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, 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 -- and you have to read about it to believe it. I haven't provided a link to 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

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? 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 : )