Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Social Studies Sites

Cyberslueth Links for Explorer


Social Studies for Kids

United States Colonial History

Children's Games in Colonial America

Children's Games Great Colonial Gamebook

Children's Games Listed

Children's Games Rules

Colonial Kids

Colonial Williamsburg Kids Sites

New England Primer

Virtual Jamestown

Pilgrim Sites:
American Revolution Sites

Account of the Declaration

Boston Tea Pary

Free Boston Tea Party Activities From Tea Party Museum

Lexington and Concord

Liberty's Kids

Map of the Battles of Lexington and Concord

Massachusetts Historical Society Student Resources

The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Newspaper Chronicles of the Revolution From PBS

Patrick Henry's Speech

Signers of the Declaration issued by the National Park Service

Road to Revolution Game From PBS

Virtual Marching Tour

Worksheets and Puzzles

Life in the 19th Century:

Sturbridge Village 1830's Living History Virtual Tour


AAA Geography

Apples4theteacher Geography

Connecticut Official Kids Site with Games

Countries and Capital Cities Country Toad

Fifty Nifty United States Video Free Version

Fifty State Flash Cards

Fifty State Resources

Fifty State Test

Following Directions TLS

Game Aquarium

Geonet Game

Kids Geo

Letter People Geography

Geography Songs

National Atlas: Large Resource Printable Versions Variety of US Maps

National Geographic Map Games

States and Capitals Penguin Hop

USA Games

United States Geography


Articles of Confederation

Ben's Guide To Government

Bill Becomes a Law Worksheet

Constitution Crossword TLS

Electoral College Interactive Map

Kid's Guide to Government

Library of Congress Article To Form a More Perfect Union

Primary Source Constitution Library of Congress Sources for Kids

Ancient Civilizations

The Origin of Writing


Discover Egypt

Mr. Don's Ancient Egypt for Kids

Mr. Don's Ancient Egypt Math


Pharaoh's Obelisk PBS Nova Resource


Odyssey Greece


Make Cuneiform Tablets

Picture Credits:

Math Sites to Visit

There are lots of great web resources to help with math. If you are looking to add to a curriculum or tutor a student who needs more practice, there is plenty here to search from to help.


Addition Color Sheet Giraffe TLS

Addition Secret Code Riddles TLS

Addition/Subtraction Mosaic Coloring Sheet Education.com

BBC Addition Game

BBC Basic Addition Game

Arcademic Skill Video Type Games


Algebra Help

Algebra Late Delivery

Make Your Own Algebra Sheets

Math is Fun


Activity Village Clock Sheet

BBC Time Telling Game

Clock Game

Roman Numerals Clocks

Willy the Watchdog Computer Game for Multiple Children

Coordinate Math

Cool Math for Kids

Coordinate Game

Interactive Activities Coordinate Game


Decimal Resources

Make Your Own Decimal Sheets


Arcademic Video Style Games

BBC Division

Division Secret Code TLS



Estimation from Cyberchase


Fractions from Cyberchase

Fraction Manipulatives Free to Print TLS

Fraction Resources

Make Your Own Fraction Worksheets


Geometry Activity Making a Square from Parts

Geometry Interactive

Geometry terms from Math.com

Geometry Resources

Geometry Terms from Math League

Math is Fun

General Math Sites Multiple Topic Covered

AAA Math.com

Aplus Math

Batter's Up Baseball Game

BBC Math

Discovery Education Math

Everyday Math Glossary

Free Harcourt Activities Click on Math In Subject and it Preview Available Resources

Free Math Tools to Print and Use Online

Harcourt Multimedia Math Glossary Grades 1-8

Illuminations National Council of Teachers of Math Activities NCTM

Illustrated Math Dictionary

Innovations Math Activities

Interactive Math Activities

KidsNumbers Math Games

Lemonade Stand Money Business Game

Make Math Worksheets

Make Your Own Math Sheets


Math Games Sheppards

Math in Daily Life

Math is Fun

Math Playground

Mathematics Lessons That are Fun Fun Fun

MCAS Test Questions

The National Library of Virtual Manipulatives Free trial then fee for use.

nrich Challenge Math Problems


School Time Games


US Department of Education Helping Your Child Learn Mathematics


Graphing Farm Animals TLS

Graphing Worksheets

Hundreds Chart Activities

Free Hundreds Chart

Free Hundreds Chart Activities


Measurement Activity


Money Bank Checking Skills

Money Concentration

Money Counting

Money Games US Mint

Money Instructor Lessons


Acrademic Video Like Games

BBC Multiplication Games

BBC Multiplication Factors

Captain Knick Knack Two Digit by One Digit Multiplication Game


Multiplication Mystery Hidden Picture Game

Multiplication Secret Code Math

Negative Numbers

Negative Numbers Game


BBC Game



Place Value

Place Value

Place Value Computer Demonstration

Place Value Games


BBC Subtraction Game



Tanagrams Independent Practice with Computer Generated Tanagrams Apples4theteacher

Tanagrams Recreating Computer Generated Patterns Apples4theteacher

File Folder Games:

Addition Enchanted Learning

One Digit Addition 3's and 4 Facts

One Digit Addition to 12

Friday, June 26, 2009

Math and Reading Tip of the Day: MCAS as a Free Resource

Truly I Am Not Crazy How to Use MCAS As Free Resource

I know MCAS has become a dirty word among both parents and educators. However, for those of you seeking free resources to work on reading and math skills, old MCAS tests are free and provide some interesting options. First and the most compelling is that you can access them on-line and there is no charge. The available resources go back several years so you have lots of options in choosing the materials you are looking to use. Second, the problems are tied to specific curriculum threads. When you look at the problems and the answer keys, you can determine not just a general category for the problem, but you can identify the specific strand or strands this problem covers. This can work as a great diagnostic tool in trying to understand what skills you want to focus in on with an individual or group of children who are not able to answer the question. Lastly, the answer keys are also available on-line so correcting the questions is quick and easy.

Parents and teachers can use the problems in a variety of ways. In math there are multiple choice and short answer questions on the test that cover a range of the math standards. The reading and language arts portions also have multiple choice, short answer, and longer writing formats that can be utilized depending on interest and choice. The writing passages do provide sample answers and grades. It depends on the user if these activities would be useful in the program being utilized.

For those seeking to find more challenging math problems, seek a standard to evaluate against, I find the multiple choice questions to be the easiest to pull off the system and use for this purpose. The written questions do have some value but are geared more towards specific state testing purposes, not general tutoring and instructional value. I do know some outside the school system who do use them for writing practice. It is an individual choice.

Finding reading passages that tie to a specific grade level and educational standard can also be challenging. The MCAS leveled questions also provide this information when you use their reading passages and evaluate the answers the children answer both correctly and incorrectly. These are also passages that extend to cover language arts topics based on grade level.

Now I would never suggest you sit down and give your child a full blown MCAS practice test. However, taking a reading passage, that would be one, and using it as a reading practice instead of a workbook exercise is not a bad choice. The passages will give you some information not always found in commercially available products. The same goes for the other tests available on-line. Using the material in pieces can give you free material to use and provide you with specific information about what your child is able to do and areas that still need to be worked on.

This is the link for the Massachusetts Frameworks that tells you what is covered by grade level and will give you the stands covered under the tests.

MA Math Frameworks

The MCAS tests can be found at the following address:
Where to locate MCAS Tests

This gives you an example of the kind of information you can find on the test reports. The following are from the Fourth Grade MCAS tests.

Answers are provided here for multiple-choice items and short-answer items only. Sample responses and scoring guidelines for open-response items, which are indicated by shaded cells, will be posted to the Department’s website later this year.

Item No. Page No. Reporting Category Standard Correct Answer (MC/SA)*

1 145 Number Sense and Operations 4.N.7 C

2 145 Geometry 4.G.1 D

3 146 Number Sense and Operations 4.N.11 B

4 147 Measurement 4.M.5

Item No. Page Reporting Category Standard Correct Answer (MC)*
1 27 Reading and Literature 15 D

2 27 Reading and Literature 13 D

3 27 Reading and Literature 13 C

4 27 Reading and Literature 13 D

2009 MCAS Release MA DOE Site

If you refer to the Massachusetts frameworks you can now identify what area of number sense and operations, for instance are covered by looking up the strand number. The charts are available for each test and are better contained when printed in standard format.

Another article on this topic: Teach to the Test or Teach to the Standard?

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Math Tip of the Day: Spend Time With Place Value

Spend Some Time with Place Value

We spend the toddler years endlessly teaching children to memorize numbers, counting them in order. The numbers are repeated over and over, songs are sung, toys are counted and the exercise is celebrated and rewarded. Most children come to school able to count, many to a hundred and beyond.

What we really need to encourage is an understanding of what those numbers actually mean. There needs to be a connection between number and meaning. In our efforts to push children into math, we have lost the understanding of how and why numbers actually work the way they do.

For instance why do we borrow, regroup, or any of a number of words we use in math texts to describe what happens when we are in the one’s column, for instance and the number on the bottom is larger than the number on the top? Why does that process work? I sat with a group of adult learners in a graduate course as the professor had us work through various place value games. There were many “aha” moments as adults who had been proficient in math for most of their lives, saw it in a whole new light, finally grasped the why’s, not just the how’s of what they were doing. It was a powerful moment to see people come to terms with something as basic as subtraction. Instead of memorizing a series of rules, this group of people had constructed valuable meaning that they in turn could pass on to their students about why math works, not just how to make numbers behave.

So, the tip for today is to spend some time with place value when working with students. There is a wonderful game called “Race to One Hundred.” Students use linking cubes, or I have even used Lego’s, and dice to play the game. Each pair, or individual, creates a place value chart, with columns for ones, tens, and hundreds. The dice are rolled and that number of cubes is linked together and placed on to the board in the appropriate column. When the ones column reaches 10, the students take the complete set of 10 cubes and move it into the tens column leaving and remaining cubes in the ones column. When the children have created an additional ten it is added to the tens column, until they are able to move ten, tens into the hundreds column. Some people choose to start with one die to avoid the need to move items out of the one's column immediatly. That is an option.

When students have played this game over a few sessions, try having them race back from one hundred. This is more challenging, but it builds the skills required to handle regrouping faced in subtraction. They will need to move a ten into the ones column when the number required to be removed is more than the number in the ones column. This will also occur when tens are removed from the the hundreds column when the tens column is short.

Eventually, this process can move to paper and support math on paper. Students can set up the math problems on the place value board using the blocks. The math is done with the blocks and recorded on the paper. The goal is to have students understand what they are doing, not just memorize the rules for doing it. I have them use the notebook paper sideways as described in the previous tip. After they have the ability to work through the problems with the manipulatives, we work on how to work without them. However, the strong basis is built.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Math Tip of the Day:Use Lined Paper More Effectively

How To Use Lined Paper More Effectively

Successful teaching of math is often a matter of finding small ways to get students to see math in a way that makes sense to them. Constructing meaning is the goal for all students. Yet, how often are we stuck on making the child fit the method and not the strategy fit the child. There are so many simple strategies that work, require simple changes, few additional costs, and are often ignored, as people continue to try to make the square peg fit into the round hole. It amazes me why they do not put square peg into the square opening right next to it.

Today, we are going to discuss an extremely simple change, using lined paper in math. Schools and tutors for years have struggled with ways to keep place value alignment when doing math problems. The most common math mistakes occur when students move numbers into the wrong column, squish numbers together, and result in performing the wrong functions with the wrong numbers. People have used graph paper, students have been taught to use special designed papers found in their workbooks, and teachers have printed specialized papers to help students keep numbers properly aligned. While none of these strategies are bad, none of them create independent strategies for students. They do not always have graph paper, or the specialized sheets that they practice with in school. Teaching them a method that they can always use, gives them independence.

The simple strategy is basic lined writing paper. I stumbled on this strategy while tutoring, after getting tired of drawing lines to help students keep their numbers in the proper place value columns. Looking at a piece of plain lined paper I realized that turning the paper side ways, created the same effect with no effort on my part. The lines provided natural colored differentiation between the place value columns without needing to draw them. When setting the paper up, instead of having the lines established for writing, you should see lines set up for column math. This creates a quick, easy, and inexpensive math sheet for students that they can almost always recreate for themselves, at school or at home. This is a great strategy for home school parents who are looking for an inexpensive, independent strategy for children to learn as well.

Notebooks of lined paper make great math journals. Students can turn the paper sideways, label the columns to get practice on understanding place value, and have greater success in working through math problems. In addition, when mistakes are made, it is easier to trace the origin of the mistake when the problems are aligned correctly. Lastly, students can recreate this format anytime. It is rare that they can not find a piece of lined paper when they need to do a math problem and should they be without, they can remember just to draw the lines.

When we look we can find simple strategies that improve our tools, create independent learners, and do not add significantly to our financial challenges.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Where to Locate Educational Products at Affordable Prices

In my previous post I listed websites both free and some paid where parents can continue learning in the summer or use for home schooling purposes. The other question I am often asked is where you can buy quality products at affordable prices. Most of our local teacher stores have closed in this area. While the book stores do offer limited resources there prices generally are considerably higher than most parents and educators want to pay. So in addition to the websites page I am going to try to create a page devoted to places to locate materials.

Workbooks and General Curriculum:

Carson Dellosa


School Specialty

Teacher Resource Books

Learning Products:


Discount Supply

Educational Games

Fat Brain Toys

Leap Frog

Learning Resources


Oriental Trading

Really Good Stuff

Children’s Magazines:


Kids Discover

National Geographic for Kids

Ranger Rick


Used items:

Biblio.com Used/Out of Print Books

Shop Goodwill

Check back for updates. I will continue to add places as I find them.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Web Sites for Summer Learners And Home School Families

One of the reasons for starting this blog was to catalog information so I could easily access it for myself or so I could share it with others without having to search through endless saved lists. So I’m going to start this list and try to keep it updated as I find new resources and old ones become outdated. Please contact me if you find any that are not working or you have any suggestions for additions that would be useful.

You will find some of these sites have been relocated and others I have left here as some people are still locating the site through this post. Please feel free to look under the individual categories for any subjects as there may be more resources on the individual pages that are being kept updated.

Early Learning sites:


Assessment/Tutoring Sites:

Mindspring currently free

Math now has a complete page as it continues to grow.
This section has also found a new home. Look there for new updates.

Literature Sites:
I will be updating the English Language Arts Page with any new links. Please check there for new sites.

Elementary Sites:


Judy Blume

Betsy Byars

Lewis Carroll

Matt Christopher

Beverly Cleary

Roald Dahl

Jean Craighead George

Gail Gibbons

Brian Jacques

Madeleine L'Engle

Lois Lowry

David Macaulay

Mary Pope Osborne

Barbara Park

Katherine Patterson

Gary Paulsen

J.K. Rowling

Shel Silverstein

R.L. Stine

Jane Yolen

Scholastic Author's Site

English Language Sites:

AAA Spelling and Vocabulary

Discovery Education English

Discovery Education Puzzle Maker

Write Source Web Resource of Elementary Writing Guide

Includes models and guides for APA and MLA as well as early writing samples

MCAS English Language Arts

Merriam Webster's On-Line Dictionary/Thesaurus

Scott Foresman Online Grammar and Writing Book

Speech Writing

Textbook Comprehension Skills

Writing it Right

General Knowledge Sites:

AskKids(Formally Ask Jeeves)

Fact Monster

Kids Click Web Searches Sorted By Librarians


Sites with Fees:

ABC Teach
I have heard good things about this site from people who have paid to join.

Printable worksheets and materials

Enchanted Learning
Limited access without membership


Limited access without membership


Social Studies Sites now have their own page.

Science Sites now have their own page:







Plymouth Plantation coloring sheets

Investigating the First Thanksgiving

Enchanted Learning craft

Scholastic First Thanksgiving

Massachusetts Education:

Massachusetts Frameworks

Masachusetts MCAS Questions

This is just under construction as I am sorting through lots of links and hope to get back to this soon. As I said above feel free to add suggestions

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Educational Financing: The Great Myths

As a former teacher and a current taxpayer, I have sat in the midst of the hurricane that is educational funding for years. Ironically, the essential issue continues to be a lack, of all things, education, on both sides. Amidst the lack of understanding of the facts, myths have grown that lack any evidence. Lacking facts has not prevented theories from being widely accepted as truth by many. This is where more effort needs to be made to educate all parties involved about the financial truths and the fantasies that exist. It is also a time to acknowledge the language versus the actual commitment people make, to the goals they claim to have. However, here there are myths too, people cling fiercely to the belief they are living the word they so loudly preach. When challenged with facts, it can quickly get ugly.

On the public’s side there is much confusion about what the taxpayer is legally obligated to pay for and what are matters of choice and preference. These are issues that literally can set neighbor against neighbor and school against school. One of the culprits is the lack of good public relations officials within a school district. Very often they fail to educate the public on the legal reasons why a specific dollar amount is being spent in one area, and not another. This sometimes is perceived as preferential treatment when in fact it is more about PR ignorance. The school in its ignorance may have very a perfectly legitimate legal precedent or mandate for the action they have taken. Very often they are not wrong in the action, they are wrong in the arrogance of not properly explaining the action to the public to avoid a major PR disaster which stems from the action. Very often intentions are read into deeds that were never intended. In many cases it really is a lack of knowledge of how to handle the public that creates many problems for school districts. They fail to inform and in doing so incite anger among the citizens.

Schools often lack good financial planning and understanding of how finances work beyond their small world. I used to cringe when our local superintendent presented the budget yearly. Her financial vocabulary was something any educator should have been embarrassed not to improve. Starting that way was a bad testament to her qualifications. Not working to improve her vocabulary, her public presentation skills, and having the arrogance not to care that the public lacked trust in her financial judgment made for a very bad relationship between the school and the City. Sadly she is not always alone in this problem. We often find very qualified educators who lack financial skills and financial wizards who lack the educational innovations we want. It can be a disaster for a school district when a superintendent lacks financial skills and the ability to handle public relations. It creates a very tense situation in districts.

This brings us to goals. There are the noble ideals that appear on every school website and then there are the goals schools live by every day. I applaud the noble goals but frankly, the ones they live by are truly the only ones that matter. Our district has some beautifully written goals about academics, meeting the needs of the child, and focusing on academics. Yet, our goals should read that we are an institution devoted to the physical and athletic achievement of those students most able to demonstrate athletic abilities on any type of organized sport that we can register for in this state. If you wrote our priorities based on the funding we control separate from state and federal mandates that is what our mission statement and goals would look like. Our school district has maintained and increased sports programs every year we have decreased academic staff. This year, we are laying off twenty-one teachers and breaking the teachers’ contract by freezing step increases. We will be in court claiming a hardship clause. Yet, we still have not reduced our sports spending our increased our fees for athletic participation. Our priority is sports, not academics. I have argued for years that it is time to be honest about it. Why are we lying about our priorities?

When schools are truly ready to make education the priority, taxpayers can be educated on the mandates and laws that can not be violated. However, as the person who stands in the middle, I am finding it hard to explain why they should care when it is obvious the schools are not meeting taxpayers half way either. When schools are ready to put education first and demonstrate it in budget form, it will be far easier to convince taxpayers to get on board.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Thank You: Why Is It So Powerful

Not remembering to thank people who have helped us is a bad mistake. Not just because your mother always taught you manners and she would be horribly ashamed. We hate when we get bad service, we dislike when people do not act on requests we make for change; we are frustrated when our hopes for a better sympathetic ear are dashed. Yet how often do we really appreciate those gifts after our goal has been accomplished? Do we go back and thank the person who has helped us? Do we write the letter to the supervisor, the person in question, or do anything to recognize that burden that was lifted from us, the joy that was given to us, all by the gesture of another person?

There have been numerous articles and even books written on the art of complaining and being assertive to get what you want. In fairness there are even books on etiquette that explain the appropriate method to write thank you notes, the occasions they should be written for, and how long one has to write them. However, rarely does one understand the importance of saying thank you, whether it is by note, by phone, or just by finding the time to express appreciation for another’s actions that made your life easier or when someone finally listened and changed something that bothered you.

Last night, I listened to a City Council meeting and was surprised to hear a Councilor actually speak with respect towards his constituents. I will need to find a means to express how impressed I was that he stood up in a hostile environment and spoke for the rights of the taxpayers. I have often been publically critical of this Councilor for his negative comments about taxpayers, so if I want this behavior to continue, it is my job to reinforce this behavior. Selfish, perhaps, but if we like the behavior we see, encouraging the behavior through reinforcement is one way we get more of it. Leaving the person to experience only the negative reactions, to the change that was made, is a sure way to watch it die. Since my goal is to see more focus on taxpayer rights, providing positive reinforcement is one action I can take to help the situation. There is something about winning over a constant critic that does provide incentive.

Truly, the effort is not all that hard. When you are at a restaurant and you get great service, tell the manager. You can be sure that the person who got the wrong order, did not like the meal they ordered, or just had a bad day, will say something. However, there are far fewer people who do stop and say something positive and specific about why the service was good and it is meaningful. This works well for anyone who works with the public. Do not hesitate to tell people they have done well.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Teachers and Home Schooling

I have never understood why my colleagues object to home schooling. It is not as if there are not enough children to go around for us to educate based on the percentage of children being pulled out by parents who wish to teach their children at home. In fact with ever dwindling budgets, larger classrooms, and more demands from parents with fewer resources to meet them, you would think teachers would finally get on board and start supporting the movement. Ignorance is something I will admit to when first approached about the subject. There was nothing to be for or against. Just expressed lack of understanding of what it meant to home school. Once a friend of my husband’s, introduced me to his family and I had a chance to see one family’s approach, I was hooked and have continued to research this method of education. Making it a priority to help parents who make this personal choice has become a great learning opportunity for me.

There are some basic misunderstandings on both sides of the table and I have encountered ignorance in both camps. Let me be clear, ignorance really has no place in education. The idea should be to break through ignorance, to come to acknowledge what you do not know. There is much that both groups do not know or even try to understand about the other. Having one foot in both camps it can be a war zone when you mention that to either side.

However, there are some basic facts that both sides can and should agree on and celebrate. Unlike private schools, we don’t have home schooling families accessing our school bus programs. The research I have done indicates that some states do offer incentives through on-line charter school programs and support programs to allow more parents who want to have their children at home with more structured support do so, but from what I have read that is a small percentage of home schooling families and still a cost savings to the taxpayer.

On-line schools require no physical plant, no support staff, building maintenance, utilities, and other costs that do not go down in a regular school until we shut it. Opening virtual academy options in public settings and encouraging parents to utilize them actually creates smaller class sizes and give more individual class time to those students who are attending the traditional brick and mortar schools. So even for parents who choose the public school home charter method there is still a significant cost savings to the public. The on-line tuition is generally not the equivalent of the brick and mortar per pupil cost.

So what is it that bothers the establishment so much about home schooling? Many worry about the quality of education. Are parents qualified to teach the subjects that they will need to teach students? Well, in the quiet, away from the spotlight, where nobody will quote us, can we truly say that all students are truly getting the individual attention they need with the way we are doing things today? If we look at the actual test results of children, are we kidding ourselves if we believe that a child with access to one on one attention, on-line class resources, time alone to think, to process, time with other focused students who want to learn, will not really have the equal chance to learn that he/she will get in a class of twenty-five kids?

Will some parents be lousy at home schooling and some children fail as a result. Of course they will. Can we not say the same about public and private schools? There will always be people that do a wonderful job, some who do an adequate job, some who get by, and others who fail. The question remains do we punish all for the fear of the worst possible scenarios?

That being said I started with getting my teaching colleagues to back off on home schooling parents but I can not leave without saying that home schoolers can not paint all schools as being evil places of failure without recognizing their biases either. As much as I admire home schooling, I know children and parents that truly do need space from one another to learn. In my family, I have tutored some of them and you learn sometimes a stranger just speaks differently, even using the same words. Sometimes a child just finds pearls of wisdom dropped that you have repeated over and over for their entire lives, said by a stranger they just met in September, and now it is as if the world has opened and the words are all fresh and new. For some families home schooling is the greatest gift of time to learn, the chance to grow as a community of learners, and the opportunity to share a love of learning with your children. There is nothing wrong in a family that chooses another path and realizes that for their child another option is a better option. That is were bias needs to be removed.

Friday, June 12, 2009

The Rewards of Financial Planning

Often times people focus only on the stresses, the sacrifices, and the long-term goals that will be achieved some where in the distance from budgeting, learning different financial habits, and choosing to make choices now to have more options in the future. It is important to note the small successes and ample rewards that start to emerge on the journey.

At first, all you notice is the intense focus it takes to remember everything that needs to change. Being more disciplined requires more organization and for us it required more tools to support our new habits. However, as time moves along it becomes less labor intensive, the plan, more self sustaining. While we’d always had a casual plan of monthly action, the formal plan did take time to organize and negotiate to account for every penny, every month. Now however, it is a matter of opening a template, plugging in the month’s numbers and evaluating the situation based on that month’s needs that are different from the previous month’s allocations. There really is no more money than there was before there just is less stress about where it went. It’s clearly documented.

