monday, December 19, 2011

My Japanese Exchange Program Experience
I was one of four lucky students at my high school to participate in a statewide student exchange program in the summer of 2001.  The program consisted of Delaware students hosting Japanese students for two weeks in March, and Japanese students hosting Delaware students for two weeks in July.  The program was sponsored by the Delaware Department of Education and coordinated by Shuhan Wang, Educational Associate for World Languages.

It has been 10 years since I was enrolled in the program and I now I am finally ready to reflect on my experience and share my findings. 

Ryo, was the name of my Japanese Exchange Student brother.  Below is a sample of his application to the program.  

“What I expect most is the spiritual growth of myself.  The world is very large, but I know about only Japan.  There are many wonderful people in the world.  I’d like to meet and understand them as many as possible.  I’m sure that I will be able to share the joy of understanding with many American people.  And I hope that the differences of humanity, that of cultures, that of languages and everything will make my spirit as an international person stronger."

“Japanese people are courteous, kind and sincere.  Some foreign people think that Japanese people are very shy and meek.  But this is one of many strong points.  I’d like American people to understand all of the good points of Japanese people.  I think this thought is indispensable: we must try to know each other.  That is because it is connected with “consideration”.  It is not until we have “consideration” that we can accept and care about each other.”


After reviewing Ryo's application just a few days ago, it surprised me that he did not mention experiencing America's education system.  He was more curious about learning about the American culture, language and humanity.  His main goal was for his spirit to grow as an international person and to show Americans the importance of "consideration" and acceptance for global connectedness.

As I reread the Miyagi Prefectural Board of Education's Educational Policy Statement, I noticed that it seemed to correlate to Ryo's message in his application: Promoting strength and kindness at school.  Enriching people’s lives by creating a society with the spirit of life-long learning.  Creating and promoting arts and culture.  Enriching and vitalizing people’s daily life through sports.  It seemed as if the Japanese Education System integrates spirit, character and culture into its curriculum to promote life-long learning.  Could this be why Japanese students value their education so much?  Because culture, ethics, spirit and character are instilled in the education system?  

A typical day in a Japanese school seemed completely backwards from a traditional American school.  As soon as I walked into the school, I was immediately greeted by several rows of shoe lockers.  I would take off my outdoor shoes and put on my school shoes.  I would keep my outdoor shoes in my locker until the end of the school day.  Students did this out of respect for the school.  There were no custodians in the schools.  At the end of each day, students would take the desks and chairs out of the classrooms, clean the classrooms and then put the furniture back.  Another difference was that students would stay in the same classroom all day and the teacher would change classrooms.  Teachers would cart their materials from classroom to classroom while the students stayed in their seats.  This made for a very long and boring day for the students. 

The school schedule was also very different.  I would arrive to school at 7:15 a.m. and go straight to the Library to study for 90 minutes.  After I studied, I would report to Homeroom at 8:40 a.m.  Everyday, class would start at 8:40 a.m. and usually last until 5:00 p.m.  Then, after my last class, I would study for another 90 minutes before I went home. My class schedule was different everyday, but these were the classes that I visited during my two weeks in Japan.

  • Politics and Economics
  • English
  • PE
  • Classical Japanese
  • Ethics
  • Oral Communication
  • Assignment Research
  • World History
  • Math

One day in English class I found a worksheet in an English booklet that I found very interesting.  The worksheet was a passage that depicted the American Education System.  The students were tasked with answering questions about the passage. Below is an exert from the passage. 

“It is important to understand what Americans mean when they say they believe in equality of opportunity.  They do not mean that everyone is – or should be – equal.  However, they do mean that each individual should have an equal chance for success.  Americans see much of life as a race for success.  For them, equality means that everyone should have an equal chance to enter the race and win.  In other words, equality of opportunity may be thought of as an ethical rule.  It helps ensure that the race for success is a fair one and that a person does not win just because he or she was born into a wealthy family.

There is, however, a price to be paid for this equality of opportunity:  competition.  If much of life is seen as a race, then a person must run the race in order to succeed; a person much compete with others.  If every person has an equal chance to succeed in the United States, then it is every person’s duty to try.  Americans match their energy and intelligence against that of their neighbors in a competitive contest for success.  People who like to compete are more successful than others and are honored by being called “winners.”  On the other hand, those who do not like to compete and are not successful when they try are often dishonored by being called “losers.”  This is especially true for American men, and it is becoming more and more true for women.”

