Friday, July 29, 2011

Home Depot - Free Teaching Materials!

What are some of the important things to consider when creating a learning environment for your children? We want the learning to be meaningful, relevant, appropriate, interesting, and, especially in today's tough economic times, as inexpensive as it can be without sacrificing quality - free would be great.

This year I discovered a great teaching resource that has all that.   That's right, Home Depot!

Our second graders used this web site for a fantastic project.  The problem:  Our classroom was in need of some new carpeting.  Their task:  find some new carpet and explain why this would be the best choice for our classroom.  They had to keep in mind that we were trying to spend our money wisely. For example, although all three teachers have the initials "MM," the carpet tile with giant "Ms" on it was three times as expensive as most of the other carpet.  Darn!  Students had to look at cost, durability, and ability to be cleaned.  They also had to agree on a color and type of carpet (carpet squares or wall-to-wall).  Additionally, they had to find out the amount of carpet to purchase, meaning they had to figure out how to calculate the area of our classroom, which was quite a challenge for young second graders.  In the end, the carpet teams presented their choices, and we voted on the carpet we thought would be best. The proposals were outstanding, and the questions posed to each team by the other students showed a good understanding of the process and the information they had learned.

This project was an extension of our math lessons.  The children had to use skills such as calculating area, multiplication, division, addition, subtraction, figuring out tax, comparing prices and other data, and, at the same time, cooperating with team members. Some of the the time, support was given, either by a teacher or by anther student who had already figured out what another student was now trying to do. Peer support was a huge part of this project, and it gave several students a wonderful opportunity to use their strengths for their own enjoyment and to help their fellow learners. In the end, the children not only built their academic skills, but they are now more savvy shoppers!

So, how can you use Home Depot in your classroom?  Take a look at some of the great learning you could be doing by just hangin' out at Home Depot:

Map Skills

  • Store Finder
  • In Store Layout

Environmental Awareness

  • Energy Star Appliance - what does that mean?
  • Check out the Eco Options of Home Depot - very cool!!

Social and Life Skills

  • What is stress-free shopping?  Why would shopping be stressful?
  • How to communicate with customer service (By the way, Home Depot was extremely quick to respond when I sent a note asking if using their site as a teaching tool met with their terms of use! Well done! And the answer was "yes" so go ahead and teach away!)
  • Credit card - a good idea or not?
  • What is your budget?

How-to Videos - Home Depot on YouTube

  • Your school will be repair-free and looking gorgeous in no time - and with the kids doing all the work as great school projects, you can't beat the cost - FREE  (sorry custodians).  But seriously, children could learn to plan, create and present their own how-to videos just by watching some of these videos, and they might develop some interests along the way. They might also learn to critique by asking questions about the effectiveness of the video, which is another way to help them learn to create their own videos and presentations.

Vocabulary Building - Here's just a sampling...

  • qualified appliance
  • special financing
  • campus essentials
  • exclusive offers
  • eligible items
  • practically the entire lumber and composites section (I have some homework to do!)

And, finally, FREE FIELD TRIPS (OK, I'm kidding, sort-of)
Check out the Kids Workshops at Home Depot. That's right! On the first Saturday of every month Home Depot offers FREE how-to workshops for children ages 5-12.  They learn how to build things, and they get one of those snazzy orange aprons.  Did I mention, it's free!!

I can't wait to check out the Pottery Barn site...

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Little Me - Birthday Edition

A birthday is a great time to reflect on your life.

Well, I've written before about the importance of recording memories.  I try to emphasize this with my students and with my family.  There have been times when my "recorded history" has come in quite handy when someone tries to say, "You never..." or "I never got to..."

We are fortunate to have so many ways to record memories. There's everything from a basic journal, to blogs, videos, photos, and paper and digital scrapbooks. Although oral storytelling is still one of my favorite ways to pass on events from the past, a bit of supporting evidence, such as photos, video or a written document, certainly does help one's case when there's a dispute.  Multiple points of view definitely help.

Make sure your students and your own children are keeping a record of their history. Work together as much as you can to make it real and accurate.  For me, I only have one side of the story and a terrible memory of my own, so I can only imagine how things really happened.  For fun, here's just one example...

