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Showing posts in December 2011  Show all posts >

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Fifth Graders Make Significantly Greater Gains than a Comparison Group Across Multiple Subjects After Fast ForWord

The Grand Forks Public Schools in Grand Forks, ND, wanted to evaluate the effects of the Fast ForWord® products on the academic achievement of their students. A study was designed such that students at one elementary school used the Fast ForWord products and comparable students at a different elementary school served as the comparison group. Both elementary schools fed into the same middle school and the study participants were in the fifth grade at the time of Fast ForWord use.

Students used the 30-minute protocols, which call for students to use the Fast ForWord products for 30 minutes a day, five days per week for 12 to 16 weeks.  Students used the products for an average of 132 days across 11 months.

The Measures of Academic Progress, abbreviated as MAP, are state-aligned computerized adaptive tests, administered by the district each spring.  They accurately reflect the instructional level of each student and measure growth over time. The Grand Forks Public School District uses the MAP to assess students in third through eighth grades.

A comparison of the fifth graders at the two elementary schools showed that students at the school using FastForWord products made significantly greater improvements in all areas tested compared to the students at the school that did not use the products. The areas tested were reading, language, and math, with the study results demonstrating that the products can positively impact achievement across multiple subject areas.

Related Reading:

Longitudinal Study Shows Significant Fast ForWord® Gains Endure Over Time

Students Exceed State Average on TAKS after Fast ForWord, Maintain Gains

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Categories: Fast ForWord, Reading & Learning, Scientific Learning Research

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Bringing Learning to Life in the Classroom: Technology for 21st Century Schools

Bringing learning to life

Dim the lights and listen.  Rumbling and stomping fills the classroom.  First grade students sit up and lean forward in their seats, readied with excitement and anticipation as their science lesson comes to life. A Tyrannosaurus Rex lurches into the room, right in front of their eyes. Students observe the mighty carnivore as it tromps through the classroom, taking note of its activities, its eating habits and its demeanor.

This scene heralds a new age of interactivity for 21st century classrooms throughout the country.   The vivid, clear and extraordinary images provided by today’s 3D technologies dramatically expand the possibilities for classroom learning.  Teachers understand the impact this type of technology has on students and are harnessing its power to bring the classroom to life and help students more easily grasp difficult concepts.

The possibilities for 3D-enhanced student learning experiences are limitless. No longer is learning based simply on textbooks or computer-based tools. Rather, 3D technology is being used to supplement and enhance the standard curriculum, giving students the opportunity to observe and explore phenomena up close in their own classroom via “3D field trips,” without the hassle of leaving the school grounds. 

For the study of science, this is particularly exciting.  Students can explore the solar system, taking extra time to observe the topography of Mars. They can fly along with a bee to learn about the hive, pollination and the important role bees play in the sustainability of our food chain and environment.  With 3D modeling, students don special 3D glasses to immerse themselves in an experience such as looking inside the human body to observe how the brain works, or watching how a dissected frog’s internal organs function in real time.

As “digital natives,” younger generations are primed to respond to technology-based teaching techniques in the classroom.  But with scarce education dollars at stake, what evidence is there that 3D technologies can positively impact learning outcomes? 

Thus far, schools that have adopted these new tools have reported good results. Student attention has increased—especially among learners who have tended to be disruptive or inattentive during more traditional instruction.  All types of learners are more engaged in creative thinking and actively participating in the lessons and discussions, with ELL students and gifted students particularly benefiting.   Learners have been shown to grasp and retain information more effectively than their peers who learn the same material without 3D technology, and have shown significant increases in academic achievement.

Some say today’s 3D tools are just the beginning, and have started to imagine an enriched instructional world in which students will use yet-to-be-developed tools to visit historic sites, see how regrouping is done in subtraction, and tour a variety of ecosystems.  An ultimate goal would be for 3D technologies to stimulate higher-order thinking in ways that 2D tools can’t, confronting students with experiences that they must consider and respond to in novel and creative ways.

The possibilities of 3D tools are promising, but how viable are they long-term?  Can schools afford them?  Will the supply of fresh 3D content become more readily available across subject areas?  Will students step in, as some have predicted, creating content to fill current gaps—and will the content they create have the same type of positive impact on student learning outcomes that some early adopters have seen? Can 3D technology help schools produce more active and informed citizens?  Can it help produce more highly skilled, tech-savvy, innovative workers to compete in the global marketplace?

There is no doubt that 3D technology has awakened classrooms with a new energy and new potential for richer, deeper learning.  It has the power to turn our learners into explorers, their curiosity awakened and their skills and senses “switched on.”  Now don your 3D glasses, because the rest remains to be seen.

References:

Discover the advantages of teaching in 3D

Related Reading:

Video Games: A New Perspective on Learning Content and Skills

10 Big Benefits of Using iPads in Schools

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Categories: Education Trends, Reading & Learning

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Using Data Effectively in School Districts: Tips for School Administrators

Using data effectively

The proliferation of data and data systems in Education has given rise to vast amounts of information; so much so that it can be difficult understanding what to do with it.  I suppose that’s why some districts still rely on “random acts of improvement” (Bernhardt 2006, p.30) to track progress and recognize success, a tattered approach that falls short in justifying outcomes. 

To avoid this gaffe, successful administrators use a practical framework to establish a culture of data-driven practices that wholly and effectively measure the performance of their entire educational system.  Achieving this is not a random act – it takes focus, leadership and plenty of practice to turn data into knowledge.   And with knowledge comes intelligence, like these 8 tips for effective data use in your school district.

1.   Establish a Clear Vision

Know where your district is going.  Ensure the school board, staff and students, along with the community understand the rationale and have a plan on how to get there.

2.  Ensure Buy-in

Give all members the opportunity to participate in creating the goals and objectives.  Getting their input will produce a stronger commitment because participants will ‘own’ the process.

3.   Learn From Others

Explore districts that have developed and implemented effective data-driven decision making processes.  Examine the criteria 15 districts used to create performance targets, deliver professional development and address technology and budgetary issues.

4.  Examine the Infrastructure for Data Collection and Use

Analyze the following to ensure resource availability and compliance:

  • Personnel involved (time, cost and application)
  • Data you have vs. data you need (analyze growth)
  • Reliable storage and access (cloud computing)
  • Frequency of data collection and reporting (daily)
  • Accountability and reporting (operational requirements)

5.  Foster Professional Development and Growth

In addition to developing skills, people need to create an understanding of their role in the data culture.  Focused, data-supported interactions among staff are paramount to building relationships and ensuring best practices are shared.

6.  Follow Indicators and Lead by Example

Build habits that encourage data use and create momentum for monitoring change.  One approach is to incorporate real-life stories from your staff profiling both the positive and negative outcomes.  When everyone is aware of the impact, they know exactly how change is being supported and what they can do to improve the product of their work.

7.  Change the Way You Lead

Putting data and data-driven leadership to use in every conversation, meeting and interaction sends the message that this approach is valued and expected.  Frequent highlights of success are rewarding and validate the outcomes, while adding integrity to the transformation of your district.

8.  Make Good Use of Your Resources

Making the shift to a data-driven culture often imposes many changes to a district.  Identifying solutions to these challenges should be done through the vast network of talent and skill already in your district, which include not only staff but also business partners and non-profits in your community. 

What you do with this new intelligence is now up to you… share it, embrace it, or erase it. 

References:

Creating a Data-Driven Culture: Leadership Matters. Eight steps to prepare a school district for accessing and integrating data to make informed, proactive decisions. December 19, 2011. http://www.sas.com.

Related Reading:

Data Driven Decisions: A GPS Approach

How Can You Predict Student Reading Growth?

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Categories: Education Trends

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School Gardens: Sowing the Seeds of Experiential Learning

school gardens

Many children’s songs and rhymes reference gardens and the vegetable world, but when I was a student we stayed indoors singing rather than experiencing that world firsthand. But in the last two decades, schools have introduced gardening into the curriculum as a way for students to learn lessons only nature can provide. Allowing students to research, design, and build a garden gives a teacher an opportunity to demonstrate the practical application of classroom subjects in a real world scenario.

