FCC approves $9 broadband subsidy for low-income households

Expansion of the Lifeline program will affect more than 13 million Americans

A recently-approved expansion of an FCC program will grant millions of low-income households a discount on internet access in an effort to help close what is becoming known as the digital divide — the lack of reliable high-speed internet access for lower income families.

FCC commissioners voted on the proposed expansion 3 to 2 along party lines, as expected. Eligible households (those at or below 135 percent of the federal poverty level) will now be able to apply the $9.25 subsidy to broadband, wireless, or a bundled voice and internet package. Previously, the program, called Lifeline, was only applicable to phone service.

According to the FCC, nearly all households with annual incomes of more than $150,000 currently have high-speed internet; by contrast, nearly half of those with incomes less than $25,000 claim the same.

“I think there are people who believe that broadband access is a luxury and not a necessity, and that’s no longer true, especially in education,” said FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel in an interview earlier this month, shortly after addressing the pressing need for action in tackling the homework gap at CUE 2016 in Palm Springs.

Rosenworcel, a member of the Democratic majority who voted in favor of the update, also discussed the importance of bringing internet access to more homes as a way to keep pace with the growing use of digital tools in schools. “Ask any teacher, Do they use internet in the classroom? I’m sure they do,” she said. “Then ask them if all their students have access at home and I think they’ll tell you that not all their students have access, and that, in fact, access is now a necessity to do basic schoolwork. I think of the homework gap as the new digital divide, but I think it’s a divide that’s within our power to bridge and fix.”

Consortium of School Networking CEO Keith Krueger was equally supportive of the move. “The Commission took a first step toward improving digital equity for students at home,” he said in a statement. “The order importantly addresses wi-fi and hotspot functionality and appears to include elements that will begin meeting the connectivity needs of low-income families.”

According to the Los Angeles Times, more than 15,000 people recently signed a petition organized by Demand Progress to expand the Lifeline program.


13 apps that promote higher-order thinking standards

These mobile apps go way beyond games

Mobile devices are becoming increasingly common in schools because they cost so much less than computers—especially since so many students are willing to bring their own devices to school.

While mobile devices, tablets in particular, have been commonly used to reinforce math and reading skills through the use of games, they can also be used to promote the development of higher level skills and knowledge included in the National Educational Technology Standards for Students (NETS*S): creativity and innovation; communication and collaboration; research and information fluency; and critical thinking and problem solving. Here are a handful of high-quality apps that reinforce these skills and promote others.

Writing skills

Students who resist typical writing instruction with pencil and paper may blossom as authors when given the opportunity to compose electronically on computers and tablets. Some that struggle with the fine motor skills necessary for producing legible print are liberated by the ability to type. Although pressing letters on a flat screen without being able to feel them may be awkward for an adult accustomed to typing on a keyboard, students that learn to type on these devices when they’re young are likely to be as skilled on them as they are on a traditional keyboard.

Another advantage of having students compose their written work on mobile devices is the ability to save and organize work. The Noteshelf app allows users to type on the virtual keyboard or write with a stylus in a wide variety of colors, and includes the ability to highlight in several colors. PDFs can be imported or new documents can be created from scratch.

Collins Big Cat Books apps appear to be simple read-aloud picture books with beautiful animated pictures and sound effects. However, each one has a ‘Read by Myself’ option enabling the reader to read aloud and record their voice. Reading buddy activities could involve older students recording themselves so their younger partners can listen to them reading the book at any time. They have a ‘Story Creator’ feature that has several backgrounds similar to the original story, objects, characters, and speech bubbles that enable students to create their own picture book. This feature makes the C. Collins Big Cat Books apps appropriate for a wide range of grade levels.

Next page: Apps for presentations, research, and more


NGSS Explorer helps teachers with digital STEM resources

Common Sense Graphite search and ratings tool connects educators with STEM and STEAM apps, websites aligned to NGSS

A new search tool aligned to the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) aims to help educators identify digital STEM and STEAM resources to use in their science and math instruction.

The NGSS Explorer, from the nonprofit Common Sense Education, helps teachers locate the ed-tech resources that can help give students a cross-disciplinary, inquiry-based approach to science learning. The tool also is intended to help teachers integrate new tools into their lesson plans.

Common Sense Education, a nonprofit organization that reviews and rates education apps, games and websites, today introduced the NGSS Explorer, an intuitive and quick search tool for teachers to discover digital STEM and STEAM resources for their science and math classrooms.

