Carmichael's Curriculum Corner

  • Tips for Avoiding the Summer Slide

    Posted by Courtney Carmichael on 6/28/2017

    During the summer months, students on average lose about 2 months of grade level progress. Teachers often have to re-teach prior grade level concepts over the first few weeks of school. School breaks in other countries often are spread out over the year in 4-6 week blocks to avoid academic regression.

    The following experts have great tips on keeping students engaged over the summer with learning:

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  • Using Reflection to Promote Understanding

    Posted by Courtney Carmichael on 2/6/2017

    Educational theorist Kim Marshall, in his rubric for teaching practice, suggests that the highest level of parent-teacher conferences is actually run by the students. Yet student input in their learning doesn't need to wait till conference time. Teachers and parents can ask their students what they've learned, what they need to work on, and what their goals are, on a regular basis. This type of metacognition would then be embedded in students' lives.  A second grader could write about what he or she has learned, while a kindergartener could be video taped reflecting on the learning. To fit the conference model, this level of student input would be informative for the parents. For parents, the technique could be implemented at the dining room table at the end of the school day. 

    Starter sentences:

    • I'm noticing...
    • I'm wondering..
    • I'm feeling...
    • I'm realizing...
    • I'm seeing...
    • I can...
    • I still have trouble with...
    • I've learned...
    • I remember...

    Image result for metacognition

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  • What is STEM?

    Posted by Courtney Carmichael on 10/11/2016

    In Tenakill and Hillside, teachers are engaging students with STEM activities. Tenakill has converted its computer lab into a STEM makerspace, filled with tools to build solutions to challenges. Hillside uses STEM to spark curiosity with learning. But what exactly is it? According to the NJ Department of Education (2015), “STEM Education is the use of science, technology, engineering, mathematics, and their associated practices, to create student-centered learning environment in which students investigate, engineer solutions to problems, and construct evidence based explanations of real-world phenomena. STEM education promotes creativity and innovation, while developing critical thinking, collaboration, and communication skills while students seek explanations about the natural world and improve the built world.” More simply, it creates critical thinking when faced with challenges in the STEM fields.

    Will the investment into STEM education help prepare our students for STEM fields, which is considered to have shortages? It would be great. Professionals in STEM careers usually earn more money in a lifetime; however, if we create opportunities for critical thinking in STEM it may transfer to other domains. If we create lifelong learnings, that is our goal.

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  • Social Networking for Educators

    Posted by Courtney Carmichael on 9/11/2015

    I used to think Twitter was a waste of time. Recently, I had an Aha! moment recognizing the potential for connecting with others who feel passionate across the globe. To me it is a place of positivity and problem solving. It is where I can find resources on my favorite subjects and reach out to others who are facing similar challenges. 

    My latest hot topics relate to #STEM, #NGSS (Next Generation Science Standards), #literacy, and #assessment. I use the # (hashtag) to follow trends and #edchat to have conversations about the same topics all around the world. On Thursdays, I follow #edtherapy to find positive reinforcement in the career I love. 

    I now have a Professional Learning Network that features other supervisors, teachers, parents, vendors and authors from all over the world. And my network is small yet; it is growing each day. 

    Someone new to Twitter can be a lurker, just following other professionals and see what they post. The next level is the Retweeter. Someone who RT articles or other posts. Next, you can start RT with quotes, providing insight into why you like or think worth noting the tweet. Then, the # comes into play. The big jump is the various chat groups you can participate in online. 

    A good tip is to only spend 10 minutes each day. Don't overload. 

    Teachers and parents can follow me @Court1224. See you on Twitter!


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  • Building Academic Vocabulary

    Posted by Courtney Carmichael on 4/2/2015

    When coming upon an unknown vocabulary word, it is better to say “How do we find out the meaning?” rather than “What do you think it means?” Students often have misconceptions about a term and will keep that wrong term in their head. Correcting a mistake is harder for the brain to process.

    Using the work of educational theorist and practitioner Robert Marzano, teaching academic vocabulary builds students’ knowledge and comprehension. He estimates there are 7,923 words a typical student must know in their educational experience from across 11 subjects.

    The following totals are in addition to social vocabulary a student picks up on interacting with peers and family:

    • K-2: 782
    • 3-5: 2,398
    • 6-8: 2,352
    • 9-12: 2,391

    In Building Background Knowledge for Academic Achievement, he found these words from national standards documents. Without a basic understanding of these words, students can have difficulty understanding the information they read or hear. Marzano (2005) estimates that a student without direct vocab instruction only knows about 50%. With direct instruction, that student can rise to 83%.

    Building Academic Vocabulary  You might be thinking to yourself, “Ugh, do you mean flash cards?” No, “drill and kill” procedures like that classic one can just do that, cause academic agony for the students.

    Marzano recommends a 6-step process:

    1. Provide a description of the new word
    2. Ask students to restate the description
    3. Have students construct a picture, symbol or graphic representation of the word
    4. Use engaging activities with the word imbedded
    5. Have students talk about the word
    6. Use games that allow play with the word

    Notice how he incorporates activities that activate the senses and multiple modes of thinking.

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  • My Favorite Stress Relief Tips

    Posted by Courtney Carmichael on 12/23/2014

    Stress is prevalent in the winter months, whether it is based in holiday craziness, winter blues, midterm exams, or pending state tests, dealing with it is an art form. Here are some of my tips for reducing stress:

    1.     Organization – check off the to-do list, straighten your personal space, go through a pile of papers – these menial tasks create a sense of accomplishment and breathing room from the clutter of day-to-day activities.

    2.     Think something positive about yourself – it’s simple mathematics as the positive counteracts the negative.

    3.     Fit in the leisure – spend a little time each day doing something you really enjoy. But balance is key as to avoid procrastination.

    4.     Breathe – take a few deep breaths. Oxygen is good for the brain and body and helps promote needed calm.

    5.     Smile and laugh – the adage ‘fake it until you make it’ is important. Even if you don’t feel like it, trick your body and mind into happier moments.

    6.     Exercise – this is key to promoting a more stress free lifestyle. Endorphins are so important to mood, health and having fun. 

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  • Taking a Walk Through PARCC with Common Core

    Posted by Courtney Carmichael on 12/18/2014
    If you are curious about the new state mandated test, come to the information sessions, "Taking a Walk Through PARCC with Common Core." For Tenakill, January 20th at 7pm. For Hillside, January 29th at 7pm. Hope to see you there!
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  • Prepping with Common Core Math

    Posted by Courtney Carmichael on 11/12/2014

    Making Sense of the Math Education Week released a report on the Common Core State Standards, Making Sense of the Math. Facing viral responses to the math strategies and news reports of the controversies, the report discusses what teachers and schools are doing to prepare for the state-mandated tests aligned to the Common Core.

    The math curriculum is a large paradigm shift compared to how adults were taught how to do calculations and word problems. The focus is on number sense and finding multiple ways of doing the math. In addition, the common Core includes eight standards of Mathematical Practices. Proficient math students use habits like perseverance, precision and critique to understand at a higher level. In addition, language literacy is used more than before as students must grapple with how to do and show their work on a more sophisticated level.

    In Closter, the recent adoptions of Big Ideas and Go Math, not only addresses the Common Core shifts but also uses a significant amount of technology in all grades from kindergarten to eighth. In the spring, students will take the PARCC, computer-based tests aligned to the Common Core, for the first time. 

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  • Fresh Mind

    Posted by Courtney Carmichael on 10/15/2014

    John Perricone talks about sho-shin, the Zen approach to looking at life with fresh eyes, with eagerness, without cynicism. According to the Zen Buddhist, Shunryu Suzuki, "In the beginner's mind there are many possibilities, in the expert's mind there are few."

    Zen and the Art of Public School Teaching

    This reminds us that our daily practice can be approached with vigor and awe.  New curriculum, a new year with SGOs, new state mandates, new students, or new colleagues, can help us reexamine our practice with innovation and be reinvigorated.  

    During the Closter Professional Development Day, the inspirational Mr. Perricone left the staff with this quote from Brian Johnson, "To teach is to share who you are; to impart the knowledge of all that has informed you with a passion that inspires the disinterested heart to listen, and the reluctant will to learn." May we all experience that passion. 
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  • Collaborative Teaching Strategies

    Posted by Courtney Carmichael on 9/29/2014

    Fostering collaborative strategies in the classroom increases critical thinking and builds on multiple skills for the students to master.  According to Clifford (2011), "Collaborative learning teams are said to attain higher level thinking and preserve information for longer times than students working individually."


    Working with partners or groups is something that every teacher should practice early in the year to establish norms and expectations.  Explaining how to do the activity and where the students should sit before breaking into the activity is recommended. Pairing is great for quick discussions but mid-size groups of 4-5 is best for longer assignments and provides optimal efficiency and diversity.

    Some examples: 

    Think-Pair-Share: A classic in classroom methodology this provides for students opportunities to participate with little risk. Students think on their own to provide an answer to a question posed by a teacher. Partners or small groups discuss the answers quietly to each other. Finally, the whole group shares out the answers found in the discussion.

    Note Check: During a whole class lecture, students pause to take a few minutes to compare notes with a partner. The objective is to summarize important parts and then clarify any questions or sticking points.

    Question and Answer Pairs: This activity is great for summarizing content but can provide higher order thinking strategies as well. Students try to stump one another by asking each other questions. This can be completed verbally back and forth or creating a “quiz” for the other student. For the teacher, this is a good time to expose students to what good questions are. Some questions can be used in later assessments.

    Jigsaw: Students become experts in the material. Assigning small readings in class to various groups, each group can become familiar with the content. A task like answering questions or taking notes can go along with the reading. At the end of the activity, the group members are split into other groups. Assigning each group member a number and then having all of the 1s get together, and the 2s, etc is a quick way of moving into the new groups. The group members then share out the material, teaching the rest of the group.

    Number Strategy: Before working in groups, students are assigned a number. Students are then asked to discuss an open-ended question. The teacher calls out one number and the student with that number must respond to the whole class. This technique ensures that all members are on the same page and remain engaged in the discussion

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