Sep 1, 2019

Teaching Eleven and Twelve Year Olds How to Conduct Online Research is Fun

Working Every Day With Kids
I'm a teacher. I don't have a classroom of seventy kids. My largest class has twenty-three students. I work at a small school. There is a lot of interaction between teachers and students and I'm often in the middle of things every day. Because of my schedule, I get to teach several different subjects to different age groups. I teach two different groups of Sixth graders once a week. We've had this schedule since September. 
Working with computers
You still need paper and pen even if you're working on a computer.

Teaching Kids How to Research Online
I teach a class called Research. We do activities in the computer lab. I make them create customized Google Maps. We use Google Earth. For one lesson the kids created their own Encyclopedia Britannica online account. I teach them how to find good resources online. I make them take notes on Google Docs. I talk about Internet safety. Sometimes we play silly HTML games online. It's an easy class to teach because we’re doing stuff I like. Give me an encyclopedia or an atlas and I'm lost in it for hours. I'll forget to eat or take a shower. So I'm in my element twice a week on Mondays and Wednesdays. It's the closest I get to feeling like a librarian. Also, I get a kick out doing Internet-related stuff with kids. It's interesting finding out how much they know. Eleven and Twelve-year-olds are also really hilarious and curious. 
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Creating Surveys to Teach Qualitative and Quantitative Questioning
Leveraging my students' insatiable curiosity, I made them create their own Google Forms. We did a unit on qualitative and quantitative questions. How many hours do you spend online? That's a quantitative question. How do you feel about going to the dentist? That’s a qualitative question. And I talked about the differences between open and close-ended questions. Using those two concepts we created surveys. A large percentage of the kids wrote survey questions about video gaming habits. Elliot wrote a survey collecting information about eating-out habits. And another kid named Amber wrote a survey that used Google Form’s redirect feature to make the survey different based on answers respondents gave to questions. It was the first time I had ever made kids make their own Google Form. So I was happy. Sending out the Forms to others took some work, though. Kids had fun emailing the persistent link to friends, teachers, and family - but, to be honest, the kids who had their parents post the link to other adults via social media garnered the most results. I was impressed that one savvy researcher amassed 70+ results. Most of us managed only to get twenty. But the goal of the lesson was in designing and creating the survey - not in its popularity. So I praised kids’ design efforts over popularity. 

Creating Google Forms With Students
If you want to do a similar lesson with kids keep these things in mind:
  • The first question should be required:
  • Set the Google Form to not collect respondents’ emails. And disable required Google login to take the survey.
  • Turn off quiz mode. There are no right or wrong answers.
  • Make a snazzy visual header.
  • Brainstorm lots of ideas. Look up and model good examples.
  • A survey on BBQ versus Hot Pot is a better survey than just FOOD.
  • Use lots of relevant images!!!! 
  • Divide your survey into sections.
  • Use the grid question type in Google Forms.
  • Make your kids use all the question-types.
  • There is a difference between a checklist question and a multiple choice question.
  • Make your kids create at least one linear scale question.
  • Don't make all questions open-ended.
  • Have kids explain their questions. Not everyone understands what Fortnite and dap mean.
Other Things to Consider: 
Explain to your students that they're conducting research using qualitative and quantitative data and exploring general interests and preferences. They're not collecting personal information. Don't collect first and last names, addresses, emails, or birthdates with month, day, and year. 

If your school is not set up to use Google Apps don't worry. If kids are thirteen and older they can create their own Google accounts. If kids are under thirteen, they'll need parental permission to make a Google Account for kids. 

Proofread your kids’ work before allowing them to send it out to the world. Once you decide a survey meets your standards make the student draft a Researcher’s Letter and save it to Google Docs. That way they can be like real data scientists. 

An Example of Student Work
Dear Friends, Etc.,
I’ve created a qualitative and quantitative survey to represent students in Middle School and their favorite things (this survey only applies to students in 4th, 5th and 6th grade.). I’m conducting this research for a school project. I am not collecting personal information. Thank you for taking this survey!
What Has Been Your Experience Teaching Kids Online Research Skills?
Thank you for reading my blog. I write a lot of stuff about different topics; so, I hope you enjoyed this one about using Google Apps in the classroom. Let me know in the comments if you've ever experimented with Google Forms in a classroom setting.

Jun 19, 2019

Whose Quotation Is It?: "You Greeks Are Like Children"


Ancient Ruins
“You Greeks are like children.” An Egyptian priest has reprimanded Solon, a Sixth Century Greek diplomat, about why Egypt has been around for quite a while longer than the Greeks. The Egyptians are having none of that. Greek civilization at that time was still too young to boast of its own greatness. Grow up a bit, the Egyptian advises.
But what is the veracity of this quote and where does it really originate?

