Friday, August 23, 2013

Essential Back to School Reading 2013

6 Best Back-to-School Tablets [Mashable] - I have a 7 inch Samsung Galaxy tablet, and it's pretty good. I figure you might need to type a lot for school though, so I'd recommend a case that has a keyboard like the one I'm planning on getting.

6 Practices for Creating a 21st Century Engaging Classroom [The 21st Century Principal] - Some ideas to frame your back-to-school planning this year.

Who Was Your Favorite Teacher and Why? [Lifehacker] - A good exercise to do before school starts again--how can you be more like that favorite teacher this school year? What's the one thing you can apply to your own practice?

Why Didn't I Think of This [Math Tales from the Spring] - A simple idea to make formula charts (or conversion tables, or any other needed reference material) easily accessible for students with Interactive Notebooks.

6 Back-to-School Items You Should Always Shop for at the Thrift Store [Wise Bread] - This one is aimed mainly at parents, but the lessons carry over for teachers.

Monday, August 19, 2013

We Need To Teach Our Kids That Technology Is Great, But It's Not Everything

As a kid growing up in rural New Jersey, I got to play outside a lot. I used to spend hours and hours walking or riding on trails, catching frogs at the pond around the corner, or just having elaborate sword (stick) fights with invisible bad guys. I had computers (yes, plural) at home before most people in my community had even warmed up to the idea of a personal computer.  They were occasional playthings for the majority of my childhood, no more or less interesting than my Legos, playing soccer or the vast natural playground that surrounded my home.

Once those computers became connected to something outside of my house--at first to local bulletin board systems (BBS) and later to to dial-up networks and broadband internet--my traditional idea of play quickly disintegrated.  This shift happened when I was in middle school, exacerbating an already awkward and difficult process by introducing me to people and an entire world I would not have known otherwise.

I have been struggling to regain my sense of play and my connection to the outside world ever since. For the most part, I have been losing: the Internet and more recently smartphone and tablet apps have consumed my time and attention. These days, I work full time online running a couple of my own websites and managing social media for several clients: I'm always connected, always tapping away on some device.

This is why, despite being a steadfast advocate for using technology for learning in and out of the classroom, I am equally steadfast in advocating that sometimes you have to turn the damn things off.  Kids need to be given as many opportunities to engage in open play, to go outside, to read and write and be creative without any technological aide.

They need to grow up with the concept that their technology is not their life.  Anyone who has sat around a table at a restaurant or party and realized that everyone at your table is on their smartphone and not talking to one another will understand this.  These devices should be seen as a means to an end, not an end in and of themselves.

Kids also need to understand the limits and dangers of this always-connected world.  Online predators, viruses, hackers stealing data, social engineering, government surveillance, "educational" apps that don't teach anything, content they create living online forever... this is just the tip of the iceberg.

We need to teach them these things, both as parents and as teachers.  It is just as important, perhaps moreso, than anything other way we can use these devices to help children learn.  There's no time to lose, either: we are becoming more and more connected, more and more dependent every day.

Friday, August 16, 2013

New Apps For Educators: August 2013

Got a New iPhone? Here's 17 Starter Apps [The 21st Century Principal]

Teach with Your iPhone: Apps to Use in the Classroom [Edutopia]

Perfect Picnic [Partnership for Food Safety Education] - This iPhone/iPad game teaches food safety, aimed at kids ages 8-11.

Treehouse for iPad (via Lifehacker)

Treehouse for iPad Makes Learning to Code on the Go Simple [Lifehacker]

13 Apps to Keep Your Family Safe, Secure and Smart [National Fatherhood Initiative]

Monday, August 12, 2013

Book Review & Giveaway: The Energy Bus for Kids by Jon Gordon

The Energy Bus for Kids: A Story about Staying Positive and Overcoming Challenges by Jon Gordon is a children's book about using positive thinking, dealing with bullies and encouraging others to do the same. Big, colorful and easy to read, I think kids would feel the same feeling of adventure that they do on The Magic School Bus (no relation).

The book follows a young man named George as he navigates the daily challenges of elementary school. With the guidance of new bus driver Joy, he learns lessons to apply to his day. There's no silver bullet or instant gratification: George tries to follow Joy's advice and still has bad days. Over time, George learns five interconnected lessons that conquer all, and he's inspired to spread the lessons to his fellow students.

The idea of perseverance and hope in the face of negativity of all kinds is the theme that ties the book together. It sounds a lot like advice that adults might read in books, magazines and blogs, which is no surprise: Gordon adapted this from his bestselling The Energy Bus: 10 Rules to Fuel Your Life, Work, and Team with Positive Energy, a fable aimed at hardworking adults.

This book is written at a fairly high reading level, and might be a bit long for younger readers with short attention spans. For younger or struggling readers, it might be something you need to read together. That being said, I think both parents and teachers of early elementary students will find this book valuable in combating bullying and negativity in all its forms.

As usual, I'm giving the copy provided by the good people at Wiley away to a lucky reader. To enter, email with the subject "Energy Bus Giveaway" until 11:59pm CST this Wednesday 8/14. I'll pick a winner at random and send the book their way. Good luck!

Get The Energy Bus for Kids on

Friday, August 9, 2013

Weekend Reader on Community Service in Education

Let Students Design Their Own Social Change Projects [GOOD]

Blake Kernen: The Case for Community Service [HuffPo]

3 Ways to Use Microcredit to Invest Your Students [This blog]

The Complete Guide to Service Learning: Proven, Practical Ways to Engage Students in Civic Responsibility, Academic Curriculum, & Social Action [Amazon] - A practical guidebook on how to incorporate service learning into your classroom.

What the Designated Drivers Campaign Can Teach Those in the Youth Service Movement [GOOD] - Finally, a reminder that we need to sell our students (and likely our schools and districts) on service learning to get them involved. It won't always happen organically.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Weekend Reader on Schools and Communities

I've been looking at recent articles with a broad lens recently, trying to tie together threads on community schools, Promise Neighborhoods and how every type of school can affect the whole community.

D.C. Non-Profit Program Develops "Cradle to Career" Pipeline [Ebony]

Linking home and classroom, Oakland bets on community schools [Hechinger Report]

A Philadelphia School's Big Bet on Nonviolence [The Atlantic] - This example follows part of the community school model, where the school broadening the support system in place to help students with problems that exist because of/within the community as a whole. Their amazingly positive results, especially in the face of such initial criticism, are an inspiration.

Luis Torres almost didn’t make it off the streets — and now he helps kids like him [NY Daily News] - A similar story to the turnaround discussed above.

Beyond the Bake Sale: The Essential Guide to Family/school Partnerships [Amazon] - Finally, a book recommendation on forging better school and community relations, which I believe is just as beneficial for the community as a whole as it is for the school.