How do I help my kids with homework in the digital age?

Do you wish you had more time and resources (and patience?!) to help your children with their homework?  Perhaps they’re struggling in a certain subject, need a little extra practice at home, or want additional activities to keep them busy? SAS Curriculum Pathways might be just the answer.

Available at no cost, SAS Curriculum Pathways provides interactive, standards-based tools, resources, and apps in the core disciplines (English language arts, mathematics, sci­ence, social studies, Spanish) for grades K-12 and beyond. SAS focuses on topics where doing, seeing, and listening provide information and encourage insights in ways conventional methods cannot.

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Filters make searching for resources easy!

You can get started by quickly creating your free account and then using the search tools to find resources. In addition to search, At a Glance Documents show everything SAS Curriculum Pathways offers, sorted by discipline, topic, and grade level: elementary (ES), middle (MS), or high school (HS).

Here are some specific examples of how SAS Curriculum Pathways resources can help you help your kids:

  • Do your children need to hone their writing skills? The tools in the Writing Navigator suite take you through the entire writing process: planning, drafting, revising, and even publishing (if you have to create a Works Cited page)!
  • Troubles with math class? Or perhaps you need a little extra practice? View a results list and filter by keyword (geometry, algebra, etc.) to narrow down your results. Once you're logged in, filter by level to find resources for ES, MS, or HS.
  • We also have great resources for reading skills!
    • For early readers, we have SAS Read Aloud.
    • For more experienced readers, we have Strategies for reading nonfiction, poetry, short stories, novels, mythology, science fiction, and many other genres.
  • Need Flash Cards to help you study any subject at all? We have you covered.  You can even build your own flash card decks with any combination of text, audio, and visuals.
  • We also offer apps for iPad and Chromebook to continue learning at home or on the go!
    • Reading Records enables you to monitor students' fluency or assign them passages for practice.
    • Read Aloud is an early reading app with three modes: Read to Me, Help Me Read, and Read by Myself.
    • Math Stretch helps develop number sense with a wide range of activities.
    • Data Notebook helps students monitor their progress with goals, checklists, and histograms.
    • Gloss creates a paperless classroom. Students can send you their work via email.
    • Flash Cards lets you create decks or search thousands of decks in any subject and topic.
    • Writing Navigator guides you through the writing process, from start to finish.

To access all 1,500+ resources FOR FREE, go to www.sascurriculumpathways.com today, sign up, and get started!

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Solving Equations: Is my work correct?

Solving equations and inequalities are essential skills in mathematics. And for many students, practicing is the key to success in solving. As students work on the concept of solving equations/inequalities at home, many think, "How will I know if I’m doing it right?"

One answer is the Practice Solving Series, a collection of math tools that allow students to work through different types of equations while receiving line-by-line feedback on their work. Each tool has a practice mode and a quiz mode. In practice, students can choose from the built-in problem set that varies in type and difficulty or enter a specific problem from their homework set. Students can practice with the Check Work feature on or off.

In quiz mode, students can once again choose from the built-in problem set or enter a specific problem. However, they will not receive line-by-line feedback. Instead their work and correct/incorrect marks are saved to an answer page that can be then be saved, printed, or sent to their teacher.

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The student answer page displays work with line-by-line feedback.

Here are a few examples.

  1. Solving Simple Equations
    With the Solving Simple Equations tool, students practice solving linear equations using the four properties of equality and the Distributive Property.

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    In Practice mode students get immediate feedback.

  2. Solving Quadratic Equations
    Using the Solving Quadratic Equations tool, students practice by factoring, completing the square, using square roots, or using the Quadratic Formula. When solving by factoring, students can use the Split Work Area button to solve each linear factor separately.

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    Splitting the work area allows students to focus on one linear factor at a time.

  3. Solving Linear Systems
    Using the Solving Linear Systems tool, students practice solving linear systems algebraically. Students can determine if the system has no solution, one solution, or many solutions by using elimination or substitution. Students then enter their solutions as ordered pairs, if applicable.

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    Students can manually enter their solution as an ordered pair.

Check out all of the math tools in the Practice Solving Series.

