Thinking on Education: Differentiating Instruction Does NOT Have To Be Hard

Studies WeeklyWe all want our students to succeed.

On the surface level, student success looks like solid test scores, mastery of grade-level standards, etc. But in life, tests and standards are not the only ways to define success. And just as each student’s path to career success will look very different, there are various paths students can take to learning success.

That’s where differentiated instruction comes in.

“Differentiated instruction honors students’ diverse backgrounds and learning styles. With differentiation, teachers recognize their students as individuals with varying needs and provide them with more options for learning. In other words, teachers use multiple strategies to make sure that all students can absorb the information being taught, share what they’ve learned, and meet long- and short-term goals,” the staff at We Are Teachers said in a January 2018 article.

For many classroom teachers, though, it seems like a lot of work to implement differentiated instruction. Teachers feel overwhelmed with different lesson plans for the same topic, varied content delivery processes and projects.

But it doesn’t have to be, according to veteran teacher Larry Ferlazzo. He explained in a February 2019 Education Week video that it is more a “way of thinking, not a list of pre-planned strategies.”

When teachers develop a growth mindset and zero in on the main learning objectives for a unit or subject, they realize there can be multiple ways to get to that goal.

Ferlazzo shared an example of teaching students the argumentative essay. He’d chosen a topic for the students to research and write about. But he realized one student was completely disengaged. Once he gave the student an alternate topic option, the student immersed himself in the topic and wrote a strong essay.

All students in his class completed the learning objective: formulating a solid argumentative essay. But Ferlazzo differentiated by allowing student choice.

Studies Weekly recognizes there are many ways to learn. That’s why our products already have research-backed differentiated learning strategies built right in. Even better, these strategies don’t require hours of extra teacher preparation.

Our differentiated learning strategies are based on the Hattie’s Effect — a research study by New Zealand professor John Hattie that showed the effectiveness of certain teaching methods. The best ones hit the .40 to 1.2 mark on scale of -.2 to 1.2.

Studies Weekly teachingStudies Weekly includes seven of these high-impact strategies, in addition to many others.

Reciprocal Teaching Method (Hattie’s Effect .74)

This is a guided-discussion method that works with large or small groups and guided reading groups. It engages students through predicting, questioning, clarifying and summarizing.

Studies Weekly teaching

Inquiry Model (Hattie’s Effect .40)

This method asks students to investigate a historic source or scientific topic by focusing on an open-ended question. Students are empowered to develop their own approach to solutions and answers.

Studies Weekly teaching

Question Formulation Technique (HE .66)

This method amps up inquiry-based learning. Students produce, then improve, then prioritize their questions on a subject, event, problem or phenomena. They decide individually, in small groups or as a class where to go with these questions, such as: a research project, building a test model, etc.

Studies Weekly teachingPrimary Source Analysis Tool (HE .75)

Based on methods from the Library of Congress, this tool helps students better understand history through observing and questioning a primary source.

Graphic Organizers (HE .40 – .79)

According to research, graphic organizers elevate student comprehension. Students who use them can more effectively classify and communicate concepts. Studies Weekly incorporates a variety of these.

Studies Weekly teaching

See Think Wonder (HE .60)

This method works well individually or with groups, and develops critical thinking skills. Students learn how carefully analyze and ponder a historical image or scientific phenomenon.

Studies Weekly teaching

Possible Sentences (HE .93)

This is a pre-reading method that works well with vocabulary words and difficult concepts, by activating students’ prior knowledge. Students get excited to tackle a text to prove their understanding.

Studies Weekly teachingThese are just a few methods educators can easily use to differentiate their content delivery and processes. As ASCD points out in the infographic below, teachers can also differentiate their assessments and their classroom environment.

ASCD
Courtesy ASCD

Ideally, differentiated instruction creates a classroom “where the students understand that they are unique, where their individuality is not simply accepted but celebrated; where their differences are not hidden, but rather used to expand learning in the class,” according to a November 2018 Edutopia article.

Or as Ferlazzo puts it, we need to create relationships with our students, and keep our eyes on the prize, always asking ourselves, “What are the learning objectives, and what are the best roads to get there for different students?”


To learn see training videos on how to use the above-mentioned Studies Weekly learning strategies, visit studiesweekly.com/online/pdod.

Thinking on Education: Test Prep Without Teaching to the Test

Studies Weekly test prepWe’re in the throes of testing season, with all of its accompanying drama and anxiety. Educators worry if their students will do well. Students either stress out, or totally check out on testing day. And of course, everyone secretly just wants it all to be over.

With all the pressure districts and teachers have to perform, how do we prepare students for these high-stakes assessments without resorting to “teaching to the test”? Education experts say that not only is teaching to the test ethically wrong and yields an inaccurate result, but it’s really not an effective way to prepare students.

“It’s entirely possible to prepare students for standardized tests in a way that maximizes what we know about learning sciences [and] metacognition,” said Jennifer Borgioli, a senior consultant at Learner-Centered Initiatives, in a 2018 Education Week post. “[B]ut this requires quality professional development and district-based guidance around what that looks like inside a standards-based, high quality, learner-centered curriculum.”

Teaching Curriculum vs. Teaching the Test

Experts point to “curriculum teaching” versus “item teaching” for test prep. Educators who gear their instruction to the state standards — and its applicable knowledge and skills — teach curriculum. Those who focus their instruction only on what is on the test are item teaching. As a result, they narrow and limit students knowledge and skills, robbing students of deeper learning, as researchers pointed out in a 2017 Journal of Experiential Education article.

If teachers clearly understand their state’s education standards and what will be tested on state assessments, they can use curricular content to prepare their students.

