Friday, August 31, 2012

Useful Information In and Out of the Classroom 8/31/12

tools2Here are some interesting sites that I’ve found this week, thanks to my PLN. As a teacher, I feel we have to keep up to date concerning research in our field and current issues in the education system. I hope some of these inspire you, inform you, and even have you asking questions. Thank you for coming by and visiting!

Note: Each resource is labeled with a level and subject area to make it easier to use.

Levels: E: Elementary; M: Middle; H: High; G: General, all levels; SN: Special Needs; T: Teachers

Subject Areas: LA: Language Arts, English, Reading, Writing; M: Math; S: Science; Health; SS: Social Studies, Current Events; FA: Fine Arts; Music, Art, Drama; FL: Foreign Language; PE: Physical Ed; C: Career; A: All

Irregular Verb Wheel Game - “Spin the wheel to test your knowledge of irregular verb forms. It’s addictive!” (L: M, H; SA: LA )

NOAA Activity Book - “For 200 years, NOAA has been focused on delivering "science, service, and stewardship." Making this happen leads the people of NOAA from the edge of space to the bottom of the ocean. To help you learn more about your world and how NOAA helps you explore, understand, and protect our Earth, we've put together this book with 43 different activities.” (L:A; SA: S )

Illustrative Math - Illustrative Mathematics provides guidance to states, assessment consortia, testing companies, and curriculum developers by illustrating the range and types of mathematical work that students experience in a faithful implementation of the Common Core State Standards, and by publishing other tools that support implementation of the standards. (L:T ; SA:M )

Museum of Science + Industry Chicago - “Find fun activities that will get your students excited about science.” (L: T; SA: S, M )

Iowa Library Services - free library posters (L:T; SA: A)

Original Image: Tools by Pat Hensley

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Don’t Forget to Laugh

laughAs school begins again, I listen to teachers all around me talk about the first days and weeks. They seem overwhelmed with all that they have to do. Every year it is the same thing and it is the nature of the beast. There is nothing anyone can do to get away from the stresses of the beginning of a school year.

Students we don’t know will be entering our room. We have no idea what their personalities are like or their work ethic. We have no idea what their parents will be like and what they will expect.

Colleagues around us may be new and want help or guidance. You want to be helpful but you have so much of your own work to do.

Administrators want you to do certain things immediately. They have expectations of what you should be doing these first few days. Some schools will need to issue lockers, forms, insurance etc. Paperwork needs to be filled out for enrollment and schedules need to be straightened out.

District administrators may need certain paperwork by a deadline. Failure to turn in this paperwork or doing it wrong could result in a loss of federal funding and even possibly jobs.

As a teacher, I put a lot of stress on myself. I wanted my lessons prepared, my room decorated, and paperwork organized. I was excited about teaching and glad to be back but I wanted everything to be just perfect.

Then I remembered - Don’t Forget to Laugh.

I need to take a deep breath and feel the joy. I need to remember how joyous it feels to be a teacher. I need to remember how glad I am to see colleagues I haven’t seen in awhile. I need to remember what it is like to be the new teacher and not know what to do or how to go about it. I need to take time to laugh. Laughing relieves stress. I know it will make me feel better. It will give me the energy to do the things that have to be done.

So, I want to remind you too - Don’t Forget to Laugh!

Image: 'Happy 2011!'

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Using QR Codes in the Classroom

Loonyhiker2This past weekend, someone asked me how I would use QR codes in the classroom. I wanted to give him some suggestions and decided I would write a blog post about this. A year ago I did a presentation for the school district on this and showed some youtube examples too. Here is some ideas:

Book Reviews - video students reviewing books they have read and put it on your class website. Make a QR code for each video. Have these QR codes near the bookshelves and if a student is interested in the book, they can go to the video to find out how their classmates liked the book.

Scavenger Hunt Review - Have students scan the QR code to get a review question. When they get it right, the teacher gives them the location of the next QR code. (Like Amazing Race)

Self Checking - Students can do an assignment and then scan the QR code to see if their answers are correct.

Newsletters - A QR code can be embedded in a newsletter. When scanned it can bring the reader to the teacher’s web site, pictures of the class activity, or a Voicethread presentation by the students.

Vocabulary - A teacher puts a QR Code on vocabulary words and students can read the codes to study the names of items.

Science - Put a QR Code to identify things. Students can identify and check to see if they are right.

Math - Add QR codes to math worksheets with video tutorials of how to solve the problems

Writing - Create a "choose your own adventure" story that has individual QR Codes that need to be scanned in order to advance through the story.

Geocaching: Using a GPS place a series of   markers around your school (recording their position). On each of the markers place a QR Code that contains a question. Students move around using the GPS to find the markers to therefore answer the questions and get the clue to the next marker.

