's Favorite School and Education Videos From 2011

Sometimes kids learn best when music and fun are part of the equation. One way that’s been accomplished by many school districts is through the use of student-performed videos that are created locally and then uploaded to

Here are a few of our favorite school-related videos from the previous year. What were some or your favorites? Is your school working on an education-related video? Let us know!

Addressing the issue of bullying, four young women from Reynoldsburg, Ohio who call themselves the DHJK Gurls—and include friends Daryn, Joy, Hennessey and Kennedy—produced this video called “Inside Voice,” which became a hit on YouTube.

In this video, students at the Ocoee Middle School in Orange County, Florida sing the praises of reading“Read a book, plant a seed, grow your world”—in their performance called “Read A Book.”

At the Hope School-Fortis in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, students used the wildly popular video “Friday,” created by Rebecca Black, and made their own version, which focuses on school and learning and is called “Monday.”

And even though this video is from 2009, it remains one of our favorites. Here, the Scholar Ladies from the Hope School–Prima, also in Milwaukee, sing about homework, studying, and grades in “Scholar Ladies (Get An A On It),” their remake of Beyonce’s hit “Single Ladies.”




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What Does It Really Mean When A Child Is Learning Disabled?

Students who struggle in school are often misunderstood. On Monday, they might turn in work that is beautifully written and thoroughly done. Then on Tuesday, their work is practically illegible, only partially complete, full of misspelled words and grammar mistakes. I believe this is where the expression, “LD means lazy and dumb,” comes from. (Forgive me for even putting that in writing! It is one of my pet peeves. One can never know how hard a person is working.)

LD (learning disabled) actually means this is a person who is intelligent, but for some reason is not able to perform at a level that shows how smart they are. Many, many LD students work three times as hard as a student who does not have the same struggles. Yet, the quality of the product is often different from one day to the next. The inconsistency in work can be attributed to many things. Here are a few possibilities.

  • Problems with working memory. Read my earlier post on working memory and the one on cursive handwriting to understand how working memory issues can affect the quality of the final product.
  • Difficulty with reading. If the assignment requires reading for the purpose of teaching oneself or finding an answer, many LD students do not have the skills to make that happen. Therefore, the final product is often of poor quality due to exhaustion or trying to do multiple tasks at once (remember the question, read to find answer, hold answer in memory, write answer down, form the letters correctly, etc.).
  • Lack of enough practice before being asked to show mastery. Many times students are introduced to a new concept and immediately asked to show that they can do it on their own. Once they do master it, they can do the work just fine. But until then they might turn in low quality work.

What can you as a parent do to help?

Working memory problems can be helped by dividing the task up into steps and writing each step down before proceeding. For example, if your child is asked to write a quote analysis in literature, she should first write down the steps to a quote analysis. Then, she should attempt to write the analysis. This keeps her from having to keep so much information in working memory.

Reading problems can be alleviated by either reading the material to them or relying on technology solutions such as Natural Reader or digital books (like on Kindle or Nook).

If the problem is lack of enough practice, then practice is the answer. Unfortunately, this means you may have to help your child significantly on a particular type of problem before expecting him to do it on his own.

There are many reasons for inconsistent quality of work. Do not make the mistake of assuming your child is not trying. Try to figure out what is keeping them from producing their best work. Then take the necessary steps that lead to improvement. You may need to engage the help of your child’s teacher and the school psychologist.


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During the Holiday Break, Take Time Off to Relax and Enjoy Your Children


Students who struggle in school need the holiday to rest, relax, and have some fun. When school is in session, they put forth more effort than other students. Additionally, they are spending time doing things they really do not like. Everyone deserves some time away from the stress of their normal work—you, from whatever your routine is, and your children, from their school work.

Imagine what it would be like if your boss asked you to practice filling out your time sheets while you are on vacation, because you normally have difficulty filling them out accurately! That is like asking your child to practice writing academic paragraphs while she is supposed to be having fun.

Don’t get me wrong. I believe in learning at home. I have no problems with playing educational games with your children. But, the games should really be fun and not similar to typical schoolwork.

Please enjoy this holiday season with your children. Have some hot chocolate and cookies. Play outside. Go to the park. Paint some pictures. Watch some movies. Play some video games. School will start again, soon enough!

Happy holidays to you all.

