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Does Holding Students Back Hold Them Back?

by Patrick 7. November 2014 14:27
This week I chose a subject that I’ve been thinking about since I was asked to write for the LEP blog, and it begins with a little story. While a graduate student, I taught discussion sections – those classes held once a week in which a 300-student course breaks into 20-student sections  – for a couple of history classes. Every so often, around midterms, teaching assistants would grade exams together and inevitably, we would share some of the more creatively incorrect answers we received. I distinctly remember reading about a Russia run by the communist leader Zeppo Marx (how was it not Groucho?). It was all in good fun, we knew that most of the time students had the right ideas and just stumbled a bit on the execution, and we never mentioned any of it in front of our students. But I distinctly remember one day coming across the following answer to a question which, for our purposes, is irrelevant:


“Renaissance was from coming different to the older ways. They started away from wat there previous teachers told them and painting different things”…

This was a native English speaker who had absolutely no problem holding an intelligible conversation and had no diagnosed learning disability. But after reading the sentence I had to wonder how a student with such objectively poor writing skills had gotten into a university (a university which, mind you, requires an essay as part of their admission application). Something, somewhere, had gone wrong, I thought, and among us graduate students a conversation about holding students back a grade began.

How teachers and schools handle students who do not meet certain academic markers is not a new question. In the most extreme cases holding a student back a grade (or “retention”) has always been an option. Amid the constant efforts to improve the country’s education system, the past few years have seen the topic of retention pick up a bit of steam among researchers and politicians alike. There is much research to suggest that retaining students has limited short-term goals but also the possibility for causing long-term problems for students. On the one hand, arguments have been made that repetition of a grade simply gives a student with more of the same teaching and the same material that did not help them the first time around. At the same time, researchers suggest that the social dangers of retaining a student – less contact with their friends, the stigma of being held back, etc. – can be as detrimental, if not more, over the years. This has led many to justify “social promotion,” with the seeming hope that students will be able to catch up to their peers as they move through subsequent grades.

Instead of student retention, teachers and researchers have started implementing ways of catching students up to expectations before they start to fall behind. In-school tutoring and programs specifically designed for students having problems are the most commonly proposed. Key academic years – third, sixth and ninth grades, specifically – have been singled out for particular emphasis; student achievement at these three grade levels is relatively indicative of future progress. It has also been argued that these more proactive responses are less expensive for schools than student retention.

But as comparatively inexpensive as these measures might be, they do still constitute potential increases in financial burdens, and for some school systems it might be a burden that just cannot be met. And though there are private tutoring options available if a school can’t provide, these can be even more expensive for parents. And in some cases individual schools are not in charge of deciding whether to retain a student or not. Over a dozen states have passed laws mandating that students who do not meet certain reading comprehension criteria by the end of the third grade must be held back.

What, then, is to be done about students who fall behind? It’s usually at this point that I give my best judgment on the matter, but in this case I have no good answers. This seems to me a subject that is so dependent on the individual student that any blanket answer immediately appears implausible. Rather, I’d prefer to hear about your experiences. How have you as teachers worked with your school officials and parents to help students who aren’t keeping up with the material? Have you seen the effects of retention first-hand, and has the outcome been more positive or negative? Has your school started programs to help students avoid retention? Please let us know in the comments, and maybe we can get some discussion going.

And in case you were wondering, I sent my student to a writing tutor on campus to help her out. She didn’t go.


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Preventing Bullying In the Digital Age

by Patrick 17. October 2014 14:32
In recent years the subject of bullying has increasingly become part of the wider public consciousness. Part of this is likely explained by bullying’s entrance into the internet and social media, where interactions that were once limited to those who witnessed them firsthand have become available to a far larger audience. And while bullying is probably as old as human civilization, cyberbullying is a new phenomenon, one which teachers, parents and students are still trying to figure out. 

October is National Bullying Prevention Month, and as such I’d like to take some time to take a look at some of the more commonly suggested means of combatting bullying and how these may or may not work to help stop cyberbullying.

The concept of “changing the social climate” in schools is being used as something of a catchall term for stopping bullying before it starts. It is to this social climate that many state anti-bullying laws refer when they declare schools must create a “safe learning environment” for students. Several organizations have developed anti-bullying curricula with the goal of clearly defining for students the negative consequences of bullying, both for themselves and for those they may bully. Most of these curricula, however, are geared toward K-5 classrooms (or thereabouts), presumably under the assumption that, one in their early teens, kids will understand, at least on some intellectual level, that bullying is wrong.

