Teacher Feature: Cory Davis

2d58086.jpgTeachers around the country often share their stories with us, as each classroom finds a slightly different solution in using Wowzers. Today, we will be featuring Cory Davis, a sixth grade math teacher of seven years. Currently, he works at Humes Preparatory Academy in the Achievement School District of Memphis, Tennesee.

Because Davis’s students use the browser-based version of Wowzers, he has them set up on Google Chromebooks – an inexpensive laptop solution for many classrooms. By using the playlist feature built into Wowzers, he creates individual paths through the curriculum for small-group instruction, enrichment, and intervention. His students seem to love his method, as one reports, “I was struggling with my sixth grade math skills, but Mr. Davis assigned me easier skills so I could work my way back up to sixth grade.”

Davis uses Wowzers in conjunction with the NWEA Learning Continuum and has seen many of his students make great strides, such as one determined individual who used Wowzers at home and saw 21 RIT points of growth after all his hard work. Davis credits the personalization of Wowzers for much of his students’ success and recommends that teachers use it to its full advantage, explaining, “It’s best not to keep your students on the same skill because every students is not the same.”

As most teachers quickly realize, there is a huge selection of other math programs out there. Davis considered using Khan Academy in his classroom, but found that Wowzers was more challenging, while also remaining kid-friendly. He has also had good experience with Wowzers’ customer service, finding them fast and helpful.

When asked what he likes best about Wowzers, Davis gave special recognition to the top-notch graphics, easy reward system, and the built-in assessments. As for his students, it seems their love of Wowzers is a little simpler: “I love the ability to control an actual character that looks like me!”

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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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Education Trends for 2017

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We hear you loud and clear: Digital and personalized education is the focus in school districts around the country. Surveys show that teachers are prioritizing technology in the classroom this year, but how will ESSA accountability plans, potential E-rate changes, and state funding affect these plans?

Top Five Priorities

In a new survey recently released, teachers from 163 different districts ranked their priorities for 2017, putting a heavy emphasis on technology:

  1. Personalized learning
  2. Digital content and curriculum
  3. Professional development to integrate technology
  4. Mobility
  5. Network upgrades

A majority of the teachers surveyed also reported that they have a digital curriculum strategy in place. Are you one of them? Read on to find out how new laws and funding may affect you.

ESSA Next Steps

States have begun releasing their accountability plans under ESSA, which returns much of the power and decision-making to states and school districts. Originally, these plans would then be approved by the U.S. Department of Education, but this process was halted when Congress scrapped the original ESSA implementation guidelines. All eyes are on the new Education Secretary, Betsy DeVos, to see what happens next. However, one thing hasn’t changed: ESSA puts a heavy emphasis on incorporating technology in the classroom.

E-rate Program Status

The E-rate government program was designed to give schools a substantial discount (up to 90%) on obtaining affordable internet access. Concerns have been raised on the future of E-rate after Ajit Pai, a critic of the program, was appointed as the new FCC Chairman. He has spoken out about past increases to the E-rate spending cap, believing them to be financially irresponsible. In the meantime, new research shows significant improvement in school connectivity, with nearly 90% of schools now meeting minimum connectivity targets.

State Funding Increases

Good news for many schools around the country  state general fund spending on K-12 increased by $9.4 billion for 2017. This includes spending increases for thirty-nine states around the country. This was the biggest increase of all the categories, clearly demonstrating that, no matter what, education is a priority this year.

To stay up-to-date on education trends, as well as learn how Wowzers K-8 Online Math program can meet your technology goals, contact our team or try a free trial

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Teacher Feature: Nancy Lee

nancylee.jpgThe beauty of Wowzers is that it can be used in so many different ways. From time to time, we like to share how a particular teacher has found the perfect solution for their classroom. Today, we will be featuring Nancy Lee, a Special Education teacher with over 33 years of experience. Currently, she works at Kilpatrick Elementary in the Texarkana School District.


I have always wanted to feel in control of what my kids are learning. After a tutorial on the Wowzers program one summer I decided to give it a try for one semester. I was totally impressed that I was able to arrange, delete, rearrange or whatever I wanted or needed for my students to be successful. Wowzers is very flexible in that I can go in to add lessons, delete lessons, change grade levels, repeat lessons, etc. Teachers are able to adjust or monitor the student’s daily arrangement of activities as well.

The standards are readily available on the program if I need to make quick reference. I am able to get activity sheets which include writing, higher level thinking, extra practice and vocabulary for most standards. The reports are very informative. There are several options of reports available and should be helpful for anything needed for documentation purposes.

The Wowzers representative I work with is amazing. She is always on top of it and quick to respond to any and all of my needs. I can’t say enough good things about her or this program. I love Wowzers and am so glad I ran across the email about it that summer.

I would highly recommend the program to anyone. My students love the program and are eager to use it daily. The animations are great, their attention is always great, and the game time is always fun for all ages of students. The program keeps their attention and definitely has everything teachers could possibly need for any type documentation or intervention.

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How to Choose the Right Test Prep Program

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We’ve discussed before on how test prep can give students an advantage. With high-stakes testing season approaching, now is the perfect time to start vetting test prep programs to find a good fit for your classroom. There are several characteristics that the most effective programs have in common.

Practice Taking Real Tests

Many programs include tips and tricks for taking tests, including ways to quickly find the correct answer or maximize their score. However, without the opportunity to actually practice these techniques, students are unlikely to remember them when actually taking the tests. By taking similar tests in advance, students gain familiarity and become more confident in their abilities. This lessens those “pre-test jitters” and helps prevent students from freezing up during the test itself. In any test prep program, check to make sure it includes sample tests, based off of the type of assessment your students will be taking.

Up-to-Date with Current Practices

The world of high-stakes assessments changes quickly, particularly as everything migrates to a digital medium. Check when the test prep program was created and how often it’s updated. Look for one that was created within the past 3-4 years and is updated on a regular basis.

Extended Response Assistance

Some of the most difficult questions for students are often the ones that require them to explain their reasoning or defend their approach. Even students who understand how to find the answer don’t always know how to address the writing portion. These questions are often heavily weighted and any test prep program needs to teach students how to answer these types of questions and provide them with plenty of practice. Bonus points go to programs that also provide teachers with a rubric on how these questions are graded so that they can give their students informed assistance.

Customized Approach

One of the most overwhelming parts of prepping students for high-stakes testing is that these assessments often cover material from an entire year. Many programs combat this issue by including a wide variety of topics and lightly touch on each one. Others only cover what they consider the most difficult material. The best test prep programs include a way to customize the material for individual 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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How Does the Every Student Succeed Act (ESSA) Affect Schools?

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Most Americans have heard of the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), even non-teachers and parents. It was a controversial piece of law, designed to increase school accountability through an emphasis on annual testing and teacher qualifications, reports on academic progress, as well as changes in funding. However, it was blamed for an increase in “teaching to the test,” where teachers focused on readying their students for test questions so that they could demonstrate the required amount of academic progress, at the cost of achieving an in-depth understanding of the curriculum. It also failed to recognize great strides classrooms were making with struggling students if they didn’t quite reach what NCLB considered “proficient.”

Near the end of 2015, the Every Student Succeed Act was signed into law, replacing the No Child Left Behind Act. The question of course becomes: What has this new act changed?

What is the Every Student Succeeds Act?

This new piece of law replaced the No Child Left Behind Act and returned a lot of the power to the states and school districts. Rather than the federal government mandating when and how testing must be administered, states now have the power to break the assessments into smaller sections and find a variety of tests that more accurately capture what students have learned. States are also empowered to create their own accountability goals and plans, which are then approved by the Department of Education.

One of the biggest criticisms of NCLB was what happened when a school was unable to meet achievement goals. In order to continue to receive federal funding they had a variety of choices that ranged from firing the principal and most of the staff to closing the school entirely. Under ESSA, the intervention methods are much more flexible. It’s up to the state to determine how they want to help schools that are at the bottom 5% of assessment scores or have less than a 67% graduation rate.

How Does ESSA Empower Schools to Use Digital Education?

Also included in ESSA is the authority for states to pursue innovative educational technology solutions. Up to $849M of the funds granted through ESSA can be used to pursue educational technology, which is 60% of the funding provided through grants. This is a reflection of the growing interest in technology. A recent study found that 56% of teachers surveyed reported that digital tools make them better educators. By streamlining the lesson planning, reporting, grading, and personalization process, education technology allows teachers to spend more time being highly effective  working with struggling students, designing creative solutions, and engaging in professional development.

