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Friday, July 30, 2010

Would You Want to be a Student in Your Class?

As educators, it is important to evaluate the tone we set in our classroom.  Of course, we think we set a positive nurturing tone… but how do we know for sure?  After all, it might surprise you to know how your students view you.   Are you energetic, supportive, and encouraging?  Do you unconsciously grimace in frustration the fifth time you ask a student to quit tapping their pencil?  Do you fly through the lessons, or take too long? These are important questions we should be asking ourselves because the tone we set directly impacts student learning.   Are you brave enough?  Following are three ways we can assess ourselves to find out for sure.

The Standard Observation

The first and most common way of assessment is to have a trusted and objective teacher (or administrator) observe a lesson or two.  Let him/her know if there is a particular area you would like to focus on (i.e. length of lesson).  Try to teach in your normal style instead of playing to your observer, this way you will get a more accurate assessment.  Be prepared to hear the constructive criticism, and act on any recommendations. 

Videotape a Lesson

The second way is to videotape a lesson.  Simply set up a camera in the back of the room and press play.  The nice thing about videoing a lesson is that you can go back and review it at your leisure.  Try leaving the camera running during transitions for extra insights.   This is an easy and valuable way to assess your teaching.

Watch Yourself Through Your Students

I have to say, this is my favorite way to evaluate myself.  Your students watch you all day.  They know your style better than anyone.  Pick a dependable student to teach a short review lesson.  You will essentially be watching yourself teach because they will mimic your teaching!  My students absolutely LOVE to ‘step into the teachers shoes.' I encourage you to try this in your classroom!

Finally

Self-assessment is as good for us as it is for our students.  If you’ve never tried to see yourself through your student’s eyes before, try it this year.  Then ask yourself, "Would you want to be a student in your class?" You will be doing both yourself and your students a valuable service.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Thingamajiggers, Whozits, and Whatchamacallits

As we get older, most of us have a few memory issues.  You know how it is… you walk into a room and forget what you went in there for.  Or maybe you forget a word for something and stand there blathering.  It probably gets worse when you’re under stress or haven’t gotten enough sleep.  Memory loss can add extra ‘fun’ to a teacher’s workday.  Read on to find out my strategies for dealing with memory loss.

Make it Fun

Make it fun!  By the end of every school year, my students are proficient in the ‘Thingamajiggers, Whozits, and Whatchamacallits” language.  I laugh at myself and make a joke out of it.  I believe it benefits students to see adults who can easily laugh at themselves and their perceived shortcomings.  The students also enjoy trying to fill in my blanks.

Carry a Notepad

We are bombarded with so much information each day that even those of us with the best memories are liable to let things slip.  I try to carry a small notepad with myself to take notes on.  The note could be a small thing like, “Joey’s mother will pick him up early.”  Or something more important, like noticing a student who has consistent trouble with a certain consonant blend.  In the end, you’ll be thankful you took the time to write your notes.

Sticky Notes

Ah yes, the wonderful sticky note.  What would we do without them?  If I have to remember to send something home, I’ll put a sticky note on my door.  For report cards I actually put a small sticky note on my name-tag that says, “remind me to send home report cards.”  I get reminded all day.  I’ve never forgotten since I started doing that.  The sticky note possibilities are endless.

Finally

Those are my three strategies.  I know there has to be some other amazing ideas out there.  Please share yours… if you can remember them right now.  

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Why are you doing what you're doing?

A few years ago at a Literacy First workshop, the presenter posed the following question: “If your school principal walked into your classroom and randomly asked a student, ‘Why are you doing what you’re doing?’  Would the student have an answer?”  That question really stuck with me.

It’s in the Objectives

Part of the ‘why’ is in the lesson objectives.  I cannot stress enough the importance of posting at least a summary of lesson objectives on the board.  Not only will it remind you to review the objectives with your class, it will also help you stay focused during your lesson.   

Real Life Connections

Reviewing lesson objectives prior to teaching is also a great time to point out real life connections.  We are learning to add coins up to one dollar so that when we go to the store to buy a candy we know what coins to give the cashier.  It’s easy to forget to relate those real life connections.  However, we all know students learn better when there is a meaningful connection to their lives.

Two for One

Every morning I write my daily schedule on the board.  With each subject, I write a short summary of each lesson objective.  As adults, we like to know what’s coming and when.  Kids are no different.  There is a sense of security in knowing what to expect.  As a side bonus, if you ever forget to do something the students will remind you.

Finally

Ask yourself from time to time what a student might say if he/she were asked the question, “Why are you doing what you’re doing?”  Occasionally ask students the question yourself.  Will a relevant answer be forthcoming? 

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Teaching with Love and Logic


The school where I teach uses the Love and Logic model of discipline.  This model is incredibly effective and easily implemented.  According to Jim Fay, “Love and Logic is an approach to working with students that:

Puts teachers in control
Teaches kids to think for themselves
Raises the level of student responsibility
Prepares kids to function effectively in a society filled with temptations, decisions, and consequences.” (Teaching with Love and Logic, p. vii).

