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Using Twitter in School: 4 Ways Students and Teachers Can Connect With the World

twitter in schoolThe Internet provides a wealth of resources for teachers to use to facilitate student engagement. One of the most versatile is using Twitter in schools. Contrary to popular belief, Twitter is a lot more than celebrities plugging their latest projects. Here are just some of the uses Twitter can have as an educational tool:

  1. Learn from subject matter experts

Do some research and find subject matter experts that your students would be interested in hearing from. In political science, that might be @WhiteHouse. In physics, that might be @neiltyson, the noted astrophysicist. When you start following these experts, don’t be afraid to reach out with direct messages. You would be surprised at who will respond, especially to school children. These people are happy to know you’re using Twitter in the classroom.

  1. Search #hashtags for news events

Some of the best journalism during the Arab Spring was coming from citizen journalists on the ground, using Twitter and other social networks to get their message out. They would organize their tweets using hashtags, those words or phrases that start with “#” that are now ubiquitous with any major event. Do a hashtag search on the topic you’re covering in class to see who else is talking about it and what they have to say.

  1. Start a backchannel conversation

A backchannel uses Twitter to post targeted messages to a group, like a class. These messages are then displayed for everyone to follow using an LCD projector. There are a lot of websites out there that can help you start a backchannel, but the easiest way is to simply establish your own hashtag. Your students have their cell phones readily available during your class, so having them participate in a “backchannel” conversation during another learning activity, like a presentation or film, is a great way for them to be productive with their devices. It’s also a fun way to encourage participation by learners who might be reluctant to speak up in class.

  1. Extend the learning outside of class

A lot of a student’s learning happens outside the classroom, whether you use the flipped classroom approach or simply assign outside reading to your students. A great way to gauge their understanding of the assigned task is to have them directly tweet you with their questions or an answer to a question you give them during class time. As we all know, students have a tendency to forget things between home and school, so this is a great way for them to interact with the information (and with you) without having to remember their thoughts. Just make sure to follow your district’s policies on interacting with students via social media.



For further reading:

How to use twitter in the classroom without compromising your professional relationship with your students

Resource Page for Teachers: Using Twitter in Education

How Twitter can be used as a powerful educational tool

Related reading:

Facebook in Schools: Tool or Taboo?

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

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Categories: Education Trends, Reading & Learning

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Dopamine and Learning: What The Brain’s Reward Center Can Teach Educators

brain learningDoes this ever happen to you as a teacher? You present information in a great deal of detail, covering the content over several days. You are delighted with the way the information flows, you are very pleased with the organization of the content, and the examples you provide are quite clear.  Then, a day or two later, one of the students raises her hand and asks you if you will explain that very content. It is as though she had not been present during your lengthy devotion to that topic. You know she was present, you saw her sitting there listening intently, so how could it be that none of it sank in?

A big part of the answer to why some of your students hold onto the information you teach and others do not has to do with a little chemical in the brain that has to be present for a child (or adult) to retain information. That chemical is called “dopamine”. You may have heard about dopamine because it is the chemical that is released in the brain when we are rewarded. It is also released when a person gambles and wins (or loses), takes certain addictive drugs like cocaine, or just engages in a new exciting adventure.  For many of your students and many of us as adults, learning about new things is an adventure and very rewarding, and dopamine levels increase in the brain to help us retain that new information. But for some learners, if dopamine levels are low, the new information literally goes in and out of the brain and is lost.

I like to refer to dopamine as the “save button” in the brain. When dopamine is present during an event or experience, we remember it; when it is absent, nothing seems to stick.   There are actually some regions of the brain that increase our motivation and interest in activities. Often referred to collectively as the reward center, the regions are activated by dopamine. And the more motivated and interested we are in an activity the more dopamine is released and the better we remember it.   The reward center helps us to stay focused and repeat activities that were reinforced through positive outcomes – whether it is finding and returning to a location where good things happened in our life or just remembering interesting information.    So as a teacher the next question you might ask is, “How do I increase dopamine levels in my students’ brains so that they are motivated to learn and remember what I teach?”  And, believe it or not, the answer is pretty straight forward – “make learning NEW, EXCITING, and REWARDING.”   I call this the “how” of teaching and it is something you actually already know very well.

