Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Quality Not Quantity

According to MSNBC’s article More school? Obama could trim summer break, the President wants schools to have longer classes, longer days, and have students on weekends.

I have said this before and I’ll say it again, though many might disagree with me. It is about Quality, not Quantity! It seems like so many non-educators think if we stuff kids in classes for more time, they will suddenly become smarter. Unless we improve the quality of learning that our students are receiving, I don’t care how long they actually sit in a desk, they are not going to learn more. Our schools become warehouses, teachers become high priced babysitters, taxpayers become resentful because they still do not see better results for their money. Is this the kind of educational future we want for our students?

This made me think of a youth league baseball team. Many young boys sign up with dreams of being great ball players and the league doesn’t turn anyone away. Many of the players have different levels of skills and they may all play on one team. Hopefully by the end of the season, many of them have learned new skills or improved on old ones. But do we honestly think if we add more innings, play more games, and extend the season that they become pro baseball players? If the players have certain abilities, I’m not sure that having them play more and longer will actually help them. I see it causing them to burn out, hate the game, resent the coach, and wanting to quit.

What about the other things in life that our children need to become well rounded citizens. What about the families who are involved in their church or other community organizations? Do we think that spending more time warehoused in a school is more important than their family or their church? Do we want our government to determine this? This situation scares me. It seems like the government wants more and more control and is allowing parents to have less and less control. The Revolutionary War happened because citizens felt the government had too much control and now it seems like we are moving backwards instead of forward.

I look back at the education system from the one room school house to today’s system. I know we have made changes and great strides. But I also see over the years that there has been more government involvement, more red tape, and more hoops for teachers to have to jump through. Teachers in the classroom barely have time to teach any more for all the paperwork that has to be done. And every time the powers that be say they will “reduce paperwork,” it seems like 5 more pages of required paperwork are added in order to document what has been eliminated. If it wasn’t so sad, it would be funny!

Instead of increasing the hours and days that students are in a classroom, maybe the President needs to look at how we can increase the actual quality of the time that the students are already in the classroom. I have talked to lots of teachers that have great ideas and are truly motivated but then are stifled by the overwhelming responsibilities they face every day. Maybe the President should teach a day in a school that follows the exact schedule that a teacher does (along with the 25 min. lunch period that the students and teachers get), and have to follow all the rules, regulations, standards that the teacher actually has to do, plus complete all the paperwork required for that day also. Maybe he might have a different perspective. I foresee adding more time in the classroom, whether more hours or more days, will only increase the paperwork that the government will require to validate this change.

I also haven’t heard of how the government plans to fund this new adventure (and believe me, I do see this as an adventure). Will they increase the educator’s salary for this extra time or do they expect educators to do it for free? If they do plan to increase the salary, will they raise taxes some more? How will homeowners who are struggling to pay the taxes they are already burdened with find money to pay for additional taxes? During these economic times when people can’t get health care, feed their families, and are losing their homes, is this the time act foolishly?
I honestly don’t see how this can be successful. If you do, please share with me your thoughts so I can see it differently. I’m not sure I will change my mind, but I am open to listening.

Original image: 'veritum dies aperit' by: John Harvey

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Remembering the Stories

In Connecting in Education from 21st C Literacy Ave Home, vanhookc states,

“Knowledge has changed, but the desire to learn is the same...yesterday, today, and tomorrow. We are still making connections.”

I recently read an article in Blue Ridge Country about Wiley Oakley, also known as the Roamin’ Man of the Mountains. Wiley would guide visitors in the mountains and discovered a knack for storytelling. He passed on a lot of stories this way to his own children and even strangers. Eventually Wiley began to write his stories down and the wrote a column for a newspaper. Soon these stories were gathered together and published in a book. His children even compiled his stories and published books. This is a way for these stories to go on forever.

How many wonderful stories are out there that we need to be gathering for future generations? I know I still love to listen to my father tell stories about his childhood growing up in China. He loves to tell stories about his time in the army along with adventures he had as a young man. I have videotaped him telling these stories but there were so many stories that I didn’t record. How much longer will I have my dad to tell me these stories. His great grand daughter is 5 years old and who will tell her these stories?

