Cost of Paper vs. Whiteboard Markers

I once thought of writing a book on this topic that would help districts save tens of thousands on paper costs.  I have some skeptics and that’s okay.  I had an excellent question in the comments in my post on “The Paperless Classroom”  which I address in this post. Beth asked how expensive whiteboard markers would be cheaper than paper usage.  I could think of no better way to answer this question than to do a budget breakdown for a school year with some fixed variables:

The variables:
24 kids in a class
10 month school year
600 lessons a year

Paper costs:
2 sheets for each lesson (This is a conservative number that we can assume is likely higher)= about $21.50/Month and $215.00/year

Dry erase costs:
24 markers can last 2 months min. = $15.29/Month and $152.90/year

Yearly savings:
$62.10 per classroom

The Impersonality of Text

We have our 6 senses involved when we have verbal dialog with parents. If we use a colloquial phrase or say something we regret, we are more likely to be understood and forgiven because of non-verbal cues. Unfortunately, we can’t have impromptu face to face conversations with our parents every day or all the time. It’s important to be aware of the limitation of text. When you write a letter to a parent or to the whole class it is always risky. So much can be misunderstood. It always helps to do something called a “love sandwich.” This is where you give a compliment and then state the purpose of the corrective letter and then close with another compliment. Ie; “I am so pleased with Johnny’s progress in reading, he is far ahead all the students on his team in AR points. I wanted to let you know he is lining up a little late however after the whistle blows. I’m sure this is just a hiccup and Johnny is performing excellently in his math and other subjects.” It’s hard to have a way with words on these things but keeping the love sandwich theme in mind goes a long way.

Parents also seem to appreciate specifics. For example: send a notehome that says “the whole class was noisy, please talk to your child” will not be received as wellas one that lists 5 tips on how to stay quiet during the teaching part of the lesson. Then the parent can review the list with their child. Teaching is not their profession and they may not be able tocome up with this totalk abouton the spot upon getting the note. The last tip I’ll give about letters home is brevity. Parents work in the day and some in the night and they may be tired and not ready to process a long letter. Notes home work the best and come back the quickest when they’re brief in scope and concept. It’s a commenly used aphorism in teaching when we say, “Rome wasn’t buiilt in a day.” This is very true witth students. You might say, “Rome wasn’t built with one note.” I hope these observations will help you have more success in your textual correspondence with the home.

Create Your Own Sport – A Small Groups Classroom Project

Getting kids to work in small groups is important to their future success as grownups. This can be done in a general ed or physical science classroom. Kids need to interact and problem solve sometimes apart from instruction and guided practice. This both assesses and develops high leveled thinking. Of course you need to be there are the “rudder” steering each small group ship toward the shore. I chose to do a small group project with my kids this week called “create your own sport.” It is mostly derived from Wikihow’s article you can find here. Below is an excerpt from that article that I recommend using for creating constructive exchange in the groups:

Decide what kind of sport you want. Is it racketplayed in water? On a field? Is it about accuracy or about speed? Is it an individual sport or a team sport? All these things are key when it comes to making your sport.
Pick a name for your sport. It shouldn’t be complicated like “Hombidilakinshire Romp,” but it shouldn’t be lame, either, like “Throwball.”
Make a design of the field it’ll be played in. If it doesn’t really matter where it’s played, then make sketches of the things that are needed, such as in soccer, all you need are two goals.
Come up with basic rules: how many players, objective, how to score/gain points, what the main methods/steps are etc. Be sure all the players have specific jobs, and that each one contributes to the game. Don’t make pointless rules, like ‘No throwing the ball at another player’s face.’ Make it more broad, such as ‘No physical violence,’ and include that under the title rule.
Draw the ball/racket/uniforms needed to play your sport. Sports involving balls must have a specific design for the ball. Some sports need specific uniforms. Some have a specific shape of a racket. Be creative in thinking these up!
Show the sport to someone else so they can proofread the rules and such, and give you advice to improve or help you with it.
Get your sport known: Introduce it to sporting arenas or gyms and find people who would be interested in playing.(If you attend a public school, e-mail other schools to see if they would be interested in including it in extra-curricular activities.)
Research. Try online teaching resources. You never know if there is a sport in another country just like the one you’re creating. Make sure its original! If you see something similar out there, add a few tweaks to your own sport to make it different. It can be similar, but don’t make it too much so.

Using these steps and questions as a backbone, I create a lesson suited to the needs and restrictions of my students. Do you have any comments regarding this lesson idea? If you’d like me to publish my detailed plans I made for my class just ask in the comments. For me, the above was more than enough to create my lesson. As with any lesson, it can be easily modified based on significant particular classroom and/or student needs. A teaching degree enables you to make fun decisions like this every teaching day.

Clarifying Questions

Of all the lesson planning strategies one of the best is to use clarifying questions.  These help the teacher see if what has been taught has truly been conveyed and received.  Teaching, of course, is a human communication system.  Therefore, the effective use of clarifying questions in marriages, friendships, and the workplace are also a good practice when teaching.  You might say it simply this way:

What works for big people works for smaller ones.

Here’s an example.  If I tell my students I would like them to discuss solutions to the bathroom problem we are having where kids are trashing it, I should ask a clarifying question before I get them working in pairs on ideas.  I could say:

Ok. Let me ask a random, non-volunteer to tell me what it is I just asked you to do … (Then call a number or pick a popsicle stick etc.)

