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Helping Students Find Their Voice

When I attended college, some of my favorite classes were those in which I felt empowered in how I pursued my studies. When my professors provided options, valued my opinion, and shifted the responsibilities for learning over to me, my level of engagement increased dramatically.

That college student is now a middle school math teacher with her own room full of students, and I believe wholeheartedly in the importance of fostering student voice in my classroom.

Student Voice describes how students provide input into what happens in their school and their classroom.

One of my goals as a math teacher is to help my students see themselves, their ideas, and their thoughts reflected in the required curriculum. Student voice does not mean student takeover. To the contrary, the idea of students having a voice in what they learn, when they learn it, and how they learn it leads to collaborative opportunities to increase engagement and facilitate deeper student learning.

Even though my classroom is primarily built upon structures that foster independence, it’s still a shift for me to scale back the responsibility for student learning from me as their teacher and place it with them as the learners. Over the years, I’ve made deliberate decisions about how to approach the content and ensure that it’s delivered through a student-centered lens. I’ve reflected about each decision and considered how the shift to a classroom culture that values and supports student voice has impacted the overall learning of my students.

While I don’t have any hard and fast rules, there are some guidelines that I follow to help ensure that student voice is at the forefront of my instructional decisions.

1. Create Classroom Norms Together

Norms and rules are not the same things. Rules help to establish the practices and procedures that allow tasks to be completed in classrooms. Norms provide teachers and students with shared agreements about how best to support one another and learn from and with one another, and they help create a culture of and for learning.Developing norms with my students has allowed them to have a voice in the structure of our classroom, which helps to contribute to a positive classroom culture.

As I began to infuse student ideas and suggestions into our classroom expectations, I began to see the value in co-creating these norms rather than creating them independent of my students.

Collaboratively creating norms helped me better understand what my students valued and what was important to them. During the creation of our class norms, it was apparent that students appreciated the chance to give their opinions and thrived on the opportunity to hear what their peers thought as well. These norms continue to provide the structure upon which our classroom culture was established. We review the norms periodically and add things when needed. Occasionally we adjust our norms in order to better meet the changing nature of our classroom.

To this end, our classroom culture depends on the students upholding the norms that we create together. When students interact with each other during collaborative problem solving, it’s an understood norm that each student will have a responsibility for contributing to the discussions during the group work. Further, my students understand that every voice in the group is important and will be valued.

I do get students who, from time to time, deviate from the norm. But because I’ve established with my students the expected behaviors, they are quick to reset the conversation and get back to the business at hand.

Norms don’t need to be elaborate. I’ve found that establishing a number of expectations regarding how students treat one another in class provides students with the opportunity to see and hear their voice reflected in our classroom practices. When I establish norms with my students, we focus on what language is and isn’t acceptable during classroom collaboration and discussion and the responsibility that each student has in contributing to their own learning and the learning of others. For example, my students understand that they are expected to be their own best advocates and ask questions accordingly. Their questions help me differentiate my instruction and enable me to reflect on my practices in order to better meet their needs. I expect my students to communicate with me and with one another, especially when things get challenging.

It’s also equally important that students learn to trust me and to trust their classmates. Our norms reflect my students’ deep desire to learn from one another and their willingness to take responsibility for their own learning.

Rules might govern student procedures in my classroom, but norms help to facilitate a classroom culture conducive to student responsibility and student learning.

2. Foster Feedback and Flexibility

Perhaps no other educator tool has the potential to elicit change and facilitate student responsibility more than feedback between teacher and student and between the students themselves. In our classroom, feedback is given carefully and always through the lens of improvement. We focus on what students are doing well and address specific steps students can take to continue to improve.

If there is a specific goal a student is working toward, students feel comfortable enough to ask for suggestions from their peers to help them reach that goal. Feedback becomes the structure through which students become more involved in their own learning and the learning of others.

In my classroom, it is not uncommon to hear students reflecting on the lesson and sharing their thoughts about the curriculum, objective, and math concepts learned. We talk about the culture in class that must be present for my students to grasp challenging concepts. Recently, when my students were working together to defend the strategies they used to solve a problem, several students thought it would be best if the groups were smaller than the 28 students in our classroom. Their theory was that the smaller groups would let each student ask questions about the strategies that were shared and not be rushed to hear everyone’s strategies. This was another example of the way in which my students began to take more ownership for their learning.

Hearing that my students valued the opportunity to learn from their peers reinforced the continued inclusion of student suggestions in my instruction.

We tried it, and the kids were right. The smaller groups did help to facilitate better discussion and more engaged student-to-student conversations. The feedback I shared with them about the difference that this small shift made for student learning allowed students to feel comfortable making suggestions at other times as well.

3. Embrace Student Voice to Drive Engagement

I knew that I was on the right path when students began showing up in my classroom during lunchtime. These students were looking for extra help or support. But their true motives were revealed to me when they began to talk about why they liked our math class, how they felt important and believed that I genuinely cared about them. I noticed the shift to “our math class around the same time I noticed an increase in lunchtime visitors. My students were deeply involved in their own learning. They knew their voice not only mattered but was truly valued. In turn, my connection with students has never been better.

Student voice and student engagement are not, however, synonymous. While the first can lead to the latter, it’s rarely a straight path. To fully embrace the idea of student voice, teachers must be willing to do the work to ensure its continued existence in their classroom.

Just because my students offer their thoughts doesn’t mean they are deeply engaged in learning.

As I learn more about how to inject student voice into my instructional practices, I continue to seek out additional resources and ideas, such as those found on sites such as SoundOut and Teaching Channel.

4. Improve the Classroom Experience with Their Voice

The small things that I did over the years to establish a culture of student voice continue to pay dividends for my students and for me. I’ve continued to refine my practices to include student- developed assessments, choice seating, and more personalized approaches to student learning. I truly hope that by working collaboratively with my students, I am helping to provide them with opportunities to own their learning not only in my classroom but elsewhere as well.

As a school-based team, my colleagues and I have talked about opportunities to include more student-selected choices in our instruction. We’ve reviewed upcoming lessons and created learning menus for students to work with. Students will have the chance to choose from a variety of options related to the math problems they will solve or the data they will use to construct their own questions. Collectively, our team continues to discuss additional ways to foster student independence and responsibility through the inclusion of student voice and student choice.

It’s my hope that the norms established in my math class are those that students can use to enhance their experiences in other settings as well.  Ultimately, I want my former students to look back at their time in our classroom and feel that they not only made progress academically but also socially and emotionally. To this end, the continued inclusion of student voice in my daily instruction will serve to reach this goal.

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California’s Val Verde Unified School District Announces New Collaboration with Discovery Education Supporting Transition to Next Generation Science Standards

Stephen Wakefield, Discovery Education
240-662-5563, stephen_Wakefield@discovery.com

– Discovery Education’s Award-Winning Science Techbook and Streaming Plus to Empower Educators to Enhance District’s Science Curriculum-

Silver Spring, Md. (September 6, 2017) – California’s Val Verde Unified School District (VVUSD), today announced a new collaboration with Discovery Education, the leading provider of digital content and professional development for K-12 classrooms. Through this new partnership, VVUSD educators will support the transition to Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) by integrating Discovery Education’s NGSS-aligned Science Techbook™, as well as Streaming Plus™, into everyday science instruction districtwide, creating exciting digital science lessons that will ignite the curiosity of all students.

VVUSD’s new partnership with Discovery Education supports the school system’s commitment to rigorously implementing the NGSS in all district science classrooms. The implementation of the NGSS empowers VVUSD’s educators to actively engage students in scientific and engineering practices and apply crosscutting concepts to science instruction that help deepen student understanding of the core ideas in these fields.

In addition, VVUSD’s new relationship with Discovery Education helps the district meet their goal of maximizing and leveraging their technology-forward classrooms to promote a culture of STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math) education. Through this interdisciplinary approach to learning, VVUSD’s educators will contribute to national efforts to produce life-long learners who are not only prepared to succeed in the global workforce but also responsible, contributing citizens able to function in a culturally diverse society.

Discovery Education’s new NGSS-aligned Science Techbook fully supports the instructional shifts required by the new standards, embraces the philosophy of three-dimensional learning, and is designed to help educators adapt their classroom practice to meet the standards. In addition to content chosen to directly support the standards, the NGSS Model Lessons within the new Techbook reflect the interconnectedness of the Science and Engineering Practices (SEPs), Disciplinary Core Ideas (DCI) and Cross-Cutting Concepts (CCC) and illustrate what these mean in practice for educators. With the NGSS-aligned Science Techbook, students will become immersed in the work of scientists and engineers, developing their own scientific explanations by a variety of activities such as exploring the overarching themes of science, asking questions and making claims, and identifying the cross-cutting connections between sciences.

The Science Techbooks series also includes valuable STEM resources as well. STEM Project Starters encourage students to connect math, technology, and engineering to their understanding of science concepts to produce creative solutions to real world problems. In addition, the STEM In Action resources help students connect their work to STEM careers, which promotes a clearer understanding of how skills used in school can be applied to jobs “in the real world.”  Embedded formative assessment opportunities that help educators monitor student progress are embedded into each Techbook, and like all Discovery Education digital textbooks, the Science Techbooks work on any device and can be implemented in any instructional setting. 

All VVUSD educators will also have access to Discovery Education Streaming Plus, a comprehensive digital service supplementing instruction across all K-12 curricular areas that helps build students’ mastery in interpreting, understanding, and evaluating information. Teacher resources include lesson plans, instructional strategies, and content collections organized around themes.  Students can access images, primary source documents, podcasts, oral interviews, books on tape, articles, and videos, and more. 

“The Val Verde Unified School District is proud to be at the forefront of California’s transition to the NGSS standards,” said VVUSD Superintendent Michael McCormick. “We believe Discovery Education will be a great partner in this effort and that the introduction of Discovery Education’s digital services into our district’s science education program will help students develop an in-depth understanding of scientific ideas and develop the collaboration, inquiry, and problem-solving skills they need for future success.”

The Discovery Education Community will also support the VVUSD’s educators’ efforts to transform students’ learning experiences with dynamic digital media. A global community of education professionals, the Discovery Education Community connects members across school systems and around the world through social media, virtual conferences, and in-person events, fostering valuable networking, idea sharing and inspiration.

“Discovery Education is honored to be working side-by-side with Val Verde Unified School District’s educators as they move forward with this transition,” said Discovery Education’s Vice President for Educational Partnerships, Andrew Bradigan. “We share the district’s belief that science education can lead to a successful career and future, and we look forward to supporting their effort to extend to each student an engaging learning experience that supports the success of all learners.”

For more information about Discovery Education’s digital content services, the Science Techbook, or other resources, visit www.discoveryeducation.com, and stay connected with Discovery Education on social media through Facebook, follow us on Twitter at @DiscoveryEd, or find us on Instagram and Pinterest.

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About Discovery Education
Discovery Education is the global leader in standards-based digital content for K-12, transforming teaching and learning with award-winning digital textbooks, multimedia content, professional development, and the largest professional learning community of its kind. Serving 4.5 million educators and over 50 million students, Discovery Education’s services are in half of U.S. classrooms, 50 percent of all primary schools in the UK, and more than 50 countries. Discovery Education partners with districts, states, and like-minded organizations to captivate students, empower teachers, and transform classrooms with customized solutions that increase academic achievement. Discovery Education is powered by Discovery Communications (NASDAQ: DISCA, DISCB, DISCK), the number one nonfiction media company in the world. Explore the future of education at www.discoveryeducation.com.

 

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America’s Navy and Discovery Education Join Forces For First Ever Navy Stem Virtual Field Trip

Charmion Kinder, Discovery Education
(240) 662-5203, Charmion_Kinder@discovery.com

– “Navy’s Elite STEM Workforce” Virtual Field Trip takes high school students outside walls of the classroom with a once-in-a-lifetime look at Navy STEM in action, aboard the USS Nimitz –

Silver Spring, Md. (Tuesday, September 5, 2017) – America’s Navy and Discovery Education have joined forces to expand access for high school students interested in cutting-edge, real-world applications of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) in the 21st century with a first ever, Virtual Field Trip – Navy’s Elite STEM Workforce: Aboard the USS Nimitz. As part of the Navy STEM for the Classroom educational program, this exclusive event will broadcast LIVE from Naval Station Mayport in Jacksonville, Florida on Thursday, September 7 at 1:00 p.m. EDT, providing students an exclusive look into the lives of those who serve and defend, while living on one of the Navy’s most revered aircraft carriers ever built – the USS Nimitz. With spotlights on engineering, aviation, and flight operations, students will gain unique insights into a variety of Navy careers and authentic learning experiences.

“America’s Navy provides endless opportunities to develop leadership skills and to pursue a wide range of STEM-related careers paths,” says Captain David Bouve, national director of marketing and advertising at Navy Recruiting Command. “By 2020, more than 1 million STEM-related jobs will be added to the U.S. work force. And when it comes to careers in science, technology, engineering, and math, America’s Navy provides exceptional possibilities.”

Navy STEM for the Classroom helps to accelerate student achievement through educational development while providing access to transformative digital resources that help students practice exciting and engaging new skills. Through a partnership with Discovery Education, Navy STEM for the Classroom offers unique, multi-platform online learning tools and immersive experiences – including a self-paced module, digital exploration, and career profile videos to educators and students nationwide. From understanding how the principles of physical oceanography and meteorology affect ocean navigation to the importance of gas laws as applied to deep ocean diving, each resource provides a unique look into the Navy's innovative applications of STEM. Navy STEM for the Classroom even empowers students to explore these exciting possibilities through first-hand personal accounts.

“Discovery Education is honored to stand alongside America’s Navy to ensure that the next generation of our nation’s leadership and workforce are well-equipped to excel in the fields of STEM,” said Lori McFarling, senior vice-president and chief marketing officer, Discovery Education. “Accelerating student achievement in science, technology, engineering, and math, helps to ensure the vitality of a strong, promising future – one where our youth have the skills needed to tackle 21st-century challenges with 21st-century solutions.”  

Launched in 2013, Navy STEM for the Classroom was created to amplify the Navy’s profile as a leader in STEM innovation and inspire and activate high-school students nationwide through digital lesson plans, Virtual Field Trips, career videos and more. Together, Discovery Education and America’s Navy strive to inform and engage high school students about the countless career pathways available within the Navy.

For more information on Navy STEM for the Classroom or to access the online resources, visit navystemfortheclassroom.com.  Join the conversation around the Navy’s Elite STEM Workforce: Aboard the USS Nimitz Virtual Field Trip on Twitter @DiscoveryEd and @AmericasNavy using #NavySTEMVFT.

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America’s Navy
Navy ships, submarines, aircraft and, most importantly, tens of thousands of young men and women are deployed around the world, around the clock, defending America at all times. To understand the importance of America’s Navy, it’s helpful to remember: 70 percent of the earth’s surface is water, 80 percent of the world’s population lives within 200 miles of a coast, 90 percent of the commerce in the world is moved by water. The world’s oceans give the Navy the power to protect America’s interests anywhere, any time. For more information, visit: navy.com, facebook.com/AmericasNavy or twitter.com/AmericasNavy.

About Discovery Education
Discovery Education is the global leader in standards-based digital content for K-12, transforming teaching and learning with award-winning digital textbooks, multimedia content, professional development, and the largest professional learning community of its kind. Serving 4.5 million educators and over 50 million students, Discovery Education’s services are in half of U.S. classrooms, 50 percent of all primary schools in the UK, and more than 50 countries. Discovery Education partners with districts, states, and like-minded organizations to captivate students, empower teachers, and transform classrooms with customized solutions that increase academic achievement. Discovery Education is powered by Discovery Communications (NASDAQ: DISCA, DISCB, DISCK), the number one nonfiction media company in the world. Explore the future of education at DiscoveryEducation.com.

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