Monday, November 30, 2009

K12 Online Conference 2009

Join this great online conference, starting today, here.

Telstar 3 Group: Classroom Management & WebQuests

Monday, November 30 - 3:30, Crescent Park School, SAD#44

Is it good writing?

by Olga LaPlante

At some point in my life, I subscribed to the Current Events by Izzit. The site offers other classroom ideas as well, and they often have a somewhat controversial content, which is great - whether you actually agree with the writings and clippings from press being of high quality - for generating discussions, because they often contradict the mainstream news and accounts, and I wouldn't bet my money to say that they are unbiased. Again, the value is in generating a discussion, plus the lessons have questions, and vocabulary to learn.

Anyway, this lesson was published just recently - the lessons are free and they stay online for a couple of weeks. This will make you chuckle at least, but also make you think. I would love to see comments on this one.

PS. Mind the beautiful English language, with words like "mark" (Br) and "sit" for "grade" and "take" (Am) or references to A Level English Exams.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Featuring the Work of Jerry Bracey

I just discovered that Jerry Bracey recently passed away. In his work he had battled the misuse of statistics and testing. If you haven't had a chance to see his work, I encourage you to do so.

The Bracey Report on the Condition of Public Education, 2009

32 Principles of Data Interpretation

32 Principles of Data Interpretation Grouped

Education Hell: Rhetoric vs. Reality

Summary of His Work: Gerald Bracey

Jason Ohler: In Tribute to Gerald Bracey and His Campaign to Keep Education Pundits Honest

“There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics” ~Disraeli (popularized by Mark Twain)

Monday, November 23, 2009

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

"Please Be Proud of Me"

By Pam Kenney

“Please be proud of me even if I don’t get all the answers right…”

The publication in 1981 of David Elkind’s The Hurried Child focused national attention on a growing trend by educators and parents to push our children to grow up too soon. Schools taught kids to read, write, and add at earlier ages than ever before; parents prodded them to excel. The hours after school, on weekends, and even during summer breaks were filled by music lessons, sports practices, academic enrichment classes, and specialty camps. Elkind worried that our increasing tendency to push children to achieve success early would have a disastrous effect unless we changed our collective expectation.

Almost 30 years later we not only haven’t mitigated the pressure we place on our children, we are hurrying them more than ever. When I was an elementary school principal, I worked with children who were under so much stress from unrealistic parental expectations that their fingernails were bitten to the quick, they lied to their parents about assigned homework, they cried in school when they couldn’t grasp a new concept immediately, and they hid or threw away papers with even average grades on them long before they could reach a parent’s hand. Every teacher recognizes the panicked look on a child’s face when she realizes she didn’t do well on a test. “Mom’s/Dad’s going to kill me!” is a too common refrain.

Something’s got to give because:

-Although the overall suicide rate decreased slightly from the early 1990s through the early 2000s, the rate of teen suicide increased 6%. For children 10-14, the suicide rate increase during the same period was 100%. According to the CDC, suicide is the fourth leading cause of death for young people from 10 to 14.

-Child psychologists report a staggering number of youngsters with chronic stress-related headaches, stomachaches, phobias, and free-floating anxiety.

-Girls as young as seven or eight are dieting to achieve an impossible standard of thinness.

-Serious sports-related injuries have increased several-hundred fold for elementary age children.

Experts offer a variety of suggestions for parents to begin to come to grips with the hurried-child syndrome. I’m certainly no expert, but my plea today is for parents to relax the expectations they have for their children. School is a place to learn, and learning is a process. No child understands everything the first time, and some children need weeks of patient instruction before they can grasp a concept. For some children, learning to read is a slow, painstaking process, but eventually they will read. Learning math facts is torture for other kids, but they’ll remember them at some point.

Please try hard to emphasize the positive when talking to your child about grades. If a mark is lower than you had hoped, find out what the trouble is. Look for progress during a school year and help her set realistic goals for improvement. Expecting your child to make straight A’s is almost always unrealistic and unreasonable. Above all, please don’t yell, spank, or restrict privileges when your son or daughter brings home a grade lower than an A or B. A raised voice and punishment not only don’t motivate your child to work to improve his grades, they dangerously undermine his self-confidence and sap his incentive to learn.

