March 2nd, 2020

Brent Barge – PETE&C 2020

On February 24-25, 2020, I attended the PETE&C (Educational Technology) conference in Pittsburgh, PA. My primary goals for attending this conference were to gain more information and resources to develop the curriculum of the middle school Computational & Design Thinking Class and to gain more evidence toward the completion of the ISTE Certification for Teachers I am currently completing. Additionally, I was researching possible products to purchase to support the implementation of the PA Targeted Grant to integrate coding into 4th, 5th, and 6th grades and to research STEM programs as part of the SWSD STEM Leadership Team’s research.

While at the conference, I attended multiple sessions run by other PA Teachers regarding their middle school computer science/STEM courses. From these sessions, I learned how multiple other districts are approaching a K-12 continuum for computer science education, how they structure their courses, and what resources they are using. These sessions provided me with many new resources to investigate, including:

  • Carnegie Mellon University’s CS Academy, a free online curriculum offering multiple courses teaching the Python programming language; appropriate for high-achieving middle school students and all high school students
  • Code Comabt, an online, game environment where students take the role of a hero and must code them to beat multiple challenges; first level is free, further levels need licenses.
  • Parrot Drones – these inexpensive, lightweight drones can be used to teach block-based coding concepts in an engaging manner.
  • BirdBrain Technologies – Hummingbirds and Finch Robots
  •’s Computer Science Foundations & Discoveries curriculums
  • SAM Labs STEM & Learn to Code kits

After learning about these different resources and seeing how they are used, I am excited to collaborate with Erik Wittmer to bring some of these tools to the middle school Computational & Design Thinking curriculum in the upcoming school years.

I also attended an “App Smash” session in which four participants present their favorite apps in multiple different areas. While I had already been exposed to many of these apps, there are a few that I heard about that I would like to further investigate:

  • “Be Internet Awesome” – this is a gamified experience with 5 modules built by Google to help promote and teach internet safety.
  • “Factile” – this is an online tool that helps teachers build online, Jeopardy-style reviews.
  • “My Simple Show” – teachers and/or students can insert a script and it will be automatically turned into an animated video.
  • “Extensify” – a Google Extension that makes all your extensions into one and de-clutters your extension bar.

Overall, this was one of the best conferences I have attended and I look forward to hopefully being able to attend again in future years.

November 30th, 2019

NCSS 2019 – Austin – Matthew Lawhead

I presented at the 99th NCSS Conference in Austin, Texas with a colleague of mine from Missouri. Our presentation took place in the Tech Lounge on Friday and was entitled Global Classrooms Collaborating: What Did My New Friends Say?. We presented a list of ways to collaborate globally with other professionals and continued to expand our Rolodex of professionals that are willing to collaborate on projects and share out.

On Thursday I attended the following sessions:

Global Exploration Through Storytelling and Google Geo Tools

Not very impressed with this session. I used most/all of the tools that were presented and did not really take too many ideas away from the presentation other than the fact that my department and subject area are on par or far ahead of most schools across the country.

Tools for Geographic Inquiry: Data to Map to Story

Super excited about this session that focused on ESRI and how to create data maps stories that students can use. Interested to find out that both presenters were from Pennsylvania. I’m satisfied with the premade ESRI story maps that I currently use, but I am very interested in using the methods and tools presented to create my own maps for student exploration and use.

PenPal Schools Happy Hour on 6th Street

A very interesting site that connects students across the globe on a wide variety of topics that appeal to the middle-level student. This was a really good opportunity to connect with educators and we were lucky enough to find a few folks who shared our passion of global collaboration. I wish that the PenPal Schools program was not as pricey because I’m sure it would never pass the budget stage.

On Friday I presented with Dr. Rhett Oldham (see above). I also took time on Friday and Saturday to go through the Exhibit hall that had over 700 stands (that is what it seemed like anyway!). Some of the most informative booths included: WWIonline, National Geographic, Google Earth, Newsela, PenPal Schools, Data Atlas of the World, and ESRI.

On Saturday I attended the following sessions:

Google EDU/FriEd Technology Present: The G Suite Learning Kit and Caboodle

I came away with a number of great ideas from this session particularly related to Google Slides. I liked the idea of having Google Sites for each unit to keep parents informed of everything going on and also liked the idea of having an online portfolio for students. A quality session for all levels of Google literate educators.

Building Global Citizenship with Maps101

This was a great session that presented a great resource. The site was super easy to use and partnered with a number of quality geography sites that I already like. It also had an ELA component that appealed to me. Again, this site/program is pricey and I have high doubts that it would ever enter the thought process of being approved for the budget. Still, I took away a few key ideas that I hope to incorporate into the next semester.

Virtual Classrooms: Corroborating AR, VR and GIS with Primary Sources

I was very disappointed in this session. I thought that I was going to get a crash course on AR and VR mixed with some Primary Source stuff, but I was stuck in a session where someone was talking about how they worked on their doctorate with a bunch of college professors. I was hoping for more but left interested in researching this topic on my own or with the help of our Tech Department.

30 Must-Know Technology Resources in 30 Minutes

I thought this was going to be the cherry on top of a superb conference but again ended up feeling as though my department and subject area are on par or far ahead of most schools. While the majority of the tech resources that were presented were not new to me, I did find a few new twists on those. I also found three or four new technology resources that really appealed to me. I’m glad that I decided to go to this session last minute because I think there are a few upgrades to my enrichment courses that I will be adding during the next semester.


Overall I came away with over 25 quality ideas that I hope to incorporate as soon as I can. I look forward to sharing out with my Team and subject area to their feedbacks. I know that my biggest takeaway from the conference is that every social studies teacher should be attending this conference or another at some point during the school year. I felt energized coming back and it was pretty awesome to be around like-minded professionals and share out ideas. If we don’t take advantage of conferences like this, we become stale and monotonous. Hopefully, the district will start pushing this style of professional development. I’m looking forward to attending next years’ conference and hopefully presenting again.

November 26th, 2019


2019 PCTELA Conference Report

Jill Lenick and Suzanne Wimsett


Friday, October 11th and Saturday, October 12th

Session A: Collaboration as Self-Care and Self-Preservation: Avoiding burn-out

Hannah Lewis discussed the necessity of relying on our teacher peers in order to minimize isolation and burnout in the classroom, allowing teachers to remain student focused when they are in the classroom.


Session B:  Growth Through Change: Successful Vertical Teams and Cross Curricular Planning Leading to Curricular Growth

We presented the results of our 2018-19 professional growth goal during this session.  During this session we discussed our used of one-pagers, FlipGrid book talks, cinematic pairing, and the social justice book club, 


Featured Speakers: Ken Lindblom and Leila Christenbury

Lindblom and Christenbury shared ten reasons why teaching English Language Arts is rewarding. Additionally, the speakers explained five challenges that teachers of ELA face. The main focus of their speech was reminding educators that learning should be student-focused. For example, Christenbury began speaking by saying, “If you don’t watch them and respond to them, you have forgotten the learning is not about you.”  Their format for the presentation was a listicle, something we were planning to do with our students, so we used that as inspiration during our planning.


Session C: More Than Mockingbird!

Jessica Talada discussed how to build a culture of readers through  innovative approaches to literacy. In small groups as well as the entire audience, we looked at the need for diverse books and that students need to see themselves reflected in the text.  While Mockingbird may still be appropriate for some classrooms, there are other alternatives depending on the teachers and students. This session provided a real-life discussion of “windows, mirrors, and sliding glass doors.”


Keystone Reading Awards/Authors’ Breakfast

Jared Reck from Spring Grove was the honoree and he walked us through some writing exercises to give more focus to showing and less to telling.


Featured Speaker: Jonathan Auxier

Jonathan Auxier is a NYT Bestselling author, who advocated for teachers reaching that one kid in his or her classroom. Auxier described this individual as one who “would rather fail on their own terms, than succeed on someone else’s.” He provided the following suggestions:

  • Let them help you.
    • Create an environment that allows them to self-manage.
    • Take 10 seconds to confirm engagement, then respond appropriately.
  • Let them edit the exercise.
    • Ask them what they meant before correcting. Before anything–show you understand.
  • Let the artists be the artists.
    • Understand that these exercises are a HUGE deal for them.
    • Don’t skew to the lowest common denominator.
    • Make sure your prompts have floors but not ceilings.
    • Don’t pretend to be an expert.
    • If you must evaluate, focus on engagement and depth of expression.
    • Two Ways to Test
      • What do you know v who you are
      • The closer to a blank page, the better
      • Always add room for them to go deeper into explaining themselves.
      • Every question should be a blank page.
    • All they care about is being understood.


Roundtable Sessions – The Future Is Now – PA

Our first roundtable was a discussion of using National Writing Project (NWP) strategies during academic summer camps.  We came away with some ideas to use during summer reading groups.


Our second session was led by Pauline Schmidt, a professor at West Chester University who discussed a book club as podcast assignment she implemented with her teaching partner.  She was very honest about the pitfalls and hiccups in the project.


Featured Speaker: Paul Griffin 

YA author discussed how we should be teaching kids to tell their own stories as well as his work with restorative justice in juvenile facilities.  


Featured Speaker: Shanna Peeples

Closing speaker and National Teacher of the Year (2015)

She discussed classroom strategies including writing circles, book clubs where students develop the questions, Socratic circles, and in-class debates.


Reflection: This conference allowed us to talk with other teachers who are implementing similar curriculum in their classrooms.  We shared our successes and challenges, connected with colleagues from across the state, and used the time to reflect on the curriculum we teacher.

November 26th, 2019

NCSS 2019

Is IS Your Business! Educating Student Consumers Using Google Sites

Statistics show the GenZ has an annual purchasing power of $44 billion dollars; they use technology for 3+ hours a day, which includes video apps, messaging, social networking, and video games; and 65% of companies have increased their marketing spending by 65% to target GenZ buyers.  As educators, it is our job to educate these GenZ consumers to be activists.

In this assignment, students choose a company to research.  They research information on the company headquarters, the natural resources they consume, their labor and factory practices, what markets they are in, and the business practices the company follows.

Students then present their findings using a Google Site made to mimic the company’s real website.  They expose the truths behind the business and business practices – both good and bad as well as how the company maximizes profits.

The research results generally find that some companies (not all) are more ethical than others and that some are creative in how they circumnavigate lows and regulations.

Students present their website in a conference style format.  The purpose of this assignment is to inform students because informed students become informed consumers.  It also gives them the economic advocacy and activism and some even pass the information on to local and state politicians.


Financial Literacy Carnival – Final Project

The presenters of this section showed a project they use as a final exam in their financial literacy classes.  The students have a list of topics to choose from.  They must then research the topic, create materials, and eventually teach other students by using a gallery walk type of structure. Possible topics include:

  1. Setting Financial Goals:
  2. Apartment Hunting & Reading a Lease:
  3. Landlords, Tenants, & Roommates (Landlord-Tenant Relationship, leases, landlord expectations, roommate contracts):
  4. BANKING: Balancing a checkbook/ Writing Checks/Banking & Savings/ types of accounts:
  5. Reading a Paycheck & Taxes:
  6. Credit Cards -How to choose the right one/ Hidden fees & dangers:
  7. Credit Scores & Reports: How & why to keep good credit:
  8. Cost of living independently: Budgeting, Comparing Costs & Savings (How much does it cost?):
  9. Purchasing a Car, costs, loans, insurance, etc…:
  10. Choosing a Career/Job Trends/Goal setting:
  11. Finding a Job: Resumes, Job Hunting, Dress for Success/ Interviewing tips:
  12. Types of Insurance & why have it?:
  13. Stocks, Bonds Mutual Funds & Diversification: Building Wealth, Risks vs. Rewards in investing:
  14. Taxes: How to pay them (W2, W4, W9, 1040EZ):
  15. How to pay for college (scholarships, grants, and loans)

The physical requirements of the project include:

  1. 8 X 10  pamphlet with relevant information pertaining to your topic
  2. A tri-fold poster board with at least 10-15 Commandments (myths & facts, general topic info., Do’s & Don’ts)
  3. 8 pictures
  4. 8-10 relevant vocabulary words with definitions your audience needs to know
  5. 2 minute speech/presentation on your topic
  6. Interactive activity/game to get your participants involved and learning the topic
  7. Prizes/candy for the activity

The content requirements include:

Explanation of your topic (You need to define this for your audience)

10-15 commandments (vocabulary, facts/pieces of information/Do’s & Don’ts of your topic) that your audience needs to know about your topic.  You will need to extend your research beyond classroom handouts.

      1. This means researching information on the internet, reading through the printed sources, etc.

3 websites where your audience can go for further information. Not Google, Yahoo or Wikipedia. You need database resources.

      1. i.e.

Evidence of Research. Students must have demonstrated that they have sought out five credible resources following MLA format.

      1. This will be a works cited page in MLA format.
      2. Use or

Extra Credit Create a Public Service Announcement.  Print, video or audio recording is an advertisement broadcast on radio or television, for the public interest. Then, create flyers for the FLC to handout that allows your audience to access your PSA or CSA.

      1. A public service announcement (PSA) or community service announcement (CSA)

And the final additional requirements include:

Displays MUST be colorful, neat and pleasing to the eye!

  1. Use your time wisely in order to make your display look professional.
    • The more professional and appealing to the eye your display is the more your audience will take you seriously.

Copy of your presentation notes!

      1. 5-10 index cards/paper with talking points

An interactive game or activity!

      1. You must get games or activities approved before developing it.
      2. Must have a reward (typically candy)

Presentations must be practiced in front of one of the Team teachers before carnival day 

      1. May 16/17th is the practice day.
      2. Points are deducted for not being ready to present.

This looked like a good project, but would need to be some adjustments to work for our current course set-up.  I also think there are additional topics that could be covered to educate others on financial topics.


Personal Finance Materials for Teens

This session dealt with the products that are available to teachers from NEFE, and more specifically HSFPP.  These products and resources are free to all teachers across the country.  In the past we have used the HSFPP products for a Life Apps course, but have since stopped using them.  This session informed me that the content and materials have all been updated and will be coming out in December.  I was able to view the new materials and think it is something worthwhile implanting in our current personal finance course.  The updates have made the resources a hundred times better, more relevant, and more useful, and easier to access.  I plan to order them as soon as they are available and begin testing them out with my personal finance courses in the spring semester.

I was able to network with many individuals about possible projects, courses, Google Hangout information sessions, etc.  One resource I was given is  This site has a tab that allows students to see the costs of various assets in different countries throughout the world.  This will be incredibly useful in personal finance when it comes to showing students the prices and values of things across the globe.  It will allow them to compare their current and future budgets with individuals their age in other countries.

I was also able to speak with a previous NSA employee who now works independently in the Cyber Security field.  He said the job demand for this field is growing tremendously and that schools are not currently preparing students for this type of career.  I know there is a possibility of implementing a cyber security course in our district, so it was good to hear how in demand the career is, the countless job opportunities in the field, and to also have a contact to speak to kids about the daily life of someone in that field.


Overall I learned that we are doing a great job education our students on financial literacy.  We are ahead of many regions across the country, but it will be beneficial to have these new resources and project ideas.

November 25th, 2019

Learning and the Brain Conference – (11/22-11/24/19) Stacy McBride and Caitlin Landsman


Learning and the Brain

We attended the Learning and the Brain conference in Boston, Massachusetts. We learned many brain-based strategies to help students access prior knowledge and use that knowledge to gain new understandings.  Each session affirmed instructional practices currently being used at South Western and demonstrated research that proves those practices are meaningful to the brain.

Literacy gives students a pass to gauge and access the world around them. There are a lot of misunderstandings of learning disabilities.

⅓ of people attributed wrongly that LD was attributed to inaccurate reasons.

½ people think that LD is the result of laziness. Even ⅓ of teachers think this or attribute it to attention issues. Parents only follow doctor recommendations to have a child evaluated 54 percent of the time.


Before dyslexia manifests itself, there are warning signs before school-age:

  1. A parent has had a language or literacy challenges
  2. Trouble with the sounds of language- Ex- nursery rhymes, talk slower, make your voice elongated vowels and highlight the assailant parts of the language,- PHONOLOGICAL processing.
  3. Vocabulary
  4. Rapid naming- fast as they can visual labels 
  5. Letter identification/sound identification

What isn’t the cause of dyslexia…(these challenges may cluster WITH dyslexia)

  • Letter reversals (educators, general public, even some neuroscientists often think this way)
  • Visual problems
  • Problems planning, organizing, executing
  • Reading comprehension issues
  • Seeing backwards
  • Speed of processing
  • Motor coordination issues
  • Laziness or stupidity

What dyslexia is…

  • Neurobiological in origin
  • Difficulties in accurate or fluent word recognition and by poor spelling and decoding abilities
  • Difficulty with the sounds of language (phonology)
  • Average or higher cognitive skills
  • Reading comprehension challenges, reduced reading experience
  • Impairments with linking letters and sounds
  • The Matthew affect- children who struggle with reading don’t seek it out or do it as much. Kids that read more get more, those that don’t have less experience
  • Cannot diagnose it on a brain scan
  • Single word level- accuracy or fluency of reading single words
  • Comprehension is a separate disability- reading comprehension impairment

Middle schoolers with reading difficulties who can decode are having a language issue. It is vocabulary or language exposure and understanding that they are lacking.  Offering MORE phonics instruction will not be as beneficial.


In general, the best instruction for students with dyslexia is:

  • Multisensory
  • Explicit
  • Structures and sequential
  • Provides many opportunities for review and practice


Potential protective factors contributing to cognitive resilience in RD:

  • Morphological awareness
  • Vocabulary
  • Verbal reasoning- teach reasoning such as a middle school to compare and contrast different items- they might not know what compare and contrast means and what to do with it. Model a reasoning process! (It is what they are doing along the way, rather than the outcome, that is the most important – GROWTH MINDSET – PRAISE THE PROCESS, NOT THE OUTCOME)
  • Executive functions
  • Grammar

Protective Factors contributing to socio-emotional resilience for children with RD:

  • Did kids have a choice in what they read?- Most influential factor
  • Parental support and understanding of RD
  • Sense of coherence/ Internal locus of control/ self-determination (children need to know they have control of their own learning!)
  • Growth mindset/ Hopeful thinking (Praise the process, not the outcome)
  • Teacher support/ Mentorship by teachers/SMALL CLASS SIZE


John Gabrieli-

Every child is born into a “lottery” in the world… 

5-17 percent of children have Dyslexia

11% of children have ADHD 

1.5 percent have autism


Reading involves SO much for the brain, even to read just a single word!  (Visual, auditory, attention)

We mainly switch from the right to the left hemisphere of the brain towards the back. Information flows from back to front, back a little to double-check the word, and to the front.

Most learning is bi-lateral in the brain.  Right hemisphere of brain (visual/spatial dominant) shifts to the left hemisphere (language dominant).

  • Learning a new language causes a shift back to the right hemisphere.  After more learning, the shift goes back to the left hemisphere.
  • More children who make the greatest progress with reading intervention, seem to do it through a right hemisphere pathway first.


Why do children reverse letters?

  • In their brain, they are conceptually blind to the difference between a forward and a backward letter.  They don’t “see” it as backwards.
  • To recognize objects in the world, it is helpful to generalize over left/right percepts (the brain treats things to be reversed)
  • To recognize letters in the alphabet, it is NOT helpful to generalize


The frontal cortex is used significantly more by young children learning to read.  Children with dyslexia are working much harder in their frontal cortex.

We see NO difference in children with a high IQ and low IQ in relation to reading that scientists can measure. Discrepant score and Low scores look just the same.

Some children compensate, some do not compensate. The RIGHT frontal cortex side of the brain activation grew in students who were making progress in reading compared to students who did not increase the RIGHT side of the brain. We don’t have the answer to get children to do this. 

We don’t know how to predict who will make substantial progress with intervention or instruction and who will not. 

Poor readers as children who compensated looked least like typical brains. Which means…. Do we want children to have the same brain pathways??? The compensated group found a way to use other parts of their brains. Those that looked more similar to typical brains made the least amount of progress. 


We need to find the right intervention for the right child. Not every intervention will work well for every child.


Keynote Addresses:  The Science of How We Learn


Barbara Oakley (Oakland University, Rochester, Michigan)


Use of metaphor to teach and explain ideas to students is powerful!

Focused mode – your brain is focused on one thing (task positive networks)

Diffuse mode – thoughts going through head randomly (in shower, taking a walk, etc.) (task negative networks)

  • Metaphor – pinball machine – when learning something, brain goes back and forth between focused and diffuse modes – allows the brain to “breathe”

There are ways to help children to focus and learn MORE effectively:

  • Pomodoro technique – Turn off distractions, set a timer for 25 minutes, FOCUS (almost anyone can do 25 minutes) – students would be their age + 1 
    • Best to use as a study tool at home
    • KEY PART: Take a 5 minute rest to help brain absorb the knowledge (cup of tea, take a walk, pet the dog) – not video games, cell phones, etc.
    • Brain research: (see slides)
      • Neuron connections are like sets of links in a chain -each link is a new piece of information learned.
      • Retrieval practice is the most powerful technique to help students learn more effectively- when you retrieve it, you are strengthening and building the brain (Powerful Teaching by Pooja Agarwal and Patrice Bain)
      • Why not to cram – the brain needs to learn, then sleep to reinforce in the brain, then sleep more to help fix the dendritic spines in place.
  • Having a poor memory can be a good thing!
    • Some people have information in their mind, but something falls out.  These people are very creative.  
  • “Slow” learning can be a good thing!
    • Hiker brain – can think through small thoughts and deeper understanding
    • Persistent, flexible


The Development of Neural Networks:

Is enhanced by:

  • Social interaction, rich environments, green space, physical activity, mental activity, mindfulness, emotional & cultural well-being

Is impaired by:

  • Stress, anxiety, loneliness, sleep disruption, dietary deficiencies, toxins, identity threats

Social Identity & Stereotype Threat

  • Are vividly present in society, are often reinforced in school, create a physical toxic stress condition – cortisol & adrenaline, trigger a fight or flight reaction, impede learning
  • Can be reduced by affirmation of value, clear commitment to equal access, strong relationships, cultural competence in all aspects of school
  • Schoolwide social-emotional programs

Multiple languages/symbol systems matter

  • Cognitive flexibility is enhanced by: art, music, languages.


Assessment is for learning, NOT for ranking.  Assessment provides feedback to both students and teachers to inform their learning and teaching methods.


Digging Deeper into the Science of Learning


Active learning and direct instruction are both needed for balanced learning for students.

Direct instruction is not just talking at or lecturing at the students.

The harder the “stuff” to learn, the more direct instruction is needed.  Students with a lower working memory need direct instruction.  

The Hippocampus and the Neocortex:

  • The working memory is feeding information to both the hippocampus (“hip little guy who has lots of information” and the long-term memory in the neocortex (“big bear that doesn’t always catch stuff quickly but can hold a lot”)

When teaching, you are dumping info into the Hippocampus.  A little break gives the hippocampus a break to drip into the neocortex. (see slides) ex. Breaks in between reading room. 

  • The hippocampus is leaky – doesn’t always hold the information for long
  • The goal is to get the information into neocortex- research supports “retrieval practice”, bypassing the hippocampus
  • Breaks/lighter tasks are needed for the information to be absorbed: cooperative exercises, humor, mindfulness activities, etc.
  • If you tell a child they do not need to learn facts, they can just look it up on Google or use a calculator, you are doing them a disservice.  Without learning facts, there are no patterns made in the brain. You can, through recall, learn at higher levels so the patterns you are creating are also at higher levels.

Teacher efficacy is the #1 most important factor for student learning!


Harnessing Successive Relearning

Educational reform needs to boost performance, help not only in the lab but in the classroom, and work for all students


Top 30 Strategies of Teaching that work

  • Formative evaluation
  • Distributed practice
  • Reciprocal teaching
  • Metacognitive strategies
  • Study skills


Study skills are not created equal

Which ones help the  most:

  • Elaborative interrogation
  • Self-explanation
  • Summarization
  • Highlighting
  • Mnemonic
  • Imagery
  • Rereading
  • Practice testing
  • Distributed practice
  • Interleaved practice


Highlighting and rereading is the lowest practice that increases learning. Questioning and self-explanation are moderate utility to learning. Practice testing and distributed practice are the most effective. It can really move the needle in class perspectives.

ALSO SAYS you do a disservice to students by saying they don’t need to know facts you can look them up on google. They get the background knowledge for deeper learning by knowing the facts and vocabulary!

David Rose- Deeper Learning for EVERY Student: Neuroscience, Technology, and UDL

The term “disability” is really a matter of context.  What is good or what is bad really depends on the context that it is within.  Many famous scientists, musicians, and other “world changers” were on the “spectrum”.  However, in the brain, there is enormous connectivity among people who have these differences!  Many cultures found these differences to be strengths rather than weaknesses.

When discussing reading intervention, the old view is you have to do phonics first- learn to decode then read.  However, we know now that reading is a decoding AND a processing dance, not just one or the other. Connections are happening all over the brain.  When we read, we are using most of our brain!  There is no one kind of reader or one kind of reading.

Some students are in threat states when they read!!! That has impact!  They are not doing deep learning because they are under threat! They are reading with the emotional parts of the brain – the flight, fight, or freeze areas that impede learning.


Dr. David Daniel- Science of Learning Instruction

We have gone through many eras in terms of learning and the brain.

One era in particular was the “learning style” era. All neuro brain scientists SHOW THAT IT DOES NOT EXIST!!!! There is not any support in science.

Kids are different. There are no styles or any child that learns one way well all the time. People have different intelligences or are better at things than other things. People just wrote books on trying to interpret Howard Garner’s Frames of Mind.

No one “thing” or “best practice” is going to make a difference, but rather a combination of many ideas (mindfulness, mindset, grit, learning styles, etc.).  They all need to work in tandem.

You need to have things to choose to have a maximum impact. If you leave out everything else, you are limiting yourself and missing impact.


Dr. Daniel Willingham- The Reading Mind


Comprehension occurs at many levels – in sentences, across sentences, and through texts.  We need to make sure our students have a solid knowledge of the world in order to build on that knowledge and grow new ideas.  Just abstract rules are not enough.  If students lacks knowledge, they will become frustrated and stop reading.  This does not always happen (the child who cannot decode but who understands what he/she just read).

The idea that “You can always Google it” is destructive idea!!! Your mind is much faster and it can interpret context.  

To be a good general reader, you need to know a little about a lot of topics. Research shows that strategy instruction works.

However, we tend to think of reading as a skill that is coachable and practiced.

It doesn’t work that way!  

  1. Reading is communication. It is more than just reading the words. 
  2. Set a higher bar for what it means to understand something. Kids set a low bar to what it means to understand. 
  3. Tell students to look at multiple sentences to get the main idea.

Unfortunately, There is a serious problem in our schools. Kids like reading the most when they are in first grade. Every year it gets more negative. They become more indifferent to reading (not hostile) after first grade.  However, it is never too late to change attitudes about reading.

Parents agree with this sentiment, however, they need guidance on how to guide their children towards an increased love for leisure reading:

  • Make access to books very easy and most attractive choice available. Take the other things and make them less available.  
  • Put books in places that your child gets bored. (Next to car seat, bathrooms, busses, kindle on smart phones,  MP3 player that is less than 20 dollars, Audible)
  • Do not enliven boring areas with screens like bedrooms – outcome is loss of sleep
  • Do not use DVR in the car
  • Use the watermelon/ cotton candy idea
  • Set time limits for screen time activities
  • They need to hear teachers say that it is okay for them to say NO to their child
  • Create moments where reading makes sense- reading notes around the house
  • Tell them to write notes
  • Tell them to help you- read street signs, read a recipe, sort the mail
  • For older kids- kids want something- ex- I will not discuss you signing up for football until you read up on the dangers of high school football.
  • Reading to younger kids (keep favorite books for these times)


The Science of Learning:  Engaging Brains: Increases student engagement in the classroom


Students move to deep learning when they plan, investigate, and elaborate on their conceptual understandings. Surface learning is needed. They need to have the conceptual ideas. Surface doesn’t mean superficial!! We all have surface learning in some areas. We use it to transfer into deeper learning. 

Engaging tasks must have:

  1. Clear and modeled expectations- clear learning target- done with examples
  2. Emotional Safety-  or is the risk too high and they take the easy way out
  3. Personal response- do you provide the prompt or do they get to pick the topic
  4. Sense of audience- (ex. test water quality and present on a council)
  5. Social Interaction- most effective way to transfer from short to long term memory is talking
  6. Choice- not real choice- perception of choice. 
  7. Novelty
  8. Authentic

Complexity is thinking, rigor is effort!  You can adjust the difficulty of the task, but don’t make it any less complex.

No type of engagement truly works without feedback!  Students have to know where they are going, how it is going, and where are they going next. Feedback should not be “gotcha”, but rather, feedback should be “I’ve got you”!


The Science of Motivation in Learning: The Importance of Relevance, Interest, and Purpose Chris Hulleman

How do we help students find value in what they are learning?  They need to see a meaningful, personalized, specific reason to find value in what they are learning.  One strategy is to develop a personal purpose chart to help them make note of what they value (people, interests, hobbies), list the topics they are learning about, and then find a personal connection between both.


Instructional Strategies for Deeper, Unforgettable Teaching and Learning

Marcia Tate

Strategies that take advantage of how the brain learns best include:

  1. Writing – the brain remembers what it writes
  2. Storytelling 
  3. Mnemonic devices 
  4. Visuals
  5. Movement
  6. Role Play
  7. Visualization
  8. Metaphor, analogy, simile
  9. Cooperative learning
  10. Music
  11. Graphic organizers
  12. Drawing
  13. Humor
  14. Discussion
  15. Games
  16. Project/problem- based learning
  17. Field trips
  18. Manipulatives
  19. Technology 
  20. Work-study


Dr. Sarah-Jayne Blakemore- The Secret Life of the Teenage Brain

Throughout history (from Socrates, to Shakespeare, to present day), adolescence has been noted as the period of time for sensation-seeking behaviors between the ages of 10-26 in all cultures around the world.  Teenagers and young adults between these ages are more likely to take risks.  However, it should be noted that risk-taking behaviors can be both beneficial (as with risk-taking in learning) or detrimental (driving too fast or trying drugs).

Risk taking is not unique to humans! It happens in other species.  Adolescent mice drink more alcohol when with other mice! And even more if they are with cagemates! So even in mice social relations make a difference. 

Studies show that people are more influenced by others perceptions of risks, but ages 12-14 were the most influenced by teenage perceptions.  Anti-bullying techniques (teacher-led AND student/peer-led) were presented in schools. Those led by young people produced a reduction in bullying by 25% over one year in schools.  The student leaders were not the “coolest” students, but rather those students who were liked by other people. 

Avoiding social risk might matter more to adolescents than avoiding other types of risk. It is more risky to be ostracized from her peer group than to accept smoking. They actually are being risk- averse!

Gray matter gains up until early childhood, but then changes to growing white matter and there is a decrease in gray matter.  The brain is significantly changing in adolescence!


Dr. John Gabrieli- Science and the Brain

 There is a widening academic opportunity gap between the rich and poor! The gap is spreading not getting better!  

How does poverty affect brain structure? 6 layers of cortex!  Greater cortical thickness correlates with better standardized test scores.

Free and reduced lunch- these kids did not have a think a cortex.  Found uniformly all over the country. The mind is what the brain does. The brain thins as people age. The brain is who you are and what you experience becomes who you are.

There is a lot of evidence showing a variation in children’s IQ and language ability related to the amount of conversation held between caregiver and child.  It is not the amount of words spoken to the child, but the quality or conversational turn-taking that is MOST effective.  This is what develops the brain and social system.

By every measure, the more mindful students have better grades, do better on tests, and have better behavior. School-based mindfulness practice does make a difference in a child’s perception of self!



November 13th, 2019

2019 PDE Integrated Learning Conference

Written by: Tyler Sieg & Lisa Dennis

From November 6th through November 8th, Tyler Sieg and Lisa Dennis attended PDE’s 28th Annual Conference on Integrated Learning. The main focus of this year’s conference was “The School-to-Career Connection.” This conference was designed to share successful strategies that encourage the implementation of education initiatives to enhance learning opportunities for all students. The initiatives discussed during the breakout sessions focused on interdisciplinary approaches that included; the identification of effective practices, use of data for decision making, business and community partnerships, career pathways, assessment, workforce development, and instructional strategies for lifelong learning.


Conference Objectives:

  1. Encourage and raise awareness of interdisciplinary approaches which enhance learning opportunities.
  2. Feature successful teaching strategies that have the potential for replication.
  3. Facilitate the integration of academic, and career and technical education, which leads to successful college and career opportunities for all learners.
  4. Provide opportunities for networking and for building partnerships.
  5. Encourage team building and leadership at the local level.
  6. Provide instructional strategies for lifelong learning opportunities.


Main “Take-a-way”:
Our overall main take-a-way from this conference was the perceived change in focus and vision for all schools by PDE. Almost all of the sessions that we attended were somehow someway based off of or directly related to PDE’s new Future Ready Index and the evolution that is taking place across the state by all public schools to meet the new areas of measurement within that index. It seems that there is a true paradigm shift within PA public education towards preparing students more so for careers rather than just college. It also seems that in the future, more of an emphasis will be placed on students obtaining skill sets and knowledge in many areas beyond just the traditional “Academic” areas. In fact, many of the breakout sessions we attended focused on “Employability” skills and other career related skill sets that seem to be coming back en-vogue for many reasons.

After attending this conference, one thing that we recommend the district take a serious look at is Smart Futures. This is an online program that aligns very well with PDE’s Future Ready Index activities and career tracking requirements and could help us to streamline the collection and housing of all of the required documents and artifacts. The schools that already use it, love it, and say it is very easy to use and track. We should consider having a rep. from Smart Future come in to present or try to do a conference call with them.

Another thing that we saw and thought was really thought provoking was this YouTube Video about the excessive use of technology; Can we Auto-correct Humanity by Prince Ea. This is a video that could be shared with staff and students to raise awareness about the power of true relationships and human interaction.

One final item to consider implementing here is a Senior Exit Interview where we bring in K-12 teachers and employers to interview our seniors. The schools that currently do this have had very good results, with some seniors even getting job offers by employers on the spot. This could serve to be a very powerful thing for our outgoing seniors as they make the transition into the real world and could help to give us very valuable and reliable feedback from our seniors before they leave us.


This conference was truly an eye opening experience, as it was attended by a large cross section of people and organizations within the world of education from across the state and helped to showcase the potential future of public education in PA. We truly hope that our district continues to keep a pulse on all of the happenings related to the new Future Ready Index and is prepared to make the proper adjustments and changes as that index continues to evolve.

November 8th, 2019

Let’s Talk with Jeff Zwiers

On November 5, 2019 I attended Let’s Talk with Jeff Zwiers: Structured Interaction Activities, part one of a two day conference devoted to developing ELLs ability to engage in and contribute to academic conversations in the classroom. The first part of the day was spent developing a 3 part framework for developing activities to promote authentic academic discourse in the classroom. This framework consists of building big ideas, providing support and clarification and the bridging knowledge gaps. This means that every instructional activity should be based on developing a big idea, then offering opportunities to discuss the topic by clarifying and supporting the big idea. Finally, there should also be opportunity to brudge knowledge and vocabulary gaps as part of these activities. We spent the better part of the morning looking at types of big ideas in various content areas. In science, for example, a big idea could be the types of adaptations that animals have developed to adjust to changing climates.

The afternoon session was devoted to conducting mock academic conversations centered around these building block framework. Jeff presented the pro-con structured interaction in which students work in pairs to present the pros and cons of an argument using transition words such as “One advantage of this is…” and “on the other hand…” Other sample conversations were compare/contrast as well as information gap fill conversations. Jeff also provided participants with a template with sample key (signal) words as well as sentence starters to be used with each activity.

I really appreciated his explanation because he was able to take a highly complex and abstract task and break it down into discrete parts to make it more concrete. I especially liked the templates that I can begin using immediately. Also helpful was his emphasis on rehearsal and multiply tries at academic conversations. He said each student should have multiple opportunities to have the “same” conversation with different peers as a way to refine, build, and improve the conversation with each iteration. I hadn’t considered the need to “redo” the same conversation multiple times, but it is true that rehearsing and developing the same idea multiple times is a great way to improve and solidify learning.

November 8th, 2019

KSLA conference 2019

This year I had the opportunity to go to the 2019 KSLA conference in Hershey.  I have been there for a few years and similar to past years, they had many exhibitors and authors to meet and talk with.

The first presentation I went to was about reading for the fun of it with Mary Bigler.  She talked about the importance of laughter in the classroom and how the use of jokes can relax students and improve learning! She discussed how joke and riddle books are one of the most popular types of books among kids and expressed that teachers should have these kinds of books in their classroom.  One idea she shared was to have kids finish proverbs.  For example, strike while the…  The students finish it with what they think it is. The biggest take away for me was the importance of reading aloud to students.  Bigler said, “The most definitive research shows that the single most important activity for building knowledge for future success is reading aloud.”  It should be done at every age!

The second presentation I attended was about strategic ways to teach TDAs with Beth Madarang and Lauren Winter.  They talked about how adding visuals can help support comprehension. They also discussed the importance of providing opportunities to work together on the analysis.  Some ideas they shared for teaching kids how to write TDAs are below.

  1. Teacher writes the essay and cuts it apart.  Students reorganize the essay.  This can be color coded as well.
  2. Use wordless picture books to help teach kids how to infer.
  3. Use advertisements to help kids become better at analysis.
  4. Use the write around strategy to have students respond to the text.  For this the teacher posts a short passage and the kids are given different colored markers or pencils.  Students then respond with their color to whatever they would like.
  5. Use Pixar short movies to help students analyze theme.

The next session I attended was about reducing the summer slide.  In this session the presenters talked about how they noticed a pattern that struggling readers weren’t getting new learning until March or April.  With this in mind, they researched how long it takes for students to get back to where they were the year before and they discovered that it takes too long.  The reading team now sets goals for students to regain what they lost over the summer by January with the hopes of moving this up even further in the year.  They are making great progress.

The final session I attended was about problematic aspects of education with Persida Himmele. One was investing in initiatives rather than teachers. She talked about the fact that investing in teachers and making sure teachers are adequately prepared to teach what they need to is one of the best things we can do.  Another was giving poor readers less time in reading and more time in skill development.  She also talked about how the low group needs to go and how kids need to do more of the talking. Finally, she shared that word sorting is not the most effective way to teach spelling.

I was very excited to have the opportunity to once again go and listen to so many of the leaders in literacy education.   I learned so many great things and I hope that I am able to go again next year to stay informed on the latest best practices in literacy.

November 3rd, 2019

The Great Triumvirate: Henry Clay, John C. Calhoun & Daniel Webster Seminar from

On Tuesday, October 28, I had the opportunity to attend “The Great Triumvirate: Henry Clay, John C. Calhoun, and Daniel Webster.” This was a free one-day seminar sponsored by and hosted by the Freedoms Foundation in Valley Forge, PA. I am very glad that I attended this seminar.

You might be asking, why would you attend a seminar on antebellum leaders of the United States? Right now, I teach only World Cultures and Introduction to Psychology. When I do teach American History, we only focus on the Spanish American War (1899) to the present. I decided to attend this conference because I have worked closely with English 9 teachers who read the play The Devil and Daniel Webster with their ninth graders. For this play, my job is to fill in historical context and setting as well as introduce the 7th amendment with a brief introduction to civil cases. In the play, Daniel Webster argues for the soul of Jabez Stone, who had sold it to the devil in exchange for earthly success. I felt ill-equipped to teach on the antebellum USA and I wanted to explore the historical character of who Daniel Webster really was.

The seminar was structured in three parts. The first part was on a collection of topics from the War of 1812 to Latin American independence struggles. The second part was on the Tariffs and ensuring Nullification Crisis, and the last part was on slavery. Each part was about one hour and thirty minutes long. During that time, we discussed primary source documents by Henry Clay, John C. Calhoun and Daniel Webster that we were supposed to have read before the seminar (they were mailed to us in the weeks leading up to the seminar). Most of the teachers at the seminar were AP US History teachers, so their knowledge was so impressive and even a bit intimidating.

A lot of what I learned that day reinforced what I already knew: Daniel Webster had one of the greatest legal minds of his time and he was a Whig whose main goal was to preserve the Union above all else. I learned that Daniel Webster was the highest paid attorney of his time, but his debts were higher. I also learned that during the Compromise of 1850, Webster compromised with the South and supported the whole law, including the Fugitive Slave Act. With growing abolitionism in New England, he was never able to run for office in Massachusetts again. Instead, he took a cabinet position with President Fillmore. To Webster, keeping the Union together was more important than ending slavery. And unfortunately, that is his legacy.

Out of all three men, Webster had the best constitutional arguments in regard to slavery and Congress’s powers (or lack thereof) to regulate it. While I do not feel like I got to know Daniel Webster any better as a flawed human, I definitely reviewed my pre-Civil War knowledge, even on the topic of the War of 1812. I also got reacquainted with Henry Clay and John C. Calhoun, who was absolutely bananas. Calhoun’s (and the South’s) inability to innovate and abandon a system that was dying out during the founding of our government, pushed our country to its actual breaking point. Without government protection, I truly believe the institution of slavery would have died out naturally without a war. Also, the American economy depends on innovation and technology, which was just completely against what the South at that time stood for. The legal arguments made no sense at all. Those who choose to fly the Confederate flag are actively supporting men who committed treason against the United States government. They are traitors.

I could go on and on about history all day long, but I would probably lose all audiences. At the end of the day, I know this was the right place for me to be. When I checked into my hotel room on Tuesday night, the hostess made some really supportive comments of teachers. My hotel room number was the same as my freshman year dorm room, and the woman who sat next to me at the seminar teaches at Plumstead Christian School, about 10 minutes away from the town I grew up in the Central Bucks area. Maybe I’m superstitious, but I took in the signs.

The reason that I have wanted to attend so many conferences recently is that I feel like I am at a cross-roads of my career. I have been teaching for six years and my oldest son just started high school. Do I really see myself teaching World Cultures and Psychology for the next thirty years of my life? Gez, I certainly hope not! This year has been a year of reflection and a question of what is next. I know that school administration is not for me; I am bad at business. However, I could see a future in continuing my education in the area of social studies. At this point, I am investigating some kind of degree in that arena. I would love to someday become an AP teacher, but it looks like this may be far off.  Do I want to become a social studies methods professor? My favorite graduate professor taught during the day and was a methods professor at night. Or, do I continue in history, becoming a historian in a specific subject or topic? Is education a field that I want to stick with? Studies show that Millennials will have up to 6 careers before they retire. I think I’m only on my third. These are all questions that I am grappling with during my year so far. Although Daniel Webster himself did not answer them, I feel one step closer in my professional career journey.

October 21st, 2019

FCCLA Leaders’ Training

Patty Martin and Dee Stremmel spent a weekend with other FCCLA (Family, Career, and Community Leaders of America) advisors recently, emphasizing leadership skills and STEM in FCS education and clubs. Friday was spent looking at Gamifying FCCLA and FCS. Many resources and ideas were obtained. On Saturday we attended a workshop on STEM and FCS, facilitated by a grad student who had been in FCCLA and FCS classes. He attributed his growth in leadership to both and has an interesting background, combining tech school classes with honor’s classes, majoring in public health and now going into medical school. The rest of the day focused on integrating leadership into FCS and FCCLA. Workshops also focused on how to market FCCLA and how to sustain members. Finally, we explored how to utilize shareholders — not just for monetary support. We came away with many ideas and wished the training had been offered in the summer to gear up for this year. We will implement a few things now and use others next year. It was definitely a worthwhile experience.

Next Page »