Saturday, August 11, 2018

Beginning of the Year Brain Lessons

I like to teach my students a few basic brain facts from the very first day of school. I find the knowledge is empowering for them and can be referred back to all year.

I've taught these lessons to 2-4th graders. They can certainly be used in upper grades too. I'm attaching the lessons I start with, along with links to all the resources. Feel free to use these in your classroom to empower your students' learning as well!

Brain Lesson 1: The Plasticity of the Brain part 1
Brain Lesson 2: The Plasticity of the Brain, part 2, The Pipecleaner Brain
Brain Lesson 3: Effort Beats Intelligence, You Control Your Brain

In April I do Brain Awareness Week with my classes for more fun and in-depth learning about the brain. However, the three lessons above have year-long benefits that just can't wait for April!

Have fun and let me know how it goes!

Monday, May 15, 2017

Making History Real for My Students, Part 4: Chaos Erupts

Get off my land!
Students knew they were in for a challenging day before they even entered the class. Mexico had won its independence from Spain. Now two tax collectors stood at the door to tax students on everything they brought into the classroom (Texas/Mexico) from their homeroom (USA). I led students to believe the money would actually be coming out of their classroom accounts (they have pseudo financial accounts in 4th grade). If they complained, they were taxed for complaining. It was awesome!

But it's my land~!
Once in the classroom they had to visit the Emresario to present their existing Spanish Land Grant for review.  Once approved, students could continue to their land. Unfortunately, they soon discovered strangers (I borrowed students from another class) had settled onto the lands my students already had land grants for. These new settlers claimed Mexico had given them permission to settle the lands, and if my students had a problem with it then they had to go see the Mexican Empresario again.

The line quickly formed in front of the Empresario. However, our Empresario didn't always settle issues in the student's favor. In such a case, students had to travel to see the Government Official (who was in Mexico)...on the other side of the school!

Here we go again...
The government official would find problems with student's paperwork. Students then had to return to the classroom (back across the school) to get the item fixed, then travel BACK to the official again to have their claim resolved. However, by the time the claim was resolved and the students returned to class, there would often be another issue that had arisen for which the kids needed to return to the official.

Once student's frustration level was evident, I took pity on them. We sat down and had a fantastic discussion about what it felt like from the point of view of each role. Students then wrote their journal entries.

Point of View Reflection by Students

I think that what has been happening is so unfair! We have to pay taxes for items that we bring in, they’re telling us what to do, and taking our land away from us! We were perfectly fine before all those people came in and started controlling us. Guess what happened when we were trying to come in. A tax collector was waiting to take money away for our own belongings! I mean who tries to be serious with a pillow hat on? Well as you can see unfair, horrible, and unreasonable things have been happening. If I had a say about all of this, I would kick them out into the ocean and not even think about looking back to help. This is just so unfair. Just thinking it about gets me overwhelmed. Well better get to work so I’ll have enough to pay. P.S. I’m certain that there will be a revolution because people like me won’t let this slide without… something that may stop them. Off to work. Bye.  ~Campbell, a settler
Today I, Empresario Paari, had a horrible time giving people land grants then giving other people the same land plot. They were getting angry and having wars with other people and getting furious at me. They kept bugging me so I eventually let the government handle it. I think they are soon going to start a war or a revolution.  ~Paari, Empresario
KA-KLUMPP, KA-KLUMPP, KA-KLUMP. Today Yasmine (bree), Amitola (Zoe), and I were woken by yelling and the sound of hooves beating the ground like drums.  When I walked out of our hut It was terrible. I saw people fighting and saying, “I don’t want to have to pay taxes to bring simple things like food and water in.  WE don’t want to have to be with the Mexican Government!”. See? I didn’t want to get into trouble, so I listened from a distance, trying not to be seen. I heard them talking about people getting “land grants” and then they were being taken away from the rightful owners. I hope this never happens again.  ~McKenna, Native American
Summing it up
The day was CHAOS. Exactly what I wanted! Students were frustrated and ready to revolt.

The next day we held a debate to discuss a revolution. That debate could be a blog post in itself! The kids collaborated within Google Docs to prepare the sides they argued. Then worked together within the document during the debate itself to stay on top of the arguments. It was amazing!

Next...the Alamo!

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Making History Real for my Students, Part 3: Students Try to Mutiny!

Students' view upon arrival.
Part One
Part Two

Part Three
My students strolled into class to find most of the room (aka their lands) taped off. I quickly informed them that Spanish Land Grants were multiplying, leaving little room for the tribes. They sort of, but not really calmly found room to squeeze all 18 of them in what little space was left. After all, it was supposed to be fun, right? But,  I wanted them to be FEEL the loss of their space. It went better than I expected, in fact, I almost had a mutiny on my hands!
TEKS: 4.2 History. The student understands the causes and effects of European exploration and colonization of Texas and North America.
The initial tight squeeze was doable.

To make them feel the squeeze, I gave them an assignment they had to complete before they could move anywhere else in the room. It entailed a journal entry reflection of how their tribe might have felt about being pushed out of their lands, a timeline of events leading to this moment in Texas history, and the impact of each timeline event on the settlement of Texas.
Finally, an important decision had to be made; they had to decide whether to continue playing the role of a tribal member or change roles and play a settler. They then had to justify their thinking for whichever choice they made.

Things were going swimmingly until the kids began to feel the need to stretch out. First, a foot went over the line, then a book box, next a hand. The infractions multiplied as time went on. Every time I made them get back within their designated boundaries. As time wore on, a couple of boys decided to take a stand! They
The view from behind the Alamo! Notice all 18 4th-graders
squeezed into the front of the room. *The role of Alamo
inhabitants are currently being played by Poppy and Oreo!
wanted to stretch their legs out into the forbidden zone, and by-golly I wasn't going to let them. When I came down on them for repeatedly trying, they actually tried to rally the rest of the class. It was a mutiny! I sincerely thought I was going to lose control for a few minutes. It was AWESOME, they truly felt a measure of the frustration I was hoping for.

Here are some reflections that were written from the point of view of the Native Americans:

  • Today we realized how much land we've lost to the colonists. We were pushed out of our tribal hunting grounds and now we don’t have anywhere to go.  Right now we're very confused because they just walk in and take our land! We didn’t do anything to them so they shouldn’t do this to us. Seriously, I had a life there and they just take it away from me! This is not good, not good at all. ~Campbell
    As space began to feel smaller, the
    boys by the door tried to instigate a revolt! 
  • “NO! You can not have any buffalo!” yelled the Comanche. “We don’t even have enough to feed our own people. Now scram or die, Wolfbone.” I ran out of there as quickly as I could. Those horrible colonists had taken away our land, food, and pride. Now we have to fight each other for what is left. ~Paari (One of my mutiny leaders!)
  • Right now there are hundreds of people coming into the colonies! I don’t know what to do! I recently was adopted into the Comanche tribe and given the improved name, Animaltalker Birdsong. I don’t know what to make of all this, but I do know that I’ll never join a colony. The Comanche were also so kind when I told them what had happened to me, and how I’m one of the last remaining Atakapa tribe members. I still can’t believe that I’m with the Comanche now! ~Haley
At first, most said they would remain a Native American. But as time wore on, more and more gazed longingly at the vast open space that was the remainder of the classroom. The time arrived to make a choice. Here are two examples:
Trading for supplies.
  • I choose to be a colonist because I feel like it would fun, and it makes me feel non-surrounded. I would feel good that we get so much more space!  I finally know how the Native Americans felt. ~Eli
  • The reason why I stayed as a Native American is that all of the tribes are being forced out. I don’t like that, so I am going to stand my ground! ~Clark
Decisions made, the kids happily retreated to their chosen sections of the room to continue class. Being the amazing teacher troll that I am, I strategically split the class with their book boxes in the colonists' area and the laptops in the new Indian Territory. Now the kids have to trade with each other every day to get the supplies they need! They absolutely love the challenge.

