Top 12 Teacher Blogger Discussion: November

“What are the top games (online or video games) that can help students learn?”

In order to answer this month’s question, I had to go to the expert–my 10-year-old son. When I asked him which game has taught him the most, without hesitation, he answered Call of Duty. This is what he had to say:

The whole idea behind the game is that you are in a war, and you are fighting for your life. You need to get to the place where the enemy captain is and interrogate him, so you can go on to the next level. Each level gets harder and more confusing.

So the number one thing you need to learn how to do is listen. If you don’t listen carefully to the plan, you won’t know what’s going on. You need to pay attention to what the characters are saying and work as a team. The computer characters teach you battle strategies and how to dodge things in real life. Listening is key because the characters tell you what to do. Following their directions will make sure that you’re successful.

You also need to have a strategy to win the mission, or you will fail automatically. It takes a while to figure it out, but that’s part of the fun. It’s the past experiences that help you succeed, but it gets easier as you learn more about the game and use knowledge from other games. You can also go to YouTube to see how other people have beaten a level.

You need to use math to figure out how far you need to go and how quickly you need to get there before something explodes, or you will die. It’s also tricky because you have to calculate distance while enemies are shooting at you. You need to stay focused on your destination and keep battle strategies in your head the whole time.

The best part about it is it’s just a game. You don’t have to do everything perfectly, so you can try, try again, and eventually you will get everything right.

Another game he mentioned was Minecraft:

Minecraft is also great because in creative mode, you learn how to design buildings and get to look at other people’s creations. In survival mode, you have to battle creatures, so you need to build a fortress to survive the attacks. You learn battle strategies and defense techniques.

Failing is learning in these games and that is part of the fun. I wonder how we can bring that element to the classroom.

Posted in A Student's Perspective, Education Reformation, In Ian's Words, Top 12 Global Teacher Bloggers | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Top 12 Global Teacher Blogger Discussion: October

Can social media have a role to play in managing a successful classroom?

Social media can be used in certain classrooms successfully. If teachers need to send out announcements, Facebook and Twitter meet students where they spend much of their time. There is no better application available to send out last-minute reminders or changes of plans.

The biggest fear in a school setting seems to be that teachers and students would become friends on social media, and that friendship would cross professional boundaries. Although I am aware of the problems that issue has caused, I don’t believe in punishing everyone for the bad judgment of a few individuals. I would rather see social media decisions made on a case-by-case basis, bringing dignity, respect, and trust back to the profession.

Along those lines, there is a way to create social groups without teachers and students becoming “friends” on Facebook. A teacher could post a notification to a group, and all the students in that group could read the notification without being able to see the teacher’s personal page and posts.

It doesn’t come as a big surprise that teachers have to bear the brunt of the burden for monitoring students’ online behaviors when social media becomes part of the classroom. Unfortunately, it seems that teachers are expected to have the bigger “parenting” role in a child’s life than the actual parents. It has never been a good idea to let children (up to 18 years old) have free reign on the internet. Because of parents’ lack of guidance and involvement with their own children, schools have had to make blanket rules to protect themselves from lawsuits.

Even though I’m in favor of using Facebook and Twitter in certain situations, I also believe that social media, smart phones, and texting erode necessary social skills. People, in general, have forgotten how to talk to each other; eye contact is at an all-time low for those who primarily communicate with hand-held devices. Social media has also damaged students’ abilities to check their email regularly, to write respectful, intelligent emails to their teachers, and to use school websites to locate information.

A possible solution to some of these issues could be for schools to create classes on how to use social media responsibly and appropriately. Students need to be aware of the ramifications of misuse but also of the benefits of worldwide tools. Schools could also offer night classes for parents so that they can learn more about social media and monitoring their children’s behaviors.

Now, to contradict everything I just said, I don’t believe in making students’ lives easier than they already are. Becoming responsible adults means that they have to move out of their comfort zones. Just because they are on social media all the time, doesn’t mean that the world needs to revolve around them. Making students work for their information is one way the current adults are going to help the current “entitled” generation break free of this debilitating mindset.

