Pods of the Future and Automation

Pods from the Future School Built 1987 (3)I read the title of this post with my tongue firmly placed in my cheek. These pods at my school were made in the mid 80’s and really serve no special function other than retro aesthetic. I used the picture to make the point of how technology is always changing. I recall in 1997 when I started teaching in Santa Ana Unified, the computers were all early iMacs. Remember those ugly beasts? If it ate your CD-Rom, you had to send it out. AND they were inordinately heavy. We had the money to buy tons of equipment that no one knew how to use. It was often a drag when you wanted to scan something but no one had taken it out of the box yet due to ignorance. Still, we knew classroom websites were coming and we believed they would happen to us. Unofrtunately, with technology in education you have to make things happen. It rarely “happens to you.” Now, all these years later, similar bottlenecks stall progress. In addition, much technology lines the halls of storage rooms never to be used, now completely obsolete. Continue reading “Pods of the Future and Automation”

Tip for Improving a Professional Teacher Evaluation

Professional evaluations for teachers can produce stress. However, focusing on the criteria for evaluation can alleviate much of that while also aiding professional growth toward becoming a more accomplished teacher. In this article I share a simple tip.

Teacher evaluations can produce stress. However, focusing on the criteria on teacher evaluations forms can alleviate much of that while aiding professional growth toward becoming a more accomplished teacher. In this article I share a simple tip. Throughout the teaching year, good teachers create and innovate daily to produce results in their students. The federal and state governments set goals for us and we strive to meet those goals, and hopefully exceed them. Unfortunately, during the time of No Child Left Behind (NCLB), the goal was, and I am being 100% frank here, to have EVERY child in America score proficient on the same standardized test given each year. I never agreed with this goal for education but I have always striven to make it happen. Now that Obama and Arne Duncan are in office, I understand they are out to revise NCLB rules and expectations. That may be a good thing, time will tell. I can say the most trivial of teaching materials made a world of difference in my evaluation: a plastic desktop cover. Continue reading “Tip for Improving a Professional Teacher Evaluation”

Educational Video as Teaching Tool

New standards mean new materials for most schools. In mine, Language arts and math materials both have been replaced by Common Core aligned curriculum. It’s exciting and daunting at the same time. The good news for me as a techie person is that both programs come with video tutorials for the teacher. The last couple days, I was in front of my laptop screen learning the ins and outs of our new curriculum. I really enjoyed it and found it very effective. After about 20 minutes with the videos, I was more proficient in the daily plan of these curriculum as well as with the supplemental materials I have at my disposal. Continue reading “Educational Video as Teaching Tool”

The Organic Teacher vs The Robot

For the past 15 years, the California Teaching Standards have run the show in education. I’m not complaining. For 13 of these years, my job success has relied on them. I have embraced them, made them my own, taught them, and internalized them in the 6 hours a day I am with students in the classroom. In the other daily hours, I strive to come up with ways to make them relevant and memorable. I have tried very hard to not be a robot, simply speaking out standards without any importance or buy-in. I wish I could say the same for the rest of the teachers in the country. I hear news stories about teachers who really have no interest in getting the standards across. They make a facade to the public audience that produces only the bare minimum of learning results. It is enough to get them through to the next contract but fails to raise students to the high level of performance they need to compete in the world.

Those robotic teachers use the standards to negative ends. I feel that teaching to a test can never produce the kind of student that will thrive in the modern world. I am hopeful about what’s coming. I think of it as an “organic teacher.” That means someone who gets earthy and relevant with the standards. The organic teacher is not afraid to be controversial if it meets students needs. The organic teacher paves a path followed by those who want the same measurable success. It can take many forms but it will involve technology such as the best laptop computers. It is not, however, limited by technology. I have often imagined that a simple pencil on paper can be named technology, so don’t let the term steer you off. The organic teacher will kill the robot’s facade. She/he will bring students to a higher level through making the standards real and tangible. Success for students in these classroom will be “caught” more than taught. These teachers will thrive on what they do and the success with students they make. I see these teachers coming on the horizon whether they be teachers like me already in the classrooms or new ones. The shared element is a passion for bring kids up. My hope is the “common core” standards will encourage this sort of teacher. Instead of stifling innovation, my hope is that administrations will foster and encourage it no matter how different it may appear. Youth culture has changed more in the past 15 years than I think it did in the 20 years prior. We need to speak a new language and take on a new job to save our schools and save our kids from irrelevant robot teaching.

pdf’s Ahoy!

  Pdf’s are Adobe Acrobat documents. They were the first formatted ebooks and are used even today to share books and other document data. As a 4th grade teacher, all my texts I teach from have some form of pdf copy. This is helpful to me because I can make copies on the fly for selective lessons or homework. In short, pdf’s rock!

If you’ve ever needed copies from a textbook but didn’t have the time to use a copy machine, you’ll understand the value of a pdf. Scour your teacher resources for these and even if you don’t find them there, you can search with this Boolean method on Google: “Scott Foresman file type:pdf” (omit quotation marks). It will show you some often incredibly helpful results, free for the taking.

Five Free Awesome Online Graphing Tools For Your Next Project

In a computer lab helping students create graphs for a math project or math test?

Working with a committee of teachers preparing a report for your administration? Or just sitting at home putting together slides for a new lesson? In all of these cases — and many more — you can find yourself needing easy-to-make graphs and charts. The days of having to own expensive software packages to accomplish this are long gone. The web offers tons of options, most of them free, for creating, editing, and downloading what you need. Let’s look at five of the best options:

  1. Desmos is one of the very best out there. Desmos offers an amazing online calculator which is integrated with tons of teacher-based and student-centered activities and explorations. To see one among hundreds of examples that have been created by users, click here to see a force/vector simulation.
  2. GraphFree is another, much simpler, option for creating graphs relating to the math curriculum. Any graphs that students can create on their TI-84s can be done here, using an interface that is somewhat similar to what they are probably already used to. But there are many other options: With the click of a pull-down menu they can create implicit, piecewise, parametric, and polar graphs — as well as slope fields and number lines. Click here to watch some of their demo videos.
  3. At the other end of the complexity spectrum, the National Center for Education Statistics offers Create A Graph, as part of its Kids’ Zone. Offering a very simple interface, this is a site which allows you to create bar, line, area, pie, and basic XY-plane graphs, and to download them conveniently.
  4. Another more scaled-down math graphing calculator can be found at FooPlot. Offering quick and easy access to the main settings (graph background, labeling, window, etc.), FooPlot allows you to rapidly graph several functions at a time and to download or project the results.
  5. The University of Rhode Island offers a nice Flash-based 3D graphics tool here. It is very easy to use, and displays a very clear, rotatable picture of the function entered. It lacks an embedded download option, but by using a screengrabber you can easily get an image that is suitable for adding to a webpage or other digital display, such as Power Point.

About the Author

A former math teacher in Georgia, Larry Coty is now USATestprep’s Math Content Team Leader. He has two daughters and resides in Tucker, GA.

Lesson Planning and Teacher Preparation Over the Weekend

I recognize that the only way to really “teach” my kids and get test results is to prepare dynamite lesson plans and that often means using the weekend hours.

Teacher Preparation prepares you for many things. It also leaves a lot of holes. You aren’t ever schooled how to use your weekend hours which is unfortunate because there is still plenty to do at the end of the week. Lesson planning for instruction, aka teacher prep, is the single most important part of what I call the “Dynamite Lesson Plan.” I have the toughest class many can imagine this year. I have discussed many solutions with my grade level colleagues and we are trying them. We are all having a hard time so we are modeling every activity they must do from lining up to raising their hands. We are doing a “respect lunch” where the kids who have shown the most respect all week get to have lunch with us in our rooms. After all, behavior management really can be reduced down to that one word: “respect.” You may or may not learn that in your teacher preparation classes. Interventions such as these really are just cosmetic fixes. Effective lesson planning is really the secret ingredient to behavior management.

I recognize that the only way to really “teach” my kids and get test results is to prepare dynamite lesson plans and that often means using the weekend hours. Classroom management follows this, not the other way around. I spent a couple hours this morning, a Saturday, poring through state standards for math. I developed EDI lesson plans based on key standards that are supposed to be assessed by the District this week. It was rough. Especially since my sinuses were really acting up. It’s these hours we teachers on not credited for. They are more than most know.

All I wanted to do was sip Chamomile tea and watch the Biography channel. Instead, I forced myself to focus on creating lessons with audio visual material and engaging concepts prepared in advance. As always, I know it may work and it may not work, but the weekend helps me to refocus on my promises to my kids … even when they don’t keep theirs to me.

I will get in my Jeep Monday morning with a renewed sense of hope for my classes. I have 95 kids all day and I teach them math. My goal is to have them score higher than a more affluent school across town. I want to show that economics do not dictate achievement. I’ll probably get beat up this way and that by various factors at work but I will have that lovely weekend once again for teacher preparation and concentrate my efforts on what matters once again.

Soldiers of Education

In some ways, teachers have it pretty good. Public school teachers get healthcare and the right to collective bargaining for their wage as well as the benefits to keep them health for the classroom. On the other hand, each city surrounds a school district with expectations and many of them are downright impossible to deliver. This can create stress and a disconnect that isn’t healthy for anyone.

Let’s experiment. Students and teacher via Money Business Images/Shutterstock

Currently the President is saying a viable fix to school shootings is for teachers to have guns. I wonder if he really thought that one through? Every year teachers are breaking up fights on campus above and beyond their jobb description and getting punched in the process. If they accidentally touch a student in the process they can be prosecuted for battery of worse. IN fact, there are many situations where a teacher can suspended without pay and dismissed all while simply trying to maintain order and safety in the classroom. Enough about those inevitable mistakes and lawsuits, now add in a loaded gun at their discretion.

Having been a teacher for 19 years I can tell you that most civilians expect us to handle tantrums and misbehavior as part of our job. This push and pull is intense and it often results in teachers being blamed when an ill-behaved student cannot abide in a traditional classroom. As teachers we are trying all the time to increase our social problem solving skills in our classroom. Sometimes it seems that nothing will work. We can’t give up though, it is simply not an option. Giving us a gun is just another impossible riddle they are asking of us: to use, to not to use, that is the nagging question they leave with us.

3 Positive Outcomes from a Parent Conference

At the end of every parent conference, I ask for comments, questions, or suggestions. Sometimes I get some really valuable wisdom. It takes a teacher with strong self-esteem to feel safe asking for advice from parents.

Sometimes around October, some teachers may start to dread parent conferences. Many times, they are difficult to do and once in a long while they are a breeze. However I feel about the kids and the parents, as a parent myself I appreciate the partnership of teachers and parents. As a teacher, I try to keep my own kids in mind when holding parent conferences. It is a delicate balance between what I would do with my own kids and what is the best for my students. Somewhere in those parameters I plan my teaching and my parent conferences. All schools can benefit from a parent conference and my particular expertise shows how effective they are in elementary schools.

Meeting with parents can be challenging. There are many “types” of parents but really every parent is an individual case. There is the type that don’t really care who came in due to fear of Child Protective Services being called. Then there is another type that are all too involved. They can be challenging for completely different reasons like: how do you tell the parent their child is not perfect. Finally, there are the victimized parents with no answers. These people are quite challenging because they have thrown up their hands in surrender willing to try just about anything. Again, there are MANY types of parents along a spectrum. Each one you encounter will fall somewhere in between these three examples. Establishing and fostering that parent involvement can be the magic ingredient with a kid.

Meeting with parents can be helpful. I would say 70% of the time, meeting with parents will fix a problem. After all, they are the ones in charge of the kids. They can reward and take away in ways you couldn’t dream of. In short, they know the kids better than you. For many years I would avoid meeting with parents and calling parents. I didn’t want to rock any boats. I learned eventually that as a professional I am entitled to call parents any time, even in the middle of class in front of the class. Parents need to know what is going on and most of them want to know. The helpful properties of a parent conference should never be underestimated.

Meeting with parents can be educational. Every college I have attended has always said something in the commencement speech about “life-long learning.” If anyone should be life-long learners it is we teachers. Like it or not, we set the pace for education in our communities. If we listen to parents they can enlighten us to the needs of their kids. Then, we can extrapolate from that the needs of our entire class. At the end of every parent conference, I ask for comments, questions, or suggestions. Sometimes I get some really valuable wisdom. It takes a teacher with strong self-esteem to feel safe asking for advice from parents. I encourage you to try it. Don’t let anyone attack you but keep an open mind. It will make you a better teacher.

On a given day you probably wouldn’t get excited about parent teacher conferences. At the same time, you probably should because the challenge, helpfulness, and education are highly positive aspects for teachers.