Tag Archives: education

New Ideas for Using Technology in the Classroom

In the past I have mentioned my intent to use more technology in the classroom. Here are a few ideas that I have been exploring more and more on a daily basis. Of course, this depends on the resources that you have available, but all you need to be able to truly do these things is to have a laptop with wireless or networking available, and also a projector. In order for your program to truly be successful, you also need your students to have computer/internet access at home or in a computer lab at school that they can use during their study hall hours.

#1–Nicenet. Located at www.nicenet.org, this is an amazing teacher tool, especially for challenging your gifted students or your high school students. Students love it for two reasons: They can use it to interact with each other outside of school walls and they can have more exciting assignments that can accomplish more in less time. Let me explain. Nicenet is an online bulletin board that you, as the teacher, control and moderate. It is a private site that is only accessible by you and your students. Therefore, you do not have the potential problem of outside advertisements or spam mail that could contain dangerous content for your students. You can use it to do the following things:

–Post a discussion topic or assignment for your students to independently “turn in” online.

–Allow students to write responses to each others’ entries and start a discussion stream.

–Post links to websites for reading or youtube videos that fit into classroom goals.

#2–Youtube. Located at www.youtube.com, this is a tremendous resource for teachers. You do have to be careful of what content you are using–many sites are student-developed and may not contain accurate information. (Similar to the issue with Wikipedia.) However, they can provide an excellent anticipatory set or introduction to material. ESL students especially can focus with Youtube, especially if content vocabulary is introduced ahead of time. When my students read FDR’s “The Four Freedoms” speech in their books, they were able to hear the audio of Franklin D. Roosevelt giving the speech. Teachertube is another site similar to Youtube that contains academic videos that you can search according to subject area. Just remember that sometimes they videos need to be “buffered” or uploaded ahead of time so that they will play smoothly. You can do this by pausing the video and waiting a few minutes before playing it.

#3–Microsoft Powerpoint presentations. With the appropriate technology, teachers can quite easily use this powerful visual tool for presenting information. I suggest giving a Powerpoint presentation while asking students to fill out graphic organizers. It gives them a format for notetaking to keep them on task while you take care of your Powerpoint direct instruction of content. You can make it also more interactive by using a Powerpoint to create games and quizzes for students as a tool for review. You can also use it to show students primary sources that can be found online.

#4–Edmodo. So much controversy has bloomed over whether teachers should be using Facebook or connecting to their students’ Facebook pages. I personally do not “friend” my students or allow them to “friend” me. In my opinion, it is best to keep a professional distance from the personal lives of my students and avoid any issues that may arise as a result. However, I recently ran into a kind of Facebook alternative–one that allows a teacher to message her students, post documents and links, and maintain a calendar independently. This option is located at www.edmodo.com. If Nicenet gets too complicated in format for your younger students (say, Middle school or Upper Elementary), this new tool may be the answer to keeping your class in one private location where the focus is professional, not personal. Some of the tools provided by your school’s technology (such as Renweb or Edline) may overlap with this tool, but you can certainly control some of the design functions and use it in different ways. It’s a brand new tool offered through TeacherTube, which mean it may have a few glitches left to work out. After I’ve had a chance to set up my site, I’ll review it and let you know what I think!

In the meantime, I highly encourage all teachers to think outside of the box and actively push yourself to understand how to use technology. Don’t give excuses that you are too old to learn, but actively seek ways to be innovative with your classes. If you don’t know how to use the technology, ask someone who does to show you. Use whatever resources that you have available. Your students will thank you and you will appreciate it when they appear more engaged and ready to participate in your classroom activities. I personally have been astonished at the depth I have found in my students’ Nicenet responses. In most cases, it is more in-depth than I would ever receive in a classroom discussion since it eliminates fear of public speaking and encourages contribution and interaction. Don’t be afraid to try new things! Old dogs CAN learn new tricks!


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Schools, Kids and Nutrition

I find it very disturbing that, despite all of our concerns about American obesity and all of the physical health issues that go with it, we still have schools and parents that do not take responsibility for the nutrition of children, which is where our first education about nutrition begins!

