* Lose that control

“If everything seems under control, you’re just not going fast enough.”  — Mario Andretti

Take advantage of all available moments to breathe curiosity into your kiddos.  Match activities to their interests.  Create new interests.  Let them go wild!  Go wild with them!

dancing kiddos

my dancing kiddos

I think one of the most inhibiting and frightening factors for teachers is fear of “losing control.”  The truth is that we do not have any control.  Each student will make choices and you cannot control those decisions.  We have love, acceptance, affirmation, modeling, structure, curiosity, passion, consequences, and joy.  We can control how we respond to every choice around us.  And in that environment, kids will thrive.  They will not be robots nor will they be crazed.  They will dance and delight in learning.

As you prepare for the next school year, determine that you will aim much higher than “having control.”  Paradoxically, unless you you do have sufficient love and skills and structure to manage a class, your group will appear quite out of control.  Embrace their choices and draw them into your dance.

* In case you ever need this sign… — Chris The Story Reading Ape’s Blog

Yes, but I need more time!  Chris’ blog is a terrific place to find all kinds of reading gems.  Check it out!


Out of my mind – Back in 5 minutes

via In case you ever need this sign… — Chris The Story Reading Ape’s Blog


FLIPPED Learning is the topic of a well-written article in the May, 2018, issue of Mathematics Teaching in the Middle School.   The authors, Lim and Wilson, share their experience and expertise in embedding questions in videos as a part of the flipped classroom.  I have blogged before about the flipped classroom, a model in which students acquire knowledge outside of the classroom, usually through videos.  This knowledge is then applied in class through discussions or projects.  Research supports the benefits of hands-on activities for learning math, but does a flipped classroom automatically include such active learning?  Not necessarily.

My biggest concern is that homework is especially fatiguing for students who struggle at school, extending the hours they must concentrate and process information.  There is no shortcut for learning new material, although Lim and Wilson share terrific examples of how to maximize the use of those videos.  Still, videos or not, kids must focus on new content, practice math skills, and then apply that information the next day.  All after a long day of effort.  Ouch!

Many special needs students are simply too worn out for homework.  They need the opportunity to recharge their batteries, engage in physical activity, and focus on their strengths (which may not be tapped at school).  And what about all those kids with social weaknesses for whom group discussions are a blur of white noise?  What about students who have no access to computers?  Videos are also changing; it’s become popular to speed up the presentation, add visual clutter, and increase noise levels to make videos “cool” or catchy (although not as often with math content).  These features actually decrease some students’ ability to focus and make sense of concepts.

If you are looking for good strategies to improve math videos for students, this Flipped Learning article is for you.  But please consider using videos during the school day,  Special needs kids may require a different or second explanation of a concept taught in class.  The pause and replay features are quite useful, as are headphones to eliminate background noise.  The embedded questions can provide opportunities for teachers to determine how much students are learning without the distractions of a group setting.  Use them to provide feedback for your students, too.

middle schooler 1.jpg

Videos are potentially powerful tools in a classroom.  Let’s not make them a burden.

* The Great War channel

the great war channel

If you are looking for a fabulous resource for World War 1, I highly recommend The Great War YouTube channel.  Written and hosted by Indy Neidell, this is a terrific week-by-week series of “the war to end all wars.”  It is well-researched, engaging, and provides abundant primary source materials such as maps, films, and photos.  Even though we know the outcome (spoiler alert!), the tension of the actual war does bleed through.  So does Indy’s heartfelt compassion for those poor soldiers.  His coverage of the Armenian genocide is incredibly moving.  Indy also captures the desperation of the millions of people who were forced to evacuate their homelands as wartime fronts shifted.

I would recommend this Great War series for middle school and up.  I do block the screen for most images of dead bodies, of which there are many.  There are a few that I allow, since dead bodies are a major “component” of the war.  The genocide photos are very difficult to view, and I have skipped a couple of other episodes which are too mature for middle school.

The Great War channel helps viewers understand the politics and propaganda, the incompetence of many military leaders, and the despair of millions.  Can you imagine heading to the eastern front, waiting for a soldier to die so you have a gun?  Or drowning in your trench on the western front?  Or a majority of your fellow soldiers freezing to death before you even fight?

Finally, The Great War channel has numerous special episodes featuring important aspects of that era, such as technology, famous persons, wartime animals, tanks, and more.  They also provide regular summaries.

What’s the advantage for special needs students?  The videos are quality made, can be stopped at key points, and viewed as often as needed.  Each is about 9 minutes long, which is a reasonable length of time for the middle and high school brain.  I set the speed of of the video to 75% to allow for a slower pace of listening (but they could be sped up slightly for those kiddos who have a long period of adaptation to audio materials).  I also provide a preview of each video to allow brains to file new information more efficiently.  Indy does a superb job of reviewing the previous week and then summarizing the current film.  You would need to watch a couple per school day to complete the series in a school year.  Homeschoolers might have an advantage with a more flexible schedule.

You can support The Great War channel through Patreon- and that’s a great idea, too!

* Lions and tigers and WATER BEARS, oh my!

Yes, water bears, or tardigrades, are THE most adorable microorganisms I’ve seen.  And your students can see them as well, with a relatively inexpensive digital microscope, a steady hand, and a jar of these babies from Carolina Biological Supply.  (You can find them outside, most likely on moss, but ordering them was more of a certainty.)

The tardigrade journey for me started with Live Science‘s review of kid microscopes.  These scopes can provide some cool images of tardigrades, but what if your students have visual or physical disabilities that prevent them from leaning over a microscope to peer through the lens?

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a professional image from Storyblocks

I purchased the Teslong USB microscope from Amazon, which magnifies the little critters up to 200x.  Not as clear as the professional image above, but how much fun it is to slowly drag the waterproof scope through algae and find these little critters swimming and eating and pooping!  A great plus is the use of a camera app that allows your kiddos to see them full screen.  You should try this miniature safari through a watery forest with your kiddos!

Here is a 9 second portion of a video I took with a student.  We were totally enthralled.  And the science fun continues.  Tardigrades are extremely hardy and can survive in a vacuum and even boiling water.  Our little jar is now filled with water bear poop (they remind me of guinea pigs), but we still hunt them down for photos and videos.  Enjoy!

* Sharing my world

I adore Cee’s challenges- and her photography is incredible!  I’m hoping to be back on the blogging track for good and this week’s Share Your World challenge is another  restart!

In regards to puzzles, what’s your choice: jigsaw, crossword, word search, mazes, logic or numeric puzzles, something else, or nothing?  I like all of those but have probably done more jigsaw puzzles than anything else.  I’d most likely have one set up all the time, but with the kiddos visiting this summer and our small groups every week, there’s no good place to keep a puzzle waiting.  Getting older has crimped my style, too.  With my wretched knees, I can’t kneel or squat comfortably.

List at least five favorite treats and it doesn’t necessarily have to be food.   Yum!  This will be fun!

  1. My dearest teaching widower, who gets cuddlier and funnier every day
  2. Worshipping with Christian rock and new fave, Francesca Battistelli
  3. Chocolate, now in the form of almond & cashew, soy-free, gluten-free, dairy-free “milk”
  4. Teaching, teaching, and more teaching
  5. Reading and reading

What is your favorite type of dog? (can be anything from a specific breed, a stuffed animal or character in a movie)  OK, I saw this Australian Shepherd (I think that’s what s/he is) in a grandinroad catalog.  I want this dog!!  And I wouldn’t mind the house that goes with it.

border collie

What did you appreciate or what made you smile this past week?  The grace of God for peace and forgiveness and life and love.  Answered and unanswered prayers.  Hope.  That I am a child of God.

* Who wears short shorts?

If you are old enough, and most of you are not, you might have heard a song called “Who Wears Short Shorts?”  More a bit of jingle than anything, I was reminded of that song when I saw this Belk back-to school ad for teachers.  It says a lot about something, just not sure what.  Are all teachers really that young (because you don’t want to see me in these)?  Do some schools really allow their teachers to wear these skimpy shorts?  And if so, what is the dress code for kids??   If these shorts are simply summer gear, why is it advertised as a back-to-school sale?  Mine is not to ponder why; mine is just to shop and buy.

back to school 2



* Ranger Rick grows online!

Wow!  Ranger Rick has hit the web big time!  I reviewed this kids’ National Wildlife Federation magazine a couple of years ago and can now share its online splash with my readers.  Ranger Rick’s online presence adds a lot to what educators and their students can do with the magazine.  Each month’s publication of Ranger Rick (ages 7-12), Ranger Rick Junior (4-7), and Ranger Rick Cub (0-4) is available online.  Although I’m subscribed to Ranger Rick, I can also view the current issue of Junior and a sample of Cub.  All three magazines are top quality, encouraging engagement with science concepts, divergent thinking, exposure and practice with science vocabulary, and fun activities.

