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Brain Breaks to Help Students Reset, Refresh, and Get Moving

Brain Breaks: Helping Students Reset, Refresh, and Get Moving
Let’s face it, learning can be overwhelming. With so much information coming in at once, sometimes students just need a break. That’s where brain breaks come in. Brain breaks are short, focused activities designed to help students recharge and refocus. Although typically used with preschool and elementary grades, brain breaks can be used with students of all ages. Keep reading to learn more about brain breaks to help students reset, refresh, and get moving.

Why Brain Breaks?

Brain breaks have found their way into thousands of classrooms around the world, and it’s not just because they’re fun. Research involving children’s brains shows that movement and exercise can improve behavior and academic performance in the classroom. That’s why you’ll often see preschoolers spinning in circles, climbing around, and touching things with their hands as part of their learning process. Other types of brain breaks, such as breathing exercises, also have benefits backed by research. For example, deep breathing exercises can help decrease the symptoms of ADHD and anxiety in children.

Types of Brain Breaks

The goal of brain breaks is to get students to step back, clear their heads, and give them a couple minutes to recharge. This can be done in multiple ways. Some common forms of brain breaks include:

  • Physical movement
  • Calming exercises
  • Creative activities
  • Engaging media
  • Social interaction

While physical movement is the most common type of brain break used in the classroom, teachers can incorporate different types of brain breaks based on factors such as the time of day, the time of year, and their individual students’ needs.

Physical Movement
Research shows that students need to move throughout the day. Physical brain breaks get students out of their seats and give them a chance to get in a bit of exercise. Examples of physical brain breaks include:

Calming Exercises
Learning can be stressful, especially during testing season. Calming exercises help students release any anxiety and tension they have built up inside. They also teach students techniques for handling stressful scenarios in other settings. Examples of calming brain breaks include:

  • Breathing exercises
  • Guided imagery
  • Listening to calming music
  • Sitting in silence
  • Yoga poses

Creative Activities
Creative activities give students the opportunity to exercise a different part of the brain. A lot of learning involves logic and reasoning. Bringing creative activities into the classroom can help students connect the two sides of their brain. Examples of creative brain breaks include:

  • Drawing a picture
  • Answering a creative prompt
  • Completing a role play activity
  • Playing with clay
  • Making music

Engaging Media
Students love the Internet and one particular activity they enjoy is watching videos. Sites like YouTube are full of short, highly entertaining videos. Since brain breaks are all about getting students to relax and refocus, showing a funny video or playing a popular song can be an effective way to get students, particularly those at the secondary level, to recharge in the middle of a class.

Social Interaction
Similarly, giving students, particularly those at the secondary level, a chance to simply sit and talk to one another can be exactly the break they need. Give students 2-3 minutes where they can talk about whatever they want without the stress of having to have all the right answers. To keep conversations from getting out of hand, consider choosing a random question for students to discuss with one another. You can also play a game such as “Would You Rather?” or “Two Truths and Lie” to give students something to talk about.

Resources for Incorporating Brain Breaks in the Classroom

Lots of teachers and educational organizations use brain breaks on a daily basis. Here are some resources you can use to find brain breaks to incorporate into your own classroom:

20 Three-Minute Brain Breaks from Minds in Bloom includes activities that range from physical to social. Our favorite is 5-4-3-2-1 which has students do five different movements in descending order. Example: Five jumping jacks, four arms up and down, etc.

20 Brain Break Clips  from Teach Train Love includes songs that teachers can play to get kids moving in the classroom. A favorite video that we think makes a good brain break? The Gummy Bear Song.

20 Brain Breaks from Beg, Borrow, and Teach are organized by time-limit. The site suggests writing the ideas on color-coded popsicle sticks and choosing one every time you need a brain break for the classroom.

12 of the Funniest YouTube Videos for Kids from Cool Mom Tech is a great list of videos to use as brain breaks. We think the Mr. Raisin Toast series is a great pick!

How to Do Yoga in Your Classroom is a nice how-to guide from Kids Yoga Stories and includes a list of other calming activities for kids.

20 Themed Brain Break Ideas from Pink Oatmeal includes over 20 activities involving yoga, dinosaurs, and an alphabet theme.

67 Kid-Friendly Brain Break Songs and Musicians from Really Good Stuff is a great list of songs to play when you want to encourage kids to get up and dance for a few minutes during the day.

Brain Breaks Guide is full of different activities to use with kids in elementary and middle school.

GoNoodle is a site that provides tons of brain break activities for teachers. Sign up for a free account, and then set up a class to get activities organized by grade-level.

Do Nothing for Two Minutes is a two-minute timer with relaxing images and background music. If two minutes seems like a long time, work up to it. Start with 30 second, then a minute, and then two minutes.

HelpTeaching’s Physical Education Worksheets offers free games and other activities to get students moving in the classroom.

Whatever brain breaks you choose, there are few things to keep in mind:

  1. Keep the brain breaks short. 2-3 minutes is enough to get students ready to learn again.
  2. Explain to students the purpose of brain breaks. This will help main control in the classroom and may get more students involved.
  3. Choose activities that benefit students. You may like yoga, but your students might think it’s crazy. If you can’t get them engaged in activity, it won’t benefit them.

Don’t let your students experience the brain breaks alone either. Adults need brain breaks too, so jump right in and enjoy them with your students.

Do you use brain breaks with your students? If so, we’d love to hear some of your favorite activities and resources.

Positive Use of Social Media – How to Encourage Your Students

How to Encourage Positive Social Media Use for Students
Social media is a regular part of students’ lives. They use it to communicate with friends, share photos and post status updates on a regular basis. In fact, 92 percent of teens, ages 13-17, report going online daily.

Unfortunately, this shift to more online communication has also brought more bullying into schools. Around 80 percent of young people believe that bullying is easier to do online and 43 percent of kids have experienced cyber-bullying, according to DoSomething.org.

However, teachers don’t need to make students to put away their phones. Instead, teachers can use these tools in the learning process. Not only will this help make learning more relevant, but it’s also an opportunity to encourage positive social media use – something students don’t learn about enough.

You don’t need to drop all the books and completely change course. Rather, bring social media into the classroom in small amounts, using projects or research as a chance to talk about positive and appropriate use of social media. Here are a few ways to make this work in your classroom. 

Bring it Into Your Lessons

You don’t need to create social-media specific lessons to teach students how to use social media in a positive way. Simply bring these tools into your current lesson plans, giving them a chance to learn by doing.

Here are a few fun and simple ideas to do just that:

Use Twitter to Research: Show students that Twitter can be used for more than sharing their personal thoughts. Ask them to research and source at least three tweets for their next project. This will also give them a chance to practice deciphering between good and bad sources of information.

Use Blogs for Work: Teach students that they can put their thoughts onto “paper” and share the final product with the world by bringing blogging into your classroom. Not only will they get a thrill from sharing the work they put so much time into, but this also gives them experience with using various blogging tools and writing web content; skills that are quickly becoming required of 21st century students.

Use Social Platforms in a Different Way

Students use Pinterest to share funny memes and products that they want to buy. But this tool—and others—can be used in so many different ways in the classroom. Use the following ideas to show students how multi-dimensional these social platforms are.

Historical Figures’ Facebook Pages: Have students create a Facebook page for a historical figure of their choice. They’ll need to show you that they know everything about this character by creating status updates and filling out the varisous sections such as, “about me” and “interests.” (Idea from EdTechTimes.com)

Current Events Pinterest Boards: Each student creates their own board and adds a new current every week—or with whatever frequency you assign this task. Encourage students to go onto Pinterest and comment on their peers’ posts, allowing them to collaborate and socialize with an educational mindset.

Create Class-Specific Social Groups

For most students, social media is used to chat with friends and share photos. With a classroom account, students can still do that, but within the framework of education and school. While you can use these groups to share homework, give test reminders, and further cultivate your classroom community, classroom social groups provide you with a great opportunity to encourage positive social media use.

For example:

Create group rules: Every student must abide by the rules, including using appropriate language, proper spelling—you not u; your not ur—which may translate to their social media use outside of school.

Create an anonymous concern form: Many students won’t report cyber-bullying for fear of someone finding out—90 percent of teens who have seen it say they ignored it. Provide students with a Google Form they can use to share any issues they’re having in the classroom group with regards to cyber-bullying or poor language use. While you should be constantly monitoring these platforms, students could write something and delete it before you see it.

Use Social-Focused Tools

If you or your students aren’t ready to fully use social media in the classroom, use tools that have similar collaboration and social features. This gives you a chance to lay down ground rules and set expectations for social media use without allowing students to log into Facebook in the middle of class. Try one of these simple tools.

Whooo’s Reading: Students call this tool “Facebook for reading,” because it incorporates many similar features of Facebook including commenting and “liking.” However, it also uses gamification features to motivate students to read more, while using fun CCSS-aligned comprehension questions to ensure they understand the text.

