School leaders are taking tech in new directions

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

Every Friday, I’ll recap some of the most interesting and thought-provoking news developments that occurred over the week.

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

In this week’s news, school leaders are leveraging innovative technologies and trends to position their districts at the forefront of high-quality teaching and learning. From disruptive change for the future to essential data practices to change teaching and learning, educational leaders are aiming for success.

Read on for more:

Watch 4 ed-tech trailblazers discuss disruptive change for the future
In what could be considered a remodel of the education conference to reflect the disruptive change occurring throughout education, ASU GSV’s Innovation Summit hosted a diverse mix of educators, corporate executives, public officials, education entrepreneurs, and foundation officials—and Green, in partnership with eSchool News, was there to capture the invaluable advice and thought leadership from some of the most notable attendees.

Students see the future through robots
Robotics programs drive interest and teach critical thinking. Having students create and work with robots offers them a range of skills.

Four essential priorities for making sense of student data
Four data policy priorities can help state policymakers take advantage of data provisions in the Every Students Succeeds Act (ESSA) in order to move from data compliance to leveraging data to improve student learning, according to a new report from the Data Quality Campaign (DQC).

2 reports help leaders leverage ESSA
Two new reports offer school leaders research-based evidence to help them leverage the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) to improve learning outcomes for students.


Guide covers how to improve school culture

Four schools share quick and easy practices to improve attendance, reduce discipline referrals and suspensions, and increase academic achievement

The research is clear: the culture of a school can have a direct impact on student learning and achievement. To help school and district leaders create a more positive culture and kickstart their journey toward improved school performance, Kickboard has published a new how-to guide titled, “Quick School Culture Tips for School & District Leaders.”

In this free guide, four school leaders from districts around the country share eight simple strategies to increase attendance, reduce discipline referrals, reduce suspensions, and improve academic achievement. Even better, each of these practices takes 10 minutes or less.

Within the guide, each school’s story outlines the challenges they faced, the strategies they employed, and the results they achieved. Following each story are step-by-step instructions to implement each practice, along with helpful screen shots from the Kickboard school culture system.

One example comes from Lowery Elementary School in Donaldsonville, La. When Dawn Love became principal of the Title I school, she knew student behavior was impeding learning. Using real-time data tracked through Kickboard, the school reduced discipline infractions by 29 percent in one year, and improved its School Performance Score and school grade. “This improvement is huge for us,” said Love.

“When we ask teachers what they think the difference was, they say the classroom culture. They’re able to be more proactive — in the moment — so they can keep students in class and have quality learning time. That is directly correlated to the improvement in our School Performance Score and school grade.”

“Research shows that the amount of time students spend engaging in instruction is highly correlated with academic achievement. Yet, every day, instructional minutes are lost to behavior issues, discipline referrals, suspensions and absenteeism,” said Kickboard CEO Jennifer Medbery. “By making positive changes to the culture of a school, educational leaders can address these critical concerns and turn these problems around. In addition, with the right technology, it’s easier than ever to see, measure and tweak the little things that make a big difference.”


How to help students become digital creators

A new report examines how giving students the power to explore digital technology improves learning

Today’s students are creating learning cultures in which they are digital creators, and this transformation is benefiting districts across the nation, according to a new report.

A new EdTechNext report from CoSN notes that creative endeavors such as building learning apps and games, along with digital design and innovations, are causing many schools to transform into “nerve centers for creativity.”

“Digital creativity is not just an idea. It is a powerful way of learning that is enhancing student engagement and preparing them for their college and career paths in modern, 21st century environments,” said Norton Gusky, Co-Chair, CoSN’s Emerging Technologies Committee.

The report highlights various examples of how school systems are encouraging students’ digital creativity in an effort to demonstrate how this digital creativity improves engagement, personalizes learning, and promotes collaboration and expanded learning opportunities.

