3 ways to avoid summer ‘brain drain’

The summer slide impacts students more than you might think–here are 3 strategies you can use to combat it

summer-brainStudents and teachers usually can’t wait for summer–students, to have a break from classes, and teachers, to catch up on professional development and reflect on the previous school year, all while preparing for the start of the next school year.

Three strategies can help students, teachers, administrators, and community members improve educational outcomes, at the same time avoiding the summer slide and disconnectedness that comes from summer break.

These strategies have the added benefit of fitting into the regular school year, said Melissa Whipple, retired Family Outreach and Engagement Trainer at San Diego Unified Schools, who outlined the three approaches.

(Next page: Three summer strategies)


The Minnesota Tundra can’t freeze personalized literacy

Lakeville Area Public Schools will strategically continue to build the context, pathways and tools for world-class, personalized learning


The Lakeville Area Public Schools’ (LAPS) vision of world-class, personalized learning has driven and accelerated our work in digital learning both inside and outside of the classroom.

Personalized learning has the promise of providing anytime-learning, anywhere-learning, at-your-level-learning, and learning aligned to students’ interests. For LAPS, “world-class” means preparing students for the world they will encounter when they leave our high schools for college and/or for the work force and providing model 21st century learning environments that others want to emulate.

To meet this future, LAPS needed to create learning opportunities and choices that meet our students’ academic needs and focus on their strengths, goals, and passions. Over the past two years, we have implemented myriad digital tools and resources that have better prepared our students and brought us closer to achieving our vision.

LAPS began a full implementation of Google Apps for Education during the 2013-2014 school year – giving students and staff access to 21st century communication, collaboration and creation tools. In the fall of 2014, the district implemented Schoology, a learning management system where our students can create, manage and share academic content. The platform has allowed learning to extend beyond the school day and beyond the school walls.

Students can access classroom content and progress at their own pace using digital content created by staff. Also this past fall, the eight elementary schools began using myON Reader, a digital library accessible on the web anytime that provides students with a virtual library of over 7,000 books at their fingertips.

(Next page: Embracing a culture of innovation)


Blended learning simplified and explained in video

Director of Personalized Professional Learning in Denver Public Schools Ben Wilkoff on why blended learning is much simpler than we have tried to make it

blended-learning-videoYou would never ask students to write without giving them something to write with. You would never ask students to read without the right reading materials.

You would never ask a student to collaborate with other students without giving them the right guidelines, processes and tools to do so. For the same reasons, you should never ask a student to learn without allowing for blended learning.

Blended learning is really just learning, using ALL of the tools at our disposal.

When a student needs a mobile device to look something up on the fly, they should have access to one. When they need access to paper and markers for demonstrating their ideas, they should have access to those.

When they need access to a collaborative document to work with experts outside of their classroom, they should have access to that. These should be expectations in our classrooms. This type of access breeds equity.

In this video, I walked around Denver talking about why blended learning is much simpler than we have tried to make it.

It isn’t about the percentage of online and face-to-face work kids are taking part in, but rather doing things that weren’t previously possible, using the right technology that allows for the deepest learning. This video is a part of a broader movement for 2 Minute PD, started by a Stanford Design School fellow, Melissa Pelochino.

In this movement, we are trying to create bite sized pieces of professional learning for teachers so that they have practical guidance for what to do TOMORROW in their classrooms. If you want to take part or find out more, here are the instructions.

Ben Wilkoff is the Director of Personalized Professional Learning in Denver Public Schools.


Eleven new ed-tech services to know about

These emerging ed-tech services were participants in the SIIA’s Innovation Incubator program for spring 2014


‘Mosa Mack: Science Detective’ was one of two Educators’ Choice winners.

A “discovery engine” that uses a personalized search service to help professionals find reputable online degree programs from accredited universities, and an assessment application that allows teams of instructors to grade documents online, were among the new ed-tech services recognized for their promise by the Software and Information Industry Association’s Education Division.

The SIIA’s Innovation Incubator Program identifies and supports ed-tech entrepreneurs in their development and distribution of innovative learning technologies.

The program is open to applicants from academic and nonprofit institutions, pre-revenue and early-stage companies, and established companies with newly developed technologies. Ten finalists and one alternate were recognized during the SIIA’s 2014 Education Industry Summit in San Francisco May 12-14.

Summit participants chose Ranku as the service Most Likely to Succeed. A “discovery engine” for online degrees, Ranku uses personalized search through LinkedIn and Facebook to help adults find reputable online degrees from accredited nonprofit universities that struggle to attract students.

Crowdmark was the ed-tech service judged Most Innovative. It’s a web-based application that facilitates the collaborative assessment of documents on a large scale. Crowdmark makes it easy for instructors to assemble and manage teams of qualified markers for large classes such as Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs).

Two services tied as the Educators’ Choice: ClassFlow, a free software program from Promethean that facilitates collaborative teaching with technology, and Mosa Mack: Science Detective, an online library of animated science mysteries for middle school students. These inquiry-based activities are designed to empower all students, but especially underrepresented populations such as girls and minorities.

Smart Science, a series of interactive, video-based online science labs for students in grades 4-12, was voted the runner-up in the Most Likely to Succeed category. Nepris, an online platform that connects STEM teachers with industry experts in order to expose students to real job skills and role models, was the runner up as Most Innovative new ed-tech service.

Here are the other four Innovation Incubator participants:


New: 11 of the best iOS and Android apps

Educational apps, aimed at students and teachers, can help boost productivity and achievement

apps-2014Apps are some of the most popular tools in education, and with good reason–they’re easily accessible on mobile devices and can provide quick and targeted help.

Understanding how, when, and why to use apps gives teachers and students deeper understanding of how these relatively new tools can support student learning, teacher instruction, and day-to-day organization and management.

Here, we’ve gathered 11 apps that are useful, educational, help with organization, or are just plain fun. Do you have a favorite educational app that you use with students, colleagues, or for yourself? Be sure to mention it in the comments section below.

(Next page: 11 useful educational apps)


How do teachers use technology?

National data on all public school teachers reveals teacher technology use across the U.S.

teacher-technology-infographic In education it’s easy to get data from one school, district, or even state. But obtaining national data, encompassing most of the teachers in the U.S., is no easy feat, and breaking that data into technology use is even rarer. However, that’s exactly what the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) accomplished.

The data compiled by the NCES is one of the most comprehensive breakdowns of how teachers use technology in classrooms, from professional development to its use in parent and student communication. It also details the availability of the technology, and whether or not teachers make use of it.

What’s interesting to note, is that technology availability and use don’t differ as dramatically across geographically, and perhaps socio-economically, diverse schools and districts as many may think—perhaps computers really are ubiquitous these days.

There is one catch, however: The data, which is the most current in terms of scope, is from 2009. Interestingly enough, this snapshot of a few years ago leads to some interesting thoughts, such as:

  • Would incorporating the use of social media for learning in the classroom be as low today as it was in 2009?
  • Do teachers still use eMail as the main form of communication to contact parents?
  • Would the most used software in 2009 (gradebooks) be the most used today?
  • If data was collected on the scope and depth of technology used by teachers today, would computers still be the only device measured, or would tablets and smartphones also be included?

Supposedly, the NCES will have teacher technology use data available soon from the 2013 survey. Be sure to check back, as surely this data will have some interesting results of its own!

(Next page: Teacher technology use infographic)


Past Google’s first page: Gauging students’ global search skills

Digging deeper into Google’s search functionality leads students to surprising discoveries


Gil C / Shutterstock.com

“Did he seriously just ask that? How old is this guy?” Well yes, I recently seriously just asked a group of students if they knew how to use Google. And yes, the students got a good laugh from my question.

“Of course I know how to use Google,” I have been told by every student to whom I have asked the question.

“Really? Let’s see. This won’t take long,” I promise.

The truth is that every student can use Google on some level. What is interesting to me is that when I interview students about their search strategies and I ask them if they have ever asked their teachers for help with a search the answer is almost always, “No”. What if our students are overconfident about their search skills?

If you watch your students use Google you will probably observe that most begin their search by simply typing the title of the assignment verbatim into Google (i.e., Iranian Hostage Crisis). They do this partly because this technique can yield satisfying answers to basic questions, and because in many cases they haven’t been explicitly taught to do anything else. It is the easy way out that does not require much in the way of critical thinking.

(Next page: Digging deeper into Google search strategies)


Instant logins among the latest ed-tech innovations

In his latest column on ed-tech innovations, Editorial Director Dennis Pierce highlights a new platform that allows for instant login to any software with a single click—and five other innovations.


A new platform that allows for instant login to any software with a single click, and a “differentiated learning algorithm” that gives students personalized support inside or outside of school, are among the latest ed-tech innovations I’ll be highlighting this week.

Faster, simpler logins

Teachers of young students can spend up to a quarter of their class time just making sure all their students are logged into the software they’re trying to use, according to a survey of educators by The MDR Group.

The survey was commissioned by the San Francisco ed-tech company Clever, which has made its name over the last few years by offering a cloud-based data interoperability solution for schools. Now, Clever has announced a new service called Instant Login, which enables teachers and students to access all of their software with just a single click—eliminating the need for separate user names and passwords.

“Schools are using more software than ever before, but teachers will tell you that the amount of time spent dealing with user names and passwords has gotten out of control,” said Tyler Bosmeny, CEO of Clever, in a press release.

In the MDR survey, 80 percent of teachers said they would use software more often in their classes if it took less time to log in.

As with Clever’s interoperability solution, the success of the Instant Login initiative will depend on publishers of educational software getting behind the effort, allowing their software to work with Clever’s technology.

Clever offers its interoperability service to schools for free, and the company charges software providers for the right to take part. With Instant Login, Clever is offering the service to both schools and software providers free of charge.

Clever is beta testing the solution in several schools systems now, including California’s Oakland Unified School District. The company expects to offer it to schools nationwide this summer.

Instant Login “is dramatically changing how we use software,” said John Krull, information technology officer for the Oakland USD, in a press release. “As part of our district’s blended and personalized learning strategy, we plan to offer our schools a wide selection of apps that are ‘Cleverized’ and ready to go. This will save us time in adopting and implementing new software and improve the classroom experience for teachers and students.”

As of press time, companies that have expressed support for the Instant Login solution included Capstone Digital, ClassDojo, Code.org, Common Sense Media’s Digital Passport, DreamBox Learning, Lightspeed Systems’ MyBigCampus, Remind101, and Think Through Math.

Clever isn’t the only ed-tech company trying to simplify user logins. For instance, EduTone has created a cloud-based single sign-on platform for schools, called the EduTone Xchange.

The service enables schools to aggregate, manage, and deliver web-enabled applications and content to students and teachers by role—giving them “quick and seamless access from a single point-and-click widget on any device and operating system,” EduTone says.

(Next page: Personalized learning—with a twist)


Teachers can help students boost reading comprehension

Reading is often a challenge, but teachers can use these free resources to help students’ achievement

reading-SOTWReadWorks is a nonprofit organization that provides online research-based K-8 curriculum and guidance in reading comprehension directly to teachers, for free, to be shared broadly. Its mission is to improve teacher effectiveness in teaching reading comprehension, to increase student achievement.

ReadWorks’ curriculum aligns to the Common Core and state standards. Its hundreds of lessons and thousands of reading passages/question sets are leveled to help teachers differentiate, meeting students where they are developmentally, with grade-level appropriate and engaging texts.

ReadWorks addresses a critical pain point for teachers by providing free, high-quality curriculum that can be implemented immediately within the practical realities of classrooms. That begins to establish a consistent pedagogical approach. It engage teachers over time to help them fundamentally and permanently improve their practice and the success of their students in reading comprehension.

K-8 students around the country can build skills by reading hundreds of engaging articles written by some of today’s top journalists through a new collaboration between ReadWorks and Narratively, a premium platform devoted to original, in-depth and untold stories. The partnership launched last summer in time for back-to-school in the fall of 2013.

The nonfiction and literary articles are written by reporters who have worked for media organizations such as The New York Times, New York magazine, CNN, NPR, MediaStorm, The New Yorker, and the BBC. Half of the Narratively articles on ReadWorks align to the recently released Next Generation Science Standards, with the other half representing essential social studies topics, original fiction, and original reporting.