But wait, you never taught us that!

Have you ever heard this phrase coming from your students when you have taught “that” several times? Me too. This post is a virtual in-service. My goal? That you might never hear that phrase again. (I’m dreaming, right?)

The in-service is based on David A. Sousa’s book How the Brain Learns (Thousand Oaks, Corwin. 2017.) and will focus on the brain as the organ of thinking and learning. It will also discuss instructional strategies that increase your options during instruction, increasing the likelihood that successful learning will occur.

In-service overview:

  1. Part 1: How well do you know the brain? 
  2. Part 2: Memory, Retention and Learning
  3. Part 3: How the Brain Organizes

Each section of the in-service includes an introductory activity, a brain break (or two) and a reflection. I recommend you chunk this in-service to allow more time for processing your learning. Try some of the activities and teaching strategies in your classroom too.

Let’s get started. This picture represents what you will review in this posting. Explain what you think you will be learning (after viewing the picture).


Part 1: How well do you know the brain? (Structure and Functions)

  1. Take this brain anatomy quiz-it’s fun!
  2. Exterior Parts of the Brain
  3. Interior Parts of the Brain
  4. Meet a few exceptional brains:
    1. Alma Deutscher
    2. Mary Lou Henner
    3. Daniel Tammet

Some basic brain facts:         

  1. The growth of neurons can be strengthened by diet and exercise.
  2. The growth of neurons can be weakened by prolonged sleep loss.
  3. The number of potential synaptic connections in our brain is about 1,000,000,000,000,000!  
  4. Students (and their teachers) need to eat a breakfast with enough glucose and drink water during the day for healthy brain functioning.

The brain seeks novelty-changes occurring in the environment. 

Try this out: 

  • Visit the following TV Theme Songs website.
  • Choose 1 of your favorite theme songs to listen to.
  • Which theme song did you listen to?
  • Did you listen to more than one song?
  • What memory/memories do you associate with the song/s you chose? 
  • Fun right?
  • Novel?
  • How did this activity motivate you?
  • Are you ready to learn more?

*This activity was adapted from Brain Based Learning, a course offered by The College of New Jersey.

Novelty means using a varied teaching approach that involves more student activity. Novelty wakes up the brain.

Ideas for bringing novelty to your classroom:

  1. Humor.
  2. Movement.
  3. Multi-sensory Instruction.
  4. Quiz Games.
  5. Music.

Routine allows your brain to relax and enjoy itself.

The brain cannot multitask. It can focus on only one task at a time. Alternating between tasks always incurs a loss.   

  1. Your students task switch. You task switch. We all task switch.

How the brain learns.

There are windows of opportunity for learning. This speaks to plasticity and resilience. The brain learns almost anything at any time as long as the associated neural networks are developing or in place.

  1. Starting to Compete in Sports at a Young Age is Beneficial 
  2. Learning Young to Play a Musical Instrument can have a Lifetime of Benefits
  3. Is There a Critical Period for Learning Language?

*How today’s student environment is different than yours (even if you are a young teacher!). 

    1. Family units are different.
      1. 46% in traditional families.
      2. 34% in families with an unmarried parent.
      3. 5% have not parent.
      4. Dietary habits have changed, home cooking is a lost art. (Less time for dinnertime talk with family.)
    2. More TV’s and devices are in bedrooms, leading to serious sleep deprivation and less adult supervision.
    3. Information is acquired from sources in addition to school.
    4. Students spend more time indoors, less time outdoors. (More obesity, fewer communication skills.)
    5. Technology is changing brain functioning and organization. This causes the brain to seek novelty more than ever before. (Lack of novelty may lead to substance abuse.)
    6. Diets include more caffeine, aspartame and other food additives. These stimulates may cause hyperactivity, difficulty concentrating and headaches.

Brain Break! You’ve been reviewing a lot of material-time for a break.

For more on Brain Breaks, click HERE!

Reflect: What do you know now that you didn’t know before?