“Curriculum-teaching, if it is effective, will elevate students’ scores on high-stakes tests and, more important, will elevate students’ mastery of the knowledge or skills on which the test items are based,” said W. James Popham, an emeritus professor of UCLA, in a 2001 ASCD post.

Studies WeeklyThe best test preparation is that which hones critical thinking and problem-solving skills. This is best done using inquiry-based and student-focused instruction that makes students active learners.

Research shows authentic project-based learning, problem-based learning and experiential learning models can greatly help students master these abilities. As students tackle tough problems and questions throughout the school year and find their own pathways to solutions and answers, they gain the confidence and skills needed. They learn for themselves that they can figure out answers, even when they may not have complete information.

Award-winning middle school teacher Heather Wolpert-Gawron explained in a 2017 Edutopia post that educators should teach students how to retrieve and use what they already know.

“Teach them how to activate prior knowledge or make connections to the material. For many kids, this doesn’t just happen magically — we have to preach it over and over and show them that they already have far more knowledge of our content areas in their heads than they realize,” she said.

Two test-related methods teachers can use is teaching students how to review for tests and how to navigate the process of test-taking.

Teaching Test-Review Skills

Studies WeeklyPete Barnes, an Ohio fifth-grade science teacher, shared a fun way to teach students test-review skills in his February 2019 Edutopia article. He set up a Science Ninja game-based unit. Students had specific tasks and skills they needed to complete, but Barnes organized it in a way that allowed students more choice in their training.

“Students choose tasks from a Training Menu to prove their mastery of life science, outer space, force and motion, and more,” he said, explaining that the tasks included scavenger hunts for information, videos, simulations, matching activities, lab work and model-building activities.

“Each of these tasks also include a short assessment that students check on their own and then verify with the teacher before moving on to the next task,” he said.

Teaching Test-Taking Skills

Wolpert-Gawron also shared strategies for teaching test-taking skills. Because many state assessments are now computer-based, she encouraged educators to incorporate technology aptitude teaching in their curriculum throughout the year.

For example, she suggested teachers create lessons that require students to use audio tools that will read text aloud, learn the meanings of typical computer icons, practice general word-processing and keyboard skills, and how to use hyperlinks, videos and images.

Studies Weekly“Don’t take for granted that our digital natives know how to use the digital tools they need in order to be successful on their online tests,” she said.

She also encourages instructing students in the language of the test. This type of preparation helps all students, whatever their level, better understand the process of testing, including English-language learners.

Betsy Gilliland and Shannon Pella explained in their 2017 book, “Beyond Teaching to the Test,” that according to their research, few high-stakes tests were normed or validated for use with English-language learners during the “No Child Left Behind” era.

“What this means is that in many cases, the complex language used on tests prevents students from understanding what they are supposed to do or from showing their knowledge of the content,” they said.

All students should understand the typical vocabulary used in test directions, so they actually know what it asks them to do.

“Make a list of the most common words used in test instructions. Remember that telling students to read the directions isn’t enough if they can’t understand the directions,” Wolpert-Gawron said.

Teach Confidence

Some of the best test prep is the simplest. Teachers should help students practice recognizing their own successes, and going into a test with a positive mind, Dan Henderson explained this in a 2018 TeachThought prep article — that also hilariously illustrated some of the more absurd test-day requirements.

Many teachers are frustrated with how testing season and test prep cut into instruction time. But with some planning, it can simply be part of effective, authentic instruction.


Teachers who use Studies Weekly for Social Studies and Science have the benefit of knowing where their students are at multiple points in the school year through ready-made, but customizable formative assessments. To learn more, visit studiesweekly.com//online/pdod.

Thinking on Education: Using Portfolios in the Elementary Classroom

Studies Weekly Social Studies Science

For many schools throughout the United States, the elementary classroom connects students, teachers and parents hand-in-hand for student learning.

Teachers often use portfolios as an effective way to forge and strengthen that connection. It also is a potent tool to celebrate student learning and achievement.

In general, a portfolio is “a body of student work collected over an extended period.” Using this definition, culled from Education Week, we can move into a more in-depth look at successful portfolios that showcase student learning.

Using Portfolios

There are a few different types of portfolios — including those that display learning processes, showcase best work, and are used for assessment purposes. Elementary teachers can use all these.

The best portfolios include specific elements.

Portfolio Purpose

Students may use this learning tool to display their learning for a single unit or for an entire year, but they must understand the goal of the portfolio from the beginning.

“It is vital that students also understand the purpose of the portfolio, how it will be used to evaluate their work, and how grades for it will be determined. Make sure students are given a checklist of what is expected in the portfolio before they begin submitting work,” said Emma McDonald in a 2011 Education World article.

Portfolio Learning Objectives and Outcomes

Before starting, students also need to understand the learning objectives for the portfolio. Teachers can present a rubric or grading guidelines as they introduce the portfolio, so students are prepared. Teachers can also set aside specific classroom time for students to add to the portfolio.

Studies Weekly research

Another important point is how they will present their portfolio at the end of the unit, week, month or year. Will it be in a binder or folder? Will it be a collage, magazine or other creative collection to display? Will they have leeway to use technology elements, and access to those?

Because this is an ongoing project, students also need clear direction as to where they will store their portfolio as they are doing the work. Many teachers find it best to store all students’ working portfolios in one place in the classroom.

Student Choice and Reflection

Students should choose what they include in the portfolio. Additionally, they should have time to reflect on their work, evaluate it, and share work they believe is their best. Educators at the State University of New York-Geneseo explained in a presentation that these two elements — student choice and reflection — are two of the most important parts of the portfolio process.

Student choice guarantees better student engagement. Reflection gives both teacher and student an “opportunity to reflect on [the student’s] growth over a period of time.”

Science and Social Studies Portfolios

Many educators are familiar with using portfolios within their language arts block, but this tool also works well in other subject areas, even as a cross-curricular assessment.

Studies Weekly ScienceIn science, the portfolio fits well with a unit where students must complete various tasks to get to full mastery. The portfolio highlights their learning path.

For example, a science unit portfolio might include:

  • Research notes and conclusions
  • Lab experiments and reports
  • Charts and graphs reporting test data
  • Projects

Studies WeeklyIn social studies, a unit portfolio could focus on an event or movement and include:

  • Research notes and conclusions
  • Interviews
  • Primary sources and analysis
  • Infographics, timelines or maps
  • Models or projects

In a 2011 Social Studies and the Young Learner article, Jacqueline S. Craven, William J. Sumrall, Jerilou J. Moore and Kellie Logan showed how this works on a first grade level with their lesson plan on studying historical monuments.

Portfolio Assessment

In any subject, teachers make clear learning objectives and grading rubrics for the portfolio.

For example, with both science and social studies units, teachers might assess students’ critical thinking. Both units could focus on a guiding question. Teachers would then award points based on how well students presented their evidence and conclusions within the portfolio.

Overall, there are many dynamic ways to use portfolios in the classroom. Portfolios are not the only assessment tool, but when used correctly, they can be a powerful way for both students and teachers to see student learning and progress.


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Thinking on Education: The Importance of Project-Based Learning

Studies Weekly collaboration

We all want students to experience authentic, meaningful learning within the classroom.

To that end, project-based learning (PBL) is an effective teaching method.

PBL focuses on what students learn more than what teachers teach, as Diana B. Turk and Stacie Brensilver Berman explained in their January/February 2018 Social Education article, “Learning through Doing: A Project-Based Learning Approach to the American Civil Rights Movement.”

“[W]e see project-based learning as an approach that focuses both on the content of curriculum and what students do with what they learn,” the authors explained. “Organized around real-world challenges that students engage in and ultimately master in their learning, PBL units look and feel very different from traditional classroom learning.”

Most importantly PBL is not a one-and-done lesson — this method usually lasts at least a week or more. Turk and Berman added that PBL is teacher-shaped but student-driven, a key component of engaging students. PBL units must also be authentic and as real as possible — both within the classroom and without.

“It must be minds on as well as being hands on,” Turk and Berman said. “Only by engaging in projects that invite transfer — the extension of learning from one project to another, across and outside the curricular realm — do students truly come to own the material they learn and see the value and meaning of the work they are engaged in. Those are the prerequisites for real learning to take place.”

Studies Weekly How To

Successful PBL units make students think differently about the content they are learning, encourage them to ask questions they didn’t think of before, and engage them within their community, Berman added in a March 2018 National Council for the Social Studies podcast, “Passionate about Project-Based Learning.”

Teachers are often nervous about implementing PBL into their classroom because it can sometimes be loud and messy. But the skills students gain are essential to their future work within a company, the community and their families. Through PBL, students learn how to question and research, how to collaborate and communicate effectively, and how to identify a problem and chase down a solution as part of a team.

Here are some tips — culled from multiple experts and resources — for using PBL in the classroom:

1. Teach team skills.

Many teachers go into PBL without teaching students how to work well with others. But these skills are not instinctive for most students. Teachers should model and teach how to be an active listener, engage in respectful discussion and debate, and share the work.

Mari Venturino shares some good ideas for how to do this in a September 2018 Kids Discover post, “Teaching Teamwork.”

2. Assign roles.

Unique roles within a group makes everyone work together on the project. The type of project will dictate the exact roles needed, but some general roles are: group facilitator, note-taker, progress tracker, teacher liaison and materials manager. In a January 2018 Getting Smart article, Jamie Beck also suggested four roles that work well:

• Head Coach: The one who understands the activity, keeps the team together throughout and understands the final solution well enough to explain it to others.

• Journalist: The one who leads the team in organizing results and creating the final product.

Resource Manager: The one who gets supplies for the team, and is the only person who can ask team questions from the teacher.

• Assistant Coach: The one who ensures everyone shares their ideas and contributes.

You can find further tips and downloadables to help you and your students understand collaborative roles at Teachers Pay Teachers.

3. Track ongoing progress.

Many teachers don’t rely on just one final deadline for the completion of a project, because students need clear measurements for what they should be doing and when. To do this effectively, you could set intermittent deadlines for some or all of the following:

• Identifying and validating the problem

• Gathering data and research

• Organizing and identifying pertinent data

• Creating a presentation plan

• Finalizing the presentation

• Presenting

• Reflecting on the project

4. Teach students how to prepare for a presentation.

project based learning

PBL does not always end in a written research paper. Students can tailor their final presentation to the subject studied. 

For example, a social studies project may result in students creating a newspaper about the event or movement, or even doing a reenactment of the event.

Students can also present their topics in a variety of ways, such as: a TED Talk style speech, a video, a play, a broadcast, a diorama, a hands-on demonstration, a children’s book, etc. You should be open to allowing the students pick their presentation style depending on their subject, rather than choosing one for them.

If students will be presenting their findings outside of the classroom, teachers should also prepare them for this.

5. Grade through rubrics.

Studies Weekly PBL
Courtesy PhilipCummings.com

It is challenging to assign a blanket grade to group work and projects. Rubrics allow you to grade the intended outcome for the project both individually and as a group. Students should see the grading rubrics before starting the project so they know how they will be graded.

Good rubrics don’t just assign points, but also describe the reasoning behind those points. Effective rubrics outline where a group is below a standard, approaching the standard, and completing the standard.

