Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Send Yourself to Language School This Summer

If you teach a lot of Spanish-speaking ELLs in a content area, one of the quickest and most effective ways to learn is to attend a language school in a Spanish-speaking country. These schools incorporate vocabulary, reading and writing with practical, conversational Spanish. Most importantly, the school and your foreign surroundings create the kind of full immersion that forces you to learn.

A few years ago I attended Escuela Mexicana in Guanajuato, Mexico. At EM, you had the option of staying at their hostel or with a host family. I wanted to be able to come and go as I pleased, so I stayed in the hostel, but staying with a family offers another opportunity to fully immerse yourself. I went with my friend Dave, a teacher who spoke almost no Spanish when we started, but it was so easy to make friends among our classmates at EM. These people were from all over the world and of all ages and nationalities, and they formed a community and camaraderie that made the experience so much more than it would have been without it.

The school itself is an very airy, open old building not far from the hostel. The school enrollment varies as people come and go from week to week, but my biggest class was probably four people. The schedule is flexible depending on how much time you're there and what you want to accomplish in that time. If you want to take every language class, that's great, if you only want to take a cooking or dancing course and spend the rest of your time exploring the city, that's fine too. You can focus on one-on-one tutoring, or small group courses as I did. I had about 3 classes a day during the week.

I was already what the school considered an intermediate speaker, but I there's no quantifiable measure for how much I gained that summer. My confidence grew as I became more comfortable with listening and conversing in Spanish, not just ordering things at restaurants or knowing a few school-related words only useful in the classroom. Building confidence in your language skills is essential to make progress.

Throughout the week and on weekends, there were always trips offered--museums, landmarks and good old fashioned relaxation. We spent one weekend at a hot spring spa outside the city and then traveling to San Miguel de Allende, which has a mountaintop view you have to see to believe.

My favorite places were all in the city proper, though: The Museo de las Mumias, which is part of city history and lore, was unreal. My classmates and I spent a lot of time at Cafe Tal, the friendly neighborhood coffee bar, and Bar Fly, the bar adjacent to the hostel.

Honestly, there were times I didn't want to leave. Life was easy, not to mention cheap, and I certainly spent a lot time trying to figure out how I could make it work. Alas, it wasn't meant to be, but Guanajuato will always hold a special place in my heart.

Learn more about Escuela Mexicana here. I'm happy to answer any questions you may have or elaborate on my experience. If you've had similar experiences, please share them in the comments section!

Monday, April 27, 2009

52 Teachers, 52 Lessons #15: Bring Your Enthusiasm & Energy

This week's entry comes from middle school history teacher Ryan Kaden:

Enthusiasm & Energy--you HAVE to bring it to your classroom (at least at the middle school level and higher). The elementary kids who at Fruity Pebbles and Mountain Dew for breakfast have plenty of it but first period in a middle school can be dead. Stone cold DEAD! You have to remember that middle school & high school kids aren't getting nearly as much sleep as they should, they are bombarded with non stop visual and auditory stimulation--except (perhaps) when they are in school. 99% of the energy present in a class when the bell rings is the teachers--the students are empty. They need to SEE that you are excited about teaching their class that day. I teach American History and begin my class with a chance for students to be loud, involved, and interested in history. After the bell rings, I say, "It is April 10th and on this day . . . " The class responds with "IN WORLD HISTORY!!" Then I read 4-6 interesting births, deaths, or events from the day. Kids love it--and it serves several purposes. It creates some positive energy in the class, it is a great way to get everyone's attention as class starts, and the kids are interested in the invention of the guillotine or that a meteorite hit a woman in Tulsa, OK or that a man received a baboon heart and lived for a short time. Additionally, you can put the kid's birthdays in as well--its a nice way to recognize them. If you can't manage to be excited about your lessons--it is time to get a different job. The kids will let you know--they are perceptive.

Read more about this project here or add the 52 teachers 52 lessons tag to your favorites. Email your entries to teachforeverATgmailDOTcom. Week 16 will be posted next Monday, May 4th.