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Simple, Last-Minute, Stocking Stuffers for Fun and Learning

Surprise your young child this holiday season with some simple and inexpensive items as stocking stuffers or small gifts that will delight their curiosity and enhance “hands-on” learning. Remember the delicious childhood pleasure of reading under your covers with a secret flashlight? Here are 8 suggestions for similarly simple gifts: 

  • A child sized, hand-held magnifier. This is a great gift for a curious child to study bugs, butterflies or snowflakes in the backyard.
  • A large, plastic encased thermometer.  This can be placed outside her bedroom window so she can become the family “weather girl.” She can check the temperature before getting dressed, and let the family know if they will need mittens and hats that day, or if it’s warm enough for a swim!
  • A child-friendly horseshoe magnet. He’ll feel like a scientist discovering all the things around the house that will be attracted to, and repelled by, the magnet.
  • A deck of playing cards. Cards can be used for all sorts of games to improve math skills, in a fun, interactive way. Some examples: have your daughter identify and match numbers on the cards, or play “War” together for the concept of more-than and less-than.
  • A small, suction cup bird feeder that can be attached to the outside of a window. This allows your child to get a close view of the birds that will come and feed, and feel the responsibility of having a pet when it’s time to refill the feeder.
  • For about $3-5 you can get an environmentally safe bag of “Snow in Seconds” or a tube of “Insta-Snow Powder” that magically turns into “snow” when your child adds water.
  • A jar of soap bubbles. Wave the wand to create bubbles and have your son quickly count them before they pop!

And don’t forget that small flashlight for lighting the way to the bathroom at night—or for reading under the covers after lights out!

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Federal Study on Bullying Examines States' School Policies

This week, you may have heard about results of a new studying on bullying released by the U.S. Department of Education. The study was commissioned by the feds to gain information about the existence and strength of bullying laws and policies in schools districts in all 50 states.


The results of the study are decidedly mixed. While most states and school districts today have some form of anti-bullying measures, some don't go far enough—or carry much weight when it comes to enforcement or punishment. 


“Every state should have effective bullying prevention efforts in place to protect children inside and outside of school," said Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, in a statement issued Dec. 6 when the study was released. “This report reveals that while most states have enacted legislation around this important issue, a great deal of work remains to ensure adults are doing everything possible to keep our kids safe.”


Called the Analysis of State Bullying Laws and Policies, the 200+ page pdf of the report is available here for those who'd like to tackle the government tome. For the rest of us, has done the heavy lifting, culling the most important details and presenting them here for our readers.


The defining moment for the beginning of state bullying legislation and school district policy on bullying began right after the horrific shootings at Columbine High School in 1999. In fact, due to the events at Columbine—and in relation to a local bullying-related suicide—the state of Georgia became the first state to pass legislation requiring schools to implement bullying prevention programs. From there, the following breakdown shows how others states have responded with their own policies, according to the study:

  • From 1999 to 2010: More than 120 bills enacted by state legislatures either introduced or amended education or criminal statutes to address bullying and related behaviors in schools.
  • In 2010: 21 new bills were passed.
  •  In 2011: 8 additional bills were passed as of April 30, 2011.
  •  From 2006 to 2010: 35 states enacted new laws regarding cyber bullying.
  •  Only two states—Montana and South Dakota—remain without bullying laws (Note: At the time of the study, Hawaii and Michigan were both listed as states not having anti-bullying laws; however, Hawaii passed bullying legislation in July 2011, and earlier this month, Michigan did as well). 

It’s also worth noting that as of April 2011, Texas was the only state without any requirement for schools to create bullying or harassment policies. That changed in June 2011, when Gov. Rick Perry signed legislation requiring Texas public school districts to create and adopt formal bullying policies.  


Key Findings of the Study: What's Up With Bullying Laws in States?

  • 46 states have some type of bullying laws—but three of those states prohibit bullying without actually defining the behavior that’s prohibited.
  • 36 states prohibit cyber bullying
  • 13 states specify that schools have jurisdiction over off-campus behavior if it creates a hostile school environment.
  • States with the most expansive anti-bullying legislation have school districts with the most expansive anti-bullying policies. However, there were some school districts located in states with less expansive laws that expanded their policies beyond the state’s minimum legal expectations.


School Violence and Student Safety

The Department of Education’s study noted that the most recent survey on school violence and student safety is one conducted by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). That survey measured the frequency of bullying at schools as reported by school administrators, and came up with these findings:

  • 39 percent of middle school administrators reported bullying took place on a daily or weekly basis
  • 20 percent of elementary and high school administrators reported bullying took place on a daily or weekly basis
  • 19 percent of middle schools and 18 percent of high schools reported daily or weekly problems with cyber bullying, either at school or away from school.

The NCES survey also measured how often students ages 12-18 were the target of bullying during the past school year:

  • 21 percent of said they had been made fun of by their peers
  • 18 percent said they’d been the subject of rumors
  • 11 percent said they’d been pushed, shoved, tripped, or spit on
  • 6 percent said they had been threatened with harm


Cyber Bullying

The NCES survey reported that 4 percent of students age 12-18 reported having been cyber bullied in the year prior to the study. In addition, according to other related studies, up to 20 percent of all students age 11–18 may have been cyber bullied at some time. And in a 2010 study, the same percentage of students—20 percent—reported having been involved in the cyber bullying of other youths.  


Being Teased and “Ignored On Purpose”

School surveys of elementary and middle school students indicate that bullying is higher among those in elementary and middle school. Of more than 11,000 elementary and middle school students surveyed, 61 percent of girls and 60 percent of boys reported they’d been “teased in a mean way,” while 22 percent of girls and 33 percent of boys said they’d been threatened with physical harm. An ostracizing form of bullying—being “ignored on purpose”—was reported by 46 percent of girls and 31 percent of boys.


Effects of Bullying

Earlier studies show a correlation between bullying and poor psychosocial adjustment in children, according to the Analysis of State Bullying Laws and Policies. A 2001 study showed that students who were bullied had difficulty making friends, experienced poorer relationships with peers, and felt an increased sense of loneliness.

Other research shows that bullied students have increased anxiety levels, psychosomatic symptoms, and experience higher rates of eating disorders and aggressive-impulsive behavior problems. Youths who are bullied have also been shown to be at greater risk of developing poor self-esteem, depression, and suicidal thoughts and attempts. Studies show that children who are chronically bullied have lower academic achievement and higher rates of truancy and disciplinary problems.

For complete details on the Analysis of State Bullying Laws and Policies study, visit the study at


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Can We Postpone The Holiday Hustle and Bustle?

A few years ago, my husband’s office holiday party was postponed ’till January because they simply couldn’t find a Friday night to host it. However, that party was quite possibly the best (better late than never) holiday party I’ve ever been to! We laughed and snorted just as hard at the white elephant gifts, which were still wrapped in red and gold paper with sparkly bows and candy canes—just as if it’d been December. And we definitely enjoyed the evening together sans kid and without the stress of two other events the same night!


It got me thinking …


What if we could postpone some of the crazy, umpteen, school holiday events? If we did, would I get laughed out of the PTO? Would my Facebook page light up with criticisms and Bah Humbugs? Or would I get extra eggnog at the next parent-teacher conference?!


I’m being serious. Think about it. Would it be so terrible to have a band concert the last week of January? Half the time there are only a few Christmas songs on the playlist, and it’s been renamed the Winter Concert as it is. I don’t know about you, but we get more snow in February than December anyway!


Imagine if the piano and dance recitals, the band and choir concerts, or even the 2nd grade school play were delayed until January? You know what that would do? It would allow my family to concentrate on OUR holiday in a way that focuses on FAMILY TIME.


I’ll volunteer to host the ugly sweater party in February! Cookie exchanges? Oh honey, I’m game for cookies year-round!


Why do we insist on heaping numerous activities and parties into 2 or 3 short weeks in December? Maybe the answer is in picking and choosing and letting the things slide that aren’t high on your family’s priority list, and then making an even bigger deal of the events that mean the most to you and yours.


For my family that holiday priority list would include the occasions where my whole family is involved. Things like church Christmas parties—where the teenager is involved with wrapping little kid gifts, the younger kids sing Christmas carols, and my husband cooks up 14 hams. Another tradition I wouldn’t postpone are our Monday family service nights where we bake up treats and deliver them secretly to neighbors, (they always know it’s us, and we can’t figure out how!). Extended family gatherings will always be high on our list as well as several other community—and yes, school—holiday events.


I’m not suggesting we postpone EVERY holiday event…but there must be way to make the holidays less chaotic, because December in my world is crazy right now!


What usually-held-in-December event would you postpone for a month or two?

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When School Lunch Is A Cold Cheese Sandwich

It’s happened to all of us. Your child tells you the night before that he’s out of lunch money in his account at school and needs it for the next day—or else.

That “or else” used to mean a stern dressing-down by the even sterner “lunch lady.” It was embarrassing for your child, but she got over it.

This week, a school in Rhode Island opted for a more punitive method that’s becoming the norm for more and more cash-strapped school districts—giving children who are out of school lunch money a cold cheese sandwich for their lunch.

The Rhode Island school’s policy allows for a child to receive three free hot lunches when their lunch money account is at zero before getting the “cold” shoulder, er, sandwich, for their fourth lunch.

Rhode Island isn’t alone in this policy: in 2009, large school systems such as the Albuquerque Public School district instituted the “cold cheese sandwich” policy—often referred to as a “courtesy lunch”—along with hundreds of other districts across the country.

Problem is, kids feel singled out and humiliated when handed their cold cheese sandwich, which comes with a piece of fruit and a carton of milk; that apparently makes the lunch nutritious according to Department of Education guidelines. But most kids and their parents say such a meal is not filling or appealing.

And for kids already stigmatized by receiving free or reduced-cost lunches, getting slapped with a cold cheese sandwich feels like insult added to injury.

But it gets worse. Students in the Edmonds School District in Washington actually have their hot lunch trays taken away from them in the lunch line if they owe money on their lunch account, and are presented with the cold cheese sandwich instead. Talk about humiliating.

The decision to give a cold cheese sandwich for lunch is a local one, according to information in a 2009 study done by the School Nutrition Association. In “The Bottom Line on Charge Policies,” a statement from the United States Department of Agriculture’s Food and Nutrition Service read: “All full price policies for school meals are matters of local discretion. This includes decisions about whether or not to extend credit to children who forget their meal money or whether or not to provide an alternate meal to such children. Therefore, a school could decide not to provide meals to children who must pay the full price for their meals but do not have the money to do so. In some cases, the PTA or other school organization may establish a fund to pay for children who forget or lose their money. Schools should ensure that parents are fully aware of the policy adopted for children who do not have their meal money.”

What’s the policy in your children’s school? Have they ever received a cold cheese sandwich for lunch?

Editor's note: For healthy, nutritious school lunch and lunchbox ideas, visit our new Recipe Share. Do you have a good recipe you'd be willing to share? Send it to us and we'll include it on our site!

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Holiday Gifts Your Child Can Make to Create Memories

Every Christmas, when my family decorates our tree, we make sure to put on the “Silver Walnut” ornament.  This was a gift that my husband, Brian, made for his mother when he was a 7-year-old Cub Scout.  It’s a hollowed walnut shell that he glued back together, secured with a red satin ribbon then dipped in silver paint. My mother-in-law gave me this ornament the first Christmas after Brian and I were married. 


It was hard for her to part with this because it brought back memories of my husband as a child.  Even though the silver paint is chipped, and the satin ribbon is frayed, it still makes me smile, thinking how he lovingly made this for his Mom so many years ago.


Here are six simple handmade gifts you can easily make with your child. Over time, they may become part of your family’s holiday memories: 


Help your child draw and print “tickets” for a sibling. These “tickets” can be redeemed for various activities, such as playing a game together, helping to clean a room, etc.


Let an older child download, print, and bind together some free activity pages from web sites such as, such as coloring pages, dot-to-dots, mazes, etc.  This booklet makes a great gift for younger brothers and sisters.


Have her decorate and print a “coupon book” for jobs that Mom can redeem.   Some examples might be, “Take out the trash,” “Feed the dog,” “Clean my room,” etc.


Help your child create a short story as a present. He can use photographs or drawings on the pages. Some examples could be, “What I Love about My Grandma” or “The Best Time I Ever Had with Grandpa.” Make a front and back cover from poster board, punch two holes through the pages, and tie together with a ribbon.


Recycle a small foam meat tray. Thoroughly wash the tray in hot, soapy water.  Dry with a towel. Then let your child paint and decorate it with drawings or stickers of Dad’s favorite sport. Now, Dad can have a special place to put his keys and change.


With a Q-Tip, “paint” the edges of a pinecone with glue. While the glue is still wet, sprinkle with colorful glitter. When the glue is dry, loop a ribbon through the top to hang on the tree or in a window.


Do you have a favorite hand-made gift idea you’d like to share?


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Bah humbug on teacher gifts, say Alabama lawmakers

Have you and your children decided on what teacher gifts you’ll be giving for the holidays? If you’ve chosen a $25 gift card and you live in Alabama, you’ll want to reconsider—lest your gift sends a teacher to jail.

A new law prohibiting certain gifts to public officials and employees—narrowly defined to include teachers—took effect in the southern state earlier this year and is being put to the test in these next few weeks before the holidays, as children search for the perfect teacher gift.

Kids in Alabama who've fallen asleep with visions of sugarplums (or Hanukkah dreidels) dancing in their heads may be disappointed when it comes to selecting holiday gifts for their teachers.

Outlawed teacher gifts include “hams, turkeys or gift cards with a specific monetary value”—although that specific dollar amount wasn't specified. Homemade gifts—those that aren’t worth much, monetarily speaking—are still okay, so cookies, knitted oven mitts, baskets of fruit, breads, etc. are permissible.

But should a teacher receive a more valuable gift, he or she might be found guilty of breaking the state’s ethics law and could face up to a year in jail and a fine of $6,000.

Yes, it’s as ludicrous as it sounds.

According to this report from the Associated Press, Alabama Republican Senator Bryan Taylor, who sponsored the legislation, said the new law prevents teachers from favoring one child over another, i.e. theoretically favoring the better gift-giver, and protects families who can’t afford to give big teacher gifts.

 “In every classroom, there is a Tiny Tim who can't afford a turkey or ham,” Taylor told the AP.

However, it seems that Alabama’s teachers are paying the penalty for a handful of Alabama lawmakers and lobbyists who were brought up on corruption charges not long ago. While I’ll bet they weren’t found guilty of giving a Christmas ham to the people they were trying to influence, their criminal actions effectively lowered the boom on teachers. And the state Ethics Commission wouldn’t consider exempting teachers from the law, saying “The suggestion that it is harmless for a school child to give a Christmas gift to their teacher ignores the potential for abuse.”

As anyone with kids knows, it's so convenient to opt for purchasing a book or a book gift certificate or gift cards from stores where teachers can purchase classroom supplies. It’s the rare teacher who receives a fancier gift. But even gift cards are out in Alabama, unless the card is purchased through an organization like the local PTO with individual donations of no more than $5 per child.

So, children of Alabama, you'd better get busy baking or knitting if you want to give your teacher a holiday gift. Bah humbug, indeed.

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Rewards, Movies, and Holiday Parties? Oh My!

Is any work getting done in school during the holiday months?

I recently came across a Facebook group discussion about using classrooms using movies as a reward for everything from meeting accelerated reader (AR) reading goals to good behavior. The main complaint was that movies chosen seem to be mindless. And one mom complained that it was the second movie her kid had watched in two weeks (as a reward for “good behavior” the first time.)

This former PTO president wondered why the reward has to come in the form of a movie. Mr. Bean’s Vacation is worse than mindless and certainly isn’t teaching kids anything but pop culture pointlessness.

Plus, realize that this “reward party/movie” comes on the heels of November, a month where there was only one full week of school! Do the kids really deserve a “break?”

December has only a few weeks of school time as it is. Add holiday parties and probable breaks and “reward” days and you might not see even half the days in December instructed either.

Personally I absolutely think kids deserve breaks during the school year, and “reward parties” are certainly a viable way to encourage reading and good behavior.

But maybe it’s time to brainstorm with your school about ways to better celebrate an achievement.

My 6 Alternatives to Mindless Movie Rewards in School

  • An extra art day
  • Going for a nature walk/hike
  • Educational or historic movies
  • Working on a service project
  • Read-A-Thon afternoons
  • Extra recesses

What types of breaks would you suggest as rewards for kids during the holidays—or year round for that matter!? Does your school overdo the break/reward system? How do you feel about movies as rewards?


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A Positive Approach: Teach By Catching Kids Doing Something Right!

Parents and teachers have a tendency to tell children what they are doing wrong. That’s our job, isn’t it? But wouldn’t it be better to tell them how to do things right instead?

“You need to keep working on your math homework, so you can have your snack,” is so much better than, “Stop wasting time!” Many children do not know what they are doing that is “wasting time.” This is especially true of children who struggle with executive functioning. These children need frequent reminders to stay on task, and the reminders should tell them what to do rather than what not to do.

Another thing that can help is to catch children doing what you expect them to do, and then give them positive reinforcement. The reinforcement needs to be something very small, like a smile or a thumbs-up sign. With older children, it shouldn’t be public or be something like “I like how you are doing [fill in the blank]!” Why? Because older kids see through this and feel it is false praise. They also feel that you are singling them out in front of their friends—not cool! (But, they do enjoy your attention!).

These gentle, positive signals can help children learn what they are supposed to be doing rather than having a constant reminder of what they are not supposed to be doing.

Next time you are tempted to fuss at your middle schooler, think about phrasing your concern in a way that confirms what you would rather have him do instead of only telling him what he’s doing wrong.


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Should A School Limit Parental Access to Teachers? No Way!

File this under the category of: What the heck were they thinking?

Last week, education officials at an elementary school in Seattle, WA, sent a letter home to parents of children at the school, advising them of a new limit imposed on emails sent to teachers.

Educators at Brookside Elementary School, located in the Shoreline School District, which is north of Seattle, informed parents that effective immediately they could send one email per week to their child’s teacher. In addition, the email was to contain “one paragraph,” and the topic was limited to “important issues,” according to a report published on, the website of KING 5 TV, Northwest Cable News in Seattle.

As you might imagine, the reaction from parents was angry and swift, with many contacting the TV station to vent their fury.

In their defense, school officials explained that with full classrooms, teachers were apparently feeling overwhelmed by the numerous emails they were receiving each week from parents—sometimes the same parents, over and over.

Regardless, wouldn’t you be outraged if you received a similar letter from education officials at your child’s school?

Last week, I emailed one of my children’s teachers to discuss my child’s progress in a particular class. The teacher emailed me back, and offered time for a phone conference. It took a few more days before it happened—the Thanksgiving break and all—but we finally connected. He answered my questions, offered some guidance, and together we developed a home-school action plan to get my child back on track in the class.

Imagine, however, if that was my one allotted email—or phone call—to that teacher last week? I’d be as outraged as the parents at the Brookside School. Why is it that education officials often seem as though teachers should have more rights than parents? And act as though they’re exempted from the basic rules of business etiquette? Imagine if I told readers that they were only allowed to email the editor (that’s me) once a week because I’m so busy. It’d be an outrageous move and I’d deserve—and expect—a backlash.

If there were parents—or a parent—in that or any other school district who were inundating a specific teacher with numerous emails per day, then school officials should have facilitated a face-to-face meeting between the parent(s) and the teacher. At that time, the educators could have politely but firmly advised the parent that the teacher could not be expected to respond to numerous emails per day from the same parent.

But to set a Draconian policy that restricts all parents wanting to email their child’s teacher? That’s outrageous in my book.

Do you agree? Let me know by commenting here.

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Here’s What Makes a First Grader Thankful

In preparation for Thanksgiving, my 1st grade class had a discussion about what we’re thankful for this holiday. I wanted to share my student’s thoughts because their 6- and 7-year-old perspectives are sweet and innocent, yet surprisingly profound. 

  • Many children said:  “I’m thankful for my family.  They are so nice to me.”  “They care about me.”  “They love me, and I love them.”


  • “I’m thankful for trees because they are good to climb, and they give us oxygen, too!”


  • “I’m thankful for my little sister, because she’ll walk soon.”


  • “I’m thankful for the sun because it makes my face warm.”


  • “I like the sun, too.  It helps plants to grow.”


  • “I’m thankful for my kitty, because when I pat her soft fur it makes me happy.”


  • “I’m thankful for all the good food…except the carrots!”


  • “I’m thankful for my brother Corey. He’s a Marine, and he’ll be home for Thanksgiving…and I can’t wait to see him!”


One student’s thought really got to the heart of the holiday. He said, “I’m thankful for blessings…even though I don’t see them every day.”

So, here’s to hidden blessings!  Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.




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9th Grade Sex Ed Survey: What Would You Do?

What would you do as a parent in this situation?

A teacher at Rio Rancho High School in New Mexico who passed out a voluntary, anonymous sex survey to students in a 9th grade biology class, has been placed on leave until the school system conducts an investigation, according to a recent report on the Huff Post Education site.

The survey, which was reportedly passed out as a way to teach students about sexually transmitted diseases, asked students to report anonymously if they were sexually active and to list the people they’d recently kissed. Parents were not informed about the survey before it was administered to students.

A follow-up story posted on, the website of an Albuquerque television station, included comments from current and former students at the school who say that the survey has been around for years, and that numerous other 9th grade classes have completed the survey over the years.

 Regardless of the eventual outcome in this situation, how would you react if such a survey—voluntary and anonymous— was given to your child by a biology teacher?

Seems that few subjects get parents as riled up as sex ed. Remember when we brought you the story about the new sex education mandate in New York City public middle and high schools?

Turns out it’s become more controversial than expected, especially concerning content for students in middle school. Flash cards depicting anal sex, oral sex, and masturbation have been removed from the middle school sex ed curriculum, according to a New York media outlet.

Problem is the schools have a high teenage pregnancy rate, which education officials are hoping to reduce through the mandated sex education curriculum. New York City Department of Education Chancellor Dennis Walcott recently said, "A significant percentage of our teenagers have had multiple sexual partners, so we can't stick our heads in the sand about this”

Many parents feel it's their job to discuss sexuality and teen pregnancy with their children, but what happens to those teens whose parents are too uncomfortable to broach the subject of sex? Education officials, in New York anyway, say that's where classroom-based sex ed comes in.

 Parents and guardians, what do you think? Please let us know by commenting below.

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Test and Improve Your Child's Working Memory

Having a good working memory is important for school success. When we are engaged in problem solving or learning something new, we have to manipulate ideas in our brains. We might be trying out new things and figuring out how they fit in with what we already know. We might be thinking about a new vocabulary word and relating it to similar words that are already a part of our vocabulary. Each of us has a limited amount of memory space for doing these activities. If we have a poor working memory it can cause problems.

On average, a school-aged child can hold and work with between five and nine things at a time.  Younger children can manipulate fewer things than older children. It doesn’t really matter how many it is, it only matters if it is causing difficulty for some reason. 

A child who has poor working memory loses track of what she is doing. I watched a student read a math problem carefully, decide how to work it out, line up the numbers on grid paper, begin adding the numbers, and then switch to subtracting in the middle of the problem. He lost track of what he was doing because his working memory capacity was limited.

