Saturday, January 31, 2009

The Best of I Want to Teach Forever: January 2009

I've been making a lot of little changes to the site recently. I hope you find the new color scheme easier to read than the original version, and that you can find what you need easily on the sidebar.

In December I made it my goal to start trying to post at least once per day, and I've been very successful so far. That also means there's a lot you may have missed if you're not checking in frequently.

So now you can expect "best of" posts at the end of the month as a way to catch up quickly. First, my 5 best posts this month:
  1. 52 Teachers, 52 Lessons Project (1/5) The first few weeks of this community writing project have already exceeded my expectations. I can't wait to see what the other 49 teachers will contribute! You can use the 52 teachers 52 lessons tag to conveniently get all of the entries in one place.
  2. New Spring Semester Student Survey (1/6)
  3. Linear Equations Formula Book (1/12)
  4. 3 Ways to Use Microcredit to Invest Your Students (1/20)
  5. Project Idea: Transformations of Exponential and Logarithmic Functions (1/28)
I share a lot of links to the best resources I find as well. Here's my 5 favorites of the month:
  1. Three Free Tools for Creating, Editing and Reading PDFs (1/3)
  2. Psychology Today Talks Social Networking Issues (1/9)
  3. Detroit, Boston and the Great Single-Sex School Debate (1/18)
  4. Stress Relief: Better Living Through Tetris (1/22) Talk about taking your own advice: Now that I've found this, I can't stop playing it. What does that say about how traumatized I am after school each day?
  5. 15 Engaging High School Math Activities (1/25)
If you enjoy this site, the best ways to support it are to subscribe to my RSS feed, become a Follower (click "Follow this blog" on the sidebar), and to share links on your blog or favorite social bookmarking site (click the "Share" button below for a quick and easy way to do so).

Today is also the one year anniversary of the publishing of my book, Ten Cheap Lessons: Easy, Engaging Ideas for the Secondary Classroom!! You can find it at as well as other fine retailers.

Thank you for reading and your contributions! The fact that I can contribute something to this profession that has given me so much is so fulfilling.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Tell Your Math Students: Mathematicians Have the Best Jobs in America

There's lots of good answers you can give when your students ask, "When am I going to use this in the real world?" Now you can arm yourself with the best possible answer: a recent study says mathematicians have the best job in America!

There's a lot of jobs in the field, they make almost $100k a year, and it's about as low stress as you can get. Not to mention, most of the other "best jobs in America" cited by the study require a lot of math skills.

Math is where it's at, baby, there's no way around it.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

LaTeX Equation Editor = Stronger, Faster, Better Than Microsoft Equation Editor

I can't remember where I found this, but financial engineering company Sitmo has created a simple, powerful LaTeX Equation Editor that you can use on their website, add to your website or iGoogle homepage.

After writing your equation, you can download it as an image or create a permanent link to it with one click. There's no software to download or messing around with clunky user interfaces (I'm looking at you, Microsoft Equation Editor!).

This is a great example of what Web 2.0 can do for math teachers. Enjoy!

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Carnival of Education. A Day At School is up!

The Reading Workshop has posted the 208th Carnival of Education, with a clever A Day at School theme. It includes this week's entry in the 52 Teachers, 52 Lessons project as I am continuing to recruit more teachers to contribute. Enjoy!

Read My Guest Post on Learn Me Good

Mister Teacher of the venerable Learn Me Good put out a call for guest bloggers in December, and I was happy to share my thoughts with a wider audience.

Read my post, Wii wants to teach and let me know what you think.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Project Idea: Transformations of Exponential and Logarithmic Functions

I assumed when I started teaching Algebra II that since the students were older and more mature that I wouldn't need to do a lot of the kinds of engaging lessons I always needed for my Algebra I students. I wasn't wrong, but I wasn't completely right either. It's all a matter of degrees.

I still need to engage my older students with innovative lessons, projects and games. In this case, we'd been studying transformations of exponential and logarithmic functions for two weeks, so I decided to use a final project as a final assessment.

The project was quite straightforward: Choose either exponential or logarithmic functions and make 1-5 posters of the five transformations we studied in class. I did ask them to show examples and to include something to make it easy to understand and memorable, but otherwise it was open ended. The five transformations are:
  1. Vertical translation
  2. Horizontal translation
  3. Vertical stretch or compression
  4. Horizontal stretch or compression
  5. Reflection
Each transformation has two possibilities, which really means there are ten in all. As usual, I didn't have poster board, so I made do with some large paper I found in our supply closet. Here's what they came up with:

This project is an adaptation of Idea #1: The Mini-Poster from my book Ten Cheap Lessons: Easy, Engaging Ideas for Every Secondary Classroom.

Monday, January 26, 2009

52 Teachers, 52 Lessons #3: Smile

This week's entry comes to us from Tammy Gilmore. Check out how she uses blogs with her students (after you read her advice):

Twenty years ago, my first superintendent and mentor Jerrell Lillard gave me the best advice that I have ever received: "Be firm, fair, and consistent." Over the years, I have had several opportunities to share that phrase with friends, peers, student interns, mentees, and that person I greet in the mirror every morning...maybe that person more than anyone else!

This advice transcends three school districts, hundreds of teachers, and thousands of students, advice that has literally stood the test of time. This advice gained me many friends and, if nothing else, the respect all teachers so-justly deserve.

Forget that age-old advice, "Don't smile until Christmas." Do smile! Just smile as you gently, but firmly lead, guide, and teach the future of our great country.

Tammy Gillmore, NBCT
English/Journalism Teacher
Batesville High School
Blog: Treasure Chest of Thoughts

Thank you Tammy! I also need to thank Joel of So You Want to Teach?, who has set up another place to follow the progress of this project and encouraged more teachers to participate.

Read more about this project here or add the 52 teachers 52 lessons tag to your favorites. Email your entries to teachforeverATgmailDOTcom. Week 4 will be posted next Monday, February 2.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

15 Engaging High School Math Activities

We've been reviewing for quarterly finals this week, and I was looking for a fun, engaging activity for reviewing slope with my Algebra I students. My research turned up a site called simply High School Math Activities, which has 15 great ideas covering all different levels of HS math.

I used activity #8, Sloping Letters, as a homework assignment. Basically, students use lines with positive, negative, zero and undefined slopes to describe letters of the alphabet and in turn decode a message. As suggested on the site, I then asked students to create their own message using the same "slope code". My students seemed to enjoy it better than your average assignment.

Looking at the other ideas, I can't wait to use the Graphing Project and Using Trig to Calculate Pi with my Algebra II students next quarter. We'll be studying quadratics in Algebra I soon, so the Acceleration Due to Gravity activity will fit in great. Towards the end of the year, as we try to prep students for Geometry the following year, the Pop Can Assignment sounds like fun too.

It's so rare to find any website with so many great, straightforward lesson ideas in one place. I'll be digging into this one for quite a while.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Lesson Idea: Significant Figures Made Easy

Thanks to Joel's promotion of the 52 Teachers, 52 Lessons project over at So You Want to Teach?, I received this cool interactive presentation/lesson idea about significant figures. This is definitely the first chemistry lesson I've shared, but since many teachers come here searching for lessons based on the 5E instructional model, it should be very helpful to a lot of people.
Thanks to Virginia, who teaches Chemistry, Physics and Honors Chemistry in Texas for sharing.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Rigorous, Honors-Level Textbook Question

Diane sent me the following question, which I thought I would post to solicit more suggestions:
I teach in Northbridge, MA and we are in the middle of a textbook debate. For many years, we have been teaching our Algebra I and II Honors classes using Dolciani, Graham, Swanson and Charron (ISBN: 0395535891 and 0395535921). We have found these books to be quite good at preparing our students, especially those who will go on to AP Calc. These books, however, are quite outdated (i.e. ,copyright 1992, not online, no electronic resources, etc.) Two years ago, the district purchased the 2007 McDougal Littell series for Algebra I, II and Geometry. In our district, Algebra I and II can be taken either at the middle school or the high school. The middle school has made the switch to teach entirely out of the new series of books. At the high school, we are reluctant to make the switch because the new books are not a difficult and rigorous as the old. The are great for the college prep level but not for the honors level.

I don't know if you are familiar with either of these books but my question to you is this: Do you know of a newer book that is appropriate for the honors level students? I have done some research and am not finding anything quite as rigorous. I am fine with making the switch to the new text if I could supplement with the old but most assignments that I would want to give would be 25% from the new book and 75% from the old. This to me is not supplementing with the old but rather supplementing with the new.
I told her that my old school district had gone through textbook adoption two years ago, and that most of the books were very similar, including the 2007 McDougal Littell books. If she dug deeper into the supplemental materials including with the newer book, they tend to have more challenging versions of the same assignments available (not to mention extensions and projects).

The other option I gave her was Key Curriculum Press textbooks, which were the only ones we never seriously considered. They seemed far too rigorous for the majority of our students, but for upper level honors classes, it might be a great option.

I'm hoping the wisdom of the crowd can give Diane a few more options to bring back to her district. Leave your suggestions in the comments. Thank you!

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Stress Relief: Better Living Through Tetris

Apparently playing video games can be much more than a mere stress reliever. Lifehacker reports that scientists have found Tetris can prevent your brain from storing bad memories if played right after a traumatic event. There were a few times last week I could have used this!

Best of all, you can play Tetris online for free. Enjoy!

This Week's Carnival of Education is up!

This week's Carnival of Education: Virtual Inaugural Balls Edition is up at Teacher in a Strange Land. Monday's entry into the 52 Teachers, 52 Lesson Project is featured, but I wanted to share two other Carnival highlights:
  1. I'm planning on introducing trigonometry to my Algebra II students soon, so Right on the Left Coast's hilarious student-made video on the subject has got me pumped.
  2. My interest was piqued by this explanation of the Australian school year on Teaching Challenges. I've always wondered why American schools haven't experimented with anything like this. The charter school I work for has a student population with absolutely dismal attendance, due in part to longer school days and a longer school year based around traditional school calendars. Of all the innovations we could install to really get these kids to come to school, the Australian model should be at the top of our list.
As always, you can submit to future editions via the COE submission form or browse past and future hosts at the main COE site. Enjoy!

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

I promise not to make the obvious joke about "higher" education

Boston news blog Universal Hub recently shared a story I just had to pass on: a case worker at a Boston private school was arrested after receiving a shipment of pot at school.

I sometimes get personal packages shipped to school, because either no one is home to sign for them so they don't leave them or they just leave them out in the open for anyone to steal. Somehow, knowing this kind of thing is going on makes me feel less guilty about having to do so.

Win a Wireless Computer Lab and More via Discovery Education

I subscribe to the Discovery Education newsletter on the off chance that they might one day start the exciting math-based reality show I have in my head, but unfortunately that hasn't happened yet.

Luckily, I did receive something almost as good this week: Discovery Education and CDW-G are sponsoring a "Win a Wireless Computer Lab Sweepstakes". The potential lab is absolutely stacked, but I'd be just as content with one of the other prizes (including LCD projectors and laptops).

Here's the best part: you can enter every day until May 1, 2009! I'd say those are good chances, especially if you can get your colleagues in on it.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

3 Ways to Use Microcredit to Invest Your Students

Just before Christmas, a colleague at work was asking about how to give a donation to a non-profit that provides microcredit. Microcredit (or microfinance) works like regular credit but on a much smaller scale. In many developing countries around the world, an entrepreneur doesn't need $100,000 to start a business; they probably need less than $1000.

It's so unreal to me that making such an impact with so little money is possible, because every month I read about the millions of dollars of venture capital given to growing businesses in magazines like Inc., Fast Company and Wired. I had heard of microcredit, but hadn't looked into it too much. I told my colleague I'd get back to her.

I quickly found Kiva, one of the non-profits you can donate your subscription when you sign up for GOOD Magazine. It's a pretty simple process:
  1. You search for a project you want to help fund.
  2. When the funding reaches 100%, it's loaned to the entrepreneur.
  3. The entrepreneur pays back the loan over time, at which point you can withdraw your funds or lend them out to someone else.
I sent it along to my grateful colleague, but also thought I'd give a meaningful gift myself. On Christmas Day, I searched for two entrepreneurs who needed just one more donation for their project to be funded. It didn't take long to find them:
  1. Victor Mendoza's profile jumped out at me because he was running the family business, helping to take care of his mother and siblings, and going to college at the same time. This guy is working hard and taking on more responsibility at 24 years old than many people twice his age. He deserves the help.
  2. Ehsonjon Haydarov has run a successful business selling flowers in the central market of Khujand, Tajikistan for 13 years. That's pretty impressive given that Tajikistan is the poorest of the former Soviet states. What's even more impressive is that Mr. Haydarov has already begun to pay back his loan!
3 Ways to Use Microcredit at School
  1. Kiva in the Classroom already has a lot of ideas and resources, including teacher-made curriculum guides, real classroom stories and Kiva High School (a network for students). Microloan projects could be worked into classes focused on foreign languages, world cultures, current events, economics, financial education, political science or service learning.
  2. This is the perfect project for your school's international students club, service learning organization (Key Club or Interact, for example). It could even fulfill service requirements for National Honor Society.
  3. If your school has a large immigrant population from a region Kiva serves, a fundraising project could connect them to their culture in a way the rest of your curriculum could rarely do.
There's a thousand variations you could do on this. In fact, maybe you could even find a way to apply these principles locally. If you've used Kiva or a similar website to participate in microcredit in the classroom, please share your experiences. Even if you're only just learning about this concept, share your ideas for using this in school as well. Thank you!

Monday, January 19, 2009

52 Teachers, 52 Lessons #2: You Are a Connector

52 Teachers, 52 Lessons will be a regular Monday feature from now on. Please submit your entries via email as soon as possible. There's still lots of goodies left in my treasure chest of resources! This week's entry is from Jen Carbonneau:

Never lose sight of the most important members of your school: the students. Make decisions based upon their needs—you may be the only one that does. Remember that you don’t know the world that you are preparing them for, so reach for the stars. Think outside of the box that houses your desks and bulletin boards. Keep current, so that you can help your students to their unknown future in a society that is shifting by the minute. However, don’t let them forget where they come from. Your job is to connect them to society: local, national, and international society. This is the world that they will need to thrive in. Learning will take place without you—give them the tools to find their way. Think of yourself as a connector.

Pull out the Flip cameras and let the students frame the qualities of their society in what ever context you find appropriate. Have them compose a movie using a media of your choice (Animoto, Windows Movie Maker, or the Flip camera program). Share it with others and see what others have done and share those videos with your students. Have students find videos made by students to chare in class. Help them make these connections.

Jennifer Carbonneau
Daisy Bronson Middle School, Littleton, NH
Seventh Grade English/Language Arts

Read more about this project here. Email your entries to teachforeverATgmailDOTcom. Week 3 will be posted next Monday, January 26th. Click the tag below for more entries in the project.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Detroit, Boston and the Great Single-Sex School Debate

Living in Boston has brought up education issues that weren't part of the discussion in the Rio Grande Valley, giving me a lot more to think about. There's a wide range of innovative charter school models here (and indeed, I came here in part to work at one) and now Boston officials are considering a push for single-sex school options. The Boston Globe reported recently that city officials are looking at successes in Detroit, which seems to be a test bed of sorts, for inspiration.

Bostonist pointed out how Fark had labeled the idea "amusing" but ignored the issue at hand: Are single-sex schools a good idea? Can they be successful? I wasn't surprised to read many outraged comments, but some people acted as if this was being hailed as the solution to all of the problems in our education system or a sign of the end of gender equality. That seems to be taking it a bit too far.

No one was suggesting that coed schooling should end, or that single-sex schools would comprise anything more than one small option among many. I don't think kids should be forced in to it, especially by parents, because it will completely defeat the purpose. If it was offered as an option--perhaps two schools with parallel programs, curriculum design and funding, open to students via lottery--I don't see what the harm is. It won't work for all students (maybe even most students), but it would work wonders for some. With so many things working against the success of our students, isn't that a possibility worth exploring?

This article in Psychology Today quickly highlights two sides of the issues, but reading it lead me to think that all-girls schools might be more beneficial than all-boys schools, which is an issue I don't hear discussed a lot. Sometimes it feels like a debate I've heard before--about the merits and drawbacks of homeschooling. In the end, I draw the same conclusion: if it can be a successful option for some young people, isn't it worth trying?

There is no such thing as a one-step, all-encompassing solution to improve America's educational system. People seem to get upset when a partial solution is offered because if it doesn't solve every problem, its not worth pursuing. It's as silly as arguing that America's dependence on foreign oil would be solved by only wind power, only solar power, only electric cars, etc--we'll only be successful by embracing any and all technologies and implementing them where they'll be effective. The real answer to both problems is the same: we need as many options as possible, some big, some small, but with strong leadership striving to make it work for everybody.

I'm sure this will be another topic that stirs debate, as my post about social networking and the issues it brings up for teachers did last week, so here's some guiding questions:
  1. Have you or someone you know attended a single-sex public or private school? What was your experience?
  2. Have you taught at this kind of school? What insights can you share?
  3. What should a single-sex school look like in 2009? What can we do to ensure a quality education in these schools?
  4. What are some other innovative and/or controversial school models that might be worth exploring or expanding?
I'm looking forward to reading your comments!

Saturday, January 17, 2009

10 Keys To The Best Possible Semester for ALL Teachers

Joel at So You Want to Teach? recently posted an awesome list of 10 Keys To Unlocking The Best Possible Student Teaching Semester Ever. What's truly awesome is that although his list was written with student teachers in mind, it applies to all of us, first years and veterans alike. Each of the ten points is supplemented by links to related articles he's written to help get you on track. It reminded me of my own list of 50 mini-lessons for teachers.

If you follow his advice, it should help you become refocused and reinvigorated for the spring semester. My favorite part of the list was #7 - Get a life! I've been at this six years, and I still haven't mastered that particular skill yet.

If you are a student teacher, or just want more insight into the process, Joel has also launched a fantastic Student Teaching Spring 2009 Project. It's a great service to those teachers and to the wider education community. Check it out.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Stress Relief: Play Your Favorite Old Nintendo Games on Your Computer

Okay, so this may not be everybody's idea of stress relief, but Lifehacker has found a definitive guide on how play games from any Nintendo system on your computer. In short, programs called emulators act as the different consoles, allowing you to play games you download from various places online.

Many years ago, I used a Sega Genesis emulator to play Altered Beast, one of my favorite old games. I love it. Sometimes gameplay can be a bit buggy, but rest assured: the ROMs (the game files) you download are copies of the real thing, not some cheap knock-off.

As you'd expect, there are a few legal issues involved in all of this, but far less than the ones surrounding your music files and where and when you can play them. Read this if you're concerned, but it's really not a big deal. I mean seriously, do you think someone is going to sue you for playing Excitebike?

Incidentally, while researching for this post I found, which allows you to play Nintendo games and more with no download required (including Excitebike!). Search for your favorite old titles from any system on Google and you're bound to find similar sites.

Hopefully this will whisk some of you away for a few hours... and that's what stress relief is all about!

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Today is the last day to save on registration for the 2009 T^3 International Conference

Today is the last day to register with "Early Bird" pricing ($145) for the 2009 T3 International Conference in Seattle, WA from February 27 - March 1. The annual Texas Instruments event is the ultimate professional development opportunity for teachers who use their technology (which is a pretty significant number of people). The registration options look like this:
  • Early Bird Registration (Before January 15, 2009) = $145
  • General Registration (After January 15, 2009) = $180
  • Weekend Special (Saturday AND Sunday only) = $130
  • Pre-Service Student (Individual currently enrolled in college at any level) = FREE
It seems like after today, the weekend special will make the most sense: you'll save $50 on registration costs, not have to worry about getting PD on a school day approved, and maybe save on your housing as well. Click through for more details and online registration forms.

Now, I can't share this information without some caveats. To start, some of the TI-sponsored PD I've received over the years has been pretty awful. I found it was insulting that in 2008, TI workshops seemed to become little more than thinly veiled infomercials for their newest (and most expensive) technology, the TI-Nspire. Finally, I think the TI-Navigator system has its upside, but is not very practical unless you're willing to make it a permanent, daily part of your classroom (and I'm not sure I could ever recommend that).

That being said, there were many great lesson ideas presented by great teachers that I took back to my classroom to use. Most of these were fairly low tech, and worked great with just a graphing calculator. I also enjoyed the opportunity to meet and learn from teachers from other schools and districts. Usually, even when sessions were based on technology I wasn't high on, I was able to adapt at least some part of what was presented into a future lesson (even if the result was distinctly low tech and less cumbersome). You have to go into any PD opportunity with an open mind and the idea that you'll take away at least one thing you'll use in your classroom no matter what.

Despite my many reservations and a dwindling bank account, I will consider attending T3 this year, for a few good reasons:
  1. Despite weeks of previous TI training, I've never attended T3.
  2. You have to assume that as this is the flagship PD event for Texas Instruments, they'll be prepared with the best materials and presenters possible.
  3. It's being held in Seattle, a city I've been dying to visit.
  4. It's a chance to network with educators I might never meet otherwise--perhaps even some of you reading this right now.
Are you planning on or considering attending? Have you attended T3 in the past? Please share your thoughts and experiences in the comments.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Help Your Students Prep for College Entrance Exams with VerbaLearn

Lifehacker might be my favorite website, because they're probably one of the best education websites out there without even trying. For example, they've found another great vocabulary study resource called VerbaLearn. It's perfect for students (or maybe you) who are getting ready for the SAT, ACT or GRE. One great feature is being able to create podcasts of vocabulary for iStudying, but the best part has to be the smart vocabulary lists that remove words once you've demonstrated mastery (so you can focus on the ones you don't).

A few months ago, Lifehacker wrote about Teach2000, a free flash card creating program that I imagined could help build a great lesson on how to study. Combine them with FreeRice, the addictive vocabulary game that raises money for charity, and you have the beginnings of a pretty good unit on study skills.

Monday, January 12, 2009

52 Teachers, 52 Lessons #1: Learn, Grow & Balance

Updated 1/18/09: In case you missed it, I decided to repost Dorit Sasson's opening entry in the 52 Teachers, 52 Lessons Project.
Great topic and excellent initiative.

There are so many things I can share with new teachers so i guess I'll limit it to three.

1. Continue to experimenting with different teaching styles and ideas. Locking yourself in one mode of teaching makes for boring lessons.
2. Learn how to improve your lessons with a teacher's aid, teacher's mentor, colleague, etc) without beating yourself with a stick.
3. Remember to stick to a balanced and healthy lifestyle. So many teachers forget this inner balance very easily which leads to poor health, prolonged sickness, etc.

Best of luck for 2009!

Dorit Sasson
The New Teacher Resource Center
"Helping You Become a More Successful and Confident Teacher in 2009!"
Check out Dorit's website, which has a ton of information and advice for new teachers (and usually, most new teacher advice is good for everybody). Sign up for her monthly newsletter and you'll get a copy of her free ebook Taking Charge in the Classroom. Thanks again, Dorit!

I am still looking for more entries for the 52 Teachers, 52 Lessons Community Project. Keep in mind that I'm not looking for the answer to life, the universe and everything (because I already know that: 42), but something that perhaps you and only you could share that would help answer the question:

"What is the most important advice I can give other teachers?"

Even if you're a relatively new teacher--and I'm willing to put myself in that category even with 6 years under my belt--you have a lot to offer. Don't be shy. I'd love to hear from teachers who are eager to share their wisdom but don't have a blog or other outlet to do so. This is your chance too!

Details are on the original 52 Teachers, 52 Lessons post. Email me with questions. Thank you!

Linear Equations Formula Book

In October, I wrapped up a unit on basic geometry by having students create a formula book. Each page of their booklet contained a title, formula and completed example. I recycled this project for last week's unit on parallel and perpendicular lines. I figured it would be a good quick assessment of this week and key things we needed to spiral back to that we studied before winter break.

The book would be little more than two unlined pages folded in half together (I used colored copy paper). Besides a cover, there would be 5-6 pages:
  1. Slope Formula
  2. Changing Equations into Slope-Intercept Form
  3. Point-Slope Formula
  4. Parallel & Perpendicular Lines
  5. Parallel & Perpendicular Lines Through a Point
  6. (extra credit) Finding slope from a graph, graphing from slope-intercept form, etc.
I gave students a chance to prepare by giving them the 5 example problems as homework the night before. As expected, very few students completed the homework, but those who did had a far easier time. This project could be completed in less than two 55-minute periods, and the handout is designed to be printed as a double-sided 1/2 page (print two copies, turn one to the opposite orientation, and print 1->2 sided).

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Print Less Pages, Use Less Ink with GreenPrint World

GreenPrint World is a free program that allows you to get rid of those extra blank pages and eliminate any parts of pages you don't want all while keeping track of exactly how much you're saving. It also has a built in PDF writer so that you can save things and avoid printing altogether.

This program would be a great complement to the Three Free Tools for Creating, Editing and Reading PDFs and Free Font to Save Ink and Toner that I wrote about recently.

What I would really like to see in the future is a simple desktop publishing program that takes this idea further. Ideally, you would be able to easily cut and paste elements of web pages, documents and your own text together and print and save these creations directly. It's hard to quantify the time, paper and scotch tape wasted when I do this by hand almost every day. Programmers of the world, we need you!

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Psychology Today Talks Social Networking Issues

The Nov/Dec 2008 issue of Psychology Today discusses results of a study into gender, education and social networking "The New Rules of Social Networking":
Teacher's Pet

"OMG, r u kidding me? My prof just friended me on FB!" One-third of surveyed students believe faculty should not be permitted access to Facebook, citing concerns of identity management and privacy. Males are more than twice as likely to be OK with faculty presence on Facebook.

Leveling the Field

Despite students' reluctance to integrate teachers and professors into online social networks, instructors who disclose information about their social lives on their Facebook profiles increase student motivation and create a more comfortable classroom climate.
This brings up a lot of issues. I had a MySpace profile before I started teaching, and while I didn't remove it upon starting, I did take all of the privacy precautions I could:
  • I had control over new comments posted and even went back and deleted anything that could remotely be considered questionable.
  • I used a non-school email address.
  • I wrote about what I was going through in my first years of teaching on my MySpace blog, but did so without using names and leaving out telling details. I enjoyed talking with other teachers who sympathized with what I was going through, but it wasn't long before the blog was limited to my "friends," and later deleted altogether.
  • My profile could only be viewed by approved "friends".
  • I had no student "friends" (nor would I approve it if requested) or communicate with them via the website.
I constantly read about teachers getting fired because of MySpace, and I wasn't going to take any chances. Later I changed my name so I wouldn't be searchable and at one point even removed my picture. I know it was worth it, because students told me how they had actively searched for me but couldn't find me.

When students asked if I had one, the answer was no. I am a proponent of using social networks to engage students, but if I was to do that, I would create a new profile exclusively for that purpose. School and district officials were never on the same page with me no matter where I taught, and so I never did it (although a colleague of mine did with nothing bad coming of it). I would really like to have one for former students to keep in touch with me, especially those who have gone off to college. Knowing that they are succeeding now is important to me, but unfortunately I don't know what's going on with any of them.

More recently I joined Facebook, still keeping all of my privacy and content controls on tight. Luckily though, I've never heard of current or former students using Facebook; MySpace is the place to be until you're out of high school, for the most part. Hopefully it stays that way.

I will probably delete my MySpace profile soon, as I rarely use it anymore. If it came to it, I would delete Facebook as well, but in that case I do actively use it to keep up with many friends and acquaintances in a way that would be difficult if not impossible otherwise.

So I have a few discussion questions for all of the educators out there:
  1. Do you have any personal (not meant to be seen by students) social networking profiles? If so, what sort of privacy controls do you use?
  2. Do you use social networking in your classroom?
  3. What do you think about social networking with current students for relationship building (as the article above mentions)? What about using it for teaching?
  4. Do you think about social networking with former students?
  5. Should teachers be checking up on their students' personal profiles to help keep them out of trouble/report to parents or school officials?
Please share your thoughts in the comments section.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

3rd Anniversary of the Carnival of Homeschooling is up!

For those of you classroom teachers who really like to think out of the box, there's an infinite number of good ideas to be had in the Carnival of Homeschooling. I reached out to share the 52 Teachers, 52 Lessons community project with them because I'm hoping for teachers from all kinds of schools (and unschools) to participate in this groundbreaking project.

Here's some top carnival attractions:
  • I'm most intrigued by The 2009 Mathematics Game at Let's Play Math. This would be a great challenge for your top students, or for yourself. It reminds me of a challenge a student gave me last year: use eight 8's to make 1000. I was stumped on that one for a while (if you figure it out, leave a comment!).
  • Dawn at Day by Day Discoveries wonders if textbooks have any place in homeschooling. I hope she reads this: many of us on the other side believe most textbooks have no place in public schools! Throughout my teaching career, textbooks have done little more than take up space in the classroom. The last math text I used (Holt Algebra I) had great supplemental materials (student workbooks, graphic organizers and more) that I still include when I build custom materials. I just wish the books themselves were more useful!
  • I guess I'm so fascinated by the idea of homeschooling because it speaks to so many of the issues that bug me about public schools. So much of what we teach and how we teach it is disconnected from the real world (by design). In addition, I often feel like my school is trying to fit some sort of stereotype of what charter schools are supposed to be, instead of really building things around the needs of our unique population. That's why Non-Traditional Learning: In Other Words, Homeschooling really got my attention--everything this family has built keeps their kids engaged and learning at all times.
The 158th Edition of the Carnival of Homeschooling (the 3rd Anniversary) is up at Why Homeschool.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

New Spring Semester Student Survey

The first day back to school after winter break is a big deal to me. I always look at it as a chance to start over, to reflect and revise my methods as needed. Every January I like to give my students a survey that sets the tone for the rest of year, makes them reflect on where they are, and to help me do better as well.

Last year I used this Mid-Year Student Survey, which yielded great results. Unfortunately I already used it in October when I needed student feedback.

I decided to write a quick spring semester student survey with only 5 questions:
  1. What goals do you have for this semester in this class?
  2. What are you going to do differently this semester?
  3. What good things are you going to keep doing this semester?
  4. What’s the most important thing Mr. D can do to help you be successful this semester?
  5. Additional questions or concerns:
Most of the answers were what you'd expect. Students wanted to pass the class with good grades, come to school more often, talk less and pay attention more. Most kids told me I should make sure I help them, not rush through lessons, and keep on them to turn in their work. Here's a sampling of the more interesting responses:
2. What are you going to do differently this semester?

"Try not to talk as much, but it seems is gonna take a while"

3. What good things are you going to keep doing this semester?

"Si puedo, intentaré ayudar a mis compañeros." ["If I can, I'll try to help my friends."]

4. What's the most important thing Mr. D can do...?

"Nothing cause he's good, and he knows how to teach"
"Help the people who really need it or if someone misses a day help those b/c they will feel lost such as I did due to missing class b/c of college stuff"
"Nothing. I have to be the one to help myself."
"help me; push me to do better"
"keep class quiet which is impossible <- in French accent" 5. Additional questions or concerns:

"I like math a little more now!!!"
"I want to thank you :P for being a good teacher. And trying hard for your students."
"Thank you for been good Teacher :)"
As usual, a lot of food for thought. The document is designed to be printed two to a page (landscape) to save paper.

Previous posts about surveys:

Monday, January 5, 2009

52 Teachers, 52 Lessons Project

In my Best of 2008 post, I included 50 Cheap Mini-Lessons for Teachers, a compilation of the most important things I've learned about teaching in my short career. When I created the list, I sat down and thought about all of the things I always share with other teachers when asked, regardless of subject or grade level.

My list is certainly lacking in many areas, and in fact I may be wrong on some things. I'm sure I forgot some key items that I would have remembered immediately had I written this list after school had started. To put it another way, while it was written for the benefit of others, it is still my list, skewed to my unique perspective. There is so much more untapped knowledge out there that I could never write myself.

The Project

So today I am announcing the start of an ambitious new project called 52 Teachers, 52 Lessons.

Once a week for a year, I'm going to share an essential lesson submitted by teachers, for teachers. 52 different "mini-lessons" will answer the question:

"What is the most important advice you can give to other teachers?"

How to Participate

Email me (teachforever AT gmail DOT com) a short, 100-300 word submission along with your name, where & what you teach, and your blog or website (not required). I will omit any information you don't want published--you can be anonymous if you'd like (but please email all the information anyway, as it is interesting to me).

There are no qualifications to write besides being a current (or retired!) teacher; you can submit no matter your subject, grade level, school type, or country. Just try to write with the largest number of teachers in mind (all of them if possible). I do reserve the right to choose what will or won't be published (just like the Carnival of Education) and will likely post things in the order they were submitted (although I am flexible).

You can only submit once this year, so make sure it's your best advice!

The Lessons So Far
  1. Learn, Grow & Balance by Dorit Sasson (The New Teacher Resource Center)
  2. You Are a Connector by Jen Carbonneau (Jen Carbonneau's Web Log)
  3. Smile by Tammy Gilmore (Treasure Chest of Thoughts)
  4. Sometimes Quitting Is The Best Thing You Can Do! by Joel (So You Want to Teach?)
  5. Put The Technology Down by Kate (f(t))
  6. Try Subbing First by Miss Cal.Q.L8
  7. Do The Same Lesson Over & Over by Keith Schoch (Teaching That Sticks and Teach With Picture Books)
  8. The Elements of Teaching by Matt from Massachusetts
  9. Engaging Students by Maddy (Mad Hot Math)
  10. Clear Expectations by Lauren Teather from South Korea
  11. Trust Yourself by musicteacher (Teaching Music)
  12. Never Stop Learning by AtlantaTeacher1976 (Awesome Resources for Curious Teachers)
  13. Humility by Amy Strecker (One Seventeen Media)
  14. Pick Your Battles by ms_teacher
  15. Bring Your Enthusiasm & Energy by Ryan Kaden
  16. On Homeschooling by Jim Jenkins
  17. Integrate Visual Arts by This Brazen Teacher
  18. Just Answer The Question by Sandra Kee
  19. Don't Reinvent The Wheel by Loretta Khayam
  20. Apologize by teachin' (I'm a Dreamer)
  21. Take Advantage of Vacations by Siobhan Curious
  22. Teach in a Dynamic Environment by Shelly Terrell (Teacher Boot Camp)
  23. Give Your Students More Control by Marcy (Pensamientos)
  24. Collective Knowledge by Jovan Miles
  25. Don't Be Afraid to Switch Gears by Paige Lahaise (Paige's Prose)
  26. Collaboration on a Massive Scale by Patrick Black (Teaching All Students)
  27. Most Critical Ideas & Skills by Alison
  28. Never Stop Being Inquisitive by Amanda
  29. Behavior Communicates a Need by Karren Colbert (The Write Brained Teacher)
  30. Best Practices for Teaching Vocab by Kelly Lichoff from Memphis, TN
  31. Distance Yourself From Negativity by Jessica from Ohio
  32. Never Miss a Teachable Moment by Jenny (Annecdotes)
  33. Sorting and Classifying by Carol Hynes from Leominster, MA
  34. Discovery Learning by Julie (School of Blog)
  35. Learning to See by Ms. Alston
  36. It's All About Relationships by Lindsey Croston
  37. Bucket o' Fun by Jessica Lepore
  38. Build a Classroom Library by M Dahms (A Reader's Community)
  39. Using YouTube by Alison Robinson (Tech Tips, Tools and More!)
  40. Take Your Students Outside by Ms. Chen (red pen revisions)
To submit your entry, email the information requested above to teachforever AT gmail DOT com. I can't tell you how excited I am about this, and I'm eager to answer any questions by email or in the comments before you participate. Thank you and stay tuned every Monday for another great lesson!

Sunday, January 4, 2009

The Best of 2008

In previous "best of" articles, I've listed posts which were the most popular--that is, the ones that received the most visitors--but of course what's popular is not always the best. I also notice that most vistors focus on the lesson plans and activities that I share, and not the big ideas that really get me excited.

So here are my 8 best big ideas of 2008!

8. Math & Website Design summer course [series] - This summer I had the unique opportunity to design a course from scratch. I decided to have students create a website that would teach some kind of math skill. It was a lot of learning on the fly for me and for them, but I was so blown away by what they produced, and I think you will be to.

7. A Decent into Madness: Teaching Only to the Test - I've been reading on various teacher blogs about how this very phenomenon is already rearing its ugly head--it seems no classroom is immune. It's only going to get worse as the spring semester wears on. We can only speculate on what President-Elect Obama plans to do about President Bush's legacy of testing, so for now all we can do is balance test prep with what they need to know to graduate and succeed in college.

6. Teacher Stress Relief: Spring Break Edition - Stress relief was a topics I revisited throughout the year, and this is good advice whenever you have a break from school (including right now if school hasn't yet restarted). I neglected to follow my own advice as the year went on, so I will try to rededicated myself to the cause this year (as we all should). Look for more stress relief articles in the near future.

5. Tie! Why We Need To Change the Way We Teach Math and Why California's plan for Algebra for every 8th grader won't solve anything - I paired these two essays because they speak to the same issues. When I wrote about changing the way we teach math, I meant we needed to start with our most fundamental ideas and systems. Then California came along with a typical "solution" that bypasses the real problems. I think now I would even take things a step further and say that we need to follow the UK model discuss in this Telegraph article. In short, we would move away from advanced algebra as a goal for all students and towards basic numeracy, statistics and data analysis in order to prepare students for the real world.

4. 5 Tips for Building a Quality (non-ELA) Classroom Library - Since people in our profession take a vow of poverty whether we want to or not, furnishing our classrooms with the materials our students need seems quite daunting. I've found that there are plenty of low cost/no cost ways to get more books, magazines and newspapers than you'll know what to do with. As the title says, it's about quality over quantity, so there's a lot of guidance on picking out engaging, high-interest materials.

3. A Motivational Experiment [series] - In April, with the dreaded TAKS test looming, I cut my hair into a Chuck Liddell-style mohawk, promising to grow it to heights unimaginable if only they would buckle down. At first I was reluctant to call the experiment a success, as I did end up cutting it off just before the big test, but after reading the reflections of my students I concluded it clearly was. I don't know if it will become an annual tradition, or the harbinger of more hair-raising (sorry, couldn't resist) experiments to come, but I can tell you I'm already growing my hair out a little!

2. 50 Cheap Mini-Lessons [series] - Heading into the school year, I wrote a week-long series that shared the most important lessons I've learned over the years about our noble profession. I focused on the things that were obvious to me, but probably wouldn't be to someone just starting out. The list covers a little bit of everything--from the practical (#30, #38) to the big issues that face us (#44, #47). This series gave me the idea for an ambitious project I'm going to announce on Monday. Come back tomorrow to see how you can get involved!

1. Ten Cheap Lessons: Easy, Engaging Ideas for Every Secondary Classroom - By far, this is what I'm most proud of this year. Publishing a book, albeit not through traditional channels, was something I had thought about for a long time. What's amazing is that I've received nothing but positive feedback. I am also happy to say I have a lot of ideas in the pipeline, and it looks like I'll start 2009 the same way I started 2008: writing!

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Three Free Tools for Creating, Editing and Reading PDFs

Adobe's PDF format is ubiquitous in and out of the classroom, but for most of us they're like exhibits in a museum: look, but don't touch. Adobe Reader is free, but installing it means your computer will slow down and constantly bug you with requests to update it or install other Adobe programs. What's worse is the program's well known limitations: you can't create or edit PDFs, nor can you fill out a form and actually save a copy afterward.

Luckily, help is just a few clicks away. Here are three free tools to help you become master of the PDF domain:
  1. Foxit Reader 3.0 for Windows is a free, better functioning replacement for Adobe Reader. It works quickly and won't slow down your computer, and best of all you save copies of your filled out PDF forms. I found this resource in PC World magazine, which regularly features lists of free resources to make you more productive and your computer run better. It's recommended reading for any teacher, regardless of subject or grade level (you can find it in your school library, local library, or online). Download Foxit Reader 3.0 for Windows here.

  2. Lifehacker included a free PDF to Word converter in its Most Popular Free Windows Downloads of 2008 recap. It's the quick and dirty way to make a PDF into a fully editable Word document, but soon you won't even need software: tech news website CNET reported about Zamzar, an entirely web-based option, back in May 2008. Download Free PDF to Word Doc Converter here.

  3. Finally, make anything you can print into a PDF file using CutePDF Writer. This isn't really a program but a printer driver, which means when you click "Print" in any program, you'll see it listed as a printer along side your actual machines. When you use it, whatever you were printing--a receipt from an online order, for example, or an online news article you needed for class--will be saved in PDF format. Besides allowing you to save web pages for offline use, it also means you can save to print at your convenience, instead of right away. For those of us who have to print to a printer down the hall, it's a big deal to be able to print things when we can actually go get them (before they get misplaced or recycled)! Download CutePDF Writer for Windows here.
Please share any other free, easy to use PDF tools that you've used in the comments. Thanks!

Friday, January 2, 2009

Greatest Inspirational Speech Ever!

Not ready to go back to school yet? Here's a little something to get you fired up for the spring semester. If this doesn't work, I don't know what will.

[Originally posted on Lifehacker.]

Thursday, January 1, 2009

A great example of painless test prep

Kate at f(t) gave everyone a gift that keeps on giving this holiday season with her post T^3: Regents Review Done Right, detailing how to put together great test preparation for your students. I like her focus on showing students how the tests are scored, emphasizing that they need to write something and always simplify to get full credit. It's a skill that's important not just for standardized tests but for college-level math courses. Most professors will grade exams rather subjectively, giving partial credit whenever warranted.

Her approach is similar to what I've done over the years as the TAKS (the Texas version of New York's Regents) approaches, and also what I've done this year in SAT math prep courses. Students need just as much guidance in understanding how tests are structured, time management and how to study as they do in content. In other words, getting high scores on these kinds of standardized tests are less about knowing the content and more often about knowing how to take the test.

Work these ideas into your test prep planning this semester!