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.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

15 Safety Rules for Motorists Sharing the Road

The other day I wrote 30 Safety Rules for Bicyclists. One of the comments I received was that I should also write something for motorists. I think that is an excellent idea and will try to do my best.

Bicycles have as much right to be on the road as do other vehicles, so here are some rules for motorists as they apply to bicyclists:

1. Be patient when passing a bicyclist. Slow down and pass only when it is safe.

2. Allow at least three feet of clearance when passing a bicyclist. Change lanes if possible.

3. Expect that children on bikes will not follow rules, even if you think they should. They don't think the same way adults do. Even when they know the rules, they may not follow them.

4. Always look carefully for bicyclists before opening doors next to moving traffic.

5. Always look for bicyclists before making right turns. Do not pass bicyclists if you will be making a right turn immediately afterward. They could be traveling straight through.

6. When making left turns, be careful to not cut off bicyclists also making left turns from that lane.

7. When making left turns, do not turn in front of bicycles coming toward you from the opposite direction. They have the right of way, just as a motorized vehicle would.

8. Bicyclists are extremely difficult to see at and after dusk. They should have lights and reflectors, but sometimes they don't.

9. Remember that bicycles are vehicles and they belong on the road. Treat them with the respect that you would any other vehicle.

10. Bicyclists need room to get around potholes, sewer grates, manhole covers, cracks in the pavement, and other hazards. Give them some space.

11. Don't honk your horn when approaching a bicyclist. It could surprise or frighten them and cause them to crash.

12. Be extra cautious around bicycles in bad weather conditions. Slippery roads are much worse for bicyclists than for motorists.

13. Remember that bicycles are less visible, quieter, and don't have a crumple zone around them. Always be on the lookout for them.

14. It can be difficult to judge the speed of a bicycle. While they're usually slower that regular traffic, some can be traveling 25-30 mph (or faster).

15. In some locales if a bicycle cannot be passed safely, it cannot legally be passed. These laws do permit passing of a slow moving vehicle in a no passing zone if it is safe.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Computer Problems

I have been having computer problems all morning. At first, the web browser I usually use wouldn't run. So I restarted the program, then restarted the computer. No luck. I did this several times. Nothing.

Now, I know it's an old computer, but it worked fine yesterday. So I finally uninstalled the web browser, downloaded it again, and reinstalled it. I had to use a different web browser to do this; one that I don't like nearly as well as the one I reinstalled.

Well, it must be Friday the 13th or something, because reinstalling did not help. In fact, it made it worse. In fact, I'm typing this from a whole different computer because the other one is currently shut down. I'll tackle it's repairs later this evening, after my feelings of frustration have subsided.

The problem is, I have a newsletter I'm supposed to write. Most of it's done, but it's on the computer that's shut down.

This started me thinking about all the technology that teachers are using. What if the teacher has bookmarks on Delicious for the students? What if the assignment is something to do with Twitter or Facebook? What if the students need to research a topic on YouTube or Wikipedia or the Internet?

And what if the student has a computer that crashes like mine did today? That student may be able to make repairs, but maybe not. That student may be able to go to a friend's house to use his or her computer or may be able to use one at the local library. But what if they can't?

In this case, all the student can do is make excuses to the teacher. The student may be able to write some of the assignment on paper, but if research is involved, that won't work.

I think teachers must be very aware that these kinds of happenings will occur. It would probably be a good idea for all teachers to have alternative assignments ready or contingency plans for students who have computer problems. The student will be frustrated enough. He or she will not need a teacher who gets upset with them or marks them down for this. The teacher needs to have some compassion and patience for a student in such a situation, provided the student is sincere and is truly having computer problems.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

30 Safety Rules for Bicyclists

I probably should be writing this in the spring when people are more likely to be riding their bicycles. However, there seems to be more and more people riding bikes at all times of the year and some of them are living life dangerously.

Monday, I was driving home from the grocery store and I saw a woman on a bicycle. At first I thought it was one of my neighbors, but soon realized it was a stranger. I then noticed she was all over the road. As I got closer, I saw the problem. She was talking on a cell phone.

At first I laughed, then realized what a problem this could be. I actually couldn't believe that she would continue riding when all she had to do was pull over to the curb to continue her conversation.

This is just one case of dangerous activities I've witnessed by people on bicycles. Usually it's kids riding all over the road, not paying attention. Sometimes its groups of kids riding side by side. Occasionally, it's someone riding at night without lights or even reflectors.

So here are some suggestions for riding bicycles safely. Some are laws, but laws can vary city by city, so you should learn the ones for your area.

