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!