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Ideas and Features For New Teachers 
and Veterans with Class

Volume 3, Issue 13

July 2007


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Paragraph Organizer

Designing and Running a Medieval Fair
(part 1)

By Frank Holes, Jr.
Middle School Teacher

Running large events, such as a medieval fair, at school is often too much for most teachers to attempt. However, with careful planning, and some well directed help, you can orchestrate a successful, educational, and memorable experience for your students.

The key to any event is your personnel. As a leader, choosing your team is the single most important piece of the puzzle. If you are already working on a teaching team, you have a great start. But you will undoubtedly need to enlist the help of others to pull off the event.

The medieval fair concept (at our seventh grade level) was born several years ago. In an effort to make better connections between our classes, we as a teaching team decided we should have projects involving two (or more) subject areas. As we became better at working together and team teaching, our projects became more and more involved and elaborate. Papers became stories, which became presentations, which then grew into multi-class hands-on experiences.

We used our school social studies curriculum as a starting point for projects. The first marking period of the year we connected to Africa. The second marking period was spent studying Asia. And our third marking period was spent in historical Europe.

The medieval European time period lent itself to creative ideas in all classes. We tried to make English-class connections with fairy tales and legends from various European cultures. Science and math classes studied explorers, inventors, and inventions. We also had the students write children's storybooks describing a drop of water traveling through the water cycle (it of course was set in the middle ages and included medieval details.)

After a few years of perfecting our projects, we started thinking of creating culminating activities to wrap up the unit for our students. During the study of Africa, we create travel brochures and have small groups of students try to promote and 'sell' an African region as a great place to visit, work, or live. The Asia unit culminates with the presentation of a student-created magazine which includes articles on Asian stories, countries, and natural disasters (we even recently did this project during our Europe study, except our magazines were written on parchment or in monk manuscript form).

The idea for a Medieval Fair was first brought up by our art teacher. She has been contributing art projects to all of our units through the years. She had our students creating Adrinka cloths, and masks for the Africa unit. And our students wrote calligraphy-styled Japanese letters for haiku poems, Mandala paintings, and paint stamps (the fish stamp was quite interesting) during our study of Asia.

You'll want to develop your activity event around your interests and your particular curriculum. If you and your students are excited about the topic and really interested in it, you'll make it fun and fantastic! The biggest key is to have fun!

Start small. Our first Medieval Fair was a fun time, but lacked enough activities to keep the students occupied. We as teachers had to run the various activities, as well as monitor the older students who were helping to run booths. It made for a fun, yet hectic afternoon. Looking back, there was far too much 'administration and orchestration' for us to do BESIDES the running of events. We needed more planning and prep time, and more help.

Reflection was important. We met as a team right after the event and discussed what went well and what needed to be improved. Items we needed to fix are shown in the list below. We also set up meetings through the year to start working on our list. Planning ahead of time proved to be the best adjustment we could have made.

* more hands-on activities for the kids
* free up the teachers to facilitate
* sponge activities for extra time
* match boy-only activities with girl-only activities at the same station
* more and better prep time on decorations
* set up the gym & activity areas at least a day early
* coordinate a 'true' medieval lunch menu that our school cooks could prepare
* bring in outside expertise
* better preparation of knowledge base

However, we were gung-ho about the event, and we enjoyed it so much that we decided to start our planning much earlier. We also knew we needed some outside help. We wanted (and needed) to be free to move about the event, providing help and assistance, and monitoring the students. And we couldn't do that if we were tied down with running our own activities or groups.

We also experienced a tremendous influx of students (and teachers) from many other grade levels who wanted to see what we were doing. This, however, had to change, as we spent too much time chasing off other students.

Look for more in the next segment!


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There are six modules designed to test the basic ability of an individual in terms of Memory & Concentration. Needless to say this is the most important basic skill for not just to survive but also to thrive in this competitive environment. Each of the six modules tests the six variants of Memory & Concentration in an individual, namely: 1. Picture recognition
2. Paired Associate Learning
3. Immediate Recall
4. Serial processing
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6. Recognition and Recall
Each of these modules runs at three different levels, from easy to difficult.

At each level, the individual's performance is depicted as Scores Obtained.

A feedback has been built into the software for all these 18 levels depending on the marks one scores during the test. 

Each individual can assess his/her performance any time by clicking on "history", which gives complete details of date and time of taking the tests, marks scored each time and even time taken to do the test. This builds the confidence level and encourages more participation to eventually culminate in improvement and enhancement of memory and concentration.

Essentially, this software is a SELF AWARENESS tool that surely motivates the individual to realize one's capability and seek or be receptive for improvement. Also, if repeatedly done over a period of time works as Training tool to enhance their capability.
This software package is specifically designed to help young children to learn basic skills that will help them in school.  Continued follow-up will give these young learners success as they mature.  

Three versions of the software exist: Individual Software on either CD or Online,   Family Version Software, and an Institutional Software package.

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iPods Are For Education

By Mark Benn
Middle School Teacher

Mark's latest articles are about changing our classrooms and teaching styles to reflect the latest changes in technology.  

So you think an iPod is just a great music player. Think again. The iPod is becoming another tool that makes learning exciting and rewarding for todayís digital students. An iPod can be used for audio, video, photos, and podcasting. This shouldnít surprise you. But how about lesson plans, notes, reference material, quizzes, portable harddrive, interactive content, and RSS feeds?

Letís take a closer look at the many uses mentioned in the first list. When we talk audio it isnít just music. There are audio clips of famous historical speeches, animal sounds, Children's Story Podcast where well known stories are read, poetry, and many classical books available to listen to. In video, you can choose any united streaming video and have it converted into a movie thatís viewable on an iPod. Now students would be able to review a movie that the whole class had already seen. You can also download videos from Teachertube.com and Youtube.com, convert them, and use them on iPods. There are many free educational podcasts available through the iTunes Store for students to listen to.

Now, how about the surprises that were mentioned above. Imagine, if you will, a student looking up a word in their iPod dictionary, or reading a classic ebook, or looking up information in their encyclopedia. All of this is possible, and more, when it comes to reference material.

Apple has collected lesson plans that are designed for iPod use. You can also take notes and view them on your iPod. As a teacher, you could write up your own notes for the students and sync them to their iPods.

Quizzes can be taken on the iPods. Apple has created an application called iQuiz where you can make your own quizzes that students can take. Also, QuizzlerPro.com has a quiz maker that can be used for iPods, computers, or handhelds. These applications do cost, but are available.

Interactive content is another tool that excites students. Now you can go to www.mogopop.com, and create your own material that can be downloaded onto an iPod. The best part about it is that it is free. There is also content already there that can be downloaded.

At this point, I would hope you can see just some of the many possibilities that an iPod has for use within a classroom. A great place to begin your research on educational uses for the iPod is at Tony Vincentís site located on the web at: www.learninginhand.com. Then click on iPods and be supercharged.

Mark Benn earned his B.S. from Western Michigan University and his Elementary Certification from Northern Michigan University.  He is a 20 year teaching veteran of 5th and 6th grade students at Inland Lakes Middle School in Indian River, MI.  He is currently working on Masters of Integration of Technology from Walden University. 

Prior to teaching, Mark spent 11 years as Department Manager for Sears, Roebuck and Co. dealing with emerging technologies.  He has been married to his wife Bonnietta for 32 years with one daughter and two sons.  In the summers, Mark works for Mackinac State Historic Parks in the as a historical interpreter.

StarTeaching Featured Writer

Mark Benn is a leading expert in using technology in the classroom.  
You can feel free to contact him on email at mbenn@inlandlakes.org or at his blogsite:  http://www.furtrader.blogspot.com/ 


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Learning Pods and Classroom Setup

Setting up small learning groups, or communities, in your class requires planning, not just in your instruction, but also in the physical space of your room.

 When I decided to change my teaching style from a teacher-centered, lecture format to a student-centered, project format, I had to seriously contemplate how my room and its instructional resources were arranged.

I knew I wanted to set up student 'pods' of four to five students.  Four makes a great sized group, but five is starting to push it. These sizes also fit with the number of computers I had available. Each pod needed one computer for the group to use, as well as workspace, achieved by placing desks next to each other forming a table.

