Some Scholar(ship)ly Advice

As the deadline for our scholarship draws near, I decided to reach out to winners from previous years to check in with them and see what advice they had to offer for this year’s applicants. For more information on our scholarship and how to apply, head here.

Hilton Stallworth (2020)

Check out our 2020 post on Hilton and his Design A Better Future project, All the Stars Initiative.

Q: If you could give one piece of advice to this year’s applicants, what would it be?

A: My best piece of advice to this year’s scholarship applicants would be to have confidence in your work and convey your passion for the issue being addressed!

Q: What has been the best thing to come from your scholarship project?

A: The best thing that has come from the project that I worked on whilst in High School was that it enabled me to encourage some of my fellow students to pursue excellence in academia. It also helped give me experience with conceptualizing and developing planning skills!

Q: A quick update on you! What are you up to? Are you still actively involved in your project?

A: I am currently enrolled at NC State University majoring in mechanical engineering. I am not currently still involved with the specific project I worked on in High School, however; I still am trying my best to encourage my peers to pursue their dreams and fight to do the best that they can!

Have confidence in your work and convey your passion for the issue being addressed.

Hilton’s advice rings true: as I’ve been reviewing the feedback forms and final submissions, you can tell when someone is genuinely passionate about their project. Passion comes through in anything that you do, and why not use that passion to better your community! For more information on exactly what we look for in a scholarship submission, I highly recommend this post.

Friend or Foe? Fidget Toys in the Classroom

Fidget Toys: the very thought can make teachers (and parents) groan and roll their eyes. From stress balls to fidget spinners, there always seems to be some new gadget taking over your classroom. Should they be banned? Should they be embraced? The debate has been ongoing ever since stress balls first gained popularity in the 1980s. The practice of using sensory tools, however, has been around for much longer. Baoding balls originated during the Ming dynasty and were used to reduce stress, improve brain function, and aid in dexterity development. Before weighted blankets, there were Turkish yorgans which date back to the 16th century. The average winter yorgan weighed anywhere from nine to thirteen pounds. Komboloi, or “worry beads”, were used in Ancient Greece to promote relaxation.

While these sensory tools might have been around for centuries, the science behind them has only recently been looked into. Dr. Anna Jean Ayres first identified Sensory Integration in the 1960’s when she noticed there were children who struggled with functional tasks who didn’t fit into the specific categories of disability that were used at the time. She developed the term “Sensory Integrative Dysfunction” to describe the problems faced by children whose brains struggle to receive, process, or respond to sensory input. Sensory input instructs us on how to respond to our environment and there are consequences from being over or under-stimulated, especially for children who are still learning how to process these cues. When confronted with bright lights, messy or cluttered spaces, and loud noises, children can become agitated and retreat to quieter spaces; whether that is physically finding relief in a less stimulating area or by shutting off their sensory receptors and essentially shutting down. When stimulation is restricted, as is common in a traditional classroom, children will find their own ways to meet their sensory needs. Teachers know exactly what this looks like: tapping, bouncing up and down, kicking, touching everything and everyone, chewing on pencils, making noises, or getting out of their seat to go on some made-up “but I really needed to throw this away” mission.

This is exactly where fidget toys come in handy. (Ha! I didn’t even realize that was a pun until revising this post). And I’m not talking about fidget spinners in all their noisy, distracting glory.

It might be counter-intuitive to think that doing two things at once can enhance a student’s ability to focus on their lessons but evidence is slowly backing it up. One study demonstrated how increased movement boosted the cognitive performance of children with ADHD. Another found that students who used stress balls had improved focus, attitude, social interactions, and even writing abilities. The trick with fidget toys is finding those that don’t require so much brain power that they pull focus from the main task. How many of you have your own fidget methods that you revert to without realizing? Do you chew on pencils or repeatedly click your pen? Perhaps you doodle or bounce your leg. We all have different ideas of what an optimal “focus zone” looks like and it’s important to help students discover their own learning styles and preferences. It’s important for adults too–I decided to invest in my own fidget toys a few months ago and I always keep one at my desk. 

Looking out over your sea of pupils, it can be a little overwhelming to try and figure out their individual needs but as I always say, “When in doubt, ask it out!” As you go into a new school year, reach out to the parents and ask what has helped their child calm down in the past. Do they have a history of thumb-sucking? They would probably respond well to chewelry or rubber pencil toppers. Having a quiet space in your classroom or noise-canceling headphones would be good options for children who need time alone in their room to defuse. Some students need physical contact in order to stay grounded so pressure vests or weighted lap pads would benefit them the most. 

Another great way to learn your students’ individual learning styles is to involve them! Have them complete a task while adjusting the volume of background noise and have a discussion about which one was easiest for them to work with. Give them fidget toys to use while reading to them or showing them a video and then ask them if they were able to focus better or if it was a distraction. This also helps your students develop self-regulation skills. Giving your students access to different sensory tools allows them to stop seeing them as toys and start to recognize when they really need them.

If this sounds like wishful thinking, there are lots of people who would agree with you. Fortunately there are also lots of tips and tricks out there to help you integrate fidget toys into your classroom. Here are some of the most common ones that I encountered in my research:

  1. BOUNDARIES. Work with your students to come up with rules for the fidget toys that they are willing to follow. Post the rules somewhere in your classroom as a visual reminder.
  2. Have a variety of tools available to the class. This can prevent jealousy among students and allows you to use discretion in deciding what toys are actually beneficial. 
  3. Find toys that don’t produce noise or require sight to use. The kids should be able to use their hands or feet to fidget while using their eyes and ears to learn.
  4. Be patient! Once your students get used to the sensory tools in the classroom, the novelty will wear off and they’ll be less of a distraction.
  5. Remind your students that “fair” isn’t the same thing as “equal”. Different people have different needs and it’s important to support those needs.

Ultimately the choice to integrate sensory tools into your classroom is up to you! The fad fidget toys will come and go, but there are plenty of tried and true options that can really work wonders when properly used.

Are fidget toys a menace to society or a misunderstood ally? What challenges or successes have you seen come from them?

So You Wanna Win A Scholarship?

Time flies when you are serving your community! Graduation is quickly approaching and that means our scholarship deadline will be here before you know it. Your final submission needs to be submitted by May 28, 2022 11:59pm MST. To increase your chance at winning, you can still submit your working strategy form for feedback until April 28, 2022. For more information on our scholarship, head here.

I’ve been having so much fun reading through the submissions so far and I’m excited to see what else you guys are working on!

Here are a few recommendations for those who want to fill out their strategy plan and get direct guidance for your project:

  • It might be an optional step, but the more specific you can be, the more specific we can be with our feedback.
  • Use the SMART goal model when talking about your goals and include short and long-term goals.
  • Think past, present, and future when describing your resources. What skills have you already developed? What materials will you need to collect? How much time are you currently putting toward your goals?
  • Allies are wonderful assets but really focus on who the decision makers will be during your project. How can you use the connections you already have to get your project off the ground?
  • Tactics are going to be what propels you to accomplish your goals. A tactic is only effective if it’s delivered, in some form, to a decision-maker. For example, “raising awareness” doesn’t help unless you’re raising your decision-maker’s awareness or using that awareness to mobilize individuals to pressure specific individuals in charge. What steps can you take to do the most for your community?
  • An additional $5,000 is rewarded to the winner to help fund their project so think long-term and brainstorm ways you can continue to help change and shape your community once your project is completed.

Best of luck to everyone applying for our scholarship! I have been inspired by the submissions and I can really feel the passion you have for improving your communities.

Scholarship Interview: Ishva Mehta

scholarship interview online tutoring platform

“This is part of a series of interviews with our scholarship recipients for our 2021 Build A Better Future scholarship sponsored by Honors Graduation. We hope you will find their stories as inspiring as we do! For information on our 2022 program, click here

Our final scholarship winner is Ishva Mehta with her online tutoring program. Ishva started her project in 2020 at COVID’s peak. She spent her time in the National Honor Society tutoring elementary school children that were not proficient in English. She was finding that as schools were shutting down and COVID was at its peak, these students were struggling even more. Upon researching why she realized they were coming from non-English speaking homes, so they did not have the extra help they needed. Many of these parents could not afford tutoring either. 

Ishva set out to change this and help these students that were struggling the most. She wanted to focus on English with reading and writing. She started with a small website and through word-of-mouth. As she continued her program, more and more parents caught on and wanted more and more. This sparked her idea to create a feedback form to see what parents were wanting from this tutoring website. 

From this feedback form, she realized a lot of requests came for read alouds for their kids to watch. Ishva got to work and went full force with animating the stories herself, creating the videos, and even creating worksheets to go along with the videos. Beyond this, she wrote her own book as well. 

Funding the website became a challenge for Ishva and because she was helping low-income families, there was not a lot of community funding, either. To solve this problem, she took up a job at her local library to be able to continue this website. 

In the future, Ishva hopes to find a more permanent solution to funding the website, write more children’s books, and publish the current book she has written. 

