Helping Kids Locate and Provide Evidence

Evidence is a keyword which is embedded often in the national Common Core Standards.  The heavy “peppering” of this word should have educators and parents on high alert with regards to how integrated and important evidence is.

How do we help kids develop a mindset of locating and providing evidence?  Here are some ways:

“Read Like a Detective”

Last year, my son, Quinn, (who was in 4th Grade) came home from school and let us know that his class needed to blog about setting.  He stated that they needed to blog three paragraphs about the setting in the book.  I responded, “Three paragraphs?” and he replied, “Yes, three paragraphs”.  So we opened his SSR book and I helped him look through the book for any evidence that we could find on setting.  It looked like this, “Hey look, Big Nate is wearing a coat and hat!  From that we can guess that it is winter.”  We went on and on in this fashion and we were able to produce three paragraphs.  It was pretty fun to achieve.  When we logged onto the blog, other kids were entering three sentences versus three paragraphs (which made more sense because they were just learning to blog and learning about setting).  It did, however, give us the experience of “Reading like a detective” and “Writing like an investigative reporter”.

At the training on Common Core Standards that our school district provided, a woman in a video which was shown mentioned “Reading like a detective” and “Writing like an investigative reporter“.  Her suggestion made me remember the above experience with my son.  In addition to reflecting on our “setting blog”, I also reflected on our high school students.

High school is a pretty cool developmental age.  The students have developed a strong knowledge base and teachers can really build upon their existing knowledge base.  In areas where the students have greater interest (maybe their Element) they even feel like experts.  Their knowledge on particular subjects often does surpass the knowledge most others have attained.  This often brings along a tiny problem when they are allowed to choose their own topic for research.  They are asked to research expert opinion to support their claims (most likely their thesis statement) and there is always a group of students who resist locating research because they so desire to share their own knowledge which has been previously accumulated.  We, then, need to explain to the students that true research requires the synthesis of knowledge which they need to  gather.  True research asks that they gather it by locating a variety of reliable materials (in the form of books and/or articles, videos, interviews, etc.) and searching for supporting detail and evidence within multiple resources to extract.  They take that extracted information and organize it into their outline and then begin to synthesize the information in conjunction to their own thoughts to create a strong paper.  This example is a more sophisticated example of “Reading like a detective” to be able to “Write like an investigative reporter” however, it is not any less important.  We need to provide building blocks as students develop in order for the student to create the mindset of “reading like a detective” and “writing like an investigative reporter”

Identifying Process

When I was a student, math problems were more outcome-based than it is for students today.  Today’s students need to explain how they arrived at a mathematical conclusion.  We have Honors Algebra students demonstrate this process using PaperSlide videos (seen in the video above.)  Today’s students need to identify process a bit more in depth in science, also.  Our middle school does a project with sixth graders in which the students do research, but the grading focuses more on the students’ identification of how they tackled the research process.  It is so important that our students can identify process.  The process illuminates the evidence for students allowing them to better understand the “why?” and this allows them to make greater connections to other areas.

Providing Evidence while Speaking

I have twins who are in first grade.  My girls are being taught very well by their school about bullying.  They are very “in tune” to bullying and each girl likes to report when a bullying incident has happened.  Luckily my girls have never witnessed a bullying incident which goes beyond a comment about someone not being someone else’s best friend anymore.  When they talk to me (or when my son talks to me about other things), I am starting to encourage them to back up their statements with evidence and I help them by expanding on their thought.  “He called me dumb” and I can help put it in perspective with evidence “How well does he know you?”,  “Do you get good grades?”, “Do we ever see that your mind is strong by the things you think and say?” “Do you think you are dumb?”  Additionally, with my son it looks like this, “I didn’t swim well today.”   This can turn into “I didn’t feel as fast” or “my breathing was not as smooth”  I have begun to ask for more detail.  I am hoping that this can get them in the mindset of being more supportive of the things they say using evidence.

