_Teachers Page_

This page has resources that other educators might find helpful. I'll do my best to identify resources that are useful to any teacher vs. those that may just be useful to science (or physics) teachers. Feel free to email me if you have questions about any of this (michael.zitolo@gmail.com). Forgive the layout - I'm still figuring that out.


PunishedByRewardsCover.jpgPunished By Rewards by Alfie Kohn
  • This is a must-read for educators. Kohn makes a strong argument against nearly all forms of rewards in this book. Long story short, rewards have many negative impacts on the subjects to which they are applied; the most detrimental factor being that rewards actually drive down an individual's intrinsic motivation to do something, which goes against popular belief. He references endless studies, all which seem to support this idea that rewards and punishments are not effective means to help others develop and grow. He examines the effects of rewards in three domains: the work place, school, and at home. This book truly challenged some of my most basic beliefs about teaching. For example, Kohn asks the reader to really think about the purpose of grades. Why do we give grades? To motivate students? To classify students? To provide feedback to students? He eventually argues that assigning grades to students does more harm than good, and asks us to consider what might happen if grades were completely abolished. I'm really glad I read this book at the start of the summer. This gives me a lot of time to process many of the arguments he makes, and decide what really makes sense (even if it seems to go against my initial intuitions about teaching). While reading the chapter that is entirely dedicated to creating a classroom atmosphere for student motivation to thrive, I jotted down a bunch of ideas. Some are simple ("Develop classroom rules with students instead of just creating them myself" and "Create a 'We Welcome Mistakes Here!' sign); others are in a very infancy stage ("How can I reduce the amount of explicit grades I give students, while at the same time avoiding 'high-stakes assessments' that would arise from having so few graded assignments?"). I can see this being a good book to read both by yourself or as part of a book club. Some ideas I really needed to wrestle with myself ("What do I really think?"). Other times, I think I would have liked having a group of teachers to bounce potential ideas off of ("How would you make this happen in your class? What would it look like?"). Either way, I think every teacher would benefit from the critical reflection Kohn pushes us to engage in.

Ethic_of_Excellence.jpgAn Ethic of Excellence by Ron Berger
  • This book surprised me. Berger outlines "toolkits" for constructing a culture of excellence in schools, a culture that drives students to be heavily invested in their learning, produce exemplary work, become deeper, critical thinkers, as well as more reflective of their actions and their effects on others. Through the first half of the book, I was a bit turned off. His stories from his classroom seem too good to be true - elementary school students engaging in work that high schoolers (and even graduate students) would. I thought that this couldn't possibly be true, that no classroom of students could function the way he describes and produce the type of work he describes. I put so much work into my classes, and they doesn't seem to function half as effectively has the ones he describes. I eventually recognized that my own insecurities were getting in the way (familiar thoughts like "You're classroom isn't nearly as good as the ones he describes, the projects your students take part in aren't nearly as important/authentic as the ones Berger's students do, your students aren't learning nearly enough...you're really bad at this job"). Once I was able to push these thoughts out of my head though, I found that Berger describes some great practices and structures for improving the culture of my classes. I think this book would be a great read for teachers of all content areas, and I think this would be a particularly good book to read with colleagues at your school, as Berger describes a number of practices that could be particularly powerful if many teachers in the same school started to use.

How Children Succeed.jpgHow Children Succeed by Paul Tough
  • Tough describes essential practices that help children develop the traits that many successful individuals seem to possess, such as grit, curiosity, and self-control. He argues that its equally if not more important that young children are taught these essential non-cognitive skills in addition to traditional skills, such as numeracy. This books is not necessarily targeted to teachers (parents and other mentor figures would benefit from reading this), though I am taking away a few key ideas. One of which is a reminder of how important it is that we help students develop their ability to analyze their own mistakes, viewing errors as opportunities for learning instead of markers of failure. I think new teachers might gain more from reading some of the books below, while more experienced teachers could read this on their own or with colleagues.

building a better teacher.jpgBuilding a Better Teacher by Elizabeth Green
  • Similar to "The Smartest Kids in the World", one key idea that Green puts forth is that, in order for the state of our education system to improve, teachers need better preparation before entering the classroom and continuous, targeted support while in the classroom. She chronicles some movements in education (particularly math education), looking at the reasons they took off and collapsed at the times and places they did. A few specific, effective strategies for teachers to try in classrooms are identified, but one of the more powerful methods highlighted is the Japanese lesson study. I think my favorite takeaway is that good teaching can be taught. Some teachers seem to born for teaching, possessing that "it" quality, but Green provides evidence to show that struggling teachers (or any teacher really) can be taught how to improve and become an amazing educator (of course, not without dedication, hard work, and clear, targeted feedback). I guess this makes sense, considering what I've read in Mindset and The Talent Code - ability is not fixed, but something that is developed with focused practice. In my opinion, I see this as a good book to read with coworkers as part of a book group.

The Talent Code.jpgThe Talent Code by Daniel Coyle
  • This book complements Mindset (by Carol Dweck) really well. Coyle explains how its possible for everyone to grow to master new concepts and skills through deliberate practice and a special chemical in our brains call Myelin. I found Mindset to be motivational and inspiring, but geared towards adults. I'm not done with the book yet, but I could see many students enjoying The Talent Code more (he shares tons of stories and experiences that students will relate to) and still taking away many of the key ideas that Dweck put forth in her book. I've heard that some teachers assign it as a required summer reading assignment. I may consider doing the same (or at least assigning an excerpt to be read in class or for homework).

The Smartest Kids In The World.jpgThe Smartest Kids in the World by Amanda Ripley
  • I'm not sure if reading this book directly affected my practice (maybe it did in subtle ways that I didn't even notice), but it did get me thinking about the larger issue of why American students are falling behind their international counterparts (according to PISA). Ripley highlights a few reforms that might have positive impacts on our state of education, one being revamping teacher preparation programs. If you're planning on leaving the classroom to tackle education at a larger scale, this is a good read. (It's a good read anyway, but may not be very instructive for those looking to improve their own craft.)

Visible Learning for Teachers.pngVisible Learning for Teachers by John Hattie
  • I read this book as part of a teacher book club. It really pushed my thinking in many dimensions of my practice as well as how to evaluate my own teaching. I would consider this a must read for any new teacher (though veteran educators will take away many things from this too). However, with so much information, it can easily become overwhelming if read alone, so I'd recommend new teachers read it with a coach or colleague.

mindset.jpgMindset by Carol Dweck
  • This book pushed me to think about how someone's mindset affects their ability to succeed. It's changed some of the ways I approach students, as I look to cultivate in them a growth mindset.

Excellent Resources for Science Teachers

Invitations to Science Inquiry.jpgInvitations to Science Inquiry by Tik Liem
  • AMAZING resource for Science Teachers (of all content areas)! Full of awesome demos (many of them discrepant events) that can be used to push students to think deeply about phenomena they observe. For each demo, he includes a step-by-step procedure, the explanation behind what is observed, and thoughtful questions for students.

Excellent Resources for Physics Teachers
  • Minds On Physics.jpgMinds-On Physics by the UMass Physics Education Research Group
  • Physics by Inquiry.jpg Physics by Inquiry by Lillian McDermott
  • PhysPort2.pngPhysPort has these and other research-based instructional physics resources worth looking at.


  • Modeling Instruction
    • This was of thinking has transformed the way I approach teaching physics. In 10 words or less: inquiry, constructivist, modeling, student-centered, multiple representations, coherent, arguing from evidence (okay, so that was 11). Even though this typically refers to science pedagogy, I believe this way of thinking can be applied to any content area.
    • The website above is the "home base" for modeling, but here are some blogs by expert modelers that I found useful for getting started (and everything else on their blogs is pure gold for physics teachers):

  • Flipping the Classroom
    • One of the things I'd like to dabble with this year is "flipping" the classroom. For anyone unfamiliar with that term, essentially the teacher creates and posts videos (usually lectures) that students watch at home. Students take notes like they normally would in class, except its done at home. Then, class time is spent applying what was taught in the videos. (There are many variations of this process, but this general structure can be found in most.) It's becoming (if not already) quite popular, even at higher education institutions like Harvard.
      • At first, it seems to me like this process would clash with the philosophy of modeling (students creating their own understanding and building their own models from experimentation and other in-class experiences), as it seems like the teacher would be imparting knowledge to students through direct instruction, thereby removing the students' opportunity to construct their own understandings and representations. However, if properly structured, maybe it would be possible to flip a modeling classroom, but instead of creating video lectures, one could create videos of thought-provoking demonstrations that students can analyze at home (or use ones like those that Eugenia Etkina has created). These videos might lead students to recognize the limitations of a model (and hence the need for further exploration), encourage them to start developing a new rudimentary model, or perhaps create a new representation for a current model. These ideas could then be brought to class and debated in discussions. The time that students would normally spend in my class thinking independently could be done at home, allowing more time for in-class discussion of the ideas brought forth. (In reality, some ideas only come about through discussion in the first place though...) Also, once a model has been developed, I sometimes find myself lecturing on some of the intricacies or practices that students either struggle with or may not have come up with themselves (or sometimes, even if a model was throughly developed by students, I like to make sure the important understandings are recapped). I (or my students) could create a video for students to watch and refer to during the deployment phase. Hmmm, I'm not quite sure where I'm going with this yet though - no sense in flipping just for the sake of it. Pacing is still the most significant issue I struggle with, and at times students who may not have internalized the models (or students who experience significant absences) request additional resources that they can use at home - maybe flipping can address these issues. More to come on this...
    • Some Resources for Flipping:
      • I got started by joining the Flipped Learning Network. It offers a bunch of resources for getting started.
      • Flipping Physics: I bet Jonathan Thomas-Palmer's students really enjoy his class. He seems to have that amazing combination of an obvious passion and dedication for what he teaches merged with an energetic, positive, and comical attitude that makes it hard not to want to watch his videos. He's thoroughly documented his experiences with and arguments for flipping, as well as how to get started with it. He has created a ton of physics videos that he graciously encourages his physics compatriots to use.
      • Dr. Lodge McCannon and Katie Gimbar has done quite a bit with the Fizz Method of Flipping Classrooms. Though Gimbar is a math teacher, many of the videos she and McCannon have created can be used by teachers of any content area. There are a bunch of websites that discuss their work, but I'd start with YouTube.

  • Standards-Based Grading (aka Competency-Based Grading & Mastery-Based Grading)
    • I started dabbling with SBG because I wasn't happy with the traditional gradebook structure that I was used to seeing (Homeworks, Labs & Projects, Quizzes, Tests, Final Exam). I remember that I would pull up my gradebook during parent-teacher conferences and (when asked about how their child was performing) say things like, "Well, your son/daughter is doing well with homeworks and labs, but can improve on tests." It occurred to me - what does that even mean? This gradebook structure didn't give students, parents, or me enough useful information about what the student has mastered and what they need to continue working on. Enter Standards-Based Grading!
    • Eventually, I led a workshop on this. I am by NO MEANS an expert - I just wanted to share something with other educators that I found helpful. Here's the guide that I created, chronicling my experience with SBG. At the very end of it are a host of helpful resources (books, links to blogs by expert SBG-ers, online gradebooks well-structured for implementing SBG).

  • Fellowships for STEM Educators
    • During my first five years of teaching, I was so focused on learning how to teach science that I almost forgot that science was something I used to enjoy on my own time. I quickly realized that it is equally important for me to maintain my passion for science as it is for me to get better at teaching. Fortunately, there are programs for science educators that will PAY YOU to do this! If you're not a science teacher, I imagine there are programs similar to these in all fields - try Google and see what comes up.


  • Education-Related Blogs that I try to keep up with when I can:
    • Grant Wiggins Blog Granted, and...
    • Hack Education by Audrey Watters
    • Lazy 0ch0 by Brian Palacios
      • Incredibly reflective, thoughtful, and motivated math & robotics teacher who is always trying something new.
  • STEM Teachers of NYC
    • I'm the only physics teacher at my school and sometimes I used to feel a bit isolated. I work alongside incredible educators, but very few could point me in the way of physics-specific resources. Thankfully, I came across STEM Teachers of NYC. This group is composed of educators of all STEM fields who are passionate about teaching, eager to grow, and open to sharing their work with other members. This group is largely responsible for helping me transform my teaching practice into what it is today. If you are a STEM educator in NYC (or somewhere nearby), you must join this group! (At the very least, join the listserv.
  • Edutopia


Below you'll find videos I've made, sharing some of the practices I've been working on in my class over the years. Feel free to email me with questions, feedback, or suggestions! (They may take a minute or two to load.)

Developing Dynamic Discussions

Let the Students Do the Teaching!