Monday Morning Roundup #13

Good Monday Morning!

Some good educational resources for your perusal this Monday morning.

1.  Annotary – Do you bookmark lots and lots of websites and need to organize them more efficiently?  Do you bookmark sites and then forget why?  Annotary is a free website that allows you to organize your bookmarked websites as well as highlight and annotate those webpages for future reference.  Because your bookmarks are stored on the site, you can access your bookmarks and notes from any computer, anywhere.  In addition, you can share your annotated bookmarks with others by creating groups.  This could be great for teacher and student collaboration.  FREE.

2. Stanford History Education Group – This is a good website for teachers of U.S. history who want to incorporate more primary documents into their instruction. The site walks teachers and students through using primary documents in units of study that cover the whole of American history.  They’ve also recently included a new assessment website that includes alternative assessment ideas.  In addition, they have links to various projects that can be used in the teaching of U.S. history.

3.  RealtimeBoard – RealtimeBoard is an online whiteboard that allows people to collaborate in realtime on a visual presentation.  There’s a great 4-minute video on the site that explains everything RealtimeBoard can do, from using the site’s drawing and text tools to uploading images and documents from external sources to creating presentations and exporting them as a PDFs.  Students and teachers can use it for brainstorming and collaborating on papers and projects.  FREE.

4.  TimeGlider – TimeGlider is an online timeline creator that allows users to “create and publish zooming and panning interactive timelines. It’s like Google Maps, but for time.”  You can embed images, video, and audio to the timelines as well.  This is a GREAT tool for teaching chronology and cause and effect in history. There is a free version that allows individual users to create up to 3 separate timelines.

5.  Just Beam It – Ever have students complete projects in which the file – be it an iMovie, a podcast, or whatever – is too large to upload to Edmodo or send it through email?  Well, Just Beam It allows teachers and students to quickly pass each other large files without the use of a flash drive.  Simply upload the file you want to send and the website generates a link.  Keep your browser open, send the link to the other person, and the person clicks on the link.  In seconds, they have the file.  They will need to save the file on their own computer because the link only works once, but it’s a quick and easy way to share large files when necessary.

Norman Rockwell in Arrested Development

There’s a wonderful exhibit running at the Birmingham Museum of Art in Birmingham, Alabama. It’s “Norman Rockwell’s America.” I’m taking my AP U.S. history students to view the exhibit later this week. Field trips like this can be fun and educational on their own, but I’ve decided to make it even more so by attaching an assignment to the trip that incorporates modern technology. The original inspiration for the assignment came from a combination of sources including a colleague and a television show, but I’ve tweaked the initial concept in a few places. I’m sharing it here because I think with some adaptations it could be used in a variety of grade levels and subject areas.

If you are familiar with Rockwell, you probably know that his images tend to show America in a highly rosy and idealistic light. Even when he touched on more controversial topics like public school integration in the 1950s, the images he created were tame and lacked the true grit of reality. I enjoy Rockwell’s imagery for its nostalgic factor and its quaintness, but in terms of teaching U.S. history, the images often do not go far enough, leaving whole groups of society out of the picture and telling only half the story. I knew that I wanted to make sure my students thought about this as they viewed the exhibit and afterwards.

Before we go to the exhibit, I’m doing a mini-lecture on Rockwell and some of the works they will see. I’m also going to tell them ahead of time about the assignment, so they know what to look for as they view the works.

For the assignment, the students are to pick one painting or magazine cover from the exhibit that interests them and make a note of it so they can look the image up once we return to school. Their challenge is to take their chosen image and modernize it, to use Rockwell’s image as an inspiration but to then tell more of the story. The idea is to show another side of the story or a more realistic portrayal of the history, to show the people who Rockwell neglected or to show the scene in a more historically accurate way. To do this, they will stage a scene with real human beings, costumes, props, and backgrounds. They will snap a photograph of their scene in “arrested development,” and upload the image to their computer. Putting the two images – Rockwell’s original image and their new photograph – side by side, they will annotate the two images. This can be done in a program like Szoter or in a simple Pages document. In addition, they will provide a written explanation of why they chose Rockwell’s image and what the artist was trying to say. Then, they will explain how they updated it in their photograph, what the different components in their work represent, and how it illustrates more of the original story, more of the history behind Rockwell’s original work.

I’m really looking forward to seeing this assignment to fruition. I think that it incorporates historical knowledge, creativity, and critical analysis, and I think the students could have some fun along the way.

Let’s Reboot!

In the world of action adventure movies and comic books, directors and writers often talk about “rebooting” a series.  It’s a way of beginning a series anew with the same characters, a way of giving them a fresh start for a new generation of viewers and readers.  Well, I propose we reboot our grading system.

One of the issues I struggle with as a teacher is convincing my students that grades alone should not be the ultimate goal of their academic career.  Many of my students, particularly my AP students, come to my class as sophomores and juniors in high school never having received less than an A.  These are type-A, grade-motivated (perhaps, grade-obsessed) students who have a hard time learning how to accept less-than-perfect grades with maturity and a positive attitude.  At times, I find I have to defend myself to students and parents when I give B’s and C’s, while I attempt to move beyond points and letter grades to what really matters: learning!

I don’t know how I feel about grade inflation.  I know that there has been evidence to support the idea that grade inflation is a real threat to American education, and I also know that there has been evidence downplaying this threat. Based on my own limited experience, I believe there is some legitimacy to the idea that grade inflation is alive and well in our schools.  Why this is occurring is a complicated question.  What follows is a few ideas I have for students about putting their grades in the proper perspective and rebooting the grading system as a whole.

  • Believe it or not, C is still a passing grade.  C means average.  A student who receives a C on an assignment or for the semester did average work. They did not fail.  Somehow, many students and parents now equate C with below average, and that’s simply not the case.  Likewise, A’s refer to stellar, excellent work, not simply above average work.  B’s are for above average work.
  • The teacher who gives out mostly A’s is not necessarily doing well by the students, and the teacher who gives out mostly B’s and C’s is not necessarily doing students a disservice.  Often the teacher who gives out mostly A’s is not challenging students, not compelling them to reach their full potential or learn the most.  For example, I received a hard-fought-for B- in one of the college courses in which I learned the most, while in classes where I earned an A, I learned much less overall.  Sometimes those teachers who give out A’s left and right are so tired of defending themselves when giving out B’s and C’s, that they give up and give A’s even when they are not deserved, making those grades less meaningful and not reflective of actual learning.  If everyone gets A’s, or even A’s and B’s, grades become meaningless.  There is no way to tell if actual learning or improvement is taking place.
  • If grade inflation is occurring, colleges have no way of knowing whether students really earned those good grades.  All students’ GPAs, even those who did earn those grades, become meaningless.  If GPAs become less reflective of student achievement, colleges will, if they are not already, focus exclusively on standardized test scores like ACT or SAT scores.  Do your ACT scores and GPA “match”?  If not, why do you think that is?  I think colleges want to see students challenge themselves and will often look more favorably on a B in an advanced course than an A in the easiest course possible.
  • In life, effort matters, but it’s only one component.  I’ve had students say, “Well, I gave my best effort, so I think I deserve an A even though I didn’t write the best essay or get 90% of the questions on the test correct.” That’s like saying, “Well, I gave my best effort, so I think I should get the job or promotion even though the other guy is a better candidate and more qualified.”  I, like most teachers I know, reward effort, often on the smaller assignments.  But I can’t base my grades solely on effort.  Sometimes, no matter how hard you try, you just won’t “get it” right away. You will fall a little short.  That’s okay.  If you keep putting in your best effort, you’ll “get it” eventually, and in the meantime, the teacher will reward your effort when she can.
  • If your primary focus is on grades, you are missing the forest for the trees. You will memorize for a quiz or test so you get the points, but you won’t really be learning for life.  As courses get more challenging and more comprehensive in nature, you will find it harder to manage because your primary focus has been on grades and not learning.
  • Intrinsic motivation will take you further in life.  You will not always be graded in this life.  When you no longer have that extrinsic motivation, what will be your reward?  Developing intrinsic motivation is important as you leave high school and head out into college and beyond.  Learn how to motivate yourself.
  • Believe it or not, grades tend to take care of themselves if you are focused on learning for learning’s sake.  The A or B may not come right away, but it will come along eventually, but you must focus your attention where it matters, i.e. not on points.


How Many of These Things Are You Doing?

Here’s an infographic from Edudemic tracking 6 technology trends in education and the percentage of teachers using them.  I’m excited to say that, other than online assessment, I’ve already begun to incorporate these new styles of teaching into my work.  How many have you tried?  What problems have you had or do you envision having with these technologies?



Monday Morning Roundup #12

Just a few resources this week.

1. Influenza Encyclopedia – Produced by the University of Michigan Center for the History of Medicine and MPublishing, this website is a digital encyclopedia of the 1918-1919 epidemic.  Drawing on various primary documents, especially contemporary newspapers, the site is broken down into categories of people, places, and subjects.

2. Solar Walk – This free app is pretty cool.  Awesome 3-D graphics combined with accurate information about the planets, satellites, comets, etc., make this a great app for teaching and learning about the solar system.  FREE.

3.  Pyramids 3-D – Okay, at $13.99, this is an expensive app, and I really hope the price goes down in the future.  Still, it looks awesome.  The app allows you to explore the pyramids and tombs of ancient Egypt.  You can fly around Giza getting an aerial view of the monuments as well as enter into the tombs to get a close-up view of the  wall paintings and hieroglyphics.  Touching the paintings reveals information about the symbols and writings.  The app includes a book written by Zahi Hawass and others for more detailed information.  $13.99.

4.  Donald Duck, In Der Fuhrer’s Face – This WWII cartoon is one of several interesting propaganda films put out by Disney during WWII.  There’s plenty more available on YouTube, another of which also stars Donald Duck and deals with paying income taxes to support the war effort.  Whether you are teaching about WWII specifically or propaganda and persuasion in general, these short cartoons could add an extra element to your instruction.

Unite the Slackers?

Here’s the truth: No matter how hard a teacher tries, there will always, always be a few students who choose* not to perform.  I’m not saying a teacher should give up trying to motivate students or stop encouraging students to try their best, but there will be times when students choose to remain unmotivated and passive.  This happens for all sorts of reasons, too many to go over here since that’s not the subject of this particular post.

So what do we do with those students who won’t perform in the meantime, during the time that we are trying to get them to come around but before they actually do?  What do we do with those students particularly when it comes to group projects when their lack of participation affects more than just themselves?

Well, I know what I used to do.  I used to spread those students around.  If I had 20 students in a class with 3 or 4 slackers, I would put one slacker in each group of 5 for group assignments.  My thought was that being around other motivated, performing students might put pressure on the slacker, and if nothing else, at least the slackers wouldn’t all be in one group, so something would get done.  Two things usually ended up happening in those situations though.  First, the rest of the group did the work of the slacker, and the slacker got more credit than he or she deserved.  This happened to some degree even when I’d built into the assessment both group and individual components. Second, the morale of the whole group suffered as a result of the attitude of the slacker.  Someone once said, “Misery is a communicable disease,” and misery is a particularly aggressive disease amongst students.  Letting students choose their own groups didn’t solve the problem either because slackers aren’t always friends with one another and are often smart enough to put themselves in a group with other students who will do the bulk of the work, i.e. not other slackers.  (Why other students allow this to happen is the subject of another post, I think.)

So currently I’m trying something different in one of my government classes.  The students are working in groups of my choosing.  But instead of spreading the slackers around the room, for the most part, I put all of them in one group.  A couple of things have happened as a result.  First, the remaining groups are working more efficiently, as I suspected they would.  Second, the slacker group is realizing that unless they do the work, it won’t get done.  There’s no one there to pick up the slack, if you will pardon the pun.

Now, I will be honest. I actually have no idea if come Monday I will get much of anything from my “slacker” group.  They may turn in a great product or absolutely nothing or something in between.  Right now, I’m checking on them, I’m prodding them, I’m answering any questions they have.  Ultimately, however, whether they complete the assignment is their choice.  But I think, no matter what happens, there’s plenty of good lessons for them and their classmates to learn, not the least of which is personal responsibility.

There are two other things of note as well.  One of the things I found most interesting about this whole experience was the students’ reactions when I announced the groups.  The students themselves knew when I read the names in each group what I had done – both the slacker and non-slackers.  They talked about how I had “stacked” the groups, not on ability but on work ethic.  The fact that all students were aware (and unashamed I might add) tells me a lot.  Another interesting thing is how the “non-slacker” groups are working.  They appear to be working together more than I usually would see.  The project could be done by dividing the workload, making each individual student responsible for one specific part of the whole, which is what usually happens.  Yet one group asked me today if they could work on the project as a cohesive whole.  When I explained that meant that I would have to grade them as a whole, with no individual component and everyone getting the same grade, they readily agreed.  I believe they agreed because they trusted that everyone in the group would pull his or her own weight, and they believed that the grade they earned would accurately reflect the work put in of each member.

So will I do this for every group project?  No, of course not.  But it is making me rethink how I assess group work and how I reach the less-motivated students.

*Notice I’m using the word choose here.  I’m doing this deliberately.  I’m not talking about those students who can’t perform, but those who won’t perform.

Monday Morning Roundup #11

Here’s a list of resources I’ve run across over the last two weeks.  Enjoy this Columbus Day!

1. – It seems like infographics are everywhere these days.  Infographics are visual representations of data or knowledge, allowing complex information to be shared quickly and clearly.  Of course, there are companies that specialize in making infographics for publishers and the like, but such companies charge for their work.  Now, however, students can make their own infographics easily with  This free website, currently in its BETA version, comes with lots of templates to choose from or students can make their own from scratch.  Drop in objects from the website’s menus or drag images in from your computer, add some headings and some text. When the infographic is complete, students can share their work via a link. All it takes to sign up for use of the site is an email address.  Here’s a simple infographic I created while testing out the site, but students can make much more complex graphics.  I plan on having my students create infographics on an upcoming unit about the Scientific Revolution and the Enlightenment.  Can you think of a way to use the site with your own curriculum?

2.  Very Short Introductions – Oxford University Press’s Very Short Introductions have been around for almost two decades now, but I thought I’d mention them all the same.  These little books provide concise but thorough overviews of all kinds of subjects in history, philosophy, science, and the humanities.  They are a great resource for students doing research papers or projects as well as teachers who need to brush up on an area they haven’t studied recently.  The books are the size of a mass market paperback, and they are usually around 140 pages or so.  You can find many of them online for cheaper than the publisher’s price of $11.95 a piece.

3.  Problem-Attic – Problem-Attic is a free website that gives teachers access to over 45,000 New York Regents exam questions in math, science, social studies, and English.  Searching by topic, you can select and arrange questions just the way you like, creating tests, quizzes, or flashcards for students.  It’s a great way to find fresh but high quality test questions.  You can save your documents to the site, making it easy to archive and edit your work.

4.  Tagxedo – Tagxedo is a word cloud generator like Wordle but with the added bonus of being able to choose different shapes for your word cloud.  In addition, you can choose different fonts and color schemes as well.  Once created, you can export your word cloud as a JPEG or embed a link to your cloud.  While word clouds don’t take a lot of brain power to create, they can be used to help students brainstorm or identify key words.  Here’s one I created to introduce an assignment in my government class.

5. Disney American Presidents – I haven’t actually bought this app, but it looks like a good one from all the reviews I’ve read.  It’s an “Unofficial Oval Office Scrapbook” of all the presidents.  There are video profiles of the presidents, overviews of different historical periods, and an exploration of the 2012 election. The app is done in a humorous but factually accurate style that’s appealing to younger students.  $3.99

6. Archimedes – If you are a math teacher, you should probably check out this app.  Part of the problem with laptops and iPads in mathematics is the difficulty of writing out problems using a keyboard as you would using paper and pencil.  This app seems to solve this problem.  Not being a math teacher, I don’t know that it’s perfect, but no technology is.  You’d have to check it out for yourself.