Strategy of the Week

Classroom Tech: 3rd Grade Reading Via Video Chat

Classroom Tech: 3rd Grade Reading Via Skype

It seems like every day we hear about the innovative ways teachers are using technology to facilitate classroom learning and collaboration. These practices were beyond the reach of many schools just a few years ago.

In some cases, entire classrooms are sharing and collaborating with other classes around the country using video chat applications such as Skype. This is one aim of STEM education: connecting students with their local and global communities through the use of technology.

Take, for example, Ms. Robin Farnsworth’s 3rd grade class at Neil Armstrong Academy in West Valley City, Utah. Through Skype, Ms. Farnsworth’s students read A Bad Case of the Stripes to another class and then listen as the other class reads their storybook, The Book with No Pictures.

This simple 30-minute activity provides an engaging, meaningful context for the students to practice reading fluency and comprehension. It also addresses two state standards:

  • Read grade-level text with purpose and understanding
  • Use telecommunications to communicate with others

Watch this lesson in action above to see how Ms. Farnsworth facilitates these classroom readings and subsequent discussions. You can also download the lesson guidebook for additional insights, as well as step-by-step instructions for creating this activity in your own classroom.

The guidebook also provides links to additional resources for effective teaching of STEM concepts.

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How To Give The Ultimate STEM Lesson

What does a truly comprehensive STEM lesson look like?

Cross-curricular activities can increase the relevance and engagement of STEM lessons.

This week’s strategy features students in Ms. Monica Marsing’s 6th grade class tracking food waste in their school cafeteria in order to create solutions for reducing the waste and reusing the rest as compost.

This lesson is exceptionally appropriate because it hits on so many concepts: statistics, problem solving, ecosystems, resource management, and more. In short, the lesson covers every aspect of STEM—Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math.

This lesson is also standards based, addressing the following standards:

  • Use ratios to explore and solve real-world problems.
  • Find the mean of a data set, describe overall patterns, and identify deviations from the overall pattern.
  • Analyze and interpret data.

Watch the video to see how Ms. Marsing executes this lesson, then download the lesson guidebook for everything you need to adapt this lesson in your own classroom. The guidebook also links to additional resources for effective teaching of STEM concepts.

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How to Make Professional Development a Priority

Making the Most of Professional Development Dollars
Podcast: Making the Most of Professional Development Dollars

A school district’s greatest monetary investment is in its people, with teachers and support staff receiving up to 80% of the budget. It would seem common sense to focus a good portion of any additional resources on nurturing and developing these educators. Unfortunately, when budgets are trimmed, professional development is often one of the first expenses to be cut.

According to Robert Avossa, Ed.D., this is one of the worst things a district can do. Dr. Avossa was superintendent of the 96,000-student Fulton County School System, Georgia’s fourth largest school district. Dr. Avossa came to Fulton in June 2011, and in this short time, his leadership has led to unprecedented growth in the district’s graduation rate and an increased focus on college and career readiness.

Dr. Avossa attributes the district’s success in part to a focus on professional development delivered through technology that makes it individualized, flexible, and trackable.

Listen as Dr. Avossa talks about professional development and the steps he’s taken to achieve success at Fulton in this podcast presented by Jackstreet and AASA.

Listen to the Podcast


Implementing an Effective Cycle of Continuous Improvement

Implementing an Effective Cycle of Continuous Improvement

Any school district that wants to realize consistent year-over-year improvements in teacher effectiveness (and, indirectly, student achievement) must have a system in place to assess, evaluate, and develop teaching in the classroom. Many schools that have adopted this approach call it a Cycle of Continuous Improvement.

Clark County School District in Las Vegas, Nevada, uses the Cycle of Continuous Improvement to help their educators learn how to better serve their students. The cycle includes the following steps:

  1. Analyze baseline data
  2. Observe teaching in the classroom, focusing on one or more objective
  3. Share observations with teachers, discussing:
    • Strengths
    • Areas for improvement
    • Action steps
  4. Share the feedback with instructional coaches so they can help implement the recommendations
  5. Engage teachers with targeted professional learning activities
  6. Observe again to gather data and evaluate level of improvement

Clark County School District has seen great success using the Cycle of Continuous Improvement, and doing so with the help of Edivate, the professional learning resource from School Improvement Network. Watch this week’s video and learn more about how they did it.

