Category Archives: From the Vault

Beginnings: Back to School

From the Vault:  Beginnings: Back to School, a student’s point of view

monika_postDear Readers,

Introductions are complex proceedings, and I tend to bumble them – so allow me to merely introduce myself with three pertinent facts:
1) My name is: “Student in training”
2) I have this dream of finally wearing a pair of glasses (my eye doctor tells me I still have 20/20 vision, much to my everlasting sadness), and teaching students the intricacies of creative writing.
3) I am soon to be a university student with a major in creative writing – and I start school in about a 3 weeks. (Cue the physical and emotional panic!)

The best and worst of times
Ever since I was old enough to independently make my way to a school door, laden with a sturdy green backpack, my emotions toward the advent of a new school year have been turbulent, to say the least. Young and old incarnations of myself have always experienced severe mood swings in regards to the first day of school, and inevitably, on that illustrious day, I run the entire gamut of human emotion.

“I am terrified. I am hopeful, ecstatic! I feel mired in quicksand. I am a positive individual!”

Slightly older, dubiously wiser
This year marks my entry into a brand-new educational program. I like to think that I may have reached that mature stage of life where I will be able to forgo any anxieties I may have – but if I’m to capsulate my emotions right now, frankly, I would have to say I’m a jitterbug of nerves.

To put it quite simplistically, the first day of school represents a fresh beginning. As any new beginning can attest to, there is always a great deal of uncertainty when we’re on the cusp of new territory, and human nature dictates that uncertainty is followed by an understandable amount of worry.

At the risk of veering into philosophical sentimentality, it is worthwhile to point out (to my petrified inner child) that new beginnings are fundamental to our existence, to ensure our lives do not merely devolve into regression. And isn’t it an intriguing quirk of life that we are given this chance to start anew every fall for almost the entire first fifth of our life? For educators of course, this is a life reality – one they handle with a confidence and grace I can only hope to vaguely emulate one day.

Here’s to you, Educators.
With this new school year, a whole host of students, including myself, look forward to meeting teachers who will undoubtedly encourage our dreams, nurture our burgeoning interests, and help us reach goals that once seemed unattainable. To the educators who will meet a brand-new set of faces this coming school year – I raise my cup of coffee to you in complete admiration and gratitude. Thank you!

So as I sharpen my pencils (old habit!) and contemplate the visage of an abominably clean backpack (an optical illusion?), I want to wish you, whether you be a student or an educator, a fantastic beginning to your school year. May your first days be filled to the brim with cheerful introductions and hopeful grins.

Visit a Literary Landscape

visit_a_literary_landscape_header


I’ve been incredibly fortunate to have travelled a fair amount since my mid-teens, and this has led me to a number of “literary landscapes” – destinations that either inspired an author in his or her creation of a setting or, in some cases, destinations created by tourist agencies to reflect the author’s vision (which, while money-grubbing, can be equally magical).

Here are a few of my favorite “literary landscapes” and a couple of resources to help you introduce these settings to your students. (A smidge of travel advice slipped in as well.) Continue reading Visit a Literary Landscape

Recommended Summer Read: The View from Saturday

viewfromsaturdayI have a well-honed love for children’s literature. Due to a rather hectic work schedule, my reading time has a tendency to be compressed into a tiny skillet of 37 minutes before bedtime. Reading a book marketed for kids, generally a compact piece of writing, always makes for a satisfying end to my day. Children’s novels have a way of reminding you of the absolute joy of youth and how those years greatly shaped your perspective on life. And, inevitably, they have me reaching for tissues and rampant nostalgia.

I’ve had a copy of The View from Saturday by E.L. Konigsburg for many years now, but have never given myself a chance to read it. Having received it for a long-ago birthday, I regrettably shelved it a week later and promptly forgot about its existence.

But after returning home for Christmas, I was rifling through my bookshelves in a sad attempt to clean my room (still on the to-do list), and came across my pristine copy of E.L. Konigsburg’s masterpiece – the cover still a freshly pressed robin-egg-blue, four cups of lemon tea still pictured on the front, a shiny Newbery Medal medallion still prominently featured.

