5 Ways to Get Students Outside

Image for Robert Peters blog post about how to get students outside

It’s been an unusual winter, but the sun is finally out and the weather is starting to get warmer. Students sense spring is here and know that means the end of the year is fast approaching. It can be difficult to keep students focused during class, when they’re stuck inside and can see the sun shining right outside the window, all while eagerly anticipating summer vacation. Taking your students outside for a period of time will help them get rid of their anxiousness to be out of the classroom and it’s healthy to get some fresh air. Read about some of the ways you can incorporate time outside into your lesson plans  to satisfy your students and also cultivate learning. You’ll like being outside too!

Give them a head start on homework

If it fits into your class schedule, plan to give them some time to start their homework during class. Students will focus because they know they’re working ahead and will have less to do that night and they’ll also be accomplishing something for the class. You can also head outside to let students start a worksheet they’re supposed to finish in class or to quickly review work from the day before. If students will be sitting and working on something anyway, you might as well let them do it outside.

Offer free reading time

While this activity depends on the type of class you have, students will almost always have something they need to read, whether it’s a novel, play, article, or research. Take your class outside while they read. If you’re reading together as a class, that is another great opportunity to move outside, so students can sit in a circle and read through their assignment together.

Create a writing prompt

Craft a writing prompt students can complete outside. Have them composes a poem about nature or write what they observe as they sit outside and listen. Encourage everyone to spend a few moments silently listening to everything around them; you’re helping them with their observational skills as well. If they’d spend time in class writing, it’ll be easy to let them do this task while outside.

Make it class specific

You can take any one of these ideas and tweak it to best fit your class. You can also do certain activities depending on what subject you’re teaching. If students are learning about ecology, teach them local plants and animals, then head outside and see if you can find any. For a literature class, spend time reading famous literature about nature, then let students try to write their own from inspiration while being outside.

Play a game

If you can schedule free time into your class schedule, try this idea! It’s important to stay focused on class work and accomplish what needs to be done, but sometimes students just need a break. Figure out a fun, easy activity that allows students to spend time outside, interact with one another, and also move around. Once you go back inside, your students will be much more focused on learning after working off excess energy.

7 Habits of Effective Teachers


What Makes Feedback Successful?

boy-1126140Feedback is one of the most powerful tools at a teacher’s disposal. It is way in which students are made conscious of their mistakes and how to fix them. Teachers and students communicate through feedback, whether it’s on a paper, test, or writing assignment. A teacher’s feedback is meant to improve a student’s skillset, and assure close interaction in their general education. However feedback is only helpful if students use it to their advantage. Some studies show that students often show less improvement when teachers provide feedback, than when they don’t. In order to prevent this from happening, teachers must always keep the purpose of the practice in mind.

The general definition of feedback involves providing individuals with information about their performance. If a teacher hopes to make their own feedback helpful, they must delve much deeper. According to education expert Dylan Williams, helpful feedback constitutes providing information on current performance, as well as tips on improving future performance. Feedback is meant to do more than just improve work, it should be designed to help students learn. This point is most obvious with sports coaches and visual arts teachers, where visual feedback is easily communicated. Teachers often forget about this very vital point, especially when grading papers or tests. Although red-inked corrections can help students better understand their mistakes, they are not used constructively if they are not improvement-focused.

The issue at hand is providing feedback that students can really use. However, the task is increasingly difficult when students are asked to perform tasks never before undertaken. In order to ease the difficulties, teachers choose to undertake the bulk of the intellectual work. Conventional corrections do not allow students to figure out new strategies when correcting their own work. Instead, professors provide corrections that are essentially done for them. Assessing students should not focus on the amount of corrections their work needs, but on their learning needs instead. “When we realize that most of the time the focus on feedback should be changing the student rather than changing the work, we can give much more purposeful feedback.”

Feedback must focus on assessing, and reassessing students’ work. Gathering information about their needs, and the proper way of addressing those needs is priority number one. In the case of the social sciences, give students creative tasks that allow for flexible writing. Creative freedom allow students to write comfortably, providing you with their best work. This would allow you to properly evaluate the student’s writing capabilities, and their possible needs.

If you found this post helpful, and would like to read more on education information, check out my twitter @DrRobertPeters. Thanks for reading!


Playtime May Become Part of Curriculum in Early Childhood Education

children-playing-329234According to Ali Ingersoll of ABC news, 90 percent of development happens during the first five years of our lives. The more children are exposed to quality care and learning during their early stages, the better the child’s cognitive skills are in his, or her, later educational years. However our focus on educational “needs” may be misconstrued. More and more studies show that early childhood education should be balanced between work and play. Focusing solely on the school work, and ignoring emotional and physical development may be indeed missing the mark for childhood development.

