Wednesday, 15 April 2015

Changing the World Through Silence

At our school, each grade does a yearly mission project, a way to raise money, awareness, or service for a cause our students and staff believe in. Those mission projects vary widely from class to class and year to year. We've seen really cool things, like students working at the food bank or running a cake auction to raise money for charity. And since our school has a Me to We club, we have also done a number of activities with Free the Children.

For the last few years, the grade 6s have done We Are Silent. Simply, put, this involves students taking a twenty four hour vow of silence. They collect pledge money for each hour they remain silent, which we then donate to the Malala Fund and/or Free the Children.

At first, we locked onto this as a fun, simple activity we could use to raise some money and help our students learn about global issues. But it has turned out to be so much more. If you've ever considered doing an activity like this, I can't recommend it enough. Here are a few of the things our students have learned from participating in this amazing activity...

1. When you don't have a voice, things get unfair in a hurry. At our school, we put up posters and ask the other classes to put up a tally mark if they "catch" the grade 6s speaking. Of course, the system isn't fair at all: some kids put up tallies just for fun, and often ten kids will all hear the same student slip up, resulting in ten tallies for one mistake. And then the grade 6s go to complain... and discover that they can't. They are being persecuted, with no way to speak for themselves. They get to experience, in a small way, the frustration so many people around the world have for their daily reality.

2. People victimize the silent. This was an unforeseen thing that came out of the activity: younger students would follow the grade 6s around on the playground, harassing them and trying to make them speak. When the grade 6s finally snapped something at them, they would cheer and run off to make a tally on the chart. This gave us a great chance to speak to the whole school about bullying. When you saw someone silent being victimized, how did you respond? Did you join in? Walk away? Or stand up for the people who don't have a voice of their own?

3. It raises as much awareness as anything else. When you can't speak for a day, everyone wants to know why. Several of the grade 6s actually made up little explanation cards this year, which they've been handing out to people who ask why they're not talking. It's a great way to draw attention to the situations faced by those without voices, both at home and around the world.

4. The kids will never forget it. We can talk all we want about issues of bullying, clean water, education... but most of it is so far outside the reality of western privilege that students will never fully understand it. We Are Silent gives them -- in a real but contained and manageable way -- the experience of victimization and powerlessness. It's not something they forget about quickly, and it's a frame of reference when they have these discussions in the future.

5. This one's a bit off the mark, but... let me tell you, we get more work done today than any other day of the year! Without talking to distract them, the kids throw themselves into their schoolwork. I try to use this as a finish up day because you wouldn't believe the work that happens.

In the end, I really think this is the most powerful mission project we've been involved in. Students have a powerful learning experience, raise money to help others, and provoke conversations among their classmates, peers, and families. If you're trying to think of a way to make some of these issues real for your students, this is the way to go.

Question of the Day:
How do you make issues that don't personally affect your students seem real?

I'm a huge fan of object lessons and games. We Are Silent is one such activity, but other good ones are just about anything from Oxfam and the String Game.

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Wednesday, 1 April 2015

Free Project Based Learning Unit on Provincial Government

I've been working on a project based learning unit on provincial government for the province of Alberta, and I think it's ready to share! This year, for the first time, my grade 6s will not be able to go to the legislature building in Edmonton. Ironically enough, the virtual tour of the legislature building will not run on the computers at our school without crashing them, so I was forced to come up with an alternative method of exploring provincial government and still giving the kids the experience they had on our legislature tours.

Many of the powerpoint presentations in this project are adapted from those found on Icivics, an amazing but very American-centered website that I highly recommend you explore. Credit for these is given individually.

A Project Based Around the Alberta Provincial Government

In keeping with the ideals of project based learning, the driving question for this unit is "Should uniforms be required in schools?" The basic project calendar is here.


Introduce the driving question. Ideally, it would be good to catch kids' attention before this with some discussion of school uniforms. I did this by reading them Eric Walters' book Branded, which has awesome links to issues of social justice and fair trade, as well.

Day one introduces students to the idea of political parties and asks them to take a generalized quiz (VERY generalized) to divide them into one of three parties: NDP, PC, or Liberal. Based on the answers to the quiz, you will divide your students into three political parties. The presentation that accompanies this activity can be found here.

