Expressive Synergy: Writing Navigator + Punctuation Rules!

Two of our most powerful interactive tools—Writing Navigator and Punctuation Rules!—become even more powerful when used in tandem.  Indeed they are designed to be used that way.

Both products use natural language processing, so they respond to each student’s own work, not generic examples in which the student has no investment.

  • Writing Navigator helps students develop, organize, revise, and finalize the content of their essays. Our aim here is not prescriptive: we aren’t trying to teach rules; we’re trying to get students to ask themselves the kinds of questions experienced writers ask automatically—at every stage of the writing process.
  • Punctuation Rules! targets mechanics in an innovative way: for each punctuation mark, we provide a short, informative, and engaging audio in which a student and a teacher seriously but playfully discuss the proper use of, for example, commas with main clauses. Primed by that discussion, students then complete a series of practice sentences of gradually increasing difficulty on that same topic. By the end of the Practice section, students are composing their own sentences, and the tool is evaluating their work.  Students then take a quiz to demonstrate their mastery.

Puctuation Rules

So how do you combine these tools, one of which focuses on creativity and the other on correctness?

“In the past, when teachers graded student essays, they would refer the student to a handbook for each punctuation mistake,” says Terry Hardison, SAS Curriculum Pathways Specialist in English language arts. “The student would dutifully look up the rule, see a couple of example sentences written by someone else, and then (generally) make the same mistake on his next paper.”

“In our approach, the student does enough examples with her own work so that she understands the rule in a way she wouldn’t if she’d consulted a textbook,” Hardison adds. “Mastering punctuation is not difficult, but the topic has been approached in ways that tend to guarantee failure. Our approach avoids the familiar pitfalls and makes the topic engaging. And, trust me, that’s not easy with punctuation marks.”

“To make the learning process as efficient as possible, we numbered every rule in the product and in the teacher’s guide,” Hardison says. “Thus, when teachers grade a paper, they can simply write the rule number next to the error and students can go directly to that problem and not have to sit through a comprehensive lecture on every possible permutation of a given punctuation mark.”

Try using these two products in tandem, and let us know what you think. We trust you’ll reap dual benefits: increased creativity and improved mechanics.


Post a Comment

Teleport Your Spanish Students!

Jumper cables, safety goggles, rubber gloves, a charmingly mad scientist, an endearingly animated and naïve student, a dangerous-looking contraption for “teleportation,” a boondoggle of frayed electrical wires—this unlikely mélange forms the set for our Spanish language videos—which follow the adventures of Miguel Del Mundo and his sidekick, Sabo.

“Our primary objective is to teach Spanish fundamentals in a standards-based and pedagogically sound manner,” says curriculum specialist Mimi Stapleton. “But we also wanted a format that would engage students and make them want to repeat the contextualized dialog of the characters—all of whom are native Spanish speakers.”


The development team’s effort showcases the work of Karl Prewo—a graphic designer willing to push the envelope of the conventional education video. When you spot wind turbines on the opening screen, that’s a hint that you’re about to enter a wonderful Cervantes-like world, complete with a windmill chasing Don Quixote in Miguel and a longsuffering Sancho Panza in Sabo.

To engage young learners, Prewo chose to liven up this already lively duo by combining conventional video with animation. So the team shot carefully choreographed scenes of Miguel—played by Broadway actor Tito Hernandez—in the SAS studio, leaving blank spaces Karl later filled with his animated Sabo, whose scripted conversations with Miguel were recorded later by the talented local actor, Esteban Vargas.


Actor Tito Hernandez in front of a green screen that will be digitally removed later so he can be inserted into the final animated scene. Note the black object standing on the wooden stool: it represents where the animated Sabo character will be in the final scene and gives Tito something to look at while he performs.

“We never knew for sure how successful we’d been until Karl and our marvelous SAS sound engineer, Glenn Arthur, assembled all the pieces,” says project manager Donna Faircloth. “The team was always extremely excited on the days we reviewed their work.”


