October 31st, 2012
04:28 AM ET

Free resources to help teach about elections

by Donna Krache, CNN

For civics teachers (and former civics teachers like me), the presidential election is our equivalent of the Olympics.  We prepare for months and pour all our energy into teaching all about the electoral process, looking for ways to make it fun and interesting for students.

If you’re a teacher or a parent who is teaching your students about elections, there are free resources from CNN.com that can really help you bring your curriculum to life.

You can find all these resources at the CNN Election Center, but we’ll also highlight each one separately here:

Probably the most useful for teachers of civics/government, U.S. history and general social studies is the CNN Electoral Map Calculator.  It shows CNN’s estimates of who will win which states, as well as states that may be leaning toward a candidate and battleground states.  But you and your students can create your own picks and scenarios for this year's race, and you can use the pull-down menu on the right to look at the last two presidential contests.  These are great ways to promote geography skills and basic math skills and illustrate to your students the strategy behind political campaigns.

How much time and money are the candidates spending in each state?  Now that your students understand the importance of winning Electoral College votes, they can understand why voters in states like Ohio and Florida are seeing lots of political ads, compared to their fellow voters in many other states.  Point students to the CNN Campaign Explorer to learn more about the concentration of ads, money and travel in each state.

Finally, if your class is focusing on the topic of public opinion, or if you are interested in helping students improve their skill at interpreting charts and graphs, go to the CNN Poll of Polls interactive.  The CNN Poll of Polls is calculated by using three approved polls to arrive at the numbers you see on the charts on different dates.  You can quiz students on candidates’ percentages on different dates in national polls as well as in battleground states, and you can ask them what factors might account for changes in the polling results.

Share these resources with your colleagues, and share any tips you have for teaching the election in the comments section below.

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Filed under: 2012 Election • At Home • Practice • Resources
June 26th, 2012
06:00 AM ET

‘Reading Rainbow’ resurfaces as an app

By Sarah Edwards, CNN

(CNN) - Butterfly in the sky I can go twice as high. . . Remember those lyrics from the once popular children’s show “Reading Rainbow”? Well, it’s back, but this time not on TV – on iPad.

Last week, Reading Rainbow host, executive producer and actor LeVar Burton, launched the Reading Rainbow app through his for-profit company RR Kidz Inc. Burton says he hopes the app will have the same impact on a new, more “digitally-native” generation as the show had on kids in the ‘80s.

The app, like the show, is aimed at children ages 3-9, who are just learning how to read. Like the show, Burton plays host, this time calling himself “Curator in Chief.” He, along with digital animations named Jane and Austin, guides children on a hot air balloon ride through the chosen story. Burton said, “The child will be able to navigate islands in a hot air balloon . . . a metaphor for a journey, a literal way to transport yourself from one place to another. The islands are themed and a child can go to these islands and find videos as well as books. Reading Rainbow was famous for giving you a backstage tour, giving you an experience that was based in the real world that was related to the literature and the featured book in every show and so the video field trips are a key component.”

The free app contains 150 books and 16 video field trips. However, to gain the full experiences parents will have to shell out $9.99 per month. That’s pretty pricey, considering the original program was free and widely available on PBS. Burton acknowledged the issue, but hopes that the education system can help bridge the gap. “We are aware that there are a lot of folks out there who don’t own iPads and can’t afford the $9.99 subscription price. We will be working, in the fullness of time, with schools, teachers and school districts all over the country. One of my goals is to make this technology, in general, universally accessible to kids. We have the ability as well as the knowledge to literally transform the way we educate our children in the United States. . . I think that with this technology, putting a tablet computer in every child’s hands should be our agenda,” Burton said.

June 20th, 2012
02:20 PM ET

'Share my lesson' aims to connect educators

by Donna Krache, CNN

(CNN) On Tuesday, the American Federation of Teachers and TES Connect announced the launch of a free, resource sharing network for teachers.

Called “Share My Lesson,” the site aims to become the largest online community for teacher collaboration.

“Teachers are expected to do so much, often with very little support, and they are thirsty for the tools they need to improve instruction. The AFT decided to accept the challenge and make its biggest investment ever in a tool to improve the teaching profession,” AFT president Randi Weingarten said in a statement.

When asked about the $10 million price tag for the initiative, TSL Education CEO Louise Rogers told CNN’s Soledad O’Brien, “The money we’re putting in is about driving both the technology and insuring that the content is absolutely what the teachers need every single day to make their lessons the best they can be.” TSL Education is the parent company of TES Connect.

“We’ve teamed up to try to make this an American product for American teachers so they can share with each other online resources…and to make sure that they can be prepared for the Common Core, this new academic standard for the 21st century,” Weingarten told Soledad O’Brien on Starting Point.

The “Share My Lesson” platform has been likened to a “digital filing cabinet” where teachers can share lesson plans, save the ones they like, and peer-review each other’s content.

“It’s about teachers teaching each other to be very, very good at what they do, and they get that by interacting with each other,” Rogers told CNN. “The teachers themselves are teaching and learning from each other.”

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Filed under: Curriculum • Practice • Resources • Starting Point • Teachers • Technology • video
June 15th, 2012
03:57 PM ET

Overheard on CNN.com: Readers debate unions, seniority after Teacher of Year's ouster

Editor's note: This post is part of the Overheard on CNN.com series, a regular feature that examines interesting comments and thought-provoking conversations posted by the community.

Thousands of teaching positions have reportedly been lost in the last month, but one of those layoffs has sparked a lively dialogue among CNN.com's readers.

In May, the Sacramento City Unified School District in California handed a pink slip to Michelle Apperson, a sixth-grade teacher at Sutterville Elementary. Apperson was gracious about the job loss, telling CNN affiliate KXTV, "It hurts on a personal level because I really love what I do ... But professionally, politically, I get why it happens."

Many were not so accepting of the decision. Why? Because Apperson was not a newbie, nor had her performance been called into question. In fact, she had taught at Sutterville for nine years and recently was selected Teacher of the Year for the entire district.

After her ouster, one student wrote a letter, according to KXTV, that began: "Dear Ms. Apperson, I will miss you dearly. I will never forget you! You are the best teacher ever. I am very lucky that you are my teacher!"

The district's decision came amid a $43 million budget shortfall, which forced Sacramento schools to slash its workforce. The layoffs were based on seniority, per state law, and a district spokesman said that while the situation was unfortunate, "It's another sign of how education's funding really needs an overhaul."

A woman identifying herself as the ousted teacher commented that she sympathized with district's plight:

Apperson: Wow! I am glad that this article stirred emotion from people. In my hometown, I did the original interview to bring awareness to two main topics – children are affected when we cut education, and in CA we can make a difference as citizens to vote for education. 25 percent of my school's staff got pink slips. They are good people who work hard for kids. I have taught for 13 years, 9 in this district. My district is trying hard to make ends meet, they do not want to hurt kids. The union is trying hard to protect good teachers at school doing what's right. My perspective and that of the reporter was to shed light on the subject and stir awareness. Thank you, for talking about education and kids. I do not know the answer to any of it, but I do know that being named Teacher of the Year in my school district is a great honor and I am humbled.

One reader said the reason for the firings was simple and compared the situation to that faced by many business during the economic crisis:

BD: The fact that we are firing teachers rather than hiring them as a means to deal with the current economic climate is the saddest fact of all. It's no different than a bankrupt business selling off its physical assets.


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Filed under: education • Issues • Policy • Politics • Resources • teacher unions • Teachers
May 31st, 2012
03:16 PM ET

Sal Khan: Revolutionizing web education

Khan Academy founder Sal Kahn previews his All Things Digital appearance and talks about the success of his site.

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Education websites awarded Webbys
Salman Khan started the Khan Academy from a converted walk-in closet in his Silicon Valley home. His website was named the 2012 Webby Winner in the Education category.
May 4th, 2012
07:51 AM ET

Education websites awarded Webbys

By John Martin, CNN

(CNN) - Khan Academy took the top prize for education in this year's Webby Awards, the International Academy of Digital Arts and Sciences announced on Tuesday. TED Talks won the Webby People's Voice Award. The academy will dole out the awards for Internet excellence on May 21. In contrast to the long speeches you see at award ceremonies like the Oscars, each winner will be allowed to say just five words – shorter than most tweets.

And the nominees in the category of Education Websites are....

Common Sense Media

Common Sense Media provides parents and educators information about the media-rich world we all live in. The non-profit organization says that students spend more time with traditional and digital media than with families or teachers. For parents, the site offers reviews of many types of media, from books to movies to websites.

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Filed under: At Home • Curriculum • Resources • Technology
My View: Trayvon Martin’s death is more than a teachable moment
March 29th, 2012
01:51 PM ET

My View: Trayvon Martin’s death is more than a teachable moment

Fred Marcus StudioBy Yvette Jackson, Special to CNN

Editor’s Note: Yvette Jackson, Ed.D., is the Chief Executive Officer of the National Urban Alliance for Effective Education and former Executive Director of Instruction and Professional Development for the New York City Board of Education. Tune in to AC360 at 8 and 10 p.m. ET for the special series "Kids on Race: The Hidden Picture”.

