Day: May 3, 2016

Girl Power! A Discussion of Gender Empowerment in Toys and Books

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picture-books-about-strong-girls-1Recently, a well-meaning relative gave my four-month-old daughter a stuffed pink turtle, and her young male cousin a stuffed astronaut. When the two toys were juxtaposed, my relative exclaimed, “I should have bought them both astronauts!” A few days later, another relative noted to me that she is good at buying toys for boys because she has a male godson, but does not know what to buy girls. “The same thing,” I answered, to which I was met with a look of genuine puzzlement.

This subconscious, and seemingly innocuous, gender bias has gained its fair share of criticism recently, prompting major retailers such as Target to take action to stop the gender labeling of toys in their stores.

And toys are not the only culprits exposing our your girls to gender stereotyping. In a 2011 study on 20th century children’s books, only 31% of popular books have central female characters, and only one Caldecott Award winner has a sole, central female character.

It is important to empower our young girls with the knowledge and inspiration necessary to make them successful leaders in today’s world. This includes exposing them to reading materials that instill courage, intelligence, and decision-making abilities encompassed by female characters they can relate to. (Additionally, we cannot discount the importance of sharing these books with our boys, who are missing a key lesson in empathy by reading only books with central male characters.) Below are a few of our favorite literary resources for young female readers:

  • Empowering Books for Girls – PBS’s lists of books that include central female characters overcoming obstacles (separate lists for preschool, grade school, and middle school)
  • A Mighty Girl – a nice selection of chapter books suitable for young readers (age nine and up) or as read-alouds for younger children
  • No Time for Flash Cards – 21 Picture Books about Strong Girls – these picture books are perfect for our youngest of readers
  • I See Me – although not specifically a female empowerment site, this publisher creates personalized books for children, which means that the girl in your life can have her name (and photo) printed in their books; I chose ABC What Can I Be! for my daughter. This book provides a career choice for every letter of the alphabet, beginning with A for–you guessed it–Astronaut.

-Maria Vlahiotis, Literacy Specialist, ACOE Core Learning

P.S. To continue the conversation and raise awareness about empowering our young girls, consider joining one of the following online communities:

Parent Resources

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Understanding the CA Common Core State Standards

Helping Students Develop Proficiency in the Content and Practice Standards


Additional Resources

How to Build Your Own Google Apps Script

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appsscriptFor a few years now Google has allowed users to create their own scripts to extend the capabilities of Docs, Forms, Drive,  Sheets, Calendar and even Gmail. Google Apps Scripts can be used for small projects, such as creating custom functions in Sheets, or more advanced projects that can be published as Add-Ons that anyone can install, like this one. They can also be deployed as  full-fledged web apps that anyone can run from a Form or Doc, for example, that has them enabled.

Today we are going to walk through the steps to build your own simple Apps Script that runs on Google Docs.  It’s called SelfRubric, and while it is not much of a rubric, it will show you that with very little coding (or none, if you decide to cut and paste), you can create your very own Add-on, that will live on your Docs menu.

**Note: Apps Scripts are built with JavaScript and usually some HTML/CSS, so make sure you are at least familiar with these before continuing **

What will it do?

SelfRubric will open up a simple side panel when a user selects it from the Add-On Menu. It will give the student some options to rate their writing from 0-5 on simple attributes like conventions, ideas, etc. Then it will inject a summary of their self-evaluation into the doc itself. We think it could be a great little add-on that, if built out, could be of use to many teachers and students who want to encourage self-reflection.

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So let’s get started. You can probably get away with building this example, and possibly modifying it if you DO NOT have any programming experience, however, you might find yourself stuck and not sure why something doesn’t work if you don’t, at least, have the basics down.

Start here

There are a few ways to start, but today we’ll start by simply creating a new blank Google Doc. Name it something that will stand out in your Drive, such as My First Script

Next select Script Editor from the Tools Menu. Now get acquainted with the interface. Google did a good job of keeping things both easy to navigate and powerful. Watch this video below from a couple of Google developers if  you want to get the long story behind the UI, and then go down their rabbit hole on your own (there are plenty of videos).

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Go ahead and erase the first default line. We’ll be using the file for the doc and the related functions. Don’t forget to name the project, in this case, SelfRubric, unless you have something better in mind.

Now create new HTML file: File > New > HTML

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Name the HTML file and remember the name (We’ll need to make sure it matches our script). I’ve named mine rubric. The file extension will automatically be added.

The Code 

Head over to GitHub to our repository for this project to grab the code:

Go ahead and copy it, and paste it into the appropriate file in your Apps Script window. (Brownie points for transcribing it!)

Good. Now switch over to the rubric.html file. and do the same with this file:

Paste that one into the rubric.html you created. If all works well, that is all you need. Just make sure that if you named your HTML file something besides rubric.html, you will have to change your  on this line: var

html = HtmlService.createHtmlOutputFromFile(‘rubric’)

Replace ‘rubric’ with your own file’s name.

Now save both files by clicking the anachronistic Floppy Disk icon.

Back to the Doc

Head back to your My First Script doc and write something. It actually doesn’t matter what you write, or if it’s blank. The script will work regardless. It will just feel better that way.

Reload the page to make sure your script loads. You should now see it on the to menu:

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Click on the name Self Rubric and select Launch Rubric. (See if you can see what part of the code made those menu items appear. )

If this is the first time you run this, you will need to Authorize the script and Allow it to see your Drive:

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Now you should see the panel appear. Go ahead and enter some values into the text boxes. and click Submit.

A Table should now be inserted into your document, along with a message displaying a total out of 20 points.

And that’s it!

Next steps

To try this script out on other documents, click on Publish > test as add-on. Then Select a Doc from your Drive.

Make sure your options look like this:

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Click Test and this will open the Doc in question. Take a peek under Add-ons, and you should see yours there! It should behave the same.

Other next steps:

Obviously, this is not a complete and deployable script as it stands now. It needs to handle different cases, like a user entering values that are not numeric, or that are are greater than 5, for example. Also, the rubric is simple and really should be something that a teacher builds on their own as part of the interface. But the proof of concept is there. Another enhancement would be to have the script generate an email using that API.

Take a tour of Google’s extensive documentation and see other samples and quick tutorials.

What Do the SBAC Scores Mean?

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GreatKids Test Score ReportThe SBAC scores have been released to districts, and are about to be released to the public.  But what do the scores mean, and how have they been organized?

The California Department of Education (CDE) has created a guide to the score report, which highlights the most important pieces of information.  Each student will receive an overall score in English language arts/literacy, and another in mathematics.  An additional score, this one for science, is also provided for certain grade levels–however, this test was administered as a CST test, and not an SBAC test.  At the eleventh grade level, the Early Assessment Program (EAP) status is also shown.

On the second page of the score report, the literacy and math overall scores are broken down by “areas” (or what the SBAC blueprint refers to as “claims”).  The four literacy areas are reading, writing, listening, and research/inquiry.  The three math areas are problem solving and modeling/data analysis (which are really two claims combined), concepts and procedures, and communicating reasoning.  The CST science test score is shown on a range from far below basic to advanced, while the EAP status is depicted on a range from standard exceeded to standard not met.

In addition to this resource, teachers and parents will find a plethora of information on GreatSchools‘ GreatKids State Test Guide for Parents:

  • what a student should have learned in each of the literacy and math areas, at his/her specific grade level
  • what a student may have struggled with if s/he did not meet or exceed the standard in that area
  • what parents can do to help their children develop these skills

***This year, ACOE’s Core Learning Team is preparing multiple professional development seminars to prepare students for the Smarter Balanced Assessment this spring.  View our offerings on Interpreting SBAC Assessment Data (math), Creating Literacy Performance Tasks (literacy), and Formative Assessment in Your Content-Area Classroom (literacy), among others.  Join us for these powerful and enriching sessions!

-Maria Vlahiotis, Literacy Specialist, ACOE Core Learning

Give Your Students the Gift of Epic! Books

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Why is it that movies are available on demand, but books are not?  That is the question a group of parents asked themselves before deciding to create Epic!, a subscription book service for children ages 1-12.  Considered the “Netflix of children’s books,”  Epic! offers an unlimited and high-quality selection of eBooks that are available on the App Store, the Google Play store, and on your favorite browser.  These books are streamed instantly with a wifi connection; books that children want to read offline can be downloaded and read later.

