Friday, February 27, 2009

Useful Information In and Out of the Classroom 02/27/09

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!

Pennies for the Planet – “Pennies for the Planet is a nationwide campaign that taps into the amazing power of kids to help critical conservation projects. For the last several years, kids have been collecting pennies (and nickels, dimes, quarters, and dollars, too!) to help save wild places and wildlife in the United States and around the world…On this website, you’ll find everything you need to get started, including information about each project; fund-raising ideas; recognition and prizes; and more!”

Math Counts Problem of the Week – a math problem each week is posted, there also information on setting up a club and competitions that you can participate in if you want to.

Purdue Online Writing Lab (OWL) - they “ offer over 200 free resources including: Writing and Teaching Writing, Research, Grammar and Mechanics, Style Guides, ESL (English as a Second Language), Job Search and Professional Writing

Math Worksheet Creator – Free math worksheets for 2nd through 5th grade

Bank Jr. – “Learn about money basics, money math, money in your life, money in your world, nation, and community, and business. Get the information you want by choosing Elementary or Grades 6+. From there you can choose what you want to learn by going to a topic on the left. You can even take a quiz or two to see what you remember OR Use the Savings Wizard to keep track of your progress as you save your money for something special you want...”

Original image: 'My saddle bag' by: Richard Masoner

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Carnival of Education 02/25/09

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

Original image: 'Paradise Pier at Sunset, Disney's California Adventure Park' by: Michael Huey

After Gandhi: One Hundred Years of Nonviolent Resistance

After Gandhi: One Hundred Years of Nonviolent Resistance by Anne Sibley O’Brien and Perry Edmond O’Brien • illustrated by Anne Sibley O’BrienFebruary 2009 • Charlesbridge Publishing • Middle Grade non-fiction (illustrated)

I recently read this book and agreed to write a review about it (I am not being paid to do this.)
I found this book interesting and liked how it written in a chronological order. I thought it gave interesting information about different people and groups who have tried nonviolent strategies. Some of them worked and some of them didn’t but they all had an impact in society. I think each chapter could be done as a separate lesson which is appealing.

You can go to the After Gandhi website for more information. If you click on extras you can get downloadable posters and a teacher’s guide.

I felt the authors injected a lot of their own personal feelings in the stories and these stories were a little heavy on one side of the story instead of telling all sides of the story. I think it is great to inform students about the different events and people but I don’t think it is wise to push personal political agendas in the classroom so I would have to be careful using this book in the classroom.

I could see this book being used as a resource more on the high school level than the middle school level.

I would rate this book a 3 out of 5 (This book is good for a sandwich picnic on the lawn in the shade but it may not be worthy of a picnic planned around it) because I would feel it would take a lot of planning and extra resources are needed to balance the lesson taught with this book.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Routines are Important

In How Do You Manage Your Online Communities? from by heather, she asks, “how do you manage your online activities without going insane, and what is your daily routine?”

I am the master of routines! I really believe in routines and think they help my students because they know this is a constant in the classroom. When they feel comfortable with the routines, they can risk trying new things.

I have a folder in my bookmarks that is labeled Daily Check. These are the sites that I need to check every day. Here are my daily checks that I go through.

1. I check my personal email.
2. I check Plurk and Twitter to see if there are any replies or direct messages to me that I need to answer. Then I say hello to all of my friends.
3. I glance over my Yahoo home page to check out the weather and news headlines in case there is anything major I need to know about.
4. I post on my Successful Teaching blog by 6am each Monday – Friday.
5. I check my Digital Scrapbook Place Scrap Blogs page. Each day a prompt is given and I answer it in my Life of Loonyhiker blog.
6. I check my school email.
7. I check Flickr to look for any messages. Then I look at the new photos in the group pool of the 365 day project that I’m doing.
8. I check Ravelry to see if I have any direct messages from anyone there.
9. I check Facebook to see what messages I have on there.
10. Last I go to my Google Reader. I spend a lot of time reading blogs and leaving comments.

Maybe I’m obsessive compulsive but if I get thrown off my routine, it messes up my whole day. I think many of my students feel the same way so I have to be very sensitive to their feelings if we start the day late or if we have a day off for snow or holidays.

Original image:

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Lincoln Through the Lens

I recently read Lincoln Through the Lens: How Photography Revealed and Shared an Extraordinary Life by Martin W. Sandler; Fall 2008 • Walker & Company • Non-fiction (middle-grade/YA). I found this book on The Picnic Basket and agreed to review it (I am not getting paid to do this).

I love books with pictures but especially ones with photos. This book about Lincoln had awesome photos. The only problem I had was the glare of overhead lights on the shiny pages so sometimes I would have to tilt the book certain ways to see the photos. This book not only tells the story about Lincoln, but also about the history of photography. I didn’t realize how Lincoln used photography to his own advantage. As I went through the book, I got a better feel for what Lincoln’s life was like. There were even some photos that I had never seen before. This book would be a great resource for students to use when researching information about Lincoln. I would give this book a rating of 5 (Strongly Recommend).

Monday, February 23, 2009

How Important is My Toolbelt?

