Monday, September 27, 2010

Engaging Students Through Online Book Publishing

Heaven knows it’s hard enough to get students to pay attention in class sometimes, but engaging students—really engaging them—is one the hardest and best things that educators can do. And one of the best things that teachers can do to engage their students is to get them involved in projects that help them see, touch, and feel the world around them.

These are the types of projects that help them make connections between the math, language, science, and creative skills they are learning in the classroom and the everyday world around them. And students, especially the younger ones, love to be able to touch and hold the results of their labors in their hands. They feel great when they can take a project home with them and beam while they show their parents what they did in school today—what they accomplished all by themselves (with a little help from the teacher).

Digital Publishing

The great thing about teaching in the 21st century is that there is more technology available to day than at any other time in the history of the world. And that technology is making teaching easier, cheaper, and more engaging. One of the great revolutions going on right now is in print publication. It used to be that if you wanted to publish a book, you had to get an agent (if one would take you) and then trot your book around to a number of publishing houses, until (if you were lucky) an editor looked down his nose and deemed your book worthy of publication. No more. Today there are a number of ways to easily and cheaply produce a publishing-house quality book for each and every one of your students. And each student can write their own unique book, help design their own cover, and produce it for about as much as they might pay for school lunch in a week.

Online Book Publishers

It doesn’t matter whether students are writing books about dinosaurs, art, or creating their own math textbook, there are a number of useful sites to help you publish their books.
Lulu is one of the best self-publishing sites on the web. It gives you enormous freedom in the size, shape, and feel or your book and (if you so desire) lets you sell your book on Amazon and in the Apple iBookstore.
Geared more toward private publishing, Blub has a great range of styles and prices.
Another great book creating site that offers a wide range of options and gives you access to sell your book on Amazon as well.

Let your students’ imagination run wild. Engage your students, help them learn, and give them something to beam about by helping them to publish their work and take it home with them.

Gunter Jameson writes about several topics including travel, minimalism and online classes.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Get A $500 Grant For Your Creative Classroom Project

Fashion retailers LOFT has partnered with the Kids In Need Foundation to provide grants of up to $500 for K-12 teachers in the United States.  They're looking to fund creative, imaginative projects.  Here are the details:
The LOFT Loves Teachers program is providing grant funding to teachers through a dynamic partnership with the Kids In Need Foundation. LOFT will provide over 100 grants, totaling $50,000, so that educators may purchase supplies needed to conduct innovative projects in their classrooms. All certified K-12 teachers in the U.S. are eligible to apply for a grant valued at up to $500.

The LOFT Loves Teachers program is dedicated to recognizing educators and the valuable contributions they make every day. By showing valid school identification educators receive a 15% discount on all LOFT purchases. The LOFT Loves Teachers community offers access to special offers and style tips to outfit teachers in stylish yet functional looks for the classroom. Above all, LOFT Loves Teachers strives to identify ways to positively impact the educational process that teachers give shape to every day.

The application deadline for grant requests is September 30, 2010. For more information on the LOFT Loves Teachers program and to register for a grant please visit our Facebook Fanpage at and click on the LOFT Teachers tab.
In addition, here's a direct link to the application.  Good luck!

Friday, September 17, 2010

Five New Resources for Teachers from @Lifehacker

Lifehacker has consistently been one of the most useful websites for me in and out of the classroom since I first started reading it.  It's a blog focused on productivity and efficiency--two keys for a long, successful career in education.  You should certainly be reading their site regularly already, but for those who haven't subscribed yet, here's five recent examples of great new resources:

Calculate Your Activity-Specific Calorie Burn with Wolfram Alpha

NumberQuotes Gives Perspective to Your Statistics, Is Great for Presentations

Export All Your Google Docs to a ZIP File - You should always be backing up your work!

Embed PDFs and PowerPoint Files for No-Software Viewing - For your class blog or one you use for sharing resources with your colleagues.

Break Your Cycle of Stress with Guilt-Free Vacations - If you don't feel like you need this already, you will... soon.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Lessons Learned from Rocketship Education

Last week, I visited Rocketship Mateo Sheedy Elementary in San Jose, CA.  Mateo Sheedy is one of the campuses of Rocketship Education, the innovative organization that's pioneering a hybrid learning model that's unlike most elementary schools out there

Students spend time in a computer lab every day, practicing basic skills in every subject using engaging, adaptive educational software.  Their teachers are specialized, focusing only on math or literacy (and incorporating social studies and science into each).  They employ less teachers, allowing them to pay the teachers they do have above-average salaries, invest more in professional development and support, and provide clear paths to leadership.  Rocketship is poised to replicate their model rapidly across the country in the next few years, and I'm convinced that's definitely a good thing.  [Watch CEO John Danner explain all about Rocketship schools.]

