Monday, August 31, 2009

Is New Technology the Future of Classrooms?

(Today’s guest blogger is Donna Scott. Donna went to school and graduated from UH in Houston as an English major. Then she worked in a PR Firm in Houston but decided it wasn't for her and now freelances for an online education website. Thank you Donna for a great post!)

The massive technological advances of the past decade – faster computers, smaller cell phones, cleaner cars – seem to have infiltrated and revolutionized every aspect of our lives. That is, except for education. Still stuck with dusty chalkboards and dried-out Expo markers, education has fallen behind as everything else marches ahead. But a few promising tools have been developed to nudge our classrooms onward and forward into the future. The question is, are our classrooms ready for the push?

The SMART Board, an interactive whiteboard, has already found its way into more than 900,000 classrooms worldwide, according to Texas’ The Katy Times. The SMART Board projects the teacher’s computer screen onto a large surface and responds to the touch of a stylus, much like how a computer responds to the click of a mouse. The touch technology can turn learning into a game, such as allowing students to drag state shapes onto a blank map. One teacher uses it to give her students a virtual tour of Verona when she teaches Shakespeare. Lauded for its ability to capture the attention of restless students, the SMART Board undoubtedly makes a fine addition to any classroom. But each board costs $3,000 to $3,600, and teachers have to be trained to use them. Although a welcome addition, it is a costly one.

The game show-inspired clicker has also sprung up in many classrooms. The University of Texas in Austin uses them regularly for large lab classes, and even handed out 600 of the i>clicker devices to high school honors students to demonstrate the technology, according to THE Journal. The clicker allows students to confidentially click in answers to questions, and the teacher can see in real-time on his or her computer screen what concepts need further explanation if there is a popular incorrect answer clicked in. Even the shyest of students can receive the help he or she needs without having to raise a hand.

In making learning more interactive and inclusive, teachers have found that students are more interested in lessons. Unfortunately, the available technology will not be able to make its way into every American classroom. With low funding for the poorer districts in the nation, many schools can barely afford to install a single computer in each classroom, never mind a $3,000 SMART Board or clickers for every student. Luckily, the technology also shows that students respond to novel new ways of learning lessons. While not every teacher can have the latest in educational technology, he or she can still engage students with interactive and innovative lesson planning.

This post was contributed by Donna Scott, who writes about the online colleges. She welcomes your feedback at

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

Friday, August 28, 2009

EduCarnival v2 8/26/09

EduCarnival v2 is up on the midway at Epic Adventures are Often Uncomfortable. Don’t miss out on all the fun! See what is going on in the Edusphere. My article on Easing Teachers' Anxieties is there but there are lots of other great articles to read too! See you there and don’t eat too much cotton candy!

Useful Information In and Out of the Classroom 8/28/09

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!

Gauging Your Distraction - “new studies show that drivers overestimate their ability to multitask behind the wheel. This game measures how your reaction time is affected by external distractions.”

Education Blogs by Discipline – great collection of blogs!

It’s My Life – “deals with (you guessed it!) life and the stuff we deal with every day. Whatever problem you’re dealing with, believe it or not, other kids and teens have gone through the same thing. Here at It’s My Life, you can rad informative articles, share your stories, play games and activities, take quizzes and polls, watch video clips of other kids talking about their feelings and experiences, get advice from older kids and experts, and contribute your own comments and questions. It’s My Life also features interviews with celebrities about stuff they had to go through when they were kids.”

Shape Collage – (download required); “Make picture collages in less than a minute with just a few mouse clicks”

Science Books Online – “lists free science e-books, textbooks, lecture notes, monographs, and other science related documents. All texts are available for free reading online, or for downloading in various formats.”

Original image: 'Wrenches'

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Developing a Study Plan

Meaghan Montrose from TutorFi has a great post about Study Tips and Learning Strategies for the New School Year. She compiled a list of links to previous posts that will help students be more successful. These are great suggestions and I started to wonder how I could teach students in the classroom how to create better study habits.

I think the most important thing is to teach them a routine. My students do better if I can actually post a regular routine for them to follow. This type of checklist helps them do things in order of priority. Since my students have disabilities, organization is one of the major obstacles in their life. Before they can even begin to study, they have to prepare for this. Many times I have heard teachers tell students, go home and study but the students have no clue what this means. Even after meeting with parents, they tell me that their child studies and they can’t understand why their child is not progressing. Further investigation shows that they don’t know what their child is doing when they say their child is “studying.”

Now, I could work out a routine with the parents, but I find a routine is more successful if the student has input and control of this routine. I like to discuss the routine with the whole class and then work individually with each student to fine tune the routine. After a routine is developed with the student, we agree to discuss this with the parent together and sign a contract. The parent is able to give input and make changes at this point if something in the student plan is not feasible. If the student has ownership of the plan, I find they are more likely to follow it and take responsibility for it. It is a lot like when I try to develop a new habit. I can read all the books and articles but until I make it my own plan, I usually am not successful with it. I want my students to be successful.

These are the points that I discuss with the students. I need to come up with a daily plan of what I need to do before I start studying.

1. Location: There needs to be one spot set aside for studying. It should be away from a lot of movement that can be distracting. This should be the same spot that is used every day. I think it is a way to train the brain that this is the time and place for studying and can help keep distractions at a minimum.

2. Time: I believe the same time every day should be set aside for studying. This needs to develop into a habit. I do this for my exercising so that I don’t come up with excuses why I can’t do it. If my brain knows that the same time every day is for this activity, I will be more likely to follow it.

3. Duration: I need to decide how long I will do this activity each day. I might study for 2 hours or I might break it up into 2 – one hour segments. If I break it up into two segments, I need to set a specific time and stick to it.

