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Sep 23, 2016

Engaging Upper Elementary Students with Technology

It seems like every day, a new gadget is hitting the market for mass consumption. And of course, our students young and old are getting their hands on the latest technology at rapid speed, making us teachers look less “hip” and “cool” with each passing day. Smartphones and electronics are a huge part of student life outside of the classroom now. So how can we rise to the occasion and incorporate technology into lessons and activities? How can we engage our students in their own “language”?

The first step is to be willing to accept the shift. Some of us might shy away from technology because it’s unfamiliar and new.  The old-fashioned method of chalk on a chalkboard and even a bulky overhead projector are comfortable to many, but for our students in this day and age, those methods are alien and sometimes funny (being “old” is funny to them, can you believe it?!). To keep up with the students and to keep them more engaged, holding their interest for a longer period of time, it’s crucial to speak their language—technology. There are countless ways to bring technology into the classroom!

There are a vast majority of classrooms that are equipped with SMART Boards now. If you are one of the lucky teachers who has a SMART Board, take advantage! Don’t just let it sit there! Let the students come up and interact with it. SMART Board have that touchscreen aspect that make kids want to jump out of their seats and participate. The more hands-on they can be, the better. Interactive learning is so important for the upcoming generation!

Some schools are really digging into technology by using Prezi. For the older kids, Prezi is a really cool way to create a presentation that’s both interactive and interesting! If the students are supposed to be doing a bit of research or learning about a specific topic, throw in some teamwork and have them come together in groups to create a presentation! Don’t have a tech-savvy group of kids? Create a presentation together, where the kids find the information and help you plug it in. That way, they can see the final product and be proud of their work.

BrainPOP is another popular, interactive teaching tool for students. The website has all kinds of subtopics like English, math, social studies, science, art and music, health, and engineering and tech (STEM, anyone?). Click on any large topic and find a smaller unit, such as diversity of life under the topic of science. Students can then pick a specific topic that interests them, watch a fun short movie about it, and even take a quiz at the end! There are so many topics and possibilities that the choices are nearly endless! There is also an app available for iPads, so if you’re a lucky teacher with iPads in the classroom, the kids can use the BrainPOP app during class!

But by far and wide, one of the most valuable resources is interactive lessons, especially interactive PowerPoint presentations
You may be thinking, What?!? PowerPoint presentations are SO old news! But just stick with me for a moment. 

Imagine a social studies presentation that submerges the students into the lesson with different pictures, animation, and simple questions. While using the interactive PowerPoints as a guide, your students can simultaneously work on their interactive notebooks throughout the year, becoming fully immersed in a fun, virtual experience. 
Students can choose the path they want to take and guide their own learning while also absorbing the culture of whichever social studies topic you choose.

Watch a fast motion screen capture of this interactive PowerPoint series! 

  These teaching resources are quite the virtual experience for students! They are perfectly aligned with interactive notebooks so students can be fully immersed in their learning. The PowerPoints can be used as powerful classroom presentations or students can click their way through them on individual computers.  Want to grab hold of one of these awesome interactive PowerPoints? Check out the links below! 

The Ancient Civilizations Interactive Notebooks and PowerPoint Series are designed to use for the entire school year!

Sep 12, 2016

Teachers Should Work Together and Not Against Each Other

    The public school system in the United States is set up to reward competition in many ways. Students are ranked, scored, and graded; their behavior and academic progress put up on the walls and tracked using color-coded charts. Sadly, teachers don’t escape these value judgements. In many public school systems, teachers are monitored and tracked just as obsessively as their students, with administrators and businessmen seeking to attach a numerical measure of value to judge every teacher’s worth. Teachers are assigned labels based on test scores, sometimes resulting in bizarre situations where teachers are evaluated solely on the scores of students they never taught; for the non-testing grades of early elementary school, this unfair system can result in many very good teachers going overlooked, or even leaving the field of education entirely.

The truth is, if we want our students to meet these goals; if we want them to be happy and successful at school and in life, and yes, even if we want them to score well on those critical tests that are so much the focus of our school year, we won’t get there by engaging in competition. Even young children can tell you that in any contest, there are winners and losers. And most teachers would tell those very same young children not to call any of their classmates a “loser.” We all know that that kind of name-calling hurts feelings. The same thing that is true for young students is also true for adults: being forced to compete or measure up to some arbitrary goal based on other’s judgments produces very little motivation and creates a lot of resentment instead. It actually runs counter to the goal of producing excellence in the learning environment, by any measure. 

Of course, when you ask a good teacher what kinds of qualities they want to instill in their young students, you’ll hear a lot about the kinds of traits that make up a person of good character: kindness, cooperation, respect. After that, you might hear some academic goals: a student who can read fluently, or who asks a lot of intelligent questions. Many teachers will say that their goal is to inspire children to love learning; they want their students to genuinely enjoy reading, or science, or to see the beauty and usefulness in math. Some teachers, aware that their jobs may depend on it, will mention something about test scores near the end of a very long list. Most won’t mention them at all.

Just as our students all have different strengths, weaknesses, interests, and goals, we teachers are the same way! When we work in competition with each other instead of working with each other as a team, we lose out on a lot of great ideas. Not only that, we lose out on the chance to be the best teachers we can be, simply because we aren’t getting support from the people most qualified to offer it: the teachers who work with the same students we do, in the same school, and often even at the same grade level. Newer teachers especially can benefit from the kinds of mentoring relationships offered when teachers work together. Such a system does not have to be very formally structured; often, it is enough to know that another teacher has encountered a similar problem in the past and probably has an idea of how to overcome it.

Just as we often place students in learning groups because we know that doing so allows each child to shine, we can take advantage of similar arrangements among teachers. Not every teacher has a passion for creating creative and colorful classroom displays or bulletin boards, but if you can find the one teacher in your grade level who does, you can get ideas from her. You might be able to offer something you’re great at in exchange, like an organizational system that can keep track of the endless piles of required paperwork, or some new ideas to breathe new life into old and tired homework assignments, projects, or required reading lists. When teachers work together as a team, they not only work better, it’s likely that they also have more fun. When everyone knows they can count on their fellow teachers to support them, they’re more likely to be willing to lend a hand, and staff meetings will become more relaxed because the people attending them are genuinely willing to spend time together. How often do teachers approach grade level team meetings as just one more thing that they have to do? It’s easy to think of those meetings as a time stealer, where you are forced to sacrifice something else you could be getting done. And if everyone on the grade level is in competition with each other, that’s often exactly what those meetings become: time stealers. But just think what would happen if you knew going into those meetings that you would be able to both give and receive help, ideas, and support. You’d be a lot more willing to spend a few minutes - even an hour or two - talking to other teachers if you knew for certain that you’d leave the meeting with fewer problems than when you entered, wouldn’t you?

Teachers have a lot to do already, but collaborating with other teachers doesn’t have to be complicated. Just try this: the next time you go into a staff meeting, enter with one problem you would like help to solve, and one idea you would like to share with your fellow teachers. And ask everyone else on your grade level team to do the same.

Sep 11, 2016

Tips & Resources for Struggling Readers

Struggling Readers

Reading is the key for every door that leads to positive growth for students, but what happens when a student is struggling? Comprehension and fluency are two of the trickiest traits when it comes to literacy, and sometimes kids fall through the cracks and miss out on important skills to bridge gaps. Here are a few tips to help out your struggling readers in the classroom!

   Guided reading groups  For most teachers, guided reading groups are common practice. One of the most important parts of guided reading is to ensure that you break down your class into appropriate small groups so you can focus on the specific needs of each child. If you have a few students struggling with their fluency, bring them together in a guided reading group so that you can give each student the individual attention he or she needs. With guided reading groups, you can model effective and positive reading skills while simultaneously monitoring student progress and developing reading proficiency!

  Partner reading  Kids love working together, especially with a friend! If the student is struggling, he may not feel as confident reading out loud in a “round robin” setting or in a large group. Have the student pair with a friend, though, and magic can happen! Students can work together to pick out words that are tricky and provide definitions. They can help one another clarify the meaning o f a paragraph, which encourages comprehension skills. With a partner, your struggling reader will feel more comfortable reading aloud, which is a positive step towards fluency and CONFIDENCE!

  Connect to the real world Students love it when they can connect what they are reading to what’s going on outside of school walls, or what’s going on in their lives. If the story is about fishing and you have a student who loves to fish, don’t turn him away—involve him! Ask him to share some of his knowledge with his classmates. Ask for clarification on jargon. On the other hand, if the story relates to current events, let the students do some independent or partner research and present to the class. Keep your students “in the loop” to get them “in the zone” for reading!

  Level for success Quite often, we think that a student’s reading level is the same as his grade level. Remember: fluency and comprehension are NOT the same thing! Find a system that works for you, whether it be the Independent Reading Level Assessment (IRLA), Accelerated Reader (AR), or another assessment tool. Make sure that the student is leveled properly, meaning that he is given books that are appropriate for his current reading abilities. If the student is in fifth grade, he may not be ready for fifth grade books and materials, but instead needs to show that he can complete chapter books at a third grade level. It’s okay if your students are on different levels!

  Conference with your students A conference can take three to five minutes and be highly effective for your students! Meet with the child once a week, and have the child bring along the book he is reading at the moment. Ask the child to read maybe a paragraph or a page from it, and then develop a short-term goal. For example, ask the child to summarize the paragraph. If he struggles, set that as his goal for next week. If he succeeds with that, ask him to make predictions about what could happen next. Keep building on goals for success! Conferences also help you as a teacher to see the progress a student is making.

  I CAN! Statements These statements are aligned to the Common Core and are just plain awesome. Each statement pertains to a specific standard within the grade-appropriate curriculum, and they are all positive! Have a student uses these statements during their reading and language arts time to promote a “can-do” attitude that encourages a growth mindset. It’s important to always build on the students’ strengths, and these statements are a great place to start! Check out the link at the end of this post for more!

  Keep the students engaged! Most importantly, always keep the students engaged during reading time. A student who is not focused is a student who will not make gains in comprehension or fluency. Provide hands-on activities that encourage students to ask questions while they work. Let the students constantly interact with the materials instead of just reading from a textbook or listening to the teacher lecture! Get them involved and watch them grow!

To get students really interacting with their ELA curriculum, one of the most invaluable resources is an interactive reading notebook! These notebooks keep the students consistently engaged with fun activities while promoting a positive attitude towards learning (like using I CAN! Statements). It holds the student accountable for his/her reading gains and growth in an enjoyable way, and the notebooks are awesome to share with friends or family! Follow the link below for interactive reading notebooks for grades 1st through 4th.


Sep 7, 2016

Why You Should Get Your Students Up & Moving!

Studies show that increased time in physical education usually has positive effects on learning. Increased time at recess increases attention, concentration, and focus. Incorporating physical activity into the daily routine of the classroom also helps children learn. It is not surprising to anyone who spends time around young children that they are constantly moving. Why? Well, children just aren’t designed to sit still. Children have been learning about the world around them every second of every day since they were born. And they’ve been learning about that world by moving through it! Young children are holistic learners, gathering information through all of their senses and attempting to answer questions the way that scientists do: by forming hypotheses and testing them. Many of those hypotheses involve trying different ways of making their body work. Children want to know how fast they can run, how high they can climb, and what kinds of things they can build and make. The only way they can test these questions is to move their bodies. Most elementary school students are still just learning how to think of concepts abstractly; it is much easier for them to understand ideas by working with physical objects. On top of that, children who are told to “sit still” all day are spending a huge portion of their brain power just trying to keep control of their body and preventing themselves from doing what they are naturally designed to do. Physical activity does not necessarily have to require huge changes to a teacher’s daily classroom routine. Giving students the option of standing while working at their desks or offering students a stress ball to squeeze when sitting is required will probably not disrupt anyone else and will help increase the level of focus and attention in the classroom.

Physical activity doesn’t just give children a break from learning, it actually helps them learn! Executive function refers to the mental processes necessary to focus, prioritize incoming information, stay on task, and remember and learn new information and skills. In other words, in order for a child to be able to learn any of the academic content taught in school, he or she must have sufficiently well-developed executive function to be able to make sense of the information being provided by the teacher and textbook. The great news is that physical activity has been shown to increase executive function. Children respond more quickly and more accurately to cognitive tasks: things like academic questions, quizzes, and complex puzzles, after engaging in physical activity for thirty minutes. Students who return to class after a physical education class or active recess are able to sustain focused attention for far longer, display more on-task behavior for an extended period of time, and retain the learned information for longer than students who do not have the benefit of physical activity. Students can even gain these benefits at home, if they walk or jog while trying to remember spelling words or important facts while studying for a quiz. Physical activity encodes information in the brain far better than simply hearing or reading it. It doesn’t have to be a full exercise routine either; simply teaching your students how to finger-spell a word will help them remember how to spell it better than just looking at the letters.
Physical activity does not have to last a long time to be beneficial. Even adults struggle to focus on reading a book or a computer screen, or taking a test, for a long period of time without a break. After a certain amount of time, most of us find that we've been reading the same sentence over and over, or that we cannot remember what we've just read. Students are the same way. A few minutes of motion can be enough to let the brain reset to come back to the task with fresh eyes and a fresh mind. It can help boost
students' moods as well, helping them to associate learning with fun and positive feelings, which will also help them to remember the information a lot longer. And, physical activity can help children calm down if they are feeling frustrated by a learning task that seems to difficult.
Ready to get your students up and moving? Check out these activities!
 Include dance and multicultral fun in your classroom!
Great Activities for 3rd-8th Grade and Around the World Units!
Students will learn over 18 different traditional and cultural dances from Italy, Russia, Africa, India, China, and Mexico! There are 20 video links (QR Codes as well as URL Links) included to see dancers in action! Get your students up and DANCING!
Get your students up and moving! Students will learn all about different biomes and animal adaptations while participating in an engaging physical activity!  30 animals in 5 different biomes are waiting to be discovered! Biomes include Forest, Desert, Tundra, Tropical Rainforest, and Aquatic(Saltwater).  Students find one animal per round. They fill out their “Biomedex”, recording data and answering questions about the animal they have just discovered. When they are done, they will go and hide the biome animal for the next classmate to find.

Do your students need a brain break? These fun and interactive activities will get them up and moving! Use them to re-energize your students when they need it!

Sep 6, 2016

Developing a Growth Mindset in the Classroom

“I’m just not good at this. I’m stupid.”

How many teachers have heard a student say that before? There is a distinctive difference between a fixed mindset and a growth mindset in children. Every teacher has no doubt encountered a student with a “fixed mindset.” When a student is in such a state of mind, he believes that his intelligence and talents are “fixed,” or that they cannot be changed. He believes that what he was born with is what he will always have, leaving no opportunity for growth.

A fixed mindset can be dangerous to the student’s potential and self-worth. One of the biggest threats it poses is that the student may start to tell himself that he “just can’t learn it” and will provide a nice, long list of excuses as to why he’s failing—“I’m just not good at math,” or “This is too hard, anyways,” or “I’m tired, I just don’t feel like doing it” (which is what we say to ourselves every day when we walk into the classroom, right?). Deep down, though, he will be convinced that his intelligence doesn’t match up with his peers, and so, feeling inferior, he will shy away from learning.

The fixed mindset monster rears its ugly head the most when the student resigns to just “going through the motions” instead of constantly growing and developing his or her skills. And we, as teachers, know that when a student decides he’s “dumb” or “stupid,” it creates a domino effect and slows down the student’s learning pace. The more he believes that he cannot do it, the further he will fall behind and be in danger of never catching up.

So how do we create a “growth mindset” in the classroom? How do we work towards creating students who are eager to learn and achieve and conquer challenges? A growth mindset is when the student believes he can constantly improve his abilities with a little bit of hard work and a lot of dedication. It’s when the student understands that his intelligence and level of talent is fluid and can always be improved, no matter what. When students come to class with a growth mindset, they are quick learners, absorb material like sponges, and open to all challenges because challenges are an opportunity to prove how hard they’ve been working. It’s every teacher’s dream to have a class full of students with growth mindsets, so how can you accomplish such a feat?

One of the most important things to know is that a growth mindset can be taught. It’s not a genetic trait! Proven time and time again to be effective is intentional and specific praise. For example, if you have a student who is below grade level in math and is missing a lot of basic skills, he may feel “dumb” compared to his classmates. If you notice that the student is working on a math problem, stand by him and show your support. Even if there are a few computation errors, praise the student! Tell him that you can see how hard he is working and how much you appreciate that he’s taking his time. Instead of saying, “Good job! You’re so smart,” try saying, “I really love how hard you’re working on this problem, let’s take a look at it together!” Instead of praising his intelligence, praise his work ethic.

To encourage a growth mindset, it is important that students learn how to set goals for themselves. Make sure they are obtainable goals! If you have the time, meet with each child individually, maybe on a Friday, and talk about something that they did wonderfully during the week. Praise their efforts and let them shine! Then set a simple, reachable goal for next week and conference again. Let the students track their progress and show off what they’ve accomplished. If the student feels a sense of pride for his work, he will want to do something more challenging the next time to prove himself. Let it happen! It’s important to highlight successes rather than failures.

A growth mindset is one of the most important skills that we, as teachers, can hand off to our students. With a little bit of praise and a lot of patience, every student can reach his or her maximum potential!


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