How to Win Interclass Competitions

Many schools have interclass competitions for all sorts of events: readathons, jogathons, fundraiser competitions, school spirit days.

I am not insanely competitive, and I don’t push my class to win everything. Winning takes a lot of dedication from the teacher, students, and families. I think it’s best to put that kind of energy into educational goals.

Here are the five tips I developed when G3 decided to win the school readathon.

1.  Set your goal high, and make it measurable. Yes, your goal is to be the best, but what do you think it will take to win? It’s only an estimate, but quantifying really helps. Your class can revise the estimate as early results come in.

2.  Set the goal for individual contributions. The competition is organized by class, but you’ll have to figure out what each person needs to do. Often, I find that the per-person goal is fairly low. Watch out for this—it makes people think they don’t have to do anything. As with most things in life, a few students will carry the rest. The next tip increases the numbers in the few, the proud…

3.  Reward individuals. Decide on a reward for individuals in your class who work hard to achieve the goal. For our readathon, we decided on an Oreo party for everyone who got their log signed each night and read a minimum number of minutes. Participation soared!

4.  Encourage the kids to motivate each other. My students and I identified a surprising pitfall in our quest for the readathon championship: the reading itself wasn’t so hard, but remembering to put the signed reading log in your backpack each night was. My students called each other to remind them to put their signed reading logs in their backpack each night. (Bonus: G3 parents got phone numbers for other G3 students.)

5.  Communicate with families. In most interclass competitions, parents’ support is essential to success, for example: signing the reading log, making sure the school T-shirt is laundered, making cans of food available to donate. The class performs better when the teacher forms a partnership with parents.  I sent emails at critical points in our quest for the championship.

When G3 won the school readathon, we invited our families to help us celebrate during the last few minutes of the school day. Families who couldn’t attend were encouraged to hold their own celebrations at home.  I think it’s an important life lesson for my students to learn how to create lifetime memories celebrating their accomplishments. This helps kids internalize goals and intrinsic rewards. Those benefits last a lifetime!

Comments Off on How to Win Interclass Competitions
Posted in Classroom Management,Tips for Teachers by Corey Green @ Feb 28, 2012


Coretta Scott King Book Awards 2012

Author Award Winner:
Heart and Soul: The Story of America and African Americans
by Kadir Nelson, author and illustrator.

The story is told from the viewpoint of an elderly woman who shares her life story while highlighting pivotal historical events including abolition, the Great Migration, World War II, and the Civil Rights movement.

Watch Kadir Nelson’s video description of the book:

Illustrator Award Winner:
Underground: Finding the Light to Freedom

Shane W. Evans’ effective interplay of dark and light characterizes this portrayal of a band of slaves’ nighttime escape.

Author Honor:
The Great Migration: Journey to the North
by Eloise Greenfield

Greenfield’s book describes the Great Migration of 1915-1930, when African-American families left their homes in the South and moved to the North.

Never Forgotten
by Patricia C. McKissack

Watch an interview with Patricia and Frederick McKissack, who began writing books when they decided they wanted to do something about the lack of children’s stories about African Americans.

Illustrator Honor:
Kadir Nelson was honored for his illustrations in Heart and Soul: The Story of America and African Americans.

Coretta Scott King – Virginia Hamilton Award for Lifetime Achievement:
Ashley Bryan, storyteller, artist, author, poet, and musician whose numerous awards include the Coretta Scott King Book Award for Let it Shine and Beautiful Blackbird.

Watch a video interview with Ashley Bryan.

From the American Library Association website: Given to African American authors and illustrators for outstanding inspirational and educational contributions, the Coretta Scott King Book Award titles promote understanding and appreciation of the culture of all peoples and their contribution to the realization of the American dream of a pluralistic society. The award is designed to commemorate the life and works of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and to honor Mrs. Coretta Scott King for her courage and determination to continue the work for peace and world brotherhood.

Comments Off on Coretta Scott King Book Awards 2012
Posted in Book Lists,Social Studies by Corey Green @ Feb 23, 2012


Teaching the Civil Rights Movement, Part 2

Ruby BridgesPart two: ideas and resources for the classroom

The National Assessment of Educational Progress—commonly called “The Nation’s Report Card”—tells a dismal story: Only 2% of high school seniors in 2010 could answer a simple question about the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark Brown v. Board of Education decision.

