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Kirk Needs Spock: Herding the Teenage Brain Going at Warp Speed

Posted on by Misook Kimura



Is it fair to give the adolescent brain a bad reputation? After reading a blog by Cory Turner, it got me thinking about how it’s easy for anyone to label a teenager as impulsive and reckless.  But why do teens do what they do?

Turner referred to a study that examined the prefrontal cortex, which is vital in decision-making in the brain, like Spock (RIP Leonard Nimoy).  In short, the prefrontal cortex is our voice of reason that helps to link past experiences to the current situation, and at the same time, consider what the future consequences are of choices and actions that are made.

On the other hand, Captain Kirk is the limbic system — the emotional center of the brain that’s always on the lookout for threats and rewards. When it spots either, it sends a message to the prefrontal cortex to make sense of the information. However, the Spock part of the brain is still developing in the teenage brain, and it can’t keep up with Kirk as it goes into reward-seeking warp speed.

Teenagers generally make good decisions on their own until they are among other teens.  For instance, a 12-year-old gets a kind of high simply by being around other adolescents because they’re wired to seek each other out.   The Kirk part of the brain can’t make sense of these things on its own because strong emotions can hijack their decision-making skills.  Simply put, Kirk needs Spock and over many years, a system between Kirk and Spock will develop.

So the next time we see teens do what they do best, find our inner-Spock:

“Live long and prosper”


Turkeys Flock and Eagles Soar

Posted on by Thinking Maps

 By Shannon Beutler




I was reading a book recently by John Maxwell called, “The Five Levels of Leadership”. As I was reading the book, I began to think about leadership from different points of view. Regardless of our appointed positions, we are leaders in some capacity. As parents, we lead our children.  As teachers, we lead our students just like site administrators lead their school staff. The type of leader we choose to develop into will have a direct impact on those we are leading.



In his book, John Maxwell names five levels of leadership from lowest to highest as position, permission, production, people development and pinnacle. The most effective leaders in any organization, whether it’s a school, your classroom or even your home will work to move through each level by being respectful and developing relationships with those they are working with. Then, a leader should demonstrate effectiveness and productiveness in the organization. The best leader turns around and teaches other to replicate this same success and produces a team of leaders.  A pinnacle leader is someone who people follow because of who you are and what you represent.

One quote by John Maxwell that stands out to me is “Turkeys flock and eagles soar.” Are we leading our students and those that work with us to flock or to soar? As educators we need to ensure that we are leading our students in such a way that in turn they will become independent critical thinkers, problem solvers and the leaders of tomorrow. We can do this by providing them with the right tools for learning and constructing meaning. We can teach them that their mind is a powerful machine and they too have greatness within them.  If we fail to provide our students with these tools and skills, they will be like turkeys and always flocking to others for the answers, rather than having the skills and confidence to attempt it on their own. What kind of leader will you be for your students and your organization? Are you creating turkeys or eagles?



5 ideas for promoting student-generated questions

Posted on by Carol Lloyd



Recently on Twitter we received a question that connects to one of the major topics of the 21st Century classroom:  “What are some strategies for teaching my students to ask good questions?”

As with many topics in education, there is much more to this question than meets the eye.  But here are a few ideas and resources for further research on promoting student-generated questions.

1. Establish a classroom and preferably a school-wide culture that promotes inquiry and continuous learning.

Art Costa calls this culture, in his book by the same name, The School as a Home for the Mind.  Costa often tells the story of Nobel Prize scientist, I. I. Rabi, who attributed his success to his mother who consistently asked him,  “What good question did you ask today?”  I’m sorry to report that when I tried this with my own children my kindergardener calmly replied, “We’re not allowed to ask questions.”  If your students come to you with that previous experience then you have to work hard to help them understand a new set of expectations.

2. Model the questions that you want students to ask.

As with everything you teach, you must constantly MODEL what you are asking of your students. In Learning and Leading with the Habits of Mind, Costa and Kallick outline several suggestions.  Begin your question with an invitational stem. Use plurals and indicate a sense of tentativeness so that students are willing to risk to answer and include positive presuppositions which signal your belief in their ability to answer. Include critical and creative thinking verbs like hypothesize, explain, distinguish, apply, create, speculate, and envision. Here are a few question examples:

  • “As you recall our last unit on polynomials, what might be some connections you are making to …”
  • “When you compare and contrast these two passages, what are some differences you are noticing in the authors’ styles?”
  • “When you visualize the scene being described, what are some details that could be included in a painting of this historical event?”
  • “What are some of the ideas you are considering?”
  • “ What might be some ways we could predict…”
  • “When you were reading and thinking about this poem last night…”


3. Embrace silence, or think time.

Provide students with lots of think time by making consistent use of all three wait times as referenced in the work of Mary Budd Rowe.  But also be willing to seize the teachable moment when a student asks a question that really pushes the boundaries of your lesson.  Rather than brushing a student’s question aside, value the question by pursuing an answer with your students.  “Well Julia that’s a very interesting question.  Let’s think about that and see if we can come up with some possible answers or if we will need to do some research.”

4. Create a collaborative question bank.

Provide opportunities for practice in composing questions.  When your students read a piece of text or watch a video, instead of you giving them questions to answer, require them to share questions they have as a result of the content provided or compose questions that might be asked of students interacting with this content.

5. Focus on the guiding questions when using Thinking Maps.

When including Thinking Maps®  in your lessons, focus on the guiding questions for each Map.  Train your students to ask themselves, “How am I thinking about this content or what structure has the author provided in this text?  Am I seeing main ideas and details?  Or am I see similarities and differences to another piece of poetry?  Or maybe I need to think about the causes and effects of this event in our culture?  Students also need to be in the habit of reflecting on the three types of questions in the frame of reference.  What were my sources for this information?  Do my sources or my thinking reflect a particular point of view or cultural or historical influence?  So what’s the big idea I’ve learned by completing this Map that I need to remember and why is that important for me to know?

Lastly, here’s  a bonus resource for the diligent. This project comes from the Harvard Education Publishing Group and provides great ideas to try out and adapt for your classroom.

Students who have experienced school as the place to go for “the answers” rather than a place full of wonder and inquiry have a difficult time adjusting when we change the expectations.  What strategies or resources can you contribute from your experiences in promoting a spirit of inquiry and questioning in your classroom and students?

Integrating Thinking Maps into Reading Instruction

Posted on by Thought Leaders


Eileen Castle


Thinking Maps made a considerable difference at our school.  I served for more than two decades as the Principal of Lake Alfred Elementary in Lake Alfred, Florida.  During that time, we implemented five school-wide instructional strategies to improve the achievement of our diverse, economically challenged students. Implementing these five strategies increased student reading, writing, math and science achievement and improved our state awarded school grade from a D in 1999 to a C in 2000, a B in 2003 and six consecutive A’s from 2004 until 2009.

Thinking Maps was the fourth instructional strategy we adopted. When we did so during the 2003-2004 school year, we had already improved our school grade from a D to a B and understood the importance of implementing research-based instructional strategies school-wide. Thus, our decision to use Thinking Maps was more deliberate and linked to our previous positive experiences.

Thinking Maps was a tool our teachers could use K through 5th grade and in all subjects.  It consists of eight visual patterns associated with eight cognitive processes. By adding Thinking Maps, we increased the cognitive complexity of our instruction.

Integrating Thinking Maps into reading instruction supported our students as they learned how to get ready to read, how to read well and how to think afterwards about what they had read. As a result, our students were better prepared to read, discuss and write about both literary and informational text successfully.


Pre-reading strategies included learning key vocabulary, activating prior knowledge, learning to cognitively process text and reading for a purpose.  Students used circle Maps to define, identify synonyms and antonyms, draw visuals and/or write sentences for vocabulary and to activate what they already knew about their reading selection. Teachers taught students to use Thinking Maps to cognitively process text and read to answer purpose questions.

Teachers taught students to make connections and ask themselves questions in order to answer their purpose questions as they read silently. Students also used Thinking Maps to cognitively process selections. Our students used tree maps to determine plot elements and/or main ideas; Flow Maps to sequence selections; Bubble Maps to describe characters, settings, and/or events; Double Bubble Maps to compare and contrast; and/or multi-flow maps to analyze cause and effect.

After reading, students used their Thinking Maps to discuss and write about their selection. Students used Tree Maps to discuss plot elements and/or main ideas; Flow Maps to discuss sequence; Bubble Maps to describe; Double Bubble Maps to compare and contrast and/or Multi-Flow Maps to discuss cause and effect. After their discussions, students were now prepared to write to summarize their selection’s plot, main ideas, sequence, descriptions, comparisons and contrasts and/or causes and effects.

Integrating Thinking Maps into reading instruction improved student reading proficiency in all subjects, increased overall student achievement and earned us our first A in 2004. Thinking Maps definitely made a difference at our school!


Eileen Castle ( is an educational consultant and FSC Adjunct Faculty member. She is a former Polk County, FL principal and district office staff member.

Common Core and The Big Picture…Making the Connections

Posted on by Carol Lloyd




So what do the Common Core Standards for Mathematical Practice mean by “Look for  and make use of structure” and “Look for and express regularity in repeated reasoning?”

One of the ways I like to express what the standards are calling for is the development in students over time of “The Big Picture” of mathematics.  We all know that math is a very sequential, logical discipline.  Concepts build on each other and math is full of connections that are vital for students to understand in order to develop the long term conceptual understanding we desire and the 21st century demands.

The Common Core Standards for Mathematical Practice have generated a great deal of discussion.  Standard #7 is “Look for and make use of structure” and states:  “Mathematically proficient students look closely to discern a pattern or structure.  They also can step back for an overview and shift perspective.”  Standard #8 is “Look for and express regularity in repeated reasoning” and begins: “Mathematically proficient students notice if calculations are repeated, and look both for general methods and for shortcuts.”

Recently when flying I sat at the window for a change and actually spent some time viewing the world from above.  As the standards would say, this was a “shift in perspective.”  I soon began to see the analogy of my new perspective to what we want for our students.  When we teach math as a series of skills and procedures to learn and don’t take the time to develop the connections between the concepts, it’s like looking at a journey from the ground.  You can only see where you have been and what is right in front of you.  But if you could see the territory from above you might notice a shortcut you never knew existed, or you might realize that there are connecting roads between two of your usual routes that provide an alternative when trees or highway work are blocking the road.  This is what we want for our math students.  We want them to see the territory from above, to have a map in their head that provides shortcuts and alternative routes when their usual route is blocked.  If one method is not working in this particular situation then they need to know how to generate alternatives.

On that same trip I was traveling a fairly familiar route from hotel to training site.  Suddenly I was surrounded by fog which greatly limited my view.  But due to the fact that I have spent time analyzing Google maps of that territory and choosing my routes, I had a map in my head which provided a sense of security as I traveled.  As educators, we must know the territory well and have maps in our heads which allow us to support our students in developing their own maps and share their excitement when a new road is opened and new opportunities abound.

Here are some examples of putting several of the Math Practice Standards together from the classroom of Andrea Hildel-Reyes.  She is certainly helping her students build a deep understanding of fractions and mixed numbers through multiple perspectives and methods.

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How are you helping students understand the structure of math, see the big picture and build maps of the territory in their heads?  But this analogy is not applicable in just mathematics.  How does this analogy work for you in science or social studies, for example?  What are the big pictures of your discipline your students need to develop to meet the demands of the 21st century?

Lighting the Fire

Posted on by Carol Lloyd


The September 2014 issue Educational Leadership:  Motivation Matters is one of my favorites.  The main reason I love this edition is the reminder that all students can be motivated provided the right situation, including an educational system that meets their needs and a teacher with the heart and skills necessary.   Particularly, the article “Motivating Young Adolescents” by Rick Wormeli led me to some deep reflection on my education and on my behaviors as a classroom teacher. Sadly, several of the characteristics of our current educational system are on his list of top demotivators.

Since my middle school years were in the dark ages, many of the teacher behaviors and classroom characteristics Wormeli discusses were in very few of my teachers’ mindsets.  In 6th grade I had one teacher.  We all thought she was tall, beautiful and very nice.  But the only thing I remember is we must have studied ancient civilizations because I remember working with two other students who lived in my neighborhood to make a model of the Hanging Gardens of Babylon.   When I first began teaching I did not understand the importance of assigning “projects” to students.  Hmm…, guess I missed the boat there.  I also reflected on some of the projects I assigned students.  I remember one young man in particular, who did not make great grades in Honors geometry.  But two of the assignments I gave set him on fire.  One was an assignment to create a piece of “art” using only triangles and including a list of all the types of triangles we had studied.  He spent hours on this assignment and created the most amazing picture of a sunrise you can imagine.  The other assignment was a career related project.  The students could choose any career that was highlighted in their geometry book.  They had a set of criteria for the information they needed to research.  Then they had to interview someone in that career for their answers to a set of required questions.    They also had to include an example of how geometry is used their career.  My young man choose Air Traffic Controller.  He did a wonderful job, including going to the airport for his interview and bringing back maps of air routes which were quite amazing to the other students and to me.

All I can remember from 7th grade is my science teacher.  We never knew what she would pull out of her purse or bag:  a jar with some bug in it, a real cow heart for us to feel, a cow’s intestines for us to measure.  She loved science and wanted us to love it too.  My 8th grade social studies teacher also came to mind as I reflected on my middle school years.  She was very different from most of my teachers.  Young, stylish, and very energetic.  She also treated us like young adults.  She listened to us, believed in us and asked us to do things we had never done before.  We all loved her and did not want to disappoint.

These examples from my experience support what the research tells us.  Learners are motivated when the learning is relevant to their interests and relevant to their world.  Enthusiastic teachers who share their love of learning and love of their students light the fires and create memories that last a lifetime.  I ask you to reflect on your educational experiences.  Who set you on fire and how?  What have you been doing to inspire your students?  We all have to keep the fires going.

If We Stopped Trying to Learn

Posted on by Chris Yeager

Professional Development

As professionals, don’t educators try to instill the love of learning in their students? Don’t we want them to see the value in learning – to want to learn? Don’t we ask them to question, to seek answers, to strive to constantly grow and improve their understanding of the world around them?

Isn’t one of our main jobs to help students become more critical and creative in their thinking?

Then why in the world would educators devalue learning themselves? In his blog post for Education Week, Peter DeWitt asks “What If We Stopped Trying to Learn So Much?” He writes about trying to keep up with tweets, blogs, etc., and I know exactly what he is saying. However, he lost me when he quoted a friend, Greg, (who is an educator) who wrote:

“I’d like to challenge any school to go ‘consultant free’ and ‘PD free’ for 4 years. Imagine that? Just focus on being consistent and positive, providing quality teaching and communication with the community. I’d bet that school would do better than all the rest.”

While I love Greg’s idea that teachers should focus on “being consistent and positive,” I am dismayed by his suggestion that teachers should take a break from learning for 4 years. Surely that is not what he is saying.

I can only assume that Greg has experienced some pretty terrible professional development. Even then, shouldn’t the focus of our discussions as educators be on what constitutes high quality learning experiences for teachers instead of just assuming that all PD is a waste of time and that consultants have nothing of value to teach?

DeWitt tries to interpret this friend’s words in a very positive way, but I’m not so sure that is what Greg was saying. His statement seems to imply that educators know what we should be doing to prepare students for the brave new ever-changing, technology driven world –  that we already know everything we need to know (for at least 4 years anyway) about “providing quality teaching and communication with the community.”

As educators – people who are committed to the power of knowledge and the joy of learning – shouldn’t we be energized about opportunities to be learners ourselves?

Do we have the right attitude about professional development? I have suffered through some weak professional development, but I have also participated in some very valuable sessions. Have you ever had a positive experience in a professional development session that was lead by a consultant? I would love to hear what made the training valuable to you?

Writing in Schools – Past to Present

Posted on by Thinking Maps

How do we solve the rising anxieties with current writing assessments?

By Gail Sansome



Over the past months I have been struck by the elevated concerns and a growing number of questions raised by educators and parents on the issue of the new state standards for testing requirements in writing. The concerns voiced by both groups are further supported in numerous news and web site articles. Whatever the source, most question the expectations for writing by 21st century learners as set by current assessments.

Would it surprise anyone to learn that this debate has been going on since the early 1800’s? According to a recent article in State, initially, writing composition was introduced as a focus for American high schools while elementary schools were mainly expected to teach only handwriting and spelling. The article further went on to report that the primary purpose of high school writing programs was, “preparing an elite group of males for universities which required a command of written language.” As a result of this, in 1873 Harvard University initiated a writing component as part of their admissions process. As other colleges followed, high schools took notice and became compelled to listen. In addition, the illustrious “Committee of Ten” chaired by Harvard president, Charles W. Eliot, was given the task to formulate a secondary writing curriculum nationally. They concluded that students needed to know more than just handwriting and conventions in order to communicate effectively.

From that point forward writing curricula maintained a certain place in secondary programs throughout the 20th century. Students were expected to write essays that were assigned but fell short in instruction. In this process, they were shown writing examples that they were merely expected to approximate. As I read this, my mind recalled an image of “teaching a formula for writing”, a process that did not teach students how to share their individual thoughts or “voices”.

In 1974, the national Writing project emerged as a major professional development movement. By 1985 the federal government had funded a research center for studying written language. Educators began to recognize the importance of audience, purpose, and focus for effective writing. However, even though these criteria were recognized as critical, “pedagogical innovations,” writing instruction was created primarily by individual teachers with no consistent or vertically aligned structures. Subsequent movements such as,  “Writing to Learn” and the “Writing Across the Curriculum” have fostered more interest in using writing as a tool for exploration across content areas.

Given the constraints of previous testing requirements, many questions have emerged as to how students can learn to write and meet the expectations for students to communicate through writing. Prior to current standards, tests rather than standards had tended to drive curriculum. In my opinion this has led to the use of an insufficient model of proficiency in writing.

Enter the world of the 21st century learner. Researchers have found that, “writing is merely a process of making meaning enacted in social, cultural, and material context”.  Therefore, considering the diversity of today’s student population, “it is critical that teachers understand the ways students make meaning outside of school and that teachers know how to help students use what they bring as a resource for what they learn inside the classroom”.  In other words it is important to know how to help students add their own voice. So, as students learn to share their voices they are also developing good critical thinking skills using a variety of communication channels for sharing their thoughts in a meaningful way.

What a perfect place to implement Write from the Beginning and Beyond (WFTBB), a developmental, vertically aligned writing program that builds from year to year adding increasing rigor.

The Leader in Me and Thinking Maps

Posted on by Thought Leaders



Our school is getting ready to apply for Lighthouse Status in the Leader in Me program and we want to showcase how well the children know the 8 habits in their own words. The Leader in Me program is a development of personal leadership. We want all students to be proactive in how they lead their lives and how the positive choices they make affect those around them. With the 8 habits children build character and life skills to make good choices that will impact their here and now, as well as, their future. We want them to always be a leader and do the right thing even when no one is watching! Reaching Lighthouse status in The Leader in Me program makes our school a center of leadership being displayed for all other schools who wish to lead along with us.

I interviewed 32 students that had not been chosen in other sections of the Leader in Me program.  They had to explain to me what one of their favorite habits means to them and how they live it. Our Technology teacher was kind enough to take their picture and place their typed up quotes inside a conversation bubble. (I have included one sample quote of each habit down below.)  We printed each conversation bubble and the corresponding habit title on matching color paper. We wanted a display that showcased our thinking during this process and of course the Tree Map classifies it perfectly! We had a visit by a Leader in Me member yesterday and he was so impressed he asked for this board to be one of the Tour’s talking points during Leadership Day!!!

Tree Map Bulletin Board


Examples of Quotes:

Habit 1: Be Proactive
“I wash the dishes with my mom without being asked.”

Habit 2: Begin With the End in Mind
“I come to school and think I will do all my work correctly.”

Habit 3: Put First Things First
“When I go home I do my homework first before I play games with my little brother.”

Habit 4: Think Win-Win
“If I go home with a green star for being a good boy I am happy, Dad is happy, and then I can play on the computer.”

Habit 5:  Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood
“If I see someone crying I ask them if all is well.”

Habit 6: Synergize
“I like to work with people it’s more fun and the work gets easier.”

Habit 7: Sharpen the Saw
“When I hear a song I sharpen the saw, make my brain bigger, and feel happy.”

Habit 8: Find Your Voice
“I feel good and I know that I understand the 8 habits, so I wait for others to be quiet, raise my hand, and say what I feel.”

Go Thinking Maps!! Not only do the children love it and use it, yet others are joining the Thinking Trend!!!

Thinking Maps has been at our school since Aug. 2014.  Every Wednesday, we spend 10-15 minutes discussing new ways to use Thinking Maps. We want our teachers and students to develop a level of comfort and familiarity with each Map. As a Reading Coach the Thinking Maps help me explain ideas the children or teachers might be having trouble with in a fun and familiar way. In order to develop the culture I try to incorporate them in all that I do so they see how easy, versatile, and useful each and every map is. I use them in the reading office, in bulletins boards around the school, I help others develop maps to showcase anything they need to make clear in their rooms, most of all I am excited to whip up a map in front of them and show them how user friendly they are.  As of January we have begun to dig deep into the Frames of Reference and how to use them appropriately and with Depth of Knowledge in mind.

Why Do I Have To Learn This?

Posted on by Carol Lloyd


I can’t begin to tell you the number of times I heard that question during my thirty-one years as a high school math teacher.  I certainly know many more answers to that question than I did when I began my teaching career, but I am still learning more answers all the time.  And it’s not just because I am consciously looking for them but because new answers are being created every day.   I read an interesting report today by Laura Devany on a panel discussion that highlights the persistent nature of this question and its relevance to student motivation and implies that we are doing a better job than in the past but we still have a long way to go.

I remember serving as secretary of the Math Club in high school.  There weren’t a large number of students in the club and certainly more males than females.  As Devany reports in a quotation from Danica McKellar, one problem we still face are the stereotypes, although I think people like Bill and Melinda Gates, Mark Zuckerburg and Sheryl Sandberg are helping to move us forward. “Part of what we need to address is the culture of this country, and why this culture encourages kids to not want to excel, and to shy away from wanting to seem like a nerd,” McKellar said. “Breaking stereotypes is just as important as changing the way the content is presented.”

I agree, but as a consultant who spends time in math classrooms, we still have a long way to go in the way the content is presented.  Even though when working with teachers I stress the importance of creating relevance for the student in every lesson, (Yes, those RED frames of reference), I still don’t see many real examples of mathematics “in context.”  In defense of the teachers, I don’t know that we adequately prepare them to deliver those kinds of experiences.  One year I was working with a group of lateral entry high school math and science teachers.  Their experiences in business, manufacturing and the science laboratory gave them a level of expertise I never knew.  I also remember the opportunity one year to tour the Dupont plant in our district and learn more about their needs in skills for their employees.  I wish I had many more opportunities like those.

Certainly our world is demanding a workforce more skilled in creative problem-solving, analytical skills and technical applications of mathematics.  The publishers are listening and teacher resources, both hardbound and digital contain many more examples and problems which require students to draw on a variety of skills and concepts than they did when I began teaching.  However, based on my experiences with classroom teachers in the past few years, I’m not sure the teachers are given the professional development and time needed to incorporate these resources on a consistent basis.  No one outside the field understands the complexity of the demands on teachers and the time required to prepare each day to meet those demands.

So I would love to know, how does your state or district support the constant growth of teachers in not only their instructional strategies but in keeping up to date with the world around us and it’s impact on our professional requirements?  How do we help the politicians, who provide the funding and time needed, understand the constant investment required in professional growth?