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by Lewis


Virtual Labs

March 12, 2014 in EDU 33692

Dartmouth ChemLab

Unknown Substance

Wiley Labs

  1. Making a Genetically Modified Cell
  2. Atomic Dating
  3. Mass Spectrometry

First Round of Virtual Labs

  1. Dartmouth ChemLab
  2. pH Scale
  3. Concentration of Solution
  4. Beer’s Law
  5. Ohm’s Law
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by Lewis

Class #5: Apps & Software

March 21, 2014 in EDU 33692

Social bookmarking

You’ve found a page or video on the Internet that you might want to use in a lesson next week.  What can I do to make sure I don’t lose it?  Save it in the web browser? On the hard drive? A piece of paper?  None of these answers really works for a teacher who lives in grade books and folders. We need a place, separate from all the other projects in our lives, where we can save links to interesting websites.
Marty Bucella

Social bookmarks, or folksonomies, began serving this need around around 2003.  A social bookmark contains three parts: the name of the person creating the bookmark (that’s you!), the URL pointing to the object you’re interested in (that’s the http://…), and a ‘tag,’ a one or two word category to help you sort and find the bookmark in the future.  Tagging online has a lot to do with how the Internet is going to change in the next decade.

My online bookmark page is at Diigo.  The website provides a “diigolet” app that can be added to my Internet browser tool, so that anytime I find a webpage I like, I can press the button to save the webpage location.  Besides viewing my bookmarks in reverse chronological order, I can ‘tag’ each page so I can view similar webpages at one time.

Taking Screenshots and Ripping YouTube Videos

Suppose you find an image online that you can’t download or what to take a picture from one of your favorite scenes in a movie.  No matter how hard content providers try to lock media up, if you can see it on your screen, you can copy it.  Here’s how.

Hold down the Control (Ctrl) button. On the upper right side of your PC keyboard, usually to the left of the number keypad, you should see a button that says Print Screen (PrtSc).  If you press that button, while holding down the Control button, the screen will be saved to the clipboard.  If you open up any graphics program (Paint, PowerPoint, Photoshop) you can paste (Ctrl-v) the image into a document that you can save and edit.

flashgotMost YouTube videos (not Vimeo) can be downloaded with a click of a button as well.  There is a Firefox addon called Flashgot that you can install on the toolbar.  Chrome won’t allow it, so you have to use Firefox to do this.  Once it’s installed, anytime you play a video on YouTube, or any other video website, a button will appear on the toolbar, and once you click it, the video will be downloaded to your computer, where you can use it in your classroom with or without Internet access.

Best Uses For Various Softwares

Microsoft Office is the standard desktop software educators use, but I’ve yet to see a good book that tailors its functions to teacher needs.  The most important rule I can offer when using these softwares is don’t get caught up in the bells and whistles.  Make simple templates that you can reuse by simply changing a few letters and numbers.  Leave the animations to people who can spend a day setting them up.

Here are some helpful ways to use Office in the classroom, for curriculum design and administratively.tortured PowerPoint

  • Word is the mainstay of teachers making worksheets, lab procedures and  templates.  When I started teaching, all my text documents were done in Word.  The most important functions to use are Tables, Ordered Lists, Headers, Footers and Field Codes, and the Equation Editor.  Do Not Use Word for Graphics!
  • Excel is hands down the easiest way to analyze student data.  I still use it today. You must have the Data Analysis Package to create Histograms, probably the best use of student data, so make sure if you buy an Excel package that it comes with the Data Analysis Pack.
  • PowerPoint is the most abused software on Earth.  I do a lesson on its stunted communication in my computer classes.  Treat it like a 35mm slide projector: use it to put beautiful images (Ctrl-PrtSc) up on the wall, and nothing else.
  • Access doesn’t come in the Standard Office packages, but it is well worth getting.  You can create attendance sheets that allow you to click in a box to record each student’s daily attendance, and then quickly tally up weekly, monthly and semester totals.  Sorting, creating forms and reports are a snap. If you need to curve test scores, it’s just as easy to make up equations in Access as it is in Excel.

Finally, I would be remiss if I didn’t talk a little about the softwares I use today.  Microsoft’s raison d’être is that you are too stupid to create anything without a ‘Next’ button.  Adobe’s Creative Suite is what I use to avoid clicking buttons.  Even at the Educator level it is very expensive, over a thousand dollars. So you have a target for all of the per session money you’re going to make using these skills I have shared with you.

