Monday, August 31, 2009

The Best of I Want to Teach Forever: August 2009

As "Back to School" month comes to a close, here's my best work:
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  8. Email me your ideas, questions and suggestions!
Thank you, as always, for participating! If you've only recently discovered the site, here's the most recent "best of" compilations:

Best of July 2009
Best of June 2009
Best of April/May 2009

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Teachers and Travel Networks

I need to tap into your collective wisdom for a moment. I love to travel, but like most people, I don't have a lot of money to do so. I've read about many interesting ways to get free or cheap travel, and I'm hoping maybe some of you out there might have some experience or information to help me out.
  1. Has anyone actually used the Educators Bed and Breakfast Travel Networks? They claim to have thousands of members across the globe, but I've never met or heard from one. There are apparently a lot of other networks focused on educators, but the whole things looks kind of shady to me.
  2. Does anyone subscribe to the Caretaker Gazette? It's basically classifieds for house-sitting. Are there other similar resources you would recommend?
  3. Finally, the most promising idea I've read about is couchsurfing. I think we all do this with people we know, but I'd love to hear from someone who tried this route.
I'm interested in any other educator-related travel opportunities out there that I haven't heard of. Your help is always appreciated!

Saturday, August 29, 2009

History Week, Day 7: The Best, Easiest Study Guide of All

During my years teaching history, I was forced to give my students a lot of awful tests for each and every unit we covered. These tests were made entirely of multiple choice questions drawn from released TAKS tests, and usually covered a wide range of unrelated topics or included the most obscure reference you could have imagined. Sometimes I wouldn't get these tests until a day or two before I was supposed to give them!

I did not have the clout or guts to change the tests or throw them out yet, so in addition to fun review games, I would give my students study guides that would give them everything they needed to pass the lousy tests.

My favorite study guide was a foldable commonly known as a mini-book. It's fairly easy to make (you can find directions here), and when you're done you have eight wallet-sized pages (if you use the back and front). All you need is paper and scissors. Unlined copy paper works best.

Each page is small, but you should structure it to have a title (a key vocabulary word), some kind of illustration, and a one-sentence main idea. For an example, see my rough draft of a U.S. Constitution foldable.

Kids like this even in high school, because it's different, it's fun to make, and it's easy to take with them. You might even let them use it on the quiz or test you're giving if they are responsible enough to have it with them on the big day. As with any good idea, you can't use it every time there's an assessment, but you can use other foldables and study guide formats to keep things fresh.

Here's my example mini-book and two resources you can use for other foldable ideas:

Friday, August 28, 2009

History Week, Day 6: Five for Friday

These five websites were all extremely useful to me when I taught U.S. history:
  1. Citizenship Test lesson plan - Teaching students just a few hundred feet from the U.S./Mexico border meant that citizenship was a natural issue to discuss. The tests people take are also incredibly good reviews of a lot of topics taught in U.S. History classes.
  2. Bill of Rights Song - Set to the tune of the "Twelve Days of Christmas," this is one of many good songs for teaching.
  3. "Founding Fathers: Rebels With a Cause" Study Guide - This episode of the History Channel miniseries is one of the best in highlighting the events leading up to the Declaration of Independence.
  4. History Matters – An invaluable treasure trove of primary sources for early U.S. History.
  5. History in Your Own Backyard - Originally designed for Virginia students, this is great for anyone teaching about the very beginning of American history. If you're focusing on Jamestown, tobacco, and slavery, you should take a look at this.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

History Week, Day 5: Constitutional Expert Project

In December of my second year of teaching, I was absolutely despondent. My classes were not going very well and I wasn't very happy with myself as a teacher. Desperate to create the kind of exciting, student-centered classroom I had always dreamed of having, I went to my TFA advisor and asked for guidance. With her help, I created what is still the most ambitious project I've ever asked students to do.

It's called the Constitutional Expert Project, which asked students to "focus on either: one of the amendments we studied, the entire Bill of Rights, or the principles of the U.S. Constitution (popular sovereignty, federalism, checks and balances or separation of powers)." I wrote about introducing this project at the time:
It was grander in scale than anything I had thus far tried, and required me to really sell it to them at the beginning in a way I had never successfully done before...

I dressed up like a waiter and arrived Wednesday in character as head waiter of DeRosa's New Jersey Diner, where the options are endless and there's plenty of "food" (knowledge) available for any budget. Based on what they knew coming in about what we had been doing the past week, they would pick from different sets of assignments--pictures, songs/raps, writing their own amendment, skits, surveys, letters to the editor, PSAs, etc.
It is a highly differentiated project that's meant to incorporate many learning styles. After introducing the basic premise of the project, each student completed the "wallet check" diagnostic to see what they could "afford" (which types of assignments they could choose from). There's a graphic organizer and rubric included to keep them on task and show them how they will be graded.

Here's a small sample of what my students came up with:

1st amendment poster
3rd amendment poster
14th amendment posterThere were also puppet shows, skits, new proposed amendments and opinion pieces. Needless to say, it was exciting to witness both the creation of their projects and their presentations.

I have to give a lot of credit to materials I found in my TFA curriculum and examples of projects my TFA advisor gave me. As with just about everything good I've done in the classroom, this was the product of many other people's good ideas. Of course, I comfort myself in the fact that most good teachers "beg, borrow and steal" to create their best lessons.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

History Week, Day 4: Five Fun Review Games

Although the content has changed, I have always tried to review for quizzes and tests with games whenever possible. These are some of the more interesting ones I found in my records.

First, two BINGO games using Steve Mashburn's template.
  1. Reform Movements BINGO - Vocabulary from the abolitionist, women's rights and temperance movements.
  2. Industrial Revolution BINGO - Major themes and key vocabulary from this era.
Next, two Jeopardy style games.
  1. Colonial Jeopardy - Questions about geography, the New England and Southern colonies, and some major political ideas of the early 1700s. I made this when I was only a second year teacher, and I'm not that thrilled with it, but it's a good starting point.
  2. American Revolution Jeopardy
Finally, the last game comes from a retired teacher who worked at Philadelphia's National Constitution Center. It's a game designed to teach how the Electoral College works while reviewing any other U.S. history facts you're studying. I was lucky enough to play this with other museum visitors and then take the idea back to Texas to use with my students. You need:
  • A deck of cards containing the 50 states and their respective electoral vote totals
  • Dice (preferably the giant novelty kind)
  • A large U.S. map you can write on or mark off
  • A list of U.S. history trivia questions.
The group is split into two teams, blue and red (or Democrats and Republicans if you can pull that off without incident). In each round, a team will roll the die, take that many state cards from the deck, and then answer a trivia question. If they answer correctly, they get all of the electoral votes for those states. If not, you could give the other team the chance to answer (if you want to up the ante). Otherwise, the other team follows the same procedure.