1. Wear a helmet.

2. Travel in the same direction as other traffic.

3. Ride on the right side of the road (be careful of the curb).

4. Signal your turns. Left arm straight out for a left turn. Left arm bent and up for a right turn. Left arm bent and down for a stop.

5. Keep your eyes on the road to be aware of hazards in the road such as gravel, sewer grates, manhole covers, potholes, and cracks in the pavement.

6. Keep a safe distance from parked vehicles (they could pull out or open a door).

7. Obey all traffic signs.

8. Ride in single file.

9. Do not ride on sidewalks.

10. When making left turns, use the left turn lane if one is available. If possible, use breaks in the traffic to make difficult maneuvers.

11. Keep your bicycle maintained.

12. Use a white headlamp and a red rear reflector. Extra blinking lights can help you be better seen by other motorists.

13. Use a rack for carrying items.

14. It's a good idea to carry a basic tool kit.

15. Wear bright colors during the day and light colored clothing at night. Reflective clothing helps.

16. Cross railroad tracks at a right angle.

17. Do not wear headphones on both ears.

18. A rear view mirror is an excellent idea.

19. Be extremely cautious when riding through intersections. Sometimes it might be best to cross intersections as a pedestrian and walk your bike across.

20. Keep your hands on the handlebars, except when signaling.

21. Yield to pedestrians. They have the right of way.

22. The closer you are to the speed of traffic, the further you can ride out in the road.

23. Always ride one to a bike.

24. Stop for school buses (the same as other traffic).

25. Be careful of wet roadways; they can be slippery (this includes roads that may be damp from dew in the morning).

26. Your bicycle should have a warning device such as a bell or horn.

27. It is recommended that children under 10 years of age ride off the road.

28. It is recommended that children never ride at or after dusk.

29. Wear appropriate clothing and shoes. Clothes should be comfortable and not so loose as to get caught in gears. Shoes should not be slippery.

30. Avoid standing on the pedals. You could crash if the chain would skip.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Grades For Money?

Let me start today by first saying "thank you" to all the veterans out there. We appreciate all you have done and all you do.

Now on to the news item that shocked me today. I was watching the news and there was an article about a middle school in North Carolina that was offering students points on their grades in exchange for $20. It was meant to be a fundraiser, so it wasn't like they were actually selling grades, but that's certainly the impression it made.

I was appalled. What a horrible message to send to the students, even though I'm sure they were not as upset as I was. Whatever happened to ethics?

Just as I was ready to write, I checked online and discovered that others must have felt the same way I did. The school has decided against the activity.

I'm so glad to hear that. I really think an old-fashioned bake sale or car wash is a much better idea.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Questions? ~ Ask Them!

One of the biggest problems I had with students was their hesitancy to ask questions. Even when I knew they weren't understanding the material, they just wouldn't ask for help.

Now, I understand shyness. I was one of those students who always sat in the back of the room. I would have been more comfortable sitting under the desk, rather than in it. But what I was experiencing with students was not shyness. There were only a couple in each class that I would say were truly shy. The others just didn't ask.

I know that a few may have been so lost that they didn't even know what to ask. Others may have felt they understood the material well enough when they didn't. Others may have been embarrassed to ask questions in front of the rest of the class.

So, I started asking the questions to see if students understood the lessons. If they could answer, we moved on. If not, we stayed on the topic a little longer. This helped, but there were still questions they had that I did not anticipate, and so those questions were never asked and often not answered.

One of the things that was so frustrating was to ask the class over and over if there were any questions. There wouldn't be any. I'd ask again. There wouldn't be any. Then I'd give the assignment and within seconds, the hands would go up. I realized they all wanted individual attention. They didn't want to ask in front of the class, even though they all had the same question.

Giving individual attention is a wonderful thing, and I would give it as much as I could, but when there is one teacher and up to 35 students, individual attention is difficult. After the second or third student with raised hands asked the same question, I would go back to the front of the class, and explain it again.

So my advice to students is "Ask your questions. Don't be afraid to ask. If you have a question about a problem, chances are many of the other students have the same question. The teacher isn't always going to be able to get around to you individually. It's best for all, students and teacher, if you will please ask your questions." Your teachers and fellow classmates will be glad you did.

Monday, November 9, 2009

20 Years Ago Today

I usually have a pretty good memory for events that have happened during my lifetime. But when they announced that today is the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, I was surprised that I couldn't remember much about it. I vaguely remember it happening and what a great thing it was, but that's it.

