Monday, February 22, 2010

What Did You Learn in School Today?
(A Gift for Parents)

You’ve heard the jokes…

Mother: What did you learn in school today?
Son: Not enough. I have to go back tomorrow.

Grandfather: What did you learn in school today?
Daughter: How to write.
Grandfather: What did you write?
Daughter: I don't know, they haven't taught us
how to read yet.

Mother: What did you learn in school today?
Daughter: How to talk without moving my lips.

If you are a parent (or if you were ever a student!), you’re oh-so familiar with the shrug response to that age-old question: "What did you learn in school today?"

Parents of students at Manual High School in Denver know better than to accept the shrug. Each day, every classroom teacher at Manual High posts the day’s L.O. -- learning outcome -- on the board for all students to see. And below the L.O. is the day’s P.O.P., Proof of Purchase, which tells students what they will need to turn in as proof of their grasp.

This simple plan hatched at Manual means that students go home each day knowing exactly what they’ve learned.


If I learned one thing from reading a Denver Post article about the Proof-of-Purchase plan at Manual (see Manual High School “Proof of Purchase” Shows Students Buy Into Lessons), it’s that every school might learn a lesson from what they’re doing there.

Many teachers are already doing similar things in their classrooms…

At the end of each school day, some teachers call on several students to share what they have learned. By making this simple activity part of each day’s routine, students have ready-made answers when parents at the other end of the bus ride ask "What did you learn in school today?"

In other classrooms, students keep "What I Learned Today" journals. They write in their journals each and every day. At the end the day, each student goes home with a thoughtful reply to their parents’ dinner-table query about the day in school. Best of all, at the end of the school year students have a keepsake record of what they learned all year long.

What if all the teachers in your school got on board with a similar idea? Imagine being able to announce in your school-to-home newsletter and at the first PTO meeting of the year that every parent should ask that question -- What did you learn in school today? -- each and every day and expect that the kids will have a ready reply.

What a great gift for parents: a ready-made conversation starter that guarantees a response.

What a nice gift for teachers too: a straightforward way to open up the lines of communication between school and home.

And you, as the school leader, get a gift too: a simple question that can generate great PR for you and your school.

If you learn anything at school today, you might take a lesson from this win-win idea. Thanks to the teachers at Manual High!

Monday, February 15, 2010

School-Wide Olympic Events
Spur Excitement, Learning

In schools all around the world, teachers are capitalizing on Olympic excitement as students learn needed skills, information about countries and cultures, and lessons in teamwork. Are you taking advantage of this great teachable moment? If not, you might learn from these schools that are making “Olympic” efforts to develop students’ knowledge and skills.


At Pine Meadow Elementary School in Sartell, Minnesota, a two-week competition got underway last week with a Parade of Nations and the lighting of the Olympic flame. The events -- organized by the school’s phys ed, art, music, and media specialists -- aim to leverage Olympic excitement across the curriculum. Students in each class represent a different country as they read and learn about that country and its culture.

One second-grade class, for example, represents the country of South Korea. Teacher Angela Paulson chose that country because one of her students’ mothers was born there. Paulson and the schools’ specialists are teaching lessons about the country and its culture. For example, in art class, students translated their names into calligraphy, because South Korea is noted for its calligraphy. (See an online Korean calligraphy translator.) In music class, students are learning the national anthem of Canada, the Olympic host country, and listening to music from their adopted country. And during the next two weeks, students in phys ed classes will compete in events such as curling, where students sweep bean bags into targets, and skiing, where students “ski” on swatches of carpet. (Read a St. Cloud Times news story, Olympics Offer Cultural Lessons for Sartell Students.)


In Mishawaka, Indiana, parents and students at the K-6 Beiger Elementary School recently competed in a Reading Olympic event. In games such as the A to Z Race, Amazing Anagram Dash, and Riddle Run, students exercised their bodies and their reading skills.

This is the second year in a row for the evening event, which aims to entice families to begin reading together, according to co-organizer Beth Schwier. She hopes parents might play some of the fun reading games they learn that night with their children at home. “Anything a family does together as a family is good,” she told the South Bend Tribune. (Read the article, Games Put Reading Skills to Test.)

At Donlin Drive Elementary School in Liverpool, New York, students recently completed an Olympic-sized reading challenge. Students read more than 2,400 books in a community-wide effort that increased reading enthusiasm at school and home.

Principal John Sardella and the school’s reading teachers organized the event, in which the Olympic torch was passed between classrooms each time students completed 80 books. The torch traveled through 23 cities on its way to Vancouver. The entire trip was tracked on a map in the school’s main hallway.

“It’s a fun competition,” Sardella told the Eagle Newspapers. “It also falls under our goal to keep increasing our New York State scores.” (Read the article, Donlin Drive Goes for an Olympic Reading Record.)


If you didn’t hold a Winter Olympics event this year in your school, perhaps you will use some of these resources to plan one for next year. Winter is a great time to focus students on reading, and these Olympic events can be held every year, not just during Olympic years.

Let the Games Begin! Let the Learning Begin!
Check out these lesson ideas from Education World.

Science of the Olympic Winter Games
Explore the science that makes athletes swifter, higher, stronger, in this resource from NBC Learn and the National Science Foundation.

Tips for Hosting a Reading Olympics in Your School
This printable (pdf) document offers valuable tips and ideas to consider.

Reading Olympics
More fun activity ideas from

Reading Olympics: A Competition to Build Reading Comprehension
Help your students discover an excitement for reading with this time-saving handbook that shows you how to create a reading competition in your classroom or school.

Monday, February 8, 2010

The More Kids Read, the Better They Read:
Motivating Kids to Read School-Wide

The faculty at Case Middle School in Watertown, New York, is going all out to keep students reading. Their theory is that it doesn’t matter what students are reading so long as they are reading. To that end, the school is beefing up school and classroom libraries with a wide variety of books, including traditional novels, books of poetry, and books written in screenplay format. They’ve developed new programs, too, including the “Caught Reading at Case” program, which rewards kids who are caught reading after they finish a test or during lunch and other free-time periods.
Read more about what the faculty at Case Middle School is doing in this article from the Watertown Daily Times:
Case Work: Give Students Reason to Read
With the NEA’s Read Across America event just around the corner (March 2) and Get Caught Reading Month coming up in May, I thought this might be an ideal time to share some excellent resources that you can use in your school to encourage reading across the grades.


Get Caught Reading, which was started by former Congresswoman Pat Schroeder and is supported by the Association of American Publishers, has a great poster series that features dozens of celebrities -- from sports and entertainment stars to members of Congress and even Clifford the Big Red Dog -- all of whom were “caught reading.” Use this order form to order from 1 to 12 of the posters for just $5.00 shipping and handling. A handful of those posters are even available as downloadable wallpaper for your school’s computer screens. The folks at Get Caught Reading also provide ideas for “catching” students reading in your school. For example,
● Dedicate 30 minutes each day to "Get Caught Reading Time."
● Take pictures of kids and community members who were caught reading.
● Invite local personalities and community figures to read aloud to children.
● Ask children to draw their own version of someone or something that "got caught reading" and post the drawings on bulletin boards. (One student in New Jersey got her picture displayed on a billboard!)

Another organization deeply involved in the belief that kids who read more read better is Reading is Fundamental. They offer a wide variety of resources, including these resources for parents that you should feel free to adapt for use in your school-to-home newsletters.
● 20 Ways for Parents to Encourage Reading
● Getting the Family Excited About Magazines
● Getting Your Child to Love Reading
● How to Nurture a Growing Reader
● Increasing Motivation: Tips From Kids
● Simple Things Families Can Do to Help Their Child Become a Reader
● Children Who Can Read, But Don’t… (How to Lead Reluctant Readers Age 9-13 Back to Books)
Find all of those articles at this Reading is Fundamental link: Motivating Kids to Read.

Finally, the folks at Read Across America provide tons of resources to help you create a most special day in your school. Perhaps you will invite students to send an e-card about a book they are reading to a friend or family member or to print out colorful calendar pages. And, of course, Read Across America offers great ideas for special reading events as well as activity ideas that include a Read Across America song (sheet music provided) and The Reader’s Oath. And new this year: produce a video about kids and reading like the video below that shows parents at one school engaging kids in reading and cooking up a special treat of green eggs and ham; then post your video to the Read Across America Channel on SchoolTube.

What is one thing you are doing in your school to encourage readers to read more? Thanks 1,000,000 for adding your comment below so other school leaders might benefit from your ideas.

Monday, February 1, 2010

School Service Projects
Teach Many Lessons

Whenever I see a news story about kids who are using their energy to do good in their community or for others far away, I always stop to read it. Among the stories I’ve in recent days are these three about projects that are teaching kids the curriculum as they instruct valuable lessons in giving back to their communities and others in need.

A budget crunch in Sewickley, Pennsylvania, has forced the community's public library to cut back its hours of operation. The library is closed on Fridays now, and Saturday hours have been cut back too. News of the cutbacks sent fifth graders in two of the community’s elementary schools into action. Students in Nina Strelec’s art classes designed note cards to sell for the benefit of the library’s children’s department. The students designed cards, carved their designs into linoleum blocks, and printed them. The cards were packaged eight to a bundle and sold for $5. More than 1,000 sets were pre-ordered, and the card packs are also available for sale in the library, where the children’s designs are on display. “I wanted students to understand that they can use their talent as artists to help others,” Strelec told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (read the news story). The project helped students understand the business of art from the creative side to production, assembly, and distribution, she added.

When Massachusetts teacher Andrea Boyko was looking for a unique way to help her third graders in Springfield learn the value of the number 1,000, she came up with the idea of collecting 1,000 quarters to help children half a world away. Boyko has spent many of her school vacations working at schools in Ghana, West Africa. Her experiences there led her to found an organization, Future Leaders of Ghana, which helps children orphaned by the AIDS epidemic. The $250 her students raised as part of their math lesson is being used to provide school lunches for kids in those Ghanaian schools. Those students typically don’t get any lunch at all while they are in school, Boyko told the Springfield Republican (read the story). The project turned out to be a real eye-opener for Boyko’s students. They learned that they can barely budge a pile of 1,000 quarters. In addition, their connection to students in Ghana has taught them that, even though many consider themselves to be “poor,” they have much for which they can be grateful.

In Falls Church, Virginia, middle school students in Owlin Burke’s family and consumer sciences classes help to create quilts that provide a sense of safety for children in foster care. The project begins in the school’s geometry classes, where students design quilt patterns. Then students in Burke’s classes choose a design with which they want to work. Many of the students who make quilt squares as part of the class also volunteer their time after school to help assemble the quilts. Besides learning sewing skills, the students are also learning about responsibility for others. “The project gives them an opportunity to give back to the community,” Burke told the Washington Post (read the story).

In school after school, projects such as these involve students in learning as they think about and help others in the community -- or the wider world -- who can benefit from a little time and love.

It’d be great if you could take a moment to share a story from your school or community about students who carried out a project to benefit others as it gave themselves an opportunity to learn and grow. Thank you for adding your comments at the bottom of this blog entry.


Youth Service America
This organization offers ideas and other resources, including grants, for engaging youth ages 5 to 25 years in service to their communities. Their free newsletters are a valuable resource for educators. Click the globe art to the right to learn more about YSA’s Global Youth Service Day, which takes place each April.

Community Service
This Education World archive shares sample projects from teachers who believe that involving students in service projects is an effective strategy for engaging interest in the curriculum and in their communities.

Service-Learning and Community Service in K-12 Public Schools
The National Student Service-Learning and Community Service Survey was designed to measure the extent to which service-learning and community service occur in K-12 public schools. Click the link above to learn the results of that survey.