Friday, February 16, 2018

A New Way To Connect and Learn Across Schools: The Collab Lab's Virtual Learning Cohort

By Linda Ashida

Imagine starting your day collaborating with a group of nearly 30 educators and students, from 10 different schools, from the comfort of your own learning space. Imagine the new connections, learning––and fun!––the conversation could lead to!

That is just what happened in the first meeting of the Collab Lab's Virtual Learning Cohort. Taking advantage of District 214 schools' daily common professional learning time
 from 7:15-8:10 (before 1st hour classes begin at 8:15), we used Zoom to connect virtually across schools. 



Our group included twenty-two staff and two students from D214, four educators from neighboring districts, and a middle school teacher from Texas! In a mix of whole-group and small-group break-out conversations, we enjoyed exploring and sharing ways to involve students and encourage them to take the lead in their own learning. And, since we were talking about student voice, it only seemed fitting to include students. We were so happy our two Collab Lab Team students, Freshman Natalia Habas and Senior Nathan Beltran, were willing to start their school day an hour early to join us!

A tweet from Kim Miklusak captured what the experience looked liked, showing the synchronous video chat and how we used the "Share Screen" function to share resources and models of work. 







During both the whole-group and break-out video chats, we also interacted via text chat. One of our participants, Bob Schuetz, volunteered to monitor the chat. Much like a Twitter chat host, Bob welcomed participants, shared highlights, and responded to participant comments and questions. Just the small sampling from the chat below reveals the great way it added another layer of conversation and sharing with the group.


The comments in the chat also reveal how impactful it was to have students in the group––how inspired we were by their insights––reminding us how important it is to foster student voice in our classrooms, too.

Before ending our session, we took a few minutes to reflect and consider a "Call to Action" before we meet again next week: Connect with another participant in the group; share a resource in our Curated Resources Doc; try something new, capture and share "Pictures of Practice" from our classrooms . . .  


It was great to make new connections, renew some "old" ones, and learn together without leaving our own "home base." We were inspired by new ideas and resources, and we're looking looking forward to the conversation in the weekly meetings to come! 


Natalia and Nathan were happy to be included and they stopped by the Collab Lab in person to to debrief with Bob and me and let us know that they would be inviting more students to join us next week! They are pretty great!









We are grateful for a District 214 Innovation in Teaching and Learning Grant to support The Collab Lab's vision to expand collaborative learning experiences across our schools with a  Zoom Pro account and our new Collab Lab Zoom Room.  Look for future blog posts to learn how we will use our Zoom Room to invite colleagues from other schools to join us virtually in the Collab Lab for Teaming on Tuesday workshops, cross-district learning exchanges, and more!

If you are wondering about Zoom and how you might use it too, we'd love to talk to you! It is incredibly easy to use. In just a few minutes you can create a free account and, with little or no training use it in much the same way we did to connect across learning spaces, schools, the country––and even the world! There are so many possibilities. And maybe you have ideas for us, too. Stop by the Collab Lab or drop us a line; we'd love to brainstorm with you!


Thursday, February 15, 2018

A Year in AP: Student Insight and Work Flow (Week Twenty-four)

By Mark Heintz

Context

I have two main focuses as I write this weekly blog. Two driving questions that I have in my mind while making decisions.  They are:
  • How do I know if my students know? 
  • How do I get them to know if they know?  
Whether that is a skill or content, I want to know if they know it.   I no longer think it is acceptable for me to guess or get a feeling on whether or not they know it. Getting the students to know if they know it is downright hard, but I am really attempting to get to a point where the students can recognize their understandings or progress on their skill levels and content knowledge.  Therefore, the purpose of this year of reflection is to see how I make progress towards these two goals and elicit feedback from staff, students, and hopefully people who follow along on the journey.  You can read how last week went here.

Week Twenty-four: Answer the Question

This week the content focus was primarily on European Imperialism from 1750-1900. Here were the standards for this week:
  1. Students will understand the causes of Imperialism in the 19th Century.  We are learning to understand why & how Europeans took over other places around the world.
  2. We will show that we can do this by Listing three methods used by Europeans to imperialize between the years 1750-1900.List three reasons Europeans used to justify imperialism between the years 1750-1900.
This week's skill focus was still centered on analyzing charts, maps, and texts and pulling evidence from documents to support a claim.
  1. Write one cause/effect, and one comparative short response that reflects an understanding of essential content.
  2. Analyze charts, maps, graphs, and texts.
  3. Write a thesis statement, contextualize a prompt, and draw evidence from two documents to support the thesis.  
Cite Specific Evidence

First, how do I know that the students know the content and how to do the skills?

