Thursday, June 30, 2011

Dry Erase Boards - A Classroom Must!!!

Do yourself a favor and head over to Home Depot and purchase a couple of 4'x8' sheet of dry erase panels.
Have them cut into eight 2'x2' squares, for a total of 16 white boards. (I have them cut at Home Depot and pay the minimal cutting fee.) Get a bucket of dry erase markers and a packet of cheap terry towels and  let your imagination go wild.

Dry erase boards are a great way to create students guided learning opportunities. Whether students are working in  partners to teach each other, Creating a brief presentation to share with a group or the whole class.  Dry erase boards create opportunities to maximize space and time, without wasting a great deal of resources. 

Dry Erase Boards...
  • Math Problems
  • Gathering Data
  • Writing Out Instructions
  • Editing
  • Diagraming sentences
  • Brainstorming
  • Making Timelines
  • Scorekeeping
  • Presenting in Small Groups. (Jigsaw)
  • Vocabulary Games
  • Cloud Maps
  • etc...etc...etc... 

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

The Best Teachers are Thieves

Let's face it!!!
The best teachers are thieves. 
The best teachers are those that can take ideas, lessons, methodologies from other teachers, workshops, inservice and incorporate them into their own classroom in such a way that they become their own.

I encourage all of you to become Great Thieves!!!

Visit colleagues
Visit other schools
Go to workshops
Attend conventions
Utilize inservice opportunities
Read journals, books, and blogs
Take in information
Take ideas
Put your own spin on them
Make them your own


The man who graduates today and stops learning tomorrow, is uneducated the next day.
                                           ~Newton Diehl Baker

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The Learning Machine

If you could create a schematic diagram of the learning process in your classroom, what might it entail? 
What pathways would learning take?
What would be deemed as most important?
What could immediately be transferred to waste? 
How much emphasis is placed upon assignments, quizzes and tests?
How important is the pathway that leads to a learner for life?
If you were to take the schematic above and adjust the lines to represent the importance of each path, how might you adjust the daigram? 
Which boxes would be larger for greater emphasis?
Which would be smaller for less importance? 
What processes are missing?
How might your students ideas on this differ? 
How might they be the same? 
If you were to look at your classroom, does it enhance this process or detract from the process?
As a teacher, what do you emanate?
What really matters to you in this work?
What difference can you make where you are, right there, right then?
Is what you do in your classroom moving the future of your students?
What stands in the way of making your students dreams come true?
What are you no longer willilng to accept?
Are you capable of transcending all of the obstacles that are in the way of your mission?

A teacher affects eternity:
he can never tell where his influence stops.

                                            ~ Henry Adams ~

Monday, June 27, 2011

Making the Most of Extended Class Time (BLOCK)

Time is what we want most, but... what we use worst. 
                                                                         ~Willaim Penn

Break It Up

Most people learn best in incremantal progression. Divide the block into a series of short intense and chllenging activities.  Surround and separate, two 20 to 30 minute presentations with three or four 5 to 10  minute, active, hands on, and collaborative activities.  Extend projects over several days, utilizing a segment of time each day.

Utilize Multiple Instructional Strategies

Use at least three different types of activities each class period. Alternate between teacher centered and student centered.  Teacher centered activities could include lecture, Q&A or demonstration.  Student centered activities could include peer-teaching, cooperative learning, games, role-play, presentations, research, online simulations or project building.  Reach out to students to maximize the various learning styles to provide opportunities for each student to find a comfort zone in your classroom.

Create Possibilities for Movement

Develop methods in your classroom to allow students to change position of their own body but also in the classroom.  Provide stretch breaks, rearrange groups between activities, collect, gather, distribute materials, role-play are all means to get students active in the classroom.

Incorporate Multiple Media

Provide opportunities for students to listen to music, lectures, speeches, interviews, audio books, poetry or plays.  Use movies, video, pictures, You Tube, TED Talks, to bring the world into your classroom.  Allow students to create posters, models and simulations.  Store in your classroom, magazines, fabrics, various types of paper, paint, glue, markers, crayons, scissors, and colored pencils.

Use Passive Learning Opportunities

Provide passive learning opportunties as students are entering and exiting your classroom or when they are moving between activities in class.  Run PowerPoints of images, cartoons, quotes and ideas.  Provide a thought question on the board.  Create flash cards to display on a, PowerPoint, SMART Board or computer screen.

Make Use of School and Community Resources

Block schedules allow for excellent opportunities for class excursions both on campus and off.  Create interdisciplinary projects, integrate more technology and visit the library.  Bring in guest speakers, alumni to bring relevant content from the outside world into your classroom.

Allow Time for Students to Reflect

Provide time for students to reflect through a journal, thought question, quick checks to monitor their own progress, expectations and needs.  Encourage the students to take more responsibility for their own learning. These types of activities provide the internal reflection that overcomes,
"What did you do in school today?" 

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Core Principles of Lasallian Education

This is a brief five slide piece I show periodically of the five Core Principles of Lasallian Schools
Faith in the presence of God
Quality Education
Inclusive Community
Respect for All Persons
Service ot the Poor and Social Justice

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Science Quote Resource

Science Teachers! Do you need that great quote to complete a SMART presentation or Powerpoint.
You can remember the quote but can't remember who to give credit too.
The Dictionary of Science Quotes is a great online resource to access quotes about a vast array of sceince topics and ideas.  The site includes a search tool for This Day in Science History and links to alibrary of online Science Stories.

Monday, June 20, 2011

The Role of Mentor

This is a copy of the original from John Wooden.  This copy was given to me by another teacher in my Master's cohort at Concordia University.
I am reminded of the importance of being a mentor, whether we are a parents, siblings, teachers or coaches.
The values we live are going to be mirrored by the people in our life.  Many of the students we teach spend more time with us as educators in the classroom than they do with their own parents. 
How invaluable is the job we do, as older brothers and sisters to the students entrusted to our care. 

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Relentless in Our Pursuit of Perfection

"We will be relentless in our pursuit for perfection. We won't ever be perfect - but in the process we will achieve greatness."
                                         - Vince Lombardi

In the HBO documentary Lombardi, former Packer great Bart Starr describes the emotion he felt at that first team meeting when Vince Lombardi first made that statement to the Green Bay team.  Starr describes coming to full attention, at the edge of his seat, ready to go.  The emotion in his voice is what captures the true sense of the commitment this demanded of him and his teammates. 

This is the type of commitment educators and the students entrusted to their care must agree to strive toward in pursuit of the academic excellence each student should aspire to.  Each student will achieve at the maximum level of their abilities and talents to attain  a level of excellence that will thereby create greatness for the learning community as a whole.

As educators we must be willing to ask ourselves what does that pursuit look like. 
  • What will this classroom look like?
  • What preparations must be made?
  • What methodologies will be most effective in this classroom?
  • What assignments will most effectively light the path of this pursuit?
  • What will our work look like?
  • What will our expectations be?
  • Will there be room for compromise?
  • What tools will we need?
  • What benchmarks will mark the pursuit?
  • How will we measure success?
  • How will we overcome setbacks?
  • What support structures will we create?
  • What challenges will we create?
  • How will we incorporate media?
  • How can technology expand the pursuit?
When I coached I always explained to my players that success in games was a direct result of successful preparation.  The success of our students will be directly related to our own preparation as educators.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Touching Hearts - St. John Baptist de La Salle

"Do you have faith that is such that it is able to touch the hearts of your students and inspire them with the Christian spirit?  This is the greatest miracle you could perform and the one that God asks of you, for this if the purpose of your work."

This is one of my favorite quotes concerning the vocation of teaching, from the meditations of Saint John Baptist de La Salle.

As educators we must be willing to draw out of our students the character traits and talents, that allow the students entrusted to our care to achieve beyond their own expectations. To allow them to see a future that is ripe with opportunity.  To provide a vision for them beyond the barriers that they set for themselves and provide for them, the paths to circumnavigate those detours to their own fulfillment.  It is the responsibility of the educator to enlighten, strengthen, encourage, develop, imagine, believe and achieve the possibilites for these young adults who are all too briefly members of our community of learning.

"Brick walls are there for a reason. The brick walls are not there to keep us out. The brick walls are there to show how badly we want something. Because the brick walls are there to stop the people who don’t want something badly enough. They are there to keep out the other people."
                                          - Randy Pausch -

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Buoyancy Tutorial

McGraw Hill provides a wonderful tutorial for teaching concepts of buoyancy.  This tutorial provides opportunities for students to experiment with the buoyancy of a cargo craft.  The craft can be adjusted to varying widths in order to demonstrate the effects of surface area on the displacement of the fluid. 

The craft can be set afloat in water, alcohol or mercury so that students can understand the effects of visocity and fluid density on the buoyancy of the object.  Students can add cargo in varying incremental units and witness the displacement of the fluid.  A graduated overflow allows students to measure the volume of fluid displaced and data tables provide a comparision of volumes, mass and density of the fluid and objects.

There is also an option in the tutorial to add force vectors of the fluid, craft and cargo increments to assist students in incorporating free body diagrams to compare buoyant and gravitational forces.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Film Favorites - Renaissance Man

Renaissance Man -  
a person whose expertise spans a significant number of different subject areas.
Jack of all trades.
Master of None.

