Monday, November 30, 2015

Teaching Purpose & Audience in AP Language

By: Kim Miklusak & Rachel Barry

This blog is written by both Kim (who was observed) and Rachel (who observed Kim) in an AP Language class.  Students have just read The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and supporting nonfiction written/visual texts and are practicing rhetorical analysis focusing on audience and purpose.  The focus of this specific lesson was for students to demonstrate understanding of how to use strategies to convince an audience of a clear purpose.  Students were to write a letter to a designated audience from a designated perspective regarding whether or not The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn should be banned from schools.

To begin, students selected a partner.  One partner was asked to raise a finger of 1 or 2.  This randomly determined which purpose they were arguing for in their paper: 1) ban the book or 2) do not ban the book.  Then students raised another number of 1, 2, or 3 fingers.  They then found out their audience based on 1) those who want the book banned, 2) those who are against banning the book or 3) those who are indifferent.

Students worked in pairs to brainstorm what strategies would best convince their audience of their purpose (for example, emotion, logic, specific examples, metaphors, etc.).  They then wrote a letter to their assigned audience.  Finally, the students anonymously swapped letters and provided clear feedback on what strategies they saw the authors using and what worked/didn't work from their assigned perspective.  Students will then use this to reflect upon their own rhetorical analysis essays in class tomorrow as they work to revise.

Rachel's Reflection: As a math teacher, I am always amazed at how teachers bring controversial issues to light without creating arguments in class.  I am both intimidated by and excited at the thought of having discussions with students on topics of race, gender inequality, sexuality, etc. due to the various perspectives and knowledge of students.  Also, people may be ill-informed or not informed enough on some topics, which could potentially lead to building warped opinions.  Through this observation, I learned how Kim is using the controversial issue of book banning to open students' eyes to multiple sides of an argument.  This activity taught students the importance of gaining pertinent information to support their claim.  Since students were not able to choose their side, some may have even written from a perspective different from their own, which I think is a significantly valuable lesson.  Because of this activity, her class will eventually be able to discuss social issues that are more pertinent to today and her students in an objective manner.  This was truly eye-opening.  I would've loved to have been in this class in high school! 

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Crowdsourcing in Education

Written by Quinn Loch

crowdsourcing - n.  the practice of obtaining needed services, ideas, or content by soliciting contributions from a large group of people and especially from the online community rather than from traditional employees or suppliers

With the introduction of technology in the classroom and our current focus on formative assessment, it's easy to be overwhelmed by the amount of time needed to create materials for our classes. If you use Schoology, hopefully you already take advantage of sharing resources with your colleagues.

Don't forget, however, that teachers everywhere are using similar resources and elect to share those resources online. Online tools such as Socrative, Quizlet, and Kahoot! let you share resources publicly.

Socrative has a built in sharing function and there is also a database of shared Socrative Quizzes

There are more 4 million public Kahoots out there that you can search through.

There are over 40 million shared Quizlet Study Sets. You can also search for "Teacher-created sets" only. If you follow a specific textbook, sets can be found easily.

It should go without saying, that not every online resource is perfect. I often spend time revising, adding, or deleting parts of things that I find online, but I always spend less time editing than I would starting from scratch. Before you know it, you'll have a database of bellringers, study tools, and other formative assessments at your fingertips.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Unplug and move

by Kirsten Fletcher

I love technology. My first year with a 1:1 iPad pilot was one of exploration. I was constantly trying new apps and finding new ways to revamp my activities. I have discovered that I can now use Baiboard to complete tasks that once required markers and butcher paper. I can do exit slips on-line instead of asking students to hand in papers. Why fill out notecards when you can do a Google Form? Videos and media albums have replaced poster projects and group skits. Unruly class discussions have given way to more organized Schoology discussions that hold all students accountable for their responses. These are all effective and engaging uses of technology.

Baiboard vs. butcher paper
Only now I find that I really miss the way I used to do things. I could do Kahoot every week, but nothing beats the running game where students are constantly moving and interacting. Videos are fine, but they take the spontaneity out of presentations. Sometimes it is nice to pull out the butcher paper and do a gallery walk or a chalk talk. And students don't pay attention to the comments on a Schoology discussion the way that they listen to a partner's comments. As I rethink my use of technology, I am discovering that my favorite classroom activities have everything to do with movement and interaction.

