News from National Convention-Future Ready Schools

If you search for a picture of a classroom from 1915 or even 1890, chances are it looks a lot like your child’s classroom today. There are children at desks facing forward with the teacher at the front of the classroom providing information to the students. Perhaps there is a Smart Board at the front of the classroom instead of a chalkboard and a computer or two on one wall instead of a set of encyclopedias and other reference materials, but the basics of how we teach children really haven’t changed in the last 100 or even 125 years. We are using 21st century tools in a 19th century learning environment.

While US Education Secretary Arne Duncan’s announcement of a set of rights that all families should have for their children’s education drew national attention, the panel discussion he participated in prior to his speech focused on an issue that is much more immediate for every child in school: technology in education.

The panel was moderated by Jenny Backus, Google’s head of Strategic Outreach, Partnerships, and Engagement. Joining her on the panel in addition to Secretary Duncan were Thomas Murray from the Alliance for Excellent Education and Mark Edwards, the AASA 2013 Superintendent of the Year from Mooresville Graded School District in Mooresville, NC. The panel discussion was supplemented with a presentation from Mr. Murray on Future Ready Schools.

Members of the panel stressed that it is not enough to put technology in the classroom. A Smart Board at the front of a classroom used simply as a digital blackboard to drill facts into the heads of students will not improve student achievement nor prepare them for college and careers. Schools need to be leveraging technology to teach students to question, research, hypothesize, collaborate, and think critically, not just to serve as digital chalkboards and textbooks.

Information has become a commodity. If a student needs to know the capital of South Sudan or the year that World War I started, the answer is a quick web search away. What the web can’t teach them, however, is how the events of World War I still resonate in today’s world or what the creation of the world’s newest country means for Africa. For that we need teachers focused on teaching critical thinking and problem solving skills.


Future Ready Schools

Towards that end, the Alliance for Excellent Education and the US Department of Education have partnered to create Future Ready Schools. Rather than promoting a specific program or approach, Future Ready Schools is aimed at having each school district come together to discuss their vision for student learning in the 21st century and how to use digital technology effectively. The key components of a Future Ready School are:

  • R: Robust, Rigorous Resources
  • E: Engaged Students with Equitable Access
  • A: Active Parents for Deeper Engagemen
  • D: Dedicated Educators
  • Y: “Yes Culture” of Leadership

Gurnee District 56 has created a video to show how they are READY.

The process starts for a school district with the superintendent taking the Future Ready Schools Pledge. An online tool allows you to find out if your superintendent is one of nearly 2,000 across the country who have already taken the pledge. By taking the pledge, a superintendent commits their district to become Future Ready by engaging in a range of activities such as:

  • Fostering and Leading a Culture of Digital Learning within Our Schools.
  • Helping Schools and Families Transition to High-speed Connectivity.
  • Empowering Educators through Professional Learning Opportunities.
  • Accelerating Progress Toward Universal Access for All Students to Quality Devices.
  • Providing Access to Quality Digital Content.
  • Offering Digital Tools to Help Students and Families #ReachHigher.
  • Mentoring Other Districts and Helping Them Transition to Digital Learning.


Beyond the Pledge

Once a superintendent takes the Future Ready Schools Pledge, the district can take advantage of regional summits to develop a thoughtful plan on how technology can be used to improve student learning. Even if a district cannot attend a summit, they will have access to the Future Ready Leadership Network. This free online resource will provide districts with tools such as:

  • a Future Ready assessment and report with specific pathways toward progress,
  • an interactive planning dashboard [Note: to access a sample version, use e-mail address of and password “sample”.] to help districts analyze and report their own team’s progress,
  • a community of mentoring districts,
  • ongoing webinars and expert advisory chats, and
  • exemplars and snap shots of success.


The Challenge for PTAs

Simply purchasing computers, tablets, Smart Boards, or other technology for the classroom, as many PTAs have done in the past, has not been an effective way of improving student achievement. School districts need to consider and evaluate how students will use technology in the classroom, and PTAs should be the voice of parents in that conversation. Once the technology is in the classroom, it is even more important that teachers and administrators not only know how to use that technology but also receive continuing professional development on best practices from across the country to effectively use that technology to prepare students for college and careers. PTAs, like the schools and districts that they serve, need to shift their focus from actions taken for students to successful outcomes of those students.

Helping Your Child with Test-Taking

The US Department of Education has a wealth of information on helping your child succeed in school. As students head towards the end of the school year, tests Handsome school boy struggling to finish a test in class.and final exams will begin to loom large. Here is a list of things you can do to help your child with taking tests.

