The Future of STEM

A real-world approach fosters globally connected project-based learning.

GUEST COLUMN | by Richard Larson and Elizabeth Murray

CREDIT MIT BLOSSOMS program.gifLearning in the classroom should be a source of excitement and curiosity, not a boring and dreaded task focused on the memorization of facts for standardized tests. Luckily, education trends are shifting toward project-based learning environments in which real-world problems are a driving force.

What is project-based learning, or PBL? It’s an approach that is fundamentally different from traditional methods in that it doesn’t involve teaching different subjects like math, science and literature individually. Instead, PBL begins with a discussion of a real-world issue, and ends with a potentially viable solution developed through a flexible process that includes research, testing, analysis, context and collaboration.

If we want the next generation to develop the global competencies that the 21st century demands – then we need to build better systems and enable teaching methods that prepare them now.

Research indicates that PBL inspires students to obtain a deeper understanding of the subjects they are studying, making them more likely to retain the knowledge gained. In addition, it helps students develop critical thinking and problem-solving skills. This is particularly true when it comes to STEM education. Project learning has proven to be an effective way to engage students in science and engineering subjects, and spark students’ desire to explore, investigate and understand their world. We foster that at MIT BLOSSOMS.

Our goal now is to take PBL to the next level. The idea is to expand PBL not only through the use of technology, but also by leveraging computers, the internet as well as interactive whiteboards, global-positioning-system (GPS) devices, video and other cutting-edge tools to facilitate PBL and problem solving in real-time, at a global scale.

In June, MIT BLOSSOMS, which began as an international program aimed at improving math and science education in the developing world, launched its latest international partnership. This time, with the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology and its Learning Technologies Group . Our joint mission: to develop a new integrated online platform that combines BLOSSOMS’ free interactive video lessons with Technion’s Augmented World platform to enable globally connected PBL – creating a new online learning model that can facilitate STEM education involving teachers, expert scientists and fellow students from diverse nationalities.

For over nine years, MIT BLOSSOMS has worked with educators around the U.S. and the world, including Jordan, Pakistan, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Malaysia, China and Mexico. Together with these partners, BLOSSOMS has developed a free, online library of interactive video lessons designed to supplement high school science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) courses. There are now over 200 lessons in the BLOSSOMS library, each with the goal of developing critical thinking and problem-solving skills, connecting abstract concepts to the real world and demonstrating how mathematicians, scientists and engineers think.

Augmented World is a location-based social networking platform with an open and flexible system that allows users to contribute their own contents using multimedia tools (and other cutting-edge technologies).

The new integrated platform being developed will enable teachers in the U.S. and around the world to access new BLOSSOMS video lessons focused on common community problems, such as providing clean water or solving sanitation issues. The Augmented World networking platform will serve as a starting point for middle and high school classes to jointly tackle the challenging problems being presented. Students will then conduct research, adding layers of information and evidence to the platform via text, images and videos, creating dynamic information points on digital maps. The platform will also provide an online community in which students can communicate and collaborate to weigh perspectives, evaluate results and evolve ideas in an effort to find innovative solutions.

The idea is to provide young students with a diverse view of the world, one that helps create a foundation for better understanding and empathy along with diverse contexts and learning experiences. By sharing ideas and working together to solve problems, we believe we can promote innovation that leads to new ways of curing disease, feeding the world, eliminating pollution, and more.

If we want the next generation to develop the global competencies that the 21st century demands – then we need to build better systems and enable teaching methods that prepare them now. This new platform will provide a long-overdue update to STEM education – allowing students to engage regularly and deeply with world issues, while communicating and collaborating with people whose perspectives may differ from their own. It’s about complex problem-solving, information synthesizing, and globally connected teamwork.

Richard Larson is Principal Investigator of the MIT BLOSSOMS Initiative and Mitsui Professor of Engineering Systems at MIT.  Elizabeth Murray is Project Manager of MIT BLOSSOMS.

Posted in guest column | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Cool Tool | Kids Discover Lessons: History and Science of the Solar Eclipse

CREDIT Kids Discover eclipse image.jpgKids Discover, a leading provider of engaging science and social studies curriculum for elementary and middle school students, has curated a collection of digital resources for teachers looking to give their students scientific and historical context for the upcoming solar eclipse on Monday, August 21, 2017, in North America. Resources include Kids Discover articles on the sun, moon, and Earth, as well as the history—and mythology—behind astronomy. Kids Discover resources will help students visualize the eclipse with kid-friendly illustrations, animated graphics, and concise explanations at their own reading level. Students will discover the Polish astronomer, Nicolaus Copernicus, who was the first to declare that the Earth revolved around the sun, rather than the other way around. They will also learn about the phases of the moon, and how the different heavenly bodies interact to cause an eclipse. To solidify the connection between students’ learning in the classroom and real-world events, teachers with Educator accounts can use the pre-made questions from the resource articles to easily create a custom assessment for their students to complete.

Posted in cool tools | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Making the Most of Technology while Keeping Students First

Creating conditions for success with technology starts with smart, strategic implementation.

GUEST COLUMN | by Sam Weiss and Dave Saltmarsh

CREDIT jamf.pngSchools, educators and IT professionals provide students with the best conditions for success when they learn how to move beyond the technology. While this may sound counterintuitive, it is when schools get past the nuances of the devices that they are able to spend more time and resources supporting the individual needs of all learners. After all, learning should be the leading driver for all decisions impacting student success, not the technology. While this likely isn’t new news to most educators, it remains an area where schools continue to struggle. So how can schools change their path and turn this idea into their reality?

As a first step, schools should gather an inventory of their devices.

Schools should never be limited by the technology they use, nor should they let it dictate their choices. To ensure this is the case, schools must approach technology with a student-centered focus that moves beyond simple substitution and augmentation to a point where students are doing activities that are involving, creating and prompting critical thinking skills. Instructional design and technology experts know this concept as SAMR (substitution, augmentation, modification and redefinition). Schools can use SAMR as an analogy for how to implement technology. They can remain below the line of basic deployment concerns or move above the line to support transformation. While this may sound like a challenge, it’s easily accomplished when keeping some key things in mind.

Creating the conditions for success with technology starts with a smart, strategic implementation. The lower implementation concerns are often considered easy and should be the beginning – not the target. Depending on what a school already has, this may involve purchasing and provisioning devices. Then, once the appropriate technology is acquired, it must be deployed. This process of getting devices into the hands of students is only the beginning.

As a first step, schools should gather an inventory of their devices. This will allow them to create a base understanding of what they have to work with. Collecting inventory should be straightforward and relatively simple with no extra cost. From there, using a mobile device management (MDM) solution, schools can set up the devices with little or no hands-on work.

Pre-assigning applications will give students instant access to the content they need as soon as they turn on their devices. Similarly, creating group privileges will give certain classes, age ranges, etc. the same access to pre-determined content when and where they need it. This can all be accomplished in a streamlined fashion with easy workflows.

Completing these initial steps puts schools in a great position to start a conversation around how to accomplish the mass customization of the devices. The challenge is, like SAMR, to move above the line by simplifying what some see as complex or not possible. This conversation should include an agile refinement session that will help establish a foundation that supports the continual changing needs of each student.

Once the basics around purchasing, provisioning and deploying are accomplished, schools can start exploring different ways of creating transformational experiences for their students. A powerful way to do this is through mass customization. Schools should consider providing individual privileges to students instead of only giving one generic setup to everyone. Purchasing content that is based on the individual needs of each student, rather than buying software that is supposed to apply to everyone, is essential to meeting the individual needs of all learners.

To accomplish this work, schools should consider enlisting the help of non-traditional IT roles, such as administrators or librarians. Through their help schools can customize more content, which in turn creates more flexibility within the classroom. Throughout this process, those completing the work should be agile with privileges – another way to ensure success. Schools should think about assigning content to students as they grow, mature or earn new capabilities with their technology. Likewise, some students may lose privileges. So rather than tying everyone to the same content, use dynamic content that allows students to receive what they need when they need it. This creates a better, individualized learning experience for students.

Through the implementation of these techniques, and by continually moving forward with their capabilities, schools will move to a point where technology enables learning in a strategic and impactful way. They can shift the focus to learning, specifically personalized learning, but they must first ensure the conditions for success are set by high expectations.

Sam Weiss is an Apple education evangelist and Dave Saltmarsh is a global educational evangelist and former classroom teacher at Jamf, an Apple management company.

Posted in guest column | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Education’s New Frontier

Using VR, unlocking human potential for a better outcome.

GUEST COLUMN | by Turner Nashe

CREDIT GTL Turner Nashe .pngPerhaps the newest frontier in education is the ardent effort that is now underway to transform the lives of over 3 million residents. These residents live across all fifty of our states. Most have families that depend on them, and nearly all will be moving at some point without gainful employment or significant job skills. These individuals come from all walks of life. They are African American, Caucasian, Asian, Hispanic and Native American. The majority were born in the United States, but the remainder hail from almost every nation on earth. In fact, this very large, diverse population has only one thing in common. They have been convicted of a crime and are currently incarcerated.

The United States has approximately one twentieth of the world’s population, yet it has a quarter of the world’s prisoners. In fact, if you include probation and parole, we have over seven million people in the United States under the supervision of the criminal justice system. In the last 35 years, we experienced a 500 percent increase in incarceration. During that same period, we spent three times more money on prisons than on schools.

When an inmate earns an associate degree, the recidivism rate drops to an amazing 13.7 percent. When they earn a bachelor degree, the recidivism rate drops even further, to a scant 5.6 percent. When you consider that it costs states an average of $31,000 per year to feed, clothe and house each resident, education becomes a pretty sweet deal.

Of the more than 3 million people currently in jail or prison, two thirds will return within three years, and three quarters will return within five years. When an inmate earns an associate degree, the recidivism rate drops to an amazing 13.7 percent. When they earn a bachelor degree, the recidivism rate drops even further, to a scant 5.6 percent. When you consider that it costs states an average of $31,000 per year to feed, clothe and house each resident, education becomes a pretty sweet deal.

My company, GTL, has been a leader in providing secure technology for inmates and correctional institutions, and 1.9 million inmates nationwide use GTL services. I was personally involved in bringing tablets into many of America’s institutions, with very encouraging results. Tablets provide a way for inmates to learn in the privacy of their own cells, and it proved to be a great delivery system for academic learning – with one major drawback. In order to learn and become proficient in a trade or skill, inmates must be able to train on industry equipment. Being incarcerated makes this problematic. The answer to this challenge is Virtual Reality (VR). With VR, inmates can learn automotive repair, cosmetology, food prep, heating and air, plumbing and many more real-word, in-demand skills. In much the same way that virtual reality is now being used to train thoracic surgeons and airline pilots, virtual reality will be a secure and inexpensive way for states to assist in inmate education and to provide training for inmates, making it possible for them to receive associate and bachelor degrees, and apprenticeships and certificates in relevant, marketable skill areas.

Our work uses a blend of current and new VR technology. The corrections industry dictates that we “securitize” anything that would normally be used for public consumption, so we will use a moderately-priced commercial headset, and strip down functionality and code firmware to enhance security for the prison environment.

CREDIT GTL Turner Nashe infographic.pngWe are working from a catalog of existing courses written for online tablet and computer users – almost like being in college for biology or chemistry. We will have standard Learning Management System (LMS) coursework and add the visual experience to deliver a virtual lab. The lab allows us to bring real-world experiences behind the walls, such as being in a virtual commercial kitchen or automotive repair shop.

While there’s only so much you can do, placing a student inside a new environment should reduce stress levels and offer some type of familiarity when faced with the actual event.

As early as September of this year, we will begin to make VR a reality through a department of corrections here in the US. We will begin with five to ten-minute VR sessions in the automotive repair, cosmetology and food prep services areas.

We also have department of corrections customers that are very interested in being pilot facilities for the new virtual reality courses. We are innovators in the corrections space and have been since our inception. We’ve had positive experiences and would like our existing relationships to allow us to bring even more technology that benefits everyone. Using existing, moderately priced headsets, we have made the technology very affordable. And obviously, there is a large financial incentive for the taxpayer to reduce recidivism. At the end of the day, we all want inmates to leave these facilities for good and lead productive lives.

As a long-term outcome, VR could provide a catalogue of experiences to allow inmates to reflect on where they may have made an error in judgement, allowing offenders to practice coping mechanisms and decision trees in a safe space. So there could be long-term behavior modification implications as well as workforce development opportunities. An inmate’s recidivism or success upon reentry into society is directly tied to his or her ability to make correct decisions when faced with real-world choices. When an offender has to make a decision upon release, the weight of violating probation or parole shouldn’t be the incentive. It is my goal to make sure that all parties involved are in a safe space when an inmate has to build out short, medium, and long term schemata in order to be successful in the outside world, instead of depending on negative stress responses. If these successful life decisions can be made in the safe environment of a virtual experience while still incarcerated, then the inmates are much more likely to make successful decisions upon their release. It is important to move the experiences up-stream to be unraveled. In this case, practice doesn’t necessarily make perfect. Perfect practice makes perfect. Let’s create a process which allows everyone to prosper.

Finally, what we learn from offering VR to inmate learners in the near future could have a profound impact on our high school, community college and adult learners in mainstream society. We’re all human learners and many of us have somewhere or something that we’d like to learn, do or see. But we face barriers to access such as money, transportation, or availability of proper training facilities. This technology can benefit us all. Who knows? In the not-too-distant-future, we may be able to teleport. Until then, I think using virtual technology will be the key to unlocking success for a lot of American families.

Turner Nashe, Ph.D., is an entrepreneur, inventor, innovator and recognized leader in building technology that facilitates delivery of educational content to security sensitive industries. He is based in Nashville, TN where he received his doctorate in Educational Administration and Supervision from Tennessee State University. Turner has built several businesses around proprietary digital delivery systems. These systems provide relevant content to schools, correctional facilities and health care providers. He has worked with firms in the private and public sector as well as governmental entities. His work has attracted firms from start-up technology firms to the Fortune 500 companies.

Posted in cool tools | Leave a comment

Technology, Student Voice, and Shining a Light

IN CLOSE WITH | Andy Plemmons

CREDIT Andy Plemmons.pngAs a media specialist at David C. Barrow Elementary in Athens, GA, Andy Plemmons is focused on giving students a voice. Here, he talks about the technology and pedagogy he uses to inspire those voices, and to share them beyond the walls of the classroom. Andy is the 2017 American Association of School Librarians Social Media Superstar for Sensational Student Voice, a 2016 Library Journal Mover and Shaker, a Google Innovator, and an NSBA “20 to Watch” honoree.  

GETTING STARTED How did you get started as an educator, and how has your job changed over the years?

I began my career in 2001 as 3rd-grade teacher in a classroom with a chalkboard and two really old computers in the back corner. Part of my educational philosophy has always been about giving students a voice, but over the years it has evolved into harnessing the power of technology to get their voice out into the world, as well as collaborating with the world.

Miraculous things really do happen every day in education. It’s up to us to keep our eyes and ears open for the miraculous and shine the light on those moments, no matter how small. 


INSPIRATIONS What inspires you about teaching? Do you have a slogan or mantra that guides you?

My mantra is to “expect the miraculous.” These inspiring words came from Kate DiCamillo’s Flora & Ulysses. I know for myself that it’s easy for me to think about what isn’t going well or dwell on the long list of ideas I have that I just can’t get to. However, miraculous things really do happen every day in education. It’s up to us to keep our eyes and ears open for the miraculous and shine the light on those moments, no matter how small. 


FAVORITE TECH What is your favorite tech tool right now and why?

CREDIT Capstone.pngFlipgrid remains one of my favorite tech tools because it brings student voices together in one place and allows me to easily share those so the world can hear them. For example, our 2nd-graders create a project called the Barrow Peace Prize where they research people from history via Capstone’s Pebble Go and other resources. They craft persuasive pieces to convince an audience that their person is deserving of recognition. Their writing is recorded and shared via Flipgrid, and people around the world vote on who should win.