Whether it is writing or speaking, it is important that people of all ages can provide evidence to support their claims.  I am happy to see this standard embedded into the national Common Core Standards.  I believe that these new standards are more specific than past standards and serve as a useful guide to teachers and parents to help students learn in more dynamic ways.

For Common Core Standards videos


Helping Students Recognize their Presentation Style

Each year I teach students about presentations and I really am beginning to find myself elaborating on presentation style.  I have been inspired by Joyce Valenza’s Super Presentationman and after I show the video is when I discuss individual presentation style.  Each student is different and when they recognize that and figure out what their personal strengths are, they can consider what style of presentation may best suit them.  So, here you go – these are the various types I often mention – which one are you?

  • The Socializer – you are very comfortable with people in both small and large groups and in informal and formal settings.  You enjoy (and possibly crave) attention.  If you are this type of student, you can harness the power of storytelling as you present.  The storyteller is someone who engages their audience through a story.  That story often makes the audience feel like you are talking specifically to them.  The audience becomes very interested in your words because they can relate to what you are saying and they can relate to the human element of the story by saying “I am like that” or “I know someone like that” or “I feel so sad for that person he is telling us about”.  If you integrate storytelling into the presentation of your content, you will improve your presentation and your audience will feel very connected to you.
  • The Intellectual – You are a smart person who knows a ton about your content.  You have probably met all of your research requirements plus more.  The content interests you to the degree in which feel as if you are becoming an expert on the topic.  If you are this type of person, you can use the power of provocative questioning.  You are actually in danger of the possibility that you may like your content more than your audience does.  If you use provocative questioning, you ask your audience to consider something about your topic that they haven’t thought of before.  You might choose take the most controversial element of your topic and design a few questions that you pose to your audience that get them thinking about their feelings on the controversy.  If it is not the most controversial element that you choose to design your questions around, make sure it is the most interesting concept within your topic that you direct the class towards using questioning strategies.  What this does is it engages your audience’s thought process and hooks them into your topic where they may have not had interest before.  As you lay out the content that you want to convey, you may want to break up portions with questions to keep this trend going.   When you employ questioning, consider tying it with enough “think time” for your audience and also consider allowing for interactivity (maybe a quick poll) so that they can feel like they have an outlet for their thoughts you have hopefully stirred up!  If you integrate provocative questioning into the presentation of your content, you will improve your presentation and your audience will feel very connected to your topic.
  • The Marketer – Are you very persuasive and are often able to get people to do what you want them to do?  Do people tell you that you should go into the sales field because you are persistent in addition to being persuasive?  If you have that gift, then you can harness the power of both persuasion and repetition for your presentation. When you persuade, you want to make sure you have an argument that is extremely strong that people will have no option but to agree with you.  You will want to refute the opposing viewpoints and you will want to use repetition to brand your message into your audience’s brains.  Branding is a marketing tool in which the same message is repeated to the point where the message replays in everyone’s head and it becomes part of their thought process.  If you take one message and strategically work it in repetitively throughout your presentation, you will have a group of supporters by the end!  If you integrate persuasion and branding into the presentation of your content, you will improve your presentation and your audience will feel very supportive of your thesis.
  • The Worried One – You might know your content very well.  You might even be a very social person.  Even so, when you speak your mind gets the best of you and you fumble (you might even stutter or repeat the word “um”, you may become nauseous).  If you are this person, you may want to consider making a presentation very strong with multimedia tools.  Maybe you want to create a video of you explaning your topic in a unique way (in a different location and at a different time you may not be nervous).  Another thing you could do is create the coolest Prezi ever seen or locate a very moving video on your topic.  What you want to do if you are very, very nervous is carefully plan to share impressive media versions of your content and break them up with speaking (because you will have to do a little speaking – it can be reduced if you need it to be).  If you integrate multimedia into the presentation of your content, you will improve your presentation and your audience may not even find out that you are nervous.
Those are the examples I provide when I discuss that each of us has different personalities and those personalities align with different presentation styles.  A person may be able to use techniques offered in various types and their personality may be a hybrid of the examples.
In addition to this I mention the fact that communication is so important.  For example, in a job interview, if a person does not make eye contact with everyone on the interview panel, the people on the panel may not prefer the candidate.  They may not be able to fully place why they did not feel fully comfortable with the person who was interviewed.  The panelist may only be able to articulate that they did not feel fully comfortable with the candidate.  The result is that the candidate does not get the job and it goes to someone who is stronger at communication.  A little thing such as maintaining the proper amount of eye contact and evenly distributing it to everyone that you are speaking to may equate to the perception people create about you.
Throughout history, Presidents have either reaped the benefits of making people feel connected to them through their presentation style or have suffered the consequences of not having strong presentation skills.  It may be that a President has had many accomplishments; however, unless they engage with their public through communication, they may remain unpopular.  This is another example of the importance of matching your presentation style with your personality type and maximizing its potential.
Good luck as you grow as a presenter!  I am certain there are more presentation styles!  If you have another style to add to the list, please add it to the blog in the comments section!