Backgrounds were created in Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator, and then the scenes were hand-animated using Adobe Flash. Each character consists of multiple pieces (hands, arms, torsos, heads, mouth shapes, etc) that are linked and then moved about on the screen to create the animations.

How successful were they? “My son Sean was absolutely mesmerized by your videos,” says Colleen Painton of Rochester, NY. “He watched them over and over on YouTube and quickly began to repeat complete sentences—with a much better accent than I could have taught him! The format was perfect. He loved the way Sabo was 'teleported' to various Spanish settings. He loved the adventures and the humor. But most importantly, he really wanted to learn.”

Thus far, the team has completed seven videos, with more to come. Check them out. We think you’ll join Miguel in calling them “¡Fantastico!”

Post a Comment

Walk the Walk (and other #digcitweek highlights)


What an awesome week! We have followed, and participated in, so many great conversations about the important work of teaching students how to interact responsibly and productively with technology. We hope you've enjoyed our series of posts and tweets about digital citizenship; we would love to hear any experiences or tips you have about teaching tomorrow's digital citizens.

A few important points resonated this week, through conversations or posts we found. It is interesting to us that the most salient points have implications for teachers and students--and the community at large. We are all students of digital citizenship lessons; we all can learn something to make our use of the internet more responsible, more productive, and more respectful.

Walk the Walk

One key point we heard again and again was that educators (and adults in general) need to be cognizant of their own digital behavior. There was a lot of discussion about the concept of a digital footprint—the culmination of all of our online activity, all of which could be found without our consent. A good way to conceptualize this is to think about suddenly becoming widely known through the media but unable to speak for yourself. What is the story your online persona would tell? How could the pictures and tweets and interactions online publicly be construed to portray you? Do they paint an accurate picture?

Serving as an educator implies many responsibilities, one of which is serving as a role model to students. We all need to recognize that the idea of separate personal and professional digital footprints—that is, two distinct footprints—is all but non-existent today. Consider the interconnected nature of social media outlets and just how much privacy locking accounts gets you. Simply admonishing students to be aware of their own digital footprint is not enough if a teacher then tweets something unkind, something damaging to her own reputation. Not only does this set a bad example, it also gives students tacit permission to follow these hostile or self-destructive role models. If the teacher does it, why can't I? As Leslie Pralle Keehn (@LPralleKeehn) noted this week:

"When you Google yourself, what do you find? Are you walking the walk?"

In most cases, being thoughtful and deliberate in what you share is a better course than relying on the often false sense of security that private accounts provide. Most teachers grew up in an education system devoid of social media, at a time when "digital citizenship" wasn't even a concept! Writing for Edsurge, Aliza Aufrichtig perhaps put it best when she noted that Digital Citizenship is an Opportunity for Educators and Students to Learn Together.

Critically Evaluate Sources

Teaching kids to dig deeper on internet "facts" to evaluate sources and copyrights is another key part of digital citizenship puzzle. As educators and adults, we must not blindly re-tweet and pass on information. As each tweet becomes an indelible part of your permanent digital footprint, make sure you read the whole article and evaluate the sources before re-tweeting and thereby personally endorsing the content.

But don't just take our word for it, Abraham Lincoln himself apparently  had strong thoughts on the issue:

abe lincoln
Think Before You Post

Cyberbullying and inappropriate digital interactions are a sad byproduct of social media's prevalence. A strong digital citizenship education can strive to overcome these problems. Digital citizenship curriculum lessons often focus on the fair and kind use of social media, asking users to think before they post updates, asking students to consider, "Will this make readers feel jealous, or will it embarrass my friends?" or "Could this update be seen as over-sharing details that no one cares about?" While some of this might feel mundane or even outside the purview of traditional school curriculum, navigating the rocky and uncharted waters of the social internet is challenging for students. They benefit from clear guidance and good behavior models.

