Little-known ways to find every student’s hidden potential

There’s no greater reward than to see my students return to their hometown to pass their knowledge on to a new generation of learners


I was walking down the halls of our school recently when a little girl approached me. “Mrs. Rogers, what do I have to do to get into your classroom?”

Her comment made me laugh. This particular girl was a straight-A student, and I’m the Title 1 teacher for at-risk students. I was thrilled that she thought of my class as a fun, exciting place (and it is!).

This interaction confirmed just how important it is to create a positive, welcoming environment for every child, even the ones others identify as “troublemakers” or “bad students.”

It starts the moment a student walks in my classroom door. “I am SO glad you’re here! I know you’re having some trouble with fractions, but you are a smart kid, and we’re going to have so much fun today.”

Once we’re off on the right foot, students often start with a simpler lesson they have already learned. The benefits here are two-fold – students can build their confidence by showing off a little bit, and I can identify holes in their thinking that may be causing them problems on more difficult lessons.

(Next page: Finding student potential to help them succeed)


Three new developments in K-12 technology integration

Annual survey reveals that mobile tech, online assessments are key issues

technology-integrationTechnology skills for students and educators are essential for college and workforce success, particularly in an increasingly global economy. But how does technology integration match up with education leaders’ goals? 

Bring your own device (BYOD) initiatives continue to increase across the nation, and an annual school technology survey reveals that BYOD use or immediate planned use in secondary schools jumped from 60 percent in 2013 to 66 percent in 2014.

According to the Software & Information Industry Association’s (SIIA) 2014 Vision K-20 report, 85 percent of secondary, 66 percent of elementary, and 83 percent of K-12 district survey participants said mobile devices will be allowed in schools in the next five years.

(Next page: Technology use, integration, and goals)


4 secure online learning platforms to use

Using a secure online learning platform site is more beneficial than traditional social media for schools


As more educators engage with students outside of the classrooms, usually through office hours, using a secure learning platform might just be the answer to questions about how to initiate and maintain this communication.

A learning platform is a web-based system modeling an in-person education by providing virtual access to class material, homework, assessments, and many other academic resources. These platforms also have the added benefit of being a social space for educators and students.

Think Facebook meets the classroom, within a controlled environment.

Through these programs, teachers can make sure students are engaging in academics and not distracted with non-educational topics.

So what are the benefits?

By using a secure online learning platform, students receive direct access to class materials and can participate in class discussions. When eMails and phone calls aren’t enough, students can contact instructors directly through the program.

So if you’re thinking about flipping your classroom, check out the list below.

(Next page: Four online platforms to enhance learning)


A gaming site for science concepts

Free site addresses four science topics

sotw-scienceThe Possible Worlds digital games are designed to help improve student understanding of phenomena that are often the subject of scientific misconceptions. Developed by the Center for Children and Technology, the games are the centerpieces of modules that address four topics: photosynthesis, heredity, electricity, and heat transfer. Each module includes accompanying classroom activities that leverage students’ experiences within the games.

Games are designed to:

  • Help students build novel conceptual models
  • Complement teachers’ existing instructional practices
  • Be familiar and fun to play

Why are certain scientific phenomena the subject of persistent misconceptions? Research suggests that we develop naïve theories because the accurate versions of these concepts are difficult to resolve with our common experience of the physical world. They are counterintuitive, and thus hard for us to imagine.

The Possible Worlds games respond to that challenge by focusing gameplay on interactions with analogies for these phenomena. In each game, students interact with novel visual representations that have analogical relationships to the complex concepts at the heart of the misconception. Students then can draw on these visual analogues to help them make sense of the target concepts as they encounter them during normal instruction.

The Possible Worlds games and classroom activities are designed to supplement, not replace, teachers’ normal coverage of each topic, with the goal of improving the effectiveness of the overall instructional process. Students play the games prior to instruction. The teacher then helps students explore the significance of the in-game visualizations to the target concepts. We provide teachers with support materials to help them build explicit and accurate bridges between gameplay and goals for learning, with the aim of helping students reflect on and modify their misconceptions about these difficult science concepts.


Four special-education innovations from ISTE

These four innovations in special-education technology were on display at a special event during the annual ISTE conference in Atlanta


RoboKind’s robot-based ‘autism intervention tool’ is now ready for schools to deploy.

A software program that can boost the memory and attention of students with disabilities, called the “most innovative medical advancement of 2012” by the National Institutes of Health, was among four special-education technologies highlighted during an event at the 2014 ISTE conference in Atlanta.

ISTE stands for the International Society for Technology in Education, and its annual conference is the largest ed-tech trade show in North America.

More than 16,000 educators and administrators gathered in Atlanta for this year’s conference, including a few dozen special-education teachers and administrators who attended a special event on June 30, hosted by the public relations firm C. Blohm & Associates.

For this event, C. Blohm partnered with the Inclusive Learning Network (a special-education focus group affiliated with ISTE), Arc Capital Development, and the Atlanta Braves to showcase four innovations in special-education technology—including a robot with very natural-looking facial expressions that is helping students on the autism spectrum learn social cues.

Also shown during the event was a “cognitive cross-training program” from a company called C8 Sciences, developed by Dr. Bruce Wexler, a neuroscientist at the Yale School of Medicine.

Built on the theory of neuroplasticity—the idea that our brains can change as a result of experience—the program combines computer games and physical exercises to help students with ADHD or other learning disabilities develop eight key areas of “executive functioning” that form the basis for all learning.

The human brain is like a muscle, said Myron Pincomb, an investor in C8 Sciences who was on hand to discuss the program. “If you’re very specific in how you exercise it,” he said, “you’re going to get specific results.”

C8’s ACTIVATE program is being used in some 130 school districts, Pincomb said, including Virginia’s Fairfax County Schools—where about 3,000 students have seen measurable gains in their working memory, sustained attention, and impulse control, while also reducing the time it takes to process information.

(Next page: Three more innovations in special-education technology)


States with the costliest teacher attrition

New report analyzes attrition cost, issues recommendations for teacher support

teacher-attritionTeacher attrition costs the United States up to $2.2 billion a year, and states including California and Texas are among the top when it comes to financial impact.

A new report from the Alliance for Excellent Education (AEE) examines the reasons teachers leave their profession, analyzes the costs of recruitment and teacher replacement, and offers recommendations to help prevent educator turnover.

About 500,000 teachers move or leave the field entirely each year. High-poverty and urban schools experience a higher rate of turnover, with about 20 percent of teachers in these schools leaving each calendar year. This rate is roughly 50 percent higher than educator turnover in more affluent schools, according to the report.

The teaching profession faces a large shortage as Baby Boomers retire, and studies indicate that new teachers often leave the field in the first three years because they feel isolated and unsupported.

(Next page: States with the highest attrition costs)


3 secrets to a successful digital transformation

In just one year of becoming all-digital, the Stepinac academic probation rate was cut in half


During the 2013-2014 school year, Archbishop Stepinac High School became an all-digital high school, with each of its 700 students utilizing a fully digital textbook library with more than 40 academic textbooks.

This transformation has driven efficiencies in our school, created a more personalized learning environment for our students and, most importantly, has positively impacted student outcomes.

As vice principal at Archbishop Stepinac High School, I have had the pleasure of leading this exciting transformation, and along the way have spoken with school districts across the country that are interested in implementing a similar model in their schools.

Pulling from these discussions, I have highlighted three of the most valuable lessons I would like to share with other institutions considering going all digital:

1. Transformation does not happen overnight

Becoming an all-digital institution simply does not — and cannot — happen overnight. In fact, the complete digital transformation here at Stepinac took more than three years from our first test run of digital texts and platforms to the full implementation of the digital library.

(Next page: Ensuring a smooth digital learning transformation)


About half of kids’ learning ability is in their DNA, study says

Children can differ deeply in their learning ability and how easily they learn

kids-learningYou may think you’re better at reading than you are at math (or vice versa), but new research suggests you’re probably equally good (or bad) at both. The reason: The genes that determine a person’s ability to tackle one subject influence their aptitude at the other, accounting for about half of a person’s overall learning ability.

The study, published in the journal Nature Communications, used nearly 1,500 pairs of 12-year-old twins to tease apart the effects of genetic inheritance and environmental variables on math and reading ability. Twin studies provide a clever way of assessing the balance of nature versus nurture.

“Twins are like a natural experiment,” said Robert Plomin, a psychologist at Kings College London who worked on the study. Identical twins share 100 percent of their DNA and fraternal twins share 50 percent (on average), but all siblings presumably experience similar degrees of parental attentiveness, economic opportunity and so on. Different pairs of twins, in contrast, grow up in unique environments.

(Next page: Math versus reading)


10 ways to tell you’re a tech-savvy educator

How tech-savvy are you? Read on to find out…

tech-savvyTechnology is a necessary part of formal and informal learning today. After all, students will need tech skills as they move into college and the workforce.

Using tech in the classroom today will help students develop and build those essential tech skills so that they can compete on a global scale.

And often, today’s educators and administrators learn much of their tech skills from students, who are tech experts in their own right. Tech-savvy teachers take the tech skills gleaned from students and use them for academic and instructional purposes.


Classroom security: What you should (not) do

There are many ways to lock a classroom door. Unfortunately, too many of the tactics employed today actually put staff and students at risk


Safe School Week will be a national observation during the third week in October (Oct. 19-25).

One study, “On the Importance of a Safe School and Classroom Climate for Student Achievement in Reading Literacy,” reported that variation between classes’ reading achievement could be explained by safety factors—with these factors significantly and positively impacting achievement.

Additionally, “Too Scared to Learn? The Academic Consequences of Feeling Unsafe at School,” reports that a safe environment is a prerequisite for productive learning. Findings showed that if students feel unsafe in the classroom, they are less able to concentrate in class and perform well on assessments. In addition, students who report feeling unsafe in the classroom have higher mean absences and lower scores on the math and English language arts standardized tests.

Thus, beyond potential harm, student safety is an extremely important topic. And, classroom security is as critical to the safety of students and staff as is perimeter access into a school. Every school should meet or exceed the baseline of classroom security for products and protocol.

There are many ways to lock a classroom door. Unfortunately, too many of the tactics employed today actually put staff and students at risk. It’s important for school administrators and parents to know which methods are effective and which should be avoided.

(Next page: Baseline classroom security options)