Will your students excel in the Innovation Age?

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

Every 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:
The 4 essentials of a successful Genius Hour
What are you passionate about? What do you want to do more than anything in the world? Well I hope you said what you are doing right now. This is not always the case. Some people hate what they are doing. They may hate it because it pays too little, but being a teacher doesn’t make me very wealthy and I love what I’m doing. More importantly, people may hate their job because they would rather be doing something else. This is where I think we can do better in education.

Teach students to communicate effectively in the Innovation Age
Ready or not, education has entered the “Innovation Age,” where it’s not about what students know but what they can do with what they know. Teachers can prepare students thrive in the Innovation Age by teaching them to think at three levels: “what,” “so what,” and “now what.” Students might think of it in terms of three overarching questions: What is the basic concept? What is its relevance and what is it related to? And now, what can I do with what I have learned to find solutions to unmet needs?

Why we all need time to tinker with tech
Picture this: a grandparent working on a car in the garage or a kid figuring out the inner workings of a clock. A group of students with screwdrivers in hand taking apart old desktop computers to learn about circuits. Or a parent encouraging their child to invent contraptions for feeding pets or taking apart everyday objects such as old clocks and doorknobs to figure out how things work.

Ga. schools to receive blended learning grants
Forty-seven Georgia school districts and one state school will be awarded about $8.2 million through a collaborative funding effort that seeks to provide high speed broadband access required for blended learning, Gov. Nathan Deal’s office said.


Good online teaching is often just plain good teaching

One teacher learns that the secret to good online teaching is all in the approach

I have heard a lot of people say that they don’t think that online schooling works well because there isn’t in-person interaction between a student and their teacher. This belief is a myth. When both teachers and students participate the same way they would in a face-to-face setting, amazing things happen in the online world—just as often as they do in the traditional classroom.

A couple of years ago, I taught a student in an online creative writing class. At 19, John was behind in school and still trying to graduate. Classes were arduous for him, and he often didn’t pass them. These failures discouraged him, so he stopped trying completely—which caused his already low skill set to deteriorate even further.

Since traditional brick-and-mortar classes clearly weren’t working for him, John attempted online courses through his local high school. Online classes offered John a new method of learning that was previously unavailable to him and a more flexible way to get back on the path to graduation.

When John first started in my class, his academic skills were minimal:

  • His reading was well below grade level.
  • His writing was riddled with so many errors that it was difficult for me to read.
  • His poor spelling created puzzles for me to figure out what he intended to say with each word.
  • He did not understand how to construct complete sentences, so his paragraphs were often written as one long, never-ending sentence.

These issues made it extremely difficult for me to decipher his thoughts and grade his assignments. However, John was especially motivated to graduate so that he could get a well-paying job and be able to live on his own.

The path to success

Although online courses provide many benefits, they can also create unique challenges. Because I didn’t see him in person, I was unable to sit down with him face-to-face to go over his mistakes and help him correct them. To fix this problem, I used the “sandwich approach” in the feedback I gave him.

The sandwich approach is a strategy often used in education and business, as outlined below:

  1. Begin by telling the person at least one thing you liked about the work.
  2. Then, offer up the constructive criticism or items to improve upon.
  3. End with at least one more thing you liked about the work that was done.

Using this approach with John, I first told him something good about his assignment, which was often problematic because of the difficulty I had when reading his work. This feedback was usually something simple like, “I love your idea here!”

Then, I would give him one thing to correct for future assignments. At first these were basic things like constructing complete sentences.

I would then end the conversation with another good comment about John’s writing. This was often another simple, “You are so creative, and I love the passion in this piece!”

I utilized the sandwich approach through the Creative Writing, Semester 1 course. I would focus on one aspect for him to correct in his writing until he got that down, and then I would move on to another aspect.

Sparking a love of learning

After successfully completing the course, John enrolled in Creative Writing, Semester 2. By this time, he was able to write complete sentences, and I was able to direct my feedback more toward the actual writing style and plot lines of his stories.

This part of grading John’s work was fun because he had a vivid imagination and his stories were very creative. With non-stop action and unexpected twists and turns, you never knew from the beginning how a story would end. John’s story ideas were something akin to movie plots, and these unique plots captured your attention.

Throughout Semester 2, John’s stories got more and more advanced, and his errors became fewer and fewer.  While his grammar and punctuation were never perfect, they interfered with comprehending his writing less and less.

Just before John finished Semester 2, he sent me a message thanking me for diligently working with him throughout our two courses.  He told me that because of the online classes and me, he had taken back all his birthday presents for refunds and used the money to buy a Kindle. He pointed out that he knew Kindles were just for reading books, but that was exactly why he wanted it. John had gone three years without even opening a book, but now he was reading at least a chapter before going to bed each night on his brand-new Kindle.

John credits me with this drastic change in his interests. Before our courses together, he thought that he couldn’t read or write, so he simply hadn’t. This misunderstanding dramatically impeded his school work and other areas of his life.

Finding a job had been especially trying because he felt that he could neither read nor write, so even filling out a simple job application was a challenge for him. But, because he had a teacher focus on what he was doing well and encourage him to improve, he steadily got better, increased his confidence, and discovered that he actually did enjoy reading and writing. Not only had he discovered that he enjoyed reading and writing, he decided to continue his education at a trade school.

John had gone three years without even opening a book, but now he was reading at least a chapter before going to bed each night on his brand-new Kindle.

A year before our classes, the idea of continuing any training beyond high school seemed an unviable option to him. However, once he realized that he could be accomplished in school, he also realized that he could be accomplished in life as well.

This story is special to me, though it is nothing unusual in the education field. This type of success story is what all teachers live for: being able to make a difference in a student’s life (and finding out about it). However, the difference with this story is that I was teaching online.

This piece originally appeared on the Fuel Education blog.


TabPilot launches app for classroom management

TabPilot released Teacher Tools for iOS, an app that allows teachers to control student iPads in their classrooms with tools that have previously only been available through the cloud-based teacher console, normally accessed on the teacher’s computer.

Teacher Tools is a set of features of TabPilot MDM for Schools. Teachers choose a class to manage and then have the ability to freeze student screens, lock students into a single app, clear student passcodes with a few clicks, or lock students into a single web site or group of pre-selected sites. Teachers can also choose a student iPad to be broadcast to the classroom projector via Apple Airplay.

“With the launch of Teacher tools for iOS, we’re showing once again how a school-specific MDM is the best choice for both teachers and school IT administrators,” said Jarrett Volzer, founder and CEO of TabPilot. “With our new Teacher Tools app for iOS, the teachers can now take control in their classroom directly from their own iPad.”

Since 2012, TabPilot has been providing school-specific mobile device management solutions to the K-12 market. Designed specifically for schools and available in four languages, TabPilot is being used in schools across the U.S. and in other countries worldwide. For more information or to schedule a live demo of TabPilot visit www.tabpilot.com.



Why we all need time to tinker with tech

Tinkering rolls personalized learning and critical thinking into one powerful package

Picture this: a grandparent working on a car in the garage or a kid figuring out the inner workings of a clock. A group of students with screwdrivers in hand taking apart old desktop computers to learn about circuits. Or a parent encouraging their child to invent contraptions for feeding pets or taking apart everyday objects such as old clocks and doorknobs to figure out how things work.

Tinkering in the modern context is a process of trying something to figure out what works or doesn’t to find your way to the best solution, often going through many iterations, or changes, along the way. Tinkering is more a philosophy than a single practice and thus can be applied to many forms of learning for all learners.

In a blog post discussing their work, authors Hunter Maats and Katie O’Brien discuss the science behind making mistakes and becoming experts. Experts are not made by practice alone, instead they deliberately tinker to determine which strategies are working or not working, and strategically develop areas that need improvement.

And it’s not just students that can benefit from a little tinkering. As an educator and lifelong learner, I have been submitted to, engaged myself in, planned, delivered, and coached others through countless professional learning opportunities. The ones that stick and are most successful, involve voice and choice. Most of those experiences have been facilitated in a manner which models how successful teachers teach.

