Tuesday, June 30, 2009

The Best of I Want To Teach Forever: June 2009

For whatever reason, I found a lot of inspiration to write again this month after a couple of months where I struggled. I hope that you find my best work useful and/or helpful:
I've also shared lots of great articles, ideas and resources via my weekly Five for Friday series. Finally, catch up on the 52 Teachers, 52 Lessons community project (weeks 19-22).

If you like this site, the best ways to support it are to subscribe to my RSS feed, become a Follower (click Follow on the sidebar), and to share links on your blog or favorite social bookmarking site (click the Share button below for some quick and easy options). You could also pick up a copy of my book, Ten Cheap Lessons: Easy, Engaging Ideas for Every Secondary Classroom, for $12 paperback/$6 digital.

Monday, June 29, 2009

52 Teachers, 52 Lessons #22: Teach in a Dynamic Environment

Our contributor this week is an expert in English as a Second Language. After four years teaching English Language Learners in Texas, Shelly Terrell moved on to teach children, teenagers and adults who are ELLs in Germany! She blogs at Teacher Boot Camp. Her wise advice comes in three parts:

Teach in a dynamic environment!

When students walk into my classroom, I want them to be motivated to learn. Sitting in desks that face you is boring! Create a dynamic environment full of rich sayings, learning stations, and student expression. In my high school classroom, we would sometimes go outside for lessons or sit on pillows on the floor for discussions. Students learn in different ways! Moreover, environment impacts mood and behavior. I now set my classroom up for cooperative learning and to cater to different learning styles. The workforce is dynamic and students will have to be prepared to work in a variety of settings. Students will probably never work in an environment with a desk facing the boss all day!


I have taught what many would term "trouble" students. I learned quickly that getting angry only spurs the situation. What works best is allowing "cool-off time" for the student and teacher. If you have stations set-up, the student can find some alone time. When you feel the student has calmed down, then speak with the student in an area away from the other students. Find out what is the real problem behind the outburst. Most of the time you find out that your students are juggling some serious issues and your talk with them can help them more than the punishment.

Continually self-reflect!

My students offer me feedback through dialogue journals, surveys, and conversations. Critiques are opportunities for growth. Along with the criticisms are incredible heartfelt messages of what a difference I have made. Therefore, I am never afraid to hear my students' opinions. Teachers should constantly self-reflect to ensure their teaching strategies and lessons are evolving and purpose-driven.

Read more about this project here or add the 52 teachers 52 lessons tag to your favorites. Email your entries to teachforeverATgmailDOTcom. Week 23 is scheduled for next Monday, July 6th.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

25 Free Summer Reading and Writing Resources for Teachers

If you're looking for materials for summer school courses or if you just want to get a head start on next year's lessons, the Internet is a great place to begin. Sites like the Online Books Page can provide you with reading materials and help you choose reading lists. Other, such as SparkNotes and Pink Monkey, can help you develop a greater understanding of the books you are about to teach. Whatever you are looking for, you are sure to find at least one useful site in this list of reading and writing resources for teachers.

Free Books

The Online Books Page - This site is one of the best places to find free unabridged books online. There are currently more than 35,000 listings, with new books being added regularly.

Project Gutenberg - Project Gutenberg was the first site to offer free e-books and is still one of the best spots to get free unabridged books online. The site has nearly 30,000 books in its collection and links to thousands of other books that can be read or downloaded for free.

Bibliomania - Thousands of free books can be found at Bibliomania. The site also offers free study guides to the most read books and other helpful resources for teachers.

The Literature Network - In addition to an excellent database of free electronic books, the Literature Network also provides forums and quotations for students and teachers.

Librivox - Unlike the other free book sites on this list, Librivox focuses on audio books. The site's volunteers have recorded thousands of the best-loved books in the public domain.

Literature Summaries and Study Guides

Schmoop - Schmoop is a relatively new site dedicated to making reading, writing, and history fun for both teachers and students. The site offers a wide range of study guides and teacher resources as well as tips on using Schmoop in the classroom.

Litsum - LitSum is one of the best places online to get free study guides and literature summaries. The site offers more guides than anyone else and also provides topics for discussion, character analysis, and other helpful teaching resources.

CyberGuides - CyberGuides are standards-based literature study guides that are delivered as web-based instruction. Each guide has a student and teacher edition. CyberGuides are available for k thru 12 teachers.

Pink Monkey - This site offers a wide range of student friendly book summaries, chapter notes, and study guides that can be viewed for free online or printed for a small fee.

SparkNotes - SparkNotes have always been among the most popular literature study guides. You can find thousands of free SparkNotes guides online. Other resources include a searchable grammar guide and SparkCharts for teachers.

Educational Materials, Lesson Plans, and Classroom Activities

Learn Out Loud - Learn Out Loud is the Internet's largest directory of free learning resources. The site focuses more on audio and video, but lists some free text-based resources as well.

ReadWriteThink - A partnership between the International Reading Association (IRA), the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE), and the Verizon Foundation, the ReadWriteThink site is an excellent source of literature lesson plans for grades k thru 12.

LitPlans - This site offers literature lesson plans and other helpful materials. Most of the lesson plans are geared for middle school and high school teachers, but elementary and college-level teachers may also find useful resources on the LitPlans site.

Harcourt - This trade publisher provides teachers with free books, classroom activities, lesson plans, and other materials. Most of Harcourt's free materials are designed for elementary school students.

Scholastic - Scholastic offers a summer reading challenge, lesson plans, story starters, and many other useful materials. The Scholastic site also features a "Back-to-School Planning" section that's perfect for teachers who are working on next year's reading and language arts lessons.

Writing Prompts and Instruction

The Teacher's Corner - The Teacher's Corner has an excellent selection of daily writing prompts for every month of the year. Prompts can be printed or displayed on an LCD projector.

WritingFix - This site offers interactive writing prompts, lesson plans, and resources for the writing classroom. Other special features include a daily prompt generator, columns and advice from teachers, and student samples by grade level.

The Teaching Portal - The Teaching Portal is a Lightning Bug resource specifically designed for teachers of all levels. The site offers writing prompts, advice, and useful programs to help educators teach writing in the classroom.

MIT OCW - The Massachusetts Institute of Technology offers several free online writing courses at the college level that would be of interest to teachers. Most of the courses include lecture notes, reading lists, writing assignments, and other learning materials.

Purdue Online Writing Lab - Purdue University's Online Writing Lab (OWL) offers more than 200 free resources for writers and people who teach writing. The site also provides style guides and special help for ESL teachers.

Magazines, Blogs, and Other Reading Materials

Yes - Teachers can get a free, one-year subscription to Yes! Magazine when they visit the Yes site. This ad-free quarterly magazine publishes articles about education, the economy, communities, art, and other topics.

Teacher Lingo - This online community for teachers is a great place to start your own blog or read blogs written by other teachers.

TeacherVision - This site lists a selection of popular teacher blogs with frequent updates.

Books 4 Teachers - Known as the site "where teachers come to read," Books 4 Teachers is a good place to find book recommendations, lesson plans, and other useful resources.

The Free Library - The Free Library offers unabridged literary works from classic authors. The site also features free articles and scholarly papers--more than five million entries in all.

Guest post from Karen Schweitzer who writes about online colleges for OnlineColleges.net.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Goodbye, Boston!

Today I will be loading up the moving truck and cleaning up the last remnants of my life in Boston. While I'm very excited about returning to what really feels like home (the Rio Grande Valley), there were so many great things about Boston that I will absolutely miss. Here are my goodbyes and thanks:

To the students who were willing to fight for me to stay and protest on my behalf: I sincerely appreciate the thought and I will miss you. I'll do my best to get back to see so many of you graduate next year!

To the Boston Public Library system: I never thought I would actually love the library. Your collections, services and great people were amazing. Thank you especially to everyone at the Main Branch at Copley and the Honan-Allston Branch. The library was one of the first parts of the city where I really felt at home.

To everyone at the Dunkin' Donuts on Washington Ave & Sagamore Ave in Chelsea: Thank you for keeping me caffeinated and well fed! I enjoyed stopping by frequently (sometimes twice a day), and I know my students feel the same way.

To whomever made Boston so walkable, you've made me healthier, less stressed and more active.

To the guy who stands outside Haymarket Station at the Congress St. entrance every morning: Thank you for brightening my day. Maybe I'm crazy, but there's something to be said for somebody wishing you a good day and singing show tunes to themselves.

To the MBTA: Even with all the limitations and problems of the T, I never felt like I needed a car in Boston. I appreciated not having to drive, and being able to sit back and relax on my way to and from work (with the occasional hoping off one train and onto another, of course). I read as many books in my first few months of commuting on mass transit as I had read over the last couple of years in south Texas! I just hope you can get the Green Line moving a little bit more efficiently in the future.

To everyone and everything responsible for Boston's exorbitant cost of living: Thank you for making me appreciate everything I have a little better. I was forced to think about what was really important in life, and "stuff" was not on the list. I have simplified my life in so many ways out of necessity, but it's made me a better person as well. I will carry these lessons with me for a long time.

Thank you, Boston. And goodbye.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Five for Friday: Everything All At Once Edition

This has been a crazy week: it's the last week of school, packing up to move tomorrow, and thinking about major life issues like housing, transportation, and employment. This week's links deal with a little bit of everything as well (there I go again, subconsciously assembling themes for these weekly links).
  1. FASFA To Get Dramatically Shorter, Less Painful [from Consumerist] - Good news for your future HS graduates!
  2. Doodling Increases Focus and Recall [from Lifehacker] - I know I've been quick to judge the daydreamers in my classes... maybe I was wrong!
  3. New Math [via Freakonomics] - If you've never heard of it, New Math is part art project, part mathematical equations. I like to think of it as the equations of everyday things. I'd love to have my students create their own "new math" equations as a beginning (or end) of year assignment.
  4. Book Review: How to Survive (And Perhaps Thrive) On a Teacher's Salary [from Wise Bread] - Have any of you read this? I read an article with a similar title in Instructor magazine that wasn't very helpful, but I think this is a different author.
  5. Never Have an Argument w/ a Student Ever Again - Sup Teach? reminds us of perhaps the two most important words in a teacher's vocabulary.
Share your best links in the comments below.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Sample End of Year Survey

I realized after posting my senior end of year survey that I wouldn't need to change much to make an end of year survey for all of my students. Indeed, I only had to change a few words here and there to make it suitable for everyone. The survey is available on Google Docs:

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Math in the Real World: Erasing Debt Activity

I always like to do as much real world math as I can throughout the year, but it's much easier to focus on it when summer vacation is looming. It's not busy work, nor is it completely unrelated to what you're teaching in any middle school math class up to Algebra I. It will keep students more engaged in a time where it's easy to disengage, and demonstrate to them clearly how many of the skills and problem solving strategies you've work on all year could actually be useful in their lives.

