4ALL: Is getting political too personal?

When the flooding following Hurricane Katrina nearly destroyed New Orleans a few years back, I decided to follow my students’ interest in the disaster and focus our language arts and social studies content around the event. I figured capitalizing on their interests was the best way to engage them.

The plan backfired a bit.

Although I prided myself on not letting my own political leanings influence our classroom discussions, some strange messages leaked to my students’ parents regarding the study. Parents began approaching me about wild stories concerning then-President Bush’s response to the disaster. Granted, the students came to some conclusions regarding the administration’s slow reaction, but nothing was overtly political either way. Luckily, the stories parents were hearing were so bizarre that there was no way they could be believed. That and I backed up my position citing AP reports in the local paper as our primary source of information.

Still, parents were uneasy with classroom discussion dancing around politics. I was no longer in the classroom for the last presidential election which was particularly heated, but I suspect the issues for parents and teachers was the same. There is a fine line between discussing politics and extolling political belief, particularly involving our president. Of course, ignoring the part the president does play in the government is a political act in itself.

How do you handle presidential politics in the classroom? Do you avoid it all together? How do you insure all perspectives are represented without taking sides?

Zac Early is an instructional specialist with the eMINTS National Center.

Thursday’s Tip: Cabinet Making is Not Just for Carpenters

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Do your students ever ask about how the U.S. President keeps track of all of the information simultaneously occurring in the United States and around the world? He assembles a Cabinet of highly experienced leaders in each of the departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Defense, Education, Energy, Health and Human Services, Homeland Security, Housing and Urban Development, Interior, Justice, Labor, State, Transportation, Treasury and Veterans Affairs. As Presidents’ Day approaches, let’s help students take a deeper look inside the decision-making process of the presidency. Here are a few resources to help you get started:

Students’ understanding of the decision-making process in Washington D.C. typically centers on elected officials and their roles in the three branches of government. They often fall short of understanding that there are many un-elected officials who greatly influence the decisions made in Washington. Taking a deeper look into the members of a President’s Cabinet can reveal a lot about why the President makes certain decisions. Students can gain a deeper understanding of our democracy, the process of decision-making, the impact of decisions, leadership qualities, and the interdependence of each department. Students can also gain a deeper understanding of the impact Cabinet Members have had throughout history. For example, they might investigate and debate the strong criticism the Homeland Security Secretary, Michael Chertoff, received during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. There are numerous interdisciplinary units that can be developed around this topic. This might even lead to students reflecting on their own process for decision-making and who they should select to be a part of their Cabinets.

Cara Wylie is an area instructional specialist for the eMINTS National Center.

HD Links: Presidents Day Resources

Public Domain, click for source

With Presidents Day fast approaching, there are some great resources out there to get your week off to a great start!

What better resource for presidential information than the world’s largest library; the Library of Congress? A search can be performed for a particular topic/person or you can go to the presidency page. If you are looking for presidential papers, a large collection can also be found here. There is a portion devoted to the diaries of George Washington. These documents provide a more personal look at George Washington and his thoughts. There is even a section of Thomas Jefferson’s personal library that is housed in the Library of Congress.

For those George Washington buffs, there are several great resources for studying our first president. Take a tour of Mt. Vernon. The History Channel has plenty of videos and other information about the “father of our country.” Discover George Washington has an interactive timeline with lots of information and multimedia resources.

Abraham Lincoln, another very popular president, has just as many great online resources as Wasington. The History Channel covers “Honest Abe” as only the History Channel can. Abraham Lincoln’s Crossroads is an interactive site that explains the decisions that Lincoln was faced with in his presidency. Smithsonian’s new exhibit on Lincoln shows the many faces of the 16th president through a series of portraits.

Interactive sites for the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial also exist hereand there are many more presidential resources at TeachersFirst.com.

H/T to eMINTS Instructional Specialist Terri Brines for the many great resources!

