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Four Elements to Successful Bullying Recognition and Prevention

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Four Elements to Successful Bullying Recognition and Prevention

Follow this comprehensive guide to make your schools safer places for all students.

JoLynn Carney, PhD, and Richard Hazler, PhD

Recognizing and preventing bullying in schools is primarily a matter of organized implementation of a few critical themes. Effectively addressing the complex dynamics between a target, a bully, and bystanders involves strategies that include reducing isolation, empathic investment in those who are seen as different, creating the sense of a team effort within the community, and supporting ongoing investment efforts.

There are numerous approaches to bullying prevention. Some are single-focus programs such as Olweus Bully/Victim Prevention. Others such as Positive Behavior Supports, and Project TEAM incorporate bullying prevention as one part of a comprehensive program to create an overall positive and productive school environment. SafeSchools Training from Scenario Learning provides practical training and the insights needed to manage bullying behaviors in schools and can be incorporated into a school-wide comprehensive prevention model.

Programs differ in specifics and focus, but their success is built on making sure everyone feels personally invested and is committed to taking action.

  1. Isolation Reduction

A common sign that a person or group is being bullied or is highly vulnerable to bullying is isolation. Students who frequently sit alone at lunch, make poor eye contact, and avoid speaking to others may be targets or particularly vulnerable to bullying. Interpersonal abuse can’t continue when bystanders break the isolation by taking actions that support people who may be vulnerable. Helping targets to make connections with others is the key.

Children can befriend their peers, and adults can create circumstances in which children are comfortable and supported by others. The more peers and adults demonstrate support to all students, especially those who might be vulnerable as targets, the more quickly bullying can be curbed before it begins.

  1. Empathic Knowledge and Investment

Individuals and groups viewed as “other” (i.e., “not like me”) are highly vulnerable to bullying. We tend to feel greater emotional connections to individuals we sense commonalities with, and less emotional connection with those we see as different. Bullying stops when targets are viewed as significant people just like us, when we are sensitive to their joy and pain, and when we feel the need to keep them from harm. Creating empathic investment in all parties, including bystanders as well as bullies and targets, is therefore essential for success.

Empathy can be fostered during regular classroom discussions—around stories, books, and videos that tap the emotions; abuse in the news; and examples of prejudice and discrimination that occur locally and in the wider world. These discussions should include how these events relate to hurting others in our own lives, why people do hurt others, and how we can help change or prevent those situations. Discussions also need to emphasize the positive aspects of people and groups who seem different, so that people are more likely to support them for positive reasons and share concern for their problems. Bringing people emotionally closer by increasing these positive connections reduces bullying.

  1. Community as a Team

The more people are invested in empathy and the reduction of isolation, the more their support and caring concern prevents and stops bullying. Everyone recognizes how successful teams, clubs, and organizations have a shared vision and work together for common goals, and feel connected in the process. This is a team approach that gets individuals working in common directions and feeling their own worth and appreciation within the group.

Setting goals that excite all members of the community, whether school-wide or even within a classroom create a sense of greater good that also supports individuals. Recognizing those who help individual students and the larger group move toward goals is essential to maintaining motivation and caring among students. Celebrating the joy that comes with being a part of the team is critical and can come in many forms, including team-building activities and events, team songs, banners, and as many daily reminders as possible that highlight the support for the group, its goals, and its individual members.

  1. Ongoing and Organized Investment

Creating a supportive environment for all students must be a consistent priority. Teams that experience great victories only to then stop practicing and evolving with changing times lose their potential for greater accomplishments. Prevention of bullying is an ongoing task that must be regularly evaluated and revised based on evolving circumstances. We must continually find ways to seek new growth and successes.

For additional information and details see: Hazler, R.J. & Carney, J.V. (2012). Critical characteristics of effective bullying prevention programs. In S.R. Jimerson, A.B. Nickerson, M.J. Mayer, & M.J. Furlong (Eds.), Handbook of school violence and school safety: From research to practice 2nd Edition (pp 357–368). New York: Routledge.

Dr. Richard Hazler is a Professor of Counselor Education at Penn State University. He is well known for his work in areas of bullying, peer-on-peer abuse, and youth violence. He is the co-author of “Bullying: Recognition & Response” for SafeSchools from Scenario Learning.

Dr. JoLynn Carney is a faculty member in the Department of Counseling at Penn State University and a Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor. Her research and publications focus on areas of youth violence, peer-on-peer abuse, and adolescent suicide. She is the co-author of “Bullying: Recognition & Response” for SafeSchools from Scenario Learning.

Photo: GettyImages

Three Lessons in Three Hours

Revere

Three Lessons in Three Hours

A look inside Massachusetts’ Revere High School, where a flood of new initiatives are helping to revitalize this urban school.

By Wayne D’Orio

REVERE, MASSACHUSETTS—One of the most intractable problems in education today is how to reverse the fortunes of troubled urban schools. In 2009, Revere High School, just outside of Boston, wasn’t exactly a failure factory, but with its demographics changing quickly, its achievement gap was widening.

Seventy-three percent of its students graduated in 2009, but fewer than two in three Hispanic students got diplomas. White students exceeded the state ELA performance target, but low-income and Hispanic students did not. In math, the results were reversed; low-income and Hispanics showed small increases, but white students had slipped.

Yet today, the 1,800-student school has racked up numerous awards and seen its five-year cohort graduation rate spike to 93 percent. Hispanics still graduate at a lower rate, 76.5 percent, but that number has risen 11.6 percent. The school got the highest rating in Massachusetts for reducing the achievement gap, and its suspension rate is less than two percent while the number of students taking AP classes outpaces the state average.

So what’s different? Just about everything. The school’s principal, Lourenco Garcia, who took over in 2010, has changed the culture through a series of bold initiatives. He’s shifted to student-centered learning, created a culture where enthusiastic teachers support one another, and fostered an atmosphere where students are actually asking to add time to the school day.

