What if Bill Belichick Taught Social Studies?

It is the most wonderful time of the year… the NFL Playoffs and once again the New England Patriots are among the favorites to win it all.  The Patriots have been through player changes and quarterback changes over the past decade but still every year they are in the hunt.  What makes them so special?  One man.  Coach, Bill Belichick.  Even though my team has been long excluded from this competition for the 12th consecutive season (Lets Go Buffalo!) I still enjoy watching the games and most importantly the in-depth interviews that are done in the pregame shows.  The Patriots QB Tom Brady today in a pregame interview gave 2 reasons he feels his team is successful year in and year out. 

1: The players feel that the Coach Bellichick has prepared them for each and every opponent.

2: The players believe in their ability to succeed against any opponent they face. 

I can’t help but to conclude that the two are connected. 

Certainly this approach is not isolated to just football.  If one is prepared by a good teacher than one feels confident when challenged. 

Take the NYS Regent exams in Global History and Geography and American History and Government.  The two assessment are very different… or are they?  Surely the content has differences, the classes leading up to them are different but the tests are almost the same in one very important way.  Format.

Roughly 50% of these two exams are on multiple choice and content problem solving.  Students often refer to this section as the multiple guess section. 

10% of the exams are the Scaffolding Questions in Part IIIA these are essentially plug and pull questions.  Traditionally students do very well in this section.  These questions may change with the new common core initiatives from NYSED (See previous post)

40% of the final score for these exams is derived from expository writing in Parts II and IIIB (The Thematic and DBQ Essays)

Throughout the last 11 years as a teacher I consistently looked to pinpoint an area to focus my energy on to  leverage improved results.  On almost every report I analyzed I came to the same conclusion.

Improving a student’s ability to write to convey meaning will have the highest impact on improving test scores.

So… If I was to follow the Coach Belichick’s preparation model (which mirrors Sun Zsu’s The Art of War) I would analyze the opponent’s weakness and focus on defeating them by exploiting that weakness.  Does this mean spend 40% of my time in the classroom focusing on writing to mirror the exams?  Some would say yes.  As a former teacher I can say that I would have no life while I provided meaningful feedback on all that writing.  But… there are ways to increase the amount of writing in the classroom and not destroy your home life. 

At Odyssey this week I watched Mrs. Kirchmaier give students anchor papers and a rubric of a writing assignment that they had already completed.  Mrs. K helped the students synchronize their grading using exemplars of high, medium and low, scored samples.  She helped the students understand how the rubric was followed to obtain that score.  In the end the students were asked to peer grade their partner’s essay and provide feedback as to some improvements that could be made.  The students were then allowed to rewrite their essays with the new feedback and now a better understanding of the requirements and what a perfect exemplar looked like.  When the final draft and rough draft are handed in the next day much of the meaningful feedback was already done by the student’s peer and the teacher can focus on a quick scan of the perfected final.

In many ways this activity allows us to pull back the curtain on what is expected and allows the students to write with a better understanding of these expectations.  Feel free to use the NYSED Regents site to pull anchor papers for an activity like this and help your students practice old exam essays.  http://www.nysedregents.org/

Again, I am not saying we all need to mirror the exam and spend 40% of our time with in-depth expository writing… but certainly increasing writing practice by even 10% from where we are now would see major dividends.  

If we prepare our students for the challenge that we know is coming they will believe in their ability to succeed against it. 

After all, in 1991 my Buffalo Bills were heavily favored to win Super Bowl XXV. Most experts expected that the Giants defense would not be able to contain the Bills’ turbo-charged, no-huddle offense, which had scored 95 points in 2 playoff games.  We all know what happened.  The Giants did defeat the Bills.  The NY Giants defensive game plan is still displayed in the NFL Hall of Fame.  The author of this plan… NY Giants Defensive Coordinator, Bill Belichic.

What Happens When Students Don’t Learn It the First Time? Using Technology to Reteach: Part II

One of the easiest questions in the field of education to answer is which students did not learn the lesson objectives.  All you need to do is look at the assessment scores. 

One of the most difficult questions to answer in the field of education is what do you do with these students now?  Before it is too late…

Several months ago I posted an article on using programs like Kahn Academy and Learnzillion to help re-teach an activity as part of credit recovery or review for some students.  Recently on a stop to Olympia High School I had an opportunity to sit down with Mr. Colelli to discuss how he re-teaches activities to students who did not get it the first time.  His answer; Using technology to re-teach.  On his website , (which is extensive by the way) he sends students to a link that re-teaches the lesson that they may have ,missed or were not successful on. 

Mr. Colelli used free programs like Windows Moviemaker and Audacity to record his voice over his Powerpoint presentations for students to access.  After the students have sometime to go over these sections of his website he allows retakes of his quizzes to show their renewed understanding.

Great work!

Governor Cuomo’s Executive Budget

Last Week Governor Cuomo delivered his Executive Budget. Education highlights and excerpts are below.

– Consistent with the two-year appropriation enacted in 2011-12, the 2012-13 Executive Budget recommends $20.3 billion in School Aid for the 2012-13 school year, a year-to-year increase of $805 million, or 4 percent.- School districts will not be eligible for aid increases unless they have fully implemented the new teacher evaluation process by January 17, 2013.

– High need school districts will receive 76 percent of the 2012-13 allocated increase and 69 percent of total School Aid. $250 million will be used for performance grants.

– The Executive Budget recommends improving the cost-effectiveness of the State’s school transportation program by centralizing the purchase of school buses through the use of a single State contract that is developed with advice from school districts.

– Preschool special education: Apportion all growth above each county’s share of 2011-12 school year costs equally to school districts, the State, and the county.

