Gain a deeper understanding of forecasting the weather. Go on a trek through the Arctic Tundra. Learn about STEM careers in the United States Navy on board the USS Nimitz. All of these things are possible without even leaving the classroom through the use of Virtual Field Trips (VFTs)!
Teachers are often faced with figuring out just how to engage their students throughout the 180-day school year. How do we gain our students’ interest as we push through each lesson in each unit? Is there something we are missing – like a truly unique experience that may capture the attention of students in a more meaningful way than merely discussing a new topic in order to activate background knowledge?
The use of Virtual Field Trips is something that teachers may not even know is available to them. I was in a professional development seminar about Discovery Education over the summer when I first heard about the opportunity to use VFTs in my own classroom. If you are like me, sometimes I am skeptical when I hear about things like this. Allow me to explain the possibilities for a VFT through the following scenarios:
All of these scenarios are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to utilizing VFTs in your classroom. They can also be used for building background knowledge before starting a new unit about a topic that may be foreign to many students. Teachers who instruct English Language Learners (ELLs) may use VFTs on a more scaled-down level on a daily or weekly basis in order to make the content more accessible to ELLs. Providing VFTs for these students can be effective as they will benefit from having visuals along with an auditory explanation of the content.
There are many resources and avenues to take for VFTs. Nearpod, Discovery Education, and Google Earth are all ways to integrate VFTs into your lessons. The Connecting Link offers a non-credit (15 clock hour) course in creating Virtual Field Trips. This course walks the learner through what a VFT is, the various ways to create a VFT, and how VFTs can be used in the classroom.
Check out The Connecting Link’s Virtual Field Trip Course
Written by Henry Price
Imagine coming to your neighborhood middle school one morning to find three dead bodies dumped in the schoolyard. This is exactly what students experienced one morning when coming to Visitacion Valley Middle School in San Francisco.
As shocking as this might sound, the children at Visitacion were used to murder. Barry O’Driscoll, the school’s head of physical education (PE) commented that “In 2006 there were 38 killings in our neighborhood.” The culture of violence infected the school, which was the theatre of constant fighting, frequent suspension and poor academic achievement.
Anna Leach, who wrote about Visitacion Valley in a November 2015 Guardian article, shared how in 2007 the school decided to counter the culture of violence by introducing a “Quiet Time.” This was essentially an opportunity for students to be trained in the practice of mindfulness meditation.
That was before mindfulness—attentive, purposeful and non-judgmental awareness of one’s experiences—was trendy. Perhaps that is why teachers initially didn’t take this experimental practice very seriously.
Visitacion Valley a Month Later
A month into Quiet Time, the teachers began noticing changes in student behavior.
“They worked harder, paid more attention, were easier to teach and the number of fights fell dramatically,” O’Driscoll commented.
The results of mindfulness continued over the next decade. Here is what Leach reported in her Guardian article:
“In the first year of Quiet Time suspensions at Visitacion Valley – which has 500 students aged 11-13 – were reduced by 45% (pdf). By 2009-10, attendance rates were over 98% (some of the highest in the city), and today 20% of graduates are admitted to the highly academic Lowell high school – before it was rare for even one student to be accepted. Perhaps even more remarkable, last year’s California Healthy Kids Survey from the state’s education department found that students at Visitacion Valley middle school were the happiest in the whole of San Francisco.
How much of these changes were specifically because the students practiced mindfulness, and how much were due to other factors? Researchers wanted to know, and so they began testing mindfulness at other schools, including setting up controlled studies with rigorous research methods.
What We Now Know, A Decade Later
Over the next ten years, various studies and meta-studies began appearing in the peer-reviewed journals. These studies increasingly showed evidence of a consistent pattern: mindfulness (especially mindful breathing) is positively associated with improvement in student behavior and academic achievement. The organization, Mindful Schools, has a helpful summary of some of this research, which shows mindfulness programs affecting children’s grades, test-taking skills, emotional regulation, compassion, truancy rates, anxiety, memory, social and emotional learning, as well as improvement on numerous other metrics.
