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Monday, January 23, 2012

Without a true headline story for today, I'm left with three pretty good stories to use here. The Orlando Sentinel's Kate Santich tells of a pilot food pantry program at 13 Orange County elementary schools that is set to expand to 17 more schools this year. She tells in More Orange schools to offer food pantries for needy students of the successful pilot program backed by the nonprofit Christian Service Center and other Florida school food pantries. Santich notes that "the demand is a somber indicator of the current economic climate."

Leslie Linthicum relates in the Albuquerque Journal what is becoming an all too familiar tale. In School Doesn't Sound Like an F, Linthicum writes of the Sandia Base Elementary School in Albuquerque that "had improved steadily on the standardized tests that measure a school’s achievement," but recently received an "F" under New Mexico's A-F School Grades system. Linthicum observes that "An F school doesn't look and sound and feel much different from an A, B or C school. It's just a little more demographically challenged and a little more demoralized right now," in relating the negative effects on students, parents, teachers, and administrators from the new rating system.

cK-12 Middle School Math After Apple's announcement of their iBooks 2.0 textbook initiative last week, Mike Cassidy reminds us of other, free textbook alternatives in Don't bet against Neeru Khosla's idea to save our schools in the San Jose Mercury News. He writes about Neeru Khosla's nonprofit cK-12 Foundation which provides free, downloadable textbooks for middle and high school math and science. He clearly states one of the strengths of the cK-12 materials, "CK-12 beats Apple on price (free vs. around $15)."

I briefly wrote about the cK-12 program here on Educators' News in 2009 and again in one of our annual Free Stuff for Teachers, Homeschoolers, and Students features. I noted at the time that downloads from cK-12 were a bit slow, and they still are. But they're also still free, pretty good stuff, and still under development, review, and improvement. The textbooks can be viewed online as well as downloaded as PDF documents.

After Midnight

Just about the time I uploaded the first version of today's Educators' News (a little after midnight), the New York Times' RSS feed produced a dandy rip of the Obama/Duncan Race to the Top program. Michael Winerip's In Race to the Top, the Dirty Work Is Left to Those on the Bottom focuses on just one currently non-tested subject in New York, band, as an example of the craziness and needless paperwork Race to the Top causes while producing little to no improvement in education. There's a lot of good food for thought in the column, but I think the best quote from it is:

By adding just one-third of one percent to state coffers, the feds get to implement their version of education reform.

Mike Klonsky has a photo on his blog of Arne Duncan's Race to the Top bus that was mentioned in Winerip's article!

Another Great Teacher Lost

The Odessa American's Caylor Ballinger relates the sad story of Odessa High School teacher Teri Cowan calling it quits in Teacher: It's a feeling of us vs. them. Both the article and Cowan's letter of resignation (29K Word document) reveal how top down administrative "improvements" and "reforms" can be counterproductive...and drive good teachers out of the profession. Cowan told Ballinger of "a process of being worn down for two years with 'micromanagement' from administration, and a series of events that she said led her to feeling unvalued and replaceable by the district." Quotes from the district superintendent and Odessa High's interim principal about Cowan come off as patronizing, if not downright insulting and showing their total lack of understanding of education.

On the Lighter Side

Having stayed up way too late Sunday evening writing most of what appears above and below this section, I didn't run across a really good human interest story until around 10 A.M. Monday morning. Teresa Watanabe's A simple "Go to the dance with me?" doesn't cut it anymore on the Los Angeles Times should fill the bill for something interesting that might even make you grin a bit.

Odds 'n' Ends

Everything else so far today just goes in this Odds 'n' Ends section, as the stories don't merit (to me) a separate section, but may be of interest.

Doug Martin's piece linked above is about the "parent trigger" law currently being considered by our Indiana Republican majority (who are hellbent on ruining our public schools). But at the bottom of Doug's article, he adds a few brief quips, the last of which is a classic:

In Florida, several lawmakers operate their own charter schools, have relatives who do, or have been employed by the charter school operators. In his new piece, Bob Sikes lashes out at the hypocrisy of a new bill being proposed for lawmakers who work at universities. It’s just a matter of time before Indiana becomes as corrupt as Florida. I can see the bus ads now: Mitch Daniels/Kevin Chavous/Dred Scott School of Finance, Brian Bosma Crony Business Academy, Phil Boots Stop N Shop School of Crawfordsville for the At-Risk, Bruce Borders/Elvis Presley Academy Prep School of Music Business. It’s only going to get worse folks!

Note that I did change Doug's last link in the blurb to go to a page where Elvis's, er, Bruce's constituents are unloading on his voting record and refusal to respond to their letters and emails. Bruce outdid himself at a Crackerbarrel session last March, accusing the crowd of bullying him because they demanded he answer questions about his positions that hurt his own community (but helped his rich Republican backers).

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Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Newbery, Caldecott Awards Announced

The American Library Association announced its Youth Media Awards at the Association's mid-winter meeting in Dallas yesterday. The Newbery Medal for best book in children's literature went to Dead End in Norvelt by Jack Gantos. Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai, and Breaking Stalin's Nose, written and illustrated by Eugene Yelchin, were named Newbery Honor Books, a runner-up award that has included many marvelous titles over the years.

The Caldecott Medal for the best picture book of the year went to A Ball for Daisy, written and illustrated by Chris Raschka. Caldecott Honor Books Awards were announced for Blackout, written and illustrated by John Rocco, Grandpa Green, written and illustrated by Lane Smith, and Me . . . Jane, written and illustrated by Patrick McDonnell.

Note: Title and image links above are all to Amazon.com. I'd guess that Barnes & Noble and Books-A-Million have all the titles in stock and would be happy to take your money. All three are Educators' News affiliated advertisers.

A long list of other awards announced was included in the ALA news release.

The Associated Press has a good story about the combined awards, "Dead End" Wins Newbery, "Daisy" Takes Caldecott. NPR also has a good story with some interesting quotes from author Chris Raschka in A Ball (And A Caldecott) For "Daisy" The Dog.

A Story with a Happy Ending

Kenneth Chang's After Hardship and Homelessness, National Science Fair Honors in the New York Times is the story of Samantha Garvey, an 18-year-old senior at Brentwood High School on Long Island, who is one of this year's semifinalists in the Intel Science Talent Search. What makes the story special is that Garvey's family were evicted from their home and had been living in a Suffolk County shelter for two weeks before Ms. Garvey received word of her selection for her work on mussels and a predatory, non-native crab species. It appears that the story will have a happy ending (beginning?), win or lose in the science fair competition, as Ms. Garvey received a scholarship after appearing on the Ellen DeGeneres Show, and "Suffolk County officials said they had found a home for the Garveys."

Odds 'n' Ends

Yep, I had to break our Monday-Wednesday-Friday publication schedule once again. I decided to get the Caldecott and Newbery announcements up today, as the format I used for illustrating the covers would sorta bang up against a special edition I have under development for tomorrow's On the Blogs feature.

Support Doctors Without BordersWednesday, January 25, 2012

Wolfram Launches Educational Portal

The folks who make the heavy duty academic calculation tool, Mathematica, have launched a new portal for students and educators. The Wolfram Education Portal currently includes algebra and calculus textbooks from cK-12 enhanced with interactives from Wolfram. The portal is just getting started, so the offerings so far are pretty limited.

cK12 text + WolframI took a look at a few pages of the enhanced algebra book on the portal and found a few added bells and whistles to help students. A discussion of perimeter and area of a rectangle added a couple of interactive tools that dynamically showed the result of area when side dimensions of the shape were changed. (cK-12 text shown at far left - Wolfram additions shown at near left) Note that I found a required plug-in from Wolfram doesn't seem to work with Power PC Macs like mine, so I had to do my brief test drive on our Windows 7 equipped HP.

eSchool News has a story about the launch, Wolfram Alpha launches free portal with tools for math instruction.

