Step Up Your Family Engagement

Dance can be a powerful way to foster Social Emotional Learning (SEL), celebrate cultural diversity and promote parent involvement.

Many parents are reluctant to participate in school activities, possibly due to feeling intimidated by the school building or not feeling they have enough spare time to attend. But you’ll be hard-pressed to find a parent whose heart doesn’t melt the day their own child invites them to dance as their partner.

As a PTA leader, offering programs that promote community engagement through healthy, culturally-enriching events should be one of your primary goals. Though it’s often overlooked, dance has the power to engage students, parents/caregivers and school staff in an activity that creates joy and unity.

Beyond the obvious health and cultural benefits, research indicates a strong connection between dance and Social Emotional Learning (SEL). The most successful SEL programs use active forms of learning to teach students, and evidence suggests that dance out-paces other forms of physical activity AND other forms of arts learning when it comes to measurable SEL outcomes.

How Dance Connects to SEL

Schools across the country are prioritizing Social Emotional Learning (SEL) and looking for ways to embed SEL into all aspects of school culture and climate. Dance is a proven strategy for fostering positive outcomes in the three major dimensions of SEL.

  1. Intrapersonal SEL Skills: Self-Awareness and Self-Management are fundamentally rooted in the body, making dance an excellent tool for building such competencies as emotional awareness, accurate self-perception, and impulse control.
  2. Interpersonal SEL Skills: Many dance and movement activities promote teamwork and cooperation and provide rich opportunities for developing Relationship Skills and Social Awareness.
  3. Responsible Decision-Making: Dance and movement can also be a wonderful way for students work on problem-solving, develop the ability to evaluate and reflect, and consider their responsibility to help make the world a better place.

Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Considerations

When choosing resources to use for dance or movement-based activities, keep in mind that cultural dance, in particular, can be useful in fostering cross-cultural understanding and respect. By studying dance forms that originate in other parts of the world, students gain understanding of the history, identities and values of others.

Dance can also help students and their families overcome cultural and linguistic obstacles due to its focus on nonverbal communication. For English language learners in particular, dance provides the opportunity to express oneself through the body and is shown to bolster self-esteem.

Two Left Feet? No Problem!

In many schools, the greatest barrier to bringing in a dance program is a lack of comfort with dance on the part of the adults in charge. For most students, permission to move—and especially moving to music—offers considerable stress relief and an immediate boost to their sense of optimism and joy.

Using dance and movement activities to foster learning is not as hard as it sounds, and a number of resources exist to take the pressure off of teachers and program facilitators to lead the activities.

One such program, EduMotion: SEL Journeys, is a digital experience that allows groups of participants to explore the world while focusing on themes like diversity, empathy and kindness. Each journey starts with participants choosing a cultural destination and then following along to learn simple movements inspired by a dance from the selected culture. By the end of the journey, participants are engaged with one another in movement, playing the roles of “Joymaker” and “Peacemaker” as they dance together.

How Your PTA Can Integrate Cultural Dance

With the right approach, dance can contribute to a positive school culture through integration during the school day as well as during out-of-school time and family engagement events. Your PTA can be an ideal catalyst to introduce a dance program into your school that benefits the entire community.

During the School Day

Invite teachers to be part of the experience. Provide resources like EduMotion that enable them to explore, learn and/or create a dance with their students without placing pressure on them to teach dance steps. Classroom teachers can include this activity in morning meetings, during social studies or at another transition time. It can also be a great end-of-week reward (Friday dance party, anyone?). Physical education and music/art teachers are the most likely advocates for a community engagement-oriented dance program, so try reaching out to them first!

WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS? Teachers who embrace this strategy will see a boost in student morale, improved peer relationships and better academic performance. Multiple studies prove that active students learn better, so the time teachers take to integrate dance into the weekly schedule is time well-invested.

SHARE THE EXPERIENCE…

  • Classroom Dance-Along: Teachers can invite parents or another classroom in for an interactive dance exchange.
  • Assembly program: Classrooms can practice and present different dances in an assembly program. Most parents won’t pass up an opportunity to see their child perform!

After-School & Family Engagement Events

Your PTA can host an after-school club or incorporate dance into an existing after-school program. Working with a community partner who specializes in dance is one common solution. Alternately, a program like EduMotion: SEL Journeys offers online content that a parent volunteer or OST program leader can facilitate easily—no dance experience required!

For special events, you can host a parent-child dance, or incorporate a dance activity station at an event such as a Multicultural/International Night, Health Fair, etc. Dance can even connect to STEMyou’re your next STEM + Families event, encourage students to think about coding as a series of dance steps they can put together to create different outcomes. With a little imagination, you can connect dance to all kinds of themed events you may host throughout the year!

Just like trying anything new at your school, the first few steps are often the hardest. While adding dance and movement to your programming may sound intimidating, the potential benefits are well worth it. Please reach out and connect if you’d like some moral support to make it happen in your school!


NATIONAL PTA EXCLUSIVE OFFER: EduMotion has a special offer available for PTA program leaders. Click to learn more!

Margot Toppen is an educator who works at the intersection of SEL, arts and physical education. In 2006, she developed Dancing with Class, a program delivered to hundreds of schools each year.

By The Numbers: A PTA Connected Event

At Middlebrook PTA, we realize that technology and social media are a part of our lives. As parents and educators, we have a responsibility to ensure our children know how to use these tools safely and respectfully. We had:

  • 4 teacher volunteers join other parent volunteers in leading 6 sessions for our Kindergarten-5th grade school.
  • 1 critical partnership in our Technology Integration Specialist to get her support and ask her colleagues to join her in leading a breakout session.
  • 1 Director of Digital Learning to lead the first session with all who attended that night.

Having the “agree/disagree” cards for parents and students was an effective way to see differences of opinions in the school and offered a kinesthetic learning moment for all. It was reported to be a favorite activity by many who attended and the energy in the room was high. It set a great tone for the night and both parents and students felt engaged in the material and with each other.

Melissa Larzo, PTA President for Towne Acres PTA, agrees with Middlebrook PTA.

Our event served as a family engagement night for our school.  It came on the heels of a presentation with similar subject matter that had just been held for the area middle schools in response to those incidents, so our event was tailored to capture those families with younger children.  We had:

  • Multiple outlets of promotion, but primarily through online promotion on our school’s PTA Facebook page.
  • 1 principal and many of our teachers to come out and show their support
  • 1 supervisor of safety and mental health for our school system as our guest speaker
  • 150 people in attendance that night, which was better than we expected given the busy time of the year it was.

The information we were able to deliver to the audience that night helped to begin the discussion within families, it seemed to ease some of the fears that many families had, and it helped us to feel more like a team as we tackle these issues together.

Visit PTA Connected to get made-for-PTA resources on hosting digital safety events and apply for grant funding to host your own event night. PTA.org/Grants


About the Authors: Ruth Fontilla is from Middlebrook PTA and Melissa Larzo is from Towne Acres PTA

Be Internet Awesome: Host a PTA Connected Workshop This Year!

The 2018-2019 school year officially launched our PTA Connected digital initiative. We had 200 PTAs across the country commit to hosting a Be Internet Awesome workshop. Was it a success? Two of our grantees gave us the inside scoop on what it’s like to be a Be Internet Awesome grantee.

Erin Hill, a PTA leader at Pivik PTA in Plum, Pa., shared, “When our PTA was awarded the Be Internet Awesome grant from the National PTA and Google, our principal had told us the school district had held something similar a few years previous and only a few people showed up. The bar was set! We were going to get more than that this time…I hoped.”

Their principal’s main concern was that younger kids wouldn’t find this program useful, but as Erin points out, “kids using technology, getting on the internet, and even using social media are getting younger and younger. Our school… is K-4, and our kids are unfortunately at an age where they’re being exposed to some unpleasant things on the internet while their parents—me included—may think they have a few years before talks of responsible usage need to happen. When I saw this opportunity, I knew we had to apply.”

Each grantee received $1,000 to put on their event. What’s the best way to spend that grant money? Take a tip from Erin: “During the planning we decided to put most of the award money towards the food and giveaways. We figured a nicely-catered event with the opportunity for prizes would draw in more people.”

We understand PTA leaders are busy! Erin had some great guidelines for efficient planning and set up, sharing, “We used our cafeteria, which has a large screen where we projected the presentation. We decorated five tables with balloons in the breakout session colors (that corresponded with colored dots on attendees’ name tags), pens, markers, notepads and a large poster board. We allowed attendees to eat first, then after about 45 minutes of arrivals and eating, we had people go to their breakout session table. I had organized attendees into their groups prior to the event.”

Another pro tip from Erin? Get the right—and the right amount—of volunteers. Erin shared, “At our event, there were eight volunteers. We had three people at the check in table, passing out name tags and materials. We had three people handling the catering and food set up. Five of us, including some who helped in the previously-mentioned capacities, ran the breakout sessions. We had a parent volunteer deliver most of the presentation that National PTA and Google provided with the grant materials. We also had our district’s director of information technology present. He was able to provide some nice examples and tips because, one, he knows the technology being used by the kids, and, two, he has young children.”

Promoting your event is key! People need to know about the event and be excited about it. Dana Hansley of Dodge Elementary PTA in East Amherst, N.Y. noted that, “a key to promoting our event beyond the usual PTA route of emails and newsletters was an outreach to all of the teachers in the building with an explanation of the event and a simple graphic with important info like the event date, time and place. The majority of teachers in the building pushed out the graphic provided through their SeeSaw, Class Dojo and Remind accounts to parents. This additional layer of teacher support greatly impacted turnout and added weight to the subject.”

You might be wondering why PTAs are so excited about these digital workshops. Dana put it perfectly, saying, “hosting a Be Internet Awesome tech evening allowed parents an opportunity to talk through what it’s like to raise children in a digitally-connected world. This event empowered parents as they realized they were not alone in their struggles and concerns. They walked away more confident to set healthy boundaries in their households, armed with solid information they gleaned from breakout sessions and from one another.”

The event at Dodge Elementary was in high demand. “Many families who were unable to attend expressed great regret at missing the event, and inquired as to additional events,” stated Dana. “They needn’t worry, as our school principal asked us to do a Be Internet Awesome event twice next school year.”

Applications are now open for grants to host a PTA Connected Be Internet Awesome Family Workshop. Apply today at PTA.org/Grants! Learn more about the PTA Connected Be Internet Awesome Family Workshops at PTA.org/BeInternetAwesome.


About the Authors:

Erin Hill, of Pittsburgh, PA, is chair of multiple PTA committees and was PTA President of Pivik PTA during the 2018-19 school year. She has two children, a fourth grader and kindergartner. Without the internet, she wouldn’t know how to do common core math, what to make for dinner, how to dress, what was happening at school or in the community, or how to get anywhere. The internet, she feels, is such a wonderful tool and opens so many informational doors for anything you could possibly want to know.

Dana Hensley is a PTA Co-President at Dodge Elementary School. She lives with her husband and four children in East Amherst, NY and spends her free time coaching her daughter’s soccer teams. She is a strong proponent of screen time limits for both children and adults and she spends too much time on Twitter. 

Parents Look to Find Balance of Fun and Learning This Summer

Summer is not necessarily a season where school and learning are at the forefront of people’s minds. To many people, summer is a time for vacation, camps, barbecues and fun. Sitting in a classroom and discussing education, however, is not usually on that list. Or so you may have thought.

After PTA events in Chicago and Louisville drew in large crowds earlier this summer, as many as 300 people attended one event in Chicago, whereas 1,500 attended another event in Louisville, it became clear that many parents are just as interested in staying invested in their children’s education over the summer as they are during the school year. For many parents, the only thing that changes during this time of year is the season.

“Parents are desperately looking for summer enrichment so that those months are a productive use of time,” said Vanessa, the Chicago Region PTA leader who hosted the listening session that had 300 people in attendance.

