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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

Curriculum-Planning Guide

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Unit-Planning Checklist

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Elana Leoni's picture
Elana Leoni
Director of Social Media Strategy and Marketing @Edutopia, edcamp organizer

I thought these questions were excellent when assessing the quality of an existing unit plan (also mentioned in the "Planning the Best Curriculum Unit Ever" post.

1. Is the unit aligned with standards, objectives, and guidelines?
2. Is there a balance of teaching strategies, learning strategies, and authentic tasks that engage and meet the needs of diverse learners?
3. Have I sequenced the activities clearly?
4. Do the formative and summative assessments measure the knowledge and skills identified in the objectives

What other questions do you ask? Any other unit-planning tools you use?

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Five-Minute Film Festival: Developing Global Citizens

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Looking for resources to foster students’ global competence and develop global citizen leaders? This playlist of videos and other resources provides ideas and inspiration.

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Jennifer's picture
Jennifer
Parent, volunteer, global citizen

I have been involved with CISV (Children's International Summer Villages) for over five years. We have 21 chapters in the USA and over 70 international member associations. Each year, chapters host programs for delegates from around the world. We began in 1951, when Doris Twitchell Allen (child psychologist) realized that children were the key to peace in our time. Beginning at age 11, children can apply and be selected as a delegate for their country. They are offered programs in which they live together with delegates from other countries, all the while using experiential learning techniques to develop friendships. When these children finish their 21-28 day programs, they are inspired, global citizens! Thanks to social media, Skype and email, they are able to easily keep in touch and remain friends for many years if they choose to. CISV is changing the way children view themselves and the world around them. Many of my colleagues and friends have had their children experience this amazing program. My own son is applying for his fourth program this year. Not only do they develop lasting friendships, but they are learning leadership skills as well. They must apply, interview and be selected from their chapters. They are often required to give presentations after their return home. Local involvement, for those families that choose not to apply for international programs, includes an executive board for juniors as well as becoming a member of the Junior Branch (JB). Many youth learn the roles and responsibilities of governing, leadership and group dynamics. In addition, their experiences are invaluable when they begin their journey into college applications and life after high school. CISV is run almost entirely by volunteers worldwide! Inspired global citizens investing in the future through children! Doesn't get any better than that!

Michael Van Laanen's picture

We have just launched the Our Rock Project, ourrockproject.org. Our non-profit PBL educational program combines STEM education with the art of documentary film. We ask middle and high school students to research a STEM topic and produce a short 4-7 minute documentary film. Students are encouraged to seek out local scientists, engineers. administrators, professors, etc. in the related STEM field and interview them for their film production. Children explore subjects to answers questions such as, "Where does your water come from?" "What kind of food do you eat and where does it come from?" "What kinds of flora or fauna do you have there?". Once the students have completed their film productions, we will host them in our archive where the translated and captioned films are made available to geography and social studies classrooms around the world. Our web site is free and open access is provided to anyone who wishes to learn about our planet through the eyes and words of the children. We hope to reach out across the globe to have students in every country participate in the Our Rock Project.
Side-note: The website has just soft launched so all of the links are not up and working yet, but we hope to have them operational in a few weeks. You should be able to get a good idea of who we are and what we do there and see a few of the sample films that the children have produced during the two year pilot test of the project.

Anamaria Knight-VIF International Education's picture
Anamaria Knight-VIF International Education
Director of Curriculum and Instructional Design, VIF International Education

Many of the resources mentioned in this article can easily be connected to curricular standards. In our lessons, we have used, for instance, Mystery Skype to connect with classrooms from around the world and discuss various topics across all core subjects. Thank you for this great list - we will definitely refer to this as we develop more curricular resources. www.vifprogram.com

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Building Community Partnerships: Resource Roundup

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There's no doubt that schools can benefit from the resources and expertise of local businesses, organizations, and individuals. In this roundup, explore examples and strategies for fostering successful business and community partnerships.

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Maria Peterson's picture
Maria Peterson
Vending Machine Business

Awesome post very much informative... This post was very much helpful for me...

teamamericafund's picture
teamamericafund
Business Teacher now helping schools

Great! I also enjoyed reading this post as its a win-win situation for all!

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Resources From Connected Educator Month 2014

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Explore Edutopia's guide to websites, events, tools, and other resources from Connected Educator Month.

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Todd Sentell's picture
Todd Sentell
Author of the hilarious schoolhouse memoir, "Can't Wait to Get There. Can't Wait to Leave"

Connect with what your first year of teaching Georgia history might look like at ... www.adixiediary.com

You may now rebel yell.

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Five-Minute Film Festival: Happy Halloween!

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It's time to put on a costume and have some spooky fun with this playlist of Halloween-related videos compiled by VideoAmy.

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Ms.Garcia's picture
Ms.Garcia
High School English Teacher from Navajo Nation

This year, I was able to use Halloween and other fall traditions to teach text structures with different expository texts on the history of Halloween for some of my classes. I've also used it to review literary elements from Edgar Allen Poe's The Raven. I have downloaded The Simpson's Treehouse of Terror where James Earl Jones reads the poem much more effectively than I would and it's a nice treat to see how serious literature and pop culture meet up.

This year I used Halloween to teach gothic elements that show up in our literature by examining the Southern gothic elements in our book, To Kill a Mockingbird, and the gothic elements of classic horror films by showing clips from Nosferatu, Dracula, Frankenstein, and Young Frankenstein. The students then try to come up with a check list of gothic elements to classify certain scenarios and argue if certain other films or literature- I use examples of movies they've seen like Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Twilight, The Shining- would fall under the same category.

Amy Erin Borovoy (aka VideoAmy)'s picture
Amy Erin Borovoy (aka VideoAmy)
Senior Manager of Video Programming, Production, & Curation at Edutopia

Thanks so much for sharing them here. I'm always impressed when educators find good ways to connect pop culture to curriculum ... so effective.

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STEM and Writing: A Super Combination

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Read how a quantum physicist, who was a guest speaker in a language arts classroom, inspired the imagination and writing of the middle school students.
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Laura Bradley, MA, NBCT's picture
Laura Bradley, MA, NBCT
Middle school English/Digital Media teacher

Awesome, Heather! I love the collision of creativity, science, superheroes and writing. Your kids are so lucky!

Deb Stahl's picture

In the end it's also a great testimonial for STEAM (vs merely "STEM"). It's neat to see where kids can take knowledge and creativity together. :-)

Suzie Boss's picture
Suzie Boss
Journalist and PBL advocate

Heather,
Thanks for sharing this wonderful example of what happens when you invite experts into your classroom. As you say, this kind of learning is a natural part of PBL. I wonder if you can tell us how you connected with this inspiring expert? Teachers often ask how to make these "close encounters" happen. Love to hear your strategies.

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Suzie Boss's picture
Suzie Boss
Journalist and PBL advocate

Heather,
Thanks for sharing this wonderful example of what happens when you invite experts into your classroom. As you say, this kind of learning is a natural part of PBL. I wonder if you can tell us how you connected with this inspiring expert? Teachers often ask how to make these "close encounters" happen. Love to hear your strategies.

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Teachers: Finding Appreciation at Work

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The daily demands on teachers can be intense and incredibly taxing yet acknowledgement of all the hard work can work wonders for helping with stress management.

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Todd Sentell's picture
Todd Sentell
Author of the hilarious schoolhouse memoir, "Can't Wait to Get There. Can't Wait to Leave"

FEELING APPRECIATED. SORT OF

Earlier today I was in Principal Lurlene's office asking her a bunch of inane questions and all a sudden she asked me to make sure I gave her any and all handouts I've handed out in class this week for her to see, so I moped back to my classroom and printed them out and gave her everything.

Later in the day I got an e-mail from Lurlene about my recent announcement about how you'd get an automatic F if you forgot to bring in a writing utensil on the day of a test or quiz I thought was a real super great idea that promoted responsibility under pressure.

Here's her e-mail message:

Employee Person:

I would like for you to reconsider the policy you have for automatically giving a student an "F" on a test or quiz for forgetting to bring a writing utensil to class on the day of a test or quiz.

That strikes me as outside our mission and too punitive. I think the smarter and less negative approach would be to reflect the lack of materials on their daily performance sheet, which is what the sheet is for.

Either just have a stack of pencils available or let them return to their lockers. If you have someone who is a constant offender, then let's deal with that person individually. Remember, if you, as an adult, needed a pencil, I would give you one without penalty. Please feel free to discuss this with me further until you see it my way.

Your Boss, Lurlene Bougainvillea, Principal, All Knowing and Always Right

I stared at the e-mail a long time. Then I blinked. Then I laughed. Then I felt light-headed.

Now, just three days of school are in the history books and I'm already wondering about the quirky academic motivations of every one of my students and the back-at-ya humor of my principled boss. She really does know how to write memorable performance reviews.

But at this early point in my rookie teaching career I honestly don't feel like I'm in command of anything yet, except turning the classroom lights off.

Before I run out.

scoatshaan's picture

Elena,

I appreciate the heck out of the positive influence your writing, both on your blog and in your book, have had on my life. Thank you.

