Tag Archives: United States

Technology in the Classroom: Let’s be smart about this

"Technology has exceeded our humanity"

I love technology and have welcomed it into the classroom. No doubt it will have a profound impact in the classroom in the months and years ahead, but my own concern is that we not embrace it simply for the sake of technology, but to use it as a tool to help us achieve what we could not without it.

I have seen kindergarten children cry and fight over the opportunity to play games on the computer. Are they learning something? Perhaps, but I wonder if what they are learning is something that will one day be marketable, or will make them better human beings. I have also seen middle school students in very expensive reading labs with highly sophisticated software, use those tools primarily to play games and stay entertained. Hardly a good use of the tools.

In the past American children have been at the head of the pact, working with better ideas to make them more innovative as we provided the world with a plethora of great inventions, hugely successful technologies and a very long list of noble laureates. However, the game is quickly changing.

I was in Vietnam a few years ago and the sense of excitement there was palpable. After more than a thousand years of war, they are finally at peace and they realize they can have what the people in the West have… if they just work at it hard enough. Their pace is astonishing. Everywhere you look you see people working, building, learning and growing. There is little doubt that they will be a force to be reckoned with in the future, and the same can be said, of course, for China and India, where the same motivation exists on a much larger scale.

It took us 97 years to progress from the first telephone to the first cell phone. The explosion of of cell phones since their invention in 1973 has been remarkable and service providers have been only too eager to make the investment in infrastructure the world over to be able to provide cell service from the skyscrapers of New York City to the most remote goatherd on the backside of the Sahara.

My point here is that technology works in an odd way compared to other ways of learning. Even the most backward of countries will not have to go through a hundred years of telephone development to catch up. The learning curve can be measured in weeks rather than years, and our advantage is gone shortly after the provider agreements are signed.

How much longer can we lead the world in these technology development especially when our competition is so powerfully motivated? That is hard to predict, but what we must recognize is that we desperately need to be the very best at using technology to its fullest potential. What excites me is technologies potential to engage students and capture not only their imagination, but also their inner desire to learn and grow. If we can tie into those innate desires and match them to a curriculum that allows students to work at their own pace and we could be onto something truly significant.

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Posted by on April 19, 2013 in Technology


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Why We Study Literature – What Literature Has to Teach

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In the teaching profession there is a common axiom that one of the best ways you can help your kids deal with their current problems is by having them read good literature about kids their age and the decisions they have to make. This is the purview of the Newbery Metal. The award is given each year “to the author of the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children.” Books like S. E. Hinton‘s, The Outsiders, or Avi’s, Crispin: the Cross of Lead, are about young people who have to make difficult decisions as they examine how they make those decisions and what the ramifications are once they have made them.

If that is true of young people would we expect the same for adults; would we benefit from a literary examination of people who have to face significant challenges? One thing we know about reading is that it allows us to suspend what we know to be true while we examine things from the point of view of the characters in a story. In a sense we can take part in the French Revolution, the First World War, the discovery of radioactivity, or the exploration of the moons of Jupiter. For a time we can actually be Robes Pierre, Sargent York, Madame Curie or HAL the paranoid computer, and in doing so we can look at the world through another set of eyes, see things from a different point of view. If the old Native American saying of “You can’t know a man until you have walked a mile in his shoes” is true, then this is certainly a great way to wear a great many different kinds of shoe leather, or no leather at all.

Some people see this as escapism, much like going to a movie or watching television. You turn your brain off for a few hours while you live vicariously in another place and time, but good literature is so much more than that. Great writings that have stood the test of time deal with profound issues and have the potential to change us in subtle and dramatic ways. Abraham Lincoln said that the book Sufferings in Africa, by James Riley, was one of the books that had affected him most and had a marked impact on his views of slavery. (In the book, Captain Riley and his men shipwreck of the coast of Africa and are subsequently sold as slaves. All of the men suffer horribly and only Riley and one other man survive the ordeal.) During his presidency, Harriet Beecher Stowe‘s book, Uncle Tom‘s Cabin, captured the hearts of the people and helped fuel the fire for abolition.

We know that people who travel a great deal are considered “cosmopolitan.” They are seen as worldly wise and have a very broad view of people and the world in general. Few of us have the budgets to do that kind of travel, but great literature allows us to get much of that experience for little more than the late fees at the local library. While “traveling” this way may be somewhat limited, it has its advantages. We can read Anna Leonowens, Anna and the King of Siam, to see what life was like for a school teacher who left the comforts of England to teach in the royal courts of what is now Thailand and then read Anna’s Real Life King of Siam, where we get a very different view of one of the most successful kings to stand up against the colonial onslaught, and learn that he was far more civilized and modern than Anna credits. In other words, we can choose to see a story from multiple viewpoints for a more through understanding of the forces and characters at play, something that is very difficult to do even if you do have a substantial travel budget.

So how do we choose between great literature and the simply prosaic? Type in “great literature list” into your favorite search engine and you will find a great many lists and, perhaps surprisingly, they will not all be the same. Some will be decidedly skewed in one direction or another, while others will try to be a bit more magnanimous.

Several years ago I began a personal journey to try to read as many of the world’s great works of literature as possible. I started, don’t ask me why, with Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina. Since it was written by a Russian, I assumed it would be dark, foreboding and enigmatic. It was none of those, and what surprised me even more was how this scholarly Russian novelist wrote with such tremendous passion. His characters had great depth making it easy to identify with a number of them. Plus his use of literary devices was masterful. In the story a dashing young military officer enters a race with his horse where he pushes the horse beyond its abilities causing it to suffer a broken back. The story of the horse then becomes a metaphor for the relationship he has with the beautiful young woman who has fallen in love with him as his arrogance and cruelty leads her toward her own destruction. Powerful stuff from from a country we normally think of as staid and rigorous with their emotions.

What will surprise you? What new adventures await you in the books that have entertained and educated so many over the years? There is a whole world of literature out there that spans the length of history and the width of our galaxy and beyond. Pick up some great literature and give it a try, you may find that everything you read after is compared to that great work. It is adventure with hair-raising thrills, great insights and fabulous entertainment value all on a shoestring budget. Many of the great minds before you have chosen this path, why not add your name to the list?


Lee Reed has had the privilege of being raised on three different continents and still travels a good deal. He has read many of the world’s great literary works to add to his knowledge and understanding of the human condition. As a result he loves to write on a great variety of subjects including literature, the arts, culture, travel and his profession, teaching. Recently he published a book on his experiences as a substitute teacher. You can find more about that book here:

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Posted by on April 13, 2013 in Uncategorized


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How can I tell; Is Teaching Right for Me?

English: Teachers from the Exploratorium's Tea...

Teachers from the Exploratorium’s Teacher Institute examine the “String Thing” they built. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Nationally, teachers are leaving the profession at the rate of 17 percent per year, and in urban areas, the number is 20 percent. The national cost for this revolving door of teachers coming and going at such a rate is over $7 billion a year. Teachers are leaving for a number of reasons, with low pay and lack of respect near the top. That means two things for those thinking about choosing teaching as a profession. First, it means that there are always new openings for good teachers, particularly in urban environments and second, it means that those thinking about becoming teachers need to do some serious soul searching before embarking on that journey.

Why would anyone want to enter into teaching? If low pay and lack of respect are the things driving people away, then why should anyone consider teaching as a profession? The unmistakable truth is that there are few professions that are more vital to our success as a society. Teachers are quite literally preparing the next generation to assume leadership roles. Hard as it is to imagine, it is entirely possible that one of the kids you teach could be a great inventor, poet, actor or politician in the disguise of a small human that desperately needs help with his/her ABC’s.

For that reason, you would think teachers would how a position of honor in our society, but that has not been the case in recent years. Teachers, and schools in general, are under tremendous pressure to perform and a very high level. Because the stakes are so high, tempers can flair and accusations made that make many feel like they are in an undesirable profession.

With the stakes so high, and the rewards so modest, why would anyone choose this profession? Clearly, there are rewards that are not a part of your employment package. The teachers who enjoy their work most, and perform best, are those who genuinely love working with children. This may sound obvious, but you would be surprised by the number of people who have wandered into the profession who have little patience for kids.

