Monday, May 26, 2014

Veteran Teachers

     Every public school and every public school district has teachers who are well know by the staff and the parents because of their longevity.  These gems of the school have typically been teaching for over 30 years and sometimes for over 40 years.  They love what they do and everyone looks to them for advice and ideas.

     People who don't teach are appreciative of teachers because they feel that it is hard to be around children or teenagers all day and everyday.  But people who do teach actually like to be around children and teenagers.  People who teach a long time are very good at what they do and they enjoy what they are doing.

     It is fun when every child in a family has the same teacher over the years.  Sometimes, if you teach long enough, you might teach the children of former students.  My school system has a teacher who has been teaching for over 40 years.  He is a legend to the staff and the students in his class are proud to have him as their teacher.

     Veteran teachers are a part of what's so great about public education.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Great Math Resources online

     I’ve just had my 50th birthday and I am completing my 26th year in the education field.  The differences between today and when I began teaching are certainly many.  One of these is the vast amount of great math resources available to teachers online.  Of course, along with the “great” resources, there are also other resources that may (shall we say) fall into the “ho-hum” category.  I would like to offer a few tips for finding great resources online; and then would like to share some of my favorites.

Tips to Find Great Online Resources
  1. Does the resource promote and/or encourage student thinking?
  2. Is the resource available to students outside of school (web-based)?
  3. Does the resource do more than what can be done with the resources you have in your school?
  4. Is the resource engaging for students?
Online resources that cause students to ask questions and to try different scenarios are great because real learning comes not from “doing-what-the-teacher-tells-you-to-do”, but from discovery on your own.  I love using resources that cause students to ask, “What if…?” questions.  It is also nice to introduce a resource in the classroom and to allow students to explore on their own outside of the classroom.  It can be a required assignment, but it’s better if the students are so immersed in the resource that they want to play and explore with it on their own time.  This is why web-based resources are great; available on any devise and at any time.  Resources that go beyond what students do in the classroom are very interesting and engaging.  Online worksheets may be a time-saver for teachers, but a worksheet is a worksheet is a worksheet for students.

Great Online Resources
So here are a few of my favorites.  This is not an exhaustive list; there are lots more.  But here are a few:
Desmos is an online graphing calculator that is (both) a great presentation tool for the classroom and a great discovery tool for students.  You can (for instance) place a variable in the place for the slope and use a slider (say between -10 and +10) to show students how the slope of the line changes when you change the slope from a negative number to a positive number.  When you get on the site, you will see a lot of creative art designed by students on a coordinate plane using equations of lines and curves.  Truly amazing!  Also, students can email their works of art (or their graphs from HW assignments) to their teacher or friends.

Hooda Math
This is a site full of games that require students to think and to plan ahead.  They have games for students of all ages and it is easy to search for an age or grade level and for a category that you are interested in.  I love it when students think they are playing games, but really they are solving problems.  Some of these involve math problems, but all involve critical thinking.

Oh my goodness–can I spend the next 20 paragraphs talking about this site?  (Please??)  This is a fantastic math resource for students of all ages.  It contains great math tasks that require a lot of student thinking.  Students can (and–I would say–should) work in groups to share their ideas about solving these tasks.  It is easy to search for what you want.  There are engaging pictures and engaging scenarios in the tasks.  Nrich has a rating system to tell you how difficult the tasks are.  They have STEM connections (STEM is Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics.)  Teachers can print posters with engaging math tasks.  I just love this site.

NCTM Illuminations
This site is from the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) in the United States.  It has lesson plans and lots of activities for students in all grades.  There are games and challenges.  Students can complete with other students online.

Ten Marks
This is a newly found site for me.  Ten Marks provides great, rigorous, high-level math problems to students in grades 1 to Algebra 2.  It is individual for each student.  When students struggle, Ten Marks provides extra help with hints and videos and math problems that address the area of struggle.  During the summer of 2014, Ten Marks is free to anybody.  At other times there is a small cost.  This is great for keeping up to speed during the summer and during the school year.

Learn Zillion
This is a great site for teachers and students.  They have lessons aligned to the Common Core standards.  They hire excellent teachers from around the county (United States) to add to the site every year.  This site keeps getting better all of the time.

So this is my short list of favorite math resources online.  Is your favorite listed here?  What online resources do you use?  Let’s us know about them!

Monday, May 19, 2014

First Year Teachers

     We are quickly approaching the end of May.  If you haven't already done so, please be sure to show some appreciation to any first-year teachers in your building.