Monday, April 20, 2009

52 Teachers, 52 Lessons #14: Pick Your Battles

This week's entry comes from ms_teacher, a "wife, mother and middle school teacher" whose blog I subscribe to and you should as well!

My number one piece of advice would be to pick your battles. I think that this is much easier for veteran teachers to do than those just coming in because of the fear that if you give in one area, the students might expect to walk all over you. However, I believe that if a new teacher really sits down to reflect on what their ideal classroom should look like, they can get an idea of what behaviors and/or expectations are worth standing your ground on. For instance, I have learned over the years that the bigger deal that I make out of students chewing gum, the less time I have to do what I'm paid to do, which is to teach my students. My students are told that I do not mind if they chew gum as long as I don't see it or hear it. I have less problems with it ending up on my desks, students know that if I see them chomping away, they almost immediately get up and throw it away w/o me even asking!

For me, battling over gum was futile. Middle school students love to chew gum. By allowing them to chew gum, I have less problems with behavior and more time with on task time and learning.


Read more about this project here or add the 52 teachers 52 lessons tag to your favorites. Email your entries to teachforeverATgmailDOTcom. Week 15 will be posted next Monday, April 27th.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Five for Friday: Spring Break Edition

Today I'm leaving for spring break--taking a trip down memory lane in the Rio Grande Valley. After four years of mid-March spring break in college, followed by five more years of the same thing in the RGV, it was weird to have two breaks this year. I vaguely remember things being like this growing up in New Jersey, but in any case, I'm not complaining. Enjoy this week's must-reads:
  1. Shibaura Institute of Technology Students make more rules [via Larry Ferlazzo] - Michael Stout, an EFL teacher in Japan, shows thoughtful examples of negotiated class rules.
  2. Things It Took Me Way Too Long To Learn [from f(t)] - In the midst of her fourth year as a math teacher, Kate compiles a top ten list of good advice.
  3. New Free Flash Tool for the Classroom [from Technology Education Know-How] - Greg Smith details free Flash animation software and ideas for using it with students.
  4. Computer Repair Kit Packs Dozens of Tools in One Portable Package [from Lifehacker] - Many programs I use and recommend to keep my school and home computers running smoothly (and tons more) are included here. Load this on a flash drive and you'll be prepared for almost anything!
  5. 5th Graders Best College Students in Egg-drop Contest [from Geekdad] - I just had to pass along this story of how far students can go if you let them.
Share your best links in the comments. Thanks!

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

The Day I Realized I Lost My Students' Respect (Or Never Had It In The First Place)

Yesterday contained one of the lowest lows I've ever experienced as a teacher.

Representatives from the state's Charter School Office were observing every classroom as part of a critical site visit of our young school. Our students were told what was going on and that many visitors would be watching classes throughout the day.

I have never expected my students to put on a show when someone (anyone) comes into the classroom. I expect that I have my students focused and on task enough that they might not even notice someone come in (which has happened many times in years past). I would like to think that if I'm doing my job, there's nothing to hide or fear no matter when someone might wander in. It's why I usually completely ignore whoever enters, and go on as if nothing happened after they leave. It sends a clear message that they are not to perform; this is the way things need to be all the time.

That being said, I've been in this game long enough to know one thing to be absolutely true: If your students respect you, they will always be at their absolute best when someone observes the class without being asked. If you have built strong relationships with them, they want to make you look good because they like you and respect you. They don't want you to be fired, reprimanded or reassigned elsewhere. It is one small way they know they can say "thank you" in a meaningful way.

I'm happy to say that I've always had students on my side, and knew I wouldn't have to ask them to behave or pretend they're learning something. They did behave and they were learning something. Even when I had horrible classes, or good classes with that one student who was like a tornado of disruptive behavior, they all showed me this respect without fail. I've been in classrooms where students had no respect for their teacher, and usually for good reason. I'm not that kind of teacher.

I've never, ever been embarrassed by a class as much as I was on Tuesday. First, an observer came into this particular class at the beginning, and the students were better than usual. It wasn't long after she left that things went south. They were so engrossed in their inane conversations and dutifully ignoring their work that they were oblivious to a second observer coming in. This observer got to see what the classroom looks like on a regular basis.

Now, the observer didn't seem to be very surprised or interested in what they saw (he actually seemed a little more focused on organizing his paperwork). In addition, the preliminary feedback we received from the CSO was completely positive, almost overwhelmingly so. So really, what happened in my classroom doesn't matter in the context of the big picture.

Unfortunately, none of that is comforting to me in the least. My students sent me a clear message yesterday:

We don't respect you.
We don't care about your class.
We could care less if you weren't our teacher tomorrow.

I wouldn't believe any of this if yesterday wasn't the latest in a series of similar episodes. I now realize that this particular class has been mediocre to awful in every observation I've had this year. The feelings of embarrassment and frustration from each of those flooded back to me yesterday, magnified through the introspective lens I had turned on myself due to the stress of this whole process.

Now I'm left with a ton of questions. What did I do wrong this year? Have I really failed that thoroughly and completely? How much of it is my fault? Am I devolving as a teacher?

I'll end this on a slightly positive note. While I basically indicted the entire class, there is a small group of extraordinary students in that same class that make me want to get up and come to school every day. I thank them constantly, but not enough. I wish I could take comfort in their amazing effort, but I can't.

Monday, April 13, 2009

52 Teachers, 52 Lessons #13: Humility

This week's post comes from retired teacher Amy Strecker, who is both a Teach for America alum and native Texan. She now works for OneSeventeenMedia, a company using social networking and technology to help our kids survive and thrive their youth. She also writes for the OneSeventeenMedia blog, which is a must-read for anyone interested in social networking and education issues.

Particularly as a novice teacher, humility is essential. Many times young teachers do have fresh ideas that can be valuable improvements to schools. However, implementing new ideas, without allies to support and partner with you, is a treacherous, uphill battle. By approaching colleagues with intentional humility to seek out their best ideas, you’ll find them much more willing to hear you out after feeling that their own experiences and opinions have been validated by your considerate, humble reception.

Read more about this project here or add the 52 teachers 52 lessons tag to your favorites. Email your entries to teachforeverATgmailDOTcom. Week 14 will be posted next Monday, April 20th.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Call for Entries: 52 Teachers, 52 Lessons

I'm excited to report that more and more current and former teachers have been submitting entries to the 52 Teachers, 52 Lessons community project recently. The key question that's got so many people thinking is:

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

It doesn't matter whether you are just learning the craft or reflecting upon years of service, whether you teach in a home, public or private school setting, you have something important to contribute.

New submissions are posted every Monday. Email me (teachforeverATgmailDOTcom) today!

Fundraiser for Avon Walk for Breast Cancer - Get a Digital Copy of Ten Cheap Lessons!

My fundraiser for my girlfriend's participation in the Avon Walk for Breast Cancer is still ongoing:

I'm giving a digital edition of my book Ten Cheap Lessons to anyone who donates $10 or more via this donation page.

Just include "teachforever.com" and your email address in the "Personal Note," and I'll quickly send it your way.

I'm also willing to offer my expertise and services, perhaps in lesson planning, research, or curriculum ideas in exchange for a donation. Please email me at teachforeverATgmailDOTcom if you need my help!

Friday, April 10, 2009

Five for Friday: The Particularly "Good" Edition

Here's this week's collection of resources and interesting ideas:
  1. Carnival of Education #214: The Day to End All Days [via So You Think You Can Teach?] - No matter where you are in your career (or school year), the COE should be on your weekly must-read list. If that isn't enough to convince you, this week's edition is hosted by one of my favorite fellow edubloggers, so you know it's good.
  2. Flickr and the Library of Congress [via Technology Education Know-How] - Flickr apparently has a growing, frequently updated collection of historical photos from the LOC. This could help many teachers avoid buying expensive source books to have these kinds of resources in print.
  3. Teaching in a New Networked World [via Jen Carbonneau's Web Log] - Jen, the second teacher to participate in the 52 Teachers, 52 Lessons Project, reflects on issues of motivating and engaging students with and without technology.
  4. What is school for? [via High Techpectations] - Marketing guru Seth Godin starts a conversation about the purpose of school by creating his own list. I don't believe he actually believes these are the main purposes, but what he thinks most people accept (no matter how ridiculous). In any case, what scared me most is the common thread running through #8, 19, and 20 that I still hear echoed by politicians and others with agendas besides what's best for our students.
  5. Hot Cartoon Makes Understanding Credit Crisis Simple and Fun [via Consumerist] - If your students are asking about the recession and what the heck is going on, show them this animation that explains things in terms just about anybody should understand.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Solving Quadratic Equations by Graphing Mini-Project