Summer is notorious for learning loss among students. Studies show that most students lose two months of mathematical skills over the summer, and low-income students lose another two to three months of reading as well. In order to combat this loss of learning, parents need to be looking for opportunities to help their kids learn. And for many parents, their local PTA is the one that provides access and information to these opportunities.

By hosting a listening session with your PTA this summer, you could be helping out many parents by providing them free resources. Everything in the Summer Learning Toolkit is free of charge and contains both academic and non-academic resources, making it accessible for people of all income levels and concerns. At the Louisville event, one parent even said in response to the toolkit that they had no idea it could be so simple, or so cheap, to continue their child’s education in the summer. The will is there for many parents, but the way is not always as obvious.

You might think that with children out of school and vacation on everyone’s mind that many members would not be interested in attending a PTA event in the summer. But Chicago and Louisville proved that many parents want to stay engaged during the break because it is arguably the most crucial time to do it. PTAs have a duty to help these parents out, so they should consider hosting a Summer Listening Session before the break is over. You never know just how many people you might help out until you do it.

For more information, visit https://www.pta.org/home/programs/connected/access/

What Real-Life Family Engagement Looks Like

When Heather Losneck learned that she had been selected as a National PTA Family Engagement Fellow last spring, she was overjoyed. As president of Berea-Midpark Middle School PTA in Middleburg Heights, Ohio, she was deeply interested in expanding her understanding of how school districts can support transformative family engagement.

She also believed her participation in the Family Engagement Fellowship program would be a compelling reason for the district and community to come together to create more intentional opportunities for the kind of family engagement that truly impacts student success.

A year later, Heather has successfully formed an active and accomplished Family Engagement Team for the Berea City School District. Here’s how she has collaborated with the district and the school board to enhance family engagement practices.

Taking the First Steps

Heather knew she could not accomplish all that she wanted to do alone, so her first priority was to connect with key players she knew could help influence the district, including the school board president, Ana Chapman. Since she was a longtime PTA member, Heather knew Ana felt passionately about family engagement.

As they continued to build their family engagement team, Ana notified her of an outdated family engagement policy that she was interested in revising. Heather, Ana and another dedicated parent, Kim Dettmer, collaborated to rewrite the policy. They used the opportunity to integrate National PTA’s Standards for Family-School Partnerships into their community’s approach.

Ana then brought the updated language to the school board for a vote. Because this policy change was initiated by the school board president, it was a powerful, and relatively quick, first step. The new language signaled a strong commitment to transformative family engagement and created excitement for the creation of a district-wide team.

Forming a Powerful Team

Though their small team of three had achieved an early success, Heather knew their family engagement team still needed more members to be truly transformative. She believed that one of the most important responsibilities as a leader was to empower other parents and caregivers.

So, Heather, Ana and Kim worked to establish a diverse and motivated team of parents, teachers and administrators. An application process—which they promoted using a social media campaign, school newsletters and direct communications from the district—ensured the group was open and inviting, but still manageable in size, and adequately representative of all three cities in the district.

The application process also helped the group to further publicize and elevate the work they were doing. While the application was simple, it provided valuable information that enabled Heather to find out why people were interested in joining the team. They reviewed 60 applications and selected 16 members for to be part of the final Family Engagement Team.

Working to Maximize Impact

The newly-formed Family Engagement Team established three subcommittees that would take on concrete projects to build momentum and create community buy-in for transformative family engagement:

  1. Welcoming Families
  2. Effective Communication
  3. Student Success

To avoid the pitfalls of the work getting stuck in internal processes and endless discussion with little action, they took the time to reach consensus on a clear vision and achievable goals for each subcommittee. Heather shared, “It’s really important not to try to do too much.” She encouraged subcommittees to pick a single, specific project to be passionate about, and then she worked to ensure they had the appropriate resources and empowered them to do the work.

Finding the Keys to Success

The subcommittees have already achieved several accomplishments during their short tenure. Heather credits the momentum to, “checking in with [my] teams regularly and celebrating their successes.”
Of particular note is their work around welcoming families. When a recent survey uncovered that the district could improve in being more welcoming of families from different ethnicities, the Welcoming Families subcommittee collaborated with the district’s new Director of Nutrition Services to add new dishes to the school menu that are more reflective of the community’s cultures.

Their key strategies to successful, transformative family engagement approach included:

  1. Partnering with families who provide their recipes that best exemplify their cultures
  2. A new wellness committee, established by the Director of Nutrition Services, that intentionally recruits parent members.

While food fairs are a regular staple of diversity attempts, the nutritional services approach the Welcoming Families subcommittee used has resulted in a systemic change that directly benefits all kids. It has also opened doors for continuous exchange between families and the district’s Nutrition Services department.

The team has also worked closely with the district’s Communications Director to create a “Before You Visit” link on the district website, which will make it easier for families to find out anything they may know before they come to school.

This initiative was a direct response to parents’ indications that they did not always feel welcome in school buildings and that transitioning from one school building to another was particularly challenging. Rather than simply providing the hours the office is open, the website now includes detailed information such as drop off procedures, sign in rules, good times to visit, who you will meet in the front office, and more.

Creating Sustainability for Family Engagement

Heather shares that the Family Engagement Team’s next goal is to establish a district-level paid position dedicated to family engagement. She says, “In order to sustain the work going forward, it cannot be driven solely by volunteers.”

Collaborating with the School Board President, they are currently analyzing similar positions in other districts, and are eager to begin crafting a job description for the role. The team sees this as a necessary next step to ensure that family engagement efforts are consistent, impactful and effectively integrated to the school district’s overall strategic plan.

We can’t wait to see what they do next!

Stay up to date with the latest best practices in transformative family engagement by subscribing to the Center for Family Engagement’s e-newsletter here.


About the Author: Heather Losneck is one of National PTA’s Family Engagement Fellows and the president of Berea-Midpark Middle School PTA.

 

5 Ways Your PTA Could Become a School of Excellence

Last August, 279 schools were announced as 2018-2020 National PTA Schools of Excellence for their leadership and accomplishments in building strong, effective family-school partnerships! National PTA is pleased to recognize this record number of local PTAs across the nation who have earned the two-year designation. We can’t wait to announce our 2019-2021 School of Excellence designees this August.

Check out how these PTAs made a tremendous impact on continuous school improvement through the School of Excellence program. Enroll your PTA in the 2019-2020 School of Excellence program now through October 1 at PTA.org/Excellence.

Barnard Asian Pacific Language Academy

Barnard PTA in California chose to focus on improving education by growing family participation in advocacy by creating an environment in which parents felt welcome, engaged and involved with the school. Throughout the school year, the PTA hosted many community events to engage families in a variety of social, academic and community-building activities; all of which were free to parents and students.

Beaverdam Elementary

To support student success and keep parents informed about what their students were learning, Beaverdam Elementary School PTA in Virginia took on the task of implementing a school/PTA newsletter. Every quarter, teachers, administration and the PTA submitted articles to inform parents about what their students were learning and what they could expect in the coming months. The newsletter also included the school’s progress, programs and upcoming events. The Beaverdam PTA also took a more active approach to their Facebook page, including recording the school’s talent show, which not only showed off the school and student talent, but allowed Beaverdam’s community of working parents who could not attend during the day to see the performance and share this experience with other family members and friends!

Glendale Elementary

The resources provided through the School of Excellence program paved the way for Glendale Elementary PTA in Florida to establish better communication with ALL families, uniting the PTA and school with one cohesive mission in making the culture and climate welcoming for all families. Glendale Elementary PTA and school created multi-language informational signs for all entrances and ensured that every communication was provided broadly and in multiple languages. Through the school year, Glendale PTA expanded their outreach and exposure anytime there was a school event providing the school, parents, and students with timely information. As a result, event attendance and participation were at an all-time high.

Rabbit Creek Elementary

In Alaska, the Rabbit Creek Elementary PTA partnered with the school’s art teacher to help support the arts by displaying student art work to brighten up common spaces such as the front office and the library. The PTA also supported the music teacher in her production of the fourth-grade play by funding new microphone headsets, set decorations and props needed to make the play a success. After being dormant, the PTA helped resurrect the Rabbit Creek Reflections program with the help of a PTA parent, who happens to be local artist, spent a great deal of time coaching kids and encouraging them to let their creativity shine.

Canyon Rim Elementary

Canyon Rim Elementary PTA in Arizona emphasized welcoming diverse families into their school by designing a welcome sign in 18 languages which received positive feedback. One of the school’s moms, who is from Ukraine, said she felt more welcome when she when she stopped by the school every morning. The cafeteria manager, a native German-speaker, also expressed her appreciation to the Canyon Rim Elementary PTA.

These are just some examples of how PTAs can make long-lasting and positive changes. Congratulations, once again, to all of our 279 2018-2020 School of Excellence designees.

Interested in becoming a National PTA School of Excellence? Learn more and enroll thru Oct. 1 at PTA.org/Excellence and email Excellence@PTA.org with any questions.


Amy Weinberg is the Manager of Programs & Partnerships at National PTA.

 

 

8 Steps to Becoming a School of Excellence

Are you looking to step up your PTA’s involvement in school improvement efforts? Are you already doing something meaningful in your school community, and want that hard work to be recognized?

In either case, National PTA’s School of Excellence program offers customized tools to help you to make a substantial, positive impact on school and student success, and earn recognition for your PTA and school.

By enrolling in this program, your PTA and school administrators are making a year-long commitment to identify and implement an action plan for school improvement based on PTA’s National Standards for Family-School Partnerships and best practices in Transformative Family Engagement.

Throughout the school year, you will work with a committed team of PTA leaders you choose to bring positive change in family engagement based off feedback from your school community. National PTA will offer support every step of the way.

In the final stage of the program, your work be evaluated and if you’ve created a stronger family-school partnership, you will receive the two-year National PTA School of Excellence distinction, plus the national recognition that comes with an honor of this caliber!

The steps in the program are as follows:

Step #1: Enroll and Gain Support (Enroll by Oct. 1)

Enroll at PTA.org/Excellence and start to build your Excellence Team to improve family-school partnerships through the school year.

Step #2: Deploy Baseline Survey (September-November)

Use National PTA’s Baseline Survey to gain feedback on current family-school partnerships at your school.

Step #3: Set a Shared Objective (September-November)

After you’ve compiled your survey feedback, work with your Excellence Team and school administrators to identify and prioritizing your shared goals for the school year.

Step #4: Complete Initial Application (Submit by Nov. 1)

With one, main focus area and objective in mind, you will complete an online Initial Application with your survey results and plan ahead.

Step #5: Follow Roadmap to Excellence (Throughout School Year)

Using recommendations on the Roadmap to Excellence and in collaboration with your Excellence Team, you will implement actions to address barriers and expand methods for effective family and community engagement throughout the school year.

Step #6: Deploy Final Survey (March-June)

Towards the end of the school year, you will conduct a second survey to gather feedback from your school community to evaluate your progress over the school year.

Step #7: Complete Final Application (Submit by June 1)

With the Final Survey results, you will complete a Final Application that includes a narrative for you to share how you made gains and put theory into practice.

Step #8: Celebrate Your Excellence (August)

In August, Schools of Excellence will be named and honored with this two-year designation. If awarded, you will receive information on how to plan your school and community celebrations as well as a banner to hang prominently at your school. You will also automatically be considered for our Phoebe Apperson Hearst Award, given to our top three Schools of Excellence each year.

Join the ranks of select PTAs who have earned this prestigious distinction. You too can achieve excellence and be known as leading the nation in effective family-school partnerships.

Enrollment for the 2019-2020 School of Excellence program is open through Oct. 1. To learn more and to enroll, visit our website at PTA.org/Excellence. Contact Excellence@PTA.org for more information.


Amy Weinberg, MA is the Manager of Programs & Partnerships at National PTA.

 

Building Character at a STEM + Families littleBits Invention Night

SPOTLIGHT: Pumpkin Delight School (Milford, Connecticut)

This post is part of a series authored by local PTA leaders sharing their stories as STEM + Families littleBits Invention Night winners. These real-world experiences shed light on how an individual PTA planned and hosted their event, including lessons learned and practical advice.

Curiosity. Engaging. Problem Solving. Results. Creativity. – All important words that help to build character, scholarship and learning in our elementary students. In today’s society, we are limited to common core, state standards, and standardize testing. What can a PTA do to engage students? Utilize all their senses? Build a sense a curiosity? And allow students to problem solve on their own in order to find results? The answer is invention!

Our PTA applied for the Invention Night grant from littleBits and National PTA for two reasons. First, we had a science fair, but we were looking for a (FREE!) way to have more students participate. Second, we wanted a new way to get our students engaged in creativity. Our budget was tight, and we had no way to allocate dollars towards this event, so we looked to National PTA’s grant to help us with our mission. The application process was not difficult and the answers to the application came easily as I knew exactly what I wanted to accomplish.

Our Invention Night consisted of the littleBits Kits, science projects from about 25 students, teacher interaction and support from our local Milford Public Library. We set it up in our gym, which is the largest space in our school, also across the hall from bathrooms. Our school used our Facebook page as well as flyers sent home in backpacks to help advertise the event. While we knew the students who did projects would be attending the event, we welcomed our event to the entire school and community.

The biggest driver that brought traffic to our event was the littleBits Invention Kits. We informed the community of our grant win and promoted heavily. We also provided information on the app that needed to be downloaded prior to attending the event. While the communication was clear on our end, we knew parents are busy and this step could be easily forgotten. littleBits also has a YouTube page that walks you through the steps. This helps with those parents that did not download the app beforehand. While we live in an electronic age, I would say this was the biggest roadblock of the event. I would advise other PTA’s to prepare for this when hosting similar events in the future.

Overall what made this event such a success was the students and families working together on the littleBits Kits. It was inspiring and emotional to see the successes when focused minds come together to solve a problem. We had parents working with their children and saw their faces light up when they made progress along the way. I also noticed quite a bit of peers working together on the kits. When one student was able to work through a level, they were then able to help their friends around them be able to achieve the same success.

It was a privilege to be able to host an Invention Night at our school. The event helped boost the support the PTA received from the community. We can’t wait to do it again next year!

Take Action: Learn more about how your PTA can host a STEM + Families Invention Night


About the Guest Contributor: Kristyn Liebelt is the PTA President at Pumpkin Delight School PTA in Milford, Connecticut.

Disclosure: littleBits is a Supporting Sponsor of National PTA’s STEM + Families initiative. The local PTA spotlighted in this blog was a winner of the 2018-2019 STEM + Families littleBits Invention Night. The author was not compensated for this blog post and the author’s opinions are their own.

Spark Family Engagement at a STEM + Families littleBits Invention Night

SPOTLIGHT: Bonny Kate PTA (Knox County, Tenn.)

This post is part of a series authored by local PTA leaders sharing their stories as STEM + Families littleBits Invention Night winners. These real-world experiences shed light on how an individual PTA planned and hosted their event, including lessons learned and practical advice.

The entire community of Bonny Kate Elementary School was so excited to learn that we had been awarded a PTA STEM + Families Initiative grant for a littleBits Invention Night. Invention Nights are incredible opportunities for family engagement.

Last year, we had our inaugural STEAM Night and the activities were more visual than interactive. This year, as we combined our STEAM Night with Invention Night, and we had a very different experience. Families were working together on activities, talking and laughing, and genuinely enjoying themselves this time around. It was awesome for our small community to have a fun learning time together and great to see all the smiles.

The STEAM Team and our building-level coach worked hard to plan and promote our Invention Night. We advertised the event through emails, parent links, classroom newsletters and fliers that were sent home. We also contacted our local television stations, and one came out and did a short piece on the event!

Our PTA decorated the school for the event with balloons, streamers and posters, and we had a food truck for families who had not eaten dinner. These things helped to ensure a large crowd for the event, even though it was a very cold winter night, and made it very welcoming for our families.

To get families even more engaged in their child’s learning, we used the entire school for the event. We created a map of the school, and the students had passports with places to stamp for each activity. Activities included visiting our local high school’s robotics team, checking out STEAM projects from each grade level, and chatting with the University of Tennessee’s Engineering Club, in addition to the space dedicated to the littleBits kits. Because there were so many activities, the space was well-divided, with lots of room to spread out and work on projects.

The enthusiasm and excitement this event created has inspired us to move forward with plans to have a STEAM lab next year. With STEAM careers being a focus for future jobs, it is so vital that our students—who live in a more rural area—are exposed to STEAM activities. The seeds planted by this event will help us to grow and bloom with STEAM for years to come. Thanks PTA and littleBits!

Take Action: Learn more about how your PTA can host a STEM + Families Invention Night


About the Guest Contributor: Denise Cross is the Assistant Principal at Bonny Kate Elementary School, part of Knox County Schools in Tenn.

Disclosure: littleBits is a Supporting Sponsor of National PTA’s STEM + Families initiative. The local PTA spotlighted in this blog was a winner of the 2018 – 2019 STEM + Families littleBits Invention Night. The author was not compensated for this blog post and the author’s opinions are their own.

 

Have Robotics Fun at a STEM + Families littleBits Invention Night

SPOTLIGHT: Archer Elementary PTA (Archer, Fla.)

This post is part of a series authored by local PTA leaders sharing their stories as STEM + Families littleBits Invention Night winners. These real-world experiences shed light on how an individual PTA planned and hosted their event, including lessons learned and practical advice.

Despite having a robust Robotics program in our curriculum, our elementary school had never held any type of STEM event for families to get a taste of what their children were learning. Thanks to National PTA and littleBits awarding us the grant for 50 Little Bits Invention Kits, we were able to host an Invention Night for the first time.

Both littleBits and National PTA made planning the event very easy by laying out the process for us. We knew we wanted to get our Robotics teacher involved in the planning. She was very enthusiastic about the event and even volunteered to set up her VEX Robots and have the fifth-graders demonstrate their creations the same night. After meeting with our principal and Robotics teacher, we decided to get other teachers involved and have different STEM activities going during the event.

To promote our Invention Night, We sent flyers home in student folders, and our principal sent an email and did a robo-call to families two weeks in advance. A week before the event, we sent parents a reminder email along with the instructions on how to download the littleBits App as well as the guide for each project that you can build with the kit.

We held the event in the cafeteria and set out two kits per table so each family had plenty of space to work out their invention. We gave families the option to partner with another family as well and work together. Each invention took about 20 minutes to build and we gave families the option to build two inventions. We also made sure to provide dinner to all families that night. We had 45 families attend our event, roughly 175 people, which was a great turnout for our school!

Since this was our first-ever STEM event, we wanted to be sure to get feedback. So once families had filled out our survey, we entered them into a raffle. Prizes were donated, including the grand prize—the Droid Kit—donated by littleBits.

Overall, parents and students were really happy with the event. The families enjoyed the experience of learning something new with their kids—there was a lot of collaboration going on. Parents also expressed how happy they were to see what their kids were experiencing at school with the robotics. We will definitely be hosting another Invention Night next year. Thank you to littleBits and National PTA for giving us the opportunity to expose our kids to engineering and invention. Without the grant, this night would not have been possible.

Take Action: Learn more about how your PTA can host a STEM + Families Invention Night

 


About the Author: Pam Korithoski is the Advocacy Chair at Archer Elementary School in Archer, Fla.

Disclosure: littleBits is a Supporting Sponsor of National PTA’s STEM + Families initiative. The local PTA spotlighted in this blog was a winner of the 2018 – 2019 STEM + Families littleBits Invention Night. The author was not compensated for this blog post and the author’s opinions are their own.