The NGSS Explorer and Graphite’s library of STEM and STEAM editorial- and peer-based reviews can be found here.

“Digital technology is a great way to introduce the investigative, practice-based learning the NGSS standards inspire,” said Danny Wagner, a former teacher and manager, STEM Content at Common Sense Education. “As educators, we encourage kids to match their technique to the discipline they’re learning. Just as scientists use technology to do their jobs, we are helping teachers leverage real-life engineering and scientific best practices with their students.”

Published in April 2013, the NGSS standards are voluntary, rigorous and internationally benchmarked for K-12 education. Twenty-six states came together to offer input on the standards, and those states also addressed a noted deficit in scientific skills among U.S. students relative to the growth of the science and math-based job market.

To create the NGSS Explorer, Graphite’s editorial team reviewed and tagged more than 300 ed-tech products based on a rigorous rubric that indicated conformance to NGSS intent and/or the potential to be used in an inquiry-based science or math environment.

Using the NGSS Explorer, teachers can search by grade, topic and Performance Expectation (PE) to find relevant, creative tools that pair well with their NGSS-aligned activities, lessons and curriculum. Mapped to each PE, the tool provides three NGSS dimensions – Science and Engineering Practices (SEP), Disciplinary Core Ideas (DCI), and Crosscutting Concepts (CC) – for quick and easy reference.

In addition to tagging NGSS-relevant teaching tools, Graphite reviewers, many current or former math, science and engineering teachers, provide a practice-oriented editorial review of each app, game or website. There are over 2500 editorial reviews available on Graphite across all K-12 subjects, as well as teacher reviews and lesson plans from a growing community of educators.

Graphite editors also curate “Top Picks” to help teachers further navigate the extensive library of STEM, STEAM and NGSS-identified products.

“Common Sense Education continues to develop resources for educators to match the needs of 21st century students, “ said James P. Steyer, founder and CEO of Common Sense. “The NGSS Explorer will help teachers encourage the type of critical thinking and communication skills that students need to be the scientists and engineers of tomorrow.”

The NGSS Explorer will be featured during two conference sessions at the ASCD Conference in Atlanta, Ga, April 2-4, 2016. For more on Common Sense at ASCD, check out www.commonsense.org/ascd2016.

Support for the development of the NGSS Explorer was provided through a multi-year grant to Common Sense from the Carnegie Corporation of New York.

Material from a press release was used in this report.


Wash. district implements neuroscience reading intervention

Tool will serve students in general education, special education, Title I, and state-funded Learning Assistance Programs

In the state of Washington, school districts can receive state funding for a Learning Assistance Program (LAP) to provide supplemental instruction and services to K-12 students who do not meet reading, writing, and mathematics standards.

To accelerate student growth in reading and help students build the foundational skills they need to succeed in all subject areas, districts are eschewing traditional reading interventions and turning to the neuroscience-based Fast ForWord program from Scientific Learning Corp.

One of the most recent districts to launch the Fast ForWord reading intervention is Ocean Beach School District (OBSD) in Long Beach, Wash. “We had been using different reading improvement strategies but student growth had flat-lined,” said Amy Huntley, program coordinator for interventions, assessment and curriculum for OBSD. “We began looking for something different that could meet students’ needs in a more efficient way and that wouldn’t require one-on-one instruction from a teacher or paraprofessional.”

The district began with a small pilot of the Fast ForWord program in June 2015. “By the fall, our schools wanted to expand Fast ForWord because of the results they were seeing and because they wanted to get more students on the program,” said Huntley.

Since then, OBSD has expanded the Fast ForWord program to every school in the district. Fast ForWord remediates the underlying difficulties that keep struggling readers and English language learners from making progress. It starts with cognitive skills such as memory, attention and processing speed and works from the bottom up, using the principles of neuroplasticity. After Fast ForWord, students can improve their language and reading skills by up to two grade levels in as little as three months, simultaneously boosting performance across all areas of study.

“In the past, our interventions primarily focused on reading fluency but that doesn’t necessarily help with comprehension or other components of literacy. Fast ForWord allows us to hit a much broader spectrum of skills that students need to become good readers and to improve their performance in all areas,” said Huntley.

For more information, visit www.scientificlearning.com.


When will assessments finally test deeper learning?

Technology means assessments can focus on more than just multiple-choice. Can testing keep up?


When we imagine the future of assessment it’s easy to envision all sorts of impressive ways to help gauge what students know and what they can do. Gaming and simulations, especially, create all kinds of possibilities.

But the major focus of assessment technology in recent years, of course, has been on efficiency of test delivery and administration—with little true innovation making it to students’ test booklets or computer screens.

Eighteen years ago, Black and Wiliam of King’s College, London, told the world of the remarkable academic gains that can be accomplished by the effective use of the multi-step instructional process called “formative assessment.” Unfortunately, the term came to mean “frequent testing” to many. Because timing of the evidence-gathering step (during instruction) and immediacy of feedback are important to the process, online delivery of multiple-choice tests is what many chose to do in the name of “formative assessment.”

Research indicating that rich, descriptive feedback (not number of correct multiple-choice responses) is the most effective for formative purposes was largely ignored, as were other steps in the larger process. Fortunately, professional development specialists who understand the value of the full process are providing training and tools for true formative assessment.

The call for performance assessments

The No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) required high-stakes testing at many grades and quick turnaround of results to accommodate parental choice decisions. To meet those requirements, and to save money, many states reduced or discontinued their use of non-multiple-choice formats, such as constructed-response questions and more extended performance tasks, which are expensive and take time to score. Efficiencies of time and cost ruled the day.

The result is that, for many students and teachers, their only experience with assessment has been during the NCLB era. And with increasingly higher stakes associated with state test results, it isn’t surprising that teachers use tests that emulate the state tests in their classrooms. Is it any wonder there are concerns about students’ lack of higher-order thinking skills and the ability to apply foundational knowledge and skills to more complex real-world problems?

Today’s business leaders and policy makers frequently call for deeper learning and college and career readiness in pre-college students, and the Common Core State Standards do the same. The federally-funded PARCC and Smarter Balanced consortia are assessing student achievement relative to those higher standards.

Next page: How schools can assess deeper learning


ESSA could offer chance to advance personalized learning

KnowledgeWorks releases guide to help states and districts re-imagine teaching and personalized learning under new federal education law

Amid sluggish education outcomes, increasing need for remedial college coursework and a prevalent job skills gap, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) marks an important point in federal education policy.

During 15 years of No Child Left Behind, education advocates became increasingly frustrated with the level of federal prescription over the vision and design of state education systems. Now, under ESSA, states and school districts have more ownership to advance innovative visions for teaching and learning.

To help state education agencies and local districts consider opportunities in the new law, today KnowledgeWorks released “Recommendations for Advancing Personalized Learning Under the Every Student Succeeds Act,” a guide for imagining and implementing a vision of personalized learning that aligns federal, state and local policies.

Next page: The resource identifies personalized learning opportunities 


SpotOn launches first digital content program

Ohio State University initiative will partner with a K-12 district to create educator-written digital content

SpotOn, an initiative of the Ohio State University College of Education and Human Ecology, announced Oak Hills Local School District (Cincinnati, Ohio) as the first participant in the SpotOn Digital Content Partnership Program. The partnership is expected to provide professional learning opportunities to 60 teachers and result in 300 educator written reviews of games and apps.

Today SpotOn announced a $30,000 partnership with Oak Hills Local School District to provide professional learning opportunities for district teachers on digital content evaluation. Up to 60 participating teachers will review digital content being considered by the district using SpotOn’s academically validated rubric.

Participating educators will use the SpotOn rubric to review over 300 apps and games for use in K-12 classrooms. These reviews will be available for district and public use at http://www.spotOnReviews.org.

A select set of teacher-coaches will receive additional learning to support expansion sustainability to make this available to all teachers. The completed reviews will be used by the district during the content selection process. It is expected that this partnership will immediately reach 8,000 students in the Oak Hills School District.

District Superintentent Todd Yohey remarked, “We are extremely excited to have SpotOn work with our educators to provide professional learning opportunities on reviewing and selecting digital content. As our district increases the use of digital materials, it will be crucial for our educators to have the skills and confidence necessary to select appropriate digital content for their classrooms.”

This is the first in a series of partnerships through the SpotOn Digital Content Partnership Program, which provides up to $50,000 in matching funds for school districts seeking to implement digital curricula and train educators as digital leaders. Partnership opportunities are still available. Interested districts should visit http://www.SpotOnReviews.org/matching to learn more about the program.


