As the new school year approaches, teachers in several districts (Cuba Rushford, Andover, Franklinville, Whitesville, Olean, Fillmore and Cattaraugus – Little Valley) learn the importance of helping students improve a set of thinking skills known as executive function skills. “Human beings have a built in capacity to meet challenges and accomplish goals through the use of high-level cognitive functions called executive skills. These are the skills that help us to decide what activities or tasks we will pay attention to and which ones we’ll choose to do.” (Hart & Jacobs, 1993) These functions are a set of cognitive processes, such as focus, memory and self-control, which enable us to manage information and complete tasks.
CA BOCES provided professional development opportunities for teachers to improve how students learn and develop executive function skills during their K-12 education and beyond. Teachers were informed how to recognize students who struggle with executive weakness, and what strategies can assist students in developing these skills.
Knowing Cognitive Capacities
In order for teachers to target specific executive function skills, they must first be able to identify them. Our teachers researched and developed strategies for the following list of executive function skills:
Teachers reflected on how these skills might exist in the classroom. For example, Students with weak working memory are unable to remember and apply crucial information in order to move to the next step of a task. They often struggle when a task requires them to remember a series of directions, generate ideas in response to the directions and then express their ideas. Information just doesn’t “stick” for them. Once the teacher recognizes a student needs to work on working memory, they can develop a list of strategies to address this learning problem.
Teachers realize it’s important to recognize that the same strategy won’t work for each student. Some students work better with visual cues than verbal cues, for instance. Teachers must differentiate thinking strategies for each student to help them meet full learning potential.
Exercises for Executive Function Skills
There are a number of exercises to help students develop thinking skills. Practices can range from computer games to improve memory skills to physical tasks such as balancing. Here are just a few examples of how teachers in our district have worked with students to improve their executive function skills.
Organization and Planning
Teachers can help students to master these tasks by encouraging students to write down important assignments in a calendar and to allocate time accordingly. Students can be taught how to make lists of homework assignments. Students can be encouraged to use brightly colored folders to take home important papers (like homework and permission slips) to and from school, so those items don’t get lost.
For short-term assignments, encourage students to picture the end result of completing the task and the positive emotion that may be attached to it. Students and teachers can brainstorm ways to make assignments more interesting.
Feeling vocabulary can be taught through books by discussing the feelings the characters had and asking the student to make connections to his own experiences. When the student begins to experience strong emotions, allow them to identify it, validate it and provide a clear direction about what could be done instead of the negative behavior.
When it comes to improving executive function skills during the school day, a step in the right direction is to set up time and programs that are devoted to these strategies. It can take as little as two minutes before class or a full 30-minute session.
The group concluded that students with well-developed executive function skills really hold the foundation to success in school, with their peers, in college and for a career. These skills are what provide individuals with the capacity to meet challenges and accomplish goals! Collaboratively we recognized the responsibility educators have to build these skills in ALL students.
If you are interested in learning more about how to enhance these skills and promoting school and social success for ALL students, please contact CA BOCES (Laurie Sledge at 716-376-8357).
By: Marguerite Andrews and Deanna Wilkinson, CA BOCES Professional Development
The Scholastic Challenge Competition will be held on Saturday, February 4 at Portville Central School. This annual event, sponsored by Cattaraugus-Allegany BOCES (Student Programs CoSer #506) will host 36 teams who will compete in a Junior Division and Senior Division, for grades 6-12.
Scholastic Challenge is a fast paced contest that tests knowledge of academic trivia and current events. Teams of four students measure their ability to recall details from a wide variety of topics.
Fourteen school districts will be participating in the double-elimination contest this year. This translates to about 200 students and coaches. Throughout the day, several thousand questions will be read aloud to these ambitious teams. Spectators are encouraged to watch the competitions. It’s exciting to see the students combine an impressive display of intelligence with camaraderie, graciousness and good sportsmanship.
The final matches will be held on stage in the Portville auditorium around 1:15-2:15. The first and second place teams in each division will be presented with plaques to recognize their achievements, as well as an invitation to attend the 2017 National Academic Championship.
This event requires about 40 volunteers to make the day run smoothly. CABOCES Student Programs is grateful to everyone who donates their time and experience to provide a fun and educational day for the students in our area. Scholastic Challenge could not happen without their help!
Congratulations to all the teams participating this year. Thank you to all coaches for mentoring and encouraging your students. The following school districts will be attending on Saturday, February 4:
At Whitesville CSD on Tuesday, May 10, teachers were exposed to various STEM related products and activities. Teachers explored, Little Bits, Coding Apps on the I pad, online resources through their SNAP account and a Global Design Squad activity entitled; Seismic Shake-Up with staff specialists from CABOCES. Over the past several years, STEM/STEAM has become increasingly important within the school curriculum. Research has stated, that STEM education is important for our students to be competitive in the workforce. According to the National Department of Education:
The United States has developed as a global leader, in large part, through the genius and hard work of its scientists, engineers, and innovators. In a world that’s becoming increasingly complex, where success is driven not only by what you know, but by what you can do with what you know, it’s more important than ever for our youth to be equipped with the knowledge and skills to solve tough problems, gather and evaluate evidence, and make sense of information. These are the types of skills that students learn by studying science, technology, engineering, and math—subjects collectively known as STEM.
One activity explored with Karen Insley of CABOCES was the Seismic Shake-Up! In this activity, students/teachers think about the need for earthquake resistant structures around the world, and determine what it takes to make a structure that is strong enough to withstand an earthquake. Through collaboration, design, problem solving, testing and researching; students learn and explore what it takes a to design and build a structure that can withstand an earthquake.
A second activity the teachers dove into was Coding with Clay Nolan from Learning Resources at CABOCES. Coding is one of the hot phrases of today and is important for ALL students to be exposed to programming as early as kindergarten. According to Eric Missio of the National Parent/Teacher organization states:
Coding (also called programming or developing) is telling a computer, app, phone or website what you want it to do. Some educators and experts are calling it the ‘new literacy’--a subject so important that every child needs to know the basics to excel in our rapidly changing world. Four- and five-year-olds can learn the foundations of coding and computer commands before they can even write and spell words. Older kids can learn to code through classes, mentors and online tutorials (see below for learn-to-code resources for all ages).
Learning to code prepares kids for the world we live in today. There are tons of jobs and occupations that use code directly, like web designers, software developers and robotics engineers, and even more where knowing how to code is a huge asset—jobs in manufacturing, nanotechnology or information sciences. However, for most kid-coding advocates, reasons for learning to code run much deeper than career prep.
Clay’s session started with the basics of human coding and advanced to applying this basic knowledge to a coding app or coding program on the ipad. The teachers began to make a code for other teams to follow in order to build a tower out of cups. The basic concepts of human code allows teachers and students to practice and understand the language of a coding program better. After the towers were built by following the developed codes, teachers explored two coding apps: Hopscotch and Code.org.
By: Tessa Levitt, CA BOCES Professional Development
As our society becomes increasingly dependent on engineering and technology, it is more important than ever that everyone be aware of what engineers do and understand the uses and implications of the technologies they create. Yet few American citizens are technologically literate, largely because technology and engineering have not been taught in our schools (Pearson, 2004).
Children (and many adults) know shockingly little about technology and engineering. In fact, the vast majority believe the term “technology” refers only to electronics and computers and that engineering and science are basically the same (Lachapelle and Cunningham, 2007; Pearson and Young, 2002). To understand the human-made world in which we live, it is vital that we increase engineering and technological literacy among all people, even young children!
Children are born engineers—they are fascinated with designing their own creations, with taking things apart, and with figuring out how things work. In 2003, the Engineering is Elementary (EiE, www.mos.org/eie) project was initiated to take advantage of the natural curiosity of all children to cultivate their understanding and problem-solving in engineering and technology.
On January 29, the Pk-5 Whitesville Elementary teachers took part in a mini-workshop with Clay Nolan (CABOCES staff specialist for Learning Resources) about the new NYS science standards and how to incorporate engineering and hands on projects in the elementary classroom. Teachers were asked to design an earthquake-resistant building, integrating 21st century skills in a STEM activity.
The Activity; After watching Twig films about earthquakes, each group will invent an earthquake-resistant building and test the efficiency of the building according to certain criteria and constraints with the option of being reinvented. Students will also act as entrepreneurs by using job-readiness skills that enhance workplace productivity and career options based on what they learn from constructing the earthquake-resistant building. Finally, they will briefly engage with financial education and the economy in society by constructing a budget. The final activity was to reflect and collaborate their viewpoints and assess their peer’s presentation or writing.
