Wednesday, April 30, 2008

A Matter of Manners

Does anyone teach children manners anymore? As I spent the day in Disneyland today, I was amazed at the rudeness of children while their parents looked on. Will I sound like an old person if I say that my parents would have not let me see my next birthday if I did some of the things I saw today.

When people were trying to get out of a store or restaurant, children were pushing their way in with their parents right behind. When we on the train at one of the stops, I saw two teenage boys practically push an elderly man down trying to get in front of him to get a seat. Again, their parents were not far behind and nothing was mentioned about this. Of course I saw it as poetic justice that there weren’t enough seats for all of them and they had to go back and wait for another train while the elderly man had gotten a seat. Children who got cranky were hitting their parents or yelling at them.

I started to think of the simple manners that many of my students didn’t know but needed to be taught. Maybe their parents don’t know these either but someone has to break the cycle so I taught these simple rules. I first gave them these in writing as a reading assignment. Then we picked one a week and really focused on doing that one thing above all (but if they did the other things too, that was good!) I actually made it into a game and put their initials on the board at the beginning of the week and I would put a mark down each time I noticed if they did that one thing. Usually they let me know if they did it and I forgot to mark it down. At the end of the week, I would give a reward to the one with the highest score (library pass, HW pass, computer time etc.) If you have any to add, feel free to add them in the comments.

1. Chew with your mouth closed.
2. Let people off the bus/elevator before getting on.
3. Let people out of a doorway before you try to enter the building.
4. Hold the door for others.
5. Say thank you when someone does something for you.
6. Pick food out of your teeth in the restroom, not at the table.
7. Offer your seat to the elderly whenever there are no seats available.
8. Say “excuse me” when you burp or pass gas.
9. Say “please” when you ask someone to do something for you.
10. Look at people when they talk to you or you talk to them.

Photo credit: Mind Your Manners by Claire Wallace (1953) by Ann Douglas

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Making Molecules out of Froot Loops

The other day, @gkat was asking on Twitter about science lessons and it reminded me of one of my favorite science lessons. I’m sure I learned this at a workshop but I can’t remember who to give credit to but this is not an original idea by me.

I bought Froot Loops (or whatever brand that has the same colored loopy cereal), pretzel sticks, mini marshmallows, and peanut butter. On a poster, I glued a piece of cereal of each color on it and then labeled each one as an element. For example, blue ones are oxygen, red is hydrogen, etc. Now I was prepared to teach my lesson.

We would discuss what a molecule is and how different ones are formed. By this time, we have already discussed elements and periodic table. I also use this alphabetical list of common molecules for a reference.

Then I demonstrate making a water molecule by putting a red one on a marshmallow by using the peanut butter as glue. I do the same for another red one and a blue one. After all three are completed, I attach them together by sticking the pretzel stick into the marshmallow. Now the students have a 3D view of a molecule which really stands out in their minds. I give the students a list of molecules to make and a large piece of paper to place them on. For students who finish early, they may make their own creations but they have to write label it on the paper. When everyone is done, we look at all of the completed molecules to see if we can identify them just by looking at them. After the lesson is completed, the students may eat their creations.

My students have really enjoyed this lesson and I have done this on the elementary level and the high school level. Students did tend to want to eat the parts before the lesson so I actually had to allot them a certain number of marshmallows and pretzels. I think this is a fun way to learn molecules and students enjoy it enough to remember the concepts so it is pretty successful.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Biosphere 2

We went to the Biosphere 2 in Oracle, Arizona which is outside of Tucson. The tour cost $20 but they also give an AAA discount which helped. The tours are every hour on the half hour and well worth the money. I never knew much about this project so I was amazed to find out that eight people lived in this artificial closed ecological environment for two years. There was no exchange with the outside world other than electric and the sun. All water, waste, and air were recycled. All of the food was produced inside. The reason it ended was that the ratio of carbon dioxide and oxygen got out of balance due to soil microbes.

We were able to tour the inside facility and see the rainforest, ocean, and desert within this secure world. We also saw the water and air exchanges. I was truly fascinated with the “lung” with an expandable bladder. The apartments were two stories with the lower room as the livingroom and the upstairs was the bedroom. All of the inhabitants were single and had to pass psychological testing to see if they could get along with everyone.

The sad part that I found out was that in 2-3 years, they will destroy the Biosphere in order to make room for a major hotel and development of houses. I feel a piece of history will be gone when this happens. It is a shame that something like this will no longer exist to allow for more housing developments. I know we can’t stand in the way of progress but I was sad to hear about this. I feel this would be interesting and educational for students. Right now The University of Arizona is doing projects out there but that will end soon. I guess it is difficult to manage and maintain but surely there is some way that this can be used in an educational setting of some sort.

I couldn’t imagine living in that sort of isolated environment and it made me think of the reality shows on TV today. I guess that was a real live reality show because I’m sure they were observed most of the day. I saw a book in the gift store and forgot to buy it when I left so when I get home, I will have to find it. It is called “The Human Experiment: Two Years and Twenty Minutes Inside Bioshere 2” by Jane Poynter about living in the Biosphere. I’m interested in the point of view from someone who lived there.

I began to wonder what our students could learn from an experiment like this and think they would be interested in this concept. Since reality shows are the big hits on TV, this would have been an ultimate reality show with a purpose. It would be interesting to hear how students feel about a human experiment like this and the connection it has to the International Space Station. It would be great to compare and contrast the two environments. Of course, no one takes into consideration the human factor which no one can predict. I think this would be a successful lesson.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Arcosanti and Earth Day

We visited the “future city” of Arcosanti and I was amazed at the possibilities that were mentioned. I wonder if it will ever reach its potential. This project is the brainchild of Paolo Soleri who once studied under Frank Lloyd Wright and he hoped to mix architecture with ecology by showing a place where 5000 people could live on 25 acres of land by following ecological practices. I actually found out about this from someone on Twitter (I love the magic of twitter!) so we had to check it out. We went to the 10:00 tour because on that tour you can see them pour the bronze which I found fascinating. It was truly an artist’s community because I saw the ceramics shop where they make the bells by pouring the clay into silt molds. After it dries, they put it in the kiln to be baked. After seeing that, we went to the place where they pour melted bronze into the sand molds. It was amazing to see this molten stuff being poured and I can’t imagine how hot that must be to work with. Of course I had to buy 2 bells to bring home because they fascinated me.

Now I have to admit that I was a little disappointed because I had hoped to learn about ecological practices that they followed in order to show me how this community was different than an average apartment building in New York. I never really heard of anything different though. I was told an apartment is about $180 for rent but I never heard how these people worked in order to pay their bills. Right now there are about 70 people who live there including employees and volunteers. I would think after almost 4 decades, you would be able to have a more ecological sound community than I saw. It seemed to me like it was more focused on art than ecology.

This made me realize that Earth Day is here and how can I personally help the earth and how can I encourage students to help the earth. We have really got to do a better job with getting our children in tune with the earth. We have put those energy saver bulbs in our lights and we actually cut off our hot water heater when we don’t need it. I recycle plastic, paper, and glass. I also have a worm compost bin for food scraps and old clothes (they love cotton clothing!) and then I use the worm poop in my garden. This keeps the need for chemical fertilizers out of my garden too. We bought a hybrid car which not only saves on gas but also saves our money too!

If you have other neat suggestions, please let me know in the comments because I am really trying to be a model for students and hope to encourage other adults to do the same.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Take Me Out to the Ballgame!

The other night I went to my first Arizona Diamondback’s game and they beat the San Francisco Giants 5-4. It was a beautiful stadium with a retractable roof and it only took around 4 minutes to open that whole roof over the stadium. The day before we actually took a tour of the stadium (only $6 per person) and it was a fantastic tour. They even have a swimming pool and you buy tickets for the seats and the swimming pool all together! My favorite thing was the garlic fries that were covered with garlic (only cost $5.50). Yummy but smelly (for others, not me!) As I looked around me, I realized all the opportunities to teach math that are available at a baseball game. It was an exciting game and I can see why children are drawn to an event like this so why not use this in the classroom. It is a way to show real life examples for using math and I really believe that is what we need to do in order to be successful with teaching our students. Here are some suggestions and if you have any others, feel free to add them in the comments.

1. Player stats
2. Distances
3. Speed of the pitches
4. Concession stand prices
5. Souvenir prices
6. Ticket prices
7. Game attendance
8. Amount of food sold
9. Ratios
10. Percentages
11. Geometry

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Making Connections with History

The other day we visited the Montezuma’s Castle National Monument and they had a really good display in their interpretive center. There was a huge timeline against the wall to show when the cliff dwelling was developed and when each new stage was built. Above each time segment were listed other events in history that have happened at the same time. This was really effective in helping me put the whole chain of events into a frame of reference. In my mind the cliff dwellings were built during dinosaur times because the word “prehistoric” is used a lot in the descriptions. When I saw the time line, the cliff dwellings were completed at the same time Notre Dame in Paris was completed. That makes me think of a completely different period of time.

Maybe I should have been doing the same thing when teaching events in history to my students. If they don’t have some frame of reference to compare it too, it is hard to imagine when events were happening. Of course, this may add some time to our planning but we should be linking new skills and ideas to previously learned skills and ideas so that students can see a connection. This link helps the students learn new skills as well as retain the new skills. It is funny how this little think really stood out for my husband and since he thinks he was the worse student when he was in school, I really like seeing things from his eyes. After thinking about this I started wondering if I had put this link in my lesson plans. Even though I have a place for “prerequisite skills,” I never really placed as much importance on it as I should have. Now this puts it all in a different perspective and I think I will spend more time thinking about what I will like the new information to and how I will present this.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

How the Love of Animals Saved My Student

As I travel across the country and see young children and teens, I feel homesick for my classroom and remember some of my former students. I thought I might share with you some stories about them so I don’t miss them too much.

It was around September when T. entered my special education self contained classroom where students work towards an occupational diploma and not a state diploma. The only thing I was told was that she had witnessed her mother being killed by mother’s boyfriend, who then killed himself. When the murder/suicide took place in April, T. refused to leave her bedroom or go to school so she was put on homebound instruction. The grandmother then moved to my school district so she could have a fresh start and hopefully not be so afraid. This terrified me because I was totally unprepared to teach this eleventh grade 18 year old child who walked in my classroom with a stuffed animal under her arm. I was afraid of saying the wrong thing or triggering some flashback and wished I had some training in psychology during this time.

She barely spoke to me and only answered questions with one word answers and she looked as scared as I felt. I noticed that she liked to draw and asked her to draw for me. Her amazing artwork led me to make sure she was enrolled in an art class. Her academic level was much higher than it appeared due to her lack of communication with others. Since my eleventh graders have to do unpaid internships at a worksite, I was quite concerned about where to place her for work. The job coach and I decided that volunteering at the Humane Society would be a good place for her and her grandmother was notified. Grandmother did voice her concerns about whether T. would actually go and whether she would be able to do the job.

