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5 Game-Changers in Today’s Digital Learning Platforms

Digital learning has fundamentally changed teaching and learning. For the educator, digital resources ease the implementation of what is known as “best practice.” From differentiating instruction to creating culturally responsive learning environments to improving equity of opportunity, the benefits of digital learning environments are clearer than ever.

Students are benefiting from today’s modern digital classrooms as well. Digital classrooms mirror students’ use of multimedia content outside the classroom, creating deeper engagement and improving academic achievement. In addition, the integration of digital content into instruction is empowering the growth of today’s learners as collaborators, problem-solvers, and content creators.

Below are some of the top game-changing elements exhibited by modern digital learning platforms.

1. Digital Content Makes It Easier Than Ever to Reach All Types of Learners

Each student learns in their own unique way. A broad approach at educating them is guaranteed to not engage the whole classroom. Differentiation gives educators a key that can unlock all doorways of learning. A well-implemented digital learning platform that’s grounded in differentiation arms educators with a bottomless toolbox of instructional strategies that can be deployed to suit any students’ learning patterns and interests. Such a strategy is nearly impossible to execute well without the employment of digital learning platforms, which amplify the capabilities of educators by giving them curated set of resources tailored to their needs.

2. Digital Content Makes Learning Come Alive and Supports Student Inquiry

A good digital learning platform expands the possibility space of learning for students. Digital content has the power to introduce students to discoveries around the world through multi-modal resources that simply weren’t possible within the confines of a classroom. Real-world content ignites students’ curiosity by showing them what they are learning about is present all around them. Instead of text on a page, students can dive into a deep sea of engaging, interactive resources, helping them make lasting connections between their studies and their world.

3. Digital Content Saves Teachers Time

Even after embracing all the benefits of digital tools, teachers remain some of the busiest professionals in the world. Every minute counts. That’s why it’s vital that digital learning platforms limit the friction for educators between introducing a new instructional technique and seeing that spark of interest in students. Doing that right requires good professional development and embedding on-demand instructional supports in the resource itself. Professional learning doesn’t need to be intrusive. Good professional learning can dramatically extend the abilities of teachers by inspiring them to see the teacher leader inside them.

4. Digital Content Empowers Students to Share their Work and Tap Into their Creativity

Many modern digital learning platforms give students the chance to share their own unique takes on their lessons. These sharing opportunities naturally incorporate the four Cs of 21st century skills — critical thinking, creativity, collaborations and communication. By giving students innovative ways to collaborate with peers on group work, they deepen their engagement with the learning material by seeing it through a different lens. Furthermore, research into the growth mindset of students has demonstrated that putting students in the driver’s seat of their own learning fosters independence, and they respect being given the chance to create their own content. The content creation process itself also provides its own intrinsic benefit to students as a highly prized digital skill to master.

5. Digital Content Helps Teachers Create Lessons That Speak Directly to ALL Students

The deep shelves of the resource libraries in modern digital learning platforms allows curriculum developers and educators to select learning materials closely aligned to the makeup of their student bodies. Whether that manifests in the differentiation of instructional resource types, or the ethnicities presented in the materials themselves, the wider the resource library, the more closely an educator can match the palette they’re seeking for their lesson.

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Each of these game-changing elements of modern learning are strengths inside Discovery Education Experience, a new K–12 digital learning platform built from the ground up to support educators. With Experience, educators are given doorways into learning based on their preferences, allowing them to meet the needs of all learners. Learn more about experience.

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New campaign for UN World Teachers Day

by Teacher Simon Ibitoye
Magbon Academy (Lagos, Nigeria)

Now I use new teaching techniques my lessons are much more child focused

To mark UN World Teachers Day, teachers around the world are sharing their stories of success, despite working in challenging environments. Teacher Simon shares his story of personal development in Nigeria, as part of the campaign #TeachersTransformLives.

