Distance Learning ILD

Master Your Mind: The SMARTS Way

Do you know a student who would benefit from executive function strategy instruction this summer? Our sister organization, The Institute for Learning and Development, is now offering Master Your Mind courses for students online!

In these small online classes, middle and high school students will learn the necessary executive function strategies and tools that will enable them to be successful in school and in life.

Master Your Mind the SMARTS Way courses offer developmentally appropriate and interactive, hands-on instruction for students in the following executive function areas:

  • Flexible thinking
  • Organization and planning
  • Active reading and note-taking
  • Studying and test-taking
  • Self-understanding
  • Goal setting
  • Time management
  • Remembering

Students will have opportunities for modeled instruction, guided practice, and independent practice. They will leave the course with personalized executive function strategies that they can use as a resource in school.

Each six-hour course is taught over two weeks.

Master Your Mind the SMARTS Way: High School

  • August 10, 12, 14, 17, 19, 21
  • Entering Freshmen/Sophomores: 2:00-3:00 PM
  • Entering Juniors/Seniors: 4:00-5:00 PM
  • Class size: 8 students

Master Your Mind the SMARTS Way: Middle School

  • August 10, 12, 14, 17, 19, 21,
  • M-W-F 10:00-11:00 AM
  • Class size: 6 students

Fee: $350 (includes materials)

Learn more about Master Your Mind the SMARTS Way and register through our online form or by contacting Donna Kincaid at [email protected].

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

3 Essential Components of Successful Hybrid Learning

Superintendents and principals are starting to release their plans for the fall, ranging from remote learning to in-person instruction with safeguards and a hybrid model combining the two.

No matter what approach your school is using, there are sure to be unknowns and changes along the way. How can teachers adapt to the new, ever-changing expectations?

On July 8, the Harvard Graduate School of Education (HGSE) hosted an online panel titled, “Education Now: What Makes a High-Quality Remote or Hybrid Learning Experience?” Panelists, including Justin Reich, director of the MIT Teaching Systems Lab, HGSE Professor Jal Mehta, and Neema Avashia, a teacher at Boston Public Schools, discussed ways to ensure that schools help their students thrive in what is sure to be a challenging transition. Here are 3 takeaways.

Be Flexible

Things have changed a lot in the past six months and it’s unlikely that we will be able to predict what learning will look like in another six months. Schools must plan to be flexible at every level, from scheduling to attendance. What will a teacher do if one of their students has to quarantine for a month? How can administrators shift if their families do not have the technology or childcare to engage with fully remote instruction? The answers to these questions may change as the year progresses.

Mehta offers one possible solution: plan for time to plan. He references one school in Colorado that switched to a four-day week, dedicating a full day to teacher collaboration. Schools should identify time where teams can come together to address the challenges they are facing and adapt accordingly.


Remote learning has radically shifted how teachers, students, parents, and administrators work together. One of the greatest challenges for many students and their parents has been the increased demands in terms of planning, tracking assignments, etc. Many students struggled to keep up, while parents were often frustrated by their inability to follow shifting schedules. Likewise, teachers were frustrated by a lack of connection to their students. If a student did not log in to a Zoom call or turn in an assignment, it was difficult to know why.

Setting up clear communication is going to be vital. Reich points out that clear lines of communication between the school and home will make sure students and parents understand the expectations and resources available. Acknowledging student and parent perspectives is also a tool for equity, giving voice to what is working and what is not.

Support Strong Relationships

Teachers need time and tools to make sure they can nurture relationships in their class (between students and between the teacher and the students). Ice breakers and games offer a way to start; however, Avashia explains that some flexibility is needed. For example, insisting that all students keep their cameras on all the time might backfire. If a student is feeling too vulnerable or exposed, they won’t be able to contribute to the class’s learning.

As you prepare for the reopening of school this fall, keep these three essentials in mind. At SMARTS, we are here to support teachers and their students with executive function strategies that can be implemented in-person and online. If you have any executive function questions, you know who to ask!

  • Michael Greschler, M.Ed., SMARTS Director
Distance Learning

20 Icebreaker Questions to Launch Online Lessons

Engaging students at the start of an online lesson can be challenging. How do you quickly connect with students and get them excited and ready for learning online?

We have found that the simplest way to kick-start an online lesson is to ask a fun icebreaker question.

Icebreaker questions are easy to use (no additional technology or extensive preparation required) and students can respond in different ways. You can offer students the option to answer orally or write their response in the Zoom chat. Another great way to encourage low-stakes engagement is to have students use the “thumb up” Zoom reaction to show their agreement with their peers’ answers.

While there are many icebreaker questions available online, most are aimed at adults in remote meetings. I culled these lists for questions that work well with students and provide a fun beginning to any online class. Here are some of my favorites:

Would you rather be reincarnated as a cat or a dog?

If you could try any food, what would it be?

You can only eat one food again for the rest of your life. What is it?

Who’s your favorite Disney character?

What superpower would you most want?

What dog breed would you be?

What’s your favorite holiday?

What’s your favorite magical or mythical creature?

What’s your favorite holiday tradition?

What’s your favorite dessert?

Would you rather go back in time or visit the future?

Would you rather be able to teleport or fly?

Would you rather have a pet lion, pet elephant, or pet whale?

Would you rather live under the sea or on the moon?

What’s the strangest food you ever tried?

If you could have any unlimited supply of one thing for the rest of your life, what would you pick?

If you could be any supernatural creature, which would you pick?

Which movie made you laugh the most?

What is the origin of your name?

Would you rather be the funniest or smartest person in the room?

Do you use icebreakers to engage students during online lessons? Let us know your favorites in the comments!

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

To find more icebreaker questions, check out these links:
The Only List of Icebreaker Questions You’ll Ever Need
Icebreakers, do’s and don’ts, and some that don’t suck
25 Strategies to Engage Students on Your Next Zoom Meeting