  • Photoshop, even a dusty Version 5.0 can work wonders for editing photos, creating simple collages and eye catching derivative works.  No matter how high or low your computer skills are, you should bite the bullet and find some way, and some version of Photoshop to include in your repertoire.
  • Illustrator (even version 8.0) is a close second.  Designing worksheets, arranging text and graphics on the same page, making banners are all easy to do, and will print out crisply and cleanly.  If you love playing with fonts, Illustrator is for you.
  • InDesign is the best way to produce curriculum professionally.  It integrates Illustrator and Photoshop seemlessly, and once you set up the templates is intuitively easy to revise and extend.  I love making curriculum in InDesign.

Education Online

I wrote a blog post four years back about the use of social medias in ESL education, including Facebook.  It’s a rapidly evolving field, and if you have the time, there’s a lot of educational apps to peruse.  As a teacher, of course, you don’t have a lot of time, and I recommend using WordPress if you wish to have an online presence.  1 in 6 websites are WordPress based, mainly because they’re so easy to maintain. In about half an hour, you can have your own, free, education website at WordPress.com.

If you’re willing to invest some time in developing your own WordPress site, you can download the software, upload it to a cheap webhosting site, and install it on your own website.  With a little more time investment, you can maintain a website with student accounts with the skill of a netadmin.  If interested, you’ll need some proficiency with css and php scripts.

Teachers, like students, are swamped at the end of a term, and I’m no exception.  So without a grand conclusion, this is where Practicum II: Technology in the Classroom, ends.

Homework #5:

Tell me something I don’t know about online education websites, apps, etc., that you might like to try in your classroom, and the URL you found the info at.

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by Lewis

Class #4: Diving Deeply into the Semantic Web

March 14, 2014 in EDU 33692

As a warmup, let’s look one last time at my trades math entrance exams.  This time, I’ve merged all 150 students in 5 classes into one big spreadsheet:

Use the spreadsheet to answer the following questions, and post your answers as comments to this post.

  1. Besides diversifying instructions in each class, how might I alter instruction, comparing students in the Monday class, to the Tuesday class, Wednesday, etc.  As I move through the week, can I speed up or should I slow down instruction?
  2. If our trades program is facing budget cutbacks next year, which one or two schools should be “uninvited” to the program?
  3. We determined last week that most students know how to use the ruler and calculate percents, which math item is the next skill that students will likely know?

Back in the ’00′s, I was one of the first people to get a smart phone, a “Blue Angel” Siemens SX66.  htc-blue-angel-6nl-800I played around with it for the usual reasons: be able to send emails anywhere, increase my productivity, research on the go, … but my conclusions were that the monthly plans cost too much money (I don’t even spend money on cable), and that I really wasn’t enhancing my ability to learn and produce.  Today, I only have a low-tech phone so my contractors can get in touch with me for new assignments.  If I want to surf the web, or text my peeps, I only do it when I’m in a leisure/recreational setting.  Otherwise, I waste too much time at work on non-work related conversations, reducing my ability to complete assignments that require more than a rudimentary understanding of a task, in other words, skilled (and better paying) labor.
I know I have the minority position on “smart” phones these days, but here is some research to consider:

  • There is a “physicality in reading,”  that reading on a screen fails to support.  From a Bloom’s Taxonomy perspective, reading is both a theoretical and an experiential process.  Swiping does not carry the same level of understanding as turning a page.
  • There is a “haptic dissonance” in reading an ebook that makes it more agreeable to leisure, rather than academic reading.
  • Differences in reading paper and online are metacognitive, that is, a ereader may think he is understanding what he is reading, but he is more likely to make sure he is understanding material from a printed text.

Regardless whether you think online reading and smart phones can enhance learning in the classroom, there are well documented problems with the rise of online information, the most well-known is plagiarism.

Cut-and-paste your way to success

…To find the answer to your question online, Google, “cut and paste” three paragraphs into a blank Word document, and hand it in as “research.”  It’s so ubiquitous that we don’t even think about if we’re doing anything wrong a lot of the time we do it.  New York Times writers have been busted doing it, published authors caught clipping Wikipedia articles, businesses copying each others business plansHarvard students are cheating on their final exams. A Ph.D. graduate cheated on her thesis, and ultimately lost her job.  Even our Vice President has been busted on the charge.