Here's a simple, tiny alternative assessment for solving quadratic equations by graphing:
Finding Zeros Mini-Poster Project
  1. Graph one quadratic function that has two zeros (create one or use one we did in class).
  2. Show how to find the zeros using a table.
  3. Show how to find them using the graphing calculator’s “zero” function.
    • Buttons to press
    • What to do when it says “Left bound?” “Right bound?” and “Guess?”
  4. Mark the zeros on your graph clearly.
Alternately, you could ask students to graph three equations: graphs with one, two or no zeros. I also stress that solutions, zeros, x-intercepts and roots are all different words for the same thing, and you could have them work it into the title of their posters.

This project can be scaled up or down (a huge poster vs. a single piece of graph paper) and easily incorporated into a larger unit on the various methods for solving quadratic equations.

As always, share your related ideas in the comments!

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

More Newspaper Math: Ripped From The Headlines

I just rediscovered this newspaper-based activity I put together in November. We were studying reading graphs and charts, analyzing data and finding the mean, median, mode and range of a set of numbers. I found some interesting graphs, an ad and a local weather map (which you can't really read at all) and used them as a jumping off point for several questions.

Most newspaper activities I use are designed to be used with any issue of the paper, as they draw on regular features and sections. This type of activities doesn't require having any newspapers in the classroom, as you pick and choose what makes sense to share with your students.

Thanks to the Boston Globe; all of the graphs and charts come from papers I received via the Newspapers in Education program earlier this year. I doubt you will be able to use this particular activity as-is, but you can certainly adapt the idea for your needs. If you have any similar ideas, leave them in the comments.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Quick Adding and Subtracting Integers Review

Here's a short informal assessment that I've used for years when we've studied adding and subtracting integers. This is one of those little things that gives us (and them) headaches throughout the year. Whether we're solving equations or simplifying expressions, there's no way around needing to know these simple rules. I hope you find this helpful!

52 Teachers, 52 Lessons #12: Never Stop Learning

This week's entry comes from AtlantaTeacher1976 of forcuriousteachers.blogspot.com. Enjoy!

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


Learn. Observe. Ask. Listen. Collaborate. Open your door for goodness sakes.

When I became a teacher a few years ago, I was shocked by the utter loneliness of the job. It's true that many of us become teachers because we enjoy being leaders, we enjoy the autonomy, and we enjoy the "magic" that often happens when the bell rings, the door closes, and we alone get to lead 30 little minds into new worlds.

However, must we isolate ourselves from our colleagues? Must we behave as if we are the only ones with expertise? You can learn new strategies from the teacher right next door to you. Ask to visit his or her class just to observe. The teacher you think is old and senile is the one with a treasure chest (file cabinet) full of lesson plans still effective after 20 years. And don't just stay in your content area or in your grade. I teach high school English, but one of my most fascinating discoveries this year happened in a 3rd grade science/math classroom.

"Professional Learning Community" and "Personal Learning Network" aren't just buzzwords to be tossed. They're powerful tools for becoming a better teacher.

And, of course, we must also learn from our students. Sure, we've been in school longer than they have, but we don't necessarily know more than they do. From my students I've learned html, skateboarding, Chinese opera...I've learned work ethic, creativity, the art of laughter...all from my sweet, wily teenagers.

Learn to be more curious with your students and colleagues and you will grow exponentially.

Read more about this project here or add the 52 teachers 52 lessons tag to your favorites. Email your entries to teachforeverATgmailDOTcom. Week 13 will be posted next Monday, April 13th.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Call for Entries: 52 Teachers, 52 Lessons

There's still about 40 weeks worth of the 52 Teachers, 52 Lessons project upcoming this year, so think about your answer to this this central question:

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

Teachers from countries, subjects and grade levels are reaching out and contributing to something really special. Isn't it time you do to? Email me (teachforeverATgmailDOTcom) today!

Ten Cheap Lessons fundraiser for Breast Cancer still ongoing!

My fundraiser for my girlfriend's participation in the Avon Walk for Breast Cancer is still ongoing:

I'm giving a digital edition of my book Ten Cheap Lessons to anyone who donates $10 or more via this donation page.

Just include "teachforever.com" and your email in the "Personal Note," and I'll quickly send it your way.

I'm also willing to up the ante, but I'm not sure exactly what people might want me to do in exchange for a donation of $25, $50 or $100. I'm open to suggestions and potential offers; leave a comment if you've got a brainstorm!

Friday, April 3, 2009

Five for Friday: Season Opener Edition

I'm going to start another new series on the site. Every Friday starting this week, I'm going to post five great links I've collected that you might find interesting or useful. Think of it as my own personal mini-Carnival of Education! Here we go:
  1. The Exponential Curve - This blogger shares great high school math lessons. After finding this lesson on factoring trinomials, it inspired me to seek out other similar games that I ended up using in Algebra I. The Exponential Curve is worth a bookmark and a subscription to its feed.
  2. Graphs from the Unit Circle lesson plan - A detailed, challenging lesson plan from the NCTM's Illuminations website (which is worth bookmarking itself).
  3. The Class You Dread - One of my favorite bloggers, Kate of f(t), explains how she used negative reinforcement to turn around a rough class.
  4. Tortured By Testing - They Call Me Teacher's account of overwhelmed students losing it during standardized testing is all too familiar as most of us enter our testing season.
  5. Personal Finance 101 Required for High School Graduation? - My home state of New Jersey is smartly considering making personal finance a graduation requirement so that, as The Consumerist puts it, they'll know "cosine and cosign".
Feel free to share your thoughts on each link in the comments.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

A successful April Fools Day prank

As part of an elaborate April Fool's prank organized by Mister Teacher of Learn Me Good fame, yesterday's post was written by Mimi of It's Not All Flowers and Sausages. A group of education bloggers switched places yesterday, and the results were posts that seemed more than a little out of place!

I'm a little sad no one noticed that I neither teach elementary nor science, but I am happy that people enjoyed it! The post was even picked up by Universal Hub, my favorite Boston-area news blog.

I did post something yesterday, but it appeared on I.M.C. Guy under the title Stress & Motivation.

For a list of all the prank participants, click here.

Basics of Quadratic Functions Project Idea

Up until recently, my Algebra I students had faced an uninterrupted string of quizzes each Friday--something like five weeks in a row. I usually mix things up a little more than that, so this project was a long time coming.

This is a poster project that covers the some of the basic vocabulary of quadratic functions:
Students make 2 graphs of 2 quadratic functions, one that opens upward and one downward. They label the parts, then explain the significance of "a" in ax2+bx+c and how to find the axis of symmetry and vertex using the function.

Last year, I did a similar poster project about parent functions that you could also use. If you're wondering about transformations of quadratic functions, I covered that this week and am continuing that this week. That topic might also be well suited to a poster project as well!

These posters can be any size, but are designed to be simple and scalable. If you like this idea, it's a remix of Idea #1 from my book Ten Cheap Lessons: Easy, Engaging Ideas for Every Secondary Classroom. There's more great inspiration inside!

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Why Bill Nye The Science Guy and I Will Never Be Friends

APRIL FOOLS! This is a guest post written by Mimi of It's Not All Flowers and Sausages! My post on Stress & Motivation was sneakily posted at I.M.C. Guy. Gotcha!