This activity came to me in the mail, quite literally: banks and credit card companies were sending me offers for big loans to pay off my debts (or just to spend frivolously--they couldn't seem to make up their minds in their sales pitch letters). The monthly payments always seem reasonable, until you look at how many months you'll be paying. If you do the math, you start to see just how much you're actually spending to have cash right now.

I've used newspaper ads for rent-to-own stores for similar lessons in the past, but this was different. The mailings I was getting contained concise applications that I shrunk down and copied; for the purposes of sharing without being sued, I created a sample application (complete with loan offers, payback options, and a form asking for a lot of personal info). Feel free to use it as-is, or replace the first part with an offer you receive in the mail. The document is hosted on Google Docs:

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Replace Make Up Day With "GPA Day"

Today is the last day of classes--the remainder of the week is two short exam days and a field day/end of year celebration. Traditionally this is the time when I do two things with my students:
  1. End of the year reflections
  2. Give them a chance to make up work
I realized this year that I had too many students who were satisfied as long as they were passing, no matter what the actual grade was. If they were passing already at this point, they did little or nothing to improve their grade leading into final exams. If they were failing, they did the absolute minimum needed to get that passing grade, and then quit. This is the problem I intend to solve today.

I will shift the paradigm on my students a bit, first by changing how we talk about it. This is not "credit recovery" or "make up work" day anymore: this is GPA Day. We're not going to worry only about credits toward graduation (our school has a credit system modeled after colleges, but the principle will apply at this time of year for most schools). The first two graduating classes ever at my school have helped us focus on grade point average. Some of the graduates worked just enough to pass their classes and get the credits they needed, but had atrocious GPAs due to a combination of failures and getting only the minimum grade possible when they did pass. This is now any easier idea to accept for our remaining students.

Second, I'll change what we do with our time that day. Making up assignments is no longer the sole focus--it's just part of the equation now. What I'll supplement that work with is comprehensive, whole year review assignments that will earn them points no matter what their grade is. I've put together materials that cover all of the most important topics we've covered this year, which is a good a way as any to end the year with.

Finally, we'll dissect grade point average: review what a GPA is, how it's calculated, and what it means for their futures.

In truth, this is a marketing experiment more than anything else. I think the language we use about everything at school is more powerful than most educators think. I just hope I can pull it off.

Monday, June 22, 2009

52 Teachers, 52 Lessons #21: Take Advantage of Vacations

This week's entry is from Siobhan Curious, who teaches English language and literature in Montreal. Her advice arrives at the ideal time for the majority of us who have started the summer or are just about to:

I've been writing a series of posts for the TimesOnline's education blog, School Gate, about dealing with teacher burnout. A few years ago, I was fed up and exhausted, and wanted to pull out of teaching altogether, and so I began taking steps to determine whether quitting was really what I wanted to do. I decided that it wasn't, but I realized that I had to take some time away from the classroom to refresh myself and gain some perspective. I did that - I took a semester off - and I came back to my job ready to take on new challenges.

I would strongly advise all teachers to regularly take time away from the classroom. If you don't have the opportunity to take the semester off, then at least take advantage of the vacations that you have. Get far, far away - go to another country if you can, and spend a couple of weeks thinking about anything but teaching. Do something with your hands: garden, take a cooking class, fix up your old motorbike. Go to the cottage with your family and spend your time walking, fishing, playing tennis, anything that clears your brain and moves your body. One way or another, shake teaching out of your head entirely and remind yourself that yes, you're a teacher, but you're a lot of other things too. Then, when you come back to the classroom, it will feel fresh.

Read more about this project here or add the 52 teachers 52 lessons tag to your favorites. Email your entries to teachforeverATgmailDOTcom. Week 22 is scheduled for next Monday, June 29th.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Call for Entries: 52 Teachers, 52 Lessons for the Summer

I'm excited to report that new entries for the 52 Teachers, 52 Lessons community project have been pouring in, but there are still many weeks left in the year.

Summer is upon us, and I think it's a good a time as any to request advice geared towards making the best of this time. Perhaps your advice has to do with how to reflect on the school year, regaining your sanity or health, or simply rediscovering your passion for teaching. Remember, our central question for this year-long journey is:

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

Email me at teachforeverATgmailDOTcom when the inspiration hits!

Saturday, June 20, 2009

How To Remove Permanent Marker And Tape Residue

At school we're preparing for some hardcore end of year cleaning. I know that our operations manager was concerned specifically about removing permanent marker from desks and tables. As she put it, the heavy duty chemical cleaner we have "is like acid. We're almost guaranteed to have an accident if the kids or teachers are using the stuff!" Being the good citizen I am, I quickly jumped into action to prevent such a catastrophe.

Earlier this year, I learned about a ridiculously simple method to remove permanent marker from most surfaces:

Write over the permanent marker with an Expo or other dry erase marker!

I did not believe it either when I heard about it, but it works. What happens is that the dry erase/non-permanent Expo ink mixes with the permanent marker and sort of turns it into dry erase ink. It's science! After covering the affected area, the same Expo cleaning fluid you use on the whiteboard can be used to clean it off.

Really stubborn marks might take a "coat" or two to be completely removed (as one particularly annoying message scrawled into a table in my room did) but it will work. I don't know the source of this idea, but I'm pretty sure I read it on one of the wonderful blogs I frequent (see my blogroll if you're up for investigating).

Another end of year nuisance I am used to dealing with is sticky, gunky tape residue left over from packing or duct tape. I always had a mess to clean up when I removed the numbers I had taped to my student desks with packing tape in years past. Water or regular cleaning solutions don't really help; using some kind of scraper will damage the surface. The best way to get it off is also really simple.

