Monday, May 31, 2010

Tune In, Turn On: Get Kids Plugged In For Summer Learning

It is a common misconception that kids don’t want to learn. They whine and complain when it comes time to do homework. They want breaks, snacks, and five more minutes of TV time. But in actuality, children love to learn, especially when it’s something they can constitute as fun. What they don’t want is work and boredom, which is what a lot of homework entails. In order to make them leap for learning rather than run away from reading, writing, and arithmetic, you’re going to have to make it enjoyable, and the best way to do that is to turn to something they already love…the internet.

Summer vacation is a particularly tough time to get kids to study, but you’re determined to power through so that they’re able to retain more information and return to school prepared to move ahead with their studies. However, there’s absolutely no need to make it harder on them (or yourself). You can make learning fun by offering your kids educational online games instead of the standard workbooks. There are websites designed specifically for certain subjects like math or reading, but if you’re looking for something that offers all subjects in one place, there are a lot of options available.

Learning Games For Kids offers games for math, art, music, science…the list goes on. They even teach introductory keyboarding.

Knowledge Adventure has a huge list of games mainly focused on language, math, and memory skills. This site is geared more towards younger kids, but you can choose activities based on age, grade, and subject, which makes it easy to navigate.

If you have older kids (or they range from preschool to teen), check out Super Smart Games, another site that lets you choose by either age or subject. This site even has the option to find games by platform, so if you have a Wii, PS3, or Xbox 360, you can find some age-appropriate, educational games to try at home.

The internet can be your best friend or your worst enemy when it comes to giving your kids open access, but with a little patience, you can find websites that are both engaging and educational. Kids love to play video games, so why not find some online that offer more than just the standard adventure or shoot-‘em-up fare? Take the time to search for sites that offer educational games. That way you’ll both be happy and your kids will return to school in the fall ready to take on the next grade level.

Alexis Montgomery is a content writer for Online Schools, where you can browse through various online degree programs to find a college that suits your needs.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Starbucks As Learning Opportunity, Squash Bullying & More

Starbucks Sponsors Contest To Create Green Coffee Cups [Consumerist] - Sounds like a great class project for science (or any) class.

Six Steps to Squash Bullying [GOOD] - It's really disturbing how this seems to be a growing issue around the country.  Here's something to start the conversation about how to fix things.

Be at Peace in Less Than 5 Minutes [Wise Bread] - That's pretty much all the time you have free during the day anyway, right?

Why Smartboards are a Dumb Initiative [The Innovative Educator] - Should be mandatory reading for anyone in charge of tech for schools.

What Teachers Really Mean When They Say... [Creating Lifelong Learners] - Secrets revealed!

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Trust Me: Start Getting Ready for the End of the Year Now

Most dedicated teachers try to work relentlessly until the very last day of school, putting off any work that would make that day and teacher workdays that follow less stressful and more efficient. Whether you have a few days or a few weeks left, here’s a few simple steps to make your life a little bit easier on those last few days.

Before you do anything, take pictures and video of everything. You’ll want to remember things as they were, for a number of reasons.

Start cleaning early. Cleaning what you can plainly see in your classroom, like taking down what’s on the walls and on bookshelves, is actually the easy part. I want you to start digging into your closets, desk drawers and filing cabinets with all the free moments you have. Start bringing things with you that have to go home a little bit at a time. Enlist student help whenever possible (they love to do it, especially if they love you).

"Freecycle" stuff you don't need or want.  You've probably found yourself packing away or transporting tons of junk you've collected over the years.  Over time I learned to ask around and keep my eyes and ears opens for requests for materials.  For example, stacks of old magazines from my classroom library became fodder for future art projects in the English classroom next door. 

Don't procrastinate on end of year paperwork.  Some of the items on the end-of-school check out list just involve signing something or turning in copies of something, so try to do a little each day as the end approaches.

Stop grading immediately (or at least cut down considerably). Seriously, do you really need to be grading every single daily activity at this point? You probably have some kind of major end of year testing or project that’s not due until the last minute and will require a lot of time and effort to grade, so let’s make things a bit easier on yourself. Besides, don’t you also have grades to catch up on from earlier in the semester? Be reasonable with yourself.

Start rounding up things you can check-in/return early. If you begin gathering all the textbooks, technology and other materials you’re responsible for now, two positive things could happen:
  1. You won’t have to scramble for “misplaced” items when it’s nearly too late.
  2. You’ll be able to turn items in early, thus crossing another item off your end-of-school check out list.
Hand out end of year student surveys a few days early. Attendance won’t be great the last few days of school, for a number of reasons (especially if grades have already been turned in), so if you want a more complete and accurate accounting of student feedback you’ll have to act now. Similarly, if you want to say something important to your students, don’t wait until it’s too late.

Have some no-prep stuff to keep kids entertained when it’s unofficially over. Once grades are turned in, and even sometimes when they’re not, it’s inevitable that you’ll have at least one day at the end of the year where all you can do is try to not let your students run wild through the hallways.*** Things like playing cards, Uno, and board games keep kids calm, quiet and seated (most of the time) and won’t be a pain to clean up afterward. Better yet, let responsible students borrow a digital camera or Flip and ask them to record some things for you to remember them by. You’ll probably get some interesting, lasting memories.

***Maybe this doesn’t happen everywhere; I did work in places with extraordinarily low expectations for students and teachers.

Friday, May 21, 2010

When Will I Use This? and Other Great Questions

"When am I ever going to use this?" (a new response to an old question) [Learning Strategies] - Larry Davidson considers the question every teacher gets at some point.

10 Ideas for Innovative Math Instruction [The Innovative Educator]

How to Make a Book Without Glue, Staples, or Tape [via Lifehacker] - Great project if you and your kids are patient enough.

DIY U [The Quick and the Ed] - Review and reaction to the new book DIY U: Edupunks, Edupreneurs, and the Coming Transformation of Higher Education, which is on my must-read list.

Who judges your work? [Seth Godin] - More directly, who do you let judge your work, and what do you do with their judgement?

Saturday, May 15, 2010

How to Connect With Me Via Social Networks

Did you know that you can connect with me via...




Now you know.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Silence, Book Recs, & Risky Teenage Business

In Search of Silence: 4 Ways to Get Peace and Quiet [Wise Bread] - Try to find some this weekend!

50 Incredible Books Every Educator Should Read - Lists like this are always a good place to start when you're looking for interesting resources and ideas.

New Study on Risk-Taking Behavior in Teens [Scientific American] What makes teenagers do stupid (or at the very least impulsive) things?  A new study says it's not as simple as you might think.

What Comes With Community [Sup Teach?] - On the challenge of bringing small school ideals to a large school.

Teenagers and Careers: Is Apprenticeship An Answer? [The Simple Dollar] - This is something I wish was built into every high school, and accepted for credits just as colleges allow internships and similar independent study projects.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Mr. D Eats a Cheeseburger

One of my artistic students drew this portrait of me, which I loved except for one thing: why I am eating a gigantic cheeseburger?  After enduring many subtle and not so subtle comments about my weight from various students this year, I was happy that this portrayal was relatively slim and flattering.  What threw me off is that originally, the drawing only had me and the mysterious floating hand that's about to feed me a Whataburger (hopefully).

"When have you ever seen me eating a cheeseburger?" I demanded.  Then I added: "Why couldn't I be eating a salad or something else healthy?"  I suppose that's why he then added a carrot, bowl of soup, and what I must assume is a diet beverage.  I don't know if that's any better.

In any case, he let me keep it.  It will have a special place among the many student drawings of me I've collected over the years.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Why You Must Document Your Classroom Before School Ends [Video]

Mr. D TV is my weekly teacher advice video series.  I cover just about any topic related to education and teaching.  If you have a question you'd like me to answer, email me ( If you like the video, check out last week's episode and my YouTube channel for more.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Carnival of Educators - Thank You Mom Edition

Welcome to the May 11, 2010 edition of the Carnival of Educators.  This week's edition is a slightly belated tribute to all of our moms, our kids' moms, and anyone else who has filled that role for you in your life.  Above you can see Momma D and I when she came to visit during my first year of teaching (that's the Santa Ana Wildlife Refuge around us).  Thanks Mom!  Without further adieu:

School Stories

Vatche presents The Student Writer's Mind: The Little Boy posted at The Student Writer's Mind.  A great way to kick things off from a student's perspective.

Bellringers (Carol Richtsmeier) presents Saturdays, Teens & Competition posted at Bellringers.

teachin' presents I always feel the loss. posted at I'm a Dreamer, saying "For me, this is the hardest part of teaching."

Pat presents That Kid Could Be The Great Kid posted at Successful Teaching.

Sarah Garb presents Ultra Hilarious posted at Dead Class Pets, explaining "Oh, the things that are ultra hilarious in second grade....anyone else have others?"

The Big Picture in Education

Matt Eventoff presents The Power of Words posted at Communication3.0. I've participated in activities similar to this one, and it's very powerful--worth adapting for your students or any group of young people you work with.

Edwin Choi presents Senator Hagan asks Secretary Duncan about Financial Literacy posted at MoneyU Blog.  A topic near and dear to my heart.