Let me break it down for you, parents. You are your child’s first model of how to eat correctly and how to eat well. If you are inconvenienced by cooking, it does not excuse reliance on fast foods or artificial, processed products for the primary meals of your child. If you treat your body poorly, your child will do the same. Think of it this way. You work hard for your money, but consciously eating well is not just helping you; it is also helping your child. There are some easy changes you can make in your diet that would not take nearly as long as you think.


–Start buying and using whole wheat or multigrain pasta instead of the regular kind. There is not much cost difference, and it doesn’t really taste much different. Just be sure to make sure it is thoroughly cooked and that there is sufficient olive oil in your pot to avoid sticking.

–Make the switch from processed white bread to whole wheat or multigrain bread. (It’s SO much different!)

–Slowly take your whole milk down to 2% milk, then to 1% milk and finally to skim milk so that your child adapts to the new taste.

–Buy natural peanut butter that contains Omega 3’s and flax/linseed oil. The No-sugar or reduced sugar Smuckers jellies can also help you make those peanut butter and jelly sandwiches healthy!

–Try pureed carrots to add to your spaghetti sauces or even spinach, if your kid doesn’t object to the color green.

–Limit the meat intake on a given plate, but allow for seconds on the vegetables and whole-wheat bread.

–Offer fruit as dessert. Canned fruits in heavy syrup do little for your child. If you must buy canned, look for the ones canned in plain water.

–Find fat-free salad dressings to use in all kinds of yummy flavors. Experiment with different salad ingredients such as putting grapes, oranges, grapefruit or spinach leaves in the salad. Make it look pretty and inviting.

–Kids tend to like finger foods, so take the time to pull the grapes off of the stems for your kids or put together a little baggie of baby carrots or cucumber slices with some dressing.

–Some yogurts contain less sugar than others. Look for “natural” or “organic” yogurts that can aid your child in digestion and immunity. Gelatin is also good for the skin and is cheap to buy in little cups.

–Fat-free puddings are a good way for your child to get a chocolate fix without ice cream or candy bars.

–Don’t send your kid to school with money every day unless you are guaranteed that they will not be spending it on chips, chocolate and sodas from the vending machine. Look at the school’s lunch menu, and do not assume that the school is looking out for your child’s best nutritional interest. (You want to know how much salt and fat is in the “turkey chunks and gravy potatoes” dish? What about the mac and cheese or the chicken fingers?)

I hope that some of these tips help you out as parents. I also hope that some of you will also make some of these dietary changes. Parents, we need to stop abusing our bodies so that we can give more and be more for our kids. Waiting for an illness or a dysfunction in immunity to take place before making lifestyle changes is not good enough! Love your child by loving yourself!


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Combating Racism in the Christian Classroom

I am always disappointed when I hear negative comments about the Christian community ignoring social issues such as racism. It happens in our churches, but we ignore it. It happens in our culture and in our world, yet we do not necessarily equip our youth to see it for what it is and do something about it.

Christian school teachers, in my opinion, are even more called to train their students to understand racism in all of its ugly forms, not as an outside entity (It happens “over there” to “some people” in “other places”), but as a continuous process of stereotyping, negative attitudes and discriminatory perceptions. Why is this part of our mission? It is an issue that it NOT political; it is a matter of ethics. Whether we are Democrats or Republicans, we can appreciate the fact that a black American has finally made it to the Presidency and celebrate that fact by encouraging our youth to take advantage of education opportunities. We can take it upon ourselves to motivate our students to develop positive identities and role models within the African American community.

As a little white girl from rural Western NY, it is difficult for me at times to believe that I have a voice in helping to stop racism. I’m tempted to just say, “What do I know about racism? I’m one of the privileged majority. What right do I have to draw the attention of my multicultural students to the dangerous mindsets that perpetuate racism? Don’t they already know more than I do about these issues?” In this sense, it is not about white or black–we all have a part and a duty to train students to see clearly. Yes, my students may have had more personal experiences concerning racism. But it doesn’t necessarily make them mature thinkers in terms of how to react to these experiences and how to pinpoint how they affected their identity and their responses to society.

The interesting part is that in one of my very multicultural classrooms, where each student comes from a different ethnic/regional background, I found my students making blanket statements such as, “Black people create their own stereotypes” or “If they don’t receive a quality education, it is their own fault.” Now that my students have opened the can of worms dialogue, how can I guide them toward appreciating African American culture? These discussions came as a result of reading Zora Neale Hurston’s book Their Eyes Were Watching God and I found myself growing discouraged. What is the point of introducing such a beautiful, lyrical, important multicultural text if my students just aren’t “getting” it?

The solution to this problem that I am pondering right now is to get together some of the variety of women from the U.S., Panama and other Latin American countries who have successfully established themselves in a career field. My preference would be to choose a variety of women who come from different economic brackets, who can not only speak on the African-American female experience in a way that is relevant to the novel, but can also open up dialogue from personal experience concerning racism and how it has affected them. Will this work? I certainly hope so. Feel free to respond with your own ideas or comments.

One thing is for sure in my mind. Whenever students believe that racism is dead in their particular area of the world, or that it is someone else’s problem and not their problem, we cannot in good conscience permit that mindset to go unanswered. The danger lies in pretending that simply because we do not perceive aspects of racism or that it is not as visible in certain regions as in others that it has simply erased itself from society. How can we motivate students in the black community to rise above racism and believe in their own achievement? How can we encourage students to take advantage of educational opportunities offered to them instead of thinking, “That’s not for someone like me.” How can we show that we believe in our students, regardless of their racial background?

Let’s make our Christian school students aware of the issues around them, instead of just ignoring them because we believe they might be outside of their personal experience. We don’t stop teaching the Holocaust simply because we don’t happen to have any Jewish students in the classroom, so let’s not take teaching multicultural literature for granted.

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Obama and McCain on Education: What Is In Store for Christian Education?

I must say that the election between Obama and McCain is storing up to be a very close race. And why shouldn’t it be? This is democracy at work, a moment that very well may be historical–either by the election of our first female VP, or by the election of our first black President. And on that level, I am very happy to be an American citizen where leadership is not necessarily limited by race or gender in our governmental system. However, both candidates have certain pros and cons to their stance on the issue of education, which I would like to attempt to deal with on this blog (at the possible expense of combining the interests of both Christian schooling and politics, which very well may get me drawn and quartered, depending on the level of tact involved).

The topic of this blog concerns ONLY the issue of the future of Christian schooling, and does not necessarily address the myriad of other issues at stake in this election. I am simply discussing the differences between McCain’s campaign on education and Obama’s campaign on education and what that means for those of us who working in Christian education. Obviously, a vote should depend on a wide variety of philosophical ideals, not necessarily just on one pet issue that a voter feels strongly about.

Today I looked through McCain and Obama’s official websites. Since I found myself so divided, I thought it might help to check out what they, in their own words (or rather in the words of their speechwriters), have decided to stand for should they be elected into office. Today’s Christian voters, it seems to me, have more diverse party affiliations than in year’s past, and are now choosing to vote based upon the quality and quantity of information that they can gather about both candidates. In my efforts to be an informed voter, I thought that I should check it out and decide for myself which candidate appeals to me.

In terms of education, John McCain’s official website states, “Public education should be defined as one in which our public support for a child’s education follows that child into the school the parent chooses. The school is charged with the responsibility of educating the child, and must have the resources and management authority to deliver on that responsibility. They must also report to the parents and the public on their progress” (Issues, Education). McCain follows that idea with the concept that “If a school will not change, the students should be able to change schools . . . parents should be empowered with school choice to send their children to the school that can best educate them just as many members of Congress do with their own children” (Issues, Education). 

In terms of Christian schooling, private schools other than charter schools usually start out as fledgling academies using the best possible resources available until they have room and money to grow. I do not hold that all public schools are bad places for students, as some Christian conservatives do, but it is clear that we are at the point where we should finally acknowledge not only the inevitable inequities of school funding and school quality, but we should also acknowledge the fact that each student as an individual is different and education does not necessarily have to be a cookie-cutter base of knowledge. I myself went to a small 25-student Christian school until my senior year of high school, and I found that my gifts and abilities allowed me to make the switch quite fluidly. It’s not the size of the school or the availability of things like baseball fields, football teams and swimming pools that make a child’s education great. Otherwise, why would we have so many successfully homeschooled children? A parent who chooses to homeschool their child is a parent who is going to be the most caring and concerned teacher that their child would ever find in any school. Trust me, those parents feel a strong sense of responsibility toward their child’s education, and are not doing it out of a whim. On that level, the rights of parents to homeschool and the rights of parents to choose a Christian school should be honored. Particularly since all of the original schools and universities in the U.S., including good ole Yale, were seminaries at one time, and literacy once meant that you could read and interpret the Bible. (I especially liked the dig that Congress people are already making the choice to send their kids to outside schools. What would happen if all of Congress were required to send their kids to their local public school?) 

Obama’s website also contains some good information about what he plans to do, such as making math and science education a priority by recruiting strong teachers in those subject areas. He also plans on expanding middle school intervention support to lower the dropout rate and expanding afterschool and summer programs. According to his website, “Obama will address the dropout crisis by passing his legislation to provide funding to school districts to invest in intervention strategies in middle school – strategies such as personal academic plans, teaching teams, parent involvement, mentoring, intensive reading and math instruction, and extended learning time” (Issues, Education). Obama has also promised on his website to “double funding for the main federal support for afterschool programs, the 21st Century Learning Centers program, to serve one million more children” (Issues, Education). Perhaps the most exciting initiative for me, as a teacher is to see that “Obama supports transitional bilingual education” as a means of providing support for English Language Learners.

Although McCain is an advocate for school choice, his targets for public education do not seem clear or specific. It seems as though he is “fixing” the problem by not fixing it. Instead, he is simply giving parents to the freedom to go elsewhere if they are disgruntled with their local public schools. He does believe that “our schools can and should compete to be the most innovative, flexible and student-centered – not safe havens for the uninspired and unaccountable. He believes we should let them compete for the most effective, character-building teachers, hire them, and reward them” (Issues, Education). But other than asking schools to compete for teachers and leaving it up to the free enterprise system of supply and demand, McCain’s policies offer no real answers for public school funding or teacher recruitment problems. However, McCain’s choice stance does work out well for those schools who are working to be recognized and are trying to avoid discrimination in their local communities. Homeschoolers and small Christian schools may want to vote for McCain’s stance on education for this reason.

However, assuming that Obama’s promises to fund programs and carry out the well-intentioned by poorly-organized NCLB into the 21st century hold water, he is the more logical candidate to support when it comes to working within our public schools for change. We certainly should be concerned that many students do not have a choice to homeschool or go to a charter school, and are left with only the option of public school. Are we willing to sacrifice the needs of all of those students in order to make a statement about our right to choose? By the way, Obama never mentions in his website about whether he will pass legislation limiting a parent’s right to choose a private or charter school. It might be a good question to ask. He does, however, promise to also provide teacher scholarships to aid in teacher recruitment and create Teacher Residency Programs in order to provide teachers with the preparation they need to succeed. In addition, he is going to campaign for teachers to have “paid common planning time” so that they are better capable of working in collaboration (Issues, Education).

So does this answer all of my questions? Not really. It does, however, give me a good idea of which questions to ask. Do you happen to have any questions concerning McCain and Obama and their views of education? Feel free to comment and we can all try to answer them together.    

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The Trend of Online School Management Software

Our school bought into the trend two years ago and began the software to use both “Edline” and “Gradequick” in combination with each other. Edline allowed our school to build a linking website to our home page that included a class schedule and forms for parents and staff. It also allowed teachers to build their own class websites and place updated quiz, test and project dates on a calendar for parent access. It provided students and parents with a code and password so that they could receive updated information and view current grades. Gradequick was a separate software program that connected to Edline and was used to upload grades into a web-based service that sent the grades to Edline for viewing. Edline also allowed for a combined test, quiz and project calendar for the entire secondary staff. In this way, we could control the number of major tests or projects students would be taking on a given day.