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4 Steps to a Healthier, Happier Me

Over the past 30 years, I have had the same battle with weight that I’m sure many people can relate to. Before I had children, I had time to work out, could eat whatever I wanted, and not worry about my weight. After children, however, it was a different story. As the years packed on, so did the weight. I was never obese, but I had rolls and bulge that made me feel uncomfortable, unattractive, and unhealthy. I found myself in the doctor’s office at 49 years old, begging him for a weight-loss pill because I was convinced that my metabolism slowed down too much to ever lose the weight that was affecting my health and ability to enjoy everyday activities. My doctor told me it wasn’t about my age or metabolism; it was, and always will be, about calories in and calories out, plain and simple. I didn’t like his answer. I wanted an excuse, and he didn’t give me one. I continued with a daily, superficial workout 3-4 times a week and didn’t lose much weight.

Fast forward to the beginning of 2015 and not only was I not losing weight, but I was gaining back the weight that I had lost 7 years before. During the 2015 spring semester, my students showed me how much they loved me by buying me a donut before every class. That, in combination with the winter and emotional eating I was doing, helped me pack on 15 extra pounds to the already 15 extra pounds I felt I had to lose to get to my target weight of 140 (health charts say that my weight should be between 133-147 for my height and frame). I didn’t understand why I had put on so much weight. I was walking or running at least a mile a day. Wasn’t that enough?

By late March, none of my clothes fit anymore. I asked my students to stop buying me donuts so I didn’t have so much for them to love.

I was uncomfortable at 155. At almost 170, I was a mess.

I decided to take my doctor’s advice and start tracking my calories in and out. That one step changed everything I did from that point on. Six months later, I am now 146 lbs, eating well, comfortable, and healthy.

These are the steps I took to get here:

#1Get Apps: I downloaded a few free apps on my phone to help me keep track of my exercise (calories out) and my food and drink (calories in). My Fitness Pal and Runkeeper apps sink together so that the addition/subtraction of calories happens without too much effort on my part. I also used Couch to 5K the first few months to help me get ready for my first 5K in June. I needed to set a short-range goal for myself to keep my motivation up.

Tracking my calories helped me see where the big-calorie food items were. I even recorded when I took a bite of a cookie or a handful of potato chips. It showed me how many calories I had to burn to stay within my plan, which was 1200 calories a day. For the first few months, I let myself eat back the calories I burned running/walking. So for example, I could eat 1200 calories on my plan, but I burned 200 calories on my run, so I could actually eat 1400 calories and still be within the limits of my plan. I did this mainly because I have a hard time denying myself. If I have a food craving, I have to eat it or I will eat everything I don’t want and then still eat what I wanted anyway. Truthfully, there were many days I went over that limit, but I didn’t let it get me down. I just went back to the plan the next day.

#2 Develop Good Habits: In order for any of this to work, I had to form the habit of exercise. I had to make my daily workout a priority. On the days I had to work earlier, I still worked out, but only for 5 minutes a day until I developed a daily habit. Once the habit was established, it was easier for me to wake up earlier to get a longer workout in. The more I worked out, the faster the results came.

Now, I can’t imagine starting my day without a workout first. The other motivation was that I didn’t want to shower twice in one day. I needed to get my workout done before my shower; otherwise, I wouldn’t work out at all that day.

The only exercise I did for the first few months was walking/running. I had to keep it simple until I developed that habit. I knew that if I signed up at a gym or had to drive somewhere to work out, I wouldn’t have done it. With walking/running, all I had to do was put my sneakers on and go outside. I didn’t add anything to that routine until I couldn’t imagine my day without exercise. The only change I made was walking in a different direction to have a variety in my perspective.

Once my walking/running routine was established, I added stretches, a few yoga moves, and sit-ups afterwards–not many, but enough to make sure I was kind to my muscles and core.

Some of the most beautiful things happened during these walks/runs. I was outside enjoying the beauty of nature. I learned to breathe and improve my posture, which actually strengthened my back and core–just standing up straighter and feeling the breath enter and leave my body turned into a type of meditation that I enjoyed with yoga. I started to feel connected to my body. That connection helped me listen to the aches and pains and go easy on myself when needed or push a little harder if I felt strong.

This connection also helped me listen to my nutritional needs. I could feel when I ate too much of something or an item that didn’t feed my body the right way. I no longer had to make the choice between Oreos and chips. I picked fruit when I wanted something sweet and nuts when I wanted something salty. Even without researching it, my body was telling me not all calories are created equally.

I was also listening to music while working out, which, ironically, helped me think clearer. I would get the best ideas for writing and teaching during these times. Music, fresh air, exercise, meditation, and the beauty of nature were a winning combination.

Honestly, if I had never progressed further than this, I would have been happy. I lost the winter/emotional/donut weight, and I was feeling better, even though I wasn’t at my goal weight. I was outside every day, soaking up vitamin D, enjoying nature, getting away from sitting at my computer, and becoming one with myself. I was already happier and healthier, which made me more attractive to myself–and that’s all that really matters anyway. But I wanted to prove to myself that I could get down to my goal weight, so I kept on finding new ways to break through the plateaus.

#3Treat Your Body Right: Even though I was recording everything I ate, I didn’t make different food choices until a few months into this habit. For me, this was a necessary step. I hate diets because I don’t like the restriction. If I want something to eat, I have to have it. That’s why I waited until my body started craving healthier foods.

I also started reading up on nutrition. Our bodies need protein, carbohydrates, and fat. We need to get them in the most natural state possible, with no added chemicals. I went back to using olive oil and butter, eating eggs and red meat, but I made sure it was high quality and organic. I now buy most of my food at Trader Joe’s and try to shop at farmer’s markets when possible.

I avoided anything labeled as “lite” or packaged as a diet product. I watched the documentary Fed Up on Netflix and it changed the way I looked at food–especially sugar–completely. Now, when I buy anything packaged, I look at the label for the percentage of sugar in the product. Anything with more than 2g of sugar added is too much (0g added is better). And natural cane sugar, honey, and pure maple syrup are better than any of the chemically created sugars or sweeteners.

I started drinking a lot of water. It can be challenging to drink 8 cups of water a day, but it changes everything. My mind is clearer, my skin is healthier, my hair has bounce, my nails aren’t brittle.

Above all, I was patient with myself and didn’t let my goals stop me from having fun. If I wanted to eat chicken wings and French fries with a beer when I was out, I let myself enjoy those things without guilt. I am eating healthy and exercising to have a higher quality life and be healthier for my son. The best thing I can do for Ian is take care of his mother–he deserves a healthy, happy mom.

#4: Variety is the spice of life: By July I was tracking my calories, establishing good habits, and treating my body right, but I could not get past the plateau I had encountered a few times in the past when I had tried to lose weight. I was weighing in at 150-152 lbs. It came down to the last 10 lbs again, and nothing I was doing seemed to push me passed it. I decided to add a kickboxing class on Wednesdays. If I had tried to add that class too soon, I might not have stayed with it. But this was the right time to change my routine. Adding that class made me feel all the body parts I was neglecting. I wanted more, so I added two more video workouts to my week. I was still going outside and walking/running at least a mile every day, but with a 60 minute kickboxing class and the 45 minute P90X Cardio workout twice a week, I finally made it to 149. I hadn’t seen that number in years!

I was on fire and started reading exercise and nutrition articles. One article that My Fitness Pal put out talked about burning 300-400 calories a day. I decided to make that my goal. Now I never burn less than 300 and frequently burn more than 400 calories a day. The important thing to remember with this step is that it didn’t happen until months down the road. I didn’t push myself too fast. I was patient with my progress.

The next thing I changed is running–and when I say running, I mean fast walking or slow jogging. I always run with my dog Chico (a 12-pound Chihuahua). He loves being outdoors, and he had gained a few extra pounds as well, so I was taking care of both of us with our daily runs. However, the longer I ran, the more upset he became with me. He was okay when I ran one mile; tolerated me when I ran two miles; but absolutely refused to run with me when I started running for three miles. When I put my sneakers on, Chico hid in his cage.

To accommodate him, at first I ran one mile, dropped him off at home, and then finished my run, but it didn’t feel the same being out on the road without him. That’s when I read this other article on My Fitness Pal that explained interval running to me.

Now, I still log 3 miles 2-3 times a week, but I walk for 30 seconds, jog for 20 seconds, and then “sprint” for 10 seconds. Chico loves this new routine. The article mentioned that interval training follows the running patterns of dogs, which is absolutely correct. I don’t need to keep track anymore. Chico tells me when to run and when to run fast. The other added benefit is that this type of running burns fat faster than a consistent pace does.

This is how I got down to 146. I’m no longer concerned with the numbers on the scale. If I get down to 140, that’s fine, but I’m more interested in tightening up and building some muscle now. I’ll let you know how the next stage goes.