My mother had stories but I never had time to listen to them as I was growing up. Then marriage and children became my focus instead of my mother’s stories. Now I have time to listen but my mother is gone. Luckily my sister who is ten years older than I am is willing to share some of the stories she remembers my mother telling her.

I think this is something important to have our students understand. I wish someone had told me how important these stories were. We need to talk to students and explain why these stories are important and what we can learn from them. Our heritage is important and knowing the past is important. By preserving these stories, we are keeping a part of the past alive in our hearts. This is a way to connect the past to the present. What a wonderful way for different generations to interact and learn from each other. This connection is so important for all generations to survive.

If students do not have grandparents to tell them these stories, they could go to a nursing home or ask at a Veterans Affairs office or a VFW office. I believe that there are many people out there who would love to share their stories but are just hoping someone will ask. If it would make it easier, invite the speaker to the class.

Yet, explaining the importance and significance of preserving these stories is not enough. We need to teach our students how to do this. We need to show them how to record or videotape stories. Now with digital cameras and digital recorders, it is much easier than when I was growing up. There are also so many different programs to help publish these stories and share them with others.

Students could interview different people and record their stories in some form. Then they could compile all of the stories together and share it with others. Maybe they could have a celebration and invite all the story tellers for refreshments as a way to thank them for their contributions. This would be a great way to share and celebrate the importance of connecting the past to the future.

Storytelling encompasses so many different subjects and meets so many different state standards that it would be a great teaching strategy. I think it would be a great way to engage all levels of students and be a successful way to meet the needs of all students.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Educarnival v2 - Issue 6

The Educarnival v2 – Issue 6 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 Are My Students Weeds or Flowers is there but there are lots of other great articles to read too! See you there and don’t eat too much cotton candy!

Friday, September 25, 2009

Useful Information In and Out of the Classroom 9/25/09

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!

Clean Up the Classroom – tools for teachers that give classroom activities, lesson plans, games, and poster

Creative Thinking – “class lessons, films, and activities on plagiarism and copyright awareness for the classroom”

Storyline Online – online storytelling where actors read books

Crayola Digi-color – a neat program to use Crayola tools and draw pictures digitally. It is fun for children and adults (I know, because I played with this and loved it!)

MysteryNet’s Kid’s Mysteries – “Mysteries to solve, scary stories, and magic tricks” for kids

Original image: 'The Toolbox is Organized!' by: Dan Thompson

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Great Imitators

I saw this great youtube video on Children See. Children Do. from and Ewan McIntosh stated,

“Children see. Children do. All teachers are aware of this as a concept, many parents, too. If you're a loud, stressed out, unhappy teacher then you'll generally have loud, stressed out and unhappy students in your class.”

I watched the video and it made me sad for the many children who see things like this and feel it is alright to act this way. But I also liked what Ewan had to say about the influence of teachers.

I remember I had a third grade teacher Miss Simms and she was wonderful. She shared her love of reading and learning new words and I wanted to be just like her. By giving praise and singling out each student’s strengths, she made us all feel special. That year I remember feeling that I could try anything and succeed. It was a wonderful feeling. Because of her, I probably learned more in that year than I did any other year of public school. No one else was ever able to make me feel the way I did in her class. But I knew if I ever became a teacher, I wanted to be one just like her.

Do you notice your students imitating you? Are you a stressed out screamer or are you a calm encourager? Which one do you want to be? Which one do you want your students to be?

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

On the Playground

I just can’t seem to get playing games out of my head. When we drove past a playground the other day, it seemed that the children were walking aimlessly around the playground wishing they had something to do. Of course you had the usual amount of children on the swing set but the others seemed lost. That is when I began to remember all the fun I had at recess when I was in elementary school.

What happened to all the wonderful games we used to play? I remember playing jumprope, hopscotch, tag, dodgeball, kickball, and even marbles. Do any of the children play these games anymore?

Why don’t kids play jacks anymore? It taught counting, dexterity, speed and was just plain fun.

This summer we tried to teach the children hopscotch and they looked like it was some foreign activity. They didn’t know how to hop on one foot in the squares and they didn’t understand how to turn around and go back. It was fun to watch though.
Marbles was fun because the winner got to keep the marbles. It seemed like the marbles went back and forth among the players though because you realized if you got all of the marbles, no one had anything to play so you played alone.