Bill Rago is a divorced advertising executive down on his luck. When he loses his job in Detroit, the unemployment agency finds him a temporary job; teaching in the U.S. Army training base, Fort McClane.

Initially unenthusiastic about this assignment, Rago finds that he has only six weeks to teach the Double D’s, a group of "squeakers", who are especially low achievers, the basics of comprehension and use of English language. Most of the soldiers are only semi-literate and equally unenthusiastic.

Unable to connect with his pupils and desperate to spark their interest, Rago quotes from his favorite play, Hamlet by  William Shakespeare, which they have never heard of. A small initial spark of interest is generated.

Rago further introduces them to Henry V, which generates further interest. Despite the disapproval of their hard-as-nails Drill Sergeant Cass, and the loss of one of the trainees, who is revealed as a drug dealer hiding

under an assumed identity, he sets them an end-of-term examination, which his Captain friend doesn't expect them to pass, adding that if they fail, they will be discharged. However, they succeed.

The climax comes as one of the soldiers proudly gives Cass the St. Crispin’s Day Speech by King Henry V while in full combat gear in the middle of the rain during a night exercise. Rago realizes that he has finally achieved success.

Rago also does some investigation, as a result of which one of the soldiers is awarded the medal his father was to have been given posthumously, after he was killed on duty in Vietnam.

As the proud soldiers march at their passing-out parade, Rago signs on for a further period of teaching soldiers-in-training.

This is a great movie to generate the discussion of everyone can learn given the proper environment to learn. That learning takes place in a multitude of methods.  Rago uses several methodologies throughout the movie to generate interest and comprehension amongst the Double D’s including: character reading of the play, acting out the play, firing squad Q &A.  The “squeakers” surprise Rago with a rap to demonstrate their understanding of the play.  The lessons culminate with the students seeing the play and then taking and passing an “optional” final exam.

Invariably though it is Bill Rago, "The Teacher", who learns the most.  This is not lost on my students as they understand that learning is a two way street.  You only get out, what you are willing to put in.  

Thursday, June 09, 2011 - Simulations for SMART Boards

The Freezeray website provides educators with an array of very imaginative, highly impactful visual teaching-aids developed for use with SMART Boards.

The resources include tutorials and simulations in Physics, Chemistry and Biology.  These interactive activities help to make sense of some of the more challenging concepts both teachers and students encounter in science.

The Science Literacy section offers a vast array of interactive activities to increase science vocabulary skills, solidify scientific concepts and increase scientific literacy.   

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

How Awesome Is This Opportunity?

I finally viewed Waiting for Superman last friday night.

The documentary created by filmmaker Davis Gugenheim explores the ongoing struggle of the American public education system as in most areas it continues to  fail our nation's children. The film explores the roles that charter schools and education reformers could play in offering hope for the future. The statistics which we are bombarded with every day  include the growing student drop out rate, continued deficiencies in science and math education, and schools constantly dealing with a lack of funding. The film brings to life the names and faces of the children whose entire futures are at stake. There was a time when the American public education system was a model admired by the entire world. Today other countries are surpassing us in every respect, and the slogan "No Child Left Behind" has become a cynical punch line. the documentary follows the lives and school choice options of Bianca, Emily, Anthony, Daisy, and Francisco. These five students deserve far better than what is currently offered by today's educational system. The current system is actually obstructing their education instead of bolstering it, Gugenheim instigates the discussion of what is possible and the options for improvement.

I was moved by the plight of the five students they followed throughout the documentary.  Witnessing the lack of options available to these young and promising  minds and to realize that much of their fate is dependent upon the bounce of a bingo ball, the turn of a raffle cylinder or the random sorting program of a computer, had a great impact on me.  As an educator, I became angry at a public school system mired in beuracracy and held captive by government red tape and special interests. But, on the other hand, as a Catholic School Educator I was invigorated by a sense of how tremendous is the opportunity I am given when parents entrust their children to our care.  How absolutely awesome is this responsibility to provide a learning environment that will allow these students to become extraordinary individuals who will make positive impacts on this world we share? 

I can not wait to get back in my class room next fall.

And now the real work begins. 
Summer Preparation


Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Laughter, a Necessity in Any Classroom

Have you ever been in a classroom where the atmosphere is so tension filled that students are afraid to do anything?  Where there are so many rules and regulations that students can not even feel free to think?  Where the environment is so rigid that students feel trapped? Where the idea of enjoying themselves is not even part of the realm of possibilities?

Sometimes as adults we forget that the most basic joy in life is plain and simply joy itself. There is nothing more magical nor joyful than the sound of laughter.  The utter sense of release given up with a burst of pure happiness.  There is a reason that for more than eighty years Reader's Digest has published Laughter is the Best Medicine.

Peter Doskoch wrote about the power of humor in Psycholology Today.  Here are some of the key points of his work:

  • Loosens up the mental gears and helps us to think more creatively.
  • Helps us cope with the difficulties of life.
  • Reduces our levels of stress.
  • Relaxes us as it lowers our heart rate and blood pressure.
  • Connects us with others and helps to eliminate feelings of alienation and inadequacy.
  • Releases endorphins, the brain's natural painkillers. 

Thursday, June 02, 2011

The Lorax Message Still Familiar 40 Years Later

It is not uncommon to find Dr. Seuss books in a kindergarten and elementary classroom.  These books have been a staple of reading for more than fifty years.  Whether students learned colors and numbers from One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish or the alphabet with the Dr. Seuss Dictionary, Theodore Giesel has been a soldier for literacy in education world wide.  How often though do we revisit this master of education throughout the years.  Do we explore the possibilities of following our dreams in Oh, The Places You Will Go?   Do we use The Sneetches, to discuss social justice issues?  I have used The Lorax in my environmental science courses for more than a half dozen years.  It is amazing how many ideas and discussion points on the environment are encapsulated in this story. And, high school students truly enjoy using this piece of their childhood to begin the exploration of this course.

In 1971 Dr. Seuss (Theodore Giesel) published "The Lorax" one year after the first Earth Day.
The Lorax speaks out for the Truffula Trees that are being exploited by The Onceler in the production of Thneeds.  Thneeds of course become the latest greatest of the can do everything product that of course everyone needs.   The Onceler's overproduction of Thneeds, leads to overpopulation, urbanization, urban blight, water and air pollution, endangering species and many of the same environmental issues we are still dealing with today.

I utilize the  Google Video of the Lorax as an introduction to the frustration we still deal with in trying to overcome environmental issues.  I ask students to identify the environmental issues presented in the Lorax story and compare them to how those issues are still manifested today.  A major discussion point centers around why these problems never seem to gt solved.  What are the roadblocks that we face in reversing the problems of the environment.  After viewing the video students are asked to write an essay responding to the prompt, "Why we have not learned in forty years."

In summation the basic idea is to get students to answer the following throughout the semester and the remainder of their lives. How are they going to respond to the UNLESS!!!

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Four Reasons Students Forget Information

You can teach a student a lesson for a day; but if you can teach him to learn by creating curiosity, he will continue the learning process as long as he lives. 
                                               ~Clay P. Bedford

They Did Not Use The Information
"I told them this, fifty times this year!"
Unfortunately, sheer repetition of a verbal-auditory stimulus does not allow the majority of students to transfer knowledge into long term memory.  In order to synthesize information completely, students must be able to associate the information to some purpose.  Purpose typically means a specific use.  Students must determine that the information has some meaningful purpose.  When the student can apply it to something useful to some real life situation, they are more apt to retain the information and transition it into long term memory. 

They Confuse It With Other Information 
Let's face it there is way too much information out there.  The glut of information that students deal with everyday is overwhelming.  There are bits of information that I have garnered over my fifty years that I will never forget and never confuse.  There are also concepts and ideas that no matter how many years I teach them I still need to look them up and review them each year before I share them wiht my students.  If, I confuse things after twenty-five years of teaching, I think that high school students after nine months of a subject could very easily confuse material.  Teaching students to distinguish differences, to understand patterns and sometimes using logic and common sense can help them avoid confusion. In the long run we all get confused once in a while.

They Decide That Information Conflicts With Their Previous Knowledge
We all do this.  We get comfortable with an idea and that is that.  Sometimes, this is the most difficult part of being a teachier or coach.  Overcoming, ideas, skills and patterns that have been taught either incorrectly or in a matter that will not allow students to progress. Let's face it.  Habits are hard to break, and bad habits are the worst.  Unfortunately for most of us, our students are not clean slates when they arrive and we must find ways to allow the students entrusted to our care to see value in all knowledge and to learn to evaluate information and see it's purpose. 

Never Really Learned The Information In The First Place 
Just because a student completed the assignment, or passed a quiz does not necessarily mean that they learned the material. In today's, fill me up, take a test, empty me out, method of learning, what are the markers that we can use to truly measure what a student has learned?  Versus, what a student simply has processed in order to complete the assignment, quiz or test for the purpose of the grade?  How often do we ask our students to demonstrate what they have learned in a way that is meaningful for them as learners and for us as educators? 

I hear and I forget.

I see and I remember.

I do and I understand.

                                           ~ Confucius ~