Friday, December 13, 2013

Constitution Videos

Last night I helped a student with an assignment to answer questions about amendments to the U.S. Constitution. Meanwhile, in my day job, one of our students wrote a post about Bill of Rights Day. So now I'm inspired to add online videos about the Constitution to the list of U.S. History Videos. (You can always get to this list by using the tab at the top of the screen.)

Here's a 1963 cartoon (dedicated to President Kennedy) about the Bill of Rights:

Friday, November 22, 2013

Education News: Poverty Hurts, Showing Up Helps

Two interesting education stories yesterday:
Neither point is all that surprising, really, if you think about it.
  • Poverty: Do you think children can learn well if they don't have good nutrition, health care, support, housing, stability, and pencils? Answer: no.
  • Attendance: Do you think kids who miss a lot of school might get behind, get discouraged, and drop out? Answer: Yes. The amazing thing here is how it was possible to turn it around in just a couple of years by adding caring adults who encouraged the kids and helped them when they had trouble with their work.

Fun Video Advertises Building Game for Girls

3 Girls Smash Gender Roles to Smithereens in Toy Company's Glorious Debut Ad: GoldieBlox flips Beastie Boys' 'Girls', Adfreak, Nov. 19, 2013.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Extracurricular Activities and College Applications

A lot of students have heard that extracurricular activities are important for college applications, but they might not know why, or what the admissions people are looking for. This month's Alaska Airlines Magazine has a very good article on the topic: Scott Driscoll, Extracurricular Activity. (The magazine's site uses Flash, so it will take a moment for the magazine to load. The bookmark should take you to the article, which starts on p. 155.)

The author is based in Seattle, so many of the students and admissions officers he interviewed are in the Northwest: WSU, Whitworth, UW, U of Oregon, Seattle U, Trinity Western University (Langley,

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Letters About Literature

Writing to an author (even an author who is no longer alive!) is a good way to explore how a book has affected you. Kids can also enter a contest with their letters.

The Washington State Library hosts Letters About Literature for students in grades 4-12.
Letter writers compete at three levels: Level 1 is grades 4-6; Level 2 is grades 7-8 and Level 3 is grades 9-12. State judges select the top letter writer in each level and the three winning letters advance to the national competition.
This year, entries for Grades 9-12 must be postmarked by Dec. 10, 2013. Entries from children in grades 4-8 must be postmarked by Jan. 10, 2014.

Whether or not students enter the contest, looking through previous year's winning entries might give tutors and students something to talk about. Have you read this book? Do you feel the same way about it as the letter writer? Is there a book that means a lot to you? How would you describe your feelings?

