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Let’s celebrate what #TeachingIs

Posted on by Thinking Maps


Last year for Teacher Appreciation Week we asked you to appreciate all teachers because every teacher deserves to be a”Teacher of Year” award.

This year, we want to be part of a bigger conversation and a movement.  This year, let’s celebrate the complexity and importance of teaching. This year, let’s challenge the notion of what teaching is perceived to be, and share our stories on social media with the hashtag #TeachingIs.

Sign up for the Thunderclap campaign using Twitter, Facebook, and/or Tumblr. And invite your friends!
Define what teaching is by taking a picture, writing a tweet, using posters, or whatever it takes to start the conversation about what it takes to be a teacher.
Then share it using the hashtag #TeachingIs.

#TeachingIs about contributing to the lifelong learning and success of numerous children.




#TeachingIs about shaping the future generation even though they may not realize the impact they have.





#TeachingIs much more than teaching a curriculum. #TeachingIs about influencing minds for a lifetime.




A Passion For STEM

Posted on by Carol Lloyd
© McEntire

© McEntire


The world is full of problems which need solving.  Our country and our world need the problem-solvers prepared to apply their knowledge, creativity and skills for innovation to solve them. What are we doing as a nation and as an educational system to meet that need?

In 2009, President Barack Obama called for a national movement “Educate to Innovate,”  to recruit, train and retain 100,000 new teachers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.  During his 2011 state of the union speech he reached out directly to the youth and young adults listening, “every young person . . . who’s contemplating their career choice, if you want to make a difference in the life of our nation, if you want to make a difference in the life of a child – become a teacher.  Your country needs you.”   At the annual White House Science Fair in March, 2015, Obama announced a current total of $1 billion dollars in pledges and materials for this initiative.

However, simply training new teachers in STEM subjects will not produce the results we desire.  As Carol Ann Tomlinson stated in the January, 2015, issue of Educational Leadership, “. . .I’d put my money on a broad cohort of teachers who dedicate themselves to the full engagement of young minds in whatever they teach.  Give me teachers who relentlessly cause kids to wonder – who ask why? and how did that happen? and what if? as though those questions were the lifeblood of learning.”

What we really need are teachers who are passionate about the subjects they teach and about growing students who are inquisitive, creative and thoughtful lifelong learners.  As the Next Generation Science Standards call for, we need a science curriculum and science teachers focused not on teaching what we already know, but on teaching how to DO science; a math curriculum and math teachers that requires students to apply their math skills to solve problems in their real life and the real world.  It is the passion of a teacher and the relevance of the curriculum to their lives that inspires students to dream of changing the world and to pursue the knowledge and skills necessary to reach those dreams.

What we need are the teachers, schools and support described by Wendy Hawkins, executive director of the Intel Foundation, in her inspirational address. What we need are scientists, engineers, mathematicians and technology specialists who are like rock stars, such as the late Carl Sagan and the current astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, who tours the country and makes appearances on TV shows like 60 minutes and The View.  Spend twelve minutes listening to him and you will be ready to pursue your dreams, whatever they may be.

What are your dreams for your school, your students, your teachers?  How are you modeling a passion for learning, for your subject, for improving our schools, our nation and our world? What are you doing to ignite the passion in others and to change our world?

Creating Resilient Schools

Posted on by Larry Alper

I often think back to my years growing up in the Bronx, NY and recalling how my mother knew what I did before I got home. Not always a good thing from my young perspective, but a reassuring one nonetheless. Many of my aunts, uncles, and cousins lived in the neighborhood, and I knew the storekeepers by name, well, because that was the name of their stores. Like Honey and Bill’s Candy Store or Zurich the Butcher. They knew my name as well. And they knew my parents. And my aunts, uncles, and cousins. You see, I was connected. Not in the mob sense, but in the way that was truly important. There was a definite ethos to the neighborhood—who you were mattered. You had a name, an identity, a history even. This was evident in how you were greeted and became manifest in how you treated others. It was part of the culture. An expression of core values and beliefs.

Schools, like neighborhoods, are organic systems, and how they function reflects core values and beliefs, whether or not they are explicitly stated. How people are greeted when they walk in the front door or how disagreements are sorted out by the faculty or by the students are expressions of these core values and beliefs. So too, are the instructional decisions made by the educators. Unfortunately, many schools fail to take time to develop and articulate what they value and believe, or if they do, many do not effectively use their values and beliefs to guide their decision-making. These are often the schools that fail to thrive and are those that remain most vulnerable to the external forces that are constantly at play.

Schools, like the students within them, need to do more than cope, even in, or especially in, the most challenging times. They need to reflect a belief in themselves as places where important ideas take hold and take flight. It is imperative that they shape identities grounded in the rich knowledge base that has developed in the field of education and science of learning. School leaders need to clearly articulate what they genuinely value and believe about the development of human beings and the role that education plays in the process. Without the rich dialogue necessary to craft such a clear sense of purpose, I suspect that many schools will flounder, subject themselves and their students to the prevailing winds, and, well, fail to thrive, ultimately failing those within them.

It needn’t be this way. It takes leadership to build a resilient school. And a neighborhood to raise a child.

Thinking Maps Help Students Find Order in Their Thinking

Posted on by James Dean
 Filosofias filosoficas (Own work) via Wikimedia Commons (CC-BY-3.0 (httpcreativecommons.orglicensesby3.0)])

Ben Johnnson’s blog post via Edutopia caught my eye recently in a Twitter feed:  6 Steps to Help Students Find Order in Their Thinking.  Mr. Johnson draws comparisons between M.C.Escher’s famous work with tessellations and creating order for student’s thinking.  Clear connections were evident between his 6 step approach and our Thinking Maps® professional learning.

Step 1: Routines and Predictable Patterns :  “Just like Escher’s tessellations repeat common forms in interesting ways, good educators also help students to tessellate what they do in the classroom by repeating interesting thoughts and behaviors.”  Brain research supports the notion that our brain thrives  on and seeks patterns.  Thinking Maps provide that visible structure for each of the 8 critical thinking processes thus bringing clarity to complex thinking.  When students are taught these 8 models and the Frame of Reference from grades PreK-12, chaos becomes predictable patterns and routines for understanding what they are learning.

Step 2:  Create Habits of Mind:  Citing Daniel Willingham’s work in Why Students Don’t Like School,  Willingham states, “Our brains are constantly seeking to make sense (order) out of disorder, and they are pretty good at it as long as they are given adequate information.”  Making something routine and predictable as outlined in Step 1, has to become a habit. Habits don’t occur overnight but rather from explicit practice and purposeful use.  Thinking Maps implementation at the district/school level requires this initial crucial step.

Step 3: Rotate Perspectives:  In Thinking Maps professional learning we utilize the Frame of Reference as a tool around each of the Maps or multiple Maps to add a layer of metacognition.  Inside the Frame a question can be addressed regarding from whose perspective you are analyzing this new information or learning.  A classic case to illustrate this is describing the Big Bad Wolf from the story of The Three Little Pigs.  The Frame would identify from whose perspective you are analyzing things: The Pigs? The Big Bad Wolf?  The Point of View will/can change one’s perspective on anything.

Johnson further points out that, “Just as the mathematical definition of tessellations of an object require it to be rotated so that it forms a complete 360-degree image around a point, mental tessellations (should) require students to look at a concept from multiple perspectives . . . to get the full picture.” Thinking Maps utilizing the Frame of Reference provides that full picture.

Step 4:  Don’t Accept Chaos:  In our texting generation the idea of complete thoughts/sentences is a menace for many educators.  If our students are going to be able to communicate effectively and thoroughly, they must be able to speak effectively and thoughtfully. This requires them to initially THINK in complete thoughts as well.  Thinking Maps are the tools to help students make order out of chaos but the next step is to then have students read, write, and communicate from the Maps in complete thoughts.  In our Path to Proficiency for English Language Learners trainings there is explicit instruction on how to accomplish this with both early language users to advanced language users.

Step 5: Fill in the Gaps:  “Educators can help students to not only assess what they do know, but to analyze what they do not know yet, or what they need to know in order to solve a problem.”  How do we as educators make that happen?  Thinking Maps makes what students know and do not know quite apparent.  Often, I walk schools with administrators who indicate that they do not have to ask the students a question about what they’ve learned because the Maps make that visible.  Educators can quickly gather valuable information about student learning by reviewing their student-created Maps.  Helping both educators and students analyze their THINKING to plug in learning gaps is easier because it is visible.

Step 6: Repeat:  THINKING is not easy!  Teaching students how to critically think takes explicit instruction, consistent practice and a dedication to the work by an entire learning community.  Workbooks and worksheets can’t make that happen!  In Step 6, Johnson states “Once the student has done one tessellated thought, then rotate and do another.”  Repetition is key to building routines, predictable patterns, habits of mind, understanding perspectives, removing chaos, and filling in the gaps!  Unfortunately, too often in education we don’t give repetition ample time to take hold.

Are you up to the challenge to help students find order in their thinking?  How have Thinking Maps helped you or your students to make VISIBLE a complex task?  We would love to hear from you.

Lessons from the Classroom for Administrators

Posted on by Carol Lloyd


Over the last six months I have been working with the math departments of several North Carolina secondary schools in a variety of capacities. Generally all my work is focused on the implementation of the Common Core curriculum, which really I prefer to think of as the creation of 21st century classrooms because I believe this work is very applicable even in states not involved in the Common Core.  During the process I have also spent time listening to and sharing with school administrators.  Let me share an observation and theme which has emerged from this work.

Teachers want to do a good job and improve their skills and knowledge, but to accomplish this they need constant support:  time, resources and leadership.  Administrators often make the same mistake with teachers that some teachers make with their students:  because “it” has been covered, you have it mastered and can apply it.  For example, it has been over 20 years since the research led to widespread trainings in the use of structured cooperative learning for classroom teachers.  However, in many of the math classrooms I have visited and those of math teachers I have talked to, there is no consistent use of cooperative activities and structured collaboration.

Just because a teacher has “covered” a topic or skill does not mean the students have mastered the content and can apply it in a variety of applicable situations.  Just because a teacher has attended a training does not mean he or she has mastered a teaching tool or strategy and can implement it with integrity in his or her classroom. Just as students need time to work together to process and understand new knowledge, teachers need time together for processing their new knowledge or skills, planning how to implement it in the classroom, experimenting with new ideas and reflecting in a supportive environment on their progress.  When I have worked with whole departments, in time provided by the administration, that time has been a true gift for those teachers which they rarely have been given (unless you count those department meetings held at the end of the school day when most teachers’ minds have shifted to what they’re cooking for supper,  what child has to be picked up when, what papers need grading and which students they should have been available to tutor that afternoon).

When we are stressed or short of time, our brains revert to what we know and what is familiar.  I don’t currently know any teacher that is not stressed and short of time.   At the end of a full day with a middle school math department, one teacher stated:  “You have really pushed me outside of my comfort zone.”  My reply:  “The 21st century has pushed me outside mine and it is not going away!”  Administrators, what can you do to provide the support necessary for the professionals in your schools to continue their own journey of continuous growth as they strive to meet the many needs of their students and the demands of the cultural realities and political climate?  We would love to hear your ideas for creative ways to provide the time and resources needed.

10 tips for classroom management

Posted on by Carol Lloyd





According to Harry and Rosemary Wong in The First Days of School:  How to Be an Effective Teacher, “classroom management refers to all the things a teacher does to organize students, space, time and materials so that student learning can take place.”  Many educators have dedicated their entire careers to this topic and it is a continuous journey for every classroom teacher.  After 31 years of experience in the classroom and learning from many experts in the field, I created “Carol’s Top 10 Tips for Classroom Management” as a summary for a course I was teaching in my district.

10.  Know your students and let them know you; establish a relationship with every student.

Appropriate disclosure allows students to see you as a real person. Do they know what teams you pull for?  What’s your favorite TV show?  But you also need to take opportunities to show you care about their lives outside your classroom.  Talk to students in the hallway.  Comment on their new hair style.  Attend school performances and events.  Always greet them by name.

9.  Laugh Often; at yourself, at those funny things they say, at the ironies of life in the classroom.

Laughter is a great way to lower the stress level of everyone in the room and has positive effects both for the body and the brain.  My students used to love bringing me cartoons and jokes about math which I promptly posted in my classroom

8.  Communicate; with your students, their parents, your administrators and your colleagues.

In writing, in person and using digital methods make sure your parents are informed on expectations, discipline policies, assignments, etc.  Reach out to parents as a partner in the success of their child.  Explain your decisions to students and why you have the procedures you use.  Let them know there is logic and meaning to why we do things.  Make sure your policies and procedures are acceptable to administrators so they can support you when conflicts with students or parents arise.  Make use of the wealth of knowledge and experience of those teachers in the building whose classroom is as Wong describes, “a well-oiled learning machine.”

7.  Smile, Smile, Smile;  Create a Positive Atmosphere.

Leave your problems and stresses at the door and support your students in doing the same.  Foster a happy but productive learning environment where you and your students want to be.

6.  Plan, Plan, Plan;  Create lessons that actively involve students of all learning styles with content relevant to their needs and interests.

Many disciplinary issues arise from students’ boredom or confusion due to lessons which do not actively engage them or provide differentiation which scaffolds success for all.   Consistently provide a variety of activities to address all learning styles and make sure students understand the relevance of their work to their life.

5.  Post, Publish and Enforce your Discipline Plan.

Communicate that the purpose of the discipline policy is to support the learning environment.  We all make choices in life that have consequences.  As Spencer Kagan teaches in Win-Win Discipline, don’t take the inappropriate actions of your students personally but view them as a teaching opportunity for you and a learning opportunity for the student.

4.  Be Firm, Fair and Consistent.

Students want to know you are in charge but they also want to be treated with respect and know that all students are treated equally.  Your actions and reactions must reflect the same care and concern for all students at all times and not be influenced by the mood of the day.

3.  Treat your students with Respect and you will earn theirs.

You must always model a deep respect for humanity through your relationships with everyone.  Never speak unkindly of any student, parent, administrator or colleague.  Treat everyone the way you desire your students to treat you and they will reflect the respect you show to others back to you.

2.  Teach Procedures and Practice them until they become Routines.

How you do things in your classroom are your procedures.   You can break a rule, which results in consequences.  But not following directions is not a discipline issue; it’s a teaching opportunity.  As any coach would do, when they don’t run the play correctly, run it again!

1.  Tell them and Show them everyday that you Love them.

As Carol Cummings quotes General and former Seattle Schools’ Superintendent John Stanford in her book, Winning Strategies for Classroom Management, love is the key to leadership in every situation, for generals, CEOs, parents, principals and teachers.  The old education adage “They don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care,” still provides the key to establishing the positive relationship with each student necessary for success.


How would you respond to the question, “What are the keys to running an effective classroom?”  Share your ideas and thoughts as we all continue to refine our classroom management style.

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.