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Using Pop Culture in the Classroom

Feb-08, 2019

Girl Student using Cell phone and studying

As technology rapidly changes, classrooms are changing too. It has become common for students to use laptops, iPads, and other technologies as part of the normal school day. In addition to new computing tools, students have all sorts of new cultural tools to help them process the world. For teachers, this presents exciting opportunities to incorporate new music, news, and events to support the standard classroom curriculum.

One of the broadest opportunities to use popular culture in the classroom is to incorporate internet trends and memes in everyday instruction. This can happen in a number of ways. One possibility is to allow students to find images and video online to use as part of a lesson. Students can search YouTube, Google Images, or other popular sites for easily accessible images to illustrate important points from the days’ lessons. Maybe there’s a funny clip about American History that someone can bring into a history class. Or perhaps there’s a comedic clip about grammar that a student can use to help introduce a writing lesson. By allowing students to select and contribute media that they enjoy, teachers can create an environment where students come into the classroom more invested in the day’s lesson.

Another way to use popular culture to enhance the educational mission is to incorporate students’ love of social media. This is an especially engaging form of incorporation because it requires students to engage with their lessons beyond the classroom. In some instances, teachers establish a class Instagram account and assign students a theme with an attached hashtag. Then, for the duration of the lesson, a few days or a week, students will post and tag things that they see that are related to that lesson. So if students are studying world geography, they can post pictures and video of commercials, billboards, magazine articles, t-shirt slogans, and other things that are relevant to that topic. In this scenario, students receive credit for the lesson by posting and participating in the social media exchange.

Finally, teachers can find ways to welcome students’ stories and interest in popular culture into the classroom by opening up time for students to share whatever is interesting to them that day. An instructor might use the first five minutes of class to let students make announcements or talk about stories they’ve heard in the news that week. Then other students can chime in. By allowing students to set just a small part of the itinerary for the day, we can teach them to feel at home in the classroom.

There are of course dozens of other ways to incorporate popular culture into an active and engaged classroom. By being open-minded and proactive, teachers can take advantage of these opportunities to create a classroom where all students energetically participate in the day’s lesson.


STAAR Test Preparation

Jan-18, 2019

Bunch of Pencils

Photo Credit: Ben Chun from Flickr

Every spring in Texas, STAAR (State of Texas Assessments for Academic Readiness) tests are given to all students enrolled in public school for grades 3-12. The number of STAAR tests your child takes will depend on their current grade. In preparation for Spring and the season of standardized testing, we want to make sure you and your children are as prepared as possible for what is to come.

A Little Bit About STAAR…

The purpose of these standardized assessments is to measure how well each student has learned state curriculum standards in their grade and to determine if they are ready for the next grade. Assessments are taken in the core subjects of mathematics, reading, writing, social studies, and science.

By giving these tests, schools can see if each individual student is getting their educational needs met. Schools, parents, and the community can then come together to ensure that each child is given the best chance at academic success.

Test Preparation Tips…

OMR sheet marking

Photo Credit: Alberto G. from Flickr

Here are some great tips to ensure that your child is ready for STAAR this year:

Know what to expect. Most teachers send home some sort of info about the format, length, and types of questions on each test. Go through this with your child so neither of you are surprised on test day.

Get a good night’s sleep. It is recommended that children get, at the very least, eight hours of sleep. For younger students, 3-6 graders, 10-12 hours of sleep each night is needed for healthy brain function.

Eat a good, healthy breakfast. This is not the morning for sugary cereals or Pop-tarts. Instead, eat yogurt with fruit or granola and toast. Something light that will fill your child up and ensure they are able to focus and not crash after a sugar high.

Be positive and encouraging. These tests cover topics your child has already been taught and should know. If she has a tendency to get nervous, teach her to count to ten slowly or give her deep breathing tips to relax during the test. This simple acronym created by our Texas staff has also been a great help to many students:

I know, I need to know: Read and reread the question for important information.

Try to think of my answer before looking at the choices.

Examine all the choices.

X-out answers I know are wrong.

A  Analyze all answers: Take a closer look at the leftover choices and pick the best one.

Satisfied? No Silly Mistakes: Am I satisfied with my work? Go back and look for silly mistakes.

Be physically prepared. Have pencils, erasers, calculators, paper, etc. all laid out the night before, ready to go when the time is right. If he wakes up feeling poorly that morning, let him stay home. He will be able to retake it at a later date when he is at his best.

Encourage good study habits. If you have helped your child consistently with homework and daily activities, these tests should simply be a review for her. Encourage reading whenever possible and ask him to talk about it often to develop healthy thought processes.

Here at Best Brains, academic success is our passion for each and every child. That is why our Texas learning centers hold classes each year in Reading, Writing, and Mathematics specifically for STAAR test preparation. If you are interested in a little extra test help, please contact us today.


National Handwriting Day

Jan-21, 2019

Thank You Card

Photo Credit: Rawpixel on Unsplash

January 23rd is National Handwriting Day. The birthday of John Hancock was chosen to mark the celebration of handwriting because he was the first person to sign the Declaration of Independence, and has one of the most famous signatures in American history. Today, our signatures are the one place that most of our handwriting is still visible. With all of our digital communications, a day to celebrate paper and pen provides a special opportunity to share something meaningful with someone we care for.

For adults, this can mean sending a hand-written letter to a friend. How many of your friends would recognize your handwriting if they saw it? A nice note can be a warm and welcome surprise in a week filled with texts and emails. For children, National Handwriting Day provides the perfect opportunity to practice and develop an appreciation for the skills they’ll use throughout their education.

If your children are just learning to write, they will not have developed their own sense of handwriting yet. And they are probably spending most of their writing practice trying to repeat the letters they see on their worksheets. This is important practice. But handwriting is also personal and creative. Show your children some examples of creative and unique handwriting. You can even show them your own. Lots of children practice copying their parents’ handwriting while they’re learning.

Take the opportunity to practice the everyday acts of handwriting that your children will perform in their daily lives. They can fill out a calendar by hand, write a Thank You note to a neighbor, make a card for a grandparent, or simply write their names freeform in whatever style they’d like. Show them your signature and let them imagine what their own might look like.

Allow them to experiment and break the rules they normally have to follow. You can show young children examples of cursive writing and calligraphy to pique their interest. If they normally practice in pencil, let children write with pens and colorful markers. Encourage them to personalize their handwriting with flourishes and special embellishments. Let them dot their I’s with smiley faces or draw illustrations as part of their letters.

All of these things are a healthy and productive way to show children the creative possibilities in practicing their own handwriting. Once they’ve mastered the formal rules, their writing can be anything they want it to be. And no matter how far technology advances, there will always be a place for a thoughtfully written letter. Building an appreciation for old-fashioned pen and paper is something you can do with your children now that will pay dividends for the rest of their lives.


Why Many Schools Are Starting Later

Oct-08, 2018

Clock image

There has been a recent shift seen in the starting times for many schools throughout the U.S. hundreds of schools have chosen to begin the school day much later than they previously had. Instead of starting the day at 7:30 or 8am, these schools are beginning classes closer to 9am. And the results are astounding.

Health Affects

It is a proven fact that children need more sleep than most adults. A healthy sleep schedule is important to the health and success of any child. Yet, most schedules do not allow for this. The recent changes to the school day allow for children to get participate in a sleep cycle that is healthier for them. This leads to better overall health such as a reduction in weight gain, diabetes, depression, anxiety, substance abuse, behavior problems, and mood swings just to name a few.

Safety Affects

These later start times allow for many students to travel to school in the light of day, whereas before they were getting up and walking or driving to school when it was still dark out without much adult supervision. This also means that students are not getting out of school as early, which decreases the amount of time they are left unsupervised or in the care of daycare or latchkey facilities until an adult gets off work. Starting school later has led a decreased number of adolescent students who get into trouble because they are not properly supervised or are still tired from their early morning.

Academic Affects

Studies have shown that students who don’t get enough sleep cannot do their best at school. It impairs memory, learning, and attention as well as their overall health and well-being. Schools that have chosen to start later are seeing a massive improvement in their students’ academics. This is shown not only in their overall grades but they are less moody, more alert, and much less likely to get into trouble and/or fall asleep in class.

Less Achievement Gaps

Those students that come from disadvantaged families may have even harder time with early mornings. If a parent has a fixed work schedule and/or no transportation, students who are tired and get up late may have no choice but to show up late to school or not be able to get there at all. Reoccurring tardiness, absences, and truancy lead to higher dropout rates in schools. As a result, the achievement gap becomes even larger and the cycle is bound to continue. With later school start times, these students are able to make it to class at the right time everyday with very little problems. Their scores improve and studies find that they are more likely to move on to successful careers as adults.

Could a later start to the school day be beneficial for you and your children? What about the area or school district as whole? Talk to other parents in your area. Maybe something can be done to help your students to succeed even more.