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Items 76 to 78 of 78 total

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  • Laugh More, Learn More: Why I Wrote Nerd Girls

    Tuesday, May 29, 2012

    There are a variety of reasons why I wrote Nerd Girls. Number one: I’m sort of a dork myself. I mean, I like reading. I like writing. I like learning about things that interest me, and I love teachers and librarians.

    Plus, I’ve been known to embarrass myself now and then. For example, once I gave an oral report in front of a class with my fly unzipped. I thought people were laughing at my ingenious use of comedy. Instead, they could see my tightie-whities. Oy vey!

    When I was a kid in school, these traits made life kind of tough. I wasn’t cool, sexy, the class president, or voted most likely to conquer the world. I was awkward with members of the opposite sex, laughed like a goofball, and sometimes felt like the loneliest person on the planet.

    Add it all up, and I was a nerd.

    Once I realized I am what I am, things got easier for me. As I got older, I realized that there are more of “us” than there are of “them” anyway, so I decided to channel my inner nerd and write Nerd Girls. I wanted to write an LOL-comedy—and I believe I have. I’m proud of my work and have aspirations to do all sorts of things with the material including TV and movies. In fact, I just adapted Nerd Girls into a play to be performed by middle schools. The sold-out world premiere was last month, and the drama teacher said she’s never had so much fun staging a play in her entire career.

    This is why I decided to pen a BookJam for Nerd Girls, too.

    Look: Kids today are smart. Wicked smart. And neat, sweet stories that wrap up like perfect little fairy tales are hardly the way the real world works.

    Nerd Girls is layered and complex because today’s young people are layered and complex. Approaching topics such as bullying, growing up in a wired world, handling the challenges of peer pressure, puberty, and parents all present a host of ripe, teachable moments. And when you can use a funny, relatable text to nail the content standards, bring project-based learning into the classroom, and build connections to pieces of nonfiction, well… my aim as both a teacher and an author is to have my cake and eat it, too.

    Sure, today’s young people have a wonderful sense of humor. They love to laugh (who doesn’t?). However, they also like to be challenged to think deeply. Creating win-win scenarios for kids and teachers in the realm of literacy is certainly my aim in all of this.

    Students are at their best when they enjoy what they’re doing. They’ll read more books when they like what they’re reading, and learn more about a subject when they like what they’re learning. That’s my belief and I’m sticking with it. (Besides, I was named California Teacher of the Year, so you might think I know a wee bit about this stuff.)

    School is not a comedy club, but it’s not a funeral home, either. I believe a classroom without laughter is a classroom that isn’t operating at its highest potential. Before kids are students, they are people. People need to laugh much as they need to eat and breathe and love.

    To be clear: I believe that working hard is important. In my classroom, I have little patience for goof-offs and a lot of love for kids who put good ol’ fashioned positive energy into their efforts. But I think you’re much more likely to try harder when you like what you’re doing. Making reading and writing enjoyable makes better readers and writers.

    Fun is my secret sauce. It works!


  • Where Did Common Core State Standards Come From?

    Tuesday, May 22, 2012

    We educators should keep in mind that the curricula we teach every day have evolved from a number of significant influences or events outside our classrooms, our local districts, our state boundaries, and even our country. It often has to do more with them than with us. Let me explain.

    The Federal Government’s role has been increasingly influential in inducing changes over many years. Think of the events and attitudes that have no obvious bearing on your students and mine, but that have great impact on what we teach.

    If you go back to the years just after World War II, you will find that the government had no involvement with what the states and districts did in the classroom. In fact, you might argue that the sole engagement the Feds had was the sponsorship of the GI Bill, a strong and successful motivation for many returning GIs from World War II to pursue higher education. That would soon change.

    The curriculum pendulum swings back and forth, and once the US became a global power after World War II, influences outside often had the most telling effects on what we did inside our schools and districts.

    The Soviet Union launched Sputnik in 1957, and it created shock waves across the US. One of those waves hit the schools and its curricula—there was immediate fear that we were not producing enough scientists to keep up with the Soviets. Soon thereafter, the first comprehensive introduction of the government into education took place with the enactment of the Elementary and Secondary Act of 1958. Actually, the effect was not only on science and math education, but also on foreign language training and soon on all parts of the daily curricula. Call this keeping up with our enemies during the fierce cultural battles of the Cold War.