However, Edline was not without its flaws. It was not a comprehensive system. It required a separate grading program. It didn’t have interesting features like lesson plan uploading or behavior reporting for online archive files. It didn’t give administration access to individual student schedules.

So, after some consideration, our school switched to “Renweb,” which is a more complete school management software. They are currently attempting to make their program web-based this year instead of software-based, but it includes a variety of functions including lesson plans for archive, uploading of PDF files for parents to download, academic and behavior documentation and medical histories. It allows the schedules of students to be posted and for teachers to post grades using the same software system. Attendance can also be taken on the system.

So here is my question: It seems to me that school management software is now the ongoing trend. However, which system is the best to use? Which system is comprehensive, yet affordable? Which system has excellent customer service and less “kinks”? 

I would like to invite my readers to comment on the systems their public or private schools use and rate the following areas on a scale of 1-10: affordability, user friendly, functions, customer service, and time-saving. Basically, give me the name of your software, the main website from the software company and then rate the following areas. Provide a brief comment with your rating.


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The Teaching Mom

Now that I am currently around 9 weeks pregnant, the topic of motherhood and working in the field of education has crossed my mind more than once. This manifests itself in two different ways: 1. I find myself wondering how women find the time to be teachers, mothers and wives all at the same time. 2. I find myself growing excited about the prospect of being able to be the first and (in my opinion) most important educator in my child’s life.

Firstly, my belly is growing, and the nausea is definitely up and running. Not only am I concerned about getting through my hectic full-time teaching schedule without throwing up during the day, but I worry about how much I will be able to keep up with these special projects that I have given myself to do this year. (AKA take on a new English Honors class for the first time.) But I think that the fear goes beyond that. I know that as a single woman I found it difficult to balance my time between work and my husband. Household chores piled up, paperwork piled up, and some days I was just very tired from the stress of juggling it all. Keeping up with grading and lesson planning takes work, and even after 5 years of teaching and finding different shortcuts, it is still a daunting task. Will I be able to be a full-time teacher and a mother at the same time? On this level, I admire women who not only have the choice to stay at home with their kids, but also homeschool and therefore more efficiently combine both motherhood and education into their lives. As for those of you who are full-time teachers and new moms at the same time, feel free to give me tips on how to survive this! 🙂

2. My husband laughed at me and said, “Our kid already has a library, and he/she hasn’t even been born yet!” It’s totally true. I was 2 months pregnant when we went to the bookstore and started searching for the best kid’s books of all time. I bought magnetic letters and numbers, and a friend gave me some Baby Einstein CDs… I recently read and commented on a website that discussed the necessity of preschool, and I guess it just depends on how much energy I can give to my baby to make sure that he/she reads as soon as possible. (I’m an English teacher, so the reading thing is important–can’t you tell?)  Again, readers, feel free to give me tips on the best books/tools of all time to help your baby get the best headstart possible!


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Introducing Motivos Magazine!

I would like to use this opportunity to present to you Motivos magazine, a publication designed to inspire hispanic and Latin American students to achieve their dreams using the tools of education. The founder/publisher happens to be a personal friend of mine, Jenee Chizick, and I know for a fact that she has made many personal sacrifices in order to create this particular magazine. Motivos is based in Philadelphia, PA and offers personal stories, tips, letters, features and “speak outs” that allow hispanic students to share their thoughts about stereotypes and allow successful hispanics to reach out to others.

The website for her magazine is www.motivosmag.com. I highly recommend a subscription to this magazine for any school, church, library, college or youth-serving organization. As you know, the highest-growing population in the U.S. right now is the hispanic population, and many of them are finding it difficult to achieve their dreams and goals due to lack of inspiration, an urban background and failing school systems. Motivos Magazine is a step in the right direction. The magazine comes with a student advisory board, and they are also looking for new student writers. For those teaching English, it provides a safe, multicultural read to open the eyes of your students. Check it out sometime!

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