There is a general rule of thumb that if you read a quotation online purported to be penned by a famous writer, politician, or philosopher, it is best to be skeptical, especially if the quote is not cited with a reference to an actual book or solid source. Plato said it? Abraham Lincoln said it? Hillary Clinton said it? I'd be wary if the citation is not complete. It has happened to me several times that I found a quote that I liked (and even posted it here) only to later find out that its authorship is unknown.
A Quick Internet Search Has Yielded a Researcher’s Headache
A few years ago, I was an assistant to a political scientist - he needed someone to come to his house in Staten Island to work on a manuscript he was writing about emerging global markets. One job I had was to track down quotes he wanted to use in his book. “Research Solon's remarks about ‘You Greeks are like children’,” he told me. It was a seemingly easy quote to track down because I knew the story from History. Solon did indeed visit Egypt in the Sixth Century B.C.E. But who actually recorded the interchange between the priest and Solon: “You Greeks are like children …”?
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A quick Internet search showed that apparently, Plato was the one who immortalized the exchange between the Egyptian priest and Solon - but as I mentioned earlier, I could not find a hard source. However, I finally found the source - after doing a series of searches in the Complete Works of Plato - I found it. The quote comes from Plato’s Timaeus. In this book, Plato has Socrates and his friends talking about a bunch of things, but one strand that runs through the dialogue is the creation of the world. Solon appears in the dialogue because of Critias - one of Plato’s cousins! He tells the story of Solon visiting Egypt. An old priest stands up and says:
“‘Ah, Solon, Solon, you Greeks are ever children. There isn’t an old man among you.’ On hearing this, Solon said, ‘What? What do you mean?’ ‘You are young,’ the old priest replied, ‘young in soul, every one of you. Your souls are devoid of beliefs about antiquity handed down by ancient tradition. Your souls lack any learning made hoary by time.’” (Timaeus 22 b-c)*
*Plato,  and John M. Cooper. Complete Works. Indianapolis: Hackett, 2009. Print.

Jun 17, 2019

According to the Tobey Maguire Spider-Man (from 2002) Smart Queens High School Students Study at the 42nd Street Library

The 42nd Street Library (The Stephen A. Schwartzman Building)
If you live in New York City, everyone knows the 42nd Street Library on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan. The building (flanked by its two iconic lions - Patience and Fortitude) represents the city's public library system - even though the site is not a branch library (it's a humanities research library) and the city hosts three public library systems. The building is also embedded in the medium of American popular culture - everything from Ghostbusters, Sex and the City to Day After Tomorrow and Breakfast at Tiffany's have featured the library. So considering Spider-Man is New York city's own superhero - he's a teen from Queens, after all - it's fitting that the 2002 original Spider-Man movie starring Tobey Maguire would feature this iconic spot.

Uncle Ben's Famous Speech: "With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility"
Peter Parker needs to study, so Uncle Ben drives him from their home in Forest Hills in his massive gas-guzzling Cadillac to the front steps of the library. It's there that he gives his famous speech: "With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility." Besides being a motivational speech given by a surrogate father to his maturing son, the address serves as foreshadowing to what's to come. Uncle Ben dies in a shoot-out caused by the trigger-happy actions of a thief (whom Peter Parker was unable to capture). Peter feels directly responsible for his Uncle's death - and it is his death that propels the Spider-Man story forward.


Do Kids from Queens Use the 42nd Street Library to Study?
How many kids from Queens go to the 42nd Street library to study? I am a teacher in Queens, so I really want to know. My experience is that Queens' kids stick to their neighborhoods - be it Jackson Heights or Forrest Hills. So I guess it shows that Peter Parker is an outlier - he chooses to expand his horizons. In reality, if you live in Queens, you are more than likely to use the Queens Public Library - which is actually a separate entity from the New York Public Library - but I digress.

Great Places to Study if You Want to Do a Peter Parker and Get Out of Bed
If you really want a quiet place to study but you don't have Uncle Ben's wheels to take you to Manhattan here are a few of my favorite places to explore in Queens:
  • Forest Hills Branch, Elmhurst Branch, and Jackson Heights Branch of the Queens Public Library - these are just three of my favorite branches in the Queens system.
  • Museum of the Moving Image - If the weather is beautiful - and you don't mind paying the entrance fee (15 for adults 11 for students and 9 for kids) - the outside patio is a comfortable place to study and read.
  • If you are looking for a sweet spot in Jackson Heights try Espresso 77 - but be warned you cannot use a laptop on weekends - and on weekdays laptop people are relegated to a particular table.
  • The J, Z, F, M, R, E, G, and 7 trains of the New York City Subway all go into Queens - so grab a metro card and sit, ride, and read (not recommended for very prolonged periods).

