Educational Opportunities for Students in Low-Resource Schools

Although free K12 public education is available to all students in America, the fact is that not all public schools have the resources to fully educate students. Many schools, particularly those in low-income rural and urban areas, lack fundamental educational tools like computers, microscopes or even current textbooks. Other schools have eliminated programs like art and music entirely.

If your school district only offers limited resources, what can you do to help your students get the educational opportunities they deserve? Whether you’re a teacher or a parent, consider implementing one or more of these options to give kids a chance to improve their education even in a low-resource school district.

Online tutoring

Not every school has a dedicated music teacher, Spanish teacher or physics teacher. Fill the gap with online courses. If your school doesn’t have a functioning music program, encourage interested students to take online piano lessons during lunch, study hall or after school. Invite students to join teams and sign up for online language lessons, math tutoring or book clubs. If your school doesn’t have the resources to teach a particular subject in-house, chances are there’s a great way to learn it online.

Donated Computers

Not every classroom has enough computers for all its students. This is becoming a critical literacy gap, as computers are now a fundamental part of life and students who graduate high school unable to type, navigate an Internet browser or handle fundamental programs like Microsoft Excel are at a huge disadvantage for both college and the workforce.

Meanwhile, plenty of companies and individuals find themselves upgrading their computer systems every few years, meaning there are many functional machines that are no longer being used. Talk to your school district about setting up a computer donation request; a few states, such as Delaware, actually require companies to offer old computers to schools before sending them to be destroyed. Look for sources of donated computers in your area and use them to teach your students computer literacy – it’s an essential skill for today’s connected world.

Summer Camp Scholarships

Summer camp is a great way for kids to pick up skills they might otherwise miss in a low-resource classroom. There are camps for kids interested in science, math, art or drama; in fact, there’s a camp for nearly every subject! The best part is that these camps nearly always offer scholarships to low-income students. If you’ve got a student in your classroom who can benefit from an educational summer camp experience, take the time to help the student apply for a scholarship and make sure to write a glowing letter of recommendation.

Problem-solving Opportunities

Many schools focus their curriculum on “teaching to the test,” and this is especially true in low-resource schools which require high test scores to receive much-needed funding. However, this kind of education means fewer classroom hours are spent giving students problems that require innovation or invention to solve. The working world – not to mention life – is about solving problems, and students need these skills to perform successfully as adults. (For more information on why innovation and invention are key skills for students to learn, read the Suggested 3 I’s of Education Reform.)

Create problem-solving opportunities by setting up a science fair, asking students to write and stage a play or pulling out one of the tried-and-true problem-solving games like the toothpick bridge project. If your curriculum is already too jam-packed to include these items, start an after-school club or announce that an upcoming Saturday will be “Science Day.” The more opportunities you give your students to solve their own problems through innovation and invention, the better they’ll function in our complex, problem-filled world.

Local Libraries

No discussion of educational opportunities would be complete without mentioning the importance of your local library. Many libraries offer tutoring, after-school clubs and other opportunities, and even the smallest libraries have that most magical of inventions, inter-library loan. Take your students on a tour of your library and show them how it can be used to help with homework, college applications or independent study on a favorite subject.

Use these ideas as ways to augment your low-resource school and give your students a better chance to compete in today’s world. Do you have other ideas for boosting a school’s resources? Start a discussion in the comments. The more we share ideas, the more opportunities we’ll be able to offer our students.

Save it for Later

Do you ever get little notes from your students that are touching but you tend to throw away? It would be easy to put them in a special folder titled “Sunshine Folder.” On a rainy day you can get those little notes out and warm your teacher heart. This can workMVC-013S in a similar way for all the stuff you get in your mailbox and ends up cluttering your desk. Develop a “Need to Sort” folder and a “What’s Important Now” one. You don’t have to sort everything now. You can save it for later and save your brain energy, wit, and candor for your lessons. Continue reading “Save it for Later”

Problem of the Day as Routine

teaching kidsI was so glad to hear that Common Core had less standards that the 1997 set in California. When you look at the pages of standards you have to teach in a year, it can produce anxiety. A reasonable response to that anxiety can be to schedule too much each day. It’s been said it’s better to aim at something and miss than to aim at nothing and hit your target. A problem of the day for math and language arts can seem miniscule but if done every day, you can get a lot done over a year. 185 standards covered in both ELA and math, that sounds good to me! I can feel anxiety lifting as I type it. If you go through them as a class, you have a different approach that isn’t possible all day long. Plus, the mind likes routines and chunks of information. All these things are the pros of doing a problem of the day. Continue reading “Problem of the Day as Routine”

The Benefits of Becoming an Owner-Operator

While not everyone may have what it takes to become their own boss, creative, resourceful, and persistent individuals can make a comfortable living becoming an owner-operator of their own company. If you are considering going into business for yourself, here are four advantages of being your own boss in the trucking industry.

Flexible Hours

 One of the biggest appeals of working for yourself is the ability to set your own hours. With that said, if you work inconsistently and fail to commit to meet deadlines and appointments, your business could fall flat. Be realistic about your schedule and don’t give yourself too many sick days or vacation time. Truckers have different schedules than most other workers, so you’ll need to evaluate your own needs.

Greater Control

 As your own boss, you’ll have the freedom to implement your own decisions that determine the future success of your company. As an employee, you can only exercise control within the parameters of your title. As an owner-operator, you decide what jobs you take.

Doing What You Love

 Becoming an owner-operator permits you to turn your passion into a livelihood. You’ll also enjoy a greater sense of satisfaction operating your own business. If you consistently work well and meet your client’s expectations, the sky is your only limit.

Developing Positive Habits

 When you’re relying only on yourself to run an entire company and make the shots, you’ll quickly develop a strong work ethic as every problem or success falls on your shoulders alone. Folks who run their own business develop positive characteristics including frugality, punctuality, loyalty, specialized skills, and resilience.

One Question Tests

I thought it would be great to give a 1-2 question test each morning on the challenge standards, or the ones the whole class scores below 70% accuracy on. That in and of itself is not the great idea. Grading them is!

48095_10151460458076117_1282058836_nI was driving back from Del Taco tonight and had an epiphany about my class and how I can help them all achieve standards mastery. It would be really helpful to see if they can actually work through math problems I have been teaching. I mostly do two kinds of assessments currently, whiteboard “on the spot” picking random-non-volunteers with playing cards and formal multiple choice paper tests. I find that there are usually a few who somehow get through these assessments and don’t really master the material. I thought it would be great to give a 1-2 question test each morning on the challenge standards, or the ones the whole class scores below 70% accuracy on. That in and of itself is not the great idea. Grading them is!

In class or at home I can see almost instantly if a kid is getting say long division or place value standards. I can make 2 piles: Those that “got it” and those who didn’t. In minutes, I have valuable assessment information that I can make a plan to address. I can work in a small group with those kids in the “did not get it” pile. I can also pair students who did get it with those who didn’t. I have found numerous times that some students respond better when taught by their proficient peers. It’s an especially great idea for middle to end of the year because in that time segment you have a pretty good idea which standards need extra work. The best part of these “piles” of tests is that you can put a post-it with the standard and save them for anytime you have the time to reteach and address these deficiencies. It’s very simple and very helpful I think. In theory, you could even avoid the copier by simply putting the 1-2 problems up on the overhead. If you have a Mobi or other writing device for your overhead that can be a great way to correct the test and reteach as well. In theory, you will have a stack of several standards paperclipped together that will help you work toward entire class mastery of the standards.

Revising Your Teaching Strategy

It’s very complicated and different for each classroom. Having said that, I would divide a complete overhaul into three areas and apply strategies as needed

clip1Try as we might as teachers, sometimes we don’t get classroom management right. To adapt and fix it, we must be open to change. This often requires tweaking little things here and there and sometimes it means a complete overhaul of your lesson plan and classroom management approach. Even when you’ve been at it many years, you are never immune to change. Ours is a career where change is always happening so we must adapt. Revising your strategy is the solution to the challenge we call change.

It’s very complicated and different for each classroom. Having said that, I would divide a complete overhaul into three areas and apply strategies as needed:

  1. PLAN. Identify focus standards. Most schools in California are focused on the California content standards. Gone are the days when teachers’ differed in their opinion on what should be taught. While shades of that remain, teachers know the biggest recognition comees from high standardized test scores. Even though I know that is the best target, I will be flexible and say a teacher should identify what they want to teach. You’d do well to simply identify standards but the point here is that you are focused on something. It has been said, and it is true, that if you aim at nothing you will surely hit it. Get a yellow pad and write down 2-3 focus standards a day. These become the measuring rod of whether you did you job.
  2. TEACH. For each standard use a teaching method such as edi or the Madeline Hunter lesson plan and write lesson plans. Teach them, check for understanding throughout and finally, assess that 80% or more of the class has achieved mastery.
  3. PLAN CONSEQUENCES. Plan how you will control classroom discipline. Some classes will not require much of this and others will demand hours of planning in a trimester. Read up on the subject and be open to trying things other teachers do that are working for them.


I hope as you are revising teaching strategies you don’t feel like a failure. It can feel like that sometimes as a teacher in a challenging environment. Make sure you take the quiet time to reflect, research and converse with positive colleagues. In time, the hardest challenges will become your greatest strengths. The reason I am qualified to tell you this is because I have revised my teaching several key times in my career and the end product is seeing myself as an accomplished teacher. You can have that assurance as well if you always stay open to revising your teaching strategy.

What are some study hacks every student should know?

Over the years I’ve given students a lot of advice on how to get the most bang for their buck on studying. If I had to narrow it down to three of the most valuable is would be: Youtube, the theory of time spaced learning, and getting the right tools are three study hacks every student should know about.

1. Youtube/video tutorials. These are invaluable. If you just can’t recall what your math teacher said you can use Khan Academy, a free service put on Youtube and Google via a math teacher. He has received wide acclaim for these tutorials and I have used them widely with my students as well as with my own children when stumped doing their homework. Besides that, there are millions of freely shared videos on Youtube that you can access through trying a few simple combinations of keywords. There is one catch though, if you didnt pay attention in class, you have to py attention to the Youtube video. Nothing is automatic.

2. “Space it Out” The theory of time spaced learning

I wrote a longer article about this here. Whether you are learning or teaching, it’s important to not over stuff your brain. Studies have shown that the mind cannot absorb more than three things at a time. So, if you are writing, don’t make more than 3 main points or they will be wasted on over-fed minds. If you are looking to read and understand something, break it down into three or less main categories. Yellow pads are great for this. You’d do well to “space out” the time you have to study as well. The theory of time spaced learning got me through College Algebra at the junior college. I have always struggled with math and a teacher shared with the class about it. My life has been improved ever since! And this will also help you get some online jobs as well.

The theory goes like this: instead of studying to absorb new material over the course of an hour, break up your time into 15 minute increments. The data shows that memory is strongest when you start and stop a study time. Therefore, instead of having strong memories only twice in an hour, you will have them at the start and stop of each mini session. This equals more knowledge retained! Now this was great news to me, because I loved taking breaks from math!

When it comes to our brains, less is more and quality is better than quantity. Slow down and take more breaks, you’ll be amazed how much more you retain for life!

3. Take the time to get the right tools. If you’ve ever failed at a household task because you stripped a screw, you know the value of the right screwdriver. Studying is the same way, it often requires tools to be done more effectively. If you are studying a foreign language, stop on the way home and get 3×5 cards for new words to study. If you need pencils, get hundreds and a reliable sharpener. Study a few times without them and you will remember what I told you. Write down the things that you need (even if they be healthy snacks) and have them ready the next time you study.

What Should we Test in Public Education?

What should we test in public education? How about: practical job skills, traditional academic skills, and citizenship? To me, these are three great targets to start with.

There’s been a lot of talk this past year about standardized testing in public education. To get a teaching degree requires a lot of discussion on this. There are many points being made on the internet and in books about how standardized tests are not the best assessment of the quality of schools. So what should we test in public education? How about: practical job skills, traditional academic skills, and citizenship? To me, these are three great targets to start with.

Practical job skills are missing in our k12 system now. There are some classes in high schools across the country that attempt this but it should have precedence over all else if we are to prepare our students for a rough economy. Think tanks, collaboration, parent groups, and administration need to come together and brainstorm on this sort of curriculum. Teaching online is proving to be one innovative method toward this. It will have to be a malleable framework since the marketplace changes year to year and sometimes even sooner. One question these think tanks might address is this: “What skills have been universal through the decades in productivity at work.” I think this is the #1 Topic “A” priority item we should address as we reform public education. Teaching to a test gets very few people hired after graduation.

Traditional academic skills should still have priority as well. Language arts and math and crucial to surviving and thriving at work. We should keep the standards and standardized test models and use them but at a second priority. As it has been, the standardized test has been given more attention and focus than it merits, in my opinion. It does however give us a measuring stick that can be useful in planning classroom goals and lessons. This should be woven into the practical job skills aforementioned.

Finally, students need to be taught citizenship. As our system goes through the major changes it is going through now in attempt to escape the recession, our students should be prepared to make their contribution to keep the country strong. There is much material out there on teaching citizenship and behavior skills. This should be sorted through and a new “curriculum” of citizenship should be created. Tests of citizenship would do well to model what good citizens do in America. Very soon, our students will be the citizens of America and the world. How will they be prepared if we don’t guide them with our public schools.

To conclude, I do agree with many out there saying standardized testing is not the answer. At the same time, I feel it may be the answer if the test is based on the right priorities. If we focus on the practical first, we will be doing our students and country a much better service as public educators. Just like the road showing how to be a teacher, every child should have a clear path whatever she/he wants to be.

Graduated Expectation

Have you ever witnessed a student do something really immature only to tell them to “grow up?” When you catch yourself and recall they’re 9? I have and it helps to have a sense of humor when it happens. I believe we need to set an age appropriate expectation for our students but as we work toward that end, we should be flexible and have a graduated expectation.

Little by little, poco a poco, inch by inch life’s a cinch. Rome wasn’t built in a day and in the case of some kids, it wasn’t ‘t built in a month either. As the teacher, it’s your privilege to make the expectation. I’ve seen too many however set it way too high and chastise the kid for just being a kid. It can be compared to Procrustes bed. He was a legend who had a bed he invited passers by to lay in. If they were too short he’d stretch them. Converse visitors would get their feet lopped off. To me, that a great image of why we should have graduated (modified) expectations as wise leaders.

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Dont Over Stuff Your Brain

When it comes to our brains, less is more and quality is better than quantity. Slow down and take more breaks, you’ll be amazed how much more you retain for life!

Whether you are learning or teaching, it’s important to not over stuff your brain. Studies have shown that the mind cannot absorb more than three things at a time. So, if you are writing, don’t make more than 3 main points or they will be wasted on over-fed minds. If you are looking to read and understand something, break it down into three or less main categories. Yellow pads are great for this. You’d do well to “space out” the time you have to study as well. The theory of time spaced learning got me through College Algebra at the junior college. I have always struggled with math and a teacher shared with the class about it. My life has been improved ever since!

The theory goes like this: instead of studying to absorb new material over the course of an hour, break up your time into 15 minute increments. The data shows that memory is strongest when you start and stop a study time. Therefore, instead of having strong memories only twice in an hour, you will have them at the start and stop of each mini session. This equals more knowledge retained! Now this was great news to me, because I loved taking breaks from math!

When it comes to our brains, less is more and quality is better than quantity. Slow down and take more breaks, you’ll be amazed how much more you retain for life!