Look In the Mirror

Filed under: Uncategorized — Anneke Radin-Snaith at 10:35 pm on Wednesday, April 9, 2014

After attending  Educon this year, I decided to teach my next unit 100% Project Based Learning using the PBL Essentials Checklist from bie.org.  One of the elements on the checklist is Reflection, so near the end of the project I put together a series of reflective questions for my students.   I also explained to them that I put a high value on reflection and believe that you can learn as much from reflecting on the project as you can from doing it.  As my students began submitting their “completed” reflections, I was very disappointed.  They just weren’t getting it.  Self-reflection is not something they are asked to do very often and it showed.  I talked to a few individual students and tried to push them a little more. The same thing happened in the next period.  By this time I was frustrated.  I kept finding more and more adjectives to describe what I wanted and nothing was working.

Suddenly I remembered a blog post I  read recently, “Monkeys Can Teach Good Kids”.  The whole post is great and the part that’s most relevant here is, “ If more than 15% of my kids don’t understand my teachings I simply…GO LOOK IN THE MIRROR!  I take responsibility that my teachings didn’t hit the target. “  Now, this doesn’t sound like rocket science, but it can be very rare in school culture.  As soon as I remembered this, I knew I had to do something different.  That “something” was to answer the same questions as the students, but from my own perspective.  This ended up being a great exercise for me.  I often reflect mentally and informally, but to go through the more formal process of answering all the questions in writing wasn’t easy.  One of the better ideas that came to me was in response to the “What would you have done differently?” question.  My answer was that I would have organized the group roles differently, “For example, if a group was working on the legislative branch, one person might research basic information on the that branch, while a second person might look more closely at a law made by the legislative branch that has a direct impact on us.  The third group member could possibly find information on how we, as citizens, might be able to impact the legislative branch’s decision making.”  

Showing my students a genuine example of what I was looking for did the trick.  Thank you Ben Gilpin for the the great post!


“What Do I Do Monday?”

Filed under: Uncategorized — Anneke Radin-Snaith at 8:29 am on Saturday, February 1, 2014

I love attending Educon!  It’s exciting, inspirational, reassuring, challenging, fun, and much more.  The conversations (both organized and informal) open up so many possibilities.  Many of these possibilities are all the more realistic because the Science Leadership Academy not only talks the talk, but also walks the walk.  The proof is evident throughout the conference.

The conversations at Educon push my thinking.  Engagement and empowerment are words that often come up at Educon.  However, Bill Ferriter challenged us to think about these words a bit deeper.  ”Should we be engaging or empowering learners?” Once I thought about this a bit, I felt a pang of guilt, because my work lately has focused on student engagement, but clearly much of what I’m drawn to at SLA revolves around student empowerment.  In a Conversation on student engagement, Gary Aungst brought up Logan LaPlante, the 13-year old whose TED talk, Hackschooling Makes Me Happy, is perhaps the epitome of student empowerment.

And yet……the question still looms: What do I do Monday?  How do I take these ideas, or pieces of them, back home and APPLY them?  Student empowerment and Hackschooling are exciting to think about, but how do they fit into a “regular” public school?  How can we reconcile Educon ideas with federal, state, and local restrictions, with unmotivated students (we don’t have the luxury of an application process), and colleagues who have different philosophies on teaching?

This year I was lucky enough to attend Educon with several other teachers from my school.  While it is always informative and inspirational to talk to people from other schools, it was incredibly powerful to be having those “Educon” conversations with my own colleagues.  I am hopeful that we can take this Educon energy and translate it into some substantive changes in our school and have some real answers for “What do I do on Monday?”

“What Do I Do Monday” is the title of a book by John Holt (Dutton, 1970, Heinemann, 1995)



Beliefs Challenged

Filed under: Uncategorized — Anneke Radin-Snaith at 9:27 pm on Friday, October 18, 2013

The other night a friend and I got into a heated discussion about iPads in education.  She said that she would rather not have iPads in her own childrens’ classrooms and that iPads are not any better than TV’s and computers.  Since technology integration (including iPads) is what I put my heart and soul into 50 plus hours a week, this was uncomfortable and hard to take, especially from a good friend.  

