Experts pick the 21 best apps for autism

These best apps for autism focus on communication, routines, and social skills

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Ed. note: Recently, we asked the experts at Common Sense Graphite, a national nonprofit, to curate their best apps for working with students on the autism spectrum. Here is what they came up with, which is also available on their website.

According to Graphite, more app creators are turning their attention to the particular learning needs of kids on the autism spectrum. The apps on this list can help kids learn to better identify and regulate emotions, communicate and express themselves, manage time and routines, and interact with others.

Emotional regulation

Daniel Tiger’s Grr-ific Feelings
Songs and activities help kids express, recognize, understand emotions.
Grades: PreK-K
Price: $3
Graphite rating: 4/5

Settle Your Glitter
Simple, beautiful tool for emotional regulation
Grades: PreK-8
Price: Free
Graphite rating: 3/5

Calm Counter – Social Story and Anger Management Tool
Simple, effective tool for helping kids keep anger in check
Grades: K-1
Price: $3
Graphite rating: 3/5

Touch and Learn – Emotions
Excited, sad, or angry? This app helps kids identify feelings
Grades: K-2
Price: Free
Graphite rating: 4/5

Breathing Bubbles
Students release worries and embrace joys with anxiety-fighting tool
Grades: 1-5
Price: Free
Graphite rating: 4/5

Next page: language and communication apps

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App of the Week: Interactive video tours come to life

Ed. note: App of the Week picks are now being curated with help from Common Sense Graphite. To read the full app review, click here.
zaption-app

What’s It Like? Zaption is an online tool that allows teachers to create video “tours” for their students. These tours can be created using Zaption’s extensive gallery of videos from around the Web (from YouTube, Vimeo, National Geographic, and PBS, among others site) or by uploading your own. With the tool, teachers can use entire videos or trim selections from a video; they’ll then be able to embed text or questions in the video with a simple drag-and-drop process.

Rating: 4/5

Price: Free/paid

Grades: 2-12

Pros: The clean, simple design and the customizable assessment features help teachers see what students are learning.

Cons: Although passive viewing can be activated with questions, further discussion may be needed to foster deep thinking.

Bottom line: Used creatively, Zaption provides solid opportunities for formative assessment, but the tool could do more with teacher-feedback features.

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K-8 classroom technology use increasing

A new survey finds teachers’ use of technology is driven by access to devices and positive learner outcomes

classroom-technologyTechnology use is increasing, with 4 out of 5 teachers saying they will use classroom technology more frequently during the 2015-2016 school year, according to a survey from Front Row Education, a company that provides adaptive, gamified and data driven education programs.

The largest driver of this increase appears to be access to devices, with more than three-fourths of 1,000 surveyed teachers noting that the availability of classroom technology resources at their school is either good (40 percent) or great (37 percent).

Second to access to devices, teachers are embracing classroom technology further as a result of the positive impact they have seen to-date.The survey results indicate that for teachers, a key driving force in this increased use is superior learner outcomes.

When choosing which software to use, the most important factor surveyed teachers cited was the advancement of student learning, followed by the availability of valuable information on a student’s progress. Aligning to the Common Core and ease of use came in third and fourth, respectively.

When surveyed teachers were asked how classroom technology has changed the way they teach, determining the skill level of their students more efficiently topped the list–followed by determining a student’s skill level more deeply.

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ASCD launches digital resource for teachers

myTeachSource aims to offer personalized and paced professional learning in digital form

digital-resourceASCD has launched ASCD myTeachSource–a classroom-focused, teacher-driven digital subscription that delivers monthly topic packs on popular instructional strategies.

The new product, which debuted at the 2015 ASCD Conference on Educational Leadership in San Diego, Calif., is designed for ease of use and is accessible from computers or mobile devices. Teachers can learn about all of the product’s features and sign up for a free trial at myteachsource.ascd.org.

“At ASCD, we strive to provide professional learning solutions to meet the diverse needs of all educators, and the launch of ASCD myTeachSource is the next major step in that mission,” said Deborah S. Delisle, ASCD executive director and CEO. “This digital subscription product will empower teachers to take charge of their own professional learning by accessing the resources most relevant to them at the times when new tools, strategies, and ideas are needed the most. We look forward to getting teachers started with myTeachSource and to also see how new tools and content will continue to develop the product over time.”

ASCD myTeachSource is currently available free for all ASCD members and can also be purchased as a stand-alone annual subscription for $29 per year. Subscriptions are available at a discount when purchased for a group of teachers or school team.

The product features include
• Practical, evidence-based articles, tools, links, and discussion prompts delivered as part of monthly topic packs. Current topic packs include formative assessment, classroom management, and student engagement, and new packs will be added each month.
• Video content that models best practices.
• Actionable tools, such as checklists, reproducibles, and rubrics to enable teachers to put what they’ve learned into practice. Starting in December, new resources―articles, videos, or tools―will be added weekly.
• Discussion threads that enable teachers to share their knowledge and learn from one another.