The PK-5 teachers at the workshop reflected how engaging the activity was and how kids used various skills and content to complete the activity. Teachers noted that the students would be working and problem solving with their peers and learning the idea of trial and error, construction, mathematics, reflection and the idea that it may not work the first 5 times, but that is all part of the process of learning.
By: Tessa Levitt, CA BOCES and Whitesville Central School
Cattaraugus-Allegany BOCES, Greater Southern Tier BOCES and Alfred University’s Department of Education joined forces to provide insight into a new and exciting way to teach art for over 45 art teachers in the area.
Officially known as choice-based art education, the method has grown in its number of practitioners over the last few years. Several of these teachers who have incorporated this style of teaching in their classrooms have started a group known as TAB – Teaching For Artistic Behavior. The classroom becomes a studio and the students become artists and the teacher is a facilitator of artistic experiences for each individual student.
Anne Bedrick, teacher, author and artist was the keynote speaker for this day-long seminar. Anne is the author of the e-book CHOICE WITHOUT CHAOS. In her book she includes numerous images and video clips of how she uses choice-based art in her K-4 classroom at Rye Country Day School in Rye, New York. For the seminar she gave a more in depth view of her book and its contents. Ms. Bedrick also presented her story of how she “discovered” TAB and how she transitioned into it and the trials and tribulations associated with it as it is much different from the teacher-directed learning in traditional art classrooms. Throughout her presentation she answered questions as well as a question and answer period at the end of her presentation. Also included in the seminar were presentations by some area teachers who are familiar with TAB and are currently using it in their classrooms. Andy Reddout, an elementary art teacher from Bloomfield Central School and Chris Brown, a K-12 art teacher from Whitesville Central School each gave a presentation on their own personal experiences using choice-based art education. Corrie Burdick, Art Education Professor at Alfred University, and graduate assistant Liz VanHouter also gave a brief presentation on choice-based art education and its effects over various educational settings.
After lunch the teachers were treated to a glass-blowing demonstration by Angus Powers and his students in the glass blowing studio in newly renovated Harder Hall. Teachers were also given a brief tour of the renovations. Upon returning to the Knight Club on the AU campus to continue the seminar the teachers organized into groups (elementary, middle and high school) and had a roundtable discussions on how choice could affect assessment, APPR and strategies to use choice in their classrooms. Many teachers left more enlightened about choice-based education and its principles and eager to learn more and even experiment with it in their classrooms.
This program would not have been possible without the help of CABOCES, GST BOCES, Alfred University and Corrie Burdick who has been a key figure in promoting choice-based education and its benefits to area students and teachers.
By: Chris Brown, Whitesville CSD Art Teacher K-12
Heather Brubaker, teacher in Whitesville, prepares 9th, 10th and 11th grade general education students for Regents exams using the Promethean Board in the Resource Room. She self-assigns the public, Regents questions she chooses within Castle and projects them on the board for a whole class review of multiple choice or constructed response answers. Another way she uses Castle Learning is to put several students on computers with assignments she has selected while she works and assists others individually on paper worksheets she has printed from Castle. She finds this method of working on the computer keeps the students engaged and not distracted until she is freed up. The assignments Mrs. Brubaker sets up for those on the computers can be be assigned as “open” – giving the student two attempts at the correct answer and a hint before going to the next question. With immediate feedback for students, they are more likely to continue studying, make use of their time, and continue preparing for the exam.
By: Maggie Jensen, CA BOCES Learning Resources
Come into the art room at Whitesville Central School where students choose how to express their ideas. The children in elementary art class are busy making their personal works of art. The ideas and energy of these students have fueled the teaching setting of choice-based art. Every week, over a hundred students use the studio classroom and choose the material that will best express their artistic ideas.
The classroom is full of activity and the noise level is conducive to artistic thought. All the students are engaged and on task either working alone or in a small group. Children know where to find the materials and how to set up their own work space. At the end of class, each student is responsible for clean- up. Many forms of sharing, reflection and celebration take place at the end of each class.
One of the fundamental benefits of choice based art programs is the support, space and time that teachers provide children to realize and exercise freedom of thought. Choice Based Art promotes student inquiry, self-expression and creativity. This transition at Whitesville Central School has been supported by a partnership with Alfred University Pre-Service Teachers who are also engaged in Choice Based pedagogy. If you would like to learn more about Choice Based Art, please feel free to contact Chris Brown at Whitesville Central School or Corrie Burdick at Alfred University.
By: Tessa Levitt, CA BOCES Professional Development and Whitesville Curriculum Coordinator