The school has garnered an impressive list of awards. It won the 2014 High School Gold Award from the National Center for Urban School Transformation, it ranked silver on the U.S. News and World Report’s list of best high schools in 2014, and it was one of 18 schools chosen to present at this year’s National Association of Secondary School Principals conference. Garcia, a native of Africa’s Cape Verde, was chosen as the Revere Journal’s 2014 Man of the Year. The school has attracted visitors from 10 different school districts this year, as well as four separate visits from doctoral students at Harvard. And last year, the Nellie Mae Education Foundation awarded the school a three-year grant worth $1 million a year. “With modesty, we’re a model for the nation,” Garcia says.

I toured Revere High School during the Education Writers Association conference last month. During my short visit, the positive momentum seemed to gather around the following three areas.

  • One decision can be a domino for many other (even bigger) changes.

One of the first things Garcia did after coming to Revere was to adopt block scheduling. This shift to four 80-minute periods a day isn’t novel; about one-third of U.S. high schools follow this schedule. But it was what the change allowed that really enabled Garcia and his staff to turn around the school’s performance.

Administration wanted to shift the emphasis from whole-class instruction to student-directed learning, and going to longer periods forced teachers to realize they couldn’t lecture for the entire block. This dovetailed with the high school’s move to flipped learning, where students take in the bulk of the lesson outside of school and complete the sometimes messy homework and practice while in the classroom. (Students were given iPads to help them access all their needed work outside of school.)

The last big change that was helped by the new schedule was the administration’s decision to realign its discipline policy. Before the switch to block scheduling, students were routinely sent to the office (or worse) for acting out. But now, says assistant principal Stephen Pechinsky, “with 80-minute classes there was too much information to miss to kick a kid out.” The school began a restorative justice program. While earlier data on out-of-school suspensions wasn’t available, just 35 of the school’s 1,800 students were suspended in 2014–15, a 1.9 percent rate that is significantly lower than the state average of 4.7 percent.

  • Let students drive learning, no matter what the impediments.

“The real change has been around the culture of who owns the learning,” says Superintendent Dianne Kelly. Flipping the classroom puts students more in charge. “Our teachers now understand what we need help on and what we understand,” says junior Samantha Karl. “We get to go at our own pace.”

In addition to the testing gains, Garcia notes that students are getting accepted at more competitive colleges and are prouder of their work. “It’s all part of the growth mindset,” he says.

Another change involves better integrating new students. Because the school has become a magnet for students and families entering the United States, the principal started a newcomers academy as an afterschool program. When the students lobbied him to move the program to school hours, allowing these students to better mix with their classmates, Garcia agreed. Students’ attitude and behavior have improved this year, he says. “That tells you that as adults, we don’t have all the answers.”

Garcia adds that although school gets out at 2:20 p.m., many students are still in the school two hours beyond that because it’s a safe place to be. Indeed when the student Samantha Karl suggested adding a fifth period to the school day, Superintendent Kelly was listening. “We’ve talked about that,” the superintendent said, making no promises.

  • There’s no substitute for teacher enthusiasm.

It was the kind of comment that’s made in high school classes everyday. For weeks Nancy Barile had been trying unsuccessfully to get one of her English students, a sophomore named Jordan, to read outside of class. He steadfastly refused, and despite his obvious intelligence, his grades started to plummet.

He told her he was a visual student who preferred watching The Walking Dead to reading. While she told him she wasn’t keen on zombies and violence, he patiently explained the show had the type of themes and character studies she referenced in the books they discussed in class. Then it came out. “Maybe if you watched The Walking Dead I would start reading,” he told her.

Barile accepted the challenge. She started watching and discussing the show with Jordan as she binge-watched through all six seasons. Jordan honored his promise and his grades started to climb. If the story ended there, it would be nice. But Barile saw the greater good in this example and decided to create an entire course around the popular cable TV show. When more than 60 students signed up, officials greenlighted her to teach two sections this fall of the new class, Digesting The Walking Dead.

Garcia has cultivated a staff that works together by valuing their input on items from big to small in the school. While research showed block scheduling was a good change to make, he still had teachers vote on its acceptance. (It passed narrowly, but now the whole staff loves the schedule, he adds.) “My job is to build teacher leadership,” he says. “If I don’t have buy-in or communicate effectively, it’s a message falling on deaf ears. When you give [teachers] a voice, they’re more eager to jump on the ship and help you. . . . People can only produce when they are happy. We are constantly celebrating the work they do. This place is positive.”

Teachers meet twice a week in professional learning groups, going over pedagogical strategies and looking at student work. “They examine each other’s approaches in the classroom,” Garcia says. Sitting on a panel with five teachers, Barile adds, “I’ve gone to every single teacher here for something.”

Garcia notes that two grants from Nellie Mae allowed the school to undertake many of these changes, paying for professional development and clearing more time for teachers to meet. He also realizes that the breakneck pace of change can’t be sustained, so he admits his next goal is to slow down. “We need to let the structures take hold before we do too much more. If we want teachers to maximize, every element has to become self-sustainable.”

Photo: Emily Richmond/EWA

Digital Path to Success

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Digital Path to Success

Nine key steps to creating a modern digital learning environment.

By Susan K. Allen, Christine Johns, and Dwight Jones

Creating modern digital learning environments can be exciting. As a school administrator, it’s exciting to imagine students learning at their own pace on tablets loaded with interactive, customized lesson plans. You may envision teachers as facilitators in classrooms where students are empowered to lead their own learning, thinking critically and creatively as they access original source materials and collaborate to create blogs and videos.

However, the transition to a modern digital learning environment can also be daunting. It requires much more than simply providing devices to students. A digital transition is a multi-faceted, multi-year process that must be carefully thought-out, planned, and communicated.

We are three superintendents with 16 years of school leadership and 20 years of K-12 teaching experience among us. As the heads of school districts—one small, one medium, and one large—we have created modern digital learning environments for our students. We know firsthand what works and what doesn't. We’ve experienced setbacks and successes. Sometimes we moved too fast, other times we wished we had been bolder. We’ve learned a lot along the way, and we want to share our insights with you.

