Media Matters

April 27, 2015

New Resource for Parents on 21st Century Learning and Citizenship

P21 has created a free digital toolkit to help parents support their learners in becoming 21st century leaders and citizens. The three-part toolkit was developed with National PTA as a family engagement advisor, and provides an overview of 21st century learning and how citizenship has changed in a digitally and globally connected world, tips and strategies for families, and real world examples of 21st century learning in action. Find out more at

Processing Informational Text: Graphic Organizers that Build Student Skills

Free Webinar

Learn new ways to improve your students’ reading and writing abilities in this Britannica Digital Learning webinar. Simple yet effective, graphic organizers incorporate new and creative activities that support reading informational text and planning expository writing. All participants receive a tool kit of printable graphic organizers to boost student skills, confidence, and motivation.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015 at 3 PM CST

The Power of Teaching With Storytelling

From the beginning of time, storytelling has been the means by which cultures and societies have preserved and celebrated their memories, passed on their values and belief systems, entertained, instructed and reported. Long before there were written records—much less computers—storytellers taught through the oral tradition.

This ancient form of communication is a powerful tool for education.

Today, teachers can use storytelling in the classroom with the assurance that it still works. In fact, recent brain-based research supports intuitive belief in storytelling.

“There is strong reason to believe that organization of information in story form is a natural brain process…We suggest that the brain research confirms that evidence and begins to explain why stories are important,” according to Renate and Geoffery Caine, Making Connections: Teaching and the Human Brain.

In a nutshell, neuroscience is discovering that the brain is wired to organize, retain and access information through story. If that’s true—and it is—then teaching through story means that students will be able to remember what you teach, access that information, and apply it more readily. Everytime you employ storytelling as a tool in your classroom this critical wiring is reinforced.

“…teaching through story means that students will be able to remember what you teach, access that information, and apply it more readily. Everytime you employ storytelling as a tool in your classroom this critical wiring is reinforced.”

The benefits of storytelling don’t end there. Discover why this age-old tradition is one you can’t ignore in the 21st century classroom.

Improves Memory

Story aides memory because it puts information into a meaningful context, to which other information can be “attached.” Storytelling also puts information into an emotional context, and research indicates that emotions play an essential role in both memory and motivation. When emotions are present, hormones released to the brain act as a memory fixative. Story is engaging—it evokes emotion, which provokes learning.

Creates Building Blocks

Storytelling is indeed powerful. It provides the foundation, the building blocks, for learning. Storytelling teaches students to listen actively and analytically, improves verbalization skills, increases imagination and visualization abilities, and increases comprehension and retention.

Develops Listening

Listening is the basis for all language skills and storytelling connects all the skills necessary to teach students how to listen.

Without the building block of listening, you are building without a firm foundation.

Encourages Imagination

Imagination and visualization are essential to literacy, since these are the tools that allow a reader to give meaning to the words being decoded. These skills, in turn, lead to comprehension and retention.

Imagination and visualization are also essential life skills—they are the primary tools we use for successful problem solving in science, math and daily conflicts. Storytelling builds all of these skills while motivating students to explore the wealth of folktales and stories found in books and history.

Shapes Life Values

Storytelling is a gentle way to guide children toward constructive personal values; the listener is vicariously placed in situations in which the outcome of both wise and unwise actions and decisions can be experienced from the safe distance of the imagination.

“Story is engaging—it evokes emotion, which provokes learning.”

Teaches Acceptance

With storytelling, students are able to explore and celebrate each individual’s full range of creativity. It’s also an opportunity to broaden their understanding heritage and culture, both theirs and those of others. In doing so, they learn to accept and appreciate their own creative efforts.

Strengthens Important Life Skills

Storytelling strengthens important skills that will follow your students far beyond the doors of your classroom, into college and the workforce. With storytelling, your students:

  • Learn how to listen actively and analytically.
  • Improve verbalization skills.
  • Increase attention spans.
  • Increase imagination and visualization skills.
  • Increase comprehension and retention skills.
  • Explore folktales, myths and legends from around the world.
  • Learn how to employ focusing techniques to tell stories without memorization

Empowers All Forms of Communication

Storytelling helps students explore the use of body language, gestures, and facial and vocal expression to bring a story to life. When telling a story to you or their peers, they also learn how to feel comfortable in front of an audience, which improves their poise and enhances self-esteem.

Re-Telling is Powerful Too

Sharing one story one time is just one part of the equation; re-telling is important too. “The study offers rigorous empirical data and anecdotal support for the educational value of retelling stories. When so many skills are improved through its use, storytelling cannot be thought of as a frill. Classroom story role playing and retelling stories to friends and to the teacher need to be encouraged,” from Children Tell Stories: A Teaching Guide (Richard C. Owen Publishers, 1990).

