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I bunkered down in the elementary school library to catch up on some reading.  Shortly thereafter a veteran teacher guided a young student to a table and chair about 20 feet from me.  I continued to read, but listened to the student – teacher exchange.  The student was learning about math, receiving remediation during summer school.  The student looked up to the teacher- eyes wide open – and excitedly inquired: “Wow.  How many books do you think are in here?”  The teacher responded, “Not sure.  Start your math worksheet.  Hang tight and I’ll be back.”  The student exhaled and just stared at the worksheet.

What happened?  Teacher, you missed a fantastic opportunity  to engage the student in the world of math.  Why didn’t you launch an investigation based on the students’ inquiry?  You could’ve incorporated exactly what the student was learning in meaningful way, assisting the student in unraveling the importance of number sense (addition, subtraction, multiplication, and estimation).  You missed the beauty of taking a real-life problem, and then COACHING the student through PROBLEM-SOLVING.

I couldn’t resist.  Once the teacher left, I jumped in.  Within minutes the student and I were plotting our journey to figure out the number of books in our library.  This made me reflect on how many “teachable” moments we miss as teachers, AND how we – all educators – frame and project our views of math to the students.

Check out this video:


I wrote the following post on Edubloggers – a group for those people blogging about the K12 classroom including teachers, administrators, curriculum directors, professional developers, pre-service teachers, and college level educators who focus on k12 education.:

Please share with me websites or resources that would be helpful to future and preservice teachers. I am the site author of – a free site that supports pre-service teachers.

Here are the responses:

  1. – non-profit that helps people get certified to teach through an online program – we have $150 off in January as a promotion for people who want to get certified – help for future charter teachers – podcast for new and aspiring teachers
  2. New Teacher Center: – Since 1998, the New Teacher Center has served over 49,000 teachers and 5,000 mentors, touching millions of students across the country through comprehensive mentoring and professional development programs.
  3. – Educational Visual Aids, where teachers get paid for their original ideas of educational visual aids. Teachers can find other visual aids that teachers have used that have worked for them in their classrooms.
  4. I have a message board for pre-service and new teachers and answer questions about curriculum, organization, classroom management, working with parents, colleagues, administrators, etc. on Advice is free. 🙂
  5. A few more ideas: for parental involvement, especially with the growing Latino student population, try Colorin Colorado at On my LinkedIn profile page there is a list of sites specifically for improving parental involvement. Another idea is Teachers Pay Teachers at It contains a lot of inexpensive resources that will benefit new teachers. I also suggest connecting with professional learning communities like edWeb at Good luck!


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    Here’s a quick post of what is happening.  This entire week I tweaked the curriculum to allow for the students to have more choice in their project.  I have also started to use some different technologies to allow for the information to be more accessible to the students.  For instance, instead of a student straining to see the overhead, students can now view the same information on their computer screens alongside their work (the software I use is called Vision).  This lends itself well to interactive presentations and modeling.  Finally, I stepped up the rigor.  I created Do-Now activities (bell work) that are more challenging and requires the students to use higher level thinking skills.

    For the most part the students are becoming more and more engaged, winning over the naysayers.  I had a few students come after school to work on their project, and one of these students was my biggest challenge.  He wouldn’t do his work and he was constantly disrupting others.  I spent a good amount of time with him, which helped build a relationship between us.  His behavior has improved and currently only needs gentle reminders from time to time.

    In part III I will post some data/evidence that things are in fact improving or not.

    I asked myself “what is it with this class”several times during 3rd period.  Today’s class started off on the wrong foot.  A student walked into the class screaming “WHERE’S MY CHAIR ?”  Mind you this is about 30 seconds after the bell.

    “Really.  I have about an hour and half left with this the class, and this crap is already starting!” – I thought.

    The class went south after that.  I upheld my expectations of classroom behavior, and followed through on my discipline steps.  Meanwhile, I didn’t feel good about it.  I felt too much of an authoritarian – which I suppose is necessary from time to time.  Yet, the feeling that somehow this isn’t an enjoyable class is still present in my mind.

    I have taught the same class over a dozen times before and it’s been engaging, fun, and a great learning environment.  This class is beginning to feel hostile, tense, and negative.  This is unacceptable.  Who wants to teach in a class like this?  Or who wants to learn in a class like that?  There many reasons I suspect have led to this situation.  Regardless, I need to reverse it.

    I have been mulling over some ideas to improve the classroom environment.  Two that I will implement ASAP is celebrate student successes more often and change-up the curriculum so it’s more engaging for the students.

    I’ll have the students back on Friday.  Let’s see what happens.

    UPDATE – 3/28 – – – – – – – –

    Well the good news is that the class recovered.  I changed up the curriculum, making it more engaging and relevant to the students’ lives.  This helped drive down misbehavior.  More importantly, I stuck by my guns, setting clear expectations that I want all students to learn and there are rules that have to be followed to ensure this happens.  In the end, I believe the students respected me more as a teacher, although at times it didn’t feel like it.

    It’s a simple premise:  our students should know what they are learning and why.  The best way to accomplish this is through having learning objectives for every lesson.  Yet, teachers tend to make some common mistake around learning objectives.  Knowing these common mistakes will help you maximize your practice of using learning objectives:

    1) Clearly post learning objectives.

    Don’t make the students continually guess what they will be learning.  It’s not fun for the students, and they will eventually give up trying.  Your learning objective should never be a secret.  Your learning objective should be written or placed in a prominent place in your classroom.  Some teachers write it in PowerPoint, some use document cameras, and others have their learning objectives written in a dedicated space on their white board.  Do what works best for you and your students, but the key is to consistently post it.

