Educator Currents: April 29, 2014


Vision 2020 keynote speakers named

Paul Tough, author of the book "How Children Succeed" will speak at Vision 2020.

The keynote lineup for this year’s Vision 2020 conference has been announced. The conference will take place July 15 – 17, 2014 at the Cox Convention Center with the following keynotes:

  • Tuesday, July 15: Lee Roland, principal at Tulakes Elementary in Putnam City Schools.
  • Wednesday, July 16: Paul Tough, author of How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity and the Hidden Power of Character.
  • Thursday, July 17: Scott Barry Kaufman, author of Ungifted: Intelligence Redefined.

For more information about Vision 2020, please visit


Teachers make testing fun

Teachers at West Elementary in Weatherford dressed like rock stars and threw a testing pep rally for their students.

Test-taking can be a stressful time for students, but a number of innovative teachers throughout Oklahoma have tapped their creative energies to make the experience fun and interesting for their classes.

At West Elementary School in Weatherford Public Schools, teachers got their fourth- and fifth-grade students pumped up with a pep rally. Teachers donned brightly colored wigs and “Rock the Test” T-shirts for an assembly in which they strutted their stuff to Queen’s “We Will Rock You” and other adrenaline-charged songs. A couple of high school seniors gave the kids tips on how to be ready for tests.

“We just tell the students that you’ve been taught everything you know. Do your best and you’ll be fine,” said principal Ryan Lauder.

The Weatherford teachers aren’t the only ones who have taken to the dance floor for the sake of the kids. At Coolidge Elementary in Oklahoma City Public Schools, teachers headlined an assembly for a tongue-in-cheek version of Beyonce’s “Single Ladies (Put a Ring on it).” The lyrics were customized a bit for the occasion: “If the answer’s right, put a mark on it.”

That wasn’t all. Kids who arrived at school by 8 a.m. were eligible for drawings for prizes such as Frisbees, hula hoops and sidewalk chalk. Students also found encouragement through an array of posters that lined the halls.

“It truly takes a village to take the test at Coolidge Elementary,” said Coolidge principal Annette Williams.

Dancing for your students is gutsy enough, but what about showing off your vocal prowess? In Tulsa’s Union Public Schools, teacher Samantha Gross was brave enough to dive into the songbook of Disney’s hit movie, Frozen. The night before her third-grade students were scheduled to take the reading test, Gross’ husband videotaped her singing “Do You Want to Pass the State Test?” The tune is a reworking of “Do You Want to Build a Snowman?”

“I expose my kids to YouTube videos all the time, because that’s how we’re learning right now. It’s all audio and visual,” explained Gross, who is in her first year teaching third grade. “I wanted to create something that was really personal to our class.”

The following morning, Gross showed the video to her students — after first closing the classroom door, of course, lest anyone else hear her Princess Anna imitation. The kids were delighted.

Little did Gross realize at the time that her husband had posted the video on YouTube.

“It took some guts to actually do it,” she said with a laugh. “It wasn’t supposed to get out the way it did.”

Fox students claim national math title

Fox Elementary students won Think Through Math's March Math Madness competition.

Students at Fox Elementary School in the Carter County town of Fox, Okla., recently topped more than 11,970 other schools throughout the nation to claim the title in a math competition. The winning students were recognized at an awards ceremony last week at the school. 

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Janet Barresi congratulated students for winning Think Through Math’s “March Math Madness” competition.

“These kids competed for this award by spending many hours taking math lessons,” she said. “It’s wonderful they are being rewarded for their ambition to succeed in such an important subject. It’s refreshing to see students so excited about learning.”

Third- and fourth-grade students at Fox completed 143,825 math problems and took 5,293 math lessons during the contest. All together, they spent 869 hours on the program, including 99 hours when class was not in session.

Fourth-grade teacher Becky Tivis said the school opened its computer lab for two days during spring break so students could come in and take lessons. Many used Think Through Math at home in addition to a daily class set aside for the program.

Think Through Math is a web-based program that challenges students with customized lessons and encourages learning with rewards and competitions. It allows students to practice mathematical concepts at their own pace, while providing classroom teachers with live progress reports.

“We have some extremely competitive kids in these classes,” Tivis said. “On the final night we had kids who were up to midnight trying to do as many lessons as they could.”

Tivis said things really began to heat up when the kids realized they had made it to the “sweet 16” schools in the bracket-styled competition, which is scored by the number of successfully completed lessons. While Tivis noted that the Fox students particularly wanted to beat any schools from Texas, their focus was on earning the championship.

The Oklahoma State Department of Education (OSDE) contracts with Think Through Math to make it available to districts at no cost to them, although there is a limit on the number of total users. Districts also can contract with Think Through Math, which is what the Fox School District did.

OSDE first contracted with Think Through Math in the 2012-2013 school year.

Many schools use Think Through Math in the classroom, but it can also be utilized by students when school is not in session. The company includes certified math teachers who are available to chat with students when they need help with a lesson.

In the 2012-2013 school year, more than 70,000 Oklahoma students signed up for Think Through Math. Program participants answered almost 17 million math problems, nearly 3.5 million of which were completed outside of class. Students also spent nearly 10,000 hours receiving one-on-one assistance through the program.

To learn more about Think Through Math in Oklahoma, visit:

Vision 2020



Share your thoughts on PD

The Oklahoma State Department of Education, in partnership with the University of Central Oklahoma, is seeking input from educators on professional development content and formats that support teachers in their work with students.

We invite you to take a 10-minute survey that will help OSDE develop and refine professional development opportunities available to all educators.

Every educator has valuable input to professional development, and we want to hear from as many as possible. Please take a few minutes to share your thoughts.

You may access the survey at this link: 


OSDE seeks great teachers

Do you know a teacher who has a unique talent for engaging students? Has that teacher furthered his or her own education while still working in the classroom? Do other teachers turn to this educator for advice and models? Does this teacher inspire students, parents and community members at the same time? Do you think he or she has yet to receive proper recognition?

Tell us about that teacher!

The Oklahoma State Department of Education is looking for teachers in the beginning to middle of their careers to add to its Teacher Talent Pool. There are talented educators with many different levels of experience in Oklahoma, but for this project OSDE hopes to build a resource that will grow and develop with teachers’ careers over the course of many years.

The OSDE also considers the members of its Talent Pool first when looking for candidates for special awards and recognitions. If an application is accepted, being admitted into the pool does not come with any requirements. It just means the OSDE may ask for input on programs or communications.

Teachers must be secretly nominated by an administrator. The Teacher Talent Pool recommendation form must be returned to the OSDE by June 1, 2014. Incomplete forms will not be considered.

There are wonderful teachers all over this state, but we can’t know about all of them unless you tell us!

View the application here.

OKTOY Application

Reminder: Send OKTOY apps.

There is still time for district teachers of the year to submit their applications to be the Oklahoma Teacher of the Year in 2015.

Applications must be received or postmarked by June 6.

View and print the application here (pdf).


OKTOY Blog: Chi Mei Museum

Peter Markes is in Washington DC this week with all the other 2014 State Teachers of the Year for National Teacher of the Year Week.

Although he’s out of town, he’s still updating the OK Teacher of the Year blog. In a recent post he shared one of his favorite stories about a trip he took in 2013 that turned into the musical experience of a lifetime:

I was in Tainan, Taiwan, traveling with the band Horseshoe Road as part of our American Music Abroad tour. In the audience of our last performance were administrators from the Chi Mei Museum, and they wanted to give us a VIP tour of the museum that next day. Chi Mei is a Chinese billionaire who invests, among other things, in fine art and has the largest collection of rare violins in the world. 

Read the post here:


Oklahoma students can win $2,529 for college

The Oklahoma 529 College Savings Plan and the Oklahoma Department of Libraries have teamed up for the sixth annual Summer Reading Program sweepstakes.

The 2014 theme is FIZZBOOM, Save for College. The goal of the Summer Reading Program is to keep children from pre-school through high school reading throughout the summer, expanding their knowledge on subjects that are of interest to them.

There will be two lucky winners who will each be awarded a $2,529 Oklahoma 529 College Savings Plan account. The winners will be selected at random from two age categories: Under 13 and 13-18. In addition, each library from where the winners are selected will win $1,000 for its programs.

The FIZZBOOM, Save for College entry forms are available at participating libraries for parents, guardians and grandparents of all children signing up for the 2014 Summer Reading Program. Sweepstakes entry forms may be completed and returned to the library or returned by mail. Participants may also sign up online at

The sweepstakes will launch this week and entry forms must be submitted by August 31, 2014. No purchase necessary. Void where prohibited.


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