Friday, July 31, 2009

Five for Friday

A little bit of everything this week:
  1. - Find a music teacher near you in this well-organized directory. I hope that either you'll take advantage of your vacation and try this yourselves, or at the very least you'll bookmark it and share it with eager students come the fall.
  2. OrigamiTube - Another fun potential project for you or your students!
  3. DoInk [via Lifehacker] - Simple, free online animation software with a website that makes sharing easy.
  4. 38 ways to find great edublogs [via Larry Ferlazzo]
  5. When Computers Leave the Classroom, So Does Boredom [@Freakonomics] - Why PowerPoint is bad for you and your students.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

The Best of I Want to Teach Forever: July 2009

It's been a crazy month for me personally, as pretty much every facet of my life outside of this blog changed completely. Being able to write and share things here definitely helped me feel better. With that being said, my list of best work this month is short:

How Do I Keep Kids Engaged And Learning: The Short Answer [7/1]
Big Idea Week [week of 7/12]

I tried to start a book club, but I haven't gotten any responses for our post-reading discussion. I'm a little confused after such a strong positive response to my poll about whether readers wanted to participate. I'll just assume you're all contemplating your brilliant responses to our book of the month!

There were new weekly entries for the 52 Teachers, 52 Lessons community project (you can find it every Monday) and Five for Friday (hopefully you can figure out when that one is).

If you like this site, there are many easy ways to support it:
  1. Subscribe to my RSS feed.
  2. Become a Follower (click Follow on the sidebar).
  3. Share links on your blog.
  4. Click the Share button below to add posts you like to your favorite social bookmarking site.
  5. Pick up a copy of my book, Ten Cheap Lessons: Easy, Engaging Ideas for Every Secondary Classroom, for $12 paperback/$6 digital.
  6. Send in a guest post.
  7. Email me your ideas, questions and suggestions!
Thank you, as always, for participating!

Monday, July 27, 2009

52 Teachers, 52 Lessons #26: Collaboration on a Massive Scale

Big thanks to Patrick Black, who jumped in at the last minute with this week's entry. He teaches special education, specifically students with Significant Cognitive Disabilities, in Mount Prospect, IL. Check out his blog, Teaching All Students, which is aimed towards anyone interested in assistive technology and special education issues.

At this time, you have the unprecedented opportunity to collaborate on a massive scale. In years past you had the chance to collaborate with teachers in your school, and even once and a while with teachers from throughout the district. This is an important part of being a new teacher, but now we can collaborate whenever we want. We have Twitter, blogs, Nings, Facebook and more, all these tools that allow us to be connected with many more people and share so much more. These shared experiences that were once limited to local contacts, and once yearly conferences (if they could be afforded) are available to us all the time. We have the ability to affect change with our students, and share that with students around the globe. Using these tools effectively will help us to be the best teachers we can be.

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 27 is scheduled for next Monday, August 3rd (but that spot is still open right now)!

Friday, July 24, 2009

No One Has Submitted for Monday's 52 Teachers, 52 Lessons!

That's right: no one has written in to follow up this week's submission, so we are in danger of having no Week 26, not to mention the remaining half of the year after that!

So there's no time to lose--if you've been dillydallying, pussyfooting, or otherwise avoiding the lesson you were born to write, now is the time to get down to business.

Read more about the project and what we're trying to accomplish, then email me at teachforever AT gmail DOT com!

July Book Club: First Reactions, Questions and Responses

I hope you have been enjoying Hope and Despair in the American City: Why There Are No Bad Schools in Raleigh, the first selection for our nascent book club. I asked readers to try to finish up by today, and instead of hogging the spotlight with my thoughts, I want to immediately open up the floor instead.

So, I humbly request one of the following (or something else if you're inspired):
  1. Your initial reactions to the book overall, or something that jumped out at you (share in the comments below).
  2. Questions you'd like to ask the rest of the readers (share in the comments).
  3. A guest post where you have the chance to elaborate on your thoughts (please email me at teachforever AT gmail DOT com)
  4. Some other creative response or discussion topic you'd like to start (email me).
If you write about the book on your own blog, please share the link below and circle your readers back to here, so we can bring everyone into the discussion.

