7 Tools For Teaching Where That Thanksgiving Feast Came From

As a huge chunk of our population sits down tomorrow and eats way too much, how many will think of the hours, dollars, sweat, and luck that went into producing the bounty in front of them? Probably not many.

Discovery Education and the United State Farmers and Ranchers Alliance have teamed up to help change that through a number of teaching and learning resources at

Through video and print resources, the site is broken into four lessons (45-60 minutes each) that explore a wide array of farming and ranching topics that are important to not only the sustainability of the industry but also our food supply and the cultural heritage of farming and ranching that has been a part of America since its first settlers.

You might also really strike a chord with one or many of your students who are already passionate about farming or ranching like my former student and Hamilton (MI) Middle Schooler Nate Freyhof, “What got me interested in hobby farming was having a good environment and having fun playing outside instead of sitting inside all day. I also think gardening and training or working with animals is fun to do. It is sometimes good to have technology around like tractors to pull a plow or dig up something.”

Steve Dembo recently detailed on the Discovery Education Blog some of the resources available and that the project is based around the award winning documentary Farmland by James Mol.

Here are 7 great things about teaching with the Discovering Farmland site.

  1. The videos and the lessons really put a human face on farming and ranching. This is done visually but one whole lesson focuses untangling stereotypes.
  2. The four lessons fit nicely into a variety of units. Teachers can spread it out to where they spend an hour per week on top of their prescribed curriculum. Think of it like Google 20% time where you step away from “what has to get done” for a little bit to supplement with projects based on interest or that might be especially impactful. Teachers could do two lessons a week and be done in two weeks or maybe full week is dedicated to a deep dive through the entire set of lessons.
  3. Resources provided make these units ready to roll out, even if the teacher knows nothing about farming or ranching.
    • Teacher guide for each lesson
    • Student activity sheet for each lesson
    • Formative assessment exit ticket or activity for each lesson
    • Video snippets of the Farmland movie to support each lesson
    • Web links to extend the research and learning for each lesson
  4. All lessons are vocabulary rich with words that fit into science, social studies, and technology.
  5. Even though each lesson is well designed, each can be modified to meet more personal or curricular needs. For example, an economics class could research where its county ranks in terms of agricultural production or what the taxable value is on a 40 acre plot of farmland.
  6. Discovering Farmland transports students who may have never left their own urban city limits to a completely unknown and almost foreign seeming part of our world. The virtual visit is one of the truly transformative things educational technology can do and this site and resources are perfect for creating those learning opportunities.
  7. There are great resources already in place but there is still more to come from Discovery and the USRFA. Both are committed to showing not only how important our agricultural heritage is but how there are exciting high-tech careers to be had in farming and ranching. There is no food without farming and there is no farming without great science, technology, engineering, and math skills.

Somebody somewhere grew the potatoes, the turkeys, the cranberries, even the cinnamon for the apples sauce we will be feasting on tomorrow. Why not use the resources in Discovering Farmland when you return to the classroom and challenge your students to find out more about who and where our food comes from?


 #Sketchnotes | Doodling that really helps you remember

If you went back to all of my notebooks from high school and college you would notice a lot of doodling. It wasn’t random though. It was a series of pictures I created to help me remember more deeply the content being presented. There might be a crude White House next to something that was supposed to be the Washington Monument as we were learning about the Executive Branch. You’d probably find a lot of flames and snow flakes in my Chemistry notes as I tried to keep straight whether certain elements exploded or froze when they reacted with one another.

What was once perceived as random scrawlings or worse yet time wasting is proving to be an effect way for learners of all ages to help remember material more effectively.

Seeing some of the great stuff Karen Bosch was doing with sketchnotes during the 2015 MACUL conference made me realize I had been on to something since the mid 1980’s. Below are slides from the introductory presentation she gives on sketchnotes.

Susan Bowdoin wrote this past September on the Discovery Education blog about sketchnotes as an instructional strategy. Personally I like how she ties sketchnoting into the research of Robert Marzano that shows non-linguistic representation plays a powerful role in making learning stick.

Visual or graphic note taking, also called Sketchnoting, is gaining greater popularity as a strategy for increasing engagement in lectures, seminars and video presentations. When sketchnoting, learners use visual means to analyze information, make comparisons and develop analogies to better understand and communicate what they’ve learned. This requires higher level thinking. It is also directly related to Robert Marzano’s research on the significant positive affects that nonlinguistic representations have on student achievement.

Read all of Susan’s tips on SOS: Sketchnotes at the Discovery Education blog. She not only provides practical strategies for implementing the strategy but also delivers some app suggestions for making this digital.

Wow, and to think all of the mean looks I got from Mr. Stuyver in Trigonometry for “doodling” too much were all for naught. Those weren’t doodles; they were sketchnotes. Maybe if he hadn’t discouraged my use of non-linguistic representation, I would have remembered more from his class.

Sketchnote on, my friends.

