Back to The Future Project: Life Cycle Snapshots in Target Language

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Ana Paula Cortez, a Portuguese teacher at Graded, The American School of São Paulo, got her 7th and 8th Grade students excited about practicing the target language during a Life Cycle unit. Students were learning vocabulary words and traditions around the birth of a child, their school and college years, work life and retirement. Ana Paula designed a project titled: “De volta para o futuro” (Back to the Future). She asked her students to create a character and fake Facebook pages to accompany the character throughout his/her life.

Objectives (Objetivos)

  • Describe past and future events (Descrever atividades passadas e futuras)
  • Speculate about destiny, professional and personal future (Especular sobre destino,  futuro profissional e pessoal.)

Enduring Understandings (Conhecimento Duradouro)

  • Values (A criação de valores)
  • How does the present establish the basis of the future? (Como o presente estabelece as bases do futuro)
  • The importance of planning for a successful future (A importância do planejamento para o sucesso futuro)

Essential Questions: (Perguntas Essenciais)

  • What values ??today will I take into my future life? (Quais valores de hoje levarei para minha vida futura?)
  • How will my actions in the present create my future? (Como minhas ações presentes vão criar o meu futuro?)
  • How to plan for success? (Como planejar para o sucesso?)

Content (Conteúdos)

  • Review of the Present Perfect Subjunctive (Revisão do Pretérito Perfeito do Subjuntivo)
  • Vocabulary related to adulthood (ex. getting married, student exchange, gap year, etc.) (Vocabulário relativo à vida adulta (ex.: casar, formar-se, fazer intercâmbio, ter um ano sabático etc.)
  • Conjugations (Conjunções)

General Instructions (Orientações Gerais) 

  • Create a page on Fakebook (fictional character – from birth to retirement) (Criar uma página no Fakebook (personagem fictícia – do nascimento até a aposentadoria)
  • 4 snapshots: before birth, childhood and adolescence, adulthood, retirement; (4 snapshots: antes do nascimento, infância e adolescência, vida adulta, aposentadoria)
  • Include all basic elements: profile, photos, videos etc; use Facebook Template (Incluir todos os elementos básicos: perfil, fotos, vídeos etc; Usar template do Fakebook)
  • Use Creative Commons images. (Usar imagens do Creative Commons)

We found a Google Apps Presentation Template to start,

Ana Paula Cortez translated the template into Portuguese and shared the file via Google Drive with her students. They each made their own copy and shared it back with their teacher.

Student examples:







Students created a page announcing the birth of the “person”, during the infancy/childhood, High School time,adulthood and retirement age.


Student comment about the project (Hint, use Google Translate to copy and paste the comments and translate into English)

By Andrew:

Este projeto foi muito divertido. Foi muito legal como criamos uma pessoa e seus amigos e familiares. Foi como fazer uma história. Eu aprendi muito e espero que possamos fazer outros projetos como este.

Visible Thinking in Math- Part 2

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This is the second part of the blog post : Visible Thinking in Math

Another Math teacher (sixth grade) at Graded, The American School of São Paulo , Laurel Janewicz, has been passionately piloting metacognitive thinking and reflection in her own Math classes.

She started out with laying a foundation from the start of the school year.
Listen to her students explain the why, how and what next of metacognition in Math class.


What Now?

How could she give her students practice in articulating their mathematical thinking? We chose to use iPads and Explain Everything app.

photo 2

photo 3


photo 5



  1. Students took an image of the Math problem
  2. Students recorded themselves solving the Math problem. Emphasis was placed on articulating their thought process, including when they thought “I really don’t know where to start”. Helping making their “fluency” of following thinking like that with strategies to continue audible.
  3. Once the video of them writing and talking themselves through solving the problem (correctly or incorrectly solved), the project file was saved as a video clip and exported to the camera role.
  4. Another student was then charged in starting a new Explain Everything project on the same iPad and importing the previously saved video clip from the Photo Gallery.
  5. It was the new student’s job to watch and listen to the thought process and annotate mathematical thinking and strategies observed.
  6. The new video (original video clip plus annotations, written and oral) was saved as a new video clip and uploaded to Google Drive to be able to be embedded into a blog post

Examples of one of the final video clips (make sure you listen to oral annotations by student #2… about 3:13 minutes into the recording).