For students in middle school and high school, the “education” in anti-bullying seems to stop. This is not to say that schools no longer promote a safe learning environment or that they tolerate bullying to any lesser degree, but that the conversation about bullying seems to become one centered less on prevention and more on stopping it after the fact. This is indicative in much of the literature about bullying prevention that focuses on the victim. One look at the federal government’s Stop Bullying campaign website shows a much stronger lean toward dealing with bullying that already exists. Many organizations looking to end cyberbullying take the same approach, giving countless examples of things children should avoid doing on the internet to protect themselves from bullies (see some examples here, here, and here). There have also been a number of high-profile cases of school districts tackling the technology used to cyberbully, the most recent of which involved the banning of the Streetchat and Yik-Yak apps. 

With the advent of cyberbullying – a familiar yet strikingly different form of bullying – renewed emphasis on proactive education about bullying has become, I would argue, very important. First, cyberbullying is more likely to happen outside of school – where a teacher might otherwise be able to intervene – and away from the eyes of parent who might be able to do the same. Second, the anonymity and/or lack of face-to-face interaction allowed by the internet make cyberbullying much easier than “traditional” bullying; the cyberbully does not even need to be in the same city as their victim. Third, the internet provides instant gratification for a cyberbully. Imagine a scenario in which a teenager, sitting at home, becomes angry at one of their fellow students for something they had done earlier in the day. The internet provides an immediate retaliatory tool, whereas without it, the kid might be able to cool off and move past it before the next day of school. And lastly, bullying on the internet and social media has much greater potential to become permanent. Whereas name-calling on the playground has something of an ephemeral quality, an internet meme or a post on Facebook can go viral within an hour, even if it is only within one school’s population. Good luck removing that from the public consciousness.

All of this is to say that cyberbullying is so easy, so easily imitated, and so instantaneous that emphasis on prevention through conflict resolution runs the risk of being far too passive. The point is not to be alarmist; there is no indication that cyberbullying is about to replace or even occurs more frequently than “traditional” bullying. But with cyberbullying comes a set of problems, specifically for schools, that have yet to be addressed. Because cyberbullying and the conflict it creates can both begin and become heated all between the end of one school day and the beginning of the next, the classroom or the school hallways might become the first place where the two parties meet as bully and victim. This is to say nothing of the possibility that the bully might remain unknown to the victim for days or weeks. If the victim doesn’t know, how can a teacher or guidance counselor possibly mediate?

The question of whether all bullying can be prevented is a daunting one to say the least. Good strides are being made daily by students, teachers and school authorities across the country. To earn even more success, it might help to consider going back to the basics. 

Tell us what you think. Does your school have an anti-bullying policy? Has it seemed to work? How have you had to deal with bullying or cyberbullying in your classroom? Leave us a comment.

Politicians weigh in on Common Core… or Hoosier-Core?

by Patrick 3. October 2014 15:06
It’s election season, and to nobody’s surprise the Common Core State Standards have become a major talking point for candidates across the country. Governors, State Superintendents, and even 2016 Presidential hopefuls are cementing their positions on the new standards, and one of the prevailing themes is the widespread discontent expressed at how the Common Core has been implemented.  

And while there have been many important arguments made against the Common Core, including criticisms leveled by teachers unions about testing and teacher evaluation, today I would like to address only one such reproach. But don’t worry… it’s a long election cycle, and I’m sure we’ll have another blog about this topic in the future. 

In March, Indiana Governor Mike Pence explained his decision to sign a bill dropping the Common Core, claimed that Indiana would be better served by standards “that are written by Hoosiers, for Hoosiers…” and that he believes, “our students are best served when decisions about education are made at the state and local level…” When asked by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel about his position on the Common Core, Governor Scott Walker similarly stated that “…I want high standards set by people in Wisconsin -- and not from Washington, D.C.” And in the words of Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, a former supporter of the Common Core, “We need Louisiana standards, not Washington, D.C., standards.” 

Now on the surface, these rebuffs of the Common Core come in the wake of increasing backlash equating the new standards to a federal takeover of public education; the word “Obamacore” has been making the rounds in news outlets. While President Obama has incentivized the adoption of the Common Core by counting it as one condition for receiving Race to the Top grant money, the federal government did not create the standards, has not formed a new national curriculum (see our Myths about Common Core blog post for more on this topic), and does not require states to adopt them. Nor have politicians who utilize this rhetoric specifically outlined what about the Common Core – other than its “otherness” – is insufficient for use in their states. In fact, many states that have received criticism for adopting Common Core – or just wish to stem potential criticism – have simply renamed the standards without changing their content (see Arizona’s College and Career Ready Standards).