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Move Forward with Backward Design: 5 Ideas for Document Analysis

planner(AKA Good old-fashioned planning)

It's August. A new school year awaits. You can’t plan every minute of the first 100 days of class in the time that remains, so start by designing some strategic scaffolding.

Identifying overall goals is essential to developing lessons that help your students achieve their goals. The buzzwords here are backward design or understanding by design.

I teach history. Chronology is an obvious structuring principle for my discipline, but it helps both me and my students if we attack the time sequence with a loftier goal in mind: getting students excited about reading and analyzing primary-source documents. Reaching a challenging long-term goal like that demands meaningful practice.

Backward design suggests following a logical road map with a key destination in focus. Random acts of teaching and learning will not suffice. The activities presented in daily lessons should be part of a master plan to teach skills essential to primary-source analysis. Outlining a series of activities to use throughout the year goes a long way toward building the necessary scaffolding.

Here are some examples of learning templates designed to provide the focus and depth students need to achieve challenging curricular goals like primary-source analysis:

  1. Set up monthly Paideia seminars. As you are planning each unit, select a primary-source document central to the events and themes of that period. One of my favorites is the 1852 Frederick Douglass speech What to the Slave Is the Fourth of July? Each seminar requires preparation of Socratic seminar questions. Students learn how to provide textual evidence to support the arguments they present in discussions.
  2. Use our online document analyzer tool to practice active reading of primary-source excerpts, no matter the time period or social studies course you are teaching.
    * The U.S. History series explores Anne Hutchinson, the Progressive Era, LBJ and the Vietnam War, and more.
    * The World History series has an exhaustive list, from Enlightenment philosophers to Imperialism.
    * The Civics & Economics series covers topics from the Constitutional Convention to Supreme Court cases.

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    The document analysis tool allows students to identify key sections of documents and construct their own meaning.

  3. Remember, for many students, added clarity comes from listening to primary-source audio, reading out loud, or enacting a dramatic reading of a primary-source transcript. Integrate these activities. Check out this recording of Lady Bird Johnson reading her diary entry about the day JFK was shot.
  4. Engage in thematic time travel. When students are learning about executive privilege debates in the Jacksonian Era, play a clip from Nixon’s 1977 interview with David Frost, defining executive privilege in the Watergate Era.

    Historical narratives include documents and audio clips.

    Historical narratives include documents and audio clips.

  5. Finally, remind students that contemporary primary sources are all around them, and encourage them to write journal entries about the history they are currently experiencing.

 

 

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Information is the Key to Data-Driven Teaching

Information is the Key to Data-Driven Teaching by Lucy Kosturko was originally published on Getting Smart.

Data provides us with evidence to guide future actions. An estimated 46 million people rang in January 2014 by seeking guidance from a smartphone app that gathers health and fitness data. That’s one-third of all U.S. smartphone owners. Quantifying our weight-loss activities helps motivate these efforts and also pinpoints which actions seem to correlate with our goals. With weight loss, it’s relatively simple: if x, then y. If you burn more calories than you consume, you’ll lose weight. Gather data on calories going in and out, use this information to make decisions (e.g., padlock your refrigerator) and you’re set.

Data and Personalized Learning

Data also helps guide educators: the more they know about a student--her strengths and weaknesses--the better they can tailor instruction to fit her unique needs for guidance and support. The Office of Education Technology suggests data points “provide teachers with just-in-time feedback on progress towards mastery of content and allow educators to personalize learning pathways for their students.” Informed by the relevant data, teachers can, ideally, provide a student with the support she needs, at the precise moment she needs it, in the specific formats she requires.

Unfortunately, the formula for academic achievement looks nothing like the simple if x, then y. With education the x represents an ever-expanding host of interconnected factors: parental involvement, parent education, socioeconomic status, early exposure to math and reading, spatial reasoning skills, reading skills, self-regulatory skills, self-efficacy, growth mindset, access to technology… And as research continues to expand, so does the list of dependent variables that affect overall academic achievement. Only in the past decade or so, for example, did we begin to call for increased student access to the Internet in school.

The quality of a student’s education is multifaceted, intricate, and interdependent. While high-stakes, summative assessments are often the focus of student evaluation and school accountability, they tend to provide only a peek into students academic performance. In other words, making informed decisions about a child’s education, data collection is much more complicated than tracking calories burned versus calories consumed. It’s easier to get skinny than it is to get smart.

From Data to Information

To paint a comprehensive digital picture of a student’s academic profile, one would have to collect far more data than mere mortals could evaluate. In other words, we’d have a deluge of data, but no information; a series of numbers, but no actionable conclusions; we’d have chaos, without Edward Lorenz’s theory to help us recognize the data’s underlying order. Too often, the result is not enlightened action, but paralysis. After creating daily assessments and then administering, collecting, and organizing the data, teachers have little time left for critical analysis and even less for integrating lessons-learned back into instruction.

Thank goodness for computers: collecting, organizing, analyzing, and displaying data is what they do best. Let’s walk through daily, data-driven instruction made easy for one of the most important skills students learn during their K-12 education: reading comprehension.

Running Records

For early reading instruction, elementary school teachers frequently use running records, which are viewed as a particularly informative data point. In fact, the most effective reading teachers report using running records in their day-to-day instruction. In addition, research consistently supports their impact on early literacy achievement. The breadth of data yielded by running records and other tools (such as comprehension assessments) allows instructors to make informed decisions about specific components of reading that need targeted instruction, the student’s independent and instructional reading levels, and how to form reading groups for guided reading.

However, conducting and collecting running records for an entire class can be time-consuming, rendering them almost impractical in today’s busy classroom. Teachers must sit down one-on-one with each student, listen as students read aloud, and jot down any errors or other behaviors the student makes while reading, without asking the student to stop, slow down, or otherwise stray from their natural reading cadence. After completing this cumbersome, error-prone activity, the teacher sums up the errors, calculates a series of formulae, and analyzes the data by piecing together the various components. Based on this analysis, the teacher is finally ready to make informed judgements about the best instructional course of action for this student.

Phew. One student down; 25 to go. Even the most well-intentioned, well-organized teacher will struggle to to consistently make data-driven, strategic, instructional decisions.

Scanned Document

Luckily, many  classrooms now have mobile devices and, thus, access to SAS Reading Records, a FREE digital solution for conducting running records. By complementing guidance from in-service reading specialists with research-based best-practices, this tool allows educators to gather, evaluate, and analyze data about students’ reading development without cutting corners or compromising precious class time. By recording students as they read aloud, SAS Reading Records maintains the integrity of the data produced by running records. This flexible tool also includes several features to the traditional paper-and-pencil method, further enhancing the benefits of the assessment.

Real-World Impact

Educators have been quick to appreciate these benefits. Consider the following from a teacher at Riverview Elementary School in Raleigh, NC:

I've started giving students weekly assessments through SAS Reading Records and rewarding those who score well. This motivated students to take the assessment seriously, and now they know making a good score is not as complicated as they feared. I choose the Lexile, and the students choose the book. As their' reading levels grow I increase the lexile. This process gives me feedback a lot quicker than sitting in front of each child for progress monitoring. SAS Reading Records found us at the perfect time. The students were starting to mumble and grumble before we began to use this app.

I’ve chosen a single example here to make a key point: apps such as SAS Reading Records do not reduce the complexity of reading comprehension, they equip educators with information, not just data. That distinction is crucial to the goal of supporting data-driven teachers.

Not quite if x, then y, but a lot closer. Now, go take a walk, and think about what I just said. Your fitness tracker will thank you.

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We Need Your Vote for SXSWEdu 2016!

sxswedu-logo-300x159As in years past, the South by Southwest Edu annual conference truly values the opinions of the community. To this end, the conference uses Panel Picker to gather input on what sessions should make it into the final program. The SXSWEdu mission is to drive innovation in everything related to teaching and learning, which you will see is reflected in the many program submissions. We at SAS Curriculum Pathways have been very busy this year, we're excited for the opportunity to share our own innovations with the SXSWEdu community. But in order to do that, we need your votes and social media shares! 

Among the 1,250+ submissions to SXSWEdu Panel Picker this year, we submitted a few proposals that we encourage you to check out--and vote for! Anyone can vote; it takes only a minute to log in and give our sessions a thumbs up. Here are our proposals. Thank you for your vote and for sharing this with your friends and colleagues!

  • Write Local: Research suggests writing achievement can be increased by providing students with authentic, problem-based assignments with a real-world purpose & audience. WRITE LOCAL leverages crowdsourcing technology to create a scalable repository of authentic, problem-based writing prompts. Local businesses add to the repository by submitting letters of need (authentic problem solving tasks) along with supplemental informational documents. Students then research, plan, draft, & submit their solutions back to the local business in one central space. As a result, students not only acquire relevant content knowledge, but they also gain an understanding of the type of tasks professionals in their area perform everyday.
  • A Year in EdTech Life: The Student Perspective: We hear a lot from teachers and administrators about successful implementations of edtech, but what is the student experience really like? We’re spending the 2015-2016 school year following a diverse group of students across grade levels and tech implementations (1:1, BYOD, device carts). In this session, we’ll talk about what activities students find engaging, what components they remember and reflect upon, and what they think the biggest benefits and challenges of edtech in the classroom really are. We'll explore differences by grade level and type of tech implementation. We will also highlight areas where student experiences mirror those of their instructors, and places where they see things very differently.
  • Get Coding in Your No, Low, or High-Tech Classroom: Programming is one of today’s most sought after skills & consequently a beneficial skill to introduce to students of any age. However, getting started in this relatively new discipline can be daunting. There are also many misconceptions that K-12 computer science (CS) requires a large tech budget, a classroom full of iPads and robots, and a nerdy tech teacher. In this session, Lucy Kosturko and Jen Sabourin will dispel those myths as participants share their experiences with CS instruction & discuss strategies for teaching the fundamentals of coding. We will explore ideas for integrating coding instruction into no-, low-, and high-tech environments & show how CS can be implemented with varying levels of expertise & access.
  • Research & Innovation in Mobile Learning: Higher-order thinking skills (HOTS) are in high demand. Mobile learning offers resources for creativity, critical thinking, communication and problem-solving for today’s classroom. In this mentoring session, Scott McQuiggan, director of SAS Curriculum Pathways, is prepared to discuss: 1) strategies for using mobile learning to cultivate HOTS, 2) themes discussed in our recent book, Mobile Learning: A Handbook for Developers, Educators & Learners, and 3) lessons learned in the development of free edtech. The mobile learning marketplace can be overwhelming. How can we help educators & parents with limited time and resources decide which edtech will help their particular students build appropriate skills?

SXSWEdu offers some of the most leading edge ideas for learning. We’ve been inspired and have left Austin each year with renewed vigor for providing innovative educational products and finding new ways to engage students in their learning. We are hopeful we’ll earn a voice to present at this year’s conference. Thanks for taking the time to read, vote, and share!

 

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Curriculum Pathways: All New for You!

We hope you are loving the changes we've made to the SAS Curriculum Pathways site. We gave you an overview of the new features earlier this week, but let's dive deeper into some of the ways we've added personalization to help meet your specific needs.

Capture2The biggest change in this department is the new user home page. This houses everything specific to you and is a great place to start whenever you're using SAS Curriculum Pathways. The first thing you'll see is your recent activity. This is a quick way to see what resources you've been using as a refresher or to get back to them quickly. If you want to see a longer history, check out the Recent Activity tab where you can browse your activity for as long as you've been a user!

Another thing you'll notice on your home page is recommended resources. These are resources we think you might like based on your recent activity, whether they're on a related topic or are often used together by other users. Hopefully, these recommendations can point you to some interesting resources you didn't know about.

Savvy users may also have noticed that we've replaced our old "Favorites" with "Tags." Tags let you mark resources you want to come back to again—whether you've used it and love it, or just saw it and want to remember to check it out later. You can also use labels to organize your tags in whatever wayredesign-tags makes sense to you. You can create labels for lesson plans, content areas, or your different classes. Resources can have as many labels as you like so feel free to get creative! You can also add notes to help you remember what you liked about a resource, how you plan to use it, or anything else that comes to mind. You'll be able to see all of your tags on your home page, but you can also see and filter by tagged resources from search to help find what you need.