SWA presents So you don’t want to be an Engineer? posted at Sistaswithattitude.

Molly presents Help me out here.... posted at A day in the life of a __________________:, about "[t]he life and times of a soon to be unemployed educator."

Joshua presents TAKS Preparation posted at transmorgified, noting "remarks on TAKS and teaching in Texas."

Professional Development

TeachEnEspanol presents Life-Based Education: Teach to YOUR Students posted at Life-Based Education.

One Language presents How To Help A Child Learn English posted at Learn English Online For Free.

Tisha Dotson presents 50 Body Language Secrets You Need to Succeed in Life posted at Career Overview. I'm a big believer in how your ability to read people (and how students read you) effects what goes on in the classroom.

Wise Bread presents 5 Ways to Learn a Language posted at Wisebread.

Ava Jones presents 50 Incredible Books Every Educator Should Read posted at Online University Reviews, noting "The article has listed 50 incredible books every educator should read. No matter if looking for inspiration, advice, or just a good read, they can help your career in education immensely."

Mister Teacher presents Top 10 ways to close out the school year posted at Learn Me Good.

Jennifer Wagaman presents How to Teach: Secrets from a Tutor posted at 321 Learn!.

Sylvia Wong presents Turbulent Landing - Personal Essay posted at Wake Up Seriously!. Global Concerns Classroom (GCC) is an innovative, multi-faced global education program of Concern Worldwide US. GCC inspires youth to become active global citizens. For more information, go to

Sarah Winfrey presents Promote Summer Reading for Your Kids posted at Parenting Squad.

Deb Hodgkin presents Volcanoes posted at Science@home.

GrrlScientist presents How Will You Celebrate International Migratory Bird Day? posted at Living the Scientific Life, noting this is "A list of things you can do to help birds and other native wildlife, from small day-to-day changes to becoming a citizen activist."

Robert Drummond presents Maths starters -Visualisations posted at robert drummond's blog, noting "These visualisations are excellent. They extend children's thinking and classes I have used them with really enjoy them."

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. Technorati tags: , .

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Phoenix Charter Academy - "Ignite the Future" [Video]

There's some great things going on in education in the greater Boston area.  This video features students, teachers and leaders from Phoenix Charter Academy, a unique public charter high school in Chelsea, MA.  PCA serves students who haven't been successful at schools in the area; kids who might otherwise fall through the cracks.  Take a look:

Can't wait to see more of my kiddos graduate this year!

Vote for the Best Teacher & Teaching Blogs

Top Teacher & Teaching Blogs 

You can vote for me to be ranked among the best teacher and teaching blogs out there by clicking on the button above.  I know it's not an Oscar or anything, but I'll take whatever recognition I can get.  Thank you!

Friday, May 7, 2010

Five Teacher Appreciation Week Stories

Appreciation. [Look at my happy rainbow!]

Happy Teacher Appreciation Day: We ARE Smarter Together! [Angela Maiers] - A tornado of inspirational thoughts and links.

Thanks to my Teachers [College Ready Writing]

Teachers, I Love You (Happy Teacher Appreciation Day)

Let Us Now Praise Teachers, for Teacher Appreciation Week [Edutopia]

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Submit for the Next Carnival of Educators, Hosted Here

The Carnival of Educators is returning here next week, and it's a great chance to get your best blog posts out there to a new and larger audience.  Submitting is quick and easy, and you can also submit other edublogger's work that you think deserves to be seen.

Don't know much about blog carnivals, or just looking to catch up?  Here's some recent COEs I've hosted:

Carnival of Educators: Spring Has Sprung Edition [3/23/10]
Carnival of Educators: Olympic Gold Edition [2/23/10]
Carnival of Educators: Nary a List in Sight Edition [1/26/10]

Submit for next week's carnival by midnight Sunday.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Ten Cheap Lessons = FREE Today Only!

Around this time two years ago, I made my then-new book, Ten Cheap Lessons: Easy, Engaging Ideas for Every Secondary Classroom available to download for free.  It was my way of showing my appreciation for my fellow teachers.

Well, I don't see any reason not to repeat the giveaway this year!  For today only, Ten Cheap Lessons will be available to download for free.  It's already pretty cheap ($2.50), but free is always better.

Get Ten Cheap Lessons: Second Edition

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

A Thank You to All of My Teachers

Teacher Turnaround Day was my first chance to be a teacher (that's me from that day in 1999). It was senior year, and Mr. Bialkin thankfully gave me the opportunity to teach his current events class.  Although that was my first experience teaching, setting the stage for what I would do later, there are a lot of other teachers I have to thank for everything they did for me.

I was lucky to have nothing but supportive teachers in elementary school. It bothers me when I hear from adults (including many teachers) who had been told they were dumb or would never amount to anything at this crucial time. I had quite the opposite experience, despite the fact that I was the most talkative child ever. I was the kid who always had his desk moved to the corner, separate from everyone else because I couldn't keep my mouth shut.

In second grade, I was so annoying that my teacher once threw her shoe at me (yes, this was a very different time). She missed, and I picked up the shoe and made it into a funny hat. Despite that episode, she and many others always encouraged me, made me feel smart, and pushed me to do better. It set me up for all the success I had in the future.

I love to tell my students that my algebra teacher in eighth grade was horrible, to the point where a mob of my classmates famously stormed the principal's office to demand a new teacher. She was the kind of teacher that put a half dozen pages of pre-printed transparencies on the overhead for us to copy, didn't explain anything, and then gave us a bunch of textbook problems to do almost completely by ourselves. We got by because we were good at math and we helped each other. When I started teaching math, I vowed I would never, ever be that kind of teacher, so in a weird way, I appreciate her as well.

Mr. Tully taught all sorts of technology classes—I actually got to learn Photoshop, Illustrator, and web design in high school. I didn't realize how unique these opportunities were until I taught in a place where they were lucky to have working computers. But what I remember most is how encouraging he was, and how hilarious. I think the way I use humor with students has a lot to do with the way Tully used it with us.

Mrs. Valentine taught me English senior year and was our NHS advisor. I drove her crazy because I loved to talk and joke around endlessly, and despite both of us knowing I could read and write quite well, I didn't do a very good job of either. I mostly faked my way through the essays and reports I did, because I had little to no interest in the subject matter. I was not good at sitting still and reading entire books at that point in my educational career.

After dealing with a lot of kids who were infinitely tougher to handle than me in my first few years in the classroom, I regretted ever causing any teacher I had ever had the least bit of grief. Thus when I returned to visit after a few years of teaching, I had tears in my eyes as I apologized for being such a pain in the ass. She said that it was okay, because she understood that I was just an immature high school kid, and that's what they sometimes do. She never took it personally. I learned a lot that day. For the record, I did go back and read one of the books we had been assigned that year (Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance) and loved it—albeit quite a few years late.

Mr. Cosgrove, my 10th grade US History teacher, is probably the biggest reason I became a teacher. “Cos” certainly had a lot to do with my interest in history, because he absolutely loved it and you couldn't help but get caught up in the excitement. He was an amazing storyteller, both in terms of bringing the subject matter to life and the unbelievable tales from his personal life. It was his speech during my National Honor Society induction, however, that is the one that stayed with me the most. He said that people would always ask him why he hadn't yet written a definitive history tome, since we all knew he had the interest and ability. He said that there was a simple reason: his students were his life's work, his masterpiece. I hope I've lived up to the spirit of that idea with my own life's work.

In college, I was lucky enough to not only have great teachers in the classroom but also learned from the professors I worked with through my time in student government. Everyone I worked with made me feel like I could do anything I wanted with my life. With no disrespect to anyone else, I want to mention Norman Markowitz (history prof at Rutgers). He was just such a character, and like Cos, his enthusiasm for not only his subject, but what he believed in inspires me to this day.

I could go on and on, but I won't. Every teacher I've ever had--good and bad, in and out of class, and the colleagues I've taught with—has inspired me. I've learned something from each of them.

You are all appreciated. Thank you.

P.S. I still have the tie, but not the wicked awesome sideburns.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Six End of Year Lesson Ideas and Projects

As a practical follow-up to this week's episode of "Mr. D TV", here are six of my best lesson ideas and projects that should keep your kids engaged even with summer vacation this far away.
  1. Math in the Real World Project
  2. Lesson Ideas Using "Practical Money Skills for Life"
  3. How to Turn Jenga Into An Awesome Test Prep Tool
  4. 3 Ideas to Prepare Students for College Placement Exams (for HS juniors and seniors)
  5. Math in the Real World: Erasing Debt Activity 
  6. Using the Newspaper in Algebra I
A couple of these ideas (1 and 6) are part of my first book, Ten Cheap Lessons, which is designed to be just the kind of resource you need this time of year.  It's only $10 for the paperback or $2.50 to download.

If you have similar outside-the-box ideas for the end of the school year, please share them in the comments below!

Sunday, May 2, 2010

How to Keep Students Engaged After Testing is Over [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 answer, email me ( If you like the video, check out my YouTube channel for more.