Friday, July 31, 2009

Useful Information In and Out of the Classroom 7/31/09

Here are some interesting sites that I’ve found this week, thanks to my Personal Learning Network (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!

Educational Wikis – articles and resources

We Make Stories – “This is a world full of stories where YOU are the Storymaker and can choose all sorts of ways to tell your tale. Here you can create your own story, share it with friends and visit the gallery to see what other Storymakers have made.”

Be Funky – “Be Funky Photo Effects allow everyday people to easily create photographically rich and artistic results from their digital images without the need for any technical knowledge.”

Smarty Games – “… carefully selected interactive learning games that will help young children develop their creativity, visualization, problem-solving skills, math skills and the curiosity for knowledge that will help them to be successful with today's elementary school curriculum.”

Slangman’s World – TV show coming in the fall; “Slangman's World, currently airing on the American Forces Network (AFN) in 175 countries, introduces young children to foreign languages and cultures through music, animation, and magic. Slangman, the show's host, is a fun-loving wizard and inventor who lives in a house high on a cloud. His best friend, Wordy, is a young language dictionary on a quest to fill up his pages with words from around the world so he can earn his place in the Great Hall of Books. The purpose of Slangman's World is not just to teach children a few words in a new language, but to inspire them to want to learn more about the people, languages, and cultures around the world.”

Original image: 'Veere: tools' by: Ard Hesselink

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Failures are Not All Bad

In Determination and Perseverance from Clif's Notes by Clif Mims , he shows a video on
Famous failures:

Then I started to look at a couple of others that might be motivational and inspirational for my students. I remember when I was in fourth grade and terrorized by an abusive teacher because of making mistakes. I knew then that I wanted to become a teacher so students would not think that an error is a terror. These videos reinforce that thought and I thought you might enjoy these too.

Secret to Success: Famous Failures -
Interview with Harrison Ford

Michael Jordan “Failure” Nike Commercial

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Contributing to the Conversation

In Never question your power… from Blogush, Paul Bogush writes,
“… I want to leave you with the words Linda Nitsche wrote to me today–” We all have amazing things to share and ideas to move change forward. Never question your power!“ Please take a leap of faith today and join one conversation, make one comment, write one tweet or plurk one response to someone. Never question your power to make a contribution.”

I always am so inspired when I read this blog and when I saw the title of this post, it jumped out at me. In fact I thought about it all day before I sat down to write this myself.

When I started connecting with others about a year ago, I felt very intimidated and basically scared to death. I started out reading other people’s blogs because I decided I wanted to blog but wanted to see other examples. I loved what I was reading and was inspired from reading other posts. Yet, I was too scared to leave a comment because I thought that no one would care what I had to say and I was afraid that everyone else obviously knew so much more than I did. Then I joined Twitter and people were actually asking me questions. Now if that doesn’t make you want to run and hide, nothing will. Suddenly I was no longer anonymous and others could “see” me. Of course, my husband says that I could talk to a brick wall, so I bit the bullet and jumped into the conversation.

From there I started to check out live webcasts and adding to the online chat. I really enjoyed real time conversation with others and started to learn more and more. When I didn’t understand something, there was someone right there ready to help me. I also loved the rich conversations that took place and I was thrilled to be a part of it.

The more I interacted with others, the more comfortable I began to feel in my own skin. I started to actually understand myself better because these conversations made me reflect about my own philosophies and teaching practices.

When I started getting people responding to what I was saying, I was astounded. Suddenly people were interested in what I had to say and willing to discuss issues. I didn’t mind if people disagreed with what I was saying because sometimes it made me rethink about what I had talked about. At times, it changed the way that I thought and other times, it helped me clarify what I stated. Suddenly I’m exchanging ideas and strategies with other teachers. My classroom techniques were so much more enhanced by this exchange.

For the first time I found the power of my thoughts and words. This was a wonderful feeling and I truly recommend it to anyone. I believe that this helped me be more successful in the classroom. If you haven’t tried any of the things above, please consider taking a step in that direction. Please join the conversation, whether it is with colleague in your school, in your district, in your state, or around the world. One step will eventually lead to another and then you will never know where you end up. What an adventure!

Original image: 'making their points . L1059717.jpg' by: Susan

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Acer and School Computer Laps Opportunity

I recently received an email telling me about a possible opportunity to win a computer lab and thought I would share this with my readers. If you are interested, here is the information along with contact info. I am letting you see the email that I received below:

"This is a challenging time for schools across the country. We know budget cuts, increasing standards and the stimulus package for education programs are weighing on the minds of teachers, school administrators and district IT professionals. To help K-12 schools navigate through these challenges, Acer, a market leader for netbook, notebook and overall PC technology, is offering an opportunity for schools to test its products with a free trial for a chance to win a grand prize of a new computer lab outfitted with Acer and Intel technology. Three runner-up winners will also win Acer and Intel technology for an entire classroom.

I am writing because I think your readers and their students could greatly benefit by this simple program. To enter Acer’s Education Technology Initiative, school district staff members and teachers must submit their application by August 31, 2009 at

To help guide you and your readers on the process for Acer’s Education Technology Initiative, I’ve included a few Q&A details below:

Question: Do you have to pay for the equipment if you are outfitted but not selected for the prize?
Answer: No. At the end of the 30-day product trial period, school district staff members can either return the product (free of charge and shipping) or purchase the product at a special discounted price.

Question: What info is required for the application and how long does it take to complete?
Answer: The only information required to apply is your name, contact information and school district – making this a simple application form that takes a matter of seconds to enter. Entries will be accepted for staff members of K-12 school districts only.

Now is perfect timing to take a test drive of the latest education technology for planning before the next school season begins. For more information about the building blocks of Acer’s K-12 education technology products and solutions, please visit:

Please feel free to contact me with questions or interest.

