Monday, April 14, 2014

A Song About My Time in the Classroom

Creativity and problem solving were the keys to my day-to-day life as a teacher, and I poured myself so fully into that life that I had little time or energy to put into anything else.  In my life outside the classroom, I still have the need to create and put that drive into a variety of projects, including writing and playing music.  I started that project over a year ago, but it took until recently for me to write anything about my time in the classroom.

When the inspiration came, I wanted to tell the story of my students, not any particular one but an amalgam of those I met over the years. The result is this acoustic, country-tinged ballad entitled Janie's Song. Lyrics are below.




Janie was the new girl, she had trouble making friends
At that age, there's no easy kind of change.
She was bullied every day, before we cared what that was
livin' with a most familiar pain
Janie was the only child from a single parent home
Just her and mom alone against the world
She saw this as a dead end town, next generation stickin' around
stickin' to the same script as before
I've been in your shoes--
Singing awkward off-key teenage blues
And your good heart my be denied
You'll come out stronger on the other side
Leave this far behind you in a couple of years
I guess all that I'm tryin' to say, is Janie, wipe away those tears
One day she put her head down, wouldn't talk to anyone
I whispered "you can always trust in me"
The burdens these kids carry around would break the backs of most
And your heart will not allow your eyes to see
Janie came to me and cried, said she might take her own life,
"Nobody here would miss me if I died"
I would miss what you could do with the good heart that's inside of you
You're just a seed and the flower's still to come
I've been in your shoes--
Singing awkward off-key teenage blues
And your good heart my be denied
You'll come out stronger on the other side
Leave this far behind you in a couple of years
I guess all that I'm tryin' to say, is Janie, wipe away those tears

Friday, April 11, 2014

April 2014 Reader on Educational Games


Improving the World of Educational Gaming [Kotaku] - I agree wholeheartedly with the author here--the simplest improvement we can make is touting the educational aspects of everyday games while doing the opposite for educational games.

Trip Hawkins’s next act: If You Can, a startup for social emotional learning games. [Slate] - We have barely scratched the surface of the potential of these tools. Here's an example of a game taking a step in the right direction.

How a High School Teacher Is 'Gamifying' World News [Mashable] - Holy cow, I love this idea. If I was still in the social studies classroom, I would have loved this. It's important to note that educational gaming doesn't have to mean technology or video games; in this case, it's about gamifying the learning process of a While Side note: I experimented with fantasy sports in the math classroom years ago.

Immersive Video Games: The Future of Education? [Mental Floss] - Echoes a lot of what I wrote years ago for the Educational Games Research blog.

All the World's a Game: Interactive Map Gives Kids the Travel Bug [Mashable] - I always wanted to get that giant Hammacher Schlemmer world map, the one that would cover most if not all of one wall in your classroom, but this is way, way better.

Friday, March 21, 2014

New Online Learning Resources: March 2014

Whether you're using online learning for your students or yourself, the number of options is increasing by the day. Here are just a few:

10 OpenCourseWare Sites for a Free Education [Mashable]

Glean — Find the best videos in education for you [via Leilani Cohen] - A long time reader sent this educational video site to me, saying it could "eventually take the place of Khan Academy" in her classroom.

9 Dependable Destinations for Online Tutoring [Mashable]

Mindsy Wants To Be The Netflix Of E-Learning [TechCrunch]

This Free Course in Music Engineering Teaches You with Music You Love [Lifehacker] - It could be the start of a path to serious study or just for fun. Either way, this one intrigues me.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Review & Giveaway: Trying Not to Try by Edward Slingerland




There are moments when I am on stage, performing original music where I feel I am in "the zone." You will never convince me that I am anything more than a mediocre guitarist, singer and songwriter, but there are moments where everything seems to flow so effortlessly, I might as well be Jimi Hendrix up there. The energy in the crowd also seems to rise, at least from my perspective, as I am in "the zone."  This is at the heart of Trying Not to Try: The Art and Science of Spontaneity.

So when Edward Slingerland discusses wu-wei and de, ancient Chinese ideas about spontaneous, effortless action and a sort of charismatic energy that spurs people to follow, I knew what he was talking about. We identify it commonly in sports in America, such as when Michael Jordan would take over in critical, game-changing situations, or when Peyton Manning carves up an opponent's defense seemingly at will. As Slingerland points out, we can't explain it, precisely because it is something that seems natural.

This is not a how-to book, and the suggestions about how to get closer to these states are largely buried under a heavy but interesting layer of Chinese thought, modern science and analogies. As I struggled to glean specific examples and ideas to apply to the classroom, I realized I was ironically trying too hard and losing sense of the central ideas of the book.

I would recommend this book as a lens with which to examine both ourselves and our culture, and as a not-so-subtle reminder that there's much to be gained in letting go, not trying so hard, and just going with the flow. For a hardworking teacher trying to get through the last stretch of the spring semester, that's an important lesson.

The good folks at Crown Publishers provided the review copy that I am once again giving away to one lucky reader. To enter this giveaway, email teachforever@gmail.com with the subject TRYING GIVEAWAY by 11:59pm CST this Wednesday, 3/19/14.

Grab your own copy of Trying Not to Try: The Art and Science of Spontaneity on Amazon.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Spring Break 2014 Reader on Coding in Education

With 11K Pre-Orders, Play-i Lands $8M To Teach Kids To Code With Interactive Toy Robots [TechCrunch] - Coming soon! This is an exciting development. I heard a recent TED talk adapted for NPR about how robots change the way we react to technology, including how we end up personifying and thus engaging at a more meaningful level with them than other tech. What Play-i is aiming for rings true with that in mind.

3-Year-Olds Can Learn to Code — One Robot Turtle at a Time [Mashable] - The Logo programming (with its ubiquitous turtle) that I used to do on my Apple IIc had to have been part of the inspiration for this real world board game.

Why We Need Coding Clubs for Girls [GOOD]

Getting Girls Into Programming, One Children’s Book At A Time [TechCrunch]

Proof the Next Great App Could Come From a Kid [Mashable]

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Win $5K For Your School: Made By Milk Carton Construction Contest

I recently heard about another great contest for students: the Made By Milk Carton Construction Contest. It's open to elementary, middle and high school students, with winning schools receiving $5,000!
Interested in participating in the upcoming Spring 2014 Made By Milk Carton Construction Contest? The program resumes with a new theme, “Stories!” Participants are required to use a minimum of 100 cartons to build a character, symbol or scene from a story. Think fairy tales, epic sagas, or science fiction! Entries will be accepted now until April 16, 2014. Visit www.madebymilkcontest.com for official rules and upcoming contest details. 
Last year's theme was "Transportation" and the contest's sponsor Evergreen Packaging sent along a couple of winning entries. With this year's "Stories" theme, this would be a great project for English/Language Arts classes, art classes or for extracurricular group like National Honor Society or recycling club.

If your school participates, I'd love to see your entry!

Friday, February 7, 2014

'Ten Cheap Lessons' Five Year Anniversary


On January 31, 2008 I published my first book, Ten Cheap Lessons: Easy, Engaging Activities for Every Secondary Classroom, a collection of ten of my best lesson ideas meant to be adapted to fit different content and subject areas.

Last week was a huge milestone. I can't believe it's been five years since I fulfilled the dream of publishing and sharing my work with other teachers. I still get a kick out of walking into Barnes & Noble, typing my name in the computer and seeing my books pop up on the screen. 

I just want to thank everyone that supported me over the years, both in and out of the classroom and through this website.

The original version is still out there, but I published an updated Second Edition that I believe is a bit better. You can find both on my page on Lulu.com, and you can still find the original on Amazon.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Review & Giveaway: Notes To A New Teacher by Dana Dunnan

Dana Dunnan has a few years on me in the classroom--about twenty to be exact. He has taught a variety of subjects at the high school level in wealthy suburbs north of Boston for a long time. He also worked at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and on education policy at the state level in Massachusetts. On the surface, I certainly didn't see any parallels to my experiences in and out of the classroom.

Yet as I read Notes to a New Teacher: A Not-for-Dummies Guide for Beginning Teacher, I felt like I had found a kindred spirit. Dunnan's advice sounds eerily close to my own, supported with stories about his students as well as interactions with amazing people like legendary UCLA coach John Wooden. The book is written in a conversational tone, as if Dunnan was sitting down with you for a few hours to chat about teaching, not unlike my own work aimed at helping young teachers.

Dunnan covers the most critical topics for new teachers: the first day of school, assessments, and dealing with students, colleagues and parents. This is not new territory for books on teaching, of course, but his advice carries the weight of wide ranging experience and is delivered in a way most teachers can easily absorb.

As usual, I am giving away my review copy of Notes to a New Teacher (sent to me by the author himself) to a lucky reader. Send an email with the subject "NOTES GIVEAWAY" to teachforever@gmail.com by Wednesday, February 5th at 11:59pm CST, and I'll select a random reader to win.

For more information on the book and the author, visit his website. If you would rather skip the contest and make sure to get yourself a copy, it's available on Amazon.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Review & Giveaway: Physics: An Illustrated History of the Foundations of Science

Physics: An Illustrated History of the Foundations of Science doesn't have an attention-grabbing name (publishers should start hiring the people who write headlines at Upworthy or Gawker to name their books), but attention-grabbing is exactly what this book is.

Part of the series "Ponderables: 100 Breakthroughs That Changed History Who Did What When" by science author Tom Jackson, breaks down the key developments in the history of physics (and, in turn, our understanding of the universe). Physics is overflowing with helpful illustrations and is written in digestible chapter not much longer than a typical blog post, which should help hold the attention of students and adults alike.

This is exactly the kind of engaging book I loved to have in my classroom library--something a student could pick up and be quickly drawn in to, with the chance of sparking a bigger interest in the subject. It would also be a great coffee table book to have at home for young kids who are beginning to learn about the world around them

I'm giving away a copy of Physics: An Illustrated History of the Foundations of Science to one lucky reader. To enter, email teachforever@gmail.com with the subject "Physics giveaway" by 11:59pm CST on Wednesday, January 22. I'll pick a winner at random. Thanks to Shelter Harbor Press for providing the review copy.

Can't wait to flip through it? Get it on Amazon today.

Friday, January 17, 2014

January Weekend Reader on Social Media and Education

They Loved Your G.P.A. Then They Saw Your Tweets. [NYTimes.com] - This is one of the most important things we can ever teach our students about social media. They must understand what's public and what's not, how that's not always easy to figure out, and how that could potentially be viewed by potential colleges or employers.

Should Schools Teach Social Media Skills? [MindShift] - YES.

School District Starts Monitoring Students' Social Media Behavior [Mashable] - Not a fan of this.

Nickelodeon Vets Debut BatteryPOP, A Kid-Safe, Kid-Programmed Online Network [TechCrunch]

Survey: K-12 Teachers Unsure How To Use Social Media With Students and Parents [Business Wire] - Nothing that surprising here. Teachers cannot be afraid to use this as a tool in their vast arsenal.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Review & Giveaway: How To Teach Your Children Shakespeare

I've never met him, nor have I even seen him in action, but Ken Ludwig is a great teacher. Before I looked through How To Teach Your Children Shakespeare, his new book on exactly that, it would have been difficult for you to convince me that I could believe it simply by reading the first chapter.

Yet there I was, following his directions to memorize and then understand a single line of poetry from A Midsummer Night's Dream ("I know a bank where the wild thyme grows"). As actor John Lithgow notes in his foreword, Ludwig's enthusiasm radiates from these pages. I could hear him speaking to me, as if I was sitting in a workshop learning from him in person. That's hard to do on the written page.

Ludwig frames the book around twenty-five key passages from The Bard's plays. You'll find out how to convey the literary, historical and cultural significance as well as teach the meaning behind words that will often be unfamiliar to kids. Ludwig correctly pushes you to model passages out loud, as any English teacher will tell you is key for the literacy of struggling and still learning readers.  Even the beautiful rhythm of this poetry is a part of his course-in-a-book. How To Teach Your Children Shakespeare is thorough and detailed, but wholly accessible.

This is a book for teacher or parents interested in imparting this timeless knowledge to kids (or even adults). This would be an incredibly awesome giveaway if it was simply a copy of the book, but this copy is signed by Mr. Ludwig himself!

As always, I'm giving this book away to a lucky reader. Email teachforever@gmail.com with the subject "Shakespeare" by 11:59pm CST on Wednesday 1/15/14, and I'll pick a winner from that lot at random. Thanks to Crown, Broadway, and Hogarth and Random House, Inc. for providing a copy for the review and giveaway.

If you can't wait, you can pick up How to Teach Your Children Shakespeare on Amazon today.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Weekend Reader on Video Games in Education: January 2013


Video Games Make Your Brain Bigger, Study Says [Mashable] - This is why I keep focusing on this topic.

SimCityEDU: Gaming in the Classroom [Mental Floss] - It's no surprise to see the newest generation of one of my favorite video games being used as a learning tool. I learned to think creativity and solve problems from the earlier, less complex versions, and the skills involved in creating a city in this iterations is much more complex. Bravo to GlassLab and EA.

OpenEd: Free, Open Source EdTech Video and Games Resource for Teachers [The 21st Century Principal]

Video Games Are Teaching Our Kids to Succeed in the 21st Century | Catriona Wallis [HuffPo]

Five Ways that Games are More than Just Fun [GOOD]