Mindfulness and Its Benefits to Help Students Focus

By: Beth Werrell
Practicing Mindfulness Can Help Students Focus

Do you ever feel like there's a constant chatter going on in your mind, that your thoughts constantly flit back and forth between past, present, and future or get stuck in unproductive ruts? Meditation teachers call that "monkey mind."

For students, the ability to quiet the monkey mind can help them learn more easily and live less stressfully.

The key to this ability? Mindfulness!

What Is Mindfulness? What Are the Benefits?

Mindfulness entails paying purposeful attention to the present moment and observing your thoughts, feelings, and physical sensations without judging them. In this state of quiet observation, you begin to recognize the patterns of your thoughts and emotions and, eventually, to quiet them by focusing on the present. Recognizing that your thoughts are just thoughts, you also learn how to calm yourself in stressful situations.

What does this mean specifically for students? Recent studies show that regular mindfulness practice does the following things:

Simple Mindfulness Practices and Resources

So now that you know the benefits of mindfulness, how do you get started?

Here are a few practices suitable for different age groups, along with some tips and resources for parents and Learning Coaches.

For Students in K–5

For this age group, you'll want to make mindfulness short, simple, and fun. Since mindfulness is a pretty abstract concept, the key is showing—not telling or explaining. Better yet, model the ...

How to Inspire Girls in STEM Education

By: Tisha Rinker
Inspiring Girls in STEM Education - A Rising Tide Lifts All Boats

Imagine driving a car with only two wheels. Now imagine driving tomorrow’s innovations and economy with a fraction of our talents in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM).

According to statistical data from the National Girls Collaborative Project, women make up 47% of the total workforce, but they hold only 27% of the high-paid, rewarding positions in science and engineering in the United States. The good news is we can help change those numbers tomorrow by encouraging more girls in STEM-related subjects today.

Here are a few ideas for how to encourage female students to pursue STEM.
  • Promote a growth mind-set toward STEM subjects. As we’ve discussed before, teaching students that intelligence can change over time improves learning attitudes and outcomes across the board. But it’s especially important when it comes to math and science, subjects where negative cultural stereotypes have implanted false ideas about innate, gender-based, or race-based abilities. Experiments show these “stereotype threats” directly impair women’s and girls’ interests and aspirations in math and science—even when they have clear abilities in those areas. So emphasize to your student that math and science skills develop over time through effort and perseverance.

  • Expose your student to female and minority role models in the STEM field. A positive example is one of the best ways to disprove a negative stereotype. So arm yourself with great stories about outstanding female and minority scientists, mathematicians, and inventors. Meet subject matter experts from diverse fields and backgrounds through our online clubs or ...

Home Classroom Design Ideas for Online Students

By: Beth Werrell

When students make the transition to online learning, parents often want to upgrade the design and location of the home study station. With your student using the area full-time, it makes sense to ensure that the space is comfortable, appealing, and appropriate for many types of learning activities. Whether you are a "veteran" virtual school family or just starting, consider our tips for designing a learning space—they're sure to help you make the most of your home classroom!

Look for Sunlight

One thing to consider for your at-home learning space should be how much natural light the space receives. Because sunlight triggers cortisol levels to rise and affects general emotional and physical well-being, it can positively influence your child's productivity. Sunlight can also combat the effects of seasonal affective disorder (SAD). One note of caution: when positioning your child's computer monitor, be sure to compensate for sun glare.

Consider the Amount of Space

When designing the learning area, it's important to allow space for both online and offline work as well as storage. For efficiency, your student needs to have his or her computer and all school supplies, learning materials, and textbooks, within easy reach. Families with more than one student learning from home should make sure each student has his or her own place to store materials.

If your students will share a common work surface, allow enough space so they can work without bumping elbows with their fellow learners. ...

5 Keys to Effective Parent-Teacher Communication in Virtual School

By: Stephanie Osorno
Parent-Teacher Communication in Virtual School

In any school setting, communicating and interacting with teachers is essential for a successful school year. Among other things, teachers can assist parents in identifying their student’s areas of weakness, provide extra help, and offer suggestions for improvement.

In a bricks-and-mortar school, parent–teacher conferences are usually held a few times a year to discuss a student’s progress. While virtual schools don’t hold official conferences, teachers regularly check in with families, and parents can also reach out whenever they need to through email, message boards, or a phone call. Online teachers are always eager to help in any way they can. At Connections Academy, they make at least three real-time contacts with parents or Learning Coaches each school year—whether this is done through a phone conversation or a face-to-face meeting.

As you and your family get back into the daily school routine, consider the following suggestions to help you prepare for frequent parent-teacher communication throughout the year!

  1. Make a list of questions.
    If any general questions or concerns come up, make sure to write them down. It will be easier to give your student’s teacher an update if you already have a list of topics to discuss. Connections Academy teachers conduct welcome calls at the beginning of the year to introduce themselves and get things started—a great opportunity for parents to address issues early, before diving into the school year. A list will also help you to feel more prepared and ready for the conversation!
  2. Set a goal.
    ...

The Surprising Reason Some Students Don't Like School

By: Beth Werrell
Why Some Students Don't Like School

It's a universal truth that if you ask most students what they don't like about school, their lists will be lengthy! While virtual school students won't have the usual complaints about getting up early for long bus rides or eating cafeteria food, like most kids do, their lists will typically include items such as:

But ask cognitive psychologist Daniel T. Willingham the same question and you'll get a much more surprising answer:

Thinking Is Hard

According to Willingham, students dislike school because thinking is hard, effortful, and slow. As he explains in "Why Don't Students Like School," thinking requires students to:

  • Retrieve information from their immediate environment and the vast factual storehouse of their long-term memory
  • Combine that information in new ways in their more limited, short-term working memory
  • Imagine solutions based on those new combinations

So, even though they're naturally curious, students (and the rest of us, too!) will avoid thinking—unless the learning conditions are right.

What Are the Right Conditions for Thinking?

They're the conditions or activities that allow students to experience the pleasurable rush of solving problems—whether those problems are algebra equations or struggling to understand Shakespeare's sonnets. In fact, neuroscientists believe that the pleasurable rush may be the actual rush of chemicals produced by the brain’s natural reward system. Remember how it feels to get that last crossword, Sudoku, or Jeopardy answer? Well, students love that feeling of success ...

6 Steps to Help Families Start Strong in Virtual School

By: Beth Werrell
6 Steps to Start Strong in Virtual School

When parents enroll a child in virtual school, the decision to educate at home is only the first—and often the easiest—step! Although some parents, once they adapt to online learning, find it very rewarding and report that it's the best fit for their child, many of those same parents found it overwhelming at the beginning. Fortunately, there are six simple steps families can take now to overcome these early challenges and make a successful start in virtual school.

  1. Orientation
    A high-quality online school typically provides orientation materials to help parents learn how to support their child's learning. At Connections Academy schools, both students and parents benefit from an online orientation course presented using the same learning platform as the curriculum. As they learn about their new responsibilities as online students and Learning Coaches, they are also familiarizing themselves with the computer systems.

    To help new Learning Coaches learn "the ropes," some school locations may invite them to attend in-person orientation events. Whether seminar style or more of a meeting format, these events can benefit families that want to gain a better understanding of how to guide their child's learning.


  2. Organize the Learning Space
    Organization is always an appropriate theme for your student's home classroom. Assemble-it-yourself furniture is a great, affordable way to furnish the at-home learning environment. But if that's not in your budget, try a yard sale! A battered bookshelf bought at a yard sale can become a perfect storage area for school ...

4 Computer Tips and Keyboard Shortcuts for Online Students

By: Beth Werrell

Time management is an important skill to learn for students at every level and in every environment. For online students, technology plays a huge role in managing time. Knowing how to navigate computers and technology-based educational resources can save time and get your student on the path to achieving success in his or her online classes.

Here are some tricks and computer shortcuts that can help streamline your student's learning process when on the computer and help your child get the most out of his or her time spent in the online classroom.

  1. Memorize Keyboard Shortcuts
    Learning keyboard shortcuts for frequently used computer tasks saves your student time and also helps him or her master important typing and keyboard skills. To help get your student started, download and print this list of ten PC and Mac shortcuts for your child to practice and memorize.
  2. Use Web Browser Bookmarking
    One simple way to help your student navigate the web is to encourage bookmarking. No matter what Internet browser your child uses, the bookmark tool can help students navigate to frequently used web pages and online resources in fewer clicks and with less searching.

    Each web browser has its own built-in bookmarking feature in the form of a star icon near the address bar, though the exact location may vary from browser to browser. Clicking the star on a web page will save it to the bookmark list ...

6 First-Day-Back-to-School Activities for Online School Families

By: Stephanie Osorno
Back-to-School Traditions for Online School Families

It's hard to believe that in just a few weeks it will be time to cover up the pool and pull out the school supplies for a new school year! In fact, school has already begun in some states. Even though the loss of summer freedom might be disappointing, reaching a new academic benchmark is an exciting moment in a student’s life that calls for recognition and celebration.

Just as bricks-and-mortar school families do, virtual school families often honor the first day of school with unique rituals each year. To help make the first day of online school special for your student, consider partaking in the following activities!

  1. Take a picture.
    Snap a shot of your student in his or her learning space so you can have a keepsake of the day. You can even have him or her hold a sign that says something such as, "First day of second grade." It will be fun to look back at each picture, especially when your student gets older. It’s no secret that some kids hate posing for pictures, but they will mostly likely be thankful for the memory later!

  2. Make or go out for a special meal.
    What's more motivating than a tasty meal? Get things started by making your student his or her favorite breakfast item. Top it off with an encouraging note on the napkin. For example, the note could read, "We hope you have a great first day of school!" If you don’t have time to ...

Parent Perspectives on Online School Socialization

By: Stephanie Osorno
From Parents to Parents: Online School Socialization Tips

While receiving a good education is essential for a student’s growth, learning to socialize is equally as important. Being able to interact and communicate well with others is greatly beneficial not only in social settings but also in future real-world situations such as college, interviews, and the workplace. It’s important to establish a strong social foundation early on in your child’s life while he or she can more easily develop social skills.

Understandably, if you’re new to or considering online school, you might have some hesitations about the social aspect of the program. To give you a better idea of how socialization works in virtual school, we’ve gathered some ways that Connections Academy parents socialize their students!*

Get Involved with Your Community

Your community is a great place for your child to build local friendships and practice collaboration. Consider doing some research to find out what opportunities are available in your area through special interest clubs, civic or charitable organizations, recreation councils, or houses of worship. You might be surprised by what you find. Even through volunteer work, children can learn what it takes to be in a leadership position and how to work with others for an important cause.

"In addition to placing significance on their academics, I encourage my kids to be out in the world and experience life in our community. We are very intentional about their interactions and focus on building positive/meaningful relationships with friends. My kids stay active in ...

5 Tips for Creating a Successful Online School Schedule

By: Stephanie Osorno
How to Create Successful Online School Schedules

One of the many exciting aspects of the virtual school experience is getting to manage the learning day—and that means designing a schedule that fits your student. Just like students who attend a bricks-and-mortar school, online students learn best when the school day is well structured. Most Learning Coaches at Connections Academy tell us they use a daily or weekly schedule to organize their students' school activities.*

If you're a new Learning Coach, you might be wondering what goes into creating a successful school schedule. To help you get started, here are some scheduling tips to keep in mind!

  1. Talk to your student.
    It's always a good idea to get your child’s input before you set up his or her schedule. The school day will be much more productive if both of your needs are being met or, at least, considered. You can begin by using a family planner to put a plan in motion. More than half of Connections Academy families collaborate with their student to create a school schedule. Below are examples of some questions to ask during the planning process:
    • "Which subjects do you prefer to work on first, middle, and last?"
    • "What time of day do you feel like you have the most energy?"
    • "Which courses are easier for you? Would it help you to work on math one day and science another day?"
    • "How would you run things if you had your way?"

    After hearing your child's answers, discuss how his ...

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