So what was I doing twenty years ago that would cause me to not remember such an historic event? It finally came to me. I was teaching all day, math in the morning and science in the afternoon. It was my first year teaching science and I would go to the science room during the first class period, which was my planning time. I would observe the other science teacher teaching the material, so that I could teach the same things during the afternoon. This meant that all my other planning had to be done after school and on weekends. I was really, really busy and fairly stressed.

But there had to be more than this to cause my memory lapse. Then I remembered that this was also the semester I was doing research for my master's thesis. I was doing a study to see if the addition of special education students in the regular classroom affected the achievement of the regular students. I was busy conducting the study, calculating statistics, writing reports, corresponding with my advisor, and driving 100 miles several times a week (after I'd taught all day) to the university to do research in the library.

Actually, now that I think about it, I'm surprised I remember anything about events that were occurring outside my own little world. I was totally consumed with what I was doing at my job and with my thesis.

Then I started thinking about some of the students I taught over the years. So many of them had lives that totally consumed them. Some dealt with overwhelming circumstances in their lives like sick parents, drug abuse, homelessness, criminal activity, physical abuse, neglect, domestic assault, and their own terminal diseases. Thank goodness there were not many of these students, but it's little wonder they had trouble learning. And yet, we expected them to perform as well as the students without these problems.

If I don't remember something as significant as the fall of the Berlin Wall because I was dealing with mild stresses in my life, is it any wonder that students with such staggering obstacles in their lives should have trouble remembering their studies?

I think we need to keep this in mind when dealing with students. Most of the time, we don't know what's happening in their lives. We often think they're not paying attention, when their attention could just be focused on their own survival.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Peace Dot

It's a beautiful sunny Sunday in November. The temperature is 75 degrees. It's a perfect day to think about peace.

I've been reading about Peace Dot, sponsored by Stanford University's Persuasive Technology Lab. It's purpose is to set up a group of organizations who are leading the way toward global peace. It's key values include:

The belief that peace is possible
Meeting basic needs

They believe that by working together, individuals and organizations can progress toward a goal of world peace in 30 years. They believe the time is right.

For more information visit:

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Fractions ~ 10 Reasons We Need Them

As a math teacher, I found fractions were a constant source of difficulty for students. However, they are extremely important. Whether adding fractions, changing them to decimals or percents, or finding equivalent fractions, the procedures must be learned. Here are the reasons why:

1. Not everything comes in wholes. The minute you cut something in half, you're dealing with a fraction. They can't be avoided.

2. When you eat half of a sausage pizza and then eat one-fourth of a pepperoni pizza, you've eaten three-fourths of a pizza. You have to add fractions. You need a common denominator.

3. Some decimals are fractions.  Unfortunately, they are not as accurate as fractions. If you share one-third of nine apples, you are sharing three apples. If you try to convert one-third to a decimal you get 0.3333333333... times 9 which will give you 2.999999.... apples. It just doesn't work as well.

4. If half of your pizza is covered with mushrooms and you eat half of that half, you've eaten one-fourth of the whole pizza. That's multiplying fractions (1/2 times 1/2).

5. If you have 6 pizzas and you divide them into three groups, you would have 2 pizzas in each group. That's regular division. But if you have 6 pizzas and you cut each into thirds, then you have 18 parts. That's division with fractions (6 divided by 1/3).

6. All percents are fractions with denominators of 100. Fifty percent is 50/100 which is 1/2. You can't use percents without using fractions.

7. Many of the above calculations can be done with a calculator that has a fraction function. But once you get to algebra, you need to add fractions that have variables. You can't add 2a/3b+4c/5d on a calculator.

8. If one person can paint a room in three hours and a second person can paint the same room in two hours, how long will it take them if they work together. This problem requires an algebraic knowledge of fractions. (It should take 1 hour and 12 minutes if they work together).

9. Reciprocals deal with fractions. In anything dealing with waves (trigonometry, music, light, sound, electricity, radio, microwave, x-rays, etc.) the frequency (Hz or hertz or cycles per second) and the period (time to complete one cycle or seconds per cycle) are reciprocals of each other.

10. Basic arithmetic (this includes fractions) is the foundation of grade school mathematics leading to algebra. Algebra is the foundation of high school mathematics leading to calculus. Calculus is the foundation of all higher level mathematics including topics such as Linear Algebra, Topology, Cryptology, Differential Equations, Function Theory, Number Theory, Chaos Theory, and Probability. These are the courses that lead to careers in Engineering, Medicine, Business, Meteorology, Education, Physics, Actuarial Sciences, and Cryptography, to mention a few. And to think, it all goes back to the simple fraction.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Are We Smarter After 40 Years?

