Creating More Effective Professional Development

Posted by Jess Kuras on Feb 12, 2017 9:38:00 PM

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Much of the conversation around education and schools revolves around how students learn, what they’re being taught, and how much time they spend in the classroom. However, just as important is the topic of what additional training and lessons teachers receive. Besides being mandated in many states and schools, professional development can be an essential piece in creating highly-effective teachers and classrooms. Unfortunately, a recent survey conducted by researcher Linda Darling-Hammond reported that although 90% of the teachers they surveyed had received some form of professional development, a majority of them found it totally useless. An additional survey done by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation found that principals share these same concerns and don’t feel the professional development they provide adequately prepares teachers for the changing nature of their jobs, including the increasing focus on technology and digital learning tools.

Clearly, the current method and information contained in professional development is not working for today’s teachers. In order to deliver more effective training, experts have come up with the following tips:

1. Professional development must be ongoing with a significant amount of time dedicated to follow-up training.

The current method for delivering professional development is often in a lecture-type setting. Teachers sometimes call these training sessions “spray and pray” where a large amount of information is thrown at them, then they are told to go implement it without any additional support. In order for any information to be truly useful, any professional development needs to be immediately followed up with support for implementation. This could include time with the teacher in the classroom, collaboration with colleagues, or at the very least, an additional session where teachers can share what they’ve tried so far, and any challenges they’ve encountered.

2. Training sessions need to be appropriate in size and scope.

Many professional development sessions include upwards of 100 teachers, which means they are typically not personalized and do not allow the structure to allow teachers to ask questions or understand how to apply the ideas to their individual classroom. The content presented during these sessions is rarely useful when it is generic. Instead, it needs to be specific for the teachers who are attending (for example, grounded in their discipline or grade-level). Purely lecture-type instruction is also not as effective as allowing for discussion with their colleagues and including activities that show teachers how they could use the learnings in their classroom.

3. Goals and priorities for teachers need to be clearly communicated and focused.

Teachers often report that they receive too many goals that all compete for their time and attention. As a result, they are unsure what to prioritize and don’t truly focus on any of them. Professional development can add to the problem if they already have too many other issues on their plate. To create more effective classrooms, administrators need to communicate which goals teachers should focus on for the year, and their professional development should relate to and support these goals.

Professional development represents a lost opportunity for most teachers. Instead of thinking as these sessions as just another requirement that needs to be met, it can become part of a much larger objective. By providing personalized training for small groups that focuses on prioritized goals and includes follow-up training for implementation, professional development can become an invaluable part of teachers’ careers.

To learn more about how Wowzers K-8 Online Math program can provide effective professional development, contact our team or try a free trial 

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Topics: Wowzers How-to's

Solutions for Overwhelmed Teachers

Posted by Jess Kuras on Feb 5, 2017 10:15:00 PM

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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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Topics: Personalized Learning, Technology in the Classroom, Digital Learning

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

Posted by Reed Howard and Jessica Kuras on Jan 29, 2017 9:05:00 PM

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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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Topics: Blended Learning, Personalized Learning, Technology in the Classroom, Engaging Content, Brain-Based, Digital Learning, Core Curriculum, Standards Based, Scientific-Based Learning

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

Posted by Reed Howard and Jessica Kuras on Jan 22, 2017 9:55:00 PM

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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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Topics: Blended Learning, Common Core Assessments, Personalized Learning, Technology in the Classroom, Assessment Prep, Test Prep, High-Stakes Testing, Engaging Content, Data, Core Curriculum, Standards Based

How Blended Learning Programs Build Self-Esteem

Posted by Reed Howard on Jan 15, 2017 9:05:00 PM

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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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Topics: Blended Learning, Personalized Learning, Wowzers How-to's, Technology in the Classroom, Digital Learning, Offline Learning, Data

Why You Should Use Blended Learning in Your Math Classroom

Posted by Reed Howard on Jan 8, 2017 9:05:00 PM
Let’s take a look at three math instruction “truths”:
  • Math concepts typically have a somewhat linear development cycle; new concepts often build, upon previous ones. 

  • To gain mastery, math skills require a two-fold "how to" method of learning that involves both practice and understanding.

  • Most importantly, individual students often learn scaffolding skills and develop mastery at a very different pace and style.
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Topics: Blended Learning, Technology in the Classroom, Digital Learning

Wowzers is a comprehensive online math program covering all Common Core State Standards for grades K-8. The research-based program adapts to each learner and allows for an individualized path through the curriculum. Content is presented in multiple ways, and appeals to tactile, auditory, and visual learners. Assessments mirror those found on high-stakes achievement tests and provide teachers and administrators with the information that they need to personalize learning for each student.

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