RECENT EVENTS What memorable edtech conference have you attended recently?

I’ve really enjoyed attending some of the state and regional technology conferences, such as Dynamic Landscapes in Vermont and NCCE in Seattle. This fall (2017), I’ll be a featured speaker at MassCUE at the Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Massachusetts. I’m looking forward to learning with the educators of the northeast. 


MEMORABLE MOMENTS  

CREDIT Flipgrid peace prize.pngWhat was your greatest educational moment?

Really any moment where students are empowered is a great moment for me. Each year, I do a project where I give students a budget in the library. They create a Google form on reading interests, gather answers, analyze data, set goals, and meet with vendors like Jim Boon from Capstone Press and our local independent bookstore, Avid Bookshop. They order books for our library collection that are completely selected by students. These books remain some of the most circulated books in our collection.

What was your most embarrassing educational moment?

I prefer to call them learning opportunities because if you don’t take an embarrassing moment and learn from it, it remains an embarrassment. The very first time I used Google Hangouts was to facilitate a Picture Book Smackdown between schools in four states with two authors. It wasn’t horrible, but there were so many things I didn’t know about how to make the hangout run smoothly, such as audio tips, time limits, and dividing out responsibilities. A hangout that large was a bit ambitious, but we pushed through the audio feedback, poor connections, slow transitions, and long-winded speakers. Since that moment, I’ve participated in many Google Hangouts, but that first one always helps me in preparing as much as possible ahead of time for a smooth conversation. 


PD FOR ME What makes for great tech-related professional development?

There are days when I just like to sit and listen to someone talk about tech tools, but nothing beats diving into the technology and using it in order to learn about it. I’ve jumped into new technology with students in the library without really knowing everything about it, and as the classroom teacher co-teaches with me, he or she learns about the technology in action and also sees that students are capable of figuring out many of the bells and whistles for themselves. 


BRING IT ON! What’s the next technology you want to bring to your school, and why?

CREDIT Flipgrid peace prize student image.pngI’ve been a Flipgrid user for a few years, and I’ve collaborated with many teachers in my school to use it in projects. However, as a school, we aren’t using it consistently across classrooms. This year, all teachers in my school will have a Flipgrid Classroom account, and we’ll explore how to hear from all student voices and how to connect those voices with the world beyond our walls. 


NO THANKS What educational technology do you wish had never been invented, and why?

I don’t know that there’s any technology I would wish away, but there are some concerns that I see lately that I want to address with students. Social media and the ability to comment on anything have created an environment where people are quick to judge, criticize, and bully one another. This includes adults, probably even more than students. We still need to debate and be critical of what we read and share, but it’s time that we all step back and listen, consider someone else’s perspective, and learn how to build on one another’s strengths rather than break each other down. 


FUTURE LOOK What educational technology do you wish someone would invent, and why?

CREDIT Flipgrid peace prize student.pngWe have so many amazing tools that allow our students to connect, collaborate, and get their voices into the world. However, I think we are still lacking in ways to efficiently find collaborating classrooms, libraries, or schools around the world. Many people are making connections via Twitter, online groups, and at conferences, but we still don’t have a way to find global collaborators in a way that doesn’t take a lot of time and effort.


Connect With

Find Andy on the Barrow Media Center blog, and follow @plemmonsa


Got a suggestion for a great person to get IN CLOSE WITH here?

Write to: edtechdigest@gmail.com

Use IN CLOSE WITH in the subject line, and in the body of your email include their name, title, email, phone if available – and yours, too.

Posted in interviews | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

An Unexpected Learning Journey

Providing true alternatives to a one-size-fits-all approach to public education. 

GUEST COLUMN | by Steven Guttentag

CREDIT Pearson.pngIn 2013, 3.17 million students graduated from public high schools throughout the United States. Among them, a young woman in Ohio who had overcome deeply-etched academic and social frustrations to earn her high school diploma in a new school and was making plans for her first semester as a freshman in Tuscaloosa that fall.

As is the case for many students, Alex did not easily fit into the traditional school model through which we are all asked to pass. In a recent note to a former high school guidance counselor, she reflected on that time, writing, “I hated school and was dead set against going to college. I didn’t even want to finish high school.”

In the case of students such as Alex, it is not a question of square peg, round hole. That would mean each of us could be grouped like-for-like, dismissing the unique characteristics and needs that shape the individual. While students are more often than not taught at a prescribed and constant rate, each learns and grows independently of the whole and may not easily move through – or “fit” – the established academic road map purposefully designed for mass education.

Six years ago, Alex questioned her relationship with school. Today, she is navigating the highest levels of academia.

Clearly at a crossroads that would determine the trajectory of her life, Alex was fortunate to have an option, an opportunity to try an entirely different learning environment. She enrolled in an online public charter school at the beginning of her junior year. Though not the appropriate environment for every student (what school is?), the self-paced learning path inherent to her new school allowed Alex to re-examine the role of education in her life, as well as her experience as a student. She learned to love learning and, through the encouragement of her teachers, was surprised to find not only an aptitude, but also a passion for math and science.

Alex was indeed fortunate. Fortunate to live in a state with options beyond her traditional brick-and-mortar school. Fortunate to have trusted in herself. Fortunate to have found the successful student within before abandoning her education and traveling down a very different – perhaps difficult – road.

A second chance at making high school work for her, rather than the other way around, set Alex on a path toward a very bright future. In May, she graduated from the University of Alabama with a degree in physics and mathematics. Successful completion of minors in both German and Russian also grace her transcript. This fall, she will begin a Fulbright Scholarship in Germany, followed by a Ph.D. program in physics at Princeton.

This story doesn’t have to be an outlier. So many of our students could be pulled back from the brink of leaving school if only we provided them with true alternatives to a one-size-fits-all approach to public education. Six years ago, Alex questioned her relationship with school. Today, she is navigating the highest levels of academia. If history is any guide, a guess as to what tomorrow will bring for Alex would certainly fall short of the reality.

Steven Guttentag, Ph.D, is president for Online and Blended Learning, K-12, at Pearson, and co-founder of Connections Academy, a provider of online learning solutions for grades K-12 since 2001.

Posted in guest column | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

Taking MOOCs to the Next Level

Effectively helping to bridge the online learning credibility gap.  

GUEST COLUMN | by Alice Bonasio

CREDIT Oxademy image.pngThe popularity of Online Courses has steadily increased in recent years. Millions of students have enrolled onto MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) offered by prestigious institutions around the globe and facilitated by platforms like Coursera, EdX and Futurelearn.

But although this growth shows no signs of slowing down (Coursera alone currently has 26 million users and over 150 university partners) the drop-out rates have been shown to be much higher for MOOCs than campus-based courses, with some studies placing the average completion rate at around 13%.

One of the main reasons for this has been a certain credibility issue. While some people are quite happy to sign onto these courses for sheer personal development, the main motivation for busy professionals to complete, for instance, an MBA, is to improve their employability and career prospects. If the validity of those qualifications is brought into question however, this undermines the whole premise and renders that investment– of both time and money – worthless.

By importing the same kind of security techniques they have developed for verifying visa information into education, and also including a final exam where students have to be physically present with their ID, they’re hoping to make online courses much more attractive to potential employers.  

One key issue here is the fact that it has been traditionally difficult to determine whether the person doing the coursework is the same one as has their name on the certificate issued. And although this isn’t a problem unique to online courses, it’s much easier to find such loopholes where sign-up processes only require an email address, for example.

This is something that looks set to change, however, as more people have become used to stricter checks in relation to processes such as online banking, tax returns, or immigration assessment. Which is why one of the world’s largest visa application contractors – VSF Global – has just announced that it is entering the online education space to effectively help bridge that credibility gap.

They have partnered with UK edtech start-up Oxademy to extend their identity management services – which they already provide to over 50 governments including the US, Russia and the UK – for the purpose of processing passports and visas. By importing the same kind of security techniques they have developed for verifying visa information into education, and also including a final exam where students have to be physically present with their ID, they’re hoping to make online courses (especially in emerging economies where this type of fraud is endemic) much more attractive to potential employers.

VFS-Oxademy will provide internationally accredited post-graduate and executive education programs in full online and ‘blended’ modes combining online with classroom learning for students worldwide. These courses will be affiliated with top universities in the UK and US, and will include Masters in Business Administration (MBA), Masters in Strategic Leadership (MSL) and Masters of Science in Organization Leadership).  Although still requiring a substantial financial commitment, these online MBAs are significantly more affordable at £7,000 (compared to over £21,000 average for many other on-campus providers).

They plan to grow by targeting companies looking to invest in their workforce, particularly in developing countries, by taking advantage of those relatively lower costs. This also ties into the work placement element of the courses, where MBA students have to take part in a work placement as part of final stages of their course. This will enable students in the Middle East or India to work with a company in the UK via virtual technologies, something that also suits employers who often struggle to find office space for work experience students but are happy to interact with them virtually.

Both the identity-checking and blended learning elements require a physical infrastructure in place, which is why is why VSF is in quite a unique position to implement the model effectively, since it already has 1,900 visa centers in 127 countries distributed around the globe.

Oxademy will also address the lack of personal engagement which feeds into those high drop-out rates by leveraging Artificial Intelligence to personalize its courses. Its cloud infrastructure system called OX360 will provide real-time analysis of performance data and include features such as a chat facility so that students can speak to tutors direct at any time, plus a mobile app to prompt students on which course material they need to study ahead of their next online session.

The AI system can judge, for example, if a learner is struggling with a particular exercise or spending a longer time than average to read through it, and alter the course content accordingly. By identifying each learner’s particular strengths and weaknesses and generating individualized learning paths, the hope is that students will feel the same level of engagement and support as they would if they were consuming the same content on campus. In a digital world where we’re seeing immersive technologies such as Virtual Reality develop at exponential speed, it follows that students will increasingly see this as a viable and worthwhile option for furthering their education.

Alice Bonasio is a UK-based technology writer, strategic consultant and enthusiast. She runs the Tech Trends blog and contributes to Ars Technica, Quartz, Newsweek, The Next Web, and others on a range of topics such as VR, artificial intelligence, and any other tech that impacts the way we live our lives. Write to: alice@techtrends.tech and follow @alicebonasio

Posted in guest column | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

In the Business of Learning

A veteran educator focuses on implementing what schools actually need and want.  

INTERVIEW | by Victor Rivero

CREDIT Discovery Education Karen Beerer.pngKaren Beerer began as a grade two elementary teacher, then also taught fifth grade, seventh grade and graduate level courses. She served as a reading specialist and an elementary principal as well as a Supervisor of Curriculum and Professional Development. More recently, she has served as the Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum, Instruction and Assessment in the Boyertown Area School District (PA) for eight years. Karen has a passion for professional development, specifically helping educators utilize research-based practices in instruction to ensure the achievement of all students. She received her Ed.D. from Lehigh University where she studied Curriculum and Instruction. Most notably, her experiences in two public schools in Pennsylvania in the areas of curriculum, instruction and assessment have resulted in higher achievement gains for students. In total, Karen has more than 30 years of experience in education. Today, she is Discovery Education’s Vice President of Learning and Development. Her enthusiasm is refreshing, and her in-the-trenches knowledge of education is revealing of a person with a passion for helping educators and students.

You believe “schools should not be in the business of implementing technology initiatives, but rather, only learning initiatives?” Could you expand on this?             

Karen: Absolutely! So, in my 30-plus years of experience as a teacher, principal, and assistant superintendent and now Vice President of Learning and Development at Discovery Education, the focus of my work has always been on improving student academic achievement. From Scantron tests to the use of VHS tapes to the introduction of digital white boards, technology was always a part of my work, as a critical tool. However, it was just that—a tool. My work as an educator never focused on the technology I was using to achieve my goal of ensuring the success of all students. Rather, my focus stayed squarely on students, and the technology was just one of the many resources I used to get us where we needed to go.

When we consider technology’s role in education today, we also need to consider the importance of the human element, and specifically the tremendous teachers behind each one of these stories.

So, when I work with school districts across the country as they create dynamic digital learning environments, I encourage my school-based colleagues not to think of their efforts as a technology initiative, but rather, as a learning initiative that is driven or accelerated by technology. The implementation of the technology itself is not the goal. Rather, the goal is to create environments in which talented teachers are, through a combination of digital content, educational technologies, and sustained, job-embedded professional development, positioned to better implement what we know to be good educational practice in a fashion that improves student performance. By calling this a learning initiative instead of a technology initiative, better clarity of the intended outcomes is given to all stakeholders.

Why is sustained professional development so critical to the success and return on investment of any tech-driven learning initiative?

Karen: Okay, so here is a scenario for you that I recently ran through with local education policy-makers that goes something like this: If I put you in a kitchen, stocked it with the finest ingredients and the best appliances money can buy, and I tell you to make the best meal you can, what would you do?

According the policy-maker, he said he’d most likely make something he’d cooked before. His reasoning was that by using a familiar recipe and tools he was comfortable with, there was less risk of a mistake, and that while the dish he created would be just ok, it would be predictable. So, why would he change his recipe?

CREDIT Discovery Education.pngProviding an educator a host of new digital resources and educational technologies and then sending them into the classroom without any additional professional development while expecting different results is similar to the kitchen scenario. While an educator many have new tools and resources, without clarity on how to use them effectively that educator will most likely fall back on the instructional methods and strategies they employed in the past and the new resources provided them will not be used. In the best-case scenario, through trial and error, the educator will eventually learn to use the new technologies in some capacity.

So, I would say to the policy-makers, school administrators and school board members out there, please, as you create tech-driven learning initiatives, be sure to include in your thinking plans for a strong professional development initiative. You are making tremendous investments to provide your teachers the best possible tools and resources needed to reach today’s tech-savvy learners. The simplest way to see a return on the investments you are making is to provide your educators the learning and know-how they need to effectively integrate those resources into their teaching in order to evolve their classroom practice. 

What are some of the key markers of a successful PD program supporting a tech-driven learning initiative?

Karen: The first two words that come to mind are immersive and practical. Because best practice instruction today includes the use of digital content and tools, this looks different than what most of us have experienced in our own education and certainly, in our preparation for teaching. So, educators need professional development experiences that immerse them in effective digital pedagogies. This allows educators to see what students will encounter as digital learners and plan for success with their learners and their classroom structure. These immersions also include the element of reflection, an integral professional development practice that allows educators to identify what they have in place and areas where they need to grow.

Then, while immersing educators in these learning experiences, there is also an element of practicality that occurs. Educators actually see and hear what instruction looks and sounds like; they need the opportunity to transfer their learning to their lessons. Successful professional development provides teachers with these opportunities for transfer – time to plan lessons collaboratively, time to share student work, time to reflect on and revise instructional practice. This should occur both within professional learning sessions as well as through job-embedded coaching, another critical marker of a success professional development program. 

What are some of the key questions school administrators should ask as they are working with a company such as Discovery Education to design a PD initiative to support their tech-driven learning initiative? 

Karen: As I work with schools around the country, many of the outcomes that they are looking to achieve are really similar. In addition, the areas of focus are often similar as well – STEM, personalized learning, student-centered instruction, to name a few. One thing that is not similar, however, is the process of change. What I mean by that is that each system has its own process of change, much of which is governed by the culture of the system. So, first and foremost, school administrators need to identify and recognize their system of change and then ask questions of their potential partners to ensure that what they bring aligns to their change process.

In order for any initiative to go well, communication is integral.

Secondly, in order for any initiative to go well, communication is integral. This sounds somewhat trite, but in many situations where our district partners have faced challenges throughout an intended transformation, the underlying factor has been communication. School administrators need to ask how ongoing communication will be handled. How will teachers know and understand the initiative? How will progress be communicated? How will building level administrators know and understand the initiative? Certainly, communication to the community is essential as well.

These are some of the foundational questions administrators should ask.