Lynn Pullano, CEO of Child Care Resource Network believes that child development depends largely on playtime as much as “work time” Playtime brings with it an array of benefits for child development. “At those earliest ages, we’re really missing the mark if we’re not engaging the child physically as well as emotionally and mentally in learning. We do have to be careful not to expect from children things beyond their age,” says Pullano. Children must be allowed to use their imaginations and creative abilities. Playtime in certain activities can provide just the right amount of frustration and experience needed to develop cognitive abilities such as problem-solving and task management.

So, what kind of skills are children learning during playtime? For starters, playtime stirs motor skill development. This includes better hand-eye coordination, visual tracking, and muscle development which are used in physical activity. Playtime also allows for social learning. Cooperative play where children play amongst each other helps develop important social skills such as decision making, communication, negotiation, and conflict management. Of course, cognitive skills such as creative thinking, as well as problem solving, are also put into practice in cooperative play.

According to the Urban Child Institute, play also encourages language development. “Parents can encourage language development during play by speaking in longer sentences and introducing new vocabulary to describe play and toys.”

If you found this read useful, and would like to read more on children’s education and development, check out my blog here. Thanks for reading!

5 Practices To Avoid Misbehavior

child-433877_1280Misbehavior can lead to uncomfortable and tense situations, but these situations can also be revealing about underlying conflicts. Whether we like it or not, misbehavior is a form of indirect communication. For all people it’s a form of relaying to others that things are amiss. Acting out is a defense mechanism to avoid feeling vulnerable, embarrassed or betrayed. While misbehavior is frowned upon, it is also healthy, and normal. Misbehavior is a reaction to unfavorable circumstances, which breed negative emotions. While misbehavior should not be rewarded, is it seldom without cause. Misbehavior in the classroom should not be simply dismissed as the result of a bad attitude. We need to recognize the possibility of being the source of this misbehavior. It’s possible that we are creating the negative circumstances to which he or she is reacting. Admitting this does not make you a bad teacher, nor does it take the fault away from the student. To help a student work through their negative behavior, you need to avoid provoking them. Some of our day to day actions could be inciting misbehavior. Again, this isn’t a reflection of your teaching abilities, but instead a call action. To avoid provoking your students, you should avoid these common practices:

1) Do not highlight differences in ability.

It goes without saying that students certainly do not enjoy feeling stupid. While our intention isn’t to make them feel this way, our actions can inspire this feeling. Praising students for their intelligence rather than their effort is an example. Avoid highlighting some students by removing the significance of these differences. Do not attach value to them and avoid using them to rank your students, do not pit students against each other.

2) Do not grade practice work.  

Practice work is assigned to develop new skills and make the newly-learned knowledge stick. The key word is practice, and if we assign grades to this work, then we penalize a student’s attempts to comprehend the material. Do not grade work until students have shown that they understand the material.

3) Avoid having ambiguous and arbitrary norms.  

Avoid arbitrary and ambiguous norms, because students will be unsure of the boundaries in the classroom. Instead, recruit your students in helping you define and establish classroom norms. Everyone will be clear about what’s expected of them, and what will not be tolerated.

4) Do not let students pick seats.

In school, students are often battling the pressures of fixed social hierarchies and peer rivalries. The opportunity to select your seat presents a false sense of autonomy, and students then face the challenge of picking a seat among bullies, cliques, and crushes. Assigning them a seat provides them with a space that is theirs, and avoids enhancing the dynamics at play.

5) Stop using old scripts.

Using the same old lectures signals to students that their experience isn’t unique. Each act of misbehavior is unique instance, and should be handled as such. Please see the ASCD to read more about misbehavior in the classroom.

5 Universal Educational Leadership Problems

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Awards Grants for Teacher Preparation


Philanthropists Bill and Melinda Gates are recognized for their altruistic dedication to supporting many causes. Their work extends to international communities, where they focus on health, poverty and hunger. At the national level, one of the many causes they support is education. For the past 15 years, Bill and Melinda Gates have donated millions of dollar to improving education in grade schools, and preparing students for college. Earlier this month, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation announced their newest academic awards. These new grants will focus on teacher preparation. They will be giving almost $35 million over the next three years to newly established Teacher Preparation Transformation Centers. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation says these centers, “will bring together higher education institutions, teacher-preparation providers and K-12 school systems to share data, knowledge and best practices” and “develop, pilot and scale effective teacher-preparation practices to help ensure that more teacher-candidates graduate ready to improve student outcomes in K-12 public schools.”

Each organization selected to represent a Transformation Center will share the same “indicators and outcomes,” but will independently study different approaches within their own unique environment to analyze which teaching methods are most effective. These intensive programs hope to improve teacher preparation, which could improve student outcomes at K-12 public schools. The foundation has awarded grants to the following:

1. Elevate Preparation, Impact Children (EPIC), a new program by the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education will work with the state’s 71 teacher preparation programs. The Massachusetts Department of Education stated their goals are to, “Deepen the quality of and extend teacher candidates’ training in the field, promote and support data-driven analysis of graduates’ outcomes so that education preparation providers have the information they need for continuous improvement, and integrate the efforts of educator preparation providers and partners to meet the increasing demand for high-quality, diverse educators.”

2. The National Center for Teacher Residencies (NCTR) will collaborate with more than 30 residency programs to prepare 2,500 new teachers for schools with high needs. The center will also function as a research laboratory for, “identifying, testing,  and   scaling   best practices   for   clinically based  preparation.” This goal of this research is to,
– “Refine  provider  programming  to  be  competency based  and  clinically focused;
– Collect  and  use  implementation  and  impact  data  to  improve  program  design;
– Improve  educator  effectiveness;  and
– Ensure  graduates  are  successful  in their  school  systems  and  communities.”

3. The Relay Graduate School of Education will use their grant to create Teacher2 (TeacherSquared). Led by Dr. Brent Maddin, Teacher2 will gather teacher preparation programs which focus on four themes: “building novice teachers’ competencies, supporting teacher educators, enabling data-driven improvement, and meeting the needs of schools and communities.” Teacher2 plans to work with at least six teacher education programs located among 20 sites, throughout more than 10 states to prepare at least 2,500 new, diverse and effective teachers by 2019.

4. Based out of the University of Michigan School of EducationTeachingWorks is a national organization working towards the improvement of professional teacher preparation. TeachingWorks will provide professional support to staff members of the other national transformation centers. This support will be provided as coaching, workshops and modeling, amongst other resources. This support may also be extended to the teacher educators as needed. The program will also develop and implement teacher preparation program exit assessments. These assessments will gauge a new teachers preparedness, before he or she  independently begins teaching students.

5. The University-School Partnerships for the Renewal of Educator Preparation (U.S.PREP) National Center, is based at Texas Tech University and will also receive a grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Texas Tech University’s U.S. Prep program will gather six other universities in Texas and neighboring states, to work with local school districts. After three years, the program will spread to more universities. For now, the U.S. PREP program will be led by Katie Button, an associate professor at TTU’s College of Education, along with Sarah Beal, who once worked at TeachAZ program at Arizona State University.

The Bill and Melinda Gates have constantly donated to change in public education. Though their efforts have been met with many challenges, the Foundation is persistent with their dedication to the improvement of public education.

To learn more about the Gates’ Foundation Awards to Teacher Preparation Transformation Centers, click here.

To read more about the EPIC program, click here.

To read more about NCTR, click here.

To read more about Teacher 2, click here.

To read more about TeachingWorks, click here.

To read more about U.S. PREP, click here.

The Texan Report Card


Earlier this week, the National Center for Education Statistics released its biennial National Assessment of Educational Progress for each of the 50 states. These congressionally mandated assessments are recognized as the nation’s report card, and are administered to a sample of students across the nation to measure academic achievements. Nationally, scores in mathematics have decreased for both fourth and eighth graders since the last report in 2013 but, have increased for both grades since 1990. In comparison to 2013 reading scores, fourth graders did not show improvement, meanwhile scores for eighth graders decreased. These scores have, however, increased overall since the first reading assessment was administered in 1992.

The students of Texas showed some improvement since the last assessment in 2013. Fourth graders improved their math scores and ranked 11th nationally. Their scores in reading didn’t show change, and placed them in 40th place. Texas’ eighth-graders, on the other hand,  didn’t show improvement in reading or mathematics, ranking 23rd and 39th in each subject, respectively. These rankings are all based on raw data, which doesn’t account for the demographic standing of these students. If we take this data as it is, we assume all students are similar in terms of academic preparedness and socioeconomic background.

In a study conducted by the Urban Institute, author Matthew Chingos argues these scores do not account for shifts across demographics. He argues that if these scores are adjusted appropriately, what we see is academic improvement. Chingos states, “I also find that NAEP scores in all 50 states have increased more than would be expected based on demographic shifts between 2003 and 2013.” While unadjusted data leaves Texas low in the rankings, once adjusted for demographic shifts, Texas shifts to third in the nation. As Chingos explains, “A relatively large share of students in these states come from demographic groups that tend to score less well on NAEP. But, as the results show, these students score better than similar students in other states.” The adjustments are based on student-level data rather than state-level data, which includes factors such as race and ethnicity, eligibility for free or reduced-price lunch, the language spoken at home, amongst other things.

These adjustments are necessary to demonstrate the advancements our students have made. The raw data not only discounts their efforts, but the efforts put forth by their teachers, faculty, and administrators as well. While these scores are easy are dismissed as disappointing, they do not account for the hardships students overcome both outside and inside the classroom. Ideally, students would be able to take full advantage of the public education system, but often times they are faced with real-world hardships that leave them unable to do so. Every student has a community striving to improve their education and quality of live, and that cannot be negated.