E-Learning eliminates snow days

With winter storms popping up all over the country (and let’s not forget about the polar vortex!) many schools have closed their doors during inclement weather this winter. In fact, scores of them have already depleted their allotted snow time and are now planning to extend the school year to make up the lost days. 

However, to avoid lengthening the school year some schools are leveraging the power of technology to overcome the weather. Rather than announcing a typical snow day and cancelling school, some buildings are using technology to extend learning to the home. In this article from Education Week, the superintendent of the 939-student Fort Recovery district in western Ohio, Shelly Vaughn, said, "It's much better to have a day of e-learning instruction right now than if we held a makeup day when the weather's nice."

From posting assignments online to using video lessons, snow days are not getting in the way of education in Ohio.  The district even has a plan in place for students who may not have access to a computer at home. All students have up to two weeks to complete the “snow day” assignments and can also receive a hard copy of the assignment from their teachers when school is back in session.

In addition to schools in Ohio, Gibault Catholic High School in Waterloo, Ill., has implemented academic social networks for snow days. These networks allow students to connect with each other and access resources needed for assignments and projects during "cancelled" school days.

Although this is a fairly new idea, I think we will see more and more schools implement this approach. Of course nothing can replace a great teacher, but giving students the responsibility to “work from home” will only benefit them in college and in careers.  

School principals feel the squeeze

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The Olympics in your classroom

It is official, the 2014 Olympic games have started and I fully admit to being one of the millions watching the different events this weekend. I'm forever amazed by the talent and perseverance of these athletes. Not to mention their accomplishments at their ages! I've also found it interesting to see more about the history of the games and the culture of Russia.

How can this all be translated into the classroom? Brittany of On Our Minds @Scholastic has a great round up of resources I wanted to be sure to share with everyone. Check it out here and see articles, book lists and more! Plus, on scholastic.com there is a feature on "The Science of the Olympics."

Teachers, how are you integrating the Olympics into your lessons?

Statistical skills are vital to career readiness

In an EdWeek post titled “Statistics: The New ‘It’ Common-Core Subject,” Anna E. Bargagliotti highlights the necessity of fostering data literacy. Bargagliotti, a math professor working on Project-SET (Statistics Education for Teachers), cites a McKinsey report stating the US will experience a shortage of people with analytical skills, including managers and analysts with the ability to use data to drive decisions.

Understanding statistics plays an important role in both the job market as well as citizenship. To fully grasp what’s going on in the news, business, and government, students must have statistical reasoning skills.

It begins with the ability to extract relevant information from charts and tables, but a sophisticated understanding of statistics will be necessary for students to pursue high-level jobs and opportunities. Companies (including ones outside the technology industry) and cities (see this article about data in NYC) rely on employees who can make sense of large amounts of data to drive decisions.

Educators, how do you prepare students to navigate a data-filled world? Share any advice on fostering data literacy in the comments below.

Doing math vs. knowing math

There is a big difference between getting the right answer and explaining how you got the right answer. Just ask renowned math educator Marilyn Burns, the founder of Math Solutions and creator of Math Reasoning Inventory (MRI). MRI is a formative assessment tool which helps teachers assess students’ numerical reasoning and understanding of math principles through conversations.

Like Marilyn Burns did when she laid the groundwork for MRI, many math teachers are having conversations with their students to hear how students ended up with any given answer.  A recent Education Week article explores the old adage in the math classroom of “I can't help you if I can't see what you did.” As the author explains, when requiring students to show their work, it may be taking away from a child’s mathematical thinking and weakening his or her problem solving skills. But when students explain their answer, they are sharing their mathematical thinking in a thoughtful and thorough way, while also contributing their opinions on incorrect responses.

I think this method is critical to confirming student comprehension. If the goal is understanding, and a student cannot explain their thought process and fully communicate how they got the answer, then they have not truly mastered the task at hand. It's easy to get stuck memorizing algorithms and processes.

As the Common Core Standards for Mathematical Practice say, “Mathematically proficient students are also able to compare the effectiveness of two plausible arguments, distinguish correct logic or reasoning from that which is flawed, and—if there is a flaw in an argument—explain what it is.”

Teachers: Do you have any strategies in getting your students to explain their answers?

Read often. Mostly silently. Focus on knowledge.

"Read often. Mostly silently. Focus on knowledge."

This is researcher and reading expert Freddy Hiebert's mantra in this article she released through her TextProject group recently. In it she makes the case for a renewed focus on helping children build "reading stamina," and that a person's ability to read silently and proficiently for long stretches of time is the key threshold for becoming a successful reader.

Deliberate practice makes all the difference, she argues.

"For any given activity, whether it is highly demanding (e.g. performing brain surgery or playing a Rachmaninoff piano concerto) or prosaic (e.g. riding a bike or using a computer keyboard), it is absurd to think that we can become proficient without participating extensively in the activity."

The problem, she says, is stamina has been pushed aside with NCLB's emphasis on "phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary and comprehension" and the Common Core's focus on close reading of complex texts.

"Instruction about critical reading strategies and content is important, but instruction does not necessarily ensure that students have the opportunities they need to become proficient independent readers. For this to happen, students also need to have an abundance of ... opportunities to read."

Teachers can do a lot to help students build silent reading stamina, and the article includes seven actions she recommends taking.

When there's only so much time in the school day, how do you help students build stamina?

Literacy through Culture: A focus on Cool Culture

This is the first post in a new Q&A series here on frizzle highlighting the important work of nonprofit and community organizations whose mission is aligned to ours at Scholastic—to ensure that all children have the opportunity to access and benefit from learning and literacy rich environments.

This week, I had the pleasure to speak with Candice Anderson, Executive Director of Cool Culture.

Q: What is Cool Culture?

A: Cool Culture exists to ensure that New York’s most diverse families with preschool-aged children have access to arts and culture as a way to increase literacy and learning in early childhood and to prepare children to succeed in school. Each year, we improve outcomes for children by: partnering with 90 premiere museums and cultural institutions; working with 400 early childhood programs and public schools; and providing over 50,000 low-income families with free, unlimited access to the city’s museums. Our three impact focus areas include Family Engagement; School Readiness through Community Networks; and Greater Diversity in the Museum Field.

Q: Can you tell me about one your main programs, Literacy through Culture (LTC)?

A: LTC is a partnership in Harlem between six early childhood centers, six cultural institutions, Bank Street College of Education and Cool Culture. Together we engage educators and families with making cultural institutions and visual inquiry (conversations about works of art, culture and nature) a part of their children’s learning experiences—in the classroom, at-home, and in the community. Our  goal is to introduce and connect both museums and NY pre-school programs to families. We do this by focusing on the unique learning opportunities that exist  between the home, school and community resources (like museums and art institutions).

Q: Why are families benefitting from the program?

Families are empowered and enjoy being able to help shape the program. The planning process fosters complementary leadership among families, teachers and museum staff. For example, they recently did a photo project focused on capturing the essence of their neighborhoods. Families and their young children were given cameras and then Studio Museum developed a special neighborhood exhibit, which included their photographs. Families shared reflections such as  “ I didn’t realize my child was so observant”. I didn’t realize my neighborhood was so beautiful.” 

Q: What else have families said about their experience with the program?

We continuously receive very encouraging feedback from all partners including families, teachers and the museum staff. Families have shared: “I learned the way to encourage my children to express their feelings and the way they see things. Teachers: “I always thought visual inquiry was just looking at art, but now I see it as a way to explore your thinking in a new way.” And museum educators: “We’ve achieved a level of familiarity and comfort with parents that is difficult to achieve in most partnerships.”

Q: In addition to some of the great anecdotal feedback, what other kinds of outcomes are you seeing?

A: Program evaluation to ensure that our programs are making a difference is critical.  Through our pre/post evaluations, we’ve been able to see that our programs are helping to support children’s enrichment at home and during out of school time. We are also effectively leveraging exhibits to engage families as learners.  More than 50 % of participating families have said they learned how to support their children’s learning through the arts. And, more than 80% of teachers said they saw an increase in critical thinking among participating children.

Free teaching resources for Black History Month

As we jump into February we know teachers and parents are looking for resources to use with kids for Black History Month. Scholastic has created a number of FREE resources that will help children learn about African American history not only in February but throughout the entire year.

Here are just a few of the resources Scholastic.com offers:

●A Scholastic.com “Everything You Need” package for the classroom includes ideas for student activities, videos, teaching strategies for teachers, and articles about the iconic figures whose stories are part of the African American experience.

●A new unit plan that explores the life and times of Ruby Bridges, the courageous young girl who helped lead the journey towards integration. There are lesson plans, photo slideshows, book lists and more to help you teach about her important role in the civil rights movement.

●A package of lessons and activities offers insight into Rosa Parks’ life. Students can read about the famous day when Rosa Parks refused to give up her bus seat, the successful boycott of the Montgomery, AL, city bus system, and the eventual Supreme Court ruling against segregation.

●Students will learn about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and his nonviolent struggle for civil rights through photos and by creating a timeline. With the “Martin Luther King Jr. Timeline,” students can sequence the important events in the Civil Rights Movement and the life of Dr. King. 

●A classroom unit called “Integrating Central High: The Melba Pattillo Story” provides tools and activities to help students relive Melba's historic experience integrating Central High in Little Rock, AK. Students can even write about how they would feel in her situation and publish it on Scholastic.com.

●An Underground Railroad online activity follows a runaway slave as he takes a terrifying journey from slavery to freedom. Each of the four "stops" on this journey explores a different curriculum theme in American History.

Teaching ideas from Scholastic.com teacher blogger Ruth Manna explore the true story of Ruby Bridges, a hero of the civil rights movement. Six-year-old Ruby was the first black student to integrate an all-white elementary school in New Orleans in 1960. Year after year, her story of courage inspires students of all ages.

●In a collection of videos and articles from the Scholastic News Kids Press Corps, kid reporters conduct interviews with today’s African American leaders from government, business, sports and entertainment.

Growing up black in a white world

At age 5, Idris Brewster and his best friend, Seun Summers (shown here, left to right), were accepted at the Dalton School in New York City. One of the country's top private schools, Dalton is shorthand for "Ivy League farm team."

"Expecting great things," Idris's parents, Brooklyn filmmakers Joe Brewster and Michèle Stephenson, set out to chronicle the boys' intellectual, social and emotional journey from kindergarten through 12th grade.

Their documentary, American Promise, airs on PBS on February 3. In a little over two hours, the film conveys the complexities and rich texture of the boys' inner and outer lives.

It is hard not to fall in love with Idris and Seun (shay-on). When the film begins, they are wise, charming and unusually perceptive little boys, doing their best to fit into a predominately white private school. They make friends, play sports and learn French, while sagely analyzing their unique situation before an invisible camera.

The pressure that Brewster and Stephenson put on Idris seems relentless. But if you are white, as I am, you cannot pretend to walk in their shoes. One black parent at Dalton describes the "extra burden" his family and others bear because of the color of their skin.

When Idris encounters seemingly routine bumps in the road—trouble completing homework assignments, a lack of focus in the classroom, defeats on the basketball court—his parents rarely take the setbacks in stride.

Put in context, their anxieties are understandable. While high school graduation rates for black male students have improved in recent years, the discrepancy between black and white males is still 26 percentage points. And according to this projection, one in every three black males born today can expect to serve time in prison, compared with one in every 17 white males.

Seun and Idris quickly become attuned to the negative stereotypes such statistics engender. No wonder young Seun tries to brush the color out of his gums until they bleed, telling his mother that "they're black, they're brown, they're ugly."

No wonder Idris talks "reg—the way I usually talk" at school and "slangish" on the basketball court in Brooklyn, not wanting to be made fun of. No wonder he tells his parents, "I bet if I was white, I'd be better off."

As a teenager, Idris has trouble hailing a cab. Off camera, his mother reports, he has been stopped by police in their neighborhood (presumably for being black). On the Upper East Side near Dalton, white women sometimes ran from Idris, says Stephenson, out of fear that he would steal their purse.

The boys, who are now in college, did not follow the exact path their parents wanted, but they seem destined for great things. They are lucky to have grown up in homes where they were loved and nurtured.

Too many black children in America, for a variety of reasons, don't have that support. They are also living in a country with "an addiction to whiteness," as Dominican-born novelist Junot Díaz puts it. Watching the documentary, one is reminded what a tragedy that is.

Why we should encourage children to read what they want

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