After experiencing the Japanese Education System, I now understand why Japanese students are so successful in life, and on standardized tests. Japanese students go to school all year long and they are in school at least two to three hours more a day than American students. In addition, the Japanese people value education and instill spirit, ethics, character, and culture into the curriculum. This helps students to find purpose and significance in their education. Japanese students are more dedicated, devoted, and determined to learn and understand the world in which they live in. Japanese people also believe in enriching and vitalizing their lives with nature, arts and sports.

Interestingly enough, the Japanese feel that Americans value quality of life more than their education.  Japanese people are often envious that Americans have more free time and opportunity to explore their interests.

I absolutely agree that Americans value quality of life more than their education, which brings up an interesting question. Which is more important to us: our education or quality of life? More interestingly, is it possible that there is a direct relationship between quality of education and quality of life? In other words, does an increase in quality of education yield an increase in quality of life? If this is true, we should put more emphasis on improving our quality of education!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

10 Reasons Why Teachers Should Use Video in the Classroom

"Communication through the use of video is as powerful and exciting as it has ever been in our history. Digital technology is revolutionizing the way we see the world, and how we become knowledgeable. We are not only consumers, but creators, whose ideas are vast, creative and more untapped than we have ever experienced before. The American educational system needs to not only embrace video and online digital media as a viable form of student learning, but educators need to encourage it, promote it, and become, active video creators and users themselves." -edreach - The Power of Video

As an example of the digital technology revolution, YouTube for Schools was just recently released and it already has over 450,000 educational videos and counting.  Check out the promotion video that was released on December 6, 2011 for more information.

YouTube For Schools emphasizes the importance of video in education. Below are 10 reasons why YouTube believes teachers should use video in their classrooms.

  1. Videos can Engage Students
  2. Spark a conversation
  3. Bring Lessons to Life
  4. Learn from other Teachers
  5. Science experiments
  6. Math help
  7. Foreign Language
  8. Free University Lectures
  9. World Events
  10. Educational Levels

There are lots of different ways in which teachers can use videos in the classroom, but here are five great ideas from the EduTechi that I highly recommend.
  1. Record Class Presentations – Record classroom presentations. Your lectures will be a great resource for your students to look back on what was said in class. Make your lectures available to the students, but for heaven’s sake, don’t charge them for it. If you record student presentations keep those around (with the student’s permission of course) and show the best one’s to your students in coming years of what a presentation or project should be.
  2. Video Projects – Nothing motivates a student like using exciting technology to create something amazing! Let the students have the option of using that excitement in their projects for the class. You’ll be amazed how some of the students grab onto something like this. If they post them online they will also be able to share their work with family and friends.
  3. Instructional Videos – Do you have a special topic you are teaching that would be useful to take a little field trip. Go out a day or two in advance and record an on site explanation of the topic. This will work great with science, history, archaeology, and many other subjects.
  4. Video Blogs – Create a class blog and have your students record their reactions to literary or other assignments and post them on the blog. Give them specific assignments and have them post those on the blog.
  5. Use Online Video Already Available – There are massive amounts of video already available online in all sorts of topic areas. Utilize that video in your curriculum. It will increase the student’s retention of the subject and encourage them to seek out educational video’s as well. As more and more teachers get into making video’s there will also be more resources available.


For the category of Online Video Already Available, I have created a quick list of credible video resources.
YouTube EDU:
Ted Talks:
Discovery Education Streaming:
LoC YouTube Channel:
Khan Academy:

Online Tools for Video Editing
YouTube Video Editor:
Drag On Tape:

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

7 Ways to Use Visuals as Teaching Tools

"A visual image in the hand of an artist is merely a tool to trigger a mental image." -Roy H. Williams

Visuals can be a very powerful teaching tool.  Teachers can use visuals to strategically engage, inspire and educate their students to create a very fun and exciting experience.

I incorporate visuals in my classroom everyday.  Sometimes I will use my document camera, along with my digital project, to display a document, pages from a book, or an item.

I often use my document camera to zoom in on a specific section of a document or use it as a magnifying class to look closer at an object.  I also use my document camera to take a picture of notes that I write during class.  I will then attach those notes on my website to have my students refer to it for upcoming assignments or for reflection.

Furthermore, I use my digital projector to display images that I find online.  Google Images is a great place to search for pictures and other visuals to use in the classroom.

If you don't have the technology such as a digital projector or a document camera, printing pictures and handing them to students can be just as effective.  Sometimes I will print a collection of pictures, put them in an envelope, and give them to students to organize into categories of their choice.  This teaching strategy encourages the students to use higher level thinking such as synthesis, evaluation, and justification in order to sort the pictures into specific groups.

My point is, there are lots of different ideas to integrate visuals into your instruction.  Below are some of my favorite ways that I use visuals in my classroom:
  1. to tell a story of a particular person or event
  2. to spark a conversation
  3. to stimulate inquiry
  4. to reach your visual learners
  5. to reach your struggling readers
  6. as an assessment
  7. for higher level thinking such as analysis, synthesis, and evaluation

I am going to provide you with an example of how I use visuals in my classroom.  I am going to be modeling the teaching strategy, Picture-Based Learning, using a teacher guide provided by the Library of Congress. Picture-Based Learning is great for stimulating inquiry.  I would display this picture to my students and have them observe, reflect, question and investigate the visual in their groups.


The text below is provided by the Teacher's Guide: Analyzing Primary Sources
Library of Congress:

Observe: Have students identify and note details
  • What do you notice first?
  • Find something small but interesting
  • What do you notice that you didn't expect?
  • What do you notice that you can't explain?
  • What do you notice now that you didn't earlier?

Reflect: Encourage students to generate and test hypotheses about the source.
  • Where do you think this came from?
  • Why do you think somebody made this?
  • What do you think was happening when this was made?
  • Who do you think was the audience for this item?
  • What tool was used to create this?
  • Why do you think this item is important?
  • If someone made this today, what would be different?
  • What can you learn from examining this?

Question: Have students ask questions to lead to more observations and reflections.
  • What do you wonder about ...
  • Who?
  • What?
  • When?
  • Where?
  • Why?
  • How?

Further Investigation:  Help students to identify questions appropriate for further investigation, and to develop a research strategy for finding answers.

What more do you want to know, and how can you find out?

Follow up activity ideas:

Beginning: Have students compare two related primary source items

Intermediate: Have students expand or alter textbook explanations of history based on primary sources they study.

Advanced: Ask students to consider how a series of primary sources support or challenge information and understanding on a particular topic. have students refine or revise conclusions based on their study of each subsequent primary source.

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Promoting Inquiry and Exploration with Primary Resources

What Does The Life-Long Learner Look Like?
"No problem can be solved by the same consciousness that created it. We need to see the world anew." -Albert Einstein

The International Baccalaureate Organization would claim that life-long learners are "inquiring, knowledgeable and caring young people who help to create a better and more peaceful world through intercultural understanding and respect".

I think that the IBO's definition of a life-long learner is good, but its not great! I would argue that creativity is the missing puzzle piece that completes the life-long learner of today.  The 21st Century life-long learner, must integrate creativity in order to compete in the global community.  Technology is exponentially advancing more than ever and we need creative, critical thinkers to innovate and problem-solve like never before.

I believe that the life-long learner is a creative, critical thinker, who lets inquiry, knowledge and experience drive his or her learning in order to make decisions and solve problems.

These are two very similar definitions, yet one focuses more on character, where the other focuses more on learning.  Don't get me wrong, I believe all contributing citizens should aim to be "inquiring, knowledgeable and caring young people who help to create a better and more peaceful world through intercultural understanding and respect".  However, I think that the life-long learner will aim to be creative, critical thinkers in order to thrive in the 21st Century.

In order to successfully answer this question, let's look at the International Baccalaureate Learner Profile.

All International Baccalaureate life-long learners strive to be:
  • inquirers
  • knowledgeable
  • thinkers
  • communicators
  • principled
  • collaborative
  • open-minded
  • caring
  • risk taker
  • considerate
  • balanced
  • reflective

The figure below displays a Graphic Organizer of a 21st Century learner. In this model, each discipline is equally essential to human development as a life-long learner.  Furthermore, each discipline is perfectly integrated in a holistic, well-rounded, educational experience.

This model of the IB learner profile is exactly what it is ... a model of a profile.  I agree that all students should acquire knowledge and character via interdisciplinary education.  However, I would argue that what really matters is how the learner applies his or her profile in the real world.  Students who attain this well-rounded education will be very knowledgeable and open-minded.  But without creative, critical thinking and application, the learner profile remains stagnant.  

I feel that while schools still implement this great IB program, teachers still need to teach students how to apply their knowledge to real life challenges.  Teachers can't forget to implement challenge-based learning and project-based learning into the curriculum so that our students will be prepared to think critically and creatively to solve the global problems of tomorrow.