Teachers are starting to use the same technologies to plagiarism  programs that search for key phrases in a student’s research paper that are linked to known plagiarized material. The most popular softwares are listed below.

Many colleges are developing action plans, and many higher education conferences are devoted to the issue. There are even scholarly journals dedicated to the subject.
Dr. Howard Gardner, better known for his “multiple intelligences” theory, is now focusing on the deleterious effects of not doing good work in our jobs. In conversations he had with people working in various fields, he found that everyone

… knows the difference between what is ethical and what is not, but the disturbing thing is how many people said they cannot afford to do the right or honest thing if they want to get ahead in their careers. He says there is a tension between the people they want to be and the people they think they need to be to succeed.

Perhaps the most direct way to establish the veracity of online publications is to develop procedures that evaluate Websites.  Cornell University has some good techniques to consider when evaluating online information.  Some rules of thumb I use are

  1. Giving more weight to a “.gov” site, slightly less for an “.org” site, and almost no credence to “.com” sites, unless they are well-established entities, like publishers or large corporations who could be held liable for delivering misinformation.
  2. Relying more on content that offers extensive citation coverage to back up the assertions made in the text.
  3. Minimal “bells & whistles,” like blinking ads or four framed windows on one web page.  If the writer spent all of that time building an enticing virtual gingerbread house, less time was likely invested in developing the actual content on the web page.  We don’t want Hansel and Gretel going into those websites.

As a teacher, you will daily face the ethical problems of plagiarism with your students.  We don’t want to judge our students, instead encourage them to do better.  But the sooner you develop your own way to broach the subject with your students, in a non-confrontational way, the sooner you will be able to show students that “cut and pasting” does not equal original research.

Docking Ports to Set Sail on Web 3.0

Michael Bergman vividly described this “information glut” as a fishing problem: most Web 2.0 search engines only skim the surface of Web documents available.

Surface Web

It’s estimated that today’s search engines only index about 0.03% — or one in 3,000 — of the pages available to them today.  The other 99.97% is called the “Deep Web.”


What is the Deep Web? It’s about “surfing semantically.”  Just like you overlay Bloom’s Taxonomy when structuring your module responses, accessing the Deep Web requires applying a pedagogical framework to an online search.  For example, if all you did was type in keywords to the ERIC search engine, as if it were Google, you wouldn’t get much satisfaction – you need to start by accessing its semantic structure: Descriptors, Boolean operators, PubTypes.

Consider the common Web search for medical information.

In medicine, finding the best evidence has become increasingly difficult, even for librarians. Despite its constant accessibility, Google’s search results are emblematic of an approaching crisis with information overload, and this is duplicated by Yahoo and other search engines. Consequently, medical librarians are leading doctors back to trusted sources, such as PubMed, Clinical Evidence, and the Cochrane Library, and even taking them to their library bookshelves instead. Unless better channels of information are created in web 3.0, we can expect the information glut to continue.

Dean Guistini, “Web 3.0 and Medicine.”

So if you’re looking for specific content relating to a specific question, like a medical question, Googling isn’t going to get you anywhere.

So where are good places to look for quality online content?  The link list running down the left side of this page offers some starting points. The Internet Public Library offer links to sites checked by librarians. The Wayback Machine can help you find “dead links” to a page you really want to read, but was taken down. FREE, or Federal Resources for Academic Excellence is encyclopediatic in its scope of primary material, as is the Virtual Reference Shelf.  Infomine is more academic, but still offers a broad spectrum of resource materials.

Most of these websites are “drill down” in design.  That is, you enter the website on the homepage, and are offered links to broad topics.  Choosing a topic leads to lists of subtopics that pertain to the overall category, and you continue clicking lists until you find the specific information you are looking for.  The  “Drill Down Menus” link list on the left side of this page offers more examples of drill down menus.

If you know what book you’re looking for, many online libraries exist to help you find it, if not online, at least which library holds a physical copy of it.  If the copyright has expired, Project Gutenberg for over a decade has been making old texts available online.  Bartleby offers more reference materials, including dictionaries and thesauruses when you can’t quite find the right word for what you want to say.

The best way to find online content for your lessons is to begin on the homepage of an extensive, not-for-profit website dedicated to providing digital collections for free.  On the upper left hand corner of this website is a list of the best online educational resources I have found for educators (me marks!). All of them are government funded, meaning they are either .gov or .org sites (no .com).  They are chock full of images and text that you can apply to classroom instruction.

To access specific content pertaining to a lesson you want to develop, use a “drill-down” technique.  That is, look at the list of links on the homepage of the website, and click on the one most relevant to the kind of lesson you want to deliver in the classroom.  On the next web page, click on the link that is again most relevant to your lesson (the new links should be more specifically appropriate to your lesson).  Keep “drilling down” until you find content you can connect to your lesson.

For example, let’s say I want to develop a reading lesson for elementary school students, and I want to use a book about animals.  I start at the FREE website homepage, and click on the ‘Reading‘ link.  I click on the ‘See All 20 Reading Resources’ link, and select the ‘Children’s Literature: Digitized Print Materials‘ link.  I scroll down until I get to the ‘The Cheerful Cricket‘ link, and download the book.  It’s a beautiful color document with wonderful Art Deco (I think) illustrations. I can print out sections of the book, copy images from it, or manipulate it in any way I see fit.

Homework #4:

  1. Find an article on the use of smart phones/tablets as educational devices that discusses a study/experiment/survey to conclude whether they are helpful or harmful to learning.
  2. Find an article about how plagiarism harmed a student (failed the class, lost a degree/job, etc.)
  3. Find a website that has digital material that you would like to use in your classroom.

Class #3: Publishing Accountable Assessments

March 7, 2014 in EDU 33692

As a warmup, open the cwe Excel file, and answer the following questions as comments to this post:

  1. Which school has the best students?
  2. With the Monday seating chart handout, explain why I arranged the students the way I did.
  3. What math skills have the students already mastered?  Which ones do I need to reteach?

Last class, we learned about using ERIC to find meaningful online educational materials.  In order to justify using these materials in the classroom, rather than Kaplan or Princeton Review test prep books, it’s important to use our “standards alignment” skills to ensure that we’re not veering away from NYS mandated content.  Today, we will focus on producing assessments that are individualized (based upon prior assessments) and similar to the standardized test prep binders rife throughout our schools.

A preliminary question: how reliable are current standardized tests in assessing student skills?

Let’s start with the object of assessment in New York, the Regents exam. Almost every year, test questions have to be thrown out due to poor item question design.  Even when the test givers get the questions right, the Regents assessment can still lack rigor in guaranteeing student answers actually reflect mastery of the content area.  Longitudinally, an 81% in one year can turn into an 18% in the next year.  A school given an A rating in 2010, ended up with a D rating in 2011. Even the purpose of the Regents, to define the requirements necessary to receive a high school diploma, is circumvented by hundreds of students every year.

Predictably, the number of cases of students cheating on the Regents has tripled under Bloomburg. At Stuyvesant High, one of the crown jewels of the NYC public education system, students are using their smart phones to get over on tests. In the spirit of national security, the Regents responded by beefing up security at test sites. But these responses are short sighted.   “Do as I say, not as I do,” never works. Children learn from the adults closest to them, and evidence of adults cheating is rife within our school system.

Busted: Erasure Evidence

The only way a student can drop from the 99th percentile to the 30th percentile in one year is by adults juking his stats. 1,250 accusations of test tampering or grade changing have been filed during a decade of Bloomburg’s education visions.  Erasures are the most common claim of juking the numbers, and that activity can only happen behinds closed doors in rooms where only adults are present. Erasing wrong answers to manipulate a school’s stats is a national epidemic: cases in PennsylvaniaAtlanta, and Florida have been reported.  Even Michelle Rhee got caught up in an erasure scandal. Test prep companies like Princeton Review aren’t any better than the schools, cheating students and schools out of millions of dollars.

It would be easy to do what is always done in education debacles: blame the teachers.  But cheating runs all the way up the chain of command.  A year ago, a principal was fired for juking student attendance to keep her stats high.  Other schools have been kicking kids out to other “underperforming” schools to maintain a 95% graduation rate. Charter schools can even cheat on who gets admitted to their schools (and what does it mean when our children’s education is determined by a spin on a lottery wheel?) Other charter schools view their teachers as little more than janitors collecting garbage.

cathie_blackAnd the highest levels of education management in the city?  I’ve got only one thing to say: Cathy Black.

Getting Bloomburg to provide information about anything, like how two of his buddies were able to scam $6.5 million from our schools, is next to impossible.  But when the first evaluations of elementary school teachers (but not charter schools!) came online last year, he couldn’t move fast enough to hand them over to the newspapers.  The expected result, bullying the teachers at the bottom of the list.

If you’ve gotten anything from this post, it should be that a list of 12,170 names and numbers, although objective-looking, likely offers little material to provide insight for teachers seeking to improve their profession.  How did those numbers get there?  By the same people guilty of the crimes listed above.  The very same numbers were considered to be so skewed as to terminate a bonus program created to reward high-performing educators.


Finally, just this week, the College Board announced a massive overall of the SAT exam, tacitly admitting that the exemplar of standardized tests has next to nothing to do with accurately measuring a student’s ability to succeed in college.  If we can’t trust the publishing houses to get the test right, politicians to effectively manage their communities’ school boards, or even principals, teachers and students not to cheat on them — how can we ever know that the exams students take are accurately measuring what they know?

Keepin’ It In House

The simple answer: keep it in house.  In the past two Practicums, I’ve offered you links to real student spreadsheet data.  You will generate rich, student specific data everytiime you teach a class.  Why reinvent the wheel by contracting millions if not billions of dollars to outside corporate junkets to make our students’ tests for us?  We can do it better — we know our students, and by using item analysis, we can narrowly tailor class assessments to focus on each student’s known deficiencies.  A few computer skills can make this recentering of assessment accountability a reality.

Mail Merge

Let’s see how we can individualize students assignments using Microsoft Word’s mail merge function.  Mail merge is usually used to add personal information to a form letter, usually as an advertisement to buy something.  But mail merge is extremely helpful at designing class assignments in a way that prevents copying and cheating.  Let’s look at two files, one Excel and and one Word, and see how we can produce unique assignments quickly, for every student in a class.

Let’s look at the student data first.  The spreadsheet has a list of student names and some words and numbers associated with a homework computer assignment where each student has unique instructions on how to format some text, and unique numbers they will use to create a timesheet spreadsheet.  You could just hand out copies of the spreadsheet, but linking the Excel data to a Word mail merge document makes the instructions much more readable and understandable.

After opening the Word file (and enabling editing), click on the ‘Mailings’ tab, click on the ‘Mail Merge’ button, and click on the ‘Step by Step Mail Merge Wizard’.

If Word didn’t ask you to relink the Excel student data file when you opened it up, on Step 3 of the Mail Merge Wizard,, you can click on ‘Select a different list’ to reconnect the data.

Once the Excel and Word files are linked together, you can click through the Wizard steps, and voila! You have a page for each student with individual instructions.  Using this technique allows you to prevent copying/cheating, and by making your edits in the spreadsheet, you have more control over how the class assignments will be differentiated.

More importantly, using your Excel student data spreadsheet to review past scores makes it easy to determine what each student’s next assignment should be.  But what about actual tests?

Paste Linking Excel Data into PowerPoint Slides

paste_specialThis technique does not embed an Excel spreadsheet into PowerPoint, instead if you double click on the image, it will open up Excel, and then you can make whatever edits to the data you desire.  When you ‘Paste Special’, click on the ‘Paste Link’ button, and click OK.  Now you have a PowerPoint slide with an Excel graph that you can open up in Excel to edit.


Let’s look at an example of how this works. Open up the Excel and PowerPoint files below.

In this example, PowerPoint links have to be manually reconfigured by selecting the File | Info screen and clicking on the ‘Open File location’ link on the bottom right corner of the page.  This will take too long for the class, so I’m just going to illustrate the result of paste linking Excel data into PowerPoint slides.

First, let’s look at the Excel spreadsheet.  The first tab, ‘fractions’ shows a way to allow Excel to calculate the sum, difference and products of mixed numbers.  This only works for ruler fractions, however (1/2, 1/4, 1/8, 1/16).  Still, it beats having to figure them out for yourself.  More importantly, by linking these numbers to a PowerPoint slide, worksheets can be quickly generated, and, most importantly, with just a few changes to the spreadsheet, completely different assessments (and answer sheets) can be generated so to narrowly tailor each worksheet to a specific student’s needs.  Also, have Version A, B and C tests makes it next to impossible to cheat.  Finally, Excel is a paragon of making math activities simple for a teacher trying to juggle the needs of 30 students at the same time.

Divesting yourself of the power to assess your students and leaving it in the hands of outside corporations leads to no good.  Using technology in the classroom can help you take back what was once ours: assessing our students in meaningful, accurate ways.  Specifically, mail merge and paste link techniques can help you produce individualized, data-driven assessments easily, and in a way that no outside business can hold a candle to.

Homework #3

  1. Design a class assignment like the mail merge example that has at least 5 personalized fields.
  2. Create a Word document for this assignment with blanks where the Excel fields can be linked.
  3. Create an Excel spreadsheet similar to the mail merge example.  Fill in the cells with names and personalized numbers and words.  Have at least 5 students in the class.
  4. In our next class, I will help you link the Word and Excel files together.
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by Lewis

Class #2: Finding Quality Online Educational Materials

February 27, 2014 in EDU 33692


Last week, we talked about the importance of data gathering starting on day 1 of a class.  Grading exams is not simply writing a percentage down on the first page and circling it. “High stakes” assessments should be broken down into smaller items, allowing us to assess various skills to more effectively remediate student weaknesses. Using Excel filters makes item analysis easier.  Here’s my most recent assessment, a midterm for a shop math class I am teaching.

And more importantly, the item analysis of that assessment.

The spreadsheet allow includes a histogram, homework grades, and TABE test scores that each student took prior to being admitted to the class.


As a warmup for this class, make sure you are logged in, and post your comments below to the following questions:

  1. Did the TABE and Midterm produce consistent results?  If so, where there any exceptions (students who did well one one test but not the other)?
  2. Did the homework scores add anything to understanding student scores?
  3. If I need to have a reteach class on items assessed on the midterm, which items should be retaught?
  4. Based on the histogram, describe the “diversification” of student math skills in the class.
  5. How should I address student successes and deficiencies moving towards the final?

Your comment should begin, “Question #___:”.

If you finish early, you can upload your seating charts and log (Homework #1). The following Instructions link will explain all of the computer techniques needed to upload your assignments for this class.

“But I Googled it!”

Google bombing” is the easiest way to observe how search engine results can be manipulated to questions as simple as finding a picture of Michelle Obama. The following websites came up in various Internet searches I was using:

Many world leaders have fallen victim to a Google bomb. Sarah Palin groupies have been documented skewing Wikipedia’s Paul Revere page.  Even a public event like the 2010 World Soccer Cup, can be revised to present biases opinions as objective facts. Until a semantic, Web 3.0 is built, educators should start with particular, well-designed websites specifically serving educational needs.  The best place online for education research is the the Education Resources Information Center.

It’s ERIC!

Maintained by the Institute of Education Sciences, funded by the Department of Education, ERIC is the world’s largest and most frequently used education digital library, composed of more than 1.4 million bibliographic records dating back half a century.  In the last couple of years, however, most of its online resources have been segregated offline, and it is likely that most of those rich resources will never see the light of day again.  At its heart is a “controlled vocabulary” index that contains concepts actually found in the literature of the database.  These concepts are called Descriptors and are listed within the ERIC Thesaurus.

It's ERIC!

Besides Descriptor terms, the ERIC Thesaurus is framed by the following structures:

  • Leveling Descriptors
  • Publication Types
  • Group Codes
  • Hierarchical Relationships (Broader/Narrower)
  • Boolean Operators (OR, NOT, AND)
  • Identifiers

The Thesaurus of ERIC Descriptors is the lexicon ERIC uses to translate ordinary language into a controlled language, using index rules to catalog published and unpublished articles submitted to ERIC. So beware!  You can’t just google ERIC and expect a lesson plan gem to appear on the top 10 search results.  You have to use a structured, semantic search strategy to get anything good from ERIC.

Let’s look at the handouts, and see how a ERIC search works.

Once you find something in ERIC that you would like to teach in your classroom, you need to align the instruction to state educational standards, called the “Regents.”

Swimming in the Standards

Regents Notes

In New York, educational authority lies in the hands of the Board of Regents.  Its history dates back centuries.  The official entity, “Regents of the University of the State of New York,” was created by the legislature in 1784 and it is America’s oldest continuous educational agency.   Its power to inspect all New York schools dates back to a bill submitted by Alexander Hamilton in 1787.  Very early on, how and what students would be taught was established at the state, not local, level.  The justification for this decision was in part based upon the fact that in the early days of scientific investigation, it was easy for a self-professed teacher of chemistry to show up in a municipality, show off a few magic tricks, and disappear into the night with his school paycheck, the students learning nothing about the real science of chemistry.  Therefore, mandating at a state level what will be taught in schools helped prevent unknowledgeble municipal supervisors from hiring people who didn’t have content mastery of the required subjects.

The bottom line is that you can’t teach anything you want in the classroom, you have to make sure that the information you wish to convey to your students is state sanctioned.  Otherwise you could lose your job, period.

Let’s look at an example of a science lesson plan, aligned to state and national standards. Even though state standards are the final word in determining what you can and cannot teach in a NYC classroom, federal standards are slowly encroaching, due to strings attached to the disbursement of federal monies into state school districts.  Let’s look at how this PBS Nature lesson plan is set up.

After a list of objectives is a description of the National Science standards that are aligned to the lesson. Next are the New York State Living Environmental standards.  New York State Core Curricula is organized into outlines that include “Standards,” which are broad summaries of the general topics that are explored over a semester, “Key Ideas,” which are parts or phrases of a Standard that offer more detailed explanation, “Performance Indicators,” which can be covered over a couple of classes, and “Major Understandings,” which offer examples of model lessons.  So for example, this lesson addresses the

  • New York State Living Environment Core Curriculum,
  • Standard 4
  • Key Idea 1
  • Performance Indicator 1.1
  • Major Understanding a

or in code format, LE S4 KI1 PI 1.1a.  Or even more simply, LE 1.1a.

Science Standards

Ele. Sci. S4 LE 3.1a

Whenever you’re “aligning standards,” what you’re doing is looking for pieces of text in a standards curriculum that sound like what you what to do in the lesson.  If you can’t find any pieces, the odds are the lesson you want to do in the class isn’t sanctioned by the state.  For example, can we have a lesson about the birth of a baby in an elementary science class?  Looking in the Elementary Science Curriculum, for mention of “reproduction,” we can see that

  • Standard 4, “Living Environment,”
  • Key Idea 3, “Individual organisms and species change over time.”
  • Performance Indicator 1, “Describe how the structures of plants and animals complement the environment of the plant or animal,”
  • Major Understanding a, “Each animal has different structures that serve different functions in growth, survival, and reproduction.”

The NY K-6 Science Core Curriculum, specifically S4 KI3 PI1a, or LE 3.1a makes no mention of human reproductive structures, only “plants or animals.”  Therefore, a lesson about human reproduction is not appropriate in a K-6 science class setting, pursuant state Regent education standards.


Given all the battles going on over education standards these days, teachers need to use technology to access online materials and aligned standards to make sure what they are teaching in the classroom is what their supervisors expect them to teach.  Doing this process yourself will protect you from all of the nonsense surrounding “standards.”  So long as you do the heavy lifting, finding worthwhile online educational materials, and aligning them to well established standards, you can protect yourself from outsiders who think they know more about teaching than you do.

Homework #2

  1. Use ERIC to find some curriculum/lesson plans/instructional materials about a lesson you would like to do in your classroom.  Fill out the ERIC search form, documenting the Primary Descriptor, Leveling Descriptor and Publication Types used to narrow your search.  Make sure to writing down the ERIC number for the document  (ED######)
    NOTE: Only choose a ‘Full Text’ article, one that you can actually read.
  2. Read the ERIC article! Choose a lesson in the article that you would like to use in your classroom.
  3. Align your lesson to Regents, NYC and if possible Common Core and National standards, using the links on the left side of this page.
  4. In your log, explain how you found your ERIC article, including the Descriptors chosen, ERIC number and grade level.  Also include which state/city/national/common core standards are aligned to the educational materials in the ERIC article
Avatar of Lewis

by Lewis

Welcome to EDU 33692 — Technology in the Classroom

February 21, 2014 in EDU 33692

Our six workshops will investigate the myriad of ways online apps and desktop software can enhance instruction in the classroom. My hope is by the end of these workshops you will realize how much educational content is available online, and how simple computer techniques can improve assessing your students.  Along the way, we will experience many pitfalls lurking in the cracks and crevices of virtual data.  Accessing online resources requires applying semantic search techniques that are to date, at best, primitive.