Students should also evaluate themselves and each other through another rubric that details their collaboration skills — including how well they listened, communicated, did their assigned role, kept on task and contributed to the final product.

Find some great rubric ideas at our Pinterest board.

6. Allow time for reflection.

Studies Weekly projects

Students should always have time to reflect on the group’s efforts and the final project. This can be done through a peer/group rubric, but can also be accomplished as a class. Reflection time gives students the opportunity to share the following:

• What worked in their group

• Frustrations they had with the project

• What surprised them about the project, or topic

• What they learned about the subject

• What they learned about themselves

• Further questions they have about the subject

• Possible roles they’d like to try for the next project

Emily Murphy explained that reflection time is important for both the teacher and learner. In her December 2018 Edutopia article, she shared a highly successful PBL experience. But she did not realize how differently her students felt about their project’s outcome than she did until they talked as a class after the project’s completion.

“Had we skipped the step of reflecting the day after the meeting, I would have made many incorrect assumptions. The reflection period prompted teachers to spend time considering student perspective and to ask, ‘Are we following their agenda or ours?’” she said.

PBL is not a new teaching method. According to Education Week, it’s been a part of education for more than 100 years.

But — with so many technological advancements giving students easier access to information and resources — there are many opportunities in classrooms today to thoughtfully and meaningfully implement authentic, real-world project-based learning. This will better prepare students with essential collaborative skills needed for today’s interconnected society.

For further reading, the Buck Institute for Education offers training and resources for teachers who want to learn how to apply PBL in their classroom.

Studies Weekly’s consumable newspapers and magazines work well with PBL. Students can use the print and online editions for primary source research and data gathering, and then turn around and cut up the print edition and/or incorporate Studies Weekly’s videos for their presentations. The possibilities are endless.

Visit https://app.studiesweekly.com//online/pdod to learn more.

Thinking on Education: The Importance of Emotion in Learning

Emotion in Social Studies
Oswiecim, Poland – March 28, 2016: Electrical fences of Auschwitz — the largest German concentration camp built and operated by Nazi Germany during World War II.

As your students analyze and ponder history, are they tapping into the feelings of people in the past?

We do students a disservice when we distance them from historical experiences through detached instruction.

At Studies Weekly, we live by the motto: “Standards Inform, Stories Inspire.” We wholeheartedly believe that sentiment. While all our curriculum is based on rigorous national and state standards, we present that curriculum to students through the power of stories.

Why?

Because we believe, and research proves this, that true learning involves emotion, not rote memorization of facts and figures. As noted in a Psychologist World article, “emotionally charged situations can lead us to create longer lasting memories” of events.

If we want our students to truly learn from the mistakes and triumphs of the past, we need to ensure they experience the emotions of those events.

“The need to belong, the desire to be understood, the instinct to understand — these are all universal human emotions that do not fade with time, vary across generations, or stop just because you’ve got algebra to teach. They lord over a student’s mind constantly, and require more than a little bit of ‘social and emotional learning’ — they require emotion at the core,” said Terry Heick, founder and director of TeachThought, in an October 2017 post.

Just as students need to belong and be understood in the classroom, they can see these basic human needs in the past. Are students delving into these universal emotions as they learn history?

For example, are they discovering the stories behind why an individual fought for the North or the South in the American Civil War? Or are we just emotionlessly requiring them to memorize the dates and locations of battles and their military outcomes?

For those who lived those battles — and the many battles that followed — the dates mattered less than the sights, sounds and smells of gunpowder, smoke and death. Location mattered only in that it was the last place they saw a fellow soldier alive.

This is why Studies Weekly relies so much on primary sources.

Good Primary Sources Draw Students into the Story

“Primary sources allow us to discover important details about horrific events of the past, especially the often-overlooked human response,” Lee Ann Potter, director of educational outreach at Library of Congress, in a 2011 Social Education article.

For many students today, World War II is a distant war fought on a distant land. But for people like Jack Tueller, it was where he lost many friends, but also found a strength within himself he didn’t know was there.

For many students today, the Holocaust was an atrocity that no one can comprehend happening today. For Noemi Mattis, it was an era that ripped family and friends apart.

For many students today, the Civil Rights Movement was a major achievement that struck a major blow to racism. For those who lived that era and fought for equality, it was a time of fear and violence, but also strength and solidarity.

Studies Weekly centers much of its instruction around these and other types of primary sources so students will feel and experience history, not just read about it. So they will understand multiple perspectives of events from those who were there.

So they will see something within themselves in the stories of both ordinary and heroic history makers, and realize their own place in today’s society.

To learn more about teaching with stories and primary sources, visit Teaching with Primary Source in Social Studies.

Teaching Digital Citizenship in a World Full of Technology

We are all part of a digital world, but sometimes internet interactions bring out the uglier side of humanity.

Today, there is a profound need for digital citizenship education.

As part of the social studies curriculum, educators already teach children citizenship in our nation. In prior generations, this teaching included how to function in the public sphere and the local community, and how to fulfill civic duties.

But because the internet now connects our entire globe, we all are also citizens of the world. Thus, instruction today must include digital citizenship.

As Richard Culatta, CEO of the International Society for Technology in Education, explained in a speech last year, digital citizenship is not the same as teaching children online safety.

“Digital citizenship is not a list of don’ts, but a list of dos,” he said at the 2018 ISTE Conference & Expo in Chicago.

Culatta outlined four of those dos, and encouraged educators to incorporate them into their instruction.

1. Digital Citizenship is using technology to make your community better.

We all, hopefully, have seen examples of this. From the teenager in a Utah school who created a social media account to highlight and compliment random students from his school, to the many amazing apps now available to help people with disabilities — many, many people use technology to improve society.

High school teacher Douglas Kiang shared another example of this in an ISTE article. He noticed his students weren’t really connecting as a class, so he created a classroom Minecraft server. He assigned them to play the game together.

Before even tackling this assignment, the class created initial rules to govern their communal gameplay. From this, they learned valuable lessons about translating the citizenship rules that govern face-to-face interactions into a digital community. As the gameplay progressed, students gained in-depth knowledge about how laws and societies work.

“I just realized something. In the beginning, we had a hard time coming up with rules because no one knew what was going to happen. Now I think that laws only exist because someone at some point in the past did something before it was a law,” one student told Kiang after a classroom discussion.

The play encouraged problem-solving, and in-person debate and discussion. Overall, Kiang felt it was a powerful community-building experience.

“The power of Minecraft as a catalyst for learning is in its ability to involve students in creating a shared world together, in all of its intricacies and challenges and difficult conversations. Good teachers are at the heart of this process, not just for providing a powerful learning environment to students, but also for helping them create meaning from the challenges they face and the choices they make. This teaching can take place when the laptops are closed, face to face. As students become better citizens in the virtual world, so will they develop powerful skills for negotiation and compromise that serve them well in the real world,” he concluded.

2. Digital Citizenship is respectfully engaging with people who have different beliefs from ours.

From some reason — possibly because we can hide behind a username — we may find ourselves saying something nastier or meaner online than we would in a face-to-face discussion. This seems especially true in online political discussions and debates.

But through digital citizenship instruction, students learn that those “anonymous” posts have real-world consequences. And arguing with someone online rarely, if ever, changes their mind — all it does is isolate and divide the participants, stymying real solutions.

digital citizenship respectfulCommon Sense Media has some great suggestions for teaching respectful digital citizenship at each grade level.

3. Digital Citizenship can shape public policy.

Culatta shared the power of social media in connecting with government representatives.

“If we only teach students that the way they interact with their elected officials is by writing a letter to the senator, then we should not be surprised when they don’t think to turn to social media as a tool to make sure their voice is heard,” he said. “If we only teach students how to organize people around a good cause in a physical space, we should not be surprised when their devices are used only for entertainment.”

As an example of this, he pointed to No One Eats Alone, a digital inclusion project targeted to bringing middle school students together at lunchtime.

Parkland, Florida, USA – April 25, 2018: The Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. The school was the site of a school shooting in 2018 which set off mass protests against gun violence.

“And of course, we’ve all seen recently the power of the students from Parkland, Florida, who used their voice to change the conversation. And change a national dialogue, because they knew how to be good digital citizens,” Culatta added.

4. Digital Citizenship is discerning the validity of online resources.

In a world where anyone can put up a website, Culatta said students need skills to distinguish fact and fiction. For example, a professor created a legitimate-looking website with “factual” information about the endangered Pacific Northwest Tree Octopus. He did this to see how many students in case study believed the “facts.” Culatta said only one student questioned the validity of the source.

Home page of the Pacific Northwest Tree Octopus spoof site.

“Our ability to recognize truth from fiction is essential to our survival as a society,” Culatta said. “We have to evolve and develop new skills for distinguishing truth from fiction. These new skills don’t just happen, they have to be taught.”

Again, Common Sense Media has some great grade-level-appropriate lesson plans for teaching digital literacy.

As our world becomes ever more digitally connected, the need for good digital citizens rises. Parents and educators can lead the way in teaching these skills.

“Teaching digital citizenship means embracing the reality that we’re all interconnected through the Internet, and that we therefore need to understand the responsibilities and risks that come with life online,” said Kristen Hicks in a 2015 Edudemic article.

Digital citizenship both protects and empowers us and our children.

Thinking on Education: Teaching Civil Disobedience

She Stood for Freedom: Joan Trumpauer Mulholland

As we teach history, one of the many important ideas from the world’s shared history is the use of civil disobedience to motivate change.

This is sometimes a tricky concept for younger children, because they are so ingrained with rules at home and at school.

“Don’t cross the street without looking both ways.”

“Don’t hit your sister.”

“Don’t touch the hot stove.”

“Don’t jump on the bed.”

“Don’t yell.”

Sometimes we all — not just children — struggle with the nuances of breaking a law because it is a bad one. That very struggle is why we view those who improve society through civil disobedience as heroes.

“One has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws,” Martin Luther King Jr. wrote. “One who breaks an unjust law must do so openly, lovingly, and with a willingness to accept the penalty. I submit that an individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust, and who willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment in order to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the highest respect for law.”

Martin Luther King Jr.
Martin Luther King Junior Memorial in Washington DC, USA

As dictionaries define it, civil disobedience is the refusal to comply with certain laws as a peaceful form of political protest. Or, as Emmeline Pankhurst, a late-1800s British suffragist, put it:

Teaching Civil Disobedience“We are here, not because we are law-breakers; we are here in our efforts to become law-makers.”

For her own acts of civil disobedience, Pankhurst was arrested about 20 times throughout the 40 years she campaigned for women’s right to vote. British women gained that right in 1928, just a few weeks after Pankhurst’s death.

Joan Trumpauer Mulholland was one of many white and black protesters who spent time in prison for their actions during the Civil Rights Movement. Mulholland faced violence and anger when she joined friends at a 1963 Woolworth’s sit-in in Jackson, Mississippi, but didn’t back down or retaliate.

Many others throughout history caused important change through their civil disobedience.

Mahatma Gandhi

Mahatma Gandhi led the Salt March in 1930 — a peaceful protest of British rule in India and its unfair taxes and production restrictions on Indian salt. As Gandhi made the 240-mile march on foot, villagers along the way gathered to the cause.

