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Ideas and Features For New Teachers 
and Veterans with Class

Volume 3, Issue 2

January 2007


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Teaching Economics at the Middle School Level

by Marian Holes, 
Middle School Teacher

Economics in the Middle School seems such a difficult subject to me. It’s part of our content standards and tested on the high stakes proficiency test in the 8th grade so it truly must be presented to students. Yet, it’s not well covered in our typical M.S. history text or for that matter, in my own college curriculum. I find myself searching constantly for ways and means to present Economics to my 8th graders. 

Concrete examples and hands-on activities must be part of the economics curriculum. Vocabulary also must be learned in terms of a middle school students’ world. And, give our young consumers credit. They know quite a lot about money, choices and the way a free market system works. They just don’t know they know it because of the vocabulary! That’s our job as educators to take what they recognize, help them translate it into accepted econ vocab and principles, and apply it to economics to situations they observe or experience in society. Now that TRULY sounds like a daunting task!! 

I choose to start with vocabulary. My students like to hear “things” to do as we started with a workbook. As we read through our economics workbook, all the italicized (economic) words went on the word bank list, with definitions, of course. "That’s our job as educators to take what they recognize, help them translate it into accepted econ vocab and principles, and apply it."

The word bank eventually evolved into flashcards. Now it’s an activity kids really like. We stay each other, review or quiz each other, all the while sorting flashcards from the “don’t know” to the “know that” piles. Flash card review is an activity before a test, when they finish something and are waiting for everyone else to get done, or as a fun game to end the class period. Using the vocab word in their own sentence checks for understanding. Can they use their sentence, deleting the econ vocab word, and have their partner figure out the word? Can they give an example for each word? Practice as a single proprietor, in a partnership, or in a (class-size) corporation. 

Using the vocabulary of economics in as important. When a student comes to class and needs a pencil, stop class for a couple of minutes and do a needs (demand) supply demonstration. Throw in a little advertising (my pencil writes the BEST answers), stir up some some competition (who else has a pencil to lend), set up a price (2 shoe deposit) and watch for supply and demand. Kids love it; it makes what they’re learning real. They recognize a surplus brings price down; a shortage could drive prices up, and supply or demand everywhere. 

Advertising is another great vocab word to demonstrate. Choose a product, and have partners do an ad. How will they convince customers their vision is best? Point out responsibility of the consumers from fraudulent advertising or unsafe products. How was the ad firm a consumer itself as well as a producer of a service? What is the difference between goods and services? Can advertising be proprietor, partner, or corporation? 

Proprietors, or better yet, partnerships could randomly select a flashcard and develop their own demonstration of its meaning. What a great opening set for today’s lesson if a couple of students shared the vocab definition by acting it out. Try partners determining profit, or a corporation giving dividends to first preferred stockholders, then general stockholders. Demonstrate limited vs. unlimited liability. Let everyone have an opportunity to act out vocab words. 

What a difference it makes when your students focus on the concepts and not puzzle over your words when you explain Economics. Start with vocab and help students make it their own! 


Be sure to check out our website for more great information, tips, and techniques for new teachers, student-teachers, and interns in teacher prep programs. Also be sure to check out our Who-I-Want-To-Be teacher plan for preparing yourself to enter the educational profession.  Simply click the following link: http://www.starteaching.com/free.htm

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Making the Most of Math Time with Young Learners

By Christina Riggan

Ask me what I loved teaching the most, besides teaching reading and English to learners, and math and science would be a close second. Nothing delights young learners as much as fun experiments and active learning by completing experiments or by using real materials. Nothing delighted me more than seeing excited learners.

When preparing for lesson planning for young learners, there are a few considerations to keep in mind. These are gleaned from sites at the U. S. Dept. of Education and recommendations from The National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (that has recently published new principles and standards that begins with pre-kindergarten.), and various research articles. (1)

Mathematics for young children is organized by content into five main categories. (1)

1.     number and operations

2.     geometry

3.     measurement

4.     data analysis and probability

5.     algebra

Solid learning of mathematics at this level provides the foundational concepts for more formal and abstract concepts later. A Constructivist approach to learning with an emphasis on problem-solving is an essential aspect of this learning process for children.

“Constructivism emphasizes thinking, understanding, reasoning, and applying knowledge while not neglecting basic skills. Constructivist teaching is guided by five basic elements:

1. activating prior knowledge
2.  acquiring knowledge
3. understanding knowledge
4. using knowledge
5. reflecting on knowledge.”   (2)


What I have found to be true:  

1.  Children begin learning a new concept with their personal set of prior knowledge.

2.  Children must understand the relevance of the concept to their lives.

3.  Their solutions must be respected just as readily as the teacher’s way of solving the problems (If incorrect, respectful guided thinking to correct answers.) 

4.  Students must have access to real materials to apply concepts.

5.  Students must have time to collaborate together and discuss solving problems and then reflect upon the results. 

The Ministry of Education in Ontario offers one of the best articles I’ve found for reading about concepts regarding: “Shared, independent, and guided mathematics “and addresses one of the most important but often neglected aspects of learning mathematics--the assessment of learning. It is a thorough article that includes a section that lists each subcategory, suggested materials, and math concepts addressed. The article includes a comprehensive view of the balanced program, the role of the teacher, the classroom environment conducive to learning mathematics. (3)

These sites will be listed at the end of the article and I would suggest that the Ontario article is well worth printing and reading.

I will share what worked for me.  

1.  Collaborate with colleagues to design an instructional framework to incorporate all the state standards within the year’s instruction. Allow plenty of time for learning and mastery, as well as, checkpoints during the year to keep these skills active.

2.  Design a mastery assessment for major concepts and a plan for learners who need more time to catch on, or for relearning the concept- consider  reteaching,  peer teaching, small group instruction, possibly changing teachers to group students for teaching different concepts.  

3.  Assess your materials –physical manipulatives-prior to the year’s start and order needed materials for that instructional unit. Failing being able to do that, keep a list of what is needed, or what would have been helpful for next year and ask your administrator, the PTA, or your math science coordinator to help you find these materials to teach with. If your district has a learning center/media center, they might be able to help you acquire or borrow some materials. If your cohorts will share, compiling boxes with shared materials for each unit helps a great deal.

4.  Design your teaching plan to include math throughout the day as a discussion topic, day, date, time, season, schedules, - help students realize that math is all around them and essential for everyday functioning.

5.  Plan a dedicated instructional time to mathematics every day. Consider it vital and do not skip it. Allow for formal instructional time, guided practice time and independent time.

6.  Plan for collaborative problems-solving and teach students to work   together and help each other find solutions.

7.  Conclude your lessons with what “students learned today”- make them back it up with statements that substantiate the learning- not “I had fun. I learned about numbers.”

Individual journaling in a math journal helps document what each student has learned.  I would preface this with a general class discussion and ask for a standard. If they can’t write yet, the teacher can scribe on poster paper, and post it in the room. A wall filled with learning posters is inspiring.

i.e. List three new ideas for you about geometry.   Tell me how this new learning helps you see geometric shapes in an environment: home, school, community, 

8. I have found that the more real and physical the materials for learning  the more quickly and concretely students master the concept. Also, demonstrate how to correctly use the math materials. I have  witnessed fourth graders who cannot measure with a ruler because they were not taught where to start on the ruler.

 9.     Most students bring their parents’ attitudes about math to school and add it to the teacher’s attitude at school. If the teacher sees math as  boring drudgery, and tedious, so will the students.  So be excited, cheerful, and happy to be teaching math. It should be fun for you too.

10.      Plan for success. This does not have to mean that the tasks are so easy  that it is not a challenge, but most students should have fun, delight in learning, and be successful. If this is not happening, reevaluate what the teacher is doing.

Teachers may contribute to this by long, boring instructional sessions, little to no manipulatives, little planning for interactive exercises, and tedious paper and pencil drills or worksheets. In addition, if teachers jump right into a concept- say- double digit addition and subtraction- before assessing knowledge of place value- it will prove frustrating for all and deadly dull because students will not be successful.

In addition, teachers need to have an understanding of mathematics, how children learn, and how to teach children mathematics. An excellent article regarding this essential element of “mathematical knowledge for teaching” is in an article in Education Week by Debra Viadero. Please see the reference at the end of the article. In this article the researchers assert that this knowledge matters more for student success and achievement than how much time teachers spent teaching math, whether the teachers were certified in math, or whether the teachers had taken courses in teaching math or professional development. Pretty powerful statements, and worth a read.  (4)

Finally, the U.S. Dept of Education has an excellent site for mathematics and guides you to sites with helpful teaching ideas for students on almost every math subject and does a good job integrating math and science.

I hope you realize the value of mathematics instruction and determine that each day will be devoted to making your students masters of math.


 1.  “Mathematics Standards for Pre-Kindergarten through Grade 2”
By Kathy Richardson
ERIC Clearing House on Elementary and Early Childhood Education
Eric Digest October 2000- EDO-PS-00-11

2.  “Constructivist Teaching Practices” by Sandra J. Moussiaux and Dr. John T.
Norman, Wayne State University

3. “The Report of the Expert Panel on Early Math” in Ontario , 2003
By the Ministry of Education
“The Teaching and Learning of Mathematics”

4.  “Teaching Mathematics Requires Special Set of Skills” by Debra Viadero
Education Week October 12, 2004

U.S. Dept of Education : Federal Resources For Educational Excellence

Click on math

Christina Riggan, a twenty-five year veteran of public schools, and a former teacher in a primary (K-5) school in Austin, Texas, has worked with a variety of grade levels from Kindergarten to adults. Her certifications include Kindergarten, Reading, ESOL, Language Arts, and she holds a Principal's Certificate and a Master's Degree in Curriculum and Instruction. She is currently a full-time writer, her chosen area of focus in writing books (fiction and nonfiction) and articles that might help parents, teachers, and students. She is married to David, her husband of thirty-eight years, has two happily married sons, and four wonderful grandchildren. 

StarTeaching Featured Writer

You can contact Christina at criggan3@sbcglobal.net  or order her book in ebook form or in paperback on her book's website www.howtobeagreatteacher.com


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Building Positive Relationships 
Around Your School:
Custodial Staff

This SPECIAL REPORT is from a series of articles on building positive relationships in your school. They include building relationships with your office secretaries, janitors, librarians, and cooks.  All of these people are vital to the running of the school, and its in your best interest to 'get in good' with them as soon as possible. 

This is the second section, dealing with your custodial staff. Your school custodians and maintenance department are an important part of the overall functionality of your building. These are people who you should get to know immediately, because they can provide you with a tremendous array of services.

The custodial and maintenance staff isn’t just around to sweep the floors, empty the wastebaskets, and clean up messes. They play an important role in the school environment. These people are not only essential to keeping the building and grounds in top shape and presentable to the public, but also keep the various physical systems in the school in working order. These may include heating & cooling, water, plumbing, and electrical systems, and sometimes even technology. They may also put up walls, plow the snow, line the football field, repair the drinking fountains, and put together classroom furniture.

Your custodial and maintenance workers can help you in a number of ways. They certainly can keep your room and hallway in tip-top shape. Many times, custodians will pick up and collect pencils and pens from the halls, and will drop them off in your room if they know you need them. 

And they will often help you out if you have requests. In many schools, their contracts and union will dictate what physical jobs can be done by school personnel other than maintenance/custodial workers. So if you’re having trouble with your room heating unit, your clock is not synchronized with those around the school, or your door is squeaky, you can usually get prompt service if they know you and know you appreciate their time and efforts. If you are well liked by the maintenance staff, your requests may often move up the priority list. And if you want those extra ‘little touches’, such as a shelf put up in your room, or document frames mounted on your walls, such favors are often the reward of your time spent building positive relationships.

Appreciation for their work can be as simple as an honest and genuine ‘thank you’. Often times, including the custodial and maintenance staff in get-togethers and school celebrations goes a long way. Some groups will purchase donuts or treats for the custodians during the year. Other groups put on dinners or cook-outs. If your students bring in any extra treats, be sure to send some down to the maintenance staff.

If you take the time to get to know these hard-working people, and build positive relationships with them, you will definitely reap the rewards. Not only will you have handy people willing to help you out when you need it, but you may even find pleasant, friendly faces in and around your school.

Be sure to check out our website for more great information, tips, and techniques for new teachers, student-teachers, and interns in teacher prep programs. Also be sure to check out our Who-I-Want-To-Be teacher plan for preparing yourself to enter the educational profession.  Simply click the following link: http://www.starteaching.com/free.htm

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Book of the Month Club:

6 + 1 Traits of Writing:
The Complete Guide

By Ruth Culham 

Our January BOOK OF THE MONTH award is presented to 6 + 1 Traits of Writing by Ruth Culham.  This is an excellent resource for teaching writing in all content areas.

This is a must for your resource tool box at home and at school.  The 6+1 Traits model, developed by Ruth Culham, offers easy to follow tips, activities, and the basic qualities of good writing.  Used by teachers and schools all over the country, Culham's book displays how to follow the writing process, how to immerse your students in voice and fluency, and how to edit and revise effectively.  It is the handbook for teaching writing at any level and in any classroom. 

"The traits help us identify what needs work, letting us break down steps in the process - revision and editing - so we can teach students what makes writing work effectively.  When student learn the tools help them unlock the mysteries of revision and editing, they take ownership of the writing process...When you teach the traits, you're teaching the criteria that define quality performance. "  (P.21)

You can order a copy of 6+1 Traits of Writing by clicking the link to our affiliate, Amazon.com 

Have you read 6 + 1 Traits of Writing?  Do you have comments you’d like to share with our readers about this book? Email your responses to editor@starteaching.com. Please type in BOOK CLUB READER RESPONSE in the subject line. Responses will be posted on our website with the StarTeaching Book of the Month Club.  All responses will be proofread, and may be edited for content and space before publication.

We welcome articles and book reviews from our readers.  Do you have a great educational book to share with our readers?  Write up a summary, along with the pertinent book information, and email it to us at  editor@starteaching.com. Please type in BOOK CLUB SUMMARY in the subject line.  Book reviews will be proofread and may be edited for content or space.



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"Monkey's Trap"

Eric Butterworth
The Universe is Calling

Themes on Life

Are you a trapped individual?

An interesting system has been used for capturing monkeys in the jungles of Africa. The goal is to take the monkeys alive and unharmed for shipment to zoos of America. In an extremely humane way, the captors use heavy bottles, with long narrow necks, into which they deposit a handful of sweet-smelling nuts. The bottles are dropped on the jungle floor, and the captors return the next morning to find a monkey trapped next to each bottle.

How is it accomplished? The monkey, attracted by the aromatic scent of the nuts, comes to investigate the bottle, the nuts, and is trapped. The monkey can't take its hand out of the bottle as long it's holding the nuts, but it is unwilling to open its hand and let them go. The bottle is too heavy to carry away, so the monkey is trapped.

We may smile at the foolish monkeys, but how often we hold to our problems so tenaciously as the monkeys hold to the nuts in the bottle. And so, figuratively we carry our bottle around with us, feeling very sorry for ourselves, and begging for sympathy from others, even from God.

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In This Week's Issue 
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Teaching Economics at the 
Middle School Level

Elementary Features:
Making the Most of Math Time 
with Young Learners

New Teacher's Niche:
Building Positive Relationships 
with Custodial Staff

Book of the Month

Themes on Life:  
"Monkey's Trap"

10 Days of Writing Prompts

Winter Book Sale for Teachers

Website of the Month Club


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What is your favorite movie?  Why is it your favorite?


Do you prefer watching movies at the theater or at home on your TV?  Why?   


What makes a great movie?  Describe at least three aspects and give an example for each..


Describe FIVE reasons why Americans enjoy watching movies. 


Write down 10 facts we learned in class this week. 


Why do many students find math a difficult subject?


Make a list of TEN ways you can use math in your daily life.  


Describe THREE jobs that use math on a daily basis.


What are FIVE ways you can be better in math?  


Write a short story describing something we learned in class this week.  


10 days of writing prompts


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Coming Soon:

Designing and Running a Medieval Fair

Technology & Teaching: Exactly What Are Our Kids Learning?

Discipline Procedures in School

Teaching the Writing Process


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