Why Teachers Love 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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Doggone Homework

In my school days, I recall making a dishonest, last-ditch effort to explain an English-class delinquency by claiming, “The dog ate my homework.” Perhaps some teachers are gullible enough to believe this bit of gastronomic nonsense. But none of them taught at St Pius X School in Rochester, NY.  That dogs don’t crave student prose, that we didn’t at that time have a dog, and that I hadn’t written a paper for my nonexistent dog to eat—these facts may have robbed my appeal of the confident outrage necessary to make it believable.  Perhaps somewhere, sometime, some hungry dog has eaten a student’s homework.

But I doubt it.

What I don’t doubt, however, is that students may sometimes finish an essay and inadvertently delete it or forget to save it. I don’t doubt this because, yesterday, while working on some SAS Curriculum Pathways materials about saving files, I neglected to … save the file. Few activities are less rewarding than attempting to rewrite something one has just written.  In addition to the waste of time, one always tries (imperfectly) to remember what one has written rather than simply attempting to write clearly. The replacement invariably seems like a tepid version of the original.

Writing Reviser constantly saves student work.

Writing Reviser constantly saves student work.

I’m aware that this story sounds too bad to be true, too imperfectly perfect as an element in this lesson on file management. But unlike the shaggy-dog tale I told as a lad, this blunder (alas) is all too shamefully true. Several coworkers even unhelpfully reminded me that, had I been working in our Writing Navigator rather than my word processing program, I could have spared myself the rewrite because the Navigator would automatically have saved a copy of my file. This fact, though certainly useful to anyone reading this essay, was small consolation to me.

English language arts teachers may benefit from my blunder by sharing this story with their students. Teachers may also find the loss of an essay on not losing essays—or the mismanagement of a file on managing files—as a marvelous example of the literary term “irony.”

Learn more about the Writing Navigator series:

Writing Planner
Writing Drafter
Writing Reviser
Writing Publisher


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Project-Based Learning + Data with #SummerSTEM

At the top of the LinkedIn's 25 hottest skills that got people hired in 2014, you'll find Statistical Analysis and Data Mining. Analytics play an increasingly large role in every industry, driving decisions, change, and innovation. The amount of data collected each year continues to grow as we surround (and adorn) ourselves with more devices and sensors--including the ones on your wrist or in your pocket. This breakaway growth has changed the job landscape and our economic priorities: we need talented people trained to pursue rewarding careers analyzing an increasingly large and complex volume of data.


How do you prepare for this kind of career? Here's one of the best ways to learn statistics: explore subjects that interest you. If you like sports, apply stats to the vast amounts of player and game data. If you want to reduce suffering or promote opportunity, focus on health, education, or employment data. Both Major League Baseball and Doctors without Borders need help analyzing data.

Of course, some students will always shout, "I'll never use that." Even the most earnest teacher struggles to find examples, construct lectures, or give homework problems that all students find interesting.

That's where PBL (Problem- and Project-Based Learning) comes in. PBL offers a model that drives student engagement and improves learning. It also places students in real-world contexts that prepare them for college and careers.

The Buck Institute for Education is a leader in preparing teachers to deliver Project-Based Learning and has been leading the community to develop a Gold Standard for PBL. Watch below as John Mergendoller introduces the Gold Standard.


This summer a group of teachers from Wake County Public Schools is getting hands-on experience at area businesses as part of Wake Ed Partnership's SummerSTEM program. Teachers will be combining their business experiences with their professional development training in PBL to enrich student learning in the coming year.

When the teachers arrived at SAS, they were immersed in a culture of data. Attendees learned the importance of analytics in every field and heard from professionals about the backgrounds and skills needed to work at SAS. Teachers then explored the Energy and Sustainability Industry, learning how SAS uses data to manage sustainability efforts at our Cary headquarters. Our most recent building projects have all sought and obtained LEED certification. Collecting and analyzing data plays a critical part in achieving sustainability.


Teachers launched into a crash course with SAS® University Edition, free for teaching and learning SAS skills (get it here). The course involved using data collected at SAS as part of our sustainability efforts. With their new-found love of (and admiration for) SAS software, teachers worked to design PBL lessons using the sustainability data, a dataset of their own, or Data Depot (1 of 1,250+ free resources at sascurriculumpathways.com).



Summary of teacher presentations. Forthcoming.


Quick Links:

Bob's talk:

Tim's talk:

Danny's talk:

(software) SAS University Edition

(data) SAS Curriculum Pathways Data Depot

(training) 200+ training videos

(community) SAS Analytics U community

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Celebrate July 4th with the guy on the Quaker Oats box!

William_PennIt’s almost July! Time for cookouts, watermelon and... OATMEAL???

Independence Day is the perfect opportunity to remember one of our earliest founding fathers, the Quaker activist William Penn.

Penn came from a powerful Anglican family. In fact, the King of England owed Penn’s father a large sum of money. After his father’s death, Penn negotiated to be repaid with a land grant in colonial America. In 1681, the King's Council granted him an area that spanned 45,000 square miles. They called it Pennsylvania, meaning “Penn's woods.”

Penn wanted Quaker convictions about religious freedom to be the standard for more democratic governing. He created laws that gave people a voice in government, reformed the justice system, and established religious liberty as a core American belief. Thomas Jefferson called Penn "the greatest law-giver the world has produced."

William Penn was also one of the first city planners. He carefully laid out a city that would reflect his Quaker ideals. He called it Philadelphia, which Penn interpreted to mean "city of brotherly love."

Penn designed the city to promote public health and safety.

Philadelphia became a center of intellectual and economic life in the colonies and eventually our nation’s first capital. The city has grown far beyond Penn’s original design, but for centuries his statue above city hall has kept watch over Philadelphia’s growth.

While overseeing the development of Pennsylvania in the late 1600s, Penn proposed a plan to unite the American colonies. The idea was ignored at the time, but 100 years later it was realized in the Declaration of Independence.

So, happy 4th of July! Oatmeal anyone?

Check out this history resource from SAS Curriculum Pathways to learn more about William Penn and the Middle Colonies. And if you are attending ISTE 2015 in Philadelphia, don't miss the Active Reading and Case Study Analysis with a Flip session on Wednesday, July 1, at 11 a.m. to explore similar resources.


Looking for more Colonial America resources? Check these out!
The Stamp Act
The Trial of Anne Hutchinson
The Declaration of Independence: Evolution of an Idea
Colonial Regions: New England, Middle Colonies, and Southern Colonies
The Jamestown Colony
Age of Exploration: Spain and the New World

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ISTE: Summer Learning and an Extra Scoop of #EdTech

The end of June brings summer vacations, ice cream, and lots of time in the pool!  While educators look forward to all of those things, many hold off on their vacations until after they attend ISTE – a conference with an international following and an extra scoop of #edtech!

Why is ISTE so compelling?  The conference offers a wealth of professional development opportunities, workshops, and hands-on sessions.  Educators glean information about #edtech trends and take away ideas  they can immediately implement into their districts, schools, and classrooms.

For example, SAS Curriculum Pathways social studies curriculum specialist Molly Farrow will be leading a session on flipping the classroom: Active Reading and Case Study Analysis with a Flip.  In this session, educators are directed to key passages that students review at home and use to answer case-study questions about historical events, such as the Cuban Missile Crisis.  Educators then “flip” the classroom by using a reading tool that facilitates text analysis in class.
Molly leads another session entitled Interactive Atlas: Making Annotated Maps that Showcase Inquiry,  in which she showcases the Interactive Atlas, just one of the 1,250+ free apps, tools, and resources from SAS Curriculum Pathways. Attendees can see the resource in action and learn more by visiting Booth #105 in the Expo Hall.

