TeachersFirst for Free Resources

TeachersFirst is a website I learned from a fellow teacher who works with my mother in Montville, NJ. TeachersFirst is a non-for-profit website that features lesssons, units, and web resources designed to help teachers. The website features practical and user-friendly teacher resources. The website is busting with free tools and teaching ideas that are simple to use and implement into your classroom. The website also offers free professional webinars. In January the website is offering webinars on Google Docs/Forms and a session on simplifying and organizing your life. It is a great resource I highly recommend checking it out today. 


You can Sign Up (Free) at the TeachersFirst website.



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30 Storytelling Tips For Educators


This is a guest post written by Julie DeNeen from InformEd and Open Colleges.


Storytelling has been around as long as humankind. It is one of the most effective ways to communicate an important truth to another person. It is a connection point between two people. It gives meaning, context, and understanding in a world that is often filled with chaos and disorder.


Because of this, educators must use stories if they hope to reach their students. Stories will stay with people much longer than facts or statistics. If a teacher becomes an excellent storyteller, he or she can ensure that any concept they teach will be remembered for years to come.


Stories don’t just work well for narratives; they can be used to illustrate scientific or mathematical processes as well. Take for example the difference between learning a formula, and the ability to solve that problem in the context of a real-life example. Stories bring information, knowledge, and truth to life.

1. Every Part Must Be Essential

When you compose your storyline, be it a fictional story to teach a lesson, or a non-fiction example, make sure that each part of the story is essential to the ending. Each character, point, or principle must somehow relate to the main point you are trying to drive home. Anything that does not affect the outcome in some way (directly or indirectly) can be hacked off the story.

Let’s take for example, a story about the planets. You may be trying to help students memorize the order of the solar system. Any tale you concoct to help illuminate the facts must be related to the planets. It is not the time to talk about black holes, supernovas, or even the size of each planet.

Keep the main thing…the main thing.

2. You Must Have a Hook In Your Opening

In writing, it is called an inciting incident. You hook the listener in by presenting a problem that encourages them to keep listening. You can use this tactic in any lesson.

Creating a world in which it is taken away reveals the ultimate importance of the process you are describing.

For example, if you are teaching the concept of photosynthesis, start your story by imagining a world in which all the flowers didn’t have leaves. You create a problem that the story (in this case photosynthesis) solves. In many cases, students don’t realize how many principles they take for granted (gravity, light, etc.).

Creating a world in which it is taken away reveals the ultimate importance of the process you are describing.

3. Draw a Theme Out of Your Story

Stories have a depth of meaning when there is a theme. However, it isn’t always easy to write a story with a theme in mind. Rather, write the story first- with all the points you want to cover. When you’ve finished, stand back from the story for a moment to see if you can draw out a theme.

This is especially important when your story relates to incidents in the past. History can be a boring subject without a lot of real-life application. Themes help connect the past with the present, and ultimately the future. Don’t be discouraged if once you find your theme, you have to rework and rewrite the story.

This is common.

4. Keep It Simple

Complicated stories aren’t necessarily better. If your audience is young, simple is obvious. However, even older audiences can be profoundly impacted when you take a complex idea and reduce it to a nugget that can be remembered.

Scientific principles like gravity and electricity can be difficult for young minds. Using analogies can help. For example, to explain an electrical circuit, describe how a train can only move along tracks that are connected to each other.

A broken track means the train must stop and electricity is the same way.

5. Maintain Eye Contact

Eye contact is one of the most important non-verbal ways to connect with other people. It not only helps keep a student’s attention, but it also conveys a sense of confidence and truthfulness.

Imagine telling a story while looking at your feet. What kind of emotions would your students feel, even if the story were light and upbeat? Always look directly into your student’s eyes. You will connect with them and keep their attention longer.

6. Use Vivid Language That Kids Can Understand

Storytelling in classroom

Some psychologists argue that telling stories is one of the primary ways humans learn.

Even if you are teaching science or math concepts, pick a word or two that your student’s haven’t heard of before. Describe and define the word first, and then use it throughout the story.

For example, if you are talking science, identify the word “energy” and then use it several times during your story. By the end of the story, they will have learned the concepts of the tale plus some vocabulary.

Popular television shows use this method. Dumbing down the vocabulary will minimize the power of your story. It is similar to reading a text in a translation. When someone wants to study the content more carefully, they first learn the original language it was written in to understand more fully what the writer was trying to convey.

You want to use the right words, which may mean first having to explain them so students can follow along.

7.  Use Movement

Movement can be used in multiple ways. As the storyteller, you can paint pictures with your body- using your hands, feet, legs, and head. Similarly, you can ask the student’s to perform movements during certain parts of the story.

This will help activate their memory and keep their attention focused on what you are communicating.