Tuesday’s Tool: Online Voting

Image from Geek & Poke, licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 2.0 License.

One of the most engaging aspects of our Presidents is the election process. Even with our current president in the middle of his term, there is still talk about the next election. The election process is a great way to engage students when talking about our governmental officials.

Now, there are several great online tools one can use when holding your own elections.

Google Forms is the feature in Docs that allows users to set up online quizzes, surveys, applications, and even voting ballots. Forms are easy to set up and share. Results are automatically recorded on a spreadsheet. Real-time results in attractive graphs can be shared quickly. The only issue is that Google Forms offers very few options when it comes to limiting the number of times participants vote. One can assign unique codes or usernames that are easy to monitor on the spreadsheet, but this doesn’t allow for privacy. If your school has the Google Apps suite, ballots can be required to include a unique email address or user name.

Survey Monkey is another popular survey tool that allows for elections or polls. Using the email invites, you can avoid double-voting. Survey Monkey also has some advanced features for viewing and analyzing results. The best part is that like Google Forms, it’s free!

While these are the two most popular survey sites that can also serve as voting tools, there are many other online tools out there for voting purposes. BallotBin is an easy-to-use and simple service to collect votes. eBallot takes ridding the world of paper ballots seriously as they provide top-notch security features, analysis tools, and even a paper-hybrid option. For an extensive list of online voting tools, check out Mashable’s list of 40+ online polling tools.

Are there other tools or techniques for running online voting? How do you teach the election process to your students?

Zac Early is an instructional specialist for the eMINTS National Center.

Monday Message: U.S. Presidents (Day) Week

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In a continued effort to bring you resources and ideas that fit neatly into a theme each week, we here at NT&L are dedicating this week to U.S. Presidents, past and present. With Presidents Day approaching (February 21), we have a week of excellent posts planned to help you to take advantage of the holiday. Stay tuned all week as we post online tools, resource links, and provide a few teaching tips as to ways educators can make Presidents Day more meaningful to their students.

In the meantime, check out the new and updated eThemes available:

New eThemes for the week of February 7, 2011

Country: Argentina<http://ethemes.missouri.edu/themes/1899>
Learn about Argentina and its geography, history, and culture. Read about the country’s noted national heroes, an overview of Latin America, and links to Spanish language sites. Includes eThemes resources on Latin American Culture and Spanish for Middle and High School.

Literature: “The Barcode Tattoo” by Suzanne Weyn<http://ethemes.missouri.edu/themes/1901>
Learn about Suzanne Weyn, author of “The Barcode Tattoo” and her other novels. Some of the student activities on propaganda include a webquest,interactive advertising games, and an activity using newspaper ads.

Literature: Romanticism in American Literature<http://ethemes.missouri.edu/themes/1897>
These sites provide information about Romanticism in American Literature. Learn about the tenets of Romanticism as well as the lives and works of prominent writers of the time including Walt Whitman, Edgar Allen Poe, Emily Dickinson, Mark Twain, Kate Chopin, and others. Also includes literature units designed to encourage a greater understanding of the authors from this time period. There is a link to eThemes resources on Edgar Allen Poe.

Multicultural Literature: High School<http://ethemes.missouri.edu/themes/1900>
This site provides recommended book lists, the historical background of multicultural literature, and informational articles about multicultural literature. Author interviews and book trailers are provided.

Personal Finance: Investing<http://ethemes.missouri.edu/themes/1902>
Learn about personal finance and investing. Learn how to adjust your spending habits, play interactive games designed to teach the importance of personal finance concepts such as simple and compound interest, forms of saving and investing, and understanding stocks, bonds and mutual funds. Practice solving compound interest problems. Understand the importance of planning ahead for your retirement. Includes eThemes resources on Personal Finance and Budgeting and Budgets.

Roller Derby<http://ethemes.missouri.edu/themes/1903>
These sites are about the sport of roller derby. Includes game vocabulary, the current Male and Female Flat Track Derby Leagues, the history of the sport, rules involved in playing the modern version, and protective gear you need to get started. Includes suggested drills and skills to get your club into skating shape.