In Toolbelt theory for everyone, Ira Socol states, “And everyone needs a properly equipped Toolbelt to get through life.” I think this was a perfect example of how everybody learns to cope with everyday life. That is what our schools are supposed to teach us. My teachers taught me the tools to add to my “toolbelt” so that I can be successful in life. I also needed to know how to find new tools if I needed them and how to learn how to use them once I got them. My learning didn’t end once I graduated from school and then decided that I’ve gotten all the tools I needed in life. Even as a teacher, I am constantly on the lookout for new tools and how they can make a difference in my life and others.

Recently, my husband and I did some repairs and painting on a rental house rather than paying someone else to do it. While we were working, sometimes I needed a ladder but when my husband worked on the same area, he didn’t need the ladder. We achieved the same goal but I used a different tool than he did. Neither one of us assumed that I was incapable of finishing the job because I needed the ladder. At different times while we were working, we used different tools but at the end of the week we were proud that we accomplished all that we had planned to do. Isn’t that the way learning should be in the classroom? I think Ira was right on target when he states, "Disability" has little or nothing to do with this. Everybody needs this skill set.” Giving students the ability to learn different tools for different situations should be taught to every student throughout their school career. During the local Council for Exceptional Children’s meeting, we talked about Universal Design for Learning. Karen Janowski was the guest speaker and shared with us the UDL Tech Toolkit. The question that kept coming up was why teachers didn’t do this in the classroom and how can we get them to do this? I’m not sure we ever came up with a good answer to this but we had a great discussion.

Ira also states “The only way to allow students to assemble this essential toolbelt for information and communication is to throw open your classroom and let the world in.” I think this applies to all of the filters out there used to protect our children. I believe the people in power are really trying to protect our children, no matter how misguided their intentions may be. I think it is very important to keep the lines of communication open with the people in order to show them how these tools can be more of an asset if allowed rather than a liability. At first they may be resistant but if I can show them examples of how I can use this tool and get others to use it and show their examples, it may help. I also think it is important to think of why people may be opposed to using this tool and have an answer ready for this before the discussion. I don’t think change will happen overnight but I can’t stop trying.

I also think that that Ira’s quote involves teachers trying new things. I need to be more open to new things and how they can apply to my lessons. Of course I think it is important to learn the new tools but I think it is most important to see how they can be used in the curriculum that I am teaching. I don’t want to have my students to use a tool just to use it. I want them to use a tool in a way that will help them create something new in the context of what I am teaching. Without this connection I think I am wasting my time. If I don’t see a purpose for learning something new, I will not waste my time learning it or I will put it aside and never use it again so I don’t want my students in the same position. I think as I see new tools I need to think about how I can use this in my classroom rather than how I want to learn just to use this. Once I see how it can be relevant, then I can focus my attention to the particulars of using the tool.

I feel this toolbelt theory is so important to being successful in life. This is important for all students of every level from elementary school through post secondary school. I will continue to add new tools to my toolbelt and get rid of the ones I no longer need. I will also make sure that these tools are relevant to my needs at this time. I know that my toolbelt can be changed often and changed according to what I need to do but it sure is comforting to know that I have different tools that I can put in my toolbelt if I need them.

Original image: 'Pegboard'

Friday, February 20, 2009

Useful Information In and Out of the Classroom 2/20/09

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!

Shahi – “is a visual dictionary that combines Wiktionary content with Flickr images, and more!” (Thanks to Faye Valbert for this!)

Quest Alantis – “Quest Atlantis (QA) is a learning and teaching project that uses a 3D multi-user environment to immerse children, ages 9-12, in educational tasks. Building on strategies from online role-playing games, QA combines strategies used in the commercial gaming environment with lessons from educational research on learning and motivation. It allows users to travel to virtual places to perform educational activities (known as Quests), talk with other users and mentors, and build virtual personae. A Quest is an engaging curricular task designed to be entertaining yet educational.”

Teampedia – “is a collaborative encyclopedia of free team building activities, free icebreakers, teamwork resources, and tools for teams that anyone can edit! This site is designed for a wide audience including: team leaders, trainers, teachers, managers, camp directors, counselors, and youth groups.”

Wonderville – “ is an interactive science-learning environment that is filled with trustworthy educational activities. Each high-quality activity is directly linked to the Alberta program of studies for grades 3 to 7…Through the Teacher Site, educators can access valuable tools to enhance their students' experiences. Here, teachers will find engaging lesson plans and activity guides to assist with integrating activities into the classroom.”

PicLits – “ is a creative writing site that matches beautiful images with carefully selected keywords in order to inspire you. The object is to put the right words in the right place and the right order to capture the essence, story, and meaning of the picture.”

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Five Changes to Education

I was tagged by TJ Shay in his post Five Changes to Education--A new Meme.

His rules are: “List FIVE changes you would like to see in the educational system. Your responses should represent your perspective and your passion for learning and students…tag the following people..from a variety of perspectives. If you have been tagged, tag as many people as you choose, but try for a variety.”

Here is my list:

1. I would like to see teachers teach students according to their individual needs. I don’t mean just special education students but I mean all students. I think we need to go back to the one room school house mentality and start teaching students at the level they are at in ways that they can learn so they can be successful in the workplace. We need to stop trying to fit all students in the same mold and teach them all the same way.

2. I would like to see teachers being encouraged and rewarded (even if it means just an acknowledgement from the powers that be) for using technology in their classroom as a way to meet students’ individual needs. We need to get teachers out of the rut of doing things the same old way. By using new technology, students could learn to create, connect, and collaborate with students all around the world. Learning new skills should be exciting and motivating for teachers so we can pass the same feelings on to our students.

3. I would like to see general education and special education teachers working together more effectively to help special education students be more successful in general education classes. This would involve better professional development and training for both teachers. We need to get past the territorial ideas we have about our classrooms and work to do what is in the best interest of our students.

4. I would like to see schools cut down on waste. By this, I mean waste of resources and time by employees. I see too much redundancy in paperwork when we have computers that can generate the same reports we are expected to fill out on paper. I see too much paper being sent out in the way of memos, handouts, and useless information that is thrown away or recycled. This information could be sent out in emails or put on wikis. I also see us wasting time in meetings that have no purpose which leads to frustration and exhaustion.

5. I would like to see us go back to neighborhood schools in our area. Busing was important in the era that it was started but I don’t see a need for it anymore in our district. I’m sure there are many more districts in the same boat. This would save tremendously on transportation. It will also improve the school-community relationship. I think more families would be involved in supporting the schools this way. I could see students behaving better (you never know whose parent may be there watching) and also parents would be more willing to help out when they see the day-to-day needs.

I am tagging the following people:

Skip Z @skipz (teacher and online education guru)
Jo McLeay @jomcleay (English Literacy Coordinator)
Christine Southard @christinesouthard (inclusion teacher)
@g-teach (Enrichment teacher)
Ginger Lewman @GingerTPLC (Director of TPLC)

Original image:

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Miracles Do Happen

Today it seemed as if I kep running into things that screamed Miracles! Christine shared on plurk this video: Success Stories. Then I saw this Baldo comic strip for 2/15/09. When I went to church, the topics were miracles and healing lepers.

As I drove home I began to think of all the miracles that happen in our schools. As I mentioned before, winter months are hard on me. I don’t know if it is light deprivation from the lack of sun or if it is the cold that makes me miserable and down in the mouth but I’m always looking for ways to combat these feelings. When we think as teachers that we aren’t doing much or making a difference, we need to think about the miracles that happen every day. I began to think of the miracles that have happened while I was teaching.

As a new teacher, I was very concerned about my fifth grader who still couldn’t read at the end of the year. I didn’t think he should go on to middle school and would have to share this with the parent. It was my first year of teaching and I was scared to do this but I knew it was in the student’s best interest. When I finally told the mother, she hugged me and thanked me for caring about her son. She didn’t feel that anyone cared enough about his lack of skills and just kept passing him on. I never thought about it that way so I’m glad I stuck by my decision.

During my first year of teaching, I gave a student a failing grade the first nine weeks and his mother was furious. She threatened me by letting me know her husband was in law enforcement and would make my life rough unless I passed her son. I was so scared I didn’t know what to do but I really hate to be threatened. So I went to my substitute principal who I didn’t know very well (my principal went on extended sick leave right after he hired me) and she was magnificent. We called a meeting to confront both parents and the father was horrified as he apologized profusely for his wife and promised it wouldn’t happen. In fact, he had to file a report and was transferred far away from me. For a first year teacher, this was a miracle!

My first year of teaching high school was a treat. Apparently I made a student very upset with me and he promised to beat me up. He planned for some kids to stand outside the room and watch for adults. Instead of doing what he wanted, they ganged up on him and dragged him to the adminstrator’s office to tell their story. I was so proud of them!

A boy, who didn’t know the alphabet in 9th grade, learned to read and fill out job applications. He got a full time job when he graduated and even brought his new truck he bought to my house to show me. At graduation he bought me a dozen long stem red roses to thank me for helping him. It’s been almost 20 years but we still keep in touch.

When I had a house fire and had to move to a new house, some of my special ed students showed up at my house to help me move. I was so thankful because it would have been an overwhelming job for my husband and me but I hate to ask for help. I had mentioned that I was moving that weekend and they were there for me. As I thanked their parents for letting them help me, I was told that I had been there for their children and their children would be there for me. What an honor!

These are just some of the miracles that I have seen in my teaching career. What miracles do you see going on around you? If you don’t see any, maybe you just need to look harder. I think it is these miracles that have helped me be successful in the classroom.

Original image: 'god's office' by: Steve Johnson

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Carnival of Education 2/16/09

The 210th edition of the Carnival of Education is up on the midway at Leading From the Heart. Don’t miss out on all the fun! See what is going on in the Edusphere. My article on How Can I Help My Students Be Creative? is there but there are lots of other great articles to read too! See you there and don’t eat too much cotton candy!

My Sources of Inspiration

I have seen a few posts out in cyberspace about who or what inspires people. In 21st Century Collaborative, snbeach talks about What Inspires you? She is inspired by community. In Ramblings of a Technology Coordinator by Christine Archer, she refers to Sir Ken Robinson and his sources of inspiration in her post Who Inspires You?

Sometimes I would reach a phase (and yes, it is just a phase that everyone goes through) where I feel as if I’m in a rut, or I’m tired, or I’m bored. I start to wonder why I am doing this or I feel as if I’m not making a difference. Sometimes the frustrations about the paperwork or the regulations can really make me feel bogged down. When I feel overwhelmed by deadlines or upcoming projects, I want to run away. This is the time that I reach into my bag of inspiration for some help. Here are some of the things that I do.

I will watch a movie about teaching. I loved the movie To Sir With Love or The Freedom Writers. It helps to remind me why I went into teaching and helps me remember that I want to make a difference. I also like the fact that these teachers do not give up even though they would be justified if they did. Are there any movies that inspire you?

I will read books about teaching. I love the Torey Haydn books. I love to read about the different situations she has to deal with and how she never gives up. I also start to think about what I would do if I had been in the same situation. What books about teaching inspire you?

I will go observe a good teacher. There are so many good teachers out there and they are a wonderful resource right at our fingertips. Even though I feel like I don’t have the time to do this, I will make the time to do this. If I didn’t, I would just sit at my desk and be unproductive anyway so what could this hurt? I might even ask my students which teachers they like and why. Then I will share these positive statements with that teacher and ask if I can observe him/her. Sometimes this helps to jump start me into action. I might notice a strategy that this teacher uses that is successful and I want to try it with my class. Do you know someone where you are that you would like to observe?

Read blogs by other educators to see what they are doing in their classrooms or their schools. Sometimes by entering a debate or a discussion, it helps to energize me. By reading their blogs, I feel a connection which makes me feel less isolated. Sometimes I feel so alone in my feelings and wonder if I’m the only one out here who cares or feels or worries. There are so many blogs out there by other educators who know exactly what I’m feeling.

Learn something new so that I can share it with my class. It doesn’t have to be anything big, just something fun or different. You could teach yourself, take a class, or find someone else to each you. One year I got a book and learned how to juggle. This was a lot of fun and my class was impressed. I found out another teacher crocheted and asked her to teach me, which she did and my students looked forward to seeing how much progress I made on my afghan. They loved the thought of me learning something new right before their eyes. It also gave me something to be excited about that took my mind off of my problems. This year I am learning to speak Mandarin Chinese. What would you like to learn and how could you go about learning it?

Monday, February 16, 2009

Lincoln and His Boys

I recently received a copy of the book: Lincoln and His Boys by Rosemary Wells • illustrated by P.J. Lynch; January 2009 • Candlewick Press • Middle-grade fiction. I wrote a review (I don’t get paid for this) on The Picnic Basket about this book and this is what I wrote,

“This was a fantastic book to read and I couldn't put it down. I loved learning about Lincoln from the perspective of his children. It really made me see him in a different light and I learned some things that I never knew about him and I think students will feel the same way when they read this. I think this book would really appeal to boys because it is from a boy's point of view. I could see them making comparison's about boys and their fathers then and now. I would definitely give this book a 5!”

I really think this would be a great book to use in the classroom for middle school or even high school because I like the perspective that the author wrote from. Usually most information about Lincoln is pretty dry and this put some human emotion into the story. I know the story is considered fiction but from all the research that was put into writing this book, I think there is a lot to be learned from reading this book. After reading this book, I feel it can open up a lot of different discussions on family life, life as the President of the United States then and now, responsibilities, the effect of public service on the family, and so many other discussions depending on the level of students who are reading this.

I hope you get a chance to read this book. If so, I think it would be a successful lesson in the classroom.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Useful Information In and Out of the Classroom 02/13/09

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!

OCSD Interactive Games – games for students to play or create your own.

QuizEgg – “Build automatically graded quizzes that can be published online, then view the results in easy-to-read reports.” (free)

Teachers Connecting – “A place for K-12 teachers to find other teachers for cross-classroom collaboration.”

Astronomy for Kids – “, part of the KidsKnowIt Network, is the absolutely free astronomy resource designed to teach children about the exciting world of outer space.”

Solar System 3D Simulator 3 – (free download required) “Solar System 3D Simulator is a software application that generates a realistic solar system model and planets in 3 Dimension on the PC using advanced physics formulas. It can display the planets and their orbits, the sun and the moon. The nine planets including planet earth and their detailed physical and chemical information and image pictures is also displayed including solar power, solar energy and solar eclipse details. The graphical output is in high-resolution 3D full color format and the orbit view can be adjusted and the orbits tilted and rotated to any angle. The speed of the solar system can also be varied. The Solar System model is useful for learning about the physics of the universe, astronomy, science projects and science experiments interactively for both adults and kids. Students of Elementary, Middle and High School can use it for science fair projects ideas, physics help, science news and creating science articles.”

Original image: 'Toolbelt (new)'

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Don’t Be Deadwood!

In How to be safe when layoffs take place , Kobus van Wyk states,
Dead wood is defined as ‘people in a group or organization who are not useful any more and who need to be removed’. During an economic squeeze, organizations can no longer afford to carry dead wood, even if it was tolerated during more prosperous times. If staff members have to go, it makes sense to let go of the useless ones and retain the useful ones.”

Learning how not to be deadwood is such an important skill that we need to teach it to our students, especially now while we are in an economic crisis. When I was in China, I noticed that the people there were constantly working and had very little leisure time. I was saddened to think that many Americans didn’t seem to have the same work ethic. Then I wondered how much of this is taught in the schools and what is actually done when it is taught. If you teach students to have a work ethic, please share with me some of the activities you do that are successful.

It drives me crazy when I go into a restaurant and I see dirty tables while workers are standing in a corner gossiping about a coworker or friends they know. I also can’t stand to go into a store and need help but when I ask a worker who is just standing there for help, I’m told that it isn’t their department and walk away. Once I was in Kentucky Fried Chicken and on the wall was a big sign, “If you have time to lean, you have time to clean!” I also saw another sign the other day that said something like (I can’t remember the exact words): If you have time to make mistakes, then you have time to fix it. I love both of these sayings!

I have tried to explain to my students and my paraprofessionals that if they do not have something to do, then find something useful to do. You want to always look busy. If an employer sees that you have too much idle time, they will either cut your hours or think they don’t need you. You want to make yourself indispensible to the company you work for. Try to find ways to ease the workload for others if possible. Ask your supervisor if you can do some other things to help out others. If you see something that needs to be done, just do it. Offer to help your colleagues if they need it. Don’t always look for a pat on the back when you do something extra but believe me, your supervisor is noticing. When it comes time to let someone go, who do you think will be picked; the one who is idle a lot of the time or the one who is always working in order to help the company?

I want my students to be successful in the workforce and I believe this is an important skill that employers will look for. Yes, they want someone who can do the job but they also want someone who will pull their own weight and even the weight of others if necessary.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Taking Breaks are Important shared the article Recess Makes for Better Students in last week’s Carnival of Education.

The article states, "Children learn as much on breaks as they do in the traditional classroom, experimenting with creativity and imagination and learning how to interact socially."

I think this is so true no matter what age the student is and play time is very important. I was always amazed that we only gave our students 27 minutes to eat for lunch. This was from bell to bell and included time to use the restroom, wash hands, stand in line to buy lunch, eat lunch, and clean away trash. Many of my students cut out a lot of those steps and I cringe to think of which ones they leave out. I know that the administration had to fit in three lunch shifts and that the less free time they had, the less trouble the students would get in, supposedly. But what are we teaching our students by doing this? We teach them things like poor hygiene, rude behaviors such as cutting in line, poor nutritional habits (like not eating lunch or buying junk food so they don’t have to stand in line), and leaving trash on tables. They chew with their mouths open and talk with their mouths full (and both totally gross me out!). We don’t have time to teach social behavior in classes because we are too busy trying to cover standards and prepare for testing. Social behavior is not an inborn trait and needs to be taught so when do we let our students practice these skills? How do we teach them what is appropriate and what is not appropriate when we don’t allow them time to demonstrate any of the skills?

I have had many students who leave school and go immediately to their part time jobs. The conscientious ones do their homework when they get home from work. There aren’t enough hours for them to socialize with friends or family. If we remember things that we learned in our development classes, students go through different stages of social development and we need to rethink our system if we aren’t allowing time for our students to develop socially. Yes, having more free time may mean more conflicts at the time but what if it actually improves their social behavior in the long run?

I try to give my students a 5 minute break before the end of class as long as they act appropriately. I know many teachers who teach from bell to bell which I find totally exhausting. Even I need that little breather at times just to get to know my students better. This is a great time for me to model appropriate social behavior also. On special Fridays, I may give a 10-15 minute break if they earn it. I know that meeting standards and passing tests are important but at what point is it more important that we sacrifice our students for the sake of statistics? I feel that by giving these small breaks is well worth it if I help a student be more successful in life. Isn’t that what our job is all about? What do you do in your classroom or school?

Original image: 'Zion and Tracy jumping' by: Robert Conley

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

An Outrageous David and Goliath story!

Thanks to Tim Holt for this heads up. Please go to David Vs. Goliath: The Right Thing vs. Copyright and listen to go to Tim Holt’s blog and listen to the three-way conversation between first grade teacher Janice Schlottmann, Miguel Guhlin, and Tim Holt. This teacher wants to record reading the textbook and then download it onto ipods so her students can read the assignment along with the recording. Instead of just doing it, she was conscientious about copyright laws and contacted Houghton Mifflin. I was so surprised that they told her that she could not do that. What are they thinking?

I thought this was a terrific strategy to use with low level readers and students who are auditory learners. It would also be great for students who are learning the English language because they would be able to see the words as well as hear it. I have to admit that I have encouraged teachers to do this and never thought about encountering copyright problems. Of course, I would never have expected that a publisher would ever discourage this practice. I really think the publisher is missing the boat on this tremendously. The textbooks are already adopted and bought so it wouldn’t have any financial impact on the company. It seems like the company has a recording of it that they want you to buy but still you wouldn’t be able to let many students listen to it at one time. Can you imagine how much it would cost the schools (and the taxpayers) if they had to buy a recording for each student? The publisher has to know with all the funding cuts during these times that it would be impossible. Do they not really care about our children? What are they thinking?

By allowing and encouraging teachers to do this, it would also encourage teachers to want to use more books from this company. This would be a great free advertising for the company also. I could see the company just asking that the teacher mentions the company at the beginning of the recording. Can you imagine what kind of free advertising you would get if 1000 teachers were doing this? It would get the name of Houghton Mifflin in tons of classrooms and even homes. It would be sign that they really care about our children and the quality of learning they can get. It would show they are willing to be part of the community instead of just big business. What are they thinking?

After hearing this conversation, all I could imagine that Houghton Mifflin was thinking was “money, money, money!” I’m not sure I want to buy books from some company if that is there main priority. I understand a company needs to make money in order to survive but in today’s economic times and with all the open source material out there, this was just plain foolish.

On Tim’s blog, he gives the address of Houghton Mifflin’s Permissions Department and email address also. I think we need to go further than this. I believe people need to write the Chairman and the President of the company about this because I think they need to be made aware of the impact this could have on their company. I plan to refer to Tim’s blog post and to mine. Sometimes I feel that the people at the top may not be aware of what is being said down the line and may be able to help us if they want to do the right thing. Here are their names and the address of the headquarters.

Anthony Lucki; Chairman and Chief Executive Officer
Gerald Hughes; President and Chief Operating Officer
222 Berkeley Street'
Boston, MA 02116617-351-5000

After I get a response (or if I don’t get a response), l will be contacting my district’s curriculum administrators, district superintendent, state superintendent as well as my state Board of Education with the outcome of this. By doing this, I will be making everyone aware of the situation. This will also enable me to encourage the use of this type of strategy in classrooms. Teachers might not be able to use this textbook company but there are others as well as teacher made materials that can be used.

Original image: 'Sparta (Wi) H.S. Spartan'

Monday, February 9, 2009

A Super Duper Tour!

A few years ago I met the people from Super Duper at our Council for Exceptional Children’s annual conference and they always had the best big bags. Now, these were not just regular tote bags but really big bright colored plastic bags that could be used as an overnight bag. Everyone couldn’t wait to get in the exhibit hall to get one of those bags and you could see them everywhere we went. In fact, when we arrived home to Greenville, I was surprised to see one of the bags at a meeting I went to and the owner told me that she got it from the conference. I loved to stop by the Super Duper booth and talk to all of the people working there because they were so friendly, helpful, and just plain happy. Imagine my surprise when I found out their company was located in my own home town in Greenville, SC! I talked with one of the editors, Becky, who offered to give me tour some time and she was so welcoming and nice that I planned to do that. I am embarrassed to say it took me a very long time to get up enough nerve to contact her to finally ask for a tour. Well, the other day I took it and it was fantastic. If you go to the Super Duper website, you can take a virtual tour of the meeting rooms and restrooms. All of the rooms are decorated according to a theme and brightly colored as well as interesting. You could spend hours looking at the collection of things in each room.

When I arrived, my first impression was this huge white castle in front of me. It was almost like a fairy tale story unfolding in front of me. The lobby area was so brightly colored and gave off this happy feeling and the receptionist was waiting for me to arrive. Then Becky arrived to take me to the different rooms. I can see how the meeting rooms would stimulate creativity because they are like entering a whole different world. It’s amazing to say that even the restrooms would help spur creativity but some people say that is where they do their best thinking. I also saw the research library and where all products were kept. I saw people in different departments working hard but I also saw that people seemed happy at their jobs. There were people smiling and laughing and I could see the atmosphere was a great one for creating and collaborating.

It was interesting how much work is put into the items that they sell. They don’t just spit things out in order to make a profit. Many of their products go through proof after proof after proof. Their goal seems to be quality more than quantity. I was very impressed by seeing how conscientious everyone seemed to be about the product they were producing. I even saw how they set up for exhibits when they go to conferences. I never realized that the set up the table for different size booths and everything is carefully labeled before it is all packed up. Then the table is set up at the conference exactly like the demo back at the castle. It looks like a lot of research and planning go into everything, including their booths.

If anyone lives near this place, I would highly recommend that you check it out. I have a new respect for all that is involved in making educational resources and would definitely buy things from this company. I’m so thankful that I was invited for a tour or I would never have realized what a treasure this is. If you check out the Super Duper website or catalog, I think you will be able to find resources that will help you be more successful in the classroom.

Original images from the Super Duper website.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Useful Information In and Out of the Classroom 02/06/09

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!

Quizlet – “Browse and use millions of flashcards created by other students and teachers, or create your own.”

Capzles – “combine videos, photos, blogs, and mp3s into rich, multimedia storylines.”

EasyBib - The Free Automatic Bibliography & Citation Maker

Newspaper Clipping Image Generator – make your own newspaper clipping

Mathematics in Movies – “This is a collection of movie clips in which Mathematics appears.”

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Steve Spangler Science Toys

Do you like science and science experiments? I do! I recently received a book and an experiment for Steve Spangler’s Science Toys and thought I’d share with you my opinions about this stuff (No, I’m not being paid to do this so it is honestly my own opinion).

The book was Secret Science: 25 Science Experiments Your Teacher Doesn’t Know About by Steve Spangler. All of these experiments can be done at school or at home and they all seem to have a “wow” factor (which I loved about science experiments). I also got the Mentos experiment which I can’t wait to try out.

Each experiment in the book is carefully explained in sequential steps and I am the type of person that likes steps to follow. There is also a section on “Take It Further” if you want to see what else you can do with this experiment. Then the author explains why this works the way it does. I really like that some of the experiments have a “Real World Application.” This is what makes the whole lesson relevant and answers the question, “So, what?” I just wish that all of the experiments had this section in them.

The materials needed for experiments are items that are easily found and not expensive. That is so important when we do experiments either in the classroom or at home. This is important during these tough economic times when we are all watching our pennies. I tried out a few of the experiments at home and had a lot of fun with them too! I will be doing the Mentos experiment with my friends’ three children this weekend. Science experiments are so much fun!

There is a wonderful website too! You can search according to price range, age, or collections. You can also sort your choices alphabetically or by price ranges. I like all of these features when I am searching for something. There were so many items that are reasonably priced (and many were just downright cheap!) You can sign up for free experiments and special offers too which I did. I like the link for the shipping information because I have wanted to buy things from other sites and could not figure out the shipping information. There are many different shipping options to choose from that should help you decide which to choose. I like the way it calculates the shipping cost before you complete your order too.

I hope you check out the website and what this company has to offer. There are lots of neat and interesting things that would help make your lessons successful.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Carnival of Education 02/04/09

The Carnival of Education is up on the midway at the Steve Spangler blog. Don’t miss out on all the fun! See what is going on in the Edusphere. My article on The View is Different From Here is there but there are lots of other great articles to read too! Join me on some of the rides. See you there!

Original image: 'Party in the Sky' by: Kevin Eddy

Is My Lesson Sticky?

In Teaching that Sticks from Tim Holt’s Blog Things from my mind... , Tim talks about reading the book Made to Stick, which I’ve got to read now. He contacted the authors who sent him a pdf file (the link is on Tim’s blog) that shares six reasons ideas stick. He says, “It is pretty interesting reading, and essentially, the authors say that there are six reasons ideas stick...


First of all I love acronyms and this is really a great one (goes great with the name of my blog, don’t you think?!)

I think this would really help many new and struggling teachers everywhere as well as rejuvenate some of us old and experienced teachers. When I first started teaching, I believe we were taught these concepts but tend to forget about them as we get more experience. We probably do a lot of these things without ever consciously thinking about them so I decided to consciously think about how I do these things in my classroom.

Simple: I try to keep my explanations simple without being insulting or offensive to the intelligence of the audience. The more complicated I make it; the harder it is for the student to make sense out of it. Many times, my husband calls it “the bottom line.” I tend to give it too much explanation and lose people so he tells me to figure out what the bottom line is and keep it short and sweet. Then I can explain it more if I need to but most people want to know the bottom line before they invest energy and time into learning more.

Unexpected: I always called it “The catch!” I liked to find the way to introduce a concept by hooking them in and making them want to know more. If they start off automatically thinking it is boring, they won’t care about the rest. It might involve the way I dress or a video clip or some kind of cliff hanger but something out of the ordinary lecture or handout or same-old-same-old stuff.

Concrete: This was the most important in my special education class because many of my students had a lot of trouble with abstract ideas or concepts. This makes the lesson relevant to the students. They need to know how it is used in real life. Many of my students have gone through so many years of busy work that they needed to see that this was not just one more of those in the long line of “just keep them busy and they will stay out of trouble.” If they see there is a reason to learn this, they are more engaged and motivated.

Credible: If I can make the lesson hands on, it will definitely be more meaningful. Or if I can show this skill actually being used in real life situation, the students can see the relevance. I like to invite speakers in who may use this skill in their profession so the students can see that it can be used after they get out of school. Many times the speakers really enjoy sharing information like this with students and because the speakers are so energized, it really inspires the students.

Emotional: I love to get my students to talk about their opinions. If they can tell how they feel about the concept, whether they would use it or not, whether they agree with it or not or even get a debate going about it, they will remember the lesson. By getting emotionally involved, they suddenly have a connection to the lesson. They can’t remove themselves from it and pretend it never existed. I remember in fourth grade doing a major report on pollution which was kind of boring to me. Then after reading more about it, I took it personally and begged my parents to drive me around the town so I could take pictures of businesses that were polluting my environment. I began writing letters to them asking them to stop polluting my earth! I never forgot this lesson even today (and believe me, that was many, many years ago!)

Story: My students love to hear stories but mostly stories that involved me and I definitely have a load of them. I like to tell stories about how this lesson impacted my life and the students like to know more about me on a personal level. This makes me more human to them instead of being on a pedestal not remembering what it was like to be a student. The more “real” I can be to them, the more impact I will have on their lives.

Tim states, “So, next time you are making a lesson, consider the stickiness of your lesson. Is it Simple, Unexpected, Concrete, Credible, Emotional and contain Story elements? If so, you have a killer lesson. If not, you may want to add something to it.” He is so right! I think we need to make sure we don’t take all of these steps for granted and consciously make an effort to do these things when teaching in order for it to be successful. What do you do to accomplish these things?

Original image: 'Success' by: Vincent Maurin

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

How Can I Help My Students Be Creative?

From his blog Moving at the Speed of Creativity Wes Fryer shares a wonderful video of John Clese talking at the World Creativity Forum in Belgium in his post Creativity, Interruptions, Boundaries and Leadership. It is only about ten minutes so if you get a chance, it is well worth watching. Wes makes good points in his post about the video also.

John Clese said some things that made me see how it relates to our students too. I am going to paraphrase some of his points and show how I think my students can benefit from this.

Sleeping on the problems can help you come up with solutions. I know this is true because this has happened to me many times. Sometimes when I get frustrated that I can’t solve a problem, I give up and then the next day, the solution is so easy. I don’t know if I’ve overwhelmed my brain with too much information the first day or if it was just tired but either way, the solution is easier if I have slept on it and come back to it. If this is so, why should I insist that my students keep trying over and over to get a concept that day? When they get frustrated at something, it is okay to put it down and come back to it. Many of my lessons are individualized according to their needs so if they don’t do the assignment now and finish it later, that is okay as long as it gets completed. I like to give the students a choice about which assignment they want to complete first because this makes them feel like they have some control over their lives.

Interruptions can mess up creativity. I know this also happens to me when I’m writing. If I’m in the middle of a thought and my husband starts to talk to me, I have to tell him to wait until I finish my thought. I try to signal my class that in 5 minutes, I will interrupt them so they need to finish their thoughts or whatever they are working on. I set the timer and when they hear the bell, they know they have 5 minutes. This has really helped the students come to conclusions on their work instead of getting frustrated and stuffing it in their bags.

Trying to do too many things at one time can mess with creativity. I feel we do this to our students when they have so many different subjects with so many different assignments. When I was the main teacher of core subjects, I liked to do projects that assessed all subjects at one time. This was so much easier to grade and the students stayed motivated and engaged in learning. When I taught English to my classes, I would try to team up with the Science or Social Studies teachers so we could do joint projects to cover the same topic. This really helped the students see the relevance of learning both subjects as well as helped them not be overwhelmed with too many assignments.

Egotistical people discourage creativity in others. Many of my special education students are very creative. In fact, they are able to think more outside the box than I am. Yet, most educational systems want them to fit the mold. The ones in power want these students to be like everyone else and do everything the same as all the other students. The problem is that this will never happen and both administration and students end up frustrated. Students are labeled problem students and then they give up. I can’t tell you how many times I have run into a problem and run it by my students. I allow them time to brainstorm in order to help me solve this problem and they love the thought that I am listening to them. More often than not, someone will come up with a viable solution and it amazes me that I was unable to see this for myself. Their self esteem rises tremendously when they see that their ideas were valued and actually helped an adult. We don’t take advantage of this often enough.

I believe if I can encourage my students to be creative, they will be more successful when they encounter the world after high school. The ones who are able to think outside the box will be the survivors during these hard economic times. How do you help your students be more creative?

Original image: 'Just Full Of Ideas' by: Bart

Monday, February 2, 2009

Introduction and Exploration

In her blog 21st Century Learning, Sheryl Nussbaum Beach talks about Why Change? I think she says it all so eloquently yet powerfully. It is motivating and inspiring and I wish I had this when I did my workshop on Voicethread.

When I was doing workshops last week on using Voicethread, I looked into the teacher’s faces and saw so many different emotions. I saw looks of “this looks interesting but I’m not sure I have time to try this”, “I love this and I can’t wait to try this!”, and of course the “this looks good but I have an awful class and there is no way I could do this with them.” I think most of the participants came with open minds because it was voluntary for them to come to the session so I felt hope.

I think it really helped for them to talk about how Voicethread could be used in their class and at their schools. I want to remember that when I do workshops introducing something that I always leave time for them to personalize the learning. If they don’t have time to discuss this and brainstorm ways to use it, I feel that I am spinning my wheels and wasting everyone’s time. By personalizing the learning, the knowledge becomes their own and it is the first step towards progress.

While walking to another classroom, the instructional coach and I talked about getting them started with this and I reminded her that we needed to take baby steps. The ones that were excited about it would begin to use it and word of mouth would spread this like a virus. I reminded her how people felt when PowerPoint first became the tool of choice. Then everyone started using it and now teachers don’t think twice about it. I’m hoping the more we start using different tools, it will slowly spread. She is planning “sandbox” time for teachers to play with Voicethread while together so if there are problems, they can help each other. This was a great idea! Just telling people about this isn’t enough and we need to give them time to get their hands on it and play with it. Getting together and trying something new also takes the fear out of it. Most teachers don’t try something new if they are alone because they are afraid they will have problems and become frustrated with it. No one has this kind of time to waste! There is safety in numbers so I need to remember to suggest that when teaching a new tool, there should be 2 sessions: one for introduction including demonstration and another for exploration.

I think by incorporating both introduction and exploration, we would be more successful in increasing the number of teachers using new tools. Shouldn’t we be doing the same thing with our students too? What do you think?

Original image: 'Sad zen garden' MaryKathleen aka Kate