Teaching is one of the most important jobs in the world, but often teachers working where they are most needed have little help, training or support. In many low and middle income countries, like Nigeria, teachers can be left isolated and unsupported in remote communities where they are responsible for overcrowded classrooms. Often they have few teaching resources and may struggle to understand the content they teach. Despite this they are expected to improve learning outcomes and lay the foundation for the prosperity of both their communities and countries. It doesn’t have to be like this, with the right training, materials and support all teachers – like Simon – can be empowered to succeed no matter where they live.

Here is Simon’s story

I’ve been working in education for many years and I’ve been trying to get the best out of my pupils but sometimes it was hard. Even though I have been a teacher since 2003, I believe that I have only seen the full potential of my pupils since taking part in the ongoing teacher training in my school.

The reason I wanted to become a teacher was because of the love of the subject I had at university. Witnessing the dedication of my professors inspired me to go down a similar path. There’s no greater feeling in the world than knowing that you have helped your pupils.

I think the teacher training that I now have has made me see the limits of my previous teaching. It was not exciting for me to be teaching and I just did the same things over and over. I would simply relay a set of information to my pupils and expect them to instantly understand what I had just said. I would also expect pupils to read alone from their sharing textbooks and answer questions and do activities by themselves all the time, to test their understanding. This was counterproductive, as it didn’t make me really talk with my pupils to fully understand which subject areas my pupils may be struggling with and my pupils did not talk with each other. I was mainly talking at the front of the classroom and we did not have good relationships. I used to lecture, now I engage.

Before joining Magbon Academy, I undertook a teacher training programme. At first it was daunting, it was a whole different experience to what I was used to, and I was a student again, but it was worth it. I learnt new things every day, especially to have a positive relationship with the children and make the lessons about them. Now my training continues every week; I have feedback and support from people in my school and people that come to help me. So, I am always growing in how I am teaching.

I learned so many new  teaching techniques which have helped to make my lessons a lot more interactive and child focused.

For example, I learnt to ‘check and respond’ to pupils in order to maintain a dialogue, so that the pupil can see he may be lagging behind. ‘Checking’ requires me to ask inquisitive questions of the pupils which will show what content may be somewhat challenging. ‘Responding’ is important because that means to reply to pupils’ questions as well as their written work, so I can give feedback on what steps can be taken to improve.

Another one I learnt about was how to motivate pupils. The reason it’s so important to motivate pupils is that it encourages them to work harder both in and outside of the classroom. When pupils are motivated, I can see them coming alive and really taking in the lesson. It certainly makes my job as a teacher easier.

The way that I motivate my pupils is through positive reinforcements. When a pupil gets an answer correct, I always ensure that I praise them so that they are aware of the good work they have done. However, if a pupil answers something incorrectly, I still praise them for the courage they have shown in responding to my question. I simply show them that I have the belief that they can find the answer by asking them to try again. Now they have no fear of trying. In schools before I might have used a cane but now i know that does not help me engage with the children or the children learn.

I have also learnt the important role that all pupils play in helping less confident pupils in believing in themselves. Through my training, I learnt about a class cheer that all pupils can participate in to encourage their fellow classmates. If a pupil acknowledges that their friends believe that they can succeed, this helps the pupil to have self-belief and to try again. This is of vital importance not only for pupils’ academic progression, but also to be able to enhance key social skills that will benefit them in later life.   

Overall, the new teaching techniques have made me change my lessons so pupils appear more active and doing things. They are more engaged than at my previous schools where I was alone with no training or feedback to help me. The results are very astonishing. My pupils are excited to attend lessons and they all support one another. I am teaching better now. Each day, I know it is good and I am happy to be walking to my school.

To see more teacher testimonies like Simon’s and to learn more about the #TeachersTransformLives campaign, to mark UN world Teachers Day please visit: http://bit.ly/34ITkwJ

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Building Community for Social Good

By: Mark Otter, CEO at Participate

A month ago I had the privilege to attend Beyond Sport House, an international event where organizations committed to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) gathered to address the role of sports in shaping youth and driving social good around the world. Through conversations with leaders from the NFL foundation, UN Global Compact and the Boys and Girls Club, I was inspired and reminded of my duty to do good as an organizational leader and educator.

