Homework Tips for Parents

As the new school year is fully underway, most students are returning home with daily homework assignments. To avoid a fight over this work, we’ve compiled the following tips:

How much homework is too much?

The National Education Association recommends that students in first grade receive around 10-20 minutes of homework per night. This amount should grow by 10 minutes per year, which means that students in fifth grade should expect to receive around 50-60 minutes of homework per night. This estimate can vary more widely in middle school and high school as students take on different coursework, but if your child is taking on significantly more than is recommended or is having trouble completing it all, talk to other parents in the school. Are they encountering the same issue? If so, consider talking to your child’s teacher to see if he or she is aware of the issue. If your child is the exception, he or she may benefit from extra tutoring or an extra study period where your child can receive additional assistance through the school.

Organization is key

Leaving large projects for the last minute or forgetting about them entirely can be a huge issue for some students. Encourage your child to use an assignment book to track the due dates of projects and check in on a regular basis to see what progress they’re making. Free online tools, such as Asana can be used to break down larger projects into smaller tasks and assign due dates to each piece. It can even be used to coordinate group projects, where students each have their own account and individual tasks assigned to them. It also includes a conversation feature where students can brainstorm, upload files, and communicate with each other.

Create an environment conducive to getting homework done

One of the problems many students report that prevents them completing homework is a distracting environment. To help students focus on their homework, create a well-lit, quiet space away from distractions such as talking, TV, or cellphones. If students must use a computer for their work, consider limiting their access to the internet or certain websites so they aren’t tempted to spend their time chatting with their friends or checking social media. Programs such as Cold Turkey easily and temporarily limit these distractions by blocking specific websites, the internet in general, or even the entire computer.

Keep in contact with your child’s teacher

By regularly communicating with your child’s teacher, it’s much easier to find out if your child is missing assignments or struggling with particular concepts. Plus, if your child needs assistance, it’s helpful to teach it in the same way it’s taught in the classroom. Parents often report that they don’t understand their child’s homework or that concepts are being taught in unfamiliar ways. Avoid re-teaching concepts in a different way, even if it seems like a shortcut (particularly for math). Your child’s teacher is likely trying to teach the underlying concept before introducing shortcuts or different strategies.

Reward Systems that Work

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Reward systems in the classroom are a valuable way for students to feel empowered in their progress and behavior. When implemented correctly, these rewards create a tangible way for students to see their progress and involves them as participants. However, reward systems that are too loose or inconsistent can encourage entitlement or resentment between students. Today, we explore what a successful reward system looks like.

Creating a Plan

The first step in implementing a reward system is deciding what behavior or milestones should be rewarded. They should be something achievable, but at a frequency that boosts motivation. For example, in Wowzers, students receive a small number of virtual coins for completing activities. A few coins are given just for their progress, but additional coins are rewarded if they answer questions correctly. This encourages students to continue working on the curriculum in order to make progress, but also to slow down and ensure they are truly understanding the material and answering questions correctly.

Frequency of Rewards

The frequency at which students should receive rewards often varies with age. While younger students need more frequent reminders and encouragement, older students can go longer between rewards. One common suggestion is that toddlers should be rewarded every hour, preschoolers should be rewarded every day, and school-age students should be rewarded every week. To support this theory, Wowzers allows teachers to manually reward students with extra coins whenever they wish. These larger rewards can be linked to things such as classroom behavior, timeliness, and remembering to bring supplies or homework to class.

Immediate Feedback

The most powerful reward systems give students immediate feedback. While an immediate reward is not necessary at most ages, as discussed above, students should know that their positive progress or behavior was recognized. In Wowzers, students receive a virtual coin immediately, but they are not able to spend it until they’re in the free time portion of the program. By immediately recognizing students, it creates a much stronger link between the desired behavior or progress and the reward. Students feel motivated and empowered and are more likely to continue the activity.

Variety of Rewards

Different students desire different types of rewards. Wowzers solves this problem with our virtual mall, which allows students to spend their coins on a huge variety of in-game goods. When creating your own reward system, you may want to allow students to choose their own reward. Some students might value being allowed to sit next to a friend while others want a sticker or a positive call home to their parents. Whatever the reward, being able to physically see their progress has been shown to work best. This can take the form of an invented currency or a positive behavior chart on the wall.

To learn more how the Wowzers K-8 online math program rewards students for learning, contact our team or try a free trial.

sales@wowzers.com

P: 872-205-6250

F: 888-502-2106

The Next Step in Gamifying Learning

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When most teachers hear about gamifying learning, they think of games that double as a teaching tool or a classroom-made game of trivia to review concepts before a test. However, some schools have taken the concept of gamification to the next level, such as Quest to Learn in New York City. At this school, 100% of learning is posed as a game.

What it Looks Like

The school awards levels instead of grades, everything from “Novice” to “Master.” Even the subjects have more descriptive names. For example, science is re-dubbed “The Way Things Work.” Learning takes place through quests: a thematic unit where students have to work together to solve a series of challenges.

Some such quests ask students to invent a method of transport that could penetrate the Earth to its core, managing all the layers of the Earth in the process. In another quest, students work at a fictional biotech company, where they must clone dinosaurs and create a stable ecosystem for them. Technology is interwoven into everything they do. Using Storyweavers, a collaborative program, students work together to create stories. To practice math concepts, students might invent and play a new card game or be asked to design a structurally-sound building. In one class, students were asked to pick a real Supreme Court case, have the class argue both sides, while students assigned as judges are tasked with ensuring a fair and balanced decision.

How it Works

Designers of the curriculum have studied how to make engaging games. Challenge is constant and mistakes are only minor setbacks, easily overcome. Immediate feedback and rewards are vital, and learning requires participation and interaction. Technology is often integrated into the curriculum, allowing students to play the role of professionals, using role-playing games, graphics programs, and simulations to explore complex careers and situations.

The school is exceptionally popular, and students enroll through a lottery system. Around 650 students attend, spread out across middle school and high school. The students are still required to take the same standardized tests as other students across the country, but their prep is clearly much different.

Effectiveness of the Program

Student attendance and teacher retention rates are high at Quest to Learn. Clearly, the students seem to enjoy learning and going to school. The students’ test scores are fairly average for the area, receiving a solid 5 on GreatSchools. However, perhaps more importantly, the students are above average in problem-solving skills, being able to collaborate and think critically. They also receive much more insight into potential future careers than in a typical curriculum.

However, the system is not easy to implement. Quest to Learn receives hundreds of requests every week from other schools who want to use the curriculum. One Chicago school attempted to integrate the entire curriculum into their existing one, but failed to sufficiently train their staff. Teachers and students were both confused and the implementation was not successful.

Quest to Learn potentially shows the future of learning, where games are not just used in the classroom, but naturally integrated in all aspects.

To learn how the Wowzers K-8 online math program can help make learning fun, contact our team or try a free trial.

sales@wowzers.com

P: 872-205-6250

F: 888-502-2106

How Peer Pressure Affects Learning

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Anyone who has worked with students has likely seen the effects of peer pressure in schools. Whether it’s an individual being discouraged to take studying seriously or certain subjects in school being less “cool” to enjoy, peers’ opinions hold power. Now, new research shows exactly how much this power really affects students.

Peer Pressure in Action

SAT prep courses are a popular way for today’s students to gain an advantage on the SAT. In fact, students report that by taking a prep course, they expect their SAT score to go up by at least 100 points, which is fairly significant and would likely affect their college acceptance rate. To measure the power of peer pressure, the National Bureau of Economic Research offered SAT prep courses at several Los Angeles high schools. In the schools where the sign-ups were described as public, meaning that students’ peers could see who signed up, only 53% of students expressed interest in the course. In schools where the sign-ups were described as private, so that no one could see who had signed up, 80% of students wanted to participate.

This research suggests that around one-third of the students who wanted to take an SAT prep course would forgo signing up, just to “save face” among their peers. The results were particularly surprising because the majority of students wanted to take the prep course, but so many of them still hesitated, due to how their classmates would perceive their interest. Furthermore, even students in peer groups who valued education were hesitant to sign up for the prep classes publicly because of the perception that they needed academic assistance. The takeaway from this study is that peer pressure is in full effect in our schools, and can cause students to walk away from opportunities they would normally take.

Preventing Peer Pressure

Understanding how peer pressure affects students is one thing, but how do we respond to it? As the study showed, an overwhelming majority of the students were interested in taking an “uncool” prep class if their classmates didn’t know they were doing it. Students value privacy in their educational needs. This is why we at Wowzers allow students to work at their own pace, in different sections of the curriculum, and often in varying grade levels. Students are never informed if they are working at a slower pace or at a lower level than their classmates, and there is no way for others to see where their peers are at in the curriculum. This prevents peer pressure from taking effect, and allows students the privacy they clearly desire.

To learn how the Wowzers K-8 online math program eliminates peer pressure in learning, contact our team or try a free trial.

sales@wowzers.com

P: 872-205-6250

F: 888-502-2106

Tips on Securing Funding for New Technology

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There’s no shortage of innovative technology solutions that support strategies such as personalized learning and effective teaching strategies, but the cost can quickly become prohibitive. With tightening school budgets and personal spending accounts only going so far, what other funding sources are available for teachers?

