Archive for the ‘Issue 9’ Category

In This Issue (9)

Friday, September 20th, 2013

Project-Based Learning Will Rock Your Classroom

Friday, September 20th, 2013

Author:  Jennifer Woollven, Instructional Technology Specialist

If your ultimate goal is to help students become critical thinkers, problem-solvers, excellent communicators and collaborators, project-based learning (PBL) can deliver. After spending four years in a full-time PBL environment, I can’t imagine teaching or learning any other way. Witnessing students take ownership of their learning experience, ask good questions, and take on problem-solving outside of the school walls transformed my idea about what the classroom should look like and what my role should be.

The PBL framework is an authentic learning model. Let me explain: when I want to learn something, like how to quilt or cook a brisket, my learning is driven by a need or desire and by the questions that must be answered in order for me to act on my desire. My research will be driven by the questions: What tools will I need? What materials? What steps should I take? What experts can I turn to for help? I may interview people I know who have experience with these things and I will definitely do Internet searches for sites, images, and videos to help me through the process. In the end I will have created a product and I will have learned a great deal through the process. This is PBL – authentic, inquiry-driven by a need-to-know, and the learner doing and creating.

While it is a natural and intuitive process, preparing to implement and manage PBL takes time, energy and support. Building strong projects that are aligned to standards and engaging for students is an intense process. Teachers need the support of each other, administration, and experts to integrate the framework in a meaningful and sustaining way. Whether you are ready to dive in or just dip a toe, the resources below can help you get started.


Transformation Central Texas STEM Center

Buck Institute

Edutopia resources

The Social Studies Critical Thinking Lab

Friday, September 20th, 2013

Author: Rachel Hernandez-Eckert

We all get ideas from time to time, but not all ideas are equal.  Some ideas are just fleeting thoughts, while other ideas actually turn into something substantial.  My hope for one particular idea is to have a lasting and meaningful impact.  In the spirit of full disclosure I must admit that this idea wasn’t exactly mine (my apologies if I led you on).  In October of 2012, I attended a session at the Western History Association Conference that was co-led by a professor from Northern Arizona University.  The professor, Linda Sargent Wood, spoke of “History Labs” that she incorporated into her methods class for pre-service history teachers.   I thought this was a pretty interesting idea, so I took to finding her published article, Hooked on Inquiry: History Labs in the Methods Course.  As I read it, I was captivated by the idea of presenting students with an assemblage of primary and secondary sources and posing a historical problem that requires students to interpret through historical investigation.   Dr. Wood intended for her students to “…wrestle with historical narratives and accounts rather than simply memorizing facts and concepts.”


After reading Dr. Wood’s article, I thought this idea needed to be incorporated somehow into my work as a Social Studies Education Specialist at Region 13,  so we applied for a Library of Congress Teaching with Primary Sources Grant using the historical lab as the cornerstone idea.  The goal of the grant, The Social Studies Critical Thinking Lab, is to use the Library of Congress digital primary source materials to produce teacher-created historical labs.   Region 13 was funded for the grant in August 2013 and within a few short weeks we quickly moved to forming a cohort of elementary, middle, and high school social studies teachers that will spend time in deeper scholarship around the development of historical labs.


To assist in the process of learning, we will be engaging in a group study of Bruce Lesh’s book, “Why Won’t You Just Tell Us the Answer?”: Teaching Historical Thinking in Grades 7-12.  Written by an experienced history teacher, this book chronicles Lesh’s approach to developing and incorporating historical study investigations with his students at the center of the process.  It is a remarkable read for anyone searching for a practicable method of engaging students in historical analysis.  The teacher cohort formed for this grant will dedicate time to creating labs of their own to guide students in effective reasoning, decision making, and historical interpretation.  I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to cultivate a professional learning community among my peers that will ultimately impact students.  I think this idea is getting at the heart of what it means to think critically.



Lesh, Bruce. A. “Why Won’t You Just Tell Us the Answer?”: Teaching Historical Thinking in Grades 7-12 (Portland: Stenhouse, 2011).

Wood, Linda Sargent, “Hooked on Inquiry: History Labs in the Methods Course,” The History Teacher 45 (2012), 549-567, accessed January 2013.

Teaching Science through Gallery Walks

Friday, September 20th, 2013

Author:  Kristen Hillert, Secondary Science Specialist

As the school year gets under way and the honeymoon phase starts to fade, the importance of integrating new, exciting strategies becomes more and more important.  Integrating purposeful movement and conversations within the class period increase student engagement.

Gallery Walks can be used in all content areas as a way for students to see each others’ work and possibly evaluate it.  (See the Gallery Walk in action here:

But have you tried using Gallery Walks within the 5E Model as an Explore or Explain activity?  Allow the observations that students make be data that is then analyzed to form conclusions.