The largest group of students will form the government. This group will later be responsible for introducing the bill requiring students to wear uniforms.


Day two covers some basic information students will need to know about how the provincial government operates. Unfortunately, this lesson includes some videos I do not have copyright to release, only to use, and therefore can not include in this file. However, the worksheet that goes with them can be found here, and contains all of the details students will need, whether they find them from a video or a textbook.


Today discusses how to argue using an adapted iCivics powerpoint presentation called So You Think You Can Argue. My adapted for Alberta version is found here. The original is online here. This is a fairly long presentation and may take more than one day to go through, but has a lot of great stuff to allow for interactivity among students. Encourage students to take notes on persuasive writing.


Today's lesson is on how a bill becomes a law, and uses a cartoon strip from the Alberta Legislature's website, the original of which can be found here. The powerpoint presentation is found here.

From this point on, the project uses the mock legislature script from the Alberta Legislature website. You can download the script here. However, I don't use it exactly as written, because I want the students to have the experience of actually arguing the law, not just reading from a script. It is, however, useful for format.

At the end of this lesson, I remind students that they may not agree with the idea of uniforms, but they are required to support their party (or vice versa). Students then begin researching the idea of school uniforms from either a positive perspective (for the party in power, which is drafting a bill and will need this worksheet) or a negative perspective (for the opposition parties, which will need this worksheet).


Depending on your students, you may need to give them an extra day here to work on the sheets from before.

Today is day one in the legislature. Use the Alberta script for format, and this powerpoint to guide students through the process. Allow students to discuss freely before voting on the bill. Since all MLAs will, of course, vote with their party, you will pass the bill to the next reading (unless you have a minority government -- in which case you may need to convince two parties to join forces).


No Rambling Allowed, today's powerpoint, is adapted from the iCivics presentation, the original of which can be found here. The version I created is online here. Students should work in their groups to create idea webs about what they've learned about uniforms so far -- both their own ideas and those of their opponents in the legislature.


Select a group of students to be on the committee of the whole (about 5 govt members and 5 opposition). Students selected to be on the committee can make changes to the proposed bill while the rest do some last minute research to make sure they are ready for the final debate. There is a short powerpoint to guide them through this, which you can find here.


Today students will produce an assessment piece, a written report explaining what they've learned and why it's important. The powerpoint that goes with this can be found here. Students must convince their party leaders that this should be a free vote, with each MLA allowed to vote according to their constituents' beliefs rather than their party's. Here is the rubric to go with the report.


Students continue to work on their written reports.

Success! Students have convinced party leaders to allow a free vote. Use the script as a guide for format and allow students to freely debate the bill before voting. If the bill is passed -- give it Royal Assent. If the bill is not passed -- go through the process of Royal Assent so they still get an understanding of it. The powerpoint to accompany today's process can be found here.

And that's it! Students have successfully passed -- or voted down -- the Alberta School Uniform Act.

Question of the Day:
Do you design your own PBL units, or find them online?

I use a lot of resources I find online, but I rarely find a fully made unit that exactly meets my needs. So while I don't design from scratch, I do tend to design most of my own units.

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Monday, 23 March 2015

Five Alternatives to Powerpoint for Presentations in Education

Death by Powerpoint (a phrase my principal picked up at a recent conference) is a real and dangerous threat in education. In my classroom, it's more like death by Smart Notebook -- but in honesty, if you're using Smart Notebook the same way you use Powerpoint (ie, not taking advantage of its interactive features), it's six of one... you know the rest.

The thing is that Powerpoint and its ilk are useful. There are many times when you want to just get some information across, and Powerpoint provides a quick, easy way to provide a visual backdrop to your lecture. If you want to see why this can be a danger, though, you don't have to look much further than your own classroom (or, failing that, mine). When students have to present something to the class, Powerpoint is their go-to option -- usually involving reading a series of slides to their classmates as everyone slowly sinks into a stupor.

That's why it's important to show the students that there's more than one way to present information. I'm not saying never use Powerpoint again -- only that it's a great idea to explore the options and alternatives. With that in mind, here are five alternatives to powerpoint for using in presentations in education, both for teachers and students.

The one downfall of most of these applications is that, as with many web based programs, you do need an account to use them and save your work. That said, it's not too hard to make a single classroom account if you don't want to sign each student up individually. 