Ishva is amazing and has created such a great resource in her community!

You can see her tutoring website here. 

You can watch her video here.

Phone Interview Tips

COVID has made some crazy times for all of us. Because we are trying to be more socially distant in all that we do, many interviews for jobs or schools have been adapted to phone or video call interviews to stay a little safer. Here are our tips for having a successful phone interview! 

  • Plan to be in a quiet area with no distractions during the interview. You should treat it just like a regular interview and not be browsing the grocery store or driving in the car when they call. 
  • Test out your phone connection before the call. You may decide to do the interview in a quiet room in your basement, but it may have bad cell service and the call may be dropped or hard to hear. Avoid this by calling your parents or grandparents for a quick check-in, they’ll appreciate it and you’ll be able to get a feel for where your connection is best! 
  • Keep a notepad and pen for notes you might need to take during the interview. 
  • Avoid using speakerphone if possible. It can be low-quality sound on their end. If you need hands-free calling, consider using headphones with a microphone instead. 
  • Make a note for if you need to call them, or if they will be calling you. It’s more common than you’d think to miss an interview because of miscommunication of who will be calling whom. 
  • Stay calm and speak clearly! 

Have you had a phone interview for school or a new job yet? What other tips would you add? 

A Free EdTech Resource For The Classroom And Distance Learning: Virtual Field Trips

I originally planned to write about virtual field trips in late May after I went to the UCET conference in Provo, Utah. I was pumped up and ready to dive deep into virtual learning/ using technology in education! However, soon after the UCET conference, COVID took over our education systems, forcing us to use technology to learn, socialize, and even grocery shop. By late May, I couldn’t bring myself to write about one more technology use in the classroom because I was burnt out. And I’m not even teaching right now, so I cannot imagine how educators feel!! Instead of writing about my original plan of virtual field trips, my post on slowing down and remembering the simple, one-room schoolhouse came about instead. It felt more appropriate. 

Now that I’ve had a break from writing about the tech world for a little span on time, I feel more ready to write about my original idea. Here it is: virtual field trips.

Did you know virtual field trips were a thing? I did not! Don’t you (especially those social study teachers) wish you could put all of your students on an airplane each year and bring them to Alcatraz or the Eiffel Tower? While there are so many reasons this can’t work out, there is one simple way you can do this with your students. It’s simple. It really, truly is so simple and FREE. 

Do you have a computer? Good. Open Google Maps. Search your desired location. Turn on street view. You’re there. You did it. See, I told you it was simple!

Matt from Ditch That Textbook wrote about it here on his website that gives you a better rundown of exactly how to use it to its full potential. Or if you’re looking for an even easier route, he put links to 20 different field trips for you. All you have to do is click the link and you’re magically walking through Yellowstone National Park.

Matt was our keynote speaker at UCET and where I learned this new trick. His website is packed full of great educational tips and free resources, never once would he link us or send us down a path that costs money, he truly believes educational materials should be free and is doing a wonderful job at accomplishing this.

A screenshot from my computer during a virtual field trip. A cell in Alcatraz.

It may not have the same impact as walking the streets themselves, but I will attest to the fact that it’s more engaging than pictures in a textbook or on a computer. It’s different, it’s interactive, and it’s educational. 

Another screenshot from my Alcatraz field trip.
The White House

I invite you to play with these virtual field trips this summer while school is out so that when your students come back in the fall you can be ready to do this in the classroom with them, or send them home with the assignment to explore a new place during distant learning. When you’re done, come on back here and let me know how it went and share any tips you have for other teachers! 

Cover photo from pexels.com

You Don’t Have To Be Screen-Free To Be Successful

How many times do you see on any social media platform “Screen-Free Summer!” or, “How our family became screen-free” maybe the “Screen-Free Challenges”? These titles are indicating that using screens such as iPads, movies, and electronic games are bad. But is it bad if you aren’t screen-free in your homes? 

Our schools are using technology and can even be thriving through its use!! But then we go home and are pressured into being a screen-free home. Media can be harmful. But also… It doesn’t have to be. You don’t have to be screen-free to be successful. Say it with me again, you don’t have to be screen-free to be successful! 

Media can be powerful. It can pull teachers and students together during a global pandemic. It can give a teacher a few minutes of free time to grade papers or join a zoom meeting because she’s still a mom with kids to teach and entertain herself. It can be a platform for friends to collaborate and create, hello Minecraft! 

Scree-free for some households works great. But media filled households can also function and have just as much success. Let’s stop focusing on what we need to add or take away from our lives and start growing with the resources we have, media, and all!