Categories
Remote Learning

Online Games for the Remote Elementary Classroom

In these days of remote learning, it can be challenging to motivate students and help them stay on top of the executive function demands of learning. Games can be invaluable for engaging students’ attention and fostering positive relations in the virtual elementary classroom.

Which games are the most fun and effective over services like Zoom? Edutopia has a terrific list of 13 Virtual Games to Play in Your Elementary Classroom. Here are a few of our favorites:

Connect Four, Trouble, Chess & Checkers

Liz Henneberry, a third-grade teacher in Franklin, Massachusetts, transformed Connect FourTroubleChess, and Checkers to Google Slides…Students click a board game shelved in a virtual recess room, which creates their own copy of the game. Students can then share the game with their friend using Google Drive so that the two can play a round together.

Tic-Tac-Toe

Robin Nahhas says her third-grade students have loved playing Multiplication Tic-Tac-Toe, a downloadable game she created on Google Slides so that they could practice their multiplication facts…She pairs up students and places them in breakout rooms on Zoom. Each student in the pair selects a set of color pieces, and when it’s their turn, they roll two digital dice, multiply the numbers shown, and place a piece onto the virtual board with the corresponding number…If students need help solving a problem, they can rely on their partner or click the “Ask for Help” button after trying one of the strategies they learned in class with pencil and paper first.

Scavenger Hunt

During morning meetings, fifth-grade teacher Sarah Wood says she incorporates games like scavenger hunts that the whole class can play together while learning from home. When it’s time to play, Wood projects a word like blanket and a matching image on a slideshow, and then students run to find the item in their homes. When they find the object, they can share it on video or by typing in the chat box.

Pictionary

Teachers can use Blackboard Collaborate, Whiteboard.fi, or the Whiteboard within Zoom for Pictionary. Students take turns drawing on a whiteboard—prompted by a word generator—while students call out their guesses.

What do you think of these games? Do you have any other virtual games that work well with elementary students? We’d love to hear about them in the comments.

  • Elizabeth Ross, M.A., SMARTS Media Manager

SMARTS Executive Function Curriculum: smarts-ef.org

Research Institute for Learning and Development: researchild.org

The Institute for Learning and Development: ildlex.org

Categories
Uncategorized

4 Questions to Promote Student Reflection

Helping students to reflect on their executive function strategy use is essential to building their metacognition. When students reflect on the strategies they are using to plan, prioritize, break down tasks, and achieve their goals, they develop their ability to use strategies independently in the future.

Too often teachers skip over student reflection, not because they think it’s unimportant but because they run out of time. How can you integrate strategy reflection from day one? Make these four questions a part of your practice.

How do you think you did?

Instead of asking a yes-or-no question (“Did you like this activity?”), ask students to rate their work on a scale. You might consider using a numbered scale (1 = poor and 5 = great) or use emojis (frowning face, neutral face, smiling face).

Why did you pick that rating?

Next, ask students to explain their rating. What went well? What didn’t go so well? In SMARTS, we usually provide a checklist with positive options (“I worked productively” or “This fits my learning style”) as well as negative options (“I had a hard time focusing” or “This type of assignment is hard for me”).  By including both positives and negatives, we can help students understand that we all have strengths and challenges that impact our performance.

What did you learn about yourself?

Developing an accurate picture of our strengths and challenges is the bedrock of metacognition. Without opportunities to reflect, many students have global views of their abilities (“School is always easy for me” or “I guess I’m dumb”). Ask: What was the hardest part?  What was the easiest part? Reflection helps students develop a more nuanced self-understanding of their abilities.

What will you do next time?

Figuring out what to do next time should always be the goal of reflection. Ask: How can you take what you have learned and apply it in the future? What would you do differently? What would you keep the same? By thinking through their plan as part of reflection, students can connect what they’ve learned to future assignments and even goals or projects outside of school.

By integrating these four types of questions into strategy instruction, your students will become more metacognitive in their approach to learning. Whether these questions are part of a written strategy reflection assignment or a class strategy share, reflection will help your students develop into resilient and flexible learners!

  • Michael Greschler, M.Ed., SMARTS Director


SMARTS Executive Function Curriculum: smarts-ef.org

Research Institute for Learning and Development: researchild.org

The Institute for Learning and Development: ildlex.org

Categories
Goal Setting

Goal Setting for 2021

The New Year offers a fresh start, a great time for setting goals and teaching executive function goal-setting strategies. Try this ten-minute activity to help students reflect on their year and set meaningful and doable goals for the year ahead.

Make Time for Setting Goals

As this whirlwind year comes to a close, students and their teachers have high hopes for 2021. It’s important to keep hope alive, so taking time to self reflect and set goals can help students carry some much needed positive energy into 2021. Goal setting helps students to recognize that their biggest power lies in themselves! Spending time talking about goals and using strategies (CANDO goals anyone?) will help turn New Years’ Resolutions into concrete goals for a fresh chapter.

What, Why, and How

Goal setting refers to the ability to identify the desired outcome based on an awareness of personal strengths and challenges. Goal setting without self-reflection can lead to dangerous goals that undermine motivation. We can better accomplish our goals when we understand our internal “why” of what drives us and make a plan for how we will get there. Here is a brief activity you can do with your students, or yourself, to reflect on goals for the new year.

  1. Create a list of outcomes you would like to see.
    Think about specific big moments during the year (e.g., AP tests or trying out for a play) or parts of your life (at school or your job). What would you like to see happen? Make your vision as clear and realistic as you can.
  2. For each outcome or goal, ask yourself why you want that outcome to be true.
    Jot down a note about what is motivating you. For example, perhaps you want to lose weight so that you can wear your favorite pair of jeans again. Maybe you want to achieve a higher GPA this semester to showcase on your college application or resume. Acknowledging the motivation behind your goal setting will keep your goals grounded and in view as you work towards them.
  3. Identify how you will reach your goals.
    Now that your list of goals is clear and you understand why you wish to accomplish them, develop your individualized approach to how you will reach your goals. For example, if your goal is to lose weight, clarify that you will do this by watching your meals and exercising five times per week. If your goal is to increase your GPA this semester, try to estimate how much time this will require, set a weekly goal, and identify your production time. The more specific you are about how to accomplish your goals, the more your why will drive you, so that your outcomes become a reality.

This activity can spark discussion about the importance, and challenge, of goal setting, as well as plant seeds for meaningful and strategic goal setting in a new year. Happy goal setting!

  • Iris Jeffries, SMARTS Intern

SMARTS Executive Function Curriculum: smarts-ef.org

Research Institute for Learning and Development: researchild.org

The Institute for Learning and Development: ildlex.org

Categories
growth mindset

Stressful Times? A Growth Mindset Can Help

We’ve talked before on this blog about the important role growth mindset plays in boosting executive function skills and strategies. Sometimes the hardest moments, like a difficult transition to remote learning or getting a bad grade, test our students’ growth mindset beliefs, making it difficult for them to develop and use the executive function strategies they need to be resilient. How can we help our students persevere and exercise their struggle muscle

You can start by teaching students about what having a growth mindset looks like and how it can be applied to day-to-day challenges. As always, explicit instruction and self-understanding are key. We are huge fans of Carol Dweck’s work on the subject; however, the growth mindset concept can be hard for students to grasp. This video from BrainCraft offers a succinct and entertaining explanation of growth mindset and why it’s important, especially during this pandemic. 

I think this video can be a great tool for educating the people we work with about the importance of having a growth mindset. What did you think of the video? Let us know in the comments!

  • Elizabeth Ross, M.A., SMARTS Media Manager

SMARTS Executive Function Curriculum: smarts-ef.org

Research Institute for Learning and Development: researchild.org

The Institute for Learning and Development: ildlex.org

 

Categories
Mindfulness

Online Resources to Help Students Stay Focused and Engaged

The unpredictable shift between in-person, remote, and hybrid schooling has left many students (and their teachers) feeling unsettled and overwhelmed. Activities that promote movement and mindfulness practices can help students cope with anxiety and access the executive function processes they need to successfully engage in learning. Here are some of our favorites from GoNoodle, an online platform that offers videos focused on movement and mindfulness for elementary school students.

Finding Focus

Whether students are returning from recess or transitioning between classes, they may benefit from a brief activity that helps them stay on task. The Strengthen Your Focus video can serve as a reminder for students to use their self-monitoring and self-checking strategies as they work. If students need support focusing on the present moment, have them view From Mindless to Mindful, which is also available in Spanish.

Following Instructions

As students approach winter break, they may need a few reminders to follow instructions. This video from Blazer Fresh encourages students to follow instructions using a framework that includes pausing, looking at the person speaking, nodding to show you understand, starting the task, and asking questions along the way. When students struggle with task initiation, it may help to break down just the instructions and the first step so they know how to get started.

Cognitive Flexibility

Lastly, here is a fun video for students to say hello in 15 different languages. To greet their peers and teachers in another language, students will practice cognitive flexibility by shifting mentally between a familiar salutation and a new one. Students may be excited to learn about the international greetings their peers are familiar with or use at home.

Looking for more tips for hybrid learning? Check out these posts on keeping students engaged and creating transition times during remote learning.

  • Caitlin Vanderberg, SMARTS Intern

SMARTS Executive Function Curriculum: smarts-ef.org

Research Institute for Learning and Development: researchild.org

The Institute for Learning and Development: ildlex.org

Categories
ADHD Uncategorized

15 Relatable ADHD Memes to Brighten Your Day

ADHD makes life hard for students, teachers, parents, everyone!

While executive function strategies can help students succeed, sometimes students with ADHD are going to have a tough time. That’s when it is important to let off steam and remember that others face similar ADHD challenges. Here are some of our favorite funny ADHD memes that will hopefully help you, or someone you know, have a good laugh and know that they are not alone.

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We hope that these make you laugh! What are your favorite ADHD memes? Let us know in the comments.

  • Elizabeth Ross, M.A., SMARTS Media Manager

SMARTS Executive Function Curriculum: smarts-ef.org

Research Institute for Learning and Development: researchild.org

The Institute for Learning and Development: ildlex.org

Categories
Cognitive Flexibility

Cognitive Flexibility in Trying Times

We are living in an age of polarized perspectives. Whether we are talking about politics, race, or public health, the news and social media are awash in people airing strongly held convictions on what is right. In a world where people splinter away from those with differing viewpoints, we can teach our students the tenets of cognitive flexibility to foster resilience and hope.

What Is Cognitive Flexibility?

Cognitive flexibility is “the ability to think flexibly and to shift perspectives and approaches easily.” In each facet of our lives, we can become set in our ways, clinging to opinions and patterns of thinking that affirm our prior experience and validate our reality. In truth, each individual holds their own version of reality rooted in different truths that inevitably fail to match our own. When our truth doesn’t match the perspective of others, the results range from funny to downright frustrating.

Cognitive flexibility as a concept most easily applies to situations in which we are actively problem-solving, such as compiling sources for a group project, shifting between types of information, or even hiking up a mountain. We can also apply cognitive flexibility to our wider interactions with others.

Right now many of the challenges we face are presented in black-and-white terms. The sharp contrast may lead to feelings of hopelessness and despair in our students and ourselves. As educators, we can model and explicitly teach strategies for cognitive flexibility to keep hope alive.

Identify Obstacles and Solutions

One approach is to teach pathways thinking as part of goal setting. When students set goals, they learn that identifying and overcoming obstacles is a natural part of goal setting. When discussing current events in the classroom, students will probably be able to identify numerous obstacles. As a class, brainstorm various ways to overcome these obstacles. This exercise will help students feel more hopeful and will cultivate a flexible approach to understanding current challenges and solutions.

Be a Role Model

As teachers, we can also model our own cognitive flexibility. Rather than pretending we are unscathed by the many challenges we face, we can show how we acknowledge and address negative experiences. As our students get older and prepare to take on positions of leadership, they benefit from role models who demonstrate persistence and resilience in the face of adversity. Consider ways that you have adapted over the past months and think about how to share your newfound strategies with your students.

While certain realities are non-negotiable, there are still opportunities for helping students analyze and interpret the various facets and perspectives that surround an issue.

  • Iris Jeffries, SMARTS Intern

SMARTS Executive Function Curriculum: smarts-ef.org

Research Institute for Learning and Development: researchild.org

The Institute for Learning and Development: ildlex.org

Categories
Executive Function

Cooking a Turkey with Executive Function

Executive function strategies are essential for successful learning. But executive function processes are not just for school; we use executive function strategies in every aspect of our daily lives. With the holidays approaching, let’s explore how you can use executive function strategies to pull off a perfectly roasted Thanksgiving turkey.

Goal Setting

Goal setting is at the heart of executive function. You must understand the endpoint, and the steps it will take to get there if you are going to be successful. This holiday, since I can’t travel home to be with my family, my goal is to cook a delicious meal, complete with turkey, stuffing, sweet potatoes, and dessert. I know it’s important to eat healthy food (junk food is bad for my executive function) so I look for recipes that are healthy, tasty, and will feed a small group.

Cognitive Flexibility

Thinking flexibly as you adopt and apply strategies is essential to success. As students get older and take on more challenging academic work, they must shift and adopt new strategies that keep pace with the demands they face. You never know what real-life situations will test your flexible thinking. As I shift from someone who eats the turkey to the person who cooks it, I will need to adopt a new perspective. What new challenges will I face? What new strategies will I have to adopt, and what strategies will I have to leave behind?

Organizing and Prioritizing

Many students and adults may struggle with organization; however, the ability to break down tasks, create categories, and prioritize the steps is a must! As I peruse recipes for roasting a turkey, I review the ingredients and the steps to prepare and cook. My plan and time management rely on accurate time estimation and an organized approach.

Accessing Working Memory

Working memory allows us to access the information we need, whether from short- or long-term memory, as we complete our tasks. In school, we often talk about the working memory demands of following directions or completing a math problem. As I cook my turkey, I will use my working memory to keep up with the recipe.

Self-Monitoring and Self-Checking

Whether you’re cooking, completing your homework, or checking your taxes, self-monitoring and self-checking help us ensure that we are truly doing our best work. Working memory helps us make sense of what is happening around us. As I cook the turkey, I can use a variety of self-checking strategies from making sure I’m following the recipe steps to checking to make sure the turkey is fully cooked.

Metacognitive Awareness

Self-understanding is an often overlooked aspect of executive function strategy use. Developing metacognition is an active process. Knowing what our strengths and challenges are, reflecting on our performance, and deciding how we will apply this knowledge moving forward allows us to become truly independent and strategic, whether as students, teachers, parents, or chefs. As I reflect on my previous cooking adventures, I remember that one time I roasted a chicken and it was too dry. What did I do wrong? How can I apply that knowledge to my Thanksgiving turkey? Better yet, maybe this year we’ll just order a pizza.

Happy Thanksgiving from all of us at the SMARTS Executive Function program! We hope you all have a safe and restful holiday.

  • Michael Greschler, M.Ed., SMARTS Director

SMARTS Executive Function Curriculum: smarts-ef.org

Research Institute for Learning and Development: researchild.org

The Institute for Learning and Development: ildlex.org

Categories
Executive Function

Classroom Strategies to Promote Executive Function Development

At our recent ResearchILD 35th Annual Learning Differences Conference, we brought together researchers and educators who shared ways to build classroom environments that support students’ executive function development. Here are a few takeaways that you can incorporate into any classroom.

Executive Function and Academics

Dr. Stephanie Carlson, who presented on executive functions and school readiness, described how her research findings have shown that strong executive functioning skills in early childhood are correlated with academic achievement. Cognitive flexibility is particularly important as children accommodate new knowledge and information into their mental schemata. Dr. Carlson shared a game called Bear and Dragon that early childhood educators can play with their students to increase cognitive flexibility and working memory skills.

Visualizing Strategies

Dr. Peg Dawson, author of the Smart but Scattered book series, shared ways of making executive function strategies visible in the classroom. Visualizing executive functions can be a way for students to create mental representations for completing their work. Dr. Dawson suggested displaying posters with questions to help spark students’ metacognition and posting the materials that children will need so they can prepare ahead of time. To help students think strategically, she recommended providing small cards that pair executive functions with descriptive images.

Slow Processing Speed in a Fast-Paced World

How quickly can your students “get things done”? Dr. Ellen Braaten shared her research on how students with slow processing speed may have difficulty processing, assessing, and responding to information. Many children with ADHD or slow processing speed may need support to build their perception of time. To help students form a more accurate sense of passing time, Dr. Braaten emphasized teaching students to use analog clocks and stopwatches. Teachers can also model what it looks like to estimate how long an activity may take.

What is your best classroom tip for promoting executive function development in your students? Check out these links if you’re looking for more ways to have fun with executive function, integrate executive function into your virtual teaching, and set up an EF-friendly classroom!

  • Caitlin Vanderberg, SMARTS Intern

SMARTS Executive Function Curriculum: smarts-ef.org

Research Institute for Learning and Development: researchild.org

The Institute for Learning and Development: ildlex.org

Categories
LD Conference Mentoring

The Power of a Mentor

ResearchILD’s 35th Annual Learning Differences Conference brought together educators from across the globe to hear from speakers at the forefront of executive function research and implementation in schools. One idea that rang true across many presentations was the impact that an encouraging mentor or supporter can have on a student’s sense of self-efficacy and success.

Nurturing Resilience

Dr. Robert Brooks, who kicked off the conference, shared ideas about how to nurture resilience in students during challenging times. In order to help students cope effectively in the face of adversity, Dr. Brooks emphasizes that children need a “charismatic adult” from whom they can garner strength. Teachers, who often provide this role, must ensure that their students feel welcomed and supported at school before launching into the instruction of academics and executive function strategies.

This sense of security and community is a key ingredient in creating a classroom context that empowers students. Morning meetings and homeroom times can include opportunities for building student mentorships so students feel heard. Dr. Brooks reminds us that it is crucial to build relationships with students and help them feel a sense of purpose, especially in the era of virtual learning.

The Power of One

Dr. Anthony Bashir, a professor at Emerson College and co-founder of Architects For Learning, led one of the conference’s panels alongside two SMARTS alumni, Chace Nolen and William Warren. Dr. Bashir introduced the idea that a single mentor can help guide students through “liminal space,” a place of uncertainty and unknowing.

Supporting this concept, William described a teacher who never gave up on him, trying multiple strategies until he received the help he needed. Chace, recounting the ways he saw aspects of his younger self in his fifth-grade mentee, noted how the SMARTS program gave him a framework for understanding how his brain worked and how it could grow and change.

The importance of relationships for executive function learning and academic success is clear. Whether it is a “charismatic adult,” a peer in middle or high school, or a friend in elementary school, having someone who believes in us can truly change the story we tell ourselves about our self-worth and strengths.

  • Caitlin Vanderberg, SMARTS Intern