8. Use Dramatic Pauses

People often talk more quickly than the brain can process. If you pause at crucial moments in the story, you give your students the chance to think critically about the piece of information you have just given. Don’t be afraid to pause, especially at a tense moment.

Popular television shows use dramatic pauses (or cliffhangers) to rope the audience back into the story. When it seems that the problem is unsolvable, it is the right moment to pause, giving your audience a chance to think up the solution themselves.

9. Change Your Voice With Different Characters

It helps to make characters more memorable when you give them personalities. Part of that includes changing your voice with each character. Without visual props, the voice is one of the only ways to bring the character to life.

If you can have multiple instructors acting as different characters, this is the best option. But sometimes, it isn’t possible. If you are re-enacting the Civil War, stand tall and speak deeply when you are President Abraham Lincoln. When you are speaking as an African American slave, change the volume of your voice and use an accent.

Maybe slump your shoulders over to take on a look of oppression.

10. Make Your Ending Strong With an Important Take Away Point

The ending is the last thing your students will hear. Whatever points and/or principles you think are most important, put them at the end. If it doesn’t make sense to wait until the end, simply add them AGAIN at the end- to drive the point home.

If you can make the ending one sentence, this is even better. Use alliteration, repetitive words, or a singsong cadence to help make it memorable. For example, if you want your students to remember that equality is the theme of the history lesson, come up with a phrase like, “The Civil War taught Americans that everyone is free to live, free to pursue their dreams, and free…to be free.”

It is easy to remember that “freedom” is the central theme.

11. Tell The Truth, Even When It’s Difficult

Adults are tempted to lie to children when the situation seems too complex or mature for younger audiences. However, telling the truth is always preferable, even if you have to adapt some of the details and adjust your language for younger audiences.

Kids are notoriously smarter and more intuitive than adults realize.

For example, suppose you are teaching a lesson on the Holocaust. If you are speaking to a younger crowd, you might be tempted to gloss over some of the horrors because it is too scary. However, rather than describing the disgusting acts in detail, you can explain the “horror” in a way that gives a tone of seriousness, without the graphics.

“The Nazi’s made some terrible choices and killed millions of people. They hurt them very badly and there was a lot of pain and suffering,” is better than saying “The Nazi’s weren’t very nice to the Jewish people.”

Kids are notoriously smarter and more intuitive than adults realize.

12. Make The Character Relatable

The main character of your story must be relatable to your students. You want them to “root” for the character’s choices and decisions. If the main character is a dud, the student’s won’t care if he or she succeeds or fails.

One way to do this is to make the character “feel” real. He or she shouldn’t be perfect, but have weaknesses and talents just like we all do. Juxtapose next to the hero (or heroine) an arch nemesis that rivals your protagonist. Student’s love to root for the good guy in a story.

Keep in mind; it doesn’t have to be human. For example, when you talk about pollution, make recycled paper the good guy, and aerosol cans the enemy. Anything can have a good and evil counterpart.

13. Have Your Story Provide An Answer To a Problem

Every story has theme or meaning. When you can tell a tale that provides a solution to a problem, there is higher likelihood that the story will take on a deeper meaning when it solves a problem in real life.

When you are trying to communicate boring facts (like multiplication facts for example), they don’t take on meaning until you create a story in which the protagonist must know those facts in order to divide her gifts up among her family members.

All of a sudden, the solution to the story- lies in the principle you are trying to convey.

14. Know Your Ending Before You Begin

Before you tell a story, know the ending. Know where you are going so your story doesn’t go down rabbit trails that distract the listeners.

Good storytellers when they begin to formulate their story, start at the end and work backwards. As you prepare, pick the ending first. Write it at the end of a timeline. Then think about the point that comes right before the end, then the point that comes before the point that gets to the end. Keep working backwards until you arrive at the beginning of your story.

15. Appeal To Their Senses

When preparing your story, activate as many senses as possible. Humans have five senses; sight, sound, touch, taste, and smell. The more a story activates the senses, the more memorable it becomes.

For a lesson in geography, you can use a visual map first. Add a song to help memorize the countries or cities. Use props that the students can hold. Maybe you can offer a food from each locale, to activate touch and smell.

It may seem like more work, but ultimately- the principles learned will not soon be forgotten.

16. The Story Should Be “Trustable”

It is called “cheating” when a storyteller automatically twists the laws of the universe to make the story work. Don’t offer coincidences that magically solve the problem. Whatever world or situation your character is in, don’t break its rules just to end the story.

According to Pixar (a very well-known storytelling production company), coincidences can be used to get your protagonist into trouble, but should NEVER be used to get them out of trouble.

17. Invite Interaction

At certain points in the story, open up an invitation for questions. When your students are able to offer their predictions, they are more invested in the future and ending of the story to see if they were right.