Epic! has a wide range of capabilities.  Children can set their own preferences for book genre, and Epic! will offer recommendations.  Books for younger children are accompanied by high-quality audio.  Books for older children include chapter books, many of which are well-known titles, both contemporary and classic.  Students can rate each book, and “favorite” books to add them to their personal bookshelves.

What’s the best news?  Teachers can sign up for FREE accounts!  While the selection of books on these free accounts is smaller than with paid accounts, teachers can monitor students’ reading without having to pay a dime.  Teachers can view the books students have read, the time they spent reading them, and the time they just spent flipping through!  (What a quick and easy way to see if students completed their required reading!)

Epic! is a great subscription service to provide to your children in the fight against summer slide, as well as to instill the love of learning and exposure to a variety of books instantly.  Get your students reading this summer with Epic!

*Note: our posts are never sponsored…if we are raving a little too much, it is because we are a little too excited about this amazing product!

-Maria Vlahiotis, Literacy Specialist, ACOE Core Learning

So How Do Search Like a Ninja?

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Searching with Google, we all do it, but how do you help your students become Search Ninjas? The infographic below shows you some of the semi-secret-super-power-sauce-search tuning tools to make you and your students knowledge mining ninjas!


Teaching Grammar Rhetorically, Part 1

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As an English teacher, I always assumed that the expectation was for me to be a Jack of all trades.  I had to teach reading, writing, speaking, listening, proper classroom behavior, a college-bound student’s mindset, empathy, and life skills–all while incorporating current events, fiction, nonfiction, poetry, textbooks, and technology into instruction.  So, naturally, when faced with the additional task of teaching grammar, something that I had never been explicitly taught in school (but something that always just made sense to me, as a voracious reader and writer), I did what every other English teacher in my position would do.  I handed out worksheets, graded them, gave them back to students, and spent many perplexed hours not understanding why the grammatical errors I had given the students to correct, and which they had done so meticulously on the double-spaced worksheets, were prevalent in their writing.  That is, after all, how you teach grammar, isn’t it?

As it turns out, no, it isn’t.  In The Atlantic‘s “The Wrong Way to Teach Grammar,” Professor Michelle Navarre Cleary cites a study wherein three groups of students were studied for gains in their grammatical skills.  One group received rule-bound instruction, the second received an alternative form of grammatical instruction, and the third received no instruction in grammar.  The three groups had no significant differences between them.  And what’s worse, “both grammar groups emerged with a strong antipathy to English.”  Cleary goes on to advocate grammatical instruction through student writing (not before student writing, as in standalone lessons).  She proposes that “grammar instruction that works includes teaching students strategies for revising and editing, providing targeted lessons on problems that students immediately apply to their own writing, and having students play with sentences like Legos, combining basic sentences into more complex ones.”

This sentiment was echoed in the Bay Area Writing Project’s Teaching Grammar Rhetorically course I was fortunate enough to experience this past summer.  Taught by the stellar Professor Greta Vollmer of Sonoma State University, I learned how to model proper grammatical instruction for students–by using published authors’ writings as mentor texts and mentor sentences that students could discuss and mimic.  We discussed sentence structure, why we felt it was effective or ineffective, and why.  We write our own sentences that mirrored the sentence structures we saw in published works.

And then, Professor Vollmer did something that opened my eyes forever: she gave us examples of published authors who had broken the most taboo of grammatical rules: run-on sentences and fragments.  These authors had used these “errors” as rhetorical devices; they broke the rules on purpose, and through our class discussions, we realized that the most important message we could give our students was that their writing must be done with purpose.  If they are using run-ons, are they doing it for rhetorical effect?  If not, they must change the sentence.  But if they did use run-ons purposefully, and this effect translates to the reader, then our students were learning and growing as writers.

In the coming weeks, I will post a presentation and materials I have been using to train teachers at the Alameda County Office of Education on teaching grammar rhetorically; and, I will share a compilation of sentences from published writers to use with students as mentor texts.  Stay tuned for more!

-Maria Vlahiotis, Literacy Specialist, ACOE Core Learning