Let the Day Inspire Your Teaching

Did you know that March 13th is National Earmuff Day? Does that matter? Maybe!

A day’s teaching can be perked up by even the smallest things. I encourage you to scour the internet for all the little known national days that blanket the calendar. Let inspiration take over and add a little spark to your teaching with this knowledge.  You can link an educational topic or review some material that relates in some way to this theme of the day. Students will love it!  If you build excitement or anticipation in the classroom, students may find out just how much they care about the fact that June 6th is National Yo-yo Day.

Here’s an educational video I made about estimation and rounding for National Author’s Day, which is November 1st.

 Watch Video

December 4th is National Dice Day. How about a probability exercise for math class?

Watch video

January 23rd is National Handwriting Day. How about a fun writing activity to review spelling words?

Play game

March 12th is National Plant a Flower Day. How about a science class review of the parts of a plant?

Here’s where you can find a multitude of national days. There is always an opportunity to add a little more fun to the classroom and do something that will grab the attention of your students.




Quivers and Quills: Using Halloween to Launch Creative Writing Exercises

A dim spectre in the distance. A ghostly woman in white waiting forlornly on a bridge. A mysterious voice in the dark of the night. A statue that watches…and waits.

Scary stories are powerful. Every community, rural or urban, has its share of tales that have the power to chill you to the bone. Both original stories and those rooted in folk legends invoke strong reactions from their audience. Some people avoid scary tales. Others cannot get enough of them. These are the people for which Halloween was made.


The book that hooked me up

While I don’t enjoy all aspects of Halloween, (I’m took impatient to put together an impressive costume, and I’m allergic to half the candy out there – Boo!) I am a fright fan. I have been ever since elementary school, when my second-grade teacher gave me a booked titled The Doll in the Garden. It was a ghost story about a girl who found an antique doll buried in her neighbor’s garden. Throughout the story she learns about the doll’s history by traveling back in time to speak with the doll’s former owner – a ghost girl named Louisa.

I enjoyed the book enough to mention it to my aunt, who was a fourth grade teacher. My aunt gave me a book her students enjoyed by the same author. It was called Wait Till Helen Comes. It was about a girl whose stepsister was communicating with a ghost who wanted to lure her into a pond, to drown, so she could join her in the afterworld.  I loved it, and read it again and again. There were sentences that made my heartbeat quicken. Something about the way the words scared me pressed me to keep on reading them, and as my interest grew, I swear I could feel my imagination expanding. I liked to be scared, and I liked how my fright made me wonder about the world and my place in it.

I found myself studying the way the author used words to paint scary scenes and invoke a sense of danger. I became keenly aware that my reaction to the story was the result of artistic choices. Her characters, the plot, the setting, the tone, the pacing, the symbolism, the foreshadowing, the structure – all of these elements worked in harmony to create a story powerful enough that I remember it to this day.

Teachers, without a doubt, have kids in their class who love a good fright, and Halloween is a perfect time to reach them with an unforgettable creative writing exercise. There is plenty of opportunity to co-opt Halloween to help students stretch their creative muscles with some writing exercises.

horror book

Option One: Writing prompts. Teachers can provide students with a choice of three or four “story starters” from which they can build their own scary story. Students who chose the same prompt can compare their stories after they are written and discuss how the stories differ. Students can explain the choices they made and discuss their favorite parts of each other’s stories.

scary prompt

Option Two: Word webs. Teachers can ask students for “scary” nouns. Then, scary adjectives, verbs, and so on. Using the collected words, students can compose a series of frightening sentences – or a full-fledged scary story.


Option Three: Take a break from scary. Not all students enjoy being scared. That’s perfectly fine! Instead, perhaps they would benefit from a writing exercise that focuses on costumes. What was their favorite Halloween costume, ever? What do the costumes in the costume store do at night, when all of the customers and employees are gone? What if the costumes came to life?

I have found that giving children the chance to perform their written pieces for an audience is very beneficial for driving home the idea that writing is meant to be experienced. It is easy for young writers to forget about the reader as they get excited – or intimidated – by the act of putting words on a page. It is harder to forget about the audience when the writer realizes that their piece will be performed rather than read.

Not all students will be comfortable with performing a monologue or acting in a play, and that’s okay. Children in the audience can sit back and enjoy the show, and perhaps even give feedback on what works and what doesn’t in a performed narrative. They might even like to see their own piece performed by others!

Children working together to create a story will not only hone their writing and language skills – they will also exercise teamwork and have an opportunity to form lasting memories in the classroom. Halloween comes once a year. If you have only one chance to fully indulge your students’ creativity this year, this is the time to take it. This is the holiday that lets imaginations soar.


Rural Schooling and the Effects of Educational Technology in the Classroom

The population centers up in the Adirondack Mountains don’t feel like towns, at least not to me. It feels more like the houses had been shaken out of the mountains like crumbs off a tablecloth, landed haphazardly in the valleys, and were then inhabited by people with the fortitude to build homes amid the area’s beauty. Having lived in upstate New York for nearly my entire life, I am familiar with the Adirondack Mountains, and I love them dearly.

But only occasionally does it dawn on me how different daily reality is there versus where I grew up, in suburban Albany. Cell phone signals are hard to come by up in the Adirondacks. A trip to the grocery store could mean a 40 minute car trip – one way. School districts are spread over very wide distances, and although they comprise kids from numerous towns and villages, class sizes sometimes don’t reach above single digits. It’s a different way of life, certainly.


During a recent road trip through the Adirondacks, I happened to pass through a town where a friend teaches high school English. I had known he worked in a rural area, but I was nonetheless struck by the remoteness of the school location. My friend faced a rough, long commute each day – and so did his students. Many students lived a long ride away from the school, braving often-snowy conditions and questionable mountain road maintenance. It is a trek to get to school. To get anywhere, really. A student who has to drive one hour to reach a bookstore, theater, or library has limited options when it comes to resources with which to supplement their education. With few classmates, after school activities and other enriching extras enjoyed by peers in more populated areas may also be denied these students. It’s a beautiful area, but not one without problems, especially if you’re a young person in a town without much going on.

Schools in settings such as this could benefit considerably from the implementation of digital educational technologies such as those offered by Genius Plaza in their classroom or in an after-school setting. It is a way to access materials to supplement classroom activities and projects, and maybe delve into new subject matter in which the student has an interest. Additionally, for students who don’t have reliable internet service at home, the online resource available at school might be one of the only ways in which a student can gain valuable digital knowledge and experience. And of course, the more tools with which students can learn, and engage with technology, the better.

In addition to helping students better understand their official lessons and hone their core skills, digital educational technologies can also be a lifeline for students who crave additional stimulation and engagement, or those who simply feel more comfortable in front of a screen than engaging out loud in a classroom.

Many times, digital technology is written off as fluff – as something that is nice to have, but is not a vital educational resource. But students who lack resources in their communities, due to a rural location or an underfunded school, might not even know what they are missing. The happenstance of their location should never hinder a student’s ability to achieve their highest potential. The internet has the power to connect students to the world. We cannot choose where were are born in this world, but we can have a say in where we end up – and proper tools can help. All students deserve that chance.