Teaching Civil DisobedienceChange did not immediately happen for the Indian people after this, but Gandhi’s act inspired others, and eventually brought great change for his people.

Claudette Colvin

Civil disobedience almost always takes time to be effective, and sometimes multiple people must resolutely rise up before the spark of hope catches. Before Rosa Parks’ quiet but monumental act, one teen did the same in March 1955.

Claudette Colvin
Courtesy PBS

Claudette Colvin was a 15-year-old high school student in Montgomery, Alabama. As she explained in a March 2018 interview with the BBC, when the driver asked her to give up her seat in a full bus, she refused.

“He wanted me to give up my seat for a white person and I would have done it for an elderly person but this was a young white woman,” she said in the interview.

Colvin told the bus driver she’d paid her fare, and had the right to remain where she was. Police arrested her and placed her in an adult cell, not a juvenile detention center, Colvin said. Her mother bailed her out about three hours later.

In 1956, after the ensuing Montgomery Bus Boycotts, Colvin was one of four people to testify to the United States Supreme Court about bus segregation. The court ruled to end segregation on buses.

The Tank Man

1989 was a year of changes — with the fall of the Berlin Wall, the uprising in Romania, and the arrest of Manuel Noriega. But one lone man in China became an emblem of the fight for freedom worldwide.

In Beijing that year, student-led demonstrations protested China’s Communist government, and called for basic human rights. The students stationed their main protest near their “Goddess of Democracy” statue in Tiananmen Square.

China’s government responded with military force, killing many with sprays of gunfire and tanks. One man, known only to history as the Tank Man, symbolized the Chinese government’s suppression of human rights and the students’ protest.

Tank Man
Courtesy Britannica

On the morning of June 5, after massive violence and deaths just the night before, the Tank Man faced down a line of tanks as they rolled into the square. Caught on video by journalists, the man blocked the tanks as they tried multiple times to maneuver around him. Even as gunfire could be heard around him, he alone gestured to the tanks to turn back.

Eventually, the tanks went around him and continued on, but his effort became a symbol to the world.

Teaching Civil Disobedience

These are just a few examples of those who used civil disobedience for the betterment of themselves and others. Brave change-makers of history can inspire students today to be the change they want to see in their own society.

“Whenever people ask me: ‘Why didn’t you get up when the bus driver asked you?’ I say it felt as though Harriet Tubman’s hands were pushing me down on one shoulder and Sojourner Truth’s hands were pushing me down on the other shoulder. I felt inspired by these women because my teacher taught us about them in so much detail,” Colvin said of her experience.

Even at a young age, students can and should learn the importance of civil disobedience, explained Andrea S. Libresco, professor of Social Studies Education at Hofstra University, in her 2018 National Council for the Social Studies article. Libresco highlighted how two children’s books — “The Little Book of Little Activists,” by Penguin Young Readers, and “The Youngest Marcher: The Story of Audrey Faye Hendricks, a Young Civil Rights Activist, by Cynthia Levinson — can show students their own power.

Teaching Civil Disobedience
Youngest Marcher, by Cynthia Levinson

Using these books, Libresco suggested various learning strategies to engage students:

Use primary source images and discuss the freedoms and rights the participants are protesting for.
Dig deep with questions such as:
  • Who has the power to make — and change — rules and laws in society?
  • What are citizens’ responsibilities to their community?
  • What are governments’ responsibilities to its citizens?
  • What situations might call for different kinds of protest?
  • Besides a march, what are other methods of protest?
  • What obstacles do people face in their struggles for change?
  • How do you measure the success of a movement?
  • Are there any issues about which you feel strongly enough to protest?
Create project-based learning where students research issues and represent their research in one of the following ways:
  • Talk to family and friends about an issue
  • Learn or write a song or poem about the topic
  • Write letters to a company or public official
  • Make a mural
  • Post informational signs at school
  • Go to a local meeting or hearing
  • Hold a fund-raiser with an educational component
  • Add an article about the topic in a school newspaper or website
  • Attend a demonstration with their families

“The message is this. The world doesn’t have to be the way the world is. Good people can act, and the world can be better, and so can we.” Freeman Hrabowski III
Children have a keen sense of right and wrong and can be true change-makers in their communities. Freeman Hrabowski III, president of the University of Maryland-Baltimore County, witnessed this in his own life. In a PBS broadcast, he described how, at the age of 12, he participated in the Birmingham Children’s Crusade of 1963.

That experience was a powerful example to him, to the world at that time, and to others today. Just last year, after learning about the Birmingham Children’s Crusade of 1963, fifth graders from Case Elementary School in Akron, Ohio joined others in the National School Walkout to protest gun violence.

“The message is this. The world doesn’t have to be the way the world is. Good people can act, and the world can be better, and so can we,” Hrabowski said.

Thinking on Education: Using Screens and Print Effectively in the Classroom

Studies show we all read more today than in previous generations. While printed books and magazines are still a part of our lives, much of our reading consumption is digital.

While technology innovation allows education to reach many students more efficiently, some educators worry that it is also limiting some students’ skills. At the forefront of this is reading literacy, comprehension and other critical skills.

Screens vs. PrintDigital reading is changing the way we read, suggested Maryanne Wolf, director of the Center for Dyslexia, Diverse Learners, and Social Justice at the University of California, Los Angeles, at February’s Learning and the Brain conference in San Francisco.

Wolf postulated “that one of the threats of this shift is that it will hurt humans’ ability for deep reading, which she describes as involving empathy, background knowledge, critical analysis, imagery and reflection,” Sydney Johnson reported Feb. 18, 2019 in “Reading Fuels Empathy. Do Screens Threaten That?”