Key to Love and Logic is having a good relationship with your students.  Some ideas: talk to the kids, ask about their families, and go to sporting events of theirs if possible.  When students know you care, they are more likely to want to please you.  This is so important!

Another key to Love and Logic is the theme of ‘consequences with empathy’.  Kids are told the consequences for misbehavior up front.  Therefore, when misbehavior occurs, you can empathize with them.  “Oh yeah, it really stinks that you have to miss recess because you were talking and didn’t get your work finished, what do you think you might do differently next time?”  Natural consequences are key to Love and Logic so students can see the connection between their behavior and the consequence.

Anytime a student has an issue that must be dealt with, I always end by reminding them that a mistake is only a mistake if you don’t learn from it… and tomorrow is a new day with a fresh start!  That way we end on a positive note, and when we walk back into the classroom we both (usually) have smiles on our faces.

If you struggle with discipline in your class and lets face it, who doesn’t from time to time, look into Love and Logic.  This article is just a brief overview.  If you’re not familiar with it, I highly encourage you check out their website: http://www.loveandlogic.com.  My favorite book is Teaching With Love and Logic.  I review this book every year.  In fact, I have the CD’s so I can listen on my way to and from school.  They also have Love and Logic for Parents which is also wonderful.

As we enter the new school year, lets go in with upbeat attitudes ready to make positive changes in our lives and the lives of our students!

Follow Love and Logic on Facebook here: Love and Logic Facebook Page

Follow Love and Logic on Twitter here: Love and Logic on Twitter

Friday, July 23, 2010

Obesity and the Classroom

We all know there is an obesity epidemic in the United States. In fact, childhood obesity rates have doubled in the last 30 years ( http://tinyurl.com/mrz8yt ). When I was in school, there were usually only one or two overweight kids in a class. I will never forget one 4th grade boy who could not fit in his desk. Everyone laughed at him. I can’t imagine the shame and humiliation the poor child must have felt. Unfortunately, that social stigma still exists. Now we know that the consequences of obesity go beyond social and psychological issues, reaching into cognitive and short and long term health problems.

Health Risks

From http://www.cdc.gov/HealthyYouth/obesity/ 

• Obese youth are more likely to have risk factors for cardiovascular disease, such as high cholesterol or high blood pressure. In a population-based sample of 5- to 17-year-olds, 70% of obese youth had at least one risk factor for cardiovascular disease.

• Children and adolescents who are obese are at greater risk for bone and joint problems, sleep apnea, and social and psychological problems such as stigmatization and poor self-esteem.

• Obese youth are more likely than youth of normal weight to become overweight or obese adults, and therefore more at risk for associated adult health problems, including heart disease, type 2 diabetes, stroke, several types of cancer, and osteoarthritis.


Cognitive Risks
Obesity also causes a decline in cognitive functioning. According to the University of Michigan, “Not only does childhood obesity reduce the quality of life of youngsters, but cognitive functioning is also impaired with unhealthy eating. Studies have proven that high fat intake and unhealthy eating can dramatically affect the psychosocial and cognitive functioning among young people today. Also, vitamin deficiencies are known causes of mental decline and impaired cognitive functioning in human beings.” (http://sitemaker.umich.edu/356.feld/childhood_obesity ). That has profound implications for the classroom.

What can teachers do?

Teachers are role models. We are careful with our social behavior because we are mindful that little eyes are watching and learning. We are even careful outside of school just in case we run into a student or parent. In fact, many of us sign a contract with our school district committing to a level of conduct both inside and outside of school. That said, doesn’t it follow that we should model good health also?

I am just as guilty as anyone, if not more, of bringing a soda into class. I also put on some weight as a result of that unhealthy behavior. I know students noticed because I got several Sonic gift cards for Christmas and my birthday! I submit that we should change our unhealthy behavior and start modeling healthy habits. Bring water or another healthy drink instead of soda. Walk around the playground at recess for exercise. Let students walk with you. Discuss healthy habits in class. Be excited about it!

Finally

We may only be with our students for 9 months, but if we can influence even one student who is on the path to an unhealthy future to change that future, then we’ve done a fantastic service.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Storytelling as a Teaching Tool

I always found history interesting, but I never found it compelling until I had a great history teacher. His name was Dr. Ziegler and he taught at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. What was the difference between this teacher and all the others before him? He didn’t just talk to us about history. He told us stories! We felt like we were there. We could smell the smells, hear the sounds, and feel the emotions. I loved it. I’ve been a history buff ever since. I decided then and there that if I was ever a teacher, I would teach history just like Mr. Ziegler. I have done exactly that. Then I discovered how well storytelling went with other subjects.

A Powerful Tool

Nothing grabs students’ attention like a well placed story. It works with any subject; math, science, language arts, computers, you name it. Almost any relevant story or anecdote will do because the power is in your delivery. It could be a quick anecdote about something your brother did, or a full story like the following example.

