Thursday, March 31, 2011


What better way to get students and teachers to think critically about thinking, than to expose them to a few quality quotes about The  BRAIN.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

12 Virtues of a Good Teacher

The Twelve Virtues of A Good Teacher
(12 key virtues listed by De La Salle)

 These twelve virtues are derived from the The Conduct of Schools  written by the Founder, Saint John Baptist de la Salle.

"The Twelve Virtues of a Good Teacher by Brother Agathon, fifth Superior General of the Brothers of the Christian Schools from 1777 - 1795, incorporate virtues that are not isolated to teachers in catholic or christian schools but are universal to educators whose vocation is to instill, in students entrusted to their care, the love of learning that is essential to becoming a positive active member of the world we share.

I have been associated with Lasallian education for more than half of my life.  I graduated from a Lasallian high school and have spent the last twenty-one years teaching at a Lasallian school. 

My own commentary is how I see these twelve virtues in my life as an educator and how I try to live them out in my classroom.   

. Gravity (Seriousness)
Teachers earn respect by acting with dignity. They cultivate an assured and calming presence.

Effective teaching is about the quality of the relationship between the teacher and the student. This relationship does not begin and end with the bell. The responsibility of the teacher takes place in every action and word with students.  Be aware that in the role of teacher, the influence as a mentor is constant in everything the teacher does at all times: in the classroom, the hallway, the dining hall, the gymnasium, or out on the yard.

. Silence
The classroom atmosphere should normally be harmonious and quiet, leading to more effective teaching. The teacher will not talk too much.

The teacher understands the strength and weakness of the spoken word.  Knowing when to intercede in the process of learning, and when through silence the process of learning is enhanced.  The teacher understands when to stop talking and when to start listening.

In my classroom, the idea is to create an environment whereby the less I teach the more the students learn.  Empowering students to control and value their education.

. Humility
We are human. We make mistakes. We therefore never abuse our powers and instead make pupils feel respected.

The effective educator knows it is not about them, but about their students.  They see themselves as older siblings who mentor their students.  They share what they know but understand that they are not the focus - their students and the learning process are.

. Prudence
Teachers use their common sense, understanding what they need to do and what they need to avoid when dealing with children.

The Teacher puts into practice the very skill they hope to instill in their students - Common Sense.  The educator enacts the idea to do the right thing, because it is the right thing to do.

. Wisdom

The teacher’s knowledge and experience is applied with sound judgment. Wisdom may take time to acquire.

The Teacher remains a master of their domain by exhibiting the traits of a lifelong learner, remaining updated in the current developments and trends in their field.  Not only remaining abreast  of their content area but also those of education and the process of learning.  The educator demonstrates a passion for gaining and sharing knowledge and passes this on to the students entrusted to their care.

. Patience
The teacher who can keep cool, composed and even-tempered will be a better educator.

Not only a virtue in life, but a virtue that is natural part of the ongoing process of educating those students who are in need of guidance and understanding.  The educator must develop a thick skin in order to wade through the trials and tribulations of adolescents who have just as many difficulties with learning English, math and science as they do in dealing with their own insecurities, relationships and personal growth. The essence of this patience - is communication.

. Reserve (Self-control)
De La Salle wants teachers to control themselves and show restraint in the face of annoyance.

Knowing what to say and just as importantly when to say it, is the characteristic of the Teacher who understands reserve.  The Educator understands that communication takes many forms.  A smile can make a students day and an angry glare can set a student back.  Creating a safe environment for students enhances their ability to learn and provides greater avenues for students to explore new eperiences without the fear of failure.  

. Gentleness
Firmness and authority is tempered with kindness and courtesy such that the teacher is always approachable.

The best teaching is not formulaic; it’s personal. The educator develops an environment of trust between teacher and student where communication includes corrections and constructive criticism that are an accepted part of the learning process.  Where discipline is wielded not as a threat but as a means of maintaining an environment that meets the needs of all members of the learning community.

. Zeal
The Lasallian teacher is dedicated and committed whether it be in class preparation, correcting work, encouraging effort, supervising or coaching.

The difference between a good teacher and a great one is not expertise. It comes down to passion. Passion for the material and passion for teaching. This passion is translated to the students through each and every action, from creating and environment of learning, development and delivery of lessons, to the correction and encouragement of the students entrusted to their care.  In turn this desire becomes infectious and the passion is passed on to all members of the learning community.  

. Vigilance
The teacher is to be observant and discerning so as to promote values and prevent damage and danger. A caring teacher is vigilant.

The Educator takes on the role of older sibling, almost a guardian angel. The Teacher creates a learning environment that is safe for students physically, emotionally, socially and academically.
It is in this safe haven where the learning process can flourish and students can communicate effectively, work collaboratively and think critically.  In doing so the vigilant teacher provides an atmosphere in which each student can maximize their potential   

. Piety
The teacher, knowing each pupil is a child of God, will confide them to God’s protection while doing everything possible to prepare them for life.

This virtue is best summarized from one of Saint John Baptist de la Salle’s Meditations for the Time of Reflection,  Let it be clear then, in all your relations with students who are entrusted to you, that you look upon yourself as ministers of God, acting with love, with a sincere and true zeal, accepting with much patience the difficulties you have to suffer.”

. Generosity
This puts service before personal convenience. De La Salle wants teachers to be unselfish in their giving, always available and approachable whether in or out of the classroom.

The Teacher lives the motto “Enter to Learn, Leave to Serve.” in all aspects of their life:  working with students both in and out of the classroom, participating in the life of the school community,  and demonstrating the traits of a life long learner. The educator voluntarily sacrifices their own interests for the benefit of the student’s growth, academically, spiritually and socially to maximize their potential.

My favorite virtue is ZEAL,  there is nothing as satisfying as seeing students recognize your passion for teaching and learning.  But more importantly experiencing the infectious nature of that passion as it moves through an entire classroom.

"Nothing great in this world has ever been
accomplished without PASSION."
                                                                         ~  Hebbel   ~

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

20 Suggestions for Teaching in the Block

The following list of ideas have been developed over a dozen years of teaching in the block.   These hints and tips are meant to be utilized across the curriculum in any discipline. These activities are designed to make the student an active participant in the learning process. These are described only in brief fashion, so that you to can adapt them and make them your own.  Take on those that fit your own teaching style as they must be authentic to both you and your students.

1.  Take a professional leave day to visit or talk to friends who are elementary school teachers--observe how they keep kids actively involved--many ideas can be adapted to the high school and the older kids still love hands on activities.

2.  Keep a supply of scissors, glue sticks, poster boards, rulers and colored pencils available for any spur-of-the-moment idea that might arise as you are stopped at the traffic light on the way to work some

3.  Teach the students games such as Balderdash, Jeopardy, Wheel of  Fortune, Tribond (word association in threes) as you want them played in the class at the beginning of the course as part of warm up activities so the kids can get to know each other.  Then when you want to review material at a later date have the students plan and carry out one of these reviews themselves.  (Might also have them prepare crossword and word search puzzles, bingo reviews, or sports review as well)

4.  Instead of handing things out to the students such as papers to return or readings and worksheets, plan for when you want these to go back and have them come and get them.  Even if it only takes 30 seconds (dream on!), it allows some movement by giving the students an opportunity to get out of their chairs to pick something up.

5.  Allow students time to be creative--alone, in pairs, or in groups have them develop and illustrate a poem, draw a cartoon, complete a scale drawing, create math problems or a science experiment for others to solve, develop a new sports game complete with the rules.

6.  Develop mini-hall passes for students for each term which they can use to go to their locker or the bathroom--decide how many of these you want to give them--if students don't use them, they can be turned back at the end of the term for 5 points of extra credit apiece. (Eliminates the constant interruption, "Can I go...")

7.  Plan various warm up activities at the beginning of a new term so that students can get to know each other and you in a more informal way so that they will feel more comfortable in the classroom.

8.  Role dice to decide if homework is to be collected on certain assignments--1 or 2, collect it----3 or 4, quiz over it----5 or 6 you're home free, nothing happens.  If this is considered gambling, just write the numbers on separate pieces of paper and have a student choose one--also use this to decide which problem(s) to grade on homework.

9.  Type or word process a quiz over certain material you are working on--run two copies only--keep one as a key on which you put the answers--cut up the other into individual questions that you spread out on the table--call one student at a time up to pick a question and read it to the whole class--everyone (including the reader) then writes down the answer, then go on to another student and another question.  Quizzes can be as long, or short as you like---questions can be added each year and used again or some may be taken out if material is taught differently---eliminates cheating from one class to another as students may or may not get the same questions.

10. Complete a progressive assignment--each row is a team--1st student does so much and then passes off to the next student in the row--this can be based on time or completion of a task--competition between rows can add excitement.

11. Use cooperative grouping techniques such as jig sawing to complete lengthy tasks and place responsibility on the students shoulders for each other getting the job done teacher must be involved as well, walking around answering questions, playing the devil's advocate, encouraging group members.

12. Plan on guest speakers, bring in senior citizens, arrange for short 90 minute field trips to tie the students in with the community.  With 90 minutes there is time to have speakers, ask questions and debrief after their departure.

13. Arrange lessons in which the students can teach material to each other--have them research to become mini-experts (or maybe they already are experts in certain areas--remember, most students know how to use the computer far better than we do!)  Have upper level students come in to help with concepts being taught to younger or less experienced students.

14. Conduct a classroom scavenger hunt in which prearranged questions or problems are answered somewhere in the room--students just have to figure out what answers what--timed competition adds fun to this--this activity is good to use either to introduce or review material.

15. Arrange desks differently or hold class in a different location if possible to add variety to the classroom--change seating charts every couple of weeks--notify front office in advance so class can be found if necessary.

16. Establish a bank of questions of material learned during the term--have an oral semester exam--call one student at a time out into the hall and ask him/her 8 to 10 questions--5 correct is an "A", 4 is a "B" and so on--have each student 1st choose a number between 1 and 10--if student says "4", ask every fourth question--next student starts from where previous student left off--give, grade, and record semester exam all at the same time  (Saves one's sanity especially when there is no special final exam schedule!!)

17. Tell students from the start that you might intentionally mislead them on certain information--force them to look things up--teach them to use resource information  (No, carpe diem does NOT mean "the fish are dying!")

18. Tie in and reinforce information being taught in other disciplines whenever possible--the concern of "Can I cover as much on the block system?" can be minimized if we all help each other--students can write well organized papers in science; math can find its way into the P.E curriculum; and history does have a place in an art or music class.

19. Role play situations for better understanding and teaching others--have students pick a topic and create their own mini-play about it to present to the class--(The drama teacher might do a short in service for the staff on improvisation to aid in this technique.)

20. Arrange for part of your class to be in the library working on a specific task while you work with an even smaller group in your classroom--switch every 30 or 45 minutes depending on the group size you want and the tasks students are working on.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Homework Overkill

Teacher:     Alex, do you have your homework today?
Student:      No, I didn't understand it.
Teacher:     Can you show me your work?
Student:      No, I left it at home, because I didn't understand it?
Teacher:     What didn't you understand?
Student:      All of it.
Teacher:     Did you try any of it?
Student:      Not Really.

This is an all too common discussion in schools today. 

Students willingly admit to not completing their homework.  But, admitting that they did not even attempt it
is even more troubling. 

Their world is one where, video games are a thumb touch away,  www.bffs around the world are a mouse click away, music downloads, online shopping, movie uploads, you tube, facebook, twitter and the list goes on, are simply to teen friendly to pass up,  How, can homework compete with anything else in their lives?

Educators must understand the teenage mentality. 

Students have grown up in this world of political correctness and building self-esteem, most students find less discomfort in not doing the homework at all rather than doing something they may not do correct.  When a character in a video game dies, the game just gets reset and they try again.  Video games are mastered in the privacy of their own room and they are graded only against their own expectations for success and failing several times is not stigmatized by a grade, check or label.

