When parents and guardians are active partners in education, students truly thrive. Our friends at Carnegie Corporation wanted to support this participation and uncover teachers’ best ideas for engaging families in student learning.
This past fall, we launched the Carnegie Corporation Family Engagement Innovation Challenge. Teachers were invited to submit their best ideas for getting families involved in learning, both in and outside of school, and had donations to their projects doubled.
An expert panel of family engagement advocates then judged projects, selecting the most innovative and creative in five categories. Take a look at the winning projects!
Growing up with books in the home is key to developing life-long readers, but too often families can’t afford to keep their shelves stocked with the latest engaging reads. To foster a love of reading outside the classrooms, Ms. Moore built take-home reading and activity kits. Each kit included a biography and related activities for students to do with their families focussing on the 4 Cs: creativity, collaboration, communication, and critical thinking.
Students can choose the kit they’re most excited about to take home for a month. Ms. Moore shared how the kits have unlocked an excitement for reading, especially for a student who was reading below grade level prior to the project.
“She took an interest in her 4 C's bag. She loved science and engineering. Since then she's really enjoyed reading biographies, she looks forward to her next round of bags and most of all you can see the love of reading this has created.”
At the end of the month with the bag, students can share their learnings back with the class through a variety of mediums. Ms. Moore shared that it’s clear families are loving getting involved!
“It was truly inspiring to see not just parents, but siblings working alongside the kids, learning and exploring together. One picture showed my student, the younger sibling, and the dad using the space projector to light up planets all over the room. One of the videos showed a family of 5 sitting around the couch talking to the child about all the projects they had done from the bag, and all the things they learned. I truly believe this project has brought families together.”
Language differences pose a major barrier for teachers and parents looking to connect. Working with a large population of English Language Learners, Ms. Rubolino know the struggle firsthand.
“I could relate to the frustration of the parents when they could not communicate with me. Calling on another person to translate felt impersonal and quite unfair with regards to maintaining privacy.”
To bridge this language gap and encourage parents to attend events like parent-teacher night, Ms. Rubolino requested a Language Translator Device. This voice translation device allows Ms. Rubolino and her students’ parents to speak with each other and see translations in real time.
Not only did this device inspire the best attended parent-teacher conferences to date, but it’s inspired even more school events. Ms. Rubolino collaborated with peer teachers to host a Hispanic Heritage Expo, Weird Science Night, Black History Month Literacy and Arts Night, school dances, a test prep information night, an attendance awareness night, and vocational choices seminars — with even more events on the way.
“As a result of using the Language Interpreter, I have more parents willing to reach out to me. We have developed a plan on how to translate communications between ourselves through messaging.”
Finding a topic that excites students and parents can unlock new realms of family engagement opportunities. For Mrs. Norris’s class, that topic was space.
“When academic content is compelling to the students, they are more likely to share their thoughts at home and invite their families into their learning activities.”
Inspired by a webinar with Liam Kennedy, the inventor of ISS-Above, Mrs. Norris realized she had to have an ISS-Above for her students. With the ISS-Above, Mrs. Norris and her students can track the International Space Station, learn about the astronauts currently residing on ISS, and view Earth as seen from space. Using the ISS-Above as a launch pad, Mrs. Norris encouraged students to bring their families outside at night and observe the night sky, identifying things like constellations, visible planets, and moon phases.
“Some parents have shared their children’s excitement and have nurtured their children’s curiosity by going outside with them to look at the night sky. Students have arrived at school with news updates about meteor showers, NASA TV events, and launches that we have not discussed in class. That tells me students are participating in self-directed, family-supported learning at home."
Ms. Trochez MacLean | Grades PreK–2 | Los Angeles, CA
Ms. Trochez MacLean was inspired to create her project after learning some forgotten history of a local park. When she learned that the neighborhood park had previously been the area’s first zoo, Ms. Trochez MacLean knew this was a great opportunity to get students and families involved.
“[The project] offers an opportunity to help students connect with learning about a neighborhood's history in a meaningful manner.”
Ms. Trochez MacLean gave students and their families a quest to reimagine this local park. Students approached the project from multiple angles, first learning about the park’s history in class, then visiting the park and surveying folks with their families, and finally building a model for what the park could be.
Ms. Trochez MacLean shared how parents are going above and beyond to get involved:
“My students' parents have been supportive of this project and will help my students complete their survey and collect data that my students will use to help them reimagine our park for the future. Many have also shared that they will be happy to help us as we move forward with our work. Some have even offered to help us gather and donate easy-to-find materials for the final park redesigns.”
Bringing families together to celebrate their cultural heritage can inspire families to be more involved in student learning. Ms. Valle, who teaches in a diverse community, decided to host multicultural nights, in which families were invited to the school to participate in crafts and activities with their children and with each other.
Not only did parents attend these events, but they also helped to prepare the activity booths that centered the arts, literacy, mathematics, history/social science, and cooking! Ms. Valle said that she “wanted to tap on parents who have special skills that should be shared with everyone in the community.”
Key to the success of these events was creating an environment where families felt comfortable and empowered to support their children.
“First and foremost, we noticed the immediate reaction of joy as parents walked into the decorated school and auditorium to take a family picture. I think creating a warm and welcoming place is vital for promoting an academic and diverse learning environment. The affirmation of all cultures at Gates Street Elementary was my motivation. Parents are so proud to have their students attend this school. ”
Thank you so much to these inspiring teachers for sharing their wisdom engaging families, and thank you to the Carnegie Corporation for supporting this essential part of learning.
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