Preparing students for SBAC

It’s that time of year again; it’s SBAC season. For a lot of educators, it’s an overwhelming and disruptive time of year. Your students often pick up on those feelings, which doesn’t help when it comes to taking the SBAC. To help you out during this stressful time of year, we’ve come up with a few tips to help your students prepare for testing season.

A few weeks before SBAC

Familiarize students with technology

You want to make sure your students have plenty of time on the computers so that they can become familiar with them before they take the test. While this sounds like a moot point, computer errors account for a fair number of mistakes on the SBAC. So, being familiar with the technology used during the test could make a difference in your students’ scores. For younger students, practicing dragging and dropping is a big help. 

Differentiate Instruction

Work with students one-on-one or in small groups to fill in gaps. If you don’t have time to work one-on-one with all students, partner students up. Peer tutoring helps because one student is able to show their understanding of the concept by verbally expressing their thought process and the other student is able to have the concept reinforced by their peer.

Work with Parents

Let parents know what’s going on in school so that they can be informed and can help their student at home. Parents want to know what’s happening at school and will appreciate a heads up that testing season is approaching. Give parents tips for how they can support their students at home during SBAC season.

Right Before SBAC

Remind students to slow down

Remind students to slow down and take their time. Not only will this help ease their nerves but it will also encourage students to read questions thoroughly. Questions on the SBAC are tricky and students often answer incorrectly because they did not read the question thoroughly.

Remind students to do their best

Remind students that the test they are going to take is tricky and that they should do their best. It’s also best to remind students that this test will not be graded and is just used to show you what they have learned this year. Reminding students that the test is meant to trick them will help some of them stay alert, and telling them the test won’t be graded will help put others at ease.

Remind students to relax

At the end of the day, your students have learned all they need to know for this test during the course of the school year. A few last minute test prep strategies may help, here and there, but overall your students are prepared for this test and there is no reason to stress.

For more information on how Sokikom can help your students prepare for SBAC, request a demo.

Developing Grateful Students

At Sokikom, we love Thanksgiving! It’s a wonderful time of year full of family, friends, food, and gratitude. Days leading up to the Thanksgiving Break we take the time to make handprint turkeys, teach our students the history of the Mayflower and encourage them to be thankful. But what happens when Thanksgiving ends? Can we, as teachers, place less emphasis on teaching gratitude? What would happen if we place as much emphasis on gratitude throughout the year as we do the week leading up to Thanksgiving? Would we notice a difference in our class, our school, our community?


Gratitude is not only a nice thing to do, but it impacts each of us physically and mentally. In fact, according to science grateful people have stronger immune systems, act with more compassion, and experience less loneliness. Because of the profound impact gratitude has on each of us, we’ve put together a few suggestions on how to encourage thankful students.

Morning Meeting Gratitude Challenge

If we started off each day practicing gratitude how would our day change? With the Morning Meeting Gratitude Challenge, you are encouraged to start off each day by having your students share what they are grateful for. Try it out every day for a week and see if you notice a change in your students or even yourself. Are you noticing your students acting kinder to each other? Do you notice that you have more patience? Is there a greater sense of collaboration in your classroom?

Gratitude Journals

If you don’t have time for the Morning Meeting Gratitude Challenge and want to incorporate gratitude into your writing lesson, have your students practice journaling. If your students spend 5-10 minutes each day journaling what they’re thankful for do you think you would notice a difference? Would your students have stronger writing skills? Would you hear please and thank you more often in the classroom? Try it out and let us know what differences you see in your students!

Play a Gratitude Game

If you’re looking for a fun way to challenge your students, have them play a Gratitude Game. Not only will your students be able to practice teamwork but they will also be able to express themselves creatively. The students who present to the class will have the added benefit of improving their public speaking skills.

Looking for more gratitude inspiration? Check out Dr. Kerry Howells Gratitude in Education talk.

Cultivating a Growth Mindset Classroom

If you’re like most educators, you’ve probably already heard of Stanford Professor Carol Dweck and her book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, but do you know how to apply her principles and create a growth mindset classroom?

According to Dweck, most people have a fixed mindset or a growth mindset and these mindsets are usually taught at a young age by parents, teachers, coaches, and peers. Most people are unaware of their mindset and the labels they give themselves. Many students often categorize themselves at either good or bad. Take for example math, a student who races through math assignments and often receives high marks will label himself as good. He often receives praise from his parents, teacher, and even peer as being good at math. On the other hand, a student that struggles with math will label himself as being bad at math. The problem with both of these students is that they are more likely to give up than students with a growth mindset. The student who is good at math, will do whatever it takes to remain good at math, as long as it doesn’t become too difficult. Once the math becomes too difficult for the student to achieve and the student sees failure as imminent they give up. The student who sees himself as bad at math will also give up easily when faced with difficult math problems because he doesn’t see himself as succeeding at math.

So what is a growth mindset?

A growth mindset is when you see your abilities as neither good nor bad. You view your skills as something to constantly develop. Natural intelligence does not dictate if you are smart or not, instead, hard work and dedication do. According to Dweck this mindset fosters a love of learning that is essential to accomplishment. Students who believe that if they work hard and persevere they will become smarter will learn more and at a faster rate. They will see challenges not as failures but as opportunities to improve.

How do you cultivate a growth mindset?

Provide Encouragement

Providing encouragement is important to the success of all students, without it students have a difficult time being motivated. However, the type of encouragement you provide will lead to either a fixed or a growth mindset classroom. Instead of saying, “great job”, “you’re awesome” “you’re talented”. Praise their hard work by saying “I can see you worked really hard” “I appreciate your curiosity” and “I’m happy you’re so dedicated”. The latter encourage perseverance and a growth mindset.

Encourage Revision

It is common in our society to think of a mistake as something to be avoided. Having this mindset discourages us to try new things for fear of failure. By creating a classroom where children are encouraged to challenge themselves, they will often make mistakes. Teach your students that mistakes are okay and that it is important we learn from them.

Lead by Example

Students learn the most from you and your actions. If your students see you cultivating a growth mindset in your actions they are going to be more responsive to implementing the concept in their own lives. Share your successes and struggles with implementing a growth mindset with your students. Remember, a growth mindset is something to continually work at, not something that will happen over night.

Outstanding Educator Claire Ratfield: Creating a 21st Century Classroom through Fundraising

With school budgets becoming increasingly tight many educators have had to think of creative ways to modernize their classrooms. Lincoln Elementary 6th grade teacher, Claire Ratfield, has discovered with creative ways to crowd-fund modern technology in the classroom.

Claire began her career in education at Lincoln Middle School in Corona Del Mar, CA in 1969. In 1998 Johns Hopkins University identified her as an exemplary teacher for gifted students. Just after that she became the first public school National Board Certified teacher in Orange County and then the first double National Board Certified teacher for both elementary and middle childhood education in the nation. This experience encouraged Claire to start a foundation (CITE) to fund costs for teachers to become Nationally Board Certified. This foundation sparked Claire’s interest in fundraising for education.

Claire has always been driven by the power of technology and enjoyed seeing her students spend recess and lunch creating massive structures in Minecraft. She was stunned at the creativity and innovation of the buildings and cities they created. That year, the district invited her to a MinecraftEDU STEAM class offered by the Orange County Department of Education. This experience showed her the power of gamification in engaging students.

The next year, she wrote an engineering grant through Donors Choose and Chevron. Her proposal stated that students would build structures including sustainable houses of the future within different biomes. Through this grant she was awarded 3 state of the art desktop computers. She also reached out to a few parents to donate enough funds for 36 MinecraftEDU licenses and 3 teacher servers.

Although Claire was aware of crowdfunding she decided to do something different and developed the idea of “Claire Funding” within her network of friends. “I created two funding streams: One as a tax write-off through the district that funds technology or arts related to staff development and the other to my DBA, ‘Claire Ratfield Educational Services’ which funds my classroom needs. The near $20,000  I’ve raised is equally divided between my class and my school . This has allowed me to buy my own set of one-on-ones, robotics, and 3 iPads. It also includes 13 computers with a minimum of 4GB of memory dedicated to MinecraftEDU rotation.”

This year, Claire plans to ditch the textbook and run a paperless classroom through Google Classroom. Her fundraising has allowed her to completely modernize her classroom and has allowed her to provide her students with an engaging learning experience.

For teachers that are thinking about getting into fundraising, Claire recommends Donors Choose as one of the best resources for teachers seeking a couple thousand dollars for technology. Other sites teachers should check out include: Indiegogo, Go Fund Me, and Kickstarter. For teachers that are looking to fundraise within their groups of friends, here is a letter Claire has successfully sent out in the past.

If you want to learn more about Claire Ratfield and her classroom fundraising, check out her website. You’ll be able to see a creative Thank You video she made for her donors, resources for teachers looking to integrate technology in the classroom, as well as current projects for which she is seeking funding.

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Using Data to Drive Instruction

There has been a lot of talk lately that we are testing students too much. It’s true, students do undergo more assessments than we did when we were in school. While testing is exhausting and stressful on both teachers and student, we need to find a way to use the data from all of those assessments to effectively improve student learning. But how do we do it, where do we start?

Understand the data you are collecting

Too often do students take standardized assessments and we as teachers have no idea how to understand the results. One way to solve this is to really take the time to sit down and understand what data these assessments are collecting and how they are doing so. If you don’t have time to spend hours scouring state standardized testing sites, you can collect your own data. If you do decide to start collecting your own data, remember these two things: keep it simple and keep it small. You don’t need to create a complex algorithm to measure your students understanding. Keep it simple and don’t try to overcomplicate collecting student data. There are a number of helpful products out there that can aide you in collecting student data. Keep it small: you don’t have to assess your students in every subject that you have taught them at the same time. Keep it small and start with one subject or subtopic you would like to assess. This keeps you from becoming too overwhelmed.

Look for gaps

This might sound obvious but one of the most beneficial things data can provide us with is that it can show us exactly what our students are struggling with. Good data should give you a baseline of how you can tailor instruction specifically to address those gaps. Once you are able to fill in those gaps your students should begin to flourish. Need ideas for Common Core aligned lesson plans? Check out this amazing resource.

Open communication channels

Now that you have collected, understood, and analyzed your data you can use it to start a dialogue with parents. If you have students with large gaps in their understanding you are going to need parent support to really make significant progress in filling them. By talking with parents you will be able to explain to them where the gaps exist and how to best mend them. Parents support will be very helpful when you are trying to give extra homework assignments and when you encourage additional practice to mend the gap.
Want to learn how Sokikom uses data to drive instruction? Contact a member of our School Success team.

Bridging the Gap Between Educators and After School Programs

What is the most common complaint of After School Coordinators? “It’s impossible to communicate with teachers and  school administrators!” What’s the most common complaint of Principals and Teachers with regards to after school programs? “After school programs  just don’t align with what we teach during the day!” We hear it over and over again,  it’s difficult to align what students are learning during the school day to what they are learning after. Here are 3 ways ways you can align the two at your school.

Find Balance

Afterschool programs often struggle to find a balance between being fun and engaging and supporting students academically. Focusing too much on academics and not enough on fun activities can cause afterschool program’s enrollment numbers to drop. Students are more likely to skip after school programs frequently when they aren’t being engaged. When they focus too much on entertainment, teachers get frustrated. Oftentimes, students who attend afterschool programs need extra academic support. Afterschool programs need to find the right balance in providing academic support in a fun and engaging manner.

Bridge the Gap

A constant struggle teachers face is that the students in afterschool programs aren’t being taught the same thing they are learning in the classroom. In order to really support students in after school programs content and teaching styles need to be aligned. One thing that has helped bridge the gap are the Common Core standards. Now teachers and after school coordinators know exactly what students need to know in every grade level.

Improve Communication

The best way to make sure students succeed is to have open lines of communication. Communication between afterschool coordinators and teachers/principals to discuss student progress and how to best meet the needs of each student. It can be extremely challenging for after school coordinators to schedule meetings with school administrators. The best way to secure a meeting is to be prepared to discuss something of value. It is always easier to have a thoughtful and productive conversation when you are prepared with concrete examples of what you would like to discuss.
Want to learn more about how Sokikom helps bridge the gap between educators and after school programs? Check out this video from Lynnette Lomeli in the Fresno Unified School District.

3 Reasons Why Teachers Should Relax This Summer

You need to Decompress

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Teaching is hard work. During the school year you are running from one end of the classroom to the other, attending to a student’s bloody nose while grading 25 spelling tests and preparing for Parent-Teacher conferences. You hardly have time to sit down and eat your lunch everyday and you often take your work home with you. Whether you are cutting out flashcards for your students to practice multiplication or you’re worrying about your students that don’t get to eat breakfast before school, you’re constantly working. Between the work and worry you take home with you, you probably work 10-12 hours a day during the school year. This is why you need to R.E.L.A.X. over the summer! You’re probably thinking, “relax? That is much easier said than done!” But I encourage you to take some time to yourself and really decompress. If you need a few suggestions on how to do so, the Andrew’s Institute has a great post tips for decompressing.


You need to Reflect


Teaching is overwhelming. Everyday you are trying to balance the needs of 25 individual students and fostering their educational, emotional, and social well being. There is no doubt about it, that is hard to do! It is easy to get caught up in the day-to-day of everyday teaching during the school year which leaves you little time to reflect on what went well and what could be improved. Whether that be teaching methods, your reaction to a certain situation, or classroom management. Summer is the perfect time of year to relax and really think and reflect on your past year of teaching. If the idea of reflecting is overwhelming to you, check out this article by TeachHub which has great tips for reflecting on your past year in the classroom.


You need to Socialize

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Teaching is exhausting. After working a 12 hour day, the last thing you want to do is go out and socialize when you know you have to be up at 6:00am to get to school before the bell rings. Take the summer to rejuvenate relationships with your friends and family. Enjoy days full of adult conversations that don’t involve bodily functions, loud noises, or shhhhing. After spending your days surrounded by kids you deserve to bask in the summer sun surrounded by intellectual conversation. Need a few ideas on what to do with your friends and family (on a teacher’s budget)? Check out this post from the Simple Dollar!