I flipped to the back cover and read the following:

“Their victory was so profound that the sixth-grade math teacher, Mrs. Sharkey, confided to the music teacher, Ms. Masolino, that for the first time in the history of Epiphany Middle School there was a chance-just a possibility, mind you-that a sixth-grade team might beat the seventh grade.”

The charm was immediate. The book screamed, I’m a piece of art. Choose me. Read me. Love me.

Always being one to listen to the pleas of inanimate objects, I dropped the book into my backpack for my flight back.

Am I ever glad I did.


The View from Saturday centers around five characters – a sixth-grade teacher and her four students (dubbed “The Souls”), who eventually go on to compete in the Academic Bowl, a state championship typically won by eighth-grade students. Konigsburg’s novel is doled out in flashbacks from the four students, their separate narratives interspersed with the team’s journey to the final championship round of the Academic Bowl.

Here’s a sketching of our characters:

  • Mrs. Olinski: A sixth-grade teacher at Epiphany Middle School, still recovering emotionally from an automobile accident that left her widowed and in a wheelchair. She is responsible for selecting the four students for her team in the Academic Bowl.
  • “The Souls” (who each narrate their own chapter)
    • Noah Gershom (Noah Writes a B & B Letter): Intelligent, confident, and incredibly fond of calligraphy. A natural leader who ends up playing an important role at a wedding.
    • Nadia Diamondstein (Nadia Tells of Turtle Love): Still reeling from her parent’s divorce and feeling a keen sense of abandonment. Also the red-headed owner of Ginger, a clever mixed-breed canine. (Bonus: Baby sea turtles figure into Nadia’s storyline in the best way possible.)
    • Ethan Potter (Ethan Explains the B and B Inn): A lonely boy who dreams of working in a New York theatre and has a sense for a good joke. Often suffers relentless comparisons to his older brother.
    • Julian Singh (Julian Narrates When Ginger Played Annie’s Sandy): A brand-new student at Epiphany whose parents have recently opened a bed and breakfast inn. Has a refined British accent and is often teased, but is always composed and tender-hearted. Also has the “chops” for magic.

Writing one character with a distinct voice is difficult enough. Writing five nuanced characters, and giving each ample time to develop a strong narrative, is more than a challenge – it’s Mount Everest without oxygen.

Konigsburg knocks it out of the park.

Each character is forced to undergo their own transformative process, to face the demons of their past and emerge stronger. The View from Saturday is extraordinary because it is not simply the tale of one character’s self-discovery – it is the intricate and seamlessly woven story of five individuals learning about the strengthening power of friendship.

It’s not the easiest story to read. While being marketed for children ages 8 and up, the complexity and layered texture of the story would probably be best grasped by students grades 6 and up. But for a keen young reader, this novel is more than worth the time and effort. A balanced puzzle of stories, Konigsburg has crafted a novel that begs to be read again and again and again.

And that’s no small feat.

It took me over seven years to finally get my act together, and read The View from Saturday. If you have yet to read Konigsburg’s novel, please do not make my youthful mistake. Learn from my tale of woe. Pick up a copy today – tomorrow! This week. And enjoy.

I promise – it’ll be worth your time.


Screen Shot 2016-06-18 at 5.55.13 PMDedicatedTeacher.com sells literature guides for The View from Saturday, click here to see what’s available


Monika_avatarThis Recommended Read is brought to you by Monika Davies.  Monika is a university graduate who studied the art of creative writing and heralds from a family of educators. She writes many of our Recommended Reads and hopes to one day teach creative writing. Despite having traveled to 16 different countries, she remains geographically challenged and still lacks the ability to make heads or tails of a map (much to her mother’s dismay).

 

 

Long Ago, In A Galaxy Far, Far Away…

TheVault

maxresdefaultYou would have to live on another planet, in another galaxy to not have noticed all the hype regarding the latest release in the Star Wars franchise, ‘The Force Awakens’. The long awaited continuation of the long beloved series of movies brought to us by Disney.  I, and many of my children are avid fans of the series and were very excited to see the story continued. Now that much of the hype is finally calming down a bit, I thought it would be fun do dig into the vault for an article that was first shared by our founder, Kevin Davies.  This article was first published in November 2012.

