Five-year-old T enjoys programming Cubetto and watching the effect of his actions. He especially enjoys using Cubetto on one of the beautiful World Maps (playmats). Ru (age 2) is very young so mostly likes trying to get puzzle bits in the holes in any random order or position, pressing the button and frequently turning the robot over to watch the wheels move in responseto the pressing of the button.
If you’re like me, you ended the school year with summer goals: work-related tasks, household chores, educational books to read, and so on. You may have been assigned a book by your administrator, or perhaps you’re taking a class that requires intensive reading. As an English major, lifelong reader, and elementary teacher-librarian, I believe in the power of stories. And as much as I enjoy reading books that help me become a better teacher, I also like to read positive and inspirational stories about students and teachers.
So, put down your educational texts for a moment and read a few wonderful stories about teachers who have made a difference or students who come to value the power of education. Here are a few that I enjoyed:
- The Wednesday Wars by Gary D. Schmidt (a YA book): This book is one of my all-time favorites. Run to the bookstore right now and buy a copy because you’ll want to read this again and again. The Wednesday Wars is historical fiction, set in the Vietnam War era; the book is sweet, funny, and makes you think. Holling Hoodhood is a student in Mrs. Baker’s middle school English class. On Wednesday afternoons, all of the kids but Holling leave to go to religious classes at their temples and churches—Holling is a Presbyterian and does not have to go. First, Mrs. Baker puts him to work cleaning erasers and running errands. Eventually, she begins having Holling read and discuss the works of Shakespeare. Throughout the story, Holling is sure that Mrs. Baker is the most strict, hard-nosed teacher ever—until he gets to know her. The two develop a strong appreciation for one another, and in the end, Mrs. Baker learns as much from Holling as he learns from her.
- Sahara Special by Esme Raji Codell (a middle grade book): Sahara Special is about a girl, Sahara, who is struggling personally. Her father has left and she is repeating the fifth grade because she has stopped doing her coursework. In fact, she was previously put into a special program and her classmates started calling her Sahara Special. But no one knows that Sahara reads and writes constantly at home and wants to be a writer someday. When Sahara repeats the fifth grade, she gets a new teacher, Miss Poitier, who changes how Sahara feels about herself and school. (Note: If you like this book, read the memoir on teaching by Esme Raji Codell titled Educating Esme. It’s another great read!)
- Amal Unbound by Aisha Saeed (a middle grade book): Amal is a girl in Pakistan who loves going to school. She loves to read, and her deepest wish is to someday become a teacher. However, times are tough in her small village as well as in her family. She goes to the market alone one afternoon and makes a huge mistake—a mistake that forces her into indentured servitude. The rest of the book focuses on her journey to work her way back home to her books, friends, and school. In a time when we Americans take our education for granted, this book helps show us the true value of schools and teachers.
- Matilda by Roald Dahl (a middle grade book): I was a huge Roald Dahl fan as a kid, but I didn’t read this gem until I was an adult. Matilda is a brilliant little girl, reading like crazy and doing difficult math problems at a young age. However, her parents could not care less about her. She is enrolled in a horrible school where the principal is out to get her. Things seem pretty grim for Matilda until she meets Miss Honey, a teacher who is the exact opposite of the vile Headmistress Trunchbull. In the end, Matilda’s resilience and her connection to Miss Honey make all the difference.
- The Harry Potter series by J. K. Rowling (a middle grade and up series of books): If you haven’t gotten on the Harry Potter bandwagon yet, then let me twist your arm. This is possibly the best series out there in children’s literature. Rowling’s series, mostly taking place at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, captures rich and complex relationships between teachers and students. The three main characters—Harry, Ron, and Hermione—learn, grow, and change together thanks to amazing professors like McGonagall, Lupin, and more. Even the cynical Professor Snape has an important role to play in these books. In addition to the theme of school, these books provide fantasy, adventure, mystery, and a focus on friendship and persistence.