4. Materials: I need to have my materials there waiting for me. When I’m done studying for the evening, I will make sure my materials are there for me for the next day. I will have a couple of pens, pencils, erasers, rulers, calculator, dictionary etc. This is important so that I don’t have to interrupt my train of thought in the middle of studying to find these things. They are all there at my finger tips.

5. Breaks: I think taking a break every 15-20 minutes is reasonable. It is a good time to refill my water bottle, use the bathroom, or just stretch. I also think it is important to keep the breaks short and do not get involved in any other activity.

6. Obstacles: If there is something that is giving me a problem, I will put it aside and come back to it. Sometimes seeing it with a fresh mind helps it suddenly become clear to me. If I get too frustrated with it, I find it almost impossible to come up with an answer.
7. Support: Know who to go to if you need help. This might be parents, teacher, computer, peers. If I use peers, I need to make sure that it doesn’t turn out to be a social event and keep it to getting the help I need for this assignment. This should also be a last resort when nothing else works.

8. Assignments: I like to keep a list of assignments and when they are do. Then I prioritize which assignment is due the soonest and I know that is what I need to work on first. If all of them are due the same time, I like to get the hardest assignment out of the way first while I still feel fresh and energetic. After the hardest one is finished, it is easy to get the other ones out of the way.

After this discussion, I have students add any other things they think are important. Then I have them actually right out a personal plan that they can follow. They come up with the actual location, time, duration, list of materials, break time, and a list of support people including phone numbers if necessary. This is a great time for them to talk to their friends and agree to help each other.

I give them a sample list of assignments with assorted due dates and let them actually learn how to prioritize them. Then we discuss how each student did this and why they chose to do it this way. There may be more than one answer to how this is done. I also give them a sample list of assignments with no due date and ask them to prioritize these. Again we discuss the reasons. We might actually do this more than one time.

After the students feel comfortable with their plan, I encourage them to talk about it with their parents and then arrange a time for us to meet and discuss it. The parents are encouraged by an actual plan rather than just telling them that their child needs to study. The students feel proud because they came up with it rather than being told it is one more thing they have to follow. I just see it as a win-win situation for all that will help the student be more successful.

Would you add anything to the list? Do you have a way that you teach this? I’d love to hear about it if you do.

Original image: 'Oops' by: Francisco Martins

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Let the Fun Times Begin!

I have always disliked the first week of school, even though I was excited about school starting back. I’m not talking about the abundance of paperwork, learning new school procedures, assigned monitoring duties, getting textbooks, or organizing my classroom. I’m talking about the “Stepford Students.” Now, if you aren’t old enough to remember the movie “The Stepford Wives,” then let me tell you about the “Stepford Students.” These students are wearing their new clothes and tennis shoes, have brand new notebooks, pencils, book bags, and possibly hair styles. When these students arrive, they are usually on their best behavior, don’t have many friends, and may be a little timid about new changes happening in their lives. Most of these students are eager to follow my directions and try hard to follow every rule. Now maybe you are thinking this is an ideal situation but I don’t.

During that first week, I have so many “wants.” I want to see my real students. I want to know about their real personalities and what they think. I want to know about their lives, their background, and their motivations. I want to see how they react to situations and cope with the changes going on in their lives. I want to know what they can and can’t do and how they cope with frustration. I want them to believe that I can help them and I want them to believe in themselves too.

By the second week, I’m usually more comfortable because the “Stepford Students” are disappearing. My students are wearing clothes they are comfortable in and have started to make new friends. The students who will challenge me have shown their true colors and the meek mild mannered students may really be withdrawn and depressed. Finally, these students begin to feel more comfortable and start to test limits. They want to know the boundaries and how far they can go. They have to feel that they are in a safe environment before they can trust me to teach them. When the “Stepford Students” finally disappear totally, I can be a teacher and really do my job.

When I get to know my real students, I am able to laugh with them and learn with them. I can’t teach the “Stepford Students” effectively but I can teach the real students. These are the students who may grasp a concept today but tomorrow will act like they never saw it before. These are the students who have real life issues that get in the way of their learning. These are the students who make me recognize that everyone can’t learn the same way and at the same speed. These are the students who make me feel like I really make a difference.

So, when I make it through the second week, I usually can tell that my year will be successful. It will have the usual uphill struggles but the journey is usually exciting and well worth the work!

Original image: 'Join us' by: John Watson

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Unwanted Teenage Pregnancies

Now before you roll your eyes and move to another post, this is not a discussion about the pros and cons of abortion so don’t worry. I’m not going to get into that discussion.

According to the U.S. Teenage Pregnancy Statistics: National and State Trends and Trends by Race and Ethnicity, each year, almost 750,000 teenage women aged 15–19 become pregnant. In 2003, women age 14 and under, there were 17,340 total pregnancies.

I believe that we as a society are too accepting of this situation. When I was growing up, if a girl got pregnant, other students whispered about it and it was a major scandal. Pregnant girls were not even allowed in regular schools which tended to discourage the desire to get pregnant. Now, being pregnant is nothing major for students. It is accepted by students, parents, schools, and most of society. Sure, lots of adults think it is an outrage but they still shrug their shoulders and forget about it.

Many of my students saw getting pregnant as a status symbol. They felt more grown up then their peers. The girls got a lot of attention from friends and teachers and the boys would brag about how many children they have fathered. Since many of my students were on welfare already, there was no need to discuss child support. In fact, I had one student’s parent tell me that one more child actually helped them get more money each month.

