Friday, October 31, 2014

Using the BBC to teach Ancient Egypt

A website that almost always come through with great materials is the BBC.  The network features interactive and informative games that captivate students' interests.

The two most recent that I have used are games that allow students to build a pyramid and mummify someone. I have students work on this games as a class to build team work and ensure that everyone is understanding the material and on task.

After these two games, my students will never forget that one shouldn't build a pyramid too close to a river (flooding) and that ancient Egyptian embalmers removed the brain from the.....

I don't want to spoil it for you. Play the game!

Facing History Every Day

One of the most worthwhile professional development experiences of my teaching career was the Facing History and Ourselves week long seminar. I attended it 13 years ago in Chicago and still use their teaching resources today.

Recently, I met the spouse of a colleague who told me that his grandmother had survived the Armenian Genocide. I peppered him with questions, but he admitted he didn't know much about it. So, I emailed him the PDF of their materials and he was very grateful. Finally, he could know the history behind his grandmother's sorrows.

Painless Grammar

When I emailed a colleague in Chicago about the challenges of teaching students grammar, he told me to check out a site called He hadn't used it himself, but had heard many endorsements.

I have been a faithful user of the site for about a year now. While perhaps students will never develop a love of grammar, the staff of Noredink has found a way to make it painless and even fun. Also, their instructional materials are clear and concise.

How do they do it?

Students answer a series of questions about their friends, hobbies, favorite music and t.v. shows. Then the site uses that information to create sentences. Students practice and then are assessed using sentences that say things like: "Homer Simpson love to eat cake, apples, and doughnuts."

It's brilliant.

However, like with all websites, the role of the instructor is critical. First I introduce a concept, then students practice it on the web site, and lastly their assessment is also through Noredink.

I highly recommend giving it a shot. The level that I use is free.  

Twitter in the Classroom

Twitter, Facebook, Google Plus. The options for engaging students through social media can be overwhelming. The tool that I have found allows for the most appropriate exchange and provides for the best educational opportunities is Twitter.

As a Twitter user, I include my feed on my Moodle Page. Students, parents, and colleagues from around the world can follow me. I can also follow them. This exchange of ideas allows for robust learning in and out of the classroom.

My most recent Twitter success was during a simulation of negotiations between Iran and the G5+1 over the Iranian nuclear program. A colleague forward me an email from the Choices Program at Brown University. The Choices Program was hosting a lecturer on the Iranian Nuclear Program and opening up questions via Twitter for the professor. My students tweeted (through their personal accounts or via mine) their questions and the professor responded. They loved that their ideas and questions were being taken seriously and heard on an international forum.

Another use of a Twitter-like-program is called Today's Meet. In a closed chat room, it provides a closed forum for students to Tweet. Both my colleague and I used it during our different sections of Middle East History during the Iran Nuclear Negotiations. One person per group was assigned the role of Tweeter. They would Tweet their sides' main points throughout the negotiations. If a student Tweeted something factually incorrect, I could Tweet a correction. During a simulation such as a negotiation, it can be hard for students to take notes. This provided them with a record of the conversation. The students received the Tweets at the end of the negotiations so that they could study them for their test.

Please feel free to contact me if you have questions about using social media tools in the classroom.

Publishing Student Work

As I presented at a recent faculty meeting, writing drafts and editing papers is a crucial part of the writing process. However, not all students are motivated to complete the process thoroughly. I have found a shift in students' attitudes towards drafts after publishing their work through the use of Blogger.  Having their work published for their peers, parents, teachers, and loved ones to see motivates them to display their best writing or project submission. In addition, it creates a community of learners. Students will find mistakes on their peers' page and let them know. The classroom becomes a team environment where everyone is there to help everyone else look their best.

Check out the blog here:

Here is the Peer Editing sheet. This is used before they upload to the blog.