You can be a great help to your child if you will observe these do’s and don’ts about tests and testing:

  • Do talk to your child about testing. It’s helpful for children to understand why schools give tests and to know the different kinds of tests they will take.
  • Explain that tests are yardsticks that teachers, schools, school districts and even states use to measure what and how they teach and how well students are learning what is taught. Most tests are designed and given by teachers to measure students’ progress in a course. These tests are associated with the grades on report cards. The results tell the teacher and students whether they are keeping up with the class, need extra help or are ahead of other students.
  • The results of some tests tell schools that they need to strengthen courses or change teaching methods. Still other tests compare students by schools, school districts or cities. All tests determine how well a child is doing in the areas measured by the tests.
  • Tell your child that occasionally, he will take standardized tests. Explain that these tests use the same standards to measure student performance across the state or even across the country. Every student takes the same test according to the same rules. This makes it possible to measure each student’s performance against that of others.
  •  Do encourage your child. Praise her for the things that she does well. If your child feels good about herself, she will do her best on a test. Children who are afraid of failing are more likely to become anxious when taking tests and more likely to make mistakes.
  • Do meet with your child’s teacher as often as possible to discuss his progress. Ask the teacher to suggest activities for you and your child to do at home to help prepare for tests and to improve your child’s understanding of schoolwork.
  • Do make sure that your child attends school regularly. Remember, tests reflect children’s overall achievement. The more effort and energy your child puts into learning, the more likely it is that he will do well on tests.
  • Do provide a quiet, comfortable place for studying at home and make sure that your child is well rested on school days and especially on the day of a test. Children who are tired are less able to pay attention in class or to handle the demands of a test.
  • Do provide books and magazines for your child to read at home. By reading new materials, a child will learn new words that might appear on a test. Ask your child’s teacher for lists of books for outside reading or get suggestions from your local library.
  • Don’t get upset because of a single test score. Many things can influence how your child does on a test. She might not have felt well on test day or she might have been too nervous to concentrate. She might have had an argument with a friend before the test or she might have been late to school because the school bus got caught in traffic. Remember, one test is simply one test.
  • Don’t place so much emphasis on your child’s test scores that you lose sight of her well-being. Too much pressure can affect her test performance. In addition, she may come to think that you will only love her if she does well on tests.
  • Do help your child avoid test anxiety. It’s good for your child to be concerned about taking a test. It’s not good for him to develop “test anxiety.” Test anxiety is worrying too much about doing well on a test. It can mean disaster for your child. Students with test anxiety can worry about success in school and about their future success. They can become very self-critical and lose confidence in their abilities. Instead of feeling challenged by the prospect of success, they become afraid of failure. If your child worries too much about taking tests, you can help to reduce the anxiety by encouraging the child to do the following things:
    • ­ Plan ahead. Start studying for the test well in advance. Make sure that you understand what material the test will cover. Try to make connections about what will be on the test and what you already know. Review the material more than once.
    •  Don’t “cram” the night before. This will likely increase your anxiety, which will interfere with clear thinking. Get a good night’s sleep.
    •  When you get the test, read the directions carefully before you begin work. If you don’t understand how to do something, ask the teacher to explain.
    • Look quickly at the entire text to see what types of questions are on it (multiple choice, matching, true/false, essay). See if different questions are worth different numbers of points.
    • This will help you to determine how much time to spend on each part of the test.
    • If you don’t know the answer to a question, skip it and go on. Don’t waste time worrying about one question. Mark it and, if you have time at the end of the test, return to it and try again.

After the Test
Your child can learn a great deal from reviewing a graded exam paper. Reviewing will show him where he had difficulty and, perhaps, why. This is especially important for classes in which the material builds from one section to the next, as in math. Students who have not mastered the basics of math are not likely to be able to work with fractions, square roots, beginning algebra and so on.

Discuss the wrong answers with your child and find out why he chose the answers. Sometimes a child didn’t understand or misread a question. Or, he may have known the correct answer but failed to make his answer clear.

You and your child should read and discuss all comments that the teacher writes on a returned test. If any comments aren’t clear, tell your child to ask the teacher to explain them.

Illinois PTA and Illinois State Board of Education Launch PARCC Primer Event

PARCC-PrimerThis spring, Illinois students in the third through eighth grade and some high school students will take the PARCC (Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers) assessments that are replacing the ISAT (Illinois Standards Achievement Test) tests. Illinois PTA has partnered with the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) to help educate families on the new assessments with the creation of the PARCC Primer event.

The PARCC Primer is designed as a 60-minute turnkey event for schools to provide hands-on experience with the new assessments as well as current teaching and learning strategies in English language arts and math, including the opportunity to take some sample PARCC test items on the computer. The PARCC Primer materials include everything needed to run the event, from an overall to-do list to parent invitations to instructions for each activity station to handouts for families. Materials are currently available in English, and Spanish versions for handouts are coming soon.

At the PARCC Primer, families will be assigned to one of three groups. These three groups will circulate through three activity stations:

  • An English Language Arts Activity Station where families will participate in a close reading activity, illustrating what their child is learning under the new Illinois Learning Standards.
  • A Mathematics Activity Station where families will play a math game to show how their child is developing their number sense.
  • A Mini-PARCC Station where families will be able to take sample test questions from the PARCC practice tests on the computer.

After completing the three activity stations, everyone will gather for a brief 15-minute session where parents can get their questions regarding PARCC answered.

While the PARCC Primer is designed to be run by school teachers and administrators, PTAs should encourage their school administration to offer the event for families and can help with parts of the event such as manning the sign-in table and helping to direct people to the proper activity stations.

Smart Snacks at Home

Your kids come out of school and ask the inevitable question, “Can I have a snack?” The fact is that kids need to refuel approximately every four usdahours to keep their energy up and snacking is not bad. It’s what you decide to give them that matters the most.

Cookies, chips, and soda can sometimes add up to 600 calories or more, which could be the equivalent of a meal. These snacks are usually empty calories, high in sugar, which gives instant energy but are followed by a crash. Schools were not helping matters by offering poor choices in vending machines, but that is changing with the new Smart Snacks guidelines. That change doesn’t have to be limited to school, though. Bring Smart Snacks into your home as well.

Follow these tips for providing the absolute best for your children nutritionally while still having snacks be tasty:

  1. Keep it simple and look at the big picture! Shoot for snack that hits two or three food groups: protein, dairy, fruit, veggies, whole grains, or healthy fats rather than micromanaging the calories or specific ingredients.
  2. Combo it! Kids eat about 72% fewer calories when given a cheese and veggie snack, which is less boring and more satisfying, versus a pile of chips.
  3. Make it cool! When you offer a snack, ask your child what their favorite superhero would eat. In a study where 6 to 12 year olds were asked about what Batman or Spiderman might eat and then asked to make their own snack choices, 45% chose apple slices over fries, thereby lowering their calorie intake.
  4. Serve it up on kid-sized plates! Smaller dishes result in smaller portions. Adults, worried about your intake? Use smaller dishes too!

So what can you serve your kids? Here are some ideas:

Do the Dip!

Nothing satisfies like a crunchy-smooth combo of dipping sticks and saucy spreads. To keep calories low and nutrients high, pair 1 cup of fruits and veggies with a dip. Just be sure to stick with the recommended serving size!

  • Dip sparingly: almond butter, peanut butter
  • Dip moderately: guacamole, tzatziki, black bean dip, hummus
  • Dip freely (almost!)

Grab and Go

In the real world, sometimes pre-packaged snacks have to suffice. Don’t sweat it: These options are all healthy picks, says Rachel Meltzer Warren, R.D.

  • Yogurt tubes: Of the squeeze yogurts out there, Chobani Champions has the least added sugar and no artificial coloring.
  • String cheese: It’s a good source of protein, which keeps kids feeling fuller longer. Meltzer Warren’s pick: Horizon Organic Mozzarella String Cheese. “I try to use organic dairy as much as possible to limit kids’ exposure to synthetic hormones and antibiotics,” she says.
  • Applesauce: “I like Earth’s Best Kids because it has no added sweetener,” says Meltzer Warren.
  • Fruit cups: Look for Dole Fruit Cups that are packaged in 100 percent juice.
  • Granola bars: “Some come dangerously close to candy bar territory,” says Meltzer Warren. Her fave? Annie’s Organic: “They each have 8 grams of whole grains and are relatively low on the sugar scale.”

Chip In!

Keep the crunch but lose the grease with these healthy options.

  • Get Fruity: Slice apples or pears very thinly. Lay slices in a single layer on parchment paper and bake at 200°F for two hours, flipping once.
  • Veg Out: For beets, sweet potatoes, carrots, and parsnips, slice and toss with olive oil; bake at 350°F for 20 minutes. Flip and bake for another 20. Kale chips? Tear leaves into bite-size pieces and toss with olive oil. Bake for 20 minutes total, flipping once.

Get Cheesy!

Pair protein with quality carbs for a filling fruit-and-cheese combo that’s sure to please your kid’s palate. Serve 1.5 ounces of cheese (about three small cubes or 1 ½ slices) or 1/2 cup cottage cheese with about a cup of fruit slices.

  • Cheddar with apples, pears, grapes, or stone fruit
  • Feta with apples or pears
  • Gouda with apples, pears, grapes, or stone fruit
  • Swiss with apples or pears
  • Cottage cheese with stone fruit, berries or melon
  • Mozzarella with melon or berries
  • Provolone with melon.

Mix It Up!

“Trail mix is a healthy, protein-rich favorite in my house,” says Maryann Jacobsen, R.D. “Your kids can build their own by choosing their favorite ingredients—just keep the proportions in check.” To make a big batch that you can store in a jar or plastic baggie, use this easy formula:

  • 1/2 cup sweet treat
  • 1 cup nuts/seeds
  • 1 cup dried fruit
  • 2 cups whole grain

Tip: Save those little plastic cups that applesauce and diced fruit come in. They’re about ½ cup—the perfect size for a single serving of trail mix.

For more tips on nutritionally sound snacks read Fearless Feeding: How to Raise Healthy Eaters from High Chair to High School by Jessica Crandall, Rachel Warren, and Maryann Jacobsen.

Note: Information for this article was taken from Snack Nutrition: What Makes Up a Healthy Snack? and Healthy Snack Ideas for Kids, both by Holly Pevzner, Parent & Child Magazine.