It drives home the idea that stories have multiple solutions.

Depending on the subject, you may want to enlist your student’s help in solving the problem. Perhaps you could tell the first half of the story and ask them to write or act out an ending that solves the problem. Students can work in groups and learn from others who may have chosen to solve the story a different way.

It drives home the idea that stories have multiple solutions.

18. Make The Stakes High Against The Goal

Stories with a happy ending must first overcome obstacles. Before you get to the end of the story, you want to create dramatic tension that makes the listener think, “Will the character reach his or her goal?”

A good story knows how to use tension. Whatever the hero wants makes it difficult for him or her to get there. If the African Americans want freedom, build up the side of the story that showed a dismal outlook (i.e. the North had several setbacks, etc.)

19. Use Props

Almost any story can benefit from props, no matter what subject you are teaching. Don’t introduce the props all at once, but bring them out one by one during poignant parts in the telling. Enlist the help of your students. You can have them hold the prop, use the prop, or even let them use it in a way that creates another problem in the story.

Magicians often do this in their show. They ask someone to come to the front and help with juggling. Then, the magician allows the helper to “accidentally” break the plate that the magician plans to put together. This can work well in math. If you have a student manipulate a prop (like for example breaking several pretzels), you can then showcase the mathematical principles of fractions and division.

20. Create The Extraordinary Out of The Ordinary

A story doesn’t have to be dramatic in order to drive home a point. In many cases, taking a mundane event and looking at it from a different angle is just as profound.

In many cases, taking a mundane event and looking at it from a different angle is just as profound.

For example, if you are talking about accepting other cultures, try this tactic. Pick a common ritual (like men shaving their faces), and tell the story from the angle of a character from another world that has never seen such a thing. Better yet, treat the students like they are from another world.

“Did you know that I saw someone put a knife to his face the other day?!” Use different vocabulary words (like knife versus razor). “Then, he smeared this unknown substance all over his face and used the sharp edge of the knife to rub it off!” Your students might be shocked when you reveal that you were simply talking about shaving. Then you can go into the idea and philosophy behind prejudice and discrimination against other cultures that are unfamiliar.

21. Set The Scene

It is crucial to create an environment for your story. Are you in the woods, on the beach, in a little apartment in the city, or on a different planet? Describe the surroundings, the weather, or the pre-existing conditions.

Use rich detail so the student’s can picture the environment in their imaginations. Field trips are such a fantastic way to get into a different environment, but it isn’t always possible. Words, descriptions of smell, sounds, and sights will make the story more meaningful.

22. Use Music

Music is an excellent way to learn and memorize long lists. If you are teaching the fifty states, a song with a catchy rhythm will help solidify the memorization process.

Songs have long been used throughout history to help cultures preserve traditions and historic events. What could be impossible for the human brain to do without music (like memorize the periodic table of elements) becomes possible when you create a song with a recurring chorus.

23. Create Fun Sound Effects

If it is a stormy night, enlist the help of your younger students by asking them to each be in charge of a “sound effect”. For the older students, you can easily round up effects on the computer that will help paint a richer scene.

Sound is one of those senses that the world doesn’t pay as much attention to when constructing buildings and classrooms, but it can be more psychologically powerful than sight. Make sure your story has a strong auditory component.

24. Have Your Students’ Retell It Back To You

Once you are done with your story, have the students form groups and re-tell the story in a different way. Perhaps, you can assign them the task of summarizing the story in a sentence or paragraph. Maybe you ask them to use the principles and create their own story context.

The important part about this concept is to get the student’s involved in an active way. They’ve spent some time listening; now it is time to put it into action.

25. Draw Real Life Connections

Stories around campfire

Stories are not just for children.

If your story teaches abstract concepts, find real life examples that make the information more meaningful. Math formulas are meaningless until they are building a computer from scratch and need to use the principle in order to continue to the next step.

If your story teaches abstract concepts, find real life examples that make the information more meaningful.

If you are trying to teach a history lesson (i.e. WW1), put the events in a different context. Imagine it now in the present day, with the present governments. How would the scene play out in 2012 versus 1914? All of a sudden, history will feel much more “real” and alive.

26. Use Repetition

This tip works well with younger students. Oftentimes, storybooks have a repeated phrase throughout the story (i.e. “I do not like green eggs and ham. I do not like them Sam I am). Do this when you start, in the middle, and at the end. Pick an important concept and repeat it over and over, even if you think you are being redundant.

You can describe the same concept with different words if you wish.

27. Write Your Story In One Sentence Before You Begin

In order to keep your story simple and focused on what’s important, narrow it down to one sentence. Start with the beginning, and then add the middle, and the end. In the sentence, you should get the main purpose of the story, as well as the competing concept that threatens the story’s goal. Some people might think, “I can’t narrow down my story to one sentence!”

