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An NYC 4th Grader and a California Parent Demonstrate the Power of Writing

Over the past two weeks, parents, teachers and students from across the country have been reaching out to EdGeeks to share about their experiences with standardized testing. In an attempt to engage conversation, support families, share knowledge, and bring about change, EdGeeks will share these pieces with the public. Today, I am featuring two very different voices.

This first piece is an original poem written by an NYC public school student in the fourth grade.

This original student poem was submitted to EdGeeks by a local, NYC parent.

Thank you BBJ! You are a strong writer and a brave fourth grader for sharing your thoughts with the world. I also want to take the opportunity to let you know that many of the teachers I have been hearing from would disagree with the line, “taking tests is a ‘gift’ to teachers.” I thought it was important for you to know that not all teachers enjoy giving tests…in fact many of us want the testing to stop too:)

The following is a letter written by a parent in California. The goal of the letter is to opt her child out of standardized testing. She decided to share this letter as a sample for other families who are considering opting out but don’t quite know where to begin.

This letter was submitted to EdGeeks by an elementary school parent in California.

Feel free to email any submissions or questions to marisa@edgeeks.com. Remember, this is a place to share proactive voices in an effort to bring about change. Thank you to all of my readers who have been submitting their work. You inspire me daily:)

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EdGeeks Goes Back to School

Recently, I reached out to some local public school PTA parents to see how I could best support the families at their school. One school, PS 165 invited me to come speak about EdGeeks at their April PTA meeting. Last Thursday, I had the pleasure of meeting the PS 165 Parents’ Association. Being back in school and speaking with parents brought back memories. This experience reiterated the value of the parent-teacher relationship and reignited the passion I have for sharing information with families.

At the meeting, I introduced EdGeeks and explained how many of the posts come from questions submitted by parents and teachers. I also created a list of resources for NYC families. What I found most interesting was how engaged the parents seemed in the list of resources I gave them. The Internet can be quite daunting. If you google “Struggling Reader,” or “Math Games,” it can take hours of research to sift through the trash and get to the resources that will actually help. It reminded me of the fact that even a simple list of websites can go a long way for eager parents.

The families at PS 165 seemed excited about submitting questions to EdGeeks, and I hope you are too! I invite students, families and teachers to submit any and all questions to marisa@edgeeks.com. If I have the answer, I’ll create a post about it because chances are, if you have a question about learning or teaching – you are not alone. If I don’t have the answer, I’ll do the best I can to pull together resources that CAN help you.

Someone recently said to me, “You are more than just a Twitter handle,” and of course I laughed. Sometimes I forget how much of my life has moved online. Visiting PS 165 grounded me by reminding me of what a difference a human conversation can make. Thank you to the wonderful families at PS 165. I look forward to speaking with more local parents in the near future.

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A Call to Action: Submit your work to show that you are Pro-Learning

Calling All Teachers and Parents:  I recently came across a group of parents in NYC (Change the Stakes) who have chosen to Opt Out of standardized testing. I have been moved by the actions they have taken to ensure that their children get the best possible education. Although I am pretty sure we can all agree that creativity, high engagement, imagination and innovation are key factors in learning, not all of us are ready to Opt Out. There has to be something in between…a way for people to show their support without putting their children or their jobs at risk. That is why EdGeeks is creating the Pro-Learning project. 

If you don’t feel comfortable with the direction in which education is heading, then let’s do something about it together. I was a classroom teacher for years. I was busy. I was tired. I was frustrated, and perhaps scared of the consequences…but to bring learning back into classrooms, we must bring the voices from the field together to raise awareness about the issues surrounding high stakes testing. That means teachers, students, families and administrators should begin engaging in or leading conversations in their community. If you are not ready to Opt Out, read below to find out what you can do to show your support.

Not sure where to start? I really like this one pager from Change the Stakes. It gives a ton of information and provides a network for NYC families.

For students, teachers and parents who are concerned that standardized testing and test preparation has impeded authentic and creative learning in the classroom, here is something simple you can do to show your support! 
  • Give your students (or your child) a meaningful HW assignment: “Create a piece of writing or art which captures a moment when you felt that standardized testing or test preparation got in the way of your learning.” Submit all work to marisa@edgeeks.com to be published on EdGeeks. Please feel free to submit your own work too. We are collecting pieces from students, teachers and families. 
I knew I needed to do something last week when an 8-year old asked me, “Will you still love me if I get a 1?” (True story!)