We hope you like our new personalization changes, but we don't plan on stopping there. Now that you can rate resources, we'll be able to use those ratings to provide more tailored recommendations. We also would like to make it easier for you to find resources that align to the standards you're most interested in, and we're looking into more ways to personalize search results. We'd love to hear from you about the changes we've made, what we've got planned, or any other ideas that would make a better experience for you!

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Notice Something Different?

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If you've visited the main SAS Curriculum Pathways website recently you undoubtedly noted that it has changed—a lot! This is the first major rework of the site in almost five years, representing the vision and hard work of a talented team of designers, developers, testers, and content specialists.

The upgrades and improvements to the site are both immediately obvious, like our new logo, and buried deep in the code, like the new search algorithms. Let’s take a look at the highlights.

Optimized for your devices

First up, we optimized the overall website to work equally well on a computer, tablet, or phone—a big advantage for those who plan technology integration on the go. And our new search filters enable you to easily find resources that match your available platforms.

Personalized for you

We've added personalization features, including a customized homepage for each user, which includes full activity history and recommendations that help users find resources related to their interests, including resources they may not have known about. When you first log in to the all new SAS Curriculum Pathways, you'll be prompted to tell us more about yourself so we can further enhance your experience.

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Improved search features

Another major change better aids users in finding the resources they're interested in. Search has been expanded, improved, and perhaps more importantly, personalized. Right in the search results you can see resources you've used, liked, and that work for your classroom and the devices you have available.

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Users can also use “tags” to mark favorite resources or highlight resources they’d like to visit in the future. They can organize their tagged resources into meaningful groupings such as content areas and lesson plans with notes to help them remember important information about each resource.

Comments and ratings
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Another exciting addition to SAS Curriculum Pathways enables users to share their ratings and comments about individual resources. Teachers can assign star ratings to resources and provide comments; students can indicate whether they "Like" a specific lesson, tool, or app. Over time, these ratings will prove invaluable as users browse search results looking for the best fit for their students and their curriculum.

Get started today!

This quick overview has only hit the high points of the new SAS Curriculum Pathways. Remember too that all of the great content, over 1,500 resources, is still available (for free). And new resources are on the way!

So find some time and poke around. Use the upgraded Search tools to find new resources, and be sure to check out our new recommendations. Rate and comment on your favorite resources so we can help share those with the community!

Most importantly, after you've taken a look around, let us know what you think. As always, user feedback is the most important factor driving our development.

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How to get started with the Writing Reviser Add-on for Google Docs

 

The Writing Reviser add-on in Google Docs.

I’m sure most students would agree that writing well—especially writing well for a variety of purposes—is not easy. On any given school day, a student might be asked to analyze a poem by Emily Dickinson, to construct a lab report following a science experiment, or to explain the historical importance of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. Regardless of the task, student writers face the daily challenge of expressing themselves clearly and forcefully.  As Mark Twain noted, “To get the right word in the right place is a rare achievement.”

Here’s the good news: SAS Curriculum Pathways now offers a free add-on that Google Docs users can install to help them revise and edit their writing. This SAS Writing Reviser add-on includes tools that help students make their sentences more economical, varied, powerful, and clear.

There’s more good news: it’s easy to use. Just follow these steps:

  1. If you have not already done so, install the SAS Writing Reviser add-on from Google Docs.
  2. Once the add-on is installed, choose Open Writing Reviser from the add-on menu.
  3. If you do not already have a SAS Curriculum Pathways account, choose Sign Up and create one with your Google login information.
  4. Once you have a SAS Curriculum Pathways account, you can select Log In and follow the instructions to approve the add-on.
  5. You will now be automatically logged in to the Writing Reviser add-on and can begin using the tools provided.