You can remove it by taking a new piece of tape, pushing it down onto the gunky area, and pulling. Then repeat many, many times. It is admittedly a time-consuming and laborious process, but it removes the tape residue without damaging the surface. It would be a great thing to have some students do when they're ready to help out! (Side note: This also works for removing pesky labels and stickers from books, CDs and DVDs).

As with the first idea, I'm not sure where I learned this, but thank you to whoever taught me. I think I took it for granted that everybody knew these tips until I shared them at school and received a lot of shocked or surprised reactions. I hope you find them as helpful as I have.

Please share your best cleaning secrets in the comments!

Friday, June 19, 2009

Five for Friday: Disruptive Innovation Edition

Nothing excites me more than the prospect of truly innovative educational technology changing the landscape of our profession and students' lives. On the other hand, nothing frustrates me more than the ill-conceived, over-hyped educational technology school districts usually latch on to. Thus this week's edition is all about technology that's changing education for the better:
  1. 13 Top iPhone Apps for Students [from Connect with your Teens through Pop Culture and Technology] - A good companion to my advice on learning how to use this kind of disruptive innovation in the classroom (see #42 from my 50 Cheap Mini-Lessons for Teachers).
  2. Try These Search Terms if You Want Some Malware [from Consumerist] - Avoid messing up your computer by keeping this in mind when you search.
  3. Mini-Documentaries Make Math and Science Meaningful to Students [from Wired:GeekDad] - GeekDad reviews The Futures Channel, an educational video site I reviewed in December.
  4. floorplanner [via Lifehacker] - When I was younger, I used to play with my Dad's 2D home design software. I think it helped me with my spatial reasoning and 3D visualization, two critical skills for mathematics. floorplanner allows you to plan a design in 2D and then view it in 3D, and I immediately look at software like this and consider the classroom applications. Lifehacker details what the free version can do.
  5. Netflix App Gallery [via Hacking Netflix] - The ubiquitous DVD-by-mail service recently launched their own iPhone-esque App site. Wouldn't it be great to have a teacher-friendly Netflix App that linked films, documentaries and TV shows to relevant lesson plans and ideas?
Share your similarly-themed links in the comments. Thanks!

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Two Reminders for Every Teacher (Courtesy of My Students)

Two recent interactions with my students reminded me of two principles of teaching I need to remind myself of constantly:

1. When things don't go the way you want, it's not always your fault.

A couple weeks ago, a student who had been in my class up until the current (and final) quarter of school stopped me in the hallway unexpectedly. This student had failed most of the year, and his work ethic and behavior had steadily deteriorated as time went on, despite my best effort. I was incredibly frustrated and out of ideas. I didn't know how he was doing in his new class until this conversation (as I remember it, anyway):
Student: "Mr. D, I'm getting an A- in Algebra now."

Me: "That's great!"

Student: "I want you to know it wasn't you--I just wasn't ready to try."

Me: "Well, thank you. I know it's hard to say something like that. It means a lot to me."

Student: "You were a good teacher; I did learn a lot of the stuff you taught. I just wanted to apologize."
He then shook my hand.

2. You are probably more appreciated than you think.

Last week my school hosted an open house for the community. Student leaders gave tours of the building throughout the evening. I had a lot of fun that evening, but the highlight was how one of my students described me to a visitor who came by my classroom:
"Mr. D teaches Algebra I & II and he's really trying to get us ready for college. He's one of the most underappreciated teachers at this school. He really deserves a lot more credit than he gets."

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

The Best Laid Plans: I'm Moving Back to Texas and Looking for a Job

I have a problem with speaking and thinking in absolutes. As my mother could surely verify, the number of times I've said I was never going to do something is only outweighed by the number of times I've done it. I try to remember to say things like, "Right now, I think..." or "I'd really like to..." when I think out loud about big ideas and plans I'm making. The situation almost never works out the way I expect, of course, but I never stop dreaming.

The plan was to stay in Boston for at least two years, more if I really found a niche here. Not surprisingly, that's not at all how things will hash out. As soon as school is out, I'm moving back to the Rio Grande Valley, where I lived and worked for five years after graduating college. I'll be back there around July 1st.

I don't have a job, place to live, or mode of transportation yet. This was also not part of the plan; unfortunately what I've pursued thus far hasn't worked out. I can pay the bills for a few months, so I'm not worried about that. I do know this: I love the RGV, and I can't wait to get back. I've learned a lot in Boston, and I intend to publish a proper goodbye to the city on June 27th, the day I'll be leaving.

I want to let all of you know that I am also seriously looking into jobs outside the classroom. I want to believe that I shouldn't do anything other than teach, but I'd be lying if I said that's definitely what I want to do. This year could be the one where I transition to a life without teaching (at least in the traditional sense).

I can tell you that even considering anything other than being in the classroom is in an incredibly difficult decision, and one huge reason is the deep obligation I feel to the many readers of this blog. It's hard to reconcile all of this with the mission I set out with almost two years ago. I can also tell you I'm not ruling anything out, so rest assured that I am considering things very, very carefully.

Thank you to everyone who's ever participated in this website, and especially to those of you who have written to tell me you were inspired or informed in some way. I'll keep you updated on what happens.

Monday, June 15, 2009

52 Teachers, 52 Lessons #20: Apologize

This week's entry comes from teachin', who teaches sixth grade Language Arts at an urban school. Reading this makes me think a lot about my students, who have serious issues with the idea of apologizing for anything. It's absolutely worth the read.

“Everyone makes mistakes. What matters is what you do afterward.” That’s something a colleague of mine told me years ago in a former career. The moment she said it, something clicked. The idea resonated with me. Of course! What a simple idea, but how critical! It’s stuck with me ever since, and it defines one of the most important concepts in how I interact with students.

When I mess up, I apologize.

It’s a little thing, and one that many of you are probably thinking, “Um, duh. That’s not news.” I hope that’s what you’re thinking, honestly, because in the two years I’ve been teaching, I’ve found that far too many teachers don’t apologize to kids. Not ever.

I’ve heard people say things like, “Well, even if they didn’t deserve it for THAT [that being the incident that caused a conflict between teacher and student], they probably deserve it for something else.” Wow. Really? How cool with it would we be if a police officer pulled us over for speeding when we weren’t, issued a ticket, and then refused to retract it, saying that we’d probably been speeding at some point and so deserved it for that? My guess is no one would be okay with it. My guess is we’d be calling lawyers and the press, filled with righteous indignation and informing everyone around.

Kids don’t do that. They can’t do that. Some of them will go to other people, whether parents or a teacher they trust, and tell their side of the story, hoping for sympathy and justice, and some of those adults will then pursue it back to the source, but not all.

I’ve also heard people say things like, “When you apologize, you lose power.” Uh, no, no, you don’t. When you apologize, kids see you as a real person who sees them as real people, and they respect you MORE for admitting you screwed up. At least that’s how it’s worked for me, every. single. time. Even kids I don’t really know.

Two examples. Early in the year I saw an eighth grader I didn’t know say something really inappropriate to a girl. I stopped him to address the situation, but because I didn’t know his name and he was almost past me, I stopped him by putting my hand on his arm. Shouldn’t have done it, which he told me in no uncertain terms. Now, I could have escalated that as a disrespect issue (ooh, boy, was his language disrespectful), but I WAS THE ONE WHO’D STARTED IT. How can you punish someone for something you started? So I told him he was right, that I shouldn’t have touched him, and I was sorry. He fell all over himself apologizing for having snapped at me and for what he’d said to the girl, then stumbled off to class (literally – he tripped over his own feet at one point), looking completely bewildered.

A few months ago, I caught two boys in the hall hitting each other. They’re sixth graders from the other sixth grade team – I recognized them, but didn’t know them. Reamed them and took them to admin. But there was really no need for me to yell, and I felt bad, so the next day I found them and apologized. I said that their behavior had been inappropriate and I wasn’t sorry that I’d called them out on it, but I’d done it badly. I said I wouldn’t want to be yelled at like that, and so I was sorry that I’d yelled at them like that. They both smiled and said it was cool, and from then on, those two behaved perfectly in the hallway by my classroom.

I could give countless more examples (I manage to screw up in one way or another pretty frequently…), but they’re all much the same: I do something wrong; I apologize to kid in question; kid in question gets over it and is closer to me than ever.

Two words: I’m sorry. They seem so small, but they’re some of the biggest words around. What a great lesson to teach a kid – that when people mess up, they apologize. How better to teach it than by example?

Read more about this project here or add the 52 teachers 52 lessons tag to your favorites. Email your entries to teachforeverATgmailDOTcom. Week 21 is scheduled for next Monday, June 22nd.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Poll: "I Want to Teach Forever" Summer Book Club

I've been cooking up several projects for the summer, one of which is starting a book club to read and discuss several teaching and education themed books. Here's what I'm thinking:
  • We'll cover 2-3 books in July and August, with the possibility of continuing into the school year if people were interested.
  • Our discussion can take many forms: guest posts, a virtual meetup, a collaborative blog such as Tumblr, or we can adopt ideas from the Professional Learning Communities model
  • This is intended to be a no pressure, interesting, fun thing to do this summer. I wonder myself if doing a book club that's unrelated to teaching and education would be better (and I'm open to that possibility as well).
  • One book I'm interested in for our first book is Hope and Despair in the American City: Why There Are No Bad Schools in Raleigh by Gerald Grant. What do you think?
There's a poll at the top of I Want to Teach Forever (you'll have to click through if you're reading an RSS feed to vote) that will be up through next Sunday. Please vote! If you have any questions, suggestions or comments, please email me or leave a comment below. Thank you!!

Top 7 Ways To Use A Document Camera In The Classroom

During our weekly professional development on Friday, I shared a list of the Top 7 Ways to Use A Document Camera In The Classroom with my colleagues. Now I'm happy to do the same with all of you. The model similar to what I've used for years and recommend is the AVerMedia AverVision 300AF+. Here we go!
  1. Provide Clarity - When you or your students are referring to a specific item in any document, book, or anything else that you can put under the camera, you can clearly show exactly what you (or they) are referring to. Zooming in and out, and repositioning the camera is easy.
  2. Read Aloud - When reading aloud as a whole class, you can show exactly what you're reading by putting the book under the DC. This helps reach learners who may have trouble staying engaged with a paper or book in front of them. More importantly, this is especially useful when you don't have enough copies of whatever you're reading.
  3. Aid 3D Visualization - By moving the camera around, you can look at three-dimensional items from different angles and perspectives in a way that all students can see. When studying questions on multiple perspectives of three-dimensional objects, I would use Jenga blocks and show top, side, front and angled views to mimic state test questions.
  4. As a Poor Man's Smartboard - Write on, annotate and manipulate items that are projected on to the board without actually marking them up, just as you would with smartboard markers. I did this last summer in my Math & Website Design course.
  5. Make Your Tech Setup Simpler - Most DCs are set up to be hooked up to both a computer and projector for push-button switching. Show a slideshow or website, then switch to the camera to take notes or look at the related assignment.
  6. Save the Earth - Eliminate the need for transparencies and accessories that come with them (not to mention Expos and whiteboard materials since you'd likely need to write on the board less). You can use any paper to write on, so why not reuse all of those single-sided printouts you would otherwise discard? Then, you can still recycle them--sucessfully using all three Rs! They're also easier to save if you need to, and you can give them to students who need to see them after your lesson is over.
  7. Relocate for More Engagement - The DC setup allows you to away from the board, in the center of the room, facing your students. Your proximity and ability to see them more clearly will eliminate a lot of problems before they start. It may also be easier to get students to participate by having them come up to the camera instead of the board, both because of the location and the chance to play with cool technology. Most importantly, if you have even a half way decent LCD projector, it works better with the lights ON, so no more of the troubles you get from sitting in the dark.
I'm only scratching the surface here, so I'm looking forward to a flurry of suggestions and questions from my intrepid readers.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Call for Entries: 52 Teachers, 52 Lessons Needs You!

This Monday's entry for the 52 Teachers, 52 Lessons community project is ready to go, but I can't take any more chances. After having to postpone the project for two weeks not too long ago, I would like to get as many new contributors lined up in advance as possible.

For all the details on what I'm talking about, visit the original 52 Teachers, 52 Lessons post or check out all of the posts so far.

I can't wait to see what you have to say! Email me at teachforeverATgmailDOTcom today.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Five for Friday: Looking At Things Differently Edition

I guess it should not be so weird to me that these links tend to naturally have a common theme, however loose it may be. I'm probably subconsciously picking them out because my mind is focused on the topic (and in this case, looking at things from different angles is something I try to do constantly). Without further pondering, here we go:
  1. Meet Me At The Corner - Take your students on virtual field trips (in the form of video podcasts and other educational clips) to New York City and beyond on this new, growing website. For teachers looking to have their students create short-form video content, there's also a lot of "how to" videos as well. The site is geared towards children ages 7-12.
  2. All My Faves [Education] - This new portal isn't really a search engine so much as is it a directory of top sites in the most searched-for categories. The sites are listed by logo, in order of popularity. This Education page lists sites from 31 subcategories in one place, which at first might look overwhelming, but could prove convenient when looking for the best of a given topic. It's a novel approach worth exploring.
  3. What Do You Do On The Last Day Of Class (Part Two) - Larry Ferlazzo shares reader suggestions on a topic we're all thinking about, as well as links to evaluation forms and similar resources.
  4. Sam Loyd: Classic Puzzles and Riddles - Wired:GeekDad honors a famous creator of puzzles and riddles that would be great challenges or brain teasers for students in just about any class.
  5. Ear Plugs to Lasers: The Science of Concentration [NY Times via Lifehacker] - I read an article like this and think not so much about concentrating on my personal work (like this website), but how to apply this in the classroom on a micro and macro level. Do we need to fundamentally reconstruct the school day, or just our lessons?
Share your thought and links in the comments. Thank you as always for reading!

Thursday, June 11, 2009

End of Year Survey for Graduating Seniors

I always give students end of year surveys, but as I've mentioned this is the first year I have graduating seniors in my classes. I had to edit and update my usual survey for them a bit; for example, I wanted to know how this class compared to the other math classes they had taken in high school. Otherwise, the survey is pretty close to what I will give all of my students at the end of the year.

This survey is by no means original--it is an amalgamation of questions from several sources. The original source is Emma, my Program Director when I was in Teach for America. The survey has evolved quite a bit in the six years since then. When I see a good question on sample student surveys posted by other teachers, I "borrow" it. If one of my existing questions doesn't get productive responses, I edit or delete it. So thank you to the many teachers who inspired this ever-evolving survey.

I'll be posting different versions as well as some of the more interesting feedback I've received soon. You can download this version from Google Docs:

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

What Can I Do With...? Volume 2

Around this time last month, I posted a list of items that I hoped to find some use for in the classroom. I was out of ideas, but as usual you guys came through. Thank you for all of your great suggestions.

As my spring (creeping into summer) cleaning continues, I have a few more items in desperate need of your ideas. What can I do with...
  1. ...an air pump and a giant novelty basketball? The huge inflatable hoop that accompanied these items broke last year, so I'm left with this. Together, the set became the basis of my famous basketball review game, which was featured in my book Ten Cheap Lessons. Now it just seems to be a hassle to keep, especially since the clunky pump isn't very useful for anything other than this ball, and the ball won't fit in any reasonable hoop. I'm inclined to donate it to my school for field days and the like.
  2. ...a set of Matchbox cars? I would like to keep at least one of these as an excellent visual aid for this lesson on scale and measurement, but I'm hoping to think of an additional use for them as well.
  3. ...empty 3 ring binders? After scanning most of my paper records, I was left with dozens of empty 3 ring binders of all shapes, sizes and colors. I donated most of them to my school, but I still kept a considerable amount. What kind of alternative uses are there for these?
  4. ...a locking cash box? Okay, I admit I have no idea when or why I bought this. I guess I could lock stuff in it at school, but in my experience, some enterprising young hoodlums would simply steal the entire thing.
That's it for now. If you have stuff that you are storing but you can't for the life of you figure out why, share your list in the comments so that we can help each other out. Thanks in advance!

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

3 Ideas to Prepare Students for College Placement Exams

My seniors are just a week or so away from graduation, and everyone else is close to the end of the school year, so I decided one productive way to end the year with my Algebra II classes is to practice for college placement exams.

We spend a lot of time discussing college admission requirements and other details of the experience at my school, but I feel like we don't talk enough about these crucial exams.

I remember my experience, crowded into an auditorium with thousands of fellow incoming freshmen. We took a math exam, produced a writing sample, and some of us took a challenging Spanish placement test that I totally flunked (after doing really well in high school). In short, this was a stressful set of exams, to say nothing of their importance.

I introduced this to my students as something really important to prepare for one reason above all else: At many schools, if you flunk the math placement exam, you have to take a remedial course that is often not for credit in order to even take the standard college level math course that you need for core graduation requirements. I've known people in this situation, and it's not fun. Unfortunately, some of my students think they can flunk on purpose in order to be placed in the "easy" math course, but that's just not the case.

Here's three ideas I'm using with my students this week:
  1. Sample ACCUPLACER Questions [PDF from The College Board] - On Monday we worked on the three-part math section that's included here (this document contains samples from all of the tested subjects as well). Students used calculators and checked their answers themselves after finishing, but were warned to consider two things: Would you be able to do these problems without a calculator (if they weren't allowed)? What do you need to work on between now and the time you'll take this exam to do well? It took my students about 40-50 minutes to complete the 30 included questions.
  2. Practice Math Placement Tests from UMass Boston - Today, students will be going online to take one of the practice tests provided by UMass Boston, one of our many local universities. There's multiple levels here depending on what courses students have taken, which we will discuss along with how placement works at this school as well. This should take the majority of our 70 minute period, as the tests are between 30-40 questions. In this case, students are shown their answers and can seek out explanations as soon as they're done with the test, even if they don't complete it. In your classroom, use similar resources from local universities to get your students engaged (look on any schools' admissions site, or go directly to the math department's site).
  3. Finally, I would like students to practice taking a computer-adaptive test, which is a test that changes based on your answers (getting harder when you answer correctly and easier when you are incorrect). The ACCUPLACER, GRE and other exams are CAT as well. My research for a simple example that my students could actually take, even if it wasn't tied directly to our content, was fruitless. I did come up with one fun possibility: FreeRice, the game created by the UN to help fight world hunger. As I've written about previously, the highly addictive vocabulary game adjusts its difficulty based on your answers.
Do you know of any free, easily accessible computer-adaptive tests to get my students familiar with the concept? Am I going about this all wrong? I'm open to your ideas and guidance as this is my first group of college-bound juniors and seniors, and I want them to be successful. I'm looking forward to what you share in the comments below! Thank you.

Monday, June 8, 2009

52 Teachers, 52 Lessons #19: Don't Reinvent The Wheel

Don't call it a comeback! Our community project is back, this week coming from Loretta Khayam, a math teacher from Fairfax, VA. She has three great suggestions for teachers:

Don't re-invent the wheel -- If you're searching for an idea for a lesson, Google the topic and the word "activity"....I've gotten rave reviews from other teachers for stuff I found on the internet (I always give credit to the contributor)...and it saves LOADS of time

Save of your answer keys....it seems like as soon as I decide I don't need an answer key anymore and I recycle it, I have a student who makes up a test or turns in an assignment late and I have to redo the key. You'd think after 11 years of teaching I would know better!!

Keep a list -- on your computer, on a clipboard, somewhere -- of your "ideas for next year" because by next year you will have forgotten them! And if there is a typo on a worksheet or test, fix it as soon as you discover it (or you'll forget about it!).

Read more about this project here or add the 52 teachers 52 lessons tag to your favorites. Email your entries to teachforeverATgmailDOTcom. Week 20 will be posted next Monday, June 15th.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

4Teachers.org (Home of RubiStar) Needs Your Help!

I was very upset to receive an email recently explaining that the free resource 4Teachers.org, an invaluable resource for myself and countless others, is in serious financial trouble. It sounds like at best they might have to start charging for their services, and at worst they might have to shut down the site (although that's just my conjecture based on what you'll see below). I've used RubiStar since my first year teaching, and it has helped me to design and evaluate student work effectively throughout my career. Here's a video plea and the email from 4Teachers.org:

Hi 4Teacher!

We are asking for your help!

As you may know, the 4Teachers.org online resources were developed with money from a U.S. Department of Education grant that began in 1995 and continued until 2005. Designed to help teachers improve instruction through the use of technology, tools such as TrackStar, RubiStar and Assign-A-Day became very popular over the years and are widely used throughout the world.

Since funding ended in 2005 we have been working on ways to keep the 4Teachers resources operating smoothly and, just as important, updated to meet the needs of 21st century users. One of our most popular tools, QuizStar, has changed to a subscription service and we hope it will succeed in providing teachers with a way to use online quizzes with their students. However, we at 4Teachers want to do everything we can to keep our other popular tools free and up-to-date. We need your help.

Your tax-deductible gift will help us keep the 4Teachers.org tools available to educators and students throughout the world. All donations will fund the staffing and equipment needed to maintain, update, and improve upon this suite of valuable resources. The expected cost of maintaining all of the free 4Teachers tools for the next year is $200,000. We are making progress, but your donation will help us reach the goal.


With your donation, we will be able to keep these tools free for teachers to use in their classrooms. We will also be able to enhance the tools you use every day with new features for the 21st century classroom. Imagine being able to rate TrackStar tracks, and being able to search for the best ones to use in your lessons. How would you use RubiStar if it allowed students and teachers to work together seamlessly to build rubrics? Your donation can make that happen.

