Archive for September, 2014

In This Issue (13)

Friday, September 26th, 2014
In This Issue

Briscoe Primary Sources Tied to the 7th Grade Texas History and U.S. History TEKS

Friday, September 26th, 2014

Authors: Rachel Hernandez-Eckert, Education Specialist, Social Studies and Catherine Bell, Intern, The Archives of American Gardens, Washington, D.C.

I had the teacher “warm fuzzies” a few months back.  You know, that really proud feeling you get when one of your students has an amazing moment of learning or accomplishment.  You feel really proud to think that you had a little something to do with that.  My moment came when I visited the UT iSchool Open House in May to see UT graduate student, Catherine Bell, present her Capstone Poster Session.  I have been working as an adviser to Catherine since fall 2013 for her project with the Dolph Briscoe Center for American History.  She was looking for guidance on how to make primary sources accessible for classroom teachers using the Briscoe’s resources.  In a nutshell here’s what she did:

1. She studied the Social Studies TEKS. (Hooray for the non-teacher who actually studied our standards!)

2. With the help of the Briscoe staff, she looked for primary source resources at the Briscoe that could be possibly tied with the standards for 7th Grade Texas History and the high school U.S. History course.

3. She worked with the Briscoe staff to digitally link these resources to the standards.

Although this is an oversimplification of the work that was done, it took her a long while to do all this.  Now, these resources are available to you.

Read about her journey and obtain resource access below —

I am Catherine Bell and I have recently graduated with a Master of Science in Information Studies (MSIS) from the University of Texas at Austin’s School of Information. If you are thinking, “master of what?” or “what is an information school?” let me briefly explain. The School of Information, or iSchool as we lovingly call it, is where future librarians and archivists learn the best ways to present information to anyone and everyone. The iSchool really strives to make the world a better place, starting with knowledge and information management. With my degree, I am officially an “information professional.”

Now, what do I have to do with social studies or Region 13? As part of my graduate experience, I completed a Capstone project instead of writing a thesis.  A Capstone is a practical experience lasting one semester during which an iSchool student develops something for an organization of their choosing.  I worked with the Dolph Briscoe Center for American History to help them find a way to promote primary resources and also connect with teachers, an audience that is often forgotten by many archives. The planning for this project occurred around the time Region 13 Social Studies Specialist, Rachel Hernandez, reached out to the Briscoe Center to see what they could offer local teachers. I began working with Amy Bowman (a photo archivist) and Margaret Schlankey (head of reference services) to envision a resource which would be useful for both the Briscoe Center and Texas teachers. They connected me with Rachel who was able to bring in the education aspect of the project that I was lacking. I have no teaching experience, and wanted to make sure any resource created would be practical and easy to use for teachers.

My project consisted of familiarizing myself with the TEKS, using the Briscoe’s Digital Media Repository to search their collections, and consulting with educators throughout the development of the websites created. The Briscoe has a great tool, which is accessible to anyone with the internet, called the Digital Media Repository (DMR) and is a database of their digitized materials. Now this does not include absolutely everything the Briscoe has but it is still a huge database.  The DMR can be found here, and you can use basic search terms to look for archival materials. My project worked to take out some of the foot work for anyone unfamiliar with materials housed at the Briscoe and simultaneously created a link to the TEKS for teachers. After some deep thinking of how to best present these connections, we chose to take the exact language found in the TEKS and create hyperlinks to DMR search results. So, for instance, the 7th grade geography standard for maps contains a hyperlink to the DMR search results of “Texas maps.”

This was done for 7th Texas History and U.S. history since 1877.  The website can be found here along with a description of how to use the resource.  Click on each respective course link to get the drop down list of standards.  

Another aspect of my project was to present and promote this resource in various ways. Each time I share this resource with educators and even fellow archivists, people get excited. There is an excitement for sharing primary resources, an excitement for creating similar projects at other archives, and the realization that this is a local resource. The staff at the Briscoe is excited to have another amazing resource to promote their collections, and is always eager to answer any questions that come their way.  As extensive as we tried to make this resource, it only showcases a fraction of the materials that can be found at the Briscoe.  I encourage each of you to not only share this resource with your fellow teachers, but to check out the Dolph Briscoe Center for American History as well.

Connected Learning — a Framework for Innovation in the Classroom

Friday, September 26th, 2014

Author: Jennifer Woollven, Education Specialist, Instructional Technology

There is a lot of talk in the world of education about 21st century skills and preparing our students for a new world — plenty of inspiring (and not so inspiring) 21st century videos can be found on Youtube. Online tools and platforms available to teachers can be transformative to the classroom experience, but they can also be overwhelming. How does a teacher keep up with everything that is available? Which tools will be best for our learning outcomes? I’ve certainly been guilty of being dazzled by the bells and whistles of a tool only to realize that underneath the glitter was the same old traditional approach that centers around the content or the instructor, but not the student. This is the shift we must make. Are students driving their learning experiences in your classrooms? Once this in place, the tools that will be most appropriate for helping students innovate, create, and problem solve will be apparent — in fact your students probably make those decisions on their own. (Let them! There is incredible power in allowing student voice and choice.)

So, as educators how do we get there? Constructivist learning theory centers on the learner and how he or she constructs meaning, but it does not address the connected, digital world that our students must live and thrive in. Connected Learning is the evolution of constructivism and seeks to address how we learn in a connected world. Connected learning theory as defined by the Digital Media and Learning Hub and the Connected Learning Alliance (CLA)…

is a model of learning that holds out the possibility of reimagining the experience of education in the information age. It draws on the power of today’s technology to fuse young people’s interests, friendships, and academic achievement through experiences laced with hands-on production, shared purpose, and open networks.

The six Connected Learning principles are production centered, interest driven, shared purpose, peer culture, openly networked, and academic. To find out more about each of the principles and to see examples of them in action visit

Math Geeks Unite! Professional Organizations for Math Teachers

Friday, September 26th, 2014

Author: Susan Hemphill, Education Specialist, Secondary Mathematics

Several teachers from Region 13 participated in our Edmodo book study of Letters to a Young Math Teacher by Gerald Rising this August.   This book contains several “letters” on different aspects of teaching and classroom management for the Math teacher.  It is a worthwhile read for the new as well as seasoned teacher.  In Letter Twenty-One the focus is Professional Activities and as we begin our new year it is a good time to set some goals to improve and hone your professional skills as a Math educator.

“I continue to counsel you to focus first and foremost on your classroom teaching. Consider that role first, second, third, right down the line. But there are other aspects of your life and your longer-range career that you should begin to think about even during your first year on the job.  They can involve you more deeply in your profession.” G.Rising 2014

In Mathematics we are fortunate to have several professional organizations to choose from with a variety of tools and resources. The table below will share some basic details of several groups and allow you to consider which if any professional group will help with your long-range career goals or even your short-term goals for school year 2014-2015.

Group Mission fees More information
National Council of Teachers of Mathematics(NCTM) The National Council of Teachers of Mathematics is the public voice of mathematics education, supporting teachers to ensure equitable mathematics learning of the highest quality for all students through vision, leadership, professional development, and research. Membership fees vary depending on the journals you select to receive.  Campuses memberships are also available.
Mathematical Association of America(MMA) The Mathematical Association of America is the largest professional society that focuses on mathematics accessible at the undergraduate level. Membership fees vary
Association for Women in Mathematics(AWM) The purpose of the Association for Women in Mathematics is to encourage women and girls to study and to have active careers in the mathematical sciences, and to promote equal opportunity and the equal treatment of women and girls in the mathematical sciences. Membership fees vary
Texas Council of Teachers of Mathematics(TCTM) The Texas Council of Teachers of Mathematics (TCTM) is a professional organization that encourages an active interest in mathematics. $13
Austin Area Council of Teachers of Mathematics(AACTM) The Austin Area Council of Teachers of Mathematics is a professional educators organization serving the Austin area mathematics teachers and leaders $40 includes registration for Fall Meeting 10/25/14, early bird rates available
Texas Association of Supervisors of Mathematics (TASM) To promote effectiveness in supervision, coordination, and teaching of mathematics. $30
Mathematics Teachers’ Circle of Austin(MTC) MTC is a professional learning community that brings together middle and high school teachers and professional mathematicians so that they may work together and learn from each other. Free monthly meetings at UT. 