It also offers educator-provided tips to help others lead and promote digital creativity throughout their school systems:
• Start with something you do well.
• Start with conversations.
• Start young.
• Mine out-of-school programs for ideas.
• Encourage digital creation and regular instruction.
• Get creative with space, scheduling, curriculum and assessment.
• Get creative with professional development.
• Redefine collaboration.
• Communicate and engage with parents.
• Connect your efforts to college and career

The latest edition of the EdTechNext report is made possible by AT&T, Avaya, BestBuy, Brocade, CDW.G, Cisco, Dell, ENA, Filewave, Fortinet, Google, Google Fiber, iBoss Security, iDentityAutomation, itslearning, JAMF Software, Juniper Networks, Lenovo, Lightspeed Systems, McGraw Hill, Microsoft, Nutanix, Pearson, Presidio, Promethean, Qualcomm, ReverTech, Safari Montage, Samsung, SchoolDude, SchoolMessenger and Sunesys.

To read the full report, visit:

Material from a press release was used in this report.


14 sites to successfully crowdfund your classroom

A closer look at today’s biggest crowdfunding sites for K-12 and beyond

Crowdfunding, which harnesses the “crowd” to gain needed funding for a product or cause instead of specialized donors, and often enlists the use of social media to increase the so-called virality of a project to make it more successful, is unique for education. In the scope of classroom or school crowdfunding, most donations go to a specific fund or cause, and because the money goes to supporting a larger nonprofit organization, donations may be tax-deductible.

Also, because of the nature of crowdfunding for K-12, its structure typically varies slightly from the usual crowdfunding campaign. Where a product-based campaign might offer the donor first release of the product upon production, most school or classroom projects do not have the same type of tangible product — at least not ones that the community can share. For that reason, these types of crowdfunding campaigns typically offer giving levels or project-specific perks to incentivize donors. Levels usually explain what the specific donation amount will do to help the project, whereas perks will offer individual recognition to the donor for their support to the cause. Sometimes it’s as simple as a handwritten thank you note.

According to marketing blog HubSpot, all institutions should look for these three characteristics in a crowdfunding site before moving forward:

  • Who uses the platform? Most platforms highlight who is the best fit for their platform, so be sure the platform fits your unique needs.
  • What is the pricing structure? Many platforms only reveal pricing if you request more information. However, for those that offer this information up-front, monthly or annual fees, a percentage of the total donation, and additional payment processing fees are standard.
  • What features are included? “Whether it’s peer-to-peer fundraising pages, event ticketing and registration, or CRM integrations, make sure to review all features offered and find the platform that best fits your fundraising needs, not necessarily the one with the MOST features,” writes blogger Taylor Corrado. “Think less is more in this scenario if you’re just getting started with crowdfunding.”

For more tips, check out The 9 essentials of crowdfunding for the classroom.

Adopt-a-Classroom: Primarily a school-supplies funding site, Adopt-a-Classroom lets donors search for classrooms or teachers they’re familiar with (or a subject they’re passionate about) and then donate directly, receiving periodic reports on their funded campaigns. Schools can then use their funding to purchase supplies from the site’s partners, which offer both basic school supplies and technology.

Classy: Classy, a mobile-optimized fundraising platform offers peer-to-peer fundraising pages, fundraising event ticket and registration, as well as fully customizable for branding platform. For those organizations using Salesforce as their CRM, they easily integrate to keep all contacts in one place while adopting Classy into the online fundraising strategy. Classy has a tiered pricing structure, which you can find here.

Crowdrise: Crowdrise specializes in charitable giving, especially for event fundraising, such as for the New York Marathon, Boston Marathon and the Ironman Race Series. One special feature is Crowdrise Impact Points: with each donation, projects receive points that help to promote the campaign to the front of the site. Campaign leaders can also cash in the points for Crowdrise gifts, such as T-shirts. For free accounts, the site takes a 5 percent cut, or charges a monthly fee of $49 or $199 that lowers to 4 percent and 3 percent, respectively.

Next page: More crowdfunding options


District cuts costs, boosts bandwidth

K-12 school system saves thousands per year as it doubles internet bandwidth and achieves a 10x increase in private fiber connection speeds

Lightpath, a provider of Ethernet-based communication solutions for New York metropolitan area businesses, is working with Ramsey School District in New Jersey in support of a wide range of bandwidth-intensive initiatives that demand the power and flexibility of a 100 percent fiber network.

