States: Ed tech is raising student achievement

This fall, nine states will be presenting their findings after three years of federally funded research into technology’s impact on teaching and learning–and an early look at these findings shows some promising results.

In West Virginia, for example, a program to provide school-based professional development in the use of classroom technologies has led to more widespread use of technology by teachers and students–and that increase, in turn, has been linked with achievement gains in reading and math.

In Texas, a program that gave laptop computers to students and teachers in some middle schools has been shown to improve school communications, reduce discipline referrals, and level the playing field for students from low-income families. At least one of the participating schools has gone from being a “low-performing campus” to meeting Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP), and parents and staff attribute these gains to the laptop project.

In Iowa, a statewide professional development program that uses peer networking and video conferencing to help change teaching practices has resulted in measurable gains in student achievement. Eighth-grade students reportedly have improved their math scores by an average of 14 points, fourth-graders have improved their reading scores by an average of 13 points, and fourth graders have improved their math scores by 16 points on average.

And in Arkansas, a program in which students use technology to solve real-world problems is having a significant impact. Students involved in the project are more likely to graduate from high school and more likely to go on to college than are their peers. Their achievement scores also tend to be higher than the scores of their peers from more traditional classrooms, officials say.

West Virginia, Texas, Iowa, and Arkansas are among the nine states that have received a total of $15 million in “Evaluating State Educational Technology Projects” grants from the U.S. Department of Education (ED) over the last three years. The other states are Maine, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, and Wisconsin.

The grants funded states’ efforts to provide scientifically based research into the impact of large-scale, technology-based projects on student achievement in elementary and secondary schools. Participating states contracted with local universities or other private evaluators to measure the impact of technology on teaching and learning, and they are expected to submit their final reports from these studies to ED officials this fall.

Mary Ann Wolf, executive director of the State Educational Technology Directors Association (SETDA), says an early look at some of these reports offers encouraging results. Wolf’s organization is working with eight of the nine states to disseminate their research findings through a SETDA-run web site.

The grants “have only exceeded expectations in terms of their … potential for improving education,” she said. “States and their research partners addressed important questions [regarding] the [impact] of technology on areas such as student achievement, teacher quality, and instruction, and [they] carefully addressed the context in which technology makes an important difference.”

In comparing the results from demographically similar control and experimental schools, Wolf said, state researchers have found some significant differences in areas such as student engagement, achievement, and discipline.

These differences are especially pronounced when certain factors are in place, she added, such as high-quality, ongoing professional development in the use of technology to support learning; effective school leadership; and a curriculum that personalizes instruction.

Previews of these states’ reports have come just a few months after ED released a major ed-tech research report of its own. That report, which touched off a firestorm of controversy in the ed-tech community when it appeared in April, shows that the use of certain software programs to help teach reading and math in some 439 classrooms did not lead to higher test scores after a year of implementation. (See ED study slams software efficacy.)

Critics of ED’s software study, including Wolf, have noted that many of the factors necessary for ed-tech success appear not to have occurred in the schools involved in ED’s study. As a result, average use of the software programs in that study accounted for only about 10 or 11 percent of the total instructional time for the entire school year–well below what the products were designed for.

What ED’s software study demonstrates, and states’ experiences confirm, is that “without ongoing and sustainable professional development, access to tools and resources, and leadership, technology’s potential [in education] will not be maximized,” Wolf said.

Not all of the results from the state research were definitive. In Texas, where researchers compared the outcomes in 22 experimental and 22 control schools over two years, there were pockets of considerable improvement among laptop-using students–but no statistically significant difference in the overall reading scores of students with laptops and those without.

Through the state’s Technology Immersion Pilot (TIP), each teacher and student in grades six through eight in the 22 treatment schools received a wireless laptop computer loaded with productivity software, and they also had access to online curriculum and assessment tools. In addition, teachers received technology training and ongoing support.

“We’re still looking at the preliminary results on student achievement,” said lead researcher Kelly Shapley of Shapley Research Associates. “There may be some effects, but we need more time to see the results. … We regard these as formative data, not summative outcomes.”

Still, the students in the pilot schools tended to be much more engaged in their lessons, did not have as many discipline problems, and demonstrated more interaction with their peers, Shapley said. And there was a significant increase in the pilot students’ proficiency with technology, which has narrowed the gap considerably between economically disadvantaged students and their peers.

In fact, she said, students in the pilot schools had passed their peers in the control schools in terms of technology proficiency by the end of the second year.

At Brady Middle School in Brady, Texas, students were testing below the state average in sixth, seventh, and eighth grade reading and math before the laptop project and above the state average in all of these areas two years later. As a result, the school has progressed from being a “low-performing campus” to meeting AYP.

“There is no doubt in the minds of our students, teachers, administrators, and parents that this would not have been achieved without TIP,” says Eric Bierman, the school’s principal. “The students have become more responsible for their learning, more active in their participation in the classroom, and much more knowledgeable about the role of technology in problem solving and learning.”


SETDA’s state research page

Technology Immersion Pilot



Aruba Networks

AVerMedia Technologies



Dell Inc.

Discovery Education

EarthWalk Communications

Excelsior Software

Extron Electronics

Follett Software Co.

MAXIMUS Inc./SchoolMax

Mitsubishi Digital Electronics America

NComputing Co.

NetSupport Inc.


SMART Technologies Inc.

Troxell Communications Inc.


Atomic Learning Inc.

AVPresentations Inc.


Dell Inc.



LenSec LLC

Panasonic Projector Systems

PLATO Learning Inc.

Pokemon USA Inc.

Promethean Technologies Group





Document cameras provide NO LIMIT! to learning math

The act of constructing–not memorizing–knowledge takes a great deal of energy and activity. It demands collaboration, real-world tools, critical thinking, creativity, and a genuine desire to learn. Knowledge construction also is exciting. It engages the learner and opens up a limitless world of self-directed inquiry.

In 248 Washington state classrooms, you can mark the moment when a struggling math learner constructs–not reproduces–new knowledge about mathematics. A simple document camera, coupled with a learner-centered teaching style, is the key. Empower the learner. Use a simple, real-world technology.

Over the past six years, the NO LIMIT! (New Outcomes: Learning Improvement in Mathematics Integrating Technology) project has transformed the learning environment in these classrooms, primarily in grades five through nine. We provide funds for NO LIMIT! projects from the competitive portion of the state’s Title II, Part D (Enhancing Education Through Technology) grants.

Working closely with the school districts at the outset, we created a standards-based platform that triangulates technology (document cameras), instructional materials, and a sustainable framework for collegial professional development.

The NO LIMIT! model is structured enough to deliver academic rigor, but sufficiently open-ended to encourage creativity and new ideas. The results speak for themselves.

Figure it out. Share it with the class.

Real-world technology integrates easily into a learner-centered environment where teachers are free to coach, guide, and lead their students to new understandings of mathematics. NO LIMIT! students work alone or in pairs to document their thinking about a new concept. During the summary of the math lesson, they share their ideas with the class by projecting the work through a document camera. Guided by the teacher, these students explain their thought process and solutions to each other.

Integrating the simple technology of a document camera blurs the line between teachers and learners. As students learn from each other, as well as from the teacher, the result has been remarkable–students develop real confidence in their ability to understand, apply, and demonstrate their unique mastery of mathematics.

The NO LIMIT! classroom promotes a constructivist learning environment. Students collaborate and discuss their work, learning and developing what it is they are trying to communicate about the lesson. The children bring their paper work to the document camera, rethinking their ideas out loud as they explain them to the class. The document camera is fast and easy to set up. Teachers report that dispensing with the need to make an overhead transparency keeps the focus on the students’ work. As one teacher wrote to us, “The document camera and projector lets students share on the spot. Things move quicker, since we don’t have to rewrite or make transparencies.”

Another comment from one of our teachers captures how the NO LIMIT! approach can transform the learner and the teacher: “The more I watch kids and examine their work, the more I understand how kids think and learn. I tried some interview assessments this year, and it really changed how I taught the content. I knew better where to start teaching!”

She is not alone with this perception. As we evaluate the longer-term outcomes of this project, we see clearly that the more opportunities a teacher has to observe how students share work and explain their thinking, the more this learner-centered approach illuminates how children learn. The teacher becomes a learner, too, as he or she listens carefully to understand student thinking.

NO LIMIT! students are free to share their unique way of approaching a new idea as they explore, internalize, and apply an unfamiliar math concept. Documenting the way they figured out the solution to a problem, they step naturally through the stages of knowledge construction–connecting and reshaping old ideas, and identifying how the new schema matches similar concepts within their experience.

Here’s a sampling of the anecdotal feedback from NO LIMIT! teachers:

    •”[Students] all feel they are teachers as well as learners–powerful stuff!”

    • “Students are motivated by other students when they get the ah-has. They are excited because they understand.”

    • “My students like to learn from each other. When one of their peers explains how [he or she] figured out a math problem, you can watch the light come on.”

    • “I noticed that sometimes students are more able to grasp a concept if another student is showing how [he or she] solved the problem.”

Build confidence.

Build equity among learners.

Clearly, students are more willing to share their work when they have a document camera to use, partly because the document camera makes showing their work so much easier.

However, there is a deeper, more significant change at work in a NO LIMIT! classroom. The NO LIMIT! learning environment is less threatening to the shy child or the student who lacks confidence in his or her language skills.

Teachers report that NO LIMIT! students are really eager to explain their thinking to their classmates without the normal self-consciousness that plagues children from different cultural backgrounds, and those with limited language proficiency.

In one particularly successful implementation, Hispanic students who are learning to speak English in kindergarten and first grade in Paterson (a small town in southeastern Washington) found the document camera to be an electronic friend that has given them confidence to try their limited vocabulary in front of the class.

And here is where the document camera provides an enormous assist to the teacher: This simple technology draws class attention to the work, not the student presenter. Under the light of the document camera, smart ideas and skillful solutions speak through the child.

Teachers tell us that children who are reluctant to speak out become keen to share their ideas. During the debriefing session that followed a lesson presentation at Paterson School District, one teacher told me, “It was impressive to see how comfortable some of the kids were sharing–shy students coming out of their shell.”

The director of the English Language Learners program at Paterson encouraged teachers to combine math and language lessons. He suggested they plan sentences in English that each student could repeat before starting a presentation. For example, “I think that the answer is [X] because [Y]”. When many students repeat a phrase exactly, they reinforce the correct syntax of a sentence in English as they explain their math lesson.

The gain for many of our NO LIMIT! educators is a clear increase in the number of English-language learners willing to use the document camera to share their work and learn from others.

Build a learning community for educators.

We modeled a unique professional development program for NO LIMIT! projects, anchored by three fundamentals: (1) Build a learning community among all NO LIMIT! educators. (2) Deepen the math content knowledge of teachers. (3) Share effective strategies for mathematics instruction.

NO LIMIT! funding pays for the document cameras and high-value instructional support materials.

In the classroom, the principles of our unique professional development model have a direct and positive impact on the confidence of these math teachers and the rising level of student engagement with the math curriculum.

We count these important principles as lessons learned from the NO LIMIT! experience:

    •Engage school administrators. The active involvement of school administrators is critical. We need their understanding and support for the instructional approach and the new ideas evolving from the NO LIMIT! learning community.

    •Know more about state standards. Educators respond to, and find great value in, expanding their understanding of state standards–Washington’s Grade Level Expectations–and learning how to use these tools to improve instruction.

    •Create high-proficiency users. Technology integration is only possible when educators know how to use learning technologies–a document camera, projector, laptop computer, and so on. High-proficiency users can explore the potential of these tools to support project-based learning and create a constructivist environment for powerful teaching.

    •Build equity in the classroom. Technology integration can help an educator address diverse learning styles. When we reach and teach students where they live–in a digital world–we open new channels for communication, achievement, and self-expression.

The NO LIMIT! project demonstrates that technology can be a key that unlocks a child’s ability to communicate in a way that honors cultural background and life experience. By creating learner-centered classrooms where students construct their own knowledge, the project also dispels the idea that math is too hard.

Dennis Small is the educational technology director for the Washington Superintendent of Public Instruction’s office. Mary Anderson is the NO LIMIT! math integration specialist at Educational Service District 123 in Pasco, Wash.


New tools from Promethean support student engagement, teacher development

Promethean has released a new tool for promoting student engagement and assessment, and a new online solution for supporting teacher effectiveness.

Promethean’s Activexpression is a personal response system that empowers students to participate in lessons from their desks quickly and easily, expressing themselves through words, phrases, and numbers–instantly sharing with the entire class through the company’s Activboard interactive whiteboard system. With the product’s two-way radio communication system, teachers can transmit information directly to students, making Activexpression a powerful collaboration tool, Promethean says.

Another new service, Promethean Learning, is an online program that combines interactivity, assessment, and just-in-time professional development. Designed to support ongoing teacher effectiveness, Promethean Learning is an interactive professional development program that helps teachers build capacity, obtain certificates, and collaborate with their peers.

(888) 652-2848


NetSupport School offers a complete solution for computer instruction, monitoring, and testing

As the use of computers and the internet in education grows, so does the need for managing the learning process in networked classrooms. With NetSupport School computer lab software, instructors are able to better instruct, monitor, test, and support students in networked classrooms. The newest version of NetSupport School includes features that enable print management, device management, instant-messenger monitoring, keyboard monitoring, enhanced internet and application monitoring, enhanced testing and control, Windows Vista support, and much more.

NetSupport School is a software-only classroom instruction, monitoring, and testing tool that enables instructors to train students in the computer lab, simply and effectively. With NetSupport School, instructors can make sure that those in the computer lab are making progress on their assigned tasks, using only approved applications and visiting only approved web sites. Instructors also can record all screen, keyboard, and mouse activity on a student’s workstation to review later or replay to the class. From the standpoint of increasingly strapped technology budgets, the software enables instructors to make the most of the computer lab equipment they already have.

(888) 665-0808


Turn any projector into a wireless device with NewSoft’s new

NewSoft Inc. has unveiled a new wireless projector adaptor, the WMS 100, that allows users to connect their Wi-Fi (802.11a/b/g)-enabled Windows laptops to any projector wirelessly, making presentations easy and efficient.

With the WMS 100, presenters can broadcast from anywhere in the room, and the solution also allows others to access the same projector when additional information is needed that is not on the presenter’s own laptop.

The WMS 100 is compatible with virtually all projectors with VGA connectivity, and its high frame rate (up to 15 frames per second) ensures the smooth display of embedded video clips during presentations, NewSoft says. It includes WEP 64/128-bit data encryption for security.

The solution includes a hardware receiver, AC power adapter, software installation CD-ROM, quick installation guide, and three software license keys (allowing up to three people at a time to access a projector or presentation). Additional licenses also are available.

(408) 503-1200


Latest Toshiba project includes a detachable document camera

Toshiba’s Digital Products Division has introduced a new DLP projector, the TDP-SC35U, that comes with detachable document camera and sells for $899. The detachable document camera allows users to display transparencies, photos, two- and three-dimensional objects, or live demonstrations onto a projector screen, television, or monitor during a presentation or trade show.

The projector features 2,000 ANSI lumens, a 2,000-to-1 contrast ratio, and native SVGA (800 x 600) resolution. The projector also features two computer inputs, composite and S-video inputs, audio in/out capabilities, and a monitor output connector that allows users to view presentations from an external display in addition to what is projected on the screen.

By extending the TDP-SC35U’s document camera arm and positioning it almost anywhere, users can incorporate photo samples, printed documents, blueprints, microscopic images, three-dimensional objects, or close-up views of demonstrations. In an educational setting, the camera can be used to allow students to demonstrate how a problem was solved, to incorporate a science experiment, or to highlight how a piece of mechanical equipment was repaired, for example.

Weighing just 8.6 pounds, the TDP-SC35U projector includes digital keystone correction and a fully loaded remote control.


Create your own podcasts with this solution from Tool Factory

Tool Factory has introduced a new product, called Tool Factory Podcasting, that combines a number of different aspects needed to create your own podcast–a scripting tool, a sound recorder, easy uploading, and built-in broadcasting–into one easy interface.

Tool Factory Podcasting comes with podcasting software that allows users to create, record, and upload their podcasts with “point-and-click” mouse skills; a subscription to the company’s Clip Art Station, which allows users to download pictures and audio files for use in their podcasts; and a How-to Guide. With Tool Factory Podcasting, teachers can record lessons, students can build class projects, and parents can take part in daily classroom activities by listening online. Students, parents, and community members can subscribe to the podcasts for automatic downloads of new episodes.

Tool Factory Podcasting is available as a single unit for $99.99 and as a building license for $999.99.

(800) 220-8386


Video curriculum aims to help students of all learning styles understand science

SRA/McGraw-Hill has introduced SRA Snapshots Video Science, a supplemental videotext program designed to teach core science concepts and key vocabulary to students in grades three through five. The combination of video lessons and student books is meant to help prepare students for new state-wide science assessments required for the first time during the 2007-08 school year by No Child Left Behind, the company says.

The program is intended to reach students of all learning styles. Students see science through SRA’s videotext lessons, hear science through narrators in English and Spanish, and read science in the Student Edition. Research has shown that video helps students more effectively retain content that is taught in the classroom–and for that reason, SRA Snapshots Video Science puts video at the center of every lesson.

Students learn challenging science vocabulary through a deliberate process of multiple exposures to new terms. Also included is a built-in test preparation feature intended to help students succeed on high-stakes science tests.

SRA Snapshots Video Science includes DVD video lessons, a teacher guide, teacher’s resource book, ExamView Assessment Suite CD-ROM, and Vocabulary Puzzlemaker CD-ROM. The program also provides differentiated instruction and support for English-language learners.

(888) 772-4543


New assistive learning systems help hearing-impaired students fully participate in class

Anchor Audio has introduced a new line of assistive learning systems (ALS) for hearing-impaired students. The new systems overcome background noise and distance by wirelessly bringing the teacher’s voice and related sounds directly to the ears of students with hearing loss. The direct-to-listener connection is meant to improve the speech-to-noise ratio and also negates echoes, poor acoustics, or other deficiencies of the educational environment, the company says.

The new ALS offerings don’t run on infrared, but instead operate on 16 UHF channels, meaning users can eliminate any interference from local broadcasting sources simply by flipping a dial on the microphone and receiver to change channels. The multiple channels also enable a single ALS receiver to be used for multiple purposes, including assistive listening, audio description, language translation, and allowing stage sound and audio description to be heard simultaneously. Until now, UHF wireless has been available only at high-end prices for entertainment industry users, Anchor Audio says.

Each basic assistive listening package includes one rack-mountable transmitter and four belt-pack receivers with ear bud headphones in a transportable carrying case. The base station transmitter has a range of up to 500 feet, depending on wall density and other wireless products in the area. Solutions with belt-pack transmitters and wireless microphones also are available.

(888) 444-6077