So the current debate about Common Core standards not being up to snuff for individual states seems to be incomplete at best, pandering at worst.

And that’s kind of a shame.

The idea of states having their own educational standards isn’t an inherently flawed one. Sure it would make difficult the Common Core’s goal of comparing student performance across different states, but the potential benefits of states competing to have the best possible standards could far outweigh this downside. The problem in the current debate, though, is that governors and gubernatorial candidates crying foul over standards made outside their state are rallying against something that was never meant to wholly define their state’s educational system in the first place. The Common Core was not developed as an end to education reform or as the pinnacle of curriculum or pedagogy. On the contrary, they represent the most basic of expectations; they are the floor, not the ceiling. And they have been largely accepted as either equivalent to or more rigorous than existing state standards. They are a new, relatively innocuous minimum, and any state that wants to go above and beyond them is free to do so.

It is therefore slightly confusing that so many state leaders are trying to completely rid themselves of the Common Core rather than use it as a stepping stone with which to make their state stand out even further. If they think their students could learn certain math subjects at a faster rate than the Common Core outlines, fantastic. If they want to have more thorough standards for science and social studies, I doubt many would try to stop them. But now that the Common Core has come into the public eye, and now that calls for higher educational standards (in whatever form) have reached the public consciousness, it might behoove states to consider using every resource they have available to them, lest they risk hurting themselves by trying to reinvent the wheel.

Let us know what you think. Should Common Core be abandoned completely? Post a comment below.

Why are We Hearing about So Many Schools Dropping iPads?

by Patrick 16. September 2014 10:44
Just a few months ago the Los Angeles United School District put a highly-publicized halt to its program aiming to give each of its students an iPad. Though they are trying to revitalize the effort, the staggering cost of the project and the almost complete mulligan called by administrators has left a sour taste in the mouth of a public whose tax dollars were used to fund it. A similar situation recently played out in the Fort Bend Independent School District in Texas. 
But unlike in LA, Fort Bend scrapped their iPad project altogether, resulting in $16 million spent with no discernible results. These are very extreme examples of failed one-to-one tablet initiatives, but school districts across the country are finding it difficult to implement similar plans and several have removed tablets from classrooms. The question becomes, why? What problems are these districts facing? 

One major misstep has come from poor planning in the rollout stage. Getting tablets to work in classrooms is much more difficult than simply handing them to students and teachers and saying, “go!” Most schools do not possess Wi-Fi networks capable of handling such an influx of connected devices, especially schools in lower-income districts looking to use tablets to bridge the technological gap. 

The LAUSD faced just this problem when it was determined that upgrades to their internet connections could not be completed before iPads were handed out. Fort Bend experienced similar difficulties. On the other hand, some schools found that successful improvements to their Wi-Fi were equally burdensome. When the Hoboken School District gave each of their middle- and high-school students laptops, they found that students would give away the password to their school’s network, giving non-students in the community free access which eventually bogged down their servers and ruined internet speeds. And when the Coachella Valley USD gave each of its students iPads, the increased internet activity caused connection speeds in two neighboring districts – which shared a connection with Coachella – to drastically decrease.

In the cases of LA and Fort Bend, as well as several other districts in Texas, the introduction of iPads into classrooms coincided with specific educational goals. Fort Bend wanted to improve its science test scores, and Los Angeles planned on aligning iPad use with Common Core-based lessons pre-loaded on the tablets. Unfortunately for both districts, the apps and programs were incomplete or not functioning by the time the tablets reached the students. In both cases it appears that administrators had not done their due diligence in choosing their software developers. Existing, fully-developed software had been passed up for new, made-for-the-district programs that either simply were not finished in time (LA) or which were never delivered from the developer (Fort Bend).

But not all problems with integrating tablets into the classroom were caused by missteps in the planning stages. Broken screens, faulty cases and a melting charger were enough for the Guilford County (North Carolina) School District’s Superintendent to issue a recall of 15,000 tablets. Many schools have found that once their iPads updated to the newest operating system, the security software installed on the tablets became obsolete. And then there is the issue of students being… well… students. Despite the problems facing the LAUSD iPad program, the tablets were not taken away until it was discovered that students had found ways to bypass security measures restricting access to the internet and social media sites. The Center Grove School District in Indiana has faced similar setbacks, though there appear to be no plans of abandoning the iPads. In Hoboken, more of the same. Reports from many districts state that, despite often coming with external cases designed to protect them, tablets are being broken at alarming rates, very often from student misuse.  