Something to Ponder: Letter of the Week

Friday, September 26th, 2014

Author(s): School Ready Team

While there is universal agreement that the ability to identify letters and sounds is essential for reading success, educators differ in the way they teach these skills.  A common approach is “Letter of the Week.” This method generally involves introducing one letter per week through several whole group lessons. Children sing songs, read books, make crafts, and/or generate a list of things that start with the focus letter.

Though Letter of the Week (LOTW) has been used for many years and is even integrated into some state-adopted PreK curriculums, research suggests there are more effective ways to teach letters.

Reasons to Re-Think “Letter of the Week”

1.  LOTW is not rigorous enough for all students. Children in your class have different levels of letter knowledge. LOTW requires some students to spend instructional time focusing on letters they have already mastered and causes other students to forget letters they learned in past weeks (Fountas & Pinnel, 2011).

2.  LOTW does not capitalize on a child’s intrinsic motivation to first learn the letters that are most important to her- such as the letters in her name, letters in the names of family members and friends, and letters needed to describe a picture she has drawn (Justice, Pence, Bowles & Wiggins, 2006).

3.  LOTW does not teach letters in a way that makes sense to young children. Though many prekindergarteners enthusiastically participate in LOTW activities, letters presented in isolation are an abstract concept. Research demonstrates that children must develop letter knowledge “in coordination and interaction with meaningful experiences” (Neuman, Copple, & Bredekamp 2000).

Using a narrow “letter of the week” focus suggests that the most effective way for children to learn letters is in isolation (one at a time) and/or in sequence (ABC order).   Children learn most effectively by interacting with letters in context – recognizing and writing their names and names of classmates, reading environmental print, using labeled signs and systems in the classroom, composing writing as a class, pretending to read and write in center activities, singing alphabet songs, and playing letter games. Teaching letters in this way helps children become more competent, successful readers, especially later in elementary school when students must read to learn.



Justice L.M., Pence K., Bowles R., & Wiggins A. K., 2006. “An Investigation of Four Hypotheses Concerning the Order by Which 4-Year-Old Children Learn Alphabet Letters.” Early Childhood Research Quarterly 21(3): 374-89.

Neuman, S., Copple, C., and Bredekamp, S.  (2000) Learning to Read and Write: Developmentally Appropriate Practices for Young Children.  NAEYC press:  Washington, D.C.

Pinnel, Gay Su and Fountas, Irene C. (2011). Literacy Beginnings:  A prekindergarten handbook.  Heinemann: Porstmouth, NH.

Three Easy Steps to Teaching Your Students Through the CER Writing Process

Friday, September 26th, 2014

Author: Shawna Wiebusch, Education Specialist, Secondary Science

What can you learn from a ShamWow commercial? As it turns out, a lot!

Image from

The ShamWow Commercial is the perfect “hook” to introduce your students to evidence based argumentation using the C-E-R Method: Claims – Evidence – Reasoning.

Many of our students, especially in middle school, come to us with a mindset that “Science is hard.”  Using a fun, lighthearted, science-lite infomercial to introduce a systematic way of scientific writing eases students into the process.

How does it work? (Not the ShamWow – CER!)  Here’s how I introduced it to my students:

1.  Show this infomercial to your students and have them answer the question “What does Vince want to convince you is true?”

After the infomercial, solicit and record your students’ answers.  Then introduce the term “Claim.” Make the connection that what the announcer wants us to believe about the ShamWow is his claim.

2.  Ask students: “What data does the announcer give to convince you that the ShamWow is as cool as he claims?”

For Example:

  • “Sham wow holds 20 times its weight in liquid”
  • Lasts 10 years and will be cheaper than paper towels over time
  • Will soak up 50%  of wine, coffee, cola out of carpet without pressure

Introduce the term “Evidence” – the facts that are used to convince you that the claim is true.

