When I became the principal of Fuller Elementary in Chicago, there were certain groups of students – particularly our male students – who were noticeably lagging behind their peers. My team and I knew it was important to close this student achievement gap, engage all students in the learning process, and better prepare our students for success on their state tests, in later grades, and beyond.
Our turnaround story is one that is still in process; however, we have already made great strides using a multi-faceted approach. Here are three ways we are working to drive student achievement and make our improvement goals a reality.
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Build a data culture
Data is so powerful in driving change in the classroom – from the way teachers teach to the way students learn. We started really delving into performance data to determine how groups of students were performing on grade-level standards. This allowed teachers to then individualize their instruction accordingly to meet the varied learning needs of all students.
Until all students are treated equally and given access to similar educational resources, we have little chance of achieving equality in K-12 schools. Ultimately, students must have the tools and resources they need not only to graduate, but to be prepared for post-high school success.
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Checking off all of these boxes isn’t always easy in traditional educational settings, where many schools have yet to tap into the value of online, blended, and/or personalized learning. In most cases, the roadblocks include (but aren’t limited to) teacher shortages, curriculum imbalances, language barriers, the difficulty level of STEM/AP/IB courses, and a lack of financial resources at the district level.
How online learning promotes equality and equity in schools
By providing all students access to high-quality college and career-ready curriculum, and up-to-date instructional materials, tools, computers, and related technology, schools can not only break down the equity barriers, but also prepare their students for a lifetime of success.
Esports is booming, from K-12 right on up to college and at the professional level. As more districts start K-12 esports leagues of their own, the academic and social-emotional benefits become increasingly clear.
Roughly a year and a half ago, leaders in the Grapevine-Colleyville Independent School District (GCISD) in Texas, which has been 1:1 for 8 years, noticed the growing esports trend at the collegiate level. The district was already partnered with Dell for technology initiatives, prompting Kyle Bergerr, the district’s chief technology officer, to look a bit closer at esports’ relevance at the K-12 level.
“I felt like high school was about to explode in this,” he says. In the Dallas-Fort Worth area alone, he adds, there are four professional esports teams, leading lots of momentum to build around esports at the high school level.
“Is our job in education to prepare kids for the future–an unknown future? Can we do everything we can to help them get to the collegiate level? This was an untapped area,” Berger says. “We wanted to get a pipeline of kids into college for esports, just like athletics.”
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Last fall, the district surveyed students to gauge their interest in esports. Based on that survey, about 50 percent of students said they might be interested. When all was said and done, Berger had 75 esports athletes between the district’s two high schools. Athletes were divided into teams and played games such as League of Legends and Rocket League.
A majority of educators (79 percent) and 86 percent of parents in a survey say edtech including laptops, video content, and STEM products, is becoming a crucial part of classroom education at every level.
The new Consumer Technology Association (CTA) survey includes responses from parents and educators of children in preschool through 12th grade, gauging their views on the use of edtech in classrooms.
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“A growing number of parents and teachers agree that tech is a powerful tool for education, over a wide range of subjects,” says Lesley Rohrbaugh, director of research, CTA. “Tech is helping children learn at every stage of education–from early language training all the way to mastering STEM concepts.”
Key study findings show nine in 10 parents (92 percent) and educators (88 percent) agree students enjoy interacting with technology. Given tech’s growing trend of anytime/anywhere access, 91 percent of parents and 87 percent of educators agree tech allows students increased access to education.
As a fifth grade teacher, I used to spend hours hunting for math materials and exercises. If I had to teach my math class a standard skill, like adding fractions with different denominators, I would flip through thick binders of exercises, maybe printing up a few. Then I’d search online, where I’d inevitably find an avalanche of teaching resources, including loads of useless resources. It took hours to winnow the mathematical wheat from the chaff.
Like most elementary teachers I know, I’m responsible for teaching all subject areas. That means more lesson prep work to prepare for each class. The work to prepare high-quality lessons day-in and day-out for all classes has only grown more challenging in recent years, particularly in English (ELA) and math. Most teachers nationwide now teach to Common Core standards.
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In Connecticut, where I teach in a public grade school, we’ve had Common Core since 2011. This gives teachers a daunting to-do list for their math classes. For each standard, whether forming algebraic expressions or classifying two-dimensional shapes, we must find reliable teaching resources. To check out each offering, and vet its viability, a teacher often goes through the search results one by one. It’s a painstaking process, especially for a single subject that takes only one period of the crowded day.