The importance of NEW in learning is something all teachers think about every time we plan a lesson.  That is why you love it when your school has NEW text book adoptions – the novelty allows you to teach the information in a new way – which generates enthusiasm on your part and the students. To keep fresh, all teachers try to come up with novel ways to present information and new technology to help present content in a different way whether we are fortunate enough to get new textbooks and technology or not. Increase NOVELTY in a classroom and you increase the dopamine levels of your students.

The importance of EXCITING in learning is why as teachers we rack our brains at night trying to think up adventuresome ways to keep our students interested in the content. To make the content exciting, I know primary teachers who get their students to act out letters or new vocabulary, middle school math teachers who teach area computation by asking students to determine the amount of paint that would be needed to redecorate their bedroom, high school teachers who teach students physics by asking them to build a bridge with nothing more than toothpicks. All of these represent what we were taught were teaching methods -- ways teachers devise to keep the energy and excitement level up in a classroom.  Increase excitement in a classroom and you increase dopamine levels of your students.

The importance of REINFORCEMENT in learning is self-evident.  All of us are very aware of the power of reinforcement. Some of us try to encourage our husbands (or wives) to take on more household responsibilities by using not too well disguised reinforcement – “My, you are really great at washing the dishes, the kitchen always shines after you are finished.”  But reinforcement is actually one of the best ways to increase dopamine levels and assure retention of information. Try this tomorrow in your class. Ask a question that most of the students would not necessarily know, then seek out a student who normally does not raise their hand or try to respond, guide the student so he answers the question correctly in front of the entire class, then reward the student with a compliment. A day or so later, ask that same student the question again. What you will find is that student will remember that information even though he might be ordinarily very poor at attending in class or forgetful.  Carefully used, reinforcement is one of the greatest memory enhancers in the brain because it is so powerful at increasing dopamine.

I like to say, successful teaching is not difficult and is very NEAR – New, Exciting And Rewarding because those are the keys to keeping dopamine levels high in the brain. And by the way, keeping your teaching New, Exciting and Rewarding does not just increase your students’ dopamine levels, it increases yours as well.   Coming up with new fresh ways to present the information, making the content interesting and exciting whenever possible, and rewarding all of your students for their successes in your classroom keeps motivation and  attention levels high and promotes retention. Dopamine can be addictive -- our goal as teachers is to get our students addicted to learning.



For further reading:

Dopamine: the rewarding years

Changes in Cortical Dopamine D1 Receptor Binding Associated with Cognitive Training

Related reading:

Lifelong Learning and the Plastic Brain

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

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Categories: Brain Fitness, Brain Research, Reading & Learning


Behavior Problems in School: Empowering Students to Self Discipline

Behavior problems in the classroomsIn my five years in the classroom, I was often the teacher who wrote the least amount of discipline referrals in the school. Some of my colleagues would say it was because of the students I taught (mostly advanced classes, with roughly half of the students being classified as gifted), to which I responded that talented kids are just as capable at problem behavior as traditional students. They just tend to misbehave in more creative ways.

The real reason for my lack of paperwork was that I could usually relate to why a particular student was acting out and tried to address the problem at the source. I credit that approach for a lot of the success I experienced in the classroom.

As anyone who has spent more than five minutes with a middle school student would tell you, the cause was usually a lack of self-discipline. I simply did not see how getting a student suspended from school would solve a student’s lack of self-control.

Why the traditional approach no longer works

To me, the traditional approach of working up a discipline ladder that usually ended with a suspension was contrary to what most of these children actually needed. Think about it. A kid lacks the social skills to be successful in a class group, so we’re going to make sure he gets less practice in working within the class by sending him home.

Let’s face it: society is providing us with more and more students that simply are not prepared socially to be successful in the traditional classroom setting. Debating the causes of this situation is outside the scope of this article, except to say that the role of the modern teacher is now equally defined by social as well as academic instruction.

The social skills that these students lack, and which we fail to address through traditional discipline, are skills that will haunt them throughout their lives. They will not “just grow out of it”. The same skill deficiencies that affect their success in school will affect their success in the workplace, if they make it that far.

So what do we do?