Google Docs: Allow students to use Google Docs for peer reviewing. With this tool, they can collaborate and comment in real-time, similar to Facebook. Use this as a chance to talk about what makes an appropriate and helpful comment, versus one that is mean or inappropriate.

Diigo: Students use this web platform to tag websites, create a personal library, share with classmates, and structure research. This puts an educational spin on sharing and online chatting, while allowing you to monitor and guide the process and conversation.

Bringing social media into your classroom isn’t just about engagement, or giving students what they want, it can be beneficial in teaching how to use these platforms correctly. With cyber-bullying and teen social media use at an all-time high, teachers have an opportunity to change the course.

Jessica Sanders is the Director of Social Outreach for Learn2Earn, a San Diego-based education organization that offers Read-A-Thon fundraisers and reading motivation tools for teachers and schools. She grew up reading books like The Giver and Holes, and is passionate about making reading as exciting for young kids today as it has always been for her. Follow Learn2Earn on Twitter and Facebook, and check out their new ebook, How to Bring Technology Into the Classroom, just $2.99 on Amazon.com.

 

Celebrating Memorial Day – No Greater Gift

Teach your students about the ultimate sacrifice

The meaning of the most solemn of civic holidays is sometimes lost, as many Americans view Memorial Day weekend as simply the unofficial start of the summer season.  There may be a vague awareness of Memorial Day’s meaning among the general populace, but for families which have a military tradition the day can be deeply personal.  We’ll take a look at the origin of this day of remembrance, examine how it is celebrated, and profile some of the courageous people who have given their lives for their country.

What is Memorial Day?

Memorial Day is always observed on the last Monday in May.  It commemorates all men and women who have died while giving military service to the United States.  Memorial Day should not be confused with Veterans Day, which is a celebration of all U.S. military veterans every November, or with Armed Forces Day (celebrated the third Saturday in May) which honors men and women currently serving in the military.

The History of Memorial Day

While some trace the idea of a “memorial” day back to President Lincoln’s famous Gettysburg Address dedicating the Gettysburg National Cemetery in 1863, an actual Memorial Day holiday began in 1868, just a few years after the end of the Civil War.  The holiday, originally called Decoration Day, was established by a group of Union veterans as a day to decorate with flowers the graves of fallen soldiers.

In an 1868 Decoration Day address at Arlington Cemetery, then-congressman and future U.S. president James Garfield said, “I am oppressed with a sense of the impropriety of uttering words on this occasion.”  This sentiment still captures the true meaning of Memorial Day today.

In 1873, New York became the first state to recognize Memorial Day as an official holiday.  By the late 19th century, many more cities observed Memorial Day, and a number of states had declared it a legal holiday.  In 1971, an act of Congress made Memorial Day a national holiday.  In 2000, Congress passed the National Moment of Remembrance Act, encouraging Americans to observe a moment of silence at 3 p.m. local time to remember those who have died while serving.

Memorial Day Traditions

Americans observe Memorial Day in many ways.  Parades, speeches, ceremonies and concerts are held around the country.

Tomb of the Unknown Soldier

The solemn holiday is formally observed each year at Arlington National Cemetery in Washington, D.C. when the president gives a speech at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.  This monument contains remains of unidentified soldiers and stands as an iconic memorial to all those killed in service.  The tomb, a white, marble sarcophagus has stood atop a hill overlooking the capital since 1921.  The Tomb is also a place of mourning and a site for reflection on military service.

Military Cemeteries

Arlington National Cemetery is the most-well known final resting place for America’s fallen heroes.  Approximately 400,000 veterans and their eligible dependents are interred there including service members from each of America’s major wars, from the War of Independence through today’s conflicts.  The cemetery also holds the grave of two U.S. presidents (Taft and Kennedy).  An eternal flame marks the place of Kennedy’s grave.  More than 16 million people visited the site in its first three years.

There are over 150 “national” cemeteries in the U.S.  These include the aforementioned Gettysburg, one of the 14 national cemeteries established by Lincoln in 1862.  Other famous national graveyards are Golden Gate National Cemetery and Antietam National Cemetery which contains nearly 5,000 graves (over 1800 are unidentified).  Antietam is the deadliest one-day battle in American military history with more than 22,000 casualties.  In this battle a nurse known as the “Angel of the Battlefield”, Clara Barton, brought badly needed supplies to doctors at the scene.

Since many American soldiers and sailors died in foreign lands, there are many military cemeteries on foreign soil.  Notably, St. James American Cemetery in Brittany, France contains the remains of over 4,000 World War II American soldiers, many who were killed on D-Day.  The Manilla American Cemetery and Memorial in the Philippines is the final resting place for more than 17,000 U.S. personnel who lost their lives during World War II.  Many were killed in New Guinea, or during the Battle of the Philippines (1941–42) or the Allied recapture of the islands.  Buried there are the five Sullivan Brothers, who perished when their ship was sunk in 1942.

Parades and Ceremonies

Memorial Day observances include parades, presentations of the colors, speeches, and gun salutes.  These events are often organized by groups such as Veterans of Foreign Wars, the American Legion, American Gold Star Mothers, and Daughters of the American Revolution.  The presentation of colors is a ceremony presenting the American flag and flags of the armed services (referred to as the “colors”).  A color guard, consisting of honor guards and flag bearers, presents the colors while a sergeant-at-arms dictates the orders during the ceremony.

There’s a protocol for displaying the American flag on Memorial Day.  The stars and stripes should be hoisted quickly up to full staff at sunrise, then lowered to half-staff until noon, and then returned to the top of the staff.  And, as always, any other flag displayed with Old Glory should be given a lower place. 

Gun salutes have long been associated with Memorial Day as a way to honor the fallen.  A three-volley salute – representing duty, honor, and country – is performed by a rifle party which fires blanks into the air three times in unison.  A 21-gun salute is typically performed with cannons rather than rifles, and, although reserved for the funeral of a sitting or former president, is sometimes given on Memorial Day.

Other Memorial Day traditions include pilgrimages by veterans and their families to military cemeteries and sites such as the World War II Memorial and Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C.  During the 3 p.m. moment of silence on Memorial Day, Amtrak conductors sound one long whistle in honor of those who have died in service.  Memorial Day is often chosen for special dedications of monuments.  Fittingly, in 1922, the Lincoln Memorial was dedicated by then-Supreme Court Chief Justice William Taft on Memorial Day. 

Hall of Heroes

What follows are just a few of the people who have paid the ultimate price on the battlefield.  Each received the nation’s highest award for military valor in action: the Congressional Medal of Honor.

Frank Luke

Lieut. Luke was a daredevil WWI fighter pilot who targeted heavily defended German observation balloons.  In just thirty hours of flight time over ten missions in nine days of combat, Luke shot down fourteen enemy balloons and four aircraft.  On his final mission on Sept. 29, 1918, his plane went down in a field near a small village in France.  He posthumously received a Congressional Medal of Honor for his bravery.

Joe Gandara

Pvt. Gandara received the Congressional Medal of Honor “for his heroic actions on June 9, 1944, in Amfreville, France.  His detachment came under devastating enemy fire from a strong German force, pinning the men to the ground for a period of four hours.  Gandara advanced voluntarily and alone toward the enemy position and destroyed three hostile machine-guns before he was fatally wounded.”*

Alfred Nietzel

Sgt. Nietzel was awarded the Medal of Honor “for his valorous actions in Heistern, Germany, Nov. 18, 1944.  When an enemy assault threatened to overrun his unit’s position, Nietzel selflessly covered for the retreating members of his squad, expending all his ammunition and holding his post until he was killed by an enemy hand grenade.”*

Leonard Kravitz

Army Pfc. Kravitz was “recognized for his actions in Yangpyong, Korea, March 6-7, 1951. While occupying defensive positions, Kravitz’s unit was overrun by enemy combatants and forced to withdraw. Kravitz voluntarily remained at a machine-gun position to provide suppressive fire for the retreating troops. This forced the enemy to concentrate their attack on his own position. Kravitz ultimately did not survive the attack, but his actions saved his entire platoon.”*

Joe Baldonado

Army Cpl. Baldonado “distinguished himself on Nov. 25, 1950, while serving as a machine-gunner in the vicinity of Kangdong, Korea. Baldonado’s platoon was occupying Hill 171 when the enemy attacked, attempting to take their position. Baldonado held an exposed position, cutting down wave after wave of enemy troops even as they targeted attacks on his position. During the final assault by the enemy, a grenade landed near Baldanado’s gun, killing him instantly.”*

Oscar P. Austin

During the early morning hours of February 23, 1969, Marine Pfc. Austin’s observation post was attacked by a large North Vietnamese Army force.  One of his wounded companions had fallen unconscious in a position dangerously exposed to enemy fire.  Austin didn’t hesitate to leave the relative security of his position and, with complete disregard for his own safety, raced across the bullet-swept terrain to help.  As he neared his fellow Marine, Austin saw an enemy grenade land nearby.  Instantly, he leaped between the injured man and the grenade, absorbing its detonation.  Ignoring his painful injuries, Austin turned to examine the wounded man when he saw an NVA soldier aiming a weapon at the unconscious Marine.  Austin threw himself between his friend and the enemy soldier, and by doing this, was mortally wounded.   He gallantly gave his life for his comrade and his country.

Robert Miller

On January 25, 2008, following an engagement with insurgents in Afghanistan, Army “Staff Sergeant Miller led a small squad forward to conduct a battle damage assessment. As the group neared the small, steep, narrow valley that the enemy had inhabited, a large, well-coordinated insurgent force initiated a near ambush, assaulting from elevated positions with ample cover. Exposed and with little available cover, the patrol was totally vulnerable to enemy rocket propelled grenades and automatic weapon fire. As point man, Staff Sergeant Miller was at the front of the patrol, cut off from supporting elements, and less than 20 meters from enemy forces. Nonetheless, with total disregard for his own safety, he called for his men to quickly move back to covered positions as he charged the enemy over exposed ground and under overwhelming enemy fire in order to provide protective fire for his team. While maneuvering to engage the enemy, Staff Sergeant Miller was shot in his upper torso. Ignoring the wound, he continued to push the fight, moving to draw fire from over one hundred enemy fighters upon himself. He then again charged forward through an open area in order to allow his teammates to safely reach cover. After killing at least 10 insurgents, wounding dozens more, and repeatedly exposing himself to withering enemy fire while moving from position to position, Staff Sergeant Miller was mortally wounded by enemy fire.”†

*From remarks made by President Barack Obama at a Congressional Medal of Honor ceremony on 3/18/2014

From remarks made by President Barack Obama at a Congressional Medal of Honor ceremony on 10/6/2010

Resources for Teaching about Memorial Day

Help Teaching has created these educational resources:

KidsKonnect.com offers these resources:

BusyTeacher.org has these free resources:

In today’s culture which touts professional athletes and celebrities as heroes, it is important to instill in children and youth the significance of Memorial Day to America’s history and civic life.  Let’s teach them what true heroism is.

Celebrating Cinco de Mayo

Among Americans, the most misunderstood fact of Cinco de Mayo is that the holiday is NOT Mexico’s independence day, nor does it have anything to do with the country’s founding.  In reality, Cinco de Mayo (“Fifth of May” in Spanish) has become more of an American holiday than a Mexican one and, for many, just an excuse for revelry.   Most non-Mexican Americans have no idea about the day’s history, but for your students this holiday can be a strong anchor for learning about the U.S.A.’s southern neighbor.

You don’t have to be Mexican to celebrate Mexico’s heritage

What is Cinco de Mayo?

Cinco de Mayo commemorates the Mexican army’s unlikely victory over the forces of Napoleon III of France on May 5, 1862, at the Battle of Puebla.  In 1861, Mexico declared a temporary suspension of the repayment of foreign debts, so British, Spanish, and French troops invaded the country.  By the spring of 1862 the British and Spanish had withdrawn, but the French  remained.  Its goal was to establish a monarchy under Maximilian of Austria and to curb growing U.S. power in North America.

Mexican and French forces met in battle at Puebla, southeast of Mexico City.  In an unlikely turn of events, a poorly equipped Mexican army under the command of General Ignacio Zaragoza defeated the French troops.   The victory at Puebla became a symbol of Mexican resistance to foreign domination (although the fighting continued and the French were not driven out for another five years).  Although the holiday was only celebrated locally for about 100 years, by the mid twentieth century the celebration of Cinco de Mayo became among Mexican immigrants to the United States a way of encouraging pride in their Mexican heritage.

A Celebration of Mexican Heritage

From the 16th century onward, Mexico had been dominated by the Spanish empire until it revolted against Spain in 1810.  The Spanish influence can be felt even today in the language, culture, music, and food of the country.  However, the Spanish overlords could not erase the heritage of Mexico’s indigenous peoples, and this native heritage is also strongly felt among the people.

Oddly, Cinco de Mayo is celebrated more in the U.S. than in Mexico.  Except for in the state of Puebla, May 5 is like any other day.  It is not a federal holiday, so stores, banks, and government offices remain open.  Americans of Mexican descent, and Americans of all ethnic backgrounds in the U.S. observe the holiday informally to celebrate Mexican culture.

Mexican cuisine

Mexico has one of the world’s most historic cuisines, and this history is reflected in every dish.  The origins of Mexican cuisine go back 5,000 years, when Mexico had yet to be colonized by Europeans.  At that time, indigenous people, who eventually coalesced into cultures such as the Olmec, Maya, Toltec, Aztec, Zapotec, and Mixtec, roamed the area and survived by hunting and gathering.  One of the most common plants in the area was the wild chile pepper, which they ate frequently.

Corn

It is thought that corn first entered the diet of the first Mexicans around 1200 BCE.  Corn was domesticated through a process called Nixtamalization in which the corn is soaked and cooked in limewater (or another an alkaline solution), washed, and hulled.  This softens the corn for grinding.  This process led to the use of corn based breads such as tortillas.  Since meat was scarce in the area, the indigenous people used beans as a source of protein.  The beans would be served as a side of most meals with corn.

Enter the Europeans

If you are familiar with the term “the Columbian Exchange”, you will know this was the widespread transfer of plants, animals, culture, humans, technology, diseases, and ideas between the Old World and the New World 16th century.  In what would become Mexico, the Spanish brought many of their own dishes to the indigenous culture such as rice, olive oil, garlic, coriander, and cinnamon.  They also brought many domesticated animals like pigs, sheep, cows, and chickens.  Cows and goats were used for dairy as well as meat, so cheese became a main ingredient in many dishes.  Since colonization, many cultures have influenced Mexican Food, including the French who had a strong military presence in the country in the 19th century.  French food was enjoyed by the upper class even after they left.

Mexican Food Today

Today Mexican Cuisine is a blend of indigenous and Spanish cuisine.  Its foundation remains corn, beans, tortillas, and chile peppers, but these are now usually served with meat and cheese.  Most dishes have a side of rice and spices, reflecting European influence.  It should be noted there is a big difference between what is considered authentic Mexican cuisine and the more well-known Tex-Mex cuisine such as burritos, chili con carne, chimichangas, hardshell tacos, enchiladas, nachos, and fajitas.

The languages of Mexico

Spanish is spoken by the vast majority of Mexicans (110 million people), but another 2 million also speak Nahuatl which is derived from the ancient language spoken by the Aztecs.  English is the third most-spoken language, and languages related to the Maya are spoken by a million people in southern Mexico.  Interestingly, in 2003, a law defending the rights of indigenous tongues recognized 69 languages (including Spanish) as Mexico’s official languages.

Mexican music

Like most things in Mexico, the music of the country is a blend of Spanish and native influences.  The three major types of Mexican music are: Mariachi, Norteño, and Banda.  Mariachi is perhaps the best known outside of the country.

Long considered a uniquely Mexican sound, representing a grass roots tradition that includes both indigenous and foreign elements, Mariachi is a small Mexican ensemble of mostly stringed instruments.  The typical instruments of Mariachi include the vihuela (a five-string guitar related to a Spanish Renaissance instrument), the guitarrón (a large, fretless 6-string bass guitar), a standard six-string acoustic guitar, violins, and trumpets.  Mariachi are most memorably heard performing the popular song “La Cucaracha” (“the Cockroach”) on the street, at festivals, or in restaurants.

Norteño, is a style of folk music associated with northern Mexico and Texas.  This style typically features an accordion and uses polkas and other rhythms found in the music of German, Austrian, and Czech folk music.  Norteño was brought to Mexico from Europe by the Austrian archduke Maximillian who reigned as emperor of the Second Mexican Empire.

Banda is a Mexican band featuring brass instruments, the tambora (a two-headed drum), woodwinds, and singers.  Its energizing percussive power and commanding horns makes Banda unique.

Folk dancing is still common in Mexico.  Everyone knows the iconic “Mexican Hat Dance”, Jarabe Tapatio.  This dance, performed by one person or several people, involves tossing a sombrero to the center of the stage, dancing around it and ending the performance with a collective “Olé!” and a hand clap.

Classical music is also popular in Mexico.  Manuel María Ponce’s “Concierto del Sur” for guitar and orchestra is among the most famous classical works, and “Guatimotzin” is a well-known Mexican opera.

Mexican art

Mexican art is unique and distinct, representing Mexican culture’s rich heritage and colorful pride.  Perhaps the best-known painters are Frida Khalo and Diego Rivera.  Folk art plays a key role in Mexican culture with handcrafted clay pottery, multi-colored baskets and rugs, and garments with angular designs.  Mexican mythology themes are still used in designs, most commonly the gods Quetzalcoatl and Tezcatlipoc.

Mexican literature

In 1990, Octavio Paz, certainly one of the greatest authors of the 20th century, was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature.  Agustín Yáñez and Carlos Fuentes rank among great Mexican writers, too.  Fuentes’ 1985 novel The Old Gringo, about the disappearance of the American writer Ambrose Bierce in Mexico during the revolution, is his best known novel in the United States.  Europe, South and East Asia have important writers from antiquity, and so do the Americas.  The Pre-Columbian writer Nezahualcoyotl left behind a legacy of poetry and written works in the Classical Nahuatl language.

Mexican holidays

Celebrations in Mexico are called “fiestas” and typically include parades, fireworks, and pageants.  Traditional masks are also present in fiestas, as is the traditional papier-mâché object, the piñata, made to look like an animal or person.  It is filled with candy and toys and suspended from the ceiling at a fiesta.  Blindfolded children take turns trying to hit it open with a bat.

Some fiestas are religious in nature, so prayers and the burning of candles also take place.  The most important religious holiday for Mexico is the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe on December 12th.   It commemorates the belief that a man encountered the Virgin Mary on this day in 1531.

November 2 is Día de los Muertos (“The Day of the Dead”), also known as All Souls’ Day.  On this holiday, Mexicans honor those that have passed on.  Items collected throughout the year are placed on an adorned altar as an offering to the dead person.

Celebrated as a national public holiday, Mexican Independence day is September 16 and includes massive street parades, plenty of traditional foods, and rodeos.

Resources for Learning about Mexico

Help Teaching offers these educational resources:

KidsKonnect.com has 

BusyTeacher.org offers

Why not use Cinco de Mayo as a jumping off point to introduce students to the history and culture of Mexico.

Feliz Cinco de Mayo!

Image source: Freepik.com

Five Significant Women You Have Never Heard About

March is Women’s History Month. Like other special months such as Black History Month and Hispanic American Heritage Month, Women’s History Month places an emphasis on the contributions to the history of our world by a particular group of people.

Also like other special celebratory months, teaching about women’s gifts to humanity should not be limited to March, but included in your regular everyday curriculum.
We are all familiar with many female historymakers — Susan B. Anthony, Harriet Tubman, Marie Curie, Rosa Parks, Florence Nightingale, Hillary Clinton, Serena Williams (there are more resources to teach about famous women listed later in this article)  — but there are so many lesser known women whose accomplishments should be trumpeted.  We’ll look at five women you may have never heard of whose contributions to history are significant.

The List

Finding your way with Gladys West

It’s become a staple of any trip we take.  Global Positioning Systems have revolutionized the way we travel.  People of a certain age (like me) will recall the days before GPS when we pulled out the road atlas, employed a magnifying glass to see the tiny print, and carefully mapped out a route to our vacation destination.  The back of the atlas had a chart listing distances between major cities, but for the obsessive compulsive among us (also like me), we would attempt to tally up the miles between tiny arrows on the map’s roadways.  Invariably, we would lose count and have to start all over again!

Well thanks to Dr. Gladys West, we now can do all that in just seconds with an app on our mobile phones.  The work of Gladys West was instrumental in developing the mathematics behind the GPS.  She started her career in 1956 as a programmer of large-scale computers at what is now the Naval Surface Warfare Center in Virginia.  Just one other black woman and two black men worked alongside her.

Dr. West was also a project manager for data-processing systems used in satellite data analysis.  She built altimeter models of the Earth’s shape, managed the first satellite that could remotely sense oceans, programmed a computer to spit out precise calculations to model the shape of the Earth.  Dr. West’s data ultimately became the basis for the Global Positioning System.

Born in 1930 in Virginia, West’s family had a small farm, and she had to work in the fields with them.   Many of the families around them were sharecroppers.  Not satisfied with a life picking tobacco or working in the nearby cigarette factory, she realized education would be the key to her moving up in the world.  At her school, people at the top of the class were offered university scholarships, and since her family was poor, she worked hard in her studies to win one to Virginia State College.  Eventually Dr. West earned two master’s degrees and a Ph.D.  West was inducted into the United States Air Force Hall of Fame in 2018.

Britain’s Boudica

In a world dominated by men, Boudica, Queen of the Iceni tribe during the Roman occupation of Britain c. 60 CE, united different tribes in a Celtic military revolt against Roman rule.  Queen Boudica led an army of about 100,000 soldiers and succeeded in driving the Romans out of what was then the capital of Roman Britain (now modern-day Colchester), Verulamium and Londinium.  Boudica’s success forced the Roman emperor Nero to consider withdrawing his forces from Britain entirely.  However, the Roman governor, Gaius Suetonius Paulinus, finally defeated Boudica in a battle in the West Midlands.

Known as the scourge of the Roman Empire, Queen Boudica was a flashy figure.  Primary material about her comes from the Roman historians Tacitus and Cassius Dio who describes Boudica as a tall tawny-haired woman whose tresses hung down below her waist.  She had a harsh voice and a piercing glare.  Dio says she customarily wore a large golden necklace, a colorful tunic, and a thick cloak fastened by a brooch.  Her name derives from words in the various Celtic languages for “victorious”.

When Boudica’s husband King Prasutagus died, the Romans took the opportunity to increase their power in western Britain, but Boudica would have none of it.  The rebellion was fomented by a Roman assault on Boudica’s people whose homes were pillaged by centurions.  The assault included a Roman whipping of Boudica, and the raping of her two daughters, plus the confiscation of the estates of the leading Iceni men.  According the Tacitus, Boudic’s inspiring words to her army led them to victory: “It is not as a woman descended from noble ancestry, but as one of the people that I am avenging lost freedom, my scourged body, and the outraged chastity of my daughters.”

Viva la Vera!

Vera May Atkins, CBE (16 June 1908 – 24 June 2000) was a Romanian-born British intelligence officer assigned to France during the Second World War.  Among her accomplishments in the war effort was the evacuation of Polish Enigma codebreakers into Romania.  These Polish linguists were instrumental in helping the Allies break Nazi Germany’s military secret code which gave them a great advantage on the battlefield.  Atkin’s work in German-occupied France was made even more dangerous by the fact that her parents were Jews.  Prior to World War II, she also traveled clandestinely throughout Europe gathering intelligence on Nazi Germany for Winston Churchill.

Atkins was a member of the Special Operations Executive (SOE), a branch of British Military Intelligence assigned to train and send agents overseas.  At the end of the war, as a member of the British War Crimes Commission, Atkins embarked on a mission to find out what had become of the over one hundred special agents who had not made it back to Britain.  She was able to trace all but one.  Atkins was given the Croix de Guerre in 1948 and made a member of the French Legion of Honor in 1987.

Warren’s Writings on the War of Independence

The leading female intellectual of the American Revolution and early U.S. republic is hardly remembered today.  The published poet, political playwright, satirist, historian, and outspoken commentator Mercy Otis Warren engaged with the leading figures at a time when women were expected to keep silent on political matters.  She corresponded often with three presidents: Washington, John Adams, and Jefferson.

Despite having no formal schooling — as was common for women in colonial times — Warren displayed her talent for writing in her poetry, histories of the Revolutionary era, and politically scathing plays published serially in a Boston newspaper.  She did more than just write, hosting protest meetings at her home that led to the establishment of the Committees of Correspondence.  After independence, Warren was a staunch republican whose Observations on the New Constitution, published in 1788, held forth her opposition to the new constitution because she felt it gave too much power to a central government.

Wall Street’s Siebert

Known as the “First Woman of Finance”, Muriel “Mickie” Siebert was a bold Wall Street broker who was also the first woman to become a member of the New York Stock Exchange.  Although she did not have a college degree, Siebert was the first woman to become the superintendent of banking for New York State.

In the mid-1950s, when Siebert moved to New York City from her home in Cleveland, the only women working on Wall Street were secretaries and support staff.  Ten years later, after moving from job to job because she was not getting paid the same as men for an equal amount of work and responsibility, Siebert applied for, and eventually bought, to the tune of nearly half a million dollars, a much coveted seat on the New York Stock Exchange.

Seibert eventually founded her own investment company, and for ten years remained the only woman out of over 1,300 men on the NYSE.

Eventually, Seibert’s financial prowess was recognized by New York’s governor Hugh Carey who appointed her the state’s banking superintendent.  She ran unsuccessfully for the U.S. Senate in 1982 and then returned to Wall Street.  Despite her success as an investor, she still suffered indignities in the workplace.  Even as late as the mid-1980s, there was no ladies bathroom on the seventh floor of the New York Stock Exchange building.  Threatening to put a portable toilet in the building if there was no bathroom for women, she successfully campaigned to have a proper one installed.

Seibert was recognized for her philanthropic work and was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame in 1994.  Her impact on Wall Street was memorialized at the NYSE when a room was named after her marking the first time in the exchange’s 200 year history that a room was named for a person.

Resources for Teaching about Famous Women in History

Help Teaching has created many educational resources for Women’s History Month.

KidsKonnect.com has worksheets and factsheets about these famous women:

So dive in and learn more about incredible women who’ve shaped each and every aspect of modern life!

Image sourced from Free Library of Philadelphia

Valentine’s Day Teaching Resources

Flowers, candy, and cards decorated with hearts are used by many to express love to that special someone.  The day offers many fun and creative ways to teach about friendships, poetry and prose, marriage, and relationships.

History of Valentine’s Day

Despite flowers being the number one gift given on Valentine’s Day, the holiday’s origin is not so rosy. 

The real Valentine

The most noted theory about how Valentine’s Day began, is rooted in Ancient Rome.  In the third century CE, the Roman emperor Claudius II wanted to develop a fierce team of young men to be soldiers in his legions.  It was his belief that when young men are in love, this makes them weak.  Naturally, a man with a wife and children tended to be more cautious in how he fought on the battlefield.  So, Claudius outlawed marriage for young men serving in the Roman armies.

Well, not everyone or everything can be commanded by an emperor.  As Claudius found out, he could outlaw love, but he could not stop it.  Young men and women still fell in love and wanted to marry.  A brave Christian priest named Valentine, who thought the law was horribly unjust, risked his life to perform the banned wedding ceremonies in secret.

News of Valentine’s clandestine ceremonies made its way back to the emperor.  The cleric was arrested, and while in prison, Valentine sent a love letter to a young woman — possibly his jailor’s daughter — who visited him during his imprisonment.  He allegedly signed it “From your Valentine”, hence the expression.  He was executed soon afterward.  Centuries later, when the Roman Catholic Church made the kindly priest a saint, St. Valentine’s feast day — February 14 — was chosen because it was the day he was put to death.

Literature of love

It wasn’t until almost 1,000 years later that the first known Valentine’s Day poem was written.  It also was penned by a prisoner, and was sent from the Tower of London to the prisoner’s wife in 1415.

My very gentle Valentine,

Since for me you were born too soon,

And I for you was born too late.

God forgives him who has estranged

Me from you for the whole year.

I am already sick of love,

My very gentle Valentine.

Well, not the most remarkable of poems, but it’s good for a first effort.

Everyone is familiar with Shakespeare’s love sonnets, most notably number 18 which starts out famously: 

Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?

Thou art more lovely and more temperate.

And there’s Scotland’s remarkable bard Robert Burns: 

O my Luve is like a red, red rose

   That’s newly sprung in June;

O my Luve is like the melody

   That’s sweetly played in tune.

So fair art thou, my bonnie lass,

   So deep in luve am I;

And I will luve thee still, my dear,

   Till a’ the seas gang dry.

And then there are the first love poems written by school kids:

Roses are red

Violets are blue

Faces like yours

Belong in the zoo

The economics of true love

In the 21st century, greeting card companies each year produce over a billion cards of love and affection just for St. Valentine’s Day.  The impact that Valentine’s Day has on the U.S. economy is stunning.  In 2019, more than $20.7 billion was spent on the holiday.  It’s thought the most expensive Valentine’s Day gift ever purchased is a heart shaped 1001 Nights Diamond Purse.  Decorated with over 4500 yellow, pink and transparent diamonds totalling 38,192 carats, the retail value of the gift is a gobsmacking $3.8 million.

Valentine’s Day symbols

  • Red Roses: the most popular flower of Valentine’s Day, this enduring symbol of passion, beauty, and love has the power to impress anyone when a dozen of the long-stemmed variety are wrapped in a large bouquet.  An ancient Roman legend has it that a beautiful maiden, Rodanthe, locked herself indoors while being pursued by overzealous suitors. When they eventually broke down her door, an enraged goddess Diana changed Rodanthe into a beautiful red rose and turned the suitors into thorns.
  • Cupid: He was the son of Venus (goddess of love) and Mercury (the winged messenger of the gods).  This mischievous little god carried around a quiver of arrows tipped with love potion.  Anyone struck by one of Cupid’s arrows would fall in love with the first person they saw.
  • Chocolates: Since ancient times, chocolates have been associated with sensuality and fertility.  This is perhaps because when eaten, chocolate stimulates the production of a hormone that is similar to the chemical produced when a person is in love.

Valentine’s Day Around the World

Although Valentine’s Day started as a Catholic feast day, the saint’s death and the tradition of love that he exemplified is celebrated worldwide by people of many faiths.  People send cards, flowers, and candy in many countries.

  • In the Philippines, Valentine’s Day is the time when many young couples marry in an event sponsored by the government as a form of public service
  • In Ghana, February 14 is celebrated as “National Chocolate Day”.  The Ghana government established this day in 2007 to increase tourism in the country, as Ghana is among the largest cocoa-producing countries in the world.
  • In Bulgaria on February 14, the “day of winemakers” (San Trifon Zartan) is celebrated.  Young and old couples celebrate their love with a glass of local wine.
  • In Denmark, Valentine’s Day is not limited to roses and chocolates. Friends and lovers exchange handmade cards with pressed white flowers that are called snowdrops
  • In Estonia, February 14 is celebrated as a friendship day known as Sobrapaev. This festival includes everyone, from couples to singles
  • In Japan on February 14, women buy gifts and chocolates for their male companions.  Men can’t return gifts until March 14, which is called the “white day”.
  • In England on Valentine’s Day, women used to place five bay leaves on their pillows.  It was believed this would bring them dreams of their future husbands.

In Slovenia, St. Valentine is a patron saint of spring.  It’s thought that on February 14, plants start to regenerate.  This day marks the first day of working in the fields for the New Year.  Slovenians also believe that birds ‘propose’ to each other on this day, and to witness this occasion, one must walk barefoot through the frozen fields.

Resources for Teaching about and around Valentine’s Day

Help Teaching has many fun educational resources which use the holiday to teach math and English.

Worksheets

 KidsKonnect.com has Valentine’s Day Facts and Worksheets, and check out these free resources from BusyTeacher.org:

Lesson plans

Videos

Image source

11 Prime Days to Celebrate Math Holidays

Math Holidays
If you’re a math teacher, every day is a reason to celebrate math, but did you know that there are also a multitude of “holidays” centered around math? Using a math holiday as an angle to get students excited about math adds up to a whole lot of fun! We hope this list will inspire and energize your math teaching throughout the year. Keep reading to discover 11 prime days to celebrate math holidays.

1. Our first math holiday is e Day

If you teach any high school students with irrational math fears, then help them transcend their fears on February 7. Euler’s number, e, which is both irrational and transcendental, rounds to 2.7, thus we have e Day on 2/7. Show students the practical use of Euler’s number by introducing them to continuous compounding interest. A little lesson in financial literacy is always valuable!

Euler's number

2. 100th Day of School

The number of creative ways to celebrate this day is certainly not limited to 100! Ask students to bring in containers of 100 small objects and display them around the school. Have students create a list of 100 reasons why they love their school or community. Explore what life was like 100 years ago. Collect 100 food items and donate them to your local food pantry. Visit Help Teaching to use our 100 charts and lessons, as well as all of our counting worksheets.

3. Pi Day

Pi may be infinite, but Pi Day is not. Celebrate Pi Day on March 14 in recognition of its common abbreviation, 3.14. Plan a party with your students, but wait to sound the party horns until exactly 1:59 in the afternoon (3.14159)! Double the fun and make it a party for Albert Einstein, whose birthday is also on March 14. Be sure to check out Help Teaching’s worksheets featuring the number pi. Pi Day also kicks off World Math Week.

Pi Day

4. Mathematics & Statistics Awareness Month

Use all 1 + 4 + 9 + 16 days of April to celebrate the beauty and fun of mathematics. Focus on bringing math alive by making math relevant for students and connecting math and statistics to real-world problems. Elementary students can record daily weather data throughout April, then graph and analyze their results. Middle school students are at an age where decision making becomes more independent. Connect daily decisions making to probability with the game-based activity SKUNK. High school students have enough mathematical background to develop statistical questions on topics of personal interest, then collect, interpret, and present their data. Get started with this collection of statistics worksheets.

5. Square Root Day

The only thing square about Square Root Day is the date. When the day and the month are both the square root of the last two digits of the year, we have a Square Root Day. April 4, 2016 (4/4/16) was a Square Root Day, but the next one won’t be until May 5, 2025 (5/5/25)! Get radical and make these special days square-themed.

Square root

6. Palindrome Days

Palindrome days aren’t just for students named Bob or Hannah. Palindrome days fall on any dates where the numbers of the month, day, and year are the same both forward and backwards. For example, June 10, 2016 was a Palindrome Day (6/10/16), but only in countries where dates are written month/day! Challenge your students to formulate lists of future Palindrome dates. Start with five-digit Palindrome dates (M/DD/YY) and work up to eight-digit dates (MM/DD/YYYY).

Palindrome Date

7. Pythagorean Theorem Day

As proof that the squares don’t have a monopoly on the math holidays, Pythagorean Theorem Day comes around periodically. Also known as Right Triangle Day, recognize Pythagorean Theorem Day whenever the sums of the squares of the month and day equals the square of the last two digits of the year. August 15, 2017 (8/15/17) and December 16, 2020 (12/16/20) are both Pythagorean Theorem Days. Make sure to check out our self-paced lesson on Solving Right Triangles.

8. Math Storytelling Day

No need to divide your instructional time between math and ELA on September 25 (9/25), it’s Math Storytelling Day! There are many ways to teach math through storytelling. Start the day by reading Math Curse, The Grapes of Math, or Sir Cumference or any math story to your students. Try a math story lesson like The General Sherman Tree or Let’s Go to the Zoo. Then, provide a writing prompt and ask students to write and share their own math stories.

9. Powers of Ten Day

Although 10/10/10 has passed, each October 10 can still be used to illustrate the powers of tens. Show your students the power of magnitude by screening the classic film Powers of TenTM. Spend at least one-tenth of your class time this day doing hands-on decimal or base ten exponent activities.

10. Mole Day

No, this day doesn’t pay homage to the subterranean dwellers. Rather, it is a special day for anyone with an interest in math or chemistry. If you remember Avogadro’s number, then you may guess the date of this math day! Mole Day takes place on October 23 each year between 6:02 a.m. and 6:02 p.m. (6.02 x 10^23) during National Chemistry Week. Use Help Teaching’s Chemistry Lessons and this TedEd video to introduce students to mathematical moles.

11. Our last math holiday is Fibonacci Day

Quick, what number comes next: 0 + 1 + 1 + 2 + 3 + ___? If you said five, then embrace your inner math geek and celebrate Fibonacci Day with your students on November 23 (11/23). Take this day to let your students explore the Fibonacci sequence and the Golden Ratio in nature. Mensa for Kids offers a nice selection of activities perfect for introducing students to the elegance of Fibonacci.

Fibonacci spiral

Visit HelpTeaching.com and utilize our growing library of K-12 math worksheetslessons, and math generators!

For more math worksheets for elementary and middle school kids, why not visit KidsKonnect.com to browse its math library. If you’re looking for complete CCSS-aligned math curriculums from kindergarten to Pre-Calculus, then pay MathTeacherCoach.com a visit – it will save you hours of preparation time!

Resources for Teaching Chinese New Year

Each year, Chinese New Year takes place. It’s a tradition that spans over 4,000 years! Read more to learn about its history, practice, and why it doesn’t fall on the day you’d think!

An annual tradition celebrated for more than 4,000 years

There will be hands filled with red packets of money and streets filled with dancing dragons as people worldwide, predominately of Chinese descent, welcome the Year of the Ox.  Known to the Chinese as Lunar New Year, what we in the West call Chinese New Year falls on Friday, February 12, 2021, and celebrations will climax with the Lantern Festival on February 26.

What is Chinese New Year?

Also called Spring Festival, the holiday marks the beginning of the lunar Chinese calendar.  The Chinese New Year is packed with tradition, family gatherings, superstition, and great food.  Each day has a special name and tradition.  The standard public holiday for mainland China is seven days from Chinese New Year’s Eve to the sixth day of the lunar calendar new year.

Since all stores in China are closed during the first five days of the Spring Festival, and some remain closed until the very end, people have to stock up on New Year supplies ahead of time.  Spring Festival really gets underway on Lunar New Year’s Eve (this year on February 11) with a reunion dinner which is considered the most important meal of the year.  After dinner, the children receive red envelopes, and the family stays up late to await the New Year.

Each day of Spring Festival is unique

New Year (February 12 this year) starts off with a bang as firecrackers punctuate a day of greetings and blessings among neighbors.  The original name for Spring Festival was Yuán Dàn (Yuán means “the beginning”).  In ancient times, the Chinese recorded and analyzed the weather, stars and moon to predict the fortunes of the year, a practice known as zhàn suì.  On Lunar New Year people may celebrate with Tu Su wine.  Tradition holds that it is forbidden to sweep or clean on this day, so that good fortune will not be swept away.

The next day of Spring Festival is called “to the in-law’s”.  On this day, a married daughter must bring her husband and children to her parents’ home along with a gift bag of crackers and candies, which her mother will divide between neighbors.  This simple gesture by the daughter expresses her longing for her hometown.

Day of the Rat

Following “in-laws” day is the “Day of the Rat”.  In 2021 it so happens to fall on February 14, Valentine’s Day, appropriately because, according to folktales, this is the day that rats marry.  On this day people will leave out some grains and crackers to share their harvest with the rats.  They will then retire early so as not to disturb the “wedding”.  The hope is if they do this, the rats will not disturb them during the coming year either.

Day of the Sheep

The fourth day of Lunar New Year is the “Day of the Sheep”.  In the Chinese creation story, sheep were created on the fourth day.  On this day the Chinese would traditionally pray to the god of wealth on this day.  At midnight, people will welcome the god into their home by opening the windows and feasting until daybreak.  Special foods for this feast are kumquats and sugarcanes — meant to represent a sweet life and successful road ahead — plus cakes, a whole pig, chicken, fish, and soup.  Superstition says it’s forbidden to slaughter a sheep on this day. 

Take a break

“Day of the Sheep” is followed by “Break Five”, when after praying to the god of wealth, markets and stores open again.  A traditional dish of dumplings are eaten on “Break Five”.  Some say that the taboos of other days can be done on the fifth.  Others claim it’s wrong to work on this day.

Day of the Horse

Day six of Spring Festival is known as the “Day of the Horse” because this noble beast was created on the sixth day.  On this day people will send the spirit of poverty away.  This frail-looking man who likes to drink thin porridge and turned his clothing into rags on purpose is chased away by burning scraps and offering banana boat candles.  It’s also believed that the god of bathrooms will visit to check on a home’s cleanliness, so everyone in the house is expected to clean on this day.

Day of the Human

Day seven of Lunar New Year is called “Day of the Human” because — you guessed it — humans were created on the seventh day.  Originating in the Han dynasty, “Day of the Human” traditions include wearing a hair accessory called rén sheng and eating seven gem porridge.  This delicious dish includes seven types of vegetables: kale, leek, mustard leaves, celery, garlic, spring vegetable and thick leaf vegetables.

Day of the Millet

After the “Day of the Human”, it’s “Day of the Millet”.  Legend has it that this is the millet grain’s birthday.  Ancient Chinese society was agrarian and, therefore, people highly valued the grain.  On this day, pets such as fish and birds are released back into the wild as a gesture of respect for nature.  Today, some families visit rural areas to learn about agriculture.  Fair weather on this day is a sign of a fruitful harvest, but a gray sky warns of losses ahead.

Providence Health

The ninth day of Lunar New Year is called Providence Health.  It’s the birthday of the sovereign god of the universe, the Jade Emperor.  The main activities on this day are ceremonies for the Jade Emperor.  In some places, women will bring perfumed flower candles to natural wells and harbors and offer prayers to the gods.  Everyone must fast and bathe before praying.

Stone Festival

The Stone Festival is the tenth day of Lunar New Year.  In some places the night before, people freeze a clay jar onto a smooth stone.  On the morning of the tenth day, ten youths will carry the jar around, and if the stone doesn’t fall, it’s an omen of a good harvest.  A traditional lunch on Stone Festival is a meal of baked bread.  It is believed that after the luncheon, the road to wealth will be open and smooth for that year, unless one uses stone tools, such as rollers and millstones, on the day.

Son-in Law Day

The eleventh day is Son-in-law Day when fathers will invite their daughters and sons-in-law to dinner.

Lantern Festival preparations

On days twelve, thirteen, and fourteen, people make preparations for the Lantern Festival by purchasing lanterns and constructing light sheds.  The old adage goes: “make noise on the 11th, build light sheds on the 12th, light the lantern on the 13th, light is bright on the 14th, a full moon on the 15th, end the light on the 16th”.  When spoken in Chinese, the saying has a nice rhythm.

The Lantern Festival

Lunar New Year culminates in the five-day Lantern Festival.  The most important activity during the festival is creating lanterns.  Lantern Riddles is a game played by writing riddles on lanterns.  As it is a full moon that day, moon-gazing amidst lanterns is the best way to celebrate.  Traditional food includes glutinous rice balls called yuan xiao.  Either boiled, steamed or fried, they represent reunions.  Lanterns are lit by those hoping to add children to their families.

New Year Oddities

Beyond the usual Spring Festival traditions, the holiday is full of interesting quirks and customs.

  • Traffic is chaotic

The world’s largest annual movement of humans happens before and after Lunar New Year.  It’s so big, it has its own name — Chunyun.  It’s when all of China travels at once.  The Chinese push their way into packed buses or stand for hours on a crowded train to visit loved ones.

  • Odd language customs

There are some things you can and can’t do over the Lunar New Year in China — simply because of how they sound.  Footwear purchases are a no-no for the entire lunar month, as the word for shoes sounds like “losing” in Cantonese.  One can, though, invert the Chinese character for luck to make “dao” (which sounds like “arrival”) and put it on your door to bring in good fortune.

Ever wonder why firecrackers are associated with Lunar New Year?  Legend has it that the half-dragon, half-lion monster “Nian” comes out of hiding and attacks people (especially children) during the Lunar New Year.  So the firecrackers are used to scare him away (apparently he has sensitive ears).

  • Wearing red

In Chinese culture red is associated with luck and prosperity, but it’s also used for protective purposes.  In addition to being spooked by loud noises, “Nian” is frightened by the color red.

