Education Trends – School Outfitters Blog Furnishing Great Places To Learn Fri, 05 Feb 2016 21:51:19 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Guest Post: Create Immersive Education With Binge-Teaching Fri, 24 Apr 2015 19:28:49 +0000 This is the next guest post from Brian Smith, an educator from North Carolina. He’ll be blogging with us over the next few months.

Binge-watching is watching multiple episodes of a show for several hours in a single sitting. This has become a national phenomenon. Netflix, Hulu Plus, Amazon Prime and TV series on DVDs and Blu Rays have all increased our opportunities to binge-watch. It’s now commonplace to find a series that we love and feed our obsession for as long as we can keep our eyes open.

My 10-year-old daughter, Ella, has been binge-watching Full House over the last year. Snow days are her favorite times to cuddle up and watch the Tanner girls grow up before her eyes. She just started the season 8 DVD, the last season, and is a little sad that her love affair will soon end. My wife and I just recently started binge-watching an award-winning, colorful Netflix series. Instead of going out for our date night, staying home with take-out has become our new ritual.

What does binge-watching have to do with education? It hit me the other night that binge-teaching is one of my favorite ways to teach. I love those days when I can close my door, flex my schedule and really focus on one topic for an extended period of time.  Just like there are multiple episodes in a binge-watching session, when you binge-teach, you have several different activities around the same topic.

Binge Teaching
In today’s educational climate, where teacher effectiveness is determined on one yearly assessment, subjects like social studies and science often get pushed to the side. There are often not enough hours in the day to teach every subject and anything that is not reading and math continues to get moved to another day. Does that day ever come? If not, then binge-teaching is the answer.

A well-planned unit can oftentimes be condensed into one big day of learning. Instead of spreading out smaller units across several days, you can combine the introduction/discovery activity, read-aloud text, non-fiction reading and different activities into a couple hours of binge-teaching love!

My favorite day of binge-teaching was centered around ice. I planned several days of lessons about ice and reversible change during our penguin unit. The weather was a winter wonderland. One day, while looking at our mason jar ice experiment, a student asked, “What’s the fastest way to melt ice?” From that question, we had an entire ice day (before the Frozen phenomenon). We read books about ice. We made ice in different shapes and documented which shapes melted first. We hypothesized different ways to melt ice. Then we executed selected student hypotheses (light, salt, hairdryer, breaking it apart into smaller pieces). The binge-teaching ended with the class creating a letter to send to interested parties about our ice melting data.

Student engagement skyrockets during a binge-teaching session. Students can learn about a topic and put that knowledge immediately. This creates a sense of excitement that’s contagious to everyone involved.

My other favorite binge-teaching topics:

  • Forces and motion
  • Characteristics of different materials (wood, paper, clay)
  • The life and work of Martin Luther King Jr.
  • Different cultures around the world (with each binge-teaching session focusing on one culture)

Tips about binge-teaching:
1.  Keep your kids moving. If you are going to have several texts to share during a binge, use different spaces for fiction and non-fiction read-alouds. Hearing text in a variety of areas can cement learning. Make sure that, if possible, your hands-on activities are located at different places around the room.
2.  Make sure that you are including a couple of different hands-on activities for each binge-teaching session that you plan. Using tactile and kinesthetic learning will improve retention for all students.
3.  Stay focused. Introduce a topic and use binge-teaching to help your students develop a deeper understanding of a topic instead of being exposed to a wide variety of related topics.
4.  Be prepared and have fun. Binge-teaching works best when you have planned it well and are excited about the topic. Your excitement will set the tone for how your class views the topic.

Find me, dad2ella, on Twitter and Pinterest. Share your favorite topics to binge-teach and use #bingeteaching to following along.


Guest Post: Professional Bucket List Mon, 09 Mar 2015 09:54:39 +0000 We’re thrilled to bring you guest posts from teachers just like you here at the School Outfitters blog. Our first guest is Brian Smith, an educator from North Carolina, who will be blogging with us over the next few months.