Have we gone so rigid that we keep the children from playing these games in fear of them getting hurt? I realize that they may swallow jacks or marbles but the little ones usually didn’t have them and the older kids did. Many schools are banning tag because someone might get hurt. But if the children are well supervised, why can’t a teacher explain that they need to play gentler or the person will be sitting out of the games. How will children learn if we don’t let them play and explore their boundaries while we are there to guide them?

I feel like lately society is too quick to react out of fear of injury and litigation. My cousin’s child fell off the slide this week on his first day of kindergarden and broke his arm in two places. My cousin said the school and the hospital treated them wonderfully and she has no intention of suing anyone because it was just an accident. Thank goodness for that attitude or I’m afraid they will take the playground equipment out next!

As adults, I think we need to use more common sense. Accidents will happen. Children can play rough and someone might accidentally get hurt but if a teacher acts early, many times this can be prevented.

Recess time is just as essential as classroom time but I feel only if we allow the children to play. If we put too many rules and limitations on them where they can’t do anything but walk slowly in aimless wandering, we are defeating the purpose. Children need to get out their excess energy as well as learn how to play with others. This is a natural part of their development. It is important to being successful as they grow up.

What kind of games did you play as a child that you don’t see them playing anymore? Maybe this would be a good time to teach your students some of those games.

Original image: 'vandalism?' by: Who Am I?

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Playing Board Games

As we sat waiting for our breakfast in Cracker Barrel yesterday, I saw a checkers board set up between two rocking chairs. This entertains those who are having to wait for a table and I thought about my students who play board games. Nobody seems to play board games any more. I hear students say they play video games and game boys and maybe even Wii but what about the good old fashioned board games?

I remember Milton Bradley (now Hasbro) games like Trouble, Parcheesi, Sorry, Monopoly, Risk, Headache, Clue, Mouse trap, Chutes and Ladders, and Candy Land. Also older games like checkers, chess, and backgammon. Those were so much fun, not to mention all the skills that I was learning at the same time. I loved to play games so much and hated when I couldn’t find anyone to play with me. When I wander through flea markets and antique shops now, I feel nostalgic as a I see these board games sitting out gathering dust or being ignored for game boys and Xbox stuff.

Many of the technology based games seem to isolate the students and keep them from interacting with others. Even if they play online games, they are missing out on seeing facial expressions and body language which are very important in learning communication skills. Learning interpersonal skills is an important job skill needed in the adult world and many people are looking for jobs without these skills. As stated in Wikipedia, “Having positive interpersonal skills increases the productivity in the organization since the number of conflicts is reduced. In informal situations, it allows communication to be easy and comfortable. People with good interpersonal skills can generally control the feelings that emerge in difficult situations and respond appropriately, instead of being overwhelmed by emotion.”

Elementary level board games can be used to teach counting, colors, and reading. Learning to plan strategies is an important skill on the higher level games. By learning to take turns, laughing, and having fun without being hateful, students learn many social skills through playing board games. Critical thinking takes place during these games.

When I first introduced Trouble to my students, they acted like I was teaching them a foreign language. Eventually they understood what they had to do and they loved it! After that we moved on to the game Sorry, and I even made them apologize to the person when they landed on them and sent them back home. It was so refreshing to see them playing nicely and having fun. During these games, we even had to address the issue of cheating so it was truly a learning experience for all.

I know technology is important and I even feel it is essential to the learning environment but I feel that we can’t throw away many of the earlier methods of learning either. Many of the “old” ways were effective and just as important as technology is. I believe that playing board games teaches many skills that are needed in order to be successful in life.

Original image: 'Wanna play?'

Monday, September 21, 2009

Autistic Boy on America’s Got Talent

This is a video from last year but I had never seen it and wanted to share it with you. It is truly heartwarming to see this and is further proof that we need to encourage our student’s strengths instead of focusing on their disabilities. This boy is autistic but extremely talented. After seeing this video the teacher in me began to think of ways to use this talent to teach this student in my classroom. There would be so many ways to incorporate his love of music and singing to teach all subjects. Information to be learned could be put into a song. Reading words of the songs would improve reading skills. Now if I could just look at each of my student’s talents, maybe I could help them all be successful in the future.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Educarnival v2 9/16/09

The EduCarnival v2 - Issue 4 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 Closing School Libraries 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 9/18/09

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!