Ranger Rick online

For only $5 a year, you can access your Ranger Rick magazine subscription, play online games, engage in craft and suggested outdoor activities, enjoy almost 1500 jokes and riddles, watch videos, and enter the monthly photo contest.  The volume (90+) and quality of animal videos is striking, as are the 300+ animal pages.  The online games range from completing photo puzzles or trying to survive as a fish in the ocean, to getting a squirrel to the bird feeder and solving word searches.  The shop is full of gift ideas, teaching materials, apparel, and apps.  More on those later!

With that single membership, teachers can review detailed lesson guides for each issue, along with downloadable worksheets.  Previous issues are archived for easy access.  The worksheets I saw involved higher level thinking skills and continued use of science vocabulary, which is key to fluent reading in subject areas.

What is helpful to special needs students?  A lot! 

  • The online access will be appealing to kiddos who love their tech gizmos.  The games do not all have timed features and range widely in difficulty.
  • The clear photos and videos will allow students to focus easily on the topic at hand.  Like the paper version, online Ranger Rick minimizes visual clutter.
  • A major advantage of the online version is the typed version of each article (in addition to snapshots of the pages).  Students with reading challenges will appreciate this plain, well-spaced type on a white background.  Some devices most likely read the type out loud, too.
  • A simple click on the page snapshots opens to a fullscreen image of that page, which allows for clearer photos of the featured animals, along with the original text.  This could be used to scaffold from plain type to the more colorful pages of the magazine.
  • Links to interesting, related videos are also clear.

Online Ranger Rick gives you a lot of bang for your five bucks.  Check it out!

* How does he feel?


Is this a look of hostility?  Concentration?  Daydreaming?  If you are a white teacher, you may think he’s angry.  Research suggests that black boys are more likely to be seen as hostile, even when they are not.  Researchers at North Carolina State University found that preservice teachers were more likely to accurately identify emotions of white adults than black adults and three times more likely to see a black expression was angry when it wasn’t.  The results with videotapes of misbehavior in classrooms also showed strong racial bias. Black boys were seen as much more hostile than whites.

My personal experience certainly confirms this.  And Wake County, the largest school district in North Carolina, has very clear data that shows a wide racial discrepancy in out-of-school suspensions.  Black students missed 65% of days suspended in 2015, while white students accounted for only 13% (black kids make up only 24% of the district’s population).

This implicit bias, as it is termed by researchers, has been a troubling issue throughout my entire career.  (I’m still teaching after 47 years….)  I’ve participated in weeks of staff development on this topic and felt that the sessions were more likely to empower teachers to speak with “political correctness” than to change hearts and minds.

One potential solution may be the use of this type of research protocol in developing racial equity sessions in schools.  Trainers could provide this tool as a benchmark for personal assessment and growth.  At the least, it could delay a teacher reaction to student behavior long enough to clearly understand student intent.  That kind of focused observation would benefit many special needs students, too, especially those on the autism spectrum.

* Mother’s Anchor

The excellent Mother’s Anchor organization system is not just for mothers!  A well-designed and interactive system to get you and your home in order, Mother’s Anchor is an inspiring workbook for all- and free (although you should donate!).

Written by Carolyn Langston, an experienced teacher and organizationally-challenged (OC) person, this guide includes all the components you’d want to see in topnotch school lessons.  She lists goals for each section of her workbook and tools for helping you evaluate your needs and strengths, along with her personal experience in the organizational journey.  I appreciate how much Carolyn shares about her own journey, starting with a day back in 1982, when she was surrounded by 20 bags of “stuff” after moving to a new home.  Fast forward to today and Carolyn is now helping others through her Mother’s Anchor.

What do I love most about this workbook?  It’s hard to pick just one feature!

  • The opportunity to examine what I truly want in my home and life
  • The personal tips Carolyn provides, which I am now copying!
  • The easy-to-read format of the guide
  • Carolyn’s structure of organizational strategies which scaffolds skills for an OC person like me, step by step on my way to success
  • As an educator, this workbook will be helpful in supporting students manage time, materials, and assignments

What’s next?  Go to the Mother’s Anchor blog and start your own journey towards a simpler, more peaceful, and clutter-free life!

Carolyn Langston

Carolyn Langston, inspiring educator and writer