We were all at the event because we strongly believe in the value of collective change to solve the world’s greatest challenges. As educators, we have tremendous power in building community to shape the minds of youth and make progress toward social good every day.

Throughout my years in education, I’ve seen community, and its ability to enact change, in many forms. Organizations such as Teach SDGs and SDGs for Children gather leaders and learners from more than a hundred countries to connect around solving the UN’s 17 bold goals. The Global Climate Strike in September brought 7.6 million activists together in 185 different countries. Crash Test World, a TV show built around the world’s toughest questions brings educators together to explore how multimedia supports students taking action. And even as a high-school math teacher, my lack of community on professional development days led me to seek out alternative ways to connect with my peers.

No matter the context, we learn best and are quicker to find meaning in new concepts through collaboration and interaction with peers. Together we can make the world (and the education sector) a better place. Let’s do it through community.

Community starts with a purpose

Communities are built when a group of individuals connect around a shared interest, goal or purpose. These domains can be anything, such as climate change, project-based learning or even a love of hockey. To build a purposeful community, the domain must extend beyond just liking the same thing or having similar tastes—there is a shared purpose or aspiration amongst the community.

Community is built by people

Within a community, people gather around the common purpose to work collaboratively and build knowledge through sharing resources and ideas. Relationships cultivate within communities, and members collectively develop expectations for contributing to the community. The more engaged community members are, the stronger a community can become.

A strong community initiative I’ve seen recently is SEED SPOT, a nonprofit dedicated to supporting social entrepreneurs creating products, services or technologies that make the world a better place. SEED SPOT connects educators and community members in engaging meet-ups or through online learning resources, with the sole purpose of educating and bringing innovators together. They build community to nurture local impact economies all around the country. Their community is built by a group of dedicated people working toward a shared purpose: student entrepreneurship.

Community requires a practice

Communities are intentional, active and continuous. All members are challenged to participate in some form of collaboration as a result of being part of the community. As members build knowledge, they take on different roles and engage with the community in different capacities. Each community member is encouraged to follow their personalized pathway of learning—this is their practice.

Most often, I see communities being built by educators who feel isolated in their subject matter or school. They connect with other educators on Twitter or through in-person events and want to stay connected beyond initial conversations. The practice, their knowledge-sharing and classroom applications, deepens when their learning shifts from exploration and discovery to application and collaboration. Last spring, a group of educators at a PBS Kids Edcamp in rural North Carolina formed a community to stay connected after a one-day event. Beyond the event itself, educators continued conversations around questions such as, “How do we help both parents and students find the right balance of technology in education?” and “How do you practice and model self care as an educator?” Around 50 educators continue to work with one another and share how they apply what they’ve collectively learned to their classrooms. Through community, they’re taking time to impact student learning and well-being, making schools a better, safer and more encouraging place to live and learn.

When we launched Participate Inc. in January of 2019, we had one mission: grow meaningful communities. We do this through engaging online learning communities called Communities of Practice (CoPs), where people from all around the world come together to learn with and one each other, grapple with new ideas to create change and share experiences to broaden impact. When we invest in building community, we’re investing in safer, healthier and more equitable communities and societies. We’re investing in the opportunity to make the world a better place.

To learn more about Participate online Communities of Practice, click here.

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4 Engaging Classroom Activities that Promote Student Participation

Student participation is an important aspect of teaching. Learners who engage in student participation activities retain more information and give their teachers important visibility into how they understand concepts.

In a study by Faculty Focus, more than 70% of students saw a positive relationship between their participation and learning. They also saw value in other students’ comments in class. These students felt that classroom participation helped confirm what they’d learned, facilitated retention of the information, provided clarification and deepened their understanding of topics.

That said, participation in class can be difficult for teachers to foster, especially in large classes. Many students my find it hard to voice their opinions or questions in front of a group. It’s imperative to create an environment where all students feel encouraged to speak up, ask questions and express their excitement or concerns. Teachers must continually break down barriers to ensure that students are being active in their learning. Active learning, where students are engaged with each other and their teachers, results in better outcomes.

Inspiring active learning can be done in many ways, but primarily it comes from encouraging students to work with their classmates in engaging classroom activities that allow them to ask questions, display their understanding of topics and learn from their classmates. The payoff is two-fold. In this environment, teachers can observe and quickly gauge areas where multiple students are struggling to understand a topic. Student participation activities can help both educators and students do their best.

Student Participation Activities

A great way to encourage student engagement for every age group is using hands-on activities in the classroom that get everyone involved. Try these student participation activities and printable downloads to get your classroom engaged.

Response Cards

Some students aren’t as comfortable speaking up in class as others. Response cards offer an alternate way for even the shyest students to engage in the classroom without anxiety. Response cards can be used throughout a variety of subjects and allow all students to have their voices heard without talking over each other.

  • Create common responses to classroom discussion questions. You can download our printable response cards here .
  • Explain when you’ll be using the response cards. For example, if you are going over reading material, let your students know that they’ll be using response cards to answer your questions about the material.
  • Explain to the students that they should keep their cards facing toward you so they feel comfortable in their anonymity.
  • Let the students know that there are no right or wrong answers, and the response cards are meant to help you adjust your lessons to their needs.
  • When using response cards, look around at the responses and decide if they warrant further discussion. This can be done without calling a student out by name and simply diving into both sides or a misunderstanding.

Gallery Walk

A gallery walk is a tremendous way to encourage teamwork and give everyone in the class a chance to engage with and understand the material being taught. It also gets students out of their chairs and talking with their peers in a productive manner.

  • Post discussion questions related to a current curriculum topic around the room. Three to five questions is usually a good amount, depending on the size of your class.
  • Split your class into the same number of groups as there are questions. It’s important that the groups aren’t too large so everyone in the group is able to provide feedback.
  • Allow the groups time to answer each question and write their feedback down on a sheet. Download our feedback template here.
  • Each group will answer the question and add on to the previous group’s content.
  • At the end of the activity, you will have a comprehensive look at how the class is grasping the material.
  • Discuss the content with the class as well as any questions they had.

A-Z Topic Reflection

This activity can be done alone or with a group and will require your students to think deeply about material they’ve just learned. Creating an A-Z topic summary also helps you understand what your students have picked up from a book or lesson module.

  • Ask your students to write a word or sentence summarizing what they’ve learned for each letter of the alphabet. Use our worksheet for this activity for ease.
  • If you have a large class or work with young students, group students or assign individuals just a few letters to write summaries for.
  • Allow students to share their words or summaries for each letter with the class if they’d like.

Peer-Generated Testing

This activity truly makes students reflect on the material they learned, as well as gives them a chance to hear what others have learned. A peer-generated test allows students to come up with questions about material as opposed to just answer questions.

  • After you finish a lesson, instruct students to prepare a few test questions related to the lesson material as well as the answers to those questions. We’ve prepared a template you can give your students to keep things organized.
  • After each student has prepared questions and answers, pair them with another student so they can quiz each other. Do this as many times as you’d like so that students get to answer different questions from multiple students.
  • Ask some students to share their questions and answers with the class after the activity.

Student participation has long-lasting effects on students, allowing them to retain information, build confidence and relationships and learn from their peers. Use these engaging classroom activities and others to ensure that student participation in your classroom increases.

For more ideas on how to encourage student participation and influence classroom engagement, consider an online Masters of Teaching in High School Education. Campbellsville University’s program prepares you with the methods you need to increase classroom participation, engage your students and make sure they’re ready for college and the workforce. No matter what age group you teach, student participation is important. Check out all of the online education master’s degrees offered by Campbellsville University to find one that meets your needs.

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Inspiring Motivation for Special Needs Students

Special education teachers work tirelessly to inspire their students and help them succeed. Over the years, special education teachers have developed some creative methods that can provide motivation for students with special needs. In this article, we’ll focus on the strategies geared toward students with learning disabilities, like focusing on their strengths, incorporating technology and creating reasonable expectations.

Motivation for Special Needs Students

Focus on Strengths

Every student has a preferred method of learning and excels in certain subjects. As a teacher, you can find little ways to motivate them every day by maximizing their strengths. Toby Karten, author of “Building on the Strengths of Students with Special Needs: How to Move Beyond Disability Labels in the Classroom,” used the example of a student with dyslexia who struggles with reading and writing but excels at public speaking. By allowing that student to give oral presentations instead of essays, you can create a positive learning environment that encourages students with learning disabilities to learn in the style that fits them best.  

To better understand the educational needs of your students, consider giving them a strengths assessment. The Council for Exceptional Children’s High Leverage Practices in Special Education provides an assessment called the HLP4 that helps teachers to create a “comprehensive learner profile.” A profile would include data from parents, former teachers, and more. With an individualized student profile in hand, you can prepare the best learning environment for each child in the classroom

Create Reasonable Goals

Creating achievable goals for students is a common activity for teachers, but did you know it can also motivate your students with learning disabilities?  According to an article written by Dale S. Brown, speaker and author, setting goals is often a struggle for special needs students. She wrote it can be “hard for them to plan ahead, to start and stop what they wish to do, and to monitor their behavior.” She went on to explain that, often, goals are imposed on special needs students that are unrealistic and unattainable. “The school system and society set goals for them — such as getting good grades and performing well on standardized tests — that challenge them in their area of disability. When they do not receive proper accommodation, they get discouraged and lose confidence.”

You can create realistic goals and expectations with your students using the SMART strategy. SMART is an acronym for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-bound. According to an article on LD Online, developing SMART goals for students with Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) can help special education teachers “identify gaps in skills,” so they know where to focus their lessons with the students. With realistic goals and clear expectations, special needs students know what’s expected of them and that they can achieve success in the classroom.

Remind Students of Personal Achievements

When students are reminded of their accomplishments, big or small, it can encourage them to be successful at similar or more difficult tasks in the future as well as help raise their self-esteem. According to an article from nonprofit organization GreatSchools, telling students they came up with a great idea during a lesson or applauding them for staying focused during class can give them a boost in attitude.

David A. Sousa’s book, “How the Special Needs Brain Learns, Third Edition,” stated that raising a student’s self-esteem on its own doesn’t directly correlate to increased academic performance. However, when their self-esteem is tied to a sense of personal responsibility in academic achievement, there is more evidence of greater motivation in students with special needs.

Be Creative Within a Structure

Special needs students can lose motivation from the same daily lesson plans week after week, so it can be beneficial to get creative with your lessons and tailor them to specific classes. At the same time, it’s important to keep a structure around the daily schedule. According to an article from Scholastic, preschool teacher Robin Barlak works with special needs children and has a consistent schedule every day to maintain consistency. Within the segmented lesson times, though, she changes up the lesson plans. Providing a change of pace could help freshen things up for the students and keep them excited and motivated to keep learning at school.

This may sound more difficult in theory than it is in practice. For example, when giving a lesson with a writing assignment, you could discuss the SOAPSTone strategy. SOAPSTone stands for Speaker, Occasion, Audience, Purpose, Subject, and Tone, and it breaks down how to effectively craft a composition. This strategy enables students to be creative and come up with their own stories within the structure of a writing assignment from a teacher.

Utilize Technology

Just as technology has been used to narrow the achievement gap among traditional students, it can also help special needs students perform better in school. Kathryn Nieves, a teacher of middle school students with special needs, wrote in an Edutopia article that she uses Google Classroom and other Google technology in class. After putting an assignment online, students can choose to complete it through multiple avenues, such as by creating a video or a slideshow.

By utilizing the technology at their disposal, special needs students are provided more choices on how to complete assignments in the way that works for them best. “Students are given the freedom to demonstrate their knowledge in their own way and tend to feel more invested in learning because of the choices they are given,” Nieves wrote.

Inspire and Motivate Your Students

Alvernia University offers an online Master’s in Special Education with a special education certificate. Balance education and a busy life through Alvernia University’s flexible online programs. Develop skills needed to succeed as a professional and learn from knowledgeable faculty in small class sizes.

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Helping Children Succeed Through Family Engagement

We know that when families are engaged in their children’s learning, students succeed. Yet educators often need support in helping families integrate into local school communities, where they can learn about the education practices and policies that impact their children. The challenge is figuring out the best methods for building these relationships.
The philanthropic foundation Carnegie Corporation of New York has created a free resource center with helpful information on family engagement, including research, a webinar, videos, and essays written by leaders in the field.

Learn from an on-demand webinar about family engagement research and practices.

Download a free copy of a challenge paper prepared by the Global Family Research Project.

Read essays by practitioners representing a broad range of expertise.

• Watch videos featuring successful models of family engagement:

Employers as Education Advocates in New Orleans

In New Orleans, one of the area’s largest employers is taking some of the stress out of its workers lives by helping them figure out the local school system. Through a partnership with the nonprofit EdNavigator, personal education advisors are offering assistance in the workplace and getting results for both employees and their children.

Homework as Tool for Connecting Families, Students, and Teachers

Homework combined with technology can be used to reinforce learning and build relationships between the home and the school. See how this works at a school in New York City where the education nonprofit PowerMyLearning is helping a school improve family engagement and student success.

Teachers Overcome Skepticism to Visit Families at Home

Visit a family in Washington, D.C. and see what happens when teachers meet with families in the living room instead of the classroom. Working with the nonprofit Flamboyan Foundation, educators are undergoing training that helps them overcome skepticism and learn new practices that help them engage with families to help students excel.

Together, these materials represent a call to action toward a bold vision of effective family engagement strategies at the local, state, and national levels. To further the conversation, we invite you to share your ideas with us: [email protected].

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A Practical Guide to Analyzing Data

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week’s editorial staff.

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Establishing a Districtwide Data Culture in Miami-Dade County Public Schools

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Building and Nurturing a Data Culture That Leads to Student Achievement

Using actionable data can help leaders and teachers make better decisions to reach every learner. But first, district leaders must create and foster a culture of data across schools and in classrooms. This strong data culture is one in which educators, students, and families embrace the use of data as a helpful tool that contributes to student learning and growth. It is where data is used consistently and intentionally to identify and respond to students’ needs and celebrate progress.

A key to making this a reality is approaching student data as a source for dialogue that leads to meaningful action for individual students or groups of students.

But this dialogue doesn’t just happen by itself. It is critical to approach your data by asking the right questions, and using a Data Analysis Protocol can be a powerful tool. This helps you stay objective, focuses your analysis, and gives you a place to start when looking at data. It saves you time and allows you to create a plan for immediate action in your classroom. Use the questions in  A Practical Guide to Analyzing Data  to examine your data and plan your instruction. 

Watch the webinar to learn about the six key hallmarks of a strong data culture.

Data Culture in Action: How Miami-Dade’s Purposeful Data Culture Contributed to Remarkable Success

In January 2018, the superintendent of Miami-Dade County Public Schools, Alberto M. Carvalho, tweeted:

“Toward what end are we testing kids? Assessment cannot be a competitive data reporting exercise; worthless and punitive if it does not inform and improve teaching and learning.” 

Months later, after years of sustained improvement, Miami-Dade was awarded its first-ever “A” grade from the Florida Department of Education. 

Something is going right in Florida’s largest school district. After visiting with educators there, we concluded that data collection practices and a purposeful data culture have contributed to the district’s remarkable success. 

Learning from Leaders: Establishing a Districtwide Data Culture  reveals Miami-Dade’s blueprint for a thriving data culture that gets results.

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week’s editorial staff.