These nine key steps focus on the common elements of a digital transition that are essential for success. It is our hope that these steps will help other school leaders create the modern classrooms today’s students demand and deserve.

  1. Start with the “why.”

In our experience, this first step is the foundation for a successful digital transition.

Consider how digital learning will align with standards, add value for teachers, and enhance the student learning experience. Then, make sure you broadcast this message to stakeholders clearly and frequently.

Begin by involving all stakeholders—principals, teachers, parents, students, the board of education, local businesses, and community residents. Is the goal of digital learning to provide education for all levels of learners? Is it to prepare students for the workplaces they will encounter? Is it to engage and challenge students with inquiry-based lessons? Your answers will be tailored to the needs of your school district and community.

  1. Assess your district’s readiness for a transition to digital learning environments.

Don’t rush. Build broad-based understanding and support of upcoming changes through meetings with the board of education, principals, teachers, your PTA, and other stakeholders. Develop and communicate a rollout plan that takes into account which schools in your district are most ready to make the digital transition as well as which schools are most in need of digital investment. Some school districts will start with a particular grade or subject, while others will begin with the teachers who are most eager to learn about and use digital learning tools.

  1. Make sure the digital content aligns to standards.

Just like print materials, digital materials must deliver on the standards that students are expected to know and be able to meet. There are many great resources—both print and digital—that generate engaging classroom experiences but have nothing to do with the curriculum. Invest in digital resources that enhance your teachers’ abilities to deliver the learning objectives they’re expected to teach.

  1. Clearly communicate your vision.

As you embark on a digital transition, use the communication tools you already have to provide a framework, and make answers to questions easily available to all stakeholders. There is no such thing as overcommunication. Your district must be relentless in its effort to explain the importance of the digital transition you are planning. Do not expect anyone in the district, not even teachers or principals, to automatically know the value of digital tools.

In addition to proactive communications describing the goals and benefits of the initiative, it is important to keep lines of communication open throughout the process. Be transparent about challenges, setbacks, and promises with all stakeholders. Listen to concerns, and address them as they arise.

  1. Empower navigators.

Dedicate knowledgeable staff to guide the purchasing process for both hardware and digital curriculum materials, and to steer professional development. Navigators should be the point people in your district moving this project forward and providing answers throughout the process. Before they begin their work, it could be helpful for them to reach out to colleagues in other school systems to benchmark and learn about their experiences.

  1. Start your digital transition slowly.

Tap teachers who are enthusiastic about the transition, and allow them to pilot the service before rolling it out on a large scale. Those teachers can then serve as resources and share their insights and experiences with other teachers preparing for the transition to digital learning. Celebrate teacher leaders who are risk takers, leading every day by example.

  1. Provide ongoing professional development.

Professional development should be embedded in various stages of the project and ongoing. Teachers and other staff should gain a real facility with using technology in order to integrate digital content into instruction in a way that creates self-directed student learners.

Be prepared to provide professional development that meets teachers on all levels. Some teachers are going to be skilled and eager digital instructors, while others will be wary of change to their established lesson plans. Full-scale professional learning should be based on the content that will be taught, not on grade levels or familiarity with the intricacies of the devices. Teachers want to know how to teach content effectively and with ease.

  1. Focus on learning, not technology.

Show teachers how technology can be used to support a variety of teaching styles, including small-group collaboration, rotating through technology stations, student presentations, and teacher-led instruction. The goal is to create classroom environments where students are directing their own learning and teachers are guides, not dispensers of information.

  1. Promote digital citizenship.

Make sure students learn digital citizenship and sourcing skills. Devote classroom instruction time to teaching students how to be good digital citizens. That includes knowing how to interact online without bullying, how to advocate responsibly, and how to evaluate the trustworthiness of sources. Students also need to learn how to resist the siren call of a device. One student said a digital learning environment helped him learn how to resist distraction. “I had a choice to make,” he said. “I could remain distracted and my grades could go down, or I could use this tool to get better grades.”

Transitioning to modern digital learning environments is a large, complex task. Yet we feel that if these nine elements are kept top of mind by school leaders as their districts undertake a digital transition, the groundwork for creating the dynamic classrooms that will prepare students for success beyond graduation will be truly and successfully laid.

Dr. Christine Johns has been superintendent since 2006 of Utica Community Schools in Michigan, with 28,600 students over 66 square miles. She pioneered a digital transition that coincided with a shift in state standards and a change from half-day to full-day kindergarten.

Susan K. Allen, New York State's 2016 Superintendent of the Year, has been superintendent of the 3,000-student East Irondequoit Central School District since 2005. She pioneered a digital conversion that included giving each student in grades K-12 an iPad.

Dwight Jones, currently the superintendent in residence for Discovery Education, has served as commissioner of education for the Department of Education in Colorado and superintendent for the Clark County School District in Las Vegas, Nevada, the nation's fifth-largest school district, with 315,000 students.

Photo: MediaBakery

Eight Things You Need to Know About Lead Exposure in Water

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Eight Things You Need to Know About Lead Exposure in Water

How schools can protect their students and communicate with their parents.

By Donna Mazyck

Recent news reports about lead in water supplies in many U.S. cities raise serious concerns, especially about the wellbeing of young children. Lead exposure causes significantly greater harm to children than adults. Exposure can lead to developmental delays and health problems. Here are eight things school officials can do to help keep their students safe and communicate the dangers of lead poisoning to parents.

  1. Know the sources of lead in the environment. Exposure to lead can come from paint or gasoline. Other major sources include water, dust, and dirt. Lead in homes or schools can come from lead paint in buildings that were built before 1978 or in water. 
  2. Test buildings for lead. Check with the health department about testing paint dust and paint chips from school. Let your community know that they should test for lead in homes built before 1978 and tell them to contact the health department if they have questions about finding a licensed lead inspector.
  3. Clean up lead dust that may come from old paint as it cracks and peels. Cleaning tips include using wet paper towels; cleaning around windows, play areas, and floors; using duct tape to cover peeling paint; washing hands and toys with soap and water; and washing hands before eating and sleeping.
  4. Test water. Have the water in your school tested and let the community know the results. Also, encourage children’s families to have their home water tested. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has set 15 parts per billion as the level at which corrective action must be taken. Lead may be found in drinking water in some faucets and not others in a building.

