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Designing Classroom Resources: Part Two – Process & Execution Design Tips & Tricks for Early Childhood Educators

For part two of our ‘Designing Classroom Resources’ series, Chris is going to focus on process and execution; how to create engaging resources that are inspired by your own ideas or by borrowing inspiration from/putting your own twist on activities you may have discovered online.

She’s going to start by walking you through the design process she follows when creating new materials – take it away, Chris!

 

Step 1 – Brainstorm

Start by asking yourself the following questions:

  • Have I come across any interesting ideas online recently that I’d like to put my own unique twist on?
  • Have I come up with any concepts or ideas that I may not have previously followed through on?
  • Is there something that myself, my students and/or other teachers could really benefit from having access to in the classroom? 

I usually start the creative process by grabbing screenshots of any ideas/inspiration I stumble upon while doing research online. I will either jot down ideas in a notebook or on my phone and use a Google Drive folder to save screenshots of ideas I come across. Tip: We recommend looking into note-taking tools such as Notability or Evernote; they have been built with the purpose of helping you to organize notes and important information – making them easier to locate when you need to refer back to them.

 

Step 2 – Clarify your purpose and goals

Now, ask yourself a few questions that will help you to better understand your specific reasoning for deciding to create these resources in the first place:

  • What is the purpose of this resource? Why am I creating it?
  • Does something similar already exist, or will this fill the need for a resource that I’ve been looking for but haven’t been able to find?
  • What are the learning objectives associated with this resource/activity?

Once you’ve answered those questions, we recommend that you do a bit of research into other teachers’ lessons and resources online to see what has successfully worked in other classrooms. You may also stumble upon insight or feedback about a specific activity/resource that will help you to extend or improve upon an idea that may have previously had issues/shortcomings.

 

Step 3 – Sketch it out

It sounds obvious, but I always recommend starting designs/new ideas by sketching them out on paper. That way, I can quickly work out the basics of the resource, and any possible variations I might want to create.

It gives you a chance to figure out what goes where, and how much space it might take up in the final design. You don’t need to be a master illustrator to sketch out these concepts; just lay it out visually in whichever way feels right to you. From there, keep your sketches and ideas together in a sketchbook/folder, that way they’ll be handy when it comes time to review the process in planning to create the final product. Tip: keeping records of your thought process will really help to improve the quality of your future work/designs.

 

Step 4 – Time to create

Once I’ve done enough research and have sketched out a rough concept, I start building the resource in my design program of choice. Depending on your comfort level, you can use free software like Canva or something more advanced like Adobe Suite/Creative Cloud. Always keep an eye out for new software or updates that expand the limits of what you can do, and how efficiently you can do it. For example, Pages has added features that let you create interactive books. The resources section in the Sprig Learning educator portal has a variety of image assets you can use for building digital or printable assets.

 

Step 5 – Review and finalize

Revisit the goals you set in the beginning and make sure they have been met with your final design. Before you save and export your completed resources, we recommend walking through the following criteria (these are important points that I try to cover with each and every design I create):

Is it accessible?

This is especially important for resources that are in full colour. Your text shouldn’t be too small, contrast should be high, text should be easy to read and photos should pop on top of coloured backgrounds, and colours should be always used in a thoughtful, meaningful way. It’s also very important to keep those who are colourblind in mind (potential or formally diagnosed).


Here are a few examples to illustrate what accessible vs. inaccessible design looks like:

Sim Daltonism (for Mac) is a free tool that lets you test whatever is visible on your screen using filters that simulate different types of colour blindness. Get it here: https://michelf.ca/projects/mac/sim-daltonism/

Here’s a look at Sim Daltonism in action:

Is it visual? 

If it isn’t specifically a reading/writing activity, keep instructions visual, or use simple, familiar language. Consistency helps a lot, both in terms of vocabulary and imagery.

Is it versatile?

My aim is always to give teachers room to use the resources I create in a way that suits their goals and the individual goals of their students. It’s even better if a resource can be used repeatedly in a multitude of different ways. Unlike something found on Pinterest, resources that you’ve created yourself can be easily altered or adjusted to aid students who may require special accommodations, such as increased font size or an adjustment to the difficulty level.

Is it simple?

Some free resources online clutter their designs with decorative elements or fancy fonts that aren’t especially legible (we covered fonts in more detail in part one of this series here). A little goes a long way as they say; too much and you risk creating confusion that can interfere with the purpose of the resource and success rate of the activity itself.

Sample resources:

all about me

Is it effective?

Lastly, one of the final questions I ask myself before exporting my work – is the resource I’ve created effective? Does it cater to the goals/purpose I set at the beginning of the creation process? The answer to this may remain somewhat unclear until you’ve had a chance to test it out in a classroom setting. By creating your own resources this way, making edits or quick changes to an activity that you’ve created is easy.

Congratulations – you’re now ready to start creating fun, engaging, and effective resources that are sure to be a hit in the classroom! We hope this design series has helped to make the process more approachable and stay tuned to the Sprig Blog for more design-focused content in the future!

Note: We do not endorse nor receive any monetary rewards for including links to software, programs, and/or tools recommended within this blog post. We have used them personally, so we have experience in using them and have found them all to provide the additional layers of protection for ourselves and our staff members.

About the Author

Chris Hough, Graphic Designer for Sprig Learning

Designing Classroom Resources: Part One – Fonts Design Tips & Tricks for Early Childhood Educators

Interested in creating your own classroom resources for early learners? Not sure where to start? We’ve got you covered! Sprig’s in-house graphic designer is sharing a design education series just for you; to give you access to the tips and tricks you need to design your own teaching tools and classroom resources.

Part one focuses on one of the most important elements to consider when designing resources for the classroom – fonts.

 

Why is it so important to choose the right font?

Choosing the right font is absolutely essential when creating classroom tools and resources. The wrong font can result in children misunderstanding content, or in some cases, being unable to fully process or understand the information being presented to them.

Our first piece of advice is to resist the urge to choose cute, playful fonts. These fonts are most likely to confuse and trip up young learners. The ‘Disney’ font, for example, is adorable in appearance but would be terribly difficult for children at this age who are learning to both read and write.

 

One-storey vs. two-storey letters – what’s the difference?

One-storey (or single-storey) letters are the ones we first learn to write as young children; they are most commonly used in handwriting, traditional calligraphy, and even in many italics. On the other hand, some letters have two-storey (double-storey,) versions used by almost all serif fonts (like Times New Roman), and many sans serif ones, too (like the one this blog is written in).

The best example to illustrate this is to look at the letter ‘g’. The letter ‘g’ comes in both single- and double-story variants, either coming with a loop, or tail. We are taught to write single-storey g’s as children because it’s most common in handwriting and is the easiest to replicate for early learners. The letter ‘a’ also looks significantly different when you compare the one-storey and two-storey versions.

Take a look at the visual below. Keep in mind that two-storey a’s are far more common than two-storey g’s. Keep an eye out for the tail on the letter ‘t’ as well – it could also be an issue depending on the font you choose.

 

So, how will I know if a font is going to be right for my students?

We recommend you start by typing out every letter of the alphabet, all of the numbers and all commonly used punctuation, using both uppercase and lowercase characters. Take a look at each character carefully and ask yourself if they could be difficult for a young child or someone with impaired vision to read. 

Sprig tip: Create and save a text document on your computer that includes the full alphabet (upper and lower case), punctuation marks, numbers, and a few example sentences. From there, copy those and set them into a few different sizes and styles (italic, bold). You can also include a white version of the characters on a dark background to see how it looks reversed.

Here’s a comparison of two different fonts, one that is much easier to read than the other:

The second font in this example (Freckle Face) is fun from a design standpoint, for sure – but it’s more likely to cause confusion with your students. To further illustrate this point, we tested out the font ‘Duper’ that we really liked here at Sprig, but ran into problems with the letters ‘a’ and ‘g’ presenting as two-storey (circled in red below).

Once you’ve settled on a font that you’re happy with, ask yourself these questions before finalizing and printing out your classroom resources:

  1. Are all the characters easy to recognize?
  2. Does this font include all of the characters that you need?
  3. How legible is it, especially at smaller sizes?
  4. Does it have a variety of styles?

 

Design software can be very expensive – do you have any free resources to recommend?

There are a ton of free resources out there, and we’ve put together a quick list of our favourites that are easy to use with little to no experience required:

  • Google Fonts: A huge catalogue of free fonts you can download
  • Canva: Design tools and templates for creating resources, or for organizing the classroom (Canva Pro gives you access to more stock images and photography, as well as useful design tools – although it comes at a monthly cost);
  • Unsplash, Rawpixel, Pixabay: Free stock photography sites that also have a good selection of illustrations (more on copyright, fair use/fair dealing, and creative commons/attribution to come in a future post – stay tuned!)

 

That’s it for Part One on fonts as part of our brand new ‘Design Tips & Tricks for Early Childhood Educators’ series! Keep an eye out for Part Two in the coming weeks where we’ll cover the design process, planning through to execution to ensure the classroom resources you produce are accessible, visual, versatile, and functional.

Have questions? Get in touch with our team at letstalk@spriglearning.com for more information about what we do or visit www.spriglearning.com to learn about our unique holistic approach to early learning.

 

About the Author

Chris Hough, Graphic Designer for Sprig Learning

More Tips to Protect Your Child’s Data Online (Part Two – Children on Computers)

As a follow-up to Part One – Children on Computers, we now shift the focus to securing data on mobile technology. While the evolution of mobile and wireless technologies have contributed positively to lives over the past 10+ years, many people continue to debate the benefits and highlight the negative impact of being ‘hyper’ connected.

Today, we’re providing you with some important tips to implement across all mobile devices and EdTech platforms. This will help ensure you and your child are protected online:

 

  1. Update software – For iOS, it’s easy to set up automatic updates. For Android, updates can be a bit more complicated to set up, because some are dependent on the carrier. Many carriers prefer to sell phones and don’t do much to educate you about updates. In fact, some Android phones, after a period of about three years, will lose the ability to process updates. Do your research when choosing phones, and remember to ask your service provider to explain the life cycle of the phones you consider and ask if they include product support; 
  2. Encrypt your data – For iOS, data storage is encrypted by default and is unlocked when you enter a passcode. For Android, you must enable this feature yourself. We also recommend that, if you use SD or other memory cards, to ensure these devices are encrypted in the event they are ever lost. Learn more about data encryption.
  3. Choose a strong unlock code/biometric – We hold a lot of confidential information/ data on our devices. It is essential that we create as many barriers to access this information as possible. We always recommend 2-factor authentication (2FA) whenever possible. For example, use one code to gain access to the physical device and then use a second code (or biometric) to approve/allow things like purchasing or access to settings. The reason is simple – if your phone is lost, someone could possibly gain access through one code, but typically not two. Remember: always create a secure password and do not use the same one across devices or accounts (bank code, home security code, etc.) This would allow someone who knows one passcode to gain access to all of your critical assets;
  4. Enable location detection – We all get busy, it’s so easy to misplace, drop, or lose your device. Having the location turned on allows you to easily find or trace the location of your device. Get more info about location detection for iOS devices, and for Android devices;
  5. Stay off public Wifi networks – Use public Wifi networks sparingly. Consider that public Wifi collects your data and may sell it to various marketing firms. If you are accessing email, banking, or social accounts, there’s a possibility they could be compromised. Learn more about the dangers of using public Wifi and if you must use these networks, please install and configure a VPN application (such as IVPN) to ensure your communications and identity are protected;
  6. Anti-virus app – It may seem a bit strange, but viruses and malware can infect a mobile device. Anti-virus apps will alert you when you stumble upon potentially suspicious websites, files, or transactions on your phone or tablet. Keep in mind, your phone is always on and connected to a network. Even while you sleep, someone could be attempting to access your device. It’s easy to forget that your phone or tablet is just another IP address on a network. We recommend looking into Avast and Kaspersky;
  7. Backup your device – This one is really important and should be done at least once a week. There are countless stories of parents losing priceless images or videos of their kids when a phone is dropped or damaged, and there are cases when it cannot be repaired/files can’t be recovered. Don’t let this happen to you! Back everything up to a cloud service of your choice – and do it regularly. Learn about backing up on iOS and on Android;
  8. Don’t jailbreak/root your phone – When you jailbreak your phone, it essentially removes all security controls on your device, including setting some default access passwords. What does this mean? Well, your phone is able to be scanned on a public network and someone could easily access your device using these logins without you even being aware that it’s happening. This can lead to data loss and possibly a full compromise of your device; your entries could be recorded and forwarded to someone else. If you use mobile banking, this could lead to your account balances being transferred to another account or in some extreme cases – identify theft.

 

This may sound pretty scary, and in some cases, it truly can be. Just remember to be vigilant and ensure you are taking all measures to keep your data and your child’s data safe. 

With these tips in play for children using mobile devices, you’re doing your part to keep your data safe and secure. Stay tuned in the coming weeks for Part Three, when we will discuss security tips for families using ChromeBooks.

All links provided within this after are meant to provide you with the information you need to do your part to keep your mobile devices secure. Note: We do not endorse nor receive any monetary rewards for the software/programs we are recommending. We use them personally, so we have experience in using them and have found them all to provide the additional layers of protection for ourselves and our staff members.

About the Author

Faud Khan, CTO, Sprig Learning

Five Tips to Protect Your Child’s Data Online (Part One – Children on Computers)

With most schools running either part- or full-time remote learning programs (or a combination of both), parents are advised to stay vigilant about doing everything they can to protect their child’s data online. At Sprig Learning, we take online security and privacy very seriously and go out of our way to ensure that parents, educators, caregivers, and communities are protected at all times while using our online apps, programs, and services.

In part one of this data privacy-focused series, we have put together a list of the top five tips that we suggest to help parents make home-based online learning safe and secure:

 

1.Change default passwords: School boards often provide default usernames and passwords; and it is essential that you change these passwords to something more secure right away. Pro tip: never use the same password twice and consider using a password manager.

2.Use secure passwords: At a minimum, create passwords that are at least 12 characters long. Be sure to include a combination of alphanumeric and special characters (ie. exclamation marks, stars, hashtags, etc.) and don’t ever share your passwords. Pro tip: password managers can generate random passwords for you!

3.Identify real time web risks – Make sure that you’re always using the latest anti-malware software to identify risks while on the Internet. Pro tip: There are many free versions that we recommend, including these offerings available from companies such as: Sophos, AV, and EVS.

4.Create user profiles for your child – Keep your main computer admin accounts separate from those your child uses by creating individual accounts for each member of the family. Malicious actors (also known as threat actors) will often use the main admin account/admin rights to install software on a computer without your knowledge. By creating separate accounts for each child with limited access to local user rights, you greatly reduce the ability for unauthorized software and trackers to be installed.

5.Update Software Regularly – Be sure to turn on automatic updates to ensure you’re always running the latest versions of all software that has been provided by the operating system and applications being used. This ensures that any security patches are quickly installed to greatly reduce your level of exposure to potential malware and viruses.

 

With these five tips in play for children using computers, you’re doing your part to keep your data safe and secure. Stay tuned in the coming weeks for Part Two when we will discuss security tips for families using mobile devices.

In the case you’d like to do more research into this topic, here are some helpful links to review. Please note: Sprig does not endorse or receive any monetary rewards for any of the software we recommend. We have first-hand experience using them and have found them to be useful in providing the additional layers of protection for our staff.

Passwords – Resources on how to create strong passwords/remembering them:

howtogeek.com/195430/how-to-create-a-strong-password-and-remember-it

cnet.com/how-to/9-rules-for-strong-passwords-how-to-create-and-remember-your-login-credentials

mentalfloss.com/article/504786/8-tips-make-your-passwords-strong-possible

 

Resources on Real Time Web Risks:

avira.com

avg.com/en-us/free-antivirus-download

avast.com/free-antivirus-download#mac (Mac, Android, and iOS)

 

Tips on creating user profiles:

support.microsoft.com/en-us/help/4026923/windows-10-create-a-local-user-or-administrator-account
(For Windows Users)

support.apple.com/en-ca/guide/mac-help/mtusr001/mac (For Mac Users)

About the Author

Faud Khan, CTO, Sprig Learning

COVID Slide: How COVID-19 Affects Young Learners

COVID-19 brought the entire world to a standstill. Arguably, the education sector was the most impacted. School closures for nearly six months are having a profound impact on young learners.

According to UNESCO, approximately 1.5 billion children were affected by school closures across 195 countries due to COVID-19. While school closures were in the interest of children’s physical health, students are impacted differently depending on their ability to access consistent, support-based remote learning opportunities. It is estimated that this has widened existing gaps in learning needs for many marginalized students, when compared to their peers.

 

The ‘COVID Slide’

Researchers from across the world are using historical studies on summer learning loss to estimate the impact of academic achievement from school closures due to COVID-19. They have termed this the ‘COVID Slide’.

An analysis from Illuminate Education found coronavirus school closures have likely caused a COVID slide of two to four months of learning loss.  The gaps are expected to be less pronounced for students who have frequently interacted with teachers compared to those who did not. Specific to young learners, the research suggests students will have significant gaps in both reading and math skills, with reading loss of about two months across the K-2 grades, and greatest for kindergartners.

NWEA research suggests students will return to school in 2020 with roughly 70% of the academic progress in reading skills relative to a typical school year. The impact on math skills is expected to be worse as students are likely to return with less than 50% of the normal skills acquisition, causing students to be a full year behind from what we would observe in a typical year.

 

The impact on marginalized students

September is here. In North America, teachers are welcoming students back the way they  do: with open arms and nurturing hearts. Of course this year, their classrooms look different and there is a focus on physical distancing and other measures to keep children safe.

Over the spring and summer, students who thrived during the unplanned remote-learning environment will return to their classrooms along with their peers—many who struggled over the same period. Many students may have experienced difficulty with internet connections, accessing computers, finding support from their families, and in some cases, simply accessing adequate food and shelter.

The shift toward remote learning at home during the pandemic exposed long-standing inequities throughout our education system—highlighting divides between socioeconomic, geographic, and racial cohorts.

The wide variety of experiences at home over the past six-month period will be magnified in 2020, highlighting the existing academic gaps and diverse learning needs and abilities of students. Many students who find themselves behind their peers will need extra support from their teachers as well as their families at home.

 

What can schools and educators do?

This school year will bring a lot of exceptional challenges for educators. In a class full of 20 to 30 students with an increased gap in learning needs and abilities, it’s going to be more challenging than ever for teachers to support each and every student – especially those who require extra support.  Schools should look to immediately address the following:

 

Holistic Assessment:

Identify early and often the learning needs and abilities through the use of formative assessment in the classroom. Take the opportunity at the beginning of the school year, while students are in-class to conduct assessments:

  • Be mindful of direct and indirect cultural biases that arise from the existing assessment tools you may use in your classroom;
  • Look to adopt holistic assessment approaches (like Sprig Language) that take a more comprehensive approach to understanding learning beyond the classroom, and look to support learning in the home and community.

 

Personalized Learning:

Schools and school districts will need to support teachers with innovative tools that will support the delivery of personalized learning for each and every student. Going back to school will require more differentiation than ever before – we need to look at technologies to support this:

  • Use data gleaned from early assessments to help inform differentiated instruction to ensure individual learning gaps and needs are addressed immediately;
  • Our Sprig Learning Engine can help teachers to do this at scale to ensure no students are left behind.

 

Support Parents at Home

In the early years, parents are pivotal to a child’s educational success, and this has never been more true than it is today. Given the reliance of at-home learning leading up to this school year –  and increased dependence as the pandemic continues – schools and teachers need to dedicate time and resources to provide the necessary support for all parents but especially those who need it most:

  • Resources should include simple, easy to follow instructions for all parents and need to recognize the added stress all families are under during this pandemic;
  • Parents need help navigating curriculums and in understanding their child’s learning needs – which requires consistent communication between teachers and parents;
  • Look to Sprig Home as a tool that can provide parents of young learners with access to simple, easy-to-implement learning activities that they can complete with their child; turning everyday moments into learning opportunities.
  • For more on supporting parents at home, read: ‘When Parents Get Involved, Early Literacy Grows’ by Maureen Taylor, Sprig’s Strategic Advisor of Learning and Governance.

As schools reopen, everyone must be prepared to support students, especially those who may be academically behind. Every learner is truly unique. In order to adequately support them, we need to understand their individual strengths, challenges and interests across a multitude of learning environments.  Support is essential in all areas: their school, their home and in their community.  We need to work collaboratively to determine the best way to assess and utilize data to help us mitigate the potential impacts of this pandemic.

 

About the Author

Jarrett Laughlin, CEO & Founder, Sprig Learning

Jarrett has worked with educational organizations across the world developing holistic and innovative approaches to measuring success in education.

His recent passion involves mobilizing research into action through socially innovative, community-based projects through his educational technology company, Sprig Learning.