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Learning in Hand is an educator's resource for using some of the coolest technologies with students. tonyvincent
Tony is a teacher who wants to make education effective, relevant, and fun. He knows handhelds are small computers that can make a big difference in classrooms!  He hopes Learning in Hand inspires and motivates teachers to use technology that students crave.

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Welcome back to our StarTeaching newsletter,
Features for Teachers, packed full of tips, techniques, and ideas for educators of all students in all levels. We're getting ready for our big back-to-school issue coming in September!
In This Month's Issue:
BlueStar What's New @ StarTeaching BlueStarEducational Neuroscience (part 1) BlueStar Tony Vincent: "Slideshows in Sync"
BlueStar Hank Kellner: The Power of Photos and Poems to Inspire Writing BlueStar Why Misreading Social Cues Leads to Acting Out Behavior BlueStar "Everyone's Free To Wear Sunscreen" - Themes on Life
BlueStar Student Teachers Lounge:
  The LEAST Approach to Classroom Discipline (part 8)
BlueStar New Teachers Niche: Running Project Centers Effectively BlueStar 21st Century Teaching Time: 'STEM' Transforms Into 'STEAM'
BlueStar Science Activities for Any Setting BlueStar 10 Days of Writing Prompts BlueStar Common Core State Standards Corner
BlueStar Book of the Month BlueStar Website of the Month BlueStarArticle of the Week: "Dangers of Artificial Food Colorings"

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StarTeaching Feature Writer
Nov_pic Educational Neuroscience
(part 1)

Courtesy of


Educational neuroscience (also a component of Mind Brain and Education; MBE) is an emerging scientific field that brings together researchers in cognitive neuroscience, developmental cognitive neuroscience, educational psychology, educational technology, education theory and other related disciplines to explore the interactions between biological processes and education. Researchers in educational neuroscience investigate the neural mechanisms of reading, numerical cognition, attention and their attendant difficulties including dyslexia, dyscalculia and ADHD as they relate to education. Researchers in this area may link basic findings in cognitive neuroscience with educational technology to help in curriculum implementation for mathematics education and reading education. The aim of educational neuroscience is to generate basic and applied research that will provide a new transdisciplinary account of learning and teaching, which is capable of informing education. A major goal of educational neuroscience is to bridge the gap between the two fields through a direct dialogue between researchers and educators, avoiding the "middlemen of the brain-based learning industry". These middlemen have a vested commercial interest in the selling of "neuromyths" and their supposed remedies.

The potential of educational neuroscience has received varying degrees of support from both cognitive neuroscientists and educators. Davis argues that medical models of cognition "have only a very limited role in the broader field of education and learning mainly because learning-related intentional states are not internal to individuals in a way which can be examined by brain activity. Pettito and Dunbar on the other hand, suggest that educational neuroscience "provides the most relevant level of analysis for resolving today’s core problems in education." Howard-Jones and Pickering surveyed the opinions of teachers and educators on the topic, and found that they were generally enthusiastic about the use of neuroscientific findings in the field of education, and that they felt these findings would be more likely to influence their teaching methodology than curriculum content. Some researchers take an intermediate view and feel that a direct link from neuroscience to education is a "bridge too far", but that a bridging discipline, such as cognitive psychology or educational psychology can provide a neuroscientific basis for educational practice. The prevailing opinion, however, appears to be that the link between education and neuroscience is at best in its infancy, and whether through a third research discipline, or through the development of new neuroscience research paradigms and projects, much work is required in order to apply neuroscientific research findings to education in a practically meaningful way.

Several academic institutions around the world are beginning to devote resources and energy to the establishment of research centres focused on educational neuroscience research. For example, the Centre for Educational Neuroscience in London UK is an inter-institutional project between University College, London, Birkbeck and the Institute of Education. The centre brings together researchers with expertise in the fields of emotional, conceptual, attentional, language and mathematical development, as well as specialists in education and learning research with the aim of building a new scientific discipline (Educational Neuroscience) in order to ultimately promote better learning.

Early Brain Development

Almost all of the neurons in the brain are generated before birth, during the first three months of pregnancy, and the newborn child’s brain has a similar number of neurons to that of an adult. Many more neurons are formed than are needed, and only those which form active connections with other neurons survive. In the first year after birth the infant brain undergoes an intense phase of development, during which excessive numbers of connections between neurons are formed, and many of these excess connections have to be cut back through the process of synaptic pruning that follows. This pruning process is just as important a stage of development as the early rapid growth of connections between brain cells. The process during which large numbers of connections between neurons are formed is called synaptogenesis. For vision and hearing (visual and auditory cortex), there is extensive early synaptogenesis. The density of connections peaks at around 150% of adult levels between four and 12 months, and the connections are then extensively pruned. Synaptic density returns to adult levels between two and four years in the visual cortex. For other areas such as prefrontal cortex (thought to underpin planning and reasoning), density increases more slowly and peaks after the first year. Reduction to adult levels of density takes at least another 10–20 years; hence there is significant brain development in the frontal areas even in adolescence. Brain metabolism (glucose uptake, which is an approximate index of synaptic functioning) is also above adult levels in the early years. Glucose uptake peaks at about 150% of adult levels somewhere around four to five years. By the age of around ten years, brain metabolism has reduced to adult levels for most cortical regions. Brain development consists of bursts of synaptogenesis, peaks of density, and then synapse rearrangement and stabilisation. This occurs at different times and different rates for different brain regions, which implies that there may be different sensitive periods for the development of different types of knowledge. Neuroscience research into early brain development has informed government education policy for children under three years old in many countries including the USA and the United Kingdom. These policies have focused on enriching the environment of children during nursery and preschool years, exposing them to stimuli and experiences which are thought to maximise the learning potential of the young brain.

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Nov_pic Slideshows in Sync

By Tony Vincent

Learning in Hand is an educator's resource for using some of the coolest technologies with students.

Learning in Hand is written by Tony Vincent. Tony taught fifth grade in Omaha, Nebraska for six years, and three of those years his students were pioneers in educational handheld computing. Then, as technology specialist at Willowdale Elementary, Tony brought the newest technologies into classrooms. Whether it was digital video, blogs, email, podcasts, or handhelds, Tony helped Willowdale teachers and students understand the usefulness of new technologies. Currently, Tony is self-employed as an education consultant. He conducts workshops, presents at conferences, and writes books based on his teaching experiences and passion for new technologies.

Always excited to share, Tony has documented much of what he knows about handheld computing and podcasting on his website, There you'll find useful software collections, the best webs links for handhelds, complete lesson plans, and an informative blog.

Tony is a teacher who wants to make education effective, relevant, and fun. He knows handhelds are small computers that can make a big difference in classrooms! He hopes Learning in Hand inspires and motivates teachers to use technology that students crave.


Teachers! We now have a variety of ways to start a slideshow presentation on our computer, tablet, or phone and have it appear on student devices. And, as you advance to the next slide your students’ devices follow right along.

You can make this happen using one of several different online services. In honor of LiveSlide’s launch, I’m writing about five websites that can push your presentations to your students’ screens.

All five have some sort of free or trial accounts, so you could give several a try and see what works best for you and your students. It is nice to have options in case some are blocked or filtered at your school. It’s also possible that some of these services will go down, stop working, or increase in price. After comparing price and functionally, LiveSlide is my favorite out of the bunch.

Websites that push slides to students are great for BYOD/BYOT classrooms because they are web-based and usually designed to work on a variety of devices. Of course, they are also great in one-to-one classrooms and in schools with carts of computers or tablets available for checkout. Most of the sites not only offer the ability for every students to behold your slides right from the comfort of their own seats, but many also offer the ability to assess the class in different ways.

LiveSlide: Create decks from scratch or import a PDF. Send out live polls and see the results instantly.

What Makes It Special

Teachers can draw directly on slides. Drawings appear in realtime on all devices viewing the slide deck. Additionally, teachers can add new slides while presenting, open web and slides can contain embedded YouTube videos. Teachers can hand over the drawing tools to a student so he or she can write and draw on slides. Slides can be replayed at any time (including the live drawings). Students can ask questions privately and teachers can see them, even during the presentation.



Free for teachers. Free accounts can create up to 1,000 decks. Up to 500 students can connect to slide deck. Students can pay $3 per month or $10 for 6 months for the ability to take notes, save teacher slide decks, replay teacher’s writing, and create their own decks.
Tony_sync3 Upload a PDF or PowerPoint file and share a link to let your audience see your slides on their devices or laptops.

What Makes It Special provides you with a unique URL for each presentation. You can push out live video from your webcam for remote presentations. has a chat sidebar so students can view slides and interact at the same time.

Tony_sync4 Pricing

Your presentations expire after 4 hours when you use for free. Your presentations do not expire if you pay $9.99 per month.

Presefy: Upload your PDF or PowerPoint file and control the presentation from your web browser on a laptop or mobile device.

What Makes It Special

You’ll create a Presefy channel name (make it short and easy) that students type in to see your active slideshow. Unfortunately from the presenter’s view, your slides are very tiny. Presefy provides no annotation or interactive features.


Presefy Pricing

For free, you can store two presentations on Presefy. You can always delete an old presentation to make room for a new one. For about $27 per year you get 20 more slots to upload presentations, and students can download your presentations for later reference.

Nearpod: Upload your slides online and add questions and other multimedia items. You are in control of  which slide is displayed on student devices, and you can monitor student responses.

What Makes It Special

Nearpod has a growing library of free and paid slideshows available in the Nearpod Store. When creating your own presentations, you can add interactive elements that include polls, quizzes, open ended questions, web pages, videos, and drawn responses.


Nearpod Pricing

Nearpod gives you 50MB of storage for free, but each presentation must be smaller than 20MB. The free version can have no more than 30 students per session and students must use the iOS or Android app. For $12 per month (or $120 for a year) you get more storage and up to 50 students per session. Paid accounts allow students to view on PCs and Macs in addition to iOS and Android.

NetClick: Upload your presentation and make it interactive by pushing out instant polls.

What Makes It Special

Teachers can invite students to click on an area of a slide and collect that information as a heat map. For example, you can ask students which state is known as The Lone Star State. Most will click Texas, but the teacher can see a dot representing each student’s click. Teachers might have students click on parts of speech, a number in an equation, important words in a paragraph, what part is confusing, etc. The heat map generated from student clicks can play a role in formative assessment. You can even indicate correct and incorrect regions on any of your slides. NetClick also has multiple choice questions and open ended questions that display a word cloud of responses.


NetClick Pricing

Free for educators who may use it with an unlimited number of students. College students can pay $5 per semester to access past presentations.
I will say that it sounds exciting to push slides to student devices. Yes, all students can clearly see the slides, no matter where they are sitting. And yes, students can take screenshots of the slides they want to keep. But, pushing out your slides might strike some as gimmicky. Is the extra time to upload your presentation and get all student devices online worth it? Can you easily work through the inevitable tech glitches? I mean, you could simply fire up a projector and everyone can view your slides on one big screen. And to add digital interactivity, you could use an online student response system like Socrative, InfuseLearning, or Poll Everywhere.

What will work best in your classroom is, of course, for you to explore and decide.

Nov_pic The Power of Photos and Poems to Inspire Writing

By Hank Kellner 

A veteran of the Korean War, Hank Kellner is a retired educator who has served as an English Department chairperson at the high school level and an adjunct Associate Professor of English at the community college level. Born in New York City, Kellner now lives in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Visit his blog at

 Kellner is the creator of many photographs and articles that appeared in publications nationwide; the author of extensive reading comprehension materials for a publisher of educational materials, and a former contributing editor to Darkroom Photography magazine. He is the author of  Write What You See: 99 Photos To Inspire Writing (Prufrock Press,  2009) and, with Elizabeth Guy,  the co-author of Reflect and Write: 300 Poems and Photographs to Inspire Writing (Prufrock Press, 2013).

Hank's latest book:
Reflect & Write

    One good way to inspire students to create written compositions is to discuss several works that are related by such themes as happiness, love, beauty, and others. For example, the poem-photo combinations that follow in this article are based on the theme of humor.

    One possible activity is to divide a class or other group into several smaller groups and distribute photocopies of a few different pages from the book Reflect and Write to each group. Direct the participants to exchange ideas about the themes of the poems, and have them develop a list. Next, ask the participants to develop their own works based on the themes they have cited. As a follow-up activity, participants may share their creations with others by reading them aloud.

Can You Hear Me Now?

Together with such keywords as music, link, odor, darkness and the following words by the poet Longfellow:  “I stood on the bridge at midnight,/As the clocks were striking the hour,” Sheehan’s poem about an ordinary bridge offers many opportunities for discussion leading to the creation of written works.

In The Joy Luck Club Amy Tan wrote: “Fate is shaped half by expectation, half by inattention.” Although this poem is written in a humorous manner, the topic is quite serious. Why not challenge students or workshop participants to write about a serious topic in a humorous fashion?
A Salesman from Greer

There once was a salesman from Greer
Who drove with his phone to his ear.
While he talked he was struck
By an oncoming truck
Thus ending his call and career.

The Return of the Cookie Monster

“The three-year-old who lies about taking a cookie really isn’t a liar after all.
He simply can’t control his impulses”     – Cathy Rindner Templesman

Not Me!

You think I stole the cookies?
You think I climbed onto the
Reached for the cookie jar,
And took it down?

You think I ate the cookies?
That one by one I broke them in
Chewed them up, and swallowed
While no one was looking?

You don’t believe me when I say,
“My sister stole the cookies
 And ate them
And didn’t even share with me”?
How could that be?
Why can’t you see
It had to be my sister?
And not me!

After reading and discussing “Not Me!” students and other writers will respond enthusiastically to such questions as: “Has one of your siblings ever accused you of something you didn’t do,” and “If so, has that person ever reported you to your parents?” As a follow-up activity, they may write poems or compositions in which they discuss the event humorously.

Pumpkins Aren't Just For Thanksgiving

Using 14 lines of 10 syllables each and a set rhyme scheme, this playful poem tackles a whimsical subject in the rigid, formal structure of a Shakespearean sonnet. After discussing the meter, rhyme scheme, and quatrains in  the sonnet, students may choose to write their own humorous sonnets based on subjects of their choice.

The Pumpkin Sonnet
(with apologies to Shakespeare)

Some say that cherries are the best to eat,
And some prefer potatoes that are fried,
But I think cherries are by far too sweet,
And fried potatoes I just can’t abide.

Then there are those who claim zucchini’s best
And those who like tomatoes as a treat.
But I don’t think zucchinis pass the test
And ’maters aren’t the best I think to eat.

Still others do prefer a plate of peas
Or plantains fried and salted to their taste.
But peas my palate surely do not please
And plantains I discard with timely haste.

So, pumpkins are the ones that catch my eye
Because I like to eat them in a pie.


A Salesman from Greer by Betty Bowman, Not Me! By Brian Guido and The Pumpkin Sonnet by Cole Kim originally appeared in Reflect and Write: 300 Poems and Photographs to Inspire Writing by Hank Kellner and Elizabeth Guy (Prufrock Press, 2013). See sample pages and buy now at: Photos by the author.

Student Teachers' Lounge:
For The Things They Don't Teach You In College
The LEAST Approach to Classroom Discipline
 (part 8)

By Robert R. Carkhuff, Scholar-in-Residence
National Foundation for the Improvement of Education
National Education Association

Copyright 1981 - The Michigan Project and Northern Michigan University
Used with permission
The LEAST approach to classroom discipline involves four options that allow the teacher to respond in a carefully measured way to different in-class situations and one “must” component that provides continuity of teacher behavior and the knowledge needed to select the appropriate option(s):
Option #1 – Leave things alone
Option #2 – End the action indirectly
Option #3 – Attend more fully
Option #4 – Spell out directions
A MUST! #5 – Track student progress

Option #5 – Track Student Progress

When Should You Spell Out Directions?

ALWAYS track students' progress.  For one thing, this is an excellent way to let students know that you're paying attention to them.  For another, tracking progress is the only way you can determine whether or not a specific disciplinary approach has been successful.

What Does “Track Student Progress” Mean?

Tracking students' progress means seeing how students are behaving in the minutes, hours, and even days following their involvement in some type of disciplinary situation.  There are four different activities in which the teacher may engage here: evaluating new behavior of the students involved (Are they doing what you asked?", following through on previously outlined consequences (if the students are not doing as you requested); providing positive reinforcement in a direct (e.g., praising more constructive behavior) or indirect manner (e.g., giving the student a chance to lead a discussion); and keeping the "track record."

Why Track Student Progress?

Handling disciplinary problems without checking out the results of your actions is like trying to carry on a conversation without being able to hear the other person's comments: after awhile you can no longer tell whether you're having any constructive impact.  Only by tracking the progress of students who have been involved in the problems can you learn how effective your disciplinary efforts are -- and how they must be modified to achieve better results.

How Can You Track Student Progress?

As indicated above, tracking students' progress may involve the teacher in as many as four different activities.  Let's consider each activity in turn.

Evaluating New Behavior

When you choose to ignore an undesirable behavior, you do so because you're convinced that behavior will disappear without your intervention.  When you act to resolve a problem, you expect the student or students involved to behave more constructively in the future.  In either case, you will need to follow up to make sure the situation really has improved.  The simplest way to do this is to observe and listen to the student and try to answer some questions.  If you either did not act on the original incident or merely stopped the action without giving directions for future behavior, you'll want to answer the question, "Is this student behaving better or worse than he/she was in the problem situation?"  If the student's behavior deteriorates or remains unsatisfactory, you will need to provide some firm guidance.  If the student's behavior has improved, even if only slightly, you will want to positively reinforce such improvement.

If you deal with the original problem by issuing directions you will want to follow up by asking, "Is this student doing what I requested?"  If the problem recurs, you may need to outline some consequences.  If the student is not doing what you requested but is still performing in a generally improved manner, you'll need to decide whether you can live with the new situation.  If the student is doing as you requested, you will certainly want to reinforce this new behavior.

Following Through on Consequences

It is probably inevitable that you will encounter some students who cannot take direction.  Billy is flicking the lights on and off.  You as him to stop and take his seat.  He does, but five minutes later he's at the light switch again.  If you have outlined the consequences of his actions, you will now have to follow through: "Billy, I told you before that you would have to come in after class if you continued flicking the lights.  And now I'm afraid that's just what you'll have  to do."  Here again, it is important to help Billy understand that he is solely responsible for the consequences of his actions.

Positively Reinforcing New Behaviors

It is impossible to underrate the importance of rewarding students for constructive behavior.  We all would like to think that being polite or talking softly, for example, are to be expected and require no reward.  Yet the truth is, all of us have added most to our constructive behaviors when others have rewarded us for doing those things.  (Be honest: Doesn't a student chorus of, "You really look sharp today" encourage us to dress that way again?)

As a general rule, you should find ways to reinforce any student's constructive  behavior in the classroom.  It is particularly important to do so when a student who has been involved in a problem situation develops some better activity.  Only by positively reinforcing the behaviors you want in the classroom can you hope to perpetuate and promote them -- and to avoid that familiar, mumbled criticism, "The teacher never pays any attention to me unless I'm doing something wrong!"

You can positively reinforce students in two ways: directly and indirectly:
a.  Direct reinforcement makes it clear to the student that you are pleased with a specific activity or accomplishment.  A comment on a paper -- "Good Job, Karen!" -- may mean more to the student than the grade itself.  Vocal praise also serves to reinforce behavior directly: "John, that was great.  You were really paying attention!"

b.  Indirect reinforcement is more subtle, often rewarding the student without explicitly linking the reward with the constructive behavior.  Here you might reward a student who has overcome a problem by giving him or her a new responsibility such as leading a discussion or organizing a project.  Or you might simply give the student an extra smile and make sure you call on him or her for comments.

Direct reinforcement will be translated by the student into a principle along the lines of, "If I act like this, I'll get that."  Indirect reinforcement, in contrast, often means, "When I'm doing well, good things tend to happen."

Try to develop a list of as many direct and indirect means of reinforcing students in your class as possible.  A word of caution here: Remember that your reinforcements must be considered positive from the student's point of view.   You may think that collecting papers from the class is a rewarding task, but your post-problem student may see the reward as a "real drag."

Keeping the Track Record

This is a matter of selecting and/or developing a method of "tracking" that is adequate for your decision-making purposes but not so time-consuming that it interferes with normal classroom activities. 

To do a good job of tracking you must know something about all your students.  This means you should plan ahead just as you would plan ahead to teach a lesson.  Keep some type of written record of student behaviors, your responses to these behaviors, and any pertinent information you have gained by "attending more fully."  A full anecdotal commentary on every student would be too time-consuming and therefore counterproductive, but the record does need to be such that you understand what you have recorded. 

To make entries into the record quickly, have a list of all your students ready ahead of time -- in a notebook or card file, for example -- on which you can record events as they happen.  A listing of students by class would be useful.  Devise some coding that would suffice.  For example, in the case of Nikki tripping Sandra, put some coded notes about what happened after both names and the fact that you decided to "leave things alone."  It will become apparent through your "track record" whether this behavior is an isolated event or part of a pattern.  You may even find from the record that Sandra is more the source of the problem than Nikki.  The important thing is that you be able to make your entries quickly and with accuracy. 
Once again, here are a few guidelines to keep in mind as you begin tracking the progress of your students:

When you evaluate students' new behavior, try to avoid the "I'm watching you like a hawk to see if you mess up" approach.  If you get into the habit of observing and listening to each of your students every day, they won't decide that you care only about what's happening when there is trouble.

Do not apply consequences unless and until you have to, but then do it promptly, firmly, and fairly.  Your students have to see that you are consistent, both in following through on consequences and in rewarding constructive behavior.

Reward students frequently with small amounts of praise or similar reinforcements.  It  is a mistake to hold off while waiting for the "perfect" behavior -- you'll never get it.  Instead, make sure students are aware that you are pleased every time they function effectively.


The situation involving racial tensions especially reflects the need for tracking student progress.  Here the effective teacher will exercise Option #1 and leave things alone, since there is little that can be done on a unilateral basis to relieve the tension.  However, the teacher will also track the progress of all students to see if any overt signs of this racial tension are threatening to disrupt the learning process.

Another example: Fred's school has no dress code, and Fred was one of the few students who tended to take advantage of this fact.  At first his homeroom teacher left things alone; there were more important problems to deal with.  Finally, however, Fred showed up in class looking like a walking disaster area and the teacher had to end the action.  He did so by speaking to Fred after class.  It was too late for Fred to change that day, but after responding to Fred's feelings, the teacher outlined quite clearly the minimal quality of dress and hygiene he expected from Fred the next day.  The directions were sufficient.  Fred "cleaned up his act" considerably, showing up the next day in fresh clothes and with a clean face.  The teacher noted this and reinforced Fred's new behavior: "Hey, Fred, now that's what I call sharp!"

No big deal here -- just a simple follow-up-and-reward procedure.  And the teacher will continue to reward Fred mildly for his positive appearance until this new behavior has become a confirmed part of Fred's daily life.

Now It’s Your Turn

You've spent some time noting sample classroom situations in which you might use one or more of the LEAST options.  Now brainstorm some ways in which you would need to follow through in such situations.  What things would you look and listen for?  When would you invoke consequences and why?  And most important, when and how would you reinforce students' new behaviors?  All of these things are critical parts of the one activity which must accompany a teacher's approach to discipline: tracking the progress of students.

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Tech / 21st Century Teaching Time
'STEM' transforms into 'STEAM'

By Mark Benn, Instructional Technologist
Mark Benn is a Technology Integration Coach for VARtek Services, Inc. Having just completed almost 25 years as an educator for Inland Lakes Public Schools, and having received a Masters of Science in Educational Media Design and Technology from Full Sail University in 2010, he now works in a position that supports teachers of K-12 classrooms in the southwest Ohio region that are interested in integrating technology into their learning environments. VARtek Services mission is to be the best provider of managed technology solutions for enhanced learning in the K–12 marketplace. Our website is:

StarTeaching Feature Writer
Why Misreading Social Cues Leads to Acting Out Behavior

By James Lehman
Article courtesy of
Does your child often perceive himself as being right when he’s wrong and wrong when he’s right? Some children have a hard time picking up on other people’s expressions, body language or social cues. These kids are often prone to thinking they’re being disapproved of or disliked when they’re not.

Understand that reading social situations is a skill many kids with behavioral problems lack. Most kids acquire this skill as they grow: they learn to be more careful in situations where they might get in trouble or be hurt. Here’s an example of a child who is having problems learning this skill: let's say that your child is in school and he gets out of his seat, even though it's time for everybody to sit down. The teacher corrects him and tells him to sit down. Most kids have already taken their seats—they’ve learned to read that situation successfully. But when the teacher tells your child to sit down a second time, it triggers anxiety or frustration, which leads to increased behavioral control problems—and a diminished ability to see what’s actually going on. This cycle keeps repeating itself until your child develops a pattern of acting out around his inability to read certain social situations.

The Importance of Knowing How to Read Faces, Voices and Your Environment

Kids learn to get a majority of the information about their current social situation by reading people's facial expressions and body language. This starts when they are infants and continues well on into adulthood. In one study, it was determined that more than 70 percent of a child’s perceptions comes from the looks they see on other people’s faces. Problems emerge for kids who have diagnosed or undiagnosed learning disabilities or behavioral problems that interfere with their developing the ability to accurately read social situations. What that means is that they simply don't develop the skills to read social situations the same way that other kids do. And the misreading of these cues becomes one of the triggers for a lot of the behavioral problems that you see later on. That’s because they're not getting the same information that the other kids are receiving. Don't forget, a learning disability is an immature or malfunctioning part of a child’s neurological system. So the same data goes in, but the same solution—or behavior—does not come out.

For kids who have a hard time reading social situations and who tend to act or behave inappropriately, it’s vital that you work on it with them as a parent. If your child lacks these social skills, the good news is that this problem can be fixed.

7 Ways to Help Your Child Learn How to Read Social Cues

1. Use Photos to Help Kids Learn Emotions:

For Younger Kids and Pre-teens: I recommend that you buy magazines and go through them with your child. As they look at pictures, ask them to tell you what each person is feeling or thinking by the look on their face. You can start to train your child that certain looks are connected to certain emotions. You can start to say things like, “How do you think that person is feeling?” They might say “Happy.” And you can say, “Well, I think they're kind of confused. You see those little lines above their eyes, the way they're squinting like that. People do that when they're trying to understand something.” Teach your child what different looks mean: happy, confused, angry. Practice with them—and when I say practice, I mean repetition and rehearsal. These things have to be ingrained in kids by practicing it as much as possible, because that is the most effective way for them to learn.

For Older Kids: Remember that your child’s willingness to do this exercise is key. If they're not willing to do this with you, then forget about it. If they are, sit down with some teen magazines and talk with them. Have them make up stories about certain faces: show them a picture and ask them to tell you a one-paragraph story about the person. You can also watch a movie together and talk about the characters’ emotions. You can try using a reward in order to get them to work with you on this.

By the way, I'm pretty frank with adolescents when it comes to their inability to read social situations. They don't like that because they don't want you to notice any deficit in their personality at all. The key is to associate your comments with something observable and realistic. I usually say something like this: “Look Tommy, part of your problem is that when you look at a situation, you don't see it the same way that most other kids and adults do. When the other kids look at the teacher and the teacher says ‘sit down,’ they all sit down. What they see is a situation where they have to comply. What you see is a situation where you don't necessarily have to do anything—that it's up to you. But that's not accurate, and that’s why you keep getting into trouble at school.” I follow that up by saying, “Tommy, if you can work on this with me, the misunderstanding like the one you had with your teacher today never needs to happen again.” I make it “right size” for the child, not something so huge he can't tackle, and I put it in terms of his best interests. “You’ll never have to go through this again after you learn how to do it the right way.” To many kids, I think that’s a relief.

2. Use Narratives and Roleplays

For Younger Kids: A good technique for younger kids is to do a narrative with them. You can say, “I'm going to walk into the store and I'm going to talk nicely to the sales lady, because I want her to be helpful. And even though I might get frustrated if I don't get the right size, I'm not going to talk to her like I'm angry; I'm going to talk to her respectfully. In the situations where I want somebody to do something for me, the best thing I can do is be polite and respectful.” And then you role play it with them. You definitely, definitely have to role play—and role model—appropriately with these kids.

For Older Kids and Teens: You can do role plays with teenagers, too. As a therapist, I would have them walk into my office four or five times in a row—just go back out and walk in—to practice how to enter a classroom and sit down. They'd walk in and I'd say, “Hey, Charlie, how's it going?” And if they responded inappropriately to me, I'd say, “Wrong. Go back out.” They’d try again and I'd say, “Hey Charlie, how's it going?” All they needed to do was wave and sit down. If they said anything rude, it was over. They thought this exercise was silly, but they did it. When they got it right, I'd say "Good, that's the way you do it. Why don't you try that in class?"

3. Break It Down into Bite-sized Pieces

Trying to change everything at once is overwhelming for all kids. That’s why I recommend that parents use “discrete learning.” That means you break down whatever you’re working on into individual little pieces. So you can say “Today, when we go into the store I want you to try this skill: smile a lot and say ‘please’ and ‘thank you.’” Limit it to one skill or one situation at a time. Be sure to point out the results later. “Did you see how the waitress smiled back at you and brought you extra fries because you were so polite to her?” Always tell kids when what they are doing is working—it gives them an incentive to keep trying, just like it does with adults.

4. “Let’s Try an Experiment…”

Another thing you can say to your child is, “Let's try an experiment. Why don't you try this today and see what happens.” It could be raising their hand before they talk in school or saying “hello” to the teacher when they walk in to class. You could also say, “What would you like to happen today with this person?” And then role play how they can make that happen. So connect the new behavior to real things in your child’s life, but again, do it discretely, one thing at a time: one person at a time, one situation at a time, one class at a time.

5. Work with Your Kids: Teach and Coach Them Forward

Social skills are one of the areas where the teaching and coaching roles become very important for parents. Remember, when you take on the teaching role, what you’re really doing is helping your child to learn new skills. I think it’s okay to say, “People don't respond well to you when you ______, “—and then fill in the blank. But that has to be coupled with, “Why don't you try _______, instead. Here, let me show you.” Do a little interview with a short discussion. “Well, you know, teachers don't like it when you talk out of turn in class, Maddy. That's why you got detention. What do you think you can do differently the next time you want to talk out of turn? What can you do to remind yourself that you can't do that?” And see what she says. Here’s the key: the next day before school, take your child aside and say, “Remember what you said you were going to do differently today,” and remind her about her plan: “When the teacher says, ‘Time to take out your books,’ you are going to stop talking to Riley and Jenna and you’re going to listen so you don’t get detention again.”

6. Teach Your Child to “Check Out Perceptions”

It’s important for kids to be able to approach adults when they think they’re in trouble. They should be able to say, “Is something wrong” or “Did I do something wrong?” When they think their teacher is frowning at them in class, it’s helpful for them to ask that teacher later, “Did I do something wrong today?” It's hard to do, but it’s a technique that will help them eliminate a lot of misunderstanding. One of the things that my son learned to say in our house was, “Are we okay?” or “Are you okay?” After work I'd be tired most days, and even though I was feeling pretty good, to my son, I looked grumpy and out of sorts. And I taught him to ask me, “Are we okay, or did I do something wrong?” And I'd usually say, “Yeah, I'm doing fine, I'm just a little tired.”

We taught him to read us—and if he didn't know what was going on, he learned to check it out. This is very important for kids. The first place they'll need to learn that skill is with their parents, to say “Is something wrong; are we okay?” And it’s important to answer that question, because they could be reading disapproval on your face when you have a headache or are anxious about work. Kids personalize things, and from that personalization they learn self-talk.

“Self-talk” is how we talk to ourselves all day long. It’s the key to almost everything, and the difference between thinking, “I can do this, it will be OK” vs. “I’m stupid. They all hate me.” Kids can easily take something the wrong way, and then they start talking to themselves about it. In the end, they might end up feeling like they can't make anybody happy. So it's very important for kids to learn how to check things out at home, especially if they have parents who are hard to read. And that’s certainly also true with teachers and other significant people in their lives.

7. For Kids Who Are Bullied

Although I think kids should learn how to deal with bullies and kids who pick on them, I think it’s the school’s responsibility to protect kids while they’re in school. As a parent, if your child is being bullied, do not hesitate to call the school. And if your child has been physically harmed, do not hesitate to call the police. The techniques I’m sharing with you in this article are ways to help your child cope, but that does not relieve the school of the responsibility to make sure everybody is safe.

Learning social skills and social cues is vital for all kids, but it’s especially critical for children who tend to be bullied. The first thing I say to kids who are bullied is “You're not responsible. It's not your fault. If somebody's bullying you, they're the problem.” The best strategy they can use is called “avoid and escape.” You can break it down for them like this: “Avoid the people who bully you and situations where you get bullied. If you find yourself in one, escape as soon as you can. Get out of there. In fact, the best way to deal with any threatening situation is avoid and escape. You avoid the situation: don't sit at that lunch table. Or you escape: Don’t be the victim. Get up and go to another table.”

If there are unavoidable places your child has to go during the day, like the bathroom or locker room, tell them to get in and out as quickly as they can. “You ignore the bullies or you try to avoid them. Get a pass from the teacher and go to the bathroom from class.”

They also need to learn positive self talk. They need to be able to say, “This is not my problem. This is the bully’s problem.” And they need to be able to ask for help. Many, many schools today talk to kids about being bullied. As a parent, you can ask the school if they have a curriculum that teaches kids how to deal with bullies. And if they don't, ask them why. Schools use curriculums schools that take only one day. They teach the kids about bullying: how not to bully, what to do if you're bullied, and how to talk openly about it. As a parent, you should be looking into that kind of curriculum at your child’s school.

I firmly believe that if your child has a problem with reading social situations and social cues, it’s a very solvable problem. In my mind, repetition and rehearsal are the key. How do you deal with the problem of not writing well? You practice writing. Teaching kids social skills is really the same thing: it takes practice, it takes rehearsal, and it takes somebody demonstrating and showing them how to do it.

Don't spend a lot of time on why they can't read social situations well. I would tell kids, “Not being able to read social situations happens to a lot of kids. That's why they're always in trouble. As you become an adult you learn to read this kind of thing better. And some people lag behind. It just doesn't happen to them as quickly as other people, and that’s OK.”

Remember, if your child is behaving inappropriately, whether it’s a result of a missed social cue or not, you still have to hold him accountable, as well as teach the new skill. Once your child knows how they’re expected to behave, you have to make him responsible for operationalizing and implementing it. And if you can't hold him responsible for using it, his chances of learning the new skill go way down. If you don’t enforce it, he won’t have any reason to change. After all, you're asking him to do something different, and “different” is usually perceived as “difficult.” People don't like to change, so you have to stay on top of it and make sure your child is putting his learning into practice. The best reward for your child is that he will start to have more success with people in his life immediately—and that will translate into better behavior all the way around.

James Lehman, MSW was a renowned child behavioral therapist who worked with defiant and struggling teens and children for three decades. He created the Total Transformation Program to help people parent more effectively. James' foremost goal was to help kids and to "empower parents."

New Teachers' Niche:
A Place for Teachers New To The Craft
Running Project Centers Effectively

Project centers or stations can be a great way to have your students working independently (or as a team) on a number of assignments.  These centers have been used successfully by elementary teachers, gym teachers, and coaches for many years. And this technique can be utilized by middle school teachers too. In fact, writer's workshops and science labs are really not too far from this style of teaching.  Basically you divide up your students into several groups, and each group of students moves from one project area to the next, doing work at each station.
Some teachers have specific centers or stations they use each week during the year. They have certain skills they want their students to practice through the year. Some stations may change or be adjusted as the year goes on. Other teachers use groups as needed in particular units or for extra practice. These are geared toward specific objectives in a unit or they may be determined by testing and assessment of students progress (or lack of progress).

Dividing up the students will be determined in large part by the resources you have to work with and the types of assignments you want the kids to do. For example, in my class I want my students using technology in real-life applications. Thus, we need every computer put to use every hour. Now, we're quite lucky to have a bank of eMacs updated with new software right in our room. Because of this, we have students working on projects like PowerPoints, web pages, newsletters, and the like. Each week the students have a large project similar to these to work on. Sometimes these are individual activities, and other times the group of students must work together.  This is one example of the resources in your room dictating the group size; there are five computers, so I can have groups of five students.

There are a number of ways to designate your groups. You might have preformed groups, either choosing them yourself or allowing students to have input. One teacher at our school has the kids write down one student they work well with and one student they cannot work with at all. She then uses this to form groups. Another teacher uses his knowledge of the students' leadership skills and academic performance to form groups. In my room, students are already at tables, and each table is labeled with a different symbol (star, heart, square, triangle, & circle). This makes it easy for me to just write the symbol on the board next to each group, and I can rewrite them each day. One teacher in our elementary has a permanent chart on his wall and uses velcro (you could use magnets if you have a white board) to affix small signs to designate each group. Then changing groups each day is quick and easy.

You have to be ready for and expect a certain noise level when your students are in groups or project centers. But as always, there is 'productive' noise and then there is 'off-task' talking. Keep yourself free to move about the room, monitoring students and checking their progress.

Monitor the groups carefully and keep the kids on task, especially the first few times you try centers. Once your students understand your expectations, you'll be freed up more to help individually. I like to include normal classroom activities and assignments as part of the centers. After we've practiced this skill or activity and the students know how to do it, they are more likely to successfully accomplish a similar task in group.

This is one great advantage of the groups - you can move from group to group working with kids. Each project center has an activity for the kids so they are on task. And since these are much smaller groups of students, you can work closely with them, discussing and answering questions. And you can check for understanding faster, easier, and more thoroughly.

Choose meaningful activities at each station. In our English class, students need at least one reading and one writing activity each week. These may take various forms, and I try to mix it up a bit.  Then I also try to make use of the technology with computer projects.  Each activity has meaning and many provide good practice on skills.

After a few rotations, the students get the hang of it. I'll give them a two-minute warning, and we put a 30 second timer on the switch between groups. This keeps them hopping and eliminates the down time. They do get much faster the more you practice.

My students have responded favorably to the groups. They enjoy switching gears once or twice each class period. This fits with their attention spans too. I like it too, because the kids are split up around the room and they're on task. And I'm able to interact more closely with the students. It frees me up to walk around and work individually or conference with a student if I wish. I'm not sure this is the only way to teach effectively, but it is an excellent teaching tool to keep in your toolbox.

Everyone's Free To Wear Sunscreen
by Mary Schmich

Themes on Life

How many of these do you do everyday that you can give thanks for?
Written by Mary Schmich and published in the Chicago Tribune as a column in 1997.

Ladies and Gentlemen of the class of ’99.

If I could offer you only one tip for the future, sunscreen would be  it. The long term benefits of sunscreen have been proved by  scientists whereas the rest of my advice has no basis more reliable  than my own meandering experience…

I will dispense this advice now.

Enjoy the power and beauty of your youth; oh nevermind; you will not understand the power and beauty of your youth until they have faded. But trust me, in 20 years you’ll look back at photos of yourself and recall in a way you can’t grasp now how much possibility lay before you and how fabulous you really looked….You’re not as fat as you imagine.

Don’t worry about the future; or worry, but know that worrying is as effective as trying to solve an algebra equation by chewing bubblegum. The real troubles in your life are apt to be things that never crossed your worried mind; the kind that blindside you at 4pm on some idle Tuesday.

Do one thing everyday that scares you.


Don’t be reckless with other people’s hearts, don’t put up with people who are reckless with yours.


Don’t waste your time on jealousy; sometimes you’re ahead, sometimes you’re behind…the race is long, and in the end, it’s only with yourself.

Remember the compliments you receive, forget the insults; if you succeed in doing this, tell me how.

Keep your old love letters, throw away your old bank statements.


Don’t feel guilty if you don’t know what you want to do with your life…the most interesting people I know didn’t know at 22 what they wanted to do with their lives, some of the most interesting 40 year olds I know still don’t.

Get plenty of calcium.

Be kind to your knees, you’ll miss them when they’re gone.

Maybe you’ll marry, maybe you won’t, maybe you’ll have children, maybe you won’t, maybe you’ll divorce at 40, maybe you’ll dance the funky chicken on your 75th wedding anniversary…what ever you do, don’t congratulate yourself too much or berate yourself either – your choices are half chance, so are everybody else’s. Enjoy your body,
use it every way you can…don’t be afraid of it, or what other people think of it, it’s the greatest instrument you’ll ever own.

Dance…even if you have nowhere to do it but in your own living room.

Read the directions, even if you don’t follow them.

Do NOT read beauty magazines, they will only make you feel ugly.

Get to know your parents, you never know when they’ll be gone for good.

Be nice to your siblings; they are the best link to your past and the people most likely to stick with you in the future.

Understand that friends come and go, but for the precious few you should hold on.

Work hard to bridge the gaps in geography and lifestyle because the older you get, the more you need the people you knew when you were young.

Live in New York City once, but leave before it makes you hard; live in Northern California once, but leave before it makes you soft.


Accept certain inalienable truths, prices will rise, politicians will philander, you too will get old, and when you do you’ll fantasize that when you were young prices were reasonable, politicians were noble and children respected their elders.

Respect your elders.

Don’t expect anyone else to support you. Maybe you have a trust fund, maybe you have a wealthy spouse; but you never know when either one might run out.

Don’t mess too much with your hair, or by the time you're 40, it will look 85.

Be careful whose advice you buy, but, be patient with those who supply it. Advice is a form of nostalgia, dispensing it is a way of fishing the past from the disposal, wiping it off, painting over the ugly parts and recycling it for more than it’s worth.

But trust me on the sunscreen…

What's New @ StarTeaching?
Welcome to our November issue of Features for Teachers!  This month, our web partner Tony Vincent resources for syncing various presentations, Hank Kellner shares a trio of poems and photos, and Mark Benn shares an awesome article transforming 'STEM' into 'STEAM'.  We continue our series on classroom discipline and start up another on educational neuroscience. And we share new articles on social cues and project stations.

We are also continuing our new monthly column based on resources for implementing the Common Core State Standards.

Look for more science activities from Helen De la Maza, and the Article of the Week from Frank Holes, Jr.  Be sure to join up on our FACEBOOK page for StarTeaching for more reader interaction as well as constant, updated streams of educational information. 

Of course, you should also check our website for a number of updates and re-designed pages.  We're starting to collect quite a few articles from educational experts all over the world.  See these archives on our website: