Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Helping Build Lifelong Learners by Andrew Jobson


One of my greatest struggles as a teacher is to find ways to actually impart knowledge to my students; in other words, to go from telling the students something to seeing them make new ideas their own.  Along with that is the challenge of getting them to not merely regurgitate what I’ve said, but to engage the ideas and adapt them to their own understandings—to do battle with the ideas rather than merely memorize them.

I have often used Francis Bacon’s famous essay about books: the one where he says “Some books are meant to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested” (or something very close to that).  I recently discovered a more recent writer who provides additional ideas for students on how to read a book actively.  Mortimer Adler was the father of the Great Books series, and I’ve been reading his 1940s classic How to Read a Book.  It’s good, but a very short essay entitled “How to Mark a Book” may be even more useful thanks to its brevity.  It’s easily located on the web.


Adler argues that “marking up a book is not an act of mutilation but of love.”  He distinguishes between those who “own” books by holding them in pristine condition on their bookshelves, and those who truly own books—whose books are all “dog-eared and dilapidated, shaken and loosened by continual use, marked and scribbled in from front to back.”


Most of my students, if they mark books, merely underline large swaths of text.  Adler provides some additional suggestions to actively read and understand (and to test one’s understanding) a challenging text.  I think I’m going to have all of my students read this essay early in the year.

You may find it useful as well. 

Do you mark up books?



An educator of 22 years, Andy Jobson has taught government, economics, and U.S. History. Currently teaching English literature at Riverside Military Academy in Gainesville, GA, he’s also been an administrator, a STAR teacher twice, and taught elementary school with Teach for America. 

Friday, September 25, 2015

Psst...Hey, You Want a Free DVD? by Susan Gable

by Susan Gable
Director of Education Curriculum - izzit.org 

Four teachers and I found ourselves making that offer over and over again in Nashville and Boston in November, 2014. It's an offer most teachers find hard to refuse. (I mean, come on! It's FREE! No catch!)

The Association for Middle Level Education (AMLE) conference took place from Nov. 5 - Nov. 7, 2014 at the Opryland Convention Center in Nashville, TN. Jim Buchanan, a 2009 Teacher of the Year Runner-up and a 2010 Teacher of the Year, helped at the izzit.org booth, along with Love Merryman Bates, a 2014 Teacher Associate of the Year. Though Jim's trip started with a wrinkle-- the hotel had no room for him when he checked in at 11:30 pm, and then the room they "found" for him turned out to be occupied by four sleeping women when he accessed it with the keycard the front desk gave him, exciting times! -- things smoothed out quickly. Both Jim and Love are enthusiastic izzit.org proponents, and they shared that with the attending teachers.


The National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS) convened Nov. 20- Nov. 23, 2014 at the Hynes Convention Center in Boston, and I thought if ever there was a location that would draw social studies teachers, it would be Boston. That turned out to be true, as attendance was higher than normal, but it turned out to be a curse as well because we discovered, in the mostly empty exhibit hall on Saturday, that social studies teachers would rather go out and explore the real history than stay inside and take workshops or peruse new materials. (We understood, as we were eager to see some "real history" as well. We did, with an amazing private tour of the Old North Church, but that's another post!) Elizabeth Harris, new to us as a teacher associate but who's been using and recommending our materials for years, and Mike Siekkienen, a 2011 Teacher of the Year who attended AMLE with me last year, helped us in Boston.

While our main goal is to find and engage teachers who don't know about izzit.org, we also get current members visiting us, which we encourage by sending emails prior to the conference. Sometimes they bring friends to introduce them to izzit.org. Other times we would get unsolicited testimonials as teachers walked by and exclaimed, "izzit! I love izzit!" Those folks were pulled over and "put to work" if only for a minute, telling others gathered at the booth that there's "no catch, it's really free and it's great!"

At this year's AMLE, a teacher stopped to chat and informed us that she was doing a workshop at the conference, and would be mentioning izzit.org as a great teacher resource. 


After I return from conference with my forms, it's "all hands on deck" as most of the office staff pitch in to get them entered into the computer. We run across interesting things as we go through them. For example, we're starting to think handwriting is no longer being taught in schools because teachers themselves have such horrible handwriting. (Admit it, you know this is true of some of you!) Trying to read some of the forms is a challenge. 

This year we discovered someone who, wanting a free DVD but not wanting to give us his information, had actually filled out the form as the school janitor. (We discovered that from the school's website. We also figured it was a safe bet that the district hadn't sent the school janitor to a social studies conference.) Another person gave us a "school" address that turned out to be under a highway overpass. I don't think he really lived/worked there. Do you?