Of course, the SAS Writing Reviser add-on will not analyze the poem for the student, and it certainly won’t conduct the science experiment or evaluate Lincoln’s speech. But the tools will provide student writers with the information they need to begin to think like a professional writer and to express their thoughts more clearly and effectively. And they might just find that getting the right word in the right place will become an achievement that is not so rare after all.

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5 Projects for Your Project-Based Learning Classroom This Year

5 Projects for Your Project-Based Learning Classroom This Year by Lucy Kosturko was originally published on Getting Smart.

I run. By no means do I call myself a “runner,” but I enter races now and then. That means I train—a couple of miles on weekdays, long runs on the weekend. Some training runs are fast and enjoyable; most are slow and sluggish. Come race day, though, I’m quickly out of the gates, annihilating my training pace as if I could run for days. Why? The obvious answer is adrenaline. But what makes a race different? What gets that juice flowing?

Cheering crowds around each corner. Audience and purpose. The finish line.

A race has meaning.

Meaningful Assignments

This concept of meaning also applies to the classroom. Completing a writing assignment for you, my teacher (audience), to get a grade (purpose) is like a training run. You might receive some exceptional essays, but most will lack passion. And this is exactly what the research shows: providing students with a purpose (other than getting a grade) and an audience (other than their teacher) significantly improves the quality of their work across multiple dimensions.

Now consider problem-based learning, or similarly, project-based learning. PBL contextualizes learning, gives it a greater purpose. Students must acquire content knowledge themselves—not through the less-engaging method of direct instruction. Thus, students guide their own learning, add their own meaning and experiences, dig into the material, and actively engage with the content. More importantly, students, not teachers, learn to answer the dreaded question: When will we ever use this stuff?

PBL Lessons

Devising PBL lessons takes determination and time. A lot of time. Teachers must manage several moving parts and devote a significant amount of class time. Teachers put a lot on the line to engage students in even a multi-day PBL lesson; some of the most effective take weeks to complete.

Now, consider planning. Teachers must first conceptualize the problem or project, which is more complex than it sounds. Essential PBL elements, according to the Buck Institute for Education, include authenticity, student autonomy and choice, optimal challenge, and sustained inquiry (i.e., identifying a problem that “involves an active, in-depth process over time, in which students generate questions, find and use resources, ask further questions, and develop their own answers”).

Next, teachers must identify the components. What tools and resources should be available to the students? Which elements should the kids explore and find?  How do you balance autonomy and choice while curating resources sufficient to challenge students without overwhelming them? Where do you find such resources?

In sum, planning a PBL lesson is intimidating.

PBL Resources

To reduce that intimidation, SAS Curriculum Pathways provides a one-stop shop for supplementing PBL lessons…for free! From complete lessons to interactive tools and resources, the product is a PBL gold mine. You’ll find more than 1,250 PBL ideas and hundreds of standards-aligned PBL lessons in the five core disciplines, each equipped with guidesthat include learning objectives, assessment rubrics and keys, and a detailed procedure.

5 Project Ideas

Take a look at this jazzy lesson on Structure and Form in Sonnets, Ballads, and the Blues. In this project, students gain an understanding of poetic structure, devices, and themes by assuming the role of a composer. Pre-made handouts guide students as they establish background knowledge, define key terms, and explore a vetted list of research websites. Students even take a Blues Road Trip while listening to original pieces and reading biographical sketches of essential musicians.

Amped-up on their research and adrenalized by self-reflection, students rip on their digital Gibson guitars in apps like GarageBand and tell their own stories. And remember, this is only one of the hundreds of PBL lessons ready to plug-and-play in any classroom.

Have your own creative ideas? Curriculum Pathways also has supplemental tools and resources. Here’s a few for your classroom this year:

  • Write Your Congressman. You’re concerned about the water quality in a local stream. Your community has several manufacturing plants, but which plant is doing the most harm? To identify the culprit, use the Stream Ecology Virtual Lab, part of a series of laboratory simulations that help build STEM expertise. Then open Writing Navigator and compose a letter to your local congressman with recommendations based on your findings.

