classroom

A New School Year: How to have a great first day & a successful school year

The first day of school is just around the corner and with it, comes the first-day jitters. Children may be anxious – and excited – about the change: new classroom, new teachers, new friends and maybe even a new school. The change can be a little daunting.

It’s not just the first day that is nerve-racking, a new school year can be challenging for children and their parents.

But, it’s not just the kids who are nervous.

The first day can be pretty nerve-racking for parents too. The best way to combat these stressors is to prepare, not just for the first day, but to set the groundwork for a successful school year.

1. Dress up, coordinate and organize. Shopping for school supplies can be a fun way to help kids get organized and gain some independence and responsibility. Sit down together to create a lift of what they will need. Do they need a lunchbox? A new calculator? Then, set some ground rules, and allow kids to choose their own bookbag, pencil case, water bottle and some basic school supplies (pens, pencils, crayons, etc.). Color coordinating notebooks, folders and supplies might be fun and useful. Older kids who have several subjects and teachers, may find it helpful to coordinate what they need for each. Say, green folders for math and blue for reading. It may help to keep track of homework and assignments for each class.

2. Have a walkthrough. A lot of the stress over the first day is the unknown. Combat that by getting familiar with the environment. Visit the school. Have them see where their classroom is, where the cafeteria is, where they will be picked up and dropped off. Whether someone is driving them to school or they are boarding a school bus, have a practice run. Everyone feels more confident once they know where to go and what to expect.

3. Set goals and get familiar with the curriculum. What will kids learn this year? A lot of this information is online on the parent portal, the school’s website, and was likely provided at student orientation. Parents may not know what it’s like to be in school anymore. Not only has it been a while since they were students (and some of those math formulas may have slipped your mind since then), but the curriculum has changed a lot.

Helping kids with their homework, and working with them, is an effective way to show concern for what they learn at school and to get to know what their academic strengths and weaknesses are.

This is also an excellent opportunity to discuss goals with older children. What does a successful year look like? What will it take to balance school work with sports and/or extra-curricular activities? Again, this is about preparation.

4. Technology is not the enemy. Yes, kids are spending a lot of time online and that is not always a good thing. Too much screen time — whether that is watching television, playing video games, or engaging in social media – is not good for their health or emotional well-being. However, there are many free learning tools online, from apps to video tutorials, help kids find ways to enrich what they are learning at school.

5. Routines are good. Like a standard bed time and morning wake-up call, having a routine — that includes homework— helps kids organize their time efficiently. What will they do when they get home: take a nap, have a snack? Whatever it is, make it a habit. Set aside a designated place and time for homework every day, maybe the kitchen counter while dinner is prepared or a quiet space in the living room. Avoid distractions, like television and cell phones, during this time.

6. Communicate. This is an opportunity to get to know who their friends are and what their interests are, but asking children about school also shows them that their parents value their education. Try to avoid general questions, like “How was your day?” These will most likely produce one-word answers (fine, okay, and good tend to be the general answers), especially as kids get older. Instead, try specific questions, like What did you read in class today? Did you enjoy the story? Why or why not?

7. Get to know teachers. Everyone is busy and it may be difficult to schedule a conference during school hours. Student orientation and open house nights are great opportunity to meet teachers, faculty and staff and to get a feel for what children are learning in school. But remember that you can always send an email if you have questions or concerns.

Teachers spend a lot of time with our kids and they are great allies. If there are concerns – some parents worry that their children may be too shy and introverted or the opposite, too chatty and off task – or if parents have questions on including enrichment opportunities at home, their teachers can help. And teachers can often spot problems or irregularities (missed homework assignments, change in demeanor or disposition) that can be indicative of a bigger problem.

8. Read, read, read. Parents usually read to their babies and toddlers, but that habit does not have to end in elementary school. Reading with a child is an invaluable way to spend quality time together on a daily basis. As children get older, and develop their own interests, help them foster that love of reading. Reading Harry Potter, for instance, as a family can be a great way to bond and promote the lifelong joy of reading.

9. Sleep is important for learning and for optimal health. Studies indicate that Americans are not getting enough sleep, especially children. This chronic sleepiness does not just make kids cranky; it can be bad for their health. Lack of sleep impairs the brain, making it difficult to focus, remember and learn. This is not only important on the first day, when many families are getting reacquainted with an early morning alarm, but throughout the year. There will be projects and homework assignments, kids are notorious procrastinators. Make sure that they are not sacrificing sleep to finish up school work.

School is stressful. It is where kids prepare for the future, where they experience some of their first triumphs and failures. Add to that all of the intellectual and physical changes that go along with adolescence and the result is a rollercoaster of emotions, for them and their families. Working together to face those challenges will help make those life transitions a little smoother.

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Teachers Collect Moments

“Teachers get paid with love.”

I read that somewhere — maybe on a bumper sticker or poster — when I first started teaching. That turned out to be the truest statement I read that year. My first days of teaching were tumultuous. I juggled grading, lecturing, parent conferences and student crises that ranged from broken hearts to broken homes. I worked nonstop: at school, during lunch and at home.

And I loved it.

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Every teacher that I know collects notes, letters and trinkets that remind us why we get up and go to work each morning. These are the treasures that remind us that — despite changing standards and countless challenges — we can make a difference.

As the year came to an end, and the thank you letters and gifts — sketches, paintings, student-made figurines to place on my desk — my mentor, Mrs. Lawrence, gave me a box. “Put these in here. You’ll need this, especially on the bad days.”

And on days like today — when the weight of new standards, grades, tests, counseling, coaching, and all the responsibilities that we balance seem too heavy — I open that box. These are the moments that teachers collect.

 

Hashtag in the Classroom: Can Social Media Improve Education?

kids and social media

Seventy-eight percent of teens have a cell phone. Let’s meet kids where they are and use technology to create learning opportunities.

Thirty years ago parents had to tell their kids to turn of the television and go to sleep.  Today, it’s their cellphone.  Teenagers are more socially activethan ever before, at least virtually.

A Pew Institute Research Study on Teens, Social Media, and Privacy indicates that 95% of teenagers use the internet and eight in ten of them use some kind of social media, especially Facebook and Twitter.

It isn’t just teenagers who are avid users.  Social media is shaping society.  More and more sites like Facebook and Twitter are influencing not only how we talk, but what we talk about.  Television programming, legislative bills, fashion, protests and parties are planned, discussed and critiqued online.

So, what is next?  Education, of course.

This is a scary thought for teachers, administrators and educators, and with good reason.  For decades experts have argued the effectiveness of technology on student learning.  And the results were not always positive.

According to a study by the Kaiser Family Foundation, there may even be a correlation between the rise in ADHD and the increasing prevalence of mobile devices since 78% of teens now have a cell phone, and almost half of them own smartphones.

A May study from The National Bureau of Economic Research found that providing a computer to sixth through tenth grade students who did not have one at home had “no effects on any educational outcomes, including grades, test scores, credits earned, attendance and disciplinary actions” at the end of a school year.  While a similar project conducted by the Texas Center for Educational Research found, after a technology immersion program that “there was no evidence linking technology immersion with student self-directed learning or their general satisfaction with their schoolwork.”

And just ask any high school English teacher how internet acronyms—OMG, LOL, smh, ty – have seeped not only into teen vernacular, but also into their writing.  Clearly, incorporating social media in the classroom may seem fruitless and counterproductive to many veteran educators.

However, when used carefully, cellphones, tablets and social media can be a very powerful tool.  Kids have more access to information than ever before.  They no longer have to get up and pick up a dictionary to search for a word’s definition; they don’t need to buy the most recent edition of an atlas to find China’s gross domestic product.  All of that information is available to them on their most prized possession, their smart phone.

The challenge is to help them see the power that they have at their fingertips.  Teachers and parents have to help them see that smartphones are not just for texting and updating Facebook profiles and that Twitter is useful for more than posting jokes and song lyrics.

Anyone who doubts the potential world-changing power of social media just has to turn on the evening news.  Remember the Arab Spring?  Most accounts of the political upheaval in Egypt leaked through Twitter and YouTube.  The winner of our most recent presidential debates were partially measured by Twitter activity.  Diane Sawyer recently used the term “selfie” on ABC World News and social media had a huge influence on the recent Zimmerman trial.

Ninety-five percent of teens use the Internet. 8 in 10 regularly use social media. Can educators harness that energy?

Ninety-five percent of teens use the Internet. 8 in 10 regularly use social media. Can educators harness that energy?

In a discussion about how networks are increasingly using social media not only to promote shows, but to drive content, Anne Sweeney, the co-chair of Disney Media Networks and president of Disney/ABC Television Group said that “whether it’s Twitter or Facebook, those technologies, those platforms have given them even more say. Because they have come into the conversation in a much more powerful way, it’s even more important we pay attention to it.”

The same applies to education.  The Florida legislature has required that schools deliver half of classroom instruction digitally by the fall of 2015. Already the state requires high school students to take one online course in order to graduate, and many are taking several as schools struggle to offer electives such as foreign language that students need to get accepted to college. And students already take computerized versions the FCAT and end of course exams, not pencil and paper tests.

So technology is definitely here to stay.  And teachers have the opportunity to develop how it is used.  Facebook has over 500 million users, Twitter over 200 million.  Both communities get larger every minute. And students are engrossed in them.

A small study of students at Lockhaven University in Pennsylvania tested whether Twitter could be used effectively in learning.  At the end of the semester, students enrolled in classes where they were assigned to continue class discussions and complete assignments using Twitter were more engaged in their classwork than students who did not and earned a higher grade point average.

Technology alone cannot improve learning and social media can be distracting and even dangerous.  But, today’s teenagers are more tech-savvy than any other generation.  One of the challenges facing educators is learning how we can harness the power of social media in the classroom to keep students engaged and excited about learning so that they begin to see the awesome power of having so much knowledge at their fingertips.

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Originally published in July, 2013 on WLRN: http://bit.ly/1zDXQHk