Play continues until all of states have been won. When I played this game in class, it was around the time of the 2004 Presidential election, which means we were still in the very early part of the school year. This list of trivia questions covers only the first couple of months of 8th grade U.S. history content:

All of these games use vocabulary and wording from TAKS released tests for 8th grade U.S. History. Some question and answers don't make a whole lot of sense, but neither does much of the TAKS. Many of these terms appear again on the 11th grade TAKS, so it should be useful for those teachers as well. As always, please share your best resources in the comments or via email.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

History Week, Day 3: Using the Film 1776 to Teach the Declaration of Independence

As a history buff (and major), it shouldn't surprise you that one of my favorite films of all time is 1776, an adaptation of the award-winning Broadway musical. The film covers the initial debates, writing, and eventual signing of the Declaration of Independence. It does this with sharp writing, humor, and of course, several rousing musical numbers.

When I started teaching history, using this film in class as part of our study was a no-brainer. The challenge was figuring out how to fit it into one class period: The 1776 "Restored Director's Cut" DVD clocks in at 166 minutes! Besides the time considerations, there was also a lot of subplots and background on Jefferson and Adams that while interesting, wasn't something they needed to know.

So I watched the DVD over and over again in order to create this annotated 40 minute version of 1776:
Chapters 2-3: Sets the scene (the summer heat of Philadelphia). John Adams discusses independence, but no one will listen to him. (4.5 minutes)

Chapter 5: Ben Franklin and Adams discuss how to get Congress to agree to independence. Since no one likes Adams, they need someone else to propose. Key terms: Common Sense, Richard Henry Lee of Virginia, House of Burgesses. (4 mins)

Explain: George Washington says the troops aren't ready for war. Congress isn't convinced about independence despite Adams's arguments, especially Mr. Rutledge of South Carolina and John Dickenson of Pennsylvania (who we'll see later). They agree to formally write down their Declaration before voting, and now need to decide who will write it. (2 mins)

Chapter 8-9: The Declaration committee is formed. The song "But Mr. Adams" explains that Jefferson will write it. (8 mins)

Explain: While Jefferson writes, Adams and Franklin convince the key state of Maryland that the army can win.

Chapter 18: - The Declaration is read. Key terms: preamble; life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. (1 min)

Explain: Not everyone is happy, and they make plenty of changes, but the issue that will make or break independence is slavery.

Chapter 21: South Carolina and southern colonies want the anti-slavery language removed, threatening to vote against independence. Adams says it must be included, but he also doesn't want to kill independence. (4 mins)

Explain: The final vote must be unanimous.

Chapter 26-28: Congress votes and makes their final arguments. Key terms: unalienable rights, July 4, 1776. (about 15 minutes)

The parts that say "Explain" are for you to take a few seconds before you skip ahead to the next scene to let them know what they might have missed. The short time allows you to set up your video equipment, complete a Do Now activity and wrap things up if you have a standard 50-55 minute period.

Here are some quick review questions you can use as an exit slip, homework or your Do Now for the next day:
  1. Who drafted (wrote) the Declaration of Independence?
  2. When was the Declaration adopted (signed into law)?
  3. Who was the leader of the Continental Army?
  4. Did the Declaration of Independence abolish slavery?
  5. The Declaration is the document which states...
As a follow up project, I had students write their own Declaration of Independence.

Monday, August 24, 2009

History Week, Day 2: Four Skits For Students to Act Out

In Texas, the 8th grade U.S. History TAKS test contains a lot of names, dates and and other vocabulary. There really isn't any problem solving or higher-order thinking involved. If you can get your students to remember the key vocabulary of American history up to 1865, they'll be all set to pass the big test. 

One method I used to make my lessons memorable and easy to understand was having students act out short plays or skits.

In February of 2005, I presented two straight days of skits about tariffs, John C. Calhoun, Daniel Webster and Henry Clay. I can vaguely remember that the first skit did not go as well as the second, because it was not written as a script. I gave my students character notecards with the most important points on them and had them improvise. Part II had a script and focused mostly on the debate over protective tariffs between Calhoun and Webster. 

Later, my department chair gave me a skit about the first two political parties. It was basically a Federalists vs. Anti-Federalists debate pitting Alexander Hamilton vs. Thomas Jefferson. I rewrote the skit to inject a little humor and write it in a conversational tone that my students would understand better. 

Finally, as a review heading into the TAKS, I basically took a list of important figures we were reviewing (George Washington, Lewis and Clark, Eli Whitney, Robert Fulton, Andrew Jackson, James Monroe and Henry David Thoreau) and created a talk show where they explained their significance. It isn't my best work, but it was certainly better than the alternative (boring notetaking). Everything is on Google Docs: Give your students the graphic organizer before you start, so they know what to be listening for. You don't need any costuming for this either, although anything you might already have is worth using. 

To identify the characters, I borrowed the idea of making a large name tag visible from anywhere in the classroom: Take a sheet protector and run twine between the top and bottom holes, long enough so that it will hang at chest level. Slip the paper with the character's name into the sheet protector. Write it with a big permanent marker or use a really big font and landscape mode in your favorite word processor.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

History Week, Day 1: Before I Taught Math, I Taught U.S. History!

That's right: I was not always a math teacher. In fact, I didn't even major in mathematics or a related field. I graduated from Rutgers University in 2003 with a degree in history and a minor in political science. I took my love and knowledge of the social sciences with me into Teach for America, and I was lucky enough to get a job teaching what I had studied.

My first teaching job, my first real job of any kind really, was teaching 8th grade U.S. History at a small school in Rio Grande City, TX.