#cuerockstar Teach Wild Resources

We had a great adventures at Rock Star Saugatuck and Rock Star MASSCUE playing “Oh Deer”, crossing the Kalamazoo River on the only operating hand-crank chain ferry in the U.S., and climbing Mt. Baldhead’s 302 steps, and digging into the Google Cultural Institute. Better yet were the great conversations we had about effectively bringing nature into your curriculum and taking kids out into it. Here are resource links.

Project Wild – Find more information on the program and link to trainings and curriculum
Project Wild and Project Aquatic materials listed on eBay.

The Nature Connection by Clare Walker Leslie

Screen Shot 2015-07-12 at 5.24.22 PM – Great infographic maker

Canva – Create beautiful graphics to show findings.

Google Cultural Institute – Take students to museums all over the world and have them create collections of the ways animals have been portrayed in art over the years.

Trimble Sketchup – Have your students build their own Mt. Baldy steps or recreate structures you discover with them. It’s as real as math gets.

Walkmeter App

GPS Altimeter App

BirdCaller App

Leaf Snap

On top of Mt. Baldhead, all covered in S.T.E.A.M.
On top of Mt. Baldhead, all covered in S.T.E.A.M.

EdTech and the Rock and Roll Church

Here is another repost from a couple of years ago but it’s one of my favorite pieces I have ever written. Original Post from May of 2011

Today at my kitchen sink, while cleaning up some breakfast dishes, I had one of those “ah ha” moments. It was as if it was sent from above.

Here is the idea. Think about what educational technology and the “contemporary” Christian church service have in common. Whether you are a believer or not, it is hard to deny the similarities.

Over the course of the last twenty years, many churches have seen big changes to the typical Sunday morning worship formats they offer. For years, churches were seeing a decline in numbers and an apathy amongst its congregation. When asked why, many members…and especially young ones…said they just weren’t getting a personal connection with the traditional singing of hymns and congregational responses. Sound familiar? What are educators hearing when they ask today’s student who seems disinterested in school and apathetic? It’s pretty much the same thing. These students are struggling to make the personal connection with the traditional way schools operate and present content.

What did churches do? They listened to those they aim to serve and they tailored their offerings….well, some did. For many of those who did, they saw a return of parishioners and renewed interest. According to a article, a 2009  study found 64% of churches that updated their services or created contemporary offerings saw their numbers grow.

Education should be paying attention and following some of the same principles when it comes to integrating technology.

Principle #1: If we don’t meet their needs, we will lose students. If these churches hadn’t gotten creative and realized the legitimacy of the desires, church goers would do just that…go, and take their tithes and offerings with them. With the increase of “schools of choice” laws and the pushing of vouchers by some politicians, it is just as easy for families who don’t feel the personalized connection to take their state foundation grants down the road with them to a different district. The proper use of educational technology can tailor that education and create that personalized connection. We in education need to listen.

Principle #2: Meet those we aim to serve on their schedules. Churches began to meet members more on members’ schedules and not just on the church’s schedule. Many of the “mega churches” offer Saturday night services or Sunday evening services for those that just can’t roll out of bed or have mid-Sunday morning conflicts. They are also using technology to stream church via the Internet or they create podcasts of their services. Educational technology has amazing abilities to break down the same dependencies schools have on rigid scheduling and limited course offerings. Content, courses, and lectures can all go online and on portable devices. It can be streamed over the Internet and classes can meet in the virtual spaces of wikis and classroom management systems like Moodle. Schools can be creative and unlock learning time from the 8 to 3 mold, just as churches are unlocking worship from 11:oo to noon on Sunday morning.

Principle #3 Remain true to your core content. Even though there may now be a five piece rock and roll band up by the altar, the music is still about the same God that “What a friend we have in Jesus” is. The service may look vastly different from the outside but it’s the same truths that are being pursued. It’s the same Scriptures being studied. Philosophically for me, educational technology is a way to pursue academic truths and develop deeper understanding of the content to be learned. I am a firm believer that the liberal arts must be cherished and that classical studies teaches the contemporary human to inquire and think on a higher level. Now harness those pursuits to the tools we have technology wise and the discovery is ramped up 100 fold. Bringing the classics into the context of today makes it personal to kids. is a perfect example of taking great literature and exploring it through Google Earth…relating sometime ancient locales to our contemporary world. Even Steve Jobs during the launch of the iPad2 heralded this pursuit. “It’s in Apple’s DNA that technology alone is not enough. It’s technology married with liberal arts, married with the humanities that yields the results that makes our hearts sing.”

What neither education nor the rock and roll church can lose sight of is the human relationship factor. Isn’t that mission of both really? Technology can do a lot of things for both, but if we are not fostering respectful inter-personal relationships in either space then we are missing the boat and no matter how slickly produced, the messages will never find their targets. Computers can never replace great teachers and podcasts can’t replace exceptional preachers.

The Framers and Founders of America called for a separation of Church and State. It doesn’t mean the two can’t learn from one another though.

Tackling Technical Text with Paper Airplanes at Instructables com

Tackling Technical Text with Paper Airplanes at 

 I was recently searching with my wife for go to technical texts that she could use with her fourth graders as they tackle how directions are written and strategies for comprehending them.

I decided to take a deeper look at I’ve had the app for years but always thought of it as this way-out set of instructions for building things like charcoal powered generators or a suit of armor made from pop can tabs.

The site is actually loaded with easy to build, fun stuff like paper airplanes…some simple, some complex. Many of the instructions are written by kids too.

The second-graders dove right in to the many offerings. Some had to overcome the fact the task would take some thinking, trial and error, and perseverance. Overall, we ended up experiencing a lot of learning and having a lot of fun as this relentless winter raged on.

5 Easy Tech Projects for Kids to Give Thanks

Here are five technology infused ways for kids to show their thankfulness as we head into Thanksgiving here in the U.S. Canadian friends can file this one away until next Fall.

The great thing about each of these activities is that thoughts and ideas are not only shared with the whole class but also an authentic audience across the web. Publish a link in a newsletter or on a class blog and invite the outside world into your classroom and the hard work of your students.

1. Blog Comments: One of the fastest ways for kids to give thanks is on a class blog. Create a post as a writing prompt and then open up the comments to your students. In Blogger and other platforms there are various settings to allow anonymous comments but have students sign each one with a first name. It is a good idea to watch each new addition closely to ward off any pre-holiday hi-jinx or silliness. It is neat to see all of the ideas in one group spot. Students can also comment on each other’s thoughts.

2. Build a Shared Class Slide Deck: If your students all have Google Apps for Education accounts, you can create a presentation that has a blank slide for every student. Just share the deck with the entire class and each student can work in his or her own little corner of the collaborative project. It is a proactive idea to designate each slide ahead of time with a student name or class number. This greatly reduces students interfering with one another. Each can create a slide that has textual and visual expressions of what makes them thankful. The finished deck can be embedded on a class webpage for everyone to easily view.

Haiku Deck helps you makes stunning slides.

3. Get Artsy with Haiku Deck: Students will need an account in Haiku Deck, but they can do that with their Google Accounts as well. Haiku Deck is available free as an iOS app or on the web at There isn’t the option of all collaborating on the same deck of slides like in Google Apps, but there are a number of sharing options that easily let students email links or embed codes to a teacher so all of the work can get compiled in one publicly accessible spot. Students can upload their own background photos or select from the beautiful free collection that Haiku Deck offers.

4. Create a Pic Collage: This a great free app available on iPad and Android devices. It has an easy to use interface for dragging and dropping a number of pictures into a collage and accenting with text and borders. A number of frames are available that makes the maneuvering even easier. Non-linguistic representations of concepts are often the most powerful connections to really understanding something. A collage showing thankfulness really gets kids thinking about what they have special in their lives, but also how to effectively communicate that visually. Collages can be saved as images and then posted by the teacher.

5. Let Them Show it with ShowMe: ShowMe is a great whiteboard recording app for the iPad. Students can upload a picture or draw one and then create a voice over track telling for what they are thankful. One advantage that ShowMe has over some of the other whiteboard apps is that if logged into a teacher account, the quick movies generated can all be easily posted to webspace that ShowMe provides.

None of these techniques take a tremendous amount of tech skills and don’t require a lot of planning on the teacher’s part. Give one a spin this week and you are likely to wind up thankful you did.

Teachers learn a ton at conferences. Kids can too.

This past Monday I had the opportunity to attend the Michigan Interscholastic Press Association conference in Lansing with thirty-five Hamilton High School journalism students and their teachers Mark Behnke and Kevin Weed.

Not only did I pick up some great ideas for assessing my own students’ work and supporting scholastic journalism efforts, I also realized that students enjoy learning in the conference format as well.

Students from the school’s newspaper “The Thunderhawk” and sports media class “Covering Hawkeyes Sports” share their reflections on getting out of the building for a day and engaging in some self-directed learning.


Hamilton High School attends MIPA Journalism Conference – YouTube.

Use Google Slides as an online Academic Vocabulary Notebook

In Hamilton, part of our district and building improvement process includes increasing student academic vocabulary capacity.

John Marzano has laid out six steps for teachers to follow when introducing new content-specific words.


Marzano’s six steps  –

In my elementary technology classes, third and fourth graders are performing step 4 now in Google Drive with a digital notebook.  All I did was adapt one of Marzano’s notebook templates and created it in Google Slides. I made the deck public and kids created their own copies and shared them with me.

Kids write the definition in their own words, they rate their understanding of the word, and also find a non-linguistic representation of the word. The template I created makes it really easy for the kids to add and record their knowledge of the words.

Doing it this way takes advantage of all of the benefits of Google documents like ubiquitous access and sharing.

Find and create a copy of the slide deck here.  Feel free to use it and share it.

Academic Vocabulary Template
Academic Vocabulary Template