Texas district upgrades fiber optic network

New 100G high-capacity network will support 128,000 students and staff across Houston

Cypress-Fairbanks Independent School District (CFISD), the third largest school district in Texas, is deploying a private optical network leveraging high-capacity networking solutions fromPhonoscope LIGHTWAVE, a private fiber optic network service provider, and Ciena.

CFISD is building a 100G network with the vision of providing students and staff ‘Anytime, Anywhere’ broadband access so they can easily interact and collaborate with peers and engage in distance learning initiatives.

With approximately 114,000 students and 14,000 staff across more than 100 campuses and service centers, CFISD plans to utilize this robust fiber optic network to improve access to web-based educational resources while enhancing learning and collaboration.

The network is funded in part by the E-Rate program and is designed in accordance with the Smart Education Networks by Design (SEND) Initiative through the Consortium of School Networking (CoSN).

The Ciena-powered 100G network will enable CFISD to support the growing adoption of mobile devices among students – according to a Pew Research Center study 73 percent of teenagers have smartphones – and connect to the latest educational applications and tools. CFISD’s ownVision 2020 program includes a Bring Your Own Technology (BYOT) policy, which the school district expects will result in the need to support up to three devices for each student (depending on the grade level of the student), teacher and staff member.

Ciena’s 6500 Packet-Optical Platform and 5160 Service Aggregation Switch offers reliable high-capacity connectivity between CFISD’s six main hubs and three data centers through Phonoscope LIGHTWAVE’s extensive dark fiber network footprint. The network will also provide reliable connections between CFISD’s educational campuses and its three data centers, one of which is a collocation facility located outside of the district and used to back up all mission-critical information.

Phonoscope LIGHTWAVE, a CFISD strategic partner of many years, will provide managed services to CFISD over the new network. This deployment builds on Ciena and Phonoscope LIGHTWAVE’s long-standing work together as well.

“Our mission is to maximize every student’s potential through rigorous and relevant learning experiences by preparing students to be 21st century global learners,” said Frankie Jackson, Chief Technology Officer, Cypress-Fairbanks ISD. “To achieve it, we are proactively building a high-capacity network that will support the increased demands of wireless technologies, mobile devices, and high-speed connectivity. The Phonoscope LIGHTWAVE and Ciena solution provides the scalability and security we need to support these innovative programs that facilitate new types of classroom instruction, while also managing our mission-critical data and enabling future growth.”


AppSmash these 2 apps to create endless multimedia possibilities

With just 2 apps students can create books that come to life

Ed. note: This post is one in a series that will explore how to AppSmash with a core set of Evergreen Apps.

AppSmashing — the process of combining multiple apps to create new multimedia content — encourages more creative use of mobile devices and allows teachers to gain insights into student thinking and understanding. When students make their thinking visible through multimedia creation, they practice critical thinking and communication skills and demonstrate understanding of curriculum content.

Evergreen Apps are non-subject specific apps that can be used in a wide range of classrooms across varied grade levels and disciplines. An Evergreen App enables communication and expression in multiple ways, such as through handwriting, typing, audio, video, and animation.  An effective Evergreen App is not only flexible, it’s also intuitive. It’s the type of app that students can use quickly and easily.

This series of articles will provide opportunities to AppSmash with different media, such as audio, video, and images, as well as multimedia presentations, green-screen technology, stop-action animation, and more. The articles will focus on the ability of students to create multimedia content that showcases their learning through a performance or demonstration of understanding.

Two apps, many possibilities

Powerful Evergreen Apps strike a great balance between flexibility and ease of use, and Book Creator is deservedly recognized as one of the most versatile and intuitive Evergreen Apps available.

For use with an iPad as well as Android, and Windows devices, Book Creator facilitates the creation of multimedia books, reports, stories, and many other variations of written, visual, and audio communication. With Book Creator, students and teachers can easily incorporate handwriting, typing, shapes, voice, music, interactive images, and video. For instance, with Book Creator, students can record their voice directly into a page and, for instance, comment on the images, shapes, audio, or video on that particular page. Students can also insert video directly into a page and turn text and images into hyperlinks to Web content. The finished project can be exported and shared and students could combine their books. (A quick video tutorial is available online).

But while Book Creator has a wonderful of array of built-in tools, it cannot facilitate all creative multimedia possibilities by itself. Yet, one can easily smash content from other apps into a Book Creator project. One of the more popular apps to smash with Book Creator is Tellagami.

Next page: Lesson ideas when appsmashing

[image via redjumper.net/bookcreator]