Donor Programs

One possibility is to create a project through a donor program, such as DonorsChoose.org. This website allows the public to search for a project that they want to support through donations. Teachers create a page that describes their project, upload pictures, and set a goal. Each submission is vetted by staff to verify that the goal is fair and the project is well-explained. Donations are tax-deductible and because each project receives its own URL, it’s easy to share with others through social media or email. Over 75% of teachers reach their goal, and once funded, DonorsChoose.org takes care of ordering and shipping all the materials directly to the school. Before submitting your own project, we recommend browsing through some successful examples to get an idea of what works.

Grants

The other major source of funding for teachers is through grants. Many sites exist that search all currently offered grants for a particular topic or area. For example, grants.gov allows users to search by keyword and includes thousands of available grants. To find education-specific grants, sites such as Grants for Teachers or Get Ed Funding are good options as well. To apply for a grant, simply follow the instructions to create a proposal that describes why your classroom needs the funds and how they would be used. For tips on how to write a successful grant, check out these tips and resources. If you have a particular program you want to implement, their staff may also be willing to help you put together the proposal.

For more info on the Wowzers K-8 online math program, contact our team or try a free trial

sales@wowzers.com

P: 872-205-6250

F: 888-502-2106

Surge in Innovation with ESSA

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One of the main criticisms of the No Child Left Behind Act was that it put too much focus on preparing students to take assessments, limiting schools’ ability to innovate and try new ways of teaching content. Teachers stuck with what they knew, fearing the risk of failure and the associated sanctions. However, this outdated act was replaced in 2015 with the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), which has opened the doors to innovation.

ESSA Changes

ESSA gives much of the power back to the states and school districts. Although students continue to participate standardized testing, each state is now responsible for putting together plans on how to help students succeed, how to evaluate schools, and how to respond to schools that do poorly. As a result, teachers no longer have to fear the federal government stepping in to fire staff and close schools if their students struggle on these assessments.

Increase in Innovation

In the short amount of time that ESSA has been in effect, innovation in education has become a huge part of the conversation in schools. States have begun submitting their education plans, and many of them include a focus on personalized learning. New Jersey, for example, plans to provide professional development related to personalized learning and offer grants to schools that want to provide personalized instruction. Virginia also emphasizes innovation in their plans, as they allow schools to apply for waivers from requirements that would limit their ability to innovate.

Sharing Success Stories

As research continues to emerge about how powerful personalized learning can be for students, ESSA finally allows schools to pursue these new possibilities without as much fear. New Hampshire has asked teachers to document their unique intervention strategies and how they work, recognizing that their teachers are experts in teaching and often have revolutionary ideas on how to make learning more effective. This will allow teachers to pursue new technology and personalized learning solutions, while also sharing their findings with others.

For detailed strategies on how schools can innovate with ESSA and prepare for accountability requirements, we recommend this comprehensive handbook, published by the Center for Digital Education.

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

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P: 872-205-6250

F: 888-502-2106

Teacher Feature: Rita Minster

edited_1455328910796-1.jpgWe love to hear from teachers who are using Wowzers in their classrooms. Today, we will be featuring Rita Minster, a veteran teacher of sixteen years who has been using Wowzers for three years! Currently, she teaches a classroom of fifth graders at McCollam Elementary in the Alum Rock Union Elementary School District of San Jose, California.

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Minster’s classroom uses Wowzers supplementally on computer carts that are rotated within each classroom, but that’s not enough for her students, who often beg to stay inside during recess to continue working on Wowzers. She reports that they even log on to Wowzers at home and on their phones without prompting. Perhaps one of the reasons her students love it so much is because she uses the built-in reward system to reinforce good behavior in class. Her students certainly have no complaints about the practice, as she has heard one of them exclaim, “OMG, I have 15 Wowzers coins!” after a particularly good day.

20170426_142333.jpgWe asked what specifically about Wowzers has resonated so well with Minster’s students, and she credits several key factors. Her students enjoy exploring the virtual world of Wowzers with their custom avatars, and the lessons are straightforward and direct. The instant feedback and kid-friendly language means that students never feel like they’re working too hard and can learn without the fear of failing. Even when they get something wrong, they’re simply nudged back on the right track and receive re-teaching when needed.

20170426_142434.jpgMinster works especially hard to make sure Wowzers is individualized for each student. She keeps a close eye on her students’ progress in Wowzers and every two weeks, she readjusts each student’s learning path. Every time she’s had a question about the program, she’s been able to immediately reach the Wowzers staff through phonecalls and chat. Her approach is undoubtedly working, based on the reaction of her students. Or, as she’s heard them say, “I can’t wait for tomorrow for Wowzers!”

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Want to learn more? 

sales@wowzers.com

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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

sales@wowzers.com

P: 872-205-6250

F: 888-502-2106

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

sales@wowzers.com

P: 872-205-6250

F: 888-502-2106

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

sales@wowzers.com

P: 872-205-6250

F: 888-502-2106