Sesame Street is celebrating its 40th anniversary. When it first came to television, I remember thinking how much I would have enjoyed the show and how much I would have learned from it when I was a kid. It was 1969 and I was too old for Sesame Street, but too young for Woodstock. I was shocked by the Manson murders, Vietnam, and Chappaquiddick. I was thrilled with the moon landing and my first calculator. My biggest goal in life was to graduate from high school and move on to college.

When I think of the technological advancements in the past 40 years, I'm completely overwhelmed. From books to educational toys to tutoring software, from cassettes to 8-tracks to CDs to DVDs to Blu-Ray, from CRT to plasma to LCD, from simple calculators to advanced computers, from chalkboards to white boards to smart boards, from writing notes in class to sending IMs on iPhones and Blackberrys and Twitter and Facebook, from encyclopedias to the Internet...the list goes on and on.

But have all these advancements made kids smarter? Are they scoring better on exams? Do they know more that we did 40 years ago? Would I be smarter today if I had watched Sesame Street when I was a kid?

Students are much more knowledgeable about technology, but do they read better? Is their reading comprehension improved? Can they solve math problems better? Do they have a better understanding of science and history and their implications for the future? Can they draw conclusions and make inferences from the knowledge they have?

In my experience, I would have to answer "no." Often times I've felt all the technology was more of a distraction than a learning tool, that it provided more entertainment than value.

I'd be the first to say that technology and entertainment have great potential for the advancement of learning. Children need to learn and if these things help and make it more fun, all the better. I just question whether it's really helping them. I don't know. Will they be able to solve the problems that lie ahead in medicine, transportation, the environment, habitat, and communications? Will they be the great thinkers and innovators or will they be content to use their knowledge of technology to run the cash register at the local fast food restaurant?

I don't know. I worry that it may all be too overwhelming for students and teachers. What do you think?

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Solutions For Classroom Interruptions

I'm sorry we were so rudely interrupted yesterday during my blog post. I was answering the question, "What can we do about interruptions?" I said that complaining only helps temporarily, if at all. And I said that you just have to accept that you're going to be interrupted and to roll with it.

But are there other options? I think there may be a few.

1. Phone calls during classroom instruction:
  • Check the caller ID. If it's important, answer it. If not, don't.
  • Turn the ringer down, so that it doesn't disturb the students.
  • Don't answer it. Let it go to voice mail or an answering machine.
  • Answer it, tell them you're busy, and that you'll call them back when you have time. You can also leave this as your message on voice mail.
2. Colleagues or students at your door during classroom time:
  • Post a notice on the door "We Are Learning. Please Do Not Disturb."
  • Leave a message box by the door. Non-emergency notes should be placed here. Just remember to hand them out before class is over.
  • Quietly ask them what they need. If it can wait until later, tell them that you'll talk to them about it during lunch or after class or after school.
3. Student disruptions during class:
  • Keep your lessons interesting so that students will be less likely to be distracted.
  • Have rules for students being out of their seats, sharpening pencils, listening to intercoms, etc.
  • Keep extra supplies on hand for students who do not have their books, pencils, or paper.
4. Students leaving the room:
  • Again, keep lessons interesting so that students will not want to leave.
  • Have procedures for students using the restroom, going to the clinic, going to another classroom, going to the library, students arriving early or late, getting drinks, going to assemblies, etc.
5. Fire drills, storm drills, and lock down procedures:
  • Your school should have a plan in place for these kinds of interruptions. Know it and follow it.
6. Noisy interruptions:
  • Ask that intercom announcements be given at the beginning or end of class periods.
  • Let teachers around you know when you are giving a test so that they can be a little more quiet.
  • If you're going to be teaching a noisy lesson, let teachers around you know. They may ask that you do the lesson another day if they're giving a test.
  • If there is noise in the halls, you may be able to ignore it. However, there may be an emergency situation that you will need to handle.
7. After school interruptions when you're trying to finish up the day:
  • Often times other teachers, who never seem to have anything to do, want to take up your time. They may want to talk about lessons or they may just want to complain. Either way, you don't get your work done.
  • You can close your door, but don't do this if there are students in your room.
  • Find another place to work like the lunch room or library.
  • Pack up early and take your work home with you.
  • Pack up early and come in early the next morning.
There will always be interruptions, but if you plan carefully and follow these suggestions, you may be able to keep them to a minimum. They can be a huge source of stress and dissatisfaction if you don't.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Excuse Me, But...