In this article, Kevin speaks about the opportunity he had to visit the “Star Wars Identities” exhibit when it came to his local area.

*some information has been updated to fit with current times and numbers.


 

Long Ago, In A Galaxy Far, Far Away…

by Kevin Davies | November 2012
images

When we think of Star Wars, many things come to mind:

a) a collection of seven films released over a 39 year period; b) a franchise that included much more than movies (books, action figures, games, fan clubs, etc.); or
c) the movie that launched George Lucas and Lucasfilm – purchased by Disney for over $4 billion.

I have never been a huge Star Wars fan but have enjoyed the movies over the years. (And yes – I am old enough to have seen the first movie when it was first released in 1977…) So when it was announced that the “Star Wars Identities” exhibit was coming to our city, I didn’t pay it much attention. But our youngest daughter did…

Kristen has been a HUGE Star Wars fan for many years – literally wearing out our VHS versions of Episodes 4-6 (which were then replaced by DVD versions). Needless to say, Kristen was keen to attend the “Star Wars Identities” and so we blocked out a day when we could go. I thought that I would simply go along, and “endure” the time at the exhibit with the bonus being a day of uninterrupted quality time with Kristen. A treat for me as a dad.

We ended up spending three hours in the exhibit and likely could have spent longer – it was that good; equal parts educational and entertaining.

The marketing lines for the exhibit are “What forces shape you? Get to know the characters of Star Wars on a whole new level.” As you enter the exhibit, you are given an interactive armband. As you move through the exhibit, the armband tracks your choices/answers to ten questions. From these answers your “character” is determined – as it relates to the Star Wars characters, of course.

While the character building activity was rather unique and fun, what really interested me were the various insights into George Lucas and his development of the movies and the main characters. Who would have known that Luke was originally to be female; as plans evolved for the first movie this changed into twins.

The exhibit provided us with amazing detail from Lucas in regards to character development. One example that was very telling was the character of Yoda. While the concept of the “wise master” didn’t waver, the sketches from Lucas of the form of the character evolved magnificently. The end result – the wizened little green creature with big ears – was nothing like the first “version” which had a striking resemblance to Santa Claus or one of the seven dwarfs from Snow White!

The artifacts in the exhibit themselves were also amazing. Three that really stood out: a “life size” pod racer; costumes worn by various actors in the moves; and a huge collection of the “models” for various spacecraft that were used in the first three movies. Again, we were very impressed by the attention to detail that went into all of these items – but especially the spacecraft. The intricate nature of their construction made it obvious as to why they looked so lifelike onscreen.

There was also much shared (both in written and audio tracks throughout the exhibit) into the similarities between various characters and life altering events that shaped their character development. Two examples were intriguing:

1. The different reactions – and life altering decisions – that were faced by: a) Anakin (a.k.a. Darth Vader) after the death of his mother; and b) Luke after the death of his aunt and uncle – his adopted parents. While Anakin developed an inherent fear of losing someone close to him (which eventually led to his move to “the dark side”), Luke chose instead to channel his grief into the pursuit of justice and “good”.

2. Parenting styles between Anakin’s mother and Luke’s adoptive parents were also explored. Luke’s parents were very strict and regimented; the exhibit maintained that this led to Luke following orders and instructions carefully in his later life. Conversely, Anakin’s mother left many large decisions to him – of note when he is asked (at a very young age) if he wants to leave her to become a Jedi. It was suggested that making his own decisions from a young age contributed to Anakin’s rebellious nature to authority figures later in life.

I came away from the exhibit with a heightened respect for George Lucas and his creative genius. His attention to detail, character growth, and plot development is truly remarkable. And admittedly, most of this had escaped me when I first enjoyed the films; I was too mesmerized by the special effects and the gratuitous violence!

My only complaint was the fact that according to my answers to the 10 character questions, I was closest to Chewbacca; I always fancied myself as more the Han Solo type.

I will now spend the weekend re-watching all of the Star Wars movies – this time through a “different lens.” May the force be with you…


 

kevin_blogKevin, the founder of DedicatedTeacher.com.  Kevin was a teacher for 12 years and an administrator for 11 of those 12 years. He then spent 11 years working for Apple in staff development, before delving into the world of eBooks. One of the first to grapple with the idea and possibilities of eBooks (and their educational value), he was the main man behind  Dedicated Teacher from 2000-2013.  –Kevin cooks a mean pork chop and has a particular affinity for the Criminal Minds television series.

From the Vault: Bill Gets His First Puppy

TheVaultFrom the Vault:  Back on  Bill Evans – CEO and Founder of Evan-Moor Educational Publishers.  We are excited to pull this from the Vault and share it once again with all of you.


Bill and Hope in the Denver Airport. Bill discovered that an 8-week old puppy makes it easier to get through airport security than a diplomatic passport.
Bill and Hope in the Denver Airport. Bill discovered that an 8-week old puppy makes it easier to get through airport security than a diplomatic passport.

Two thousand twelve had been a difficult year for me. And it was been a wonderful year. At the beginning of that year my wife and I lost both of our dogs. We lost Elsa, our golden retriever, to cancer, and very suddenly we lost Jesse to crippling dysplasia. This was the first time in our 30 years of marriage that Marilyn and I had been without canine companionship. We have always had 2 or 3 dogs. Always!

We had always adopted dogs from various shelters or taken dogs that our friends and family members could no longer keep. This time, we wanted the puppy experience. We didn’t really know what the puppy experience was, but we were pretty sure it included cute, cuddly unconditional love. It did include that, but it also included many other experiences.

General Advice:
1. Have lots of paper towels available and be prepared to replace all wall-to-wall carpeting after one year.
2. Men should be prepared to put on their underwear immediately upon leaving the shower. Jockey shorts are preferred. Evidently puppies do not readily differentiate between dog toys and not-dog toys.
3. Have an adult dog present at all times. They understand puppies and can help immeasurably. If you do not have an adult dog, be prepared for biting and chewing when the puppy is not being cute and adorable.
4. Have lots of toys available, especially if you don’t have an adult dog present at all times.
5. You should switch from the traditional glass-stemmed martini class to a Sippy-cup for your evening cocktail when the puppy learns to race across the living room floor and unexpectedly leap into your waiting lap. This phase lasts for about 6 weeks, though this varies by breed.
6. Crate training is very important. That’s where you have the puppy sleep in a wire cage next to your bed. It is very helpful with potty training. It also provides a safe place for the puppy to be when you have run out of paper towels or you can’t find where her toys are or you don’t have an adult dog present at all times and you just need a time-out.
7. Initially we believed that Hope could not reach the dinner table. This impression was corrected when I heard my brother-in-law scream, “The little fuzz-ball has my pork chop!” Never, ever assume that the puppy can’t reach things on the coffee table, dinner table or kitchen counter.

All that being said – I highly recommend the whole experience.

Screen Shot 2016-01-12 at 10.55.46 PM


Bill Evans is founder and CEO of Evan-Moor Educational Publishers, located in Monterey, California.  DedicatedTeacher.com has been honored to carry a full line of Evan-Moor eBooks for the last 15 years.  They’ve consistently made our top selling publisher list year after year . You can find Evan-Moor on Facebook and Twitter.

From the Vault: Technology, Teaching, and Change

TheVault by Kevin Sheppard

I read an article the other day that showed a Radio Shack advertisement from 1991. Nearly all of the electronics in the ad are now available a smartphones. Here are just a few of the items on the list: Stereo, AM/FM Clock Radio, stereo headphones, calculator, computer, camcorder, telephone, CD player, phone messaging and tape recorder. You can view the article here.radioshackad

I started to think about how having all this technology in our hands, as well as our students hands, has and will impact teaching and learning. One obvious change from 1991 is that ebooks weren’t widely available during that time. The internet was also in its infancy and had little influence on our daily lives. So, how does having almost instant and limitless access to information change education?

As with almost any change in our world, there are opportunities and challenges with these changes in educational technology as well. It can be frustrating when students want everything to be instantaneous yet it is exciting when we can find just the right bit of information to solve a problem exactly when we need it. We rarely worry about finding enough information for a research project but we now struggle with information overload.

I see ebooks through the same lens. There are times that curling up with a good physical book is the perfect way to enjoy that experience. Yet, I am becoming very dependent on the ability to have so many books available to me at the touch of an icon. I don’t think we have to choose between the two but use the right tool for the job. The same applies to teaching. New technology doesn’t mean throwing the old away, rather it provides the option to choose the right tool at the right time to help our students learn.

So, what do you think? How have these opportunities helped you teach? What challenges to they create? We would love to hear from you.

______________________________________________

Kevin Sheppardworked at a Technology director at his local school district for over 20 years. During his time there, he occasionally traveled the country, going into schools giving technical training to teachers and administrators.  He left his job at the school district to continuing delivering training to schools full time. *We are fortunate to have Kevin bring his expertise in a consulting capacity to DedicatedTeacher.com

From the Vault: Mobile Devices & Individualized Learning

TheVault“From the Vaults” are articles that have been previously published on our older blog. Articles we feel is still relevant and worth sharing with you again.

Article:  Mobile Devices and Individualized Learning, published September 2012
Guest Blogger: Rachelle Cracchiolo – Owner and CEO of Teacher Created Materials and Shell Education

Rachelle and Shelly (and iPad)

I worry about equity in our public schools. I visit schools all year around the country that face a multitude of problems: poverty, lack of resources, parents working two jobs to make a living, dilapidated schools and students learning English for the first time at all grade levels. At these schools we find dedicated teachers and hard working principals striving to improve education while facing the reality of poverty, budget cuts and larger class sizes. In contrast, I visited my neighborhood school that 3 of my 6 grandchildren attend. It is an exemplary school with an outstanding principal, dedicated and talented teachers, a student body of children eager to learn with supportive parents and a school that is rich in resources. It has an active PTA that supports the school in every way. It is the kind of public school you wish every student in the U.S. could attend. It is public education at its best. How do we bridge this gap?

I found the beginning of the answer a few weeks ago when I asked my 10-year-old granddaughter, Shelly, how she felt about school starting. She had a pretty exciting summer and I know that she really enjoyed her time away from school. She is entering the fifth grade at an elementary school that has approximately 600 K-5 students. Shelly is a great student who loves school and so naturally she was very excited about going back to school. She was especially excited by the fact that she will be one of the oldest students and in the highest grade at her school. She told me one of the things she is looking forward to this year is writing a report on her favorite state. She has it narrowed down to Maine and Louisiana. Shelly has traveled a bit in her life, but she has not visited either of these two states. So, I asked her how she chose those states. Her answer? She researched the different states on the internet. She has access to the internet at home through both a computer and her family’s iPad. She said she wishes she could take her iPad to school, but for now her parents were not letting her. I asked if other students brought iPads to school and her answer was “Yes”.

On further questioning, I determined that many of the students brought their own personal digital devices to school. Interestingly, the school was testing allowing students to bring their own mobile device to school. Students are allowed to use such devices for research and as dictionaries. Phones could not be used during class time for calls or texting, only research or reference. I found it intriguing that this school was open to any and all devices that helped children learn. Shelly is a pretty bright child and I sense she will be talking her parents into allowing her to take an iPad to school this year.

Most of the schools that we are working with at Teacher Created Materials are Title 1 schools that are purchasing one specific type of device, handing them out to students pre-loaded with the intellectual materials the school has chosen, and training teachers and students to use them in a prescribed manner. Going forward these students will use their device for research and reference and, like Shelly, as a way to individualize their learning. Students will be encouraged to use the device as a presentation tool for their teachers and peers.

The contrast between my granddaughter’s school and the Title 1 schools I am most familiar with is startling. I am encouraged, though, by watching my granddaughter learn in new ways. I am equally excited to see many public schools embrace some form of alternate content delivery that will hopefully turn into individualized learning. I am hopeful that embracing this type of technology will usher in the dawn of a level playing field for all children.


Rachelle Cracchiolo is the owner and CEO of Teacher Created Materials and Shell Education located in Huntington Beach, California. When DedicatedTeacher.com first opened in 2000, Teacher Created Materials was our first publisher. Over the past 12+ years, Rachelle’s constant support and encouragement has helped us grow. We are pleased to currently feature a full line of Shell Education eBooks. You can find Teacher Created Materials on Facebook and Twitter.


From the Vault: eBooks and Whiteboard

 

TheVaultWe are introducing a new feature to our blog called “From the Vaults”.  These articles have been previously published in our blog and we felt the content was still relevant and worth sharing with you again.

One Easy Fusion of eBook and Whiteboard

Recently a good friend of mine invited me to visit his school – a small local elementary school. As a former teacher and administrator, I was excited about visiting – especially as their school had recently taken delivery of a few SMART Boards. I had heard so much about interactive whiteboards that I was curious to see them in action in an elementary classroom.

Interestingly, what I had heard about interactive whiteboards in classrooms had been a mixture of good and bad. They were certainly heralded as amazing pieces of technology with the potential to enhance the teaching and learning in a classroom. But I was also being told that due to a lack of materials specifically designed for them (as well as the osmotic training method being applied…), many were sitting largely unused in classrooms. (I even heard stories of one Math teacher using his interactive whiteboard as a regular whiteboard, with regular whiteboard pens – yikes!)

I was welcomed into a second grade classroom and had the pleasure of witnessing an amazingly engaging lesson that involved all the students in the classroom, and the SMART Board. The teacher was doing a comprehension and vocabulary lesson with her students. She was using a regular PDF eBook – great content but nothing fancy in regards to interactivity. She had downloaded it onto her laptop (which was connected to the interactive whiteboard) and had opened the eBook to a page that had a story on the top half of the page and questions on the bottom half of the page.

Using a very basic aspect of the software that ships with the SMART Board, the teacher was able to easily cover (like a roller window blind from the bottom of the page up) the bottom half of the page containing the questions. She then worked through the story one sentence at a time with different students reading each sentence. After the sentence was read, another student would underline (using the SMART Board pens) any new words in the sentence. These words would then be written on the whiteboard beside the story as a list of new words.

Next the class read through the entire story together and then reviewed the new vocabulary words to ensure comprehension and correct pronunciation. Now it was time for the questions which again the teacher uncovered one at a time. Answers were once again solicited from the students and the “blanks” beside the questions were completed with the answers, again using the SMART Board pens. Once the entire page was completed, the teacher hit one key on her keyboard and we all heard a “click” as a photo was taken of the screen. This JPG was saved for future reference.

The students had a blast, the desired lesson/learning outcomes were met, and the teacher made use of some innovative technology in a basic and useful manner. Perfect!

Could the lesson have used even more functionality of the technology to be further enhanced? Yes. Could the lesson have been more effective with a greater element of “amazement” in the technology? Possibly. (But how many times have you listened to a speaker at a conference who had his PowerPoint doing amazing, cool things? Do you really remember what he was talking about? Or were you more focused on what might happen with the special effects on the next slide?)

SED50724Watching this wonderful lesson and the simple use of a basic eBook and the SMART Board really reinforced many things that I used to chat with teachers while working with them.

1) the use of technology in the classroom doesn’t have to be high end to be effective
2) learning to use technology effectively in the classroom is like eating an elephant – one bite at a time is most effective
3) technology should fit the lesson – don’t try to make the lesson fit the technology
4) using technology should be an enhancement, not a distraction

I know that many of our customers have interactive whiteboards in their classrooms and use eBooks from DedicatedTeacher.com in a variety of ways with this technology.  Come to our eStore for a large inventory of educational materials that can be used as the teacher in our article used in her classroom.  Also, check out our interactive Whiteboard materials now available in our eStore.