3 Things Parents Need to Know About Personalized Learning

Personalized Learning: A Message to Parents

When you first hear the term Personalized Learning, it can seem like a no-brainer to parents. What parent wouldn’t want their child to have their education tailored to their strengths, weaknesses, and personal interests. It sounds like a dream come true. However, parents need to understand that there are a couple of things about Personalized Learning that are important to address.

1. Personalization Can’t Occur Without Technology
Personalized Learning and Blended Learning are not synonymous, however Personalized Learning cannot occur without Blended Learning. Blended Learning occurs when a student learns partially online, within a brick and mortar building, and along an individualized learning pathway (www.blendedlearning.org). This cannot take place without the use of technology. Technology is what gives educators the ability to personalize learning for each child and provide the real-time data that is required to truly know what each child knows. Some parents have concerns about technology use and their children. Parents need to know that students who are learning in a personalized learning environment will need to use technology.

2. Your Child Needs to Learn to Work Independently
In the old days, a teacher was much like an orchestra conductor. The students all played the same piece of music and the teacher orchestrated the classroom in a smooth manner so that there was harmony. Except there was one problem, not every child could play the song in the right way and at the right speed. Personalized Learning looks to flip this instructional style so that students are moving at their own pace and learning only what they need to. This can mean that some students may end up working by themselves for a period of time. Parents need to be okay with this. Personalized Learning is not all about independent study, but it is about individualizing the instruction that each child is getting. Within Personalized Learning, students may have opportunities to work in groups, however the likelihood that students participate in activities as an entire class seems more and more less likely. Because students may be working independently for longer periods of time than in the past, students need to develop additional skills such as project management skills, the ability to plan and set personal and academic goals, and the ability to stay on task. All of these skills will be beneficial for students to develop as they prepare to enter the workforce.

3. Teachers Will Make Mistakes
Personalized Learning is a relatively a new teaching pedagogy. Many teachers are still learning about it and undergoing professional development to help them implement it into their classrooms. Obviously, mistakes are bound to happen during the implementation of Personalized Learning until a teacher becomes confident and experienced enough so that these “hiccups” do not happen. Parents need to have realistic expectations while at the same time providing patience to teachers as they try to determine how to best personalize the learning for their students. Parents should be encouraged to learn alongside teachers and be actively involved in providing feedback to teachers on the type of learning environment that they want for their child. Parents should also be encouraged to be flexible as the school environment changes from the one that they experienced as a child.

Personalization Has Individual Student Needs at Heart

As more and more schools shift to an environment that focuses on Personalized Learning, mistakes will be made, questions will be asked, and new ideas will be tried. It will be messy. It will me different. But the one thing the teachers and parents can agree on, is that both stakeholders are trying to do their best to help provide the personalized learning environment that students deserve. If teachers and parents work together, then no matter how many mistakes are made, student needs will remain at the heart of the individualized education that they are trying to receive.

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7 Reasons to Use Visual Supports in the Early Childhood ESE Classroom

Visual supports assist young students in comprehending their environment. Students with language delays often have difficulty understanding and processing verbal language. A picture rich classroom environment can ease anxiety, empower students and help them build social skills.

While it takes some effort up front for teachers to build a visual rich classroom, the payoff is definitely worth it.

7 Reasons to Use Visual Supports in the Early Childhood ESE Classroom

  1. Visual Supports help to establish routines.
    Having a classroom schedule in picture format helps emergent readers to navigate their day. Students can begin to anticipate the next part of the day. Once they learn the routine, many students want to help in sequencing through the pictures as the day progresses.
  2. Visual Supports Help Set Expectations
    Students can understand what is expected of them if they have a visual reference of the classroom rules.
  3. Visual Supports Can Aid in Transitions 
    Transitions can be difficult for young students, especially for students with delays. If a student is having difficulty with a certain transition a picture cue can be a big help. A student not wanting to transition to pick up breakfast but enjoys drinking the juice he gets from the cafeteria, responds immediately upon seeing the picture of the juice.Once the picture prompt is presented it can greatly reduce the time it takes to transition. Showing a student a picture of the therapist coming to work with him helps the student prepare to leave the group.

    Showing a visual to indicate a special event – a school bus for a field trip, a camera for picture day- will help students prepare for a change in their routine and can also help ease their anxiety.

  4. Demostrate Using First/Then Picture Prompts
    First/Then picture prompts can help students with transitions as well as reinforcing desired behaviors. If a student refuses to participate in a structured activity, a first/then board can be used to show the student that if they do the first task then they will be able to do the next activity.By seeing and following a visual representation of “first Circle Time”, “then playdough” a student is building their receptive language while also working on their independent functioning skills.
  5. Demonstrate How-To Actions
    Students can build both their verbal and non-verbal expressive communication through the use of visual supports when making requests.The action of giving a card to get something in return is a powerful cause and effect skill builder. Pictures of foods and favorite toys or objects is a great way to start using a picture exchange system.
  6. Encourage Expressive Language
    Presenting pictures when students are making choices simplifies information that the student is receiving. It is also a way to encourage expressive language from early learners.A choice board is often used when planning for Center Time activities. It focuses the students’ attention and gives them the opportunity to work on beginning planning skills.
  7. Build Social Skills
    Visual supports are a powerful tool for building social skills. Problem solving prompts, turn taking cues, and social stories will assist students in building self-regulation/calming skills and feeling identification.

Often a picture prompt is better received than continual auditory only commands. When presenting visuals to students be sure to give extra processing time.

Processing time is important, especially in the beginning when it is new to the student. Visuals will ultimately help to build a student’s autonomy as well as their expressive and receptive language skills. Include simple auditory messages when presenting visuals to increase a student’s cognitive understanding.

 

 

References

Breitfelder, L. M. (2008). Quick and Easy Adaptations and Accommodations for Early Childhood Students. TEACHING Exceptional Children Plus, 4(5),
Moody, A. K. (2012). Family Connections: Visual Supports for Promoting Social Skills in Young Children–A Family Perspective. Childhood Education, 88(3), 191-194.
Simpson, L. A., & Oh, K. (2013). Using Circle Time Books to Increase Participation in the Morning Circle Routine. TEACHING Exceptional Children, 45(6), 30-36.

Reasons to Love Working with Children on the Autism Spectrum

Autism is one of the most prevalent developmental disabilities in the United States, growing from a diagnosis of one in 150 children in 2000 to one in 59 children being identified with autism spectrum disorder by 2014, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

For teachers with a Master’s Degree in Special Education, working with children who have autism is likely, and it’s something that can provide valuable rewards in both emotional and career growth.

When working with those who have autism, you can make a tremendous impact on that student’s life and their future success.

You’re Not Limited to Traditional Educational Methods

Children on the autism spectrum respond to varied educational methods. This allows educators to explore teaching strategies that may not be found in many traditional classrooms.

For example, a school designed solely for teaching children with autism called Beyond Autism in Scottsdale, Arizona, integrates activities such as deep-breathing, yoga exercises, music and art therapy. Regular field trips that allow for sensory exploration, as well as chores, cooking and self-sustaining projects like taking care of pets and gardening are all parts of the everyday curriculum, Phoenix Magazine reports.

As parents work with teachers on individualized education plans, they may indicate to educators that life skills are high on their priority list, especially for older students. Integrating these teaching priorities into school curriculums expands the educator’s role.

You Become a Valuable Ally to a Family

As a teacher for students with autism, you are a valuable puzzle piece that can be the catalyst for a child’s success. Parents will rely on you to provide their children with autism specialized teaching that fits their unique learning style and perspective.

Autism advocacy organization, Autism Speaks, says it’s vital for teachers of students with autism to have close relationships with the families of their students. Families provide an essential history of the students, including methods that have garnered positive responses and those that haven’t worked.

The relationship between teachers and families is circular, as what works in the classroom can be communicated back to caregivers, who can apply those successful methods back at home and foster overall growth.