If lead is found, precautions for using the water should be followed. Water shouldn’t be drunk or used from a faucet that has been off for more than six hours, and that includes use in cooking. In order to make sure the water is safe, the cold tap must be run for at least five minutes. Note that cold tap water only is safe to use, because hot or warm running water can have higher levels of lead. Pregnant women and children under six years old should avoid water from lead-tainted faucets entirely, even when these precautions are taken. They should drink only bottled water. Boiling water does not reduce its lead content, but NSF-certified water filters and replacements are effective at doing so.

In addition, encourage child-care centers to test their drinking water for lead.

  1. 5. If children are at risk, encourage parents to have them tested. If a blood test detects lead exposure, health care providers will develop a comprehensive plan for treatment.
  2. Encourage families to eat foods that reduce lead in the body. These include foods high in calcium, such as milk, leafy green vegetables, and fortified orange juice; foods containing iron, such as red meat, fish, chicken, dried fruit, and beans; and foods high in vitamin C, such as fruits and peppers.
  3. Track affected students’ educational progress. Follow the progress of students with lead exposure, and be sure to update parents. A developmental assessment can determine the amount of support children may need to ensure academic success.
  4. Work for prevention. Preventing lead exposure in children is the best solution.Work for prevention by advocating for the following:
  • Environments safe from lead
  • Tracking and identifying lead sources
  • Control or safe removal of lead

School nurses work with educators, families, and health care providers to keep students health, safe and ready to learn. For additional information on lead prevention and exposure in children, visit the websites of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the EPA.

Donna Mazyck is the executive director of the National Association of School Nurses and a former school nurse.

Photo: © Ryan Garza/Detroit Free Press/zReportage.com via ZUMA Wire

Hamilton 101

Hamilton

Hamilton 101

The inside story of how the biggest show on Broadway teamed with two nonprofits to immerse high school students in American history—and challenge them to create their own performances.

By Wayne D’Orio

Six years before the play Hamilton opened Off-Broadway, creator and star Lin-Manuel Miranda had a thought: Whenever I finish this play, it will be useful for teachers. That’s because before Hamilton won 11 Tonys, before its cast album was streamed 365 million times, before the top ticket prices soared to a record $849, Miranda debuted the show’s first song, “Alexander Hamilton,” at the White House Poetry Jam in 2009.

When video of the four-and-a-half minute performance hit YouTube, the number-one comment was, “My teacher showed us this in APUSH,” Miranda told Newsweek, using the acronym for AP U.S. History.

Six years later, when the play opened at Manhattan's Public Theater, one very interested observer made smart use of his second ticket by inviting Lesley S. Herrmann of the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History. As soon as the play finished, Herrmann turned to the man who invited her, historian and award-winning author Ron Chernow, and said, “We have to get this in the hands of kids.” Chernow's 2004 biography of Hamilton inspired Miranda to write his play.  

Fast forward another year to May 2016. Thirteen teams of 11th graders from around New York City are waiting anxiously in the wings to perform their own two-minute pieces on events or people from the birth of our country. “Welcome to the best day of the year for us here at the Richard Rodgers: EduHam,” says an enthusiastic Miranda as he looks out on a theater packed entirely with high school students. After the student performances, the high schoolers will see Hamilton, culminating their immersion in the life and times of the “10-dollar founding father without a father.”

So how did the hottest show on Broadway not only team up with two nonprofits to bring 20,000 11th graders, one of every four in the city, through the doors of the Richard Rodgers Theatre but then entice each of them to interpret original documents from the founding of our country and create their own artistic interpretation of a historical moment?

Laying the Groundwork

In some ways, this partnership between Hamilton, the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, and the Rockefeller Foundation was a whirlwind project, going from idea to fully realized program in less than a year. But in other ways, the seeds of the project were sown much earlier.

Miranda knew firsthand how powerful creating your own artistic project could be to young people; indeed that’s how he got his start in musical theater. He wrote three original songs when he was in eighth grade to help teach classmates the content of The Chosen, a coming-of-age story that takes place in Brooklyn in the 1940s. “My first musical I ever wrote was a class assignment,” he revealed to Arrive magazine.

Hamilton producer Jeffrey Seller himself has a history of bringing Broadway to high school students. He created an educational program for the musical Rent, his first theatrical success.

And Gilder Lehrman has a long track record of creating history programs that benefit schools. Two-thirds of the students who take AP U.S. History visit the institute’s website, and its total traffic is expected to increase to 10 million visitors this year, up from fewer than 2 million visitors two years ago. 

Miranda’s father, Luis Miranda Jr., expressed interest in creating a program for schools, and he and Seller subsequently met last summer with Gilder Lehrman’s director of education, Tim Bailey. Bailey showed them a recent program he had written called Vietnam in Verse. The lesson plan used poetry and music from the era to discuss the issues of that period. Seller was impressed: “You’re in,” he told Bailey.

He and Luis Miranda found the money needed for the project, getting the Rockefeller Foundation to put up $1.5 million. The funds helped pay for the curriculum’s creation and subsidize the tickets needed for the 20,000 students. The play offers each seat for $70, basically its cost to run a performance of the play without making a profit. Rockefeller pays $60 while students pony up $10, both a nod to Hamilton and a way to make sure they’re invested in the project.

“Works like this don’t come around very often, and when they do we must make every effort to maximize their reach,” said Judith Rodin, president of the foundation.

“Here’s a story that talks about American history and the ideals of American democracy . . . in a vernacular that speaks to young people, written by a product of New York public education,” Rodin told The New York Times. “Could there possibly be a better combination in terms of speaking to students?”

Creating a Student Study Guide

Bailey started working on the framework of the project in September. He knew he wanted to have students deal directly with primary sources. Gilder Lehrman is the owner of 60,000 documents from American history, and Bailey knew that having students read and respond to these sources, while challenging, was key.

