Alternatives to Traditional Classroom Learning

Written by Sally Bunce, a Clonlara School guest blogger, (***Clonlara School does not endorse or recommend any product/service in connection with this author***).

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photo source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/lylesmu102/5904887081/

Although still swimming against the mainstream, alternative schooling has been present in America since colonial times. Education varied depending on wealth and location and could have been conducted at home by private tutors or in groups under religious guidance, for example. In fact, there seems to have been many more accepted options back then, which have been filtered and ‘refined’ into the main educational systems that the majority follow today.

These systems can be pretty restrictive, though, considering how unique each child on the planet is. And the systems don’t really seem to have developed or adapted much in line with the changing world. Coercive schooling can be difficult for children. Natural instincts to explore, question and play are muffled in favor of strict curriculums enforced through the logic of reward and punishment. By nature, children are designed to control their own learning. You can see this working up until the schooling age. At this point, though, learning becomes a chore.

Alternative learning is about creating the worlds required for children to continue to flourish — environments that encourage curiosity, exploration and diversity. Suppressing these vital instincts can be crushing and promote feelings of anxiety and helplessness that may become lodged in the mind. These feelings continue throughout the schooling system and a legacy of fear and inadequacy often rules. You don’t have to look far to see this at work. Placing a child within a school that will nurture their spirit as well as their academic spark seems to be the obvious choice when it comes to education.

Imagine a school where children could continue to learn in ways that make them feel happy and calm, where parents can contribute to their child’s particular learning scheme so that the right approach is taken for the individual and where children have choices. There are a variety of alternative learning options available and it’s worth exploring all avenues if you have an interest. Benefits of alternative schooling include the following.

Tailored Programs

Teachers, specialists and parents work together to design a plan of education that suits the needs of the child. This always involves looking at a wide range of learning approaches and materials. Although it takes time, the plan will evolve with the student and the results are extraordinary.

Holistic Approach

Most schools focus purely on the academic at the cost of individuality and creativity. Alternative methods look at what’s beneficial for the child’s happiness and health because these things have a direct effect upon development and achievement.

Empowerment

Students can take charge and have a say in their education. There’s not a blanket curriculum, so there is flexibility in how students choose to study. No matter how old a child is, feeling independent at the same time as knowing you are safe is an important but sadly overlooked necessity.

Equality

No matter where you come from or what decision has led you to alternative education, these schools have an inclusive, nurturing philosophy that embraces all types of learners.

Sally is a serial networker and writes for Richmond University. She enjoys traveling around the country, advising students on how to make the most out of their studies, encouraging people to explore all of the options available to them.

The Anatomy of a Special Needs Child

This infographic was supplied by Wendy Turner, a Clonlara School guest blogger (***Clonlara School does not endorse or recommend any product/service in connection with this author***).

When you hear about a child with special needs, you might not really understand what that means. However, for parents who face this challenge in their lives, members of the medical community, and educators, it’s important to have a firm grasp of the issues many children face on a daily basis. Special needs refers to a gamut of issues that include physical, developmental, behavioral/emotional, and sensory impaired problems. Children may deal with major health issues such as severe allergies, diabetes, heart defects, or juvenile diabetes. Hyperactivity, autism, and dyslexia can create many obstacles in a young person’s life. Blindness and deafness pose challenges of their own. A child may be dealing with one area of need or a combination. No matter what type of special needs a child endures, it is important to recognize the problem and get help.

Parents Need to Begin with Answers Many parents may see that there is a problem, that something isn’t happening as planned for their child, such as developmental milestones or behaviors that are exhibited at home. They not even be aware of any issues until children go to school and problems arise due to learning disabilities or difficulties in a group setting. A proper diagnosis is key in assisting children with special needs. Whether the family physician begins the chain of action or it begins with the Committee for Special Education at the public school, parents need to get to the bottom of any special needs for their child. From that point, schools must make accommodations and modifications for a classified child.

Understanding the Rights of a Child with Special Needs Federal legislation is in place to protect the rights of any children that have been classified with special needs. The Americans with Disabilities Act, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act all entitle children with special needs to an educational plan that will suit their situation. Parents can request that their child be placed in a classroom that is designed for children with similar needs or ask that their child be in the regular classroom to promote their child’s well-being.