There are some clear lessons for every school that can be learned from what I saw at Sheedy:

Kids can learn a lot on their own, if you just give them the right tools.  This is by no means a secret, yet we are so quick to forget.  It was a good reminder of how it's more important for teachers to be facilitators than anything else.

Using technology to start closing gaps is simpler than you think.  To repurpose a classic Bill Clinton line: It's the software, stupid.  We worry too much about the hardware--smartboards, laptops, iThings--and not enough about what we're doing with it.

You could build a "Learning Lab" in almost any school fairly easily (and affordably).  While Rocketship's own description of their system makes it sound like kids are sitting in front of a computer all day, in truth, they spend less than an hour a day in the lab.  The labs have 60 computers, which hopefully would already exist in two classrooms at any given elementary school in the country.  They put these computers in a large multipurpose room in order to have one proctor monitoring all the kids at once.  If you already have the computers, all you need is the software.  Here's the worst kept secret of Rocketship's success: they use widely available off-the-shelf software, almost all of which are sporadically used in various schools already:
  • Accelerated Reader - Leveled library quizzes are used across grade levels.
  • DreamBox - K-3 math
  • Reasoning Mind - 2-5 math
  • Headsprout - K-1 phonics, 2-5 reading
  • Rosetta Stone - All ELL students
While Rocketship doesn't have the research to prove that these programs are driving their success, it's hard to believe they don't have a lot to do with it: they're already the #1 school for low-income students in the county, and #3 in the state.  They have commissioned a study this year to figure out the efficacy of students' time, so we'll see whether the research backs up the results.  More importantly, Rocketship isn't content to wait for the results: they're already exploring better, more adaptable apps that will make it even easier for teachers to focus Lab time on what kids need.

Using a Learning Lab for interventions will help teachers be more effective.  Students spend their lab time practicing basic skills, getting more help when they need it and pushing them forward when they're ready.  This means the classroom teachers spend more time teaching new concepts, exploring higher order thinking and problem solving in a project-based environment.  It means less frustration for teachers who don't have to push back new concepts in order to review and reteach constantly.  Most importantly, reports from the programs tell them how their kids are doing on specific skills and objectives, allowing them to better tailor their in-class work.

You might argue that since so little time is spent in these labs that it's probably just good teaching that's resulting in their fantastic results, and I won't discount the ability of their great staff.  Let's not downplay, however that because the lab time is used so efficiently, it allows these good teachers to push their students much farther than they would otherwise.

There's still a long way to go in the area of individualized, adaptive education software.  While the programs used at Rocketship schools are adaptive--meaning they provide extra help when kids are struggling or move forward as rapidly as they need--the scope and sequence of the work often isn't under the control of the teacher.  In other words, they don't and can't align perfectly with a teacher's curriculum just yet.

I also have to go back to an argument I've made before: universities, governments and non-profits need to step up and develop highly customizable, data rich, comprehensive standard-based software that's either low cost or free.  I'd love to see Secretary of Education Arne Duncan devise a "Race to the Top" for the next generation of adaptive educational software.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Teach Kids to Sign Before They Can Speak

A great deal of research has clearly demonstrated that the early years – ages 2 to five – are the best time to educate children in different modes of communication and language. This goes beyond the spoken word (though it is an optimal time for children to learn a second language); many young children have an aptitude for signing as well.

This is not as odd as you may think. As you know, many indigenous peoples around the world, including American Indian nations, have used sign language for centuries to facilitate communication with other tribes with whom they do not share a language. Some paleontologists and anthropologists theorize that Neanderthals – who apparently lacked the vocal mechanism to produce many spoken words – depended a great deal upon hand gestures to communicate.

In fact, recent research suggests that sign language is innate. An article published in the Boulder Daily Camera in 2003 presented strong evidence that babies as young as six months old communicate with their hands:
" 6 to 7 months, babies can remember a sign. At eight months, children can begin to imitate gestures and sign single words. By 24 months, children can sign compound words and full sentences. They say sign language reduces frustration in young children by giving them a means to express themselves before they know how to talk." (Glarion, 2003)
The author also cites study funded by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development demonstrating that young children who are taught sign language at an early age actually develop better verbal skills as they get older. The ability to sign has also helped parents in communicating with autistic children; one parent reports that "using sign language allowed her to communicate with her [autistic] son and minimized his frustration...[he now] has an advanced vocabulary and excels in math, spelling and music" (Glarion, 2003).

The Best Time To Start

Not only does early childhood education in signing give pre-verbal youngsters a way to communicate, it can also strengthen the parent-child bond – in addition to giving children a solid foundation for learning a skill that will serve them well in the future. The evidence suggests that the best time to start learning ASL is before a child can even walk – and the implications for facilitating the parent-child relationship are amazing.

Recommended Resources To Help You Get Started
This guest post was co-written by Emily Patterson and Kathleen Thomas.  

Emily and Kathleen are Communications Coordinators for the Zionsville educational child care facility, a member of the AdvancED® accredited family of Primrose Schools (located in 16 states throughout the U.S.) and part of the network of Indiana educational child care preschools delivering progressive, early childhood, Balanced Learning® curriculum.

Monday, September 13, 2010

52 Teachers, 52 Lessons #40: Take Your Students Outside

This week's entry comes from Ms. Chen, who teaches in rural New Mexico.  Check out her blog, red pen revisions.

Here is a lesson I’ve learned this year. Take your kids outside, and whatever you do, don’t plan. You will be surprised by what you learn about your students and what they too will learn.

Our walk happens on a trail that is rocky and unpaved, lined with low, serpentine shrubbery and prickly vegetation. My students bring me treasures they discover. B. announced his discovery of a lizard by holding it up in the air by its tail. The sandy white lizard lay limp, perhaps hoping to play dead in an attempt to be left alone. No such luck; my students fingers poked and prodded with delight.

T. brought over a local variety of honeysuckle, its pink shoots interspersed with white-yellow ones. He offered me one, telling me to taste it. "It tastes of watermelon summer," he analyzes reflectively.

We have found seedpods I am unable to identify; so we strip it down to its tiny black seeded center. We have crept up quietly upon two baby bats, nesting in the eaves of the school. My students were hushed with an awe I can only aspire to inspire in the classroom. We have found a vertebrate column, the blood not yet bleached white by the southwestern sun. We speculated on the animal based on the size; we settled upon goat, or at least a very large dog.

It is on these walks my students express the imaginations that I do not often get to see in the classroom, and vocalize curiosities so rarely stimulated by our formulaic textbook curriculum. I read a short story recently about a creative little girl whose "lies" often got her in trouble with "the adults." She held tea parties where no one attended but herself, and contentedly, "she swallows cups of invisible tea. She chews mouthfuls of air."

And so every afternoon, I'm reminded of the joy that is childhood curiosity as we have our sunshine-drenched cups of invisible tea and great mouthfuls of air.

Read more about this ongoing project here, then email your entries to teachforever AT gmail DOT com.  Week 41 is scheduled for next week.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Ten Cheap Lessons FREE eBook Download through Tuesday

The PDF (eBook) version of Ten Cheap Lessons: Second Edition is available to download for FREE today, Monday, and Tuesday only.  By Wednesday, the deal will be gone... don't miss out!

Friday, September 10, 2010

Research Worth Discussing With Your Students

Less Sleep Linked to Blues in Teens [Scientific American]

Seven Steps to Sweet Slumber [GOOD] - Once you convince them that sleep is good, take advantage of the teachable moment and give them some pointers on how to get it.

Top 10 Ways Your Brain Is Sabotaging You (and How to Beat It) [Lifehacker]

5 Reasons Why Every Single College Ranking Is a Pile of Crap [Consumerist]

Healthier Students Are Better Learners [Learning First Alliance]

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

More Great Ideas from the Institute of HeartMath

If your interest was piqued by the Wild Ride to the Heart board game that I reviewed last week, I've got more ideas from the creators (the Institute of HeartMath):

Free Techniques for Children

Shift and Shine Technique® for Ages 3-6:
Piloted with preschoolers, the Shift and Shine Technique is a simple, fun and powerful tool for children ages 3-6. This scientifically developed technique gives young children an early start at developing and strengthening positive attitudes and emotions. Practiced regularly, Shift and Shine can help young ones control impulsive behavior, improve relationships with family and peers and increase their readiness for learning and the classroom environment. Shift and Shine Technique for Ages 3‑6.

HeartShift™ Tool for Ages 7 – 11:
The HeartShift Tool helps you calm down and think more clearly. It teaches you how to feel better when you are upset and how to shift from a negative emotion to a positive emotion. The HeartShift™ Tool for Ages 7 – 11.

The Quick Coherence Technique® – Ages 12-18:
Quick Coherence is a powerful technique for refocusing your emotions, connecting you with your energetic heart zone and releasing stress. With practice, you can learn to do it routinely in about a minute. You can apply the three easy steps, Heart Focus, Heart Breathing and Heart Feeling, first thing in the morning; during school or at work; in the middle of a difficult conversation; when you feel overloaded or pressed for time; or any time you simply want to get in sync. Athletes use Quick Coherence whenever they need to boost their energy levels, coordination, reaction times and speed while engaged in sports. Military, police and firefighters use Quick Coherence to maintain alertness and the ability to think quickly on their feet, especially in extreme situations. You can use it to help you improve your test-taking and scores, get along better with others and relax and calm down when you are feeling anxious or stressed. The Quick Coherence Technique for Ages 12‑18.

Interesting in learning more? Check out their Facebook pages (HeartMath My Kids! and Institute of HeartMath) as well as their official Twitter (@InstHeartMath).