Michele Tsen's picture

This is so true! I am currently observing a high school classroom, and the teacher told me how under appreciated she felt and that it's just "normal" for teachers--they don't expect to be appreciated! How sad. Your article reminds me of Dr. Paul White's 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace (www.appreciationatwork.com) in which he outlines some simple ways to show authentic appreciation to employees or colleagues. Your suggestions are also simple, inexpensive and hopefully effective.

Sue Reilly's picture

I thoroughly appreciate your thoughtful words. I recently shared your post about being a first-year teacher, so I have to say, "I appreciate you!"
Thanks

herrhubi's picture

Trish, I appreciate you sharing this with me :) I would love to have some more information on it.

Becky's picture

I love the points above discussing appreciation from the principal and for the principal. We all get so busy in our day and taking a moment to express gratitude and appreciation is important to work in every day. I have learned to stop in my principal's office and check that I am on track and to invite him into my classroom to see the great work we are doing. He once told me no visits from him is good news. That means there are no issues. So I gently remind him through invitations both verbal and by email to stop be and see my student's work. I have found it is also important for me to check in with my co-workers and express delight over the work their students are doing in their classes. If there is overlap in a conversation from English class that comes up in my science classroom, I make sure to show my excitement that my students were able to connect two subjects in their learning process. I make sure the other teacher gets that positive feedback.

One of the goals I will set as an administrator will be to proactively promote that two way positive conversation and praise accomplishments daily. It must be built into the daily calendar. I've seen elementary principals accomplish this daily. As a high school administrator, it can be more difficult given the size and setup of the school. Positive feedback will need to be accomplished by the whole administrative team on a regular basis across the larger high school campus.

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5 Tips for Helping a Student Find the Right Book

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Research shows that children want assistance with finding a reading book. While your students search the stacks, here's some helpful tips for teachers.

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barskyjeff's picture

Something that's helped my students is an online folder I created with interviews (YouTube links) with authors they enjoy. It helps put reading into a new perspective for some: ordinary people read and write - it's not some esoteric activity to be afraid of...

Brett Vogelsinger's picture
Brett Vogelsinger
Ninth grade English teacher from Doylestown, PA

Thanks for this article! Great advice. I've been reading the work of Donalyn Miller and Penny Kittle on this subject and it's so exciting to see the volume kids will begin to read when you have an accessible classroom library and you recommend titles that you are excited to share.

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C. Wimpey's picture

Good tips - thanks! If you are lucky enough to work in a school with a teacher-librarian, enlist his/her services as often as possible. Librarians are typically very current with new releases and what books are the most popular. I also encourage my students to develop their own relationships with the school and/or community librarians - teachers aren't the only ones who know what's good to read:)

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C. Wimpey's picture

Good tips - thanks! If you are lucky enough to work in a school with a teacher-librarian, enlist his/her services as often as possible. Librarians are typically very current with new releases and what books are the most popular. I also encourage my students to develop their own relationships with the school and/or community librarians - teachers aren't the only ones who know what's good to read:)

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Brett Vogelsinger's picture
Brett Vogelsinger
Ninth grade English teacher from Doylestown, PA

Thanks for this article! Great advice. I've been reading the work of Donalyn Miller and Penny Kittle on this subject and it's so exciting to see the volume kids will begin to read when you have an accessible classroom library and you recommend titles that you are excited to share.

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3 Strategies to Improve Student Writing Instantly

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Guest blogger Ali Parrish, educator and ed tech consultant, provides three strategies, low-tech and high-tech, for breaking through students' brain freeze when faced with the dilemma of what to write.
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JrGangi's picture

As a Special Education teacher, teaching writing can be a very taxing experience. One way I have my students try to express themselves, is through a journal. Now I know most people do journals but what I tell my students to do, is write as if they were talking. This takes the pressure away of having to formally write and makes them more comfortable. Any thoughts or ideas are greatly appreciated. Please let me know. Thanks.

dantompkins's picture

I have actually used the teacher write/student talk strategy with older students as well. I had a number of students last year who had difficulty getting their thoughts on paper. They had fine ideas, yet could not get started. I went back to the early grades and would pull the kids aside one at a time and start them off with an opening paragraph. I would often add a few good adjectives and phrases and attribute it to the kids. Once they got a good start and after some time they started joining in with the rest of the class and it really seemed to help them. No child is born a great writer, it takes a different strategies to get the ball rolling for each child. Enjoyed the comments, Dan Tompkins\

N. Bryson's picture

Ali: I love your quote: "How is it that some students have so much to say when talking out loud, but when a pencil is put into their hand they suddenly hesitate, struggle and have nothing to say?" ~ It is so true! :-) I really liked your "Audio Record It" and "Audio Transcribe It" options; both utilize technology, and both prove that writing is a thought process - not "just writing!" I especially like your suggestion of utilizing an app tool "that will transcribe speaking into text." This would - I believe - get students more motivated because they get to use something they LOVE (their phones) and because they wouldn't have to physically WRITE (at least not initially; they will eventually have to transcribe and streamline their thoughts)!