Seriously. This really isn't a joke...it sounds funny, but really, it is somewhat tragic. Every single time I attempt a science experiment, without fail, the science experiment will either fail or yield some bizarre results that end up reinforcing the exact opposite idea in my students. Last year, because of an experiment gone wrong, I may have inadvertently taught an entire classroom full of children that yes, a plant can grow better unattended in a dark closet than it can in a window with lots of TLC. I mean, come on! How does the plant in the closet grow?

Recently, I decided to throw caution to the wind and try yet another science experiment. Despite my previous failures, I was pretty confident (read: cocky) that this one would work (Arrogance is not a problem for me...science, yes...arrogance, no, no problem there.) We were going to germinate seeds in a paper towel.

Easy, right?

I mean, anyone can do it, right?

I mean, how could it go wrong....right?

I took every precaution. I used seeds from the same little packet as my Super Colleague With A Green Thumb. I researched the proper amount of water as to not dry out or drown the seeds. I carefully spread the seeds across the paper towel. I gave them a prime spot in the window so that they would receive an adequate amount of sunlight and air. In short, I wasted an unimaginable amount of time making sure that I did this experiment to the letter.

It was me against the seeds.

And the seeds won.


I knew I had had yet another scientific mishap (read: f***up) when I walked into my classroom this morning and was literally b**** slapped in the face by the stench of rotting seeds. Yes, that's right, not only did my seeds not germinate, they turned into a stench producing mound of mush.

Me: (to myself...and maybe the few mice who were listening) You have GOT to be kidding me.

I promptly threw the seeds away and opened every window I could. When the kids came to school that morning, I copped out and told them that someone must have come into our room and thrown them away by accident, thinking they were garbage. Yea, I lied to the children. But I just couldn't bear admitting to them (and myself) that yet another science experiment had gone horribly, and stinkily (is that a word?) wrong.

After this experiment-gone-wrong, I decided it was time to reflect. (And I don't mean "reflect" in a BS buzzword-y way, I mean really think about what the freak is going on!) I would think that with some of my past experiences, I would be a prime candidate for dealing with all things weird, and gross. You know, science-y stuff.

I mean, hello, what about the time when I walked into my classroom and found a mouse on a sticky trap who was a) still alive and b) being eaten by several of his friends who had come out of the wood work. Um, survival of the fittest anyone? A little Darwinism with your morning meeting? No?

Ooo...or the time when a mouse climbed up my bulletin board? I could take that moment alone and do a whole thing on habitat, right?

Well, what about all my experience with bodily fluids? Let's see, there was the time when the nurse refused to see one of my little friends because she wasn't sick enough and I was forced to send her to the nurse with a trash can full of her own vomit. If that isn't data collection, I don't know what is.

Or the time when another little friend was so excited about a special project I had asked to her work on, that she ignored the nagging feeling in her bladder and, after a few minutes, literally burst with pee all over the floor? Some basic anatomy? Maybe a teachable moment on the urinary system?

Ok, if that doesn't boil your beaker, how about the time when I had a student walk into the classroom literally covered in his own feces from head to toe? Have I gone too far?

Real world experience with all things science? Check. I then moved on to reflect upon my understanding of the actual teaching of science. Well, there was the time that my Super Colleagues and I were planning a unit on soil and The Weave suggested that instead of us requesting that the school, gasp, buy us actual soil, that perhaps we could encourage our students to (and I quote) "imagine the dirt." Um, yea. True story. And right away I thought to myself, "self, imagining soil does not make for good science teaching." I get the whole actual hands on thing.

So, in review, yes, I have all of this "real world" experience with things I would classify under "science", and totally get the whole hands on thing, but for some reason a proper staged experiment will always fail in my room. Plants don't grow, seeds don't germinate, food coloring does not go up the celery stalk. Ever. It has gotten so ridiculous, that I am the butt of many a school joke. Which is cool, I can take it, but at some point we need to think of the children, people! Think of the children!

I will not be deterred! Today, armed with the most expensive organic soil I could find and a bag of seeds that I made the manager of the gardening department swear up and down would germinate in the shade and actually GROW, we planted seeds in individual cups.

Keep your (green) fingers crossed for me. My science-ego can't take it anymore.