Next page: A little control over learning makes a big difference


Wireless sensors help students connect with science

PASCO’s wireless science sensors are compatible across all operating system platforms

Sensor-based lab investigations provide rich opportunities for students to deepen their science understanding and develop hands-on experience using tools like those used by real-life scientists and engineers.

PASCO Scientific has introduced a line of wireless sensors that are compatible with multiple technology platforms, including Windows, Mac, iPad and iPhone, Android tablets and phones, and Chromebooks.

The new line, which includes wireless pH, temperature, pressure, and force/acceleration sensors, simplifies lab setup and removes the clutter of cables. As a result, students can now spend more time exploring, and perform experiments that were difficult or impossible before. The wireless technology also helps schools save money by eliminating the need for a separate device to connect sensors to a computer, tablet or smartphone. Students can simply transmit the data directly from the wireless sensor to their device.

With U.S. prices starting at $39, PASCO’s wireless sensors provide an affordable way for teachers to integrate sensors into their instruction to support inquiry-based learning. Further, with battery lives of a semester, a year, or even longer, teachers do not have to worry about whether their sensors are ready to use.

“With the new wireless sensors, teachers can implement dynamic tools to empower students to think and act like scientists and apply that thinking to real-world situations. It’s more than just memorizing facts. When students can measure and analyze — and see the invisible — they become more engaged and unleash their curiosity in science,” said Steven Korte, CEO of PASCO.

PASCO wireless sensors are Bluetooth Smart accessories and require Bluetooth Smart devices, or a USB Bluetooth adapter available from PASCO. The wireless sensors can also be used with PASCO’s full line of more than 80 PASPORT sensors that allow students to take practically any measurement whether inside or outside the lab. PASCO’s economical Airlink interface allows users to connect the PASPORT sensors wirelessly via Bluetooth or directly connect via USB port.


The 4 essentials of a successful Genius Hour

Genius Hour projects may be open ended, but there are still some ground rules

What are you passionate about? What do you want to do more than anything in the world? Well I hope you said what you are doing right now. This is not always the case. Some people hate what they are doing. They may hate it because it pays too little, but being a teacher doesn’t make me very wealthy and I love what I’m doing. More importantly, people may hate their job because they would rather be doing something else. This is where I think we can do better in education.

As educators, we can help our students find and explore their passions. Once they discover what they’re truly passionate about, the learning and engagement will never stop. The best way for students to explore their passions is through Genius Hour.

Genius Hour isn’t new concept. Many teachers and businesses have been doing this for a while. Companies like HP and Google started “20 Time” so their staff could pursue passions projects and make their organizations stronger. Similarly, teachers have allowed students to read any book and present a book report in any format for a while now, giving them a chance to indulge their interests while learning. Of course, the true concept of Genius Hour is more open than a book report. It recognizes the need for students to have the freedom to explore their passions and not be restricted.

However, even with all this freedom, we still need some rules. The way I see it, the four rules to Genius Hour are: propose, research, create, and present. As long as your students are following this basic structure, they should have a successful Genius Hour experience. Here some tips for making those rules work in your classroom.

Let students explore their passions First things first: make sure kids have enough time to explore what makes them passionate in the first place. After all, they need to know what their interests are in order to be able to explore them in depth. I use Thrively as a starter. The kids use the site to take an assessment that will show them their strengths. They can then use this strength assessment to watch videos, choose a Genius Hour project, or look at events happening around them. Letting students explore their passions is an essential part of Genius Hour. Another way to help students explore themselves is to create a Wonder wall or a Problem-Solvers Wall. This is simply a space for students to put sticky notes with questions or problems the want to solve. These walls aren’t just impactful for the students. The teachers can learn a lot about their students by looking at their “wonders” and “problems”. Once the students have asked those questions and explored themselves they can now decide what they want their focus to be. I also use a worksheet so students can get their ideas out about who they are and what their interests are. The next step is for each student to make a Project Proposal.

