Staying Motivated

In the modern classroom, there are endless tools, tricks, and strategies available to enhance the learning experience for students.  However, the less-asked question remains: who keeps the teacher motivated?  Teaching is a demanding, high-energy job, no matter the grade or subject.  Here are a few ways you can stay motivated in the classroom, especially as we embark upon the short-attention-span-long-vacation holiday season.

Teacher

 

Keep it Meaningful, To You and to Them

Yes, it’s important to keep up with content necessary to advance your students to the next grade, or pass the next cumulative review.  But it is just as valuable to present them material to which they feel a connection.  When I was in third grade, my teacher brought in a picture of her standing on The Four Corners when teaching us United States geography.  Ever since, I’ve loved learning about the fifty states, and I still remember that moment – I have yet to get to The Four Corners, but it’s a goal!

I now teach music, and I enjoy watching students learn pieces I liked playing at their age; it’s remarkable how they tend to like those pieces, too.  It creates a special teacher-student bond.  The timelessness of Beethoven’s Für Elise certainly doesn’t hurt, either.

If your students see that a topic resonates with their teacher, they draw parallels to it to their own lives.  Teaching about things as light as honeybees or as intense as Anne Frank’s biography, students connect if they sense their teacher is also engaged, and if they seem to enjoy what they’re teaching.  Bridge the gap between required content and special, creative topics, and see your students interact.

meaninful

 

Make Personal Connections – Learn About Your Students

It can be as simple as asking them each what they did over the weekend, or greeting them at the classroom door, but children want to feel accepted and included.  This remains true for the majority of their school experience, as they strive for understanding amongst their teachers and peers.  Keeping up on their progress and remaining available and open for questions and help gives students a “comfort zone” to learn more in a safe, judgment-free way.  Find something unique in each kid, allow them to be individuals, and they will likely be more active, thoughtful class participants.

connection

Set Goals

Write them in a list, or put them in your calendar – envision what you want to carry out within the span of a school year.  The day-to-day of classroom life can start to feel like a grind, but by setting small – and large – goals, you are nudging yourself in the right direction.  Continuing to make small changes and work toward larger initiatives expands your reach as a teacher, but also improves the quality of your classroom for both you and your students.  Start small, and make the goals reasonable, so it doesn’t get overwhelming.  It’s surprising and heartening to go back and see what you’ve accomplished after just a few months!

goals

 

Remember What Brought You Here

This one might be a bit sentimental, but remember back to what you loved about school as a child.  A certain teacher, a specific class – it’s different for everyone.  Whatever your answer, that thing, at least in part, is probably what led you down the path to teaching.  It was a motivation.  Further, remember what things your teachers may have done that made their classrooms a lively, interesting space.  Sometimes, reminiscing about that feeling or that time is all it takes to put things into perspective.  Teaching is a calling, and a noble one at that.  Never lose sight of the impact you can make on another generation of learners.

inspire


Africa’s Revolutionary Educational Market

A History of Change

Africa: a continent with so many natural resources.  The natural richness of Africa makes it impossible to believe this massive continent is home to most of the poorest countries in the world.  Despite the economic and social disparities Africa faces, Africans carry the everlasting spirit of warriors.  These warriors have fought social and economic injustice, and their culture is rooted in the stories of African slave trade, Apartheid, and the decolonization of African countries.  During my visit at @InnovationAfric, Africa’s Ministerial Official Summit, it was apparent that the diaspora is still fighting the same injustices of the past.  

At the Innovation Africa Summit, decolonization is apparent in the faces of the people in power.  It was amazing to me that 99% of African ministers are of African descent.  But the fight did not stop when Africans were placed in power; the fight continues through the messages delivered at the summit’s panels.  There was one clear message that resonated with me after sitting in some of the panels: “Education has the power to change social and economic injustice.”  This message is the reason I studied education in college.  I was delighted to share this message with the African people, and I felt empowered to join them on the journey to change education in Africa.

 

 

Learning about Africa’s Challenges

As one of Genius Plaza’s representatives, I was on a mission to find out what part Genius Plaza can play in Africa’s educational revolution.  Unesco estimates between 30-70 million children are without access to education.  They also reported between 40 and 90% of schools – depending on their location in Africa – don’t have access to internet, technology, and resources (books, decolonized literature).  So the question that arose was, how does an educational technology company help countries with such challenges?

 

Genius Plaza’s Role in Changing Education

Below, I listed some ways educational technology companies can help Africa’s educational revolution.  The first area where Genius Plaza can help is in providing good quality, culturally relevant resources (eBooks, games, videos, exercises) to each unique country in Africa.  Genius Plaza has provided their users with a game-changing tool called “Re-teach.”  Teachers and students from around the world are empowered to create content unique to the user.  Re-teach can help in the decolonization process, because it gives people tools to tell their stories using their personal experiences, culture, and mother tongues.  