This report certainly matches my experience as a teacher. Every year, I am shocked at how little students know about the civil rights movement. (You’d think I would learn, but I’m shocked every year.) The students—if I’m lucky—have hazy memories of learning about Rosa Parks and Dr. King.

Earlier, I posted a blog entry about the Southern Poverty Law Center’s study, Teaching the Movement: The State of Civil Rights Education 2011, which examined state standards and curriculum requirements related to the study of the modern civil rights movement in all 50 states and Washington, D.C.

It’s interesting that the important concept the SPLC’s report noted was lacking in state standards—opposition encountered by activists—is the concept that helps kids understand the civil rights movement.

When you teach students about the racism, violence, and hate African-Americans lived with every day, students understand “why we find it difficult to wait.” Here are some suggestions for how to teach the civil rights movement at an elementary school level:

> Read “Letter from Birmingham Jail” by Dr. King. His descriptions of the pain of segregation always tear at students’ hearts. This is a good lesson to present early in your unit on civil rights.

>Read “Ballad of Birmingham,” about the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama in 1963 in which four girls were killed. Of all the lessons I present about civil rights, this is the most emotional and memorable for students.

> Really analyze the “I have a dream” speech. You can use the teaching notes I created to help you. Running alongside the speech, my notes explain important historical references, vocabulary terms, allusions, and examples of good rhetorical techniques. If you teach students about the speech before you show it on video, the students will be utterly entranced. They won’t forget how they felt the first time they heard it. My students always thank me, because they know I gave them a gift when I showed them how to appreciate the speech. Click here for an excellent DVD with the “I have a dream” speech and related documentaries.

> Watch “Our Friend, Martin,” an excellent animated movie that has real footage from the era. It’s voiced by an all-star cast including Whoopi Goldberg and Angela Bassett. The movie is very expensive, but you might be able to borrow it from a fellow teacher, your district video center, the public library, or Netflix.

> Read “Teammates,” a picture book about Jackie Robinson’s rookie year in Major League Baseball. With elegant and simple language and illustrations, this book shows the indignities faced by African-Americans and the hate they encountered.

> Listen to music from the era—starting with “We Shall Overcome.” Listen to it performed by the Morehouse College Glee Club on YouTube. You can also listen to other music about the era. My students love “Pride (In the name of love)” by U2.

> Teach students about Brown versus Board of Education. Note: modern parlance has led to the need to explain to students that “Brown” refers to the lead plaintiff’s name, Linda Brown, not the skin color of the plaintiffs. (My Mexican-American students were confused by this at first.) You can read an overview of the case, brush up on myths versus truths, and request free activity booklets to help you teach students about the landmark case.

> Watch the Disney movie Ruby Bridges. This movie pushes the envelope enough to really show the stakes, but it keeps things appropriate for school. Your students will be shocked at the brazenness of the white opposition—particularly the crowds outside Ruby’s school each morning. The movie addresses so much more—Ruby’s father’s experience in the “integrated” military, anti-Semitism in Ruby’s neighborhood, and the opposition her white teacher faced for standing by Ruby. Read my blog entry about the movie.

> Read everything you can! I set out my own collection of books and pictures books about the civil rights movement, and I check out titles from our school library for students to read. Once you get them interested in the civil rights movement, they will continue to learn on their own. Black History Month will continue all year.  It is a proud moment for the teacher when students tell each other about what they have read.

> Check out the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Teaching Tolerance program. You can request teaching kits, subscribe to Teaching Tolerance magazine, and get ideas for classroom activities.

“An educated populace must be taught basics about American history,” said Julian Bond in his preface to the Southern Poverty Law Center’s report. “One of these basics is the civil rights movement, a nonviolent revolution as important as the first American Revolution. It is a history that continues to shape the America we all live in today.”

Comments Off on Teaching the Civil Rights Movement, Part 2
Posted in Academics,Social Studies by Corey Green @ Feb 16, 2012


Teaching the Civil Rights Movement, Part 1

Part one: Study shows more than half of states fail at teaching civil rights movement

The civil rights movement is one of the defining events in U.S. history, but most states fail when it comes to teaching the movement to students, a first-of-its kind study by the Southern Poverty Law Center has found.

The study, Teaching the Movement: The State of Civil Rights Education 2011, examined state standards and curriculum requirements related to the study of the modern civil rights movement in all 50 states and Washington, D.C. It includes a foreword by noted civil rights activist and historian Julian Bond. Click here to read the report.

In his foreword, Julian Bond writes that he feared he was “talking down” to students in civil rights history sessions at some of the nation’s most prestigious universities, so he created a simple quiz. He need not have worried. None of the students could tell him who George Wallace was. (Answer: the segregationist governor of Alabama who stood in the door of the University of Alabama to prevent it being integrated. He ran for president.) Students knew sanitized accounts of the lives of Dr. King and Rosa Parks.

The study compared the requirements in state standards to a body of knowledge that reflects what civil rights historians and educators consider core information about the civil rights movement.

Interesting findings:

> 35 states received grades of F

> Of those, 16 states, where local officials set specific policies and requirements for their school districts, have no requirements at all for teaching about the civil rights movement

> Only 3 states received an A—Alabama, New York, and Florida.

> Generally speaking, the farther from the South—and the smaller the African-American population—the less attention paid to the civil rights movement. Most states receiving a C or better are in the South—suggesting the civil rights movement is viewed as a regional concern rather than a national interest

> Civil rights lessons tend to focus on a few leaders—Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Rosa Parks, rather than obstacles civil rights activists faced, like racism and resistance.

“For too many students, their civil rights education boils down to two people and four words: Rosa Parks, Dr. King and ‘I have a dream,'” said Maureen Costello, the SPLC’s Teaching Tolerance director.

My newest novel, Double Switched, has a strong civil rights theme and a funny scene that illustrates just how little most students know about the civil rights movement. I assure you that in my experience as a teacher, the scene is very realistic.

Background: Connor and his friends do a group project about the civil rights movement. Connor presents information he learned from interviewing his father, who grew up in the (recently) desegregated South and went on to play for the New York Yankees. Tyler presents a report about Dr. King. Connor accidentally interrupts Tyler’s report, and then both boys step on each other as they continue presenting.

The class is utterly confused. To the kids, Dr. King and Connor’s dad are switched. Sample questions from Connor’s classmates:

> What position did Dr. King play?

> What was his ERA?

> Why do you keep calling him Doctor if he didn’t finish college?

> Who got a C in public speaking?

> Whose mom worked for a white family?

> When was Dr. King a Yankee?

Prevent such a mix-up in your class. Teach the civil rights movement!

Comments Off on Teaching the Civil Rights Movement, Part 1
Posted in Academics,Social Studies by Corey Green @ Feb 13, 2012


Super Bowl Guacamole: Eva Longoria’s Best-ever Recipe

For years, I have read magazine interviews in which actress Eva Longoria* mentions that she makes the world’s best guacamole.  This month she was kind enough to share her recipe with Self magazine—just in time for the Super Bowl**!  Eva Longoria’s guacamole will go very well with chili.

Try it and you’ll see: it really is the best ever!  I live in the Southwest, so I know a thing or two about guacamole.  Every year, students make guacamole and salsa for the class for their “How-to” presentations.

Best Guacamole EVER!

6 ripe avocados, diced
4 medium tomatoes, diced
1 large white onion, finely chopped
1 medium Serrano pepper, finely chopped
½ cup chopped fresh cilantro
½ cup fresh lemon juice
2 tsp kosher salt

Mix all ingredients.  That’s it!

If you like the recipe, check out Eva Longoria’s new cookbook, Eva’s Kitchen: Cooking with Love for Family and Friends

*of Desperate Housewives fame.  I have seen some of Eva’s movies.  I really liked Over Her Dead Body—Eva is very funny as a bride who dies on her wedding day—and haunts her fiancé when he falls for a psychic.

**Funny story: one year I asked a routine question while teaching third grade math and a boy raised his hand.  Instead of answering, he blurted out, “Okay, who do you like: the Saints or the Colts?  It took me forever to calm the class down.  I asked the boy to write a paragraph about why you don’t poll the class about football during math.

Comments Off on Super Bowl Guacamole: Eva Longoria’s Best-ever Recipe
Posted in Food,Tips for Parents by Corey Green @ Feb 1, 2012