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How Mentoring Can Help in Your School

Helping Beginning Teachers to Thrive

When asked why they began teaching, educators often describe the magic of helping students learn, grow, and explore as their reason.  

Then the realities of the classroom hit, and the magic disappears as teachers struggle with discipline issues and other challenging circumstances.

The result? Beginning teachers frequently seek out a “better” school, looking for a classroom that’s closer to their concept of ideal. 

For Salem-Keizer Public Schools in Salem, Oregon, this created problems: both the lost investment in training and development, as well as a sense of transience among students who value consistency and security at school.

But Salem-Keizer was able to reverse this trend, retaining beginning teachers and developing them into the outstanding professionals they aspired to be. In short, they helped these teachers rekindle the magic of teaching.

And they did it with mentors.

Watch the Salem-Keizer story and see how mentoring might help in your own schools

Over a short period of time, Salem-Keizer went from 57% teacher retention to 98% retention. Not only that, but their beginning teachers found that they wanted to stay, even in the district’s most challenging schools.

Karen Spiegel, Mentor Program Coordinator for Salem-Keizer Public Schools, detailed the district’s successful mentoring program at the 2014 School Improvement Innovation Summit in Salt Lake City. In this video segment, Ms. Spiegel shares her expertise on creating a culture where beginning teachers thrive.

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Simple Tips for Engaging with Disruptive Students

Practical Classroom Strategies You Can Use Today

As an instructional leader, you do your best to stay current with the latest pedagogical shifts in order to share them with your faculty. But sometimes what your teachers really want are practical, actionable techniques that simply work.

In this week’s featured video on Edivate, that’s exactly what you’ll get.

The video features Rick Smith, classroom management expert and co-author of the bestselling book, Conscious Classroom Management (now available as a LumiBook).

In the video, Rick explains that when we change our assumptions about “disruptive” children, our new mindset can help us quickly learn to improve our interaction with them and engage with them in meaningful ways.

See simple, research-proven techniques that can influence not only individual students’ behavior but a school’s entire culture.

Among other things, Rick discusses:

  • Using photos to model exemplary classroom behavior
  • Changing volume, tone, and posture to better address classroom disruptions
  • How to engage with—and transform—the students you struggle with most

Watch the video. Learn the techniques.

The 20-minute video is taken from the 2014 School Improvement Innovation Summit, and highlights a few of the techniques found in Rick Smith’s Conscious Classroom Management LumiBook.

This video comes with a downloadable the transcript.

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How to Succeed In the Face of Exceptional Challenges – Warren Easton Charter High School

How to Succeed In the Face of Exceptional Challenges–One School’s Story

When you think of cities burdened by more than their fair share of problems, the city of New Orleans is probably at the top of the list.

But even in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, one public school has maintained a level of pride and excellence that continues to set it apart. What makes it possible is the right attitude, says Alexina Medley, principal of Warren Easton Charter High School.

“Once you come through the front door, we become a family,” Ms. Medley said in her talk at the 2014 School Improvement Innovation Summit—a national gathering of administrators and other educators. “We consider our kids part of our family. We want our teachers and our staff to feel the same way…Once you walk in, it’s a family, and we never ever lose contact with each other, regardless as to where you are.”

When a school becomes family, both students and teachers work together to achieve, regardless of circumstances. Warren Easton serves a student body that overwhelmingly lives below the poverty line, yet students still come from all over New Orleans to be a part of the family.

In 2014, Warren Easton graduated 100% of its senior class, improving on its overall average graduation rate of over 97%. And those graduates aren’t leaving to enter the workforce straight away. According to Principal Medley, every student graduates ready for a professional or educational environment, whether it’s college or a technical school.

Get inspired—See the whole story

The data reflects that something special is going on at Warren Easton, but the formula for success includes less tangible concepts such as pride, family, and accountability.

Get special insight to Warren Easton’s success in this week’s featured content on Edivate. The video presents Principal Medley and one of her teachers, Ms. Lauren LeDuff, as they share the Warren Easton story and describe the specific components that make its culture of high achievement possible.

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Fourth Grade STEM—Investigating Temperature and Humidity

Using Thinking Maps to Support STEM

Today’s science education standards call on educators not only to teach known scientific principles, but also to spark curiosity and to help students pursue scientific exploration. One set of tools for effective teaching of STEM subjects is Thinking Maps.

Thinking Maps:

  • Help students identify patterns
  • Enable students to associate new information with their own experiences
  • Accommodate a variety of learning preferences and language proficiencies
  • Allow informal assessments that help teachers provide differentiated instruction
  • Support critical thinking in students

Thinking Maps come in several formats, each with a different purpose or emphasis.


In this week’s strategy, students use a circle map to compare the purpose of thermometers and hygrometers in measuring weather. In addition to watching the video segment below, you can download the lesson plan, which explores humidity and temperature.

Teaching in Action: Exploring Temperature and Humidity

This week’s Edivate content features Mr. Clay Carter’s fourth grade class at North Elementary in Cedar City, Utah. You’ll see how the students collaboratively investigate the relationship between humidity and temperature, relating their findings to the scientific concept of lapse rate and applying their new knowledge to explain recent local weather trends.

The segment includes a downloadable lesson plan that outlines the procedures and provides a list of everything you need to teach this lesson in your own classroom. It also includes links to additional resources that support content knowledge, as well as general information about STEM/STEAM education.

This standards-based lesson addresses two science standards:

  • Understand that elements of weather can be observed to make predictions.
  • Conduct research investigating different aspects of a topic.

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Kindergarten STEM—Why it’s never too early to teach STEM

STEM: It’s Not Just for Older Children

A common question among adults is, how soon can STEM-related education (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) be given to very young students? Are these children, who are just learning to sound out their letters and count to 30, ready to learn the principles of science? or maybe “scientific concepts?”

The answer is a resounding YES!

The fact is that younger children are naturally curious and love to explore the world around them. Activities such as taking nature walks, building things, and disassembling objects not only hold their attention but also help them learn about causes and effects. These activities also encourage young students to make connections across disciplines and contextual settings.

Source: STEM in the early years

STEM lessons needn’t be complex to have an impact. At the lower grades, the best lessons are those that demonstrate concepts simply and succinctly. They can involve anything from observing vinegar-and-baking-soda eruptions to taking apart old electronics or appliances. Or, in the case of this week’s featured new content on Edivate, building boats that float.

Teaching in Action: Predicting and Testing the Buoyancy of Objects

In this week’s Edivate content, you’ll observe Ms. Megan Madsen’s kindergarten students predicting whether different objects will sink or float, testing the buoyancy of those objects, and then building a boat to demonstrate their knowledge.

The segment also comes with a downloadable lesson plan providing a list of everything you need to teach this lesson in your own classroom. It also includes a study guide that outlines the implementation of effective STEM instruction in your own classroom, as well as general links to additional STEM-related resources.

This lesson addresses three student learning standards:

  • Recall information from experiences to answer a question.
  • Compare strengths and weaknesses of two objects designed to solve the same problem.
  • Demonstrate how the shape of an object helps to solve a problem.

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STEM Lesson 3rd Grade Teaching Geography Through “Mystery Skype”

Skyping to Learn

It wasn’t long ago that high-speed Internet access became reliable in classrooms—or even available. Many schools had computer labs that were the sole point of access for students to get online. Of course, limited access came with limited opportunities to use the Internet for learning.

Today, Internet access in schools is virtually ubiquitous. Many classrooms have their own fleets of laptops, tablets, and other devices, all connected to the Internet through WiFi. This has allowed teachers to fully use the Internet as a resource in the classroom. And it’s been extremely beneficial in helping teachers reach “digital native” students who have never known life without connectivity.

One particularly useful technology available in classrooms is Skype, a videoconferencing program that can connect individuals—and entire classrooms—in different locations throughout the country and around the world. This allows classes to collaborate and learn from each other, helping them to broaden their perspectives and communicate to achieve commonly held goals.

Teaching in Action: Learning Geography Through “Mystery Skype”

A new video on Edivate demonstrates how STEM education provides students with the opportunity to connect with local and global communities using technology. Watch as actual students in Ms. Robin Farnsworth’s 3rd grade class at Neil Armstrong Academy in West Valley City, Utah, videoconference with students in a classroom from another state and work collaboratively to determine in which state the other school is located.

The segment also comes with a downloadable lesson plan to help you conduct a Mystery Skype lesson in your own classroom. It also includes a study guide that outlines the implementation of effective STEM instruction in your own classroom, as well as general links to additional STEM-related resources.

This standards-based lesson addresses two state standards:

  • Use technology in collaborative writing activities for audiences outside of the classroom
  • Use online resources in problem-solving activities

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