"Comments on Maryann - at 2 1/2" - as recorded by my mom

She is still very stubborn.  She always wants to do everything Carolann [my older sister] can do, but doesn't like me to show her.  She cries that I only give her a "little bit" to eat.  She eats half then cries that I gave her too much. She is very clumsy and enjoys being bad.  She has an "eternal smile" as big as can be - even when she is getting yelled at.  She climbs, touches and gets into everything. She doesn't like to be helped.  She can't keep still a minute.

Rebuttal, by me  :) - I was very smart and skilled and frustrated at being held back by the unfortunate circumstance of being born second.  I was further frustrated by my parents' inability to appropriately portion my food, either giving me too little or too much.  I tried to be pleasant even though I was constantly criticized.  As soon as no one's looking, I'm outta here.  

(Now the record is straight.)

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Don't Get All Sharpie on Sudan

If you return to your classroom for the new school year with Sharpie in hand and simply draw a line across all your maps and globes to divide what was once Sudan into what is now Sudan and Southern Sudan, you're missing a world of learning that could happen in your classroom - whatever age or subject area you teach. 

In the last few weeks I've been exploring Southern Ocean and how scientists classify such things, and now I am learning more about how and why a new country emerges. There's conflict that can last years, then decisions to be made within the new country, communication with other countries in the region and elsewhere, and planning that involves world organizations. The new country needs leaders and those who believe in the changes being made. You don't just draw a line on a map and call it "done."

Some of you may have seen this map of the world by Simon Rogers and Jenny Ridley.  (First time using Prezi?  Click the play button under the image and then use the magnification tools to the right of the image. If you don't see the tools, mouse over the right side of screen and they will appear. Takes a bit of practice, and it's not the best way to view a map actually.)  It's helpful in seeing the borders of countries and some stats about the world.  But, even more fascinating to me are the comments posted below the map.  While you can't tell the expertise, country of original, etc. of all those postings (meaning some additional investigation would be needed), the fact that these debates can and are happening in the world is an important thing to share with the learners in your classroom.  It's unfortunate that comments have been closed on the page, possibly because they were becoming a bit heated? 

THIS is what teachers should be taking back to the classrooms and sharing with students--that even a map is open to debate, and I think all maps should come with a debate. What a way to learn, to spark interest, to generate the desire to investigate a topic, and to make those places on the map actually mean something!

Random Add-On...
By the way, I was checking the spelling of Sharpie and ran across the Sharpie web site - it's totally awesome and worth checking out! Apparently, there's an entire Sharpie World I've been missing...time to update my maps again!!  Sharpie Web Site

Saturday, July 9, 2011

How Many Oceans Do You Count in Your Classroom?

Oceans away by Here
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License  by  Here's Kate 

I'm preparing for my new adventure in fifth grade (coming from second).  One of my favorite things about being a teacher is that I get to continue to learn new things, relearn what might have been forgotten, and I truly appreciate giving others the chance to share their expertise in whatever learning environment I find myself.

So, as I browsed through the fifth grade textbook to see what it's all about (textbooks...a whole other conversation), I began thinking I'd like to brush up on some geography.  I know it's easy enough to "look online" to find out a location or understand something about a culture, but I wanted a more automatic recall of information I once knew so easily.  Earth science, environmental science, and cultural geography were three of my favorite classes in college, and they helped me gain a better understanding of many things about our world. This is definitely a great time to review. So as I began going between the book and other resources to make sure I have the most up-to-date information and to be sure I can connect history with the present I found there was something missing from the maps in our social studies manual. Something like, um, an ocean.

I began to ask around and apparently there are many people who don't know that there are now five oceans.  Or, more accurately that SOME people claim there are five oceans.  The more I investigated, the more I found out about this fifth ocean and that it might not actually be a done deal - not all the votes are in it seems.  Briefly, about 11 years ago, some scientists decided that there is now Southern Ocean, which surrounds Antarctica.  It's on the maps.  Well, some maps, and not our textbook maps.  National Geographic, which, from my research, did not originally recognize Southern Ocean does now have it marked on maps on its site.  Some scientists believe Southern Ocean is not really an ocean but part of other oceans.  I don't have enough of a grasp on the topic to explain it clearly. I'll have to keep reading to get a better handle on the two sides.

There was an interesting article published in January 2011 on  It reminds me that even more important than knowing how many oceans there are is the idea that teachers are responsible for knowing about such controversies as this debate among scientists about the oceans (or remember the planets and Pluto - does your science textbook still have Pluto in it?)  It is the responsibility of teachers to show students that such debates exist, how changes are made, why changes are made, and, of course, it will mean getting the students in on the debate and not just waiting for the final outcome to make its way to your textbook that you might be getting in a few years.  It will definitely take some research and a continued commitment to the topic (add Southern Ocean to your Google Alerts).  It might even mean reaching out to experts in the field.

When you return to your classroom for a new school year will you go back with four or five oceans or with a question for your students:  How many oceans do YOU think there are?  FUN!

Friday, July 8, 2011

Resume Updates: Or, Little Me Returns for Summer Reflection

Last summer I reflected on my own years in school, as a student.  It was interesting, amusing, and really helped me think about myself as a teacher.  Here are the posts if you're curious:  Little Me and Report Card Comments, Summer Reflections/First Drawing, Hopes and Dreams and a Dash of Criticism.

This year, I bring you reflections of Little Me as a preservice teacher.  Yes, as I think about my many roles during my elementary and high school years, I find that I probably ought to update my resume.  I have, in fact, been a teacher in training since I was a young child.  See below for some updates I am considering.  I will just have to do some research to get the exact years.

Elementary School Teacher Experience

Classroom Design
I think I had a hand in just about every bulletin board that went up for my teachers.  I either traced and cut the letters (remember that?), mounted the paper, or attached the items to the board.  I distinctly remember one time being on a ladder after school (the big ladder, not a step stool), and putting paper on the bulletin board above the chalkboard.  I'm pretty sure teachers of today could not allow young children (I think it was 4th grade) to climb ladders OR just hang out after school without telling their parents.  And, I also remember that there was not a teacher in sight.  In fact, I'm even wondering if the teachers went home.  I really don't know, but I was with another child, and we had a blast.

Enrichment Program Coordinator
In Catholic school, we didn't have a gifted program.  But I do remember that several of us would be finished our work early and had to find other things to do.  So we would make up games to play.  I don't remember them all, but I do know one had something to do with the big classroom dictionary--maybe something to do with spelling the words?  I don't know. But I know it was up to us to figure out how to "amuse" ourselves.  

ELL Teacher
Yes, it was the students who were our ELL teachers in elementary school. We were in school at a time when there were refugees coming from Vietnam.  There was a girl who came to our class who spoke NO English.  There were a few of us children who took turns working with her. Reading and writing I think, maybe math.  I don't remember much, but I do remember thinking she was a brat!  She didn't want to do any of the work and WE would get in trouble if she didn't do the work.  Hmmm, sound familiar teachers?

Speech Pathologist
I have a sister who is a year younger than I. As many young children do, she had trouble with her "er" sounds.  During a recent conversation, my mother reminded my sister that she "just grew out of it" without any services. Apparently, according to my sister, when we went to bed at nights I would spend time working with her, helping her with those "er" sounds. I'm sure my parents owe me tons of money for those private lessons!!

High School Tech Support
So, in typing class we got these crazy contraptions that would actually allow you to type digitally and correct errors BEFORE you printed your work.  No correction tape, no worries about spacing, margins, etc.  It was all done for you. They were called word processors, and we only had a few of them so the students were to rotate on them.  The teacher took volunteers to start.  I was in!  Pick me!  This was too good to be true, I thought, almost like cheating.  Surprising to me then, just as much as it is now, there weren't that many takers for this innovative technology, and not even enough volunteers to start rotations.  I just stayed on the word processor for all the turns.  Soon, our teacher was coming to me for advice on how to use the word processors, and she began to ask me to show the others how to use them as well.  I would figure out what to do when something went wrong too.  So here's the best part:  when report cards were given, I was quite surprised that I didn't have a good grade (it was average).  I asked the teacher why, especially given that I was pretty much teaching the class.  Her response - well, you didn't complete all the assignments for the term.  Ugh!

Take some time to reflect on your elementary years.  How will it help you to become a better teacher? How will it help you create valuable learning experiences for your students?  I learn a lot from Little Me.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

EraserTown USA Grows Up

After teaching second graders for 11 years, I will now be teaching fifth graders.  That's quite a change, and I'm excited for the new adventure.  ErasertownUSA will have to adjust as well because it was originally created with a focus on teaching in today's primary classroom (see the bottom of the blog for the history behind the blog).  I have no doubt, however, that I will find amazing, creative children in fifth grade--children who are eager to learn, collaborate, question, problem solve, and enjoy their time in school.  I can't wait! 

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

ISTE 2011 - Enough Is as Good as a Feast

ISTE Season - It was a great week of learning, sharing, and socializing that started on Saturday, June 25, with the Discovery Educator Network pre-conference event and a bit of EduBloggerCon, continued on Sunday with the Constructivist Celebration, and ended on Wednesday, June 29, after three days of ISTE's numerous events.

But, the ISTE season began many weeks before as I prepared for some presentations I was giving. There's a lot to do as one organizes thoughts, resources, and materials to share with others. I also began planning long in advance for the pre-conference events I would attend, the volunteer responsibilities I would take on, as well as the ISTE sessions I wanted to attend and, of course, the social events that I wanted to include on my ISTE calendar.

There's so much to do at conferences, and, once again, I felt pulled in so many directions, as I'm sure many participants did. I began to feel disappointed that I couldn't be in two (sometimes three or four) places at once. Then I was even more disappointed that I was not feeling satisfied with the choices I made, even though I was planned where I wanted to be in the first place. Make sense?

But then I had a wonderful conversation with a "new friend" over lunch at the Discovery pre-conference, and I felt much better about not being able to be everywhere, do everything. It's one of my favorites from ISTE:

We were treated to a great lunch at Discovery's pre-conference. As we picked up our boxed lunches, packed with sandwiches, snacks, fruit, etc., we walked past a table filled with cupcakes. I couldn't wait to eat lunch and get a cupcake. Unfortunately, and, as is usually the case, I eat slowly, talk too much, and can never finish my meal. I was so full I no longer wanted to eat the cupcake. I was disappointed because I REALLY wanted a cupcake, but, I wasn't about to make myself sick over it. During conversations about lunch we were reminded of how we sometimes go out to dinner and look forward to the dessert but often are too full to order the dessert in the end. And, we said, sometimes it's nice to go out to eat and just order salad and a dessert. I sometimes even like to order the entree and just plan to take it home with me for another day.

That got me to thinking about something like ISTE and the gigantic, eclectic menu it has to offer. While I really wanted it all, there's no way I could consume all that ISTE had to offer and truly appreciate the experience. So, I won't feel disappointed about what I've missed, I will be happy with my experiences. Salad and dessert - yummy, and the company was awesome! And, I will savor the doggy bags that I know are waiting for me via my massive online community refrigerator!!

Here's just a bit from my plate for those who want a snack:

From Discovery Pre-Conference

Discovery Pre-Conference Birthday Celebration

From Constructivist Celebration

  • - Make music in a creative way
  • Microworlds - I finally spent some time exploring
  • Generation YES - I had a great time talking with Dr. Dennis Harper about Generation Yes and the programs offered by this organization. I would like to be able to share this program with others in my district because I think it is of value not only to the student involved but also to the entire community.

Constructivist Celebration


  • SCAN - a program to help develop critical thinking skills, problem solving, and the ability to create well-developed arguments. Thanks to Sandy Wozniak for a great presentation, and I hope you get your sweater back from the cab! This was a session where I was a volunteer (actually, my volunteer assignment changed and this was a last-minute plan), but I was glad to have learned about SCAN. That's why I love not having every moment mapped and being able to "go with the flow" sometimes.
  • Digital Fabrication - something I have been waiting to see and am hoping to bring back to my school.  An exciting way to bring creativity, thinking and problem solving, and integration of subject areas into the learning environment.  See Fab@School and DigitalFabrication for info. Thanks to the FableVision Learning team for the awesome info. and demo!!
  • Infographics - Kathy Schrock's Resources; Jane Krauss and Diana Laufenberg's Infographic Resources. Visual literacy was where I put my focus during ISTE, and was was thrilled to learn more about infographics.

A Scene from the Newbie Lounge

("Enough is as good as a a feast." - While it's not  a Mary Poppins original quote, it was in the movie.  And I do love to quote Mary Poppins whenever possible!)