This semester, I am including, or trying to include student's perspective on the week.  For this week's post, I asked two students to document their learning on the standards.  It was a great week to do this, for I missed two days this week due to a family emergency.  I shared a Google Doc to document their progress.  Each day,  I looked at the shared document to view their understandings of what took place during the day.

Katia volunteered to document their learning and reflect this week.

Here is what Katia had to say.


Katia: The past 2 days, we've been completing a checklist to get through all the documents for the DBQ we’re going to write tomorrow (next week if there’s a snow day [there was a snow day]). You need to read the documents and get 100% on a comprehension quiz before you get a code that unlocks the next document. I think this is beneficial to me because writing the actual DBQ is generally easy for me, but understanding what the document is trying to depict is the challenging part. It was logistically confusing to everyone at first, but overall the concept of the activity was effective and we’ll see how it helps us write the actual essay.  

Me: I wrote a blog a few years ago about the structure of the lessons Katia described.  You can read it here: Lock and Key Methods.







Katia: First thing on the agenda today was a familiar, short Schoology quiz in which we have to decide whether a component of the DBQ meets all the requirements to receive a point. In this case, they were thesis statements for the African response DBQ. These can be pretty tricky when you’re not sure how picky to be, and it gets subjective based on the person. I guess that just shows how blatant we really have to be with our writing so there is no doubt to the reader that we’ve included each little checkmark. We also discussed a lot about the prompt and how these essays are going to be laid out based on these examples, which helped out a ton in writing the actual DBQ. Believe it or not, essays are much easier when you know exactly what you’re trying to talk about!






Katia: It was time to start writing the actual DBQ. To group the documents into 2 different arguments, my partner Dino and I looked through the document quizzes we’d taken last week to see which had promoted violence and which promoted diplomacy. Relying on those quizzes made it easier than it has ever been. Based on the class discussion, we also tried to implement a cause-and-effect type reasoning, outside information, and redundancy of using the prompt over and over again. As I mentioned previously, we really have to be obvious with what we are trying to write. I felt really good about this writing and I know exactly where we’re going to go with it when we pick it up again, which is a pretty rare feeling. If we could train ourselves to analyze the documents like we did when we took the quizzes, it would make a huge beneficial difference.

My Reflection and Impact

This week was interrupted by a snow day, which meant that the student did not get to finish writing the entire DBQ until the next week.  Despite the loss of the day, students were able to analyze all or most of the documents.  Another student was supposed to reflect this week, but he was sick a few days and the snow day impeded his ability to do that.

Reflection: I wish I would have written a weekly blog years ago.  More importantly, I wish I would have included the student perspective years ago.  I love Katia's insight on the process. She stated, "writing the actual DBQ is generally easy for me, but understanding what the document is trying to depict is the challenging part." Katia typically does great in the class and does not seem challenged by most of what we do.  But I love that she provided some insight into what works and gets her to dive deeper into her learning. 

Katia commented on the writing which highlights the subjectivity of writing.  "These (thesis statements) can be pretty tricky when you’re not sure how picky to be, and it gets subjective based on the person. I guess that just shows how blatant we really have to be with our writing so there is no doubt to the reader that we’ve included each little checkmark." The difficult part of teaching the course is that writing is subjective, yet the College Board attempts to standardize the test.  This is difficult when students are working towards mastery, yet have a specific audience they are writing towards.

For me, the biggest takeaway from the week is working on getting students to reflect on what is working for them.  I hope they walk away with a greater sense of what type of learner they are.  Albiet, they are a course that has a very rigid curriculum.  Through reflection, I hope they reveal how they learn and can help me focus on that skill set in the future.  

Reviewing the week, the students were in a state flow.  They did not really need me.  I had set up a learning plan, which is still very teacher directed and another issue to address later, that gave the students a strong purpose, allowed the students to work at their own pace, and be challenged.  It is great to see the students working together towards a common goal and not need me to validate their learning as much.  

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Literacy Strategies: Teaming on Tuesday Round-Up

by Quinn Loch

This morning a handful of teachers met for Teaming on Tuesday and we shared and discussed literacy strategies that can be used to help engage students daily. I shared a few strategies including some that I use on my daily warm ups in AP environmental science. Here is a link to the document that list a few of the strategies that were shared out.


