Cool Tool | Smartick

credit-smartickHere’s a cool online math learning methodology and practice application for students ages four to fourteen. Nearly 25,000 children from 53 countries have used the Smartick Method to learn math skills and concepts, and improve their reasoning skills and reading comprehension. This methodology includes highly-focused, short bursts of practice (15 minutes daily) with lessons that continually adapt to a child’s needs. The design of the application offers encouragement and positive reinforcement, helping kids learn to love math. The proven method ensures each student’s understanding of mathematical skills with a customized and personalized curriculum, accelerates their learning, and develops their maximum capabilities, leading to a comfort with math conducive to learning even more. The application is also designed to complement classroom math lessons. In addition to helping parents and teachers promote the development of math skills by leveraging engaging interactive tools, it helps improve a child’s reasoning skills, reading comprehension and “softer skills” like self-confidence, discipline, study habits, ability to focus, and self-learning capabilities. Incorporating global best practices from learning methodologies, such as JUMP, Singapore Math, Jo Boaler and traditional Japanese methods, the program combines with findings from research conducted at leading learning institutions such as Harvard and Chicago University. Learn more.

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Cool Tool | CollegeVine Mentorship Program

credit-collegevineFact: The average public high schooler will share a single guidance counselor with 471 other students (in stark contrast to the extensive, personalized attention given their private school peers). Recognizing this, CollegeVine, formerly Admissions Hero, has unveiled a new tool designed to help: The CollegeVine Mentorship Program. Combining a network of highly trained near-peer counselors with proprietary algorithms, the program pairs high school students with personal mentors as they navigate the often challenging road to higher education. Incorporating a digital platform and real-time communications to connect teens with top-notch guidance across the country, the program draws on the expertise of successful, hand-picked college students already enrolled at the nation’s top universities. It works because these mentors are not only keenly aware of the nuances and pressures of the transition from high school to college having just walked that road themselves, but they also speak a common language. In other words, they just “get it.” CollegeVine’s near-peer mentors—roughly 200 college students representing 20 different majors, substantial extracurricular experiences, and far-ranging success—impart guidance on everything from academic and extracurricular advising to admissions insights, rapport-building and stress management. This blueprint for the future gives parents of public high school students a way to help their kids compete and find success without breaking the bank. Learn more.

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Can’t Stop Reading!

Special Education students find joy in learning through digital literacy environment.

GUEST COLUMN | by Judy Hackett and Cathy Kostecki 

credit-myon-nsseoHow do you get your most struggling readers to engage in high-quality text? Research shows two key parts in motivating students to want to read are 1) to provide a variety of high-interest text; and 2) to allow them to create their own selection of books that are accessible at any time of day. For some students, weekly trips to the library to choose a new book are the most exciting part of the week—while others dread the trip and quickly become discouraged because they can’t find a book that not only fits their individual reading level but their personal interests as well.

We used to see this struggle every day with our students at Northwest Suburban Special Education Organization (NSSEO), a special education co-op located in the Chicago suburbs. Today, our most reluctant readers are empowered to access books on their own using technology. Thanks to our newly adopted digital literacy environment, we can’t get them to stop reading.

For the first time, many of our students are actively engaged in digital books that match their interests and reading level.

For the first time, many of our students are actively engaged in digital books that match their interests and reading level. In order to build a promising future for students, we need to provide them the tools to be successful in the classroom, throughout their educational journey, and into adulthood. Motivating students to read, establishing a love for reading, and allowing children to feel confident in their reading ability are important first steps into developing a successful adult.

Digital Text Increases Engagement

At NSSEO, we have students learning in three different schools based on their unique educational needs. Each school takes a specialized approach to a social and emotional learning curriculum. A majority of students require customized “sensory diets,” which include frequent breaks, social/emotional instruction, whole-body listening skill training to help stay focused in class, and support from paraprofessionals to address academic and vocational goals.

Because of this, many students have struggled to develop a love for reading and printed text. Technology has played a huge role in increasing student engagement levels by providing on-demand access to a wide variety of high-quality text. Today’s generation is unique in that navigating digital programs using iPads and laptops comes naturally to them. In addition, kids often associate technology with games or fun, so when students see the devices their enthusiasm and engagement increases.

Reading Books That Students Choose

Students in NSSEO schools are proud of their ability to access our digital literacy environment to learn independently. They’re motivated to read because they get to choose books they are interested in—not ones the teacher chooses for them. Within seconds, a student can navigate the digital library, choose a book, and begin reading with little to no help from a teacher. (Click here to see a video featuring NSSEO learners engaged in reading.)

Being able to personalize student libraries based on individual interests and reading levels provides a level of personalization most of our students have never experienced at school before, and they become empowered and excited when learning about topics they’re interested in. For example, one struggling reader was very interested in cars. Using our digital literacy environment, he was able to access dozens of books about cars, and was exposed to similar books about trucks, trains, and other modes of transportation. Teachers are also able to customize their lessons to fit whatever genre of books the student is interested in.

Many of our students struggle with decoding language when reading. Our digital library features a setting where students can have books read to them by a voice that doesn’t sound like a computer. By hearing a story or nonfiction book aloud, our students are able to experience written language without having to decode passages. This gives students access to content that they may not be able to read and understand by themselves. For many, this is the first time they’ve been in control of their education, an empowering feeling for struggling readers.

NSSEO’s digital library and literacy environment gives every student in every classroom unlimited access to engaging digital books and a personalized library. As their love for reading grows, they truly do find joy in learning. Coupled with developing greater enthusiasm for learning is the focus on independent choices and empowerment that are life skills critical for their future as life-long learners.

Judy Hackett has been an educator for 36 years and is the current superintendent of the Northwest Suburban Special Education Organization (NSSEO). In 2016, she was named Superintendent of the Year by the Illinois Association of School Administrators. 

Cathy Kostecki is the assistant superintendent for human resources and instructional services at NSSEO.

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Another Dimension

Powerful ways to integrate visual storytelling in the classroom.

GUEST COLUMN | by Livia Mihai

credit-cypher-learning-neoThe first pop-up children’s book I ever touched was Little Red Riding Hood. I was a high school senior, and I had thought I was over the fairy tales phase. However, I was immediately impressed with this pop-up book.

The story was the same. However, the pop-ups made it different; they added another dimension to it. I envied the kids who had discovered Little Red Riding Hood through that book. I had discovered the story through a book with no pictures. Instead, I had to imagine everything. That wasn’t too hard, but the beautiful, dimensional images that appeared each time you turned a page made me imagine the story more vividly than ever, even as a high schooler.

How would you consider integrating visual storytelling in your instruction?

That’s the power of visual storytelling.

Sight is probably the most important sense involved in the learning process — no matter the age of the learner, nor the subject learned. The right visual cues in a course can spark greater interest and improve retention rates.

Combine this with storytelling, with its characters and plot, and this is what makes people want to know more about what will happen. When learners can visualize and identify themselves with the main character in a story, the engagement rates are always high. Do you know any teacher who wouldn’t want their students to be more engaged with the learning materials and better remember what they learn? I seriously doubt it.

So what can teachers do to integrate visual storytelling in their instructions? Here are the best options.

Visual storytelling through gamification

Kids of all ages love to play games. Even when games are about fractions, sorting mountains based on their height, or putting on an imaginary crown and reenacting historical battles, students love to be engaged.

Furthermore, games that allow students to gather points can make them want to progress more and more. Getting on the leaderboard makes them compete against others and challenge themselves. Showing off their badges and trophies, or unlocking extra levels, makes them feel proud of their results. But the best part of learning games is that the activity never seems mundane. A game — as simple as it may be — will always seem more exciting than any scientific paper with small text, ugly and hard-to-understand graphics, and lots of footnotes. Simply put, the colors and interactive elements are the superstars of learning.

How to apply visual storytelling in games

Most instructional games fall into two categories: Candy-Crush-like games and Mario-like games.

Candy-Crush-like games are all about repetition. Learning basic math — such as adding, dividing, fractions — could be wrapped in a space rocket passing by “math” stars, getting bigger with every right answer, and smaller with every wrong answer from the student. Repeat, repeat, learn.

Mario-like games let you take a step further and include storytelling. Mario follows a path, and he gathers gold coins while trying to avoid deadly obstacles to save a princess held captive by a dragon. You can take any element of this simple storyline and adapt it to your educational game and your subject.

For example, if you’re a geography teacher, you can create a game where a student needs to find the best soil to plant a special species of an orchid. He or she can try the Canadian tundra, the watery soils of Bangladesh, the Sahara desert, or the Amazonian jungle. The student becomes the main character, and he or she must think, practice, and adapt to the different specifications of each type of soil until they find the right one and plant the flower.

Integrating visual storytelling through gamification may not be possible for all courses, subjects or all types of games. But when it is, students will have fun while learning, and, even if they don’t realize it, they’ll appreciate it.

Let students be visual storytellers

If scientific studies have small text, ugly and hard-to-understand graphics, and lots of footnotes, then homework can be dreadful. I think plenty of students can agree with me on this. And as if spending most of their day in school isn’t enough, students have to spend another couple of hours at home doing homework.

One second-grade teacher from Texas is famously experimenting with a no homework policy. I can’t wait to hear about the results at the end of the school year. If a no-homework policy is not an option for your class, you can at least make homework interesting from time to time with storytelling.

How to get started

Whenever you take your class to a local museum or art gallery, encourage students to pay attention to the exhibits they see and take as many pictures as possible — when it’s allowed. Then, as homework, you can ask them to do a visual story about their trip and what they learned.

A website like UtellStory can come in handy. Anyone can create an account, upload pictures, and record their voice telling a story.

If you’re a history teacher, another great idea would be to ask your students to work in groups and to create an interactive poster or board about a historical event, such as the Boston Tea Party. They must use the characters they’ve learned about in class and explain how one action led to another, and how everything came together to become the historical event. Glogster, Padlet, and similar websites or apps can assist with this. They’re all easy to use.

Dreadful homework? Not anymore. Your students probably won’t even realize that they are spending more time than usual to do this kind of homework. How would you consider integrating visual storytelling in your instruction? What other examples can you think of? Share your thoughts in the comments section.

Livia Mihai is the Content Manager at CYPHER LEARNING, a company that specializes in providing e-learning platforms for organizations around the world.

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Cool Tool | Credo

credit-credoWhen students need to conduct research, it’s imperative they have access to a variety of options and viewpoints; of course, those options must be reliable, credible, and easy to access. That is what makes the Credo Online Reference Service platform and its content package a cool tool. This online reference library includes more than 2.8 million entries and 700 titles from 80 publishers. Students can access encyclopedias, subject dictionaries, biographical sources, reference tools, and thousands of videos, high-resolution images, and audio files. Think of it as an academic substitute for Wikipedia. Credo’s one-stop exploratory platform links to all digital library resources, meaning students can focus on their research, not navigating multiple databases. Its Topic Pages offer a great starting point for research where students see a concise overview of a topic, increase subject vocabulary, and identify related keywords, and its Mind Map feature helps them see connections across topics. Also, a built-in Citation tool makes it fast and easy to cite sources using the format assigned by the instructor. Credo has partnered with more than 2,500 libraries over the past 16 years to drive more effective and efficient student research activities, and improve student research outcomes. Learn more.

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