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.

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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:

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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.

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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:


Facebook: Kenneth White Junior High @K.WhiteJH2016

Twitter: @brendabk12

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

Write to:

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.

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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

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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! 

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What is Unlearning

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


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:

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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.

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Reflections on ISTE 2017

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


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.


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, 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 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).

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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.


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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.

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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.

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Cool Tool | Kahoot!

CREDIT Kahoot!.pngKahoot!, the game-based learning platform, makes it easy to create, discover, play, and share fun learning games in minutes. Games can be found for any subject, in any language, and are accessible on any device. With Kahoot!, you can introduce new topics, test knowledge, revise, connect with others all over the world, survey opinions, gather insights, facilitate discussion, spark up professional development, or just have a little fun. The social, pedagogical games can be used in the classroom for formative assessments, to survey student opinions, and as rewards. Kahoot! will be launching its new mobile app, which it previewed at ISTE this year, in the fall. Teachers can use the app to send after-class challenges to students as homework, and learners can continue playing for revision and fun wherever they are. The game platform now hosts more than 50 million monthly active users and a public library of more than 20 million learning games that have been created and shared by fans in more than 180 countries. Kahoot! is a global company with offices in Oslo, London and Austin. Learn more.

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Cool Tool | TypeTastic by Typing Master

CREDIT TypeTastic.pngThe latest typing course released from TypingMaster, TypeTastic, is specially designed for elementary school students. Learning is based on creative, pedagogical games, focusing on key memorization through color-coding and letter-grouping, hand-eye coordination, writing words, and building fluency. In the various games, players build keyboards with construction equipment, leapfrog onto lettered lily pads, and throw a cupcake party for their bug friends. Created with feedback from classroom teachers, TypeTastic brings a unique approach to teaching beginning typists, in that it begins instruction by having students use just one finger, instead of all ten. Games are easily accessible on both computers and touchscreen devices. In addition to TypeTastic, Typing Master offers the Typing Quest keyboarding courses for schools and, the number one website to test typing skills. Learn more.

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Cool Tool | Activate by Lightspeed

CREDIT Lightspeed A Learning Company ActivatePodsVideo.png

Lightspeed, a Learning Company, has expanded its focus on helping educators effectively use classroom audio systems to enhance instruction and further support student achievement. The company unveiled its new logo and newest product line, Activate, at ISTE 2017. The new line promotes a collaborative, personalized learning environment that also enhances professional development. Products include the Activate Station charging and control center, portable 2-way audio pods the size of a glasses case that double as handheld microphones, and the Activate App. The product line activates group learning by allowing teachers to listen to students’ small-group discussions. Speaking into a wearable microphone from anywhere in the room, they can then provide real-time feedback to students, making informed decisions about when to intervene and when to let students explore topics for themselves. The new Activate App is designed for professional development, coaching, strategy sharing, and capturing evidence of student achievement. Utilizing the camera on iOS or Android device, the Activate App synchs up high quality audio and video, and allows teachers to push the content to a cloud-based video storage platform for collaboration within individual learning communities. Teachers can watch and listen to their own instruction for self-reflection and share with others to learn new techniques and methods. Learn more.

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Trends | Shift to a Digital Workforce

CREDIT ISDI University.pngISDI Digital University, an in-person and online graduate school in Silicon Valley offering a Master’s degree in Internet Business, surveyed over 100 companies and found that 56 percent of talent professionals across the United States find it increasingly difficult to find digital talent. As digital transformation continues to rapidly evolve across industries, this has created an exponentially increasing digital skills gap; ultimately highlighting the dire need for training or educational systems to provide digital curriculums that will prep both individuals and workforces. The skills gap is not a joke; it is impacting businesses across all industries. In fact, 77 percent of companies surveyed believe digital transformation has disrupted the way they do business, which is why it’s not surprising that one in six companies report that the number of digital business positions available will double within the next six to twelve months. With 74 percent of high-level executives believing that digital transformation is a top priority that increases profits, productivity, and communications, change needs to happen at the organizational level. Corporations and our education system need to start investing in their students and workforce, and ultimately incorporate digital programs so that America can begin to meet its full earning potential in this new era in business. Learn more.

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Cool Tool | Letters alive Plus by Alive Studios

CREDIT Alive Studios Letters Alive Plus.pngAlive Studios, a leading provider of augmented reality (AR) and early education software, has introduced a new method to excite young readers when learning letter sounds and letter names. Especially popular for English language learners (ELLs), at-risk, and special needs students, the Letters alive Plus software uses interactive alphabet cards that come alive on screen with highly-engaging 3D zoo animals. Lessons and activities are presented within a zoological theme, incorporating animals and the sciences into every lesson, which is welcomed by STEM Programs. The learning kit includes 26 alphabet cards, 97 sight word cards, 84 word-family cards, and a full-year supplemental curriculum that is aligned to kindergarten state standards. As children build sentences, they can change what their 3D animal will do, activating a multitude of eye-popping animations and interactions depending on the action or descriptive word they use. Children hear, see, touch, build, and speak on their path to proficiency and increased retention. Incorporating evidence-based best practices to teach early literacy skills, the Letters alive Plus lessons are adaptable, allowing teachers flexibility to teach whole-group, small group, or work with their students individually through one-to-one instruction or intervention. This proven, multi-modal, cross-curricular approach complements any existing curriculum or level of student need, promoting Alive Studios’ mission to help all early learners become fully proficient in reading and math by 3rd grade. Learn more.