When did you know? Complete this sentence by leaving a comment: I knew I needed to do something when…

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Opting Out of Testing

Earlier today, I received two emails from parents. One sent me and the other sent me “With Test Week Here, Parents Consider the Option of Opting Out.” The other send me a link to “10-year-old: ‘I want to know why after vacation I have to take test after test after test.'” I have been resisting the urge to write my opinions on standardized testing because I felt like there wasn’t a point. I have been working with students on test prep for some time now, and of course I have my opinions. After reading these two articles, and clicking on every link possible to find information on families making the choice to opt out, I feel moved and ready to speak out.

I am a native New Yorker and former NYC teacher (and yes, I attended NYC Public Schools as a child!) Over the years I have taught at a private preschool, a public elementary school, and a charter middle school. I left the classroom in September for a variety of reasons. I guess I felt tired of disagreeing so much of the time. It is imperative that you understand that I left the classroom planning to remain in the field of education and make as big of an impact as possible on children and families.

I have been so moved by the “opt-out movement” and I want to help in whatever way I can. Sadly, I don’t know that I would have had the nerve to support the cause if I were still in the classroom. Being on the outside looking in has provided me with a new perspective and I feel responsible to do something about it.

I understand the risks involved with opting out so I am not trying to convince any parents to do so. It is a family’s choice. That being said, I am in awe of the parents who are making this brave and terrifying decision and I want to know who they are so that I can support them in any way possible. No one should feel alone in this. I am looking into organizing a learning event such as a read-a-thon or write-a-thon on a testing day for those families who have made the choice to opt out. It is important to send the right message to our kids, that although they may not be in school, and although we may be anti-too-much-testing, we are PRO-learning. If you are opting out, or you know anyone else who is opting out in the NY area, please let me know. We will be make a much stronger impact together. Please email me at marisa@edgeeks.com.

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Write a Letter to Your Kids on Testing Day

Welcome back friends! I had a fantastic week in Northern California – travelling always inspires me. My cousin was absolutely stunning on her wedding day and I’m so glad we made it out there to celebrate with her:) That being said, i’m glad to be back and it’s a big week here in New York…

Tomorrow is the first of a string of 6 testing days in New York. Standardized testing has become an issue of controversy over the years. Regardless of your opinion (or mine) of standardized testing…I think we can agree on one thing: the level of anxiety that standardized testing brings forth is unpleasant. Kids, parents and teachers all feel anxiety before testing day. We can’t fix everything but here is one simple thing you can do to alleviate some stress for your child on the big day. Write your child a letter!

Why write a letter on testing day?

Kids and teens often experience high levels of anxiety on testing days. There is a lot of buzz around testing this year in particular. Perhaps it is due to the release of teacher scores in NYC, but either way…it is causing quite a hubbub. Many parents and teachers place a ton of importance on student test scores and this can be daunting for our kids. Writing a letter to let your child know that you are proud of him/her can have a huge impact on confidence. Right before the packet hits the table, a child can have a lot running through their mind. If they have just read a letter from a family member who is cheering them on, there is a greater chance that their thoughts will be positive going into the test and that can make a big difference.

What should I write in my letter?

Stay positive and keep it simple! This is not the time to give 101 reminders about things to do during the test. This is a time to say things like: “I love you,” “I’m proud of you,” and “I can’t wait to see you this afternoon.” You could also include one simple tip for test-taking that is specific to the test on that particular day. For example, if it is Day 1 of the ELA test, that means your child will be reading multiple passages so a strong tip might be: “If you get tired, take a 1 minute break and then go back to reading,” or “If you finish early, go back and double check your work.”

Sample Letters:

I know some family members who have written one letter for each testing day. You can do that if you want, or you can just write one. The big idea here is to let your kids know you love them and are proud of their growth as learners no matter what the outcome is on their testing day. We can all hope for the best, but we want our kids to go into the test knowing that they will be loved no matter what:) Good luck everyone!

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Parents; Meet Startups

A few months ago, I sat down with John Halloran and Alex Weinberg of SnappSchool and we began talking about the importance of the parent audience in the field of educational technology. It seemed to us that parents are often the missing link! Kids are in school for a portion of their day, but after school is over they head home. It is of the utmost importance that the voices of parents are further incorporated into conversations surrounding educational technology. Edtech companies need to be working closely with parents to get them in the know about tools that are available, and to educate them on how to use new technology at home with their children.

In an attempt to begin to solve this problem in a small way, we decided to host a parent gathering to get feedback on how best to reach parents. Last Thursday night, we hosted what John coined as: “Parents; Meet Startups.” It was an interesting and productive evening and I hope that it was just the beginning of this very important conversation.

We had 3 startups present their products to approximately 15 parents: SnappSchool, Mixel, and ShowMe. Parents were able to:

  • See the apps in action
  • Offer feedback about the best way to communicate with parents
  • Ask questions
  • Speak with staff from each of the projects

It was really helpful to have parents offer honest feedback. I’m sure that each of us walked away with different major takeaways…here are some of mine:

  1. Parents are more likely to use technology that their children have tried in school so getting these tools into the classroom is a MUST!
  2. When kids come home excited about new learning tools, it peaks parent interest.
  3. The key word of the night seemed to be TRUST…Parents are more likely to try out a new learning tool if they hear about it from other parents or a teacher who they trust.

Parents have such a valuable perspective and in my opinion, it is not heard often enough. It is so important that we talk to the people who are on the front lines: students, teachers and parents. We need to engage these voices into conversations about educational technology and innovation. Being around parents in a comfortable environment where they felt free to express themselves was quite powerful and I hope to be able to do it again soon!

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New and Important eBook for Parents and Educators!

Bankstreet College of Education offers a grant called The Innova Grant to encourage new and innovative ideas from their faculty. One of the 2011 proposals was to generate a comprehensive reading list by grade level that would be easily accessible for parents and educators. Lisa Von Drasek (Bank Street’s Children’s Librarian), Jeannie Crowley (Manager of Digital Media and Learning) and their team over at Bankstreet have created exactly that and it is now available as an eBook.

The best part? It costs $2.99!

[amazon-product image=”http://ws.assoc-amazon.com/widgets/q?_encoding=UTF8&Format=_SL160_&ASIN=B007CJL6SC&MarketPlace=US&ID=AsinImage&WS=1&tag=edg0b-20&ServiceVersion=20070822″ type=”image”]B007CJL6SC[/amazon-product]

Why is This Such a Big Deal?

Simple…It is easily accessible and quite affordable! This is a cheap and easy resource for parents, family members, teachers and anyone else who may be interested in children’s literature to decide which books to read with their children/students of ALL ages. If you ask me, all principals and school leaders should have a copy of this available for their teachers as a resource for library design. As a teacher, I would have this book available at Parent-Teacher conferences as a resource to guide them towards appropriate materials for reading with their children at home.

A special thanks to my new friend Zach for pointing this out to me…This is such a dreamy resource!

Learn more about this project here.

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SnappSchool – Helping parents become homework heroes

About a month ago I met SnappSchool founders Alex Weinberg and John Halloran. What I immediately loved about SnappSchool is that we share a common mission – to support parents in becoming teachers at home. One of my favorite things about this duo is that Weinberg is a former teacher and Halloran is a parent…what a perfect match. Too often, teacher and parent perspectives are missing in the creation of educational technology. The fact that this partnership brings both perspectives to the table makes their product unique. These two are truly committed to bridging the gap between home and school!

Messaging System: SnappSchool’s first product was a messaging system for teachers. The system was developed to support teachers in communicating the events of the day with families. It is a simple tool that allows teachers to contact individuals and groups of parents with ease. This communication is crucial because it helps parents know what is happening during the school day, especially when children struggle to answer the age-old question, “What did you do in school today?”

Weekly Email Tool: SnappSchool’s latest product is a weekly email that helps parents support their children with homework and all around learning in the home. Weinberg and Halloran chose this as their next tool to meet a few specific needs:

  • Some parents want to help their children but cannot remember far enough into their childhood to recall learning the material.
  • Some parents want to help their children, and CAN remember how they learned the material – but they don’t understand the way teachers teach it now.
  • Some parents want to help their children but don’t have resources or materials that support the topic.
  • Some parents want to help their children but aren’t quite sure what topic their children are working on in school.

The weekly email is pretty amazing. I know this because I get them for all grade levels! The emails are concise and the strategies are simple to use. What I love most about the emails:

  • I love the toolbox strategies – which are quick, tactile ways to teach a particular lesson
  • I love that each email has a list of attached resources for parents who want to take the learning a step further.
  • I love that the emails are so visual – believe it or not, grownups need visuals too!

This is a growing project and math is just the beginning. I am excited to see where Weinberg and Halloran take SnappSchools next. Make sure to sign up for SnappSchool’s email service here and share with all the parents you know.

***Enter the code EdGeeks to get a free subscription until the end of the 2011-2012 school year! 

Here are some sample emails so you can get a visual:

Fact Triangles

Grade 3 Sample: Fractions (Basic)

Grade 6 Sample: Geometry

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Contests for Inspiration

I remember back when I was little, I used to feel this huge sense of inspiration whenever I saw an ad for a contest. I remember Nickelodeon always had advertisements for how little kids could cause great, big change and I remember thinking – “Hey, i’m a little kid. It could be me!” I was reminded of this passion for contests recently while working 1:1 with a nine year old. She said to me, “Marisa – have you heard of this writing contest? I need to enter!” Motivation comes from many different places, but contests are definitely one really great way of inspiring kids to dream big.

Here are some really fun contests that can be super motivating for your child:

Kids Are Authors

Contest: Students work in teams of 3 or more under the guidance of an adult coordinator to create their own original piece of writing with illustrations. The pieces can be fiction or non-fiction.

Ages: Students in Grades K-8

Dates: Accepting submissions until March 15th, 2012

Prizes: Winning books will be published by Scholastic and sold at Scholastic book fairs around the country!

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Wouldn’t It Be Cool If…

Contest: Dream up the coolest idea powered by math or science to make life more awesome!

Ages: 10-12 and 13-15

Dates: Accepting Submissions until March 28th, 2012

Prize: The opportunity to develop your idea

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National Geographic Dare to Explore O’ahu

Contest: Write an essay about why you want to explore O’ahu

Ages: 9-15

Dates: Accepting Submissions until April 16th, 2012

Prize: A trip to O’ahu

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Adobe Youth Voices Essentials

Contest: This contest is different from the rest in that a teacher needs to submit the work on behalf of a young artist. They are looking for original, high-quality youth-produced multimedia created to address critical issues and effect positive change.

Ages: 13-18

Dates: Accepting Submissions until April 20th, 2012

Prize: Your work will be displayed on the Adobe site and there are a range of other prizes that will be given out at the end of the contest as well.

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If you know of other contests, post them here! Also, National Geographic Kids has a Contests page that I love to look at from time to time to get an idea of what’s out there. Happy entering!

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Family Involvement Past the Classroom

We are in a difficult place in education right now. We all know there are  obvious problems. What we may not recognize, is that there are people around the country, and around the world, who are trying step-by-step to tackle these problems. Educational entrepreneurship is becoming a “thing.” Entrepreneurs recognize the problems too but what sets an entrepreneur apart from others is that they are willing to take a risk to see if the solution they believe in will actually work! I have been getting as involved as possible in this scene lately. There are a billion and one issues I could complain about, but what I’d rather do with my time is learn about the various ideas out there that are being developed as possible solutions and give my input. As a former teacher, I can definitely bring a unique perspective to these solutions and making them a reality for the classroom.

Families have insights into what children need in a way that business professionals, entrepreneurs or even teachers may not. A parent’s ideas can be fresh and super important to supporting an educational cause or attempting to solve a problem. If you are a family member who can answer these questions, you should be getting involved in some way!

  • What does your child struggle with academically and why?
  • What would support your child at home?
  • What would help you support your child at home?
  • What works for teaching your child?
  • What encourages your child?
Get involved if you can! Getting involved can mean a number of things. It can mean developing an awareness by reading about what is happening in the field. It can mean going to entrepreneurial “meetups” to listen and give input. It can mean contacting a startup that you find interesting to find out how you can get involved. Here are a few resources that I am finding helpful. Please add to the list if you know of more:
  • Read EdSurge‘s Weekly Newsletter
  • Attend a Startup Weekend to offer ideas to possible new Ed startups
  • Attend an Educational Conference or Event (If you need more info, contact me – but this varies by location)
  • Take a class at General Assembly
Here is a sampling of what you are missing out on by NOT getting involved…
(These are some amazing ideas and events that are happening in education, right under your nose!)

YOUR INPUT MATTERS!

YOU CAN HELP US MAKE CHANGE! 

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