Five Alternatives to Powerpoint

Haiku Deck is a lot of fun and creates visually compelling presentations simply and for free. My favorite thing about it in terms of student use: it simplifies the process. We've all seen student Powerpoint presentations with blocks and blocks of copied and pasted text -- try that in Haiku Deck, and it shrinks the text too small to read. Similarly, there are no animations, eliminating those presentations short on content but long on bells and whistles (seventeen gifs of dogs fading in to the sound of applause). 

Prezi should maybe be number one, as it's the presentation alternative people seem to love the most. And make no mistake, Prezi is cool. Kids love it: it zips and zooms in and out, looking very slick and dynamic. But while Prezi is a fun tool, it can be difficult to master, and younger students (as well as some adults) would definitely find it a frustrating experience, which pushes it to number two on my list. 

Powtoon is a neat app for creating short animated presentations. Free accounts limit you to five minute presentations (which is not such a bad thing given how long student presentations tend to go, anyway), but you can pay to upgrade to a different account. An educator account will mean students don't need an email address to sign in. Once videos are complete, they can be uploaded to YouTube, a functionality students love. This is less of a direct presentation tool and more of a video maker, but serves a very similar purpose. 

Google Slides is basically online Powerpoint with one huge and important difference: it has the ability to be collaborative. You can set up a presentation and have each student contribute their own slide, or work to edit one another's presentations, or work in groups. The multi-user aspect of Google Slides makes it an incredibly powerful presentation tool for modern educators. is another Powerpoint-esque presentation tool. You can create public presentations with a free account and private ones by upgrading to a paid account. It functions very similarly to Powerpoint, but it can be nice to have your presentations stored in the cloud so that students (and teachers!) can access them from home. In addition, there are some nice bells and whistles on that make it useful for educators and older students. 

Question of the Day:
What's your go-to presentation software? Are you still using Powerpoint?

For myself, I do rely on Powerpoint quite often. It's quick, accessible, and easy to use. I'm trying to branch out into other programs, though, and I've used Knowmia quite frequently to create classroom videos, as well as programs like those mentioned above.

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Wednesday, 18 March 2015

10 People You Should Be Following On Twitter

Once again I'm rounding up some of my newest tweeps -- teachers (and other great educational blogs, personalities, and speakers) who are awesome to follow on Twitter. These are the folks who always have interesting articles and resources, and they're too valuable to ignore!

Darcy Moore tweets about education, politics, ed tech, and a variety of other subjects in a helpful and interesting way. 

Chris Smeaton is the superintendent of my own district. He tweets thoughtfully and introspectively about the changing face of education in the 21st century. 

Audrey Watters tweets in a lighthearted and informative way. She talks about Ed tech and always has so something to add to a conversation. 

Even if you can't get to the annual ISTE conference, you can keep up with the latest in Ed tech with information from ISTE!

5. Classic Pics

OK, this isn't about education -- but it is educational! Classic Pics posts historical photographs (such as an angry policewoman chasing skinny dippers, or the shadow of a vaporized person shortly after the atomic bomb fell in Japan). It can be an invaluable resource for story starters and history classes.

6. Vicki Davis (aka Cool Cat Teacher)

Vicki Davis is full of ideas. She has tons of followers and for a good reason: she's always got something interesting and innovative on the go.

7. Alec Couros

Alec Couros tweets about ed tech and more. He retweets a lot of interesting stats and articles, too, making him an all around good follow!

8. Matthew Farber

Matthew Farber tweets mostly about gamification and games based learning. He's a great resource for game ideas and articles about using games in teaching.

9. Jen Deyenberg

Jen Deyenberg is another great teacher who tweets about ed tech and its uses in the classroom. She's a prolific tweeter with a lot of excellent stuff to say.

10. Amy Smith

Amy Smith tweets about teaching, life, and art. She contributes frequently and intelligently to online conversations.

Whether you're just starting out on Twitter or a seasoned user, these are some of the best educators (and educator resources) to follow!

And of course, you can always connect with me (@missrithenay) if you like what I do here!

Question of the Day:
Who were the first people you followed on Twitter?

I use Twitter 90% for professional reasons, so my first follows were almost all coworkers! 

