Help families learn, creatively, together

family-siteTechnology pervades all aspects of our lives and young people are growing up playing, learning, and connecting with technology. However, parents, especially those with little to no background in technology, are often unsure what role they can play. These workshops leverage the learning dynamics that families already use in activities like literacy development and support families in using them in the context of computing, enabling parents and children to become more empowered learning partners.

Family Creative Learning, from the MIT Media Lab, is a workshop series that engages children and their parents to learn together — as designers and inventors — through the use of creative technologies. We designed the workshops to strengthen the social support and expertise of families with limited access to resources and experiences around computing.

A facilitator guide provides a basic framework to implement the five workshops of Family Creative Learning. It also includes our photo documentation and strategies to illustrate how we implemented these workshops across multiple sites in the Boston-area.

This guide is for educators, community center staff, and volunteers interested in engaging their young people and their families to become designers and inventors in their community.

As they create together, families learn how to support one another in their learning from asking questions, giving feedback, and persevering through challenges.

Children and their parents engage in design-based activities using creative technologies, like Scratch and MaKey MaKey to create their own personally meaningful projects.

Children and parents also connect with other families, by sharing meals from local restaurants, engaging in inter-family activities, and sharing their projects.

Families participate in a series of five 2-hour workshops held in the evenings. In every workshop, we begin with dinner, followed by a collaborative design activity, using Scratch and MaKey MaKey. With Scratch, families program their own interactive stories, games, and animations. With MaKey MaKey, families create physical interfaces to computers, using everyday objects that conduct electricity (such as fruits or Play-Doh). With Scratch and MaKey MaKey, families learn to not only use new technologies, but also create their own technologies. The workshop series culminates in a showcase night for families to share their projects to the whole community.

Ricarose Roque, a PhD student with the Lifelong Kindergarten group at the MIT Media Lab, collaboratively designs the workshops with educators and coordinators in schools and community organizations like Boys and Girls Clubs. They have implemented workshop series in the Boston, MA and in Santa Fe, NM. The workshop designs have significant contributions from Franklin Onuoha, Luisa Beck, Xiaodi Chen, Saskia Leggett, Karina Lin, and Richard Liuzzi with guidance from Mitchel Resnick and Natalie Rusk.


New discount method could help—or hurt—eRate applicants

School districts must use a single discount percentage for all of their schools, leading to more—or less—funding for some


The changes have important implications for schools.

[Editor’s note: This is the fifth in a series of articles examining the new eRate rules and how they will affect schools.]

The FCC’s new eRate rules include important changes in how school districts must calculate their discount percentage. Some districts stand to benefit from these changes, while others could see their eRate funding reduced.

In this report, you’ll learn what these changes are—and how they’ll affect your schools.

The eRate provides discounts ranging from 20 percent to 90 percent of the cost of telecommunications services, internet access, and internal connectivity to eligible schools and libraries. Now indexed to inflation, the program will supply more than $2.4 billion in funding this year.

To transform the program into a vehicle that supports broadband in schools, the FCC this summer issued several new eRate rules. One change that hasn’t gotten a lot of attention so far is the FCC’s move toward a district-wide method of calculating your discount rate.

The sliding-scale discount rate depends on two factors: (1) whether your district is considered urban or rural, and (2) the percentage of your students who are eligible for free or reduced-price lunches, with schools and districts serving a higher percentage of students from low-income families getting a larger discount.

Traditionally, school districts would calculate the discount rate for each of their schools individually and would use each school’s discount rate to determine the amount of eRate funding that school would get for site-based services, such as internal connections. For shared or district-wide services, such as monthly internet access, school systems would calculate a district-wide rate that was weighted per student, per site.

For instance, let’s say your urban school system has three schools and 1,000 total students. School 1 has 200 students, 150 of whom (75%) qualify for free or reduced lunch. School 2 has 300 students, 150 of whom (50%) qualify for free or reduced lunch. School 3 has 500 students, 100 of whom (20%) qualify for free or reduced lunch.

According to eRate discount matrix, the discount rates for Schools 1, 2, and 3 would be 90%, 80%, and 50%, respectively. The district-wide rate for your school system would be 67%, calculated as a weighted average of the discount rates for the three schools {[(90% x 200, or 180) + (80% x 300, or 240) + (50% x 500, or 250)] / 1,000 = .67}.

Not surprisingly, the FCC said many applicants found this building-by-building approach to calculating eRate discounts to be “confusing, time consuming, and fraught with the potential for errors.” It also took longer for the Universal Service Administrative Co. (USAC), the agency that administers the eRate, to review applications.

So, beginning next year, the FCC wants school districts to use a single, district-wide discount rate that would apply to all of their schools. School districts would calculate this percentage in a much simpler way, without figuring a weighted average per school: Take the total number of students across the district who qualify for free or reduced lunch, and divide by the total number of students overall—then consult the discount matrix.

This change has important implications for schools.

(Next page: What these implications are—and another important change you’ll need to know about as well)


How do students feel about going mobile?

Students say the more mobile tech, the better

mobile-study“Mobile learning” is one of the most commonly-heard phrases in education today, and research continually reinforces the fact that this learning approach has a positive impact on students.

Ninety percent of students in grades 4-12 said they believe tablets will change the way future students learn, and 89 percent said that using tablets makes learning more fun, according to a new study of more than 2,250 students from Pearson and Harris Poll.

Eighty-one percent of students said they agree that using tablets in the classroom helps them personalize their learning, and 79 percent said tablets help them perform better in class.

(Next page: How many students use tablets?)


5 things you can do right now to prepare for Common Core assessments

Helping your students become ready for deeper skills assessment isn’t as hard as you think


Facing the reality of state requirements and standardized tests is causing many educators to reshape the curriculum they’ve spent years developing. We have 3 million teachers who need to prepare 55 million students for the Common Core, so it’s no surprise that alarm bells are ringing.

How can busy teachers adjust old approaches to a new modality? The answer is surprisingly straightforward. Teachers can meet the challenges of new assessments with a simple formative assessment framework, called CERCA.

Learning and employing that framework, online or off, is the best way to prepare your students for not just standardized testing, but for their lives and careers after college.

Ultimately, kids need to be able to make a claim, support it with evidence, explain their reasoning clearly, address counterarguments, and use audience-appropriate language. Applying the CERCA framework as a formative assessment practice across subjects is the best way to know whether or not kids are learning what we’re teaching. The framework also works as a lens for analyzing texts and can be found in nearly every assessment item on new high-stakes tests. These are the most important skills for kids to practice every day.

Despite the new challenges, in many ways, it has never been easier to be a great teacher. Advancements in education technology have made it easy for teachers to adopt a common language, differentiate instruction, track progress of students individually across subject areas, and share information on a school-wide level.

Here are five things you can do right now to prepare your students for deeper-level assessment:

1. Develop common vocabularies in schools.

A critical component of assessment preparation is getting entire schools on the same page. Principals, teachers, and administrators need to be unified in the language they use to describe requirements, goals, and teaching methodologies. It is largely up to principals to define this language, but by following the CERCA framework, they can keep it straightforward. Put simply, making claims in math shouldn’t seem like a separate skill than making claims about a character, and neither should seem separate from the assessments kids are taking. Claim, evidence, reasoning, counterarguments, and audience are words we see throughout high-quality assessment.


Top predictions for tomorrow’s classrooms

Classrooms are changing–how might tech shape the classroom of the future?

future-classroomsGiven the fast pace with which technology evolves, it’s not entirely a huge stretch to say that a new learning tool could transform classrooms within a year.

In 1984, only 8 percent of U.S. households owned a computer. But today, that has jumped to 79 percent. Fifty-eight percent of people in the U.S. own a smartphone. Only 18 percent of households had internet access in 1997, compared to 75 percent today.

Efforts are underway to expand technology and broadband access to the 25 percent of Americans without home internet access. (Next page: What the classroom of the future might look like)


App of the Week: Stay in the loop


Name: SchoolCircle

What is it? SchoolCircle is a new survival tool for busy parents, teachers and room parents. It eliminates much of the “busywork” that teachers and room parents deal with in order to communicate with parents, and organize events and volunteers.

Best for: Parents and educators

Price: Free

Requirements: Mobile device and internet connection

Features: The SchoolCircle web app allows teachers to easily communicate with parents from a personal dashboard where they can share tasks, events, messages, photos and documents according to designated classes or “Circles.” At a glance, parents can see all upcoming events, classroom pictures and documents, messages from the teacher and assigned tasks. Parents can also import events to their personal calendars. Teachers also have the option of sending urgent messages the moment they need to go out. Alerts stay consistent and in one central place, so nothing slips through the cracks.



8 simple tools for creating engaging infographics

Kelly Maher, a mathematics and technology teacher and technology coordinator, shares several infographics generators to help illustrate complex information

information-infographicsInformation graphics, also known as infographics, provide a way to express complex data, ideas, or other information graphically.

Human beings are visual and adept at identifying patterns and trends quickly. Therefore, infographics often aid our understanding of otherwise dense, multifaceted, or complicated material.

Anyone can use infographics to further their understanding of a topic, and you can also create your own for use in teaching or presentations. Here are some infographics generators to consider the next time you need to teach a difficult concept or illustrate intricate information. is extremely quick and easy to use, making it almost impossible to make an unattractive product. However, control is limited. is very versatile, and the user has a great deal of autonomy. However, it is somewhat more time consuming, and the user is responsible for making sure that elements are designed and laid out well.

(Next page: More infographics tools—including Kelly’s favorite)

PiktoChart is my new favorite infographics generator. It’s simple and allows any user to create a beautiful product.

Canva allows users to design infographics as well as a plethora of other print and digital content. What sets this tool apart from the others is the Design Tutorials section.

These tools are also worth checking out, if you are willing to pay for their use:


You also might want to explore the following resources for inspiration (or just to learn something):

Infographic Pins
Cool Infographics
Get More Out of Google

Kelly Maher is a mathematics and technology teacher and technology coordinator at Patrick F. Taylor Science and Technology Academy, near New Orleans, La. She earned her B.S. in Business Administration at the University of Florida and a M.Ed. with an emphasis in educational technology from Northwestern State University. Kelly is passionate about innovative, creative, and engaging education.


New technologies aim to help personalize instruction

Here are several new ed-tech products that can help educators personalize learning for their students

personalizeAs more school leaders recognize technology’s potential to help personalize instruction, ed-tech providers are developing products that can quickly zero in on a student’s unique learning needs and deliver lessons to address these needs. Here are several new products with this goal in mind.

New Compass Learning products: Pathblazer, Hybridge, Gradbound

Compass Learning has completely revamped its product line to focus on what its customers say are their biggest pain points: blended learning, intervention and credit recovery, and personalized learning.

The company has announced three new products to address these needs: Pathblazer, a reading and math intervention program that helps quickly identify struggling learners in grades 3-8 and puts them on a path to success with a personal “acceleration plan”; Hybridge, a blended learning product that offers individual pacing for elementary and middle school students; and Gradbound, a credit recovery system for high school students.

Pathblazer and Hybridge are available now; Gradbound will be released in spring 2015.

LearnBop/Fuel Education

Online and blended learning provider Fuel Education has partnered with LearnBop, which offers an automated math tutoring and assessment product for students in grades 5-9, to give schools more options for personalizing math instruction during the critical years for building a solid math foundation.

Using adaptive technology, LearnBop simulates a one-to-one tutoring experience by guiding students through problems step-by-step so they can learn fundamental math concepts at their own pace. As students complete problems, teachers can use dashboards to analyze learning behavior by concept and by student. Teachers are able to address common learning gaps with the class, group students by need, or create personalized playlists to help individual students progress.

Launched just a year ago, LearnBop is part of math instruction in 350 schools in 17 states, where students reportedly are seeing remarkable gains. After one year, 96 percent of students who used LearnBop on a weekly basis at School No. 385 in Brooklyn passed the state math exam—up from just 25 percent who passed the prior year.

This fall, Fuel Education will offer LearnBop to customers through its personalized learning platform, PEAK, an open technology platform that provides a single, unified view of online and blended learning activities across multiple solutions and providers.

(Next page: More new ed-tech tools to personalize instruction)