Ironically, we have been discussing perspective in my classroom this week.  As part of the discussion, I had my students do a guided imagery exercise in which they imagined what the world would be like if we were all the same and had the same perspective on everything.  Of course, we all agreed that that world would be awful; a good reminder for me as I was reflecting on the iPad discussion.  Sometimes other perspectives push us to define our own.  What follows is part of a message I sent in an attempt to better articulate my position:

My goal in using technology in the classroom actually has nothing to do with technology itself. I believe that it can be a tool used to get to a more student-centered, inquiry-based classroom with highly engaged students. This is the type of classroom I want my children in – and as a professional, it’s hard to achieve that with Industrial Age tools. Of course there are other ways, but many of them require more flexibility in scheduling and location than what a “regular” public school allows. I came into this profession with no affinity for technology, but was drawn to it because it allowed me much more creativity and flexibility, as well as permission to try new things, than the traditional teaching methods. There are certainly times that I question our continual increasing use of technology.  When I do, I come back to this analogy. Technology is like a runaway horse. It’s going, whether we like it or not. I would rather get on the horse and steer it than watch it run off into the distance (with our children in tow). 

Why should/shouldn’t we have iPads or other technology in our classrooms?  Any other thoughts?

Blended Learning

Filed under: Uncategorized — Anneke Radin-Snaith at 8:54 pm on Friday, October 4, 2013

Listening to Wes Fryer this morning at NYSCATE’s Roadmap to Blended Learning event inspired me to get back into posting on this blog.  It’s a good point in the school year to be inspired.  We’ve settled into a routine, but it’s still the beginning of the year, which means there’s plenty of time to incorporate new ideas.

My three biggest take-always:

1. Ask questions students cannot Google.   Asking questions that aren’t Google-able should promote higher level thinking because knowledge is easier to look up than comprehension or application.  Keeping this in mind also makes it easier to use Google Forms or other assessments on the iPad without worrying about students looking up the answers.

2. Show what you know!  Though we’ve been focusing on writing lately, I think it is so important for students to  share their understandings in multiple ways.  Our next unit is exploration…so how can I have them demonstrate their understandings?  Google Earth + Educreations?

3.  Use Marzano’s “Classroom Instruction that Works” or other research based  instructional strategies as guides for how to use technology.  For instance, if I’m looking at a new app that I think might be good, I should ask myself, how many of these instructional strategies does it address?

Bonus takeaway: Participate in local government!  This is where your voice will actually be heard.

Wes, thanks for a great day!

Thinking Critically About Manifest Destiny

Filed under: Uncategorized — Anneke Radin-Snaith at 9:32 pm on Monday, May 13, 2013

One of the biggest challenges I face when it comes to critical thinking is helping my students understand that we can hold multiple perspectives in our head at the same time. In our unit on manifest destiny, I showed 2 music videos to try and get this point across.  I wanted them to question the flag-waving patriotism in the Schoolhouse Rock video, Elbow Room, while at the same time understand that good can still come of it.  While watching the second video, “Manifest Destiny” Educational Rap, I wanted my students to internalize a perspective different from the one we normally read in our history books, yet still recognize the bias in it.  In this unit, I finally felt like I was starting to get closer to the idea of seeing multiple perspectives at the same time.

As they watched the two video clips, I asked them to write questions.  We used the questions for a “fishbowl” activity.  Half the class discussed the questions, while the other half watched, listened, and jotted down comments on how well the discussion was going.  We often write constructive criticism in “hamburger” format (compliment and why, constructive criticism and why, compliment and why) so I asked them to do the same, but this time orally.  Once the discussion was done, the observers offered comments.  Then the two groups switched places.  This set up is new for me, and I really liked it because students practiced speaking, debating, thinking, and listening skills as well as reviewing both current and past content.  The best part though, was that it was almost completely self-directed!  Click here for a snippet of what it looked like.

The next day, I showed them the John Gast painting, American Progress, and students made another list of questions.  After briefly discussing the questions, I asked them to comment on the painting in our class blog.  (Feel free to leave comments!)


Here are a few examples:

There is so much going on in this image. Like the woman, I think she is a angel and she is leading the way for the white men. The white men kicked the Native Americans off their land so they could have more room. The artist’s perspective was the white men were doing the right thing,and they were but they kicked the Native Americans off their land. All in all, the white men did what they had to do for the USA.

This photo depicts a different perspective of Manifest Destiny in many ways. This perspective is of the white men moving to the west and bringing their culture and technology with them. During the move to the west the white men kicked the Indians off their land. Manifest Destiny might’ve looked good for the white men but it was very bad for the Indians that lived on that land.

People probably have many different perspectives about manifest destiny. My perspective is that it was a good thing. One reason I think that is because we got more land. My perspective is a lot like the artist’s perspective. The Native Americans probably thought it wasn’t such a good thing because they were getting some of their land taken away.

From my perspective it looks like the angel is pulling the future and its following her to the west. For example, in the Manifest Destiny school house rock video Sacagawea,Lewis,and Clark were in the boat and pulling the colors behind it and bring the future in and the past out.





New Courses Approved!

Filed under: Uncategorized — Anneke Radin-Snaith at 9:43 pm on Monday, January 14, 2013

I’m totally psyched that my proposals for two new half-year courses just got approved!

Social Media: The Class will be partially based on the Common Sense Media Digital Literacy and Citizenship Curriculum.  The idea is to have high school students go through some of the curriculum themselves, but also for them to become familiar with the elementary school curriculum and teach some of those units to the younger students.  Another way to do some outreach might be to have students make videos, which could then be geared towards any level, as well as the wider community.  I also want to help students focus on how to create a positive digital footprint as well as take a look at what types of careers are out there in social media.

Digital Media Creation will be a two-tiered class.  One focus of the class will be creating digital media – from ebooks to video to using augmented reality – in extended, in-depth projects.   At the same time, we will have a class blog to document, discuss and analyze both the creation process and the roles (both positive and negative) that digital media plays in our lives.

Thank you so much to everyone who has taught and inspired me over the last year!  Hopefully I”ll be able to channel all those thoughts and ideas and knowledge  into these courses.

Below are the course “advertisements” that I plan to send out to students:




“Mission US” Convinced me that Gaming Has a Place in the Classroom

Filed under: Uncategorized — Anneke Radin-Snaith at 9:25 pm on Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Mission US is a multimedia project that immerses players in U.S. history content through free interactive games.”   I have used parts of it in 7th grade Social Studies class for several years now and have been consistently impressed by the quality of the content and support materials.  In fact, one of the biggest challenges for me is deciding which parts of the support material to use because it’s all so good.

This year I decided to incorporate even more than I have in past years so we spent most of the month of December on Mission US: Mission 1, Crown or Colony and the accompanying activities.  The support material has a strong focus on perspective.  In one of my favorite activities, students read John Godfrey Saxe’s “The Blind Men and the Elephant“.  I had students work in groups and each group drew one of the stanzas.  We then tried to put the elephant together.  This led to a discussion about why the different men “see” such different things as well as why it’s important to have multiple perspectives when you want to see the whole picture.

The support materials also include many primary sources.  One of the activities I tried for the first time this year was having the students read four different eyewitness accounts of the Boston Massacre and then drawing their own version of what happened (before I showed them Paul Revere’s engraving).  The readings were fairly difficult for 7th grade, but it was helpful to have something specific to focus on, such as who was standing where and who fired a shot.  The students created their drawing as if they were Paul Revere, so this also led to a discussion on bias and propaganda.

My students were very engaged by the game and often played it on their own at home and/or play it multiple times.  They identified with the characters and had a much better understanding of the events that they “experienced” in the game.  This, combined with the quality of the content, has convinced me that gaming can (and will?) have a place in education.

Although I questioned the amount of time we spent on the year 1770, I think my students came away from it with a much deeper understanding of:

  1. the content (events leading up to the American Revolution)
  2. one of the essential concepts in history (perspective)
  3. stronger skills in reading primary source documents.


Advice for anyone traveling into the world of Jack London

Filed under: Uncategorized — Anneke Radin-Snaith at 8:51 pm on Tuesday, December 4, 2012

I recently worked with my colleague Jaime on an eighth grade English project.  Her students had just read Jack London’s “To Build a Fire” and she wanted them to make a public service announcement that would give advice to travelers planning to go into a harsh winter environment.  Before we used any technology, the students had to go back and look through the story three different times.  Each time, they were to look for something different: warning signs that the man was in trouble, how the man built his fire, and dealing with frostbite.  From this, they had to decide what advice they would give, make a plan for how to present their advice, and write a script.  Once scripts were done, students filmed their public service announcements with Android tablets (though the same could be done with the iPad), then uploaded the clips to PC’s to edit in Animoto.  Though Animoto does have a mobile device app, the app doesn’t accept video.  Since Jaime definitely wanted video and Animoto seemed like the right tool for the job, we took the time to do the editing on the computers.

Writing and reflecting on a project from the outside looking in is quite a bit different from reflecting on my own class.  The glimpses I did get were very cool to see.  Some things that most impressed about the project were:

  • Jaime explicitly asked students to go back and read the story multiple times, with a different focus each time.  What a great way to encourage close, deep reading.
  • The project and rubric were laid out in such a way that the focus was primarily on the content, but credit was also given for collaboration and appearance/creativity of the final product.
  • Time and structure were provided for the students to view and comment on each other’s work.  Sometimes the most powerful feedback comes from peers!
  • I loved that the main focus was the content and teaching, with the technology there to support the learning.

The completed videos were posted to Posterous, which is where the student feedback occurred.   See some examples here.  To see feedback, click “Responses” under each video.

Great job Jaime!

NYSCATE12 Takeaways from Sunday

Filed under: Uncategorized — Anneke Radin-Snaith at 9:24 pm on Sunday, November 18, 2012

I attended three engaging, informative, and applicable  sessions this afternoon.

The first was Richard Colosi and his former students.   This was a great first session and I wish we saw more students at this conference.  It was pretty cool to see them in action.  In this session, I had another opportunity to see the idea of piggybacking apps that I was introduced to yesterday.  This time it was Notebook, Puppet Pals, and then iMovie.  Richard did a wonderful job modeling the balance between student-centered work and teacher support.  He discussed how the first graders come up with the story, but he helps them write the script.  The students record the story and he adds the final editing touches so that they end up with a polished product.  I’m going to try this combination of apps with my seventh graders – and make them responsible for all the steps.  I picture bringing historical figures into Puppet Pals and having students act out different scenes from history.  We’re coming up on the American Revolution, so maybe they could do things like The Boston Massacre, The First Continental Congress, or even include excerpts from famous speeches, such as Patrick Henry’s “Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death!”

Heidi Chaves talked about her ten years as a technology mentor.  She had four key words that resonated with me: listen, respect, over expect, empower.  Along the lines of listening, she reminded me of how powerful surveys can be.  This is inspiring me to send out a survey (Google Form) to see what kinds of topics folks would like me to present  for Tech Tuesday’s.

Tali Horowitz from Common Sense Media gave an overview of the information and teaching material available on www.commonsensemedia.org . I am impressed with the extent and depth of the material, how well organized it is, and the level of critical thinking involved in the lessons I saw.  And, it’s all FREE!  Three applications come to mind right away:

  1. I’ll try some of the lessons in my classroom, maybe along with my Constitution unit.
  2. There may be elementary teachers interested in the Digital Passport lessons.  They would fit right in with the Tech Curriculum and the education component of DASA.
  3. Best of all, I can see using this curriculum as the backbone for a Digital Literacy  or Social Media class.  I was even thinking that part of the course could involve the high school students teaching some of these lessons to elementary or middle school students.

Looking forward to tomorrow…….

iPads and Content Creation

Filed under: Uncategorized — Anneke Radin-Snaith at 9:14 pm on Saturday, November 17, 2012

I spent the day at a great NYSCATE pre-conference workshop - iPad: An Amazing Content Creation Device, and my head is still spinning!  In reflecting on the day’s workshop, I think of 3 main takeaways.

1.  It’s great to be in a workshop with multiple instructors who have a good flow.  I learn so much from watching different teaching styles and listening to a variety of stories about people’s personal classroom experiences.  The “you have 20 minutes, go do it” will definitely stick with me!

2.  Though many of the apps were familiar, the idea of combining apps, or piggybacking them, is new to me.  By piggybacking, I mean that you can work in a drawing app, take a photo of the drawing, save it to your camera roll, and then use it in a comic book made in a separate app.  You could then take the comic book page and bring it into iMovie.  Once in iMovie, you could zoom into different parts of the page and add sound effects and music.  There’s so much potential here!

3.  This workshop was perfect for stimulating thoughts and ideas for the new class Nick and I want to teach: Digital Media Creation.  Some of the ideas floating around in my head now:

  • We can use the Movie Trailer feature in iMovie to make an ad for our class.
  • I love the “Door Scene” for so many reasons.  It’s inquiry-based, groups working from each other’s storyboard, the critiques, and the opportunity to do the assignment again right away.
  • We could use an app like BookCreator to have our students write, illustrate, and publish a children’s book.  Then we could take the books and read them with elementary students.
  • I would like to introduce students to a variety of options/apps throughout the course and then design a final product that requires students to use this “piggybacking” idea.

Thanks so much to Christine DiPaulo, Chris Tully, Chris Penny, Ryan Orilio, Ross Cooper, & Jason Kathman for a great day!

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