Source: Masters in Special Education

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Using Music To Reach Deeply Into The Mind

Written by Carrie Thompson, a Clonlara School guest blogger, (***Clonlara School does not endorse or recommend any product/service in connection with this author***).

“Where words fail, music speaks.”

Author and poet Hans Christian Andersen is responsible for the above quotation, which is quite interesting considering his profession and the fact that Andersen gave us what are some of the most memorable fairy tales ever written, including “The Princess and the Pea,” “Thumbelina” and “The Little Mermaid.”

Nonetheless, the power of music has long been noted and is something that all of us experience throughout our lives. Music is used to set the mood for a romantic dinner. It is used to stir deep emotions and prompt nations to war. We crank it up in our cars to provide a soundtrack for a long road trip.

While the exact mechanism that allows music to reach deeply into our minds may not be fully identified or understood today, that hasn’t stopped professionals from using it in powerful ways. Educators, health care providers and social workers are all using music to help those with whom they work, and they are looking for new ways to leverage the power of music.

Music and Autism

Watching the above video gives a quick taste of just how deeply even the emotionally impaired person can be touched and, in turn, touch others back through lyric and song.

Music therapy is well-known to have incredibly positive results. It is used liberally in autistic patients who go from destructive behaviors to focusing on the song and the effect the music has on them while they participate.

Music and Alzheimer’s Disease

Dan Cohen, social worker and director of the nonprofit Music & Memory, made some startling observations back in 2006. It was then that Cohen realized that virtually none of the 16,000 nursing homes in the United Stated had iPods for their residents. When he received some used iPods to distribute to residents, he found that the music could have remarkable effects on Alzheimer’s patients.

For years, caregivers have known that when those inflicted with Alzheimer’s have seemingly lost most of their ability to recall memories—even names and faces—they can still remember the words to songs.

Cohen noticed cognitive improvements even beyond the ability to recall song lyrics. He found that with some Alzheimer’s patients, music seemed to improve other mental faculties. For example, patients who had turned inward and stopped socializing would appropriately engage with others after having listened to the music of their eras on iPods.

The 2013 documentary Henry is reawakened when he is given the opportunity to listen to his favorite Cab Calloway tunes.

Music and Memory

In Alzheimer’s patients we see how music can be used to prompt the recall of memories that are otherwise long lost. In other words, in the elderly, music can be used to bring back memories. In youth, music is a powerful force that is used to create memories.

Talk to experienced elementary school teachers, and they will tell you that if they could set their entire curriculum to music, they could make “A” students out of all their children. Educational song writer Jean Feldman, Ph.D, better known in the elementary school world as Dr. Jean, receives treatment usually reserved for pop icons like Kim Kardashian when she speaks at educational conferences.

Continue your discussion with those experienced elementary school teachers, and they will also tell you that the children who have been regularly exposed to educational songs before entering the school system are the best prepared for the work ahead.

Videos from creators like The Giggle Bellies can help parents give their kids a head start as well as reinforce material covered in the lower elementary grade curriculum. PBS and commercial network programming such as Sesame Street and others have been taking advantage of the power of music for years.

Philosopher Emmanuel Kant called music, “the quickening art,” meaning that it arouses and stimulates our minds. We see evidence of that every day and can expect professionals to find even more beneficial applications in the future.

Music Therapy Going Mainstream

Ending this article with an example of what is a growing trend on YouTube will clearly dispel any illusion that we, as a society are growing more relaxed. People are self-medicating in a good way. There is a proliferation of relaxing videos available for free on the internet. Relaxing music, both classical and what is often called new-age, usually accompanied by video or images of nature are abundant. It is here that we will leave you.

About the Author:  Carrie Thompson writes and truly enjoys working with children and the elderly, gaining wisdom from each.

Forget Marble Notebooks: High Tech Is Coming To A K-12 Classroom Near You

Written by Dawn Papandrea , a Clonlara School guest blogger  (***Clonlara School does not endorse or recommend any product/service in connection with this author***).

All across the country, K-12 students are settling into the school year, which more than ever probably includes the sort of technology you’d expect to see in a corporate office or college classroom. From video and web conferencing to handheld devices for all students to online testing, the days of number two pencils and teachers writing notes on the blackboard could soon be a thing of the past.

Take a look at some technologies coming to (or already at!) a K-12 classroom near you…

Incorporating Technology Into Every Lesson

Remember when the big excitement at school was getting to watch a video, or if you’re really old, those slideshows that had accompanying records that beeped to prompt you to the next slide? We’ve come a long way when one considers that 52 percent of teachers say they use interactive whiteboards in their classes, and 40 percent have a class wiki or website, according to the Pew Report “The Impact of Digital Tools on Student Writing and How Writing is Taught in Schools.”

Even when it comes to test preparation for the SAT, the days of flipping flashcards are over. One company, Benchprep, for example, uses an interactive gaming approach to appeal to high schoolers who are prepping for the college admissions exam.

Testing Online

Unless you’re living under a rock or in one of only 5 states that hasn’t adopted the Commor Core, you’re probably aware that by spring 2015, states must administer a mandatory online assessment to test student proficiency in math and English. Online testing means more students sitting at computers during the school day. As such, public schools are beefing up their IT offerings. In fact, says a CDW-G survey, 83 percent of public school district IT professionals surveyed cited Common Core as one of their top three IT priorities.

Paper and Pencil Is So Retro

Just as many have gotten used to using e-readers instead of hard copy books, the same may happen with school textbooks. In fact, 37 percent of teachers in a “Styles of Learning” survey by Enterasys Secure Networks said they planned to transition to digital textbooks within the next one to five years. At home, students are already getting used to making the switch to digital, as 31% of middle school students say they use tablets to complete homework assignments, according to a Verizon Foundation study.

The World Is Their Classroom

Thanks to video and web conferencing, some lucky students are able to watch presentations, experiments, and other learning events in real time from anywhere in the world. Think of it as the modern day field trip. For instance, some zoos, museums, ­libraries and other organizations have distance learning ­programs specifically designed for schools.

This technology is especially helpful for rural areas that are too far from cultural centers for students to frequent. One such school district in Oklahoma has been using mobile video conferencing with great success, according to an article in EdTech Magazine.

It’s just a matter of bringing video conferencing equipment into schools as companies like InterCall do to facilitate educator’s needs.

Online Courses

Beyond technology in the classroom, many K-12 students are taking courses right from their own homes via online learning. For example, Iowa Learning Online is currently serving 800 students, and has plans to expand and grow the program. Teachers broadcast to students via webcams or use technologies like Skype or Adobe Connect.

Technology in learning has come a long way in a short time, and will likely continue improving as it becomes more accessible and user friendly. Just imagine what the classroom will look like five years from now!

About the author: Dawn Papandrea is a Staten Island, NY-based writer specializing in education, careers, parenting, and personal finance. Her work has appeared in publications including Family Circle, Parents, WomansDay.com, CreditCards.com, and more. She has a master’s degree in journalism and mass communications from New York University. Connect with her on Twitter and Google+.

Collaborative Learning in the Classroom

Written by Gael Luzet, a Clonlara School guest blogger and author of the Collaborative Learning Pocketbook (***Clonlara School does not endorse or recommend any product/service in connection with this author***).

Much has been said recently about the power of learning with others, but how can collaborative learning make a significant difference in the classroom?

Collaborative learning is a planned opportunity for two or more people to work together in an educational context. It is not just about putting pupils in groups, it is about facilitating their team work and providing great outcomes. Historically, collaborative learning has always been at the forefront of effective teaching and learning. Plato in Ancient Greece used to give his students philosophical dilemmas to solve through a dialogical process. Students who collaborate effectively have developed important lifelong learning skills such as:

•    The ability to express their thoughts with clarity
•    The ability to listen to and understand others
•    Awareness  and management of their own emotions and feelings

Collaborative learning tasks tend to be open-ended and require high levels of thinking. They demand a wide range of skills that younger learners may not have acquired yet. It is important to assist them in improving their cooperative skillset. Students learn that the answer does not always have to come from the teacher. In fact, the teacher becomes more of a facilitator, a guide on the side who paves the way for learners to acquire knowledge.

Thorough planning is crucial for the teacher-facilitator who ventures into the collaborative learning world. Set the ground rules for group work, which can be discussed with your class in advance (pupils should take it in turn to speak, make eye contact and encourage everyone to participate, be silent during instructions, etc…). It is useful for the teacher to have a zero noise signal. A whistle, a bell or a hand clap could do the trick. Consider the composition of your groups: should pupils sit in friendship, mixed gender or mixed ability groups? How many pupils should there be per group? How about the roles within each team (a leader, a scribe, a researcher, etc…)?

And last but not least, give careful consideration to unwilling learners, the ones who sit with their arms crossed or a giant bubble gum in their mouth when you speak to the class. Regardless of their reluctance to participate, they have to be included in the task. They need to be placed with the right peers and the teacher has to boost their motivation before group work starts. By and large, children crave acceptance from their peers. Reluctance generally comes from a lack of confidence buried behind a confrontational or indifferent front. When handled properly, collaborative learning helps the unwilling learner to become a more active (and happier) classroom participant.

Strategies for collaborative learning range from the simplest technique to the more complex one; from the small scale paired activity to the full blown group project which stretches over several lessons. Here are four simple strategies to facilitate group learning:

1.    To create mixed groups of pupils, give each member in the class a number from one to four. Ask all the ones, the twos, the threes and the fours to sit together. You now have four heterogeneous groups of learners ready to tackle the collaborative task ahead.
2.    To encourage students to talk to each other, sit them opposite each other in a long line and ask the students on one side to move down a seat every 3 to 5 minutes. This speed dating-style activity works well when the task involves peer questioning or data gathering.
3.    Mind maps and graphic organizers are the perfect partners to classroom collaboration. Enthusiastic pupils sitting together around a large mind map are more likely to discuss, negotiate, evaluate and compromise.
4.    Group activities such as the card game ‘Higher or Lower?’ provide a great opportunity to develop ordering and sequencing skills. Create a set of cards with ideas to rank in order of importance, value, chronology, etc… Ask pupils in pairs (or threes) to reveal each card in turn, and place it higher or lower than the other visible cards on the table.

It is generally accepted that once children understand the value of working together in unity, performance, motivation and outcomes improve.  Of course, children should also be given time to think for themselves and work on their own, but collaborative learning adds another string to their skills bow. A string which is invaluable as it gives them the confidence to interact effectively with the world around them.

Author Bio:  Gael Luzet, Advanced Skills Teacher, teacher trainer and author of the Collaborative Learning Pocketbook

Advanced Techniques for Teaching Gifted Children

Written by Tony Buchanan, a Clonlara School guest blogger (***Clonlara School does not endorse or recommend any product/service in connection with this author***).

Teaching gifted children could be the most challenging aspect of anyone’s teaching career. Unlike regular classroom-based teaching methodologies that have general theories and practices, having gifted children in class go beyond age and lesson criteria. Many families who have gifted children opt to have them go through private tutoring instead of regular schooling.

Young Einstein.

Because of this, many private tutors also have adapted their own teaching practices and lesson plans to adjust to teaching gifted children in a one-on-one environment. With this, here are a few teaching techniques that could help tutors utilize the learning capabilities of their gifted children.

Familiarize differences among gifted children

Applying knowledge and practices in multiple intelligence learning is a great start to tutoring gifted children. Much like other students, not all gifted children have the same learning curves and absorption to different subjects. This is more apparent in almost savant level children who are inclined to excel in one or two aspects and seem to fail in the others. It is best to have an assessment test done with your student to see where they could perform best. This will help you assist your student further with his strengths while adjusting to his weaknesses.

Hardest to easiest questions

Probably the most anti-norm of regular teaching methods, allow your student to work on the most difficult questions in your homework and have him be challenged by answering them. A majority of gifted children tend to get bored with random type questionnaire for quizzes, homework and projects because they are generally more advanced than their peers. Let them enjoy what they do best through challenging questions and tasks that would not normally be done in a regular classroom.

Give them choices

Gifted children will always have an “expertise”. If you let them identify their interests, you will also find a better way on how to teach them. The best part about private tutoring is that you are not restricted by schedules or set of classes. Let your student make choices on what to do from beginning to end and you will see a difference in their eagerness to learn even on things that they are least interested in. Do not be afraid to also offer higher levels of thinking and allow him to see other options outside of his age and grade group.

Instil some humor

A lot of gifted students have experienced some ridicule or misunderstanding about their level of intelligence especially if they started in a regular classroom setup. This results in a low self-esteem and a sense of banishment from his peers. Change his emotional outlook by encouraging that learning can still have a sense of humor. Do not let make them take lessons too seriously and let them explore creative and fun ways to deliver outputs. Let them take a breather now and then. Ask them what they find fun and amusing or what makes them happy. Let them find out how they can be themselves with you and ultimately around other people so that his mind and talent will not be a burden to himself but a gift for others to enjoy.

About the Author:  Tony Buchanan is a passionate blogger, freelance writer and a regular contributor to several blogs.
He loves reading news and sharing unique articles through his contents.  When Tony is not working, he enjoys music, camping and spending time with his family.

Project-Based Learning In Today’s Classroom

Written by a guest blogger from Launch Education Group (***Clonlara School does not endorse or recommend any product/service in connection with this author***).

“When are we ever going to use this?”- Many teachers have been stopped mid-lecture by a student asking this simple question.  And you probably have experienced days in the classroom where you have wondered the same thing: How will memorizing the phases of mitosis benefit my life, especially when I will forget everything right after I finish the test?

Successful school drop-outs like Mark Zuckerberg, the creator of Facebook; Steve Jobs, the founder of Apple; and Alex Banyan, the world’s youngest venture capitalist, are making the world rethink how education should be done. These men succeeded not because of the information they crammed for a test but rather because they were able to critically think, problem solve, and collaborate with others. As schools begin to recognize the importance of these skills, the lecture-and-test style that bored so many of us is being replaced with a new style called Project-Based Learning.

Not the Projects of Old:
Before you start thinking “I did projects in school and they were useless,” you should know that Project-Based Learning (PBL) is not the same as the family tree you had to create. Where projects are done after the learning is finished and by following the teacher’s instructions, PBL is done as a way of learning the information by using investigation, problem solving, and collaboration. In an article on PBL, Launch Education describes Project-Based Learning as a way of establishing skills that will continue to benefit them as they grow older.

Project Based Learning begins when the teacher and students contemplate a question like “Should our school cafeteria use a compost system?” After discussing the question as a class and identifying many areas that need to be considered, students work as teams to provide an answer. In order to find the answer, students will need to research many areas like how is composting done, what are its benefits, how costly is it to implement, and how would our school use it. Through PBL, students not only learn about the process of compost; they also see the relevancy of the information. Additionally, the process demands the skills employers are looking for: critical thinking, problem-solving, and collaboration as the students work together as a team. Launch Education explains that it is a method that “allows children to explore their own talents and ways of thinking.”

No More Daydreaming at your Desk
Students complain frequently that school is so boring, and frequently, they are right. Sitting at a desk and listening as a teacher drones on is not something that many of us enjoyed. This is one more traditional classroom set-up that PBL is changing. Project Based Learning rejects the concept of a passive learner. Students are not vessels for stuffing information. Instead, PBL makes students active learners, placing them at the central role of the process where they are directly engaging in the concepts and their implications. By getting students active in their learning, PBL takes the focus of the classroom off the teachers and places it on the students. Teachers become guides who assist students in their learning process.

This departure from traditional education is becoming especially popular in the political world. With the falling test scores, increasing drop-outs, and failing schools, the educational world is becoming an increasingly heated issue, and education reform is on every politician’s radar.  Politicians like mayoral candidate for NYC Jack Hidary are using Project Based Learning as one of their methods for reforming the school. He suggests that PBL will be more effective for, “… Preparing students for the kinds of jobs we have now in our economy.”  As more politicians adopt PBL as part of their educational platform, this style of learning may gain more ground in the classroom.

One Method Among Many
While PBL is beginning to gain popularity, it is important to remember that it is not meant to be the only method of learning used in the classroom. The National Academy Foundation recommends using Project Based Learning for learning goals that include “applied learning and demonstration of deep core understanding,” but not for things like spelling or addition.  With effective preparation and placement, PBL is an effective strategy for preparing our students with relevant skills; without preparation and proper usage, it can be just as ineffective as a lecture.

Doing What’s Best for Our Students
In the end, Project-Based Learning is all about engaging students in real-world scenarios and forcing them to use real-life skills to solve them. When we consider that school is a method of preparing students to be successful, thoughtful members of our society, we see that PBL is a very beneficial tool. By starting students young and engaging them in this kind of thinking and learning, we are creating the next generation of innovators, entrepreneurs, and leaders for our world.