Pay for Teaching

An adult educator shares her student’s journey from shy new arrival to proud mother helping her son with his homework.

GUEST COLUMN | by Anita Leimbach

credit-reading-horizons-ois-story-ell-screenshotI often call my job as an adult educator “recreational teaching” because my students want to be there, they want to learn, and they drive me to do my absolute best for them. My father, also an adult educator, used to say, “These students all come in scared to death. They want to learn, but are afraid they can’t. Don’t scare them off with technical terms— just help them read. But if you want, slip in the word ‘diphthong’ once in a while. It’ll make them feel smart.” These words are as true today as they were when my father shared them with me 37 years ago.

Oi is one of those uncashable paychecks you get as a teacher. It doesn’t happen often, but once in a while as a teacher you feel you have helped change someone’s life forever.

As an adult educator at Entrada High School, it’s my job to help all adults—single, married, grandparents, immigrants, working, unemployed, ages 17-84—push through adversity and reach their goal of earning their high school diploma or GED. Determination, drive, and pride are just a few words that come to mind when I think of Oi Smith, a 43-year-old English language learner from Thailand. Her passion for learning English is a constant reminder of why I became a teacher and why I still love teaching.

Oi came to the U.S. in March 2005 and became a U.S. citizen in 2012. We first met when she enrolled in Entrada High School to improve her English skills. She entered a class that was above her ability level, but took it anyway due to her young son’s schedule and outside commitments not allowing for much flexibility

Starting out, she struggled with English, but was eager to learn. She worked hard, but was held back due to her lack of decoding skills. She was shy, nervous about speaking, and grew frustrated at times. That all changed when our school adopted a new reading curriculum focused on teaching phonics and explicitly providing the skills to read and write English.

How Frustration Turned to Joy for Oi

In 2015, our school became part of a study to test the efficacy of Reading Horizons Elevate for adults. My classes were part of the study and I implemented the program with my beginning reading and reading improvement students, which included Oi. My students used the software for 30-45 minutes each class. I also required them to use the program outside of class and offered an option for extra credit.

When I introduced Oi to the program, it “clicked” for her. The pronunciation tool was especially helpful as she was mastering the sounds of English and the engaging curriculum allowed her to quickly excel in reading, spelling, and writing English.

Oi used the program at home almost every day. I remember she was so motivated that she came to class each day with a notebook full of notes from the program showing examples for all the rules. She was always excited to tell me the latest thing she had learned and we would put these on the board for whole-class discussion.

Gaining More Than Just Reading Skills

In just one school year, Oi jumped from an ELL Level 2 to a Level 4. Not only did we see a major improvement in her skills, but Oi found joy in her success and gained a great amount of confidence when speaking, reading, and writing in English. Her accomplishments have encouraged her to consider pursuing her goal of a career in health care and—best of all—a feeling that she can do anything. She’s proud of the fact that she will now be able to help her 5-year-old son with his schoolwork as he begins his educational journey this fall.

Oi is one of those uncashable paychecks you get as a teacher. It doesn’t happen often, but once in a while as a teacher you feel you have helped change someone’s life forever. Seeing Oi so exuberant about her newfound abilities makes me smile and reaffirms that I have the best job in the world.

Anita Leimbach is a 37-year teaching veteran focused on teaching adults to read at Entrada High School, a school specifically for adults, in Sandy, Utah.  In 2012 Leimbach was honored as Teacher of the Year for Entrada High School. In 2016, she was honored as Teacher of the Year at Canyons Virtual High School, an online school for traditional high school students. See Oi and Anita in this video.

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Worth the Investment

Saying yes to STEM programs in early childhood education.

GUEST COLUMN | by Kimberly Mecham

credit-st-thomas-schoolYoung children are naturally curious and often ask questions about the world around them. Many of these seemingly simple questions, such as “why do rocks sink” or “why do birds have feathers,” are actually laying the foundation for science, math, engineering and math (STEM) education. Research shows that encouraging children’s natural curiosity through early STEM education positively impacts all aspects of learning, predicting future success in not only math and science, but also reading. Despite these findings, STEM programs are still not widespread in elementary education.

As science and technology play increasingly important roles in our world, it is critical that we prepare children by introducing the skills they need to be successful at an early age.

Educators know that focusing on STEM pays off, but there are still some roadblocks slowing the adoption of STEM programs in young childhood education. These obstacles typically occur in the areas of curriculum and instruction, educator development and standards.

There’s no denying that integrating STEM into a school’s curriculum is a financial investment. The costs associated with building computer labs and purchasing new software often discourages administrators from offering STEM programs to students at such a young age. Similarly, the expense and time requirements of training teachers in order to build proficiency on the subject matter also can prevent teachers and administrators from buying in. In order to get staff members on board, stakeholders must raise awareness around the pay-off that offering these programs at a young age can generate increased interest in higher education and STEM careers, and interest in hobbies that traditional curriculum might not have inspired in young students.

Education standards present another potential roadblock. Education standards outline the learning requirements students must meet before entering the next grade level, and some parents and teachers may express concern that integrating STEM makes the standards too difficult for young children and that  the children are not ready to learn the material that STEM programs cover. It is important to alleviate these concerns by educating administrators, teachers and parents about the benefits of starting STEM early and showing them that STEM curriculum can be tailored for different age groups. STEM programs for younger children can be as simple as using blocks to help them learn about engineering concepts. Presenting STEM programs step-by-step creates a strong foundation of the skills that will become increasingly important throughout a student’s academic and professional career. Raising awareness about this will help dispel the misconception that young students could become overwhelmed by material they can’t comprehend or a technology tool they can’t operate.

Although the areas mentioned above present roadblocks to STEM success, they are the key to a successful STEM program. Organizations that are able to master these areas and communicate the benefits of introducing STEM in early childhood education to stakeholders, are transforming education and creating unlimited opportunities for students as young as the age of three.

Examples of successful STEM programs currently available in early childhood education include robotics, coding, and virtual reality (VR). VR is traditionally recognized as being beneficial in business, gaming and social media, but it has begun to make its way into education. Starting in second grade, St. Thomas School integrates VR into the curriculum, allowing teachers to create a three-dimensional learning environment for their young students. Ten years ago, students would only be able to see pictures or diagrams of body parts; today, 3-D VR computer programs allow St. Thomas School’s students to perform dissections right before their eyes. This visually stimulating and hands-on learning experience leads to an increased engagement levels and even new interest on the subject at hand. Through investing in VR STEM programs, schools could begin to see pay-off in many ways, including potentially fostering a student’s desire to pursue a career in STEM.

Another use case of STEM in early childhood education is through the introduction of robotics. At St. Thomas School, our teachers use robots as a hands-on way for students to experience and learn engineering at an early age. At the age of four, students are introduced to basic wooden programming blocks and each year they progress to more complex scenarios until they are working with an android-like robot. Through constructing a robot’s parts and programming it to complete real-world tasks, students are challenged to understand and explain their design choices. By mastering these skills, students witness the life cycle of their actions, determining results in a visual and collaborative way. Schools that support robotics programs empower students to feel confident as creators of technology, rather than settle as a passive consumer of technology and information.

It is not just the responsibility of the teachers and administrators to introduce STEM subjects to young children early, it’s also important for parents to introduce these subjects before children start preschool and continue skill building at home once the concepts have been introduced in the classroom.  Because STEM focuses heavily on technology, parents should welcome technology into their child’s daily life and establish a healthy balance at home. St. Thomas School offers an opportunity for parents to interact with the technology used in STEM programs. Hosting these events provides parents with a better understanding of how they can support STEM education outside of school.

As science and technology play increasingly important roles in our world, it is critical that we prepare children by introducing the skills they need to be successful at an early age. Creating new curriculum is never easy, but it has been proven that starting STEM education early is well worth the investment.

Kimberly Mecham is Director of Information and Communication Technology at St. Thomas School.

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The E-rate Program Today

A program that has already helped thousands of schools and how it can help your district.

GUEST COLUMN | by John Harrington

credit-fundsforlearning-annual-e-rate-cap-to-2016The federal E-rate program provides discounts on Internet access and Wi-Fi networks for K-12 schools and public libraries. Students and library patrons increasingly are dependent on high-speed internet access as more learning takes place online. Launched in 1998, the E-rate program was designed to get those connections in place; however, until recently the program had been consistently underfunded, and there was never enough money to meet the needs of schools and libraries. This changed when, in 2014, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted to overhaul the program to better suit the needs of its constituents, including an increase in the financial support the program had to offer—an incredible milestone for the nation’s schools and libraries.

The 2017 E-rate funding cycle has begun, and looking ahead there are a few important things to consider.

In 2016, $3.93 billion* of support is available, and schools and libraries requested $3.60 billion in discounts. This is the second year in a row that the annual E-rate funding cap has been sufficient to fund all applications. With all of the budget uncertainties that many schools and libraries currently face, it is important that they can count on the E-rate program to help fund their Internet access and computer network infrastructure.

The 2016 annual E-rate funding cap exceeded requests in Category Two for on-campus networking (voice, video and data) and Category One (telecom and internet service to and between school buildings). View historical data in this graph.

Teachers and librarians count on having fast Internet connections available. On average, the annual student spend for telecommunications and internet access is $48. Not knowing if adequate internet capacity will be obtainable makes it difficult to plan its use effectively. But because the E-rate program is consistently meeting the needs of its constituents, schools and libraries are better able to plan. For the immediate future—at least through 2018—it’s expected that the program will have ample funds to meet the needs of applicants.

Last year, the E-rate program helped connect 53.6 million students to the Internet and provided discounts for Wi-Fi connections and high-speed data lines to 120,000 school buildings and more than 4,000 library systems nationwide. It has served communities in virtually every zip code in the United States. It is easy to get wrapped up in the technical components of the program, but in the end, we need to remember that it exists to positively impact millions of students as they gain the skills and knowledge to prepare them for life.

What Does the E-rate Support?

E-rate funds support the services that deliver high-speed internet access to school and library buildings. It also provides support for on-campus computer networks. In 2016–17, this equates to $4.9 billion in goods and services.

The top three service request categories include data and internet, voice service, and switches and routers. Together, they totaled more than $3.5 billion of the $4.9 billion* given in services (other service categories can be found here).

As part of the program’s reform, support for voice telephone services is being phased out. In 2016, applicants received 40 percent less support for their phone bills; in 2017, they will receive 60 percent less support; and, by 2019, support for telephone service is scheduled to be completely eliminated.

So, What’s Next?

As Internet connections in schools and libraries remain essential, the E-rate program will remain vital for those seeking connectivity around the country. The 2017 E-rate funding cycle has begun, and looking ahead there are a few important things to consider. The Universal Service Administrative Company is seeing a change in leadership as Mel Blackwell has retired and Craig Davis has taken his place. The impact of this choice may not be felt until later, but it will certainly impact the E-rate program for years to come. Secondly, with the 2016 presidential race looming, either candidate will be looking to make their mark on the FCC. Either way, there very well might be changes at the FCC in 2017 that lead to modifications to the E-rate program in 2018 or later.

The E-rate program exists to help schools and libraries get the connections they need. It is available to help students and library patrons get online, and many folks are invested in seeing the success of the program.

Ultimately, internet access is transforming our society. Schools and libraries cannot be excluded. The E-rate program reaffirms this mission, and Funds For Learning is proud to champion such efforts.

* To clarify, $3.93 billion is the amount of discounts that USAC has available for FY2016; $4.9 billion is the total amount of goods and services delivered to schools and libraries in 2016 (E-rate dollars plus individual school/library payments).

John Harrington is the CEO of Funds for Learning.

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Engineering the Future

How to land a job as a CEO while in high school.

GUEST COLUMN | by Sandeep Hiremath

credit-bestIt’s no surprise that a STEM curriculum reaps many educational rewards by exposing students to practical, hands-on learning. For Alaina Pettus, a science teacher at Brooks High School in Killen, Ala., her approach to STEM education opened doors beyond the classroom by introducing students to a robotics competition that taught them how behave as if they were running their own business.

BEST (Boosting Engineering, Science, and Technology) is a national, six-week U.S. robotics competition held each fall that is open to middle school and high school students. Pettus’ experience building an award-winning student team taught her that it wasn’t enough to simply design, simulate, build and operate a working robot. She quickly learned that the most effective way to run a successful project was to structure her team like a company.

Bringing the Real World to the Classroom

Each year, the robotics team is managed by a president who works with team leaders overseeing section teams dedicated to engineering, programming, marketing, graphic and web design, video production, budgeting, and presentation development – in short many of the components required to operate a business in the real world.

When students are equipped with the proper tools, they rise to the challenge and become better problem solvers, communicators, and collaborators.

The competition officially kicks off at the beginning of the school year, but the planning and development process actually begins well before that, typically just as the prior year’s competition wraps up. Students from Team Robocon come together after school and on weekends, and along the way develop a variety of skills prized by employers: planning, time and staff management, the ability to communicate with cross-functional groups, and problem solving.

“Since we started participating in BEST, I have seen a real change in the way my team approaches the competition that carries over into their interactions with classmates,” Ms. Pettus said. “Instead of operating in silos, there is more of a tendency to collaborate and work together to find solutions. It is a much smarter way to approach problem solving.”

And just as any company must do, Team Robocon is always on the lookout for new “employees.” As part of their post-competition evaluation, team leaders survey the talent pool to identify potential skills gaps by understanding which students will be graduating. Existing team members and new students are then invited to complete job applications and are interviewed, after which “hires” are made based on interest and aptitude. In addition to on-the-job training, younger students are mentored to develop the next generation of team leaders. Effectively, it’s the same approach to succession planning adopted by major corporations.

The Business Approach Benefits Students, Teachers

According to Pettus, the business approach to the BEST competition instills freedom, trust, and a level of enthusiasm that is leading more of Brooks High School’s students to pursue careers in science and engineering. And they’re not the only ones to benefit.

“My involvement in BEST robotics has forever changed how I approach instruction in the classroom and at home. Through the competition, I’ve learned when students are equipped with the proper tools, they rise to the challenge and become better problem solvers, communicators, and collaborators,” she said. “My children are still young, but even at home I encourage them to ask questions and test solutions. There is no doubt I will encourage them to pursue STEM through student competitions.”

After four years at the helm, Ms. Pettus said her role has evolved. She is still a mentor and there to assist as needed, but it’s the students who are leading the charge and bearing the brunt of the responsibility. The teams even have a thing or two to teach her.

Dive Head First Into Student Competitions

While STEM courses are not yet a mandated part of school curriculum, there is without a doubt a professional demand for these skills. As parents and educators of children who have a passion for STEM know, it is imperative for them to get involved early on so that they are armed with the tools they will need to succeed in high school, college, and the working world.

Student competitions provide an academic and extracurricular advantage. The challenges acquaint students with project-based learning and the engineering tools that they will use for a lifetime if they ultimately decide to pursue a career in STEM. More importantly, student competitions are a valuable exercise in problem solving – whether you are simulating the arm of a robot or working with your colleagues to design an autonomous vehicle, it is essential to know the engineering process.

Sandeep Hiremath is an Education Technology Evangelist for MathWorks.

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Cool Tool | Recap by Swivl

credit-recap-by-swivlAfter making its beta debut earlier this year, Recap, the free video response and reflection app developed by Swivl, has won over many educators and students. It was created in response to the pressing industry need for new formative assessment tools that do more than just collect answers. Says math teacher Kirk Humphreys, “This is a very easy formative assessment tool. It gives me an instant snapshot of what the kids can explain and it lets me know if they understand the concept verbally.” English and Math are the top two subjects taught by Recap users. Science, History, and Social Studies aren’t far behind. Grade levels range from preschool to higher education. The app is also gaining popularity in professional development. It allows educators to pose questions and gather video responses from a class, a student, or a group of students, who can record their responses on almost any classroom device. Teachers sign in with Google, create classes and assignments and add students, using class pin or Google login. After students submit their responses and self-assessments, the videos can be rolled up into Daily Review Reels or shared with others through non-searchable links. Learn more.

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