"Think before you post" is a simple, strong mantra to follow. This video, available on Commonsense Media's Digital Citizenship website, outlines basic rules for students of all ages. It's an excellent guide to begin a discussion on how to share the appropriate amount of details in a safe way while considering the reactions to a post.

Use The Power of the Internet for Good

The well-documented power of social media and the internet is a huge gift to today's students, providing unprecedented levels of information and the ability to communicate instantly. The obvious next concern is how will this power be used?

For educators, this means participating in social media. If you have a blog, read other blogs and comment on them, share them, and interact. The beauty of the social internet is the ability to have valuable interactions with others; this depends on each participant's willingness to give and get information. The more educators in this information ecosystem, the better! We (@SASEducator and right here on the blog) love being part of it and are learning how to contribute more and more. We challenge each of you to use the available resources and platforms in ways that lift up others, help others, and communicate truth.

Last Thought: Every Week Should be Digital Citizenship Week!

While it is vitally important and exciting to have a week focused on digital citizenship, educators can't stop there. Digital citizenship needs to become an ingrained, inseparable part of the curriculum for today's kids, at every grade level. Every week should be digital citizenship week because students need varied skills and ongoing support to stay safe and prosper.

All week, we've been inspired by your creative insights. We look forward to continuing to share #digcit resources we find (via twitter and our Pinterest board) and to hearing what works for you.

Post a Comment

Fighting Plagiarism in the Digital Age


One of the most frustrating problems writing teachers face in the digital age is the ease with which students are able to cheat by copying online text and passing it off as their own. We all know the story. A student needs some help with an essay about, say, blood imagery in Shakespeare’s Macbeth? No problem. He just types the appropriate terms into his favorite search engine, and, voilà, up pops more than 150,000 entries to choose from. Why bother trying to figure out what text needs to be documented and how to go about it? And besides, who’ll know if he borrows just a paragraph or two?

researchNote (2)

Writing Publisher includes this MLA citation tool.

The solution to this problem requires much more than a plagiarism checker. We first need to teach students what the word plagiarism means and identify the actions that lead to this form of intellectual cheating. Then we need to give them tools and resources that help them understand when and how to use the work of others and that make documenting sources clear and painless. Learning about creative ownership and giving credit are all elements of digital citizenship (for instance, this lesson for 3-5th grade via Common Sense Media). It's a topic many adults struggle with as well, as copyrights and ownership of resources on the Internet have all become issues after they graduated. (Check out this post and this post for some help on copyrights.)

SAS Curriculum Pathways offers resources that do just that. For example, one lesson helps students answer the question “What are strategies for avoiding plagiarism?” Students learn to recognize plagiarism, understand why it’s wrong, explore specific strategies (e.g., paraphrasing, quoting, citing) for avoiding it, and practice those strategies using a short biographical text about Maya Angelou.

In addition, our Writing Navigator series features tools that guide students through the writing process and help them manage their research, including the proper documentation of sources. Students can access information about collecting and using information from primary and secondary sources; documenting those sources using the Modern Language Association (MLA) style guidelines; and, again, avoiding plagiarism. And to help make the documentation process easy and efficient, we provide a research tool that students can use to collect information from sources and generate an MLA-style Works Cited page along with internal parenthetical citations.

These are just two of the SAS Curriculum Pathways English language arts resources that can promote and support students’ efforts to become good digital citizens.


Post a Comment

Our favorite resources for teaching digital citizenship

It's Digital Citizenship Week and Connected Educators Month, so in today's post we're focusing on how connected educators can teach digital citizenship. (Phew, is that enough buzzwords for you?) One of the best resources for teachers is the internet. And with the increased prevalence of mobile devices in education, internet access is expanding. We know that "too many resources" can also be a problem, and there are more than enough helpful sites to guide Digital Citizenship lessons. Here are some of our (FREE) favorites:

  • Common Sense Media: This site has loads of content for all grade levels, from posters to music videos to a full curriculum of digital literacy lessons. This is a great place to start any digital citizenship lesson.
  • YouTube: To say that YouTube offers a plethora of video resources is a severe understatement, as it currently facilitates the viewing of 6 billion hours of video every month ("an hour for every person on Earth", their site notes). They also have YouTubeCurriculum, a channel that offers videos on staying safe on YouTube, guarding your reputation and staying legal on copyright issues, to name a few. YouTube is often victim to blanket bans in schools, as there are many not-safe-for-school videos on the site, so this digital citizenship lesson is definitely useful.
  • Pinterest: Curating your own board of resources is nothing new to teachers. Pinterest's social nature enables easier discovery of tried and true educational resources, and teachers can easily see pins of many thought leaders in the digital citizenship space. Searching Pinterest can lead to new lesson plans, websites, and ways to reach students. We've started a digital citizenship board. Do you have one? Let us know, and we'll follow you!
  • Edudemic: You'll find resources for teachers and students, almost all of them with a focus on keeping everyone legal, safe, and informed. There are many useful guides and blog posts we've found, and almost all of them highlight an aspect of digital citizenship.
  • Teachinctrl: Provided by Cable in the Classroom,  this site offers lesson-oriented information under several digital citizenship sub-topics (such as privacy and media literacy), each with a video and supporting lesson materials.

Also, for extra credit (to talk like a teacher!), taking part in Twitter Chats is an exciting and different way to explore the digital citizenship space. We invite you to join us in tomorrow night's #digcit Twitter Chat (to be moderated by @EdTechSandyK) at 7:00pm EST Wednesday. Join in and answer questions; you might even pick up some wisdom from other connected educators. 

So what are your go-to resources for teaching digital citizenship? Which blogs, pinterest boards, twitter handles, and hashtags are most helpful to you? Comment, or Tweet @ us @SASEducator!

swimming pools


Post a Comment

Using devices vs. Using devices to learn


A common fallacy in educational technology is the assumption that since kids know how to use phones better than their parents do, they also know how to use them to learn. Almost any educator can tell you this is not the case. Technology often wins in the battle for students' attention in the classroom, which has led to skepticism about the educational role of devices and the rise of "no cell phone zones."

However, we argue that banning technology is a disservice to today's students--those students who will be expected to use technology productively and efficiently in higher education and the workplace. Digital Media Specialist Mimi Ito notes, “We tend to see [mobile devices] as a distraction from learning because adults aren’t participating in [formalizing the process]… It’s a bit of a chicken or the egg problem. They’re not participating in shaping the kind of influence these devices [could have]. By embracing mobile devices in our classrooms, we empower students in the learning process.” 

Teaching digital citizenship, as opposed to avoiding the issue altogether, is the key to preparing our students for tomorrow's expectations and creating the difference between using devices and using devices for learning.

The fact is this: students are using and will continue to use mobile devices, which begs the question:  If they’re using their mobile devices anyway, why not encourage and teach productivity and responsible use? Instead of fighting against the educational technology movement, we suggest proctoring and monitoring the use of mobile devices, bringing them out of the backpack and, more importantly, above the desk. By restricting the use of technology in schools or categorically blocking certain websites, we are missing two valuable teaching points: 1) the responsible use of mobile devices and 2) the power of mobile devices for productivity, engagement, and higher-order thinking--all of which have been identified as beneficial outcomes of educational technology.

Above the Desk

With respect to the first, students use mobile devices outside of the classroom and this use is rarely monitored; therefore, by ignoring mobile devices in the classroom, students are not learning the potential dangers of their actions. Through technology programs, students can also learn when, where, and why mobile devices are appropriate--discovering how to use them for productivity, knowledge, and academic communication, not simply for informal communication and games.  Class discussions can develop on unfavorable outcomes, which can ultimately lead to smarter use of technology and fewer security issues as students internalize the principles for what is appropriate to share and how to make those decisions independently. Responsible digital citizens also exercise better judgment about sharing on social media sites, reading privacy statements, and evaluating the security and validity of websites.

As far as educational benefits, the use of technology in the classroom has had significant impacts on students' learning and performance. In interviews with classroom teachers, we often hear, "There's just something about technology that engages students." For example, John Silverthorn, an elementary school teacher, notes his students seem “more intrinsically motivated” when they use devices in class, empowered by seeing the connections between the material they’re currently studying and other things they’ve learned or connections to their non-academic lives. More rigorous research studies complement these anecdotes, citing technology for increased collaboration, interest, engagement, productivity, and teacher creativity.

For those of your thinking, "yeah, this sounds good in theory," consider these experiences from educational technology veterans. Leaders from Forsyth County Schools in Georgia state, “We have noticed that disciplinary issues regarding technology have been down since the implementation of BYOT [Bring Your Own Technology]. It is surprising in some ways how normal it seems with the devices in the school.” Similarly, teachers at Oak Hill Local School District find, “students text less in class when they have the opportunity to text their friends in the hall.” When it does occur, off-task and inappropriate use provide a great opportunity to teach students the difference between the use of mobile in professional and casual settings. Finally, Educational Technology Specialist Michelle Bourgeois found that “once devices were in the hands of teachers and students there was far more potential for creativity and student empowerment than district officials had imagined. The district has been working to get out of the way of that generative energy.”

Teaching digital citizenship is a necessary companion to any educational technology initiative. While there are certainly many things to be wary of in the digital age, there are also many useful and robust resources that can help students. With digital citizenship, it's imperative that teachers begin with the intention of turning their students' smart phone and technology skills into productive learning skills--and understand the difference between using devices and using them to learn.


Post a Comment

Why Digital Citizenship Matters

It’s Digital Citizenship Week! This week we will be featuring a series of blog posts on the topic of digital citizenship, and we want to hear from you. Please comment, interact with us on Twitter (@SASEducator) and Facebook , to tell us what is working in your classroom and your home. digcitweek-graphic-748x707-01

When schools make the move to include mobile devices in their classrooms, there are necessary logistical changes – increased infrastructure, professional development for teachers and policies surrounding how the devices can be used and maintained, to name a few. A major philosophical area for schools to include in these changes is digital citizenship. Students have high levels of smartphone and tablet ownership and access, and they seem to know what they’re doing with mobile devices. But does that mean they know how to handle themselves responsibly in regards to privacy, judgment, social interactions and balancing the real world with screen time? This delineation between digital fluency (using a device), and digital literacy (responsible, productive interactions with the technology) is what's at issue here. All of these issues, which didn’t exist 10 years ago in the formal classroom setting, are encompassed under digital citizenship and should be explicitly discussed.

Just as schools teach students to be good citizens of the world – arming them with knowledge so they can go to college, get a job and understand their responsibility to society – the imperative for teaching digital citizenship becomes greater and greater as mobile devices become more prevalent. Teaching kids to remain safe and secure on the internet, to understand the impact of actions online, and to communicate responsibly – these are just a few of the vital topics under the digital citizenship umbrella.

Common Sense Media has been the pioneer in providing guidance and resources on digital citizenship, and they offer eight guiding categories. These will guide our posts through Digital Citizenship Week on this blog: 

  • Internet Safety
  • Privacy and Security
  • Relationships and Communication
  • Cyberbullying
  • Digital Footprint and Reputation
  • Self-Image and Identity
  • Information Literacy
  • Creative Credit and Copyright

These categories guide and categorize the resources available on Common Sense Media’s website, but serve as a good mental model of all of the areas for development in today’s children. As teachers and parents are figuring out how to keep their private data secure and how to interact responsibly with friends and colleagues, students are figuring out the same things, only with much less knowledge of the world and digital fluency. It is, therefore, hugely important to formally educate students on how to use their mobile devices productively and ensure their online actions today do not ruin their future opportunities.