I used to have an old poster on my wall that read "I hate it when someone talks while I'm interrupting."

I thought of this poster last week. I was talking to a friend when another person came up to us and said, "I hate to interrupt, but..." And then she kept on talking. I listened for a while, to see what was so important, but didn't hear anything of interest or importance. I just walked away. Did she really hate to interrupt? I don't think so. I think she was just rude and didn't even know it.

It seems like there are constant interruptions during the day. The minute I sit down to a meal, there's a phone call. If I start to type on the computer, someone will knock on the door. If I sit down to read a chapter in a book, dozens of things suddenly need to be done around the house.

Interruptions keep you from getting your work done. When I was teaching, there were constant interruptions during the school day. There were phone calls from parents during class. An unscheduled assembly was suddenly scheduled. Messages were hand-delivered almost every hour. Announcements came over the central speaker systems at the worst times (like during a test).

Interruptions are annoying and irritating and I hate them, but what can you do about them? Complaining doesn't help. It may have some temporary effect, but within a short time, the interruptions will start again.

So what can you do? I've learned that you just have to accept the fact that you're going to be interrupted and roll with it. Oh, wait, excuse me. I have a phone call......

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Today is Election Day. Vote!

Imagine that you, as an American citizen, didn't have the right to vote. Imagine that your government officials were selected by someone else or that they appointed themselves to those positions. Imagine, instead, that you have the right to vote, but are kept from voting by some one or some group.

In either situation, you would be outraged.
Wars have been fought so that you have a right to vote and so that you can vote without threats or repercussions. People have died in those wars. People are still dying so that we can have the freedoms we enjoy.

Yet many citizens do not vote, especially in off-year elections. Granted, the candidates are local, likely running for mayor or city council. And yet, when you think about it, these are the officials that probably effect your life more on a day to day basis than all those officials in Washington, D.C. These are the people who make decisions about your streets, your property, your utilities, your parks, your businesses, and your public safety.

So VOTE! Be a responsible citizen. If you're too young to vote, make sure your parents and teachers get to the polls. You wouldn't like it if someone told you that you couldn't or shouldn't or didn't have to vote, so don't tell it to yourself.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Get Your Sleep - Part 2

I've written about the importance of sleep before, but there is new research linking sleep-deprivation to Alzheimer's disease. In the October 24, 2009 issue of "Science News," it's reported that not getting enough sleep could lead to plaques in the brain which lead to the death of neurons and to symptoms of Alzheimer's.

Lack of sleep may also lead to:
  • Increased hunger
  • Insulin resistance
  • Higher risk of Type 2 diabetes
  • Increased obesity
  • Higher risk of heart disease
  • Increased inflammation
  • Greater chance for hardening of the arteries
  • Greater chance for rheumatoid arthritis
  • Decreased reaction time and accuracy
  • Immune system impairment
  • Declines in memory
  • Decline in judgment
  • Brain chemical changes that can lead to depression
  • Higher risk of metabolic syndrome
  • Increase in irritability, impatience,and moodiness
  • Higher risk for hypertension
  • Greater risk for accidents and mistakes
  • Increased use or abuse of alcohol, tobacco, and drugs

There are techniques you can use to combat sleep problems:
  • Keep a regular schedule
  • Avoid caffeine four to six hours before bed
  • Avoid alcohol, tobacco, and heavy meals before sleep
  • Get regular exercise
  • Keep your bedroom dark, quiet, and cool

Sleep is important, and while scientists can't fully explain how it works to restore the body and brain, they know that it does. So get your 7 to 8 hours a night. Keep in mind that younger children need more. Children 3-6 years of age should get 11-12 hours of sleep. Those aged 7-12 should sleep 10-11 hours each night. And 12-18 year-olds should be sleeping 8-9.5 hours a night.

Science News, October 24, 2009, pp. 11, 16-32

Sunday, November 1, 2009

21 Ways To Spend Your Extra Hour

It's November 1 and daylight savings time has ended. Today we get an extra hour to:

1. take a walk in the park

2. read the next few chapters in your favorite book

3. watch half of your favorite movie

4. meditate

5. rake leaves

6. talk to your best friend

7. call someone you haven't talked to for a while

8. paint the hallway

9. do yoga

10. play 20 of your favorite songs

11. dance the hour away

12. make a new recipe you haven't had time for

13. clean off your desk

14. get a massage

15. play a game with the family

16. catch up on homework or bills or filing

17. update your personal information on Facebook

18. write a blog post

19. play sports - football, basketball, tennis, bowling

20. be grateful for the things in your life

21. sleep (everyone's favorite)