Teachers Rock!

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Brain Books

I am an information junkie. I admit it. I get hooked on a topic and research and read all I can on it for a few months. Then, I let it be for a bit and let it all settle until I can see how best to apply the information.

I am reading a few good books this summer, so I thought I’d share.

I am fascinated by the human brain and it’s plasticity. I just finished reading The Brain That Changes Itself by Norman Doidge. There are so many implications for education and learning in general. I am still wrapping my head around it all. 

I am starting The Talent Code, a different kind of book but still brain based. I have two more books lined up for the summer- Reflexes, Learning and Behavior by Sally Goddard and Endangered Minds by Jane Healy. We’ll see if I get to them all before the new school year’s flood of work starts to roll in.

Happy Reading-


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Summer Reading

Our family goes to the library once a week in the summer. My kids each got their own library card when they learned how to read (and not before). It’s a right of passage in our family. Becoming a reader is something worth celebrating.

When I was little, my mother always told me to pick a few books, and then pick a random one. I would just close my eyes and pull one off the shelf. Over the years, I have picked with some great books I never would have chosen on my own (and a few “not worth finishing” books).

One year, my kids started summer with a gift cards to the local book store. Going shopping for books of their own. Looking for the next great read. Yipee!! This year, they are getting their gift cards halfway through summer. Just about the time everyone is getting a little bored.   :D

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Great Teachers and “The Magic Touch”

Great teachers have what I call “The Magic Touch.” The Magic Touch is that special ability to connect with and inspire kids to willingly work their hardest, put out extra effort, and just plain believe in themselves. Students in these teachers’ classes tend to make more growth in that year than ever before. 

Here are some qualities that make up this phenomena.

Great Teachers:

  • care about and build relationships with all of their students. - Care about their students, take the time to learn who they are. Students in these classrooms know who their teacher is and know their teacher cares about them personally.
  • are never done.- Always tweaking, improving, improvising and creating new ways to reach their students. Can you say re-evaluate?
  • are learners themselves.- Are always looking to learn something from everyone. Read, take classes, go to workshops, connect and share with other educators,….
  • laugh and smile. - These teachers are happy people most of the time.
  • mess up. - When students don’t do well, these are the teachers that take some responsibility and try another tactic to re-teach. They are more afraid of never having tried than they are of having tried and failed. These are the teachers that gracefully accept their mistakes and use them to better themselves.
  • ask for help. - These are the teachers that don’t know it all and aren’t afraid to admit it.
  • are relentless. - These are the teachers that don’t accept labels or failure as final. They just look for new ways to address the issues. If the usual way doesn’t work, they try something different.
  • use challenging, specific and positive language. - I want you to really try to stretch yourself with this assignment. Look how you’ve grown! In the past, you… Now, you,…… That’s a good start. Now, let’s take it a step further this time to….. What can you do to move yourself forward in this situation? How can you use this to change for the better?
  • love mistakes. - Celebrate mistakes as teaching moments, help students learn from their mistakes, use mistakes to help move students forward.
  • mix it up. - Move, sing, dance, joke, act silly, surprise, keep kids on their toes, change how they do things, …..
  • have high expectations and plans to go with them. - Long-term goals for not only their students but for themselves as well.
  • have a life. - Enjoy life, are joyful, socialize, have hobbies, take care of themselves….

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Social Skills at School

My youngest started kindergarten this year and 4 days into it, she had the “those kids are driving me crazy” blues. I’m so sad for her. It’s such a hard lesson to learn. The older siblings sat her down the other night and had a chat with her about how to deal with the babies of the class. I wish, for her sake, it wasn’t necessary. Unfortunately, there are always going to be those people in life. They are the kids and adults no one wants to work with because they’re exhausting and can’t be depended on. To make matters worse, those in charge often take their frustration out on the whole group which creates resentment and fear. Everyone loses. 

So, what can be done about it?! A lot! Social skills and personal responsibility are not something to compromise on. It is possible to change the behavior of the students in your class. However, you need to make an honest assessment of where the issues are before you begin (include yourself). Create a rubric and set goals for each student, yourself and for the class. Talk about and work toward the goals daily. Be a team. Hold each other accountable. Kids are great at this, so take advantage of it. Assess progress regularly and communicate that to each student and their families.

People tend to live up to the expectations set for them if you are honest, clear and consistent about it. Set the bar high. Create the right environment to nurture the virtues you want to see. It is absolutely worth your time to character build throughout the year. It’s one of the best investments you can make.

A few basics to get you started…

Mind your manners- Insist on please and thank you and use them yourself.

Watch your tone- It’s not always what you say, it’s how you say it. Be respectful.

Listen more than you talk- Create a safe place for kids to speak up. Really listen and teach your students how to listen. People matter. 

Personal responsibility is empowering- Have your students make conscience decisions each day about how they are going to live their lives and who they are going to be. 