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Cool Tool | ABC Mouse for Schools

CREDIT ABC Mouse for Early Learning Academy is a comprehensive digital learning resource for preschool through 2nd grade. ABCmouse offers an expert-designed curriculum with more than 8,500 learning activities that encompass reading and language arts, math, science, health, social studies, art, and music. Large-scale research studies have shown that ABCmouse helps children make significant gains in early literacy and math skills. ABCmouse for Schools complements this curriculum with high-quality teacher support and implementation services including onboarding services, usage reports, and training for teachers and parents. Implementation support is focused on helping students meet the usage goals that have been found to deliver learning gains. ABCmouse for Schools also includes year-round home access to ABCmouse for all students, to strengthen the school-home connection. ABCmouse for Schools is launching new product features in time for back to school 2017-18. Students and families will be able to access ABCmouse learning activities offline through a series of apps available on mobile devices. More Spanish learning activities will be added over the course of the year, building to a total of 800 by January 2018. A reimagined Teacher Homepage will make it easy for teachers to plan and build lessons, teach in whole-group, small-group, or individual instruction, and monitor class progress. SIS Integration will streamline the process of rostering for administrators with ongoing data about progress and usage at the district, school, class, and student level. Learn More.

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Myths Revealed: Apple Devices in the Classroom

Modernizing, personalizing—and a closer look at technology helping to make it happen.

GUEST COLUMN | by Sam Weiss and Dave Saltmarsh 

CREDIT jamf.pngAs schools look to modernize teaching and personalize learning, it isn’t a matter of if technology is right for the classroom, but which technology is right for the classroom. While schools want to focus on learning and not the technology, the right technology can create the conditions for success. Students often prefer Apple for its ease of use and quality. And educators enjoy the more than 1.5 million apps available in the App Store that allow them to promote creativity, facilitate interaction and ultimately deliver a differentiated learning experience for their students.

All technology has its pros and cons, but it is important to have the facts. So let’s set the record straight on a few common myths.

So with all the benefits of Apple, why are some school administrators and IT staff hesitant to bring Apple devices into the classroom? All technology has its pros and cons, but it is important to have the facts. So let’s set the record straight on a few common myths.

Myth 1: Apple devices are difficult to manage

Apple mobile devices aren’t difficult to manage. When paired with a mobile device management (MDM) solution and Apple School Manager, users have access to zero-touch deployment and a streamlined configuration and implementation.

And with Apple’s Volume Purchase Program (VPP), bulk app purchases and distribution through a customizable app catalog ensure teachers and students have what they need, when and where they need it.

Additional inventory capabilities also allow users to maintain accurate information about the device, installed apps and configuration details. And custom reports, alerts and manage app licenses provide consistent information, including which devices are ready for an upgrade.

Vicki Lyons, the director of technology at the School District of La Crosse said Apple devices are essential for the success of her district’s educators and students. “I believe in the functionality, durability and reliability of Apple. I wouldn’t use anything else.”

Myth 2: Apple devices are too expensive

Whether or not schools want Apple products in their classrooms, they often believe limited budgets make alternative solutions the logical choice. But the upfront cost is where that perceived value ends. Apple mobile devices have a longer lifespan, offer more functionality and provide a superior app ecosystem to the competition. So whether it’s through a 1-to-1 or shared program, users get a better overall experience and schools benefit from a greater value with Apple.

Myth 3: Apple IDs are a hassle

Don’t fear the Apple ID. Released with iOS 9.3, Managed Apple IDs provide schools with a simple way to create
 and manage the Apple IDs for all students and faculty—at scale. This makes a Managed Apple ID just as easy to administer as a school email address. Now, with Apple School Manager and the right mobile device management solution, schools can integrate their Student Information System to automate Managed Apple ID creation.

Myth 4: You can’t use Apple devices for testing

Mobile devices allow teachers to conduct both summative and formative assessments securely without assistance from IT. Using a combination of Apple mobile device management capabilities and apps, they can lock individuals, subsets of students or all students at once into a testing app. Students can be guided to content for smooth transitions and save valuable time for learning.

“By being able to pretest, we don’t waste time in the classroom,” said Trina Siegfried from Crane School District in Yuma, Arizona. “Instead of teaching an entire lesson before testing, a quick five-minute formative assessment informs educators if students are grasping the current concept. Then using that information, they can modify lessons to more appropriately meet the students’ needs.”

Upon completing an exam or assessment, the teacher uses their classroom management software to give students access to the full functionality of their devices and continue with the lesson – all without unnecessary disruption.

Apple mobile devices: the right choice for schools

Apple devices enhance the classroom experience for educators and students worldwide every day. Moving beyond the deployment aspects to the day-to-day agile learning experience is the true value Apple and MDM provide. In the same vain as SAMR, schools want to move above the line of basic implementation to a transformational experience.

Lyons can’t imagine her district without Apple in the classroom. She said, “You would never think of a classroom without a textbook. You would never think of a classroom without a teacher. There are just some staples that belong there. Today, and Apple device belongs there. Without them, we’d be doing a total disservice to our children.”

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.

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Cool Tool | Discovery Education Streaming

CREDIT Discovery Education enhanced streaming .pngFeaturing tens of thousands of standards-aligned and searchable videos, images, primary source documents, podcasts, audio books, articles and more, Discovery Education Streaming has long been a “must have” cross-curricular K-12 digital content resource for educators across the country. However, the latest iteration of Streaming, coming August of 2017, is positioned to serve a new generation of teachers and students.  In addition to an updated look and feel, the content creation tools within the services’ new Studio feature will be greatly expanded to allow teachers and students to collaborate in real-time on virtual projects. These features can be controlled by the teacher to monitor interactions, provide instant grading feedback, review progress, and more. Also, included in the new Studio function will be content creation features that provide students the ability to create online portfolios and preloaded templates that will help jumpstart new projects. To save busy teachers time, customizable streams are set to be added to the services’ homepage. Topical and timely content will be found in the Trending Now Stream, while an Activity Stream will help educators find content they recently viewed, searched for, or liked. Additional new content that supports educators as they evolve their classroom practice will be added to Streaming, including:

  • Spotlight on Strategies—the creative, research-based instructional strategies introduced in these short videos are presented by teachers for teachers.
  • DE in Action—This new series of immersive 360 experiences models how members of the Discovery Education Community are using digital content in classroom settings.
  • A collection of powerful and engaging STEM resources—new STEM Career Challenges provide opportunities for students to learn more about STEM careers and STEM Strategies that Work help educators build a STEM culture in their school.

Learn more.

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Teach, Love, and Learn!

IN CLOSE WITH | Katie Gutowski

CREDIT Katie Gutowski.pngAn ELA/ELL Specialist for the Colonial School District in New Castle, Delaware, Katie Gutowski shares her personal insight about being an educational leader and the current and future state of education technology in the classroom.

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

I first started my career as a wide-eyed substitute throughout New Castle County in DE. After a year of getting my feet wet, substituting in various schools, I accepted a first-grade position in Colonial School District. As a first-grade teacher, I quickly learned the importance of reading. The primary years are instrumental in developing foundational reading skills. While my undergrad provided me with an excellent education, I felt like I needed to expand on my reading content knowledge and enrolled in Wilmington University’s Masters of Reading program. After a few years teaching first grade—which I loved!—and completing my Master’s program, I was transferred to a reading specialist position for the following school year. 

After a full year as a reading specialist, my role changed and I became a building-based literacy coach. During that time, my role shifted from working primarily with students, to working with fellow colleagues to support CORE instruction, facilitate and manage RTI, and present district professional development. During my time as a building coach, I was fortunate enough to work with exceptional leaders that took me under their wing and provided me an opportunity to grow as an educational leader in my building.

After serving as a building coach for five years, I moved up to district coach, where I supported all elementary schools in regards to English language arts. My role was similar to what I was doing in the building, except on a much larger scale. I was fortunate to work with all schools, not just one. I was a district coach for just 2 ½ years before I moved into my current role as ELA/ELL Specialist for the Colonial School District.

My teaching goals remain the same as they did on day one: teach children to read, fall in love with reading, and get them excited to learn. 

Whereas before I focused primarily on elementary, my role has extended into secondary and into a much more administrative fashion. The biggest change for me has been that secondary exposure as well as realizing all that happens behind the scenes. For example, the budgeting, the purchasing, the contracts, the plans, the meetings, contacting vendors, etc. It is pretty crazy to reflect back on day one in my educational career to now! How my job has changed, yet remained the same all at once. My teaching goals remain the same as they did on day one: teach children to read, fall in love with reading, and get them excited to learn. 

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

I am most inspired by the countless educators who sacrifice so much of themselves for others. Educators show up every day, put in hours well beyond the typical eight-hour work day, work weekends, nights, and vacations to prep, plan, and extend their own learning. While it can be mentally taxing and exhausting, and personal lives get put on hold at times, it is one of the most rewarding jobs! Not sure if my quote necessarily goes with what inspires me, but one that I often look to when I need a pick me up is, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” We all have the ability to bring about change and impact society positively.

CREDIT Reading Horizons Discovery.jpgFAVORITE TECH What is your favorite tech tool right now and why?

Currently we invest in Reading Horizons Discovery seats for some of our student in Colonial. The software allows the students to work at their pace, time, and path. It provides formative feedback on skills the student has been working on. It is reliable, engaging, and provides instructional tools to support our students. 

Ah-ha! MOMENT What was your greatest educational moment?

That is a tough one! One of my favorite educational moments was when a former student learned to read. She struggled to hear sounds, put sounds together, and even identify letters. We worked intensely in small group on those skills. One day, she picked up a leveled reader and just began reading. It was as if something clicked. I remember I grabbed her hand, squealed, and whispered, “You did it!” She flashed the biggest smile. After that, she took off. She no longer feared books!

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

I love anything that is engaging, hands-on, and something I can take back and use or implement immediately. 

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

I think Google Cardboard would be amazing! It would allow students access to material and places they might not see otherwise. 

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

Possibly something in regards to helping me read and retain knowledge for all of the educational books I have purchased recently but have no time to read!

Connect With

Reach Katie at or follow her @ktgutowski


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How Video-Driven PD Favors Growth over ‘Gotcha!’

Instead of having teachers ‘put on a show’ during classroom visits, this principal implemented a collaborative feedback system that truly improves practice.

GUEST COLUMN | by Kathryn Procope

CREDIT Howard University Middle School

After 12 years of working in school administration, one aspect of the job that I have learned to dread is the teacher-evaluation process. In the past, it worked like this:

1) I would inform a teacher that it was evaluation time.

2) We would have a pre-meeting.

3) I would sit in on a class, and they would put on a show for me.

4) I would take notes on the show.

5) We would talk about the show that I saw, which in no way represented what they did every day.

6) I would give them an evaluation.

The whole procedure was ridiculous. I wanted observation at Howard University Middle School (HUMS) to be a way for teachers to become better teachers, so for the 2016–2017 school year, we started asking them to capture videos of their lessons.

An added bonus of having video from classrooms is that when I see a teacher doing something well, I can take that snippet and show it to other teachers.

The idea was that I could look at a video the way I wanted to: see a piece, stop, go back and look at it again, and then provide feedback that the teacher could use to improve their practice.

Growth Comes First

We started with the math department, because I was a math teacher before I became Head of School, and because HUMS has a focus on STEM and careers. Using the Insight ADVANCE platform ADVANCEfeedback, all the math teachers took a video of one class, and I used our instructional rubric to discuss different points that I saw in the classroom.

With a video as a common frame of reference, I didn’t have to comment on a show that they put on for me. Instead I said, “This is what I saw,” then they provided their feedback, and we agreed on what they needed to improve. Some teachers were surprised by what they saw themselves doing. I remember one saying, “I really messed that part up. This is how I usually do it, and this is how I am going to do it differently.” To help guide the conversations in a positive direction, I used some of the techniques in the book Teach Like a Champion, and we talked about how they were going to implement the changes we discussed.

For this year, we are using video observation to focus only on growth. I have been asking the math teachers to capture videos twice a month—not necessarily of entire lessons but of aspects of their practice that they wanted work on. Most recently, I asked them to isolate two parts of a lesson that they wanted to improve. They took short videos aimed at helping us reexamine skills like questioning or transitioning. One teacher wanted to make sure that students were following the systems that she had implemented in class: put your pencils here, put your device here. Video showed us clearly where this was and wasn’t working.

An added bonus of having video from classrooms is that when I see a teacher doing something well, I can take that snippet and show it to other teachers. I have internal PD going on in the building without having to schedule a meeting.

Evaluation Focuses on Gradual Improvement

Next year, we are rolling out the video observation system to the whole school, and we will expand our focus to include both growth and evaluation. I have made it clear that I am looking for gradual improvement. I don’t expect that teachers will go from “needs improvement” to “highly effective” in one jump. Based on our experience this year, we’re talking about how often we will ask teachers to capture video next year.

When I’m not working, I love to cook, and right now I am trying to perfect a cheese soufflé recipe. For me, rolling out an initiative like this is like trying to get a recipe just right. We’ll try it, we’ll see how it tastes, and then we’ll adjust it to make it better next time.

To prepare for the 2017-2018 school year, I am asking teachers to pick a lesson that they’re going to teach in the first week or two school, and tape 10 or 15 minutes without the children. I want them to get used to seeing themselves—get comfortable with being on video. Once school starts, I’ll have them tape a full class and I’ll meet with them in the third of fourth week of September, again using our instructional rubric to evaluate. Most importantly, I’ll be able to ask each teacher, “What did you see that would you like to work on for this quarter or this half of the year?”

Our teachers are excited about using video, because more than anything, it removes the “gotcha” piece of evaluation. I don’t like that kind of atmosphere. I want to create an atmosphere where teachers want to get better at teaching, and where I can be there to help them do their best. One way I can do that is by creating a resource library of videos to showcase our teachers who are doing something really creative. Those videos also serve as a digital portfolio for the teacher. I hope that all of my teachers stay with me for their whole career, but realistically, they won’t, and having an objective example of their work in the classroom is going to set them apart from any other teacher, wherever they’re going.

Building a Global PD Community

This fall, our video initiative will expand not only to every classroom in the school, but across the ocean to South Africa as well. HUMS is on the campus of Howard University, which is where Nelson Mandela got his law degree. Last year, one of Mandela’s fellow freedom fighters in the Soweto uprising, Dr. Jacob Ngakane, came to visit our school. Dr. Ngakane is now the head of a nonprofit that supports education in South Africa.

Like some of our students at HUMS, many students in South Africa have difficulty with mathematics. They get to 10th grade and switch to general math, so when they finish high school they can’t get into college, and very few jobs are available to them. During his visit, Dr. Ngakane and I talked, determined to come up with a way that our children and our teachers could collaborate.

At Dr. Ngakane’s invitation, I went to visit South Africa and talked to teachers, children, and principals. I told a principal about how we do observations with video, and we realized that we can collaborate without traveling. Starting this fall, we plan to share video snippets of good math teaching with each other. As a former math teacher, I am thrilled at the prospect of working with other math teachers around the world. We are a global community, united in our goal of giving students the opportunity to excel and making sure they are ready for the jobs that the 21st century will provide.

Kathryn Procope is the Head of School at Howard University Middle School in Washington, DC.

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A Quiet Revolution

Why learning analytics are exactly what’s needed to improve university graduation rates.

GUEST COLUMN | by Viswanath Subramaniam and Sanjay Mohan

CREDIT Happiest Minds Technologies.pngOne of the most important goals for universities in North America is to significantly drive up their graduation rates by charting an intuitive and responsive course for students to get across the finish line. However, the reality across several campuses throughout the country paints a very different picture. As per a Social Market Foundation report, six percent of university students drop out after their first year, so retention is a huge concern for universities.

Several students typically enroll in a university and take up a course of their choice but a few months into their journey they are left very confused. Their academic performance takes a severe plunge and this often has a detrimental effect on the university brand while leading to huge opportunity costs as well.

Students believe better use of learning analytics could be key to tackling drop-out rates, reducing time to obtaining a degree, and helping them achieve better grades.  

Is there anything universities can do to prevent such a scenario from occurring? Is there a way to track student learning behavior to understand where the students are failing and intervene to help them complete the course with the intended success? Learning analytics can go a long way in solving these problems by providing timely insights to academic decision makers. In fact, according to recent research by ITProportal, 76 percent of students believe better use of learning analytics could be key to tackling drop-out rates, reducing time to obtaining a degree, and helping them achieve better grades.

Students leave footprints along a digital path as they use a library or engage in a virtual learning environment or interact with other e-learning applications. Learning analytics is quite simply the process of tapping into this data to improve the learning and teaching experience.

It is important to clearly distinguish it from a Learning Management System (LMS), which typically only records learning events that happen within that system and a Learning Record Store (LRS) as a learning analytics platform typically contains a LRS, but adds significant reporting and analytics capabilities not typically found in it.

Traditionally, higher educational institutions have been plagued with problems like low course completion rates and finding actionable insights on student success indicators. Institutions have a lot of data from student information systems, declared data and VLE’s that can be used for learning analytics.

Based on pre-defined KPI’s, a Learning Analytics platform churns out actionable insights, which enables the decision makers to take actions resulting in much higher course completion rates for the students and overall in a higher student success rate, among other benefits. Additionally, institutions can draw a lot of customized insights pertaining to various aspects of course delivery based on relevant KPI’s.

Data from sources like the VLE, the SIS, library systems and students own declared data feed into the learning analytics warehouse. At the heart of the architecture is the learning analytics engine where predictive analytics are processed and lead to action coordinated by the alert and intervention system. Visualizations of the analytics for decision makers are available in dashboards and a student app allows students to view their own data and compare it with others.

Key beneficiaries of Learning Analytics at a University

If implemented correctly, these are the key beneficiaries of Learning Analytics within Universities:

  • University administrators taking decisions on matters such as marketing and recruitment or efficiency and effectiveness measures.
  • Students/learners to reflect on their achievements and patterns of behaviour in relation to others
  • Instructors and support teams that plan supporting interventions with individuals and groups
  • Groups such as course teams trying to enhance the current courses or develop new curriculum offerings.

Challenges in adopting Learning Analytics at Universities

While Learning Analytics looks like an indispensable tool for the Universities, there are some challenges in its deployment. If we take a close look at University data, they are mostly in silos and there is a need to first integrate these disparate systems to get the unified flow of data required for analytics. As a result, learning analytics companies with system integration capabilities are a great fit for smooth deployment of a learning analytics platform.

Bridging the learning gap between campuses to corporate houses

The application of learning analytics isn’t just restricted to universities but also has great applicability in the corporate world. As employees in most businesses are expected to rapidly skill and re-skill to meet the demands of an evolving workplace, the importance of corporate learning programs cannot be understated. Learning analytics are incredibly important as they bring in the ability to accurately predict learning behavior of employees and appropriately create customized learning plans.

In sum, learning analytics are here and they are quietly revolutionizing the learning experience in classrooms and cubicles across the world. It would be a timely and worthwhile investment for any university or corporate entity alike as it not only helps learners excel like never before, but also ensures compliance with rapidly emerging new compliance frameworks.

Viswanath Subramaniam is Director and Head of Enterprise Platforms, and Sanjay Mohan is Senior Manager, IP Led Solutions, Product Engineering Services at Happiest Minds Technologies.

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Very Social Studies

A Texas teacher’s perspective on her unique students and their shift to digital textbooks.

GUEST COLUMN | by Stacy Brown

CREDIT Discovery Education Social Studies Techbook.pngI am a sixth grade Social Studies teacher for Burkburnett Independent School District in Burkburnett, Texas. My district is blessed, and all of our students have an iPad. The iPads are essential for my classroom as we regularly use rich online content in my class and have recently shifted to digital textbooks. As do most teachers, I too have students with different learning needs and abilities. The Social Studies “Techbook” we use has allowed me to connect with my students like never before. I received permission from three of my students’ parents to include them here. I wanted to pick a blend of students to share our experiences with you.

As any good teacher would do, we pull our lessons together from a variety of resources. The digital resource is our primary guide and where we always begin our planning.

Let me introduce three students with different learning abilities: vision impaired, dyslexic, and general education. I think it is unfair to single them out due to their disability, so they are just my students from here on out.

CREDIT Stacy Brown student1.pngKylie is a very bright child who enjoys learning. The digital textbook will read everything to her. She can and does use a text-to-speech feature to complete some of her assignments. She enjoys typing, but there are some days where that is not desired. She has the ability to toggle back and forth from typing or text-to-speech to record her answers. Kylie is able to adjust her learning in a personalized way which allows her to keep up with her classmates.

CREDIT Stacy Brown student2.pngMy second student I would like to talk about is Brandon. He is a studious young man who learns by doing. He has learned to work around any limitations by using the tools provided in the digital resource. He consistently uses the feature to have the text read to him while he follows along. Just like Kylie, he toggles back and forth using the keyboard and the text-to-speech component to record his responses.

CREDIT Stacy Brown student3.pngMy third student is Brealie. She has an active mind and enjoys learning at her own pace. She prefers to be in control and is very inquisitive when something grabs her attention.

We do a lot of projects that involve collaboration and sharing ideas in my classroom. The Techbook’s text-to-speech continually enhances the literacy process for all of my students. The resource has built a bridge for many students with special literacy needs.

Throughout the year, I have modeled how to use the features in the digital textbook many times. I wanted everyone in the class the features, if they chose to. That alone has been the biggest blessing for all of my students who have different learning needs. Now, they all fit in because they can make adjustments for their learning needs and preferences.

Let’s face it, Social Studies has not always been an interesting topic for a lot of students. The online resource is uniquely designed, so there are continuous comparisons for history past and present. The students are more engaged when it has relevance to them.

This is my first year teaching with the Techbook. I am not going to lie; I was very overwhelmed with the wealth of information at my fingertips. Initially, I questioned why some topics were briefly mentioned in one chapter versus another, but I have learned the resource continually spirals with the majority of concepts. Every concept gets covered, but they are spread out through the school year. I firmly believe this has helped my students achieve mastery with different concepts because a concept does not “go away” when I am done teaching that chapter.

There are two teachers who teach sixth grade social studies at my school. We serve approximately 230 students. Between the two of us, we have approximately 16 years in social studies. I am technology driven, and she has used traditional textbooks in the past. This has been an interesting journey bringing in both of our teaching styles. Together, we are embracing the online capabilities more each day. As any good teacher would do, we pull our lessons together from a variety of resources. The digital resource is our primary guide and where we always begin our planning.

Our Techbook includes a Global News Wrap each week, based on current events. We watch the three to four minute video as a class first. Students are allowed to watch it a second time on their own before they pick one topic to take a position on. Then they complete a writing prompt in their Assignment Builder. Some students type; while others use text-to-speech. I always remind them to speak into the microphone like it should be written for an English teacher. I believe this will help them in other classes as well.

CREDIT Discovery Education global wrap.pngHere is an example of how well our digital textbook spirals around events. The Global News Wrap for 02/01/17 discussed the wall that President Trump wants to build between Mexico and the United States. We had an depth class discussion about this event.

A few days later, we were continuing our unit on Europe. The topic for the day was, Overcoming the Berlin Wall, with the collapse of the Soviet Union and communism. In our digital textbook, snippets of video and text made the subject really come alive for the students.

Brealie was immediately intrigued. Her hand went up promptly, and she asked for me to pause for a moment. She wanted to know more about the wall President Trump wants to build compared to that of the Berlin Wall, which came down with the collapse of the Soviet Union. I told her that was a great question, and we would be looking at similarities and differences about both the following week. She asked if she could go ahead and start doing research on her own. As if I would tell her no! I was thrilled by her interest in both and her desire to learn more about them.

Previous generations used traditional textbooks and atlases that could not be updated until the next adoption and publication. It was impossible for them to stay up-to-date with current events and they were not designed to be interactive, either.

We live in a world where technology has provided instant access at our fingertips. I want my students to know how to take charge of their own learning in ways generations before them were not able to. Previous generations used traditional textbooks and atlases that could not be updated until the next adoption and publication. It was impossible for them to stay up-to-date with current events and they were not designed to be interactive, either.

Our digital textbook is a living document which updates as world events do. It is also a safe environment for students to explore and do research in. We always begin class research in it. I will be the first to admit, there are times when I feel my students are teaching me something new about their digital textbook. I love and welcome these moments. They allow me to demonstrate my eagerness to learn while collaborating with my students. I hope this type of learning will continue being used in my district for many years to come.

Stacy Brown is a teacher at Burkburnett ISD in Burkburnett, Texas. She graduated from Midwestern State University with a BS in Social Studies 4-8 and from University of Texas at Arlington with a Masters in Educational Leadership and Policy Studies. She has been teaching for 10 years, married for 27 years, and is as excited as ever about the upcoming school year. Write to:

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The Helping Kind

A dedicated educator brings a big heart, meaning, and joy to learning.

INTERVIEW | by Victor Rivero


Title: Assistant Professor, Educational Leadership; Facilitator, C.A.M.P. Osprey – connecting students with athletes, mentors.

Org: Taylor Leadership Institute, University of North Florida – Jacksonville

Reach: High school students, teachers, education leadership.

Fame: 2017 EdTech Awards honoree

Quote: “To overcome geographic and financial barriers faced by our high-poverty, urban/rural partners throughout the nation, we harness the use of ‘virtual leadership mentoring’ and videoconferencing technology.”

Looking ahead: “Hopefully, this is just the beginning of an educational mentoring network that will connect university faculty and students with K-12 teachers and students to positively impact learning and leadership development.”

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If you look closely, you’ll see them everywhere: dedicated, passionate people who take immense pleasure in helping others. A 2017 EdTech Award honoree, Matthew Ohlson is a great example of such a person. Through his work with CAMP Osprey, Matthew (pictured above holding his 2017 EdTech Award with ardent supporter UNF Dean of the College of Education and Human Services Diane Yendol-Hoppey) has demonstrated his commitment to using whatever tools he can, applying those to bring others around him up. CAMP (Collegiate Achievement Mentoring Program) Osprey is a leadership-mentoring program in which collegiate student leaders serve as mentors to at-risk K-12 students. To overcome geographic and financial barriers faced by their high-poverty, urban/rural partners throughout the nation, “we harness the use of ‘virtual leadership mentoring’ and videoconferencing technology available on the UNF campus,” says Matthew, who works with a local school district to effect change. “The district is far from the resources of a major university, but through the virtual mentoring program, students are able to meet weekly with their collegiate mentors.”

I’ve made it an extremely effective practice to surround myself with those who challenge, inspire, and make me a better leader. 

The United Way and Jefferson Foundation featured this model as an exemplar for technology integration and community impact. In addition, the data from the pilot program has been presented at SITE, AACE, AERA and UCEA as well as numerous journals. Participants in the pilot program experienced increased GPA’s, increased attendance and decreased school suspensions as well as research presentations at AERA, SITE and UCEA.

Matthew has a Ph.D. in Educational Administration and Policy with a specialization in Curriculum and Instruction from the University of Florida. He also received comprehensive leadership training from the New York City Leadership Academy and the Schlechty / Hohmann Principals Academy. His K-12 experience includes roles as a 15-year teacher and school leader in the Boston Public Schools and the Florida Global School. In higher education, Matthew served as a clinical instructor at the University of Florida, Director of the nationally recognized C.A.M.P. mentoring program and leadership facilitator at the Lastinger Center for Learning. Matthew has also conducted comprehensive program evaluation for state agencies and helped to develop the new Florida Education Leadership Exam (FELE). Most recently, he served as an educational consultant with the Florida Department of Education, training educators and leaders throughout the state as they transition to the new curriculum standards.

In this exclusive EdTech Digest interview, he talks about the programs that matter to him, how they help others, who has helped him in his life, the power of technology in learning, and where he thinks it’s all heading.

What prompted to you to found CAMP Osprey?

Matthew: The Collegiate Achievement Mentoring Program (CAMP) idea was developed to create an intergenerational leadership mentoring partnership between collegiate student leaders and K12 students. The CAMP was based on an “apprenticeship” model where college students refined their own leadership abilities while teaching these same college and career ready skills to students in schools throughout the region. The CAMP program, now called CAMP Osprey at the University of North Florida,  has seen significant success in only the first two years of implementation including increases in program participants, increased student achievement and external funding to support on campus experiences for our mentees in grades 4-8. One major barrier we saw during our program expansion was reaching high-needs students who were restricted by time (scheduling) and geography (distance away from campus). The innovative use of virtual mentoring has helped us to expand our impact to mentor students in high-needs rural communities and schools as far away as Miami and Raleigh.

What does this mean for the students to connect with athletes, mentors? 

credit-matthew-olson-phd-putnam-county-fl-with-unf.pngMatthew: Our hands-on activities and leadership curriculum developed through my role at the Taylor Leadership Institute help to ensure that mentoring goes beyond just making friends but rather, towards a more significant, outcome-based experience. We expected the K-12 to change in a positive way and this has proven true with increased achievement, attendance and decreased behavioral issues. Yet, we never expected the positive outcomes experienced by the collegiate mentors including increased confidence, time management, ability to work with others and empathy.

This mentoring experience also helps to instill a fervent belief that college is attainable thanks to our face-to-face campus trips and our virtual field trips:

Who in your own life has been a mentor or inspiration? how/why?

Matthew: My parents, both urban teachers, served as my early mentors and inspired me to become an educator in the Boston Public Schools where I served proudly for more than 10 years. Recently, I’ve had the honor of being mentored by Ms. Muriel Summers of AB Combs Leadership Magnet Elementary (Raleigh, NC). I first met Muriel when she took a chance on a fledgling CAMP (Gator at UF) mentoring program and created our first multi-state mentoring partnership. From there, I have been able to learn from and with her unwavering support for doing what is best for students. Ironically, another leader who has served an inspiration was someone I am actually mentoring. I have been mentoring Dr. Earl Johnson of Matanzas High School each month and in that time, I’ve learned so much from him about being a humble, determined and servant leader. There are countless others and I’ve made it an extremely effective practice to surround myself with those who challenge, inspire, and make me a better leader.

When we look at ways to create opportunities to make education meaningful and make education joyful, where teacher strengths are touted and student passions are ignited—that’s where education is headed, those are the brights spots ahead.

What is the power of technology in learning?  

Matthew: As a former Principal with the amazing Florida Virtual School, I will never forget our foundational phrase: Any time, any place, any path, any pace. Technology can truly be a catalyst for change and a tool that can overcome barriers. First as a tool to bring the world to students – I’ve witnessed firsthand students from other cultures across the globe learning together in a virtual classroom, college professors from Research 1 Universities  teaching groundbreaking ideas to students in migrant faming communities and urban school students participating in virtual field trips in national parks and landmarks throughout the country. Technology also brings voice to students where regardless of learning strengths or styles, students can learn, share and collaborate in a way that gives every student the opportunity to be engaged and demonstrate deeper knowledge. Moving beyond traditional call and response and fear-inducing public presentations using a script or notecards, students can now use text to speech, animated videos, presentation software and variety if other tools to access, manipulate and present knowledge in a form that is engaging to each student.

Where is education heading? any bright spots ahead?

Matthew: When we look at ways to create opportunities to make education meaningful and make education joyful, where teacher strengths are touted and student passions are ignited—that’s where education is headed, those are the brights spots ahead. Rather than focusing solely on the gaps and weaknesses, we can start to look at the gifts and talents of our students and educators and expand upon them. I believe choice should also be at the heart of the direction we are headed. Are we offering students choice in the learning path, their potential career path, etc.? For example, look at the ways that Flagler County Schools, a small rural district in Florida, has been creating dynamic “Flagship programs” where students can learn specialize in tracts in fields such as Aerospace and robotics to financial literacy and even a firefighting academy. Phase 2 of the UNF CAMP Osprey model will be harnessing this idea with leaders in career fields serving as mentors to aspiring scientists, engineers, artists, educators and executives. The face-to-face and virtual mentoring process and resources are universal and are being piloted in schools where experienced teachers and principals are mentoring beginners in the field to offer support, guidance and the sharing of best practices.

What purposes did you begin with getting into the education field that are now being fulfilled?

Matthew: I wanted to make a difference in the community where I grew up, Boston. As my role expanded and I saw so many needs in the field of education, I felt that pursuing my Ph.D. from a place like the University of Florida would allow me to implement policies and practices that I know would eventually help students and teachers. These dreams have become a reality where I have been able to create a mentoring program at three major universities (UF, UNF and NC State), help leaders in districts throughout the nation to develop a school culture that leads to significant and lasting change and to use technology to bring equity and resources to those students often bypassed in our current system.

Any words of wisdom to other educators out there regarding their impact on students? 

Matthew: With many of the schools I work with, I use a performance framework focused on consistent monitoring of the ways each educator is making a difference in the life of a child. Not vision statements that collect dust or overwhelming evaluation models, a simple process where every week, every staff member in the school takes 5 minutes to document the impact they made: in the life of a child, with a colleague, with a parent/guardian/community member. Each week the theme changes between student, colleague and greater school community member. This simple process serves numerous functions- it build s a strong school community focused on collective impact, it allows for a clear opportunity for positive reflection to show that you are making a difference and can show opportunities for growth when the evidence is not present. My advice always remains grounded in the positive impact you are making as an educator, a school leader and as a policy maker.

Anything else you care to add or emphasize about CAMP Osprey, your work, edtech, anything? 

Matthew: The collaboration between the UNF College of Education and Human Services, The Taylor Leadership Institute, UNF Admissions and our community partners has been instrumental in our implementation, expansion and success. In addition, throughout the semester we embed the themes of leadership, happiness, success and service from  the following videos and empower our participants to demonstrate how they:

Through the power of edtech, we would love to see the EdTech Digest “family” look at ways to expand this replicable model/network of “virtual” leaders.

Excellent! Let’s do that. Alright well thank you, Matthew, and again congratulations on your continued success.

Matthew: Thank you!

Victor Rivero is the Editor-in-Chief of EdTech Digest. Write to:

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