    2) Make your learning objective relevant.

    Reference your learning objectives in the beginning of each lesson.  If you continually talk about (give attention to) the learning objective students will come to understand that this is important and something they should pay attention to.  Another way is to have the students do some activity around the learning objective.  For instance, you may ask students to reflect on their progress in achieving the learning objective and what they need to meet it.

    3) Write the learning objective in simple, student-friendly language.

    Avoid going crazy with a paragraph-long learning objective.  Keep it simple, allowing the student to understand it.  To ensure students understand the learning objective you can have students rewrite the learning objective in their own words.

    4) Double-check to see if  it is really an objective or activity.

    Examples of activities masked as learning objectives:

    “Read Chapter 2 in the your textbook.”

    “Summarize Chapter 2.”

    Examples of a learning objectives:

    Students will be able to

    “Describe the author’s perspective in Chapter 2”

    “Compare and contrast between current author and a past author’s perspective”

    5) Ensure your learning objectives drive the lesson.

    Every activity and assessment must be connected to your learning objectives.  Often teachers have great activities, but they have nothing to do with the learning objective.


    Road to Teaching: A Guide to Teacher Training, Student Teaching, and Finding a Job

    One of the classes I teach is Business and Personal Law for juniors and seniors.  We are learning the sources of law.  After polling the students regarding their comfort level with understanding these sources of law, I realized most of the students were vague about 1-2 of these sources.  Then, I had a crazy idea.  The next day, for our entry task (a.k.a. do-now activity), I asked students to write a love letter to their favorite source of law.  Students immediately thought I had gone nuts and began laughing.  I explained that I was serious.  I reminded students that they needed to be romantic and explain in their love letter why that source of law was their favorite.  100% of the students were engaged and working hard to create their love letter.  I allowed more time than I usually would for them to complete this entry task.  Afterwords, I asked students to read their love letters in small groups.  Giggling and laughter could again be heard.  Finally, I asked each small group to pick one person to read their love letter out loud.  We heard as a class love letters to ALL the sources of law, and explanations why this was so. 

    Here’s an exert  from one letter addressed to the student’s love – the U.S. Constitution:

    “Oh Constitution.  You are so manly.  Even though you are in D.C. and supreme law of the land, you are still my protector.  You protect me when I speak, when I worship, and vote…”

    I polled the students again, and students indicated they were more comfortable understanding the sources of law.  I can’t wait to see if this translates to their test scores.

    All in all, go with those crazy, off-the-cuff ideas.  It’s these ideas that revives the curriculum, engages the students, and leads to deeper understanding.


    Most likely we have heard the phrase “work smarter, not harder.”  Today, this phrase kept ringing in my head as I stared down a classroom of 30 freshmen in our Information Technology (computers) class.   Each child represented different needs, skill sets, s(language, culture, etc.), ability, and experiences.

    I was about to transition to their next activity – creating a flyer, using their textbook – when I realized I need to do this in a smart fashion.  Moments after giving the whole class instructions, hands began to fly into the air.



    “I need help”

    “What page?”

    “I am confused.”


    I needed to act fast to make this class a fine-tuned learning machine.  Here’s my plan:

    1)      I began by telling the students they need to ask at least 2 of their peers their questions before asking me.

    2)      Vocally encouraged students to help peers that are stuck/confused

    3)      Vocally praised students for helping others, e.g. “Sam, thank you for helping Gina with how to formatting.”

    4)      Utilize students that finished early to aid struggling students, especially the ELL students.


    Towards the end of class, I looked out and realized nobody was asking for me.  Students felt empowered to walk around, helping each other out.  Students were on-task and most importantly learning.  This allowed me the freedom to visit the students individually, checking in on their understanding and developing the important student-teacher relationship.  Not to mention, the stress level decreased.

    Ongoing Process

    Tomorrow we will follow the same process.  I will repeat these steps over and over until there is a culture of collaboration and team work.  It’s hard work on the frontend, but over time it pays huge dividends.

    I currently do not tweat.  After reading these two articles I am wondering how I could embrace this tool for my classroom.

    Do you use twitter for teaching?  How so?  Share your story.  Also, if have another story link please pass that along. 

    Was that 140 characters?

    Stop and think before you answer this question.  The interviewers really don’t want to hear your life story or the names of all your 20 cats.  Rather what they are listening for is how well you will fit into the school, work with your colleagues, and relate to your students.

    Talk about yourself and 1-2 life experience, but ALWAYS tie it back to how it will help you in teaching. 

    For example:

    “I would describe myself as adventurous and outgoing.  Last year I traveled throughout Southeast Asia, traveling to four countries.  I love learning about new cultures and meeting new people.  This is one of the reasons I want to teach at {insert school name}.  It has amazing diversity.  I would take this same enthusiam and apply it to learning more about my students and their backgrounds.”

    Assessment is a powerful tool to improve student achievement.  Rather than treat assessment as an end result, teachers should incorporate assessments as part of the learning process, allowing both teacher and student to monitor progress and evaluate news ways to improve.   A teacher can accomplish this by
    1.       Clearly defining the learning target/objective
    2.       Showing student work
    3.       Delivery pre-assessments to understand students’ prior knowledge and to create a baseline
    4.       Continually assess students’ progress and providing effective feedback on how to improve.
    5.       Teach students to self-assess and reflect on their quality of work and achievement of targeted objective.
    If time permits provide an example of how you used assessment as part of the learning process.