Friday, December 21, 2012

Key Insights on Education From Outside the Sphere

The Outsiders, circa mid-90s, have a perspective 
This Week In Education: Bruno: A Math Professor's Year Teaching High School [This Week In Education] - What happened when a college professor used a sabbatical to teach high school math?

No soft retirement for this former NFL QB [NBC Sports via This Week in Education] - After a long, successful career in football, Jon Kitna became a math teacher and football coach at his alma mater. It's a great story.

After a Year Teaching High School, Tony Danza Says We Owe Educators an Apology [GOOD] - The actor turned teacher (at least for one year) wrote a book about his experience in a Philadelphia high school entitled I'd Like to Apologize to Every Teacher I Ever Had: My Year as a Rookie Teacher at Northeast High. I felt this way after a couple of years in the classroom, and did go back and apologize to one of my high school teachers.

Use Tim Ferriss' Four-Step Process to Master New Skills [Lifehacker] - My love of Tim Ferriss and his methods is no secret; in 2007 I explained how to apply the lessons of his book The Four-Hour Workweek to teaching. I think there's still more to learn from him, specifically how to teach our students his method for learning new skills rapidly (and how to structure some of our lessons this way).

Why Nate Silver Can Save Math Education in America [KQED/MindShift] - Silver's rise to superstar nerd status through his use of statistics shines a light on what's fundamentally wrong with our approach to math in schools.

Friday, December 14, 2012

December 2012 Reader on Tablets & Apps in Education

6 Safety Apps Every Student Should Download [Mashable!] - A college-focused list, but most of the apps would be relevant for middle and high school students as well. See also Facebook and Google Help Launch Online Safety Platform For Teens.

Everything You Need to Know About iOS 6 in Under Three Minutes [Lifehacker] - In case you missed it.

Kindle Whispercast gives schools and teachers control over students' tablet browsing [Slate]

Periodic Table Wall Graphics from Yiying Lu. Plus FREE Periodic Table Design Downloads! [WALLS 360] - A free, printable interactive periodic table that uses QR Codes for each element. Your students could use one of any number of free QR Code reader apps to find more information.

Why Tablets Are Important for Educating Our Children [Wired:GeekDad]

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Student Video Contest Focuses on Global Connections

A great contest for high school students just came into my inbox. Pass it along to your students (especially if they have iPads or similar devices at their disposal):
A national grassroots group is offering high school students the chance to win $1,000 and other cash prizes in a student video PSA contest.

Population Connection, the nation’s largest grassroots population organization, is again hosting its “World of 7 Billion” contest. Students in grades 9-12 are asked to create a 30-45 second public service announcement that illustrates the connection between world population at seven billion and one of the following topics: Food security, wildlife habitat, or the global status of women and girls.

Cash prizes will be awarded to four winners in each topic area. Three grand prize winners will receive $1,000. Participating teachers will receive free curriculum. The deadline for video submission is Feb. 21, 2013.

For full contest rules or to see previous winning videos, please visit

Friday, November 9, 2012

November 2012 Reader on Tech in the Classroom

Cleveland Heights Schools End iPad Project After Students Become Targets for Mugging [StateImpact Ohio via The Quick and the Ed] - Unintended consequences of issuing high tech devices to students. I haven't heard of too many incidents of this caliber here in McAllen, where all students will soon have iPads or iPad Touch devices, but we certainly dealt with theft, misplaced devices and damage last year (the pilot/transition year).

Does More Tech in the Classroom Help Kids Learn? [Mashable!] - For more on this idea, read my reflections after visiting a Rocketship Education school in 2010: Lessons Learned from Rocketship Education.

D.C. students test ‘Teach to One’ learning system [Washington Post via The Quick and the Ed]

10 Things School Leaders Do to Kill a Teacher's Enthusiasm for Technology [The 21st Century Principal]

Low Income Students’ Test Scores Leap 30% With Smartphone Use [Mashable!]

Monday, November 5, 2012

Review and Giveaway: 'The Together Teacher' by Maia Heyck-Merlin

Maia Heyck-Merlin has put together what should be required reading for teachers who are a couple of years into their career, a sort of sequel to The First Days of School that paints with a much wider brush.  The Together Teacher is, in short, a powerful toolbox for veteran teachers.

The structure of Heyck-Merlin's book reflects heavily on the style of thinking and planning that Teach For America and Achievement First similarly employ in their respective organizations.  Each chapter is full of reflection questions, critical thoughts about why each tool is important, and real life examples and scenarios that provide guidance on what these tools might look like in action.  The emphasis on nuanced, detailed planning is also a hallmark of what these organizations teach their people to do.

The most important thing about this book is not the structure, however, but the philosophy behind the tools. You need all this planning and organization not just to become a more effective teacher, but to make sure you have time for your life outside of teaching.  Heyck-Merlin wants effective teaching to go hand in hand with a sustainable career, something that TFA and high-performing charters like AF talk about but don't necessarily prioritize.

The amount of planning, organizing and systematization that goes into being a "together" teacher might seem daunting to those who aren't so formal with their routines, systems and procedures. Yet Heyck-Merlin breaks down her methods and templates so well that most teachers should be able to pull much of it off if they're willing to put in the effort.

A guide as comprehensive as The Together Teacher must be read, absorbed and used like any other resource: you take what you can.  Teaching is more art than science, both in how each of us approaches the job and in how carry it out.  The tools in The Together Teacher aren't going to work for everybody, but everybody will be able to find something in these pages.

I have a copy of the book to give away. All you have to do for a chance to win the book is send an email with the subject "Together Teacher Giveaway" to by Tuesday, November 6 at 11:59pm CST.  I'll select a winner at random.

Thanks to John Wiley & Sons, Inc. for providing a review copy.

Friday, November 2, 2012

A Brief Collection of Critical Topics Missing From Most Curricula

Creative Thinking: What Does Teaching Creativity Look Like? [GOOD]

Entrepreneurship: Why Students Should Gain Entrepreneurship Experience Before Graduating [TechCrunch] - This article is focused on college students, but the lesson is true for middle and high school students as well.