We recently attended an Institute Day session with Eric Jensen. One of the big take-aways for the staff was that we need to break up learning into small chunks and get students physically moving in the classroom. One colleague commented that he came back from the session and started intentionally building movement into every class period. His students finally asked him why all their teachers were making them move around all of a sudden.

We all know that with 1:1 technology, our students have a host of new distractions at their fingertips. Rather than compete with on-line games, I find it much easier to say "Stand up - put your tablets away" and get my students moving. I've started doing this as often as I can fit it in, both for brain breaks and to keep my students from lulling themselves into a tech daze. So I incorporate technology where it advances my learning objectives, but I refuse to throw out the partner discussions, mixers, gallery walks and games that force students to interact with material in a meaningful (and unplugged) way.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Useful Tool: Infinite Campus Sorting

Entering Quarter 2, you might have a lot of assignment piling up in Infinite Campus. To easily accomplish tasks, it might be beneficial to sort the assignments in different ways.

I bring you: Infinite Campus Assignment Sorting!!

In your gradebook, you will see a "Sort" button at the top left.

When you click on "Sort," you get multiple options:

You can sorts by "Due Date" and "Descending" to put all of your recent assignments first (for example):

So.. Happy Quarter 2! Hope this little tips helps =)

Thursday, November 19, 2015


By Mark Heintz and Rachel Barry

Last week, counselor Scott Deutsch brought a group of students down to the Collablab to help students get organized.  We walked the students through how to create subjects and dividers in Notability.  You can read how to do that here.

The group discussed issues they have with completing homework or studying.  Students often have at least six classes with schedules and tasks that are very different.  Because teacher expectations vary many students struggle to keep everything they need to do or study organized. From the student perspective, it is hard to keep every expectation in every class organized. Furthermore, the students struggle with study habits at home.

One thing the group brought to our attention, was that they write down what they need to do in their planner, but they forget to look at the planer once they get home.   To help keep everything organized student can utilize the app called Reminders.

This feature allows the user to set reminders! A student can create a reminder for the items they need to complete that evening.   The reminder could be set to go off everyday! The next day the students can edit the task with the new items they need to complete.

If the student uses their iPad at night, it pops up on the iPad. So, it would be one more reminder for the students to further their learning at night. Its an easy addition to a student's organization methods. 

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Why Am I Giving a Multiple Choice Quiz?

By Kim Miklusak

My daughter will be taking a quiz in the coming weeks where she has to name the 13 colonies.  I've been helping her study on Quizlet, and she loves it!  We've been practicing typing in the names, spelling, and identifying each state on the map.  The problem is that I don't know how she is being assessed on these names.  Does she get a blank sheet of paper and has to write them from memory?  Will there be a list and she has to circle the 13?  Is there a map?   Does spelling count?

None of this is a criticism of my daughter's teacher by any means!!  However, the whole experience as a parent has made me reflect more--and especially based on the discussions in Lead Learners over the past weeks--about the nature of assessments we give in our classrooms.  Oftentimes we give a multiple choice test or matching test because it is the easiest for us to grade.  We believe it assesses the students' content knowledge.  But I'm telling you right now, my daughter won't do well on this test if she has to write them all from memory.  And I can't help but think: if only they were to let her pick the way she wants to show her content knowledge, she would ace it! as a teacher, why do I not want the same thing?  Specifically as an English teacher, I understand the time commitment and workload.  But I also know that I could just as easily give perhaps two or three different options for students to demonstrate their knowledge and skills various times throughout various units.  As long as the rubrics were equitable and the content demonstration was equal, wouldn't it be worth it?

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

EG Lead Learners Team Meeting #3

Today was our third meeting of the Elk Grove Lead Learners Team. First, here is a brief overview of the EGLLT:

At Elk Grove High School, our Lead Learners Team is an interdisciplinary team of staff that comes together monthly to collaborate and learn, with our ultimate goal to improve learning for our students.  We are a team of staff that in many schools, and formerly at Elk Grove High School, would be called the "staff development team." Our EGLLT is a group of 30 staff members and it includes our principals, division chairs, counselors, teachers from all departments, and teachers from the feeder schools; it is truly a collaborative venture.