Yes you can.

It will force you to iron out the most crucial points. Once you do this, expand the sentence into a paragraph. Then expand each sentence in the paragraph to its own paragraph. Continue onward until your story is complete.

28. Avoid Detours

Simplify, simplify, simplify. Cut out characters, scenes, and information that do not somehow work towards the goal of the story. If you aren’t sure if something is crucial or not, tell it to a friend or fellow teacher, and remove the parts in question.

If the story still flows well and has meaning, then it wasn’t necessary.

29. Create a Timeline

Write a timeline of events for you to keep track of the order. You can even put up an empty timeline on the board, and as you tell the story- add the important events as they happen.

Combine the idea of props and interaction into your timeline. If it is a history lesson about the major events in WW2, have a student paste (or write) the event along the timeline, as you tell the story. When you are done, the timeline will be filled out, and act as a visual prop for your students.

30. Don’t Give Away Too Much

When you tell a story that has some mystery, you invite the listeners to try to figure out the solution for themselves. When they do, chances are- it will be more memorable and long lasting.

Read a few mystery novels and watch how the author leaves crumbs. The key is to give enough information so the student can solve the problem, but not so much that it is obvious. If you leave no trail of hints and clues, then it will be frustrating and impossible to solve.

 Read a few mystery novels and watch how the author leaves crumbs.

Stories are meant to bring meaning, feeling, and context to concepts that are dry and lifeless by themselves. Invite your students into the storytelling process. Give them enough to understand and follow along, but not so much that you are spoon-feeding. Add drama, props, effects, and set the scene, so the listeners are drawn into the story; its characters, problem, and ultimately, the solution.


Julie DeNeen has her bachelor’s degree in Clinical Psychology from the University of New Haven. She spent several years working for a local Connecticut school at the district level, implementing new technologies to help students and teachers in the classroom. She also taught workshops to teachers about the importance of digital student management software, designed to keep students, parents, and teachers connected to the learning process.

Read more: http://newsroom.opencolleges.edu.au/features/30-storytelling-tips-for-educators/#ixzz2Cv38o1qf

Read more: http://newsroom.opencolleges.edu.au/features/30-storytelling-tips-for-educators/#ixzz2Cv2bac76

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Thinkfinity for Classroom Resources

I learned about Thinkfinity at EdCamp Hudson Valley. Thinkfinity is an interesting resources that provides a multitude of collaborative aspects for teachers. It is sponsored by the Verizon Foundation, with the intention of providing teachers with the latest topics, tools and trends in education.


Thinkfinity was esablished with the intent to encourage teacher collaboration, connection, and resource sharing of the best practices for 21st century teaching and learning.  The website offers teachers access to thousands of free lesson plans for all subjects, interactives, learning games, videos and professional development. Check it out today!


Features of Thinkfinity:

  • find discipline-specific, standards-based Thinkfinity resources, developed by our valued Content Partners.
  • discover reviewed resources that expand the breadth and depth of Thinkfinity’s Resources, developed by our Supporting Contributors.
  • network with colleagues and education leaders to create and innovate classroom practices.
  • organize your bookmarks and documents for easy retrieval from school or home.
  • share ideas, resources, and useful advice in various ongoing discussions throughout the community.
  • join groups whose members have interests similar to your own, maintained by our Content Partners, Supporting Contributors, and Community Hosts.
  • create groups for collaborating with your colleagues or extending learning beyond the classroom with your students.
  • read blogs by your favorite Verizon Education Bloggers and interact with them.
  • try strategies tested and designed for you to replicate in your school, developed by Verizon Technology



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Life After the Red Pill: One Educator’s Journey into the Rabbit Hole of Social Media

We all have to make choices. As teachers we must constantly make them. How will we spend our time in and out of class? What resources should we use with our students, and where should we go to get them? How will we foster effective learning? Social Studies educators, like me, often wonder, how will my lessons foster responsible citizenship among my students?


Implementing Social Media into the Classroom

I recently chose to investigate the possibilities and challenges of utilizing social media to improve my social studies teaching. I define social media as any service where content is user generated and shared with fellow users of that medium. I was already using several social media services (e.g., Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare, Instagram) in my personal life, but I did not utilize them professionally. While I didn’t understand it at the time, I’ve found this choice, albeit a quite a bit less dramatic and violent, like the one Neo faced in The Matrix (1999):

Like Neo, I had no idea of the ramifications my choice to select the red pill of social media. When I began to use it I discovered a world that I did not know existed, but, fortunately, it was not the painful reality of Neo’s “real world.” Over the last couple weeks I have uncovered a wealth of resources, ideas, and colleagues. Yet it has not been without challenges. I will provide a brief summary of my some of my experiences using social media for school. I hope these experiences might provide some insights for others embarking upon a similar journey (or maybe even remind social media veterans what it is like for neophytes).