Web (media) literacy: Why Web Literacy Should Be Part of Every Education [Fast Company: Co.Exist] - See also 12 Things Students Should Never Do on Social Media from Mashable.

Coding: Want to Teach Kids to Code? Send 'Em to a 'Hack Jam' [GOOD] - Learning to code is not just for engineers or computer scientists anymore, as an increasingly wider range of career opportunities for people with coding skills has been building up for years. That's before you consider how much coding can help you with problem solving, logic and creative thinking.

Independence, tolerance and a few more: 9 Essential Skills Kids Should Learn []

Friday, October 26, 2012

Weekend Reader on Khan Academy

I have some pretty strong opinions on this topic, but I'm going to save that for another time. Instead, I want you to be aware of the ongoing debate about Khan Academy and its place in education.

Wrath At Khan? What Should Teachers Expect From Khan Academy? [Eduwonk] - Read the comments for more insight into the debate over this new resource.

My thoughts on tech & education [The Game Theorist] - On KA and more.

Video: Khan Lessons Merely Adequate, Says Rubenstein [This Week In Education] - This guy misses the point (like he does on most issues) but not all of his criticism are unfounded.

'Mystery Teacher Theater 2000' Contest Calls for Critiques of Khan Academy Videos [GOOD] - I get why the professors involved started the contest, but really, there isn't anything in education more worth criticism like this?  Here's another article about MTT2K: Critiquing Khan Academy: Teacher Theater and the Power of Satire.

YouTube's Looking for the Next Education Superstar [GOOD] - Beyond KA?

Is Khan Academy a real ‘education solution’? [WaPo - The Answer Sheet] - Another reviewer who misses the point, but that's pretty much the rule when it comes to Valerie Strauss.

Friday, October 19, 2012

October 2012 Weekend Reader on Tablets & Apps in Education

7 Essential Apps for Grade School Students [Mashable!]

Tablets Will Transform the Classroom [OPINION] vs. Why the iPad Won’t Transform Education — Yet [Mashable!] - A good point-counterpoint on the use of tablets in the classroom.

This New App Turns Your iPad Into Your Classroom [GOOD] - The app I used in my classroom last year that my kids found easy to use (as did I). It's simple to make Khan Academy-style videos that are way more engaging than a PowerPoint.

A New Algebraic Math App: Polynomial Long Division [Wired:GeekDad]

iPad Game Run For President Teaches Kids About the Election Process [Wired:GeekDad]

Monday, October 1, 2012

Fixing a Common Problem With My Like Terms Card Game

Jen B, a high school math teacher from Kansas recently wrote me with a dilemma using my Like Terms card game:
My students are playing the game and our biggest problem is getting someone to go out. They use all the draw pile and then the only card left is ,'take 1 card from another player' Sometimes they can go out, sometimes they are at a stand still. What did we do wrong? They are in groups of 3 kids and I only let them create matches of 3 or 4 like terms at a time. It seems like you'll need a discard pile. Please advise us.
What I told her was that I avoided using a discard pile in my original game because my students were not familiar with rummy style (draw, play, discard) gameplay, but you can certainly add it back in.

The other option is to allow students to add individual cards onto other people's piles, which some people allow in rummy type games. So if my opponent has x, 3x and 5x and in my hand I have a lonely 2x, I can add it on to my opponent's group. I would put it with my own cards and I have to announce what I'm adding it on to, so that players aren't just throwing down cards they can't make groups of. In this way, they're still making groups but have the flexibility they need to get out.

After my response, she let me know how she fixed the problem:
For my second class, I added the discard pile back in. My students seemed to be familiar with Rummy and even asked if they could take the top card off the discard pile instead of draw, which I just might do next time.
Adding the discard pile back in solved our problem.
Earlier posts on this game:

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Project Idea: What If You Lived in the World's Skinniest House?

When I read about the world's skinniest house, a 47-inch wide building wedged between two big buildings in Warsaw, Poland, all I could think about is what I would be able to fit in there.  As a restless soul who has moved a dozen times in the last decade (including three times across the country) I have whittled down my belongings to a comfortable minimum over the years, so I probably could fit more than most.

Still, I had to visualize what 47 inches really looked like, which lead to countless questions: Could my bathtub fit in there? My kitchen table?  My bed?  (Answers: Yes / Yes, barely / Not unless you have a chainsaw handy).  Even if I could squeeze many things in there, how much room would I need to actually move around?  How wide am I?  Do I really want to be walking like an Egyptian at home all the time?

Of course, these are all math questions: measurement, scale, spatial reasoning and most importantly problem solving.  This would make a very thought provoking project for math students from grade 3 and up. 

Show the images to your students and have them answer a series of questions that will unlock more and more exploration:
  1. What does 47 inches actually look like?  How many feet is that?
  2. How much space do you need to move around?  How wide is your body?  How wide is your body if you turn sideways? 
  3. What items from the classroom could we fit in this house?
  4. If we wanted to move as much as possible from the classroom into the house, how much of it could we take?
  5. What would we be able to take if we still wanted to be able to move around the house (think about your answer to #2)?
  6. What items would have to be left behind?
Get some meter sticks and tape measures out and have them go at it.  Remember that they should be thinking in three dimensions, not just one or two.  Later, you can send your students home with a similar set of questions:
  1. What items would I be able to take from my own room (remembering how much space you need to move around)?
  2. What furniture and appliances from the bathroom, kitchen and other rooms in the house would be able to fit?  What would you have to leave behind or replace?
At the high school level, you could have students create a scale drawing of each floor of their 47 inch wide house with a floor plan of their stuff and how it would fit.  They would have to label where you would sleep, eat, sit, bathe, etc.  Elementary and middle school students could design and draw their own skinny house to illustrate all the things they discovered when measuring to see what items might fit (you might even give them a template or graphic organizer to fill out).

The real beauty of this project is that you would be able to incorporate writing at all grade levels (rewording these questions appropriately):
  1. Would you want to live in this house?
  2. If you did move into this house, what things do you have that you couldn't live without?  Would they fit?  If not, what would you do?  What would you be willing to leave behind? 
  3. What is the smallest space you would be willing to live in?
  4. What changes would you make to this house to make it better?
What else could you do with this?  Have you created, used or read about similar projects?  Share your ideas and resources in the comments.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Get 15% Off My Books for International Talk Like a Pirate Day

Today is International Talk Like a Pirate Day, so it's only fitting that offer a coupon with the code PIRATA to get 15% off any order.

It's as good of an excuse as any to pick up either Ten Cheap Lessons or Teaching is Not a Four Letter Word.  If you're a new or struggling teacher, I think you'll get a lot out of both of them.  As one reader recently emailed to me, regarding Ten Cheap Lessons:
Just wanted you to know I loved your book!! It gave me some great ideas for this coming year! I also just downloaded your other book, Teaching is Not a Four-Letter Word. Haven't read it yet, but I'm sure I'll love it too!
Just enter the code PIRATA at checkout.  The coupon expires this Friday, September 21, 2012.

Friday, August 31, 2012

New Educational Games to Play With Your Kids

Blurble: 300 Nouns in a Box [Wired:GeekDad] - This Kickstarter project was just fully funded, meaning this great educational game idea should become a reality very shortly.

Code Hero and the “Apollo Program for Math” [The Number Warrior] - Another successful Kickstarter project, Code Hero is a game that helps teach kids programming.

Education and Wonder in a Box - Delivered [Wired:GeekDad] - "Wonder Box is a monthly service that sends you a box full of supplies to interact in creative play with your younger children."

Use This App to Teach Your Kids Basic Banking [Mashable!]

If Schools Kill Creativity, Can Toys Bring It Back to Life? - Education - GOOD

Back to School 2012 Reader on Social Media

Why Educators Should Spend 15 Minutes a Day on Social Media [Converge Magazine, via Twitter]

45 Simple Twitter Tips Everyone Should Know About [Edudemic]

Opening Up Facebook is Essential Because Kids Need Training Wheels [Game Theorist]

The Ultimate Teacher’s Guide To Social Media [Edudemic]

Rules That Work [via Twitter] - A Pinterest board that should remind you of the power of this particular social media network for inspiration. Read more about utilizing Pinterest for education here.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Five Years (+ 1 Month) of Blogging!

July 24 was the fifth anniversary of the first ever post on this blog, which I mistakenly thought was today. 

The fifth anniversary is traditionally the wooden anniversary, so here's a lesson idea using Jenga for you to consider. 

It has not been easy to keep this going for so long, and I want to thank everyone who has read, emailed, commented, or linked to my work.  I'd also like to thank everyone who's purchased one of my books over the years.  I hope you have received as much inspiration from this blog as I you have provided for me.

I can't make any predictions on how much longer I will do this (despite what the blog's name might suggest).  All I can say, again, is thank you.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Math in the Real World: Should I Take This Loan Offer?

Sometimes fortune smiles upon you. This came in the mail on Saturday. Most likely, similar offers end up in your mailbox no matter who you are or where you live.  If you're a teacher, don't throw these away!  Cut out or black out whatever information you need to, then bring in a copy to show your students.

This would be an interesting discussion during the first few days of school: Is this a good deal? Should I take this loan?

You could make this just a simple Do Now and leave it at that.  It could also be the beginning of a lesson on simple or compound interest, percents, rates, or just financial literacy.  Either way, talk about how this kind of math surrounds us every day, and if we don't know what it means, we're going to be taken advantage of.

See also: Math in the Real World: Erasing Debt Activity

Friday, August 17, 2012

Thursday, July 26, 2012

The Game That Will Save Zynga (And Mathematics Education)

I've shared many games and ideas over the years to help students and kids practice their essential number sense skills.  Yet I know these ideas have only reached a fraction of the population, as will most learning games.

The best educational games are the ones that don't seem to be educational.  They don't dress up rote learning with graphics and sound effects.  They require a bit of critical thinking as well.

I'm addicted to Zynga's social games (like everyone else with an iPhone) such as Words With Friends and Scramble With Friends.  They're fun because you're playing against a real person, but they're also educational.  Both games force you to delve deep into your vocabulary and do so rather quickly.

So while playing Scramble, I imagined replacing the letters with numbers and asking players to create different combinations that would add up to a certain goal.  With just a few tweaks to Scramble's interface and mechanics, you could easily make a game I'll call Numbers With Friends that would be just as fun, addictive and educational as its predecessor.

Take a look at the mock-up above.  Each round, you'd be given a goal number and run your fingers across the numbers to create the right sum.  The more combinations you can find and the more numbers you use add to your score.  For example, could press just the -6 alone for 1 point, or press -5 + 0 + -8 + 0 + 6 + 1 + 1 for 7 points.

I don't claim this to be a completely original or revolutionary idea, but I'm taking a common number sense activity and putting it in a package that almost anyone would love to play.  If I knew how to program (and how to not get sued) I would make this myself, but I've always been a fan of not reinventing the wheel if you don't have to.

Mashable! reports that Zynga's business is a bit down at the moment, so this is the perfect time for a modest offer: I'll gladly take a job or a big fat check for my surefire idea.  I'll be awaiting your response.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Make Your First iPad Project About Using It For Academic Success

This past year, nearly all of my students received iPads as part of the district's ambitious one-to-one technology initiative.  It was a challenging transition, especially in terms of getting students to view and use their devices for academic purposes and not just for chatting, gaming or watching music videos.

So one of my first projects using the iPads was to get them to think about ways the devices could help students do better in school.

It was originally supposed to be a mandatory project, but I assigned it far too close to end of the grading period for that to be fair.  That's why it became an extra credit project.  I would highly recommend doing this project with every iPad-wielding student.

Format: Video, Keynote presentation or publish online

Topic: 5 Ways Students Can Use Their iPad To Do Better In School
Sample Topics:
  • How to use the iPad to take notes
  • How to use the iPad to keep track of assignments, tests, grades, etc
  • How to study better with the iPad
  • Apps for drawing, making animations, editing pictures, etc
  • Apps/websites that can teach you one or many subjects (example: Khan Academy, iTunesU)
  • Where and how to get free eBooks, magazines, other things to read on your iPad
  • Useful apps/websites (calculators, dictionaries, references, etc)
****You should focus on the apps already on the iPad, free apps to download, and websites that students could visit. Creativity and originality will count for your grade.

****Videos should be less than 5 minutes. Presentations should no more than 10 slides.
I would make a couple of small tweaks if I did this project again: 1) allow more time, 2) change it to ten ways, and 3) increase the emphasis on finding useful apps.  In fact, I ended up creating a separate project later on where students found and installed practical apps due to that last oversight.

Many students did participate, and there were a lot of common themes throughout their suggestions: they could use the iPad to take notes, keep track of assignments (on a to do list or calendar), do written assignments, do research, and use the calculator.  I was also surprised by a couple of students who looked forward to videotaping my lessons so that they could replay them later, which I thought was great.

One final note: my district installed Keynote along with the rest of Mac's iWork suite. If your students don't have it, here is a list of alternatives your students could use.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Teacher Appreciation Days Coming To OfficeMax This Weekend

Just received some good news via email:
        WHAT:               Teachers spend roughly $1,000* out of their own pockets each year on school supplies.  And, as school budgets decline, teachers face a new school year with added pressure to spend more of their personal salaries to help bridge the budget gap in the classroom. This weekend, OfficeMax is helping to ease this burden on teachers with special “Teacher Appreciation Days” honoring educators and offering major teacher-specific sales on essential classroom supplies.

        WHEN:              Event dates vary by market and can be found at

        WHERE:            Local OfficeMax stores nationwide

        DETAILS:          Teachers receive the following during OfficeMax’s Teacher Appreciation Days (in-store only):
  • FREE Reusable Tote Bag
  • 25% OFF everything** that fits inside the tote bag, including sale-priced items
  • Booklet of teacher-specific coupons (with big discounts) for later in the season
  • $10 in MaxPerks Rewards for every $75 teachers spend on qualifying purchases—up to $100 each year.
MaxPerks Rewards for Teachers
  • For additional savings opportunities throughout the year, teachers can join the MaxPerks Rewards for Teachers program at no charge either in-store or at

Monday, July 9, 2012

A Quick Primer For School Leaders Interested in Social Media

The above video is by New Milford High School (NJ) principal Eric Sheninger, who is one of the biggest advocates of school leaders utilizing social media to improve their schools.  He's also an influential voice for education on Twitter.  In short, he's a good resource to connect with if you want to learn more.

Another excellent resources is a blog entitled The 21st Century Principal, which covers social media topics in depth from an educator's perspective.  Here are some recent must-read articles to get you started:
If you want to connect with many more school leaders exploring the use of social media and other technology in schools, you should check out the Connected Principals chat on Twitter by looking up the hashtag #cpchat.

There's so much to talk about here that it might seem overwhelming, which is why I'm going to close this primer with just a few posts on social media in education that I've shared:

Friday, July 6, 2012

5 Cutting Edge iPad Apps for Creative Thinking & Learning

3D Printing App: Copy Objects Right From Your iPad [Mashable] - A free app from the makers of Autodesk, 123D Catch allows you to turn a series of iPad pictures of an object, shot at multiple angles, into a 3D model you could then have printed.

Verde for iPad Suggests Simple Changes You Can Make to Save Money and Energy [Lifehacker] - This could become part of real-world science and math project where students would figure out how to cut the electric bill at home (as well as consider the environmental impact).

Learn to Program With Move the Turtle [Wired:GeekDad] This app reminds me of the Logo programming language I first learned back in high school.

iPad App Combines Your Child’s Artwork and Voice [Mashable] - Educreations is an alternate, free option that doesn't have much in the way of colors but has the same basic functionality.

Can Apps Transform Learning into Games? [Game Theorist] - A review of several educational apps that feel like games where you learn something without even knowing it.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Colonial Williamsburg Offers Free Virtual Field Trip on Politics & Elections

I just received this great opportunity for social studies classrooms in my inbox: Colonial Williamsburg is offering a virtual field trip about elections and politics called "The Will of the People."  Teachers can access it for free for the entire month of September.  Here are the details:
Now that school’s out for the summer, I thought your readers might like a jump-start on next year’s lesson plans with Colonial Williamsburg’s ‘Gift to the Nation,’ a free month of its interactive electronic field trip. Designed to help enhance America’s political history and highlight the election process in the classroom, “The Will of the People” revolves around the bitter contest of 1800 between Thomas Jefferson and John Adams and shows that smear tactics aren’t particular to the modern political era.

“The Will of the People” will be available at no charge during September, leading up to this year’s election.  Designed to bring the engaging and educational atmosphere of Colonial Williamsburg to classrooms across America, the electronic field trip is an immersion for both teachers and students in authentic historical content. Teachers will be provided with multi-disciplinary lesson plans, teacher activities and program scripts while students can take part in history with interactive resources and web activities.

To register, log on to The program is available at no cost from Sept. 1-Sept. 30. After September, “the Will of the People” will be available for $120 per school. Registration is open from now through the month of September.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Double Book Giveaway: Skill Builders for Algebra I & II

This week I'm giving away two resource books that have been extremely useful to me over the years.  Algebra I, Grades 5 - 8 (Skill Builders) and Algebra II, Grades 6 - 8 (Skill Builders) cover a range of topics in a straightforward manner: one or two clear examples on the top of each page and then a series of focused practice problems.

In short, these are the resource books to use when your students need practice on one specific topic.  Unlike most textbooks and many resource books, these two books don't go off in a thousand directions and throw in a lot of poorly written word problems. 

While the books claim to be for late elementary and middle school grades, I've used them exclusively with high school students as they are sufficiently challenging and cover all the necessary topics.

If you want a chance to win both, send an email to with the subject "Skill Builders" by Tuesday 7/3, 11:59pm CST.  Good luck!

Friday, June 29, 2012

Weekend Reader on Bold New Ideas for Schools

Why Every School Needs an 'Innovation Day' [GOOD] - Liz Dwyer advocates for schools to follow Google's lead and give students time to work on whatever project they want and have them present it to everyone. I'd take it a step further and say we need Y Combinator or hackathon-style programs in our schools to foster the kind of creativity, problem solving and higher-order thinking our kids deserve and need.

4 Things That Ninth-Graders Can Teach You About Risk-Taking Design [Fast Company Co.Design] - A more structured experiment in project-based learning.

Coolest class ever: Valve brings Portal 2 to schools [VentureBeat] - Video game studio Valve has a new education program that attempts to bridge the gap between games and education. We need more companies to step up like this!

Kickstarting Education [Wired:GeekDad] - A thought experiment (that should become a real one) on using fundraising website Kickstarter for something at your local school.

In the Bronx, a New School Combines Tech Skills and Cultural Literacy [GOOD]

Monday, June 25, 2012

Don't Stop Trying Bold New Ideas, Even When You Fail

Right before school started last fall, I made a list of several new ideas I wanted to try out in the year ahead.  Some of them had been ruminating in my mind for years, and I felt that I had a unique opportunity in a new situation to build the classroom I had always wanted.  Here is the list:
  1. ACT/SAT Question of the day? Week?
  2. Blended learning - sort of. Khan Academy etc Study Island??
  3. Facebook page
  4. Group work products - Complex Inst principles - butcher paper
  5. Meaningful homework - Use word wall: over the course of the six weeks, students will produce (illustrated guide / puzzle / children's book / song etc) something for all words.  Math puzzles from Professor Stewart's Cabinet of Mathematical Curiosities by Ian Stewart
  6. Experiment with IWB - Battleship!!
  7. Use PI office to get guest speakers
  8. Make infographics into posters- college, education, health, poverty etc
I just rediscovered this over the weekend and realized I accomplished only a couple of these things.  I incorporated Khan Academy into my curriculum, I created Facebook pages for my classes, and at the very beginning of the year I used some puzzles from Dr. Stewart's book as an icebreaker.  I didn't do any of those things particularly well either.  The other ideas disappeared into the ether of a typically busy school year.

Yet despite my failure to successfully implement these ideas, I won't hesitate to tell you that you should never stop trying new things to improve your teaching.  The minute you lose your desire to get better, to struggle to improve, you might as well start looking for a new career.

A few weeks age I told you to make a list of things you need to do better in the future before you forget them.  Consider this an addendum: make a big list of bold new things you want to try out next year.  Better yet, research good ideas over the summer and then make a list just before school starts.

What kind of things would be on your list?  I'd love to read them in the comments.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Weekend Reader on Educators Using Pinterest

Analog Pinterest board
First, a confession: I am not yet a Pinterest user, but I see the potential in and out of the classroom.  Here are some resources to help you and I get started:

16 Ways Educators Can Use Pinterest [INFOGRAPHIC] [Mashable!]

Teachers Pin With Their Students [Mashable!]

Pinterest Resources for Educators [Cool Cat Teacher Blog] - See also her Simple Pinterest for Beginners.

Cybraryman's Pinterest Resource List - Side note: I find it hilarious that this webpage dealing with a resource that launched in 2010 looks like something created in 1997. Just sayin'.

20 Reasons Why Teachers Should Use Pinterest [via Twitter]

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

An Anticipatory Activity Before Students Get iPads

If your students are getting iPads in the near future, you'll of course need to prepare your students for it.  First, you'll have to discuss the relevant school and classroom policies for using the devices (and the Internet, since I'm assuming your students will get at least limited access).

After that, I suggest taking some time to build anticipation and get your students into the right mindset, namely that the iPad is an amazing learning tool and not merely a toy.  I created a short activity for students to do just that. 

The first part is a survey, to get an idea of familiar they are with Apple devices and their experience creating online content (such as creating YouTube videos or blogging).  The second part asks them to brainstorm what they want to do with the iPads, including what apps they might be interested in, with a few websites to get them started.  Finally, there's a chance for them to ask questions so you know what to address when they finally have them in their hands.

Of course, the job of training students on using these devices doesn't end here, but it's a good start.  If you have any similar activities for students who are about to get iPads or other tablets, please share them in the comments.

iPad Preview Activity (Google Docs)

Friday, June 15, 2012

Weekend Reader on STEM & Education, June 2012

Obama's Video Game Challenge [Edublog: All Things Education] - This actually happened a while ago, but it's a good development as far as the push for better educational video games AND more engagement with STEM subjects.

WANTED: Rosie the Programmer [Wired:GeekMom] - On an organization trying to encourage more girls interested in STEM careers.

A New Coalition Is Tackling the STEM Teacher Shortage [GOOD]

50 Best iPad Apps for STEM Education [Online Universities via Twitter]

Education Week: Spotlight on STEM [via Twitter] - Free for a limited time.

Bonus: See my earlier Five for Friday post, Weekend Reader on Enhancing STEM in Education for more on this topic.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Book Giveaway: The Manga Guide to Linear Algebra

I think I've found a linear algebra book that could teach just about anyone: The Manga Guide to Linear Algebra. The good folks at No Starch Press have created a series of guides that combine elements of manga (Japanese-style comics) with a well-explained exploration of complex subjects (calculus, physics, etc).

In this entry in the series, scrawny math whiz Reiji convinces the captain of the university karate club to let him join, with one condition: he must tutor Misa, the captain's little sister, in linear algebra.  Luckily, she also happens to be the girl of Reiji's dreams (although he is warned to not so much as flirt with her).

This is the setup that leads into Reiji's easy-to-follow lessons on the basics of linear algebra, with Misa asking the kinds of questions any curious student would.  I think you could hand this to any good student in algebra or beyond and they would be able to figure a lot of this stuff out on their own.  You might even kindle a lifelong love of math (I can dream, can't I?).

If I haven't sold you yet, download Chapter 2 (PDF) and see it for yourself.  I'm a big proponent of using graphic novels and comics in the classroom and these Manga Guides take it to another level.  That's why I'm giving away a copy of The Manga Guide to Linear Algebra to one lucky reader! 

To enter, simply send an email with the subject Manga Guide to by 11:59pm CST this Friday 6/15.  I'll pick a random winner from those entries.  Good luck!

Thanks to No Starch Press for providing a review copy!

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Bellwether Hosting Better Blogging Workshop for Teachers This August

Bellwether Education Partners, a national nonprofit  based in Washington, D.C., is hosting a workshop called Better Blogging: Skills and Tools for Teacher Bloggers on August 11, 2012.  The workshop is the brainchild of Andrew Rotherham, co-founder of Bellwether, blogger and columnist for TIME.

I had the privilege to attend the first Better Blogging conference in February, and am so grateful for the opportunity.  The best part for me was networking with other amazing edubloggers, such as Marlyin Rhames, who writes the fantastic blog Charting My Own Course and Mark Anderson, who blogs for Gotham Schools

The line up of presenters was equally awe-inspiring, including such distinguished journalists as Carl Cannon (Pulitzer Prize and Gerald R. Ford Prize winner) and Ezra Klein (Washington Post columnist and frequent MSNBC contributor).  They'll be there in August along with a group of experienced bloggers and journalists that have the kind of impact I think any teacher blogger would hope to have.

If you have a teaching-focused blog or are about to start one, and are looking for ways to take it to the next level, I strongly recommend you apply.  The application is due July 9th, but considering the 5:1 ratio of applicants to attendees in February, you should apply ASAP!

If you're interested but have more questions, you can email Bellwether's Rachael Brown or just ask me.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Summer Fun For Teachers And/Or Their Kids

Where Can I Find Free or Cheap Things to Do This Summer? [Lifehacker]

30 Classic Games for Simple Outdoor Play [Wired:GeekDad]

School's Out -- Go Make Something With Make: Magazine [Wired:GeekDad]

30 Minutes a Day [Lifehacker] - Start a dream project with just a small investment of focused time each day.

48 Ultra-Cool Summer Sites for Kids and Teachers [Ed Tech Ideas via Twitter]

BONUS: Creative, DIY Summer Projects for Your Kids - Here's 5 projects I shared last summer that will be just as fun this summer.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Giveaway: Algebra DeMystified: A Self-Teaching Guide

This week I'm giving away a copy of Algebra DeMYSTiFieD (link goes to a newer edition), a great reference to have in your classroom library for your students or at home for your kids.  It might also be helpful if you're a college student who is struggling but needs to pass your math requirement.

Examples are explained clearly and succinctly, with tons of practice problems to work out. If you're interested, send me an email ( with the subject "Algebra Demystified" by Wednesday 11:59pm CST.  I'll pick one random winner.  Good luck!

Friday, June 1, 2012

5 Ideas for Personal & Professional Development This Summer

3 Ways Teachers Can Use Summer to Build Skills [US News and World Report]

Video: Using Twitter To Create A Personal PLC [This Week In Education] - No better time to tap in to Twitter as a resource.

'EdCamp' Turns Teachers Into Grassroots Idea Hackers [GOOD] - There are tons of these happening all over the country this summer, with new ones popping up all the time. Attend one this summer for a totally different take on PD.

Some Things You Can Do Right Now to Change Your Life [The Art of Non-Conformity]

Build Your Summer Manifesto [Lifehacker] - Don't limit your development focus to only things directly related to teaching or education.  As I've talked about here countless times, you need to work on the "you" that's not a teacher.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Looking For Teachers Who Use Comic Books & Graphic Novels in the Classroom

Friend of the blog and Denver-area educator Adrian Neibauer is looking for teachers who use comic books and/or graphic novels in the classroom:
Next month, I may be presenting at the Denver Con how I have used comic books to teach literacy in my classroom over the last year. I am very excited for this opportunity to show a much larger audience the educational value of comic literature. However, I am in need of more teachers who are doing the same.
The coordinator of the Comic Con is asking me to locate/advertise to any and all teachers, in this district or others, who have used, or are using comic books or graphic novels in their classrooms. They do not have to be using them exclusively or in any particular subject area. I am just trying to locate teachers who have experimented with this medium and have found it successful and/or valuable.
If you know of anyone who has (particularly in the Denver/Metro area), please forward my email address to them. I would like to contact them for a potential discussion forum on comic literature. 
If you're interested or can help, please email me and I'll connect you with Adrian.

Make a List of Things To Improve Upon Before You Forget Them

Empty bulletin board
The compliment to yesterday's list of "good things I did this year" is a list of things you need to improve upon the following year.  Framing it this way, instead of a list of "things I didn't do well" or "ways I suck as a teacher" makes you think specifically in a constructive, actionable way.

What might this look like?  Here are the lists I made at the end of my first two years in the classroom:

Things To Improve Upon In 04-05
  1. Better utilize space on each Interactive Notebook page
  2. Use seating charts and seating arrangements more effectively (identify trouble pairs and move them apart).
  3. Call ALL parents in the first month.
  4. Call parents more quickly (don't let it get out of hand first, also helps identify parents that aren't going to be much help).
  5. If I'm cluster leader, arrange for lunch detention and maximize number of cluster meetings.
  6. More assertiveness in the classroom--don't give up on anyone!
  7. Talk to previous year's teacher as well as counselors for insights on struggling kids
  8. Make copies of all referrals before handing them in
Things To Improve Upon In 05-06
  1. Better Andrew Jackson video? (they were bored with the last one)
  2. Watch over tape/staplers like a hawk
  3. Sell pencils
  4. Be better prepared for new students: get their info and communicate with parents earlier
  5. Better long-term projects to continue reviewing key topics all year
  6. Implement current events mini-curriculum
  7. Students should clean up around their desks every period before they can leave
  8. Rename the Do Now -- Kickoff, Starter?
  9. Continue working on improving discipline, especially not yelling, getting visibly upset with everyone, not just certain students
  10. Let students write out hall passes themselves so I just sign it
  11. Better "big goal" project to keep them going at the end of the year
  12. More integrated writing
  13. Use mobile lab for research, projects, powerpoints
  14. Focus more on skills TEKS/integrate more fully into existing lessons
  15. Clearer big goal and student-created (or maintained) ongoing tracking system
  16. More observations/professional development
Both this reflection exercise and yesterday's are ideas I wrote about in Teaching is Not a Four Letter Word: How to Stop Worrying and Love the Job.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Make a List of Good Things You Did This Year Before You Forget Them

At the end of my first year of teaching, despite some good results, I found myself dwelling on my many failures. The job had been harder than I possibly could have imagined, and so I wondered: What did I actually accomplish this year? Did I do anything right?

To refocus on the positive, I made a list of "good things I accomplished this year" before I forgot everything over the summer.  My mind tends to remember negatives much more vividly than positives, especially over time (I imagine this is true for most people).

I suggest that you take some time right around the end of your school year to make your own list.  It should include positive impacts you had on students but also any other successes you've had.  I think you'll find that once you force yourself to start, you'll have many more accomplishments to be proud of than you thought beforehand. 

What might this look like?  Here are some items I included in lists from my first two years in the classroom:

Good Things I Accomplished in 2003-2004
  1. Improvement in classwork and behavior of... [I listed specific student names and realized that I had quite a long list!]
  2. Building strong bonds with students outside the classroom- [Again, once I started listing students it was hard to stop!]
  3. Keeping the pressure on my ESL students to do well by going to [the campus ESL coordinator] for help
  4. Keeping the pressure on my CMC kids to do well by meeting with Sp. Ed. teachers regularly
  5. Being able to keep up with the quick curriculum pace and still help them do well on their nonstop ridiculous tests
  6. Improving my classroom management--calling parents, writing referrals, not letting kids get away with whatever they want.  "Lockdown" was a great idea for 8th, but dealing with individual students would in retrospect have been better
  7. Figuring out how to do this job without (or perhaps even while) going crazy!
  8. My dedication to what's best for my students, not for the administration!
  9. 76% passing the TAKS, including many surprises.  We improved on every benchmark!
  10. Proficient & Exceeds on PDAS
Good Things I Accomplished in 2004-2005
  1. Creating a classroom where disrespect is not allowed, handling classroom management as best I can
  2. Early success of brilliant students like [another long list of amazing kids]
  3. Calling parents about discipline and failing grades more than ever.
  4. Not allowing any student to be directly disrespectful to me; not letting things go like I did last year, but not letting it get me upset
  5. Getting 2nd, 7th and 8th under control
  6. Mi espanol esta mejorando!
  7. Making the kids not doing classwork sign contracts to do their work, and making sure they come during lunch every day to finish it.
  8. My idea for academies after benchmarks was picked up by the administration.
  9. My idea to pool the history department's money to buy an LCD projector worked out.
  10. Starting lunch detention earlier this year and enforcing it without any help from the cluster.
  11. Reaching out to students in alternative [I spent a lot of time heading over to the district AEP to visit students who were sent there.]
  12. Using the lessons from Teaching with Love & Logic correctly and successfully.
  13. Continuing to fight for students who the other teachers have written off and refuse to make any modifications for them.  I'm trying to change lives and they're worried about their own petty concerns.  What the [heck] do your TEKS matter if this student crashes and burns next year, drops out, gets in trouble with drugs, crime or worse?  "You just have to do the work exactly like everybody else."  Why?  Because everyone learns in exactly the same way, and you're God's gift to teaching?  It flies in the face of everything I've ever been taught.  Why do we only make adjustments for those the school officially designates as in need?  [Obviously I was thinking about one student in particular here, but it certainly could have applied to many others.]
  14. Improving the ease of make-up work through assignment folders, an example binder for non-notebook assignments, and occasional class progress reports
  15. 83% TAKS passing rate with a higher standard and a more challenging group
  16. Used the mobile lab this year
  17. Improved at making more purposeful graphic organizers and utilizing pre, during and post-reading strategies for readings, skits, movies, etc

Do you use a helpful reflection exercise at the end of the school year?  I'd love to hear about it in the comments.

Monday, May 28, 2012

We're One Step Closer to a TV Show That Changes How We Think About Math

In 2009, I wrote about the need for an educational TV show that would change the way we think about math in America.  In short, my idea was for a show that would combine the best elements of reality shows like Mythbusters and Dirty Jobs with educational children's shows like Bill Nye and Beakman's World.  Ideally, it would be something smart, funny and engaging for kids and adults alike.

Now, the team behind the website Mathalicious have launched a Kickstarter campaign to create Math52, a series of weekly videos that would come very close to what I was talking about.  If it is successful online, I think it's reasonable to assume it could end up on TV (far more ludicrous things have been adapted from the internet into television; why not this?).

The fundraising goal is $27,000 to support the creation of the first 8 videos. As of this writing, their total stands just about $14,000 with a June 16th deadline looming.  I've pledged $50 and hope you'll consider supporting Math52 as well.  Check out the sample video below and an accompanying lesson for an idea of what they'll be doing.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Help Students Calculate The Grades They Need To Pass

This is an end-of-year activity for any subject, although your students will need to be able to do at least a little basic algebra to complete it: calculating exactly what they need to pass the semester and for the year overall.

Perhaps this is a sad statement on my performance this year, but it looks like a little less than half of my students are either likely to fail or could go either way depending on this last grading period and their semester exam grades.  Thus it was especially important for them to know the minimum grades they would need to earn for the last six-week grading period and the semester exam to pass.

The graphic organizer below asked them to look up their grades for Semester 1 and the two grading periods we've completed so far on our online system.  Then, I gave them the two equations needed to calculate the minimum average they needed.

Your situation in terms of grading periods, exams and policies might be different, so of course you will need to make several edits.***

Why this needs to be so complicated, I do not know.  If you have a better or different way of accomplishing the same thing, please share it in the comments.

***In our case, we have six grading periods and two semester exams that all count equally (thus 70 x 8 = 560 for the year).  Our minimum passing grade is a 70.  Students who average a 70 for the year, even if they failed one of the semesters, get the full credit for the year.  So while students who failed the first semester might need a certain grade to pass the second semester and get half credit, a higher grade is likely needed to get the full year's credit.  The 2x is used instead of x because there are two equally important grades left: the last grading period and the semester exam.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

How to Make a Copy of Google Docs I've Shared

Most of the documents I've shared over the past few years are Google Docs that I've made publicly viewable.  Anyone can see them, make a copy to their own Docs folder or save a copy on their computer.

The only thing I don't allow anyone to do is be added as an "editor" who can change these documents permanently, for obvious reasons. Yet I've been getting many email alerts that readers want to "share" certain documents, when I know what they really want to do is have a copy they can edit.

The key is that the "Share" button is not the one you want to use:

To save a copy of something I've shared to your Google Docs, simply click File > Make a Copy.  Google will create the copy immeadiately and you'll see the filename change to "Copy of..." and then the original name.  This is your copy to edit, save, print or even share as you please.

You can also download any Google Docs you can view in multiple formats by clicking File > Download As. Sometimes the formatting and fonts will change a bit in the conversion, but you'll be able to edit or print offline.

Here's a helpful how-to video if you need it:

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Book Giveaway: One Grain of Rice by Demi

A few years ago I learned about a really fun and unique way to introduce exponential functions to students: using the book One Grain Of Rice: A Mathematical Folktale by Demi.

Set long ago in India, the beautifully illustrated folktale tells the story of a greedy raja (the powerful ruler) who lives lavishly while his people go hungry.

One day, a young girl named Rani returns some of the raja's rice to him after it had fallen out of a basket.  The raja offered her anything she wanted as a reward.
"Very well," said Rani. "If it pleases Your Highness, you may reward me in this way.  Today, you will give me a single grain of rice.  Then, each day for thirty days you will give me double the rice you gave me the day before. Thus, tomorrow you will give me two grains of rice, the next day four grains of rice, and so on for thirty days."
The raja, lacking number sense, thinks this is entirely reasonable and agrees.  Thirty days later, let's just say a fool and his rice are soon parted.

Here are a few lesson ideas using this book:
I am giving away my copy of One Grain Of Rice to any math teacher or parent who wants to use it as a different way of introducing these kinds of functions.  Just send me an email ( with the subject "One Grain of Rice" between now and Friday 11:59pm CST to enter.  Good luck!

Monday, May 21, 2012

Collected End of Year Ideas & Resources

You have to look at the end of the school year in a couple of different ways.  First, you need to be prepared with engaging things to do with your students.  Secondly, you need to think about logistics, cleaning and paperwork that you need to finish so you can check out for the summer.  On top of that, you should be asking for feedback from your students and reflection on what went well and what didn't this year.

I've shared a lot of ideas on both fronts over the years, and I'm hoping to collect most of it here to help for years to come.

Lesson Ideas

Getting Feedback & Reflecting on the Year


As I look at what I have gathered here, I realize there are still many things I've done at the end of the year that I haven't shared yet.  I'll continue to add to this post in the future.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Weekend Reader on Gamification in the Classroom

Ben Bertoli's ClassRealm Is Gamifying the Classroom [Wired:GeekDad] - Bertoli has wrapped a classroom management system in the guise of an RPG-style game.

New Book: The Gamification of Learning and Instruction [Educational Games Research]

ZisBoomBah - A new website that encourages healthy eating habits in younger kids using game elements. Worth trying out with your elementary-age students.  A similar resource appropriate for older students and adults was shared recently on Lifehacker: SuperBetter Is a Game that Rewards You for Healthy Living and Working Towards Your Goals.  I'm fascinated by the idea of using these kinds of services to engage kids over the long run.

National Competition Promotes Digital Badges for DIY Learning [GOOD] - Badges are just an adaptation of "achievements" that are used in so many modern games.

Pearson-backed Startup Aims to Be the Zynga for Learning and AT&T’s Largest Donation Ever Creates A National Hub For Learning Through Video Games - Ironically, I called on Zynga to be the Zynga of education in a post about games and education last year. I'm not as excited about a textbook/test prep company like Pearson being involved, even just as a backer, but it's something.  AT&T is playing the same role with another educational video game company.  These are good times for learning games!

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Book Giveaway: Awakened by Angela Watson of The Cornerstone

What does it take overcome the daily stress and frustration that so many teachers face?

This is the central question addressed by Angela Watson's second book, Awakened: Change Your Mindset to Transform Your Teaching.  Watson, creator of The Cornerstone and longtime veteran of the classroom, has a simple, yet thought-provoking answer: change the way you think.

The mental game is of course, the key to longevity in this job.  If you don't master the game, it will consume you: at best, you'll quit and at worst, you'll keep teaching but be ineffective and miserable.

Watson makes it clear that the source of her own shift in mindset was a spiritual awakening, a reconnection to her Christian faith that had been lost to her for a time.  While her lessons are grounded in faith, those who don't consider themselves very religious won't feel that they are being preached to at all.  Watson explains that she hopes her experience and ideas will be something you "wrestle with... and use your questions and disagreements to bring you closer to the truth."

That being said, as you dive into the rest of Awakened, there's actually relatively little mention of God or religion.  Watson instead dives deep into tons of relevant research on the types of habits and mindsets that create problems for you and how to overcome them.

This is an incredibly practical, easy to read book that deal with issues most of you reading this confront each day.  I noticed many parallels to Teaching is Not a Four Letter Word, but Watson focuses exclusively on changing your mindset and expectations to help you survive and thrive in the classroom. If you're searching for answers, Awakened may indeed have them.

I have a copy of Awakened that I'm going to give away to a lucky reader.  I would like to share this book with someone who is in the classroom now, but struggling and wondering whether to continue teaching next year.  If that description fits you, send me an email ( by Friday 11:59pm CST and let me know you're interested in the book.

Have you already read Awakened? Share your thoughts on it in the comments.