Concept Sort: Thesis Statement, Outline, and Body

Thesis statement instruction tends to confuse students, even when taught by the best teachers…and why not???!!!

Have you ever considered that this very concise statement is also the recipient of an analogy which includes an umbrella?

…so the writer has to be concise, yet has to be encompassing.  One statement must be stretched out into pages and pages of content whose elaboration serves to support this one statement.

Here’s the beauty of it:   It can be done!!!!!!!  

Thesis statement instruction must include:

  • the tools on crafting a thesis statement
  • the conceptual aspect of a thesis statement

Link below for a worksheet designed for teachers to use as they teach the concept.  Students fill out the concept sort and a follow up discussion will help the students put the pieces into place.

author’s note 11/17/2012:  the following attachment is not a lesson, it is a tool designed to help teachers facilitate a discussion with students on the inter-connected relationship between the thesis statement, outline, and body of the paper along with the similarities and differences between each.

author’s note 11/20/2012:

Part 2 of post linked here

Handling Cyber Safety Mandates Effectively

From:  “E-Rate Information.” I-Safe. N.p., n.d. Web. 22 Oct. 2012. <>.

IT IS NOW OFFICIAL: On August 11, 2011, the FCC released its long-awaited rules amending CIPA to include E-Rate provisions of the Protecting Children in the 21st Century Act of 2008. The FCC Order (FCC 11-125) implements the ‘educating’ requirements of the Protecting Children Act effective FY 2012, meaning any school or school district applying for E-Rate discounts (beyond simple telecommunication services) MUST provide Internet Safety Policies that include “monitoring the online activities of minors and must provide for educating minors about appropriate online behavior, including interacting with other individuals on social networking websites and in chat rooms and cyber bullying awareness and response.”

Schools are newly facing the legal responsibility to ensure the instruction of cyber safety, due to a mandate for anyone who would like to apply for E-Rate discounts.  If you are similar to me, you want to do this in an approachable way which does not “turn students off”.  My generation can think back to the days where we received drug education, which was generally didactic.  While they did, indeed, scare me we have two problems translating that concept to the cyber safety mandates.  The first is that it is not one sided:  cyber activity is very much a part of every student’s life and it can be a very positive experience.  We even hear colleges and universities are hoping to find a digital footprint which shines positive light upon their applicants.  The second is that didactic teaching is such a turn-off, yet we still return to that style when it comes to cyber safety.  

Luckily, the mandate does not say how we approach the education of students in these areas and we can each decide how to best teach our own students.  It is my belief that it is best to incorporate the content that we teach into our existing curriculum.  For instance, we have begun to do a lesson each semester in which our ninth graders read a nonfiction article about a theatrical dramatization of Romeo and Juliet which takes place in Tehran.  The students each respond personally to the article and then they gather in small groups to discuss their personal reactions to the content.  Next, the group develops a group response and posts it to the class blog.  Homework is for the students to respond to each other’s comments (individual response) while following a Cyber Etiquette during an Online Blog Discussion rubric.  The main categories of the rubric are that the students need to properly identify the person (or group) that they are directing their comment towards, they need to include a portion of the original quote, the quote must be kept in context to the meaning the original author intended it to be presented, they must be kind and respectful, and they are to attempt to expand on the thoughts through intriguing questions or unique ideas or even providing reference to outside sources.  The students enjoy this project and understand the nature of online comments and the abuse many people afflict upon each other when not responding ethically in an online commenting forum.  While they understand that online commenting forums are filled too often with negative, inflammatory comments, it is rare that anyone models how an ethical response can and should look.  This lesson gives the students the opportunity to follow a rubric which models ethical response and it allows the class an opportunity to look at the responses which were made and decide which student most successfully achieved a quality response.  We have the power to model to the next generation how to ethically interact with each other in the digital world!

I love this lesson because it is an example of integrating cyber safety into curriculum and reduces the didactic nature of such education.  Our school, as with others, must find a way to ensure that all students receive this education.  We are developing the best way to do this and have shared ideas.  With ninth grade, we have discussed adding an article during the Romeo and Juliet unit on anxiety related to texting while in a dating relationship.  We have considered having students research trials related to cyber safety while the students read To Kill a Mockingbird.  We have thought about integrating into social studies courses a project in which students study how often policies with social networking sites change and why it is important to keep abreast of those changes and to understand what they mean.

I ask that you consider integrating cyber safety into your lessons and that you track how and where it is done.  Ideally, you will soon have a program which has high alignment to the real lives of students and guides them into smart decisions which set them up for the greatest success.





Using Twitter to locate the latest information on your research topic

Using Twitter to locate the latest research on your topic:

Teachers and students do not often think of suggesting students utilize Twitter as a tool to locate information to support the topic that they are researching.  While not all postings are authoritative, many are!  Teaching students to scan Twitter for the latest information on the topic that they are studying may ultimately direct students towards information that is being presented at a conference or direct them to a professional or organization that may further their research!  This is an important tool that students should be guided towards using effectively:

Step 1:  Login to Twitter  (you may have to create an account) and keyword search your topic

Step 2: Once you hit enter, you will see a listing of tweets that include your keyword (which updates as new tweets are added)

Step 3:

Browse the list of tweets to see which look good.

You can:

(a)   Link into hyperlinks which look promising – you will cite the hyperlinked source versus the tweet.

(b)  Scan for a useful hashtag that you may want to use often.

(c)   Look for a quality expert or group to follow

This is an example of a tweet which uses a hashtag (#bioethics is the hashtag within the tweet)


A “hashtag” is a sort of keyword that multiple people use to categorize their tweet. #edchat is a popular hashtag for education (in general) while #edtech is a popular hashtag for technology in education.

Once you find a good hashtag, you can type it in like a keyword


Some Twitter users prefer to use a tool called Tweetdeck, which organizes tweets into columns.  For instance, if you are following various individuals or groups, you will have one column that displays this activity.  At the same time, you may be able to view a column which pushes through any tweets for a specific hashtag.


image from:

If there is a link within the tweet, cite the source it links to.  If not:  Use this link if you need to cite a Tweet

If you want to contact a person or group who has posted on twitter, you can go into their profile for their contact information (they may have a website or list their email address) or you can reply to their tweet (you cannot message each other unless you both follow each other).  If you choose to reply, watch for their reply back to you.

Rule to Follow:  Don’t let Twitter overwhelm you!  This is a tool that you can jump in and out of for days or months at a time.  Take what is useful and don’t worry about what you may miss.

Update 2/20/14

If you do not prefer to open a Twitter account, you can type in a Twitter hashtag into and obtain the html code of all posts related to that hashtag and paste it into a blog or website.  This transfer maintains the integrity of the hyperlinks to articles, etc. within the Twitter chats.