Homework that is overkill, rote and monotonous becomes a strain for both the good student and the struggling student.  The good student looks at that list of ninety math problems and thinks, why should I do all of these if I know how to do this after the first five?  The struggling student thinks, if I don't understand the first five, why should I torture myself with eighty five more? Where is the value in this type of assignment for either of these students?  Both of these students are being programmed to despise the subject while destroying any possible value for skills of orgnaization and self-discipline that may have been developed.

Homework must be effective as a measurement tool for the student to monitor their own understanding of the material covered while allowing them to reinforce this knowledge and prepare for future use of the information. Therefore, homework should include just enough practice and review that students can validate their understanding or determine where they may need to review or relearn.  Homework should also include material that allows students to apply information learned in the classroom to real life practical problems.

The most effective homework assignments, are those that provide both the student and the teacher, feedback concerning the effectiveness of the learning path travelled and the possiblities for the learning path ahead.
Students should value homework as a necessary part of the learning process and a validation of the knowledge gained.


Thursday, March 24, 2011

Gas Laws and Imploding Cans

Keeping it simple, but providing avenues for learning many concepts is important for both teachers and students.

One lab that I use in my chemistry course is the imploding cans lab to demonstrate gas laws, pressure and temperature relationships. 

Students provide two or three aluminum cans for this lab.
I use a hot plate for safety in my classroom.
Students add about 1-2 mL of water to an aluminum can and place it on a hot plate.
As the can heats up steam will realease out of the opening at the top of the can. 
I discuss why we add water to the can.  The steam is an indicator of when the can is hot enough anad demonstrates how molecules that are hot move rapidly and escape from the container.
When the can is hot enough the student will invert the can in to a trough of room temperature water.
When done properly the students will witness the imploding of the can.
Water will be drawn in to the can due to the low pressure vacuum created.

Discussion points:
  • pressure and temperature relationships
  • internal and external pressure on the walls of a container
  • kinetic molecular theory
  • decreasing pressure to create a vacuum
  • malleability of metals

Monday, March 21, 2011

Communicate Effectively - Vocabulary Builder

One of my favorite vocabulary building exercises is a combination of Password, Taboo, Pictionary and Guesstures.

I  divide my class in to five or six teams of 4 to 5 players each. I pre-prepare 30-36 vocabulary cards.

Each player takes a turn on the Hot Seat, I hold a vocabulary term up behind their head for their teammates to see. The team must get the individual to say the vocabulary word in less than a minute.  Guidelines include, they can not use any form of the word.  They can not mime the word.  They may not use clues that spell the word nor use rhyming.  Students are encouraged  to use terminology from the text, lecture, SMART presentations in order to get the individual to say the word.  Each team completes two rounds using verbal clues.

In round two, students use white boards and dry erase markers to draw clues to get students to say the term.
Students may not use letters or numbers in their clues.  The teams have two minutes for this round.  This provides time for students to decide what to draw and who should do the drawing.

In the third round, students cannot use words or pictures, they must act out or mime the clues to get the student to say the word. The teams have two minutes for this round.  This provides time for students to decide how to act out the term and who will do the acting. 

I find this method of reviewing gets students actively involved in processing their vocabulary. 
The process includes getting students to think about how to communicate clearly and succinctly to accomplish a goal.  I also find that it helps to make students students utilize a variety of communicative methods and forces them to think critically about how best to communicate their ideas.

I have yet to have a class that did not become fully engaged in the game and typically they want to continue even after we have completed all of the terms.  But, I always try to leave them wanting more as it keeps the game fresh and they are more apt to be engaged the next time I use this methodology.

"Talking and eloquence are not the same: to speak and to speak well are two things.
A fool may talk, but a wise man speaks. "
                                                                                   Heinrich Heine -


The video Shift Happens, created by Karl Fisch, and modified by Scott McLeod; Globalization and The Information Age is a excellent introduction to the changing paradigms of today's world. 

There is a great deal of information about population dyanamics, technological advancement and the changes in communication that our students currently face and continue to deal with in the future.  The most telling stat that I tend to direct students attention to is the number of job changes that most people will go through as technology and the job market will be in a constant state of flux well into the future.  The ability to learn, unlearn and relearn will be the most valuable skill students will need to develop as they will be in a constant state of adjustment as jobs change, are replaced by technological advances and allocated throughout a global economy.

It is also important for educators to understand that we are preparing students for a world that we cannot predict and  for jobs and technologies that have not yet been invented.  Therefore, the one skill we can prepare them with, is the ability to LEARN.

Shift Happens is great conversation starter. Some of the questions I use based upon the students I am working with include:
  • What are your initial reactions to what you saw in the presentation?
  • How do you see these changes is your own lives? personally? as a student?
  • What are the most important skills students will need to move into this type of future?
  • How does this change the way schools should be doing things? teachers? students?
  • How can educators prepare you for a future that we can not predict?
  • What support mechanisms will you need as you move forward?
  • Do these concepts create fears, worries, apprehensions for you? Why?
  • What does this type of change mean for us socially? 
  • Does this future create an impersonal world?
  • How will mankind maintain the speed of life that is created, almost demanded with this type of technology?
  • How will this type of technology affect adaptations in our evolutionary progress as humans?
  • What further developments lie on the horizon?
  • Is there anything left to invent?
Fo more information on Shift Happens go to Change Agency.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Lateral Thinking Exam

Periodically, I will give my students the following test.   The questions are designed to make students think about the questions they are answering and pay close attention to the wording of the question to decipher what is being asked.

Lateral Thinking Exam 
  1. Do they have a 4th of July in England?  (Yes)
  2. How many birthdays does the average man have? (One)
  3. Some months have 31 days; how many have 28? (All of Them)
  4. A woman gives a beggar 50 cents; the woman is the beggar’s sister, but the beggar is not the woman’s brother. How come?  (The beggar is a woman.)
  5. Why can’t a man living in the U.S.A. be buried in Canada? (He is alive.)
  6. How many outs are there in an inning? (6)
  7. Is it legal for a man in California to marry his widow’s sister? Why? (he is dead)
  8. Two men play five games of checkers. Each man wins the same number of games. There are no ties. Explain this. (they play other opponents)
  9. Divide 30 by ½ and add ten. What is the answer?  (70)
  10. A man builds a house rectangular in shape. All sides have southern exposure. A bear walks by, what color is the bear? Why? (White, Polar Bear)
  11. If there are three apples and you take away 2, how many do you have? (2)
  12. I have two U.S. coins totaling 55 cents. One is not a nickel. What are the coins? (half dollar and a nickel)
  13. If you have only one match and walk into a room where there is an oil burner, a kerosene lamp, and a wood burning stove, which one would you light first? (the match)
  14. How far can a dog run into the woods? (half way, then he runs out)
  15. A doctor gives you three pills telling you to take one every half hour.  How long would the pills last? (one hour, now at 30, at 60)
  16. A farmer has 17 sheep, and all but nine die. How many are left? (9)
  17. How many animal of each sex did Moses take on the ark? (0, it was Noah’s ark)
  18. A clerk in the butcher shop is 5’10” tall. What does he weigh? (meat)
  19. How many two cents stamps are there in a dozen? (12)
  20. What was the President’s name in 1980? (Obama, he hasn’t changed it)
While most of these questions test student logic, several of them force students to look carefully at the wording.  For instance, when students look at the question about the butcher, they must understand the difference between what he weighs? and how much does he weigh?   

Common mistakes students will make when answering these questions.
1.  They will think of Independence Day and answer, no.
2.  Students will think of how long a man lives and answer in years old.
3. They will think of February and say one.
4. This question is a little dated, as most students today would be aware of female beggars.
5. This is just a logic question.
6. Some students will say three, which is a half inning.
7. Students may not understand the difference between a widow and a widower.
8. Students will think they had to play each other.
9. Students will divide 30 in half.  They need to divide by a half which is multiplying by 2.
10. Only the poles have all southern exposure.
11.  Students will think how many remain, not how many they took.
12. The nickel is not elimanted, one is not a nickel, the other can be.
13. Logically you need the match to light everything else.
14. They will almost all answer as far as he wants or until he gets tired.
15. They will invaiably say 90 minutes.
16. By now students will have caught on and usually get this correct.
17. Careful of the wording.
18. Students will say 200 pounds, thinking how much does he way.
19. This should be an easy one.
20. The question does not ask who was the president.

I have fun with this, with my students, but always point out the importance of answering the question being asked and reading the question carefully.


Wednesday, March 16, 2011

90 Ways To Offer Praise

As an educator, you never know how far your reach extends into a child's life. Even the simplest words of praise and recognition can have an effect on the students entrusted to your care.
90 Ways to Offer a Student Praise
(I have edited this from a list I recieved in a graduate education course several years ago.)

Wow     Excellent     Great     Good     Neat    Well Done
Way To Go     Remarkable     I Knew You Could Do It
Super     I Am Proud Of You     Fantastic     Super Star
You Are Special     Nice Work     Looking Good    
Outstanding     You Are On Top Of It     Beautiful
Now You Are Flying     You Are Catching On     Smart
Now You Have It     You Are Incredible     Bravo
You Are Fantastic     Hurray For You     Hot Dog
Good Job     You Are On Target     You Are On Your Way
How Nice     That is Incredible     Dynamite     Beautiful
You Are Unique     Nothing Can Stop You Now    
Good For You     I Like What You Have Done     Bingo
You Are A Winner     Remarkable Job     Beautiful Work
Spectacular     You Are Darling     Great Discovery
You Are Precious     You Are Spectacular     Magnificent
You Have Discovered The Secret     Fantastic Job
You Figured It Out     Hip, Hip, Hooray     Marvelous
Terrific     You Are Important     Phenomenal    You Tried
Super Work     You Are Sensational     Creative Job
Exceptional Performance     Super Job     You Care
Creative Job     You Are A Real Trooper     You Are Fun
You Are Responsible     Fantastic Job     You Tried Hard
What An Imagination     You Are A Good Listener
How Exciting     You Are Maturing     You Learned It Right
Beautiful Sharing          You Are A Good Person    Correct 
You Are Important     Outstanding Performance 
You Are Valued     You Make Me Happy     I Respect You
You Belong     You Make Me Laugh     You Are A Friend
In My Opinion You Are Right     You Brighten My Day

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Two Dozen Reasons and Uses for FLIP Cameras in the Classroom

A Dozen Reasons Why FLIP Cameras are Great for the Classroom

1.  They are easy to use.
2.  They are student friendly.
3.  Very little training required. 
4.  No cords necessary.
5.  Portable.
6.  Built in stabilization.  
7.  Quick USB connection.
8.  Easy charge.
9.  Fast uploads.
10.  Rapid replay.
11.  Frame by frame replay.
12.  Easy review.

A Dozen Ideas for Using FLIP Cameras in the Classroom.

1. Create short study reviews.
  • Post to YouTube, Class Web or Moodle

2. Video science experiments.
  • Review result, make observations.
3. Video student presentations.
  • Speeches, skits, plays, debates.

4. Students create video stories to explain topics.
  • Collaborate to create storyboard, video and present material.
5. Interview other students outside of class. 
  • Gather data, gain perspective, introduce opinions.
6. Interview an expert to bring to class.
  • Guest speakers anytime.
7. Video skills for playback and critique.
  • Solving a math problem. Making a free throw. Completing a dance move. Singing a song.  
8. Video a school tour in Spanish or French.
  • Bienvenidos a mi escuela...
9. Groups video problem solving in real time. 
  • Critical thinking in process.
10. Share with colleagues. 
  • How did you teach this information?
11. Video the whiteboard notes at the end of class.
  • Post online for students to use.

12. Video teaching a lesson for self observation.
  • Professional development in the palm of your hand.