Monday, October 4, 2010

Kindles in the Classroom

I had a brainwave this morning :)

What if all textbooks in high school, college, and university were replaced with eBooks on eBook readers like the Kindle?

Just to be clear: No, I don't have an affiliation with them, I don't even own one, but I'm not going to list each make and model of ebook reader every time I mention it either.

Think about it: the huge stack of textbooks replaced with a Kindle. That would save quite a few young backs (and I'm not kidding around).

I think the hardest thing about implementing this would be getting the textbook companies on board. Once we do that, the rest is simple: I'm thinking that high school students (parents) would maybe pay a deposit and borrow the eBook reader from the school, while post-secondary students should mostly buy their own Kindles, but being able to 'rent' them from the bookstore also would be a good idea.

School boards would buy licences for many textbooks like they buy the multiple copies of the physical books now, and upload them to the eBook readers. Post-secondary students would buy the eBooks for a much reduced price (I'm thinking a $150 textbook should go for $50 as an ebook) and they can return them for half their money back at the end of the semester if they wish.

I just feel sorry for the girl I saw the other day crossing the street while I was stopped behind her bus. She had a small frame, but her backpack was stuffed full and at least 3 times as 'thick' as she was. It's sad. There are a lot of back problems in young people. And these are the years that they are developing their spines.

Imagine it: all a student would need in their bags would be a binder for notes and a Kindle. (And a lunch.)

What do YOU think? Is this feasible? Would you like it in your class? Do you know of any school or boards already doing this? Anyone got a textbook company's ear??

Feel free to share this post, let's see if we can save some spines!!

Have a great week, and as always, feel free to comment here and/or email me at


Friday, March 19, 2010

We Are Teachers blog on Student Organization

Hello all! I recently came across this post on the We Are Teachers blog and I thought I would share it with you. It's all about getting your students organized.

We Are Teachers list 27 suggestions of ways to help your students get organized. Two of my favourites are:
#9 Set aside time every month for students to clean out their binders and book bags during class.
#21 Have your students write a "to-do list" at the end of each day to take home with them.
I think I like these because they combine responsibility, the teacher makes time, but the students are learning a valuable skill. There a lots of good ideas and I suggest you take a look. It's really short and very worthwhile.

Have a great week, and as always, feel free to comment here and/or email me at


Sunday, February 21, 2010

A Teacher's E-mail Life

OK, e-mail, not a big deal right? An easy way to communicate and shoot off quick messages. No! You need to be careful about your e-mails.

First of all, anything that goes online can never really be deleted. The internet is permanent. (This is also a good talk to have with your students about what they put on myspace and facebook and wherever else they're hanging out online.) If you send someone an e-mail that you deem is for their eyes only, there really is absolutely nothing stopping them from hitting the forward button. So think twice before you complain about someone or something online, and don't share any information in an online format that is sensitive.

Who should you e-mail? One word of advice: never have personal e-mail conversations with your students. They should never have your e-mail address (and don't friend them on facebook or similar sites). I'm not saying you can't use e-mail as a tool in the classroom, but make sure you're using a separate e-mail address that is your "professional" account and only discuss school business. Many boards have their own email service and most students figure out that it's your first name's initial and your last name or whatever the formula is, but don't give them your hotmail, gmail, yahoo, or other accounts.

This is about boundaries, I know you won't do anything and that student is a great kid, but you never know how an innocent message can be interpreted and/or edited to look BAD. Teacher-student e-mail should be minimal, and only about class.

Now for parents, you will get a lot of correspondence in various formats, including e-mail from parents. E-mail from parents should be kept and filed away in case anything ever comes up again. Try to keep e-mail correspondence with parents down to quick simple things. More complicated subjects really should be verbal conversations as e-mail messages can often be misread. It is really easy to take something the wrong way in an e-mail, because it's just plain text and there is no emotion or inflection (and little smilies and emoticons are not very professional).

Make it clear to parents the way that you work with e-mail. If you're the type of person that checks your e-mail several times a day, it's not a big deal, but if you only check it once or twice a day (or week), you really should mention that to parents. In today's socity people don't realize that just because they sent the message 5 hours ago, doesn't mean you read it 5 hours ago. E-mail can be instantaneous, but it needs someone to be at the other end. I don't really think that your life should revolve around e-mail, I'm just saying that some people don't realize that your life doesn't revolve around e-mail and may be insulted that they didn't get an immediate response. If you value your time and don't constantly check your messages, relay that information to parents. It can be as simple as including in your note at the beginning of the year one sentence that says these are the ways you can contact me and THIS is the best way to contact me.

Colleagues: Please collaborate with colleagues as much as you can. Subscribe to newsletters from associations and groups related to the subjects and ages you teach, but again, don't get too personal in e-mail as you never know how someone will take that sentence; you may have meant it as a joke, but they might not see it.

E-mail yourself. Hunh?!?! Yes! E-mail important things to yourself as a BACKUP storage of files, documents, and possibly electronic grade backup files (if you have one of those programs). But don't have that as your only copy, you never know when the server will be down. It's great to realize that yes, you forgot that paper on your desk at home, but the file is only a click away in your e-mail. But it's also horrible to realize that you e-mailed yourself that file, you need it for the next class that starts in five minutes and you can't log in!

Please comment or send your questions to me at

Have great day!

Valerie :)

Monday, November 2, 2009

What does Homework mean to you?

What does homework mean to you? Is it a form of punishment for those that are wasting time in class? Is it a means to an end - your end? Is it a way to cover material you didn't have time for in class? Is it a necessary evil? What is it?

One teacher I had the privilege of working with shared her homework philosophy with me. To her, homework was just practice, a way for the students to cement what they had learned that day into their heads. She posted the next days homework the night before online and students were not allowed to start working on their homework if they finished their seatwork early for two reasons. One, that, in a way, would punish the slower workers, and two, she believed students needed to do to work later, on their own to 'prove' that they still understood it hours later.

So, for example, in math class a new concept would be introduced during class, then the teacher would go over some examples on the board scaffolding from the teacher doing the whole problem and explaining it to them all the way to the students doing the whole problem and the teacher just recording it on the board. Then the students had some assigned seatwork on the concept to practice it more on their own, but with the teacher available to help. And, finally, the homework was just a few questions for the students to do on their own and recall what was learned in class.

Students shouldn't have hours and hours of homework each night, just 2-3 questions per concept introduced that day and some review for upcoming tests and the next step in a project that will be due next. The purpose of homework should be to remind students of what they already learned. Just a little practice.

Don't forget, if you assign 2-3 questions per concept instead of the whole worksheet, there's less marking/checking for you to do also.

Please comment or send your questions to me at

Have great day!

Valerie :)

PS: It's November already! Try to collect any and all overdue assignments starting now so it's all done before Christmas break!

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Organize Your Students

Well it's the beginning of a new school year and the best foot to start off on is the organized foot! What can you do to help your students be organized that might also make your life easier and could have the effect of enhanced learning? This may seem elementary, but teach your students how to use an agenda!

What? That's easy! I don't need to spend time on this! - Is that what you're thinking? Think again. Very few students are actually taught how to use an agenda. Most students are handed an agenda in September (or whatever month you start school in your corner of the earth) and told to write their homework in there. That may be all they're told.

I've been in classrooms where the teacher checks and signs the agendas everyday and the parents sign the agendas every night. That could be a little overkill, and if you invest some time teaching your students how and agenda works and what it can do for THEM, your hands-on time throughout the year could be reduced. (Plus who does real work the first day anyway?)

Teach your students that agendas are a tool for them to use, not a note home from the teacher to the parents that has nothing to do with them. Show them strategies like listing assignments and test dates on the month pages, and day-to-day homework on the week pages, and teach them that both types of pages represent the SAME days, so they should look to both. Have them input holidays and field trips into their agendas so they know what's coming up. Talk with them about colour coding and prioritising. Show them how to plan ahead when they have a large project or unit test to break the prep work up and do a little each day so they don't pull all-nighters.

Talk to your students about individuality. Let them know that there is no one way to use the agenda, they can use whatever strategy works best for them.

Teach them about routines with the agendas. They should be writing homework, assignment, and test information in their agendas throughout the day as it is discussed, not just copy everything down at the end of the day from the blackboard. They need to check their agendas before the end of school and gather the right materials to take home, not just so they don't forget to bring their novel for English that they have chapters to read, but also so they don't lug home their Science textbook if they finished their questions during class time. Show them that it helps them, not just you. Teach them the routines of checking off each part of their homework as they complete it, so that they won't miss the one question they get called on for the next day.