     Prior to this year, first-year teachers completed a college program (or some alternate teacher preparation program).  It probably took somewhere between three and six years for them to get their degree and to earn their teaching certificate.  They worked hard, they interviewed for a position, they were hired; and they were ready.

     But teaching isn't the sort of job where you expect a person to know everything when they start the job.  I always encourage new teachers to ask a lot of questions.  It shows that you want to learn and you want to improve.  I think that in the business world, a new person asking questions is seen as a signal that they don't know what they are doing.  But I think it is the opposite for teaching.

     There are a lot of lists that you can find that give new teachers tips for their first year.  Some of them are very negative: "Don't do this." , "Don't do that." , "Expect these bad things to happen."  I don't think we want new teachers viewing their job as a battle and everything is bad and they have to be ready and tough and mean.  Look for the lists that give helpful tips and helpful advise.  Like any job, teaching will have its ups and downs.  Every teacher is different; every teacher brings his/her own experiences to the job.  There is not one, single recipe for "good teaching".  The best we can do to be aware of effective teaching strategies and build on what works.

     My first year of teaching was in the 1988 - 1989 school year.  I got a job in a situation that was very different from anything I experienced before.  It was in an urban area and in a private school.  I grew up in a rural area and always in a public school.  I did an "OK" job, but it was hard for me to relate to the students and to their lives.  In my second year, I took a job in a public middle school.  It was like my second "first-year", and it was hard for me to see any improvement in my teaching abilities.  But little by little I did see some improvement.

     In the U.S., we often hear that a lot of new teachers leave the teaching field within a few years.  We all know that teaching is a difficult job, but it can be a very rewarding job too.  New teachers need support to grow and learn and improve.

     Congratulations to all new teachers finishing their first year of teaching!  I can't wait to see you again next year!

Sunday, May 18, 2014

So Many Stories - So Write a Book

     So often, I hear teachers say, "I could write a book..."; as in "Given all of the things I've heard students say and seen students do...I could write a book."

     Well I want to encourage teachers to DO IT.  Write a book; start a blog; keep a journal; send a letter to the editor.  You can do it--I did, and I'm a math guy.

     I am one of those "I could write a book" guys. About six months ago I started this blog and I'm still going.  Who would have known that I have that much to say??

     Mostly, I want to encourage people to write, because I enjoy reading about the experiences of other teachers.  Teaching doesn't come with an instruction manual.  You have to learn from others if you really want to improve.  And today it is just as easy to learn from a teacher who works 3000 miles away from you as it is to learn from the teacher who works across the hall from you.

     Find your medium and do it--write.

     I'm listening.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Public Schools Outperform Private Schools

     A recent  article in Education Week discussed issues about the comparison with public and private schools.  This article talked about a recently published book entitled The Public School Advantage by Christopher Lubienski and Sarah Lubienski.  The authors of the book used NAEP data (National Assessment of Educational Progress) to justify statements about public vs. private schools in terms of student outcomes.

       The book talked about the difficulty in making comparisons because private school students tend to come from families of a higher socioeconomic level than the average public school student.  So statistical methods were employed to allow for these differences.  The article also included reactions from both sides of the debate--which I appreciated seeing and reading about.

     I am a public school employee--currently in my 26th year.  I attended public schools K-12 as a child.  I'm not rich and I've never been rich.  Clearly, I have had very little experience with private schools.  My wife taught in a private school for 11 years, and I have had some contact with private schools in my current position.  Still, it would be fair to say that my exposure to private schools has been limited.  (And I write a blog about the good things in public schools.)  Hence, I am likely to be biased toward the benefits of public schools.

     My thinking is that it seems that public school teachers are (often) better paid than private school teachers.  I don't know if this is a fact, but my limited experience has shown this to be true.  If you have a teacher who is highly-qualified and much sought after by both public and private schools, I would think that the teacher would go for the job that paid more money most of the time.  Also, I wonder if public school teachers get more training on teacher strategies and educational technology???  Lastly, I know that public schools spend a lot of time and money on students with special needs.  I don't know if private schools have the same abilities to help students with special needs.

     I know it isn't true that all private school students come from rich families.  But it probably is true that private school students (as a group) are richer than public school students (as a group).  And we know that richer students do better in school than poorer students.  This leads to the perception that private schools are better than public schools.  But what it really tells us is that richer students do better than poorer students--which is something we already know.

     It is good to see that there is some scholarly evidence to show the benefits of a public school education.  Thanks Mr. and Mrs. Lubienski; and thank you to Ed Week for the article.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

The Middle School Principal Everyone Wants to Have

  The following was written by my daughter's middle school principal in the school's newsletter:

       I’m not sure when it happened exactly, but recently I realized I’ve reached a point in
my life when I find myself looking backward as often as I find myself looking ahead. When
you’re young, life is all about making plans and dreaming of the future, but the past is starting
to comprise a bigger and bigger chunk of the years I’ve been allotted. One of the benefits of
getting older, is the years tend to give one perspective. Recently, I found a tidbit attributed to
an “Author Unknown” that makes the point:

       Someone asked me the other day, if I had my life to live over, would I change anything?
“No,” I answered, but then I began to think . . .

       If I had my life to live over, I would have talked less and listened more. I would have taken the time to listen to my grandfather ramble about his youth. I would have never insisted that the car windows be rolled up on a summer’s day because I didn’t want to mess up my hair. I would have sat on the lawn with my children and not worried about
grass stains.

       I would have gone to bed when sick instead of pretending the earth would go into a holding pattern if I weren’t there for a day. Instead of wishing away my nine months of pregnancy, I’d have cherished every moment and realized that the wonderment growing
inside me was my only chance in life to assist God in a miracle. When my child kissed me impetuously, I would never had said, “Later – now go get washed up for dinner.” There would have been more “I love you”. . . more “I’m sorry”. . . but mostly, given another shot at life, I would seize every minute. . . to look at life and really see it. . . to live it. . . and never give it back.

       Look, I’m not a philosopher, and believe me, there’s a lot I don’t know, but the older I get, the
more I realize just how important our children are – both yours and mine. Most of the parents of East Middle’s students are now quite a bit younger than me, and my advice to you is to cherish your children while they’re young. Plan for the future, but take time to live in the now.

       And as far as their education goes, we’re in this together. We all have a responsibility to ensure every child gets what he or she needs to be successful in life, and that’s a responsibility I and everyone else here at East Middle School takes very seriously. Sometimes it’s hard to find the right balance between being supportive and being enabling. There’s a fine line between the two, and the truth is, that line needs to be drawn at different places for every
student - sometimes in different places on different days for the same student. Knowing how best to help a student is a complicated thing. Each has his or her own personality and unique life story. Home lives are different; learning styles vary; sometimes kids have great support structures; sometime they have none. On any given day, there are students going through a life crisis – some very real; some perceived – and on the best of days, middle school is a confusing time for students, who often are simply trying to figure out who they are and what they’re all about.

       Sometimes the right thing to do is to push them harder and to hold them strictly accountable for their poor choices. Other times, the right thing to do is to push them a little less and to cut them a break.

       As educators, we don’t always have all the right answers, but I can tell you, we are far more likely to make the correct decisions when we have the support of a child’s parents, and I am constantly amazed at the level of support we receive from our parents. I hope you all know how much you kids mean to us. We may not
always make the right decisions, but it’s not because we don’t care, and the debates we sometimes have are simply a matter of trying to figure out what the right thing to do is given the current set of circumstances. These are never easy decisions, and all we can do is our very best for each child. That’s true for educators as well as parents. 
       So, I guess to bring this letter full circle, as my life progresses and I look more and more back over the years, it becomes increasingly important to me that I make a difference in the lives of all my students, and I try awfully hard to enjoy every minute I spend with them. I want to “seize every minute. . . to look at life and really see it. . .to live it. . . and never give it back.” 
       Thanks for sharing your children with us! 
       Here’s to a fabulous finish to another school year!! 

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Summertime (and school)

     Once we get into the month of May, students and teachers start to think about summertime.  Warm weather, schools out, vacation, camp.  Everyone says, "I can't believe the school year has gone by so fast."  Seniors graduate, elementary students "graduate" to middle school--a very big deal--, final exams, sign my yearbook, tears, and joy.

     For teachers, summertime can be a time of relaxation, gardening, swimming, sleeping late, and forgetting what day of the week it is.  However, for teachers, summertime is also the time for doing many professional activities that help them to improve and to advance in their field.

     Teachers take classes to increase their knowledge of teaching strategies and to learn more about the teaching of their subject.  Teachers also take classes to work toward future degrees and certifications.  Teachers may take part in curriculum work during the summer with their school district.  This may include writing assessments, creating activities, aligning new resources to the current curriculum, and moving electronic resources to district websites for teachers to access.

     Aside from these formal, professional activities, teachers also use summertime to think about and to plan for the next school year.  They look at new resources; they may plan the first one or two units of study.  They read blogs and books and journals to gain ideas for the next year.

     Teachers are busy during the summer.  They relax, but they are always thinking about their students and thinking about making their lessons interesting.

Public Schools and Choice

       Is it true that public school kids and their public school parents don't have choices?  I'm sure that I will expose my igno...

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