Summarizing key documents and events reduces moments to one story, Bailey says, robbing students of the ability to interpret, and disagree, about both people and history. But Bailey knows that asking students to read documents written more than 200 years ago can lead to lots of eye rolling. “There’s a fine line you have to watch as a teacher, between good instruction and frustration, and that line is different for every student,” says the former history teacher. “It’s a really complex skill for an educator, but it’s really what you have to aim for.”

Bailey’s study guide has students do a close reading of two documents, loyalist Samuel Seabury’s Free Thoughts on the Proceedings of the Continental Congress and Hamilton’s A Full Vindication of the Measures of the Congress. The guide instructs students to pick key words from the excerpts, then summarize the readings in the author’s words. For the last part of the lesson, students then restate each excerpt in their own words.

“We have to teach students the skills to unlock those sources,” he adds. “We provide enough structure so that students won’t freak out.”

He also has students mine the two excerpts from Seabury and Hamilton to discern exactly where each line in the song Farmer Refuted originated, demonstrating how Miranda went from fact to verse.

While Bailey worked on the classroom materials, others at Gilder Lehrman set up a private website where students can log in and not only see parts of five songs that are performed during the show, but also view nine video interviews created exclusively for them. In the videos, Miranda explains how Hamilton is different from other founding fathers, Chernow discusses the artistic license used in historical non-fiction, and actors read from actual documents of the period.

Miranda, handling the actual love letter Hamilton wrote to his not-yet wife Eliza, reads: “You not only employ my mind all day; but you intrude upon my sleep. I meet you in every dream and when I wake, I cannot close my eyes again for ruminating on your sweetness.” He looks up and tells students, “This puts whatever R&B song you’re listening to right now to shame.”

“We have amazing access to the show,” Bailey says. “It’s unprecedented.”

The website also features information on 30 different historical figures, ranging from Martha Washington to Hercules Mulligan, the tailor who used his access to British troops to spy for the Patriots. The site highlights 14 key events from the era, as well as 20-plus documents from The Federalist Papers to Thomas Paine’s Common Sense.

Projects and Performances

If the program sounds like a lot of work, it’s actually not, Bailey explains, adding that the whole project is expected to take only two or three classes. Most of the student work, including a suggested three hours of rehearsal, takes place outside the classroom. The program includes an 11-page teacher guide that discusses objectives, procedures, and alignment with four Common Core State Standards. The lesson includes a rubric that guides teachers in how to assess student work.

Students are given wide latitude in what, and how, they perform. They can present a rap, a song, a poem, a monologue, or a scene. And while their performance has to represent the era, they decide which key people, events, or documents to include.

“There are performances that had nothing to do with the shows,” says Bailey. One girl recited poetry about Phyllis Wheatley, a former slave and the first published African-American poet, who’s not in the play, and another student reworked the rapper Drake’s “5AM in Toronto” to tell the story of the Boston Massacre. (To see all the student performances from the May show, visit ABC’s Good Morning America.)

In May, students performed as Miranda and Christopher Jackson, who plays George Washington in the play, introduced each act and led the cheers. When a student named Reynaldo performed a dramatic rap as Hamilton that ended with his being shot by Aaron Burr, Miranda and Jackson were floored. “Whoa,” Jackson exclaimed. When Miranda recovered, he said, “I look forward to catching that single on iTunes.”

Right now, the educational program is only slated to run in New York for one year. (There have been two all-student matinees so far. The remainder will take place in the fall.) Bailey is confident the program will be approved for another year, and hopes that it can be expanded to other cities where the show is expected to open; Chicago will get a production starting in September, while two touring productions are expected to start in San Francisco in March 2017 and in Seattle in 2018. A London production is expected as well, and running an educational program overseas is certain to elicit different student viewpoints.

The program has reaped praise from high schools all the way to the White House, where the whole project first got started. When the cast came to perform at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue in March, President Barack Obama said the soundtrack has become a favorite in his household, and he praised the educational component. “I'm thrilled they are working with New York public schools. There’s now a curriculum to give students context and a deeper meaning—or deeper understanding of our nation’s founding.” he said. “I hope this helps every teacher who spent hours trying to make The Federalist Papers teenager-friendly. The remarkable life of Alexander Hamilton will show our young people the possibilities within themselves and how much they can achieve within the span of a lifetime.”

For more about Hamilton's high school initiative, listen to Wayne D'Orio on EWA Radio

Photo: Walter McBride/Getty Images

The Importance of Emphasizing Online Safety to Students

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The Importance of Emphasizing Online Safety to Students

Three steps to teach your students safe online behavior, whether at school or at home.

By Phyllis Schneck

The Internet and digital technology touch almost every aspect of our daily lives. Our children use technology more and more each day, and at younger ages than ever. According to the Center for Cyber Safety and Education, 70 percent of kids have a mobile phone and 90 percent of kids have a mobile phone, tablet, or computer in their bedrooms.

This use of technology brings many benefits—and many potential dangers for students.

Just as we teach our children not to talk to strangers and to look both ways before crossing the street, we need to teach children how to behave safely and appropriately online. This is part of helping children utilize technology for enjoyment while still keeping safe.

Here are three lesson themes that teachers and educators can focus on when teaching online safety.

Lesson #1: Own Your Online Presence

Children view privacy differently than most adults. They post everything online and stay in constant contact with their friends. But children often don’t realize their actions online have lasting and potentially negative consequences.

For example, do your students know that what they post online today can affect them in the future? Do they understand that sharing personal information online can expose them to cyber predators, identity theft, and other online threats? Some students may not even realize that personal information such as their name, home address, school name, or pictures of themselves and their friends is “sensitive” and needs to be protected.

Students also need to understand that everything they post online, from pictures to status updates, creates a “permanent record” of their lives. As students get older, their online presence can impact college choices or their future careers. College admissions officers and job recruiters often check candidates’ social media accounts. It’s important for students to take ownership of how they portray themselves—their personal “brand”—online.

