Wednesday, February 29, 2012

explain it to me series

I recently came across the "Explain it to me" series of videos on  I think these videos could be really helpful introducing some of the more complicated current events (the Eurozone debt crisis, for example).

At 2-4 minutes a video, these could easily be included in lessons, or as review for students to view at home.  The videos are probably most appropriate for middle or high school students. Videos explain things from North Korea to concussions to campaign finance to the Kardashians.

It's a site worth a look. If not for your classroom - maybe just for you!

Friday, February 24, 2012

staying informed

I remember in my first year of teaching, a very accomplished teacher on my grade-level team told me I needed to stay informed about what was happening in the state legislature around education issues. I thought she was crazy. How could I possibly find the time to keep updated on what was happening at the Capitol?!? But then the No Child Left Behind legislation was passed, altering teaching and learning in major ways from then on. I decided that maybe that teacher was right.

If you've been following the news lately, there is a lot of talk about legislation changing what tenure means for teachers. The same bill would also call for a ranking of schools based on student proficiency and growth. And the pass rate for the MTLE is being discussed. These bills would have a major impact on your contracts, job, and the future for teachers in MN. There are some good things going on too that you should know about. The recent Reading Well by 3rd Grade statute has districts working on plans designed to narrow the dramatic achievement gap we have in MN.

So how can you find out about these bills and statutes? Your districts probably have someone who stays informed on this stuff too, maybe through your union leadership. But there are some things you can do individually to keep updated. There are two daily email blasts you can sign up for to keep updated. The Session Daily for the MN House of Representatives is news from the House on bills. You get a daily email with news from the House, and I just scan the email for anything related to email and then click the link to read those specific stories. For the Senate email subscription, you can choose from the drop-down to receive news on education related bills making their way through the Senate.

You should also know who represents you, so you can send an email to them about your support for or opposition of particular legislation - especially if they happen to be on the education committees on either the House Education Finance, House Education Reform, or the Senate Education committee.

You might not be quite ready to add to your list of things to worry about. And that's perfectly understandable. It can be a goal, something to work on - staying informed. But as you'll find in your teaching career, your jobs, and the way you do business in your classroom has a lot to do with what legislators decide. Staying informed can help you be able to advocate for your profession, your students, and your communities.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012


The statistics are staggering - nearly 15 million children are living in poverty in the United States, which is close to 21% of all children. Around 1.5 million U.S. children are homeless. One-third of the homeless in MN are children.

The McKinney-Vento Act entitles homeless children to a free and appropriate education, allowing them to enroll in schools without proof of residency or other paperwork, and school districts are required to provide transportation so that highly mobile students can stay in the same school. As well, the Act requires that school districts have coordinators of homeless services, though the law is very underfunded and many school districts struggle to keep up with the increasing needs of students.

Many of you likely have homeless students in your schools, though the students and their families may not have reached out for assistance. ASCD lists some things that teachers can do to support students dealing with homelessness.
  • Be sensitive to the possibility that students in your classroom may be homeless. Given the rising costs of homes and rent, asking students to draw a picture of their room at home, for example, might not an appropriate activity for many of the students in your class. When brainstorming activities, keep it in your planning that some students may be without a home.
  • If you sense a student may be in such a situation, contact the district's homeless liaison. 
  • Be available for conversation if the student wants to confide in you, but don't force the issue. Students and their families may be reluctant to seek assistance.
  • If you assign homework requiring supplies, make sure to have some available for students that cannot secure supplies outside of school.
  • Discuss readings, stories, news items, movies, or texts that explore economic hardship, families without homes, or characters who are resilient.
  • Continue to work on creating an atmosphere of community in the classroom in which all students' feelings and situations are accepted.
The National Center for Homeless Education (NCHE) advocates tailoring strategies to address three areas of unique need for highly mobile students.

Affective needs involve issues of emotional security and motivation. Teachers should:
  • Create a stable learning environment with a structured routine;
  • Assign a “buddy” to new students to introduce them to the classroom and school;
  • Handle disruptions in a private and respectful manner;
  • Make time to talk to students on a personal level;
  • If a student suddenly leaves school, have farewell letters inserted in the student’s records for forwarding to his or her new school.
Academic needs deal with teaching strategies. In seeking to meet them:
  • Create a stable learning environment with a structured routine;
  • Plan mini-lessons and units that can be completed in limited periods of time;
  • Include a variety of levels in reading materials about the same content;
  • Assess these students’ interests to hook them into learning;
  • Give students credit for partially completed work.
Technical needs include supports for students’ general well-being. In seeking to meet them:
  • Keep a supply of healthy snacks and extra school supplies;
  • Identify and connect with school and district support staff, including guidance counselors, homeless liaisons and the district’s director of special services;
  • Consider fostering a partnership with a community tutoring program.
For additional information and resources, visit NCHE’s website.[tt_news]=2315

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

the power of music

I had the radio on in my car the other day, and on came a Prince song I have not heard in years. Maybe decades. And I still knew every. single. word. It's amazing what can happen to memory when attached to music, rhymes, and rhythms. I still remember the causes of the civil war, as learned in 5th grade because of mnemonics, and I often hum "Conjunction junction, what's your function? Hooking up words and phrases and clauses..." from Schoolhouse Rocks and my 4th grade Language Arts teacher. Rats, now that's going to be stuck in my head all day!

I came across Rhyme 'n Learn through the Free Tech for Teachers blog. Rhyme 'n Learn is a collection of math and science related raps and songs designed to help students remember complex equations and processes. There are similar raps found at Educational Rap, though there are raps for more content areas here.

There's also an amazing list of songs for young children at Literacy Connections. The list provides links so you can hear all the songs written to help kids learn to listen to directions, parts of the body, money, opposites, clothing, telling time, and values. Another incredible list of songs is at Songs for Teaching, which includes songs about math, music, art, seasons, special education, science, and songs in other languages.

There are literacy-specific rhymes for young readers at PBS Between the Lions. There are some interesting lessons for teaching more complex grammar through songs here.

What are some of your favorite songs for teaching?

Thursday, February 2, 2012

more tech links

We all know the benefits of technology. It can be a motivating feature of instruction and supplemental support for students. It can extend and remediate lessons. It cannot replace an effective teacher, but it can enhance instruction if used well.

I have a few links to share. It’s an eclectic list of sites and games, and I’m hoping you’ll add to the list with your comments.

First, Edutopia has a New Teacher Channel on YouTube. There isn’t a ton there, but there are a few videos that you might find helpful. You can subscribe to the channel to be updated when there are new videos posted.

Khan Academy has an amazing list of video tutorials for everything from solving basic algebra equations to half-life to currency effect on trade to SAT prep. Mostly high school level content, this site can be incorporated into instruction or provide support for students at home.

Two of my favorite sites are Wonderopolis and Sound Learning. Both include videos that can be incorporated into lesson plans. I like Wonderopolis as a model for students to create their own wonders.

And then there are games. Here are just a few links:

More tech to come. Leave a comment with your favorite links!