Friday, February 26, 2010

Alexander Hamilton Rap, Free Retro Games & More [Five for Friday]

  1. RemainInPlay Offers 20 Years of Free Retro Games [Lifehacker] - A little weekend diversion for everyone who's snowed in (or just hanging around at home).
  2. People bored by board games?  Board games better than computer games? [Digital Play] - Graham Stanley explains why both board and video games are more popular and beneficial for our kids than ever.
  3. Teaching Your Kids To Be Programmers [Wired: GeekDad] - Playing around on BASIC when I was a kid was one of my first computer experiences, and set me up for success using all kinds of programming languages.  It also forces you to think logically and mathematically (recursion, inequalities, solving expressions, infinite growth, matrices, etc).
  4. Alexander Hamilton, Now in Rap Form [mental_floss Blog] - This is sure to liven up your U.S. history classes!
  5. The Effect of Providence [The Pipeline] - In depth look at The Providence Effect, a controversial documentary about a school turnaround in Chicago.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

A Poem About Einstein's Theory of Relativity

There was a young lady called bright
who traveled much faster than light.
She set out one day (in a relative way)
and came back the previous night.

-As read by Charles Laughton on the September 9, 1956 episode of the Ed Sullivan Show (which happened to feature Elvis Presley's history making first appearance on the show)

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Carnival of Educators: Olympic Gold Edition

Welcome to the February 23, 2010 edition of carnival of educators.  There's a ton of great stuff in here!

In the Classroom

Matthew Halpern presents Clip Show. posted at Look at my happy rainbow!.  It's a "best of" from one of my favorite blogs.

Kim Hughey presents The Power of Love (or is it lust?) posted at Math Tales from the Spring, saying "I thought I'd share a funny story that happened in one of my classes recently".

M Dahms presents About Reader's Workshop: Real Reader's Don't Mark Up Books With Highlighters posted at A Reader's Community, saying "In the aftermath of a loooong professional development day, I had to get this out of my system!"

Jeff Benes presents Humanize the perpetrators too posted at Midwest Center for Holocaust Education's Educator Forum, saying "Great resource for educating about a critical time in human history."

Karren Colbert presents Rethinking Grades and Effort posted at The Write Brained Teacher.

Patrick Black presents Cooperative Learning posted at Teaching All Students. Read this as a companion piece to "Teaching: The Unprofessional Profession" below.

Cassy presents Snow Day - a Teacher's Best Friend posted at Reach for More - Aspira a más.

Rachel Lynette presents Ideas for Encouraging Self-Evaluation posted at Minds in Bloom.

Teaching and Technology

Sherry Amorocho presents More Spanish: Using Skype class to class posted at More Spanish.  Great primer for using this easy technology in the classroom, and not just in Spanish classes!

Robert Drummond presents Wii Sports for Mean, Median and Modal averages. posted at Robert Drummond's Blog.

Henrietta Miller presents Twitter for Teachers in 20 Minutes « posted at Classroom Chronicles, saying "Want to inspire fellow teachers to take up the challenge of Twitter?"

Carl Anderson presents Filling the Production Gap posted at Techno Constructivist.  Mr. Anderson focuses on the idea of engaging students by turning them into content producers.

simon finch presents Proper Tea is Theft posted at simfin, saying "This blog explores the reasons why IPR and copyright are real challenges for schools. The article has been very well received and prompted a lively and considered discussion via comments and Twitter."

Beyond the Classroom

Ben Klempner presents Fostering a child’s sense of competence posted at Effective Family Communication.

Dana presents Book Giveaway! posted at Roscommon Acres.  You can win a copy of Empowering Youth: How to Encourage Young Leaders to Do Great Things, written by my the author of Pass The Torch.

Nancy Flanagan presents Charters: A Tale of Two Cities posted at Teacher in a Strange Land, saying "Charter schools are not the same things to all people."

Dan Roberts presents A double dose of innovative learning with the funky chicken posted at Why did the Chickenman cross the road?.  Two posts for the price of one!

Lora Cowell presents Lessons in the News posted at LibraryRemix. Ms. Cowell applies lessons learned from the collapse of the Rocky Mountain News to a wide range of education topics.

Shelly Terrell presents Reflections on the Alfie Kohn Live Chat posted at Teacher Reboot Camp, noting "Alfie Kohn, internationally reknown education author, answered educators' questions during a free webinar. Read the recap that includes some of Alfie Kohn's most memorable responses and watch the 52 minute edited video."

Alen presents Teaching: The Unprofessional Profession posted at Technology In Class, saying "Professionalism is lacking in the field of education. Why teaching is the unprofessional profession explained." I agree that we need to care about and make the most of professional development (the main idea of this article), but teachers aren't invested because the vast majority of what's offered by their school and/or district is a joke. Workshops about engaging lessons are presented in the least engaging way possible, and we're expected to react differently than students do to just plain bad teaching. Schools and districts are the ones that need to be more professional and stop wasting teachers' time with poor PD.

Madeleine Begun Kane presents Edu-Gaffe posted at Mad Kane's Humor Blog.

Bellringers (Carol Richtsmeier) presents Spying, Skynet & Tape posted at Bellringers. Ms. R's unique take on the recent news of a school spying on their students through their laptops.

Joanne Jacobs presents Teacher seniority rules under fire posted at Joanne Jacobs.

Jessie Voigts presents Global Travelers - SoulTravelers3 posted at Wandering Educators, saying "I'd like to share with you one of my very favorite world travelers, a family traveling the world and sharing it with us. SoulTravelers3 is a fantastic website, full of great travel information, stories of homeschooling abroad, traveling, and learning while exploring different cultures."

That concludes this edition. Submit your blog article to the next edition of carnival of educators using our
carnival submission form.  Past posts and future hosts can be found on our blog carnival index page.

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Friday, February 19, 2010

Do Your Students Have to Like You? and More [Five for Friday]

  1. KQ [f(t)] - Kate examines the idea of being "well-liked" by your students.  I read some research recently that said more than anything, students like teachers most who explained concepts to them in a way they could understand.  I can't find a link at the moment, but it certainly mirrors the way I felt about my "best" teachers.
  2. Changing the public image of Teach for America [Wes' TFA Adventure] - A newly accepted Corps Member discusses the increasing amount of negative criticism of TFA in the media, and the organization's response (or lack thereof).  Personally, I'm concerned that they're on the edge of a serious public perception crisis, perhaps even worse than what Wes writes about.  If you're interested in a unique perspective on the organization that gave me my start in teaching, Wes's site is a good start.
  3. students are human? [Math Be Brave] - Jesse and her colleagues stage an intervention when a good student's grades suddenly drop and reveal the kinds of challenges so many of our students struggle with every day.
  4. The Power of Love (or is it lust?) [Math Tales from the Spring] - This is perhaps the best classroom story I've read this school year: Mrs. H discovers why one of her worst classes suddenly turned everything around.
  5. No Boundaries Contest Explores Careers in STEM [Wired: GeekDad] - Win a trip to a NASA center (and cash) while learning about exciting careers in science, technology, engineering and math.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Get Your Blog Noticed: Submit to the Carnival of Educators

The Carnival of Educators will be hosted here next Tuesday, and it's a great way to get your blog noticed.  I can tell you that submitting my best work to blog carnivals over the past few years has always brought new readers, subscribers and colleagues to my site. 

I can't speak for all of the blogs that host the carnival, but here you'll get a lot of exposure: according to Google, I've averaged 368 visitors per day over the past month.  That's a lot of eyeballs!

Click here to submit for the Carnival!

You have until midnight Sunday to get your submissions in.  Read this week's carnival at Notes From a Homeschooling Mom.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Battle Childhood Obesity, Character Ed and More [Five for Friday]

  1. - Fascinating new video & photo site that documents issues such as social justice, the environment, public health, animals, and culture from around the planet.  The free library would be appropriate for a wide range of social studies, science and health classes.  Each documentary is short enough (around 25 minutes) to fit into tight class schedules, and can be accessed across a variety of platforms. 
  2. Visual Aid Shop - Beautiful books and posters on a variety of educational and less serious topics.  Data and information is visualized in a style that might remind you of GOOD Magazine or Wired.  This would be a heck of a lot better to put on your classroom wall than any of the crap they sell in teacher supply catalogs!
  3. Fizzy's Lunch Lab - Looking for educational programming on nutrition that your kids will have the stomach for (I know, I'm so hilarious)?  Fizzy's is a PBS Kids show and website designed to do nothing short of stopping our childhood obesity epidemic.  There's resources for parents and teachers to help.  This would be great for parents, homeschoolers and elementary teachers focusing on health and physical education.  This month, in honor of Valentine's Day, they have a new video called "Give My Heart a Valentine" (see a still below):
    Give My Heart a Valentine from Fizzy's Lunch Lab
  4. Heroes of Character - This new interactive website, created by the National Liberty Museum in Philadelphia, contains tons of classroom resources and ideas for character education.  We certainly need as much of this as we can get!
  5. New NY Times Math Blog - The Times has launched a new blog on its Opinionator subsite meant to bring math to the masses (much like Freakonomics does with economics).  Steven Strogatz, applied math prof at Cornell, is the ideal blogger: "In 2007 he received the Communications Award, a lifetime achievement award for the communication of mathematics to the general public."  Definitely worth adding to your reading list!

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Turn a Super Bowl Office Pool into a Classroom Project

This past Sunday, I watched the Super Bowl with a group of friends who weren't football fans by any stretch of the imagination.  Yet they were watching the game (and the commercials) intently because they desperately wanted to win our Super Bowl pool.  Shortly before kickoff, we predicted everything from the final score to how many times Kim Kardashian would be shown during the game.

I've been to Super Bowl parties in the past where it seemed like I was the only person who actually wanted to watch the game, while the others were interested in just the commercials (or just the company).  I realized that even though I was totally into the game itself, my friends who weren't into football needed the pool to get invested in the game.

You might argue that their investment wasn't authentic, that they weren't really invested in the game because they weren't invested in football in general.  Yet don't we deal with these same issues in the classroom every day?  Our students rarely care as much about our subject matter as we do, so we have to appeal to their intrinsic motivation or create an extrinsic one with a constantly evolving array of strategies.

So here's a crazy idea: let's create a "Classroom Pool" modeled on these Super Bowl office pools to motivate and invest students at a much higher level.  Let's have students make predictions on all the happenings in your classroom over the course of, let's say, a week.  I think that would get quite a few students to pay close attention for the duration of the project, and likely beyond. 

Here's a list of potential question stems you could use:
  1. The first assignment we'll get this week will be...  A. worksheet  B. project  C.  reading & writing  D. interpretive dance  E. other
  2. How many total [tests / quizzes / projects / assignments ] will we get this week?
  3. How many times will [teacher name] say [funny or quirky thing you say all the time] this week?
  4. How many times will [teacher name] do [funny or quirky thing you do all the time] this week?
  5. The first day we'll [see / hear the items from #3 and #4] will be...
  6. The first student to ask ["What are we doing today?" or other irritating phrase] will be ...
  7. The first day we'll hear [the phrase from #4] will be...
  8. My grade on this week's quiz will be ___ (letter grade).  BONUS: closest number grade (without going over)
  9. How many times will [kid who does funny thing] do [that funny thing] this week?
  10. Total number of class interruptions (announcements, calls from office, people coming into the room, emergency situation, etc) this week: ____
  11. How many snow days will we have this week?
  12. My class participation percentage for the week: ____  Class average: ____
  13. My homework completion percentage for the week: ____   Class average: ____
You could craft any or all of these questions to lead towards a desired outcome.  Instead of leaving many of these open ended, you could make them multiple choice, and have all of the choices be things you would be happy with.  For example:

How many times will [teacher name] have to stop the lesson for disruptions? 
A. Zero
B. Once
C. Twice

You could do the same with #12 and #13 above, making the options something like 80%, 90% and 100%, which will certainly motivate some students.  There's an infinite number of ways to adjust it to fit your needs.

As for prizes, I think the competition of the game will provide all the extrinsic motivation needed.  The winner(s) will probably be happy with something intangible like having their name up on a bulletin board so they can brag on their mad skills.  This way, it's ultimately about you doing whatever you can to get your students invested, and they will try harder merely because you are trying so hard.

I'm not proposing this as a long term solution to your problems, but one more thing to put in your toolbox.  I hope that you will look for inspiration in unlikely places in order to come up with new and better strategies to get your kids to the ambitious goals you've set for them.

Have ideas for additional questions or ways to extend and adapt this?  Share them in the comments or link to this in your own blog post.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Reclaiming the Lost Moments of Your Teaching Career

I frequently ask my students for feedback, both formally and informally.  Arguably the most important feedback I get is from mid-year and end of year surveys that ask a lot of probing questions.  Normally I look at the results just after the school year is over, but last year was different.  I had a traumatic year, both personally and professionally, that shook me to my core.  I questioned my ability and desire to continue subjecting myself to the internal and external pressure that had overtaken me.

Needless to say, I wanted to distance myself from the events of the past year as much as possible.  Last year's end of year surveys were filed away quickly, and although I did look at them, I completely blocked it from my mind until I found them this week.

I've always preached that you should find the good in everything, whether it be a useless professional development workshop or that one class that drives you crazy.  I've spent a good deal of the time since last June thinking about everything except last year, failing to confront the issues and emotions that basically crushed my soul.  I neglected to follow my own advice, and in doing so, I threw out the good with the bad.

Today I was finally ready to go back and look at what my students had to say at the end of the year, both good and bad.  As I consider my options for the upcoming school year, I needed to confront these issues before I could move forward as a teacher.  Below you will find some very interesting responses that I wanted to share.

If you found out that your friend/family member was going to be in Mr. D's class next year, what would you tell him/her?
"That Mr. DeRosa is an excellent teacher."
"I would say that Mr. D's class is the best class that have PCA honestly is more better than other classes!" [from an ESL student]
"Don't do it to yourself (JK) He is a really good teacher you just have to pay attention."
"That you can actually learn something in his math class, and you probably won't forget it."
"He's a good teacher and speaks Spanish."
"Listen because he can teach you alot and when you need help he is there."
"To be prepared for all the hard work cause its going to be a long ride."
"Well what I would tell them is that I was a pain in the [butt] and every teacher should have one."
"He is always on point and he is very smart.  He is willing to help you with anything."
What did Mr. D do well this year?  What should he keep the same when planning his classes for next year?
"Improve his attitude, kept his class going even when the boys who sit in the back were making it hard on him."
"Everything, if I was a teacher I give him A+... you don't have to change anything"
"He has good teaching skills. He is also a good friend, he jokes around & talks to us.  Explain things in all the ways possible.  He should keep all this the same."
"You did everything good this year but when your mad dont take it out on us. :)"
"He kept me on track telling me to do my work."
"Give us opportunities to make up all our work to get grades up." [ironically, that was from a student who didn't take advantage of most of those opportunities!]
"Controlled his temper :) Cuz he never exploded at me."
What did Mr. D NOT do well this year?  What should he change when planning his classes for next year?
"He wasn't tough enough."
"Did not kick out the boys from the back"
"He lets people get to him and he takes it out on everyone he is a really good teacher but needs to control that."
"...make the class a little bit more exciting and with more discipline."
"...he should learn to try not to take his anger out on us when he's having a bad day."
What is the one thing you will remember most about his class?
"He's a warm hearted person and love his students."
"Getting A's in math (a subject I don't really care for)"
"Mr. DeRosa's teaching and his Domain & Range Song, 'To the left' "
"All his fun activities M&M project, carnival game, dice game."
"Mr. D being the funniest teacher even though he'd be grumpy half the time!"
"When Mr. D brought his guitar and sang."
"Comedy, understanding math"
Anything else you would like to tell me?
"I love you Mr. DeRosa!"
"I wish you the best Mr.  Hope your new place brings you good things.  We'll all gonna miss you.  Keep being the smart good teacher that you've been to us!!"
"Mister, you're the best I wish you would be here next year.  I had fun in this class, especially our arguments & making me laugh.  YOU'RE AWESOME!"
"Thank you for teaching Mr. DeRosa.  I'm going to miss you even if you don't think so.  I know your going to miss me and my attitude too. Thank you!" 
What would your students say to these questions?  Have there been periods of your career that you've all but blocked from your memory?  What would you find if you went back and revisited those times now? 

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Unleash Your Kid's Mighty Math Powers with Team Umizoomi on Nick Jr.

Nick Jr. recently launched an exciting new children's show, Team Umizoomi, designed to teach basic math skills and make the subject fun and easy for preschoolers.  I've long been an advocate for quality TV programming that focuses on math, and I can tell you that this is absolutely a show your preschoolers should be watching.

Team Umizoomi follows the animated characters Milli, Geo and Bot as they solve problems requiring math skills for the live-action citizens of Umi City.  Visually, the show will remind your kids of Blue's Clues, but everything else is right out of the Dora the Explorer playbook: tons of music, singing, dancing and most importantly repetition and interaction.

Like Dora, the members of the team will frequently turn to their "Umifriends" watching at home for help.  You'll hear these familiar queues throughout each episode:
  • "Can you find the... ?"
  • "Do you see the... ?"
  • "To make [something happen], say [or sing]... ?"
One of my favorite things about the show is the idea that we're using our Mighty Math Powers to solve these problems, making math into something fun and awesome.

In the two episodes I reviewed, Team Umizoomi covered a wide range of math skills: counting, shapes, patterns, matching, and measurement came up repeatedly.  For example, in The Rolling Toy Parade, the team had to compare pictures to identify what pieces were missing from a broken toy, identify shapes to build a hot air balloon, and identify the pattern in a song (then sing along).  These skills will absolutely help prepare your child for math success when they get to school.

Team Umizoomi's website includes a small collection of games, ideas for parents to turn everyday moments into math learning opportunities, printables and the chance to "join the Team" to get a bunch of free stuff for your little Umifriend.  You can learn more about the show from Donovan Patton (voice of Bot) on Wired's GeekDad blog.

I highly recommend this show.  Give it a chance and watch your child's Mighty Math Powers grow!

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Monday, February 8, 2010

Take Notes Now to Become a Better Teacher Later [Video]

Mr. D TV is my weekly video series where I give advice to teachers on just about any topic. If you have a question you'd like me to discuss, email it to If you like the video, check out the last week's episode or my YouTube channel for more. See you next week!

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Rewind: Mohawk Experiment, Huge Volume-Surface Area Project and More

One year ago on I Want to Teach Forever, I chronicled an experiment where I cut my hair into a mohawk in an attempt to motivate my students (lots of pics)!

Two years ago (as of tomorrow), I shared a big hands-on project on measurement, volume and surface area suitable for middle school and up (plus, here are the awesome results of this project).

Three years ago, I wrote a referral for a disruptive student who "...was throwing pieces of erasers and other small objects all around the room and at other students.  He had already been redirected at the beginning of the period.  He continued and instigated other students to throw these things back at him, interrupting the lesson.  He was asked to leave the room.  The floor of my room is covered with these objects and I would like this student to sweep them up."  The referral also listed all of my previous interventions: team conference with the student, a team/parent conference the week before this incident, another team/parent conference already scheduled for later that week, and three recent referrals.  Not surprisingly, this student didn't pass that grading period (or the next).

I think that's more than enough nostalgia for one day!  If you're interested in my evolution as a teacher, I've been publishing a journal I wrote five years ago, when I was a struggling second year teacher.  It's as life-affirming and heartbreaking as anything I'll ever write here or anywhere, and I hope you have an opportunity to read about it.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Don't Be Boring, Play Video Games Instead of Reading and More [Five for Friday]

  1. 8 Signs You Might Be Boring Someone [mental_floss Blog] - Hopefully you can avoid these in your daily interactions!
  2. Why playing video games is better than reading books [Digital Play] - This thought-provoking article from one of my favorite blogs is sure to get you fired up one way or another.
  3. Harnessing the Power of Cell Phones in Class Lesson Plans [The Innovative Educator] - More smart, practical advice on integrating technology into your curriculum.
  4. You, Too, Can Make Amazingly Beautiful Fractals With Apophysis [Wired: GeekDad] - Review of open-source software for creating fractals.
  5. A Clean (Smelling) Workplace Increases Fairness and Generosity [Lifehacker] - Could the same concept apply to the classroom?

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Pentago Board Game Spins Me Round (Like a Record)

Pentago is a deceptively complex game hidden within a simple framework. At first, it looks like it should be called Connect Five, as that is the object of the game. The twist (pun intended), is that you can rotate any one of the four quadrants of the board 90 degrees after placing your marble. This adds a dimension to the game that opens up seemingly infinite possibilities.

As the tagline says, it takes "seconds to learn, years to master," and I felt this way after losing most of the games I played when I first started.  I'm still no expert, but I can say I've beaten my elementary school students at least once or twice.  I wasn't sure if younger kids would like this game when I first saw it, but they've definitely taken to it and many will choose it ahead of Connect Four.

There's a clear educational value in Pentago, as the problem solving skills, logic and thinking ahead required are similar to that of chess but in a context where it's much easier to learn and enjoy.  It's a good way to get children to visualize, an essential spatial reasoning skill that helps prepare them for geometry.  Also, like a well-made chess set, there's variations on Pentago boards (see here and here) that are very artfully constructed and would stand out in your home or classroom. 

I consider this a good entry-level challenge that will pique children's interest in other educational games (chess, sudoku, Tetris, logic puzzles).  As long as the child in question is old enough that they won't put the marbles in their mouth, this is a great game to start them on as young as possible.

The video above is a quick introduction to what game play might look like, but you can also try out this online version.  You can get the lower-priced (but still high quality) travel version of the game, Pentago CE from Amazon.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Cleverly Titled Catalogs Just That

Last Friday, I had a great conversation with Jon Kolker, one of the developers behind Educational Videos, a new site designed to create a community for high-quality video content that lives up to its name. Inspired by well-established video hubs like Howcast, VideoJug and the ubiquitous YouTube, the site has a small but growing directory of handpicked videos on a variety of topics, embedded from external video sites like YouTube.

As it stands, I must stress that this is a very, very new directory with relatively few videos compared to similar resources.  The developers hope to grow their directory to about 10,000 embedded videos before allowing users to select and submit their videos. At that point, they envision a full slate of social networking features, such as user-created lists, bookmarking, recommendations, and so on. They're already working on two exciting projects: quizzes on the content of videos, and producing a video series in the vein of Bill Nye the Science Guy (an idea I hope takes off).

My first impression of the site was admittedly skeptical: it seemed that there was a focus on non-academic how to videos on topics like make-up application and playing Texas Hold 'Em. Kolker assured me that their goal is to have a more academic focus as their directory grows, along with the projects mentioned above.

As I told him, any site providing more resources for teachers and parents is worth checking out. Here's two interesting videos I found on Educational Videos:

Monday, February 1, 2010

Developing the You That's Not a Teacher [Video]

Mr. D TV is my weekly video series where I give advice to teachers on just about any topic. If you have a question you'd like me to discuss, email it to If you like the video, check out the last week's episode or my YouTube channel for more. See you next week!