I've written here before about the Wolfram Alpha "computational knowledge engine" that's been around a couple of years, but it's definitely worth mentioning again. An easy to add javascript places a search bar, on ones web page or blog like the one at right that will handle mathematical searches and stuff as mundane as ones city and state. The scripts for the search bars come in small, medium, large, and annotated large with a sample question.

Animals in US (Wolfram Alpha widget)Wolfram also has a whole bunch of cool widgets one can add to a web page. When I added the How Many In? widget shown at right from the education widget page, it came up with the default entries for how many people were in the UK. Having farmed for a few years, and admittedly being a bit of a smart ass, I asked it to compute how many "cows" there were in the "US" (quotes denoting my entries). Without so much as a hiccup, the widget popped up the information I requested (94.5 million cows in the U.S.) along with a table showing how many asses, beehives, cattle, chickens, ducks, goats, horses, mules, pigs, sheep, and turkeys as well!

Both search tools are fully functional on this page. Try them!

Full disclosure: Wolfram Research was at one time an Educators' News affiliated advertiser.

On the Blogs

Walker BillboardOur On the Blogs section this week features contributors gleaned from the nominees for yet another contest for the best education blog of 2011.

Leading off the newly discovered blogs, many of which will probably only make a one time cameo appearance here on Educators' News, is a great posting from the Defend Wisconsin News Roundup blog, Scott Walker PR blunder in Janesville. It features the photo at right and a video of "a billboard in Janesville, Wisconsin, featuring a smiling Scott Walker" that read:

Governor Scott Walker
Creating Jobs for Wisconsin
Call Governor Walker at 608-266-1212 and say "Thanks"

The blogger notes that the problem with the billboard is that it was "placed directly in front of the now closed GM plant in Janesville!" An update related that the billboard got pulled in a hurry, but I'd guess the image might reappear in ads during the upcoming Wisconsin recall election. The story also got picked up on Daily Kos, Scott Walker Billboard Fail (another Bwuhahaha moment).

Blue Lollipops from KauaMark's Just a Substitute Teacher blog is a riot.

Marcia Beckett's Art is Basic blog has a potential gem for art teachers in her Art Teacher Blog Directory.

Cafe Press Wall ClocksSince today is a charity web banner Wednesday, I'm going to have to sneak some commercial advertising into the middle of our On the Blogs section. (I donate our ad banner space at the top and bottom of our Wednesday postings to charities.) But it actually sorta fits here, as I first ran across the DCI Pop Quiz Wall Clock on a commercial blog, WebAssist Wired that somehow got on the list of blog award nominees. Then again, I generally don't do commercial blogs here, but...

For teachers looking for an unusual clock to adorn their classroom and possibly provoke a little thought from observant students, there are a bunch of math and science wall clocks available.

DCI Pop Quiz Wall Clock DCI Science Wall Clock Unit Circle Radian wall clock Square Root wall clock
DCI Pop Quiz Wall Clock DCI Science Quiz Wall Clock Unit Circle Radian Wall Clock Square Root Wall Clock

The image links above are to Amazon, but you might save a bit by going to CafePress and searching for "math clocks."

A brand new blog, The Digital Native Teacher, began its first posting, The Internet: Simplified, "If there is one ting that I am good at it is teaching." Obviously, spelling, grammar, and proofreading aren't some of his strengths. On to the next one...

I really like Katie Regan's weekly feature, Hilarious Student Quotes of the Week, on her Katie is a Teacher blog. You may have to scroll a bit to find them from the link provided, but it's worth it. Here's an example:

Mae: Miss X, what are we supposed to write about?
Me: Anything you want.
Mae: I’m going to write about how this assignment doesn’t have enough rules.

I wondered if Zombie Math Teacher Mandy Bellm had totally lost it in a recent posting, Revolutionary new Zombie algorithm: the Cookie Monster inequality!!! She began in good shape:

The best ideas come on the fly in teaching. You can't plan for it... or write an objective for it... or pre-test it... and it often negates a large portion of the lesson plan you did spend 2 hours preparing the night before. Thus was the invention of "Cookie the Inequality Monster".

Then it appeared she was beginning to ramble with talk of Pac-Man, Cookie Monster, Oreos, and algorithms:

Number linesAlas, I digress. Back to Cookie Math. So... think about it... look at the solution, or dot, in the middle of these inequalities. Doesn't the open dot (x<2 or x>2) resemble the cream in the Oreo Cookie? And the (x<2 or x>2) look like the top cookie on those lovely cookie sammiches Cookie loves so much?  Of course he prefers chocolate chip, but that just doesn't go along with my math plan ;)

As previously discussed, the < or > sign is "Pac Man", and he wants to eat the bigger meal. So I made up a little algorithm, deciding that Pac Man does NOT like the cream in the oreo. Hence the OPEN CIRCLE. If pac man sees the open circle cookie cream, sans cookie, he will NOT eat it. The number is NOT included in the solution, and Pac Man will start his om-nom-noming after he has exited the cookie cream's circle of doom. 

Her writing may seem all over the place at times, but it would seem that Mandy has a talent for getting her concepts across to her students in effective and entertaining ways. It's a blog I plan to visit again.

And while we're talking about math that I don't understand very well, Mr. D links to 3 [free] Fun Online Games For Reviewing Slope and Linear Equations on his I Want to Teach Forever blog.

Surviving a Teacher's SalarySurviving a Teacher's Salary by The Teacher's Wife could be described as one long advertisement, but she seems to really try to find some good bargains. What really caught my eye was her posting, Our Morning at the Sensory Park - Common Grounds Playground, Lakeland, Florida. Sensory parks are incredible places to take kids and grandkids, and obviously, can be a great activity for children with disabilities (if the park is designed right).

As I looked through the nominees, a couple of commercial sites kept popping up in links and/or as nominated sites. Again, while I generally don't do commercial sites, both Teacher's Market and Teachers pay Teachers might be worth a look.

Money MasterOne page that may take a bit of exploring is 20 Online Tools to Make Learning Fun by Karen Schweitzer on Kate Klingensmith's rarely updated Once a Teacher blog. It has lots of links to good learning sites. I didn't get much further than playing a bunch of rounds of Money Master on the linked Math is Fun site.

While not on the list of nominees, Richard Byrne's Free Technology for Teachers is an incredible site and blog. It sorta sneaks into this listing, as a nominee did a simple cut and paste of Byrne's work (with a credit) into her blog and got nominated. The posting used was Byrne's listing of Search Engines for Students. I think I like the posting partly because he writes about Wolfram Alpha which is mentioned elsewhere in our posting today.

Beyond the search engine posting, a recent Byrne gem is GE Teach - Teaching With Google Earth, which tells of and leads to Josh Williams' excellent geography tool, GE Teach. "Visitors to GE Teach can select from a variety of physical geography and human geography layers to display and explore."

Another gem from Byrne is Another Earth - Compare Maps Side-by-Side, which leads to, of course, the Another Earth site that allows one to use a split screen to compare earth views of the same places in the world at different times. There's lots more in the online app, but I only had so much time to play with, er, evaluate the site.

One last blog from the list of 100 nominees worth watching is Dave Dodgson's Reflections of a Teacher and Learner. Dave is an English Language teacher at a private primary school in Ankara, Turkey. His blog ranges from issues to technology, but is consistently interesting.


A Few Words about "The Contest"

What should have been, and occasionally was, a joyful romp through some of the best education blogs online turned out to be a mind numbing experience. I spent three days sifting through the 100 nominees for the Fascination Awards, "an annual collection of the web's most inspirational and thought-provoking blogs." While the host site states the "list of 100 nominees was chosen by our editorial staff and selected from a pool of over 2,300 submissions," I found only a dozen or so blogs that met our admittedly subjective standards for mention here on Educators' News. When one digs down past the Online PhD Degree URL, it appears that the contest is actually sponsored by Walden University, an outfit of questionable repute. With any apologies due to the nominees, the whole deal seemed to me to be just a notch above the scam of the week!

Way too busy!Being a bit of a glutton for punishment, I'm going to go back through the list one more time to make sure I gave all the nominees a fair shake. By the time I looked at the last third of the list, my attitude was pretty rotten from seeing spelling and grammar errors, recognizable student images, and blogs that existed only to pimp for teachers' products. I also endured some sites that suffered from way too much eye candy. There was even one blog included in the nominees that chronicled the different outfits the author wears to class each day as a fashion statement! I guess there's something for everyone on the web.

I still need to give the primary folks another look, as I got pretty well overdosed with "cute" early on in my screening. I came to appreciate the need for "cute" when I taught a third grade class for students with developmental delays early in my career, and later when I wound up my teaching years in a K-3 special education assignment.

Of all the put-offs of this self-assigned writing misadventure, the absolute worst experience was seeing the constant begging for folks to vote for their site. I can live with a single "Vote for me" on a site, but many of the sites were running contests and expensive giveaways in order to buy votes and "followers." That's pretty lame.

I plan to get back to our regular list of education bloggers next week for our On the Blogs feature with possibly a few of those way too "cute," primary blogs thrown in that I may have slighted today.

Odds 'n' Ends

Just a few items here so far today:


The Christian Foundation for Children and Aging is a child sponsorship organization serving more than 300,000 children, youth and the aged in 22 developing countries. CFCA's Hope for a Family Program connects individual sponsors with a child, youth or elderly person in need of encouragement and support. Hope for a Family sponsorship goes beyond the basics of providing food, education, health care and livelihood programs. It gives families hope that they can create a path out of poverty for their children.


Friday, January 27, 2012

Teacher's Corner February Calendar
Groundhog Day

Looking Ahead

George Washington CarverFebruary is a busy month in terms of observances. It is, of course, Black History Month, which provides a lot of teachable items and the potential for classroom decorations and craft activities from lots of sources:

 • Maynard Institute
 • Fact Monster
 • History.com
 • The Teacher's Corner
 • Infoplease.com
 • FREE: results of Black History Month search
 • Library of Congress
 • Teachers' Domain
 • Thinkfinity (other Black History search results)

I'll run through the date specific observations (in order) here with a few, hopefully helpful links.

February 2 - Groundhog Day

img_1922.jpg • Coloring Book Groundhog Day Coloring Pages
 • Crayola Groundhog Coloring Page
 • DLTK Happy Groundhog's Day page (song, history, links, etc.)
 • DLTK Groundhog or Woodchuck Themed Coloring Pages
 • Flikr-Creative Commons search results for "free" groundhog images
 • Wikipedia (Groundhog Day)

February 5 - The Super Bowl

February 14 - Valentine's Day

Valentine's Day Clip Art
Valentine's Day Clip Art from MyCuteGraphics
Valentine's Day Clip Art

Another Valentine's Day Clip Art from MyCuteGraphics

As usual, KABOOSE has a bunch of clip art, cards, and activities suitable for classroom Valentine's Day activities. And remember those days when we art challenged folks had to purchase CDs full of clip art? Now, there's tons of free stuff available on the web.