In this case, the clarifying question is a “Check for Understanding” (CFU) question by the teacher to the students to verify they understand.  Continue reading “Clarifying Questions”

How Fast Do You Learn a New Skill?

imageHow long does it take you to learn a new skill? I recently got a little folding my iphone and when I started using it, despite my excitement, I made horrendous mistakes and it wasn’t a bit comfortable. I kept at it, typing on it a few days and now, it’s very natural and I see what a great device it is! Note that it took a lot of time for me to see that. Now imagine your students. All the skills they are required to learn in a year can feel overwhelming, especially if they don’t have the pre-requisite foundation. Remember that it will take time and repetition for them to get the feel for new skills, just like it takes adults time to learn their new gadgets and skills. Why would you expect it to be any different? Continue reading “How Fast Do You Learn a New Skill?”

Power of a Recital

I teach guitar to a group of about 40 kids nearly every weekday. It is a great feeling sharing the art of guitar. My students are all different but most all doubt their ability to excel at the beginning. Tonight’s recital proved to them they were finally guitarists. They played two songs: Jingle Bells and This Land is Your Land. Perhaps there is someway to do a “recital” with my academic groups in the day. The energy is powerful and get get encouragement from their family, friends, and peers. If this stuff could be bottled, one could easily become a billionaire.

Kids always want family approval. If a child gets praise from playing guitar, they will undoubtedly continue in the discipline. If she/he is ignored or even put down for the pursuit, that child will probably drop out or fail to put forth a decent effort. Playing guitar for me was an identity. I became “the kid who played guitar.” It wasn’t enough to be the GATE kid, or the kid who spelled well. I found my true identity in the instrument. Now the kids I teach hardly know what their identities will be. Their feeble fingers reach and strain to form new chords. As they practice, often through pain, I see them gain strength. They get understanding of how chords inter-relate. They learn how to tune an instrument. These are life skills but so much more the stuff of identity that nowadays so many of our students seem to be lacking.

A groan grasps the peanut near the offending anthology.

Random Non-Volunteer Success Today

I used the cards today as usual but something different happened. I think a few kids actually finally “got it” that they have a good chance of being called on. I noticed the who class was more alert when I said, “Here’s the question now have an answer ready because I’m calling names from my random cards pile.” After a few blank stares, the whole class appeared to be on the edge of their seat when I’d ask a question. When 3 or 4 had no clue about the answer, I used pair share as a strategy. This takes the affect filter down quite a few notches. It also produced the correct answer several times.

At the end of the day, I played some of our favorite classroom songs: This Land is Your Land, The Rainbow Connection, The Candy Man, I’ve Been Working on the Railroad to name a few. I think it’s great when the kids can relax with me in some songs. It helps me as their teacher gain trust with them so they can take more risks answering things in class. Plus, music is relaxing and by the end of a long day of learning, their heads are tight and tired. Nothing like a song for that.

Teaching Responsibility and Patience with Marbles

100_4838In our middle to lower class majority, one rarely sees someone buy a large item like a car with cash. Kids don’t have a concept of what it means to “make payments.” Furthermore, most don’t remember what layaway is and all have a hard time deferring gratification and saving for a large ticket item. One way to teach these things is through marbles in jars. Each jar can be labeled the item or reward they get when it’s filled. If it’s an expensive one for me, I make it a large jar. When the kids do something well and receive a reward, the class can vote or one person who earned the marbles can decide what reward to save for. By making payments to that jar, they invest in that reward. Continue reading “Teaching Responsibility and Patience with Marbles”

Teacher as Coach

star-badgeBefore I start talking about a sports analogy, let me inform you I am not a big sports fan. I ran x-country and track in high school. I learned the value of a each back then. Having said that, I do not watch organized sports much in the year. Okay, now that I hopefully have avoiding alienating those who don’t like sports, I want to talk to you about the teacher as “coach,” and expert on student motivation. We have a group of kids we are to “model” the lessons for and then foster their ability to do it as independent practice. I sometimes forget about my role coaching kids. For over 13 years I have set clear goals for my class and we have worked tirelessly to achieve them. Sometimes my class meets the goals, sometimes they fall short. Every year they have a goal and I coach them toward it. One year we were shooting for a percentage of proficient kids in the class. We ended up missing the goal but scoring highest in the district for my grade level. That was extremely gratifying to me professionally. So much so that I set higher goals for the next year’s kids. That didn’t work out quite as well. I saw my kids getting burned out when I’d say I wanted 20 students advanced on a test and we ended up with 18 for example. The “proficient only” ones sort of got ignored. Continue reading “Teacher as Coach”

Throw a Little Guitar in There

Guitar as Academic Teaching ToolOk, so the kids aren’t paying attention. It’s been 5 hours of the same old academics with mixed results across the board. How about this? Throw a little guitar in there. It could be my personal standby old reliable This Land is Your Land of any number of a million others you have ready for them. Trust me, I’ve had a guitar in my classroom as an antidote for burnout, both teacher and child, and it works like gangbusters every time. If guitar isn’t your thing, try something else to break up the monotony once in a while. You’ll be encouraged because you’ll experience your kids in a new way, a restful, laid back way. Later, this may even translate into higher academics because they feel more comfortable taking risks. Continue reading “Throw a Little Guitar in There”