3.  The final part is to connect the Evidence back to the Claim.

Ask your students “WHY does the Sham wow hold up to 20 times its weight in liquid?”  Tell them about microfibers and ask why something made with microfibers would absorb liquids better.

Ask your students WHY the ShamWow would be a better deal than paper towels over time.

Introduce the term “Reasoning” – the principle behind the evidence.  HOW does the evidence support the claim?   In our science classes, the students need to be able to explain the scientific principle behind the labs and activities they are doing.  This is the reasoning!

These are the basic steps to writing a C-E-R.  Go ahead and try it with your students!  Teach them to argue effectively and with science!  Want to know more and find other good ideas?  Check out our Science Blog and the Region 13 Science page for updates!

The TOP Twelve Non-Negotiables in Meeting Literacy Demands in of the Coming Year

Friday, September 26th, 2014

Authors: Lenicia Gordon and Janet Hester – ELAR Education Specialists, Judy Butler-Dyslexia/504 Education Specialist, Trish Flores-ESL/Bilingual Coordinator

Colleagues, what we know is that reading scores across the state and across our region have seen a significant drop. Naturally, we will all look at our campus and district data to formulate our best responses.  We know that there could be many factors to the origin of the decline in scores: the instructional challenges vary from kindergarten through 12th grade, administrative and budget priorities are a part of the problem, perhaps the loss of STAAR M is a factor, as well as administering needed accommodations. Each of you will create plans to address your individual students.  However, we would like to offer you a synthesis of the top twelve best practices we know will help based on the research we have studied, as well as our direct observations in the field:

1)  Focus on Strengthening Tier 1 Instruction to address achievement gaps, assessed curriculum explicitly and well, and to reduce need for excessive interventions. Evaluate K – 3 curriculums to insure that phonemic awareness, phonics, spelling and handwriting are comprehensive and integrated well with contextual reading practice and balanced within the ELA block.

2)  Structured Independent Reading is a critical practice.  Consistent, unhindered time for students to read books of their choice, within their ZPD, and for which they are held accountable.

3) Consistent and protected time for writing practice for sustained periods of time in ELAR classes.

4)  Required reading for meaning and writing to comprehend in ALL content areas; these can be quick routines but must be consistent.

5)  A system for consistent monitoring of and providing practice for:

Fluency for K-3, and those students reading below grade level in grades 5 and up

Reading progress using running records

Explicit vocabulary instruction and acquisition

6)  Daily study and close reading of mentor texts to harvest for author’s craft.

7)  Application of these craft elements applied and incorporated into revision of students’ working drafts.

8)  Daily practice (through a variety of routines, strategies and practices) of summarizing, determining author’s purpose and drawing inferences from texts across genres.

9)  Provide many opportunities built-in for students to talk (oral language development) and collaborate about what they are reading and writing for deeper cognitive processing and internalization of both content and a metacognitive approach to learning.

10)  Treat testing as a “genre” whose attributes are visited in the form of mini-lessons throughout the year in small but consistent doses. Certainly check on progress through deliberately scheduled district assessments, but, do not rob instructional time unnecessarily for excessive testing.

11)  Develop a system of classroom management that makes effective use of instructional time, student collaboration during practice, and independent work possible so that students develop skills to mastery.

12)  Prioritize cognizance of and best practices for ELL’s by doing all of the above, and;

Use of leveled libraries which include a ride range of genres and culturally relevant books

Awareness of differences in sound systems across languages and alphabetic and non-alphabetic systems

Use of “bridge techniques” to develop biliteracy

Awareness of district language programs and WHEN to introduce literacy in second language

Provide solid instruction in first language

If these practices are considered priorities (and not simply options or good ideas) which are put in motion, supported, and expected by instructional leadership on a consistent basis, overall reading and writing achievement would be anticipated to rise.

The Literacy Team at Region 13 is here to support you in all of these endeavors and have suggestions of resources and professional development which can assist you in putting these imperatives into place.

Happy School Year!