Friday, December 23, 2011

December Reader on Gaming in Education

How Gaming Is Changing the Classroom [GOOD] - I've seen some of the ideas discussed here in action as my students have begun using Khan Academy to supplement what we're doing in the classroom.  It's powerful stuff.

If Only My Class Were a Video Game…Game Design for the Classroom [The 21st Century Principal] - Mr. Robinson reflects on Jane McGonigal's book Reality Is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World and more.

GOOD Video: Can Learning Be as Fun as Playing Video Games? - Education [GOOD] - An innovator talks about using game mechanics to inspire intrinsic motivation. We need more people who think like this.

Game Creation for Kids With Wario Ware DIY [Wired: GeekDad]

Motion Math: Helping Drive iPad and Education Research [Wired: GeekDad]

BONUS: I also wrote on this topic last year for Educational Games Research: read No Need to Reinvent the Wheel to Revolutionize Educational Video Games.

BONUS #2: Read  Your #Snowpocalypse Reader: Video Games & Education from last December for even more links on this topic!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

There's Never a Time When You Can't Start Over

Today is the last day of the semester for me, which makes this a good time to share some advice to help you reflect and plan for next semester.  Back in October I went to a TFA School Leadership Summit in Houston, and while I was there I was asked to record a brief audio for the organization's Corps Stories oral history project.

I decided to talk about the critical points in the year where everything seems to be going wrong, and some ways you can get things back on track.  I'm certainly thinking about my own advice going into next semester, and I hope you find it helpful as well.  Enjoy:

"There's never a time when you can't start over." | Corps Stories

Monday, December 19, 2011

Giveaway: Get a Copy of My Book To Help You Reflect on the Semester

I feel like this is the best time for teachers who might be struggling or stressed out to read my book Teaching is Not a Four Letter Word: How to Stop Worrying and Love the Job. The brief lessons I share are meant to help you reflect, adapt and survive as I have tried to do over the years.

On top of that, it's the holiday season and one of my main joys in life is to give gifts and give to good causes. Thus I'm giving away two hard copies of the book to any teacher who thinks they might need some help and hope.. If you're interested, simply send me an email saying so ( before Tuesday 12/20/11 at 11:59pm CST. I won't ask you to share your struggles, but if you'd like to, I'm certainly willing to listen.

Due to the timing of the giveaway, I don't think I can get it to you before Christmas, so expect it a few days afterward.  Sorry about that.  It's a short read that you should easily be able to get through before the new semester starts.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Parent Function Poster Idea

Last week we were reviewing parent functions in my math models class.  After introducing and taking notes on different families of functions (linear, quadratic, square root, cubic and absolute value), it was time to dust off an old favorite to help cement it in their minds.

Adjusting the mini-poster idea from Ten Cheap Lessons, I had my students illustrate three parent functions (linear, quadratic and their choice of one other).  Their posters included the graph, equation, domain and range as well as 2 examples of other functions from that family (labelled as "babies," "kids" or simply "examples").  I'm a strong believer in the power of having students illustrate key ideas while creating their own examples to supplement them, and this idea was no different.

Above you can see a completed example.  I sketched something similar for my classes so they could easily see what I was asking for.  Below are directions they were given.

Versions of this mini-poster idea have been invaluable over the years.  Just recently I had my Algebra I students compare and contrast solving equations and solving inequalities.  It's a project that requires a minimum of supplies and preparation on your part: you just need unlined paper (color if possible, but it's not necessary) and markers or colored pencils to draw with.  You can also assign it as homework without worrying too much about whether your students will have what they need to do it (you can always provide some materials to those that do).

This should take students no more than one 45-55 minute class period to complete.  I counted it as a minor assessment (aka quiz) grade, but of course you should do whatever makes sense for you.

Have you used any variation on this theme?  Share it in the comments.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

3 Areas Where Teachers Can Benefit From Advanced Training

There are many specialized degrees and certificates teachers can pursue to improve in the classroom and advance their careers. Organized information on programs helps a teacher choose one that is suitable both for the teacher and her classroom. Many of these courses can be integrated into a Master's Program in teaching or teaching certification programs. Applying continuing education classes toward a degree is a strategy that many students use.

Embrace Technology

student ipad 005 by flickingerbrad, on FlickrInstructional technology is becoming more important to teach students as they prepare for the evolving world outside of school. Many teachers already have integrated various tools in their classroom such as having students gather information through on-line resources. However, there is much to instructional technology beyond this basic use.