Activities such as composting, selecting appropriate plants for a climate zone, and profiling soils are directly related to science and ecology. Building trellises, measuring wood for fences, and solving garden equations such as “If a row is 10 feet long and we plant our corn 12 inches apart how many corn stalks can we grow in one row?” all contribute towards mathematical problem solving. Having students keep a handwritten and illustrated journal is a great way for them to develop handwriting and written communication skills, and to scientifically observe and chronicle the seed-to-plant life cycle.  The opportunities for learning go on and on, from collecting bugs and insects in a terrarium and observing their habitat and behavior, to researching the nutritional composition of vegetables grown, to learning safe kitchen procedures and following a recipe in preparation for cooking the harvest later in the school year.

When I was a child I detested most vegetables, even ones I had yet to taste! Because students are often willing to taste vegetables they have helped to grow, school gardens can improve a child’s eating habits, giving them nutrient rich foods that may be lacking in their diet. It’s also fun for children to participate in the preparation of meals, adding a sense of accomplishment in seeing their harvest from seed to plate. Students can opt to sell their vegetables and flowers to raise money for their school or a class field trip to a local garden. Introducing a business plan and how to handle money is a great hands-on math assignment that can be rewarding for students.

Just as important as the practical, hands-on skills that the garden teaches, are the aspects of self-regulation required to bring plants to maturity.  A student who wishes to eat a carrot must leave the carrot in the ground until it is grown rather than pulling it up as soon as it sprouts.  This lesson is quickly learned, as is the lesson that the carrot plant must receive proper care and nurturing  in the form of sun and water and protection from frost and pests so it can fully develop.  For many students, a garden provides a rare opportunity to experience first hand the importance of patience and nurturance as life skills.  There are no short cuts, and pulling a big orange carrot out of the ground is an irrefutable reward for a job well done.

School gardens provide a highly practical and direct form of education, where children can see the results of their decisions and actions. Learning how to grow good food not only gives students a chance to apply classroom learning in a practical setting, but can also improve health, provide a livelihood, and increase self-sufficiency.

So find out how you can get involved in your school’s garden, or start to build one with your students.  What a difference it can make.

Related Reading:

Modeling Healthy Choices: Three Habits for Optimal Brain Health

Individualizing Instruction Through Understanding Different Types of Learners

 

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Using the Power of Optimal Timing to Improve the Brain’s Ability to Learn

ability to learn

Learning is both a behavioral and biological process that is supported by the neurons in the brain over time.

When we learn, our brain cells physically change in response to stimulation, forming pathways to facilitate the connections we use repeatedly. For example, if you meet a person only once, you might not remember their name or recognize their face if you were to run into them on the street ten years on. On the other hand, if you see that person every day for a year, you will likely be able to recognize their face and remember their name much more readily should you not see that person for a long period of time.

Learning processes like these in the brain take predictable, measured amounts of time. While these rates will vary from person to person and nervous system to nervous system, we can depend upon certain relatively constant timeframes for learning and processing an understanding of some of these timeframes can allow educators to take maximum advantage of them. That’s why the Fast ForWord® products function on each of these scales by design, using the power of optimal timing to improve the brain’s ability to learn.

Learning depends upon a specific feedback loop characterized by timing between stimulus, response and reward [i]. Here are some of those timescales, along with how Fast ForWord works within each:

  • Milliseconds: Auditory processing happens on the millisecond timescale. Fast ForWord helps improves auditory processing rate to ensure that students are able to “keep up” with auditory input such as spoken directions from their teacher.
  • Seconds: Reinforcement learning happens on a scale of seconds and is achieved by interacting with one’s surroundings.  The Fast ForWord program’s reward system is based on this time scale, delivering rewards to students at just the right moment to maximize reinforcement learning, helping students get the most benefit from the program.
  • Minutes: Our actions change based on how we perceive our surroundings. This kind of adaptation can take minutes. As students move through Fast ForWord exercises, they can see their performance results changing minute by minute. Being able to see such improvement helps motivate students toward greater learning. In other words, as they perceive the positive results of their actions, students adapt and learn to generate more of those positive results.
  • Days or Weeks: Consolidation and maturation of memories can take days or weeks. When a student overcomes an obstacle in Fast ForWord, their confidence is strengthened and they not only learn the material, but they learn about their own capabilities and what success feels like. The memories of such experiences and the associated feelings – gathered and built upon over the days, weeks and months – lay the foundation to spur them on to future success. Such success in the classroom can lead to a greater drive to perform well in other areas, such as doing well on a test, winning on the athletic field, or successfully completing that college application.   We cannot underestimate the power of experiencing success and the sensation that it creates.

