THE TEACHERS EDITION -- February 27, 2014

The Teachers Edition

February 27, 2014  |  Sign up to receive THE TEACHERS EDITION.

cartoon of a man in chains in front of a flame

Watch the award-winning cartoon video that physics doctoral student Ben Ames created to explain the concept of a flame to kids as part of the Flame Challenge.


11-Year-Olds Evaluate the Scientists

For every teacher who has ever had a student ask a question you don't know how to answer, check out the 2014 Flame Challenge. In the third annual international contest started by the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science and sponsored by the American Chemical Society and the American Association for the Advancement of Science, scientists respond to an 11-year-old who asks, "What is color?" 

Not only does the contest challenge scientists to explain complex scientific ideas to 11-year-olds, but the 11-year-olds write the questions and judge the competition.

The deadline for submitting answers to the question in writing, video or graphics is March 1. To get students involved, teachers can sign up their 5th and 6th graders as judges. Check out past winners' answers to the questions, "What is a flame?" and "What is time?" Read the related NY Times interview with Alan Alda (Dreifus).

Why We Teach

• 85% of teachers say they chose the profession in order to make a difference in children’s lives.

• 74% say they became a teacher to share their love of learning and teaching with others. 

• 83% said they believe that teachers have the greatest impact on student achievement in school.

the New Math

(From Primary Sources: A project of Scholastic and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Data in primary sources comes from a nationally representative sample of more than 20,000 public school classroom teachers, conducted online by Harrison Group. The report includes a number of other interesting findings, including teachers' enthusiasm for the Common Core, passion for teaching, views about evaluation, and the time they need to collaborate with colleagues during the school day.)

Quote to Note

"We need to make a stand right now that our schools need to be the most important thing we have in this country--not Wall Street, not Capitol Hill--our schools."

(Coach Frank Hall who appeared on 60 Minutes February 23, two years after he chased a gunman out of his Chardon High School and comforted injured students. Watch the video, which includes teacher Tim Armelli explaining why teachers chose not to identify the shooter: "This is our school," he says.)

Common Core Connections

TEACHER PRONE TO PANIC ATTACKS SAYS THERE IS "NOTHING TO FEAR FROM COMMON CORE." Learn why anxiety-prone Erin Sponaugle says, "Education is our best defense against fear" and how this insight has led her to embrace the new state standards. Read her editorial (West Va. Gazette).

MYTH OR FACT? This article takes on the "tallest tales" about the Common Core State Standards. Published by the Foundation for Excellence in Education, the writer debunks common misunderstandings, such as "The Common Core academic level is lower than what many states use now" and “CC standards call for teaching kids to add columns of figures from left to right instead of right to left.”

WITCH-Y CONSPIRACY? John Mullins, superintendent of the school district in Arab, Ala., compares conspiracy theories surrounding the Common Core Standards with the Salem witch trials. In an opinion piece, he writes, “A lack of understanding and fear can quickly lead to irrational beliefs and/or actions,” and he calls such conspiracies a “dangerous” threat to Alabama students. Read more (Alabama Live).

PARENT SUPPORT. In this article, national PTA President Otha Thornton offers three reasons why parents support the Common Core and argues that we need tests that assess the standards. "What is important is that the higher standards are measured with better tests. Because the rigor is higher, it may appear that scores have temporarily dropped," she writes. Read more.

NEA: CORRECT THE COURSE, BUT DON'T ABANDON SHIP. NEA President Dennis Van Roekel, in an open letter to his organization’s members, writes, "In far too many states, implementation [of the Common Core State Standards] has been completely botched.” However, he writes that “scuttling these standards will simply return us to the failed days of No Child Left Behind (NCLB), where rote memorization and bubble tests drove teaching and learning. NEA members don’t want to go backward; we know that won’t help students. Instead, we want states to make a strong course correction and move forward.”


Did You Know? is the federal government's official portal for kids. Geared towards kids in grades K-8, the site offers games, videos, and learning resources on topics as varied as art and science to health and safety, jobs, and online security.  