For example, Uganda’s representative, Okaka Opio Bokotum, also an Associate Professor at Lira University in Uganda, shared with us his country’s fight and struggle for decolonization.  During the summit, I noticed most African representatives have a common problem – truly teaching their students how to become bilingual.  In most African countries, students are taught in their mother tongue until the first grade.  In the second and third grade, students begin learning in the national languages (English, Portuguese, French), which vary from country to country.  It is a struggle to raise bilingual students because there aren’t many resources created in their mother tongues, making it difficult for teachers to show students the value of learning, using, and celebrating their native language.  Professor Okaka expressed this same concern.  He was delighted to learn how Genius Plaza’s Re-teach tool can be used to show students the value of their mother tongue.  With Genius Plaza, Uganda can begin creating resources (eBooks, videos, exercises, games) in fifty-two different languages. This is truly revolutionary – it can change how Africans see themselves, their cultures, and it can change how the rest of the world sees and what the rest of the world knows about Africa.  

Secondly, providing African schools with access to Genius Plaza platform and apps.  By developing an offline platform and apps, we can welcome students from around the world access to good quality resources, regardless of internet access.

Lastly, working closely and building relationships with governments and ministers to help provide funding for schools, internet, and technology for schools that still need it.

The time for change is now!  Africa is a market looking for revolutionary change to allow their future children to compete with the rest of the world.

Africa

 


¡Tareas! Peleas o Diversión?

Recuerdo perfectamente hacer tareas en casa, mi mamá se sentaba junto a mi hermano y a mi. De ambos siempre fui yo quien necesito más ayuda, siempre me daba flojera, me parecía fastidioso. Hubo días de tareas amorosas y otros de peleas y discusiones. Recuerdo ver interminable las planas para aprender no sé qué, así serían de aburridas que no recuerdo lo que hacía. Me aprendí el orden del abecedario por repetición de una lámina, que ni dibujos tenía, y había que aprendérselo, ya estaba en primer grado.

tarea

Mi misión como madre

Ahora me tocó hacer tarea con mis hijos, y pretendí no repetir aquella historia. Ya habían pasado más de 30 años y algo había de evolucionar en este tema. Desde entonces he hecho el esfuerzo, porque no niego que en momentos me frustro,  y peleo si ellos se desaniman, se niegan  o se paran de la mesa, pero me repito mi misión, y entonces retomo hacer con ellos las tareas de una forma divertida y a la vez haciéndoles saber el compromiso y la responsabilidad, en vez de volver a repetir lo que viví como un momento de lucha y batalla entre nosotros.

Mi tarea como maestra

Como maestra entiendo la importancia de ese quehacer. Es un refuerzo, un espacio para recordar lo que se les enseñó durante el día y además una forma de crear hábito de trabajo en casa, porque cuando sean adultos estarán llenos de tareas ineludibles y si desde hoy les hago el momento satisfactorio y agradable,  de adultos no les resultará pesado, hostil, difícil e inalcanzable su desempeño laboral.

Lo importante es entonces aceptarlas, disfrutarlas y hasta convertirlas en retos creativos mientras estén también enmarcadas en un tiempo prudencial de treinta (30) minutos y  estrictamente relacionadas al contenido académico estudiado en clase, enfocado a su edad cronológica, pues valoro cuando las maestras  son creativas en las tareas y se convierten en una emoción para los niños hacerlas.

Así pues les invito a disfrutar del momento y hacerles ver a sus hijos que es una responsabilidad a cumplir de forma divertida y alegre. Así como a uds. padres, que si se hacen hábito tendremos futuros adultos responsables y felices en lo que se desempeñen.

 

Luisana Lopez

Lic. en Educación Preescolar

Mamá de 3


Trick or treat?

This week we had a lot of fun celebrating Halloween. We want to highlight the best teacher costumes, and we want to share the celebration we had at Genius Plaza.

Look this beautiful Monarch butterfly, doesn’t she look great?  

I am a Monarch butterfly today! I’m still learning how to fly! 🤣

A post shared by Carolina: (@funforspanishteachers) on Oct 31, 2017 at 6:26am PDT

Wow, a real superhero! To be a teacher, you must have some superpowers.

When your students pick your Halloween costume. #teachers #teacherlife #superman #clarkkent #halloween #teachercostume

A post shared by Nicholas Ferroni (@nicholasferroni) on Oct 31, 2017 at 7:18am PDT

As a Mexican, I love these Catrinas, great job teachers!

101 Dalmatians!  All of them look super cute.

Adorable idea! The Three Little Pigs story in a costume.

Happy Halloween! #firstgradeteam #threelittlepigs #bigbadwolf #teachersfollowteachers #teachersofinstagram

A post shared by Veronica Sanchez (@firstgradedualadventures) on Oct 31, 2017 at 11:49am PDT

And here’s how Genius Plaza celebrated Halloween.  We really enjoyed seeing the kids’ faces!

This how we celebrated #Halloween

A post shared by Genius Plaza (@geniusplaza) on Nov 3, 2017 at 10:28am PDT

 

Follow us

 

 


Celebremos el Día de los Muertos


La celebración del Día de los Muertos es una de las tradiciones más representativas de México y una de mis favoritas, ya que es la forma en cómo recordamos a nuestros seres queridos que ya no están con nosotros, además de ser una tradición llena de colores, aromas e historia.
La forma en cómo celebramos este día es creando un altar a nuestros muertos, cada ornamento que utilizamos tiene un significado.

Quiero compartirles el significado y algunas ideas de cómo celebrar el día de muertos:
El cempasúchil: se cree que por su olor y color atrae a los espíritus de los muertos.

Ver video

Las catrinas: representan la felicidad de la vida después de la muerte.

Las mariposas: se cree que la migración de las mariposas monarcas a México son los espíritus de los seres queridos.

Las calaveras: son adornos que se utilizan en los altares, están hechas de azúcar o chocolate.
Mira cómo esta maestra hizo las calaveras de azúcar con sus alumnos.

Pueden seguirla en instagram @risanchez y ver más acerca de esta actividad.

También en México se acostumbran las “calaveritas literarias”, éstos son versos escritos en forma de rima sobre una persona o situación y siempre relacionado con el tema de la muerte.

“Ya va a ser el Día de Muertos
Pongámosles un altar
Porque si no van a venir
Y los pies nos van a agarrar.”  Isabel Vázquez

“Estaba un genio en la plaza
Esperando comer una calabaza
Cuando de pronto vio llegar a la calaca
Y se lo lleva a la barranca.”

Papel picado: es otro ornamento que utilizamos para decorar y llenar de color el altar de muertos.

Ver video

El incienso: se cree que el aroma atrae los espíritus de los muertos.

Las velas: se dice que sirven para iluminar las ofrendas y guiar a los muertos.

Otros ornamentos: siempre se suele poner los dulces o platillos favoritos del muerto, también objetos, juguetes, instrumentos musicales, ropa, etcétera. La finalidad es hacer de este día algo especial para recordar a nuestros seres queridos que ya no están con nosotros.


Let the Day Inspire Your Teaching

Did you know that March 13th is National Earmuff Day? Does that matter? Maybe!

A day’s teaching can be perked up by even the smallest things. I encourage you to scour the internet for all the little known national days that blanket the calendar. Let inspiration take over and add a little spark to your teaching with this knowledge.  You can link an educational topic or review some material that relates in some way to this theme of the day. Students will love it!  If you build excitement or anticipation in the classroom, students may find out just how much they care about the fact that June 6th is National Yo-yo Day.

Here’s an educational video I made about estimation and rounding for National Author’s Day, which is November 1st.

 Watch Video

December 4th is National Dice Day. How about a probability exercise for math class?

Watch video

January 23rd is National Handwriting Day. How about a fun writing activity to review spelling words?

Play game

March 12th is National Plant a Flower Day. How about a science class review of the parts of a plant?

Here’s where you can find a multitude of national days. There is always an opportunity to add a little more fun to the classroom and do something that will grab the attention of your students.

 

 

 


Quivers and Quills: Using Halloween to Launch Creative Writing Exercises

A dim spectre in the distance. A ghostly woman in white waiting forlornly on a bridge. A mysterious voice in the dark of the night. A statue that watches…and waits.

Scary stories are powerful. Every community, rural or urban, has its share of tales that have the power to chill you to the bone. Both original stories and those rooted in folk legends invoke strong reactions from their audience. Some people avoid scary tales. Others cannot get enough of them. These are the people for which Halloween was made.

Scary

The book that hooked me up

While I don’t enjoy all aspects of Halloween, (I’m took impatient to put together an impressive costume, and I’m allergic to half the candy out there – Boo!) I am a fright fan. I have been ever since elementary school, when my second-grade teacher gave me a booked titled The Doll in the Garden. It was a ghost story about a girl who found an antique doll buried in her neighbor’s garden. Throughout the story she learns about the doll’s history by traveling back in time to speak with the doll’s former owner – a ghost girl named Louisa.

I enjoyed the book enough to mention it to my aunt, who was a fourth grade teacher. My aunt gave me a book her students enjoyed by the same author. It was called Wait Till Helen Comes. It was about a girl whose stepsister was communicating with a ghost who wanted to lure her into a pond, to drown, so she could join her in the afterworld.  I loved it, and read it again and again. There were sentences that made my heartbeat quicken. Something about the way the words scared me pressed me to keep on reading them, and as my interest grew, I swear I could feel my imagination expanding. I liked to be scared, and I liked how my fright made me wonder about the world and my place in it.

I found myself studying the way the author used words to paint scary scenes and invoke a sense of danger. I became keenly aware that my reaction to the story was the result of artistic choices. Her characters, the plot, the setting, the tone, the pacing, the symbolism, the foreshadowing, the structure – all of these elements worked in harmony to create a story powerful enough that I remember it to this day.

Teachers, without a doubt, have kids in their class who love a good fright, and Halloween is a perfect time to reach them with an unforgettable creative writing exercise. There is plenty of opportunity to co-opt Halloween to help students stretch their creative muscles with some writing exercises.

horror book

Option One: Writing prompts. Teachers can provide students with a choice of three or four “story starters” from which they can build their own scary story. Students who chose the same prompt can compare their stories after they are written and discuss how the stories differ. Students can explain the choices they made and discuss their favorite parts of each other’s stories.

scary prompt

Option Two: Word webs. Teachers can ask students for “scary” nouns. Then, scary adjectives, verbs, and so on. Using the collected words, students can compose a series of frightening sentences – or a full-fledged scary story.

witch

Option Three: Take a break from scary. Not all students enjoy being scared. That’s perfectly fine! Instead, perhaps they would benefit from a writing exercise that focuses on costumes. What was their favorite Halloween costume, ever? What do the costumes in the costume store do at night, when all of the customers and employees are gone? What if the costumes came to life?

I have found that giving children the chance to perform their written pieces for an audience is very beneficial for driving home the idea that writing is meant to be experienced. It is easy for young writers to forget about the reader as they get excited – or intimidated – by the act of putting words on a page. It is harder to forget about the audience when the writer realizes that their piece will be performed rather than read.

Not all students will be comfortable with performing a monologue or acting in a play, and that’s okay. Children in the audience can sit back and enjoy the show, and perhaps even give feedback on what works and what doesn’t in a performed narrative. They might even like to see their own piece performed by others!

Children working together to create a story will not only hone their writing and language skills – they will also exercise teamwork and have an opportunity to form lasting memories in the classroom. Halloween comes once a year. If you have only one chance to fully indulge your students’ creativity this year, this is the time to take it. This is the holiday that lets imaginations soar.

 


Celebrating Halloween with Ideas from Our Teachers

 

This week, we want to share some great ideas for celebrating Halloween from teachers following us on Instagram.

@firstgradedualadventures shared a great idea to engage students with six Halloween stations, creating awesome and fun art projects. 

@kristinbertie shared a great way to motivate students about writing.

Who doesn’t love pumpkin carving? You can see how engaged these students are in this art project. @mrs.giannotti

Do you want to surprise your students this Halloween? Look at this cute idea from @primaryplayground

Your students are going to love this idea! Monster traps. @prideandjoyinprimary

Take a look at this creative idea from @pnetherly for decorating pumpkins. 

This how we celebrate Halloween at Genius Plaza:

A song about safety tips for trick-or-treating.

safety

Play song

An eBook about the origins of the Halloween.

Read eBook

Follow us

    

 


My Child Didn’t Like to Read

A few years ago, I was talking to my then 6-year-old son.  He was in the midst of first grade and learning how to read.  I was beyond excited for this stage in his life.  I had dreamt of having him sit on my lap to read one of our favorite books to me in that sweet innocent voice.  But in fact, this was not our reality at all.  My child did not enjoy reading.  He only practiced when forced, and complained about reading every single time.  It wasn’t only a struggle at home, but at school as well.  Even though he was learning and making progress, the love and curiosity of reading was sadly missing.

 

My entire job as an adult was teaching children.  Not only did I love teaching, but I felt it was my duty as a teacher to instill the love of learning and reading.  I was so passionate about teaching kids to read.  I loved showing them strategies to be successful and confident readers.  To enable them to independently escape into a book while learning new vocabulary and reading skills.  And in my very own home, I was struggling to help my own child.

 

Needless to say, I pulled out all the stops, and after some trials and failures, I was able to figure out how to have more successes than failures. Below are some of the reading strategies that helped my son slowly gain that love of reading.

 

Shared reading

Many kids look at a page of text and crumble.  They get overwhelmed with the amount of words and often give up or feel frustrated before they start.  I have found that taking the pressure off my child from reading all the words can be very encouraging.  We take turns reading, which not only motivates the kids to read longer, but the other reader is able to model fluency, syntax, and pronunciation of vocabulary.

 

Image heavy texts

From my own experience, my son starting getting excited about choosing his own texts when he started reading graphic novels.  These types of books, as well as books with a lot of great illustrations, lure the kids into the story.  The illustrations are also a great tool to help students who may struggle with reading, and gives them imagery for story context.

 

Choose texts based on their interests

This seems like an obvious one…but it makes a difference.  Kids will want to read about what they like.  If they love animals, try reading animal books.  If they love soccer, find some books about famous soccer players or a storyline that revolves around the sport.  The more they are intrigued about the subject matter, the better chance they will try to find out by reading it.

 

Use various forms of text

Sometimes, all kids need is a different format to read from.  I love eBooks to change things up.  I take advantage – when my son really wants to use the iPad, I have him read an eBook before he plays a game.  I love the eBooks and content on Genius Plaza, because there are so many different types of books that intrigue him.

 

We must remember that reading is a lifelong process.  All it takes is one book, one topic, one person to change the course of our child’s love for reading.  Being supportive and continuously providing engaging material are the most important things we can do to make our child’s reading career a successful one.

 


Rethinking Science Teaching and Learning

I am inclined to believe that science is not learned using textbooks, study guides, worksheets, or tests.  Rather, I think science is learned by thinking, processing information, constructing models, doing laboratory activities, and testing theories.  When I think of my science learning in elementary school, I remember reading about science in textbooks and completing numerous worksheets, or only having science class when my teacher had the time to teach it – it was often placed on the back burner, and I quickly became bored with it all.  I wanted to do science, not just read about it.

 

Do something different

During middle school, my science learning was similar, however, I was introduced to laboratory activities and I soon became hooked on the discovery portion of science learning!  I wanted to learn and discover more…  In high school, I fell in love with the sciences; however, I was disappointed with how I was learning it – copying notes from a chalkboard while the teacher was reciting what she wrote, memorizing standardized test content, or being told what I needed to think.  Hmm, I thought, where was the application of what I was learning?

I decided soon after to pursue a career in science teaching and learning, and made a promise to myself, my future children, and future students: I would teach it using an inquiry approach rather than a traditional one.  I wanted my children and students to learn how to do science, not merely read about it.  To teach science to them, rather than at them.  In recent years, data collected nationally and from state assessments has indicated a need to improve student performance in science, especially in the physical sciences and in performance-based learning tasks.

Involve your students

Throughout my teaching career as a high school science teacher, I supported and implemented an inquiry-based approach to my teaching, since it was the application component of science my kids appeared to struggle with.  When my students were active rather than passive in their science learning, they experienced many “Eureka!” moments: they learned to apply what was learned by participating in laboratory activities, made the connection to what they learned in lectures and class readings, as well as to the real world.  

STELLA (Science Teachers Learning from Lesson Analysis) is proving to be quite a reform method in science education, much like the Full Operation Science Systems (FOSS), a K-8 student-centered program that emphasizes student inquiry, thinking, and application.

Programs such as STELLA and FOSS are based upon the premise that if instructors are provided with well-developed teaching materials which promote student inquiry, and professional development that helps them learn how to effectively use the materials, they are more likely to implement hands-on science programs, so student achievement improves.  Both programs provide instructors with extensive professional development, and appealing, well-developed materials to help them use inquiry and laboratory approaches to teach science to improve student achievement.

Create a habit

Inquiry science learning is based on the following cognitive processes: observation, communication, comparison, organization, cause and effect relationships, inference, and application.  Inquiry during science learning is enriched by conceptual knowledge and supports a “habit of mind” philosophy.  Students need to be given the opportunity to demonstrate habits of mind skills which include curiosity, open-mindedness, and respect for evidence, persistence, and a sense of stewardship and care when they are engaged in science learning.

Students should be given time to explore, experiment, make observations, test ideas, construct physical and mathematical models, and be given the opportunity to think in different ways – all of which are components of the inquiry approach, where they are encouraged to be actively involved in their own learning.  Both the inquiry approach and the use of hands-on learning in science give instructors and students this opportunity.  Here’s hoping that these methodologies persevere well in the twenty-first century and beyond, so all kids learn to love the discipline as I did many moons ago as a kinesthetic, naturalistic, and logical-mathematical learner sitting in a boring, traditionally-centered science classroom.