iCivics: Social Studies and Civic Learning


iCivics.org is a great resource for secondary educators teaching social studies, government, and civics courses. Originally founded by former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, the non-profit site provides full-unit lesson plans, interactive activities and games to engage students on important topics such as the foundations of government, the Constitution of the United States of America, and the 3 branches of government. There are also a wide variety of interesting games to help students apply their knowledge in real-life situations. (The games are created in part by Filament Games – the same company who works with the JASON project and BrainPop!)

All of the materials on  the site are free, but there are additional resources and game-play options when teachers and students create free accounts. I forwarded the link to the Social Studies teachers on my campus, especially since a lot of the curriculum matches up with the 8th Grade curriculum here in the state of Texas. It seems like they have enjoyed using it so far – hopefully it can help you, too!


Haiku Deck – Presentations in a New Way

The Power of Images in Teaching and Learning

I first learned about Haiku Deck from some of my PLN members on Twitter. I know that all teachers are familiar with Powerpoint and Keynote for presentations, but I like to explore new options and see what is out there.

At first glance, Haiku Deck seems like a pretty standard presentation platform. There is an app version for iPads and a web-based version for creating products on your computer. The presentations are broken down into slide form, which can be play automatically or clicked through at your own pace. However, the company really focuses on helping people develop creative, visually appealing presentations that will engage audiences in new ways.  Haiku Deck encourages you to make images – not bullet points and mountains of text –  the focal point of your work. They even limit the amount of text that you can put on a single slide to make sure that users do not overwhelm their audience.

We’ve all sat through professional development sessions where people have literally read text aloud from a standard Powerpoint template. And as teachers, most of us have probably used them for students to copy notes or complete study guides. But if you really want your audience to LISTEN to what you are saying and THINK about the topic at hand, Haiku Deck can be a really beautiful option to harness the power of imagery.

Here are a few other awesome examples Haiku Deck. Check out their galleries to see how others are using this product in education, social media, business,travel,  and other fields.

Ten Tips to Transform your Presentations the Haiku Deck Way

Step Away from the Bullet Points by Dr. Brian Housand (hosted on SlideShare)

Beginning My Journey with Genius Hour

So I’m making this post to put it out there that I am jumping in with both feet to try Genius Hour with my on-level and Pre-AP 8th Grade Science classes this year!

So what is Genius Hour? If you haven’t already heard about it, Genius Hour is also known as 20% time or Passion Projects. The premise is that teachers will give students a certain amount of class time to research and explore topics based on their own interests. Students come up with ideas and research questions, and the teacher acts as a facilitator to help them develop their understanding and skills. Students are expected to collaborate and present their learning to an audience – whether it be to their peers, their families, or the world. Teachers who have implemented Genius Hour in their classroom have noticed that students are more motivated and engaged, even during normal lessons, because they know that their interests are important in the classroom. Students get opportunities to develop their 21st century skills such as communication, critical thinking, and technology usage.

I had been hearing some great things about the concept on Twitter (check out the #geniushour results!), and I was got really excited checking out the websites, wikis, LiveBinders, and teacher testimonials out there. I originally thought that I would take some time to do some intense research this summer and try to implement it at the beginning of next year, since I like to be as organized as possible. However, as I reflected on the fall semester, I couldn’t help but think that there were some things that needed improvement in my classroom. I needed to motivate my students and build their confidence. I decided to give it a shot – what better option did I have to really try something completely different. It really seemed like the potential good would outweigh any negatives.

So we are in the brainstorming phase of our Genius Hour projects – hopefully I will be able to share some of our ups and downs as my students and I figure things out together. The implementation of this whole thing is kind of like my own Passion Project – learning as I go along. Check out the links below to learn more about Genius Hour and think about trying something new in your classroom!


Genius Hour Wiki

Genius Hour Live Binder