ASCD myTeachSource is designed to enable personalized professional learning paced and driven by the individual user. Users can customize their learning experience by taking notes within the platform, saving favorite content, using tags to create collections, and filtering relevant topics. All saved notes, favorites, and tags will be available users from the menu at any time during navigation.

“Each of us at ASCD is thrilled to introduce ASCD myTeachSource to our valued members and to teachers everywhere,” said Jim Hemgen, managing director of professional learning services for ASCD. “This product was designed with teachers’ realities in mind, particularly the countless demands on their time and the need to access actionable professional learning within a tight schedule. We’re excited to provide a performance support product that will serve teachers with relevant content that is easy to consume on any device.”

Teachers can learn much more and register for a free trial at myteachsource.ascd.org. For more information about ASCD memberships, visit www.ascd.org/membership. You can also find out more about ASCD’s other programs, products, and services at www.ascd.org.

Material from a press release was used in this report.

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Minecraft coding, plus apps upon apps

Catch up on the most compelling K-12 news stories you may have missed this week

news-picEach Friday, I’ll be bringing you a recap of some of the most interesting and thought-provoking news developments that occurred over the week.

I can’t fit all of our news stories here, though, so feel free to visit eSchoolNews.com and read up on other news you may have missed.

In this week’s news:

New Minecraft tutorial teaches kids coding
A free Minecraft coding tutorial from Microsoft introduces players ages 6 and older to basic coding contained within the popular game.

7 fun apps to build student thinking skills
Looking to give students — or your colleagues — a way to hone their thinking and problem-solving skills while having fun? These free puzzles and games might do the trick.

Are schools really wasting money on computers?
A recent OECD report recommends that students must develop the 21st century skills necessary to effectively communicate, collaborate, think, and create as global citizens. As educators, this is what we are preparing our students to do. Technology supports students in reaching these goals, but tech alone has never been enough and it never will be. Students cannot achieve these goals without the support of a skilled teacher.

11 tech integration tips to share with your school
Embarking on a technology integration plan or beginning a technology pilot can be daunting. However, mapping out a clear path, being flexible, and communicating the stakeholders can help that plan be successful.

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Nureva launches cloud-based collaboration system

Cloud-based solution leverages student devices, collaboration to develop 21st-century skills

collaboration-nurevaNureva, a collaboration solutions company, is launching two models of the Span classroom collaboration system, the WM210e and the WM220e.

Designed for use in classrooms, media centers and innovation labs, the Span classroom collaboration system draws upon familiar, simple and flexible tools already widely used in paper-based creative processes in the classroom including sticky notes, sketches, images, and flip charts.

The system uses a software-as-a-service (SaaS) model to enable collaboration on an expansive 40′ (12.2 m) digital canvas. Students create their input on their personal devices, either a computer or a tablet, and share it on the digital canvas in the cloud.

The single-projector WM210e model or dual-projector WM220e model transforms classroom walls into a 10′ or 20′ (3.1 m or 6.1 m) interactive panoramic workspace for small-group or whole-class collaboration on the digital canvas.

The Span system can aid in developing 21st-century skills including creativity, critical thinking, collaboration and communication. Students use their personal devices to capture their thoughts and when ready, they add these ideas to the shared virtual canvas that is accessed online and projected in panoramic view on a wall. A group or an entire class can then work together to classify, discuss, debate and refine ideas. Everyone’s contributions are visible, enabling all students to actively participate in discussions and learning. Best of all, collaboration doesn’t end when class does. One session can easily lead to further exploration, and students can continue to work on the canvases in real time from other computers, tablets or large-format interactive displays anywhere.

“Educators today are looking for solutions that make the most of the technology already in place in their schools,” said Nancy Knowlton, Nureva’s CEO. “The Span system addresses these needs while giving students the means to actively collaborate anytime, anywhere.”

Additional product details

Shared canvas

The canvas offers 40′ (12.2 m) of digital space (10′ [3.1 m] visible on the WM210e model and 20′ [6.1 m] visible on the WM220e model) that can be panned horizontally. Students and teachers contribute content in the form of notes, sketches, flip charts and images, and organize content by moving and grouping.

Devices and displays

A variety of apps are available for students and teachers to access the service using Span hardware as well as tablets (iOS 8.1+, Android™ 4.4+), laptops, Chromebooks™ and a variety of large-format displays, such as interactive whiteboards, interactive projectors and interactive flat-panel displays connected to computers (Chrome™ v.44+ and Windows® 8.1+).

Digital artifacts

Multiple types of digital artifacts can be created on a personal device or at the canvas:
Note – A digital 5″ x 3″ (12.7 x 7.6 cm) note allows students to enter up to four lines of text
Sketch – A digital 12″ x 9″ (30.5 x 22.9 cm) page for sketching comes with three different ink colors and an eraser

Flip chart – A large digital 30″ x 42″ (76.2 x 106.7 cm) flip chart for capturing notes and questions comes with three different ink colors, a highlighter and an eraser. One flip chart can contain multiple pages.
Image – Any screen capture, photo or stored image can be contributed to the canvas

Panoramic projectors

The HD panoramic projector creates an ultrawide display in a 16:6 aspect ratio at 3000 lumens. A contrast ratio of 1800:1 (native)/10,000:1 (APM) provides consistent, high-performance color and a rich viewing experience. Solid-state illumination (SSI) means instant-on/off and no costly bulbs to replace, delivering the same 25,000 hours of useful life as most flat-panel displays. Touch and pen interactivity are provided by a touch module at each projector, supporting simultaneous multiuser and multitouch activities.

Image-alignment module

The image-alignment module joins the two images of the two-projector WM220e model together through an on-screen alignment process performed at the time of installation to create one seamless 20′-wide (6.1 m) image.

Availability and pricing

Both the WM210e and the WM220e models are available today. Schools and districts that are interested in learning about pricing options for the service plan and hardware can email Nureva at sales@nureva.com, or call direct at 587.774.6647.

To learn more about the product features and specifications, visit www.nureva.com/span-classroom-collaboration-system.

Material from a press release was used in this report.

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How to save money and time with asset management software

Asset management software is keeping track of textbooks and more for districts

textbooks-assetsTwo years ago Consolidated Unit School District 300 in Algonquin, Ill., was facing a pretty daunting challenge across its 26 schools. When it came to recording the inventory of assets like textbooks, some of the district’s numbers were incorrect. “We’d start a new school year thinking that we had the appropriate supplies for our students, only to find out that our inventory system didn’t reflect what we actually had on hand,” said Susan Harkin, chief operating officer for the 26-school, 21,000-student district.

A student who wasn’t matched up with an algebra book, for example, would often have to wait a week or two for it to be ordered and delivered to the classroom. And for some of the outdated books that are no longer being published, the district could spend months trying to hunt down the textbooks. “Students would start the school year without a textbook to refer to for homework,” said Harkin. “It wasn’t a good situation for a district that’s focused on student success.”

Harkin says the schools’ curriculum and instructional personnel were particularly concerned about the gaps that existed between the inventory system and the actual inventory. At the time, D300 was most concerned about textbooks, although it also wanted to improve the tracking of district-owned assets such as tablet computers and musical instruments.

Finances were another driver, says Harkin, who notes that her district spends $2,500 less than the state average per student. “Assets and resources are tight,” she added, “so everyone wants to do his or her part in helping to make sure we’re using our resources efficiently and effectively.”

Next page: A software solution to keep track

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3 barriers, 3 fixes for school broadband

A new report urges state leaders to help all school districts access high-speed school broadband

school-broadbandNationwide, 23 percent of school districts still do not meet the Federal Communication Commission’s (FCC) minimum school broadband access goal of 100 kbps per student, according to a state-by-state broadband connectivity report from the nonprofit EducationSuperHighway.

The top three barriers to meeting the FCC’s minimum school broadband goal, according to the report, include:

  • Access to fiber: School districts without fiber are 15 percent less likely to meet connectivity goals.
  • Broadband affordability: Districts that do meet the 100 kpbs per student minimum pay an average cost of $5.07 per Mbps–those that do not meet the goal pay more than double, at $12.33 per Mbps.
  • School district budgets: The average internet access budget in districts that meet the FCC’s connectivity goal is $4.93 per student–more than 2.4 times the $2.08 per student budget for districts that do not meet the school broadband connectivity goals.

In all, 20 million more students have been connected to high-speed broadband over the past 2 years, according to the report. In 2013, just 30 percent of school districts met the Federal Communication Commission’s minimum school broadband access goal. In 2015, that jumped to 77 percent.

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Collaboration tool supports global discussions

With new feature from Participate Learning, educators have free, online space for collaboration around lesson plans and more

collaboration-toolA newly launched collaboration feature from Participate Learning (formerly called appoLearning) gives educators a way to invite colleagues down the hall or across the country to discuss and share their Collections in real time.

With Participate Learning’s Collections, teachers can find and curate educational websites, apps and videos for improving student outcomes and place these in a digital folder.

Educators are asked constantly to focus on personal professional learning. While Twitter chats, class blogs and conferences are valuable for finding resources and ideas, the depth of collaboration on these channels is limited by either medium or time. Educators can compile spreadsheets of resources to take advantage of the burgeoning number of internet-connected devices in their classrooms.

But most say handmade lists are cumbersome to share. And when educators with a cache of best practices hand out or email their resources to colleagues, they rarely come with sufficient explanation.

Instead, Participate Learning’s new collaboration feature lets educators post comments back and forth in real-time as they make suggestions for improving one another’s Collections. One teacher likened the features available on Participate Learning to “Google + Pinterest + Dropbox.”

Through Participate Learning’s collaboration and Collections, educators recommend apps or websites or videos to one another on topics ranging from ADHD to zoos. Or they can build Collections together on shared topics of interest such as Common Core State Standards.

“Teachers are demanding answers for how best to use the technology filling their classrooms; many are overwhelmed by what they get when searching the internet for resources,” said Alan Warms, chief executive officer of Participate Learning. “We deliver thousands of apps, videos and websites, which expert educators have already vetted, for teachers to search and build Collections with; once a Collection is built, collaboration can happen immediately.”

Participate Learning’s team of educational experts review and comment on numerous devices and platforms including thousands of iOS and Android applications, videos from YouTube and Vimeo as well as virtually any online resource accessible on a connected device like Chromebooks, Microsoft tablets, and laptop or desktop computers.

For more information, visit https://www.participate.com/about.

Material from a press release was used in this report.

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Why Oregon teachers despise the Smarter Balanced tests

A new survey reveals discontent with length, logistics

smarter-balancedOregon teachers wish they didn’t have to give their students Smarter Balanced English and math tests because the tests take too much time, have confusing directions and are unfair for students who don’t have computers at home or who have inadequate technology at school.

Those are among the finding of a survey conducted by the state teachers union last spring. Nearly 1,300 teachers, representing less than 5 percent the state’s teaching corps, responded to the online survey.

Survey respondents were overwhelmingly extremely negative in their response to every question, according to a summary of the survey results the  released Monday, ahead of  Tuesday. They particularly objected to how much time the tests required, first to prepare students for them, then to have students take them.

The tests are designed to last less than nine hours, or 1 percent of the school year.

A study by the Council of the Great City Schools found that Portland and Oregon students are some of the least-tested in the country when it comes to mandated standardized exams.

Oregon students took the Smarter Balanced tests for the first time last spring. They replaced the familiar, and easier, Oregon state reading and math tests, the Oregon Assessment of Knowledge and Skills, or OAKS.

Both tests were given on computer to every student in grades three through eight plus high school juniors.

But OAKS was exclusively multiple-choice and students were asked only to click on their answer choice. Smarter Balanced, by contrast, required students to manipulate some shapes and objects with a computer mouse and to type in some of their own answers, including numbers, phrases, sentences and whole essays.

As a result, the Smarter Balanced tests lasted much longer than OAKS tests. Students can spend as much time on the tests as they wish, but testing officials say they take about seven hours for elementary students and 8 ½ for high school juniors. That includes six separate testing elements: Computerized tests in English and math, a half-hour class discussion in each of those subjects and a lengthy “performance” task related to each of those discussions.

In their responses to the survey, teachers heaped vitriol on nearly every aspect of testing.

They reported their students were frustrated and even overwhelmed by the test, either because of technology glitches, difficult directions or questions, the length of the test or simply not being prepared for what the test covered.

Nearly all teachers who took the survey said students with disabilities needed more and better accommodations. They also said the test provided them no useful information because the results did not come back before the school year ended.

The teachers took the survey at end of the school year, before they learned the results. Preliminary results came out in early August and final results were released in September.

Statewide, students performed far better than had been anticipated, with about 50 percent of students scoring fully proficient in reading and writing and about 40 percent hitting that standard in math.

End-of-the year reading and math tests have been required of all students in grades three through eight plus one grade of high school since the No Child Left Behind law took effect in 2001.

Congressional leaders last week reached a breakthrough on plans to rewrite that law, which is widely disliked by Republicans and Democrats alike. But the planned rewrite, agreed to by the top-ranking members of the education committees in both chambers, would continue the requirement that all students be tested in reading and math each year in all those same grades.

Along with the summary of survey results, the union released 168 pages of anonymous individual teacher comments, from “It’s terrible” to a special education teacher vowing to call all her students’ parents next year to convince them to exempt their children from the test because of it negative impact on them.

One third-grade teacher, in a fairly typical comment, wrote: “Weeks and weeks of testing has made it impossible to teach curriculum. The behaviors in my classroom have been awful. Asking third-graders to test and prepare for weeks on end is WRONG. It is an awful way to nurture a love for school. The worst part of the process is the (reading and writing) performance task. What a JOKE!… Most of my students took days and days and still did awful. Most of them don’t even read at the level necessary to figure out what the task is asking of them. Oh my gosh, this assessment alone makes me want to quit teaching… because the stress it causes to these wonderful little people is not necessary.”

©2015 The Oregonian (Portland, Ore.). Visit The Oregonian (Portland, Ore.) at www.oregonian.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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