Children want desperately to please their parents, and they should be doing just that. They work hard and try their best day after day in school. I firmly believe that our children are gifts to us. As parents, one of our gifts to them must be to expect a lot less perfection, to remind ourselves every day that they are works in progress, and to let them know by word and deed that they are loved.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Critical Thinking Memories

Question: Can you remember when you became aware that you could think critically?

Was it in school or out of school?
Did someone model it for you?

PLC North Session #3 "When" & Other Nifty Tools

Tuesday, November 17, 3:00, Dirigo High School


LearnCentral & vRoom

Learning in Maine now has an annex space at LearnCentral. Join LearnCentral and get a free (3 participant) Elluminate vRoom for synchronous learning.

LearnCentral Webinars

Today, Monday, November 16th, 8pm Eastern(US): Cool Video Projects and How To Do Them with Rushton Hurley. This month one of the Next Vista Digital Dream Team group will introduce a school where multimedia is infused in the entire curriculum, as well as tell about a project he is doing. LearnCentral Link:

Tuesday, November 17th, 8pm Eastern(US): The monthly PBS / Classroom 2.0 webinar on teaching. "Helping Kids Understand Viruses and Vaccinations with Sid the Science Kid." LearnCentral Link:

Wednesday, November 18th, 8pm Eastern(US): The new Learning Game Series. This week: Drawing Lesson Plans from Gaming, a Case Study of Caduceus, an online learning game built as part of Children's Hospital Boston's "Generation Cures" initiative. LearnCentral Link:

Thursday, November 19th, 8pm Eastern(US): Howard Rheingold Presents "Howard's Brainstorms!" Part 2. The topic will be "Thinking about Thinking Tools." Howard will briefly summarize some of the foundational documents in this area, recap via screensharing and TheBrain, and then facilitate a discussion inviting questions from the community online. LearnCentral Link:

Saturday, November 21st, 8pm Eastern(US): "Succeeding with Web 2.0 Projects" with special guest Terry Freedman. Last year, Terry Freedman worked with 6 primary (elementary) schools and one secondary (high) school to secure around 800,000 dollars'-worth of government money and run a project involving podcasting and making videos. LearnCentral Link:

Representing Reality

Notes from the 11/12/2009 Webinar with Phil Brookhouse

Afternoon session recording

Evening session recording

Saturday, November 14, 2009


"I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work." ~ Thomas Edison

Perseverance Resources

Courage Resources

Character Resources

Persistence Quotes

Friday, November 13, 2009

What's in your school's way to a brighter future?

by Olga LaPlante

This survey from Dangerously Irrelevant may be helpful when you are trying to identify areas for change in the future to ensure that your school/district is making more progress than it is currently. Check it out and offer your responses. Even though it is called "3 minute survey" it doesn't take nearly that long.
3 Minute Survey

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Everyday Math: Yea or Nay?

By Pam Kenney

Over the last few years, many school districts across Maine have adopted Everyday Mathematics as the math curriculum for their kindergarten through sixth grade students. The program's development by the University of Chicago School Mathematics Project began more than 20 years ago, and the first textbooks were published in 1998. Since then it has been implemented, then rejected, in school systems across the country, often because children taught using Everyday Mathematics consistently fail to meet state math standards. Frequently called "fuzzy math", it eschews rote learning and relies on spiraling, a method that introduces children to a concept but quickly moves on to another concept before mastery is achieved. Concepts are re-introduced throughout the school year with the hope that, through repetition, the kids will learn them. Unfortunately, spiraling doesn't work very well. Top math students are bored, average learners are frustrated because, just when they are starting to "get it", another topic is introduced, and children who are struggling in math are overwhelmed and give up in despair.

The seeds of Everyday Mathematics and other programs like it started to sprout more than 50 years ago with the launch of Sputnik I by the Soviet Union and the subsequent realization by U.S. educators that our students needed more difficult math and science courses to help the country excel globally. One result of that decision was that the rote-learning focus of math instruction at the time was replaced by one that emphasized the "whys" of math. "Carrying" and "borrowing", for example, were replaced by lessons on re-grouping and learning about ones, tens, and hundreds. That shift was needed and changed how math was taught for years. The problem now is that we've made the "hows" and "whys" of math so important that we've relegated concept mastery and computing skills to secondary, undervalued positions in some math curricula. Everyday Mathematics is a prime example of the new philosophy, and its inherent spiraling and neglect of mastery have had a negative effect on learning. I think many Maine schools jumped on the Everyday Mathematics band wagon without researching its many drawbacks thoroughly enough; and math programs are so expensive, it will be a long time before these schools can afford to replace it.

Monday, November 9, 2009

ePals Webinars for Maine

Maine Connects at ePals

Come to a one-hour free webinar to learn how to join the ePals Global Community and find partners for your classroom or students. Also, learn how to sign up your students to use free, safe and protected ePals SchoolMail, featuring TRUSTe certification of child privacy.

Join the largest global community of K12 learners, with 600,000 classrooms in 200 countries, in true global collaboration and learning! Also learn about the newest web 2.0 projects in ePals, Team Earth (conservation and climate change) and Digital Storytelling.

All Maine schools share a subdomain: This makes it easy for your students to collaborate with other students in Maine on state-specific activities.

Webinar times:
• 10-11 a.m. Friday, Nov. 13
• 4-5 p.m. Monday, Nov. 23
• 4:15-5:15 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 2
• 3:15-4:15 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 9
If you are interested in one of these webinars, please email Rita Oates, VP of education markets, at She will provide the URL, password and toll-free number to anyone who is interested.

Digital Storytelling Workshop at Crescent Park School


Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Visual Vocabulary

Three interesting sites to see word connections:


ThinkMap Visual Thesaurus


More Resources for Developing Vocabulary at LIM Resources

Making Decisions

by Ed Latham

Some nine years ago, I started questioning the way we adults make decisions as a society. I have been looking at ad campaigns, listening to radio, looking over Internet sales pitches for many issues that have come to vote. Pushing a point of view seems to be a universal human quality throughout time. There is a rising concern about how people push, versus share, a point of view and what effect that is having on how we are raising our children.

We ask children to look at all sides objectively and then, after weighing the pros and cons, make a decision that the individual will feel good about supporting. Can we even do that now? The key word here is objectively. People are passionate about what they want and how they believe. What percentage of adults can put aside how we feel long enough to explore all options, then reintroduce our feelings into the equation and make a good decision? Parents and teachers often agree that students need to be able to process decisions considering both emotional and logical rational, but those same adults are increasingly unable to process that way as a social group. How then are we teaching our kids to do the same?

In some classrooms, there are no opportunities for discussion or variation of opinion. Even in some classrooms that allow for discussion, some students may feel intimidated if they don't agree with the teacher or their peers. In some of the most open discussions, there is a sense from children that someone has to win. Educationally, we have taken learning to the level where freedom of expression is squashed by fear of being not with the majority. When a student gets work back, they almost never care about what they need to improve on, they look to the number or score to see if they reached a high enough score to move on to the next level or at least keep adults off their case for another two weeks. Fear of failing is not only inhibiting learning in some students, but is causing society members to make decisions out of fear instead of making informed decisions based on considerations of emotional and logical reasons.

In most any political decision in the last 9 years, there are usually two opposing arguments. Here is where the problem starts. Both camps are based on strong human characteristics and yet there is never a middle ground in our "adult" systems. Therefore, there is a constant fear that if we side with A then we are good/bad. From a child's point of view, the student even sees option D. None Of The Above, until the child learns that even though the option exists, rarely is it ever utilized. The decision process for adults has almost become religious. Either you believe as this camp does or you are in danger of being excommunicated or shunned by peers. All of those pressures, to fall into one camp or the other, are all based on fear of rejection. No matter the outcome, one camp is feeling like a victim.

