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The Siena School Blog

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Welcome to Siena's blog, your source for helpful, cutting-edge resources tailored to teachers, parents, and other advocates in the learning differences community. We are dedicated to providing a wealth of curated knowledge spanning various topics, ranging from dyslexia advocacy and awareness to classroom teaching strategies, heritage month profiles, and social and emotional health.


Archives - December 2018

Thankfulness in the Classroom

December 26, 2018
By Carolyn Bottelier

Written by Carolyn Bottelier, Elementary and Middle School Science Teacher and Summer Programs Coordinator at The Siena School

Around this time of year, many individuals more consciously practice and express thankfulness. Thanksgiving season gives way to the holidays, and as the myriad of decorations, and gifts are displayed and given, it’s imperative that we remember just how much we have to be thankful for. It’s the ethical thing to do.

The science and engineering classroom is also an ethics classroom. Ethics, simply defined as the moral distinction between right and wrong, are particularly relevant when conducting scientific research. Prior to a research project, the scientist must ask whether or not the intention is in the best interest of humanity, other organisms, and our planet. Post research, the scientist must report and communicate the results truthfully. Currently, the 6th grade class is delving headfirst into a prominent ethical issue plaguing our species today: equitable access to potable water.

Active inquiry-based learning and thoughtful discussion have exposed the 6th graders to numerous issues surrounding freshwater around the globe. The conversations have evoked questions such as, “If they knew the new source was dirty, why did they switch the source?” (in reference to Flint, MI), “If science has proven climate change, then why are we still burning coal?” (in reference to how the changing climate has resulted in droughts worldwide), and, “How come so many people know about this and it’s still happening? How can we do something to help?” The ethical dilemma revealed itself. At Siena, real-world context is imperative to helping students understand the relevancy of their education and to visualize how their learning can be applied beyond the classroom.

Each student conducted their own research about an affected area of their choice to glean further details about how freshwater scarcity and contamination affect that population. Through their research, most have recognized the privilege of having access to clean, potable water from a tap because of where we live. As the students work in teams to engineer gravity-fed water filtration systems after winter break, they can directly relate their experience to one that could better the lives of someone, somewhere, someday.

Personally, I am so thankful for the opportunity to share this holistic experience with my students, and for the hopeful atmosphere that Siena provides, enabling these opportunities in the first place. From our family to yours, have a peaceful holiday and a very happy new year.

Posted in Teacher Resources

Giving the Gift of Technology for the Holidays

December 21, 2018
By Simon Kanter
Written by Simon Kanter, the Director of Technology at The Siena School
If you're looking for a tech gift for your child this year, but don't know what to give, consider gifting a Chromebook! Less expensive than a phone or tablet, but just as feature-rich, a Chromebook is a versatile gift that opens up a host of creative possibilities for kids.
Curious about what kind of Chromebook to buy? Virtually every major computer manufacturer makes a model now, and generally speaking they are perfectly interchangeable. Think about these factors before buying:
  • Form Factor (laptop size): The two most common sizes are 11" and 13". The smaller is recommended for students up through 8th grade, while high school students could probably use the screen size upgrade to 13". Smaller units tend to have better battery life. 
  • Touchscreen or regular screen: About half of all Chromebook models are now touch-capable, and some of them even have a 270- or 360-degree swivel that can turn them into a stand-up or tablet mode.
  • Android app compatibility: The models listed as "Stable Channel" in this link can also run Android apps, like the ones on Android smartphones, in addition to Chrome Extensions!
The holidays provide a unique opportunity for many meaningful activities -- eating meals together, decorating our homes, seeing relatives from out of town -- but this year, I'd like to ask you to add another to your list: If you are planning to give your child a computer, smartphone, or tablet this holiday season, consider sitting down with them to talk about how to have a healthy relationship with their new smart device.
Having a conversation with your child around the time they receive a tech gift is your chance to: set boundaries about when and where device use is appropriate; ask what kinds of apps they plan to use, and lay out what you are comfortable with them using; come up with a family contract with sensible rules that you all can follow, like "no phones at the dinner table." The real value, beyond just setting rules, lies in maintaining an open line of communication about device use and the way it affects us all. Modeling good device use is one part of this. Being honest about the effects that connected technology has on your life, and being OK with the fact that your child's experience might not line up with yours, is another.
Siena’s go-to reference for effective and empathetic communication about developmental tech issues is Dr. Devorah Heitner. Her blog is a treasure trove of advice in this area, and she even wrote an article on this exact topic for PBS.

Podcasts for Every Interest

December 18, 2018
By Leslie Holst
Written by Leslie Holst, Podcast Enthusiast and Reading Teacher at The Siena School
With winter break looming on the horizon, parents seeking alternatives to Xbox and Netflix can turn to podcasts as a way to engage their student’s brains. A quick scroll through iTunes or Stitcher may be overwhelming. There are so many great podcasts and not enough time!
Podcasts may entertain, they may educate, and they can make that long holiday drive fly by. Below is a curated list of podcasts based on students’ interests. There are recommendations for entire series with particular episodes highlighted that may be a good starting point. Please note that some podcasts are best for certain grades. All episodes recommended are considered clean, but other podcasts in the series may have explicit language.
To find podcasts, check out Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, NPR, and Spotify.
All ages- Harry Potter: The Leaky Cauldron Overflows
There are too many Harry Potter related podcasts to list, but here are a few favorites.
Flick and Swish - Reviews each book chapter by chapter, and includes information from the JK Rowling cannon, writings from Pottermore, fan theories and SPOILERS. Organized around each book, this podcast is best listened to after you finish a chapter of the book - so begin at the first podcast for the book you want to explore and read/listen along.
Harry Potter and the Sacred Text - Harry Potter meets High School English Lit (discussion geared to high schoolers and adults). Connecting the Harry Potter universe, book by book, to larger life questions and inspirational texts, reflecting on themes such as forgiveness and commitment. Organized by book, so begin with the first podcast of the book you are currently reading.
Science Podcasts: Elementary school-6th grade
Wow in the World! All your science and life questions are answered, with funny hosts discussing topics such as Extreme Make-over: Spider Edition, Oh Knuck-Crackers (why we want to crack our knuckles and what happens when we do it), Brain Freeze, and Why Horses Can’t Wear Flip Flops.
Undiscovered - Focusing on the left turns, missteps and lucky breaks that make science happen. Undiscovered is a family oriented podcast that delves into the interesting stories behind scientific discoveries. What happens when a snake wrangler discovers a new turtle species before scientists? (Turtle v. Snake). Can kids receive love from a robot - or feel love back? (I, Robovie).
A Blast From the Past
Forever Ago - A family show focused on the history of “things”! Ever wondered how we developed cameras (From Pinholes to Perfect Selfies), video games (A Tale of Two Pongs), and skateboards (When Roller Skates Met Surfboards)? This podcast is for you!
Stuff You Should Know – Deep dives and quick takes into a variety of topics that we may all have heard of before, but don’t fully understand (How the Navajo Code Talkers Worked); curious as we go shopping (Adidas v. Puma: A Sibling Rivalry); walk out of the movie theater asking ourselves (Was There A Real Robin Hood?). From Narwhals to dolphin bomb detectives, choose carefully through the back catalog of podcasts to find episodes suited to your interest.
The Outside Podcast by Outside Magazine combines science, information and the great outdoors into two great podcast series. Start with the episodes that discuss the Science of Survival and learn how to make it on your own in the wilderness. Follow up with Outside Interviews – especially the episode that interviews business author Tim Ferriss.
High School and Adults
Hidden Brain – Why do we want the things we want? Why do we make the choices we make? Hidden Brain uses engaging storytelling to explain our brains and how they work. You can pick and choose episodes based on interest – The Fox and the Hedgehog asks if is it better to know a little about a lot of things, or more important to spend your life on one big idea. Disclaimer-some episodes are explicit.
Sports Podcasts: Touchdowns and Thin Ice
You may recognize 30 for 30 from ESPN Documentary Series – but did you know it started out a podcast? Geared for High School and Adults (disclaimer- some episodes are explicit), 30 for 30 is “sports stories you have never heard before”. Good episodes to start with are Madden’s Game – How football Coach John Madden turned into a video game empire; and On the Ice – The story of an all women trek to the North Pole – no experience necessary.
Honorable Mentions:
Without fitting into a category, these podcasts are definitely worth your time:
Pop Culture Happy Hour - Featuring a rotating round table of pop culture experts, a twice weekly discussion of the latest books, television, comics, music, and movies. Each Friday features “What is making us happy this week?”, a brief discussion of what is up and coming, or new on the radar, in pop culture.
Spilled Milk - This is funnier than I can describe - two fantastic writers and comedians (Molly Wizenberg and Matthew Amster Burton) start with a food idea (Cookies and Cream, Milkshakes, Movie Candy) and “see how far they can go”. This is a must listen if you are interested in food culture or cooking.

What's Old is New Again: 21st Century Versions of 19th Century Tools

December 03, 2018
By Maya Furukawa

Written by Maya Furukawa, a Middle School English Teacher at The Siena School.

In his 2005 novel, The Colorado Kid, Stephen King wrote that "[s]ooner or later, everything old is new again." In an ever-developing, technologically-driven world, this has never been more true. We are constantly reinventing the wheel. Wheels of different colors, different materials, and different durabilities flood our markets. We, as people, are constantly seeking the next best thing: the hottest technology, the latest hairstyle, the newest breed of designer dog. Thus, it should come as no surprise that traditional classroom tools have also become new again; with, of course, a few vital updates.

Poster-making is one such item. Posters have been around since the 19th century (though a minority of sources claim the 18th), and have been a part of traditional classroom projects for what feels like almost as long. People of all ages can think back to a time when they had to create some sort of poster for school; a vision board, a science project explanation, or a poster about a historical figure for Social Studies. And there's a reason for that — posters are valuable, hands-on learning tools which allow students to consolidate and express ideas in new and creative ways. They are multisensory insofar as their inclusion of visual and kinesthetic stimuli and processes. And they are interactive in the same way the Mona Lisa or Michelangelo's David are interactive; they can create a sense of awe, induce people to ask questions. But they don't speak to you. You can't (or at least shouldn't) manipulate their parts. They are missing some essential aspects of 21st-century learning.

Enter Glogster.

Glogster is a website that provides the tools and templates necessary to facilitate the creation of interactive multimedia posters. It has all the benefits of a traditional poster — inclusion of words, images, creativity — as well as the ability to add audio clips, videos, and more. There are different templates which lend themselves to a variety of project and the ability to create templates of your own. Projects can be assigned and graded on Glogster. By all definitions, Glogster is our 21st century poster.

One of the best things about Glogster is its cross-curricular applications. Need to do a presentation on Benjamin Franklin? Glogster will allow you to record your presentation and place it in your poster, along with bullet points and links to his biographical information. Need to show and present a science lab? Post your hypothesis, your variables, links to your resources, and upload a video of your lab at work.

Last quarter, Glogster graced my 7th grade classroom and provided English students with a brand-new way to interpret and present information on poems. Students' Glogsters contained poems, keywords from each poem, images to support these, a recording of them reading the poems, and an accompanying interpretation. Examples of these Glogsters are below. In short, Glogster brought our posters into the 21st century.

This metaphorical wheel has been reinvented. What was old is now new.


Posted in Teacher Resources

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