So, how do you know if this profession is for you? The best way is to get some experience. Schools have programs for those who are working on there degree in education that requires them to spend time in the classroom, working with, and assisting a teacher. However, this comes at the end of their college experience, near graduation, when they have committed to a course of action and feel the pressure to pay off their student loans. Spending time as a volunteer earlier in the process would make more sense. Getting an accurate picture of what it is like to teach, both its challenges and rewards, is essential to make making a good decision.

Substituting is even better than volunteering in that it requires you to actually assume responsibility for the class. Interning for an experienced teacher can make the job look far easier than it really is. How much better to put yourself in the driver’s seat and experience just how big the challenges are. The requirements for subs vary from state to state, but if you qualify it is a great way to get experience, with the added benefit that it is also a great path to a full time job. Substitutes work with the very people who make hiring decisions, and good subs are often given a fast track to permanent employment.

The other advantage to substituting is that it can give you a chance to teach at a number of different levels. More than a few teachers have entered the profession thinking they wanted to teach one age group, only to find later that they were far more comfortable in another. Sometimes, just the difference in maturity levels between one grade and the next can make a difference in your perspective, and your success, in the classroom.

The industry needs good teachers. Indeed, all our society needs the best teachers we can get. If you think you might bit that bill, get some experience, see the job from the inside as much as possible before committing to take on such and important task. No one will blame you if you decide you are shaped for something else. And if you decided it is for you… you’re in for an incredible treat, with a challenge to match.

Author: Lee Reed is a teacher who writes extensively on matters of education, children and careers.Check out his new book for teachers and substitutes alike at: The Substitute Teacher’s Toolkit

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Posted by on April 11, 2013 in Teaching as a Profession


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Rites of Spring: Helping Your Kids Deal with Peer Pressure

Some of you may be familiar with the Amish practice of Rumspringa or “running-around” where teenagers are encouraged to experiment with the modern world for a period of time. At the end of this time they are expected to either join the Amish society permanently, or leave it forever. Until recent years, kids almost universally returned to the farm life they had grown up with, often having also made a decision about who their future mate would be in the process. However, in recent years, especially with the onset of drugs, the numbers are changing, and more kids than ever are leaving.

Such activity may seem like a distant story of another culture, but there are some significant lessons to be learned for those of us who know that our own kids will be facing similar temptations, and not just for a year, as with the Amish, but through their entire middle and high school years.

One of the reasons Amish parent feel like their children are prepared for such an event is that they have been thoroughly immersed and indoctrinated in the Amish culture. Certainly, there is some risk in allowing children, most about 16 years old, to venture so far from the norms they have grown up with. Parents feel the risk is worth taking, provided their kids come back wiser and even more committed to their native norms. It is one of the things that has held the Amish together for so long.

As the father of six and grandfather of five more, I can tell you with great confidence that your kids, too, will choose a time of “running around.” In that time they will challenge the norms they have grow up with to see for themselves which they prefer. I hear parents now say that they will simply let their kids make up their own minds, but such strategy is ill fated. Amish kids come to this time better indoctrinated than most, and better prepared to make rational decisions, yet even they fail the test. Recent research has shown us that some of the thinking tools that adults use to make good decisions are not fully operational until they are into their early twenties. This gives lie to the notion that children are “just little adults.” No, they are children and they need to be taught how make good decisions until their brains are mature enough to assume responsibility for themselves.

Children also need to see good decision-making in action. Every parent has experienced the sudden realization that our kids are watching us far closer than we had thought. We hear them use one of our favorite expressions, or one of our most common gestures, and we understand that very little of what we do is missed. For that reason alone, it is imperative that we demonstrate, not just the decision we have made, but the thought processes involved, as well.

As parents we tend to hide our mistakes, but this too is erroneous. Our kids need to see the effects of poor decisions and how we deal with them. One of the most important lessons we can teach our kids is that decisions have inevitable consequences, both good and bad and seeing that modeled in their parents is essential to their decision-making growth. Of course, there will be a few things that wouldn’t be appropriate to show your kids, but by and large, they need to see your mistakes and how you deal with the negative consequences.

Another strategy we need to employ is learning to loosen our grip slowly. As babies and toddlers we keep a tight grip on our kids, and rightfully so. As they get older, and especially as they get more mobile, our policy should be loosen our grip to accommodate their level of maturity. Kids need to know where the boundaries are. They will object no matter where you place them, so choose something you feel is fair and responsible for them.

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Posted by on April 8, 2013 in Peer Pressure


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Bill passes making administrators substitute teach

Administrators in the classroom? That’s a sight the folks in West Virginia will be seeing in the very near future. A recent bill passed the Senate requiring administrators to spend at least three days each year working as substitute teachers. Senator Larry Edgell, the bill’s sponsor, said he thought it was important for administrators to see the effects of their policy decisions played out in the classroom.

It’s hard not to applaud such thinking. The law of unintended consequences dictates that even the most well intentioned policies can have very negative, though unanticipated, consequences. These consequences are often compounded by the fact that policies, once enacted, are nearly impossible to revoke. We can all hope that putting administrators will heighten their sensitivity to the needs and challenges that teachers, and subs, face every day.

The irony here is that it is a state government that is imposing this requirement. They are often as guilty, if not more so, of putting things into policy with far reaching unintended consequences that are carved in stone so permanent that it takes an act of God to alter it. Still, that didn’t prevent them from passing the bill, 33-4 in favor.

See the original article here.

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Posted by on March 31, 2013 in Policy


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My Favorite Subbing Tool

In the county where I live, nearly every classroom has a Smart Board. Part of this may have to do with the fact that I live in the same county as the University of Florida and I suspect they had some influence on the school board in choosing this amazing tool. If you work in an area where Smart Boards are rare, let me explain what they do.

Imagine a white-board about five feet wide and four feet tall. A few feet away, and usually mounted to the ceiling, is a projector that will display an image of whatever is on your computer screen onto the white-board. This, by itself, would be a pretty nifty set-up, but the people with Smart-Board have taken it a step further, allowing you to interact with the information in your computer via the screen. Think of it as a giant touch screen for your classroom. You can pull up a series of math problems on the board and write the answer to the problems on the screen with digital ink, then erase all of your marks with a quick movement and move to the next page with another. A teacher can quite literally, plan her whole day on her computer and move from lesson to lesson without leaving the Smart Board.

When school opened last year, we went to meet our daughters teacher who demonstrated the Smart-Board for us. On the screen she had an image of the Earth, taken from space. With her hand, the teacher swept across the globe and it began to spin. She stopped it as it neared the United States and zoomed in on our state, then our city, then our school with two fingers moving in opposite directions. Not brad new technology, but still stunning to watch on this large scale.

mystica_usb_flash_drive When I started subbing I quickly learned that Smart Boards could act like classroom movie screens. Not that I wanted to watch movies, but it did allow me to show YouTube videos and Power Point presentations on the giant screen. Suddenly, my USB memory stick was the most important tool in my arsenal. Since then I have downloaded hundreds of videos that I can show instantly in any room that has a Smart-Board. Below, I’ll list some of my favorite sources for great content, but suffice it to say that barely a week goes by that I’m not using my memory stick to show one of the numerous Power Points I have developed, or show one of the many educational videos that are available to all teachers for free. Please, check them out for yourselves, and if you know of some sources I have missed, please let me know.


Kahn Academy: More than 4,000 videos available for all levels of education and in all subjects offered free of charge thanks to a grant from the Gates Foundation as well as others.

TED-Ed: I love the TED videos. They are short peaks into cutting edge thought and technology given by experts in the field. Most of these will be better for older students but many of the ideas are absolutely captivating, if not mind blowing, in their implications.

The Piano Guys: Some very creative videos set to really good music. Check out Cello Wars, a Star Wars send off that my students love to watch.


To get these videos onto a USB memory stick you will need a program that helps you do that. I suggest you do it through your browser. I use Firefox as my browser and they offer several add-on programs that will do the trick. Just go to the Mozilla AddOns page and do a search for “video download.” You will see that there are a number of choices you can choose from. I use Video Download Helper and it works great, but I have used others as well with similar results.

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Posted by on March 26, 2013 in Uncategorized


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