A Fun Example

My favorite story to tell is of the bombing of Ft. McHenry when Frances Scott Key wrote the Star Spangled banner. I do a dramatic lead in, describing events leading up to Mr. Key getting on the British ship. I help students feel like they are there with Mr. Key including all the sights, sounds, feelings, etc. Then I close the blinds and turn off the lights. By this time the kids are quite literally on the edge of their seats. Next I describe how Mr. Key can only see the flag when there is an explosion (using sounds and lights as props). Finally, while describing the sun coming up, I slowly open the blinds and turn on the lights. I seriously have had classes spontaneously start singing the Star Spangled Banner at that point! Did I mention they are only 2nd graders? (Now, if only the principal had been in there at the time…). What a powerful tool.

A Math Example

Second grader sometimes have difficulty understanding the importance of the zero.  To help them, I tell the true story of a woman working in a jewelry store.  She sold a $20,000 bracelet for $2,000.  When approached about her mistake, she replied, "Eh, what's one zero?"  Of course I tell it with flair, and I am sure to focus on the moment she was fired.  My students don't forget how important a zero is after that!

Storytelling Techniques

Storytelling doesn’t come naturally to everyone, so I have compiled a short list of helpful suggestions.

1. This should go without saying, but know your story well. Make sure you don’t need to look at any notes as that will interfere with your delivery. Although a sneak peak here and there won’t hurt.

2. Use voice inflection. Whisper or shout when appropriate.

3. Move around the room as you talk, use your hands, body and facial expressions.

4. Look for props you can use in your classroom such as the window blinds in the story above.

5. Invoke all 5 senses for your audience through descriptive words.

6. Mention how the person in your story may have been feeling, ask students to consider how they would feel in the same situation.

7. Interesting side notes. I like to add flavor to a story by mentioning small things. For example, what Mr. Key’s impressions of the British were while he was aboard their ship.

Finally

Don’t expect to be an expert right off the bat. As with many things, you will learn more as you practice. I can promise you the kids will appreciate it.

Storytelling is an excellent way to engage students in a lesson. Whether using a quick anecdote during a math lesson or a longer story during a history lesson, storytelling is powerful. How do you use storytelling in your class?



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Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Everyday Math

I wrote about Everyday Math on July 20th.  I ran into a fellow teacher in Mardels today and we were discussing how to color our thermometers and number grids.  That's when I realized I had not included that important information in the article!  So here is a repost of the previous article with information about the number grid and thermometer added.


Our district has adopted the Everyday Math curriculum for the next 4 years. I’ve just been to a couple trainings for EM, and it looks like a wonderful program. I’ve spent the summer reading through the EM books to get a feel for it. However I am in no way an expert!

Here’s what I like...

The spiraling method of teaching. EM continuously spirals back to reinforce previously learned concepts.

Students learn more than one way to solve a problem. Everyone thinks differently, so it just makes sense that one algorithm doesn’t fit all. Differentiation is built in.

EM encourages critical thinking and problem solving skills. From what I understand, that is the basis for how EM got started. A college professor noticed that his students could figure out all the straightforward math problems. However, these same students were unable to think critically and problem solve. So he went to the Chicago Public Schools to see what could be done. A partnership grew, extensive research was done, and now we have Everyday Math. Don’t quote me on the specifics there; the basic premise is correct though.

EM uses fewer worksheets and makes excellent use of manipulatives.

There is a wonderful online support system connected to EM. Students and parents can access it as well for math games, tutorials, their math book, and many other things.

An online planning calendar that automatically fills in lessons. Need I say more?

Introducing EM to parents

Everyday Math is different from the traditional math parents are used to. It will be important to discuss the highlights and address questions on Back to School Night. If you already have your books, you’ll notice a book called the “Home Connection Handbook”. This book is a wonderful resource for Back to School Night. Inside you’ll find everything you’ll need to explain EM to parents, plus a FAQ section to help you prepare for questions. Be sure to show your Content Strand Poster so parents can see how the content is spiraled.

Parents will be comforted to know that they will receive a Family Link letter with every unit. (These are found in the Math Masters book.) Each letter will explain what their child is learning, how it is being taught, math vocabulary, supporting home activities, and an answer key for the homework.

Teachers may want to consider having a Math Night for parents to explain things in more depth.


Substitutes

We all have those days when we are too sick to come to school and we are unable to secure a familiar substitute. Don’t panic… pull out your Differentiation Handbook and look at page 135 (2nd grade). There are some great options to print off for students to utilize on substitute days.  Another fantastic option is the Skills Link book that comes free with our order.  You're covered!

Classroom Management

I highly recommend reading the Teachers Reference Manual. The manual gives excellent explanations for the different activities in EM, as well as suggestions for classroom management.

Student Journals and My Reference Book

Daily work for students will be found in their Student Math Journal (although sometimes it will be in the Math Masters book). Please notice that these pages are not to be torn out. The journal is considered a work in progress. Within the journal are Math Boxes. Math boxes are not done for mastery, so don’t feel that students need to do all the problems. You may want to allocate about 20 minutes to spend on one page. For example, students could work 5 minutes alone, 5 minutes with a partner, then 10 minutes as a class. This is where you will see the spiraling. Students will also have aReference Book. Encourage students to look in their Reference Book for help before asking. The Reference Book also has instructions for the many games included in EM.