However, I would also include these questions as well:

  • How does your professional development take a systemic approach?
  • What research both supports and informs the professional development you provide?
  • What measures of success will ensure that the professional development initiative is aligned to the tech-driven learning initiative?
  • How will capacity-building and the sustainability of growth be achieved? 

Can you share any examples of school districts that are doing this really well?

Karen: There are many examples! And, what’s so interesting is that these examples are from small districts, large districts, urban, suburban and rural districts as well as public and private school systems.

So, here are three school districts that are different in size and demographics, but are really doing great work:

  • East Stroudsburg Area School District, located in rural Pennsylvania near the Poconos Mountains has 10 schools with approximately 7,000 students and is the 7th most diverse school in Pennsylvania. As they integrated more technology into the classroom, they recognized the importance of a systemic, collaborative approach focused on the improvement of instruction through digital tools and resources. So, they have two strands of professional learning interwoven throughout their district, one focused on the intentional support of their building level leaders and the other designed to grow teachers as leaders to build capacity and sustain meaningful change around effective digital pedagogy.
  • In Nashville, Tennessee, Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools (MNPS) is quite the opposite in size from East Stroudsburg. MNPS has approximately 86,000 throughout its approximately 157 schools. However, MNPS also valued the importance of a systemic approach. They decided to tackle this goal through a STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math) Transformation plan. Through a unique combination of dynamic digital content, immersive professional learning and sustained, job-embedded classroom support, MNPS will cultivate inquiry-based transdisciplinary instruction across the district’s middle schools.
  • Finally, Missouri’s Mehlville School District, which serves close to 11,000 students, is a great blend of East Stroudsburg and Nashville. Mehlville has embraced the “teachers as leaders” approach and uses this model to transform their teaching and learning in both the areas of STEM as well as a specific focus on Math.

One other final point as we celebrate and acknowledge the success of these districts is the fact that they recognized that this transition does not happen overnight. They have committed to a multi-year focus, minimizing the “last year’s new thing, this year’s new thing” mentality that sometimes pervades our educational culture. 

This transition does not happen overnight. They have committed to a multi-year focus, minimizing the “last year’s new thing, this year’s new thing” mentality that sometimes pervades our educational culture. 

What are your thoughts on the state of education these days? What makes you say that? 

Karen: Overall, I think the state of the American K-12 educational system is strong.

Now, that is not to say we are not facing some very serious issues within education – we are. Equity issues, funding issues, the poverty many of our students are facing at home—these challenges are very real, and we, as a nation, need to do a better job of addressing them.

However, in the face of these challenges, our education system continues to improve. According to the National Assessment of Education Progress, academic achievement in America has improved over the last 40 years, and minority students in particular have experienced some of the biggest gains. Record numbers of students are now attending college, and according to the 2016 PDK Poll of the Public’s Attitudes Toward the Public Schools, the share of Americans giving positive grades to the nation’s public schools has grown 7 percent since 2014. Why? I strongly believe the answer lies in the great work of the talented teachers and administrators who are the backbone of K-12 education in America.

In the face of adversity, each day our educators are working hard to prepare millions of students nationwide for success beyond school. Teaching is not a job—it’s a calling, and educators in our schools across the country are answering that calling by helping prepare our students for successful lives beyond the classroom. For this reason, I am very optimistic about the state of education in America today. 

I am very optimistic about the state of education in America today. 

What are your thoughts on technology’s role in education these days? 

Karen: Well, as I alluded to earlier, technology has always been a presence in my career. However, what I think has changed is our collective perception of the power of technology to improve academic achievement.

Now, make no doubt, I’ve seen first-hand the impact digital resources can have on teaching and learning. In school systems like South Carolina’s Rock Hill Schools and North Carolina’s Asheboro City Schools and many others across the country, these resources are having a positive impact on student achievement. These systems and so many others like them have redefined “best practice instruction.” They’ve shown us that teaching today includes research-based instructional strategies and digital content and tools. Notice the word “and,” not or.

Additionally, when we consider the technology’s role in education today, we also need to consider the importance of the human element, and specifically the tremendous teachers behind each one of these stories. In every case of a successful tech-driven learning initiative, you will find dedicated teachers supported by forward-thinking administrators who believe in the power of professional development to build capacity for great instruction that meets the needs of all learners.

I think if we keep in mind the importance of continuing to provide our educators sustained, job-embedded professional development as new educational technologies enter the classroom and impress upon education policy-makers, the tech community and other stakeholders the importance of this connection, we’ll continue to see technology’s impact on teaching and learning grow.

CONNECT WITH KAREN

karen_beerer@discovery.com

C: (240) 893-5162

Victor Rivero is the Editor-in-Chief of EdTech Digest. Write to: victor@edtechdigest.com

Posted in cool tools | Leave a comment

Making a Choice

Concerned parents take a fresh new idea and make it work for others.

INTERVIEW | by Victor Rivero

CREDIT Jinal Jhaveri.jpgIn 2010, Jinal Jhaveri and his wife, Forum Desai, set out to enroll their daughter in pre-school in the San Francisco Bay Area. “From the start, we struggled to find information about the different school programs available for her,” he says. “Once we overcame that initial hurdle and started the enrollment process, we then found ourselves buried in piles of paper forms and spent hours waiting on the phone or in line for answers to our questions.” That’s when the idea for a certain type of company and platform came about. From that humble start, SchoolMint is now a cloud-based student enrollment and school choice platform used by PreK-12 school systems across the world.

So you had a great idea, how did you move forward, what happened next?

Jinal: At that point, we were working at Log(n), a company that we co-founded before SchoolMint. Log(n) is a design and engineering firm that builds web and mobile apps for educators and schools, so we had already built several custom admissions and enrollment systems for schools. However, it was not until this moment — when we became our own user — that we realized the extent of the equity and accessibility problem that existed in the enrollment process and committed to developing an enrollment solution for all schools and for families from all backgrounds.

As I can personally attest, a paper-based enrollment process can be very stressful and cumbersome to deal with as a parent.

Since the official founding of SchoolMint in 2013, these origins continue to guide our work. We’re passionate about making the school choice and enrollment experience easy, accessible, and transparent for diverse schools and families alike. Our platform can be customized for each school’s unique enrollment processes and is based on the needs of their users, who come from a variety of demographic backgrounds and have a range of technological know-how and technology access. To further ensure a positive enrollment experience, we are dedicated to providing unparalleled support to our customers – administrators and families – throughout the partnership.

In a nutshell, how does it work? 

Jinal: [It’s] is a comprehensive platform made up of five primary modules – Student Recruitment, School Application and Lottery Management, Student Registration Management, Digital Forms and Document Management, and School Choice Management – that collectively streamline the end-to-end school enrollment process for both parents and schools.

Families can access SchoolMint online or via SchoolMint’s Android or iOS app to learn about school options, submit applications for multiple children to multiple schools, rank school preferences, track application status, respond to offers, and complete enrollment forms.

Student information can be accessed real time by district staff so they can use it to easily track recruitment efforts and results, configure applications and enrollment packets, design and run lotteries, view and monitor submitted applications, generate reports, view insights into applicant demographics, and much, much more.

Why is automating the student enrollment and school choice process beneficial for schools and districts? For parents?

CREDIT SchoolMint image.pngJinal: Our platform meets a variety of enrollment needs for a variety of school systems – from charters and districts with school choice programs needing to manage student recruitment and the application and lottery and waitlist process, to public school districts looking to automate their registration process. With SchoolMint, all of these school systems are able to increase their operational efficiency, save time and resources, lower costs, and develop greater analytic and planning insights through robust enrollment reporting tools. The system’s integration with leading SISs additionally helps ease the burden on school staff and uphold data accuracy.

The highest impact to schools is the enhanced parent experience that they can provide with a user-friendly automated enrollment solution. Parents can easily access information on the school choices available to their child or children, apply and access their application status online, as well as complete the registration process – saving them, and administrative staff, valuable time. SchoolMint’s multilingual online and mobile accessibility is also a big plus and benefits a broad range of families, including those without home internet access.

What are some examples of schools and districts that have implemented your platform with fidelity?

Jinal: [It is] is currently being used by more than 5,000 schools across 100-plus cities and in four countries. Its solutions have transformed the end-to-end enrollment experience for both school staff and parents in districts including Camden City Public Schools, Chicago Public Schools, Cleveland Metropolitan School District, Denver Public Schools, and Oakland Unified School District, as well as in charter associations and schools such as the New York City Charter Center, Massachusetts State Charter Association, Enroll Oakland Charters, Alliance College Ready Public Schools, and Noble Network of Charter Schools.

We are encouraged by the acceptance rate that we’re seeing in the market as more and more school districts are not only eager to streamline operations and optimize budgets, but even more so, they are eager to enhance the enrollment experience for their administrators and families.

You can read about some of these school systems’ experiences here.

What recommendations would you provide to other schools and districts looking to streamline their end-to-end enrollment process?

Jinal: As I can personally attest, a paper-based enrollment process can be very stressful and cumbersome to deal with as a parent. And, it can be very time and labor intensive for schools and ultimately risky when one considers the criticality of the integrity of student data. Implementing an integrated, automated system helps streamline the process for all stakeholders.

For schools and districts looking to transition to a technology-enabled process, or enhance the automated process they already have in place, it is important that they determine what pain points they are trying to solve for and what criteria they are looking for in the new system.

For schools and districts looking to transition to a technology-enabled process, or enhance the automated process they already have in place, it is important that they determine what pain points they are trying to solve for and what criteria they are looking for in the new system. They should pick an experienced technology provider with that will customize the system to meet their needs, and that will provide ongoing technical and customer support.

To ensure a smooth roll out, it is also important to communicate to and involve multiple stakeholders – including administrators, tech support staff, and parents – in the implementation process, and to designate a project lead. And, of course, providing parents and staff with training is important to ensure the new system is used with fidelity and to its full potential.

Victor Rivero is the Editor-in-Chief of EdTech Digest. Write to: victor@edtechdigest.com

Posted in interviews | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

E-rate: How to Broaden Connectivity, Achieve Funding Success

On a mission to connect learners of all ages to the internet no matter their economics. 

GUEST COLUMN | by John Harrington

CREDIT Funds For Learning guide.jpgThe E-rate program has been largely responsible for connecting our nation’s schools and libraries to the internet. Yet large inequalities still exist, and there is a growing gap between those who have fast internet and those who don’t.

According to the Pew Research Center, the number of homes with high-speed internet has decreased by three percent across all adults, and by five percent for those who live in rural areas. This comes at a time when an increasing number of users are viewing broadband as a key tool for accessing the information that is important to their daily lives. Simply put, many Americans don’t have internet access because they can’t afford it, not because they don’t want it.

The E-rate process can be challenging, but following these tips will make your life easier and will increase your school’s chances of success.

Millions of young people across the country are facing this issue. Internet access shouldn’t have to be considered a luxury, any more than access to food or clean water should be. Thankfully, many schools are tapping into the E-rate program to keep their students connected.

E-rate’s greatest strength is its mission to connect learners of all ages to the internet. It helps deliver faster internet connections at a lower cost to nearly every K-12 school and public library in America. Furthermore, to make sure the dollars are directed where they are needed the most, the program allows local leaders to make their own purchasing decisions. This is a win for everyone.

Applying for E-rate funding is not an easy task. Recently, the filing window closed, and many applicants are wondering what they can do while they wait for a funding commitment decision letter. If you’re unsure, here are a few things to keep in mind to help guarantee funding success:

  • Verify that your application is certified in the EPC system:

Not only will this bring peace of mind, but locating this function will help you keep track of each of your applications.

  • Organize application documentation:

The E-rate program requires that you keep all documentation for a period of 10 years. The best rule to live by is if you used the information to prepare the application, be sure you keep documentation of it.

  • Review each Form 471 for accuracy:

If you find that you’ve made a mistake, you still have time to make adjustments with USAC, but this needs to be done in a timely fashion.

  • Be on alert for communication from the Schools and Libraries Division:

The SLD may seek additional information from you to process your application, so make sure to be aware if they reach out to you. Responsiveness is key.

  • Monitor EPC regularly:

Keep up with the EPC system and check your application status on a weekly basis.

  • Don’t forget about the current Funding Year:

There’s a lot to be said about submitting your E-rate application. It’s important that all services have been received and invoices paid.

  • Revised Funding Commitment Decision Letters:

These letters and other notifications are issued in the EPC. These will include information about appeals, service substitutions and changes in service providers.

Lastly, if you find that something is wrong, be sure to reach out for guidance and provide as much information as possible when completing each request. The E-rate process can be challenging, but following these tips will make your life easier and will increase your school’s chances of success, and ultimately, decrease the homework gap in your school.

John Harrington is the CEO of Funds For Learning. Follow @JDHarrington.

Posted in guest column | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

I Deployed Chromebooks for Our Students, Here’s What I Learned

Perspective from a public school technology director in Michigan. 

GUEST COLUMN | by Luke Brown

CREDIT Samanage.pngIT departments in K-12 schools support everything from students’ and teachers’ devices to the campus network to security cameras. Given the nature of an educational system, there’s no such thing as asking students and faculty to go offline for a few hours while the school updates its software or adds new devices. Instead, all major IT work needs to be done during the summer break. Selecting the right technology that can automate as many IT services as possible throughout the course of the school year, and free up time for what is most likely a limited staff, is critical.

My mission is to identify and introduce efficient technologies and services that support a smoother educational experience for teachers, students and administrators.

Mission Critical

As Technology Director at Eaton Rapids Public Schools, a 2,400 student school district in Michigan with 420 staff members, my mission is to identify and introduce efficient technologies and services that support a smoother educational experience for teachers, students and administrators. Last year, at the top of my list was choosing a service management solution that could streamline the way we manage IT service requests from teachers to alleviate the workload and improve our overall responsiveness. After a thorough evaluation of a number of technologies, we selected Samanage Service Desk. Since deploying their help desk solution, we’ve been able to centralize our IT resources while significantly improving our reporting — and as it turned out, our IT asset management as well.

A Key Challenge

Eaton Rapids Public Schools rolls out an average of 300-500 new devices annually and to help manage our inventory, we added the IT asset management extension to our service desk. Tracking and managing different devices from one central location is imperative in our quest for efficiency. Recently we piloted different device options for use in the classroom, and easily settled on Chromebooks. They have become transformative in engaging students in new collaborative and responsive ways. Today we have approximately 1,800 Chromebooks deployed on classroom carts, but as beneficial as they have been for our students, they’ve proven to be a bit of a handful for IT to manage on the backend.

Compared to more traditional types of devices, Chromebooks introduce a new set of management challenges. While the Google Admin Console provides basic inventory, it’s not enough. A key challenge in deploying Chromebooks to thousands of students is their administration, which includes tracking and managing the entire lifecycle of the devices, including historical context on their performance and upgrades. Because Chrome OS devices don’t fit within traditional asset management practices, we faced a manually intensive and tedious process involving typing individual serial numbers into our asset management solution as well as the Google Admin Console. When you’re dealing with more than a thousand devices, that becomes a painful process that sucks up many hours of the IT team’s time that they don’t have to spare.

All The Benefits

Fortunately, our service desk has been following the use of Chromebooks in schools, and saw its adoption growing. To meet this increased demand, they added support for Chrome OS devices that natively integrates within the service desk so that now we can incorporate all of our Chrome OS-based devices into the same management platform that we use to manage our other IT assets and service requests. We’re about to roll it out and plan to it use it to track Chrome OS ticket history and access metrics that will give us insight on the performance of our Chromebooks. And above all, there will be no more manual tracking!

As the person who provides students with the technology they need to learn, develop and prosper, I’m very excited by the advances that devices like Chromebooks bring and what they have done for students at Eaton Rapids Public Schools. I’m equally excited about the advances that are being made to help IT teams integrate these new types of devices into one centralized IT solution and to ensure they deliver all the benefits of which they are capable.

Luke Brown is Technology Director at Eaton Rapids Public Schools. Contact him through their website.

Posted in cool tools | Leave a comment

Key Takeaways from ISTE 2017

Lists, insights, goal setting, and perspective from an edtech solution-provider.

GUEST COLUMN | by Jon Roepke

iste-san-antonio.pngRiverwalk, The Alamo, robots and VR. Naturally, I had been looking forward to ISTE this year ever since last year’s conference wrapped. My team and I reviewed ISTE’s official “What to Expect at ISTE 2017” blog post beforehand and set out to follow it to a tee. (It’s a must read for all attendees!) Read on for the Belkin Education team’s collective takeaways from ISTE 2017.

From ISTE: Write down specific learning goals.

Belkin goals:

  1. Identify industry trends based on ISTE experience.
  2. Have meaningful conversations with new contacts about the education industry.
  3. Get a glimpse of San Antonio outside the convention center – Riverwalk and the Alamo gave the town meaningful context steeped in a rich and diverse history. Dinner with industry influencers at the Pearl Brewery set a beautiful background for insightful conversations.

As always, we decompress from ISTE by thinking about what the edtech industry looks like in 10 years.

From ISTE: Invest your time in meeting people.

  • We had dinner with Erin Flanagan, founder of Erintegration about the challenges of integrating technology into the classroom. Erin is focused on helping teachers by sharing resources, lesson plans, reviews and tips for using devices to engage digital learners. It was fascinating to talk to her about how to help sustain the growth of technology in the classroom and the importance of grassroots communication and collaboration amongst educators.
  • Who could miss little miss Tatum F, Nibletz’s 9-year old edtech reporter, who roamed the show floor playing with robots, virtual reality, coding kits, testing computers and other cool new gadgets, while interviewing attendees. She was the perfect representation of how we should all maintain a clear sense of who we are serving at the end of the day. Our students and children are the next generation of learners and tech experts, and it only makes sense that we continue to foster, teach and inspire them.
  • We met Emily Tate from EdScoop at our booth and chatted about the potential of interactive distance learning. Location agnostic learning will prosper, unlocking new learning experiences driven by mobile technology. Our partnership with the PORTS program sets a solid example of the potential of interactive distance learning.

Identify Industry Trends.

  • Coding as Literacy goes mainstream. A student’s physical world coupled with digital tools through manipulative tools gains traction when it comes to building out coding curriculum. We saw dozens of fun ways to integrate coding into the classroom, with companies such as littleBits showcasing dynamic integrations of coding and fun for students. Many coding kit companies are leveraging scratch (visual coding language), making it accessible and easy to use.
  • (More) Personalized Learning makes learning tailored to the student and individualized in nature, without forcing curriculum planning to become unwieldy or overwhelming. Big data plus predictive analytics has great potential to personalize learning and bring students up to speed in the areas where they are falling behind. Apps like Flipgrid, educreations and others are focusing on enabling the demonstration of student achievement. We noticed significant growth in this trend since last year’s ISTE conference.
  • Google Excitement & Market Expansion fuels growth to cement their success in the education space. With 70M G Suite education users and a dominating presence on the expo floor and in sessions, Google has developed strong professional development networks to ensure successful adoption and use of services. We checked out the Google sheets widget that allows users to type in a question relating to data, and Google figures out the answer automatically. 

As always, we decompress from ISTE by thinking about what the edtech industry looks like in 10 years. We leave you with a few thought starters:

  • Self-Directed Education. Enhanced digital learning tools will enable single-learner education tracks that optimize learning pace and content to maximize educational value to an individual.
  • Real World vs. Textbook. The context of education will focus on real-world applications that promote solving maker and coder projects that have an impact beyond the classroom. We’ll see more apprenticeship-type projects in K-12 that deliver real solutions to real problems.
  • Differentiated Instruction. Digital tools will enable seamless differentiated learning experiences to maximize student achievement.
  • Constant Communication. Taking lead from an “always-on” workforce, students will have additional learning influences outside of the classroom thanks to mobile devices, wearables and applications. PowerSchool demoed this in their “classroom of the future” session.

Until next year, see you all in Chicago!

Jon Roepke is the director of product management for Belkin International, Inc. He leads the creation and fulfillment of new business ventures, and helps define and develop technology solutions, including mobile apps and hardware for next-gen learning environments in partnership with Apple, Samsung, Google and other core technology leaders. Follow @Belkin

Posted in guest column | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Future-Proofing with Gigabit Wi-Fi

IoT capabilities and a myriad of benefits come with wireless refresh.

GUEST COLUMN | by Dan Corbeil

CREDIT Dan Corbeil UNH Telecomm accesspoints.jpgAt the turn of this decade, about the time Apple unveiled the iPad, we rolled out a system-wide wireless implementation to address the trend toward students bringing laptops to campus. We took care to align the implementation with contemporary Wi-Fi deployment models, including access points (APs) running down the center of the hallways in our residence halls to provide sufficient coverage.

Fast-forward just four years later and our students were starting to voice concern with their Wi-Fi experiences in their dorm rooms and throughout campus.

Forklift Proves Inevitable

As a flagship research institution, our IT systems support 16,000 students and 2,000 faculty and staff spread across 2,600 acres and 150 buildings that total 10 million square feet. Like many institutions, meeting the connectivity expectations of our constituencies is critical to competing for highly motivated students, faculty members and researchers.

As a flagship research institution, our IT systems support 16,000 students and 2,000 faculty and staff spread across 2,600 acres and 150 buildings that total 10 million square feet.

Upon studying our wireless situation, it became clear technology had evolved quickly and we needed wire-like Gigabit Wi-Fi and a forklift upgrade to an 802.11ac WLAN was inevitable.

The resulting RFP in late 2015 emphasized our requirements for a future-proof solution to handle exploding per-person device counts and enable scaling-up as capacity demands evolved. Additionally, we needed advanced management tools for streamlining WLAN administration and troubleshooting to reduce the burdens of an expanded Wi-Fi network on our lean IT staff.

Contender Stands Out

In early 2016, we began reviewing RFP responses and invited three vendors to campus. Overall, we were most impressed with the technology and the collaborative culture of Aruba, a Hewlett Packard Enterprise company.

On the technology side, several capabilities stood out. The first was the built-in capability of ClientMatch, where the AP measures the health of all associated clients and shares the information with the controller, which then determines the best available AP for each client. Unique among the leading vendors we considered, the feature ensures smooth hand-offs and provides seamless experiences wherever our users roam.

The intuitive network management platform AirWave was another deciding factor. In particular, we were excited about the Clarity module, which enables proactively monitoring critical non-RF metrics, such as the time it takes for a mobile device to associate with a Wi-Fi radio. In addition, the platform supplies custom alerts and performs simulated client testing.

Instead of the traditional paradigm, where we dispatch service staff when trouble arises, we envisioned using Clarity to detect possible issues and resolve them before they affected users.

Equally important were high-performance 802.11ac Wave 2 APs, for which we selected a series that included integrated Bluetooth low energy (BLE) beacon technology. This strategy smooths the path for integrating emerging technologies like location-based services.

Satisfaction Across Classrooms, Dorm Rooms and Our Arena

By start of the 2016-2017 academic year we’d fully deployed our new WLAN in residence halls. Later in the school year, a student survey showed an 80 percent satisfaction rate, which is a vast improvement.

In the classroom, faculty members are excited to begin incorporating more mobile and collaborative technologies into their curriculum.

This summer, we completed the update of our 6,500-seat Whittmore Center Arena, an Olympic-sized venue that is home to our hockey teams. It also hosts NCAA championship games and serves as a concerts and event venue.

Moving to Proactive Management

In IT, we’re benefiting in multiple ways. For example, we see how much bandwidth is being requested for non-academic uses, like gaming or Netflix streaming. This allows us to plan for future enhancements and upgrades accordingly.

We’ve also gained extensive and flexible reporting features for generating intuitive reports for our UNH administration. Such documents help them understand various metrics, such as Wi-Fi utilization rates, growth in connectivity demands and which applications users access. These reports are an excellent way to help non-technical decision makers visualize the Wi-Fi demands of today and partner with IT to plan for tomorrow.

We also adopted Aruba’s network access control (NAC) solution, ClearPass, to enable policy-based device and user access for strong security. As we already deployed CloudPath for onboarding, we integrated it with the NAC solution and the two systems work well together.

Additionally, we’re monitoring performance in lecture halls to ensure we have the capacity to address device densities and curriculum modifications. Should we begin seeing degradation, we can upgrade to APs with faster uplinks.

Next Up: Analytics, Outdoors and More

Moving forward, we’ll start addressing outdoor connectivity, beginning with the highest traffic areas. For that effort, we may consider mesh technology to overcome terrain challenges.

We’re also excited about the potential to leverage location-based services. Although wayfinding could be an option, the innovations are of greater interest for their analytics capabilities.

Location-based analytics could provide us with a granular understanding of how students move around campus and lead to implementing mechanisms that reduce bottlenecks, improve lighting or address other issues where we currently lack visibility.

We’re also interested in exploring the potential for using location-based services to help us understand authentication failures. Currently, we believe most failures result when students move away from covered areas, but are unable to substantiate it or warn users of imminent connectivity loss.

For instance, we could map a student’s device on-screen as a blue dot. Then, as the student moves outside a building and nears the limit of coverage, the blue dot could turn red, as a warning, and back to blue if the student steers back into the coverage area. On the IT side, this type of data would allow us to distinguish which authentications are true failures – and need remediation – versus those generated by exiting coverage areas.

IoT, Sustainability Take Us Into The Future

In short, our new WLAN not only handles current demands, but also offers us the flexibility and scalability to evolve our infrastructure to address the various needs of tomorrow.

For example, our infrastructure holds possibilities for supporting our carbon footprint reduction goals. One mechanism would be IoT sensors. Such technology is increasingly being deployed in higher education to improve efficiencies, like automating HVAC, which helps reduce carbon demand.

As a nationally recognized sustainability leader, it’s beneficial for our Wi-Fi infrastructure to include capabilities that can support our sustainability efforts while simultaneously enabling us to provide the high quality educational and research opportunities our university community expects every day.

Dan Corbeil has been with the University of New Hampshire Telecommunications department since 1994 and served as the Operations Manager since 2005, where he and his team supports UNH’s mission as a recognized national and international research institution. The research portfolio at the three-campus, 150-year-old UNH includes partnerships with NASA, NOAA, NSF and NIH, receiving more than $100 million in competitive external funding every year to explore and define the frontiers of land, sea, and space.

Posted in guest column | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Cool Tool | LeapFrog Academy

CREDIT LeapFrog Academy image.jpgLeapFrog recently announced LeapFrog Academy™, an interactive learning program for 3-6 year olds that guide children on a variety of fun Learning Adventures that they can play anywhere, on a variety of devices. Featuring a well-rounded curriculum, where children can explore a variety of skills that are important to their development, this exciting new subscription-based service offers access to more than 1,000 learning activities for just $7.99 per month (after a free one month trial). Activities teach fundamental subjects such as math, reading and science plus problem solving, and creativity. Also, no wi-fi? No problem! Children using it can learn and play on the go, even when wi-fi isn’t available. They can play most of their preferred activities by adding up to 24 of them to their “Favorites,” making them accessible to play even without an internet connection, which is pretty cool. Learn more.

Posted in cool tools | Leave a comment

Advancing Literacy

Upgrading an ancient experience to bring boundless benefits to millions of people. 

INTERVIEW | by Victor Rivero

CREDIT Matt Bardin Zinc Learning Labs.pngOne of the founding directors of Teach for America, Matt Bardin (pictured) is as dedicated to literacy as they come. A graduate of Princeton, Matt has been teaching and tutoring in New York City since 1987. He taught high school and middle school in the New York City public schools in the early 1990s and went on to found Veritas Tutors (now Zinc Educational Services) in 2001. He was a co-founder in 2008 of High Five Labs, a company that produced the Smart Vocab apps, a popular sharable to-do list for couples called HoneyDo, and Mario Batali Cooks! for celebrity chef Mario Batali.

There are only two kinds of people in the world: smart people and smart people who read.

Matt is the author of Zen and the Art of The SAT, a popular SAT prep book. Why did he found Zinc Learning Labs? “To make the key element of an elite education – advanced literacy – widely available,” says Matt. Just what he means by that, and why it’s so vital, Matt further explains in our lively little discussion here.

What are your thoughts on the state of education these days?

We’re in both an exciting and scary time.

What makes you say that?

On the one hand, technology offers so many ways to improve learning. On the other, as automation increasingly eliminates algorithmic jobs, education needs to accomplish so much more. As state and national standards push educators to achieve more, we need new mechanisms to support such efforts. Also, everything we do in edtech has to compete with the daunting gravity of regular tech – the dopamine drip of memes, snaps and live streams that keep our kids glued to their phones like herds chewing grasses on the savannahs.

What do you believe technology’s role in education should be?

Right now technology needs to provide differentiation along with a meaningful sense of accomplishment for every child. One of the elephants in our educational room is development – students need the right stimulus to learn what they’re ready to absorb. We need to meet their abilities as they develop. Technology needs to help. I’d also like to see edtech that shapes culture in positive ways.

Why did you become a teacher and choose to work in education?

I don’t know. It’s probably genetic. Neither of my parents taught, but three of my four grandparents did. I’ve tried half-heartedly to get away from education a few times. No luck. It’s what I’m born to do.

Everything we do in edtech has to compete with the daunting gravity of regular tech – the dopamine drip of memes, snaps and live streams that keep our kids glued to their phones like herds chewing grasses on the savannahs.

Why did you decide to found Zinc Learning Labs and build the Zinc Reading Labs tools?

I had been a tutor for many years when one of my students suggested I build an app. I was fortunate to partner with a great technologist, Kiran Bellubbi. He kept insisting that we use my expertise as an educator, but after building the SmartVocab apps, we drifted toward lower hanging fruit. We built a sharable to do list and a successful cooking app for celebrity chef Mario Batali. I always knew, however, that what I really cared about was learning and that advanced literacy formed the backbone of almost any meaningful education. As soon as I had the resources, I started building ZLL.

What is your unique competitive advantage?

I have tutored hundreds of students in the world’s most competitive test prep market. To succeed, I’ve had to figure out how to change the academic circumstances of many different kinds of students – from high achievers who just make a few “careless” errors to struggling students who lack basic skills. As the owner of a successful tutoring company, I’ve also trained hundreds of tutors and learned even more from their experiences. I have put together a talented, committed team, and, most importantly, I have a profound need to scale what I’ve learned and will devote the long-term effort required to solve this challenging problem.

What drives you to stay persistent and motivated in the face of edtech start-up struggles?

Unfortunately, for a variety of reasons most people miss the crucial importance of advanced literacy, but experience has taught me that no other ability remotely compares in significance. There are only two kinds of people in the world: smart people and smart people who read. Not only do the latter category enjoy richer, fuller lives, but soon there will be almost no work for the former category. The opportunity to create a solution feels enormously rewarding and well worth the risk and the obstacles.

How do you see Zinc impacting the world?

I expect Zinc to make advanced literacy accessible to millions of people. In the age of video and 3D imaging, reading may seem retrograde, but Zinc will upgrade this ancient experience to bring its boundless benefits to millions of people.

Where do you see the company in a decade from now?

Zinc will become a global brand providing inexpensive access to great educational experiences. We will create a better experience of technology – one that expands rather than diminishes people’s intellectual engagement and ability.

What advice would you give to an entrepreneur thinking about starting an edtech company? 

My partner, Kiran, was right. You’re going to work so hard, you’d better choose something you really know and care about. Then find a way to attract great people. You need talent and experience in all key positions.

Victor Rivero is the Editor-in-Chief of EdTech Digest. Write to: victor@edtechdigest.com

Posted in interviews | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Teachers Forecast 2020: Breaking the Mold

A school administrator on the theory versus practice of adopting technology.