Here, cut and pasted from the website, are links to past winners:
From 2013:
  • Cora Tessaro, a fifth grade student at Daniel Bagley Elementary School in Seattle, is the Level 1 state champion.  She won $125 from the State Library.  Cora wrote her letter to Eric Schlosser about his book Chew on This.
  • Julia Batson, a seventh grade student at Woodward Middle School on Bainbridge Island, is the Level 2 state champion.  She won $125 from the State Library.  Julia wrote her letter to Randa Abdel-Fattah about her book Ten Things I Hate About Me.
  • Jordyn Tonkinson, a ninth grade student at Hockinson High School in Brush Prairie, is the Level 3 state champion.  She won $125 from the State Library.  Jordyn wrote her letter to Garth Stein about his book The Art of Racing in the Rain.
From 2012:
  • Clare Doran, a sixth grade student at The Bush School in Seattle, is the Level 1 state champion and one of four national honor award winners. She won $125 from the State Library, a $150 gift card from Target, and a $1000 Reading Promotion grant which Clare has given to the Montlake Elementary Scho0l Library in Seattle.  Clare wrote her letter to Jamie Ford about his book Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet.
  • Samantha Smith, an eighth grade student at Blue Heron Middle School in Port Townsend, is the Level 2 state champion and one of four national honor award winners.  She won $125 from the State Library, a $150 gift card from Target, and a $1000 Reading Promotion grant which Samantha has given to the Blue Heron Middle School Library.  Samantha wrote her letter to Julie Anne Peters about her book Keeping You a Secret.
  • Oliver Reed III, a tenth grader at North Central High School in Spokane, is the Level 3 state champion and one of four national honor award winners.  He won $125 from the State Library, a $150 gift card from Target, and a $1000 Reading Promotion grant which Oliver has given the North Central High School Library.  Oliver wrote his letter to William Ernest Henley about his poem “Invictus”.
From 2011:
  • McKenna Conlin, a sixth grader at Benjamin Franklin Elementary School in Kirkland, is the Level 1 champion. She won $125 from the State Library and a $50 gift card from Target. McKenna wrote her letter to Sherman Alexie about his book The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian
  • Abby Bateman, a seventh grader at Snoqualmie Middle School in Snoqualmie, is the Level 2 state champion and one of four national honor award winners. She won $125 from the State Library, a $150 gift card from Target, and a $1,000 Reading Promotion grant which Abby has given to the Mount Si High School Library. Abby wrote her letter to Katherine Paterson about her book Bridge to Terabithia
  • John Kang, an eleventh grader at Lakeside School in Seattle, is the Level 3 champion. John won $125 from the State Library and a $50 gift card from Target. John wrote his letter to Mary Paik Lee about her book Quiet Odyssey: A Pioneer Korean Woman in America.
From 2010:
  • Reagan Nelson, a 6th grader at Hutton Elementary School in Spokane, has been selected as the state champion and one of two national award winners at Level I. . . . She wins $150 from the Washington State Library, a $550 dollar gift card from Target, and a $10,000 grant for Hutton Elementary School library. Reagan wrote her letter to Laura Ingalls Wilder about her book Little House on the Prairie.
  • Stephen Hitchcock, an 8th grader at Overlake School in Redmond, has been selected as the state champion and one of four national honor award winners at Level II. . . . He wins $150 from the Washington State Library, a $150 dollar gift card from Target, and a $1,000 grant for The Overlake School library. Stephen wrote his letter to Jules Verne about his book Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea
  • Tyler Christensen, a 12th grader at Mount Si High School in Snoqualmie, is the Level III state champion. Tyler will receive his award of $150 from the Washington State Library, and a $50 gift card from Target at the awards ceremony in Olympia in May. Tyler wrote his letter to Brian Greene about his book The Elegant Universe.
And the website has more, going back to 2006.

The national program website is here. And you can read lots of great letters there too. A couple of weeks ago, I visited the site with a student and saw this great letter by Alessandra Selassie, a sixth-grade girl who explained how Laura Ingalls Wilder's books helped her understand her father's childhood in Eritrea. Pretty cool!

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Earth Science Week: PBS Online Videos

All of the following is copied and pasted from an email message I received because I once registered for PBS LearningMedia. It's a cool resource.

PBS Learning Media logo

PBS LearningMedia is a FREE digital media content library designed to support curriculum-based teaching and learning from PreK through 12th grade. Register today to explore over 30,000 resources from PBS and trusted media partners like NPR, BBC, and Latino Public Broadcasting.

In recognition of Earth Science Week (October 13-19), invite your students to investigate the relationship between the land, ocean, and the atmosphere. Use this special collection to illustrate key concepts with student-friendly visualizations and vivid imagery:

Rock Cycle Animation
Grades 3-12 | Interactive | Changes in the Earth
The rock cycle is a process by which rock is created and destroyed. Use this visualization to illustrate the cycle from the creation of magma to the melting of metamorphic rock.

The Forest & the Air Cycle
Grades 5-8 | Video | Trees, Plants, & CO2

Ask students to explore the role of trees and forests in the production of clean air. Use this engaging video resource from WHRO to kick off classroom conversation.

Tectonic Plates & Plate Boundaries
Grades 6-12 | Interactive | Internal Earth Processes
This interactive activity adapted from NASA shows the position of Earth's continents on 11 massive tectonic plates and illustrates the motion of these plates relative to one another.

Global Ocean Circulation
Grades 6-12 | Video | Currents

Use this resource to help students visualize patterns of global ocean circulation and explore the ocean's role in maintaining a hospitable environment for life on Earth.

Life on Fire
Grades 6-12 | Video | Volcanoes

This video segment introduces students to the moody volcanoes of Papua, New Guinea and the scientists that are risking their lives to understand and predict the next eruption.

Lightning Produces Nitrates
Grades 6-12 | Video | Impact of Lightning

Lightning plays a critical role in the production of nitrate – an essential nutrient for life. This resource offers a fascinating look at the formation and global impact of this natural marvel.
NEW: Take students on a virtual underwater adventure with Jonathan Bird's Blue World! This Emmy-award winning content explores how science works - above and below the water.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

¿Estudias Español?

How can a student study for Spanish without having someone who knows Spanish to help with the pronunciation?

I've looked around YouTube and iTunes U. There's a lot out there, but the best I've found is a teacher named Señor Jordan. He has lots of very good, clear videos, arranged from very basic (greetings and counting) to more advanced. He goes slowly enough that a student can try to repeat what he says to work on pronunciation. And the vocabulary is written in the video as well as listed below so students can see how words are spelled, too.

Señor Jordan is young and not at all stuffy—always a bonus with students!

screen shot from a video by Sr. Jordan

Youth Radio and Media Programs for Teens

Youth Radio, based in the Bay Area, trains diverse youth in journalism, music, and multimedia. Cool, right? But what does it have to do with your students if they aren't in the Bay Area?

Youth Radio logo

The website could be a great resource for them:
  • The reporting covers topics that teens are interested in: e.g., juvenile justice, science, education (e.g., bullying, dropping out, going to college). tech. The New Options desk covers "innovations and policies designed to connect youth to the new economy." And On Our Radar has "News and trends we’re watching and curated content from other youth media sources."
  • Students who don't like to read news stories might like the option of reading while listening to the radio story. The website also has some multimedia extras, like video or slideshows to go with radio stories.
  • Hearing or reading a story by a teenage reporter might help a student think about what goes into investigating and telling an important and interesting story. This could be especially helpful for students interested in journalism or public speaking.
This evening, All Things Considered ran an excellent Youth Radio story about head injuries in high school football: Kendrick Calkins, High Schools Struggle to Tackle Safety on the Football Field, Oct. 9, 2013. The same story is on the Youth Radio site as Does Your School Protect Your Head?, and there you'll find links to documents like the Texas high school football practice guidelines and coverage of the NFL's treatment of the head injury issue.

If a student does get psyched about working in media, there are Seattle-area programs.

RadioActive Youth flyer

KUOW has RadioActive Youth Media, which offers "intensive and fun introductory radio journalism workshops for 16-18 year olds throughout the year. All RadioActive workshops are free, and participants receive stipends for their completed work." The summer program is during the day; fall and spring workshops are after school. Listen to RadioActive Youth stories here.

Reel Grrls logo

Reelgrrls offers a variety of workshops and programs for girls and young women, ages 9-21. Check out their videos here.

The Youth Media Institute has programs for youth in the White Center area. YMI has a YouTube channel. Check out this animated video about planning for college:

Native Lens "teaches digital filmmaking and media skills to indigenous youth as a form of self-expression, cultural preservation, and social change." 

Globalist Youth "provides training for the next generation of journalists and multimedia storytellers. Programs are offered year round and open to youth ages 13-19." (Seattle Globalist is a nonprofit based at the UW Department of Communication.)

Friday, September 27, 2013

Acrobat Can Read to You!

A lot of students can understand more orally than reading it themselves. Here is a trick for having text read out loud. It can also be handy for having students review what they've written to see if it sounds right when read aloud.
  1. Start with a Word document. (Or paste a Web document into a Word document—ideally as plain text, without hyperlinks.) 
  2. Save the document as a PDF.
  3. Open it in Adobe Acrobat's free PDF reader.
  4. Under View, choose Read Mode
    Screen snip: Acrobat Read Mode
  5. Read This Page Only or Read Tp End of Document
 Screen snip: choosing Read To End of Document
It's a "robot-y" voice, but it really does work. I think it could help a student who is struggling with reading. And, as I said, I could help a student who has written an essay that leaves out some words or skips some thoughts that the student thought were in there: hearing it might help the student "see" the gaps.

Simple English Wikipedia

Have you ever had a student who has to write a report on some topic—whether it's penguins or presidents—who turns to Wikipedia but then can't read well enough to understand the article? Consider trying Simple English Wikipedia.