Gallery Walk:  5th grade Science example

TEKS: (10) Organisms and environments. The student knows that organisms undergo similar life processes and have structures that help them survive within their environments. The student is expected to:

(C) describe the differences between complete and incomplete metamorphosis of insects.

SET UP:  Each station has a picture of the life cycle of an insect.  There should be at least three examples of incomplete metamorphosis and three examples of complete metamorphosis.  However, the posters should not be labeled as “complete” or “incomplete.” This is something students will discover.

ACTIVITY:  Students rotate between stations and record characteristics of each life cycle including the stages of development.

DEBRIEF:  Students are told that all the organisms they observed can be classified into two types of life cycles and then are given time to sort their observations into two groups.  Students need to explain how they formed the groups.  The teacher then explains the word metamorphosis and introduces the phrases “complete metamorphosis” and “incomplete metamorphosis” and encourages the students to determine which label best fits each group of organisms.


Gallery Walk: 7th grade Science example

TEKS: (6) Matter and energy. The student knows that matter has physical and chemical properties and can undergo physical and chemical changes. The student is expected to:

(A) identify that organic compounds contain carbon and other elements such as hydrogen, oxygen, phosphorus, nitrogen, or sulfur;

SET UP: Each station has a picture of an organic compound with the formula of the compound beneath it.  There is also a periodic table next to the picture that shows elements of the formula highlighted.

ACTIVITY:  Students record the examples of organic compounds and the elements in them at each station.

DEBRIEF: Teacher facilitates a discussion to help students discover the pattern of what organic compounds have in common and what is different between them.


Gallery Walk:  Chemistry example

TEKS: (7) Science concepts. The student knows how atoms form ionic, metallic, and covalent bonds. The student is expected to:

(B) construct electron dot formulas to illustrate ionic and covalent bonds

SET UP:  Round 1 – Each station has a picture of a simple Lewis Dot Structure for a Covalent Compound with bonds represented by dots.  The dots and element symbols are color coded.

Round 2 – Each station has an additional picture added to it that shows the same covalent compound but with lines to represent bonds instead of dots.

Round 3 – New stations are added with pictures of Lewis Dot Structures for Ionic Compounds.  The dots are color coded with the element symbols.

ACTIVITY:  Students rotate between the stations recording observations using the “I notice…” and “I wonder…” sentence stems on sticky notes and leaving them around the posters.

DEBRIEF:  Teacher organizes students’ observations and reads them to the group.  The observations form the foundation for the introduction to Lewis Dot Structures, how they are drawn, what they represent and how ionic and covalent compounds are represented differently.


  • To learn more about this strategy and other engaging ways to allow students to construct their knowledge of chemistry, join us Wednesday,  September 25, 2013 for the workshop:

Targeting the TEKS in High School Science – Chemistry: Chemical Formulas, Bonding and VSEPR (FA1327062). Register at

What to Look for on Pre-K Classroom Walk-Throughs

Friday, September 20th, 2013

Author:  School Ready Team

Are your Pre-K classes “kid ready”?  Here is a quick list of 5 things to look for.





Word on the Street: Bigger Is Not Better…..when it comes to Mentor Texts for Literacy Skill Instruction

Friday, September 20th, 2013

Authors: Lenicia Gordon, Susan Diaz, and Janet Hester

Most contemporary researchers in literacy agree on at least this one fact:  Short, complex texts are the most effective and most critical foundation of the modern lesson cycle in high impact reading and writing instruction.  This is not to say that there is not a place for our favorite novels and short stories but when honing in on specific reading skills like understanding an author’s craft or purpose, making inferences, summarizing or making connections between texts, short rich texts (purposefully chosen for illustrative properties of the chosen skill to be taught) are the keystone.  This same paradigm is true for writing instruction as well.

The use of mentor texts and mini-lessons for skills, strategies, and revision is the common thread of advice from literacy experts we have been reading and engaging with this past year.  The other clear message is the importance of truly engaging all four processes: reading, speaking, listening, and writing embedded in each lesson cycle.

Steve Graham and Dolores Perin boil it down to three simple actions – Read, Emulate, Analyze when referring to anchoring learning about writing through the immersion in quality mentor texts – in their report “Writing Next for The Alliance for Excellent Education”.  To download the entire free PDF guide, “Writing Next: Effective Strategies to Improve Writing of Adolescents in Middle and High School”, visit Kelly Gallagher reiterates the importance of this three step process and adds that teachers need to “model, model, model!”  He also believes students need to be immersed in opportunities to read and analyze great fiction and write fiction.  The pendulum swing away from fiction and towards only nonfiction is a mistake in his mind that needs to be returned to balance.

Here are his five practical guiding questions which he suggests educators ask themselves before designing a reading lesson:

1)      What support do my students need before they begin reading a text?

2)      What strategies will assist them to read the text with purpose and clarity?

3)      How can I encourage a second-draft reading to facilitate deeper meaning?