Homework

Weekly homework won’t work with Everyday Math. Homework will need to be sent home as the skills are taught. Homework is found in the Math Masters book. Parts 1 and 2 are considered ‘must do’. Part three is optional. If you have difficulty figuring out what is to be sent home, look in the upper right hand corner of each page. If there is a house there, it is supposed to go home.  Another homework option is the Skills Link book.  Pull work from there for remediation or differentiation.

Assessment

There are many ongoing assessments throughout the year which can be referenced beginning on page 8 of the Assessment Handbook. The formal assessments and assessment overviews begin on page 51 (2nd Grade). There are only 10 formal assessments a year. These assessments have two parts (summative and formative) which you will see explained beginning on page 19 (2nd Grade). Check the back of the handbook for excellent charts to track student achievement.



Online Support

As I mentioned at the beginning, there is an eplanner to help with lesson plans. You can set up your first day of teaching, and move dates within the calendar. To see a detailed lesson plan for the day, just click ‘details’ by the date.

In the support section you will be able to print a parent letter with teacher instructions for accessing EM online. Student passwords are auto generated and can be printed on cards or labels.

An Educator Resources link brings up games by grade level range.

Wallcharts are my favorite. Pull up the Wallcharts on your smartboard, select your grade level and go. This is for daily use. I showed my students the wallcharts at the end of the year last year, and they loved it!

Preparing Your Classroom - Number grid and Thermometer

First the number grid.  If you teach Kindergarten or 1st grade, you will need to color your number grid.  (I teach 2nd grade, but I went ahead and colored my number grid like the 1st grade since this will be the first year students are exposed to Everyday Math.)  

Kindergarten:  Color numbers 10-19 the same color, then color 20-29 the same color, then 30-39 and so on to the end of the grid. 

1st grade:  Color numbers 10-11 the same color, then 20-21 the same color, then 30-31 and so on to the end of the grid.

Now for the thermometer.  If you look in your Teachers Reference Manual on page 48, there is a graphic showing what to color each section.  I'll go ahead and post the colors here also.  
0-20 degrees=purple
20-40 degrees=blue
40-60 degrees=green
60-80 degrees=yellow
80-100 degrees=orange
100-140 degrees=red

I colored both the number grid and thermometer with regular crayons then laminated them.  Don't forget to hang up your number line as well.

Some Final Comments

I’ve looked around the internet trying to get a feel for Everyday Math. I’ve found people either love it or hate it. In reading the comments posted by parents who didn’t like Everyday Math, I could see that the teachers were not using the program in the way it was meant to be used. So we need to be careful to implement the program appropriately. With that in mind… don’t forget to put your number grid and thermometers up!

It is very likely that I have left some things out. Please feel free to comment with any additional comments or suggestions.


Links of interest:

Here is a link to Everyday Math technology resources broken down by grade, unit, and lesson. http://www1.center.k12.mo.us/edtech/everydaymath.htm

http://everydaymath.uchicago.edu/

http://www.everydaymathonline.com/

Monday, July 19, 2010

Teacherlinx

I recently came across a great resource for teachers: Teacherlinx. The website is chock full of useful tools and information for teachers.

On the Teacherlinx home page, there is a news feed for education related news. I’ll check back often to find out what’s happening in the education world.

Another excellent feature is the option to view teacher resources broken down by state. I checked the resources for my state and found some excellent sites.

Like any good site where people share information, Teacherlinx has a message forum. You can share tips and resources, or just chat.

Teacherlinx also has links for educators who are looking for employment. Just click your state and go!

My favorite thing about the website is the lesson plan template. I just love it! You fill in your lesson details, upload files, and even control who sees it. Lesson plans can be public, private, or just shared between colleagues. Which leads me to my next favorite part… searchable lesson plans! The site gives you the ability to search through the lesson plans that colleagues on the site have already posted.

I encourage you to check out Teacherlinx too http://www.teacherlinx.com/. You will be pleasantly surprised.
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Setting Up Your Classroom

If you need some new ideas for setting up your classroom this year, this is a really good post from Really Good Stuff!
Setting Up Your Classroom

Child Tested, Teacher Approved. Small Group Activities

At the end of every school year, I ask the kids what some of their favorite activities were. These were some favorites for small groups that are also favorites of mine. 

Readers Theater

We could not get enough of Readers Theater.  Fortunately, it is an excellent way to improve fluency and be creative at the same time! You can have the students create the script themselves, or use premade scripts. I use scripts from Lakeshore Learning called Genres of Literature Readers’ Theater Script Boxes. There are 4 sets of scripts in each box, and 4 parts to each script. These have been a HUGE hit! You can check them out here: http://tinyurl.com/294u9ft.


Another Readers Theater source I use is Readers Theater, Grade 2 from Evan-Moor (DST) (Author). This book offers 15 readers theater scripts ranging in subjects from the Statue of Liberty to Our Solar System.  It is pictured on the left.


Slide and Learn 

Slide and Learns™ from Really Good Stuff. As students move the sliders they create new words. The sliders can be purchased as a whole set or individual sets. Check them out here: http://tinyurl.com/297e4ux. You can also make them yourself relatively easily.