Exploring New Forms of Social Media

While I made the choice to investigate social media, I have not been alone. For the past week I asked my senior social studies methods students to accompany me. I began a week before our first class by immersing myself in a variety of social media services by using them 5-10 hours a day. I created a Facebook page, a new Twitter account (@WSUSocStudies), an Edmodo account, and sought out people and organizations on these forums. I checked out books from the library and searched databases for academic articles on the topic. The academic materials provided some interesting perspectives, but they didn’t show me what to do. Just like Morpheus explained to Neo, “no one can be told what [it] is. You have to see it for yourself.” Only by using social media can one really understand the possibilities it might afford teachers and students.

I initially used my linked Twitter and Facebook pages to collect and share resources with others. I searched organizations with which I was already familiar (e.g., the History Channel, the Gilder Lehrman Institute). I retweeted interesting links, or posted YouTube videos or websites that I had previously used in my own classes. I made use of Scoop.it to find new and interesting articles.

I found many good resources, but I also felt overwhelmed. I was inundated with a mass of information, and keeping up with everything on just scoop.it and Twitter seemed like too much. I enjoyed much of what I was finding, but I found myself without enough time in the day to keep up with all my professional responsibilities along with this new cyber world. Not only was I overwhelmed, but I also wondered, what is really different about social media then just searching the internet? I was also nervous about how my students would feel accompanying me on this journey (see next blog post). The social studies methods course is designed to help students think about theoretical and practical aspects of teaching social studies, and I was dedicating the first few weeks of our course to exploring these tools so we could practice using them all semester. I certainly did not want to waste their time, and there’s always anxiety when you try something new and different with your students, especially something that is banned in many schools. Like Neo, I was initially unsure of my role in this new world.


The Turning Point: Connecting with Other Educators 

The turning point came when I discovered that the real power of social media was not in simply collecting resources and ideas, but in connecting with others whom are on the same journey. I have met a community of social studies educators passionate about teaching, and using social media tools to improve their craft. All of a sudden, I not only found resources, but support, insightful recommendations, answers to questions, and invitations to opportunities to continue the conversation. I didn’t just search for resources, I began receiving and providing them to people as we had conversations about wise practices. My online use went from a largely one way gathering of resources to the development of transactional relationships and the discovery of an online community.


Twitter’s #sschat 

After 10 days of social media use I found myself participating in a Twitter social studies chat (#sschat) where educators from across the country were sharing resources and ideas. Four days later social media leaders in the social studies – Shawn McCusker (@ShawnMcCusker) of Illinois and Melissa Seideman (@mseideman) of New York – were imparting ideas and answering questions with my class via Google Hangout videoconferencing. They showed my class and I specific ways we could successfully use social media and technology to become better teachers. As they answered my students’ questions I was amazed how social media made this all possible.

I still have an incredible amount to learn, but after only two weeks I can’t help but feel like Neo at the end of the Matrix – after he finally believed and understood how the Matrix works. He realized that the rules of the old system didn’t apply to anymore. He saw that a new world of possibilities existed. I am excited and unquestionably satisfied with my choice to journey into the rabbit hole of social media. I recommend that you make the same choice.



– Participate in social studies chats on Twitter using “#sschat” every Monday for one hour beginning at 7 Eastern/6 Central; Follow moderators: @ShawnMcCusker, @Ron_Peck, @Becky_Ellis_

– Although I’ve had some problems, I’ve found Edmodo to be an interesting way to set up a class. It has a Facebook interface, but provides a closed, and presumable safer, environment for classes.

– I have found Google Drive (formerly Google Documents) and Google Hangout invaluable resources to connect with students and colleagues.


Dan Krutka, Ph.D. is middle level/secondary social studies chair at Wichita State University in Wichita, Kansas. He taught high school social studies for six years previous to beginning in his current position in 2011. He can be followed/contacted at www.facebook.com/WSUSocialStudies, on Twitter @WSUSocStudies, or by e-mail at dan.krutka@wichita.edu.  

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Instead of telling your student’s who you are SHOW them

I learned from Mrs. Jee about a wonderful idea to create an Animoto as an introduction “about me” video for the first week of school. I absolutly loved the idea and stayed up way past my bedtime to create it.

Mrs. Jee said she “loved  @royanlee‘s idea to use Animoto to introduce yourself to kids on the 1st day of school. They get a multifaceted sense of who you are. Animoto’s use of pictures, text, and storyline is much more effective than a hastily muttered five minute speech.” After I made my first week introduction video, Mrs. Lindinger was also inspired. Check out her video below!


Back to School Night Idea

Mrs. Jee and I also made a much shorter version for back to school night. I can’t think of a better way to “tell” parents who you are and what you are about. My back to school night version will be a shorter version with images and pictures of my students participating in my classroom. I also plan on linking the video to a QR code to send home to parents who can not attend the back to school night. Thanks for the great idea @mrsjjee @royanlee Another reason I love twitter!


Here is My About Me Introduction Video:

Here is Mrs. Jee’s Video

Here is Mrs. Lindinger’s video

What is Animoto?

Animoto is a simple program online to create simple videos from pictures, sound, text, and  existing video clips. It makes it possible to quickly create a video using still images, music, and text. Animoto  is constantly updating its features as well as background options for your video slideshow.  If you can make a slideshow presentation, you can make a video using Animoto Video Slideshows.


I used Animoto before for a student project on a PSA assignment on interest groups. Here is a previous post.


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Use Pinterest to Spice up your Teaching

Hello blogosphere!  My friend Melissa invited me to compose a few guest posts on her blog, and I am delighted to share a few thoughts with you!

You may recall from earlier posts that Twitter is a wonderful tool for teachers to connect with and share ideas and experiences with each other.  From reading feeds such as #sschat, teachers can share strategies and tips to improve their abilities in the classroom.  Gone are the days of staring at your plan book, searching for ideas on general search engines, and struggling to come up with a way to make the content engaging.  Now, help is just a few keystrokes away.  Let me share with you another great resource that I promise you will be fun, and more than a little addicting.



You may have heard of it.  If you have not used it and are not familiar with it, Pinterest is like a giant bulletin board.  Basically, when you log into the main page, you will see pictures (called “pins”) that other people have posted to their own boards (organized by theme or topic).  What people do is when they are browsing websites, if they see a picture of something that they really like, they click on the button to “pin” it, and then are redirected to Pinterest, where they pin the picture to the board of their choice.  Then, when they visit their pinboards later, and click on the “pinned” picture, they are redirected to the site where the picture originated.  I have pinned pictures of scarfs from knitting websites for future reference, then, months later, gone back and clicked on the pin to go to the website to get the pattern.  It’s like bookmarking pages using pictures.

Let’s just say that when I discovered that there were educational themed pin boards out there that I went a little crazy.  Over the course of a few days, I pinned over 75 different educational ideas to my “school ideas” board.  I got these pins both from educational blogs that I visited, websites, and of course, other peoples boards.  I learned several interesting things from Pinterest that I hope to use in my future classroom.


Interesting Ideas to Apply to Your Classroom

1.  Did you know that plastic plates (the throw-away kind) can double as little dry erase boards?  Glue one to a big popsicle stick and you have an instant response paddle.  (not a people paddle…make sure you set guidelines with your class for proper use, especially if you teach the lower grades 🙂 )   

2.  Home Depot sells dry erase paint.  And chalkboard paint.  You can now paint any surface and create chalk/dry erase boards.

3.  Using salt-dough clay and a little paint,  you can have students study geography by creating a land mass with various landforms.  Make a connection with world history by having students design the ideal land area to sustain a civilization.  What do people need to survive?  How do civilizations grow and prosper?  What area would be best suited to help people thrive?


4.  Remember playing “Guess Who” as a kid?  Well, if you can find one of the old game boards (and if you have the time and patience) you can cut out and glue pictures of historical people onto the flip cards, and you have a fun and interactive review game!

All told, I have over 100 pins on my “school ideas” board, and the 4 above ideas don’t even scratch the surface of the wonderful sources that I have found.  From classroom management strategies, to hands-on learning, to links for teaching to the Common Core, to classroom organization, to writing prompts and technology, the ideas (and pins!) are endless.  Simply browse pins in the Education category and be prepared to spend at least an hour glued to your computer, reading up on a ton of wonderful resources.

Finally, one last pin for the road.  I found a pin that links up to a blog, that lists over 200 pinboards full of education ideas.  If those pinboards are anything like mine, and have about 100 pins on them each, then you are looking at potentially 20,000 different educational pins to browse and repin to your own board for you to reference later.

Enjoy and happy pinning!


This post was written by Guest Blogger- Mandi Morningstar. You can follow Mandi @Mandiamstar Mandi is a New York State certified 7-12 social studies teacher.  She worked for 4 years teaching 9th and 10th grade Global History and Geography before being laid off.  Mandi is currently looking for a classroom to call her own, and working as a substitute teacher in the meantime.  She graduated Magna Cum Laude from Ithaca College in 2007 with her BA in Social Studies Education, and from SUNY New Paltz in 2011 with her MS in Adolescent Education with a history concentration.  Mandi and her fiance live in Beacon, NY with their cat, Yao-Man.