Create a project proposal – After being given time to explore their interests and discover their strengths, the students are ready to propose their project to me. This means they have to understand all of the parts from beginning to the end. I use this project proposal document, but it can take any form as long as students can tell you the topic, at least three inquiry-based questions, how they want to present, the materials they’ll need, as well as any help they will need from me. Some teachers have the students write in a journal that they keep for the whole project. That way they can reflect on the whole process from beginning to the end. After their project is approved by me they can begin the research phase.

Do research – The research phase is usually where kids start moving at their own pace. Some will research very quickly while others will take longer. I encourage my students to research in as many ways as they can. Here are a few ways they have researched: online (videos, websites, pictures), apps, books, magazines, surveys, and — my favorite — through experts. Indeed, every student should have an expert that they can talk to either in person, phone, Skype, or e-mail. This is one of the most important parts of the program because it lets students see the real world application of what they are researching. I use local community members and scour Twitter to find most of my experts.

Present and create – It’s important for kids to know they can present in any way they want to. They could do a video, poster, 3D model, TED Talk, picture book, painting, and the list goes on an on. To make it easier on the kids and the parents, I try to get all of the supplies they need. After they create, I have a rule that every student must present. This is the one way I can ensure every student learned something. Presentation for kids can be scary, so I let the students choose any method to present. They can choose to talk or just show the videos they made. One last tip with presentations is I always have Presentation Day. I make a big deal out of it and invite parents, staff, community members, and experts. I also set a time expectation so they aren’t too long. Lastly, I make sure I record every presentation. This provides great feedback for everyone involved.

Genius Hour is a great way for kids to start taking ownership of their own education. It’s a time about the kids, for the kids and conducted by the kids. I love being able to facilitate instead of teach. I even learn something new myself from all of the presentations. With these easy tips you should try something new today because, as Angela Maiers says, “You are a genius and the world expects your contribution.”


N.J. experiments with new engagement platform

New engagement platform uses web and mobile-based technology to help students and their parents navigate K-12 challenges

Evolution Labs and The New Jersey Association of School Administrators (NJASA), the state’s professional association of school leaders, have partnered to further develop and make available to NJASA members the company’s web- and mobile-based student and parent success platform, Suite360.

Suite360 leverages new media engagement features with critical content to help students and parents navigate a range of issues, from bullying and cyber-bullying to mental health and wellness, to academic pressures. Under the partnership, NJASA will provide guidance to help shape the platform to meet the specific needs of its member districts.

Dr. Richard G. Bozza, Executive Director of the NJASA will formally announce the partnership and program at the upcoming Techspo 2016 conference in Atlantic City, January 28-29.

“Our role in advancing this platform will help further position New Jersey K-12 schools as leaders in addressing social and emotional learning issues through the use of innovative technologies,” said Dr. Bozza. “One of the benefits of Suite360 is the breadth of content it delivers and its ability to meet the ever changing landscape of issues students and parents face today, enabling us to be proactive rather than reactive as the pressures facing K-12 families evolve.”

Suite360 uses custom web and mobile experiences to foster content engagement on critical topics, such as:

  • Bullying & Hazing
  • Mental Health Issues
  • Social Media (pressures and responsible use)
  • Bystander Intervention
  • Nutrition & Wellness
  • Stress Management
  • Community Service
  • Time Management
  • Sexual Misconduct
  • Academic Success
  • Drug & Alcohol Use

“We are so excited about this partnership with NJASA because there is a real opportunity to use web and mobile engagement to address the challenges facing students and parents of New Jersey K-12 schools,” said Peter Kraft, President of Evolution Labs (based in Morristown, NJ). “We firmly believe that Social and Emotional learning strategies are paramount to driving engagement, understanding and use of success-based information. This relationship with NJASA will help further develop the Suite360 program and make it available to NJASA members.”

Suite360 is comprised of a robust, professionally-developed library of articles, videos, heuristics (immersive learning modules), pre- and post- assessments, surveys and other content engagement methods that offer students and parents myriad ways to consume important content.