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Top 12 Global Teacher Blogger Discussion: September

What was your most challenging classroom and how did you turn it around? 

Early in my teaching career, I had a class of freshman English with 27 students–22 boys and 5 girls. If having 22 freshman boys in one class wasn’t challenging enough, this class met after lunch in the last 90-minute block of the day. The boys started treating that class, not as a learning environment, but as the pre-party to the afterschool plans they all had.

At first, I became the type of teacher I hated: I yelled at them every day; I punished them for their inability to sit still and listen. I dreaded teaching this class. One weekend, while watching my young son play, I noticed how different he was from my daughters when they were that age. Ian had a hard time sitting still; if he wasn’t running, climbing, or playing, he wasn’t happy. I then started picturing my students–not as boys opposed to me and my teaching style–but as sons of parents like me who wanted their boys to love learning. This connection changed how I looked at everything I taught in that class.

I first changed all of my lesson plans so that each activity only lasted a maximum of 15-20 minutes. I then switched activities around so that deskwork was followed by a group activity so students could get out of their chairs. When time permitted, I rewarded the students for their hard work with a game of mum-ball or heads-up seven-up at the end of the block. They always completed their work so they could play.

If weather permitted, I frequently gave them a five-minute break outside, and those who wanted to could run around the soccer field to burn off energy. I also played classical or enjoyable instrumental music for them during deskwork. I told them to get up and stretch their legs whenever they wanted–that they could self-monitor their attention spans and get up to get a drink of water or move to the back of the room if they needed help refocusing. Rarely did any of the students abuse this trust.

Changing my classroom opened up other ideas for me to explore. Because the game reward worked so well, I decided to create a game out of their class work. Before grammar tests, students formed groups and answered questions that were similar to each unit test. Students could discuss answers with the group, look in their notes or workbook to help them answer the questions, and then decide on the correct answer together. If the group answered correctly, they earned points. Then one member of the group would shoot a ball made from old newspapers and tape into the garbage can. If they made the basket, they added more points to their score. This is how “Trash-ball” was born.

Trash-ball was so successful I used it in all my classes from then on. In fact, all the new strategies worked so well, I used them in every class and level I taught. I discovered that girls were happier moving around as well.

Posted in Education Reformation, To Be or Not To Be...A Teacher, Top 12 Global Teacher Bloggers | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

Uncommon Core Book Reading: Chapter 14

On September 10, 2015, I read Chapter 14: Teach Them to Be Problem Solvers from Uncommon Core: 25 Ways to Help Your Child Succeed in a Cookie Cutter Educational System at The RiverRun Bookstore in Portsmouth, NH.

To purchase Uncommon Core, go to WordCrafts Press or Amazon.

To schedule a book reading, speaking engagement, or interview contact me at or Bethany Ring, Publicist, WordCrafts Press

Posted in Advice For Parents, Education Reformation, Uncommon Core | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Reflections On High Stakes Testing

Pauline Hawkins:

How do students feel about PARCC? Here is one student’s perspective.

Originally posted on chandleredu:

While walking through my middle school during summer cleaning, I came across a crumpled page. I picked it up to see if it was anything important. It was hand written in a student’s printing. As I read the content I realized this was some sort of “prewriting” that a student must have been working on, so as to be able to express her/himself when asked. I am thinking this must have been written by a sixth or perhaps a seventh grade student. I have transcribed it word for word.

“I’ve been waiting for this question for so long! Ok lemmi (let me) rant. Thank you!”

“I absolutely hate PARCC and everything to do with it. The questions are terribly worded and flat out stupid. I get so agervated (aggravated) taking this test cause if you don’t have a mouse you are constantly scrolling and I like being able to see…

View original 311 more words

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Uncommon Core Book Reading: Chapter 19

On August 24, 2015, I read Chapter 19: Teach Them How to Be Happy from Uncommon Core: 25 Ways to Help Your Child Succeed in a Cookie Cutter Educational System at Great Bay Community College in Portsmouth, NH.

To purchase Uncommon Core, go to WordCrafts Press or Amazon.

To schedule a book reading, speaking engagement, or interview contact me at or Bethany Ring, Publicist, WordCrafts Press

Posted in Education Reformation, Letters to My Students, To Be or Not To Be...A Teacher, Uncommon Core | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment