Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Please Welcome Charles Kastens

About Charles

Charles Kastens is completing his 20th year as an elementary classroom teacher in Aurora,CO. He earned his Masters in Administration in 2003, and became a National Board Certified Teacher in 2012.  He has served in a variety of Personal Financial Literacy leadership roles at the building, district, and state level.  He has recently been involved in helping revise the Colorado state social studies standards (emphasis on K-5 PFL standards) with the Colorado Department of Education. His store on Teachers Pay Teacher offers elementary teachers a wide range of resources in reading, writing, math, science, and of course, Personal Financial Literacy! He is married to his beautiful and amazing wife of almost 19 years, Christine.  They have three children, ages 15, 14, and 12. They all love the amazing Colorado nature and rooting for the hometown Broncos!

   If you were asked the question, “What do you believe are the most important standards you teach your students?” How would you answer?  Some might say language arts, a large number would proclaim math, while others would make their case for science, technology, or fine arts. For me, the answer is easy...Personal Financial Literacy.

The Power Of Economy

   Personal Financial Literacy (PFL) standards, fall under the economics (ECON) branch of social studies.  While ECON standards teach students how money works within our country and around the world, PFL focuses on helping students understand how to use their financial resources.

   No matter what our students grow up to be...a doctor, construction worker, teacher, computer scientist, or stay-at-home-mom, each and every one of our students is going to have money they will have to manage as an adult.  This is a fact that cannot be overlooked.

Hitting Home

   The reason these standards are so near and dear to me are because of my own financial struggles as a young adult.  Being raised by a single-mom, money was tight.  We lived paycheck-to-paycheck, and saving was never modeled.

   Upon graduation from college, I was staring at what seemed an insurmountable amount of student loan, car payment, and credit card debt.  Fortunately, I eventually married a wonderful woman who possessed the financial skills that I lacked.  After realizing that what I had been doing wasn’t working, I committed to learning what I needed to know from her.

   We dug in during our first few years of marriage, and were able to conquer my debt before our first child arrived.  I am happy and proud to say that we have been debt free for over 15 years!
   Because of my story, and so many like it, Personal Financial Literacy standards have become a passion of mine.  Debt is crushing our young people and families, alike. 
 #PowerOfEcon Day
   Thursday, April 26th is #PowerOfEcon day sponsored by Econ Essentials.  It is a nation-wide event that brings educators together from all over the country to discuss the power of economics in our lives and schools.  Throughout the day, you will have the opportunity to find content and interact with economic experts on Twitter (#powerofecon).
   If you are looking to involve your classroom in this day, or are looking for an end of year project to engage your students in, I encourage you to check out my Operation: Shark Tank resource.  It is an opportunity for you to introduce the concept of entrepreneurship to your students through reading groups, an occupation interest inventory, a human capital study, and other fun activities.  
   Students conclude the unit by developing their own small business plan and create a Shark Tank type of presentation.  
Difficulty at the Elementary Level
   As an elementary classroom teacher for the past 20 years, I understand the almost impossible task of trying to fit everything we need to do in any given day.  When most teachers hear about the PFL standards, their response is typically, “What, you want me to fit in ANOTHER thing into my jam packed schedule?” or “Don’t they learn that stuff in high school?” My response is helping my colleagues realize that PFL is not something that should be separated as an individual thing that needs to be done. The key to teaching the PFL standards is integration.  
   For example, there are a growing number of children’s books that have Personal Financial Literacy concepts woven within the text.  I have created several Literature Circle resources that utilize these wonderful children’s literature titles, including One Hen: How One Small Loan Made a Big Difference, A Chair for Mama, and Uncle Jed’s Barbershop.

   These resources which can be found at my Teachers Pay Teachers store (, enable teachers to teach PFL standards within a language arts lesson...what a deal!

Elementary school is not too young to start teaching students these necessary life skills.  In fact, it is the perfect time to start!


Thursday, April 12, 2018

Pros and Cons of K-12 Public Virtual School

     Public K-12 Internet schools are definitely on the rise and many claim to be free. So, I have been doing some investigating. I have always loved the idea of K-12 Internet school, but it looks like there could be many improvements. Some of these virtual schools have won very prestigious technology awards, and are highly funded. There are some naturally great components, too, that go along with students learning in a cyber territory.

    My grandfather was a businessman. He always made a list of the pros and cons before he made any decisions. I'll use his practice now, as I fill you in on some of the issues that I've come across. Would you like to hear the good news or the bad news first? After this, I have some proposals that might help the future of public Internet schools.

Good News

1. Flexibility

   K-12 public virtual school gives students and parents the ability to create a schedule that they like. Let's say math and bike riding in the morning, English language arts on the patio after lunch, art and music in the afternoons after softball practice or ballet, and science and social studies after morning cartoons on the weekends.

2. Ability to Focus

  Students have a better capability to study on the concepts at hand without the worry of fitting in,wearing the latest fashions, or being the smartest. That is, if they are intrinsically motivated to do well in their studies. But, this mainly self-guided, independent approach helps children to learn to focus on their studies.

3. Adaptable Programs

   If your kid is a math whiz, or having difficulties with certain subjects, the content can be adjusted to his or her level. This is more difficult to do in a brick and mortar class, where there are 25 to 30 other students. Students that are above or below grade levels could get left out, and bored.

4. Field Trips

   Virtual schools sometimes have field trips scheduled throughout the year, which makes the experience both educational and social.

5. Flaws Corrected Daily

   Be assured by administrators that any problems with the curriculum are being dealt with 24-7. Designers work around the clock to fix any issues with the program. Sounds good.

Bad News

1. Socialization

  Although there are some field trips and even on line social clubs, it is really difficult for most kids to socialize in this manner. Especially after working all day on the computer. Who wants to be on the computer yet again? Instead, students may feel left out and become very desperate for friends. A few field trips just won't do it. There might be play group sign-ups, but students might be located too far apart to make driving around feasible.

2. Caregiver Teachers

  It is wonderful to have your mom or dad teaching you. But, for some online public schools, the instruction is carried out all day, by you or a caregiver. There may be little time spent with an actual teacher. One I know of has a one hour, one session lesson per week for the student. Other class times might be scheduled with the teacher, and are considered "extra help", if they need it. There is far too much work on behalf of the caregivers, who have to go to classes, too, to learn how to instruct. Beside that, the daily work often exceeds six or even 8 hours per day depending on grade level.

3. Curriculum Alignment

   Sometimes what is learned in class is not what is assessed on the computerized test. Newly introduced vocabulary and new ways of presenting ideas on the test might leave your student confused. Poorly aligned assessments could lead to bad grades, even if your student knew the content. Children often begin to doubt themselves academically. "Am I really a good student? But, I just failed this test." Worse yet, these kinds of assessments could lead your student to repeat a grade.

4. Cabin Fever

  It is generally nice to be at home. But, day after day in the same place with the same old routine, some kids might feel the need to go somewhere else or do something new. But, if the assignments take over 6- 8 hours a day to complete, with caregiver coaching all the way, this might not be a possibility. Kind of like brick and mortal school.

5.  Learning Remotely or Remotely Learning?

    Let's play the cello on a keyboard. Yes, that is right- learn how to play virtual instruments using a keyboard.  It can be fun. But, what is the connection to the real instrument? Very little. Team sports or even any kind of team spirit? Not even happening. By the way, that music program glitch I spoke of never got fixed, even with designers working around the clock.

6.  One Program Suits All?
   No way. But, I have run across required courses that were the same exact content for both my children ages 8 and 9 and my middle school child. Well, my little ones didn't understand it too well, and began to fail until I complained. My middle schooler did very well. Why? The programs were geared for a middle school level, and were not meant for elementary children at all. But, I was told that this was how this virtual school got funding, so all students must take a certain class created for all children. Really? Hum. There were several classes geared for all children, too.

Proposals for Better K-12 Internet Schools

1. Teachers Should Educate

      Teaching professionals have trained specifically, and some for many years, like graduate studies and more, to instruct students. My guess is the popular opinion of  "anyone can teach" follows its way to public virtual school. So, maybe everyone can teach, but not everyone can teach well. There is so much learning, training and talent that goes into teaching properly. I've found that true teaching experts have been reduced to grading portfolio papers and truancy officiating. A gifted teacher has so much more to give!
     Caregivers might help with homework. But, for a caregiver to be given nearly all responsibility for a child's education? That is just plain wrong. However, in some K-12 Public Internet schools, this is what might be happening.
    A college degree from an accredited school is necessary in US public schools. All educators are required by law to have a teaching license in brick and mortar public schools. It seems that far too much "follow through" instruction is left to caregivers, or teacher's aids on some public K-12 Internet schools for most all of the school day. Let's  see........6  hours in one school day, one teacher led class a week, that leaves 29 hours for a "coach". What?  

2. Leisure & Learn Centers

   Have subjects that need interaction, such as PE, art, science experiments, music and others meet collectively at a Leisure and Learn Center. The center would not be like a brick and mortar school, but set up to be more like a community center. That is, students would participate not because they had to, but because they wanted to take part and have signed up because of their interest. What about a softball team? No problem at the center. Extra tutoring, recreational activities, dinner-theater productions, chorus, bands and other special learning can take place here. 

3. Curriculum Excellence

     One of the basic principals in curriculum design is to have tests and quizzes which match up to what the students are learning. No new vocabulary, no new questions, and no new ways of saying things on quizzes and tests. Otherwise, the students are being tested unfairly.

    Age appropriate curriculum is also at the top of the list. An elementary child should not be using the same exact course materials as a middle school child, unless an exceptional child. The teaching tools need to be more kid friendly and, with vocabulary that they can easily understand or have learned already.

   Learning tools that can replicate in real life goes without saying, I hope. What good does learning the flute on a virtual keyboard do? Can a child now qualify for band? Not really.

   Real curriculum designers would know all of this. I wonder how many of these Internet companies employ true educational designers. Just how and why did these fabulous Internet awards even happen for this particular virtual public school? I propose that actual educational designers create curriculum.

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Sunday, March 25, 2018

Free Earth Day Vocabulary Word Search

                     FREE Earth Day Vocabulary Word Search Worksheet and Key

April 22nd is Earth Day

Ecology, recycle, sustainable... a free Earth Day worksheet. This word search contains 21 Earth Day vocabulary words plus a teacher's key. Happy Earth Day.

Your feedback is very much appreciated. Thank you.

For more word search freebies, try...

Back to School Word Search Freebie

Black History Word Search Freebie

Veterans Word Search Freebie

Halloween Word Search Freebie

Christmas Word Search Freebie

Monday, March 19, 2018

20 Marvelous March Classroom Ideas for Teachers

1. American Red Cross Month or Red Cross Month

time to show your students where to go in your area on how to learn be a lifeguard, CNA or get a CPR certificate. They can even get a baby sitting certificate, or learn how to swim and more. Great summer time jobs for high school students!

2. Deaf History Month 

Learn about the history of sign language. Try to learn some basic  sign language terms, or more about famous people with hearing impairments, such as Beethoven.

3. Humorists are Artists Month

Live in such a way that you would not be ashamed to sell your parrot to the town gossip.
Live in such a way that you would not be ashamed to sell your parrot to the town gossip.
"Live in such a way that you would not be afraid to sell your parrot to the town gossip."
We are here just for a spell and then pass on. So get a few laughs and do the best you can. Live your life so that whenever you lose it, you are ahead.

We are here just for a spell and then pass on. So get a few laughs and do the best you can. Live your life so that whenever you lose it, you are ahead.
We are here just for a spell and then pass on. So get a few laughs and do the best you can. Live your life so that whenever you lose it, you are ahead.
We are here just for a spell and then pass on. So get a few laughs and do the best you can. Live your life so that whenever you lose it, you are ahead.
We are here just for a spell and then pass on. So get a few laughs and do the best you can. Live your life so that whenever you lose it, you are ahead.
We are here just for a spell and then pass on. So get a few laughs and do the best you can. Live your life so that whenever you lose it, you are ahead.
We are here just for a spell and then pass on. So get a few laughs and do the best you can. Live your life so that whenever you lose it, you are ahead.

Live in such a way that you would not be ashamed to sell your parrot to the town gossip.
~Will Rogers  Read some great quotes of American Humorist, Will Rogers.

4. National Women's History Month

Biographies, electronic field trips, download posters, lesson plans, learn about the suffrage movement, women of NASA, crusade for the vote and more.

5. World of Folk and Fables Month

Choose to read from hundreds of folk tales and fables from around the world on this beautiful website.

6.  Act Happy Week 19-25

Thanks for the compliment! Words have power! A kindness bulletin board for your classroom, and other activities for students would be great for Act Happy Week.

7. National Introverts Week

The shy aren't just wall flowers. Introverts have many talents. What do introverts do best? Listen, think before they speak, create, care for pets, and...what else? Find out more in this article.

8. Well Elderly Week 19- 25

Just how are the elderly treated around the world? See how countries rank or compare data with Global Age Watch Index. It is interesting to note that Switzerland is currently ranked at number 1. What are they doing differently?

9. NanoDays: 31-4/8 Link

Find some unique hands-on activities for children and explore science topics.

“Some are born great, others achieve greatness.”

Read a variety of poetry greats to your students this month!

et's watch this video.

Okay, any ideas for world puppetry day? 

Listen to the Tuskegee Airmen speak about their experiences in this video.

13. World Day for Water (aka World Water Day) 

Read about water and why conservation and water treatment are so important.

Have readings of your favorite passages of Tolkien.
Learn about actor Leonard Nimoy and  his ‘live long and prosper’ Vulcan sign.
16. Quirky Country Music Song Titles Day: 27

Learn how to make a quirky country music song! Try making quirky songs in your classroom.

17. Manatee Appreciation Day: 29
(Last Wednesday)

A woman who never knew her father, who passed away fighting for his country, got to know him through his good friend.

19. Grass Is Always Browner On The Other Side Of The Fence Day: 30

Appreciate what you have, be thankful, and don't think about what you don't have. Share your good thoughts!

20. I Am In Control Day: 30 

"I am not a control freak, BUT, can I show you how to do that?" More funny and wise control quotes to read, and some to (hopefully) laugh about.

Imagery supplied by

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