This I Believe

As Auld Lang Syne plays tonight, it is time to think about our basic beliefs and goals for the coming year. One twist on the haggard new year's resolution essay is This I Believe curriculum provided to accompany National Public Radio's essay series.

The project began in the 1950s as a radio program with famous journalist Edward R. Murrow. Murrow described the show's purpose: "to point to the common meeting grounds of beliefs, which is the essence of brotherhood and the floor of our civilization."
In the midst of war and economic strife, you and your students can enjoy the challenge to consider "the common meeting grounds of beliefs." You can share popular This I Believe essays with your students by reading from the books This I Believe and This I Believe II
Students can also listen to essays read aloud by their authors. Then, the site has essay-writing tips, a printable poster and brochure, and entire curriculum for teaching middle, high school or college students to write their own This I Believe essays. There is also an educator database where you can search for essays on any topic.


Fall Leaf Decor

Tomorrow, the first school day after Halloween, marks the end-of-exhibit for ghosts, bats and carved pumpkins on classroom displays. Just as they are unstapled and packed into homework folders, A Field Journal offers a pretty and simple leaf-garland template.
Each sheet you print makes two and a half feet of leaves to top bulletin boards for fall, harvest season or deciduous forests.

Images from A Fieldguide Journal blog


Worth a Thousand Words - Resources for Visual Learners

I haven't, so far, mentioned any subscription or fee-based services, because something seems wrong about teachers spending money in order to do their jobs. Nevertheless, there are a few for-cost teaching tools that I use and find to be worthwhile. Chief among these are the streaming-video databases at Brainpop and Discovery Education. As they say, a picture is worth a thousand words, particularly when teaching science and social studies. And besides, kids love movies.
Brainpop was designed in 1999 by a pediatrician who needed to explain tough concepts to little kids. The site has hundreds of short cartoons based on state content-standards and searchable by subject or grade-level. Each video features Tim and Moby, a boy-robot team devoted to answering tough write-in questions. After a 2 or 3 minute cartoon, topics like mitosis and the law of conservation of mass seem strangely and wonderfully clear. The site also has videos for junior brains, Spanish-speaking brains, and an entire menu of free movies. There are also many brainpop videos available through McGraw-Hill's textbook companion sites for physical science, life science, earth science, algebra, and others.
Discovery Education is the offspring of Discovery Communications, the non-fiction media company. Their site is jam-packed with resources and products, but the gold-mine is inside their program, DE Streaming. This program has thousands of videos including The Magic School Bus, The Standard Deviants, and lots of Discovery Channel-like videos to help teach topics from the 1964 World's Fair to the water cycle.
Many districts already subscribe to these services, and all you need is to find out the password from the librarian. Lots of other principals and administrators can be convinced to purchase subscriptions once they've seen the sites. And, if you can't subscribe, both sites have free trial subscriptions.

Images from my collection, Brainpop and Discovery Education


Display database

In August I posted about some sites with classroom display ideas. At the British site Teaching Ideas there is an entire section devoted to images of creative classroom displays. Just click on the subject-area you teach, and bunches of cool bulletin board ideas will appear. For science class, you can make a Funny Bones display like the one shared by Teaching Ideas contributer, Kate.
Foreign language students would love a vocabulary display inspired by favorite characters like this one.

Images from Teaching Ideas


Getting Organized

The job of a teacher involves lots of little pieces of paper. Hall passes, late slips, notes from parents, book marks, and lists can pile up until there is no hope for processing all of the information.
Enter marthastewart.com Back-to-School crafts. For the beginning-of-school season, there are 7 projects to brighten school supplies and organize the classroom. Best bets for teachers are the Plastic Pocket, the Book-Cover Pocket, and the Mini Notebook Keeper.
Each of these simple projects includes detailed instructions and the necessary templates.

Images from marthastewart.com



I give prizes. There, I said it. I used to love making a batch of brownies or cupcakes for my students when they made particularly good decisions or achieved goals. However, my new school district doesn't allow teachers to give any sort of food to students. As I've looked around for alternative goodies, I discovered another great free download. At Mollie Johanson's blog, Wild Olive, these pencil toppers can be downloaded and printed for instant kid-prize-goodness. There are five designs in the set including these encouraging phrases. Dig around Mollie's site a little to find other great, free downloads like the matching dull pencil desktop wallpaper, an adorable weather-tracking chart, recipes, embroidery patterns, and printables. Once you have fallen in love with her free goodies, run to Mollie's Etsy shop where you can buy more of her designs.

Images from Wild Olive.


Back-to-School Cake

Snacks are often an essential tool in reviving children for after-school activities. Karen and Amy at thelilpeanutpatch posted an adorable back-to-school snack idea.
Click on over to get the details of the recipe.


Design Freebies, part II

At the beginning of August, I posted about Summer Allen-Gibson's design freebies blog. Recently, she's posted bunches of new free stuff including some neat teacher-y things. Among my favorites are the library cards and pockets

Visit the blog to find links to this and other great projects.

Images and library pocket & card project from Creature Comforts.


Government-issued - Health & Social Studies Games Online

Last week, I posted about eco-games that help kids understand how to care for their surroundings. Turns out that another great source for cool educational games is the U.S. government. Maybe you're not surprised; I am surprised. Nevertheless, at kids.gov there are links to bunches of really fun, very educational games courtesy of the EPA, CDC, VA, US Mint, and other offices that are typically very serious.
The Immune Platoon is a superhero take on explaining the nitty-gritty of the immune system. At the end of the comic story, there is a Disease Database where kids can explore the story's immunity villains. This story is one of many features on the CDC's BAM! (body and mind) site for kids. At the Stress-o-Meter Quiz, kids can measure their own stress and get an idea of what appropriate stress is and isn't.
My favorite government game comes from the Peace Corps. The Peace Corps Challenge is a first-person fact-finding mission that integrates public health, international cultures, and education through Q&A and multiple choice. Colorful, believable characters guide players through a virtual facsimile of a Peace Corps experience. This is a great way to let kids explore and learn about complicated social studies topics.


Sticky Situation - Classroom Display Trick

This week I will be decorating my new classroom. Finding the perfect adhesive for every situation is a little-known teacher passion. Depending on surface type, humidity level and student behavior, each classroom requires different adhesive solutions. Today, I discovered one such solution. When hanging unlaminated posters and student work, there is always a concern about how to preserve the back of the item when it's removed from the wall. At the Make and Takes blog, author Marie suggests placing a piece of tape flat on the poster first. Then make a tape loop that won't tear the paper.
Watch her blog for other cool ideas.

Images from Make and Takes


Behavior Incentives

Check out these cool bulletin boards for behavior incentives!
Beth Newingham features this gumball machine in the classroom tour on her site. While you're visiting her page, you should also see her teacher resources section which is jam-packed with resources for reading and writing teachers.

This pizza system is from Classroom Displays blog. Students earn toppings with good behavior. When the pizza is all made, the class wins a pizza lunch.


Environmental Awareness with Online Games

I went to a professional development presented by Keep America Beautiful today. As it turns out, they have an entire curriculum for teaching about waste management, conservation and littering. In addition to hearing about the lessons and ideas in their curriculum, I found out about several cool websites where students can practice their environmental awareness.
At bottlesandcans.com, students deliver recyclable trash from the roadside to the bins across the highway in the easy but fun eco-conscious game.
For a more serious test of eco-awareness, visit EcoKids. At this Canadian site, kids can practice setting up a yard sale or help solve the mystery of the Great Garbage Caper.
And, at Clean Sweep USA, there are virtual comic books for kids to read and learn.

Images from bottlesandcans, EcoKids, and Clean Sweep USA.


Another organizing idea

Classrooms have an astounding ability to amass unusual and sometimes unruly collections.

Martha Stewart Kids has a fun and utilitarian idea for organizing all the odds and ends that come with children. Objects are scanned before being tossed into a can and labeled with their own image. Check out the details of the project at
Container craft image from Martha Stewart


Crayon Redux

Unless you're one of those super-industrious teachers who meticulously cleans their classroom on the last day of school, then the beginning of school means sorting through the old stuff and making the space feel new again. One sign of a worn-in classroom is a big bucket of broken crayons. If you, like me, have one-such bucket staring you down as you begin the year, Craft Magazine's blog has just the solution you need.

Crayons that had been left abandoned become the most coveted, swirly-colored drawing tools of all! And today, the Craftzine blog offers anextra credit crayon craft. Once you've mastered recycled-crayons cookies, you can create crayon masterpieces.