Lesson #2: Resist Cyberbullying

As children spend more time online, bullying and harassment move online too. In 2015, 34 percent of students reported that they had been victims of cyberbullying, according to the Cyberbullying Research Center.

One of the first lessons students learn in school is to treat others with respect. Reinforce the idea that this rule applies online as well. Students must learn to treat others online just as they would want to be treated.

Children often forget that communicating via text, on social media sites, or in e-mail is just like having a conversation with someone in real life. As a result they sometimes behave in ways or say things online they would never do or say in person. We must teach our children that when they communicate online, they are affecting other people and must be polite.

Lesson #3: Cybersecurity Is a Shared Responsibility

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Stop.Think.Connect. campaign—a national awareness program to help all Americans stay safer and more secure online—is committed to supporting the effort to keep children safe. The campaign provides awareness resources to strengthen the public’s understanding of cybersecurity, making them available to schools, students, and educational staff.

The Stop.Think.Connect. toolkit provides educators a wealth of resources, including tip cards and presentations ideal for bringing online safety lessons into classrooms. Other resources include the Stop.Think.Connect. Parents and Educators Tip Card, the Stop.Think.Connect. Social Media Guides, and the Chatting with Kids about Being Online guide.

Please contact the Stop.Think.Connect. campaign at stopthinkconnect@dhs.gov or visit www.DHS.gov/StopThinkConnect if you have questions or would like more information.

Dr. Phyllis Schneck is the deputy under secretary for cybersecurity and communications, National Protection and Programs Directorate, U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

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Why the ACT and New SAT Matter

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Why the ACT and New SAT Matter

And how to make sure your students maximize their scores.

By Rob Huntington

Students across the country have been taking the ACT and new SAT, as they prepare for college applications. The stakes are high; scores on these tests have an impact on college admission decisions. The new SAT is an improved test: it aims to provide a highly accurate measure of critical reading and math skills, and the newer version is more “real world” than its predecessor. For example, there’s less emphasis on esoteric vocabulary and math gymnastics and more weight on things like understanding an author’s point of view and interpreting data. These skills not only translate to stronger grades in college, they also pave the way for a more satisfying life in a host of ways, from having a more personally and financially rewarding career to being able to read and appreciate the nuances of great literature.

To put some numbers to it, The Economist recently shared data showing that students who go to a U.S. university ranked in the top 90th percentile will likely earn $11,700 more per year than their peers who go to a school ranked in the bottom 10 th percentile. The thing is, these critical reading and math skills are just that, skills. Just as NBA MVP Steph Curry continued to hone his jump shot after getting passed over by top Division I recruiters, we can all get significantly better at critical reading and math over time with targeted, deliberate practice.

So what happens when students in your district take the test and get disappointing results? It’s important to stay away from labeling them or the education they’ve received and concentrate on developing their reading and math muscles. Convincing students, and their parents, to double down on their preparation can be hard if there’s an underlying fear that students won’t get any better and that the test indicates something unchangeable about who they are as people. It doesn’t. It gives an accurate picture of where a student’s math and reading skills are at that point in time.

A big aid in overcoming this fear is adopting what leading educational psychologist Carol Dweck calls a “growth mindset”—a belief that with the right hard work we can get better at skills and, excepting those with significant impairments, achieve mastery. This idea overlaps closely with the “10,000 hours” concept popularized by Malcolm Gladwell in his book Outliers—the idea that it takes 10,000 hours of focused, deliberate practice to become excellent at anything, from a grandmaster in chess to a computer coding whiz to a top violinist. While the SAT and ACT are hard, they’re not in this stratospheric level. With the right preparation most students can get a top score.

Unfortunately, there isn’t a hack or shortcut for academic skill growth. One study of SAT prep courses found that you can get about 30 points of improvement by taking the average test-prep course (“Effects of Coaching on SAT I: Reasoning Test Scores,” Powers & Rock, 1999). That’s not much. It’s probably not going to get students a scholarship or make the difference between getting into a good school and getting into one of the country’s best. That’s because getting meaningfully better at reading and math takes real learning. Sure, test-taking tricks help a bit—that’s probably the 30 points—but a student can get better at skills such as analyzing rhetorical methods or thinking algebraically only through serious study. This means doing work like reading and thinking about progressively more challenging material for more than an hour a day to strengthen verbal skills, and wrestling with fundamental math concepts and practicing until they’re ingrained, so the basics don’t take up processing speed when we get to more challenging math problems.

But let’s be honest, not everyone thinks the SAT or the ACT is good at judging students’ skill levels. Critics say these tests show a gap in skills between socioeconomic groups, with some arguing that the tests should be de-emphasized. This is like saying that we should eliminate diagnostic evaluations at the hospital because they may show we’re ill—the tests indicate there’s an underlying problem, they’re not the problem itself. Another objection is that the tests put pressure on college applicants to perform in a high-stakes environment; they certainly do. However, so does college, and life in general. Other criticisms include charges that the tests don’t measure skills like leadership, creativity, or grit. They don’t measure these skills, but what they do measure matters. Sure, some colleges don’t use these tests when deciding to admit a student, but the vast majority continue to consider ACT or SAT scores critical for admissions decisions.

Reading and math are the building blocks of a lot of what it takes to do well in our knowledge economy. The good news is that students can get better at these skills with the right hard work. Knowing this can take a lot of the fear out of prepping for these tests. Countless students have gotten better at these skills. Take Thomas Jefferson, for instance. When he was young he invested serious time honing his writing skills after his father told him his writing was inferior (not an advisable parenting technique). Of course Jefferson went on to write some pretty important stuff, but he probably wouldn’t have gotten a great score on the writing section of a test before he put in hours of hard work.

Rob Huntington is a Senior Vice President at Huntington Learning Center. Prior to working at Huntington he taught high school history in Paterson, New Jersey, and also worked as a consultant at the Boston Consulting Group. 

