Monday, December 31, 2007

Teachers Lounge – Avoid or Visit?

So many times as a young teacher I have been told not to go to the Teacher’s Lounge but I think that is wrong. I think I should have been told not to engage in gossip and negative talk but a lot can be gained from going to the Teacher’s Lounge. My last school did not have a teacher’s lounge so a few teachers would meet in my classroom to eat lunch every day. I also had a Get Together on the last Friday of every month (Let’s celebrate the last Friday of the month!) in my room for everyone who had 7th period planning with me. I asked them to bring a snack to share and just come to my room to relax. I usually had a big group of teachers from all different subjects, levels of experience, and ages who joined me and we had a great time! I think there are more positives than negatives to the Teacher’s Lounge and this collegiality should be encouraged.

1. You can be inspired by new ideas.
2. You get to know other teachers to add to your support system.
3. You can bounce new ideas off of others.
4. You can ask more experienced teachers some questions.
5. Procedural questions and confusion can be cleared up.
6. You can laugh to relieve stress.
7. You can feel like part of the “team” which relieves stress.
8. You can learn what other teachers are doing in their classrooms and adapt it to yours.
9. You can get discipline ideas for your classroom.
10. You can share your personal life with others.
11. You can share dreams and ambitions with others.
12. You can learn new crafts and hobbies from others.

Sure there are bad things about the Teacher’s Lounge but I think that is true about any profession. You just need to make sure that you don’t engage in the gossip and negative thoughts. The good reasons definitely outweigh the bad ones to me. If you can think of any other positives please let me know and if you disagree, feel free to comment too. Thanks for reading!

Friday, December 28, 2007

Useful Information for In and Out of the Classroom 12/27/07

Here are some interesting sites that I’ve found interesting this week. As a teacher, I feel we have to keep up to date concerning research in our field and current issues in the education system. I hope some of these inspire you, inform you, and even have you asking questions. Thank you for coming by and visiting!

Child Studies May Ease Fears on Misbehavior - interesting article but I'm not sure that I agree with it

10 Must-Read Books for Educators – from Homeschool 2.0’s blog. I’m going to check out some of these books

The Golden Compass Lesson – Great lesson to go with the movie. Plans and activities are included

Funbrain: educational games for students with option of many different levels

Results of a survey of teachers on NCLB - I am going to send this to my legislator

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Don’t Take It Personal

I have seen too many teachers crying over how the students have treated them. I really believe that you can’t take what they say personal. This may sound bad but sometimes children are like in animals in the way that you cannot show fear. They sense it and will go for the throat and eventually it will drive you out of teaching. If they can figure out what pushes your buttons than you are in trouble. I have had many students tell me that they hated me or thought I was a terrible teacher but I replied that they didn’t have to like me in order for me to do my job. I got paid whether they liked me or not and I was going to do my job the best that I could. In fact, I told them that if they didn’t like me that I knew I was doing a good job. They have enough friends but not enough teachers and that was what I was. I have even had students act better in my class than others and when questioned, they say it is because they know I won’t cave in to their behavior. Students know who the strong teachers are and who the weak teachers are and they also talk amongst themselves so the word carries. I was proud of the reputation I had for being a tough teacher but they also knew that I was a fair teacher which is important. You cannot be so strict or tough that you are unreasonable or tyrannical because then you will have a reputation of just being mean. The main thing that I strived for was to be fair to all of the students and to do my best which usually satisfied my administrators, my student’s parents, and myself.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Holiday Stress Relief

As teachers, we tend to put ourselves under more stress than other people. We feel responsible for our own families plus our school families. At this time we are more aware of our students and their home lives because of the holidays and want to make this time a happy time for them. Yet, our families want more of our time also and we feel pressured to do certain traditions so we feel stretched to the limit. Be careful at this time not to spread yourself too thin. Remember you can’t save the whole world but if each of us saves a small bite, eventually we can all make a difference. No one expects you to be perfect and do everything so don’t try to do it. It took me many years to realize this and actually experience some health problems before I accepted that I couldn’t do all and be all for everyone. Here are my suggestions to get through the holidays.

1. Make lists and prioritize. Ask yourself if the thing listed has to be done immediately or can you do it some other time. If it can be done some other time, put it on a different list.
2. Life is too short so stop worrying about the small stuff. Ask yourself if anyone a year from now will remember the thing you are worried about. If not, don’t worry about it.
3. Enjoy today. If you are stressed out about the future then you can’t enjoy the present.
4. Cherish people and not things. Think about the people you are around and really enjoy them because they might not be with you next year.
5. Step back and take a breath. Emotionally distance yourself from whatever is stressing you and look around. Breathe the holiday scents. Experience the holiday decorations. Rejoice in the holiday feelings.

I will be offline next week so I want to wish all of you Happy Holidays, Merry Christmas, and a Happy New Year!

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Scale Model of the Solar System

I did this when I was in high school and even college and I still remember it after many (and I do mean many!) years ago so I believe this lesson really made an impact on me. Exploratorium’s Build a Solar System lets you put in the numbers and calculates the distances for you. When I was in college, we made the scale model as we went but for my special ed students, I did it all before class. Then we walked the model and I explained as we went. This helped put the solar system in perspective for them. You will not only need to know how far to put each “planet” but you will need to get objects that show the planets at scale size also. I also notified the administration and janitors what I was doing so they didn’t throw these items out. Once placed, I put the label of the planet by them also which helped them recognize these things. When I begin the lesson, I give the students a fact sheet that identifies the planet, the actual distance from the sun and the scale distance from the sun. The classroom holds the object for the sun and then we walk out from there. Of course before we start walking, we go over ground rules for behavior outside the classroom. My students were so intrigued by this that they stayed close to me and was totally engaged. We didn’t spend a lot of time at each planet (because you end up walking a pretty long way from the “sun” in one class period) so that is why it is important for you to plan this ahead of time. If you don’t place the planets ahead of time, at least know where you will place them when you get there so you don’t waste a lot of time. I had students help me by “looking” for the planet after telling them where I placed it. They felt like they were on a treasure hunt. The day after doing this scale model, I would have my students research different planets and then make hanging mobiles for our classroom using Styrofoam and paint. On another day the students would present their research through a poster or a PowerPoint presentation. All of these lessons helped students with all different learning styles because it is visual, auditory, and tactile-kinesthetic. This is why I think this lesson was so successful.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

A Teacher Who Inspired Me

It was about 1974 and my life changed the year I had 9th grade Algebra. My teacher was the strictest teacher that I’ve ever had and she scared me to death! Every night we had a bunch of math problems and each day we took turns putting our answers on the board. I think this class was the best class that I ever took in public school because I learned so much. Not only did I learn about algebra but also about life and how much I admired this teacher. As soon as I learned to read I have always wanted to be a teacher, so I spent a lot of my learning career seeing what I thought a good teacher should be or not be.

Keep in mind that I was the only Chinese girl in my classes which already set me apart from everyone else. My father worked in a Chinese restaurant and was the only person who worked in our family of 5. My family also followed strict Chinese customs which was very different from the average American family and I was embarrassed whenever my two lives overlapped.

I remember it was the beginning of winter and while we put our math problems on the board, my teacher talked about personal hygiene. She never singled anyone out but stressed how important it was for young men and women to bathe every day and use deodorant. Other important lessons in life were shared and she treated all of us like young adults. I think she even knew how shy I was and never embarrassed me in class but one day she asked me to stay after class for a minute. She just wanted to let me know how much she loved the clothes I wore which had me speechless. You see, my mother had to make most of my clothes because money was tight and I always envied the other teenagers who bought all these neat clothes that I couldn’t. This teacher gave me the attention that I craved and never even knew I craved it. Maybe she heard other kids making fun of me but I never knew about it. In fact, she came over to my house for dinner one night and my mother even made her an outfit for school. Of course this made me the star of the class instead of being the odd one with a family of strange customs.

I have always kept this vision in my head as I taught. I hope that I can touch a student’s life in a positive way, the same way this teacher made an impact in mine. It’s amazing that this happened in my life over 30 years ago and it still is a strong memory for me.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Random Information

I thought this was an interesting way to find out more about the people who write the blogs that I read on a regular basis. I was tagged by Joel of So You Want To Teach so here is my information.

The rules are:
- Link to the person that tagged you and post the rules on your blog.
- Share 7 random and or weird things about yourself.
- Tag 7 random people at the end of your post and include links to their blogs.
- Let each person know that they have been tagged by leaving a comment on their blog.

1. I have played an accordion since I was about 4 years old.
2. I love to hike which is odd because growing up, I hated to get dirty or do anything athletic.
3. I love playing on my computer and can do it for hours at a time!
4. I love to travel and have been to Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean, Japan, England, France, Italy, Croatia, Spain, and China. I am trying to talk my husband into a trip around South America.
5. I love to read and read even when I’m eating breakfast, lunch, or even riding in a car. This sometimes drives my husband crazy because I won’t get my “nose out of the book.”
6. I hate to talk on the phone.
7. I love to learn new things and right now I’m learning to crochet.

I am tagging:
Angela Maiers
Homeschool2.0 Blog
School of St. Jude
The Tempered Radical
Going to the Mat

Monday, December 17, 2007

Geography Research

I love for my students to do research about other countries. I make sure that no one has the same country so they can’t copy answers from each other. Of course my students do not know how to organize the information they found so I give them a worksheet with the information I would like for them to complete. They use this to help them when they are making a poster or a PowerPoint presentation using their research. Many times I have seen teachers tell their students to do research on a topic but they don’t teach them what information they should look for. How many times have you had a student just copy things out of an encyclopedia hoping that somewhere in that “mess” you will find the answers you want in order for them to get a good grade? Once I teach my students to focus on certain information, they are more engaged in the assignment. I have them do research on a country about every other month. First I use the worksheet as a guide for the first 3 times (name of country, population, language, religion, food, landmarks, exports, imports, government, flag and anything else interesting), then I don’t give them a worksheet after that but I just ask them the name of the country and then ask them to list 10 major facts about the country. Sometimes they will even help each other with what to look for so I know they are remembering what I consider important. When they are done, we display posters and PowerPoint presentations around the room for a month. Sometimes I will throw in a bonus question on a test using information from the work so my students usually look over the displays.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Student Trivia Contest

My students have enjoyed having a weekly trivia contest where they have a chance of winning a prize (usually a homework pass). I put up 5 trivia questions about our state and the students have all week to find the answers. They turn in their answers and the ones with the right answers gets put in a drawing for a prize. The winner is pulled every Monday when I go over the answers before the new questions go up. When I first started, only a couple entered but once the winner got a prize, more and more entered. Soon the whole class was in the contest. Sometimes they give each other the answers but sometimes they don’t but it doesn’t matter to me because they are talking about new information and hopefully someone is learning something new. A couple of times the students have debated with me about the right answers and I have had to “prove” that my answer was correct or I would have them “prove” their answer was correct. It only takes a few minutes of class time every Monday but I love to see the excitement in their eyes and they hate when I don’t have a contest during exam time.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Cashing Checks at the Bank

I couldn’t believe how many of my students did not know how to cash a check at the bank. Many of them have parents who use the check cashing stores which charge them to cash a check. Unfortunately many of these students and their parents do not have a bank account and are terrified about opening one up. There are also the ones who have been in trouble for writing bad checks and can’t open one up. So, I had to find out how to help my students from getting ripped off. I explained to them that they could go to the bank that was written on the check to get it cashed at no charge. I also told them to expect the tellers to tell them that it could not be charged there (this has happened to me many times) but to insist on speaking to the bank manager (which I have had to do also). If the check was written originating from that bank, they have to cash it. I feel it is important for my students to feel empowered and not allow others to take advantage of them. This is also a great lesson to teach them how to ask for a supervisor in order to complain without getting belligerent or rude. My students are always amazed at this and to top it off, I bring in a guest speaker who is a bank manager to reinforce this lesson. He also brings in checks to show them what to look for. If at all possible, I take a field trip to the bank. My students enjoyed this whole lesson because it was relevant to their everyday lives that they could use and even tell their parents about this.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Creating a Transition Plan

There are 3 main steps to creating a transition plan:
1. Identify the student’s preferences and interests
2. Identify the agencies and resources that may be helpful in planning the transition
3. What does this student need?
 Assessment that identifies current strengths, needs, interests, and preferences
 Development of job and job placement options and awareness of skills needed
 Matching of student and job
 School and work based training and preparation
 Placement and follow along

The completion of high school is the beginning of adult life. Students can choose to go to a 2 year college, 4 year college, or go into the workplace. For students with disabilities, these choices may be more complex and may require a great deal of planning. By law, transition planning must start once a student reaches 14 years of age, or younger, if appropriate. This transition planning becomes a part of the student's Individualized Education Program (IEP).

Transition services are intended to prepare students to make the transition from school to the world after school. In planning what type of transition services a student needs to prepare for adulthood, academic ability, vocational ability, living arrangements, and transportation need to be taken into consideration. There may be other issues that are important to each individual student also. Teachers should integrate this into their lessons throughout the year.

Students and families should take active roles in preparing to take responsibility for their own lives once school is finished. Students will need to organize their own lives and needs and learn to navigate among an array of adult service providers and federal, state, and local programs. This can be an overwhelming task that the students and their families need to prepare for.

I am amazed at how many of our students do not learn the everyday living skills needed for when they graduate. As a special education teacher, I have taught budgeting, checking accounts, sewing buttons, cooking simple meals that a regular education teacher doesn’t have the time to do because of standards, testing, and other requirements. My school hasn’t taught home economics in years so I’m not sure who will be teaching the students these skills. If they have parents who work, the parents don’t have time for this and the school doesn’t have time for this so the student ends up losing. I don’t know how other schools do it, but our guidance counselors ended up with the heavy burden of making sure the students took an economic class that would help cover some of these skills. Luckily I was able to write these needs in an IEP and was required to teach these skills.

I had a mentally disabled student who I worked very hard with in getting a job. He had this job during his senior year so I could work with him on his job skills. Luckily he did an outstanding job and the employer loved him. Unfortunately I didn’t do so well with teaching him about leisure and recreational outlets when he wasn’t working. During school, he had friends and a support system which ceased to exist after he graduated. After he graduated he was calling me every day he wasn’t working because he was so lonely. Even though he had 2 loving parents, they had jobs to go to and couldn’t entertain him so that when they were at work, he was cooped up in the house. I encouraged him to seek out his pastor and see what volunteer opportunities were available for him and if there was transportation available also.

With the economy going downhill, it is getting harder and harder for many to find jobs so it is important for our students to start thinking early. They need to realize the route they choose will affect their whole lives.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Teaching Patriotism in the Classroom

I remember when I was in school I learned the Star Spangled Banner, My Country Tis of Thee, God Bless America and many other patriotic songs. It seems like teenagers today do not know them at all. After taking a trip to China for 30 days about 10 years ago, I learned to appreciate my country better and still get a little teary eyed when I hear the national anthem sung at huge gatherings. During my travels, I notice that most countries really instill a sense of patriotism for the country in their young people but the US does not seem to be doing the same. I know that we have Freedom of Speech and Freedom of Religion but do people not realize that we have that because we live in the USA? Other countries do not have the same freedoms that we do. I feel that as teachers we need to help instill this in our young people. It amazes me when I go to ball games and other gatherings where people do not take off their hats or stand for our national anthem. I am also amazed by how many young teachers do not stand for the pledge in front of their students and even talk during this time. They should be role models for the students and show them how to respect other people’s rights even if they do not say the pledge. I truly respect their right not to believe in the same things that I do but I feel that people should respect my flag and my country by removing their hats and stand. We need to teach students that they need to do the same thing when they visit other countries too. Even at the Olympics when they play the national anthem of the country who won the gold medal, all athletes show respect by being silent and standing for this. I don’t feel it is so much of making students value and believe everything we believe in but I feel we should teach and expect them to respect the rights of others by doing this. My special education students learned the Star Spangled Banner and many even memorized it which made them proud since many of their friends in regular ed classes couldn’t do that. I also did a lesson on the first flag of the USA and about Betsy Ross. I explain why we have a flag, what it represents, and how to show respect when handling it. All of my students loved these lessons and I know from some that I’ve heard from 20 years later that they remember these lessons too. What kind of patriotic lessons do you teach in your classroom?

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Using Your Travel Vacations As Lessons

My husband and I love to travel so I can’t tell you how many videos or photos I have taken for my classroom. It also gives me a different perspective of what I’m seeing when I think about looking at places through my students’ eyes. A majority of my special education students will never get to go far from home so I feel it is important to show them what is outside of their world. Hopefully it will inspire them to achieve more, expect more, and want for more.

I took my video camera on a cruise once and taped everything I could. Showing this is like watching the Travel Channel except more personal. Believe it or not, most students are very interested in what teachers do during their personal time because it makes their teacher more human. I think this is so important when establishing a rapport with students.

Other times, I have taken loads of digital photos and showed it as a slide presentation. I took so many photos though that I saved it for the last 10 minutes of class each day until I showed them all. The kids really worked hard so they could watch the show because if they didn’t finish, I moved them to a spot where they couldn’t see the photos.

A lot of times we come across people of different cultures and this is a great way to open up a discussion about that culture. Many people love to tell me about their culture so I learn a lot in the process. When I share this information with my students, they feel that I’m learning right along with them! I feel that the more we expose these students to different cultures so they understand them better, there will be less prejudice in the world. Prejudice comes from ignorance so education is the key.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Teaching Cooperative Learning

My students received an occupational diploma which means they had to learn how to get a job and keep a job. The hardest problem my students had was learning to work together and I think this was true for most students, not just special ed students. When I talked to employers about what skills they wanted me to focus on in my classroom, the most popular response was to teach the students how to work as a team. The employers felt they could teach them the necessary skills to complete their job but they didn’t have the time to teach them how to work together in order to get a job done most efficiently and effectively. Unfortunately, I have seen this with many adults in education and outside of education also.

When I introduce cooperative learning, I explain that this skill will be practiced all year long. Like any sport, the more you practice, the better you get at it. We talk about assembly lines and car manufacturers and how each person has to do their job and pull their weight or the final product will not be of high quality. We also talk about other jobs where employees work as a team and the things they do to show this. This always lends itself to a lively discussion! This is also a great time to explain that we don’t always have to like the people on our team but we do have to learn to work together in order to get a job done.

When I put the students in groups of 3 and I have them assign a job for each person. One person is the timekeeper (keeps track of the time allotted for the job), one person is the recorder and writes everything down, one person is the manager and keeps everyone on task. I rotate around the room as they work to make sure they are on the assignment. I also change groups at least once a month so they learn to work with different people.

At least once a week, I give them a problem to solve. My favorite one is to give them 5 items and tell them to make something with it. Then they have to present it to the class and explain its function. Sometimes I will give them a problem work situation and have them come up with a solution. The students are reluctant at the beginning of the year but after about a month, they seem to look forward to these group lessons.

I also videotaped these lessons at least once a month and it was interesting to see how much they have changed by the end of the year. By teaching cooperative learning, I hope they are learning some skills in order to have successful careers.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Technology for Children

On the news the other night they announced that technology items are the toys of choice for children this Christmas. They showed a 3 year old with his own Ipod and I was so surprised that he was able to use this. In fact, the mother said he knows more about it than the parents. These young children do not want the fake or childish technology instead wanting what their parents have. So, is this a good or bad thing? They also mentioned that children don’t use their imagination anymore and the mother said she wasn’t sure if this was good or if she should make him play in his bedroom with his stuffed animals. I have heard others say that all of this causes children to “get” attention deficit disorder. Others say that children lack social skills from too much technology. Another news clip I saw said that obesity is caused by this because children do not get enough exercise and play on videogames. I just talked to a man who said he bought his 4 year old his own laptop because the child wanted to use dad’s computer too much.

I think like in all things, we need to shoot for moderation. Some children could lack exercise if they sit and read a book all of the time so it isn’t just technology. Just like some parents limit exposure to TV, as parents we need to help our children have the opportunity to do things that will help them grow up to be healthy people. I feel that technology is extremely important to children because that is the way the world works. It is like learning a language when they are children, which is much easier than when they become adults. Learning to use computers when it is fun and new and exciting is much better than when they are in high school and have to take computer tech classes as a requirement for graduation. I also think we need to encourage them to get away from the computers to play with other children and to get outside and enjoy nature. I can say this from experience because I am a computer junkie. If I could, I would stay on my lap top 24 hours a day. I usually make myself do household chores before I get on the computer or time slips away from me. I also go hiking at least once a week. I do not let my computer rule my life but I have seen where it could do this.

What do you think? Is technology good for children? If so, at what age do you get them for children?

Monday, December 3, 2007

In Your Bag of Teacher Tricks…

Actually, I was trying to come up with a title for this post and couldn’t think of a creative one. This is basically the activities you come up with when your lesson ended faster than you expected. Sometimes I think I have a difficult lesson and then everyone seems to understand right away and finishes early. Or I thought I had an easy lesson and then no one seems to get it. This means you have to regroup and think of something different (otherwise known as monitor and adjust). Plus you don’t want to give your students too much free time or chaos could possibly reign. I remember being observed by an administrator when my lesson ended sooner than expected and luckily I was able to do something that enhanced my lesson that I hadn’t originally planned to do. Here are some things I have done to help during this time.

1. Use vocabulary from the lesson or subject and play hangman.
2. I keep flash cards made up with questions to help them study for tests. The answers are on the back. I ask the students questions and if they get the answer right, they keep the card. The one with the most cards gets a prize (usually a free pencil, pen, or eraser and sometimes candy).
3. Have the students come up with questions and answers for the flashcards from the lesson that day. They write down 2 on a piece of paper and when done each person tells his question and answer. You collect these papers and use the ones you want.
4. Talk about a social dilemma and have students discuss the appropriate way to handle the situation.
5. Give drawing paper and have them draw a picture to summarize the lesson.
6. Have them number a piece of paper 1-5 and have them write down 5 things they learned in class today.
7. Have them discuss things they could do for further research on your topic of the day. Have them explain why they think it is a good thing to do and how it could be evaluated (would it be graded on content, spelling, number of facts, etc?) Students love to give their input on things like this and are excited when I use their ideas.

If you have a “bag of tricks” like this in your mind, you will always be prepared. Nothing is worse than looking like you are unprepared in front of students because they will know this and take advantage for all its worth! If you have any other ideas, please comment on it so we can add more to the list.