By handing over much of the control and decision-making to the states and school districts, the federal government has realized that a one-size-fits-all approach to education is unfair to both teachers and students. ESSA is one step closer to providing a solution that is flexible and encourages approaches such as education technology that are being embraced by teachers and administrators.

To learn more about how Wowzers K-8 Online Math program can help schools incorporate technology in the classroom, contact our team or try a free trial 

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Solutions for Overwhelmed Principals

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There’s no doubt that principals have a profoundly stressful career as the leader of a school, responsible for typically dozens of teachers and hundreds of students. Much of the focus has been put on teacher burnout, but the pressure of long hours and competing priorities typically travels up the ladder and rests on the shoulders of principals as well. Any principal can tell you that their days are often full of a stream of teachers coming and going, and the burden can quickly become overwhelming.

The incentive for keeping good principals is evident. A recent study showed it often costs more than $75,000 to replace a principal. Mind you, this doesn’t include their salary. This is simply the cost of recruitment, training, mentoring, professional development, and all the other factors that go into hiring principals. Therefore, the focus should be on finding ways to manage the everyday stress and pressure that comes from being the leader of a school.

Find Ways to Save Time

One of the main complaints from principals is that there simply isn’t enough time in the day to address all the work they need to get done. Finding ways to save time on certain tasks is essential. One solution is to take advantage of technology to cut out busywork such as creating reports, checking on overall classroom progress, and sending home report cards. All these tasks can be done automatically and with the touch of a button using the right digital curriculum implemented school-wide.

Focus on Teacher Empowerment

When a teacher comes to his or her principal with an issue, they’re often looking to offload an issue they don’t feel equipped to handle. Instead of collecting these issues until the principal becomes overburdened, it’s important to empower the staff to solve problems as well. When a teacher surfaces an issue, the typical steps are to first have the teacher fully describe the issue, assign a person to deal with the issue, recommend a course of action, then check up on the issue at a later date and readjust as needed.

Assign Priorities and Goals

Teacher burnout quickly leads to principal burnout. When a school has too many competing priorities, it becomes impossible to focus on any one goal. By identifying school-wide priorities each year and supporting these goals through focused and long-lasting professional development and regular check-ins, large improvements are much more likely. These goals can be easily supported through technology to track progress and encourage collaboration.

Find Your Stress Relief

Some stress is inevitable. In a high-stress career as a principal, it’s important to find a source of stress relief. This could include taking a walk and visiting some of the classrooms, listening to music, trying out new educational games, taking an art break, spending time with staff outside of school, or even just planning regular vacations. Whatever your stress relief, recognize when stress is building up and don’t be afraid to combat it by taking a break from work, even if it’s just a 5-minute break in an empty classroom.

To learn more about how Wowzers K-8 Online Math program can help reduce stress and save time school-wide, contact our team or try a free trial 

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Solutions for Overwhelmed Teachers

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The average teacher spends over 50 hours per week working, which often results in an overwhelmed, stressed-out workforce. It’s also one of the leading causes of new teacher burnout within the first few years. Studies estimate that around one in 10 teachers quit the education profession by the end of their first year, and around 50% leave within five years. It’s difficult to find another profession with the same amount of turnover, and it’s clear that passionate, talented teachers are being driven away. So, what can be done about it?

First, it’s helpful to see where this time is being spent. The average school week is 33 hours long in the United States, which leaves over 17 additional hours that teachers are spending at work. Much of this time is taken up by planning future lessons, grading papers and projects, filling out report cards, communicating with parents about their child’s progress, attending training sessions, and helping struggling students with extra tutoring. Obviously, these are all important parts of being a teacher, so it’s not like any can be cut out. However, incorporating a digital curriculum and learning management system can easily cut back on the time it takes to accomplish these tasks.

Planning Future Lessons

Instead of spending hours browsing through textbooks, writing quizzes, and searching the internet for lesson plans, a digital curriculum can automatically create an individualized learning plan for each student based on what they already know, their speed of learning, and what concepts they’re currently struggling with. This requires zero time from the teacher on a day-to-day basis, freeing up valuable time.

