Category Archives: Education

Helpful Blogs for ESL Learners

blogs for esl learners

Learning English isn’t easy. There are so many exceptions to the grammar rules, strange pairings of vowels and consonants, the dreaded “th” sound that’s common throughout the language yet hard for non-native speakers to pronounce. Yet, English is a universal language and that’s why there are over 1 billion ESL students worldwide. Whether you’re a foreigner living in the US or studying English in your country of origin, it’s becoming more and more indispensable to learn English. Fields like information technology and international business require English proficiency. For travelers, English is essential.

If you travel frequently for business or pleasure, it may not always be possible to learn every language of the countries you’re visiting, but English is spoken almost everywhere. If you’re learning English and would like a little extra support, you should check out these ESL blogs:

Phrase Mix offers lessons on idiomatic phrases in English. You can scroll through over 400 pages of phrases and choose ones that interest you. The lesson breaks down the phrase into chunks and explains each part and its meaning. It also offers an audio recording so you can learn the proper pronunciation. And the graphics give a visual representation of the phrase being featured – for those who are visual learners. It also offers articles with practical advice on things like taking the TOEFL, how to express condolences, and English phrases for car owners.

Espresso English offers you daily English lessons sent to your email by ESL teacher Shayna. She also has an e-book and offers self-paced English courses online. She posts informative articles with titles like “11 Advanced English Words with Confusing Pronunciations” and “Answers to 5 Quick English Grammar Questions” as well as colloquial phrases and much more. Access 50 podcasts to improve your pronunciation and auditory skills.

Real Life is perhaps the most comprehensive site out there with the greatest investment in quality. It offers professional videos on a variety of topics from vocabulary building to pronunciation. They have podcasts and articles on all aspects of English learning, from slang to business English and more.

ESL Hip Hop is aimed to make English learning cool. You’ll learn English through hip hop slang. After finishing Stephen Mayeaux’s lessons, you’ll be able to hang out and party like a born hip hop star. By far the most entertaining ESL site out there, with quality content to boot.

About.com features ESL expert Kenneth Beare’s blog. This site offers the standard grammar and pronunciation lessons, but really stands out with its dynamic mix of exercises like short stories and quizzes. They help students improve vocabulary, and you can also try writing exercises that ask students to continue a story. It also offers help on practical things like business English and how to write a resume. You can choose to sign up for daily or weekly lessons sent to your email.

ABA English offers articles and videos on everything from “How to Write a Cover Letter” to “How to Enjoy Your TOEFL Prep”. Fun, real-life videos in their “Street Challenge” section test your auditory and grammar skills. One of the best explanations of the many uses of “Get” I’ve ever seen. Cute illustrations on idiomatic expressions. A fun and light-hearted blog with great content.

My English Teacher is a site that offers English lessons via articles and videos as well as useful references for language exchange websites and best ESL Facebook pages to follow.

Elllo uses short videos to teach students different vocabulary in English. Videos are divided into Beginner, Intermediate and Advanced levels and quizzes are included to make sure you understood the content correctly. The site’s founder, Todd Beuckens, posts two new videos each week.

English with Jo focuses on practical uses of English in conversation for those who want to reach fluency quickly. With posts on topics from “Books & Literature” to “Safety” and “Drugs & Alcohol”, this site introduces you to practical topics and their applications. A “Word of the Day” post helps build vocabulary and a section on Business English is for even more comprehensive learning.

TalkEnglish is an ESL franchise that’s been around for the last decade or so. Their site offers 900 English lessons and 9000 audio files for free. A variety of reading, speaking and listening lessons are available on a range of topics.

Real English is a site that offers English lessons via videos and exercises. The videos are listed in order from beginner to more advanced and follow a certain logic and order. It’s a great resource for beginning students.

Linguarama is a no-frills ESL site with links to quizzes that test your vocabulary and grammar skills. If you’re confused about adverbs, present continuous tense and prepositions, this site offers simple explanations and exercises to get you on track. It also offers great examples of business English.

Business English Site specializes in lessons on business English. With categories that range from “Sales & Marketing”, “Accounting & Finance” and “Information Technology” as well as “Medical English”, they have you covered. A simple vocabulary-building technique is used to improve your business English, so you can impress people in interviews and meetings.

English with a Twist is a really fun blog by ESL teacher Shanthi Cumaraswamy Streat. It is one of the only blogs out there designed by someone who isn’t a native English speaker. This blog shows you the ins and outs of all the ESL challenges you could imagine from someone who has gone through it herself. Using a charming mix of humor and practical tips, this site is well worth a visit for anyone wishing to improve their English. No matter what level of English you’re at, these blogs can help enhance your vocabulary, grammar and auditory skills. Colloquialisms and idiomatic phrases present a particularly steep learning curve for non-natives.

Most of the above blogs dedicate their efforts to helping you learn how to speak naturally. Isn’t it great to know there are so many resources out there to help you speak better English?

5 Reasons Teachers Should Start Writing a Blog

why teachers should start blogging

Are you thinking about starting your own teacher’s blog?
You know that digital technology is sweeping classrooms on a global basis, creating blended learning environments. And you also know that to stay effective as a teacher you need to embrace some of this technology.
For many, the problem is knowing where to start, how to initiate and integrate these new systems into the classroom. And while most of us are now comfortable with using a smartphone and personal computer, unless you’re a hardcore geek, the idea of massive technological setup can seem intimidating.
It’s not that you’re a closet Luddite, it’s just the idea of learning an entire new system can feel a bit overwhelming.
So, rather than thinking you’re going to have to learn code, be a social media guru, and invest decades learning how to run complicated software programs, focus instead on sufficiency. Set a goal of learning what will be sufficient to create your own blog. Or, in teacher terms ‘just enough’. “[Teachers] need [to learn] ‘just enough’ to help them complete a curriculum-related or instructional task. Anything beyond this is wasted effort.”
And blogging can be a simple and gentle way to get more comfortable with technology in the classroom. For taking steps to create a blog, this post from Teach Junkie 24 Steps to Creating An Awesome Teacher Blog is a good place to start.
So, let’s explore 5 good reasons teachers should start blogging.

1. Blogging is Efficient.

A common area of resistance for many teachers is the thought that blogging will take up too much time. But in truth, once the initial setup is done and you’re familiar with the platform, blogging is an efficient and effective medium to communicate with students, parents and other teachers.
You can use a blog to:

  • Organize and consolidate all of your files, links, research data and multimedia sources in one place. And of course, you can keep private pages for your eyes only.
  • Share students work within an online community for collaboration, reviews and peer critiques.
  • Communicate in a two-way flow with parents. You can post classroom lessons and curriculum online as well as class progress, events and activities, so that parents are always in the loop. And parents can add their comments to your posts as well – or you can set a dedicated email address for private communications.
  • Post classroom and homework assignments, schedules for upcoming tests and review material. This means no excuses of ‘not knowing’ when projects are due, and are helpful for students who are absent.

This post from Angela Watson on Blogging Tips for Teachers is a good read for practical advice on setting a schedule, how to pick a theme, niches, etc.

2. Collaboration and Extended Reach.

Today’s EdTech tools such as blogging allows for a broader range of collaboration between students and teachers as well as between teacher and teacher. It’s a great way to share what you’ve learned with other teachers, and to learn from those with a bit more technical savvy – as this very informative post 50 Ways EdTech Benefits Teachers and Students from Tom Vander Ark demonstrates.
And, as an integrated tool in blended learning, blogging can also enhance “communication, creativity, critical thinking, problem solving, digital literacy, entrepreneurship, global awareness, and digital responsibility/citizenship.”
Blogging also facilitates expanded influence for “professional learning networks across districts and around the world.”

3. Blogging Builds Voice.

For aspiring writers or teachers of drama, English, journalism etc. blogging is a very effective way to develop their “voice”, one of the key qualities in becoming a better writer – and thus, a better communicator. Critical for being a good teacher.
But it can also be the voice of social consciousness. Anyone who works within the parameters of public service knows how difficult it can be when trying to effect positive change. Blogging allows us to take our concerns into the public arena – as Susan Bowles did when she refused to give the FAIR test to her kindergarteners. Use this tactic with discretion of course. Park your post in ‘drafts’ and sit on it overnight; or consult with your peers or superintendent before publishing.

4. Use Blogging as a Learning Tool.

Setting up a blog, learning how to use it, composing original content and curating information is a great way to teach language, writing and editing skills in the classroom. And getting students involved with their own in-class blog also teaches them how to interact in a public platform with integrity and respect, and develops good “digital citizenship skills.”
This post by educator Susan Lucille Davis offers a step-by-step process on Blogging Basics for setting up a classroom blog.

5. Blogging Gives Perspective.

Let’s face it, just like our students, we don’t always behave in the classroom the way we’d like to.
Events unfold, buttons may get pushed and then we assign meaning to those events based on past experiences. These meanings then color our thoughts and feelings which may be expressed in a manner somewhat less our usual high level of professionalism.
Blogging can be a safe environment to gain perspective on what’s happened by creating a space for reflection; as the act of writing itself helps to clarify and refine our thoughts for objective examination. In situations that are unusual or create uncertainty, the professional should “reflect on the phenomena before him…” The act of reflecting-on-action enables us to spend time exploring why we acted as we did”.
In short, blogging helps to create distance so we can see the situation clearly – it helps to keep us sane!
Well, there you have some good reasons to start blogging – as well as some teacher recommended resources to make your entry into the blogosphere easy and successful.

Writing In Education: Tips and Resources

writing in education tips

When you think about academic writing, what words come to mind? Inaccessible, stuffy and boring are some of the words I think of. Writing is a difficult craft no matter which genre you choose, but academic writing presents a special set of challenges. Much of the research that academics do is poorly written. So writers often end up adopting this same style in their own writing. Also, there’s the desire to be taken seriously as an academic and students to apply an extra coat of hyper-intellectual phrasing to their work.