But there is a silver lining to (most) of these setbacks; they do not mean that tablet use in classrooms will inevitably fail in all cases. Had these districts given themselves more time to prepare and had they ensured that third-party support had been in place before they introduced their tablets, we likely wouldn’t be hearing about multi-million dollar boondoggles we hear about today. Yes, there will always be students who want to undermine the educational intentions behind these tablets, and given how fragile some of these devices can be, the question of basic maintenance will likely be around for a while. But the issues that threaten entire one-to-one programs are largely avoidable, and many school districts are already learning from other districts’ shortcomings. Teachers are being given tablets well before rollout dates so that they can have time to experiment with them and address complications early. More time is being spent ensuring quality infrastructure. And schools are looking at a wider range of tablets as alternatives to iPads, allowing the potential to better pair their specific classroom needs with an appropriate tablet. It must be said, none of this will guarantee that tablet use in classrooms will improve students’ learning experiences. But schools are beginning to get their tablet programs to a place where this much more important conversation can be had.

Let us know what you think. Are you working in a school that has a one-to-one program? What have your experiences been? Have you tried using a tablet in your classroom, even if your students don’t have them? Leave us a comment.

Myths about the Common Core Standards

by Patrick 2. September 2014 14:32
The Common Core Standards have become something of a staple in the news as of late. Politicians, pundits, celebrities and educators have discussed potential benefits and pitfalls of the adoption and implementation of the new standards. As with any social and political debate, however, the discussion about Common Core has been plagued by a number of misconceptions. By no means a comprehensive list, here are four of the more prominent myths about Common Core.

Myth 1: The Common Core Standards represent a national curriculum and implementing it means that the standards tell teachers precisely how and what they must teach.

This is one of the big ones. Many teachers are worried that Common Core dictates the exact material that needs to be taught in the classroom, and these concerns have been compounded by several public figures making accusations about the standards’ educational and political bias. It could be argued that the Mathematics Standards do fit this description; they do set content-specific goals to be reached by the end of each grade level. But in the English Language Arts Standards very few specific content requirements are made. Most specific authors and works they list are merely suggestions and do not need to be adopted by the teacher (with the notable exception of Shakespeare; CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.11-12.7; sorry students). Otherwise, Common Core gives teachers flexibility to choose their own material, as seen in its call for student proficiency with “eighteenth-, nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century foundational works of American literature” (CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.11-12.9). As another example, the standards for history (limited to grades 6-12) do not even list specific historical topics through which the standards can be met, let alone do they determine what content would be required in the classroom. We find the same trend in the science and writing standards. Rather than specific curricula, Common Core tends to focus more on outlining the requisite critical thinking skills students could learn through any of thousands of individual curricula. Crafting lesson plans, choosing reading materials, and deciding on a teaching method are still left up to the teacher and the school.

Myth 2: Common Core decreases the amount of fiction and literature students will read.

This comes from a commonly cited set of figures which have Common Core proposing that, in elementary school, half of what students would be reading would be fiction. By middle school 40% would be fiction, and by high school it would be 30%. This myth is founded on the idea that these percentages represent the fiction/nonfiction ratio in English classes only. However, the standards mean for this 30% high school fiction rate to be a cumulative total from all of their classes. This means that the (probable) majority of texts from history, science, and math classes will count toward that 70% nonfiction total. English teachers will not have to worry that they will have to cut literature out of their curricula.

Myth 3: English Teachers will be forced to teach Social Studies and Science

This most likely comes from a misunderstanding of how the creators of Common Core categorized their standards. The two main categories are English Language Arts and Mathematics. Social Studies, Science, and Writing are subsumed under the former. But, this does not mean that history and science education now falls under the purview of English teachers. To be fair, some of the placement of certain standards under certain categories can be a little confusing; the standard outlining students’ need to be able to analyze the Declaration of Independence, the Preamble to the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and Lincoln's Second Inaugural Address (CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.11-12.7) is not listed under the History standards but rather under Reading Informational Texts, which itself is listed under the broad English Language Arts category. English teachers, however, will not suddenly become responsible for teaching American history or science.