4)      Which collaborative activities will help deepen their comprehension?

5)      How can I help students see the relevance this text plays in their world?

(Gallagher, Kelly. Deeper Reading: Comprehending Challenging Texts, 4-12. Portland, Me.: Stenhouse, 2004)

Jeff Anderson likens the process to the scientific method (Observe, Question, Hypothesize, Test, and Conclude). Anderson’s Analysis Process involves five steps: Noticing, Interacting, Naming, Experimenting, and Reflecting. In the Noticing phase, students read the mentor text independently and use annotating techniques to mark anything in the text they like or find interesting that the writer is doing. The next phase is called Interacting.  The teacher guides the students’ noticings to the focused skill of the writing lesson: for example, the thesis or imagery, etc. The Naming phase is when the teacher will bring in academic vocabulary and make broad generalizations about the genre of the writing: for example, cause/effect structure or “it’s called foreshadowing when an author does that”. Experimenting is a time for kids to play with language, patterns, and structures in their own writing that is connected to the instructional objective or skill.  Finally, the class Reflects. Students need a moment to consider if adding the element improves or detracts from the meaning of their essay and explain why they think so.  They can do their reflections through a quickwrite such as an exit ticket or a think/pair/share. (Anderson, Jeff. Ten Things Every Writer Needs to Know. Portland, Me.: Stenhouse, 2011)

Fountas and Pinnell outline the reading process through the study of genre with the foundation still being mentor text study, as such, a) Interactive read-aloud, b) Readers’ workshop, which includes book talks, a mini-lesson, conferences, independent reading, guided reading, literature discussion (book clubs), writing about reading, and group share, c) Writers’ workshop, which includes writers’ talks, a mini-lesson, conferences, independent writing, guided writing, and group share.

For an overview of their Six Step process to teaching an inquiry-based genre study check out this one-page reference sheet: Genre Study: Steps in the Inquiry Process:

(Fountas, Irene C., and Gay Su Pinnell. Genre Study: Teaching with Fiction and Nonfiction Books: Grades K-8. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 2012.)

Stephanie Harvey contributes to this short mentor text movement by adding her twist, STOP, THINK, and REACT (Remember) when referring to the instructional process. “We teach kids to think so they can acquire and actively use knowledge.” Her primary “take home points” are: a) We need to be providing kids at ALL reading levels with COMPLEX texts and that this means complicated ideas, not necessarily lexile level. b) Annotating text is critical to close reading and close VIEWING of nonfiction features deepens understanding of expository texts. c) Students need to, “Stop, Think, and React (REMEMBER)…..STR!” and be provided ample opportunities to practice this with quality complex mentor texts. d) Students should skip the things they don’t understand in the FIRST read and make sense of what they DO know. Then in the SECOND read, they should focus on the things they don’t know and then try and understand. (Notes from 2013 IRA Conference, San Antonio, TX – Harvey, Stephanie, and Anne Goudvis. Strategies That Work: Teaching Comprehension for Understanding and Engagement. Portland, Me.: Stenhouse, 2007)

Harvey “Smokey” Daniels points out the critical importance of pairing students to read, discuss and analyze texts and providing them compelling higher order questions to guide their discussions. Smokey reiterates the value of what students learn from each other through guided discourse.  They provide each other background and context, as well as the opportunity to engage in the entire literacy process of reading, writing, speaking, and listening so that they truly internalize content, strategies, and metacognition.  He shared some specific reading strategies such as finding the “Golden Nugget Sentence” in a selection among many others. “Smokey” Daniels will be presenting during our Distinguished Speakers Series here at Region 13 on Friday, December 6th! (Notes from 2013 IRA Conference, San Antonio, TX  – Daniels, Harvey, and Marilyn Bizar. Teaching the Best Practice Way: Methods That Matter, K-12. Portland, Me.: Stenhouse, 2005.)

Sara Holbrook and Michael Salinger suggest many strategies for using POETRY to support READING skills and CONTENT learning across the curriculum.  Sara and Michael are leaders in the writing to learn movement in literacy instruction. They support ideas like using Haikus as a way to SUMMMARIZE content information. Due to the fact that Haiku requires such precise and carefully chosen words, it would be an excellent way to summarize, for example, a lesson about Abraham Lincoln, the food web, attributes of a geometric solid, etc.  They posit that poetry can support learning across the curriculum using poetic structures of Found Poems, Questioning Poems, Summary Poems, Refrain Poems, and List Poems. (Notes from 2013 IRA Conference, San Antonio, TX – Holbrook, Sara, and Michael Salinger. Outspoken!: How to Improve Writing and Speaking Skills through Poetry Performance. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 2006.)

*Some of these distinguished speakers will be presenting at Region 13 in the near future. Visit our website to register!


Jeff Anderson-November 8th

Harvey “Smokey” Daniels- December 6th

Kelly Gallagher-January 10th