How Apple can improve students struggling with writing

Apple’s iBooks Author and Book Creator is an opportunity for students to have a global audience for their writing

writing-common coreI was teaching special education students in grades 5 and 6 in an inner city school in Canton. Time was going by and students continued to struggle with writing. I was determined to make a difference and change these students for the better. They were going to become great writers if it killed me.

While my goals were commendable, they weren’t being achieved to the degree I wanted. Then, two years ago, Apple introduced a software product called iBooks Author and things would change for me forever.

For the first time people were given the opportunity to self-publish in an easy manner. I saw this software as an opportunity for students to have a global audience for their writing. Blogs and other ways of having a global audience have been around for a while but this was something truly different and I ran with it. Students were excited to be writing for someone other than their teacher. Engagement increased. Time on task increased and the energy in the classroom changed to something you can normally only dream of.

Within three months we had written and published three iBooks in Apple’s iBookstore. We were graphing the downloads in the hall on chart paper, estimating how many downloads we would have by the end of the year and planning our next books. Comments from all over the globe came pouring in and it meant a great deal to the students. For the first time in their lives, they had a real, authentic audience for their work.

(Next page: Apple’s iBooks Author and Book Creator boost student creativity)


7 big problems–and solutions–in education

Solving these problems could be a key step to boosting innovation


Education has 99 problems, but the desire to solve those problems isn’t one. But because we can’t cover 99 problems in one story, we’ll focus on seven, which the League of Innovative Schools identified as critical to educational innovation.

While these aren’t the only challenges that education faces today, these seven problems are often identified as roadblocks that prevent schools and districts from embracing innovation.

Problem No. 1: There exist a handful of obstacles that prevent a more competency-based education system

(Next page: Problems and solutions)


Write for my teacher, or publish to the world?

When students participate in out-of-class learning, teachers should recognize that potential

teacher-fanficFifteen years ago, a student I never taught forever changed my perspective on how students perceive authentic teaching and learning. The circumstances of how this happened was one of the more auspicious turning points of my career, and the experience continues to challenge and inspire my thinking to this day.

My daughter Jessy, who was 11 at the time, was enamored with a phenomenon called “fan fiction.” Fan fiction is just as its name suggests: young fans of various genres of literature are encouraged to write chapters and publish work in the style of their favorite authors. On, authors are able to share their writing with the world, and readers can leave comments on the work that is posted to the site. While sharing their writing with the world, users are actively learning from other aspiring writers. Notably, the site originated before MySpace, Facebook, and Twitter altered the face of online social interaction.

At the time, the Harry Potter series was all the rage, and Jessy quite literally could not get enough of it. As was the case for many young readers, J.K. Rowling simply could not pump out books fast enough to satisfy her. Having to wait an entire year to experience more of Harry’s adventures was torturous. So she got her Harry Potter fix by reading work published to in the way of thousands of young authors aspiring to write in the style of J.K. Rowling. Jessy read the site voraciously, leaving thoughtful comments and feedback for many of the authors. She even developed many favorites on the site and returned frequently to check out their work.

(Next page: How are students using collaborative learning experiences outside of the classroom?)


5 myths about Google and InBloom’s student privacy

Keeping students safe is a top priority for administrators, educators and parents, and that is why it is crucial to understand the difference between the myths and facts

onlineprivacySchools have kept digital records of students for decades.

In the 1983 film War Games, a young Matthew Broderick and Ally Sheedy hack into their schools’ computer system to change their biology grades.

At the time, this was pretty risky behavior. Now, schools and districts have much larger challenges with cybersecurity and big data privacy concerns.

Launched in 2011 and originally called the Shared Learning Collaborative, data analytics company InBloom sought to streamline student records in a transparent way to maximize how students, parents, and teachers interact. In 2013, New York public schools provided InBloom with scores of data ranging from student test scores, personal information, and school meal plans.

The internet search engine giant Google has more than 30 million students, teachers, and administrators using Google Apps for Education, a free platform that provides Gmail accounts and cloud computing, document creation, and calendars.

(Next page: 5 myths about student privacy)


Do states need a Common Core check-up?

Common Core implementation, approaches vary by state, according to research

common-coreResources and tools for Common Core abound, but it’s time to gauge how implementation is really going, according to some stakeholders.

Part of that motivation, according to the Chief Council of State School Officers (CCSSO), is to obtain an accurate picture of states’ efforts amid the vigorous support for, and backlash against, the Common Core State Standards.

CCSSO, which has led the creation of the Common Core along with the National Governors Association, partnered with four state education leaders to examine those states’ progress.

Here’s how four states have approached Common Core implementation.

North Carolina

North Carolina adopted the Common Core in 2010 and spent two years building capacity in schools and districts before implementation in 2012.

(Next page: North Carolina’s Common Core approach)


Digital divide, lack of certified librarians ‘a national crisis’

Educators, librarians discuss how schools and libraries can respond to the ‘second wave of the digital divide’

librarians-AASLWashington, D.C. — Barbara Stripling, president of the American Library Association, said students, teachers, and librarians are facing “a silent dilemma.”

Imagine, she said, you’re one of two students sitting next to each other in the same classroom, receiving the same assignment. The homework requires some online research. One student, who has had a computer as long as she can remember, goes home that night and gets to work.

You, the other student, are from a lower-income family and have never had access to a computer. You eventually are able to sneak in an hour or two at the public library, but as you stare at the empty web browser, you don’t even know where to begin.

“You’ve never had that kind of access,” Stripling said. “No one has ever explained  to you what good or bad information is online. You turn in your assignment, and that other student gets a good grade, and you don’t.”

Stripling was one of three panelists who spoke at the National Press Club on May 6 about the “second wave of the digital divide.” The first wave is the lack of equal access to computers and the internet.

The second wave comes when the students who lack access grow up without ever learning necessary technology skills.

(Next page: ‘A national crisis’)


Problem solving skills: The value added by maker spaces

What are the characteristics of great problem solvers?

problem-solvingFor the past couple of months, I have been working on adapting the Workshop Model of Reading and Writing instruction to design a course I will offer in our school’s new maker space next year. What I especially like about the workshop model is that it deemphasizes content in favor of building the strategies and habits of mind that make a student an effective reader. The whole “give a man a fish…” metaphor looms large here.

It became very clear to me that it could be adapted to almost any subject. It is a really strong model for student-centric, problem-based learning, and I wanted to see if I could apply it to teaching electronics and programming. But the habits of effective readers didn’t make much sense in this context. What are the strategies and habits of mind that I want to impart to my students in an electronics course?

I realized it isn’t the content, but the strategies, which are most important. I want my students to be great problem solvers. I want them to learn how to learn. I wrote the following Strategies for Effective Problem Solvers, which will be the primary learning objectives of my 7th and 8th grade Physical Computing course next year.

(Next page: Ten characteristics of effective problem solvers)


Personalized learning: Not just for students

Data can, and should, help K-12 leaders offer personalized professional development as well


We’ve done so much to personalize learning for students. Now, let’s do it for their teachers.

For more than 20 years, educators and ed-tech companies have pursued the promise that technology and personalized instruction can raise student achievement. Sophisticated educational software now can adapt to students’ content knowledge, language skills, and engagement preferences to provide truly unique learning experiences.

So why has so little work been done, similarly, in professional development for adults?

Personalized instruction—often technology-enabled or supported—is a proven approach for students that builds competencies by allowing kids to work on the things they need to work on first, then build on those successes by setting ever higher goals.

But when it comes to teachers, so much of what passes as professional development is not even tailored to the school, let alone each educator. There are a plethora of pre-packaged workshops, content libraries, free online resources, and reams of materials to be used. And while the quality of the content is sometimes high, the tools are too often provided as “one-offs” rather than as part of a system to address teachers’ initial or ongoing development needs.

One thing that all high-performing schools have in common is a culture of high expectations—not only for students, but also for teachers and school leaders. In these schools, principals are instructional leaders who foster a collaborative environment. They believe in, and invest in, sustained, job-embedded professional development.

Schools that have made this cultural shift empower their teachers to own their professional development. These schools do not “hand down” the plan to the teacher; instead, teachers collaborate around student data and evidence collected from direct observations. They use these data to help build the plan and engage with mentors, coaches, and the school leadership to grow as individual educators and collectively as a faculty.

Some of the initial efforts in offering personalized professional development are too simplistic and prescriptive. To summarize that approach: Consider the evaluation data, then prescribe content to read or videos to watch.

(Next page: What’s wrong with this approach)


3 trends driving digital learning today

Learning is becoming more digital–there’s no doubt about it

digital-trendsAs technology connects more teachers and students with digital learning opportunities, education is changing for the better.

Students are using online digital resources to learn and support their classroom education, and teachers use online resources to help students build important research and evaluation skills.

Ninety-five percent of teachers said they believe online tools engage students, and 93 percent said online tools improve performance.

By 2020, it is estimated that 98 percent of students will use blended learning, which consists of both classroom and online components.

(Next page: Three trends that support digital education)