Vlog Episode 002: Student Engagement | Tackling the Top 5 Education Challenges

Student Engagement in Early Literacy

Video length: 15:36
Includes history of student engagement

common issues facing early education

Stephanie Dowlearn and Gretchen Doll
Educational Consultants / Early Ed Teachers

Join Stephanie and Gretchen, two former early ed teachers, as they discuss five common challenges facing early education and take a deeper dive into student engagement. In this second episode, Stephanie and Gretchen walk through the history and importance of engagement and they leave you with practical solutions and resources for your classroom.

The 5 Early Education challenges that are being discussed in this VLOG series:

Early Literacy
Student Engagement
Student Well-Being
Special Education

<Outline and Partial Transcription:>

“Engagement in the Classroom: A Look Back and a Path Forward”

I. Introduction
A. Introduction of the topic of engagement in classrooms
B. Importance of engagement in learning
C. Overview of the history of engagement in American classrooms

II. The Evolution of Engagement in American Classrooms
A. The first speller and its limitations
B. McGuffey’s Reader and its impact
C. The effects of technology on engagement

III. The Challenges of Engagement in Modern Classrooms
A. The impact of technology on classroom engagement
B. Instant gratification and its effects on student engagement
C. The difficulty of engaging students during COVID-19

IV. The Future of Engagement in American Classrooms
A. The importance of social interaction and conversation
B. The role of technology in promoting engagement
C. Strategies for improving engagement in modern classrooms

V. Conclusion
A. Recap of the importance of engagement and its evolution
B. Discussion of the challenges and opportunities for improving engagement
C. Final thoughts and call to action for improving engagement in American classrooms.

Hi, I’m Stephanie, and I’m Gretchen. We’re with Alive Studios.

Today, we’re back to discuss the second challenging problem in classrooms across America, and that is engagement. According to an ED Week research survey, 70% of teachers said their students misbehave more now than before COVID. Engagement is so important because if they’re not engaged, they’re not learning.

One of the things that teachers are concerned about is how to improve engagement in classrooms. And that’s something that has been a question for a long time. But you know, our world has changed, and I think it’s good to look back at where schools started and what they started doing in America in the 1700s.

So, we will show you what engagement has looked like over the past 100 years. Well, since 1734, I believe, was the first one, Noah Webster wrote a speller and published it back in 1734. It was called something like the Grammar Institute of National Something. I don’t remember, but it was long, so if you can imagine being in a classroom, your kids would lose engagement by the time you got to the end of the name of that book, so they called it the Blue Book speller. It taught words, letters, and sounds. The stories were patriotic, and they were about citizenship. That was what kids started with. That was the very first speller in America. Then we got to McGuffey’s Reader, and it was more entertaining. It has lovely pictures and discusses phonics, which were letters, then words. It was a moral book. So the stories were Moral Stories, and that and the blue-backed reader were what American students had in the 1800s to 1900s.

Why is engagement different nowadays? That’s what we want to take a look at.

If you think about it, back in the day, that was what a schoolroom looked like; everybody was in rows, and you had certain textbooks. Then came along technology, and things changed. We have lots of fun things here that probably are like a walk down memory lane for some people who might be watching, and for some people, it might be pure history that you’ve only ever seen in a museum. That is not the case for me. I have been through them all. Oh, the Oregon Trail! Yeah, I remember playing that in elementary school.

There have been so many changes in technology from way back when until now. We have amazing computers, and right in our hands, we have phones that can do pretty much anything. Technology has changed, which has an effect, and that effect is huge. I’ve heard this, and you’ve heard this when we’re at conferences or when we’re at training.

Kids are no longer engaged because they are constantly staring at a screen. Everything is instant gratification, you know when they are watching TV or watching their videos and want their games to do something. They get instant gratification, and so as a teacher, when you’re in front of the classroom, trying to pull things out of them and trying to get them to listen. It has become harder and harder, especially since COVID. I had to do a song and a dance and my songs and my dances weren’t working anymore! We tried everything!

At home, kids have access to technology 24/7 if they want it. Unfortunately, when you go to the classroom, there is also a lot of screen time, and kids are being subjected to enormous amounts of technology at home in the classroom. People are hesitant to want to talk about bringing more technology into the classroom.

Well, and the reason is I think, of course, you hear all over the news that you know kids being on-screen time is not good if it’s all the time, and so parents and teachers don’t want their kids on the screen on screen all the time. They’re losing that social interaction they used to have; if you notice in these pictures and the ones before, they are isolated, and we need to engage children in conversations and social interaction.

How do you do that with technology?

You use it for a good reason and get kids talking again and working together. How do we do that, though? You know education has changed. The challenge of educating kids is already tough. But with all of our technology, things have evolved, and just like technology evolves, education has to constantly evolve to meet the needs of our students. I’ve been looking at different research. I found some interesting things you may already know, but it’s worth repeating.

So, number one, if a child is feeling emotional trauma or emotional stress or they don’t feel safe. For whatever reason, they are uncomfortable, their brain shuts down for learning, and it’s hard to get through that gate. The amygdala is your gatekeeper, and when your instruction is not getting through because the gate is closed, kids are not learning.

The way that we have to engage students these days is to make sure that their needs are met as much as possible in the classroom and let them know. It’s a safe environment. The next thing we can do is make sure that when we’re introducing something, we’re introducing something that is a surprise or really evoking an emotional response. Aha moments that everybody talks about because once your brain intakes that aha moment, it goes to another part of the brain.

That part of the brain, I believe it’s the hippocampus, decides this information is interesting, entertaining, and novel enough for me to keep. Do I want to know more, or am I going to discard it? And we must get past the amygdala and then the hippocampus detector. And that is how you can begin engaging students with that novel surprise, something different and something kids can relate to.

How do we do that? We need to make them feel safe, and most kids would say that their teachers are safe with them. We’re all doing a great job making our kids feel safe and in a welcoming environment for them to learn. We are all doing a really good job of making kids feel safe at school, but sometimes, you can’t do anything about what goes on at home, but when they get to school, that’s the time when they can feel good about themselves and begin to learn. That’s the beautiful part of having that relationship with your students. They can learn and grow under your watch.

Education has to evolve with the times.

We can’t keep sending home McGuffey readers or blue-backed spellers. We’ve got to do something different, and we have to make the technology we’re using purposeful because we don’t want stare and peck. We want something that kids can interact with.

Going back to the brain science part, we’re teaching, and that’s part of brain science, you know, it’s shown that the more connections they have, their hippocampus is going to say. “Oh, yeah, let me keep that information!” So, seeing these kids surprised and excited creates a wave of emotion that imprints and stays in their brains. So they’re hearing it. They’re seeing it. They’re experiencing learning, and we like to say that we make learning come alive.

And that’s what’s going to engage your kids. When you’re using 3D augmented reality from Alive Studios’ resources, it’s very different from virtual reality. In virtual reality, you go into another universe, usually with a headset on that shuts you out of the real world.

To the contrary, 3D augmented reality layers into the real world, making something abstract for kids become something real. They can interact with and think about when they’re young children, and they can interact and do things with our technology, creating that novel experience. That emotion, just being able to see a sentence come to life in front of you to see an animal and understand that animals make sounds, and letters make sounds too. It’s brilliant!

We have independent research that Dr. Tamara Ogletree performed at the University of West Georgia, and you can see the results here. The 90-day study showed a 48% increase in letter naming fluency, and letter sound fluency increased as well. But what was the most exciting was something that wasn’t even studied, right, Gretchen? It was just a side effect. The classroom management problems decreased. Some teachers even reported that students who were having extreme difficulty focusing on tasks and learning were engrossed in what was going on when Letters alive was in action.

So that’s great news! It’s going to help them learn. It’s going to help them grow as a reader, and it’s going to keep them engaged and have fewer problems or opportunities for misbehavior.

The main thing that we want you guys to know is just make it fun in your classrooms. And one of the ways that you can make things fun is with augmented reality and purposeful technology. Look for another chat in a month or two. Regarding math, because that is our next topic we’re going to be discussing.

We’ll see you next time!

Want to submit an idea for discussion? Message us!

Vlog Episode 001: Tackling the Top 5 Education Challenges with Innovative Resources

6-minute video
Includes FREE Downloadable Resource

common issues facing early education

Stephanie Dowlearn and Gretchen Doll
Educational Consultants / Early Ed Teachers

Join Stephanie and Gretchen, two former early ed teachers, as they discuss five common challenges facing early education and introduce an upcoming 5-part VLOG series. In this intro video, Stephanie and Gretchen walk thru how to use the Zoo Crew Alphabet Show which is a FREE early literacy resource with over 6 hours of educational and entertaining content.

And, be sure to watch until the end for free access to our downloadable Interactive Alphabet Chart (pdf), which directs you to the 26 Episodes of the Zoo Crew Alphabet Show.

Topics that are being discussed in our 5 part VLOG.

Student Engagement
Early Literacy
Student Well-Being
Special Education

<Partial Transcription:>

Hello! We are Stephanie and Gretchen, Education Consultants from Alive Studios!

Over the past year, we’ve talked to over a thousand teachers at 15 different conferences across the country. We’ve discovered that teachers face similar challenges, such as keeping students engaged and motivated, improving literacy and reading skills, and addressing low math scores.

Additionally, COVID has brought up concerns about student well-being and social-emotional learning. As a company, we have a unique approach that can help with all of these issues. Our company uses 26 lovable zoo animals to teach children letters, sounds, and more, using 3D augmented reality technology. This innovative approach makes a novel, brain-based connection and helps children learn in a fun and engaging way.

We offer resources for teachers with big or small budgets, including a FREE Interactive Alphabet Chart that leads to each of the 26 episodes of our Zoo Crew Alphabet Show. Each episode takes children on a tour through the Alive Studios Zoo in 3D augmented reality to explore a letter, its sound, and one of our lovable zoo animals.

Even if you don’t have our resources, you can still use our show to engage children and teach them about letters and sounds. The show is also available publicly, so children can learn and engage with their families at home. During COVID, we wanted to help teachers, so we created the show as a quick and easy way to give back to early educators.

All of our animals have a social-emotional story, and we have these 26 stories available as a free download here on our website.

We are committed to helping teachers improve their students’ reading and learning skills and want to hear from you about any specific struggles you are facing.

You can email us via our website under Education Consultants, or use the form below, and we’ll be happy to help you. If you’re struggling, chances are other teachers are too, and we want to help!

Follow us at Alive Studios Zoo across all social media platforms. We’ll be back next month to talk more about student engagement. Thanks for listening!

Want to submit an idea for discussion? Message us!

How to Make Easy, Engaging, and Effective Centers for Elementary Classrooms

effective center ideas for kindergarten

7-minute read
Includes FREE Downloadable Resources

center ideas for kindergarten and 1st grade

Gretchen Doll
Educational Consultant / Early Ed Teacher

As educators, we know targeted small groups that provide explicit instructioneffective centers for kindergarten are a crucial component for young learners. To determine placement and keep groupings fluid according to skill for systematic and explicit instruction that moves students forward, you also need time to assess. There are several good online assessment tools available to teachers such as ESGI, Lexia, and iStation.

However, time to observe students and have conversations to fine tune your understanding of what students know is paramount. But, what do you do with the other twenty-something students that are not with you? Here are a few tips for creating and maintaining accountable, engaging stations that manage behavior and promote time on task.

Make Stations Easy on YOU

effective center ideas for kindergartenTake time in the beginning to make multiple stations. I organized my stations using 5 colors. For every color, I had 4 boxes containing 4 different ways to practice the skills for the week. I divided students into groups and each group was assigned a color each day.

For example, if Lola is assigned the color red on Monday, she can choose from one of the four activities that are in the red tubs or labeled with red.

Keep the color tubs the same for the month, just change the skills for the week. Some tubs are applicable all year and do not need to be changed. (i.e. letter/number stamps, Wiki Stix, Play-doh with letters/shapes cookie cutters, Lego or snap cubes, sand trays, magnetic letters) This cuts down on prep time and teaching students new activities. Below are 5 great resources for stations:

1. Teach, Play, Learn!: How to Create a Purposeful Play-Driven Classroom by Adam Peterson
2. Make, Take, Teach Blog
3. 40 Literacy Center Ideas
4. Kaboom Sticks
5. Alive Studios Zoo Letters alive Journals and Math alive Journals

***Include a science or social studies station to help with meeting the required minutes. I often found it hard to get the minutes met in those areas. This can be done with leveled informational picture books. One example of a station would be sorting and counting animals according to color, habitat, diet, etc. Or let the kids choose their own way to sort and explain their sort. This can be easily organized using the journals from Alive Studios Zoo.

Make Behavior Manageable From the Beginning

Introduce two stations on Monday of each week by modeling how to complete the station and expectations for getting it out, playing and cleaning up. This is the time to introduce and reinforce the social emotional growth skills (SEL) needed to function as little learners in a community.

Time Management: Getting started quickly, focusing on the task at hand,effective center ideas for kindergarten and cleaning up so that the next group is able to have the same experience.

Social Awareness/Relationship Skills: Learning to take turns and use manners when communicating. Learning how to listen to and help others.

Self Awareness: Accepting that making mistakes can lead to success. I always ask kids if I can share their mistakes by saying something like, “Wow! Can I share your mistake because that is one I think others are making but aren’t brave enough to share it. Want to help me teach everyone? I can tell you are pushing your learning.” Sometimes kids say no, and that is fine, too. But eventually everyone would share mistakes in my class.

Self Management: Learning to self control and commit to excellence. Guiding students in finding their gifts and their areas for growth.

Lay down the law and practice, practice, practice! Just like making multiple stations to save your sanity, take the time to practice transitions, cleanup, and expectations. If things are going awry, stop immediately, assess why, and regroup.

Do not introduce new stations until previous ones are running like well oiled machines. I realize that there will be years and groups that will test everyone’s limits, but be consistent and don’t let little things slide those first weeks. Be overly regimented in the beginning, so that you can relax the rules and be flexible while managing the controlled chaos throughout the year.

I am a huge fan of Love and Logic resources for learning to set firm limits and boundaries in a logical, loving way. Centervention offers a subscription to online interactive stories, but they also have 95 Free SEL Activities available. One resource for free SEL short learning videos for kids is Cosmic Kids Zen Den. I used these in the morning right before we started our day, or before certain activities that I knew could become potential roadblocks. Alive Studios Zoo offers 26 Rhyming SEL Stories as a free resource. The stories connect lovable animals to everyday lessons in life.

Make Stations Accountable and Save Yourself Time

I learned several tips along the way to help students be accountable.effective center ideas for kindergarten If you have taught more than one year, you know that what works one year often has to be tweaked or completely reworked the next. Here are a few ways I rotated accountability throughout the years.

Any task that needed to be checked was completed in the station directly before that group came to work with me. Students would bring it with them to our small group, we’d do a quick check, and then they could put it in their mailbox to go home. I could reteach at that moment if multiple students didn’t understand, or save it for one-on-one/small group later.

If students had station journals or folders, I rotated the ones I checked. For example, check group 1 on Mondays, group 2 on Tuesdays, etc. I am sure you also know that a couple of students require daily checks. If you are consistent and go wild with celebration when they complete any task, the need for that can become less. Some years, the struggle to be consistent was very real for me!

Use an iPad to take pictures of creations that are not paper pencil. If your students use a device in the classroom during a station time, they can upload their game, number understanding, etc. by uploading a picture to SeeSaw and talking about it using the language of the discipline. If you do not use SeeSaw or another platform, have the students write their name on a sticky note and include it in the picture they take. Then, check the camera roll on the devices.

If you are using a tub choice system similar to the one mentioned above, make some of the tubs which give you the best picture of student understandings the “must do” tubs.

Do the Work, Be Consistent, Keep It Simple

effective center ideas for kindergartenStations are an indispensable part of the classroom. They develop not only academic skills, but more importantly, life skills. Tackling them can sometimes give educators combat fatigue. Here are the takeaways I have learned.

Keep stations simple and versatile by repurposing the same tubs and manipulatives, but change the skill. Take extra time to set up your classroom management and redirect students until you have the desired outcome before introducing other stations. Realize that certain stations just may not work for some learners or groups of learners. Save your sanity and put it in the closet for a while. Consistently holding students accountable gives you information and provides students the gift of responsibility!


Need more help creating super-effective centers? Message us!

Family Engagement and Learning Through the Summer!

summer learning for kids

2-minute read
Includes FREE Downloadable Resources

activity calendars for summer learning

Gretchen Doll
Educational Consultant / Early Ed Teacher

Counting the Days!summer learning for kids
The end of the school year is in sight and you can count the number of days left on one hand. You have worked so hard to make sure your students met their goals and benchmarks set by others.

Summer Learning Loss! Make it STOP!
summer learning for kidsHow do you keep your Pre-K and Kindergarten students from losing the proverbial months of learning over the summer break and get them ready for the next school year? During the pandemic, teachers, parents and districts saw monumental loss when students were receiving instruction virtually. Early learners do not have any room for learning loss over this and subsequent summers and you, as their teacher, don’t have time to create something that will keep their recent learning in the forefront. It is easy to tell parents to read to their children, talk to them about math at the grocery store, in the kitchen, in the car, counting socks to put in pairs, and the list goes on. Parents have really good intentions, but as a parent I know life takes over and often good intentions slide.

No-Prep, No-Print – Simply Download and Send!summer learning for kids
Using my experience in early education, special education, and instructional technology, I compiled calendar ideas in an easy, no-prep summer calendar with activities that are simple to facilitate by parents and are engaging for kids.

A parent letter, instructions, and links are provided for easy activities parents can do with their children over the summer. Just download the one that fits your needs, and send it out to your parents. There is no printing, gathering supplies, or explanation. It is all done for you and ready to send!

Take a breath! You are almost there!

FREE Downloadable (pdf) Resources
Get Ready for Kindergarten – Calendar
Get Ready for First Grade – Calendar
Summer Calendar – Parent Letter


Need more ideas for a learning-filled summer? Message us!

It’s the End of the Year and You Know It!!

“… keeping your routines in place helps to ease the chaos! … you can keep the peace and still have fun!”

5-minute read
Includes FREE EOY Downloadable Resource

end of school for pre-k and kindergarten

Stephanie Dowlearn
Educational Consultant / Kindergarten Teacher

It’s finally here! (yay! boo!)
Throughout schools nationwide, teachers pass each other in the hall, proclaiming the number of days left this school year. It’s a yearly ritual, especially in elementary schools, where kindergarten teachers are sure to know that magic number! It’s the end of the year, and we all know it, but do you feel fine?

The end of the school year is a difficult time, but keeping your routines in place helps to ease the chaos! Even with Field Day, field trips, performances, ceremonies, and parties, you can keep the peace and still have fun!

Anyone who has ever taught kindergarten knows most of the year is one rough day after another, buried in the trenches until the end of February when like a butterfly emerging from a cocoon, our little kindergartners suddenly become independent little beings and the routines that were established months ago keep the classroom running like a well-oiled machine!

It’s not over yet!
This was always my favorite time of the year! Learning and laughter were a daily occurrence until the end of April when suddenly, my sweet little kindergarten family turned into a bunch of bickering pseudo-siblings! It was like they’d forgotten everything we’d learned from our numerous SEL activities! Experienced teachers can attest to this yearly end-of-year transformation, and for those who are new to this, all hope is not lost!

Ideas for a fabulous finish!
A great way to motivate learners and encourage wanted behaviors is a fun incentive! Each year, near the end of April, I introduced our Kindergarten ABC Countdown to Summer, which is similar to the Backwards Bootcamp from The Kindergarten Smorgasboard.

There are tons of End of Year Countdowns on TPT to choose from, but it was the tradition at my school to count the days until summer with a review of the alphabet that many of my students began the year not knowing!

This 26-day countdown celebrated the alphabet with fun activities as we continued to follow our daily schedule and routines. The kids loved coming to school to see what fun was in store, behaviors improved, and joy returned to finish the year!!

When in doubt, bring out the animals!
In my last year in the classroom, I had the great idea to include animals in the ABC Countdown! Along with the countdown theme for the day, we brainstormed all the animals that start with the day’s focus letter. Since I had Classrooms alive, it was easy to refer to animals from our Alive Studios Zoo to learn more about their characteristics and habitats.

Each child created an animal letter craft for the day and wrote about the animal. The pages were then combined to create an adorable animal alphabet book that went home with them on the last day of school. I really wanted the kids to record themselves reading their book, but I’ve learned you just have to let some great ideas go! I also sent each child home with a Letters alive Student Journal to continue learning throughout the summer!

Whew! We can do this!
There are so many great ideas to end the school year, but we all know the trek to the end can be overwhelming, so slow down, take a breath, and as you near the finish line, be sure to have fun and make memories with your little learners!

For some fun theme-day ideas, click here!


Need more ideas to make your end of the year memorable? Message us!

Spring Funding Frenzy: How to Secure Classroom Resources Before the Budget Year Ends

funding for pre-k and kindergarten classroom resources

“While you may feel that there is no money available at this time of the year, the exact opposite may be true.”

3-minute read

funding resources for pre-k and kindergarten

Tanya Pechnik
Educational Consultant and Former Assistant Principal

Can you believe it’s already the end of March? Most of us have made it past spring break and have the finish line in sight, however, that does not stop educators from constantly being on the lookout for new resources for their classroom. But does the thought of approaching your administrator leave you stressed out and anxious? Well, as a former Assistant Principal I’m here to help! While you may feel that there is no money available at this time of the year, the exact opposite may be true.

funding for pre-k and kindergarten classroom resources

Oftentimes school leaders look at their budget towards the end of the school year to determine what is left in their “use it or lose it” funds. This is the money that has been allocated to be spent by the end of the fiscal year (June 30) and will be forfeited if it isn’t. No administrator wants money to go unused! Believe it or not, this may impact next year’s budget in a negative way since it appears that they requested more money than the school actually needs.

So let’s talk about how you can approach your school administrator for funding in the spring:

Research the costs
Before you meet with your school administrator, you should find out how much the resources will cost. If you can, break down the costs into smaller items so that the administration may approve only part of the money. Also, if you can get a written quote from the vendor, this would be very helpful as well.

funding for pre-k and kindergarten classroom resources

Explain why the resource is necessary
You should explain why the supplementary curriculum is necessary to increase student achievement. Include student data, if applicable.

Present a plan
Create a plan of how you will implement the resource in your classroom and be sure to think past this school year. If this resource will be used year-to-year it will be more appealing than something that is used once.

Show evidence of its effectiveness
If available, provide evidence of how the resource has helped students in other schools who have used it. Many educational resources will provide research or case studies that demonstrate student success using their product. This research helps increase confidence; and oftentimes is a requirement for certain funding sources.

funding for pre-k and kindergarten classroom resources

You know your administrator best. The extent to the amount of detail you need in each of these areas depends on the person reviewing your proposal. However, having each of these components covered will help your administrator understand how the money you are asking for will benefit student growth and learning.


Need help getting your proposal together? Send us a message below:

13 Resources that Helped Me Embrace the Science of Reading

“Knowing the needs of my students and labeling the components of the Science of Reading has helped me realize I’ve been successfully doing most of these things in my classroom, yet I am always learning!”

7-minute read | 2 videos

science of reading for pre-k and kindergarten

Stephanie Dowlearn
Educational Consultant and Kindergarten Teacher

Anyone who knows anything about teaching children to read can tell you something about the Science of Reading. They can share a fact about the years of research dedicated to improving reading instruction or how a quip from state-mandated coursework reminded them of that Educational Psychology class back in college.

No matter what is being said, the Science of Reading is not just a fad or a buzzword of the year; it’s a solid foundation of research that began hundreds of years ago by pioneers in education who knew the importance of understanding how children learn to read, and it is still significant today.

science of reading for pre-k

The Pressure to Read is On!
So why do so many teachers feel overwhelmed when the subject of the Science of Reading pops up in conversations? Could it be that many teachers feel the pressure to learn, understand and put into use the body of research sweeping the nation while fitting in the numerous requirements already mandated?

science of reading for early learnersOr, is it that over the course of their career, they have been told phonics is best, only to learn the next year that the whole language approach is better? And don’t forget balanced literacy! One thing is for sure; there are studies to back each method, and they are creating madness in the minds of teachers!

Recognizing SOR for What it is
What can be done to quell the angst? The first step is to understand that the Science of Reading is not a curriculum, a program to implement, or a magic cure for teaching reading. It is a body of research fueled by the desire to understand the best ways to teach reading.

Throughout history, many reading wars have been waged over which technique is best, and the victims are the students left to learn at the victor’s mercy. In today’s classroom, teachers who acknowledge the science behind how humans learn to read and use it to guide their instruction, regardless of the curriculum in place will reap the spoils!

Teachers have a huge weight on their shoulders, and having a strong understanding of the Science of Reading can ease the burden.

Google the Science of Reading, or drop a question into ChatGPT, and you will quickly have an overwhelming amount of information at your fingertips! As an educator, I’m fascinated by the research and would likely devour the content if I had time, but as a teacher, wife, and mom, I need the meat and potatoes version.

science of reading simplifiedI recently watched a great webinar called The Science of Reading Simplified, hosted by Mr. Greg from TKS and Holly Ehle from TRT. They are real classroom teachers who shared easy and effective ways to incorporate SOR aligned activities into daily instruction. It’s FREE, so be sure to check it out!

To break it down, the Science of Reading focuses on five key components: Phonemic Awareness, Phonics, Fluency, Vocabulary, and Comprehension. These five components are woven together, each dependent on the other to build strong readers.

science of reading for early learners1. Phonemic Awareness
Phonemic awareness is the more sophisticated relative of phonological awareness. Instead of just the ability to hear, recognize, and play with the sounds in spoken language, a child with good phonemic awareness can hear, recognize, and play with the individual sounds in spoken words.

These individual sounds are called phonemes, and discerning these in spoken word is a step toward becoming a reader. Phonemic awareness implies that all kids are or become aware in their own time, but it is a skill that must be explicitly taught in the classroom.

Rhyming, segmenting, blending, isolating, and manipulating phonemes are excellent activities for developing phonemic awareness in early learners. A few of my favorite resources in the classroom were Reading Rockets, Heggerty, and the Florida Center for Reading Research.

science of reading for early learners2. Phonics
Phonics is the understanding that symbols or letters represent specific sounds and that those sounds can be combined to form readable words. Phonics is a necessary skill to sound out and blend words so students can read them when they see them.

Children with strong phonics skills can connect the sounds they hear in spoken words to the letters that make them up. This is crucial for decoding and spelling words, as it helps children to make sense of the letters on the page and turn them into words they can understand.

science of reading for early learnersTo help build phonics knowledge, teachers can use numerous strategies and engaging activities. Some of my favorite resources for phonics in the classroom were Jack Hartmann, Frog Street, Handwriting Without Tears, and Letters alive!

3. Fluency
Fluency is reading smoothly and accurately, an important predictor of reading comprehension. Children who struggle with fluency may have difficulty understanding what they read because they focus on decoding the words rather than comprehending the text.

To improve fluency, teachers can use repeated readings of familiar texts, choral reading, and other strategies to help children practice reading with expression and accuracy. My kindergartners loved using Epic to listen and read along with the stories.

4. Vocabulary
Vocabulary refers to the words we know, understand, and use to communicate effectively. It is another essential component of reading comprehension. Children with a larger vocabulary are more likely to understand what they read and hear and use more words correctly in their speaking and writing.

To build vocabulary, teachers can use various strategies such as introducing new words through shared reading and read-alouds, providing opportunities for children to use new words in their writing and speaking, and using visual aids to help children learn new words.

It is also important for teachers to provide explicit instruction in word meaning and encourage children to use context clues and ask questions when they encounter unfamiliar words. I introduced new vocabulary with every unit, and my students loved Reading and Writing the Room activities. WordWorld and WordGirl on PBS Kids were favorites to watch during snack time!

Integrating science into literacy activities is another great way to build vocabulary.

Using the Letters alive building sentences feature, I was able to spur many interesting and lively discussions in my classroom! Cross-curricular resources enable students to develop great background knowledge that benefits them as they learn to read!

Watch my teacher friend, Adam, using Letters alive:
phonics program for kids

5. Comprehension
Comprehension is the ability to draw information from a text and make meaning of it. In the Science of Reading, comprehension is the end goal, not necessarily something focused on until students become skilled at decoding.

The science shows that asking a child to decode and answer questions about the plot, setting, characters, problems, and solutions can can tax an emergent reader. Of course, comprehension is important, and as children grow as readers, teachers can address comprehension skills through read-aloud, class discussions, and audiobooks.

When the difficult decoding layer is removed from the story, reluctant readers are more apt to participate, ultimately building their reading confidence. So take the time to read to your class and ask questions along the way!

Trust the Science
Throughout my 25 years as an educator, I’ve gathered knowledge from many sources, including professors, colleagues, researchers, bloggers, authors, and, most importantly, my students.

Knowing the needs of my students and labeling the components of the Science of Reading has helped me realize I’ve been successfully doing most of these things in my classroom, yet I am always learning! You are too! Embrace the science, use your resources, and put it into practice!


If you’re looking for fun and easy ways to implement the Science of Reading and to support your curriculum, send us a message below:

Is Technology Appropriate for Early Learners?

technology for prek and kindergarten

“What if technology was used to help children collaborate, talk with each other, and stir up their imaginations?”

5-minute read | 2 videos
technology for early learners

Cynthia B. Kaye
CEO | Chief Zoo Keeper of Alive Studios

Is technology an appropriate resource for early learners? Well, it kind of depends. We all know young children sitting by themselves in front of the screen is not ideal, but what if technology was used differently?

What if technology was used to help children collaborate, talk with each other, and stir up their imaginations?

What if there’s a technology that helps teachers facilitate conversation and interaction between their students? I think there can be a wrong way that we use technology with children and a right way.

Are you using technology with your young learners? If so, what kind of technology are you using? Is it a collaborative technology that gets children engaged with each other and the teacher?

Or, is the child more isolated and engaged by themselves? Is the student doing a “stare and peck” activity where he/she glares at a screen and pecks at a keyboard? It doesn’t have to be this way.

Technology for early learners

The Right Criteria for Tech
Technology in the classroom has become increasingly popular for students of all ages, including early learners between the ages of three and six.

While there are valid concerns about the potential negative effects of using technology for early learners, there are certainly strong arguments that support its use as a highly-positive educational tool… if the right criteria are met.

Play-based learning is essential for young children’s development, and if you can incorporate novel and intentional technology in this play children can learn important skills such as problem-solving, creativity, and social interaction.

With the right type and use of technology, teachers can add a fun and exciting way to learn to their list of teaching strategies. technology for prek and kindergartenIf the technology encourages and facilitates collaboration, interaction, and movement, it can open children’s brains up to a higher level of attention and learning.

Many children in this age group are naturally curious and enjoy exploring new things, and technology can provide them with a wealth of interactive and stimulating educational resources.

For example, the right educational apps, games, and programs can help children learn basic skills such as counting, letter recognition, collaboration, and problem-solving in a way that is both exciting and effective.

Furthermore, supplemental digital resources can be used to enhance and bring to life traditionally static and boring teaching tools, such as flashcards, books, worksheets, or even a classroom rug.

Helping Kids Develop Appropriate Tech Skills
Also, the use of appropriate and effective technology in early childhood education can help children develop important 21st-century skills.

In today’s digital age, it is increasingly important for children to be proficient with technology tools and to be able to navigate the digital world. Using technology in the classroom can help children develop skills such as digital literacy, communication, and working together, which are essential for success in today’s world.

Additionally, technology can also provide children with access to a wealth of resources that might not otherwise be available, such as virtual field trips and online educational videos. For early learners, here are some points to keep in mind for positive use of technology.

Kids need:

● tech that promotes collaboration with other students and the teacher
● interaction with the technology
● hands-on/physical activities
● visual/audio “novel” experiences that increase their excitement and engagement

Technology for Pre-K and Kindergarten
So you might be thinking, what are some technologies that are novel and encourage collaboration?

technology for prek and kindergartenOsmo
One of these positive technology resources available for early learners is Osmo. Osmo is a mobile application that encourages students to collaborate, create, think critically, and communicate.

The application is coupled with an age-appropriate learning kit including a tablet base, camera reflector, manipulatives, and a teacher’s guide. One of Osmo’s learning tools is “ABC’s”, which offers an interactive and kinesthetic approach to phonics.

Kids can work with Mo the Monster to form letters and make words with squishy, colorful sticks and rings. This type of learning with technology blends traditional learning methods with young children’s natural curiosity about today’s digital devices.

Illumination Station
technology for prek and kindergartenAnother example of an engaging technology tool for Pre-K and Kindergarten classrooms is offered by Kaplan Early Learning; It’s the Illumination Station.

The Illumination Station takes your sand and light play to the next level. It engages children’s cognitive, social, and sensory development by transforming a common sand table and projector into a hands-on learning adventure!

Using 3D Augmented Reality, the Illumination Station transfers realistic colors and life-like images onto the sand for a mesmerizing sensory experience that kids love.

Children learn about geography, topography, seasons, animal habitats, and more as they create new worlds and explore interactive environments.

technology for prek and kindergartenLetters alive
Letters alive is a super-engaging, supplemental early literacy learning kit that uses 3D augmented reality animals to get students excited and motivated to learn. It facilitates social learning through collaborative and novel technology. Teachers lead their students through the Alive Studios Zoo to learn about the 26 animals while building solid foundations for reading success.

Letters alive brings all five components of the Science of Reading to life and is proven by Independent Research to increase engagement, support classroom management, and improve outcomes.

Research on Tech for Early Learners
You might be wondering, what does research say about the use of technology for early learners? Glad you asked.

When Dr. Tamra Ogletree, Professor of Language and Reading at the University of West Georgia, was introduced to a supplemental reading program, Letters alive, from Alive Studios that utilizes 3D Augmented Reality zoo animals, she initiated an Independent Study to determine its efficacy.

Technology for early learners

Dr. Ogletree discovered that Letters alive can be used to enhance any core curriculum with a multi-modal, collaborative learning experience.

Dr. Ogletree’s study tracked the progress of Pre-Kindergarteners in three classes for 90 days: Class 1 did not have the program, Class 2 had partial components from the program, and Class 3 had the full program. Neither class was given any instruction on how to use the product.

At the end of the study, the students who had full use of Letters alive could identify twice as many letters and four times as many letter sounds as the non-users.

technology for prek and kindergarten

“The teachers who were part of the study were surprised at how students who typically had attention difficulties were consistently engrossed in the program. The students responded to the animals because of the sound and visual stimulation,” Dr. Ogletree said. “Classroom management problems decreased as a result of the students being actively engaged, as well,” Ogletree added.

Yes, the Right Tech IS Appropriate for Early Learners
Technology can be an effective and engaging educational resource in the classroom for early learners between the ages of three and six. It can provide children with a fun and thrilling way to learn, and it can help them develop important problem solving and social skills.

However, it is important to use technology in moderation and find a balance using technology as a supplement to traditional teaching methods.

If you would like more information about collaborative technology from Alive Studios, send us a message below.

Pre-K to receive $5,000 per Classrooms in Covid-Relief Grants

covid relief funds for prek DECAL

According to an article in the Wall Street Journal this past May, 93% of the Covid-Relief funds allocated for education remain unspent. As the use-it-or-lose-it clock ticks, states are revitalizing conversations to determine the best and most effective ways to use the money.

Your home state may currently be creating projects with the surplus funds from CRRSA and ARP. If you’re in need of funds, check out your state’s Department of Education website to see what’s available for you. You can also read this summary of Covid-Relief Funds and the guidelines for usage. Do not miss this opportunity to fund the resources that may be vital to your classrooms.

In our home state, the Georgia Department of Early Care and Learning (DECAL) has funds remaining from the federal Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplement Appropriations (CRRSA) Act and from the American Rescue Plan (ARP) Act. As a result, DECAL is implementing several projects supporting Georgia’s child care providers, early care and educational workforce, families with young children, and other groups.

GA DECAL funding grants

Among the projects from GA DECAL, is Georgia’s $5,000 per Classroom Pre-K Grants. These $5,000 one-time Pre-K Classroom Grants are specifically allocated for the purchase of technology, instructional materials, and approved Pre-K curricula, as well as classroom furniture. These grants present an exciting opportunity for Pre-K providers around the state to procure crucial resources that get children in their care confident and ready for kindergarten.

Our Pre-K providers play a vital role in resetting the stage during this post-pandemic era. The new class of students entering into the world of education may have escaped the weight of the Covid impact, but they will still need engaging resources within a joyful learning environment to succeed.

The timeline for the Georgia Pre-K Grants is as follows:

September 2022 – Notification period
October 2022 – Grant funds to be awarded
March 31, 2023 – Deadline for all purchases

As an edtech developer of evidence-based supplemental resources, Alive Studios is pleased to share what we have to offer as purchase options for these grant funds.

Over the last nine years, Alive Studios has equipped thousands of classrooms in the United States and 26 other countries with mind-boggling 3D technology that springs learning to life. We take a brain-based approach to learning by catering to multiple learning modalities for maximized engagement! Our novel method of presenting instruction takes children on a magical journey through the Alive Studios Zoo with 26 animals that come alive using 3D Augmented Reality technology.

Alive Studios’ resources are aligned to:

  • Creative Curriculum
  • Head Start Framework
  • CLASS crosswalk
  • TEKS
  • And more

  • Case Studies and Independent Research prove that when student engagement increases, learning accelerates and outcomes improve.

    Below, we have conveniently answered some common questions:

    Are Alive Studios’ resources eligible for Covid funds allocated for technology and/or literacy?

    Are Alive Studios’ resources aligned to Pre-K standards?
    Yes, as well as kindergarten standards.

    What areas of study do Alive Studios’ resources cover?
    ELA (phonics based), Mathematics, SEL, and STEM for PreK & Kindergarten

    Do Alive Studios’ resources require a subscription?
    No, they are a one-time purchase.

    Do Alive Studios’ resources require the internet for use?

    Does Alive Studios have Case Studies and Independent Research proving the success of their resources?
    Yes. They can be found on our website.

    Does Alive Studios offer staff training for ease of implementation and effectiveness of use?
    Yes. We offer onsite and virtual training.

    Regardless of your home state, we can put together custom bundles to meet your grant needs. You can discuss a plan with your local Alive Studios Education Sales Consultant.

    Cooking up Reading Success with SOR from a Passionate Educator and Avid Cook!

    science of reading for pk

    “I like to think of myself as a literacy chef, gathering the right ingredients to work into my reading instruction… You know the SOR recipe, but what if you’re missing a particular ingredient?” ~ Stephanie Dowlearn

    science of reading phonemic awareness for early readers

    Stephanie Dowlearn
    Educational Consultant and Kindergarten Teacher

    It’s almost 6 o’clock on a Monday, and you’ve finally arrived home after enduring a faculty meeting that seemed to last an eternity. The commute home was a nightmare, and now you stare blankly into the pantry, searching for a few ingredients to throw together to prepare something edible for your family. You regret not getting up early to put together that Potato Soup Crockpot Meal that you would have been ready to enjoy right about now. Instead, you stand frozen, listening to the queries of “what’s for dinner” echoing over your shoulder! You’ve made a million decisions throughout the day. Still, this one dinner decision is next to impossible, so you reluctantly grab your old favorites and decide on what has always worked in the past; a box of mac and cheese and some frozen chicken nuggets. It’s not the best, but it’s food and will get the job done! I recall a quote by Benjamin Franklin, “If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail!” Of course, I’m not saying that chicken nuggets and mac-n-cheese are a failure, but doesn’t a hot bubbly Ravioli Lasagna Casserole sound better? It may seem like a stretch, but just like this dinner scenario, finding the resources to serve up the Science of Reading can feel daunting, and you may feel like you don’t have the time for something new, but trust me, you do, and you may find that this recipe is something you can’t live without!

    Know Your Recipe
    By definition, a recipe is a set of instructions, including ingredients, for preparing a particular dish. I LOVE to cook, and I have collected quite a few cookbooks over the years; in each one, you can tell the recipes I’ve used repeatedly. They are well loved with the remnants of a butter-covered thumb smeared across the print. I know my Mother-in-law’s Oatmeal Cake recipe almost by heart, but I’ll always pull out the recipe just to be sure I don’t forget something important. When we have a recipe to follow, our dish will turn out as intended, so knowing a good one that has been replicated and researched by many over decades is one to use. The Science of Reading teaches that phonemic awareness, phonics, vocabulary, fluency, and comprehension work together to create readers. Teachers throughout the country continue to undergo intense training in the Science of Reading, learning that following this recipe of explicit, systematic instruction will meet the literacy needs of their students. A decent stock of staple materials is necessary for a teacher and a cook, but no matter what ingredients you have at your disposal, following a tried and true recipe like the Science of Reading is still vital.

    Gather the Right Ingredients
    I like to think of myself as a literacy chef, gathering the right ingredients to work into my reading instruction, ultimately creating a learning feast with a little of this and a little of that. You know the SOR recipe, but what if you’re missing a particular ingredient? Can you substitute it for something similar? Will the recipe be ruined, or will the substitution enhance and improve it? Walk into any elementary classroom, open the closet, and find numerous resources that were once the flavor of the year. Millions of dollars are spent year after year trying to find suitable materials to teach reading, and most are collecting dust, still sitting in the plastic wrap like the day they were stored away. Since beginning my teaching career in 1998, I have seen numerous new programs, curriculums, and adoptions come and go as publishers tout that they have the answer for comprehensive reading instruction. I’ve used Open Court, Frog Street Press, Journeys, My View, Words Their Way, Lucy Calkins Units of Study, Fountas & Pinnell, Heggerty, Lexia, and many more. I’ve learned that sometimes the best recipes fail when there are too many cooks in the kitchen, so teachers must remember to keep the recipe for reading simple and use resources that make sense to create effective learning experiences for their students.

    Mix It Up and Try New Things
    Every recipe can be given new life with new flavors to appeal to a more refined palate. Teachers are tasked with helping students learn and are burdened with how to deliver instruction in a fun and engaging way. Especially now, as teachers deal with the effects of the pandemic, novelty is a must! During my last year in the classroom, I had the privilege of using a patented 3D Augmented Reality technology from Alive Studios Zoo called Classrooms alive with my kindergartners. This novel, brain-based concept of learning with animals added a much-needed spice to my reading lessons. The reactions from my students were that of pure joy! Happy squeals and excited giggles erupted as the zoo animals came to life on the screen! My kindergartners were mesmerized by the 3D Augmented Reality that brought the animals to life in our classroom. If you are unfamiliar with AR, it’s a tool that integrates the real learning world with a virtual world created by computer software. Studies have shown that using augmented reality technology in teaching and learning creates a more effective, efficient, and dynamic learning environment which leads to accelerated learning, and I can attest to that! I used the phonics curriculum my school had in place throughout the year, but it was a game changer when I acquired Classrooms alive! Using Classrooms alive to supplement my phonics instruction motivated my students, increased their engagement, and reinforced their learning. It was the perfect ingredient to add to my instructional routine!

    Make It Yours
    In my well-loved cookbooks, there are notes in the margins where I’ve run out of one ingredient and grabbed another to sprinkle in its place. I make a note, and if it works, the ingredient changes and the recipe becomes more of my own. The Science of Reading is not a fad or a program to try. It is solid, proven research on how children learn to read. It is the foundational recipe that all teachers must know and implement. Most teachers do not have a say in the programs that are mandated, but be your own chef and use what you know to gather the right ingredients that will work for you to create successful readers. Continue to test your recipe as flavors change and the heat is turned up. And don’t forget to add your own taste and mix it up to create the best learning outcomes for your students.

    If you’re interested in trying out Alive Studios Zoo 3D Augmented Reality Technology:
    1. Visit the My Letters alive Journals web page.
    2. Scroll all the way down to download the free Journals alive app and see the instructions.
    3. Make Gerdy Giraffe and the letter Gg come to life on your device!

    Finally, if all of this food talk has made you hungry, I’ve included 2 of my favorite back-to-school go-to meals and a sweet dessert to deal with the stress of settling into a new school year! Just click on the recipe links throughout this post.

    Have a great 2022-23 school year!

    Adam’s 7 Favorite Podcasts for Early Educators

    Favorite Podcasts for Early Educators

    “Whether you’re hitting the road for a summer vacation or sitting with a cup of coffee at home, I’m sure you’ll find something you love in each of these podcasts!” ~ Adam Peterson

    virtual teaching for 1st grade

    Adam Peterson
    Pre-K/K Educator, Author, Speaker, and Educational Consultant
    Follow me: https://www.instagram.com/teacherslearn2/

    I know from experience that teachers are not known as people who often take a break and just relax. Even during the much deserved time off during the summer, teachers are thinking about their students, what their classroom will look like for the new school year, beginning to plan ideas for their new students, and so much more.

    Hopefully all of you amazing teachers reading this blog are also finding time for YOU! Ok, ok…let’s be honest with each other. If you’re reading this blog then you’re obviously fitting into the mold of teachers who never stop learning, and are always trying to find ways to innovate and improve your classroom.

    One of my favorite ways to take downtime for me and keep using my summertime to improve as an educator is by listening to podcasts! Whether it’s on a summer road-trip vacation or lounging around at home, podcasts are an easy way to get some free PD before you head back to your classroom.

    What better way to start this list of podcast ideas than with a shameless self-promotion of my own shows, right?! Better yet, our CEO, Cynthia Kaye at Alive Studios Zoo, has been a guest on both of my shows to talk about her passion for engaging students and helping teachers. You can find both of my podcasts on Anchor, Apple Podcasts, and Spotify.

    On My Way To School with Adam Peterson
    1. On My Way To School is a podcast where I talk about positivity and passion in education with guests from all walks of life. My guests on this show also talk about life outside education, their side-hustles, and so much more.

    The Classroom Collaborative
    2. The Classroom Collaborative is a podcast that I co-host with my amazingly talented friend, Deedee Wills from Mrs. Wills Kindergarten. Our guests range from teachers to principals and authors to entrepreneurs.

    The end. Just kidding!

    There are so many great podcasts for educators out that I would be doing you all a major injustice if I just stopped after mine. So, I also made a list of my top 5 “other” favorites for you to take a listen to as you start to plan your summer road trips and relaxation time. Here you go!

    The Cult of Pedagogy
    3. Teaching strategies, classroom management, education reform, educational technology — if it has something to do with teaching, we’re talking about it. “Jennifer Gonzalez puts a huge amount of work into making her podcasts useful. She has simultaneous blog articles with all the links mentioned. She does a lot of research ahead of time and summarizes it for us. She prepares excellent questions for her guests ahead of time so that every interview proceeds quickly and with direction. She never interrupts her guests, lets them finish their points. Her diction/elocution is perfect, easy to understand, with no annoying quirks.” – from cultofpedagogy.com

    Teachers on Fire with Tim Cavey
    4. Warming your heart, sparking your thinking, and igniting your professional practice. “Tim releases a new episode every week, where he chats with an educator about their experiences (both good and bad) and their influences and passions. Tim’s vision is clear, he aims to contribute to the important conversations in and around education that he feels are required to inspire innovative practices by educators around the globe.” – from educationcorner.com

    Teach Me, Teacher
    5. “Teach Me, Teacher is a podcast for educators where teachers discuss topical, informative, and inspiring subjects. Designed from the ground up as a no nonsense approach to teacher development, this podcast is your gateway to bettering your craft (and having some laughs along the way). It is a show for you. To help you better your craft, learn new skills, and get ideas to fuel your own. It is a show for anyone in the field of education, and will feature teachers and administrators from all over to offer their unique perspectives.” – educatorstechnology.com

    Shake Up Learning
    6. The Shake Up Learning Show, hosted by Kasey Bell, features a variety of episodes for K12 teachers and educators, including tech tips, lesson ideas, practical advice, on-air coaching, student interviews, and interviews with inspiring educators. – shakeuplearning.com

    Who Smarted?
    7. My last recommendation is one for you AND your students. I actually had the opportunity to interview the co-creator/host of the show on The Classroom Collaborative recently and he’s fantastic. Who Smarted is a podcast for students ages 5 to 10 and is full of creative learning. “Atomic Entertainment are the Emmy-nominated co-creators and producers of Nat Geo’s #1 educational series BRAIN GAMES & Netflix’s live-action science and history series for kids, BRAINCHILD. Their work has been viewed more than 1 billion times worldwide. The Atomic team includes educators, STEM consultants, writers and producers with a passion for improving the lives of children, parents, and teachers. The Atomic team has spent tens of thousands of hours creating the best educational content in the world; we will stop at nothing to make learning fun and easier for you and your family.” – whosmarted.com

    There you go, teachers! I hope you enjoy the shows I shared as much as I do and can find time to relax, unwind, and listen to some inspiring episodes. Whether you’re hitting the road for a summer vacation or sitting with a cup of coffee at home, I’m sure you’ll find something you love in each of the podcasts I mentioned.

    The Brain Science of Novelty: Practical Strategies You Can Easily Implement In Your Classroom

    “… I encourage you to explore the various ways you can activate your students’ reward centers in their brains and flood them with dopamine.” ~ Chris Dunkel


    teaching with novelty

    Chris Dunkel
    Chris is an educator of 17 years who was recognized as Teacher of the Year for his school and district, the regional NBC affiliate’s Teacher of the Week, and highlighted by actor and former ESPN personality Roy Firestone as a Teacher Making a Difference.

    I LOVE brain science! I have always been intrigued by the way things work, especially things pertaining to memory and our brains. Unfortunately, in the past you couldn’t just cut open a skull and start poking around without killing your subject, so brain science was an after-death pursuit. With the advances in computing and brain imaging technology like MRI and PET machines, now scientists can study a live brain, its growth, and which parts are working when we do different tasks. It’s amazing to think that we’ve learned more about the brain in the past 20 years than in the entire history of humankind!

    As a teacher, understanding the way our students’ brains work can go a long way in helping us teach them, as well as help us keep our own sanity. I taught for 17 years, many of those years teaching junior high students with their pubescent, hormone-filled brains. When one of my freshmen would do something that made me wonder, “Does he even have a brain at all?” I knew that in fact he did, but it just wasn’t fully developed yet. His prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain that helps with decision-making and considering consequences, wouldn’t finish developing for many more years, so him acting impulsively was natural. By understanding how the brain works, it increased my patience and led to more “bless their hearts” moments than me simply wanting to wring their necks.

    As importantly, understanding brain science helped me to teach my students more effectively. I learned the value of using multiple modalities (seeing, hearing, touching, doing, etc.) to help my students build varying pathways to their newfound knowledge. Teaching content in shorter segments with multiple transitions between them allowed my students’ brains to focus more intensely for short periods of time, something they would have struggled with if having to sit through a longer lecture. Adding physical movement to the activity or having transitions that required the students to get up and move increased blood flow and oxygen to their brains, helping to keep their brains operating at peak performance. While the list goes on, one of the favorite things I learned from brain science is the power of novelty, as it’s so easy to implement.

    The idea of novelty in the classroom is to simply change the experience and routine from the norm. This is not to say that you should avoid routines, as routines give our students structure and can ease anxiety. However, seek ways to tweak the routines, because our brains are wired to seek and remember new experiences. Think about your own past. What days in school do you remember? Do you remember the lessons that were commonplace or the ones where the teacher did something different or unexpected? Maybe it was a field trip. Maybe the teacher dressed up in a costume. Maybe it was the day you dissected a frog in biology class. Whatever you remember, it was likely because that day was unlike the rest. As a book I once read on increasing memory noted, “The brain hates boring!” so it tends to forget those experiences (unless it was exceptionally boring, in which case the extreme level of boring made it memorable).

    When we experience something for the first time or in a new way, our brains receive a burst of dopamine, often referred to as the “happy hormone” because it is a primary part of our brain’s reward system. In a study published in the journal Neuron (for those keeping score at home, the study title is Absolute Coding of Stimulus Novelty in the Human Substantia Nigra/VTA), UK neurologists presented subjects with neutral images of landscapes, faces, etc. (basically commonplace and boring) while occasionally inserting an “oddball” image that was unusual and out of the ordinary. When these novel images were presented, the participants’ reward centers of their brains were activated and were flooded with dopamine. Without actively seeking a new or unusual situation on their own, the participants were still rewarded by their brains for simply experiencing something new. As educators, we can activate and reward our students’ brains by giving them new experiences as well.

    While the study revealed the impact of novelty within our brains, it is something you probably already knew at a personal or subconscious level. Think about your own life and the things you enjoy. Do you like to go on vacation? Do you like to shop? Do you like to read new books, go to movies, or seek new shows to watch on TV? Likely you said yes to at least a few of these, which is all evidence of the brain science of novelty. You enjoy these things because they are new and different, and your brain rewards you for experiencing them. If we humans were truly content with routine, we wouldn’t have a desire to do these things. We’d be happy staying at home, eating the same food every night, reading the same book over-and-over, and wearing the same clothes daily. While there are a few people who might fit this description to some degree, the majority seek novelty and their brains reward them for it. This desire to seek new experiences is what has led us to innovation, exploration, is the driving force behind capitalism, and has allowed us to increase our capacity to learn.

    For teachers, understanding the physical actions that are happening in the brains of our students when we introduce novelty can make our teaching so much more effective. Besides elevating the mood of our students (happy students are often better students), the dopamine rush helps to improve their ability to focus and learn. Perhaps best of all, their brains are rewarded for the experience, thus making learning more fun and something they want to continue to do.

    Now that we understand the importance of novelty, how do we implement it in our classrooms? Below are some of my favorite ways to add novelty, as these are easy to do without any seismic shifts to your teaching style. The strategies have come from some of the amazing teachers I have been able to observe or learn from, like Adam Peterson of Adam Peterson Education, Hilary Statum of Pencils to Pigtails, and “Mr. Greg” Smedley-Warren of The Kindergarten Smorgasboard, were ones I used in my own classroom or observed from my colleagues. While these are some of my favorites, I encourage you to explore online for many other ways to add novelty to your classroom.


    Change the Seating. While most classrooms consist of desks, chairs, and tables, it doesn’t mean that you must use them in traditional ways every day. To mix it up, rearrange the seating in a new pattern. Turn your rows into a circle. Put your desks or tables into clusters. If you’re teaching a specific letter or number that day (like the letter “C” or the number “3”), perhaps arrange the tables or desks in that shape. You might consider moving the seats against the wall and sit on the floor for part of the day. (You would be surprised how much my freshmen loved sitting on the floor for lessons.) While visiting Mr. Greg’s classroom, I noticed that his kindergarteners had areas with some sitting on a Rugs alive classroom rug on the floor, some sitting on a raised platform, and one with a special seat atop a mini-trampoline in the middle of the rug. The kids can sit wherever they like, though he does rotate the high-demand areas (like the platform, stage, and mini-trampoline) daily to give everyone a turn. By giving seating options outside the traditional desk or chair, Mr. Greg keeps things fresh and novel.

    Find Alternatives to Traditional Paper and Pencil When Possible. Granted, having students complete traditional worksheets is great for ease of distribution and assessment, but students do it so often that it becomes routine and boring. To mix it up, find unusual ways for students to write their work. Sometimes I would have my students use sticky notes for their answers that they put in various areas of the room, thus requiring them to get up and move, which also increased blood flow to the brain. This was great when I had open-ended questions. I would put the questions around the room, and the students would do a “Gallery Walk” where they moved about the room as if in an art gallery, leaving their answers next to each question. For the little ones, you could have letters around the room and the kids could write or draw something to match the letter, putting their sticky notes next to the letter. Sticky notes are cheap (usually we had several donated to us every year), and the kids loved having their little notepads with them rather than carrying a big sheet of paper.

    Adam has a great strategy called “Back Writing” where he has his kids sit in a circle facing their neighbor’s back. Using their finger, they practice writing on their neighbor’s back instead of a traditional surface. I particularly love this strategy, as the students are both writing with their fingers and feeling the letter being written on their backs, activating two different areas of the brain to create multiple memory pathways.

    Hilary offers two strategies that I adore. Sometimes she’ll flip her tables upside down and wrap the legs with paper or plastic wrap, giving the students a different surface on which to write. She’ll also clean her tables with shaving cream, allowing her students to practice writing in the shaving cream before wiping them clean. Giving your students a new memorable experience and getting cleaner tables in the process…it doesn’t get much better than that!

    Change Where the Presenter Presents. Whether you are teaching or have a student sharing to the class, mix it up from your normal location. When I taught history in a classroom full of tables, rather than present from the front of the room by my projector screen, I would occasionally jump on a table and teach. Not only did I capture their attention immediately, but they also hung on every word, as they were not used to seeing me teach from up there.

    Hilary uses this idea but with her students who are presenting, allowing them to stand on a chair or table as long as she is there to assist them. She will occasionally bring out her rolling chair, allowing her presenter to sit in her “special” chair. I was always surprised with how this simple strategy even worked with my freshmen, as it seems that all ages are enthralled with sitting in the teacher’s chair.

    When observing Mr. Greg’s class, I loved how often he would change the direction of his audience during a lesson. One moment he might be at a board on the side of the room, then the next moment he was in a different spot, causing them to have to turn and focus on a new area. Instead of being anchored to a fixed position like a desk or screen, he moved a lot which caused his kids’ brains to stay active and follow his movements.

    Wear Costumes and Hats. Kids love to dress up, and they love it when you dress up, too. There’s something special about seeing their teachers out of their traditional, buttoned-up attire, so when you do it, they remember it. When I taught history, I had a collection of costumes like a Roman Centurion, Viking, Shakespearean Lord, and more that I would wear with much fanfare and adoration from my students. Mr. Greg and Hilary both share in this love for costumes, as they often don a costume or a relevant hat to bring a little extra to their lessons. Peruse their blogs and you’ll see some fabulous pictures of them dressed up to engage their kids. Likely, you already have a few costumes and hats from Halloween parties or a few materials around the house that you can construct into a cheap costume. It doesn’t have to be expensive, just different. (Pinterest is a great place to get ideas for easy-to-make costumes.)

    Dressing up is a terrific way to introduce novelty, though having the kids dress up can be even more impactful. While visiting Mr. Greg, he was teaching a lesson on the connection between Q and U in the English language. To illustrate this point in a memorable way, he told the kids earlier that they would be attending a wedding between Q and U and encouraged the parents to let them dress up for the momentous event. It was so cute to see his kids in dresses and bow ties, but more importantly they were learning literacy in a fun way while also gaining some cultural skills about attending a wedding.

    While trying to dress up a whole class of kids may seem daunting, Adam is the master of doing it on the cheap. To really get his kids engaged with a science lesson, Adam bought a pack of white t-shirts from the clearance section and with a few strokes of a marker he made them look like science lab coats for his students. They loved being scientists for the day, and he was able to use the “lab coats” repeatedly with their science experiments throughout the year.

    Get Out of the Classroom. While money and the pandemic have limited field trips, that doesn’t mean that you can’t take a mini field trip in your school. numbers and letters activity books with mobile appJust getting your kids out of their normal space will do wonders to activate their brains in a novel way. For one of my lessons on exploration, my students and I made flags of European powers and dressed up before venturing throughout the school conquering other classrooms. (I prearranged our conquests with my colleagues beforehand.) Our day spent bursting into other classes and claiming their room in the name of Spain, England, etc. was one the highlights of their year and is often mentioned by my former students who visit me years later.

    Consider the various places in your school where you might be able to go for a lesson. I’ve had colleagues who have taken students outside, to the cafeteria, to an empty conference room, to the auditorium, to the library, to the roof (though I wouldn’t recommend that with the little ones), or just switched classrooms with a colleague for a period or the day. Just getting your students in a new environment will still trigger the dopamine release and the benefits it brings.

    Play! Finding ways to incorporate play into your students’ day not only adds novelty to their learning but is great for building relationships and a sense of belonging. Adam details many of the wonderful benefits of play in his book, Teach. Play. Learn! (available on Amazon), which is a must read for anyone seeking to engage students and bring joy to their classroom.

    An easy strategy for adding a sense of play is to have a dance party. In the drama classes I taught, we had a daily warm-up activity called “Whoosh!” that got the kids moving and served as a physical and vocal warmup. While “Whoosh!” has a set of commands that everyone must act upon, we added “Dance Party!” to the mix, giving my students the ability to initiate a mini-dance party at any time. Our 5-to-10 second dance breaks would always elicit laughter as we tried to come up with new and goofy dance moves, flooding our brains with dopamine every time.

    Mr. Greg takes dancing to another level, ending each day with a dance party complete with thumping music and flashing lights. While the dance party is part of his end-of-day routine, he makes it unique by adding in some new music and dancing with the kids. What a terrific way to end the day with his students’ brains gushing those happy hormones as they leave, eager to return for another fun day in his class!

    Again, the above are just a few of the many ways you can mix up your routines and add some novelty to your class. There are a wealth of tips and strategies online for adding novelty, and I encourage you to explore the various ways you can activate your students’ reward centers of their brains and flood them with dopamine. And when you find some new strategies, your brain will reward you, too, for the new things you learned!

    Looking to Bring Even More Novelty to Your Classroom?
    Be sure to check out Alive Studio Zoo’s award-winning products that bring 26 zoo animals to life through augmented reality. With our patented technology, you can teach foundational literacy and math skills while creating an experience unlike anything your students have ever seen. It’s why district admin and superintendents tell us they “were blown away by the technology,” “had never seen anything like it,” and call it “the best purchase we’ve ever made for Early Elementary!” To learn more, check out our short, 2-minute “Wow!” video.

    About Chris Dunkel
    Chris is a former educator of 17 years, endorsed in History, Theatre, Broadcasting, Graphic Design, Business Education, and Business Technology. Recognized as Teacher of the Year for his school and district, the regional NBC affiliate’s Teacher of the Week, and highlighted by actor and former ESPN personality Roy Firestone as a Teacher Making a Difference, Chris continues to seek innovative ways to help students learn. He is a champion for Alive Studios Zoo, who brings innovative literacy and math instruction to early learners that build solid educational foundations for their continued academic success.

    How To Make Education Come Alive… even Virtually!

    AR in early education

    “I’m such a big fan of augmented reality as an additional secret weapon in my arsenal of teaching tools!” ~ Adam Peterson


    virtual teaching for 1st grade

    Guest Blogger: Adam Peterson
    Pre-K/K Educator, Author, Speaker, and Educational Consultant
    Follow me: https://www.instagram.com/teacherslearn2/

    4 Benefits of Using Augmented Reality in the Classroom and Virtual

    An “interactive experience of a real-world environment enhanced by computer-generated perceptual information” sounds like something you’d read as a warning label on a sign before entering a dark ride at your favorite amusement park. But, in reality (no pun intended), this definition describes something that is being used in classrooms all over the world to give students an engaging learning experience like no other. That experience happens through something called augmented reality (AR). First invented in the early 1990’s AR has made its way from being used to simulate training exercises in the Air Force, to commercial businesses in the entertainment and gaming industries, important use in the medical field, and into the hands of teachers and students in the world of education.

    Cynthia B. Kaye, CEO & Chief Zoo Keeper at Alive Studios, LLC witnessed an early form of AR by chance one day and never looked back. She paired AR with an educational need her two sons had and it inspired a love of learning that has now reached classrooms around the globe!

    AR in early literacyMy personal journey with AR started in a much different way than Cynthia’s, but it’s one I’ll never forget. I had heard about Alive Studios from friend and fellow educator, Greg Smedley-Warren, but had never witnessed it in person. That all changed at a national teacher conference in Las Vegas. I was roaming around the exhibit hall between my presentations and heard the trumpet of an elephant and the moo of a cow! I was instantly captivated and found myself turning the direction of the animal sounds. I was amazed at how many people had surrounded the booth for Alive Studios and more amazed by the animal sounds and actions I was hearing and seeing! I was instantly hooked and have never looked back. I introduced Letters alive to my kindergarten students that Fall and saw immediate engagement as well as academic results. Over the past five years I have continued to use Letters alive, Math alive, Journals alive, and now Classrooms alive with all the Alive Studios’ resources. I currently work with children ages 3-7 and all age groups love it every time we turn on our panel and they hear the Alive Studios theme music and animal noises.

    Since the introduction of AR into education the world has changed and many teachers, administrators, and parents are looking for new and exciting ways to engage early learners after a year of learning through a pandemic that was anything but ordinary for most. The success of Alive Studios can easily be attributed to Cynthia and her amazing team, but they will all agree their success lies in the hands of the educators around the world who are embracing AR and using it to enhance lessons and engage their students. Great! So now we have an exciting new way to engage learners but how do we use that to fuel academic growth and see progress in all types of learners? Well, the key to this purpose isn’t the technology behind AR or the exciting things it can do, but rather the ways in which teachers are harnessing the power of this technology and tying it together with impactful lessons to create a winning combination. With every classroom around the globe looking for ways to continuously evolve with the ever-changing world we live in, let’s take a look at four benefits that AR can bring as a new addition to a teacher’s arsenal of activities and lessons they use throughout the year.

    1. Engagement
    Creating engaging lessons has been, is, and always will be something teachers are constantly trying to do to make sure they have grasped the attention of even the most reluctant learners. With augmented reality, engagement comes naturally. When a child witnesses a lion pop out of a computer screen after their teacher holds a card with the letter “L” under a document camera, they can’t help but be engaged. Now pair that lion with a roar that echoes off the walls of the classroom and engagement is taken to a whole new level. That’s just one small example of how Alive Studios uses AR technology paired with skills children are learning to increase engagement. The oohs and ahhs, screams of excitement, and wide-eyed stares as Alive Studios zoo animals appear to jump out of the screen are confirmations of your students’ engagement and eagerness to learn!

    2. Academic Growth
    When children are engaged in learning, they learn more. Plain and simple. We all know from personal experience that we are more focused when we are interested in what we’re learning about which in turn leads to our increased understanding of the content. With AR this can be stretched across multiple subjects from letters and sounds, to numbers and counting, and so much more. In one case study, done with early learners in Gwinnett County Schools in Georgia, Bridget Saldana recorded a growth of over 50% knowledge of Uppercase Letter Recognition with her students when using augmented reality with Alive Studios. And that’s only her results for Uppercase Letters. Take a look at this graphic to see the amazing results she saw in other areas.

    This case study results chart, taken from AliveStudiosZoo.com, is just one example of the academic power AR can have. AR doesn’t just have an effect on young learners though; the use of AR can be found in higher grade levels as well with mobile apps like Photomath which helps students interpret an equation simply by scanning a worksheet. When put to use in the classroom AR can have profound impacts on the progress of all types of learners, across all grade levels, and in all subject matters. With Alive Studios and their combination of zoo animals they have been able to strategically add lessons that include reading, math, science, and more into their AR experience. Pair the technology with their ready-to-implement lesson plans and teachers can begin their AR journey to academic success with little to no preparation!

    3. Multi-Sensory Experience
    One of the toughest jobs educators have is being able to meet the needs of all students in the classroom. This doesn’t just mean students of varying academic abilities but, more importantly, students with varying styles of learning. At any given moment a classroom can be filled with a mix of students who are visual learners, auditory learners, etc. Trying to plan lessons that have a multi-sensory teaching approach can sometimes be a daunting task and takes time. With AR, teachers can combine visuals and sounds together with interactive lessons in an immersive way that is sure to captivate and reach all types of learners. I experienced this success first hand with one of my own students recently and have been amazed at the results I’m seeing. A student of mine who has a sensory processing disorder and is seeing me for help with basic math skills was struggling one day to do basic one-to-one counting. We worked and worked at this with different manipulatives, games, and other activities but nothing seemed to click. So, I turned on Math alive using our touch screen panel and opened the Counting and Comparing module. Within seconds, my student was touching items on screen and counting aloud along with the system’s voice as he touched each item. By the end of our lesson he was back at the table counting manipulatives in a much more successful manner. I was amazed at how quickly he picked up the skill after teaching it through a multi-sensory approach. The physical touch, the auditory counting, and the fun interactive graphics did more for him than anything I had tried previously. I credit Alive Studios for the success I’m seeing with this student, as well as others who need a multi-sensory style of learning!

    AR in early literacy 4. Perfect For Virtual Learning
    The pandemic shed a spotlight on virtual learning and as schools were thrust into this new style of teaching, teachers were looking for as many ways as possible to keep their students engaged. Alive Studios to the rescue! With AR already being a computer and app based program teachers found it super easy to add it to their virtual lessons to capture and hold student attention. I personally had a very rewarding experience with virtual teaching using Alive Studios AR to teach 3, 4, and 5 year olds during Zoo School: Letters and Sounds Zoo Camp! We met 4 days a week for 7 weeks for 30-minutes a day. Thanks to the 3D AR magic, real animal videos, and zoo-themed lessons from Alive Studios, I was able to easily engage, hold meaningful conversations, interact with, and check for understanding with my kids. As the future of this school year is unknown, and virtual learning still looms in the shadows, I strongly encourage teachers to take a deeper look into Alive Studios and the enhancements it can offer to your virtual lessons through augmented reality!

    It’s no secret that these are just a few of the benefits AR can bring to education. Schools and teaching styles are changing year after year and approaches to teaching and learning need to adapt to changing times. While I still love classic games, activities, songs, and dances as a way to enhance my teaching, I’m such a big fan of augmented reality and Alive Studios as an additional secret weapon in my arsenal of teaching tools!

    numbers and letters activity books with mobile appSo how does one get started with augmented reality in the classroom? As mentioned above, there are mobile apps available from 3rd party sources that can be a great starting point for introducing AR to your students and learning how to use it for yourself. This low-cost (and often free) approach might be a perfect place for teachers who are looking for a quick way to add a little bit of AR into different lessons. For a more immersive and well-rounded approach to teaching early literacy and math skills, look no further than Alive Studios’ mobile apps and computer software resources! Cynthia and her team have taken out all the stops in their quest to bring AR to students and teachers no matter what their level of experience with it may be. From the My Journals alive Student Journals and free mobile app that puts AR in the hands of individual learners, to Letters alive and Math alive that allow teachers to enhance their lessons with AR the opportunities are endless with Alive Studios!

    Addressing Learning Loss with EdTech Using the Education Stabilization Covid Relief Funds

    education stabilization

    “I feel very passionate about the use of Alive Studios’ resources to ignite engagement for early learners who have experienced a disruption to instruction or learning loss.”


    virtual teaching for 1st grade

    Guest Blogger: Maggie Phillips
    Former District Tech Integration Specialist

    As we all know, with the disruption to instruction that has occurred over the last year, new and different learning gaps have developed for all learners, especially early learners. Addressing these learning gaps is not only a priority, but it is essential in preparing students to be successful in the future. With the recent approval of the second COVID-19 relief package, school districts will be provided with funds that can be used for education technology and programs to directly address the student learning gaps resulting from the disruption of instruction.

    I feel incredibly passionate about closing these gaps and ensuring that all students have an opportunity to engage in high-impact and meaningful learning experiences. I recently had the opportunity to co-host a webinar with Cynthia Kaye (CEO & Chief Zoo Keeper of Alive Studios) about the effectiveness of Alive Studios’ seven EarlyEd technology resources for closing the learning gap by increasing student engagement. Alive Studios’ resources are proven to help bridge the learning gaps and to help Pre-K to 2nd grade students acquire the knowledge and skills necessary to be successful in reading and writing.

    The seven resources we shared in the webinar are powerful tools for addressing student learning loss and are ideal for teaching in any learning environment – in the traditional classroom, at home, or a blended/hybrid environment. Everything Cynthia and her team have developed is research-based, rooted deeply in data, systematic, and meticulously scaffolded to support learners at every level.

    The resources are aligned to kindergarten state standards and are for pre-k and kindergarten instruction, but they are also phenomenally successful as an intervention tool for striving students in 1st, 2nd, and 3rd grade.

    In the webinar, we discussed how to Close Your Covid Literacy Gap by Increasing Student Engagement.
    We featured 7 resources; the first 2 are free. Here they are:

    closing the student learning gap
    See the 56-minute webinar replay

    1. Zoo Crew Alphabet Show – FREE
    Cynthia and her team at Alive Studios set some time aside during the shutdown of 2020 to create something really dynamic. They made the best of a really challenging situation and actually produced and recorded a child-focused show on YouTube. With 26 interactive and content-filled episodes teaching letters, letter sounds, and animals, these shows are ready-made instructional resources for learning in a traditional classroom or learning at home… and it’s FREE!

    2. Interactive Alphabet Chart – FREE
    This easy-to-use, free resource was designed to give you the ability to simply click a letter and immediately access the related episode of the Zoo Crew Alphabet Show.

    I love how these first two free resources blend different modalities into an approach that’s fun and meaningful. Students don’t even realize the learning that’s happening. Both are free and include hours of remote learning fun that can be enjoyed in class or at home.

    3. Journals alive
    The Letters alive and Math alive printed journals are way more than just simple activity books. Learning comes alive in 3D with the Journals alive app (free download), giving kids an interactive experience that gets them excited about learning.

    The journals also make the most of homework! As we all know, learning at home has tremendously increased over the past year. These journals provide a seamless piece of homework that blends three key elements of learning: meaningful content, scaffold learning, and engaging technology. These journals are perfect for bridging the home/school connection and providing additional support for kids who are at risk of falling behind.

    4. Rugs alive
    When I first saw these rugs, I was mind-blown! And, when kids see the rugs come to life, they have a similar experience. Seeing the animals pop off the rug and enter their classroom or learning environment truly brings the learning experience to life.

    These colorful classroom rugs provide kids with an interactive experience for learning animals, habitats, positional concepts, teamwork, and other STEM-based activities! Your students will love meeting the animals and taking photos with them through the Rugs alive mobile app (free download).

    supplemental early literacy engagement5. Letters alive Zoo Keeper Edition
    Letters alive is a supplemental ELA curriculum kit that incorporates multiple learning modalities and a cross-curricular approach to teach letters, letter sounds, word building, sentence building, and writing.

    The Alphabet Show, journals, and rugs are all tied together with Letters alive. Whether you’ve taught phonics for years or you’re new to teaching these skills, Letters alive provides you with literally everything you need to facilitate high-quality learning experiences for your students.

    6. Math alive
    Math alive is a supplemental mathematics curriculum kit that incorporates interactive learning games, activities, and simulations with 3D augmented reality to teach 86 essential math skills. Whether you are looking to enhance whole group math instruction, independent work, or stations/centers, the Math alive content can bring abstract math concepts to life.

    7. Learning alive Zoo Keeper Edition
    There are a lot of things we look at when assessing effective instruction and meaningful curriculum and content. The Learning alive bundle checks all the boxes: Reading, Writing, Math, STEM, and Social-Emotional. It couples the content students are learning to develop the fundamentals of reading and writing with a pedagogically strong instructional approach and meaningful integration of technology.

    If I was in the classroom or working at the school level at this time, I would be eager to implement these Alive Studios’ resources with my students! Knowing that this solution is research-based, rooted deeply in data, systematic, and meticulously scaffolded to support learners makes me feel confident it can close the learning and instructional gaps for the youngest of students.


    3 Features My 1st Graders LOVE about Letters alive… Even Virtually!

    1st grade ela supplemental

    “Their engagement went from 0 to 100 and I was able to actually get some real teaching done.”


    virtual teaching for 1st grade

    Guest Blogger: Beth Pittman
    1st Grade Teacher, Early Ed Influencer, Blogger
    Follow me: https://www.instagram.com/flexibleinfirst/

    “Since this past March, we’ve been distance learning in our California school district. Just like everyone else, we were all scrambling to find things that worked with our students. At first, I was standing in front of my camera talking to my students over a computer. I learned quickly that I was not going to be able to hold my students’ attention. They needed some excitement, some spice, and something visually to get them engaged. I had recently implemented Letters alive in class and I knew my students loved it, so I gave it a shot virtually and WOW it was just what we all needed! Their engagement went from 0 to 100 and I was able to actually get some real teaching done.

    With Letters alive, we’ve been able to review and master three key ELA skills:

    virtual teaching for 1st grade
    See Beth’s 12-min Presentation

    1. Word Building with Phonics Patterns: Yes, even 1st graders need practice with letters and sounds; especially as letters are put together and the sounds change. The Word Builder in Letters alive is perfect for this! When I use the letter and word family cards, we are able to hear the individual sounds and the word as a whole. My students love directing me to use the different cards as we work our way through words. This has been a great review and practice for vowel teams and has given me their undivided attention as I teach them these concepts.

    2. Sentence Building and Proper Punctuation: My students love putting words together and building sentences. But their biggest problem has always been capitalization and punctuation. When we build sentences in Letters alive using the sight word cards, not only do we get to see what all the 26 zoo animals can do in 3D, we also get to see the capitalization and punctuation get added on the fly! This has helped my kids so much and gives me a fun way to point it out and teach them the concept. When I build “The horse can run,” we see the “T” get capitalized, a period added at the end, AND, we see Henry Horse actually running! The sights, sounds, and actions have bridged the attention gap I was having with distance learning, and my students are actually learning and retaining the information.

    3. Writing: One of the biggest problems with writing is finding things to write about. Letters alive has 26 animals in the Alive Studios Zoo. Each animal has a name, a rhyming story, a set of actions, a habitat, and other animal facts. This layer of animal science has ignited my students’ imaginations and they always have fun things to write about.

    In addition to these ELA skills, I discovered a cool way to improve my students’ behavior while distance learning; I assign a “helper of the day.” My helper is able to verbally assist throughout each lesson. At the end of the lesson, I allow them to select one of the 26 animals for us to watch their habitat video so we can go on a virtual field trip. My kids LOVE this! They feel a sense of pride and accomplishment by playing an active role. Now all my students are at their best in hopes of being the helper for tomorrow!

    I also have to let you know about the Zoo Crew Alphabet Show. Alive Studios took their “lockdown time” as a company and filmed 26 animal/letter lessons and shared them for FREE on YouTube. There’s over 6 hours of digital learning that you can share with your students and your parents. This also helps that disconnect created by remote learning for our little ones. I know my parents are loving it as we continue to figure out what is next for schools.”

    If you’re interested in getting Letters alive® for your classroom and need help with funding, we are pleased to provide four great options here.

    ~ Cynthia Kaye

    How Letters alive Ignited My Virtual ABC Boot Camp

    virtual teaching in kindergarten

    “Letters alive brings animals to life in 3D so we can use those to review and practice letters, sounds, concepts of print, science, and more! And yes, we ARE using it virtually!”


    virtual teaching for kindergarten

    Guest Blogger: Mr. Greg Smedley-Warren
    Kindergarten Teacher, International Speaker, Curriculum Developer
    Follow me: https://www.facebook.com/kindergarten.smorgasboard.7/

    “About ten years ago I began developing a 4-6 week program for introducing letters and letter sounds. Having done tons of research, I learned the two biggest predictors of early reading success are phonemic awareness and letter recognition. I also learned about the Law of 10-20 for Memory Sets and how 4-6 weeks is considered ‘optimal time’ for remembering items in a set. So, I wanted to develop a program that considered all these best practices and also included direct instruction, multiple exposures, motor movement, and review.. all of the most effective methods for success.

    When my ABC Boot Camp™ was born, I never thought I’d have to teach it to 20 kids who were each sitting in their homes. Y’all know how challenging it is to keep a 5 year old’s attention in person.. Just imagine over a computer across town! Now, my ABC Boot Camp™ is engaging, fun, interactive.. all the things a little learner would want. But, presenting it through a computer screen made me wonder if it’d work.

    virtual teaching for kindergarten
    5-minute sneak peek of Mr. Greg teaching virtually

    Well, I found out it does! And even more so with Letters alive! Letters alive now includes a specialized “zoo keeper version” of my ABC Boot Camp™ in its learning kit as part of its supplemental curriculum. It takes letters and 26 zoo animals and springs them to life in 3D augmented reality and has added a new level of engagement to my camp!

    This fall, we started the year out virtually as did many classrooms across the country. The first 26 days is… you guessed it… ABC Boot Camp™ with Letters alive! Any doubts I had about engagement went out the window when my kids saw all the animals and letters jumping off the screen! They can’t get enough! They giggle and squeal just as if they were in my class.

    I’m anxious to see how my kids do compared to previous years. I’ve been collecting data for four years since I started using Letters alive in my Boot Camp. The numbers are almost hard to believe. In only 26 days, my kids already have a solid foundation for reading. This opens up so many other options for learning additional skills as we progress through the school year.

    My kids always have the highest and best scores in our school, even though over 90% are English Language Learners! I owe a lot of that success to Letters alive. Based on my kids’ excitement and motivation so far this year, I think they’ll do just as well even virtually from home!”

    If you’re interested in getting Letters alive® for your classroom and need help with funding, we are pleased to provide four great options here.

    ~ Cynthia Kaye

    3 Reasons Why I Chose Alive Studios’ Resources for Remote Learning

    kindergarten teacher virtual summer camp

    “As you may know, capturing kindergarteners’ attention is not easy in person,
    much less over a computer. So, I had to get creative. I knew just the resource from my classroom that would do the trick…”


    kindergarten teacher virtual summer camp
    Guest Blogger: Amanda Lewig
    Kindergarten Teacher, Masters in Curriculum Instruction,
    2020 Teacher of the Year Nominee
    Follow me: https://www.facebook.com/theprimarypinkchef

    “As a kindergarten teacher, I like to reach out to my incoming students and offer a summer camp to get them excited and prepared for their new adventure. This year, in the wake of Covid-19, I had to conduct my camp remotely. As you may know, capturing kindergarteners’ attention is not easy in person, much less over a computer. So, I had to get creative. I knew just the resource from my classroom that would do the trick, Letters alive. I could easily bring the kit home to help with my distance learning. What I love about Letters alive is that it is research-proven, brain-based, and most of all, super-engaging.

    kindergarten teacher virtual summer camp
    16-minute snippet from recent webinar

    1. Research-Proven: Now, I’m a nut for data. After introducing Letters alive to my class last year, I saw a solid increase of 18% when measuring recognized letters sounds. And, this is crazy, but I saw a 124% increase in recognized sight words. I think these increases will only get better as I learn more about how to best use Letters alive.

    2. Brain-Based: Since Letters alive uses a multi-modal approach, I could easily differentiate for my kids’ learning styles. Best of all, Letters alive offers active screen time; It’s a very hands-on and interactive learning experience that plays on children’s natural curiosity about animals.

    3. Super-Engaging: I love how the zoo theme throughout Letters alive keeps my kids engaged and eager to learn! In my summer camp, I also gave each of my kids a Letters alive Journal and free mobile app. This not only lets them explore the animals and letters at home at their own pace, but it also gave them a real-world connection with animals to literacy, it encouraged their personal creativity and provided them with opportunities to practice writing. The journals have built in writing prompts that allowed me to do early writing lessons with my incoming Kindergarteners. This laid the foundation for starting writing workshops in the fall!

    In addition, an encouraging side effect is with non-English speaking parents. They are there to help their child with a remote connection, but they are also exposed themselves to the basics of reading and writing English! How exciting is that? It was heart-warming to see family interacting and laughing together.

    Thanks, Alive Studios, for helping my remote summer camp to be a huge hit! And now, I’m excited to use Letters alive for back-to-school to get my kiddos back on track in a hurry!”

    3 Awesome Sources for Funding Your Classroom

    teacher funding
    Mr. Gregs Class

    One of the most common things we hear from teachers is: “Wow! Your product is amazing! I wish I could afford it!” We understand the dilemma teachers and educators face: getting funding for all the cool stuff they know their students need.

    Because we are so committed to helping kids, we are sharing three resources for you to get the funding you need to give your students the best education tools!

    1. GetEDFunding.com
    (For Public and Private Schools)
    Get ed funding

    This resource curates thousands of free grants and places them in one convenient spot for you to peruse. They provide tips and ideas on how to apply for and write grants. You can also get an email update of new grants delivered right to your inbox! After you register, you’ll be able to search specifically for a grant that fits your needs. For example, if you are looking for boosting literacy in your classroom, you will search within your grade range and click on “Literacy K-12.” It will then bring a list of potential funding options for which you can apply! Also, we have some free templates here on how to write the best grant request possible!

    2. DonorsChoose.com
    (For Public Schools Only)
    donors choose

    This is one of the most popular funding options for teachers, and one that we have seen many teachers get funding for our products. Donors Choose makes it easy for any generous donor to help a classroom in need!

    When setting up a Donors Choose project for our products, here are some great tips:

    • Choose Kaplan Early Learning as the vendor.
    • Have a captivating picture as your photo. You will want a clear picture that conveys exactly what you are trying to achieve.
    • Send out an email to all your contacts when you first launch your project to help get some initial funding. You can email friends, family, and communities you are a part of. Learn more about developing a great email campaign here.
    • Share your project over social media. Other than email, social media is an effective place to let people know about your project. You can even send out funding updates and remind people to help with a donation! Facebook has been known as the top, most effective place for online fundraising, but Instagram and Twitter are also good places too! Donors Choose has a great video with more in-depth ideas on how to make your project soar!

    3. AdoptAClassroom.org
    (For Public, Private, and Charter Schools)
    adopt a classroom

    The third online resource is AdoptAClassroom.org. Very similar to Donors Choose, teachers and school districts can start and share projects to find donors. You’ll simply create a page for your classroom with details of your needs and people can donate right there! Read more about the process here.

    Some helpful tips when using AdoptAClassroom.org are:

    • Create a compelling page! Adopt a Classroom does “pages” instead of “projects,” like Donors Choose. Create a page with excellent pictures, a clear goal, and one that tells your story. People love to give support to compelling stories!
    • Share! This means making your page public and sharing it with people so they can learn about your needs and possibly help. There are also convenient templates to make page creation a breeze!
    • Read all their tips on fundraising. Adopt a Classroom has extensive information on effective fundraising for your classroom!

    What other methods and tools have you found to be successful in raising funds for your classroom? Let us know!

    4 Ways to Engage pre-K Students

    using technology to engage pre-k kids

    Preparing pre-K students for kindergarten and keeping them engaged is a huge undertaking. As pre-K teachers, our goal is to build the basic foundations for early reading and math concepts, beginning their social-emotional learning, and working with them on physical abilities such as motor skills. Adding to this challenge is the fact that pre-K teachers also need to attend to students who’ve likely never been in an academic setting and don’t understand the mechanics and expectations of a classroom. Providing a highly-engaging learning experience every day helps us accomplish everything we need to with our pre-K students.

    1) Identify students who are (or aren’t) engaged.
    When I think about student engagement, the first thing that comes to mind is a child who actively responds, both visibly and audibly, to what’s going on in the classroom—and whose body language is consistent with active involvement in the lesson.

    On the contrary, I also think about the very quiet students who are definitely engaged with their learning but demonstrate it in a different way. Some people just have a naturally quiet disposition, of course, but the classroom environment is also pretty scary for our youngest students. It can be very overwhelming and intimidating. They go from being the center of the world in their families to this big classroom with 20+ other kids and two adults whom they don’t know. They’re going to new places and experiencing activities they don’t know how to play, and they’re unsure of how they’re supposed to be communicating in this new environment. All of this lends itself to various ways to express their engagement.

    using technology to engage pre-k kidsThe idea of going from a self-centered environment to feeling like a speck in a big world where I don’t know my place seems intimidating to me as an adult, so I can understand why they’re quiet. I have one little girl in my class now who didn’t really start having conversations with me or most of her classmates until Christmas. Building their confidence is just another element we use to help students develop in order to make sure they’re ready for kindergarten. Fortunately, students tend to develop confidence as they learn both academic and social skills before moving into kindergarten. These are skills such as identifying letters and their sounds, the understanding that letters make words and words make sentences, the ability to count individual objects up to 20, and so on.

    Engagement (or lack thereof) may be difficult to spot with such young children as they become accustomed to school, but it’s still at the center of a successful pre-K classroom. By providing a variety of fun and exciting learning opportunities, we can be sure we’re reaching even the shyest students.

    2) Create an engaging classroom layout.

    Activity centers are a great way to provide that variety of experiences. One way I try to make these activities as engaging as possible is by thinking through the layout of my classroom. I set up one side of the room to be louder and more playful, while the other side is quieter and better suited to concentration. On one side of the room we’ll have blocks and a kitchen play area next to math manipulatives. If you keep walking in the same direction, you’ll find art and science areas, then a station for iPad use and writing, and then a library space.

    We also spend lots of time practicing transitions and other classroom routines. It takes some time upfront, but it pays off so well once everyone gets into the swing of the school year and the students know exactly how to move around the classroom. It saves me a lot of time picking up manipulatives and other classroom objects, too, because the students know where they go and are well-practiced at putting them away

    3) Look for fun classroom tools.

    Like any teacher, I’m always on the lookout for fun new tools to add to my classroom. One of my favorites this year is Letters alive. It’s an early literacy program that teaches the foundations of reading by using 26 zoo animals that spring to life in 3D! Students use letter, word family, and sight word cards to build words and sentences while interacting with the animals.

    These 3D animals are so exciting for the students, of course, but one of the things I like about the product is that it doesn’t just live in a piece of software. using technology to engage pre-k kidsWe use the cards as traditional flashcards, and there are also student journals that can be taken home to work on the same literacy concepts with their parents on mobile devices. The free mobile app turns the journal into a magical 3D animal adventure! A big part of engaging pre-K students and ensuring their growth is parents who are committed and engaged in their children’s education.

    4) Take plenty of breaks.

    Children in pre-K are just too young to sit still for long stretches of time and remain mentally engaged. They need breaks, and they definitely need to move. Kids love songs, so I firmly believe that anything with a tune and educational value belongs in a classroom. I can’t sing, though, so I’ll often play songs via YouTube videos and playlists that incorporate our learning objectives. It gives students a little mental break, but it also reinforces the concepts we’re working on as a class. I like to use GoNoodle, a service that combines physical activity in the classroom with educational activities, too. It gets the kids moving while they learn. It’s a great way to get students alert and attentive without sacrificing instructional time. Alive Studios also has an awesome alphabet song for introducing the 26 animals in their zoo. The kids love it!

    Got Students Who Don’t Like to Read at All?


    #HelpShiftHappen Blog Article by Deb Atchison

    Got students who don’t like to read at all? Augmented Reality books can change that!

    As a former student that hated reading, but turned Reading Specialist, I’m astounded by the statistic from the National Report Card that says that only 37% of our 4th graders are reading proficiently. This is crazy! If a little over a third of our students are reading proficiently, what does this mean for the future of our country? This is scary when you really think about it. I know many students are like I was in school and don’t like to read at all. Thankfully, that is not the case any longer for me and I really enjoy helping students learn to read better. I think perhaps because I struggled with reading, I can empathize with those that do and can help them to become better at it and dread it a little less.

    Many times, students haven’t found anything that interests them and therefore they don’t want to put the time into reading some “boring ole book!” Or, they are too embarrassed to check out books that are on their reading level and way below what they should be able to read. Well, I have a solution for these reluctant readers. And, if it works on my own teen boys whose native language is Russian and not English, then it should work on your reluctant readers too. What I’m talking about are AR books. Not Accelerated Reader books, but Augmented Reality books. You know, books that come to life right before your very eyes! Augmented Reality or AR books have images that when scanned with a device and a specific app will literally pop right off the page.

    There are many AR books out there for young learners. Kids of all ages love to read and experience H.C. Anderson’s original fairy tale about The Little Mermaid who swaps her fishtail for human legs to be able to follow her heart. The great thing about this book is that it lies flat, making it easy for the young reader to hold on to the iPad while experiencing the book. Some of my other favorites for young readers are the Arbi books, https://www.arbibook.com. These storylines are exactly what our kids need to hear. Teamwork, friendship, getting along and working together are skills that are so important and they are valued and the focus of these stories.

    Rocks In My Socks, is the story of Gracie, an adorable pint-sized pink triceratops, who learns about acceptance through some unexpected visitors that show up in her favorite pink and white striped socks. There are 13 activities that can be played manually with colors, markers, or pencils. Learn about colors, matching, recognition, colors and music associations, and even some of Gracie’s favorite dance moves.

    Holo Pop Ups, https://holopopups.com/ has a handful of books that foster learning in an innovative way – vocabulary, spelling and science all become part of the fun! The characters leap out of the page, living, breathing and speaking to you. And, who could forget the Color Alive Coloring Books from Crayola. They give kids the opportunity to see their coloring pages come to life right before their very eyes!

    student assessment journals with augmented reality
    And, of course, we know educators of the little ones swear by the Alive Studios’ My Letters alive Journals, which help early readers with letter naming, letter sounds, and letter writing. Alive Studios also has a super cute story that teaches the value of being on time, Amos Arrives at the Airport. You definitely need to check those out if you haven’t yet. Even if you are a parent of little ones and not a teacher, you will love how easily your kiddos can learn their alphabet with them.

    I love all the great AR picture books and I’m still very excited over those, but I’m really pumped for the books for older readers that are interactive and engaging! For example, the company Anomaly World, http://www.experienceanomaly.com, has many books that will particularly attract those that are interested in science-fiction, fantasy and comic books. Their flagship book, Anomaly, is an epic tale of deception, redemption, and unity set on a strange alien world and the longest original full-color graphic novel ever published. With lush illustrations, action-packed storytelling, and awe-inspiring interactive features, Anomaly is a must-have multimedia experience for any reader, especially the reluctant one. They have several graphic novels and comic series that use augmented reality to engage their readers. The most exciting part for me is that these books and many others are becoming more and more sophisticated, not just in the artistry and AR, but also in the content of the storylines. There are more and more graphic novels and even novels for young adults that are incorporating AR. I’m really pumped for these new books for older readers that are interactive and engaging!

    When my, then 17, year old son was looking at the @AnomalyWorld AR graphic novels for the first time with me, we were both blown away by the digital graphics along with the intense and interactive AR that was popping off the pages. I knew this company was onto something, when he said, “Wow, I can’t wait to read this book to see what this (AR character popping off the page) is all about! I want to learn more about him!” What? A 17-year-old, non-native English speaking boy wants to read a book? Yep, pretty powerful stuff if you ask me!

    Personally, I really liked the Anomaly Productions illustrated novel, Between Worlds. It’s a story of misfit teens that wander off during a school field trip to the forest, on a dare to find a local legend, The Wishing Tree. But they get more than they bargained for when they find themselves in Nith, an alternate universe. Along with amazing new powers and furry friends, Nith holds danger and intrigue. With the help of the mysterious Aaron, these two friends try to find their way back home. But some of the inhabitants of Nith have other plans for the teens… Together, Mayberry and Marshall must learn to control their new powers, escape their enemies, find their way home, and come to terms with their growing attraction. This book reminded me of novels I would read as a teacher to my middle school students. Yes, I made it a common practice to read aloud to my teen students who were often reluctant readers. You should too! The storyline is great and very engaging and about every two or three chapters, you get to an amazing illustration in the novel that you could scan with your mobile device and app to see that character come to life. My son couldn’t wait until he got to one of those pages to scan and neither could I. The anticipation of the next one, kept us both reading.

    I also like that the AR in books for all level of readers is becoming more and more interactive! Not only is something coming out of the books, but you can actually interact with and control some of the AR content. Seeing is believing, but holding it in your hand and manipulating it, is way better!

    This same company has a new book releasing this coming summer that I’m very excited about, called Creative Creature Catchers! I’ve been lucky enough to preview it and it’s incredible, but designed for younger readers. The story is basically, that there are lost baby creatures all around us who just want to go home, and they need your help! Welcome to the Society of Creative Creature Catchers! You’ve been chosen to join the CCC because you’re smart, caring and REALLY fun! Your mission is simple: Find and learn about a variety of fantastical animals who have ended up lost in our world and it’s the reader’s job to send them home to their families! Some hid in the curtains. Others hid under the bed. Don’t worry. They won’t hurt you. They’re scared, and their parents are worried about them. But this is just half the story. Creative Creature Catcher isn’t just about reading. It’s about doing. Anyone can read about these unfortunate animals, but Malcolm will teach you how to get personally involved and will even read the story to reluctant readers. I can’t wait to be able to use the interactive hide and seek game with students.

    If we are going to get and keep students reading and advance that percentage of proficient readers, our first step is to actually get them reading. Giving students books that initially pique their curiosity is a great start. For more AR books that I’ve previewed and used, check out http://tiny.cc/ARbooks. If I can help you introduce these and many other great AR books to your students and colleagues, please don’t hesitate to contact me.

    Deb Atchison
    @debatchison on Twitter