In closing, if we want to prepare our students for their future, then we should not assess them on what they know, rather we should assess them on what they can do with what they know. 

The Power of Reflection
"A battle lost or won is easily described, understood, and appreciated, but the moral growth of a great nation requires reflection, as well as observation, to appreciate it."
-Frederick Douglass

Yesterday my students competed in The National Paper Airplane Contest. They had one week to undergo the Engineering Design Process in order to design and engineer their paper airplanes.  My students worked in groups of 4 to 5 students and they each had a specific responsibility to the group.

The students were so excited on the day of the competition because we were going down to the football field to measure the hang-time and distance of each paper airplane.  They had been working so well together all week and they were ready to test their designs. However, when we got outside, the students completely lost control of themselves.  They were running around, horse-playing, not following directions and worst of all, it seemed like they just didn't care about the contest anymore.

I was extremely upset and disappointed by their behavior.  I was shocked, because I always have great behavior management in the classroom and my students are always engaged in learning.  If it weren't for a few students that showed leadership and really wanted to see the results of their paper airplanes, I would have taken the whole class back inside.  

After we finished the contest and recorded our data, I took my class back inside.  As soon as we entered the classroom, I directed my students to have a seat, silently, because I had an important announcement to make.  I explained to them how disappointed I was in their behavior and how disrespected I felt.  I expressed to them that I was so upset, I might not let them do another challenged-based project like this ever again (even though I would never let that happen).  I explained to them that they did not prove to me that they were mature and trustworthy enough to handle the responsibility of the project.  Their new assignment for the remaining 15 minutes of class was to write a "Reflection Essay" on their misbehavior and the consequences that could potentially impact their learning. 

Below are two of my favorite responses to the impromptu Reflection Essay.

"Dear Mr. Lands, I am sorry that I acted up.  I think the reason for all of us was because we had all been inside the whole day and needed to release some energy. I want to continue doing fun things in TECH.  Its the only time a day we get to do hands on activities and projects."

"Dear Mr. Lands, I am very sorry for my inexcusable behavior outside.  I would understand if you don't let us do activities like this again, but here are some reasons why you should.  It is fun and educational especially if we work together, it encourages us to think more positively about school, and after all, everyone deserves a second chance. If you do let us do these fun activities again, it will make us very happy."

After giving my students this writing assignment, I started doing some reflecting of my own.  I discovered that providing my students the opportunity to stop and reflect, enabled them to put their learning into perspective.  My students were able to effectively take a step back, and see the big picture of their situation, which is no small feat for anyone, let alone sixth-graders. In just fifteen minutes, my students were able to view their own education through the lens of their peers as co-learners, and even through my lens as their teacher.  This simple, yet powerful assignment allowed my students to uncover a deeper appreciation for my class.  I realized that it wasn't because of what they were learning in my class, rather, it was how they were learning in my class.  It saddened me to see a student write that "TECH is the only time a day when we get to do hands on activities and projects".

Learning About Learning: Why teachers and students should both reflect.

My Takeaway

My own reflection has given me the courage to act on my STEM Ambassador responsibility that I acquired at the 2011 Siemens STEM Institute at Discovery Education.

I now challenge my students to value their education a bit more and take advantage of the learning opportunities that are provided for them.  I challenge myself to provide professional development for my colleagues about Project-Based Learning and 21st Century Teaching.  Lastly and most importantly, I challenge my colleagues to value these best-practice teaching strategies and implement them into their instruction. If we want to improve education in America, we need to start from the ground up.  It is every teacher's responsibility to do what is best for our students. We owe it to our students, we owe it to our future!

Takeaways for Teachers:

  1. Reflection is a powerful tool for all learners
  2. Model critical self-reflection to your students
  3. Provide opportunities for your students to reflect during each lesson.  This will help them to deepen their learning and understanding. 
  4. Reflect after every lesson.  Ask yourself, how did my lesson go today?  What worked? What didn't? How can I make my lesson better next time? How can I enrich, extend, support?
  5. Reflect on your own teaching.  Ask yourself if you think your teaching is effective.  Teachers are learners too. We need to continue reflecting, learning, and sharing to keep up with our students.  

The inspiration for this blog post was just from an impromptu reflection assignment ... Now that's what I call The Power of Reflection.

Helpful Information on how to integrate reflection in the classroom.