Free Online Learning Sites: Any Suggestions?

Give us your online learning site suggestions! Here are a few you may or may not heard of. The idea of this post is to start a collection of urls in the comments.

You know there was a time when the comment section on a blog or forum was where you got the really good stuff online. That’s fading with social media. I say let’s bring it back a little with this post. Here are a couple I found the other day searching.

Scholastic
Discovery Education

Here’s another interesting list though all are not K12 learning sites. Some are though:

Beat The System With This List Of 40 Free Educational Websites

I’ve noticed Prodigy is a good one but my kids have told me you need to pay for it. I have Lexia, Compass Math, and Renaissance Learning in class usage now but they are on paid licences. Ixl used to be a great one but now it’s a paid service. How about it, can you share with the community here what you know about? Thanks in advance for your time!

Kids Getting to You?

When it comes to teaching, there are a couple disparate popular opinions. Some say teachers have it easy “playing with kids all day.” The other one holds that teachers have it worse than most jobs in that kids drive them crazy all day. Where do you fall along the spectrum? We should in fact be thankful to work with the citizens of tomorrow. That basis along is enough to inspire respect, in my opinion. At the same time, many teachers suffer ailments as a result of their job. The kids truly are “getting to” many out there in the occupation. I think every teacher I know gets frustrated and at the end of their rope sometimes. Here’s a few simple things you can do when the kids are getting to you:

  • breathe. I have found that many times when I am getting frustrated I am taking shallow breaths. Oxygen feeds the blood and the blood feeds the brain so make sure you are taking fairly deep breaths in between teaching.
  • imagine them as grownups. I don’t mean to expect more from them than what kids can do. I simply mean to gain empathy for them when you imagine what they’ll be when they grow up. This can also help motivate you knowing you are entrusted with such a calling.
  • find the humor. Let them be kids, and laugh at the things they do. Laughter is the best medicine sometimes.

Of course there are many other ways to “check your head.” Remember to be aware of when the kids are getting to you. Whether it is the quality of life you have at home or the doctor’s measures, you need to pay attention to the signs. In order to best serve the kids, you must make sure that you are happy and healthy first. The students will thank you for making the effort to be a “whole” teacher.

Sounds and Spelling Cards Wall

  This is a new concept I am trying. Every ELA program I have worked with has a version of sound spelling cards for the teacher to use with the lessons. They can be used to teach spelling, grammar, and pronunciation. I’ve always posted them with staples or kept them with me as I teach using them close up with the students. A principal that was filling in at my school shared with me how the Reading Wonders sound and spelling cards have lessons on the back and therefore should be easily removable from the wall. I put little bronze hooks on the wall and hung them. Now I can just pick one off the wall and read from the back the teacher script. Teaching sounds and spelling us such an important concept and I think it often gets ignored. Kids do learn to spell from reading more but it doesn’t hurt to show them examples in writing on the board and the overhead projector.

I’m looking forward to teaching more of these lessons now that my wall is in place. A little change is good and teaching sounds and spelling I think will benefit my students greatly. For example, a lot of my kids through the years, I am teaching 4th grade, will make mistakes like this: He cict the ball. By using the sound spelling cards for the letters k and c I am providing them with the ability to go back and self-correct. In the photo you also see vocabulary word cards. Those are helpful before attempting to read the selection.

Give Some Kids the Gift of Time

Telling Time - It's not Just for Kinder AnymoreThis isn’t a post about quality time. Rathet it’s a reminder that some kids need space to calm down when they’re upset. While it may seem obvious, we as teachers forget it a lot. I myself do and many of my colleagues through the years have shared the same pickle with me. People outside the classroom seem to forget, I know this from talking to them for years, that we are with the kids often more than their own parents. We see a side of them that is what you might call their “true color” side. Now, this isn’t true of every child. Some have an amazing ability to behave and adapt to new and challenging situations from the first day of school. Others struggle and it’s those we should consider giving the gift of time to let their emotions calm down.