I didn't really know what I was doing that first year. I knew the content, of course, and I could explain it in a way that my students understood. I was pretty awful at classroom management as well as making my lessons anything but teacher-centered.

Of course, I didn't usually know what I was supposed to be teaching until the day before or day of a lesson, and my “curriculum” consisted of pages of definitions of TAKS terms. If I was lucky it would already be on a transparency, saving me the time and challenge of having the text burned onto one using what I think was a ditto machine. I learned very quickly that many people considered pages of notes to copy and/or worksheets of released TAKS questions to be a “lesson”.

I should probably forgive myself for being not knowing any better, but I went along with what I was told, and gave my students whatever I was given. Over time, with the support of mentors like my friend Dave (an excellent young teacher who worked at the same school) I learned that it was okay to change things, throw stuff out, and do what was best for my students. In my first year, this only really happened in the spring semester, and only in small increments. I would modify a chapter test I was given that contained an unending stream of released test questions, or changing a list of definitions into a graphic organizer.

My classes did relatively well on the TAKS, well enough so that my department chair expressed her gratitude by telling me that heading into the test, she didn't think we were going to do well at all.

Over the summer, I went back and looked at everything I had been given, all of the notes and definitions my students had labored over. I thought about all of the boring activities and worksheets I had done in unsuccessful attempts to make things stick. I took nearly every page and rewrote it completely, with a single question in my mind: “How can I make this interesting and memorable for my students?” Not surprisingly, things went much better that second year, and my students did even better on the big test.

This is, of course, only part of the story, the part necessary to preface the U.S. History (to 1865) content I'm going to share this week. These ideas are my best work, and many of my best math lessons have roots in my two years teaching history.

Here's all of the History Week posts in one place:

Saturday, August 22, 2009

The "Golden Girls" Guide to Telling a Great Story

I am not ashamed to admit that The Golden Girls is one of my favorite all-time shows. It still stands as one of the funniest, sharpest sitcoms ever, and was successful with a cast and premise you would never see on today's shows.

As I do with everything, I have been watching this show through the eyes of a teacher. Not surprisingly, I found a lesson we could all learn from: how to tell a captivating story.

Sophia Petrillo, the "little old lady" portrayed by the late Estelle Getty, had a tendency to tell amazing stories to teach her roommates a simple lesson.

It's the structure of the story that makes it work. First, she sets the scene: "Picture it: Sicily, 1921..." and she's grabbed your attention. She tells the story with an air of wisdom and confidence, and you find yourself as engrossed as the girls always are.

Then, she hits you with the punchline, and you find yourself wondering how she managed to say so much in only about a minute.

Now in contrast, Rose Nyland, the bubbly bubblehead played by the great Betty White, always claimed to have a story from her mythical hometown of St. Olaf, Minnesota that her roommates knew would be ridiculous. Nevertheless, Rose's conviction and seriousness in revealing one ridiculous detail after another absolutely hooks you in. Where could she possible be going with this, you think. And then, she drops the knowledge on you.

I hope you've learned something today!

Friday, August 21, 2009

Five For Friday: Back to School Edition #3

  1. 100 Totally Fun and Weird College Courses You Can Now Take for Free - Looking for a way to get students interested in college? Or for some unconventional PD for yourself? This is a good place to start.
  2. "What Do You Do On The First Day of School?" [@Larry Ferlazzo] - Ideas from Larry and many others all in one place.
  3. VLC 1.0 Records Video from DVDs [@Lifehacker] - VLC is a free, open source DVD player that you need on your school computer ASAP because it will play almost anything, even when other software doesn't work. If that's not a good enough reason, here's another: you can save video clips as a file on your computer, which means you have easy access to the scene(s) you wants. Here's a clip of it in action.
  4. Real World Math: Using Google Earth in the Classroom - This site is fully devoted to making this technology applicable and accessible for you and your students. Read the FAQ. to answer all of the questions I'm sure you're having. If this topic intrigues you, read more about connecting mapping and classroom learning here.
  5. Texas Instruments Math Mailing List - TI will send you lesson plans and resources every week of the school year if you sign-up on this page.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Carnival of Pecuniary Delights #20 is up!

This carnival, which deals with everything about personal finance and saving money, features my recent post Are You a Teacherpreneur? and much more. Click through to read!

20 Cheap Ways to Decorate Your Classroom

  1. Word Wall
  2. Weekly Contest
  3. College corner (featuring your alma mater)
  4. Examples of great work from your former students
  5. Artwork, pictures and notes from your former students
  6. Class job postings
  7. Subject-related news articles
  8. Subject-related career articles
  9. A PostSecret-style project - My students came up with something like this on their own last year. It started as a couple of post-it notes anonymously detailing their feeling on the wall behind my desk. By the end of the year, it was a tremendous piece of art!
  10. Challenging question of the week (something tied to your current unit)
  11. Student of the Week
  12. Puzzle, riddle or game of the week (pulled from any brain teaser book or website)
  13. Personal photo collage; something that reveals a bit about you
  14. Plants (or grow some from seeds!)
  15. Decorative lighting, a cool floor lamp, disco ball, etc--something that adds a little color and a different feel to the room when in use (Check the fire code first!!!)
  16. Service learning project information (i.e. Kiva)
  17. Paint a piece of old furniture--a table or bookcase you're allowed to paint--with chalkboard or whiteboard paint and start an ongoing art project
  18. Work together with students to create a mural, even if it's done on paper covering the wall (and not on the wall itself)
  19. Turn any picture into a huge block poster.
  20. Nothing at all - Tell your students that you've left the walls empty because together, you are going to fill them up with classwork, artwork and other stuff to make this a space they are proud of and comfortable in.
No matter what you decide, after school has started, you should "commission" as much student-made artwork as possible. This builds classroom culture and gets them invested; it becomes "our" room, not your room.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Want a Cookbook Made for Bill Clinton?

In order to get the 52 Teachers, 52 Lessons community project going again (there was no submission on Monday, and there are none in the pipeline as of this writing), I'm offering an unusual prize:

Downhome Food Fit For a President by Wanda Powell & Helen Wood. This cookbook was purchased in Hope, Arkansas, birthplace of former President Bill Clinton, when I was on a road trip several summers ago. Besides local recipes, there's a lot of background information about Clinton and Hope itself. It's a unique book, and I'm hoping it will be enough to get people writing!

The first person who sends in a contribution for 52 Teachers, 52 Lessons will get this book! If for some reason that person doesn't want it (who wouldn't?), I'll give it to the next person instead.

If this is succesful, you can be sure that I'll be giving away other peculiar prizes in the future!

Click through for what 52 Teachers, 52 Lessons is all about.

The SECRET Teacher Supply List

I consider these items to be absolutely indispensable in the classroom. They have multiple uses and help you avoid problems that you probably haven't thought about.
  • Painter's Tape - This special tape doesn't stick to anything permanently, but sticks strongly enough to leave until you're ready to take it off. You can use this to section off your board, floor, walls, or desks. It makes cleaning up throughout the year (especially at the end) much simpler.
  • Duct Tape - I can't even predict what will need to be taped down with this, but there will be something, and you will thank me later.
  • Deck of cards - Besides the obvious applications in math, a deck of cards can be used to assign groups or seats randomly. More importantly, there will be a day at some point, perhaps not until the end of the year, that no learning will take place. Your responsibility will be to keep your students quiet, seated and inside the classroom. This is when you pull out your deck.
  • Strong magnets - Something in your classroom will be magnetic, and there is never a time when you don't need to post something. You'll also be able to use less of your standard supplies and save time and effort when you have something that has to be posted up and taken back down in the span of a period (painter's tape can also help with this sometimes)
  • Index cards - Whether you use them for having students make flash cards, an information card on the first day of school, or create custom decks of cards for learning games, you will need them!
  • Scanner or multifunction printer - It doesn't matter if you only have one at home or are able to bring in one to your classroom. There will be times when the copy machine is unavailable or you can't get to it, so having this kind of technology around will save you a lot of stress and frustration. Also, you can significantly reduce the amount of paper you use and keep by scanning things into your computer and saving them as PDFs (or other formats). Every scanner/printer on the market comes with software that does this, and quality ones are very affordable.
  • File crates - These are very flexible and don't necessarily have to be used for hanging files. They can hold just about anything, can be stacked in any number of ways, and are easy to break down and put away as well.
Veteran teachers, share your secrets in the comments!

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The Standard Teacher Supply List

As I continue my work with new teachers here in the Rio Grande Valley, I've been getting a lot of practical questions that most first year teachers around the globe are probably asking as well. A common theme I was asked about is "What supplies do I need to buy?"

First, a rule of thumb: You need to get anything you will need on a regular basis, even if it is provided by the school. These are basically your backup, your emergency supplies, for the times that the supplies aren't provided or you don't have time to get them. So make sure you have the following, even if it is packed away in a box in your closet:
  • Dry erase markers or chalk in various colors (depending on your board)
  • Permanent markers***
  • Post-It Notes
  • Scotch tape
  • Stapler, staples and a staple remover
  • 3-Hole Punch (even if you don't use 3-ring binders in your classes, some of your students will, and you might use it yourself)
  • Locks (for whatever doesn't already have one)
  • Rulers
  • Scissors
  • "Art box" containing colored markers, pencils, and crayons
  • Highlighters
  • Paper clips (big and small)
  • Rubber bands***
  • Pens and/or pencils
  • Quality erasers (I recommend Sanford's Magic Rub)
  • Ream of printer/copier paper
  • Extra notebooks and folders (just a few, and not any type in particular)
Hopefully, many of these items will last you for years because you will be well-supplied by your campus. If you know you'll need a class set of items, such as highlighters or rulers, you should probably get those yourself while back to school sales are still going on. You have to assume that your school, like most schools, has a limited budget and might not accommodate your request (however valid).

***WARNING: These items tend to grow legs and disappear faster than you can say, "Welcome back to school!" You must keep them in a place where students can't get to them (preferably locked), and watch over them carefully when students are using them legitimately.

Tomorrow: The SECRET Teacher Supply List, the essentials "they" won't tell you about!

Sunday, August 16, 2009

No New 52 Teachers, 52 Lessons Entry Tomorrow...

...because no one has submitted one! There's still time, though. More info here.

First Day of School Resources You May Have Missed

I realized the other day that while I had written about getting ready for back to school several times over the years, I had not collected those ideas in one place. I also know that there have been many, many new readers since these were originally posted over the last two years.
Just remember that there are a lot of new ideas that have been posted this month to check out as well!

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Six Things You Must Get Done Now, Before School Starts

I was reading an article on Learn Me Good about things to do before school starts again, and the last part about going to see the doctor got me thinking about other non-teaching related things that you should try to do before school starts.
  1. Car maintenance. If you don't do it now, who knows how long it will be until you take a day off to do it or find an open Saturday. Most teachers I know, myself included, rarely take a day off before Thanksgiving. This includes anything you need to do at the dealer (that's a whole day affair, guaranteed), fixing windshield cracks, new tires, inspections, oil changes, or any routine maintenance that will keep your car running smoothly for as long as possible.
  2. Figure out what you're going to do about coffee, breakfast, and lunch. You'll save money, eat healthier, and get to spend your time eating at a reasonable pace if you plan ahead. You can make meals at home ahead of time or buy stuff you can eat on the go from the supermarket (instead of a convenience store or coffee shop). And please, if you're a morning coffee junkie like me, get something so you can make it at home!
  3. Make appointments for your kids. You know how frustrating it is when your students miss school days for doctors, dentists and other appointments? Don't be that parent. Schedule them now while there's still after school and weekend spots open.
  4. Make any non-doctor, non-auto related appointments for yourself. Maybe you need to see a lawyer, the loan officer at the bank or get measured and fitted for a dress or suit. Even if you can't get yourself in the office before school starts, you should be able to get a spot for September that works around your schedule.
  5. Contact family and friends you've been meaning to get back in touch with. I am so guilty of this that it hurts to write this sentence. I get so wrapped up in school stuff and am available so few hours of the day that I can never find a good time to call all of the people I care so deeply about. Weeks become months, and months can become the entire school year before you realize what's happened. Maybe you can also figure out some times to travel or for those people to visit you as well.
  6. Organize (or participate in) one last big bash of the summer. Whether it's a low-key night of board games, a beach party or backyard cookout, gather the friends and family that are close by and take advantage of the last responsibility-free time you'll have until next summer. You deserve it, and believe me, you need it!
I'm sure if you're willing to be honest with yourself, you know exactly what things you always think about doing but forget about once the school year really gets going. Whatever it is, do it now!

Friday, August 14, 2009

Five for Friday: Back to School Edition #2

I hope you're getting a lot out of this month's back to school-focused articles. Here are five more resources you should find helpful:
  1. The Best Ways to Find Other Classes For Joint Online Projects [@Larry Ferlazzo's Websites of the Day] - This a great way to get your kids invested in just about any topic.
  2. Climate Change Action Projects Database - Non-profit organization Facing the Future has created a database of service learning projects (focused on sustainability issues) that complement their free curriculum resources. I'm a big proponent of trying to work service learning into the classroom, and I think this would be an interesting project for an enterprising teacher to try out.
  3. WNBA's Fast Break to Reading Program - I just got an email about this interesting summer reading program. There's still time to get involved, and if your kids are interested in the WNBA, it's a great way to get them reading (which is a great way to get them back into "school mode"). There's more information and resources on the FBTR wiki.
  4. Six Ways to Save on Back to School Shopping [@Consumerist]
  5. What Matters Most [@Teacher in a Strange Land] - Something to think about before you get caught up in all the minutae of back to school.

Missing: 1 Teacher, 1 Lesson!

Perhaps you can find it before Monday... click here for how you can help!

Thursday, August 13, 2009

The Only Five Items Your High School Student Needs to Go Back to School

Back to school shopping is pretty straightforward for students in the lower grades--the supply list from the school accurately reflects what your child will need for those classrooms. Yet for high school, those handy supply lists either don't exist or leave you with bags full of stuff you never needed in the first place.

I'm going to simplify things for you a bit. Hold off on buying anything beyond the basics until after the first day of school. Stick to the five items below, and your high school student will be ready.
  1. 1 Mead Five Star Single-Subject Notebook - You don't know if your student what kinds of notebooks, binders or folders your students will need for each class, so get them a high quality one that will last them far beyond this year. They can use it to take notes on the first day and then use it for a specific class. Don't go out and buy 5-subject behemoths or flimsy cheapo notebooks that won't be worth it!
  2. 1 Box of Ballpoint Pens - I guarantee you your child will use every single one! Buying in bulk saves money in the long run. Plus, you'll make your child's teachers happy.
  3. 1 Box of Mechanical Pencils - Sharpening is overrated. Your child can never have enough of these (see #2).
  4. Sanford Magic Rub Erasers - This is maybe the best kept secret in office supplies. These are the best erasers available. They are used by artists and architects (among others) because it erases cleanly, leaving no marks whatsoever.
  5. A quality backpack or messenger bag - Let your child pick it out, please. If they're not happy with it, they won't use it, which means they'll be less likely to carry around homework and other work they need to do! Nowadays, messenger bags are the cool thing to have. I got a Timbuk2 messenger bag last year, and although they are expensive, they are worth every penny. My medium sized bag was more than enough to hold a couple of book and/or my laptop with no problem. They also make backpacks that are just as good, and all of their products have a lifetime warranty. Find a retail store near you so you can check it out before you buy (and maybe find a good deal).
That's it. Everything else is superfluous until your students have been told what to get on the first day of school. I know that some parents might read this and worry about running around to buy stuff after school has started.

First, your child's teachers may actually provide the notebook, folder or other supplies they need (something I usually do), which is one less supply you'd need to get. Remember you'll save a lot by skipping unnecessary items and taking advantage of the steep discounts retailers will have for all of the back-to-school supplies left over from earlier sales. Finally, you're almost certainly going to have to buy something you didn't anticipate after the first day of school--so it's not like you won't have to do this extra bit of shopping anyway.

Save yourself time, money and effort with this list!

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

2 New Factoring Bingo Games

Jacqui, an Algebra I teacher in New Hampshire, created two new factoring games using Steve Mashburn's BINGO template and has been gracious enough to share them with us:

Factoring BINGO - Jacqui says: "The first is for a Pre-Algebra class. Each problem is a quadratic trinomial that they have to factor. I will read out the factored form. I intend to give them 20 minutes or so with a partner to factor all the problems prior to playing BINGO."

Zero Product Property BINGO - "The second is equations that need to be solved using the zero product property. Again, I intend to give them time the first half of the block to solve, then play BINGO."

If your students are really into BINGO, you can find more ready made games here, here, and here.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The Next Two Weeks of 52 Teachers, 52 Lessons

The next two weeks are crucial in helping teachers get ready for the first day of school (and those who have already started). The next two weeks of the 52 Teachers, 52 Lessons project are still open, and I have two special requests for potential contributors.

This coming Monday, August 17th, I would love to have someone write their most important advice for first year teachers, as next week's articles will be geared towards them.

The week after will be History Week, when I will share my best lessons from my time teaching history. If there are any history or social studies teachers who have been thinking about sharing their best advice, August 24th would be the perfect time!

Of course, these are only suggestions, and anyone can still write in to answer the central question for this year-long community project:

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

Please email me at teachforever AT gmail DOT com with your questions and entries!

Three Fun Probability Games and Projects

I did a lot of research on probability lesson plans this past year, but I really didn't like a lot of what I found. I found that most of them they just weren't any fun, which in my mind seems to go hand in hand with probability. So here's two new resources I found, an old idea worth revisiting, and advice about setting up your students for success on this topic.
  1. One-Die Toss Activities - This site has a bunch of dice-based probability games. I recommend Pig, Skunk and the Cheerios Experiment (which really should be named after a more unhealthy, toy-promoting cereal), as all of them were successful in class.
  2. Design Your Own Game Project [Word doc] - Students design their own carnival-style game, calculate the probabilities involved and reflect on what they learned and created. It's simple to explain but will push your students to really think about probability in this kind of context. The document includes a rubric as well. My students really enjoyed doing this, both in Algebra I & II. If you have the time and resources, you could even have a "Carnival Day" where students would play each other's games. This game was found online and the link had been dead for a long time, but I found a copy in my records.
  3. Probability Using "Deal or No Deal" - This is arguably my most popular lesson plan idea ever, but I actually want to make sure you read the opening coin-flipping activity I used before starting the game. Even if you don't use the game itself, you should absolutely open any probability unit with that fun activity.
Setting students up for success with probability

Unlike in the Rio Grande Valley, many students in Boston didn't know the basics of a regular deck of cards. I would imagine that is the case in many areas these days, as kids move farther and farther away from the traditional games you and I might have played in our youth. First, it might help to post this in the room somewhere for your entire unit:
A regular deck of cards has:
52 cards total
26 red (13 diamonds, 13 hearts) and 26 black (13 spades, 13 clubs)
Each of the 4 groups has the cards 2-10, J, Q, K, and A
Probability questions involving playing cards are one of the most common asked on standardized testing in both Massachusetts and Texas (and we all know how much influence the latter has, for better or worse). Your students need to be ready for them, and I think it will make other probability questions easier as well.

You can ask simple questions as a review and check to make sure they're simplifying each fraction, then move on to asking them about independent and dependent events. Your textbook and supplemental material is probably full of these types of questions as well.

Finally, some students will need an actual deck of cards in front of them to understand the questions, which is another good reason to make sure you always have one in your classroom!

Monday, August 10, 2009

52 Teachers, 52 Lessons #28: Never Stop Being Inquisitive

This week's post comes from Amanda, a high school math teacher in Monmouth County, NJ.

Never stop being inquisitive! We want that for our students and we should model that behavior. Don't be afraid to ask a colleague: How do you decide on exam questions? Why did you weight each multiple choice 2 points instead of 1? How do you teach [insert topic here]? What makes a course PreCalc instead of Algebra 2? How do you deal with homework in your class?

Don't be afraid to ask yourself questions too. It's important we constantly reflect to determine areas we need to improve: What do I feel is the importance of homework? How can I get that message to my students? What do I want them to get from this unit? Why am I teaching? Is there anything I can do/change to help clarify the expectations for my students?

We need to always remember to evolve as teachers, and so it follows that we need to always need to be students of the art of teaching.

Read more about this project here or add the 52 teachers 52 lessons tag to your favorites. Email your entries to teachforever AT gmail DOT com. Week 29 is scheduled for next Monday, August 17th, but at the time of publication that spot was still open!

Sunday, August 9, 2009

25 Places to Find Free Printables, Worksheets, and Lesson Plans Online

With school right around the corner, it's time for teachers to begin gathering lesson plans and other materials for the classroom. Fortunately, there are lots of different sites around the web that can help. Here are 25 places that offer free printables, worksheets, and lesson plans.

Thinkfinity - This website from the Verizon Foundation offers free lesson plans in addition to a lesson plan search engine that pulls results from all over the web.

PBS Teachers - PBS Teachers is a great website for educators who need lesson plans, curriculum ideas, and materials for classroom activities.

The Apple - The Apple is a social network for teachers. The site provides an excellent lesson plan section where teachers can search for lesson plans or submit a lesson online.

We the Teachers - This online community for teachers provides a lesson plan search engine and a place for teachers to meet and share classroom activities and curriculum ideas online.

TeachersRecess - The File Cabinet at TeachersRecess is another great site for teachers to find and share lesson plans and worksheets.

Tapped In - The online education community is a place for teachers to collaborate and share lesson plans.

HotChalk - HotChalk has a wide range of free resources for teachers. One particularly valuable resource is the Lesson Plans Page which host more than 3,000 free lesson plans for K-12 educators.

Teacher Focus - This site's Lesson Plan Library provides lesson plans for a wide range of subjects, including art, music, health, P.E., science, math, language arts, and literature.

The New York Times Daily Lesson Plan - This NYT website features a daily lesson plan to help engage students in the news.

Lesson Plan Central - Lesson Plan Central provides thousands of free worksheets, printables, and lesson plans for teachers. Other resources include classroom clip art, PowerPoint templates, and web quests.

The Lesson Plan Library - Discovery Education's Lesson Plan Library offers free lesson plans for K-12 teachers. Most plans are designed to accompany Discovery VHS and DVD titles.

TeAchnology - This free online teacher resource is one of the most comprehensive on the web. The site offers over 30,000 free lesson plans in addition to 7,000+ free printable worksheets.

Read Write Think - This NCTE website offers free standards-based lesson plans and classroom activities for K-12 teachers.

Math Fact Cafe - Math teachers will love this site which offers free math worksheets for elementary students.

English Banana - The English Banana offers hundreds of free printable worksheets for English teachers. The site also provides resources for drama teachers.

VH1 Music Studio Lesson Plans - VH1 Music Studio provides dozens of free lesson plans for music teachers.

Crayola Lesson Plans - Crayola provides hundreds of standards-based lesson plans and lesson plan ideas for K-12 teachers. Subject areas include language arts, social studies, science, math, and visual arts.

School Express - This education site offers more than 15,000 free printables and worksheets for the classroom. School Express also provides quiz makers, puzzle makers, and other helpful tools.

abcteach - Although abcteach does offer special materials to paid members, the site also provides thousands or worksheets that can be downloaded and printed for free. - This free government website is a good place to find lesson plans, classroom activities, and other teaching aids for a wide range of subjects. - provides free printable worksheets for home and school use. Most of the worksheets are designed for K-5 teachers, but there are also worksheets available for preschool educators. - This online resource offers printable math, phonics, and grammar worksheets for elementary and middle school teachers.

Awesome Library - The Awesome Library hosts nearly 40,000 free (and reviewed) education resources for teachers of every subject.

Family Education - This site has a Printables Center with thousands of free educational printables and activities for students of all ages.

Guest post from education writer Karen Schweitzer. Karen is the Guide to Business School. She also writes for

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Take Advantage of Tax Holidays for Back to School Shopping

Lifehacker has a map of tax-free shopping deals across the country this month. Many states are having their tax holidays this weekend only, so click through to see if you can take advantage.

For those of your holding off on your back to school shopping, this Thursday 8/13 I'm sharing a guide called The Only Five Things Your High School Student Needs to Go Back to School. Stay tuned!

Help Us Go "Back To School" with 52 Teachers, 52 Lessons

I'm happy to report that Week 28 is already set for this coming Monday, but there are many weeks left in the year-long 52 Teachers, 52 Lessons project. Since this month's theme is "Back to School", this is a good time to get your advice in.

Find out how to be a part of this project here. You can also read all of the entries so far by clicking the "52 teachers 52 lessons" tag. Thank you!

Free Offer For New Energy and the Environment Teaching Tool

To any school district leaders out there: this is something that could benefit your district financially and academically! Software makers Good Steward Software has created a new, free online service called GreenQuest:
GreenQuest is a personal Web-based energy dashboard that enables individuals to track the energy for their home or business for free. Teachers can use GreenQuest in the classroom and also offer it to their community, leading them to a more efficient, less costly, and cleaner future. More than 150 school districts have already signed up for FREE GreenQuest web sites.

GreenQuest includes valuable energy benchmarks, carbon footprint, weather analysis, performance charts…even a free ENERGY STAR interface for the business owners in a community! It’s an easy-to-use, informative teaching device…a FREE instructional tool with real-world application across multiple subject areas.

Since school’s out, sign up as a Basic Sponsor before August 31 and the setup fee will be waived. And, as Basic Sponsorship doesn’t cost anything—ever—so you and your community can use GreenQuest for free—forever. Get in while school and the setup fee are still out!
Click here for more about the GreenQuest School's Out promotion. There's a demo site and lots of answers to questions you might have. I'd also check out the Loudoun County (Virginia) school district's website that details everything they've been doing with GreenQuest as a catalyst.

This could help districts cut costs by finding areas of waste, and we all know our classrooms could use all the funding that would be freed up. That sort of indirect benefit is great, but it's the direct one that's even better:

Imagine a science or math teacher being able to access this online and what they could do with it in the classroom! We talk about this stuff all the time, of course, but sometimes you just gotta show your students the real-life data to really get them thinking about it.

Have you tried this software? Do you have ideas for possible uses in the classroom? If so, please share your thoughts in the comments!

Friday, August 7, 2009

Math Teachers at Play #13 up at Blog, She Wrote

Check it out!

Five for Friday: Back To School Edition #1

All of this month's links will be geared towards getting ready to go back to school. Here's the first batch:
  1. CONTEST: Free Drawing for $250 in Teacher Supplies - Jim Deeds of American Classroom Supply emailed me this great opportunity to win some much-needed funding for your classroom. No purchase necessary--just sign up for their email list. The drawing is on 8/20, so hurry!
  2. Most lucrative college majors [@CNNMoney via Consumerist] - Post this on your math (or science) classroom wall before day one, and make reference to it as soon as school starts!
  3. Myth-Busting: What's Gender Got to Do with It? [@Math Mama Writes] - Fighting gender stereotypes about math (and science) are one of the battles you'll need to fight. Read this for help debunking these ideas when they come up this year.
  4. The Best Sources For Advice On Using Flip Video Cameras [@Larry Ferlazzo's Websites of the Day] - The Flip, if you haven't heard about it, is exactly the kind of technology we should be getting into students' hands as soon as possible. This should help you either plan for using it or introduce it to those of you that are wondering what all the fuss is about.
  5. If You Make Only One Change This Year... RELAX!!!!!! [@So You Want to Teach?] - Joel may have written this last year, but some of us need annual reminders (if not more)!

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Are You a Teacherpreneur?

In my own attempts to make ends meet, I've been doing just about anything and everything I can think of to save money or make money. Spending the last year in Boston made this not so much a lifestyle choice as a necessity. First, I had to make my money go farther:
  • Moved back to south Texas to cut rent and most other expenses
  • Cut down or eliminated monthly expenses (cell phone, cable, Netflix, etc)
  • Sold/traded/donated almost all of my books, DVDs, and CDs (and stopped buying new or used ones altogether) online
  • Sold an electric guitar and amp and just about anything else that had any value whatsoever through Craigslist
  • Switched from buying daily iced coffee at a coffee shop to making a delicious homemade version
  • Learned to enjoy eating, drinking and entertaining myself at home
  • Read blogs about saving money and getting more out of less on a daily basis and applying what I've learned
  • Stopped traveling for the most part; I saw my family about the same amount of times that I did when I lived roughly 2000 miles away, and despite all logic, I didn't travel to visit my friends in New York the entire time I lived in Boston!
I can honestly say I was happy with all of these changes (except for the last one, for which I was recently able to make amends) and plan on sticking to them. Doing all of this really made me think about what other teachers and educators might be sacrificing to make their paycheck go farther.

What's really been intriguing me, however, is the other side of this issue: making money beyond our regular teacher pay. I think I've become what some have termed a teacherpreneur and I feel like I'm not alone. Throughout my career, I've taken advantage of nearly every extra pay position I was offered. How many of these have you done?
  • Taught after school and/or Saturday tutorials
  • Took a leadership position (department chair, team/cluster leader, committee chair)
  • Became a coach/club sponsor
  • Participated in voluntary, extra professional development workshops
  • Taught summer school classes
  • Participated in curriculum writing
I've also seen people turn their colleagues into customers for a side business--everything from passing out business cards to one enterprising teacher who sold tamales door-to-door (classroom doors, that is).

Yet when I think about this idea of teacherpreneurship, I'm wondering about how many of us start our own business on the side in order to make more money.

I think there are two distinct camps. The first group applies their teaching/education knowledge directly: private tutoring, consulting, teaching college courses, creating and selling all types of teacher resources. The second group has a hobby or skill unrelated to the classroom that they turn into extra money.

Personally, when I created this blog I was not expecting to make any money. Two years later, I make a few dollars a month from advertising and referrals. I wrote Ten Cheap Lessons last year and have just about broke even on that. Now I find myself doing things like taking $0.05 jobs on Amazon's Mechanical Turk service and trying to parlay my blogging abilities into freelance writing gigs on other topics.

If we assume most teachers take extra jobs in and around school and/or become an entrepreneur in their spare time, the big question that looms over all of this for me is: Why do we have to do this? Why are we not paid enough that we don't have to?

I'm really interested in your feedback on the many questions surrounding this issue, especially with a new school year on the horizon. Am I right? Dead wrong? Let me know in the comments.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Discrete Math for the High School Classroom, Part 2

In addition to the topology problems included in Part 1, my experience this spring showed me a lot of ways that we could approach many other higher level, discrete mathematics topics in high school math courses.

Cellular Automata and Conway's Game of Life
Using examples from Professor Stewart's book, this Wikipedia entry, and in this article, I made a simple graphic organizer which showed students what to make on Conway's site.

Before starting, review the “rules of life,” make sure to show them the interface, and push them to test out the shapes on the pull-down menu. Also, ask them to experiment with changing the speed and size. Finally, I had them try out a shape of their own, like their name or something like that. The results are always interesting.

(PS: this example of breeders is just really cool.)

Chaos Theory
I used this Discovery Education lesson plan as a basis for a lesson on chaos theory. To start, students play the “Chaos Game” with dice, a ruler and three different colored markers. As they follow the rules on the game handouts, they should start to see a Sierpinski Triangle start to take shape. They do need to measure very carefully, as the students who were eyeballing it were getting a much more crude shape that wasn't as easy to distinguish. Then, students played on the online Chaos Game, where they apply the rules of the earlier game in order to land inside the highlighted part of a Sierpinski Triangle.

Knot Theory
I showed the students Foldit, the protein-folding game that's helping scientists solve difficult problems. We discussed the importance of knot theory, an area of math that was once thought of as pointless, and how playing the game could eventually help cure diseases. Here's a YouTube video introducing how the game works.

You would need to be able to install the game on the computers for students to use, which limits it's usefulness in the classroom (unless you have that kind of access). I think that if you sell this to your students, however, those with computers and Internet access at home will almost surely try it out.

We also spent a lot of time on logic games. There are a few good ones in Professor Stewart's book, but I used mostly offline resources similar to these logic puzzle books on

I hope you see the possibilities of these as I do! If you have similar resources on other advanced math or logic topics, please share them in the comments.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

You're Reading One of the "100 Best Blogs for Teachers of the Future"

Clear View Education, a site specializing in online degrees and colleges, just posted a list of the 100 Best Blogs for Teachers of the Future. I Want to Teach Forever is listed at #28.

This is a great time of year to seek out some blogs that will inspire you or provide great lesson ideas throughout the year. Many of my favorite blogs are on the list, as well as a wealth of other resources I urge you to check out.

Discrete Math for the High School Classroom, Part 1

In the Advanced Math & Logic elective I co-taught this spring, we talked about a lot of math concepts that often never seem to fit into the rigid state standards for Algebra, Geometry and beyond. Yet after finding so many great resources and ideas, I think any of these activities could and should be done in your regular high school math classrooms.

Some of them will be good at getting students interested when things seem boring, some would make great extra credit or challenge problems for your brightest students, and most of them have a place in your classroom no matter what.

This first part is all about topology.

Four Color Theorem
One of the first concepts we explored was this simple theorem. First, we did this simple Map Coloring activity. Then, I challenged students to try to see if they could follow the Four Color Theorem by filling in this blank U.S. Map. These activities could help hook students into a unit about proofs.

DIY Topology Puzzles
These are puzzles where you take various shapes and combine them into one larger shape (similar to tangrams). There's a lot of these puzzles in Professor Stewart's Cabinet of Mathematical Curiosities by Ian Stewart, the brilliant book that helped inspire these ideas. I think something like this would be a great way to kick off the year in Geometry, or a challenging project for a student who needs it.

Torus and Klein Bottle Games
There's six different types of online, Java-based games utilizing these concepts here, but the one that we played in class was the maze where you direct a mouse to cheese. The kids really enjoyed these. If you can find printable versions of this, in a book or otherwise, please let me know (after months of searching, I still can't find the site I was able to print from when I used this in class).

Seven classic topology problems
The Konigsburg Bridge problem (there's more good stuff about that one here) is included here among others. These should be printed out for student use.

Click here for Part 2, which features resources for other discrete math topics.

Monday, August 3, 2009

52 Teachers, 52 Lessons #27: Most Critical Ideas & Skills

This week's entry comes from Alison, a math teacher in Massachusetts.

One of the most important questions for any teacher to ask themselves while planning units and especially whole courses is, "What are the three to five most critical ideas or skills students must learn in my unit or course?" Obviously, we want students to understand many concepts and be able to do lots of things, and hopefully a large percentage of those we teach will achieve this kind of broad mastery. However, we all have students, who for a variety of reasons, won't fully understand everything we would like them to. With these struggling students, I always try to keep my "short list" of critical ideas/skills in mind, and make sure that even if nothing else sticks, they leave the course with these three to five things. I introduce these concepts and techniques early in a course and revisit them periodically through the year. This type of prioritization also helps our students who excel in our course content.

When we are clear about what the most critical ideas in our courses and fields of study are, it helps kids who are great at learning all of the minutiae to see the broader terrain of a subject. And I've found that it makes me a better teacher, able to design more coherent units and courses and make better day-to-day instructional decisions!

Read more about this project here or add the 52 teachers 52 lessons tag to your favorites. Email your entries to teachforever AT gmail DOT com. Week 28 will be posted next Monday, August 10th.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

August is Back To School Month!

Everything that you'll see hear at I Want to Teach Forever this month will be focused on getting ready to go back to school (even if I will likely not be going back myself any time soon). Here's what you can look forward to:
  • New math lesson plans, projects and ideas. I have a huge backlog of resources I never got around to posting, but I'll get them to you before school starts.
  • US history lesson ideas! I don't know how many of you know this, but I started my career as an 8th grade US History teacher. It was there that many of my best math ideas were born, but this is also my chance to expand the scope of this blog a little bit.
  • Back to school guides for new teachers, veterans, parents and students.
  • New contests, projects, and reviews!
  • ...and so much more!
One thing you can do to help out is contribute to the 52 Teachers, 52 Lessons community project. This is a great time to give your advice on getting ready to go back to school.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Monday's 52 Teachers, 52 Lessons Still Up For Grabs

I know it's becoming a weekly tradition at this point, but once again, we're left with no entry for this Monday's 52 Teachers, 52 Lessons community project.

I think a lot of it has to do with it being the very heart of the summer, and if you haven't noticed, I'm just as guilty of taking a lot of time off from writing as well. So although I don't blame you, I do need you! (Don't make me beg, please!)

Email me your entry at teachforever AT gmail DOT com. Thank you!