Agendas have other tools in them other than just a calendar. Go over these tools that your agendas have and talk about what they're for and what they could be used for to help the students.

Try to get the point across that people use agendas in real life. Show them your agenda, ask for a show of hands of students who have seen their parents using agendas, talk about the wall calendars that might be in their kitchens at home as a public family agenda (and while your at it, encourage them to copy down information from there that affects their school days). Talk about how doctors offices have agendas for the appointments a doctor has, use whatever examples you can think of. Discuss what would happen in an office if someone didn't write down assignments and due dates and check them.

Remember that they see the agenda as an annoying book they keep having to pull out that tells them to do their homework. Remind them that they are learning a real-world skill and that employers value promptness and productivity and that neither can be successfully attained long-term without an agenda, planner, or similar system.

Please comment or send your questions to me at

Have great day!

Valerie :)

Saturday, June 27, 2009

A Logical Place for Everything and Everything in it's Place

Well, it's that time of year again. The students are on summer vacation and the teachers are living the life they always get bugged about. Although, I know that teachers can do a lot of work over the summer, some people just don't get it. Anyway, I digress.

Summertime is a great time for new beginnings and preventative maintenance. Many of you may be moving to different classrooms, switching grades, or just want to update your current classrooms during this time.

Take the time to reflect on your past year and prepare for the upcoming one. Think about the physical layout of your classroom and what can be done to maximize the efficiency in your class. Here are some questions to ask yourself:

  • Did students sneak past me because my desk was too far from the door or the students' desk?
  • Did little Billy distract the whole class every time he needed to sharpen his pencil because of where the sharpener was located?
  • Was there a group of students I had trouble keeping an eye on because there was little space in the aisle by their desks?
  • How can I break my classroom into zones? (Individual work, group work, whole class instruction; art, math, music, geography)
  • What items did the students need to use the most? These items should be easy access (calculators, manipulatives, books, etc.)
  • What will the flow of my room be?
  • What items do I use the most at the front of the room (store them there), what items do I frequently use at my desk (store them there), and what items do I use infrequently (store them more out of the way)?
  • Can I make it more clear what items are for everyone's use and what items are only for the teacher? (Have a separate shelf or table where the 'everyone can use this' items go and make a firm rule that nothing on your desk is to be touched.)
  • Is there a logical place for items to be handed in that is not just 'somewhere on the teacher's desk'? (Try a bin on a nearby shelf or an extra student's desk. This helps you as a teacher because you don't want to have to spend extra time cleaning off your desk everyday so you can work. A different, designated inbox for assignments also helps with the 'I handed it in, you must have lost it' problems, also.)
  • What didn't work this year, and what can I do to improve that for next year?
  • What ideas have I come up with or heard of that I've been meaning to try?
Maybe you just need to tweak a couple of things, or maybe your classroom needs a complete overhaul. Whatever your situation, remember to have fun over the summer coming up with new ways to make your classroom better.

Please comment or send your questions to me at

Have great day!

Valerie :)

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Catch Me While You Can!

Well it's May already! You know what that means - June is coming! Instead of waiting until your report cards are due, I suggest collecting all of those overdue assignments now.

Go through your markbooks and make two lists: one by assignment for yourself listing who still has what assignment due, the second for your students by student listing which assignments each student has overdue. Try to make these lists electronically so that they can be called up as the students who have lost their assignments due three months ago are also likely to lose this list. Try not to list all of the overdues on the blackboard as this could be a privacy issue (but, of course, you know your class best).

Also, while you're at it, go through those piles that have snuck onto your desk to make sure you haven't lost an assignment that WAS handed in. Don't feel bad if you find these assignments, just make sure you don't dock marks for your mistake and get it into your books.

Now is also a good time to start entering marks into your report card software if you haven't already. Of course, I would recommend that you keep up with overdue assignments and entering marks into report card software starting in September and working on it at least once a month (the more often you do it, the less work will be piled up to do each time). However, me recommending that in May doesn't really help you. So just do what you can do now.

Here's to an organized May!

Please comment or send your questions to me at

Have great day!

Valerie :)