The Ramblings of new Instructional Coach and veteran social studies teacher: Jennifer Brinson

Today is likely the most tired I will feel all year – barring sickness, should it crop up. Why am I so tired – well yesterday was a very long day. But, I’m not “miserably” tired – just a little lack of sleep and that is okay because yesterday was worth it.

Every year we (3 members of the social studies department, a learning support teacher and myself) take the entire sophomore class and students enrolled in our Tolerance and Diversity class to Washington, D.C. to visit the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. It is a wonderful day, not because it is happy with bunny rabbits and sunshine, but because it wonderful for us to see our students engaged and communicating about their learning. We can teach them all we want within the four walls of our classrooms and with the incredible influx of technology and its ability to let us reach out beyond our four walls – kids just seem to learn something a little more when the see it in person or are able to smell it and touch it. The artifacts that they have seen pictures of suddenly become “real” to the students. It is one of my favorite parts of education — seeing kids’ eyes light up when the “see it” for the very first time and realize that even though they’ve seen dozens of pictures “this really does exist.”

The USHMM is an amazing – perhaps the best in the world – collection of artifacts from the Holocaust and all of its 11+ million victims. Having had the opportunity to visit Dachau outside of Munich, Germany twice so far in my life, it is my belief that the USHMM does it even better than Dachau itself. Now, don’t get me wrong -there is nothing quite like “being there” when you visit one of the camps, but if you don’t have the opportunity to travel to Europe, please make the trip to DC to see the collection offered by the USHMM. From the fourth floor where the build up of anti-semitism takes center stage in Nazi Germany, to the raiding of Poland and the eventual collection of Jews into camps comes to life in videos, audio clips, artifacts, and text pieces to the third floor where the experiments, transportation, and work camps are embodied in actual rail cars that sit on the actual rails that went into Auschwitz to the scaled models of the journey of a victim from the railcar to their death and disposal. The second floor introduces you to the Final Solution, death marches, and rebellion of the German people and victims themselves. It is an amazing view of what we should never forget occurred in our past.

I was once put in a position where I was told that students should not miss class time for field trips because their education is important to them (a far distant administration than what I am blessed with now — thanks goodness) and with my colleagues we fought the “good fight” and argued that our kids learn equally if not more when they are exposed to educational experiences as rich as what yesterday had to offer.

Take the kids out of the classroom. Expose them to opportunities and people. There are more lessons to learn beyond what we can offer within these four walls. We all benefit from a society that understand the importance of culture, communication and educational experiences that surround us no matter where we live.

Some of the highlights of yesterday certainly include every time a students would read or see something and turn to one of the teachers and say, “wait, they really did this?” or “this really happened?” or “I just didn’t realize…” Those are the moments I live for as a history teacher and as educator in general.

October 16th, 2009 at 8:53 am and tagged , , ,  | Comments & Trackbacks (2) | Permalink

My students were to create a visual representation of the actual Preamble to the Constitution and they were to remix the Preamble in their own words and create a visual representation of the remix. Some groups created two separate versions and some create one that integrates the two. Both ways worked and several are demonstrated below. Students used go animate, xtranormal , and animoto to complete their task. It was interesting to see how they interpreted the Preamble, the images they used to demonstrate it, and the music they chose as well. Preamble Remix by beej79

Like it? Create your own at It’s free and fun!

October 11th, 2009 at 6:37 pm | Comments & Trackbacks (3) | Permalink

As the Model UN coach/advisor for Salisbury High School I am blessed to work with some of the brightest minds in our school. Kids who have a passion for international affairs, finding solutions, and discussing in a formal setting with their peers are part of our organization. We a relatively small school (10th -12th grades with approx. 475 students) with a relatively small Model UN team (approx. 25-30 students) and while we may be small – we try to be mighty. We bring together kids from varying backgrounds with varying skill sets and put them in 5 competitions each year. Our competition schedule begins in November with Wyomissing Area High School. We then go to KUMUNC at Kutztown University, NAIMUN hosted by Georgetown University (4 days), JHUMUNC hosted by Johns Hopkins University (4 days) and finally we finish our season at DeSales University. My students love every competition we enter and they thrive on the work done in the various committees and the new friends – from all over the world – that they meet.

Model UN students are given a country to represent and a committee on which to serve. Each committee is given two issues to examine and research. Students write position papers prior to the competition and must truly represent their country’s views on each issue. You can imagine that it is tough to represent China or Sudan when the issue before the committee is human rights. The views you speak on in committee may in stark contrast to the views that you personally hold dear. That is the way the game is played and the judging is done. There are formal rules to the debate and parliamentary procedure must be followed during the committee sessions so students learn proper discussion tactics. Of course, the goal of each committee is to ultimately write a resolution that is to be voted on by members and passed if it sustains a majority vote. Any Model “UNer” will tell you that this is not as easy as it sounds.

This past week our team traveled to Wyomissing High School, outside of Reading, PA and attended a training session that their coaches present for over 100 students. This training is an invaluable resource to first and second year players as they learn parliamentary procedure, current world issues, history of the actual United Nations, how to write a resolution, strategy to the game (and it is a game), and finally participate in a mini-mock UN conference. Wyomissing and a couple of other schools faced the challenge of having to justify to administrators why this training is not only important, but necessary. Teachers are being told that this type of day where students miss their traditional classes is detrimental to “test scores” that will come later in the year. This is nonsense. When are we going to realize that this type of learning, engagement, excitement, collaboration, communication, writing, listening, speaking, and problem-solving truly embraces 21st century skills. The kids who were fortunate enough to attend the training and further attend competitions later this year will benefit far beyond their years in school because they are developing skills that will be put to use as they proceed through their greatest challenge — life.

October 9th, 2009 at 10:07 am | Comments & Trackbacks (1) | Permalink

LifeSmarts at Salisbury High School simulated a toxic waste activity this past week with their classes. Each of the classes consists of 45 students and every few days they engage in a “pull out” activity where the three teachers split up the class and give small group an opportunity to engage in a team building, thought provoking activity. The most recent activity involved a team of students whose job it was to “save the planet” by transferring toxic waste from one point to another. Of course, there was a catch (or several). Ground rules of the “game”: 1. no one can touch the bucket of “waste”, 2. no one can put any part of their body inside of an approximately 8 foot in diameter circle (arm goes in – you finish the task with an arm behind your back, leg – you hop around, head – blindfolded) 3. only the tools provided (8 thin ropes and one bungy cord tied in a slip knot) can enter the circle and be use to touch the bucket, 4. the “waste” (plastic balls) must be dumped into the other bucket which was about 20 feet away 5. the bucket must be carried from Point A to Point B – no dragging allowed.

Once the rules were clear the kids were given 5 minutes to pre-plan their strategy and decide task assignments. They could not touch anything in that time. After the 5 minutes expired the teams were free to gather their tools and implement their plan. Most groups took several tries to figure out exactly how they wanted to accomplish their task and some had to be reminded to use ALL of their tools or to leave the bungy tied in the slip knot (it’s probably pre-tied for a reason right?). Of the three classes I was able to be part of – all three accomplished the task (with a spill here or there — oops – don’t tell OCHA).

What was great about this day and this activity is watching the kids engage in learning several skills: collaboration, problem solving, discussion, evaluating various strategies, trial and error, and supporting their teammates. This was the use of gaming in the classroom that did not involve competition or technology, yet – held the kids’ attention and engaged them in the activity. Sometimes, it is the simple things that bring joy and fulfillment to the educational process.

October 8th, 2009 at 9:02 am | Comments & Trackbacks (2) | Permalink

Salisbury High Schools offers a mandatory course for all sophomores entitled LifeSmarts. It is a progressive team taught class instructed by Family and Consumer Science teacher Beth Barber, Technology teacher Michelle Cotugno, and Business Education teacher Geoff Laird. They are assigned approximately 45 kids per class period and the class is taught everyday for the course of one academic year. One of the units the team has designed is entitled Emerging Industries and it highlights three such industries, Geospatial Technology, Nanotechnology, and Biotechnology. In the past students have been required to complete a poster one of these industries answering 8-10 questions. Research and some creativity was necessary, but the team felt the project needed to reflect the underlying theme of the three industries. In other words, the project needed to reflect 21st century skills if it was to address 21st century industries. That’s where I come in…..

