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Ideas and Features For New Teachers 
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Volume 5, Issue 24

December 2009

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We at StarTeaching thank you all for five wonderful years of support.  We plan to continue providing great educational tips, techniques, and ideas to all of our readers for many years to come. Look for several new additions in the 2010 year, and be sure to check out the science activity column by our newest feature writer, Helen de la Maza. 

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  Feature Writer

What To Do
During Your Christmas Break

By Frank Holes, Jr.
Educational Consultant

Christmas break is well underway.  How have you spent your time away from the school?  

The Christmas break is important for staff members to unwind and leave the stress and rigors of the school building behind. It is far too easy to load yourself up with work over break, and then you really haven't taken much of a break. I used to be one who assigned research papers to be due the last day just so I'd have extra time to grade them. Then I wizened up. It is a break for a reason! Why should I give up more of my own (not to mention my family's) precious time? Leave school work for school!

Here are a few ideas to use your break as a break from work:

*  Go on a date. Take your spouse or significant other to see a movie, go out to dinner. Make it a big deal if you haven't had a real date in a while. Pretend you are young and daring again!

*  Clean the house. My great-grandmother used to talk about cleaning 'round' and 'square'. Straightening up was cleaning 'round the house. But when the house needed it, she'd clean every 'square' inch. Many times we get really busy this time of year and our homes take a real beating. Take some time to 'square' clean over break.

*  Get outside! If you have snow, go skiing, snow-shoeing, or ice skating. Take your kids out and build snow forts, snowmen, or go sledding. Take some time to appreciate the beauty of mother nature's wintery season.

*  Take a vacation! If your funds are tighter, take a mini-vacation. Many times you can book a three-day cruise for a great price at the last minute. Maybe stay at a hotel with a pool during midweek rates.
    If you have few funds, take a vacation at home. Unplug the phone and computer. Drag the pillows and blankets out and camp out in the living room. Play tropical music and drink piña coladas. Stoke up the fireplace and roast marshmallows. Whatever your idea of fun and relaxing is, go with that theme.

Here are some more things you can do:

*  Go bowling.
*  Travel to see a relative.
*  Call a friend you haven't seen in a long time.
*  Take a friend out to lunch.  
*  Sing Christmas carols outside your local post office.
*  Visit the library and read a good book.
*  Get your car washed and waxed. Get the oil changed!
*  Replace the batteries in all of your smoke detectors.
*  Cook a wonderfully elaborate meal. Invite friends and family and treat them to a nice time.
*  Play board games, card games, or put together puzzles.
*  Drive around and look at all of the holiday lights and decorations.
*  Drink hot cocoa.  Drink eggnog.  Drink spiced cider.  
*  Bake holiday cookies and treats and give them away.  
*  Donate a box full of your odds and ends to charity.  Include at least one nice item.  
*  Take a nap every day.
*  Sleep in (if your kids allow you to).
*  Stay up late.

Now, of course the break must eventually come to an end. I always take the last day (or half day) and begin the transition back. We treat the last night just like any other Sunday night. As a family, we have dinner together and talk about our favorite parts of break. Then we watch a movie and have popcorn or a small treat.

How can you get a few, choice items done for work while on break? If you are a work-aholic, try to limit yourself to just a little time on schoolwork. It's amazing what you can accomplish with just a few hours in your classroom when the building is empty. Maybe prioritize a list and do the first three items. Or pick one longer item to accomplish. Or maybe five little things. But don't overdo it.

Use your time wisely just before break! Lay out your lesson plans, make your copies, and organize yourself so everything is ready for when you return. I try to plan the day after a break just as if I was having a substitute. And just imagine if your flight back from the Rockies or the Caribbean was delayed for bad weather- your plans are already set for just such an emergency!

With some forethought and planning, you can have this all set before you head on break and then totally relax until school resumes.


The Ten Commandments of Teachers

By Christina Riggan

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.

First let me say, that I mean no disrespect by using the above title. In fact, I can think of fewer greater indicators of respect than to use the vocabulary of Christianity to offer a lens with which to view our profession of being tutelaries, protectors, for children. So it is with humility and respect I offer my opinions as to the ten standards for one of the highest callings for service to this country, teaching.

First commandment: 
Do No Harm.

Keep this foremost in your mind before you utter a word of reproach, or criticism, before you speak to parents about their parenting or to parents about their children and their intelligence, their learning ability, achievement, capabilities, handicaps, etc. You get the idea. Think before you speak, and remember that the words we speak can haunt and damage children and their parents beyond measure.

By the way, this includes any written words: suggestions for writing improvement or a letter home about why Johnny is misbehaving in class. I like to remind teachers to pretend you are writing the note or speaking the words to your child. What words would wound you forever? What notes would make you cry?

I will relate a short tale as regards to this. I just came home from the shop of a former parent of one of my students who runs a jewelry shop. I had a dead watch I thought she could fix.

I had taught her son, long ago, in middle school. I taught him English and Literature in seventh grade. He is now thirty, and has just been diagnosed with cerebral palsy, due to forceps use at birth. He is so borderline that it was difficult to discern a problem in school. It was simply put that… he had learning problems. Most of his school life was miserable. He couldn’t tie his shoes, and P.E. teachers made fun of him for this. He couldn’t write, and his third grade teacher made him sit outside the classroom door.

By the time I started to work with him, I realized he had problems, and the parents were up front about it—which helped. We decided to help him and I decided to do no harm. A sweeter, gentler, kinder young boy no one could have found. It would have been easy for me to fail him or write him off, but I did neither. Not because I am a saint. I have made my share of many mistakes, but never through intentional cruelty, usually just through my stupidity.

I simply modified his assignments (quietly) the best I could. His writing was impossible, so either I or his parents transcribed, or I tried oral responses—which he could do. I cared about this sensitive soul and wanted his journey with me to be as joyful and pain-free as I could make it.

Others in middle school and high school helped him too, and he was able to graduate and works with his parents now, is a masseuse part-time, and is functional. According to his mother, he felt great relief when he heard the diagnosis. I can only imagine how hellish it has been for him to not know why he is different.

The truth is that for me, he was a gift. I can still see his blonde hair and cherubic face sitting in the front row of my class. I will never forget his kind ways, and I pray he will not forget mine either, and that I eased his passage to learning and adulthood. Remember this story. It has been over fifteen years since I have seen this boy, who is now a man—but his parents have never forgotten me or I them or him.

Second Commandment: 
Keep the Children SAFE

This means that you are aware of the many factors in schools that can hurt children and take steps to prevent it.

This includes: adhering to fire, disaster drills, and safety procedures in the building (includes attending training and learning, reading manuals, posting exit maps and procedures as required, checking the identification of visitors to the building).

This also includes reporting parents who are abusive—this can be done anonymously now and in most states- it is a crime, and you can lose your license, if you do not report it.

This includes reporting teachers on your campus, whom you have witnessed or have strong evidence regarding, abusing children or using legal or illegal drugs while working. If your evidence is strong enough, it is your obligation to report it to your administrator, and if he/she does nothing, to then report this person to the legal authorities. It is your business, if the teacher next door is drinking while on the job. Not only are our reputations being damaged by immoral or unethical behavior like this, but trust in a community is severely damaged when this happens. Nothing happens in a vacuum, but usually someone knows something or suspects something, but we remain quiet. Why? Our loyalty does not lie with these types of people, but to the children we are sworn to protect.

Last, do not forget that bullying—in all forms—is abusive and many believe that it leads to violence and rage. Witness Columbine and the many other school shootings in this country. While it may seem convenient to blame parents, it is also OUR responsibility to observe, protect, and intervene. This may mean training for your campus regarding bullying and intervention techniques. or lacking that reading a book recommended by your counselor. There are wonderful programs out there, so don’t let your lack of knowledge be an excuse.

Third commandment: 
Love Them, Especially When it is Hard

I will never forget the two incidents in my teaching career that exemplified this commandment.

In walked a surly, long-haired, six foot tall juvenile into my eighth grade English class. With a sardonic grin he fell into a chair, and slumped down, sticking his legs out into the aisle. He was devilishly good-looking and as I was soon to find out very popular with boys and girls in the school—who seemed to respect him a great deal.

Warily heading to the front of the class, I began to teach. Halfway through, I broke for class work and homework assignments. He ignored the work and began drawing. As I drew closer I viewed the most exquisite art work I have ever seen. I expressed admiration for his work and asked him if he was in Art class. No, he replied.

After the day was over I headed to the counselor to find out more about this young man. Apparently he had a very bad reputation. I insisted he be allowed to take Art and went to speak to the Art teacher. Of course, his schedule had to be changed and he was moved out of my room.

I know you may think that was my motivation… but I assure you it was not. He had a talent I had never seen before in one so young.

She said, “One mistake and he’s gone.”

“Fair enough, just give him a chance,” I murmured.

The next morning he was gone to another English class. I saw the Art teacher several days later and asked her how he was doing.

She said,” He’s no trouble. As a matter of fact, he’s a big help. He cleans up and carries materials for me.”

“Is he as good as he appeared to be?”

“He’s teaching me things I didn’t even know,” she said.

In my second year of middle school at another campus, an African –American juvenile, convicted of sexual assault, sauntered into my class and sat across two chairs in the back of my remedial English class. (They had those types of classes then).

He slammed his books down on his desk and gave me a belligerent look. I really was scared to death. Our turning moment came later in the month. We warily tried to respect each other. But one day he refused to stand up for the pledge.

“Get your ass up and stand up. I can’t make you say the pledge, but you can stand up and be respectful of YOUR fathers, brothers, and uncles who shed their blood for that flag,” I said. See what I mean about stupid.

But the funny thing is, is that it worked. I meant it, and he knew it. I helped him think about the fact that probably just as many African-Americans have shed their blood for this country and flag as whites. He was showing disrespect for them, not me. He never gave me any trouble after that. I respected him and helped him learn and I think he respected me.

Due to some events in my life, I had to leave that position that year at mid-year. No, it was not due to stupidity on my part. I heard later that he threw chairs across the room with the new teacher, and was expelled.

It is ironic I mention middle school incidents. I guess it is because, usually, elementary children are so easy to love. Not always, of course, but for the most part. Sometimes, it is harder with the older ones.

 Remember that for some children, you may be the only person that may ever care about them, or believe in them.   

Fourth Commandment: 

Your job is to teach AND help them learn. It is not enough to write assignments on the board, teach beautifully, or assign exciting projects or books to read…if they are not learning.

How do you know if they are learning? Ask them. If they can’t answer, or won’t answer you, use a form of assessment that measures MASTERY. Warning this is not usually a test made by the state, the district, or some textbook, but one you have designed yourself or planned as an assessment when you planned the lesson.

If you do not know to plan assessment for learning and mastery as part of the teaching or lesson plan, then that’s a whole other chapter.

I can tell you briefly these things help: let them teach and re-teach each other when learning, let them work in groups, give them plenty of practice, re-teach often, when needed, do not move too fast, do not assume everyone has learned because you have taught it, and do not take the results of learning as indicators of mastery. Not the same thing. Enough said.

Fifth Commandment: 
Know Your Stuff

It seems to be an unfortunate comment on the times that teachers who are not certified in an area or subject matter are being asked or forced to teach in a subject unfamiliar to them.

I can’t fix that and probably most teachers can’t either. But if you are in this position, be a professional and learn on your own. Take classes, professional development, audit other teachers, seek a mentor, and read professional books and magazines. Many professional journals are online now. There’s no excuse why a teacher can’t spend an hour a day reading to further his/her education.

If you are teaching in an area/subject that you are certified in, do not become complacent. Use last year’s lesson plans as ideas, but do not repeat them. You have a different set of students with different capabilities. You have a different schedule. This all means different learning and achievement.

Also, keep learning. There are few things worse than an experienced teacher who is so sure he/she is right and his/her way is the only way to teach. Not only is this a big turn-off for other kids and teachers, it is for parents, as well. That is arrogance and complacency at its worst.

New information regarding learning bombards us with how little we really know about how the brain works. Keep learning, reading, attending professional development.

I am also in favor of knowing some of the obvious basics that are the foundation of all learning as tried and true pillars:

Simple to complex is usually best.

Alphabet and Phonics mastery precedes reading.

Pre-teach the foundational skills basic to learning your lessons objective.

Spelling and writing are integrative and essential to each other.

Teach the student in the way he/she learns best.

Modify to meet student’s needs.

Keep learning fun.

Observe your students and give them breaks.

Have a passion for what you do.

Enough said.

Sixth Commandment: 
Love What You Do

Easy to say, isn’t it. But you must love teaching, kids, and have a great passion to see the light that enters their eyes when they have discovered new material. There is no greater high in the natural world.

If you are bored with life and teaching, please…please… do us all a favor and find something else to do that lights your fire.

I don’t really know how to tell you to light what might not be there, but you might keep these ideas in mind.

Make sure you balance your life with play, fun, and hobbies. Don’t neglect your own children or spouse for teaching. Get enough rest, eat right, and take frequent breaks.

I really do not think the general public realizes how difficult teaching 25 students can be. It is mentally, emotionally, and spiritually draining. Pray a lot, read for pleasure, and find pleasure in life. Whatever renews your spirits and soul, helps breathe new life into your love for teaching.

I know the pay is often poor, and some teachers have to work second jobs just to make ends meet.

This is a terrible invitation for teachers to leave the field, and communities that support low pay for teachers usually get what they pay for.

I was just thinking the other day how ironic it is that some professionals have no problem buying big, expensive cars, homes, and clothes because …” you get what you pay for.”

But they rarely apply that to schools and teacher’s salaries.

Seventh Commandment: 
Create Communities Devoted to Kids and Learning

How can I do that, you ask?

Good question, and it may be a hard one, but not impossible.

One teacher can make a tremendous difference and we all have heard the stories about those teachers. And you do not have to write a book about it, or make a movie either, to do this.

A first step is to join the P.T.A. or P.T.O. at your school and become active—within reason. Help out with fund raisers, community drives, or ideas to encourage the children to be a helpful part of the community. Serve on the board, if you can.

Serve on community boards, district groups, or brainstorming groups. Work on committees on your campus to improve standards of learning for teachers.

Join professional; organization devoted to learning and helping kids learn.

Become certified in areas of need, and be willing to learn from other great teachers.

Represent your community or school when you are able with pride, confidence, and professionalism. Do not gossip or belittle your school or your district. Dress professionally. Tight, revealing, or sloppy clothes indicate a lack of self-esteem and pride regarding yourself.

Eighth Commandment: 
Support the Other Professionals in your Community

It is not a contradiction when I say this in light of my comments regarding reporting abusive behavior. This is plain old courtesy and good manners, which seems to be a dying commodity, lately.

You can still and should show respect for all professionals in your building; from the janitor to the school secretary. This means being courteous and polite, saying please and thank you, often. Asking politely for something is mature behavior, instead of acting like outraged children that you do not have it NOW.  

The Golden Rule to “do unto others as you would have them do unto you” still applies everywhere. Even if other people do not abide by it, you can. You can turn the other cheek, when you need to. I am by no means suggesting that you let others abuse, belittle, or insult you, and take it. But you can respond like an adult without insult and disparagement.

You may have noticed that everyone has a chip on their shoulder lately and flies into a rage over the slightest incident. (Witness road rage, temper tantrums in stores.) This is not assertive behavior, this is adolescence, immaturity… refusing to grow to adulthood.  

A school system is a social group nurtured by courtesy, empathy, and understanding. Do your part to be the adult. Speak to everyone every day. Say Good Morning. Tell people goodbye. Ask if they need help. Help out when you can. Don’t fight with other teachers or gossip about them.

Ninth Commandment: 
Support your Administrator and District Personnel

I admit that at times this has been hard for me. I have seen a change that were made for political reasons or for personal aggrandizement and it was very discomfiting for me.

But in general I can tell you that most administrative personnel care about kids as much as teachers. They have a hard job to oversee the general plan and all the details. It is particularly hard when they want to implement change and they have few supporters.

Most teachers will tell a principal why all the changes they want to implement won’t work, but these same teachers rarely have an alternative solution or have even thought about it. Complainers and gripers bring everybody down.

Remember creating a community of learners can not be done with the leaders. Do your part. Willingly cooperate and help the leaders. They will see you as part of a team instead of someone they wish would leave the community. If change is happening, try to become part of the learning curve, you may be surprised at how much you learn, and this may change your opinion of the change being implemented.

Tenth Commandment: 
Stay in Teaching or Keep Contributing  

Maybe you can’t stay in teaching. Maybe the salary is so low, you can’t survive. No one should be forced to starve, just because they are willing to serve a cause greater than themselves. But if you love it, and are good at it, even if you are approaching burn-out, try to stay in the field of education.

Becoming a principal is not the answer, if you love teaching. Trust me, most of them are handling paperwork and bureaucratic demands; they are not teaching and working with kids on a minute by minute basis. If they were ever any good at teaching, most of them miss it, and envy you.

Taking a leave of absence may work for you. Approaching teaching from a different angle may work. The Peace Corps still needs teachers. Teaching overseas can be exciting. Asian countries always need English teachers. Going back to school may help re-ignite the fire and passion for you.

Taking off a couple of years to try something else is always okay. You may find that you missed teaching and wanted to go back. Schools respect that, so don’t worry that you won’t find a job.

Consider research, writing, other avenues of teaching—dance, gymnastics, cooking. Teaching is really almost everywhere and there are never enough good teachers to fill the need. Stay with us folks, we need you!




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Mastering Basic Skills software:


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
5. Parallel processing
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.

StarTeaching wholeheartedly supports and endorses this software.  It will make a difference with your child or student.

Click HERE to order your own copy today:


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  School Features

The Montessori Method (part 1)

Courtesy of K12Academics.com

The Montessori method is both a methodology and educational philosophy. It was originally developed in the early 1900s by Dr. Maria Montessori as a way to educate poor children in her native Italy. Many Montessori schools are preschool or elementary school in level, but there are some Montessori programs which have all grade levels up to and including High School.

Montessori schools

There are currently over 3,000 privately held Montessori schools in the USA, as well as several hundred public schools that include Montessori programs (see below). Most schools have a primary program (from 3-6 years) and often a lower elementary (6-9 years). Upper elementary programs (9-12 years) are less common, although about one school in eight will have this program. At this time Montessori junior highs and high schools are rare. However, the first public Montessori high school in the country, Clark Montessori located in Cincinnati, Ohio, was started in 1994. Several pilot Montessori junior highs, like the Arthur Morgan School in North Carolina, have opened based on writings by Montessori on erdkinder, or "earth children", which was a term Montessori coined for children ages 12 through 18. L & L Montessori in Southport, NC, teaches children from age 3 years up to 8th grade. In 1997, New Century Montessori High School in Grand Rapids, MI, was established as one of the first public Montessori high schools in the country. It graduated its first class of 32 seniors in 2000. Some of these graduates had been involved in the Grand Rapids Montessori schools since Pre-K and Kindergarten. Grand Rapids Public Schools continues to offer one of the most comprehensive Montessori programs in the country. Schools such as Shelton, Barrie, New Gate, and the Visitation Academy of St. Louis teach students from pre-kindergarten through 12th grade while the Hershey School provides Montessori philosophy and practice for the Middle School and High School years.

Montessori programs in public schools

A survey conducted in 1981 collected data from 25 of the approximately 50 school districts nationwide known to have Montessori programs at the time. The only other study of public Montessori programs is much more recent. During school year 1990-91, this study received responses from 63 of the 120 school districts or schools to whom surveys were sent. Results from this study indicate that the number of students in the schools or school districts averaged 233, with an average of 10 teachers per program. A total of 32, or 58%, of the schools surveyed reported that they were magnet schools. A total of 69% of the Montessori programs shared a building with other programs. District funding for the training of Montessori teachers was provided in 66% of the districts. Only 42% of the programs provided the three-year age span of three-, four-, and five-year-olds. This is indicative of the fact that the degree to which particular districts implement the Montessori model varies.

A total of 16 of the 57 schools charged tuition for some part of the program. About two thirds of the programs provided free transportation. In addition, two thirds of the districts reported that additional staff were used in the Montessori magnet schools. These factors can add to the overall costs of the program.

Part 2 of this series will focus on the Philosophy of Montessori Schools

Article courtesy of K12Academics.com



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MythMichigan Books
Novels by Frank Holes, Jr.

Now Available!  3rd Book in the Dogman Series:

Nagual: Dawn Of The Dogmen

Michigan ’s legendary Dogman returns in Nagual: Dawn of the Dogmen by Frank Holes, Jr.  The third book in the series is a masterful blend of fantasy and folklore, delving into the pre-dawn history of the mysterious creature and then rushing forward to the present day.  The supernatural beast is seen from two fronts.  The first encounter, part of a 1700s French fur-trader’s dream, chronicles the cultural clash between the indigenous, prehistoric civilizations and the Nagual, the half-man, half-canine skin-walkers, a clash where only one side can survive.  We then return to the modern day as the Dogman rampages across the fields and forests, the farms and camps of Grand Traverse and Benzie Counties in northern Michigan .  The supernatural beast is hunting for the remnants of its stolen, ancient treasure that will give it immortality and unlimited power.  Can two young camp counselors put an end to the chaos without losing their lives?

MythMichigan Books
Novels by Frank Holes, Jr.

Now Available!
Now Available!
Now Available!

Part mystery, part science fiction, Year of the Dogman is an imaginative, compelling, and adrenaline-pumping adventure. Author Frank Holes, Jr. takes no prisoners in creating a diabolical creature that leaves the forest to prey on the hapless hamlet of Twin Lakes in Northern Michigan . When night falls, the nocturnal beast, Dogman, scares the living daylights out of anyone he happens upon as he searches for a timeless treasure stolen from a Native American tribe. In the midst of the chaos, a young teacher is forced to put two and two together no matter how high the cost to rid the village of the treacherous man-beast who thrives on destruction and terror.  

In The Haunting of Sigma, Frank Holes, Jr. returns fans of the legendary Dogman to the wild world of cryptozoology in Northern Michigan .  This darker, far more sinister prequel to Holes’s first novel fully establishes his hold upon the imaginations of readers all over the Midwest .  June 1987 ushers in the hot, dry summer season, but something else far more horrifying has taken up residence in the deep wilderness in Kalkaska County .  The Dogman, a supernatural combination of canine and man, has returned to wreck havoc upon the tiny, sleepy community of Sigma.


Based upon the epic Greek tale of The Odyssey, yet set in the American Wild West, The Longquist Adventures: Western Odyssey chronicles the journey of a young boy and his guide through a perilous world of dangerous encounters and fantastic creatures.  It is a world of gun fights at high noon, stampedes on the great plains, stagecoach robbery, and an ultimate showdown with a ruthless, powerful gangster aboard a turn-of-the-century paddlewheel in the San Francisco Bay.  Can the time-traveling boy and the law-abiding Marshal restore order to the chaos of the American West gone truly wild?

Click Here For The
Year of the Dogman Website
Click Here For The
Haunting of Sigma Website
Click Here For The
Western Odyssey Website


The Dogman, a creature of MythMichigan, is an excellent example of modern-day folklore to study in your classes.   


The Longquist Adventures, written for elementary students, is excellent for teaching mythology and classic stories to young children.  

Look for Western Odyssey this summer!

We now have special offers on Classroom Sets of our Novel.  Click here for more information:




New Teachers' Niche: 
A Place for New Teachers, Student Teachers, and Interns

The Many Benefits of Sustained Silent Reading

The benefits of classroom reading are many. Children (especially young children) have a natural love of reading. However, we at the middle school often see students who either struggle with texts or are turned off to reading. A great way of regenerating that interest is through sustained silent reading in your classroom.

This topic has been hotly debated recently in the International Reading Association newsletter. I'm not trying to enter this debate.  This article will simply describe what we in our school have observed and detail what we've done in our classes that has worked for our students.

First off, let your students choose what they read, whether it is a book, magazine, or whatever. It makes a huge difference in peaking their interest. Teachers already give (and require) plenty of specific readings through activities, literature, and in textbooks.  Students need the opportunity to read about what interests them, and this can occur when you allow them to choose what they want to read.  By all means, continue with your regular activities, but find a way to give your students time (in class is best) to read on their own.

It is very important for you as the teacher to model reading to your students. Read the entire time your students are reading too. Don't let this time be wasted on grading papers, checking email, or doing any other administrivia. If you want your students to take the time seriously, show them you are taking the time yourself and are enjoying the activity. Regardless of what the kids may say to you, they will imitate your behaviors in your class. You have this great opportunity to be a positive role model!

Just as in practicing writing and their skills through the week, you as the teacher need to schedule in time for sustained silent reading.  When I'm covering a piece of literature, for example, my class may read in a variety of ways. We may read aloud, I may read to the class, or we may play 'popcorn' around the room as students choose others. You probably have other out-loud reading activities you use too. These are great, and I always recommend them. But you should always give students time to read silently too. It doesn't have to be a lot, but I do recommend at least ten minutes, though not more than twenty. Think in terms of attention spans: plenty of time to become engaged in the text, read for a bit, and yet stay focused. Obviously some students could lose themselves in a book for hours on end, but not all kids have such a long attention span. Start with ten minutes and work upward, adding a few minutes each time.

In addition to literature we all cover in class, I also set up a regular library time so students can select their own books. We'll stay in the library for, again, about twenty minutes. I give students between ten and fifteen minutes to look over the shelves and 'try on' a book. Its like trying on clothing. This trial version is very important so students can start deciding if this is the book for them.  If it doesn't hook them in the first ten minutes, I suggest they try again. I'll try to make suggestions based on what I think the students' interests are. Sometimes we talk about what they like, what their interests are. Students are not required to check out a book, but they must 'try out' at least one book at each visit.

We designate each Friday after our vocabulary quiz for sustained silent reading. Students may read their library book, another book of their choice, or even a magazine from the rack in my room (I typically collect old magazines from everywhere and keep them in a large rack in class). Old magazines include the old stand bys - Reader's Digest, National Geographic, and Sports Illustrated. But I also gather Teen magazines, food and cooking, gardening, hunting and fishing, and video game magazines, among others. This way there are a large variety of topics for students to choose from.

The bookshelves in my room also have old reference materials and some outdated textbooks I've scrounged from other teachers. Some of your students will enjoy looking through drafting texts, recipe books, or science books, and you'd be surprised at the number of kids who love maps in social studies, history, or geography text books.

I've noticed a difference, especially in the attitudes of my students toward reading. Students given choices through the year were more engaged in the assigned readings through the year. Often, students (especially struggling students or low readers) have told me they enjoy reading, or they've found a topic or author they want to read more about, or the readings I did assign were some of the only ones they actually read (that year or in several years). Comments like that last one are bittersweet, because though I'm glad the student has regained the interest in reading, I'm sorry it took so long and the student was turned off in the first place. Sustained silent reading and allowing students to choose their own texts can be very powerful and beneficial to your students. You can be the teacher who makes a difference to your students.

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"The Christmas Bears" 

By Jackie Sagner

Themes on Life

What will you give this year...

In the forest Christmas is a very exciting time. All of the animals gather together to celebrate the very special day, all but one bear that is.

"Mom, what is Christmas" the little bear asked one December morning as his mom was hurriedly storing food for the winter hibernation. "Why, Christmas is the birthday of Jesus, it is an extra special day, why do you ask dear?"

The little bear suddenly felt as though he would be missing something, he wanted to celebrate the holiday like the other animals in the forest. He looked outside the window to see all of his playmates decorating and having so much fun. Jerry, his mouse friend was stringing beads in the trees, Sammy the squirrel was decorating a small bush nearby and they all looked like they were having so much fun.

L.B. felt very sad as he watched all of his friends playing and having so much fun outside in the snow covered forest. His mom just kept packing and getting ready for their winter hibernation. "Hurry JB, we need to pack our things and be ready, the hard freeze is coming and we are nearly ready."

The little bear just could not bring himself away from the window; he was just fascinated to see all of this activity. He also saw a large sign that read " CHRISTMAS PARTY AT 6:00 PM TONIGHT EVERYONE WELCOME". Well, the wheels were turning for the little cub; he wanted so badly to experience some of the magic of Christmas before going into hibernation for several months.

"Mom, I have an idea," he said hastily. LB just knew his mom would say no but he thought it was worth a try to ask her. "What is it dear?" There is a Christmas party in the forest tonight, can we go, can we?" His mom just stood staring at the bear wondering why he so wanted to go to this party. She hesitated with her answer then replied, "Sure LB, just keep packing between now and then and you can go to the party, you have been a good bear all year so this is the least I can do."

The bear just jumped up and down, he went to the window and yelled out to all of his friends that he will be at the party tonight. The bear packed his winter goods for the rest of the afternoon until time to get ready for the party. He had never been to a party, and this one was extra special since it was a "Christmas party." LB suddenly remembered that he needed to bring a gift to this party, "Oh no I don't have a gift for anyone," he exclaimed.

His mother heard LB and with a sad look told him that there was not much time to get a gift and he would just have to go to the party without a gift. LB's mother knew this did not please the little bear, he so wanted to fit in and be liked and this would not be a good thing to come empty handed.

"I have one idea," his mother said. "Do you see that box in the corner with the big bow on top?" The little bear knew that box was for him for some time now and it took everything he had not to peek into it, "Yes Mom I see it." The little bear had a feeling of what his mother would say but he listened anxiously anyway.

"That was a gift to you from your father and I, do you want to bring it to the party, it is not much but it is better to give than to receive LB and your friends who are less fortunate could really use what is in that box. The little bear thought about it and then remembered how a lot of the forest friends told him that they envied him for having two parents who loved him as many of them were orphans, they also envied him for having a warm place to sleep in the winter time. "Ok mom, I will bring that gift to the party tonight, thank you for loving me and being my Mom" The bear hugged his mom as a small tear came to her eye "I love you too son."

The bear got ready and went to the party excited as can be. He put his wrapped box under a small decorated tree with several other small gifts from various forest friends. The animals sang, danced and enjoyed the Christmas air in the forest. The small lights glistened against the fresh snow and the air was much colder than they expected. "Its gift time", exclaimed Sammy the squirrel. The animals all exchanged gifts and opened the gifts with much anticipation. LB's gift was opened by another small bear named Bobby. Bobby lost his mom last year and now just lives with his father. He always looks very sad and does not have his mom to help him pack for the winter hibernation. He opened the gift and exclaimed, "A scarf", he was so happy to receive this gift, as he did not have a scarf to keep warm in the winter. "Oh thank you LB, this is just what I needed, how did you know?"

LB felt so glad that he was able to help one of the other animals and it didn't matter that he would not be receiving a gift on Christmas morning, he already received his gift.



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In This Week's Issue 
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NEW! Science Activities for Any Setting

The Ten Commandments of Teachers

What To Do During Your Christmas Break

School Features: 
The Montessori Method  (part 1)

New Teacher's Niche:
The Many Benefits of Sustained Silent Reading

Themes on Life:  
"The Christmas Bears"

10 Days of Writing Prompts

10 Days of Math Problems

Winter Book Sale for Teachers

Book of the Month Club:
Research-Based Strategies to Ignite Student Learning


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10 Days Of
Day 1 What is TRUST?
Day 2 Describe THREE ways you know your parents have TRUST in you.
Day 3 What are the ways you TRUST your teachers to provide you with a good education?
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Day 5 Describe two skills you learned this week.  How will each be helpful in real life?
Day 6 Why is it important to TRUST others?
Day 7 Describe a time you have had to TRUST someone else.  How well did it work out?
Day 8 List FIVE people who trust you completely.  Why do they trust you?
Day 9 What does being TRUSTWORTHY say about your own personal character?
Day 10 What is ONE important thing you learned OUTSIDE of school this week?

10 days of writing prompts


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10 Days of 
Math Problems
by Mary Ann Graziani
Day 1

Nobody knows how old Aunt Helen is but she gave a few hints. She had passed 1/20 of her life before she started school. She spent 3/20 of her life in school; She worked for 1/10 of her life before she got married. She was married for 2/5 of her life. Her husband died after 7/10 of her life.

From reading Uncle Harry's gravestone you find out that she has been a widow for 24 years.

How old is Aunt Helen?

Day 2 The record for the greatest number of consecutive jumping jacks is 14500 in 5 hours and 35 minutes. If Joe does 55 jumping jacks per minute, how long will it take Joe to tie the record?
Day 3 Rachel opened her math book and found that the sum of the facing pages was 243. What pages did she open to?
Day 4 The newspaper reported that four hundred forty people went to the mall on Saturday. The same number of people went to the mall on Sunday. How many people went to the mall for the entire weekend?
Day 5 Jill has enough money to buy four compact discs per week. How many weeks until Jill can buy 24 compact discs?
Day 6 Albert's son will be thirteen this Sunday. If Albert is 40 years old, how old was Albert when Albert's son was born?
Day 7 Paul was 34 when Greg was born. How old will Paul be when Greg is fifteen?
Day 8 Sarah was 22 when James was born, how old will James be when Sarah is 37?
Day 9 To go to the mall, six cars carried 18 people. If the same number of people were in each car, how many people were there per car?
Day 10 How many seconds are there in 34 minutes?  (hint: 60 seconds in one minute)




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