Is Math Still an Important Skill to Learn?

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We’ve all heard the complaints from students about how they don’t believe math will be useful in their lives after school, but what about their parents? How do they value math as a subject worth learning, particularly in relation to other skills?

Survey Results

A recent survey of more than 2500 parents found that over a third of them believe that math is only useful for people going into math-related careers, so the average American doesn’t have much need for math. Researchers also noted that the parents tended to value reading skills over math. This creates an issue for teachers who must overcome this mindset from both students and their parents to not only teach math skills, but also teach the value of math in everyday life.

Early Math Skills

While most of the emphasis on early learning has been on reading, researchers have found that early math skills are just as important to long-term success. They believe the reason for this disconnect is two-fold: first, it’s much easier for programs to encourage parents to pick up a book to read with their child. Libraries can easily support this message as well. Second, there is a culture of anxiety around math in America. It’s much more culturally acceptable for people to claim they’re “just not a math person” than admitting that they can’t read well. Parents often have bad memories of not understanding math when they were younger, and the way math is taught changes often, with little visibility to parents. For these reasons, math is often left to schools with little support from home, or in early years.

Changing the Perception

As mentioned earlier, math skills are crucial from a young age. One long-term study found that math skills at the beginning of kindergarten were the best predictor of academic skills in eighth grade. In order to encourage parents to start working on math skills with their young children, it’s important for those who work with young children—such as kindergarten and preschool teachers—to explain to parents how to talk about math with their children. Activities from estimating the number of fish in a tank at the pet store to looking for patterns in the tiles laid out on the floor can strengthen early math skills. For teachers of older students, reinforcing the importance of math skills such as logical reasoning and critical thinking can help parents understand why math is such a crucial skill for everyone, not just those going into math-related careers.

To learn how Wowzers K-8 Online Math program can make learning engaging and open a math dialogue between students and their parents or teachers, contact our team or try a free trial

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Challenges in Incorporating Educational Technology in the Classroom

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If you’re like most teachers around the world, technology is on your mind. With so many new solutions available – from classroom management systems to digital curriculum to test prep programs – there are thousands of ways to make teachers’ lives easier. However, implementing these solutions can run into a few major roadblocks. Fortunately, it’s possible to learn from those who have already overcome these challenges.

Securing Funding

Technology often does not come cheap! However, there are ways to squeeze it into even the smallest budgets. There are many donor programs available online, where teachers create a profile for their classroom and explain exactly what they need and how much it will cost. Donors browse these profiles and decide which projects to help fund.

Receiving donated computers can also help lessen the cost of a new technology program. Recycling companies focused on education often take slightly outdated computers (which still have a lot of life left in them!) and donate them to schools. Search online to see which programs may be available in your area.

Grants are the other big way schools fund new technology. Search aggregates, such as Grants.gov make it easy to find grants that your classroom may qualify for. Just search for “technology” and see what comes up. If you have a particular program in mind, their staff may be willing to help you put together a grant proposal.

Technology Requirements

Before purchasing any equipment, make sure you know what you’ll need. The school’s IT department can likely help with this obstacle. After all, an investment in a tablet for every student can easily go to waste if the school doesn’t have the Wi-Fi network necessary. Most programs have their technical requirement accessible online. Check to make sure you fulfill all these requirements, and don’t be afraid to contact them if you’re unsure.

Professional Development

If all has gone well and you’ve secured the funding and equipment you need, be sure to follow up with professional development and training for any staff who will be using the technology, including yourself. One of the biggest reasons teachers fail to take advantage of available technology is because they don’t feel confident enough to use it, or they’re unsure how to use incorporate it in their established routines. By bringing in a professional to walk everyone through best practices, the program will have a much better success rate. Many programs include regular professional development in the cost of their subscription, so be sure to ask when doing your research!

We at Wowzers have helped many schools find the best way to incorporate technology in the classroom. To learn how Wowzers K-8 Online Math program can help your school, contact our team or try a free trial

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How to Prevent the Summer Slide

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As we prepare to release students into the freedom that the summer months bring, one thing on every teacher’s mind is the summer slide: the tendency for students to forget much of what they learned over the school year. These worries are quite valid, as research has shown that children lose around two months of their reading and math skills during this time. This results in wasted time during the following school year and is often directly related to the achievement gap between students. Fortunately, it doesn’t take too much work to prevent this learning loss. We’ve included some helpful tips for both teachers and parents to lessen the effects of the summer slide.

Tips for Parents

Encourage reading! Even if your child’s school doesn’t assign a summer reading list, try taking a weekly trip to the library. Many libraries have a summer reading program that rewards children for each book they read. Librarians will have plenty of recommendations, based on your child’s age and interests. Set a goal of six books by the time vacation ends – research has shown that is typically enough to keep children on track for their return to school in the fall.

Don’t forget to include some regular math practice! Just 2-3 hours per week is usually enough practice to keep their skills intact. Before you start printing out worksheets and picking up activity books, consider something a little more fun and rewarding. Many educational math games and apps are available online, and your child’s teacher may have some suggestions based on what they use in the classroom. Involve your child in daily activities that may require math, such as planning the budget for vacation or the total cost of fuel for a road trip. Even cooking together can help younger children practice their fractions and math conversions.

Tips for Teachers

Even if your students are heading to a new teacher next year, their future teacher will almost certainly thank you if you follow these tips! Before the school year ends, start talking to parents about how to encourage learning throughout the summer. Find out what activities (particularly free ones – check local libraries and community centers) will be happening, and think about which students may be particularly interested. Keep an eye out for reading programs, science classes, and volunteer opportunities. For high-performing students, see if they would be interested in tutoring younger students. The best way to solidify what they know is through teaching it to others.

If you use a particular educational game or app in the classroom, check to see if students can log in over the summer and access their account from home. If so, make sure their families have this info and consider rewarding students for their dedication over the summer. To practice their writing skills, try giving each student a pre-addressed and stamped postcard to write to you over the summer. This has the added benefit of learning what your students are up to while they’re away.

We’re dedicated to doing our part to make learning math fun for students, especially during the break! To learn how Wowzers K-8 Online Math program can help prevent the summer slide, contact our team or try a free trial

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Tips for De-stressing Students

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As students prepare for high-stakes testing, their stress levels are more likely than ever to skyrocket. To make this process as smooth as possible, here are some tips on how to get your students to de-stress.

Relaxation Techniques

As class begins, have all students sit down at their desks, close their eyes, and practice deep breathing. This is something that students can learn to do anytime they feel their stress rising. Slowly breathe in for a count of four, then breathe out just as slowly. Try counting along out loud so students understand the technique.

An internal method for relaxing is refocusing. Have students think about something unrelated that they do know. For example, have them think about their favorite food that they make at home. What ingredients go into it? How is it made? Have them picture their mom or dad’s face. What color eyes do they have? How do you spell their name? What about backwards? By answering these questions, students become more confident and focused on what they can answer correctly.

The third relaxation technique is meditation. Dim the classroom lights and either read to the students from a guided meditation, or play a recording for them (there are many such free recordings available online). This will help students relax their bodies from head to toe. Remind them to remain respectful of their classmates, as it’s easy for students to become disruptive or giggly the first few times.

Communication

For many students, writing out their concerns helps mitigate stress, often through the simple act of externalizing it. Give students the option to anonymously submit their concerns so that you can get a better feel for how the classroom is feeling and reassure them as needed. 

Others may find it more useful to act out their concerns through roleplay. In these quick and easy scenarios either written by you or the students themselves, they pair up and both give voice to their own concerns, often sharing helpful de-stressing techniques that they’ve developed.

Last-Minute Prep

The day of the test, make sure snacks and drinks are available to all the students. Breakfast and hydration is essential to keep their brains focused and energized. Some researchers even suggest providing a cinnamon or peppermint candy for students (assuming there are no allergies or food restrictions). These scents are said to help stimulate the brain.

Physical activity can get the blood flowing, while also releasing those last-minute wiggles and allowing students to stay seated for longer without getting squirmy. Consider leading a brief jumping-jacks or active stretching routine before testing begins.

Make sure that students have something to look forward to after the testing is over! By rewarding students with a pizza party, movie, or something else you know they’ll enjoy, it keeps them determined and more willing to work hard on the test itself. You can also try keeping the mood light by telling a few jokes before the test starts.

By teaching students from an early age how to manage their stress, it enforces healthy habits and can result in better test scores and happier students. To learn how Wowzers K-8 Online Math program can help students prepare for high-stakes testing, contact our team or try a free trial

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The Power of Games in Education

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When we talk about blended learning classrooms, we often mention how students today are “digital natives,” but what does this really mean? Increasingly, children are growing up using technology and playing video games as a form of entertainment. In fact, the average child will have spent ten thousand hours gaming by the time they are 21 years old. Clearly, there is something utterly captivating about video games, but what is it? And how can we use this power to get kids excited about learning?

Games Provide Immediate Feedback

Games typically update you immediately on your progress. If you complete an objective, you are rewarded and your character levels up, becoming visibly stronger. This type of feedback is powerful, because you’re able to visualize your progress. In a traditional classroom, the idea of learning is certainly there, but there’s no way to see how much you have learned so far, and there is typically a long wait period before they receive graded work back. By combining games with learning, students can visualize their progress. Every task comes with a reward, the goals become achievable, and students begin to think of learning as “leveling up.” Learning becomes exciting.

Games Are Challenging

Contrary to what many assume, the goal of games is often not to win, it’s to be challenged. Many popular puzzle games have no end, yet people love to play them because each level is harder than the previous. In these games, no one is trying to win, they’re just trying to get farther than they did last time. The idea of learning is very similar: in a classroom, there should be no limit to the amount of content a student can consume, but it should become increasingly more difficult in order to be engaging. A good digital learning platform does this automatically, as it adapts to each student and provides an endless amount of content, while keeping students at that sweet spot where it’s not frustratingly difficult, but always challenging.

Games Include Epic Adventures

There are some common themes in epic games. The hero is often trying to save the world or even the galaxy. People desire that feeling, where they’re doing something big and important that affects everyone. By incorporating technology in the classroom, creating that feeling for students is possible. Many digital programs combine storytelling with learning, where students use their newly-learned skills to solve big problems and save lives. By using what they’ve learned, even in a fictional environment, it makes the concepts memorable and seem more important.

Games Require Creativity

Games are full of rules. In fact, they’re a requirement in order for the game to work. Rather than a hindrance, these rules are embraced by players, because they require creativity and strategic thinking. Learning can take place in the same way. By including games in learning, teachers can create a set of rules that everyone must follow, creating a fun challenge to overcome, instead of a set of objectives to memorize. The best games are carefully designed to turn work and stress into a rewarding experience that rewards creativity and ingenuity.

Rather than look down on games as a waste of time or something that’s done when our work is done, it makes much more sense to use games as a learning tool. By including games in a blended learning classroom, teachers are able to use their power to make the content more rewarding, engaging, and to spark creativity in their students.

To learn how Wowzers K-8 Online Math program can help teachers make learning fun, contact our team or try a free trial

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How Blended Learning Programs That Include Test Prep Help Students Get Ready for “High-Stakes Testing”

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Just talking about “high-stakes testing” raises the stress level of most teachers. The idea of trying to summarize everything a student has learned into a single test is a terrifying proposal, particularly with students who are easily distracted, overwhelmed, or unengaged. Now that most testing programs are done through a computer, this adds a new level of complexity for students who may be unfamiliar with the format. In order to get the most accurate result possible, test prep programs help prepare students for these tests in a few simple ways.

Familiarity

Test prep programs have put a lot of research into the types of questions students will run into on high-stakes tests. By familiarizing students ahead of time with these types of questions, students won’t run into the time-consuming process of learning how to use digital tools and manipulatives during the test itself. By practicing and learning how these tools and questions function ahead of time, students become more confident in their abilities and are able to show what they really know, which is the ultimate goal. Probably the most frustrating part of high-stakes testing is seeing students struggle because although they know the answer, they don’t understand how to input it correctly.

Extended Response Practice

Long-form questions, where students explain their process or defend their answer, is becoming a large part of high-stakes testing. Although students practice basic concepts on a daily basis, the act of writing out their thought process is less common and less practiced. A good test prep program includes a variety of extended response questions, where students can practice transferring their knowledge into logical, sequential text. As an added benefit, this type of practice allows teachers to analyze whether students are truly understanding new concepts, or whether they have simply memorized the necessary steps.

Review

Most high-stakes testing covers content over a long period of time, sometimes even years of learning. Practicing with a test prep program beforehand allows students to review the content and brush up on concepts they might have forgotten in the months since they last used it. By reviewing each student’s scores, it’s possible to revisit this content before the real deal. This type of analysis also highlights whether the classroom as a whole missed an important concept, and what would be beneficial to review.

Rather than leaving students to fend for themselves, creating a stressful environment where they are setup to fail, test prep programs give all students a fair chance to truly demonstrate their knowledge and abilities to the fullest.  

To learn how Wowzers K-8 Online Math program can help students prepare for “high-stakes testing,” contact our team or try a free trial

 

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How Blended Learning Programs Build Self-Esteem

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On average, teachers spend over a thousand hours with their students each year. It’s no surprise, then, that students’ relationship with their teacher can be an extraordinarily valuable one. When many children are asked who they look up to, identify with, and gather strength from, their answer is often a teacher, either past or present. Although many teachers would answer the question, “What is your job?” with, “To teach, of course,” we know the responsibilities of a teacher go far beyond simply providing lessons and grading work. Teachers play a valuable role in the self-worth and self-esteem of their students.

The most successful teachers have several qualities in common: they are optimistic, charismatic, and determined. These teachers generally have several facts in mind when working with their students:

Fact 1: Students Want to Be Successful

Teachers who believe that every student wants to experience success in learning approach each new objective with a positive outlook. If students struggle or fail to succeed, they work to discover why. Many of these teachers use a blended learning approach because it helps eliminate the fear of failure. When using an online program in conjunction with traditional methods, students are able to work independently at their own pace, often on content that is at a different difficulty level than many of the other students. By linking this adaptive approach with a strong role model as a teacher, students experience more success and work on building their self-esteem and positivity towards learning.

Fact 2: Students Desire Immediate Feedback

Students want to know how they’re doing. When they’re feeling unsure or confused, it often leads to self-defeating behaviors such as inattention, giving up, or goofing off. Truly effective teachers recognize these behaviors not as disruptions, but as a request for help. By combining their skills with a technology program that gives this immediate feedback, teachers are able to provide their students with more direction and attention. This engaging approach helps students build their self-esteem and experience more opportunities for success.

Fact 3: Students Learn Best in Different Ways

Studies have shown there’s no “one way” to learn. Students’ brains are highly unique, meaning that individuals learn best in different ways. The most memorable teachers not only recognize this fact, they also recognize that they teach best in different ways. By interweaving their personal teaching style with technology, teachers are able to present material in many different ways, reaching more students than they could in a purely traditional classroom. These multiple approaches lead to a greater possibility that a student will have an “ah-ha” moment and truly grasp the content. When this happens, it’s a very powerful motivator that leads to a greater self-esteem.

Fact 4: The Sharing of Ideas Leads to Confidence

When a student really “gets it,” sharing their ideas and knowledge with peers leads to even greater confidence. This is the reason that blended learning classrooms include both technology and in-person work. Many online programs also include offline, differentiated activities after each learning concept that allow students to work together, share their ideas, and mentor other classmates. Teachers who recognize these accomplishments and milestones raise the self-esteem of their students well beyond what is possible when students work independently.

By reminding themselves of these facts, teachers can create a positive relationship with their students that is based on success. A blended learning classroom becomes a motivating, safe environment for students, especially those of whom are building up their self-esteem and look up to their teacher for strength and support.

Contributing Author: Jessica Kuras 

To learn more about how Wowzers can help teachers create a blended learning environment, contact our team or try a free trial

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