Teacher Ponderings

Autism in America and Around the World

by: Andrea M. Chouhan, M.Ed

I recently read an article that labeled autism as a “problem in schools.” At first I was a bit shocked, but as I continued reading, I understood the reasoning behind that label. Many schools lack the appropriate funding to give children with autism an appropriate education. Materials used in a special education classroom differ in many ways and of course, they are costly. For example, many children with autism require a visual daily schedule which can be created using Boardmaker software (which I love, by the way!) The basic software costs $399, though…but it is well worth it.

Many years ago, in America, there were special schools for children requiring special education. Children were turned away from attending a “regular school. Children with autism may have been mislabeled as mentally retarded, also. Luckily, we understand autism and other disabilities much better now. America has certainly come a long way as children with special needs now have a lawful right for an appropriate education.

I am proud to work with special needs children! I am proud to be doing so in America. Last year, I worked in Saudi Arabia where many schools are run with privatized funding. Sadly, some schools do not even accept children with autism or lower IQ’s. Many of these schools do not have trained teachers or classrooms for these children. Other schools that I came in contact with, did have Special Education Departments, however, they were at maximum capacity. Many special needs children were turned away. School systems that I have worked with in Texas actually make space, send the child to a nearby campus, or hire more teachers to teach children with special needs. They make it work instead of turning them away.

Did you know that autism affects 1 in 150 children in American? New Jersey is even called a hot spot where 1 in 95 children have autism! These numbers are staggering, I must say! The cost to fund one autistic student can level out at  $19,000 a year, which is triple that of a typical child! This includes the cost of Special classrooms, Materials, Speech Therapists, Occupational Therapists, Aides and Transportation (according to the Special Education Expenditure Project). So, when schools do not have ALL of this funding, providing a “free and appropriate” education to autistic children can become a problem.

As a Special Education certified teacher, I encourage parents, leaders and teachers to be the voice of our special children. We have the role to advocate for them, and we should. These children are already part of our society and it is our job to help them learn how to socialize, apply what they learn and contribute to society (from the classroom to the workplace)!


Boardmaker Software link: http://www.mayer-johnson.com/boardmaker-software/?gclid=CNOj7_efgrgCFQdk7AodLWwAfA

Smith, F. (2013) Educators Deal with the Growing Problem of Autism. http://www.edutopia.org/autism-school-special-needs

Did I Make a Difference?

Twelve years ago as a first year teacher, I responded to an interview question saying that I chose to become a teacher because I wanted to make a difference in the lives of children. Now that sounds so cliche’, however I meant it then and I mean it now. Each school I’ve been at and each student that have been placed in my class, was not by mistake. I truly feel that each and every child is meant to be there for a reason-with one of those reasons being that God meant for our paths to cross. Each of us was meant to teach one another something.

When you teach young children, you see how much they learn and see such growth by the end of the school year. However, many years later, you hope that you did your job and that they are contributing members of society. Just recently I got a very special confirmation of just that!

One of the first students I ever had contacted me on facebook! I was his Third Grade teacher in Texas and he messaged me to see if I was in fact the same person. After telling him that he found the right person, he told me that I was one of the best teachers he had ever had. He was nine years old then and now he is a college student studying Meteorology in Colorado. What an Angel!

What Exactly is Creativity?

Pinned Image

Creativity has been deemed as a 21st Century Skill, because creative ideas can lead us to success in society and in our jobs. Have you ever thought about what creativity actually is and what it means? When I think of this word-I think about something unique, inspiring and eye-opening. In its most basic sense, creative means “original and of high quality.” (Perkins, 1981).

According to Wikipedia, creativity is “The use of the imagination or original ideas, esp. in the production of an artistic work.” Encarta dictionary agrees.

So, basically, to be deemed “creative” one must produce an original idea. Are you creative? I am not. I can easily copy someone’s painting, but producing one from my own imagination is more tricky and near impossible!

According to a recent article in Educational Leadership magazine, creativity can and should be taught. The most important key is to give our children constructive feedback. This article asserts that we teachers must first set clear goals for our students. We can’t just say “Write a creative story!” First, it is important to emphasize that the story should be original, inspiring, and imaginative. However, I like how Perkins included that creative products should be of high quality. Perhaps teachers could even facilitate a thinking session where students discover and list what creativity means. If I create a new BMW model, and it looks great yet it breaks down continually, then I was simply not creative. However, if I create a new BMW car with features unlike any other car and superb quality…well then, I was creative. In the same respect, we can teach our children the differences of “original” products and replica’s. We don’t want our students to just copy and mimic everything that is taught to them. Yes, we want them to have knowledge, but it is how they use that knowledge to create new things that is of vital importance.


1. Set goals for students products and creative works.

2. Help students see the difference between originality and replica’s.

3. Have a creativity lesson! Brainstorm what is means.

4. Emphasize the importance of original and high quality works.

I would love to hear your thoughts! What is creativity to you? How do you help your students or children be creative?



Encarta Dictionary via Microsoft Word

(Brookhart, S., 2013).”Assessing Creativity” Educational Leadership. ASCD.  http://www.ascd.org/publications/educational-leadership/feb13/vol70/num05/Assessing-Creativity.aspx

Image from: http://rinskesblog.blogspot.com/2011_10_01_archive.html

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Which has more Potential? A Child’s Brain vs. the Internet

I came across this wonderful video which gives the scientific answer to this question. Which has more potential- A child’s brain or the internet? You can find out for yourself by watching “BRAIN POWER: From Neurons to Networks.” You will actually build more connections in your brain by watching the video, because you will be learning something new!

Interesting facts about the brain:

* A child is born with 100 billion neurons.

* The Internet has 100 trillion links.

* An adult’s brain has 300 trillion connections.

* A child’s brain has a quadrillion connections, which form during the first five years of a child’s life….that is 10 times the amount of the entire internet!

* A fruit fly has 100,000 active brain cells.

* A mouse has 5 million.

* A monkey has 10 billion.

* Adults have had 100 billion active brain cells, since birth!




Do You Believe in Me?


This simple question is how a ten year old student begins his speech to thousands of educators. “I can do anything, be anything, create anything because you believe in me and it rubs off on me,” says Dalton. Someone believed that he could “communicate” and give speeches.

What would happen if every child in our schools were inspired to develop their talents?  One such child was encouraged to develop his talent of public speaking and communication skills. Dalton Sherman, a ten year old fifth grader from Dallas gave the keynote speech to the Dallas School District in 2009. His speech is inspirational, personal and powerful.

Isn’t that what teaching is all about? Making a difference. Helping a child grow and develop into a productive citizen? When adults simply believe in a child, that child becomes empowered to work and try harder. If you as an adult can think of someone who believed in you and helped you become who you are today, then you are proof that “belief” is powerful!

Watch his video. You don’t want to miss it!

Read more about Dalton here:





Resolve to Make Attainable Goals! Learn Something New…..


Did you know? Learning something new can make you smarter. Perhaps you can make a goal (or a New Year’s Resolution) to do just that. Instead of making resolutions that will make you feel guilty because they are too hard to reach, simply make more positive choices. Here are some attainable suggestions:

  •  Create your own blog – Begin with baby steps by following blogs! (WordPress.com and Blogger.com are easy to use and completely free).
  • Read a Non-fiction book – Seeing how someone else overcame or attained something can encourage and motivate you to do the same!
  • Travel – Go somewhere you have never been before. Choose somewhere close by or travel abroad. Learning about new people transforms your thinking.
  • Study a New Language – You don’t have to become a master. Simply begin by learning 10-20 vocabulary words and 2-5 phrases.
  • Tweet – Learn to use twitter and follow successful and influential people!
  • Use Pinterest – Sign up. Dive in. Pin. Follow. You will get many ideas and inspiration from others.
  • Take a Free Class – On iTunes University you can listen to lecturers from well-known Universities.
  • Drink more Water – It increases your concentration and also aids in weight loss.

Whatever you hope for in the New Year- I wish you a great journey as you work towards it. Should you need more inspiration, I recommend reading Joel Osteen’s “I Declare.” It has encouraged me to keep moving forward towards the things I want to attain.


Your School Lunch Serves What?

Many schools and countries around the world are finally serving healthy school lunches. However some are not, sadly. I recently came across a blog that was written by a school girl. She has taken pictures of what her school serves for lunch each day. Her blog actually has over 8 million page views! Many posts are from other children around the world that have posted their own pictures from their school cafeteria also! School lunch has become a hot topic and a very important trend. Why? Research asserts that healthy eating results in a better learning environment. We have all heard that “healthy minds equals healthy bodies.” Well, it is true!

So, stop by Martha’s blog and compare your school lunch to hers! http://neverseconds.blogspot.com

She even has a book for sale! Wow! What an amazing young girl!

What Research Says About Healthy Eating:

* The brain is powered by energy that comes from broken down food.

* Food influences mood.

* Eating breakfast refuels your body and prepares it for the day.

*”Another study, published in 2005 by theAmerican Society for Nutrition, found that higher intakes of PUFAs (polyunsaturated fatty acids found in fish and vegetable oils) may contribute to improved academic performance while increased ingestion of cholesterol was linked to poorer performance.” -courtesy of: greatschools

* Additives in food (like dyes and preservatives) may increase hyperactivity in children

* Eating fast food more than 3 times a week, can decrease your test scores!






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Learning with Novelty – Gangnum Style!

A new phenomenom has hit the internet and you may have heard of it- PSY Gangnam Style! This newbie Korean singer with “cheesy” dance moves (as he quoted himself) has been #1 on the itunes stores for weeks. Recently, he appeared on the Today Show and The Ellen Show. His dance moves are being copied all over the world from Australia to Saudi Arabia!

So, what makes PSY and his style so special? One word- Novelty! That’s right and this word novelty is actually a form of helping people learn and retain new information. Amazingly, this can be related to the field of Education. Just as new video games and tech toys grab young people and adults attention, alike, so does anything new! Yes-anything! So try something new, the next time you want to get someone’s attention in or outside of the classroom.

Brain research confirms that novelty is a mechanism for learning. It aids in retaining new information. However, once the “newness” has worn off, another type of novelty will continue the process.

Imagine using this silly video to teach children with. The possibilities are endless. Children could compare the original version to the American version. Students could research and translate the original Korean lyrics to American. They could study the impact of viral videos on the web or even calculate the percentage of You Tube “hits” each day. Quite simply, they could write about how the song made them “feel” the first time that they heard it. Math, Social Studies, Foreign language, Technology and Writing can be taught with one simple song!

Now keep in mind that this song has the word “sexy” as part of its lyrics-so it may not appropriate for the classroom (well, it may even be banned). However, this platform of learning through novelty, language and You Tube, can be used in so many educational ways.

How could you use a You Tube video to teach your students?

Saudi Gangnam Style:

Psy on the Ellen Show:

“Environmental Novelty is Associated with a Selective Increase in Fos Expression in the Output Elements of the Hippocampal Formation and the Perirhinal Cortex” http://www.eric.ed.gov/ERICWebPortal/detail?accno=EJ825013

More Science, Please!

Who knew? Science lessons that are engaging and fun can improve children’s Language Arts and Math Scores. In a recent study, fourth grades were given 10, one hour Science lessons, by Scientist in the field. They learned about the reality and fun of Science all around us. Their scores in Math and LA improved, as a result. So, more Science to you!

Although this study was related to fourth grades, I think that we can apply its results to Kindergarten students as well. Think about that fun Science experiment that you as a teacher or mom did with your child. Just simply remembering it reveals how meaningful it was. From making volcanoes explode to watching eggs float-we can make Science experiences amazing for children!



Clipart from:

www.valdosta.edu   and  www.agi.seaford.k12.de.us