The end of the school year is a time when both students and teachers alike are distracted by thoughts of vacation, sleeping in, and no deadlines. For many, this means, during the last few weeks of school, learning limps to a grinding halt but increasingly, teachers use this time productively to introduce curricular- and standards-aligned activities that “color outside the lines” — step away from the textbook to blend learning with dynamic activities that remind students why they want to be life-long learners. Many of these, educators would love to teach but “just don’t have time for“, even though they align well with broad goals of preparing students for college and career.
If you’re looking for meaningful lessons to wrap up your school year, here are my top picks:
- Digital Passport
- Cool book reports
- Practice keyboarding
- Dig into cyberbullying
- Applied Digital Skills
Common Sense Media’s award-winning Digital Passport is the gold-standard in teaching digital citizenship to grades 3-5 (or Middle School). This free-to-schools online program mixes videos, games, quizzes, and the challenge of earning badges to teach students the concepts behind digital citizenship:
- How to search
It includes certificates of achievement, badges at the completion of units, and a classroom tracking poster to show how students are progressing.
Music is arguably one of the most important subjects taught in school, yet is often the first to be cut away when budgets fail. Thank you, Jane Sandwood, Ask a Tech Teacher contributor, for discussing some of the online options to make teaching music easier, more effective.
In a recent survey, 93% of Americans said that learning music is an important part of getting a well-rounded education. It is a subject that can also benefit many other areas of learning, including math and languages, by engaging many different hemispheres of the brain. Using technology to improve and expand teaching methods can help students learn about music quicker and give them a variety of different learning techniques.
Innovative Piano Apps
When you are teaching music, having a basic understanding of the layout of a piano keyboard can be extremely useful, especially when it comes to learning music theory. The piano is visually simple, making tones and semitones easily identifiable in a way that is difficult with other instruments, such as the trumpet and saxophone. By understanding the keyboard, you can also teach the concept of sharps and flats in a logical way. There are a number of innovative piano apps on the market that make this possible – you don’t have to have access to an actual piano. In a small classroom this is ideal and students can also learn at home on their tablets and smartphones. Simply Piano and Joy Tunes are two excellent piano apps that provide informative lessons and musical knowledge in a logical, step-by-step way.
Streaming live music
It is impossible to learn about music without listening to it. Using live streaming services in the classroom is an excellent way to expose students to a wide variety of styles and genres from baroque and classical, through to hip-hop, K-pop and dance. Live video streaming has meant that you can bring the largest concerts in the world straight into the classroom. Or you could watch an intimate performance of a jazz trio. One of the biggest benefits of this is to see professional musicians at their best and study the techniques that they are using. You can also use this as a basis for discussion about composition and how music has evolved over the centuries. What would Mozart think of the evolution of live streaming? It certainly would have brought the classical music of the time to the masses, rather than being something that was generally only heard by the aristocracy.
Here’s a preview of what’s coming up on Ask a Tech Teacher in April:
- Cutting Edge Tech to Improve Music Teaching
- 5 Favorite Activities to End the School Year
- 9 Ways to Teach Tolerance
- Fake News or Fact? How do you tell?
- 10 Myths about teaching with tech
- Solve half of tech problems with 16 simple solutions
- Have Google Takeout at your end-of-year party
- What to do when you lose a digital document
- 11 projects to teach digital citizenship
- How to wrap up tech for the school year
- 5 favorite apps for summer learning
The Number One reason–according to students–why their computer doesn’t work is… It’s broken. As a teacher, I hear this daily, often followed by the solution, I need a different computer. My students innately think computer problems are something they can’t solve. I asked them what happened in class when I wasn’t there to fix the problem, or at home. I usually got a shrug and one of these responses:
- My classroom teacher can’t fix them.
- My mom/dad can’t fix them.
- The school tech people couldn’t get there fast enough.
Which got me thinking about how these problems that bring learning to a screeching halt really aren’t that complicated They don’t require a Ph.D in engineering or years of experience in IT. So why not teach kids how to troubleshoot their own problems?
I started with a list. Every time a student had a tech problem, I wrote it down and then ticked it off each time it happened. It didn’t take long to determine that there are about sixteen problems that happen often and repetitively. Once students learned how to solve these, they’d be able to fix half of the problems that bring their education to a screeching halt. I spent the school year teaching the solutions authentically as they arose starting in Kindergarten. By the end of 2nd grade, students felt empowered, By the end of 5th grade, they rarely asked for help.
Here’s my list but yours may be different. Include those that arise granularly in your school’s educational endeavor. For example, if you use Macs, right-click issues won’t be as big a deal.
Many Christians celebrate Jesus Christ’s resurrection on Easter Sunday. To non-Christians (or non-traditional Christians), that event signifies a rebirth of spring that is filled with joy and gifts — and chocolate! Overall, it is America’s most-popular holiday with Christmas a close second. The date depends on the ecclesiastical approximation of the March equinox. This year, it’s April 1, 2018.
Here’s a good mixture of games, lesson plans, stories, and songs that can be blended into many academic subjects:
This website includes a colorful collection of Easter (and Spring) games and information that is visual and enticing to youngers. Games are Easter Math, Easter Egg Hunt, Easter Egg Dress-up, Easter Word hunt, complete-the-sentence, and more. Also, viewers will find websites about the history of Easter around the world.
If you watch the news, tolerance seems to be a lost art. College kids shout down speakers. Mobs throw chairs through windows. Hordes of hooligans loot stores. It’s not that we don’t try. The Kindness Movement is more popular than ever. TeachingTolerance.org even uses Black Lives Matter as a model for tolerance education. Martin Luther King Day is always chockful of admonitions against prejudice and intolerance.
But how do you teach it in the confines of a classroom? Another lesson plan? A movie about Mahatma Gandhi? Quotes like this from Helen Keller:
The highest result of education is tolerance.
These have all been done and by many measures, America and the world are more intolerant than ever. So what do you do in your classroom to get this important attitude across? Here are some fresh ideas that you may not have tried:
Model tolerant behavior
Words don’t stem the tide of intolerance. No matter how many times we say, “See the other’s perspective,” or “Be kind,” these words are meaningless to a dedicated zealot who feels the end justifies the means. Sometimes, the best way is simply to model tolerance. In writing, this is a powerful storytelling device called “show don’t tell”. It means instead of talking about tolerance, be tolerant. When a student gets angry over a grade, explain where they fell short or how to improve a grade.
Admittedly, in the current social media world, words are today’s doing. People join hashtag campaigns like #Nevergiveup or #Bringhomeourgirls. While these may raise public awareness, they don’t deliver the tolerance necessary to change the outcome. Don’t hashtag a sentiment; find an action for the words.
Keeping up with national and international events was a lot easier when all the news came from one of three major TV news outlets and a few newspapers like The New York Times. Now, there are dozens of channels, hundreds of newspapers, thousands of bloggers, and tens of thousands of social media journalists — all trying to get your attention with the latest apocalyptic news flash. Stories based on gossip as much as fact used to be designated Yellow Journalism. Now, in what has been called a post-truth society (defined by Oxford Dictionary as “relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief”), it is the reader’s responsibility to differentiate between fact and fake news.
What is fake news?
Here are two definitions of fake news:
“false stories that appear to be news, spread on the Internet or using other media, usually created to influence political views or as a joke” — Cambridge English Dictionary
“a type of yellow journalism or propaganda that consists of deliberate disinformation or hoaxes spread via traditional print and broadcast news media or online social media.” — Wikipedia
“Fake news is information reported as fact without reliable evidence, trustworthy sources, and/or proper vetting” — Jacqui Murray
Sounds like something every thinking person would want to avoid but a recent Stanford Graduate School of Education report shows that 80-90% of high school students had difficulty judging the credibility of news. So how do we teach students to know the difference?
Last year, only 61 percent of students who took the ACT high school English achievement test were deemed college-ready. In math, it was even worse — only 41 percent. Without doubt, we teachers recognize this as a problem but what do we do about it? An option several school districts I converse with are trying is called “mastery-based learning” — MBL. When I read this article about it, I got pretty excited. This could be a solution, if not for all students, at least for those who don’t excel under traditional teaching.
What is MBL
Also known as “competency-based learning” or “proficiency-based learning”, mastery-based learning is described by The Glossary of Education Reform as:
“a system “of instruction, assessment, grading, and academic reporting … based on students demonstrating that they have learned the knowledge and skills they are expected to learn as they progress through their education.”
Learning is personalized, based on school standards. Students who don’t understand a topic and don’t do well on the summative assessment for that subject, aren’t automatically moved on because time allotted for that topic ran out. Instead, they are given additional support and then retested until they have the skills to move on to the next stage.
The latest national data reports that while a growing number of students graduate high school, college enrollments are decreasing. Students cite a lot of reasons for that:
- I can’t afford it
- I can’t get in
- It’s too hard
- I have a good job
- It isn’t worth it
Whatever is to blame, the result is that students increasingly take on the complicated economics of working and raising families without the knowledge, maturity, or experience to succeed at those. High schools are attempting to fill that gap by offering financial literacy classes that teach how to balance finite income from a job against infinite needs and wants.
Since April is Financial Literacy Month, I want to share my favorite online options, all age-appropriate for high school students and financial literacy classes: