5 Ways to Teach How the Brain Learns

Ramona Persaud on episode 211 [A special encore episode] of the 10-Minute Teacher Podcast

From the Cool Cat Teacher Blog by Vicki Davis

Follow @coolcatteacher on Twitter

Today Ramona Persaud @ramonap director of the film, Grey Matters, talks about how we can teach kids the way the brain learns.

Check out the free resource: Goodbye Teacher Tired: 5 Days to Doing Fewer Things Better from Angela Watson. Save time. Teach better.

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Enhanced Transcript

5 Ways to Teach How the Brain Learns

VICKI: Today we’re talking to Ramona Persaud, @ramonap

producer and director of the documentary, Grey Matters. http://www.greymattersdocumentary.com/ Now, Ramona, in your documentary you really take a look at how we need to adjust teaching to how the brain learns. So today we’re going to talk about five ways to adjust our teacher to how the brain learns. And if teachers want to know more about this, they can take a look at your documentary, Grey Matters. So Ramona, thanks for coming on the show and what is your first way we can adjust?

RAMONA: Vicki, than you so much for having me. I think the first thing teachers need to realize is if a brain is stress the brain isn’t learning. So if you have a kids that’s come into class who had an argument with his mom or missed a meal or didn’t finish his homework, or you can insert whatever potential stress that could have occurred in many of our student’s lives, they have very complicated lives.


So they show up to class and you go, “Okay, great, we’re here. We’re going to do erosion, we’re going to math” except your students may physically be in your classroom but they’re not focused on what you’re doing. And as a teacher, it’s important to kind of realize and go, “Something is going on with this particular kid and I need to figure out how to get them back to the classroom.

VICKI: That is so true. They come into my classroom already on the ledge ready to jump. And you can’t teacher a jumper, you have to get a jumper to step back from the ledge.

RAMONA: Absolutely.

VICKI: What’s your second one?

RAMONA: The second one would be realize that the brain is a patterning organ. And so when you’re teaching something new for example, you need to find something that that student already know so they can map it on to it. So if you were to meet someone new and you were explaining something you would say, “Oh, it’s kind alike.” So you’re trying to find something they know already. So in teaching terminology it’s sort of mapping the new knowledge to the known knowledge. And you’d see this a lot, you have a kid from a different culture and you’re saying – how do I explain this American holiday, for example?

You dig down to kind of go where is that similarity, that connection that the student is going to make?

VICKI: Absolutely. I had a professor in college, Dr. Adler, who called it the information conversation process. And he says you don’t just take information – it’s not attached to everything else. You collapse it on everything you already know. So we do have to relate it, don’t we?

RAMONA: Yes. It’s the only way it’s going to stick. And once you kind of help the student make that connection, it resonates with them and they will recall it better because they’d think, “Oh, it’s kind of like when Miss. Davis said…” And so they have this thing to map it to because they have a situation and a circumstance or some broader context to fill that information into.


VICKI: So we don’t want the brain stressed, we want to understand that the brain likes patters, what’s our third?

RAMONA: Third one is to realize that our brain is changing. I think when I was a kid, and certainly lots of teachers said the same thing which was, you use 10% of your brain. And I always thought, really, because there’s a whole 90%, what do we do with it, then? And the reality is our brain is changing. So as we continue to learn, we make new connections, we are consistently changing – I’m changing my brain right now, I’m doing something new.

So it’s important for a teacher because I think if you have a kid who struggles in your class, the thing is, that kid has failed more tests than they have passed. And it’s tough for them to realize, I can change this outcome. One of the kids I worked with in the film was a high school senior and at the beginning of the year she says, “I hate school, learning is not for me, I don’t know what I’m going to do, maybe I’ll go in the army. I just don’t know, learning is not for me.” And she repeated this. And the problem was she was a [poor tester] and she had some challenges.

But by working with the teacher, [Jeremy Matler], but the end of that school year she had made honor roll twice. And that is mind-blowing. She had no idea she could do that.

VICKI: So you mean growth mindset? Is that what you’re meaning by brain changing?

RAMONA: Basically, as you’re learning information, you’re literally creating nuance and dendrites. Anything that you learn is going to re-wire your brain. The problem with the struggling student is you have to overcome this idea of no matter what I do I’m going to fail. But if a teacher can recognize that, “Oh I see you’re struggling. How do I help you find a difference way?” So then you go back to the patterning. Okay, well, we need to find some different patterns. Okay let’s remember our brain is changing, we can change our brains.


So remind that student that nothing is set in stone. Yes, you’re not getting it now but let’s try these different things to help you get it. And it’s kind of a bob and weave situation for teachers because – okay, you’re not getting it, you get it, you’re not getting. You know what I mean? So you have a classroom of students with different abilities and how do you meet them all where they are?

VICKI: That’s a challenge. Okay, what’s our fourth?

RAMONA: Your fourth one is this idea of repetition and teaching for mastery. A lot of folks will talk about this rote learning and “oh, we don’t need to have rote learning.” Except, you need to have a lot different ways to practice new material which is where mastery comes. And the key is to not have it feel like repetition. So here you are, 3rd grade, you are learning fractions. Okay, here are the basics of fractions, we’re going to try it with geometry, we’re going to use it with measurements. And you go through all of these different ways where as you’re still teaching the same foundational concept but you’re doing it in different ways.

VICKI: So it’s really that we do need repetition, we just don’t need monotony in repetition, we need to repaint in a variety of ways.

RAMONA: Exactly.

VICKI: What’s our fifth, Ramona?

RAMONA: And so your fifth way is to look at the ways in which we assess. So we all have to have ways to check and see are students getting it? It doesn’t just have to be the one single test. It doesn’t just have to be the ABC or D. maybe you can do a project in a classroom, maybe you can do a portfolio. The more the kids have some choice in this, the more engaged they are.


So to go back to the assessment piece – assessment is extremely important and we do need to know that they’re getting it but let’s not make it only a test. Let’s find different ways to do it, let’s make a game out of it, let’s do a play in history. History is very open to plays for an example. Let’s get them out moving if it’s geography type – but let’s find different ways to have them show that they have learnt the materials.

VICKI: Well, teachers, it’s really an exciting day because all of the neuroscience that’s really studying how students learn. And yes, there’s so many things we already understand as teachers but I think there’s some important pieces that we have to remember here that Ramona shared, if we’re going to be that remarkable teacher we all want to be, that the brain does get stressed and we have to be careful about it, that the brain is a pattern organ and it needs those relationships, that the brain is constantly changing. But our students also have to understand that their brain can change and be open to learning, that we have to repeat without being monotonous and we have to assess in a variety of ways.

You know, remarkable teachers, this is just great teaching. The documentary is Grey Matters. And Ramona, thank you for being on the show.

RAMONA: Thank you so much for having me, Vicki.

[End of Audio 0:09:59]

Bio as submitted

Ramona Persaud is an independent documentary filmmaker and founder of Change the Lens Productions. Change the Lens Productions specializes in social issue documentaries that are both entertaining and thought-provoking, nudging viewers to examine their life, their perspective, and their overall world view in the context of the stories they’ve just viewed.

GREY MATTERS is Persaud’s second film; the first, IT’S A DIFFERENT WORLD, explores the world of autism through the eyes of three autistic children.

Blog: http://www.greymattersdocumentary.com/

Twitter: @ramonap

Disclosure of Material Connection: This is a “sponsored podcast episode.” The company who sponsored it compensated me via cash payment, gift, or something else of value to include a reference to their product. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I believe will be good for my readers and are from companies I can recommend. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.” This company has no impact on the editorial content of the show.

The post 5 Ways to Teach How the Brain Learns appeared first on Cool Cat Teacher Blog by Vicki Davis @coolcatteacher helping educators be excellent every day. Meow!

from Cool Cat Teacher BlogCool Cat Teacher Blog http://www.coolcatteacher.com/e211/


Winter holiday activities (13 ideas!)

Do I have enough wrapping paper? – Students estimate the size of a gift and decide if the given wrapping paper is going to be enough.  Finally they try to create a rule for determining enough wrapping paper from a present’s dimensions. 6.EE.A, 6.G.1, 6.G.4, 6.G.A, 7.EE.B, 7.G.6, 7.G.B, HSG.MG.A.3, MP5

Holiday movies – Students compare the highest grossing Holiday movies of all time.  Rounding, fractions, percents, and choosing the most appropriate graph. 4.OA.3, 4.NBT.3, 6.SP.4, 6.SP.5d

ChefAndrewYeo&nutcrackerGiant Macaroon Nutcracker – In 2013, Chef Andrew Yeo, built a giant macaroon nutcracker in a Boston hotel using given amounts of ingredients. Students try to figure out how much of each ingredient I will need to make a similar but much smaller macaroon nutcracker. 3.MD, MP.1, MP.2, MP.3, MP.4, 6.RP.3, 7.G.1, 7.G.6, HSG.MG.A.1

Christmas tree lights – Students first guess how many feet of lights would be required to decorate this tree.  The class finds the mean and median of those guesses.  Then they brainstorm and refine their guesses. Lastly they figure out how large a tree would require 1,000 feet of lights. HSG.MG.A.1, MP.1, MP.2, MP.3, MP.4, 3-act task

Shipping crunch – How do UPS and FedEx compare in the race to deliver holiday packages on time? MP4, 5.NBT.7, 6.RP.3, 7.EE.3

wrapped-boxWrapping presents on the diagonal – Dr. Sara Santos has figured out the most efficient way to wrap presents with no waste.  Why does this work? Let students wrap packages in class traditionally and this new way to encourage conversation and analysis. 7.G.6, 8.G.7, HSG.SRT.C.8, HSG.MG.A.3, MP3, MP4

Reindeer-ChocolateHoliday candy sales – Students consider which holidays contribute to the highest dollar amount of candy sales.  They then translate a pie chart of data to actual dollars spent on candy. 6.RP.3 , 7.RP.3  7.EE.3

Why do the dates of Hanukkah keep changing? – December 12th, is the first night of Hanukkah this year. I think it was much later in December last year. Why isn’t it always on the same date? Students look at the Hebrew calendar and appreciate the incredible mathematics involved in creating a calendar that aligns both the moon’s rotation about the Earth and the Earth’s rotation about the Sun.

Its almost latke time – Students compare the healthiness of the ingredients of this traditional Hanukkah treat using my mom’s old recipe and a more modern recipe that boasts of low fat and low salt. 6.RP.A, 7.RP.A, MP.6, MP.8

Winter Solstice – Students appreciate how their latitude effects the darkness of their late afternoon location as they study the earth’s tilt and the logic of daylight hours. 7.G.3, HSG.C, HSG.GMD.4, HSG.MG.1

soda-santa-lgSoda Santa – First students guess too high and too low.  Then they calculate with all different methods and explain their reasoning.  Areas, arrays … so many ways to focus this activity.  3.MD.5, 3.MD.6, 3.MD.7, 4.NBT.5, 5.NBT.5, 7.SP.5, 7.SP.7a

Soda Menorah – Guess without counting. Come up with a reasonable range for the number of twelve packs = guesses that are too high and too low. 3.MD.5, 3.MD.6, 3.MD.7, 4.NBT.5 , 5.NBT.5 , 7.SP.5 , 7.SP.7a

Consumer spending – Students analyze a graph of historic consumer spending and look for consistent spikes and drops as they try to evaluate what they are looking at. 6.SP.5, 8.F.5, HSS.IC.6, HSS.ID.3

from Yummy Math https://www.yummymath.com/2017/winter-holiday-activities/

Unleashing the Potential of Every Child

Tom Loud on episode 212 [A special encore episode] of the 10-Minute Teacher Podcast

From the Cool Cat Teacher Blog by Vicki Davis

Follow @coolcatteacher on Twitter

Tom Loud dropped out of high school because he didn’t connect with his teachers. Somehow, he connected with books though and became a high school and college graduate. Now, Tom is a 10-year classroom veteran who is working to make his classroom (and help others) connect with kids in new ways. Today we’ll talk about unleashing the potential in every child. And yes, you’ll hear birds chirping, but that is ok!

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Enhanced Transcript

Unleashing the Potential of Every Child

Shownotes: http://www.coolcatteacher.com/e210

Monday, September 18, 2017

Vicki: Today we’re talking to Tom Loud @loudlearning about unleashing the potential of students.

What Tom Learned when he quit high school his junior year

Vicki: So Tom, let’s start with the story about why you got into teaching in the first place.

Tom: In high school, I think I failed more classes than I passed, and I had a terrible experience. By the end of my junior year, I had reached a GPA of a 1.8, and at the end of that year, I just knew it would be my last year in public school.

And in fact, it was.

But through a series of circumstances, I became a college graduate seven years after that. And I’ve been in the classroom now for ten years.

I went into education for two reasons.

The first reason was that I could be the teacher that I never felt I had.

And the second reason is that I could ensure that no child would ever experience the educational journey and experience that I did.

How do we unleash the potential in every child?

Vicki: So Tom, with that being your story, what is your advice to us to help unleash the potential of every child?

Tom: I think, number one, it starts with relationships. We have to build that relationship with kids first. I heard the quote that,

“No significant learning occurs without a significant relationship.” (James Comer, 1995)1

I really think that’s true.

But the second thing that we can do as teachers is we can put on the mindset that we are never going to quit on kids. I think it goes back to where the pacing of our teaching has to be determined by the learning of our kids, not by a calendar.

Third, I think that we have to be super patient with kids. Don’t give easier work or fail kids when they’re not understanding, when they’re not learning at the pace that we hope they are. As a teacher, I do think we have to show grit and perseverance with kids and present learning in multiple ways. Failing kids is a direct indicator more of the quality of our teaching, I think than the ability of our kids.

Vicki: Oh, but you know, Tom… Teaching’s hard!

And it’s exhausting to reach the kids who struggle.

Tom: (agrees)

What were the biggest mistakes Tom teachers made?

Vicki: What do you think the biggest mistake is that some of your teachers made when you were that kid who struggled in your junior year?

Tom: I think it goes back to what I was saying about the relationships. I think that I just didn’t have that connection with the teachers. I felt like I was more of a test score, and learning was on the back burner. The test was more of the focus of the teachers, instead of my potential.

What did Tom learn from that now that he’s a teacher?

Vicki: Do you feel like you have a different relationship with your students? Can you give me an example of where you tried to be that teacher that you never had, and it did make a difference?

Tom: I think the biggest thing with me is the patience thing – to where we just don’t quit. And I don’t quit. But the funny thing about it is that every day, even though I know it’s worth it with these kids… some days, like everybody, I don’t necessarily “feel it.” And when I don’t feel it, I have to continually remind myself that staying motivated and keeping that passion burning is a choice that I have to make.

Yeah, I think the biggest thing with me, with my students now, based on my experience as a student, is the patience that I show. I just don’t give up on kids.

How does Tom motivate himself when he has a down day?

Vicki: So, take me inside your brain when you’re having that down day, and you’re like, “I’m exhausted.” What does the self-talk say to yourself when you just don’t know how you’re going to do it?

Tom: You know, I read a really good book lately by a professor at UT at Knoxville, from Dr. Amy Broemmel. And the book is called Learning to be Teacher Leaders. In the book, she identified three characteristics of the really great teachers.

Those three characteristics are:

  1. Great teachers are unorthodox.
  2. They go against the organizational grain.
  3. They always pose a threat to the status quo.

So, when I’m having those down days, and I don’t necessarily “feel” it? I have to keep that mindset of the great teachers in mind and just “put on” those characteristics.

Vicki: You know, it frustrates me though. Why can’t the status quo just be AWESOME, for everybody?

Tom: (laughs) Yeah! It should be! But you know, we’re creatures of feeling and emotion. And so we can’t always necessarily stay on that high, but we just have to stay as motivated as we can and keep the needs of kids first.

Vicki: You know, Tom, I do find that the self-talk – you know, what you say to yourself when you’re down?

Tom: Yep.

Vicki: We’re our own best motivational speaker, aren’t we?

Tom: We are. You’re right.

Why did Tom’s life turn around?

Vicki: And you’ve got that experience when you were a kid… to kind of think back, and relate, and understand yours, don’t you?

Tom: I do. Yeah, and you know for me, the big turnaround for me was – number one — maturity. I had reached 18 years by the end of my junior year. So maturity was a big turnaround for me, but also there was all this frustration that I’d built up. I knew I was better than what my test scores were showing and I knew that I wasn’t only worthy of success, but I was able, too.

So, I heard a quote at the end of my junior year of high school, right on the verge of when I was quitting school. The quote was by Charles “Tremendous” Jones, and the quote said,

“The difference between who we are as a person today, and who we will be in five years is determined by the books we read and the people we meet.”

So it was really at that time, that self-talk really kicked up a notch. I really became a student of success.

One of the first books I read on success was by a guy named Jack Canfield, who started the Chicken Soup for Soul book series. But he wrote a book called The Success Principles, and one of the first pages in the book had a quote by Thomas Edison that said,

“If we really knew what we were capable of, we would literally astound ourselves.”

Ever since that day, I’ve really been trying to find out what I’m capable of.

Vicki: You know, I also love what you do… My pastor, Michael Catt, says that

“Leaders are readers, and readers are leaders.”

Tom: (agrees, laughs)

Vicki: You have quoted several books. This is Motivation Monday. One big way to motivate ourselves is to really have that self-talk but to also get quotes that resonate with us.

I mean, I’m looking at my office wall, and it has quotes all over it. You know, what do we say to ourselves? And what kind of books do we pour into our mind to help us stay motivated to do this job?

Tom: You know, I think one of the best ways in 2017 is to meet new people, and to really have good access to quality of text in front of us… is Twitter.

Vicki: (agrees)

Tom: I don’t think enough teachers are on Twitter. But just something simple and easy as that can really provide us with exposure to great minds.

Vicki: Speaking of Twitter, we have cute little birds tweeting in the background that may or may not get edited out.

Tom: (laughs)

Vicki: I just think that’s kind of ironic to me.

Tom: Right?

Look at the Motive behind our Motivation

Vicki: But Tom, as we finish up, give us a 30-second pep talk about how to stay motivated this week in our classrooms.

Tom: I think we have to look at the root word of “motivation.” That root word is “motive” … We have to stay focused even when we don’t feel like it, about why we do what we do. The main reason we do what we do is because:

1. Kids deserve it.

  1. Kids are capable… and able… of far more than we can ever imagine or think.

But the main reason? They deserve it. They deserve our best. And they’re worth it.

Vicki: They are!

So teachers, get out there. Be remarkable this week.

And I love, in particular, what Tom said. I’m going to hang onto this – that the root word of “motivation” is “motive” …

Remember your motive. Why are you doing this?

Right now, if you’ve lost your noble motive, try to get that back. Try to remember that we’re in the life-changing business.

We’re not just teachers. We teach people how to live lives. We unleash human potential. We have got an incredible profession, full of meaning. It may be not full of earthly riches, but definitely full of meaning and full of legacy.

So get out there and be remarkable this week!

Transcribed by Kymberli Mulford

Bio as submitted

Tom Loud is first grade teacher at Middlesettlements Elementary in Tennessee. He also serves as a Technology Teacher Leader at Middlesettlements and was recently recognized as Technology Teacher of the year along with Innovative Teacher of the Year by his district. In addition, Loud was one of 50 Teachers in Tennessee selected to participate in an Educator Fellowship through SCORE, (The State Collaborative on Reforming Education), an independent, nonprofit, and nonpartisan advocacy and research institution that drives collaboration on policy and practice to ensure student success across Tennessee. Loud’s passions are technology integration in the elementary grades, along with teacher motivation.

Twitter: @loudlearning

Disclosure of Material Connection: This is a “sponsored podcast episode.” The company who sponsored it compensated me via cash payment, gift, or something else of value to include a reference to their product. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I believe will be good for my readers and are from companies I can recommend. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.” This company has no impact on the editorial content of the show.

The post Unleashing the Potential of Every Child appeared first on Cool Cat Teacher Blog by Vicki Davis @coolcatteacher helping educators be excellent every day. Meow!

from Cool Cat Teacher BlogCool Cat Teacher Blog http://www.coolcatteacher.com/e210/

How many lights do I need for my tree?

Check out our Christmas Tree.  You need to buy lights for the tree.  Without calculating, guess how many feet of lights you will need.plane-tree-800pxWhat information do you need to better estimate the number of feet of lights that you need? (Give students time to consider what info they have and what they need)

Activity is here for your class:  ChristmasTree.pdf

CCSS: HSG.MG.A.1, MP.1, MP.2, MP.3, MP.4

For members we have an editable Word doc of this activity and a solution with teacher guide below.

ChristmasTree.doc         XmasTree-teacher-guide&solution.pdf.

Here is a picture of the tree with its measurements.

The tree is in the shape of a cone.  Students might find knowing the surface area of a cone helpful.  Here is a video on finding surface and lateral area of a cone.  Note: students will need to know the slant height of the tree.  Students that are comfortable with the Pythagorean Theorem can find this.  Otherwise, you might give students the slant height of ten feet.

Watch the video to find out how many feet of lights I used to decorate this tree.

Decorating-tree2 from YummyMath on Vimeo.

from Yummy Math https://www.yummymath.com/2017/how-many-lights-do-i-need-for-my-tree/

Thinking Routines in the Classroom

Karen Voglesang on episode 209 [A special encore episode] of the 10-Minute Teacher Podcast

From the Cool Cat Teacher Blog by Vicki Davis

Follow @coolcatteacher on Twitter

Today Karen Voglesang @NBCTchr teaches children to use thinking routines in her classroom. After participating in Harvard’s Project Zero, she is applying and using the methods in classrooms and with teachers. Learn some thinking routines and how to apply these valuable techniques in your classroom. Karen was the 2015 Tennessee State Teacher of the Year and I interviewed her at the NNSTOY Conference in DC this summer.

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Enhanced Transcript

How to Teach Thinking Routines in the Classroom

What are thinking routines?

00:09 Vicki: Today we are with Karen Vogelsang or Ms V from Tennessee. Hey, that rhymes, that’s awesome. She was State Teacher of The Year for 2015. And I’m at the in NNSTOY Conference, that’s N-N-S-T-O-Y.org. So thanks to NNSTOY for having me to present but also letting me talk to so many amazing teachers. Now, Karen, thinking routines are very important to you in your classroom. What are thinking routines?

00:39 Karen V: Thinking routines are really an opportunity to allow students to ask questions and really give teachers an opportunity to deepen their understanding of different content knowledge. And one of the beautiful things about thinking routines, it doesn’t matter if you’re a kindergarten teacher or a 12th grade teacher, thinking routines can be used for all grade levels.

Karen included photos of students using thinking routines for this post. Such engagement!

The “Compass Points” thinking routine is a great way to open up a school year1

01:01 Vicki: So give me an example of how it’s used in your classroom.

01:04 Karen V: One of the things that I do at the very beginning of the year is I use this thinking routine called “compass points“. And it’s north, south, east, and west. We got a little integration of social studies there. And I did this routine for the very first time when I came back from Harvard’s Project Zero Classroomin 2012, and it’s an opportunity for the kids to really share what are they nervous about so that’s the N. What are they nervous about? What do they need from me as the teacher? And then the S is, what support do they need for me? What specific things do they envision as they go throughout the year that they’re going to need my support in?

The Visible Thinking website is a fantastic resource. I’ve linked to the thinking routines Karen mentions here, but there are many more thinking routines to teach students. Also the book Making Thinking Visible can help you with these concepts. Harvard’s Project Zeroteaches courses in Visible Thinking – it looks like they have an online course starting in September but you need teams of 3-5 people to join.

And I’ll never forget the year Morgan told me, “Ms V, I’m not good at math and I can’t ever have you raise your voice at me ’cause I get too nervous about it.” Not that I was ever a teacher that raised her voice but Morgan was just that nervous about it.

And then W, worries. What worries do you have about being in that particular year? It was second grade but I’ve done this for third graders and fourth graders. And then E, what excites you? And what happens, children are honest and they basically put down what are their Ns, what are their Ss, what are their Es, what are their Ws, and what that does is it really gives me a glimpse into what they’re thinking about as they embark on this school year. So that’s just one example of getting the year started off with a thinking routine.

02:36 Vicki: I love that. So are these different ways of thinking that you teach students?

The Book: Making Thinking Visible

02:43 Karen V: Yeah, now I don’t know if I can plug a book here but the…

02:47 Vicki: Go ahead, plug a book, plug away.

02:48 Karen V: The book is “Making Thinking Visible“ and the principal author was Ron Ritchhart, it was also written by Mark Church. There’s different types of thinking.

Perspective Taking Thinking Routines

So for example, one of the types of thinking is perspective taking.

So as we go through and we read a book, I may ask my students to step inside those characters and ask them, “What are they seeing? What are they thinking? What are they feeling as that character?” And what happens is they have to go back in the text and they have to look for evidence in the text that would reinforce what they’re learning, what they’re reading about in that text. So it depends on what kind of thinking that you’re wanting the children to do and that will dictate, in some respects, what thinking routine you’ll use as a teacher.

The biggest mistakes Karen made with teaching thinking routines

03:36 Vicki: What do you think the biggest mistake you made with thinking routines was?

03:39 Karen V: What I learned… I was privileged to go back for a second time as a study group leader to Project Zero a couple years after my initial experience there. I didn’t teach my kids the specific routines.

Note from Vicki: Could there be a more important point than this? We all need to listen to Karen here. We want to teach students to think! So, let’s give them the routines to think and let’s help them know the routines to think. Then, students can go into that mode of thinking when tackling problems. This is a fantastic point!

Karen: So, when I came back that following year, I was teaching third grade, and so I really taught my children what these thinking routines were. So instead of having to constantly repeat the steps and the other beautiful part about these routines, is none of them have more than three steps. So they’re very easy to integrate in any content area, in any grade level. That was the first year when I came back that second time I was like, “Okay. I’m going to teach them what these routines are.”

The tug-of-war thinking routine

Karen: So if I said to the kids, “Hey, guys we’re getting ready to do tug-of-war.”They knew what tug-of-war was and I’ll never forget the first time I did that. I was like, “Okay, guys we’re going to be looking at this debate. These two different authors have two different view points about this particular topic. When we’re done reading it we’re gonna do tug-of-war.” “Yay! Yay!” They get all excited about it. So not teaching them the routines when I first came back and now that’s something I’m very deliberate every year. I start to teach the students what these routines are so when there’s an applicable point of using them, they jump right in and do it.

The first routine many teachers use: See/Think/Wonder

05:00 Vicki: So you’ve already given us three examples. Do you have another example or two that are like, “These are your tried and true, we use these a lot?”

05:08 Karen V: The very first routine that most teachers come back and use when they come back from this experience, is See/Think/Wonder. And See/Think/Wonder can be done in so many different kinds of ways because it can be done with pictures that teachers cultivate from different resources and they put up on a smart board, they project it on a promethean board, whatever it is. It may be actual artifacts.

I actually did math with art one year when we were looking at geometry and had them use these particular different pieces of art that really incorporated a lot of geometry. And that is really giving them an opportunity to name what they observe so that’s practicing observation skills. Then from there, they’re answering the questions, “What do you think is going on in that picture?” And then from there, “What do you wonder?”

05:58 Karen V: And that’s the beautiful part right there because when you get the kids to say what they’re wondering about, for me, that was like my road map of, “Where am I going to go next to help them explore what it is that they wanna know?” Because when I do that, then they’re engaged, they’re excited about the learning. And there’s no behavior problems that are going on in the classroom ’cause they’re so excited about this kind of learning.

And as a teacher, those questions also help me capture any misconceptions. And you know as well as I do that when kids get hold of a misconception, if we wait until there’s an assessment and then we catch it, it’s already so deeply rooted that it takes that much more time to undo it. So these are great opportunities to find out what student misconceptions are and catch those on the front end.

How Karen’s classroom has changed since using thinking routines

06:51 Vicki: Give me an example of how you think your classroom has changed now that you’re using thinking routines?

06:57 Karen V: It is a student centered classroom where they are excited about learning and I am just the guide on the side. I’m the person that’s going around asking them questions, “What do you notice? What do you wonder? What is your partner talking about?” They’re collaborating with each other. Every time I use a thinking routine I have never ever had a child off task. And that’s been the exciting part because this is really tapping into what they’re bringing to the table in their learning, so it’s just been very exciting to see the enthusiasm they have for learning. So as I’ve come up and over the learning curve in utilizing these thinking routines, I keep trying to find more and more ways to integrate them whether it’s in ELA, science, social studies, math.

Resources to Learn More

07:48 Vicki: So your favorite resources for thinking routines, you have “Making Thinking Visible”, you’ve got the Project Zero resources. Any other places that you go to learn these?

07:56 Karen V: Well, if you live in Memphis, Tennessee or Shelby county [laughter] myself and another teacher were asked, actually asked by Harvard’s Project Zero to start basically a Project Zero satellite group in Memphis. And so, every year we conduct Project Zero workshops where we bring in teachers from all the surrounding areas.

You can just google Project Zero or you can google “Making Thinking Visible” and you will find a multitude of resources out there. There’s videos out there so that you can see what this actually looks like in a classroom, whether it’s early childhood, middle childhood, if it’s secondary. And we use these during in service to get our teachers kicked off so that they can see how these routines are used, model that for them, and then take it back to fit their students and their particular content areas.

A Challenge to teach them to think

08:47 Vicki: So remarkable teachers, we all have an important strategy to understand and that is thinking routines. And I especially like how Karen or Ms V says that we need to teach these routines to our students because this is something they can carry with them for a lifetime, the way to think, the way to analyze. And really, isn’t that something that so many teachers say, “I want my students to know how to think?”

Well, maybe we’re not teaching them how to think. Maybe we’re just feeding them too much and not giving them the thinking routines they need. So, so many great resources and a way to unlock more remarkable teaching.

Bio as submitted

Karen Vogelsang has taught elementary school in Memphis, Tennessee for fourteen years. She currently serves Shelby County Schools in a hybrid role working on teacher engagement projects for the Chief of Staff, as well as teaching 4th grade. She holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Business Administration and a Master’s in Elementary Education. She is the 2015 Tennessee Teacher of the Year. Karen is National Board Certified in Early Childhood, and a certified mentor. Karen currently serves on Governor Haslam’s Teachers Cabinet. She also serves as a Fellow Facilitator for Tennessee Hope Street Group. Karen is a member of the Gates Foundation and NCTQ Teacher Advisory Councils. In March 2012, Karen received a fellowship to attend Harvard’s Project Zero Classroom, and is the co-founder of Project Zero Memphis. As a result she has been invited to speak about the integration of thinking routines with effective questioning strategies.

Disclosure of Material Connection: This is a “sponsored podcast episode.” The company who sponsored it compensated me via cash payment, gift, or something else of value to include a reference to their product. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I believe will be good for my readers and are from companies I can recommend. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.” This company has no impact on the editorial content of the show.

The post Thinking Routines in the Classroom appeared first on Cool Cat Teacher Blog by Vicki Davis @coolcatteacher helping educators be excellent every day. Meow!

from Cool Cat Teacher BlogCool Cat Teacher Blog http://www.coolcatteacher.com/e209/

Helping Autistic Students Travel by Making Books

Brett Bigham on episode 208 [A special encore episode] of the 10-Minute Teacher Podcast

From the Cool Cat Teacher Blog by Vicki Davis

Follow @coolcatteacher on Twitter

Autistic children can struggle with unfamiliar places. However, one teacher of the year has found a way to help improve traveling experiences for autistic children and their families. Brett Bigham has created a way to use books to help special needs and young children prepare to go to new places. Learn about this technique and how to help children travel who may have fears. You can even make books for kids (or some older students might be able to as well.) What a life-changing concept! Ability books for those with special needs.

Check out my Do What Matters DIY Productivity System with 108 Excel templates and PDF’s that I use to make my own planner – https://gum.co/bZbtZ.

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Enhanced Transcript

Helping Autistic Students Travel by Making Books

Vicki: Today we’re talking with Brett Bigham @2014ortoy, AKA “Mr. B” who was Oregon Teacher of the Year 2014.

Brett, your love and passion has been kids with special needs, for quite some time. And you work with older kids who have special needs, so we’re going to talk a little bit about a way that you helped kids with special needs kind of transition to other places. So, give me an example of something you’ve done.

How Brett helped his autistic and special needs kids take field trips each week

Brett: I worked with students who were ages 18-21, for quite a while, and a lot of my students had pretty severe autism. My classroom’s a county level classroom. So I was only getting students if the local district couldn’t handle their health or their behavior. I had two full-time nurses in my room and a very busy class.

So, what I started to discover was that when I took some of those kids with severe autism out on a field trip, they were melting down. They really couldn’t stand not knowing what was coming up.

So I kind of realized, “Well, I need to fix that,” instead of deciding they should go on field trips. I decided I have to modify what I’m doing. So I started going the week before to the event or the field trip we were going on. And we went out every Friday. It was part of our program, to get our students more used to being out in the community.

So if we were going to ride on the Portland Tram, I would go the weekend before and take pictures of every step. “These are the stairs you go in, this is the door you open, this is the ticket machine,” — every step they need to do the field trip.

I’d make a book. I’d print the pictures into the book, and then write all the steps. Then we would spend the week going over what was coming up.

They’re similar to a “social story,” which a lot of people who work with autism will see, like, “I’m Going to the Doctor” or a trip, or how to go. And they’re step-by-step, but they’re very generic. And I needed specifics.

I had to show the staircase they were going to walk up. I had to show them the signs they needed to look at to find the arrows of where to go. So, I just started doing them in my own room.

How one family was finally able to go on vacation

And after a while, one of my students that really needed these had what’s called Severe Self-Injurious Behavior. She would hit herself when she became upset. It was so terrible to see. It was the worst day of my career the first time she had one of these episodes. The year before I got her, she was sent home 34 times for that. The first year I had her, we had three incidents. Two of them were right at the beginning, and I started using the books. The next year she had zero. And the next year she had zero.

And her family started going on vacations. They had never gone on a trip in their entire life with her, and they were able to go to Hawaii. I made a book, “I’m Going to Hawaii,” and was able to go online and find vacation pictures from people.

And people took pictures of everything, so I got the inside of the plane so I could show her, “This is the inside of the plane you’re going to go on.” And they were actually the Aloha Airlines logos, but a plane stuffed with people. A lot of times, you know, you can get a picture of the airplane, but it’s empty. And this was crammed full, so she knew exactly what to expect.

And when her parents got back from the trip, their life was changed. Absolutely changed. They didn’t have a single incident the whole time.

And now that student has graduated. And when I met her, she was someone – they were trying to figure out how they could make a life for this young lady – one that meant she never had to leave her house. And when she left me, she got a job, and she goes to work five days a week. Her whole family’s life is changed from it.

How Brett puts pictures together

Vicki: So, you take the pictures. Do you have a technology you use to put these books together?

Brett: I do it in two different ways. I make a printout version that you can just look at on your computer and print out. And then I use Microsoft Sway because they have a feature where I can record the book. And that can also be used on the phone. So someone could take the phone, and push a button, and it will read it to them.

I’ve just started recording them. I only have one of them done. I have 45 books at this point.

  • Editor’s Note: Today’s Sponsor Book Creator has all of these features as well. You can start now with 40 free books to create for your kids. Go to: coolcatteacher.com/bookcreator

How to Find the books

Vicki: Wow. Can people get them online? Can you give a link?

Brett: They are. They are all online, but sadly, most of them are only in places where I’ve been. So, I have quite a few books for Washington D.C., because I’m there for conferences. I have Portland, Oregon, where I’m from. Last year I was at the NNSTOY Conference in Chicago, and we took in the Chicago Art Institute, so they have a book. So, it kind of depends where I go. But I go a lot of places these days.

Vicki: And so they can tweet you to ask you to – if they have a special request?

Brett: Absolutely. You know, I would love to do that. Or I would help somebody in another state. If they said, “I really… I need to make this for my student.” I would walk them through every step, and then I would hope that they’d let me put them on my blog. It’s MrBsClassroom.com, and they’re all on there.

What happened, though, since I have had this opportunity to go out and speak, I’ve made books now for eleven countries. So, I’m starting to collect people who can translate. I have an Italian mom who has a son with autism, and she’s translating all the books I wrote for Italy into Italian.

So my outreach is – I’ll do the best I can, which is an English book on how to go to visit the Coliseum, when I went. But it’s in English, so it helps somebody who speaks English who can go to the Coliseum, but this housewife is making it a tool for every person with autism in Italy. And that’s my dream.

How do you use the books with children?

Vicki: So you have the book. You show it to the child. You talk it through. So, describe what you do, once you have the book in hand, when you’re sitting down. You’re sitting down one-on-one with the child for this?

Brett: I’ve done both. You know, with the whole classroom, showing them. And then I’ll sit with a student, and we’ll just go page by page, and like this is… You know, I read the book to them and point at the picture and say, “We’re going to go here, and these are the stairs that we’re going to go up. You don’t need to be worried about that.” In the books, I always focus on “This is a safe place. Stay with your group.”

But I always show pictures – at least one in every book, I think, of someone sitting down on a chair somewhere – where I say, “If it gets to be too much, you can just sit down and rest for a minute. You don’t need to get upset. Just have a minute. Take a moment. Have a seat.”

Vicki: And you show them a place where they can sit…

Brett: Exactly.

Vicki: Ohhhh, so you’re giving them an out. You’re saying, “OK.” In some ways it’s metacognition. “OK, I realize I’m getting tired. So I’m going to ask to sit over here.”

Brett: Absolutely. And that way, they don’t have to stress out because someone doesn’t understand what they want. They can show me in the book. “I’m ready to sit down.” It gives them a way to communicate back, or maybe even to ask a simple type of question about the outing.

Vicki: This is genius. I mean, it’s just beautiful.

Helping kids and people with the fear of the unknown

Brett: But it’s not genius. It’s so… You know, once I realized that these people who have such a… That autism comes in so many different shades and varieties and… But the people who have that fear of the unknown, and the transition problems… Once I just took a moment to sit down and say, “Well, how do I fix that?” And it was a simple fix. They just need to know. But I had to figure out a way to get them to know.

And I feel sorry for my friends. I’m always – my poor partner – I’m always tricking them. “Hey, let’s go to breakfast downtown.” Then while we’re down there, I’m like, “Well, while we’re here, let’s go down by the Tram. I need to take some pictures. So you know, all my friends have been in books, and course they always say OK. How do you say no to that?

Vicki: Yeah, because I want to help a child who really needs the help.

Brett: Absolutely.

Vicki: So… we’re going to put the link to the blog in the Shownotes.

Brett: Thank you.

Vicki: And do you have on your blog instructions for teachers who want to create books like you’ve done?

Brett: I haven’t done that, because nobody’s asked for it yet.

Vicki: I’m asking! (laughs)

Brett: You know what?

Vicki: I think people are going to want to know how to do that!

We need more travel books for children who struggle with fears of the unknown

Brett: If there’s a teacher who thinks that this is the answer to helping one of their students, I will do everything they need to help. If they can take the pictures for me, I can write the book for them. I haven’t done that yet, but I keep hoping I will have to. I’m trying to be the guy who takes the snowball at the top of the hill and pushes it. Because I can. It’s taken me twelve years to do 45 books. And that’s… that’s not enough. You know, I want… I want every Smithsonian Museum on the mall to have a book. And every important place, and every city… I want them to have a book, because, without them, people who have these issues with the transition will never get to go. Or if they go, it won’t be successful.

Vicki: So it just opens up a great opportunity for those with autism to be able to go places. It’s a great strategy.

Brett: Right. And if you have a listener who decided, you know, this is what my daughter needs. And they want to make a book, what I will do then is I’ll take that book and put that on my blog, and maybe help them find somewhere locally where they can do it so that the people in their community can share the book. And if ten people just do one book, then your community has the support it needs. I’ve done twelve for Portland, and it makes it one of the most accessible cities in the United States for people with this autism

Vicki: So what do you call these books?

Brett: I call them Ability Guidebooks.

Vicki: Ability Guidebooks… So, teachers, this is a remarkable idea. Ability Guidebooks for those with autism, or transition issues. And you know there are lots of kids who could benefit from this. I’ll include the blog, so you can go there.

Did you want to add something, Brett?

Brett: You were saying other students… I had never thought about that. I was thinking of my own kids at first, and what I started to get were messages from kindergarten and first grade teachers saying, “We were going on a field trip to the art museum, and I used your book to show my eight-year-olds exactly how to behave in the museum.” And it makes a world of difference because they see what’s expected beforehand.

Transcribed by Kymberli Mulford


Bio as submitted

Brett Bigham is the only Oregon special education teacher to be named Teacher of the Year or to be awarded the NEA National Award for Excellence in Education. He was named a NEA Foundation Global Fellow in 2015 and is one of only a handful of teachers to be given that honor again for 2018 where he will travel to South Africa as a representative of U.S. teachers.



Disclosure of Material Connection: This is a “sponsored podcast episode.” The company who sponsored it compensated me via cash payment, gift, or something else of value to include a reference to their product. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I believe will be good for my readers and are from companies I can recommend. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.” This company has no impact on the editorial content of the show.

The post Helping Autistic Students Travel by Making Books appeared first on Cool Cat Teacher Blog by Vicki Davis @coolcatteacher helping educators be excellent every day. Meow!

from Cool Cat Teacher BlogCool Cat Teacher Blog http://www.coolcatteacher.com/e208/

Wrapping presents on the diagonal

Dr. Sara Santos is a popular mathematician and speaker on mathematics.  She has worked out a method for wrapping boxes (rectangular prisms) as efficiently as possible. (Watch the video above)  Her method was written up in this article in Mental Floss and she was interviewed about her wrapping paper method in this video clip from The One Show.

In this activity students determine if this method for minimizing wrapping paper is actually more efficient then the traditional method.   For a hands on learning experiment, have students actually wrap a small rectangular prism using any available paper in both the traditional and diagonal methods. Then let them compare the two quantities of wrapping paper and decide which method uses less paper and by what percent.

This a good opportunity to work with surface area and the Pythagorean Theorem.  If students are too young to have worked with the Pythagorean Theorem you can use this representation of each rectangular prism which gives a scale drawing on a grid of the 6 by 6 and 6 by 8 faces.  Students can figure out the diagonal length by doing a little scale conversion work.  How much wrapping paper does this method save?  Should you just use a gift bag?

The activity:  Diagonal-wrapping-paper.pdf

CCSS: 7.G.6, 8.G.7, HSG.SRT.C.8HSG.MG.A.3, MP3, MP4

For members we have an editable Word docx and solutions.

Diagonal-wrapping-paper.docx       Diagonal-wrapping-paper-solution.pdf

Finally ask students to try to explain why this diagonal method works.


from Yummy Math https://www.yummymath.com/2017/wrapping-presents-on-the-diagonal-2/