Remembering Norman Schwarzkopf and his work for children

America was saddened by the death of General Norman Schwarzkopf on December 27, 2012. As I read the obituaries and articles commemorating this remarkable man’s achievements, I was struck by how he wanted to be remembered as more than a military man. He preferred the affectionate moniker “The Bear” to the ubiquitous “Stormin’ Norman.” He supported many charities and always championed children.

General Schwarzkopf was a pillar of the Tampa community, where he lived out his retirement years and I lived out my teenage years. As tribute, I want to share some of my memories of him and the public elementary school that bears his name.

I come from a military family: both my parents and both my grandfathers were career Air Force. When my parents retired to Tampa, Florida, our whole family was excited to learn that not only would my younger brother and sister attend H. Norman Schwarzkopf Elementary School, but the man himself would be our neighbor.

General Schwarzkopf lived about a third of a mile away from us. He shared a back yard with my little sister’s best friend. When my sister’s best friend was a toddler, he used to slip through the fence to play with the dogs. The Schwarzkopfs knew he was afraid of helicopters, so they notified the family when one was expected.

A common sight in the neighborhood was General Schwarzkopf walking his dogs, Griz and Orso. I remember Orso in particular because we misheard “Orzo” and wondered why he’d name his dog after pasta. Turned out the dog was Orso, Italian for ‘bear.’ You can read about the indomitable spirit of Orso Schwarzkopf here.

Students at Schwarzkopf Elementary School were very proud of their mascot, a bear with four stars on his hat. When we lived in Tampa, General Schwarzkopf bought ice cream for all 1,000 Bears every year. It was the good kind that came in little cups with a wooden spoon that somehow enhanced the vanilla flavor.

Just before my sister entered third grade, she saw General Schwarzkopf at our neighborhood Fourth of July party. She tapped him on his elbow—as high as she could reach—and declared, “Hey, I’m one of your Bears!” General Schwarzkopf stopped what he was doing and kneeled so he could be close to eye level with my sister, then talked with her for a few moments. He cared deeply about the students at his school and he knew how excited they were whenever they saw him, whether at school or in the neighborhood.

Schwarzkopf Elementary School was important to me, because it was where I started learning how to be a teacher. I volunteered over a hundred hours there while I was in high school, as a math tutor and as a teacher’s helper at the Gifted Summer School. My parents supported the Secret Bear program, where voluntary cash donations helped to ensure all students could afford field trips, school pictures, yearbooks and other needs that might be financial stumbling blocks during the school year.

More about General Schwarzkopf’s philanthropy:

He founded Camp Boggy Creek with actor Paul Newman. The camp serves children with chronic or life-threatening illnesses. General Schwarzkopf enjoyed interacting with the campers and seeing the camp succeed in its mission.

He founded the Norman Schwarzkopf Sporting Clays Classic, a tournament that draws world-class skeet shooters. The tournament raises money for the Children’s Home, a shelter for kids who have been abused or neglected.

He used his fame to raise public awareness of prostate cancer. He served as the national spokesman for Prostate Cancer Awareness Week and supported the National Prostate Cancer Coalition.

Fun fact: the “H” in H. Norman Schwarzkopf stands for “Herbert,” but my little sister thought it stood for “Hero.” She wanted to grow up and have a school named for her, with “H” before her name.

Comments Off on Remembering Norman Schwarzkopf and his work for children
Posted in Academics by Corey Green @ Dec 31, 2012


Fun and Educational Games on the American Girl Website

American Girls SeriesThe American Girl series of books have been so helpful in my classrooms—whether I taught 3rd, 4th, or 5th grade. The books do a wonderful job of dramatizing eras in our country’s history, which helps students build a schema that helps them comprehend new content. (More simply, kids will understand a lesson about the Great Depression more easily if they read some books about Kit.)

Previously, I have written about the American Girl books and movies. Now, I want to extol the virtues of the American Girl online games.

There are games for all the American Girl characters. Some are mostly educational, others are mostly fun. All the games make students more interested in American Girl characters and books.

My best use of the American Girl online games was as an incentive for my American Girl challenge. I challenged my class to read at least one book about each of the historical characters. We set benchmarks with rewards: read 2 books and you can watch the Kit movie with the class, read 4 and we’ll watch the Felicity movie, etc.

Students who kept up also got to play the American Girl games during specially scheduled computer lab time. (Students who were behind on their reading sat in the back and read.) After one of those sessions, my students decided to get on board and do their reading so they could participate fully in the American Girl awesomeness.

Even the boys liked it! I take sexism out of it as much as I can. I tell the entire class that there is nothing like American Girl for boys, and so the girls owe it to the boys to not tease them about reading books about girls. That speech does the trick because the students understand that they have the power to create the environment they want to learn in.

There are several ways to access the games. I have listed many because they might help you create links for your class.

General access to games

Historical characters: this displays the game menus for all. Click on the girl whose era you want to teach.

Girl of the year: These are modern girls. Click on the girl for access to books, games, etc.

List of American Girls with links to their books:

Kaya 1764: a Native American Girl

Felicity Merriman , 1774: a horse-loving girl caught between Patriot and Loyalist family and friends during the American Revolution

Josefina Montoya , 1824: lives in New Mexico when it was part of Mexico

Kirsten Larson , 1854: a Swedish immigrant who settles in the Minnesota Territory

Addy Walker , 1864: a fugitive slave who escapes to Pennsylvania during the Civil War

Samantha Parkington , 1904: an orphan being raised by a wealthy family during the Victorian period

Rebecca Rubin , 1914: a Jewish girl growing up in the Lower East Side of New York City

Kit Kittredge , 1934: faces the hard times of the Great Depression

Molly McIntire , 1944: keeps the home fires burning during World War II

Julie Albright , 1974: A San Francisco girl facing the changes of the mid-1970s

Comments Off on Fun and Educational Games on the American Girl Website
Posted in Book Lists,Social Studies by Corey Green @ Dec 28, 2012


How to Use the PlagTracker Plagiarism Checking Site in Elementary School

A National Board Certified Teacher offers advice on how to teach elementary school students to research and write papers. The PlagTracker website helps teachers show what NOT to do.

Elementary school teachers struggle to teach students how to write a research paper. Every single step is hard:

Choosing a topic (some kids aren’t interested in ANYTHING!)

Finding resources (most nonfiction goes over kids’ heads; some kids choose difficult-to-document topics)

Behaving in the library or computer lab during research time

Taking notes (some kids copy everything; others have no notes)

Writing the rough draft in your own words (does changing “the” to “a” count?)

Revising the rough draft (no kid cares about this step)

Writing the final draft (with some kids, the whole process was such a struggle that not even the teacher honestly still cares at this point)

PlagTracker can help with at least part of the research-paper process. The free website lets you copy and paste your paper into a form box. Then PlagTracker scans the paper against 20 million academic works (and the Internet) and generates a report showing whether your paper has issues. Each issue is highlighted and the site explains exactly what the problem is.

Elementary school teachers can copy-and-paste past and current papers to show students just what constitutes original work. Many students think that if they change a few words here and there, they can basically copy out of reference books. Other students don’t even bother to change a word here and there. PlagTracker shows why this is a problem.

The site really works. For my first test case, I uploaded a blog entry I wrote about the Tuskegee Airmen. PlagTracker calculated that my blog entry was 92% non-unique content—because PlagTracker knew about my blog entry! PlagTracker must be really thorough if it even checks ClassAntics. (Just to be clear—I didn’t really plagiarize the post. I did real research, honest!)

Additionally, PlagTracker can be used to scare students about the dire consequences that can arise from plagiarism.

“Many college and university students face extreme penalties for plagiarism such as failing an assignment, loss of privileges, academic probation, or even expulsion. In some cases, punishments can include lawsuits, criminal charges, and sometimes imprisonment. Even if you commit unintentional plagiarism, it can still be viewed as plagiarism in the eyes of the law. Why risk being penalized for plagiarism when with you can be 100% sure that your writing is unique?” (

Scary stuff! I think we’ll all be more careful about what we write and how we cite!

Happy research paper writing! Quick help with some of the other research paper issues:

Get kids to choose topics quickly by scheduling topic-choosing time about 10 minutes before recess. Once kids choose a topic, they can go out to play.

As for the behavior in the library and computer lab—may I suggest a bribe? Extra recess (or even just a lollipop) for every child who remains quiet during research time and emerges with at least two actual sources.

Comments Off on How to Use the PlagTracker Plagiarism Checking Site in Elementary School
Posted in Tips for Teachers,Writing by Corey Green @ Dec 21, 2012


Bring Flowers to Your Classroom

Create a cheerful and calming environment by bringing nature into your classroom.

I stumbled upon this tip as a substitute teacher while I was in grad school. In one classroom I subbed in, the teacher had placed live flowers in the middle of each table group of desks. Next to the flowers were a cup of water and a medicine dropper. Anytime during the day, the students could take a little break and feed the flowers. The kids found this to be both calming and cheering. Anyone who has ever tended a garden knows that taking care of a living thing really puts life in perspective. Sometimes that’s just what kids need to get them through long division.

When I was a beginning teacher, I did the same thing, but with bamboo plants. It was cool, but became a pain during breaks because I had to take all of the bamboo home. The next year, I switched to artificial flowers.

They worked just as well! Plus, upkeep was much easier. The flowers brought life and happiness into the classroom. They really broke up the formica fake-wood desks nicely. The kids loved having them as centerpieces.

I found another use for the flowers: clutter replacers. I bought cheap flower arrangements at Ross ($5 each) and placed them around the classroom, wherever the kids and I tended to leave piles of papers or books. The classroom stayed neater because there wasn’t space for the clutter.

Flower pens are good, too. I made three arrangements, one for each space in the classroom where I tended to do work, but it seemd like I never had a pen. It worked quite nicely. Sometimes I let the kids use the pens as a special treat.

The flowers are also useful for school events. My classroom flowers have brightened potlucks, volunteer luncheons, you name it.

You might be wondering if all these flowers make the classroom too feminine, but that has not been my experience. Boys and girls like the flowers equally well. Our room’s dominant color is green, so the flowers are just accents. I try to use yellow, orange, red or white as the dominant flower colors. (Plus, a classroom where fun nicknames, Fort Day, Greek tortoise formations for the school parade, and Captain Underpants all figure prominently is just not that feminine.)

Flower buying tips:

I bought centerpieces at JoAnn Fabrics. They have a really nice selection of flower bunches. I got the copper flowerpots there, too.

Wal-Mart has a good selection of flowers. I buy bunches of flowers to cut up and use for pens. It’s more economical that way.

You can find neat flowers at dollar stores, but some of them look really cheap. Be judicious with your picks!

The flower centerpieces tend to last a school year or two. The worn-out bunches can then be cut up and rearranged into clutter-replacing arrangements.

Ross, TJ Maxx, Marshalls and similar stores have inexpensive flower arrangements in interesting vases.

Goodwill stores often have flower arrangements and greenery for your classroom at a great price.

You don’t want all the flower arrangements to match; it will look like a wedding. A good rule of thumb is to have no more than two or three of the same flower arrangement. You do want to use complementary colors that look good together.

Comments Off on Bring Flowers to Your Classroom
Posted in Classroom Management,Classroom setup,Tips for Teachers by Corey Green @ Dec 10, 2012


Black & White – A Crystal Kite Award Winner

Black and White: The Confrontation between Reverend Fred L. Shuttlesworth and Eugene “Bull” Connor
by Larry Dane Brimner
AR book level 8.7/Point value: 4
Available at

Take your civil rights lessons beyond Dr. King with this insightful book about the conflict in Birmingham. Few things in life are black and white, but I don’t see any other way to spin the conflict between civil rights leader Reverend Fred L. Shuttlesworth and segregationist Eugene “Bull” Connor. After reading about civil rights activists being bombed, jailed, attacked, and killed, I think your students will agree that Black & White is a fitting title.

I learned about Black & White at a SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) conference. Author Larry Dane Brimner received the prestigious Crystal Kite Award for this book. After hearing his acceptance speech and attending a breakout session on how he wrote the book, I knew I had to read it, review it, and most importantly, share it.

Black & White has plenty of photos that help the reader believe the incomprehensible events that occurred in Birmingham during the civil rights movement. Today’s students are at least one generation removed from the civil rights movement and they truly might not believe some of what happened.

Accelerated Reader classifies the book as the 8.7 reading level, and I have to agree. This book is perfect for middle school. Older elementary students may enjoy it, but the descriptions of the important legal battles may be difficult for them to understand.

If the book is too difficult for your students, you might want to read it yourself and then teach students from it. They can learn a lot by looking at the pictures and listening to you tell about Reverend Shuttlesworth and Bull Connor. Author Larry Dane Brimner shows how Reverend Shuttlesworth was able to use Bull Connor’s zeal against him, ultimately showing the country just how bad things were in Birmingham and paving the way for real change.

To me, the climax of Black & White is the children’s march. The world was horrified to see images of police dogs and fire hoses turned on the young demonstrators. Black & White coordinates well with the Southern Poverty Law Center’s documentary Mighty Times: The Children’s March. You can request a FREE teaching kit with lessons and the movie.

Here’s the link to the official teacher’s guide for Black & White.  Be sure to visit author Larry Dane Brimner’s site. You can learn about his books and find out how to book him for an author visit or professional conference.

Comments Off on Black & White – A Crystal Kite Award Winner
Posted in Book Reviews,Social Studies by Corey Green @ Dec 3, 2012