“The sum of these processes helps prepare citizens to be critical thinkers and empathetic — or not,” Wolf said.

Wolf and others worry that this lack of connection could seriously affect students’ future.

“We are in this moment where ‘other’ is becoming a threat,” Wolf said at the February conference. “The compassionate imagination of childhood begins with understanding that there are others outside of ourselves. We have never needed the role of story more than right now for our children to understand a compassionate sense.”

Studies back up Wolf’s assertions. Geoff F. Kaufman of Carnegie Mellon University and Mary Flanagan of Dartmouth College found that students’ decision processes change when approaching a problem digitally vs. in print.

Utilizing a board game format — or that same game translated to an iPad — they tested subjects’ ability to prevent a health outbreak. Flanagan and Kaufman were surprised when their study showed that analog users  communicated significantly more with their teammates and performed better than digital users.

“[T]he app-game players focused on dealing with immediate, local outbreaks of disease. Those playing the board game were more likely to keep a ‘big picture view’ of which people outside an immediate outbreak might be vulnerable, and they worked together more as a team. Overall, the board game players were better at stopping the outbreak and winning the game,” Kaufman and Flanagan said in May 2016 Education Week report.

This is concerning. Today’s classrooms throughout all levels of education are not ruled by just paper and pencils, but also through keyboard and tablet. Because of this, ultimately the discussion cannot be about “Screens vs. Print,” but where to utilize each more effectively.

Pros and Cons

Flanagan and Kaufman researched further and tested subjects with other tasks either online or in print. They found some pros and cons to both media.

In their studies, digital readers recalled concrete facts and details better than print readers. But print readers scored better when asked to infer meaning and relationships, or ponder abstract concepts.

Other studies found that “students who typed notes on their laptops rather than writing them on paper tended to take down information verbatim rather than summarizing concepts.” Those who summarized the concepts, rather than recording them verbatim, remembered more a week later.

Many educators find digital content is often more engaging for reluctant readers than a sheet of paper or a book. Unfortunately, these same readers tend to skim while reading online, and do not comprehend the text as deeply, or “construct complex arguments, or make connections to their own experiences,” according to a 2014 Education Week article.

Screens vs. PrintWe cannot ban technology from the classroom, though.

“It is fair to say that reading digitally is part and parcel of living and learning in the 21st century .… No matter how complex the question of reading across mediums may be, teachers and students must understand how and when to employ a digital reading device,” said Lauren Singer, a doctoral candidate at the University of Maryland, and Patricia Alexander, a University of Maryland professor, in a 2017 Inside Higher Ed article.

Singer, Alexander, Wolf, Flanagan, Kaufman and other researchers hope more study will lead to ways of helping students develop what Wolf calls a “bi-literate” brain, where they can benefit from the assets of both medium.

For now, these experts suggest teachers use a hybrid approach.

“There are many times when you are trying to get students to compare facts and figures. If you are making a timeline for World War II, it might be really great to have digital technology to optimize comprehension of details like that,” Flanagan said in the 2016 article. “But when you want students to think more analytically about something, especially when you are asking something new — ‘How would you compare what happened in World War II to the Gulf War,’ say — that may require a shift in thinking. You may want to get off the screen for that for a little while.”


Studies Weekly Social Studies and Science materials allow students and teachers to read and complete activities both online and in print. For more information, visit studiesweekly.com.

Tackling the Bard: Teaching Shakespeare to Elementary Students

William Shakespeare’s works may be more than 400 years old, but their messages still resonate today.

Even after all this time, Shakespeare’s characters and themes still live within each of us, as Maggie Trapp, a UC Berkeley Extension instructor pointed out in a January 2018 Berkeley “Voices” blog. And his wordplay and characterization both entertain, but challenge us.

“These plays have managed to speak complicated truths to all manner of audiences and readers for hundreds of years,” Trapp said in the blog post.

Alan Craven, professor emeritus at University of Texas at San Antonio, agreed in a 2013 UTSA article by Cindy Tumiel.

“The language is rich, the characters are complex and many of his basic themes — love, treachery, honor, bravery and political intrigue — still resonate today,” Craven said. “Humans still experience love, loss, betrayal, war, humor and tragedy, which gives Shakespeare a foothold in modern times.”

Teaching Shakespeare, though, can sometimes seem as scary as Macbeth’s fatal vision of a dagger. And with so much violence and innuendo in Shakespeare’s plays, how do we introduce Shakespeare to elementary and middle school students? And really, how do we get beyond the dreaded high school trudge through “Romeo and Juliet”?

Fear no more! As good luck would have it, helpful hints this way come.

Teaching Shakespeare1. All the World’s a Stage

…. And there are many players upon this world who have successfully performed Shakespeare for the masses.

Every Shakespeare unit should begin with a movie or stage viewing of at least a part of the play or scene. Think about it — would you prefer reading the script of the latest Avenger adventure or watching the movie?

Not all full movie or play versions are appropriate for kids, but many parts of these productions are suitable.

2. The Play’s the Thing

Shakespeare’s works were never meant to be “read and deadened behind a desk.” They are plays — meant to be performed and “explored on their feet,” as Mark Powell, artistic director of Prime Theatre said in 2014 article for The Guardian.

At the elementary level, students can use finger puppets, Legos, action figures or simple paper cutouts to discover short Shakespeare scenes and themes.

3. Is This a Book I See Before Me?

( , Undefined, 12

Shakespeare’s language is delicious, but as Brynn Allison points out in her 2017 lesson plan for We Are Teachers, he “was a wordy guy.”