On the first day when the school bus was to deliver her to the job site, T. comes to me with her stuffed animal (I think it was Sonic the Hedgehog) and could barely part with this security blanket. I promised to watch and protect the animal and would have it close at hand when she returned. My concern was that she wouldn’t get on the bus but she did and it helped that the job coach met her at the job site when she arrived. The job coach stayed with her that whole first morning and T. would continue to go 3 hours each day for the rest of the semester. When T. returned, she had a shy smile on her face, retrieved her animal and went about the rest of the day. As T. spent more and more time at the Humane Society, she would smile more and talk more than I ever expected. She even stopped bringing Sonic the Hedgehog to school. I was very surprised when I got a call from the grandmother that T. had been invited to a volunteer dinner and they were planning to go. Her grandmother thanked me over and over for the miracle that took place in this girl’s life. Now T. talks at home, laughs, and even tells stories about school which is such a relief for the grandmother. When I called the Humane Society, they just raved about what a great worker she was and how well she worked with the animals and the workers. I believe she found the unconditional love that she needed from those animals.

As we prepared for the Christmas holidays, the students were excited about presents they might get and ones that they would give. I was amazed how sensitive and protective the class was towards T. even though nobody told them about the trauma she experienced. I knew this holiday would be hard for her and didn’t know what to say or how to comfort her other than to continue to brag about her academic and personal growth. Her artwork was fantastic and the art teacher wanted her in an advanced class for the next year. One day after class and before lunch, T. mentioned to me about her mother and what had happened. When I told her that my mother had passed away too a few years ago and how much I missed her, she just looked sadly at me and said that we were both motherless and needed to help each other. I agreed with her and she smiled as she left the classroom. At that point I felt confident that I hadn’t further damaged this sweet girl by doing any more emotional damage in her fragile life.

During the second semester, I changed T.’s job assignment to only three days at the Humane Society and two days at a local nursing home. She was not happy about the change but she adjusted. Again, she excelled in whatever she was asked to do and they loved her there too. I felt it was important to help her adjust to change while she had a support system because we couldn’t be there for her forever.

Even though I don’t teach her this year, I have followed up with her current teachers. She is now in a paid employment position because she has to earn 360 uninterrupted paid employment hours to graduate. It seems that she is doing well and continues to flourish. When I think of the miracle that took place in her life during the year I had the privilege of teaching her, I am truly glad that I went into the field of teaching and was there to see it all happen.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Can Learning be like having a fear of heights?

As we stood around the rim of the Grand Canyon, my husband and this other lady started up a conversation. They both were talking about their fear of heights and how they wished they didn’t have it because they really wanted to hike in the Grand Canyon. My husband has been a real trooper during our trip because he has tried to overcome his fear because he knows how much I really wanted to hike down into the canyon.

Meanwhile, this lady’s husband and teenage son were talking to me about our family member’s fear of heights. This dad told me that their son kept scaring the mom by going to the edge and pretending to fall, which made her fear even worse and asked if I had any words of wisdom to give to his son. I mentioned that I let my husband lead down the trail and just encouraged him and tried to be sensitive to his fear. I let him know that we could turn around at any time his fear got too much for him and we would try another day. When he got to places that were too open for him, I would get beside him to steady him so he could get through the tough places. If I had teased my husband or rushed him on the hike, the whole thing would have been over and he would have refused to even try. I mentioned to the teenager that by scaring his mom, the trip could end abruptly and he needed to think about his ultimate goal. Was it to scare his mom and get a good laugh or to actually do some hiking and enjoy the trip? The teen actually listened to me and said he never thought of it that way.

Of course this made me think about my students fear of learning. How many times have I tried to push them too fast and not think about their comfort level? Could I have been more sensitive and encouraging? Maybe I could have broken tasks down into smaller steps for them to be successful instead of overwhelming them with the whole thing. I have seen some teachers ridicule or humiliate students and this saddens me. No wonder these students just shut down and refuse to work. My husband is always telling me that “you get more flies with honey than you do with vinegar” and it really is true. When things get too tough for my students, I need to find a way to stand beside them and steady them in order for them to get over the rough patches. Maybe they will be more successful with learning new things and willing to try to learn more.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Useful Information In and Out of the Classroom 04/18/08

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!

Write On is “Write On is a professional development project whose goal is to improve composition skills for grades 3-5 through a school-wide writing initiative based on the Four Square Writing Graphic Organizer developed by Judith S. and Evan Gould.”

Izzit offers “compelling educational DVDs, current events lessons, and unique games and contests.” I like the link to the free current events lessons.

Grammar helps fight bacteria interesting article about how biologists fight backteria.

SERCH – stands for Southeast Research Clearinghouse and their purpose “ is to promote space science awareness and enhance interest in science, math, and technology through the use of NASA's SMD mission data, information, and educational products.” If you click on the special needs section, there are some interesting science links there.

Virtual Worm Tour – take a virtual tour through the inner workings of a worm.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Learning is like Hiking in the Grand Canyon

When you are walking down into the Canyon and then having to hike back up, it gives you a lot of time for reflection on many things. Since teaching is my passion, I ultimately turned to reflecting about education. Of course I had to share my reflections with my husband as we hiked to take his mind off the edge of the cliffs, since he is afraid of height. I was amazed at how many children were on the trail and the different attitudes many of them had.

I felt that learning was a lot like hiking in the Canyon because it has its ups and downs. Hiking down into the Canyon was relatively easy, even though there were lots of rocks you had to step over, ice patches you had to carefully step across, and even muddy patches that were pretty mushy. Looking at the awesome views made all those small challenges worth it and encouraged us to keep going in order to see what is around the next corner. Learning should be like a downhill hike where it has it challenges, but is encouraging to students to keep on going to see what is around the next corner. Once you accomplish your goal of reaching your destination, you turn around and hike back up to a new destination. Learning should be the same way. Once you achieve your goal, you should have a new goal to attain. Of course, now that you have learned how to learn, the uphill may be a little more challenging but not impossible.

My husband compared learning to kinetic energy. Kinetic energy is defined as the energy of motion whether it is vertical or horizontal. Just as we hike down the Grand Canyon, we need to hike back up to get to our final destination. He felt that learning involved constant motion and we are not stationary. I liked that comparison too. In fact, I was pretty impressed at this deep thinking considered he was probably consumed by the fear of falling into the bottom of the canyon!

The children that we passed showed many different emotions. Children going downhill expressed excitement and curiosity. They did not seem to have any fear of falling, slipping, or having anything dangerous happening. That is how they should feel about learning. On the way up, there were some children who whined, complained, and had to be threatened to continue. Some parents took plenty of breaks and encouraged their children on the way up while others yelled and threatened their children. These children seemed to enjoy the hike so much more than the child who was miserable. Isn’t that the way it is with learning? Some parents seem to be more encouraging and others use a stronger method. But the amazing thing was that when we saw many of them back at the top, they all seemed thrilled to have made it and all negative feelings were gone. That reminds me how graduation always feels when I’m around the students and their parents. The students have reached their goal and it really doesn’t matter how they were pulled or pushed to get there, the celebration is that they made it.

Now I wonder how I can use this knowledge to be a better teacher. I feel like I should make learning fun, exciting, with some challenges so that when the students have to make the uphill climb, they will have the skills and knowledge to make it. I also feel that if we take our time and are encouraging to our students, they will enjoy the journey of learning so much more. Maybe this will make me a more successful teacher.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Lessons in the Grand Canyon

As we camp and hike in the Grand Canyon, I started thinking how many personal life experiences would make great classroom lessons. These would be better than using any textbook. My students loved to hear about my trips and exciting things that I have learned on my trip. This helped build rapport with them and really helped my classroom management. Sharing my memories of the trip excited me, and this excitement spilled out to the students. It was no longer a cut and dried lesson because this one involved feelings and real life events. This made me also think about the experiences that other teachers have and how we should be using others as resources for the same reason. I think that would also help with collegiality because you would be developing a better rapport with other teachers. Of course you would need to be a little detective and find out an interesting fact about a colleague (maybe they play an instrument or have an interesting hobby or have traveled to an interesting place) and then you can ask them to talk to your class about this. There are so many ways that standards can fit into this if you look because teachers need to be creative. This is not a new skill for teachers and teachers have been doing this for decades.

As my husband and I traveled, we started to brainstorm topics that could be taught from our trip to the Grand Canyon. Here is the list we came up with (but if you have other suggestions, please give them in a comment so we can all see them.)

1. Erosion
2. Geology
3. Colorado River
4. California Condor
5. Desert Habitat
6. Surviving in the Desert
7. Desert Animals
8. Desert Fauna
9. Navajo Indians
10. Hopi Indians
11. Petroglyphs
12. Pueblo Indians
13. John Powell
14. Fred Harvey
15. Mary Coulter
16. National Park Service

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

My 26 Keys to Student Engagement

Angela Maiers challenged others to create a student engagement alphabet in 26 Keys to Student Engagement and I couldn’t wait to give it a try. I hope you think about this and try it too. Here are my 26 keys (or ABCs) to Student Engagement:

Aspirations – we should help students work towards achieving their dreams.
Belief- we should help students to believe in themselves and not sell themselves short.
Courage – encourage students to find the courage to work towards achieving their dreams.
Depth – make sure that what we are teaching our students have depth and “meat” instead of just “covering” what is expected.
Energy – don’t squash the energy students have when they are excited about learning something new.
Freedom – give students the freedom to voice opinions in an appropriate way and to find their own “voice” in life.
Grin – grinning or smiling sure helps everyone through the tough times.
Happiness – encourage students to withstand peer pressure and work towards doing things that will bring themselves happiness
Ingenuity – teach students that if something doesn’t work for you, try to be resourceful and find a way that does work.
Jokes – sometimes telling a joke can break the tension of a bad situation. Sometimes humor can diffuse anger.
Kaleidoscope – humans are a mixture of little parts that are different but all part of the same picture. We need to embrace those differences and appreciate the big picture.
Love – If you truly love what you are doing, it will show.
Meaningful – if learning is meaningful, students will work harder to meet the objective.
Needs – everyone has different needs and we all learn differently.
Openness – teachers and students need to be open with each other and communicate with each other about problems in order to come to a resolution
Pride – students need to be encouraged to take pride in their accomplishments
Questions – students need to be encouraged to ask questions and not feel like they are an imposition to the teacher or the class for asking question.
Relevance – assignments should have relevance and not be busy work
Sincerity – students know if a teacher is not sincere. The amount and quality of work a student does is in direct proportion to how sincere they feel the teacher is.
Temerity – students need to be willing to push on and not give up when learning gets tough.
Understanding – teachers need to understand where the students are coming from in order to best meet their needs.
Vibrancy – this enthusiasm for learning and teaching will go a long way in the classroom.
Welcoming – every classroom should be welcoming to every student who enters.
Xcellence – teachers and students need to strive for excellence, not perfection.
Yen – students begin school craving knowledge and we need to nurture this yearning.
Zippity doo dah – the feeling students (and teachers) get when they “get it!”

(I am writing this outside my tent at the Grand Canyon, watching the sun come up. I definitely have that zippity doo dah feeling! Forgive me if I don't post every day because I'm having a hard time getting connected)

Friday, April 11, 2008

Useful Information In and Out of the Classroom 04/011/08

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!

The Ultimate Multiplication Tables Video Game is a “A cross between Quake (without the violence) and Myst, players must solve multiplication equations to defeat monsters and get around the cave.”

Starfall “is a popular Web site for new or struggling readers. It uses Flash-based movies and interactive games to help kids learn phonics, vowel sounds, and other reading basics. In addition to word recognition, Starfall also teaches kids to read with tone, inflection, and expression.”

The Periodic Table of Elements – “These colorful, fun, and informative periodic tables are great for elementary, middle, and high school students, as well as adults.”

Pink Monkey – “Over 450 Free Study Guides/Book Notes/Book Reviews/Online Chapter Summary/Notes/Analysis for literature titles.”

Technology Assisting Literacy Knowledge – great lesson on making predictions

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Using Videos to Teach Social Skills

I knew my students needed to learn social skills but I needed a way that was interesting and not insulting to their age. Luckily I found a way to connect videos with this skill that would keep my students engaged. Each unit (video plus lesson) took about 2 weeks to complete during our 50 minute class periods.

First I had to choose which videos I would use and what skill I hoped that they would learn from this video. I needed to plan this very carefully because I needed to get administrative approval and parental approval for my students to watch videos in class. Parents were sent a letter about the project and told that they would be informed on the skills being taught so they could also work on it at home. Many people see watching videos as a way to get out of doing class work and only use it as a reward but in my class of special education students, videos are an important instructional tool. I had students all in one class with a variety of disabilities and needs so I needed to find the right videos that could teach a variety of skills and be able to show the administration that these videos were necessary for my instruction. Some videos that I chose were Finding Nemo, Remember the Titans, Big Daddy, Miracle, To Kill A Mockingbird, Field of Dreams, Ice Age, Fly Away Home, The Outsiders, Rudy and Renaissance Man. I didn’t plan to use them all, but wanted a variety to choose from depending on my class make up and what social skills I wanted to work on.

Before we started watching any videos, I gave the class an overview of the plan and what the objectives were. They were also told that if the objectives were not met, we would discontinue the project of watching videos.

As an introduction to the video, I introduced the basic concepts and conflicts presented in the film. I also gave a short summary of the video if anyone had not seen it before (usually my students had seen the movie I chose before so I didn’t need to do this.) After viewing the video, I would ask the students to discuss the plot. Then we would discuss the essential components of the video such as type of conflicts, personality traits, motivation for actions and decisions, and their outcomes. Students would write about whether they agreed or disagreed with the character’s actions and why they felt this way. I would then put them in groups (I made sure each group had a mixture of ability levels) to discuss their opinions.

The next step was for the group of students to create, perform, and videotape a skit about a specific social skill. In order to do this, students got into groups and chose parts of the film they found interesting that demonstrated the social skill. Students personalized the events by relating it to an event in their own lives and how they may have acted. The fun part began when students dramatized the personalization through a skit or puppet show and had to write a script for all group members. It was amazing to watch how sensitive the group members were towards others with reading weaknesses or had an extreme fear of performing. Students videotaped the dramatization so it could be reviewed and analyzed. When all the groups had performed and were videotaped, the class watched the videos in order to critique them. Students offered feedback on feelings, actions, and consequences. It was also a time to discuss whether the action taken was appropriate and if not, what other actions could have been taken.

I was extremely pleased with how successful these lessons were for my students. Even though they may have seen this video, they were looking at it from a different perspective. By personalizing the event, students were able to look more objectively at their behavior in relationship to the video. This also helped them take criticism of their behaviors less personally and could discuss consequences and more appropriate actions that could have been taken. The students reacted favorably to the assignments. Parents were kept informed about the lessons and what skills we were working on so they could be reinforced at home whenever possible. Sometimes students came into class to share how they had acted differently since using their new skill. It is times like those that made me feel happy with choosing to be a teacher!

Photo credit: Untitled by mixergirl

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Carnival of Education 04/09/09

The 166th Carnival of Education is on the midway hosted by The Elementary Educator. There are links to lots of great articles to read there. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do!

Finding Your Wings in the Classroom

In Finding your wings, Biology professor Burton Guttman has written a book called Finding Your Wings: A Workbook for Beginning Bird Watchers (NYC: Houghton Mifflin; 2008). He talks about learning two major concepts from his students about learning: “first, people learn best by actively participating in the learning process and second; people often try to learn at the wrong time.” He decided to use his teaching experiences to design a workbook that teaches beginners how to watch birds in the field. He first teaches beginning birders to learn how to see and observe wild birds. He teaches students to look for specific features. After learning basic features, he suggests you learn common birds first and then more details before moving to learning birdsongs.

There are other important chapters included in this book. One chapter discusses proper birding techniques and etiquette. Another chapter describes how to properly use your binoculars. The last half of the book focuses on "problematic groups”…all of which I have described as those birds that teach us all a little humility when we get somewhat uppity because of our growing knowledge base.”

I’m sure by now you are wondering what this has to do with teaching. When I read this article, I wondered if this is the process we should be going through when we teach a new class. I also read a new teacher’s blog tonight: Confessions of a Rookie Teacher and was thrilled to find out that I have been able to help this person in some way after meeting many months ago. Of course with this thrill came a sense of responsibility that I feel to support this person and hope those of you who read my blog will find time to go by and encourage her too. I began to think of something I could say that might help her and ran across this article. Since Andrea is also into nature (we met on a local hiking trail as we did trail maintenance together), I thought I could relate this article to teaching.

Before we can best meet the needs of our students, we need to take a moment and learn how to see and observe students. We need to look for basic features like:
· Which students are more productive early in the day? Later in the day?
· Do the students prefer to work alone or in groups? If in groups, is it just social or are they also productive?
· What is their home life like? How many siblings? Both parents at home? Are they the oldest? Youngest?
· What is this student’s strengths? Weaknesses?
· What motivates the student?
· Which students are the leaders?
· Which students use avoidance behaviors to keep from doing work? Why?
· Which students have personality conflicts?
· Which students complement each other when paired up by strengths?

Once you have this information, you might be able to use strategies that work for those with common features. Students who prefer to work in groups might work better together. You also might be able to pair students up by looking at strengths and weaknesses, which could complement each other and focus on each student’s strength. Leaders could also be used to help others. If you know why a student is trying to avoid an assignment (by possibly acting out), you might be able to get past the behavior and adapt the assignment in order for them to be more successful.

Proper teaching techniques and (teacher/student) etiquette is also important. As for techniques, keeping in mind that what you are asking students to do is relevant to learning and not just busy work is important. Techniques will be refined as a new teacher gains more and more experience and is in constant evolution throughout a teaching career. Making sure that students see a clear line between the teacher/student relationship is essential to a long successful career. Too many times I have seen a new teacher try to be the students’ friend. Remember that students have enough friends, but not enough good teachers.

Proper use of equipment is also essential to a successful teaching experience. Learn what new tools are out there and learn how to use them. More than likely the students already know how and would be thrilled to help you learn how to use it. Build a professional learning network (PLN) that can help you keep abreast of new technology, strategies, and techniques that are effective in the classroom.

“Problematic groups” could be described as those students “that teach us all a little humility when we get somewhat uppity because of our growing knowledge base.” I remember as a beginning teacher, I thought I could change the world! Now I look back and I’m almost embarrassed at my simplistic way of thinking. Don’t fall in the trap that I did. It is good to dream and have big dreams for your students, but don’t think you know it all just because you have learned the newest things. Many of the experienced teachers have survived (and possibly even flourished) in their career by finding effective ways to deal with problematic groups. Don’t be afraid to go to them for advice and suggestions (no one said you had to follow the advice but it will help you look at the situation from a different perspective which could open up possible solutions you never thought of).

I hope some of these suggestions will help new teachers find their wings in the classroom and have a successful teaching experience!

Photo credit: Bird of Prey by Oliver Scott

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Building Bridges of Learning

In “There’s Nothing Like” Thinking, Bill Ferriter mentions following a conversation between some others where “…neither completely buys the idea that technology is having a positive impact on teaching and learning, instead wondering whether or not technology is reducing the number of "real-world" experiences that our students have or decreasing our commitment to human relationships and the natural world.”

Immediately I thought of some of the collaboration happening between students from around the world. I am reading about projects where students from different countries and cultures are using Wikispaces, Ning, and Skype to communicate with each other in the Horizon Project 2008. Christine Southard and Lisa Parisi used wikispaces for collaboration between their class in New York and another class in New Zealand to compare the Northern Hemisphere and Southern Hemisphere in Comparing Hemispheres. As I get excited thinking about the possibilities, I wonder how anyone could think technology reduces the number of “real-world” experiences. I believe it could open up the world for our students and with the right teacher (with administrative support of course) the opportunities and possibilities are endless.

Vicki Davis (Cool Cat Teacher) talks about what she Overheard today: “We don’t live in tents!”:
“One of my extremely excited and talented assistant project managers for Horizon Project has set up an appointment to instant message the project manager in Doha, Qatar today. They had an appointment for 8 am and 12:30 noon! (Uhm -- we got out at noon for spring break!).As they made their intros and said hello, first she exclaimed to the class:
"Hey, guys -- they go to school on Sunday through Thursday."Another one of my students didn't "get" what she was saying and said, "Let them just TRY to make ME go to school on Sunday.""No, you don't understand, she said, their weekend is Friday and Saturday."
Now this is interesting because I had told my students this... in fact, I have told them multiple times, however, it was this exchange that got their attention. It was this exchange that TAUGHT them!”

Personally, I have connected with other educators in the “real world” through blogging and Twitter. These have led me to live online professional development sessions that I wouldn’t have had if I had not been using technology. Through my own professional learning network, I have found tools that can connect teachers with teachers, classrooms to classrooms, students to other students, and cultures to cultures. Maybe this is the first step towards world peace. I feel a lot of hatred and intolerance is due to ignorance and what better way to get beyond that by connecting with other cultures and learning about the real people in these worlds.

I truly believe that technology is definitely increasing our commitment to human relationships and the natural world. Like anything else in our world, if abused or not used right, it can be a negative thing but as teachers, I feel it is up to us to show our students how to use it to build bridges to the rest of the world. I believe our students can be successful in building the bridges to learning!

Photo credits:
Misty bridge by Ron Layters
Brooklyn Bridge by Simply Schmoopie
Sydney Harbour Bridge by Ben Harris Roxas

Monday, April 7, 2008

Should Learning Be Fun?

Mark Pullen asked in his post Working hard vs. the joy of learning, Is learning supposed to be hard work or a joyful process? Or is it not an either/or situation? I also read another article “The Neuroscience of Joyful Education” which was very enlightening and states, “The truth is that when we scrub joy and comfort from the classroom, we distance our students from effective information processing and long-term memory storage. Instead of taking pleasure from learning, students become bored, anxious, and anything but engaged. They ultimately learn to feel bad about school and lose the joy they once felt.”

I think that learning should be a balance of both but that might be because learning is hard work for me but I love learning. For my special education students, learning is very hard for them and by the time they reach the high school it has been a traumatic experience. They cannot imagine learning being fun because it is such a hard struggle for them.

I usually start off the year by giving assignments that they can be successful doing. This may need to be accomplished by using technology or peer tutors. I will take whatever steps necessary the first couple of weeks for my students to be successful. Since their self esteem is already so low, many of them feel like they shouldn’t bother trying since they think they will fail anyway. I start off on emphasizing that the effort is what is important during this time and they will receive credit for how much effort they put into the assignment even if they get all of the answers wrong. This kinds of shocks them but I tell them it is like exercising. We need to build up to working on accuracy but right now we are focusing on endurance. After 2 weeks, they feel more successful and willing to take some risks. I have also established a rapport and some trust within our relationship. They have learned that I will not humiliate them or degrade them if they make mistakes and will not let others do so either.

Now I start focusing on their individual weaknesses and try work on building them up so they cease to be weaknesses. I explain to the students that they will be working on different skills because just like people who grocery shop for different foods because they have different needs, we will do the same in the classroom. Students seem to respect this view and are more respectful to others with different weaknesses. As they find success in their work, many students are excited about learning more new things as long as I don’t overwhelm them. I have heard from many parents that their children are coming home smiling, talking about school, and even looking forward to going to school for the first time. I remember being in elementary school where I had a great third grade teacher who made learning fun for me and I think it stuck with me and I wanted my students to feel the same way as I do about learning. They may never feel the enthusiasm and love that I feel for learning but if they could feel that learning is not something to be terrified or avoided, I would be happy.

Some teachers have disagreed with me about my process in doing this because they don’t have the time to do this. I feel that we need to make the time in order to make the rest of the year more productive. The students are more receptive and willing to learn which would make a teacher’s life much easier. That rapport and trust will go a long way when the student is being taught a difficult skill and feels frustrated. I know this strategy has worked for me for many years and might not work for everyone. How do you provide successful opportunities for your students or do you even do this? Please share and let me know.

Photo credit: Learning to Fly by firma

Sunday, April 6, 2008

2008 Multicultural Summit - CEC conference

2008 Multicultural Summit – Culturally Diverse Exceptional Students: Remembering the Past, Looking Toward the Future
Boston, MA
April 5, 2008

The panel addresses disproportionate representation among culturally diverse exceptional students. They focused on research and best practices in assessment, public policy, research, curriculum and instruction, and teacher preparation for culturally and linguistically diverse students with exceptionalities.
Please email me if you would like to see my detailed notes.

1. Achieving Equity in Special Education: History, Status, and Current Challenges
Russ Skiba - The Equity Project at Indiana University

2. Elizabeth Harry
University of Miami, FL

3. Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Students in Gifted Ed
Recruitment and retention Issues

Donna Y. Ford (Vanderbilt)
Tarek C. Grantham (
Gilman W. Whiting (Vanderbilt)

4. Beyond Research On Cultural Minorities: Challenges and Implications of Research as Situated Cultural Practice

Kathleen King - Arizona State Univ.
(There were more but I had to leave early to go to the Teacher of they Year luncheon).

Friday, April 4, 2008

CEC Conference 04/03/08

Here are some pictures from the conference. Tonight will be the Yes I Can Awards where we give awards to our special needs students (and I usually end up crying after seeing their courage and amazing abilities). The highlight of last night was getting to meet my Twitter friends (see bottom photo of Christine Southard, me, Beth Lloyd, and Karen Janowski)

Thursday, April 3, 2008

CEC Conference Keynote: Henry Winkler

First, I have to say, that I’ve never met a celebrity more approachable, personable, who acted like one of “us”. He did not put on any airs or act like he was even famous. I can't imagine how many pictures he took but he was overly accommodating and didn't act like he minded one bit. I grew up watching Happy Days and like all young girls, had a huge crush on “The Fonz.” Of course I may never wash my cheek again since I did get a big hug from him!

Even though Henry Winkler suffers from dyslexia, he graduated from Emerson College and Yale University. His speech was enlightening and extremely motivating. Speeches like this made me glad that I was a teacher and he made me feel like I have made a difference in someone else’s life. I wrote down some things that he said that really moved me and I hope you will feel the same.

“When you have a negative thought, it becomes a sentence, and then a paragraph…”

“Don’t put a period at the end of a negative sentence. Don’t finish a negative thought because it can’t grow.”

“If you will it, it’s not a dream” – was on a metal cutting that he was given.

“Chinese proverb: All the flowers of tomorrow are the seeds of today. “
“Teachers are the watering can.”

“We have to make the most of ourselves because we only get one chance to do something important or it will remain undone forever.”

“Take action when children are young enough and give them strength enough to fly.”

“When things get rough, brush yourself off and get right back up.” He mentioned how he always felt like those punching bags with sand in the bottom and each time it was hit, it bounced right back up.

“You’ve got greatness inside you and how you learn has nothing to do with that greatness.” Tell this to children who are having problems with learning.

Another thing to tell children, “Figure out what your gift is and give it to the world.”

He told his children, “I don’t care what the grade is as long as you are trying.”

Mr. Winkler says we should keep telling children “You’re great!”

“If people keep telling children they are stupid and they believe it, why not tell them they are great and get them believing that instead.”

“Art is not an afterthought.”

“Sometimes the arts are the only way that unlocks a child to be all that they can be.”

Photo credit: Henry Winkler, The Fonz by Spike55151

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Is Homework Necessary and How do I Grade It?

In the article
The weird homework thing we do”, Mrs. Bluebird talks about a successful homework technique she uses in the classroom. This reminds me of my homework technique that I use that has also worked for many years.

First I want to share with you my philosophy on homework. I know that there are many different views on this topic, but I feel that homework teaches responsibility and independence. Homework is used as a reinforcement of the new skills learned. I also used homework as a team building assignment so it served many purposes. As a special ed teacher, I had many students with low self esteem and since they already felt separated from the general education students, they felt they were too “stupid” to do homework. By giving them homework, I was making a statement that they could do this work and could do it on their own without my help. I explained that even general education students sometimes had trouble with their homework and the students needed to come to me for re-explanation or go to a peer for help. Either one was acceptable. I gave homework every night of the week except Fridays and holidays, unless either they died or I died (that always got a smile on everyone’s face). Parents and students knew what to expect and no one had to ask, “Is there homework tonight?”

I would assign homework and even do a sample question or two if they were math problems. Sometimes I would ask them to write paragraphs about a specific topic. When I collected it at the beginning of the class, they could go on to their first assignment (which was usually a review of the previous day’s skill). If they did not have it, they would have to do it before they did anything else and they automatically lose 20 points. It didn’t take long for them to learn that if they were going to have to do it anyway, they might as well do it and get the full credit. If they pouted about doing it and took too long, they did not get their regular work done and would have to return during lunch and bring their lunch to my room in order to finish their work. Their names would go on the board until their work was caught up. If they came to my room for lunch two times in one week, we called their parents together during lunch to explain the situation to them (students hated this!). After the first month of school, I usually had no problems with getting homework turned in on time.

When I would give math homework I liked to break the students up into groups of my choosing. I would mix abilities in the group and let them choose their own group name. A chart was made with each group’s name on the chart and a place to tally up points. Students would do their homework at home and when they came to my class, I would check to see that their homework was completed. If they completed their homework, they could get in their groups to fill out a new homework sheet for the group. If they didn’t, they would not be allowed to get in their group until they completed it (and automatically lost 20 points). The group would discuss the answers and fill out the new group paper to turn in for a grade. Each person in that group would get whatever grade was on that group paper (the person turning in work late lost 20 points though). Ten percent of this grade would be the amount of points they earned and at the end of 10 math homework assignments, the group with the most points would receive a prize. These are the prizes they could choose from: a free homework pass for 1 night, eating and drinking in class for one time, library pass after work is complete, computer time if their work is complete, listening to CD player or Ipod after work is done.

My students were very receptive to this homework policy and the parents were also. They supported the lunch detention also because many of my students rode a special bus to school and could not serve after school detention. The only other option would be for the parents to have to pick them up after school or the student would be suspended (and get out of doing homework) so this plan worked for all of us. Since students were not getting a zero on homework, their grades also improved compared to previous years. Once they started being successful, many did not get a failing grade the rest of the year.

photo credit: outsourcing your homework by inju

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Using Skype in the Classroom

In the article, Reach out and touch someone, Damien talks about how he used Skype in his Honors British Lit class.

I have talked from my home near the mountains in South Carolina to another teacher across the state near the beach in South Carolina. If this doesn’t amaze you, maybe my conversation one morning with another educator in Australia who needed help testing out her Skype before she had a conference. I find this amazing because I never would have imagined talking to someone on the other side of the world and all for free!

In the Horizon Project 2008, students from around the world analyze, compile information, and share their predications based on the report in a "Wikinomics"-style mass collaboration. The Horizon Project 2008 teachers use Skype to conference and discuss logistics about the project and I am fascinated by listening that there are people from all over the world that participate in this conference by using Skype. If nothing else, just listening to all of the different accents is wonderful. Eventually the students will be conferencing using Skype to collaborate on their specific project. When I see all the different adults and students involved in this project, I can see that Skype is a necessity for this to work.

When I am on twitter, I see lots of calls for collaboration from teachers looking to collaborate with people from other countries. This is a great opportunity for students to learn about other cultures and social expectations. What better way to teach tolerance and cultural diversity!
I just wonder why more classrooms are not using this free tool. Is it because it is blocked in school districts? Or are teachers afraid to try it? If it is not blocked, how can we more teachers using Skype?