4 ways to make your class more engaging

New method called ‘Connected Learning’ aims to make courses more engaging for youth

engaging-class-connectedMobile technology and its use in the classroom is booming across the country; but outside of the ‘cool tech’ aspect, many educators struggle to understand why students find tech-connected classrooms more engaging. A new method of teaching and learning explains that it’s not about the technology–it’s about the four principles behind it.

Connected Learning, an educational approach designed by the Alliance for Excellent Education (AEE), says it harnesses the information age to make learning more powerful.

“For too many young people, particularly our most vulnerable populations, formal education is disconnected from other meaningful social contexts in their everyday lives,” explains AEE in a new brief. “The connected learning model posits that focusing educational attention on the links between different spheres of learning—peer culture, interests, and academic subjects—better supports interest-driven and meaningful learning in ways that take advantage of the potential of digital networks and online resources to provide access to an engaging learning experience.”

AEE cites a 2012 Gallup survey, which found that hundreds of thousands of students across the country are becoming increasingly disengaged in their education—especially high school students.

“Those who do not graduate from high school are not ready for [and do not seek] a college education,” notes the brief. College students who do not find courses engaging often are not ready for a career. Disengagement, emphasizes the report, not only comes with a price to the student, but to the economy.

(Next page: 4 ways to improve your course)


Technology is no substitute for a well-trained teacher

While technology may be useful to monitor students with special needs, it cannot replace the effectiveness of a skilled educator in the classroom

technology-teacher-substituteWith the reauthorization of the Individuals With Disabilities Education Improvement Act in 2004 (IDEIA 2004), Congress introduced the Response to Intervention and Instruction (RtII) framework as a way to address the diversity of students and learning issues in U.S. schools.

Through early identification and intervention with students who have language and cultural differences and learning delays, the framework promises to address problems early on, thereby decreasing the number of students incorrectly assigned to receive special education services.

States are likely to mandate RtII systems for local schools because it reduces the costs of providing special education services, a cost that falls heavily on state budgets.

(Next page: How different tools help fulfill the RtII framework)


Kids stay learning longer

Kids stay learning longer (distraction :60)

Students can get to learning faster, waste less time waiting, and stay learning longer with Chromebooks powered by Intel processors



Today’s students need fast, responsive electronic devices with long battery life—if the device they use to do school work takes too long to load something and forces them to constantly worry about battery life, it can be hard to keep them focused and engaged. They need to pick up their device, get going right away, and move from one thing to another quickly and easily. Teachers need this, too—the less time their students spend waiting for their devices to open an app or document, the sooner they can start learning and the more likely they are to be engaged and stay engaged instead of distracted or frustrated.

As more Chromebook™ models enter the market, it’s becoming harder for schools to choose the right one.

Engineering firm Principled Technologies put two Chromebooks through scenarios that included tasks such as watching a TED-Ed video and taking notes. They also looked at how long the two Chromebooks could keep running without a charge and how many frames per second they could deliver rendering an anatomy simulation.

Their research found that the Intel® processor-powered Chromebook aced the test, lasting over 57 percent longer unplugged and also delivering up to 50 percent less waiting in four student scenarios and twice as many frames per second while rendering an anatomy simulation. The report card is clear: With the Intel processor-powered Chromebook, students can get to learning faster, waste less time waiting, and stay learning longer. Clearly, the Intel processor-powered Chromebook is the better choice for schools.


New software lets teachers control student devices

Educators now have more options for gaining control over students’ mobile devices, helping them ensure students stay on task during lessons or testing


Mobile device management companies have begun adding classroom-based controls as well.

The lines are blurring between mobile device management (MDM) and classroom management software, as both now offer some classroom-level control over students’ mobile devices.

That’s good news for educators who are looking for more control over what students can access on their iPads, Chromebooks, and Android tablets during class—an ability that will be particularly useful for online testing.

When MDM software first emerged, it gave administrators an easy way to push out applications to tablets, smart phones, and other mobile devices, while keeping track of the contents and location of each device. Now, MDM providers have begun adding classroom-based controls as well.

Meanwhile, providers of traditional classroom management software—programs that allow teachers to see their students’ computer screens and freeze, control, or broadcast screens remotely—have begun releasing versions that work with iPads, Chromebooks, and Android devices, too.

The result is that educators now have more options for gaining control over student devices, helping them make sure their students stay on task during digital lessons or testing.

MDM software provider AirWatch earlier this year announced what it calls “Teacher Tools” to help teachers manage their students’ mobile device use.

Features include “All Eyes Up Front,” which freezes devices during whole-class instruction to remove distractions; “Single Application Mode,” which locks a student or a group of students into a certain application for a specified amount of time; and “Clear Passcode,” which enables teachers to clear and reset a student’s passcode without having to look up the device serial number.

“We developed Teacher Tools to help ensure mobile devices become a powerful resource for educators, instead of a hurdle for teachers,” said Preston Winn, director of business development for education.

The Teacher Tools functionality will be available this spring for managing iOS devices. Control of Android devices will be available this fall, AirWatch said.

JAMF Software, which specializes in Apple management tools, already enables teachers to control students’ iPad activity with its Casper suite of MDM software. A component of the suite, Casper Focus, allows teachers to handle routine device management tasks that normally would be time-consuming for IT departments, such as resetting passcodes, distributing eBooks, and preparing devices for online exams.

(Next page: More details about Casper Focus—and how classroom management software now offers some control over mobile devices as well)


eBook addresses internet safety, digital citizenship

Free download helps parents, teachers, and students with internet safety awareness

SOTW-internetFirst introduced during National Internet Safety Month in June, NBCUniversal’s The More You Know, in collaboration with NBC News, has launched Growing Up Online, a free, interactive eBook for parents, teachers, and kids about digital literacy and internet safety.

The first release from The More You Know Learning Series, Growing Up Online offers informative, media-rich tools to help parents in discussions with their children about using technology responsibly and safely, as well as entertaining video comic books focused on real-life situations that might arise when kids go online. The eBook features NBC News journalists including Brian Williams, Matt Lauer, Savannah Guthrie, Al Roker, and Dr. Nancy Snyderman speaking about the importance of keeping kids safe online.

Growing Up Online is available as a free download on Apple’s iBookstore for iPad and iPad Mini, Barnes and Noble’s Nook Tablet, Amazon’s Kindle Fire, Kobo, as well as online for desktop and laptop viewing at www.themoreyouknow.com.

“When 52 percent of children have access to a mobile device and one in three kids has experienced cyberbullying, we are proud to provide resources and tools so that people can address the pressing issue of how to navigate the digital world securely,” said Beth Colleton, NBCUniversal Senior Vice President of Corporate Social Responsibility.

In collaboration with leading experts from Common Sense Media and NetSmartz Workshop (an education program of the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children),Growing Up Online addresses the increasing concern around kids’ online privacy issues and cyberbullying in a unique way.

“We all have a part to play to ensure that our kids are navigating the digital world safely and responsibly” said Jim Steyer, CEO and Founder, Common Sense Media. “The eBook content is relevant and practical, and it’s organized to encourage conversations between parents and kids. With the right tools and guidance, every kid can thrive with media and technology.”


Engaging virtual field trip apps, resources

Virtual field trips can broaden students’ educational experiences and increase engagement

virtual-fieldOnce a foreign concept, virtual field trips and tours have skyrocketed in popularity, due in part to tight school budgets and a growth in classroom mobile technology tools.

Schools save time and money when students can explore national and international landmarks from their classrooms, and educators have access to a vast number of resources that expand students’ learning opportunities. Virtual field trips help engage students even at a time when financing such trips in person isn’t feasible.

As their application and popularity have grown, so, too, have organizations offering virtual field trip software and resources. From exploring national museums to navigating famous caves in France, there’s a virtual field trip for nearly everyone.

What’s your favorite virtual field trip or virtual tour? Make sure to let us know in the comments section below.

(Next page: Virtual field trips and tours)


Toolkit helps educators confront online privacy threats

New privacy toolkit for school leaders seeks to help school systems confront privacy issues when shopping for and using an online service provider


At its annual conference, the Consortium for School Networking (CoSN) released a detailed guide designed to help school officials follow federal laws on privacy issues– specifically the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) and the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA).

The guide, “Protecting Privacy in Connected Learning Toolkit,” was sponsored by Microsoft Corporation and endorsed by The Association of School Business Officials International. Harvard Law School’s Cyberlaw Clinic also assisted in its development, according to the official CoSN press release.

The toolkit’s purpose is to help school systems appropriately handle issues of privacy when shopping for and using an online service provider.

(Next page: Protecting yourself from online security threats)


Google Apps spur rise of new ed-tech market segment

Many companies now sell products aimed at making Google Apps even more useful for schools


Some of these companies were on hand at CUE’s annual conference to demonstrate their products.

Student use of Google Apps is on the rise, and Google Chromebooks have exploded in popularity within K-12 education. In response to these trends, a new niche market has emerged in ed tech, as many companies now sell products aimed at making these tools even more useful for schools.

Some of these companies were on hand at CUE’s annual conference in Palm Springs, Calif., last week to demonstrate their products.

The Toronto-based company Synergyse offers what it calls an “interactive training system” for Google Apps. The product gives schools an easy way to improve the productivity of staff and students by delivering user-friendly, guided instruction in how to use these tools, said Synergyse founder and CEO Varun Malhotra.

The training is accessible directly within Google Apps, so users don’t have to leave an application to learn how to use it. Synergyse is an extension for the Google Chrome operating system that integrates audio, text, and video guides into the Google Apps interfaces.

As of press time, Synergyse provided training for Google Gmail, Calendar, Drive, Sites, Docs, Sheets, and Slides. The product—which includes training in English, French, and Spanish—is hosted on the Google Cloud platform, and school leaders can generate reports on usage within their schools.

Synergyse costs $10 per full-time employee, per year, and if a school or district buys licenses for all of its employees, then student use of the product is free.

(Next page: A teacher dashboard that overlays Google Apps; a cloud-based web filter that integrates with Google Apps; and more)


7 digital curriculum implementation strategies

Key implementation steps can help a digital transition be as smooth as possible

digital-curricSchool leaders know how important it is to “make the move to digital”—ensuring students are able to access digital tools and resources to cultivate skills such as critical thinking, problem solving, and research and evaluation.

To support this digital push, a number of solutions have flooded the market in an attempt to help districts make this transition. But before school leaders choose and implement a solution, they must make sure they’re planning properly.

Here, Tom Arnett, a former math educator and an education research fellow at the nonprofit Clayton Christensen Institute, outlines how to evaluate and implement digital curriculum so that it empowers students and teachers.

The first and most important step, and also one of the biggest challenges in a digital curriculum transition, is vision.

(Next: More steps in designing a digital curriculum rollout)