Thursday, December 31, 2009

Goodbye 2009 ~ Hello 2010

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

My Eighth Favorite (Not So Much) YouTube Video for 2009

This video is called "Drunkest Guy Ever." At first you laugh at this video, but the more I watch it, the more it bothers me. Kids in high school would think this was hilarious. They think it's great entertainment when their friends do this at parties, some of them every weekend or more often.

Unfortunately, drinking can be a serious problem. With New Year's Eve fast approaching, children need to be taught the dangers of drinking too much. It's not something that should be amusing. Some of those dangers include:
Alcohol Poisoning
Rape and Sexual Assault
Mistreatment of Children
Liver Disease
Brain Damage
Cancer Risk
Fetal Alcohol Syndrome
Diabetes Complications
High Blood Pressure
Unintentional Injuries (crashes, falls, drowning, burns, firearm injuries)
Alcohol affects every organ of the body

So when you see this video, remember that this man needs help. He is hurting himself, his family, and his friends. I'm guessing that being the "Drunkest Guy Ever" was not his life goal. It was probably not what his parents envisioned for him when he was born.

Learn to drink responsibly or don't drink at all. Stay safe and have a Happy New Year!

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

My Seventh Favorite YouTube Video for 2009

This video is called "Piano Stairs." An initiative of Volkswagen (, it was designed to show that something fun can change behavior. Perhaps this is an idea that teachers and schools could use to boost student learning. Granted, not everything in life has to be entertaining, but perhaps a little more enjoyment in a kid's life and in education could be a good thing.

Monday, December 28, 2009

My Sixth Favorite YouTube Video for 2009

This video is called "The Known Universe" by the American Museum of Natural History. It is a beautiful video that truly shows our place in the cosmos. It can make you feel extremely insignificant. At the same time, it can make you feel incredibly special knowing that you are part of something so grand.

This is one of those videos that could be used in a variety of classroom settings from math to science to social studies to art.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

My Fifth Favorite YouTube Video for 2009

This YouTube video is called "Surprised Kitty." I've been trying to relate it to teaching or education in some way, since that's what this blog is about. But really, I've just included it because it's so darn cute!

The video can be found at:

Saturday, December 26, 2009

My Fourth Favorite YouTube Video for 2009

When I first saw this video on the morning news, I was so impressed, I emailed the link to several friends. Little did I know that Susan Boyle would become the singing sensation for the year.

What impressed me most, however, was how everyone prejudged her when she first walked on stage. There were giggles and eye-rolls and expectations of humiliation. It so reminded me of how students in a classroom often act when certain other students enter the room. It certainly isn't acceptable when students do it, yet here are adults in an audience exhibiting the same behavior.

Susan Boyle has an incredible voice. Hopefully she taught a lot of people a valuable lesson...don't judge a book by its cover. The audience was so rude. I'm so glad she showed them what she could do. Maybe next time, they will think before they judge. Maybe they'll teach their children to do the same

To see the video, visit this link:

I would have included the video here, but YouTube embedding was disabled by request.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas

I just want to wish everyone

Thursday, December 24, 2009

My Third Favorite YouTube Video for 2009

A friend on Facebook had placed the following video on her wall. As I watched it, I kept thinking, "Gee, those kids sure look alike. And their voices blend so well." Yeah, they should...they're all the same kid.

The vocalist is Sam Tsui, doing 6-part harmony all by himself. The arrangement is done by Kurt Schneider. They grew up together, went to the same high school, and are currently (I assume they still are) students at Yale. Sam is majoring in Classical Greek and Kurt is a Math major.

They have several videos on YouTube, but the following is my favorite. It can be found at:

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

My Second Favorite YouTube Video for 2009

This is my second favorite YouTube video for 2009. Why? It just makes me happy every time I watch it. That's it! No other reason.

The featured song, "Forever," is sung by Chris Brown. Because of his problems this year, the bride and groom in this video, Kevin Heinz and Jill Peterson, have been collecting donations through their website at . The last I heard, they had given over $27,000 to the Sheila Wellstone Institute (, an organization dedicated to ending domestic violence.

The wedding entrance dance video can be found at:

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

"Avatar" Lessons

I saw "Avatar" yesterday. For two and a half hours I almost felt as if I was on Pandora and part of the Na'vi. It is a spectacular film.

As I was watching it, however, the teacher in me kept thinking about how the film could be used in the classroom. Of course, it's not going to be out on DVD for a while, but that will give teachers more time to make great lesson plans.

The movie does have a PG-13 rating, so the first thing to consider is if the children in your class are ready for the love story and the violence. There is a lot of violence. Parental permission forms might be considered.

The following are a few of the ideas that could be turned into lessons:

1. Study the environmental issues on Pandora. Compare and contrast them to those on Earth.

2. Study the attack on the World Trade Center's twin towers in 2001. Is there any comparison to the attack on the Hometree.

3. Compare and contrast the military's "shock and awe" campaign in Iraq to that in "Avatar."

4. Compare "Avatar" and "Planet of the Apes." Are the military and the scientists always on opposite sides of an issue. Do they oppose each other in our society?

5. Compare and contrast the plight of the Na'vi to that of the American Indian.

6. Compare the religion of the Na'vi to that of the American Indian and other native populations.

7. Study the science behind linking mentally with another creature. Is there any kind of research currently being done in this field and what have they found?

8. Study how the actual computer-generated images are made for a movie like "Avatar."

9. Study the symbiotic relationships between life-forms and their environments.

10. The movie has extremely strong women characters. What qualities do these women have?

11. We often try to teach children to "do the right thing." How is that message conveyed in this movie?

12. This is an excellent movie for studying main themes and symbolism.

I'm sure there are many more quality lesson plans that could come from a study of this movie. These are just a few that came to mind over the past 24 hours.

If nothing else, just sit back and enjoy the beauty of the film.

Monday, December 21, 2009

My Favorite YouTube Video for 2009

The following is my favorite YouTube video for this year. It amazes me how much children learn at such an early age. So much of what they learn is through imitation as evidenced in this video. Parents and teachers need to remember that when they're doing something they really don't want children to imitate.

You can find this video at

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Brittany Murphy

I just read on Twitter that Brittany Murphy died today at age 32 apparently of cardiac arrest. I don't know what the reasons for her death are, but, as always, there is speculation of drugs, prescriptions, anorexia, and so on. Whatever the reason, 32 is way too young.

I remember when I first saw the movie "Clueless." I loved the movie first of all because it was so funny. But I also loved it because each student in there reminded me of a student in my class. Brittany Murphy was perfect as Tai, the new girl, trying to fit in.

Brittany Murphy left behind an incredible amount of quality work. My sympathies go out to her family.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Santa's Pack

Before Christmas break I would always give the students a logic puzzle. I had several, but this one was always my favorite. It's a little more difficult than some, but it's cute, clever, and it definitely makes you think. I don't know who the author is, but I thank them for many years of Christmas fun in my classroom.
Old Santa's pack held 30 toys
Made by his elfin crew.
And though none made the same amount,
Each elf made more than two.
The elf named Cher made one more toy
Than the elf who dressed in reds,
But Cher made one less Christmas toy
Than the elf who made the sleds.
Spry Johnny elf made racing cars.
Five toys were made by Jane.
The elf who dressed in yellow suits
Made each and every train.
The elf who always dressed in green
Made one-third as many as Sue.
Cute Marcia elf was dressed in orange
And one elf dressed in blue.
The elf who made the spinning tops
Made the most toys of them all.
Another perky, smiling elf
Made each and every ball.
Old Santa’s Pack held 30 toys
All tagged for girls and boys.
Now from the clues that you've been given
Guess who made what toys.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Ten Ideas to Help Children Experience Joy in Giving

I remember that it happened in 3rd grade. I was standing in line after recess, waiting to go back into the school building. Three or four students behind me there was a 6th grader. He was talking to the kid in front of him and he said, "There's no such thing as Santa Claus. Your parents are the ones who put the presents under the Christmas tree."

