Sunday, December 19, 2010

I just give them an extra worksheet when they're done....

What does differentiation look like? Seriously! Is it something you can put your hands on or is it something in the moment. What I do know is that for some teachers differentiation is natural and in the moment and for others it might take some planning. What we as educators need to grasp is that differentiation is most definitely not an extra worksheet at the end of a lesson. While we all hate to hear that we need to do something else, differentiation does not need to be a burden.

I have two examples of lessons that as a teacher I found were prime examples of how some preplanning allowed me to differentiate. Also the preplanning allowed me to not have to put a great deal of energy into focusing on it (then and after). After all, the students should be the ones doing the extra work not the teacher.

The first lesson was a long term project in Science that counted as a test grade (I never gave sit down tests because I feel application of concepts taught, truly demonstrates understanding). The project was called the "Creature Paper." It was given just after we had discussed 6 different systems of the human body. It begged that the student create a creature of their choice and develop a system of the body that reflected each system in the human body that we reviewed. The students were not only asked to invent a system, but justify why that stem would work in the environment that their creature would live and then compare it to the human system that it would be most compatible to (cool right!). They were also asked to draw a picture of each system. As you can imagine I received some amazing products! One of my favorites was a creature that was born in a rain drop and its whole life passed in the time that the rain drop fell (It was intense!) Because in this project I was looking for some basic comprehension of the human body, the design allowed me to gather if any particular student had the right level of understanding and at the same time let any learner explore, at which ever level they wanted, their wildest ideas. Once I developed the lesson it was done! No extra work. No sleepless SAIL nightmares.

The second lesson was a quiz style that came to define me. When students in my class took quizzes, they participated in a unique experience. Quizzes to me should be a formative assessment that gathers quick feedback on whether or not your class got whatever it was that you where teaching over the last week or month. My design was to have all of the desks in a circle. The students wold all take a seat and each would have a question at their seat. When the quiz began they would flip the question and have 2 minutes to answer it. After 2 minutes I would say "Okay.... Switch." At that moment all of the students would stand and move to the seat to right of them and have 2 minutes for that next question (after all if you don't know it in 2 minutes you probably didn't know it!). Each question allowed a student to respond based on their strength, which could have been writing, drawing, diagraming, etc.... In addition I would play music in the background and introduce the artist with some background before we started. This practice awarded me a fellowship from the Developmental Disabilities Counsel for excellence in practices in inclusive education (Not to mention it was a lot of fun!).

Again, some of us are naturals. We do it without a second thought. However, in a time when less support is being offered by the district to support our most advance students and students who need the most support, we need to develop a classroom model that will both address their needs and not give us more work!

Help us out and share! How do you differentiate?

Monday, December 6, 2010

How do you grade your students?

With our lengthy subjective report cards coming up, this recent article entitled "No More A's for Good Behavior", caught my eye. Even though the article focuses on middle and high school, I thought it contained many interesting points that I could relate to my grade level. One statement that I found interesting was a pivotal debate: Should students be rewarded for being friendly, prepared, compliant, good school citizen, well organized, etc. Or should good grades represent exclusively a student's mastery of the material? Do you grade your kids for compliance or for mastering the course material? The article mentions that A and B students were not the ones who were gaining the most knowledge but the ones who had learned to do school the best. What do you think?
Something else that I found interesting was that one middle school is giving "knowledge grades" based on calculating the average of test scores. And "life skills grades" based on work habits, attitude, effort and citizenship.
These are just a few of the interesting topics from this article. I encourage you to skim the article too. It may open your eyes and help you decide what is really most important when you are filling out those lengthy subjective report cards next week. Again, how do you grade your students?

Diane Conahan
4th Grade Math Teacher

Monday, November 29, 2010

iPad Launching!

On Monday, 5H went to the Planetarium at Glenfield to enjoy Mr. Miller’s presentation. During these trips I always think the best part is that children who never or rarely have a chance to get out of the city zone get to see what a night sky without pollution or city lights looks like. They see a starry night the way it was before human beings overpopulated and obscured that view. However, as time has gone by since we began these yearly trips, our students have become less impressed by something they just view and I think they’ve come to expect more interactive technology.

What a surprise when we got back from the Planetarium and the class realized they would be playing with iPads! After a short talk from Dr. Putrino about how the iPads should be handled, we went right into a space app. I had found this application when I got the opportunity to play with the iPad over the weekend. It was more like obsession than play time, really, but when I realized I had to actually feed my son and take care of other basic human needs, I was able to have the iPad wrenched from my clenched fingers.

During my play time, I found an app that actually shows you the night sky in sections according to where you point the iPad. You wave it in a figure 8 and it coordinates itself to your hemispheric location. When you move it across a ceiling or the sky if your outside, it shows you the constellations in that particular location. It also shows you the planets if they are in that range. In addition, there are options to read about the different planets through a wiki-like window and you can turn the less brighter stars down to make it look like a city night sky - only showing the brightest stars. You can even zoom in with your fingers like an iPhone or iTouch.

I went on to show them a few more apps having to do with geography and how they can play games together. My favorite one being PenduGeo - a game of hangman with all the countries in the world that can also be played in a mode that allows you to make up your own words.

There is so much potential for the use of this new technology. I would love to use it as enrichment. They are also great for reinforcement of basic skills with flashcards that can be used for any subject. There are apps for dictation, writing, reading aloud, spelling and drawing. Research is easy with the Wiki apps and access to the internet. Another great thing about them is the incentive for good behavior. I’ve always found putting the carrot before the cart to be much more effective with classroom management or behavior issues. If any of you have any other ideas, please share!

Needless to say, the children had a wonderful time and were excited to know when we could use them again. So am I!

Alice Hermida

5th Grade

Science & Social Studies

Friday, November 19, 2010

Romp-a-"Room To Play" .... Will We Pay?

As the budget season progresses, we are hearing a lot of very different recommendations from our Board of Education appointed committees. Several have stirred up some philosophical debate. One that has started to create some controversy and conversation, is an issue very close to our school. The recommendation is to move towards a half-day Kindergarten. I ask simply, "How do you think moving to a half-day Kindergarten will effect the district?"

Dr. Joseph A. Putrino Jr.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The Power of Teaching

There is a great deal of power in your hands. Educators have the ability to shape the direction of our students lives (not too shabby). However, what qualities make an effective teacher? The “Power of Teaching” is a behavior pathway analysis created by Dr. Joseph Wise and David Sundstrom. The program hopes to lead educators in becoming more aware of their teaching style, behaviors in the classroom and there impact or effectiveness with students.

At first this program seemed, to me, to be another fad approach to conducting staff evaluations, but upon a more creative twist I found it to be a great tool for coaching effective teaching strategies. Here is a great way to understand it. We all feel that we are effective in the classroom, I mean as you all know I was an AMAZING teacher! :) But sometimes we miss an ineffective thing we do that could be detrimental to a lesson or might not harm anyone but could be improved upon. Imagine you videoed a lesson you taught and had to watch it back and observe yourself (I can hear your stomach dropping. After all we are perfectionist and are own worst critics!) When we look back on ourselves and step away from what we are doing, behaviors that we would never pay attention to become more obvious. For example, how someone might pace back and forth when they lecture, or constantly move their hands while they talk (Guilty!), or as I mentioned in a faculty meeting, only give general praise like “Great Job!” instead of a specific message to a student for what they have done a great job doing.

The confusing part about observing someone or yourself is to know what your looking for. The “Power of Teaching” provides a tool designed after a meta-analysis of over 600 national educational studies based on teaching styles. This instrument outlines what would be considered effective or ineffective techniques for specific categories of behaviors. When used correctly it can gather information about things you do during a lesson and the frequency at which you do them. You can then make an assessment of which of these behaviors you would like to target based on the level of impact on you and students. If you didn't do anything with it at all its at minimum great information to have! You received a copy of this form during one of faculty meetings. I have also attached it here.

Since it might be easy to blow off certain ineffective things we do when watching our own lesson, I found the best use of the form is to have the feedback of a peer without any administrative involvement. We not only learn from the feedback, but also learn from watching other professionals.