Bucket List, or, a list of activities and experiences that a person would like to see or participate in before they “kick the bucket” or pass away.

I have had a bucket list for years and what I came to realize is that my bucket list was a lot of professional aspirations. My name is Brian Smith and I am the Responsiveness to Instruction/Professional Development Facilitator for Newton-Conover City Schools. I also teach as an adjunct professor at Lenoir-Rhyne University but if you ask me what I do, I will answer that I teach Kindergarten because teaching is what I love and when I’m in the classroom, Kindergarten is my favorite. I have been married for 15 years to Liz Smith and we have a 10 year old daughter, Ella.

My bucket list included things like skydiving, having a student teacher, doing a TED talk, visiting Australia and attempting to write a book. As you can tell, there were two distinct types of events/activities on my list. What I ended up doing was creating two different bucket list. I have one for personal objectives and the other one is a list of things that I want to accomplish professionally.

Teaching is a hard profession and the burnout rate is high. We have all seen the statistics or, at the very least, the Facebook videos about good teachers leaving the profession. What I have found is that my professional bucket list provides me with new challenges, which in turn, helps me keep my passion about teaching. By writing down and revisiting my aspirations, I am continually aware of where I want to go and I stay on the look-out for opportunities to help me reach my goals.

I believe that most teachers consider themselves life-long learners but what can end up happening is that our Professional Development can have such fragmented areas of learning that we are pulled in a multitude of directions without any expert ideas about any of them. By figuring out what our passions are and figuring out where we want to go with that passion, we create a professional bucket list item that we can work towards. We can take advantage of opportunities that help us reach our goal and say no to other opportunities.

My professional bucket list currently includes teaching children’s literature in a university setting, doing a TED talk, earning my doctorate in education, and creating a successful series of author talks for the students in my school district. By having my goals in the forefront of my mind, it makes me selective in the professional development and opportunities where I choose to participate. Of course, every district mandates teachers participate certain professional development and what I have found is that if I embrace these PD classes, occasionally, those PD opportunities turn into new passions.

Connect with me, dad2ella, on Twitter and Pinterest. Use #teacherbucketlist to follow along.

I want to hear from you. Please share what is on your professional bucket list!

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Headphones for Common Core-Aligned Testing Tue, 16 Dec 2014 15:52:52 +0000 As the landscape of American education rapidly moves towards integrating more technology, it’s more important than ever that schools stay up to date on required equipment. All but seven states have now adopted the Common Core standards, and that means the majority of students will take part in one of two standardized tests: The Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) or Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC). Both tests take place entirely on computers, and therefore each has a list of requirements that detail both software and hardware specifications. For the purposes of this article, let’s focus on one of the main things they have in common: both tests require the use of headphones for every student.

The SBAC and PARCC have two main reasons for the use of headphones: language arts sections that require listening to spoken words and special accommodations for students who require “text-to-speech” features. While these are new requirements, the trend has been swinging towards integrated technology for quite some time, with classrooms around the country starting to use tablets, laptops and other mobile devices with greater frequency. The question now becomes, which headphones are best for you?

As far as testing in the 2015 school year is concerned, any set of headphones or earbuds will suffice. With full-size headphones, like the Egghead Switchable Stereo/Mono Classroom Headphones 10-Pack, students will be more comfortable and have the option of volume control for each ear. PARCC testing in particular recommends the use of headphones with a USB connection, like Califone’s Titanium Series Washable USB Headphones, for ease of use.

Egghead Switchable Stereo/Mono Classroom Headphones

Egghead Switchable Stereo/Mono Classroom Headphones

If a tight budget is a concern, however, the more economically priced Califone Personal Stereo Headphones 20-Pack will also fulfill the requirements at a fraction of the cost, although at a reduced comfort and durability level.

Califone Personal Stereo Headphones 20-Pack

For those planning several years in advance, keep in mind that the 2016-2017 school year will begin requiring headphones with microphones for oral responses during tests. Headphones like the Egghead USB Multimedia Headset with Volume Control 10-Pack offer a simple plug-and-play solution for all your testing needs.

Egghead USB Multimedia Headset with Volume Control

Egghead USB Multimedia Headset with Volume Control

If you don’t see what you need in the list above, check out our entire list of headphones. You’re sure to find bargains on headphones for your specific situation.

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EDspaces 2014 Recap Part 2 Tue, 11 Nov 2014 21:58:35 +0000 Day two of EDspaces offered sessions on healthy living in schools:

  • Designers Dina Sorensen and Jeri Brittin worked on Virginia’s Buckingham County schools to address student obesity and well-being concerns. They made stairways attractive and readily accessible while making elevators as hidden as possible while still being ADA accessible. They created a student garden and created open kitchens in the cafeteria so children can see food being prepared – pointing out that it might be the only time they see fresh food (and be their only reliable meal) all day.
  • Want to promote healthy eating but don’t have the funds for a brand-new kitchen? Try putting healthy lunch options at the front of the lunch line.
  •  A not-so-fun fact from Sorensen and Brittin’s session: American portion sizes have increased 200% over the past 20 years.
  • In his session on promoting healthy living through architecture, Brian Dunbar, director of Institute for the Built Environment at Colorado State, said that studies in 2004 and 2006 found environment can influence teacher quality and retention. Researchers found that reasons for excessive sick days can be due to ventilation, lack of daylight, cleaning methods, lack of views, acoustics, disrupted circadian rhythms and poor filter maintenance.
  • Wood Designs had a lot of cool new products on display, including updated cots made to stack without the legs sticking together and potentially cracking. OFM introduced its Jupiter stools, which can configure in myriad colors and layouts.
    New Cots from Wood Designs

    New Cots from Wood Designs

    Jupiter Stools by OFM

    Jupiter Stools by OFM

  • Diversified Woodcrafts unveiled its Create and Explore 40K Giveaway on Day 2, giving schools the chance to win a collection of furniture worth $40,000 in honor of Diversified’s 40th anniversary. Enter your own video to win!
  • Mark Hubbard, President of Paragon Furniture, stated in his education session that kids today are used to being comfortable, which could lead to fidgeting and lack of concentration when they’re not comfortable. In the past, he said we did not have an expectation of being comfortable while in school? Do you agree? We’ve love to hear your thoughts in the comments.


EDspaces 2014 Recap Part 1 Fri, 07 Nov 2014 20:52:44 +0000 School Outfitters’ Social Media Coordinator MaryKate Moran and Director of Marketing Scott Griffith share their observations from the EDspaces 2014 education sessions.

School Outfitters at EDspace 2014

School Outfitters at EDspaces 2014

  • Have you seen Caine’s Arcade? If not, watch it here. The show’s opening keynote was with the film’s director, Nirvan Mullick. Mullick talked the startling ingenuity of Caine and children like him – “Imagine what this kid could build with an engineering degree,” he pointed out.
  • Caine’s Arcade grew into a movement, with children around the world creating their own arcades and raising money for schools and the disadvantaged. This short film about encouraging the creativity of an elementary school boy in L.A. was the start of the Imagination Foundation.
  • Mullick also shared a funny anecdote about travelling the world together to promote the film and Caine digging through the recycling in a French alleyway, always in search of building materials.
  • A shining example of an elementary STEM education school, Booker T. Washington STEM Academy was formed over a series of committees consisting of teachers, community members and design experts. A true locally grown experience! teachers local experts. With geothermal wells and photovoltaic panels, it’s a LEED Gold-certified school. STEM learning opportunities are everywhere: students got to see the geothermal wells being dug, the paint lines of the basketball court are marked up with geometric notations and even the lighting in the ceiling is arranged to resemble constellations.
  • Educational researcher Dr. Sugata Mitra constructed computer terminal booths in rural India and let children do what they want with them. Months later, kids had reprogrammed them and were teaching themselves English. Learn more at Hole in the Wall.
  • To most people, the “21st Century classroom” implies open spaces, really driving home the “classroom is everywhere” way of thinking. But in a post-Sandy Hook world, is that feasible? Thick walls, lockdown rooms and blinds are the exact opposite of glass partitions, open spaces and windows that allow for lots of natural light.
  • Anecdotally, Architect Alan Post shared that classroom square footages declining, from an average of 900 square feet to 700 square feet. Movements like MakerSpace require a lot of square footage, however.
An Examination of Common Core Mon, 27 Oct 2014 19:22:53 +0000 An Examination of Common Core

Note: This post was written by one of our bloggers and is not the opinion of School Outfitters as a whole.

Despite being nearly five years old, the Common Core standards that have been adopted by 44 states and the District of Columbia still have an air of mystery and doubt surrounding them. While most teachers are now quite familiar with these new standards, split between supporters and opponents, controversy and a lack of understanding still pervades the public-at-large. With this in mind, NPR has set out to help everyone understand the facts behind Common Core and clear up a multitude of misconceptions and other controversies.

The list of 25 frequently asked questions that about Common Core ranges from the basic (What is the Common Core?) to the complicated (What do the standards mean for math? and What do the standards mean for English?). Perhaps one of the more interesting answers, in light of the political backlash that some states are experiencing, is about the federal government’s role in creating the standards:

This is probably the biggest single source of controversy surrounding the Common Core. The truth is, the federal government played no role in creating the standards, nor did it require that states adopt them. But the U.S. Department of Education under President Obama and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan did incentivize adoption.

In July 2009, the Education Department created Race to the Top, a $3.4 billion grant competition. States that agreed to adopt the Common Core standards won points on their applications, increasing their eligibility for a share of the money. This carrot, with a deadline attached, helped spur a majority of states to adopt the standards within a few months after they were released in July 2010. The federal government also funded the state-led consortia creating the Common Core-aligned tests.

On a personal note, I believe that the backlash towards these standards is sometimes driven not by their content, but by the huge change that they represent. Everyone with a stake in education is naturally concerned about the future of the nation’s schools, so spreading the facts around and creating a healthy debate is the next best step in this process. No one really knows how Common Core will work out, but if there’s criticism to be leveled at it, let’s hope it’s based on merits and not misunderstandings.


For additional insight into the Common Core standards, check out NPR’s recent line of stories that focus on what principals and teachers think about the new standards and USA Today’s story about a recent teacher’s survey reflecting recent views on the standards.

Too Many Tests Lead to a Kindergarten Teacher’s Resignation Thu, 03 Apr 2014 15:14:43 +0000 Teacher resigns

As a teacher, do you ever feel that you’ll one day reach a breaking point with red tape? For one Massachusetts kindergarten teacher, that day arrived last February, when she realized her passion for the job had been swallowed up by the waves of paperwork and assessment training that seemed to grow every year. After 20 years at the same school district, she sent a resignation letter that regretfully explained the difficulty she faced in increasing testing and data collection while still focusing on truly useful early childhood education.

As a veteran teacher, Susan Sluyter had seen her fair share of new training programs, assessments and teaching methods. Eventually, though, she felt the increasingly rigorous kindergarten standards and the requirements for endless teacher development became too much. In her words, “I reached the place last year where I began to feel I was part of a broken system that was causing damage to those very children I was there to serve.” With two decades of experience behind her, it’s easy to see how Ms. Sluyter viewed the constant movement towards more data and measurable progress as obscuring the kids’ education, the true point of the job.

If you’re a teacher who works in a school system where it feels like you’re running in circles, you should certainly read Sluyter’s full resignation letter and explanation over at The Washington Post‘s website. Even if you’re not in a situation like hers, the letter still offers great insight into the world of early education and the ways schools may be failing their students, even as they strive harder than ever to measure their success.

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The Importance of Student Feedback Fri, 14 Mar 2014 19:51:26 +0000 Source:


Evaluation is a familiar part of a teacher’s job. Once assessments by your administrators are over, and you’ve had some time to breathe a sigh of relief, do you ever dare to ask your students for their feedback, too? In most K-12 settings, students rarely have the opportunity to evaluate their teachers, but feedback from students can offer new levels of insight, perhaps missed by administrators. Good teachers want to know what their students are thinking, and the best way to find out is simple: ask.

Depending on the culture of your classroom, your students may be surprised when you ask them for their input. However, they will likely appreciate the chance to voice their experiences. For details on how to ask for feedback, Edutopia blogger Elena Aguilar offers this great advice on how to construct a survey appropriate for your students. She also touches on how to put the survey results to use.

If you’re interested in surveying your students, but still need some inspiration, check out the videos below. The first is from a high school language arts class, and the second from a middle school science class. Each teacher describes the feedback system they use and how it has changed their classroom practices. The results these teachers have seen will certainly nudge you towards creating more chances for student feedback in your classroom.

Do you have experience with using student feedback? Be sure to share your thoughts in the comments section.

Using Pop Culture in the Classroom Thu, 23 Jan 2014 21:10:43 +0000 Beatles Rigby
Everyone remembers their coolest teachers. Cool teachers are always relatable, interested in their students’ passions and (for the most part) totally in control of their classrooms.

One of the coolest classroom experiences in my life came on the first day of a poetry class I took in college. For many people – including me – poetry feels intimidating and foreign. The professor was fully aware this disconnect existed for many of his students, so he eased us into the material via a medium we were comfortable with: pop music. Instead of using that all-important first day to comb through an overwhelming syllabus, or jumping straight into Shakespeare’s sonnets, we listened to music. Specifically, we listened to the Beatles. With the timeless lyrics to Eleanor Rigby in front of us, we listened – sang along at some points – and analyzed. By the end of that first class, we were ready, excited even, to make the small leap from lyric analysis to poetic analysis. I’ve often looked back and appreciated that instructor’s deep understanding of his students and his job as an educator.

Truly cool teachers know what my professor knew: it’s important to weave students’ interests into assignments and class discussions. Presenting material in a context that matters to students is a win-win, and making pop culture a mainstay of your teaching is a great way to start. The links below provide resources and ideas to help you connect with your students in ways that appeal to them.

– For a friendly nudge and helpful hints on incorporating pop culture in your classroom, check out this short read from

EdWeek offers some ideas about specific lesson plans that include social networking and other online resources that students likely already use on their own.

– Read this Edutopia blogger’s perspective on using pop culture to inspire elementary-aged writers.

Making Curriculum Pop is a resource-sharing community for teachers. This is a    great corner of the web that relies on teachers sharing ideas and online clips that really resonate with students.

Are you a cool teacher? Share your ideas and great resources below.


Would You Be a “Student For a Day” at Your School? Tue, 14 Jan 2014 17:18:50 +0000 We all know what it’s like to be a student, but do you know what it’s like to be a student at your school in particular? Five educators from Burr and Burton Academy, an independent high school in Vermont, recently wondered the same thing and spent a day at their school from a different perspective.

Some of the teachers were nervous about the switch (one said he was most worried about who he was going to sit with at lunch),  but others were excited. After the switch, they realized how jarring it can be to quickly move from one subject to the next, how students can be disengaged with the material and, as an assistant headmaster found it, how  hard it can be to go to the right lunch period. Another teacher realized how she might be making students late when she keeps them after class to talk — especially since that student only has five minutes to get to their next class/drop off heavy textbooks at their locker/visit with friends in the halls.

Does your school offer a similar program? If you could be a student for a day, what would you like to find out?