Thursday, March 23, 2017

A Listicle for a Research Project?

Because of folks like Alfie Kohn and Rush Walsh, I've long disliked and dismissed the very concept of a 5 paragraph essay, the bread and butter of many high school teachers. I found/ find it stilted and contrived and its audience is limited. It is common to find sentiments like this all over the internet in from the progressive "21st Century Ed" crowd. 

This blogpost gave me some pause and caused me to reconsider, at least for a moment, my thoughts on the 5 paragraph essay. The anonymous author writes, 

"To suggest the essay form is not complimentary to this type of content is ludicrous.   Students struggle with essay writing  precisely because it is the form  of connection making par excellence.   Originally the essay was a creative argument that was anything but  formulaic, achieved by making logical and creative connections between universals and particulars that remains quite difficult for most of us."

I still don't like the 5 paragraph essay but I concede her point that a good essay encourages and develops an important way of thinking. I'd go so far as to agree with her except for the fact that this format has indeed become formulaic and even stilted. Writing isn't paint by numbers. I am quite certain that most writers don't sit down to write with a predetermined amount of paragraphs in mind with only three points to make. However, I appreciate her point that good writing is the result of logical and creative connections that are "quite difficult". 

Image result for listicle
   For a recent assignment, I wanted to give students a logical and creative way to write to a audience beyond me using media beyond text. I came across this assignment from a college prof who assigned a Buzzfeed style listicle to his students. I feel the listicle gets to much of what the 5 paragraph essay asks students to do. It asks students to think about essential points in creative ways, critically examining which reasons prove the larger point. 
   Using this as inspiration, I altered a long-standing research assignment for 9th graders from my history department to make the the finished product a listicle. Students are assigned to research important historical figures from the 16th-19th centuries. Here is the assignment, feel free to borrow it. (Though please link to this post if you write about the assignment.) 
    The listicle is still a low brow form of writing for sure. Perhaps it will remain there. But I like the type of thinking it will promote it my students and I really like that their research "papers" will now include video and images. 
   Hopefully in the upcoming weeks, I can share with you some of the students' results. 

Other readings, 
Is a listicle better than an essay?

Listicle as a literary form? 

Tuesday, March 21, 2017


Open licensed Gapminder uses statistics and visual mapping to teach students a big picture view of how and why the world has changed for the better over the past 217 years. Recently with my 9th grade class, I used Gapminder resources and directions. I distributed 16 country cards and asked students to "rank" the countries. I was deliberately vague on what criteria they should base their rankings.

Afterwards they compared their arrangement with the video and a graph of the same chart Robling features in this video. 

In this age of sturm und drang in the United States and as we see conflict around the world, we have a tendency to assume that this is a particularly bad time to be alive. Indeed, Donald Trump is president because he convinced a substantial number of Americans that we were better off and safer in the past. Gapminder uses data to show a very different picture: a world where most things have improved; a world that is not as divided as one would think.

The lesson encouraged geographic literacy as I  directed students to use Google Earth. The lesson fostered collaboration and discussion and I used the video above towards the end of class. It was an "aha" moment for sure for most of the kids. 

If you want a stand alone day or two day lesson on history, econ, statistics, health, or international relations, you should check out Gapminder and its free tools and lesson plans. 

In this video, you see some of my students ranking their country cards. (Admittedly, it is not earth-shattering video but I want you to see what it looks like.) 

Here is a link directly to a pdf of the activity and lesson plan. 

Friday, March 17, 2017

DIgital Posters and Social Media Revolutions Then and Now

One of my students made this poster for a proganda and protestantism mini-unit. This young man's poster is a Counter-Reformation response to Luther's Reformation. For the past week, I've been teaching about the Protestant Reformation to my 9th grade history class. This 500 year old intra-Christian debate that has been and the heart of religious strife up to this day is remote to my largely a-religious group of students. I've been emphasizing the revolutionary aspects of this religious reformation. Among other things, the Protestant Reformation was a social media revolution. We spoke about how woodcuts and the printing press let Protestant propagandists spread their message and that Catholic countered using the same media. After considering more recent propaganda and what makes an effective piece of propaganda, we looked at some of the more famous images of propaganda including the image below.  I then showed students some posters that looked right out of a Depression era poster, but instead they are posters for the Hunger Games series. This, by the way, thanks to Glen Wiebe was my inspiration for this simple assignment.

Most students used Piktochart to make the assignment, though one girl used Google Drawings. By the way, don't use the Piktochart app. It sadly just doesn't work that well. You'll want the full browser version. We spent two days on this assignment particular assignment. We finished with the assignment today and I asked students to share their poster and what message they were trying to send with it.

The project hopefully helps this religious movement and 16th century debate more relevant. The propaganda element forces students to distill their understanding and in that distilling, I think learning occurs. They're not going to remember Zwingli, Menno or Calvin. But I hope and expect they'll remember Luther, his 95 Thesis and how his protest spread so quickly.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Formative Assessment Ideas

Kahoot and Quizizz

Quizizz a lot like Kahoot. The major difference is that Quizizz displays the question and answer options on each students’ screen. Kahoot, on the other hand, shows the question on one screen and students’ screen show only clickable buttons, it always reminds me of the old Simon game. Students play on their own devices by joining the teachers game with a code. The faster a student answers a question, the more points he or she earns. 

Quizizz has memes, which are funny pictures, that is shows after each question. You can turn these off, but you won’t want to. Quizizz lets you turn off the leaderboard and timer, if you have students who get too stressed out when the quiz is a competition. Quizizz can be played as a class or quizzes can be left open for 2 weeks, so a quiz can be used as homework or at a center.

EdPuzzle: I really video like this tool. Take a from Youtube, Khan Academy or TeacherTube and crop it to use only what you need for your lesson, record your voice on top to explain, add clarifications, or add a video introduction. Embed quiz questions along the way, to check for student understanding, track who watched the video, prevent skipping, and see quiz results through the simple to read student reports. 

A newer feature lets your students to create their own video lessons.  Students can view the videos on the website, or the app, or you can can embed the lesson on your website. 

Sunday, March 12, 2017


Escape Rooms are popping up all over the nation. This phenomenon has spread to schools. Over the summer through my pln, I learned of BreakoutEDU. In BreakOUT, students work in teams to break into a heavily padlocked box, instead of trying to break out of a locked classroom (hello, fire marshall!)

With colleague +Jebb Chagan and his four sections of 7th grade social studies, we played BreakoutEDU's Shot Heard Round the World, (you'll need to create an account to view the link) created by Micah Shippee incorporating BREAKOUT's materials. 

Micah cleverly includes two common codes of Massachusetts Minutemen into his iteration of Breakout.  He also requires students to do reading about Lexington and Concord. The game took two 40 minute periods to play. It probably took about 15 minutes to explain the game on the first day and though most groups completed the task midway through the second day, we used the remaining time to discuss lessons learned and we asked the students to examine their individual and their groups' performances. Game play itself took about 45 minutes.

Most students had a blast. A few grew frustrated with their lack of progress on the first day and needed prompting to stay focused and not give up. Once on the scent, the excitement in each group was palpable.

I loved watching these moments of genuine excitement. They were so thrilled when their deductive reasoning and research paid off. The game incorporated invisible ink and some clues hidden in plain site. Students liked this level of sophistication. The cloak and dagger aspect of the game made it fun.

Cooperative learning is central to the Breakout games as well. I like this. As I told the students, these "soft" skills of communication and cooperation are important for a happy and successful life.

I am glad we included time for formal reflection. Students were able to identify areas where they had difficulty.

If you are looking for a fun, exciting, learning activity I highly encourage you to give Breakout a look. Here are their current games.  It will cost you about $90 to but the necessary materials. It will cost about $100 to buy the materials through Breakout and even more to get the handsome Breakout Box.

I'm a big, big fan. Check it out.  

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