Sunday, March 27, 2011

Primary Sources

Growing up my folks would often drag us to visit their aunts and uncles.  Dreading the thought, all I wondered was 'what am I supposed to do there?'  After all, this was before the days of Nintendo DS Games, iPods and cellphones.   Why couldn't I just stay home and play with my friends? How BORING!

My Primary Sources: My Dad, Aunt and Mom
While traveling into the city I would mope displaying a sour look on my face and wear it the whole time as my mom visited with Auntie Mare.  Sitting by the window I'd watch the pigeons land and waddle on the ledge, while in the background I could hear the soft voices of my mom and great aunt.  There would be clinking tea cups intermingled with laughter.  It never occurred to me to join in the conversation or actually listen to what they were talking about.

Other times the Great Aunts and Uncles would visit us.  Retreating to another room I could escape interacting with those people who I considered 'old'.  Occasionally, Dad would make us sit respectfully for a bit before releasing us from obligation.

At the time it never crossed my mind that I could LEARN from these visits with my great aunts and uncles.  There in my midst, were  PRIMARY SOURCES....people who would have been thrilled to speak about their slice of life in America, or Italy or Ireland.

As teachers we can access Primary Sources such as photographs and documents through the National Archives in Washington, DC or through the PrimarySources Wiki to help foster  critical and historical thinking.

Perhaps we should assign homework where students need to interview their grandparents, great aunts, uncles or neighbors. Not only will they brighten someone's day, but they'll be surprised what they learn.  (Using a digital recording device may help preserve the moment too!)

Finding Documentaries or videos allows children of today get a glimpse of days gone by. Check out this video from the 1950's.

Today, I enjoy spending time and interacting with my Primary parents, my aunts, uncles and neighbors. Through their first-hand knowledge I have learned about experiences during the Depression, being in the military during WWII, attending a Nursing School in the early 50's, raising seven children without modern conveniences; living in Boston during the 1940's, farming in a rural community during the 1950's and more. 

What have you learned from your Primary Sources?

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Reporting on Report Cards

My First & Second Grade Report Cards
"Why don't you just give them all A's!" shouted my daughter this afternoon!  It never fails...I hear the same request from either my sister, mother, husband, cousin, friend, neighbor, or local teen every time I sit down to spend the day to write out my students' report cards.

Do they really all think that teachers just 'GIVE' grades based on some nebulous reason?  Don't they understand that teachers work long hours finding sums and averages based on the student's assessments? Or don't they realize that hours are spent filling in checklists based on whether the student has completed the standards set by the state?

The business of report cards is a touchy subject at best.  When mentioned in most any setting it brings recounts of days gone by.

"Do you remember when I locked myself in the bathroom and wouldn't come out? How I shoved my report card under the door for mom and dad?" my sister asked me.  Apparently, her report card was not one that she was proud of and was in fact rather embarrassed by it.  "What happened?  I thought you were always an "A" student!" I probed further.

Well, it started out like this......She was an all "A" student in elementary school (something which I was NOT).  When she got to junior high school she was an "A" student as well.  But one day, in science her class was asked to collect insect specimens in jars with the intent of eventually mounting them on a board.  They were supposed to collect 50.  She was horrified with the activity and would not participate.  And so, led to the decline of her straight "A" days.  Since she wouldn't complete the project she was given a zero (that day till the end of the project) and subsequently received an "F" in the class.   Each day she would go into science class and feel worse and worse about the events taking place.  Knowing she was failing made her try less.

Did she receive the "F" because she didn't KNOW the information? Or wasn't learning?  Or was it an "F" based on effort?  How should she have been graded? 

I think the following video by Rick Wormeli (author of Fair Isn't Always Equal: Assessment and Grading in the Differentiated Classroom) explains what most likely happened to my sister.


Report cards are supposed to share information about a child's progress in the classroom.  Some think the traditional report card tells parents very little about what their child really knows.  While some others prefer this method because of the familiarity or comfort level.

