Month: February 2017

Use Your Library

Studies have routinely shown that young children who are read to at a young age have advantages in language and reading skills that others do not. This advantage carries over into the preschool and kindergarten years. This is also true as children get older—if they don’t have access to books or other reading materials, they don’t get a chance to practice the skills they are learning in school. Without being able to read books, magazines, comics, and newspapers that they choose on their own, many children do not develop a love of reading. They also suffer a loss of skills during holiday breaks and especially during the summer. But it can be cost-prohibitive to fill a shelf of books when your family is struggling to put food on the table.

As a teacher, I can understand both sides. I know how important it is for children to read. At the same time, I don’t get paid a whole lot, either. I have had to make the decision to buy a pair of pants for my growing child instead of a book before.  It makes me feel like a terrible parent sometimes. However, I reminded myself of a place that my child can surround himself with all the books he wants, and bring some home—for free.

The public library is not just a place to spend a rainy day when there is no school or a place you go when you have a report due. A library is a great place for children of all ages. They can learn computer and research skills if they don’t have access to a computer or the internet at home by using the public computers available. They can read and check out all different kinds of materials: books, magazines, movies, CDs, comic books, newspapers, and even research materials. There are books on just about every subject and for all reading levels. Giving them the freedom to select reading materials on their own will encourage reading. It will boost not only their skills but their enjoyment of reading for the sake of reading. Remember that children who read on a regular basis do better in school.

If you aren’t sure where to start, introduce yourself to a librarian. These staff members are trained and knowledgeable in all things reading! They will get you set up with a library card and grant you access to the public computers. Talk to them about what you are interested in or what you need for an assignment. They can teach you how to search the catalog so that you can find the materials you want as well as show you where the books are located. They might even have some suggestions for books you will enjoy. Librarians also have the ability to special order items for you that may be at a different library or put a hold on something for you.When the item you want is returned, they willset it aside for you. They will also know of any library events scheduled that might fit your interests, from teen game nights to Mommy and Me storytimes. And all of these things are free!

The library is an excellent resource to help students develop their reading skills and indulge their interest in just about any topic. Your public library will have more materials than the school media center, and it stays open all year round. Take some time to check it out and see what the library can do for you.

Get More Out of Your School

The resources available at our schools vary greatly from district to district and state to state. The things I have here and the resources available to you might be completely different, but I wanted to talk about different ways to learn about and then utilize what you have within your own school.

The first thing to do is ASK. Ask your teacher. Ask the main office. Ask the librarian or the nurse. Ask the principal. If you are looking for a resource, start at the school. There might be tutors available for free or at a low cost for subjects you are struggling with. There may be extracurriculars you are not aware of. They may have ideas for before or after school care. There may be assistance programs you qualify for but the school keeps quiet to respect the families they assist. If you need more books to read, sometimes teachers or libraries will let you borrow extra materials. You won’t know about any of these things (or anything else) unless you ask. And if the school doesn’t know, the guidance counselor can usually find out for you.

Next, verify that you are receiving information. Make sure that contact form filled out at the beginning of the year still has the right information. This will allow the school to let you know about inclement weather or attendance, true, but it will also allow them to send you pertinent information like the school newsletter. Sometimes these newsletters are put on the school website, emailed to families, or printed and sent home. Emails tend to be the quickest way to let students and their families know about events as they come in at our school. The second fastest way is sending flyers home in backpacks. If you aren’t reading them, you never know what you might miss out on. Science fairs, fun family events, sports clubs, book fairs, tutoring sessions, PTA meetings. The list goes on and on. Our school also has an internet calendar that you can link to your existing online calendar. In this way, parents can see school activities right alongside their own activities on the calendar they are already using.

Lastly, be present at the school. The easiest way to find out what’s going on is to be there. Go to the parent/teacher conferences with your child or parent (depending on which one of you is reading this). Volunteer at yourschool for assemblies or other events. Join the PTA. Get involved in a club or on a sports team. We know that many parents work and maybe can’t go on a field trip, but may be able to bake cookies for the class party. Come in on career day and talk about what you do. If your school is hosting something as a fundraiser, attend. Give what you can. Many teachers end up using money out of their own pocket to buy supplies for their classrooms, so every little bit will help. And if you can’t pay the sports equipment fee, instrument rental, classroom supply fee, or whatever else, let someone know. There is always a solution. Trust me when I say that the teachers don’t want their students to go without, either. We will find a way to make it happen, but we can’t do that unless we know accommodations need to be made.

The more involved in your school you are, the more motivated you will be to do well there and the more support you will have to do so. There is never any shame in asking for help.We will all need help with something at some point!

STEM For All Ages

If you haven’t heard the acronym STEM in school by now, you will. STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics. These four subjects have been grouped together to enable schools and policy makers to make more of a focused effort to promote them. But what does that mean for students and parents? Well, the idea is to improve our competitiveness in scientific study and in the development of new technologies. The end goal is to make students more desirable in the global job market and to establish a new curriculum that ties these related fields together. Many people strongly feel that the best jobs of the future will be in STEM fields.

So how do we familiarize ourselves with STEM and how can we benefit from it? Here are a few basic ideas on how to incorporate STEM into your life or your classroom:

  • Students of any age will benefit from following the scientific method. The scientific method is a series of steps followed in order to answer a question. It helps students to think analytically, research information, form their own theories and ideas, test those theories out, record data and interpret their results. The best thing about the scientific method is that the steps are so straightforward that even the very youngest of scientists can do it with some assistance. Here are the steps:
    1. Think of a science question you want to discover the answer to.
    2. Do background research on the question to familiarize yourself with the subject. What does the information lead you to believe?
    3. Form a hypothesis. A hypothesis is your best guess on what will happen during the experiment. Now that you have done some research, what do you think is the answer to your question?
    4. Test your theory with an experiment. Record data to help you determine the end result.
    5. Analyze the data and information that you have discovered during your experiment. Draw a conclusion. What did you learn? Was your hypothesis correct? If not, why not?
  • Engineering is, at its core, solving problems. Some examples of engineering include determining the best materials to build something out of so that it will be strong, keeping an egg safe when it is dropped to the ground, getting water to a village that is in a drought. Engineers can also take an idea and try to improve upon it. Is there something in your life that doesn’t work quite the way you hoped? Look at the problem critically and see if you can come up with a solution!
  • Go beyond basic computer skills. Computers are not just for surfing the web, playing games, or writing a paper. Learn how to write your own program! Use a website like org to learn basic coding and let your imagination run wild. If you could create an app, what would it do? Would it be something that helps people or something just for fun? There is plenty of software out there where you can do just that! One that some of my students have used is appypie.
  • People don’t often realize how often we really do use math. Find everyday ways to make it more fun. For example, you can learn fractions while baking a cake, money while on a shopping trip, measuring while building a piece of furniture, and advanced math to figure out currency conversions.

I hope you take these ideas and run with them! Let me know how you incorporate STEM into your studies, I would love to hear about it!