Images from Craftzine.com


Free Design

Free Design Goodies is a side-project-blog by Summer Allen-Gibson of Design is Mine. During her regular design reading, she finds freebies, weeds out the good ones, and collects them on this blog.
Whether you're looking for a cool craft for your students, trying to organize student information, or wishing for some adorable stationery,
Summer has found it and provided links.
Images from Free Design Goodies


Classroom Style

As each school-year begins, I try to find a compromise between slaving over a perfectly-theme-decorated kinder-haven and leaving my classroom looking like an under-funded aesthetically-unpleasant government building. Today, I found these images in Flickr. These are classrooms I could definitely enjoy!
library sign - my collection; scissor tree - JulieFrick; Cans, Emerson tree, Monkeys, Frisbee passes - Classroom Theme-a-palooza; Tree Mural - bliss_24

Teaching Tolerance

Teaching Tolerance is an amazing education project by the Southern Poverty Law Center. They have designed lesson plans, classroom management guides, curricula, and games that promote understanding and tolerance. All of their resources are available for free, either online or by mail.
Last year my elementary students became obsessed with Rosa Parks after seeing Mighty Times: The Legacy of Rosa Parks. The video comes by mail with discussion idea and lesson suggestions. Also, there are more suggestions on their site for teaching with this documentary.

I Will Be Your Friend is a book of "songs and activities for young peacemakers." A cool example is "1492" which cheerfully re-examines popular beliefs about the discovery of the Americas.



When I was in college, Google was a) the easiest way I knew to research for my papers and articles; b) a verb meaning to stalk via the internet.
Although Google has since continued to sport its spare, tried-and-true, appearance, it seems that they've been busy backstage. Today as I explored my way through this extensive list of services and programs, I stumbled onto SketchUp. Despite the title sounding like the program involves finger-painting with tomato sauce, it is actually a cool, free, 3D drawing tool.

The possibilities for teachers seem endless. Google has a page of actual student work and a page of students' projects for a SketchUp competition. Teachers can download the program and design simple constructions to teach lessons on shadows (the program displays the shadow for your project) and shapes. You can cut cross-sections of your designs to show the inside. When you download the program, Google takes you to set of short video-tutorials that explain all the basic tools in the program. There is also a database of pre-made objects that you can use in your own lessons. And, Bonnie Roskes has designed a kids' curriculum for SketchUp including free activities and free teacher guides for all grade-levels.
The applications for student-use are really far-reaching. Kids can design and present projects for advanced classes like architecture and engineering. Younger students can use the tool to show comprehension of geometry and science objectives. Social studies classes can create scaled maps. Little kids can create their own 3D shapes, products, and projects.

Images from SketchUp.google.com


Paper Foldables

Recipe for storytelling success:
-One part puppets they used to love during centers
-One part paper dolls
-One part paper football your students make when they should be listening
Mix all ingredients together carefully, et voila!

This and other fantastic foldable characters have been touted all around the crafting world. I first read about the free printables at haha.nu.
Go to paperfoldables.com to download and print Open-Mic-Night Guy and Sickly Cat or the whole Soap Box Derby gang. You can either cut and assemble these ahead of time for centers, or you can let your students be the official designers. They get to cut and fold paper; you get students excited about storytelling; everyone's happy.

Harmonica-mouth image from paperfoldables.com


PBS = Teacher's Goldmine

Besides broadcasting Barney, Big Bird, and other kid-favorite characters, PBS Teachers is chock full of cool interactive teaching tools. Thay have everything indexed on their thematic teaching list. While learning about Africa, kids will be guided by Femi through a Swahili folktale, the thumb-piano, and making an African mask.

If you're teaching about reptiles, kids can click their way through the anatomy of a crocodile. In a literature class, kids can use PBS' storytelling-tool to make a "movie trailer cut from stone."

Cartoon, crocodile and stone images from pbs.org.


How does your garden grow?

As school is starting, or almost starting, all around, I've been thinking of little ways to carry the pleasantness of summer into the school year. One very summery activity that is now getting attention from all over as a great and useful learning experience is gardening.

Although commiting to a garden may require a day or two of hard work, that might be just what's in order when the stress of test-preparation and tedium come to a boil. Other than stress relief, school gardening helps reach a ton of objectives in science, health, writing, and math. Kids can see all of those science-y cycles of water and carbon and plant life. They can write and draw about the changes they see; they can read and write recipes; they can calculate the necessary materials and space. And, gardening is a great way to squeeze nutrition-education into a sometimes crowded curriculum.

Your garden can be as simple as lima beans sprouting in plastic cups or much more amibitous. Lots of states and communities have developed programs to assist teachers in developing school gardens. The University of Florida hosts a school garden competition and has lots of tips and resources on their site. Texas A&M offers free resources to teachers along with lots of information on their site.