– $7.0 million for state assessments and $0.7 million for GED testing (SED requested $10 million). During conversations today with Deputy Commissioner Slentz, SAANYS has learned that the allocation less than requested will result in the elimination of the new ELA Regents exams for grades 9 & 10. However, funding would be sufficient to implement January 2013 Regents exams and to support the administration of GED tests.

– The Executive Budget recommends several reforms to the teacher disciplinary process. These proposals include allowing the State Education Department to set reasonable limits on the costs of teacher disciplinary hearings, disqualify hearing officers who fail to comply with statutory deadlines, and change the payment structure to encourage speedier outcomes. The new payment structure would have the costs of teacher hearings shared by school districts and the employees’ bargaining unit, or the employee if not represented by a bargaining unit, so that both have a stake in the timeliness of the process.

– Provides $31.6 million in funding for arts grants administered by the New York State Council on the Arts (NYSCA).

Thank you to SANNYS for some of the exerpts

IPads Replacing Textbooks

Thanks to conversations with Sarah Rodgers from Arcadia High School I just recently purchased an IPhone to go along with my IPad.  They work in perfect synergy.  Sarah sent me this post:

Preliminary news from today’s keynote on education looks like a fantastic argument for ipads in the classroom.  If teachers are going to integrate this technology they need access to it.  I am excited to find out more about apple’s idea for interactive textbooks.  Very little information about what this will look like so far, but it does beg the question about how much we should spend on “dead-tree textbooks.”

Dissecting the Perfect Essay

As a child I liked taking things apart and putting them back together to find out how it worked.  Today, that skill I feel has helped make me a better teacher. 

In a recent visit to Olympia High School I had the pleasure of sitting down with Mr. Auriso to discuss some of his writing strategies that he uses in his World History classes.  One of his strategies that he is using currently helps students write better essay introductions by reading NY State Ed anchor papers, taking them apart and putting them back together again.  The theory behind it is brilliant.  The essential question is, “How did the author construct his argument and how did he sequence his argument to make the most sense?” 

Sound familiar?  “I will take Common Core Learning Standards for $100 Alex!”

This is no different than dissecting Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address or MLK’s Letters from a Birmingham Jail and delving into the reading to find the intent of the author and the skilled usage of words, phrases and passages. 

As with any great lesson Mr. Auriso’s preparation was key. 

Step 1: Access the NY State Education Department’s Regents web page http://www.nysedregents.org/

Step 2 Find an old Regents Exam writing question worth delving into.

Step 3 Locate the model paper with a perfect score (5/5) and print it out for the students. 

Mr. Auriso typed out the introduction of his model essay and put the text into a website that helps scramble sentences. 

Finally the students would get strips of paper with one sentence each printed out. 
The student’s task: Knowing what we know about what makes a good introduction reconstruct the intro as the author intended it. 
So you ask… How would one diversify a lesson like this?  Simple.  Instead of sentences give the students 5 index cards with the paragraphs (Intro, 3 main body paragraphs, and conclusion) printed out to help a student know the structure of the entire essay if that is what they need help identifying. 
Taking things apart to learn what make them tick is great as long as you don’t have parts left over. 

Twitter as a Check for Understanding

Arguably one of the best ways to see if a student has understood a text is to ask them to summarize it into their own words.  This important skill teaches students to sort through the details, find the most salient points and convey them quickly and concisely.  Current educational best practice requires us to do quick and constant checks for understanding of student learning.  Enter technological trailblazer Twitter.  For those of you who have a Twitter account you may know that a tweet is the encapsulation of a thought or event in 140 characters or less.  Some advanced Twitter users may use social media nomenclature like LOL or BFF to expand their comment but it is still a short quick snapshot.

While I was at Odyssey this week Josh Austin showed me how he used this concept in a recent lesson (above) to have students convey the message of the Declaration of Independence to King George III using Twitter methodologies.  Thanks for sharing Josh!

A History of the World in 100 Objects


While I was in Arcadia Middle School this week I ran in to Karen Harris and we had a great discussion regarding using text based questions as part of the common core to help students read and examine historical text like detectives.  We both agreed that as social studies teachers we can also use good “common core” evidence based questions for things like political cartoons, maps, graphic organizers and artifacts as well.  Karen told me about a great book she got form Christmas called A History of The World in 100 Objects by Neil MacGregor.  How great it would be to teach a history class using just artifacts, primary sources and maps to tell the story.  I have not read the book yet (plan to) but the companion website above is truly an amazing resource for teachers.

Amazon.com gives a summary of the book below:

‘In this book, we travel back in time and across the globe, to see how we humans have shaped our world and been shaped by it over the past two million years. The story is told exclusively through the things that humans have made – all sorts of things, carefully designed and then either admired and preserved or used, broken and thrown away. I’ve chosen just a hundred objects from different points on our journey – from a cooking pot to a golden galleon, from a Stone Age tool to a credit card, and each object comes from the collection of the British Museum’ – [from the introduction]. This book takes a dramatically original approach to the history of humanity, using objects which previous civilisations have left behind them, often accidentally, as prisms through which we can explore past worlds and the lives of the men and women who lived in them. The book’s range is enormous. It begins with one of the earliest surviving objects made by human hands, a chopping tool from the Olduvai gorge in Africa, and ends with an object from the 21st century which represents the world we live in today. Neil MacGregor’s aim is not simply to describe these remarkable things, but to show us their significance – how a stone pillar tells us about a great Indian emperor preaching tolerance to his people, how Spanish pieces of eight tell us about the beginning of a global currency or how an early Victorian tea-set tells us about the impact of empire. Each chapter immerses the reader in a past civilisation accompanied by an exceptionally well-informed guide. Seen through this lens, history is a kaleidoscope – shifting, interconnected, constantly surprising, and shaping our world today in ways that most of us have never imagined. An intellectual and visual feast, it is one of the most engrossing and unusual history books published in years.