While some kids are more of a challenge to teach than others, as a teacher I really do hold a strong affinity for all my children entrusted to me. It is in fact, a love for them. When I have one or more failing to adapt with the mainstream, I become serious about finding a solution. Sometimes kids pass through their struggle as a phase, other times you can trace it all the back to kindergarten and even at the end of the year there is no coping ability in sight. When these kids have an upsetting situation and begin to act out in actions and words, teachers are alarmed. We are charged to protect all kids in our classroom and so our mother hen mentality kicks in. There is a natural tendency to give the child a corretive consequence like taking away recess or going to a time out.

Sometimes, depending on the child, simply putting them in a safe place and telling them you are giving them time to feel better or calm down eliminates the issue. This may not always be the right approach for for several of my behavior problems through the years it has worked quite well.

Err on the Side of Compassion

IMG_2360Students bring a myriad of experiences, hurts, and joys with them through your door. When you get a new student after the start of the year, you should remember they are seeing your room and your environment for the first time. While they may have a good family and life situation, many may not and it is those kids you should be on watch for. The smallest threat they perceive could be multiplied simply because of what they carry in their home experience. This is not always visible. For that reason, I recommend giving every child the benefit of the doubt. Assume he/she has issues and you’ll be doing many of them a huge service. Continue reading “Err on the Side of Compassion”

Controlled Chaos vs. Cookie Cutter Learning

Since my first day in the classroom circa 1995 as a sub, I learned that classroom control is a relative term that is open to interpretation. Some kids can and do follow the model but a handful cannot.

I used to think that showing growth on a standardized test was the best way to measure my effectiveness as s teacher. That is, after all, the measure some of the public uses. I have come to believe and practice now a teaching that engages and inspires all my students. Worksheets take a backseat to puppets , guitar, and white boards.

I don’t seek uniformity in much these days. I encourage all my kids at her/his own level and seek individual motivation. As a result, I identify my class as controlled chaos all day. That’s good but it doesn’t mean it’s easy for me. My hope in fostering these things is that the kids will find their own way to a love for learning. Controlled chaos wears me out some days, but I like it better than making kids into cookie cutter thinkers. In the end I feel they will excel at all types of assessments.

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How To Get Girls To Fall In Love with Science


Image via Flickr by daveparker

The United States is one of the few countries around the world where 15-year-old boys outperform the girls in science. This disproves the old theory that boys just have a better aptitude for science. Instead, the U.S. Department of Education believes that “improving girls’ beliefs about their abilities could alter their choices and performance.”

Inspiring a passion for science early could also help girls close the gender pay gap and gain financial independence for themselves and their families. But how do we get American girls to fall in love with science like their peers around the world?

Start Early

Studies show that societal and peer pressures make girls lose confidence in their ability to master scientific concepts by about fourth grade. It’s crucial then that they learn about science early so they have faith in their scientific skills. Conducting regular, simple scientific experiments from as early as kindergarten will help build their confidence.

Appeal to Their Desire to Solve Real Problems

Image via Flickr by Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources

Studies show that girls tend to choose their career path based on their belief that it’ll make a difference in the world. This is why girls tend to favor nurturing professions, like nursing and teaching. Teachers can help their female students become passionate about science by emphasizing the ways it can help people, animals, or the environment.

“They see that there’s some value to it, that they can make a difference in the world,” explained Tamara Hudgins, Ph.D, the executive director of Girlstart, a charity that provides science-based after-school and enrichment programs for girls. “So when we do robotics, we look for ways to apply it to real world problems, such as creating a robot that can go into an oil spill and save a pelican.”

Encourage Girls to Participate in Special Programs

Girlstart is just one initiative that creates science-based programs specifically for girls. Many local universities, zoos, museums, and parks and recreation departments also run similar schemes. Seek out information about these and other after-school and enrichment programs available, encouraging your female students to participate in them. Since these initiatives are tailor-made for girls, they can provide more targeted instruction than most teachers who must try to engage male and female students.

Teach Them About a Range of Careers That Use Science

Many girls shun science because they think it’ll lead to a masculine career. Teachers can counteract this by teaching their classes about the many varied opportunities a career in science holds. For example, a student that loves science could become a family nurse practitioner, a marine biologist, a nutritionist, a product designer, or an industrial chemist.