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Thank You: 40,000+ Views!

I know 40,000+ may not sound like a lot of views compared to other bloggers, but for me that number is tremendous. I got excited the first time it broke 1,000 and now I am averaging that in three days. My hope is that it continues to grow and improve our practice.


I started this blog when I got frustrated when I would share ideas with other teachers and it seemed like no one had time to listen or implement them. I was once asked by a former principal to “change the name of the blog, because it was insulting to other history teachers in my department (which means someone complained).” That blew my mind and you can actually tell when that event occurred because  I stopped blogging for almost two months. When I created the name I was never trying to insult any teacher but i thought it was a clever. I NEVER changed the name because I thought it showed that I am a different kind of teacher that’s willing to push the envelop. That was the only time I rebelled against an administrator (to this date).


I started this blog as a professional outlet to share my ideas and reflect on my teaching practice. My goal is that my blog can provide teachers with resources that can excite a student’s love of learning. I have met some amazing educators, fellow bloggers, and people I now call friends due to my blog.   I am now MORE excited to attend conferences because I am no longer just improving my own practice but helping to share resources and ideas with other teachers.  Thanks for following my blog and here’s to another 40,000+ views!

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Create an Infographic for your Classroom!

I learned about infographics from Twitter’s #sschat. Before Monday I had no clue how to make an infographic. Information graphics or infographics are graphic visual representations of information, data or knowledge. Here is more information: What is an info-graphic?

Easel.ly is one of the simplest websites to design an infographic for your classroom, a lesson, for a school poster, and the ideas can go on and on. Easel.ly is “easy to use,” free, and within a matter of minutes you can make an infographic, unless you are a perfectionist like me, in that case it will take you a few hours.

Once you create an account you select a theme, select objectives and shapes, design the layout, add text, and you can create an infographic is a short amount of time. Easel.ly is not the only website that allows users to create infographics, another is  visual.ly, which seems to have a fewer resources. I seemed to prefer Easel.ly.

According to Jamie Forshey author of Edutech for Teachers blog, Infographics can be used as a “visual to show students and educators the way that technology is projected to continue shaping our lives, world—and education! What a great way to motivate, encourage, persuade and guide students in post-secondary career planning! It’s also an excellent visual for stressing the importance of exposing students to relevant, real-world tech tools in the classroom setting.”

Here is a sample infographic I made for my classroom. I brought it to staples to enlarge it or you can use the Block Posters web tool to create your poster. I also embedded it on my blog.


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Flocabulary: Much More than Just a Song!

I am always amazed when I talk with social studies teachers who have never heard of Flocabulary. Flocabulary creates hip-hop music and materials to supplement your curriculum. The first time I ever played a US history Flocabulary song my college roommate came in dancing…. little did she know it was about “who discovered it” related to Christopher Columbus. I use everyone of the US history songs as a unit preview. I actually made a powerpoint of images and typed the lyrics to go along with the Flocabulary songs. Through the rap songs we discuss key vocabulary and concepts we will learn with the upcoming unit. Even though Flocabulary is no longer free, it is well worth the money to subscribe to its wonderful features!


Another reason I love to use Flocabulary in the classroom is the Week in Rap. Every week on Friday mornings, Flocabulary puts together the week’s biggest or most interesting current event stories into a rap music video. The week in rap discusses the hottest topics of the week, such as the Travon Martin case, the oil spill, crisis in Syria to name a few. My 8th grade students in White Plains, NY loved the Week in Rap. They actually asked to watch it every week. I was even surprised that after spring break, they asked if they could watch it from the week before!


The best part about the week in rap is not just the music, even though it is good, they love discussing the current events. Yes, you read that right! They love discussing the current events. After I play the week in rap, I ask them if there is anything they want to discuss. Around 18  hands in my classroom instantaneously shoot up. I am often not leading the discussion, but facilitating it. Students respond by saying “oh I heard that on the news,” “my mom was talking about that” “I heard….” The discussions that come from the 3 minute Week in Rap is one of the reasons I became a teacher.


Another awesome feature of the Week in Rap, is that they make the past 18 years in rap for recent high school grads. I always show it at the end of the year, but I also show it at the beginning of the year and introduce the concept: what is history? My students are always impressed with how much history they lived through after watching the past 18 years in rap. It is a great beginning of the school year activity to start the discussion what is history and how we are apart of it.

The Last 18 Years In Rap from Flocabulary on Vimeo.



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Join the Book Club: Why Don’t Student’s Like School?

This is the first time I am participating in a virtual book club with members of the #sschat community. As you know social studies teachers do not discriminate and everyone is welcome to join in the fun! The book is called Why Don’t Students Like School? Please feel free to join or invite friends.

For more information:

What: Why Don’t Students Like School

Who: YOU (and do invite your friends)

Where:   http://sschat.ning.com/group/bookclub

When:  Starting June 24th

How long: The book has nine short chapters.  Nine chapters, nine weeks

Hashtag: #sschatbook

About: Cognitive scientist Dan Willingham focuses his acclaimed research on the biological and cognitive basis of learning. His book will help teachers improve their practice by explaining how they and their students think and learn. It reveals-the importance of story, emotion, memory, context, and routine in building knowledge and creating lasting learning experiences.

  • Nine, easy-to-understand principles with clear applications for the classroom
  • Includes surprising findings, such as that intelligence is malleable, and that you cannot develop “thinking skills” without facts
  • How an understanding of the brain’s workings can help teachers hone their teaching skills





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Does your class want a pen pal next year?

People to People International has a FREE service that connects classes and youth groups with pen pals or educational exchanges across the globe. I registered my sociology class and I am hoping it will be a great opportunity to compare cultures. It is a free program for cultural exchanges, interdisciplinary projects, and so much more. Teachers of students ages 4 to 18 are invited to participate. If selected to participate your class will receive guidance, tips for communication, and other project ideas. Classes can communicate email, snail mail, and Skype.


Registration is open July – October each year. For additional information before you register, download this info sheet or submit an info request.

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Create Awards with Certificate Street

As the end of the year is closely approaching, it is time to recognize and celebrate all the work our students have accomplished. It’s important to give students a reason and a drive to succeed; using awards and positive recognition is a great way to do just that. I was looking for a simple certificate when I stumbled upon Certificate Street.  The website has a ton of FREE certificates organized into different categories.


Each certificate can be downloaded in an editable PDF format for FREE with the companies watermark on it. You can pay to have the certificate free of the watermark. Once you download the PDF you can personalize the certificate with your students name and details. It’s time to recognize your student’s accomplishments. Check it out today!

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Have students write letters to themselves!

Asking your student’s to write themselves a letter is is a classic end of the year activity. Students can reflect on their year as well as their goals for the following school year or the future. But why not make it digital? There are two websites I discovered one website is called Future Me and another is called Letter 2 Future. Both websites offer users the ability to send an email in the future such as words of inspiration or goals for the future. You pick the date you want the email delivered and it is sent to your inbox! It is that simple. Getting a surprise from the past is actually kind of an amazing thing – just check out all the people on Twitter and Facebook that agree.


Application in Classroom: I usually give my students some prompts such as what is one important skill you learned this year in social studies, what is one thing you would like to improve upon next year, what advice would you give to your future self, where do you see yourself in five years or ten years.

My first year of teaching (5 years ago) I had my students write themselves a letter. I still have the letters sitting under my bed in my parents house. I plan on mailing them next year when they graduate high school. This year I plan on using the digital version of future letter writing. I have also heard of teachers mailing the letters right before the start of the following school year. What do you plan on doing for an end of the school year activity?

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Reflection: #EdCampNYC and #sschat

Unfortunately, teaching has the potential to be an isolated career in terms of collaboration and support. I feel extremely privileged to have discovered #sschat on Twitter and the EdCamp conference model. I love observing people’s reactions when I say I use Twitter for professional development.Twitter has provided me with a wonderful opportunity to connect with dynamic educators from around the world and learn interesting ways to engage my students.  Twitter (#sschat) has truly become one of the most inspirational ways I have created my own profesional learning community.


On Saturday, May 5th, 2012 I attended EdCampNYC at Francis Lewis High School. EdCampNYC was one of many unconferences occurring in the United States. For me, EdCampNYC and EdCampSS was an amazing experience and one in which expanded/reinvigorated my  teaching methodology and repertoire. It is important to remember we are all learners – teachers and administrators as well as students and we must constantly adapt and reflect on our own teaching and learning. Here is the reflection page from EdCampNYC, where there are free resources, websites, presentation links, etc.

I plan on attending two EdCamps this year: 

  • EdCamp Lower Hudson Valley (New Paltz, NY) August 14, 2012 website
  • EdCampNJ (North Brunswick, NJ) December 1, 2012 website

I led the session about mobile devices in the classroom at EdCampNYC. Here is my Powerpoint from the session.

Photo Credit 


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21st Century Skills Schools Need to Have

Educational Technology and Mobile Learning  just published a free ebook about 21st century skills both teachers and students need to know. Technology advancements have affected every aspect our world including education. It is our duty as educators to teach our students the skills needed to be successful in the 21st century.  Teachers should use social media and educational technology in their classroom and daily life.

Here is the ebook that can inform you about 21st century skills:
The 21st Century Skills Teachers and Students Need to Have


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