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Redefining the Approach to STEM Across Grade Levels

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Redefining
the Approach to STEM Across Grade Levels

How administrators can support teachers who are modernizing their instruction.

By Susan Nichol

Some of the most challenging moments for middle school teachers arise when deciding whether or not to step in and support a student through the troubleshooting process. Middle school students are caught in an in-between age group: They don’t need step-by-step guidance, but they may not have completely developed skills or confidence to lead their own learning.

Because I view myself as a coach in the classroom, I jump into learning opportunities in project-based activities when appropriate. My goal as a Project Lead the Way instructor is to encourage students to approach problems by creating their own paths toward a solution. I consider my students the engineers of their own learning environment, where I take a hands-off approach to teaching.

If someone were to walk into my classroom, they might ask, “Where’s the teacher?” Because I work alongside my students, I can be found working on the floor or outside in the hallway in student breakout sessions.

This classroom design provides students the freedom to approach new problems within a flexible, group-oriented environment. It welcomes the creative problem-solving skills needed to help prepare students for future careers—many of which don’t even exist yet.

Harnessing these skills gives students the opportunity to take the lead in their own learning. When students see their ideas through, from beginning to end, they take ownership of their learning experience. Let’s explore how districts’ technology teams and administrators can support student-directed learning—and how students can reap the benefits.

Molding a Problem-Solving Mindset

To simulate a practical working and learning environment, students are assigned titles and roles within project teams that translate to real job titles. For most projects, all students are given the same project objective. The students then work in small teams to test possible solutions.

The few times I address all students at the front of the classroom are when I introduce a project or lead a demonstration. I tell my students to “watch, listen and do” when leading classroom demonstrations. Students follow along on their own project models while I provide direction. Even when I take the lead in directing learning objectives, students engage in hands-on learning.

The most rewarding experience as an educator is watching how experiential learning can transform a student’s skills and attitudes toward STEM. It’s this observable growth in my students that can lead them to be independent thinkers in their adult careers.

For instance, I’ve witnessed students step into a problem-solving mindset while experimenting with 3D printing. Our classroom has two 3D printers that students can use to tinker with design ideas for both classroom and personal projects. They can analyze differences and similarities between an older 3D printer and the newer Dremel 3D Idea Builder printer to gain an understanding of machine and tool design, and how it, in turn, impacts their model.

It’s this willingness to approach new challenges that fuels a passion for learning. Because of my former experience in the engineering industry, I believe that an open mindset encourages female students, in particular, to pursue STEM in a predominately male industry.

3D printing offers an entry point to design and engineering, especially at the middle school level, because it’s safe and approachable. Encouraging my students to lead the 3D printing design and production process independently motivates them to use the tool to its fullest extent.

How Administration Can Support Integrated Teaching With Technology

The design and structure of a Project Lead the Way classroom differs from the traditional classroom, which means getting started requires a little extra effort by all parties at the school and district level.

In my school district, administrators and instructors at all grade levels have an understanding of curriculum goals across school levels that are relevant to their course instruction. An integrated approach to lessons and curricula from the elementary to the high school level provides a fluid model for mapping student understanding.  

Increased involvement from the district as a whole eases the process of introducing new technology, like 3D printing, to the classroom. District administrators and the school board are often the decision makers in purchasing education technology tools. Because they have a solid understanding of our classroom’s goals, they are supportive in providing my students with the appropriate technologies.

One of the biggest reasons that teachers are reluctant to embrace new technology is a lack of technical support or professional development opportunities. No matter the structure of the district, administrators can support technology integration by allowing and providing professional development partnerships with high schools, local community colleges, and local businesses.

I highly recommend that administrators open up opportunities for their staff to explore and coordinate their own professional development experiences. Empowering staff to share their experiences and contributions with their colleagues and school leadership can strengthen school–community relations.

Building a Strong School and Community Network in STEM

Student-led learning has given my students the chance to take ownership when approaching problems, creating their own solutions. These opportunities are facilitated through a practical, hands-on approach to learning that incorporates flexible technologies like 3D printing.

It’s crucial to gain the backing of a school’s administrative team in order to provide the means to implementing new technologies and models for learning. An integrated, district-wide approach to pedagogy can provide students, teachers, and the community as a whole with new opportunities for growth in STEM.

Susan Nichol is Project Lead the Way and technology skills instructor at Holmes Junior High in Mt. Prospect, Illinois.

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Five Proven Pathways to Attaining Whole-School Transformation With Technology

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Five Proven Pathways to Attaining Whole-School Transformation With Technology

From credit recovery to PBL, these best practices use 21st-century tech tools to give students 21st-century learning opportunities.

By Don W. Brown

Everyone in schools is talking about technology, 1:1 programs, and student learning. The problem is that often school district planners think adopting technology is just like purchasing a textbook: First review the offerings and rate them, then purchase one and roll it out. But to effect a whole-school transformation, this process is not enough.

By “transformation” I mean bringing in 21st-century technology to give students 21st-century learning opportunities. This would ultimately be in the form of blended learning models, but adopting a blended learning model is a huge shift in both equipment and methodology.

To truly and permanently transform schools through technology, the technology purchase has to be rooted in the genuine needs of students. In addition, teachers must have time for both professional development and collaboration to make the innovation work. Below are five entry points I have seen successful schools use to begin a whole-school transformation.

  1. Credit recovery. Credit recovery is one of the things online learning addresses best. First of all, nearly every alternative program allows students to work at their own pace, a key element for successful online and blended learning models. Further, a good credit recovery software will have a pre- and post-test model, giving students credit for what they remember from the course, but then assigning work for topics they did not remember or for topics whose instruction they missed.

Credit-recovery programs also tend to draw teachers who naturally embrace blended or enhanced virtual models. They are focused on the students’ success, know the struggles students face outside of school, and are willing to go the extra mile to support them. A word of caution here: This does not mean that the best outcomes come from lowering expectations for students. Students know when they are given “dumbed down” work, and this reinforces a negative self-concept, which leads to failure.