Water Unit - Students scan a code and the class iPod. It gives them a message and they are thrown into a inquiry based investigation about water. The code tells them to start at the water fountain. When they arrive they find another QR Code that gives them a link to a website that has directions and information to complete a task using the water from the water fountain. Once that task is complete they scan another code that opens up the Maps App on their iPod and puts a dot on where they need to walk next. Using their map skills they learned in 3rd grade they navigate to the next spot which happens to be a tree on the playground. There they find a QR code taped to the tree. They scan it and their next mission is given to them…..etc.

Assessment - Testing Schedule - Put the final testing schedule in a QR Code so kids/parents can scan it and then have that information on their cell phone in their pocket.

Porfolio - Cover page for portfolio - students write one summary blog post including hyperlinks to everything done for that period of time. The cover page has a QR Code on it. Anyone can scan the code to get to the summary post including hyperlinks to everything done online

Here are more online resources about QR codes:

QR Codes in the Classroom by Steven Anderson

Twelve Ideas for Teaching with QR Codes

QR Codes in the Classroom by David Hopkins

Do you have any other suggestions for using QR codes in the classroom? Please share!

Original image - QR code to Create, Connect, Collaborate


Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Judging Before Knowing

judgingIn You're Not Alone: Can't judge a book by it's cover, Patrick Black shares,

“You know the saying "you can't judge a book by its cover"? I know in my heart that this is a true statement but I also know that most people do just that. They take one look at my boy and form an opinion without ever talking to him. It is so sad that many people will never get to know the real Corey. Most people can't get past the crooked glasses with stuff all over the lenses, the bad breath from chewing on stuff or the body odor when he forgets his deodorant. This is one of the things I am struggling with right now. I am trying to figure out how to combat these at a time, so that Corey's freshman year of high school is not a repeat of his dismal, friendless middle school years.”

When I read this, it broke my heart. How many times have we told our own children and our students not to judge a book by its cover? But I think that is impossible during the teenage years. I think there needs to be a developmental stage labeled - Judging Books By Their Cover. I don’t care how many times we tell students this, they will do it anyway. I think it is this “stage” that causes many students to join gangs or commit suicide.
As a special ed teacher, I deal with this a lot in my classroom. Not only do my students have peers that judge them by “their cover” but so do a lot of teachers. I can even hear the other teachers complain about having “those” kids in their classroom before they have even met them! Many times my students would come to me and complain that their teachers treat them differently in class. Sometimes I’m not sure the teachers even realize they do this.

The only way I know how to handle these situations is to arm the students with “tools.” Rather than ignore the big elephant in the room, we acknowledge that people judge them without ever really knowing them. Yes, it is wrong but there is nothing we can do about this because we can’t change other people’s behaviors, only our own. By talking about behaviors that cause people to do this, it helps my students see themselves as others do. We practice how to get people to move past that outer layer. We also talk about ways of dealing with this when faced with this kind of judgment. Sometimes it takes time to show the other person that their judgment is wrong and we have to be patient and persistent during this time.

I may have told this story before (and if so, I’m sorry you are hearing this again) but I think it really is a great example of how this happens. I had two students with mental disabilities in my self contained class who was assigned “Broadcast Journalism” as their elective. This veteran teacher ran down to my room in order to explain to me why they should not be in her class. She was adamant that they could not do the things required in class and should be removed from her roster but I refused to do that. I insisted that they be given a chance but if it wasn’t working out in 9 weeks, I would gladly change their schedule. Reluctantly she agreed. Over the next 9 weeks she found out how capable they really were. Not only did they do everything that was asked of them but they helped others by insisting they do what they were told to do too. This teacher came to me after one month and told me what a joy it was to have these two in her class. She loved them! At the end of the year, she even asked that they be enrolled in the next level class the next year.

This is just an example of how we can’t always tell people not to judge others. Sometimes it takes time and perseverance to show them that their judgment is wrong. It is a shame that we have to do this but I think this is human nature.

How do you teach others not to judge a book by its cover? Or how do you teach your students to deal with this? Please share.

Image: 'Time to Love'
Found on

Monday, August 27, 2012

Let’s Teach Integrity!

integrityIn Teaching Integrity in the Classroom from Tips For New Teachers and Student Teachers, Sam suggests,

“Again, I encourage teachers to spend a few minutes in class and ask the question, ‘What does it mean to be a person of  integrity?’”

Sam asked us to comment on this but I decided to write my own post about this. Integrity is the most important characteristic that a person could have. I feel that this is something no one can ever take away from you but once you have lost it, it is hard to get people to ever respect you again.

The sad thing is that not only do students not know what integrity is but I think many adults don’t know what it is either.

For me, integrity means doing the right thing. This is a really hard concept for many students, especially if they are in the developmental stage of “it’s all about me!”

Through the many years of teaching, I have been asked by students, parents, or administrators to do things that I truly did not believe was the right thing. It is easy to respond to students and parents because I just explained that I felt it was wrong and I could lose my job. It was at times when administrators wanted me to do something I felt was wrong that I knew I had to find a new school. I refused to do something that I knew in my heart was wrong because I couldn’t live with myself. Integrity means a lot to me. This means keeping my promises and not lying because I believe in doing the right thing. Staying true to my integrity (and listening to my gut feelings at times when I had no evidence to do otherwise) has helped me hold my head up high, get others to respect me, and be successful in most of the things that I do.

One way that I would bring this up in class is give different scenarios and have the students discuss the ways they would act. I try to explain to them that they need to think about how they would feel if they were the other person. During these discussions, I insist that they are serious about their discussion and no wisecracks. I think this is almost a “behavior drill” like a fire drill but prepares students for situations they may encounter. These drills can bring up topics like bullying, stealing, lying, cheating, etc. Situations can include asking how they would react if it happened to them or if they observed this behavior.

How can we expect students to do the right thing if they don’t know what the right thing is? Maybe there is more than one right way to act. If they are prepared, they might not react inappropriately but will have the tools to do the right thing.

Integrity is a hard characteristic to teach. How would you teach it? Please share.

Image: 'Passenger (Sheung Wan)'

Friday, August 24, 2012

Useful Information In and Out of the Classroom 8/24/12

tools1Here are some interesting sites that I’ve found this week, thanks to my PLN. As a teacher, I feel we have to keep up to date concerning research in our field and current issues in the education system. I hope some of these inspire you, inform you, and even have you asking questions. Thank you for coming by and visiting!

Note: Each resource is labeled with a level and subject area to make it easier to use.

Levels: E: Elementary; M: Middle; H: High; G: General, all levels; SN: Special Needs; T: Teachers

Subject Areas: LA: Language Arts, English, Reading, Writing; M: Math; S: Science; Health; SS: Social Studies, Current Events; FA: Fine Arts; Music, Art, Drama; FL: Foreign Language; PE: Physical Ed; C: Career; A: All

Math Landing - “Resources and Tools for Elementary Math Specialists and Teachers” (L:T ; SA:M )

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.” (L:H ; SA: A )

Math Fun Facts - “This archive is designed as a resource for enriching your math courses and nurturing your interest and talent in mathematics! Each Math Fun Fact is a math puzzle or short article that contains a cool mathematics idea. You'll can learn about the mathematics of things like card shuffling to poker to computer vision to fractals to music, just to name a few. This makes great enrichment material for gifted math students or problem-solving groups.” (L: G; SA: M)

Infogram - Create interactive infographics (L: G; SA: A)

Words Like - “ is a free service that allows you to find words and phrases that are similar or related to each other.” (L: G; SA: A)

Original Image: Tools by Pat Hensley

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Dampening Creativity and Excitement

learningI remember that the first couple of days of the school year start out in meetings where the administration practically reads the teacher handbook to us (to protect them from lawsuits). Then you have meetings about things that really don’t pertain to you (but the district wants everyone in on these meetings). This is not something new and I know it has been going on for more than 30 years that I’ve been in education. I wish that districts would let you work in your classrooms for these 2 days and then have one meeting with information that you need to get started. But what do I know, I’m just a teacher! But no, they need to cover themselves from the teachers who will refuse to follow the rules and do the right things.

I am filled with anticipation and excitement. I have all these great ideas and don’t know where to start. I can’t wait to set up my classroom and prepare for the school year!

Then after the first week, the red tape and paperwork wear me down. All the reports and the deadlines which take priority over the needs of the students call my name. I have to push my great ideas and plans and excitements behind me and attend to all the mundane, bureaucratic craziness that is part of my job. By the end of the day, I feel exhausted. I don’t care about creativity and my excitement has flown away.

What I don’t understand is that this happens every year (at least for the 30 years that I taught in public school). Everyone complains about this every year. Many of the teachers eventually rise into administration positions so I know they understand what teachers feel like. I don’t understand why they continue to dampen teacher’s creativity like this. Surely there must be a better way to start the school year for teachers.

Then I think about my classroom and the way I used to do things. Do I do the same thing to my students? By the time they get to my class, I hear that every teacher before them has handed them an index card to write their personal info and schedule on it. Then I proceed to read over the class rules and requirements. They might have been excited about attending my class but have I ruined it for them? Surely after all these years of teaching, there needs to be a better way! After reading them the riot act, they feel discouraged and their open minds have shut down.

I need to change my starting act. Instead I start the class by being at the door and shaking each student’s hand as they come in. Many hesitate and wonder what I’m up to. Others are in awe that a teacher started out by showing them respect. I then share with them about how excited I am to be there with them and share some of the exciting things in store for them. I ask them to introduce themselves and tell something interesting about themselves. Sometimes I ask questions like how many children in their families and where they are in that (oldest, middle, youngest). I may have them share about their summer. Then I ask them to tell me some things they want to learn in my class. I think it helps when the students start out telling me things instead of me telling them things. I save the last 15 minutes of class to go over the class rules and requirements. By that time, they are settled in my class and willing to listen. I hope this helps to keep up their enthusiasm for learning.

What are successful strategies you use for the first day of class? Please share.

Image: 'Happy Girl Hopscotch in Strawberry Free Creative+Commons'
Found on

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Tribute to Kay Wright Rush

Boston 040408 059This week a great friend and mentor of mine passed away this weekend. Her name was Kay Wright Rush from Lexington, SC and she was an awesome person.

I met Kay many years ago in SC Council for Exceptional Children (CEC). When I was elected to serve on the Board of Directors for CEC, I was thrilled to know that I would be there along with Kay. It was kind of exciting to know our national board actually had 2 members from South Carolina. It is there where I really got to know Kay a lot of better. She was always pushing me to expand my horizons and loved to celebrate my successes.

I can’t tell you of a time when we were together that we didn’t spend the time gabbing and laughing. Whenever people were around her, she filled their lives with laughter. Kay was always telling the most interesting and funny stories and I couldn’t wait to hear more. If you ever needed something, she would be there to give a helping hand.

At any national or state convention I attended, Kay always went out of the way to include my husband and me in any group happenings she would gather up. We loved joining her group for dinner or an adventure. In Salt Lake City we all went out to dinner at a place that had just cleaned up from a snow avalanche! In Charleston one evening, she took a group of us to this fantastic seafood place on Bowen Island (which looked sketchy if you didn’t know the place. In fact, I heard the music of Deliverance in the back of my head!)

Kay, you were a dear friend and I will truly miss you! The world was a better place because you were in it!

Original photo by Pat Hensley

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

There are Good Teachers Out There

appleIn Is focus on the few poor teachers driving away even more of the good ones?

from Dangerously Irrelevant, Scott McLeod shares,

“…teachers are often asked to focus on the minutia. They are judged on their compliance regarding the physical space of their classrooms, the rigid format of their lesson and their ability to follow clerical procedures. In the process, teachers, indeed entire schools, become focused with things that have little to do with what it means to teach and to learn.”

I love the beginning of the school year! Students are fresh and hopefully ready to learn (or at least be in a new situation because they are bored with summer). Teachers are full of ideas and ready to try out new strategies that they have picked up over the summer.

There are good teachers out there and it seems like the district focuses on the struggling ones. The good ones get no attention, not at school and definitely not in the media.

I know our district has the Teacher of the Year where one teacher is picked for each school and then is given the opportunity to compete for District and then State Teacher of the Year. I think that is a good thing but what about all those hundreds of other teachers out there every day who are doing wonderful things? One TV station does a Golden Apple award each week which I find interesting and I like that. But they have to be nominated and I just can’t imagine some of my special ed students nominating me, not because they don’t like me but they are intimidated by the nomination process.

I am hoping this year to seek out the teachers out there who are doing great things in their classrooms. These are the teachers that you don’t always hear about because they like to stay low key. They don’t seek the spotlight and just want their students to succeed. I hope you will check here often and catch my interviews with these people. I think these people deserve a pat on the back and they will never ask for it!

Do you have teachers like this in your district? How do you give them a pat on the back and show them that they matter? Please share.

Image: '::An apple a day keeps the doctor away but if the doctor is cute screw the fruit::'
Found on

Monday, August 20, 2012

A Day in the Park

024Last week I was asked to take photos of the last Family Fun Hike this season at our state park. There were almost 30 people in the whole group with participants; young and those young at heart. Some of the children were with their grandparents and some were with parents. One little baby was even carried on her mom’s back.

I love the beginning of these events as I look on the faces of all who are attending. They are filled with excitement and anticipation of a great new adventure.

We started off hiking around one side of the Lake Placid, which used to be our city’s water supply. Our park has a wonderful history and I love to imagine being here during those wonder years of the past. This park 038was built in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps.

Then participants were given water shoes if they didn’t bring their own and invited to get in the creek to find organisms that live there. These were put in a container of water and brought back with us to the lab so we could observe them under a microscope. As each item was placed up for observation, Ranger Cathy explained a little bit about each one. It was so exciting to watch the faces of all as they were amazed at what was found in that creek.

This whole activity took about 2 hours and everyone was so engaged and full of curiosity and wonder. This is what every teacher would love to see in the classroom. There were many reasons that I think made this whole thing so successful.

1. Everyone wanted to be there.
2. Participants were curious and wanted to learn something new.
3. The activity was a hands-on experience.
4. Everybody was able to be involved in the learning.
5. The activity was scheduled for the right amount of time so no one was bored.

Wouldn’t it be great if we could teach every lesson in the classroom in this way so that learning would be successful?

Original photos by Pat Hensley

Friday, August 17, 2012

Useful Information In and Out of the Classroom 8/17/12

tools1Here are some interesting sites that I’ve found this week, thanks to my PLN. As a teacher, I feel we have to keep up to date concerning research in our field and current issues in the education system. I hope some of these inspire you, inform you, and even have you asking questions. Thank you for coming by and visiting!

Note: Each resource is labeled with a level and subject area to make it easier to use.