Instead of blaming society for forcing us to be parents to these children, we should embrace the role. Because, frankly, we don’t have a choice. It’s easier to change a classroom than change a society. We need to recommit ourselves to empowering students rather than entering in a power struggle with them.

Just as parents would, we should provide more social opportunities for students. The days of “sit down quietly and copy the notes on the board” are over. That approach just invites more anti-social behavior. Give them opportunities to help and be helped. Embrace a classroom culture of ideas and sharing. There are wonderful, restorative practice ideas on how to make this happen in the Further Reading section down below.

My most important tip: just listen. We all have our least-favorite students, and there are hundreds of things we would rather do than talk to them, which is where the majority of referrals come from. But just hearing their perspective on things could yield the largest return on investment of anything you do all year.



Further Reading:

How to Develop a Welcoming Culture

Study Finds Social-Skills Teaching Boosts Academics

SaferSanerSchools: Transforming School Culture with Restorative Practices

Related Reading:

Beating Bullying for Better Learning

Inspiring Students to Dream, Learn and Grow

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Categories: Education Trends, Reading & Learning

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Join Us for Our 2012 Fall Webinar Series for Educators

Education webinarsOur Fall Webinar Series for Educators is here!  Join us for presentations on topics from how the brain learn to how you can increase test scores and reading proficiency for your students. 

How the Brain Learns

9/12 - The Development of Executive Function: Building the Brain’s “Air Traffic Control” System

Dr. William Jenkins, one of our four founders and an expert in learning-based brain plasticity, will review the three dimensions of executive function often highlighted by scientists—working memory, inhibitory control, and cognitive flexibility. Learn about the development of these skills across childhood and look at some popular misconceptions about executive function in children.  His last webinar on executive function was a big hit—you‘ll want to join us for this one!

10/11 - Teaching with the Brain in Mind

Brain-based learning expert Eric Jensen returns to share specific, practical brain-compatible strategies you can use in the classroom right away. Discover how the brain works, how teaching changes the brain, and what it takes for students to acquire complex learning and achieve their best. Jensen’s webinars are always packed—be sure to register and arrive early!

10/30  -  What do Neuroscientists Know About Learning That Most Educators Don't?

Dr. Paula Tallal will join us to discuss the latest neuroscience research on learning, her original research on auditory processing and language, and the classroom application of these scientific findings to help struggling learners succeed.  Dr. Tallal is one of our four founders and a very engaging presenter—don’t miss this rare opportunity to learn from her!

Real Life Results with Scientific Learning Programs

9/5  - 79% of Arizona English Language Learners Improve One or More Proficiency Levels In One School Year

Returning presenter Cory Armes will discuss how the Fast ForWord program supports English Language Learners by simultaneously developing academic skills critical for reading, such as English language conventions, phonemic awareness, vocabulary, and comprehension. A live Fast ForWord demo will be included in this webinar.

9/17  -  Administrators from Westfield-Washington Schools (IN) Discuss How Their Students Achieved Nearly Double Expected Gains In Reading

Dr. Martha Burns will open the webinar with an overview of how the brain learns.  Then, special guests Dr. Dave Mundy and Cindy Keever from Westfield-Washington Schools in Indiana will discuss how students achieved nearly double their expected gains in reading with the Fast ForWord program.   Bring your questions for our guests!

9/26 - Students Surpass Reading Level Gain Expectations by 50% With Reading Assistant

Maura Deptula will provide an in-depth look at the Reading Assistant online reading coach and results achieved by students using it. Reading practice with Reading Assistant helps strengthen fluency, vocabulary and comprehension. This webinar will include a live product demonstration.

For Parents

9/10 - The Science of Learning

One of our most popular presenters, Dr. Burns returns to discuss ways to accelerate your children’s learning. Recent brain research shows that developing the critical cognitive skills of memory, attention, processing, and sequencing can make a significant difference for your children and result in improved test scores. Dr. Burns will discuss key areas of the brain and how these areas influence reading and academic performance. Angela, a parent from Wisconsin, will discuss her son’s progress and results with the BrainPro program.



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Categories: Brain Fitness, Brain Research, Education Trends, English Language Learners, Fast ForWord, Reading & Learning, Reading Assistant, Scientific Learning Research

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