How comfortable would you be observing a colleague or being observed yourself? I would love to hear your thoughts.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

“Blogging in the Classroom"

I remember my college years at Rutgers (about twenty years ago already!) I would go to the nearest computer center, line up with the other students to sign my name on a roster, and wait for about thirty minutes to an hour until a computer was finally freed up for me to “type” my assignments on a word processor. I appreciated how “valuable” computer time was back then. So... can you guess what I did with my very first paycheck from Montclair BOE when I started teaching? I bought myself a personal computer! Since that time, computers have come along way, finding their places in many more homes and in many more common places. Now I have four working computers just in my home!

Just recently, I did a quick classroom survey of how many computers each student had in their homes. The responses were varied, but one thing was common; Every one of my students had at least one computer in their home! This just proves that all students whom we serve daily come to us from an environment that is permeated with much more computer technology than we were ever used to. And as educators, we must too change the way we teach these children if we are to meet the needs of these students who are sometimes more technologically savvy than we are.

If you remember or read Kristen’s Blog, I made this statement less than a month ago: I am hesitant about starting my own blog due to fear of being judged or criticized.... What if parents post comments about what they don't like in my classroom? Or what if parents ask for things which I can not provide them with? With blogging comes the “unknown territory”, and letting go of "control", which I think is sometimes a scary thing to do as a teacher.

Well, talking about change, I have finally taken up enough courage to face my fears; I have decided to just delve into blogging! Although my blogs are very simple, probably in the simplest form, I thought I would share with you my initial reaction to its use in the classroom. My general reaction is that blogging is not as difficult as I had imagined, and there are many “positives” to blogging that I hadn’t even considered before.

So here are the positives: First of all, blogging creates a learning community where students enjoy and respect reading each other’s views. Blogging has sparked enthusiasm for writing in my students. Many students wrote, “I love writing!” on their blogs. Secondly, blogging creates an authentic audience for children, helping them find their own voices. Students showed signs of "pride" in their work as they shared their posts with each other, their parents, grandparents etc...Thirdly, blogging helps with differentiation. The children who are quieter in the classroom came out of their shells online and wrote their thoughts more easily. This may be due to the fact that there is a much longer "response time". Children can respond to questions in their own time, in the comfort of their own home. With blogging there doesn’t have to be a, “I should have said that before-moment,” because students can write their thoughts anytime after some thinking and reflection of what they want to say. And finally, I believe blogging creates encouragement for reading. Students seemed to genuinely enjoy reading each other’s comments online.

Here is a little example of a blog posted on my Blackboard classroom. I asked a question,“How do you feel about writing?” One student responded by saying, “I don't really like writing. I find thinking of what to write hard.” I replied to his comment, “I agree with you that it's the "thinking" that is the hardest part of writing!” Another student added, “Just try your best, and you'll be fine:)”
This is very encouraging to me, as I see a student responding positively to another. And do you remember my fear for being criticized online? Here is another comment to the question, “What do you like best about third grade?” One student writes, “I love that we get to do experiments that others can't. I like my teacher very much. She's so nice, funny, and FUN!!!!!!!!!!!!! I hope we get to do more science experiments this year! To be honest, I love this school very much since I came here in 2nd grade, there's so much to look to the future in this school. Northeast is the BEST school I've been to ever. And I think Northeast will continue to do great things:)” Now I don't just feel good about this, but I feel great! :)

Certainly, blogging in the classroom is not perfect. It creates one more thing on the already over-abounding “to do list” for teachers. I have to spend time posting and reading children’s posts. Also, through blogging, I have come to the realization that children in the third grade do not know the conventions of writing. My students’ spelling and punctuation mistakes have been my greatest pet peeve so far! Although I do have a game plan for teaching “editing skills” (using their posts/comments), this lesson will be an ongoing process. Teaching editing skill is one thing, but it will be much more difficult to reinforce to students that writing in a published form must require much more attention and thought. I will have to make a conscientious effort to place greater importance on teaching the conventions of writing all throughout the year and keep them accountable to higher standards.

In sum, having a blog for my classroom has required more time spent on my part. But if the small amount of time I spend can add to teaching children to write more authentically, find voices within themselves, and be an encouragement to others writing, I find this time well spent. I am still treading new grounds with this blogging and new fears and questions arise within me. How can I hold my students accountable to some kind of standard before their posting? How can I teach children to organize their thoughts and interest without being too sloppy? How can I teach “Netiquette” so that we can prevent cyberbulling before it ever starts? How do I let the children know that outside of our Blackboard classroom, blogs are less private and less controlled, and one must be very cautious and careful about what is posted?

In the midst of these thoughts, I am carried away to the phrase, “If you can not beat them, join them!” I know that blogging may pose more questions for me to answer, but for now I must go join my students online to post my new question. This week's question will be, “ What is your favorite book and why?” In the meanwhile, I welcome your thoughts on classroom blogs and any ideas and suggestion for its use here on THIS blog. :)

by Kay Whang
3rd Grade Teacher

Saturday, October 9, 2010

“PC + PS3 + PSP + Wii + TV = ADHD” Whatever Happened to You and Me?

Do you ever get the feeling that our kids are over stimulated? Interactive game systems, a television station just for cartoons, Baby Einstein from the moment our kids can see, it’s no wonder that they can’t sit down in classroom anymore without the teacher having to do a song and dance while standing in front of a Smart Board. Do children have quiet “me” time anymore?

I am currently the father of one child. My wife and I are both in education and have several family members with kids. Our discussions recently have focused on attempting to manage the amount of stimulation our child receives in a given day, week, and month. It is a major concern of ours since we can only control it as long as we are around them.

I have a strong feeling that we over diagnosing ADHD in this country. It has become a fad among parents. Simply google this controversy and you’ll quickly see what I mean. Sure, many families would be devastated if they felt that anything was wrong with their kids and many feel that having an IEP is linked to a negative educational experience. However, this diagnosis has allowed hundreds of thousands of parents to take advantage of section 504 of IDEA. It provides the same accommodations that an IEP would and reduces the stigmata that parents fear. Some superficial perks are that these students can have extra time on classroom and standardized tests including the SAT’s and in a competitive “Ivy League” world a little edge never hurt. Also, parents who don’t care to be on top of their children’s homework can fall back on modified expectations. Sometimes I don’t feel that these accommodations are for the students at all!

I raise this issue because I feel like there isn’t actually anything wrong with these students. I believe they are simply the product of an over stimulating home environment. The are spend a majority of their time in front of a flashing, beeping, changing, loud, and draining monitor that fires off neurons until they are almost too burned out to keep their eyes open. Have ever seen the way a child becomes lost within a TV program or game system. You could be right next to them, call their name and get no response. Their brains are so occupied that yes, they have an attention disorder. Place them in a classroom where a teacher is giving a brief lecture followed by a worksheet and you could just imagine what takes place next. “Billy, could you stop tapping that?”, “Samantha, please focus up on the board.”, “Daniel, please sit down.” And the comments are endless. All of this followed by a teacher conference where a self-conscious parent is confronted with a child that doesn’t follow directions. I’m sure it easier to believe that your child has an attention deficit disorder than to except that your parenting skills might have produced a learner who is not conducive to the current day classroom.

I’m in no way implying that technology is a bad thing. In fact I feel quite the opposite. I think that it is something that needs to be introduced to kids as early as possible. However, it needs to happen in moderation and under supervision. Future classrooms will utilize theses devices and students will become apt at responsible usage.

What I am saying is we have to remain aware that when you live in a world where technology appears in the home before the classroom, students will look for new ways to be stimulated in school. In the crossover we as educators need to be cognizant and refuse to allow for the over diagnosis of conditions such as ADHD. Also, as parents and child advocates we should make sure to promote healthy “me” time for kids that doesn’t have a plug attached to it.

What do you think?

By Joe Putrino


Friday, October 1, 2010

A Race For All Ages

Take a good look at yourself in the mirror. Have you ever considered how you became who you are today? Do you consider yourself more different or similar to someone who looks completely opposite of you? Have you wondered how varying races were created; or considered that there may be no such thing as race, just simply the human one? Imagine you have the ability and access to answer every question above; answers that will send you back over 60,000 years ago to one single location on earth!

This is the Genographic Project. A real-time, world wide research project led by National Geographic aimed at using genetic and computational technologies to examine and link DNA samples from populations all across the globe to better understand the genetic history of the human species.

We are just a cheek swab away from participating in this amazing global undertaking. I’m going to explain this the way I understand it, but I strongly suggest you navigate through the links below. The links can provide a much better overview on the process of how genetics are understood, examples of both paternal and maternal lineage test results, and of course, it will clear up the difficult genetic jargon I encountered along the way when I researched this project.

As much as you may conceptually understand in theory that all humans sprung from a single man and woman, have you ever really wondered HOW that happened? If so, why do people look so different from one another? Let us step away from any biblical references for now, but still use the names Adam and Eve as the “first” male and female that we are all genetically linked to. Understand first that “Adam” and “Eve” lived thousands of years apart from one another- the mother of all long distance relationships- so they did not actually create the lineage together. Yet, both Y-chromosome Adam and Mitochondrial Eve (as they are referred to by scientists) are the genetic foundation of every human living today! Although Eve lived about 150,000 ago, much earlier than Adam, I will explain this through the patrilineal line of Adam.

Over 60,000 years ago a male living in Africa (although certainly not the only or first male living there at the time) had fathered children and then grandchildren and so on that became the ONLY lineage of humans to travel and survive outside of Africa. That means that pretty much everyone alive today is a descendent of his, carrying within their DNA the genetic marker M168 (genetic marker- a gene or DNA sequence with a known location on a chromosome that can be used to identify cells, individuals or species. It can be described as a variation which can arise due to a mutation or alteration.). Don’t get caught up in definitions, the links below can provide a better understanding of genetic markers.

So, these descendants of Adam began their trek away from the motherland, some traveled up to the Middle East and over to other regions of Asia. Others traveled through Asia to Indonesia crossing over to Australia (which due to lower sea levels was only a distance of about 60 miles). They survive there for tens of thousands of years becoming what we know today as indigenous Australians. Yet, this is not the only place they ended up.

Descendants of Adam were steadily migrating out of Africa and into places such as the Middle East and so on. Around 45,000 years ago, a descendent of Adam fathered a child with a different genetic marker (a mutation/variation in the sequence), slightly shifting the lineage in another direction, but still a descendent of Adam. Today, about 92% of all non-African males in the world carry this genetic marker M89 (since paternal lineage is tested through Y chromosome which woman do not carry, a woman would need to use the DNA of a male relative to trace her paternal lineage, but both males and females can trace their maternal lineage through mitochondrial DNA testing).

Over the next 40 thousands years or so, the process continued and a random child was born with a new genetic marker that shifted and altered the characteristics of the human species, yet remained linked to Adam. It is these mutations, these genetic markers within everyone’s DNA, that scientists are tracking. This is how you will find out about your deepest ancestral roots.

With the simple swab of the inside of your cheek, you can find out about every genetic marker along your ancestral journey, the various points in history the mutations happened, and where geographically it led your kin. The results explain how they lived, what they ate, how they cared for their young, what tools they used at the time, the estimated population of homo sapiens on earth (there were other species of humans living at the time, such as Neanderthals, but they eventually died out), and what climatic changes they endured. That is just a brief overview though!

I am hoping, with Dr. Putrino’s help, Northeast will purchase several Genographic kits and our staff will participate in this project. I am eager to speak to you all about the process at our next staff meeting. For now, please check out the links below and tell me what you think of the Genographic Project, and if it is something you will want to participate in.

Carole Jecki

Global Studies Coordinator

National Geographic Website:

The Genographic Project - Human Migration, Population Genetics, Maps, DNA - National Geographic

Yes, I needed to read a little DNA for helped so much!


An example of a paternal test result:

Jeff's Blog: My DNA Results Are Out! / Genographic Project

An example of a maternal test result:

Genographic results from my mother’s side « radioAe6rt

A book by Jared Diamond I read in college that is by far the most fascinating explanation of the development of human societies. I read it in complete awe... AND it fits right in with this topic!

Guns, Germs & Steel: Summary and book reviews of Guns, Germs & Steel by Jared Diamond.

Friday, September 24, 2010

What Does It Mean To Be Well-Educated?

Yes, I'm back in school (again) gunning for another degree. I'm presently taking two courses, Organizational Theory and Change and Political Policy and Analysis in Urban Public Schools. It's been quite an experience thus far with discussions that run the gamut of hot topics in education.

A recent homework assignment and class discussion (debate) was based on the article “What Does It Mean to Be Well-Educated?” by Alfie Kohn and further fueled by complex conversations about a topic that may not have any one right answer.

I now pose that question to you… “What Does It Mean to Be Well-Educated?” Kohn suggest that the issue is sufficiently complex, that questions are easier to formulate than answers. So let’s at least be sure we’re asking the right questions and framing them well. It’s this frame that will help us to determine “What Does It Mean to Be Well-Educated?”


1) Point of Schooling...Is it intellectual development; a means to creating or sustaining a democratic society; an economic investment into your future???

2) Evaluating People vs. Their Education...Does the phrase well-educated refer to a quality of the schooling you received, or something about you? Does it denote what you were taught, or what you actually learned (and remember)?

3) An Absence of Consensus…Is it even possible to agree on a single definition of what every high school student should know or be able to do in order to be considered well-educated? Is it to be invariant across cultures?

4) Some Poor Definitions…Are the following factors: attendance, job skills, test scores, memorization of a bunch of facts, indicators of being well-educated?

5) Mandating a Single Definition…Who gets to decide what it means to be well-educated?

6) The Good School… Finally, instead of asking what it means to be well-educated, perhaps we should inquire into the qualities of a school likely to offer a good education?

I have my thoughts, now I'd like to hear yours…

By Samantha Lennon

5th Grade Teacher

Friday, September 17, 2010

What is blogging anyway?!?!

I was racking my brain to figure out what to blog about, when I started to think, “What EXACTLY is blogging?”

I know, I know, I am the technology teacher, I should know everything about blogs! To tell you the truth, I don’t! I have thought about using them with the students, but I realized that I couldn’t do that unless I learned how to use one myself!

Up until last week, I was only following one blog, and it was only because it belongs to my friend. (Google: The Avid Appetite, if you are interested!). Since then, I now follow our blog of course, and an “Elementary Tech Teachers” blog that I found the other day (but I haven’t commented there yet!).

Check out this short video... it may answer some of your questions (if you have the same ones that I did!)

How do you feel about blogging? (Besides the “this is really cool feeling” that a lot of us had with the first post)
Do you follow any other blogs?
Do you think that you may want to have a class blog? How would you use it?

by Kristen McCann
School Technology Coordinator

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Are You Ready to Flip the "Switch"?

Over the summer I had the distinct opportunity to read the book "Switch"by Chip Heath and Dan Heath. In this book the authors analyze what approach produces effective change (switch) in individuals. I found their analysis applicable to administration and teaching. The book discusses our internal motivation being personified as an "Elephant" with a "Rider" on a "Path". The "Elephant" represents the emotional side of us that needs to be connected to change in order to focus its energy towards it. The "Rider" represents the logical, numbers-based part of us that finds comfort in a clear message and organization. And of course the "Path" being the road that needs to be shaped for the "Rider" to guide the "Elephant" down (I know ... sounds very circus-like so far!).

Some of the most compelling highlights of the book were these three points;
  • First, when you are looking to produce change, don't try to change the person, rather change the situation. A practical example from the book is instead of spending endless time trying to convince someone in your house to switch from whole milk to 2% milk, simply only have 2% milk in your refrigerator.
  • A second conclusion was, "Resistance is often a sign of lack of understanding." Too often when we initiate change we run into resistance. This is the logical "Rider" being asked to step outside their comfort zone. The "Rider" will only effectively guide the "Elephant" down the "Path" if they completely understand where they are going and why.
  • The third aspect of the book that I found compelling was the concept of "Bright Spots". You may remember Dr. Alvarez speaking about this briefly during the opening convocation. Sometimes we are doing so much that we don't truly know what works. Finding the "Bright Spots" means to examine your practice, find what works and replicate it to initiate positive change. Unfortunately, our past practice has been when we see a problem we just throw something new on top of what we are already doing (Overwhelming to say the least). The authors of "Switch" would suggest we do not have a clear "Path".
So as professionals, I ask you ... "What do you do to initiate change in your practice?"