Speaking of the Expo Hall, aside from the wealth of knowledge shared at ISTE, there are also many chances for networking.  Not only can educators share ideas and best practices with others from districts throughout the US (and the world), they can network with vendors as well.  A visit to the Expo Hall offers interactions galore!  Looking for a new LMS?  Purchasing new classroom tools?  Eager to discuss professional development plans content providers?  Need high-quality free digital content?  All of these conversations, and more, can be had at the Expo.  (Did we mention that SAS Curriculum Pathways offers FREE tools, apps, and resources for K-12 and beyond?  Find them at Booth #105.)

If you weren’t already aware of ISTE’s allure, we hope you’re convinced now.  Call up your friends and family, let them know you’ll be arriving at the beach a little late, and book your trip to #ISTE2015 today.  Be sure to come by Booth 105 and visit with us while you’re there!  We promise to give you that extra scoop of #edtech - #free.  No catch. Promise.

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Without Order, There’s Chaos!

Have you ever seen a problem similar to this on social media sites?

               5 - 1 x 0 + 3 ÷ 3 = ?

Is the answer 1 or is it 6?* Or did you get something completely different?
Here’s another example.

               6 ÷ 2(1+2) = ?

Is the answer 1 or is it 9?* Or once did you get something completely different.
Here’s another simpler example.

               8 - 5 + 3 = ?

Is the answer 0 or 6?*

As a math teacher, I’m always intrigued by the numerous answers given in the comments. Some people will explain how they reached their answer, and some will not. But it never fails that some are adamant about an incorrect answer. So let’s set the record straight.

The key to simplifying these three expressions is the order of operations. The order of operations is a set of rules or steps that ensures everyone arrives at the same answer given an expression with multiple operations. Have you heard the sentence Please Excuse My Dear Aunt Sally? This has been passed down for years as a way to remember the acronym PEMDAS. Although the sentence may help students remember the acronym, the acronym alone is a bit misleading. PEMDAS tells us to simplify expressions in this order:

  1. Parentheses
  2. Exponents
  3. Multiplication & Division
  4. Addition & Subtraction

Let’s look back at the 3rd example,  8 - 5 + 3 = ? If you answered 0, then you added 5 and 3 and then subtracted from 8.


If you answered 6, then you subtracted 5 from 8 and then added 3.


This is where you may have been misled. Addition and subtraction must be simplified from left to right. Therefore, 6 is the correct answer.

Now let’s look at the 2nd example, Here’s how to correctly simplify the expression. First, simplify within the parentheses. But as with addition and subtraction, multiplication and division must be performed from left to right.


And finally, the 1st example After reviewing the order of operations, are you confident in your original answer? Here’s how to simplify the expression.


So the next time you see one of these posts on social media, remember, without order, there’s chaos!

5 - 1 x 0 + 3 ÷ 3 = 6
6 ÷ 2(1+2) = 9
8 - 5 + 3 = 6

Need more practice with the order of operations? Check out Simplifying Expressions Using Order of Operations.


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Sustaining Student Momentum over the Summer

Students on a traditional calendar usually finish the school year on a high note, brimming with knowledge, skills, and confidence. Summer is certainly a time to recharge, doing things with family and friends. Childhood and adolescence are supposed to be fun, and that is what summer vacation is for.

So... how can parents sustain a student's momentum and still honor the promise of summer? Easy! Simply sprinkle in some content and skills review on the rainy days.

From math and reading apps that support early learners, to virtual labs in biology and chemistry, SAS Curriculum Pathways includes numerous resources that support instructional enrichment across grade levels and subject areas.

Resources like this example from the Spanish Video Series can be a great way to build and retain learning:


Here are some specific suggestions, by subject and level.

Reading and English Language Arts

Read Aloud (ES/MS)
Teach and guide early readers with this free iPad app, which provides access to numerous books with three reading modes: Read to Me, Help Me Read, and Read by Myself.

Punctuation Rules! (ES/MS)
Students identify the most common punctuation marks and their uses and demonstrate an understanding of the basic rules of punctuation.