For our kids, many of whom see adult decisions as right/wrong, good/bad, supporting the country/against the country, we need to look at ways we allow for differences or middle ground and for exploration of systems that may allow for differences to exist more harmoniously. Already our youth face pass/fail, teacher's pet/problem child, fitting in/social outcast issues every day. Do our current practices of working with children help to create the very same fearful behaviors that have been guiding our political and legal systems for years?

The inability to use both camps of reasoning and still "fit in" is creating a society of people that are becoming more and more out of touch with making decisions blend rather than polarize. As a result, our society is becoming more polarized, and our kids are watching, while they listen to us continue to extol the virtues of good decisions, getting along with others, and being accepting of differences.

How do we stop this perpetual cycle of decisions (kids and adults) made out of fear of not belonging or fear of causing someone to loose or someone to gain advantage? Insurance companies are thinking about changing health care based on personal choices we make. Many other aspect of "universal access" to things are going to go away because of the economics of a capitalistic society. The decisions we make individually are going to become more and more relevant as to how we are treated, not by other people, but by the government and businesses and organizations. This individual accountability for our decisions seems so polar opposite to the way social decisions are made (where you either gain with this vote or loose with that vote). I don't have solutions, but this polarization of emotional reasoning and logical reasoning is limiting individuals' rights to make decisions and not be punished for not conforming to either side of an issue. This is how wars begin and how conflicts continue to persist over huge tracts of time. Do we need more than two options? Can we even come up with a middle ground any more after discussion if people fear winning or loosing? Does the limitation on student choice in our education system help promote polarization into adulthood?

Monday, November 2, 2009

Let's Get Kids Excited About Writing! (Part 1)

By Pam Kenney

It's often difficult and frustrating to engage a boy's interest in writing projects. When I taught elementary literature/composition, one writing activity that was a sure winner was creating scripts for wordless books. Yes, I know wordless books are primarily for pre-readers, but the very fact that the story is told without text means the pictures are so detailed it's hard to resist adding words mentally as the action unfolds. Boys and girls alike love being authors, and a wordless book project can provide hours of fun, as well as surprising opportunities for acquiring important reading and writing skills.

Just giving children a few initial guidelines will be enough to get them off and running. One book I often start with is Frog Where Are You? by Mercer Mayer. In pictures only, it tells the story of a boy's adventures after his pet frog escapes from its glass jar home. I divide the students into groups of two or three and, after they have "read" the book, they start writing a script for the story. As they write, although they're having a grand time, they're learning about the beginning, middle, and end of a story, when to use sequence words, how to use and punctuate dialogue, how vivid word choice can enhance a story's enjoyment... I could go on and on.

Once the script is in its final form, it's time for the fun part. The kids love to add homemade sound effects to their story, including a ringing bell to signal when a page needs to be turned. I've had students spend hours experimenting with legos falling into in tin pan to simulate breaking glass, blowing through cardboard paper towel tubes to create winds sounds, clucking like chickens or barking like dogs, and having the times of their lives.

When all the parts of the wordless book story are in place, the next step is to record it. When I was a teacher, I used a tape recorder. Now, however, there are incredible resources on your computer that will fascinate any child: VoiceThread; Audacity; GarageBand (for Mac users); even iMovie (Mac users). I love Audacity because it's free, open source, and has all the bells and whistles you could want during a recording session. VoiceThread is great, too, because it allows you to invite your friends and relatives to listen to your children's creations. Stories can be recorded, also, to entertain preschool children.

When it's time to record, children working in groups usually choose one member to read the script, one to ring the bell when it's time to turn the page, and the third to make the sound effects at the appropriate time. Children working alone can do all three with a little practice!

Writing is laborious for a lot of children, but introducing them to wordless books is one way to make learning fun.

Some wordless book suggestions:

The Midnight Circus by Peter Collington
Tuesday by David Wiesner (a Caldecott Award winner)
The Grey Lady and the Strawberry Snatcher by Molly Bang
Will's Mammoth by Stephen Gammell
Good Dog, Carl books by Alexandra Day
Sunshine by Jan Ormerod
Frog Where Are You? and sequels by Mercer Mayer

Still more on wordless books at LIM Resources