Annenberg Learner Update
      December 2012

Follow Us:

Facebook  Twitter  Pinterest  Learner
                                    Log Blog  YouTube

Advance excellent teaching with Annenberg Learner.

In the Spotlight for December

New Year’s Resolutions for Teachers

Curriculum Focus: Language Arts

Connecting Learning With Special Days
    Spiritual Literacy Month
    First Self-Sustaining Nuclear Chain Reaction (December 2, 1942)
    Longest Human-Led Animal Migration (December 3, 2001)
    National Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day (December 7)
    Bill of Rights Enacted (December 15, 1791)
Notable December Birthdays

    Otto Dix (December 2, 1891)
    Edvard Munch (December 12, 1863)
    Sandra Cisneros (December 20, 1954) 
Annenberg Learner Announcements

    Exciting Changes to Learner.org

Annenberg Foundation Update
    The Annenberg Space for Photography: No Strangers Exhibit
    Explore.org Animal Cameras Focus on Polar Bears

New Year’s Resolutions for Teachers

You're quickly approaching the 100th day of the school year, and you've decided to refine and refresh your teaching methods as you enter the long stretch from January through June. So far, many of your students are coming along nicely, but others are struggling. So you resolve to make a few changes to get all of your students excited and invested in learning. What resolutions will you make?

Can't think of any? Using our resources, here are a few ideas you can try in your classroom:

Grade writing papers more efficiently.

Developing WritersGrading is often a tedious task. Resolve to make it a faster and more useful exercise. In Developing Writers: A Workshop for High School Teachers, Dr. Robyn Jackson outlines how to use color-coded rubrics. This format is faster for teachers because they spend less time writing the same comments and grading becomes more objective. Students can also immediately see which components of their writing need improvement.  Shuttle into 15:16 of the video program to watch this rubric in action.

Differentiate instruction.

How do you meet the needs of diverse students in your class? Literacy expert Dorothy Strickland discusses key elements of effective instruction that build on student diversity in session 7 of Teaching Reading 3-5. In session 6, "Differentiating Instruction," of Teaching Reading K-2 Workshop, you will learn how to apply research-based principles in early literacy.  Studying multiple writing genres? In workshop 5 of Write in the Middle, Mary Cathryn Ricker explains her philosophy on teaching multigenre writing so that it engages students: "I know that there are some students at the middle level who are very nervous about poetry, downright scared of poetry, and I want to make sure that they have a style of writing or a form of writing they're going to be comfortable with."  Also, watch as Jane Shuffelton customizes a lesson for different levels of learners in her high school Russian class.

Incorporate standardized test questions into routine assignments.

Teaching Multicultural

                                  LiteratureWith more and more teacher performance ratings tied to standardized testing, it's no wonder that many teachers resort to teaching to the test. But that needn't be so. You can easily tie standard test questions into your regular class assignments. In workshop 4, "Research and Discovery," of Teaching Multicultural Literature: A Workshop for the Middle Grades, Kathryn Mitchell Pierce explains that when students engage in critical reading beyond just literal recall of what happens in a book, they have skills which give them confidence to correctly complete a standardized test.
Communicate more often and effectively with parents.

You can do this by setting up a parent listserv for your class and by sending a weekly newsletter about what's going on in your class, including specific projects, instructional practices, and materials that your students are engaged in throughout the year. There's a good template for a parent newsletter in session 8 of Teaching Reading K-2 Workshop.  In Teaching Multicultural Literature: A Workshop for the Middle Grades, workshop 7, "Social Justice and Action," Laura Alvarez talks about keeping parents informed by involving them in the actual lesson.

We'd love to hear about your resolutions for your classroom. We'll post them in our February update message. Just make sure to include the grade level, discipline you teach, and the city and state you're in. Can't wait to see all of your wonderful ideas!

Curriculum Focus: Language Arts - Building Vocabulary and Writing Skills

Those standardized tests are right around the corner. What can you do with your students now to prepare them for the language arts portions of these tests? Here are some ideas for vocabulary building and writing resources and activities from Annenberg Learner. Whether your students are taking the DC-CAS in Washington, DC, the MAP in Missouri, or the STAR in California, start preparing your students for spring tests now.

All Levels

Spelling Bee Interactive 

Elementary School

Teaching ReadingTwo interactives, Word Tiers and Developing Vocabulary, help teachers find terms that are unfamiliar to students and provide strategies for helping students work through them in Teaching Reading 3-5, session 2, “Fluency and Word Study.”

Gage Reeves introduces earth science vocabulary to his students in a novel way in the classroom session of Teaching Reading 3-5, “Reading Across the Curriculum.”

Middle School and High School

The Learning Classroom: Theory into Practice, session 9, “Thinking About Thinking: Metacognition,” shows teachers who emphasize student reflection on their thinking and learning habits. Middle and high school students build skill in learning and feel more confident of their knowledge in test-taking situations.
Work with your students on developing their writing skills beyond correcting their grammar. Developing Writers interactive tool The Arbiter encourages teachers to examine their approach to assessing student writing. 

Connecting Learning with Special Days

Spiritual Literacy Month

December, a time of holidays and observances of different faiths and cultural traditions, is also Spiritual Literacy Month. Broadening our understanding of religions and cultures from around the world and throughout history can give us a better understanding of students’ diverse backgrounds and help us promote respect in our classrooms. The following resources at Learner.org provide background and lessons focusing on holidays and traditions.

Social Studies in
 Action K-12
                                  LibraryIn program 8, "Celebrations of Light," of the Social Studies in Action K-12 Library, watch as Eileen Mesmer teaches her young students the traditions of St. Nicholas Day, St. Lucia Day, Christmas, Hanukkah, and Kwanzaa. Ms. Mesmer relates these traditions to a Cherokee legend about the winter solstice. 

Compare early communities around the world and their spiritual and moral connections with nature and the unworldly in Bridging World History, unit 5, “Early Belief Systems.” Shinto, Judaism, Zoroastrianism, Hinduism, and the ethical and philosophical codes of Confucius and Greek thinkers are discussed. 

How do archaeologists interpret religious meanings in ritual behavior and sacred spaces and objects? Out of the Past, program 7, "The Spirit World," looks specifically at the Maya. 

More resources related to spirituality and cultural practices around the world:

Teaching ‘The Children of Willesden Lane,’ program 9, "A First Impression of Judaism"

The Western Tradition, program 29, “Early Christianity” (development of European spirituality) 

Art of the Western World, program 2, “A White Garment of Churches—Romanesque and Gothic” 

Teaching Foreign Languages K-12: A Library of Classroom Practices, program 22, “Happy New Year!
Bridging World History, unit 7, “The Spread of Religions” (Buddhism, Christianity, and Islam)  

Artifacts & Fiction, unit 8, "Ceremonial Artifacts" (Native American culture)  


First Self-Sustaining Nuclear Chain Reaction (December 2, 1942)

Enrico Fermi, an Italian physicist, postulated that a neutron decaying to a proton emits an electron and a particle which he called a "neutrino.” Fermi’s Beta-decay theory led other physicists to nuclear fission, and Fermi himself saw the possibility that secondary neutrons could cause a controlled chain reaction. He realized that theory on December 2, 1942 (recognized as the birthday of the atomic age) in an experiment that took place in an underground squash court at the University of Chicago. This chain reaction of nuclear fission allowed for the creation of the atomic bomb and also nuclear reactors for power generation. He received the Nobel Prize in 1938 for his work on the artificial radioactivity produced by neutrons, and for nuclear reactions brought about by slow neutrons. 

Habitable PlanetPhysics for the 21st Century, unit 2, “The Fundamental Interactions,” explains the basics of neutron decay and its relationship to the four principle forces in physics. See chapter 6: The Weak Force and Flavor Changes. 

The Habitable Planet, unit 10, “Energy Challenges,” section 6, explains the production and negative effects of nuclear power. 


Longest Human-Led Animal Migration (December 3, 2001)

Journey North -
 Whooping CraneIn an effort to increase the diminished whooping crane population in the United States, pilots from Operation Migration used an ultralight aircraft to teach young whooping cranes how to migrate, increasing the chances for species survival.  Read about Operation Migration’s flock in their daily journal.  

With Journey North your students can track the cranes’ course from birthplace to nesting grounds.  Students build science inquiry skills as they make observations with Journey North photos and video. 

Find photos of the ultralights leading their charges.


National Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day (December 7)

The United States officially entered World War II December 8, 1941, just one day after a Japanese air armada attacked the American naval base at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii. The war ended in August 1945 after the U.S. dropped two atomic bombs (made possible by the work of Enrico Fermi) on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

A Biography of
 AmericaHistorians discuss the Pearl Harbor attack and its aftermath in A Biography of America, program 22, "World War II."  This program also asks you to consider whether or not the wartime internment of Japanese Americans was appropriate. 

The poetry of Lawson Fusao Inada, featured in The Expanding Canon: Teaching Multicultural Literature in High School, session 8, provides a literary perspective of the aftermath of Pearl Harbor.  Read an interview with Inada, who writes about his experiences in an internment camp. Listen to the author read from “Drawing the Line,” and find activities that elicit your students’ critical thinking skills.



Bill of Rights Enacted (December 15, 1791)

In 1791, three-fourths of the States ratified the first ten amendments (authored by James Madison) to the U.S. Constitution that now make up the Bill of Rights. President Franklin D. Roosevelt proclaimed December 15 as “Bill of Rights Day” in 1941, marking the 150th anniversary of its ratification.

Start by having your students read the Bill of Rights, found in America’s History in the Making, unit 6, “The New Nation.” 

Democracy in
 AmericaTry the critical thinking activity in Democracy in America, unit 4, "Civil Liberties: Safeguarding the Individual," to learn about what happens when the exercise of our rights infringes upon the rights of others. 

Watch as Wendy Ewbank and her students engage in two simulations – a press conference and a town hall meeting – examining the role of the Supreme Court in sustaining individual rights. Social Studies in Action, Grades 6-8, “Landmark Supreme Court Cases,” also includes ideas to try in your own classroom. 

More resources for teaching about the Bill of Rights:

Democracy in America, unit 5, “Civil Rights: Demanding Equality

Making Civics Real: A Workshop for Teachers

For information on teaching about NAFTA, the Wounded Knee Massacre, Tennessee Williams, and more, see last year’s December update

Notable December Birthdays

Otto Dix (December 2, 1891)

Art Through TimeGerman artist Otto Dix, painting in post World War I Germany, portrayed social suffering in the faces and postures of prostitutes and war amputees. Lady with Mink and Veil is a portrait of an unknown woman making an effort to look more attractive than her circumstances allow. Start at 26:22 in the video for program 9, “Portraits,” of Art Through Time. Note: Preview video before showing. Material may not be suitable for all students. 

Edvard Munch (December 12, 1863)

Art Through TimeThe Scream by Edvard Munch is an internationally recognized painting. Art Through Time, program 2 “Dreams and Visions,” describes the nightmarish qualities of painting, also a reflection of human angst in Germany at the turn of the 20th Century. 

Sandra Cisneros (December 20, 1954)

Sandra Cisneros, author of The House on Mango Street and Woman Hollering Creek, comments on and asks readers to examine their understanding of what it means to be American. She is featured in unit 16, “Search for Identity,” of American Passages.  A list of comprehension and critical thinking questions deepen students’ understanding of Cisneros’ work. 

Sandra Cisneros reads from and comments on Gabriel García Márquez’s novel One Hundred Years of Solitude in Invitation of World Literature

Follow this link to see resources for the following birthdays: 

Emily Dickinson (December 10, 1830)
Woodrow Wilson (December 28, 1856)
Rudyard Kipling (December 30, 1865)

Keep an eye on our Facebook page for more December birthday connections. 

Annenberg Learner Announcements

Looking for an interactive to help a struggling or advanced student? Searching for some new lesson ideas? You can find what you need in a snap with our new browsing tools on learner.org. Browse by subject, grade level, or key word through more than 400 interactives and search our lesson plan finder for over 100 lesson ideas. You can also view a selection of discipline specific resources in math, science, social sciences, arts, and literature with video previews.     

Math Discipline page

Annenberg Foundation Update

“No Strangers” Exhibit at the Annenberg Space for Photography and Learner.org Connections

See "No Strangers: Ancient wisdom in a modern world" at the Annenberg Space for Photography in Los Angeles now through February 24, 2013. This photo exhibit is about world cultures and indigenous people and a good fit for social studies, photography, and art instruction. The exhibit also features an original short documentary with additional photographs, interviews, and behind the scenes footage with exhibit photographers, indigenous people, and experts.  "No Strangers" is curated by esteemed anthropologist, author, and photographer Wade Davis. 

©Hamid Sardar–Afkhami
Deloun Highlands, Olgii Province, Outer Mongolia

The Annenberg Space for Photography is now offering school group visits and educational materials for its exhibits, including "No Strangers."  Printed curriculum guides provide teachers with background information and pre/post visit activities related to the exhibition including connections to Annenberg Learner resources where relevant.
One of the themes of the exhibit is Circle of Life. Further explore this theme using Bridging World History, unit 13, “Family and Household.” What does the study of families and households tell us about our global past? In this episode examining West Asia, Europe, and China, families and households become the focus of historians, providing a window into the private experiences in world societies, and how they sometimes become a model for ordering the outside world.  Out of the Past, unit 2, “The Hearth,” examines how enculturation and economic cooperation have shaped the homes and families of people, past and present. Remains of houses at archaeological sites and footage of family life in traditional cultures provide a glimpse into what family life must have been like.

Explore.org Animal Cameras Focus on Polar Bears

Watch live coverage during polar bear migration in Churchill, Manitoba on the new Explore.org live cam. The bears come to land when the Arctic sea ice breaks up. Like a walking hibernation, the bears fast until they can access their prey again when the ice refreezes. Warmer arctic temperatures are affecting the bears' feeding patterns. Less time on the ice means less time to hunt. Students can use this and other Explore.org animal cams on the Journey North Web site to discover how animals around the globe respond to seasonal change.

Other Annenberg Foundation News

Keep up with news and information about the Annenberg Foundation by subscribing to one or more of the Foundation newsletters.


Sign up to receive messages highlighting the news, events, and programming of Annenberg Learner, as well as ideas for using our resources in the classroom.

Join Mailing List