Monday, August 31, 2009

Spelling is Important

When I was a teacher, I was once told not to correct students' spelling. Since I was a math teacher, I guess I was only to check their math problems. But I swore that if I saw "Algerbra" at the top of one more student's paper, I was going to have to scream.

Now, I'm not a perfect speller; no one is. But at least I try. I even remember the first spelling word I misspelled. I was in first grade and the word was "girl." I kept sounding it out and sounding it out and it kept coming out "giril." I couldn't decide if I should put the "i" before or after the "r." So I guessed. Of course, I guessed wrong. That was when I realized that if I ever had a decision to make between two choices, I would always choose the wrong answer if I guessed. That's when I learned I had to study. I needed to know answers, not guess at them. It was a good lesson for me and followed me clear through college and graduate school.

But is spelling really important? I think so. If you're engraving tombstones and you write "Beloved Mohter," you're probably not going to have a job. There was an elevator in a care facility with an engraved "Maximum Capicity 14" sign. When it had to be replaced, I heard the cost was about $2000. And of course we've all seen the painted road signs that read "SHCOOL." They are just too funny.

But I think the biggest problem is that poor spelling makes you look stupid, uneducated, or careless. Everyone knows that typographical errors will slip in. Everyone knows that no matter how many times you proofread, you will miss something. But I've read papers, websites, blogs, flyers, bulletins, and others where word after word is misspelled. It always gives me the impression that the person just doesn't care and probably doesn't know what he or she is talking about.

So be careful about your spelling. It is often the first impression other people will have of you.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Look Interested

Always look interested! Your teacher will be impressed. You never know, if you look interested enough times, you may actually find that you are interested. And you'll actually become an interesting person. (Isn't Max interesting? He's been studying that page all morning.)

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Vocabulary is Important

Students must learn the vocabulary, formulas, and symbols in each of their courses.

A test question may read, "State the domain and range of the function f(x)=2x-3." If you don't know the meaning of the words "domain," "range," and "function," or what the symbol "f(x)" means, you're not going to know how to work the problem.

If the directions ask you to compare and contrast igneous, sedimentary, and metamorphic rocks, you must know the definitions of those three terms. However, you must also know that compare means to tell how they're alike and contrast means to tell how they're different.

A question asking "What are three common uses of NaCl?" will make no sense to you if you don't know that Na is Sodium, Cl is Chlorine, and together they make salt. Once you know this is salt, it's easy to come up with three uses, probably more. (What if the question was "What are three common uses of halite?" Would you know that it is the same question?)

If asked to describe a planarian, would you say that it's A) a person from another planet, B) a carpenter whose specialty is using a plane, C) a flatworm, D) a community or city planner, E) a person who studies planets, or F) a building where images of the sky are projected onto a domed ceiling? (Correct answer is "C.")

If a recipe in cooking class asks you to "chiffonade," it has nothing to do with cake or fabric or square dancing.

It soon becomes obvious why vocabulary, formulas, and symbols are so important in everything you do. Students should review vocabulary everyday, paying particular attention to new words they've encountered.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Learn By Doing

I can go to a lot of concerts and watch fantastic musicians, but when I get home, I'm not going to be able to play the guitar, drums, or piano. I can go to every high school, college, and professional football game, but I will never be able to play football. I'll never be a musician or a football player or anything else by watching other people, only by practicing it myself.

The same is true of subjects in school. Math is learned by practicing problems. Research is learned by doing research. Writing is learned by writing. Language is learned by speaking and reading the language. Students cannot become skilled in these areas by watching the teacher do them. Students have to practice these skills on their own. That's what school work and homework is all about.

Great musicians and sports figures spend hours and hours perfecting their skills. Great students do the same.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

The Graph Paper Advantage

Math students should keep a supply of graph paper in their notebooks. In fact, some math teachers require all assignments be done on graph paper. When you think about it, it just makes sense.

In elementary school, graph paper can help students line up numbers when they're performing the basic operations of addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. It keeps all the ones' digits in a line, all the tens' digits, the hundreds' digits, and so on. Often, children make mistakes in these basic operations because they have trouble keeping their numbers in a straight line, and may end up adding a number in the ones' place to a number in the tens' place. This will, unfortunately, give the student a wrong answer.

