Happy Birthday, Dr. Seuss!

“You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose. You’re on your own. And you know what you know. And YOU are the one who’ll decide where to go…”

Most of us recognize these inspirational words from Dr. Seuss’s Oh the Places You’ll Go! book. Born on this day in 1904, Dr. Seuss (whose real name is Theodor Seuss Geisel) inspired generations of kids and adults with his rhymes, stories and unusual characters. His stories are not only fun to read, they touch on issues he found important like the environment, racial equality and materialism. The timeless tomes that were once enjoyed during our childhood years are now being read with gusto to our own children and students.

How is your school celebrating Dr. Seuss’s birthday today? My daughter’s first-grade class is having poetry reading today, followed by a week-long Dr. Seuss focus next week. She can hardly wait. The website A to Z Teacher Stuff has lots of great activity ideas for your classroom. Check them out and share some of your own!

Theodor Seuss Geisel “Dr. Seuss”
Image courtesy of Dr. Seuss Wiki

Celebrating Leap Day in the Classroom

Don’t flip your calendar over to March just yet. Tomorrow is Leap Day, February 29, which only comes around once every 4 years. It’s the perfect day to forgo your traditional school schedule and “leap” into some fun. Here are five activities we’ve gathered from around the web to help you and your students make the most of Leap Day:

  1.  Have a leaping contest. This is a great way for kids to release excess energy. Pick a place where there is plenty of room to jump (you can go outside if it’s nice). See who can leap the farthest or jump the highest. Or, have a leaping relay race!
  2. Teach a science lesson about frogs. We tend to think of leaping as something frogs do, so it makes sense to talk about the life cycle of frogs on leap day. Or, broaden the scope of the lesson, and teach about all the animals that leap.
  3. Figure it out with a math lesson. We know leap days only happen once every 4 years, but did you know you can mathematically figure out which years are leap years? Have students use the following three rules to figure out if random years in the future are leap years:
    • Every year divisible by 4 is a leap year.
    • But every year divisible by 100 is NOT a leap year.
    • Unless the year is also divisible by 400, then it is still a leap year.
  4. Discuss leap years vs. leap seconds. Talk about the differences between the leap day/year and the leap second, as well as the origination of both. This can be a great topic for either a science or a history lesson.
  5. Make a prediction. Have students write down what they think their lives will be like 4 years from now, on the next leap day. Seal predictions in envelopes, and mail students their predictions in 4 years.

To find out more about the above activities and to read about even more ways to celebrate Leap Day, read the following articles: 7 Ideas for Celebrating Leap Day from PTO Today, Celebrate Leap Day from Scholastic and Leap Year Activities from ProTeacher Community. There are also some great ideas in this Learning Network article from the NY Times.

What are you doing to celebrate Leap Day in your classroom?

Paying Kids to Go to School

How do we motivate kids to learn? Educators have been asking this question for years, with no easy, catch-all solution. Ideally, students would be motivated by an intrinsic love of learning. However, that’s just not the reality for many students, especially those who are low-income and at-risk. Sometimes external incentives – such as cash – are the motivation these students need.

A Cincinnati high school made national headlines last week for offering students cash for perfect attendance and good behavior. Every Friday, the small charter school will dish out Visa gift cards to students who attended class every day that week, were on time and were productive in class. Seniors will receive $25, underclassmen, $10. Every paycheck, an additional $5 will be automatically deposited into a savings account, payable to the student upon graduation. While the program has received a lot of criticism, using cash to incentivize kids in school is not an uncommon practice.

In August of 2011, a Camden, New Jersey high school launched a five-week long anti-truancy program. Students were required not to skip school during the program, in addition to attending the after-school sessions. Perfect attendance for the duration of the program resulted in a $100 pay check.

In the fall of 2005, students at Chelsea High School in Boston began earning $25 every quarter they have perfect attendance. The money is held from students until graduation, where it is awarded in a lump sum.

Does motivating kids with cash work? It depends, says Harvard economist Roland Fryer. From 2007 to 2009, Fryer ran four different cash incentive studies in Chicago, New York, Washington D.C. and Dallas. In some schools, he offered incentives based off attendance and good behavior and in others, based off grades and standardized test scores. He found that rewarding students for things in their direct control – i.e. attendance and behavior – lead to positive results, while paying students for good grades and higher test scores had virtually no effect.

Do you think paying students to attend class is a good idea? Could it work in your school? What are the short term vs. long term effects?

Students from the Takoma Education Campus in Washington D.C. – one of the locations for Fryer’s studies – line up to collect their vouchers. Image courtesy of Time.com.


Celebrating Black History Month in the Classroom

Here’s a quick history lesson on how Black History Month came to be. In 1926, historian Carter G. Woodson was displeased with the lack of  African American history in U.S. textbooks. He started “Negro History Week” to educate students about the contributions of African Americans.  February was the logical choice because it marked the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass, two Americans who positively influenced the lives and social condition of African Americans. One week grew into a month-long celebration of education, achievement and progress. And in 1976 President Ford officially recognized the expanded observance.

Many teachers integrate Black History Month into their lesson plans. We thought we’d share a few educational ideas that you can incorporate into your history and civics lessons:

    • Have each student create a Profile in Black History.  Let them choose an African American scientist, inventor, educator, entrepreneur or athlete. This can be a great opportunity for younger students to improve their research, writing and presentation skills.
    • Focus on local African-American history. Invite a guest speaker (historian, librarian, etc.) from your community into the classroom. Students may be surprised to learn how rich and interesting the history is in their own backyard.
    • The ASALH declared 2012′s theme “Black Women in American Culture and History.” Have your students choose a famous African American woman who has or is making positive contributions in business, entertainment, science or government.
    • Have middle and high school art students profile an African American artist.  They can recreate a painting, sculpture, quilt or other art form and present it — along with an introduction to the original artist.

For more ideas and resources, visit the Schools of Thought Blog.  And please share your Black History Month lesson plans with us!


Books for Teachers

Books have been educating, encouraging and entertaining teachers for years. We did some research and found 10 top picks for teachers from around the web. The following books range from the practical to the inspirational. Did your favorite make the list?

  1. Teaching Outside the Box: How to Grab Your Students By Their Brains
    by LouAnne Johnson
  2. Teach Like Your Hair’s On Fire: The Methods and Madness Inside Room 56
    by Rafe Esquith
  3. Fires in the Bathroom: Advice for Teachers from High School Students
    by Kathleen Cushman
  4. Classroom Management That Works: Research-Based Strategies for Every Teacher
    by Robert J. Marzano
  5. Teaching with Love & Logic: Taking Control of the Classroom
    by Jim Fay and David Funk
  6. The Courage to Teach: Exploring the Inner Landscape of a Teacher’s Life
    by Parker J. Palmer
  7. Teacher Man: A Memoir
    by Frank McCourt
  8. The Freedom Writers Diary: How a Teacher and 150 Teens Used Writing to Change Themselves and the World Around Them
    by Erin Gruwell
  9. Three Cups of Tea: One Man’s Mission to Fight Terrorism and Build Nations…One School at a Time
    by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin
  10. A Smile as Big as the Moon: A Special Education Teacher, His Class, and Their Inspiring Journey Through U.S. Space Camp
    by Mike Kersjes and Joe Layden

What are your favorite books about teaching?

National Digital Learning Day

The first-ever National Digital Learning Day will happen this Wednesday, February 1st. Thirty-seven states, more than 1.5 million students and 10,000 teachers are on board — not bad for such a new initiative. The Digital Learning Day campaign celebrates both innovative teachers and effective applications of technology in education. Of the participating states, here are a few planned activities:

  • Arkansas – Schools can enter a video competition for a chance at winning technology tools. Videos should demonstrate how they are using iTunesU.
  • California - The California Writing Project is sponsoring a student challenge where teams will share and demonstrate the power of digital teaching.
  • Michigan – Kicking off February 1st as the “Year of the Digital Learner,” the state of Michigan has planned a full year of activities and conferences around technology in the classroom.
  • Wisconsin – Also releasing its statewide digital learning plan, Wisconsin will host a digital town meeting.

To get involved, catch the National Town Hall meeting at 1 PM EST on Wednesday. And tell us how your school is participating in National Digital Learning Day.


Religion in Public Schools

There are two subjects to avoid on first dates, at dinner parties, at work and…in the classroom: religion and politics. Religion, especially, has been a source of contention for many schools since the early 1960s when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that prayer in public schools is unconstitutional.

The prayer that instigated Ahlquist's lawsuit (pictured on a t-shirt). Image courtesy of NYTimes.com.

Rhode Island teenager Jessica Ahlquist recently found herself in the middle of the debate when she sued her high school to get a prayer removed from its auditorium. Ahlquist won the lawsuit and now the prayer, which has hung in her school for nearly half a century, is covered with a tarp. The small New England town was outraged at the ruling, and residents have been actively fighting for an appeal. Ahlquist stands firm in her defense of the Constitution.

Meanwhile, Florida Senator Gary Siplin sponsored a bill to allow student-led prayer at school-related events. Senate Bill 98 ensures that leading a prayer or sharing an inspirational message is completely optional for students. Siplin also uses the Constitution to support his case, citing the rights to freedom of expression and freedom of religion.

What is your view on religion in public schools?

100th Day of School Activities

Need some way to break up the winter blahs in your classroom? Try celebrating the 100th day of school! Incorporate math and counting lessons into the day that can be both fun and educational. It’s a great way to congratulate kids on their hard work thus far, especially kindergarteners who have made it half way through their first year of school.

Check out some 100th Day activities below and share some of your own:

  • Make 100th Day Trail Mix
    Have each student bring in 100 pieces of cereal, marshmallows, raisins or other small treats. Mix the ingredients together for a yummy 100th Day snack mix.
  • Share 100 Things
    Send home a large zip-top bag and ask each student to bring back 100 items that can fit in the bag. Each person counts the items as they present to the class. Some ideas include coins, cotton balls and paper clips. Last year, my daughter shared her large collection of rubber bracelets with her kindergarten class.
  • Play 100th Day Hopscotch
    Use sidewalk chalk (if weather cooperates) or painters tape to create a hopscotch board. Label the 10 boxes up to 100, by 10s. It’s a fun way to count and get moving.
  • Create a Giant Game Board
    Use pieces of construction paper to create a life-size game board. Label each square with a number 1 to 100. Kids roll dice and count their way to the finish line. For a bigger challenge, start at 100 and count backwards.
  • Have a Penny Drive
    Collect pennies and have the class help count the groups of coins that make up each dollar. Use the collected money for an end-of-the-year party or donate to a local cause.

For even more ideas, visit this page at www.Scholastic.com.

Sagus CEO Answers 8th Grader’s Plea to Congress

When 8th grader Ty’Sheoma Bethea wrote to Congress in 2009 asking for help for her dilapidated school, Congress wasn’t the only one who heard her plea. President Obama quoted her letter in his February address to Congress, a speech that caught the attention of Darryl Rosser, former CEO of Sagus International.

Rosser decided to visit Bethea’s school. After touring the rundown J.V. Martin Middle School, Rosser knew he had to do something. He rallied his employees at Sagus International to manufacture more than a quarter of a million dollars worth of furniture for the South Carolina school.

Rosser’s generosity was recently featured on 20/20. Watch the clip below to hear more of his story.

SCHOOLSin is proud to carry the Artco-Bell and Midwest Folding product lines of Sagus International.

Classroom Furniture Must-Haves

Last week we asked our Facebook fans which piece of school furniture or equipment they couldn’t live without in their classroom.  Since we have such a large and diverse fan base, we expected a wide variety of answers. But we were a bit surprised at how many duplicate answers there were.  Eight items appeared repeatedly in the 70+ posts, so we thought we’d share them with you:

  1. Activity Tables – Students can do everything at an activity table, from reading groups, art projects and snack time. Teachers also noted that the kidney-shaped activity tables helped facilitate student instruction.
  2. Whiteboards – Convenient, dustless, versatile. . .there are so many reasons that teachers love whiteboards. And with several features to choose from — including size and writing surface — there’s one for every classroom and budget. Check out our You Tube video “How to Choose a Dry Erase Board” for more details.
  3. Bookshelves – So many teachers listed them as their most important piece of classroom furniture. With all the books, binders and paperwork a teacher has to store, it’s no surprise that you can never have too many bookshelves.
  4. Teacher Desks – Used for student and parent meetings, desks also give a teacher a place to sit, relax or work on paperwork after a long day of standing.
  5. Carts – Rolling carts are often a teacher’s mobile assistant in the classroom. They’re a place to set up and store laptops, paperwork, overhead projectors, books and student supplies. One art teacher posted that her cart holds pottery; another said that her media cart makes everything “visible” to the students.
  6. Podiums – Particularly handy for high school teachers and college professors, podiums are now designed to be desks, media presentation centers, and mobile carts. They’re another essential tool for today’s on-the-go teachers.
  7. Classroom Rugs – They provide a colorful and comfortable spot to gather for sharing and stories – what’s not to love? School rugs come in a huge variety of shapes, sizes and themes. It’s hard to choose just one!
  8. Teacher Chairs – A comfortable chair is obviously a must.  Add wheels and a pneumatic lever, and it helps you work smarter.

Overhead projectors, interactive whiteboards and classroom tables also received an honorable mention. Did your classroom “must-have” make our list? And what do you think the students’ perspectives would be?