You Expand Your Methods of Communication

Just as the world has visual, auditory and kinetic learners, children on the autism spectrum have even more intricacies regarding ways of best receiving and processing information. Scholastic reports while visual aids such as “if/then” cards can be instrumental in helping children with autism understand social situations, visual cues such as body language may not register when you’re trying to convey something to an autistic student. Instead, direct language may be more effective.

Sensory activities like using a stress ball or bearing weight such as a lap pad or backpack can also aid in communication. Often, multiple types of communication are required throughout each day to effectively keep a student on track while they’re working on various tasks. As someone who works with autistic children, you can sharpen your communication skills and quickly adapt.

You Can Help New Extraordinary Talents Emerge

As many as one in three people with autism may possess exceptional talents, resulting in “savant syndrome” that indicates a combination of significant cognitive difficulties and profound skills, reports autism research site Spectrum.

Many more children with autism than those in traditional classrooms may possess special abilities in areas including mechanical, musical, mathematical and artistic disciplines, and many also have an exceptional memory.

Some of the world’s brightest minds, both historically and those working today, had or have autism, with historians speculating composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, writer and mathematician Lewis Carroll, and artist Andy Warhol having been on the spectrum.

As you effectively work with autistic children and find better ways to communicate with them, as well as give them opportunities to explore talents in these areas, new amazing talents may emerge that could change the world.

You Can Work with Individual Students More Closely

Students with autism require one-on-one attention and personalized teaching techniques to be successful. Paying attention to individual needs with children who have autism is critical to support their growth. Educators serve as advocates for independence, who are there to support victories as simple as self-care. You as a teacher should set unique goals for students based on their current skills, and constantly update skill area objectives with scaffolding steps as gains are made.

What motivates each student with autism must be used as rewards to help focus attention and increase learning gains. All of this requires getting to know your students with autism closely, so you can increase the likelihood of celebrating the progress they make.

Learn more about the online Master of Science in Special Education (Endorsement in Autism Spectrum Disorder) from Saint Joseph’s University and how you can make a difference in student’s lives. Call (866) 758-7670 to speak with an Program Manager or request more information online.

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School Voucher Debate

School vouchers have been a highly debated topic since their inception. Because there are many pros and cons, it is easy to see why many people can fall on differing sides of the debate or even are undecided on the issue itself.

History of School Vouchers

Educational school vouchers are one way of giving parents a choice in where their children are sent to school. Vouchers offer government funding for students to attend private schools. State supported private education existed over a hundred years ago but it wasn’t until 1991 when the first modern voucher program was passed in Wisconsin. And it wasn’t until 2001 that Florida became the first state to give vouchers to students with disabilities.

Today, all 50 states give parents the choice to send their child to a school outside of their zone, but only if they meet certain requirements. However, not all states have private school choice in the form of a voucher program. Those states who do offer vouchers implement them differently.

In the states offering vouchers, students must meet some general qualifications in order to receive them. Today, some common requirements are for students to be:

  • from military or foster families
  • disabled
  • from rural or low income areas
  • from schools with low performance over time

Since their beginning, school vouchers have been a controversial topic. The controversy, using public money to pay for private school attendance. This is a topic that t triggers the hot button for many people. Just like any issue, there are two sides. There are both benefits and disadvantages to the voucher system.

Pros of School Vouchers

  1. Forces improvement. Milton Friedman, economist and founder of the advocacy group Ed Choice, feels “competitive private enterprise is likely to be far more efficient in meeting consumer demands.”

By offering choices where parents can educate their children, it increases the competition. It encourages schools to improve to keep high enrollment rates by not losing students to other schools. 

  1. Equality in education. Students from lower income homes and areas get a chance to go to schools that they wouldn’t otherwise be able to attend. Private schools cost to attend. Traditionally only parents who can afford private schools had the choice to send their children to better schools with good reputations. Children who come from lower income homes, don’t get the same option of attending these schools because of a lack of funds. Vouchers equal the playing field by not restricting students to attend a school based on their household income.
  2. Greater acceptability. According to a Gallup poll, more than half of the parents were dissatisfied with their student’s public education. Private schools often have a better reputation both academically and in character growth. Since private schools rely on tuition funds, it encourages them to out-perform their public school counterparts. . Private schools also have greater flexibility to teach outside of the curriculum standards, including values and character traits as part of a student’s education.
  3. More diversity. By offering school choice, it creates a greater diversity in the school systems that otherwise are predominantly segregated racially and economically. Students from disadvantaged areas can be integrated into schools that are zoned for the middle and upper class. Thus, stratification is decreased when income doesn’t determine attendance.

