A PD model that creates experts, not robots

Why our ELA department dropped seminars in favor of real, ongoing professional development

pd-elaDuring my forty plus years in education, I have spent countless hours sitting in professional development sessions. Most of these were one-day seminars, with every teacher in the school or district in attendance. You might have attended sessions like this yourself. They were often conducted by outside “experts” who knew little about the problems teachers faced when planning for effective learning environments.

There was usually minimal participation on the part of administrators, and follow-up support was rarely provided. In spite of all of these drawbacks, many administrators have continued to spend large amounts of money on this type of professional development without considering whether it has provided any systemic growth.

As my district’s ELA coordinator, I began to take a close look at what we were offering in the way of meaningful, sustained professional development. Working in a district with a small instructional department, I knew that we had to be very creative and cost effective, but we also had to be innovative. To that end, we began our professional development make-over by partnering with a local college to offer year-long training in the form of a series of three-hour graduate courses.

Next page: Developing a sustainable model


N.C. district targets online, blended learning solutions

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools to implement Edgenuity’s blended learning, instructional services, initial credit and credit recovery

cms-blendedEdgenuity, a provider of online and blended learning solutions, announced that Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools (CMS), North Carolina’s second-largest school district, has selected Edgenuity as the district’s primary online and blended learning solution.

Edgenuity will provide access to its full curriculum and offer Blended Learning, Instructional Services, initial credit and credit recovery to the district’s 78 secondary schools.

“CMS has always been a leader in online learning and we believe that all students should have access to the best education available anywhere,” said Hope Kohl, Director of Virtual Learning and Media Services at CMS. “Working with Edgenuity, we know that we will be maximizing the impact of our online and blended learning program and we look forward to seeing significant improvement in student performance this year.”

CMS’s review process was extensive and the district selected Edgenuity in part because of its rigorous content, real-time analytics, flexibility, scalability and its potential to grow with the changing needs of the district. Edgenuity is currently being used in the district for summer school and will be fully implemented for the 2015-2016 school year.

“Edgenuity has seen tremendous growth this year and is currently being used to power online and blended learning for more than 1 million students annually,” said Sari Factor, CEO of Edgenuity. “We are pleased that Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools is the latest district to embrace Edgenuity’s engaging and personalized learning experience to help drive better academic outcomes.”

Material from a press release was used in this report.


With technology, schools try to level the economic playing field

Is access to computers and the web enough to solve the digital divide?

technology-fieldIn the middle of one of Miami’s poorest and toughest neighborhoods, there is a computer lab with free wireless internet for Liberty City residents who would otherwise go without the technology.

But when Cecilia Gutierrez looks at how residents are using the web connection her nonprofit provides, she’s disheartened.

“They’re going to social media sites. They’re not using it to get ahead, unless they’re being guided by us,” said Gutierrez, CEO of the Miami Children’s Initiative.

Gutierrez has zeroed-in on a problem researchers are only now beginning to understand: access to computers and the web is not enough to solve the problem of the digital divide.

Researchers are learning that not all access to technology is equal. In fact, a growing body of evidence suggests that more technology may contribute to opportunity gaps between the rich and the poor. For example, a 2014 University of Connecticut study found that lower-income students were worse at locating and evaluating online information than their higher-income peers.

Next page: What researchers and educators say about technology and the digital divide


Do smartphones make for smart students? That depends

How are students using mobile devices for educational purposes?

students-mobileGoogling, tweeting and texting are an integral part of Professor Andres Caiaffa’s classroom’s culture.

“As our student population changes, we need to change with them,” said Caiaffa, who teaches at Miami Dade College’s Benjamin Leon School of Nursing. “Everything around them is related to the use of the Internet, so I’m using to my advantage that they like to be connected, they like to be online.”

Caiaffa is not alone. An increasing number of educators in both college and grade school have built cellphones and social media into their curriculums.

South Florida K-12 schools initiated a “Bring Your Own Device” policy in the fall of 2014, allowing students and staff to use their own technology during the school day “to enhance the learning experience.” Miami Dade College, Florida International University and the University of Miami also all have progressively seen a shift in professors encouraging their students to do the same.

Next page: How students and smartphones mix


Kids can tweet, but many lack digital literacy skills

Using technology for social purposes doesn’t equate to digital literacy

digital-textingSure, teens can text and tweet. But can they read search engine results and pick out reliable digital sources for school work?

Probably not.

For all the tech savvy that seems to come innately to digital natives — a term coined for children who grow up using gadgets their parents never even imagined — many school kids are sorely lacking in crucial skills that comprise another emerging concept called “digital literacy.”

“They’re great consumers of media and they’re great at all sorts of electronic communication,” said Sylvia Diaz, Miami-Dade County’s assistant superintendent who oversees instructional technology. “But they don’t necessarily know how to create a spreadsheet.”

Next page: What does it mean to be digitally literate?


This drag-and-drop app teaches coding like a puzzle

New version of ‘Blockly’ app helps teachers introduce coding, programming concepts into the classroom

coding-appWhile the economic demand for computer science skills continues to surge, introducing coding to the classroom can be an intimidating overture for teachers without a technical background.

To ease this transition, Wonder Workshop, creators of smart robots that teach students the basics of coding, has developed a new version of the Blockly touch app in consultation with education experts.

Through drag-and-drop programming and diverse puzzles, the app’s new content brings coding to life during STEM instruction. Students use the app to program Dash & Dot robots to sense and react to the world around them.

Blockly’s project-based puzzles are designed to engage students of all genders and backgrounds, with personalized tracks that consider students’ diverse interests. The app integrates with Wonder Workshop’s digital curriculum, which is aligned to Common Core and Next Generation Science Standards.

“Our goal is to alleviate the pressure and anxiety teachers often experience when it comes to coding instruction,” said Vikas Gupta, co-founder and CEO of Wonder Workshop. “Teachers don’t have to do it alone. Coupling Blockly with our vetted curriculum allows educators to address this 21st-century skill without needing to research unfamiliar concepts, develop lessons, assemble products and page through manuals.”

Blockly’s careful scaffolding of coding concepts is intended to ensure students in various grade levels remain engaged and in control. Younger students who are still learning to read can use the app’s visual interface to navigate challenges with introductory programming concepts, such as command sequences and algorithm design. In addition, the app aims to help older students visualize advanced concepts like variables and comparatives.

Blockly’s puzzles were developed in collaboration with experienced computer science teachers to maximize ease of use and meaningful instruction. New lesson plans will be available for download regularly, ensuring fresh learning experiences for students.

Material from a press release was used in this report.


State law takes aim at cyberbullying

Pennsylvania law comes with $2,500 fine and possible jail time for offenders

cyberbullying-lawThe face of a bully has changed over the years.

Technology has come to replace the glaring student who pushes others down on the playground or the mean girl who uses word-of-mouth to spread her gossip.

Smartphones and social media have opened an entirely new door for classroom bullies, who are no longer limited to the classroom.

“A lot of these social media issues are occurring when students are not at school,” said Southeastern School District Superintendent Rona Kaufmann. “And often times what happens through social media comes into the school in one way, shape or form, just because of the sheer amount of people who have access to it.”

Taking action: Northern York School District recently implemented rules for online behavior — for students, athletes and staff — to combat cyberbullying.

Superintendent Eric Eshbach echoed Kaufmann’s concerns about cyberbullying.

“It is a daily effort because a large majority of it doesn’t go on in the school building; it goes on after school hours,” he said. “We are definitely having conversations and encouraging students to report on any issues.”

Those reports could end up being a criminal matter under a new state law, Act 26, which Gov. Tom Wolf signed on July 10 and which takes effect in September.

Next page: What the new law means


Flocabulary debuts student assessments, reporting tools

New tools aim to help teachers use student assessments to target individual learning needs

assessments-studentsFlocabulary, which offers online videos and activities intended to boost achievement, has launched a new suite of features to help teachers, schools and districts assess student knowledge and diagnose needs for differentiation and intervention.

In addition to the educational hip-hop videos and interactive activities, each instructional unit now features an auto-graded formative assessment for students. Updated features include a new dashboard for teachers to assign units and analyze student results to inform their instruction.

“Our goal with these new features is to allow our customers to use the platform to not only demonstrate student achievement but also to diagnose knowledge gaps and differentiate instruction,” said Flocabulary co-founder and CEO Alex Rappaport.

Next page: More on the program’s new features and tools


How to prepare your school for the Internet of Things onslaught

Follow this checklist as everything from watches to thermostats goes online

internet-thingsTech-savvy higher education IT executives may be on top of many of the changes looming in technology, but the Internet of Things (IoT) is not yet one of them. They are fully aware it is coming, but as of now, the IoT is not yet a major focus. Given the wide-ranging security, bandwidth, legal and business implications involved, this may be a mistake.

The Internet of Things basically refers to any so-called “smart” object that uses an internet connection to enhance functionality. Today there are watches, forks, thermostats, and any number of other related devices that students or school campuses may be bringing to a network near you.

Planning for this next evolution of networking needs to simultaneously be defensive (ensuring that IT infrastructure is ready) and offensive (encouraging and leading groups outside of the IT department such as teachers and students to take full advantage of the promise of the IoT.)

According to Gartner, we’ve entered the “Wild West” era in IoT adoption. With that in mind, here is a quick checklist for preparing your school or district.

Next page: Control the network and set your policy


New high school focuses on leadership and career readiness

Graduation achievement and community leadership drive new Michigan initiative

leadership-academyMichigan students looking for flexible learning opportunities will soon be able to earn their high school diploma online while developing into agents of change in their local communities.

Through diverse community and business partnerships, the Heroic Leadership Academy in Flint, Mich., will combine comprehensive supports in education and leadership training for at-risk students.

The academy, which will open with the 2015-16 school year, is designed to help students ages 15-19 harness their existing qualities and become “heroic leaders,” according to a press release on the school.

Next page: How the academy will focus on instilling leadership skills in students