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Universe Sandbox: A Cool Web Application for STEM Teachers


stem teachersUniverse Sandbox is an interactive space simulator that is just as much about breaking scientific laws as it is about learning them.

Most astronomy software allows you to click your away around the solar system, but Universe Sandbox is a powerful gravity simulator. Add another star to our solar system and watch it rip the planets from their orbits. Create impossible planet alignments and watch it all unravel.

The very fact that students can dismantle their electronic universe in a few simple mouse clicks is destructive, sure, but it also shows them just how precarious and complicated our world really is.

The free version allows users to explore and discover any simulation. You can also upgrade to the premium version ($9.95) for unlimited control.

Here are some additional features of Universe Sandbox:

  • Explore our solar system, including planets, asteroids, comets, and moons
  • Line up planets and reorder them according to mass or velocity
  • Rip Saturn's rings apart in 3D: Put on some 3D glasses to see Saturn's rings ripped away by a passing planet
  • View the paths of hundreds of asteroids & moons
  • Compare the moon and dwarf planets
  • View constellations


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Two Apps to Help Teachers Manage Noisy Classrooms


Keeping the classroom volume at a reasonable level can be tricky, especially when our classroom sizes continue to increase! Sometimes, the collective classroom volume rises so incrementally that we don't even realize it until we’re shouting to be heard. To help you better manage your classroom volume, we’d like to share two new apps with you.

As Richard Byrne points out in one of his recent posts, both apps are similar to another “decibel manager” called Too Noisy. Unlike Too Noisy, though, both of these apps are completely free!

Bouncy Balls behaves like a popcorn machine that runs on noise. The louder your students are, the higher and more frequently the balls bounce. All you need is a microphone so that the app can register the volume and react appropriately.

We also want to mention that you can choose from four different types of “bouncy balls”: eyeballs, plastic balls, bubbles or emotocons.

apps for teachers
Calmness Counter is a lot like Bouncy Balls with two exceptions: 1) Users can adjust the microphone input sensitivity directly on the computer screen; 2) Rather than bouncing balls, Calmness Counter uses a meter to track volume.

apps for teachers

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6 Ways to Reduce Your Students’ Test Anxiety


test anxietyTest anxiety needs no formal introduction. Most of us have experienced it—and if you haven’t, you’ve probably seen the impact it can have on your students’ performance and self-esteem. Below we’ve pulled a few stress-management tips from Neal A. Glasgow and Cathy D. Hicks’ book, What Successful Teachers Do: 91 Research-Based Classroom Strategies for New and Veteran Teachers.

6 Ways to Reduce Your Students’ Test Anxiety

Model low levels of anxiety in front of your students
It should be no surprise that research shows a connection between the way we negotiate stress and the way our students handle it. If we’re stressed, chances are that it’s going to rub off on our students. We can apply every stress-management strategy in the book, but if we fail to create a positive classroom culture, even the best stress-management activity will fall flat. 

As Tim Haston, a 7th grade math and science teacher at Earlimart Middle School, suggests, teachers would do well to approach test days like athletes do game day. “It is the performance; it is the thing we grow all year to be excited for. I don't want them to work around any anxiety, I want to teach them how to channel it as athletes do for a game, musicians do for a concert, and actors do for their play/movie/show.”

Deep Breathing
In addition to modeling low levels of anxiety in front of our students, we can also teach them how to be in tune with their bodies and minds. Here’s a simple deep breathing exercise we like to use before tests:

With erect posture, breathe in deeply through the nose and hold your breath for a count of 8-10 seconds. Then, slowly exhale through the mouth, counting 8-10. Repeat this procedure several times until relaxation occurs.

Olympic Success
This mindfulness exercise fits in nicely with what Tim Haston said in our first point.

Tell students to try what Olympic athletes do to develop confidence in their performance. Picture yourself in a tense situation, such as taking a test, and visualize yourself looking over the test, seeing the questions, and feeling secure about the answers. Imagine yourself answering the questions without too much difficulty. Complete the picture by imagining yourself turning in the paper and leaving the room assured that you did your best.

Relaxing Place
Where do your students feel most at peace? One spot could be at the ocean. Have students identify a place and use all their senses to imagine themselves there and how they feel when they are there. Guide them in an activity: Watch the waves with the whitecaps rolling up the shoreline onto the beach. Listen to the waves and the seagulls. Smell the salty air and feel your fingers and toes in the warm, soft, and grainy sand.

Keep in mind that this activity should be done with some reserve. It may not work for all of your students, so gauge the class and encourage students not to give up on relaxation exercises just because this one doesn’t work well for them.

Write Letters of Encouragement
This activity will require more effort on the part of the teacher, but it’s one that will certainly stick with students. Before a major exam or standardized test, write a letter of encouragement to each student the day before. If you have the time to custom-tailor each note, your effort will go a long way, but a generic note will also have a positive impact on your students.

We’d like to thank Angela Oliver, a 7th and 8th grade teacher from Leggett, Texas, for sharing this idea with us!

Watch This Test Does Not Define You
This Test Does Not Define You is one video we always show students in the weeks preceding big exams. Not only does it do a nice job of dispelling a few myths about testing, it also sends them an important message: They are not defined by test results! The video also highlights some simple research-based activities that reduce test-anxiety. 



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Writer’s Digest Has Hundreds of Awesome Writing Prompts for Students


writing prompts for studentsWe’ve known many teachers who believe “bell-ringers,” warm-ups, or informal writing assignments are a poor use of time, but we still stand by them.

Because we do not “grade” informal writing in the traditional sense (students receive credit simply for completing the assignment) we find that students are often more willing to take risks. Many students have even expressed that these exercises increase their confidence and get them excited about putting pen to paper. Is there a note of music sweeter to the writing teacher’s ear? We think not!

When we’re looking for writing prompts, our first stop is a site called Writer’s Digest. Below are a few examples of the writing prompts you’ll find there:

  •  “You’re leaving your favorite restaurant after eating breakfast when a stranger taps you on the shoulder. But this tap leads to a conversation—and adventure—that leaves you with one item that you never thought you’d ever own.  Start your story with “I hate to bother you, but I have something important to ask.” And end your story with, “And that’s how I ended up being the proud owner of a (fill in the blank).”

  • You are a world-renowned mystery writer living a life of seclusion. A random email informs you of a great story, the next bestseller. Unfortunately, you find the details to be a little too close to home. Write a scene where you confront this mysterious informant, who seems to know a little too much about your personal life.

  • The snow is coming down and school has been canceled. Your brother, who has an important government job, has asked you to watch his kids during the day so he can go to work. While watching his kids, they reveal something top secret about your brother’s job—and it’s something, for the sake of your family, that you need to stop.

  • You receive a mysterious email and the subject line reads “Everything you know is a lie.” You open the email and read further: “Act calm as to not alert anyone, but everyone around you is not who they say they are. You need to quietly get out of there and meet me at the spot where you had your first kiss. You know the place. My name is Mark.”

If you’re looking for more writing prompts, we also recommend checking out a site called Writing Prompts. Each prompt on the site comes with an accompanying photo and a brief explanation of how the prompt fulfills Common Core Standards.


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Glean: An Excellent Resource for STEM Teachers


stem teachersYouTube is an excellent resource for STEM teachers, but sorting through the clutter and finding videos we can use in the classroom is often tedious and time consuming. There are plenty of alternatives to YouTube, but our current favorite is Glean.

Every day, you’ll find hundreds of new teacher-created videos on Glean. To ensure that you find the math and science content you’re looking for, Glean organizes these videos, tags them by educational standard, and wraps them up in interactive tools (like Q&A and practice exercises).

stem teachers 2

But Glean is much more than a massive database of educational videos: Using “Insight” technology, Glean pairs students with lessons that suit their individual learning styles. Each lesson is short enough to hold students’ attention, but substantive enough to cover an entire textbook topic.

Another noteworthy feature is that Glean allows teachers to monitor student engagement through an administrative account. From here, you’ll see what videos students have watched and how much they’ve watched.

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5 Things Every Freelance Language Translator Should Know


freelance translatorWhether you’re already a freelance translator, or a translator thinking about going freelance, we thought you might benefit from a few tips we picked up from Steve Gordon, Jr.’s book, 100 Habits of Successful Freelance Designers: Insider Secrets for Working Smart & Staying Creative.

Going solo doesn’t mean you can’t be part of a team
Very often freelancers go solo because they want to escape the office banter, the “water cooler” chatter, and the constant interruptions. Ironically enough, after experiencing freelance isolation, it’s not uncommon for many of us to start missing these social interactions. Just remember: Going solo doesn’t mean you need to live in isolation.

Try renting a desk in an office once or twice a week through ShareDesk. That way you’ll still be surrounded by people, but you won’t be locked into a monthly lease.

Another suggestion that we’ve mentioned before: Connect with an accountability partner, someone you can call or email in the morning to report on what you’ll be working on for the next four or five hours. Then around lunchtime, call back and give a brief “account” of what you accomplished. This will keep you productive and connected.

There’s no such thing as talking too much
As the adage goes, it is impolite to talk about one’s self, but when you’re a freelancer you’d do well to throw that philosophy out the window.

Tell everyone what you do for a living. By talking about your work, you enhance the industry, educate the public, practice your pitch, and may even get a fun project in the process.

Keep that day job—for now
One of the best ways to start off as a freelancer is to keep a full-time day job and take on freelance work that you can do on nights and weekends. Try to build up projects and clients until you have a flow of steady work and enough jobs to keep you busy for at least six months.

It will take a lot of hard work and dedication to do this because you’re basically working two full-time jobs, but the benefits will be well worth it in the end. The biggest benefit is that all the stress and long hours will help prepare you for going solo, managing clients, and dealing with deadlines. Plus you’ll already have a roster of stable clients.

Remember the old Boy Scout motto: “Be prepared.”
Hopefully, if you regularly spend four to eight hours a week developing your business, you won’t experience harsh dry spells.

When you’re working on projects and have a lot of deadlines to keep track of, it can seem strange or silly to pull hours away from a client to work on business development and marketing. But doing so is critical because the work you do to promote yourself this week may not pay off for weeks, months, even years down the road. You have to always keep yourself in front of people and remind them that you’re available.

Learn the art of negotiation
You set your rates where they are for a reason, so don’t accept a counter offer if it isn’t fair. Instead, negotiate by doing one of the following:

  • Offer to get the job done faster: Many clients would gladly pay extra to wrap a project a week early just so they don’t have to worry about it.
  • Offer a discount for paying your full fee in advance: Getting paid in advance is a rare treat. If the client can’t (or won’t) meet you exactly where you want, accept a lower rate for full payment in advance.
  • Ask for more time to get the project done: If you’re taking a job at a lower rate, ask if you can have an extension on the deadline.
  • Offer a bulk discount. Does the client have any upcoming projects that she could offer you? If so, take on those projects and offer a bulk discount.

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How and Why You Should Ask Questions on Your Next Interview


asking interview questionsIn preparation for “the big interview,” many of us invest our time anticipating all of the questions we’ll be asked. Less often do we give adequate time to preparing our own set of questions for the interviewer. 

Indeed, we must know how to respond to interview questions, but we should also know how to ask questions that are equally concise, competent, and enthusiastic!

Why ask questions? According to Ron Fry, author of 101 Smart Questions to Ask on Your Interview, asking well-placed, finely-tuned questions: 

  • Impresses interviewers and shows them that you’ve done your research and thought about the position before the interview.
  • Shows interviewers that you are assertive.

  • Places you in control of the interview, which is what you want—especially if you are being interviewed by an unskilled interviewer or an incessant talker.

  • Can transform an interview from a “Q & A” session (where the interviewer is the “Q” and you are the “A”) into a real conversation. This is precisely what you want. Dialogue is a collaborative activity, something that enables you to explore common interests, trade comments, and chat rather than “talk.”

  • Gives you additional chances to demonstrate the extent of your research.

  • Builds on whatever rapport you’ve already established.

  • Aligns your skillset—that is, what you know and can do—with what the company needs.

  • Indicates that you are truly interested in the position. Likewise, the complete lack of questions will undoubtedly convince most interviewers that you are not interested.

  • This bullet point almost didn’t make the list, but I decided to add it anyway: Asking a good question is a slick way to get out of answering an uncomfortable question from an interviewer—at least for the time being. “What’s the story with the one-year gap in your resume?” Darn, we’re out of time….The topic probably won’t go away, but it’ll give you a temporary reprieve.
If you’re looking for more advice on asking interview questions, I highly recommend reading Suzanne Lucas’s recent article, “Job hunting tip: You don't need to ask for the job.”

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5 Questions Language Translators Should Ask Themselves When Business Dries Up


language translatorWe never look forward to dry spells, but experience has shown us that they can actually work in our favor. Why? Because they give us time to reflect, assess our business strategy, and figure out what’s working and what’s not.

To get back on track, we always start by asking ourselves these five questions:  

When was the last time I attended an industry event?
Podcasts and webinars are helpful, but if you’re serious about increasing your visibility, you really need to attend industry events in the flesh. Not sure where to go? You’ll find a comprehensive list of translation conferences here.

Am I truly connecting with others?
I used to groan when I was within earshot of anyone using the word “network.” That changed when I finally realized that there’s a difference between disingenuous talk and meaningful conversation. Networking isn’t dirty or selfish. To the contrary, real networking stems from a genuine desire to learn something about the other person.  

If you’re truly networking—whether it be through social media, blog comments or in person at conferences—you’re building a relationship, you’re finding out what you have in common with someone else, you’re learning how you can help them and how they can help you.

When was the last time I spoke to my classmates?
If you went to university, chances are that you were surrounded by peers who shared similar goals and career aspirations. What have they been up to? Where are they working? Who are they translating for? Meet up for coffee, find them on Facebook and pick their brains.

Do I have any other industry experience? Can I use this experience to market myself?
We’ve known men and women who were copywriters, chefs, teachers, social media managers and web designers for years before they became language translators. Use your industry experience wisely. Are there any industry trade shows happening in your area? Browse the Internet for companies that align with your specialization and reach out to them.

When was the last time I (or someone else trustworthy) reviewed my marketing materials?
When I say “marketing materials,” I’m talking about your CV, your blog, your website, your LinkedIn profile and so on. Chances are that you are too close to your own marketing materials to look at them objectively. Appeal to your fellow language translators on the Proz message boards; there are lots of willing souls who will review your materials, offer advice and encourage you.

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5 Stress-Management Tips for Principals


principalsStart a Stress Diary
You don’t like the sound of this, do you? “A diary?” you say. Call it whatever you want, but if you’re serious about managing your stress, the first thing you need is to be cognizant of its root.

You may think you know what’s causing you anxiety, but documenting your triggers can be a real eye-opener.

There are innumerable ways to keep a stress diary, but here’s what I do:

Throughout the day, list the situations or events initiating the stress response. For each event include:

  • Source of stress
  • Time and place
  • Level of perceived stress (1 = Slight, 2 = Moderate, 3 = Strong, 4 = Intense)
  • Thoughts and feelings about the stressor
  • Coping strategies you used to deal with the stressor

At the end of the day, reflect on these two questions:

  • What was your major source of stress for the day?
  • What is your personal assessment of how you managed stress today?

Let Go of Fear
Boil it down and you’ll find that stress is simply another word for fear—and fear, as Victorian iconoclast Samuel Butler once said, “Is static that prevents [you] from hearing [yourself].”

Most of us blame external factors—the mortgage, low test scores, low-performing teachers, needy parents and troubled students—for our stress. But these things, these people are just a part of your everyday life. They only become stressful when we fear them, when we fear that we will fail to meet the expectations of others. These ideals are burdensome—and very often they aren’t ideals of your own making. Let go of them. Let go of fear and carry on, my dear.

Give Yourself Completely to One Task
Our culture takes pride in its multitasking “proficiency.” Funny enough, research is almost unanimous in finding that people who chronically multitask (and claim to be proficient at it), are not only terrible at it, but more stressed and disorganized because of it.

Instead of dividing your attention between several tasks, give yourself completely to one thing. Immerse yourself in it until you’ve completed it to the best of your ability.

Coffee Problem?
A coffee problem is a self-diagnosed disease and I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve got the bug. I picked up the coffee habit in graduate school. I was waiting tables full-time, tutoring students in the university writing center, and taking two graduate classes at a time. To stay awake, I’d pound coffee all day, which not only dehydrated me, but made me wired, jittery, restless and in actuality, more stressed out. I’m still weaning myself and cutting down my coffee intake, but when I’m successful at it, there’s a noticeable difference in how I feel.

Clear to Neutral
We’re very good at scolding  students about waiting until the last minute to find their research or write their essays, but let’s be honest, educators are (covertly, of course) some of the best procrastinators out there. But why do we procrastinate? One of the biggest reasons is because we have to jump through a number of unpleasant hoops to get to the main task. Let’s illustrate:

You have to cook dinner, which means that you need the cutting board, clean knives, dishes and pots to get the job done. Unfortunately, all of the tools you need to make dinner are still filthy and sitting in the sink. So before you can get to what you set out to do (cook), you’ve got 20 other things to do (clean and scrape pans) before you can actually start on the main task (cooking). What happens? You’re frustrated. Now apply this to the sundry, and perhaps unpleasant, tasks that await you as principal.

Here’s where Clearing to Neutral (CTN) comes in. CTN simply means that every time you finish an activity, you engage in a routine, a setup, so that the next time you start the activity, your environment is ready to go. No prep, no cleanup, no frustration…just a clean slate.


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5 of Our Favorite Language Learning Apps for Students


We’ve toyed around with interactive language learning software like Rosetta Stone and Fluenz, but they certainly aren’t cheap. Purchased at a discount or even used, both programs approach the $300 mark. If you’re looking to sharpen your students’ language learning skills and you’re on a budget, we recommend checking out these five language learning apps below.

language learning appsGus on the Go ($3.99)
This language learning app gives users the choice of learning 24 different languages. By following Gus the owl around the globe, your students will learn basic vocabulary concepts including numbers, colors, shapes and more. Each of the 10 lessons is followed by an interactive game. Teachers will especially appreciate the supplemental language printables.

language learning appsLittle Pim (Free) gives students a choice of learning eight different languages. Besides the fact that this app is completely free, we like that Little Pim allows us to create profiles for students so we can track and assess their progress.


language learning appsFrench Words for Kids ($3.99) provides 240 word-picture-audio combinations that teach students how to spell and pronounce French words.  Students can navigate their way through three levels of difficulty.

language learning appsAnki (Free) is a digital flashcard program that displays words, phrases, images and sound, leaving it to the user to make the connection, repeat, and commit new words to memory. While Aniki is especially useful for learning languages, it can be an excellent studying tool for a number of subjects.

language learning appsDuolingo (Free) uses timed practice drills, images and sounds to teach students Spanish, German, French, Portuguese, and Italian. Here’s how the app works: Users create an account, choose a language and then Duolingo creates a series of language “tasks.” Users must successfully complete tasks to unlock the next one.




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