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Study Skills

The following are questions and answers from Dr. Tracy Gray on this topic.

How can I prepare parents for our new online curriculum?

If the parents in your school district are not familiar with online learning, and the platform you will be using, it might be helpful to start out with a discussion of why you chose to use technology to teach mathematics, and how the tool you're using might benefit your students. It's possible that parents will be skeptical about using online technology tools such as virtual manipulatives or math games, so highlight benefits for students, particularly those with disabilities or who are non-English speakers. In particular, parents should hear about how technology usage can help teachers differentiate instruction and meet the needs of a variety of learners.

An excellent way of preparing parents and helping them to understand the online system you are using is to make the workshop engaging and interactive. If teachers will be using interactive whiteboards during classroom instruction, ask parents to come up and manipulate objects on screen, or solve word problems. Parents should also have an opportunity to experiment with the various features of the online system and should be given access to the same things their students will see. If there is a parent section of your online program, be sure that parents understand how to use it. Be sure to also provide resources for parents to engage in mathematics activities at home with their children. If students will be using the online system outside of school, parents can participate in completion of activities or modules. You may also opt to provide parents with suggestions for math games they can play with their children to help solidify skills.

Possible sites to include on a parent resource list:


Math Playground

PBS Kids Play


BBC Numeracy Games

What technologies can help my third grade daughter organize her writing?

Your daughter's challenges echo those of many struggling writers, and while there are no quick and easy fixes, there are technology resources that can help. Tools known as "graphic organizers" may be particularly useful to your daughter as she works to get her ideas on paper in a coherent manner. These tools help students generate and organize their ideas through building visual relationships among them.

Graphic organizers can be as low tech as an arrangement of sticky notes on a sheet of paper or as high tech as online, interactive tools like bubbl.us, a free website which allows you to create and share colorful mind maps, and ReadWriteThink's Essay Map, a free step-by-step guide to organizing essay content. View this list of graphic organizers from our sister site, AdLit, for more free options.

More complex software solutions, like Draft:Builder or Inspiration, have features that help students arrange their ideas, create an outline, and transition from an outline or concept map into a draft. This customized matrix from the www.TechMatrix.org shows many software solutions that use graphic organizers to support writing. Compare products' features, and click on a product's name in the column header to see a full review of its capabilities and purchasing information.

What tools help students stay organized?

You have done a good job laying the groundwork for success by helping your student organize his binder with dividers and pockets. Now we have to figure out how to get him to use it!

Students who struggle with executive function tasks like organization often have difficulty remembering things, keeping track of time, and initiating tasks as well. Perhaps he does not remember to place papers into his binder until the last minute and is then forced to hurriedly throw everything in. Or maybe he does remember that he should organize his materials, but he's having a hard time actually getting started.Technology can help with these challenges.

A PDA, electronic organizer, or cell phone with an alarm function can remind him to perform a task, like place his notes in his binder or write down his homework, at the same time each day. You can program the alarms on the device itself, or use a free, online service like Remember the Milk to automatically send a text message, IM, or email reminders. The regularity of these reminders helps create positive habits, and the fun, high-tech nature of the PDA or cell phone motivates action.

I also suggest that you give your student fun opportunities to practice his organizational skills. Encourage him to create a new playlist on his iPod, coach a fantasy sports team on Sports Illustrated for Kids, or play a video or computer game that emphasizes organizational skills (see LearningWorks for Kids for suggestions and reviews). The categorization, memorization, and time management abilities he develops through these fun activities will serve him well both in and out of school.

What software can help students keep track of deadlines and organize their work to send it in on time?

Keeping track of multiple assignments can be a challenge for many middle and high school students. As students enter the higher grades, having a different teacher for each class can make staying on top of assignments and quizzes difficult. For some students with learning disabilities, difficulties with organization and task management can make keeping track of work even more challenging. It might be helpful to do some reading on organizational strategies for your child so you can get an idea of some of the different ways of building organization and study skills.

There are also a number of tools (both high tech and low tech) that can help your son stay organized. One of the simplest and most frequently used tools is a basic day planner. One benefit to using an assignment book or planner is that it is inexpensive and easy to use. However, this does require that your son either consistently writes down his assignments, or that he ask his teachers to check his planner each day to ensure that he has everything down properly.

An alternative to using a planner or assignment book is to use a web-based calendar or to-do list. Google Calendar is one option. It is simple and free to use; users can share calendars and get email reminders before events or tasks. Again, your son would have to reliably enter information into his calendar, but he may find the use of technology more engaging than a pencil and paper planner. Because Google Calendar enables you to share calendars, this could also be a great way for parents to keep an eye on approaching deadlines.

Another popular program for reminders, to-do lists and project planning is Remember the Milk. Remember the Milk is a free task tracking and organizational program; users can receive reminders via email, instant message, and text message. Adding tasks can be done online or via email (even sent from your phone). Remember the Milk interfaces with both iCal (Apple) and Google Calendar, so you can add tasks to your personal calendar as well.

If students have a web-enabled cell phone, they can even access their lists that way. Like an online calendar, your son would have to be sure that he enters his assignments. However, young adults are active users of text and instant message, so they may find these features motivating. As with Google Calendar, you can share to-do lists with others, so as a parent you can check your son's assignments for the week.

Finally, many teachers are starting to use online calendars and assignment tracking for their students. Some teachers use more feature-rich programs that allow students to upload assignments directly, rather than printing them out and handing them in the next day. Others may use a simple online calendar for assignments and quizzes. It might be worthwhile talking to your son's teachers to see if they are using a program like this. If they aren't, you may ask them if they'd consider it, both as a way to help your son stay more organized, and as a way to help other students and their parents keep track of important assignments.

There are a variety of different programs, many of them free. They range from programs that track grades, attendance, test scores, assignments and lessons such as TeacherEase, SmartGrading, or Engrade, to programs that are a classroom calendar only, such as Assign-a-Day. Many schools are using these types of programs system-wide, so you may also want to talk to administrators and see if this is something they're considering.

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