There are several simple tests you can do to find out how many items your child can control in his working memory. First, however, be aware that some children do better when working with letters or words than they do when working with numbers. And some children remember what they see, but not what they hear. Therefore, your child may have a better working memory in some situations than in others. 

Try these tests, but be careful not to go so far that your child becomes stressed. Try to make this like a game to them:

  • Say a series of three numbers rather slowly (about one per second). Then ask your child to say them back to you. Do the same with four, five, six and on until she cannot say them back (remember, stop before it becomes too difficult.)
  • Try a similar test with short sentences (three words), and work up to longer sentences until you find the number he can do successfully.
  • Say three numbers and ask her to say them back in reverse order. This is obviously a more complex task, but it is probably more like what she will be doing when working a math problem. Try this with more numbers until you find the limit.
  • Repeat the tests using letters (forward and reverse).

What can you do to improve working memory? If you feel your child has a poor working memory, you might want to do some practice activities to see if it helps. You can do so by using one of the activities you used as a test. For example, if your child was able to repeat three numbers, practice until he can do it consistently. Then, give him four, and keep practicing until he can do four consistently. This takes time, but it might gradually improve his working memory capacity.

I would love to know if any of you have tried similar activities that work. Please post a comment and let me know! 

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Where Have Children's Good Manners Gone?

Often I find myself asking, “What’s happened to basic good manners these days?” 

Last week I was having a conversation with another teacher in our school corridor. As we were chatting, two students plowed right between us, bumping us with their backpacks! 

I immediately made that a “teachable” moment and patiently explained to the students that when adults are talking, you either walk around them, or stop and say, “Excuse me.” I knew that those children were not intentionally being impolite; they just didn’t realize that they should have stopped.

Good manners should start at a young age. They don’t cost anything, yet integrating them into your child’s life can be quite valuable. Having good manners makes a child standout in a very positive way.

Here are eight basic rules of good manners that every child should easily master before starting kindergarten.

  • Always say “Please” when asking for something, and “Thank you” when receiving it.
  • When someone says “Thank you” to you the correct response is “You’re welcome.”
  • Look at a person when they are speaking to you.
  • Don’t interrupt, unless it is an emergency.
  • If you bump into someone say “Excuse me.”
  • Cough and sneeze into the crook of your arm. 
  • Don’t ever laugh at, or make fun of, other people.
  • Clean up any messes you make.

Instilling good manners in children can dramatically affect the quality of their life…and get them noticed for all the right reasons!

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Why Your Teen Needs to Care About Math

This week, presents a guest blog authored by Clare McIlwraith and Chris Whittington, a.k.a The Study Gurus. This dynamic duo specializes in teaching student how to study effectively. They share their years of studying and tutoring experience at

Is your teen uninterested in math?

Do you know they could do better in it?

You’re not alone. Math is by far the most unpopular subject in high school.

Fortunately we have a solution for your teen that will help them break out of their “I hate math” funk—and we’re not even going to mention a single math formula!


Why teens hate math so much

It’s a defining trait of human behavior that we simply don’t do something if we don’t have a reason to. (Or sometimes if we don’t have a good enough reason not to—in the case of procrastination!)

For a lot of teens math seems like a pointless exercise. While this is terribly frustrating for so many parents, we can’t blame our teens, because in most cases no one has actually bothered to explain to them why it’s important.


If your teen doesn’t know why he needs math, then why should he care what X equals?

Some teens are just naturally motivated to want to do well at school—even in math! But probably the majority of students aren’t—and they need to know why the subject is important in order to get motivated about it. Otherwise, their understanding will suffer, along with their grades…


What can you do to help?

You don’t have to force your teen into studying. Or have yelling matches about why she should care more.

The best thing to do is to just have an open and honest chat with her about the importance of math after school.

The point of this conversation is not to transform your teen into a math-loving mini Einstein overnight. It’s to plant the idea that math isn’t taught to torture them, but because it’s an incredibly important aspect of life in the ‘real world’.

It is used daily by pretty much everyone who has a career that isn’t flipping burgers.


How should this conversation go?

If you have some, you could start by sharing how you use the math you learned at school on a daily basis. Or maybe how you sincerely wish you had tried harder and done better at math because then X, Y, and Z would be so much easier.

Another approach could be for you to talk about all of the professions that use math every day, because there are a LOT…

Not just the obvious ones—engineers, architects, and accountants; how about doctors, builders, teachers, electricians, computer technicians, scientists, nurses… the full list is long!

The fact of the matter is that most (if not all) satisfying and well-paying professions require a reasonable level of math.

You don’t want your teen to learn this the hard way—when it’s too late and their hopes and dreams are dwindling down to the size of a Big Mac.

Now is the time for them to make the most of school and seize the day—even when they have math class.

For more math advice, visit The Study Gurus website.

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School's Halloween Carnival Equals Applause For teachers!

My fake Farah Fawcett wig is off to teachers who make a difference … kudos to teacher involvement in schools everywhere!

Three years ago, we experienced our first elementary “Halloween Carnival” at our current school. And I have to admit I wasn’t thrilled to attend yet “another” fundraiser. The week of Halloween is crazy-hectic enough with last minute family costume changes, church events, classroom parties, friend's parties, and … Trick or Treating, don’t forget!

Like many events, however, we absolutely enjoyed the carnival once we got there. (As if the kids would let me miss it!) We gathered up our ghosts and goblins and marched in to purchase our tickets. I was prepared with a few dollars so that each kid could buy popcorn, drinks, and whatever snacks were provided.

I wasn’t prepared, however, for the teacher involvement.

The what? You heard me.

It was something I had never experienced before. We’ve lived in 4 different states, attended 6 different schools, and I can tell you it’s a rare occurrence to see teachers in the building after school hours … much less RUNNING the whole school carnival!

After I snatched my jaw up off the cotton-candy crusted floor, I asked around. “Is this normal? Do the teachers usually attend after school events?” And the response was: “Well … this IS their fundraiser after all.”

Really? What a great idea! Turns out the funds raised are divided among the teachers for them to spend as they see fit: mainly on classroom supplies or as a year-end budget for simple field trips (mostly for transportation expenses.)

Our PTO gets involved and helps supply paper goods for the event, but the planning and operation is carried out solely by the teachers and our amazing Principal Krieger. Knowing this benefits the teachers directly—and my kids indirectly—has kept us returning year after year to enjoy the goodncrazy chaos and fun.

Apparently this carnival tradition has been tricking out for many years, because the game booths are substantial (they've obviously been built by hand) and have been improved over the years. Imagine running the popcorn stand or the pie throwing booth?!

Yes. They are ALL teachers.

Possibly the best part of the whole night? Seeing Principal Krieger dressed as a scarecrow!

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Consequences of a Zero: How One Missing Grade Makes a Huge Difference

Many students do not understand how important it is to complete (and turn in) every single assignment. They think that missing a paper or two does not make much difference in their overall grade. I have tutored students before who were failing in a course who really weren’t doing that badly on the work they did. They seemed to understand the concepts as we worked through them. But, because they did not do all the work, their grade was terrible.


Help your child understand this concept. Show them how to calculate an average (add all their grades together and divide by the number of grades). Then do some pretend calculations to show them the difference between getting an 85, 79, 90, 88, and 100 (average is 88.4), versus getting an 85, 79, 90, 0, and 100 (70.8 average!). At my school the 88.4 is a “B” and the 70.8 is an “F.” 


One missing grade makes a huge difference.


Sometimes, the issue is not that they did not do the work. It might be that they forgot to print it out, lost it between home and school, or put it in the wrong notebook. Parents can help with this, too. If these are issues for your child, they might need an organization system to help them keep up with their work.  Check out A Notebook System That Aids With Organization for an idea that might help them keep up with their homework.


Or, they might need a checklist to use before leaving home in the morning. Organization Tips to Eliminate the Forgotten Homework, Lunch, Sneakers… provides you with one method that has worked for many students.



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Can Early Education Benefit from "Occupy Wall Street?"

Is there a connection between the “Occupy Wall Street” movement and our schools?

As an early educator I read with interest an October 19 Op-Ed piece in the New York Times that a friend and fellow educator sent me.  The article, by Nicholas D. Kristof, is titled “Occupy the Classroom.” It states the case for diminishing the inequalities between “have” and “have-not” Americans by closing the early childhood education gap.

For me, it clearly voiced what I have always felt about the value of early education.

Why do we wait for formal education to start at age five, when so much of a young child’s developing mind is ready to learn in those first five years of life?  Why not invest in readiness for school success?

The leaders of our country have always talked a good game about “our children being our future,” but have these words been supported with real economic commitment?

I, for one, would much rather see my tax dollars spent on programs to help all young children develop essential skills.

Children don’t vote.  They have no economic power.  It’s up to us to make the right decisions for them and their future.

So yes, I definitely see a connection between what’s happening on Wall Street and in our country’s educational system. 

Wouldn’t you agree that investing in our children’s early education would yield a high return?

Click here to read Kristof’s entire column. I’d love to hear your thoughts.



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Do you allow your children to watch TV or play on the computer before doing their homework?

Yes - 31.6%
Sometimes - 25.4%
No - 37.4%

Total votes: 4919
The voting for this poll has ended on: June 25, 2016