 • Christmas Graphics Plus
 • Clker
 • Karen's Whimsy
 • The Kidz Page
 • My Cute Graphics
 • Valentine Clipart
 • Vector Jungle
 • WebWeaver

February 20 - Presidents' Day

February 21-22 - Mardi Gras and Ash Wednesday

Keyboards

I switched keyboards this week - twice. I made the first switch to test a new "spill-safe" Kensington Keyboard for Life I ordered to replace my venerable Kensington Keyboard-in-a Box. It failed after a roof leak poured a gallon or so of water into it, and the old model (#64350) is no longer available. The backup keyboard was hooked up to my backup G5, and as luck would have it, the keyboard got drenched instead of the more expensive computer. It had served me well on my last job and in short term use as a replacement when I was cleaning my main keyboard.

Apple M9034LL/A keyboardLet me to digress and tell you about cleaning the stock, Apple M9034LL/A keyboard that was supplied with the 2004 series of G5 towers. I've cleaned three or four of them. And I've killed two or three of them when I let the "electronics safe" foam cleaner drip down into the inner workings of the white keyboards. So...I've become much more cautious in cleaning my main keyboard, especially since they now run around $50 to $125 from the few third party vendors who still have them in stock. If that particular model didn't have such a good feel, I wouldn't put up with its under-protected electronics and a design that catches way to much dust and dirt.

So...I decided to try another cheapie Kensington keyboard, as the Keyboard-in-a-Box had been a pretty good keyboard. And I quickly found that it has no soul. It's a cross platform keyboard, but its Control, Windows, and Alt keys aren't mapped when hooked into my Mac the way they should be, making me use the Windows key (instead of Control) for the Mac Command key. At least the Alt key defaults to the Mac equivalent Option key. The numerical keypad omits the equal key. I found that every time I did a calculation or a cut and paste I had to watch the keys and think about which key I should be using to match the Mac's Command and Option keys. And the feel was simply cheap. It reliably took input, but had no good sense of touch that gives one a feel for where their hands are on the keyboard. But hey, they say it's spill-safe. After using it for two days, I wanted to throw the thing out in the cold rain.

Instead, I ordered another, new, backup keyboard. I went with the Macally brand this time around, but still carefully checked the images on the sale page to insure it truly was a Mac keyboard and had an equal key. This one may be as soulless as the Kensington, but at least it will have the keys where I expect them to be.

I'm now back to using my white, Apple pain-in-the-ass-to-keep-clean keyboard, after carefully, carefully cleaning it with Formula 409 Degreaser using paper towels and Q-tips. I sparingly sprayed the cleaner only on the paper towel and Q-tips, spending hours polishing key tops and running countless Q-tips along the sides of the keys.

And of course, with shipping charges, I could have had a new Apple M9034LL/A pain-in-the-ass-to-keep-clean keyboard for what I've paid for the two, new, backup keyboards.

Mice

Kensington model 72123 optical mouseWhile I'm just taking up space here on an otherwise slow news Friday (And yes, I'm ignoring the debates, speeches, and rebuttals of the last few days.), let me add a few words about computer mice. Just as Kensington has "improved" their keyboards to the point I don't want to use them anymore, they've also discontinued one of the best products they ever sold, their model 72123 Mouse-in-a-Box optical mouse. It's a hollow sounding, lightweight two-button mouse with a scroll wheel that usually retailed for $10-15. It was really bottom-of-the-line, but happened to fit my hand perfectly and did exactly what I wanted. I've worn out several of them and am down to my last two of the model.

I've used more expensive mice with far more features, but the simple, old Mouse-in-a-Box has been the best computer mouse I've used. And if and when I finally move up to a new, Intel powered Mac running whatever is Apple's latest and greatest operating system, I'm sure the old mouse will be incompatible. But until that time comes, I hoard my remaining mice.

There's something to be said for an easy and familiar feel to ones input devices.

Odds 'n' Ends

Deborah Meier stepped outside her usual education subject matter yesterday on the Bridging Differences blog with a timely piece, It's the Economy.

Since nearly everyone has already watched, heard, or read about the President's State of the Union speech, I'll leave politics alone (except for linking to Margaret and Helen) and list a few other interesting items I ran across recently:

Have a great weekend!

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