Online Projects for Teachers – connecting teachers for projects.

Projects by Jen – K6 online projects

History Animated – The Revolutionary War, Civil War, and Pacific War is animated. Really great addition to history lessons!

Amazon Free Books – free .pdf books

Legistalker – “was created by Forum One Communications as an entry for the Apps for America competition. The ever-growing database is updated every 20 seconds, and relies on data from Twitter, YouTube, Capitol Words, literally hundreds of different news sources, and others.” Just insert your legislator’s name and it will find lots of info about what they are saying.

Original image: '1.13.09: versatility' by: Team Dalog

Thursday, September 17, 2009


I saw this video on Addressing the R Word Proactively and Flagging YouTube Videos
from Moving at the Speed of Creativity by Wesley Fryer. I really thought it was short and powerful. I think it would be good to show students too.

I grew up where using the word retard was a common word by all of the kids in my school. Of course it was used right along with stupid and dummy. But in my home, those words were bad and you didn’t dare use them. They ranked right up there with the word hate.

I think we have a responsibility to teach students that words like this hurt. But we should not stop there. We need to give them replacement words. They need to learn how to use words that encourage and honor others.

In special education, many times I have had to write a functional behavior assessment which leads to a behavior plan. As a committee, we identify the problem behavior, what leads to it, and the consequences. We also identify a replacement behavior that is the behavior that we want to happen and come up with ways to get the student to act this way. I think this is a plan that leads to success rather than failure.

We need to do the same thing with words that hurt and promote hate. Let’s start by giving them replacement words. Please watch this video and let me know what you think.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Struggling to Get Uphill

In Uphill Battles Are Struggles Worth the Work from Angela Maiers Educational Services, Angela Maiers states,

“Yesterday, after days of struggling against the hill, I reached breakthrough. I had the best run of my stay here. The hill remains the same, but my experience and my expectations changed. My thought patterns improved.”

As I read this post, it made me think about how much I take for granted because learning has always been pretty easy for me. For some reason, I had no problems with memorizing facts and formulas. I liked learning and it was not frustrating for me which of course encouraged me to want to learn more.

Yet, I began to think about my students and the uphill battles they struggle with. In the early years of my career, I had trouble relating to this struggle. Learning the material seemed so straightforward to me and I didn’t understand why they couldn’t get it. Helping my students understand the material was actually my uphill battle.

As I gained experience I realized how important it was to identify the uphill struggle that my students faced. Each student had a different uphill battle but many of the feelings were the same. Sometimes it helped to talk about it and bring the battle out in the open. Sometimes when it was discussed and no longer was a deep dark secret, the uphill didn’t seem so steep. By talking about it, we were actually able to come up with some supports to help the student.

Of course I also learned the hard way about this. When you approach a student about the uphill battle, they immediately deny there is any problem. This is natural and I had to find a way to get around this. The easiest way was to have a class discussion and talk about “hypothetical” situations that could be uphill battles. This kept it from getting personal. I asked students to name some ways that other students may struggle in school. This could be something they heard from their friends or seen on TV. Once we identified the battles, we began to brainstorm ideas on how to get to the top of the hill. Having others come up with suggestions sometimes helped the one student facing the situation see it more clearly (even though they might never admit it).

After the class discussion, I would ask each student to identify one struggle that most identified with themselves and write it on a paper but not to tell the class. If they thought of a different struggle that wasn’t mentioned, they could also list that. Then I asked them to list the suggestions they thought might help the most. By telling them that there was no right or wrong answer, they seemed more receptive to completing this part. I explained that this was an important step to achieving success and that over time, the uphill battle could change so we needed to look at this frequently. Sometimes they might actually face more than one hill to get to the very top.

I was always impressed by the honesty of the students and really never had a student refuse to do this. I would collect these and keep these in a file for future reference. It helped me gear my lessons to meet their needs. Sometimes a personal conference would help and sometimes I would ask them if they wanted to have a meeting with their parents and teachers. If they knew that they had my support, a meeting like this is less scary. It is also an important self advocacy skill that all students need to learn.