  • Lunar New Year has its own movie genre

The “hesuipian” film genre in China and Hong Kong is devoted to Lunar New Year.  The films are usually uplifting comedies focusing on families and happy endings to make viewers feel warm and fuzzy.  Kind of like Christmas movies in the West.

Resources for Teaching about and around Chinese New Year

Help Teaching has many fun educational resources which use the holiday to teach math and English.

KidsKonnect.com has Chinese New Year Facts & 30+ Worksheets, and check out these free resources from BusyTeacher.org.

Here are some fun Chinese New Year learning activities from ReadWriteThink, and this Chinese New Year Fan Dance hands-on lesson from Teacher.org integrates social studies concepts with performing arts.  Students will delve into customs of Chinese New Year by exploring traditional artifacts and dance.

The Asia Society is planning virtual celebrations for 2021, and the Smithsonian American Art Museum is ringing in the Year of the Ox with online celebrations.  The Southern Oregon Chinese Cultural Association presents the Year of the Ox virtual celebrations, and New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art is streaming a 12-hour broadcast event completely free (and no registration is required).  From art making classes to online dance and music, puppet shows and talks, there are many ways to celebrate.  Usher in the Year of the Ox with online events provided by The Museum of Chinese in America Lunar New Year Family Festival.

However you choose to celebrate or learn about Chinese New Year, we at Help Teaching offer you this traditional greeting: 恭 禧 發 財 or “Gong Xi Fa Cai” (pronounced goong ssee fah tsign), which is Mandarin for “wishing you great happiness and prosperity”.

Image source: Freepik.com

Black History Month in the Classroom

When commemorating and celebrating Black History Month, it is critical to involve your students in activities that get them thinking critically about all the facets of the African American experience.  Lessons should incorporate history, politics, human experience, art, and  literature.

The history of people of African descent in the U.S. is American history, and Black History Month offers the opportunity to dig deeper.  Each February gives us a chance to support students as they discover the impact African Americans have had on culture, society, politics, and science.  The key for social studies teachers is to avoid pigeonholing the achievements of Black Americans to just one month.  Although the emphasis during February is on African American history, this subject should be included in social studies education year round.

Origins of Black History Month

Those who have no record of what their forebears have accomplished lose the inspiration which comes from the teaching of biography and history

Carter G. Woodson

The distinguished Black author, editor, publisher, and historian Dr. Carter Godwin Woodson (1875 – 1950), penned these words as he worked to establish Negro History Week (the precursor to Black History Month) back in the opening decades of the 20th century.  Woodson believed that African Americans should be aware of their past so they can participate intelligently in the country’s affairs.  He strongly held that Black history, which others have tried so hard to obliterate, provides a strong foundation for young African Americans to build on to become productive citizens.

Woodson’s numerous scholarly books and many magazine articles on the contributions of Blacks to the development of America supported his message that Blacks should be proud of their heritage and that all Americans should also understand it.  This championing of African American history earned him the nickname the “Father of Black History”.

Expand Your Horizons

While teachers typically tend to stay with the same few topics during Black History Month (think civil rights, historical Black leaders, and significant achievements), there are also plenty of other important concepts to consider introducing your students to, such as: 

The Black Family: Representation, Identity, and Diversity (grades 9-12) (National Archives Museum Online panel discussion, Thursday, February 25, 2021, 7-8 p.m. EST)

African American History Month Teaching DO’s and DON’Ts*

DO…

  • Incorporate Black history year-round, not just in February.  Use February to dig deeper into history and make connections with the past.
  • Continue Learning.  Explore how to provide an in-depth and thorough understanding of Black history.  What textbooks include is limited, so use the textbook as one of many resources, but be sure to explore multiple resources and allow for opportunities to learn along with your students.
  • Reinforce that “Black” history is American history.  Make Black history relevant to all students.
  • Connect issues in the past to current issues to make history relevant to students’ lives.  Making the subject matter relevant to student’s lives drives the point of a lesson home.
  • Include the political and social context of the community’s struggle for social justice.  For example, talk about Daisy Bates’ political affiliations and her political ideologies.  You see her bravery not as just a personal act but as coming out of community determination.

DON’T…

  • Stop your “regular” curriculum, to do a separate lesson on Rosa Parks, on the Civil Rights Act or on Martin Luther King Jr.  This trivializes and marginalizes anything you are teaching, making these leaders a token of their culture and ethnicity.  Students will get the message that the diversion is not as important as the “regular” curriculum.
  • Focus on superficial cultural traits based on stereotypes.  It’s okay to celebrate Black music, but teachers should also explore the political and social contexts that give rise to musical forms like hip hop.
  • Talk about Black history in solely “feel-good” language, or as a thing of the past.  This fails to help students examine how racism manifests itself today.  Be sure to draw connections between how events or people’s actions in the past affect society today.
  • Limit the presentation to lectures or reading.  Be sure to allow students an opportunity for discussion and reflection.
  • Shy away from controversial, ambiguous, or unresolved issues.  Share the real-life experiences about racial realities in developmentally appropriate ways.
  • Think that you can’t talk about black history because you’re a white educator.  You do not need to be a person of color to talk about race.  But you do need to be comfortable in your own skin, build your knowledge about the topic and be in alliance with educators of color for support and feedback.
  • Don’t simply focus on the famous people.  Use Black History Month as an opportunity to highlight the often-unacknowledged contributions that people of color make every day.

*source: www.Tolerance.org

Resources for Teaching Black History Month

Help Teaching has the following resources

Free and Slave States (HS)

Civil Rights Test (HS)

Triangular Trade (MS)

Three-Fifths Compromise (MS)

Benjamin Banneker (older ES)

Pre-Civil War – African-American History (older ES)

Nat Turner (older ES)

Sojourner Truth (older ES)

Underground Railroad (older ES)

Harriet Tubman (older ES)

Discrimination and Slavery in the 1800s (MS)

Frederick Douglass (older ES)

Frederick Douglass Quotes (HS)

Abolitionists (MS)

Emancipation Proclamation (older ES)

Civil War Amendments (13, 14, 15) (MS)

Jim Crow Laws (MS)

Booker T. Washington (older ES)

George Washington Carver (MS)

Granville T. Woods (older ES)

Buffalo Soldiers (MS)

W.E.B. Du Bois (MS)

W.E.B Du Bois Quotes (HS)

The Great Migration (HS)

Harlem Renaissance (HS)

Tulsa Race Riots (MS)

Tuskegee Airmen (MS)

The Civil Rights Movement (older ES)

Montgomery Bus Boycott (HS)

Martin Luther King, Jr. (MS)

King Quotes (grades 11-12) 

Letter from Birmingham Jail (grades 11-12)

Medgar Evers (MS)

Madam C.J. Walker (MS)

School Desegregation (older ES)

Greensboro Sit-Ins (older ES)

The Freedom Rides (MS)

Emmett Till (older ES)

Malcolm X (MS)

John Lewis: Civil Rights Icon (HS)

Selma March (older ES)

Civil Rights Test (HS)

Shirley Chisholm (MS)

Maya Angelou (MS)

Maya Angelou’s poem “On The Pulse Of Morning” (MS)

George Floyd Demonstrations (HS)

Read-Aloud: Martin Luther King, Jr. (older ES)

People of Peace: Martin Luther King, Jr. (HS)

Martin Luther King Jr. Spelling (younger ES)

A Dream Like Martin Luther King Writing Prompts (younger ES)

Martin Luther King Jr. Writing Prompt (older ES)

Martin Luther King Jr. Timeline (older ES)

Martin Luther King Jr. Words (older ES)

Martin Luther King Jr. Reading Passage (older ES)

Martin Luther King Jr. Reading Passage (older ES)

Juneteenth (self-contained lesson) (MS)

The Civil War Amendments (13-15) (self-contained lesson) (MS)

You may also find this list of Black History Month Readings – 30 Titles for Grades K-12 helpful.

KidsKonnect.com has the following resources

BusyTeacher.org has the following free ESL resources

These groups and institutions can also help you teach about African American history

Brimming with comprehensive, cross-curricular content, including videos, primary source images and documents, compelling photo galleries, interactive maps, artwork, music, and more, this virtual collection invites students into an engaging exploration of some of the most significant events of the Civil Rights Movement.

Students discover the purpose of Black History Month as well as other historical facts, firsts, and figures about the month-long celebration with a downloadable backgrounder.

Help students understand the significance of the 1963 March on Washington and the role it played in the Civil Rights Movement with this collection of multimedia educational resources.

Use this collection of interviews from National Public Radio (NPR) with high school students to chronicle seminal people and events in the hip-hop movement.

Maya Angelou’s talent was not defined by just one medium. Throughout her life, she was a poet, novelist, dancer, playwright, actor, and educator. In this lesson from PBS NewsHour Extra, students learn more about her extraordinary life.

Students in all grades can make decisions as they follow Harriet Tubman and escape from a slave owner in this online interactive.

To help those who may not know why, where, when or how to begin this conversation, USC Rossier has created Speak Up: Opening a Dialogue With Youth About Racism — a collection of interviews, resource guides, and op-eds aimed at answering some of the questions that can make these topics difficult, and prompt needed discussions about identity, inequality and education for children of color.

Examine social media’s influence in America’s Civil Rights movement and its role in democratizing the media.  The video answers the question, “How does social media support the work of social change protesters?”

These are just a few of the many free resources available online for teaching about African American history.

Image source: Vectoreezy.com

Teaching Inclusivity Through Australia Day

In the American mind, little is known about the “land down under” when compared to their knowledge of other parts of the world. So here’s where you learn about Australia, Australia Day, and why it’s controversial for some.

Australian History

Most Americans’ knowledge of Australia is limited to the unusual animals like the kangaroo and duck-billed platypus, Hollywood’s Crocodile Dundee, and “put another shrimp on the barbie”.

But any understanding of Australia Day must begin with knowledge of the colonial history of the country and an overview of how that narrative is intertwined with the culture and history of the first people to settle the continent thousands of years before the arrival of Europeans.

The First People of Australia

Although it is considered among the world’s oldest cultures, Aboriginal Australians have a rich, vibrant, and living culture today.  Aboriginal peoples form two groups: those descended from people who already inhabited the continent when Great Britain began colonizing the island in 1788, and the Torres Strait Islander peoples, who are descended from residents of the Torres Strait Islands, part of modern-day Queensland, Australia.

Academics believe there is evidence of complex social behaviors among the native people including cremation, personal ornamentation in the form of shell beads, and long-distance trade.  Watercraft were used for some travel by aboriginals to Bali and Timor, and this is thought to be the earliest confirmed seafaring in the world.

Traditional scholarship holds that Australia’s indigenous peoples were hunter-gatherers who did not practice agriculture.  Recently, though, some historians and archaeologists have argued that native peoples did use agricultural practices.  Despite being nomadic, aboriginals were very much attached to their home territory.

Aboriginal peoples understood the world through interpretation of “the Dreaming” (or “dream-time”), a concept embodying the past, present, and future.  This comprehensive belief system includes creation at the dawn of time when supernatural beings made the land with flora, fauna, and humans.  These beings also gave rules for social life. 

Aborigines make up nearly 800,000 out of a total Australian population of 25 million.  Per capita, they suffer higher rates of suicide, alcohol abuse, domestic violence, and incarceration when compared to the general populace.  This is the legacy of British colonial rule which decimated the aboriginal population through the introduction of new diseases such as  smallpox, measles, and influenza, the acquisition of native lands by British settlers, and direct and violent conflict.  It’s estimated that in the ten years following the arrival of the British, the indigenous population was reduced by 90%.  Since aboriginal culture connects with the land, the annexation of native lands was particularly disastrous for indigenous peoples. 

European Knowledge of Australia

As far back as the 2nd century CE, the Roman mathematician, astronomer, and geographer Ptolemy, despite no observational evidence, hypothesized the existence of terra australis incognita (“the unknown land of the south”).  This southern land intrigued medieval European scholars for centuries.  From the 16th century, European cartographers and navigators began including this “Australia” on maps, and as sailing technology advanced, it was inevitable that Europeans would eventually reach the continent.

British Arrival in Australia

By the 1700’s, Great Britain was ascending to the place of unrivaled dominance of the high seas.  By 1770, Captain James Cook planted the Union Jack on what is now called Possession Island, claiming the eastern half of the continent for the British.  On January 26, 1788, Captain Arthur Phillip, commander of the First Fleet of convict ships from England arrived at Sydney Cove to establish the colony of New South Wales.  January 26 has become known as Australia Day by the general population, but also as “Invasion Day” by Aboriginal Australians (more about this below).

Through the 1800’s, the British control and colonization of the continent continued rapidly, and this meant persecution of native peoples, including dozens of massacres throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries.  By 1901, the various British Australian colonies federated to form the Commonwealth of Australia which was given “dominion” status in the British Empire in 1907.  By the 1940’s, most of the constitutional ties with the United Kingdom were severed, and the Australia Act of 1986 dissolved the rest.  Today, Australia has a federal democratic parliamentary system of government but remains a constitutional monarchy with the British sovereign as a figurehead.

Famous Australians and Their Accomplishments

Daisy May Bates (born Margaret Dwyer in Ireland in 1859) was an Australian journalist, welfare worker, and lifelong student of Australian Aboriginal culture and society.  Revered among some aboriginal people, Bates was referred to by the name Kabbarli, or “grandmother.”

Vincent Lingiari (born in 1908) was an Australian Aboriginal rights activist.  Early in life he was a stockman at Wave Hill Station, a pastoral lease in the Northern Territory.  A pastoral lease, or run, is when Australian government-owned Crown land is leased out for the purpose of livestock grazing.  Aboriginal workers were paid only in rations, tobacco and clothing.  In 1966, after workers demanded higher pay and improved working conditions, Lingiari led the workers in the Wave Hill walk-off, also known as the Gurindji strike.  In 1976, Lingiari was named a Member of the Order of Australia for his services to native aboriginal peoples.

Rupert Murdoch (born in Melbourne in 1931) is an American media mogul and billionaire.  He owns hundreds of local, national, and international publishing outlets worldwide, including in the United Kingdom (The Sun and The Times), in Australia (The Daily Telegraph, Herald Sun and The Australian), and in the United States (The Wall Street Journal and The New York Post).  He also owns book publisher HarperCollins and television network Fox News.

Germaine Greer (born in Melbourne in 1939) is among Australia’s most controversial authors seen by many as one of the major voices of the radical feminist movement in the second half of the 20th century.  Her first book, The Female Eunuch, published in 1970, made her a household name.  Greer has also championed the environment.  Her book, White Beech: The Rainforest Years, is the story of her efforts to restore part of a rainforest in the Numinbah Valley in Australia.
Emily Kame Kngwarreye (born in Alhalkere country in 1910) one of the country’s most significant contemporary artists.  She grew up in a remote desert area known as Utopia.  Kngwarreye began painting late in life (age 80), however she was a prolific artist producing over 3,000 paintings in her eight-year painting career.  That’s an average of one painting per day.  Her work was inspired by her cultural life as an aboriginal elder, and her custodianship of the women’s Dreaming sites in her clan country.  She died in 1996.

Australia Day

January 26 is an important date in Australia’s history, but its meaning has changed over time.  Australia Day started in 1808 as a celebration for pardoned convicts and gradually developed into a celebration of Australia that reflects the nation’s diverse people.  However, for many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, the date has long symbolized sorrow and mourning.

Opposition to Australia Day

Aboriginal leaders formally met for the first time in Sydney in 1938 to mark a Day of Mourning to protest the mistreatment of native peoples by the British and white Australians.  They also were seeking full citizen rights for aboriginal people.  50 years later, many native leaders renamed Australia Day as ‘Invasion Day’.  Protests have been held almost every year on Australia Day with some calling it “Survival Day” to emphasize that despite British colonization, aboriginal culture has survived.

Protesters have pushed for treaties between native and non-native Australians and recognition in the county’s constitution.  They also want the date of Australia Day to be altered or abolished.  Victoria state is working toward a first-of-its-kind treaty with its aboriginal population that would recognize the sovereignty of Aboriginal Australians and include compensation.  However, federal Australia itself has never made such a treaty.  It’s the only country in the British Commonwealth not to have ratified a treaty with its indigenous peoples.

Changing the Date

For many Australians, January 26 is a symbol of inequity and institutionalized racism.  However, a survey by the Institute of Public Affairs says 69% of Australians want the date to remain unchanged.

Several dates have been proposed, including January 1, when the Commonwealth of Australia was born in 1901 and Australia, as one united nation, was created.  Some feel, though, that this date change would do nothing to address the unfair treatment of native peoples in the past and present.

Some have argued that Australia’s “National Sorry Day” (observed each year on May 26) should be a new date for Australia Day.  National Sorry Day memorializes the mistreatment of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

Another, more tongue-in-cheek, suggestion for a new Australia Day date is May 8.  Say the date quickly and you’ve got the word “mate”.  Proposers say being a mate can surmount cultural and racial barriers.

Resources for Teaching about Australia

Help Teaching has created many educational resources including

KidsKonnect.com has worksheets on

Check out these free resources from BusyTeacher.org.

There are free curriculum resources from Australians Together.  Cool Australia has produced 52 lessons that investigate racism, privilege, truth-telling, cultural pride, and resilience.  Mr. Donn has produced many worksheets and activities about Australia.  In Clarendon Learning’sAll About Australia” lesson plan, students learn Australian history and culture.

The National Museum of Australia has loads of free resources for teaching about Australia.  You will find plenty of resources for teaching specifically about Australia’s indigenous population at the Aussie Educator website.  ABC Education offers free educational content including videos, digibooks, games and audio lessons about many aspects of Australian history and culture.

Australia is a wonderfully diverse place worthy of study.  G’day, Mate!

Image source: Freepik.com