You can pledge your tax-deductible donation of $10, $25, or more through the University of Kansas Endowment Association. When you donate, you can choose to support a specific 4Teachers tool, or your gift can work to improve all of the 4Teachers resources. Please visit the 4Teachers Support page at http://4teachers.org/support for more information.

Thank you for your continued support, and thank you to those who have already donated, as we strive to make the 4Teachers tools valuable resources for your teaching.

Marilyn Ault
Director, ALTEC

P.S. You don’t have to have an account with any 4Teachers tool to make a donation. Even if you use 4Teachers just to find cool stuff for your classroom, you can help us keep those resources free and available. Please visit http://4teachers.org/support and pledge a tax-deductible gift today.

4Teachers.org was developed and is operated by Advanced Learning Technologies (ALTEC) at the University of Kansas Center for Research on Learning.

I have donated $10, but they still have a long way to go to reach their $200k goal. Please share how the resources on 4Teachers.org have helped you in your classroom, in the hopes of inspiring more donations. Good luck, 4Teachers.org!

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Bo Burnham: "New Math"

Just saw this young man on Comedy Central, but he got his start as an internet sensation not too long ago. It's a little NSFW, but hey, it's the weekend! Enjoy.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Five for Friday: Time To Start Reflecting Edition

The end of the year is upon most of us, and it's time to start the oh-so-important process of reflecting on what went well (and what didn't). If you don't start now, you might forget all the lessons your learned, and have to make the same mistakes again next year. You don't want that to happen, do you?
  1. Students learn from robot games - Now let's get them in every math and science classroom!
  2. UpDown [via Freakonomics] - You could use this free stock market game in your math classes (or to get yourself ready for the exciting world of investing).
  3. Top 5 Things I Lost During Year 2 - One of the young Californian educators of Sup Teach? reflects on good stuff he did last year, but neglected to do this year. It's a good model to follow when starting your own end-of-year reflections.
  4. Amazon’s 25 Software Bestsellers - And Their Free Equivalents - Trent, the frugality guru behind The Simple Dollar, summarizes how you can replace just about every piece of popular software with something free and just as functional (if not more so). I wrote about a similar article back in December.
  5. Worldmapper [via RECESS DUTY] - I've been thinking about using maps as a real world connection a lot after participating in an MIT conference on mapping, new media and education in January. So I'm intrigued by the possibilities of Worldmapper, which claims to show "the world as you've never seen it before".
Share your thoughts (or other quality links) in the comments.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

The Best of I Want To Teach Forever: April/May 2009

I must have tempted fate with my last "best of" post in March, because after posting every day that month, I've struggled to post more than twice a week for the last two. School has been especially challenging, as have issues outside the classroom, but I make no excuses. I apologize to the many of you that have supported me or thanked me in a variety of ways--this blog is as much for you as it is for me. With that in mind, I decided to hold off until now to compile the best posts of April and May. Here's what I consider my best work:
  1. Quick Adding and Subtracting Integers Review [4/6]
  2. More Newspaper Math: Ripped From The Headlines [4/8]
  3. The Day I Realized I Lost My Students' Respect (Or Never Had It In The First Place) [4/15]
  4. Send Yourself to Language School This Summer [4/28]
  5. The Book That Made Me Love Math Again (And The Class It Inspired) [5/10]
  6. What 21st Century Skills Should Mean [5/13]
  7. Finding Life in Death [5/27]
There have also been a lot of posts both in two of my ongoing series: 52 Teachers, 52 Lessons (Weeks 12-18) and Five for Friday (a weekly column of five neato links in rapid succession). Now you can catch up!

If you like this site, the best ways to support it are to subscribe to my RSS feed, become a Follower (click Follow on the sidebar), and to share links on your blog or favorite social bookmarking site (click the "Share" button below for some quick and easy options). You could also pick up a copy of my book, Ten Cheap Lessons: Easy, Engaging Ideas for Every Secondary Classroom, for $12 paperback/$6 digital.

Monday, June 1, 2009

No 52 Teachers, 52 Lessons Again This Week, But Here's Something Great Instead

Unfortunately, we've gone another week without a submission for the 52 Teachers, 52 Lessons community project. I'm afraid it's going to die a very slow and painful death.

In the meantime, Jen Carbonneau (who shared a lesson in Week 2 of the project), sent in another piece of advice to tide us over:
I have learned in the past several years that laughing with your peers is vital. Truly, you need to find something to laugh about each day if you are going to survive with good spirits--especially if you are facing particularly difficult groups of students. Lunchtime is the best time. It breaks up the day and allows you to begin fresh in the afternoon. Last year we managed to go the whole year sharing the responsibility of make a lunch to share each Monday. It allowed us to grow as a family and find laughter easily. I find that if I am able to laugh and joke with my coworkers before school begins, the day is all the more bright. Find that time to laugh and smile. It'll make all the difference.
Remember, besides being a current or former teacher, there are no qualifications as to who can submit an answer to this central question:

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

I know that many of you are dealing with standardized tests (and their results coming in) and the absolute madness that are the last days of school. If you've been thinking about participating, but are feeling too stressed to do so, just keep in mind that I'm not expecting Shakespearean prose or Earth-shaking revelations. I think we all need to share those little nuggets of wisdom that we probably consider common sense, but may be overlooked by our peers. If you have something like that it mind, it's exactly what we need for this project.

Thank you to everyone who has participated thus far, and I look forward to getting this project back on track next Monday! Email me at teachforever AT gmail DOT com.