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Friday, February 27, 2009

Farewell Mr. Teacher

If you read the title of this post and thought I was going somewhere, don't worry. My signoff here is MISTER Teacher, as opposed to the abbreviation. However, this week marks the last column that will fall under the MR. Teacher heading. They have decided to discontinue the columns, but I will still be working for them, answering questions on their bulletin board instead.

This final column is titled, "Drill and Kill" and it is all about the excess of safety drills we have been having at our school lately. Unfortunately, the column is not up as of this writing, but I expect it will be soon.

Last night's Black History Month program went well. After just a bit of a rocky start -- I was handed a hand-written program, and frequent edits were made -- things went pretty smoothly. I think a good time was had by all, and nobody (read: ME) embarrassed themselves.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

MC Teacher

First a shout out to this week's Carnival of Education, being hosted at Rayray's Writing. Lots of good stuff in the Carnival, as usual.

Also, I am a bit confused about what is going on tomorrow at school. Here's what I DO know:

  • There is an evening Black History Month program
  • Several kids from the school will be performing
  • I am the emcee of the entertainment portion
  • I have NO idea what that means...

I trust you see the dilemma.

One of the 5th grade teachers walked into my room yesterday and buttered me up first by saying how much she liked my book, and how she even had TWO copies of it! Then she sprang the trap by saying that I was so funny and so witty, that I should definitely be the emcee of the Thursday night program.

She only really told me a few details. Cryptic remarks about how they already had a Jackson 5, a Supremes, a Jimmy Hendrix, and a Beyonce. Other than that, it was just -- you're the perfect guy to keep things flowing.

Actually, I should probably view my ignorance as a good thing. Because I have no idea what exactly is going to happen tomorrow night, I haven't had a chance to prepare anything and then stress over whether it's good enough.

I'm not sure whether to channel Billy Crystal or Hugh Jackman, though I suspect either attempt would fall flat on its face. I tend to be pretty funny and witty when I'm in a small group setting, but with a mic and a large audience in front of me?

Let's just hope the Jackson 5 can overcome all of my flop sweat tomorrow night.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

So far, a lot of people have gotten entries in the Learn Me Good February Sweepstakes by leaving comments and signing the Guestbook, but I think that Joel at So You Want to Teach is the only person who has actually posted the link for 5 entries!

I encourage (and beg!) everyone to put up a link for! If you already link to Learn Me Good, just change your link and let me know! You'll get more entries into the sweepstakes (to win a T-shirt or a book), AND you'll be doing your country a service. :)

Monday, February 23, 2009

Teaching Misdirection

Ed U Cater wrote a post on his blog -- The Head of the Class -- this weekend, and I thought I'd piggyback on it. His post was about how kids just don't seem to listen nowadays. The examples he cited actually came from MY kids last year (shudder!), and he is dead on.

Go over and read what he wrote. I'll wait.

OK, back? Good, let's continue.

Because of the veracity of Ed's observations, namely, when you talk to the whole group, many kids doze off, but when you try to have a private conversation with ONE child, everyone wants to listen in, I had an idea last year. This would never apply to classroom settings in schools online. It is meant for traditional classrooms. Unfortunately, it never got implemented, but I still want to give it a try at some point and see how well it works.

I actually wanted Ed to be my partner in crime for this one. I wanted to choose some topic or concept that kids generally have trouble with or have a lot of trouble remembering. For instance, let's take this fact: 1 yard = 3 feet.

My idea was to have Ed stop by in the middle of class and quietly ask if he could speak to me in the doorway. The look of concern on his face would be sure to have every kid in the room straining their ears to hear what important piece of news was about to be imparted on me. Then, once we were within conversational distance, Ed would quietly say something like, "I just heard from downtown that we need for the kids to know that 1 yard = 3 feet. Most of them don't know that now, but that's going to change."

We would then exchange conspiratorial nods, he would depart, and I would continue the lesson.