What does your school do to teach students about digital citizenship when they use computers and mobile devices? What do you wish they did?

Post a Comment

Strategies for Reading Nonfiction

Gustave Flaubert said that we read in order to live. Common Core State Standards in English language arts are a bit less poetic than Flaubert, but they make something of the same point. They identify reading as a foundational skill and require students to analyze complex nonfiction texts to determine the central idea, the development of that idea, and the use of specific details. Students are also required to summarize the text.

SAS Curriculum Pathways offers a nonfiction reading tool to help students meet these standards. The tool guides students through the entire reading process. More specifically, the tool helps students predict what they will learn before they start reading, modify those predictions as they read, identify key details and phrases, organize main ideas, draw conclusions about what they have learned, and write a summary.


Strategies for Reading Nonfiction - Quick Launch #1265

Students can enter their own text by cutting and pasting, or they can select from a wide range of nonfiction materials included in the tool. These include essays (e.g., on pets or movies), autobiography (e.g., by Ulysses Grant or Frederick Douglas), biography (e.g., on William Shakespeare), history (on Mark Twain or muscle cars), a letter (e.g., by Teddy Roosevelt) or news articles (e.g., about Harry Houdini or Jack London).

After choosing their text, students work through a four-part process. In the Predict section, they write answers to two short questions before they start to read. In the Identify section, they update their original answers so that they can compare their responses before reading and after reading. In the Organize section, they use a built-in feature to categorize the main ideas in the text. They also highlight and paste key phrases under each category and write a brief statement about the import of these phrases. Finally, in the Assess section, they write a series of conclusion statements and summarize the entire nonfiction text.

Students can then save, print, and email their work—as directed by the teacher.

SAS Curriculum Pathways also has a series of tool-based lessons on reading complex nonfiction texts. Topics range from Mendelian genetics to the My Lai Massacre, from income taxes to stream ecology.

We also have “strategies for reading” tools on poetry, science fiction, short stories, novels, biography, mythology, epics, folklore, and drama.








Post a Comment

When News and Science Collide: Studying Ebola

Sometimes the best learning activities are those that happen on the spur of the moment, helping students understand the world around them in real time using an event in the media that captures their attention. The challenge, of course, is lesson planning on the fly. And here is where SAS Curriculum Pathways can come in quite handy.

The social studies Web Lesson How the World Views the News was created for just such moments. Using this lesson, students research coverage of a news event in online international media sources to gain different perspectives. The lesson includes links to U.S. and international news outlets; students use their research to create a map related to the event using the Interactive Atlas.

Important news events often meld elements of science along with politics, history, and geography. The current Ebola outbreak provides an excellent opportunity to combine several SAS Curriculum Pathways resources, providing a multi-disciplinary look at the problem.

Start by using two related science audio tutorials to gain an understanding of viruses and disease transmission. Each audio tutorial combines a short video with an online quiz. They are equally suitable for individual or full-class instruction and provide a printable version of the quiz.

Audio Tutorial: Viruses


Audio Tutorial: The Immune System


After this introduction to the science behind the news, students can apply their understanding to the current Ebola outbreak using How the World Views the News, completing the lesson’s Comparing Media Coverage activity and creating a customized map using the Interactive Atlas. This combined activity would have equal value in a social studies or science course, and the materials are easily differentiated for middle or high school.

Taking a day out of your course pacing guide is tough. But there are times when students’ interest in a subject, given the right materials, justify such a detour. Don’t miss the opportunity to tie core learning to the real world, something all teachers strive for in their planning.

SAS Curriculum Pathways has additional resources in science and social studies related to disease and disease transmission for further investigation if time allows.

1918 Pandemic: Global Reach of the "Spanish" Influenza
VLab: Disease Dynamics
Lab: Simulating Disease Transmission


Post a Comment