We all know that critical classroom visits can mean the difference between a static teacher and a growing one, but what’s the best way to do these observational visits? ASCD’s “17,000 Classroom visits can’t be wrong: Strategies that engage students, promote active learning, and boost achievement” may be a mouthful, but it’s a thorough how-to manual for classroom scrutiny with practical suggestions on creating engaging activities, using feedback and shifting the emphasis from teaching to learning. John Antonetti and James Garver show how to create valuable educational insight from classroom walkthroughs. The 190-page book costs $28.95, $21.95 for ASCD members.
In an OverDrive-based digital library, ebooks are just like physical volumes, only better. The software lets students browse the catalog and check-out ebooks that can be read on free versions of OverDrive for PCs, Macs, Androids, iPads and Chromebooks. Everything has a due date when the ebook is automatically returned to the collection for another reader. Along the way, OverDrive can not only display the material in several fonts and sizes, but adds definitions, bookmarks and the ability to search the entire book. You can even use the software for audiobooks, which can be played at a variety of speeds.
Often, hearing a book read by a good narrator or group can be as good as having the class read it to each other, but audio books can be expensive for a library to get. Enter Librivox, which collects and offers for download a good assortment of public domain books. From over 100 books by Charles Dickens and Rupert Brooke’s poetry to Thomas Paine’s “Common Sense” and a variety of Shakespeare’s plays, the site has an eclectic mix that can augment many classes with spoken audio. Each comes with a description, rundown of chapters and often a link to online text downloads. While most of the roughly 20,000 volumes are in English, there are many in French, German and a smattering in Arabic and Urdu. If you like what you hear, you can either donate to help this non-profit or – better yet – set up a class project to record a book for others to enjoy.
Learning that doesn’t seem like education is the best way to teach, or so says Cy Tymony in his “Sneaky Math” book. The latest in Tymony’s Sneaky books, the math text covers everything from counting to calculus, but in a way that examines the world around us. Rather than a blackboard and chalk, he uses things like Frisbees and radio-controlled cars to demonstrate and explore math concepts. The book costs $13.
In an age where e-books, tablets and notebooks are trying to dominate science education, there’s still a place for the good book, or more precise, four good books. For example, Shelter Harbor Press’s Ponderables series provides not only a good look at the history of math, physics, astronomy and the elements, but includes wall timelines to adorn the typical classroom that show how each topic fits into our scientific and cultural history.
All four books are by science writer Tom Jackson and sell for $25, although you can get the set for about $70. Each is organized around 100 small and mid-sized snippets of text along with lots of historical photos and illustrations. The set should be part of every middle and high-school classroom.
- “The Elements,” not only provides a guided tour of the periodic table, but is organized by historical period so it can provide perspective on everything from the discovery of the electron to magnetism. The back of the book has brief illustrated biographical sketches of all the major players.
- “Mathematics” is more abstract, dealing with the history and evolution of numbers and their manipulation. With sections that range from the Pythagorean Theorem to Pi, the book is a great companion to just about any math class. It’s up to date with the latest information on Mersenne primes that are key to current encryption techniques and fractals.
- As its name implies, “Physics” deals with the physical world, from subatomic particles to string theory. Along the way, the book explains Newton’s laws, the Doppler effect and how the electron microscope works.
- While the other three books deal with thousands of years of history, the “Universe” volume reaches back nearly 14-billion years to the big bang. A big bonus is that the back of its timeline has a star chart of the known universe.
With interactive projectors, smartboards and touch-screen monitors around, how’s a school to choose? Mimio has a 28-page ebook that goes over the major questions and answers that deal with specific school and district needs. There are five buyer’s tips, a look at collaborative lessons and includes the factors for selecting a touch-screen over the competition. Be warned, though, you’ll need to register with Mimio to get the ebook.
There’s no shortage of books and interactive lessons on building Web sites, but Nate Cooper has what is probably the first comic book on the tools needed to create a Web presence. The 264-page book has a series of pen and ink drawings by Kim Gee that explain the intricacies of everything from HTML and Cascading Style Sheets to how to get the most out of Wordpress. The book follows Kim and her dog Tofu as they learn about how to make a Web site. It’s all painless, highly educational and can be had on Amazon for about $13 a copy.
While you can’t teach experience to a new teacher, there are a slew of techniques that can help those just starting out in the classroom, and ASCD has put together a package of three books by teaching pros to aid newbies. The titles include:
• “Never Work Harder Than Your Students and Other Principles of Great Teaching,” by Robyn R. Jackson
• “The New Teacher’s Companion: Practical Wisdom for Succeeding in the Classroom,” by Gini Cunningham
• “Where Great Teaching Begins: Planning for Student Thinking and Learning,” by Anne R. Reeves
There are sample chapters to see if these are the right books and the best part is that the books cost $63.88 or $48.68 if you’re an ASCD member.
And that turns out to be a good thing, because there’s no better way to stir a child’s imagination and use that curiosity to teach them about electricity, physics and programming than with robots. For those teachers who are unsure about their robotic or programming abilities, there’s No Starch Press’s “The Lego Mindstorms EV3 Discovery Book.” With lively text and color photos, the book shows and explains how to make six mechanical creatures – including tips on the delicate assembly process – from the basic EV3 set, including a race car and a six-legged walker. It costs $35.