Instructional technology means to employ the use of a variety of teaching tools to improve student learning. Instructional technology can describe other things such as: CD players, PDAs, GPS devices, calculators, iPads, cameras, and more. Computers are becoming useful in every aspect of learning from math tutoring to presentation software. Students and teachers can use databases, spreadsheets, presentation, and word processing programs to help them be effective in creating professional-looking reports. These tools are ever evolving as we approach new technologies, so staying up to date on the most current ones is important. All teachers across every discipline and age can benefit from this kind of training. However, K-12 teachers will probably gain the most advantages. Teachers can take webinars, on-line training videos, and in person training sessions. These courses take about 60-90 minutes to complete.

Lesson Strategies and Teaching Methods

The summer months are a good time to brush up on lesson strategies or to try a few new teaching methods. It gives a teacher time to delve into something new and become comfortable with it before the school year begins again. All teachers from K-12 can benefit greatly from this. Learn new themes for the new school year and new topics such as fun and statistics lessons, health resources, baseball math and many more. There are many online courses and resources that teach effective strategies. The time of the courses vary greatly depending on the needs of the teacher and what he would like to learn could vary on the time commitment.

Leadership Training

Create the Future PD Qatar Academy by Julie Lindsay, on FlickrTeachers who want to learn how to become more effective leaders will benefit greatly from training in leadership. Training gives explanations of best practices to help them become better leaders within every aspect of their lives. Teachers are natural classroom leaders, however many teachers have never taken a rigorous leadership development course. Both classroom and e-learning modules are available in order to receive instruction. It is not a lecture format mainly, but is a highly interactive experience in learning the principles. The course takes about 15 hours of time to complete.

Trainings can be used for re-certification and professional development credits for teachers. They can also be customized and built for an individual school in both formats. Many different types of teachers can benefit such as special education, K-12, coaches, librarians and extracurricular activities supervisors. Teachers who take leadership training will be able to build and maintain discipline in the classroom, create more productive relationships with parents, be a mentor to other teachers, and improve time management and communication skills, to list just a sample.

When thinking about a master’s program in teaching or teaching certification programs it is important to weigh all the possibilities. Finding a specialized degree may provide higher job satisfaction or provide the readiness for advancement within a current career.

This is a guest post provided by U.S News University Directory, a leading resource for online teaching degrees; including, instructional technology masters degrees and accredited educational leadership programs from top colleges and universities.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Free Virtual STEM Competition For Your Students

I just heard about a U.S. Army-sponsored STEM competition for middle school students and want to help spread the word: 
Heading into its 10th year, eCYBERMISSION ( is a free, web-based Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics competition for students in grades six through nine. Your students can compete against other students in their graders for state, regional and national awards. Teams consisting of 3-4 students and a team advisor would work to solve problems in their community utilizing the scientific method, scientific inquiry or engineering design process and can win at the state, regional and national levels. To date, more than $8.5 million has been awarded to students throughout the country with more to be awarded in 2012.

Deadline to register: December 16, 2011
Some past winners include:
  • The 6th grade Hardheads team was recognized by judges for their experiments with materials used to support sports helmets. For their project, the students conducted experiments on multiple materials for possible use in sports helmets, with the hope of finding a material that decreases the prevalence of concussions and other head injuries.
  • The 8th grade Landroids team tested the elements necessary to create a device that could detect deer on roads.
  • The 9th grade Chocolate Addiction team investigated how makeup can cause damage to the skin when it has been exposed to certain independent variables, such as heat or water.
  • Other past winners can be found at:
Here's a video with more information about the competition:

Monday, December 5, 2011

Giveaway: The World Almanac And Book of Facts 2012

I have a brand new copy of the The World Almanac and Book of Facts 2012 to give away to a lucky reader! This is the type of comprehensive, well-organized and fun reference that should be in every classroom library. While much of this information is likely available online, it's simply quicker and easier to look a lot of important basic things in the book.

Besides being a great reference for your students, teachers could also use the data to create all sorts of lessons across multiple subjects or grade levels.  So for a chance to win the book, send an email to by Tuesday 11:59pm CST with a (brief) lesson idea using data from The World Almanac.  One lucky reader will receive the book.  Good luck!

Thanks to The Rosen Group for sending a free promotional copy for this contest.

UPDATE 12/10/11: The contest has ended.  The winning entry was from Karen Elofson, a teacher from Massachusetts, who has great plans for using the data in the book:
I think the World Almanac can provide some interesting real life statistics that can be applied to a math exercise in making scatterplots and using box and whisker or best line of fit type activities.  For example, your class could read about the number and nature of dust storms in the Great Plains and make a scatter plot of the number of dust storms that occurred  between the years 1930-present.  This could also be extended as a calculator exercise as well using TI Nspire, for example.
There were also many other great suggestions from the remaining entries:
We use the Time for Kids (TFK) as our weekly current events curriculum, and many times they mention things that students their age (grade 3) are doing.  This would be a great book for the students to make text to text connections, as well as text to self connections.
...this would be a great book to have in the classroom for those few minutes of "downtime" my 5th graders have between completing one assignment and starting on the next. It would be a great resource to have available to the kids to give them a "break" from their library book, or to offer as a "reward" for struggling students who are having a great morning/afternoon/day.
My kids love to read this type book when they finish their other work!

I would like to have them locate on a wall world map the location of the event they discovered. Geography is something they need to know much more about.
Thank you again to everyone who participated.  Stay tuned for more giveaways over the coming weeks!

Friday, December 2, 2011

Weekend Reader on Lego in Education

Students Combine STEM and Storytelling to Power Green LEGO City [GOOD] - Featuring adorable music video by the school's choir.

Our Adventures With Robotics: The Lego Mindstorm Kit [Wired: GeekMom]

Lego’s Life of George Takes Building to the Smartphone [Wired: GeekDad] - This awesome augmented reality app utilizes Legos and smartphones to challenge young kids to use their spatial reasoning skills (among others). Architecture Home - Lego has created a series of detailed, rich models of actual architecture. These sets will give block-loving children a real world connection to STEM (not to mention history).

The LEGO Ideas Book - Great book to inspire older students or those up to a challenge!

BONUS: For more on Legos (among other topics), read August's Weekend Reader on Robotics in Education. I also included Legos on my list of Toys & Games Every Kid Should Play With Growing Up.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Mind Mapping for Teachers, Part 4: Improving Research

This is the final part of a guest series on mind mapping by Hobie Swan, a professional writer from Boise, ID. Mr. Swan is interested in helping teachers find ways to incorporate this strategy into the classroom.

Article 4: Using mind mapping for research
If you have had a chance to read the other articles in this series, you will have noticed that there are a few things that are unique to mind mapping. These include:
  • The ability to easily combine many information types in one document
  • The natural proclivity toward information chunking
  • The ability to get a birds’ eye view of information—and to drill down to details.
Each of these qualities can be a big help when conducting research.

Combining information types
As I said before, mind maps make it easy to combine URLs, images, video, audio, and ideas in one document. The resulting “information object” truly reflects the state of information in the 21st century. For all the advances that have been made in technology, the average research still resembles something created in the middle of the 20th century: pages of type, maybe with an occasional image or graph, the obligatory footnotes, citations, etc. It’s kind of dry—especially for today’s students who live in a very rich media world.

But this isn’t simply a matter of form. The goal is to help students learn. I can remember as a kid having to do a “report” on Mexico. All it really involved was collecting what I recall as almost a foot-tall stack of pamphlets, articles, and tourist brochures. It wasn’t about interacting with the information. It was about seeing how much you could collect.

With mind maps, you can collect a staggering amount of information because you can quickly hide all but the small portion you want to deal with at any given moment. But what is different about mind mapping is that you can hide 99% of this information and concentrate on the 1% you need to focus on at any given moment. Furthermore, the visual nature of the mind map interface enables you to navigate effortlessly from one information point to another, inserting your comments adjacent to each “chunk” of information in the map.

Download the full example lesson via Google Docs.

Final note
I hope that this series of articles has got you thinking about providing your students—and yourself—with a tool that matches the way the human mind prefers to work. Unlike more linear tools, mind mapping allows users to cast their nets widely—to brainstorm and capture all of their thinking on a topic. By supporting the natural movement from divergent to convergent thinking, mind mapping keeps students from getting trapped at the start is overly narrow lines of investigation.

Mind mapping then provides users with a way to rapidly combine into one document many kinds of information—and to add to that pre-existing data their interpretations of and insights about that information. You and your students can build these fantastically complex and complete information objects. Then they can choose to restrict the information view and concentrate on one point at a time.

Finally (and this may seem trivial), mind mapping give students the ability to add creativity to the often tedious process of conducting research. By changing fonts, adding icons (like the lit bomb on the branch about ethnic cleansing), and inserting photos or clip art, students can in a way personalize their information gathering. This simple step of adding visual interest to a body of information adds a personal dimension to what is often a very impersonal process. And it can help student create visual cues that will draw their interest and attention immediately back to key information.

I said this before in this series, but I think it bears repeating: Today’s students swim in a multimedia world the likes of which few teaches experienced at such an early age. By providing students with a tool they can use to recapture some of the “polymorphous perversity” of the modern information landscape, teachers can enliven the education process, making learning more creative, thoughtful and, dare I say it… fun.

Hobart Swan is a professional writer who has worked with mind mapping tools and companies for the past 20 years. To see an example of a book Swan organized using mind mapping, visit Swan has worked for two leading mind mapping companies, CS Odessa, maker of ConceptDraw MINDMAP, and Mindjet, maker of MindManager.

Read the other entries in the series:
Part 1: Introduction
Part 2: The Chunking of Language
Part 3: Improving Student Writing