Ending the Mickey Mouse Education Classes

Arne Duncan, Administrator of the federal Department of Education, gave a speech at Columbia University in 2009 where he identified persistent problems plaguing education classes.  Specifically, he identified two problems student teachers express while matriculating at education schools:

  1. student teachers did not get the hands-on practical teacher training about managing the classroom that they needed, especially for high-needs students.
  2. student teachers were not taught how to use data to differentiate and improve instruction and boost student learning.

I hope by the end of these workshops all of you will have mastered technology techniques addressing these two points.

Back to the Drawing Board

In the last week of summer, the week before the students come through the doors, teachers have a routine they go through: cleaning the room, putting up posters, and so on.  But to me, there is something much more important to do.  You’ve got to get data on your kids so you know more about them than they do about you.  Of course there are the Regents exams, but they could be skewed in any number of ways (more on this next week).  My position is that teachers can’t assume much about what your students already know.  Trusting any numbers produced outside your classroom about your students might be unwise.  We teachers have to create our own data, because you can only truly know if an assessment is meaningful about your students, and certainly, only your assessments can clearly measure how effective your instruction was with your students. Let’s go through what I call the “circle of instruction.”

the three pillars of teachingIt begins with pre-assessment.  Before I begin any course, I design an assessment I hand out on the first day of class, and grade it that night.  Most teachers go over rules of conduct and other administrivia the first day — I don’t.  I agree with the credo that if you don’t lay down the law the first day, forget about the rest of the year, but my experience has been if you give a test on the first day, students have to know you’re serious about the class, and the rules that follow on the second day as effective as those given on the first day. Getting verifiable data from day one is far more important.

seating chartOnce I have analyzed my spreadsheet of pre-assessment data, all sorts of activities you do the first day are quite easily done, including that paragon of classroom management: the seating chart.  Once you own credible data about your class, you can determine what kinds of instruction will work best: pair-share, extension activities, group problem solving, and so on.  I usually place the poorest performing students in the front row (the opposite of ‘go to the head of the class’) and sprinkle the handful of highest performing students among the other rows so to maximize their interaction with other students. Distributing students in this way about the class generally breaks up cliques, and sends a message that the teacher “isn’t playing.”  When you demand that students sit in a specific seat the first day or two of class, students won’t like it, but they know that refusing to follow a teacher’s instructions that early in the term is likely going to get them in trouble.

westside or eastside?Let me be clear here.  You have to lay down the law with the seating chart.  It is your first command to the class, and if you renege on your authority, the class will likely spiral out of control very quickly.  Since you are going to “double-down” on using your authority seating students, you might as well use as much student data as you can to make the seating process as meaningful part of the education process.  Letting the data tell you where students are best suited to be in the class will demonstrate your authority and allow you to improve delivery of instruction.

Research-Instruction-Assessment is not a linear process, teachers jump from one axis to another all the time, in any order.  So I’m going to jump to another pole of teaching: final assessments.  Any time you give a “comprehensive exam,” e.g., at the end of a unit, your assessment should have some sort of structure that allows for “item analysis.”  That is, when you test your students, you generally are assessing more than you would for a quick quiz.  How to analyze the results of an exam requires organizing test topics in a way that you can group a handful of questions pertaining to a specific skill and separate them from questions related to other skills.  Let’s look at an example of one of my classes. Here’s an exam used to generate the numbers: final_a


Developing assessments that allow for item analysis leads to very precise analysis of student success and failures.  I can also target which content I should reteach, and whether group work would be helpful.

Homework #1

  • Open the Excel Item Analysis Midterm and Final spreadsheet.  Familiarize yourself with the  drop-down sort, conditional formatting and histogram functions.
  • Apply your knowledge of the student grades to produce three seating charts.
  • Write a paragraph explaining why you arranged the students they way you did.
  • Based upon the midterm and histogram results, write 2-3 paragraph addressing the following questions, making sure to use numbers and student names in the spreadsheet to justify your answers:
  1. What improvements occurred between the midterm and final?
  2. What items need to be retaught? How would you reteach them?
  3. How would you revise instruction on this unit the next time around?