I have NO DOUBT that if something like that happened, 98% of my class would know from that point forward the conversion rate for yards and feet.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Revamped lesson plans?

I got an email recently from Frank, who writes Intellteacher's Blog, about a project he is working on with Dr. Win Wenger. A quick Google search on the good doctor brings up pages about Project Renaissance, Brain Boosters, and Creative Thinking. The guy is seen as a pioneer in the field.

So anyway, as part of this project, Frank is offering to help teachers apply an Accelerated Learning aspect to their existing lesson plans. He asks, "What are you having difficulty with in the classroom?" Is it grouping? Is it presenting to the class, is it reaching kids of various abilities?

If you are interested in participating, send Frank a copy of your lesson plan (, and he will -- under Dr. Wenger's supervision -- add on the Accelerated Learning - Creative Problem Solving (AL-CPS) aspects. He also says that he may choose some of the revamped lesson plans to use in the case study part of a new book, and the contributing teacher will get a shout-out.

To see a small sampling of Frank's work, visit his blog, or check out his guest post right here on Learn Me Good.

In completely unrelated news, today is my 36th birthday, so I am headed off to have some of my mom's world famous lasagna!!

And don't forget to take part in the Learn Me Good February Sweepstakes! Get entries by leaving a comment, signing the guest book, becoming a FoLMeG, or best of all, posting a link to somewhere on the web!!

Thursday, February 19, 2009

No markers were harmed

I have an update on yesterday's post. My blue marker (dry erase, Mr. Fischer, not a Sharpie :) ) has been reclaimed.

When my afternoon class came in and before we graded our first activity, I stood in front of everyone and said that I wanted my markers back. I told them that if someone just admitted they had taken it and returned it right away, I wouldn't sign their conduct folders, I wouldn't tell their parents, I wouldn't do anything.

Nobody said a word.

So I went on about the virtues of trustworthiness and honesty and how I was so sad that I would now have to watch them all with an eagle eye since I couldn't trust them.

Still no one broke.

Finally, after another minute or so of fillibustering, and just when I was about to give up, one boy raised his hand and said he took the marker. I asked him why, and he said, "Because I liked that marker."

So I got my blue marker back. Still don't know what happened to the black one from a few weeks ago though.

This week's Mr. Teacher column on is titled "Those Pesky, Irritating, Obtrusive Adjectives." I kind of think the title speaks for itself.

Lastly, here's a link to a Yahoo story I just saw that is very uplifting.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

I LIKE my markers!

After a pretty good day with the kids (only TWO instances of banging my head against the wall), I come back to my room to get beaten down with the discovery that one of my markers is missing.

While it might seem kind of petty to be missing something as small as a marker, it just really bugs me that one (or more) of my kids would be stealing from me.

Because of the size of my classroom, I have the kids line up against the whiteboard when it's time for dismissal. The ledge on the whiteboard has about 5 markers on it, and I use those markers throughout the day.

Last week, I came in one morning to find a black marker missing, and the thought of theft occurred to me, but I chalked the missing marker up to old age and failing memory (I AM turning 36 this weekend, after all). But today, to come back and find another marker missing -- a marker that I was actually holding in my hand at 2:55 -- makes me get much more suspicious of my afternoon class.

Sure, the possibility is there that I put it down someplace without thinking and that I'll find it tomorrow. But I looked pretty hard for it and found nothing.

Tomorrow morning, I'll have to ask the class who has been taking my markers. I fully expect to get the same response that I get when I ask what numbers were in a word problem. Blank stares, dead silence.

In more "beat down" news -- today we had a fire drill at 2:30. For the SECOND. CONSECUTIVE. DAY.

I understand that quotas must be met and we might have missed one month's required drill. But 2 in 2 days??? PLUS, we had a tornado drill scheduled for last week, and that didn't happen, so I expect that one to happen any time now.

In fact, I was expecting it so much that yesterday, when the alarm went off, I thought it WAS the tornado drill, and I had 3 kids out in the hallway, on their knees, with their hands over their heads, before another teacher reminded me that the signal had been for a fire drill and NOT a tornado drill.

My kids might have burned, but at least they wouldn't be harmed by falling debris...

Monday, February 16, 2009

Off task, with love

So I was having this conversation with a fellow teacher, Ed U Cater, on Friday after work. He is a fourth grade teacher, and so I frequently bequeath him with my former students. We were discussing a few of those former students, with him asking if they were nearly as ditzy in the third grade as they seem to be now.

He told me a story about one girl in particular. All of the fourth graders took a practice TAKS writing test on Friday, and this girl finished early. However, instead of checking, editing, and revising her work as she was instructed to do, she took out a piece of paper and began to draw.

Ed noticed that the little girl had drawn a picture of a cute, cuddly teddy bear. Right before he took the paper away from her and ripped it in half.

After school, discussing this at the bar during our community outreach volunteer program activity, and was agonizing over his action, feeling he had been a bit extreme.

I imagine a scene where the little girl stared at him in horror and asked, "Why do you hate love??"

His story actually brought back a memory from last year, with one of my little girls who was frequently off task. We were doing a whole group math activity, when I noticed that this little girl was drawing on a piece of paper.

I said to her, "Put that away! Why aren't you doing your work?"

She looked at me in shock and answered, "But I'm making you a Best Teacher card!" Completely with a look and a tone of voice that said, "When we came in this morning, our two choices were to pay attention and do the math work or to draw a Best Teacher card, and I made my choice!"

Just a bit nonplussed, I responded, "Well, that's a very nice, but you need to do that home!"

At least I didn't take the cart away and rip it up. But then I'm just not a cold, heartless bastard.

Who hates love.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

It's electric!

Yesterday, when I was instrumental in what was perhaps one of the lamest physical demonstrations of all time.

A guy had come to our school to talk with the second and third graders about electricity. He had several props to ooooh and aaaah the kids, including Van der Graff generators, power cables, and tube lights. Most of these props were used quite successfully, especially the ones that generated visible static electricity -- little bits of "lightning" -- for the kids to observe.

I was standing at the very back of the auditorium, attempting to serve as a menacing presence for the rowdy second graders in that section. The guy said he would need the assistance of the teacher in the striped shirt and pointed back at me.

Naturally, the kids all started going wild -- in anticipation, no doubt, of their math teacher getting fried by an overload of static shock. No, I kid. I think the kids were all truly excited to see me take part in a demonstration.

The guy running the show handed me a long fluorescent tube light, the kind you find in office buildings. He made the announcement that I was going to hold the light pointing at his generator, and when he turned it on, either the bulb would light up, or I would.

From my vantage point, I could see that the bulb was lighting up. However, all of the auditorium lights were still on, so except for the few kids in the front row who could see a small difference in the bulb, I think that most of the kids could not see if anything was happening.

The kids, being the paragons of politeness and refinement that they are, began screaming, "Turn the lights off!!" at the top of their lungs. One of the teachers went up on the stage and behind the curtain and spent the next five minutes attempting to turn the lights off.

Unfortunately, in our auditorium, the lights aren't controlled by a simple switch. One must actually flip circuits on the breaker panel, and that panel is not very well labeled. So I got to spend the next five or so minutes,holding an impotent lightbulb, in front of a crowd of almost 300 growingly restless children, while watching the stage lights flicker on and off.

The guy finally decided to just do the demonstration with the lights on (with plenty of children still demanding loudly that the lights be turned off), and I was released from my duty.

Not really satisfied with how things had turned out, I jumped up on the stage and started playing with the breaker switches. I was able to pretty quickly turn the lights off in auditorium, but I also killed the electricity to the stage outlet that was powering the gentleman's props. So I had to turn everything back on and just accept the fact that I had done a pretty poor job as the stereotypical "lovely assistant."

Please don't forget to take part in the February Learn Me Good Sweepstakes, which began earlier this week. I'm giving way books and T-shirts! All you have to do is leave a comment, sign the guestbook, or, best of all, put a link to somewhere on the net. For everyone who already links to Learn Me Good, please change your link to

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Box Top Par-tay!

Well, we did it. We finally won something.

The school had a contest to see which homeroom could collect the most "Boxtops in Education" pieces (worth 10 cents each for the school). My class rallied and collected a total of 200 box tops. One kid brought in around 70 or 80 all by himself...

So we get special treats for Valentine's (Valentime's?) Day tomorrow. Sweet...

Along the same lines, this week's Mr. Teacher column at is titled, "V-reaky Friday." It's all about the typical school Valentine's Day party. I'm sure you can relate.


Wednesday, February 11, 2009

How do you pronuncificate that?

Is it just me, or does it bug anyone else when somebody says "Valentime's Day?"

Let me put the emphasis on that -- Valen TIMES Day...

Just curious.

On another note entirely, I wanted to post a short review about a fellow blogger's book which she sent me back around Thanksgiving.

Angela Powell has written a book called The Cornerstone: Classroom Management That Makes Teaching More Effective, Efficient, and Enjoyable. She also runs a web site and blog which can be reached by going to

The first thing that I noticed about Angela's book is that it is huge! Weighing in at almost 500 pages (standard letter size, no less!), the book could literally serve as a classroom's cornerstone. But kidding aside, there's way too much valuable information inside to not keep it readily available on the bookshelf.

The Cornerstone is a handy reference guide for new and veteran teachers alike. There are tips, techniques, strategies, and actual anecdotes on a variety of topics, including behavior management, classroom organization, and developing and using routines.

I should state that I have not yet read the entire book. That's one of the great things about it though, is that you don't have to start at page one and read through to the back cover. Upon perusing the table of contents, the first thing that struck my fancy was Chapter 9: How to Teach Any Procedure. As I read through Angela's advice and stories from experience, I alternated between thoughts of, "Yeah, I already do that, and it works pretty well," and, "That sounds intriguing; I ought to give that a try!"

The only downside I have noted is that the photographs, showing implementations of the strategy suggested in the book, are black and white as opposed to color photographs. I fully understand the reason for this -- color photographs significantly raise the cost of printing each book -- but the pictures lose a bit in black and white.

Nevertheless, the upside far outweighs this minor downside, and I highly recommend The Cornerstone to teachers of all levels. For all of us that turn back to The First Days of School by Harry Wong in late August, The Cornerstone by Angela Powell makes a fine companion piece.

Monday, February 09, 2009

the dot com!!

I have a major announcement to make! Well, at least it is a major announcement for ME.

I recently took the plunge and bought the domain name It was unfortunately already owned by someone, so I had to pay more than I would have otherwise, but the guy agreed to sell it to me, the mandatory tranfer waiting time is finally over, and if you go to you will see---

Well, you'll see this same site. TA-dah.

Hold that, it really IS a major TA-DAHHH!!!

Because for one thing it's so much easier to tell someone to go to than it is to tell them to go to It also just sounds a heck of a lot cooler.

So with a brand new address, even if it's not a brand new site, I figure it's a great time to have a Grand Opening contest. Give away some Learn Me Good swag -- T-shirts and books. And I hope that everyone will participate and help me spread the word (again, it will be so much easier to tell your friends about than

I'm going to give away 2 T-shirts from my Spreadshirt Store and 2 copies of Learn Me Good. OK, the prizes have been stated, now here's how you win. The transfer took longer than I thought it would, so I didn't get to start at the very beginning of February, so we'll just stretch it into March for a bit.

Starting today, Feb 9, and ending a month from today, Mar 9, you can win entries into the prize pool by doing the following things:

Leaving a comment on any blog post -- this will net you 1 entry

Signing the guest book -- this will score you 2 entries

Becoming a FoLMeG -- this too will entitle you to 2 entries

Placing a link to
anywhere on the net (then directing
me to it for proof) -- you will receive 5 entries

Buying a T-shirt -- you will rack up 10 entries

You can claim credit for each of these actions once per day. So you have an entire month to gain as many entries in the hat as you can.

I really hope that everyone will help me out by spreading the word and participating in this contest. And more than that, I want to THANK everyone in advance, because I really appreciate the popularity that people have shown me and my writing.

Let the games begin!!

No habla ingles

It's that time, once again, for the kids to do their TELPAS writing samples. I think I blogged about the TELPAS last year, calling it the stupidest, most subjective test ever. Thankfully, I passed it after the 3rd time last year and I don't have to take it again. Also thankfully, the test is for teachers and NOT for the kids.

All the kids have to do is write when I ask them to, ABOUT what I ask them to. There's really only one catch.

They have to write in English.

Now that's not a problem for most of my kids. Their spelling is often pretty lousy and their punctuation often nonexistent, but they are getting their thoughts across in English pretty well.

I have one little boy though that just knows no English whatsoever. I mean, he knows SOME, but very, very, VERY little. Certainly not enough to be able to put down his thoughts in English. Not even enough to put down a few WORDS along the lines of his thoughts in English.

And yet the guidelines say that EVERY child on the LEP (Limited English Proficiency) roster must have these writing samples, and they all must be in English!

So I'm just not sure what to do about this kid. He could probably copy words from around the room, but that's specifically forbidden.

Any ideas from people who have gone through this before?

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Links to links

Just a quick update here for 2 great links.

First, this week's Carnival of Education is up and running at Steve Spangler's Science Blog. My post about the 3 year blogiversary is up as well as many others.

Second, this week's Mr. Teacher column on is titled, "Ad Nauseum." It's my proposal for education-related Superbowl commercials.


Wednesday, February 04, 2009

A Tale of Two Classes

The two classes that I teach are completely different, and I know I've talked about that before. There have been times when I tell a joke or make a funny comment in one class, and that class goes nuts laughing, but when I tell the same joke to the other class, I'm met with crickets chirping and a few low coughs.

Today, we read a story called "Sky Tree." It's an art essay, showing about 20 paintings of the same tree throughout the cycle of seasons. The illustrations are really cool, as many of the painting depict the tree without leaves but with some background that makes it look like the tree is full. For instance, the sky in the background is full of clouds, except for the halo directly around the tree, where blue sky fills in the shape of the branches.

With my morning class (ie, the class that seems to "get it" more often than not), each time we turned the page, there were gasps of appreciation and murmurs of awe with each new illustration. With the afternoon class, each time we turned the page, I EXPECTED comments or ooohs and aaahhhs and just never heard any.

Ah well, I plan to keep on trying, doing the same things with both classes, and perhaps there will be one day when that other class "gets it."

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

I'd like to use a life line

We've been doing division in class lately. Perhaps other school districts start teaching division before third grade, for almost all of our kids, they are learning and practicing division for the first time.

It makes me very happy when one of my kids can actually explain to me what a division problem means. Most of my kids probably could NOT explain it, but one of my girls did today, so I was pleased.

I asked why we could not do 3 divided by 15. She explained it perfectly, saying that we could not start with three things and put them into 15 equal groups because there weren't enough things to start with.

On the other side of logic, I wrote this word problem on the board today:

Erin wants to share her cookies with her 2 sisters. She has 18 cookies. How many cookies will each sister get?

I let my kids work with a partner and gave them a few minutes to come up with a picture, a number sentence, and an answer.

Every one of them told me the answer was 9 cookies. Wait, I take that back. Every one of them told me that 18 divided by 2 was the way to solve the problem. One girl said that 18 divided by 2 equaled 7.

When I told them (much to their shock) that 9 cookies was NOT the answer to the problem, and that I would give them a couple more minutes to go back and very carefully read the problem again, they all saw the trick and came up with the right answer.

I'm just not sure how to teach the skill of carefulness and scrutiny. Especially when I have a group of kids that don't really want to read the words but would rather just grab the numbers and perform a random operation on them...