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.