What is fun is noticing the money you can find to do things without any guilt attached to it. You can have cash to go out if you want it which was always something that was paid the following month. We have the money to pay for a family outing with extended family, with cash, another item that would have been paid with next month’s money. When these outings are over, there will be no reminder in the mail to twinge our guilt strings. These are guilt free moments, paid, enjoyed, and stored away.

That’s not to say I’m not still plugging away at long-term goals. Along with throwing larger payments at the principle on our car and house, we’ve started a plan to balance our checkbook to an even balance and save all our loose change to throw at the house. By today’s count I’m over $4.00 towards my house savings in change for the month. It sounds like a small amount but combined with my extra principal amount that we have been working hard to increase each month, we are whittling away at the balance. Considering the difference I’d earn on putting the change in the bank vs. sending it to pay down my house, I still winning the game paying off the house and continuing to stay ahead of the ever falling mortgage market. There is something satisfying in watching balances drop. It inspires us to keep paying more of it off.

So there need to be short term achievable goals and successes and you have to keep your eye on the larger things you need to finish. Along the way you gift yourself celebrating the victories.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Textbooks: Practical or Financial Burdens?

This topic came up as part of an on-line group I regularly participate in. The question we were discussing was why textbooks are considered a financial burden for school districts? More importantly, why it is school districts are more and more reluctant to devote financial resources to them?

The question is more complicated than many people realize and there are multiple wars occurring over these issues on several fronts. There is the state mandated curriculum war. Many local districts have simply refused to buy textbooks until states set a curriculum and decide to live with it for several years, without changing it. In essence they want a freeze on updating, moving, or altering what should be taught and when it should be taught so they can obtain some financial value for the resources they are investing in. Realistically, our knowledge base doesn’t advance so far that we couldn’t supplement the few scientific and historical corrections and additions we make in the span we determine should be the life of a curriculum for a state. However, since cities and towns can’t predict what that life will be, many have just chosen not to invest in texts.

The argument arises that students have access to wonderful resources on the Internet. There are many positives to Internet learning. Our media resource teacher used to create subject home pages of approved websites for research on specific learning topics. It was great supplemental material. However, now imagine this woman responsible for providing and maintaining that all materials utilized by students are still accurate and appropriate. This means all the curriculum, not just the few specific targeted sites requested for certain projects each year. While many believe the cost is cheaper, imagine the intense labor costs of maintaining a database of approved web curriculum resources. You can not just post them and hope they stay accurate. As any of us who visit the web know, sites disappear. The quality may improve, or fail completely to meet our standards. The only way to know, is to continually visit.

One of the advantages of the old fashioned textbook, or even supplemental purchases, are that once made, for better or worse, you know the material you have. You know its strengths and its weaknesses. After spending hours verifying its accuracy, you can tell children where the mistakes are,corrections can be made. Once a teacher knows the book, he/she will not have to recheck the book again; it does not alter or change as the year progress. Until a new book is bought, the book remains present with the same material missing and the good quality material it brings to the unit of study.

The war will continue to rage as people look to throw away the old and move on to the new. I am in favor of some of what modern technology has done for public schools. I like the new Smart Board Technology that has computerized the old white boards we use with kids. It enhances education, not merely using technology for the fun of using technology. There is some talk of computerized textbooks that would be read on some kind of computerized reader, instead of a physical book. The upside from what I’ve been hearing is that schools would be able to essentially buy a package that would allow them cheaper upgrades when the new volumes came out if they bought a specific package upfront. So instead of selling or trashing old textbooks, they would be deleted and reinstalled. That is something worth considering for students who do well reading from a computer.

However just as we have students who struggle to read from books we are going to have to decide what to do for students who do not function well with computers. Moving blindly to a new technology, abandoning the old, without considering the implications can cause trouble. This occurred for some districts in Massachusetts when they completely computerized their writing programs, feeling that since adults wrote better with word processors, logic followed that children would, too. There was just one major fault with their logic about removing handwriting as regular activity in their curriculum, students were still tested manually. Only in very rare cases are students in our state allowed to use computers to take their state exams on. Testing scores fell dramatically and handwriting during writing assignments was reintegrated into the writing program. Technology was still a priority and a goal, but the school realized their goals weren’t realistic in the framework of the state’s requirements. As we move forward with technology, we do need to think beyond how we feel and to think about the consequences of our choices. Getting excited about change is normal. However, there are reasons to think it through.