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  • Homesteading Hal. Your neighbor, an aspiring organic farmer, is ready to leave city life behind, buy some land, and open his own organic farm. Where? He’d love your advice. Using the Organic Farms in the U.S. data set available through Data Depot, a repository of more than 50 cleaned, downloadable data sets, create a heat map to help Sam make his decision. Other available resources include blank PDF maps of the U.S. in the Interactive Atlas and Gloss, a mobile app for creating pictures and marking up PDFs.
  • Food for Thought. Your local grocery store would like to create a public service announcement about the average price of food. Consulting the Cost of Food at Home data set in Data Depot, create an infographic using Canva; graphically display what adult men, adult women, and a family of four can expect to pay monthly for food.

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  • Shake It Off. Several earthquakes occurred from 2012-2013; the Academy of Seismologists wants to know why. Map the earthquakes by using the Interactive Atlas (available in English and Spanish) and the data set onEarthquakes in Data Depot. Are there patterns? If so, can you explain them? Finally, using Writing Navigator, write a report for the seismologists explaining your analysis; use evidence from your map.

PBL and Long-term Impact

Problem- and project-based learning lessons stay with students for years. They talk about them with friends and family. In the classroom or on the track, training exercises are easy to forget. But the races, the runs to which we attach meaning and purpose, the ones with something at stake—these stay with us forever and expand our understanding of who we are and what we can become.

Training versus racing: It’s the difference, as E.B. White says in another context, between planetary light and the combustion of stars.

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Why Teachers Love Pluto

pluto

The Facts about Pluto

You've heard the news: NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft has released the first images of dwarf planet Pluto. Dwarf planet? What does that mean? It’s smaller than any other planet. It’s even smaller than many of the moons orbiting other planets, including Earth.

Pluto has more similarities to the terrestrial planets (Mercury, Venus, Earth, and Mars) than its neighbors, the gaseous Jovian planets (Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune). For this reason, scientists believe that Pluto did not originate in the solar system, but was somehow caught in the sun's gravity.

Here are the basic facts:

  1. Pluto is so far from Earth that scientists have known little about it until the New Horizons mission.
  2. Pluto's orbit is unlike the orbits of other planets in our solar system, all of which orbit the sun in a near-circle. Pluto’s orbit is oval and tilted.
  3. Pluto has five moons: CharonStyxNixKerberos, and Hydra. Charon, the largest of the five moons, is about half Pluto's size.
  4. In 2006, Pluto's official status in the solar system changed from "planet" to "dwarf planet."

To learn more about Pluto see Characteristics of our Solar System.

Pluto as a Symbol for Students and Teachers 

Pluto is mysterious, unexplored; we want to know more about it. As teachers, we also want to learn about our students’ talents, their unique personalities, how to motivate them, how to pique their interests. We're enthusiastic about transforming students’ thinking by offering new concepts and skills. Not only does Pluto represent the unknown, but like Pluto, our students come to us with mysterious qualities we are challenged to unlock and understand.

Boy with telescope looking at stars

When Pluto's status changed from "planet" to "dwarf planet" many people protested. They claimed the vote was unfair since a small percentage of the world’s astronomers participated. This action was viewed as a demotion, a rejection based on size. Pluto’s planetary status is thus not just a scientific issue but a cultural one. After all, didn’t we learn “My very educated mother just served us nine pickles: Mercury – Venus – Earth – Mars – Jupiter – Saturn – Uranus – Neptune – (Pluto).” Now that old sentence doesn’t make any sense!

Science aside, for some teachers, leaving out Pluto has a symbolic feel, like leaving out one of our students. We work so hard for the underdog students that part of us can’t help but root for the underdog Pluto.

Pluto's status as a dwarf planet inspires love. Signs of that love are evident in all the “Save Pluto” merchandise, such as t-shirts, bumper stickers, mugs, and other items. Symbolically, Pluto’s distance inspires us to advance space exploration technology. If we put forth the effort, we can bring back truth from the frontiers. Discoveries by Hubble and New Horizons give humanity hope for the future.

Hope for the future, isn’t that why we are educators?

You can encourage students’ curiosity about Space Exploration and STEM Careers by sharing a copy of Reach for the Stars.

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