Thank you,

Stefanie Stockton on behalf of Acer and Intel

Original image: 'GHCA's Computer Lab Running Gentoo Linux' by: Michael Surran

Monday, July 27, 2009

20 Places to Find Curriculum Ideas and Lesson Plans Online

Returning is guest writer Karen Schweitzer who has worked as an education writer for the last five years. Since 2005, she has been the Guide to Business School. She also works as an editor/writer for several other prominent education sites, including,, and Karen also writes about online college degrees for Since 2007, Karen has written eight non-fiction books for middle school children (all have been published except for the last two, which will be published later in the year.).

The web is a great place for K-12 teachers to find curriculum ideas and lesson plans online. There are many different sites that provide pre-made lesson plans, teaching ideas that inspire, and unique search engines created just for teachers. Here are 20 sites to explore over the summer:

Education World - Education World has been providing teachers with curriculum ideas and lesson plans since 1996. The site also hosts forums, daily features, regular columns from education experts, teacher profiles, and employment listings.

Scholastic Teachers - This site from Scholastic hosts a wide range of lesson plans, teaching strategies, learning tools, printables, mini-books, and other classroom resources for teachers.

PBS Teachers - PBS teachers has an amazing selection of lesson plans and classroom activities for K-12 teachers. The site also provides an online professional development center and informative articles.

Thinkfinity- Thinkfinity is a great resource for teachers who need K-12 lesson plans, interactive games, and other activities for the classroom. The site features a unique search engine that draws results from the best lesson plan sites on the web.

TeAchnology - This online teacher resource provides free access to thousands of lesson plans, printables, curriculum ideas, ready-to-use rubrics, and other useful materials. TeAchnology also offers a free weekly newsletter for K-12 teachers.

The Teacher's Corner - The Teacher's Corner is an excellent place to find curriculum ideas and lesson plans. The site features an experiment of the week, seasonal activities, and regularly updated thematic units.

GEM - The Gateway to Educational Materials (GEM) allows teachers to browse through more than 50,000 educational resources.

Federal Resources for Education Excellence - FREE (Federal Resources for Education Excellence) provides access to more than 1,500 federally supported teaching and learning resources. Teachers can sign up to get new resources delivered via RSS each week.

I Love That Teaching Idea - This site is a very good place for elementary teachers to find lesson plans for art, math, reading, science, health, and social studies. Other site features include articles and advice on classroom management, student assessments, and field trips.

Creative Teaching - Created specifically for teachers, this non-profit site is designed to help teachers come up with new curriculum ideas that will engage students in the classroom.

We the Teachers - We the Teachers is a social networking site where teachers can connect and search for lesson plans online.

SMART - SMART Board teachers will love the interactive whiteboard lesson plans and curriculum ideas provided on this SMART site. Lesson plans are available for elementary and secondary school teachers.

Topmarks - Topmarks is another useful resource for teachers who use interactive whiteboards in the classroom. The site lists lesson plans by subject and grade level so that it is easy to find what you're looking for.

The Home School Mom - Although The Home School Mom was created for home school teachers, it does provide useful resources for any educator. The site offers more than 400 pages of educational information, including lesson plans and curriculum ideas.

Shmoop - Shmoop is a relatively new site but it is generating a lot of buzz among teachers. The site offers history and literature study guides and lesson plans in addition to other resources for teachers.

Xpeditions - This virtual museum from National Geographic hosts a wealth of teaching resources, including lesson plans, interactive activities, and atlases. - The History Channel doesn't provide ready-made lesson plans for teachers, but the site does offer videos, games, and other materials that would be useful in the classroom. Teachers will especially like the "This Day in History" feature, which provides videos and informative articles.

KinderArt - KinderArt hosts the largest collection of art lesson plans on the Internet. Teachers can also find craft instructions, printables, teaching kits, and more.

NYT Daily Lesson Plan - The New York Times created this site for teachers who want to incorporate current events in lesson plans. The site provides pre-made lesson plans, a day in history feature, and other useful teaching materials.

The Internet TESL Journal - This no-frills website is a great place for ESL and EFL teachers to find lesson plans and curriculum ideas online.

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

Friday, July 24, 2009

Useful Information In and Out of the Classroom 7/24/09

Here are some interesting sites that I’ve found this week, thanks to my Personal Learning Network (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!

Guess the Wordle – “Each Monday, Wednesday, & Friday a new wordle will be posted for you and your students to view. Each wordle will have a TOPIC and you will need to use your deciphering skills to figure out exactly what that topic is. Then by using the Google form, you are invited to share what you think that topic is.”

OnlineProject4Teachers - join this ning and find other teachers who are interested in collaborating on an online project.

Gamequarium – great resource for decimal games

Playing History – “There are tons of free historical games, interactives and simulations on the web. Playing history aggregates info on these resources in a simple, searchable database making it easy to find, rate, and review historical games. There are currently 128 shared games.”

Worldometers – world statistics updated in real time

Original image: 'Dave's Bike Tools' by: Bre Pettis

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Stop Paying for Teaching Assistants!

I recently read the Parent-Paid Aides Ordered Out of City Schools from NYT > Home Page by WINNIE HU that states,

“As classrooms grow more crowded, New York public schools have been told to stop independently hiring teaching assistants with money raised by parents.”

For me, this brings up a lot of questions and concerns. I am a big advocate of having parents in the school as much as possible. Of course I know that many teachers and administrators will slam me on this but I feel the good will more than outweigh the bad. By encouraging parents to be involved in the school day, we can build community support and understanding. So many teachers keep complaining that parents don’t understand what it is like in the classroom, so I say we let them see what it is really like. I don’t understand why the department of education is so against these aides because the parents are paying for them. Are they afraid the aides will report something to the parents? If we are doing our jobs, we should not care how many people are observing us and seeing what we are doing. We should be transparent to all the stake holders which will help when we ask for more money to do the things we believe we need to do in order for our students to be successful.

I would love to have more aides available in the school. Why should I care who pays for them? I remember when I was in high school (many many years ago) and there were parents all around the school. My friend’s mother was the bathroom monitor at lunch to keep girls from smoking in the bathroom. I have no idea if she was paid for this duty or just volunteered for this horrible job but she was there every day. Each year it seems as if teachers are required to do more and more paperwork in addition to the other time consuming tasks as well as teach quality lessons. If there were more aides to take some of the load off the teachers, maybe the teachers would have more time to be creative and innovative rather than burned out. I have had an aide who ran off papers, organized materials, and filed papers as well as reinforcing skills with individual students.

The article goes on to say:

“Supplemental fund-raising from parent groups has long raised questions of fairness. While the ability to provide extras — teaching assistants, books, computers and art supplies, enrichment programs — has helped keep middle-class families in urban public schools, it also can make it more difficult for schools in poor neighborhoods to compete.”

It seems to make sense that if the parents are paying for aides in some schools, then there would be more money in the pot to hire aides in other schools. Once again the government doesn’t seem to be doing what is in the best interest of the child, and is more interested in politics. I have no problem with the aides (no matter who pays their salary) having to undergo security and fingerprint checks at all.

Maybe I’m missing something here but this seems like a step backwards for our students and not forward. Having more aides would allow students to get more attention, more help, enable the teacher to do more things, lower teacher burn out, and improve the school community. What do you think?

Original image: 'Stop' by: Thomas Hawk

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Should I Group?

In the article To group, or not to group from Learn Me Good, Mister Teacher talks about a session that he attended and says,

“The speaker was obviously against ability grouping. He said that in the past, some people have put the high kids together in one class and the lower kids together in another class. In this situation, the low kids tend to learn a lot and the high kids learn a lot, but the gap between their knowledge grows even wider. Whereas in a mixed-ability group, the high kids will pull the lower kids up, and so the knowledge gap is decreased.”

This made me think about grouping and whether I should group or not. I think there are times grouping is good and sometimes it isn’t appropriate. As a teacher, I need to look at what the objective of my lesson is and how do I plan to achieve it. If grouping is the best way to do that, then that is the way I need to go. I do not believe that one size fits all and just because I group for this lesson, doesn’t mean it should be done for all lessons.

In project based learning, the group can be a mixed ability group so that each person can use their strengths to help the whole group. This is a great example of a real life situation because many times when I have to work on a project, I am not aware of the abilities of each person until we start to work together. Each person has something to contribute and because of our different strengths, it is more likely that we will be successful in completing a project. Many employers look for employees who can work on a project with others and can contribute differently to the group.

Yet, as a teacher, I need to help develop my student’s strengths and sometimes it is necessary to put them in a group of same abilities. If I am going to a class to learn a new skill, I do not want to waste time sitting there and listening to the basics being taught if I already know the basics. This applies to my students too and they do not want to waste time hearing about something they already know how to do. The same applies if I overwhelm the students who do not know the basics and give up before they ever get started. This only invites behavior problems and lack of motivation to try to learn a new skill. By grouping them according to same abilities, I am able to challenge the students to a point where they won’t be overwhelmed with frustration.

I think it is also important to talk about this with students. They are aware from an early age about grouping whether you call it low, middle, high or red, blue, and green groups. They know which students struggle and which ones excel. Again, that is real life and nothing we can do will ever insulate them from that. Instead, we need to help them understand that our differences are what help us be successful in life. One student may struggle with one skill but excel in others. As a teacher, they assume that I am brilliant (not that I would ever try to convince them otherwise!) and that I can do anything. Yet, I explain to them that I cannot fix my car if it breaks or repair my roof or fix plumbing problems. Maybe one day, one of my students will be doing that for me. Each of us needs to build on our strengths and encourage others to do the same. Same ability grouping should not be looked down upon but seen as necessary sometimes to build strengths for times when we are in mixed ability groups.

I am interested in knowing how you feel about grouping? Which do you use and why? Hopefully sharing our ideas will help make our students more successful in the classroom.

Original image: 'Serious Face' by: Peter Caspiolay

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Teaching Students with Autism Spectrum Disorders

I am currently teaching a practicum where my students (who are actually teachers getting their master’s degree in special education) are teaching students with special needs. Some of these teachers are encountering students with autism for the first time and have felt some anxiety about this so they asked for some ideas and strategies to help them in the classroom. These are some of the suggestions that I have given them that I have used in the classroom successfully.

1. Use Task Analysis –very specific, tasks in sequential order.
2. Always keep your language simple and concrete. Get your point across in as few words as possible. Typically, it’s far more effective to say “Pens down, close your journal and line up to go outside” than “It looks so nice outside. Let’s do our science lesson now. As soon as you’ve finished your writing, close your books and line up at the door. We’re going to study plants outdoors today”.
3. Teach specific social rules/skills, such as turn-taking and social distance.
4. Give fewer choices. If a child is asked to pick a color, say red, only give him two to three choices to pick from. The more choices, the more confused an autistic child will become
5. If you ask a question or give an instruction and are greeted with a blank stare, reword your sentence. Asking a student what you just said helps clarify that you’ve been understood.
6. Avoid using sarcasm. If a student accidentally knocks all your papers on the floor and you say “Great!” you will be taken literally and this action might be repeated on a regular basis.
7. Avoid using idioms. “Put your thinking caps on”, “Open your ears” and “Zipper your lips” will leave a student completely mystified and wondering how to do that.
8. Give very clear choices and try not to leave choices open ended. You’re bound to get a better result by asking “Do you want to read or draw?” than by asking “What do you want to do now?”
9. Repeat instructions and checking understanding. Using short sentences to ensure clarity of instructions.
10. Providing a very clear structure and a set daily routine including time for play).
11. Teaching what "finished" means and helping the student to identify when something has finished and something different has started. Take a photo of what you want the finished product to look like and show the student. If you want the room cleaned up, take a picture of how you want it to look some time when it is clean. The students can use this for a reference.
12. Providing warning of any impending change of routine, or switch of activity.
13. Addressing the pupil individually at all times (for example, the pupil may not realize that an instruction given to the whole class also includes him/her. Calling the pupil's name and saying "I need you to listen to this as this is something for you to do" can sometimes work; other times the pupil will need to be addressed individually).
14. Using various means of presentation - visual, physical guidance, peer modeling, etc.
15. Recognizing that some change in manner or behavior may reflect anxiety (which may be triggered by a [minor] change to routine).
16. Not taking apparently rude or aggressive behavior personally; and recognizing that the target for the pupil's anger may be unrelated to the source of that anger.
17. Avoid overstimulation. Minimizing/removal of distracters, or providing access to an individual work area or booth, when a task involving concentration is set. Colorful wall displays can be distracting for some pupils, others may find noise very difficult to cope with.
18. Seeking to link work to the pupil's particular interests.
19. Exploring word-processing, and computer-based learning for literacy.
20. Protecting the pupil from teasing at free times, and providing peers with some awareness of his/her particular needs.
21. Allowing the pupil to avoid certain activities (such as sports and games) which s/he may not understand or like; and supporting the pupil in open-ended and group tasks.
22. Allowing some access to obsessive behavior as a reward for positive efforts.

Websites to check out for more information:

· OMAC The Organization and Management of an Autism Classroom Blog -

· Teaching Students with Autism: A Resource Guide for Schools -

· Structured Teaching: Strategies for Supporting Students with Autism? by Susan Stokes Autism Consultant -

· Teaching Autism Students in Inclusive Classrooms -

These are just some suggestions that might help the student be more successful in the classroom. If you have any other suggestions, please feel free to share them.

Original image: 'autism advert' by: Natalia & Gabriel Sánchez-Suárez

Monday, July 20, 2009

Inclusion Ideas and Resources

I was recently sharing with my class some information about inclusion and thought I would share it with you. I think inclusion can be great if it is set up right but if there is not enough preparation, planning, and communication between teachers, it can be a disaster. Too often strong egos and power struggles can undermine the whole process. Hopefully these suggestions will help an inclusion program be more successful.

Preparing for Inclusion:

1. Identify the purpose of Inclusion and what it means for the students. Inclusion is necessary to meet the needs of students with disabilities. Strategies and projects may actually end up helping all of the students in the classroom.
2. Identify the roles of each teacher. Each teacher should have equal power and one teacher will not be used as a glorified aide.
3. Identify times and places for planning and the importance of communication. When and where will we plan for the lessons? Both teachers need to give input and share the responsibility of teaching the lessons.
4. Identify problems solving strategies that will happen when conflict occurs. If the teachers are having a problem, how will you work to solve this problem?) This needs to be agreed upon before a problem arises.
5. All of this needs to take place before classes start.

During the School Year:

1. Brainstorm ideas for teaching a certain topic. Try to think outside the box in order to make the topic interesting and meet the different learning styles of the student.
2. Don’t be afraid to try something new.
3. Look at alternate ways to assess the learning. Offer different options and allow the students to choose.
4. Review the lesson and make sure each teacher understands their role.
5. Evaluate the lesson afterwards to see how the next one can be improved.
6. Don’t take criticism personally but rather a way to help better meet the students’ needs.

Nine Types of Adaptations:

· Size – reduce the number of problems as long as the student can show the skill is mastered.
· Time - extra time may be needed, timeline given to complete the task, or tasks broken down into time chunks.
· Level of Support – peer buddies, tutors, teaching assistants
· Input – visual aides, concrete examples, hands on activities, cooperative groups
· Difficulty – allow use of computer, simplify directions
· Output – verbal response, podcast, drawing, Voicethread, comic strip
· Participation – find roles that student can be successful doing (helper, assistant etc.)
· Alternate – adjust the goals for the student
· Substitute Curriculum – different instruction and materials for the student.
from Adapting Curriculum and Instruction in Inclusive Classrooms: A Teacher's Desk Reference, by Deschenes, C., Ebeling, D., and Sprague, J., 1994.

Great example of inclusion that works:

South Paris Collaborative Site :
Lisa Parisi and Christine Southard teach fifth graders in NY. Lisa is the general ed teacher and Christine is the special ed teacher. They decided to make this a true inclusion classroom and combined their names to form the South Paris Collaborative classroom. Both teachers have equal sized desks and equal say. They spend a lot of time in planning and communicating with each other. They also use the Universal Design for Learning to plan lessons for their classes and meet their students’ needs. Technology is used every day in their lessons and they collaborate with other classrooms around the world. This is a great example of how inclusion can work successfully in the classroom

Universal Design for Learning (
“Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is a framework for designing curricula that enable all individuals to gain knowledge, skills, and enthusiasm for learning. UDL provides rich supports for learning and reduces barriers to the curriculum while maintaining high achievement standards for all.”

Special Education inclusion article:

If you have any other suggestions to help others, please feel free to leave a comment!

Friday, July 17, 2009

Useful Information In and Out of the Classroom 7/17/09

Here are some interesting sites that I’ve found this week, thanks to my Personal Learning Network (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!

eInstruction Community – “Join the eInstruction Community to connect with other educators, find free high-quality resources, and learn about the latest best practices and technologies in classroom instruction. Resources are searchable to make finding what you need fast and simple. Plus, check out blogs and discussion boards to find out what other education professionals are talking about.” Some of my blog posts are also featured here and there are other blogs that share valuable information!

Pyramid Builder – experience the decisions that go into pyramid building and build your own for the king.

Amusement Park Physics - How do physics laws affect amusement park ride design? In this exhibit, you'll have a chance to find out by designing your own roller coaster. Plan it carefully--it has to pass a safety inspection. You can also experiment with bumper car collisions.

50 Awesome Ways to Use Skype in the Classroom

Timetoast – a great way to make timelines

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Why I Read

In the uses of boredom from siobhan curious: classroom as microcosm, Siobhan Curious talks about reading by starting off with, “I became a reader because I was bored.”

This had me thinking about the reasons I read and thought it would fun to come up with a list for the reasons I read. These are not written in any order of priority but more in the order as they came to my mind. First of all, let me tell you, I love to read and have been reading at a very early age. Once my parents introduced me to the public library, I felt I entered a magic world!

I read because:
· I love to visit other places.
· I like to learn about people and enjoy books that develop the characters well.
· I escape into the story sometimes to avoid my current situation or work that has to be done.
· I find it relaxing.
· It is entertaining.
· I want to know what is happening in the news.
· I am lonely and a book is like being with a friend.
· I want to learn something new.
· It distracts me when I am worried about something.
· I am inspired by something I read that motivates me to do something new.
· I am bored.
· I want excitement without having to actually experience the risk, the danger, the sweat and the dirt.
· I want to learn what other people are thinking and feeling.
· Words have so much power when written.
· It is fun.
· I feel a connection with the characters or the author.
· I see things from a different perspective.
· It is a sequel to another book I’ve read and I don’t want the story to end.
· A book is portable and I can pretty much bring it anywhere.
· I can connect with other readers and we have something in common to talk about.
· I want to cook/bake something new and need a recipe.
· I can’t imagine a life without reading.

How many times have your heard a student ask you why they should bother learning to read? These are just some of the reasons that I would share. What are the reasons that you read?

Original image: 'A Wonderland of Books' by: Alfonso

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Is My Classroom a Safe Place?

In A Safe Place… from Tinkerings by admin, the author writes,
“… we want a place of safety to express ourselves, to reveal ourselves, and to risk ourselves. As is usually the case, my thoughts about things turn to my classroom. How many times have I denied my students a place of safety to express themselves? To tell me what is happening in their lives? To open their hearts and their minds to learning? How many times have I stolen safety from a child with a sarcastic remark? An answer to a question that wasn’t even being asked?”

I try to do this in many ways and hope that it is successful. Here are the ways I have tried but if you have any other ideas, please share in your comments. I’m always looking for new ideas.

Building trust: I share a lot of stories about myself so that the students can learn more about me. When I don’t know someone, I don’t feel comfortable expressing myself because I am afraid they will judge me or think badly about me. My students probably feel the same way so I try to take the first steps in getting to know them. I can’t expect them to tell me things about themselves if I’m not willing to share with them.

Sharing feelings: When I am feeling angry, sad, or happy, I try to let my students know this. They can see that there is an appropriate time and place to share these feelings as well as an appropriate way to share this. Many times students feel these things but do not know how to express it. By doing this, I am modeling the behavior that I want them to show.

Writing journals: I have the students write in journals every day. I do not grade them for spelling or grammar but I do count participation. This is hard for my students to feel comfortable with but once they start, they are hooked. My only rules are that I don’t accept anything about drugs, sex, or profanity. Eventually when they see that I’m not judging or condemning what they write, they begin to write more and more. Sometimes they show me that they wrote something but that they do not want me to read it and that is okay too. I write in my daily journal at the same time. Sometimes I share with the class what I wrote and open it up to anyone else who wants to share what they have written.

Class discussion: Sometimes there is a major issue going on in the school and it is like the elephant in the room and needs to be addressed or it becomes a major distraction. The rules are: we can discuss anything but there can be no profanity or calling names. Everyone gets a chance to talk at least one time (if they choose to) before someone can get a second chance and we write their names on the board to keep track. This helps to keep order in the discussion. I also have a little stuffed animal that is passed around and only the one holding it can speak. It is always impressive to see everyone sticking with the rules and participating. I do not give my opinion at this time because I don’t want some students just saying things they think I want to hear so I tell them that I’m undecided and would like to hear their views to help me decide.

These have been successful strategies that the students seem to enjoy. I can’t wait to see any new suggestions out there!

Original image: 'trust' by: Ibrahim Iujaz

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Leadership Day 2009

Thanks to Scott McCleod in his post Calling all bloggers! - Leadership Day 2009 from Dangerously Irrelevant, I’ve decided to give it a shot. He challenges,
“On Sunday, July 12, 2009, blog about whatever you like related to effective school technology leadership: successes, challenges, reflections, needs, wants, etc. Write a letter to the administrators in your area. Post a top ten list. Make a podcast or a video. Highlight a local success or challenge. Recommend some readings. Do an interview of a successful technology leader. Respond to some of the questions below or make up your own. If you participated in years past, post a follow-up reflection. Whatever strikes you. The official hashtag for your post and/or Twitter is #leadershipday09”

I’m sorry I missed the actual day because I take the weekend off from blogging but I really love reading all the posts that other people have written. If you get a chance, I suggest that you read some of the great posts dealing with this topic. I am going to attempt to write my feelings about this.

I feel that most attitudes are developed from the top down and that is why leadership is so important. If the administrators are on board with leading technology and teaching techniques, the rest of the school will follow along. I was lucky enough to be inspired by a great administrator who had this attitude. Unfortunately he moved on to another school in a different district but the things I learned from him have never left me. Leaders need to stop talking about what needs to be done and move into action. For the past year, I’ve heard about what we should have done, what we need to do now, and what needs to be done in the future but I believe now is the time to stop talking and start doing. We could talk forever and not accomplish anything. Everything begins with the first steps.

I would like to see an administrator who asked for each of the faculty to share a new tech tool, tech article, or website that they liked and share why they thought it was worth sharing. They would sign up for a 5 min. time slot at the weekly faculty meetings and the things shared could be kept on a wiki. No repeats would be allowed so if someone shared something you were going to share, you have time to find something else. I think it would be interesting and a way for colleagues to connect with each other. If anyone had questions or wanted to explore further, they could contact the person who introduced it. I’m sure at first there would be eye rolling and resistance but I see that happen, no matter what new things is encouraged. Unfortunately we pick up many bad habits from our students. I think we don’t share enough with our colleagues and we always have an excuse why we don’t. If the administration encouraged it and allotted 5-10 min. each week to do this, I think it would develop into a habit rather than an drudgery. This can be successful but would need the commitment of administration that it would be done regularly without finding excuses to put it aside.

Original image by Scott McCLeod

Monday, July 13, 2009

Meme: My Best Posts of the Past

Here are some of my best posts of the past:

Rant: Action Doesn’t Mean Production

I think this post is important because sometimes we assume that other people know what we expect and they really don’t. It shows how important communication is and without it, many times we perceive things differently than it really is. I think this will be an ongoing dilemma that we will face all of the time. I would also add to the letter to parents, that we aren’t miracle workers and we sometimes do the best we can, and it still isn’t enough. Don’t think badly of us.

Resources: Welcome to the Carnival of Education: The Hiking Edition

This was the first time I hosted the Carnival and I loved seeing all the posts that people submitted. I think there is such a wide variety of blogs out there with such a wealth of information. I haven’t seen anyone host the carnival lately but it may be because of the summer and I really miss it. This was a way for me to see blog posts that I might not have seen otherwise.

Reflections: Am I Passionate About My Teaching?

I think it is important to have a passion about something I’m doing. If I don’t have this passion any more I need to find a way to get it back or move on to something else. I think this has been true of something I did in the past and will be true for future endeavors.

Revelations: Be a Tour Guide

I realized what a difference I can make as a teacher by how I present the information to students. It is important that I know the information I am sharing with my students but it is so important how I deliver this information to them. How I do this will affect how they receive it. Seeing this from the student’s point of view is something I need to remember.

What a great meme this was! This is a meme started by Joyce Valenza and I was tagged by Cathy Nelson. Here are the rules:

1. Scan your posts for your own personal favorites.

2. Choose one post in any/each of the four categories:
· Rants
· Resources
· Reflections
· Revelations
(I leave it to you folks to define these terms, but my instinct is that we could treat these loosely. You are welcome to suggest new categories if these don’t fit.)

3. In a blog post, list those posts and very briefly describe
· Why it is important,
· Why it had lasting value or impact,
· How you would update it for today.

4. Select five (or so) other bloggers to tap with this meme.

5. Tag all of your post with #postsofthepast

Care to join me in this meme?

So You Want To Teach?
Learn Me Good
Learning is Messy
Kobus Van Wyk

Original image: 'Fourth on Lake Austin' by: Trey Ratcliff

Friday, July 10, 2009

Useful Information In and Out of the Classroom 7/10/09

Here are some interesting sites that I’ve found this week, thanks to my Personal Learning Network (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!

Tube Chop – if Youtube is blocked in your district, try this. It “allows you to easily chop a funny or interesting section from any YouTube video and share it.”

Do2Learn – “games, songs, communication cards, print resources and information for special needs”

Whyzz – “whyzz is the place where parents with curious young children can find and contribute kid-ready information about how the world works!” Great for teachers too!

Download a Dinosaur – “Designs for easy-to-make paper dinosaurs that you can download from this site and print out on your printer. All that is needed is scissors and glue. Soon your office will be overrunning with raptors. How about triceratops with names on them as place settings at a kid's birthday party? Or a 30-minute crafts activity?”

Paper Models of Civil War Soldiers - Here are designs for easy-to-make paper Civil War soldiers that you can download from this site and print out on your printer. All that is needed is scissors, clear tape, a stapler and glue.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Math Strategies

Today I am going to share some of the strategies that I shared with my teachers. They are taking my class so that they can get a Master’s degree in Special Education and this course is a culmination of all that they have learned to this point. It is so exciting to see them teaching and interacting with the students.

In addition to the strategies listed, I have found some websites that also give great suggestions. They are Mathematics, Reading and Math Strategies, The Accent Center, and From Jim Wright: Intervention Ideas for Mathematics.

Here are the suggestions that I have given my teachers. If you have any other suggestions or links to great websites, I would love to see them. Please add them in your comments so I can share them with my teachers.

1. Use manipulatives to understand a concept.
2. Teach math vocabulary.
3. Use visuals and graphics to illustrate concepts to the students.
4. Have students make up their own word story problems.
5. Teach students how to use a calculator.
6. Teach money concepts using play money.
7. Teach time by using manipulative clocks.
8. Have students restate word problems in their own words.
9. Younger children can play sorting games.
10. Ask the student to tell the number that comes after (before, between) a designated number.
11. Give a pattern of numbers and ask students what comes next.
12. Use number lines.
13. Arrange by size and length.
14. Use flash cards, rolling dice, playing cards to teach computational facts.
15. Subtraction of 9s from teen numbers (16-9 = ?; 1+6 =7)
16. Puzzles cards with facts and answers on each piece

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Reading and Writing Strategies

This month I am supervising the Learning Disabilities Practicum. I have five teachers and twenty children (ages 6-14) with disabilities in the program which meets for half a day for four weeks. The curriculum includes academics, social skills, and physical activities.

Some of the things we are discussing are some strategies for teaching reading and writing and I thought I would share them here. I also found some websites that give great suggestions such as Reading, Mindtools, and Just Read Now. If you have any other suggestions or links to great websites, I would love to see them. Please add them in your comments so I can share them with my teachers.

1. Ask students to retell or summarize the story.
2. Create graphic organizers.
3. Put pictures of story events in order.
4. Have students write their own reactions to stories and factual material.
5. Repeated reading: passages of 50 to 200 words long and at a difficulty level that enables the student to recognize most of the words. The student then reads the selection orally three or four times before proceeding to a new passage.
6. Reading predictable books
7. Language experience method: students dictate stories to the teacher. The stories then become the basis of their reading instruction.
8. K-W-L technique: Students think of and state all the knowledge they have on a subject. Each student thinks of wand writes on a sheet of paper what he or she want to learn from the reading. Students read the lesson silently and write what they have learned from the reading.
9. Highlighting multiple word meanings
10. Exploring sources of vocabulary using newspapers and advertising. Keep a list of new words.
11. Play word games like categories (name types of cars, or dogs, or buildings, or clothes etc.)
12. Word webs – like a graphic organizer; giving more details like “What is it?” “What is it like?” and “What are some examples?”
13. Point out syllables in multisyllabic words.
14. Teach word families (ex. At, cat, bat, rat)
15. Write in journals.
16. Use materials without words like comic books without captions or books with photos. The students figure out the story content from the pictures.
17. Written conversations – instead of saying what they wish to communicate to the class, they write the message and give it to the teacher or other students. Then the teacher or students respond in writing.
18. Patterned writing – the students use a favorite predictable book with a patterned writing and then they write their own version. (ex. Brown Bear, Brown Bear)
19. Express their ideas in pictures.

Original image: 'I Want to Live' by: Jay Ryness

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

School Isn’t For Everyone

It is hard for me to believe this and feel like a good teacher at the same time, but I do. Of course, I did feel better after reading there are worse things than dropping out of school from siobhan curious: classroom as microcosm, Siobhan Curious states,

“I also think there needs to be a shift in social attitudes supported by a change in the system, so that it is easier and more acceptable for students to leave school if they are unhappy and not learning, spend some time in the work force, and return to school whenever they are ready.”

When I was dating my husband, I heard many stories from him and his mother about the difficult times he had in school. He ended up joining the navy and getting his GED. I have taught many students who feel like staying in school is a waste of time.

My students were in the Occupational Diploma Program which was a district program and not a state recognized program. My students were students with disabilities that kept them from passing the state exit exam in order to receive a state high school diploma. This means that they walked at graduation and got their occupational diploma but the state still considered them drop outs on the AYP report. What a slap in the face this was for my students! They followed a rigorous curriculum in order to receive this but they still weren’t counted as being successful.

The local Career and Technology Center was focusing on college bound students who could pass licensure tests so my students were not really encouraged to attend. There were no programs like brick masonry, or building construction, or auto mechanics offered for my students. Of course, I heard that it was hard to find instructors but I also heard that they didn’t really seek anyone out for these types of programs. I’m worried about the future. We will still need our cars worked on, and houses built so who is going to do this if we are not training our youth in these occupations. I had students who were willing to learn this but no one willing to teach them. Some of my students didn’t see the value of staying in school when they wanted and needed to learn a trade. I tried to encourage them to stay in so they could show future employers that they were willing to hang in there and not quit on their commitments but that is the only reason I could really see them staying in school.

I did find information about Job Corps for my students and invited a speaker to my class. I was amazed how great the program sounded. I have had few students go through the program and was thrilled to hear that they were successful with the program.

I believe I needed to find out what options my students had besides school. I also needed to think about the realistic consequences of choosing these options. My students depended on me to be honest and they trusted my opinion. I couldn’t just be single minded and force my hopes and dreams on to them but had to think about what was in their best interests. I also communicated a lot with their parents as we looked at options too. By this time their parents were so frustrated and concerned that they didn’t know which way to turn. Many times I laid out the options for everyone to see so they could go home and discuss these options. Since everyone’s goal was for the student to find success, we were able to help the student make the best decision at that time.

Sometimes school isn’t for everyone and all I hope to do is help my students become successful in finding their way towards independence.

Original image: 'One Room School' by: Cindy Seigle

Monday, July 6, 2009

The E-Learner's Guide To Using The Kindle

(Today’s post is written by a guest writer, Thomas Rheinecker, who is a freelance author and writes about education topics, such as how to research online university reviews, accreditation, and more.)

There are many ways to use the Kindle. This modern marvel of engineering is particularly suited to educational uses. Beyond the basic presentation of text, it could be utilized in any learning environment to facilitate learning both on an individual and a group level. As a student, you could take advantage of this device to maximize your own learning if you only take the time to learn how to do just that.

The Future Of Textbooks

Of course, students can get textbooks on the Kindle and then study them that way. Ideally, this would be cheaper in the long run than always purchasing new books for each new class. Over time, the cost of the Kindle is bound to come down too making it even more of a smart financial move for students.

A learning institution could even have a set of Kindles for a class so that all students would have the same access to this teaching tool. Content could be sent directly to each Kindle for review by the student. The usage does not have to stop with the simple textbook content. Teachers could also take this opportunity to disperse other learning materials such as review notes or materials to help students prepare for upcoming classes.

Students And Faculty Working Together

On an individual basis, students can highlight the text in the Kindle and take notes as well. These notes are then stored for retrieval online later. If multiple Kindles are registered to an account then all of them will be able to access notes taken to that account.

In this way a teacher could post notes for the entire class to review along with reading material. This could be especially helpful when students are away from class and are facing challenging reading assignments. The notes could provide the necessary assistance to make these reading efforts fruitful even in the absence of the real life teacher to provide guidance.

In the same way that teachers could supply notes for students, students could work together in their note taking efforts. The applications could be useful for any subject and at a variety of different learning levels. It can even read the text aloud at a speed chosen by the reader and in a male or a female voice.

Who Needs A Dictionary?

On top of the potential for the teacher's notes to be included and for the test to be read aloud by the device, there is another feature that will prove helpful regardless of the text. The Kindle has a built-in dictionary. You have the option of highlighting a word so that it will appear towards the bottom of the screen along with its definition. This helps a reader to continue on with the text with a complete understanding without the need to go get a dictionary.

For those who enjoy learning using the Kindle, there are many different ways to take advantage of this device. Both students and faculty can use this device either as a personal tool or in conjunction with a class to facilitate the learning process. The full potential for this technology will reveal itself in time.

Original image: 'Kindle' by: Steven Harris

Friday, July 3, 2009

Useful Information In and Out of the Classroom 7/3/09

Here are some interesting sites that I’ve found this week, thanks to my Personal Learning Network (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!

Make Your Own Rain Stick - directions for making this

Bookshare – “Accessible Books and Periodicals for Readers with Print Disabilities, free for all U.S. students with qualifying disabilities.”

Scratch – “Scratch is a new programming language that makes it easy to create your own interactive stories, animations, games, music, and art -- and share your creations on the web. Scratch is designed to help young people (ages 8 and up) develop 21st century learning skills. As they create and share Scratch projects, young people learn important mathematical and computational ideas, while also learning to think creatively, reason systematically, and work collaboratively.”

Cost of Living Calculator -compares how far a salary in one city will go in another

Playing History – “There are tons of free historical games, interactives and simulations on the web. Playing history aggregates info on these resources in a simple, searchable database making it easy to find, rate, and review historical games. There are currently 128 shared games.”

Original image: 'Veere: tools' by: Ard Hesselink

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Last Day Reflections

Today is the last day of my class: Nature of Learning Disabilities which met for four days a week, three hours a day for four weeks. I truly loved teaching this class and really enjoyed my students. There were only three students but they all had a different background which led to lots of different points of view. One teacher taught in the public school, one taught at a private school and the other one was just an undergraduate with no teaching experience at all. We had wonderful discussions and everyone gave great input. Whenever questions arose, I felt I was able to take time to answer them and give help when needed. I learned a lot from them also. It is always a joy to teach students who are hard working and conscientious because it makes my life as a teacher so much easier!

I really enjoyed sharing my knowledge of special education with others because I feel it is so important for general ed and special ed teachers to know this information. I think (and hope) they have a better understanding about Learning Disabilities and the characteristics of a student with learning disabilities at different ages. I also think it was great to discuss different strategies that can be used to help these students. With such a small class, we were able to sit a semi circle and really have meaningful exchanges of ideas. I really enjoyed the Skype call we made to Lisa Parisi and Christine Southard to talk about their Inclusion class. I hope they can take the knowledge learned in my class and apply it to their classrooms or their lives.

By showing the class different technology tools, I was able to demonstrate how differentiated learning could help all students and not just the students with special needs. They willingly tried the new tools and became quite good at them too. Each student set up a blog (Check out our Class Blogs) and commented on other blogs which I think is a great way to reflect on teaching practices as well as keeping up with current trends in education. I really wish that I had more time with them to show them more tools. I didn’t get to show them all the things I wanted to because I was afraid of overwhelming them. If I showed them too many, I was worried that instead of trying some of them, they would avoid all of them. So I am pleased they learned to blog, use Skype, use Plurk and Twitter, use Google Reader, saw Voicethread and Delicious. I think we accomplished a lot in a month!

Overall, I feel this class was successful and we accomplished all that we set out to do. I just hope they keep up their blogging because I enjoyed reading them and would love to stay in touch.

Original image: 'Introduction to monstering'

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

I Am Not a Hero

In This is a call to all my past resignation from Stop Trying to Inspire Me, Tom writes,

“I'm supposed to be a professional. Being a martyr isn't professional. It's pathetic. I don't think that teaching is a calling. It's not a job, but it's just what you ... well, what you are. You have a job at a school, a career teaching a certain subject, but you ARE a teacher. That means that job or no job, you're still a teacher, much like a writer is always a writer no matter how old or how many jobs or books he writes. Teaching is a craft that you hone for years and years, and nowhere in that craft is anything that tells me that you should nail yourself to a cross. Because if there is, then I've made a huge mistake.”

I totally understand and agree with what Tom is saying. Whenever I tell people that I was a special education teacher (after they finally figured out that I didn’t mean that I taught “gym”), they would tell me that I was amazing, or call me an angel, or exclaim that I was a saint! This really made me uncomfortable. I don’t think I do anything special other than specialize in an area of teaching. This is a lot like an orthopedic surgeon or a neurologist. They specialize in a certain area of the medical field but they trained for this, just like I trained for my profession. Of course I don’t get paid the extra money for my specialty like they do. I could only wish!

I taught special education for almost 30 years and learned something new all of the time. I learned as much from my students as they probably did from me. Even when I had many parents tell me how much they appreciated how much I did for their child, I didn’t feel like I did anything special. I did what I had to do. I did it because it was necessary in order for my students to be successful. In fact, I have a confession to make. I was in constant contact with the parents because it made my life easier. Since I had established a rapport with the parents, they supported me and backed me up when I was having problems with their child. When I felt discouraged, they were there to encourage me and boost me up. Other teachers would shake their heads at me or look at me disgustingly when, during parent conferences, parents would ask other teachers to contact them like I did. Needless to say, I was not always the most liked member of my faculty. I actually had some teachers come to me and tell me to stop contacting parents because it made their lives difficult. Well, I didn’t because it made my life easier!

I love to hear when former students contact me and tell that they are successful in their lives. This makes me feel good until they tell me that I did something special to make this happen. I believed in them. I don’t know how to tell them that this wasn’t anything special that I did. This was something that I think every teacher should do. It is like being a coach to a baseball team. The coach doesn’t give up on the team before they even start the game. He has to believe that they have a chance to win or they might as well not even play the game. When I teach, I believe that these students have a chance and it is my job to find what they need in order to succeed. If teachers don’t believe this, they need to either retire or resign. If a teacher doesn’t believe this and wants to continue to teach, an attitude change needs to happen or more harm than good will happen.

No, I’m not a hero. I don’t wear a special cape or have super powers. I just teach. I teach because it is the job I have chosen to do. I teach because I knew I would be happy in this profession and I had to have a career that I loved. I teach because I love it. I teach because I feel I can make a difference. But please, don’t think I’m a hero, because I’m not.

Original image: 'Supergirl - DC Anime Heroine Series' by: Daniel Chan