Friday, September 30, 2016

Take care of those new teachers! by Mike Siekkinen

For those of us that have been doing this for a fewyears (or more), it is often hard to remember that first year teaching. Mine was a baptism of fire. I was hired provisionally and did not do student teaching. Having been an instructor in the US Navy and having several degrees including a Master’s in Education, I thought I would be ready for anything. I thought because of my magnetic personality, quick wit and experience that students would be sitting at my feet waiting for me to feed them knowledge and then thanking me for the experience. A kind of “kumbaya’ moment. 

Boy was I wrong!  A number of times that first year I asked myself, “What did I get myself into?”

More than one day I went home thinking I did not want to do this. If not for some very good, experienced and kind teachers looking out for me, I would have floundered. 

So what I am saying is make the extra effort and look out for the new teachers in your school. Do the daily “check” with them as to how they are doing or if they need any help. Make the effort to get to know them. In other words, remember your first year teaching and how it was challenging, scary and maybe lonely. With a little extra attention, you could make a huge difference and make that first year teachers life better (while also helping the students).
Step up and mentor one of the newbie teachers. 

Have you mentored any new teachers? Do you have any advice for the newbies? Does your school have a formal mentoring program?  

Dr. Mike Siekkinen, a retired U.S. Navy submariner, became a teacher as a second career. He teaches history at St Marys Middle School as well as Adult and Career Education at Valdosta State in Georgia.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Books from Other Countries by Wendy Buchanan

As a teacher, I am constantly looking for resources that will enhance the quality of educational opportunities for my classroom, while continually emphasizing the importance of my students’ responsibilities to their school community and families.  I try to encourage a “market,” if you will, among the people who help our students grow to be productive citizens – the parents and teachers who, together, educate our children. 

As a result, each year, I divide my class into groups where students must live as a fictitious family. They have to budget, balance a checkbook, invest in the stock market and learn about assigned countries of origin. They ended up learning about famous inventors from different countries, all the while developing valuable life skills.

After attending a Winning Ideas Weekend in San Francisco with my husband, a former izzit.org Teacher of the Year, I participated in izzit’s Win-Win Trading Game and knew instantly that I could use this activity in my own 4th grade classroom.  I finally understood some of what my husband had been talking about all these years. At first, I struggled with the economic concepts with which my husband wished to “enlighten” me. I resisted the idea of these concepts being taught at a grammar school level. But that all changed.

It was apparent that a key concept such as free trade and the benefits of a free-market competitive society, indeed, had a place in the elementary classroom! I was ecstatic about the possibility of exposing the winning ideas of freedom into the minds of these youngsters. The question of how this would happen lingered.

It wasn’t until two years later that the idea came to me… Each year our school receives donated books. So how could we distribute these books most effectively? We decided to use izzit’s Win-Win: A Trading Game. I viewed my free copy of the Win-Win Trading Game DVD to brush up on how it should be played. And it occurred to me that our “fictitious families” from all over the world would be the perfect situation to bring the concept of free trade to the fourth grade classroom. 

Students were asked to sit with their “family” in a “country-of-origin.” Each was given a book in a sealed paper bag. Students could either keep their book or trade with the other members of their family; suddenly they had a choice.  A discussion followed regarding their limited choices within their countries. Before the students understood where this lesson was going, they insisted on trading with “other countries.”

Trading was now permitted with the other countries, and students quickly began to search for those particular books that were of interest to them. They understood, firsthand, how the simple act of being able to trade freely with the class led to a major increase in their satisfaction.

Discussion turned to global trade and the clothing everyone was wearing that morning.  Clothing tags were identified, and the origin of the clothing was mapped out on individual student maps and on the large classroom map of the world. Students became aware of the global connection associated with their clothing, and witnessed a real life example of just how free trade makes more people satisfied. In the end, my students realized the much larger picture: our freedom to choose what we trade and with whom we trade makes for a better world.

By placing this video in my hands, izzit.org has given me the necessary tools to not only reach my students this year, but for years to come. I have already lent the DVD to my fellow grade-level teachers. And during our school’s next book giveaway, all 4th grade students will be participating in the trading game. With the addition of other “countries,” the overall satisfaction of the books donated will undoubtedly increase while promoting the concept of free trade.

By producing one high-quality video targeting a specific concept involving liberty, teachers have the opportunity to educate and enlighten millions of students, allowing them to become productive citizens. Thanks izzit.org!

“The most important single central fact about a free market is that no exchange takes place unless both parties benefit.”  -Milton Friedman

Friday, September 23, 2016

Book Review - Teaching to Change Lives by Howard Hendricks (Review by Andy Jobson)


I recently decided to re-read Teaching to Change Lives by Howard Hendricks. While much of the content is directed to Sunday School teachers, there are several sections that I think are appropriate to any educator. The ideas below all come from his chapter, “The Law of the Teacher.”

1.    As teachers, we must consistently grow.  Like many of you, I try to keep up with a reading program.  Hendricks reminded me of the importance of spending time thinking of what we’re reading.  He says, “If you have an hour set apart to read, try reading the first half hour and use the second half hour to reflect on what you read.  Watch the difference it makes.  You’re reading too much if you reflect on it too little.”  Good thing I read this in summer when time was a little more available, but the advice seems relevant at any time of year.