Story Starters

Learning Resources Story Starter Cubes, Set of 6. This set comes with color coded cubes: 2 for setting, 2 for character, and 2 for situation. Students love these. Just roll the cubes and start writing! Kids love the funny story combinations that come up. Plus, each person in the group will be working on a unique story.
You could also make your own story blocks with even more combinations!
Spelling Word Stories. In this group, students write a story using their spelling words. I love reading their stories! Alternatively you can have them write sentences with the words.

These are just the favorites or my class.  I'm sure there are lots of other wonderful ideas out there.  Please share your ideas.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Have You Tried Anchor Charts?

Kids have to retain so much new information that inevitably some of it will be lost. When I forget something during class, I tell the students that it must have floated out of my ear. Hey, it gets a laugh! Oh, and don’t anchors help keep things from floating away? Hmmm, we’re onto something here: the anchor chart. An anchor chart is a chart that you create as a class. It helps to ‘anchor’ information in student’s minds. I use a poster sized sticky note pad so that I can easily stick the chart on a wall or window.

Anchor charts can be used for a wide variety of subjects. In my second grade class I have charts for synonyms, antonyms, homophones, and homographs. I also have one for ‘number buddies’ (numbers that add up to ten), and ‘number twins’ (i.e. 7+7=14).

As an example, for language arts I wait to start a chart until we stumble across a synonym, antonym, homophone, or homograph while reading or… well, frankly it doesn’t matter what we’re doing at the time. Let’s say we stumbled over a homophone. I get excited and animated about the ‘discovery’, and grab my large sticky pad and sharpie. Then, we discuss what a homophone is. Next, I title the chart and write in the homophone that we stumbled across. Finally, I challenge students to see if they can think of any more. I write their words on the chart also. Once we’re at a good stopping place, I stick the paper to a wall for later reference.

Once you have a chart or two up in class, don’t be surprised if a student raises his hand excitedly to point out a new homophone, synonym etc. Add the new words to the existing chart. Word of caution here: students get very excited about this. If you’re not careful they will start blurting other examples out and you’ll never get back to your lesson. Set a limit.

Anchor charts are a fun way to help students retain information. The charts can be used for any subject. What might you use an anchor chart for? Now, if I could just keep information from floating out of my own ears.

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Thursday, July 15, 2010

Hyperactive or all-boy? Lazy or ADD?


I once had a parent ask me if I thought her son was hyperactive. I said, “No, he’s just all boy.” Granted, he was active. He had some issues with impulse control. However, he wasn’t the most active or the most impulsive in the class. Plus his reading and math were both above grade level. That is my litmus test, because I suspect that behind the question was, “Does he need to be on medication?” I subscribe to the theory that unless a student’s inattentiveness is causing academic or social problems, there is no need to medicate. I may revise that theory in time, but for now that is where I stand.

Two types of ADHD

There are two types of ADHD. There is the hyperactive type, the inattentive type, and a combination of the two. Does that make it three types? Hmm, a point to ponder. We have all had both types in class. First there is the hyperactive type. This is the student that can’t stay seated, has little impulse control, and frequently ends up in the office. (Not to be confused with normal active, boisterous, childhood antics.) These students are usually identified and put on medication in Kindergarten or preschool.

The less obvious is the inattentive type. This is the student who is not typically disruptive, but can’t seem to get his/her work finished. They sometimes seem to be ‘in their own little world’. More severe cases seem unable to learn, simply because their mind can’t focus long enough to absorb information. Both types usually have above average IQ’s, which makes the inability to learn even more confusing. Additionally, ADD/ADHD can accompany other learning difficulties such as dyslexia.

Classroom Accommodations

As previously stated, I don’t believe in medication unless the child is being negatively impacted academically or socially. Therefore, accommodations should be made to help ADD/ADHD students be successful. Frequent redirection is usually necessary. I’m always walking while I teach so it is simple to discretely tap his/her paper to remind the student to stay on task. Having an active, engaging classroom is important. Incorporate movement into your lessons when possible. Let the students work at places other than their desks sometimes. Give mental breaks by incorporating humor into your lessons. These are all just good teaching practices anyway, and it gives the ADD/ADHD student more of a chance to be successful.

One thing I enjoy about the ADD/ADHD child is their ability to be creative. Have students do a Readers Theater based on a history unit you’re teaching. Then sit back and watch those creative juices flow!

Finally...

I look back at my conversation with the mother, and hope I gave her the right advice. Perhaps I should have advised her to discuss it with the pediatrician. I sincerely enjoyed her son and his energetic personality. I look forward to watching him grow through the rest of elementary school and beyond. And I pray, please, please, please, don’t let anyone squelch that joyful personality.

I look forward to seeing your thoughts on ADD/ADHD in the classroom.

Mrs. Dahl



Sources:

http://www.additudemag.com/adhd-web/article/7259.html

http://www.enotalone.com/article/4124.html

http://www.addresources.org/article_adhd_expand_clark.php




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Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Free Technology for Teachers: Instructure Canvas a Free LMS for Teachers

Free Technology for Teachers: Instructure Canvas a Free LMS for Teachers

The Importance of Positive Calls To Parents

I was taught to call each and every parent at the beginning of the school year. These are positive phone calls to touch bases with the parents and tell them something uplifting about their child. Let’s face it; even the most difficult students have positive traits. The initial purpose of these calls is to lay a positive foundation in the event you need to make a not-so-positive call later in the year. I’ve mentioned how difficult phone calls are for an introvert like me. However, I sucked it up and made those calls. I’m so glad I did!

Parent Reactions

I quickly realized the power of these phone calls. During one of my very first calls, a parent broke down in tears because she had never had a positive call about her child before. Other parents are so excited that they ask me to repeat everything to their spouse. Not all calls are so dramatic, but all are positive and rewarding. If I have an opportunity to make a positive impact on a family, I’m darned well going to take it!

What to Say

These calls are just about the positive traits of the student. Be sure to mention that you enjoy having the child in your class. Each call shouldn’t take more than a few minutes. This isn’t the time to bring up any other issues. In fact, these calls are early enough in the year that there shouldn’t be any issues yet!

A Parents Point of View

I have been on the receiving end of these calls a few times. I felt comfortable talking to those teachers about any issues the rest of the year because I believed they really cared about my child. In fact, once I actually had another positive phone call after school was out for the year. Unfortunately, I accidently deleted the message before I caught her name so I can’t give her kudos here. She was a teacher at Edmond Memorial High School.

If you’ve never tried making beginning of the year calls before, I encourage you to try it this year. You’ll be hooked!

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Sunday, July 11, 2010

Digital Citizenship and Online Learning in the Classroom

When I was in high school, there was one computer – for the whole school. The computer ran on DOS. Students rarely used it. The thought of having a home computer was just too far out there. Cordless phones were just coming into vogue. Then there was the whole Beta vs. VHS quandary. Walkmans were popular with the accompanying music tapes. We can’t forget the Atari games. ‘Asteroids’ was my favorite. Ah, the good old days.

Galeb tipkovnicaImage via Wikipedia
Now? Schools have computer labs in addition to the computers and Smartboards in the classrooms. Most students have home computers as well with internet access. A surprising number of elementary students even have cell phones and text regularly. We’ve got CD/DVD and BlueRay. Oh yes, can’t forget streaming movies also. IPods are common place. And video games? Geez, don’t get me started. Times have certainly changed. What does that mean for us as educators?

What does that mean for us as educators?

Students these days have been raised in a world of technology. However, it has been a double edged sword. To ignore technology in the classroom is to ignore one of the best ways to reach students of today. Every year there are more distance learning courses that require students to utilize current technology to succeed. Unfortunately, students have also found ways to cheat and bully using technology. I submit therefore, that digital citizenship should be taught beginning in Kindergarten.

Digital Citizenship

According to http://digitalcitizenship.net/, “Digital citizenship can be defined as the norms of appropriate, responsible behavior with regard to technology use.

The nine major themes include:

(1) digital etiquette, electronic standards of conduct or procedure.

(2) digital communication, electronic exchange of information.

(3) digital literacy, process of teaching and learning about technology and the use of technology.

(4) digital access, full electronic participation in society.

(5) digital commerce, electronic buying and selling of goods.

(6) digital law, electronic responsibility for actions and deeds

(7) digital rights and responsibilities, those freedoms extended to everyone in a digital world.

(8) digital health and wellness, physical and psychological well-being in a digital technology world.

(9) digital security (self-protection), electronic precautions to guarantee safety.”

(For more information on the 9 norms go to http://www.digitalcitizenship.net/Nine_Elements.html )

Clearly the different norms will be taught at different depths throughout the grade levels.  I do believe digital citizenship should be taught in every grade level. 

Last year, I did two digital citizenship lessons before students ever went to the computer lab. We discussed digital citizenship, possible scenarios, and role played. They had to demonstrate an understanding of digital citizenship to earn their ‘digital drivers license’. I made business sized ‘drivers licenses’ (on the computer) with their names, then had them laminated. They were so excited! (Of course, in second grade a teacher has to explain several times that the cards are not real world drivers’ licenses.) Here are links to some of the things we did in class (also from http://www.digitalcitizenship.net/ ). I had to modify some to fit 2nd grade.

http://www.digitalcitizenship.net/uploads/FoundAct2.pdf

http://www.digitalcitizenship.net/uploads/KidPledge1.pdf

http://www.digitalcitizenship.net/uploads/GuideAct2.pdf

Practice makes perfect

I wrote about Wiki’s in an earlier article. Wiki’s are a great way for our younger students to practice using their digital citizenship in a safe environment. I highly recommend using one for your class. Without real-world application, the digital citizenship lessons will have little meaning. (See the Wikis and Moodle article for more information).

Yes, the world is very different today. I enjoy meeting kids where they are and molding lessons to fit their needs. Technology is certainly one of those needs in today’s classroom. Now, where’s that old Atari system?


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Friday, July 9, 2010

The Introverted Student

Recently I went to see a therapist to find out what my problem is. I don’t like being in large groups of people, I don’t like talking in front of adults I don’t know, I’d rather pull my hair out than make a phone call or go to a party, and I need ‘alone’ time. Is there some deep dark childhood trauma that caused such strange personality quirks? How do I get over it? The therapist, Mr. Gorman, looked at me thoughtfully for a moment and then said the magic words, “It just sounds like you’re an introvert.” Could it really be that simple? I’ve always known I was an introvert, but clearly I didn’t understand the core traits of an introvert.

When I got home that day I went straight to my computer and googled ‘introvert’. I came across a wonderful article on Psychology Today’s website titled Introverts Unite! (Quietly). I read through the article and the comments left by other readers. Suddenly I understood myself on a whole new level… and there are others like me! The next time I saw Mr. Gorman, I shared how much this information helped. As we discussed introversion in more depth, he commented about the effect of introversion on a student in a classroom. What is the best way to deal with an introverted student? That really got me thinking.

The Introverted Student

Introverts get their energy internally through quiet time, contemplation, and emotion. People sometimes see them as bookish or unsociable. However, introverts do enjoy activity and socializing. They just like to do those things in smaller groups. That would be something to keep in mind when planning activities in class. An introvert may do fine in a group of two or three, but could clam up in a larger group.

Introverts will take more time to process information because they process more deeply. They think out what they will say before speaking. In fact, according to an article by Tami Isaacs, PhD. in Teaching and Learning as presented on the Family Focus Website, “Research has shown that extroverts and introverts process information differently using different parts of the brain and different neurotransmitters. The extrovert draws upon small amounts of information in his short term memory in developing his thoughts, while the introvert recalls thoughts stored in his long term memory to build more complex associations. The introvert needs more time, therefore, to develop his ideas and express them.” We want to give the introvert student a little more time before calling on him. If possible, let him raise his hand first. I find it amusing how extrovert students will raise their hand whether they have an answer or not. The introvert will wait. Thought comes before action. That is one reason it is so important to give all students a chance to formulate an answer before calling on someone.

Like most students, introverts will do best in a safe and supportive environment. They have to know that a wrong answer will not be laughed at by the students or the teacher. Further, the introvert will shut down with too much pressure from a teacher. Space is the key. Give the introvert student space and time to be who they are, and you will see better results.

Now that I understand myself better, I can understand my students better as well.  Are you an introvert or an extrovert?  How did that effect you in school?

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Teachers: Consider Going To A Sporting Event Or Two!

Kids don’t care what you know until they know that you care.

I don’t know where that quote came from, but I have found it to be true. It all began before I even became a teacher. My sons aren’t the most studious individuals you will ever meet. Well, okay… it was like pulling teeth to get them to study. Painful abscessed teeth. You get the picture. Anyway, I noticed that there were some teachers they would work harder for than others. What did they do that was different? These teachers went out of their way show students how important they are. Not just by greeting students by name at the door either, these went further than that. These teachers would show up at a sporting event or two. That spoke volumes to me as a parent as well. The ones I remember the most were Ms. Goetz from elementary school, and Ms. Graham from middle school. It didn’t stop there either. These teachers even went to events when the boys were no longer in their class. Word gets around. Parents and students alike knew that these two teachers were/are special. I decided that when I became a teacher, I would do the same thing. I can tell you it is very rewarding.

I had a student who I was having difficulty with. Nothing major… just talking out of turn, not putting forth his best effort, things like that. I got his sports schedule, went to a game, and the very next day I saw a big difference in his attitude in class. I’m not implying that he was perfect, none of us are. But the difference was significant enough that I saw improved performance in class. He even became a ‘hugger’.

I try to make it a point to get to one event for each student at some point throughout the year. Going out to recess with your class about once a month gives you a chance to spend extra time with the students who don’t have extracurricular activities.

I know that it is easier for some of us to get to games than others. So I have some pointers to make it easier. First of all, never take a student at his/her word about when and where a game is. They frequently aren’t very clear on the details. Trust me on this one. Get a schedule from the parent. Next, write the games & times on a special calendar. You will find that several students in your class are often on the same team. Then you can get in several games at once! You will also find that some games times back up to each other. That is also a great time saver. If you’re really strapped for time, you could spend 30 minutes at one game and 30 minutes at the other. It honestly doesn’t take much time in the long run. The benefits you see in class are well worth it. Finally, pace yourself. Don’t feel like to have to fit in a game for every student in the first semester. Remember, you’ve got the whole year!

Middle and High School teachers would have a more difficult time because they have so many students. What I saw when my boys were in those grades were teachers who would make it to one football game, one basketball, one soccer, etc. Students who aren’t even on the team will notice you there, and know you care.

My favorite part is seeing the kids faces light up when they see me. I’ve even had several parents tear up in gratitude. Little things mean A LOT!

Don’t fret if you have a busy family life and simply have no extra time at all. There is always that wonderful time of day called recess (for elementary anyway). Go out just once a month. Play four-square, or walk around the playground for exercise. My favorite is ‘duck, duck, goose’! The point is that the students see you spending time with them when you don’t HAVE to be with them. Actions speak louder than words.

