Pit-bull Guide to Powerful Prose

In 2008, I agreed to foster an ominous-looking shelter dog no one seemed willing to adopt. He doesn't have any papers, but a glance at his noggin makes clear that he's not a greyhound or a whippet. He's an American pit-bull terrier.

Although his well-armored head and fence-post neck suggest he was was bred with what Mike Tyson once called "bad intentions," he turned out to be a gentle dog, friendly to people and other canines--although he's so strong that his wagging tail leaves a welt.

I named him Muggs, after a dog owned by the American writer James Thurber, so he has a literary pedigree. After my coworkers met Muggs, they fell in love too.

When it was time to develop some new Audio Tutorials on writing with power, we decided we needed a mascot. Our designer, Karl, was itching to animate a central character. Who better to represent writing power than mighty Muggs! He's so strong you can see the flexing muscles on the top of his skull when he chews a bone or one of my shoes.

So our English language arts specialist, Terry Hardison, decided mischievous Muggs would be the perfect inspiration for students.

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Muggs now has six videos that give students immediately useful information on how to write with power. We focus on topics that students learn best by seeing the principles we describe--not simply reading about them as in most books on writing style. Expressed in unforgettable animations, these ideas make an instant impression on students.

  1. Make sentences more forceful by choosing strong verbs.
  2. Enhance clarity with concrete terms.
  3. Improve precision: cut needless prepositional phrases.
  4. Control sentence structure to invigorate your work.
  5. Say what you mean: link related words.
  6. Stop the confusion: no more misused expressions.

With Muggs, your students can laugh while they learn. So unleash your students! Give them the Pit-bull Guide to Powerful Prose. You'll be glad you did. And be sure to check out our Writing Navigator and Punctuation Rules!

 

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We Need Your Vote: SXSW March 2015

sxswlogoThough the 2015 conference is still many months away, South by Southwest Edu has already opened up voting for the proposals!  This conference focuses on teaching and learning with innovative technologies and practices. At SAS Curriculum Pathways, we want to be a part of the excitement, and we need your votes and social media shares! 

We submitted a few proposals that we encourage you to check out, along with the other 1038 creative topics that have been suggested. However, to present at SXSWEdu, we need your vote! 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!

  • Code across the Curriculum with Young Learners: There is great interest in developing innovative ways to introduce young students to basic programming concepts and computational thinking. This session will introduce participants to cross-curricular techniques designed to engage all young learners. Check out our video here.
  • Love to Read. Learn to Read. Read to Learn: This session presents innovative technologies to help students: Love to Read—through shared experiences that introduce early reading skills; Learn to Read—by developing and guiding fluent reading practices; Read to Learn—by supporting close, analytical reading skills to derive meaning from text. Check out the Read Aloud video here.
  • Mobile Learning is HOTS: Demanded by top companies, higher order thinking skills (HOTS) are often ignored in the formal curriculum. We’ll highlight resources for creativity, critical thinking, communication, and problem solving. We will also discuss strategies for using mobile to cultivate HOTS in our students.
  • Contextualize Learning via Proximity with iBeacons: Indoor positioning and proximity-based contextualization are the latest features in mobile apps. We’ve developed a museum navigation and guide app in collaboration with the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences. It uses iBeacons to deliver a contextualized in-app experience supporting geo-aware interfaces and indoor way-finding.
  • Not Your Parents' Science Museum Audio Tour App: The NC Museum of Natural Sciences is providing an interactive mobile app to guide and engage visitors of all ages and abilities. The aim is to improve the informal learning experience. This app, through use of iBeacon technology, offers high levels of accessibility and a new way of engaging with the museum’s exhibits, an exciting possibility for museums and informal learning.

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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Reading Records just got better!

Since our initial release, we've talked with teachers and reading specialists from across the country about ways to improve SAS Reading Records, our popular, cross-platform solution to running records of reading. The overall consensus: “Wow, this is great, but we want more!” So, here’s what you can expect from the latest version.

An easier way to add students

You can now add students to your class quickly and easily using our new add student tool. Simply enter the student’s name, create a username and password, and you’re done! The student can also log in to any SAS Curriculum Pathways resource with the newly assigned credentials. As before, students that already have SAS Curriculum Pathways accounts can still join your class using your class code.

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Visualizations of students’ performance and progress

We added reporting tools to help you analyze students’ performance and monitor progress over time. Every time you grade an assignment or modify students’ reading levels, a series of graphs and charts update automatically. So, whether you’re interpreting an individual student’s results or comparing performance across your class, Reading Recs now provides all the data visualization tools you need.

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Open-ended comprehension questions

Our library of passages now comes preloaded with open-ended comprehension questions. In addition to the existing multiple-choice questions and passage-retell prompts, you can ask students to type in open-ended responses in order to demonstrate comprehension. As with the other assessments, our open-ended questions can be edited to meet the needs of your students.

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Greater support for classrooms with limited access to technology

Don’t have a classroom set of iPads? Don’t want to fool with student accounts? No problem. Students can now complete assignments right from your teacher dashboard. Just tap the “read now” button, and the assignment will display just as it would using a student account. And don’t worry, when the student is finished, you will be prompted to log in again to ensure your account remains private.

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Built-in demo class for exploring features and sharing with colleagues

Our new demo class allows you to explore and share the features of Reading Recs without having to go through the process of creating a class and asking students to complete assignments. Now, you can simply tap the “start demo” and play around with an existing class of students. Each student in the demo class comes preloaded with pending, submitted, and completed assignments, so you know what you can expect out of this powerful app!

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Additional passages and more!

As always, we’ve added more reading passages to the Reading Recs library—English/Spanish, fiction/nonfiction, and a range of Lexile levels. We've enhanced the overall interface as well. Whether you're creating assignments or filtering the library, we hope these changes make your experience with Reading Recs even better.

Have a suggestion for our next release? We’d love to hear from you!

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We're Going to ISTE 2014!

iste2014The International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE®) is the premier membership association for educators and education leaders engaged in advancing excellence in learning and teaching through the innovative and effective uses of technology in PK–12 and teacher education. Their annual Conference and Expo is the premier educational technology for professionals worldwide. The conference starts up this Friday at

SAS Curriculum Pathways will be there with bells on and a few presentations as well! Be sure to come say hi!

No-cost Tools: Fully Engage Students in the Writing Process

spotlight-navseriesSunday, June 29, 8:00 am–10:00 am
GWCC Murphy Ballroom Galleria, Table 30
Digital Age Teaching & Learning
Participate and Share:Poster

Students track their own learning with digital data notebooks

spotlight-appsSunday, June 29, 12:45 pm–1:45 pm
GWCC B208, Table 3
Research
Participate and Share:Roundtable
Jennifer Sabourin, Lucy Kosturko, Scott McQuiggan

Snapshot 1 of 2: Rolling out high-quality, no-cost resources

pd-tips-tricksTuesday, July 1, 8:30 am–9:30 am
GWCC B314
Digital Age Teaching & Learning
Listen and Learn:Snapshot
Wendy Marshall from Savannah-Chatham County Public School System in Georgia
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How SAS® Curriculum Pathways® Saved a Student Teacher

As a pre-service teacher, one of the most exciting, challenging, exhausting, and rewarding experiences is student teaching. During my student teaching semester, I was placed in a Common Core Math 1 class at a high school in Wake County, North Carolina. I found that as a CCM 1 teacher, understanding the mathematical content is not as challenging as actually explaining the content to students. For example, from my math experience, I had a fairly firm understanding of what it means for an equation to be linear. However, finding a way to describe linear equations to high school students in a way that enhances their mathematical understanding and grabs their attention was a daunting task.

When planning a lesson, I used my Professional Learning Team's lessons as a starting point and foundation for pacing and content order. From there, I turned to SAS Curriculum Pathways for help. In some situations I used the lessons and tools as a reliable teacher-resource to recall the answers to questions such as "What are the characteristics of a monomial?" I found that searching "monomials" in SAS Curriculum Pathways was a more efficient and dependable way to seek an answer to this question than a general internet search. Since the Algebra 1 course aligned with the CCM 1 content that I was teaching, I selected parts of specific lessons to use to teach my students. With the technology that I had access to in my classroom, I found that the easiest way to do this was to show the lesson on the Smartboard and lead the class through select elements while the students took notes on the content and completed example problems.

I also used Curriculum Pathways for inspiration on how to explain math concepts to students. For example, the Algebra course lesson on Functions and Relations features a video that explains the characteristics of the domain and range of a function by comparing domain to people and range to places. I loved this analogy, but I wanted to take the video a step further and get my students involved in the example.

When presenting the concept to the class, I asked for volunteers to come to the front of the room and hold signs labeled as specific locations that my students could identify with.... McDonald's, The Mall, etc. I then called on several students to each pick a location where they wanted to "go" and connected each person to the corresponding sign with a piece of string. This allowed the class to have a discussion about how two people could be at one place together, but one person cannot be at two places at once and how this compares to the domain and range of a function.

My advice to future teachers approaching their student teaching semester would be to find whatever works for you, but don't forget that you never have to start from scratch. There are an overwhelming amount of educational resources online, some better than others. My best lessons came from finding ideas and lessons that were already created and then adjusting those lessons to fit my personality and teaching style. When looking for content support, example problems, complete lessons, visual representations, student assessments, or even just inspiration, SAS Curriculum Pathways is the perfect place to start.

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Walt Whitman on Innovation and Education

walt-whitman--matthew-brady-lIn June of 1855, Walt Whitman set the type for the first printing of his Leaves of Grass. To mark the 159th anniversary of that event, we’ve selected some inspiring lines from the canonical poet who—unlike many of his peers—was a great champion of technology.

There was a child went forth every day
And the first object he look’d upon, that object he became,
And that object became part of him for the day or a certain part of the day,
Or for many years, or stretching cycles of years.

 Teacher, poet, champion of democracy, Whitman extols the boundless potential of the unfettered mind.

I fly like a bird…
I believe in those wing’d purposes.

 Whitman gives poetic expression to ideals of progress and inclusiveness that have long informed our ideals of education and our sense of who we are as a nation.

I launch all men and women forward with me into the unknown…
Outward … forever outward … toward something great …
O days of the future, I believe in you …

Recent innovations in technology promise to make opportunity more fully democratic, offering all students what had been available only to the privileged few. That’s one goal of our work at SAS.

This is the meal equally set …
I will not have a single person slighted or left away …
You shall no longer take things at second or third hand …
You shall not look through my eyes either, not take things from me,
You shall listen to all sides and filter them from yourself.

Innovations are also linking students with the great minds of the past, with each other, and with the resources necessary to shape a more enlightened future. In this passage Whitman celebrates the transatlantic cable, the Suez Canal, and the transcontinental railroad, but one can easily imagine these words being applied to the web—or to SAS Curriculum Pathways.

The earth to be spann’d, connected by network,
The oceans to be cross’d, the distant brought near,
The lands to be welded together … for purpose vast …

Technological innovations are also promoting the “varied carols” of diversity—in the artist and the mathematician, the musician and the architect, the software developer and the historian, the teacher and the chemist.

Opportunity, creativity, cooperation, innovation—all are crucial if students are to meet the unforeseeable challenges in the years to come.

“There was a child went forth” … and in time that child becomes an adult … who also goes forth … on ever more daring and wondrous journeys of the mind:

O we can wait no longer.
Joyous we launch out on trackless seas.
Have we not stood here long enough?
For we are bound where mariner has not yet dared to go …

O my brave soul!
O farther, farther sail!
O daring joy…
O farther, farther, farther sail!

If these lines inspire you, why not create a multimedia presentation that introduces you and Whitman? Our lesson will guide you step-by-step through the process.

To learn more about Whitman and some of the poems quoted here, see our lesson Meet Walt Whitman and Me (QL# 343). The lesson also provides a link to an image gallery so you can get a look at the great gray poet.
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Supporting Middle Grades Data and Statistics Inquiry

The Common Core State Standards have certainly heightened the focus on statistics in math classes. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the middle grades, where the emphasis on data has not simply increased, but increased dramatically.

Middle grades teachers looking for resources to help their students become statistically literate–and meet Common Core State Standards–will find a wealth of resources in SAS Curriculum Pathways. Here are just a few examples of lessons and interactive tools that provide data-analysis instruction and increase student understanding of statistics.

Data Depot

Data Depot contains exactly the accurate, clearly formatted data that teachers need for classroom use.

Data Depot contains numerous data sources for analysis. Students can analyze and interpret data, examine and describe trends, and use data and graphs to estimate values and draw conclusions. Data Depot houses a growing repository of over 25 individual data sources, each configured in multiple formats including Excel and comma-separated values. Also, many of the data sets are accompanied by a corresponding lesson. Using these lessons, students can analyze high school graduation data, investigate the color distribution of M&M'S, and use rate of change to evaluate historical population data.

Another resource to address the standards, the Basic Probability Audio Tutorial, visually introduces students to the question, What is probability? This five-minute instructional video examines how to determine the probability of an event and includes a brief online quiz.

SAS Curriculum Pathways has over 20 additional statistics and data-related resources.

And check out these links to learn more about teaching statistics in the middle school classroom.

Statistics Education Web (STEW)

Guidelines for Assessment and Instruction in Statistics Education (GAISE) Report

 

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Copyright Laws, The Internet, and You {Part 2}

In part 1 of our copyright discussion we looked at asset and copyright basics. Today we’ll talk text assets and some challenges in science and math.

Words Words Words

Text assets nearly always require extra research. It’s a pretty safe bet that the original Chaucer or Shakespeare texts are in the public domain. But what about all those modernized English versions of older texts? Probably not. A good portion of my time is spent tracking down who owns the rights, and it’s not always an easy path. Different sources such as authors, family members, foundations, publishers, estates, trusts, and clearance centers may own various rights to texts. Some rights holders may own the right to print versions while others own the electronic or audio rights. Some may own rights for use in the United States while others may own rights in UK, Canada, or in other parts of the world. (And if you think text rights are complicated, don’t even get me started on music rights!)

In several instances we’ve requested permission to use excerpts from a well-known book, journal, or newspaper and were denied. Rights holders might choose to deny permission because they do not allow excerpts to be used. Sometimes permission is denied because rights holders do not want their text to be reproduced electronically. Other times permission is denied with no explanation at all. Be prepared to go with plan B.

Muggs

Muggs the dog is ours, created by our talented team of designers.

Global Copyrights

We currently write our own texts for Spanish lessons and apps, but I want to touch on translations and global copyright. If we were going to use any third-party Spanish language texts, we would have a number of issues to consider. Just like any other text asset, we would need to request permission. Additionally, if we wanted to translate the text into English, we would need permission for that. Authors and publishers are often reluctant to allow translations of their works. To complicate matters further, if the text is published in another country, we would need to investigate copyright laws of that country. There is no such thing as “international copyright law.” Each country has different copyright laws, fair use rules, and public domain guidelines.

Science

The first place that comes to mind for science images is NASA. While many images posted by NASA are in the public domain, some are not. Learn to look for credits below or adjacent to each image, and read the fine print. For example, images of people could pose a problem. NASA’s Media Use Guidelines state that “if a NASA image includes an identifiable person, using the image for commercial purposes may infringe that person's right of privacy or publicity, and permission should be obtained from the person.”

NASAupdate

We use this highly stylized NASA rendition of the earth's solar system and beyond in Unit 1, Lesson 4 of our Algebra 1 Course.

Math

So what about math? If Pythagoras were alive today, would he be disappointed to learn that he could not copyright his theorem a2 + b2 = c2? That’s right, formulas, facts, and ideas cannot be copyrighted. However, certain compilations of data like some of the sets used in our Data Depot might be copyrighted. Check the legal information for each source and then double-check … which leads me to my next point.

The Lesson to Learn

The bottom line when it comes to copyright: When in doubt, ask! "Publically available" does not mean "public domain." An image or text on a website might be (and probably is!) copyrighted in the same way a book or newspaper article would be. If you want to use an asset, request permission and be prepared to wait. Typical response time from publishers can be 2 – 3 months or even longer. Sometimes you’ll receive no response at all! Always have alternates in mind if the rights holder does not respond, if the response is “no,” or if usage fees are more than you are willing to pay. Bottom line: it truly is better to ask permission now than to ask forgiveness later.

Are you interested in using screenshots, video, or other excerpts from SAS Curriculum Pathways? There’s a process for that! Simply complete our Permission to Use Copyrighted Materials Request form. Sometimes we cannot provide you with permission because of licensing restrictions on third-party assets. However, whenever we can, we will. We’d love for you to be a cheerleader for us!

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Copyright Laws, The Internet, and You {Part 1}

There’s nothing more fun than assets and copyrights. No, seriously... For nearly 16 years I've been locating assets and acquiring the rights to use them in SAS® Curriculum Pathways®. I enjoy hunting down rights holders, locating just the right photograph or video to accompany content written by our curriculum specialists, or, even better, discovering that elusive asset I’ve unearthed is in the public domain! Woohoo!

OK, so maybe not everyone finds copyrights and the pursuit of the perfect asset so interesting. Asset acquisition can be a complex and painful process. I’ve seen my share of asset upsets and copyright woes.

What is an asset and can I use it?

"Abraham Lincoln, half-length, seated, with empty hands," is this photo's official title.

Let’s start with the basics. An asset is an item of property which has value. Assets used in SAS Curriculum Pathways include texts, images (photographs, paintings, and graphics), data, video, audio, software, fonts, and music. If you’ve ever wondered how and where we obtain some of our third party assets (assets not created in-house by SAS), here are just a few examples.

The humanities usually pose the most difficult (and by difficult I also mean fascinating!) challenges. One of the most reliable resources for historic assets is the U.S. National Archives Records Administration. The National Archives includes all U.S. presidential libraries, many of which have their own searchable web sites.

Another favorite historical resource is Library of Congress, which is the largest library in the world. Their collections include

I particularly love this photograph of President Abraham Lincoln from PPOC, which we use in the social studies Interactive Tool, Lincoln and the Civil War.The PPOC’s entry dates the photo as February 5, 1865. This may be the last photograph taken of the president before his death. His craggy face and mussed hair reveal a worn man. The Civil War had clearly taken a toll.

When it's time to dig

So, is everything at The National Archives or Library of Congress in the public domain (free to use without restrictions)? No. Not even close. Each asset must be examined carefully to determine rights status. On some occasions an asset is clearly identified as public domain, but many times rights information is unclear, missing, or unknown. Expect to do some digging.

In our World Literature: Norse Sagas, Albert Goodwin’s The Viking Sea Raiders offers another example of how we use images to enhance interactive content.

SeaRaiders

Students use this World Literature Interactive Tool to examine the narrative elements that characterize medieval Norse sagas

The painting’s muted colors immediately set the tone, and the Viking ships elicit the proper setting for texts to be explored in the lesson. I acquired permission to use this painting from a stock photography company which licenses photographs and fine art. That means the image may be used in our lesson, but since it is not in the public domain and we do not own the image, we cannot transfer usage rights to others.

In part two of this discussion, we’ll talk about text assets, science, and math.

 

Are you interested in using screenshots, video, or other excerpts from SAS Curriculum Pathways? There’s a process for that! Simply complete our Permission to Use Copyrighted Materials Request form. Sometimes we cannot provide you with permission because of licensing restrictions on third-party assets. However, whenever we can, we will. We’d love for you to be a cheerleader for us!

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Edcamp Elon - Building my PLN

As educators, we all need to grow. While not in the classroom anymore, I want to keep in touch with new teaching approaches and the needs of students and teachers. For me, two new ways of doing that are by using social media and attending my first Edcamp.

On Saturday, April 19, I joined organizers and attendees from across the state at EdCamp Elon. It was an amazing collaboration. I connected with teachers in all the disciplines, and I learned from their varied educational experiences. I also had face-to-face conversations with members of my Personal Learning Network (PLN). Although there were no pre-set speakers or keynotes, we heard from some super-star educators whose Twitter feeds and blogs I follow.

This “unconference” allows participants to set the session agenda and engage in informal conversations. This is a fabulous way to learn and share with others and to continue my own professional development.

Building the Board

To start, the Edcamp Elon organizers walked us through the process of selecting the topics that would dictate the day.  We used Padlet to post our ideas, so collaboration and participant engagement were built in from the start. I worked with a math and science teacher, discussing what we would like to learn, and quickly posted our topic.

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Edcamp participants created their own conference sessions!

Next, we raced to the board and set up the schedule. Within minutes, the sessions of the day were on the Edcamp Elon website and available on the Edcamp Elon app. WOW!  Prior to the start of the sessions, we learned two important points:

  • Law of two feet: we were encouraged to move freely among the sessions.
  • Collaborative notes: we used on-time Google docs to add notes and create a takeaway document

I was inspired by this activity. As participants expressed their interests, organizers were quick to respond. Those who didn’t make it to the board were enthusiastically shouting out ideas. One participant volunteered to lead a Twitter chat session. She knew that this was one way we would communicate throughout the day, and she was right. Check out our Twitter frenzy on #edcampelon.

Learning and Sharing

The heart of Edcamps are the sessions. There are three session rotations and a culminating Smackdown where specific resources are highlighted.  I attended sessions on Standards Based Grading and on Learning, Digital Leadership, and Flipped Classrooms. But I wanted to attend many other sessions.  Luckily I could stay connected with what was going on in other sessions via collaborative note documents.

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Within minutes session topics were scheduled and away we went!

I was soaking in a lot of valuable information as participants shared their thoughts and ideas. The meeting-of-the-minds approach is the best professional development that I have had. I never did use the law of two feet. The sessions I attended were so robust I didn’t want to leave them.

Hundreds of Edcamps are held around the world. I am ready for #edcampHighPoint in fall 2014, #edcampNC on Sept 27 and #edcampELON in spring 2015 (note:  #edcampCharlotte  is May 19)! I encourage you to read more about the Web-connected Classroom and My First Edcamp. You can follow the post chats at #edcampelon.

So mark your calendar, and take professional development into your own hands!

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