My heart sank. I thought, "Could this be possible? Would my parents do this?" When I got home I finally got up the nerve to ask my mom if it was true. I didn't want to ask. I didn't want to know the answer. I think I already pretty much knew the answer. I really wanted to there to be a Santa Claus.

Of course, my mother told me the truth, but she also made sure that I understood that Christmas wasn't really about Santa Claus. It wasn't really about getting gifts. It wasn't about the lights or the Christmas tree or the decorations. She told me that it was about the birth of Jesus and about the joy of giving. Teaching me about the joy of giving was probably the best present she could have given me.

While there is great joy in giving, children need to have experiences that will help them develop a giving nature and feel joy in that giving. Here are some ideas that can help with that:

1. Give your child a pocketful of quarters. Every time you pass a bell ringer have the child put a quarter in the bucket. Make sure you explain that the money is used to feed hungry families, rebuild homes hit by disasters, fund charities, and operate thrift stores, among other things.

2. Find an "Angel Tree." Often times these trees will be at local businesses or at malls. Have your child select a name from the tree, then help them choose a present to purchase and deliver.

3. Select a charity such as The Heifer Project or St. Jude's Children's Hospital. Have your child make a donation to them in honor of one of his or her friends or family members.

4. Make a few dozen cookies with your child and then deliver them to a care center, children's ward in a hospital, homeless shelter, or battered women's shelter.

5. Collect some canned food items and help your child deliver them to the local food bank.

6. Have your child and some of his or her friends decorate Christmas cards and write messages to soldiers serving oversees.

7. Help your child sponsor another child through Save the Children, World Vision, or other similar program.

8. When writing your Christmas cards, have your child add his or her own message. Even a simple "Merry Christmas" can be a gift to the person getting the card.

9. Join a group with your child and try some Christmas caroling. It's old-fashioned, but I always found it moving to see the joy on people's faces upon hearing a traditional carol.

10. The above ideas will help your child find pleasure in giving. To help the child develop an even deeper appreciation for giving, have them do jobs around the house to earn the money they use in their gifting. By using their own money, the will have a sense of ownership and the experience can be made even more special for the child.

Remember that while Christmas is a Christian holiday, anyone can experience the joy of giving and helping others.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

The Case for Plan B (Having Alternative Lesson Plans)

Today has been one of those days. My computers always automatically back up on Thursday morning, but not this morning. The error messages stated that the backup drives couldn't be found. I finally discovered that the USB connection had come out of the one computer. I have no idea what was wrong with the other one, but I was able to back them both up tonight.

The second problem this morning was that, for some reason, the retweet feature on Twitter had disappeared. I checked and found that others were having the same problem, so I felt better knowing it wasn't something I had done.

Next, no emails were coming in on my Blackberry. I turned it off and back on several times, and a few emails came through once. Again, I assumed it was something I had done, but when I finally got on the computer tonight, I discovered that the problem was nationwide. The articles I read said the problem had been fixed, and I did get a few more emails, but now none have come through for an hour or so. That's not normal.

As for tonight, I was going to update this blog, but Google Chrome wouldn't connect with the Internet. AOL Desktop would only start up and immediately close, again. I finally signed on with old faithful AOL 9.5.

So, it's been quite a technologically disastrous day. Once again, it started me thinking that if I had planned to use any of these technologies in my lesson plans, I would have been pretty upset, to say the least. I would advocate that whenever you plan to use the Internet or computers or cell phones or social media that you always have other plans ready. A reading assignment, a worksheet, a writing assignment, a discussion doesn't matter. Just have a Plan B because it seems with technology, if it can go wrong, it will go wrong.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Two Stories About Religion and Public Schools

I want to relate two stories today, one that happened to a fellow teacher and one that happened to me.

The first story starts with me working in the teacher's lounge. One of the Spanish teachers walked in and we could all tell she was upset about something. It seems that the previous day she had been teaching a lesson where the word "ojala" was on the vocabulary list. She said she had explained to the students that the word meant "I hope" or "hopefully." She had also explained that, while the roots of most Spanish words come from Latin, this word came from an Arabic word meaning "Oh, Allah." That next morning, one of the students in the class, a fundamentalist Christian, came to her and said that she and her mother had discussed the word "ojala." They had decided that she shouldn't use that word because of its origins and because they didn't believe in Allah. The teacher was a little shaken and asking for advice. We told her to try to explain that the word didn't have anything to do with Allah. We also told her to tell them that many words have origins completely unrelated to what the word currently means. Even the word "Amen" might possibly have come from the Egyptian god Amen-Ra.

The second story has to do with a worksheet I had given the students. It was a puzzle worksheet where they solved some math problems and, once solved, they were able to answer a question that was the title of the worksheet. I don't remember exactly what the title of the worksheet was, but it was a historical question, something about Pericles. The worksheet told a little story about his life from 495 B.C. to 429 B.C., then there were math questions to solve. The correct answer matched with a letter and the letters solved the puzzle and answered the historical question. Anyway, one of the students asked me what B.C. meant. I told him that it was a way to measure time and referred to "before Christ." I explained that dates before the birth of Christ were B.C. and after were A.D. When he looked up at me, I knew there was trouble. He told me that he couldn't do the worksheet because it was about Christ and he didn't believe in Christ. I tried to explain that the worksheet was about Pericles and practicing some math problems, that it had nothing to do with Christ. There was no convincing him. He actually tore up the worksheet. If had known beforehand that I would get this kind of reaction, I would have told him that it was short for B.C.E. and meant "before the common era." Unfortunately, that thought never occurred to me until afterwards. The strange part of this story is that the next day the school had its holiday assembly and this young man was on stage with the choir singing Christmas carols. Evidently no had told him what the words to those songs meant.

I relate these stories because there is so much misunderstanding when it comes to religion. Students need to know that saying a word like "ojala" does not mean that you are praying to Allah. They need to know that when you use a term like B.C., you are not advocating Christianity. Such ignorance only intensifies bitter feelings between different religions and those who choose not to accept religion. While I am a firm believer in the separation of church and state, I can't help but feel that a course about religion, one that compares and contrasts a variety of beliefs, might be of benefit to many. Perhaps it would curb some of the prejudices and give a deeper appreciation and tolerance of many faiths. However, I am sure there are parents who do not want their children learning about any religion other than their own. And I believe no good can ever come from a fear of knowledge.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Merit Pay for Teachers Based on Student Performance

Yesterday I wrote a short blog on Merit Pay for Teachers Based on Evaluations. Today I want to explore merit pay based on student performance.

There are two basic ways to judge student performance. The first is based on student grades. The second is based on standardized test scores.

Let's first look at merit pay based on student grades. Teachers do not all grade the same way. Some use points, others use percentages. Some use total sums of points, others use averages. Some weight their grades, perhaps making tests worth 80% and homework 20%, while others may weigh tests and homework equally. Different teachers use different grading scales: to get an "A" in one class, a student might need 95%; in another class only 88% may be needed for that same "A." Grading in math class, which may consist mostly of assignments and tests, may be done very differently from that in a social studies class where projects, presentations, and research may be the main focus. So, is it fair to judge a teacher by the grades of his or her students. Because grading is so subjective, I think it isn't fair. There is also the possibility of a teacher suddenly giving out a lot more "A"s and "B"s to students or watering down the curriculum so that more students earn higher grades. Either way, it would not be fair to give merit pay based on these grades.

Second, lets take a look at merit pay based on standardized test scores. It would appear that this would make merit pay more fair than basing it on grades. But is it really? I think back to when I started teaching. At that time, teachers with less seniority were given lower ability classes. For instance, the first many years I taught, I usually had a schedule of 5 General Math classes and one PreAlgebra. Teachers with more seniority were given (had "earned") the higher level classes of Algebra 2, PreCalculus, Calculus, Statistics, and these were full of "honors" students. Eventually, after many years, I too, had "earned" my right to teach some of these higher level courses.

In those first years, my students were rarely proficient on standardized tests. Many scored in the 1-15 percentile rank and most scored below the 40th percentile needed to be considered proficient. If my pay had been based on the scores of these students, I would not have been paid much. Even though many of these students had moved up two or three grade levels during the school year, they were still considered at risk. These were ninth grade students who started out doing 4th grade work and ended the year working at a 7th grade level. Even though they had moved up three grade levels, they were still two grades levels below where they should be. And on standardized tests, they still performed poorly. So, would it be fair to give merit pay to the teachers of proficient students (many who are high-achieving and in top level courses) and not to the teachers of less capable students who don't reach that magic number considered proficient? I think not.

I agree that almost every student has the ability to learn, but not all students achieve at the same levels, at the same times. In my opinion, it would not be appropriate to give teachers merit pay based on the performance of their students. If merit pay is given, it must be done based on some other criteria than teacher evaluations, student grades, or student scores on standardized tests.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Merit Pay for Teachers Based on Evaluations

I've been thinking about merit pay for teachers for a long time. It's a complicated issue that I will probably come back to from time to time.

Let me first say that I'm not against the idea of being rewarded for work. I agree that it does seem unfair when the best teachers are earning the same or less than their ineffective counterparts, but that's one of the problems. What I see as ineffective in a teacher may not be that way at all. Amazingly, students often learn very well from teachers I may have labeled inept. Thank goodness I was never in charge of any one else's evaluation.

But administrators do this all the time. In my school they would come in twice a year, watch you teach for 40 minutes, then write up an evaluation. I rarely saw them otherwise. I hate to think that my "merit" pay would be handed out or withheld based on these observations, regardless of how well-trained these evaluators are.

We never know how students are going to learn or what teacher will inspire them. The teacher that is most successful could be the one you once called a "fruitcake." The intellectual with the PhD may be the one who can never make a connection with the students.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

20 Jobs for Retired Teachers

When I retired, everyone asked me what I was going to do with all my free time. My first response was that I was going to clean 32 years of school clutter out of my home. I figured that would take a long time, and it has. I'm still not done with that. My second response was "anything I want."

Today, I was thinking about jobs for retired teachers. Here is a list of what some of the retired teachers I know are doing:

1. Figuring income taxes
2. Tutoring
3. Substituting
4. Working for the local private school
5. Professional gardening
6. Helping home-schoolers
7. Painting, cleaning, construction
8. Helping at the local community college
9. Teaching in a bordering state
10. Artistic painting
11. Participating in community theater
12. Writing books/poetry/blogs
13. Administering AP exams
14. Checking GED exams
15. Delivering pizza, flowers
16. Sacking groceries
17. Volunteering at a hospital/care center/day care
18. Running a Bed & Breakfast
19. School Board member
20. City Council member

So if you're retired and would like a job to fill your time, you might want to try one of these. Some will earn you a little extra cash and some are strictly volunteer, but all will fill up that free time for you.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Spelling is Still Important

My grandmother was a proofreader for the local newspaper. When she retired, she would get really annoyed when she found mistakes in the paper.

I didn't understand why all these mistakes bothered her so much. Then I became a math teacher. You would think spelling wouldn't matter in math, but after 32 years of seeing the same mistakes over and over, I know why she got so aggravated.

Did you know?
Five nickles make twenty-five cents.
Eight times five is fourty.
Protractors are used to measure angels.
Freshman usually take a course called Algerbra.
The communitive property means 2+3 = 3+2.
An eclipse has an oval shape.
Lines in the same plane that never intersect are parralel.

These are just a few of the many mistakes I encountered. I thought when I retired I wouldn't have to put up with spelling errors any more. Then I started reading posts on blogs, on Facebook, and on Twitter.

Now I know that I make errors in spelling now and then, but I do try. It seems many don't. I also know that with the 140 character limit on Twitter, some spelling shortcuts are necessary. I don't think the same should be true of blogs. Often, the misspellings make the material difficult to read. The mistakes that annoy me most are:
there, their, they're
too, to, two
accept, except
affect, effect
threw, through
principal, principle
hear, here

So my advice today is to try to spell correctly and to use the correct spelling of words that sound alike. Remember, written language is for communication. If incorrect usage and misspellings make a piece difficult to read, then good communication is not happening.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Texting Crime Tips

One of the problems schools (and the community) have is getting information from people about bad behavior, bullying, or crimes. People with information are often hesitant to give that information up. One nice thing with children in school is that someone will eventually tell. There's almost always one student who will pull the teacher aside and tell them what's going on.

To me, these are brave and courageous kids. They know that if they are "found" out, they could suffer consequences from the other kids, but they take the chance and do the right thing.

"Text-a-Tip" programs are now making it easier to do the right thing. According to a newspaper article by Denise Lavoie (The Associated Press) on November 28, 2009, the text-a-tip program allows people to send anonymous text messages from their cell phones. Since many witnesses are afraid to come forward, these programs are becoming increasingly popular. The messages are sent to a third party server where all identities are removed and an alias is given. The information is then forwarded to police who use it as a lead to start an investigation. The programs have gained popularity in schools where most students don't want to be a snitch. It simply requires application software that most communities are using as part of their Crime Stoppers programs.

Unfortunately, not being a "rat" has its advantages. Today a news article on television (I don't remember which one) asked how Bernie Madoff was doing in prison. It was reported that he is doing fine and has gained the respect of fellow inmates because he has not snitched on any one who was involved in his Ponzi scheme.

For information about the tip management software:

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Make Memories with Your Children

I was watching the video today of the spiraling light in the sky over Norway. They determined it was a faulty Russian missile launch, but it sure put on a show and got a lot of people's attention. Explanations ranged from a UFO to aurora borealis to a wormhole through space.

It reminded me of a time when I was about 7 or 8 years old. It was summertime and my mom, dad, brother, and I were sitting out in the front yard enjoying the night sky. Off to the north, a bright light suddenly appeared. It kept getting bigger and bigger.

We watched it for a long time. I'm not sure if my dad knew what it actually was, but he acted as if he didn't. He played along with the UFO theme. He would say things like, "Did you see that? It just got brighter." "I think it's going away. Oh no, I was wrong, it's getting closer again." "I think I can hear it now. Yes, I can and it's getting louder." "Look, the lights are starting to flash." "Maybe it will land nearby."

The more he talked the more frightened I became. He kept assuring me that no matter what it was, there was nothing to be scared of.

The "UFO" did keep getting closer and closer. The flashing lights kept getting brighter and brighter. It kept getting louder and louder. Finally, it got close enough that we could see what it was...a helicopter. And the lights? They were a flashing marquee that read, "EAT HILAND POTATO CHIPS!"

Of all advertisement. I can remember how relieved I was, how happy I was that it was something familiar. But best of all, I remember the happy memory of that summer evening spent with my family.

Every family needs these kinds of memories. I think too often families today are all running off in different directions. So my helpful hint for today is that families plan to spend some time together every week. Have meals together, plan a family game night, go to a movie together, or just sit and talk to one another. Make some memories.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

12 Learning Activities for a Snow Day

Many schools across the country are having a snow day today and will probably have a few more before the end of this school year. Here a few educational things you can do.

1. Make a snowman. Measure his circumference. Use a formula to determine his volume. How much snow does it take to make your snowman? (Volume of a sphere = (4/3) times pi times the radius cubed)

2. Make snow angles. Oops, I mean snow angels. Do you know the difference?

3. Make a snow fort. Better yet, make two and have a snowball fight. (Play nice, though). Make the snow forts differently. Which one works better? Does the way the snow blocks are stacked make a difference? Why?

4. Try to catch individual snow flakes. Can you
tell if they really have 6 sides? Do all snowflakes have a 6-sided shape? Why?

5. Fill a cup with snow and let it melt. How much water is there. What is the ratio of snow to water?

6. Read a book, any book. Enjoy.

7. Try to find a prediction weather map on the Internet from a few days ago. Compare it with the actual one for today. How well did the meteorologists predict the storm?

8. Be creative. Draw a sketch of the scenery around your
house. Can't draw? Get your camera, go outside, and take some beautiful photographs.

9. Do some Internet research. How do all the little animals survive in the snow and cold? Does it have to do with their physiology or their habitat or something else? Prepare a report for your science teacher. Did I hear "extra credit?"

10. Look at tracks made by animals in the snow? Can you identify the animals from their footprints?

11. Make a list of winter words. Do Eskimos really have a hundred different words for snow? Does "blizzard" mean there will be a lot of snow or a lot of wind?

12. Use the snow day to catch up on your sleep. Okay, sleep isn't a learning activity, but getting enough of it will help you learn everything else.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

My Fourth Complaint About Parents

In my first three complaints about parents I wrote about:
1. Parents who think supporting their children's education means telling the teacher how to do his or her job.
2. Parents who do their children's homework rather than helping them with it.
3. Parents who make excuses for their children, blame other's for their children's behavior, or lie.

The only thing I can say about these parents is that they at least seem to care about their children. They may not have the right approach, may be setting a bad example, and may actually be doing their children harm, but they do take an interest in their child's education and appear to make an effort.

My fourth complaint is about the parents who don't seem to care. There are some parents who are completely unreachable. You can't contact them by phone. They don't answer emails. They don't respond to progress reports or letters mailed home. They don't come to conferences. Their children seemed to be on their own.

Some of these students are remarkably well-adjusted and resilient. Unfortunately, the others are the ones who party every weekend (probably every night), are up all night playing video games, fend for themselves when it comes to meals and getting to school, and often are responsible for younger brothers and sisters. They are also the students whose names eventually end up in the newspaper and in the legal system.

There's a line in the movie "Parenthood" that I think of every once in a while. I'll clean it up a bit, however. The line is:
You know, Miss Buckman, you need a license to buy a dog or drive a car. Hell, you need a license to catch a fish. But they'll let any ***** be your father.
I know it will never happen, but how wonderful it would be if every child that was born was wanted, loved, cared for, and raised to be a responsible, respectful, trustworthy, productive, and caring adult. It is certainly something we can strive for.

Monday, December 7, 2009

My Third Complaint About Parents

My third complaint about parents has several facets that are all related to each other.

1. Parents sometimes make excuses for their children.

On numerous occasions I had parents make excuses as to why their child didn't have their homework done or why they couldn't take a quiz or test or why they weren't in class. A few of the excuses were valid, but I must admit that I didn't understand a parent keeping a child home from school to babysit for younger children or so that the student could get some sleep before going to work in the evening. I didn't understand missing class for a haircut or not having assignments done because the family had company the night before.

2. Parents sometimes blame others for their children's behavior.

I actually had a mother blame me because her daughter had forged the mother's signature on a progress report. The daughter had a D in class and needed to maintain a C average because she was a cheerleader. I sent the progress report home with the daughter who was supposed to show it to her mother, have her mother sign it, and then return it to me. The report was signed and returned and I never gave it a second thought until the mother wanted to know why her daughter had received a D and was no longer able to cheer. The mother kept accusing me of not notifying her. I explained that I had. She said I hadn't. I explained that I had a signed report. She said that that was impossible because she had never seen a report and had never signed it. I never did get it across to her that it wasn't my fault that she hadn't been notified. The mother ended the conversation by saying, "Well, she's afraid of you anyway." Then she hung up the phone. I just stared at the phone for a few minutes, shook my head, went home, and tried to forget about the incident. Obviously, that hasn't happened yet.

3. Parents sometimes lie.

During the first round of parent teacher conferences in a school year, I used to ask for email addresses because it was always so much easier to contact parents by email rather than phone. When one student's grade dropped to an unacceptable level, I contacted his parents by email to let them know. I didn't get a reply from them, but that was not unusual. The student was an 18-year old senior who didn't need the credit, but the low grade would still affect his grade point average. Being 18, he should have been responsible for his own grade, but it was school policy that parents be notified. When he received a low mid-term grade during third quarter, his mother was irate. She demanded to know why I hadn't notified her. I explained that I had notified her, that I had sent her an email. She told me that was impossible because they didn't even have email. When I said I had the email address she had written down at the first conference, she replied, "Well, that's beside the point." Again, I couldn't make her understand that, yes, that was the point. I couldn't believe that she actually lied to me thinking that she wouldn't be caught.

These are just a few of many instances where parent have been less than cooperative. Thank goodness they make up just a small percentage of the parents a teacher deals with during his or her career. Believe me, if they were all like this, there wouldn't be many teachers stay in the profession.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

My Second Complaint About Parents

Many parents seem to think they're helping their children by doing their work for them. All that does is make the child more dependent on the parent. The child never becomes a problem-solver and eventually expects the parents to do for them any and all work that seems a little difficult. They expect the parent to always bail them out.

And it is tempting for the parent. No one wants to see their child suffer. But that little bit of siuffering will pay off big for the child. The child will gain knowledge, problem-solving skills, ethical work habits, confidence, and the satisfaction of having done the job himself (or herself). He or she will also be more likely to become an independent and self-sufficient adult.

If you really want to help your child, make sure they have a proper diet and plenty of exercise and sleep. Make sure they go to school everyday on time. Make sure they have time and a place to study each evening. Supervise their study time and help them through obstacles, but don't do the work for them.

I used to have students who would turn in papers in two different sets of handwriting. Maybe they thought I couldn't tell, but it's pretty obvious, especially when the easier problems are done in the student's handwriting and the harder ones are in someone else's.

I was reading a blog today where the parent had written the child's entire term paper and had plagiarised the whole thing. This may be one of those cases where parent and child both deserve grades lower than "F."

If, as parents, you want more information as to how best to help your child, talk to your child's teachers. They should be able to give you lots of information about the courses they teach and how your child can succeed in them.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

My First Complaint About Parents

As a teacher for a great number of years, I have had my occasional run-in with parents. Most parents are great. They want the best for their children and want to support the teachers in their efforts to educate their children. However, there are some who test a teacher's patience.

My first complaint is that many parents feel that supporting the teacher means telling them how to do their job. Parents....please don't do this. Why? Here are some reasons.

The teacher is the one in the classroom everyday, not the parent. S/he is the one who knows what's going on in that classroom. There is a classroom dynamic that many parents do not understand. They see their individual child. The teacher also sees that individual child, but additionally sees that child as part of a group. The entire group has to function well and the teacher is in charge of that. Only a person in the classroom can apply teaching strategies that will work for the group and the individual child. Those teaching strategies can vary from class to class depending on the students. Even in the same subject area, a technique that works in one class may not work in another.

Parents often make unreasonable requests of the teacher, again trying to tell the teacher how to do his or her job. I had several parents request progress reports be sent home on a regular basis. Usually, that's not a problem, but some parents wanted reports everyday. I understand that they wanted to keep on top of their child's work, making sure all assignments were done, but again, they were thinking only of their child. I was often responsible for teaching 150 students. It is almost impossible to meet this parent request.