Our conference presence serves to reinforce the emails we send out each month to prospective customers. I've heard numerous times at conference, "I didn't think you guys were real!" So we're able to demonstrate that yes, we're real, we're not scammers, and we really do want to give teachers classroom resources for free.


Sometimes there really is a free...DVD. At least, there is for teachers thanks to izzit.org and our funders.


I hope that during the 2015/16 school year, we'll get the chance to see some of you at conferences! We'll be at AMLE, NCSS, and NCEA again this year, as well as the NEA conference. Stop by, say hi, and get your bonus FREE DVD!




Susan Gable is the Director of Education Curriculum at izzit.org. She holds a BA in Psychology from Douglas College/Rutgers University and is a certified elementary teacher in 3 states, with ten years of classroom experience. She’s a multi-published, award-winning author who also teaches writing workshops.


Monday, September 21, 2015

Another New Release - Check out Recalculating!



In September, for back-to-school, we decided that releasing one new video wasn't enough. We thought that educators might like a choice of options for the new school year. So we released two new videos!

Recalculating is set in India, and it can help your students understand that technology sometimes has uses far beyond what we normally think of for them.
In the national forests of Gujarat, India, the tribal people have been seen as encroachers, thieves who dare to produce food for their families on land claimed by the government. Rama Bhai and his family have worked land in the Sagai village for generations. The technology we use to find our way to unfamiliar places came to their rescue. Learn how GPS operates, and how it, along with Google Maps, saved the day for some of the poorest of the poor in India.


Click here to choose as a FAV  (or to watch via streaming!)

Click here to purchase



Monday, September 14, 2015

The Making of Pups of Liberty by Bert and Jennifer Klein

Pups of Liberty: The Boston Tea-Bone Party is now in thousands of classrooms, and has become a hit with students and teachers. It's the first teaching unit in the Pups of Liberty series, featuring four (that's the current plan, anyway!) animated films that will tell the story of the American Revolution using animals to represent real-life historical figures. The second unit, The Dog-claration of Independence, is also now available!

Characters like "Bonejamin Franklin" and "Spaniel Adams" introduce kids to the Founding Fathers in a new and fun way. Even though the Pups of Liberty films use a clever spin to attract young people, they always maintain historical accuracy and make it clear in the supplemental materials how the animated characters correspond to the real men and women of history. Future episodes will include: The Ruffolutionary War and Fetching a New Nation (featuring George Woofington). (Working titles - titles may change!) We believe this approach will enable young people to embrace history, and that the characters will  have a lasting impact.

Our goal is to help kids truly understand the ideals and principles of freedom upon which our nation was founded. When a young person sees in our film how the taxes imposed by the cats affect our main character Anne and her business, they can relate to her disappointment and empathize with her frustration that the dogs have no representation. If viewers can relate on an emotional level with our characters, they can begin to understand how these issues could make people angry enough to start a revolution.

When we began the Pups of Liberty series, we wanted to make films like the ones we loved back in school. The teacher would pull out the rickety 16mm film projector and show a movie as a change of pace from the usual routine. The best ones were the animated educational films that were produced by Walt Disney in the 1950s and '60s. They were so well done that they were being shown for decades after they'd been made. A big favorite was Donald Duck in Mathmagic Land,which managed to teach the Pythagorean Theorem with amazing clarity. These films taught in ways that made students want to watch, and so they learned. As filmmakers and parents, we believe that making education fun also makes it more effective.

The animation in Pups of Liberty uses both digital and hand-drawn techniques. We begin with thorough research, staying as close to the source of the historical facts as possible. After we write the script, we design the characters and the draw the "storyboards," which are single-drawing representations of what is happening in each shot. To determine the look of each scene we paint "color keys" and draw a "layout" for each shot prior to animation. Each

second of film requires up to 24 drawings for the characters to come to life and every detail is hand drawn. The highest quality of animation requires specially trained artists to create a character that lives and breathes and convinces the viewer it is real. To use an old phrase, an animator is "an actor with a pencil" - and through thousands of beautiful drawings we give our characters expression and feelings, which resonate with our audience. After the animation is done, it receives a "clean up" line, is then scanned digitally, and colored and composited together with a painted background. Sound mixing and an original music score create the final product.

Another fun aspect of Pups of Liberty is the way we make our historical figures easy to remember - Spaniel Adams in place of Samuel Adams is catchy and will stick in a viewer's mind for years (Just try to forget Paul Ruffere or George Woofington!).