Jun 15, 2019

Lesson Plans, Activities, Printables, Editables, and More that I have Created and Made Available for Teachers

Most of the following lessons plans, activities, and other teacher resources are for sale on my teacher's marketplace; however, lesson plans marked with an asterisk (*) are free to use (under a creative commons non-commercial license).

Formative Assessments

Teachers often need to make sure their students are on track. This usually involves checking for understanding during class, creating discussion questions, quizzes, tests, and so on. Here are some original formative assessments I created to help you track your students' success.
Short English Language Test for ELLs - I created this assessment to assess my English Language learners in September. You can use it as a short, formal assessment of language skills. 
Long English Language Test for ELLs - I created this longer assessment to assess my students at the end of the semester. There are three versions.

Greek and Roman Mythology

Teaching Greek and Roman myths is a favorite topic among upper elementary and middle school students. Here are some resources I created that touch on some of my favorite topics.
*10 Words and Phrases Derived from Greek Mythology - From my blog, here are ten words and phrases popularly used in the English language.
 The Myth of Icarus: A Cautionary Tale from Ancient Greece -  Introduce your students to a fairly popular Greek moral tale about an ambitious inventor and his erstwhile son. I have created a 3-day lesson plan filled with activities to get your students thinking critically about this important mythological text.
Ready-to-Go-Activity: 10 Everyday Words and Phrases in Greek Mythology  -  I updated my blog post on words and phrases from Greek myth and made it into a usable resource for teachers in the classroom.

Homesick: My Own Story by Jean Fritz

Jean is a ten-year old American girl living in the British settlement in Hankow, China in the 1920s. In this autobiographical novel, Jean witnesses major events on the world stage through her own childlike perspective.  

Chapter One Lesson Plan Resource 
Chapter Two Lesson Plan Resource 
Chapter Three Lesson Plan Resource

Maps and Geography Skills

My first paid teaching job was a Summer school gig in New Orleans, Louisiana. I taught Geography. Here are some lessons to get your students more geographically-aware.
*Printables: Blank World Map for Printing (with borders) - I like using this gratis, public-domain world map; it's easy to use, has borders, and makes for a good geography quiz template. 
Geography Skills Lesson: Ready-to-Use Worksheet with Blank World Map - I made this resource as a simple day one assessment of a student's knowledge of world geography. It's ready-to-go out of the box

Philosophy in the Classroom Series

One of my projects is teaching philosophy in the classroom. Every chance I get I introduce students to philosophical thinking. Here are some polished resources that are classroom-tested and guaranteed to get your class thinking.

Caught You! The Ring of Gyges from Plato's Republic - A lesson plan on justice 
Plato's Allegory of the Cave in Plain Language - A lesson plan on truth and reality 
"Discuss any Moral Dilemma!" All-in-One Lesson - A lesson plan for any moral dilemma 
Empiricism versus Rationalism - A lesson plan on how we know that we know (and why)

Reading Comprehension Resources

Reading is essential. Here are some resources to help inject some energy into any-level reader.
Five ELL Reading Comprehension Questions ("Bobby the Math Whiz" - Nonfiction) - Use this text as a reading comprehension worksheet for English Language Learners.

William Blake and Romanticism

William Blake's poetry is mystical and beautiful - and here some lessons I have created about him and his work.

William Blake's "London": Visualizing the Industrial Revolution Through Poetry - Blake's poem is evocative of a time period in history where children worked as chimney sweeps and child labor is London was commonplace - a travesty of the first stages of the Industrial Revolution.

Jun 12, 2019

Why the National Endowment for the Humanities Seminars and Institutes for Summer Scholars are Amazing for Educators

Image result for neh summerThe National Endowment for the Humanities will help me go back to school tuition-free for the Summer. I was selected as a Summer Scholar - which means I will join a small cohort of educators for a month of study at Amherst College in Massachusetts to study the ethics of punishment and reward. 

NEH Summer Scholars
Every year the National Endowment for the Humanities offers dozens of humanities-based programs for primary and secondary school teachers and higher education professionals. Teachers apply for the programs they want, and if selected from a national pool, are able to participate in an NEH summer seminar, landmark or institute. The aim of the program is to put educators in an institution with great teachers, colleagues, and set with a topic - so when we return in the Fall we are hopefully enlightened, inspired, and equipped with new ideas, tools and curriculum to share with our home schools. 
"Punishment, Politics, and Culture"
I was selected to participate in a four-week Summer Seminar hosted by Professor Austin Sarat from Amherst College entitled "Punishment, Politics, and Culture". Here is a link to what we will be reading and discussing. I will come away from the seminar enriched because we'll dive into important texts (e.g., Beloved by Toni Morrison and The Book of Job from the Bible) that have shaped culture, history, and literature. The essential question of our seminar is why do we (as a society) punish - or reward - the way that we do and what does this say about our moral values? 

