3 keys to a successful community literacy initiative

Finding a school district that doesn’t have a literacy initiative extending beyond the walls of the classroom would likely be quite a challenge these days. And that’s as it should be! Reading is, as the cliché goes, fundamental. It’s a basic academic skill that helps students learn any other skill they will need to develop.

Building a strong, effective literacy initiative takes more than just asking students and community members to read together and planning a party to celebrate success at the end (though the parties are great, too!).

At Garland Independent School District, we’ve found that there are three keys to a successful literacy initiative: establishing clear goals, ensuring equitable access to reading material for every student, and building community partnerships from day one.

Related content: How we turned around our district’s literacy scores

By focusing on those elements, our program has seen amazing results in its first year. While the program is still ongoing, between May 31 and September 1, participants have read more than 109,000 books in more than 784,000 minutes. More than 59,000 students had access to myON in that time and each student has so far spent a whopping 1,326 minutes reading on average.


5 strategies to engage students with attention issues

Engaging students with attention issues and ADHD—rather than just managing their behavior—should be a goal for every teacher. Teachers worry, though, that they will have to create a separate curriculum or otherwise alter how they teach.

Not so, said Ezra Werb, M.Ed., an educational therapist and author, in his edWebinar “Engagement Strategies for Students with Attention Challenges: Lower Anxiety and Raise Confidence.” During his presentation, he offered strategies to lessen the anxieties of students with attention issues. These strategies can also raise their confidence, so they can meet the same goals as their peers who do not struggle with attention issues.

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1. Get interest rates up. Students’ interests aren’t talked about enough or used to a teacher’s advantage, said Werb. He suggested asking all students about their hobbies, likes, and activities. Then, the teacher can sprinkle these into the lessons, e.g., using favorite cartoon characters in word problems or having students write profiles of athletes, to grab attention. By meeting students in their areas of expertise, anxiety goes down and interest goes up.


3 digital tools that are shifting the teacher’s role

Technology has infused classrooms with useful digital learning tools and has ushered in a new model of connected teaching. Teachers are now linked to professional content, resources, and systems designed to improve instruction and increase personalized learning.

But are all these tech tools making a teacher’s job easier. or more difficult and time-consuming? Teachers are now expected to have data analysis skills at a much deeper level than required in the past.

Related content: 12 findings about K-12 digital learning

In today’s digital world, they are expected to manage a great deal of technology–at least three different platforms to input their own data, student attendance, grades, and lesson plans. They are required to help their students access multitudes of apps and websites for various learning and support. They are also expected to view and use data they or others gather to inform instruction. They are expected to create individualized lesson plans for each child’s learning needs.


We need to put robotics in rural schools

Rural schools in the United States face challenges many of their suburban counterparts couldn’t fathom. For example, access to challenging and engaging STEM courses such as robotics and coding is not as prevalent in rural schools as it is in larger districts. But one district is aiming to make it easier for students to access robotics in rural schools.

Out of the Loop,” a 2018 report from The National School Boards Association Center for Public Education, notes that “rural students have significantly less access to STEM-focused AP courses” and that gaps such as this “may indicate that rural students have limited access to academically rigorous programs.”

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eSchool News Robotics Guide

The eSchool News Robotics Guide is here! It features strategies to help you effectively integrate robotics into instruction, along with tips to find the right robotics resources to successfully teach key concepts. A new eSchool News Guide will launch each month–don’t miss a single one!

One rural district in North Dakota is fighting this statistic with a K-12 STEAM program that prepares students for the future by teaching 21st-century skills necessary in today’s–and tomorrow’s–workforce.

Alexander, North Dakota, epitomizes small-town America. A 2017 estimate puts the population at 308, and the Alexander Public School serves around 260 K-12 students. Seeing a need to instill future workforce skills in their students, the district implemented their K-12 STEAM program, which includes coding and robotics, about five years ago. Superintendent Leslie Bieber attended a conference and had the opportunity to learn to program robots. When she returned, she worked with former robotics team coach Alexandria Brummond, who at the time was the school’s second-grade teacher. “The program developed over the years,” says Bieber, eventually including a TETRIX class, which then became a FIRST Tech Challenge class and team.


5 takeaways about the state of edtech today

Using the right edtech tools, combined with knowledgeable and confident teaching, can help accelerate student learning, according to Promethean’s 2019 U.S. State of Technology report.

The report surveyed educators to offer a comprehensive views of current classroom technologies, adoption, usage, and trends over the next five years.

Eighty-six percent of teachers and 82 percent of administrators agree that edtech tools improve achievement, according to the report, which analyzes edtech trends and usage.

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Eighty-three percent of surveyed administrators and 74 percent of surveyed teachers say they are “constantly striving to innovate by using technology as a tool for education.”

Administrators’ edtech priorities include using technology to boost engagement (61 percent), using technology to enhance collaboration (46 percent), using edtech to boost teacher productivity (29 percent), and ensuring student and other important data is protected online (26 percent).

While almost all respondents understand edtech’s benefits, the data indicates legacy infrastructure, organizational inertia, and competing priorities continue to act as barriers to adoption.


How this school designed a robotics program from the ground up

As a former computer engineer with a background in applied math, I’m a firm proponent of STEM education. As a math teacher with 14 years of experience facilitating robotics clubs for students, I’m also an ardent supporter of programming and robotics as a vehicle for STEM ed, so when I had the opportunity to build a K–5 robotics program from the lab up, I leapt at the opportunity.

Our school is a brand-new Title 1 campus. We’re in our first year and just opened in August, so we’re still tweaking and learning as we go, but we’ve developed a solid foundation for introducing students—even those who are very young—to a range of STEM and other concepts in an environment that feels more like fun than work. Here’s how we did it.

Kindergarten & 1st grade

When I was designing the robotics program, I wanted to make sure we were building a bridge from kindergarten all the way to 5th grade and beyond, so our program is designed to be progressive throughout the six years students are with us and to set them up for more advanced robotics in middle and high school, should they choose to pursue it.

Related: 11 educators share how they bring coding into the classroom

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eSchool News Robotics Guide

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For kindergartners and first graders, we use two products: LEGO’s STEAM Park and KinderLab’s KIBO.

STEAM Park uses Duplo LEGO bricks and gears, pulleys, and other simple machines to help very young children begin to understand concepts like leverage, chain reactions, motion, measurement, and even buoyancy, which isn’t usually introduced until 2nd grade.


Building and sustaining a strong math culture

Current employment trends and future projections all point towards continued growth in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) jobs, as well as the need for STEM-related skills in other fields. Yet, recent math proficiency levels among American students remain low, at just 44 percent in fourth grade and 33 percent at the eighth-grade level, and the math score trend lines are not showing significant improvement.

The attitudes of many students toward math are also not positive, and in order to improve those attitudes and actual math performance, David Woods, a senior director at Dreambox Learning, explained during a recent edWebinar how developing a strong math culture can engage students in authentic and effective learning, and result in increased achievement.

Related content: How we created a growth mindset in math

Using a problem-solution approach, Woods outlined a number of the challenges educators face when teaching math, and he explained training and planning strategies designed to address those issues. He also identified classroom techniques teachers can use to help students improve their math performance and attitudes.

Preparing to build a strong math culture

Surveys have shown that it’s not only the students who may have a negative attitude toward math. Many K-5 teachers perceived themselves as being “bad” at math, and therefore may have their own “math anxiety” when trying to teach the subject. This can impact the effectiveness of their instruction, as well as the cues they may transmit to students, thereby perpetuating the same feelings, attitudes, and achievement levels.


States are questioning teacher evaluation systems

Since the 2015 passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), a large number of states have backed away from recently enacted policies that were designed to breathe new life into moribund teacher and principal evaluation systems, according to new research from the National Council on Teacher Quality.

No fewer than 30 states have recently withdrawn at least one of the evaluation reforms that they adopted during a flurry of national activity between 2009 and 2015.

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Those reforms were in response to compelling evidence that evaluation systems served no real purpose, giving almost all educators the same rating and relying almost entirely on subjective measures, rather than objective evidence of a teacher’s contribution to student learning.

“The federal law passed in 2015, in fulfilling its pledge to return more authority to states, removed the political cover states needed to make these changes,” said NCTQ President Kate Walsh. “Given the intense pressure on states to backtrack, the outcome may not be surprising, but it is disheartening.”


5 TED-Ed Lessons to introduce students to robotics

Robotics is gaining popularity in classrooms across the country, moving from an old sci-fi concept to a way to engage students in STEM learning by solving real-world problems.

One of the hurdles, though, is in finding the right resources to introduce robotics. Sometimes, it all starts with a video and a simple lesson. You can find a variety of robotics-related videos on TED-Ed Lessons.

The TED-Ed platform is especially cool because educators can build lessons around any TED-Ed Original, TED Talk, or YouTube video. Once you find the video you want to use, you can use the TED-Ed Lessons editor to add questions, discussion prompts, and additional resources.

Related content: Off-the-wall TED-Ed Lessons for your classroom

Here are 5 robotics videos and lessons to get you started in your classroom:

1. Making a car for blind drivers: Using robotics, laser rangefinders, GPS and smart feedback tools, Dennis Hong is building a car for drivers who are blind. It’s not a “self-driving” car, he’s careful to note, but a car in which a non-sighted driver can determine speed, proximity and route–and drive independently.

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Great K-12 robotics apps for users of all abilities

K-12 robotics is having more than a moment–it’s on its way to establishing itself as a necessary component of a 21st-century education.

While it can seem overwhelming, it’s not as hard to incorporate K-12 robotics into your classroom. Apps offer an excellent way to gently move into robotics learning without feeling as if you’re in over your head.

Related content: Three key trends in robotics education

We’ve gathered a handful of K-12 robotics apps you can explore and use in your classroom. Test them out, and let us know if you have a favorite app you use in your classroom.

CoderZ: CoderZ is an online educational environment that improves students 21st century skills, while they are having fun programming their own virtual cyber robot. Since coding can be gamified, kids at early age can start learning how to code using visual coding interfaces. Programming a virtual Lego robot, with inputs (sensors) and outputs (motors) can give all students the opportunity to get into coding without having any prior knowledge in programming or robotics.

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eSchool News Robotics Guide

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