Pop Links 10.23.14: “Dear White People” College Movie; Poor Students in College; Free Tech 4 Teachers Newsletter; Guide to High School Slang

  • Being a black student at a majority white institution comes with unique challenges. A new movie, Dear White People, satirically plays on this experience. To check the accuracy of the movie, NPR got reactions from Harvard University students who recently gathered to watch the new film.
  • The Washington Post explores the difficulties low income college students face which make them significantly less likely to graduate college than their more affluent peers.
  • Keep up to date with the most practical Ed-Tech tools that can help you in the classroom. Sign up for the Free Tech 4 Teachers newsletter which promises to simplistically curate the best of Ed-Tech information available.
  • Finding it hard to keep up with the latest student lingo? One TFA alumnus has compiled a guide to high school slang referencing the most popular terms among students at his school. What would you add to his list?
  • TFANet Resource: Writing
By |October 23rd, 2014|General|0 Comments|

Zombie Army Burns Bridges & 6 Spooky Writing Starters

train crash 3

We’re trick or treat-ing you to some wicked ideas! Happy Halloween!

Without a doubt, it’s an exciting time of year to be a kid. But Halloween is a great opportunity for teachers to connect with students and have some fun as well with a few spook-inspired lessons!

In running the Poet Warriors Project, TFA’s initiative to publish our students’ voices across the country, I’ve come across thousands of powerful student poems aimed at creating change. However, one of my all-time favorite submissions is actually one that just playfully indulges in ghoulish imagining and is perfect to revisit this time of year.

“Train Crash” was penned and published by Kydell Begaye, a 7th grader in Ms. Katrina Turner’s (New Mexico ’13) ELA classes. It is an abbreviated Civil War epic that follows a silver train’s untimely fall into hell at the hands of a bridge-burning zombie Confederate army. Amazing. I know. “Train Crash” is republished below, and is a good reminder that creativity thrives this time of year with the help of some inspiration and a cool teacher.

This Halloween, I want to urge all teachers to try a creative lesson with their students. The holiday lands nicely on a Friday, and I’ve written six spooky starters to get your kids’ brains brewing that morning. Please feel free to share more ideas in the comments section!

  1. My heart races as my feet pound on the dirt road. I look back, and see a hand reach out of the open grave…
  2. I wake up on the pavement, and feel the two deep bite marks on my neck…
  3. It’s just past midnight, when I hear her howl…
  4. I tighten the last bolt on the monster’s neck, take my lab gloves off, and step back…
  5. I take a deep breath, and begin interviewing the ghost of my great great great grandmother…
  6. From behind the bushes, I see him stir the boiling cauldron, and throw in the last few ingredients…

Don’t hesitate to get in contact with me if you’re interested in getting some of your kids’ creative responses published on our site, or if you’re interested in running our usual Poet Warriors curriculum.

Train Crash
by Kydell Begaye

On a cold night,
a steam train loaded with silver
going to Gettysburg.
80 miles away,
the wheels roll,
the loaded silver train runs to Gettysburg.

Union Soldiers fight with the Confederate.
But don’t know
they’re fighting with the undead.

The engine steam puffing to
40 miles per hour.
Heading over a dam,
the undead soldiers burn
down the bridge to flames.

One-by-one cars uncouple
from falling rails. The engine
moves faster, 10 feet away
from the cliff. The rails
snap causing the engine
to slip. The heavy tender
of coal pulls back the Engine.
The engine falls into the fire of

The silver makes it to
The train
loaded with silver was loaded
with sandstone.

Pop Links 10.21.14: Chances for Rich vs. Poor Students; Teachers Lives After School; 100 Year Old Teacher; Create Timelines

  • The Washington Post explains why the hardest working students from low income communities will mostly never be as successful as the most troubled rich children.
  • What do you do in the hours when you are not “Ms./Mr. [insert last name]”? NPR’s new Secret Lives of Teachers project highlights some of the interesting pastimes of some of the nation’s educators.
  • Age ain’t nothing but a number for one special New York math teacher! At 100 years old, the vibrant math teacher continues to train young elementary students at a New York City school!
  • Creating timelines can be a fun and creative way to help students better engage with class material. Have students use this site to create free stylish multimedia timelines that can feature content from sites such as YouTube and Twitter!
  • TFANet: Compare and Contrast
By |October 21st, 2014|Pop Links|0 Comments|

Your Relationship with Alcohol Part 1: Defining the Problem


(Photo Credit: rogue3w)

Over the last several years, as Chris and I have worked together on TFA’s National Mental Health Team, we have fielded a number of questions related to alcohol and substance use in the corps. These questions generally center around: what is the difference between being a low-risk social drinker or a high-risk drinker? After all, not all drinking is bad. One of the biggest challenges in dealing with concerns related to alcohol is determining whether or not a problem exists.

Let’s start by looking at the difference between low-risk drinkers and high-risk drinkers.

Signs that you may be a low-risk drinker:
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends:
o   Women have one drink per day or seven in a week.
o   Men have no more than two drinks per day or fourteen in a week.

 All of the above recommendations are based on standardized definitions, where one drink equals:
o   12 oz. of regular beer
o   5 oz. of wine
o   1.5 oz. (a shot) of 80 proof liquor.

Signs that you may be a high-risk drinker:
o   Are you finding that during the weekends you often binge drink at a party and spend half the weekend trying to recover?
o   Have you started to rely on a few beers at night in order to calm your nerves?
o   Do you ever find yourself driving after having a bit too much to drink?

How can you know whether you are a low risk social drinker or possibly a high risk drinker?
  First, it helps to know the real number of “drinks” you consume. Want to know how many “drinks” are in that cosmo or screwdriver? You can use the drink calculator to find out.
o   If you are unsure how your alcohol consumption stacks up, this tool from the NIAAA helps you size up your level of risk based on your alcohol consumption habits. Plug in how much you drink and how often, and it can help you determine whether your drinking pattern is no risk, low risk, increased risk or highest risk.

If you are concerned that you or someone you know might have a serious problem with alcohol:
o   Check out the following guidelines on what qualifies as alcohol abuse and alcohol dependence: http://www.wright.edu/rsp/Security/Eap/Alcohol.htm. If these guidelines apply to you or someone you know, you might consider reaching out to a counselor or making use of AA resources within your region.

Tune in next week for “Your Relationship with Alcohol Part 2: Self-Care.” In this post we will discuss sustainable ways to incorporate positive coping habits into your routine to avoid feeling the need to rely on maladaptive coping, such as excessive alcohol consumption.

Pop Links 10.14.14: Free Public Universities in Germany; 12 Years of No Child Left Behind; 15-Second Vocabulary Contest

  • Germany just removed one of the biggest barriers to students achieving higher education! As of last week, all of German public universities are officially free for German nationals and foreign students.
  • 2014 was supposed to be the year that the ambitious goal of 100% proficiency among American students was to be achieved, but the country is far from that goal. NPR explores  what happened to No Child Left Behind.
  • Give your students a chance express their creativity and expand their vocabulary! Enroll them in the New York Times’ 15-Second Vocabulary Contest. 
  • TFANet Resource: Inferences
By |October 14th, 2014|Pop Links|0 Comments|

Six Tips for Fostering Grit in our Youngest Learners

“We will be kindergarten readers, writers, mathematicians, scientists, and learners!” was the rallying cry of my pre-kindergarten classroom, as we began our morning meeting each day. A growing body of knowledge shows us that grounding students in literacy, math, science, and social studies makes them more than just kindergarten-ready – it prepares them for long-term school and life success. So does another essential trait which doesn’t fit neatly into any one subject area: grit.

Grit is a measure of a person’s determination, persistence, and self-control. Grit is what will keep your students from accepting failure, big or small, and from letting it hold them back. Some might think it has no place in describing three, four, and five year-olds, but the reality is that early childhood classrooms provide the perfect context for building these skills in children, the foundation for which begins at birth.

Today, grit will help kids in your classroom finish that puzzle (determination and persistence), cooperate in imaginary play with their classmates, and play simple board games (self-control). This sets the groundwork for a lifelong ability to pursue challenging long-term goals. According to psychologist Angela Duckworth’s research, grit can also contribute to better grades and, in the long-term, contribute to higher earnings and a more positive view of their own life.IMG_2459

Teachers play a critical role in developing grit, and preschool/Pre-K teachers can do many things to help kids get “grittier.” Here are six things you can do:

  1. Get familiar with your state’s early learning standards. Many of the skills that underlie grit and self-control are right there in your state’s early learning standards/guidelines (each state calls theirs something unique!). Look for domain names like cognitive development, social & emotional development, general knowledge, or cognition. Becoming familiar with these standards will help you become a more intentional teacher.
  1. Keep the small promises you make to your students. Research shows that dependable adults help foster better self-control. Make sure that you’re keeping those small promises; when you say “I’ll be right back,” “I’m going to go grab the crayons for you,” “You can go back to finishing building that right after lunch,” do it to show that you follow through on your word. Have time in your daily schedule where you’re available to move around and work with students individually.
  1. Have children develop plans before heading to centers. Prior to letting students choose their centers (the independent learning stations you’ll see in early childhood classrooms) have students make a plan for what they’ll do in their center of choice. This might be having students choose their first center and “writing” down what they’ll do in that center prior to starting play. This will help children focus and sustain attention on the task they’ve planned and feel more autonomy over their own learning. A great model for planning for play is used in the High Scope curriculum.
  1. Get creative with sorting activities. Believe it or not, asking children to sort cards first by shape and then asking them to switch the sorting rule to sort the same cards by color is a sign of self-control. When children are asked to do something that might not be their natural instinct, their brain is forced to develop a certain level of self-control. Switching up the way you ask children to sort is just one way to develop flexibility and control within the brain.
  1. Point out when students persist. When you see students building something in the blocks center over and over or attempting to get their drawing just right, narrate what you saw: “I see your tower kept falling over, but you used smaller blocks on top and didn’t give up building” or “I saw you start your writing a few different times and you kept going to finish your drawing even though you looked frustrated!” Praise children’s effort instead of the outcome. Of course, young children might reach peak frustration and need to step away from a task for a bit and letting children know that taking a step back is OK is part of helping develop their persistence.IMG_1682
  1. Model these skills yourself! As you’ll soon see, your students notice your actions and hang on your every word. When you express frustration with a task, but persist in completing it and, if you do fail at a task, show your students how you can reflect on the problem and try again. I know when I planned a science experiment that didn’t work, I was embarrassed to fail in front of my students, but together we wrote down what went wrong and I brought new supplies to have a successful experiment the next day.

Though I wasn’t familiar with the word “grit” at the time, creating an environment in my classroom which fostered its various aspects helped ensure that the 20 children in my classroom, all in school for the first time, went from shyly entering through the door to becoming autonomous learners who were deeply engaged in the learning opportunities at hand. By implementing some of these tips, and identifying opportunities for expanding upon these ideas, you’ll see growth in all skill areas for students. Early childhood educators have long had a hand in proving that school-readiness goes beyond the typical academic subjects, and your kindergarten-ready readers, writers, mathematicians, scientists, and learners will be on your way to showing this from day one!

Sara Mickelson is an education specialist focused on early learning at the Rhode Island Department of Education and a Houston ’09 alumnus

Motivation Monday: Change


By |October 13th, 2014|General|0 Comments|

Pop Links 10.9.14: Community College In NYC; Bill Gates Plan For History; Teenage Brains & Education; Code Studio

  • Highlighting some of the challenges community college students face in urban environments which cause them to take an average of six years to earn a two year associates degree.
  • The College Board is not the only entity trying to shake up the subject of History in schools. The New York Times reports on Bill Gates’ plan to revolutionize history instruction after being inspired by a Ted Talk.
  • While a lot of resources are invested in understanding early childhood education, not enough attention has been paid to how we educate teenagers, says a Temple University researcher..
  • Code.org, the site with a mission to get more American students coding, has created a more student and teacher friendly site to make it easier for students to get involved in the movement. Among other things, Code Studio has a more fun interface and allows teachers to keep track of student progress.
  • TFANet Resource: Conflict