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Exciting Methods for Formative Assessment

This quick 20-minute webinar focuses on strategies and ideas for using formative assessment during all phases of the lesson cycle.  Scroll down for the presentation used, with embedded live links.

  Exciting Methods for Formative Assessment

TCI Employee Interview Double Feature: Ari Stein and Rebecca Ou


If you have ever used any of our Bring Science Alive! programs, you are probably familiar with Ari and Rebecca who model the investigations in our demonstration videos. But did you know that they play key roles in creating these programs? Read further to discover the true extent of what they do to help bring science alive.


What are your roles here at TCI?


Ari: This is always hard to describe. I am the Managing Science Editor, so in addition to directly editing several physical science programs, I work closely with the other program editors by reviewing the texts of all the programs for pedagogical approach, structural clarity, and accuracy. I also collaborate with curriculum developers to design activities.


Rebecca: My title at TCI is Senior Science Editor, and my work is very similar to Ari’s with a greater focus on the actual textbooks and writing. I am the primary editor of two future science programs, Matter and Space. I also manage our summer interns and work closely with the teachers who review our curriculum.



Rebecca Ou

What does a regular workflow look like for you?


Rebecca: It varies. We are working on multiple programs at a time, so some weeks are devoted specifically to editing and reviewing manuscripts, while other weeks we focus on lesson development.


Ari: We’ll use PowerPoint storyboarding for our lessons and research to find assets. For investigations, once we have an idea, we take it to our investigation team for further development.


Rebecca: Our investigation team is pretty special.  It’s a small group, only seven of us, and as a result we are able to work very closely together. Instead of just presenting finished projects to the group, when we get together we have working meetings to really hammer out an activity. Even if not everyone can meet for every activity, it is a great way of exchanging ideas and coming up with something new.


How long is the process to finish an investigation?


Ari:  Well, the timeline for an activity to be developed enough for us to start testing outside of the department is about three weeks to a month. At that point, we test the activity together with TCI staff and in pilot classrooms. Afterwards, development goes on hold while we work with our vendors for the materials, and then it is another three weeks to send it to production.


Rebecca: I would agree. In total, the process is about six to eight weeks.


How did you initially join TCI?


Ari: Craigslist. I started working at TCI soon after I graduated from UC San Diego with a degree in Physics. This was when the science programs were just starting development; I was actually the second science employee hired by TCI.


Rebecca: I heard about TCI through Ari. We were friends in college; I stayed behind to continue my studies in chemistry and earn a Master’s. It turned out to be a perfect fit with my areas of interest: in addition to my major in Chemistry, I minored in Writing and worked on a research project for teaching chemistry through alternative media methods.


Ari Stein

Ari Stein

Has your role evolved since you’ve been at TCI?


Ari: Definitely. I was initially hired as a fact checker. As time went on, it became clear that I was good at editing and had a lot of ideas for the programs, so my role and responsibilities expanded from there.


Rebecca: I also started as fact checker, and then shuffled back and forth between lesson development and editorial work before settling into my current position.


What is your favorite aspect of developing the science curriculum? Any favorite activities?


Ari: It would have to be the brainstorming and finding novel ways to teach and explain science concepts. For a specific activity, there is a Performance Assessment I am currently working on where students have to save a restaurant from falling off a cliff into the ocean. I’m looking forward to seeing students work with it.


Rebecca: I really enjoy editorial, especially the freedom in choosing how to convey a subject so that it is coherent and grade-level appropriate, while still being challenging and meeting the requirements of NGSS. My favorite activity is also one for a future program; it will have students acting as interns for the International Astronauts Union, and their goal is to gather data from our solar system to support different theories about what defines a planet.


What do you do outside of TCI?


Ari: I’m a mentor for The Illuminators, Apollo High School’s robotics team. We just had our final competition, the FIRST Robotics Competition last weekend. I play board games, rock-climb, and I also practice glassblowing. In general, I like challenging things.


Rebecca: I like to go to the opera and ballet. I also rock climb, though not as often anymore. I write fiction and recently I have gotten more invested in video games.

What is the biggest April Fools joke of all time?



That is up to your students to decide in this free lesson from TCI. Students will break up into small groups to learn about the backgrounds of different April Fools’ jokes in history and quickly present their findings to the class. The class then debates how to best rank their pranks against all the others. Of course, it wouldn’t be April Fools’ Day without a prank of your own to play on your students!


Download the lesson here.

Historic Heroines: Classroom Resources for Women’s History Month



Women's History Month


March marks “Women’s History Month,” a time in which we honor the achievements and efforts of women across the globe.