“Cut to the important parts of scenes and summarize the less important parts,” she suggested.

Teachers can summarize the play and its characters for their elementary students, then delve deeper into just one important scene, or even just one important soliloquy or interchange between characters.

4. My Kingdom for a Comic Book?

Teaching Shakespeare
Macbeth

Another option — especially for lower level readers — is Mya Lixian Gosling’s stick figure Shakespeare comics at Good Tickle Brain. She’s created short comics for most of Shakespeare’s plays, and even the gorier ones are quite palpable with her clever drawings. Students can’t help but enjoy pairing her comics with more in-depth scene discussions.


These are but a few of the many ideas to successful sparked student’s interest in Shakespeare. For more ideas, start with the following:

teachingchannel.org/video/approaches-to-teaching-shakespeare

weareteachers.com/best-shakespeare-activities-printables/

readwritethink.org/files/resources/lesson_images/lesson1031/terms.pdf

brighthubeducation.com/lesson-plans-grades-3-5/27536-teaching-shakespeare-to-elementary-students/

To view Studies Weekly’s resources on Shakespeare, login to your online account or visit our YouTube page.

Thinking on Education: Women’s Important Contributions to the STEM Fields

As educators all around the nation celebrate women’s roles in history this month, we want to highlight a few unique female contributions as well.

STEM education — or the emphasis on science, technology, engineering and math — is a hot topic in the industry. Tech leaders in every state are working towards coding and computer engineering classes for students all the way down to the elementary level.

Many of these leaders — through SheTech experiences and Girls Who Code events — focus on capturing the imagination of young women and girls. More girls need to realize women have been in every aspect of STEM fields almost since their beginnings.

Chemistry and Physics

Women and STEM
Marie Curie

Marie Curie, 1867-1934, was the first woman to win the Nobel Prize, and the only woman to win two Nobel Prizes in two different disciplines: one for chemistry and one for physics.

The Polish-French scientist is most famous for her work on radioactivity with her husband, Pierre Curie. But she also discovered two elements, polonium and radium.

Curie also broke education barriers. After her husband’s death in 1906, she was appointed to his vacant professorship and was the first woman to teach at the Maison de Sorbonne. According to Brittanica, she also founded medical research centers in Paris and Warsaw.

Engineering

Women and STEM
Edith Clarke

Edith Clarke, 1883-1959, earned her master’s degree in electrical engineering at MIT in 1919 — the first such degree awarded to a woman there. One of her job titles was “Computer.” Before the machines we know today, people were the computers of the past.

Clarke worked at AT&T and GE. While at GE, she analyzed and calculated mathematical models for transmission lines, and wrote many research papers on power distribution.

Clarke accomplished a number of firsts in her day. According to the Edison Tech Center, she was the first female electrical engineering professor in the United States. She also was the first woman to present a paper before the American Institute of Electrical Engineers, and later was the Institute’s first female fellow.

Engineering Design

Women and STEM
Olive Dennis

Olive Dennis, 1885-1957, was the nation’s first service engineer. She is most famous for riding the rails of the B&O railroad, traveling millions of miles in order to improve the rail traveler’s experience.

Dennis earned her master’s degree in civil engineering at Cornell, only the second woman to do so. Dennis started with the railroad as a draftsman, designing bridges. Soon she moved into her design engineering role, where she improved all aspects of rail travel. Through her research, she redesigned the trains’ chairs, windows and sleeping cars; and updated dining cars, restrooms and food offerings.

She was the first woman to become a member of the American Railway Engineering Association.

Mathematics

Before the 2016 movie, “Hidden Figures,” very few people appreciated the contributions of Katherine Johnson, 1939-1956; Dorothy Vaughan, 1910-2008; and Mary Jackson, 1921-2005. But without these women, America might not have even been a contender in that era’s race to space.

Women and STEM
Katherine Johnson, courtesy of NASA

Johnson spent more than 30 years calculating flight paths for America’s spacecraft. She is most famous for calculating the flight path for Freedom 7 in 1961, which sent the first U.S. astronaut into space. According to Brittanica, her calculations were so accurate that John Glenn asked her to verify the electronic computer’s calculations before his own flight orbiting the Earth.

Women and STEM
Dorothy Vaughan, courtesy NASA

Vaughan was NASA’s first African American manager. She oversaw the female computers of the segregated West Area Computing Unit. Their work contributed to the success of the early space program. According to NASA, engineers highly valued her recommendations and often requested that she personally handle challenging assignments.

Women and STEM
Mary Jackson at Work NASA Langley
Courtesy NASA

Early on, Jackson reported to Vaughan as one of her computers. She moved on to work with Kazimierz Czarnecki, conducting experiments in a 60,000 horsepower wind tunnel. After completing engineering courses, she became NASA’s first black female engineer in 1958. She went on to author numerous research reports. She also made a significant impact on the hiring and promotions of the next generation of female scientists.

Space

Women and STEM
Ellen Ochoa

Ellen Ochoa, born in 1958, was the first Hispanic female astronaut. She was also the first Hispanic — and second female — director of the Johnson Space Center. According to NASA, she went to space four times from 1993 to 2002. She logged almost 1,000 hours in orbit.

Ochoa earned NASA’s highest award, the Distinguished Service Medal. She also earned the Presidential Distinguished Rank Award, as well as many other awards throughout her career. She has six schools named for her.

Discovering More

These are just a few women who made unique contributions to the STEM fields — there are many, many others. Though less prominent in some
textbooks, women are a part of history — from fossils to fission, and disease management to software development.

Students everywhere are lucky to have teachers who help them discover these women throughout history.

To discover a treasure trove of Women’s history videos, visit our Women’s History Playlist at YouTube.