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Wednesday, 11 March 2015

The Power of a Story

Have you ever noticed how many professional speakers start their talks with a story? Or, put another way -- how much more interested your students are in watching a movie than an informational video? Either way, it's the same thing that draws us in: the power of story.

The need for this kind of narrative is deeply embedded in humanity. We'll impose it even when there's no narrative to speak of, creating our own stories with lightning speed on an almost subconscious level. This applies even to those who don't think of themselves as creative or natural storytellers: among their own friends and family, they're more than happy to share stories of their lives, and they can create a narrative out of random shapes as easily as anyone else. 

The point is that as human beings, we have deep psychological ties to story. And that makes it an incredibly powerful teaching tool. Here are some ideas for using story in your own classroom to capture students' attention and create optimal situations for learning. 

1. Use literature

There are so many ways to link literature to curriculum! For example, I like to start reading Eric Walters' book Branded to my class in advance of our social studies units on provincial law and global citizenship. It gives us a common frame of reference for both our discussion of how a bill about school uniforms could become a law and a consideration of global issues such as sweatshop labour. Here are some other books with lots of curricular links:

One Grain of Rice
The Dear Canada series
Sir Cumference and the First Round Table
If the World Were A Village
Duck! Rabbit!

2. Use stories to help with memorization

Having trouble with basic multiplication tables, for example? Have students put them into a story. Here's an example:

Two-day, two friends went walking in Twotonium, a town where everything is done in twos. No one dares step outside without their partner. When the two friends rounded a corner, they met another group, which brought them up to four. They raced across the town for the Twotonium double sided canoe race, a sight not to be missed. There they hopped into their double canoe, but their two sisters met them and wanted to race, too. That made six: far too many for the race. What to do? Fortunately a pair of brothers happened along. Now they had four groups of two, so all eight of them hopped into the canoes!

That's just a silly little example, but putting things into the context of a story can help with memorization immensely.

3. Frame your class around a story

I've talked before about Cognosco, the fictional kingdom my classroom is set in. My students follow a loose story throughout the year, one I'm always trying to further develop and link. When they arrive in September, they learn that a local prophet has foreseen a coming disaster, and they have all been invited to enter training in preparation. In October, the disaster strikes when the king is kidnapped by the neighboring kingdom of Ignarus. Much of what we do takes place in this narrative framework as we advance closer to Ignarus in hopes of rescuing the king. This is a work in progress, but it does seem to capture students' attention and make them take notice!

Question of the Day:
How do you use stories in your classroom?

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Wednesday, 4 March 2015

How to Classroom Blog With Students

More and more teachers are creating classroom blogs with students, and it's not hard to see why. Blogging is a great way to engage kids in writing. Here in Alberta, where we are still giving students standardized tests on creative writing, I would much prefer to see my students write a blog entry than the current procedure of writing a newspaper article -- it's far more relevant to their daily experience, and kids of any age enjoy the idea of writing for publication.

That said, blogging with kids does present its own unique challenges. Here are some -- and how to overcome them!

1. What program should I use for blogging?

You really can't go wrong with Kidblog. It has several nice features that make it particularly appealing to a classroom setting, such as the ability to set comments so that the teacher has to approve them, or the ability to limit your classroom privacy settings so that only people who are signed in can access your students' blogs. You can also turn these privacy settings off, leading to a flexible and convenient setup.

If for some reason you don't want to use Kidblog, I also use Blogger to make a classroom blog. This is a whole class blog, and my students all use the same google email address to sign into it. I use this for a whole class journal. If you have Google for education, or your students each have their own gmail address, you could use Blogger for individual blogs as well. Here is a link to our class reflection blog, and if you would like to connect with us, come visit us on Kidblog as well -- students would love to hear from you!

2. How can I justify spending class time blogging when we should be working on creative writing or essay writing?

You can write pretty much anything on a blog that you would write in a notebook -- it's just in a public forum, which can be a very powerful incentive for many students. They can comment on one another's work, giving you an excellent forum for group editing.

3. What if students use blogging as an excuse to write in text talk or the like?

Yup, that happens. It particularly happens in grade 6. I try to circumvent it by spending some time looking at high quality blogs written by other young writers, but I did hit a point where I just had to say, all right: if your blog post is not at least ten sentences, and that means that it contains capitals and periods, I will delete it. I'm not having students publish blogs that simply say "ya i lov hockey its so grate go flames."

On the other hand, if parents are accessing those blogs, it can give them a very quick and ready picture of what their students are writing in class!

4. What is the value of investing time in blogging?

There are a lot of things that make blogging valuable. Just a few include:

  • The opportunity to read one another's writing and comment on it
  • A ready audience for your writing
  • A more engaging form of writing (hand them technology and they're suddenly on board!)
  • A place to collect a writing portfolio readily and easily
  • A way to continue writing throughout their school careers
  • Easy access to student writing for parents and community members
Really, the list goes on and on. And blogging is quite easy: Kidblog takes minutes to set up, and is free. So if you've never tried blogging with your students, why not give it a shot now?

Question of the Day:
What makes you read a teaching blog?

For me, this is all about utility. I love humorous stories and I easily get sucked into jokes and irony, but if I'm going to keep checking a blog regularly, it has to be because it provides me with practical and interesting ideas to use in my classroom.

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Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Three Ways We're Teaching Wrong (As Illustrated by Wasteland 2)

It's been a few weeks for this blog -- mostly because I had a raging sinus infection. But while that wasn't much fun, it did get me playing Wasteland 2, predecessor of my all time favorite games (well, next to Portal): the Fallout series.

And it's hard. I'm assured it gets easier later on, but the Ag Center is KILLING me (literally. Over and over and over again). What I'm telling you is, I kind of suck at this game. But I'm still playing it, and that's the thing -- as I've said over and over, failure doesn't have to be traumatic or terrible. It can be a lure.

It can also just mean you're really bad at video games, but we won't talk about that. Instead, we'll talk about what I've realized through this frustrating experience -- three things that school doesn't do very well. The start of this game might be tricky, but that's nothing compared to what I know some students experience when dealing with math, reading, or writing.

And that, incidentally, is why it's so important for teachers to do things we're bad at: so we don't forget the experience of struggling. At any rate, here are three things this game has reminded me that schools should be doing.

1. Allowing breaks when needed

Yeah, we all know kids need breaks. We give them recess, and if they've been sitting too long we get them up and moving, and if the whole class seems sluggish we find something else to do. But that's not the same as each kid getting a break when they need it. If halfway through math the problem has built up into something insurmountable and frustrating, forcing through it will probably not yield the results we're looking for. This is a tricky situation because there are, of course, some kids who would be happy to NEVER do math, and will take a permanent break. But letting a kid go get a drink or use the washroom -- 15 times, if necessary -- can give them the mental space to adjust.

2. Not forcing breaks when not needed

School is chunked into artificial segments. Often I'll have students just getting absorbed in a game, project, or activity when I have to say, "All right everyone, time to pack up and move on to science." I've often thought that I'd love to have students arrive in the morning, and on the board I have a list of tasks that must be accomplished today (for example: page 161 in math, listen to Ms Swark talk about the Iroquois confederacy, watch this video, work on this project) and have kids take on each as they see fit, in their own time. This is trickier if you teach in a school where students frequently switch classes. But I still may try it one day.

3. There have to be helps available

Games are really good about giving you tutorials and helps, but unfortunately, I have a bizarre mind, and the things I need help with aren't what usually pop up. Action points, I can figure out. Friendly fire? Yeah, I clued into that when I decimated half my team. But sometimes some silly little thing trips me up. It's usually something that would be intuitive to most people and just isn't to me. That's when -- like everyone else -- I hit google, and almost every time, someone else has had the same question, and some helpful person has answered it. I get the answers I need, when I need them. Our students get instruction before they need it, and then help from a teacher when we're able to get to them. BYOD helps with this to some degree -- if they have the skills to use it -- but so does a "cheat sheet," a helper, a partner, or just the freedom to wander around and interact with one another.

There's potential in all of this, of course, for students to abuse it. But there's potential for abuse in giving them a pencil and paper -- they might write notes, or make airplanes, or draw something inappropriate. We need to weigh risks against benefits and see where we stand!

Question of the Day:
What do you do when you're frustrated with something you're learning?

In honesty... I rage quit. But I'm usually back in a couple of hours, because this game/crochet stitch/problem is NOT going to beat me!!!

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Wednesday, 4 February 2015

Is Technology Making us Ruder?

Lately I've had a number of conversations with people about how and when we use technology, and I reached a surprising conclusion. A coworker asked when we should begin teaching kids about cell phone etiquette, and I realized that there's a problem: we don't agree on what that etiquette looks like. Sure, there are a few basic agreed-upon mannerisms -- don't answer your phone at the movie theatre, or blast your iPad when you're out for dinner -- but overall, there's just no agreement. Among my friends, I have people who..

  • think it's incredibly rude to touch an electronic device when you're in any social situation
  • think it's okay to quickly check text messages in social situations, but not to focus on your phone or device to the exclusion of socialization
  • think it's fine to multitask between socializing with people who are physically present and being on your phone
  • think it's fine to use your phone when and how you please, even if that means you sit in a corner at a party texting or surfing the internet
That's just in my small social circle. So given that situation, how on earth are we supposed to teach technology etiquette to kids? We don't agree on it ourselves.

Starting With The Basics

That said, I think there are a few basic rules that everyone (for the most part) can agree on when it comes to manners and technology. Chief among them: 

If what you are doing is disturbing another person, then stop it.

There are obvious examples of this. A coworker mentioned someone who answered his phone in the middle of a funeral. Disturbing to people around you? Check, check, and check. Stop it.

The woman who spends the movie texting her friend while the people around her who paid $20 to see a movie grumble under their breaths. Rude? You bet.

The parent who doesn't believe in headphones and plops an iPad blasting Madagascar in front of her three year old two feet away from me at a restaurant. Annoying? And how. 

The person (illegally) texting while driving who gets into an accident? Buddy, your technology obsession isn't just rude, it's downright dangerous.

So there are at least some basic rules of technology etiquette we can mostly agree on. That's a good place to start. I think we can carry that a step further, too. 

Among my friends, pulling out your cell phone to check a text message mid conversation is generally not considered rude. It's not disturbing anyone, so it's not a big deal. But I have other friends who do think it's rude, and it would disturb them if I did it. Therefore, I make an effort not to do it with those friends. Ideally, those friends would also make an effort to understand that I use technology in a different way than they do -- that to me, it's almost an extension of my person, rather than an external tool. If we both did that, you'd have me trying to be considerate of my friends who find excessive technology use disturbing, and my friends who find excessive technology use disturbing trying to be considerate of the fact that technology is natural to me, and an effective way of managing anxiety. It would be hard for us to not find some kind of middle ground.

In the end, this is what we should be teaching our kids: consideration and courtesy. Don't judge someone because they use technology differently from you. Don't insist that everyone looks at the world the way you do. And try to be respectful of others' opinions and differences. If we're going to teach cell phone and technology etiquette, I think that's as good a place as any to start.

Question of the Day:
Would you attend a party where you were told to leave your technology at the door?

A friend of mine posted a link to this advice column suggesting that it's "a breath of fresh air" to ask your guests to leave their technology at the door. The consensus among my friends was that it was not a breath of fresh air, it was rude and presumptuous, especially if you're blindsiding your guests with this request. I might consider attending a party if a friend did this and told me in advance, but I would be pretty angry if this was an unexpected request at someone's house, and would probably refuse to participate. Devices and cell phones are very personal now -- I'm not okay with leaving mine lying around.

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Wednesday, 28 January 2015

The Top Five Articles Making the Games Based Learning Circuit

This week, I'm too busy reading to write -- every time I turn around, I'm swamped by another awesome article, idea, or thought provoking piece. So for this week I'm sharing other people's words: here's a round up of the top five articles making the social media rounds.

1. No Tech Board Games That Teach Coding Skills to Young Children

I love that we've reached the point where even people without access to technology can start teaching coding skills. This article over at Mindshift highlights some amazing games teachers can use to introduce coding concepts without a single piece of tech on hand.

2. Let's Ban Bans in the Classroom

Here, John Jones makes a compelling argument against banning technology in the classroom, pointing out the flaws in studies on multitasking and asking the important question: "Why must we ask the 21st century to wait outside our classrooms?" Definitely worth a read if you've ever questioned the wisdom of tech in your class.

3. Fact or Fiction?: Video Games are the Future of Education

This interesting article from back in September sees Elena Malykhina do a great job of summarizing both the pros and cons of games based education. It explores some of the ways innovative teachers use games, and discusses the need for balance in all things.

4. What Video Games Can Teach Us

This article over at Science News for Students is excellent reading for kids and teachers alike. Emily Sohn carefully explores the benefits of video games after a previous installation considering criticisms of violent video games. This article is clear and intelligent, a great counterpoint to many video game critics.

5. The Assassin's Creed Curriculum: Can Video Games Teach Us History?

This one's not so new either, but Molly Osberg does an amazing job of considering the role actual history plays in historical games, and how much we can learn from playing them. (As a side note -- I love all the women writing about video games in education. So awesome!).

These are the five articles that caught my attention this week.

Question of the Week:
What's the best video game article you read this week?
Click here to tweet this question

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Tuesday, 20 January 2015

The Five Worst Pieces of Advice We Give New Teachers

As we've had a lot of student teachers come through lately, I've been thinking back to my own start as a beginning teacher, and all the great advice for new teachers people sent my way -- as well as a few duds. It took me years to unlearn some of the things my mentors taught me, and unfortunately, I still hear people giving the same advice to new teachers -- even if it's couched in prettier terms than the blunt ones I've used below. And it's time to stop -- this isn't advice that benefits anyone!

1. You have to cover every learning objective -- thoroughly and in detail!

Obviously, the curriculum and the learner outcomes are essential. They need to direct our teaching. But there are also, literally, thousands of them, and if you try to teach each one with equal depth and breadth, you will lose your mind, your students will hate you, and no one will learn anything.

Look at the big picture. When my students do their unit on ancient Greece, the main things I need them to know are that democracy began in ancient Athens, that it functioned similarly to but different from how we use democracy today, and that there were a lot of factors that made the situation unfair to modern sensibilities. Obviously, we're going to go into more depth than that -- but those are the key outcomes around which I structure the unit.

2. Use the textbook

Everyone tells beginning teachers to start with the textbook. It's there, it has the information you need to cover -- why wouldn't you use it? Well, because it's usually awful, for one thing. And because as a beginning teacher, you're probably brimming over with the kind of energy and enthusiasm only a first year teacher can have, and rigidly sticking to a textbook will destroy your creativity.

Don't be afraid of the textbook. If it's useful to you, use it. But don't be afraid to throw it out the window and encourage kids to get their information from anywhere that makes sense -- and to teach awesome lessons that the textbook could never imagine.

3. Don't reinvent the wheel

Now on the surface of it, this is great advice. If someone has done the exact lesson you were looking for and put it online for free, why on earth would you make your own? That far, I agree with it. But there are times when "don't reinvent the wheel" turns into a mantra, and people are almost afraid to experiment. Because what if you fail?

By all means, check online, check books, look for premade lessons that make you smile. But if you don't find exactly what you're looking for, it really might be worth your time to design the whole thing from the ground up, especially if you're going to use it year after year.

4. No child should ever be on medication

This one's controversial, I know. Most teachers come out of university thinking that no child should ever be on medication for any purpose. And it's definitely true that medication is prescribed quite readily by some doctors, and often overprescribed. Still, it doesn't take too many years of teaching before you realize that some children really do benefit from medication of various types. A child with a chemical depression may really need that medication.

Encourage classroom modifications and leave medication as a last resort. If a parent is concerned, encourage them to speak to their paediatrician -- after all, we aren't doctors.

And then there's the very worst advice I got, the advice that took me ten years to unlearn, that if I'm honest I'm STILL unlearning...

5. Make sure you do everything perfectly, because it's a competition, and everyone is judging you.

Is your bulletin board perfect? Because you know the teacher down the hall is checking it out, and so is every parent who walks by. And that typo you made on your class website is being analyzed on Facebook. Don't ever admit to a student that you don't know something! How can parents trust you if you're not a walking Google with every fact at your disposal? And above all, never, ever forget that teaching is a competition, and that the colleague down the hall is always looking better than you in the eyes of the parents, the school, administration.

Can we please, please leave this behind? Focus on teamwork? On collaboration? The more we turn one another into the enemy, the less we're able to focus on our jobs: working together to help every student learn!

Question of the Day:
What's the worst teaching advice you've ever received?

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