Identifying uphill battles aren’t enough. I need to make sure I understand each student’s uphill battle and help them find ways to make it to the top in order for them to be successful.

Original image: 'Uphill Road' by: Stefan Jansson

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Are My Students Weeds or Flowers?

In Weeds Are People Too from Tinkerings, the author states,

“In the world of classroom gardening, I can change that weed into a flower. How do we do that as teachers? By doing exactly the opposite of what I did for the first few days. Concentrate on the good behavior. Look at the flowers. Don’t ignore the weed, but don’t make him or her the focal point of your room either.

Here is a maxim I believe, but find it hard to practice: You get more of whatever you concentrate on. What will happen if I focus my attention on one bad student? I’ll get a room full of them. But if I focus my attention on the good behaviors I will get a room full of them instead.

After all, weeds are people too.”

This actually reminded me of the time that I started a new flower bed at home. I went to the flower nursery and spent tons of money on new plants. I took pictures of them to show my parents when we visited them in Florida. Imagine the look on their faces when they saw I spent money on Lantana which is considered an invasive weed where they live. So I guess one person’s weed is another person’s flower.

I began to think about the students who got so much negative attention but was happy to get any attention at all and were considered weeds. Many of my special education students were used to this attention and I believe in fact, that it was actually a habit. Over the years, they realized with their problems they were never going to get the “best student award” or win the spelling bee so why not be the “class clown” or the “most misbehaved?” It was better than nothing for them. Over time, they began to feel proud of these titles because if they didn’t feel proud, they would feel the hurt and the isolation inside.

I decided early on in my career that I needed a mission to carry me though the next 30 years of my career. I wanted to break this negative cycle and it might actually take the rest of my life to do this. In order to do this, I began to wonder when this negative cycle begins. Does it start in kindergarten or junior high? I know it is earlier than high school because by the time they reach high school, they have their act perfected to an art. Is knowing where it begins important? How can I go about interrupting this cycle? Where do I begin?

Then I realized that I can’t undo the past. I can only change the future. How can I help these students know that they were not weeds but were indeed flowers? I know they behaved in ways that made me and other teachers want to scream but I had to look past those actions. How could I help them see that they were valued and had a purpose in life?

I decided to start in small ways. I tried to praise a lot for good behaviors and ignore the bad behaviors. Even this was not enough. I began to call parents every two weeks and only brag about the good things their child had done. Since I knew that I would be calling, I began to look for the good things which helped change my perspective. I continually asked the parents to let their children know that I called saying positive things. When they came to class, I asked students if their parents had told them that I called. Sometimes the parents did not share the phone call with their child so I began to call the parents at work with the student in front of me. At first the parents thought their child was in trouble but was so relieved to find out they weren’t, that they didn’t mind that I called them at work. Then I explained that the reason I was calling was because the student didn’t seem to believe that I bragged about them and wanted them to hear it firsthand.

As the parents bragged to the children, I think it actually improved their relationship at home. Finally parents could brag to others about the good things their child had done. This in turn, made the student work harder in my class. Eventually many of the really bad behaviors disappeared. If I didn’t call home, the student would ask why and we would talk about his behavior. This usually had the student straighten up and then I would make the call with the student. Sometimes if the parents hadn’t heard from me, they knew their child was having problems and would call me. (Of course if there were major problems, I never hesitated in calling the parents because now we had a great rapport also.)

Once the students started to do well in my class, it actually began to spill over in other classes. I checked with teachers and they would tell me that they could see a change. When asked how I did it, I would share my strategy and others would try it too. It was so refreshing to see my “weed” start to bloom into a “flower.”

This did not happen overnight. It took a lot of patience, and even use of personal time for this to be successful. But at the end of the year, as I look back at the progress my students made, I know it was well worth all the energy I put into it. I never regretted trying to change my “weeds” into “flowers.”

Original image: 'Another Dandy' by: Photos by Micky

Monday, September 14, 2009

Lessons from the Field: An Interview

I was interviewed this summer by Alex J. Mann and he posted the interview on Teacher Certification Map. I was quite honored that he was interested in what I had to say. So if you want to see the whole interview, please check out Lessons from the Field: Interview with Patricia Hensley. I think interviews like this will help many people deciding to go into the field of teaching. Thanks Alex for the interview!

Original image: 'Not allowed to say the truth 4, B&W' by: Green Chameleon

Friday, September 11, 2009

Useful Information In and Out of the Classroom 9/11/09

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!

Learn With Math Games – “There are Fun Math activities for everyone from Elementary through High School right here. Looking for games that involve addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, place value, fractions... even algebra and geometry? They're here.”

Schmoop – a great collection of study guides on many topics as well as literature

Ninjawords – a really fast dictionary

Google Tutor – great tips, tricks and tutorials for using google stuff

IWB Resources – great resources for your interactive white board

Original image: 'Hammer' by: Darren Hester

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Closing School Libraries

In Outsourcing Education? from Journeys, Diane states,

“The School Library Journal reports that a California school district, which had previously furloughed its certified media specialists, has now closed all 28 of its K-12 school libraries. Students will only be allowed to visit their building's library with classroom teachers, and may no longer check out books.”

I was truly horrified when I heard this because I have such great memories of my library when I was growing up. It was my library that instilled the love of reading in me (or maybe I always had the love and they just helped it grow). Either way, I’m not sure I would be the avid reader I am today if it hadn’t been for my school library.

As an elementary school student, my librarian took the time to get to know me and find out my interests. I remember her putting books aside for me that she thought I would enjoy. I loved the attention (which I’m sure she gave to many children) and she made me feel special. When I asked for information about certain topics, she would show me how to look for books that might answer my questions. She didn’t just answer them herself so I felt she taught me a skill that I could use all my life. I’m not sure that a classroom teacher has this time or energy to do what this librarian did for me. How many young children will suffer because they don’t have someone like this to encourage them?

When I was in junior high, I remember going to the library as an escape from the angst of teenage years. I attended a school where I was bullied on a pretty regular basis. Early on, I found the library was my refuge. It was open early before school started and available after school also so I would get to school before other kids and read in the library where no one bothered me. As soon as school was over, I would read in the library until it closed and all the bullies had left. I felt like I could travel around the world through books. I really believed that those years hanging out in the library helped me survive those terrible years. If they had closed the school libraries to me during that time, I’m not sure how I would have coped during those times.

When I was in high school, I tended to be an over achiever and took four advanced placement courses (English, French, Biology, and Calculus). Then they had nothing else for me to take and they couldn’t let me out of school that early, so they gave me a couple of study halls and let me hang out in the library. If they closed the library, I don’t know what I would have done for 2 more periods.

I truly believe that by closing the school libraries to students unless they go with their class is doing a major disservice to them. These children can’t even check out books! What about the many children who can’t afford books at home or can’t access computers unless they use the school library computers? I understand with our economy that we need to tighten our belts but I don’t believe this should even be an option. In the long run, this will hurt the students more than helping the financial situation of the school district. I feel a school library that is available to students during the school day is vital in order for them to be successful in school and in life.

Original image: 'Free child looking out a window with reflection stock photo Creative Commons' by: D. Sharon Pruitt

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Educarnival v2 9/9/09

The 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 Developing a Study Plan is there but there are lots of other great articles to read too! See you there and don’t eat too much cotton candy!

The Secret World of Walter Anderson: A Book Review

I recently read The Secret World of Walter Anderson by Hester Bass • illustrated by E. B. Lewis in order to review it for The Picnic Basket (I am not being paid for this review.) Here is the review that I submitted:

I have to honestly say that I loved this book! I had never heard of this artist and this book made me wanting to learn more about him. The story was simple and appealing and the illustrations were delightful. It is a great book for elementary school students and would cover a multitude of topics. Topics could include art, geography, nature, environment, mental illness, animals, survival, The vocabulary was rich and inviting. Also included was the author’s note that told more about Walter Anderson as well as the author’s connection to the artist. I would highly recommend this to teachers, parents, and children. On the Picnic Basket scale, this book definitely rates a 5.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Summer 2009 Professional Development Meme Revisited

On June 3, 2009, I posted three goals that I wanted to accomplish during the summer months and now I think it is time to look back at them and see if I accomplished my goals. I actually felt that by writing them down and posting them for all to see was a great motivation to me to actually achieve these goals. It is just so easy for me to think about what I want to do and plan to do them but I don’t really feel like I’m accountable for actually achieving them. That is, until I wrote them down in my blog. They have really been in the back of my mind especially when I kept telling myself that it really didn’t matter. Then I began to think that it would matter if I wrote about them after the summer was over and I had to actually admit that I didn’t achieve them and the only reason was because I was lazy.

So here were the three goals I set out to achieve:

1. Record and publish at least 3 podcasts.
2. Update my wiki with new resources (to be used in the 2 grad classes that I'm teaching this summer)
3. Present at the Upstate Technology Conference in Greenville, SC


1. I recorded and published my three podcasts on June 8, August 12, and September 1 in my blog. I almost didn’t get the September 1 in but having to write about my results really motivated me to get them done. I actually am glad that I pushed myself because the more I did, it actually got easier and I felt more comfortable doing this. Of course, I’m not sure anyone is actually listening but I am enjoying it more.

2. I updated my wiki and used them in the two grad classes that I taught this summer.

3. I gave a presentation on Voicethread at the Upstate Technology Conference in June. I was very pleased with how well it was received and may use this more during the school year.

Original image: 'Close up of The Thinker' by: Todd Martin

Monday, September 7, 2009

5 Tips on How to Encourage Students to Live Green

(Today we have returning guest blogger, 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 another great post!)

When I was a high school student, I had an environmental science teacher who was expectedly passionate about lessening our impact on the planet. I had learned about it all before in other classes: the graphs, the statistics, the figures, and the blurry videos of landfills and decimated forests. Yet, I still was not convinced that green living was something I should have been concerned about. But my environmental science teacher changed my views, and year after year, she inspired legions of impressionable young minds to be more environmentally friendly. Follow these 5 easy tips, and you can do the same.

1. Take baby steps. Stress that becoming an eco-friendly person does not mean drastically altering day-to-day life. Students, just like any other person, are resistant to change, so emphasizing that being green does not require a complete remodeling of their lives is comforting. Start by asking students to recycle, and install a recycling bin in the classroom. Lead by example and dispose of your own recyclables in the bins.

2. Talk about living green. Keep reminding your students about living green by talking about the latest in green technology and what you have done for the environment. Ask for others to tell their stories about what they have done.

3. Assign green side projects. Whether for extra credit or just because, assign green side projects, asking students to do one simple eco-friendly act over the weekend. This can be anything from recycling to riding a bike instead of driving.

4. Start a garden. If your school has an unused plot of land, ask if you can start a garden or wildflower sanctuary there. Bring the students to the garden at the beginning of the school year and then again at the end. They will see the progress of growth that a few months can bring, reminding them of the wonder of nature. My environmental science teacher had a wildflower and blackberry patch behind the football field of our school. We were invited to pick the blackberries at the end of the year, and we all marveled at how a seemingly weedy and useless plot of grass had produced all those flowers and berries in just a few months.

5. Have a class plant. Parents will appreciate that it is less maintenance than a class pet. Send the plant home with a different student every weekend. Tell them to photograph it sitting on a sunny windowsill in their home. Many students will find they enjoy having the plant and may get a plant of their own. Plants are an undeniable symbol of the earth, and those who appreciate plants will usually also protect the planet.

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

Original image: 'Planet Earth (III)' by: Aaron Escobar

Friday, September 4, 2009

Useful Information In and Out of the Classroom 9/4/09

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!

Education Grants – Links to grants and a calendar of their deadlines

Project Based Learning Checklists – checklists for you to create to support your project based learning.

Environmental Graffiti - is an eclectic mix of the most bizarre, funny and interesting environmental news on the planet. We search the vast realms of the internet on behalf of all environmentalists who don’t take themselves too seriously and compile it into a daily blog. Surf and enjoy!

Sign App Now – simple and easy way to create sign up sheets.

Soshiku – (according to Free Technology for Teachers) “is a free personal planner designed for high school and college students. Soshiku lets students organize their assignments by course, add assignments, and receive text message and or email reminders before each assignment is due. Students can add assignments to their calendars directly on the Soshiku website or via text message. Registering and getting started with Soshiku is quick and the user interface is very intuitive and easy to learn.

Original image: 'The Toolbox is Organized!' by: Dan Thompson

Thursday, September 3, 2009


I just saw this on the news and was so impressed with this 16 year old boy who is a great skateboarder even though he is paralyzed from the waist down. When he was born with spina bifida, the doctor cut his spinal cord while taking a tumor off his spine. Then he found these crutches in the clinic and away he went. I heard another boy describe him saying, “Some people call him handicapped, but he calls himself handi-capable.” I loved the thought of this.

Paralyzed North Carolina Teen Defying Odds On Skateboard

This video would be a great way to introduce the topic of disabilities in a classroom. Students can talk about different disabilities, those we can see and those we can’t.

For those students with disabilities, it would start a great discussion on how others see disabilities, how to overcome obstacles, and how to educate others about disabilities. I think this would be highly inspirational for those students who constantly say, “I can’t.” Maybe after seeing this video, my students would feel that they can be successful too!

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Organize in Advance

I am always surprised when the holidays arrive and I don’t have time to do some fun holiday activities. At the beginning of the year I think of all the wonderful plans I will have but then I get caught in the day to day happenings and then I’m surprised that the next week is a holiday. I have not given myself enough time to gather materials and set up lessons for the holidays and another year goes by with good intentions but little to show for it.

I didn’t have Google Calendar back then but I wish I did. It is so easier to access whether I’m at home or at school and can add events from either place. Then I get an email each day of what is planned for that day. I can also glance at the week or the month so that I know what is coming up. I actually put on certain dates when I need to buy materials and run off directions. This helps me be prepared on the day that I want to do the actual activity.

There are many different calendar sites online but I just prefer Google Calendar because there some events that I share with my husband. He doesn’t have to see all the things on my calendar and just sees the events that I need for him to know about. This keeps me from having a bunch of different calendars and trying to coordinate them all in one place. I really wish someone had told me about this a long time ago. I even color code different things on my calendar. I have them separated for personal, online events, both of us need to know, and educational things. I could add more categories if I needed to add them.

I have been trying this for about six months now and I’m really pleased with how organized it helps me be. I can schedule in preparation time as well as the actual event. I don’t feel as rushed to get things done in a timely manner and I can enjoy the activity instead of feeling overwhelmed.

No matter what kind of calendar you use, try adding in the steps that you need before the actual activity. This will help relieve a lot of stress as holidays get near. I believe organizing your activities in advance will help me be more successful in the classroom.

Original image: 'Someone's Lost Schedule Book' by: Alfonso Surroca

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Podcast #8: More Summer Adventures and Ideas

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1. Yes I Can by Danny O’Flaherty from his Secret Garden CD. .

2. Teacher Groups on Ravelry (
Special Ed Teachers who Crochet/Knit
Retired Teachers with Yarn/Fiber

3. TSA (teacher service announcement)

a. Pro Parent
9/19/20098:30 am - 12:30 pm
Roles, Rights, and Responsibilities (IDEA) WorkshopDown’s Syndrome Parent GroupSt. Francis HospitalGreenville, SC
Susan Bruce, PRO-Parents of SC
For More Information or To Register Call: 1-800-759-4776 or (803) 772-5688
9/19/200910:30 am - 12:30 pm*
Individualized Education Program (IEP) WorkshopMarathon ChurchGreenville, SC
Heather Watson-Kelley, PRO-Parents of SC
For More Information or To Register Call: 1-800-759-4776 or (803) 772-5688

b. Webcasts on EdTechTalks
I love Conversations on Sunday mornings at 11:30am ET
Seedlings on Thursday evenings at 7:30pm ET

c. Coffee at the Cosmo is every Third Thursday at 9 a.m., and is free to the public. If you can't attend in person this month, it will be online live at

4. Links to Websites
a. Gauging Your Distraction
b. Education Blogs by Discipline It’s My Life

5. Blog Posts
a. Let the Fun Times Begin!
b. Unwanted Teenage Pregnancies