Simple English Wikipedia logo

Simple English Wikipedia uses "Basic English vocabulary and shorter sentences. This allows people to understand normally complex terms or phrases."
Here's the beginning of its article on Abraham Lincoln (without the links):
Abraham Lincoln (February 12 1809 – April 15 1865) was the 16th President of the United States. He served as president from 1861 to 1865, during the American Civil War. Just six days after most of the Confederate forces had surrendered and the war was ending, John Wilkes Booth assassinated Lincoln. Lincoln has been remembered as the "Great Emancipator" because he worked to end slavery in the United States.[1]. Lincoln was the first president of the United States to be assassinated.
Compare that with the first paragraph of the regular Wikipedia's article (again without the links):
Abraham Lincoln Listeni/ˈeɪbrəhæm ˈlɪŋkən/ (February 12, 1809 – April 15, 1865) was the 16th President of the United States, serving from March 1861 until his assassination in April 1865. Lincoln led the United States through its greatest constitutional, military, and moral crisis—the American Civil War—preserving the Union, abolishing slavery, strengthening the national government and modernizing the economy. Reared in a poor family on the western frontier, Lincoln was self-educated, and became a country lawyer, a Whig Party leader, Illinois state legislator during the 1830s, and a one-term member of the United States House of Representatives during the 1840s. He promoted rapid modernization of the economy through banks, railroads and tariffs to encourage the building of factories; he opposed the war with Mexico in 1846.
Simple English Wikipedia is simpler, isn't it?

The Simple English Wikipedia doesn't have nearly as many articles as Wikipedia, but if it has one on your student's topic, it could be a big help.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Letters of Note

Letters of Note, a site highlighting "correspondence deserving of a wider audience," could be used with teenagers who don't want to read a whole book. The letters are short and yet have enough in them to spark conversation. Maybe they could even inspire some writing.

The site enables you to search and browse in various ways.

A selection:

Monday, May 27, 2013

Adventure and Danger&mdadh;for History and Culture

One of my students is enthusiastic a out a TV series called "Prison Break." I take it there's a lot of action, and the main characters show a lot of ingenuity. I wonder if any of our students could get excited about this real-world adventure involving people who risked their lives to save thousands a manuscripts about Islam, law, medicine, and astronomy. Sudarsan Raghavan, How Timbuktu's Manuscripts Were Saved from Jihadists, Wash. Post, May 26, 2013.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Learning English

Chapter 4 of Learning a New Land (see my last post) is "The Challenge of Learning English." It offers a lot to think about. Here are some quotations:
[I]t takes longer than most would imagine to develop the English-language skills necessary to be competitive academically, by most, we mean those who have not gone through the process of intensively learning another language—the average, voter, teacher, or politician—who make naive assumptions about language learning and impose unrealistic expectations based on a lack of first-hand experience. Researchers in the field of language learning have long known that acquiring an academically competitive level of language acquisition takes a significant period—from seven to ten years of strong academic environments and frequent second-language exposure.

* * * *

A general assumption is that the younger people are when they arrive in a new country, the better they will learn the new language. The evidence on this issue is complex and debated. Older learners, who have developed literacy in their native language and have greater cognitive maturity, seem to learn the rules of language more efficiently than do younger learners. Indeed, perhaps counterintuitively, assuming an identical quality of instruction, older learners learn a second language more quickly (though younger learners catch up over time). Younger learners generally acquire better pronunciation, however, which makes them seem more fluent and competent in the second language. Further, adults must master a larger vocabulary in the second language to appear "fluent."
The information about age surprised me: I had always heard that younger the better for learning languages. But, having studied a couple of languages as an adult, I do know that I was able to apply to the task knowledge and study skills that I just didn't have the first time I studied a language (7th grade). I'm always totally impressed by anyone who develops fluency in a second language, because I know how weak I am in the foreign languages I've studied. Sure, I can say "What time is it?" or "Where is the library?"—but I know I am far from being able to work or go to college in any language but English.

I think the point about younger language learners having good accents and yet lacking fluency in academic English is really important.

