Thursday, December 13, 2007

Songs of the Week

It is the I guess it would be appropriate to add a few Christmas songs.

Ike Turner was musical genius....he wasn't very nice to Tina....but they did make some great music together. Sadly, Ike passed away this week. I have two songs listed...the first is a Christmas song that doesn't seem to load to honor Ike I added another just in case.

One of my favorite holiday flicks is Will Ferrell's Elf. His girlfriend played by Zooey Deschanel sings Baby Its Cold Outside while in the shower. In this version she sings the same song with Leon Redbone.

Another Christmas song you may not have heard is Fairytale of New York by the Pogues and Kirsty Maccoll. Don't give up on the song too soon. Wait until Kirsty starts singing.

In September 1977, Bing Crosby was in London filming what would be his last Christmas special. He thought it would be a good idea to sing a duet with a young singer. Someone suggested David Bowie and although Bing had never heard of him the invite was sent. Bing passed away a month later.

Do You Still Read for Enjoyment? Do Your Children?

The National Endowment for the Arts recently released study stating that teenagers, children, and adults are reading for pleasure much less these days.

Not only are Americans reading less... they are also scoring lower on standardized reading measures. The study finds

"less than one-third of 13-year-olds are daily readers, a 14 percent decline from 20 years earlier. Among 17-year-olds, the percentage of non-readers doubled over a 20-year period, from nine percent in 1984 to 19 percent in 2004." "On average, Americans ages 15 to 24 spend almost two hours a day watching TV, and only seven minutes of their daily leisure time on reading."

So why are we reading so much less? There are lots of blogs posts about the study trying to explain this trend. Theories range from the pervasiveness of visual media (TV, computers, video games) to the rise sports participation, to the general lack of societal value of highly literate people. Smart people are ridiculed on your average TV show.

Some people even theorize that school, most notably the tests in school, has taken the fun out of reading. Some theorists say we have outgrown reading....we are evolving passed it. For thousands of years we told our stories by word of mouth. By comparison, the written word is still relatively new. With the enhancements of visual media, the theorists explain, we are simply taking communication to a new level. At first I kind of laughed that one off....then I started thinking more about it and wondered if there might actually be a partial truth there.

I read each night before going to bed…as much to wind down as educate myself (I’m more of a nonfiction reader). My own kids read at home most days…but sadly they will almost always pick the computer over a book. Fortunately a read aloud with mom or dad is still a favored activity.
I would like think the reading is simply losing market share in an ever competitive market for people’s time. 20 years ago there were 3 channels on TV. Now people have hundreds of channels as well as a hard drive worth of movies DVR’d to their machine to choose. They receive top rated feature movies in the mailbox on an almost daily basis and can order movies to be streamed to their TV.

20 years ago a child could play baseball in the spring and that was it. Now they can play 2 seasons of outdoor soccer, winter indoor soccer, lacrosse, football, wrestling, and just about every imaginable sport. 20 years ago the Internet was available for research scientists to share their data. There was no YouTube or WebKinz to eat your time. Reading (as entertaining as it can be) is simply losing the battle.

I do have to wonder whether there is time in a classroom to just read a book and talk about it with other people. With the emphasis on standards and NCLB we need to figure out how to teach each and every possible indicator as part of our children's reading activities. Do we sometimes take the fun out of book by wringing out every possible standards tie-in? Do we read anymore just to discuss and share the experience with a peer?

To Read or Not to Read

Powerpoint Overhaul

Of all the technology that has been added to the classroom since I’ve been teaching (desktops, laptops, tablets, Smartboards, digital cameras, teacher webpages, many titles of the software) the tool that has made the technology tool that has made the most impact with our teachers is

....drum roll please....

the projector.

I understand why teachers love using a projector….it allows us to augment our message to enhance our presentation of content to the kids and if there is one thing that teachers love and are quite good at it is presenting to their classes.

Powerpoint seems to be the tool of choice to craft presentations and it is easy to see why. It is easy to use and it allows you to incorporate websites, video, audio, text, animation. If you can do it or see on the computer more than likely you can include it in a Powerpoint presentation.

A couple of years ago someone published an article online called "Death by Powerpoint" in which they lamented painful presentations in which business presenters lull their audience to sleep with standard template based presentations crammed with everything but the kitchen sink.

Are teachers guilty of doing the same thing to their students? Maybe…maybe not. It really all depends on how you put together your information. Scott Elias, a high school administrator in Colorado and blogger at Dare I Disturb the Universe ( has put together a helpful presentation for you if you create Powerpoint presentations. There are some great tips and examples of what to do/not do in there and he ends it all with the one question we need to ask ourselves more often: "Would I want to be in my class?"

Taking Your Slide Deck to the Next Level

Alternative to Oral Reading Assessment Needed?

A new study published in Reading Psychology suggests that oral reading assessments lead to a misunderstanding or misdiagnosing of some student’s reading abilities. The study suggests that schools should shift more of their ongoing reading tests to silent reading tests with followup comprehension tests and to reduce their reliance on oral based tests.

Not saying we should throw the baby out with the bathwater...but it does sound reasonable that we might need to take a look at the way we assess fluency.

Win Win Situation

This game (yes, game) is a win win situation of the best kind. Our students need to practice their vocabulary and hungry people need to eat.

Free Rice is a game where children (and adults) can take quizzes to build up their vocabulary and for each question they get right they earn 20 grains of rice for the United Nations World Food Program. There are fifty different levels and the questions taylor themselves to your level of skill.

Give it a shot and see how high you can get. Show this to your students help them help themselves and earn rice for needy nations.

When You Want Something So Bad....

This animation short was created by a graduate student as part of their master's project. A kiwi is a small flightless bird native to New Zealand. Watch and enjoy.

Blondes Aren’t Dumb, They Just Make Us Act Dumb

How do social scientists come up with the ideas for their tests?
French scientists have challenged the stereotype of the dumb blonde and let science decide if the stereotype holds any truth. Turns out that blondes are no less intelligent than any other hair color. What scientists found was that people shown pictures of blondes did not perform as well on tests compared to how they performed when shown pictures of brunettes.

Why is that?

Scientists believe that because of the long standing stereotype people "dumb down" themselves because they are around someone not as intelligent. The blonde impact effects both men and women. The researchers say it really isn't any different than talking slower and louder to the elderly. We just assume they are hard of hearing.

Stereotyping takes years to learn....and years to unlearn.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Song of the Week: Amy Winehouse

Yes, this woman always seems to be getting into some kind of scuffle with either the media, the law, or someone in her personal life. She has been thru some tough personal times but wow she has a cool voice. Enjoy Amy Winehouse title track Back in Black.

Narrowing Our Focus on Achievement Test Prep

I was looking for achievement practice test items and came across another valuable document created by another Cleveland school. Cleveland University Heights schools has done an item analysis by standard and benchmark of the OAT since it has been administered. Of course, the state isn’t releasing the entire test anymore but the document is still extremely valuable.

Basically it boils down to this….there are lots of indicators but not all are tested. To best prepare our students for the tests we might try to teach all of the indicators but we would be wise to really make sure that students are proficient with the ones that the state consistently tests each year. For example, on the Grade 3 test the state has always asked a fair amount of comprehension questions (literal, inferential, evaluative), central ideas on Informational Text, and Main Idea, Characters, Setting for Literary Text. On the other hand they have never asked a question on High Frequency Site words.

In 4th grade Reading the emphasis is on Summarizing for both Reading Process and Reading Applications while the state hasn’t asked a single question on the Characteristics of Genre. Good information to have if you ask me.

Accomodations and Interventions

Dr. Mel Levine is a renowned pediatrician and author at the University of North Carolina. His speciality is learner differences. He writes about helping students, teachers, and parents learn how to identify learner differences and tailor their practices to better support these learners. The Indian Hill Foundation has already booked him for a speaking engagement next August. With our ongoing work in differentiated instruction I think his message will be most welcome. I’ve been looking for resources to support our teachers in their reading instruction. While reading about effective instruction and reaching all learners I came upon a resource based on Dr. Levine’s work. Teachers at the University School in Cleveland, OH have published their own help document on how to work with a different learners and their unique needs. I love a resource that I can print out and put on a clipboard and in a notebook for quick reference and this one meets that criteria. Sure, we could read one of many of Levine’s published works and create a similar document…but these teachers have already taken a first shot at it. The document is organized by bypass strategies (accomodations), interventions and type of student struggle. For example, if a student has attentional challenges there are both accommodation and intervention ideas. I’m sure as you read thru the list you will see some of your own students as well as some ideas that you haven’t tried yet.

Has Wikipedia Gotten a Bad Rap?

I recently read about a librarian who worked to get Wikipedia banned at their school. She even has a sign in her library that says, just so no to Wikipedia. Is blocking Wikipedia censorship?

Some schools have made the argument that Wikipedia is not as reliable as traditional print encyclopedias. Nature Magazine took up the challenge and compared a number of Britannica articles to Wikipedia articles and the results surprised this Wikipedia fan.

Nature Magazine found the Britannica articles were not without fault and had only slightly fewer errors than did Wikipedia.

I think teachers should allow the use of Wikipedia...but with the same caveat that teachers should use for all online resources. What is the credibility of the site/article? Is there bias in the writing....does this information match information I am finding on other websites or print sources? Students need to be critical consumers of information rather they use print sources or online sources for their research.

Senator Ted Stephens of Alaska is even trying to pass a law against Wikipedia use.

Articles of interest related to this issue:

Free Screen Capture Software

When you are teaching your students software one of the most effective tools at your disposal is screen capture software. Screen capture software allows you to capture the screen activity and make it a video. At a microphone and you have the beginning of a great tutorial. Teaching students (or teachers) how to use software can be frustrating at times. And I’m sure the learners share the experience too. The instructor gets tired of repeating themselves and the learner hates to wait for their questions to be answered. A screen captured video will allow the teacher to keep repeating the instruction and the learner can watch it, pause it, rewind it, etc. until it makes sense to them. By 5th grade students are pretty good with Word and Powerpoint, but graphics software is something that they don’t have much experience with and the tools and techniques associated with graphics software are new and different. I’ve also used screen capture software for some of the online courses I’ve taught on how to use Blackboard.
Techsmith’s Camtasia Studio is perhaps the top rated screen capture software on the market. It retails for close to $300. Fortunately they have educational discounts. Earlier this month TechSmith decided to make v. 3 of Camtasia available for free from their website. Although the current version is v.5, version 3 has all the features a teacher could want. If you would like to teach your kids something on the computer this is a great tool to have.

You could even use this software to help with Math instruction. The Everyday Math program does teach some non-traditional algorithms. Why not use your tablet to record a video of how the different algorithms work. I'm sure the parents would find that helpful.

Time for a Break

I try to keep this blog about education....but everyone needs a game every once in awhile. I wish I knew how to program the logic that is built into this flash game. Your goal is to not let the cat leave the board.

Viral Videos

Viral videos are the ones that the kids at school talk about. Many of them are silly and some of them are actually quite funny or clever. I came upon this one that I thought would be good to share since we offer Spanish classes to all of our students. This is the "One Semester of Spanish Love Song". If you took Spanish in either HS or College and haven't used it much since will be able to understand at least some of the lines.

Next time a student or parent asks for extra credit...

It happens near the end of each quarter....right after you are finishing up report cards and feel good about them. You get a note or phone call asking if there are any extra credit opportunities for their child. You are put in a tough are done with grades and don't want to mess around with an 11th hour grade change...after all the quarter was 9 weeks long. Why ask for extra credit at this point? It is don't want to be mean...but you need to be realistic.

Perhaps next time you can offer any of these as extra credit assignments:

New York Times Notable Books of 2007

Looking for some good books to read over the upcoming holiday break like me? The New York Times has compiled their “Best of 07” list to help you out. Might also generate some Christmas present ideas for you.

Why Can’t Something Like this Happen to Me?

It seems great pieces of art are always getting lost. A few years ago it was the elderly couple in Wisconsin that had a Van Gogh on their wall and didn't even know it. Then there was the guy who found one of the original copies of the Declaration of Independence in a frame purchased at a garage sale. A few weeks ago someone in New York City did a dumpster dive for an interesting looking painting. Turns out that painting was done by a famous Mexican artist and it fetched over $1,000,000 at a recent auction.

Now this... Imagine you are walking thru LaRosa’s and you find an interesting looking piece of furniture. It is old and very intricate. Could it be some long lost piece of art?
Same thing happened in London but it wasn’t me and it wasn’t LaRosa’s.