As artists, we have a passion to practice our craft every day, but being able to tell great stories with worthwhile messages makes it even more exciting and rewarding. The lessons learned from history don't have to be exclusively for grownups; kids can understand and apply ideals, principles, and values to their young lives, too. We hope that Pups of Liberty can teach young pups some new tricks!



Pups of Liberty: The Dog-claration of Independence is available for purchase, educators can select it as their Free Annual Video, or anyone can watch it via streaming.













We also have a Pups of Liberty Activity and Coloring Book on sale until the end of September. Click here to purchase.










Take a glimpse behind the scenes of the creation of Pups of Liberty: The Dog-claration of Independence. Meet some of the animation team and learn how the bring the Pups to life in the video below.









Friday, September 11, 2015

After a long wait, it's HERE!

We have been teasing you all like crazy, but the time has come....The new Pups of Liberty: The Dog-claraton of Independence video is finally available. And...you can watch the whole video, right now, via streaming on the izzit.org website!



After the Boston Tea-Bone Party, the Pups of Liberty continue to assert themselves against Catland. But the Royal TomCat refuses their requests for representation in the government and issues orders that make life miserable in the 13 Ameri-canine colonies.

You will witness Paul Ruffere’s famous midnight run to warn the MinuteMutts at Lexington and Concord. Join Anne Kennel and Bonejamin Franklin in Philadelphia. Be there as Thomas Jefferhound writes, and the Continental Congress votes on, the Dog-claration of Independence, starting the Revolutionary War and putting America on the path to freedom.


Click here to choose as a FAV (or to watch via streaming!)

Click here to purchase



We also have an activity book that contains 48 pages of activities centered on the adventures of our Pups.
The activity book has a special introductory offer of$4.95. Sale ends September 30th! A perfect addition to the Pups of Liberty: Dog-claration of IndependenceDVD!


Click here to purchase this activity book.




Where Were You...on 9/11?

Dr. Mike Siekkinen- (A Military Perspective)

I was active duty Navy, attached to a submarine on September 11th. Our submarine was returning from deployment that day, where we would meet the other crew and begin the process of turning over and "taking back" our sub. The "other crew" had been on deployment for the last 3 months. My wife and I were getting ready for work and we had the television on, listening to the news as we got ready.



We heard the report of the first plane hitting the World Trade Center and both thought perhaps it was a sightseeing plane that had gotten too close. When the second plane hit, we knew something was wrong. As I drove onto the Navy base, the radio told me of the Pentagon being hit and then in the parking lot, as the entire crew sat listening to the radio, the plane went down in Pennsylvania. 

We watched as our submarine came up the river and was then met by tugboats that turned it around and sent it back out to sea. We watched the family members who had been waiting for their husbands and fathers, leave in tears as they were told to go home. The sub was being put out to sea where it would be safer instead of tied up next to a pier where it could be a target. Our crew was all sent home and told to wait by our phones until further notice. The base was being secured. We waited like that for the next week as details of the attack came out. Everything changed after that...

Rob Schimenz- (A New York Teacher's Perspective)

I was walking down the third floor hallway with Usman Hanif, my student and varsity baseball player, a fellow teacher said that a plane had crashed into one of the Twin Towers.  I scoffed, yet Usman and I walked to the west side of the building.  Sure enough, smoke was coming from one of the buildings.  Within seconds, the second building burst into flames.  I knew intuitively what was happening.  We stared out the window for several minutes.  Throughout the rest of the day, teachers and students watched the news from wherever they could.  As a dean, I had less classroom time, but the halls were still.  The few people who passed each other said little.  I recall speaking to students in numerous social studies classes, mostly with the message that this was done by individuals, not a religion, ethnic group, or nationality.  As a Red Sox fan, I never really liked the Yankees.  But when I was asked "why?" I tied the two together.  "Many people hate the Yankees because they are successful," I said.  "It's pretty much the same reason," I said.  "Many people hate the United States because we are successful." 

By the time the school day ended, we smelled the smoke from the burning buildings, which we had watched not only burst into flames but collapse too.  The trains were mostly shut, and parents had been coming to pick up their children.  As I was walking out of the school, the principal announced that there were many students who had to wait for their parents, and she asked teachers to stay with the students.  I went back and stayed until the last student left.

