Monday, January 31, 2011

DVD Giveaway: A Right Denied: The Critical Need for Genuine School Reform

This week's giveaway is a DVD of the education documentary A Right Denied: The Critical Need for Genuine School Reform.  The film was the brain child of well-known reformer Whitney Tilson.  I received a free copy at last year's National Charter Schools Conference.

As usual, I'm asking for a review from the eventual winner.  If you can compare it to the many other headline-making education documentaries of the last few years (Waiting for 'Superman', The Lottery, etc), that would be helpful.

Interested?  Email by midnight CST tonight.  Those of you that have won the previous contests are the only ones not eligible this time around.

Good luck!

Friday, January 28, 2011

Student Contest, Teacher Discounts & More

2010 National Be Money Wi$e Financial Literacy Poster Contest - The National Foundation for Credit Counseling is sponsoring a poster contest with the theme “Be a $uperhero! $ave Money!” open to all kids grades 3-12.  Check out the website for details and prizes.

The Complete List of 66 Teacher Discounts [Gift Card Granny]

New free online LaTex Equation Editor - For those of you who like to use LaTex to include proper math notation in your class documents, here's another free editor to use.

Testing Anxiety: Researchers Find Solution To Help Students Cope [The Huffington Post] - Simple, elegant, brilliant.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Can You Figure Out This Math Magic Trick?

A former boss of mine used to love astounding our students with this seemingly simple math magic trick.  First, he'd have you pick a number from 1 to 63.  He would show you each card, asking you if your number appeared on that card.  After showing you all six cards, he was always able to pinpoint your number within seconds.

I like to think I'm pretty good at math puzzles and tricks, but I couldn't figure this one out until he explained it to me.  Can you figure out the trick?

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Pop Culture Connections Are Easy to Make, But They Don't Last Forever

A few years ago I shared a lesson I created on probability based around the TV game show "Deal or No Deal."  I'm humbled that to this day, teachers seek out, use the lesson and comment on the post about what a great idea it was.  I do think it was one of my better ideas, but it's also one that needs to die: the show was cancelled over a year ago.  It's no longer relevant to your students, or anyone else.

That doesn't mean we shouldn't continue to look for opportunities to use bits of pop culture and mass media to make connections or simply liven up what's going on in class.  A funny writing prompt about "Jersey Shore" is great now, but in two years, there should be no trace of Snooki in your lesson (just like there will be no trace of her in the media any more).  Similarly, a review game based on "Survivor" no longer has a place in any classroom; that show is a distant memory in the public consciousness, and has been for some time.

If you were going to have students create a social media profile for the characters in 'A Midsummer Night's Dream," which platform would you use: Friendster, MySpace, or Facebook?* 

Still, there are some enduring pieces of pop culture that you can safely use over the long haul.  The Super Bowl, the Oscars and March Madness come to mind immeadiately.  However, you should still be tweaking and improving your lesson that uses them every year--just as you should do with everything else in your repetoire.

Wondering how to get up on the latest item of fascination amongst your students?  Ask them. Listen to them.  There's no better source, offline or online, that will give you better intel.

*Correct answer: Twitter.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

This Week's Giveaway Winner Is..

Mr. Schaufler, a special education teacher from Milwaukee.  He's going to try out the Jax games with his students, many of whom are far below grade level in reading and math.  I can't wait to see how they might make a difference with his students!

There will indeed be another giveaway next Monday.  Don't miss it!

Flash Games Enter the Classroom

This is a guest post by Lindsey Wright, a content creator for

In these increasingly ADD and ADHD-beset times teachers are becoming more and more hard-pressed to find ways to get children to effectively absorb knowledge. Card games, board games and puzzle games have been a growing part of classroom education for the last few decades, but as attention spans get ever shorter, more drastic measures will need to be incorporated. Using newer technologies, such as Adobe Flash, a multimedia platform used to make Web sites more animated and interactive, will likely buy instructors time and engage children more thoroughly. However, the question of whether the benefits outweigh the detriments has yet to be answered.

The number of flash-based classroom resources, while by no means extensive, is slowly on the rise. Searching the Internet for educational flash games can bring up some resources that teachers can supplement with user-created content from sites that allow them to create personalized educational games and integrate them into their curricula. Fortunately, with create-your-own resources like these, teachers are not reliant merely upon existing games: they are able to customize the material so that students get the most benefit from playing.

These games are often relatively simple puzzles that illustrate, with bright colors and an easy interface, the concepts explained in lectures or in textbooks. Supplementing these more traditional materials with flash games can net wonderful benefits, because students can see an immediate and direct correlation between question and answer. When students are able to see whether the choices they make are correct or incorrect, they begin to develop an understanding of how the concept works as a whole.

More traditional classroom learning teaches concepts to students passively, via lecture. Aside from one or two diagnostic quizzes in which answers are marked with no explanation, students are left to fend for themselves until testing time, when it is often too late to foster true understanding. Games can fill in this missing "hands-on" component of the learning process.

Another benefit of flash games is they are able to engage children. Although it pains teachers to think it, today’s children (who have been inundated with flashy and colorful technology from their infancy) have increasingly short attention spans. This means that many children no longer have the patience to sit with a textbook and absorb its contents. While this state of affairs is not desirable in the long run, a short-term perspective acknowledges that a teacher must do whatever he or she can do to foster maximum absorption of material. Games, with their engaging interface and interactive play, seem to be a key to do just that.

Despite their attractiveness, using flash games in classroom learning is not the most ideal solution. Their use is designed to help students absorb concepts, but usually in the most simplistic way. Sophisticated thinking and understanding of more complex concepts will be lost if teachers rely heavily upon games. In another sense, using these games seems to be admitting defeat in the battle against the simplification of knowledge, i.e. catering to shorter attention spans and a more surface understanding rather than fighting against them. A strong and engaging teacher can infuse a passion for the subject into all but the most reluctant students, thus negating the need for games.

Ultimately, while there are negatives to the implementation of flash games into classroom curricula, these negatives are countered by many positives. The customizability of the games, the interactivity of gameplay versus a passive lecture mode and the engaging nature of games all provide strong support for the continued use of flash games in classroom settings. These benefits must be considered against the fact that games often foster a more surface understanding and a shorter attention span in students that may already be prone to these behaviors. All in all, flash games are a powerful and interesting tool that, in the future, will only be more fully developed. With greater customization comes the potential for more complex gameplay, which will only help in the quest to turn flash games into effective tools.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Giveaway: Math Learning Games from Jax

This week I'm giving away a cloth tote bag from Jax Ltd containing two of their math learning games: Over and Out and The Game of Chips.

Over and Out is a straightforward card game where you add cards to a pile, totaling them each time and trying not to go over the number on the "Tip Top" card.  If you go over, you're out.  In The Game of Chips, players have a pile of numbered counting chips.  Players take turn rolling dice and then pick up any combination of chips that adds up to the total shown on the dice.  The goal is to leave the least amount of chips on the table, as those become points against you.

Just like the company's great Sequence Numbers board game, both of these games are ideal for your early elementary children and/or students.  There's also plenty of room for creative gameplay or alternative uses.

If you're interested in this week's giveaway, I'm looking for a very specific type of review in return: I'd like someone willing to test these out with their children or students and share the insights you get from the experience.  It's an opportunity I don't really have, so you'll be doing a great service for the teachers and parents who might be able to use it.

To enter, send me an email at and tell me who you would play the games with by midnight CST tonight.  Everyone is eligible (except for the two readers who won books in the last two giveaways).

Thanks to Barbara Olson from Jax Ltd for providing the freebies for me at NCSC 2010!

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

We're One Step Closer to a Game-Changing Math TV Show

EdWeek reports that New York's PBS affiliate is launching a multimedia project that will use real world connections to make math more fun and accessible for young people.  The project is called Get The Math and while the website isn't clear on the issue, it does look like there will be a half-hour TV show to go along with the videos and classroom materials that educators can use.

I'm really excited about this, as it sounds like they're on the right track.  I've been calling for someone to create a TV show that would be the Mythbusters of math for years (see my 2009 post about A TV Show That Changes The Way We Think About Math), with the potential to do for math what CSI has done for forensic science (and the subject in general).

I'll be checking my inbox frequently for my invitation to participate, Channel Thirteen!

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

This Week's Book Giveaway Winner Is...

Garret Schneider, who teaches Algebra and has a website called Litpunk, won a copy of Successful Classroom Management: Real-World, Time-Tested Techniques for the Most Important Skill Set Every Teacher Needs.  He'll be reading it over the next few weeks and providing us with a review very soon.

I've still got quite a few more books (and other goodies) to give away, so I'll continue giving things away every week until I run out!

The Importance of Really Getting Away Once and a While

I hope that those of you that had off for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day took full advantage of your three day weekend.  If not, I hope that you think ahead to when you can get away at least once before Spring Break.  I mean really get away--both mentally and in terms of physical distance.

I subjected myself to an awful experiment last year that I would not want you to replicate.  For a number of reasons, I took no real vacations between the winter break of 2009-10 and the break just a couple of weeks ago.  I did travel, but only for work.  I only saw my parents last year because they came here to visit me once each. I didn't visit my dear New Jersey; indeed, I hadn't traveled more than an hour or so away from home in south Texas.

While I certainly did not spend all of my weekends or sporadic days off working, which is the first half of a true vacation, I never got the physical distance needed to fully break away.  Not surprisingly, I was emotionally and physically burnt out and not doing the job that I was capable of doing.  If you never recharge your batteries, you will perpetually be this close to shutting down.

You need breaks where you are physically seperated from your normal surroundings if you're ever going to be able to mentally separate and recharge.  Sleeping in, staying home and spending time with your family will certainly help and should be a part of most weekends.  Yet if that's your only respite from your stressful work life, you'll never be the educator you want to be.

You don't have to fly across the country, or necessarily drive far away.  You just need to go somewhere different, outside of your routine and home, and spend the majority of your time off there.  This can be done in a weekend or a week-long break, but it needs to be done once a month at a minimum.  Cutting yourself off digitally is also increasingly helpful as our connections to work become even more unavoidable due to technology.

I spent my entire break back in New Jersey, resting, sleeping, spending quality time with friends and family, and reminiscing about days gone by (among other things).  It wasn't until I had been there for a few days that I realized just how much I had needed a break.  I forgot about work, let go of the stress, and let myself be free for those two weeks.  When I came back and started up work again, I finished more high quality work in the first few hours than I had in the week leading up to the break

I can honestly say I've been on a roll since the break, but I know that I need to look for opportunities for the type of mental and physical breaks I'm referring to soon.  Otherwise, I'll quickly slow down and then slip into a consistent cycle of mediocrity.

Don't let it happen to you--it's never too late to find that opportunity to break away!

Monday, January 17, 2011

Book Giveaway: Successful Classroom Management by Eyster & Martin

Just like last week, I'm giving away another education book in exchange for a review for the blog.  This week, it's Successful Classroom Management: Real-World, Time-Tested Techniques for the Most Important Skill Set Every Teacher Needs by Richard H. Eyster and Christine Martin.

The book is aimed at new and struggling teachers and goes in-depth into everything that will influence your classroom management.  Check out this review from, which contains book highlights and insights from co-author Eyster as well.

If you're interested in a free review copy of the book, send me an email ( by midnight CST tonight indicating your interest. I'll randomly pick a winner tomorrow. Remember, that I'm asking for your review to share here on the blog in return!

You don't have to send your mailing address up front; I'll only ask for that if you win.  The only person not eligible is last week's winner (sorry, but I need to spread the joy around), so if you entered last week and didn't win, send along another email this week.

Thanks to Sourcebooks for providing a free review copy.  Stay tuned in the coming weeks for more giveaways!

Friday, January 14, 2011

Grocery Stores, Skype, Picture Books & More in the Classroom

All of these links were found through the people I'm following on Twitter-- follow each of them for an endless supply of great ideas and resources.

Grocery Store Math for Your Teen [from @educationdebate]

50 Awesome Ways to Use Skype in the Classroom [from @EdOptionsInc]

Every Teacher Should Have a Blog & How to Create One [from @TeachPaperless]

Using Picture Books With Upper Elementary Students (e.g. Math, Science, etc.) [from @ShellTerrell]

Interview with Beth Anderson & Sarah Miller: Phoenix Charter Academy [via @edReformer] - Read about how my former colleagues are doing amazing work in Boston with the most underserved students.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Who else is going to Teach For America's 20th Anniversary Summit?

For anyone who didn't know, I'm a proud Teach for America alumnus (Rio Grande Valley, 2003).  Less than a month from now, corps members and alumni from across the country will gather for the organization's 20th Anniversary Summit in Washington, D.C.

So who's going?  I'll be there, and though it seems I won't be facilitating any sessions (I'm still holding out hope that my invitation to present is lost in the mail), I'd like to take the opportunity to meet some readers who will also be there.

I doubt I have the kind of pull to hold a full-fledged "Teach Forever Meet-Up," but if you'll be there and would like to chat, send me an email and we'll figure something out.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Monday's Giveaway Winner is...

The winner of Monday's book giveaway is Ms. McCullough, a math teacher at the Wayne School of Engineering in North Carolina.  You can follow her adventures at her blog, Ms. McCullough's Math Class.

I'll be sending her a copy of Fires in the Mind: What Kids Can Tell Us About Motivation and Mastery by Kathleen Cushman.   I'm looking forward to her review!

Next Monday I'll be giving away yet another intriguing education book. Stay tuned!

Monday, January 10, 2011

Book Giveaway: Fires in the Mind by Kathleen Cushman

I have a copy of Fires in the Mind: What Kids Can Tell Us About Motivation and Mastery by Kathleen Cushman that I'd like to send you!  I ask only one thing in return: write a review of it and send it to me to share here on the blog.

Cushman is the co-founder of What Kids Can Do as well as the author of several education books including Fires in the Bathroom: Advice for Teachers from High School Students.  Hear more about the book from Cushman and some her student co-authors themselves:


Find out more on the official Fires in the Mind website.  If you're interested in the free review copy of the book, send me an email ( by midnight CST tonight indicating your interest.  I'll randomly pick a winner tomorrow. You don't have to send your mailing address up front; I'll only ask for that if you win. 
Thanks to Ms. Cushman for providing a free copy of the book to share.  I hope you'll take this opportunity to learn more about the student perspectives she's dedicated to sharing for our benefit.

Friday, January 7, 2011

We Suck at PowerPoint, Teaching Math, & Professional Development (Among Other Things)

I think everybody likes to be right once and a while, or at least provided some evidence that they're not alone in their ideas.  As I was catching up on my "read later" list over the break, I found a lot of affirmation and agreements for ideas and thoughts I have shared throughout the two plus years I've been blogging here.

Five Ways Not to Suck at PowerPoint [via Lifehacker] is a practical follow up to my info(tainment)graphic How NOT to Engage Me With Your Presentation.

Do We Teach Math the Wrong Way? [via GOOD] seems to provide some support for the ideas I shared in 2008 in Why We Need to Change the Way We Teach Math.

Sup Teach? discovers the madness of Silly Bands months after I patent a series of Educational Silly Bandz I'd Like To See.

Finally, an Education Week article on The Misuse of Professional Development formally reaffirmed the main idea of one of my very first posts on this blog: Every professional development workshop you've ever attended.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Have Your Students Make New Year's Resolutions, Too

Whenever I started the spring semester, the first "Do Now" prompt I gave my students was to set New Year's resolutions for my class and for outside of class:
My New Year's resolution for this class is...

My New Year's resolution for outside of this class is..
After giving them a chance to think and write, discuss their resolutions as a whole group.  You might want to talk about why people make New Year's resolutions, perhaps giving them a bit of history to explain the tradition.  Let your students define "outside of this class" however they like.

Also, you must, must, must share your resolutions, and as always I'd advise you to be frank and honest about what didn't go well in the fall that you want to fix.  Your "outside" resolution is a chance to let your kids get to know you a little better as well.
This is essentially a chance for reflection on the fall semester and a goal-setting exercise for the rest of the year, which is a cycle that you should be following when it seems like your students aren't buying in to what you're doing.  It's also an example of taking advantage of things going on in the real world to create a context that engages and invests your kids.

One thing I didn't do that I would recommend is to have your students write these on a notecard or something else you can easily collect and save.  Then you can share them with your students at the end of the school year to see if they followed through (because as you know, everyone sticks to their resolutions).

Just remember, this is a time-sensitive activity.  If your new semester has already started, use it tomorrow or Monday.  If you start next week, you only have that first week to do it before it will lose it's relevance.

Monday, January 3, 2011

I Want to Teach Forever's 10 Most Read Posts of 2010

It's the end of one year and the beginning of another, which means it's the best time to revisit my most read posts of 2010 (as measured by visitors on Google Analytics).  I hope you'll discover or rediscover something that helps you in the new year!

10. The Evolution of Mr. D: New Year-Long Series Starts Tomorrow  (1/4)
  9. Domain and Range Song World Premiere! [Video]  (8/26)
  8. Fun and Easy DIY Tetris-Style Magnetic Blocks  (4/26)
  7. 13 Free Flash Card and Study Help Applications  (1/12)
  6. How NOT to Engage Me With Your Presentation  (10/5)
  5. Simple Graphic Organizer Makes Fractions a Little Less Painful  (3/17)
  4. Engage Students in a Minute with Energizing Brain Breaks  (4/5)
  3. How to Turn Jenga Into an Awesome Test Prep Tool  (3/25)
  2. March Madness Probability Activity & More  (3/16)
  1. Teachers Share Their Best Brain Breaks & Contest Winners!  (4/20)

If you've found something useful, inspirational, or interesting on this blog over the past year(s), there are many easy ways to support it:
  1. Pick up a copy of my latest book, Teaching is Not a Four Letter Word: How to Stop Worrying and Love the Job or my earlier work, Ten Cheap Lessons: Second Edition.
  2. Subscribe via RSS, EmailTwitter, YouTube, or become a Fan on Facebook!
  3. Submit a guest post.
  4. Click the Share buttons below (or share links on your own blog).
  5. Email me your ideas, questions and suggestions!
Thank you, as always, for your support.