GUEST COLUMN | by Melissa Saunders

Manassas City Public Schools IMAGE.jpg

We educators are on the precipice of breaking the mold and doing things differently. Within just three years, I predict how we work with kids will look less industrialized and be more flexible.

All students come to school with different kinds of needs, and we educators continue to try to fit them into all into a box. But we have been trying to put round pegs into the squares. This is changing.

Maintaining high quality teachers over a long period of time is really important to us.

I hope that in 2020 we see more scenarios where students are getting some of their general information through teachers, and also having experiences. Students should have internships, externships and work opportunities to try some things out so that before they leave high school they have credentials and real experience.

I see fewer requirements around “clock hours” and “seat hours” and standards and assessments. That doesn’t lessen the high stakes accountability, but loosening the reins a little bit gives us an opportunity to break the mold.

I see our younger kids just getting much more comfortable with a world that is less about answers and more of them asking questions. We educators are very much used to just giving answers, and now we have students who can question and think critically much younger than (probably) we anticipated. It seems like that is the only way they will be set up to succeed in life.

Just think about the difference between someone who went to school in the early to late 2000s versus 2017, and that speaks to how fast things are evolving and how much teachers really need to approach their practice with flexibility and a mindset of lifelong learning.

Empowering teachers to drive student learning

Keeping up with these changes as an educator is hard. Sifting through new information and learning new technology can be overwhelming and time consuming. There are tools and resources that can help, but it’s difficult to make these changes without support at the school and district level.

At the district level, we’re constantly challenged to provide teachers with something that they feel they can take away from professional development and use every single day. We give surveys to capture information from our teachers and oftentimes they talk to us about the professional development – they say, “it isn’t relevant to me.”

At Manassas, we have about 700 teachers. About 50 percent of them are in their first three years of teaching. What we administrators struggle with is how to provide opportunities for teachers to get what they need in order to grow in their professional practice.

We see teachers as the key drivers of student learning. As a result, we need to make sure that we are investing in those teachers by personalizing their learning so they can then do the same for the students. As I look at how to provide students with the best instructional opportunities, the answer is through their teachers.

Being able to personalize learning for the teachers allows us to really enhance human capital in the schools. We are investing in our teachers to make sure that we retain them. Here in Manassas, we not only have a very young workforce, we have a challenging district in the sense that our work is hard. It’s rewarding but it’s difficult. For us, finding ways to maintain teacher engagement and teacher effectiveness comes through providing teachers with not only benefits that they see as monetary, but also that of independent professional growth.

The theory versus practice of adopting technology

Three years ago, Manassas City embarked on a one-to-one initiative—a state initiative that provided matching funding for us to offer laptops to every student in our high school. We started with our 9th and 10th grades, and then throughout the school for the next four years.

We had a lot of plans on paper about how we were going to do things and what we were going to do, but I knew that it didn’t really matter if I handed a teacher or a student a device. If the teachers didn’t know how to access and utilize the devices or change their practice, the experience was going to fail. That realization led me and our professional development coordinator to develop a series of what we call “certificates” for teachers to participate.

In theory and on paper it all looked great—as many things do—but what we found in practice is that our teachers didn’t have the right background. We didn’t have enough professional development to equip them to use the devices as effectively as intended. Essentially, we just gave kids devices that they were able to take home to access the Internet.

We didn’t create the capacity at the high school to turn around instruction. Where we did a good job was in coming up with the idea of what we wanted it to look like. Once we had that vision, we knew we truly did not have the capacity to carry it out. Our eyes were bigger than our proverbial stomach.

We realized we needed help. We wanted to maintain our goal of achieving this certificate because it really creates those ladders. It gives people something that they can work to. We knew we wanted to keep that. So we went looking for help and everyone we went to had a prescribed method for how they were going to provide this training before they even knew who we were.

We had a hard time finding someone who would partner with us that could see our vision of certification and who would really personalize professional development for us. We didn’t want an off-the-shelf solution. And so somewhere along the line, my Professional Development Coordinator ran into BetterLesson. What resonates with our teachers is the support they offer. It is a kind of independent support so teachers can really choose how they engage in this process.

Funding this type of initiative can be challenging, because it doesn’t fit neatly into a specific line of the budget. We’ve found success by embracing this ambiguity and matching funding to multiple elements of the district’s larger strategic plan. The funding is linked to HR development, student achievement and technology. We know that technology is an important part of what we do every day and our students need competence skills in that. But in order for them to do that, they need teachers who are able to utilize that and learn and grow within that technology. By placing this initiative at the crux of our vision, its value is undisputed.

We’ve put a couple of other metrics into place that help support funding for choice in professional learning. We give a division engagement survey that gets to how people could be more engaged, happier, and satisfied in their work. One of the key indicators that continues to come out of those surveys is the idea of professional development and it being personalized and having choice.

Retaining teachers through PD

Maintaining high quality teachers over a long period of time is really important to us. Once we invest in them and we train them, we want to be able to keep them. It’s important to have metrics that say on a large scale that you know your teachers really want this and this is how you might retain them. We live in an environment that is highly competitive. You can go ten miles down the road and be in a whole different school system and potentially have a higher salary, so this investment in the human capital side of thing helps us in more than just instruction.

Delivering professional development hasn’t changed much. Administrators say, “Here’s the professional development, here’s why you have to do it, here’s where you have to do it, here’s how you have to do it and here’s how I want to see it measured later on.” It is very prescriptive. Where I think teachers have been really positive about our work with our solution provider’s one-on-one coaching model is their feeling that it is improving their practice and at a great pace with ideas that they want to improve.

We are control freaks in education and we want to make sure it all goes the right way. So giving teachers a choice is huge. Just like our students, we have teachers that come from so many different walks of life. When they have this opportunity to have a choice, they are positive about it and I see them articulating that back in the classroom with their students.

Link to full interview: SoundCloud recording

Melissa Saunders, Ed.D., is the Executive Director of Student Achievement for the Manassas, Virginia Schools. She obtained her masters at Carnegie Mellon and her Ed.D. from the University of Pennsylvania. She is known for her driving commitment to excellence and her quest for quality educational opportunities for young people.

Posted in cool tools | Leave a comment

Everything is a Learning Opportunity

IN CLOSE WITH | Brenda Betancourt 

CREDIT Brenda Betancourt.pngPrincipal of Kenneth White Junior High in the Mission CISD in Mission, Texas, Brenda K. Betancourt is a dedicated and passionate educator who worked her way up the ranks but has been a successful educator all along the way.  

GETTING STARTED How did you get started as an educator, and how has your job changed over the years?

I started my career in education as a pre-K teacher in January of 2000 in La Joya ISD. La Joya ISD was the district where I had attended school all my life, and now my teachers were my colleagues. Since I was coming into teaching in the middle of the year, I had to learn the ins and outs quickly to not fall behind or make a mistake that would cause my students to fall behind. After all, I had 50 half-day pre-K students eager to learn and waiting for me to provide them with those learning experiences. As a first-year teacher, I watched other teachers and administrators closely to pick out those important traits that would make me a successful educator. Just like my pre-K students, I was eager to learn and everything was a learning opportunity.

I am able to put all my experiences, knowledge, imagination, and innovation into play to continue to foster that love for teaching and learning.

After my second year of teaching, I decided to continue my education and pursue a Master’s Degree in Educational Leadership. I believed I could make a bigger impact on student learning if I became a school administrator. My long-term career goal was to become a school principal.

After five years as an elementary and middle school teacher, I became an assistant principal of a middle school. My responsibilities now were to ensure the safety, security, and educational development of 800+ students and help lead 100 teachers and staff members. My primary focus was to work with teachers to strengthen core instruction and provide students with a quality education that incorporated student-centered, hands-on activities that promoted life-long learning. During my time as an assistant principal, I had the opportunity to work with experienced teachers and administrators who provided me with advice, mentored me, and allowed me to grow as an instructional leader.

CREDIT K. WHITE Jr  High School MCISD.pngAfter seven years as an assistant principal, I moved up to Principal of Kenneth White Junior High School in MCISD, where I am able to put all my experiences, knowledge, imagination, and innovation into play to continue to foster that love for teaching and learning. One of my first tasks as a principal was to provide the district with a restructuring plan. In collaboration with campus administrators and teachers, we decided to become a STEM campus. We felt that in order to provide more meaningful learning opportunities and prepare our students for the future, we had to incorporate STEM principles into our daily practices. This meant that we had to revamp the way our school and teachers operated. It started with upgrading the infrastructure and technology in the classrooms and many hours of professional development in STEM and project-based learning. Welcome to the STEM world, KWJH!

Even after deciding that STEM was the way to go, I never lost sight of the main goal. It was my responsibility to provide my students with learning opportunities that will strengthen core instruction and student success. Everything that we did revolved around the same question: How is this going to impact student success?

After four years as a STEAM campus (after our second year, we incorporated the fine arts as well), I am very happy to say that the culture of our school has changed. We embrace technology. Teachers who were reluctant to incorporate technology and move into PBL are now comfortable and willing to try new technologies that become available and allow students to become independent learners. But we never lose sight of those best instructional practices that will ensure student success.


INSPIRATIONS What inspires you about teaching? Do you have a slogan or mantra that guides you?

I am most inspired by my teachers. I have worked on five different campuses in three different districts. Four out of the five campuses serviced students with low socio-economic status, high mobility rate, a 30-50 percent ELL population, and a high number of single-parent homes—all factors that can make teaching and learning a challenge. Despite all of these challenges, my teachers have shown that they have the heart and desire to help our students succeed in school and life. They dedicate countless hours to researching, collaborating, planning, and preparing meaningful lessons for our students. They give up their personal time and money to make sure that our students have everything they need to succeed. They become moms, dads, counselors, and coaches to those students who need them the most. Teaching is not a career we choose to become rich and famous. We become educators to mold and develop young minds.

I have one guiding question when making decisions that will impact our students: “Would I want this for my child?” If the answer is no, then it is not good for anyone else’s child and I have to find an alternative. I ask teachers to ask themselves the same question when making decisions.

My other principle is that change is good and necessary. My email signature includes a quote from Vicente Fox: “Only when we are fully immersed in change can we forget our weaknesses and fears and summon the courage, stamina, and strength to overcome all obstacles.” This quote reminds others and myself that we must not be afraid of change and we will overcome those obstacles if we embrace change.


FAVORITE TECH What is your favorite tech tool right now and why? CREDIT myON img.png

myON has changed literacy on our campus. We have become a campus where ALL students read. Struggling readers are able to use the tools that myON provides to work on fluency and comprehension, and advanced readers have a plethora of titles to choose from. The 1:1 initiative we started when becoming a STEM campus has facilitated the use of software programs like myON.


RECENT EVENTS What memorable edtech conference have you attended recently?

CREDIT TCEA 2018.pngThe TCEA and STEM conferences are always my favorite. This is a way for us to stay current with new technologies. Also, our staff is now presenting at these conferences and sharing their knowledge and experiences with other educators.


MEMORABLE MOMENT What was your greatest educational moment?

There is not one moment that I can pick. Over my 17 years in education, there have been many. Definitely, my first year teaching was very rewarding. It was a year of discovery. As a principal, seeing my staff and students succeed in different areas is very fulfilling. It is also very rewarding when we see our students come back and thank us for helping them get through tough times or encouraging them to challenge themselves.


RED ED What was your most embarrassing educational moment?

That’s an easy question. Again, I go back to my first year teaching. I was preparing for my first formal observation and had been working with my four-year-olds to make sure everything went smoothly. During my observation, I asked the students why it was important to learn about primary and secondary colors and their answer in unison was “because they are coming to see us!” I think I turned all shades of red. Luckily, my supervisor thought it was cute and I was not penalized.


Any technology that is going to make an educator’s daily work easier and more manageable is always welcome.


PD FOR ME What makes for great tech-related professional development?

I like professional development activities that are hands-on, relevant to our student population, engaging, and that can be integrated immediately.


BRING IT ON! What’s the next technology you want to bring to your classroom/school/district and why?

CREDIT myON.pngBeing a STEAM campus, our students and teachers have become comfortable and proficient with hardware and software. In order to challenge ourselves, I believe we need to focus on programing/coding. It is important for students to understand the why and how of applications and programs. It will develop their problem-solving skills and help them become visionaries and innovators.


NO THANKS What technology do you wish had never been invented and why?

I do not think there is anything out there that I would call bad technology. It all has to do with how we manage it and use it. As an educator, there is a struggle with the use of smartphones/cellphones. They are a great resource to everyone if used at the right time and for the right reasons. Where they become a nuance is when students use them during instruction and it becomes a distraction to them.


FUTURE LOOK What educational technology do you wish someone would invent and why?

CREDIT myON teacher.pngAny technology that is going to make an educator’s daily work easier and more manageable is always welcome. Anything from taking roll to planning lessons. I would like to see educational technologies that assist students who have a profound learning disability due to developmental or medical issues. While there has been great improvements, there is a need for more assistive technologies.


Connect With

Reach Brenda through

School website: kwhite.mcisd.net

Email: bkbeta12@mcisd.org

Facebook: Kenneth White Junior High @K.WhiteJH2016

Twitter: @brendabk12


Got a suggestion for a great person to get IN CLOSE WITH here?

Write to: edtechdigest@gmail.com

Use IN CLOSE WITH in the subject line, and in the body of your email include their name, title, email, phone if available – and yours, too.

Posted in interviews | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

From Raleigh to Rochester

Everyday adventures of a PD coach using technology for improved literacy.

GUEST COLUMN | by Christina Magee

CREDIT Lightsail Christina Magee.jpgWhether it’s in Raleigh or Rochester, every new day brings an exciting adventure as an Instructional Coach. This is a day-in-the-life account from a professional development coach point of view. At the company I work for, we’re a tight-knit group of former classroom teachers and we consider ourselves extremely lucky to have the opportunity to meet teachers and students in schools all over the country (and beyond – Hola, Mexico!). While the names of the city and school have been anonymized, the day’s events can (and do) happen in our experience from coast to coast.

6:00 – Wake up, hit the hotel gym for a quick run on the treadmill, coffee in my room, shower and go!

7:30 – Grab another cup of coffee to go (traveling takes its toll!) and hop in my rental. I check the GPS one last time to make sure I know where I’m going. It’s my first time in AnyTown, Minnesota, so I need to be sure that I can navigate from Point A to Point B. Also, there is So. Much. Snow.

We’re a tight-knit group of former classroom teachers and we consider ourselves extremely lucky to have the opportunity to meet teachers and students in schools all over the country.

8:15 – Arrive a bit early at the school and check in with Mr. P, ELA Coach and my main point of contact. My first teacher meeting isn’t for another 30 minutes, so I have plenty of time to set up, connect to Wi-Fi and find a good place to display the pen/styluses that I’ll be giving as a door prize. I prep my materials one last time, excited to share the “LightSail for Shared Reading” presentation with this group. I see the Minnesota Vikings banner on the wall and make a mental note not to mention the fact that I’m a Chicago Bears fan. This is the kind of thing I’ve learned the hard way, and a more valuable tip than you could imagine.

8:45 – It’s go time. The audience is a team of returning teachers, who previously used our platform only for independent reading. Now they’re looking to expand usage further into their literacy block, and want to try the technology for guided reading groups and, eventually, whole class novel. My objective for the workshop will be to highlight the features that support shared reading; annotating the text, assigning texts to groups of students and using in-app data to form groups. I’ll also spend time highlighting the MUPO titles (this means that they can be accessed by an unlimited number of users at one time) in our digital library.

9:45 – Planning time for teachers. I always give teachers enough time to write lessons and scope out the upcoming weeks. I know from my own experience that a teacher’s schedule is jam-packed, and if there isn’t time to apply what you learn right away, there’s a good chance that a lot of it will go in one ear and out the other.

10:30 – Head to Mrs. M’s 4th grade class to teach a model lesson on annotations. Getting back into the classroom is the highlight of most of my days. Twenty sets of bright eyes are glued to me, and their eagerness to hear what I’m about to say brings me right back to my happy teacher place. I teach the lesson to the group, then send them off with a prompt from the Annotation Brainstarters resource on main idea. Mrs. M has told me that’s the standard they’re currently working on, so I’m trying to provide students with some extra practice time during independent reading. That is, after we had gotten a bit side-tracked talking about our favorite places to run.

11:15 – Meet with teachers who are using the platform for the first time. It’s always important to find time to work with the newbies in the group to make sure they feel supported and ready to roll! We walk through the technology features, discuss implementation needs, and of course, leave time to plan.

12:45pm – I am starving. I remember seeing a Panera Bread down the road, so after a quick midday debrief with Mr. P, I scurry out to grab a smoothie and a sandwich.

1:15pm – Back in the classroom. This time, I’m leading a guided reading group in Ms. B’s 3rd grade classroom. One focus of this morning’s workshop was on shared reading, and I want to show Ms. B what this looks like in her classroom immediately. Ms. B and I worked together during the morning planning time to identify five kiddos (we sorted students’ by Lexile measure and then made groups) that I’d work with. Like Mrs. M’s class, they’re in the middle of a non-fiction unit, so I found a current News for Kids article (who knew sharks were invading the California coast?!) and used the annotation feature to drop in a question on main idea. This will help Ms. B gage comprehension and mastery of both the text and the skill. Win, win!

CREDIT Lightsail Christina Magee w student.png1:45 – Round two of guiding reading groups – this time with a group of Ms. B’s struggling readers. (Note: There’s a girl at my table wearing a Bears t-shirt. Apparently displaying your football allegiance in this class is NBD!) I’ve prepped the same text and will still hit on the main idea, but now I’m using the beginner version of the article (watch out surfers, sharks are still-a-coming!) so that it’s accessible for this group. Ms. B was especially psyched to see how little extra prep time this took. In fact, I’ve been watching her scroll through the library already, on the hunt for another article to use tomorrow!

2:30 – Debrief time! I catch up with Mr. P for a moment, just long enough to gush about how welcoming and lovely his team has been to work with. He’s arranged for subs for the last hour of the day, and the whole team has assembled to powwow about the day. What was helpful about this morning’s workshop? What did you learn during the classroom modeling sessions? Most importantly, I want to know – How can I continue to support you as you incorporate our solutions into your teaching and make sure it’s done in a sustainable way (isn’t that what it’s all about?).

3:30 – After one last round of questions and a quick scavenger hunt through our online learning community (got to make sure everyone knows where to find what they need before I go!), I say my goodbyes. I shake hands with the new friends I’ve made and encourage teachers to reach out in the weeks to come. Part of the beauty of my job is the relationships that are built after a day like the one I’ve had today. In fact, I’ve already made a mental note to follow up with my new running buddy, Mrs. M., during my upcoming marathon training. Now, off to catch my flight!

Christina Magee is Managing Director of Academics for Lightsail, an adaptive literacy solution. She has been involved in education in New York City for the past seven years. She began her career as a special education teacher working with kindergarten, third, and fourth grade students at a Harlem charter school, where she served on school curriculum development teams and as an after-school tutor. After seeing firsthand the dramatic impact that teachers can have on at-risk students, she became an instructional coach focused on increasing academic rigor and building strong classroom systems to foster learning. Christina has a BA from USC and an MS in Special Education/Inclusive Elementary Education from Hofstra University. Connect with her here

Posted in guest column | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Calling, A Mission, An Honor

IN CLOSE WITH | Susan Grigsby

Grigsby_headshotA Media Specialist in Forsyth County Schools; curious and creative teacher librarian, and on top of all that a singer, actress, mom, horsewoman, writer, wanderer, seeker and storyteller — Susan Grigsby and her love for learning never ends. 

GETTING STARTED How did you get started as an educator, and how has your job changed over the years?

I was working in the Sports & Entertainment Marketing field as a producer/AV technician which required lots of long days and evening hours. When my daughter was born in 1994, I knew I needed a change so I could spend more time with her. I read an article in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution about the need for Media Specialists in the state. I didn’t know what a “media specialist” was but it sounded like something that was right up my professional alley! I started investigating and realized it required a Master’s Degree; however, when I found out it was a school position it just seemed like the right thing to do for my children. As luck would have it, as soon as I made that decision a friend told me about an opening for a library clerk in a nearby private school. I enrolled in school, got the job, and have been loving this profession ever since!

I think we are beyond the ‘great new tech tool’. The important thing about edtech right now is that it is being integrated in a way that makes sense.


INSPIRATIONS What inspires you about teaching? Do you have a slogan or mantra that guides you?

I am insatiably curious and teaching gives me the opportunity to learn something new all the time. I really enjoy being around children of all ages and I’ve always been an instigator, a community builder, and I’ve always enjoyed teaching others. There’s nothing more magical than that moment when a child gets a concept for the first time or when the lightbulb goes on and they can read on their own. It’s a beautiful thing to be a part of that. I have a Maya Angelou quote that has been stuck on my computer no matter where I’ve gone: “Surviving is important. Thriving is elegant.” I want my students to thrive and I want them to know that!


CREDIT Aurasma augmented reality.pngFAVORITE TECH What is your favorite tech tool right now and why?

That’s an interesting question because I think we are beyond the ‘great new tech tool’. The important thing about edtech right now is that it is being integrated in a way that makes sense. It always drove me a little crazy when someone would wax poetic about a new tool or program that was really, upon deep inspection, an electronic worksheet. A pencil is a tech tool so it’s not about the tool. It’s about how you use it. That said, I am having a lot of fun with Aurasma and experimenting with augmented reality. I don’t want to use it just to make pictures come alive but I’m exploring how to take a current reality and dive a little deeper into it. For example, wouldn’t it be great if we could point our device at a historical site and instantly see it the way it was at the time of its significance or see a reenactment of the event(s) that happened there? What a great way to help students visualize history and make it more real, more relevant, more immediate! I’m also excited about PebbleGo but, frankly, I don’t see it as a “tech tool.” Yes, it’s a digital product but more importantly it is a digital resource for the K-5 student. In our district, we’ve integrated PebbleGo in a way that makes it super easy for students to not only access the program but do so after logging in to their workstations/devices. The “tech tool” part (to me) is creating the ease of access to the digital resources we want our students to use but then the resource itself becomes integrated into the curriculum.


RECENT EVENTS What memorable edtech conference have you attended recently?

I always get a lot out of the ISTE National Conference. I’m seeing a shift there, too, about integration over “bells and whistles.” Speakers are sharing ways to immerse students in days filled with creativity, knowledge creation as well as consumption, and making new connections rather that reporting on ones that have already been made. It’s great when you find tools that can make all of that more exciting but it’s the teaching that really matters. I also get a lot from American Library Association and American Association of School Librarians. I think both of those groups got the pedagogy over tools idea a while ago.


That’s when I realized that being a librarian is a calling and a mission. It’s an honor. It is the embodiment of social justice. 


MEMORABLE MOMENT What was your greatest educational moment?

I would love to say I had some dramatic moment of standing on desks and students chanting, “Captain, O Captain!” — but my moment was a little quieter and more private. I was the librarian in a urban/suburban elementary school and I was always running one reading promotion or another. There was a young man who won my latest prize competition and he came in to the library to collect his prize: a book. I always kept a shelf of clean paperback and hardcover books to give away so I invited the boy into my office to pick out the book he wanted. He looked over the shelf for what seemed like an hour and finally made a choice – a gently used hardcover. He asked me when he was supposed to return it and I told him he didn’t have to return it – it was his to keep. He clutched that book to his chest and looked at me with the most honest and vulnerable face I’ve ever seen and quietly said, “I ain’t never had a book of my own before.” I couldn’t speak for a moment or two but finally managed to say something like, “You do now and I hope you love it.” I’ll never forget that moment for so many reasons, not the least of which is that it made me face my own privilege and see that in this great country of ours there are still families that have no room in their budgets for anything above food and rent. It’s not that I was naïve enough to not know that before; just that I’d never been so close to it. That’s when I realized that being a librarian is a calling and a mission. It’s an honor. It is the embodiment of social justice.


CREDIT PebbleGo.pngPD FOR ME What makes for great tech-related professional development?

It’s great when your participants leave with something tangible in their hands that they can immediately implement in the classroom. PD should be just as engaging and meaningful as the lessons we work so hard on for children. The sessions should be set up to allow “play time” if you’re teaching a new tool or a new way to use that tool. There’s nothing more frustrating than going to PD where you get a quick overview with no time to explore and no time spent on the “why” of that tool or program. If teachers are only getting the “how” then it isn’t transformative – it’s just one more think. Again, I’m going to go back and reference our district’s decision to purchase PebbleGo here. When you provide a resource that makes sense, that supports curriculum, and is easily accessed then teachers will use it once you show them where it is and how it fits into their teaching schema. When that resource is also easily grasped by their students then you’ve got a win-win.


CREDIT Limitless Library Nashville.pngBRING IT ON! What’s the next technology you want to bring to your classroom/school/district and why?

I would love to build a seamless, cohesive partnership between our schools and the public library. For example, see the Limitless Library in Nashville. I think if we can get the technology framework in place to protect privacy but allow “dual citizenship” we could partner to maximize resources in a way that benefits students. I believe if the school system has verified that a student lives within district then the public library should automatically accept that verification and create a public library account. I would love to see it set up so that the username/password process at school could be replicated at the library for seamless access. It would boost school library collections for both print and digital and open up the world of books and information to families that may not otherwise have access.


NO THANKS What educational technology do you wish had never been invented and why?

I can’t think of a thing. Spam, maybe? But that’s not educational unless teachers use it as part of the process for information literacy instruction. I’m not a fan of anonymous-post websites because there I don’t think there are enough adults teaching children about the power of the send button. Sticks and stone may break bones but words can create permanent damage. I used to think – years ago – that the invention of the video phone would be horrible because I wouldn’t want to have to answer the phone with my hair in curlers and my face covered in green mud—but that’s not really how it played out.


Star Trek transporter Abe Lincoln.pngFUTURE LOOK What educational technology do you wish someone would invent and why?

The Star Trek Transporter. Think of the implications with commuting! Plus, I’d never be late again! 


Connect With

Reach Susan through http://www.forsyth.k12.ga.us

 


Got a suggestion for a great person to get IN CLOSE WITH here?

Write to: edtechdigest@gmail.com

Use IN CLOSE WITH in the subject line, and in the body of your email include their name, title, email, phone if available – and yours, too.

Posted in cool tools | Leave a comment

What is Unlearning

Being willing to examine something before you know it, is a 21st-century skill.  

ROUNDTABLE INTERVIEW | by Victor Rivero

CREDIT Beaver Country Day School image.pngWhat we already know may be what prevents us from knowing more. In our current age of learning, and in our current era of smart everything — emerges a panel of leaders willing to examine practical ideas about learning. Peter Hutton is the Head of School at Beaver Country Day School, an independent school located in Chestnut Hill for grades 6-12. Beaver was among the very first schools to integrate coding into its core curriculum and presented on this curriculum at SXSWedu in past years. At a recent SxSWedu, his panel focused on ‘unlearning’ and how faculty and staff can implement it as a strategy to combat existing ways of thinking that may impede one’s problem-solving abilities. The school’s emphasis on unlearning is a continuation of their revolutionary teaching style.

Teachers typically assume that their primary role is to provide students with knowledge via presentation, that when asked a question they should provide an answer, and that students who score high on multiple choice tests have mastered the material. All of these assumptions are questionable in preparing students for life in a global, knowledge-based, innovation-centered civilization.

By understanding the effect old habits and previous experiences have on decision making, unlearning addresses a crucial difference between knowing and understanding—and allows for a deeper level of learning, by both teacher and student. Panelists consisted of Peter Hutton (Head of School, Beaver), Chris Dede (Harvard Graduate School of Education), Jayne Everson (Upper School Math, Beaver) and Marga Biller (Project Director, Harvard Learning Innovations Laboratory). In this EdTech Digest roundtable interview, these four educators share their thoughts.

What is ‘unlearning’?

CREDIT Chris Deded img unlearning.pngChris Dede: Professional development for transformative change is very challenging because participants not only must learn new skills, but also must “unlearn” almost unconscious beliefs, assumptions, practices, and values about the nature of teaching, learning, and schooling. For example, teachers typically assume that their primary role is to provide students with knowledge via presentation, that when asked a question they should provide an answer, and that students who score high on multiple choice tests have mastered the material. All of these assumptions are questionable in preparing students for life in a global, knowledge-based, innovation-centered civilization. 


UNLEARNING. Professional development for transformative change is very challenging because participants not only must learn new skills, but also must “unlearn” almost unconscious beliefs, assumptions, practices, and values about the nature of teaching, learning, and schooling.


Marga Biller: Unlearning is learning to think, behave, or perceive differently, when there are already beliefs, behaviors, or assumptions in place (that get in the way), at either the individual or the organizational level. It becomes important when individuals, groups, and whole organizations have to find ways to effectively support change, overwrite old habits, surface and supplant entrenched ways of thinking, and develop new ways of working together.

What are the challenges associated with unlearning? 

Chris: How important is emotional and social support for unlearning? In losing weight (which also involves changing deeply rooted behaviors), affective reinforcement is extremely important – and purely cognitive supports often fail. In effective tutoring, about half the prompts a mentor provides are encouragement rather than intellectual advice. For students being asked to tackle a new type of activity, self-efficacy and tenacity are vital attitudes, and these are built in part through emotional and social interventions. Parallel to these examples of comparable situations, substantial affective/communal support is vital to the success of professional development that requires unlearning.

CREDIT Marga Biller unlearn.pngMarga: We tackle unlearning in three contexts: mindsets, habits, and systems. Changing mindsets involves altering conceptions or mental models. Resistance to changing mindsets emerges as defensive patterns fortifying self-interest, personal identities, traditions, and long-standing assumptions. Changing habits involves shifting individual or group behaviors, once people have “signed on” to any new concepts involved. Resistance to changing habits arises in part from old cues in the environment that retrigger old behaviors, and is reinforced by stress and time pressure. Sometimes even with alterations in mindset and habit, not much really changes, because the larger system discourages the new ways of thinking and acting. Resistance to change arises in systems through policies, routines, organizational structures, and even shared values and identities that interlock to block unlearning and change.

How do students and teachers benefit from unlearning?

CREDIT Peter Hutton img unlearning.pngPeter Hutton: Students benefit from unlearning by developing a flexibility in mindset that’s critical in today’s world. This type of creative thinking is crucial to finding the best and most efficient solutions to the constantly changing world. Many industries are constantly trying to adapt to today’s changing world and developing an adaptive mindset will help students better transition into the real world after graduation. Standardized tests teach that there’s only one right answer, but in the real world, there is not only more than one right answer – there are also different ways of getting to that answer. With unlearning, students are encouraged to make mistakes because that’s part of the process of problem solving. If you got it right on the first try, then you probably didn’t get it right.

Jayne Everson: My identity as a teacher has transitioned. It is not good for me to be the expert all the time. I want students to realize they can figure out a solution to any question they have. Since the work is often emergent, meaning student curiosity is a driving force behind how we will cover a topic, I am often not sure where the line of inquiry will lead.  This means that I am always learning. It is a joyful experience. At first, it felt a little weird to not know all the answers to the questions students were asking. Now, I am much more comfortable not knowing an answer. I do know that we will work together to figure out a way to answer it. Students walk away with strategies and the ability to create and pursue their own knowledge. They are empowered and they walk away as creative problem solvers.

How can an educator prepare himself or herself to help their students understand and overcome an unlearning challenge?

Peter: It’s hard to lay out a simple road map to overcoming and understanding an unlearning challenge because there is no one way of doing it. Teachers will have a flexible and open-ended approach to their lessons. In their classes, kids will learn concepts by being asked to solve real world problems. Unlearning isn’t about the subject itself, it is about the certain skills being exercised in each class to help students be successful beyond college.