Levels: E: Elementary; M: Middle; H: High; G: General, all levels; SN: Special Needs; T: Teachers

Subject Areas: LA: Language Arts, English, Reading, Writing; M: Math; S: Science; Health; SS: Social Studies, Current Events; FA: Fine Arts; Music, Art, Drama; FL: Foreign Language; PE: Physical Ed; C: Career; A: All

Virtual Stock Exchange Games - “Trade stocks in Real-time using your virtual portfolio, Talk strategies with others in the discussion groups for your game, Create a customized public or private game for others to play, Choose a custom list of symbols to trade in your game.” (L: H; SA: M, SS )

Powtoon - Bring awesomeness to your presentations (L: M, H; SA: A )

Overlap Maps - “instantly compare any two places on earth.” (L:M, H ; SA: M, SS )

PlagTracker - check for plagiarism (L:T; SA: A)

SciStarter: great ideas for science projects

Original image by Pat Hensley

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Reconnecting with Nature

003Sometimes I just like to get away and disconnect. It revitalizes me for the times I am connected. (We decided to go camping where I have no internet access and no phone service so if you are reading this, I am back home again.)

As I sit here and write this, I am in the wilderness sitting around a campfire waiting for the sun to come up. I have been listening to the owls as they call to each other in the dark. Above me the stars are still shining brightly. There is a brisk feel to the air so decided to start the campfire (more for comfort than for heat). When the owls are quiet, I love the stillness in the air.

Before long, the sky will get lighter and birds will emerge looking for breakfast. I love the feel of a fresh new day. I love to watch the world wake up. As I sit here quietly, I might luckily watch the deer come out looking for their breakfast too. It is a magical world and sometimes I forget about this.

Last night I fell asleep in our tent listening to the crickets and the tree frogs. It was like a night time symphony. This morning, I no longer here them and all is quiet (except for when the owls are calling each other).

Sometimes I need to get outdoors and reconnect with nature. It makes me feel wonderful!

Original Photo by Pat Hensley

Wednesday, August 15, 2012


respectIn Classroom Management – You Only Need Two Rules

from Tips For New Teachers and Student Teachers, Sam states,

“I believe, however, that we can’t just eliminate those rules posters and replace them with one that reads: Respect Yourself and Respect Others.


Because students don’t know what these two rules mean.

…What I would suggest is creating some kind of poster that focuses on these two rules, but which also offers suggestions of how and why these two rules should be followed.”

I absolutely agree with Sam! Too many times we tell our students to behave and they have absolutely no idea what that entails. When my daughter was young, I remember her coming up to me and asking if she was have (with a long a sound). I couldn’t understand her until she told me that I told her to be have and she wasn’t sure what have was. This is exactly what we do to our students.

Since then, I have tried to put concrete behaviors with abstract expectations. When I go over the class rules and we come to “Respect Others and Yourself,” I also go into the actions that would show others how we “respect” them. They include (but are not limited to):

1. Keep your hands to yourself. (respecting others)

2. Don’t touch other people’s property without permission. (respecting others)

3. Encourage rather than discourage. (respecting yourself and others)

4. No name calling (respecting yourself and others)

5. Dress appropriately (respecting yourself)

6. Treat others the way you would want to be treated. (respecting others)

7. Come prepared for class (respecting yourself and others)

8. Keep your promises. (respecting others)

Once I begin this discussion, many times the students will have input on what they view as respectful and can be added to the list. These specific behaviors can be posted in the classroom.

During the school year, when someone acts inappropriately, I refer to the list and ask them if that is showing respect. By being able to see their behavior in this way, I think it helps them correct their behavior. Sometimes it helps them to self monitor their actions. I have even heard one student correct another by telling a classmate that their behavior is disrespectful and points out the number on the chart that refers to that behavior.

What abstract behaviors do you expect from your students? How do you define this behavior and how do teach it to your students? What do you think could be added to my list? Please share.

Image: 'PLCMC's ImaginOn'

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Building a Personal Learning Network

networkFrom the article Meet Your New PD Tool in Scholastic Administrator magazine:

"I really think anybody who doesn't spend a little time building a personal network is doing themselves and their school a disservice. If we're not modeling this stuff for our teachers and students, then I don't think we're doing our jobs."  (p. 31, quoting Patrick Larkin, @bhsprincipal)

I am part of a bigger educational community through twitter, plurk, and facebook. Many times teachers have told me that they don’t have time for social networking like that or they look down on me as if I networking means that I am not doing my job. In fact the opposite may be true. Since I am part of a bigger educational community, I am able to find new ideas more easily or can get help at the tip of my fingers instead of waiting for help to come to me as others may have to do. This actually gives me more time and causes less stress. I am able to bounce ideas off of others and opinions when I need them so that I can do things more efficiently. To me, it is comparable to driving the car to a destination vs. walking there. I can end up at the same place but one is quicker than the other. Sure, there is a danger of getting sidetracked and spending too much time on these sites but it is just like getting into a car and taking the scenic route to your destination instead of the direct route. It is a decision that I can make.

It is shame when teachers use excuses not to build their own networks. Too many times they say they can’t or they don’t have the time when they just don’t want to. They are afraid to try something new. Until they give it a try, they won’t see the value in it. I believe that when I try something new, I have to use it regularly for at least 2 weeks in order to make an honest decision about it.

How do you get others to build their professional learning network? Please share.

Image: 'NetworkedTeacher'

Monday, August 13, 2012

It’s Not Their Fault!

wreckToday I watched a news story on TV about a police chase of over 100 mph that resulted in a wreck where a 7 year old girl was killed. She did not have her seat belt on because her mother (the driver) wanted her to toss out the marijuana in the car so when the car wrecked, she was ejected from the car. The police did not know the child was in the car. Now the grandparents are saying it is the police’s fault because they were chasing their daughter.

Years ago I had a student’s parent tell me how his son was chased by the police going 70 mph in a 35 mph zone. He felt his son should not have gotten a ticket because it was the police’s fault for chasing him.

In both cases, neither parent wanted their child to take responsibility for their actions. In both cases, if the drivers hadn’t gone over the speed limit, a police chase would not have happened. It was the drivers who made the decision to speed.

Too many times in the classroom I have seen this same mentality. If the child gets the bad grades, the teachers are blamed. The parents just don’t seem to recognize that the child needs to earn their good grades and aren’t given them just because they show up for class.

Yet, knowing that some parents do not teach their children how to accept responsibility, how do I teach them this in my class?

One way that I do this is by having the students fill out a form (or I help them fill it out). The form asks the following questions:

1. How did I act that caused me to get in trouble?

2. Why did I act this way?

3. What could I have done differently?

4. How will I handle this situation next time?

This helps the student look at his/her own behavior rather than at someone else’s behavior. I’m not saying that someone else isn’t involved but I’m not going to talk about someone else with this student.

Sometimes I try to role model how to act when I have done something wrong. I apologize sincerely and then state how I will act differently next time. When we talk about behavior I try to bring up times when I have done that before the class.

Many times I see my students picking up on my behavior and doing the same thing. When I see this I try to reward their behavior with positive comments and sometimes even calling home and bragging about them.

How do you get your students to take responsibility for their actions? Please share.

Original photo: Wreck on Palmer by 4 Eleven Images

Friday, August 10, 2012

Useful Information In and Out of the Classroom 8/10/12

tools2Here are some interesting sites that I’ve found this week, thanks to my PLN. As a teacher, I feel we have to keep up to date concerning research in our field and current issues in the education system. I hope some of these inspire you, inform you, and even have you asking questions. Thank you for coming by and visiting!

Note: Each resource is labeled with a level and subject area to make it easier to use.

Levels: E: Elementary; M: Middle; H: High; G: General, all levels; SN: Special Needs; T: Teachers

Subject Areas: LA: Language Arts, English, Reading, Writing; M: Math; S: Science; Health; SS: Social Studies, Current Events; FA: Fine Arts; Music, Art, Drama; FL: Foreign Language; PE: Physical Ed; C: Career; A: All

Inkle Writer - write interactive stories (L:G ; SA: LA )

Natural Reader - “The free version allows you to experience listening to any text on your PC. “(L: G; SA: A )

The Exquisite Forest - an online art project for creating animated stories collaboratively. (L: M, H; SA: LA, FA )

Great Quotes About Learning and Change - flickr pictures with quotes (L: T ; SA: A )

Mapmaker Interactive - “Explore your world with map themes, data, and tools for customizing your map (L: M, H; SA: SS )

Original Image: Tools by Pat Hensley

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Best Blog for Special Ed Teachers

50 Best Blogs for Special Ed Teachers  Updated    Online UniversitiesThe 50 Best Blogs for Special Ed Teachers (Updated) by Online Universities has been updated and I’ve been included. It actually has a great list of blogs to check out and even some that I didn’t know about. I like finding new blogs that I might want to subscribe to so if you might too.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

New Teacher Advice

sunriseNext week, our teachers will return to school and get ready to start the new school year. Recently, I got an email from someone who will be teaching special education for the first time and asked me for some general advice. I wasn’t told what grade level or what handicaps will be involved but I think my advice works for all. I thought I would share with you what advice I gave.

General advice:

1. Take time to eat your lunch each day - you will need it for energy!

2. Take a multivitamin (because your body will need to fight off all the bugs the kids pass on to you).

3. Have a hobby to do outside of school which is necessary to relieve stress.

4. Stay away from negative people. Expect to go through some tough times (which is natural) so you don't need negativity to make you feel worse.

5. Be open to suggestions from experienced teachers around you.

6. But be careful about trusting the wrong people (who may steer you in the wrong direction)

7. Call parents the first day and introduce yourself and tell them how excited you are about teaching their children.

8. Call or email parents every other week to touch base and brag about their children). The parents really appreciate this and you will get more supportive parents this way. The administration loves this too! Keep a log of who you call, when you call, and notes about what you talked about.