Another bad situation is when the parent wants the teacher to allow exceptions for their child. I know that every child is different, but when there are classroom rules and deadlines for assignments, every student in the class should be expected to abide by those. If my rules had been unreasonable, I could understand, but they weren't. There were parents who asked if their child could only do half of each assignment. There were parents who asked that their child not be held to any deadlines. There was one mother who wanted me to tutor her daughter one-on-one after school every day. That was fine until other students started coming in after school wanting the same treatment. I did what I could, but on a couple of occasions the daughter had to wait for me to help other students. It wasn't long before the mother had the daughter pulled from my class and placed with another teacher. It's not that I cared so much that the daughter was no longer in my class (actually, it was a relief), but I thought this sent a horrible message to the daughter.

Parents sometimes forget that teaching is a profession. Teachers have taken many classes in psychology and teaching methods and should be considered to be the experts in this field. To me, telling a teacher how to do their job, is like telling a surgeon how to perform an operation. I'm guessing these parents probably do that, too.

Friday, December 4, 2009

8 Benefits of Technology

Last week I wrote a post about "8 Dangers of Technology." One of the comments I received suggested I also write about 8 positive effects of technology. I think it's only fair that I balance the negative with the positive.

First, let me say that there are many more than eight benefits of technology. However, here are the eight that affect me most.

1. Technology allows me to write this blog. It gives me a chance to give advice and the opportunity to vent. It also gives me the chance to read the blogs of others for an ever increasing source of information. It allows me to communicate with the world.

2. Technology allows me to renew old acquaintances and make new ones on Facebook and Twitter. I would guess that at least 25% of my graduating class is on Facebook. It's been really fun renewing those friendships. Only a few friends are on Twitter, but I've been meeting more and more people there all the time.

3. Although retired, I still like to keep up with educational topics. Google Reader allows me to keep up on the latest technology in education. I've been able to share some of it with other teachers through social bookmarking sites like Delicious and on social media sites.

4. Technology has allowed me to blog, tweet, email, and surf the Internet, not just through my computer, but through my phone. I was at Walmart this morning and was able to let everyone on Facebook and Twitter know that it was snowing. I'm guessing no one cared that it was snowing, but it was fun being able to let everyone know.

5. I used to get most of my information from books, magazines, and newspapers. While I still read these, they only make up a small portion of my information sources. Now I use the Internet. I can get all the latest news, weather, sports, fashion, music, and get it in real time.

6. Technology allows me to keep better tabs on my finances. I can check bank account balances and investment values any time I want.

7. Most of my shopping experiences have changed since I've started buying online. I still go to the store for groceries, but the Internet allows me to purchase whatever I need. When I do go to the stores in town (most are discount stores), they rarely have the item I need. That never or rarely happens online.

8. And finally, the technology I grew up with has been made better. The old black and white CRT television is now an LCD flat screen HDTV. The transistor radio that I listened to all night is now XM satellite. Old vinyl records became 8-tracks became cassettes became CDs became songs downloaded to computers and MP3 players or iPods.

It is a wonderful technological world. If all this has happened in my lifetime, imagine what the future could hold for today's students. It's mind-boggling.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

15 High School Movie Comedies to Enjoy

For some reason, I was thinking about movies this morning. I started listing some of the ones that involve teachers, students, and schools. My list started with a few like "Stand and Deliver" and "Dangerous Minds." Then I kept thinking of more and more and more. My goodness, there have been a lot of them. Some are good, some bad. Some are inspirational, some aren't. Some are realistic. Some have a superteacher who comes to the worst school in the world and saves them all in one day.

The following are some of the funniest (in my opinion) and some of my favorites. They are worth viewing at least once, maybe over holiday break. They are not academy award winners by any means. Some are cute. Some are irreverent. You might want to check their ratings first. Enjoy!

1. Summer School
The students don't want to be there; neither does the teacher.

2. Teachers
Do teachers fear dying in the classroom and not having anyone notice?

3. Grease
When I hear music, I just can't make my feet behave.

4. Fast Times at Ridgemont High
Who ordered pizza?

5. Clueless
As if!

6. Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure
Party on, dudes.

7. Ferris Bueller's Day Off
Every kid who skips school thinks he's Ferris Beuhler.

8. Never Been Kissed go back and do it all over again...NOT!

9. She's All That
My Fair Lady updated.

10. Pretty in Pink
You can't help but like Duckie.

11. Napoleon Dynamite

12. Bring It On
Go! Team! Go!

13. Teen Wolf
He's a good kid...he's just having a tough time right now.

14. The New Guy
Don't make him do crazy eyes.

15. The Breakfast Club
Saturday detention at its best.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Six Courses Every Student Should Take

The traditional courses in math, science, language arts, and social studies are absolutely necessary for anyone expecting to have a well-rounded education. But there are some other courses that I feel should be required for all students.

1. Typing (keyboarding): At the present time almost all information is entered into a computer or phone through a keyboard of some type. Eventually voice recognition technology may take over, but right now, typing skills are a must.

2. Non-fiction Reading: Most of the reading I do is non-fiction and I don't mean biographies or self-help books. I mean insurance policies, tax code and forms, owners manuals, directions, research articles, investment reports, and so on. These are some of the most prevalent and difficult materials to read and yet they are rarely taught.

3. Mandarin Chinese and Hindi: I know that learning a foreign language is important. When I studied Spanish in high school, it actually helped me in my English classes. I have recently found on Twitter, that I'm able to understand the tweets from people living in South America, Spain, Italy, and France. And this is from studying Spanish 40 years ago. With the people of China and India making up about 38% of the world's population, these are two languages that should be added to the curriculum. The four languages spoken by about 30% of the world's population are Mandarin Chinese, Spanish, English, and Hindi/Urdu. The six official languages of the United Nations are Mandarin Chinese, Spanish, English, Arabic, Russian, and French.

4. Research: I believe every student should have to take a research course in high school. I know that research papers are done in other classes, but to me, one course devoted to research makes more sense. First, this would free up time in other classes. Second, all aspects of research could be studied in one course. Students could see how the library (research), mathematics (statistics), science (scientific method and experimental research), reading (gathering information), writing (creating the report), history (gaining previous information on the topic), technology (presentations), and speaking (presentation or defense) are all related to each other. Too often students think of their courses as separate entities, completely unrelated to one another. Research can bring it all together for them. I know that this has been a course previously taken by those working on higher degrees in universities, but I also know students would benefit greatly from having more of it in high school.

5. Finance: So many students graduate with little or no knowledge of the financial world. This course would include consumer skills, investment practice, and economics. Students could study taxes of all kinds, filling out forms, budgeting, working with a financial advisor, etc. Information on entrepreneurship and small business ownership could be included. I know that many schools include this type of information in their business departments, but it should be coursework that every student is required to learn.

6. Physical Education and Health: In some schools these courses have been abandoned or reduced to just a day or two a week. I truly believe students should have a certain amount of physical activity each day. With health, medical, and insurance issues being such a major concern in today's society, student's need knowledge as to how important physical activity and exercise are.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

One Tip for Staying Motivated

One of the things I've discovered about myself is that I can stay motivated if I make sure I do the activity every day. And I mean EVERY day.

When my doctor told me that I absolutely had to do 40 minutes of physical activity every day, I was highly first. But day after day, that 40 minutes sometimes feels like 40 hours. One thing I haven't done, however, is skip a day. I know that if I skip even one day, it will make it easier to skip the next day and the next and the next. Before you know it, I'll be right back into my old habits.

I know this about myself because of dieting. Even though I know this, I still have a problem in this area. It's easy to diet every day when things are routine, but throw in Halloween (candy) or a birthday (cake) or Thanksgiving (stuffing) or Valentine's Day (chocolate), and I immediately shift into "today's special, one day won't hurt" mode. Next thing I know, I'm back to my old habits and have gained 15 pounds. And believe me, 40 minutes a day on the treadmill will not burn up those "celebration" calories. So, even though I know this about myself, I still continue. Why? I'm not sure.

That's also one of the reasons I blog everyday. There are days I would rather do something else or can't think of an idea or really don't have the time, but I blog anyway. Again, I know that if I skip even one day, I'll end up skipping two or three or more.

I believe this is true of students in school, also. If a student never missed one day of class or never missed turning in an assignment or never missed a test, they would stay motivated. But as soon as a student misses one assignment, it makes missing another one easier. One missing assignment almost always leads to more. It's much easier not to do something, regardless of the consequences (as evidenced by my dieting habits).

So my tip of the day is to stay motivated by making whatever you're doing a habit. Do it EVERY day. NEVER skip a day. It's a little harder, but the results are definitely worth it.

Monday, November 30, 2009

10 Web Sites for Consumer Education

One of the most important subjects a student can learn is how to be a good consumer. Yet, in many schools this topic is rarely mentioned.

Once in a while, a class might be offered in Consumer Economics, where students learn to balance a checkbook and file their taxes, but this is the exception rather than the rule. A Consumer Mathematics class might offer students an opportunity to learn about amortization, interest rates, investments, and getting the best buy, but again this course is rarely offered, and if it was, it has probably been discontinued because of the emphasis on courses meeting state standards. Students taking business classes generally have an advantage over those who don't, but only a small percentage of students enroll in those courses.

One way to give students a helping hand in this area is for parents and teachers to take advantages of any and all learning
opportunities in consumer education. Today is the perfect time to start.

Today is CyberMonday. It is a day started in 2005 by the National Retail Federation to offer online specials and deals for shoppers. In the past, when few people had computers at home, they would shop online when they returned to work after the Thanksgiving break. Today, with many more shoppers having computers at home, over 100 million are expected to shop online, with 90% of the stores offering exceptional bargains.

This is a perfect time to sit at the computer with a child and teach them to shop sensibly and wisely. Show them the best web sites. Show them how to calculate shipping and handling and sales taxes. Yes, the web site will do this for you when you check out, but it still gives parents and teachers a chance to give kids a little bit of extra education, and that can never hurt.

Show students how to comparison shop. Have them calculate the best deals. Have them look at the features of similar items and make a decision as to which is the better buy, keeping in mind that the cheaper item may not be better for you if it doesn't have the features you want. And don't forget to teach about coupon codes and free shipping. Most web sites will give needed information about these, but you may have to search for them.

Some great web sites to start your child's consumer education are:

1. This web site sponsored by the National Retail Federation keeps track of the best deals online and is updated regularly during the day

2. Sponsored by MasterCard, this site gives financial advice and has a gift finder feature.

3. This web site will help you find coupon codes at over 40,000 stores that can help you save money.

4. When you're looking for online or printable coupons, this is a good place to start.

5. Coupon mom is great place to learn how to manage coupons. It also lists grocery coupons for most major grocery store chains. The work is done for you here.

. This is a great place to find free shipping coupons to 1854 stores.

7. This is the site for online coupon codes, discount coupons and online deals.

8. Pricespider crawls the web for hundreds of thousands of items each hour, then puts up the best deal on their site.

9. Pricegrabber allows you to compare prices of items and provides consumer reviews of those products.

10. Consumer Reports tests thousands of products, rates them, and gives recommendations.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Students: First Semester Ends Soon

The end of first semester will arrive in a few weeks. The semester grades are the important ones, the ones that count for credits.

If your semester ends before the holiday break, you only have three weeks before your grades will be calculated. Those three weeks include time spent in class reviewing and taking semester exams. If your semester ends after break, you probably have an extra week or so.

Now is the time to ask your teachers if you have any missing work. If you do, you need to get it finished and turn it in this week. Give your teacher a few days to check that work, then ask your teachers for your grades. If any are less than they should be, ask your teacher what you need to do.

By starting now, you will be giving yourself and your teacher plenty of time to get everything finished.

Now is also a good time to start studying for those semester exams. The earlier you start, the better!

Saturday, November 28, 2009

CAPspace and Polycom

A couple of weeks ago I attended a meeting at the local AEA (Area Education Agency). The presenter demonstrated new technology they had recently acquired.

There are two components of this technology: CAPspace and Polycom.

CAPspace: CAP stands for Collaborations Around the Planet. CAPspace is a social networking site for education videoconferencing. Members log in just as they would to any social network. They can create and advertise their projects to other educators around the world. They can also attend collaborative events, do projects, teach classes, and more.

Polycom is the hardware used for videoconferencing. It is similar to a webcam, but more advanced. Groups of people in separate locations can be connected. Each location can tune into any other location to ask and answer questions, to collaborate on lessons, to listen and learn. The entire system runs through computers and is operated with a remote control.

The advantages of such a system are limitless.

1. Field Trips: Students can take field trips to anywhere in the world. They can attend classes in other countries or visit museums, historical sites, Congress, NASA, or maybe even zoos. These are places they might not otherwise be able to see because of the physical or financial limitations.

2. Shared Classes: Classes in different locations can work together using the technology. They might work on lessons or projects. Schools with limited budgets might be able to get by with fewer teachers by sharing classes. One teacher could present the lesson to several classes in physically different locations.

3. Professional Development: Professional development can be very expensive. The fees for keynote speakers, conference registrations, and travel expenses add up quickly. Videoconferencing using CAPspace and Polycom can take care of all these with minimum costs.

The biggest expense for this system is the hardware purchase. After that, everything goes through a computer.

CAPspace and Polycom seems to be a win-win combination. Students and teachers experience more with increased learning and school districts can reduce budgets.

Friday, November 27, 2009

8 Dangers of Technology

The first thing I did yesterday was make two salads and two desserts. One salad and one dessert was for my husband's family dinner at noon. The other salad and dessert was for an evening Thanksgiving meal with my family.

By the end of the day, everyone was tired. It had been a long day and we had all eaten two Thanksgiving meals. We were standing around the table talking. Well, at least I thought we were. People seemed to be talking to each other, but two of them were reading Black Friday ads from the newspaper, two of the kids were texting, two of the adults were on their cell phones, and one was surfing the web on his laptop computer. I just looked around and thought, "We're not really together here." Each person seemed isolated, doing his or her own thing.

It made me wonder if all the technology, as amazing as it is, is really a good thing. I started thinking about some of the dangers I've seen, read, or heard about. Here are eight of them to consider:

1. There may be a link between cell phone use and tumors.

2. Using cell phones and texting while driving may very likely cause an accident.

3. Technology may isolate people, even when they're together. There is some argument about this, however. One study says that technology actually causes people to socialize more, just differently than before.

4. Cyber-bullying and cyber-stalking take place frequently. Along with this is the possibility of encountering Internet predators. Children may also accidentally (or purposely) see inappropriate material on the Internet. Parents must be vigilant.

5. Internet addiction can occur. Studies have show that, while not an official disorder, there are cases where excessive computer use interferes with a person's daily activity. Other studies have shown a link between Internet addiction and ADHD and depression in teens.

6. Carpal tunnel syndrome can be caused by the repetitive motion of typing or mouse-clicking.

7. The black dust (toner) used in laser printers has been classified by the FDA as a class-A carcinogen.

8. Technology, especially video games, makes people less active. Lack of exercise can lead to obesity which leads to a variety of diseases.

Parents, students, and teachers need to be aware of these dangers as well as others that may exist. Limiting the use of technology may be necessary for the health and welfare of all.


Thursday, November 26, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving to All

Over the past few days, I've tweeted several quotes with a Thanksgiving theme. Here they are.

Thanksgiving, after all, is a word of action. ~ W. J. Cameron

Not what we say about our blessings, but how we use them, is the true measure of our thanksgiving. ~ W.T. Purkiser

We can only be said to be alive in those moments when our hearts are conscious of our treasures. ~ Thornton Wilder

Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all the others. ~ Cicero

Some complain that roses have thorns—others rejoice that thorns have roses! ~Unknown

Gratitude is the sign of noble souls. ~ Aesop Fables

As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them. ~ John Fitzgerald Kennedy

An optimist is a person who starts a new diet on Thanksgiving Day. ~ Irv Kupcine

Gratitude is a fruit of great cultivation; you do not find it among gross people. ~ Samuel Johnson

Thanksgiving, when the Indians said, “Well, this has been fun, but we know you have a long voyage back to England. ~ Jay Leno

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Thank You

Since Thanksgiving is tomorrow, this seems like a perfect time to give thanks to all the school workers who never get much praise.

When people think of school, they generally think of the teachers and the principal. But that is actually just a small portion of all the people involved in keeping the school running.

The following is a list of those that deserve thanks. If I've left anyone out, I sincerely apologize and please know that your efforts are greatly appreciated.

Teacher's Aides
Cafeteria Workers
School Bus Drivers
Speech Pathologists
Social Workers
School Resource Officers
Hall Monitors
Study Hall Monitors
Tech Coaches
School Board

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

School Resource Officers

Some time ago I was sitting in a restaurant eating lunch. It wasn't very crowded and so it was easy to hear the conversations at the other tables. I don't usually pay any attention, but one woman at one of the other tables was complaining about the public high school in town. She said something about the school being so bad that there had to be a police officer there all the time. She said she would never let her children go to such a school.

I could have said something, but didn't want to ruin my lunch or hers with an argument. So I continued eating, getting more angry as time passed.

The police officer she was talking about is called an "SRO" or "school resource officer." He wasn't there because the school had a lot of problems. He was there to help prevent problems.

The main duty of an SRO is to insure the safety of the students, staff, faculty, and the school. Each officer in the program is a regular police officer who has taken extra training to deal with students and schools. It is currently one of the fastest growing areas of law enforcement.

Besides safety, SROs also educate, counsel, give classroom presentations, patrol halls, prevent delinquency, and perform other duties as needed by their particular school.

The biggest problem SROs have is job security. They are police officers, but whether they will be in a school depends on funding. Of course, when schools cut their budgets, the School Resource Officer position is usually one of the first to go. Some, however, are paid through grants and collections which provide an extra source of funding.

So today, as we approach Thanksgiving, I just want to say "thanks" to all the school resource officers. They have a tough job, but provide a valuable service. I always felt better knowing our school had one on duty.

Monday, November 23, 2009

"I Have A Plan Iowa"

Most students will have some time off school this week. It's a great time to spend with friends and family and maybe even get in a few extra hours of work.

It might also be a good time to do a little advance planning. There is a website where you can plan for high school, college, careers, and more.

You need to log in for some of the information, but much of it is accessible without setting up an account. There are separate sections for Middle School, High School, Parents, College, Adult Learners, Job Seekers, Educators, and College Professionals. Much of the information is for Iowa students, but others could benefit as well.

Students can set up four-year plans for high school. They can research careers and discover which classes should be taken to achieve that career. There are planning charts, pdfs, and videos that give information on a variety of topics including grants, scholarships, and financial aid.

For a good video
overview, see

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Gratitude and Thanksgiving

On several occasions, while watching Oprah, she has mentioned that she keeps a gratitude journal. At the end of each day, she writes about those things for which she gives thanks.

I often express gratitude, but have rarely written it. However, I think I will start and I think that with Thanksgiving Day coming up, this is the perfect time to start.

Why? Scientists have researched gratitude and find that it plays an important role in many aspects of a person's life from good health to a sense of well-being to kindness and a feeling of being loved.

The scientists conducting the research studied several hundred people. They divided them into three groups and asked them to keep diaries. One group simply recorded the events of the day. A second group recorded those things for which they were grateful. The third group listed their unpleasant experiences.

Results showed that people in the the second group had less stress, exercised more, were more alert, more enthusiastic, had more energy, worked toward personal goals to a greater extent, and were less depressed.

Most religions promote gratitude and extol its virtues, but Dr. Michael McCollough, of Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas, and Dr. Robert Emmons, of the University of California at Davis, found that the beneficial results of giving thanks work independently of faith. It turns out any one, religious or faithful or spiritual or not, can enjoy the positive effects of gratitude.

Most people have so much for which to be, home, friends, and more. So give thanks everyday.

If you can't find anything to be thankful for, then perhaps this video at can help:


Saturday, November 21, 2009

Update on H1N1

During the last week, there has been a decrease in influenza activity across the United States. There are some other recent developments as well.

Norwegian health authorities have discovered a mutation in the H1N1 virus that leads to more serious symptoms. It causes the virus to go deeper into the respiratory system. It's not widespread, but similar mutations have been found in other countries.

H1N1, a mixture of swine, bird and human viruses, has recently been found in three cats, one in Iowa, one in Utah, and one in Oregon who died of the virus. Five ferrets have also contracted the disease. Recommendations for limiting the virus in animals is similar to that in humans...wash hands (especially before feeding), use sanitizer, sneeze and cough into your arm or a tissue, avoid touching your face and the animal's face, and limit contact with the pet while you are sick.

British officials are investigating a strain of the H1N1 virus that is resistant to the antiviral Tamiflu. So far there has been no confirmed person-to-person transmission of this strain.

There is some good news. The H1N1 vaccine appears to have the same safety record as that of the seasonal flu vaccine. Even better, 80 million doses have been distributed, and 65 million have been given worldwide.

Of course, there is a problem with the availability of the vaccine. In my area, H1N1 vaccines have only been available by appointment through the county health department, and then only for certain populations. In fact, I've been on a waiting list for several weeks for the regular seasonal flu shot and still have not been called to make an appointment to get the vaccine.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Decisions. Decisions.

I was watching Oprah today as she made her announcement that she would be doing only one more season of her show. She was in tears, but said she knew it was time. It felt right.

For anyone making a major decision in their lives, I think this is how you know if you're doing the right thing. It will feel like you're doing the right thing. When I made the decision to retire a couple of years ago, there was no doubt in my mind that it was the right decision. I knew I would miss the kids. I knew I would miss the people I worked with. I knew that I would miss the math. But I also knew that it was time to let it go.

I'm not sure I could tell anyone how I knew, but I knew it was right. I've done this with most major decisions in my life and my feelings and intuition have never steered me wrong.

I believe that with any major decision, from choosing a college or career to choosing where to live to choosing (or not choosing) a partner, you can almost feel if the decision is a good one. Yes, you should weigh the advantages and disadvantages of your decision, but in the end, you'll choose it because it feels right for you.

If it doesn't feel right, don't do it. It's either the wrong decision or the wrong time to make that decision.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Great American Smokeout 2009

Today is the Great American Smokeout 2009. The event is held every year on the third Thursday in November and is sponsored by the American Cancer Society. It purpose is to help people quit smoking and using tobacco products, even if for just one day.

The event started in 1971 when Arthur Mullaney asked people to give up smoking for a day. He asked that they use the money they would have spent on cigarettes to give a donation to a local high school. The idea spread and the American Cancer Society made it a nationwide event in 1977.