Audio Tutorials (MS/HS)
Building Sentences
Strong Verbs

SAS Math Stretch app

SAS Math Stretch app


SAS Flash Cards (ES/MS/HS)
Create, learn, and share flash cards with this innovative tool. You can download and play decks in any subject, create new decks in a variety of question formats, and share your decks with others (for iPhone, iPad, and iTouch).

SAS Math Stretch (ES/MS)

This free app provides a suite of activities to develop elementary math skills and number sense – and now includes fractions and decimals!

Audio Tutorials (MS/HS)
Pythagorean Theorem
Basic Probability

Social Studies

Interactive Atlas (ES/MS/HS)
Students can view maps of the world, generate customized maps, and use draw tools to add information.

Historical Narrative Series (MS/HS)
These engaging resources provide full instruction related to historical topics. Here are two examples.
FDR and the New Deal
Columbus and the New World

Audio Tutorials (MS/HS)
Islam: The Five Pillars
The Amazon Rainforest

VLab: Free Fall

VLab: Free Fall


Virtual Labs (MS/HS)
Vlabs such as those listed below allow students to view processes and manipulate components, alter variables to see their roles in processes, or alter reality to discover cause-and-effect relationships.
VLab: Cell Division
VLab: Free Fall

Audio Tutorial Examples (MS/HS)
Energy Flow in Ecosystems
The Immune System


Spanish Video Series (ES/MS/HS)
Designed to build mastery of the language, each video introduces and reinforces Spanish vocabulary and phrases for topics such as seasons, family, and school. (See example above.)

Spanish Writing Tablet (MS/HS)
Students enhance their writing skills with this interactive tool, which includes templates for letters and conversations.

Spanish Interactive Atlas (MS/HS)
Students can use the atlas as an online reference tool or to create individualized maps illustrating demographic or cultural themes.

Audio Tutorials (MS/HS)
Greetings and Farewells
Using the Past Tenses

Looking for more? Education writer Larry Ferlazzo recently highlighted numerous summer resources in his New York Times blog—including SAS Curriculum Pathways!

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Top Five Reasons to Explore! Primary Sources

Explore! Primary Sources is the brand new repository of original text and audio, provided with historical context and comprehension questions to encourage active reading and analysis. The primary-source collection stretches across four centuries. It includes founding documents, Constitutional amendments, speeches, letters, patriotic songs, personal letters, Oval Office conversations, and more. Start practicing for the new SAT evidence-based reading section that focuses on primary-source document analysis.

Here's why you should use it!

1. Read, Think, Analyze.  It is still all about climbing the ladder on Bloom’s Taxonomy, and there’s no better way engage those high-level thinking skills than to tackle a primary source.

2. Wait a minute. Just to be clear, What is a primary source??? Primary sources are original documents, images, recordings, or videos. They were created during the time period you are studying by people who either experienced events first hand or lived through them. So they’re different from textbooks that summarize someone else’s interpretation of an event. Primary sources are original texts open for YOUR interpretation.

According to the National Center for History in Schools:

When we ask students to work with and learn from primary sources, we transform them into historians. Rather than passively receiving information from a teacher or textbook, students engage in the activities of historians — making sense of the stories, events, and ideas of the past through document analysis.

3. Primary sources require active reading. Students apply knowledge of the historical context to gain perspective on the writer’s point of view and begin reading to uncover evidence. Students get to be like a detective gathering evidence to obtain a clearer picture of time period they are investigating.


4. Primary sources are multi media. Reading is only one important way to enjoy primary sources. You can also listen to them! Speeches, radio broadcasts, patriotic songs, Oval Office conversations – these are all primary sources best consumed as audio! Active listening is just as important as active reading!

For example, this audio clip of Lady Bird Johnson portrays the confusion and horror of the assassination of John F. Kennedy.


5. Start practicing for the new SAT evidence-based reading section that focuses on primary-source document analysis.

According to College Board: Redesigned SAT:

For every passage students read, there will be at least one question asking them to select a quote from the text that best supports the answer they have chosen in response to the preceding question. Some passages will be paired with informational graphics, and students will be asked to integrate the information conveyed through each in order to find the best answer.

And don't forget that many of our other history, civics, and economics resources include primary-source documents—and primary-source document analysis! Here are just a few:

FDR and the New Deal
Lincoln and the Civil War
Reformation: Luther's Challenge to the Church
Ancient Egypt: The Social Pyramid
Freedom of Speech in School
The Minimum Wage

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National Poetry Month: It’s a Bigger Deal than You Think

poetry monthEvery so often I like to amuse myself by scrolling through a website that identifies special days, weeks, and months during the year that honor a person, event, product, or virtue. For example, we all know that April 1 is April Fools’ Day, but I was surprised to learn recently that April 2 is National Peanut Butter and Jelly Day. If you are so inclined, you can celebrate Winston Churchill Day on April 9 and National Pecan Day on April 14. And who wouldn’t want to host a party on April 17 for Bat Appreciation Day?


Exploring Poetry about Families features poems by Robert Hayden, Lucille Clifton, and Tim McBride.

April is also a time for commemorating a number of important (and maybe a few not-so- important) occasions. This is Keep America Beautiful Month, but it also happens to be National Welding Month. No wonder, then, that someone had the good sense to designate it National Humor Month as well.

If you love reading or writing poetry, you probably know that April is also National Poetry Month. It was established in 1996 by the Academy of American Poets, whose website calls it the “largest literary celebration in the world.”

Every year, teachers and students are joined by poets, bloggers, librarians, publishers, art organizations, government agencies, and education leaders to honor poetry and the people who create it. The Academy has a free National Poetry Month poster you can order, and offers a list called 30 ways to celebrate national poetry month. Their suggestions range from reading about different poetic forms to signing up for a poetry workshop or starting a poetry reading group.

SAS Curriculum Pathways offers over 60 resources to heighten your celebration of poetry—in April and beyond. Middle school readers might enjoy the poems of the three American poets featured in Exploring Poetry about Families.

With resources such as Lines from Canterbury Tales, high school students can read and study great poems by Shakespeare, Chaucer, Keats, Yeats, and other poets in our English poetry series. Students learn about techniques the poets use to make the sound of the poem enhance its meaning.

Rhyme scheme of the opening lines from Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales.

Rhyme scheme of the opening lines from Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales.

They analyze visual elements and respond to questions in preparation for constructing interpretive statements about the poem.


So National Poetry Month is indeed a big deal. That’s because poetry is, or at least should be, a big deal. To read a great poem, to be moved by its beauty or power, is a remarkable experience worth celebrating year round. Here’s how Emily Dickinson described it: “If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that is poetry.”

Check out these additional poetry resources from SAS Curriculum Pathways:

Exploring Poetry about Nature
Exploring Poetry about Sports
Strategies for Reading Poetry
Latino Poetry Café


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Getting Your Homeschool Account Up and Running

homeschool3SAS Curriculum Pathways is available to all educators and their students at no cost—and that means homeschools, too! As a homeschool educator you can quickly register as a teacher using the online Sign-Up application.

Once you have registered for a no-cost account and verified your email address, the next step is to get your homeschool account set up. This allows you to add your students and get access to support materials. Here's how:

  • Log in with your teacher credentials
  • Click on your name in the upper right corner
  • In the drop down menu, select Connect to your school



It is easy to create your homeschool account and assign your students.


  • Click the blue Connect to my school button and choose your country from the drop down list
  • Enter your zip or postal code
  • Enter a few random letters for School Name to initiate a search. Can’t find my school should appear
  • Click on Can't find my school, and you will see Are you a homeschool? Answer Yes and submit.

And... you are done!

A new school titled your name + homeschool has been added to our records, and your teacher account is automatically associated with it.

Now, select the Student Accounts option from your profile window; follow the instructions to get your teacher sign-up code. This will help you  set up individual student accounts under your homeschool.

If you have previously indicated another school but want to modify that to a homeschool, select the Edit account settings link. When your profile window opens, you will be on the School Info page.

You can contact us directly to request access to support materials. Of course those are free also.

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