2.    “The good teacher’s greatest threat is satisfaction—the failure to keep asking, ‘How can I improve?’”  Pre-planning has all sorts of details to attend to, but have you asked yourself how your ideas about teaching have changed over the last year?  With the separation of a few months, what worked and didn’t work last year?  What do you wish you had done differently?  What new insights about people, or your subject, have you gained that will impact your methods or curriculum?

3.    In addition to reading books, we should learn to read people.  That includes getting to know your students outside of the classroom whenever possible.  Some of my colleagues have distributed notecards in the first week of school and asked their students to write down some biographical information, including things like “languages spoken at home,” “favorite hobbies/activities,” “Something people don’t know about me is __________,” or “My attitude toward [this subject] is ________________.”  The value of such cards is twofold:  first, if you can reference the material in class, you demonstrate that you are interested in their lives; second, you can use the details in the building of bridges—the ability to relate your lessons to something important to your students.

Most of us spent at least some time reflecting over the summer.  Don’t neglect that task as the new school year begins and your schedules get more hectic.  If anything, it’s even more important now.

Have a great year!



An educator of 22 years, Andy Jobson has taught government, economics, and U.S. History. Currently teaching English literature at Riverside Military Academy in Gainesville, GA, he’s also  been an administrator, a STAR teacher twice, and taught elementary school with Teach for America.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Is it an izzit day? by Elizabeth Harris

What do you read when you have no books and a high-school classroom full of struggling readers?

Nearly a decade ago I had to answer that very question as I began a new chapter in my career – teaching English and Academic Literacy at MacArthur High School in San Antonio, Texas. During the interview process, my principal challenged me both professionally and personally. She explained that my classes would be full of students who need a teacher to see beyond their well-documented disabilities and challenges. Enthusiasm for what you are teaching and respect for the students must be displayed every day. You must believe in them even when they don’t believe in themselves. Can you do that while teaching students who are struggling or resistant learners?

Challenge accepted.

The first week of school brought another challenge that I had not anticipated. My classroom was nearly empty. A few desks and small tables were scattered amidst four white walls, but there was not a single book in the classroom. No books, no bookshelves, not even a filing cabinet.

My search for high-interest, expository texts or current event-based materials began immediately.

During this time, I discovered izzit.org. I was thrilled to find an organization dedicated to providing quality teaching materials. Although the emphasis of the materials is primarily in the economic or government and business realm, the topics readily lend themselves to cross-curricular learning experiences.

In my Academic Literacy classroom, From Poop to Profits becomes a lesson about problem solving, innovation, and overcoming obstacles.

Bee the Change becomes a lesson about learning to take risks in the face of hardship, and the importance of being committed to follow through in order to effect change for your family and community.

Paradox of Progress becomes a lesson about facing change. When is change good? When is technology enough? Or too much? Who decides?

The Singing Revolution becomes a lesson about individual acts of heroism, the power of choice, and the resilience of the human spirit.

Each engaging izzit.org video depicts real people facing real challenges and demonstrates the importance of perseverance and individual choice. My students cheer whenever they see the izzit.org icon. “Is it an izzit day?” is a favorite question.



Whether teaching my struggling readers, students with learning disabilities, or second language learners, izzit.org provides excellent educational resources for teachers that can easily be adapted to teaching any level of secondary students. Teacher guides coupled with quality films and documentaries depicting real world situations provide students with authentic learning opportunities that extend beyond the classroom walls. In my classroom, videos frequently serve as springboards for student-driven, inquiry-based research projects. This type of learning promotes critical thinking, problem solving, and higher level processing as well as collaboration.

Several years ago after reading a current event article from izzit.org titled “Kidneys for Sale”, even my most apathetic student had an opinion. We paired this with a similar article and then viewed a segment of the video from the Drew Carey Project: Vol. 1. My students were engaged and did not stop talking about this topic even as we were ready to move on. So, I changed my lesson plans. Students continued generating meaningful questions and talking with their parents outside of class – about organ donors and organ transplants.

Their momentum carried us from learning about how to become an organ donor to learning which other organs can be successfully transplanted. As students questioned, we expanded our research. The culminating effect that year is that students began to learn why some people need organ donations. And they wanted to do something to help. One young lady challenged her family to begin eating more vegetables and become healthier so that they won’t need organ transplants. Others decided to raise awareness about how to become an organ donor.

Momentum continued and one final project brought all of my classes together in a collaborative effort. Students’ inquiry-based research led them to learn about several diseases such as cystic fibrosis, diabetes, and Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy (DMD). When students read an article about a young boy with DMD and learned it is a fatal childhood disease that affects boys, they wanted to do something. Their ideas flowed.

Students planned, developed, and carried out several events on campus and in the community to raise $1,500.00 dollars toward research for finding a cure. Through a grant proposal, students published a calendar outlining their journey and continuing efforts to raise awareness for their cause. Calendars were sent to principals, counselors, and librarians at each middle school and high school campus in our district.