Updated eThemes for the week of February 7, 2011

Author Study: Edgar Allan Poe<http://ethemes.missouri.edu/themes/750>
Learn more about American Gothic author Edgar Allan Poe. Includes full-text versions of his stories and poems, plus information about his life. There are lesson plans and suggested classroom activities. Includes an eThemes resource on the short story “The Fall of the House of Usher.”

Author Study: Laura Numeroff<http://ethemes.missouri.edu/themes/1776>
This is a collection of sites about author Laura Numeroff and her circle stories. Includes biographical information about her life and work. There are several suggested classroom activities to go along with the books: “If You Give a Mouse a Cookie,” “If You Give a Pig a Pancake,” “If You Give a Moose a Muffin,” “Dogs Don’t Wear Sneakers,” and “If You Take a Mouse to School.” There is a link to an eThemes Resource on mice.

Author Study: Patricia Polacco<http://ethemes.missouri.edu/themes/1686>
These websites are about author Patricia Polacco and her books. There are lesson plans, interactive activities, interviews, and biographies. Includes information about the learning disability of dyslexia, which Polacco has. There are links to eThemes resource on the Civil War, farming, and Christmas.

Author Study: Robert Munsch<http://ethemes.missouri.edu/themes/532>
Find out about children’s author Robert Munsch. Read interviews and biographies to find out what books he has written. Online activities, classroom activities, discussion questions, and lesson plans are included.

Literature: “Math Curse” by Jon Scieszka and Lane Smith<http://ethemes.missouri.edu/themes/1669>
These sites have classroom activity ideas for the book “Math Curse.” Read what other children have written about their own math courses and try to solve word problems. There are biographies for author Jon Scieszka and illustrator Lane Smith. Includes a link to an eThemes Resource on Everyday Uses of Math.

Literature: “Number the Stars” by Lois Lowry<http://ethemes.missouri.edu/themes/583>
There are summaries, suggested activities, and online quizzes about the book “Number the Stars.” Also learn about author Lois Lowry. Includes a link to an eThemes Resource on the Holocaust.

Literature: “Pictures of Hollis Woods” by Patricia Giff<http://ethemes.missouri.edu/themes/1799>
These websites are about the book “Pictures of Hollis Woods” and author Patricia Giff. See her official website to learn more about her. There are also worksheets, games, and lesson plans to go along with the book. Includes links to eThemes resources on hands-on crafts students can do in class in conjunction with reading the book.

Literature: “The Best School Year Ever” by Barbara Robinson<http://ethemes.missouri.edu/themes/747>
These sites are about “The Best School Year Ever” and author Barbara Robinson. There are various reading and vocabulary activities for the classroom. Includes some sites on kindness, cooperation, and bullying. There are links to eThemes Resources on Book Activities, Story Elements, “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever” by Barbara Robinson, and “The Best Halloween Ever” by Barbara Robinson

Literature: “The Tale of Despereaux” by Kate DiCamillo<http://ethemes.missouri.edu/themes/375>
These sites are about the book “The Tale of Despereaux” by Kate DiCamillo. Includes biographies on the author, book summaries, discussion questions, suggested activities, and a webquest. There are links to eThemes Resources on Fairy Tales, Recommended Reading for Elementary Students, “Ella Enchanted” by Gail Carson Levine, Cinderella Stories, and “Because of Winn-Dixie” by Kate DiCamillo.

Literature: Recommended Reading for Elementary Students<http://ethemes.missouri.edu/themes/1003>
This resource is a compilation of booklist web sites for elementary school students. The lists were compiled by teachers, librarians, and students. Some of the lists are divided by grade level, readability, or genre. There are also links to eThemes resources on various literature awards and literature genres.