By the time students are in middle school and high school, they are making bar graphs, line graphs, charts, tables, and graphs of equations. Graph paper becomes essential. It makes the work easier, neater, and more organized.

There are also other times graph paper can be used. In grade school, children learning to print can put a letter in each box to make their writing neater. Social studies teachers and science teachers also have students make graphs, charts, and tables, and graph paper can help students do these better.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

A Time for Study

I believe parents should set aside a certain amount of time each night for children to study. It doesn't have to be a long period of time. And it doesn't have to be at the same time every night. Children just need to know that parents value study time. Some parents actually use the time to do some studying for themselves.

If the teacher has assigned homework, then this is the perfect time to do that. If there is no homework, there are lots of other ways to study. Review vocabulary and spelling words. Read over notes you took in class. Get a start on that science project or term paper. Read a chapter in a good book. Practice a few math problems that you had difficulty with in class. Start taking notes on the next section in your textbook. Write in a journal about what happened in each of your classes during the day. Make a list of questions for your teachers about things you don't understand in their classes.

By keeping on top of your studies, you relieve a lot of stress and become a better student.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009


When I was teaching, there were some students who spent so much time organizing, they didn't get anything else done. Then there were the others who had no idea what an organized notebook was. Students should strive to find a happy middle ground between the two.

Elementary teachers will usually help their students stay organized. But by the time students get to high school, teachers expect them to know how to do this on their own. Unfortunately, many don't know how. They're usually the ones with dozens of crumpled up papers and leaky pens stuffed in their textbooks.

I found that students who had the most success were those who kept a separate notebook for each course. Three-ring notebooks work especially well. Their notebooks had dividers with places for assignments, notes from the textbook and reading material, notes taken during class, handouts, worksheets, papers to turn in, papers already graded, quizzes, tests, vocabulary, study tips, or any other category specific to a certain class, such as formulas, lab reports, research note cards, and so on. Pens, pencils, and paper can also be kept here.

The organized notebook makes it easy for students to find what they need when they need it. It also allows them to better study for tests because everything for the course is in one place; they just have to review the material. Also, the process of putting the notebook together and writing everything down, can be studying in and of itself. The organized students were almost always the better achievers.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Be Specific When Asking Questions

One of my first years as a teacher, I started going over homework in class. I'd have the students take out their papers and trade with someone. I'd read the answers and they would check. When we were done checking, they'd hand the paper back to its owner. I'd ask, "Are there any questions?" Most of the time there weren't any. I'd collect the papers, glance over them, record the scores, and hand them back the next day. This went on for several days and then it was time for the test. Oh my! The scores were horrible. I couldn't figure out what had gone wrong. My teachers used to have us correct papers in class and there never seemed to be this kind of problem.

I finally figured out that students don't ask questions, most of them anyway. I discovered that I had to be more specific. Instead of "Are there any questions?" I would say something like, "Number 20 looked like it could be a little difficult. Sarah, did you have any problem with it?" If Sarah said "no," I would then say, "Did anyone have a question about number 20?" If anyone said "yes," then I would ask if Sarah could explain it to them. On the other hand, if Sarah said she had trouble with the question, then I would ask someone else if they could explain it. I found that by asking specific questions about difficult problems, I could get a better response. The next test did have improved scores.

The same applies to parents. Parents who ask their kids, "What did you do in school today?" will usually get an answer of "nothing." Now, the child was in school for 7 to 8 hours. Any parent knows they had to do something during that time. Parents, too, need to be more specific in their questions. "Who is your favorite teacher?" "Did you talk to anyone before or after class?" "Are any of your friends' lockers near yours?" "Do you have math homework tonight?" "Did your teachers give any long term assignments like a term paper or science project?"

Being specific isn't a complete solution, but it can get a conversation started.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Be a Little More Grateful

I woke up early this morning and looked out the east window. There was Venus, bright and beautiful, the goddess of love. I thought, "how appropriate." Today my husband and I have been married for 35 years. I am so grateful for all the wonderful things in my life.

I think we should all be a little more grateful. Every morning, if everyone would just say a small "thank you," the world would be a much better place. The "thank you" can be a prayer to God or you can just speak it to the wind. It will make you feel better.

It's as Sheryl Crow sings in her song "Soak Up The Sun," "It's not having what you want. It's wanting what you've got."

Saturday, August 22, 2009

A Grade Worse Than "F"

Student: Hey, you gave me an "F" on my report card!
Teacher: Only because it's the lowest grade I can give you.

While we might laugh at that, a Canadian university (Simon Frasier University in British Columbia) is actually adding a grade lower than "F". It's an "FD" grade...failure with dishonesty. It's given for students who fail a course because they have cheated in some way.

I can see this idea eventually catching on in many colleges and even middle schools and high schools. There is so much cheating in schools, that when I was teaching, I had to make 3 or 4 versions of any test. English teachers were always complaining of plagiarism. They were even considering purchasing software that could track it down.

Plagiarism is illegal. It is stealing. Authors are often sued by others for copying their words or ideas. Even an author like Dan Brown (The Da Vinci Code) has been sued. Although he won the case, I imagine that it delayed the release of his next book and put his life hold for a while.

A student who cheats is not getting the full benefit of his or her education. They're only trying to get through school and get a good grade. They're not interested in learning the material and actually earning a high grade.

Imagine a student in med school cheating and plagiarizing his or her way through. Now imagine that that student becomes your doctor...diagnosing illnesses, prescribing medications, and performing exams. It's chilling. And it should be just as chilling in any field of endeavor.

Current technology makes cheating even more possible. Online companies sell term papers. Computers make it easy to copy and paste any information. Text messaging allows students to send messages and answers during a test.

Students need to remember that when they cheat, they are cheating themselves of an education and the pride of accomplishment. They also need to know that when they plagiarize, they are stealing someone else's words and ideas and that it is illegal. They also need to know that in the future, they may very well end up with a grade worse than an "F."


Friday, August 21, 2009

Germ-Free Zone

Germ-free zone? That's one thing a school isn't. Students tend not to worry about germs. They share drinks and food. They hug. They're confined in rooms with 30 other students. It is "a perfect storm."

I just heard on The Today Show that the World Health Organization expects the number of H1N1 flu virus cases to double every 3 to 4 days for the next few months. The combination of school starting and the approach of autumn and winter adds to that "perfect storm."

There are precautions that can be taken. Everyone should was his or her hands frequently. If you are sick, stay home at least 24 hours after a fever has ended. It might be a good idea to buy a thermometer if you don't have one. Teachers may want to have hand sanitizer available in their rooms. Students who have flu symptoms at school should be isolated until they can be sent home. Of course, the best way to prevent the virus from spreading is vaccination.

If a child does have to miss school, parents should contact each of their child's teachers. In this way, the teacher knows what is going on and can better prepare. He or she may be able to provide packets of lessons or may be able to put those lessons online. Many schools have home teachers who can visit the student if he or she is out for an extended period of time. By doing these things, children can stay home, get well, and come back to school healthy without getting behind in their studies.

A good place to get more information is:

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Eat Breakfast Like a King

I've heard it said that you should eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a queen, and dinner like a pauper. Whether this is true or not, research shows that breakfast is the most important meal. It fuels your body for the upcoming day. As a teacher I encountered many students who skipped this meal, usually because they were running late for school. Often, they could not concentrate on their studies and certainly were not doing their best in school.

Breakfast doesn't have to be a big extravagant event. Something simple will do. Whole grain cereal, low-fat milk, and orange juice. A piece of whole grain toast with peanut butter and banana. Even leftover pizza from the night before will do, just add a piece of fruit. Try to include a lean protein, a complex carbohydrate, and a healthy fat.

The following websites will give you more information:

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Get Your Sleep

Adequate sleep is one of the most important aspects of good mental and physical health. When I was teaching, I saw so many students who just couldn't concentrate because they were sleep deprived. Many were able to keep up, but that's about it. They could have been much better students had they been getting proper sleep. Many actually fell asleep during class and of course, I had to wake them, fully realizing they probably needed the sleep.

I know what it's like to be sleep deprived. I slept very little in high school and college because I thought it cut into my study time. As a teacher, I probably averaged 3-4 hours of sleep a night during the week. There were papers to check, tests to write, lesson plans to prepare, forms and reports to write. None of this could be done during the school day because that time was spent teaching. I tried to catch up on sleep over the weekends, but that didn't help completely. Eventually, this took its toll on me. I was always tired and because I wasn't accomplishing what I thought I should (because of tiredness), I was stressed. The stress led to an increase in cortisol which led to an increase in weight. Over the years I eventually became obese, increasing the amount of tiredness, stress, cortisol, and weight gain. The weight gain led to fatty liver disease, sleep apnea, and diabetes. The sleep apnea meant I was getting even less sleep than I thought I was. More tiredness...more stresses...more weight...more health risks...more tiredness... It was a vicious cycle that no one should have to suffer. I did exercise some, but it was sporadic. I just didn't feel I could take the time to exercise because I had so much to do and I was so tired and nothing was getting accomplished as I thought it should.

Since retiring, the change has been amazing. It's taken two years for me to feel like my old self, but I think I'm almost there. With the time and ability to sleep, the stress is gone, the blood pressure is down, the diabetes is under control without medication, the liver enzymes are back to normal, and the weight is down by 60 pounds. I'm not completely healthy yet, but I'm getting there.

I relate all this, because it shows the importance of sleep. Sleep deprivation will take its toll on your health. Websites I've looked at say that school age children (6-10 years old) need 10-11 hours of sleep per night, adolescents (11-18 years old) need about 9.5 hours, and adults need an average of 8 hours per night.

Parents (and schools and employers) should make sure children are getting the proper amount of sleep. I've seen parents with small school age children in the grocery store at 11 pm. I've seen schools schedule activities on school nights that last until 11 or 12. I've seen employers work high school students until 10 pm four or five nights a week, fully knowing these students still have to go home and do homework. It's not fair to the child to deprive them of sleep and it's setting them up for a variety of health problems, as well as an inability to do their best in school.

Check out these websites for more information:

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

School Supplies

I remember when I was a child and mom took me to school registration. While there, we received a school supply list for the upcoming year. Mom then took me shopping. We bought new filler notebook paper, new pencils, and new crayons. I loved having new school supplies. Expensive items like 3-ring notebooks were saved from year to year. Paper left over from last year was used up during the summer. But the new items, especially the crayons, were the best. I wanted to use them right away, but was afraid the teacher would yell at me if she could see they had been used. I proudly took my new supplies to school and one of the first things the teacher did was have us take out our crayons. She then told us to take the paper off them. She then told us to break each crayon into three pieces. I was devastated. How could she have us take brand new crayons and make them look like old ones? I didn't understand.

I remember telling my mother about this and she convinced me it was okay. She said the crayons would still work and she explained why the teacher had us do this. I accepted the fact that maybe the teacher did actually know what she was doing, but it still hurt to break brand new crayons.

After all these years, I still remember this. New school supplies are a big deal. All children deserve to have the proper supplies for the new school year. Parents should make sure that they have provided their children with everything on the supply list. Every item has a purpose. The teachers, 99.9% of them anyway, do actually know what they're doing. High school students often have to wait until the first day of school to find what they will need, but most teachers will tell them on that first day and will expect them to have these supplies within a day or two.

There are amazing sales this time of year on school supplies, so read those flyers in the newspapers. Often you will find sales in the stores that aren't advertised, so get out there and shop around. If you can't afford school supplies, call your child's school or your church. Many collect donations of supplies and provide those to students who can't afford them.

Another thing that parents should provide for their children is a place at home to study. It should be a fairly quiet place away from distractions. It should have a work surface like a desk or table or even a TV tray. There should be good lighting. There should be pencils, pens, and paper. Other items that really help a child succeed include a ruler, colored pencils, file folders, 3-hole punch, stapler with staples, pencil sharpener, scissors, tape, glue, construction paper, dictionary, and calendar or student planner.

And one last thing parents should provide ... time for their children to study. Make sure your child has a time set aside every day for study. But more about that later.

Monday, August 17, 2009

School is Starting

The first day of school is exciting. It's exciting for everyone...students, teachers, and parents. One of the best ways to prepare for that first day is get back to a school-day routine a week or two before school starts. It's difficult to do, but it really helps. Students and teachers won't notice on the first day, but if not accustomed to the new routine, the new schedule will take its toll after a few days.