Friday, January 30, 2009

Useful Information In and Out of the Classroom 01/30/09

Here are some interesting sites that I’ve found this week, thanks to my PLN. 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!

XtraNormal – make text into movies

Tar Heel Reader - “a collection of free, easy-to-read, and accessible books on a wide range of topics. Each book can be speech enabled and accessed using multiple interfaces (i.e. switches, alternative keyboards, touch screens, and dedicated AAC devices). The books may be downloaded as slide shows in PowerPoint, Impress, or Flash format.”

Open Culture - “explores cultural and educational media (podcasts, videos, online courses, etc.) that’s freely available on the web, and that makes learning dynamic, productive, and fun. We sift through all the media, highlight the good and jettison the bad, and centralize it in one place.”

National Geographic Kids Expedition – here is a contest for you class to win trip to Peru. Enter by February 5, 2009. Students from age 9-14 write a 300 word essay to enter along with a photo taken by the student.

10 NASA Inventions You Might Use Every Day

Original image: 'Tools' by: Josep Mª Rosell

Thursday, January 29, 2009

The Transporters – A Review

I recently received the DVD, The Transporters to review (I’m not being paid to do this) and I think it was a great resource that parents and teachers should have. You can read more about them by going to the website The Transporters and see a sample video also. According to the press release this is “the brainchild of Professor Simon Baron-Cohen, a leading world authority on autism and produced in association with his research team at the Autism Research Center at Cambridge University, United Kingdom.” The DVD has five stories that are about 15 minutes long, interactive quizzes at the end of each story, and a 36 booklet to help you use the DVD in the most effective way. There is a link to buy it on the website and for US buyers, it costs $57.70.

Many of the students I taught lacked social skills due to their disabilities and one of the reasons was that they were unable to understand other people’s feelings. They could not decipher the expressions on their faces and understand the emotions that other people were feeling. At inappropriate times, my students would laugh when another person was sad or angry. This caused many problems in relationships with other students and teachers. We spent a lot of time working on social skills because that was necessary in order to be successful in any given situation.

The characters in The Transporters involve different vehicles of transportation with real people faces on them. As they go about different situations, we can see their faces as they show different emotions. Each story line focuses on a different emotion and we can see how different faces look like when they show this emotion. I really liked that the faces were of people different ages, gender, and races so that a student could relate emotions to different types of people. They would not think that an emotion is only related to one type.

I know this is geared to students who are diagnosed with autism but I think it is also a great resource for children with mental disabilities. I have taught students who have had these disabilities and I think the predictability of the characters in these stories along with faces that will become familiar are helpful in teaching students these skills. My students with autism loved videos that weren’t too over stimulating and The Transporters fit the bill. The stories are not too long either so students won’t get bored watching them.

I also like at the end of each story, the students can take a quiz. There are two choices: easy quiz (with two choices for answers) or hard quiz (which had three choices for answers). Students love having choices but not too many so just having the option of picking which quiz is good for them. I like how the quiz is given orally along with pictures to go with the emotions which reinforces the words to the facial expressions.

I could see this being used as a group or individual lesson. For students who need more practice, they can watch the story again if necessary. According to the research given in the press release, “after 15 minutes a day for four weeks, most children with autism caught up with other children in their ability to recognize emotions.”

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Carnival of Education 01/28/09

The 208th edition of the Carnival is up on the midway at The Reading Workshop! Don’t miss out on all the fun! See what is going on in the Edusphere. My article on Better Than Winning is there but there are lots of other great articles to read too! See you there and don’t eat too much cotton candy!

The View is Different from Here

T J Shay writes, “I try very hard to never look at what everyone else sees wrong with a kid. I always try to listen to different opinions and try to care about them all....even the ones that are hard to like” in Sometimes You Have to Look from a Different Vantage Point. This brought back a lot of good memories of some of the different students who have touched my life.

I tend to gravitate to the kids that other teachers can’t stand. I guess because it brings back a lot of memories because I was always the misfit in school. I was too shy and definitely wasn’t the most popular in school. I was also the least athletic so I was always the last one chosen on a team in PE. I wasn’t the brightest bulb in the package so teachers didn’t consider me their pet student either. I felt like the poor relation because my mother made most of my clothes while everyone else had store bought fancy name stuff and they looked cool too! Let’s face it, I blended in the background and hope to stay under the radar so no one would notice me and it worked. As a teacher, I look for these types of kids or the ones that aren’t the “chosen” ones by the teachers because I really understand how they feel.

I see the “bad” student who drives the teachers up the wall and I consider it a challenge. What makes this student so “bad” and why is this student trying to portray this image? I really don’t think kids want to be seen as “bad” unless they are getting something out of it. If you search hard enough you can find out that they are seeking adult attention or using it as a defense mechanism to cover something else up but most people don’t want to spend the time looking for this.

I had a 15 year old student, J, who drove everyone up the wall because he couldn’t sit still or focus. I finally sat down with J and talked to him about his behavior and why he was acting this way. Apparently no one had ever done this before and after saying nothing was wrong, we finally got to the root of the problem. He had stopped taking his medication for ADD but hadn’t told anyone. J felt the medication made him too drowsy and he was missing out on all the fun his friends were having. Since he loved to skateboard, it also made his reflexes slower so he had trouble skateboarding which in turn made his friends laugh at him. We talked about how his behavior affected his classwork and relationship with other teachers and he understood it but felt like he was making the choice that worked for him. I asked Jif we could tell his parents and maybe they could relay these feelings to the doctor so his medication could be adjusted. He had never thought about that. You see, he was really a good kid, and he wanted to do right in classes but he also wanted to skateboard and have friends. After having a conference, the parents made a doctor’s appointment and did have the medication adjusted. Not only was the dosage changed but the times he was taking it so that by the time J was out of school, the effects were wearing off. This also meant he had to work harder at controlling his behavior towards the end of the day and he did. If I hadn’t been able to establish a trust with J, I don’t think he would have told me his feelings and we wouldn’t have been able to work out a solution. If I had only seen J as a “bad” kid and moved on to the “good” kids, what would have happened to him?

I remember many years ago a student named N at the my very first high school where I taught. N was really rough around the ages. She dressed like she was in a gang, and I had heard rumors that she had a drinking problem. Being a large girl, she was pretty intimidating, even to me. For some reason I felt drawn to her. She wasn’t in any of my classes but she hung around the area where my classroom was so we had a few conversations. One day she was really upset and I asked her if she wanted to sit in my room and get herself together and then I’d give her pass to her class. She looked surprised and later told me that no teacher had ever been nice to her. After that, she would always talk to me and I would ask her about her day and how things were going. When softball season was beginning, I happened to mention to her about it and asked her if she was going to try out. She looked at me like I was crazy! She told me that no one would let her play on a team and I was crazy for even thinking about it. Being a stupid young I-want-to-change-the-world teacher, I bet her they would if she was good enough. Not knowing that she took it as a “real” bet, she tried out. I don’t know what she would have done if I had lost but thank goodness, she made the team. There was an awesome coach who also could see beneath the tough exterior and think there was something worth saving in this girl. The rest of the team (and parents, I’m sure) thought we were nuts for encouraging her but we did. She played for the softball team for 4 years and I never saw any family show up to watch her play so my husband and I became her surrogate parents. She never missed a practice and her behavior improved in school (or she wouldn’t have been able to play). She still dressed and acted tough but you could tell she took pride in being on the team. Another teacher and husband took her under her wing and N. ended up living with them after high school. I was so proud of N and the team when they went on to regional softball champions for the first time ever. I feel this took place because there were some of us who were willing to look beneath that rough outside for the real person inside.

I challenge anyone who is reading this post to find someone who really gets on their nerves or is the outcast of the rest of the people you are near. This can be a student, a colleague, or even a neighbor. Look at the behaviors that drive you crazy and decide that you are going to look past that to find out the inside person. Begin with making some personal contact and act like you just met this person for the first time. Ask them questions about their personal interests. Maybe you will have something in common or maybe they will just appreciate you taking an interest in them. Look for something positive in this person. I’m not saying you have to be this person’s best friend or love them for life, but just find one good thing about them and try to focus on that when you are near them. It will rub off on them and maybe others too. You never know where this adventure will lead you!

Original image: 'Unexpected Tenderness' Tim Williams

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Newspaper Front Pages

The other day on Twitter, Cheryl Oakes gave a link to the Newseum Today’s Front Pages and it was all the front pages of newspapers on the day of the Inauguration. They chronicle events of historic significance. Then I began to think of how I could use this in the classroom because it seems like a wonderful resource!

1. It would be great to compare what the major news stories are from different states or regions.
2. If we were studying the parts of the newspaper, we could look at the different parts of the front page like headlines, dates, bylines etc.
3. Have different students summarize different front page articles from different states and share with the class. They would learn what issues each state faces.
4. Look at news from other countries to see how they perceive the US.
5. Have students share their opinions of different articles.
6. Discuss “point of view” and “bias” in news reporting.
7. Discuss what makes a good headline.
8. I can also view archived front pages so it would make a great history lesson about a specific topic listed.

Can you think of other ways I could use this in the classroom? Please share your ideas and comments. Thanks!

Monday, January 26, 2009

Chinese New Years – The Year of the Ox

In Cantonese we say, “Gung Hay Fot Toy!” which means Happy New Year!

Every year I would explain Chinese New Years to my students because they really didn’t have much information about it. I am always thrilled when my students eagerly ask questions and seem curious enough to learn about another culture. Many times I will see a cultural holiday on a calendar and try to do a mini lesson about it.

Here is some information that I remember when I was growing up:

Foods: In my family we always had chicken on this day because chicken symbolizes prosperity.
Superstitions: Our family cleaned the house spotless in preparation for the new year. On New Years Day we didn’t clean or take the trash out because you might throw out the good luck. Having a clean house supposedly meant that you would have a clean safe house the rest of the year.
Decorations: We had a lot of red things up because red symbolizes good luck. Firecrackers were set off to scare away evil spirits. Red envelopes with money were given to small children to symbolize lucky money. There was also a Dragon dance where young men would hold a big dragon head while others held the body of silk and there were drums to beat time.

The link gives some neat children’s activities to do on this holiday. I liked the magnet, the door hanger and the red envelopes. If you have time, I hope you try some of these activities.

Other links with interesting information and facts are given below:
Chinese New Years – great info on foods, decorations, superstitions
Chinese New Years (Wikipedia)
Chinese New Years (Infoplease)

Original image: 'Yum!' by: Claudia Scholz

Friday, January 23, 2009

Useful Information In and Out of the Classroom 01/23/09

Here are some interesting sites that I’ve found this week, thanks to my PLN. 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!

International Children’s Digital Library – “The mission of the International Children’s Digital Library Foundation is to excite and inspire the world's children to become members of the global community – children who understand the value of tolerance and respect for diverse cultures, languages and ideas -- by making the best in children's literature available online.”

SnapYap – “is a video communication tool that allows you to participate in live video calls, record video messages, and send and receive video emails with absolutely no downloads. Designed to be as straightforward as possible, the applications on make video technology available to anyone with a webcam and an internet connection.” I haven’t used this yet, but it says it requires no download which appeals to me.

Automotivator – “AutoMotivator is for making motivational posters or parody demotivational posters. You choose the picture, colors, and text, and we make your poster.”

100+Resources for Teaching Without Textbooks – “list of over 100 different resources — including websites, iPod lectures and field trips — that will encourage you to toss out your textbooks.”

Original image: 'Wrenching' by: Sara

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Sputnik Mania

I recently was asked to review the DVD: Sputnik Mania which can be found at this site for $29.95. (I am not being paid for this review but wanted to share with you my reactions to the video and my recommendation.)

The description reads:
“On October 4, 1957, the USSR announced to an unsuspecting world that it had launched the first man-made object ever to successfully orbit the earth.
Americans were stunned, then terrified. What had happened to our vaunted academic and technological superiority? Were the Soviets going to overtake us? Worst of all, could their satellites be used as weapons of mass destruction? The 1950s had been a heady time for Americans. Ours was the most powerful nation on earth, the leader of the free world. We were the best, the richest, the smartest – and we knew it down to our very core. Then came Sputnik.
SPUTNIK MANIA, from HISTORY™, vividly recalls the impact the satellite had on the American psyche, and how the shock catapulted the nation from complacency into action. Within the year, NASA was born, states instituted massive educational reforms, and a new breed of researchers – rocket scientists – focused on a single critical goal: winning the Space Race.
· DISC 1: Feature Program (approx 90 mins.)
· DISC 2: Bonus Disc (approx 90 mins.) features 5 films: Alert Today, Alive Tomorrow / Yankee Go Home / Communist Society / Laica / Missiles, Missiles, Missiles”

I grew up hearing about Sputnik but it was launched before I was born. This was a great opportunity to learn more about Sputnik and what impact it had on the United States. While watching the movie, I was surprised how much I didn’t know about this. It was really interesting and worth watching.

I think it would be worth showing students because this explains a lot about our space program and how it was influenced. I can see this being used to teach history, science, first aid, emergency preparedness, propaganda, media study, space, Eisenhower, rockets, NASA, and much more. I think what I liked most about this movie was that it wasn’t all technical boring facts but included how people felt during this time and how our country reacted. It brought in information from all different directions which gave me a much better picture of Sputnik and its influence on us. I loved seeing news clips from the past too which made it more real for me rather than just actors acting out history. There were 2 discs and the feature film was about 90 minutes long. The bonus disc also had some films and I liked the one about Laica, the dog.

If you are looking for a video for your school library or your classroom, I would highly recommend this video. If you aren’t a teacher, I still think you would enjoy this movie!

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Carnival of Education 01/21/09

The Virtual Inaugural Balls Edition of the Carnival of Education is up on the midway at Teacher in a Strange Land. Don’t miss out on all the fun! See what is going on in the Edusphere. My article on Survival Tips for Student Teachers is there but there are lots of other great articles to read too! See you at the Inaugural Ball in my finest outfit!

Learning and Knitting Socks

(Listen to this post as an mp3 file.)

Every year I try to learn something new and this year it is knitting. I have learned how to do the basic stitches required in knitting so I decided that I was going to learn how to make something useful. Socks looked like a small project and not too difficult so I went out and found a book with instructions on knitting socks. I studied the directions and read over each step and then reread it again and again. I remember growing up and not understanding things but my mother told me to keep reading it over again and it will make sense. I don’t care how many times I read the directions; I could not see how it would make a sock. I went online and shared my frustration with my virtual friends about the instructions. One person told me to just have faith, follow each step as it is written, and trust that a sock would develop. With a doubtful heart, I did what she said and to my surprise, I knitted a sock. Even though I made some mistakes, I was so happy to say that it looked like a sock and it even fit my foot!

As I was making this sock, I realized that sometimes our students must feel the same way. I teach them basic skills and expect them to know that when I teach them new skills, they will miraculously have a new end product. I teach the alphabet and sounds of each letter so I expect them to put it all together to read words, paragraphs, pages, and eventually books. I teach addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division and expect they will eventually understand fractions, decimals, algebra, geometry, and calculus. I expect the students to have faith and trust me enough to get them where they need to end up even though they might not understand how they are getting there. What a scary world this must seem to them! How can I help them with this process so it is easier for them?

1. First, I think I need to let my students know that I understand their limitations and ask them to have faith. Think about a personal experience to share with them so they know I understand. They need to know that I understand how it may seem strange to them but will eventually come together. This is a good time to share that some people may learn differently than others so we need to be sensitive to each other’s needs.

2. Make a task analysis of the skill I want them to learn. Explain the steps and model these steps so they understand how it will all come together. This is task analysis helps me not to forget steps or take things for granted. Sometimes it amazes me that I do things without thinking about them and forget about the little steps which are important.

3. If they don’t understand how it all comes together one way, I need to look for other ways to come to the same point. I shouldn’t insist that there is only one way to arrive at the correct answer. Sometimes I ask other students to help explain something for me and it helps a struggling student when it comes from the point of view of their peers.

4. Building trust with the students takes time and I try to develop a rapport with them. I ask about their personal hobbies and interests and I ask to see pictures if they mention something special that has happened. Sometimes it helps to talk about their struggles in other classes (not with other teachers but subjects). Sometimes seeing it from a different perspective can help them. I try to ask them questions that show my interest and concern.

5. I need to celebrate with them when they accomplish their goals. Even if it may seem small to me, it may be something big to them and I need to recognize it. Knowing that I am proud of them for doing something right or meeting a goal or having success in something will help their self esteem tremendously. This in turn will help them attempt things that may seem difficult for them.

6. If all else fails, sometimes you need to table the instruction and come back to it later. Just like an engine can get flooded when you are trying to start a car, we can overwhelm our students to the point they will shut down. When I get frustrated, sometimes I have to put it down when I am in a calmer state of mind. My students need to know that this is okay but it is just as important that they know it is also important to finish what they started and not give up.

Do you have any other suggestions, ideas, or comments? Please let me know.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Reducing Homework Stress

(Listen to this post as an mp3 file.)

In 7 Stress Reducing Strategies for Dealing with Homework, Erin King gives some great suggestions for parents to follow in order to help their child become successful with homework. This had me thinking about what teachers could do to help their students reduce stress. Sometimes as a teacher, I take things for granted. I assume that all students have a support system at home but that isn’t always true. Many students come from homes where parents are working more than one job to support the family. These adults do not have the time or the energy to help their children with homework. Though I may feel that school is a priority, I can not control the situations that the students live in. In fact, I can only control my own behavior so if I truly want my students to be successful, I need to think about what I can do to be supportive of my students.

Write it down – Don’t just tell the students what the assignment is but have it written down on the board or the handout. If it is on the board, ask that each student write it down.

Check for Understanding - Explain the homework and have students repeat the directions back in their own words.

Make sure it is legible – if you give a worksheet or written assignment for homework; make sure it can be read easily. I have seen some teachers give sheets with the print so small that you would need a magnifying glass to read it. Others are so hard to read, that you could not make any sense of the sheet. Have students look at the sheet and ask questions if necessary before they leave.

Give Examples – make students have some examples to copy down to refer to when they get home. Parents will appreciate this too so they can see what answer the teacher is expecting.

Have a Rationale – don’t give homework just for busy work. Make sure there is a valid reason for the students to be doing this assignment.

Assess it – there are many different ways to assess this homework. Some may choose to just check that it was done. Others may want to correct it and give an actual grade. It really doesn’t matter how you assess it but most important of all is that you do assess it. If the students see that it isn’t important enough for you to assess, they will not bother to do it or do it correctly.

Give Sincere Praise – when the students turn in homework on time, give plenty of praise. It may not seem like much but for the ones who took the time to do it, they will appreciate it. It always seemed to me that the ones who didn’t do the homework got most of the attention. So. to get the attention, it would make sense not to do the homework. Instead of perpetuating this attitude, reward the hard working students with praise. Hopefully the others will want this attention and actually do the homework.

Can you think of other ways that teachers can relieve homework stress? Please feel free to share!

Original image: 'Stress' David Friel

Monday, January 19, 2009

Better Than Winning

(Listen to this post as an mp3 file)

When I read this article, There are some games in which cheering for the other side feels better than winning, it warmed my heart. I know helping others is important but sometimes I need to be reminded to not sit back but to take action if necessary. This coach asked fans and cheerleaders to cheer for the other team. The other team had a losing record but that isn’t why the other coach asked people to do this. This other team was from a maximum security prison and had no one to cheer for them or encourage them or to even give them hope. They weren’t used to people being nice to them and even expected to see fear and disgust and yes, even hate.

Sometimes there is more to the game than winning. When I saw this story, I was amazed at how people can make change. It took one person to ignite this change and to ask people to help implement it. But what a risk this coach took! How many people thought he was crazy when he asked for their help? How many people thought what he asked was wrong? How many people thought these kids just get what they deserve? Yet, there were enough people to know that this was the right thing to do. They had the courage to know it was important to do this and were willing to do it no matter what. We don’t know what long term impact this can have on those kids but I’m willing to bet it made a difference to many of them. Maybe they will see themselves as valuable human beings and be able to turn their lives around. We just don’t know but we can never give up. We need to always hope that a little hope from us will make a difference in someone else’s life.

After reading this story, I didn’t want to just store that story away and leave it at that. I began to think of my own community and how I could make a difference. I might not have a situation like this but I know there are many kids in the community who have given up or lost hope. One way I plan to do this is to help organizations who help kids and adults who need encouragement. I plan to do more free workshops at schools, the Literacy Association and Parent Advocacy groups. With the knowledge and training I have, many people can benefit from this but with the economy in its current state, can’t afford this. I am already scheduled at a school this month to help train teachers in using Voicethread to reach students of all levels. Since many schools are affected by budget cutbacks, they are thrilled to have someone volunteer to give free workshops. I am also giving two presentations in Charleston, SC at the South Carolina Council for Exceptional Children’s conference. One will be on PBwiki and another on Survival Tips for First Year Teachers.

I have added a Donate button on this blog (it is on the sidebar on the left) for anyone who might want to help me because since I’ve retired, I do not have free access to a LCD projector or a copy machine. Luckily I have been able to beg and borrow to some sessions but it is getting more and more difficult. I have looked at grants for education but all of them require you to be a K-12 classroom teacher so I would not qualify. If you have any suggestions, please let me know. Thanks!

Original image: 'LOVE EACH OTHER' by: Ari Moore

Friday, January 16, 2009

Useful Information In and Out of the Classroom 01/16/09

Here are some interesting sites that I’ve found this week, thanks to my PLN. 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!

Grammar Ninja (Thanks to Chris Prout) – fun grammar game

Mapness – “A place to share your travel experience. Your online travel journal. Show on the map where you’ve been and what you saw.”

Go To Freebie – “makes it easy to find and share the hottest freebies, free stuff and free samples. GotoFreebie offers useful and quality free samples and giveaways on everything from baby and healthcare products to games and music.”

Study Stack – “Find data to study or add your own data. Study and play with data online as flashcards, hangman game, crossword puzzle, matching, word search, or word scramble. Study anytime/anywhere by printing data or exporting flash cards to your cell phone, PDA, or iPod.”

Johnny Money Online Game – “is a FREE Internet-based small business simulation game that engages students as they explore the risks and rewards of business ownership.”

Original image: 'Beautiful Tools' THOR

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Instructional Ipods

(Listen to this post as an mp3 file.)

Christina shares a video about using Ipods in the classroom in her post Introducing Ipods into Special Education. It was a great video and it got me thinking about ways I would use it in my classroom of high school students who were getting an occupational diploma.

I think this would be a great way to show task analysis of different behaviors that the student may be weak in. It could be social skills or job skills. First I would plan all of the steps and then model each step. This could be videotaped and copied on the Ipod and the student could review it as many times as necessary. When one of my students start a new job, all the procedures that would be done could be modeled on a video and the student would be able to know which step to do next and how to do it. As an employee goes through the correct steps, it could be videotaped and discussed. Then the video could be put on the Ipod for review as many times as the student needs it. It would also be available if another student gets a job at the same place. Cooking skills could be taught the same way. Each step of the recipe could be videotaped and replayed as necessary.

Math lessons could be videotaped and played on the Ipod at home. This is especially handy if the student can’t remember what step to do next. Or the parent might not understand what procedure the teacher is asking for and the parent would be able to look at this also. I have had some parents who enjoyed learning new skills with their child because they wouldn’t have to admit that they didn’t know something.

I would think it would also be a great way to video tape a lesson where many of the students are absent due to some other activity. I have had half my class on a field trip or away on some athletic activity but I still had to teach a lesson to the rest of my class. The lesson would already be taped and when the absent students return, they would be able to see the same lesson and the same discussion that occurred.

Many parents may find seeing what goes on in the classroom useful. They will get to see the teacher in action and may find a closer bond with the teacher this way. If there is a closer bond, parents and teachers tend to work more as a team to help the child be successful.

These are just some ways I thought of using the Ipod in the classroom. Do you have any other suggestions? Please let me know.

Original image: '"Studying for class"' Jake Bouma

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Carnival of Education 01/14/09

The Carnival of Education is up on the midway at Education Examiner. Don’t miss out on all the fun! See what is going on in the Edusphere. My article on The Winter Blues in the Classroom is there but there are lots of other great articles to read too! See you there and don’t eat too much cotton candy!

Connect the Dots

Click here to listen to this post as an mp3 file

In Cheeseburger and a Coke, Mr. Teacher tells about his frustration with getting students to rhyme words with the short vowel sound “u.” Of course this brought so many memories of conversations that have gone in all different directions that it would have made you want to put on a seat belt to keep from falling out of the chair. After years of experience, I learned not to get frustrated with the direction but to grab an oar and help paddle the boat! Here are some funny (but true) conversations that were heard in my classroom.

Me: Today we will talk about being a dentist and what the job requirements are. We will be having a dentist come in and talk to us this week also.
J: I’ve been to a dentist! They had to pull my tooth
M: They pulled my tooth once.
B: When they pulled my tooth, they had to give me gas.
R: Well, my mama’s beans give me gas!
K: I heard they got a pill that can stop you from having gas but isn’t that like stopping you up?
S: Our sink was stopped up so we had to call a plumber last nite.
Me: Okay, so today we will talk about plumbers and their job requirements. Maybe I can get a plumber in this week…

Me: E., why are you late to class?
E: My bus just got here.
Me: If you were on a late bus, they give you a pass. Where is your pass?
E: I left it in my mama’s car.
Me: Wait! If it is in your mama’s car, how could you have been on a late bus?
E: Cuz it didn’t get here on time.
Me: You know I really get mad if you are lying to me!
E: I’m sorry (he looks at his feet). I shouldn’t have lied. The pass is on my dresser at home.
Another student: Don’t worry Ms. H. I have to work tonight and I’ll look for the pass there!
(The whole class is rolling on the floor laughing!)

Me: Today I want to introduce the book The Scarlet Letter. This is a classic but it is written in comic form.
T: I like comic books. (He flips through the pictures.) Why does she have an A on her?
Me: Because she committed adultery. Do you know what that means?
B: I do! It means she cheated on her man!
S: That’s wrong! If my man cheated on me, I’d hurt him!
T: You hurt him, you going to jail!
S: I don’t care! He better not cheat on me! He was looking at this girl at lunch….
K: What are they having for lunch today?
B: My mama cheated on my daddy with the mailman.
T: I wouldn’t wanna be no mailman and walk to everyone’s house to bring them no letters.
B: You gotta be in good shape to do that.
S: You gotta be on the track team to become a mailman.
Me: Hmmm, what books can I find about mailmen?

I think I saw a game show over the holidays called Chain Reaction where you had to get from Word A to Word B by connecting words. I think my students would be able to win that game. Of course it is really interesting to watch the journey. Sometimes it can be very enlightening and can lead to interesting teaching moments. Other times, it can be just a lot of fun. But most important of all is that as a teacher, we can’t get frustrated by these conversations. We could yell at them to stay focused and on topic, but we would be spinning our wheels, wasting our breath, and lose our students’ respect. Teachers need to be flexible and think quickly on their feet if they want to be successful in the classroom.

So, what interesting conversations could be had in your classroom? How did you handle it?

Original image: 'The Stronghold' Alan

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Survival Tips for Student Teachers

Listen to this post as an mp3 file.

In 10 Keys To Unlocking The Best Possible Student Teaching Semester Ever from So You Want To Teach? by Joel, he gives a list of 10 things to help Student Teachers:

1. “Relax
2. S.U. (Shut Up)
3. Approach each day with excitement
4. Learn like crazy
5. Ask questions…all…the…time
6. Discuss with other student teachers and young teachers
7. Get a life
8. Revisit your educational philosophy.
9. Reevaluate student success.
10. Keep a journal”

You can read more about each one by clicking on the link to his post.

I wanted to add a few other ideas to this because it is really hard to be a student teacher. You feel excited and nervous at the same time. (These aren’t in any special order but in the order as they came to my mind.)

1. It never hurts to butter up your supervising teacher. Bringing them a treat every so often will get you a warm spot in their hearts.

2. Ask your supervising teacher if he/she wants you to share new strategies that you learn in class. Maybe that will give you something to discuss and learn your teacher’s view on that strategy.

3. Ask your supervising teacher what procedures are important to know and then write these down so you can refer to them.

4. Share your hobbies with the students. When they learn more about you personally, they will be more receptive to your teaching.

5. Never badmouth your supervising teacher. If you disagree with that teacher, talk about it in your university class but make sure you talk about what that teacher is doing and not about their personality. You never know who may be hearing you and it will get back to that person.

6. Make sure you act and don’t react when students misbehave. Have a plan of action beforehand if there is misbehavior. Discuss with your supervising teacher the best ways to handle this.

7. If you keep a journal, ask your supervising teacher to read it and make comments (either verbally or written to your journal entries). I kept a journal on my student teachers and we spent about 5 minutes after school reviewing this. Then if needed, we would discuss it. We both found these beneficial.

8. Take vitamins, eat healthy, and get exercise. Student teaching is a stressful time and your body will be more susceptible to illness. You will be around more people than you are used to and many of these children quickly pass on sicknesses.

9. Wash your hands more often. You will be touching things that many of the students touch and many germs will get passed on this way.

10. Smile! No matter how you are feeling, always smile. People will perceive you to be a positive person. Students will react to you with a more positive attitude. You will feel better and help you get over times when you feel nervous.

I hope all of these tips help student teachers be more successful. If you think of any others, please feel free to add them in the comments so we can all learn some more tips!

Original image: 'Life Vests'

Monday, January 12, 2009

Listen, Listen

I recently received a book to review for The Picnic Basket. I do not get paid to do this but I feel that this is a great way to help teachers and parents find appropriate books for their children. This was my first book that I reviewed and I was delighted that they sent me such a great book to read.

Title: Listen, Listen
Author: Phillis Gershator
Illustrator: Alison Jay
Publisher: Barefoot Books

Here was my review that I gave:

The illustrations on the cover and throughout the book were the first thing that grabbed me. I think they will appeal to young children immediately. This book would be great used with lessons on Sounds or one on Seasons. The text also uses rhyming words which would be great for a lesson on Rhymes. The author of the book also asks you to find specific pictures on the pages at the end of the book and these words would be great for a vocabulary lesson. I give this book a rating of 5 (5 stands for Strongly Recommend – This book is so delectable that it calls for a picnic just to read it. I might even skip desert to read it or enjoy the book and the strawberry shortcake. Definitely part of the gourmet, decadent picnic basket.) and feel that young readers of all ages would enjoy this book.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Useful Information In and Out of the Classroom 1/9/09

Here are some interesting sites that I’ve found this week, thanks to my PLN. 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!

Scholastic Videos - links to great teaching resources

Free Math Help – “math lessons, math games, and a math help message board” – free audio stories for children. “Storynory is an online treasure trove of audio stories. Here you will find a mixture of new stories, fairy tales, and specially adapted myths and histories. We also have a sprinkling of verse.

Nine – great tour of the solar system. “This website is an overview of the history, mythology, and current scientific knowledge of the planets, moons and other objects in our solar system. Each page has…text and NASA's images, some have sounds and movies, most provide references to additional related information.”

Awesome Library - organizes the Web with 36,000 carefully reviewed resources, including the top 5 percent in education.

Original image: 'Beautiful Tools' THOR

Thursday, January 8, 2009

The Joy of Education

Since we are in the winter months here in South Carolina, I wanted to remind teachers to remember to bring joy into the classroom. I know there are times that we have to teach things that aren’t fun but we still can do the little things to bring joy in the classroom. When I was in St. Maarten at the end of November, there was a parade through town celebrating the anniversary of their elementary school. I looked at the adults’ faces along the sidewalks and I could see pride in their faces. As I looked in the faces of the children, I saw absolute joy. Some of the Caribbean islands that we visited seemed to be very poor compared to the standard of living that I am used to and I saw many men along the sidewalk who were already drunk early in the morning. So, to see the value that the community places on education really brought joy into my own heart. If you look at the little girl’s face in my picture, you can see how happy she is to be there. Do you think our students feel that way? Later when I talked to some of the children, they talked about how much they love school and their teachers. When I talked to some of the teachers, they felt that education is the only thing that will help their students become successful in life. It was important to the teachers that the children understand how important education is but also to understand the joy that education can bring into their lives.

This made me have some hopes about the future and the impact I can make.

  • I hope as I teach, that I do not become jaded and take education for granted. By showing how important I think education is, the students will follow my lead.

  • I hope I can look for the good things in everyone each day. Looking for the good things may push away some of the negative things that shouldn’t be the focus.

  • I hope that I can help my students find the joy of education. Sharing the joy will help spread it.
    I hope I can bring some joy into my classroom every day. Bringing it into the classroom will set a good example for others.

  • I hope I can do the little things that matter for a student. It is these little things they will remember. Maybe someone needs some nurturing instead of scolding. Maybe someone needs to talk about their weekend instead of just listening to a lecture.

How do you bring joy into your classroom?

Listen to this post as an mp3 file.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Carnival of Education 01/07/09

The Carnival of Education is up on the midway at Right Wing Nation. Don’t miss out on all the fun! See what is going on in the Edusphere. My article on Possible Interview Questions and My answers is there but there are lots of other great articles to read too! See you there and don’t eat too much cotton candy!

The Winter Blues in the Classroom

Now January is here and the festivities of December are over. It almost feels anticlimactic and most of us breathe a sigh of relief. But before long the students start getting antsy and even teachers start feeling a sense of boredom. Now here in the US, it is winter and of course that means less sunlight which I think has a great impact on all of us. Are we going to sit around and whine about it until spring or can we do things that stimulate the students and even ourselves so we can make it to spring?

During this time I like to do different things that are fun and interesting with my students. I try to do more hands on lessons and activities that involve movement because most of the students are not getting outside enough to burn off all their excess energy. Here are some things that I have done during January and February that have been successful in my classroom:

1. Learn something new with my students. I have learned things like juggling, a new dance, a new board game, make beaded bracelets, and crochet an afghan during these months. The students love to see me learn along with them and we all help each other.

2. Make dough decorations. We follow the recipe and then shape the dough into whatever we want. Some students use cookie cutter and others just sculpt their own shapes. After baking them, we paint them. You can do this before Christmas but my students are usually over stimulated then and this wasn’t as successful as doing this after Christmas. They can even make ornaments for the next Christmas if they want. This usually takes about 3 days to complete.

3. Split the class into three groups and let them make lunch for the class once a week. When I didn’t have a kitchen, I swapped with the home ec class one day a week in January so my class could cook. Each group came up with the menu, the recipes and brought in the ingredients. We didn’t make anything fancy or hard since we really only had 50 minutes. For example, we’ve had sub sandwiches with chips and tuna salad sandwiches and macaroni and cheese. While one group made lunch, another group set up the table and the last group was in charge of cleaning. This rotated each week.

4. Make scrapbook pages for the future about this past year. I split the class into groups of 3 and each group is responsible for a scrapbook page. They use the internet and any other sources they can to find out the highlights. They have to choose at least 3 events and write about them on the page. (This is a good time to teach them about Creative Commons and Copyright Laws). After they are finished, they must present this to the class. Before they start, I give them a rubric with criteria that I use for grading (accuracy, creativity, required items, neatness etc.). We have made these pages with paper and digitally (we used Adobe Photoshop) and both were successful.

5. I write the name of each student on a piece of construction paper. Before I hand these out, we talk about positive words we can say about each other. These are written on the board. After we have exhausted all the positive words we can think of, I pass out one paper to each student that doesn’t have their name on it. Using crayons or markers, they write one word from the board they think fits that person but they can’t use a word that is already listed on that paper. Every 2 minutes I say, “Next” and everyone passes it to the next person (I determine the direction before we start). Eventually a student will get their own paper and they even have to find a word that describes themselves (which is really hard for many of them). After all of them are complete, I read them aloud in class and then we display them for at least 2 weeks. When I take them down, I laminate them and give them to the students to keep. I recently had lunch with a student I taught 16 years ago and she said she still had this paper and has looked at it when she felt discouraged.

6. Invite speakers to come to the class. I had nail technicians come in and talk about nail hygiene. Then they gave free manicures to the class and even polished the girls fingernails. I have invited former veterans to come talk about their experiences. A couple of times I have invited an author of a book that we read in the fall. Ellyn Bache (author of Takedown) and Marion Lazan (author of Four Perfect Pebbles) came to our class and my class was in absolutely floored by both.

These are just some of the activities I can think of right now. If you are a veteran teacher, do you do anything special during the winter months? If so, please share them in the comments so we can all learn from you. Maybe you have an idea that you haven’t tried yet, but would like to so feel free to share that too.
Original image: 'winter brightness' Grant MacDonald

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

The Hows and Whys

(Happy New Years to everyone! Hope you have a wonderful healthy and happy year!)

In At some point it’s about the technology from The Thinking Stick, Jeff says,
“Why we use these tools is just as important to support is how we use these tools. Some teachers need/want to know WHY we use them before HOW to use them. Others want to know HOW to use them before figuring out WHY they use them…At some point it’s about the technology and it should be. We live in a technical world, and the HOW is just as important as the WHY.”

This brings me back to thinking that as teachers, we need to see what direction our students are coming from. I remember years ago I tutored my husband and his friends in Algebra. Apparently the professor kept going over the How (just plug these numbers in the formula and it will work) but these guys couldn’t grasp it until they had the Why. They wanted to know why it worked and once we went over the why, they actually understood the concept. Of course I am a How person so I could understand the professor’s point of view. Jeff makes a good point about how we need to do the How and the Why but how do we do it so that we don’t overwhelm or intimidate one side or the other? If we do too much of the Why, we lose the How people and vice versa. I am the type of person that would rather know how to do something and then I will see how it fits into what I want to do (the Why). I know many others who need to know the Why before they can even think about the How. I think we need to have a happy medium. (Okay, now I have to rework some of my presentations that I’m doing in January so I don’t have too much How or too much Why!) Are you a How person or a Why person? How does this affect your teaching?

Original image: 'IMG_5141' David Boyle

Monday, January 5, 2009

Seven Things You Don’t Need to Know About Me meme

Penny Rider of Teaching Challenges tagged me for this. I have seen this on many people’s blogs and really enjoyed reading them too. At first I wasn’t going to but then I realized it helped me to learn more about others that I communicate with so maybe someone would be interested in me too. You will see why I had doubts when you read #7.

1. I have played an accordion since I was four years old. In fact when I was in high school, I placed fifth in the state competition for my age group. (Yes, there were more than five people competing too!) I don't play as well any more and try to play in nursing homes during their lunch because they really don't care if I make any mistakes. I keep having to play the same songs and worried that they might get bored but when I asked, one lady told me that they couldn't remember what they had for breakfast, much less what songs I played last week. After she said that, the whole room burst out in laughter!

2. When I started dating my husband I worked three jobs that summer to pay for my junior year at Furman University. I worked as a desk clerk in a yucky motel from 7am – 3pm Monday through Friday. Then I was a sales clerk in a clothing store from 4pm – 10pm Monday through Friday. On Saturdays and Sundays I worked in the complaint department at the newspaper office from 8am -8pm (which is where I met my future husband).

3. I worked in the dining hall at Furman University for breakfast, lunch and dinner for four years to help pay my way. At reunions I don’t know if all of these people were my friends or if I just fed them for four years.

4. I hated the food so much when I came to Furman that I just stopped eating. (I was raised on my father’s Chinese cooking.) By Christmas of my freshman year, I weighed less than 100 pounds and was light headed and dizzy so they put me on probation. I was told that if I didn’t weigh over 100 pounds after Christmas, they wouldn’t let me return. I was put on a daily diet of chocolate peanut butter milk shakes during my final exams before Christmas break. When I returned from Christmas I weighed 105 lbs. so I was allowed to continue. (If I could only be that again!)

5. I never tried any illegal drugs. I am so allergic to so many things I was always afraid that if I ever tried, it would kill me.

6. I am afraid of the dark. When we go camping, my husband builds a campfire before it gets dark.

7. I am a very shy person and had an awful low self esteem for a long time. I was the youngest of three girls and was spoiled by them constantly. My sisters were ten and twelve years older than me so I never wanted for anything. By being spoiled, I was constantly given the impression that I couldn't do anything because they never let me do anything. I never learned to cook or sew or do anything athletic (I might get hurt). After my oldest sister died, my parents became even more overprotective. If you met me, you would think I was outgoing because that is how I have learned to act around people but inside I am usually trembling and doubtful thoughts are going through my head the entire time I am talking to you. I worry that I'm saying something stupid, what I look like, what if this person doesn't like me, do I really have anything worth sharing etc. I feel very self conscious and start yelling at myself in my head about why I put myself through this agony. Yet, later I have made wonderful friends and no one really ever knows what I had gone through to talk to them. I have worked on my own self esteem in order to help my students and it has really helped.

After I wrote this, I wasn't going to tag anyone. Then I started to think of who I hadn't read about yet and would like to more about so I am going to tag the following people:
Bill Gaskins of Blogging by the Bay
Vicki Davis of Cool Cat Teacher
Joel of So You Want to Teach

Friday, January 2, 2009

Useful Information In and Out of the Classroom 1/2/09

Here are some interesting sites that I’ve found this week, thanks to my PLN. 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!

BrainyFlix – SAT vocab contest starting Jan. 1.

Games for the Brain – fun games, can be used as incentives for students.

The Week In Rap– “A week's worth of news, rapped..every Friday.” I think students might enjoy this.

Do it, do it, done – “We provide a simple tool for creating and managing your todo list - all with a bit of fun and flair.”

Science is Fun – “The master of chemical demonstrations and science policy advocate, University of Wisconsin-Madison Chemistry Professor Bassam Z. Shakhashiri, shares the fun of science through home science activities, public presentations, scholarship, and other programs of the Wisconsin Initiative for Science Literacy.

Original image: 'With this screwdriver bit set... I can take apart the universe' Chris Metcalf

Thursday, January 1, 2009

In the Year 2008…

I’ve seen some others do this and thought it would be a great way to review the year and the highlights of each month so here it is. When I was writing all that I accomplished I felt proud of this past year and was actually surprised that I had done so much. Come with me on a journey into this past year.

January – went to Arlington, VA for CEC board meeting; went up to NJ to visit friend and then Philadelphia to visit my nephew; found out about Twitter; attended educon2.0 online

February – My hubby’s birthday! Preplanning for big trip out west and up north.

March – attended the SCCEC conference in Spartanburg, SC; headed up north to spend a week on Long Island with family and visit New York City.

April, May, June – attended CEC convention in Boston, MA; Met some of my Twitter buddies in person; came home for one day and then headed out west. Went to the Grand Canyon NP, Phoenix (stayed a week with my friend Kathy), Joshua Tree NP, Disneyland, up the coast of CA, Hearst’s Castle, San Francisco, Reagan, Nixon, and Clinton’s Presidential Libraries, Edward’s AFB, Jelly Belly Factory, saw my cousin Tommy (who I haven’t seen in over 30 years), Trinity Bay (to see our friends Karen and Steve), Crater Lake NP in Oregon, Lava Beds NM, Yosemite NP, Oklahoma City Memorial, Hot Springs NP in Arkansas, and the Ozarks.

July – was supposed to teach a graduate course which ended up being cancelled due to low enrollment; Did lots of gardening; joined Plurk (which has been my lifeline to my PLN)

August – went to Niagara Falls which was awesome!

September, October, November –went to all of the Furman home football games and some away games

October – went to Arlington, VA for CEC board meeting

November – helped coordinate the Passport to Success for special ed students in our county; spent Thanksgiving with my parents in FL; left for 3 cruises (Carnival Miracle – 8 days, Carnival Splendor – 7 days, and Holland America Statendam – 14 days); in Barbados we were pleasantly surprised to our friends Karen and Steve at the beach and they were on a different cruise ship, spent a day with our friend’s daughter and son in law who live on Curacao.

December – spent Christmas with my parents in FL and it was so warm!

As I begin this New Year I hope to accomplish some of the following goals:

1. Enjoy another trip out west for 3 months including the annual CEC conference in Seattle, WA.
2. Finish up my last year on the CEC Board of Directors (only allowed to serve 2 consecutive terms)
3. Clean out gardening shed
4. Reorganize storage building
5. Reclaim my formal dining room (boxes from school when I retired still cover the floor)
6. Continue writing in my blog, building and learning from my PLN; and keeping current with educational issues
7. Lose some weight and eat sensibly
8. Continue to walk for exercise
9. Try new recipes
10. Enjoy life!

I wish you and your family a healthy and happy New Year!

Original image: 'Lifetime calendar' Gilberto Santa Rosa