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!
Get Ready for First!
Parent Letter


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

Volume Bonus for School Districts

school district pilot program

Below is a recent Press Release announcing our Proficient by 3rd Grade District Level Volume Bonus Program:

Alive Studios Helps School Districts Win the Reading Challenges for At Risk Students

Alive Studios is introducing a Proficient by 3rd Grade Volume Bonus program for school districts to test and prove the Letters alive early learning reading program.

Alive Studios has structured a program that allows school districts to test and prove the effectiveness of teaching with Letters alive within eight classrooms. “We encourage districts to test and compare student outcomes between classes using Letters alive and those not using Letters alive.” stated Cynthia B. Kaye, CEO and Chief Zoo Keeper of Alive Studios. The volume program comes with a full-year of free online digital assessments for measuring, tracking, and reporting the progression of students. The generated reports can be shared with teachers, principals, and even parents in English or Spanish. The Alive Studios’ team will also come on-site and trains the participating teachers how to most effectively use Letters alive with their students and how to track their outcomes. Says Kaye, “We’re convinced that once districts try the bonus program and see the results for themselves they’ll want to make this available to all their at risk students.”

“We’ve been busy spreading awareness of our game-changing supplemental reading program, Letters alive, by introducing it to teachers around the country.” added Kaye. “What we’re finding at trade shows and during demos is that teachers love our solutions, but 74% of them don’t have the purchasing authority to obtain it. We realized we needed to take our solutions to the district level.”

at risk studentsAmerica has a literacy crisis among our early learners and serious solutions are in demand. “An alarming number of children—about 67 percent nationwide and more than 80 percent of those from low-income families—are not proficient readers by the end of third grade. This has significant and long-term consequences not only for each of those children but for their communities, and for our nation as a whole,” cited Ralph Smith, Managing Director of The Campaign for Grade-Level Reading.

With almost 7 out of 10 students not proficient in reading by 3rd grade, early intervention with a proven solution is crucial for establishing the foundations for high school graduation and career success. Alive Studios’ difference maker is a mind-boggling technology called Augmented Reality. It creates a 3D experience without glasses and provides off-the-charts engagement that increase student outcomes. Now, over 1,500 classrooms are learning letters, letter sounds, sight words and sentence building in a revolutionary way.

The program is especially effective with At Risk students including ELL, ESL and Special Needs. Independent Research has proven a 48% increase in letter naming fluencies and 112% increase in letter sound fluencies by implementing Letters alive in the classroom. “My students love seeing a new animal each day and their reactions to the animals coming to life is priceless! Letters alive brings a whole new engagement level to our ABC BOOTCAMP!” stated Greg Smedley-Warren, Kindergarten Teacher at JE Moss Elementary, a Title I school in Nashville, Tennessee.

The Proficient by 3rd Grade Volume Bonus Program is available to any school district. Interested teachers and principals are encouraged to inform their district leaders about the program. Details about Letters alive and the bonus program can be found here.

Content is King for Classroom Technology

Content is King for Classroom Technology

So, after a long wait and a lot of pleading you finally got that new computer, or that new smartboard. Now what? Do you have the really cool content you need to engage students?

As we make the trade show tour, we have the pleasure of seeing all the latest educational technology; fast, streamlined computers and big, crystal-clear displays. Like kids in a candy store glaring at the shiniest and most colorful lollypop, we all fall into the “I have to have this” category. But when we get it into our classrooms, we realize it doesn’t solve any of the major problems we face with early learners. Are they now learning letter sounds and letter naming more effectively? Does the new tech reach both ends of the learning spectrum? Are At Risk students now achieving better results? Can ELL students grasp the English language any quicker?

One common void we discover amongst the hardware tech crowd is the lack of content. content is king for classroom technologySure they offer the ability to do “it” quicker, bigger, and with more wow.. but do what? It’s the content ON the device that makes the difference. It’s the software application that brings the device to life and solves problems in classrooms.

It reminds me of a story about a little boy who had a $5 bill and wanted to buy a wallet. After shopping several stores, he found the perfect one. It fit his pocket, it felt good in his hand, and it only costed $5. You can guess the rest of the story. Having spent his $5, the little boy had nothing to put into his new wallet. Just like the wallet with no money, a new computer or smartboard just isn’t that impressive without content.

So, if you’re given the green light for new technology, remember to save some funds for engaging content that will help make a positive difference in your classroom.