Knowledge is an important part of giving up tobacco products. Just knowing that manufacturers add toxic ingredients to cigarettes to make them tastier can cause some people to quit. That list of ingredients includes ammonia, arsenic, benzene, butane, carbon monoxide, cadmium, cyanide, DDT, Ethyl Furoate, lead, formaldehyde, methoprene, maltitol, napthalene, and about 500 more. These products are rat poisons, poisonous gasses, insecticides, preservatives, and others that should not be inhaled or ingested. (

Also helpful for those wanting to quit is having some means of support. Nicotine replacement products, counseling, friends, and family can all do the trick.

For more information, a quick search on the Internet will provide many web sites with lots of valuable information. Just search for "Great American Smokeout 2009."

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Intellectual Property ~ Who Owns It?

The Sunday, November 15, 2009 issue of The New York Times featured an article by Winnie Hu titled "Selling Lessons Online Raises Cash and Questions." You can find the article at

The article reminded me of a situation that occurred several years ago. There was a school employee who was working on a higher degree. There was another employee who had created a fair number of presentations and documents for the school. This particular employee was also resigning at the end of the school year to take a job in another district. The employee working on the degree had used some of the other employee's materials in his graduate assignments. The employee who had created them complained, but was told that anything created for the school district was the property of the school district. They determined that the materials she created did not belong to her. When she left the district, she had to leave all papers and disks of all created materials.

This had never come up before. We were all astounded to think that documents, lesson plans, projects, worksheets, tests, quizzes, and everything else we had worked so hard on, actually belonged to the school district.

When I retired, I left everything behind. It was actually pretty easy because my home already had enough school clutter. But every once in a while, I'll still find a test or worksheet tucked away in a folder on my computer. A few weeks ago, I found an Algebra project I had created hidden in a folder in the back of a file cabinet. I had written it years ago.

Now, after reading this article in the New York Times, I find that teachers are buying and selling their lesson plans and worksheets.

I can understand why a teacher might buy a good lesson plan. It takes so much time to create a good one, and if one is already made, and it's available for a reasonable price, why go to all the work of creating a new one?

I can also understand why a teacher might sell a good lesson plan. Teacher salaries are notoriously low. And yet teachers spend a great deal of their own money purchasing items for their classrooms. If selling lesson plans supplements the money a teacher spends on equipment or books, then it seems s/he is simply being rewarded for his or her work.

Of course, the critical issue here is the fact that the school districts these teachers work for might actually own the intellectual properties these teachers are selling.

And of course, there are the ethical questions. Some how all this just doesn't seem right. If I've written a fantastic lesson plan, it seems like it should be mine to do with as I want. It seems I should be able to sell it, give it away, or even take it with me to a different school district.

But there's also something that doesn't seem right about teachers selling lesson plans. I don't know what it is. As a teacher, I swapped ideas with other teachers all the time. But the idea of selling my idea to those teachers, well, it seems to lower the standards most teachers set for themselves.

I guess I really have mixed feelings about this. What do you think?

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The Scarecrow and The Theorem

On Saturday, I was watching the Wizard of Oz. Towards the end of the movie, when the Scarecrow gets his brain, he exclaims, "The sum of the square roots of any two sides of an isosceles triangle is equal to the square root of the remaining side. Oh joy, rapture! I’ve got a brain!"

Well, the Scarecrow may have his brain, but he needs to go to math class and learn the Pythagorean Theorem.

I used to use this example when teaching. My original intention was to show the video clip and use the quote to help students learn the theorem.

Then I watched the clip. I had only vaguely remembered it and was so glad I reviewed it before showing it to the students. My lesson plans were immediately changed. I still showed the video, but instead of using it as an example, I asked the students to list all the things that were wrong with it. The students always came up with a pretty good list.

My advice to all teachers is to always review beforehand any media that you plan to use with students. I think this is usually done, but when time is short, you may want to skip this step. Don't!

My advice to students is to not believe everything in the movies, even when it sounds and seems like reasonable truth.

The actual Pythagorean Theorem states, "The sum of the squares of the lengths of the legs of a right triangle is equal to the square of the length of the hypotenuse.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Strange Things Happen

This evening I'm going to relate a story that has nothing to do with students, parents, teachers, or even education. It's an account of something that happened during the last two days. I don't know if you would call it serendipity, synchronicity, or irony, but these kinds of things happen to me all the time. I find them quite strange, interesting, and wonderful.

On Saturday, The Wizard of Oz was on television. It had been ages since I had seen it, so I watched a good portion of it. I was even on the treadmill singing along with the Lollipop Guild. The show has always been been one of my favorites. The special effects amaze me, considering the film was made in 1939. Anyway, I watched Dorothy take her trip through Oz and finally get back to Kansas.

Yesterday, I was on Facebook. I did a little farming in Farm Town and baked some cakes in YoVille. I then read through some of the posts. I'm a big fan of Anne Rice and she had written several comments during the day. In one of them she said that she had "watched Curse of the Demon with Dana Andrews, just one of the scariest old black and white movies I've ever seen." I kept thinking that if Anne Rice thought it was scary, it must really, really be scary.

I then started thinking about which old black and white movies scared me. When I was younger, I loved scary movies. I would sit in the dark on Friday night and watch a local program called Creature Feature. Each week there was a movie about Dracula or the Wolfman or Frankenstein or some other poor frightened and frightening monster. So which one did I think was the scariest?

I remembered a movie I had seen years and year ago. It was about a man who had no arms or legs. He lived in a mansion with his sister. Strange murders started taking place and of course he was never a suspect, because it would have been impossible for him to go commit the evil deeds.

I could not remember the name of the movie, but thought that James Mason or Claude Rains had played the main character. I searched under their names, but found no movie credits that matched my memory of this film. So I searched Google and part way down the page was a description that seemed familiar.

I read several of the summaries and it was the film I remembered. The movie was called Night Monster. The lead character was not played by James Mason or by Claude Rains, but by a man named Ralph Morgan. Yes, this was the film that scared me; it was made in 1942.

So I brought up images of Ralph Morgan. He was an older, nice looking gentleman. He didn't look like James Mason or Claude Rains, but he did look very familiar. I wondered why.

As I read through a mini biography of his life, I suddenly realized why he looked so familiar. It turns out Ralph Morgan was the older brother of Frank Morgan.

And who is Frank Morgan? Why, he played the wizard in The Wizard of Oz.

(You knew this story was leading somewhere, didn't you?)

Sunday, November 15, 2009

The Teacher's Fault?

I was watching a segment on Meet the Press this morning about education reform. Maybe I'm sensitive, but it seems that once again teachers are being blamed for the majority of the problems.

The school at which I taught did have a fair number of dropouts. But most of these students didn't attend school anyway. Some would register for classes in order to get some kind of government money, then never show. Many of the girls were pregnant and school was not a priority in their lives. A lot of the absent students were in trouble with the law and were in a jail cell awaiting a trial.

Once a student gets behind in credits, it's very difficult for them to catch up. The district in which I taught even had an alternative high school, but often the students didn't attend that either.

My question about all this is "How is this the teacher's fault?"

I agree that these students need motivation and perhaps something like an apprenticeship program would be better for them. But if the school district does not provide these alternatives, what's a teacher to do? Our district had to do away with even their summer school program because there weren't any funds.

You'd think that with advancements in technology, maybe the students' attention could be captured by computers. But I had one computer in my classroom; certainly not enough to do a proper technology lesson, even though I tried. Computer labs were occasionally available, but were usually taken by computer classes.

I do understand that some teachers do not teach well, but they should be sorted out and guided into another profession. But the problems do not lie with just teachers, but also with parents, administration, the community, and the state and federal governments.

That means the whole system needs to be reworked. We keep trying to fix parts of it and that is just not working.

I don't know what the solutions are, but I know they exist. It will take everyone...teachers, administrators, parents, community, government, and make it better.