4 ways educators can combat rural brain drain

[Editor’s note: Today’s stories take a two-pronged look at rural brain drain. This story examines the issue from an educator’s perspective. Look at the issue from the tech community’s perspective here.]

More than 30 years ago, the Department of Justice researched and concluded that stronger families and communities create successful school environments. Fast forward to the present day, the importance of that link between the community and school is still vital for student success. There’s a give and take relationship with the education system and its community, meaning higher standards and stronger school systems encourage the community outside of the school to succeed as well.

With this in mind, a common problem in rural area schools is bridging that gap between school books and real-world experiences – particularly when it comes to STEM. With STEM fields expanding, it’s important to show students in rural communities how they can learn to be innovators and problem solvers for this generation.…Read More

Why I use student-driven ideas in my curriculum

You might think that teaching a high school programming course in which students are asked to code simple games and interactive websites would be motivating and exciting, but there are unforeseen elements of dealing with the teenage brain and the influences on their lives that seem to creep into the most well-designed plans. Students come to class with various types of anxiety, fears, and coping issues from daily stresses. They are also distracted with social media and the availability of instant information at their fingertips. As teachers, how do we keep them engaged and focused on their learning with the overwhelming amount of social and emotional distractions in their lives?

Student-driven ideas: the key to keeping students engaged

Keeping students on task is a constant challenge, so when I observed some students playing an online game when they were supposed to be working on an assignment, my first reaction was to ask them to close the program. Then I began to wonder why they were so fixated on playing this particular game. I wasn’t dealing with the typical Fortnite addiction; this was an escape-room game. (If you are not familiar with an escape-room game, Wikipedia defines it as a “physical adventure game in which players solve a series of puzzles and riddles using clues, hints, and strategies to complete the objectives at hand.” I asked these students why they liked this game and they eagerly gave me their reasons, which revolved around conquering a personal challenge.

I realized that students didn’t seem thrilled about the work I asked them to do. Instead, they decided to switch to something different that caught their attention and motivated them to challenge themselves. My lesson had some important elements of coding included so I didn’t want to toss it out completely, but I wondered if I could use the “escape room” idea to spark a new level of interest in my plans. Should I let my student’s interest and/or distraction drive my curriculum?…Read More

5 things to avoid saying to students suffering from anxiety

[Editor’s note: Don’t miss our companion piece, “5 things to say to students suffering from anxiety.”]

Currently, schools are being inundated with cases of anxiety in young adults. Although the dramatic increase in attention being paid to the illness has been beneficial to those suffering, the difficulty lies in the fact that everyone thinks they understand anxiety and how to overcome it.

As a public high school administrator, I lead interventions for students in poor academic standing. Although many students have logistical circumstances keeping them from being successful—homelessness, employment, learning disabilities, etc.—many of them are school avoidant because of anxiety that is, quite frankly, debilitating.…Read More

The changing role of literacy today, part 2

We know we must teach children to read proficiently, yet the age-old challenge of getting a child to read on grade level still persists. Fortunately, science and technology are providing a roadmap.

Science tells us that when we are born, we house all of the tools to learn to speak. On the other hand, we must learn the skill of reading. There is no corresponding “reading center” to the language center in our brains. Instead, every child must go through the meticulous task of learning to read; through the amazing adaptive abilities of the brain we can acquire a skill that was invented only a few thousand years ago.

According to Professor Maryanne Wolf, John DiBiaggio professor of citizenship and public service, director of the Center for Reading and Language Research, and professor in the Eliot-Pearson Department of Child Study and Human Development at Tufts University, “It took our species roughly 2,000 years to make the cognitive breakthroughs necessary to learn to read with an alphabet … our children have to reach those same insights about print in roughly 2,000 days.” Those 2,000 days are roughly from birth to about first grade—in other words, at a fairly fast pace.…Read More

Can I give you some feedback? And other ways to not offer ideas

[Editor’s note: This is the fifth installment in Jennifer Abrams’ ‘Personal Development’ column for eSchool News. In her columns, Abrams focuses on leadership skills for anyone working in a school or district. Read more about the column here.]  

Have you ever heard the question, “Can I give you some feedback?” Did you want to say “No” immediately? Did your fight-or-flight reflex go into hyper mode? If so, you are not alone. Framing feedback with that question starter has a neurologically negative impact.

In “SCARF: a brain-based model for collaborating with and influencing others,” Dr. David’s Rock article in NeuroLeadership Journal, he states: “In most people, the question ‘Can I offer you some feedback?’ generates a similar response to hearing fast footsteps behind you at night. Performance reviews often generate status threats, explaining why they are often ineffective at stimulating behavioral change.”…Read More

A student’s perspective on the promise of technology

To be a young adult in 2018 means to have gone through school during a very revolutionary time, technologically speaking. Throughout the 2000s, classrooms in America saw everything from basic overhead projectors and boomboxes to state-of-the-art computer labs and virtual reality headsets. The implementation of technology in schools alters the fundamental teaching structure in ways that can render significant improvements in productivity. We should be careful to not allow these new methods to overpower traditional teaching techniques, but rather find ways to use technology to enhance the world of education, given its ability to stimulate the developing brain in ways that traditional education cannot.

Only a few decades ago, education consisted solely of a flock of diverse students being taught one singular way, by one teacher, in one room, on one platform. Until lately, there was not much opportunity to customize learning for different types of students, who possess different learning styles. The use of technology in classrooms over the years has increasingly provided more and more opportunities for each type of student to learn at the pace they require to reach their fullest potential. For example, many schools now offer curriculums entirely online to be completed in the students’ own time, allowing each of them to progress at their own pace. This can help them achieve a more well-rounded understanding of the material by being able to spend more time on subjects they struggle with, and less time on topics they may already know enough about.

With current cell phones possessing more computing power than NASA in 1969, it’s no surprise that technology has made access to learning much easier. The internet alone yields vast amounts of information—although one must still be able to sift through fact from fiction. Sites like JSTOR.org and other digital libraries full of academic journals, books, and primary sources make hunting down valuable content a breeze. In addition, finding ways to incorporate social media into the classroom can help bring a “real world” feel to teaching lessons. Whether it be forming a class Facebook group, using Pinterest to brainstorm ideas, requiring students to blog, or creating a class hashtag on Twitter, students will thrive off of this familiarity and if anything, it will help convert social media into a tool rather than a distraction.…Read More

5 ways teachers can improve student learning based on current brain research

The brain is an experience-dependent organ. From our very earliest days, the brain begins to map itself to our world as we experience it through our senses. The mapping is vague and fuzzy at first, like a blurred photograph or an un-tuned piano. However, the more we interact with the world, the more well-defined our brain maps become until they are fine-tuned and differentiated. But each person’s map will vary, with some sensory experiences more distinct than others depending on the unique experiences and the clarity and frequency of the sensations he or she has experienced.

Educators can positively influence students’ learning by understanding how the brain is shaped by their early experiences—and how it can be rewired and reorganized to work more quickly and efficiently.

The Plastic Brain and the Critical Period…Read More

Researchers: Math needs a more visual approach

Stanford University researchers aim to dispel the belief that students should not use their fingers to learn mathematics

Taking a more visual approach to math instruction at the K-12 and higher-ed levels could dramatically change brain development as it relates to future math success, according to a new paper from Stanford researchers.

SEEING AS UNDERSTANDING: The Importance of Visual Mathematics for our Brain and Learning,” supports the use of visual mathematics and developing “finger discrimination” in students because it could result in higher math achievement.

According to co-authors Stanford University mathematics researcher Dr. Jo Boaler and brain researcher Dr. Lang Chen, the human brain can visualize a representation of the fingers during math problems. This provides an opportunity for further research and pedagogical development.…Read More

What do we really mean by risk taking in the classroom?

It’s important for students to learn risk taking skills. But how do schools do that without taking some big risks themselves?

Let’s face it. We are of two minds when it comes to how we feel about kids and risk taking. We know that the teenage brain is wired to ignore consequences and to take risks without any adult encouragement, so parents spend a lot of time trying to keep their kids from doing stupid things like drinking and driving or having unprotected sex.

In the classroom, however, risk taking is often viewed as a good thing. We educators tend to praise and encourage students to take gambles and learn from their mistakes. At least, that’s what we say.

This idea can raise a few hackles and more than a few questions. What characterizes a “good risk?” How can we create a culture of risk taking in our classrooms? And what might we currently be doing that discourages risk taking in our students?…Read More