Saturday, February 22, 2014

Hurray for Donors Choose!!

Donors Choose rocks!  For those in the know, is an online charity that helps teachers fund projects and supplies from pencils to microscopes.  Donors can choose (hence the name)  which programs they wish to fund based on need, location, or inspiration.  No contribution is too small.  In return, teachers post photos of students using the materials, write impact letters, and encourage students to send handwritten thank you notes - a rare phenomenon these days!

I heard of Donors Choose from committed colleagues for years, but this was the first time I actually requested my own project.  I wanted my students to read Sandra Cisneros's House on Mango Street.  I knew they would love the book but needed a class set of thirty.  Like most school teachers who endlessly pay out of pocket for classroom essentials, I didn't have a spare $450.  In the past I would have abandoned the project and stuck to the mind numbing anthology textbook, but not this time!  I went to Donors Choose.  Within five weeks, my project was fully funded and I had my class set of House on Mango Street.

My students just finished the book and as predicted, they devoured it.  Esperanza Cordero, the young Latina protagonist, spoke to my students with the rite-of-passage vignettes and enduring themes of home is where the heart is.  The ultimate testimonial: "I hate to read but this book was kinda cool, Ms. Dana."  

Thank you, Donors Choose!  I'll be back...

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Teaching Our Tweens to be Cyber Citizens

As Published in Your Teen: For Parents

As a veteran teacher of The Tween, people will often ask how middle school has changed over the years.  The answer comes down to one word – technology. 

Back in the day if you wanted to spread a bit of gossip, you wrote it out on a piece of spiral notebook paper in big loopy letters with a purple grape smelly maker, signed it G/G (Gotta Go), folded it using an elaborate origami technique, and wrote DO NOT OPEN lest someone else usurped it as you surreptitiously scooted it across the floor in class with the toe of your Nike.  

Today – you text it, at which time the receiver forwards it, at which time the next receiver posts it on Facebook, at which time someone Tweets it, at which time someone Google Plus’s it and voila – Viral Gossip with the guaranteed promise of a YouTube video coming soon. 

Yes, technology, and in particular social media, has radically changed the childhood experience of tweens.  Middle school tweens are growing up faster than ever and it wouldn’t be outlandish to accept that middle school has become the new high school.  The fact is tweens spend more time with their iPhones, iPads, and iTouches than their friends, families, and teachers.  The result = iWorry! 

The negative aspects of having access to technology 24/7 are pretty clear, and as serious as they are, I only wish they were confined to cheating or plagiarism.  Events and feelings that were once private are now public for all to see, and in cyberspace they are written in permanent ink.  The mental health risks of friending, cyberbullying and sexting, have profound psychological repercussions on the fragile tween-work-in-progress persona.  They include but are not limited to anxiety, isolation, and even suicide.

Not to say there are no positive effects of tweens employing technology.  I have seen social media sites help the shyest of tweens come out of their unbreakable social shell.  The comfort of expressing oneself through the safety confines of a keyboard and screen can help develop a timid tween’s social skills and boost their overall sense of self.  For this reason alone, I applaud Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube for giving kids a way to connect and self-express.

So as parents and teachers of the tween, what is our call to action?  We can view social media technology as the bane of our tweens’ existence, take away all of their gadgets, and lock them in the bedroom until they are eighteen…but I’m afraid that’s not the answer.  At the same time, we can’t afford to squander this ultimate teachable moment that ensures kids a balanced media diet that’s fun, educational, and safe.  Our charge is simple.  It is absolutely necessary that parents and teachers team up to help tweens understand what it means to be responsible digital citizens. 

In short, it can come down to a few guidelines:

  •  Self-reflect before self-revealing in words or pictures.  A digital footprint lasts a lifetime. 
  •  Never share names, schools, ages, phone numbers, or addresses.
  •  Never send pictures of strangers or view pictures that strangers send to you.
  •  Keep passwords private.
  •  Report all cyberbullying to an adult immediately. 
  •  Limit social networking to 1-2 hours a day, after homework is complete.

Along with teaching algebra and the five-paragraph essay, we do our students a disservice if we don’t discuss how social media can help empower tweens to find their voice, find their purpose, and become their best educated selves.  We owe tweens the safe, healthy adolescence they deserve as opposed to the alternative - as so uncannily perceived by Albert Einstein: “It has become appalling clear that our technology has surpassed our humanity.”  Technology and humanity.  They need not be mutually exclusive.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Breaking Up Is Hard to Do

An Excerpt From the Award-Winning Tell-All
Lucy and CeCee's How to Survive (and Thrive) in Middle School

Breaking up is hard to do.  Sometimes you’re the dumper; sometimes you’re the dumpee.  Either way, it’s no fun to break up.  So here are some tips on how to make the inevitably painful – painless (or at least with a shot of Novocain).


Don’t put it off.  If you know it’s not going to work or you’re crushing big time on someone else, then by all means – break up.  Remember:

You don’t need an audience to call it quits.  Break up in private to maintain his dignity.

Keep it short and sweet.  Don’t go into little details as to why he didn’t measure up.  Pssst – Guys have fragile egos.  Be gentle!!

Although it’s a cliché, tell him you want to remain friends.  (This may have to wait a while if the guy is really into you.  A bruised ego takes time to heal!)

If you’re breaking up because you’re crushing on someone else, be sure not to flaunt your new dude in front of him.  Ouch!!

When you do the actual deed, take a deep breath, look him in the eye, and just tell him you don't think it’s going to work.

Break up in person, face-to-face.  Breaking up via Myspace, email, AIM, and Twitter show a lack of class and character.  If you can’t see him in person, tell him on the phone. Most importantly, don’t have a friend do it for you.  YOU went out with him - YOU should break up with him.

Don’t take the easy way out and just blow him off.  If you’re not into him, be up front and honest.  And don’t ever bash him to your friends afterwards, especially if he cries.  Warning: guys cry.


Of course what comes around goes around, and you will in fact some day be broken up with.  It’s all part of playing the game of love.  Here’s how to keep the tears from flowing:

Allow yourself to be sad but not for too long.  A couple days of shutting the shades, playing sappy music, and reading old notes should do it.  After that, you just become a burden to yourself and those around you.

Reinvent yourself!!!  Get a new pair of jeans, a haircut, or a mani-pedi.  Feel good about yourself.

Although it may seem otherwise, realize that it's not the end of the world.  Next time you’ll meet someone better who will appreciate you for you (flaws and all).  Remember you’re young.  You still have the rest of your life to find your soul mate

Crush on a new crush.  The great thing about love is your bound to love again.

Don't try to make the person you broke up with jealous. You'll only look disparate and needy.