- Junkyard Wonders by Patricia Polacco (a picture book): Each year, I read this book to my third-grade library students. And each year, though I’ve read this book many times to my own kids as well as to students, I tear up when I reach the end. Tricia moves to Michigan to live with her father. She has always had trouble in school, and she wants a fresh start. When Tricia learns that she’s been placed in Mrs. Peterson’s class, otherwise known as “The Junkyard,” she is heartbroken. Mrs. Peterson, however, will not let the kids suffer because they are different; instead, she teaches them to see their own gifts and talents, and to show these talents to the world. Even if you don’t teach younger students, check this book out. It will inspire you to be a kind, encouraging, and thoughtful teacher. (If you like this book, you’ll also like Thank You, Mr. Falker, another great read by Polacco.)
There you have it: a list of fabulous fiction books that will guide your teaching as much as any nonfiction texts you’ll pick up this summer. I will leave you with this quote from The Wednesday Wars—and like this quote, the list of books above will give you inspiration, entertainment, and comfort. Enjoy!
“And it really doesn’t matter if we’re under our desks with our hands over our heads or not, does it?
No, said Mrs. Baker. It doesn’t really matter.
So, why are we practicing?
She thought for a minute. Because it gives comfort, she said. People like to think that if they’re prepared then nothing bad can really happen. And perhaps we practice because we feel as if there’s nothing else we can do because sometimes it feels as if life is governed by the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.”
Gary D. Schmidt
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If you are a teacher, school, or district implementing standards-based grading, you might be finding how many decisions there are to make in the process. From the wording and scale to assessing and the parent report, there are many, many details to consider. I have found that even for some schools that have been using SBG for years, these considerations might be worth thinking about. For me, grading and grades demonstrate a philosophy about what school and learning is all about. The way we grade students can change the way students and teachers see learning, therefore it is essential to really think through all the ins and outs of a grading system.
This article will cover some of the questions that our team answered as we were working through the process. As our school has moved through this process, we have learned a few tidbits of information that we thought would be helpful to share with others. We would not claim that we have found the perfect method, but we have found one that will work for us.
The Importance of Collaboration
One of the reasons this is so important is because teachers are not always in agreement for how to grade an assignment or how their gradebook will display the importance of that assignment. Strong professional learning communities have probably discussed this, but in many schools, there is a wide variety of grading practices from one teacher to the next. Some teachers weight tests more than projects and others weight daily work more than anything else. This is why having a collaborative process to make decisions about how standards-based grades will be calculated is vitally important.
Whether the process is just starting in your school or has been in place for a number of years, here are a few questions that should stimulate discussion among professional learning communities:
What scale will be used?
Our team decided early on that we would use a numeric scale. For some schools, letters like “M” for mastery work better. We felt like that was an extra step when using our gradebook system to calculate the grades. We provide a key to parents for what each number on the scale equates to. Our scale is a 1–4: A score of 4 means a student is working above standard or at a more complex/deeper level on the standard, a 3 is the target and indicates mastery of the standard, a 2 is progressing toward mastery, and a 1 is lack of progress toward mastery. We felt like this gave students and parents the best information about where the student stands on a specific standard. We considered leaving off the 4 because it can be hard to define. In the end, we didn’t want students to be limited to just “mastering” the standards, but for work to go above and beyond. There are rationales for many different types of scales—the power in the scale comes from a collective understanding and agreement of what learning looks like for different standards. This consensus is key to implementing standards-based grading in a school.
What happens with students who are using a modified curriculum?
This was a trickier question for us, so we explored what other schools had used to mark this. Some schools used a separate report card for students on different curriculum. In the end, we feel that because students will be expected to know third grade standards on the third grade state assessment, we have to give them exposure to those standards. Therefore, all third graders have the same grade card. What we did add was language in our scale stating that a student who receives a 2 is progressing toward mastery or is at mastery with assistance (this could be a from a para or special education teacher). We thought this would be the most accurate way to indicate where the student was performing on each skill.
What numbers will be entered in the gradebook?
Most student information systems are able to calculate grades in any way a teacher wants them to be computed. It is an option to enter traditional percentages in a gradebook and have them calculated to a 1, 2, 3, or 4. Because we were focused on changing the mindset of learning for both teachers and students, we decided that all grades would be entered as the scale score in the gradebook. For example, at the end of a test, the teacher would enter a 1, 2, 3, or 4 for the standard depending on how the student did. We created some guidelines for what questions needed to be answered correctly for a student to score a 4 on an assignment. This will be a continual process of revision and discussion, but it is a launch point for the type of change in thinking that we were looking for.
These are just a few of the questions to consider. Be sure to look for more coming soon in the second part of our Guiding Teachers Through Standards-Based Grading series. Want to learn more about how to better assess your students? Check out our collection of assessment resources, blogs, and tech.
In some areas of the country, qualified teachers are harder and harder to come by for certain content areas. Some states and districts have had to use creative means to find teachers. One of these avenues is using transition to teaching programs in order to find teachers. In these programs, individuals usually have a degree in a content area, such as science or math, but lack the credentials or experience necessary for teaching.
As with most things, there is an upside to these teachers as well as some drawbacks. It does allow your school to think outside the box to fill positions, which is a major advantage. At the same time, it is good to consider what the possible potholes will be of hiring one of these teachers.
Here are some general characteristics that we usually see with these teachers that can be huge advantages:
Work experience: Most of these teachers have already had jobs and are searching for a second career. This means that these people, all of whom have degrees, will have worked in some sort of professional setting. This outside point of view is good for schools, and it helps to have new teachers who know how to operate as professionals.
Team experience: Because of the work experience, most transitioning teachers have experience working in teams of adults. These professional teams are much different than the undergrad teams of pre-service teachers who I worked with in college. We were all between 21 and 24, so there was not a high level of maturity. In contrast to this, the transitioning teacher has most likely worked with adults of all levels of experience and age. This diverse experience is an advantage in schools.
Content knowledge: This is probably the number one reason to consider transition to teaching teachers—the content knowledge and work in their field is vital for our students. Teachers can tell students, “You will need to know this someday,” to make information relevant, but transitioning teachers can actually say, “I used this every day in my former job.” This carries so much more weight and credibility.
The drive to achieve: I believe all teachers who are starting out are really planning to work hard to succeed. The added layer of incentive for transitioning teachers comes from their desire to work in a field that probably requires a second degree and might include a pay cut. This takes real dedication and these teachers are not going to want to fail.
Here are some general supports that we need to consider for teachers trained using transition to teaching programs:
Experience with kids: This one is kind of a wild card because many individuals who transition to teaching have a ton of experience with kids—it’s probably what led them to the profession in the first place. But (and this is a big but!) working with kids in a youth group or coaching them in baseball is much different than teaching. Professionalism with students will be an area of focus with transitioning teachers to ensure that they are able to manage the relationship side of the job.
Classroom management: This one probably isn’t really fair because all new teachers need support with this. But sometimes we see an older adult transitioning into the classroom and assume some of those tools are already in place. To help support new teachers to succeed, we must not make that assumption and ensure that we have mentoring tools in place for them.
Instructional tools: Again, all newer teachers probably need this support, but it is particularly true of those transitioning to teaching. The reason for this is that the methods of coursework that traditional teachers learn happen before they start teaching. This is not the case for transitioning teachers. They will learn it as they go, so schools, teams, and admins need to be ready to support them from the get-go.
Learning school rules: It might seem weird to those outside of schools, but there are many unwritten rules for how schools operate. A transitioning teacher might be removed from the classroom by 10 or 20 years. Because of this, some of the common sense factors that most teachers already know will need to be taught.
Every teacher is different and each will have his or her own strengths and areas for growth. By considering what these teachers might need as a whole, it can help us to prepare to support their success early on in their career.
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A long time ago in a classroom far away, a 20-something student sat in a class titled Speech Communication in the Classroom. The professor explained that among the many concepts learned in the course, one of the most important would be finding your voice. Throughout the semester, each student had multiple opportunities to stand and deliver his or her lesson to the class. Of course, each student would receive a grade and comments on their performance. At the end, the entire class would receive an impromptu mini lesson on teacher voice. Personally, I thought this old man couldn’t hear! I was not entirely wrong, but that is another story.
A few years later, I found myself in my first classroom. As a wide-eyed graduate of teacher college, I was ready to impart my knowledge on the young minds in my charge. I thought of the fictional character portrayed by Robin Williams in Dead Poets Society and the teacher portrayed by Edward James Olmos in Stand and Deliver. Would I be that good? Unfortunately, my delivery was lacking. My knowledge of the material was spot on, and even my methodology was solid according to my principal. The problem was my voice. My teacher voice was too harsh. Despite my effort to create an inviting and safe environment for learning, my teacher voice—the loud voice required to be heard across my classroom—was harmful.
My administrator once told me, “You sound like you are yelling at your students all the time. It doesn’t make for an inviting classroom.” Mortified with this comment, I realized she was correct.
The Science Behind the Voice
The reason all teachers are required to create a teacher voice is not a matter of profession, it is really a matter of physics. The term, or in this case the physics law, is called the inverse square law. Sounds ominous, doesn’t it? The general idea is that the farther you get from a source, the lower the intensity.
Think of the headlights on your car when you drive at night. The road close to the front of your car is bright, so you can see it quite well. However, farther down the road from your car, the light is not as bright. The intensity diminishes. Now think about being at the park for a picnic. As you look for a place to sit, you walk by a group with a radio playing loud music. As you continue to walk away from the music, you notice the music becomes more difficult to hear. You then find a place to sit where you can no longer hear the music from the radio. The sound intensity lowers the farther you get from the radio. These are two examples of the inverse square law.
Let’s get back my classroom. My voice is required to adhere to the inverse square law, which means for the student in the back of the room to hear me (assuming I am standing in the front), I must make my voice louder. Even worse, if I turn to write on the board, I now must also project my voice to bounce off the walls for my students to hear. This projection causes my tone to change. To some, I am now yelling at my students. Whatever label we put on my voice, it was not conducive to teaching and learning.
Tackling Learning Barriers
Understanding what can get in the way of teaching and learning is paramount to ensuring our students have the best possible opportunity to learn. As I did research for this article, I came across information that I found fascinating. Some of it I knew—for instance, I knew that when standing behind a person, the person cannot hear me as well as they can when I am in front of them. And I knew that classrooms are full of items which absorb sound, including the very students we are trying to educate. What was fascinating was the fact that changing the angle of my voice in relation to my students lowers the level of my voice. What really shocked me is the number of students who have hearing problems—both permanent and transient. Normally a student squinting at the board has trouble with their vision, but I have never known what a student with a hearing loss looks like (and I still don’t). I have yet to see a visual clue outside of them cupping their hand to their ear, but that action is not often seen with K-12 students.
According to the Centers for Disease and Control (CDC), 1.3 out of 1,000 8-year-olds have bilateral hearing loss (loss of hearing in both ears) of 40 decibels (dB) or more. 14.9 percent of students between the ages of six and 19 have hearing loss of at least 16 dB in one or both ears. A hearing loss in only one ear has a tremendous impact on academic performance; furthermore, research shows anywhere from 25 to 35 percent of students with unilateral hearing loss are at risk of failing at least one grade level.
The Importance of Hearing for Learning
The ability to hear is critical to a student’s speech and language development, and a hearing loss causes delays in the development of their speech and language skills. Consequently, these delays lead to learning problems as well as poor academic performance and behavior. According to the American Speech-Language Hearing Association (ASHA), children who have mild to moderate hearing loss and do not receive intervention services are very likely to fall behind their peers by as much as four grade levels.
In addition to students who have a general hearing loss, hearing students often suffer transient losses of hearing due to illness. According to WebMD, students have six to 10 colds per year, and temporary hearing loss typically accompanies the cold. While the hearing loss is temporary, there are still a large number of days per year when the student is missing instruction due to illness.
Unfortunately, we do not have a magic wand to cure the common cold or permanent hearing loss. We do, however, have the next best thing to a magic wand: technology that helps alleviate some of these challenges. Stay tuned for the next part of the Finding Your Teacher Voice series, which will cover how technology like the MimioClarity™ classroom audio system is tackling these challenges and helping all students hear more clearly.
Want to read all about our new MimioClarity classroom audio distribution system? Click here to learn more!
As educators, we know how important STEM learning is to ensure our students succeed not just in the classroom, but out in the real world as well. Students need to develop the critical skills that will prepare them for life beyond the classroom as tomorrow’s engineers and innovators.
Modern Robotics merged with Boxlight earlier this year, enabling us to introduce the Mimio MyBot educational robotics system. This system was conceived and developed to fulfill a need in robotics and coding in the classroom without the added complexity common in most systems. The MyBot system helps students engage in learning experiences, preparing them in emerging STEM fields including software, robotics, and technology.