About 8pm, I finally headed home.  It was eery.  There was no traffic heading west, toward the city.  There was little traffic heading east.  I went to see my parents.  Mom and Dad were 20 when Pearl Harbor was attacked and I wanted to know how this compared, how it felt.  Mom said that this was much worse.  Pearl Harbor was a military base in a U.S. territory.  This, she said, was an attack on us, on citizens, and it was only 35 miles away from where we lived.  

Several days later, I drove through a neighborhood in which there were usually many flags of Latin American countries.  But that day, all I saw were American flags.  That was very emotional for me.  

Despite being a New Yorker, I had never gone to the World Trade Center.  I wish I had.

I think of 9/11 often.  I used to drive to work and look at the Twin Towers from the Long Island Expressway.  I still look....



Susan Gable- (A Mom's Perspective)

I was sitting in a classroom at the Northwest Tri-County Intermediate Unit in Edinboro, PA, learning how to be a substitute teacher, despite having taught for 10 years in NJ. I remember an administrator came into the room, her face so ashen, I thought she was going to collapse. She said,“We’re under attack. The Pentagon has been attacked.”  And we were all like, “What? What do you mean, attacked?” The idea of war on our soil is so foreign to us, it didn’t really register.  No way that was happening. We tromped into a room across the hall that had a television set, just in time (if you can say that about anything of that day) to see the first tower collapse.

I don’t remember there being any noise at all in the room. We all were dumbfounded. Just in shock. Then a person from the Intermediate Unit came in and announced, “If you guys want to go home, leave now, because we’re going on lock down, and no one will be able to leave once we do that.” So, I left. I had a 10-year-old at home. I wasn’t getting locked in. I remember driving home, still in shock, wondering what else was going on, what else would happen. I rode with the news on. By the time I got home, my then-husband, who worked at a television station at the time, was also home. We were transfixed to the television (where we, like most of the country, would remained glued for the next few days.) I remember sending my husband to school to pick up our son because we just didn’t know what was happening. Didn’t know what would be next. And so I, like many other parents, wanted my kid at home, with us.



I went to give blood the next day because though I’m in Erie, PA, that was close enough that blood could have easily been shipped to NYC from here.  I waited for hours with a huge crowd of people, all of us again glued to the television in the waiting room. And I remember that blood wasn’t  needed on the scale that they’d first imagined. We all donated because...we just didn’t know what else we could do, and we all felt so helpless, like we had to do something.

The world my ten-year-old inhabited had changed massively. Life would never be the same...

Dana Roberts- (A Student's Perspective)

I was actually in middle school at the time of the attacks, in social studies class. Everyone was taking notes and listening to Mr. Walker, when suddenly another teacher came rushing into the room, his face pale-white. He whispered into my teacher's ear and Mr. Walker immediately turned on the t.v.

Everyone was confused, some of my classmates began to panic, others became emotional, the rest of us just sat and starred at the t.v. until the principal came across the PA system to inform us school was being dismissed early. The buses would be at the school shortly, and students who needed other transportation were allowed to use the classroom telephones or their personal cellphones to contact parents. 

That is when chaos began. My school district had two separate schools, one middle school and one high school, but they were located on the same grounds, meaning the older kids rode with the younger kids to and from school. The younger kids were confused, scared, excited and unsure of why they were being sent home early. The older kids were on their phones making arrangements with parents and families. My parents came and picked me up.

Flash forward to 2013, when I took a trip to NYC. I made my way to the 9/11 Memorial/ Ground Zero and also the NYC Fire Department. Both stops filled me with immediate emotion, not because I lost someone personally but because our nation lost thousands of people.


Going to the National September 11 Memorial & Museum caused two emotions: sadness and hope. Walking around, looking at the North and South pool monuments, seeing all those names engraved into the granite, seeing people mourning the loss of their loved ones made me tear up. Continuing around I found myself directly in front of the "Survivor Tree." Looking at this tree I was filled with hope, thinking if this  remains after this tragedy, then perhaps there is hope for our nation. After all the massive resources combined together to construct both trade centers were demolished almost effortlessly, here stood this natural resource that survived it all. This tree was recovered from the rubble at the World Trade Center site in 2001, standing 8 feet tall and badly burned with only one living branch left- no one expected it to survive.


The tree was moved to the Bronx for care and later replanted at the memorial site, standing 30 feet tall. This tree has become a symbol of hope and rebirth which accurately represents NYC and the United States of America. This tree also serves as a reminder of the thousands of survivors who persevered after the attacks.



So...where were you that fateful day? We'd love for you to share your perspective of that day in the comments.