Saturday, November 7, 2009

NJEA Teacher's Convention - 2009

Many educators in New Jersey consider these professional days off as a vacation period. However after 40 years in education I still like to go to the NJEA Teacher's Convention. I hit the convention floor searching for "out of the box" materials. Yesterday was no exception. In between all the same old things made for students who went to school back in the 40's & 50's and still being used, I found a few booths that had ready made materials consistent with required standards that provided for diversity in the classroom. However assessment and evaluation, like always, could have been better.

We arrived in beautiful sunshine, parking at the Taj Mahal

and left well after it got dark. Yes, we did play for a while and had a wonderful dinner.

Before I start I should state that I am not receiving any monetary compensation for my reviews. These are simply my opinions. A few booths did give me samples which will be stated within those reviews.

My daughter and I first stopped at the PITSCO Education booth from Pittsburg, Kansas. Their hands on/real world technical booklets reminded me of tasks performance projects my kids had done in school back in the early 90's and some that I had implemented. It was a small booth without a lot of flare and not a very enthusiastic representative. We perused the few booklets that were on the table. I found them to be of high interest and user friendly. However when I inquired about assessment and evaluation of student performance I was presented with the old fashioned paper and pencil problem-solving tests in the back of the booklets. Natually I was looking for diversified tools that used specific descriptors of progress. The representative quickly defended herself by sharing that she was the technical person and not the educational representative. Hmmm...

We moved on however I checked out their site today and the company really has great philosophies and curriculum's. The moral of this is first impressions really do impact one's perception. The following samples from their site can easily be integrated and used across the curriculum.

The teacher will have to design their own assessment and evaluation tools.

Our next stop was at the National Geographic Education booth. I love stopping by there to see their materials. Not only are their visuals fantastic but their materials are well developed for diversity within the classroom. I took more time this year to speak with the rep. Turns out she lives in a couple of towns over from me. Once I start talking my daughter moves on then returns. She moved on while I started my Spanish Inquisition. The rep was very knowledgeable and showed me several items that were of high interest but low level. After all kids that are 16 years old working on a 4th grade level don't need cartoon papers or enlarged print to further insult their abilities.

In checking out the National Geographic Education website I happened upon their Explorer Magazine. Now here's an inexpensive way to enhance curriculum with diversified instruction. I think workshops need to focus more on how to integrate these supplemental materials.

The first is for K-1, the second two are for 2-3 and 4-6. The design enables the teacher to diversify on various reading levels. The Extreme is for struggling readers grades 6-12. Well worth your time to visit the site for more terrific materials. I did request samples which will be forwarded by the representative.

Our next stop was really interesting and exciting - to an educator that is. It was another small booth but the reps were energetic, personable and above all knowledgeable about their materials. It was the Rosen Classroom where I met Dan. We talked the talk a bit and then he showed me "The Price of a Pioneer Journey" aka The Oregon Trail.

The subject matter was mathematics, adding and subtracting two-digit dollar amounts, but the design of booklet took the activities across the curriculum. The pictures were awesome and enhanced vocabulary development. Examples were user friendly while the text's font and background color were easy to see and read. The book comes as a 6-pack/single copy which is great if the teacher is using math centers. Then Dan put the icing on the cake. It turns out that the teacher can get a CD for interactive tasks associated with the theme of the book.

As we continued to talk about using US history to teach math, Dan pulled out "Civil War Recipes" which focused on adding and subtracting simple fractions. If you go to the above link Google preview allows you to view a few of the pages.

I used to have to design these kinds of lessons which took hours. Now here is a company that does it for the teacher. Again the book is high interest crossing the curriculum with real world tasks. The design integrates the Standards and allows for diversity within the classroom.

While perusing all the 6-pack/single copy booklets, I found this intro to fractions grades 2-3.

I used the Google Preview to get a look at the contents and liked what I saw. A real explanation about fractions. There's still another book titled "Fun With Fractions".

Dan eventually introduced me to our area consultant, Dwight Mann, who in turn further explained the various programs and shared that Rosen Classroom also has eBooks! Wow!!

You can purchase these the same as you do a regular book but of course save them on your computer or hand-held devices. This has to be an up and coming company! Before I left Dwight, Dan and Bill, another consultant, gave me samples of the above mentioned "The Price of a Pioneer Journey" and "Civil War Recipes". In addition they gave me the following: "On the Trail with Lewis and Clark", learning to use line graphs; "Colonial Teachers" and "Life During the American Civil War", both specifically for reading but crossing the curriculum.

Our last stop at the convention was the Cuisenaire booth. There's a long history between Cuisenaire and me. I started teaching in 1969. In 1972 I visited the NJ Teacher's Convention and upon visiting the Cuisenaire booth saw Cuisenaire rods used in mathematics. At the time I had absolutely no money nor did the school and back then it wasn't unusual for teachers to regularly invest their paychecks in classroom supplies. So since I couldn't afford them, I made them out of 3/4 round wood. It took a complete weekend with my husband, a friend of his and I to paint, measure, cut and combine a set for each of my students. I have to say it was well worth the effort. The kids loved them, used them and learned from them!

When we first approached the booth one of the consultants was demonstrating some weird method of doing math. She had quite a gathering. Leaning against a table behind her was another representative who looked as though he was bored until we came along. I told him about making the Cuisenaire rods which instantly put a smile on his face. That casual conversation lead to the the Writing Destinations Program kit that was right behind him. Would you believe I never got his card so I apologize for not providing a name. At any rate he was quite enthused about this program and went into great detail explaining how to use it successfully.

The consultant first showed us the Writing Resource & Journal book. I really liked what I saw.
  • Strategy support – color-coded editing and revising system
  • Word choice – mini thesaurus, sentence combining, transition
  • Prewriting – graphic organizers and semantic mapping
  • Writing tips – genre definitions and language support
  • Grammar and punctuation – glossary and guide
  • Conferring – student-teacher conference records

I was most taken by the Reading Rods Vocabulary Builder. It is such a simple method to enhance students' vocabulary in writing. Basically a rod has four sides with a different synonym on each side. For example if the student uses the word "run" and doesn't want to repetitively use it, he/she can turn the rod, finding three other options, "dash", "sprint", or "scamper".

I think this is the first time that I've ever seen a hands-on approach to writing. The worksheets lead the student through each stage of constructing well developed complete sentences while the explicit instruction manuals provide supports for the teacher. Multiple strategies and resources motivate the student while the assessments include a pre-assessment for baseline data, benchmark assessments and post-assessments for summative data. I believe this program is well worth your time to review.

Our consultant gave my daughter and I a sampler set for grades 3 and up. Now that I've had time to review the packet I am even more impressed as I can see the program being easily used in a diversified classroom.

So once more I had a quality day with my daughter who teaches 4th grade, enjoyed some professional growth, shared our finds at a wonderful dinner with my husband who joined us and remembered why I don't gamble.

For the rest of you, have a Firecrackin Great Day!!

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