With Mimio MyBot, students can learn without limits. This flexible, expandable system encourages creativity and exploration while enabling the construction of nearly anything a student can imagine. And since it’s built from rugged, aerospace-grade materials, it’s made to survive the rigors of classroom use.
Here’s what Stephen Barker, Boxlight’s VP of STEM Education, had to say about this exciting new technology:
What Is Mimio MyBot?
The Mimio MyBot is an innovative K-12 robotics system that helps students develop skills and a passion for coding and robotics. Through the cohesive software platform, educators receive a solution complete with a robust curriculum, STEM lessons, tutorials, and videos.
Why Are Coding and Robotics Important in Education?
There are several compelling reasons why it makes sense to teach all students coding, regardless of where their interests might lie. For one thing, exposing all students to coding as part of the school curriculum might change their minds about a career in computer science and open the door to new possibilities. Learning what it means to write code could help students overcome stereotypes about who coders are and what they do, perhaps putting them on a path to a promising career.
Why is this so important? Because the nation’s economy is going to need more computer programmers. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the need for software developers overall will grow by 24 percent by 2026. Additionally, the need for application developers will grow by 31 percent.
What’s Next for Boxlight and Mimio MyBot?
We are excited about working with the Buzz Aldrin Family Foundation and ShareSpace Education Foundation in bringing Mimio MyBot to districts, schools, and community learning centers around the United States as early as this summer!
Want to learn more about our brand-new educational robotics system? Click here to discover Mimio MyBot!
Educators tend to focus on what students know in school. We teach, we test, and we intervene if needed. We also take into consideration the social and emotional wellbeing of students, caring about their socialization and their effort. But one of the most foundational factors in a student’s future is often ignored. One thing that, when changed, can literally change the course of a person’s life: their belief.
How often do teachers ask their students, “Do you believe you can be successful with this? Do you think you can do it if you apply yourself?” I have found this is very rare, but it really matters more than much of what we do.
Considering the Research
To take a quick look at some research, we will use Robert Dilt’s Nested Levels of Learning (or Logical Levels, depending on your translation). Dilt takes a psychological and neurological approach to the topic and lists five different areas that need addressing if learning (or belief) is to occur.
The levels begin at the most basic: the environment. In order for a student to learn, they must have an environment that is conducive to learning. Even though this is true, more than this is needed—like a pyramid, the levels build on each other. The second level is behaviors. We can change the behaviors of a student—mainly through rewards or consequences—but again, this isn’t enough to make lasting change. The third level is capabilities. We can teach the student new skills so that they are capable of success. The fourth level is the belief system. This is at the core of the person and comes directly from the fifth (final level): the foundational level of identity. The student may have all that we think they need—the environment, the behaviors, and the capabilities—but unless they believe, which forms their identity, lasting change really isn’t possible.
This model is one of many, so teachers might not agree with it, but we probably all have anecdotal examples of kids who we thought would make it. These kids seemed to have everything the needed in place: grades, work ethic, etc. But if that student doesn’t identify as a high school graduate or a college-bound student, the rest doesn’t really matter. As educators, we don’t understand why a student would choose something like this or throw away a great opportunity. What we don’t know is what the student believed and what they identified as.
The Participation Trophy Debate
As we take the long view with our students, looking at where they want to be in life someday and not just what their current grades are, we see how important knowing a students’ beliefs really is. And sharing beliefs isn’t something that we readily do in our culture. Most students don’t feel like teachers know them well, so they most likely aren’t going to feel comfortable sharing something as deeply personal as beliefs about identity.
There have been times in the past decade when people have bashed the participation trophy culture—the sentiment of this being that we’re trying to falsely build up student self-esteem. There could be some truth to this, and sometimes there is overkill, but we know from Dilt’s research that if a student believes they can do things, this belief can impact their identity. Until they see themselves as a person who can go to college or believe that they can get a passing score on the SAT, all the intervention in the world is for naught. So, we give trophies. We give students recognition that their small successes are not just part of making teachers happy, but part of who they are as a person—someone who is successful. This is a teacher’s primary job: to instill hope.
Think of how many times you might have sat in a student meeting and heard a parent say things like, “I wasn’t any good at math either” or “She comes by it honestly, I’m just like that.” These kinds of comments begin to form a student’s identity from early on. The reality might be that a student could be good at math, but they just don’t believe they are (it isn’t who they are) and therefore they don’t succeed at it.
I even fell into this trap myself as a parent recently. My wife and I are not musical at all and cannot carry a tune. We have guided our kids into things that we are good at: sports, academics, reading, etc. When our son came home telling us about a solo in the 5th grade music program, I inwardly cringed. I didn’t see him as a singer because I was never one myself. I was so proud of him for trying and was really taken aback when he did a great job. I had created an identity in him that I hadn’t intended, but through the encouragement of a teacher instilling belief in him that he could be successful, he changed his identity.
The power we have as teachers is profound: the power to help students believe.
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Summer vacation is a great time for educators to get some much-needed rest and relaxation after a busy school year and intense testing season. However, getting too relaxed can make for a rough transition into the next school year. To take full advantage of your well-deserved free time, it’s important to fill your summer with productive, fun, and fulfilling activities that will leave you refreshed and ready to dive into another great year come fall.
Here are 10 ways you can be productive this summer while still having fun:
- Serve and study while you travel
Join a cross-cultural exchange program and travel to a foreign country for free by exchanging your skills as an educator for travel to and living expenses in countries all over the world. Some programs require serving as a teacher, while others involve a study program and creation of resources for other educators to use in the future.
- Join a fitness class or club
If you’ve been wanting to try out a fun fitness class or join a local gym but haven’t had the time or energy to do so during the school year, now is your chance! Many fitness clubs offer membership discounts for educators—just make sure to bring your teacher ID when you go to sign up!
- Attend ISTE
One of the year’s hottest EdTech events comes around every summer in June, bringing together educators, education leaders, and EdTech vendors from all over the world. Attend ISTE this year from June 23–26 to discover new EdTech trends and products, network with fellow education professionals, and brainstorm and share creative ideas and best practices for implementing technology in the classroom.
- Put time into your hobby
Whether you’re a master painter or have been wanting to learn how to knit, summer vacation is a great time to dive into a hobby. If your hobby involves making a final product, try selling your creations online through Etsy or at a local artist market to make some extra cash.
- Teach English online
If you’re looking for some part-time work over the summer but can’t leave your kids to go to a physical job, try teaching English online from home. Your teaching credentials and experience will make you the perfect candidate, and you’ll make as much as $25 an hour—all on your own schedule.
- Volunteer your time
If you have time to give over the break, find a local organization to volunteer with. Community service can be an enriching opportunity to help others and meet new people. If you have kids, bring them along to teach them the importance of serving their community while you enjoy some time together out of the house.
- Schedule all of your annual appointments
This one might not be so fun, but it can be a really productive use of your free time to schedule your regular dentist, annual physical, and routine eye appointments during the summer. Save your days off during the school year for when you really need them—not for annual appointments that can be done over summer vacation.
- Read some of the books that have been on your list forever
During the school year, you may find your reading list stacking up fast, but after a long day of teaching and grading papers, reading a book for leisure is probably the last thing on your mind. Summer is a great time to catch up on your ever-growing reading list while you have the time and mental energy.
- Work or volunteer at a summer camp
At the end of the school year, you might just need a break from being surrounded by kids all day. But if you’re passionate about serving youth year-round, consider working at a summer camp. Many camps are looking for experienced educators to fill directing and planning positions.
- Find professional development opportunities
Summer is the perfect time to focus on your personal education and dive into professional development, whether through free, online resources or taking a course at your local community college. Boxlight offers no-cost Quick Learn training sessions that give you the opportunity to earn professional development credits just for attending. This summer, Boxlight is offering MimioStudio™ Educator certification at 50% off, so you can get 6 hours of PD for only $75! Learn more now.>>
No matter what you choose to do this summer, be sure to focus on yourself. After spending the whole school year dedicated to the success and wellbeing of your students, summer vacation is your time to do whatever fulfills you outside of the classroom.
What do you like to do to stay productive during your summer break? Let us know in the comments below. And to keep up with the latest education news and trends over the summer, be sure to subscribe to the Educator blog!