Cons of School Vouchers

  1. Harms the public school system. Voucher systems take money away from the public school system. Faculty and staff need to be paid. Maintenance suffers. . Removing money from public schools also causes budgetary issues. School District budgets rely on student enrollment in order to help fund teacher payroll, building infrastructures, and necessary school programs. . Some feel this redirection of public school funds will do more harm than good to the public education system.
  2. No accountability. Private schools are not held to the same standards as public schools. According to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), “private and parochial schools are not required to observe federal nondiscrimination laws even if they receive federal funds through voucher programs.” Public schools, however, are overseen by the government. So they are held to certain rules and regulations. Whereas, private schools are not accountable to anyone but themselves. With no accountability, it is no guarantee that schools will perform to a set standard.
  3. False sense of equality. Vouchers often do not cover the entire cost of education. Students still incur other costs like books, uniforms, and even partial tuition fees. Low income families who would qualify don’t always utilize the voucher system, stating they still lack funding and resources for transporting their students to the private school. .
  4. Violates church and state. Public schools, unlike private schools, are required to hold to the Constitution and keep neutral, not mixing church and state. Vouchers are public money redirected by the government to other institutions. Schools accepting vouchers can have a religious affiliation even though they are receiving government aid. Many see this as a direct violation of the First Amendment.

As options in education continue to increase, the debate over school vouchers will likely continue on for years to come.

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5 Ways to Support Teacher Professional Learning

Learn, Learn, Learn

Part of being a professional is staying up-to-date on a research based practices. This is true for any profession, especially educators. As a school administrator, I try to provide as many professional learning opportunities for my staff as possible. By providing them many different avenues to access professional learning, I increase the likelihood that I can provide a type of professional learning that works best for the individual. Here are my top five go-to-resources to support teacher professional learning.

1. Buy Them Books
This may seem like hey no-brainer, but I will often buy my staff books to stimulate professional learning. Frequently I have conversations with staff and I recommend books for them to read to increase their understanding about various topics. Instead of lending my own books, I offer to purchase them their own book on the topic that they would like to learn about. This sends a message that I support their own professional learning and that I value it. I have found that many of my teachers are avid readers and prefer the ability to go through a text at their own pace to digest their professional learning.

2. Give Up Faculty Meetings
The second thing I do to stimulate professional learning among my staff is I refrain from conducting unnecessary faculty meetings. Instead, I still hold the meeting but allow my staff to choose an activity rooted in professional learning. This can be anything from assessment Google classroom to project-based learning. They no longer complain about coming into work early, because the meeting agenda is there’s to set. Giving staff that little bit of control does wonders to support their professional learning.

3. Visit Schools
Teachers love to steal ideas from other good teachers, so allowing my own staff to visit other public and private schools is something that my school staff enjoys. To start, I reach out to my own contacts at other schools or I will allow my teachers to use their own connections to determine which schools we will visit. Often the schools we visit will be using a particular program or curriculum that our teachers want to see in action. These visits will occur two or three times each year. After the visit a debriefing session is held with school administrators to determine what was learned and how this new knowledge will impact our own school. I have found that this activity is extremely beneficial for new teachers and for older teachers who may be stuck in a rut of doing things in only one way.

4. Conduct Surveys
Survey data is a great way to stimulate professional learning among your staff, especially if a weak area is identified. In our school district, surveys are required every year, however they do not provide good data because they’re not open-ended. I encourage my staff to provide informal open-ended surveys each year so that students and parents can contribute ideas that will make them better educators. These surveys serve as a catalyst for identifying areas that my staff can focus professional learning on.

5. Video Record Classroom Practices
The last way I stimulate professional learning with my staff is through video recording their classroom practices. We set a date and time for the video recording and then as a team, we sit down and analyze the video together. We identify strengths and weaknesses and then determine actionable goals that we can create to improve performance. This is a great professional learning tool for advanced teachers who are looking to take their instruction to the next level.

Supporting a Growth Mindset

No matter what method you use to stimulate professional learning with your staff, the most important thing is to stimulate a growth mindset that emphasizes the importance of being a continuous learner. No matter how experienced a staff member is, research continues to be conducted and new teaching strategies continue to be implemented. To keep your staff on the the cutting edge, provide a variety of professional learning activities that can meet the needs of everyone, no matter their learning style or preference.

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Parent Teacher Communication Ideas

We always hear how important parent teacher communication is, and it is true.  Most parents want to be involved in their child’s education.  They want to know what is happening in the classroom, how their child is progressing in the curriculum and with the standards, how their child is getting along with others in the class, and what they can do at home to help them.  Teachers not only want, but need parents to be involved and to maintain open communication.  But .  What needs to be said?  When is the right time to reach out to parents?

Contacting parents before school starts or just as school is starting sets the tone for positive communication and establishes the importance of communication.  Relationships are built through communication.  When the initial communication between teachers and parents is positive, parents tend to be supportive and have a positive outlook.  Later during the year, if there is a problem with a student’s behavior or an academic concern, parents who had an initial positive experience are more likely to continue to be supportive.  It may seem daunting having dozens of families to reach out to, but this initial contact may be brief.  It may be a phone call, an email, or even a postcard in the mail to introduce yourself to the new families. Students also benefit from this early communication as it sends a message the teacher is excited to have them in their class.

Communication Benefits for Parents

There are benefits to parents who have frequent feedback and communication from the classroom teacher.  Parents gain a better understanding of the school curriculum and communicate better with their children.  When there is a partnership between parents and the school, parents feel they are valuable to their children’s education.  In turn, this can set higher expectations for their child.

Communication Benefits for Teachers

Teachers gain more insight about their students when communicating with families.  Parents know their child best and can share vital information. The teacher can also gain insight into how the parent approaches education and what kind of support the student is getting at home.  This allows the teacher to meet the student’s needs academically, socially, and emotionally in the classroom.

Communication Benefits for Students

Studies show there are many benefits to students when there is communication between parents and teachers.  Some of the benefits include increased motivation for learning, regular attendance, improved behavior, and an overall positive attitude towards school and learning.

Communication Action Steps

  • Teachers have to find ways to make communication with parents effective. Find out what types of communication families prefer.  Do they prefer paper, phone calls, or electronic communication? Can meetings be held via Skype?
  • Inform parents of how you want them to communicate: phone, email, or notes. Let them know times of availability for calls or to return emails.
  • Make sure to communicate everything, not just the “bad”. A quick phone call to parents when their child did something fantastic, had a gain in learning, or met an IEP goal is a phone call that will be well received by parents.

Teachers can become so overwhelmed with the amount of work to be done day in and day out that it can be challenging to take extra time to form relationships and communicate.  Scheduling communication may be helpful and spreading it out may be even more helpful.  Instead of trying to reach out to every family in one week, try scheduling five families each week of the month so that each family hears from you once a month. Set your calendar with which families are due to hear from you.  Keep in mind how each family prefers to communicate. Remembering the benefits to all involved should help keep communication as a priority.

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Inclusion vs. Self-Contained Education

In 2014, 2.4 million American public school students were diagnosed with a learning disability, according to the U.S. Department of Education. This number accounts for five percent of our nation’s public school population. Many of these students also have a secondary disability.

Special education teachers work tirelessly addressing these students’ needs. There is no “one size fits all” solution. From teaching methods, to support techniques, to classroom models-special education is a nuanced field.

Evaluation Process and IEP Designation

Under the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA), each student with a disability is entitled to a “free and appropriate public education” in the “least restrictive environment.” In other words, these students have the right to receive necessary adaptations.

In order for a student to receive special education services, he or she must qualify for an Individualized Education Plan (IEP). Special education teachers, parents, school administrators, general education teachers and counselors all play an important role in the IEP process.

Special Education Classroom Models

The type of special education classroom model to which each school adheres impacts the implementation of these individualized plans. The two primary models are inclusion classrooms and self-contained classrooms.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, 95 percent of students with disabilities are served in regular schools and 61.2 percent of those students spend 80 percent or more of their time in a general education classroom. Neither inclusion nor self-contained classrooms perfectly address the needs of special education students. Both models have noteworthy benefits and drawbacks.

Inclusion Classroom

In schools that rely on the inclusion classroom model, students with special needs attend class with their general population peers. In a full inclusion classroom, services are brought to the students. Some inclusion schools use a less absolute model called partial inclusion. Under partial inclusion, students spend a portion of their day in a resource room, working with a special education teacher.

Potential Inclusion Classroom Benefits:

  • Strong peer-to-peer interaction, development of meaningful friendships and increased diversity
  • Special needs students are given greater access to the school’s general curriculum, as special education and general education teachers work in tandem
  • Higher expectations may be placed on special needs students
  • Students are not labeled in a way that could decrease their self worth

Potential Inclusion Classroom Drawbacks:

  • In full inclusion classrooms, general education teachers may receive little input from special education teachers
  • The class’ overall academic achievement testing scores may be affected
  • General education and special education students may be deprived of important individualized attention and assistance
  • It may be difficult for a teacher to adequately address the needs of a classroom comprised entirely of special needs learners
  • Special needs students may only encounter their general education peers at lunchtime and recess
  • Social interaction difficulties could become exacerbated
  • There may not be a path available to return a student to a general education classroom

Blanket inclusion classroom policies are not appropriate for severely disabled students

Self-Contained Classroom

Self-contained special education classrooms are typically smaller in size and are led by a teacher with special education certification. Students in self-contained classrooms also receive special support and intervention in adherence with the terms of their IEP.

Potential Self-Contained Classroom Benefits:

  • Some students require more intensive intervention than can be offered in an inclusion classroom
  • Small class sizes foster individualized attention
  • Self-contained classroom special education teachers are uniquely able to account for individualized learning styles
  • Students form close relationships with one teacher

Potential Self-Contained Classroom Drawbacks

  • It may be difficult for a teacher to adequately address the needs of a classroom comprised entirely of special needs learners
  • Special needs students may only encounter their general education peers at lunchtime and recess
  • Social interaction difficulties could become exacerbated
  • There may not be a path available to return a student to a general education classroom

Do you believe one classroom model is superior? Do you find benefit in a hybrid approach? This topic will be one of the many you will explore in greater depth as you embark on your special education career.

ASD Endorsement is On the Rise

It is estimated that one in 39 boys are likely to be identified with Autism Spectrum Disorder, a staggering four times more so than girls (one in 151). With the increase in awareness and early intervention treatment options, the need for specially trained individuals is much more necessary today than ever.

Professionals just like you are answering the call by pursuing an ASD Endorsement Certification to accompany a Master of Science in Education – Special Education with concentrations specific to Autism Spectrum Disorders.

The Characteristics of ASD

Children identified as being on the spectrum may often experience a range of social, behavioral and communication strengths and challenges. Specifically, children may exhibit varying degrees of some of the following characteristics:

  1. Difficulty using verbal and nonverbal communication appropriately
  2. Difficulty tolerating changes in routine
  3. Engaging in atypical behaviors (hand flapping, visual staring at lights, rocking back and forth or side to side, placing objects in mouth)
  4. Overreaction to sensory experiences (sensitivities to sound, light, textures, smells, tastes)
  5. Repetitive or atypical communication skills
  6. Deficits in attention, motor, self-regulation or impulse control
  7. nbsp; Difficulty developing and maintaining appropriate social relationships

Although this is not an exhaustive list, if there is a predominance of the preceding characteristics, it is important to consult with a medical professional that is trained in developmental disabilities and the wide range of emotions and behaviors attributed to ASD.

ASD Screening

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that all children be screened for ASD at ages 18 and 24 months, along with regular developmental monitoring.

Significant research supports the benefits of early intervention and treatment showing considerable improvement on long-term development and social behaviors. As a result, there is a growing demand for highly qualified ASD endorsement certified professionals that can meet the large demand for services and treatment.

Education and Training

If you are looking to specialize your education and training specifically to work with children and adults on the Autism spectrum then consider contacting Saint Joseph’s University for their online endorsement certificate which can be obtained by successfully completing four courses. The curriculum focuses on:

  1. Diagnosis and assessment
  2. Behavioral and socialization strategies
  3. Evidence-based practices in interventions and instructional methodologies
  4. Behavior management

Across the nation, ASD certified professionals are considered a critical shortage area often guaranteeing immediate employment, with additional perks of student loan forgiveness, tuition reimbursement, signing bonuses, additional supplemental pay, not to mention summer free schedules and comprehensive health and benefit packages.

To further advance your career and gain more information on obtaining an online Master of Science in Education – Special Education with an endorsement in Autism Spectrum Disorders, call (866) 758-7670 or visit online.sju.edu.

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Integrating STEM into the Classroom

STEM: Not Just For After School

When you picture STEM (science, technology, math, engineering) activities, robotics, bridge building, flying drones and coding, comes to mind. Unfortunately what also comes to mind, is having students participate in these activities either before school or after school during a specialized club. But as our world continued to shift towards a global economy, our students need more and more access to these kinds of activities that will help promote non-academic skills such as creativity, critical thinking, communication, and collaboration with peers to solve a problem. Even most teachers agree that developing these skills in our kids is important, they don’t know where to start to bring something like this into their classrooms, so here are three ideas to get you going.

Become the Guide on the Side

The number one reason the teachers have a hard time incorporating STEM activities into the classroom is because of their lack of familiarity with many of the activities that the students will be participating in. Many teachers do not have any experience with coding, let alone robotics. This can intimidate teachers when their own personal background knowledge is limited. However, this should not serve as a stumbling block for implementing STEM activities in the classroom. Teachers need to come to accept two things: #1. That their students may have more knowledge regarding a skill then they do and that’s okay. #2. Teachers should do the STEM activities with their children to continue to learn and develop their understanding of all things STEM. If teachers can do these two things, they will be successful in the long run. Teachers need to continue to shift their roles to being the “guide on the side” instead of the “sage on the stage.” If they can do this, then implementing STEM activities in the classroom will not be met with so so much anxiety.

Utilize Grants

Another common problem that teachers have when trying to implement STEM activities within the classroom is finding the resources to make it happen. We all know that teachers use their own personal money to support student education activities, but some of these new technologies and STEM activities can be somewhat pricey. Teachers should utilize grants whenever possible to help outfit their classroom with the materials that their students need to participate in STEM activities. Teachers should also focus on non-consumable materials, so that once they have purchased the materials that they can be used over and over again. The last thing the teachers need to remember is that building up their classroom’s STEM materials as a resource for their classroom may take some time, but if a teacher is consistent and adds a little bit each year, then they should have a variety of STEM activities in no time.

Start with Station Rotation STEM

Many teachers can also become overwhelmed when they think about creating a STEM lesson plan for the entire classroom. The lesson topic may be less familiar to the teacher and trying to come up with enough resources for the students can contribute to the stress. Teachers should start small and implement STEM activities into the classroom by starting with a station rotation. In a station rotation, students are in small groups and working on a variety of different activities. In this way the teacher can introduce STEM activities to children in the classroom one small group at a time. Station Rotation STEM activities can help teachers introduce STEM activities into the classroom in a more manageable way

STEM: An Important Component of Education

STEM activities are great activities for students to participate in. They strengthen crucial skills like critical thinking, creativity, communication, and collaboration. Teachers should not wait for an after school program to try to fill the void of STEM activities, but they should go forward with trying to provide these enriching activities in their classrooms so that their students are prepared with the necessary non-academic skills they need in order to be successful. Teachers don’t need to be experts at robotics or coding, they just need to provide the time for their students to implement STEM activities in the classroom and just dive right in!

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5 Reasons Why Blended Learning is Right for Special Education Students

Is Blended Learning Detrimental for Special Education Students?

Blended Learning occurs when a student learns partially online, within a brick and mortar building, and along an individualized learning pathway (www.blendedlearning.org). As Blended Learning continues to march steadily onward into many of our country’s schools, many are left wondering if it’s the right fit for some of our most at-risk students — namely, special education students. Many students that are part of our special education student population struggle with behavior problems, learning disabilities, low self-esteem, and a myriad of other problems. Can special education students function in a Blended Learning environment? Are they prepared to take control of their education through the use of technology tools? Will they adapt or will they woefully sink further and further behind because the instructional pedagogy is not right for them? Many educators are asking themselves these questions as they reflect about the cultural shift that is occurring in today’s classrooms.

Blended Learning & Special Education Students — A Perfect Match

Blended Learning will not only be beneficial for regular education students, but will benefit special education students because of its ability to allow students to have more control over the pace, path, and place where they learn. Coupled with the right data, Blended Learning is poised to help special education students make more growth than they ever have before. Special education students have qualified to receive specialized instruction for a set amount of service time each day, however Blended Learning can provide opportunities for special education students throughout the entire day that mirror these academic services. Special education students can look to a brighter future now that Blended Learning environments are on the rise in today’s classrooms because they promote many teaching strategies that are beneficial for them.

#1. Blended Learning Facilitates Small Group Instruction

Most of our special education students receive academic services by either being pulled out of their regular education classroom or the special education teacher pushes into the regular education classroom. Either way, special education students typically receive instruction in a small group setting. In the same way, Blended Learning focuses on providing students instruction in small-groups or even one-on-one from the classroom teacher. Because more students are guiding their own learning, the classroom teacher is freed up to provide more targeted instruction to students that need it, especially special education students.

#2. Blended Learning Provides Tailored Instruction

Blended Learning utilizes technology to help provide instruction to students. Most Blended Learning programs incorporate computer software programs that collect data through assessments or the programs actually focus on delivering content knowledge in an interesting way. Either way, these computer programs can help provide the instruction that is needed for students or even provide teachers with the information necessary to know what to teach students next.

#3. Blended Learning is Engaging

According to the book “Blended: Using Disruptive Innovation to Improve Schools” by Horn & Staker, most students drop out of school not because they are struggling, but because they are bored. Student engagement is even more important than ever especially with some special education students who are subject to disabilities that impact their ability to focus and remain engaged in learning content. Blended Learning environments focus on using technology as a tool to not only engage students but to provide them specific data that motivates the students to personally improve their learning.

#4. Blended Learning Creates a Culture of Differentiation

The argument for the need of a Blended Learning environment focuses around the belief that all students are unique and learn in different ways and at different speeds. If there is one group of students that would thrive in a culture where student differences are celebrated — it would be special education students. Special education students often struggle with feelings of inferiority because they learn differently than other students. In Blended Learning environments, those differences are not swept under the rug, but brought out into the open to communicate to students that all learners are different and that’s okay.

#5. Blended Learning is Mastery-based Learning

Special education students work on individualized education plans that focus on helping students achieve goals and measure the progress they are making. If a special education student has not mastered a learning goal, then they continue to work on that goal. Blended Learning focuses on mastery-based learning in the same way. Because students are allowed to go at their own pace, students do not move on from a subject area until they have mastered the content. Special education students would be able to readily adapt to a Blended Learning environment due to this similarity.

Conclusion: Special Education Students Have Nothing to Fear From Blended Learning

Blended Learning has more in common with special education instruction then one might think. It’s easy to overlook the negative impact on certain sub-groups of students when new teaching pedagogies like Blended Learning are introduced, however Blended Learning environments mirror positive aspects of special education learning services and will foster a new understanding and appreciation for unique learning needs in all students.

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Also, if you are interested in seeing what it takes to have a careers in Special Education, see SpecialEducationCareers.com!