Monday, April 18, 2011

Ten Contests Inspire Student Learning

With National Poetry Month winding down and National Pet Week (May 1-5, 2011) just around the corner, what better time could there be to get kids writing poems about the animals that are so near and dear to them? Post some of those poems in your next newsletter or on your school’s website. Or, better yet, watch the American Pet Products Association’s Pets Add Life Poetry Contest page and enter your students’ poems in next year’s contest. Who knows, one of your students’ poems could be a winning entry, like this poem by a fifth grader from Newton, North Carolina.
Where do I go to feel joy all around?
I always go play with my trusty hound.
What do I do when something troubles me?
I always go see my sweet dog, Jolly.
Who do I tell all my secrets to?
I always tell my dog, there, now I've told you.
If ever I'm feeling a little blue,
I always know just who to go to.
She's my best friend,
Always loyal to the very end.
Everyone I know has been told,
She always has a gentle heart, pure as gold.
She's such a treasure,
I will always love her forever and ever.


Contests are a fun way for students to earn recognition as they learn. Here are ten additional contests in which your students might participate.

Doodle for Google
You’ve missed this school year’s deadline (March 16), but your K-12 students will be invited again next year to use their artistic talents to think big and redesign Google’s homepage logo for millions to see.

‘Kids Are Authors’ Contest
Scholastic offers this annual contest designed to encourage students to use their reading, writing, and artistic skills to create their own books. Open to students in Grades K-8. This year’s deadline (March 15) has passed, but watch this site for information about next year’s competition.

Bridgestone America’s Safety Scholars Video Contest
A great way for student ages 16-21 to have fun, be creative, and win money for college. Videos must be 25 or 55 seconds in length. Contest deadline is May 13.

‘Together We Play’ Essay Contest
Do you dream about creating a playground where children of all abilities can play together? Your essay could win $100,000 in inclusive playground equipment and $50,000 in project development, design services and comprehensive educational programming. Contest deadline is August 1, 2011.

National Handwriting Contest
Click the link above to sign up for an email notification about next year’s contest. Open to students in Grades 1-8 in schools that use the Zaner-Bloser program.

‘Listen to Life’ Essay Contest
This contest is an opportunity to develop important skills in areas that include interviewing, listening, writing, and technology as it fosters connections between young and old. Open to students ages 8-18. New contest cycle begins in September.

SchoolTube Video Contests
SchoolTube offers a variety of contest opportunities that provide great ways to integrate media into your school’s classrooms. The site offers many tips and tools for producing effective videos, too.

Emerging Writers Short Story Contest
The Young Voices Foundation offers this contest for students in Grades 3-12. Submissions accepted through May 31, 2011.

‘Save the Frogs’ Art Contest
Maybe you missed the opportunity to recognize Save the Frogs Day (April 29), but your students can submit their art to this contest through October 15, 2011.

EdSteps Creativity/Problem Solving Contest
This contest from the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) is open to students across the globe. Contest ends May 14.


Pet Week Lessons from Education World
Pet Week Lessons from Crayola

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Celebrate Your Entire Team During
Staff/Teacher Appreciation Week

Education World columnist Diane Hodges has great ideas for improving school climate all year long. Her free Looking Forward to Monday Morning newsletter is packed with practical ideas for motivating and recognizing your staff. If you were on her mailing list last April, you received the Teacher Appreciation Week ideas below -- and more -- in your e-mailbox. [see a sample newsletter, then sign up to receive this free newsletter on Diane Hodges’ home page]


Teacher Appreciation Week was established in 1985 by the NEA [see National Teacher Day 2011] and National PTA [PTA Teacher Appreciation Week 2011] and takes place annually during the first full week in May.
Many school districts have changed the week to Staff Appreciation Week in an effort to honor teachers as well as all other staff members -- school nurses, custodians, paraprofessionals, and so on -- who play a role in supporting students. Some even designate a different day of the week as Support Professional Day or Bus Driver and Crossing Guard Appreciation Day or Custodial/Maintenance Appreciation Day… Holding all those celebrations in one week promotes team spirit.

One of the most appreciated gifts is to not have to go home after work to make dinner. For the day or the week, give staff members a dinner break. Seek assistance from community and parent volunteers to prepare homemade dinners that staff members can simply heat and eat. Dinner ideas include lasagna, chili, or casseroles. Be sure they are presented in disposable packaging so staff members don’t have to worry about returning bowls and dishes. Be sure to include heating instructions with the item. You could also arrange for pizza delivery or give take-out restaurant coupons for a dinner for the whole family.


Supply the staff lounge with gourmet teas. Put notes on the teas that incorporate the use of the word tea. Some examples include
  • Our staff is Tea-rrific!
  • We appreciate your creativi-tea more than you know
  • Have a break and enjoy the tranquili-tea
  • You generosi-tea toward students is appreciated
  • This is said with all sinceri-tea: Our staff is great!
You could also host an after-school tea party in which you serve tea sandwiches and cookies.


Set a festive, tropical theme for the week. Encourage staff members to wear tropical clothing -- flowered shirts and dresses, straw hats, and so on -- that reflects the theme. Decorate the staff lounge with palm trees, parrots, and tiki lights. Have daily drawings and award the winners with tropical items such as pineapple, flamingo décor, and other fun, inexpensive prizes.
Decorate a cart with fresh fruit and summer beverages such as tropical punch and lemonade. Go to the various classrooms and serve staff members a tropical treat.
Host a festive gathering that continues the theme. Dress up the lounge with summer décor and give leis to staff members as they enter. Serve tropical fruit smoothies to everyone. Be sure to put a little umbrella in the glass!


Organize a week that’s filled with myriad special scents. Each day, give staff gifts such as candles, lotions, or bath salts. Ask a local Bath and Body Works, The Body Shop, or spa top have one of their employees visit the school to host a scent-sational foot massage event. Have hot, homemade bread waiting for the staff members when they arrive in the morning. Be sure to have peanut butter, jams, jellies, and butter (make it real butter!) available. Have fresh, hot just-baked scent-sational (or is it sin-sational?) chocolate chip cookies delivered for an afternoon treat. Serve popcorn -- another favorite aromatherapy -- in the lounge.


Visit Diane’s web site to sign up for her free monthly newsletter or to learn about workshops she offers. You can order her books there too, including Looking Forward to Monday Morning and Season It With Fun: A Year of Recognition, Fun and

Diane Hodges on EducationWorld
Award-winning educator, highly acclaimed speaker, and bestselling author Dr. Diane Hodges' weekly Looking Forward to Monday Morning columns present a wealth of ideas administrators can use to drive staff members happy!


Teacher Appreciation Week Ideas from Education World
Education World's "Principal Files" principals share 65 things they have done to show their appreciation. Plus Teacher Appreciation Week cards and letters and more ideas. Also

Friday, April 1, 2011

Plan a Heroes Fair for
National Heroes Day

At Arthur Rann Elementary School in Galloway, New Jersey, students look forward to the annual Heroes Fair. Every fifth grader participates in this event that brings together the entire K-6 school community for a celebration of heroes and the character traits they possess.

The Heroes Fair idea is one that Ginny Bisignaro, a fifth-grade teacher at the school, admits to “stealing.” She got the idea from a college professor who had students choose and report on a hero as part of a Teaching Social Studies class she took at Millersville University.

“When I was hired at Rann nine years ago, I jumped right in and organized a Heroes Fair with my homeroom,” Bisignaro told Education World. “The students do most of what I had to do in college, but on a level they can handle and at which they can succeed.”

The college professor from whom Bisignaro stole the idea is Dr. Dennis Denenberg, a national expert on the use of heroes in the classroom. “Heroes can change a kid’s life because they expose kids to positive character traits,” says Denenberg, whose Heroes4US website should be the first stop for anyone interested in learning more about Heroes Fairs. Denenberg is also the co-author of 50 American Heroes Every Kid Should Meet. [view a related video]

As it turns out, Dr. Denenberg has inspired other teachers to start Heroes Fairs, too. It was a graduate class with him that spurred two teachers at Denver (Pennsylvania) Elementary School to introduce a fair there.

“A Heroes Fair is the ultimate form of subject integration -- social studies meets communication arts, math, science, music, art, and physical education,” Georgette Hackman, a fifth-grade teacher at Denver Elementary, told Education World. “Since students choose heroes based upon their own passions and interests, multiple disciplines become integrated into the project.”


Interest in the annual Heroes Fair at Rann Elementary has “exploded,” Bisignaro told us. A few years after she first organized a classroom Heroes Fair, another fifth-grade teacher joined in. By 2008, the entire fifth-grade team participated. Now students come into fifth grade looking forward to their chance to put on a Heroes Fair – and the entire school body visits the fair. [view video coverage of Rann’s 2008 Heroes Fair]

“Younger students write thank you notes to share what they have learned about the heroes,” said Bisignaro. “One of the moms actually shared with me that her son has been looking forward to doing the fair since third grade.”

In the seven years since the Heroes Fair debuted at Denver Elementary, Hackman and her colleague, Rebecca Culbert, have had several younger students approach them in the hallway to announce who they want to "be" when they come to fifth grade.

“The fair is a school-wide event that also brings in people from other schools and the community at large,” noted Hackman. “Any event that brings so many varied individuals into our school and showcases the hard work our students do is a good thing.”

The Denver Elementary Heroes Fair has also grown over the years. It began with two classes and now it’s up to five classes in two schools. The fair has also changed to reflect best practices in education. “For example, we have integrated a primary document piece into the project," explained Hackman. "Each student must include at least one primary document in their presentation.”

The Heroes Fair is one of those “perfect” events. It involves teachers, students, and families in learning together as it helps contribute to a positive school climate. But Bisignaro said the biggest benefit is its impact on students.

“Students learn about individuals who hopefully will inspire them to greatness,” she told Education World. “The heroes that are chosen exemplify determination, compassion, perseverance, courage, generosity, and many, many more wonderful qualities. At the conclusion of the Heroes Fair preparation, students know their heroes so well. Their knowledge of those heroes, along with what they can learn about life from their heroes, is the biggest benefit of the Heroes Fair.”


National Heroes Day
It has become fashionable to overstate the idea of heroes in our culture today. Historically, there are countless heroes who have become lost or forgotten. The major goal of National Heroes Day is to inspire students of all ages to rediscover the forgotten heroes from the past and bring them back into the spotlight. Heroes Day aims to plant the seeds for the growth of real heroes for the future.

Dr. Dennis Denenberg’s website serves as a nice starting point for anyone interested in learning more about heroes and Hero Fairs. The site includes photos from a Heroes Fair as well as Tips for Organizing a Heroes Fair.

Heroes Fair Project PowerPoint
This is a PowerPoint presentation that Pennsylvania teacher Georgette Hackman created to motivate her students’ participation in a class Heroes Fair. The presentation includes a definition of a hero, the process students used for choosing a hero, project requirements, pictures of exemplary projects from years past, and a quiz that ensures students understand the project's goals and requirements.

Education World Special Archive: Honoring Our Heroes
Where are the real heroes for today's children and young adults? The major goal of National Heroes Day is to bring them back into the spotlight they deserve. Education World has put together some lesson ideas and other resources to help you do just that. Join us as we pay tribute to those individuals who inspire us by their great strength, courage, and perseverance in facing challenges.

Is a Digital Library in Your School’s Future?

These days, the library at Lamar High School in Houston, Texas, is looking a lot more like a café than a library. And Principal John McSwain has never seen so many kids in the library before. As a matter of fact, the library’s hours have been extended; it is now open from 6:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Kids are showing up in droves to grab a laptop, an e-book, a cup of coffee, and a snack as they dive into books – online. The library’s newest additions include hundreds of e-books and a bunch of large databases for academic research.

"This place will be full at lunch, full before school, and even after school," McSwain told Houston’s Fox TV station. "The resources we now have are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week from anywhere in the world for all of our students." [read more]

A handful of private schools are taking the leap too. After a lightning fire destroyed the 100-year-old library at the Hackley School, a K-12 boarding school in Tarrytown, New York, school leaders decided to switch from print to digital.

"We went to the different departments and said, 'This is your chance to create a perfect collection. You tell me what you think we need on our shelves,'" Laura Pearle, head librarian, told THE Journal. "When they said, 'We need these reference books,' I looked to see if we could purchase them digitally."

The decision to go digital wherever possible was not hugely popular with the faculty at first, Pearle said. “Now the majority of teachers feel that, for reference, digital is absolutely the way to go." [read more]

Lamar High and the Hackley School are leaping into territory where few schools have gone before. But lots of other schools are taking steps in that direction too. A 40-minute drive north of Houston, the library at Wilkerson Intermediate School in The Woodlands, is planning some changes. Librarian Jennifer Minichiello says the school's library will become more interactive, provide a variety of e-books, and adopt a café style.

"We're going to make it a little more interesting," she told the Houston Chronicle. "We want it to be more active, with a variety of things going on. If we want [students] to keep coming in, we have to use the technology they are used to." [read more ]


April Is School Library Month
School Library Month (SLM) is the American Association of School Librarians' (AASL) celebration of school librarians and their programs. The 2011 theme is "Create Your Own Story." This year, AASL will help school librarians tell their stories and advocate for the value their school library program brings to their school and local community.

National Library Week
National Library Week (April 10-16, 2011) is an annual celebration of the contributions of our nation's libraries and librarians. All types of libraries – school, public, academic and special – participate in this celebration spearheaded by the American Library Association (ALA). Are you looking for ways to raise awareness about libraries and library services during National Library Week? Check out the ALA’s free promotional tools for new ways to promote the message of National Library Week.

Education World Special Theme: Library Week
Education World presents dozens of book-themed activities, lessons, and projects from our archive. Included: How to write better book reports, stage a "Literature Day," compose Harry Potter haiku, plus additional classroom activities for teaching about fairy tales, folk tales, biographies, and more.