Next week in class, Mexico will gain its independence and the pressure will be on our colonists. I've got our existing Native Americans, two Mexican Empresarios, a government official, and a tax collector ready to provoke another mutiny and launch us into our first debate.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Make History Real For Students, Part 2: Upping the Rigor

Part One

Part Two
One by one the students stopped working, peering up in confusion. Our Library Media Specialist (Alison Smithwick) and a Technology Coach (Elizabeth Benno) had slipped quietly into the room. They appeared to be in a boat, and were pointing and pausing to confer and take notes. After sailing down the coast of our classroom, they quietly disappeared.

The blue tape line for de Pineda's path.
Then the fun began! 
Students had to figure out what the strange visitors were doing based on the observations kids made. They were able to infer that our visitors were on a ship drawing a map. It turned out that my tribes had just witnessed Alonso Alvarez de Pineda sail along the coastline of Texas! A fantastic discussion ensued using the following criteria:

Based on your research of your specific tribe's customs, beliefs, and culture, how do you think your tribe reacted to seeing Pineda's ship go by? 

The students' in-depth understanding of each tribe was phenomenal and contributed to the lively discussion. They were thoroughly engaged and ready to write their first journal entry recording the historic event...from their tribe's point of view

    The growing timeline.
  • Today a large canoe made out of wood, crossed the ocean. It was very chaotic. As soon as someone saw it they called a meeting. The women and men gathered around the campfire. As the men argued the women decided it was best left alone. ~Katie

Along with the journal entry, they began a Google Slides presentation within Google Classroom to record each explorer's name, home country, motivation, achievements, and impact (if any) on the settlement of Texas. We then added each event to a timeline with 1-3 corresponding journal entries attached. Each explorer's path through Texas was recorded on the floor with colorful tape.

Mr. Smith as a hungry, shipwrecked deVaca.
The excitement in the room remained high for weeks as kids wondered when the next "explorer" would visit. Cabeza de Vaca came through two times courtesy of our school counselor (and author), Bryan Smith (@kidauthorsmith). This time the major challenge was communication. Students had to figure out what deVaca needed without being able to speak his language or understand his culture. Discussion, timeline slides, and point-of-view journal entries followed each visit.
  • Today a person but not a person came. He was like us but the skin was totally different. He spoke the weirdest kind of language. It sounded like gibberish. This could be the start of something new. What if more come, what if they try to take us? I think I’m gonna just go hide in my hut and stay there in case they do come back. Even though my tribe is kind, how are they going to be kind with this happening? ~ Campbell
A particularly entertaining explorer was Marcos de Niza, played by our principal, Kevin Parker. He
Mr. Parker as de Niza
slammed the classroom door open startling the kids and began demanding in Spanish to know where to find the 7 Cities of Gold. Pictures of distant pueblos were on the wall for certain kids (who were in the know) to point to. When de Niza left in a panic, he flipped one of the boys out of his chair. It was unexpected, the kids loved it and still talk about it!

  • Today a man named de Niza came with Esteban. I was happy to see Esteban while traveling for some meat, but then an arrow struck him in his heart and there was nothing I could do. The other man ran away yelling a strange word: gold. ~Paari
  • Today a new ghost came. Luckily we had our new friends the Atakapa with us, but we couldn’t do anything to stop them from walking right into our camp. He said he was looking “oro” which I don’t know of. He said this to us, “Oro, oro, gold, De Niza.” Now we understood he was looking for the Seven Cities of Gold. We told him that the mountains bathed in sunlight were gold. I hope he goes away. ~Olivia

Mr. Knoerr as Coronado
Another fun explorer was Coronado, played by 2nd grade teacher, Doug Knoerr. He was the last Spanish explorer to visit. As you can see in the following reflection, some students were so enthralled with this activity, they researched and tried to utilize the actual language of their tribe.

  • Today a whole group of ghosts appeared!  Now it seems that they come every year! Before we could do anything, the Chief said to us, “They are hathe (men). You know that even if there are wocpe (ten) of them and only hannik (one) of us, we will win! By the power of the cāmc (wolf), cako (bear), and lāns, let us be safe.” After that, we just had to keep night shifts and carry on our business. The leader sent out two men, and when they got back, they said, “Coronado, we found a beautiful canyon. Sadly, we found no City Of Gold.” The leader got very angry and stormed off with his men. We are safe for now, but the people coming will only get worse. ~Haley

From Mrs. Smithwick to Mr. Knoerr, the school came together to help my students witness history in action. Students responded with high levels of engagement and reflections that went above and beyond expectations. The ownership they displayed for their tribes and territories continued to grow. This makes the next section of the lesson even more powerful.

Stay tuned as students react to their lands being taken away, and others transition into the role of settlers. The perfect recipe for lively debate!

If emotion makes meaning and drives learning, how are we doing so far?

Thursday, January 19, 2017

How I Make History Real for My Students, Part 1

"Hey, Mrs. Dahl. You should let us section the room into our tribal lands," one student earnestly opined on his way out after class. Another chimed in, "And we should have to sit in our own tribe's region!" We had just begun a unit about the Native American tribes of Texas. We spent time as a class building criteria for our reports based on what kids were expected to learn. They had picked groups, chosen a tribe, and would begin research the next day.  My brain immediately went into overdrive with all the possibilities!

The kids loved their taped off areas!
When kids arrived for class the next day, they found the floor sectioned off with orange tape to represent the approximate locations of the tribes in Texas long ago. Students had to stay in their own region (no matter what subject we were working on) unless they got permission from another tribe to pass through their lands. If a student needed something (chair, pencil, etc) that was located in another region, he would have to trade for it. However, in order to trade, they had to know enough about each others' tribes to know what was available to trade. Suddenly, learning about the tribes took on special meaning and students began to research in earnest.

Soon, one group placed signs in its region showing what natural resources and other goods their tribe had to offer. Others rapidly followed suit. In this way, they got to know the location and resources of all the different tribes of Texas. One day the Comanche group realized their tribe was more aggressive, and therefore unlikely to bother asking for permission. They began to roam the room without much concern until an enterprising young man from a bordering tribe raided for some comfortable chairs left unattended. After that, they stayed closer to home.
He traded land for chairs!

Students began to feel a kinship with their chosen tribe. Because of this feeling, the research became more personal. By the time research was finished and the presentations were shared, their depth of knowledge for all the tribes of Texas was sincerely impressive. In fact, they were able to transfer the knowledge of their tribe into point-of-view journal entries that will be discussed in the next installment of this adventure. The reports and presentations all exceeded the criteria of expectations we had set together.

Once the research was finished, students stayed in their regions rather than going back to their usual tables. This worked out very well because they had surprises coming. Stay tuned to see what happens when visitors appear unexpectedly in class as Spanish or French explorers. Then missions appear. Colonies begin to take lands from our tribes. Students journal through it all from the point of view of their chosen tribe's beliefs and customs.

Make history real by giving it meaning...make it personal for more of an emotional connection. Remember, emotions drive learning. Letting students drive how things happen goes a long way too!

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Holy Metacognition, Batman! Have you read this book?

The new book is here! The new book is here!

Anyone who reads my blog knows that I am a big fan of Donna Wilson and Marcus Conyers of BrainSMART. Their passion for teaching teachers about the learning brain is inspiring. I can say with all sincerity that they have had a profound impact on me as a teacher and an individual. So, when I saw their new book, I knew I had to have a copy. 

I wasn't disappointed.

Wilson and Conyers have hit it out of the park again with their new book: Teaching Students to Drive Their Brains. Both teachers AND students need to know that they are indeed in charge of their own brains, IQ is not fixed, and effort trumps talent. This book guides teachers at all levels to make metacognition an integral part of their own classrooms through the use of metaphors, strategies, instructional tips, and sample lessons. Equip students for lifelong success through the metacognitive strategies in this book. You won't regret it!

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Video Reflection Tools for Teachers

I previously posted about the value of using video for self-reflection. The ability to step outside of yourself to evaluate your teaching is something we should all be doing. However, once you get past the initial traumatic thoughts such as: OMG I'm so fat!, That blouse is going in the trash!Is that really how I sound?, or my personal favorite, Did he really just pick his nose and wipe it on that book? Hello trash can!, then it's time to find a focus.

Focus on Questioning

For many years I've tried to fine tune my questioning skills and do less of the talking. Ian Byrd from came up with an excellent tool to track who is doing most of the talking and the depth of questioning. Here is an example of one I filled out:

Here is how you use it. As you watch your video, record every sentence spoken with an S (statement) or a Q (question). Circle the Q for higher level questions. Ian Byrd does an excellent job explaining the reasoning and what to look for in your results on his blog, so I won't go into the details. You can read about this and also download the form free at Byrdseed.

A Next Step

I loved Ian Byrd's tool so much, I wanted to dig even deeper. I created a tool that tracks wait time, depth of questioning, follow up questions, and the ratio of calling on boys/girls/whole class. Here is an example of one of my evaluations where we were going over a chapter in a book.

In the first column I marked every time I asked a question. Circle for higher level questions. I want to make sure I asked several higher level questions.

The second column tracks the wait time. Did you know the average wait time a teacher gives after asking a question is ONE second? That's something we need to be acutely aware of. Some children are slower processors and we want to give them time to generate quality answers.

The third column is for tallying follow-up questions, guiding questions, and making other notes.

The last column is used to track the ratio of boys vs girls called on relative to your class make up. Kids notice these things.

Once you have completed your evaluation, ask yourself what the facts presented say about your teaching. I realized that I did have some one-second waits. Now I am more mindful about that.

You can download this form here.


As you watch your video, ask yourself if you would be want a student in your class. Why or why not? What can you change? Make a reflection tool to track those changes. I will be doing the same for myself.  As I create new tools I will be adding them to a folder for free downloading. Do you have any ideas for me? Leave them in the comments below.

Thank you for reading, and have a fabulous school year!

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Immersive Virtual Field Trips? Rock on!

I got to experience - well, actually watch others experience - Google Cardboard at the #TCEA16 conference in Austin, TX. The reaction of those individuals participating in the immersive Mt. Everest expedition was enough to sell me. My favorite part was when the participants all jumped at once as they all looked over the edge of a cliff that the rest of us couldn't see. That's when I knew I had to have it! I went straight to Amazon and purchased a Google Cardboard for about $17.

If you've never heard of Google Cardboard, it is similar to the old Viewfinders we had as kids. The Cardboard housing is different because it is simply folded cardboard with special lenses. You put your phone in the cardboard and run one of the free Google Cardboard or Virtual Reality apps for an immersive and engaging experience. I will share the apps I use below.

Move forward 2 weeks. Now I'm at school with a group of 4th graders taking a field trip to the Alamo...without leaving the school! We were learning about the Texas Revolution, so the Alamo experience was a meaningful connection. They were able to stand in the middle of the plaza and see ghost walls superimposed over the current plaza to get the feel of the actual size of the Alamo. They were also able to actually look down at their feet to see the possible location of the "line in the sand" drawn by Col. William Travis. This was on the DiscoverVR app.)

Half the fun was honestly watching the kids as they were engaged in the immersive experience. I wish I had a video to share. Below are comments from students about the trip:
It was so cool! I think this can influence and make you dig down deeper because it is fun! It feels like you are really there. It wasn't you talking to us, it was the tour guide people so we were having to listen and think for ourselves. We should do more of this because everyone likes it. Thank you for letting me have this experience. ~J.S.
I liked the Alamo field trip. I liked how you could see everything so it looked like you were actually there. In the video I saw the ghost walls where the borders were.  ~A.S.
Once students experienced the Cardboard, they went home to share the experience with their parents.
A drink holder is a handy device too.
The parents then bought their own Cardboards! Now we have several students who can bring their cardboard/phone setup to school for the next virtual field trip.

Now for the apps. I have used several so far and am in the process of searching for more. The interesting ones so far are:
  • Cardboard, 
  • RollerCoaster, 
  • YouVisit VR, 
  • Street View, 
  • Discovery VR. 
All of these apps are free. I will add to my list as I try new ones. Please let me know of any great ones you find! Additionally, Google is creating some amazing virtual trips called Google Expeditions specifically for educational purposes. Go to the Google Cardboard website to find out more and sign up. I can't wait!