Crash Course

Brothers John and Hank Green have teamed up to develop a series of online videos (hosted on YouTube) to cover a multitude of educational topics. The videos, usually about 10 minutes in length, are rich in animations, visual aids and pop-culture references. Very entertaining and full of educational content, their work is impressive.

The Green brothers work with content experts to provide series on everything from American and world history to anatomy, psychology and astronomy. With great potential for adjunct supplement to lessons, I encourage you to visit their page to see if this may provide any value to your teaching.

Is SEL Worth the Investment?

Educators that have had exposure with social and emotional learning programs (SEL) tend to become strong advocates for the potentially life-altering value it provides to students. Implementing these programs comes with a significant cost; and an argument has spurred from it of whether it is cost-effective, a sound investment. Columbia University’s Center for Cost-Benefit Analysis had picked up on this snafu, and decided to do the math.

The results of the analysis conducted were astounding. They weighed the price of faculty, materials, facilities and other expenses. These findings were then weighed against the documented benefits of such programs in decreasing cost to society, by improving individual’s incomes. Columbia estimated the cost of implementing one particular program (The 4Rs) at $68,000 for 100 students. Economic benefit was found to fall around $832,000.

With such a significant return on investment, one can only hope that these numbers will help to sway those who are skeptical of investing funds in SEL projects. Financials, aside: let’s not neglect the value of enriching these children’s lives and setting them up to succeed in the world.

Reimagining Education, Across Political Leanings

This noteworthy article from the New York Times explores how leaders are reaching across party-lines to reimagine education; to bridge gaps in the interest of making genuine changes to enrich the lives of all students.

Quality Education, Regardless of Zip Code

It is unfortunately common, particularly in urban and suburban districts, for education quality to vary dependent upon neighborhood. I recently met with an administrator in Maryland facing that struggle.

Lack of funding is commonly cited as the source for failure to keep up with other schools. This administrator, however, has answered these gaps with ingenuity. By forming partnerships with corporate and university sponsors, the school now hosts an abundance of extra-curricular activities and a dynamic support team. To address gaps in guidance counselling, the school has sought help from local psychiatric professionals to donate time and help these kids with whatever issues they may be facing.

The admin brimmed over with joy as this was explained to me; and deservedly so. All children deserve quality education. Making that a reality takes a lot of hard work, dedication and sometimes simply asking for help from the community. Any educators or admins who have faced such issues are more than welcome to share their comments here. We’d love your feedback and to hear answers you, your school, or your district have come up with to ensure that no child feels they’re not getting the best available to them. What have your experiences been?

Utilizing Peer Networks for Student Retention

Educators are recognizing the values of peer pressure, when manipulated to keep kids in school. One of the most effective retention measures for at-risk students, is the power of fellow classmates encouraging them to continue along in education.

Some teachers have taken to using a “pull-up” system, in which students anonymously submit praise and recognition of academic achievement of their peers. The “pull-ups” are then read aloud by the teacher at the end of the week.

Other efforts involve a morning moment of reflection or contemplation, in the attempts to provoke students to talk openly about their dreams or aspirations. It can also be used to open up about issues they may be facing. By utilizing the existing peer networks, educators and administrative staff have found ways to overcome barriers in reaching troubled students. If you’ve had any experience with these approaches or have tried different peer-related ones than the above mentioned, please comment and share them with us!

Furthering Public Education

The United States, at one point, led the world in the number of college degree-holding adults; today, that number sits at 12. Eleven other countries have surpassed us in degree attainment. That holds potential economic ramifications as more manufacturing jobs continue to leave this country, and the demand for degreed-individuals increases in the market.

News out of the Obama Administration states that President Obama is formulating a plan angled at closing this gap, and hopes to return the United States to number 1 on that list. Two years of tuition-free community college (dependent upon GPA and a few other factors), universally-available to all citizens is the goal. Cost as being preventative, is one of the largest commonalities in those who fail to go on to post-secondary education and successfully graduate. If formally organized into an Act or Measure, this initiative would hopefully provide the resources needed to better equip our society in the evolving work market.

Rethinking Open House

Traditionally, Open House night serves as the time when parents get to meet their children’s teacher and view the curriculum they’re supposed to cover for the year. Under this model, this may be the only time parents meet with the teacher for the entire year. Studies have correlated higher academic achievement from students who have parents directly involved in their learning; so following the line of thinking from these results, a pilot program has been launched. WestEd researcher, Maria C. Paredes developed a model known as ‘Academic Parent-Teacher Teams’ or “APTT”. The pilot is currently running in 250 schools across 16 states.

The idea is dynamic: the program aims to educate and directly involve parents in their children’s learning. Parents meet with the teacher to discuss their child’s current academic standing; the teacher will go over the concepts in detail and give the parents packets to take home that cover the material. This helps the parent brush up on the content, themselves. Parents are then asked to set a 60-day goal for their child to reach a certain achievement level. These APTT meetings are typically held every quarter, but may vary depending on the school, or the individual students.

The results have been incredible so far. Educators are reporting back how enthusiastic the parents have become. Students, whose parents participate, are demonstrating increased academic progress. It’s a common utterance from educators, wishing that parents would become more involved; this program seeks to skip past involvement, and engage parents in their child’s education.

School Culture

One of the routinely most common statements from high school dropouts, across studies, echo a similar idea: they feel that their teachers and the administrative staff at their schools don’t care about them. The great majority of educators are driven in their careers by the positive impacts they get to make upon children’s lives in their daily interactions. So where in-lies this rift in actions and intentions from the faculty, to perceptions by the student.

While there are a multitude of answers to this question, let’s focus on one for this blog: language and appearances. Children describe their time outside of class as being “policed”, with teachers being strategically placed every few feet and administrators patrolling with walkie-talkies in hand. War terminology is used frequently within the industry: “fighting the good fight”, “working in the trenches”.

It’s time to strike these sayings from our collective vocabulary and consider rethinking how we present ourselves to our students. We don’t want children to feel like they’re prisoners; we want children to feel that they are in a hospitable, learning environment.

The Crisis and Economic Potential in America’s Education System

Very impressive interactive map published by Alliance for Excellent Education. This tool shows the potential costs and gains, as well as current statistics for high school dropouts across the country; state by state.

Read the Fine Print!

Solutions to the curricula changes caused Common Core alignment have seen a rise of lesson-sharing websites. While in theory these are great tools that allow for instantaneous collaboration from colleagues, and a way to find millions of instructional ideas; some sites come with a catch.

Many websites that host user content and media, such as Facebook and Twitter, have express consents built-into their user-agreements. These lesson-plan sharing platforms are no exception. Some sites grant the company that run them authorization to use, disseminate, modify or sell the lesson plans, at will. This can create for a conflict between the teacher and their district. Under a strict interpretation of copyright law, all teacher’s work products are property of their school district; therefore, teachers technically don’t have the right to sell lesson plans or authorize a third party to do so.

While all of this may never amount to any legal action, It’s best to avoid the muddiness all-together. It’s undeniable that lesson plan sharing platforms offer distinct advantages. Not all sites demand express ownership of content uploaded. It is of our firmest suggestion to simply read the fine-print.

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