The death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin is sparking national indignation and debate over the role race played in this premature loss of life. But it also opens the door to a teachable moment that, if ignored, will only compound the tragedy.

The teachable moment is particularly true for adolescent youths. One of the most important lessons I’ve learned in more than three decades of working in schools is that students - particularly adolescents - want teachers to meet them where they are. It’s an anxious, hyper-emotional, and uncomfortable place for adults, but students crave this connection.

Trust me, an incident like the death of Trayvon only intensifies those emotions because all adolescents have a frame of reference from their own lives, be it race, how they dress, or fear of being singled out by a stranger based on how they look. This frame of reference during adolescence greatly impacts their understanding of how and why they are perceived a certain way.

To ignore the story of Trayvon in any classroom is to ignore an event that is shaping how countless young students of all races and ethnicities are seeing their world, the adults around them, and visions for their futures.

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Filed under: Issues • Resources • Voices
Encyclopedia Britannica to stop printing books
March 14th, 2012
03:24 PM ET

Encyclopedia Britannica to stop printing books

By Julianne Pepitone, CNNMoney

NEW YORK (CNNMoney) - After 244 years, Encyclopedia Britannica will cease production of its iconic multi-volume book sets.

Britannica usually prints a new set of the tomes every two years, but 2010's 32-volume set will be its last. Instead, the company will focus solely on its digital encyclopedia and education tools.

The news is sure to sadden champions of the printed word, but Britannica president Jorge Cauz said the move is a natural part of his company's evolution.

"Everyone will want to call this the end of an era, and I understand that," Cauz says. "But there's no sad moment for us. I think outsiders are more nostalgic about the books than I am."

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My View: Building a nation of readers begins at home
"Cat in the Hat"-styled kids listened during a Read Across America event on Dr. Seuss' birthday last year.
March 2nd, 2012
06:05 AM ET

My View: Building a nation of readers begins at home

Courtesy NEABy Dennis Van Roekel, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Dennis Van Roekel taught high school math in Phoenix for 23 years. A longtime activist for children and public education, he is president of the National Education Association, which represents more than 3 million public school employees.

On March 2, 45 million people are expected to take part in the National Education Association’s Read Across America Day, the nationwide program that helps children discover the joy of reading.

As a teacher, I emphasized to my students the value of reading. But I am also a parent, and as a parent, one of my favorite things to do was read to my children. We’d pick out favorite books, and I’d read them over and over at their request. We opened up doors to imagination and wonder.

I’ll never forget the excitement in their eyes as we moved through story after story, adventure after adventure. At the same time, I knew they were learning new words, new sentences and new stories. And as they learned to read on their own, my children discovered new books, new worlds and new skills. Books were their gateway to learning, and my ongoing mission was to keep the excitement and the learning going.

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Filed under: At Home • Practice • Reading • Resources • Voices
February 16th, 2012
12:32 PM ET

Today's Reading List

Here's what the editors of Schools of Thought are reading today:

NSTA: NSTA Legislative Update: February 2012
The National Science Teacher's Association is tracking the progress of reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), also known as No Child Left Behind (NCLB). A Senate committee has approved a bipartisan bill, but it won't come up for a full Senate vote until the House passes a bipartisan bill as well. The House is pushing their version in small chunks, but only one bill, to reauthorize and streamline charter schools, has the support of both parties.

NPR: R.I. Student Draws Ire Over School Prayer Challenge
A federal judge has sided with a 16-year-old atheist who sued over a school prayer banner that has hung in her school since the 1960s. School officials have covered the banner in plywood and an American flag as they decide whether to appeal the ruling.

Arizona Daily Star: Classroom sex talk, insults not enough to get some TUSD employees fired
A public records request yielded 250 pages of documents related to incidents involving Tucson Unified School District teachers and staff during the first 9 months of 2011. While the district did fire some staff over violations, no teachers were terminated in that time, even though the district's superintendent admits that some of the misbehaviors should have resulted in dismissal.

Carolina Journal Online: Preschooler’s Homemade Lunch Replaced with Cafeteria “Nuggets”
A preschooler's mother packs a lunch that her preschool daughter will eat, including a turkey and cheese sandwich, a banana, potato chips and juice. Officials replaced the homemade meal with one that meets USDA guidelines, but the four-year-old would only eat the chicken nuggets in the new meal.

Gazette.com: D-49 teacher selected for Holocaust workshop
Twenty teachers will attend a workshop next month at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. Horizon Middle School teacher Liz Dalzell-Wagers says that she will use the experience to teach her students about the impact of the Holocaust on America.

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