It was great to hear from colleagues about how they incorporate literacy strategies in their classrooms. Kim Miklusak shared how she uses pre-reading strategies in her english classes. One of the many strategies she uses has students write their thoughts on specific themes large post-it notes around the room that peers can then give feedback to. Mark Heintz has been blogging weekly about the strategies that he uses in AP world history. His latest post can be found here.

Our conversations led to some great questions and reflection on how to consistently build student literacy skills. I look forward further collaboration to help finding new ways to engage students with text.

Here are a few resources that provide text or other content:
  1. http://www.turnersgraphoftheweek.com/ provides weekly (and relevant!) graphs, diagrams, and infographics that students can break down and analyze.
  2. www.newsela.com provides access to articles based on category and reading level
  3. www.news.google.com - You can create custom categories of news articles by key word if you're looking for current events that related to a specific topic

Thursday, February 8, 2018

A Year in AP: A Really Positive Message (Week Twenty-three)

By Mark Heintz

Context

I have two main focuses as I write this weekly blog. Two driving questions that I have in my mind while making decisions.  They are:
  • How do I know if my students know? 
  • How do I get them to know if they know?  
Whether that is a skill or content, I want to know if they know it.   I no longer think it is acceptable for me to guess or get a feeling on whether or not they know it. Getting the students to know if they know it is downright hard, but I am really attempting to get to a point where the students can recognize their understandings or progress on their skill levels and content knowledge.  Therefore, the purpose of this year of reflection is to see how I make progress towards these two goals and elicit feedback from staff, students, and hopefully people who follow along on the journey.  You can read how last week went here.

Week Twenty-three: Answer the Question

This week the content focus was primarily on European Imperialism from 1750-1900. Here were the standards for this week:
  1. Students will understand the causes of Imperialism in the 19th Century.  We are learning to understand why & how Europeans took over other places around the world.
  2. We will show that we can do this by Listing three methods used by Europeans to imperialize between the years 1750-1900.List three reasons Europeans used to justify imperialism between the years 1750-1900.
This week's skill focus was still centered on analyzing charts, maps, and texts and pulling evidence from documents to support a claim.
  1. Write one cause/effect, and one comparative short response that reflects an understanding of essential content.
  2. Analyze charts, maps, graphs, and texts.
  3. Write a thesis statement, contextualize a prompt, and draw evidence from two documents to support the thesis.  
Cite Specific Evidence

First, how do I know that the students know the content and how to do the skills?

This semester, I am including, or trying to include student's perspective on the week.  For this week's post, I asked two students to document their learning on the standards.  It was a great week to do this, for I missed two days this week due to a family emergency.  I shared a Google Doc to document their progress.  Each day,  I looked at the shared document to view their understandings of what took place during the day.

Payton and Jillian volunteered to document their learning and reflect this week.

Here is what Payton had to say.

Evidence





Payton: On Monday, we read 8 separate documents pertaining to Japan and Russia's industrializations. With partners, we sorted these documents into different categories, and whether the two documents proved a similarity between the industrializations of Russia and Japan or a difference. I thought this activity was helpful to understand how Russia and Japan Industrialized, as we were able to see the different information on the documents organized in front of us to give us a general idea of what information the documents contained.  

Payton: On Tuesday, we took a quiz in class, mainly pertaining to the industrial revolution, and how it affected the production of goods (changing from in home to in factories). Though at the time it was something to complain about, this quiz provided a nice check to see if I had actually learned and retained the material from before. It didn't take very long, and I was able to show myself that I knew the material and could move on to the next topics and keep focus on what we were learning this week



Payton: On Wednesday, we got back with our partners from Monday and put our organized documents to use. Using the 8 previous documents and with the help of our activity from Monday, we wrote essays(sans a contextualization paragraph) based on the prompt of comparing and contrasting Russia and Japan's industrial revolutions. My partner and I decided to evenly split our work between us, she was to write the paragraph on the similarities, and I was to write the one on differences. I always like writing essays in class, as I feel that's one of the most helpful ways to apply what we've learned, practice our DBQ writing skills, and get possible feedback. This is one of my favorite ways to learn in class, either with or without a partner so we can either get another person's input/help while writing or to test out our own skills and see how we are writing what we're currently learning on our own.



Payton: On Thursday, we read two documents, and sorted facts or questions from them into three categories: I wonder, I knew, or I learned. The "I wonder"s were the thoughts and questions we didn't have answers to while reading the text, the "I knew"s were the facts in the documents we already had prior knowledge of or knew completely, and finally, the "I learned"s were new facts or information we learnt from the documents. I found this activity to be helpful, especially when done in groups. We discussed these both with the class and our groups and I found it helpful to share the "I wonder"s, as someone else in the class would answer them and it was something else new I learned.

Here is what Jillian had to say.



Jillian: It forced me to think critically about the document we were reading and helped me look back for details I might have missed. Overall it helped me better understand European colonialism and its effects on the rest of the world, specifically Africa.



Jillian: By having us apply evidence from multiple documents, writing a little bit on this subject encourages one to understand it better. In this case, it helped me gain a greater understanding of the industrialization processes of Japan and Russia. This is because the prompt required to not only describe the two but compare them to each other: analyzing their similarities and differences.




Jillian: Summarizing key aspects of multiple documents makes you think about what information from them is actually important, helping you pick apart actual main ideas in the text. This helped my understanding for exactly that reason.



Jillian: Although this is admittedly much less finished than my last piece of evidence it did help my understanding for the exact same reason, through summarizing.

I don’t usually take photos of my writing on the whiteboard tables, but all of the whiteboard stuff we did this week helped a lot. It’s almost like writing it out by hand makes it stick in my brain better.

My Reflection and Impact 

Last week, I tasked myself to have students focus on writing more.  It was great to read the student-feedback centered on writing their understanding of it.  Additionally, it was encouraging to read that the students focused on their learning.  I loved to read their thoughts that pertained to what was helpful or not.  For instance, when Payton stated, "I always like writing essays in class, as I feel that's one of the most helpful ways to apply what we've learned, practice our DBQ writing skills, and get possible feedback. This is one of my favorite ways to learn in class, either with or without a partner so we can either get another person's input/help while writing or to test out our own skills and see how we are writing what we're currently learning on our own."

This quote encapsulated everything I love about the course. It was great reading that the student was able to articulate it so clearly. Reading it really made my day.

Jillian furthered my joy of having the students reflect on their learning each week. She stated, "By having us apply evidence from multiple documents, writing a little bit on this subject encourages one to understand it better. In this case, it helped me gain a greater understanding of the industrialization processes of Japan and Russia. This is because the prompt required to not only describe the two but compare them to each other: analyzing their similarities and differences." I love how she spoke about the impact of writing. It is the exact reason I want the students to write. It forces them to think; therefore, they garner a greater understanding.

Before reading their response, I felt the week was not great. From my perspective, I felt the week was not organized well. I felt I fumbled a few things and was not clear in a lot of the directions. However, I am moving towards more student-driven lessons, which is going to lead to potentially more chaotic days. Hearing that the student feedback was overall positive, I feel good about having more student voice and agency. Also, I am glad that I am asking for their feedback so much. It helps in rough patches and allows me to be positive about the progression of the course.

Friday, February 2, 2018

6-Step Process to Designing Curriculum: Implementation (Part 5)


By Kim Miklusak

Last semester I took a Foundations of Curriculum and Instruction course at UIC. Our textbook, while a medical curriculum textbook, reminds us that curriculum design crosses education fields and that what we are doing in our classes every year has its grounding in research.  Kern, Thomas, and Hughes in their book provide a 6-step approach to curriculum development.  My goal is to share the theory behind our current practices to serve as a guide as design and redesign our courses.  Earlier steps can be found here.


Step 5: Implementation

Effective implementation of your curricular design, according to Thomas (et al), would include addressing all of the elements on this checklist displayed in the image below.  The checklist is broken down into several categories with specific considerations below each.
  
The checklist asks, for example, do we the appropriate
 faculty available for this course?  Do we have time, finances, and facilities to train them?  Do we have internal support from administration and external support, if it applies?  Do we have appropriate communication in place to facilitate between all personnel and operational support to distribute the materials needed?  Do we anticipate barriers and address them before they affect the curricular design?  And, finally, how do we roll out the curriculum and monitor it for adjustment?  Do we pilot a course, phase it in, or fully implement it?  Ideally, all of these steps would be addressed as we plan through our stages.  Considering them in advance would also help facilitate development and lead to smoother implementation--especially when partnered with a smooth first four steps of this design process.

In practice:

On the ground, on a daily basis, I wonder how many of these elements of the checklist are addressed as we plan.  Is it feasible for a classroom teacher to address any or all of them?  Is it the role of the PLC leader--if that structure even exists at your school?  Is it a department/division chair--is that person an administrator or a teacher-leader with possible release time?  Does that person have the ability to make these decisions, or are they more suggestions?


Please feel free to share other insights and ideas based on your experiences in the comments below!