DavidAyer's picture

I teach a College 101 course in 'business writing' - I think doing an audio transcription task that leads to a written product would be really valuable, but could anyone suggest what kind of writing they might be tasked with? The content couldn't be just made up on the spot...perhaps it could be treated as a dictation/editing/document use task where one student is tasked with audio transcribing another's bio sketch, something like that?

Laura Thomas's picture
Laura Thomas
Director, Antioch University New England Center for School Renewal, Author of Facilitating Authentic Learning, Director of the Antioch Critical Skills Program

I think it depends on what the point of the assignment is. These comments have focused on using dictation as a way to help students get started with their own writing, when they're stuck or have trouble with the actual act of writing. If your goal was to help your students learn how to transcribe or take dictation, then I would imagine that the actual content you had them working with would matter less since the learning goal is about the transcription rather than the writing process. Does that make sense?

AYetsko's picture

What will writing look like in 20 years? I have a fourth grader who I have thought about teaching to type and then quickly decided it was a waste of time- by the time he is an adult, he will use dictation rather than typing. Yes, he needs to know how to move around a keyboard (and as a digital native that is not a problem). I wonder how writing instruction in school should best be framed to ensure that our students are effective writers for their futures. I think this brings up some excellent ideas about how we can use technology as part of the process and it can be a valid tool to develop student writers for the tools that they will be using to produce.

AYetsko's picture

These are great ideas for differentiating instruction for students with special needs. I think like many accommodations, they would also benefit general education students. The synergy that is developed when students work together benefits all students.

Newmie83's picture

As an elementary school teacher, I cannot begin to tell you how many times I too have heard the, "I can't think of anything to write about" line. In this ever-changing world of technology advancements, I cannot believe I never thought to find an app or add-on that allows my students to "speak" their story and then use this to go ahead and write it. I have so many students in my room who are reluctant to write, but can tell me every detail about the things they did over a long weekend. The opportunity to differentiate instruction for my students is so important to me, and these ideas will surely help! I wonder if using tools like this will begin to change the way my students feel about writing? I will have to give it a try.

Ragavi Roy's picture

The strategies followed for instant writing is extremely good. Thank you for sharing the information.

Ragavi Roy
Edubilla

Newmie83's picture

With testing in mind I was wondering if anyone knew if any of these add-ons would be made available to students during standardized testing? If so, does anyone know which one? I would love to get my student using a program in which they can use during tests such as the PARCC assessment.

Lizzy Potts's picture

This is an excellent approach to try for students who find the blank screen or page very intimidating, and while I think it can be a great technique for prewriting, I hope that students are provided with guidance to help them get from their spoken words to a polished piece of writing. There is a big difference between a recording of thoughts and an essay, but as long as students know the steps to take in order to get there (which may be different from what they would do if they were prewriting in a more traditional sense), there is no reason to ignore using technology most of us (and our students) have in our pockets - especially if it takes some pressure off students and helps them reach ideas in new ways.

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Jennifer Gonzalez's picture
Jennifer Gonzalez
Blogger at Cult of Pedagogy

Ali, all three of these are wonderful ideas. As a language arts teacher, I often dealt with students who got stuck, and as a writer, I get stuck all the time. I use plenty of tricks like these to get unstuck. Technology can only make this easier. Anything we can do to demystify the process will help get more students writing.

In response to Bill, these strategies work best as part of an overall toolbox for writers, and they should go hand-in-hand with instruction and practice in editing and proofreading your work using standard conventions. For students who consider themselves to be non-writers, starting with some of these more verbal tools can help convince them that they actually are writers -- it's just the medium that scared them off. Once a student has been successful with audio recording or "you talk, I write," they should develop more confidence. At that point, the teacher can nudge them toward starting directly with the paper. The tools might then become something students just visualize using, rather than having to use them every time.

About two decades ago, I read a book by Linda Flower called Problem-Solving Strategies for Writing. In the book, Flower introduces a strategy called WIRMI, which stands for "What I Really Mean Is..." This is another tool to get students unstuck -- to start writing out their ideas as if they were explaining them to someone else in plain language, in order to get their pens moving again. Of course, they would go back later and edit, but this strategy, like the three described above, could potentially turn a non-writer into a writer.

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