  1. Skill-based instruction, remediation, or acceleration. Focusing on skills with technology can yield big results in many ways. Based on research supporting Vygotsky’s zone of proximal development, teaching students individually, “where they are,” is extremely effective. Students who are able learners will not stay motivated when faced with content they find easy or redundant. Students who are significantly behind need skill remediation in order to feel successful and retain the content they study.
  2. Direct instruction/digital textbooks. There are many sources of digital content, and odds are good that any teacher has found his or her personal “treasure trove” of online lessons to draw from. In this case, the teacher is using an online resource as the primary source for lesson material, whether for whole-group, small-group, or intervention-based instruction. Digital content ranges from entire textbooks online to collections of lessons that are searchable or developed in a specific content area.
  3. Content and assessment customization. To achieve mass customization for students, you must know three things:
  • What prior knowledge does the student have? How will this be measured and applied?
  • How much time is appropriate for this student to gain the knowledge and skills you select?
  • Will you measure progress using curriculum-based assessments, benchmark tests, interim assessments, or statewide/CCSS assessment test results? Each measure has different uses and value.

The most important decision here is pacing. Will your teachers allow students to move at their own pace, or will they try to keep everyone “on the same page”? Keeping students in lockstep is counterintuitive for online learning, and freeing students to work at a variety of paces can yield high motivation for traditionally underachieving gifted and talented students.

  1. Project-based learning. This strategy moves learning from the academic realm to its real-world application, making lessons more “hands-on” and purposeful. Seeing direct applications of knowledge can give a huge boost to students’ motivation and self-esteem. Online learning can support understanding by making customization of content easy, by providing an online collection of evidence, or even by connecting the student to people in the working world to gather information and advice or organize field experiences.

As you go forward, remember to base your schools’ transformation on real student needs. If teachers witness student success and see a way to support the full range of the students they teach, they will embrace the change. Allow the change to take place over time, and be strategic about which teachers are early adopters, which are joiners, and which are going to need individual help. Finally, be sure to support the change with professional development for teachers and administrators. If they share feedback along the way that can lead to full adoption of technology for learning, you will be on the best path to success and to getting the full value of your investment.

Don W. Brown, Ed.D, is the West Region Client Services Manager at online curriculum provider Oddysseyware. In his long career working with educational technology, he has been the Director of Gladstone Center for Children and Families in Oregon, a music specialist in Oregon City Public Schools, and an instructional technologist for Lane Education Service District in Oregon.

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A $67.5 Million Victory for Community Engagement

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A $67.5 Million Victory for Community Engagement

After voters rejected two bond proposals, a superintendent opened new lines of communication and turned ‘no’ into ‘yes.’

By Scot Graden

In 2010 Saline Area Schools introduced a bond measure to fund our first infrastructure updates in 10 years. Our district is in a relatively affluent, relatively conservative area of the state, 40 miles west of Detroit. Of our 32,000 residents, more than 50 percent don’t have kids in the school system, so a lot of the conversation in the community was about the budget. We encountered a disconnect with some residents, who asked, “Why a bond?” Our community is pretty small and has only one local news site, so we had no mass media through which we could communicate the importance of the bond to parents and non-parents. The measure failed.

We presented the measure again in 2011, and again it failed. This time, we understood that the voters’ concern wasn’t with the projects we were proposing, but with our district getting its financial house in order. To put it simply, we were operating at a loss.

Over the next couple of years, we closed one building and sold another. We stopped using one-time money to replenish savings accounts and backfilled our rainy-day fund.

Our central office partnered with Virginia-based K12 Insight to bring the community into the conversation. We used the company’s Engage survey solution to conduct research-backed climate and culture surveys that informed our decision making and provided feedback about peoples’ perceptions of our district. We also worked with K12 Insight to launch Let’s Talk!, a virtual listening station that enables community members to provide feedback on specific topics right from our website. Once a question or comment came in, it was immediately routed to the right person in the district for a speedy response.

In 2015, we were ready to present a new bond proposal to the community. We are a BYOD district, so this bond was not asking taxpayers to fund expensive devices for students. The theme we chose was “Safe, Warm, Dry, and Future-Ready.” We wanted to make sure our school entry points were safe, that the heating and cooling systems worked, and that schools in need got new roofs. These were “non-sexy” items, but we felt they were important to the success of our schools. On top of that, our goal was to provide next-generation classrooms that went beyond students’ basic needs. We focused on furniture, space, and technology. We doubled the “ask” from 2011, requesting $67.5 million over three bond sales.

We still had no mass media to connect with the community, so we had to use our “ground game.” We held a series of community meetings, in which the conversation was informed by our survey data. Public perception was that our buildings were in pretty good shape—which was true. So we didn’t try to oversell facilities needs. Instead we framed our bond campaign around “protecting our future.” We made sure to tell people that they could ask questions or submit comments through Let’s Talk!—and many of them did.

The feedback we got was specific: One resident submitted detailed questions about our bus purchases. I, in turn, offered detailed responses, and he ended up conducting an analysis of bus providers for us. I just had lunch with him the other day—someone I met because he clicked a button on our website.

Hours before Election Day, a vote “no” campaign began circulating among certain members of the community. Again, we mobilized our ground game and used this threat to motivate our base. Our biggest concern was ambivalence, so we asked our allies to redouble their efforts.

On November 3, 2015, the bond measure passed with 60 percent of the vote, the widest pass rate of any tax increase in the state. That success can be credited, in large part, to our commitment to open and transparent communication. By the time voters arrived at the polls, they understood our position, had an opportunity to voice their concerns, and trusted us to spend their money wisely.

Since the bond passed in November we have started making arrangements for construction. We’re also expanding our use of Let’s Talk! While some educators fear that inviting community feedback will lead to a deluge of complaints, it simply has not been the case for us. When people understood we were listening, we created an environment where people feel comfortable asking questions, and out of that environment came the funding that will help us build the next generation of Saline Area Schools. 

Scot Graden is the Superintendent of Saline Area Schools in Michigan. 

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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in edu Pulse are strictly those of the author and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Scholastic, Inc.