A community of Educators in Queens
I teach at a private, independent school in Queens. We're called Garden School and we've been in the Jackson Heights neighborhood since 1923. A few of my colleagues, James Pigman, Marcia Elkind, and Nancy Massand have participated in NEH Summer programs and they inspired me to apply. The cool thing about NEH Summer Scholar program is that it creates a mini-community of educators who have done one or two programs and you become committed to sharing what you have learned.

Mr. Pigman, an Emeritus Educator Inspired Me to be of the Hot Sauce Variety at Amherst
Mr. Pigman, who is now retired (but still very active), told me that "I am of the hot sauce variety". That's because I ate a dish of spicy crawfish in Suzhou, China (on a school trip we did together with students and other teachers back in 2017). I think he admired my spunk so I hope to bring that same zest to the Summer I'll be attending at Amherst. All of us in the program are all already linked together on an email chain and participants I will be working with have sent emails discussing what cool things we can do in an around the Amherst and Western Massachusetts region. I am looking forward to seeing the Emily Dickinson Museum.

Fun Facts:
The National Endowment for the Humanities provides opportunities like the one I am attending this Summer every year. Educators can apply for next year's programs in the Fall. Stipends of $1,200-$3,300 help cover expenses for the one- to four-week programs. I am staying on campus at Amherst = so the stipend will help cover my dorm and meal expenses while I am at the college. I am grateful for this opportunity and I cannot wait to dive into the texts and meet our 2019 cohort.

What Do You Think?
Have you ever done an NEH Summer Landmark, Seminar, or Institue? I'd love to hear about your experience. Let me know in the comments.


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I created for the Humanities and English classroom

Jun 8, 2019

Bathroom List: There Ain't No Place to Pee in New York City (Unless You Know a Few Spots)

It's a common occurrence. You have to pee. And you're in the city. You probably don't want to risk peeing in an alley or behind a tree (although I must admit I have been forced to do that). New York City, unfortunately, has very few public places to relieve oneself. When nature calls, what are you going to do?
Photo by Nik Shuliahin on Unsplash


Jun 5, 2019

Short Film Review: Reckless (2013)


The Short Film "Reckless" - 2013 (22 minutes, in Norwegian with English subtitles)


The 2013 Norwegian short film "Reckless" is the work of director Bjørn Erik Pihlmann Sørensen and writer Einar Sverdrup. I saw the film in 2013 and passed it off as a public service announcement about the need to rein in irresponsible teenagers. But as you will notice as I write about the movie, my views have changed a bit since I last saw it. To give you a brief rundown, the movie is about a teenage girl who has to babysit her younger child-age brother - and through a series of related events tragedy strikes. I thought maybe the movie was funded by parents who want their adolescent-aged kids to take better care of their siblings. However, I recently watched it again and the short made me think more about what message it is trying to convey. I haven't read much about the movie online nor have I talked to anyone else I know who has seen it. So I am going to take a critical plunge and just articulate in a flat-footed way what I think the movie might be suggesting about adolescence, sexuality, responsibility and all that good stuff. It's a movie about the absence of authority.

May 21, 2019

May Teacher Journal: Teacher Gonna Teach Animated GIF

Teacher Gonna Teach GIF
Teacher Gonna Teach
So, I wanted to make an animated GIF to represent teaching in May - and here it is (see above).

May 15, 2019

Family History: My Mother’s Doctor is a Roselli

Pam Roselli visits Dr. Eric Roselli
Mom with Dr. Eric Roselli at the Cleveland Clinic
Mom called me the other day. “Greig,” she said. “I met your cousin.” She had been in Cleveland, Ohio to visit an aortic specialist. Mom has been battling an auto-immune disorder for a decade now. The latest development has been an inflammation of her aorta which doctors have told her point to a possible aneurysm. So my mom and older brother went to see Dr. Eric Roselli. Dr. Roselli will perform surgery on her sometime in September. So I asked my mom how she knows for sure Dr. Roselli is my cousin. The surname “Roselli” is not uncommon among Italian Americans. Lake Michigan is, according to legend, filled with Roselli’s attached to cement shoes. And in the Vatican City, one can find examples of the work of Cosimo Roselli.
Mom had a hunch; there was a connection with this particular Roselli because she told me she had a feeling he was related. She said, ”So when I asked him to tell his story he said his grandfather Ercole (Hercules in Italian) emigrated from Italy and he had had a brother named Joseph.” Mom said her eyes lit up. My grandfather, Joseph, emigrated from Italy in 1923. He had a brother named Ercole. They were separated after my grandfather came to the United States after the death of his mother and they didn’t see each other for decades until they were finally reunited as adults. The stories matched! My grandfather, when he emigrated, lived in Detroit. He was a young man, and eventually, he moved to Louisiana. Ercole finally settled in Detroit too and stayed there. So if both stories corroborate - my father and Dr. Roselli are first cousins.
Dr. Roselli’s father is my father’s uncle. We both share a common paternal grandfather. And this Dr. Roselli will take care of my mom (who is a Roselli by marriage). Mom kept the surname even after she divorced my father twenty-five years ago. I guess she liked the name! And she was raising my two brothers and me, so it made it more comfortable when she was dealing with stuff related to us kids. She never changed the name. So this story is really about my mom who is a cancer survivor, and now she’s battling this recent inflammation of her artery. She’ll have surgery done, and the chances are good she’ll come out of it with a clean bill of health. You've got the Roselli’s on your side!

I've written about family history on my blog - check out related articles here.

May 8, 2019

On the Imagination: Doors Are Indicators of Openings Into Other Worlds

The original Poltergeist movie (1982) perfectly utilizes the
ancient idea of a portal to another world.
I took a class in Graduate school on the Arthurian Legend. I wrote a paper on the duality of evil and good children in the myth - relating it to the Hollywood movies The Sixth Sense and The Good Son. Anyway. One thing I took away from that class was how the idea of doors as portals into other worlds is an old archetype located in the oldest myths and stories that have sprung from humankind's first stories. In the Hindu story of Krishna opening his mouth as a child to show his mother the universe, to the Celtic stories of fairy mounds and magical portals, to the Lady of the Lake breaking the surface of the water to reveal the legendary sword Excalibur. If you live in New York City, stepping into the underground concourse of subterranean subway tunnels is a daily excursion into the upside, downside aspect of city-living. The Netflix Television series Stranger Things is a recent foray into this genre. The show has created an entire mythology around this old concept in its imaginative world-building of the Upside Down. I like how Phillip Pullman in his fantasy series The Golden Compass has his hero wield a blade that cuts into the fabric of space and time, thus able to cross between worlds. Or, that famous image from the movie Poltergeist in which Carol Anne extends her hand toward the white, emanating glow of the television set. Portals can be sunken into the imagination of tales and storytelling told by the fire, but there is a truth in the telling. Fantasy fiction, as well as science fiction, uses portals and doorways. For example - Dr. Who's T.A.R.D.I.S. is the stuff of science fiction lore, but the idea of a quantum-powered engine that can skip across space and time seems plausible. And with images from astronomers showing us what Black Holes sort of look like, the idea of traversing across the universe through cosmic doorways seems real to me somehow. We (i.e., humans) just don't have the technology. Yet. I wonder if in the forthcoming centuries we humans will make the old legends true. We first have to figure out the problem of massive incoming changes in the earth's climate that is fastly becoming our next existential threat - but after that! - we have goals to tend to - ad astra!

I found this whimsical video on the video streaming app Tik Tok. I am not sure if this place actually exists - but if it does I want to go there! Video Source: @elliedothoe

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Apr 21, 2019

Time-Lapse Video: Kids Play at Brant Point Lighthouse


Brant Point Lighthouse
Here's another video of our school group visiting the island of Nantucket for Spring Break. We explored the beach surrounding the Brant Point Lighthouse. We woke up early and hiked to the lighthouse. The weather was fresh and chilly. It's Springtime in Nantucket, Massachusetts. Life is good. Seize the moment. Seize the day. Carpe diem.

Viewing Tip: do you notice the ferry leaving the island? That's the same ferry in the video I posted (see the previous post).


Apr 19, 2019

Time-Lapse Video: The Eagle Departs Nantucket Island En Route for Hyannis



Spring Break with Kids from School
I was with a school group on Spring Break in Nantucket. Here's a short time-lapse video of the ferry leaving the island en route for Hyannis. We were on the Eagle, a sea-faring vessel built in Morgan City, Louisiana. The trip was fun. I liked hanging out with the kids. The weather was chilly and invigorating. I ate lobster. We went on a ghost tour. We ate s'mores. Life can be amazing.

Go Back in Time Two Years Ago
Two years ago, I did a similar trip with our school. Here is the time-lapse video of the ferry once we arrived at Hyannis.