Our objectives for today's meeting were:
-Participants will be able to recognize and explain the difference between Clear Purpose and Clear Targets
-Participants will be able to recognize and explain the difference between Formative and Summative Assessment
-Participants will be able to use Formative Assessment every day to check for understanding and maximize student learning

The hope for the first two objectives was to get the entire school to use the words the same.  

Establishing Clear Purpose & Clear Targets
The EGLLT discussed the difference between a purpose and a target.  The purpose in the teacher actions, approach, logistics, etc. while the target is the content, skills, etc.  

Formative & Summative Assessment
One of the activities used to differentiate between formative and summative assessment was this Google Form. After completing this form, we discussed the results in our groups. We also talked about the best uses of each type of assessment as well as how all of these can be used to inform students of their learning. In small groups, we created six-word statements to define formative assessment.

Seven Strategies of Assessment for Learning
In a jigsaw activity, we learned the background of the Seven Strategies of Assessment for Learning. Then, teachers presented examples of each strategies. Thank you to Kirsten Fletcher, Leslie Guimon, Rachel Barry, Tom Boczar, Matt Bohnenkamp, Kristen Guth, Paul Kelly, Quinn Loch, and Kerry Frazier for sharing your practices!



Monday, November 16, 2015

Using Error Analysis to Think Critically

I believe that the most important skill to be taught in any mathematics curricula is critical thinking.  A student should leave my class knowing how to work through difficult problems, using a variety of strategies to develop solutions to these given problems.  If a student has left my class, without learning various methods to process through challenging situations, then I feel that I have failed them.  Critical thinking is crucial for students going out into the real world.

There are many approaches to develop critical thinking skills.  This comes more naturally to some students than others, and for some students the context is important to dig into those critical thinking skills.  In most cases, seeing a problem from a different perspective helps students realize a bigger picture that there may be more than one way to solve a problem.   This is a hard concept for some students to grasp because in math there is one correct answer, however, there may be more than one way to get to that answer.

In this blog post, I am going to share with you a couple ways that I use error analysis to build critical thinking skills.

About once a week, I use error analysis in warm-ups for students to decipher what another student did incorrectly.  They have to look through a student's work, circle or explain the error that the student made, and then correct the work from where the error was made.  This process helps students in two ways.  First, I am able to address common mistakes that students make before they make the errors themselves.  Secondly, this builds students confidence because they are made aware that other students make mistakes as well. 

For the attached warm-up, I shared this with students as a note (instead of the .pdf that you see) in Notability.  This allows students to manipulate the work, instead of write over it.  You can learn more about this Notability feature in this earlier blog post

In this example, the work of two students is displayed.  One is correct and the other is wrong.  My students need to figure out who solved the problem correctly and what the other student did wrong.  Again, this process allows students to see common mistakes that students make and forces them to explain why something is wrong, which builds critical thinking skills.

Another great method to get students to think outside of the norm is to ask students why an answer is incorrect.  In a standardized test warm-up activity, I ask why an answer choice is incorrect.  Students then have to work backwards from the answer to figure out what error the student made.  Then, they provide the correct answer.  The extra step on the front end ideally prevents students from making that same mistake when they are taking a standardized test. 

Analyzing distracters in standardized test questions also can address the common student errors of misreading the question or circling the wrong answer choice.  For example, let's take a look at the problem below.

Many times students solve for “x” correctly in a problem.  The question, however, does not ask for the value of x, but instead it asks them to find the value of "2x".  Distracter analysis can be used to address students reading the problem incorrectly.

If you have any additional ways to use error analysis to build students' critical thinking skills, please share in the comments section!

Friday, November 13, 2015

Student Roles in the Classroom

Written by Quinn Loch

About two weeks ago, Elk Grove, Wheeling, and Rolling Meadows High Schools attended an institute day with Eric Jensen about brain-based learning. Throughout the day we explored how the brain works in the context of education and learning. Personally, gaining insight into how the brain best gathers new information and makes connections based on state of mind has been helpful in guiding my instruction.

To be honest, when I first saw that we had five and half hours of a guest speaker on the agenda, I was doubtful of my own ability to stay engaged and awake for that length of time. When the day started, the 10 people at our table were able to pick from various roles for the day. Each role required a specific responsibility. Throughout the day, the presenter asked specific roles to engage the group in some way. I had the role of "summarizer" and had to periodically lead a discussion with the group about the main ideas of what we just covered. Other roles in the group included a leader and a someone to facilitate the "stretch breaks."

These roles not only held everyone in the group accountable and increased communication, but everyone in the group stayed engaged throughout the morning and afternoon. There was rarely a time period of more than 3 minutes in which there wasn't some break in the presentation that required conversations within the group, movement throughout the room, or back-and-forth feedback.

I decided to adopt the idea of student roles in the freshman biology classrooms later that week with hopes of increasing student engagement. We had just finished up the first quarter and were due for a change of seats. Since my biology classes are split up into groups of four, I made the following roles...

Student Roles in Biology

I gave my students the option to pick their roles within the group and made it clear that we would be switching the roles up from time to time. I made sure to have each role engaged at least once for the first few days. I'd be lying if I said that there was 100% buy-in right away. It has taken some time for students to adopt their responsibilities, but I have found the overall affect to be positive.

Like any new idea or strategy, it is going to some time to work out the details and I may change up roles or responsibilities as the year goes on. I look forward to the continued use of this strategy in my classroom and hope to shape it in a way that increases student engagement, communication, and ownership. I will follow up with my progress/struggles/thoughts later in the year.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Classroom Set-up

By Kim Miklusak

I've been thinking lately about classroom design and instructional technology space: white board walls, multiple projectors, maker spaces, etc.  For example, now with 1:1 instruction and Apple TV, there is no reason for my desk to be at the front of the room.  There is no need to be tethered to a projector.  And there is no need for my students to sit in any traditional set-up.  Right now my AP English classes are set up in 6 pods of 4-5 desk, so they can collaborate.  My American Literature class is a modified U-shape, so all students can communicate with each other.

Out of curiosity today I asked my students "How should we arrange the desks in order to maximize your learning in this class."  The diversity of their answers says a lot about how they think they learn best and makes me think I need to rephrase my question based on what I think my purpose is for class.  The answers fell into three major categories: 1) some variation of rows, 2) some variation of a U-shape, and 3) some variation of pods. 

None of that is surprising.  But what did surprise me was how evenly split their answers were.  When I asked them why, they each had a reason for their design and even suggested other teachers who have a similar set-up.  They were surprised to hear that I may try out one or two of their designs (shown above).  I think too often we still arrange our classrooms the way they have always been arranged.  With 1:1 instruction, I think we need to ask ourselves the purpose of our classes and the purpose of our instruction and analyze our design (given the constraints of our space, of course) to maximize learning.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

SBG Skill Rubrics

Written by Quinn Loch

A couple of years ago, the science department decided on a list of  “ins-and-outs”, or skills that we wanted each student to develop before they left a specific year in school. A significant amount of these ins-and-outs related to the scientific method and experimental design – crucial skills that students needed to development in lab based classes.

Based on the common skills (hypothesis writing, identifying variables, data organization, procedure and conclusion writing) we came up with the lab matrix.

A snippet of the lab matrix.

This matrix provides a nice framework for students to organize their experiments coherently. It also provides an opportunity to drive instruction towards a specific skill development. For example, the focus for our freshman is hypothesis writing, graph construction, and identifying variables. When designing our labs, as a team we can decide how much scaffolding to provide based on the skills we want to focus on.

This Summer, myself and the biology team designed a rubric to help assess a students progress on specific parts of the experimental design.

Part of the experimental design SBG rubric. 

Instead of grading an entire lab with arbitrary amounts of points throughout, I can provide specific and targeted feedback on skills within experimental design. For example, on the pH lab that my freshman are working on, I will be providing feedback only on their variables, graph, and analysis

This rubric can also be used to help peer-assess as students become more familiar with it throughout the course of the year. The goal is to, by the end of the year, have student progress on all of these skills so they enter sophomore year with a solid foundation that they can build on.

Monday, November 9, 2015


By Mark Heintz

In human geography the students are learning about population density and distribution. After going through several days of effects of populations density, the students did an in-depth look at Bangladesh and the effects of population density.  The lesson included an article on the effects of population density on Bangladesh.  Almost all of my students have never heard of Bangladesh. The make the article more approachable, I inundated them with images, maps, videos, and discussions that built their background knowledge.

I first gave them the location of Bangladesh and its relative size to the USA.

Then, I gave them a map of Bangladesh. The class discussed the impact of the water on the population.  

After looking at the maps, the students watched a three minute video clip on the population growth and water problems associated with the rapid population increase. Finally, the students looked at several images of Dhaka. Again, the class discussed the visuals.  

The process took thirty minutes.  The students read and annotated the article.   It was great! The students were engaged the entire time they read. The post reading discussion was high level and their comprehension was fantastic! It just shows the power of building their understanding before they read. 


Friday, November 6, 2015

Confessions of a SBG hold-out

by Kirsten Fletcher

I'll admit, I have been slow to shift to Standards-Based Grades. I admire the Spanish team at my school that has already adopted Standards-Based Grades at all levels.  I'm still not completely there, but I'm inching my way toward Standards-Based Grading. Previously, my French gradebook was divided into categories: Homework, Quizzes, Participation. Homework weighted equally with Quizzes because I wanted to reward kids with a good work ethic.

I still haven't eliminated my homework category altogether, because I find having it in the gradebook is a visual cue to students that I'm paying attention and that the work is valuable. However, it is now the smallest part of my weighted grade. I added categories: Speaking assessments, Written assessments, and Interpretive communication (listening and reading) to my gradebook. In the short time that I've been grading this way, I've already discovered several advantages.

1. The categories force me to make time for assessing the skills that really matter (reading, writing, listening, speaking) instead of always focusing on grammar and vocabulary. While the latter are important building blocks for language, they are not the skills that students will ultimately be judged on in life or on the AP test. They need to be able to apply their knowledge of vocabulary and grammar to interpret texts, write letters, and speak to others.

2. Organizing my gradebook this way communicates to students their strengths and weaknesses. For example, they can look and see that their writing meets expectations whereas their speaking needs work.

3. The categories are useful for parent communication. At parent-teacher conferences, I felt it was so much more informative to give parents insight into their child's specific skills than simply telling them whether or not their child was completing homework. We actually discussed evidence of learning as opposed to habits of work.

At this point, I am still converting standards-based assessments to letter grades and reserving a small part of the overall grade for homework completion. I am lucky to work in a school where my colleagues continue to discuss our grading and assessment policies to move toward the goal of measuring all students against the same set of standards.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Why Do I Use Twitter?

By Kim Miklusak

I admit: I was one of those people who refused to join Twitter.  What in the world can you do in 140 characters, I thought?  But I have to say I've been completely convinced for many reasons.  Here are the two main ones:

1.  I've connected with educators who have provided me with amazing resources and an instructional support structure: for example, while at the ISTE conference in Atlanta, I attended a workshop on 20% Time, which I was hoping to implement the following year.  The presenters kept speaking about Joy Kirr, who hosts a LiveBinder on this instructional practice.  Following Joy and the presenters on Twitter provided me with not only a plethora of materials but also a list of people to pose questions to and receive feedback from.

2.  A few times a month I see an instructional strategy on Twitter that I am able to implement in my classroom.  For example, I saw a tweet where Catlin Tucker shared a strategy called "Thesis Throwdown."  It fit perfectly with what I was instructing in writing that week, so I tried it out the next day with great success!  Then I was able to report back to Caitlin with pictures of what we did in class and thank her for sharing these ideas.

It can be hard to get rolling on Twitter, I know.  I recommend starting small and following other people in your school or district as well as notable people or groups in your subject area.  Unfollow if you don't find that resource useful!  Start retweeting or sharing out links you find online or maybe updates of what is going on in your class.  You may be surprised at the connections you make.  From there you may want to create lists or use resources like TweetDeck or HootSuite to keep track of everything with ease.

If you would like a tips, a tutorial, or to talk more about how to use Twitter as a professional resource or an instructional tool, stop down to the CollabLab or post resources/questions in the comments below!

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Embed a Video within a Video!

By: Rachel Barry

Students in my class watch videos to obtain the content of a skill in an individualized and differentiated method.  You can learn about this structure in this earlier blogpost.  I have always used Educreations for these videos, as the app is incredibly user-friendly.  I am able to input a picture or .pdf to then annotate for students to view.  This has been a great tool for me over the past three years!  

One issue that I encountered is when it came to skills that involve the graphing calculator.  Using screenshots, I was able to make it work in Educreations, but it wasn't as user-friendly as I would like for my students.  Here is an example of one of these videos.

Then, my wonderful colleague Midge Snow came to the rescue!  The app Explain Everything allows you to add a video within a video!  Here are two sample videos that I created for my honors geometry course:

Some helpful tips:

- Make the video to be inserted into the main video first.  

- Remember that Explore Everything is editable.  Unlike Educreations, you can rewind and override previous recordings, so the whole video is not lost if you make a mistake!

- Explore & practice.  Don't expect to make a perfect video the first time.  Allow enough time for you to make mistakes and correct them.

If you would like any help in creating a video within a video, please feel free to contact me or to stop down in the Collab Lab!

Tuesday, November 3, 2015


This past Thursday, several teachers from our special education department sat in a ThinkCERCA training to learn ways to incorporate explicit instruction in writing in a variety of class: both Strategies for Learning, English and content area classes.

I had the privilege to work with ThinkCERCA last year in my Strategies for Learning class. Using ThinkCERCA, I was able to break down the writing process and help students have an organized argument. What does ThinkCERCA stand for?

Our class did a pre-assessment writing about the following prompt:
What type of learner are you? Use evidence from the text to support your claim about why this learning style is best for you.
After reading an article, I asked the students to write a paragraph-long argument. This is what I got from one student after prompting her to go back and look in the article for examples, etc:
I'm a visual learner. I agree with those things about how I like to read.
We spent about two weeks going over the process of ThinkCERCA and how we can build strong arguments. We spent a day on claims: we looked at claims, analyzed claims, wrote claims and then looked at each other's claims. After going through each part, I had them go back to the original prompt.

This is what I got after two weeks of using ThinkCERCA:
I learn best by visualizing my school work because if I see examples on what I have to do I get it right away by examples and visuals.  The article states "if your a visual learner, you take in informations best by reading." In school I learned vocabulary words by studying. The article also states a true fact, "you get impatient when listening to someone giving an explanation. You just want to read it yourself." When my teachers use to help me with work and they explain it in a difficult way when I can't understand, I want to try and learn it myself. The author says, "kinetic learners might enjoy measuring and mixing." It doesn't apply me because I don't understand how to do it. In conclusion, I am a visual learner.
I went through a training last year, and then another one today. I was pleasantly surprised to see that ThinkCERCA had a bunch of improvements! Some of the highlights:

  • Scaffolded Text: In every part of ThinkCERCA there are mini-lessons and texts available for all grade levels 3-12. No more digging through the internet to find articles that connect to differentiate for the diverse learners in your classroom!
  • CERCA Starters: An easy way to start the learning process of ThinkCERCA. These are the starting points to teach all of the important skills: Why We Make Arguments, Summary, Claim, Evidence, Reasoning, Counterargument, Audience. Each CERCA Starter comes with a mini-lesson and a corresponding QuickCERCA (article and multiple-choice questions) to get a baseline on how much the student understands that concept.
  • More CERCA Sets with Thematic Unit PlanningCERCA Sets have an entire unit planned out for you: you have an overarching question, suggested mini-lesson, and applied lessons (which are articles/writing at various grade levels 3-12).
  • Assign by Reading Level: When you create your class, you assign students a reading level. When you assign an applied lesson, you can have it automatically assign the article that corresponds to their reading needs! This makes differentiating a breeze.
  • QuickCERCAs Guide Lessons: When students read an article and answer the 5 comprehension questions, the data is directly linked to each part of CERCA. A quick 20minute QuickCERCA can then guide you as to which part of CERCA you need to go over.

For more information, check out the ThinkCERCA Blog.