A fifteen year Lightpath customer, Ramsey school district was most recently able to double its Internet bandwidth while achieving a 10x increase in private fiber connection speeds between key locations and savings of thousands annually.

Ramsey School District comprises three elementary schools, the Smith Middle School and Ramsey High School. Ramsey took advantage of Lightpath’s popular managed Private Fiber Service to establish multiple 10G connections between key district locations, including the middle and high school, with 1G connections feeding each of the elementary schools. This configuration allows Ramsey to host all network equipment at the high school, simplifying ongoing management and support.

“Lightpath has a strong reputation, a great relationship with schools in the area and is known for really high uptime, which is huge,” said Ryan Kenny, director for Ramsey School Districts technology department. “Knowing that we have a partner that can help us do that in the most cost-effective way and with no disruption to learning, is a major advantage for the district, our staff and students. While a 1G Internet connection serves our needs today, we’ll likely have to double or triple that in just the next couple of years.”

Over time, tech-based programs rolled out by schools in the Ramsey district have required ongoing incremental bandwidth increases, made easy by the flexibility of the fiber network supporting them. The district has standardized on Google Apps for Education, which is hosted in the cloud and requires a strong, reliable bandwidth connection. It recently deployed more than 2,000 iPads to students and teachers in support of advanced learning initiatives. Ramsey also needed to support emerging needs, such as robust Wi-Fi access to support 1-to-1 and BYOD programs, as well as state requirements, including for online-based PARCC testing.

Lightpath serves schools in more than two-thirds (68%) of the 132 school districts located within the company’s New Jersey footprint. Ramsey School District most recently took advantage of a critical purchasing opportunity afforded by Lightpath’s participation in the New Jersey Middlesex Regional Education Services Commission (MRESC) purchasing cooperative, which aims to expand affordable access to high-bandwidth data services.

“When it comes to our work with schools, Lightpath’s philosophy is ‘if they can dream it, we can support it,’” said Joe Flynn, senior vice president of sales for Lightpath. “Every district is different, bringing distinct needs, ambitions and a vision for how to advance learning in their schools. We are proud of the critical work that we do in this sector and look forward to helping more schools like Ramsey continue to deliver the very best education experiences for students.”


Can technology help teach literacy in poor communities?

Project to provide children with tablets loaded with literacy apps reports positive results in Africa, U.S.

For the past four years, researchers at MIT, Tufts University, and Georgia State University have been conducting a study to determine whether tablet computers loaded with literacy applications could improve the reading preparedness of young children living in economically disadvantaged communities.

At the Association for Computing Machinery’s Learning at Scale conference, they presented the results of the first three deployments of their system. In all three cases, study participants’ performance on standardized tests of reading preparedness indicated that the tablet use was effective.

The trials examined a range of educational environments. One was set in a pair of rural Ethiopian villages with no schools and no written culture; one was set in a suburban South African school with a student-to-teacher ratio of 60 to 1; and one was set in a rural U.S. school with predominantly low-income students.

In the African deployments, students who used the tablets fared much better on the tests than those who didn’t, and in the U.S. deployment, the students’ scores improved dramatically after four months of using the tablets.

“The whole premise of our project is to harness the best science and innovation to bring education to the world’s most underresourced children,” says Cynthia Breazeal, an associate professor of media arts and sciences at MIT and first author on the new paper. “There’s a lot of innovation happening if you happen to be reasonably affluent — meaning you have regular access to an Internet-connected computer or mobile device, so you can get online and access Khan Academy. There’s a lot of innovation happening if you’re around eight years old and can type and move a mouse around. But there’s relatively little innovation happening with the early-childhood-learning age group, and there’s a ton of science saying that that’s where you get tremendous bang for your buck. You’ve got to intervene as early as possible.”

Next page: What the study reveals


The digital signage upgrade that didn’t break the bank

Open-source software and existing devices form the backbone of one district’s big signage upgrade

Ed. note: Author Wayne Fulton will be a panelist on DSF’s May “Hangout” discussion, “How to Leverage Signage in a K-12 Setting,” on Wednesday, May 11 at 2 p.m. EST, available free to members and nonmembers. For more information, visit the DSF website.

It all began with our front desk receptionist, Cloteele.

When visitors historically entered the central lobby of the Manor Independent School District in Texas, they were warmly greeted by Cloteele. Whether they were there for a meeting with the superintendent, a professional development session, or new employee orientation making sure visitors know where to go has always been one of Cloteele’s many responsibilities.

But there are times when traffic volume to the central office is high, and visitors had to stand around waiting to ask questions or find out where they were supposed to be. Directing visitors personally adds a friendly touch, but it isn’t always the most efficient when people are in a hurry. Cloteele needed help.

When we thought about it, what we needed was a way to display a list of all events, training sessions, and meetings taking place that day with their respective room numbers—preferably on a large flatscreen, centrally placed.

The central office began brainstorming solutions, but they all seemed cumbersome and difficult to manage. So we began looking for an enterprise-level digital signage solution that would be easy to deploy and manage at a cost that could be considered “education-friendly.”

With that in mind, we took a serious look at alternatives and found an entirely cloud-based solution that didn’t require any additional physical or virtual servers in our data center. The system we chose, Rise Vision, is also non-proprietary, so the appliance software runs on almost any Windows, Linux, and Android device connected to any display, which allowed us to use our existing equipment. But the biggest advantage we found was the cost. It was cloud-based and completely free for anyone to use.


CUE and Touchjet partner for STEAMpunk Mobile Labs

New kit with interactive projectors is ready to ship to schools

CUE, a nonprofit professional development organization for education technology, chose Touchjet, the first company to create a touch projector with a standalone Android operating system and a recent finalist of the 2016 Edison Awards for innovation, to help bring interactive technology to classrooms around the U.S.

The Touchjet Pond Projector, which turns any wall or table surface into an 80-inch interactive touchscreen, is now available as a five-pack technology kit as a part of CUE’s STEAMpunk Mobile Labs. The mobile labs are available so teachers and administrators can rent equipment and test it before purchasing the products. The kit from Touchjet includes five Touchjet Pond Projector units, accessories, Gorilla tripods and lesson plans.

To-date, CUE’s program has only included classroom-ready robot drones, but it is now expanding to add Touchjet as a partner, because they believe the interactive touch technology will enhance collaborative learning.

“Our labs are designed to give schools the ability to try new technologies to see if they will enhance the learning environment before purchasing them,” said Jon Corippo, Director of Academic Innovation at CUE. “We believe the Touchjet Pond Projectors will be an excellent addition to our existing STEAMpunk offering, as the technology provides teachers an alternative to one-to-one devices through collaborative lesson plans and interactive learning.”

The Touchjet Pond is unique because of its built-in Android operating system, which allows students and teachers to display and interact with any Google Play applications for education, fostering group problem solving and social learning. Any education materials that are curated and posted by Google Play for Education are automatically available on the Touchjet devices. Based on the Android system, the projectors can also be connected with other devices like Chromebooks and Android tablets.

“I think the Touchjet Pond is a huge addition and will provide value to any one-to-one classroom, especially when it comes to graphing,” said Ed Campos Jr., a coding teacher and Google Educator. “It’s hard to see what students are doing on their own screens at all times and that makes it difficult to pinpoint their misunderstandings or correct mistakes—my goal with using the Touchjet Pond is to create engaging graphing lessons that can be done anywhere.”

Ed Campos is currently using the Touchjet Pond to develop graphing activities using the Desmos App and website.

“Touchjet as a company has always kept the importance of digital education in mind— with a large projected touchscreen and unlimited applications, teachers can easily have access to great content and provide group engagement with the students using real-time collaboration,” said Helen Thomas, CEO of Touchjet. “After months of testing and pilots, we are thrilled that more and more teachers are using the Touchjet Pond as an interactive technology and our partnership with CUE will enable even more schools and teachers to benefit from the solution.”

The CUE STEAMpunk Mobile Labs are free for CUE members, and are available for request in the fall.


Xirrus, Google partner on K-12 SSO wi-fi

New technologies aim to offer more personalized and easy-to-use access

The latest Xirrus EasyPass feature adds new functionality that lets schools and businesses integrate wi-fi network access with Google application ecosystem. Why is this important? Because it finally provides a simple way for organizations to secure access to their networks leveraging the cloud-based Google authentication system they are already using. With the education sector increasingly adopting new technologies to enable a more personalized learning experience, this feature can bolster security and ease-of-use for students, teachers and staff.

Many K-12 schools today provide a laptop, such as a Google Chromebook, for each student and/or allow them to bring their own device to use for their classwork, (e.g. reading textbooks, preparing and submitting schoolwork, and taking online tests). But buying and maintaining the learning management systems, software applications, local area networks and internet bandwidth to support digital learning can be astronomically expensive – especially when thinking about larger districts who need to support as many as a million students at once.

To save on costs, schools are moving away from self-hosted or stand-alone applications to cloud-hosted offerings. Google Apps for Education has seen tremendous adoption in K-12 schools over the past few years. It offers word processing, storage, spreadsheets, social media and other capabilities together in an integrated, online system. It promotes today’s trend toward personalized learning, which moves away from the “one-to-many” teaching style to allow students to learn at their own pace.

Let’s look at one critical piece of this equation – the wi-fi network. Schools now require wi-fi services, but how do you protect students, teachers and staff from outside intruders joining the network and reeking havoc? The ideal approach is to tie the user authentication for network access to your user directory service, such as AD (Active Directory). However, in many schools today, IT admins bypass this since it means installing additional servers and software, plus the ongoing maintenance to run it. So schools fall back on running networks where security and user authentication are compromised.

The EasyPass Google integration helps solve these challenges by combining authentication through the Google ecosystem with authentication to the local wi-fi network. Users simply open their browser and log in with their Google credentials to access both their Google account and the wi-fi network. Until they have logged in, they cannot access anything on the network – this means single sign-on (SSO) access to both Google and the network.

Google login information is unique to every person. But the possibility remains that users could share their credentials with others to gain access. For environments needing additional safeguards, optional two-factor authentication is available with the EasyPass Google integration. If configured to do so, the Google log in requires an additional passcode. The user receives the passcode via SMS to the phone number configured per account.

EasyPass Google integration makes it easier and less expensive to secure your school’s wi-fi network. By using the Google authentication system to connect devices to your network, you leverage a system you already have in place instead of installing and maintaining your own authentication system. This ultimately simplifies the student and teacher experience while reducing the administrator’s “to do” list. Whether students are working on solo projects, collaborating with their peers, or studying from home, fully utilizing cloud technologies available to us opens up new possibilities to integrate, simplify and lower costs.


Four essential priorities for making sense of student data

A new report outlines how careful data use and policies can support elevated teaching and learning

Four data policy priorities can help state policymakers take advantage of data provisions in the Every Students Succeeds Act (ESSA) in order to move from data compliance to leveraging data to improve student learning, according to a new report from the Data Quality Campaign (DQC).

The report, Time to Act: Making Data Work for Students, says policymakers at every level should follow the four data policy prescriptions in order: measuring what matters, making data use possible, being transparent and earning trust, and guaranteeing access and protecting privacy.

Specifically, the report provides recommendations to help policymakers transform data from a tool for compliance to one that supports continuous improvement and achieves results, including state and district-based examples of how leaders have effectively used education data.

The recommendations outlined in the report leverage the longitudinal data systems that exist in every state and how the effective use of such data can allow for every student in the country to be provided a personalized learning experience that best fits his or her needs.

Released April 26 at a national summit featuring various politicians and education policy leaders from across the country, DQC’s new report emphasizes that when students, parents, educators and community partners have the right information to make the right decisions, students have the best chance to excel.

“When those closest to students have the right data, at the right time, in the right format, with the training and tools to use it well, students thrive,” said Aimee Rogstad Guidera, president and CEO of DQC. “Now that we have the information to support every student in the nation, we must act to ensure no student falls off the path to success.”

Next page: How states are putting the policies into action