I think about the students I've known in my eight years as a volunteer tutor, and I wonder how many seemed to have mastered English but had the accent and day-to-day vocabulary without having a good understanding of academic English. The student who functions every day in English—talking to friends, playing basketball, going to the store, watching TV, texting, etc.&mash;doesn't know that he or she doesn't know enough English to do well in high school and college. It seems to me that some of the following school issues might have to do with English rather than the subject the students are complaining about:
  • I'm not good at Science. (Is the student's ability to read and understand complex material getting in the way?)
  • I don't know what the teacher expects us to do for this assignment. (Was the student paying attention in class but not able to understand the complicated instructions about a social studies project?)
  • Everything we have to read in English class is boring. (Does the student lack the vocabulary and sophistication to make reading Dickens or Steinbeck anything but a chore?)
  • I don't know how to answer the questions in my history book. (Does the student lack the language skill to read the material, integrate it with what the student has already learned, think about relationships, and reason about the questions?)
  • I hate story problems! (Does the student get confused by the English that's describing quantitative, special, or causal relationships?)
What can we do to help?

I'm not talking about totally reforming the way English-language learners are taught in schools. That would be nice, but it's a big project. Let's think about how our tutoring program can help. I am not trained in language acquisition, so these are just my thoughts.
  • I think it's important for the staff and volunteers to engage the students in conversations. Give them practice talking and practice listening.
  • We can encourage them to read, read, read—including a wide variety of material that will give them practice with academic English (not just fiction, but also news stories, science, business, history, and more).
  • We can also encourage them to take in academic English aurally—watch Ted talks, watch National Science Foundation videos, listen to NPR, listen to podcasts about science or current events, and so on.
  • And we can help them work through all of those homework challenges that might have a language component.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Large-Scale Study of Immigrant Children

In the wake of the Boston Marathon bombing, allegedly committed by two young immigrants, two researchers wrote an op ed piece about the challenges immigrant children face: Marcelo M. Suárez-Orozco & Carola Suárez-Orozco, Immigrant Kids, Adrift, N.Y. Times, April 22, 2013.
Whatever motivated the Tsarnaev brothers surely is not the fault of the schools and may never be known. Among some of the distinctive features of their case are family estrangement, multiple relocations across countries and, possibly, religious radicalization. But the broad lesson—assimilating immigrant students into the fabric of society through academic, psychological and other supports—should inform educators and policy makers in the decades ahead, when immigrants and their children will account for most of the nation’s population growth.
book jacket Learning a New Land
The op ed's byline cited their book: Carola Suárez-Orozco, Marcelo M. Suárez-Orozco & Irina Todorova, Learning a New Land: Immigrant Students in American Society (Harvard U. Press, 2008, paperback 2010). The Kindle edition is just $9.99 so I started right in, and I've been fascinated. Here's the publisher's page for more information. And here's the Amazon page, in case you're also an Amazon shopper. (Seattle Public Library has two copies, but they're both checked out.)

The Suárez-Orozcos are co-directors of the Institute for Immigrant, Children, Youth , and Families at UCLA. In the book's introduction, the authors characterize Carola as "a cultural psychologist with strong developmental interests," Marcelo as "a psychological anthropologist with a long history of involvement in the field of immigration and refugee studies, and Irina as "a cultural health psychologist." So you can imagine that their research is interdisciplinary.

The book presents the results of a five-year study of about 400 recently arrived immigrant children. They only included children who had spent at least two-thirds of their lives in their original country, not the ones who immigrated as babies.

The children were in seven school districts in the Boston area and the San Francisco Bay area. There were about 80 children from each of the following countries or regions:
  • Haiti
  • Dominican Republic
  • China
  • Mexico
  • Central American countries (e.g., El Salvador, Guatemala)
Bilingual research assistants from the relevant communities interviewed the children and families, made observations in the schools, talked to teachers, and so on.  They also looked at the children's environments: the quality of the schools, the poverty rate, street crime, and so on. It's really an impressive project. A fuller description is here: Longitudinal Immigrant Student Adaptation Study.

I strongly recommend this book for anyone who works with immigrant students (and, for that matter, for people who care about the quality of American society).