Five for Friday

  1. Math Teachers at Play #12 [@The Number Warrior]
  2. This Game Really Is Worth 1000 Worksheets [@ f(t)] - Kate says it's time to go to War!
  3. Timetoast [via Mashable!] - Create, share and embed interactive timelines. Useful for your blog, but even better for your social studies classroom!
  4. "How To Raise Our I.Q." [via Consumerist] - NY Times columnist Nicholas Kristof explains some of the science of intelligence, and how to help prepare your child for a lifetime of learning.
  5. In Pursuit of Financial Education for All [@Get Rich Slowly] - Hear, hear!

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Tips To Keep Your Students Healthy At School

Monitoring your students’ health while they’re at school isn’t a specific part of the job description for a teacher, but it’s still important. Whether you teach elementary school kids or college students, or you teach in a disadvantaged district or a well-funded private institution, keeping your students healthy and safe is a challenge. Some children arrive to school without eating breakfast and no packed food or money for lunch. Others are junk food addicts who sneak food at their desks, and still other students may have unhealthy relationships with food that could turn into an eating disorder. Between the grading, lessons, field trips and test taking, here are some helpful tips for teachers concerned about student health.
  • Talk about it. If you never mention healthy eating, hygiene or sickness, students will assume it’s a topic that’s off-limits in the classroom. Make sure that your students know how important their health is, and that it’s always considered an open discussion.
  • Designate a time to ask health questions. Even if you’re not the science teacher, designate time once or twice a week to let students ask health-related questions. Set up a box in front of the room or by your desk to let kid drop anonymous questions.
  • Explain to students how food impacts their body. Let them know which foods give them energy and help them grow, and which foods cause harm to their body or make them feel sleepy.
  • Encourage students and parents to bring healthy snacks during parties. You don’t have to serve carrot sticks during the Halloween party, but you can ask parents to bring healthier options like oatmeal cookies, 100% juice instead of soda, or baked chips instead of fried goodies.
  • If you’re concerned about a students’ health, speak up. Depending on the student’s age, you may have to speak with his or her parent first. But if a student is sleeping all day, losing or gaining weight rapidly, or is showing other signs of being unhealthy, speak up.
  • Keep your classroom stocked. Always have Kleenex, hand sanitizer, and regular hand soap on hand, and encourage kids to wash their hands after sneezing.
  • Set a good example. Eat healthy snacks at your desk and bring healthy lunches to show your students that eating right isn’t hard.
This post was contributed by Tara Miller, who writes about online teaching degrees. She welcomes your feedback at TaraMillerr00 at

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Nominate a teacher for EXPO Extraordinary Educator contest

EXPO, the eponymous makers of everything dry erase, recently launched a contest to recognize an amazing teacher AND give them some much-needed financial support: the EXPO Extraordinary Educator contest!

All that's needed is a 150-word essay about a teacher that deserves to be recognized for their hard work and achievements. Anyone can nominate a teacher--student, educator, parent, or whomever! You do need to get the permission of the educator you're nominating, but you'll still be able to surprise them with your desire to honor them!

The prizes are pretty awesome:
  • 1 Grand Prize: $5000, $1000 worth of EXPO supplies for their school, and a visit to an NBC late night show in New York or L.A.!
  • 12 Semi-Finalists: $500 and $1000 worth of EXPO supplies for their school!
The nomination form, rules and everything else you need to know is on the EXPO Extraordinary Educator website. Good luck!!

Monday, July 20, 2009

52 Teachers, 52 Lessons #25: Don't Be Afraid to Switch Gears

This week's entry comes from Paige Lahaise, who teaches 11th & 12th grade English (and serves as department chair) in California. Her blog, Paige's Prose, was just launched in June.

If something isn't working don't be afraid to switch gears. Every once and awhile you are going to have a lesson or activity planned that will seem amazing in your head, but when you actually implement it just does not work. It's okay to stop and say "hey this isn't working, we are moving on". It might even be a lesson that you've already successfully done in the past. I've had plenty of situations where I did one thing with a class, then tried it with a different class and it bombed. I learned long ago to trust my intuition and know when to throw in the towel. That's why you have to have a huge arsenal of weapons on your belt (something that will come with time).

Read more about this project here or add the 52 teachers 52 lessons tag to your favorites. Email your entries to teachforeverATgmailDOTcom. Week 26 is scheduled for next Monday, July 27th.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Big Idea #4: A Comprehensive Online Adaptive Test Prep Program

This is part four of a special week-long series called Big Idea Week, ideas that I hope will become realities one day soon.