Academic writing is at its best when it’s clean, simple and easy to understand even to the layperson. The academic writer should become skilled at taking complex concepts and breaking them down into bite-sized pieces. Otherwise, no matter how incredible and innovative their idea is, it runs the risk of becoming lost in overly academic language.

Here are some tips and resources to help you become a better academic writer:

Academic Coaching & Writing is a consulting agency that helps writers craft and structure their work more effectively. You can hire a consultant for one-on-one coaching or you can glean the pearls of wisdom from their ample blog that covers everything from “Using APA Style in Academic Writing” to “How Academic Writers Lose Confidence and How to Regain It”.

The Royal Literary Fund offers an excellent Dissertation Guide with practical and conceptual tips such as:

  • When should I start writing?
  • Note-taking and writing – what’s the link?
  • How do I give order to a jumble of notes?
  • How do I stay motivated?
  • How can I revise my original structure?
  • What is the importance of feedback?
  • Where can I find guidelines on style?
  • When do I stop writing?
  • + links to more academic writing resources.

Write a lot

There’s no substitute for practice. The more you write, the better you will get at writing. Write every day. For most, the secret to finding the time to write every day is waking up early and getting an hour or more of writing in before the rest of the world notices you’re awake and starts bugging you. Make sure you make a comfortable space for yourself to work. Physical comfort plays an important part in keeping you motivated to write. A comfortable chair, a heater/air-conditioner and a ritual cup of coffee or tea can help ease you into your writing time.

Read a lot

The more you read, the better you’ll get at sorting through different styles to decide which ones you want to adopt and which ones you don’t. A good reading list is the best kind of classroom for a writer. Read on diverse topics including those outside of your area. Does someone manage to use statistics in a way that engages the reader? Does someone’s research impress you? How can you work these qualities into your own writing?

Stay current

Reading a lot of other people’s work also helps keep you up-to-date with current trends and emerging concepts. A big misconception about academic writing is that it’s all historical – based on past events and thoughts. In fact, academics have a lot of pressure to stay current. Even if your area is Ancient Egyptian Politics – the questions you should be asking are: How can this knowledge be applied today? Why is it relevant now? How does this information help us understand or solve a question or problem in our own time?

Write the way you speak

Probably the biggest complaint about academic writers is that the writing is too…academic. Imagine that you’re at a party and are trying to explain a concept from your book to someone in a crowded room with a lot of distractions. How would you explain your idea in a way that would maintain the person’s interest? Trade long overly complex sentences for shorter ones. Ditch the fancy vocabulary in favor of the vernacular. Use action verbs and avoid over use of past participle and passive voice. When you’re finished writing, read what you’ve written out loud. If it’s hard to say, it’s probably hard to read. Re-write until it flows smoothly off the tongue and the page.

Use social media

Write blog posts, Facebook or Twitter posts on your topic. See what kind of response and feedback you get. Sometimes people can post comments that lead you to new research in your area that you weren’t aware of before. It can also help you gauge the effect of your writing: is it engaging readers and creating dialogue? Which posts stood out and got responses? Which posts fell flat? Another benefit of posting your work is to help you achieve stages of completion. Rather than thinking of a whole book or dissertation that’s hundreds of pages, post chapters and excerpts. It can help keep you motivated and guide your next steps.

Don’t plagiarize

There can be a fuzzy line between which ideas are yours and which ideas are someone else’s as you do your research. Short of copying someone else’s work word for word, plagiarism can be hard for a writer to identify. There are resources available to help you make sure you maintain your academic integrity by understanding the different forms of plagiarism and how to avoid them. Developing excellent citation skills can help you a lot in this area. Harvard offers several excellent guides on how to avoid plagiarism.

Use a reference manager

Since academic writing is research-based, you’ll need a way to organize and manage your references. Keeping your references well-organized also helps you to avoid plagiarism (see above). Try on of these popular reference managers:

Endnote:

  • Maintains and organizes all your references.
  • Downloads PDFs to your references.
  • Make comments and annotations on your sources.
  • Choose from 6,000 bibliography formats.
  • Automatic formatting available for several types of documents.
  • Share with colleagues and professors and other researchers in your field.
  • Get advice on which journals are the best fit for your research.

Mendeley

  • Syncs across all your devices.
    Access sources by using keyword search.
    Highlight and annotate sources.
  • Use on or offline with full access to PDFs.
  • Share with other researchers, colleagues or professors.

How To Teach Creative Writing: Tips For A Great Lesson

how to teach creative writing

Have you hit the wall trying to come up with new ideas to inspire your creative writing students? Maybe your own enthusiasm is waning a bit, and it’s rubbing off on your students. After all, it’s not always easy to stay motivated when repeating the same lessons over and over again. So perhaps a fresh outlook will help to rekindle your passion for teaching creative writing, and spark greater interest in your students.

There are those who argue that creative writing can’t be taught at all. And while that may or may not be true, certainly the techniques for developing creative expression are learnable skills. Ones that can be honed and refined through a variety of practices and exercises.

Creative writing is much more than merely a descriptive process, it involves a number of elements that need to be explored in order to refine our thoughts, so we can communicate them to others. Elements such as idea development, motifs or themes, arguments and questions, plot development, characterization, dialogue and narration.

These elements are some of the fundamentals of creative writing. And to get students involved in the exploration of these fundamentals, to really spark their interest with tangible results they can consistently repeat, try out the following tips for a great creative writing lessons.

The Elements of Storytelling

Effective fiction writing shares common elements across all genres – whether the story is told in the form of comic books, movies, novels, mythology or the performing arts, they all contain the basics of setting, plot, characterization, theme and conflict with dramatic action.

Introduce your students to these basics by encouraging them to develop and connect these writing fundamentals with storytelling. Great storytelling has the ability to “capture, direct and sustain the attention of others”. It’s what gives a memorable story presence – that ineffable quality that stays with a reader long after the novel or performance is finished.

Storytelling also develops the subtler elements of tone and atmosphere as these are the components that flesh out the bones, or underlying structure of a story.

The Hook

The hook is a problem introduced at the beginning of a story that triggers curiosity. Compelling the reader to keep turning pages all the way to its successful resolution somewhere near the conclusion of the story.

Encourage your students to write engaging hooks by tapping into an emotion we all share – fear. Fear, in its many disguises, forms the crux of all the introductory problems contained within the great novels of literature throughout the ages. And each generation updates the story form to fit the appropriate fears of the day.

Use the tool of comparison to demonstrate to your students how these fears, the problems that form a good hook, are easily applied to contemporary storytelling. For example, the fear of monsters (within and without) that make Frankenstein and Dracula such timeless classics is the same fear that makes today’s zombie and vampire franchises so popular. And the fear of loss found in the themes of unrequited love and rejection so prevalent in 21st century song lyrics and music videos, are simply condensed versions of the same problems that made 19th century Italian opera wildly popular in that days.

As an exercise, present your class with some of the common hooks found in the great novels, plays or librettos of the past and have them write a short story around it – updated to contemporary issues, themes or current events.

Questioning Minds

The power of questions is a great way to teach students how to develop narration, characters and atmosphere.

At the start of class, present your students with a series of questions that, when answered, will progress into a paragraph that establishes setting, motivation, action and tone. The key aspect of these questions is to design them “so that they always lead on from the previous, regardless of how that question has been answered.”

This exercise is easily adapted to suit the specifics of the individual classroom, as long as the primary aspects are maintained:

  • Instruct the students to write a paragraph that tells a story.
  • The paragraph will be their responses to the posed questions.
  • All sentences they write are acceptable, as long as they follow the sequence of questions.
  • Pertinent inquiries regarding the exercise are permitted.

For a more detailed explanation and examples, please visit Adam Simpson’s blog post “The greatest creative writing activity ever”.

The Tickle Trunk

While writing prompts such as sentence snippets, magazine clippings and old photo albums are well established techniques to engage the imagination, they limit creative exploration to two dimensional images and the sense of vision.

Open up a broader sphere of tactile stimulation that encompasses smell, touch, sound and taste by having students dip into a “tickle trunk” of costume pieces and props to write a paragraph or short story around. A trip to the local thrift store or garage sales will quickly and inexpensively provide plenty of pieces to fill your tickle trunk, and unleash your students’ imagination.

This exercise is appropriate for “children” of all ages and is particularly well suited to character and setting development. With thanks to Mr. Dressup.

Park Perfectionism at the Door

Yours, and your students. There’s nothing that will squash imaginative endeavors such as creative writing quite like the belief that it should come easily and perfectly the first time it’s attempted.

Introduce your students to the concept of the “shitty first draft” so eloquently explained by Anne Lamott in Bird by Bird to get them beyond the terrifying expectations of the inner critic’s perfectionism. Rather, teach them the skills of evaluation, objective criticism and revision to shape their writing into polished material suitable for publication.

Give these ideas for intriguing lessons a try and see if they inspire your students (and you) to greater heights of imaginative discovery in creative writing.

6 Must-Follow Tips for Editing an Academic Paper

tips for editing an academic paper

Editing an academic paper is a bit different from that of work destined for a blog or publishing a novel. Because academic and scientific papers are written in a formal style, they need to be carefully edited to ensure the communication of ideas in an unambiguous way, with clarity and solid structure from start to finish.

An academic work is meant to be taken literally, so let’s explore these 6 best practices for editing.

1. Ensure style is consistent throughout.

There are many formats for writing an academic paper, so choose which style will best suit your work and ensure that it’s applied consistently throughout.

The APA writing format (American Psychological Association) was designed for publication in psychological journals, but is widely used in many scientific fields. Whatever style you choose, follow the appropriate outlines and formatting structures for the greatest success.

Some general guidelines to follow are:

  • Maintain consistency with margin width: top, bottom and both sides.
  • Font size should be used consistently.
  • Double space text, including references and bibliographies.
  • Text should be aligned to the left margin.
  • If your work is to be published, use a Running Head (a short title no longer than 50 characters) at the top of each page, aligned flush left.
  • Use the active voice. This is an area of change from the past where an impersonal form was the traditional rule, and personal pronouns weren’t used.
  • Pagination and order of pages. The page number should appear at the top of every page, either centered or at the right margin. And the order of pages should be as follows:
    • title page
    • abstract
    • body
    • references
    • appendices
    • footnotes
    • tables
    • figures

2. Evaluate your paper for supporting parallels.

When writing a paper it’s easy to simply jot ideas down as they pop into your head without concern for their relationship to your main topic. When editing, you need to ensure that all of these ideas marry up and parallel one another. For example, does your thesis parallel the concluding paragraph? The conclusion needs to support the exact position of the thesis without conditions or qualifying statements.

Also, your topic sentences should reflect the points in your thesis. If your thesis states that A, B, and C are qualities found in D (D being your thesis), then you need to commit the appropriate space to analyzing A, B, and C in order to support your claims.

And, any quotes used within your paper need to be scrutinized to ensure they’re supporting your topic sentences, which in turn support your thesis. The thread of your subject needs to run all the way through the fabric of your paper.

3. Mind your words.

An academic paper is meant to be read by peers and professionals within a given field, so the use of technical terms and industry verbiage is an encouraged and accepted practice.

Avoid the common mistakes that detract from your authority or professionalism – spellcheckers will miss homonyms and the meaning behind your word selection, so take the time to edit carefully for Common Errors in English Usage (Paul Brians).

Some of them are:

  • Improper use of plurals and possessives.
  • Confusing effect and affect.
  • Making up words when there are plenty of good ones available.
  • Not knowing the accurate meaning of the words you use.
  • Use of slang or jargon.
  • Not using appropriate technical words and terms.
  • Use of contractions.
  • Abbreviations. Avoid them and spell out your words. However, acronyms are preferable after they’ve been spelled out the first time used.

This article from the University of Pennsylvania is well worth reading, covering these points and more, in detail.

4. Cut down on wordiness.

An academic paper is formal in nature, but it doesn’t have to be stuffy or boring. Apply the following writing and editing principles for effective communication of your ideas.

  • Write from an outline. This gives structure to your thoughts, so your writing is always on topic. And having structure means you don’t have to use filler words or try to “fluff” your paper.
  • Stick to one idea per paragraph. And each idea should always be clearly related to the main idea of your thesis.
  • Rework any lengthy sentences into clear and compact structures.
  • Use expressive nouns and verbs to express your ideas and avoid trying to enliven your writing with empty adjectives and adverbs. Read your text out loud to determine where your prose can be made more direct and vivid.

5. Citations

Bibliographies, references and citations. There’s no getting around it, they need to be included in your work. Many different formats can be used for referencing the resource material used in a paper, so it’s best to pre-determine what the preferences and guidelines are for each one.

In essence, they all require a minimum of information to allow others to locate the source material you’ve cited:

  • A bibliography requires the author’s name, title of the book and date of publication.
  • A journal article must include volume and page numbers.
  • Conference papers need the title of the conference, page numbers and details of publication.

Your paper will need to have a reference for every source you mention so that peer reviewers and those who mark your work will be able to easily access your support documentation. Without them, your credibility and marks will suffer. It’s a valuable detail that needs to be respected.

6. Proofread

To be effective, your academic paper should be polished and professional in every aspect. And nothing says “amateur” quite like misspelled words, sloppy punctuation and grammatical mistakes. Don’t count on a spellchecker to do this for you as there are simply too many instances where words and errors are overlooked for any number of reasons.

And there you have our 6 best tips for editing an academic paper. Use these ideas to give your work every opportunity to stand out and be noticed amid the competition.

40 Web 2.0 Tools for Geeky Educators and College Students

Education tools

There are a number of resources that can make it easier for you to get information across to the students and help them share what they have learned. These Web 2.0 tools will help you save your time and stay organized throughout the school year. Here is a list of the top 40 best tools to make life easier once class is in session:

Classroom Tools

  1. Engrade is a platform that allows you to access your curriculum, grade book, seating chart, and connect with parents from your desktop or mobile device.

  2. Animoto is a simple tool that is used to create, customize and share video.

  3. Would you like to be able to make a worksheet or a class page and publish it online? Web Poster Wizard is a free tool with all of these capabilities.

  4. Check out Teacher Planet for lesson plans, rubics, worksheets, teacher tools, and custom certificates.

  5. If you’re not sure how to pronounce something correctly, Forvo can provide the correct way to say words in several languages.

  6. Online Stopwatch is a web-based tool you can use to time tests and assignments.

  7. Crocodoc allows you to convert PDF and Microsoft Office documents to HTML5. You can display students’ work in your browser and edit as required.

Aggregators

  1. FeedReader lets you search, subscribe and view all of your feeds in one convenient place online.

  2. Download RSSReader and display any Atom or RSS news feed. You also have the option of downloading RSS Publisher to create your own podcasts, blogcasts, vblogs, or photoblogs.

  3. . Awasu is a feed reader that is packed full of features for personal and professional information management.

  4. Get your news on your desktop with Aggie, a desktop application that downloads and displays it in a webpage.

  5. WikiNews allows readers to contribute stories for a global audience. Consider incorporating it into a class for your students.

Bookmark Managers

  1. Pinterest is like an online bulletin board. Use it for anything from lesson plans to crafts. You can also use it to network with fellow geeky educators.

  2. Don’t discount Twitter as a tool for managing bookmarks. Not only can it be used as a way to connect with a variety of people, but it can help you and your students keep track of bookmarks when conducting research.

  3. Diigo allows users to collect bookmarks, notes, screenshots and pictures and access them from a desktop computer, iPod, iPad, or Android.

  4. del.icio.us is a free online tool to save and organize bookmarks. Share it with your students so that they can keep their bookmarks organized, too.

Course Management

  1. Use Bubbl.us for class discussions. Students can see the ideas their classmates have mentioned and use them to fuel more interesting concepts.

  2. StudySync is marketed as “the ultimate reading and writing solution.” It helps students read at progressively higher levels using multimedia assignments.

  3. Use RCampus to build a personal or group website, build a virtual community, and manage your courses.

  4. If you want to create, collaborate, and present your ideas with your colleagues, Prezi is just the tool to help you do it.

  5. Foreign language teachers will find dotsub to be a very useful tool. It will help you caption and translate a 10-minute video.

Productivity

  1. If you need to manage multiple tasks, Remember the Milk can help you keep track of it all. Access it from your phone and manage your tasks offline.

  2. TiddlyWiki is a reusable, personal web notebook. Create documents and send them by e-mail, store them in Dropbox or store them on a USB thumb drive.

  3. Convert files without having to download software with Zamzar.

  4. Add 30 Boxes to Google’s Blogger or your Facebook page. You can share it with your friends, family members or students who need to keep track of project due dates.

  5. While you can’t get away from deadlines, HiTask’s drag and drop feature makes it easy to keep on top of the stuff you need to get done. Set meetings or reminders onto a calendar based on your schedule. You can also assign tasks to a certain person by name.

Content Management

  1. Do you have something to say? Start a free blog on the EduBlog platform. Add videos, photos, or podcasts quickly and easily.

  2. SchoolNotes allows you to create notes for class information or homework and post them online in just a few seconds. Parents and students can look for your notes by entering the school zip code into this free resource.

  3. Would you like to be able to share only a specific portion of a YouTube video with your students? TubeChop allow you to make a snippet for a lecture or classroom use.

  4. TeacherTube is your source for video, photo, and audio content. You can search for just the right item by subject, grade level, or how recently it was added.

Storage

  1. Your favorite three-ring binder lives online at LiveBinders.com. Use this resource to organize your resources and store them in one place.

  2. Streamline your lesson plans and collaborate with others using Planboard. It’s a free resource that allows you to select the days of the week and number of periods you will be teaching.

  3. Geeky educators can get up to 15 GB of storage at 4Shared. Use if for files, video, photos, books, or games.

  4. Upload and share photos, flash, audio files, video, and software with HyperFileShare. Anything up to 500 Mbytes can be uploaded, and you also have the option of sharing your files with the HFS community if you wish.

Collaboration

  1. Edmodo is a lot like Twitter, but it was developed for students and teachers. Share content among classmates or another school district.

  1. Skype in the Classroom is available as a free resource to teachers, and it can be used to connect one group of students with learners in another city, state, or country. It can also be used to connect with guest speakers for a project.

  2. Web surfing can now be a team sport with Twiddla. Browse through websites on a shared whiteboard in real time. Try it for 30 days for free.

  3. LiveText is a paid service that offers a solution for lesson planning and student assessment.

  4. Suggest that your students share their notes with each other by posting them with NoteMesh. This free service works by creating a wiki for each class that users are free to contribute to and edit.

  5. Consider Vyew for meetings or student projects. The free version is unlimited for up to 10 people. Continuous rooms are saved and always available. This service is compatible with Mac, PC, powerpoints, images, documents, videos, flash files and mp3s. The best part is that no installation is required.

There are even more kinds of Web 2.0 tools to help you on the job. With the variety available to choose from, you won’t have any difficulty in finding help to stay on track during the school year.

Teaching ESL students to write in English

ESL students come from very different countries, from all walks of life. Some of them have been in America for a while already; others are fairly new to the country and its habits and culture. It’s important to acknowledge the fact they differ not only from “the” American but also from their classmates. Discussions in the group may run into a dead end street since not every student is used to speak his mind.

ESL_students

Familiar topic

When teaching them to write in English you might want to start with a topic they are very familiar with and that is not hard to write down. Topics like ‘what did you do this weekend?’, ‘describe the celebration of a birthday’ or ‘what did you watch on TV lately?’ are simple and don’t ask too much of the student in regard of composition.
Tell your students to never ever first do their piece of writing in their own language and then ‘translate’ it into English. Emphasize they should think in English and therefore write in English. Once they get tangled up in translating from their native language into English, they are sliding down at top speed.

Be positive

When you give feedback it is best to keep that positive. Search for the good things in the piece to give your student some self-confidence. Then you can point out some faults but never sum up all of them. Concentrate on the major few; you can deal with the others at another time. One step at the time does the job. You want your students to come back to your next session, right?
Also keep in mind your student might be in awe of you. You are the authority he has to listen to. That’s the way he was raised. This difference in culture does not have to be an obstacle. You gently point out your criticism; when you ask whether he has understood, use so-called open questions. A simple: do you see what I mean? can be answered with a ‘yes’ or a ‘no’ without you knowing whether he really understood. In many cultures is it not done to say ‘no’, especially to someone higher in hierarchy. A question like: please sum up what I just told you, will force the student into actually giving you an answer that tells you something.

Keep it simple

There are many more tips and tricks to teach ESL students to write a good piece, a cover letter or an essay in English. As a teacher you have to keep it simple and build from there, and you need to have a lot of patience. Your ESL students may not understand the simplest rules and may not be used to the American way of communicating. But once they have taken their first hurdles it is a rewarding experience for both you and the ESL students you teach.

Running on Empty: The New and “Improved” School Lunch

I used to love school lunches. Seriously, I did! Our school had a main dish called Flying Saucer. It was a slice of ham, topped with a scoop of mashed potatoes, and smother in a creamy cheese sauce. Delicious.

And where you sat was just as important as what you were served. We all know our friends’ preferences. Sit by Jane on PBJ day because she would trade her sandwich for your carrot sticks and dip. Or Bobby would swap tater tots for chicken nuggets.

Now? You couldn’t pay me money to eat school lunch.

What the Heck Happened?!

The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, that’s what happened. The U.S. Department of Agriculture handed down this ridiculous mandate and put it into effect September, 2012.

Here is a breakdown of the program.

Portions are controlled for fruits, vegetables, grains, and protein. While there is strict maximum serving size for grains and proteins – you know, the foods that make you feel full – there are no maximums for fruits and vegetables.

There are minimums for the produce items though. Check out the serving sizes for each age range. Each student must be served at least this much for both fruits and vegetables.

  • Elementary school students – ½ cup
  • Grades six through eight – ¾ cup
  • High school students – 1 cup

This is the first program in history to include a calorie cap on each meal. Younger kids can be served a maximum of 650 calories per meal. How much do older kids get? 850 calories.

Want a reference point? Your average ¼ pound hamburger served plain is almost 500 calories. If schools don’t adhere to the calorie count, the district will receive less federal money the following year.

In addition to monitoring portion sizes and calories consumed, meals must cut back on sodium, fats and carbs.

And, this menu is mandatory in all public schools.

What it Means

First of all, it means you’ll never find me working food service in a public school. I’m surprised those little old ladies aren’t equipped with riot gear. Portions must be consistent for everyone. That means the burly football player is getting the same amount of food as the petite cheerleader. And – get this – high school seniors are served two ounces more protein than kindergarteners.

It also means that kids are eating less food. Milk is included in the calorie count. And at some point during the week, the fruit and vegetable offering must be red or orange. “Yum. Beets,” said no kindergartener ever. Considering many children from low-income families only get one good meal per day, it means they are forced to eat this junk or starve to death. And from the sounds of it, even if they do eat the entire meal, they are still starving.

What else does it mean? It means schools can no longer offer many of the student’s favorite condiments. Because of the high sodium content, students can have a single packet of ketchup. And to make sure the kids only take one, there is someone standing there, monitoring the students’ activity. That sounds like an amazing use of time and money, by the way. Similarly, all these marvelous, tasty vegetables are served without salt. Raw vegetables aren’t accompanied by any dip or sauce. Sounds tasty, right?

And it means a lot of money is going in the trash. Go to your kitchen cupboard right now and look at your measuring cups. A 5-year old is expected to eat ½ cup fruit and ½ cup vegetables? And what high schooler wants to sit down and munch on a full cup of raw celery? All that extra food is going in the trash. Meanwhile, more and more kids are bringing a sack lunch. In one school, over half the student population now brings food from home. However, the school still needs to prepare enough meals to feed those kids – regardless of the fact they bring their own. So all that food is going in the trash too – leftovers are illegal.

Worst of all, it means the kids with the lowest self-esteem of all are being badgered even more. Rich kids who are still hungry simply go buy a second (or third) meal. After a poor kid snarfs down his meal, he has to sit quietly and watch everyone else eat a second hamburger. This program was implemented to combat childhood obesity. Everyone knows that. So the fit kids are mocking the heavier kids, making comments like, “It’s your fault everyone in school is hungry.”

Nice, right?

Do We Even Want to Ask What the Future Holds?!

New regulations for school breakfasts go into effect with the 2013-2014 school year. If kids weren’t hungry before, they will be in the future.

The Healthy, Hunger-Free (yeah right!) Kids Act is the first major change to affect school lunch in 15 years. It seems they went from one extreme to the other. Instead of making gradual changes, the federal government pulled the rug out from underneath everyone over night.

What are your thoughts? Has the USDA gone too far? Do the pros outweigh the cons or vice versa? Would you eat that rabbit food they are serving now?

References:

Beaudette, C. (2013). Rules leave a bad taste: New federal law for student menus criticized as being too heavy-handed. Retrieved from Muscatine Journal website: http://muscatinejournal.com/news/local/education/rules-leave-a-bad-taste-new-federal-law-for-student/article_62af70ca-5f92-11e2-86be-001a4bcf887a.html

King, P. (2013). Hunger Pangs. Retrieved from Aitkin County Newspaper’s website: http://www.messagemedia.co/aitkin/news/local/article_aeda7566-5f2a-11e2-a129-0019bb30f31a.html

Who Cares About Arts Education?!

Monet, da Vinci, and Van Gogh. Mozart, Bach, and Beethoven. George Bernard Shaw,
Tennessee Williams, and William Shakespeare.

Arts Education

Other than their mothers, whose life has really been influenced by what these men
have done? Naturally, we’ve enjoyed what they’ve produced; but have any of their
accomplishments led to ours?

Why should we waste precious resources – which are already severely limited – on arts
education? Sure. Beating on a drum can help blow off steam. And brandishing a paint-
laden brush can foster creativity. Donning a costume and reciting lines on stage might
even boost self-confidence.

But other than that – what good are the arts?

Adios!

Art education in public schools has been on the decline since 1980. Due to sever budget
cuts that have nearly crippled public education lately, even the few classes that survived
the last three decades have pretty much become extinct.

Many people say, “Good riddance!” Classes that teach skills like playing an instrument
or painting a sunset are better off getting axed, leaving valuable dollars for worth-while
classes like reading and math.

But Wait Just a Minute…

It turns out art fans are crowing quite loudly these days. Why? The arts might actually
be more beneficial than we thought. Gasp!

New research shows that a well-rounded educational experience is best. And “well-
rounded” includes the arts. In fact, this teaching method is closely linked to academic
achievement, social and emotional development, civic engagement, and equitable
opportunity. Who knew?!

While everyone has been worrying about how to improve math and reading scores, one
of the primary study aids has quietly slipped out the back door.

A recent study followed high school students for three years. The participants fell into
two groups. One group took the minimum art education requirement. The other group
took more than the minimum. And guess what happened. The students who took more
art classes did better in both math and reading.

Students who took extra arts classes were 1.5 times more likely to meet or exceed the
ACT Plan national average composite scores in these subjects. Additionally, they
excelled in statewide tests for math, reading and writing.

Good grief. That kind of takes the wind out the sails of any naysayers.

That’s Not All. There’s More.

We all know there is more to life than math and reading scores. Learning to learn is far
more important. And guess what. Art helps with that too. In fact, it seems art education
helps with just about everything!

There is a direct correlation between the ability to read music and the ability to conquer
math problems. Music students in a recent study had much higher math scores than their
non-musical counterparts. And, students from low socio-economic backgrounds were
two times as likely to comprehend math topics if they had musical training.

Want to enhance your child’s vocabulary, phonics skills, and syllabification (the
separation of a word into syllables)? What about teaching them to appreciate history,
myths, folktales, geography and culture? Well, help them study the lyrics of music.
They can learn all that and more.

Thematic learning helps youngsters learn in a safe, enjoyable, student-centered
environment. This style is perfect for anyone who is struggling to learn a second
language. For example, non-native English speakers should study music if they want to
master the language faster.

Learning to play a musical instrument is no easy feat. Many people quit before they
really give it a chance. If a youngster can stick it out, they will learn the importance
of hard work, practice, and discipline. Many of today’s youngsters need to learn those
lessons. Entitlement is like a nasty four letter word.

Contributing to an orchestra, band, or choir forces students to collaborate, work as a
team, strive for a common goal, and develop negotiation skills.

Those fruity, creative types have always valued art education. Apparently, the rest of us
had better learn to appreciate the arts too. Go figure. The nutty ones have had it right all
along!

References:

Good Reasons Why Your Child Should Study Music. Retrieved from Schoolatoz
http://www.schoolatoz.nsw.edu.au/homework-and-study/other-subjects-and-projects/the-arts/why-your-child-should-study-music
Kloberdanz, K. (2012). Want Your Kids to Excel in Math and Reading? Teach Them to Paint.
http://www.takepart.com/article/2012/10/23/want-kids-excel-math-reading-teach-them-paint
Schwartz, J. (2012). Kids Like Blues: Using Music and Video to Rock Your Classroom.
http://www.edutopia.org/blog/kids-like-blues-music-video-jon-schwartz