I had a fourteen year old girl in my class who was pregnant. She was too tired to do her homework each night, she needed to eat in my class (which is against the rules) because she was nauseous all of the time, she slept in my class because she was tired, and she was moody and disrespectful at times because of her hormones. Of course when she suffered the consequences for her actions, she became irate and told me how unfair I was. According to her, I was supposed to allow her to break all of the rules because she was pregnant. I told her that she made these choices and would have to suffer the consequences and that I would stand fast to the rules. At this time, she told me that she didn’t make any choices and that she was just pregnant. I explained that when she chose to have sex, getting pregnant was a consequence of her actions. Since she made that choice, she still had to follow my rules. Eventually she went to a Teen Parent program until she had her child. Then she returned to my class.

Now I’m not sure there is anything we can do about this whole situation but I think we need to bring it out more in discussions and topics. Since teaching about birth control, sex, and abstinence is usually frowned upon in schools, maybe we need to discuss pregnancies and the pitfalls for teenagers. We need to discuss the cost of having a child and raising a child. I’m not sure that anyone ever really sits the students down and talks to them about this.

I did a really fun and enlightening activity that really opened my students’ eyes. It took a couple of weeks to complete but it was well worth the time.

First, I had them decide if they were going to get married and how many children they were going to have.

Then we began to find out how much it would cost for them to have the lifestyle they desired. I had them go through the newspaper to find a house that they would like to live in. I had a realtor talk to my students and help them figure out what their monthly payments might be. They also had to find out how much homeowner’s insurance would cost for this house.

Using the newspaper, they also found a car they wanted to buy and drive. An insurance agent helped them figure out how much their insurance would cost for that car.

Then we wrote out a monthly budget for their desired lifestyle. We had to estimate some costs and even had to call the power company to find out the cost for their house. They added in food for the whole family, clothing for the whole family, gas for their car(s), and recreation for the whole family also.

Now I know this was a pretty rough budget but it still gave them an idea of what their expenses would be like if they lived they way they wanted to live. Many still didn’t have a problem with the monthly amount they needed because they couldn’t relate it to real life.

The next step was for them to find a career they would probably have and find out the yearly salary. They broke this down into monthly wages. They then learned about federal and state taxes as well as social security that are taken from their wages. This was a shock to them! That is when it hit that their check did not cover their desired lifestyle!

Then they were allowed to adjust the number of people in their family (namely the number of children), and recalculate food, clothing, and recreation amounts. When that really didn’t impact the budget enough, they looked for other houses and cars. Finally one girl said, “I’m going to be living in a cardboard box, unmarried, with no children!” That is all I can afford if I don’t finish school and get a good job!” Bingo! The light bulb was turned on!

Another activity we have done was to figure out the cost of having a child and raising it until it turns 18. We added in hospital costs, new baby costs, diapers, baby food, baby furniture and then clothing and food as the baby grew up. That was another enlightening activity.

I believe we need to do a better job of educating our students about pregnancies and the consequences later in raising these children. I don’t want to talk about the morality of getting pregnant or not but would rather show them the financial impact on their lives. I felt I was very successful with these activities in order to do this.

Do you do anything to enlighten the students about this situation? If so, please share.

Original image: 'pregnant silhouette' by: mahalie stackpole

Monday, August 24, 2009

Work Ethics vs. Laziness

How many times have I wondered why my students think working is beneath them? How do I teach a good work ethic? How can I show my students that they should take pride in having a job and doing it well? My parents told me many times that it was important to give an honest day’s work for an honest day’s pay. If I didn’t work, I didn’t get paid and I couldn’t do anything in life that I wanted to do. I had never heard of welfare until I was in college and never knew it was an option for some people. When I did hear about it, I thought it was only for old people who couldn’t work.

I guess now is the time to apologize for this rant and didn’t realize where this was going until I started to write. I know I’m probably preaching to the choir but I’m about to say things that I’ve thought about for a long time and felt like it was probably politically incorrect to voice these opinions.

“Here in America, a good number of folks tend to think our young people carry with them such a strong sense of entitlement that the idea of working towards a goal is simply deemed as asking too much.

Indeed, the outstanding performance collectively of Asian-American students provides strong evidence that we need to look at our culture as well as our schools. Because when a sense of entitlement is removed from the mix and hard work emphasized, this group of students represents living proof that teens can and will actually focus on their education and their future in the right circumstances.

Drop outs are an important issue and schools must be part of the solution process. But to continue to insist that the problem is one that can be solved solely by schools demonstrates a dramatic failure to understand the true scope of the issue.”

I suddenly realized that is exactly how my students were acting, like they were entitled to something, anything, everything! My parents would have slapped me into next week if I had this attitude. I was taught that I had to work for anything I got. I paid my own way for college and even my own wedding. Nothing was handed over to me. Even after we were married, I didn’t live beyond my means. If I couldn’t afford it, I didn’t buy it. Even if I bought it on credit, I had the money in the bank to pay it off but I was just trying to build my credit rating.

It makes my blood boil to see my students on the free lunch program coming into my class every week with new name brand blue jeans and high dollar tennis shoes telling me they had thick juicy steaks for dinner. Yet, here I am giving an “honest day’s work for an honest day’s pay” and my own children wear Wal-Mart brand clothes and shoes and eat ground beef at dinner. No wonder my children didn’t want to grow up to be like me. They want to grow up to be like these other kids’ parents! At times, I want to grow up to be like them too! I get tired of struggling and feeling defeated when I see these people with everything that I’m trying to work to get. Then I wake up and realize that I have my pride. I am proud that I’m working, that I earn what I get, that others know I am a hard worker.

My dad had to retire at 88 years old when he suffered a mild stroke. He retired actually twice before but he needed to work because it made him proud to work. He never took a hand out from anyone and expected us to be the same way. Not working was never an option in his mind. If you were healthy and breathing, then there was no reason why you should not contribute to society. Even now at 90, he is constantly doing something. Yes, I really feel proud of what he has accomplished in his life and I guess I want to be like him! He was pretty upset when he heard that I retired from teaching but since I have become a consultant and give presentations as well as teaching some courses on the college level, he has forgiven me.

How do we instill this work ethic in our young people? I wish we could institute some form of the Civilian Conservation Corps again. I think adults should have to do some kind of work service if they are not disabled in order to receive any kind of government benefit. We have been too accepting of giving the handouts and not accepting something in return. By doing this, we perform a disservice to our young people. I had one parent of a student who volunteered every day at my elementary school because she got government help. No one told her she had to do this and she didn’t get paid but this was her way of paying back in the way that she could. I really respected her for doing this.

Before you get too mad at me, let me make it clear that I have no problem with the government helping those who really need it. There are many who are medically disabled or even elderly who should benefit from government programs. There are many that would benefit but their pride actually keeps them from asking for help. These are not the ones that I am talking about. There are so many who are just taking advantage of the government who really don’t need it and these are the ones that I have a major problem with. Maybe if we start speaking out about it, we can change society. Maybe there needs to be better controls on these programs which would save taxpayers more money during these economic times. Maybe then, there will be money for the people who really need it instead of being turned away because of lack of funds.

Okay, I’m done ranting. Feel free to lamblast me if you disagree. I can’t help feeling this way though when I look at my father and see his generation of hard workers. I guess I’m feeling nostalgic and want it to be the time of “happy days are here again…” I really want my students to be successful in life and if they are healthy and able, I believe that working will improve their self esteem, keep them out of depression, and make them contributing citizens in today’s society. What do you think?

Original image: 'Demo: Leaning against the wall' by: Tao Kitamoto

Friday, August 21, 2009

Useful Information In and Out of the Classroom 8/21/09

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!

Tech Tool: Facebook Applications for Learning – if Facebook isn’t blocked at your school, here are some applications that teachers would enjoy using with their students.

Wordle in the Classroom – Clif Mims shares a presentation about 38 interesting ways to use wordle in the classroom.

Literature Learning Ladders – “…make the connection between theory and practice by exploring some online resources related to literacy, themes, literature circles, technology, and learning.”

David Rumsey Map Collection – “has over 20,000 maps and images online. The collection focuses on rare 18th and 19th century North American and South American maps and other cartographic materials. Historic maps of the World, Europe, Asia, and Africa are also represented. Collection categories include antique atlas, globe, school geography, maritime chart, state, county, city, pocket, wall, childrens, and manuscript maps.”

Mud Puddles and Sunny Yellow Dandelions – just something to make you think and possibly smile.

Original image: 'The Right Tool' by: Emily

Thursday, August 20, 2009

SONIC Partners With DonorsChoose

I recently received this email that I thought you might be interested in it. It sounds like a great opportunity. All you have to do is sign up and submit your project and then people come back to vote on it. I hope this helps you in some way in order to make your classroom more successful!

“I am writing on behalf of SONIC® America’s Drive-In regarding a new cause initiative called Limeades for Learning, which provides grants to U.S. public school teachers. This fall, SONIC will donate more than half a million dollars to fund classroom materials and resources needed to inspire learning.

Each year, teachers spend nearly $1,200 of their own money to effectively teach their students. SONIC wants to help. They’ve partnered with, a national leading non-profit Web site to fulfill projects requested by teachers. Projects range from soccer balls needed for gym class to ESL materials to help children read to computers needed for a science lab. If a teacher needs specific materials or resources to plan a field trip, they can sign up as a SONIC Teacher at
LimeadesForLearning and register their project online.

One of the unique benefits of is that every day people become citizen philanthropists by donating to their favorite teacher’s project. Limeades for Learning is similar in that it empowers SONIC customers to take part and direct which teacher projects receive funding. From August 31, to October 1, customers are encouraged to purchase a drink at SONIC and participate in the program. Each cup will be specially marked with a sticker that contains a unique code used to vote for a teacher project on
LimeadesForLearning. Each week for five weeks, teacher projects with the most votes will be funded by SONIC up to $500,000.00.

To ensure teachers have a good chance of getting their project funded, SONIC has many tools available to communicate their involvement. From customized newsletters and e-mails to social network site messaging, teachers will be fully prepared to notify their family, friends, colleagues, PTA, school board members and others to ask for and seek votes. "

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Taking Baby Steps

In the article Palm Beach County students will see many changes when school starts Tuesday, the school board member says, "There's no point in dreaming little dreams...You don't create change a little baby step at the time; that has been ineffective…”

I so totally disagree with this school board member. I wonder if she ever taught in the school system or anywhere else. Has she never taught her own children something or another person? You have to start with the little dreams and you have to start with the baby steps. I’m not saying that you don’t have high hopes or expectations but you have to start small and work your way up. I believe that if you don’t do the baby steps, then you overwhelm others so much that they give up.

When babies learn to walk, they don’t take off running. When they learn to eat solid food, we don’t give them a steak. When they learn to eat, we give them a spoon, not a fork and knife. Why should anything else be different? What would be accomplished if we gave them a steak and a knife and expected them to run right off the bat? Our expectations are unrealistic and set the children up for failure.

The same thing will happen if we do this in schools. We can’t expect students and teachers to take huge steps right at the beginning and hope for success. If we do that, we waste taxpayers money and waste our students’ time. In the overall picture of a student’s 12 year career in school, we don’t have any time to waste!

This district is going to have elementary school students have many different teachers. I remember bonding with my elementary school teacher and learning the way to learn during this time. If these young children have lots of different teachers, won’t there be a lack of continuity at this young age? With many different teachers, there will be a possibility of many different tests and lots of homework. Do we want to overwhelm these students and make them hate school at this age?

Then they talk about merit pay. It sounds good on paper but it is so subjective it makes my skin crawl! They will begin to pay teachers by “rewarding them for performance and for the difficulty of their job.” How will they find a uniform way to do this? Who decides the rating of the teacher’s performance because no two people see something exactly the same way. Who determines the difficulty? I believe teaching my special ed students was just as difficult as the the teacher teaching AP students. Are they trying to see which teacher works harder? I worked just as hard or harder than some of my colleagues but they may have thought the same thing.

Another thing mentioned is standardized teaching. “To ensure they hit every tested skill before FCAT, district administrator posted sample lessons online that teachers can use verbatim or as a guide. The lessons come complete with a script a teacher can actually read from if she's not comfortable improvising.” What about differentiated learning? This totally does away with learning styles and special education. All that money that many districts spent on universal design for learning is all wasted even though research shows it worked.

What a scary time this will be for students and teachers in this district! I don’t think the people who are making these decision have ever taught anyone anything. I really hope these big steps and dreams are successful but I seriously doubt it!

Original image: 'Free Child Walking on White Round Spheres Balance Creative Commons' by: D. Sharon Pruitt

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Think Globally, Act Locally

I actually saw this title on a menu in a restaurant and it had me thinking about this blog post by Jen W. She wrote, in It Is Time To Get Your “I’s” Checked from Tech Thoughts By Jen,

“Take the time today — perhaps this week — or maybe this entire month to talk more about what others are doing than what YOU are doing.Showcase what your students are doing, your teachers are doing, your admin are doing.”

I have decided this year to look for others in my district that may be doing something unique or exciting and feature them in my blog. I think this will involve some research on my part and begging too (I will have to convince the teachers to let me interview them).

I think many of the good teachers are very modest and don’t “toot their own horn.” We have been taught at early ages that bragging isn’t right. I wonder if that has hindered us somewhat. I want to know the good things that others are doing in their classrooms. I want to know what is working, what is motivating the students, and what is successful out there. How can I learn to improve or try new things if I’m not learning from others?

I started to think of the many things my colleagues have done that really hadn’t been recognized by others. There are tons of teachers out there who are doing great things in their classrooms and others need to know about it. These things should be shared and spotlighted throughout the district. I want to know how they came up with this idea, how they organized it, how they got it to be successful. I also want to know the pitfalls to watch out for. What weaknesses does it have?

I complain so much about how education and teachers get a bad rap in the news but I’m not doing anything to help. So this is my small step to doing something about it. I had a principal who once told me that complaining isn’t bad as long as I tried to offer some solution to help the problem. Just complaining is like spinning your wheels and nothing good comes out of it. So, I know this isn’t anything major, but it is my small step.

Now I’m excited about it and can’t wait to start! I will try to pick one teacher each month (I’d love to do it once a week but I’m afraid that I will be biting off more than I can handle). If that goes well, I will try to do two a month but we will see.

Now I will need to do a little detective work! I can’t wait to share all the successful stories with you! Stay tuned for future stories!

Original image: 'Day 50 - Two thumbs UP!' by: John Carleton

Monday, August 17, 2009

Easing Teachers' Anxieties

Let’s face it. When school starts, we all face anxiety – the student, the parents, and the teacher. It is a stressful time because we are facing the unknown. The student usually doesn’t know the teacher or the new rules and may even be facing a new school. The parents don’t know what their child will be facing or if their child will be able to succeed. The teacher doesn’t really know the student or what motivates this child. Everyone wants to do their best and be successful so it is always good to start off on the right track.

In 5 Ideas to Ease "Back to School Anxiety" from School Psychologist Blog Files by Erin N. King, there are some great suggestions for easing a child’s anxiety.

“1. Keep your own anxiety in check.
2. Get Familiar.
3. Have a trial run.
4. Talk.
5. Get help if needed.”

These are great suggestions. But what can teachers do to ease their own anxiety in order to help their students? Here are my suggestions:

1. Call parents before school starts. Introduce yourself and give a little background. This will help you know the parent and the parent will have a great impression of you from the start.

2. Get organized. Plan your first week ahead of time. You may not know the kids yet but have a tentative plan of activities. Nothing is worse for you and the students if they get bored. You may have to adjust and modify but at least you won’t be starting from scratch.

3. Make a list and prioritize it. Sometimes I would be so overwhelmed by the beginning of school that I would have tons of things I needed and wanted to do. It helped me focus if I made a list and started doing the things that had to be done immediately. When I was able to cross them off the list when completed, it helped me feel like I accomplished something and kept me from feeling defeated.
4. Determine your rules and consequences before school starts. Find a way to post these in your classroom before the students show up.

5. If possible, set up your classroom before your first day of work. (My husband would kill me for saying this because he hates the thought of me working and not getting paid. I always felt like this extra effort helped me from going crazy so it was worth it!) The first week of work usually involved lots of meetings and paperwork. When I didn’t have to worry about setting up my classroom, it helped me focus on other things I needed to do.

6. Stop for lunch! This is a biggie in my book. I have seen too many teachers prepare for students and not stop for lunch. You need this down time in order to reenergize your body. This is a great time to network and bond with your coworkers. These are the people who will be in your support group when you need it. Don’t take it for granted that they will always be there for you just because you work together. You need to nurture this relationship. You also need to nurture your body. The first few weeks are exhausting and you do not need to get sick during this time. In fact, eating right will help you face these stressful times because stress wears down the immune system.

If you have any other suggestions to add, please let me know in the comments. I hope some of these will help teachers start off their year successfully. It really does help if you feel on top of the world rather than bulldozed by it.

Original image: 'happy birthday, baby mantis (hello, cruel world)' by: woodley wonderworks

Friday, August 14, 2009

Useful Information In and Out of the Classroom 8/14/09

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!

Funbrain Math Baseball – multiplication game using baseball as motivation

Dinosaur World – “BBC, Travel back in time and meet the Jurassic giants roaming a 3D dinosaur landscape. It's an old favourite - the game inspired by the groundbreaking computer animation of the BBC TV series Walking with Dinosaurs.”

Explore Careers – on Princeton Review, click on the career quiz to take a 5 min. quiz. You do need to sign up for free account to get results though.

Educational Wikis – Resources and Articles in Education

Playful Learning Experiences – great suggestions for different subjects, can be used at home or in school.

Original image: 'Menards Tool Demos' by: Brian Herzog

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Judging a Book by Its Cover

I’m sure we all have heard the saying, “Don’t judge a book by its cover.” But I find myself doing it anyway. We recently went on a trip to Franconia Notch, NH where finding a place to stay was quite difficult. Most of the hotels were full because it was the weekend so it was slim pickings. I finally found The Hillwinds Lodge that was reasonably priced and we headed to it (20 min. drive) after calling and finding they had 2 rooms left. It looked pretty rustic and isolated when we saw it so we drove past it in order to discuss our options. Finally we decided we didn’t have many options other than to stop or drive for hours further and we still might not find any place. So, we decided to give this place a try. When we drove up, I noticed well kept flower beds with beautiful assortments of flowers everywhere. The owner of the motel checked us in and he was a delight to talk to. Our room was huge and clean. I really like the smaller “mom and pop” type motels rather than the big chains. They seem more personal and homey. Usually the owners make you feel more appreciated and welcome. I’m so glad that we chose to stay there because we had a wonderful visit with the owner after we checked in and decided this really wasn’t as rustic and isolated as we first thought.

This whole experience made me wonder if I do the same thing with my students. When they arrive in my classroom, do I look at what they are wearing or how clean they look? Am I looking at their body piercing and their mannerisms? Am I judging them from what another teacher has told me? Isn’t this the same as judging a book by reading someone else’s review? Sure, it might be helpful but sometimes I have to read the book in order to find out whether I agree with the review or not.

I have found that sometimes the best dressed student with seemingly great manners and looks can be the biggest hellion on earth. Sometimes this student can be sneaky and hope that his manners and looks will distract you from his true self. Sometimes this student comes from an affluent family who tends to defend their child no matter what he has done and no matter if he is wrong. When I get a student like this, I sometimes find he can be a spoiled child who always has to have his way. And then sometimes, this student is nothing like the above and can be the best student in the classroom. He might come from a family who cares about how he is dressed and acts in order to make the best impression on others. His family may expect him to act appropriately and do the right things. I sometimes find parents of this type of student can be extremely supportive and encouraging to the student and to me, as the teacher. They understand the value of education and want me to teach their child the best that I can.

I have also taught the student that other teachers do not seem to appreciate. This is the student in torn and possibly dirty clothing. He might be in desperate need of a haircut and has grease under his fingernails. He is what my fellow teachers might call a “redneck.” His manners may be a little on the rough side and speaking to him might cause you to wince a little because he doesn’t speak “proper English.” Now I’ve taught students like this who could make you want to run out of the room screaming. This student and his parents do not seem to understand the value of an education and he is only there because the law requires him to be there. I’ve called home about behavior only to be told that they can’t control him either. On the other hand I have had students like this who symbolize hard work and honesty. The clothes and the dirt show that this student works hard along with his family to survive life. I’ve had parents of this student who do not tolerate disrespect, dishonesty, or laziness. This student may have been hardest working student I’ve ever had and I find I can depend on him more than any other student. When he accomplishes something, we all feel exhilarated at his success.

Both of these examples show that if I judged the student from the outside, I could have wasted a valuable opportunity. I needed to find out more about the student beyond looks and manners in order to find the real student. If I don’t take the time to understand the student better, I will be wasting my time and possibly spinning my wheels. Once I find out what the student is really like, I may be able to make a positive change in their life and then it is a win-win situation. It is so important to look beyond the student in order to help him be successful in the real world.

Original image: 'My name is Bubba' by: ann blair

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Podcast #7 Summer Adventures and Ideas

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2. Is My Classroom a Safe Place?
3. School Isn’t For Everyone
4. Guess the Wordle
5. eInstruction Community

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Dress Code Preparedness

Many years ago I joined a group called Emergency Preparedness that prepared groups of people for possible disasters. A few years ago I joined another group that basically did the same thing but the important thing about both was to get prepared. I think schools and parents need to do the same thing when dealing with dress codes, dress code violations, and the consequences that follow.

In Back to School Clothes: One of the Many Reasons I Have “Edusomnia”. from PrincipalsPage The Blog by Michael Smith, he talks about comments from both students and parents about the clothes that were already purchased. Then he gives some great advice:

“… I do know that reading the handbook is free. Which might be a good idea before going shopping. Just a suggestion Mom and Dad… keep your receipts, just in case.”

Kids are going to tell parents that certain types of dress are acceptable in school even if they aren’t. Let’s face it, I did it as a kid and you probably did too. Only, when I was growing up, my parents really didn’t care whether I was popular in school or what was acceptable in school because my parents were much stricter than any school I attended. I just knew as a teenager that I would probably win the “Geek” award for clothes (among other things). It seems that today, parents care more about the popularity of their child than their own values. I really feel that they trust their kids too much and that is where the problems begin.

Parents need to take the upper hand concerning their children’s dress. As a parent, you are in control of the money and therefore should have the final say in their clothes. It is no secret and never has been that there is a dress code in most schools. It is your job to find out what this code is so you don’t waste your money. In today’s economic situation, this should be motivation for you if nothing else is. I don’t care if your child is in kindergarten or high school, you need to know what is acceptable in school. Of course if you aren’t going to get the scoop before school starts, like this principal says, save your receipts!

Teachers should also send home a copy of the dress code with the child on the first day. I also made my students return the copy signed by both the student and the parent. I called the parent if this was not returned. This is really effective when there are problems later on! There also needs to be consistency in enforcing the dress code. It doesn’t do the students any good if one teacher enforces it but another one doesn’t. This has always been a major issue at the schools I have taught in.

Dress codes shouldn’t be this hard. There are dress codes for employment and even dress codes if you go out to eat. Many restaurants expect men to wear collared shirts, many won’t allow shorts or tennis shoes. Teaching dress codes in school is just another learning experience that they can use later in life. Learning to dress appropriately will help the students be more successful in life.

Original image: 'James, I think your cover's blown!' by: Ludovic Bertron

Monday, August 10, 2009

Making the List!

I was reading blog posts in my Google Reader when I came to Mister Teacher’s Learn Me Good blog. He was excited because he was featured on a top 100 Best Blogs list.

So, I ventured to the list and I was surprised, excited, honored (you get the picture!) that my blog was on the list too! I’m on the 100 Best Blogs for Teachers of the Future on Clear View Education! There are so many great blogs that I read regularly that I’m in awe that my blog is listed on the same page as theirs. You might want to cruise on over there and see if your name is on the list. Or you might want to check out some of them.

In addition to Learn Me Good, these are some that I read every day and also are on the list:

Teachers Teaching Teachers
classroom as microcosm
The Fischbowl.
Dangerously Irrelevant
Cool Cat Teacher Blog.
2¢ Worth.
Free Technology for Teachers.
Teacher in a Strange Land.
The Tempered Radical.
On Special Education.
So You Want To Teach?
Angela Maiers.

I will be checking out the others though! Thanks to Clear View Education for including me on the list!

Original image: 'January first' by: Crystal

Friday, August 7, 2009

Useful Information In and Out of the Classroom 8/7/09

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!

The Math Teacher’s Toolkit – “a compilation of macromedia flash resources to support whole class teaching and learning in the primary school.”

Elearning for kids – “is a global, nonprofit foundation dedicated to fun and free learning on the Internet for children ages 5 - 12. We offer free, best-in-class courseware in math, science, reading and keyboarding; and we’re building a community for parents and educators to share innovations and insights in childhood education.”

Spinner – 8 option spinner to use in the classroom.

CAST UDL Book Builder – “Use this site to create, read, and share engaging digital books that build reading skills for students. Your universally designed books will engage and support diverse learners according to their individual needs, interests, and skills.” (Thanks to Faye Valbert for bringing this to my attention!)

GeoNet – great geography game, lots of quiz questions using graphs and charts

Original image: 'Toolbelt (old)'

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Helping Students Build Their Own Self Confidence

In Self Confidence- The Key to Success from TutorFi by Meaghan Montrose, she states,

“What makes a successful student? This is an important question for many students (and their Self confidence is key to the success of a student. It is the ability to believe in yourself and have faith that you can be successful. Everyone, even adults, needs to believe they can be successful at a task in order to succeed. If you have doubts, your actions will reflect those doubts and you will fail.”

Then Meaghan gives a “ few ways to build the confidence of your child to help them achieve greater success in school and life in general.
1. Acknowledge the positives.
2. Avoid negative talk.
3. Emphasize victories.
4. Seek help when needed.”

These are great ideas for parents to do to help their child. But I would like to give some strategies to help the child build their own self confidence. I once told a student, who had been disappointed over and over by a parent, that he had to stand on his own two feet and learn to help himself now. But how could he do it without the self confidence he needed? I will use the same suggestions that Meaghan gave but explain how the student needs to view them.

1. Acknowledge the positive – It is hard to acknowledge the positive because many of my students feel that they don’t deserve it. Sometimes it is hard for them to even notice the positives. I try to point the progress the student has made and have the student compare this progress to what they did previously. Eventually they are able to do this on their own.

2. Avoid negative thought – I had my students write “I Am A Born Winner!” on all of their papers they turned in for a grade. When they voiced a negative thought, I had them say this phrase aloud. Over the years they had been convinced that they were lazy and stupid because others had said so. Now they needed to show their brains the truth. It would take time, but many of my students said this made a difference in their lives.

3. Emphasize victories – Many of my students were embarrassed by their victories. They had to learn how to celebrate the good times in their lives when they accomplished things. They needed learn that it was alright to take pride in what they had done. The students learned to cheer for each other. They had to learn how to appropriately acknowledge this and what to say to others.
4. Seek help when needed – My students felt like seeking help was just another acknowledgement that they were stupid. I showed them examples of famous people and successful people who sought help some time in their life and still do when necessary. They needed to learn that anyone who is successful knows that seeking help when needed is how to be successful.

Original image: 'Shaun Set For Takeoff' by: Drew Brayshaw

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Longer is Not Always Better

In Longer School Days Coming? from No Margins by ejr, she states,

“I'm not against longer school days or longer school years; I work year-round anyway. But I am against hoping against hope that somehow a longer school day or year will make a difference. Curricula need to be re-evaluated, standards may even need to be reconsidered, and classroom teachers as well as school staffs and administrators have to be better prepared to think differently and with the long view about improving the educational experience for students.”

I totally agree with Elaine. I don’t believe that the length of the day makes as much of a difference as the quality of education given in a day. I have seen too many teachers give their students busy work while they take on the role of babysitter. How will these students improve or grow in knowledge if they just do the same things, only for a longer period of time. Just like the saying goes, “It isn’t quantity but quality.”

I feel that we need to do a better job with evaluating and training teachers to give a quality education. We also need to train teachers how to cope with the burden of all the paperwork while teaching quality lessons. I know that we teach quality in colleges, but when overwhelmed with the paperwork and red tape of every day responsibilities, it seems as if quality is the first thing to go.

I have a problem when choosing curriculum becomes a political choice rather than what is in the best interest of the students. Many decision makers will say that it isn’t so but many of us in education has seen this happen. How many textbooks were chosen for the state because of politics? How many people on state school boards actually know what is going on in the schools and look at what is in the best interest of the students and not the state. How many politicians are making decisions about what is going on in schools when they have no idea what is going on in the schools? How many politicians have spent a few days in the classroom to understand what is actually going on?

As head of the department, I watched while it took three years to get rid of a terrible teacher. Three years is a long time in a student’s life. Three years that a group of students wasted their time and missed out on a quality education. The system needs to be overhauled if it takes that long to get rid of a bad teacher. No wonder that parents and politicians blame the schools. But they also need to take in account politics and lawsuits. We had to document all the bad teaching so this teacher didn’t turn around and sue the school. Maybe it is just me, but that is ridiculous. After the first year of evaluation, the teacher was put on an improvement plan for the second year. Then the second year, she didn’t improve so she was put on probation for the third year and finally suspended from teaching. Even after the suspension she got paid until the school board decided to terminate her employment. I don’t know many other jobs that you would be given three years if you did a terrible job.

Even if we increase the length of the day, and we still give garbage teaching, what are we accomplishing? I’m not saying all teachers are bad or that all schools have terrible curriculum but if we don’t look at the big picture, the effective teachers and the effective curriculum will be buried under all the other junk. As taxpayers, we should expect the most bang for our buck and that doesn’t mean just more time. In order for our students to be successful, we need to improve the quality of the schools and not just the quantity of seat time.

Original image: 'Teaching is not Rocket Science' by: Dean Shareski

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

The Importance of Acceptance

In Accept What Is — Don’t Judge as Good or Bad from zen habits by Leo, he states

“One of the greatest sources of unhappiness, in my experience, is the difficulty we have in accepting things as they are…As you catch yourself judging, and wishing for different — and we all do it — try a different approach: accept, and understand. It might lead to some interesting results.”

This has been the hardest thing for my special education students. Many of them want to deny that they have a disability and insist that they are in my class because they are lazy or got in trouble. Many parents have a hard time accepting that their child has a disability too and blame it on the school, teachers, peers, ex-spouses, laziness, bad friends, etc. All of these attitudes are detrimental to helping the student.

I think there comes a time to just accept that the child has a disability and forget about how or why it has come to this. Now, we need to come together to figure out how to move forward instead of looking in the past. We need to have a plan of action that will help the student be successful in the future. By looking at the student’s needs, we can see what the student, the teacher, and the parent needs to do at this point in time.

I do not focus on the student’s disability and rather focus on weaknesses and strengths. A disability does not define the student. Students with the same disability can be so very different and have such very different needs. But in order to focus on these weaknesses and strengths, the student and the parent needs to accept that the student is having problems. They cannot continue to believe that just hard work and different friends will suddenly “cure” the problem.

They also have to accept that even though we try different things, not all things will work and that we can’t give up. We need to accept that small steps of progress are great things and not to overlook the positives. Sometimes things will look worse before they get better but that is not always a terrible thing either.

Students also need to accept their disability in front of their peers. For many years I told my students that if they acted like they had something to be ashamed of, then others will treat them that way. They needed to accept it and if their peers were curious about it, they needed to educate them about their disability, not hide from it. Of course, this meant that the student needed to educate themselves about their disability and learn to be a self advocate. I know this was very hard to do but it can be done.

I think when the students can accept their disability and educate others, it also helps the parents. Many parents feel guilty that their child is struggling and blame themselves. This guilt can lead to either a very overindulgent parent or a very strict parent and both extremes are not good for the child. When a child can be a self advocate, it can also help the parent get over the guilt and look to a more productive relationship with their child.

I truly believe that acceptance is a first step to a successful life.

Original image: 'Couple' by: Ville Miettinen

Monday, August 3, 2009

Chantel's Quest for the Enchanted Medallion - A Book Review

I recently read Chantel's Quest for the Enchanted Medallion by Oliver Neubert in order to review it for The Picnic Basket (I am not being paid for this review.)

I would rate this book a 5 out of 5. It is about a 12 year old girl on a quest for four ancient relics in order to save the world. Her quest leads to many adventures which made the story interesting and exciting. At first, when I realized that this was Book 2 and that I had not read Book 1, I was afraid it wouldn’t make sense but I didn’t have to worry. The story easily made sense even without reading Book 1. I enjoyed the book so much that I didn’t want to put it down. Now I can’t wait for the next book to come out.

I think both boys and girls will enjoy reading this book. Even though it says it is appropriate for ages 8-12, I could see it being used for middle school students as well as high school special education students. In my classroom, I could see using this book as a way to teach character education (loyalty, trust, simplicity). I also think it had rich vocabulary to use with my students. It could also be used on a lesson about traveling and safety issues. The obvious lessons would be about good vs. evil, darkness vs. light and loyalty vs. betrayal. This book has so many uses for the classroom and would be a valuable tool.