Myth 4: No teachers were involved in creating the Common Core Standards.


The initial formation of the Common Core standards was in fact not carried out by K-12 teachers. The “Work Groups” – those who wrote the first versions of the standards – were made of diverse education and assessment experts from a number of associations, namely Achieve and The College Board. The “Feedback Groups” were made up mostly of university professors, understandable given that Common Core is aimed at promoting college and workplace readiness. You can see the full list of people who worked on the early stages of Common Core here. But K-12 teachers have had numerous opportunities to share their input. According to the NEA, “When the first drafts of the Common Core [standards]… were released, the Common Core State Standards staff and writers met with two groups of NEA members.  One was a group of mathematics teachers and the other was a group of English language arts teachers.  All the teachers in the groups were National Board Certified Teachers.” Similarly, the AFT has noted the involvement of its teachers in developing and implementing Common Core.


So there you have it, some of the more widespread myths about the Common Core Standards. Let us know what you think. Have you read or heard anything about Common Core that’s sounded somewhat dubious that we could address in a future blog? Leave us a comment, and stay tuned for our next post!




The SAT’s Shifting Strategies

by Julie 27. March 2014 11:09

Standardized tests are changing left and right, and the SAT is no exception. The test is being updated to align more closely with what students are required to do in high school. While these changes are being made, others will be included as well.


Keeping the Common Core in Mind


Dave Coleman, president of College Board, was also the “architect” of the Common Core, so it is no wonder he has decided to align the SAT more closely to the new standards. This is a smart move. 

•  It makes the SAT more relevant to testing students’ knowledge. 

•  It also makes the Common Core more relevant because it will be used on the SAT, which colleges look at during the admission process.


•  If states actually follow the Common Core, their students should be prepared for the SAT, which leads into the next change.

Leveling the Playing Field

By keeping the Common Core in mind and making a few additional changes, the College Board hopes to reach more lower-income students than in the past. According to Coleman, this country needs more opportunities and the College Board is renewing its commitment to delivering them.
•  Because of the Common Core connection, students should be prepared for the SAT without outside tutoring, SAT-specific lessons, or practice books. (Although, those additional services can still increase test scores.)
•  To prepare test-takers who want more help, the College Board has partnered with Khan Academy to create test-preparation materials. (We have also partnered with Kahn Academy, including some of their lessons in our Show What You Know® Online programs to prepare students for the Common Core or for STAAR with online assessments, lessons, and games.)
•  Income-eligible students will also receive fee waivers to apply to colleges.

Updating the Sections

In order to make the SAT more accessible, some of the sections are being updated in ways other than keeping the Common Core in mind.
•  The dreaded vocabulary section of the SAT will be updated to align closer to what students should already know. This means that it will test their current knowledge. However, there is an advantage to also testing the peculiar and challenging words: it tests college readiness. Students will likely come across words that they don’t know as they read. The current vocabulary section tests their ability to strategize and connect the words to similar words and their context to determine the meaning. While students will love the updates to this section and it will test what they have learned, it takes the strategy out of the test and reduces the test of their college readiness.
•  In addition, the essay will be optional and will be paired with a reading selection. Students will need to explain how the author used certain techniques to get their point across. They will not need to write their own persuasive essay. Students will be recognizing the techniques rather than recalling them and putting them into practice. This decreases the value of the essay because it does not show that the students are able to use what they know, which is needed in college and in many careers.

Taking and Scoring the Test
•  Students will have the option to take the SAT on the computer.
•  Students will no longer lose a 1/4 point when they answer a question wrong. This will encourage students to select the best answer for each question rather than skipping questions.
•  The test will return to a 1600-point scale with the essay being scored separately.

Find out more:
•  At EdNet Insight
•  From the New York Times
•  More from the New York Times
•  From NPR

The Digital Dilemma: The Print to Digital Transition for K-12 Education

by Guest Blogger- Paul Laporte 6. March 2014 16:24
It was after the second world war when the influx of “ready-made” print content known as “Supplemental” began to really grow. Also at this same time, content to address a region's specific curriculum requirements began to be widely adopted and was known as “Text Books”. For over the next 50 years, School Boards and Educators had ONLY these two options as the key content and curriculum foundations for teaching a nation's K-12 students. For all those years, Classroom technology was only the overhead projector, which displayed this print content over clear acetate. I’m sure most educators long for that simpler time when a class lesson went without interruption and the only “hardware” issue was a broken chalk.
For the K-12 Educator, the first digital version of content to widely be distributed began in the early '90s, in PDF format. Throughout the next 20 years, and somewhat still today, savvy teachers preferred this format primarily due to increased availability by being able to purchase this format online. Additionally, the PDF format is easier to store on a desktop, and one has the ability for 1st generation printing rather than making a copy of a print. For digital, this format is still relatively low tech and appeals to most who have not used truly great digital content.

By the year 2000, those two long-held key foundational content options expanded and transformed to a multitude of digital hardware options. K-12 education had stepped up their game considerably, learning from the invasion of consumer electronics and the internet expansion; therefore making the need for more digital in the classroom essential to better engage young digital learners. This leading revolution advanced the content buying habits of Educators and Curriculum Directors by including expanded Technology Departments who were now responsible for digital hardware. The idea was to better show content and curriculum on specific educational-suited devices like Interactive Whiteboards, Digital Projectors, Slates and soon after handheld Tablets and BYODs.

Unlike the previous 50 years, Schools and School Boards put enormous efforts into acquiring digital hardware, oftentimes at the expense of the curriculum content. It used to only be about the content, now Educators have the daunting task not only to choose a device, rather what operating system, assessment integration, connectivity options, one-to-one bandwidth, and security and loss prevention, to mention a few. For plenty of schools, this technology has done the intended opposite by complicating and sometimes diminishing the delivery of curriculum content for students in exchange for the latest shiny new hardware device. 

PDFs now add little value operating on these new robust digital devices. Teachers and Students demand a higher level of engaging interactive content. The purchasing of great digital content for these new devices were seldom included in the package, as the hardware manufacturer's distribution channel had no interest or did not understand the value of content. The manufacturers and their resellers need for a sustainable aftermarket is imperative, so they choose training programs instead of content. Therefore, with the delivery of the new hardware device brought in-service training for Educators on how to use the new electronic device and how to use proprietary programs to create content. Hardware manufacturers always used examples of the “Exemplary Teacher” who made all their own digital content; sadly that has proven to be the exception. This offering was a great solution for the hardware manufacturer, not so good for the Classroom Teachers and their Students.

Today, even more so than the earlier 50 years, very few Teachers make their own content. Most are too busy with day-to-day teaching, increased class management, assessment and after-school programs, to name a few. In the old days, there were far less demands on the Classroom Teacher. The standards were less demanding and foremost of curriculum content was purchased in supplemental or text book print versions by the School Board, or bought from the pockets of individual Teachers. To do the same now, great digital curriculum content is often more expensive than its old print counterpart and often out of budget for individual Teachers. Also, many regions have eliminated the Text Book, even the PDF version as it provides little value to the new hardware devices, thus exacerbating this content dilemma.

It is clear why Teachers seldom made their own content when it was a print format, now they are making even less content in a digital format. For most Teachers, it takes considerably longer and is significantly harder to make engaging interactive content that will appeal to the new digital learners, utilize the best features of the new device, and get it to operate successfully. Most Principals will agree that unfortunately, many of the Interactive Whiteboards and Digital Projectors in their classrooms have only ever been used as large TV screens or fancy electronic chalkboards. By 2006 in Europe and 2009 in North America, it was clear that the majority of teachers were not going to make their own digital content for the Interactive Whiteboard or Digital Projectors, so the lack of use of the devices became embarrassingly obvious.

Less users quickly translated in lagging new installs of these “Big Screen” devices in K-12 schools. New and existing hardware manufacturers sighted this as the “wrong device” and quickly saw an opportunity to market the tablet as the unique new mobile hardware solution. The first iPad was introduced to education in 2010 and by 2012 it was quickly touted as the “new solution” for K-12 classrooms. Android tablets quickly jumped on this, and today the market is now flooded with 100s of similar digital solutions. Furthermore, there are 1000s of individual “apps” cashing in on this wild west trend; unfortunately, at best offering gamification with limited pedagogy, no consistency, and un-proven learning foundations.

Now it is 2014, and the shine has already begun to wear off many tablets. Why? Again for the same reason, not enough great content pre-loaded on the device! Also, some Educators say that it takes enormous resources to load and manage individual apps, to keep them all powered up and to have them all stay connected. Unfortunately — going the way of the Interactive Whiteboards — many of the tablets in classrooms are simply used for games and outside educational web browsing. Over the last decade, there always seems to be money for the latest classroom hardware device, but not for engaging digital curriculum software, even though we know that classroom hardware is simply a platform to interact with engaging content. This is changing; the waste is very visible and we now realize that with no ready-made content, the latest hardware device is almost useless. Like a laptop without software, educational hardware is simply an expensive and poor light source.

Tablets and big screens are purposeful and will continue to be the rage in K-12 Classrooms; however, we have learned from the past and are now migrating to the paramount “total solution” that will be sustainable.

Many of the great digital content publishers feel that the “total solution” for a K-12 classroom is a “Big Screen” at the front with teacher-led instruction for clarifying the key curriculum concepts along with student hand-held devices, primarily for research and assessment. The key difference is that successful hardware manufacturers will hard-bundle complete digital curriculum packages with every unit sold, giving Classroom Teachers and Students a true “complete solution” to effectively use the power of their hardware. Technology and Curriculum buyers will work together and ensure that the install of any new hardware will include a complete suite of ready-made curriculum content. Content is king — always has been, always will be.

March for Music

by Julie 27. February 2014 09:34
Celebrate music during Music in Our Schools Month (MIOSM) this March. More and more music programs are in danger of being pulled from schools, but music won’t go down without a fight! Even while schools are struggling to keep music alive, MIOSM is reaching more students, educators, and musicians.

MIOSM began in 1973 as a single statewide celebration.
By 1985, it was a month long. MIOSM is meant to raise

awareness about the importance of music education. In a time when music education is disappearing, this month is more important than ever.

So why is music education so important?

Music is a part of our daily lives. It can be found on the radio, in movies, in television shows, and even as ringtones. Look around you next time you are on the bus, walking around a school campus (especially colleges), or at the gym. Chances are that you will see many people with headphones listening to music. Many people pair certain ringtones with certain people; it could be because it is their friend’s favorite song or maybe the song makes them feel like they do when they see their friend, parent, or child. Music education helps individuals fully appreciate and understand the music that they hear so often. It can show them the work musicians put into creating their work or how music affects people. The music in television shows and movies may be in the background, but this background noise affects the scene’s mood and the audience’s reaction. It is one of many tools at our disposal to connect events and emotions and spur people to action.

Music can bring people together and initiate social change. The Chicago Children’s Choir was formed during the Civil Rights Movement to help children better understand each other. Choirs, bands, and orchestras are made up of a diverse group of people (any age, gender, nationality, race, etc.). The music forces them to put aside their differences and find what they have in common: a love of music and a goal (not to mention non-music commonalities). The Chicago Children’s Choir, which was originally 12 members, has grown to over 3,500 children according to the Huffington Post, and a group within the choir, called the Voice of Chicago, travels around the country, and even internationally, showing the power of music to unite people.

This experience doesn’t have to end with youth! Columbus, Ohio’s Harmony Project brings the community together in song, service, and education. The choir is a diverse group of individuals (some with no musical experience prior to this group). The choir and other members volunteer their time to improve neighborhoods in their community and promote community issues.

Clearly, music can be taught outside of school and still have an impact. Why should music be in our schools?

First, it can be connected to other parts of the curriculum. In music class, students make music, but how does this actually work? What makes the sound when you hit a drum or play the clarinet? This can be explained by physics. A connection with social studies can explain why music has changed throughout the years and what impact it has had on history. Don’t forget math. How do students know they have the right number of beats in a measure? What is the difference between a quarter note, a half note, and a whole note? I even learned my times tables through tunes I already knew. (I still remember how the times tables match to the tunes today.)

In addition, schools are meant to prepare students for the future. Music can help them learn how to maintain a commitment. Learning an instrument or preparing for a performance is hard work and involves a lot of practice. Performing can also help students gain confidence and learn how to deal with the pressure of other people counting on them. Sometimes they may perform a solo, but many times, they will perform as a group. Choir, band, and orchestra give students a diverse set of experiences.

What can I do to promote music in our schools and pass along its importance to students?
To celebrate MIOSM, get your Music Education Fact a Day by following the National Association for Music Education (NAfME) on Twitter or Facebook. Share the knowledge you gain from these facts with your students.

If you don’t teach music, incorporate it into your classroom or home. Pair music with historic events or a physics lesson. Use it as mnemonic device for remembering multiplication facts. Have a conversation with your children about the impact of music on the movie you just watched. Debate the benefit of music or a specific song or musician with your students.

Check out our music products that can be incorporated into your celebration.

