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Zero tolerance policies, while trying to keep kids accountable for their actions, often result in suspensions for even minor infractions like dress code violations or being tardy. While these behaviors warrant attention, Fatima Rogers, principal of Charles W. Henry School in Philadelphia, and Jody Greenblatt, Esq., deputy of school climate and safety, School District of Philadelphia, questioned what their conduct code and other discipline methods actually did to help students. Working with the Committee for Children, they’re piloting a program merging social emotional learning (SEL) and Restorative Practice (RP) in school. Their goal, as explained in the edWebinar, “SEL and Restorative Practices: Schoolwide Integration Strategies,” is to not only give students the emotional toolkit they need but to also provide a behavioral framework that focuses on support over punishment.

During the presentation, Rogers and Greenblatt discussed several keys to successful implementation of SEL and RP.

  • Focus on all school relationships. While the main goal is to improve student and staff interaction, they also worked on administration and staff as well as staff-to-staff relationships. By concentrating on relationships at all three levels, the overall school culture benefited.
  • An outside coach can offer a new perspective. Truly integrating SEL and RP requires intense work, especially from the staff. Having a third party can provide a fresh take on a school’s progress and objective insights into what is and isn’t working.
  • Planning shouldn’t happen overnight. In preparation, the new practices were introduced in stages. First, the staff met the coach and learned more about SEL and restorative practices. Then, after planning meetings with the leadership team, staff spent two of their four summer PD days in training. During the school year they have monthly check-in meetings, and they also do an overall evaluation at the end of the year.
  • Make time for SEL. While the RP can be integrated throughout the school week, students need dedicated time for SEL lessons. At Henry, they have SEL lessons every Monday morning with follow up throughout the week.
  • Align lessons to school-specific goals. For instance, elementary-age kids might need lessons in empathy and emotion management. Kindergartners who’ve never been in school before might need basic skills for learning. Middle schoolers might work on peer-conflict resolution.
  • Don’t change the code of conduct in name only. As part of embracing restorative practices, administrators eliminated suspensions for grades K-2 and severely decreased suspendable infractions for the other grades. More important, they removed the old offenses as choices from the school discipline system. This gives teachers no option but to use restorative strategies.
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[Editor’s note: This story, originally published on May 11th of this year, was our #10 most popular story of the year. Happy holidays, and thank you for tuning into our 2018 countdown!]

For a relatively new buzzword, grit certainly has a lot of supporters. It is grit, and not necessarily IQ or talent, that can predict students’ academic success. And as educators seek to understand students from a motivational and psychological point of view, grit pays an important role.

“Grit is passion, perseverance for very long-term goals, stamina,” says Angela Duckworth in her now-famous 2013 TED Talk.

In that talk, viewed more than 13.5 million times, she describes her study of different predictors of success and how grit emerged as a significant predictor for long-term goals.

“How [do we] build grit in kids? The honest answer is, we don’t know. What we do know is that talent doesn’t make you gritty. So far, the best idea has been the growth mindset—the belief that ability to learn isn’t fixed, that it can change with your effort,” Duckworth says during her talk.

In the years since then, educators and psychologists have taken a longer look at grit, how teachers can foster it in classrooms, and how students can leverage it for long-term success.

“Grit is stick-to-it-ness, it’s backbone, it’s perseverance,” says Dr. Laura Barbanel, former program director of the Graduate Program in School Psychology, where she trained school psychologists. Barbanel works primarily in private practice now. “Someone with grit has a certain amount of optimism, a sense of the possible, a sense of self-efficacy.”

Making a plan, taking action, and keeping a sense of optimism helps develop grit, she says. Educators and parents can encourage students to develop grit using a few strategies.

1. Advise parents and talk to them about the balance between “doing for” their child and encouraging their child to do things on his or her own.”

2. Focus on what make a child feel empowered to set and work toward goals.

3. Make the plan of action and the goal doable. “Teachers know this, but sometimes parents forget it,” Barbanel says.

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In the midst of the ed-tech revolution, teachers are need to make informed decisions about what brings value to the classroom. As a geography teacher at Monrovia High School in California, I’m interested in finding ways to prepare students for the 21st century while teaching them about the complexities of the world around us.

Teachers at Monrovia value being able to instill students with the skills they need to be successful outside of the classroom, a task that we’ve been able to achieve through an individualized approach to learning—and an acceptance of digital tools.

Breaking the tech barrier
Most educators are familiar with “the battle of the cell phone.” We’re faced with the tough call of whether to ban or embrace technology. Because students will need to be digitally literate to be successful in the workplace, I sought a way to keep things relevant, engaging, and valuable through technology.

My solution was to find digital learning tools that are fun and produce valuable learning opportunities. For my classroom, the best option was to find educational mobile apps that students can use on a smartphone or tablet.

Since parents are often dealing with the same conundrum of phone usage at home, finding apps that bring value to students’ phone time became the mission.

Individualized learning through music
All students identify with music. Being fascinated by the concept of the Earworm effect, where a song gets stuck in your head long after it’s stopped playing, I wanted to find a music-based educational app that would use this strategy while staying aligned to my lesson plans. The answer came in the form of Studytracks, an app that allows students to explore different subjects through relatable, catchy tracks.

Studytracks has more than 1,300 songs available covering a wide range of subjects, making it the perfect test for teachers at Monrovia. Students are able to work at their own pace through different tracks, using it to retain what they are learning in class.

Most importantly, this resource is customizable, allowing me to use it as a supplement to lesson plans, as a homework assignment, and as a studying tool. Students were struck by their newfound ability to retain knowledge through listening to music rather than reading from a traditional textbook.

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Do your students love to take and edit photos to post on Instagram? Are they obsessed with watching (or maybe even becoming!) YouTube celebs? Do you want to help your students learn how to spot a stereotype on a TV show? Or how to identify bias in a news article? If you answered yes to any of these questions, consider integrating media literacy education into your lessons.

Digital and media literacy expand traditional literacy to include new forms of reading, writing, and communicating. The National Association for Media Literacy Education defines media literacy as “the ability to ACCESS, ANALYZE, EVALUATE, CREATE, and ACT using all forms of communication” and says it “empowers people to be critical thinkers and makers, effective communicators, and active citizens.” Though some believe media literacy and digital literacy are separate but complementary, I believe they’re really one and the same. They both focus on skills that help students be critical media consumers and creators. And both are rooted in inquiry-based learning—asking questions about what we see, read, hear, and create.

Think of it this way: Students learn print literacy—how to read and write. But they should also learn multimedia literacy—how to “read and write” media messages in different forms, whether it’s a photo, video, website, app, videogame, or anything else. The most powerful way for students to put these skills into practice is through both critiquing media they consume and analyzing media they create.

So, how should students learn to critique and analyze media? Most leaders in the digital and media literacy community use some version of the five key questions:

1. Who created this message?
Help your students “pull back the curtain” and recognize that all media have an author and an agenda. All of the media we encounter and consume was constructed by someone with a particular vision, background, and agenda. Help students understand how they should question both the messages they see, as well the platforms on which messages are shared.

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It’s hard to overemphasize the importance of teaching our students how to use technology appropriately and responsibly. And what’s just as important is making sure we’re helping all our students build these essential digital citizenship skills. The students in our classrooms are unique, each with their own individual learning needs. Just as we differentiate our core content instruction to meet these needs, our approach to digital citizenship should take student diversity into account. So how can you best think about teaching these critical skills to your students with learning and attention issues?

Identifying student challenges
I would start by considering common characteristics of kids with learning and attention issues, and think about which of these characteristics could present challenges when teaching digital citizenship. You can, of course, anticipate that students with reading issues will have difficulty with the reading. And students with ADHD may act impulsively online and will have difficulty sustaining attention.

But the biggest challenge may be cognitive flexibility. Cognitive flexibility involves both flexible thinking and task switching. These skills let students think about problems in multiple ways—and abandon old approaches to try something new.

How could issues with cognitive flexibility create challenges for students as you work on digital citizenship? Taking the perspectives of others and recognizing multiple possibilities for other people’s motivations might be tough. So will recognizing causes and effects and predicting a range of possible consequences. Kids may struggle to shift behavior according to different social norms, especially when things cross from the digital world to “real life.”

When students face those challenges—all at the breakneck speed of a digital environment—they might feel confused, overwhelmed, or even unsafe. The good news is that students’ cognitive flexibility can improve. And you can help.

Improving cognitive flexibility
Start by anticipating these difficulties and planning for them. Then you can address a student’s challenge before it becomes a big issue during the lesson. When teaching, be direct about important concepts. Allow time in your plans to pause frequently and check for understanding. Ask students to rephrase key ideas to you or to a peer. Be sure to plan for multiple opportunities for students to practice each skill.

Ask questions that allow for multiple possible responses. Say something like “Who can suggest one possibility?” instead of “Who knows the answer?” Before you ask questions, let the class or group know that no one should raise a hand right away. Give students some time to think about a response. Then ask for hands to be raised.

More tips and strategies
Here are a few ideas you can try to improve cognitive flexibility in your students:

  • Design assignments and activities in which students have to come up with more than a single solution.
  • Ask students to describe what someone does not mean, instead of what that person does mean.
  • Model describing an event from a different point of view from what is presented by a news story. Have students practice doing this. Ask students to look at different sides of the same story by comparing multiple social media accounts.
  • When looking at media, directly explain any innuendo. Talk about the different meanings of words. Ask students to think about how changing the meaning of a word makes it funny or insulting.
  • Teach students to use self-talk. Have them practice by talking themselves through two ways of looking at an important issue. Once they’re comfortable with the strategy, they can use it independently when multiple perspectives are presented. This can lessen the frustration of having someone disagree with their opinions.
  • Make small changes to the rules and best practices you teach. Encourage students to bend rules without breaking them. Students with flexible-thinking issues tend to love rules. They may often remind other kids about the rules. Rules can certainly come in handy at times! But fixating on specific rules can make it hard for kids to get along with others.

 [Editor’s note: This post originally appeared on Common Sense Education.]

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Balancing access to educational resources with security needs remains a top challenge for school district IT leaders, according to new findings from the Speak Up Research Project for Digital Learning.

Seventy-one percent of district administrators and IT leaders are concerned about the security of their network against malicious attacks or misbehavior, as outlined in the data, which comes from a collaboration between the nonprofit Project Tomorrow and cloud security provider iboss.

The top concern with cloud applications among technology leaders is ensuring data privacy (58 percent).

Last fall, Project Tomorrow asked district administrators and school and district IT leaders around the country about data privacy concerns and the current use of cloud computing among students and teachers.

School systems across the country are experiencing a digital transformation, with students and staff increasingly bringing smartphones to school and connecting them to their schools’ wi-fi networks. Students are leveraging more online content and social media for communication than ever before. Administrators face the challenge of securing students whose data is now across multiple clouds and whose accessible from mobile devices at school and at home.

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There are a number of old sayings about learning to understand another by walking in their shoes, moccasins, or sandals. Since those sayings cross quite a few cultures and were even turned into an Elvis Presley song—“Walk a Mile in My Shoes”—maybe edtech leaders need to consider the concept behind the saying. When IT leaders make decisions regarding changes to systems, it is essential to consider the perspectives of the end users.

When I was an IT manager, the concept of change management was essential in determining when we would propagate upgrades or shifts to new systems. The migration from installed software to web-based applications like Google Apps and Word 365 have taken much of that control away from local IT leaders. However, the concepts behind orderly and thoughtful change management are still important and need to be given due consideration by IT leadership.

Timing is everything
For instance, when making changes to enhance security that may require two-step authentication, consider the best time to implement such a change. Most users will understand the need for enhanced security in today’s cyber-climate. Instituting a change that may separate a number of users from their materials would be best implemented at the beginning of a semester or over a summer break. Instituting such a change the Friday before finals week would be a poor choice and create undue hardship for users and the IT support staff who will have to deal with staff more panicked than normal when locked out of their accounts. Historically, we upgraded end-user software packages only during the summer or, if absolutely necessary, during winter break. We always believed that gave the staff and students the best opportunity to adjust to the new versions of the software.

When I received pushback on waiting to make such a change from another IT manager, he said, “I have to deal with new upgrades and changes to the systems all the time! Why can’t the end users deal with it?” I responded that we were IT professionals and used to the inherent fluidity of the IT world; many of our end users are not as comfortable with change and feel high levels of anxiety in making changes midway through their courses.

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When teachers participated in a training program focused on pro-social classroom behavior, their students became more socially competent and better able to regulate their emotions than students in classrooms without trained teachers, according to new research from the University of Missouri (MU).

Past research shows that students who are able to regulate their emotions are more likely to be academically successful.

Wendy Reinke and Keith Herman, professors in MU’s College of Education, studied more than 100 teachers and 1,817 students from kindergarten to third grade to see if teachers could support students’ emotional and behavioral growth through the Incredible Years Teacher Classroom Management Program.

The program uses videos and training sessions, along with role-playing and coaching, to help teachers learn proactive management strategies such as using behavior-specific praise, building positive relationships with students and considering proximity to reduce disruptive behavior. The study found that teachers in the training group increased their positive interactions with students by 64 percent versus 53 percent for teachers in the control group without the training.

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Learning seems like a simple process. The information goes in (encoding), the learner attempts to commit information to memory (storage), and then the learner tries to recall the lesson (access). Even though the ability to recall and apply the knowledge is critical, teachers spend the majority of class time focused on getting the information in. During the edWebinar “Powerful Teaching: Unleash the Science of Learning,” Pooja K. Agarwal, Ph.D., cognitive scientist and founder of RetrievalPractice.org, and Patrice M. Bain, Ed.S., educational specialist, veteran teacher, and author, discussed their research into the benefits of retrieval practice and emphasizing the third step of the learning equation. When educators help students learn how to access their knowledge in low-stakes environments, the presenters said, they help students improve their long-term educational recall and performance.

Based on years of research, retrieval practice reverses the typical classroom dynamic. Instead of cramming information in, students learn how to access and pull it out. While this is what a traditional assessment does—asks students to retrieve what they are supposed to have learned—retrieval practice is more frequent and lower stakes. It can be as simple as the teacher asking the class to write down three things they learned the day before or to draw one parallel between a previous lesson and the next one. The idea is that by asking students to consistently access information, the odds increase that they will transfer the knowledge to their long-term memory.

3 strategies to enhance retrieval
Although the idea behind retrieval practice isn’t complicated, educators often ask Agarwal and Bain how to begin incorporating the method in their classroom. The presenters recommended three basic strategies.

  1. Two things: Ask students to write down two things they learned, either from the previous day or from a current lesson. This gets the students’ brains into the habit of frequent recall, and instead of the teacher telling the students what to remember, the students do it on their own.
  2. Retrieve-taking: Also known as closed-book note taking, this exercise asks students to focus on the lesson without taking any notes. The teacher then pauses periodically to allow students to write down what they remember. Here, the goal is to have students really listen to the teacher and pay attention to classroom discussions and not have their head down in a notebook.
  3. Free recall: This is a brain dump. Students take out their notebook and write down everything they’ve learned on a topic. They can also be asked to analyze material compared to a previous topic. The idea is not to guide the students but to encourage them to recall the lessons as they remember them.
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Students don’t always need to jump right into a programming tutorial to develop an interest in coding. Sometimes, all it takes is an engaging book.

A new children’s book from Skyward, The Code Twins, introduces coding concepts to young readers of all backgrounds as they take on a programming mission with the book’s main characters.

The Code Twins takes young readers on a coding adventure with characters Brett, Yvette, and Cody Point Two. Along the way, Brett and Yvette help code Cody Point Two, their robot friend, to learn and accomplish new tasks.

Their story, told in verse, features colorful illustrations and fun experiences which demonstrate problem solving, critical thinking, interdisciplinary learning, and more.

“This book was created around one simple question: how can we build more interest in coding,” explains Ray Ackerlund, Skyward’s chief marketing officer. “We saw a growing movement to incorporate coding in classrooms, but not enough resources to support the push in earlier age groups. The Code Twins helps fill that gap by encouraging kids to make the transition from tech users to tech creators.”

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