It’s best to speak about these careers without any references to gender, as girls are certainly capable of entering any male-dominated profession. Instead, pique their interest with descriptions about the jobs available. If possible, you could also invite male and female professionals working with science to speak to your class. These positive role models can inspire the young science professionals of the future.

Changing the way we teach science in schools is key to getting girls to fall in love with this important field and pursue it in the future.

What Teaching Strategies are You Using This Close to the Test

20130402-124441.jpgYou know I write these posts to archive the good teaching stuff I have run across. But more than that, I selfishly love getting your comments. Many times I find reader comments more helpful than my own material. PLEASE COMMENT.

As I have written here before, I am big into data. I use it to plan my instruction. Currently, I have used OARS and EADMS to dis aggregate student data. I can see the holes that need filling. Those are pare of the plan for the next 2 weeks. I plan to use white boards for whole class assessment. The time for tests before the test is long past. This is an exciting time of the year because it’s when you release your students to do what you’ve worked at all year. Now, great teachers, your comments!

Find Ways of Recognizing Good Student Behavior

IAT_CL1_PX00770There are hundreds of student recognition programs and they exist because teachers know they work. A colleague of mine spends a lot of her hard-earned dollars on certificates and treats and even trophies for her kids. I can tell you her kids benefit greatly and in turn, so does she as a teacher. I use trophies as well, only I don’t buy them. I prefer to get them for free through donations from families and the local thrift shop. You don’t even have to give them away. They travel all around the classroom for the best of the week in given areas. Continue reading “Find Ways of Recognizing Good Student Behavior”

A Snapshot of How I Make Lesson Plans

Every weekend, after the laundry and wrestling with the chores, I am faced once again with the same professional challenge: making a weekly lesson plan schedule. The obvious reason for this is to have a backbone for the activities and learning that go on in my classroom all week. The other reason is to ensure to myself and others that I am not just “winging it” without a plan. Good teachers make weekly plans. I have been at this for 16+ years and I won’t say I am a “good teacher” I will let others say that if they wish. I have found that making weekly plans yields smiles and growth returns from my students. Finding the weaknesses of my students’ scores as well as the way I have taught up to this point is the goal of my weekend planning time. Here’s a very broad presentation of how I sometimes do it.

NOTE: In this field, while I seek only to help teachers from a peer-to-peer perspective, there are an abundance of snooty types who seek to criticize and devour ideas different from their own. I would like it known that this is a very personal sharing post and is certainly not meant to be perfect nor the “only” way one can prepare for a powerful week of teaching. For you to get something out of it, you may have to do a bit of “reading between the lines.” having said that, I would not be as excited to share this with you were I not extremely excited about what I do and they way I do it in this particular situation. Thank you for having an open mind as you continue. Incidentally, why are so many teachers the “snooty” type? Hmmm. I’ll let you address that in the comments. Now for: “How to Make a Weekly Lesson Plan Schedule.”

I Start with a rolling cart. I put a minimum of books and TE’s I need into the rolling cart so I have the access I need at home on the weekend. You may not be sure what to bring. In that case, let me give you my choices as an example: a math TE, the district pacing guide, ELA curriculum (Mine is a PDF so is always at home with me), a Google Calendar printout from the week below (read about how I make the Google calendar printouts here), the state standards blueprint, the state standards released test questions, and finally a printout of my students’ most recent assessment scores. (Photos are not the most recent Common Core standards that I use in accordance with district standards.)

I start with their assessment scores. 1) I identify the lowest standards and write them daily into the lessons. This is often called “backward mapping,” whatever they tested low in, teach again. 2) Then I find matching curriculum and write that into the Google Calendar lesson plan. The former is pretty simply since I have access to Oars.net. This is a great online program that aggregates assessment data for teachers. I can see in an instant what standards are high and need only be spiraled and I can also see the low stuff needing intervention. The way I go through my day teaching these lessons in in almost constant evolution. Having said that, watch for a post in the next week or two where I will share how the weekly lesson plan looks in a given teaching day. What do you think about my art of planning a teaching week? Have you anything to add? That would be great. I comment and link back!