As with some of the ideas I discussed earlier this week, there are many types of adaptive test prep software in existence. There are also online test prep programs for a wide range of tests. Unfortunately, like those other big ideas, no one has gotten it quite right yet.

Last month I wrote a bit about adaptive test prep software for students preparing for college placement exams. In this case, I'm focusing on preparing students for standardized testing across the board. For the uninitiated, an adaptive test changes based on your answers--it might give you easier or harder questions, or it could offer help to guide you to the right answer. This is the heart of this particular idea.

For the purposes of this big idea, adaptive would mean providing hints, simple explanations, videos, animations, audio cues and interactive tutorials whenever a student is struggling on a particular question or topic. The software would provide simpler questions when needed, to both build student confidence and prepare them for the highest level of questioning they'll face on a standardized test.

As long as this structure is present, the rest of the requirements are pretty straightforward:
  • It must be completely free.
  • Registration and sign up should be easy for schools and students (this is a fatal flaw of so many programs out there right now).
  • Make results and progress available to track online, and comprehensive reports should be simple for teachers and administrators to generate at any time.
  • It should be almost entirely self-guided, intuitive, and most importantly fun!
  • This should be online, Web 2.0 technology. There should be nothing to download, no Java applets--basically, it should be compatible with most computers.
Put all of this together, and you have the killer app of standardized test prep, making the lives of teachers, students and administrators so much easier.

I know some people may leave comments and ask, "What about [insert widely used educational software]?" If you've read this blog for a while, you know I've seen a lot of technology that was marketed as if it was the solution to all our problems. Each one lacked one or more of the features I outlined above, and you just can't leave any of those out and really claim to be solving more problems than you're creating.

Five for Friday: Still A Lot of Summer Left Edition

I hope you are enjoying Big Idea Week! I also hope you are already reading Hope and Despair in the American City: Why There Are No Bad Schools in Raleigh if you are a part of our July book club (if not, the book is short and you still have a week to catch up). Either way, here's this week's must-read links, focused on getting ready for the fall (for those of you that can't break away) and surviving the rest of the summer without going broke (pun intended):
  1. Leveled Library - This new resource allows you to quickly look up the reading level of books (their lists are based on what's available at It's still in beta, and requires free registration, but it's worth a look for anyone building a classroom library.
  2. Top 3 Student College Review Websites [@Connect With Your Teens Through Pop Culture and Technology] - A perfect primer for those of us preparing for high school students in the fall!
  3. Summer Freebies and Bargains for Kids [@Wise Bread]
  4. Plan the Best Staycation Ever [via Lifehacker]
  5. How to Steal Jobs From Teenagers [via Consumerist] - In case you need some extra cash to make it through until September.
As always, share your thoughts and links in the comments.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Big Idea #3: A Math Problem & Worksheet Generator That Gets It Right

This is part three of a special week-long series called Big Idea Week, ideas that I hope will become realities one day soon.

This idea is once again something that many websites and software applications try to do, but that nobody has gotten quite right yet: a powerful, easy-to-use math problem and worksheet generator.

Two sites jump to mind immediately when you think about generating a series of arithmetic or simple algebra problems: and Both websites are good at what they do, but as helpful as they are, they both offer limited options on relatively few topics (and in edHelper's case, you only have free access to a few sample worksheets). On the software side, if you've used ExamView, you know that it has a fairly powerful editor that gives you a lot of control over each question and the overall layout. Yet you also know that it is aimed at making tests and not more varied types of assignments, and you are still drawing from a relatively small pool of question stems.

The purpose of this program would be to both generate questions on virtually any topic (middle and high school math primarily) and to allow users to virtually cut-and-paste exactly the kind of practice problems and/or worksheets they need. I can't tell you the hours I have spent literally cutting a pasting from online and offline sources just to create an assignment that meets the needs of my students and covers things the way I want them to be, not the way a textbook publisher dictates.

This software could be based online or off, but due to the scope that I'm imagining, it would probably need to be both: a powerful but simple editor/publishing program for your computer, and a huge database of questions based on state standards and commonly tested question stems available online when needed.

It must be easy to learn and use right "out of the box," because it would be meant to save time and effort that would have been spent gathering resources and then assembling things by hand. A user must have complete control over the layout of a sheet--we should be able to make everything look the way we want it to print, including making things fit on as few pages as possible--without having to play around with copier and printer settings too much. One of the realities many teachers face today is limits on their access to paper and/or the number of copies they can make, so this software should easily optimize our use of each page without compromising quality or readability.

You should also be able to output your work in different formats. In ExamView, for example, you can export your tests as RTF files that can be read by most word processors (which is acceptable, but not much fun to edit). In short, you should not have to download or purchase this particular editing software (especially since installing software is not always an option for school computers) to read and edit your content.

I think having a web-based community where you can save and share your content online would also be useful to many people, and would be a great service to integrate with the ultimate search engine/database I discussed earlier. The sharing/online publishing process should also be easy and not necessarily require registration.

Come back tomorrow for Big Idea #4 (and Five for Friday)!

Big Idea #2: Ultimate Lesson Plan Database/Search Engine

This is part two of a special week-long series called Big Idea Week, ideas that I hope will become realities one day soon.

The Problem

There are many lesson plan databases out there already--that by itself is not a new or bold idea. Unfortunately, these websites share one or both of these flaws:
  1. The lesson plans aren't very good in terms of quality or quantity.
  2. They're not free to access.
The fact of the matter is this: there is no free, comprehensive, high quality teacher resource database on the Internet. There are too many cooks in the kitchen, and so no single site is even close to being the one-stop shop they aspire to be.

The first part of the problem is that too many people want to create their own proprietary database, which limits the scope of their content to whatever is uploaded by members or developed themselves. This leads to many individuals and companies charging for access, which doesn't really work: teachers, not school districts, are the ones searching for lesson ideas, and most aren't going to pay for anything online.

I've found that more often than not, the best lesson plans, projects and related ideas are rarely on any sort of "lesson plan website," free or not. They can be found in all the corners of the web: blogs, individual teacher websites, non-profit organization websites, YouTube, and often on sites not directly related to education at all. It's sometimes difficult to find lesson ideas when using any search engine; it requires a lot of patience and knowledge of keywords, operators and so forth.

The Solution

The ultimate lesson plan website would be part search engine and part database. It would be a metasearch engine, surveying a long list of known education sites at the same time. The database part would allow educators to upload materials not available anywhere else, without the need for them to create their own site. The interface would be simple, Google-esque even, with advanced search options available.

That part would be rather easy, but to make it work better than what already exists, you would need to employ people to, fine tune the search engine and write reviews and descriptions of the uploaded content. Content would be classified by keywords, subject, grade level, and what part of the lesson was included (i.e. complete lesson, lesson idea, game, study guide, project, extension, handout, lab, etc). This would provide a consistent level of quality control and make search results more meaningful and useful.

Most importantly, it would be completely free to submit content and free to search and access everything as well. That means all of the pay-for-access lesson plan websites would be out of luck. The website would get revenue from relevant advertisements, Google AdSense, affiliate sales and preferably grants and other charitable donations.

Why this doesn't exist already?

Honestly, I'm not sure. This seems to me a glaring need, and I'm surprised that a research university hasn't invested their time and effort in this, since so many seem to be invested in helping improve education. I think they would be in the best position to have the resources and the knowledgeable people to get this idea off the ground.

There are individuals and corporations that are certainly trying, but as usual, it seems most are just out to profit from school districts too willing to spend money on the next big thing (or whatever a neighboring district is spending their money on).

Stop by later today for Big Idea #3!

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Big Idea #1: A TV Show That Changes The Way We Think About Math

This is part one of a special week-long series called Big Idea Week, ideas that I hope will become realities one day soon.

My first idea is perhaps the most ambitious and difficult to get off the ground, but is probably also the most important and necessary of everything I will discuss this week.

America needs an educational reality TV show that makes mathematics easy, accessible and fun for everyone.

The biggest hurdle this country faces in terms of mathematics education is not one of standards, curricula or ability. Our central problem is cultural: America hates math. No subject elicits such near-universal fear, anger and disdain as mathematics does, regardless of the particular focus. The many stakeholders in our educational system are constantly working to overcome this from the inside out: professional development, curriculum writing, technology and innovative student support systems improve with each passing year. Yet all of these positive changes are part of an uphill battle. We have to change the way people think about math. That's where the show comes in.

There are entire cable channels devoted to history, science, and even literature. More directly, these subjects provide the source material for nearly everything else out there. There is no Math Channel; the CBS crime procedural Numb3rs stands alone as the shining example of accessible math in pop culture. Sure, there is educational children's programming that teaches math, but those shows are designed for and reach only their intended audience. What's needed is a fun, interesting show aimed at an older audience that just happens to teach and engage you in mathematics.

What would this show look like? I think the ideal show would take the best elements of children's shows like Mr. Wizard, Beakman's World and Bill Nye The Science Guy and combine them with the wider-reaching appeal of Discovery Channel hits like Mythbusters and Dirty Jobs. It would show math in the real world, in a way that was relevant and interesting to the broadest range of people possible. It could show all of the people who use math every day who never knew they were going to need it beforehand, as well as the math behind the science that's already explored in so many programs. There would be wild experiments and feats of mathematical intrigue, and explorations into the fascinating areas of the subject that we rarely get to talk about in school (like discrete math).

Each episode of the show would be supplemented with teacher resources (lesson plans, projects, experiments) that would be freely available online, part of an interactive website that would help build a community to perpetuate the growth and reach of the show's goal of universal math acceptance. I believe that if done correctly, this could be the first of many shows about math, perhaps one day leading to a Math Channel.

What I'm proposing is nothing short of the first step in a paradigm shift in the way math is thought about. It will make everything else we're trying to do in this country to improve education that much easier.

I'm honestly a little surprised that we haven't seen this kind of show on the Discovery Channel, since they seem to have an amazing ability to find the most fascinating things in the world around us, but perhaps it's just because no one has come along with the right proposal yet. TV executives, hear me: we need this show not because it will teach math, but because it will fundamentally change the way we think about it. That's the kind of impact any show, any network would kill for.

Come back tomorrow for the next post of Big Idea Week!

Monday, July 13, 2009

52 Teachers, 52 Lessons #24: Collective Knowledge

This week's advices comes from Jovan Miles, a middle school math teacher in Atlanta, GA. His blog is

I’ve been teaching middle grades mathematics for four years and one of the greatest and longest lasting lessons I’ve learned is to rely on the collective knowledge of others to make me a better teacher. Arguing, disagreeing, and bitterly coming to a consensus (or not) with my colleagues has resulted in the creation of some of the most engaging, innovative, and hands on lessons of my career.

I began my teaching career, like many of us, in isolation. I planned alone, assessed alone, and the only people to ever see the results of my work were my students and administrators. As long as I got passing scores on my annual evaluations and my students passed the requisite standardized tests I thought everything was fine. I worked like this for the entire first year of my career. However, during my second year I began working with another teacher who shared my pedagogical style. Even so, our collaboration simply amounted to informal conversations in the hall away about what the other was doing to ensure that we kept the same pace while moving through the content. We each did well separately, as did our students, but we could have all performed at a much higher level.

Collaborative planning was a new idea during my first years of teaching and it took the efforts of a young, new Principal to break my colleagues and me out of our comfort zones. She forced us to plan our lessons, assessments, and performance tasks collaboratively. What we initially perceived as an encroachment on the autonomy to use our planning time as we saw fit turned into raucous mid-day meetings where arguing over content, delivery, student practice, homework, and assessment tools resulted in better lessons than any of us could have created in isolation. We were better together than we ever were separately.

We saw gains in student achievement and interest almost immediately. We lightened our individual work load by working together. We became our own professional development. We began sharing articles, blog posts, and other tangible resources in the building. As our individual knowledge base grew, so too, did the knowledge of the group. Many of us have left that school and moved on to other opportunities in education. However, all of us from those original forced collaborative planning sessions still stay in touch; we still share what we know; we’re still helping to make one another better.

Read more about this project here or add the 52 teachers 52 lessons tag to your favorites. Email your entries to teachforeverATgmailDOTcom. Week 25 is scheduled for next Monday, July 20th.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

"Big Idea Week" Special Series

Tuesday will mark the kickoff of a special new series literally years in the making:

Big Idea Week!

I am a bit of a dreamer, and I have a lot of ideas that I believe could impact classrooms across the planet on a scale that I can only imagine at this point. These are the kinds of ideas that are entirely possible, but that I don't yet have the resources to pull off. I'm also aware that some of what I'll be proposing may already exist in some form or another, but I'm working from the assumption that no one has gotten it quite right yet.

So my main goal is that someone who can help turn some of these ideas into reality will be reading and offer advice, support or help me connect with others who can. I'm also excited to get feedback to make these ideas even bigger and better! Here they are in one place:
(If you're wondering why I'm starting a "week" on a Tuesday, that's because Mondays are reserved for the ongoing 52 Teachers, 52 Lessons community project.)

Friday, July 10, 2009

Five for Friday: Koyaanisqatsi Edition

I'm still in post-school year limbo. I've been completely restless and anxious for my first two weeks of summer. As I told my former colleagues in Boston, I have never had that sense of relief or excitement at the end of the school year. My mind knows what's going on, but my heart isn't ready to accept it yet. I like to believe it's a gradual, almost invisible process, but I fear that it's so invisible that it's not actually happening.

My cross-country move and subsequent search for work, housing and transportation certainly didn't make this annual ritual any easier. I actually settled all three of those issues as of yesterday, but as I said, my heart refuses to let go of whatever it is that's keeping me from winding down.

In other words, these are my excuses for not posting since Monday and why this will be the last post until next Monday's new 52 Teachers, 52 Lessons entry. This week's links are all about finding your own peace of mind and making the most of your summer:
  1. Cure Rotting Summer Brain Drain Syndrome [@ Wired: GeekDad] - While I may be in denial about summer, the other end of the spectrum is indulging in summer a little too much!
  2. Homegrown Evolution [via Consumerist] - Find yourself a back-to-basics DIY project on this blog, by the authors of The Urban Homestead.
  3. 10 Resources for Finding Free and Cheap Things To Do This Summer [@ The Simple Dollar] - For you and your family!
  4. Voyij [via Lifehacker] - This new travel search engine finds deals when you have a flexible schedule--perfect for these next 2 months!
  5. All the Advice on Happiness You'll Ever Need in One Post [@ zenhabits] - Find the advice you need and apply it!!
Share your thoughts on these links or your own must-share resources in the comments.

Monday, July 6, 2009

52 Teachers, 52 Lessons #23: Give Your Students More Control

This week's entry comes from Marcy, a 15-year veteran who teaches middle and high school Spanish at a 6-12 independent school. You can read more of her writing at her blog, Pensamientos.

One of the most difficult things for me as a teacher is allowing myself to allow my students to take greater ownership of their learning in the classroom. Which is a contradiction, for I am constantly stressing to my students the importance of initiative and independence in their learning. I am a control monkey. However, despite being a control monkey, my classes are surprisingly engaging. While I do need my 15 minutes of fame as "teacher diva in da house", the students, for the most part, work independently and in small groups. The main premise of a language class, or, at least as I see it, is interaction. Thus, students interact with the language via speaking, reading, writing, listening and cultural activities, in small groups - usually pairs - or independently.

Relinquishing control is scary. And messy. And undefined. The fear and loathing of anticipating the results in the hands of students has been enough to put me under my desk. However, I am reminded just now of a situation which took place in an Intermediate-level Spanish class which took place eight years ago at my previous school. The students I taught then are now college graduates. The students wanted to have a class session in which there would be food and a film. The very thought of the proposal made me break into a cold sweat. I also wear my feelings on my face, to which the students responded, "Profe, give us a chance. Let us put something together, and then you can look at it and decide." Against my better wishes, I acquiesced, and to their great surprise. To my great surprise, the food and film day was wonderful. It was completely student-owned and operated from beginning and end. They cooked with gas on that one, and it was a proud moment for them and for me.

The aforementioned taught me one of the most valuable lessons of my career: Teachers must have faith in their students and in their learning. It's still a long walk home for me, but I have come a mighty long way.

Read more about this project here or add the 52 teachers 52 lessons tag to your favorites. Email your entries to teachforeverATgmailDOTcom. Week 24 is scheduled for next Monday, July 13th.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

52 Teachers, 52 Lessons Community Project: Your Entries Wanted!

The 52 Teachers, 52 Lessons community project is still going strong, but there's still half a year left to fill!

I recently requested advice on making the best of summer vacation, and I'm still looking for your thoughts on that. I still want to reiterate, though, that there are no limitations on what you can write, as long as you are a current or former teacher (of any kind) and answer this central question:

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

Email your entry to teachforeverATgmailDOTcom.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

July Book Club Kickoff!

A couple of weeks ago, I floated the idea of a summer book club for readers. Here are the results:
Would you participate in a teaching/education themed online book club this summer organized by Mr. D?

Depends on the books (48%, 34 votes)
Yes (32%, 23 votes)
No (12%, 9 votes)
Not sure, I have questions (5%, 4 votes)
I'm so excited to see these positive results and announce that we will indeed kickoff our book club for this month right now!

Our first book is the same one I mentioned in my post last month: Hope and Despair in the American City: Why There Are No Bad Schools in Raleigh by Gerald Grant. I picked this particular title because it deals with the big picture, so it's something that will get those of us who focus so intently on our own classrooms to take a step back and gain some perspective.

As far as discussions and activities, we will keep things as simple and stress-free as possible:

First, get a copy of the book. It is new and available only in hardcover--I recommend checking your local library before purchasing a new or used copy. Amazon has some discounted copies available, and your purchases through my links to the book do help support this blog. You can of course find other online sellers via Google, or visit your local independent bookstore.

Secondly, start reading! I won't give you any leading questions; let's let those develop organically. As you read, I encourage you to share whatever ideas and questions pop up along the way in the comments section of this post. In the interest of quality over quantity, I would like to give you a full three weeks to read the book; try to finish reading by Friday, July 24th.

Finally, we will "meet" and discuss the book over several days instead of one. I will open the floor up for guest posts, links to reviews and reactions on your own blogs, and solicit your thoughts starting on Saturday, July 25th. You can participate in as much or as little of the various forms of discussion, as long as your participate in something! I am leaving this part intentionally vague so we can get the most out of reading the book by engaging each of you the way that's most beneficial and interesting to you. I will be drawing from years of being on both the giving and receiving end of professional development, but I am very open to ideas and suggestions about what you'd like the book club to look like in the end.

You might also consider telling us that you're participating and a little about yourself in the comments below (completely optional). I can't wait to get started! Get the book today:

Hope and Despair in the American City: Why There Are No Bad Schools in Raleigh by Gerald Grant

Friday, July 3, 2009

Five for Friday: Independence Day Edition

For those wondering, I arrived safely in the Rio Grande Valley on Tuesday and have been trying to settle in over the past few days. It's going to take some time to get everything in order. Despite the craziness, I still have five great links for you to check out:
  1. Study: Bigger Class Sizes = Less Motivated Students [via Larry Ferlazzo's Websites of the Day] - I'd like to see a companion study about the effects on teachers.
  2. Math Teachers At Play #10 - The leading question in the latest edition of this blog carnival is one I've been thinking about myself: "What's a math teacher going to do with Wolfram|Alpha?"
  3. Teacher Burnout: 20 Insights From a 17-Year Veteran Teacher on the Brink of Burnout [from So You Want To Teach?] - Joel shares some advice on another topic that's been on my mind recently in response to this earlier post.
  4. Scientists Use Sudoku Logic to Improve DNA Sequencing [from Be Aware Math is Everywhere!] - This reminds me of the important scientific progress being made through the game Foldit, which uses human's superior problem solving skills to make breakthroughs at a pace even the most powerful computers can't keep up with.
  5. Stay Away From The Nigerian Tutoring Scam [from Consumerist] - If you're a teacher or college student looking for summer or part-time work as a tutor, especially on a site like Craigslist, be wary of scams like this one. If you're supicious, you can often type in a phrase or name from the post or email in question into Google with an additional term like scam, ripoff or fraud to see if there are any warnings out there already.
As always, share your thoughts on these five links and any must-reads of your own in the comments.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

How Do I Keep Kids Engaged and Learning? The Short Answer

Recently I received this one-sentence email (with the subject line "Quick question!!"):
How do you ensure that your students are engaged and actively learning while in your classroom??
At first I was wondering why this person had come to me with this question, or what kind of answer they were looking for. I decided a quick question deserved an equally quick answer, so I boiled down my response to this:
I'll give you the short version: First, design a student-centered lesson that meets different learning styles. Second, set out clear expectations, systems and procedures from day one. Third, make what you're doing relevant to their lives and interests. Finally, make sure you yourself are circulating around the room, asking lots of questions and recognizing good work. I think that if you have those basics down, you should have pretty engaged students that are invested in their work.
I also asked what this was for, and it turns out that he is a successful, experienced substitute teacher who is transitioning to full-time. He was getting questions like the one he posed to me during job interviews, and wanted a little help to make sure that he was giving the best possible answer. As it turns out, it seems he was already doing the things I told him. Sometimes the hardest part about this job is identifying exactly why something works or not.