The research also shows that teachers who regularly practice mindfulness tend to be more satisfied with their jobs and better able to connect with students.
It isn’t surprising that taking time to calm down and engage in mindful breathing would improve student behavior. Calming down is always a good thing, especially for children prone to aggression and troubled emotions. But what is surprising about this research is the effect mindfulness is having on academic achievement. Some studies even suggests that mindfulness improves math scores by as much as 15%.
A clue to the relationship between mindfulness and academic achievement emerges when we consider the role that attentiveness plays for life success in general and educational success in particular.
Is Attention Key to a Successful Life?
The famous psychologist, William James, wrote about attentiveness in his 1892 book Psychology: Briefer Course. In James’ oft-quoted words, he pointed out that,
“The faculty of voluntarily bringing back a wandering attention, over and over again, is the very root of judgment, character, and will. No one is compos sui [master of himself] if he have it not. An education which should improve this faculty would be the education par excellence. But it is easier to define this ideal than to give practical directions for bringing it about.”
Williams James recognized that the skill of attentiveness, or focus, lay behind the virtues that education tries to cultivate, but he was at a loss to know how this skill could actually be cultivated.
Modern research has confirmed James’ belief that attention is at the root of good judgement and character. In his 2013 book, Focus: The Hidden Driver of Excellence, Daniel Goleman shared research showing that a child’s ability to focus (i.e., to exercise cognitive control, to remain focused on goals, to exercise impulse control) was an even greater indication of future life success than the child’s IQ or the social economic sector of the child’s upbringing. As Goleman shared on his website,
“…a 30-year longitudinal study of more than a thousand kids – the gold standard for uncovering relationships between behavioral variables – found that those children with the best cognitive control had the greatest financial success in their 30s. Cognitive control predicted success better than a child’s IQ, and better than the wealth of the family they grew up in.
Cognitive control refers to the abilities to delay gratification in pursuit of your goals, maintaining impulse control, managing upsetting emotions well, holding focus, and possessing a readiness to learn. Grit requires good cognitive control. No wonder this results in financial and personal success.”
Pause for a minute to think about the implications of these findings. As parents and educators we spend enormous effort (not to mention huge sums of money) trying to help our children be smart, to learn lots of information and to have high IQs. Ironically, however, when it comes to actual success in life, these factors are far less important than the simple skill of being able to exercise cognitive control, to voluntarily bring back a wandering attention over and over again.
If attention is so important, shouldn’t our schools be teaching it?
Ancient Wisdom Meets Modern Science
When Williams James was writing, brain scientists didn’t know how the skill of attention could be taught. However, if James had looked outside the confines of the science of his day, he would have seen that numerous civilizations have a practice for cultivating attentiveness, one that is thousands of years old. That practice is mindfulness.
While mindfulness practices have not always been called by the same name, and while these practices have differed from one civilization to another, they all involve deliberately drawing the wandering attention back to a point of concentration, usually focused on one’s breath. In some religious traditions, the focus has been on a prayer instead of the breath, although the same principle is at work: reigning in a wandering mind.
Try it yourself. For the next ten seconds breathe in deeply, then exhale deeply, all the while drawing your wandering mind gently back to your breath. Okay, go…
Welcome back. You just practiced mindfulness! It’s really as simple as that.
Although people have been doing this type of mindful breathing for thousands of years, it is only recently that science has been able to explain what this practice does in the brain.
Discoveries about neuroplasticity have shown that the brain is like a muscle: the more we use certain functions, the better they become. This means that when we struggle to gain control of our attention in the context of mindfulness meditation, we are actually strengthening the neuro pathways needed for exercising attention at other times, including times when attention is required for maintaining impulse control, managing upsetting emotions, focusing on a difficult task, and so forth. Think of mindfulness as spending some time in the brain gym, developing the mental fitness needed to be successful in life.
Pushing Back Against a Culture of Distraction
The dark side of neuroplasticity is that attentiveness can be eroded just as much as it can be strengthened. Many researchers believe that overuse of technologies like the Internet and the smartphone can habituate children’s brains to permanent distractibility and split attention. They are showing that the smartphone does this directly through drawing children into a stream of continually changing stimuli. But researchers have also suggested that the smartphone erodes these neuro-mechanisms indirectly, through distracting children away from attention-building activities that used to be part of the normal childhood experience (e.g., playing with dolls, building forts in the woods, doing craft hobbies, organizing neighborhood baseball or football games, reading, playing cops and robbers, creating imaginary worlds, etc.).
Mindfulness offers a push-back against this culture of distraction. Through mindfulness practices, students are given the tools for strengthening the capacity to exercise cognitive control and the opportunity to strengthen the neuro-networks involved in attention.
What’s In It For Teachers?
I know a teacher who used to love reading. But over the years this teacher found it increasingly difficult to concentrate on a book without being distracted. “If I have about 20 or 30 minutes to spare,” he shared, “it’s much easier just to go on the Internet or social media than to read. When I do try to read, I find my mind being distracted by all sorts of things.”
This teacher began practicing mindful breathing. After a while he found that he could apply to the same cognitive control used during his mindfulness sessions to the activity of reading.
“Now when I read,” he explained, “I am able to use mindfulness to draw my attention back to the text instead of being perpetually distracted. It’s great, because every time I do this, I visualize the positive neuropathways in my brain being strengthened.”
I know this is true because I am that teacher. Through practicing mindfulness, I have been able to rediscover my love for reading. But I also find I do better at my work, because mindfulness has given me the skills for knowing how to bring my full attention to whatever I am doing at the moment.
That brings me to the final point I wanted to share in this post, which is the advantages that mindfulness has for teachers. Although most of the research has been focused on the benefit mindfulness brings to students, another side of the research shows that teachers who regularly practice mindfulness stand a far better chance of reaching their full potential and avoiding some of the common pitfalls associated with the profession.
Some of this research has been summarized by The Greater Good Science Center at Berkeley (for example, see HERE and HERE). Further research in this field is certainly required, but so far there seems to be good evidence that mindfulness can help teachers to:
Mindfulness is certainly not a cure-all for the problems that teachers and students face. It works best when integrated into a teacher’s entire lifestyle, and into a school’s entire culture. But at the least, this research suggests that mindfulness is too important to be ignored.
Indeed, if attentiveness is really as central to success in life as researchers are discovering, then offering our students the chance to practice mindfulness may be one of the most important things we can do for them. A time may soon be coming when mindfulness is no longer considered merely an optional extra for our schools.
Click HERE for a free lesson on how mindfulness impacts student learning!
Written By Robin Phillips
It’s the night before school starts and you are in panic mode. As a teacher, a million thoughts race through your head making it impossible to sleep. “Did I get the classroom set up correctly? What am I going to wear? What surprises will greet me tomorrow when I get to school? What if my alarm doesn’t go off? Where did the summer go? I thought it just started. What DID I do this summer? How can I have my students write about their summer if I can’t even remember mine? AAAHHH!!!”
Sound familiar? Whether you are a seasoned teacher going back to the same classroom for another year or a first-year teacher, it’s normal for the panic to set in. Even if you have carefully planned and spent your summer perfecting every detail of your lesson plan and classroom setup, and planned for every potential mishap you could think of, you are starting the night before school sleepless and in a panic. Here are a few strategies to remember and practice that may help you to relax and get that much deserved and needed sleep as well as starting the school year at your best.
You are part of a special class of people that often neglects themselves to care for others. The advice you give and share with others is advice to lavish on yourself. Remember the airplane mantra: “If you don’t put the oxygen mask on first, you won’t be able to assist anyone else with theirs.”
If you feel any of the above suggestions helped you, feel free to share them with your students’ parents so that they too can start the year off right.
Written by Jennifer Marrow
What is “blended learning” and how can it help ME?
It is a “blend” of classroom site-based, face-to-face learning time, and online self-paced learning where students can in some way control the time, the pace and the place learning takes place.
For an educator, time is valuable. While you need professional learning, sitting in a classroom seat for the required instructional time of a graduate-level course may not always be the most efficient way for you to learn.
Online learning allows students to work from home and on their own time, but this approach can take a lot of self-control and focus. It may also be difficult to keep up with deadlines and assignments if navigating technology is not one of your strengths. Having a blend of both delivery modes can be a highly effective way to learn, and often allows students to easily comprehend the knowledge they want to gain. This method supports educators as they balance their time between their continuing education, life, and daily workloads.
The beauty of blended learning is that it allows students to choose the place and time and sometimes pace of when they do the research or self-study portion of a course. Then students meet with fellow students and the facilitator at a physical site and complete projects, have discussions, or get questions answered through dialogue in a face-to-face environment.
How It Works at The Connecting Link
After students register for a course, they receive the syllabus and curriculum either online or at the first class held at the site-based classroom. Students are responsible for getting online, accessing the online classroom, and doing the assigned research, reading, watching online video presentations, and/or self-study on their own time outside of the classroom. When students return to the site-based classroom at the scheduled time, it is a time to get questions answered, collaborate on the course content, work on group projects, and gain insight from other students. In some aspects, this may mirror concepts of a “” for teachers.
Blended learning courses allow you to experience learning through both online course activities, as well as with the Instructor and fellow educators in some face-to-face, classroom learning work. Register for blended learning as a “Site-Based” course so you are aware of the location and meeting times of the Site-based portions.
The Connecting Link offers a blending learning environment, in addition to their site-based, self-paced and structured online course environments to accommodate for the educator’s busy schedule.
Written by Jennifer Marrow
Whenever I hear the title of the website I always think of a Tom Cruise movie from years ago….well this site is just as amazing as him. I have been using vocaroo.com for years in my math classroom to add some pizzazz and more.
Let me tell you about Vocaroo.com. This is a website that students or teachers can record their voice and have exported as an .mp4 file and more. I usually have students export it is a QR code and here is why. When students make a poster presentation it’s great and beautiful, but I want to know more. So I have students record themselves giving the presentation and talking more about the items on their board, to access this information all I have to do is scan the QR code with any smart device. Even better is when the posters are in the hallway students can scan and hear more about the presentations too.
This is not all about presentations either, I have used it on tests were students scan the code and hear how to solve the problem or information about the problem. I have to tip my hat to some Foreign Language teachers years ago that were using this in their class to record dialogue and they shared their success stories with me about Vocaroo.com
How do you use Vocaroo.com or what other game changing technologies/apps are you using?
Vocaroo.com Tutorial https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dBUsOrAXcLw
Written by Paul Wright. Paul is a teacher in IL, and a veteran TCL Instructor. He has also written a few courses for The Connecting Link, including these new ones launching Fall 2017:
There’s an answer for educators that I greatly dislike, to the question of whether grad credits or non-credits (clock hours) are better.
When I was getting my doctoral degree, to almost every question ever asked of a certain professor the answer was nearly always, “It depends.” While most often I seek a simple, directive answer to my questions, I’ve come to value the, “It depends” answer.
Working with certificated K-12 educators, a common question we receive is, “Are grad credits or non-credit course completions better?” (whether you refer to non-credit courses as PGPs, PDPs, Clock Hours or some such name). The grid of questions below may help inform the answer best for you:
When it comes to the question of whether grad credits or professional development non-credit hours are best…it depends.
At The Connecting Link, we exist to provide educators valuable professional learning opportunities, to help people like you become even more effective in your work. From grad credits through a variety of university partners, to non-credit courses, we can help meet your professional learning needs. Hopefully considering the questions above will help you to determine the answer best for your continued, professional learning (and pocket book!).
Written by Heidi Scott, PhD, Superintendent of The Connecting Link