“I had given up on him—he has never responded successfully to anything in the classroom. But now I see that I was wrong. Thank you for helping me recognize how to reach him!”

In a second grade classroom, the teacher observed a student who had been classified as “educably mentally retarded” re-tell a story fluidly and confidently in perfect sequence. Tears streamed down the teacher’s face as she said, “I had given up on him—he has never responded successfully to anything in the classroom. But now I see that I was wrong. Thank you for helping me recognize how to reach him!”

That’s not an isolated incident—this has occurred in various forms in classroom after classroom. Some storytellers call these incidents “small miracles,” and so do the teachers. While they may not be miracles to everyone, they’re significant indicators of the power of storytelling.

Benefits of Storytelling for the Teacher

An important by-product of teaching kids to tell stories is what the teacher learns from listening to their students. Over and over again, teachers report that they’re astounded by the results.

Experience it for yourself—bring the power of storytelling into your classroom.

Learn2Earn, By Sherry Norfolk, January, 2015

Wonder: A Search Engine Fueled by Research Experts – Save Time, Learn Anything

Wonder … a Search Engine Unlike Any Other!

Wonder is a very different type of search engine. Instead of computer generated feedback, a real human being who is an expert researcher will find the best sources for you, and send them to you within an hour! You can spend less time reviewing the overwhelming number of responses that today’s search engines typically produce, and more time focused on your research.

The folks from Wonder sent me some examples of recent searches and results offered to help shed some light on how it works.

Teachers Using Wonder

A computer instructor searched for “education technology for elementary students” and requested technology lesson examples for elementary school level students. Emily Cox, a professional and freelance journalist of 10 years, sent back a “Wonderlist” of sources re: education technology for elementary students. “As technology becomes more ingrained in the fundamentals of how we interact with the world, it is becoming more important than ever to start teaching children to master these technologies as a young age. Lesson plans aren’t just about learning the basic technology anymore. They are about learning through the technology. These links will help Elementary students do just that: Wonderlist of sources re: Education Technology for Elementary Students.

Students Using Wonder

An anatomy student recently searched for the difference between Broca’s area vs. Wernicke’s area. Researcher Anna Olechchowska returned the follow summary and this resource guide (Wonder call this a “#wonderlist”), Wonderlist of sources re: Broca’s Area vs. Wernicke’s Area.

“At first, it may be difficult to differentiate Broca’s area from Wernicke’s area as they both have to do with speech, but there are a few differences which you can focus on remembering in order to help you better understand the two. Let’s start with Broca’s area, which is located in the frontal lobe. Broca’s area is the motor speech area and it helps in movements required to produce speech. When there is an issue in this area, a patient can understand the speech of others, but can’t produce any speech him or her self. This is called Broca’s aphasia. Wernicke’s area, which is located in the parietal and temporal lobe, is the sensory area. It helps in understanding speech and using the correct words to express our thoughts. When there is an issue in this area, a patient may be able to produce speech, but cannot understand the speech of others. This is called Wernicke’s aphasia. I’ll link you to a few information videos and articles that will help you further understand these concepts.”

As another example, close to midnight, a high school student searched for information on Apollo 11 because she had put a research paper off until the night before the due date. Wonder researcher Marty returned these results to help her find citable sources.

“I provided 6 links to give your paper a good background on the political environment at the time. The first link is an overview of the events of the Apollo 11 flight. The second is a two-parter giving an overview of the Cold War’s role in the American Apollo program. The third describes the Soviet government’s reaction to the moon landing, via an interview with a top politician’s son (he also happens to be an engineer and was working on a space project at the time, so he also offers some technological insight). The fourth describes American sentiment AGAINST the Space Race, which is frequently forgotten even though the program occurred parallel to civil rights demonstrations and high sentiment against the military. The fifth is political speculation on how the Soviets and Americans would have reacted to the USSR winning the Space Race; it also provides further commentary on the Race, from a third point of view (namely, British). Finally, we have a site with a very long and dry outline of the Soviet lunar program. Helpfully, it is from a Soviet point of view. The three most important words for you on that page are Soyuz, Korolev, and Mishin: the name of the Soviet manned lunar program, and the two names of its leaders during the 1960s.”

Curious People Using Wonder

A gardener searched for plants for dry shade then specified they were seeking plants to grow beneath a fruitless mulberry on the south side of a house. Emily Cox responded with this Wonderlist of information about plants that grow in dry shade

“While gardening in the shade is a challenge in and of itself, gardening under tree cover comes with additional obstacles. In addition to low light levels, these plants must compete with shading trees for nutrients and water, and tolerate poor air circulation. Below are plants that thrive the best in these conditions, as well as tips to make the environment more hospitable for additional plant life.”

Wonder is new, different, and pretty awesome. So go ahead … submit your own question!