Logic Puzzle Games for Lower Grades<http://ethemes.missouri.edu/themes/302>
These sites have logic puzzles and mind-challenging games for elementary students to practice logic reasoning skills. There are many Sudoku and variations. Included are both online and printable versions.

Physics: Potential and Kinetic Energy<http://ethemes.missouri.edu/themes/57>
Learn about the different types of potential energy. Discover how potential energy transforms into kinetic energy while conserving the total amount of energy. Find out how to measure and calculate these types of energy. Includes animations, potential energy online calculator, lesson plan, in class activities, quizzes, and experiments. There are links to eThemes resources on roller coaster designs and forms of energy.

Propaganda<http://ethemes.missouri.edu/themes/1239>
These websites are about propaganda. How is propaganda used to influence political opinion? How is advertising like propaganda? Here you can find articles and lesson plans, sites about the persuasive techniques used in propaganda, examples of real life propaganda, and information on critical thinking skills.

Reading Skills: Context Clues<http://ethemes.missouri.edu/themes/1641>
These sites focus on using contextual clues to determine the meaning of unknown words. The sites introduce different types of contextual clues and strategies on using the clues. Exercises, lesson plans, and a song are included. There are links to eThemes resources on Text Structures, Teaching Tips for Decoding Strategies, Synonyms and Antonyms, and Prefixes and Suffixes.

Reading Skills: Inference for Elementary School Students<http://ethemes.missouri.edu/themes/1675>
These websites can help elementary students learn how to infer while reading. There are activities, graphic organizers, and short lessons on inference. Includes a link on inference for middle school students.

Space: International Space Station<http://ethemes.missouri.edu/themes/725>
These sites are about the International Space Station that orbits earth. Learn about the history of its development, its mission, and the astronauts who have lived there. Includes videos, animations, and photographs. There is a link to an eThemes resource on space exploration.

4ALL: Social Media for 21st Century Learners

My wife, who is an English and Women’s Studies professor at the University of Missouri, shared a story with me this morning. She often has former students come back and speak with her class, usually via Skype. The insights they reveal are often helpful for her students to see the context for the information and processes they are learning in her course.

The other day, one of my wife’s star students spoke to the class. This particular student was best remembered for earning the honor of introducing then-candidate Barack Obama at a large rally just days before the 2008 election. She then moved on to intern for the first lady and now works for a reputable non-profit in D.C.

Here message to the students was realizing how important using social media would be in her future endeavors after college. While working for Ms. Obama, the student received one of her first assignments to create a video to post online. Luckily, she learned to do this in my wife’s class and the skills transferred over. In her current position, she has to coordinate messages to lobbyists and legislative staff. She utilizes Twitter to do most of this communication, citing the importance of an effective message in 140 characters.

With the word that Mubarak is stepping down due to a protest originally organized on Twitter, it is easy to see the power that these tools possess. Sure, lots of people use social media in pretty mundane ways, but that’s where we as educators come in. We can demonstrate this power and how effective communication can lead to change.

As Social Media Week winds down, think about how you can prepare our students for a future where social media is the effective and powerful tool we see all around us.

Zac Early is an instructional specialist with the eMINTS National Center.

Friday 4ALL: A Diamond in the Sea of Social Networks

We can learn so much from each other and social networks are just the place for that to happen.  Finding the really good and beneficial ones can often be quite the job.
One social network that provides so much information and support is Classroom 2.0. This is a network dedicated to social media among educators.  Just visiting it and joining will provide you with a wealth of information but a part that I think is absolutely fantastic are the weekly webinars or Classroom 2.0 LIVE.  These webinars are on a variety of topics like web 2.0 tools, classroom strategies, ideas for communicating with parents; just to name a few.  They are conducted through Elluminate, a great tool in itself. The site provides a list of links for the webinar so you can access anything mentioned.
Sounds great, right? The greatness doesn’t stop there.  They also have…. ta-da, archived recordings of past webinars. (Such a great idea!)  Think of all those times you can’t make a webinar but really want the information.  It also contains follow up reading or viewing suggestions.  This is like the crown jewel of all social networks for me.  I hope you will enjoy it as well.
Terri Brines is an instructional specialist with the eMINTS National Center.
To see what else eMINTS is doing with social networking, check out our groups on Facebook and Linked-In. Also, follow me on Twitter at @Zac_eMINTS. -Zac

Thursday’s Tip: Top-10 Ways to Use Social Media in the Classroom

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For this week’s tip, we’re bringing you a list of top-10 ways you can use social media in your classroom.

