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.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

An Educator's Reading List for Surviving & Thriving, Part 2

This is part two of a recommended reading list that helped inspire and supplement the ideas in my book Teaching is Not a Four Letter Word.  These are, in my opinion, your must-reads for surviving and thriving in education.

Seth Godin - Godin is a marketing and entrepreneurship guru whose ideas translate easily to what teachers need for the classroom.  Read Seth Godin Ideas Every Educator Should Read and 5 More Seth Godin Ideas Every Educator Should Read for examples.

Lifehacker - As I wrote last year: "Lifehacker has consistently been one of the most useful websites for me in and out of the classroom since I first started reading it.  It's a blog focused on productivity and efficiency--two keys for a long, successful career in education."  Read some examples in Five New Resources for Teachers from Lifehacker and find more in most weeks of Five for Friday.

Eduwonk - The best place to keep up with what's going on in education news, research and reform across the country, written by Andrew Rotherham (who is a co-founder of Bellwether Education Partners and writes the "School of Thought" column for TIME).  I had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Rotherham a couple of months ago and his passion for quality research and writing about education is inspiring.  His colleague Sara Mead writes a thoughtful, well written education policy blog for EdWeek that's also worth your time.

Other Websites
Twitter - Even though most of my experience with the social media juggernaut began after my book was published, the power of Twitter to help you learn and grow is unmatched.  It's the most fully realized version of the personal learning network idea suggested throughout the book.

Facebook - If you haven't opened yourself to the possibilities of Facebook as a classroom resource, check out pages I used in my Algebra 1 and MMA classes this year.  That experiment is a realization of my dream to integrate social media into the classroom, and while it did not work out as I would have liked, it's a huge step in the right direction.  The most popular website in the world is also a great way to network with other teachers.


I tried to focus on the resources I used before (and since) I published the book, so of course there are many other resources I've learned about since then that are just as indispensible.  That, however, is a subject for another time.  Check out yesterday's post for more!

Monday, May 14, 2012

An Educator's Reading List for Surviving & Thriving, Part 1

I recently ran a workshop for new and preservice teachers at The University of Texas-Pan American (where I'm working towards a masters in Educational Administration) on some of the overarching themes and specific pieces of advice from my book Teaching is Not a Four Letter Word.

After the workshop, I kicked myself for not creating a recommended reading list with all the sources that inspired many of the ideas in the book.  I refer to these books, magazines and blogs all the time here on the blog, but haven't yet collected them together.  I've included links to relevant posts I've written about each source as well.  Enjoy!

Teaching with Love & Logic: Taking Control of the Classroom by Jim Fay and David Funk. No single book has shaped me more as an educator than this classic.  It will revolutionize the way you manage your classroom and help you build strong relationships with your students, which is a base from which to do amazing things.  You can hear a bit about one of the main ideas in this video (skip to about 3 minutes in).

The 4-Hour Workweek by Tim Ferriss. This one always gets a laugh when I mention it to colleagues, but if you put aside the central conceit and concentrate on the ideas that apply directly to what teachers do, you'll create a more sustainable way of life:
Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap... and Others Don't by Jim Collins. This book should be standard reading for anyone who wants to be a leader in the classroom and especially if you want to move into a school or district leadership role.  Collins draws examples from the business world, but the principles of good leadership don't change--indeed, the main ideas of this book have become recurring themes in my graduate school program in Educational Administration.
    Fast Company - FC is a magazine about entrepreneurship and business that will inspire to anyone who wants to help their students succeed and be prepared for the 21st century.  They write about the nature of creativity, power of design, innovations in education, and how technology is shaping our world so you can keep on top of what's next.  Here are some reflections I did on education-related FC articles:
    GOOD - Consistently great writing on education and anything else having to do with being "what is sustainable, prosperous, productive, creative, and just".  Liz Dwyer is the Education Editor and does an amazing job.  GOOD articles are regularly shared in my weekly Five for Friday posts.

    More recommendations tomorrow!

    Friday, May 11, 2012

    5 More New Web-Based Resources for Teachers

    The Teaching Channel [via Eduwonk] - A collection of how-to videos on lessons, planning, management, etc plus much more.  They're aiming to be an "online personal assistant" for teachers.  Eat your heart out, Siri.

    Apps in Education [found via Twitter] - A growing blog focused on iPad/iPhone apps that are useful in the classroom across subjects and grade levels.  Instead of just reviews or lists, visual arts teacher Greg Swanson asks key questions and forces us to critically assess our use of these devices in education. [via on Twitter] - A new resource from USC's Rossier School of Education.  Read more about the launch here.

    MIT Announces Platform for Free Online Courses [Mashable] - MIT is going to improve the organization of their already available online course materials, making them even more useful.

    TED-Ed Launches Innovative Customized Learning Web Initiative [Wired: GeekDad] - Turn TED videos into an interactive, online lesson.

    Thursday, May 10, 2012

    2 No-Hassle Teacher Appreciation Week Deals

    Education publisher McGraw-Hill's Teacher Appreciation Week site is offering the chance at a $200 gift card, access to free mobile apps and more.

    Red Roof Inn is offering teachers a 15% discount for the entire month of May.  Just use VP+ code 604276 when making reservations, or refer to the code upon arrival at the hotel.

    Have you seen any good national TAW deals?  Share them in the comments.