Using vehicles to create student interest in math and Language Arts
by National Hall of Fame Teacher Alan Haskvitz

Using vehicles is an excellent way to motivate students and to help ready them for real life buying decisions. The following links deal with the various manufactures where students can write for information, obtain pricing information and to harvest compare and contrast data for Common Core related essays.

A listing of all DMV offices.
Finding the office that deals with your state and others can provide information on how old one needs to be to drive as well as the various license fee data that could be used for Common Core math problems. I have used driver manuals to motivate students to read.

Data on fuel economy
This federal site would enable students to select a variety of vehicles and there fuel mileage. This could be used for math as well as to provide statistics for an essay on the best or worst type of vehicles in terms of fuel costs.

A link site to manufacturers who sell cars in America

A listing of vehicle websites worldwide

National Motorists Association
A great source of information on driving and the law.

A listing of car value prices
A good place to find statistics for math problems about the prices of cars and motorcycles.

Where cars are made by location
Great way to teach geography.

Discipline: training that perfects the mental faculties

Ten Skills Every Student Needs and You Probably Don’t Have Time to Teach
by National Hall of Fame Teacher Alan Haskvitz

After 40 years of teaching there comes a time when you want to just yell at the curriculum designers and textbook publishers that they have the cart before the horse. Teachers need to be allowed to spend more time teaching students how to learn and less on preparing for a test which measures nothing applicable in the real world.

Correct me if I am wrong, but I feel that every teacher would love to really teach students how to get ready for the challenges ahead of them and use the curriculum as a stepping stone to that goal. Over the years my students always were at the top in the State in terms of standardized testing. Indeed, some of them had perfect scores. The problem was I was teaching them how to take the test. Fortunately, I as able to shorten the material required for the course by removing those elements I though were essentially chaff so that I could teach them essential skills. Essentially, I started by teaching them how to discipline themselves. This worked so well that I still get letters from students, some decades after they were in my class, thanking me for teaching them for life. I have never gotten a letter thanking me for teaching them the Monroe Doctrine.

Here is the list and it far from complete, which are skills that need to be taught. Feel free to comment and add your own.

Learning how to Learn

Developing a love for learning is essential for any educator. It is the most important lesson a teacher can impart to a student and it is also the most difficult. A teacher may have to face a variety of hindrances from lack of parental care, nutritional and emotional problems, and even severe mental concerns. Regardless, there needs to be an effort and the best way is to become a facilitator by prodding, motivating, and providing a diverse array of learning materials to challenge the student to learn for themselves. Most often the textbook, frequently filled with data with little relevance to the student, is the main focus of instruction. And, perhaps, that is the way it must be if the goal is a test that measures improvement in the acquisition of this data. The teacher can feel confident as he or she has covered the material by sticking to the textbook. Motivational, hardly, but that is how teachers are frequently judged. There is another way to do this, but it is time consuming and requires a multitude of rubrics. Providing a variety of materials and having the students learn from them is an arduous task. However, once it is done a teacher can spend the rest of years modifying, adding, and individualizing lessons to meet the needs of the students. ReachEveryChild (cited below) provides a variety of sources for this free material and is an excellent place to start individualization.

The second part of learning how to learn based on whether the student is an auditory, visual or kinetic learner and how to use these to their advantage. It is impossible for a teacher to use all of these methods when presenting lessons, but a student can create their own lessons to help them acquire the knowledge. In my classes I have students create poems, songs, graphic organizers and the Cornell note taking system. In this way there is a variety of methods for them to learn. I insist they use my linking and three transfer method of learning as well. The linking method makes them link what they are learning to other things they have learned and create a “learning tree” of it that they add to throughout the year. The three transfer method is to have students read the material, take notes on it, and transfer that material to another mode such as notecards. I also recommend presenting the answer to a question and have them supply the question. This is an excellent test of finding out what they know. It can be used in all subjects.

What is Valid

If you have time, giving the student a variety of short articles to read and asking them to figure out what would be the best way to judge this material is very worthwhile. This process should also include a study of the various types of propaganda, how to evaluate a website for bias, and stereotyping. That is a lot to swallow and so it is best as part of a school-year long program. If you are teaching social studies an ideal unit could be the differences of opinion between the South and the North about slavery. Learning how to learn is not just about the acquisition of skills, but for the student to acquire the ability to judge the material. One of the best tools to get students to read is Sherlock Holmes and the Sign of Four. As the students read the article they keep track of the characters and reach various conclusions as the teacher hands them the next page. The lesson makes them detectives, but more importantly allows them to learn for life. Seldom are we giving all the answers, but we must make decisions by what we know and judge what is valid.

Speed Reading, not just reading.

It isn’t any secret that the first basic skill is reading. But not just reading, but speed reading. Close reading will follow much more quickly if students can learn how to read rapidly. Reading for facts and reading for pleasure can both be more enjoyable if a student acquires the ability to focus on several words at one time. I taught second graders how to read over a 1000 words per minute at their grade level. The usual improvement was always 200 to 400 words per minute more and this was for language arts and social studies materials. Interestingly the comprehension improves as the speed level doubles as the student concentrates on the material. It is a win-win, but it most be reinforced until it becomes a habit and it takes at least 30 days for it to become a habit. Be warned that some students are resistant to it and so online speed reading sites can help them challenge themselves at their own rate.

Write at Grade Level +

The first thing on teaching a student to write is to explain the types of writing based on the purpose. Taking notes while on the phone or writing a compare and contrast essay may be different in length, but the ingredients are the same. However, for longer works you need to teach the student to write at grade level. I have the students write a one page paper on their favorite vacation either real or imagined. Next, I have them underline all the one syllable words. After that they circle any word that they have not known since primary school. The Fry Formula is applied and the students record their writing scores. They is always silence as the students realize that they are writing at several grades below grade level. Now, that isn’t necessarily bad, but it does force them to expand their vocabulary and that is good. I always have a few Thesaurus books on hand and show them how to use them. The results are immediate and the students not only improve their writing, but improve their thinking and organizational skills as well as they strive to improve. My article (citation below) provides an in-depth look at this successful practice that has enabled my students to win numerous writing competitions.

Teach Them to be Journalist

This vital profession is based on training that every student needs. The ability to communicate, to judge facts, and to influence others with their work. There is no other profession that is so vital for students to learn from because it is essentially what they are going to do nearly every day of their life. A good journalist seeks out evidence and judges it. They write using the who, what, when, where, why, and how approach. They use the inverted triangle that helps them organize facts. Finally, it teaches them to be curious and ask questions and, very importantly, take good notes.

Teach Them to be Lawyers

Perhaps, oversimplifying, but lawyers earn them living by researching and providing evidence that their cause is correct. This requires an examination of evidence and organization. This is another valuable trait that can help students of all ages. For example, was George Washington was a good president? Can you prove it? Can you provide evidence that he was not so good? Some may call this critical thinking, but that type of thinking can not really be utilized until a student is able to have a variety of experiences that enable them to make a critical decision. Thus using the basic skills of an attorney in proving a point and providing evidence to that end are skills they are going to need to write essays persuasive and expository essays and in life.

Be Accountable

At the beginning of the school year I ask the students to look around the room and, without naming names, tell me how many other students they would hire to work for them based on the knowledge that they wanted good workers. After that I ask them to write that number down, fold the paper, and place it in a basket. I take out the numbers and place them on the board to come out with an average. In almost every case it is ten percent of the students or less. That means that the others already have a reputation of not being good workers. The reason for this is that many students simply do not hold themselves accountable. Immediate gratification, poor parenting, the need for quick teacher assessment with little assessment of the assessment, all help feed a “who cares” mentality. This results in large scale cheating with little fear of consequence. Research has overwhelming shown that rewards must be intrinsic to be a lasting value. If students are to be held accountable there must be a reward system that works and entices parent buy-in.
People Skills

We aren’t talking about cooperative learning, we are talking about the ability to get along with others regardless of differences. We are talking about good manners, social skills, negotiating skills, and the ability to work together to create a common goal. Skills as basic as how to talk to people on the phone, how to ask permission, or even showing remorse or concern are missing and yet vital for life.

Handling Emergencies
Handling emergencies is also seldom taught at school. Yes, fire drills are held, but what value are they to the student when a fire really occurs elsewhere? My students wrote and had published in the American Fire Journal the problems with school fire drills in the hopes of enlightening others. School administrators essentially ignored it because it wasn’t an area to be tested. Sad, because the issues the students brought up were important. For example, why does the fire extinguisher stay in the room during a fire drill? Why do the students stand up in rows when an explosion could knock them over? Who knows where the dangerous chemicals are? What do the various colored helmets that firemen wear mean? Needless to say, handling emergencies is a vital skill. Why doesn’t every student know CPR? How to stop bleeding? Or to identify a person having a “fit” and knowing how to act? Taking this a step further, how to teach students not to panic and to learn how to identify people should be taught. But, who has the time?

Skills for life

Setting realistic goals, identifying propaganda and bias, budgeting time, operating a computer and touch typing, triage work assignments, handling money and investments, observation skills, where to find information and measure its accuracy, and learning how to listen can all be incorporated in the curriculum. Each of these carry lifelong importance and all can and have been taught within the curriculum if there is time. There are free units of study on almost all of these areas available. The teacher needs to be given the time and flexibility to personalize them for their class.

Before I get off my high horse I must add one more thing and that is for the student to learn how to be happy. My friend Larry Martz, an editor with Newsweek, wrote in his book Making Schools Better, about the small bite principle. This is a simple plan where small strides can result in large gains. An educator who just takes one of these ideas to heart could make a huge difference knowing well that it is at least as significant as anything on a standardized test.

Why Students Cheat

Making Schools Better

Car Rating Site

Government fuel economy site

How to Improve Student Writing

Student speed reading lessons
There are others

Using the Inverted Triangle

Don’t Know Your Cavern from a Hole in the Ground? Check Out these Cool California Caves in an Audi A6

For free educational materials for students, parents, and teachers go to

If you have ever been accused of not knowing what a hole in the ground is, and who hasn’t, this is the summer to rectify that educational oversight by visiting some of coolest places in California, the State’s unique caves.

To start this trip we pointed the Audi A6 sedan with its all wheel drive and 350 horsepower V8 toward Los Angeles. This is a spacious car with a stunning interior, gets 22 mpg on the highway, and has a great Bose stereo. There are airbags everywhere and the big brakes and eager suspension make mountain travel easy. The satellite radio made travel in the deserts more pleasurable as most AM/FM stations don’t cover that area. We were pleased with the tight turning radius and good visibility, but the most pleasing part of using this Audi was that the entire family had room to sit comfortably and you could turn up the surround sound stereo to drown out the whining about why the dog couldn’t come.

Seeing the caves of California requires a bit of research as there are many and some are just too tight for the middle-aged masses. The best places we found were online and are listed at the end of this article. Two elements to consider are whether you want to go look at the caves or really explore the caves by crawling through them as a real spelunker. Either way this is an entraining and educational adventure.

The closest cave to PCH is also one of the biggest movie stars in the world with over 40 screen credits to its credit. Bronson Cavern is really just a short tunnel, but it has been the setting star of television mainstays as Batman and move blockbusters such as Roger Corman’s The Saga of the Viking Women and Their Voyage to the Waters of the Great Sea Serpent and The Three Stooges Meet Hercules was filmed. Now that is status. To get there take either Bronson or Canyon Avenues from Franklin into Griffith Park. When the road ends you can hike up the unpaved road and on the right you shall behold the famous site. If Batman isn’t in the cave you might want to check out Wayne Manor at 380 S. San Rafael Avenue in Pasadena.

Heading north we experienced the Audi’s relatively quiet highway ride as we headed toward the Crystal Cave in the Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park. It is considered a very impressive cave that is has about 10,000 feet of passages and inspiring spelothem. Marble Hall, the centerpiece of the cave, is 175 feet long and 60 feet wide. There are tours run by the Sequoia Natural History Association that take about an hour and include viewing of the Organ Room and Dome Room.

In the same general area, and considered one of the best caverns to visit, is Moaning Caves in Vallecito. It is huge and, as you might have gathered, makes a moaning sound. Features include a huge main chamber, a rope descent, and activities for all ages. Located near Calaveras, this is a must visit and is fun and educational.

Want to visit Middle Earth? Check out the California Cavern, the first cave opened to the public about 150 years ago. It is close to Angels Camp and has unique crystalline formations. Some speleothems, such as the beaded helictites found in the Middle Earth area are said to be quite rare. Another cave worth visiting is Black Chasm featuring an enormous Landmark Room with stalactites, stalagmites, and exceptional helictite crystals.Gemstone mining for the children is also offered. Located in Volcano, California.

Sutter’s gold mine is especially interesting in that it is close to the Lincoln Mine from which Leland Stanford extracted his money to finance the Central Pacific Railroad and Stanford University. It is located near Camptonville. The Sixteen to One Mine is a working a museum and mine and is extends well over 1000 feet below the sunshine. You experience first hand a miner’s existence at this cave. Located in Alleghany, California.

For those who are into the exotic, try visiting the Lake Shasta Caverns. In order to see them you need to take a boat ride and a bus ride to see these, but neither one takes much time. You catch the boat at the marina that takes you across the lake where a bus follows the road to the cavern site on the side of the mountain. Inside there are stalactites and stalagmites and those flowing speleothems in this 200 million year old cavern. North of Redding.

Lava Beds National Monument is dramatic with its Medicine Lake Volcano location, said to be the largest mountain in the Cascade Range. There are over 300 caves here and the National Park Service has been known to even lend you a “torch” to explore those that are not off-limits. You can drive the Cave Loop and park in front of the various cave entrances. Bring plenty of water, a good flashlight, and gloves and kneepads if you want to creep though some of the tubes. Skull Cave is interesting as there is usually ice in it. Golden Dome Cave has an abundance of fungus and Hopkins Chocolate Cave, Sentinel Cave, and Valentines Cave are all of note, but Catacomb Cave is the largest and one of the more difficult. Bring your best crawling clothes to truly appreciate Mother Nature’s underground artistry. Located near Tulelake, California

If those are too far north try Mushpot Cave is located beneath Indian Well Visitor Center, at the southern end of the Monument. This tube is lighted during business hours of the visitor’s center and contains exhibits about lava tube geology. All other tubes are in a more or less natural state. If it is open Fern Cave is worth a reservation to visit to for nothing else to see ferns growing near the entrance and the 10 pictograms said to be from around the year 1000.

Mitchell Caverns has El Pakiva, Tecopa Cave, and Winding Stair Cave and are famous for some rare speleothemes. It is a long walk so be prepared, especially in the Mojave Deserts summer. Guided tours last over an hour and the cave’s limestone stalagmites finally give you a chance to see what you studied in elementary science class. About 60 miles from Needles.

Scattered around the state are a number of caves worth mentioning starting with Pluto’s Cave, a popular exploration spot with plenty of spelunking practice areas. Pluto is located north of Weed, California.La Jolla has seven sea caves can be reached by a tunnel from the Cave Store or by kayak. Used for a variety of movies, one of the caves even leads to the sea.

On the way home we visited Shell and Pismo Beach and the sea cavern under Dinosaur Caves Park. It is located just off Highway One. The caves are best viewed at sea level and you can rent a kayak. There is a fenced off hole in the ground where you can get a partial look down into the cave, but the view from sea level is the best and a great way to end our journey. The Audi was an excellent choice and with a base price of just over $43,000 a good value for the base sedan.


The Car Family’s favorite was Moaning Cave that gave everyone the opportunity to learn rappelling by going down the165 feet into the huge main chamber of the cave and caused us to rename the cavern, Screaming Cave.

Websites with directions and specifics about caves:


For a list of all vehicle manufacturing websites go to



Alan Haskvitz

The study of explorers can be used to stimulate a lot of student interest and has a foundation for some excellent integrated lessons plans that involve science, technology, geography, culture, history, and language arts as well as art.

Exploration in the news makes it a good tool to use for teachable moments as well as cause and effect relationships.

Here are some of the best links I have found.

A list of sites that have free printable maps

Female Explorers

A short biography on a huge number of explorers from early to space exploration is covered. For elementary use.

A general link site to explorers with the emphasis on North America

The Conquest of North America

Spanish explorers

Canadian exploration

Slow loading, but worth the wait

This site has both a list of explorers and countries explored. Good links and activities.

A large link site

Explorers as an integrated theme.

For grades K-8

Mariner’s Museum

A good site with the emphasis on the ships. Don’t miss the activity section.

An encyclopedia approach

This has explorers listed in alphabetical order with links.

Explorers by period and location

Very complete site.

European Explorers

Lessons and printables

Solar system exploration

How to become an astronaut

Excellent site for advanced thinkers

Space exploration and the problems it represents.

The Unconventional Explorer

Interesting site that offers lesson ideas on a variety of lesser-known explorers as well as the usual.

Ocean exploration

Compare and Contrast Explorer traits

Geography is an excellent way to integrate lessons in many subject areas. The Where and Why of geography and its five guiding principles make it an ideal way to start even the youngest student on his or her way to understand the environment. As well, geography is a staple of current events in the form of weather reports, global warming articles, or even news of highway and street construction as well as the cultural implications it offers in a global world.

Do to the size of this list I have moved the links here:

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