I placed the pods at the outside walls for a few important reasons.  First was to get some elbow space between students and groups. I wanted to eliminate interaction between groups so students could concentrate on their own group's activities. Secondly, this arrangement allowed me to monitor the computers at all times. Third, this setup created better traffic flow through the room, since students would often need to move back and forth to the central resource center.

I've set up the resource and presentation center in the center of the classroom. This is where I keep student file cabinets (the short types), dictionaries & thesauri, school supplies, and art-type supplies. I've combined this storage area with my podium, overhead projector, and the other tech equipment like vcr or dvd players, digital projectors, and the like. This allows for easy student access to all resources, and I can effectively use all of my wall space when I need to present material.

The 'traditional' classroom and the 'student-centered' classroom are very different both in philosophy and in the application. The basics of setting up your classroom to reflect the learning environment you've envisioned must be thought through carefully before jumping right into the pods.

Having previously taught in the traditional manner, I've found the pod setup, or student-centered class, to be both a challenge and a benefit to student learning. Now that I've had a chance to compare them, my students and I prefer the pods.

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Website of the Month:


Our July WEBSITE OF THE MONTH award is presented to, KidsSpell, a site for students to practice their spelling skills. 

KidsSpell is a site where students can practice their spelling skills in an interactive computer environment.  There are eight different games and modules students can use.   Kids can use any one of the 350 lists already generated on the website, or enter their own list of words.  Teachers can also create lists for their classes to use and practice. 

This is a user-friendly website with quick links to the various parts of the site.  It is a great resource for writing teachers in all grade levels.  

Check this site out, you'll be glad you did.  Simply click the link below:



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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"Who Packed Your Parachute?"
Author Unknown

Themes on Life

Do we recognize those people who truly help us out every day?

Charles Plumb was a US Navy jet pilot in Vietnam. After 75 combat missions, his plane was destroyed by a surface-to-air missile. Plumb ejected and parachuted into enemy hands. He was captured and spent 6 years in a communist Vietnamese prison. He survived the ordeal and now lectures on lessons learned from that experience!

One day, when Plumb and his wife were sitting in a restaurant, a man at another table came up and said, "You're Plumb! You flew jet fighters in Vietnam from the aircraft carrier Kitty Hawk. You were shot down!"

"How in the world did you know that?" asked Plumb.

"I packed your parachute," the man replied. Plumb gasped in surprise and gratitude. The man pumped his hand and said, "I guess it worked!" Plumb assured him, "It sure did. If your chute hadn't worked, I wouldn't be here today."

Plumb couldn't sleep that night, thinking about that man. Plumb says, "I kept wondering what he had looked like in a Navy uniform: a white hat; a bib in the back; and bell-bottom trousers. I wonder how many times I might have seen him and not even said 'Good morning, how are you?' or anything because, you see, I was a fighter pilot and he was just a sailor." Plumb thought of the many hours the sailor had spent at a long wooden table in the bowels of the ship, carefully weaving the shrouds and folding the silks of each chute, holding in his hands each time the fate of someone he didn't know.

Now, Plumb asks his audience, "Who's packing your parachute?" Everyone has someone who provides what they need to make it through the day. He also points out that he needed many kinds of parachutes when his plane was shot down over enemy territory - he needed his physical parachute, his mental parachute, his emotional parachute, and his spiritual parachute. He called on all these supports before reaching safety.

Sometimes in the daily challenges that life gives us, we miss what is really important. We may fail to say hello, please, or thank you, congratulate someone on something wonderful that has happened to them, give a compliment, or just do something nice for no reason. As you go through this week, this month, this year, recognize people who pack your parachutes.

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In This Week's Issue 
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Designing and Running a Medieval Fair 
(part 1)

Tech Corner: 
iPods Are for Education

New Teacher's Niche:
Learning Pods and Classroom Setup

Website of the Month

Themes on Life:  
"Who Packed Your Parachute?"

10 Days of Writing Prompts

Spring Book Sale for Teachers

Book of the Month Club


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What Successful Math Teachers Do, Grades 6-12: 
79 Research- Based Strategies for the Standards- Based Classroom

By Alfred S. Posamentier  



Coming Soon:

Preparing for Student Teaching

Technology & Teaching: Seamless Integration into Curriculum

Getting Ready for Next Year

Setting Up Your Classroom


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