Monday, April 26, 2010

Keeping Learning Alive As the
Countdown to Summer Gets Underway

With state tests behind them and the school year winding down, many students (and teachers) might be inclined to relax and enjoy the slide into summer. That's why wise princpals often step into action at this time of year to encourage teachers to tackle cool projects that keep the learning alive as the countdown to summer gets underway.

I was reading an article the other day about a group of students in Virginia who were collecting their community’s history, and I thought, "Now there's one nice way to end a school year on a high note!" And then I began thinking of others.


Teacher Dawn Henderson wanted to involve her students in learning about the history of their Richmond, Virginia, neighborhood, but her search for resources turned up painfully little. That spurred Henderson to write a grant and gather a group of students for a special after-school program that would gather information from neighbors before it was lost.

A tale of a trolley stop long forgotten… the legend of pirates who came up the river and buried gold… and the story of how a whole community came together to build a well for their school. Those are just a few of the stories that Henderson's fourth-graders at Bensley Elementary School in Richmond, Virginia, have learned about as they researched their community and talked with neighbors who have lived there for many years.

The result of Henderson’s project is a video history that students will finish up any day now. Eventually, that history will be gathered into book form too. [read more]

Meanwhile, middle school students in Pittsburgh are learning how to research, document, and record the history of their community. The students at Walter L. Parks Middle School are listening to and recording the life-stories and experiences of community elders. This spring, the students are putting together a video documentary that features those interviews and other stories. [read more]


As I think more deeply about what the students in Richmond and Pittsburgh are doing, I understand that a community-history project might be too involved to tackle at the end of the school year; indeed, it can take many months to bring such a project to fruition. But maybe a smaller project that investigates a specific event in town history; an event in national history as told through the words of locals; the history behind special landmarks around the community; or the history of your students’ own school might make an appropriate focus for a few weeks.

If none of those ideas sound doable, be sure to check out this Education World resource with more end-of-year fun and learning that I have gathered for you to pass along to teachers:

End-of-Year Lessons and Projects
The end of the school year can by a trying time for many teachers. That's because you're trying to teach and students are trying to get you to turn on the VCR or give them free time. There's no need to spend your last days of school on a guilt trip if you use these meaningful and fun activities.


Students in many schools have worked to gather the history of their neighborhoods and larger communities. A few more examples of such histories can be found at these links:
Bridlemile Elementary School Oral History Project
Ambler Elementary School: Oral Histories
High School Students Interview Local Veterans of the Civil Rights Struggle (McComb, Mississippi)
D.C. Everest Area Schools (Wisconsin) Oral History Project
Hidden Stories, Discovered Voices: Maryland Students Collect African-American History


Oral History
All History Is Local: Students as Archivists
Step-By-Step Guide to Oral History

Monday, April 19, 2010

Games Add Elements of Fun,
Much More, to Math Learning

Most math educators know that games aren’t just for fun. They can be powerful teaching tools, too. Playing games at school is an easy way for students to have fun as they learn and exercise valuable math concepts.

Teachers who use games in the classroom point out that they can be used to teach a wide variety of other skills, too. Games help children develop social interaction skills as they teach them to follow directions, take turns, and win and lose gracefully.

A 2008 study out of Carnegie-Mellon University seems to back up the thought that games are a great math instruction tool. The study involved 124 students at ten Head Start centers who played a game called “The Great Race” (a game similar to the popular board game “Chutes & Ladders”). Students who played the game for about 80 minutes over a two-week period improved their ability to count, recognize numbers, and compare and estimate number values.

But games aren’t just for teachers and kids. Parents can get in on this act too.


A second experiment conducted by the same group at Carnegie-Mellon showed a correlation between math achievement and students’ exposure to math games at home.

That second study seems to be one worth sharing with parents in your next newsletter. Provide a news blurb about the study along with a list of some common and inexpensive games to get parents and kids “playing with math” at home. Popular games that teach math skills include:
Candy Land
Chutes & Ladders

While those games can usually be found in local toy stores or online for under $10, parents needn’t spend a penny to play math games at home. Paper-and-pencil math activities are easy to find. Add readily available dice and a deck of playing cards and they will have dozens of math games for at-home play.

“You don’t have to go out and buy fancy games,” says Dr. Carol Copple, a director with the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC). Any game that requires counting and calculation could boost young students’ math ability, she told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette [read the article].

If parents are looking for a starting point, you might use -- or steer them to -- some of these math game resources.

Math Skills With Dice
Four simple games; one game for reinforcing each of the four basic operations.

Box Cars and One-Eyed Jacks
Thirty-six games using dice or a deck of playing cards. Appropriate grade levels are identified for each game.

Math Puzzles and Games for Kids
A variety of games help parents help kids become successful at math.

Pencil-and-Paper Games for Math Night
Three dot games challenge kids to think mathematically.

Math for the Fun of It
Tips and activities for helping children learn math at home.

Copy and paste one of these activities in each issue of your school-to-home newsletter.

Math Facts: Online Resources
Education World has compiled this list of resources, which proves that
kids + computers = math learning.

For more math resources, be sure to visit Education World’s Math Subject Center.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Dust Off That Children’s Book
You’ve Always Wanted to Publish

Every principal has a million stories to tell. But if you’ve ever thought “That story would make a great book,” now is the time to write the book!

Last week, the National Association of Elementary School Principals launched a contest for aspiring authors like you. The annual contest is a partnership between the organization’s NAESP Foundation and Mackinac Island Press (an imprint of Charlesbridge Publishing). Together, they might publish that “masterpiece” that’s been gathering dust atop your bookshelf -- or in your mind.

I talked this morning with NAESP Foundation’s Ann Henley and she explained that the idea for this contest has been on the burner at the organization for some time. A state affiliate piloted the concept last year, and now it’s full steam ahead.

“The contest is open to principals and other school leaders, teachers, parents, bus drivers… anyone who loves children,” Henley told me. So spread the word!

Anyone who has ever dreamed of writing a book for children knows what a difficult task that can be. Some of you might have tried, only to be overwhelmed by the barriers thrown in your way. But the doors are open now. Here is a perfect opportunity to put your manuscript into the hands of a nationally known publisher. Prospective authors may choose to publish a picture book or a chapter book written for children from 3-16 years of age. Five picture-book finalists and five chapter-book finalists will be chosen, and one winner’s book will be published in each category. Manuscripts will be selected for creativity, storyline, and originality.

“We are excited to present this opportunity to individuals who have thought about, worked on, or written a children’s manuscript that they feel is worthy of being published,” said NAESP Foundation Chief Executive Officer, Ernest J. Mannino.

The deadline for submitting manuscripts isn’t until February 2011, so you have plenty of time to gather your notes so you can start writing this summer and polish your manuscript in the fall. Click here to learn more about this contest or to print an entry form.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Plan a Family Math Night
During Math Awareness Month

Last month, more than 200 parents and students participated in the third annual Math Night at Licking Heights South Elementary School in Pataskala, Ohio. Students exercised their math skills by playing card games and computer games. Some kept score as they bowled on a makeshift bowling alley in the gym while others practiced their money-counting skills. “Math Night is to encourage kids to find fun ways to learn math,” teacher Tammy Atchison told the Newark Advocate [read more].

Teacher Christi Gober echoed that sentiment. “Our goal for the evening is to give students extra math practice while showing that math is fun,” she told a reporter on Mad Math Night at Eastside Elementary School in Rockmart, Georgia. Mad Math Night provides an opportunity for kids to show off their math skills at a wide variety of activities set up in different classrooms [read more].

At Beckemeyer Elementary School in Hillsboro, Illinois, a special “Beckemeyer CSI” event brought together families, businesses, and others to participate in math-oriented activities such as analyzing fingerprints, deciphering codes, and solving for mystery numbers. The evening was a nice opportunity for the local police department to get involved, too. Officers demonstrated how fingerprints are identified at crime scenes, and the department’s drug dog demonstration was a popular sidelight [read more].


Those are just a few of the Math Night events that I've read about in recent weeks. Math Nights have become popular school-wide events that showcase a school’s efforts in this important area and emphasize how essential -- and fun -- math can be.

If your school has never planned a Family Math Night, Math Awareness Month is a great time to set the wheels in motion. It’s the perfect time to get your PTO and teachers involved in planning a special night of fun and learning for next school year. The probablilty is that the event will become an annual one like it has at many schools across the nation.

As the staffs and families at Eastside Elementary, Licking Heights South, and Beckemeyer Elementary can tell you, it all adds up:
(Teachers + Parents + Students) + Math = A Fun Evening


Math Night By the Numbers
Is it time for a "Math Night" at your school? Math Night gets students excited about math, familiarizes parents with the math curriculum, and encourages families to continue the fun of math at home. Included: Advice from organizers of Math Nights at schools across the country.

A Student-Led Math Family Fun Night
A Math Family Fun Night planned and led by students presents wonderful learning opportunities for students (and teachers, too). Take a peek as fourth-graders prepare for their school's first Math Family Fun Night.

Find many more resources in our Math Subject Archive.


  • Resources for Family Math Night
  • Family Math Night Ideas
  • Family Math Night: Math Standards in Action (Elementary School)
  • Family Math Night: Math Standards in Action (Middle School)
  • Family Math
  • Motivating Middle School Math: Family Nights, Fairs, and Competitions