CREDIT Jayne Everson unlearning.jpgJayne: The role of identity in this process cannot be underexamined. We are in a culture where teachers are established as the authority figure, the disciplinarian, the leader, the content expert, and the grader in the classroom. These roles or identities are often incongruous with the identities required for successful unlearning.  I’ve found it useful to consciously examine which roles I’m playing when. I’ve found success in establishing an environment where students are self-regulating and leading the discussions, the explorations, and the content conclusions. Giving up control feels really scary—but the rewards are well worth it.

Are their any educational or business institutions that are currently using unlearning to tackle problems in unique new ways?

Peter: Unlearning is a tactic not only used in schools but also in workplaces. One of the primary resources Beaver Country Day School uses is the Learning Innovations Laboratory at the Harvard Graduate School of Education — particularly research by senior project manager Marga Biller. She has studied the use of unlearning in schools and in the private sector. Unlearning is about being a creative-thinker and finding new, innovative solutions to existing problems. Those are skills that any business could use right now at a time when many industries are rapidly changing.

Marga: Many change efforts in organizations fail because they focus on selling the new way without providing opportunities to unlearn. When a large company started to rely more and more on technology to drive its business analytics, it had to change the way IT thought about their role and provided services. These individuals had to think about how to drive strategy rather than respond to requests from users. This meant unlearning a habit that was entrenched deeply in the organization.

If the state of education is to truly change and favor the student, public schools need to be allowed the freedom to design curriculum that addresses the essential skills needed for the twenty-first century and design nuanced metrics to measure student success in those skills.

How does the concept and implementation of unlearning fit in with Beaver’s overall mission?

Peter: Beaver Country Day School has always been an innovator when it comes to education. Whether it’s leading the way in integrating coding into its core curriculum or implementing the New Basics to further emphasize collaboration and creative problem solving, Beaver is known for thinking outside the box. Our emphasis on unlearning is a continuation of our goal to prepare our students for life after Beaver. By understanding the effect old habits and previous experiences have on our decision making, unlearning addresses the crucial difference between knowing and understanding, allowing for a deeper level of learning.CREDIT Beaver Country Day School.png

What other educational methods / curriculum has Beaver used to prepare their students for the real world? 

Peter: Through our multidimensional approach to teaching, Beaver empowers students to succeed in today’s constantly-changing world. We offer a number of different educational methods and curriculum to ensure our students graduate ready to face any challenge the real world might throw at them. In addition to unlearning, Beaver employs a coded curriculum across all subjects to ensure all students have a firm understanding of coding upon graduation, a skill that is becoming increasingly important in the professional world. Beaver also sends 20 students each term to their off-site partner school, NuVu Studio. A full time innovation studio, NuVu Studio gives high school students the unique opportunity to spend a full trimester working with design, computer science, artists and engineering experts to solve real-world challenges in a collaborative, hands-on environment.

What are your thoughts on the state of education these days?

Peter: The U.S. and Massachusetts public schools, and even charter and independent schools, continue to focus on poorly designed high stakes tests. That includes the SAT and AP tests. If the state of education is to truly change and favor the student, public schools need to be allowed the freedom to design curriculum that addresses the essential skills needed for the twenty-first century and design nuanced metrics to measure student success in those skills. Education in the United States needs to  recognize the importance of essential (21st century) skills and redesign curriculum and assessments to reflect that emphasis. Independent schools, like Beaver, have not just the opportunity, but the responsibility to lead the way.  Sadly, not enough schools are embracing that responsibility.

The goal of teaching students to code and the goal of using technology is to help students become the most empowered problem solvers who can think flexibly and critically examine the world around them.

Jayne: I’m very hopeful that we are about to turn a corner in education. I believe that the goal of education is to help students become the best people. As a country we’ve become heavily dependent on metrics. Sometimes these metrics hide the truth and the messiness of real learning and of real people. All learning is not measurable through a test. I’m hopeful that we’ll work through this soon.

What are your thoughts on technology’s role in education?

Peter: Technology should play a large role in a student’s education. At Beaver, our focus is to graduate tech savvy students who are prepared to face any challenge the real world gives them, and there is no denying that technology is an ever growing component and necessity in the professional world. Whether it’s becoming the first school in the U.S. to implement computer programming into its core curriculum or integrating the latest learning technologies into the classroom, we are committed at Beaver to embrace new technologies that spur the type of creative problem solving that is necessary for post graduation success.

Jayne: Technology is an essential tool in our world. If students are not taught to use tools well, [those tools] are wasted. The point of teaching students to code or to use technology is not produce more employees for the STEM workforce (though that may very well be a byproduct). The goal of teaching students to code and the goal of using technology is to help students become the most empowered problem solvers who can think flexibly and critically examine the world around them.

Victor Rivero is the Editor-in-Chief of EdTech Digest. Write to: victor@edtechdigest.com

Posted in cool tools | 1 Comment

Cool Tool | CommunicoTool

CREDIT CommunicoTool.gifCreated in late 2012 by Frédéric Guibet, CommunicoTool is a French startup specialized in communication applications, originally under the CTEXDEV masthead. Frédéric, who has an autistic daughter, quickly realized that the tablet was to his child what a wheelchair is to someone affected by motor disabilities. He decided to create communication apps for tablets aimed at people, like his daughter, who faced challenges from their speech impediments. The Core vocabulary module with its small set of commonly used words supports the language learning, as seen in the GIF pictured above. Learn more.

Posted in cool tools | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Reflections on ISTE 2017

All grown up, edtech is ready to show ‘vanilla ed’ how to get the job done!

UNPACKING EDTECH | by Mark Gura

CREDIT ISTE 2017 conf and expo.jpgI’m back home a few days now from San Antonio where I attended ISTE 2017 — the ever bigger, ever more energetic and optimistic annual edtech mega conference. This year even more than previously, the blend of high enthusiasm, collective insight, and first looks at next-level developments and offerings leaves me appreciatively well informed and thoroughly inspired.

Attempting to accurately summarize this cross between a Burning Man gathering of the tribe, and serious professional development for educators — would be impossible. What I’ll share here, though, is my own takeaway from four high-energy days of interfacing with the very best in technology-supported education. I’m beyond bursting with ah-ha’s that reinforce my confidence in the future of teaching and learning. What a great time it is to be involved in education—assuming one’s mind is open to the possibilities presenting themselves just now!

It’s a fluid and fertile field to be involved in, and there is so much growth on the near horizon.

Let me mention up front that I’ve been in the edtech field for well over two decades and in the general field of education longer than that. This was the 20th consecutive ISTE conference I’ve attended. I want to state emphatically that it seems to me that this year’s conference marked the field actually having achieved the deep shift many of us have been awaiting for a long time. I saw evidence throughout the conference that edtech is no longer a niche area of the field of education, it is education; it is the most important thing going on in education.

I’m an ex-teacher, ex-instructional supervisor, and ex big-city school system director of Instructional Technology. Looking through those lenses, truly I can hardly see any best instructional practices that don’t use technology to present students with the very best learning experience possible! In short, edtech is the most impactful, and most important facet of contemporary teaching, learning, and school administration—and it is about to show what I’ll call “Vanilla Ed” (education that’s still going on its uninformed, oblivious, paper-driven way) how to get the job done, how to finally realize its own goals and reforms that, despite much discussion, have been elusive until now — through the application of technology. I found it abundantly evident throughout the ISTE 2017 experience, that while no formal announcement has been made, that shift has finally and thoroughly happened!

Okay, having gotten that off my chest—here’s some of what I saw and experienced that I’d really like to share.

Telling the Story

I ran into Richard Culatta a number of times, once almost literally as he whizzed past me while cruising around one of the conference poster session areas on a Segway. Mr. Culatta is the new CEO of ISTE and he brings great enthusiasm and youthful style to the job, something that added to the optimism one couldn’t help but feel at the conference. He spoke at the opening keynote and again to the smaller group assembled in the annual ISTE Board Member’s lunch where a number of kindred spirit ISTE members received the much coveted “Making IT Happen Jacket” award for outstanding work in the field (both Richard and I are former recipients). At the breakfast he hosted for media the next morning, he revealed his thinking about ISTE and its future. He spoke about increasing ISTE’s reach, how we need to impact and engage many more educators as we move forward. Among other points he made, three resonated particularly strongly for me: 1) that much needs to be done by ISTE in the area of Higher Education, in its role in teacher preparation, especially; 2) that the field needs to stress educator leadership, through things like ISTE’s PLNs (Professional Learning Networks), and 3) he expressed admiration for ISTE’s publications and stressed how that what’s needed is ‘telling the story’ of educational change through technology, something that I believe Thomas Friedman alluded to in his ground breaking book The World is Flat, opining that one of the new, crucial roles people must play in the emerging world is that of ‘Explainer’ and to that end, I’ll do my best with this article, Richard.

Happy

Speaking of Inspiration, I received a massive hit of it from Apple, a company that I don’t recall seeing at an ISTE Conference for years. Yes, they continued to be an important part of edtech all that time, no doubt, but it was so good to see them at the conference again—and with such sparkle! Perhaps the best part of this for me was that I didn’t see them releasing any new, paradigm setting devices, but rather, deepening our planetary body of best instructional practice with other sorts of refinements. As a longtime advocate of LEGO Education’s Student Robotics resources, I was pleased to see Apple’s Swift programming language applied to program them, something that I expect will strongly enrich efforts to teach coding and applications of it. I also got to see this approach to coding applied to a Parrot drone, making my alter ego (a dormant, twelve-year-old science nerd who hides inside of me), stand up and cheer.

But what truly got my pulse racing was the Apple group session I attended titled “The Power of Music for Learning: GarageBand and Tuniversity” in which, after not having worked with Garage Band for far too long (my bad, my bad, my most unfortunate bad!), I got a fresh look at this resource for making and recording your own music through a very engaging and easy to use graphic interface. This was part of an introduction to some of the magic of Tuniversity, a new education company co-founded by Pharrell Williams, dedicated to reinvigorating music education using iPad.

As everyone on the planet knows, Pharrell Williams is the composer, singer, and music video star of the Grammy Award winning song, ”Happy” — which coincidentally is the basis of Tuniversity’s first book, “Learn Pharrell Williams’ Happy A Modern Method for Writing, Recording, and Producing Music” — an instructional resource that uses audio, video, and technology tools (including Garage Band) to analyze the song “Happy” — helping students learn creative skills of music making and production.

What come across impactfully, is that this is an effort to re-establish Music (and by extension, Arts) Education as a vibrant, high-engagement, tech-driven phenomenon to recapture the hearts and minds of young people everywhere. It certainly captured mine! I actually started out my career in education (please don’t ask me how long ago!) as an arts educator, and I could see from the get-go that this is the real deal, one of those rare chemistry blends of the right insight, personalities, and resources to actually bring something crucial back from the brink.

For me the centerpiece was a video recorded especially for this session, in which Pharrell speaks directly to educators, explaining his passion for music and commitment to what he feels is a new sort of education in which students are brought into the process of making music with digital resources. Afterward, I briefly chatted one-on-one with Brent, one of the book’s authors and Pharrell’s guitarist for many years. I was much impressed with the level of expertise and commitment that he and his partners bring to this effort. I pretty much floated out of the room.

Microsoft

Microsoft, too, had a great presence at the conference. Both upstairs in its designated area for giving demos and PD sessions, many of which were well attended with folks lining up and waiting to get a look at Microsoft’s ideas and offerings. Also, out on the exhibit floor, where some very exciting Microsoft Partners APPs were on view, a variety of ways to “Spark Creativity” — including different approaches to student robotics — vied for attention. One that caught mine was the Virtual Robotics Toolkit. Throughout the conference, Microsoft had a great deal to share with today’s forward thinking educators; a few session examples were: Minecraft Education Edition with Code Builder; Office 365 for Authentic Assessments; and Creating engaging projects and presentations with Sway (MS presentation resource).

Richard Langford, a Microsoft Senior Education and Solutions Specialist at the conference, graciously gave me a bit of a Microsoft education overview, sitting with me for a lengthy conversation in which he fully grabbed my attention.

Beyond any of the many things that MS does to contribute to the educational landscape and possibilities horizon, he gave me some great “ah ha’s” that I left the conference with. By that, I mean an understanding of how one of the really big providers sees things these days; how its posture and culture have been shaped by, and is shaping — the landscape of edtech. He explained that today’s company reflects a change in which MS has come to see education as an inseparable, major element in its vision and mission — and keeps it absolutely up front in all the things it does. Products are conceived with education in mind, not adapted for education later on. Further, many resources are developed with school needs paramount in consideration, so that resources like OneNote can interface with the Student Information Systems when schools use popular platforms like Schoology or Edmodo. The experience feels to local level educators as seamless and easy; no disincentives, like labor-intensive class setups.

Saving time for teachers, Richard related, is a very high priority for Microsoft and it’s a way that MS is making a difference: “We value teachers. We’re not focused on replacing teachers in any way. What we want to do is empower them to teach” —and from where I view it all, I think that’s a great position to take.

One of the things I took away from this conversation and others I had with representatives from the big providers is that they seem to be focused on maintaining their own vision of what the world of education needs. It’s not a situation of who will compete best in an already defined and limited field of possibilities. While a degree of competition is inevitable, what I’m seeing more of is each provider bringing its own special body of offerings to a malleable market. I particularly appreciate this because, where we’ve been headed, and where I think we’ve already landed, is a new world in which the universe of personalized resources and approaches to use them is ever changing. The world of standardized, hardcopy resources in which consumers had just a handful of viable choices is receding into the far distance. As was explained to me, if the focus is on what teachers want to do to provide students with a great learning experience, then there will be opportunities for providers who cater to that. As Richard put it to me, he and his colleagues frown on “Bake Offs” — in other words, situations in which everyone comes to the market with more or less the same cupcakes or cookies (my analogy), leaving the customer to compare price or size or minor flavor enhancements. We are looking at a market, I think, in which there are more and better choices, much more variety and personalization through response to district, school, teacher, and student needs. Further, astute providers seem to have come to the conclusion that today’s winner may be tomorrow’s partner; it’s a fluid and fertile field to be involved in, and there is so much growth on the near horizon.

Googling Along

At the very large and strategically placed Google exhibit, I decided to sit down among a group of teachers who finally had a chance to test drive Google Classroom and see for themselves what all the buzz is about this resource, described by GOOGLE as “mission control” for teachers, connecting the class and enabling them to track student progress. The effect on those next to me struggling to wrap their already overstuffed minds around this “digital learning platform” was impressive. I bore witness to their maiden voyage at the helm of a popular solution to that great problem for teachers to have: how to manage students, as they guide them through a plethora of assignments, content, tools and resources. Sparks were flying faster than fingers on keyboards as the realization that the overwhelm of herding digital cats could now be easily side stepped on the way to far better teaching and learning. It was another of the many glimpses I got into just how sophisticated edtech has become — how ready it is to transform education.

Surrounding the GOOGLE Classroom area were small tables at which various partners’ resources were highlighted. I stopped by the table manned by Piotr Sliwinski (my apologies, Piotr, for not having a Polish keyboard to do justice to your name). Like offerings at the other tables, this one featured an exciting resource titled, Explain Everything (offered through the Google Creative Bundle for Chromebooks), a versatile interactive whiteboard app that can be used for sharing knowledge, building understanding, personal productivity, and much more. As the author of a recent ISTE book on Student Creativity, I quickly recognized here a tool to facilitate and spark thinking and expression as well as to capture, communicate, and collaborate around it. I very much hope that today’s kids have a glimmer of understanding about how the possibilities of what one can do in school have been expanded by technology. Well, actually, as someone who was a classroom teacher for nearly two decades, I won’t get my hopes on that one up too far—just let them use all this, and make some magic with it!

Gamify the Classroom

I reconnected with Shawn and Devin (Young) of Classcraft, an increasingly popular “gamification” platform. Classcraft is one of a small group of absolutely paradigm-shifting resources that young educators are adopting passionately. Far beyond simply introducing gaming into one’s teaching practice, it enables teachers and students to literally “Gamify the Classroom,” and I love the audacity of deconstructing the structure of traditional school organization for instruction and recontextualizing it this way to render a highly relevant, re-conceived school experience that is easy to view as an improvement.

As I chatted with Devin, one of the two brothers who conceived and developed Classcraft, he explained to me that much of his attention these days is on further developing and refining those aspects of the resource that enable teachers to easily access Classcraft in concert with their standard LMS or digital learning platform; to have student performance information that it generates be part and parcel of a teacher’s overall student data use, and for all of this to work across platforms in a seamless, interoperable, and above all, highly user-friendly context and experience.

Today’s educators are well equipped to provide a compelling and effective learning experience to their students.

Such work makes resources like Classcraft suitable and appealing for big providers like Microsoft and Google, increasing the body of resources they can stand behind and offer to tech-consuming educators, without having to develop or acquire them directly. And from the perspective of those small developers, often young people who are passionate and astute about the ways technology-driven resources can transform education, this approach allows them independence while assuring much greater reach and access to the audience they want to address. Looks like edtech has entered another favorable period of win-win-win!

My Own Panel

Heading up ISTE’s Literacy Education PLN (Professional Learning Network), I, and my network colleagues, had the privilege of inviting some of the very most promising digital resource providers, currently, to join us in a panel presentation to explain their offerings to ISTE members. As always, this session was full and much appreciated. Small wonder as what we put together was truly a powerhouse group of resources. We fortunately managed to present the following groups in one setting in just one short hour of concentrated focus on how technology is positively transforming what we see as one of the very most important missions of edtech, Literacy Learning. With this small aggregation of resources, much of it free, today’s educators are well equipped to provide a compelling and effective learning experience to their students. The body of resources our group highlighted this year included (I’ll let quotes from their respective websites speak for them):

Newsela – “When textbooks dream, they dream of Newsela – Join our community of 1,300,000 Newsela educators and counting.” This resource provides relevant, up to date content for students.

Listenwise – “The Power of Listening – Listening comprehension advances literacy and learning for all students.”

Quizlet – “Simple tools for learning anything. Search millions of study sets or create your own. Improve your grades by studying with flashcards, games and more.”

Discovery Education – “Transforming Teaching & Learning. We ignite student curiosity and inspire educators to reimagine learning with award-winning digital content and powerful professional development.”

I managed to sit with Stephen Wakefield of Discovery Education later to discuss the powerful content that Discovery continues to provide through both its Techbook (think textbook reconceived as a digital resource for 21st Century learning) and Streaming video collection. Just as I appreciate Tuniversity coming from the world of entertainment to develop classroom resources, the same can be said about Discovery (is it Shark Week, yet?) being the origin of Discovery Education’s high motivation content for learners. We’ve fully arrived at a point in education’s evolution that reflects the new reality of the availability of highly motivating, “just right” content … in abundance. And it’s provided in ways that make distributing it to students easy and learner-friendly. Discovery offers both the digital send-up of the classic textbook, and a powerful collection of videos as it demonstrates to today’s learners just how interesting content can be.

Technology is About Reading Books

I stopped by the Follett booth to see what they were offering this year. Glad I did. Any notion that technology is doing anything other than encouraging and supporting kids to fully understand and commit to the richness of books needs (IMHO) to be tempered by a look at Follett’s Lightbox, a fully interactive, multidimensional, supplemental solution for pre K-12 educators looking to improve engagement and literacy skills. There’s a great deal here, including classic novels and interactive Lightbox titles, as well as activities and assessments.

Hey, I’m always one to boldly go looking for some excitement. And out there on one of the leading edges of edtech, I found some.

But while students using this resource are very likely to learn to understand and value books, they are doing so in a truly 21st-century way. The digital interface they are presented with offers them ways to work with books that allow them to focus on things that they need and appreciate as they do so; direct access to things like audio, video, web links, slideshows, maps, and on and on. This, I think, is a rich, up-to-date, relevant approach to literacy instruction.

The Leading Edge

Hey, I’m always one to boldly go looking for some excitement. And out there on one of the leading edges of edtech, I found some when I spoke with the folks from Voyager Sopris who gave me a view of what’s happening on the edtech event horizon, the already-here future of education. This is the realm of Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning applied to teaching and learning.

Seriously, I enjoyed wrapping my mind around this group’s ‘Velocity’ solution, one of the more sophisticated applications of the power of technology to the eternal work and joy of teaching and learning I’ve seen.

Is edtech ready to redefine what’s possible in education? I don’t think that there’s any hyperbole in citing Velocity as proof that what was inconceivable a short while ago is already in implementation.

In Velocity we see a literacy intervention resource that is ‘adaptive’ in a sense of that word that I feel is authentic and genuine. At the heart of Velocity is an engine that learns how the student learns best. One result of its work is the creation of the content needed by the student to learn, content created on the fly as the student uses it. However, built into the student experience is reward for productive struggle, something that rings true to me. Teachers are informed in real time where each student is at in the learning process.

Throughout the conference, I heard repeated the concept of personalized learning. And here, it seems to me, we have an item that has taken aim at offering the sort of personalized learning that our struggling learners need badly; in literacy learning, a very crucial area of the curriculum, at that.

Velocity appears to be an important step forward, adaptive learning that doesn’t call up items from fixed, predicted paths, but rather accounts for thousands of variables and that works with the student to produce the unique way forward through the learning experience that he or she needs. Scaffolds and supports, hints and multi sensory variations are provided to students who are engaged through their various dimensions as learners.

On the Exhibition Floor

My initial disappointment at the state of the exhibition floor soon mellowed into appreciation for what I take as a clear indication of growth of the field. By that I mean that as someone who came to edtech from being a classroom teacher, I always look for instructional resources when I venture out into the exhibit and this year the first thing that struck me was the amount of hardware and infrastructure oriented items on display. And while I don’t feel the need to investigate those much, the sheer number does show that there will be much more in our schools soon on which students and teachers will run all of the instructional stuff that accompanied the equipment I saw. By the way, I was fascinated to see Chinese companies in the house. I spoke with Mr. Chen, of Shenshen Yue Jiang Technology, provider of DOBOT education materials, which impressed me as combining good features of robotics, 3D printers, and maker resources—good stuff!

As I ricocheted from one booth to the next, I found some items that I’d like to share:

Pie TopPie Top was one bit of hardware that intoxicated me with that variety of EdTech Caffeine for the tired school that I’ve come to rely on ISTE for. Pie Top is a kit-oriented, build-your-own connected device item for kids that makes use of the now near ubiquitous Raspberry Pie processor at its core. The coolness factor on this one is undeniable.

TigglyTiggly is one of those hybrid items that cross over between educational toy and full-press instructional resource. Kids pick up real, palpable shapes (think instructional manipulates of the past) that, when pressed to the screen of an iPad (or a Chrome, Android, or Kindle device), activate the digital magic inside. Young learners become immersed in a rich learning environment in which the real world interacts with the digital world, both coalescing into a learning experience guaranteed to engage and provide stimulation and cognitive supports as they play, work, and learn their way to literacy and numeracy. In my mind, a good example of how technology-supported learning has got to offer something more and better than what came before.

FreshGradeFreshGrade is a digital portfolio and grade book resource guaranteed to make portfolio/authentic assessment easy. Kids share their work through a digital portfolio—one more example of how technology, the great enabler, has made a long-held goal of progressive educators, portfolio assessment, doable and within the grasp of the average teacher and class.

Parrot – So great to see Parrot drones join robotics and other related resources to provide a context and platform for coding and STEM efforts.

Start Up Pavilion

Always inspiring are the offerings at the Startup Pavilion where, at little mini booths, new hopefuls entering the field share their vision for how they are expanding the envelope of edtech possibilities. There were many there this year. I visited quickly with a few notables:

BITSBOX: coding projects for kids. With Bitsbox, children as young as six years old learn to program by creating fun apps that work on computers and gadgets like iPads and Android tablets. The Bitsbox.com website provides each child with a virtual tablet and a place to type their code. The experience starts with lots of guidance, first showing learners exactly what to type, then quickly encouraging them to modify and expand their apps by typing in new commands.

Video Collaboratory. Former dancer and choreographer Sybil Huskey was sitting there with her colleague Vikash Singh demoing the very interesting Video Collaboratory, a web-based application designed for group collaboration around video documents. Beyond simply viewing video, the Collaboratory is equipped to allow students to mark up, analyze and discuss videos. As the old saying goes, “Find a need and fill it!” and I think these folks have done just that. Online learning gets richer all the time.

Common Lit. CommonLit delivers high-quality, free instructional materials to support literacy development for students in grades 5-12. Resources are: flexible; research-based; aligned to the Common Core State Standards; created by teachers, for teachers. And oh, they are free!

Poster Sessions

While my head was wrapped firmly around the things mentioned above, my heart was warmed, as it always is, in the playgrounds and poster session areas where real educators and real students show what they do. A few items that took me by the heart and wouldn’t let go were:

Instituto Rosedal Lomas in Mexico City’s project. Student Renata Susunaga showed me how the Physics students there created a data analysis project in which they used Facebook as a data gathering engine, later analyzing and representing findings in large graphics. I thought appropriating a ubiquitous and data sensitive resource like Facebook was clever and effective, just the sort of thing today’s kids benefit from.

Guiding Reluctant Teachers Through the Shallow End of the Technology Pool. Presenter Melissa Henning showed those of us gathered around her presentation table a raft of simple ‘win over those reluctant teachers’ activities, all of which use free and hyper user-friendly, web-based resources. Just the right touch for the difficult, but essential, job this approach takes aim at.

One of the wonderful things about attending the conference is the near certainty that you will cross paths with respected colleagues and friends who’ve traveled this path with you over the years.

Misty Simpson and Wendy Boatright’s session, “Cross-Curricular Centers to promote Creativity and Engagement in which they explain why Learning centers are a great way to inspire and engage students to be creative with technology; all while meeting the standards and learning objectives. They showed how they integrate Social Studies and ELA centers with vocabulary, journals, digital stories, brochures and more, employing the powerful WIXIE resource from Tech4Learning.

And, of course, there was more—so much more!

Ubiquitous, Necessary, and Invisible

One of the wonderful things about attending the conference is the near certainty that you will cross paths with respected colleagues and friends who’ve traveled this path with you over the years. I was happy to spend a little time with Chris Lehman, founding principal of the Science Leadership Academy, a nationally prominent school located in Philadelphia and a noted education innovator. I asked him for an impression of the conference and he explained that he was excited by how many people he heard were really talking about school reform and educational change, not just about specific technology items.

Reacting to my reflection that technology now dominates best practices in teaching and learning, Chris reminded me of the old truism that “school technology should be like oxygen; ubiquitous, necessary, and invisible.” Astute, as was his thought that we don’t need to be talking about technology so much; it just needs to be part of what we do.

This I take as more confirmation that the shift from the traditional classroom to digital learning environment is already well in effect. While far from complete, there is already much ubiquity in technology in our schools, and the presence of so many vendors in the exhibition hall indicates that this is increasing rapidly. And now, I agree, it’s time to stop talking about the digital platform for learning that’s been a quarter century plus in the making, and take further charge of it and further use it for the transformation in education that we now have the power to bring about.

Edtech is like the kid who’s all grown up, but still sees himself as ‘Junior.’ And, of course, there is much more growing and maturing to be done—but let’s take a good look in the mirror, shall we? Edtech is what’s happening in education. It’s education’s strongest suit, the only one that can truly transform ‘Vanilla Ed’ to better prepare today’s kids for the era they are learning to learn in, and in which they will live and prosper. This is such an important moment and I can’t think of any place more appropriate for it to have declared and revealed itself than at ISTE 2017. I’m proud to be a member!

In addition to being a member of ISTE, Mark Gura is an Advisory Board Member and Contributing Editor of EdTech Digest and the author of the recently released book, Make, Learn, Succeed: Building a Culture of Creativity in Your School published by ISTE (International Society for Technology in Education). Mark will be serving as a judge for the 2018 EdTech Awards—recognizing edtech’s best and brightest innovators, leaders, and trendsetters (click here for an entry form).

Posted in guest column, trends | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Cool Tool | ClassTag

CREDIT ClassTag.pngHere is an excellent parent engagement platform, a suite of very simple tools empowering teachers to build personal connections, encourage parental involvement, and get visibility into who is engaging and who needs additional support. With it, teachers and parents can stay connected, messaging and sharing announcements using a website or a mobile app. It helps educators regain some valuable teaching time that’s so often lost to administrative tasks. The app automates much, such as requesting volunteers, scheduling conferences, and even sending a weekly newsletter. All parents receive an overview of upcoming activities every week. Additionally, it empowers educators to go beyond simple messaging with functionality that helps them get to know parents as people and build strong partnerships. With Parent Interests quiz, schools can match volunteering opportunities to parents’ skills and preferences and help them get involved on their terms. School leaders gain insights into parent engagement with a Stats feature, tracking conferences signups and volunteering activity to frequency of communications. School leaders are in control and armed with actionable analytics to assess effectiveness of parent engagement efforts and progress towards goals. Schools using it consistently report more parent participation, deeper relationships, and higher parent satisfaction. Learn more.

 

Posted in cool tools | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Cool Tool | Mrs Wordsmith

CREDIT Mrs Wordsmith.gifApplying machine learning and Hollywood visuals to make the dictionary more relevant, useful and fun – and to help improve literacy in young people—this is what Mrs. Wordsmith, a venture-backed edtech startup, is all about. They hope to create the world’s most intuitive dictionary, and they’ve built a subscription-based vocabulary program based on cognitive linguistics aimed at improving literacy. Words have been hilariously illustrated by the award-winning artists behind Madagascar and Hotel Transylvania. If a rich vocabulary is the passport to academic success in every subject, then the more words you know, the higher your “reading age”. The higher that is, the better your results. But learning is inefficient, according to the folks at Mrs Wordsmith, so they’ve identified the words that children need to learn at every age. And they deliver them in a way that’s fun, engaging and efficient. Mrs Wordsmith brings words to life and makes learning easy. Their Art Director Craig Kellman is the award-winning artist behind a vast cast of characters including those from Dreamworks blockbusters, as well as Sony’s Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs. Their mission: “Be smart. Learn more words. The more words you know, the smarter you’ll grow. Our mission is to teach every young person the 10,000 words they need to know by age 18 to reach their full potential.” Watch for them to expand astronomically (would love to see that word illustrated!) as they’re coming soon to mobile and tablet. Learn more.

Posted in cool tools | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Cool Tool | Reading Horizons Discovery

CREDIT Reading Horizons Discovery.pngReading Horizons Discovery® provides teachers with the resources and method to give K-3 students a solid foundation for reading and spelling to put them firmly on the path to reading success. The strategy-based reading program offers both direct instruction and software designed to be implemented in a variety of instructional settings, including the general classroom, blended learning environments, intervention settings, afterschool programs, summer programs, and with English language learners. It is web-based and accessible to students, teachers, and administrators from any location with an internet connection. Incorporating multi-sensory, Orton-Gillingham principles of instruction along with a unique marking system, the program engages all aspects of student interaction when learning. The software delivers assessments and four specific grade-level tracks. Initial assessments give teachers an accurate measurement of each student’s ability; the software then adapts to meet the needs and skill levels of those students and provides differentiation as they progress through the program. Skill lessons include formative assessments called Check-Ups, vocabulary, games, and a library that offers Lexile® measures as an add-on purchase. With all these tools combined, the program fulfills 92% of the standards for foundational reading skills for students in K-3, as well as other standards outlined by the Common Core State Standards and correlated to the findings of the National Reading Panel. Along with Reading Horizons Discovery, Reading Horizons offers a hands-on initial training that prepares educators to provide effective reading instruction and intervention. Learn more.

Posted in cool tools | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment