Tuesday, November 30, 2010

This Week's Online Find: REDU

Remember your old school? Whatever happened to the great schools we attended when we were young? What happened to education in the United States? What went wrong?

According to REDU, “We forgot about our schools. And now it’s time to remember them. It’s time to support great teaching and give teachers the tools they need."

REDU stands for rethink, reform, and rebuild education in the United States. Developed by Bing from Microsoft and “powered by people and technology, REDU is a movement designed to expand and encourage the national conversation around education reform by providing information and resources to learn, a community platform to connect, and tools and initiatives to act.”

REDU provides resources where users can Learn (articles about what’s going on in U.S. education today), Teach (information about teacher prep programs, licensing requirements, and job listings), Volunteer (information about organizations where you can make a difference), and Donate (current projects at DonorsChoose) to help improve U.S. education.

You can join REDU to receive a weekly Education Round-Up and learn about opportunities to get involved, or just visit to read about what others are doing... thinking...saying. Either way, if you care about education, this is a site that will provide the information you need to support it.

This Week's Online Find: FreeRice

You might think you already know about FreeRice, a non-profit website that, since its launch in 2007, has helped improve the vocabulary of millions of English-speaking students, while feeding millions of hungry people around the world. But if you haven’t been to FreeRice lately -- if you still think FreeRice is “only” a fun (and internationally nourishing) vocabulary game -- it’s probably time for another visit.

In the original -- and still popular -- FreeRice vocabulary game, players are asked questions about the meanings of increasingly difficult English words. Each correct answer earns ten grains of rice -- paid for by advertisers and donated to the hungry by the United Nations World Food Program (WFP).

Today at FreeRice, visitors also can earn grains of rice as they test their knowledge of art, geography, chemistry, and math, as well as French, Spanish, Italian, or German vocabulary. And thanks to a new social media component, registered users can engage in online competitions with friends and family as well. This year, why not celebrate the season of giving with a visit to the bigger -- and even better -- FreeRice?

Monday, November 15, 2010

This Week's Online Find:
Cranberry Station

During Thanksgiving week, you and your students might enjoy wading through The Cranberry Station, the online version of The Cranberry Experiment Station, an outreach and research center charged with "maintaining and enhancing the economic viability of the Massachusetts Cranberry Industry through research and outreach."

On the site, maintained by The University of Massachusetts at Amherst, visitors can learn how cranberries grow, read about the quality of this year's crop, explore weather conditions for the current year, and learn how to test soil and plant tissue. Chart Books explore insects and diseases that affect cranberry growers, and document each year's efforts to maintain the quality of the crop. In addition, visitors can read about a variety of current research projects, as well as news and events affecting cranberry growers. And, of course, there are recipes!

This probably isn't a site you'll want to visit at other times of the year, but it will offer students a timely and fascinating glimpse into the science of agriculture.

Are We Teaching Our Teachers Well?

This week (November 14-20) is American Education Week. According to the NEA (National Education Association) web site, the week's theme, Great Public Schools: A Basic Right and Our Responsibility, is a reminder that "all students deserve an education that will allow them to achieve and succeed," and that all "parents, community members, business leaders, elected officials, and students have a part to play in supporting great schools."

As a former teacher, and Education World's Professional Development Editor, my primary concern is always how we can support teachers in fulfilling that responsibility.

As an educator -- and a parent -- I've had lots of opportunities to observe lots of teachers in action. And I've come to the conclusion that the primary challenge teachers face in educating the students entrusted to their care is establishing and maintaining a classroom climate conducive to learning. I've always believed -- and so far have seen no reason to change my mind -- that a good teacher can, in fact, teach a pig to whistle. But a poor teacher -- no matter how brilliant or learned in the subject matter -- will teach very little to even the brightest students. And the difference between a good teacher and a poor teacher is, and always has been...a drumroll, please...the ability to manage a classroom.

Effective classroom management is a skill that, I believe, the very best teachers are born with. Those are the super teachers, the individuals who can walk into a classroom cold and immediately own it. Their students are always engaged and involved and well behaved; their students' parents are grateful and laudatory; their administrators are predictably relieved.

Most teachers, however, aren't that lucky. Most of us have to learn effective classroom management skills and, after we learn them, we have to follow the directions to Carnegie Hall...practice, practice, practice! Moreover, unlike musicians, most teachers arrive at their classroom doors with limited time in front of a classroom and limited opportunities to practice classsroom management. And we all know how hard it is to recover from an unprofessional performance in front of a classroom of professional students -- of almost any age!

You'll hear lots of reasons why new teachers leave the profession, but I believe the most significant reason is that no one has actually taught them how to teach.

This week, a national panel of education leaders, policymakers, education-school deans, and others will present a report calling for changes to teacher education in the United States. Reportedly, Transforming Teacher Education through Clinical Practice: A National Strategy to Prepare Effective Teachers, will recommend that schools of education revamp their existing programs to "prioritize clinical practice and partnerships with school districts"...to provide, one only hopes, significantly more opportunities for aspiring teachers to "practice, practice, practice" before ever opening the doors of their own classrooms. Let's hope they get it right..and that those who need to hear their report are paying attention. Because we have to get it right in this country very soon, and the only way to get it right is to do a better job of teaching our teachers to do a better job of teaching our kids.

By the way, if you're struggling with classroom management, Education World has lots of resources to help. Check out our Classroom Management 101 page, our Classroom Management Tips, or our brand new Classroom Management in a Minute feature. Or just search our site for Classroom Managment. We all need a little help sometimes.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Tech Babies

The other day, I read an article in USAToday about technology use -- specifically the use of iPods, smartphones, and iPads -- among the very young. According to the author, many of today's tots "start waving their pudgy little hands over those glowing screens before their first birthday." The article featured several 2- 3- and 4-year-olds who apparently are more proficient with their parents' current toys than they are with the toys their parents played with when they were 2-, 3-, and 4-years-old.

According to USAToday, "studies done at Adzookie.com, which places ads on smartphones, [found that] almost 5 million households with kids under 6 have smartphones. And 50 percent of iPhone moms let their kids use their phones; 29 percent of those moms have kids under 4. An additional 4.7 million households with kids 6 to 11 have smartphones." "And the number," says this writer, "is growing every month."

It isn't just preschoolers, of course, who are caught up in high-tech fever. According to a study reported by The Center on Media and Child Health (CMCH), 22 percent of children ages 6-9 have their own cell phones (five percent have their own smartphones); as well as 60 percent of tweens (ages 10-14), and 84 percent of teens (ages 15-18).

A recent WSJ article cites research by Nielsen Co., which found that the average 13- to 17-year-old sends and receives 3,339 texts a month (more than 100 a day!), with teen females averaging 4,050 texts per month, and males 2,539 monthly texts.

One wonders where they find the time -- although apparently most aren't just texting from home. The Pew Internet & American Life Project found that, even though most schools regulate cell phone use:
* 65 percent of cell-owning teens at schools that completely ban phones bring their phones to school every day.
* 58 percent of cell-owning teens at schools that ban phones have sent a text message during class.
* 43 percent of teens who take their phones to school say they text in class once a day or more.

More important than when they find the time, however, is the question of what today's kids, of all ages, aren't doing that they could/would be doing if they weren't texting...or browsing...or "waving their pudgy fingers over those glowing screens." And how is it going to affect them in the future?

CMCH reports on one study that found a link between cell phone use and low self-esteem, anxiety, and depression among teens. Other studies have suggested a correlation between heavy cell phone use and substance abuse. And what about the suspected link between sedentary technology use and childhood obesity?

The truth -- and the problem -- is that we just don't know what affect growing up tethered to iPods and iPads and smartphones and other technology toys and tools will have on today's tots and tweens and teens and those who follow them. In the USAToday article, Liz Perle, editor-in-chief at Common Sense Media, calls the use of technology by young children "the biggest experiment ever conducted on our children, in real time."

It certainly bears watching.

Friday, November 5, 2010

This Week's Online Find: DocsTeach

According to DocsTeach, "The National Archives has been encouraging teachers to use primary sources in the classroom since the late 1970s." One assumes with limited success -- until now. Because with the launch of DocsTeach, an online tool created in consultation with the National Archives, the process is so easy, it should be impossible for any history or social studies teacher to resist.

DocsTeach provides more than 3,000 primary-source documents from the National Archives, as well as seven easy-to-use tools to help teachers utilize those documents effectively in the classroom.

Users can find complete custom activities created by other educators for a variety of subjects and grade levels -- or they can use the DocsTeach tools to create their own interactive learning activities utilizing primary-source documents. All activities are categorized according to the National History Standards -- and Bloom's Taxonomy. Documents can be bookmarked and activities can be saved on the site.

The site also includes sections on how to teach with primary-source documents -- if you've never attemped it before -- including step-by-step instructions for document analysis.

This site is a no-brainer -- any teacher can use its tools to create valuable learning activities for demonstration, whole-class lessons, or individual or small group activities. You have to register to create activities -- although not to use existing activies -- but registration is free and the site is great fun!

Friday, October 29, 2010

This Week's Online Find: Dipity

Do you love timelines as much as I do? Maybe it's the orderly Virgo in me, but for me there's nothing quite like the steady visual progression of chronological events to bring an entire concept into focus. In fact, the only thing I've ever disliked about timelines was the need to arrange and space those tiny little descriptive boxes -- and the tiny little print needed to go in them.

But all that has changed with Dipity, a free online digital timeline creator. Dipity users easily can create interactive timelines integrating video, audio, images, text, links, social media, location and timestamps. Timelines can be private or public; timeline creators can allow no one, anyone, or a list of specific someones to view or edit their timelines -- so students can work on timelines individually, in small groups, or as an entire class.

But don't take my word for it. Check it out yourself. You have to register, but -- as always -- this featured timeline tool is free.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

A Failure to Communicate

I received an email this week from the parent of perhaps one of your students. The email said (with minor edits for clarity and appropriate language):

"I am the mother of a student whose teacher has a weekly blog. I am informed every Friday that, should I be interested in knowing what my child did during the past week, I must log on to her blog.

Three things you should know from a busy, working parent's perspective:
1) I am convinced that there are few things in the world more egotistical than a teacher with a blog.
2) If you have the time to email me telling me to check your blog, why could you not just email me what you put in the blog in the first place and save me a bunch of time.
3) If you insist on having a blog, then DO NOT use my child's name -- not even his first name or initials. It is no one's business except mine and my family's what you did with my child this week and what his reaction was or was not. Using his initials is not protecting his identity from other parents in the class or people in the neighborhood who may log on.

I despise teacher blogs. I dread getting that annoying email every Friday. I can think of 20 things this teacher could be doing to educate those kids every week other than this.

I understand that blogging is all the rage. I get it. I just think it is not good form to insist that parents 'check out my blog' to find out what was taught this week. This experience has put a bad taste in my mouth for this teacher."

What we've got here, folks, is a failure to communicate. We've got a teacher trying to communicate efficiently and effectively what's going on in her classroom. And we've got a parent telling me about her anger at the method of communication the teacher is using. Lots of communication from both, it appears, with no actual communicating taking place.

From where I sit waaaay in the back of the room, it sounds as though the busy teacher has failed to explain to her students' parents why she's chosen to blog and what she hopes to accomplish. And the seething parent certainly has not shared her objections to blogging with her child's teacher. I guess she expects me to do it for her. So I have -- whoever you are. (You know who you are :)

But c'mon, people. Don't get mad; get together. Talk to each other. Isn't that what educating kids is all about?

Monday, October 18, 2010

Lies, Half-Truths, and Misdirection

Election Day 2010 is fast approaching and I still don't know which candidates I'm voting for this year -- or should I say which candidates I'm voting against? Because truely, based on the campaign ads I've seen and heard and read this election year, I couldn't begin to tell you even one plank in the platform of any of the candidates for either major party.

I can tell you, however, that Richard Blumenthal lied about his service in Vietnam; that WWE's Linda McMahon apparently wears chains, not pearls, when not engaged in public debate; that Dan Malloy drove the city of Stamford to financial ruin; while Tom Foley single-handedly shut down a Georgia town. I can tell you, in short, that in Connecticut, at least, this has been the dirtiest campaign year in my memory -- which is not short. These are campaigns rife with personal attacks and all-out efforts to make one's opponent look venal or stupid or confused or corrupt using only innuendo, half-truths, and outright lies. I know I live in Connecticut -- the home of John Rowland and Eddie Perez and Joe Ganim and Philip Giordano -- but I've never been quite as ashamed of my state as I have during the current election.

So you can understand why a recent email from RaceBridges for Schools caught my eye. The RaceBridges For Schools site, an outgrowth of a Chicago project called Catholic Schools Opposing Racism (COR), provides classroom tools to help kids explore issues regarding racial justice and inclusive behavior. The site's highlighted topic this month is "Disagreeing Without Being Disagreeable: The Search for Civility."

Wow! That's going to be a tough search in Connecticut this year, but maybe it's a search we can facilitate in the future if we use some of these RaceBridges For Schools resources today:

* Classroom Activities
* Resources
* Lesson Plan Ideas
* A Checklist for Teachers
* Reflections

Waiting for Superman

It isn't the cute little kids in Davis Guggenheim's Waiting for Superman that will tug at your heartstrings; it's the parents. It's Daisy's unemployed father who believes his 10-year-old can do and be anything -- if she only gets the chance. It's Bianca's mother who pays $500 a month -- $500 a month on a receptionist's salary! -- to send her kindergartner to parochial school. It's Anthony's grandmother who's reluctant to send the fifth grader to boarding school -- but is more terrified of losing him, like his father, to the D.C. streets. It's Francisco's mother who despite phone calls and letters and personal pleas from the second grader himself can't get his teacher to set up a parent conference or even to send home his work folder. (What are you thinking, Mr. Saxon?) Oh sure, the kids -- the promising victims of education's broken promises -- in this eye-opening documentary will touch you; but the parents? The parents will break your heart.

Don't get me wrong. This film isn't a tear-jerker of the obvious kind. Nobody dies. Nobody gets sick. No one is physically injured. No animals are harmed in the making of this movie. In fact, nothing much at all happens in Waiting for Superman. It's the kind of movie people in my area call "Cinema City Movies" after the theater that most often shows them -- the independents, the avant-garde, the Brittish period pieces, the documentaries -- the critically acclaimed movies that, except for their interesting wierdness, can threaten to anesthetize you with their tedium.

Waiting for Superman contains no murders, no car chases, no cops, no clues, no courtrooms, no weddings or funerals or pratfalls. It is nothing more than a look at the lives of five real families searching for the best education -- in most cases, just an education -- for their children. It is both ordinary and extraordinary; tedious and tragic.

Waiting for Superman isn't a horror film, but the statistics detailing the United States' fall from academic grace during the past 25 years will shock you. It isn't a mystery, but you will be mystified by our seeming intractable inability to educate our poorest kids. It isn't a suspense film. It tries to be, in a scene showing the familes waiting to learn their kids' academic fate in various charter school lotteries, but with their chances ranging from 5 percent to less than 50 percent, the suspense is limited. It isn't a fantasy -- at least I hope it isn't a fantasy that these parents can find an education for their kids. It isn't a comedy -- well, it definitely isn't a comedy. It isn't a tragedy -- but then again, I guess it is. And it will -- I hope -- make you cry.

If you're a teacher -- especially if you're an urban teacher -- see the movie. And tomorrow, when you go into your classroom, promise yourself that from now on you'll do better...work harder...fight more fiercely for your students. You know you can. We all know that better teaching isn't the only answer. But it's a big part of the answer. Do your part.

If you want to know more about the movie and the families in it, check out Waiting for Superman, the website.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

This Week's Online Find:
60second Recap

If you're a bookophile...a reluctant reader...the parent of teens...a middle- or high-school teacher (of any subject)...a teen who loves books...a teen who "hates" to read...a student struggling to understand your assigned reading...really, whoever you are...go immediately to 60second Recap™ and bookmark the site. This is a url you'll want to hold on to.

The mission of 60second Recap™ is to "make the great works of literature accessible, relevant, and, frankly, irresistible to today’s teens...not just to help them get better grades, but to help them build better lives." But it's really a site for anyone who's ever loved -- or strugggled with -- a book. And it's a site that warrants my highest praise: "Why didn't I think of that?"

This Week's Online Find:
Benchmark Grading

Benchmark Grading is a secure, flexible, standards-based online gradebook application created by a team of parents and teachers. The tool, preloaded with Common Core and some state standards (more are on the way), allows teachers to record assignments and grade students using rubrics, letter grades, or a grading scale of their choice. Parents can access progress reports, including teacher comments, and communicate with teachers using a secure messaging system. Best of all, Benchmark's online gradebook is free.

This Week's Online Find:
Google for Educators

Google was busy this summer, introducing three new tools that are sure to be useful for educators. You can check out Google News, Google Page Creator, Google Groups -- and many more cool Google tools -- at Google for Educators.

Not listed on that page, but definitely cool and educator-friendly are Google Voice, Google Call Phones, Google Instant, and Google Custom Search.

Did I mention Google Maps...or Google Reader..or...? Oh, heck, as long as you're there, just explore the entire growing suite of Google's online tools. They're free -- and they're fabulous.

Monday, October 11, 2010

October Is Bullying Prevention Month

Last spring, I bought a paperback version of the Jeffery Deaver novel Roadside Crosses to take with me on a trans-Atlantic cruise. My traveling companion absconded with the novel, however, and only returned it to me last week. Consequently, I’m now about halfway through the book, the third in Deaver’s high-tech trilogy, which deals with a teen’s murderous revenge on the cyberbullies who’ve been tormenting him.

As engrossing as Deaver’s stories always are, I put down that book for a few hours this weekend to visit my dentist’s office, where I picked up a recent copy of People Magazine. That particular issue featured on the cover photographs of young people who’ve taken their own lives recently, apparently at least partially driven to suicide by the trauma of cyberbullying.

This morning, I arrived at work to find among my emails, a message from the Center for Social and Emotional Education (CSEE) about BullyBust, a program designed to “help schools put an end to bullying with targeted school-wide and classroom-based efforts.”

And then, of course, October is National Bullying Prevention Month.

The muses, it seems, are conspiring to induce me to write about bullying this week. And why not? According to CSEE, “almost 30 percent of youth in the United States (more than 5.7 million students) are estimated to be involved in bullying as a bully, a target of bullying or both, and at least 10 percent of students are bullied on a regular basis.” And according to iSafe, “42 percent of kids have been bullied at least once while online” and “53 percent of kids admit having said something mean or hurtful to another person online at least once.”

I’m not going to tell you that bullying -- whether it takes place on the school playground or the cyber playground -- is bad, and ultimately destructive to both bully and bullied. I’d just be preaching to the choir. I am, however, going to remind you that, whether you see it or not, bullying is happening to your students every day -- in your classroom, in your hallways, on your playground, at your bus stops and street corners, and online. Be aware of it. Lobby for a school-wide program of bullying prevention, if you don’t already have one. If you do have one, however, don’t rely on it alone to keep the students in your classroom safe. Create and maintain a climate of kindness in your classroom and encourage your students to carry that spirit outside the classroom as well.

If you aren’t sure where to start, some of these resources can help:

Bullies to Buddies: A Psychological Solution to Bullying. The resources at this site, which are primarily geared toward the victims of bullies, include humorous videos and role play.

Bullying Special Theme Page. This page features all the Education World articles, lessons, and other resources on bullying -- an extensive collection.

Cyberbully.org from the Center for Safe and Responsible Internet Use. Nancy Willard’s CSRIU features common sense resources on cyberbullying for parents and educators. Check out the new Digital Desiderata.

iSafe Cyberbullying Statistics and Tips. i-SAFE is a non-profit foundation whose mission is to educate and empower youth to make their Internet experiences safe and responsible.

J. Richard Knapp Bully Prevention Newsletter. This free bully prevention newsletter for parents and educators features authors, video links, and more.

Olweus Bullying Prevention Program. Created by Dan Olweus, this is one of the oldest, best known, and most respected bullying prevention programs.

thatsnotcool.com. This national public education campaign for teens uses games and videos to raise awareness of teen dating abuse.

If you know of any other online resources about bullying or cyberbullying, please share them with your colleagues in the Comment section of this blog.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Contests and Competitions

If the ancient proverb is correct and "Competition is the whetstone of talent," then there appears to be much opportunity for honing talent this fall; my mailbox is brimming with announcements for contests and competitions. Whether you're a teacher or a student, an artist, a videographer, a comic strip aficionado, a geek, a patriot, an avid reader or a rabid environmentalist, or even just a member of a perennially needy school community, as long as you possess the spirit of competition, someone, somewhere is sponsoring a competition for you.

Are you an educator who's making a difference technologically? For the 23rd year, Tech & Learning is honoring K-12 administrators, technology coordinators, and teachers who are using technology in innovative ways. Nominate yourself or a colleague for the 2010 Leader of the Year, but do it soon -- the deadline for nominations is October 15.

Perhaps you're a talented new teacher at the beginning of -- or about to begin -- a career teaching high school math or science? If so, you'll want to check out the Knowles Science Teaching Foundation's KSTF Teaching Fellowships. Renewable for up to five years and valued at up to $150,000, the highly competitive fellowships are awarded annually in the areas of the biological sciences, physical sciences, and mathematics. Applicants should have received their most recent content degree within five years of the start of the fellowship. (Those in the final year of their degree program might also be eligible.) The deadline for submitting applications for these fellowships is January 12, 2011.

Not a techie or a newbie? Check out all the Teacher Awards and Competitions at TeachersCount. Among the Art Teacher Awards; Character Education Awards; English and Language Arts Teacher Awards; Foreign Language Teacher Awards; General Teacher Awards; Math, Science, and Technology Teacher Awards; Regional Awards; Social Studies Teacher Awards; and Special Education Awards, you're bound to find something on which to hone your considerable talents.

But what about your students? Whatever grade you teach, there's certain to be a contest or competition to add fun to their days and engagement and motivation to their education. Check out some of these contests (in no particular order):

Scholastic's Lexus Eco Challenge offers middle- and high-school students across the United States the opportunity to make a difference in the environmental health of their community. Student teams, working with a teacher, choose from a list of environmental topics one issue that affects their own community. Teams then develop a plan to address that issue, and submit that plan in the form of a PowerPoint presentation. Three separate challenges, involving three broad environmental topics, will be available this year. The deadline for Challenge 1 (Land and Water) is November 3.

The Being an American Essay Contest, now in its fifth year, is the largest high-school essay contest in the country, attracting more than 50,000 entries and awarding nearly $115,000 in prize money. The contest, administered by the Bill of Rights Institute, asks students to answer the question, "What civic value do you believe is most essential to being an American?" The contest deadline is December 1.

The MakeBeliefsComix Comic Strip Contest is an ongoing competition that students can enter again and again. Each month, students can submit by email their best comic strip created with MakeBeliefsComix comic strip creator. A selection of the comics will be posted to Make BeliefsComix Facebook Wall and the best of the selection will receive a book on comic strips written by Bill Zimmerman, founder of MakeBeliefsComix. This strikes me as a great opportunity to showcase the talents of those artistically talented students who don't always shine in the academic arena!

The New York Times Show Us Your City Video Contest isn't designed specifically for teachers or students, but what a great way to help students get to know -- and share -- what's special about their own home town! Even if you're not a videographer, Times' experts provide lots of simple tips and examples to help you guide your students to write and create a tour of your community. There's no deadline for this contest. The Times will "keep the submission form open as long as you keep sending videos!"

The Book Jam Digital Book Report Contest is another interactive competition -- and one that gives new meaning to the oh-so-ho-hum term "book report." Students pick a book -- either one of their favorites or one from your curriculum -- and create...well, just about anything but a traditional book report. According to the people at Recorded Books, who are sponsoring the contest, "we'd love to see rap songs about grammar...interactive presentations highlighting setting and symbolism...plays about conflict...and whatever else you and your students dream up." What can you dream up by October 28?

If you're looking for something a little less time-intensive, you might check out the Fall 2010 Shmoop High School Essay Contest. In this "Know Your Poe" themed competition, students are asked to decide whether the narrator in "The Tell-Tale Heart" and/or the speaker in "The Raven" are insane -- and then to defend their verdicts with hard evidence. Appropriately enough, the deadline for this contest is October 31.

Is there a teacher anywhere who has enough classroom technology for every student to participate in every valuable tech activity he or she would like to offer? I doubt it -- but you could be one teacher who does if you're the winner of the Global Classroom Makeover Video Contest. Sponsored by einstruction, the contest invites teacher and students to create a music video showing how they envision using technology to enhance teaching and learning. Three classrooms can win up to $75,000 worth of technology tools. Contest deadline is November 2.

The lure of contests might be the spice of competition, but the sugar of competition is, of course, the reward. One of this fall's biggest rewards is being offered by BING, Microsoft's new search engine. Our School Needs, a user-generated content competition, asks schools to share what they need -- from a gym to a library to a school store -- for the chance to win up to $100,000 toward fulfilling that need. Students write an essay describing what their school needs, take photos showing the need, and maybe even make a video dramatizing it. Then they ask everyone they know to rate their entries. The competition ends October 22.

So...what does your school need?

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

No More Pencils...

Ah, the smell of impending summer! Although it's not so much a smell, is it, as a feeling...an aura...a vague lightness of spirit that seems to expand and swell like a deep cleansing breath as the month progresses? Whatever it is, there's nothing quite like the approach of Memorial Day to make a teacher feel like a kid again.

For most of the year, teaching is a job like any other, and days spent in the classroom evoke in teachers only the same momentary nostalgia felt by other grownups unexpectedly returned -- by a memory, a reunion, a foraging in the attic -- to their own school days.

For most of the year, teachers feel pretty much as removed from their own school days as those grownups who don't spend their working hours between bulletin-board covered walls in a stuffy paste-and-peanut-butter-overlaid-with-ammonia-scented classroom.

For most of the year, teachers feel like real grownups whose office building just happens to be a school; whose office just happens to be a classroom.

But then comes the end of May...

And no matter how old they are, or how many years it's been since they've moved from the front row of desks to the desk in the front of the room, on the last day of school -- and this I promise you is true -- there's not a teacher alive who doesn't run or skip or bound down the schoolhouse steps without silently -- and joyfully -- singing, "No more pencils. No more books. No more students' dirty looks..."

As we wrap up another school year, I leave you with this thought...The only other day of the year that can make a teacher feel like a joyful kid again is the first day of school. We'll see you then!

Monday, May 17, 2010

I Love it on the Internet

I love the Internet. I don't know how I lived so much of my life without it. All that information -- vital information; trivial information; useless information; misinformation; fabulous, fascinating, conversation starting (and stopping!) information -- right at my fingertips. Can there be anything more exciting, more fun, more stimulating than the Internet for those of us who are writers -- or readers or thinkers or information junkies or Jeopardy wanna-be's or lifelong learners or...especially, most especially...educators? I don't think so.

Oh, I hear you leery luddites out there muttering among yourselves. "What's so great about the Internet?" you say. "It's dirty and dangerous and overwhelming and unreliable and underregulated -- and it's impossible to tell the truth from the lies, the art from the porn, the facts from the propaganda, the chaff from the wheat." Common complaints, I know -- and not without some truth to them. But the good stuff -- oh, the great stuff! -- makes even sorting through the other stuff oh-so-worth the effort! Check out these great new sites, for example....

Ranger Rick on the Great Oil Spill: This website, developed by the National Wildlife Federation’s Eco-Schools team, provides lots of information and activities parents and teachers can use to help kids understand the implications of the recent oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

Admongo.gov: Live the Adventure: Designed to help 'tweens ages 8 to 12 become more discerning consumers, this FTC website includes an advertising game, a curriculum tied to national standards in language arts and social studies, a library of fictional ads, and activities for parents and kids to do together.

History and the Headlines: The Enduring Legend of Robin Hood: Are your students studying folklore -- or just off to see the new Robin Hood movie? Either way, this site from ABC-CLIO's free collection of online resources provides primary source documents and images, discussion questions, and thought provoking essays by noted scholars. A great -- and highly engaging -- teaching tool!

Discovery Education has just announced the launch of Explore the Blue, an online initiative designed to encourage youth participation in summer water activities and Aquatic conservation efforts. The website includes such activities as model boat building, research projects, journal writing exercises, and map reading activities.

The San Diego Zoo Education website isn't new, but the people at the zoo provide so many excellent resources -- and so often add more -- you should never go too long between visits. Their latest free resource is the Elephant Odyssey Curriculum that provides information and activities about the animals that roamed Southern California 12,000 years ago -- and their living cousins found all over the world today. A Mammoth resource!

Are you looking for an end-of-year activity to inspire your students to do their best? Invite them to (virtually) follow 13-year-old Jordan Romero as he attempts to become the youngest climber ever to scale Mount Everest. Before they begin the climb, kids can read Jordan's story at Will Jordan Romero Make It to the 'Top of the World'?

Still sceptical of the value of Internet resources -- or of your students' ability to distinguish the good from the bad? Invite them to complete Hoax or Not, a terrific WebQuest on Internet Hoaxes.

And please share your favorite websites with us!

Monday, May 10, 2010

It's a Mystery

Who doesn't love a mystery book? Only readers who haven't yet discovered the fun. This year, Gallopade International is introducing mysteries to young people by declaring 2010 The Year of the Children's Mystery Book and offering parents and teachers some interesting activities to get kids reading mysteries this summer -- and all year through.

First, during the month of May, Gallopade is encouraging students to snap a picture of themselves -- or a friend or family member -- reading their favorite mystery book, and then to e-mail the photo (along with parental permission to post it) to pr@gallopade.com. Pictures will be published in the site's Photo Gallery of mystery readers -- a lineup any student will want to be part of!

Looking for some summer reading fun? Check out the site's thermometer template and encourage students to make their own thermometers to track their summer mystery reading. Readers can color in one degree on the thermometer for each page read; the "hottest" reader of the summer will be honored as the site's top Summertime Sleuth.

What about the rest of the year? All year long, The Year of the Children's Mystery Book Mystery Challenge is inviting young readers to achieve Mystery Mastery by reading at least six mystery books during 2010. There's even a Reading List to help get them started.

There are lots more mystery book resources at this fun site. Check them out with your students -- and then check out a few mysteries for yourself. After all, who doesn't love a mystery?

Studies show that it doesn't matter much what children read -- as long as they do read. Even your reluctant readers won't be able to resist a good mystery, so why not take the opportunity to help all students get ahead next year by encouraging them to read during the summer months?

I've already put aside for my vacation Roadside Crosses (Deaver), The Shadow of Your Smile (Clark), Shutter Island (Lehane), and This Body of Death (George). What will you be reading this summer?

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Trends in Teaching?

The National Education Association, in recognition of Teacher Appreciation Week, issued a statement Monday highlighting five trends the association says paint a picture of today's U.S. public school teachers. Those trends are:

Trend #1: America’s public school teachers are facing massive layoffs.

What I Found: A recent survey by the American Association of School Administrators reported that 9 of 10 superintendents expected to lay off school workers for the fall, a number that's up from two of three superintendents last year. U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan estimates the number of jobs likely to be lost at the end of this school year at 100,000 to 300,000.

Trend #2: America’s public school teachers are the most educated, most experienced ever.

What I Found: According to the latest figures from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), about 53 percent of teachers have at least 10 years of full-time teaching experience, and 52 percent of teachers hold at least a master’s degree.

Trend #3: Public school teachers’ classes, workloads and hours are increasing while their pay is not keeping up with inflation.

What I Found: According to NCES figures, the number of public school teachers rose by 12 percent between 1999 and 2009, resulting in a decline in the pupil/teacher ratio from 16.1 pupils per teacher in 1999 to 15.3 pupils per teacher in 2009. The average salary for public school teachers was
$53,910 in 2008–09 ($53,168 in 2007–08 dollars). After adjustment for inflation, teachers’ salaries were 8 percent higher in 2008–09 than they were in 1970–71.

Trend #4: Public school teachers come to the profession, and remain dedicated to their careers, for their students and the importance of education.

What I Found: About 8 percent of the more than 3 million public school teachers in the United States leave the profession every year, and another 8 percent move to a different school. Overall, about 25 percent of teachers leave within the first 5 years; 50 percent leave within 10 years.

Trend #5: The teaching corps in public schools does not reflect the diversity of the student population.

What I Found: In 2007–08, according to the NCES, the teaching force in public elementary and secondary schools was 76 percent female, 83 percent white, 7 percent black, and 7 percent Hispanic. The student population was 56 percent white, 21 percent Hispanic, and 17 percent black.

All in all, these figures paint a bleak picture for teachers during Teacher Appreciation Week 2010. It appears that there are many challenges to face and many problems to solve in the year (and years) ahead -- and few resources to apply to finding those solutions. Of course, as my father used to say, "Figures don't lie, but liars figure." And even true figures often can paint a broad picture that fails to represent specific circumstances. How many of these trends are evident where you teach? What is the state of teaching in your school today?

Education World just completed a survey in which we queried educators about the climate in their school. We'll let you know soon what they said.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Raise Your Hand if You're a Teacher

A recent study conducted by researchers at Florida State University's Center for Reading Research evaluated the oral literacy of more than 800 pairs of racially and ethnically diverse twins in first and second grade classrooms across the state. The study was designed to determine "the importance of teacher quality as a specific school environmental influence on reading achievement."

The use of twins allowed researchers to eliminate such factors as genetics or home environment that might affect a student's academic growth, and to assess more accurately a teacher's influence on students' natural abilities. The study found that...

..."the magnitude of genetic variance associated with twins’ oral reading fluency increased as the quality of their teacher increased. In circumstances where the teachers are all excellent, the variability in student reading achievement may appear to be largely due to genetics. However, poor teaching impedes the ability of children to reach their potential."

In other words, students in classrooms with excellent teachers did better in reading than their twin siblings who had less accomplished teachers. And students with excellent teachers were more likely than students with less effective teachers to reach their full potential -- whatever their genetics determined that potential to be. So...the better the teacher, the better the teaching.

Raise your hand if you're surprised at those results. No one? I thought not. There are no surprises in this study for those of us who have ever taught in a classroom -- or had a child in school.

Raise your hand if you can't tell the difference between an excellent teacher and a teacher who's just taking up space at the front of the classroom. Do I see a hand there in the back? No? Sorry! Someone's just stretching. The fact is, excellent teachers just aren't that hard to spot, are they? We all know who they are.

Now, raise your hand if you're an excellent teacher. Don't be shy. Raise it high and keep it up there, and while it's up there, reach over and give yourself a pat on the back. You're making a difference -- and isn't that why you became a teacher in the first place?

May 3-7 is Teacher Appreciation Week. Take yourself out to lunch. You deserve it!

Monday, April 19, 2010

Is Teaching a Profession or a Craft?

This morning, I received an invitation to the college graduation of the daughter of a friend. Melanie is a brilliant and bubbly girl with great enthusiasm for life. Her dream, for as long as I've known her, has been to study the relics of early civilizations, with an eye toward better appreciating modern culture. Melanie will graduate in May with a degree in anthropology.

In the last year or so, however, Melanie has fallen in love with a young man. And while her love for archaeological exploration has not diminished, the practicality of fieldwork now seems incompatible with the plans she's making for her future. So Melanie -- reluctantly and very regretfully -- has decided to put away her trowel and her brushes, and get a master's degree in elementary education instead. It is, she believes, the sensible choice.

I cannot tell you the number of young people I've known who've given up a vocational dream or -- lacking a dream -- given up the search for one, and "settled" for teaching. Teaching (like writing : ) apparently is one of those occupations that everyone thinks anyone can do -- or, at the very least, that everyone thinks anyone can learn to do. Most people -- although not, I think, most teachers -- probably would agree with Melanie that any reasonably intelligent person can learn to teach.

But are they right, I wonder? Is teaching a profession -- or is it a craft?

A profession, according to Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary.com, is a vocation requiring specialized knowledge and academic preparation; a craft is a vocation requiring specific knowledge and specialized skills. What does it take to be a good teacher? And does Melanie -- does everyone -- have what it takes?

If you're going to be a teacher, shouldn't teaching be your vocational dream?

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Free Stuff

You might have noticed that Education World has begun running a new advertising campaign recently. We’re always running advertising campaigns, of course. It’s the only way free sites like ours can survive. This one caught my eye in particular, however, because the campaign gives readers the opportunity to sign up for free offers, coupons, newsletters, online tools, and more. Can there possibly be a word more enticing, more engaging, more noticeable than the innocuous-looking four-letter word free? I think not.

So in the spirit of getting noticed, I’d like to share with you some of the free-for-educators resources I’ve come across recently. They’re in some semblance of alphabetical order, simply because it seemed the simplest way to list them. I hope you find something here you can use. I certainly did.

“Behind Every Famous Person is a Fabulous Teacher” posters from Teachers Count.

Clean Up the Classroom lesson plans, worksheets and tips from Clorox.

Clip art from Education World. (Templates and worksheets too.)

A coloring book (in English and Spanish) from the
National Wildlife Refuge System.

Destination posters of Japan, England, Spain, Egypt, Italy, and France from Educational Tours.

Disaster Action Kids activity books, fire safety doorhangers, and more from FEMA.

Educational video programs with coordinated Web and print materials for K-12 professional development from Annenberg Media.

Feed the Pig for Tweens financial literacy program for grades 4-6 from the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants and the Ad Council.

Five videos showcasing female scientists , and informing students about educational requirements, rewards, and challenges of careers in the biomedical sciences from Women Are Scientists.

Financial literacy publications from the Federal Reserve.

A fitness kit from Subway.

The Fuel Up to Play 60 School Wellness Kit from the National Dairy Council.

Gradebook Software for
Windows, Mac OS X, Palm OS, and Windows Mobile from Gradekeeper.

Interactive tools to encourage self-directed learning or to create fun, dynamic group projects from Microsoft.

Mathematics software for learning and teaching from GeoGebra.

An online library of more than 1,000 free media resources from the best in public television provided by Teachers’ Domain.

Mentally stimulating diversions -- quizzes and trivia -- from Sporcle.

Space Thrills poster for K-4 students from NASA.

Teaching and Learning Resources (lots and lots of them!) from Federal Resources for Educational Excellence (FREE).

Think Green lesson plans, videos and interactive tools on the importance of the 4 R's -- Reduce, Reuse, Recycle and Recover -- from Discovery Education.

Seven water-resources education posters from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Yoga-Recess DVD from the Yoga Health Foundation.

And if you didn't find anything you can use yet, check out AppleEngine.com, a search engine of free resources for teachers, searchable by keyword, grade, or subject.

Did we miss any? Click Post A Comment to share your favorites.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Are You Teaching Cybersafety?

Remember “To Catch a Predator” -- the Dateline NBC reality show that dragged purported pedophiles out of the woodwork (or the Web-world) and exposed them to the television-watching world through hidden camera confrontations at what the predators thought were going to be assignations with willing Lolitas? Remember the nearly nightly news shows and articles and special reports warning parents, teachers, and young people of the legions of pedophiles who were lurking online and conspiring to meet our vulnerable young people in real time? Whatever happened to those constant clamoring warnings?

Have the predators all been prosecuted? Have our young people become invulnerable? Have we lost interest? Has cybersafety become a non-issue? Or have we simply abandoned sensationalism for realistic and sensible cyber-education in our schools and in our homes?

One might hope that the latter is true. A report on Internet safety instruction in K-12 schools recently released by the National Computer Security Alliance brings that hope into question, however. The 2010 State of K-12 Cyberethics, Cybersafety and Cybersecurity Curriculum in the U.S. Survey found that “more than three quarters of U.S. teachers have spent fewer than six hours on any type of professional development education related to cyberethics, cybersafety, and cybersecurity within the last 12 months; more than 50 percent of teachers reported their school districts do not require these subjects as curriculum; and only 35 percent taught proper online conduct.” In addition, “only 27 percent of teachers taught about the safe use of social networks, only 18 percent taught about scams, fraud, and social engineering, and only 19 percent taught about safe passwords in the past 12 months. Additionally, 32 percent of teachers indicated they had not taught cyberethics, and 44 percent had not taught cybersafety or cybersecurity.”

In short, the survey found that most of our young people aren’t receiving the instruction they need to use digital technology responsibly and to navigate cyberspace safely, and that most teachers are not trained to address those subjects.

If you’re one of those teachers -- or parents -- interested in teaching cybersafety to your kids, but unsure where to find the resources you need, check out some of these sites:

Safe Kids, operated by technology journalist Larry Magid, is one of the Web’s oldest digital safety sites, providing lots and lots of teacher-friendly information about Internet safety, sexting, cell phones safety, cyber bullying, social networking, and more. Also check out Larry’s Safe Teens (where “teens and their parents learn safe, civil and responsible use of the Internet”), and Connect Safely (for social-media safety resources for parents, educators, and teens).

The Center for Safe and Responsible Internet Use, operated by Nancy Willard, is another venerable site, that provides a great deal of free cyber-safety information for educators. In addition, Nancy will be making available throughout 2010 a set of (reasonably priced) professional resources in the form of downloadable video presentations and associated handouts on cyber-safety for professional development and classroom instruction.

Cyber Smart, another veteran in the world of digital education, addresses online safety from a clear educational perspective – “fostering 21st century skills to increase student engagement and prepare students to achieve in today's digital society.” Resources include online workshops, a student curriculum, and an educator’s toolbar.

Common Sense Media offers a great deal of media information, reviews, and resources to help families and educators make good choices for kids. Check out their article on Facebook Alternatives for Kids, for example.

The Canadian Centre for Child Protection provides several useful sites, including Text.ed, an interactive Web site designed to teach teens and ‘tweens how to be safe and responsible users of texting technologies; Kids in the Know, and Respect Yourself.

OnGuard Online provides practical tips on online safety from federal and technology industry sources. Be sure to check out Netcetera, a free cybersafety publication for parents and teachers.

Online Safety is a list of six online safety rules from FEMA for Kids.

A Thin Line is a digital safety education resource from MTV.

Project Pro, from AT&T and the American School Counselor Association, offers tutorials and a curriculum matrix for digital citizenship.

Have I missed any? If so, please click Comment to add your favorites to the list.

There are real dangers online -- just as there are real dangers offline. And the kids who are vulnerable are the kids who are unprepared to deal with those dangers. Don’t let those be your kids.

Need an excuse to get started? March 7-13 is Teen Tech Week -- a national initiative sponsored by the Young Adult Library Services Association. The purpose of the initiative is to ensure that teens are competent and ethical users of technologies, especially those that are offered through libraries. Let’s celebrate by giving our kids the tools they need to stay safe digitally.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Read On, America

Read To Me
By Jane Yolen

Read to me riddles and read to me rhymes,
Read to me stories of magical times.
Read to me tales about castles and kings.
Read to me stories of fabulous things.
Read to me pirates and read to me knights,
Read to me dragons and dragon-book fights.
Read to me spaceships and cowboys and then,
When you are finished -- please read them again.

Tuesday, March 2 is Read Across America Day -- the National Education Association's celebration of Dr. Seuss's (Theodore Seuss Geisel's) birthday. Now in its thirteenth year, the year-round "Read Across America" program is designed to motivate kids to read through a variety of interesting and engaging events.

The day's events will kick off at the Library of Congress, where Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, members of Congress, NEA leaders, and -- of course! -- the Cat in the Hat will host local schoolchildren for a day of reading -- and pledges to keep reading.

In my Connecticut neighborhood, a local college is once again sponsoring its Annual Cat-in-the-Hat Ball, at which costumed (and be-hatted) attendees will dine on pizza, green eggs, Ooblick, and other tasty treats. Admission is $5 or one new children's book per family.

In LaFayette, Georgia, the local library is holding a "Happy Birthday Dr. Seuss Read-A-Thon" -- and pajama party.

In fact, in schools across the country, students, teachers, parents, and administrators are planning events designed to knock off your socks -- one sock or two; red socks or blue -- and motivate your kids to read.

Even as all those wonderful festivities promote the value of reading and the bounty of books, however, the country's oldest and largest promoter of childhood literacy -- Reading Is Fundamental (RIF) -- is wondering about its ability to survive.

RIF, a book distribution and reading motivation program that began in Washington, D.C. in 1966 and now operates in all 50 states, receives 80% of its funding from the federal government. But President Obama's proposed budget for 2011 eliminates funding for RIF. Without that federal funding, according to RIF, nearly 4 1/2 million children and families will not receive free books or reading encouragement from its programs. Can we really afford that kind of set back in our efforts to promote literacy in this country?

In an attempt to save RIF, the organization currently is rallying parents, educators, and the community at large to participate in an online "write your politician" campaign. Why not make that campaign part of your Read Across America Day celebration? Just go to www.rif.org, click Act Now to Help, and enter your zip code. Do it because reading really is fundamental.

Monday, February 15, 2010

The 30-Day Total Body Transformation

This morning, I closed my eyes, held my breath, pulled in my stomach as far as I possibly could, and submitted to a "preliminary body assessment," a procedure -- accomplished with a tape measure and a scale -- that essentially provided a numerical "before" picture of my overweight and out-of-shape body prior to beginning what Ben -- my new semi-personal trainer -- refers to as "A 30-Day Total Body Transformation."

I refused to look at the resulting numbers. I was afraid that actually seeing the bad news in black and white would send me to my bed with the jumbo bag of Dove chocolate hearts left over from Valentine's Day. "Tell me," I told Ben, "what the numbers were after they've gone down." (And please -- please, please -- make them go down!)

I'm not, you understand -- by any stretch of the imagination -- obese. If you saw me walking down the street in jeans and a baggy college sweatshirt, you probably wouldn't even think of me as fat.

Ah, but under that deceptively youthful clothing lurks the body (and the belly) of a middle-aged, post-menopausal, chocolate-craving, mostly sedentary woman, with a busy schedule, a lonely kitchen, and a car that brakes for fast food. My cholesterol is rising and my blood pressure is soaring and I hate how I look. And I know that if I want to live as long as I plan to live, and as well as I hope to live -- if I ever want to feel good about myself again -- I have to get it all together now. The problem is, I don't know how. Hence Ben and his 30-Day Total Body Transformation Program.

But as lovely and supportive as Ben is, getting it together at this stage of my life is difficult and pricey and time consuming and it hurts. So, I'm not at all sure I'll succeed. It would have been so much easier to simply keep it together in the first place. If I'd only known how!

According to an article in the NYT, "the number of overweight kids has tripled in the last 30 years, and an alarming number of American children have high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and diabetes." USA Today says that almost 20 percent of children ages 6 to 11, and 18 percent of kids ages 12 to 19 are obese. How are those kids going to get it together when they're my age? How many of them will even live to be my age?

Recently, Michelle Obama announced the “Let’s Move” initiative -- a campaign to combat childhood obesity. It's an issue that needs attention from all of us -- from a First Lady who's made it clear that her kids are her priority, to teachers whose career choice has made the statement that all kids are their priority.

I hope educators everywhere will jump on this bandwagon (or jump off and run alongside it : ), and -- whatever their politics -- throw themselves into this campaign and teach our kids and our students, not just how to be smart and successful and good citizens, but also how to live long enough to enjoy it.

Let's kick our kids out of the house and our students out of the classroom -- and if that's not possible, let's bring in activities like Wii Fit and Dance Dance Revolution and Twister to get them moving inside. Let's organize games at recess and join in. Or, if that's not possible, let's organize older students to run games for younger ones.

Let's teach our kids what to eat -- and what not to eat -- in words they can understand and in ways they can follow. (Ben says, when shopping, stick to the perimeter of the supermarket -- to the fresh fruits and vegetables, the dairy products, and eggs, and lean meats -- and stay away from the processed foods clogging the middle aisles.)

Let's do whatever we have to to make sure our kids know how to keep it together before it's too late to get it together.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Why I Love the Web

My mother always claimed (with evident exasperation) that the very first -- and by far most frequent -- word I spoke as a child was "why?" "Why do cows sleep standing up?" "Why do clouds float?" "Why does c-a-t spell cat?" "Why don't hurricanes happen in Idaho?" "Why do I have to...?"

I haven't changed a bit. I still find myself with a million (or so : ) questions a day -- Who...? What...? When...? Where...? Why...? How...? -- on a million (or so) different subjects. What has changed is the opportunity to get immediate 24/7 answers to my questions -- all of my questions -- as long as I'm within easy reach of an Internet connection. Unlike my mother, the Web never tires of providing, not only answers to my questions, but more lovely questions to be answered as well.

It's safe to say, then, that I love the Internet. I love the instant access to information, to socialization; to debate and fraternization; to the important, the interesting, the trivial, and the just-plain-weird. Yes, my name is Linda and I'm an information junkie -- and the Internet is my drug of choice.

In my job, of course, I have many opportunities every day to indulge my craving for informative (and weird) online resources. This morning, for example...

I started with the wonderful -- a brand new site review for Laura Candler's updated Teaching Resources site. We first reviewed Laura's site in 2000, but it's grown substantially since then (both in quantity and quality) and after undergoing a major redesign last summer, the site definitely deserved another look. I hope you'll take another look at Laura's site too. It's a perfect example of the kinds of quality educational resources the Web can offer.

And then I moved to the weird as I read Art Wolinski's blog, Truth, Lies, Rumors, and Rumbles. In Tuesday's entry, Art talked about a new site called chatroulette.com -- and you have to read about it to believe it. I haven't provided a link to chatroulette.com because you really should know what you're getting into before you end up there. So read what Art has to say before visiting. And then consider how much less amusing life would be without the Weird World Web!

Not everything online is weird -- or wildly wonderful -- of course. But if you want some more reasons why I love the Web, check out...

Lifeboat to Mars -- a free online simulation game from PBSKids that makes learning biology fun for kids.

Safe Kids Song -- an Internet safety song for kids in K-4/5 from SafeKids.com.

Sporcle -- a great site for quizzes and trivia games or, as the site puts it, for "mentally stimulating diversions."

Harry's Big Adventure -- bug-related educational resources (lesson plans, games, information, visual aids, more) from Terminex.

Raptors in the City -- a real-time, inquiry-based science and technology program starring peregrine falcons.

Edutopia -- The George Lucas Foundation's success stories for what works in public education.

Looking for more? Browse our Site Review Gallery.

Have a site (or more) you're dying to share? Post A Comment. I'd love to hear from you.

Have a great week!

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Cool Contests for Cold Weather Kicks

"Loud are the thunder drums in the tents of the mountains.
Oh, long, long
Have we eaten chia seeds and dried deer's flesh of the summer killing.
We are tired of our huts and the smoky smell of our clothing.
We are sick with the desire for the sun
And the grass on the mountain."

I came across this Paiute Late Winter Song the other day -- on the very day, in fact, that Punxsutawney Phil predicted six more weeks of winter -- and it so perfectly expressed my own feelings as January moved glacier-like into February (yet still nowhere near spring), that I had to share it with you.

I know all of you can't really appreciate the seemingly endless misery of the cold, damp, dreary, slippery, sleety (Did I say "dreary?") mess we in the northeast call winter -- my daughter texts regularly from San Diego to remind me of that : ) -- but I'm sure every teacher can appreciate the late winter "stuck-in-the-hut-sick-with-desire-for-spring" feeling that permeates classrooms this time of year. What to do to snap our students -- and ourselves -- out of these winter doldrums? What to do until the sun once again warms the grass on the mountains -- and thaws out our frozen brains?

Well...how about a contest? Certainly nothing is more brain-thawing, more mood-warming, more mental-muscle-flexing -- for students and teachers -- than a healthy hot-blooded competition. (Witness the Superbowl!) And there are a number to choose from this time of year. Try one of these:

In an effort to foster the development of the next generation of scientists, Discovery Education and 3M have teamed up to encourage students in grades 5 - 8 to develop their science curiosity and share their passion through the Discovery Education 3M Young Scientist Challenge. To enter, students must submit a one- to two-minute video about a specific scientific concept. This year's approved topics focus on the science of safety and security. The contest deadline is May 27, 2010.

Science students with an interest in the environment might prefer the Siemens We Can Change the World Challenge, a sustainability challenge in which students in grades K - 12 work with an educator or mentor to identify and create solutions for environmental issues. It's an opportunity for kids to make a difference and win cool prizes! The deadline is March 15, 2010.

The brand new PBS Teachers Innovation Awards program is another contest that encourages video (or photographic) entries. This one is for teachers, however. Designed to honor innovative educators from all levels of preK - 12 education, the competition asks entrants to explain why they are innovative educators and to submit a video clip or photograph showing how they inspire their students. The deadline for this competition is March 12, 2010.

Are you a graduate student, an ed-tech expert, or a teacher/researcher? The National Center for Technology Innovation (NCTI) has announced its 2010 Tech in the Works Competition, which seeks proposals for collaborative research of innovative technologies that provide greater access for students with disabilities. Up to four awards of $20,000 will be made. Letters of intent are due March 23, 2010.

On a slightly more manageable scale, No Name-Calling Week’s Creative Expression Contest invites U.S. students in grades K - 12 to submit essays, poetry, music, or other artwork that convey their experiences and feelings about name-calling, and their ideas for putting a stop to verbal bullying. No Name-Calling Week is a project of GLSEN, the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, in collaboration with more than 50 national education and youth service organizations. The deadline is February 26, 2010.

Hungry for more? The 2010 Heinz Ketchup Creativity™ Contest invites U.S. students in grades K - 12 to show their creativity by designing Heinz Ketchup packets. And this year -- for the first time in Ketchup Creativity history -- artwork of one of the top 12 winners will appear on Heinz® Ketchup bottles in addition to the single-serve packets. To top it off : ), that student also will receive $5,700. Better hurry, though! Heinz might be the slow ketchup, but the contest ends quickly -- on February 26, 2010.

Speaking of food...The Organic. It's Worth It In Schools contest, sponsored by the Organic Trade Association, invites teachers, parents, students, and community members to vote for their favorite school to win an organic garden or a fully stocked organic vending machine. Individuals “vote” by signing up for an electronic newsletter featuring organic tips, recipes, and more. Be prepared to work for this one, though. A school must receive at least 1,000 votes (newsletter sign-ups) to win. The deadline is May 1, 2010.

Do you know of any additional contests that can help students and teachers kick the winter blahs? Click Post A Comment to share your suggestions. And have a fabulous February : )

Monday, January 25, 2010

Sticks and Stones

The other day, I was watching Momisms, Anita Renfroe's breathless three-minute riff on things Moms say to their kids -- set to the William Tell Overture. And as I listened, I heard in her words the words of my mom -- and of my daughter. It's fascinating, isn't it, that no matter how hard we work at not turning into our parents, how often we end up sounding like them, and how inevitably we pass their advice -- both good and bad -- down to the next generation.

One of my Mom's favorite momisms was "Sticks and stones will break your bones, but words will never hurt you." It never made sense to me. Even as a child, I knew that words could -- and often did -- hurt. But that didn't stop me from repeating the inane bromide years later when confronted with my own bickering children..."Mooooom. He said I was...She said I was...He called me...."

"Enough! Sticks and stones might break your bones, but words will never hurt you."

I was reminded again of that particular momism when I read about a campaign called Spread the Word to End the Word. If you're not yet familiar with "Spread the Word," it's an initiative of Special Olympics and Best Buddy International to eliminate the use of the word "retard(ed)" in everyday speech by asking people to sign an online pledge to never use the r-word again. The goal is 100,00 pledges. Today's total is 51,669. Have you taken the pledge yet? If not, March 3, 2010, is "Spread the Word to End the Word" Awareness Day. Get the toolkit and use it to raise awareness in your classroom and in your school. And then take the pledge with your students. Let's make sure that the r-word, at least, is one word that doesn't hurt anyone again.

Speaking of the Olympics (and video), be sure to check out The Science of the Olympic Winter Games, a 16-part video series from NBC Learn and the National Science Foundation. Narrated by NBC News anchor Lester Holt, the free videos make science more accessible to students by illustrating how scientific principles apply to competitive sports.

FYI: NBC is broadcasting the Olympic Winter Games from Vancouver, Canada, February 12-28, 2010. The USA National Special Olympics Games will be held July 18-23, 2010 in Nebraska.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Helping Kids Help Haiti

Like all of you, I'm sure, I've been horrified this past week by the images of death and destruction coming out of Haiti. Even my grown children are finding those images hard to deal with; their reactions range from tears to "turn it off -- now!" If adults can't bear to watch the devastation, how hard must all this live coverage be on our children?

It occurs to me that in this era of instantaneous images, kids often are immersed in disasters as they occur, making a tsunami in Samoa or an earthquake in Haiti seem as up-close-and-personal as the local weather. Our children no longer are just watching news reports of far-away disasters; they are virtually experiencing them, literally watching as victims suffer and die. How can we -- as parents and teachers -- help them cope?

Hopefully, the resources below will help you not only find the best ways to talk to our children about the earthquake in Haiti, but also provide you with lessons and activities that will help our children reach out to its victims.

FEMA for Kids includes lots of information for kids on weather-related disasters, including where such disasters are most likely to occur. The section for parents and teachers includes lessons and activities on disaster safety and preparedness.

Helping Children Cope With Natural Disasters from the National Child Care Information and Technical Assistance Center offers a list of organizations that can provide information for adults working with children who have experienced traumatic events associated with natural disasters.

Helping Children Cope With Loss, Death, and Grief is a printable list of excellent tips for parents and teachers from the National Association of School Psychologists.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration's Tips for Talking About Disasters includes a number of pdfs, ranging from "Questions to Help Children Talk About a Disaster" to "Marking Disaster Anniversaries in the Clasroom." All provide excellent suggestions for appropriate home or classroom lessons and activities.

You don't have to be Catholic to utilize the lesson plans, simulation activities, prayer services, stories, and Web links at Going Global With Youth, an initiative of Catholic Relief Services (Click "Resources for Catholic Educators and Youth Ministers"). Although most of the lessons and activities are more appropriate to church-based youth groups, many can be adapted for classroom use.

Reading Rockets' article It Happened Over There: Understanding and Empathy Through Children's Books explains how parents and educators can use books to talk with kids about natural disasters like the earthquake in Haiti -- and offers suggestions for children's books and Web sites about Haiti and about earthquakes.

Helping Our Children in Difficult Times -- featuring Marc Brown's Arthur -- is primarily geared to parents of very young children; preschool and primary teachers might find this a helpful printable to send home with students.

CBS News provides full coverage of the disaster in Haiti, as well as advice from psychotherapist Robi Ludwig on How to Talk to Kids About Haiti. The site also includes an extensive list of charitable organizations providing aid to Haiti.

KidzWorld offers a somewhat more manageable list of ten charitable organizations accepting donations for earthquake victims in Haiti.

In Helping a Child Comprehend and Cope With Catastrophe, Charlotte Reznick, an associate clinical professor of psychology at UCLA, provides 13 tips for helping kids cope with the devastation in Haiti, as well as several suggestions for ways kids can raise money to donate to disaster victims.

You'll find more fundraising suggestions for kids at How Kids Can Help Kids in Haiti. Help Your Kids Help Haiti offers even more quick and easy fundraising activities appropriate for kids at school or at home.

If you know of another organization, Web site, or resource for teachers, parents, and kids struggling to understand the disaster in Haiti and/or help the victims, please click Post A Comment to share your suggestion.

Monday, January 11, 2010

A Question of Quality

Every day, I spend a little time searching a variety of news sources for important or interesting -- or funky -- education news articles. Most of the articles wind up featured on Education World's EDscoops page. Every once in a while, an article strikes a chord and shows up on my blog. Such is the case today.

The first article to catch my eye was from The Courier-Journal, which reported that the state panel overseeing teacher licensing in Indiana had approved new rules that "will allow future educators to spend less time learning how to teach and more time focused on subject matter." According to school superintendent Tony Bennett, "We crafted these changes with the belief that students' academic success is determined, in large part, by the quality of their teachers."

I agree with Mr. Bennett's premise that teacher quality is the single most important factor in student academic success; I strongly disagree with his conclusion that teacher quality is determined more by subject-matter knowledge than by classroom management and instructional skill.

In fact, the second relevant article I read this morning was from Education Week. Majoring in Math Not Always a Classroom Plus cites a report released last year by the National Mathematics Advisory Panel that "found no evidence of a link between teachers’ degree attainment in college and student academic gains in elementary and middle grades." There is a difference, the article points out, between mathematical knowledge and "mathematical knowledge for teaching" -- and policy makers need to keep that distinction in mind when setting standards for teacher quality.

The bottom line -- in my mind -- is that prospective teachers first and foremost need to know how to teach. If they don't learn how to do that well, nothing they do learn will benefit their students.

Monday, January 4, 2010

The Most Important Child in the World

Welcome back...to a new year...a new semester...a new start...with a not-so-new -- but hopefully newly motivated -- group of students.

I begin this new year as a new -- a first time -- grandmother. My grandson's name is Gavin Chase and he's absolutely beautiful, absolutely perfect. And I think, as I look at him (We simply can't take our eyes off him :), that no one has had a chance to screw him up yet -- and I wish I could keep it that way.

I wish I could tell his parents how to avoid all the mistakes I made with his father. But I know they'll do their best without my advice. And I know they'll screw up at times -- like I did -- with or without that advice.

I wish I could tell the bullies who will harrass him, and the friends who'll betray him, and the girls who'll break his heart, to be kind to him instead -- because he is innocent and trusting and un-screwed up and I want him to stay that way. But I know I can't perfect the world for him any more than I could for my own children.

But mostly, I wish I could say to the teachers who, in just a few short years, will have so much to do with who this child becomes: In your classroom, he will be just one child among many. But to his family -- to his parents and grandparents and aunts and uncles and godparents -- he is the most important child in the world. Remember that. For me.

And have the best new year ever.