Instead of focusing on their own challenges, this project provided a platform for students to realize their potential and celebrate their ability to impact the world around them. Participation at this level is empowering.

Curriculums may change and textbooks will come and go, but izzit.org current event updates and educational videos remain a constant in my classroom because they provide opportunities for students to grow and learn together

Monday, September 12, 2016

Book Review - Inventing Freedom by Daniel Hannan (Andy Jobson)

Review – Inventing Freedom by Daniel Hannan

I like to think that one advantage of teaching is that it keeps me reading.  Some people, however, just read widely because they love it. My mother-in-law is one of those people, and she often leads me to some wonderful books. Daniel Hannan’s Inventing Freedom is one of those great finds.

Hannan, a member of the European Parliament, provides an overview of the English-speaking world (which he calls the Anglosphere) that in some ways pays homage to Churchill’s History of the English-Speaking People.  Hannan takes one volume to share his insights instead of four (a bonus for busy teachers) and focuses heavily on the reasons that one island, and its offshoots, created what we think of today as Western Civilization. Those who like to denigrate the value of that civilization will probably hate this book, but those who see the importance of principles like the rule of law, private property, personal liberty, and representative government will find much to appreciate here.   

Here’s a small sample:  “(S)mall businessmen have been the drivers of progress through the centuries.  Societies that laud martial valor, nobility, and faith tend to be less pleasant places to live than societies that value freedom, enterprise, and privacy.  The petit bourgeoisie, whom Marx so despised, have contributed more to human happiness than any number of crusaders.  And they have done so, in the main, unhonored, unthanked, and unnoticed.”  (327)


Daniel Hannan
Like Churchill, Hannan looks far back into the Anglo-Saxon period in England to trace the growth of the principles stated above.  He reminds us Americans of the debt we owe to that nation while arguing that the English colonies that eventually declared independence are perhaps the strongest example of these values. As De Tocqueville said in Democracy in America, “The American is the Englishman left to himself.”  

This does not imply that only those Caucasians of Anglo-Saxon heritage are true Americans—I always try to remind my students that our nation’s citizenship is one of the few based not on ethnicity, but on philosophy.  To be American, I would argue, means to think a certain way.  Sadly, I worry that we’re losing that unique identity as we strive to become more like continental Europe. Hannan reminds us of the value of what we’re so casually throwing away. 


An educator of 22 years, Andy Jobson has taught government, economics, and U.S. History. Currently teaching English literature at Riverside Military Academy in Gainesville, GA, he’s also been an administrator, a STAR teacher twice, and taught elementary school with Teach for America. 

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

The Value of Trade by Andrew Jobson

The Value of Trade

Teaching Economics again gave me the chance to use a fun introductory activity I learned long ago from a GCEE (Georgia Council for Economic Education) workshop.  The goal is to show how trade occurs because people feel that they have gained.  In other words, with voluntary exchange, everyone wins.

You start by preparing a small opaque bag of goodies for each student in the class.  I have typically used candy, but you can use other small items depending on the age of the students (nickels, erasers, pencils, stickers, etc.).  The bags should have some variety, reflecting the disparate resources that we all have.  It’s also okay to give some bags more than others for the same reason, although each should have at least enough to engage in some trade.


After warning the students to keep their contents secret for now, distribute the bags and ask each person to rate his or her satisfaction level with the contents on a scale of 1 to 10. The students should write the number down, although they don’t have to announce it.

I don’t remember if I learned the lesson this way, but I started by putting students in groups of three to compare bags and trade if they were interested.  After a few minutes, I expanded their “market” and let them move around the entire class to see what people had and to offer trades.  (Having recently revisited Smith’s Wealth of Nations, I was thinking about his comments on the value of large markets.)

Following the entire class trading market, the students (at least those who engaged in trade) re-evaluated their satisfaction.  Now we compared their initial rating with their revised rating and discussed the changes.  A few items that we addressed:  1) Why did most people’s satisfaction go up? 2) Do you see any trades that you think were bad trades? Why did they happen?  3) What happened when the market expanded?  How does this relate to world trade today? 4) At least one person traded, not because he valued the items he got in trade, but because he valued the friendship of another student more than the contents of his bag.  This was an interesting scenario which led to a discussion of how “self-interest” occasionally means more than simple economic status.

I know this isn’t original, but it’s fun and helpful to the students.  I love and value reading, but anytime we can get them to do something active (especially at my all-boys school), it’s a good day.  I hope you find it useful.  


Note from Susan Gable (izzit.org Director of Educational Curriculum) – The activity Andy describes here is exactly the activity in our educational video Win/Win – A Trading Game. If you’d like to see a classroom demonstration of the activity to get a better understanding of how to do it, watch the video or select it for your izzit.org Free Annual Video DVD. Additional resources are available with it as well.


An educator of 22 years, Andy Jobson has taught government, economics, and U.S. History. Currently teaching English literature at Riverside Military Academy in Gainesville, GA, he’s also been an administrator, a STAR teacher twice, and taught elementary school with Teach for America.