Forgiveness is essential- Take time to forgive. Forgiveness is about releasing yourself from the situation. It’s not really about those you are forgiving. Forgive so you can be free, move on in life and rise above it all. Without it, you are stuck.

Never compromise on character. As we say in my house- Life is hard. Get over it and behave yourself.


Filed under classroom management personal responsibility school social skills

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Wider Spacing and Dyslexia

A new study shows that wider letter spacing helps dyslexic children read faster and more accurately. A free app (DYS) is available for anyone who wants to test it out and even share their results with the study.

One of my sons has dyslexia, so we tested the app out. It works as a quick test. The app is not something you would use more than once per individual. Interestingly enough, spacing definitely made a difference for my son. We will see what others have to say.


Filed under dyslexia reading K12 Education

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Summer Slide

The Summer Slide strikes horror in our educator hearts. All year we work to advance kids, improve their skills and move them forward in their learning. And then, summer hits!

The problem is, summer break is much needed. That’s why it’s so hard to keep up the learning in the summer. Even in my own family. Some years we do really well and other years, not so much.

I try to keep in mind what works for me and my own kids when talking to teachers and parents about preventing Summer Slide. As I look back on summers past, I realize the summers we did well were the summers we weren’t focused on learning. We just went for being creative, trying new things and having the most fun possible.

Assigning daily work never works for us. And it’s not fun for anyone. My kids hate classes and workshops. They want a break. Something different. I think that’s why summer homework is such a struggle. Kids either don’t do it or just check the box. It’s not internalized. And to be honest, I’m not invested in it. I’m all about vacations and taking a break. So, I try something new each year. This year, I’m sending the kids out with composition books and templates for field journals, art sketchbooks, inventors lab notebooks, explorers journals, or whatever sparks each of them. I packed a few supplies for their travels- pocket field guides for local animal tracks and scat, a magnifying glass, a camera, rulers, sketch books, string, baggies for samples, colored pencils, …) We’re going for a Lewis and Clarke kind of summer.

In addition, each summer I try to get each of the kids involved in reading a book series they love so they just read until they finish the series. When there just isn’t a good series, we look for an author they have loved and read as many books by that author as we can. For my non fiction lover, we pick a topic or two and have at it- for oceans we might do sea life, explorers, oceans of the world, pirates, oceanography, underwater photography, Bermuda Triangle, beaches, tide pools,… The kids might read a lot one day to get through a great part or finish a book and then not read for several days or even a week. Then, I start the next book with them in the evening and forbid them from taking it to bed because they will be ahead of me. And they forbid me to take it when they are sleeping because then I’ll be ahead of them. Before we know it, we’re all hooked again. And before too long, we are all cheating and sneaking books and reading ahead because we have to know what happens next. The reading ebbs and flows. We don’t have a set schedule or amount of time we have to read each day. If one of the kids is having trouble finding a book they love, I just pick a bunch of possibilities and read to them and with them until we hit the jackpot. The process might be quick, but sometimes takes a bit. It’s OK. I’m going for lifelong learner, reader for the love of reading. We have all the time in the world. Summer is the perfect time to explore different types of books and stories, to find something new. We take our time. Reading is supposed to be fun. If it’s not, we’re doing it wrong. (Timers and schedules are forbidden in our house when it comes to reading.)

For math facts, we love Numbers League. It’s a great card game and now there’s an iPad app too! Very fun for the whole family. Take it with you everywhere and play while you wait or ride in the car. We also play board games with double cards or double dice so you have to add, subtract, or multiply. Negative numbers send you backward. (We play two different ways. Select before beginning the game. 1. Calculated Play- Choose the most beneficial operation after rolling or drawing  or  2. Chance Play- Decide/announce your operation before you draw or roll).

For a good brain workout, we like Equate, Tantrix and Rush Hour as great thinking games. We do sudoku, memory games, puzzles, riddles and mind teasers, cross words, mazes, puzzles, travel chess and travel scrabble all in the car. My older kids play a lot of these games on their phones when we have a bit of a drive (ie.  trixel, words with friends, chess with friends, mensa brain test, braingle, sudoku magic …) Anything to keep our brains flexible.

I also love free tours, local novelties and historic places. My older kids roll their eyes at me, but they go and have a good time. We check out everything from historic homes to farms to factories to mini museums to walking tours of various sites in and around our area. Check online, call around and ask. I’m always surprised what is available for free or minimal cost in most cities. The more off the beaten path the better. We always walk away smarter and often have a great story to tell as well. That’s a home run in my book.

Wishing you a slide free summer,


Filed under summer slide school vacation reading math edchat K12 education field science science

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May is Reading Month

Share-a-Story Month and Get Caught Reading Month……

Just a few ideas. I’ll try not to get carried away. Here goes…

1. Each chapter in The Exquisite Corpse was written by a different author. The story can no longer be read online. However, the book can be purchased on Read it together, then, do your own story in the round as a class or in groups (start with the same topic, first paragraph or chapter).