We want to know! (Leave a comment to join the conversation.)
Do you think music should remain in our schools? What do you see as benefits to learning music? How do you use music in your general classroom or core curriculum in your music classroom?

Happy NaNoWriMo!

by Julie 4. November 2013 15:43

November is National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo. It is also a great month to get your students involved in writing (especially in locations where the weather is cold and gray). Students (and teachers) have had a few months to shake away the cobwebs after summer break and refresh their understanding of grammar and the writing process. 


Now is the time to delve deeper and push students to understand their full writing potential: they can write a story and even a book if they put their minds to it. You may have heard about some of the novels that came from NaNoWriMo, such as Sara Gruen’s Water for Elephants and Erin Morgernstern’s The Night Circus.


Image courtesy of National Novel Writing Month.


NaNoWriMo is actually a nonprofit that encourages aspiring writers to sit down and create. The adult program has a word-count goal of 50,000 words, but young writers can set their own goals. Beginning writers could create a shorter story, while more advanced writers could aim for a full novel. If your students reach their goals, they can even get free copies of their finished manuscripts through CreateSpace (https://www.createspace.com/nanowrimo?ref=890654&utm_id=5932)


So how can you use NaNoWriMo to your advantage? Check out their Young Writers Program at http://ywp.nanowrimo.org/. The website brings writers and educators together through forums and provides electronic pep talks throughout the month. If your local library or bookstore is involved, you may be able to meet other writers and educators participating in the program through local write-ins. The program is free to use, and you only need internet access occasionally to participate. Students can write offline and paste the text into the Word Count Validator on their NaNoWriMo account at designated times.


Set aside time during class for students to write their stories, or have them write at home. During class, keep your students inspired! Give them fun writing activities and prompts to boost their creativity. Provide materials and lessons to help them become better writers (http://ow.ly/qovSO).  Learn more about holding writing workshops in your classroom to take full advantage of NaNoWriMo (http://ow.ly/qovzt)!


And don’t forget, if you want to try writing a novel in just 30 days, sign yourself up at http://nanowrimo.org/!


WE WANT TO KNOW: How do you encourage your students to write? Are you going to have your students try the NaNoWriMo challenge or try it yourself? Keep us updated! Leave a comment below to let us, and your fellow teachers and parents, know. 

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National Bullying Prevention Month

by Julie 9. October 2013 16:25

Have you ever heard the phrase “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me”? As bullying comes into the spotlight more and more, it becomes clear that this saying is not true. Although you may not see physical harm from name-calling or other types of verbal bullying, the effects are still very real. Bullying can negatively affect students’ physical and emotional health, lowering their self-esteem and even threatening their ability to learn.

October is National Bullying Prevention Month, providing a perfect reason to discuss all types of bullying with children and teenagers. This topic is not always easy to approach, which may be why it is often discussed in response to something that has already happened rather than in advance as a way to prevent it. Use this month to get ahead of bullying by discussing these issues before they occur!


Teaching and modeling acceptance and compassion can help children understand that differences are not bad and not reasons to avoid or make fun of others. Bullying can occur because students don’t understand each other. Encourage students to interact with people who seem different from them. Introduce your students to students with special needs in your school or city (you could even make an event out of it and have a picnic lunch in a classroom or outside). You could also set up time to volunteer at a local shelter. The more students interact with others who seem different, the more they can connect with each other and accept these differences. Whether or not you can arrange these experiences, be sure to teach your students about various cultures and groups. If you don’t know where to start, you may want to check out our available character education books  (http://ow.ly/pC5L8 ) and culture books (http://ow.ly/pC5Zf ).

In addition to directly teaching about bullying and accepting others, it is a good idea to create a plan to respond to bullying if it occurs. Let your students know that they can come to you to discuss problems they are having with others. Explain to students how they should report bullying to you and how you will handle it (Will it be anonymous? Will you ask the bully to apologize? Will you make them do a good deed to make up for it or read a book about bullying?). Don’t forget to follow-up and make sure that the student has stopped their bullying behavior.

For more information about bullying, ways to talk about it, or ideas about how to handle these situations, visit http://www.stopbullying.gov/ or PACER’s National Bullying Prevention Center at http://www.pacer.org/bullying/

WE WANT TO KNOW: Do you see bullying in your classroom? How do you handle it? Does anything in particular work well to prevent it or stop it from happening again? Leave a comment to let us (and your fellow teachers and parents) know!


 

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