Laurel presented at the AASSA (Association of American Schools in South America) conference this past month with an elementary school colleague, Kelli Meeker, about her findings and experience of Redefining Reflection

Laurel also developed a few questions as follow up to help her students reflect on their blogfolio on the metacognition “project”

What does metacognition, thinking about your thinking, mean to you and how has it helped you in math?

Metacognition, thinking about my thinking, ……

What does your “inner voice” say to you or what questions does it ask you as you solve a problem?

I have an inner voice that …..

How has reflecting on your thinking while solving a problem helped your mathematical thinking?

Reflecting on my thinking/listening to my inner voice while doing math ….

What have you learned about yourself as a mathematician from this project and from this whole year?

This project/This year I ….

Below are a few excerpts of student responses. Click on the students’ name to see their entire blog post and embedded video.


Thinking about my thinking is reflecting in my own words. It is thinking about how your thinking can improve and what your thinking has mastered. When I am thinking about my math thinking like when I am screen casting a video on Explain Everything, my inner voice tells me to break up the problem and then read the specific part and work on that part. Afterwards, I think about if this is a good strategy or not. I think that this Explain Everything project has helped me a lot because I solved a problem and then I listened to my thinking while solving the problem


In math, Ms. J taught us to kind of talk to our “inner voice.” I only talk to my inner voice in difficult problems, I sort of ask for help. When I’m with my inner voice, I try to think differently, and usually can get a way for my answer, but I need to concentrate a lot. While I reflect on my thinking I always think in a better way. This helps because I always question myself and see if I’m really correct. I get to a more profound way of thinking.


We have been focusing on metacognition while doing math. This means thinking about our thinking, and asking our selves, “What am I doing, and why?”Using metacognition has really helped me analyze my results in math and it has also made my work a lot more error-free. Whenever I do questions now, and I am not sure how I got my answer, or if it is right, than I always think back to what I did to find out the answer, and if I could do anything better. This is also a habit of mathematical thinking that I find that I am very good at, and I use a alot.


Metacognition, thinking about thinking. When Ms.J first introduced this to us I was like, What The heck! What does she expect us to do? But now I see that it’s a useful skill that has improved not only my math skills but my other classes as well. Very early on i realized that I loved to talk. Ever since i was little i knew this. So it’s one of the reasons why sometimes I think I get bad grades in math. I hate being alone, and in fact am afraid of being alone, so not talking is a symptom. I usually struggle in silence because I like to work through my thinking aloud. Which was why I benefited from this project so much.


I think that I can apply metacognition to lots of different things, like sports that I play, like basketball. During a game, I can ask myself: “Why isn’t this working? What can I do to improve?” The next quarter, I can work on improving in those aspects to help the team win the game.


I realized while doing the project that in my head I am thinking about more than one aspect of the problem at a time, as we call it in math class, my inner voice. It was constantly checking if what I was doing made sense and figuring out other efficient and coherent ways to solve it, so if I had any difficulties or needed to revise my work I could use them. By, also, hearing my second voice I was able to understand the problem on another level, meaning I could draw the right visuals, analyze it, and do it with a different method.


When I first came here from 5th grade, I soon realized that I was not really listening to my thinking, actually not at all. I still did not know what metacognition actually meant and could not define it in first quarter. Now I can define it, and know what it is. So then, I started to think more deeply what I am doing and why I am doing this while doing these problems in my head. This has really helped me because it can not only help you to see the reasonableness of the answer but also to read more carefully.


Metacognition helped me, because, when I make a mistake in the problem, I don’t really notice it, unless someone else shows me what the mistake was, or where it was. After hearing myself in the problem, I can tell if I made a mistake. For example, if I misread the problem and didn’t notice, then heard what my thinking was, I would’ve noticed the mistake I had made. Metacognition, to me, means understanding what works, and what doesn’t work in your head.


When I would reflect my thinking on the iPad, it helped me by looking over my homework’s, my tests and etc. It would help me now and then. My inner voice would ask me “Does this answer make sense?” “How did you get this answer?” When my father would ask me “How did you do this problem?” I would say “I don’t know?” That when I realized that I need to ask myself these things. Now metacognition helps me a lot, like when I am asking my dad for some help and when I am doing a problem by myself


I have an inner voice. I think that the whole purpose of the iPad projects, was to find my math inner voice, and use it. I think I found that inner voice. I’m pretty proud of myself for that because it was with my first projects, it was pretty hard, though now, for sure I found it. It helps me wonder, and think: Should I use this chart or this chart? Which method works best?


While doing these problems, I have sort of an “inner voice.” Not in the crazy, psychopathic way, but the thinking way. I tell myself to do this or do that, or check my work. I say hundreds of things to myself in my head. And I always ask myself how I did this. I explain to myself, and try to find mistakes. Mistakes teach you that to become great at math, you need to make mistakes. Albert Einstein once said,”A person that never made a mistake never tried anything.” I know I’ve made mistakes that that inner voice saved me from.

We are having conversations, looking at student samples, tweaking how reflection and thinking about their thinking impacts student understanding and learning as well as create peer-created resources for future students (think Alan November’s thoughts about leaving a legacy).

A million thanks go to Laurel and Adam for sharing their thoughts, questions, trials, failures and success in the process and most importantly their willingness to make it transparent for others to learn with and from their process.

Do you have student samples of making mathematical thinking visible? Please share the link for all of us to learn from and have quality examples to model after.

More examples of students “writing” in Math:

Visible Thinking Routine in Action: Chalk Talk

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We are fortunate to have a Visible Thinking Routine (VTR) expert at our school. Claire Arcenas, our MS/HS Physical Education teacher, previously a third grade classroom teacher who has done extensive readings and research in experiencing, implementing, embedding VTR in teaching and learning. Recently, she started sharing her experience and reflection on her professional learning blog: Visible Thinking Across Subject Areas.


Claire invited me to an 8th grade PE class before a unit on Volleyball skills and allowed me to film her facilitating the VTR called Chalk Talk. She explains the overview of her volleyball unit on her classroom blog post Can You Dig It?

Grade 7 and 8: Exploring our Enduring Understanding and Essential Questions for Volleyball…

Enduring Understanding:
  • Volleyball requires the application and coordination of skills necessary to contribute collaboratively in achieving a common goal
Essential Questions:
  • What is volleyball?
  • What movement skills are needed to play volleyball successfully?
  • What are players’ responsibilities?
  • How is organization needed in playing volleyball?
  • How can the skills and attitudes learned in volleyball be used in other sports and activities?


In the movie clip, you will see Claire giving an introduction to the Visible Thinking Routine, get kids in groups to rotate around posters with an Essential Question on each. Silently, students added their thoughts, drew visuals or documented questions that they had. After all students had the opportunity to add to each poster, Claire collected all the posters and saved them for the second part of the thinking routine after the actual volleyball playing experience in the gym.


At the end of the unit, students met in the same groups to come full circle with the chalk talk routine. Claire distributed the posters, gave students time to re-read their original ideas and thoughts. They then turned the poster over to add new understanding, any connections or new questions.

The final part of the process and to conclude the learning process is for students to reflect on their blog using the VTR: I used to think… but now I think…

Upgrading Assessments with Screencasting

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Our young learners can explain what they know in powerful ways by combining drawing and/or photos with a voice recording. Using Doodlecast students can create screencasts. Our first graders created screencasts demonstrating their learning of the water cycle.

How could you use screencasting in your classroom to more effectively assess student knowledge and skills?