10. Social bookmarks like Delicious (still around), EverNote, and Diigo are great ways for groups of students researching a topic to gather and organize their resources. You can set up an account for an entire class, a small group, or one for individuals who share and follow their peers’ research.

9. As mentioned earlier this week, there are many new uses for YouTube (and other social video sharing sites like Vimeo). Channels can be created. Response videos and creative annotation and tagging can add another interactive level to the video sharing process.

8. Google Reader (H/T Brooke Higgins) can be a great way for teachers and students to follow particular resources as well as share in a community. A teacher can create a bundle of important resources to which he wants his students to subscribe. There is also the share feature where students and teachers could share interesting articles or blog posts they find in their own readings. The comment and search functions can also come in handy with Google Reader.

7. The new Groups on Facebook make it even easier to communicate with students and parents without having to give up privacy via friending. There are many more privacy safeguards for the new Groups, but there are also several new features that make Groups more community-friendly. Now, when comments are made on the new Groups’ walls, that same content shows up on every member’s feed and sends a notification. This insures that every member sees all the wall posts. Also, there is a group chat that allows more than one participant at a time, great for online class discussion. Documents, pictures, videos, links, and events can all be managed in one place.

6. Teachers and schools often complain about the cost of out-dated textbooks that don’t match student needs as closely as they should or are limiting in their scope. A great way to combat this is to write our own textbooks using wikis. Not only could a wiki be used to display a teacher’s notes, but there are multimedia capabilities as well as commenting options. Even better, students can be involved in writing their own textbooks. A wiki-created text could be revised and edited from year to year without the cost of a new textbook series eating up valuable space in a school’s budget since wikis are often free or very cheap for premium, ad-free packages. Oh, and there’s a wiki out there with directions for writing a textbook.

3.-5. Google Docs provide several great options for collaborative classroom work. Here are three:

  • Google Docs has its own presentation feature, much like PowerPoint. In fact PPT files can be uploaded to Google Docs and converted to an online presentation. Students working from different computers or locations can easily contribute to the same presentation. When presented to the class, students can chat during the presentation and the discussion shows up on a side panel.
  • Collaborative writing has never been easier than with Google Docs. Using the word processing feature, students can contribute to the same document, insert comments, chat about the direction of the document, and access older drafts. Plus, the document can easily be converted to a PDF or website.
  • Data collection and online tests quizzes are easier now with the addition of Google Forms to the Docs suite. A form can be set up to gather any data (surveys, quizzes, blog submissions ;) ) and it’s all gathered in a tidy spreadsheet that can be easily converted to charts and graphs. Plus, multiple users can gain access to the results, as with any Google Doc.

2. Photo sharing sites such as Picasa and Flickr offer great opportunities not only for sharing and commenting on one another’s images, but also several other useful features. Tagging and/or annotation images is a great way to demonstrate understanding and to encourage contributions. Both offer some editing features and allow video uploads.

1. Blogs. Well, what else would you expect from a blog? Blogs are a tremendously underused social media tool. Collaborative writing, online publishing, interactivity between readers and writers, easy to manipulate HTML code with multiple options for embedding media… The possibilities for blogs is endless. Plus, blogs can be used alongside many of the tools already mentioned above.

How do you use social media in your classroom? Feel free to comment below or link back to this post.

Zac Early is an instructional specialist with the eMINTS National Center.