    Move ahead another 15 years to the War on Poverty and the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The impact of the climate of the ‘60s on civil rights enforcement led to the enactment of Title I—programs to aid disadvantaged urban and rural students. This meant that government was willing to spend money in specific areas to bring about educational outcomes. Call this catching up with our past, and trying to correct the uneven treatment of our citizens over the course of our history.

    Restlessness about how our patchwork curriculum was undermining our competitiveness with other world powers resulted in a special commission to study schools and curriculum in the ‘80s. The promotion of the commission’s report caused a great deal of turmoil in education circles, and led to considerable reevaluation of what was taught and what should be done about fixing what was taught. This report was actually a landmark in modern American education history, with this single line quoted frequently: "If an unfriendly foreign power had attempted to impose on America the mediocre educational performance that exists today, we might well have viewed it as an act of war." Call this another instance of invoking national security to make changes.

    The impact of this report lasted for many years in spite of the fact that the Cold War ended in 1990. It laid the groundwork for the general feeling that we are behind not only our international rivals, but many developed countries worldwide. The outcome was the creation and dissemination of new standards published by professional organizations in almost all curriculum areas. The word “standards” was suddenly on the tips of all our tongues. In the ‘90s, the federal government set guidelines for states to create their own standards and to test them regularly. The standards movement was upon us and in 2002 it would have teeth with the enactment of No Child Left Behind.

    The general feeling of lagging behind other countries in education—whether we are competing with them strategically, militarily, or economically—has driven curriculum for 60 years. The latest drive to establish a set of college-ready and career-ready standards (Common Core) is another instance of being compared to the international community of nations. If Singapore and Finland are ahead of us, we need to do something about it.

    The difference this time around is that we have a national movement and a near-national curriculum in math and ELA with Common Core. We envy the standards of other countries and we want what they have. This is not bad at all, as long as we remember that installing new standards that are a considerable shift from where we have been will be tough on all of us, from teachers to supervisors, from parents to superintendents. In the end, the burden falls again on teachers who will need our support as we implement the Common Core State Standards. Good luck!


  • Education’s Changing, and Triumph Learning is Right There with You

    Wednesday, May 16, 2012

    Just like this blog, I am new to Triumph Learning (TL), having joined the company on April 16, 2012. I feel very fortunate to join Triumph at such an exciting and challenging time in education.  The shift from No Child Left Behind (NCLB) to Common Core, and the continued migration from print to digital, offers TL an incredible opportunity to reimagine its products and the way we can contribute to the enhancement of education across the U.S. – and at a time when many believe we are falling behind other countries in terms of preparing our children for college and the working world.

    TL has long been known as a provider of high quality NCLB products, with strong brands such as Coach, Buckle Down, and Options.  Recent additions to the company’s product line include literacy programs such as Dr. Janet Allen’s Plugged-in to Reading and The Alan Sitomer BookJam.  The combination of all of these content assets and TL’s presence in almost 40,000 schools across the U.S. uniquely positions us to begin designing and building the products schools will need tomorrow to transition to Common Core and the digital delivery of learning.

    In fact, that process has already begun. Common Core Coach and Readiness for Common Core have recently launched in an effort to provide schools and teachers with the transitional tools they’ll need to adjust to this changing world in which we find ourselves. TL will offer solutions in both print and digital for the foreseeable future, in recognition of where individual states, districts, and schools might find themselves on the road to change.

    Triumph Learning’s long history of creating targeted proprietary content and its extensive network of consultative salespeople provide us with a solid understanding of what the educational community is looking for, even in these times of staggered adoption and uncertainty.

    I’m delighted to be part of such a talented team and to be in a position to help create new product lines that will offer schools the tools they’ll need in the coming years, and to contribute to our country’s effort to get back on top in terms of educating future generations. With three daughters of my own, I literally have multiple levels of interest in seeing all of this succeed!


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