Grading Papers and Projects

Instead of grading each student’s work by hand, which can take hours upon hours, a digital curriculum that includes a learning management system can either make this process automatic or much faster. For straightforward assignments and assessments, grades are often calculated instantly for each student and reported to their teacher in real-time. For longer projects that require long-form explanations and creativity, the learning management system typically includes a rubric for teachers to follow, and allows for grades to be entered directly into the system, keeping everything in one place, which brings us to the next point.

Filling Out Report Cards

When all of the students’ work and grades are kept in a learning management system, a variety of report cards can be generated at any time. For example, parents may want to just know their child’s letter grade, while principals and other administrators want to see how the entire classroom has grown over the course of the year. Better yet, some digital curriculum programs allow administrators and parents to log in at any time to see these reports. Instead of realizing at the end of the quarter that their child is struggling with a particular subject, parents can check in much earlier on, often resulting in more focused attention.

Attending Training Sessions

Any valuable digital curriculum program will include plenty of professional development and teacher training. Although this won’t cover all the training teachers are responsible for taking over the year, it will make some of it much easier to find and implement. Plus, many programs include customized webinars, training via video or phone, and dedicated staff that can answer questions via chat.

Tutoring Struggling Students

Perhaps the largest time-saver available with digital curriculum is that it allows teachers to multi-task much more efficiently. When all students are receiving personalized curriculum and teachers are instantly alerted to which concepts students needs additional assistance with, it makes it faster and easier to pull aside small groups or individuals for targeted intervention.

To learn more about how Wowzers K-8 Online Math program can help reduce stress and save time in the classroom, contact our team or try a free trial 

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Blending Learning Environments Help Engage Different Types of Learners in the Classroom

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Lately, we’ve been giving blended learning classrooms a lot of attention because of the benefits they provide for students. One of these benefits is how digital learning can incorporate different styles of learning, but just what are these different types and how can they be used? Although the number of different styles of learning varies depending on the source, most people can typically agree on the following four:

Visual Learners

This is the most common type of learner, encompassing around 60% of students. Students who are visual learners typically prefer demonstrations or descriptions of how something works. These students tend to be easily distracted when a lesson requires physically moving around the classroom. Digital learning can help these students by enhancing the types of visuals shown. Instead of simple diagrams in textbooks, it can show animations and the flow of how concepts relate. For example, these students would understand the concept of surface area best by seeing three-dimensional animations of different shapes and how they have different numbers of faces and can unfold into a net.

Kinesthetic Learners

These students learn best when moving and acting out new lessons. They need to be highly involved in learning and often have a lot of energy. This type of learning tends to be more common in younger students, but can still be found in some older classrooms as well. Kinesthetic learners have trouble sitting still and don’t retain information well in a traditional lecture. Many programs include hands-on activities for these students. For example, these students would understand the concept of surface area best by physically measuring and counting units on different shapes. When sitting at their desk is necessary, digital learning makes it easier on these students by providing virtual manipulatives and engaging them often through clicking, dragging, and interacting with their computer or tablet.

Auditory Learners

Students who identify as auditory learners usually learn best through dialogue, discussion, and lecture. These are the students who can memorize content through repetition and solve problems by talking them out. However, they can be easily distracted when there is a lot of excess noise in a classroom. In a digital program, these students thrive when all instructions and explanations are read aloud to them, and they can focus better when wearing headphones. They typically do best when this approach is combined with the traditional methods of group discussion and teaching others a concept they have already mastered. These students would understand the concept of surface area best if it was explained aloud to them, step-by-step, and they then discussed it as a group.

Tactile Learners

Tactile learners are similar to kinesthetic learners, but don’t need to get up and act out concepts. Instead, they learn best by taking notes, drawing, or tinkering with objects. These are often the students who doodle during lectures, but still seem to retain the information instead of being distracted by the process. When learning through technology, these students need a program that asks them to follow along with new concepts by answering frequent questions and writing out responses. To understand the concept of surface area, tactile learners would follow along as it’s explained to them, drawing their own diagrams with accompanying notes. It’s important that if these students are using a digital program that they are still provided with a place to write and take notes.

What type of learner are you? It takes a lot of practice for teachers to teach in a way that reaches all these types of learners, which is why blended learning classrooms are so valuable. It’s an easy way to reach students who may be distracted or unengaged in a purely traditional classroom.

To learn more about how Wowzers K-8 Online Math program can help you reach all types of learners, 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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