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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.

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

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!

GIA Says Interactive Whiteboards Are Here To Stay

by Jonathan 30. January 2013 15:20
In an age of perpetually shifting technologies, interactive whiteboards are here to stay, according to a 2012 report issued by Global Industry Analysts, Inc. GIA’s research shows the global IWB market should reach 1.85 billion dollars by 2018. The report cites increasing demand for technology-based education solutions, as well as strong governmental and funding initiatives, as primary indicators of the IWB’s longevity.

This is excellent news to those teachers and administrators stuck in holding patterns over which of the seemingly countless educational technologies to spend their limited budgets upon. As the rate of innovation has skyrocketed, so too have the number of ‘game-changing’ technological initiatives: tablets and other personal devices, ‘flipped’ classrooms, and student-directed online learning, to name a few. While these are valuable solutions for any educator to consider, a strong argument can be made that interactive whiteboards reign supreme in the technological classroom. Long thought to be education’s next big thing, the demise of IWBs has been often reported, though never realized. Each year, reports like GIA’s show that the technology is going to be around for a very long time; and that it will continue to improve and develop as more and more educators embrace and invest in it.

Here are just a few more reasons to say yes to interactive whiteboards:


It’s truly amazing what a motivated teacher (or student) can do with this device. Far more than a surface upon which to project a lesson, the IWB makes your lesson an organic experience. Teaching a unit about Ancient Greece? With a whiteboard, you could project a map showing important city-states; if students are particularly interested in, say, Athens, you could go to the Internet and display photos, videos, and information about the city. You could play audio that teaches students how to say their names in Greek, have students read Greek myths, or play educational games. Best of all, you can do all of this on an IWB – no additional materials are required.

2.Student Engagement

Let’s be honest: this is why you really install an IWB in a classroom. They allow hands-on interaction for students, increasing incentive, attention, and enjoyment. Students don’t sit back and watch; they participate by using the board to directly manipulate lesson materials. IWB developers know this, and are constantly introducing features that focus on this student-lesson interaction. For example, many IWBs now feature dual-touch functionality, meaning that multiple students can interact with the board at the same time. Its also an undeniable fact that students respond more positively to IWBs, thanks to their increasingly technological lives (cell phones, tablets, video games, etc.).


It’s true that IWBs don’t come cheap, but they are an investment that pays off in multiple ways, thanks to their versatility and adaptability to student and teacher needs. There is a growing catalog of IWB software. The next generation of textbooks and workbooks, these products are designed around the capabilities of an IWB, approaching traditional educational content in an entirely new and creative way. But that’s not all: IWBs also support teacher-created content. It’s simple to create your own lesson plan or interactive activity. And many of these resources are available, for little or no fee, at special websites such as Promethean Planet. This, along with the many ways an interactive whiteboard can be used on a daily basis, more than offset the cost of buying and installing one.

It’s getting more and more difficult to envision an educational future without interactive whiteboards. It’s been a valuable technology for years, but it’s only starting to hit its stride. We recommend joining the race to the future.

The State of Texas Assessments for Academic Readiness (STAAR) Take Center Stage in The Lone Star State

by Lauren 9. January 2013 09:10
In the spring of 2012, the state of Texas overhauled their student assessments and introduced the new State of Texas Assessments for Academic Readiness (STAAR). Unlike the TAKS, the state’s old testing system that had been in place since 2003, STAAR is much more demanding and requires students to use their critical thinking and application skills, as well as demonstrate their knowledge.  Since this immense change requires time for teachers to adjust their lesson plans, the final requirements for STAAR are being slowly phased in. The testing requirements will grow in rigor each year until 2016, when the final performance requirements will arrive. After the first year of STAAR’s implementation, most educators find the new testing system promising. Throughout the state, students met expectations and, oftentimes, outperformed them.

In order to create this new testing system, public school & college educators, as well as testing experts, came together to develop new educational standards. Students are now tested on the TEKS (Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills), which are composed of Readiness Standards and Supporting Standards. Although Texas has not accepted the Common Core Standards, the TEKS are designed specifically to meet the increasing educational demands in a globalizing world. Most importantly, STAAR and the TEKS are meant to assess students’ college and career readiness. Educators believe this will help students make the transition from high school to college a little smoother. With more students taking AP courses and attending college, it is easy to see that STAAR is intended to take students to the next level.

In fact, the most significant changes between STAAR and the TAKS occur in high school.  Instead of the four tests students were required to pass in order to graduate, students will now have to pass twelve different subject exams. It is easy to see that this will require much more time and preparation, both for teachers and students.

Although college preparedness is vital, some teachers believe too much class time is spent on state testing.  Instead of gaining important skills, teachers often have to spend time focusing on assessment-specific material in order for their school to receive the grade or funds they need. Unfortunately, testing can often be more about making the school look good than ensuring that students are actually learning and growing. Likewise, general testing cannot always assess students’ knowledge accurately.  Students’ brains works differently; it seems almost silly to believe that one basic test will meet everyone’s needs and be able to accurately determine what a student has learned.

What do you think about state testing? Does it help students and schools in the long run? Or is it too broad and general? What do you think about Texas’ plan to gradually introduce STAAR requirements?

For more information on STAAR: http://www.tea.state.tx.us/index2.aspx?id=2147504081&menu_id=692&menu_id2=796 

Check out our new test preparation system for STAAR, including student workbooks, parent/teacher editions, and flashcards.

A+ Schools Add Art to Education

by Lauren 28. November 2012 15:29
Praised by the Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and recognized in 2011 by the President’s Council on the Arts and the Humanities, A+ school networks are starting to receive plenty of attention. These schools, which originated in North Carolina and spread to Oklahoma and Arkansas, are known for integrating art education in practically every facet of their curriculum. A+ schools are governed by the following eight essential principles: arts, curriculum, experiential learning, multiple intelligences, enriched assessment, collaboration, infrastructure, and climate. While their instructional material is diverse, A+ schools as a whole are also hard to define. Certain private, public, and charter schools have adopted their policies, and the schools can also be found in urban, rural, and suburban areas, where they cater to children from different economic backgrounds. However, the A+ schools have at least one thing in common: a desire for a change in the American education system.

That change can be clearly seen in the classroom. In dance classes, students learn about mathematic equations. Visual and creative illustrations are used to explain scientific principles. Third graders learn and create spoken-word poetry. In Oklahoma, these methods are used in the hope that every student will be creative and inspired. In fact, their methods have become so popular that KIPP schools, which are known for their discipline, have also started to adopt A+ policies.

The A+ essentials appeal to many schools for different reasons.  For instance, schools might decide to adopt A+ policies to raise test scores, to add collaborative projects and activities, or to increase the presence of the arts in the classroom.  In order to become part of the network, 85 percent of the school’s faculty must decide in favor of the change.  A+ staff will then review their school and decide if they will be able to carry out the A+ essential standards. Schools are judged on an individual basis.

Although change for the sake of change can be destructive, these schools have proven that altering education can be exceedingly positive. Because of their unique approach to learning, A+ schools are frequently studied by outside researchers. In Oklahoma, a recent study showed that the schools outperform all others in their state and district. It also showed that A+ students have higher attendance rates, a smaller number of disciplinary issues, and more parent and community engagement. Interestingly, the schools that most closely adhered to the A+ essentials had the most positive results; those that held loosely to the essentials did not perform quite as well.

What do you make of A+ schools? Do you think the arts should be further emphasized in classrooms? Is this too much focus on the arts? Can a balance between the arts and math and science ever be achieved?

Check out the website for the Oklahoma A+ schools: http://aplusok.org/

New College Courses Emphasize Learning over Credit Hours

by Lauren 21. November 2012 13:17
If you have heard of MOOCs, Massive Open Online Courses, you know that they are the latest trend at many high-tiered college campuses. Professors offer these classes free for students, and virtually anyone can join. MOOCs are not usually offered for credit, but they do give many students from all over the world the opportunity to study new material with some of the leaders in academia. The first MOOC was offered by a Stanford professor in 2011, and over 160,000 students in 190 nations signed up for his free course. As a result, universities have been encouraged to remodel their ideas about classes and credit hours, envisioning a world where, someday, everyone can have access to a university-level education.

In particular, universities that now use MOOCs are often considered some of the top schools in the U.S. While Stanford started the trend, Princeton, Harvard, and MIT have all followed suit. The expense is often too much for smaller schools to handle, but it makes sense that universities where the “best” education is available would want to spread their knowledge to everyone who desires it. Since their names are extremely recognizable, it is also understandable that many students would be attracted to their free courses. In fact, top universities have the most to gain from MOOCS, which clearly help increase their reach and prestige.

So how do the courses work? Usually, the professor posts videos of his or her lectures. Online discussion boards are normally employed, but when there are 160,000 students in a course, it is impossible for the professor to view all the comments. Instead, students can vote on the best comments, so that they become more visible. This allows the professor to see the main points of discussion and tailor his or her lectures accordingly. Grading also become nearly impossible with these massive numbers, so peer grading is often utilized. Students might read and rate a few of their classmates’ essays. In the same strain, final grades for the class are usually pass/fail. Clearly, MOOCs are student-driven, and they require the student to take on new roles in the virtual classroom.

Additionally, some schools have seen the immense popularity of the MOOCs and decided to offer them for credit. For credit, students might have to pay for proctored exams or for a certificate of completion. However, universities are often concerned about giving credit when the final grade rests solely in students’ hands. Peer grading, while proven to be helpful for students, can also provide means for cheating or unfair grading. While professors have attempted to refine rubrics, peer grading will never be perfect. Thus, it remains to be seen how MOOCs will be used to fulfill college credit requirements.

Because of their massive numbers, MOOCs really emphasize learning over grades and requirements. Most likely, students who enroll in these types of classes would be more interested and enthusiastic about the material and less preoccupied with fulfilling a list of dull requirements. In other words, these classes might hold more engaged learners, maybe even more than the average college classroom. MOOCs can give retirees a way to continue learning and provide students in China with access to a Harvard-level education. While credit for these classes might not yet be ideal, MOOCs seem like a perfect way to offer free education for the masses.

What do you think about MOOCs? Should they be offered for credit or just for fun learning? What effects will this have on college education as a whole?

In the Classroom, Less Might Mean More

by Carolyn 17. May 2012 15:34
In recent years, international test scores have shown that the United States has fallen behind other countries’ results. While many contributing factors have been debated, including cost and logistics, the effectiveness of the time students spend in school should perhaps bear the heaviest consideration.

Data from The Center for Public Education shows that most U.S. schools require as much or more instructional time as do other countries. Typically, American students in younger grades receive fewer instructional hours than students in higher grades; this is also the case in high-performing countries like Japan, Korea, and Finland. When the number of required hours increases, however, test scores don’t seem to tag along.

Collectively, the states require between 900 and 1,000 hours of instructional time per year depending on the grade level. According to the OECD, by 8th grade, students will have been required to receive more hours of instruction than students in most industrialized countries. Data shows that countries with less instructional hours, such as Japan (868), Korea (867), and Finland (777), have outperformed U.S. schools, suggesting that increased instructional time does not correlate with increased achievement.

Therefore, maybe it isn’t so much the number of instructional hours that matters, but the quality of instruction. Students should get the most out of their time in the classroom, so the question becomes, “How effectively is classroom time used?”

Are teachers engaging students? Are lessons and activities creative and well-developed? Will assignments advance the learning process rather than overwhelm students? Do supplementary materials actively involve students? Are teachers motivating rather than demanding?

Achieving the goal of increasing test scores in U.S. schools starts in the classroom. It is largely the responsibility of teachers to make material interesting for students and engage them in the learning process. One thousand hours is a lot of time to be used otherwise.

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General | Education

Classic Children's Literature: Why We're Still Teaching It

by Jonathan 20. October 2011 15:40
I love reading. Always have. Ever since my parents read to me from dog-eared copies of The Hobbit and The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, I've eagerly devoured literature of every sort.

LEP's homepage currently features a promotion for Story Squares(TM), a language arts resource that offers 800 reading comprehension and response activities based on 40 classic books from children's literature. I couldn't help but scan the list of included books. An impressive collection of memorable stories, timeless characters, and popular authors is on display. I've read many of the selections, and I'd be surprised if you or your children haven't experienced at least a few of them firsthand. Highlights include Charlotte's Web, How to Eat Fried Worms, The Whipping Boy, Matilda, and a Judy Moody tale.

This list is far from exhaustive, of course. If one were to attempt to include every classic of children's literature in a single resource, the page count would no doubt approach astronomic proportions - the index would intimidate even the most stalwart reader.

Allthat to say, reading through the list got us thinking: what makes a 'classic' book: the thrill of the story? the cast of characters? the lessons learned by last page's turning? Why are students still reading books that were published in the early 20th century and, in some cases, much earlier?

When I think of books I read in school, three specific titles spring unfailingly to mind: S.E. Hinton's The Outsiders; Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird; and Gary Paulsen's Hatchet. The characters and their stories have stuck with me through more than 15 years and literally thousands of additional tales, novels, and poems. What makes these classics? In my opinion, it's in how they encourage readers to view life from new and challenging perspectives. In fifth grade (I believe I read TKAM somewhat further along), these new points of view were truly revelatory. What would I do, how would I feel, if I were to slip my feet into the characters' shoes? It was at that time that I realized literature's power to change me.

Perhaps it is more about who children are when they read so-called classics, rather than any single characteristic such books possess. Maybe it's all about the young mind's interaction and response, rather than an author's intent. One thing's for sure: the classics will continue to impact students so long as they're taught.

What do you think? What makes a classic? What books changed the way you looked at the world? What modern books will eventually become classics in their own right? Be heard in the comments section below!

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Classroom Topics | Education

America: Losing Ground in the Global Education Race

by Jonathan 16. September 2011 16:25

It's no secret that the modern economy demands workers that are increasingly skilled, particularly in advanced, specific skills like mathematics and engineering. Another obvious fact is the poor condition of the American economy. Combine the two, however, and a surprising and troubling situation emerges. Despite high unemployment rates, the aforementioned advanced jobs are available. The problem is filling these positions with capable, appropriately educated workers. America is not producing viable candidates, and companies are forced to hire more capable candidates from other countries. Why does this gap exist? Could it be that our education system is to blame?

A recent article appearing on Education Next compares the performance of U.S. students and other countries in the areas of mathematics and reading proficiency. The results are not encouraging. The comparisons are based upon two assessment organizations that are generally considered as "report cards" of American and global students. These are the National Assessment of Educational Progress (America) and the Program for International Student Assessment (global). For a full breakdown and explanation of the comparisons and results, check out the full article. It's absolutely worth a read.

The broad findings of the comparisons are this: U.S. students are consistently performing well below students from several countries around the globe in both mathematics and reading. The gap is much more pronounced in mathematics, which is without a doubt the skill more applicable to today's economy (and likely the future's).

Perhaps most stunning is the fact that only one U.S. state - Massachusetts - has above a 50 percent proficiency rating in either subject. Many states, in fact, score far below that mark. This means that the vast majority of our students are not proficient in either mathematics or reading. Statistics such as these reinforce the increasingly obvious fact that America, once the undisputed leader in global education, is steadily losing ground to parts of the rest of the world.

The pivotal question is, of course, what will we do about it? I ask you - what can be done? What should be done? Sound off in the comments section below.

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