If you don't have a taste for social science research, the first chapters, where the authors describe their methodology and report statistical results, might seem dry (even though they do illustrate the statistical generalizations with examples of individual children). You might like to jump to chapters 5-8, which tell the stories of 21 students. They are grouped according to their academic trajectories.
Of course, each immigrant life is unique and irreducible. Nonetheless, each portrait demonstrates the many ways that immigrant youth are propelled to become high achievers or conversely to become disengaged low achievers.
I found the first chapter of these portraits very disheartening, because these were the children who disengaged from school, failed, or dropped out. I looked at the table of contents and was relieved to see that the chapters ahead would have more hopeful stories. The chapters are:
5. Portraits of Declining Achievers
6. Portraits of Low Achievers
7. Portraits of Improvers
8. Portraits of High Achievers
There are many factors that make the difference between the sad stories and the hopeful ones. Maybe the factors won't surprise anyone: the high achievers "tended to be enrolled in supportive schools, to have caring teachers, and to develop informal mentorships with coaches, counselors or ministers." (quotation from the op ed piece)

This reinforces my commitment to the Youth Tutoring Program. Whatever else is going on for these students, we know each child has the attention and concern of the center supervisor and two tutors.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Sleepy Kids

Are Your Students Sleep-Deprived?, The World blog, May 8, 2013, reports:
A new international study concludes that western countries have the most sleep-deprived children. The study, conducted by researchers at Boston College, attributes this conclusion to the overabundance of technology children in affluent countries enjoy, which contributes to these wired children going to sleep later and getting insufficient rest when they do finally fall asleep.
That's one more factor to keep in mind when thinking about how to help students learn and grow.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Lots of Astronomy Sites and Activities

Is your student interested in astronomy?


One place to start: the UW Astronomy Department's Astronomical Links for Everyone.

Stardate "is the public education and outreach arm of the University of Texas McDonald Observatory. Our radio program airs daily on almost 300 stations. And our popular bimonthly astronomy magazine is the perfect skywatching companion for anyone interested in astronomical events and space exploration. We also offer astronomy resources to teachers, the media, and the public." Check out the Classroom Activities page.

The Jet Propulsion Laboratory at Caltech has a page for the Spitzer Space Telescope. There are lots of images, animations, and videos. I think it's cool that they have a page of models. Two are paper models: you print out the PDFs then follow the instructions to cut and assemble the models of a space telescope and a rocket. There are also instructions to make a model of the space telescope out of LEGO!

Hubblesite's Explore Astronomy page has a lot of interesting content. It's from the NASA team that created and manages the Hubble Space Telescope.

Amazing Space, "uses the Hubble Space Telescope's discoveries to inspire and educate about the wonders of our universe." The Homework Help page asks kids if they want to:
  • Answer a question?
  • Dig up a definition?
  • Find resources for a project?
  • Write a story?
  • Get the latest scoop on space?
  • Earn extra-credit points?
  • Shed light on another subject?
  • Compare cosmic objects?
  • Study for a test?
  • Debate an idea?
  • Build a model?
. . . And then links to sections that will help them with those tasks.

Tonight's Sky has a movie telling you what constellations to watch for (in the Northern Hemisphere) each month.

Cornell hosts Curious About Astronomy? Ask an Astronomer which has information and podcasts.

Activities in Seattle

Astronomy events at the UW
  • The Theodor Jacobson Observatory has free talks on the first and third Wednesdays of the month April-October. If the sky is clear, they open up the roof and let visitors look through the old telescope.
  • The UW Planetarium welcomes "school groups studying astronomy, public groups (astronomy clubs, scouts, etc), and on-campus groups to visit the planetarium on Fridays during the regular University school year."
  • Anyone can go see the sundial on the wall of the UW's Physics Astronomy Building. Learn about it here

The Seattle Sundial Trail has a map and directions to help you visit other sundials here. It also has pictures and explanations of how they work. Like sundials? See the North American Sundial Society site. The Sundial Atlas has different styles of paper sundials, customized to your location. You plug in some information and a program draws a PDF that you then print. Making and comparing a few different sundials could be a good summer project.

Seattle Astronomical Society

The Seattle Astronomical Society hosts public star parties. Members set up their telescopes in a park and anyone who comes can look through them and learn a little about what they're seeing, There's a site at Green Lake and one in Shoreline (Paramount Park, NE 158th and 8th NE). They happen about once a month, weather permitting. The next one is Saturday, May 18.


The American Astronomical Society has a page about Careers in Astronomy. Other pages about careers:

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Children's Choice Book Awards

Children's Book Week is coming, May 13-19, 2013. Kids can vote on the Children's Choice Book Awards, in categories for K-2, 3-4, 5-6, and Teens. There's also a place for teachers, parents, and librarians to vote. Maybe you haven't had a chance to read the new books published in 2012. You might like go look at the lists of winner from 2008-12 (and nominees from 2011-12) to find other good books to check out.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Zombie-Based Learning

A Bellevue middle-school teacher has created a curriculum to teach geography standards using a zombie story, complete with a zombie comic book. How to Survive a Zombie Apocalypse? Learn Geography, KPLU, April 10, 2013. Now that takes brains!

Thursday, April 4, 2013 for SAT prep

A  former English teacher who now tutors juniors preparing for the SAT tells how helpful she and her students find
"My Students Make Time for", blog, September 17, 2012.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Solar System Site

Does your student like astronomy and space? Take a look at NASA's Solar System Exploration site.

screen shot from

Whether or not your student is wild about space, check out NASA's Homework Helper:

Opening screen of NASA's Homework Helper.
Pull-down menu lets you pick a topic. 
Instead of looking all over the Web, you can find good, reliable information on NASA's site: "planet facts and trivia, the latest news and images from across our solar system and a bunch of slick extras to help impress your teacher."

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Math Test for Graduation

This year 12th graders will have to have passed a state math test to graduate. Good story on KUOW: Ann Dornfeld, Many Wash. 12th Graders May Not Graduate Due To New Math Standards, KUOW, March 19, 2013. The State Board of Education page on graduation requirements is here.

Somali Poetry

Did you know that the Somali language wasn't written until about 1972? And setting it on paper was tied up with the dictator's efforts to control the flow of information and propaganda. Meanwhile, tape recorders were becoming affordable, so there was a big movement to circulate poetry on cassettes. Poetry was powerful and subversive. Check out this interview (To the Best of Our Knowledge, March 10, 2013).

A year ago I was tutoring a Somali girl who wrote poetry and I would have shared this with her, but she graduated and is away at college (hooray!).

Monday, March 11, 2013

Math with Computers

Last month I posted a link to Conrad Wolfram's Ted Talk when he argues that we waste time teaching students to calculate when we should be teaching them how to look at, think about, and solve problems mathematically. Wolfram and his allies are working toward this goal. For more, see the website

The Resources page links to more videos, news coverage, and some "explorations" (e.g., an essay explaining how a mathematician used computational techniques to figure out Hangman).

The Wolfram Demonstrations Project has thousands of examples of graphical depictions of problems.

screenshot from Wolfram Demonstrations homepage

In the list of topics, you find math, technology, economics, geography, and more. I chose "Kids & Fun" and then clicked on "Everyday Life."

The demonstration called "Blue Sky and Red Sunset" shows how the angle of the sun's rays changes the color of the sky.  You move the slider to change the angle and you see the colors change.

Blue Sky and Red Sunset screenshots

In the math section, I found this interactive demonstration showing the graphs of the derivatives of trigonometric functions:

Derivatives of Trig and Hyperbolic Functions screen shot
 It has been a very long time since I took calculus, but I suspect that being able to see the changes in the graphs would help a student see the relations among the functions.

There are over 200 puzzles.

To be able to interact with the demonstrations, you need to download Wolfram's free CDF (Computable Document Format) Player.

Vocabulary, Digital Content, Snowballs, and the State of the Union

Interesting comment about the importance of consciously working to develop childrens's vocabularies, all through school. Vocabulary, Digital Content, Snowballs, and the State of the Union, Teach, Learn, Grow: The Education Blog" Feb. 27, 2013. The author says, "students must be exposed to important words they can leverage across subjects (academic vocabulary) and they must be exposed to words repeatedly and in a context that allows them to add words to existing schema or frameworks of background knowledge."

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

The More You Know the More You Learn's blog has a post about a study that show that students with larger vocabularies learn new words faster. I suspect the same is true of all areas. The more math you know, the more quickly you can learn math, the more history you know, the more quickly you can learn history. One implication of this is that kids who fall behind in the early grades will have a harder and harder time as they progress through school. Ninth-grade history, for instance, will be much easier for the students who learned a lot of history in elementary school and middle school—both in class and through leisure reading, talking with parents, watching documentaries, and so on. Just as knowing more makes it easier to learn, knowing more also makes a subject more interesting and fun to learn more. I don't think it's a coincidence. It's just challenging to persuade a student who finds everything "boring" that it will probably get interesting if she puts in enough work to learn something.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Bedtime Math!?!

Time has an article about a move to get children jazzed about math: Bonnie Rochman, Beyond Counting Sheep: Why Math Is the Hot New Bedtime Reading, Time, Feb. 25, 2013, at 52. You have to subscribe to see the whole article, but the title alone gives you the key message: having kids think a little about math regularly is as important as reading to them.  (A few months ago, the author had an online story: A Problem a Day Keeps Fear of Arithmetic Away, Time Health & Family, Nov. 21, 2012.)

The article features Bedtime Math. You can follow or subscribe to the blog to get three problems a day, aimed at pre-K, K-2, 2nd grade and up. According to the Time article, the site will add a higher level of difficulty for "tweens, teens and even adults" in late February. That's any day now! Hooray!

The Time  story says:
the strongest evidence that Bedtime Math can change children's skills comes from data collected from Snacktime Math, a program of Bedtime Math problems given to kids attending summer camp at a New Jersey Boys & girls Club: more than 70% of the largely low-income students improved their skills after a six-week session.
The article also mentions Math for Love, "a Seattle outfit that advises teachers on how to use games to spice up math education."  I haven't read through much, but Math for Love's blog looks very good—interesting, witty, and mathy.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Teaching Kids Real Math with Computers

Interesting Ted Talk by Conrad Wolfram (2010):

He argues that we act like calculating is all there is to math, so that we spend too much time teaching students how to calculate by hand and not nearly enough time teaching them to ask the right questions, frame the questions mathematically, and evaluate the results. (He does not say we should throw out all calculations. It's useful to be able to do some mental arithmetic to make estimates, for example.)

If you've never seen, by the way, take a look. It's very useful for statistics (e.g., area of the U.S., population of L.A.), formulas (volume of a cylinder, quadratic equation). You can also use it to check your answers for algebra (and other) math problems.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Ted Ed Has Cool Videos

Ted Ed has short educational videos on a wide range of topics. Most are animated, through the pairing of an educator (who does the content and the narration) and a professional animator. All of them are accompanied by quizzes or questions to think about and links to other sources. 

For students who think spelling is crazy, try:
Would you like to encourage your student to reach for a stronger, more lively vocabulary? Recommend The case against "good" and "bad."

For high school students learning about how to analyze literature, see
These are just some of the lessons listed under Language Arts. There are also interesting entertaining videos in many other areas (Science & Technology, Social Studies, and more).

screen shot - Ted Ed home page
Ted Ed's home page

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Study Skills! Study Skills! Study Skills!

No matter what you're trying to learn, it helps if you know how to learn so you don't waste a lot of time.

logo for is a great site that brings together lots of tips from many reliable sources (including lots of colleges). Some of the tips are aimed at a particular subject—for instance, Math or Speech. Other tips are good for studying in general—for example, how to develop and meet goals and how to deal with procrastination.

The site's most frequently accessed resource is the Assignment Calculator. You plug in the date a paper or project is due, and the calculator breaks it into steps (e.g., develop topic, write preliminary thesis, gather sources). The steps are spread out over the period you have to work on the assignment, so you don't fall into the trap of thinking you'll do everything at the last minute. It also helps you structure your work so you do a better job.

Check out the How to Study Model, a diagram that shows all the different functions you need to perform when you study.

One neat thing about the site is that students can write reviews of the different resources. For example, here's what 16 students said about using a day planner.

The person who runs is a retired community college instructor, with years of experience working with students, and the site has won awards from education groups.


This blog post has some interesting news about different study techniques: Annie Murphy Paul, Highlighting Is a Waste of Time: The Best and Worst Learning Techniques, Time Ideas (Time Magazine's site), Jan. 9, 2013. The author explains that research shows that highlighting doesn't really help people remember what they read! What is effective is testing yourself with flashcards, and she tells us about three flashcard apps: Quizlet, StudyBlue and FlashCardMachine.

I tried out Quizlet last week and like it. You can create your own flashcards, or you can use sets that other people made (I tried out trigonometry definitions, geometry formulas, and beginning French vocabulary). You can run through the flashcards and then, when you're ready take a quiz. It's kind of fun and seems like a good tool.