Mindfulness has become a buzzword in schools over the past few years. Many schools have hired mindfulness professionals to work with their students and faculty. According to scientist and meditation teacher Jon Kabat-Zinn, “Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally.”
As the daughter of two developmental psychologists, I was introduced early to the concept of being mindful, though I am not proficient at being mindful in my own life. After 19 years of teaching adolescents and then having children of my own, I have become more aware of the importance of mindfulness. I decided to spend time throughout the year improving my mindful skills. My goal was to decrease anxiety in myself, my students, and my children. I also hoped to create a space where I was thinking more positively.
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1. I dropped all social media for the summer
With my mindfulness mission in mind, I decided to try out life without social media for the summer. This meant getting at least an hour or two back every day (100+ hours total for the months of July and August).
To be honest, the first week was a little more difficult than I expected. I tried to meditate during the time that I had been wasting scrolling through random pictures, but I found it difficult to concentrate. I started reading instead and was able to burn through a few books in just two weeks.
In Phenix City, using AR and VR in the classroom has been an integral part of our STEM programming for the past four school years. Using engaging technology, our educators are bringing lessons and scientific applications to life for our students, exposing them to new worlds and opportunities, both academic and career.
To ensure our students are engaged and excited about our STEM programming, I frequently solicit feedback from them to learn about their experiences in the classroom. We use AR and VR lessons from zSpace, and they are consistently listed among the favorite learning experiences by our students.
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After watching students enthusiastically embrace AR and VR in the classroom over the past four years, 10 reasons clearly emerge as to why these immersive technologies are poised to make such an impact on our students.
1. Outstanding visualizations
Located in a small Alabama town in an area with poverty levels above the national average, many Phenix City students are faced with limited opportunities. However, in our STEM classrooms — and all across Phenix City Schools — we have adopted the vision of providing the best possible experiences through quality educational technology.
As classroom teachers, we are always on the lookout for new resources and services that will benefit every student in our school. One day we encountered an edtech resource that would deliver curated, safe, and vetted digital media to teachers that would empower them to create dynamic digital learning environments for their students.
While we knew the addition of this resource–Discovery Education Experience–would drastically shift the work and culture of our staff, thanks to incredibly supportive peers and administrators at both the school and district level, we felt inspired and empowered to create a path that would bring this service to our school while drastically shifting the work and culture of our staff. Together, we worked for change while delivering this valued instructional resource.
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Here are the steps we took to convince our school system to bring the resources we wanted for our students to our classrooms:
Step 1: Did the homework
First, you need to make sure there really is a need for the edtech resource you want. Together we carefully researched the services our school already had to make sure what we wanted was not already available. Then, we polled our colleagues to get a sense of their thoughts and found, like us, they wanted the type of service we sought and that they would make great use of it.
A diverse and inclusive education workforce can play a critical role in ensuring that students receive a robust, quality educational experience. But an alarmingly low rate of black male educators has researchers looking for ways to strengthen diversity and improve recruitment efforts.
While students of color make up more than half of PreK-12 classroom populations in the United States, overcoming the shortage of educators of color has been a decades-long dilemma for U.S. schools, according to research from the University of Phoenix.
The shortage is especially alarming among black male educators, who represent less than 2 percent of the total teaching population. Recruiting black male educators has been a longstanding challenge and remains a critical topic in educational reform, but studies on the factors contributing to the shortage remain scarce.
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Researchers from University of Phoenix (UOPX) Center for Workplace Diversity and Inclusion Research, in partnership with the National Network of State Teachers of the Year (NNSTOY), examined the current status of black male educators in the nation’s classrooms. This exploration highlighted insights of fellows of the 2018 cohort of NNSTOY Outstanding Black Male Educators. Their reflective quotes and personal narratives were published in a joint white paper, entitled, “Having Our Say: Examining Career Trajectories of Black Male Educators in P-12 Education.”
Today’s teenagers are turning away from traditional media organizations and are getting their news from social media sites and YouTube, according to a new poll by Common Sense and SurveyMonkey.
More than half of teenagers say they get news at least a few times a week from social media platforms such as Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter. Half say they get their news from YouTube.
Six in 10 teens say they are most likely to get their news from celebrities, social media influencers, and social media personalities rather than from news organizations using the same platform.
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Even with so many relying on alternative sources for the majority of their news, teens are more confident in the news they get directly from news organizations. Of teens who get news of current events from news organizations, 65 percent say it helps them better understand what is going on. In contrast, just 53 percent of teens who get news from social media say it helps them better understand what is going on, while 19 percent say it has made them more confused about current events.