Part 2: Memory, Retention and Learning

  1. How do you learn best?
  2. Take this How to Learn quiz-it’s fun!
  3. Where you right about your learning style?
  4. Think about your learning style-what has to happen for your learning circumstance to be a good one?
  5. What classes have you had where your learning style was complimented?
  6. What classes did you struggle with? Why do you think you struggled?

How the Brain Learns

How Memory Forms 

The brain goes through physical and chemical changes each time it learns.

The brain physically changes when it learns.

New learning rewires the brain.

Stages and Types of Memory

  1. Procedural memory helps us to learn things that don’t require conscious attention and to habituate ourselves to the environment.
  2. Declarative memory describes the remembering of names, facts, music and objects.
  3. Episodic memory refers to the conscious memory of events in our life history-like a first kiss.
  4. Semantic memory is knowledge of facts and data that may not be related to any event. Like you are reading this blog post and are in your easy chair.
  5. Implicit memory, a type of long-term memory. It is acquired and used unconsciously, and can affect thoughts and behaviours. One of its most common forms is procedural memory, which helps people performing certain tasks without conscious awareness of these previous experiences.
  6. Explicit memory, conscious thought—such as recalling who came to dinner last night or naming animals that live in the rainforest.

Emotions and Memory

How students feel about being in your classroom and about the lesson content itself can make all the difference between mental withdrawal or active participation and achievement.

Brain Break : Memory Game

Learning and Retention. “Learning and retention are different. We can learn something for a few minutes and then lose it forever.”

Strategies for retention:

  1. Rehearsal-repetition and processing of information (whereas practice generally refers to the repetition of motor skills).
    1. Rote. To remember a poem, lyrics, multiplication tables, phone numbers.
    2. Elaborative. Used to connect learning to new information. 
    3. There is almost no long-term retention of concepts without rehearsal.
    4. Practice does not make perfect, practice make permanent.
  2. Retention during a learning episode. 
    1. Teach new material first!
    2. Retention varies with length of teaching episode.  
  3. Retention varies with teaching method. 
  4. The role of recall and recognition in Long Term Memory      
  5. Putting it all together: A review of Sousas Information Processing Model (Presentation)
  6. Instructional strategies that connect the brain and learning:

How Memory Works

      1. Factors that influence memory retention. PPT HERE. 
      2. The role of retention during learning. (Prezi presentation) 
      3. The benefits of Rehearsal, Repeated Practice and Chunking.  Students Rehearsing    Repeated Practice  Chunking 

Brain Break: Hands!

Reflect: Send yourself an email and describe what you now know about how memory works. Compare to this post. What did you know and why? What did you forget and why?


Teaching for Transfer

Tips for Teaching for Transfer

Brain Break: Bend and Stretch!

Reflect: What strategies do you use to help your students transfer learning?

Do boys and girls learn differently?


  1. How boys and girls learn differently.
  2. With girls and boys in mind.

Part 3: How the Brain Organizes

For a detailed pictureA graphic organizer of how the brain organizes. The organizer includes organizational impact on learning.

Blooms Taxonomy integration with Sousa’s brain theory models 

  1. Kagan on Bloom and Sousa
  2. Critical and Creative Thinking

Brain Break: Core Strengthening

Reflect: You saw this picture at the start of our in-service. What does it mean to you now?


Congratulations! You made it through. I hope this presentation will inspire you and provide additional strategies for a successful school year.



1:1 = Collaboration!

I’ve been taking a course at La Salle University called Skills for Building the Collaborative ClassroomI’ve learned a lot about collaboration and have picked up some great digital tools I want to share (26!). These tools will harness the power of 1:1 in your classroom and require student collaboration. A win-win!

The web tools featured focus on critical thinking, communication, collaboration and creativity. (To learn more about why these skills, click HERE.)

Each tool presented will feature a (1) quick link, (2) description, (3) quick (less than 3 min) overview video and (4) a tutorial video.

At the end of this post you will find some videos about collaboration.

And finally, if you use an online tool that enhances collaboration (that isn’t featured here) and you would like to share, let me know and I’ll add it to this post.

Happy collaborating!

Collaboration Tools

1: Collaboration.1 FlipGrid.

Flipgrid  is a video discussion community for your classroom. You add the topic, your students respond with a short video and everyone engages!

2: Collaboration.2 Padlet.

Padlet is a free application and can be used to create an online bulletin board that you can use to display information for any topic.

3: Collaboration.3 Google Docs. (Google Drive has so much to offer-several collaborative features in the suite will be highlighted throughout this post.)

Google Docs lends itself to collaborative projects in which multiple authors work together in real time from geographically diverse locations. All participants can see who made specific document changes and when those alterations were done.

4: Collaboration.4 Symbaloo

Symbaloo allows teachers to share valuable resources with their students and with each other. Think of it as an Internet start page for your class or course.

5: Collaboration.5 Blendspace

Blendspace can be used as a way to flip the classroom and to save that vital classroom time for student interactions, engaging activities, or having students work independently while teachers facilitate their activities and provide feedback one-on-one. Create interactive lessons, project, and presentations.

6: Collaboration.6 Makerspace (no special link to this one-it’s what you make of it!)

What is a makerspace?

A makerspace is a collaborative work space inside a school, library or separate public/private facility for making, learning, exploring and sharing. It can use high tech or no tech tools at all.

7: Collaboration.7 Google Presentation

*Note: Google Presentation and Google Slides seem to be the same thing. Google Presentation allows the user to create presentations, embed sound, video, etc. in order to tell a story. Presentations are sharable. Google Presentation

And because we have all sat through “death by presentation” presentations, some videos to help teach what makes a good presentation:

Google Presentation PDF (for educators)

Share & Communication Tools

8: Share & Communication.1 Titan Pad

TitanPad has many possibilities for classroom use. Teachers could use it to quickly brainstorm with students, model note-taking, or create check lists for projects. Teachers could start the process and small groups could finish it. Students may use TitanPad to create their own check lists for group work or work together on a project. Students and teachers may write, edit, and revise together. Students could create study guides together too.

9: Share & Communication.2 Google Forms

Google Forms allows you to review and conduct surveys. To start all you have to do is create a spreadsheet, name it and then create a form. Students should describe the form so users know what it’s intent is. They can choose what type of questions to include in the form (textbook, lists, multiple choice, etc.) and then may choose answers for collaborators to choose between. To make the form more interesting there are many themes to choose from. The form can then be published, embedded or shared via email. When collaborators respond, the data is returned to the creator in the spreadsheet.

10. Share & Communication.3 Peanut Gallery

Peanut Gallery is an intriguing tool. Students add text cards to old silent films, by speaking the lines. You can share and watch the films and use the video to pass along information.

11: Share & Communication.4 Google Hangouts

Google Hangouts (MORE) is a unified communications service that allows members to initiate and participate in text, voice or video chats, either one-on-one or in a group.

12: Share & Communication.5 Dweeber

Dweeber is a social networking site for student homework collaboration. The site allows students to solve problems together, participate in virtual study sessions, and communicate with friends. A collaborative whiteboard can be used to solve math and science problems or to create joint drawings and diagrams.

13: Share & Communication.6 Evernote

Evernote is a digital notebook that can capture, store and index just about any kind of data.

The course.

Creativity & Innovation

14: Creativity & Innovation.1 Recite This

Recite This is a poster maker. Students can create online posters or meme’s. This resource allows users to pick a template. Simply type the quote of your choice and pick your template. Recite allows posting to social media, e-mailing, provides embeddable links, and download a files.

So simple, only one video is necessary!

15: Creativity & Innovation.2 Piktochart

Piktochart is an infographic application which allows students and teachers (without intensive experience as graphic designers) to easily create professional-looking infographics.

16: Creativity & Innovation.3 Smore

Smore is a communication resource that makes it easy to design beautiful and effective online flyers and newsletters.

17: Creativity & Innovation.4 Storybird

Storybird is an online tool for writing stories, poems, etc. It offers pictures for students to choose and then write their story. Add another page, choose another picture, and continue writing the story. Students can invite a collaborator to read what they have written and allows the collaborator to comment or provide feedback.

18: Creativity & Innovation.5 Little Bird Tales

Little Bird Tales Teachers can ask individual students to create stories, present research, document science projects or field trips, make photo slideshows, and more. All students have an individual account to make their own storybooks, or teachers can facilitate a whole class working together on a single storybook.

19: Creativity & Innovation.6 Build Your Wild Self

Build Your Wild Self is a way for students to create their own avatar!

A tutorial created by a student:

20: Creativity & Innovation.7 Scratch

Scratch Students can program their own interactive stories, games, and animations — and share their creations with others. Scratch helps students learn to think creatively, reason systematically, and work collaboratively — essential skills for life in the 21st century.

Critical Thinking

21. Critical Thinking.1 Study Blue

Study Blue is a crowdsourced study library, with over 400 million flashcards, notes and study guides from students like you. Make and share study materials, search for recommended study content from classmates, track progress, set reminders, and create custom quizzes.

22.  Critical Thinking.2 Newsela

Newsela provides teachers, parents, and students with over 1,000 current event articles scaled at five different Lexile reading comprehension levels.

23.  Critical Thinking.3 Kahoot

Kahoot Click HERE for a great PDF explaining Kahoot (game-based learning app)

24. Critical Thinking.4 Mind42

Mind42 is an online mind mapping application that allows users to visualize their thinking using the proven mind mapping method. The name refers to the collaborative features of the product, and is intended to be pronounced like “mind for two.”

25. Critical Thinking.5 Toodledo

Toodledo is a set of incredibly powerful tools to increase your productivity and organize your life. More than just a to-do list, Toodledo provides you with a place to write long notes, make custom lists, create structured outlines and track your habits.

26. Critical Thinking.6 Thinkbinder/Echo360 (recently purchased by Echo360)

Thinkbinder/Echo360 is an online communication and collaboration app where students and teachers can create online study groups and share files, links, and work on whiteboards.

A resource for students HERE re: Thinkbinder

More on Collaboration

Featuring Will Richardson (a HHHS in-service presenter)

Additional Resources

20 Ideas for Collaboration

Collaborative Learning, Concept to Classroom

Techniques to Encourage Collaboration in Your Classroom

Collaborative Learning Resource Page

And a final video by Joyce Valenza, my friend of many years-and she’s right.

Suggestions to author for added content:


New to Alice

New to Alice

Integrating Career Development into Core Classrooms


Pennsylvania adopted Career Education and Work academic standards  (CEW) several years ago. A great idea but getting school districts and classroom teachers to integrate Career Development  activities in the general curriculum remains a challenge. There is always so much to do, common core, new teacher evaluations to worry about, curriculum to cover…you get the idea.

Over the school year, I worked with colleagues with the goal of developing CEW scaffolding for teachers. The scaffolds work across the curriculum. I will share our work below.

Please use the activities if you want to integrate Career Development activities in your classroom. (It’s easier than you think!) And if you try them, let me know what you think.

CEW-Putting CEW into Practice

CEW-The Problem Solving Process

CEW-Teamwork Rubric

CEW-Oral Presentation Rubric

CEW- Assignment-Project-Skills Inventory

CEW-Career Pathways- Aligned Skills Set

Additional resources: PA Career Standards, Pennsylvania Department of Education Standards Aligned System.

High School Internships-Just Do It!

This video highlights Hatboro-Horsham High School’s internship program.

The diversity of our students’ interests and internship experiences is amazing! Hatboro-Horsham students have worked on engineering projects (installing and monitoring a solar collecting parking lot; the reconstruction of Rt. 309), in healthcare (hospitals, physical therapy, fitness, nutritional science, pharmaceutical science, dementia research), art and design (fashion design, architecture, photography). They have interned with the township parks system, at a long term projection weather agency, local television stations-we could go on and on. Our students are always teaching us about the world of work and of the possibilities for their futures.

The high school internship keeps seniors engaged in school during the senior year and benefits the student and their families beyond the internship experience:

  1. High school interns do better in their post-secondary studies.
  2. High school interns graduate from post-secondary colleges and trade schools at a higher rate than their non-interning peers.
  3. High school interns graduate college in a more timely manner (with less post-secondary debt) than students who do not take advantage of this opportunity.

For more information about our internship program. (Includes a student produced documentary.)

Sampler: Student placements.

And if you are a student reading this, the following YouTube is a must see:
The Other 4.0 That Really Matters In College & Life

Senior internship puts you on the path to the 4.0 that really matters: (1) Personal capital, (2) Intellectual capital, (3) Social capital and (4) Financial capital

Important recognition: This program has evolved. Starting with 14 students in our first year and growing to well over 100 students a year, we, a team of teachers have worked, developed and tweaked the internship experience again and again. Without my colleagues interest and shared passion for authentic learning this student experience would not be as great as it is!

Thank you Terrie, Donna, Ted, Carol, Terri, Lauren, Jen and Lance!

We also depend heavily on our community mentors for leadership, career guidance (for students) and support. Thanks to all!

Thanks to Bob Anderson for the beautiful documentary at the top of this post.


Keep the Conversation Going

Last week I recieved a direct Twitter message from a member of my PLN. In it was this simple message, “Keep the conversation going.” Patricia Hudak, thank you for the push.

Patricia is correct, the positive impact that career development academic interventions have on students is great and the conversation must not slip away. With so much attention devoted to teacher accountability, high stakes testing, etc. our focus seems to be getting lost. We must focus on students and learning.

My role has changed this school year. The career development/personal discovery course that was once required of all students in my school district is no more. It is my assignment to recreate the experience as an elective. To see where we have been and are now in Pathways class visit my teacher website.

I’ve discovered three TEDx videos that have been particularly meaningful in my work this fall.

Do you know your students “sparks”? Do you encourage them to pursue them? Do you connect your classroom content to them? I sent this talk to a retired administrator and former mentor. She responded with this: “I need to change my conversations with my grandchildren. I need to honor their sparks.” Practicing educators must change their conversations too.

Peter Benson: Sparks-How Youth Thrive

In the “new” Pathways class, I am piloting Road Trip Nation. It’s an exciting, interactive curriculum that will eventually lead us to a road trip that my students will plan based on their sparks and passions. It requires that my students discover and  investigate their interests. The following TED talk is directed at high school students and fits in nicely with the RTN curriculum. I’m going to show this to my class on Wednesday and look forward to the discussion that follows.

 Jullien Gordon: Driving School for Life

And finally, one for the older/college aged student in your life.

Larry Smith: Why you will fail to have a great career

School Counts!

NEW PROJECT–A collaboration between local Chambers of Commerce and the School District!

I recently presented this project to the general membership of our local Chambers. The two Chambers executive boards, school administrators and I modeled this project from a similar program that was presented at the Integrated Learning Conference in 2011 at Penn State University.

Preparing students for success after graduation is a high priority for  Hatboro-Horsham School District. Whether  they attend a two- or four-year college, a technical, apprenticeship, military program or immediately enter the workforce, HH is committed to ensuring all students have the necessary skills and career maturity required to succeed. 

The Greater Horsham Chamber of Commerce and The Greater Hatboro Chamber of Commerce together with the high school have collaborated to develop an employability certificate called the “School Counts Employability Certificate.”

The certificate connects learning in school to success in our community.

*Thanks to my friend Betty Holmboe for the inspiration and to Mary Dare, Jo-Anne Zapata and Becky Felton of the Horsham Chamber for helping me get this off the ground.