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

One Year in AP: Getting Back to Writing (Week Twenty-two)

By Mark Heintz


Context

I have two main focuses as I write this weekly blog. Two driving questions that I have in my mind while making decisions.  They are:
  • How do I know if my students know? 
  • How do I get them to know if they know?  
Whether that is a skill or content, I want to know if they know it.   I no longer think it is acceptable for me to guess or get a feeling on whether or not they know it. Getting the students to know if they know it is downright hard, but I am really attempting to get to a point where the students can recognize their understandings or progress on their skill levels and content knowledge.  Therefore, the purpose of this year of reflection is to see how I make progress towards these two goals and elicit feedback from staff, students, and hopefully people who follow along on the journey.  You can read how last week went here.

Week Twenty-two: Answer the Question

This week the content focus was primarily on the Industrial Revolution from 1750-1900. Here were the standards for this week:
  1. Students will understand the political, economic, and social changes brought upon by the Industrial Revolution. 
This week's skill focus was still centered on analyzing charts, maps, and texts and pulling evidence from documents to support a claim.
  1. Write one cause/effect, and one comparative short response that reflects an understanding of essential content.
  2. Analyze charts, maps, graphs, and texts.
  3. Write a thesis statement, contextualize a prompt, and draw evidence from two documents to support the thesis.  
Cite Specific Evidence

First, how do I know that the students know the content and how to do the skills?

This semester, I am including, or trying to include student's perspective on the week.  For this week's post, I asked two students to document their learning on the standards.  It was a great week to do this, for I missed two days this week due to a family emergency.  I shared a Google Doc to document their progress.  Each day,  I looked at the shared document to view their understandings of what took place during the day.

Nicole and John volunteered to document their learning and reflect this week.

Here is what Nicole had to say.

Evidence

Nicole: The first day of the week, we were asked to write 7 reasons why the revolution occurred. At the beginning of the week, I was skeptical and confused about the topic even after the checklists. I was working with a partner on this activity, and I came up with a couple of reasons. 





Linda Ashida came in and filmed part of the week.  She pulled two students aside to reflect on the learning process, and Nicole was one of those students. The video clip offers a great snapshot of her point of view on the writing process.



Reasoning


Nicole: With background evidence from checklists, we were able to list these reasons off. Additionally, with the prompt that was given to us, we were able to shave down these reasons to why it started in specifically Britain. Personally, I found this very helpful and it cleared some things over the weekend. It was a good refresher on the causes of the revolutions.

The second day, we were introduced to The Urban Game.



Evidence

Nicole: I'm pretty sure most kids believed that this was a very fun way of interactively learning the urban ways of a small town. It was a bit of a long process but I enjoyed it a lot, so did my partner and most of the people in the class. It also came with a cause and effect chart that we filled out along with filling in a sheet that ended with about 90 houses, factories, roads, and bridges. It was a fun project but maybe about 8 students out of our class didn't see the point of doing it. They didn't see how it connected to the lesson of the week. Overall, we did enjoy it. 

John


Evidence


John: We were asked to write 7 reasons as to why the Industrial Revolution occurred in England from a document provided.





Reasoning

John: Mr. Heintz actually had this printed on a piece of paper and cut the paper into each of the stages.  I was able to successfully provide an example for Stage 1.  Stage 2 happened to be a little tricky for me.  It could have been because the activity wasn’t explained correctly but also from my part.  I tend to overthink simple tasks sometimes which does get in the way of things.  I felt the idea of the activity was good but I don’t think it was presented in the most effective way.

Evidence

John: Read the stations, draw the changes on the paper provided and list the causes and effects which was in a separate document.





Reasoning


John: There was a substitute today.  We were told to work on an “Urban Game” activity.  The game consisted of twenty rounds and a cause and effect chart for each round. This activity was a bit longer than the preceding activities but it showed how England was able to industrialize.  By the end of the game, the entire sheet of paper was filled with houses, factories, railroad tracks etc.  There were a change and effect for each round.  Herra and I both worked this, I had the change and effect chart opened while she had rounds opened on her iPad.  Aside from the game being a bit lengthy, the activity itself helped show how England industrialized and the effects of it. By Mark Heintz

Evidence


John: We started class today with answering the following short answer question.  


Reasoning

John: Mr. Heintz was absent today as well.  The goal for today was to answer the following short answer question and to post it in a discussion post on Schoology.  I felt strong with writing the short answer question because the responses to these types of questions are only three sentences long as opposed to DBQs where we write paragraph long responses.  I feel like we don't do enough practice with short answer questions.  These questions could even be a warm-up because of the time it takes to do the questions.