2.  Reading Rocket’s writing contest is over, but the prompts are still available and so worth the time. Scroll down to find the prompts. Don’t forget to check out the winners’ videos for inspiration! Next, write, film and share your story.

3. Go to the Delaware Art Museum’s site and use the art to tell a story or enjoy a story someone else told about a work of art.

4. Try a few stories online.
Thinkport Videos 
Stories from the Screen Actors Guild 
Tumblebooks     Go to tumblebook library link on the right.
BookFlix  Do a free trial of Scholastic’s BookFlix 

5. Take an eReader for a spin. Many people have them, invite parents to come in and demo their eReaders for the class. Do some research ahead of time and have questions ready. Then, compare and contrast all of the eReaders presented. How does a story on an eReader compare to the same story read in a traditional book? What features does each eReader have? What are their advantages/disadvantages? What do you wish they did or did better…. Then write an article and share it with your school, the local news, an online magazine, or share it here. I might even publish your findings on the blog as a guest entry.

6. Try out a few reading apps and stories. Here’s a couple to get you started.
Apps for Creating:
Storylines  free
Puppet Pals hd   free
Toontastic  free
Book Creator  $4.99

Harold and the Purple Crayon- $$
Sylvesters Band- $$
The Magic Schoolbus:Oceans- $$
The Three Litle Pigs and the Secrets of a Pop-Up Book-  $$
If Poems- $$

7. Have a read-a-thon. Plan one day in your school when everyone reads as much as they can for a day, half a day, or even an hour. Then, send home pledge forms- pledge by the time read, the books read, the pages read or the words read. Bring in popcorn, water bottles, pillows and have at it! Read aloud, read silently, read jokes and plays and historical fiction. Read for the joy of reading.

Happy Reading!


Filed under stories reading creating kids K-12 language arts education homeschool

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Taking Back Recess

One of my sons came home from school last week and announced they had had indoor recess again. One of the worst possible things that can happen at school, in his opinion. The weather has been quite cold and the playground icy, so I was not surprised. What did surprise me though was his response when I asked him what the class did for recess that day. I guess I haven’t asked that question on an indoor recess day this year (and we’ve had quite a few). Shame on me for not paying better attention.

Our conversation went like this….

Interested Mother: What did you do for indoor recess today?

Adorable Son: We watched a movie.

Interested Mother: What were your other choices? And did you watch the movie or did you choose something else?

Adorable Son: We didn’t have a choice. We never do this year. We have to sit, be quiet and watch the movie.

Interested Mother: You did not have another choice? Excuse me?! (We have fought this battle before. And now it’s back. I hate it when that happens.) Notice: I didn’t even ask what movie. I don’t care. My children watch little TV or movies at home for a reason. I certainly don’t need them watching at school.

So now that my radar is on high, I turn to my youngest son and ask him what he did for recess.

Interested Mother: Funny Man, what did you do for recess today?

Funny Man: Well, if you had work to finish, you had to do that and if you didn’t then you had to watch a movie.

Interested Mother: Hmmmm. Do you always have to finish all of your work before going out to recess, even on a nice day?

Funny Man: Yes.

Interested Mother: Even if you were working hard, following all the rules and behaving yourself?

Funny Man: Yes.

I hate that. Send it home if the work really needs to be finished that day. But, don’t punish a hardworking child for being diligent in their work or a little slower worker than their peers.

Apparently, I have been very remiss this year.

So, I am on a mission to take back recess. I will call the teachers and do a little probing as to why the “movie only” scenario has reared its ugly head again. Then, I will offer to come up with some suggestions for appropriate physical activities in the classrooms and offer to organize a call for donation of games and toys to the classrooms. I will send an array of research on brain health, correlations between learning, memory and physical activity. I will also dig in my database to find grants for school programs that support brain health and physical activity in schools.

The human need for mental breaks and physical activity in learning speaks for itself once you read the research. It is a proven fact that lack of mental breaks, exercise and physical activity are directly related to poorer performance in school and a drop in mental acuity. That’s why our schools provide snacks, extra recess and lots of breaks when its standardized testing time. Students perform better.

Unfortunately, we forget that everyday learning requires the same mental breaks and physical activity, if not more, since 12+ years of schooling is a marathon, not a sprint. If we truly are going for mastery and full retention of material, then we need to provide the conditions that support that goal. And one of those conditions is regular physical activity and mental breaks. It can be as simple as 20 jumping jacks every hour or between subjects and then board games, drawing, or building toys for recess on an indoor day.

Now let me just say… I love most of my children’s schools. I love the principal at the elementary school and all of the teachers my children have had there. They are wonderful! They are also human and make mistakes at times. I am surprised that this is happening on the current principal’s watch. If anyone is an advocate for what is best for children, he is.

It just shows how easy it is to forget what we are all about. We must be diligent in reminding ourselves that what is best for kids always comes first. Even if that means doing something that is inconvenient or more work for the adults involved. What is best for kids must always be our first priority. The day that is no longer true for us is the day we need to find another job.


Filed under recess kids school brain health parenting