As the Instructional Coach for our high school one of my responsibilities is to help teachers design lessons, projects, and assessments that are reflective of 21st century learning. We want to inspire our students to be creative in ways that will empower them as they learn. The LifeSmarts team and I sat down in a small conference room for four class periods (approx. 3 hours) and worked on not one product for the kids to create, but nine products from which the students can now choose. The instructional tool that we utilized is called a tic-tac-toe board and it allows instructors to create nine different projects, of which the kids may choose three, going either across, down, or diagonally to complete their line. The assessment piece of this refurbished project will be nine basic yet definable and quantifiable rubrics that the teachers are working on in their team prep time.
All three instructors and myself were thrilled with our finished product and it is our hope that the students find the value that we intended in their ability to choose and differentiate their instruction. Below is the tic-tac-toe board we created.


21st Century
Emerging Industries

Nanotechnology —
Biotechnology — Geospatial Technology

Analytic Intelligences

Interactive Intelligences



Logic Smart

Body Smart

Wonder Smart

Technology: Thinkature/Mindmeister


Product: Students will create a webbing of a selected industry.



Powerpoint/ presentation


Students will create a
sales pitch to pursuade an investor/capitalist to invest in the corporation
in the industry.





It is now 2020, create a
public service announcement explaining what the industry looks like.

Music Smart

People Smart

Picture Smart




Students will write a jingle to encourage young people to
pursue the field by giving an overview of the field.





Students will stage an
interview with someone interested in the field.




Product: Students will glog (digital poster) about one of the
industries. Hyperlinks required.

Nature Smart

Word Smart

Self Smart

Technology: Google Earth
and Picasa

Product: Students will use Google Earth to located areas
around the world that will be most impacted by one of industries. Students will include a Picasso slide
show in their placemarks.






Create a brochure
promoting a selected industry.




Students will write a resume for a new college graduate
entering one of the field.

1. What
is the purpose of the industry?

2. What
is the focus of the work done in the industry?

3. What
has caused a demand for the knowledge/skills this industry provides?

4. Who
employs people in the industry?

5. What
are examples of occupations that are available in the industry?

6. What
training is needed for occupations in the industry?

7. Where
is training available for occupations in the industry?

8. What
salary ranges are available for the industry?

9. What
web addresses and/or agencies will provide more information about the industry?

So we all know the familiar credit card commercial – here is a new take for educators: lesson plans = 10 hours per week, grading essays = 8 hours per week, paperwork = 5 hours per week – collaboration with colleagues = priceless.

As a first year Instructional Coach, I have a unique opportunity to schedule time with my colleagues and work together to create incredible, engaging, and powerful 21st century lessons and projects for our students. I had just such an opportunity this past Monday as I worked with a team and created an amazing educational product (more to come on the specifics in a future post). We are fortunate to work in a district that welcomes and challenges us to collaborate in these efforts, when so many districts have eliminated these opportunities because of budget restraints. I have attended numerous area/county meetings where representatives from various school districts continuously say, “We can’t get release time for our teachers because the district won’t pay for subs.” I can’t help but think, “How incredibly horrible and disheartening for those districts, their teachers, and ultimately their students. “ I am so thankful that Salisbury Township School District has not gone this direction.

How can we pull this off when other districts are so restrictive? There are a couple of key reasons. Our district has done a really good job at budget management. It does not always please us that we have 0% increases year after year in our budgets and we are not thrilled when it comes to contract negotiations that we hear the same song again and again (“We have no money – don’t expect big raises – and we will be asking you pay for your health care”), but the district does manage the dollars and cents of education. We also don’t rely on huge amounts of money from the state of Pennsylvania. We barely get enough to pay for a first year teacher. So, we don’t have the same sorts of issues that large districts that rely on huge amounts of state dollars have. For instance, Bethlehem Schools were forced to lay off over 40 teachers this past August for the current academic year because of the budget impasse in Harrisburg. The main reason our district agrees to collaborative time and release time for our teachers is quite simple: WE KNOW IT IS IMPORTANT.

Our administration, teachers, parents, and kids all know we produce the best educational product for our students when we allow our professionals to put their heads together and create plans that will be truly engaging and meaningful to our students. This collaborative time has no monetary value because it is for the good our children. No cost for a couple of substitutes could possibly compare to what our teachers and students gain from these wonderful experiences. In the 21st century we continually ask that our students collaborate on assignments and assessments: should we not give that same gift to our teachers? There are places to control the budget, no question, but encouraging and providing the resources for your educators to work as a collaborative learning community is a non-negotiable item.

September 30th, 2009 at 10:10 am and tagged , , , ,  | Comments & Trackbacks (3) | Permalink

I do not claim to be a “blogger” and probably never will use such a title with myself. It is not the area in which I thrive. I much prefer face-to-face interaction and conversations where emotions and feelings are clearly evident. That being said, I have found three blogs that I think are truly worthwhile and insightful. What makes all of them worthwhile is that their authors share all (or at least a lot – I can’t judge what “all” would be) of their insights and knowledge. Education and the future of education needs an environment that embraces the sharing of ideas. Education, contrary to those who endorse pay for performance, is not about competition. I am not a good educator if I get enjoyment out of another educator’s failure, so I must share what I know – with the great hope that they share with me. I have been the benefactor of the trials and victories in the classroom of those who have pioneered in the digital world ahead of me and I thank them for saving me from making the same errors that they might have made.

So, here’s to you – pioneers– and I thank you for making my job easier and my kids better as a result of your work, dedication and unselfishness to share!

Will this be my last blog just because it is the last required piece in my grad. class? Probably not – I’ve got to continue to share – it’s my obligation as a 21st century teacher.

Recommended educational blogs: — provides tricks and tips for every discipline and standard. — well – Steve Dembo is just the best. His ability to write light-heartedly yet sincerely about the needs of educators and provide us with all the tools to create 21st century classrooms is incredible. — Has anyone been around as long as Kathy? I’ve been looking at her wealth of resources and strategies since I began my career over a decade ago.

Grow my five minds? I feel like a chia pet when I’m in the “virtual presence” of the pioneers above!

December 9th, 2008 at 7:36 pm | Comments & Trackbacks (10) | Permalink

Julene Reed’s article, “Global Collaboration and Learning: How to create a world of success without leaving your classroom” brings up several points concerning 21st century learning and utilizing Gardner’s respectful and ethical minds. It is true that the more our students understand other cultures and engage in meaningful, real-world projects the more we, as educators, can hope to inspire, nurture, and grow the respectful and ethical minds.

Two years ago I engaged in a discussion with my government students about the crisis in Darfur. While I did not dare think that they were well versed in the situation, I foolishly expected them to have some background knowledge. Upon discovering that they were absolutely clueless I imposed on 12 students who were willing to take my challenge and I asked them to create a “symposium” in order to educate a bulk of the student body at our school. In groups of four they created presentations about the history of Darfur, the current state of the crisis, and what students could do from Allentown, PA. We also invited U.S. Representative Charles Dent to spend the morning with us and present the U.S. government’s response to the crisis. It turned out to be a wonderfully enriching and educational day with all parties gaining new knowledge, but something was missing.

What I have since determined was missing was a direct connection to Darfur. We should have had some means of communicating with someone from a refuge camp or someone who has been displaced and is now living in the U.S. This will become my mission for this activity this year. I plan to revive the symposium with new information and a new group of student presenters and this time include to the best of our ability a contact who has first-hand knowledge of the crisis in Darfur. It is my aim that my students not only learn about the crisis, but form a true understanding and appreciation for what is facing millions of refugees.

Thankfully Reed has provided a resource list at the end or her article that I hope to utilize to find the connection I am looking for.

December 2nd, 2008 at 9:51 am and tagged , ,  | Comments & Trackbacks (2) | Permalink

Creativity Outside the Classroom:

Largely due to the efforts of my colleague, RJ Stangherlin, in the English department, our students are familiar with three resources (minimally) that all of us in the school can now utilize with the kids without having to set up separate accounts and do tech training in addition to the content instruction we deliver to the kids.

Skype is a useful resource to enable people to communicate instantaneously. We find that our kids use it to have meetings about their groups projects online, ask us questions for clarification, and to communicate with other resources like professors, experts, historians, and conduct first-person interviews with people around the world.

Cover it Live as has allowed our students the opportunity to hold discussions via the written word versus the spoken word about a variety of topics. A few weeks ago we gathered our AP US History class and Honors English class and had them watch a documentary about “Guns, Germs, and Steel”. The English class has been working through the text of the book and we wanted their feedback on the visual telling of the story from Jared Diamond so they were able to “discuss” their thoughts and feedback without causing an interruption to the film (as time is of the essence in education). They had very insightful reviews and RJ was able to post the entire discussion on her blog.

Each of the English 11 kids in RJ’s class have a blog which they are learning to navigate and their timing will be perfect for my use as just about the time they perfect their blogs and work out their “technology kinks” we will begin our virtual trip for “Johnny Dough” as he goes witnesses the onslaught of WWI and ventures off to war in the early twentieth century. My students will utilize their newly honed blogging skills and construct an online diary for Johnny as he experiences various events.

We have also seen our students upload various video projects to You Tube as a way of sharing what they have done with friends and family. A few years ago we had a student who was in a project group that completed a project called “What if Television had never been Invented?” and the end of their incredible presentation they had a video tribute that they constructed to 9/11 and the impact of television on the events of that particular day. One of the students posted that tribute on his website and we later found out that on the 5th anniversary of 9/11 approximately 6 TV news stations around the country picked up his video and showed it during the course of their news coverage. It was pretty awesome to see our students’ work on the 6:00 news around the country.

The bottom line is this: we can provide kids with the outlets to put their work “out there.” However, if we provide students with the opportunities to create amazing work – they will find the outlet to show it off to the world. Student pride is an amazing thing. They may moan and groan at the idea of creation, but once they create – it’s awesome to see them beam with pride.

November 23rd, 2008 at 4:16 pm and tagged , , ,  | Comments & Trackbacks (3) | Permalink

I have only recently discovered the joy of using a website that allows anyone to upload pictures, choose music, it does all the work of flipping, flopping, transitioning and really making everything come to life without the stress of making technology work. is a fabulous tool that my students and I have come to love as a way of presenting visual and written information with a click of a button. Recently animoto has included the use of text on the images, but prior to that the way to “say” anything in a textual way was to simply create a powerpoint or Keynote slide and save it as a jpeg and include it in the images that you choose to upload. Anyone can go in and create a temporary or trial account, but if you are an educator you can request an educator account for you and all of your students and get the “all-access pass” which allows you to make videos without a time limit rather than just 30 second runs.

Educational applications are innumerable. I had my students try out the site first by uploading 12-15 of their own images. Pictures that represented themselves, their likes, interests, friends, pets, family, whatever. They had fun seeing what the website would “spit out” as an end product. They then emailed (through the animoto site) the products to me in order to get credit and to their parents who loved getting a video of their child during the middle of the day. One of my colleagues in the English department used the application to create movie trailers for books the kids have just read in order to find a way to express their interpretations and understandings of the books without the traditional writing of a “book report”. I am currently using the application as an introduction to my students’ commercials about products invented during the Industrial Revolution. It is a visual and audio attention getter at the beginning of their commercials. The kids love it because it is exciting, entertaining, and best of all — stress free.

Try it out:

November 18th, 2008 at 3:52 pm and tagged , ,  | Comments & Trackbacks (2) | Permalink