In the classroom, having an awareness of how long it takes for a student to assimilate and process certain kinds of information can add an entirely different rhythm to our instruction. In having such an understanding of how the brains of our students work, we can time our teaching to optimize learning and help our students achieve maximum success.

References:

[i] Why Time Matters Temporal Dynamics of Learning Center. University of California San Diego

Related Reading:

The Brain Gets Better at What it Does: Dr. Martha Burns on Brain Plasticity

Video Games: A New Perspective on Learning Content and Skills

 

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Categories: Brain Fitness, Brain Research, Reading & Learning

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Corey’s Story: My Son No Longer Needs Intervention After Using Fast ForWord

This post is the seventh in a series aimed at sharing the success stories, both personal and professional, that Scientific Learning employees witness every day.

“My son personally was identified in kindergarten as a struggling learner.  He is a July baby and he started kindergarten at a very young age five.   Right away, red flags were going up for the teacher.  Emotionally, academically, developmentally, we realized that he might not have been ready to acquire the skills that were being taught in the kindergarten classroom.

We worked really hard over the summer to put Zack through [Fast ForWord] Language Basics and [Fast ForWord] Reading Prep*.  These products are really appropriate for a kindergarten-aged learner. 

When he returned to school in the fall and he was re-assessed for intervention, the teacher made a comment: ‘I don’t know what you’ve done with Zack over the summer, but his scores are now above where he needs to be and we no longer will need to provide him with any intervention support. We are just going to continue to monitor him and watch and make sure he continues to grow along the right pathway.’

It brought tears to my eyes knowing that we continued to do the right things and the only one variable that changed was using Fast ForWord with him.  It built his confidence and built his self-esteem.”

*Note: Fast ForWord® Language Basics and Reading Prep are no longer available.  Current Fast ForWord products for kindergarten-aged learners include Fast ForWord Language and Reading Readiness.

Related Reading:

Sara’s Story: From 6 Months Behind In Reading to the Accelerated Reading Class

Joel’s Story: My Nephew’s Reading Skills Improved 1.5 Years in 3 Months with Fast ForWord

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Categories: Family Focus, Fast ForWord, Reading & Learning

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The Making of a 21st Century Educator: 5 Ways to be a Better Teacher in Today’s Classroom

Being a better teacher

The highest calling of today's education system is to equip students with the characteristics and skills needed to navigate the ever-changing 21st century global economy as adults. We talk a lot about how to engage students and make them better learners, but how often do we step back and consider how to make better educators? The success of our students and the effectiveness of the education system as a whole starts and ends with the teacher.

So what might an effective 21st century educator look like? eSchool News recently polled its readers and came up with five characteristics that the most effective educators have in common.  Here’s what you can do to emulate them:

  • Be forward thinking. The 21st century educator must have a broader vision, anticipating and adapting to trends, not only in education, but technology and science as well. Our teachers are tasked with preparing students, not for the world as it exists today, but for the one they will someday inherit.
  • Be an eager learner. Technology has become a fundamental part of our students' daily experience, both in and out of the classroom. Educators operating in such a rapidly evolving technological climate simply must be willing to learn to effectively teach. The phrase "lead by example" comes to mind. If we want our students to be inquisitive, open-minded and willing to learn from making mistakes, so must be our teachers.
  • Be a builder of relationships. Today's students are more likely to gauge their number of friends on Facebook than by who sits with them at the lunch table. In such a world of technological isolation, where it's possible to go through an entire day without real human interaction, we must facilitate interpersonal relationships within the classroom while prioritizing communication, respect and cooperation.
  • Be equipped to teach all levels of learners. As effective 21st century educators, we not only need to be armed with the same characteristics and skills we plan to impart on our students, we must also have the ability to teach those characteristics and skills to every student at every level in the classroom. This includes the ability to effectively relate to students and teach to their unique learning styles.
  • Be able to implement technology effectively. Enhancing the educational environment with technology can facilitate faster learning and streamline teacher tasks, such as grading, planning and presenting lessons, but simply putting a computer in front of your students isn't enough. Technology can just as easily be distracting or unproductive. An effective 21st century educator will have the discernment and know-how to incorporate technology into the classroom in a way that facilitates, rather than distracts from, teaching and learning.

As educators working under pressure to maximize student performance, we sometimes focus all of our time and energy on developing curriculum, planning and implementing lessons, and accessing our students' skill level at the expense of our own ongoing education. If we take the time to foster the characteristics necessary to be an effective educator in ourselves and our peers, our students will ultimately benefit.

References:

Five characteristics of an effective 21st-century educator

Related Reading:

Using Google in the Classroom: Two Simple Tips to Refine Your Search

Facebook in Schools: Tool or Taboo?

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Facebook in Schools: Tool or Taboo?

Facebook in school

When it comes to opinions on the use of Facebook in education, there’s a pretty clear dividing line: one side believes that when used in the right way, Facebook can be a tool, while the other thinks it is a distraction that should be kept away from schools. 

Statistics show that 85 - 95% of American high school and college students are on Facebook, with a majority accessing Facebook via smartphone. When so many students access Facebook on their phones, it would be easy to take the position that Facebook could siphon time from classwork and create distraction.  The clear remedy would be to ban cell phone use and block Facebook access on campus.

One question, though, begs to be asked those who have taken this approach:  How is this working out for you?

This question is not a criticism of school or district policy, as the appropriate use of technology in education is a legitimate concern and there are challenges that arise from open access to Facebook in schools.  However, when our students are using Facebook via smartphone as a primary means of communication, should we be communicating with them as “digital natives” on their terms?

There may be constructive alternatives to banning one of the most powerful tools our students have access to today.  Let’s take a look at a few simple ways to use Facebook as an education tool and eliminate some of the taboo that comes along with it.

1)      Create a private, closed group page for a class and invite students to join.  Teachers can use a group page like this to invite students to connect in a safe manner that does not connect them to personal pages.  In addition, teachers can add or remove students at any time, thus keeping the group intact and current their current class.

2)      Post a daily topic of discussion.  Have the students view the page daily to see what the next day’s class discussion topic will be.  Via the comments section, allow students to ask questions and post thoughts that can be used to guide the next day’s lesson.  This is also a great way to see where your students’ base knowledge of a subject lies.  If you’re worried about inappropriate comments, set clear guidelines up front and let students know that access will be permanently removed for any student who violates the rules. Chances are, students will see it as more important to be able to access Facebook and use the tool than to test the boundaries and be banned.

3)      Post links to articles, resources and websites for your students.  Your Facebook group page is a quick and easy place for you to share other learning tools you have found that could help them.

4)      Once a week, have a student create a daily topic of discussion.  Open up discussion to topics your students find relevant in their world.  A topic may not be within your exact curriculum, but use it as a chance to understand their world and have a meaningful line of communication.

5)      Review the comments monthly with your students. As the year goes on, the level and depth of discussion should grow. Use this as an opportunity to motivate your class by going back and reviewing the comments with your students.  Assess the growth as a group, having the class highlight comments they felt led to higher level thinking and challenged them.  Support the conversation by recognizing discussions you feel had a strong impact on the group as a whole.

Whether you are in favor of using Facebook in schools or not, there’s no denying that our students today learn, communicate and socialize in ways that we never imagined.  It is a challenge for us to reach them sometimes, and every once in a while we will have to take a leap and try something new.

Related Reading:

Using Google in the Classroom: Two Simple Tips to Refine Your Search

Opening the Classroom Through Online Collaboration: 21st Century Learning Environments

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Tags: , , , , , ,

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