John: This was the checklist that is supposed to be worked on throughout the week.  




Reasoning

John: This week’s folder focused on Industrialization and Imperialism.  The assignment to me about thirty minutes to compete.  The checklist asked for at least 95 percent on the quizzes but I would like to get a hundred on each.  Getting one wrong signifies that missed 3-5 percent of the skill.  By doing some of the quizzes over really helps me solidify the information.  Sometimes the questions are repetitive.  I feel that if stimulus question were integrated into these quizzes then it would help us prepare for the AP test in May.

Reflection

John: The Industrial Revolution in England, the causes, and its effect were easy to grasp considering that the Industrial Revolution was covered in previous years.  The effects are self-explanatory in many cases.  The checklists for the week really help me understand the material better.  I’ve learned that doing the checklist ahead benefits me because all the material in the checklist folder is covered during class. I remember that with England, abundance was the driving force of their revolution and from there I’m able to give effect E.g, the abundance of coal lead the way for better machines to be constructed.  The large population of people was able to work these machines, especially the educated ones. 

My Reflection and Impact 

There is a lot to reflect on this week.  After reading the student reflection, I am concerned about the effectiveness of the content checklists they do on their own.  Nicole's commented, "At the beginning of the week, I was skeptical and confused about the topic even after the checklists."  Ideally, I would like the checklists to serve as a foundational point of the content.  I have recently been contemplating getting rid of the mandatory checklist.  Even though she later articulates that the checklist enabled her to recall some basic facts, I still question the mandated curriculum.  The outside-of-class work is teacher-driven and not focused on student exploration.  This topic is more likely a full blog post at a later date.  

Nicole makes a statement about how the Urban Game was fun and interactive.  However, she highlights that the class did not have agency behind it. Student agency is becoming a central theme running through my head and one of the reasons for debating the nature of the checklists. She stated that some students did not do it.  I was not present in their class that day and that could have been a reason for them not completing the task.  

I am happy that Linda came in to film because Nicole did not document her understanding of the writing and reading understanding.  Despite having analyzed a number of documents and writing about each of them, there was little reflection.  John did concern himself with some of the writing, but not to the extent that I would have liked.  He did highlight a concern over the lack of time spent on the Short Answer.  That is/was a consciouss choice because it is a skill they work on throughout writing the DBQ.  

Overall, I would like the students to focus on the writing more.  That is something I need to express to the new students who document their learning each week. I need to be intentional about how their feedback impacts instruction and my message to the class.  

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Push and Pull: Playing Devil's Advocate

by Quinn Loch

Every day in class my students read a short (about half a page) article on a current event that relates to our content. The goal, which I outlined in this previous blogpost, was to have my students read and write more often, but also to teach the content in a more interconnected and relevant way.

What I have found challenging has been how to initiate and facilitate discussions on the topics that we explore - and there are several. Having meaningful and deep discussions can be a powerful tool in any classroom.

AP environmental science (APES) lends itself well to controversial issues and discussions since there are many different perspectives (economic, social, political, ethical, etc.) that can be taken. This multidisciplinary nature is reflected on the writing portion of the AP test. Students often have to list economic or environmental costs or benefits to topics outlined in the free response section. The better the students can see these topics as a complex issues with many moving parts, the more possible answers they will have to pull from when writing.

To help facilitate more discussion and engage students with the readings, we have been using what I call the "APES-inion" board. At the beginning of the unit, we introduce an environmental issue and have students place a unique and anonymous foam piece somewhere on the spectrum that reflects their current standpoint.

Our first topic was on human population control. One side of the spectrum said that governments should have policies or rules that limit population growth, while the other side said that they shouldn't.

Student opinions on population control measures before the unit.
Throughout the unit, students move their piece based on any new information that we have been learning in class. Here is where my students fell after a couple weeks.

Student opinions on population control measures after the unit.

I have found that having understanding of the collective thoughts of the class has been a great to tool to help me ask tough questions or propose scenarios that challenge students' thinking. I can also tailor the articles that I use from day to day to push and pull students from different perspectives and make them really think deeply. I have grown to love playing devil's advocate.

Natural discussions have become more frequent in my class and sometimes a 5-minute warm up has turned into 15 minutes of good back-and-forth discussion. Students have also been more likely to share stories or anecdotes and ask questions than they were before. Their scores on our most recent writing test showed a significant improvement from previous attempts as well.

I'm excited to continue this routine as we move though the rest of the year and I hope to encourage students to bring in their own article as well.