9. Ask to sit in on another special education teacher's IEP meeting so you can watch the procedure before you have to hold a meeting.

10. Find a special education mentor if the school/district hasn't given you one.

For all you experienced teachers, do you have any general advice that you would add to my list? Please share!

Image: 'Morning light'

Tuesday, August 7, 2012


hungerIn church this week, my pastor talked about being hungry and I started thinking about being hungry for learning. She talked about being hungry at times because she didn’t eat what was there or she didn’t like her choices.

I remember being a young child and loving the idea of school. I remember playing school with my stuffed animals, my cousins, my friends, and anyone else I could talk into playing school with me. I think at one time our German shepherd was even one of my students. I loved to read and learn anything and everything. Luckily my parents encouraged me to learn and most of my teachers did too.

Then I look at the students I teach. This past summer I held a summer program for children age 6-13 who have had learning problems in school this year. Of course the little ones were excited every day to be there. But the 9-13 year olds just didn’t seem to be happy. They already knew that learning was a struggle for them. It was really sad to look into these faces and see that many of them have lost this hunger for learning.

I wonder what we do as educators that turn this hunger for learning away. Many times out students choose not to take what is being offered because they don’t like their choices. Many times they have learned that learning causes emotional pain. I remember my parents having me try to eat new foods just to see if I liked it. How do I get my students to try new things? How do I get them past the fear of learning new things? At what point have we caused this fear?

At the end of the 4 week program I was told by many parents that we have helped give their child confidence. One student has returned 4 years in a row and his mother tells me that he will be back next year. Another parent told me that she was shocked at what a difference we made in her child in just a short time. I explain that we have worked on a few skills but I don’t think we made as big a difference in the skill level as much as we have in the self confidence level. Some of these children have gotten just a little hungry for learning again. I think that if we have been able to stir up that hunger again for some of them, then it has been a worthwhile program.

How do you make your students hungry for learning? Please share!

Image: 'Hungry Baby Birds'

Monday, August 6, 2012

My Photo Journey

072712In What Are You Doing With All Your Photos? from Ideas and Thoughts from an EdTech, Dean Shareski asks,

“What are you doing with your photos?”

I take a photo a day 3 of the past 4 years (I took last year off and I really missed it!) and upload them to flickr to share.

I take photos to keep the memories alive. When we travel and go back to the same places, we like to look back at the pictures so we can plan what we want to see and do again.

I like to take photos that I might be able to use on my blog. Sometimes I can’t find a photo that would fit the topic of my blog and then I realize I have it in my own files.

I like to take photos when I am with a group so that I can share our adventures and good times we had. I upload the pictures to Flickr so that I don’t fill everyone’s email with tons of pictures (that are huge files) and they can pick and choose which ones they want to keep.

I take photos to remind myself of things. I take a photo of the parking space (section, number etc.) of where we park if the car is going to be left there for a week. When we return I just look at the photo to get to our car.

I take photos of things in the store I want to buy in order to compare prices. I used to write all this down on a piece of paper but it is so much easier and faster to take a photo of the price tag with sku# to compare. I might also take a photo of the details (size, weight, etc.) if I need them.

I take a lot of photos so that when my husband and I can’t travel anymore, we will be able to sit at home and look back at these photos. We can remember the good times and share the memories.

A local school allows me to use the facilities to run our summer program (a one month practicum for teachers getting their master’s degree in special education). I took photos of the classrooms we were using before we moved in so that we could put the classrooms back the way they were when we were done.

When our tenants move into a house, we take photos of the house inside and out so we can compare it to when they move out. This helps document the condition of the premises so we can determine if they get their deposit back when they move

When we rent a car, I take photos of the car and all the dings and dents so that we can’t be charged for them when we return it.

When we had storm damage on and around our house, I took photos to document the damage in case we filed an insurance claim.

I take a lot of photos of improvements we have done on our house so that my parents who live far away and unable to travel can see what we are doing.

As you can tell, I love taking photos! So now I ask you, what are you doing with your photos? Please share.

Original Photo by Pat Hensley

Friday, August 3, 2012

Useful Information In and Out of the Classroom 8/3/12

tools1Here are some interesting sites that I’ve found this week, thanks to my PLN. As a teacher, I feel we have to keep up to date concerning research in our field and current issues in the education system. I hope some of these inspire you, inform you, and even have you asking questions. Thank you for coming by and visiting!

Note: Each resource is labeled with a level and subject area to make it easier to use.

Levels: E: Elementary; M: Middle; H: High; G: General, all levels; SN: Special Needs; T: Teachers

Subject Areas: LA: Language Arts, English, Reading, Writing; M: Math; S: Science; Health; SS: Social Studies, Current Events; FA: Fine Arts; Music, Art, Drama; FL: Foreign Language; PE: Physical Ed; C: Career; A: All

Audioviator - free audio tours (L: G; SA: A )

ScreenLeap - share your screen instantly to any device with a browser (L: M, H ; SA: A)

Listen and Read - Community Clubhouse; “reading activities for early learners.” (L:E ; SA: LA )

American Revolution - interactive timeline (L:M, H ; SA: SS )

Sound Gecko - make any online article into a mp3 and listen to it on any device. (L:G ; SA: A )

Original Image: Tools by Pat Hensley

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Summer Learning Place 2012 Reflections

004Our Summer Learning Place 2012 is in its last week. I have really enjoyed this year’s teachers and students. For some reason, everyone seemed to mesh really well. All of the teachers seemed to be on the same wavelength and constantly shared ideas and strategies. There were no major ego problems and all of the teachers really collaborated on their own rather than needing me to initiate any of this. I was truly impressed that all of them were usually there 30 minutes before they were required to be there and all usually stayed even after I had left. These teachers showed true commitment and responsibility throughout 002the program. I enjoyed seeing how different they all were compared to the first week. Unsure and anxious about what to expect (the unknown is always scary), they rolled up their sleeves and jumped right in to get to work. It was fun for me to watch them try different strategies looking for the right one that would work. By expanding their comfort zones, I think they will be better teachers in the future whether it is in a new classroom or returning to the ones they already have.

The children were a joy to see every morning. I loved the smiles on their faces as the looked forward to another day with us. Even getting compliments from the parents made my day. One parent even strongly requested that he be put on the mailing list so he could be notified when we would begin this again next year (we have this every summer). The students seemed to really flouris005h under the individual attention from the teachers (ratio of 1 teacher for 4 students) and even though we only met for 4 weeks, I can see a lot of academic growth that occurred. Parents have even commented on seeing their child progress positively which is what our goal.

The only sad thing that happened was that I had to remove a 7 year old from the program. He was uncontrollable and tried to run away several times. This prevented the teachers and myself from meeting the needs of the other students. The parents were frustrated too and I understand that but there was nothing I could do. I wish the parents had warned us about this behavior on the first day and we weren’t surprised when he tried to run away immediately. I spent the whole day restraining him from running away and was exhausted when his parents finally picked him up. His mother was under the impression that we dealt with behavior problems (he has had this all year and was being retained in 1st grade because of this behavior) and that we could “fix” him. I informed her that we couldn’t even work with him if we couldn’t get him in the classroom. After the 2nd day of this behavior, I had to send him home and inform the parents that this was not the right program for him. I know they were disappointed and I was too. I wish I didn’t have to do that but my hands were tied.

Overall though I believe this program was a success for the teachers and the children. Every year I send home a program survey to the parents so I can get feedback about this year’s program. Everyone came away with things they had learned. Thanks to the suggestions from parents and the teachers, I will be making a few changes for next year that will hopefully make the program even better.

Original Pictures by Pat Hensley

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Signs of Weakness or Wisdom?

spiderIn ABC--Arachnids' Brazen Counterattacks
from Sioux's Page, Sioux asks,

“And what would happen if we were all like that spider? What would happen if when we were attacked, we immediately armed ourselves for our own self-defense?”

This reminded me so many times of my student’s behavior. Somewhere along the line, students have learned not to show when they are scared or frustrated. They have been told they are lazy or don’t try hard enough or don’t study enough. Many times that may be the case but many times it may not be the case. For some reason they may not know what to study or how to study or maybe they don’t even understand the entire concept to begin with.

Any time we perceive that we are being attacked, our body naturally goes into a fight or flight mode (remember those development classes we had to take?).
When students perceive they are being attacked, many start acting aggressively. When this happens, many teachers react to this behavior. It is only natural that when the students act aggressive, the teacher tends to “push” back.

I have found the best way to handle situations like this is to take a step back instead of a step forward. First of all, the student doesn’t expect this. Teachers are afraid that this is a sign of weakness but I see it as a sign of wisdom. I might even tell the student that I am feeling (disappointed, angry, frustrated) with the student’s behavior and I will need some time to think about how I want to handle this. Many times my behavior can either escalate the situation or defuse the situation and if at all possible I like to defuse situations as often as I can.

I might have to remind myself that the student’s behavior may be a defense mechanism. I need to look objectively at the whole situation and see if there was something that triggered the student’s behavior. If I find the cause, I won’t excuse the behavior but I will understand it better. This will help me have a productive conversation with the student who may not even realize why he acted this way until it is pointed out to him. Helping him understand how he is reacting to certain situations and helping him find other appropriate ways to handle them will help the student be more successful in the future.

Sharing this information with parents will also help everyone involved. I like to imagine that the student, the parents and I are all on the same time so we all need to know what is going on. This helps the parent see that I also care about the student and that I’m trying to find ways for him to be more successful. By getting this information, the parents can all help to reinforce the new behaviors that the student is learning to replace the inappropriate behavior.

All of this takes time and energy so the changes won’t happen overnight. I just need to remember that signs of weakness may actually be signs of wisdom.

Image: 'Gummi-Spidey'