In the portal, students can discover features like this branches-of-government chart or play an interactive game on the birth of the Internet. Special grown-up tabs include lesson plans and other resources geared to educators and parents.

question mark

Schools Worth Watching


Turning Around a Washington, D.C. School Takes Teamwork and Joy

Read about how DC Scholars Stanton Elementary struggled with chronic under performance and was long known as a place ruled by chaos, where neither students nor educators felt it was possible to focus on learning. Today, the school is turning around with the help of strong partnerships and engaged stakeholders. Learn more.

Principal Chat

FINDING THE RIGHT FIT. In What's Your Favorite Interview Question? (Educational Leadership),Thomas Hoerr offers principals strategies to get beyond the background, preparation, and experiences listed on teachers' resumes and figure out if they will fit in at their school. Hoerr currently serves as head of the New City School in St. Louis, Mo. 

P Chat

DATA DIVING. Over the past decade, school improvement and reform strategies have incorporated the use of data at all levels: classroom, school, district, state, and national. This toolkit is designed to assist the classroom teacher, or a team of teachers, in utilizing readily available data to:

1) Inform student instructional progress and needs,

2) Engage and motivate students by encouraging them to track their own progress, and

3) Empower students to take responsibility for their progress and to set and meet academic objectives. 

While the templates shared in the toolkit demonstrate how practitioners can use data to inform their practice at the classroom level, they can be modified to fit the needs of the school and the district. Check out the toolkit.

PROTECTING PRIVACY. ED released guidance for companies that contract with schools to handle student data using the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act as a foundation for the policy. Arne Duncan has called on school districts and tech companies to prioritize student privacy and data security. Learn more. Read Duncan's remarks made this week at the Common Sense Media Privacy Zone Conference. Read the related Education Week and Associated Press articles.

GROWING YOUR OWN: BUILDING A COMMUNITY OF TEACHER LEADERS. This tool released by the School Turnaround Learning Community provides teacher leadership guidance and highlights conditions that allow leadership to flourish. Teachers, administrators and others who want their voices heard would find this resource beneficial. 


Farming Teachers

Rural schools encounter a unique set of challenges. In this ED blog, FFA (formerly Future Farmers of America) member and future teacher McKenzie Baecker shares how FFA created leadership opportunities for her and helped ensure that she was college-and-career ready. 

Secretary Duncan with FFA members

Baecker says, "Growing up on a dairy farm in Wisconsin and graduating high school with a class size of 40 makes it easy to assume that I didn’t have the opportunities or the quality education needed to succeed beyond the classroom." However, her FFA agriculture teacher pushed her to excel and ultimately helped set her on a path to become a teacher that makes a difference for other rural students.

Emily Davis introduces her latest Ask Arne video


Taking a School's Temperature

This latest installment of the "Ask Arne" series features Teaching Fellow Emily Davis talking with Secretary Duncan about ED's latest release of discipline guidance and the role of school climate in student success. Read her blog and watch the video. Learn more about the climate and discipline guidance.


Grant Helps New Teacher Center Refine Induction 

Helping new teachers succeed in their first year in the classroom is essential to building the teaching profession and improving career readiness for all students. New Teacher Center (NTC), which annually supports more than 6,300 mentors to improve the effectiveness of 23,000 new teachers across the country, is refining its induction model with help from the Investing in Innovation (i3) Fund of the Office of Innovation and Improvement. Learn more

TAF News

JONATHAN MCINTOSH (Classroom Fellow 2013) penned an interesting article for the Parent Teacher Association about how families can work more closely with schools, forming partnerships to improve school discipline and climate. Read his piece (One Voice).

Students' Corner

Tools for Students

GET YOUR MOVES ON. As part of her celebration around the fourth anniversary of Let’s Move, First Lady Michelle Obama is asking people of all ages to show her how they move - through their everyday fitness routine, making better food choices, or by moving their community toward that new norm - on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Vine using #LetsMove. 

STUDENT VIDEO CONTEST. The Environmental Protection Agency and National Environmental Education Foundation present the following challenge to middle school students: Create a 2-minute video addressing why climate change matters and what you plan to do about it. The deadline for submission is March 18. Learn more.

A SERVING OF PI. Students and teachers can celebrate mathematics and National Pi Day, March 14, with Pi Day activities available at and teach pi. The sites include fun facts, quirky videos, and classroom activities. Of course, teachers can always celebrate the day the old-fashioned way, with a hefty serving of pie!


You Served, Now Teach

Learn more how veterans can continue to put their service and commitment to our country to use through Teach for America’s initiative, You Served for America, Now Teach for America

At "What is your next mission?", those who served in the armed services can check out multiple career paths on the front lines of communities across the country. Learn more here, including information on AmeriCorps, Education Pioneers, TEACH.ORG, The Broad Center, TNTP and Troops to Teachers.

Work Station

Teacher Amy Spies sets up workstations that include notebook paper, individual whiteboards with dry erase markers/erasers, clipboards, and other essential work materials.


Math Routines that Work

Watch this minute-long video from the Teaching Channel featuring Amy Spies, who teaches mathematics at Cypress Creek Elementary School in Port Orange, Fla. In the video, Spies shows how she facilitates cooperative learning by grouping students around work stations that maximize instructional time.

sticky notepad

Teachers' Notes

• MAKING A CASE FOR COLLEGE "SIGNING DAYS." In this article, Arne Duncan discusses the power of school districts hosting college "signing days" that celebrate a rite of passage and build momentum for college attendance and completion. He also profiles college-signing rituals in rural and urban communities that "celebrate our students, their accomplishments, and their futures."

• REACHING ELLs THROUGH ACADEMIC LANGUAGE. This resource from the School Turnaround Learning Community equips educators to reach and teach English Language Learners (ELLs) by helping them become fluent in the language of school success—academic language. Read why Arne Duncan has said recently, "A world-class education means learning to speak, read and write languages in addition to English" in his L.A. Daily News op-ed.

• LIFELONG READERS. Larry Ferlazzo has written a three-part series answering a teacher's question about how to help her students become lifelong readers. A series of education experts (practitioners) answer the question. The third entry includes some nice insights and links to previous articles (EdWeek).

• "I GOT MY COULD..." Check out Parker Couch's students at Grizzlies Prep (Memphis, Tenn.) as they rap out the helping verbs. View the short video.

open book

Recommended Reading

• POLICY SHIFTS THAT IMPROVE PROFESSIONAL LEARNING. Learning Forward's Stephanie Hirsh offers strategies that schools, districts and states can implement to improve teaching practice and student results. Her "but/also" format provides insightful gauges to evaluate existing professional learning systems and ensure that they meet today's educational challenges. Read the article (EdWeek).

Questions or comments about The Teachers Edition? Send them to ED's Teacher Liaison, Laurie Calvert:

Top 5 Teacher Quotes

Wisdom from educators heard by ED

 5. "I want to work in schools, and for a district, that operate out of the core understanding that the work of accomplished teaching--from the creation and modification of curriculum, refinement of instructional strategies, outreach to community and parents and collaboration with other adults--is deeply intellectual, challenging and relational." (Teacher, Boston, Mass.)

Arne Duncan and Classroom Teaching Ambassador Fellows

4. "Teachers are looking for opportunities to grow in the field of education. I know amazing teachers that feel trapped and disenchanted because their only opportunity for growth is administration." (Teacher, Atlanta, Ga.)

3. "The classroom I’ve always wanted is full of equipment for using engineering and technology to teach science. This classroom has the unconditional support of parents, administrators and community because no child will ever ask, 'When am I going to need to know this?'" (Principal, S.D.)

2. On the importance of ongoing professional learning for principals and teachers: "When you stop growing, you start rotting." (Principal, Knoxville, Tenn.)

1. "We're exhausted." (Teacher, N.J.)