George Lucas Educational Foundation

If you could wave a magic wand...

If you could wave a magic wand...

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Hi, all, This is my first post. So, please allow me to take just a second to provide a little background. I was a classroom mathematics teacher for 24 years and then mentored teachers in a math coach capacity. Recently, I have begun work with a team of educators who create instructional materials and provide support services to middle school math classrooms across the country. This brings me to this post's subject line. If you could wave a magic wand and be granted one wish for your classroom/school/district that would help you teach even more effectively and, consequently, help your students learn even better, for what would you ask? Would it be some type of resource, access to a new technology, a curriculum change, a type of professional development, or perhaps a logistic/organizational change of some sort? Or is there a trend that sounds quite promising -- something you would like to implement in your classroom/school/district? While mathematics education is my passion, I'd love to hear from middle school teachers in all disciplines/capacities. Here's looking forward to a lively and enlightening conversation. Thanks!

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Tom Bronson's picture
Tom Bronson
Middle School Math (including Alg I, Geo, and Alg II) from Tampa, FL

I was able to have a class set of Navigators for an entire year because of TIs willingness to allow "test drives". I asked them about them and the rep allowed me to try them for a month. A month turned into two, and so on. Finally, in June, he called me and said, "Hey, I figured you were using them, so why should I let them sit in the trunk of my car?" I guess I'll have to try that with the CBLs.

We've used the study card program for back to school night. I created a ten question stack and had the calcs on the desk when the parents came in. They were set to repeat missed questions only and all of the questions pertained to the math team and the math program. So, we gave them about 5 minutes with the calculators, took questions, and sent them on their way. It was one of the best received BTS presentations ever.

I have many fond memories of Columbus. I sing in barbershop choruses and quartets and the Central Ohio Chapter (The Singing Buckeyes) used to sponsor an invitational competition every August. My quartet won the contest in 2000 and then, in 2001, we were treated like royalty. Picked up at the airport, whisked away to the Hyatt, chauffeured to the different performances as outgoing champs. It was a great time. I absolutely love the Palace Theatre. Small, but just a fun hall to sing in.

I'm also an avid disc golfer, so having good courses around the perimeter of the city was an added bonus.


Sybrina's picture
Former Classroom Mathematics Teacher and Math Coach


You must know Doug. Yes, he is the one with Algebra 1 programs. And, I can hear him talking about the importance of subroutines and archiving.

Did you know he is also an avid member of the Central Ohio Singing Buckeyes?

I will try to locate his e-mail and tell him I've found a fellow programming guru.

Have a great weekend. I'm planning on watching some basketball. Go Bucks!


Ann Hyde's picture
Ann Hyde
Special Ed English teacher, Anchorage, Alaska

I find myself wishing every day for the following:
* students who are curious and inventive
* parents who are supportive and involved with their kids
* students who are prepared mentally, emotionally, behaviorally, and academically for the rigors of high school.

I can help kids so much more if they are curious and involved, ready to try the assignments/projects, and have time and space at home to work.

Sybrina's picture
Former Classroom Mathematics Teacher and Math Coach

Hi, Ann,

Good to hear from you. Thanks for your comment.

You've put together an interesting list. I can't imagine that there are very many teachers who haven't wished for at least one of these at some point during their careers.

So, are you a high school teacher? If yes, what is your specialization?
I am a former high school mathematics teacher myself.


fred's picture

The Singapore educational math schedule is more evolved than Florida`s.It`s a matter of add url thing..

Carol Parker's picture
Carol Parker
7/8 Drama, Film, Honors & Regular Language Arts

but one is a POOF and go away forever....that is AR!
How do any of you feel about Accelerated Reader? I am afraid to ask. I love to teach Literature. I want my students to hold and hug and take their books all over with them. To their dental appointments, on vacation, everywhere and as they jump into bed with their nite lite on. READING IS A GIFT and A BOOK IS HEAVEN!!

I teach critical thinking and discussing and chewing up the gut of the book. Let's talk and discuss and compare and contrast together,let's laugh and cry, let's talk about the wonderful survival of the protagonist and how dare the antagonist. Let's question the values and the time period and mostly I want to put myself in the other person's shoes for just an hour and ask my students to do the same. Pleas take notes and make notes in the books (if you own them) and you must be able to keep the notes in front of you writing the report.

I have books I NEVER want to EVER give away or share. They are my DEAR friends. I give books as a gift. Book Stores are dangerous for me, I have to leave my credit card at home. I warn my students that some stories you need coffee to stay up all night to finish the book!

A computerized reading/book "report" test is gastly!! We are not allowing our children to get off the computer and write a wonderful thoughtful, book report. Instead, we are creating less creativity and more robotics in school. No matter what, they are reading and pushing a button, reading and pushing a button, reading and pushing a button. That wonderful book they read is gone, turned in, the student probably forgot the color of the cover, and most likely the biography of the author. Ah, not important!

For the AR test, the questions are there. They do not have to think. They do not have to go out of the box. They do not get the chance to think creatively. They do not get a chance to offer their own opinions and insights. We are creating more robots in society. And, more time on a computer and less time face to face with human beings, their peers, their teachers in a group, or their friends to discuss the book.

When my students hand in a written book report I read them and comment on their positive opinions. They have learned how to write a book report and how to pull apart stories. This is an on going class process connected to the California Standards. They rarely complain!

School districts buy this because who thought about this? Someone who sat on a computer and went to a school where the arts were not important and never understood individuality and creative thinking? I see educators struggle to get students to take AR tests. The issue should not be the TEST. The issue should be READING. We are in an era where the computer is more important than anything, including reading a book.

The technology is great, but it is an addiction. We need our students writing book reports, not punching in answers. The message we need to send is that we expect them to read and think seriously about what they read and to write seriously about what they read.

Easy, not always. Ever lasting as a lifetiime skill and part of being well educated. I think so.

Charlie Chaplin got it in 1930 in his marvelous silent film MODERN TIMES. Only an artist could see, in silence, the sorrow that was about to befall society. The irony of the arts in education. And, a beautiful book is a work of art.

Sybrina's picture
Former Classroom Mathematics Teacher and Math Coach

Hi, Carol,

It is good to hear from you. You certainly pose some interesting points.

As a math teacher, I must say that I am not familiar with Accelerated Reader. Nevertheless, I hear the frustration in your voice. There have certainly been math programs or movements over the years that have elicited similar responses in me.

All I can say is hang in there and continue to fight the good fight.

Thanks for responding!


Carol Parker's picture
Carol Parker
7/8 Drama, Film, Honors & Regular Language Arts

Sybrina, Thank you. I appreciate your response.
I look forward to ELA teachers responding. It is great to know MATH teachers have as much frustration as we do.
Ann Hyde: PERFECT, You have said it ALL!! And, I believe part of the lack of curiosity is that the arts and sports have been cut and the TV/Internet have killed their curiosity!
Interested in hearing more.

Jeff Reiter's picture

If I could wave a magic wand for public education, I would wish that among the highest priorities would be to do whatever is necessary to enable at-risk readers to read on grade level by the end of first grade. With current resources such an effort would be extremely costly and difficult to achieve. However, there are very powerful one-on-one supplementary procedures that can be of significant help in accomplishing this goal that have so far remained a "best kept secret." I am hoping that this introductory information will motivate interest towards the investigation of these ideas, which are simple to use and enable almost anyone to help at-risk readers. By sharing instructions and demonstrations through YouTube and materials from a website, the door would be open to extremely effective community oriented possibilities promoting literacy, lessening the achievement gap, and raising the graduation rate.

As a learning disabilities teacher (now retired), using insights that have evolved from dealing with my own learning problems, for many years I pursued ideas that have developed into an exciting, extremely successful way to help at-risk readers that I call Tailored Reading. The simplicity of the program has generated an easily managed accountability system that enables the tutor (and anyone even a little familiar with the program) to have immediate access to the child's known words and phonics abilities. This makes it possible for concerned individuals to provide meaningful help and fun activities, making even a few available minutes a valuable learning experience.

The system focuses on the highly personalized process of finding what the child knows about letters and words (which can be done quickly for beginning readers) and relating new information to the known in such a way that the child is and feels successful. Immediately after a quick inventory of letter and word knowledge during the first session, with the help of color-coding and picture clues, even total nonreaders are shown that they can meet with success using a motivational sentence-making card game. By simply placing each word, which is printed on its own card, color-coded to its part of speech, on the same colored space on the mat, a sentence is formed, such as, "A dog is in the car." At-risk readers usually have poor memories, especially for information that needs to be learned by rote. Using the above mentioned and other learning and memory-aids and meaningful associations, learning becomes much more accessible and fun. What makes it particularly exciting is that since the system is simple enough to enable less-than-literate (but motivated) parents and classmates to participate in much of the instruction and reinforcement activities, the door is opened to a variety of open-ended and large scale community oriented possibilities.

My experience has shown me that concentrating on finding and filling gaps in word knowledge is key to remediating at-risk readers. Despite their problems concerning the written word, most at-risk readers are able to participate in daily conversation just as children do who pick up reading much more quickly. As new words are learned the conversational abilities of all children improve, regardless of their capacity to read. Our brains are wired to understand spoken language, and for the vast majority, listening comprehension develops naturally. It is processing the written language that presents the obstacle for at-risk readers. Such children, for example, have difficulty reading stories themselves that they have no trouble understanding when read to them. When at-risk readers are completely familiar with the words that compose a passage, comprehending what they read is comparable to understanding everyday conversation. The large number of gaps in their knowledge of written words (sightwords and phonics) are collectively the main problem. As they master written words however, regardless of how slowly this happens, their reading comprehension also improves, even without specific instruction. Of course, ideas involving higher level reading requires much more knowledge than merely learning words, but it is reading words that is key to understanding first grade material, since this level consists mainly of simple sentences and straightforward ideas.

In the movie, Akeelah and the Bee, the community helps a middle school student become a spelling champion. While this is a wonderful example of the power of a "village," since many more people can be tapped to coach reading for first graders than those who have the skills necessary to help prepare a champion speller, the film's remarkable outcome would be far overshadowed by this real life opportunity. I am sure that by observing the tutoring, those interested in innovative ways to promote literacy would visualize exciting possibilities, want to learn more about Tailored Reading, and perhaps become involved. I am looking forward to sharing these ideas and would be delighted to answer questions and demonstrate the system to those who truly desire to make a difference.

Sybrina's picture
Former Classroom Mathematics Teacher and Math Coach


As a math teacher, I always had a special place in my heart for struggling learners.

Thank you for sharing strategies for helping struggling readers. They sound incredibly effective. Here's hoping they make a difference for some of our youngest learners.


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