Many communities have already or are moving towards a Standards Based Report Card, but these can be confusing. Check out how one community explains the purpose and application of its Standard Based Report Card in this video.

Check out this student's thought's on Standards-based Grading!

Whichever, system is used, it is important to give feedback to our students and their parents about how they are progressing in school.  Is there evidence of learning?

                    Do you have a favorite REPORT CARD MEMORY?  
Leave it in the comment section!

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Tsunamis and Earthquakes for Kids

View from NASA satellite on 3/5/11
An earthquake with a magnitude of 8.9 on the Richter Scale shook Japan on March 11, 2011.  The earthquake then triggered a 23 foot wave tsunami that caused massive destruction.   

Watching the videos of water sweeping cars and homes away, people scrambling to take cover under desks, people running in the streets trying to avoid falling bricks and many other images were disturbing to me.  I couldn’t help but think about my students who might also be seeing this on their televisions.

Naturally, children are curious, fascinated and maybe fearful of earthquakes and tsunamis.  It might be helpful for them to have some information about these topics. 
Richter Scale – Learn how to read the Richter Scale by Scholastic.

Tsunami – Watch this video designed for kids by the NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration). It describes what a Tsunami is and what do to if one occurs in your area.  Or watch this free BrainPop video (free for a few weeks) on Tsunamis. 
Earthquakes: This site from Weather Wiz Kids explains what causes earthquakes.   The USGS (United States Geological Survey) goes into greater detail for those who want to learn more about earthquakes.

Perhaps hearing about the tragedy in Japan has sparked an interest in that country.  Check out these sites for kids.

Kids Web Japan: Explore Japan’s climate, weather, culture, housing and other basic facts. Explore the rest of the site to learn about Japan’s Egg Machine and High Tech Train.

Time for Kids: Check out ‘A Day in the Life’ or ‘Native Lingo’

Putting the power in kids’ hands by helping them learn about natural phenomena like earthquakes and tsunamis will hopefully, ease their fears through understanding and at the same time create an interest in their world.

Please let me know if you have any resources that should be added to this list.  I welcome your comments and ideas.

Sunday, March 6, 2011


Gee!  Haw!  Hike!  Mush!  These are just some of the shouts that can be heard on the streets of Anchorage this weekend as the 39th Iditarod Dog Sled Race in Alaska gets underway.

Who will cross under the Burled Arch first? Who will win the Red Lantern Award? 

Keeping track of the 1100 mile race, (also known as The Last Great Race) especially if you have chosen a musher to follow is addicting.  Whether you’ve chosen to watch 4-time champion Lance Mackey, breast cancer survivor DeeDee Jonrowe, rookie Kris Hoffman or Jamaican musher, Newton Marshall, the race is sure to fascinate fans. (Current Musher Standing of 2011 Iditarod)

Following a musher and their dog team leads to a natural curiosity about the race.  There is a lot of information to be found at or Scholastic’s, Race Across Alaska .  There is something for everyone in this event. 

Dog lovers, you can learn about the race through the eyes of Iditarod dogs, Zuma, Gypsy, Libby Littles, Sanka as they write articles about the competition.  Check out Zuma’s Paw Prints. 

Social Studies buffs, you can learn about the Trail and the 20+ checkpoints along the way and other aspects of the race.  Check out this site developed by students for students: ThinkQuest: Alaska’s Iditarod.

Scientists:  Weather is a huge part of the race.  Watching, tracking and graphing the weather conditions along the trail, allows you to be a part of the race and feel like you’re right beside the teams.

To get you excited about following the race – take this Photopeach Quiz!

This is a race that has something for everyone.  It can last for up to two weeks so it's fun to check everyday.  My students LOVE following and learning about the race.  

Feel free to contact me (using the contact page) for ideas on how to use the Iditarod in your classroom!

Looking forward to another exciting Iditarod! Good luck to all mushers and their teams!