I’ve followed the example of those inspirational teachers and even go to games of former students. I love it! Thank you Ms. Goetz and Ms. Graham for the great examples you set. Try following the example yourself, you will find the rewards are well worth the effort.

I'm sure there are some other great ways to go that extra mile.  What do you do outside of class to show kids you care?

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Some things I have learned in my first 3 years of teaching.

• Kids have wonderfully open hearts and minds. Kindness keeps them that way.

• Second graders aren’t good at using glitter.

• There are usually MORE than two sides to every story. Some are told with more dramatic flair than others.

• You will often find sweet notes and pictures on your desk throughout the day.

• Kids LOVE it when you go out to recess with them.

• You’ll have to repeat yourself at least 3 times for everything, and still not everyone will hear. May want to consider tape recording yourself. ;)

• It’s best to avoid talking much in the teachers’ lounge.

• Ask fellow teachers for advice… they know a lot!

• Humor in the classroom is a MUST!

• Every teacher really does want the best for their students.

• If one student goes on a restroom break, half the class will have urgently full bladders.

• The kids who will try to cheat are usually the ones you would least expect.

• Never assume ANYTHING.

• If you want to see yourself teaching, ask a student to teach an easy routine lesson. They will act just like their teacher! Plus they love it.

• Teachers aren’t paid enough.

• If the bureaucrats who make the education laws would spend just one day in the classroom… need I say more?

• Kids really do say the darndest things!

• Teaching is the best and most rewarding job ever!
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Monday, July 5, 2010

Wikis and Moodles

Technology is an important tool in the classroom. It may not fit into every lesson, but you can bet students will pay closer attention when it is. Wikis and Moodles are two examples. I heard about Wiki’s and Moodles at a technology conference several years ago. I learned that they are both customizable and secure. However much of the information was geared toward students beyond 2nd grade. I set out to find just how much a 2nd grader could do with such tools.

A wiki is a site where several people can collaborate on a page of information, adding to and editing text. Beginning in the 08-09 school year, my partner teacher and I created a wiki at http://www.wikispaces.com/. The great thing about Wikispaces is educators don’t have to pay for the service. We educators do love a bargain! We introduced the wiki during our Abe Lincoln/Slavery unit. I used the smartboard to show the classes how to add/edit information to a page, and how to use the message board. (We also discussed internet safety and digital citizenship, which I will discuss in another article.) Letters were sent home to parents introducing the wiki and explaining how to access it as they would be doing this from home.

Our wiki was focused around our Core Knowledge subjects. At the time we were studying Abe Lincoln and Harriet Tubman. The kids were excited about the wiki and couldn’t wait to get home to work on it. Sure enough, that evening the kids discussed with their parents what they learned in school that day about Abe Lincoln. Parents and students worked together to add their information to the wiki. It was wonderful! This went on the rest of the year for every unit we studied. We would frequently see information appear that we had not discussed in class, so it was clear there was extra learning going on at home.

Some extra things about Wikispaces… There is a message board option where you can create one for the whole wiki, or a message board for each wiki page. I highly recommend doing only one board.

Privacy settings are customizable.

You can assign your students usernames and passwords or have their parents sign up for a Wikispaces account. I recommend assigning the names yourself.

Wikispaces was a wonderful experience for our classes. They even wanted me to make an ‘alumni’ wiki page so they could come back and ‘visit’. However, the next year we opted to try a Moodle.

According to http://www.moodle.org/, a “Moodle is a Course Management System (CMS), also known as a Learning Management System (LMS) or a Virtual Learning Environment (VLE). It is a Free web application that educators can use to create effective online learning sites.” Now don’t let the word FREE mislead you. The software itself is free, however the implementation and hosting of the software is difficult so you’ll probably want to pay for a hosting service.

The Moodle is incredibly customizable! There is way more available than I could ever use. Go to www.moodle.org to feast your eyes on everything available. We added wiki pages for each unit, message boards, a calendar of events, links, a collaborative story about ‘Pat’, and polls. We introduced it to the parents on Back to School Night, and to the students soon after. They loved it at first, but I think it was too much for 2nd grade and kind of died. Our eyes were bigger than our student’s attention spans. However if you have an upper grade this may be just the thing you’re looking for. It is definitely worth looking into. I’m not saying that a Moodle won’t work for lower grades, I’m sure it could. I just didn’t get it there. We are going back to Wikispaces this next year. It is a simpler interface that is better for our grade level.

Students love technology. The home-school connection provided by a wiki or moodle is valuable. We just have to find what works best for us and our students. I’m sure there are other educators with some wonderful ideas. Please share what you have, I would love to hear.

New Blog!

I'm excited about this new blog.  I plan on sharing my classroom experiences (within FERPA guidelines), what has worked for me and what hasn't.  Also great lesson plan ideas, and ways to integrate technology into the classroom.  Our district is implementing a new math program this year called 'Everyday Math', I'll discuss my experiences with that as well.  I'd love to get input from other educators.  Hopefully this will end up being a useful and informative blog.