This month provides a perfect opportunity to create social studies and history lessons that highlight significant female figures. While there is an endless list of women to recognize, here are some of my favorite online resources that can help create engaging and research-driven activities for students:



1. The National Women’s History Museum offers a range of online exhibitions that showcase the role of women in a variety of historical settings, such as World War II, the Civil Rights Movement, and the English colony of Jamestown. Visitors will also find an abundance of historical biographies, videos, educational activities, and more.


2. Some of the most profound accomplishments have come from women scientists and engineers. To honor these heroes, the White House launched “The Untold Stories of Women in Science and Technology,” which profiles some of their inspiring stories. These audio biographies are told by current women leaders in STEM and are available free for anyone.


3. The Library of Congress is a long-time favorite for free primary and secondary sources on U.S. history.  They recently created the “Rosa Parks: Primary Source Gallery,” which features items such as Park’s written reflections on her fight against segregation, personal letters, and historical photographs. In the classroom, students can analyze these resources to learn more about Rosa Parks and the Montgomery Bus Boycott.


4. With elections approaching, this month is a perfect time to expand students’ knowledge on Women’s Suffrage. The National Archive provides a set of digitized primary source documents from this movement. The site features items like a “Petition to Congress” from 1871 and “A Resolution Proposing an Amendment to the Constitution” from 1868.


What are some of your favorite Women’s History Month activities? Comment your answers!



The Case for Gaming: Why Teachers Should Include Video Games

Watch this quick-paced webinar as TCI’s Brian Thomas shares three reasons why research supports video games as an instructional tool.


Please take time to comment on this webinar with compelling games! Share the grade you teach, subject matter, game title, and why you use it.

Webinar Video

Embedded Presentation

The Case for Gaming


Teacher Highlight!

We love hearing about TCI in action! This past December, Wisconsin teacher Katie David was featured in an article about the implementation of TCI’s Pursuing American Ideals Program. We were so impressed, we asked Katie to tell us more.

Kathryn David

Katie David is a ninth grade history teacher at Pardeeville High School.

What initially drew you to TCI? What jumped out at you about the program that was different from the way you taught before?

I was especially excited about the primary sources built into the programs. I used to spend a lot of time working to integrate primary sources into my lessons. I still include my own supplemental materials, but now my students always have access to the primary sources TCI built into the program for me.

The program layout is also important, especially how the chapters can be taught either as discrete lessons or together in units. There is never time to teach everything in the textbook, but the way TCI is organized makes it easier to pick and choose.

I’m a believer in projects. I like my students to demonstrate their understanding with them, and TCI has made projects streamlined and easy for me. Each lesson ends with a processing activity that asks students to use a variety of different skills–from drawing maps to writing songs–which allow me to differentiate instruction and test multiple intelligences without constantly inventing new projects.


What do your students like best about the program?

My students love the lessons that get them out of their chairs, especially the activities that have them take on a role – immigrant, muckraker, etc.They also love the placards; they feel transported in time and the materials are a tangible way of accessing the historical ideas we discuss in class. Sometimes they struggle (in a good way!) to comprehend the primary source material, but ultimately my students love the capacity to show off what they learned in the end.

Placard L from PAI

For Lesson 16: Uncovering Problems at the Turn of the Century, Ms. David reports that her students found the placards served as strong visual reminders for the environmental, social, and political problems of the Progressive Era.


Do you have a favorite lesson or activity thus far?

Absolutely! It would have to be Chapter Fifteen, Through Ellis Island and Angel Island: The Immigrant Experience. I used the introduction in the materials and it resonated with my students more than I could have hoped. Immigrants (my students) lined up to enter Ellis Island (my classroom), and had to pass inspections before they could enter the country. I asked the Spanish teacher to conduct medical exams in Spanish, and my students expressed real frustration when they could not understand her directions.

Since that lesson, whenever we talk about the immigrant experience (in a historical or modern context) my students are much more empathetic toward immigrants. They talk about this lesson constantly, even though I taught it back in first quarter – I think it will be their favorite memory of 9th grade social studies.


How does TCI help enrich your experience as a teacher?

Like my students, I love the activities that have them moving around and looking at authentic sources. In fact, I was going to skip some chapters with similar lessons that were not central to my curriculum, but I enjoy teaching them so much I included them anyways.

My students always know what to expect from the lesson structure and the processing activities allow different students to show their strengths. I have more work to do linking back to that essential question at each step of a lesson, but as I get more familiar with the textbook, I think it will be really beneficial for the students. The program also allows me to do assessment outside of standard testing, as I feel that the activities are more reflective of their learning than an exam would be.

I have not utilized many of the online features yet due to my students’ irregular access to computers. As our district grows less reliant on paper-based assessments, however, I think they will be more relevant to my teaching style.

Thank you for your wonderful responses, Katie! 

St. Patrick’s Day Lesson


Looking for a fun St. Patrick’s Day lesson?

TCI is bringing back our St. Patrick’s Day Skill Builder, which provides the opportunity for students to learn about the man who gave the holiday his name by utilizing QR Codes to seek out information about his life. If you have any questions about using the QR Codes, don’t worry, we include instructions in the lesson plan, and have also written about QR Codes in a previous post.

You can download the lesson through HERE

TCI Employee Profile: Jen Valenzuela

Once a month, we have been featuring a profile for different TCI employees from different departments, getting a glimpse into their work and place here at TCI. This month, we are happy to feature our vivacious Production Intern, Jen Valenzuela!

Jen Valenzuela (retake)

What is your role here at TCI?

I am a Production Intern here at TCI, and my work focuses on the front-end styling for TCI’s lesson presentations–how they appear to teachers and students–for both science and social studies. I input and edit content and assets requested by the content developers. The production team helps ensure that the content is presented in a clear and visually engaging way, which might take a couple of back and forth exchanges with the developers before the final product is complete.



What is your job like day-to-day?

My day-to-day work varies, as projects develop on an as-needed basis. Currently, I am assisting with a template project for future presentation conversions.


How did you find TCI?

I found TCI through a posting on SpartaJobs, my university’s job portal, while I was finishing my Creative Advertising major. The job, which aligns with my graphic and web design background, also appealed to my interest in science and science communications, especially in learning how information is conveyed to students. After graduating in May 2015, I began work in August.


Has your role evolved since you first started?

Since there’s no shortage of projects and always something new to learn, my role evolves with each responsibility that I take on.


What is your favorite aspect of working at TCI?

The community, and how open the workplace environment is. I’m pleasantly surprised by the agile workflow and communication. People are encouraged to be open and to collaborate with others for additional support and ideas, both within and across teams. By just hearing the conversations around my workstation, I have learned a lot about how the company operates as a whole.


Why would anyone else work for TCI?

We truly care about the programs we create and the customers who use them. It feels really rewarding to be providing students quality material and helping them to learn in the best way possible. Also, the environment and agile workflow is amazing; being able to learn about what the other teams are working on, and working across teams to find a solution – it’s pretty exciting!


What do you like to do in your spare time?

I enjoy skateboarding, especially concrete parks and backyard pools. I love the ocean; scuba diving, beachcombing, visiting the aquarium — anything that gets me by or in it. I also draw and paint. While I enjoy designing on the computer, there  is something visceral about being able to create something on a non-digital canvas.

Quilts to Freedom

Can Clara’s quilt guide her to freedom?

The plight to escape the terror of slavery is a part of our nation’s history that should be studied.  Teachers can find many resources and stories to provide students rich experiences.  You’ll see one such story below that incorporates freedom quilts.  Click to learn what some would describe as a Quilt to Freedom.  As you can see in the wiki, the veracity of freedom quilts is not settled and most scholars doubt their (widespread) use.  See this article by Henry Louis Gates, Jr. as an example.


In the fictional book Sweet Clara and the Freedom Quilt, by Deborah Hopkinson, quilts were used to send messages that helped slaves reach the Underground Railroad. This story is told through the eyes of a young slave named Clara. In this story, Clara is a seamstress in the Big House on the Home Plantation.  Claras’s Aunt Rachel points to the North Star and tells Clara about Canada, the free land in the north. She also tells her about the Underground Railroad – a network of people, routes and hideouts used to help slaves escape to freedom.  Clara learns about the route to Canada and begins working on a special quilt – one with a secret map.    Through this book, your students will deepen their understanding of the struggle and risks associated with the Underground Railroad and the escape to freedom in the North.


Below, find an optional activity that you may use with your students.  Be sure to stress to the students that the story was a work of fiction.  You might as a class do some of your own research to discover what methods were used to escape slavery.


History Content:  The Underground Railroad, Civil War

Click on the image to print off a copy of the directions.

Click on the image to print off a copy of the directions.


Hopkinson, Deborah. Sweet Clara and the Freedom Quilt.       ISBN 0-590-42485-8

TCI Free Lesson: By George! It’s a President’s Day Lesson

Don’t miss out on your opportunity for students to learn more about George Washington and our other presidents with this fun lesson suitable for elementary or secondary classrooms. Everything you need to build the game along with a lesson is included.


Download your instructions via this LINK.


You will have a lesson guide and both an elementary and secondary version of the game.  When completed, the game will look like this:


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