How shifting to a UDL mindset enhances Common Core

When special and general ed teachers collaborate, everyone benefits

The implementation of the Common Core State Standards has been met with anxiety from administrators and educators at every level, because, like any major change, it can seem scary and overwhelming. General education teachers have had to learn and apply new instructional strategies to address the new standards and the vision that the standards embody, particularly universal design for learning. Special education teachers have been required for the first time to become pseudo subject-area experts to help struggling students and those with learning disabilities meet the standards.

This can be a stressful time for everyone. However, when educators are empowered to share their expertise with one another, and given the time and place they need to collaborate, they surpass expectations and their students soar.

At Sweetwater Union High School District, located near San Diego, we bring general and special education teachers together to meet the needs of students through a framework known as universal design for learning, which provides something of a blueprint for creating learning goals and materials that work for all learners. We accomplish this through carefully-designed cohorts, teacher-led “zones,” online resources support, and by fostering a collaborative culture.

A shift in mindset

Cultivating the right mindset is of the utmost importance before any change can result in positive outcomes. The type of mindset a district strives to develop is dependent on their goals. At Sweetwater Union, we aim to create a supportive culture in which educators feel comfortable enough with their peers to share their thoughts and insights and are encouraged to take risks.

When our district brings together general and special education teachers, we reframe the conversation to focus on “our” students. It’s no longer about your kids or my kids. Every student is impacted by a universal design for learning, and to achieve college and career readiness goals, we must view them as everyone’s responsibility.

Next page: How PD changes encourage collaboration


6 fun math facts for Math Awareness Month

During April’s Math Awareness Month, math education is in the spotlight

There’s no shortage of advocacy for STEM education, and math remains one of the most in-demand skills in college and the workforce.

But math also becomes challenging to teach and learn, and many students–especially girls–lose interest in mathematics beginning in middle schools.

In an effort to keep mathematics instruction fun and engaging, here are six math facts from Cengage Learning.

1. Eight of the top 10 jobs today require mathematics, technology, or science.

2. Just 44 percent of 2013 U.S. high school graduates were ready for college-level math.

3. Almost 70 percent of community college students and 40 percent of four-year college students enroll without college-level reading and mathematics skills.

4. In fact, only 27 percent of students in a remedial math course will ever earn a bachelor’s degree.

5. Seventy-six percent of students say they find math difficult.

6. When it comes to mathematics learning technology, students want:

  • Help preparing for tests and exams; 77 percent of instructors provide practice problems or practice tests
  • Support in completing required assignments; 67 percent of instructors require students to submit or show some homework problems
  • Due date reminders for assignments and exams; 47 percent of instructors ranked delivering gradable activities as the most important component of online homework systems
  • Help getting back on track when struggling; 91 percent of instructors want to understand how well students comprehend material
  • Personalized resources; 63 percent of instructors with they had more time to provide additional resources to students

Material from a press release was used in this report.


ClassDojo moves beyond classrooms to whole school sharing

New ClassDojo features are intended to give educators, parents, students a safe way to share and build school community

ClassDojo is expanding beyond individual classrooms, into connecting whole schools. Now every teacher and school leader in a school will be able to safely and easily share photos, videos, and messages with all parents through the ClassDojo platform.

“ClassDojo is the single most effective communication method I have ever seen for safely connecting groups of teachers, parents and students,” said Chris S., a principal in Westland, Michigan. “The positive effect on our entire school community has been incredible; it’s helped create a school culture of trust and positivity. I already tell every teacher and school leader I meet that they need to join, and now there’s even more of a reason to!”

As school leaders began seeing ClassDojo spread through their schools, many looked for ways to join themselves. Over the past six months, ClassDojo spoke with hundreds of teachers and school leaders to learn how to best to help them create amazing communities across their schools.

“I was the first to use ClassDojo at my school and when other teachers started to see how it was helping me connect with parents and build a more positive classroom culture, it spread quickly through the school,” said second grade teacher Julie T in Grand Rapids, Michigan. “Now that we’re school-wide, parent involvement has gone sky high. I tell them, ‘I get 500 emails a day from different people and it’s hard to keep up, but if you send me a message on Dojo I’ll know it’s from a parent and I’ll make sure to respond!’ I tell people, if I ever have to teach without it, I’m done!”

The result is that today, ClassDojo is rolling out its first set of features to support whole schools. These include:

1. “School Story”: this allows teachers and school leaders to share photos, videos, and messages with all parents connected to the school, replacing cumbersome school websites, group email threads, newsletters and flyers home.

2. School Leader Accounts: for the first time, school leaders can create their own accounts, allowing them to easily reach parents, and share moments from the school day.

“ClassDojo has always helped create amazing communities within classrooms. But with schools we can can now take those communities from thirty to three hundred,” said Liam Don, co-founder and CTO of ClassDojo. “That’s what we find so exciting about this moment. It comes down to our belief that when teachers, parents and students in a school work together as a community, they can transform education from the ground-up. And that’s exactly what’s happening.”

The new features are available today for all teachers and school leaders. Existing ClassDojo members can get started by updating their ClassDojo app, and those new to the platform can get started by downloading ClassDojo from the iOS App Store or Google Play.


New toolkit to help schools increase fiber connections, affordably

A CoSN resource aims to help school tech leaders navigate new E-rate rules allowing for the use of dark fiber

District technology leaders looking for guidance around how to leverage the expanded fiber connectivity opportunities in the E-rate program might find help in the form of a new toolkit from CoSN and the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University.

Sixty-eight percent of district technology officers in a recent CoSN survey said their school systems don’t have the bandwidth to meet connectivity needs, but the toolkit is an attempt to give those technology leaders guidance as they try and meet ever-increasing bandwidth demands.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in 2014 took major steps to update the E-rate program, including increasing its annual funding to $3.9 billion, up from $2.4 billion. In 2016, E-rate applicants can start applying for discounts for dark fiber and self-provisioned fiber, which, ed-tech stakeholders say, gives schools more flexibility as they try to meet connectivity demands.

“Fiber is generally accepted to be the only communications medium that can meet the bandwidth needs for all but the smallest school systems, but how schools acquire fiber connectivity in the most cost-effective manner will depend on the unique circumstances of each district,” the authors write.

Next page: The toolkit


App of the Week: Join a global online writing community

Ed. note: App of the Week picks are now being curated with help from the editors of, a free service from Common Sense Education. Click here to read the full app review.

Write the World

What’s It Like? Write the World is a global online writing community that lets teens submit their own work and get feedback from peers, writing instructors, and professional writers. After creating a free account, students and teachers can join groups sorted by interests and genres, or students can join private groups generated by their teacher. There’s an unlimited range of ways to write and things to write about here, from poetry and fan fiction (or “fanfic”) to current events and college entrance essays. Users are guided by task-related rubrics (including rubrics for narrative and argumentative writing tasks), pointed research prompts, and annotated feedback from peers and professional writers.

Price: Free/subscription

Grades: 8-12

Rating: 4/5

Pros: Great prompts and a lively community connect teens from across the globe, fostering cultural awareness and a shared love for writing.

Cons: Public posts could potentially lead to online privacy and safety issues; monitor with care.

Bottom line: With interest-based writing prompts and thoughtful feedback from peers and pros, this is a great tool for writing for authentic audiences.


Ramping up learning engagement

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:

3 ways to involve students in PD
If you’re not including your students in teachers’ PD, you’re missing a key opportunity.

Researchers: Math needs a more visual approach
Taking a more visual approach to math instruction at the K-12 and higher-ed levels could dramatically change brain development as it relates to future math success, according to a new paper from Stanford researchers.

eSchool Media, Casey Green to host interactive interviews from ASU GSV Innovation Summit
eSchool Media and Campus Computing announced plans for interactive Thought Leader Interviews at the 2016 ASU GSV Innovation Summit on April 18, 19 and 20 in San Diego. The interactive interviews are intended to connect educators in schools and on college campuses with the Summit presenters and participants.

20 educational resources for new teachers
New teachers need support, research indicates, and these free online resources can help.


Michigan high schools selected to host college advisers

Second year of AdviseMI helping more low-income and first-generation students get into college

Sixty-two Michigan high schools were selected to host college advisers to help more students make it into college after being selected to join the Michigan College Access Network’s AdviseMI program. This is the second year of the AdviseMI program, expanding by nine additional college advisers serving eleven new schools.

The goal of AdviseMI is to increase the number of high school students who enter and complete postsecondary education by embedding well-trained, dedicated, near-peer college advisers into high schools across Michigan, particularly those with low college-going rates and low adult educational attainment rates.

Michigan high school counselors currently average caseloads of more than 700 students apiece, making it difficult for them to provide one-on-one college advising or help students navigate the complex process of college admissions and financial aid. The AdviseMI advisers will work alongside high school counselors and other school staff as a capacity builder to support students as they make the transition from high school to a postsecondary education institution.

MCAN’s college advisers will be ready to fill the gap starting in fall 2016 at the high schools selected to participate in AdviseMI. Some advisers will split their time between two high schools, allowing a broader reach in communities across the state. After an intensive four-week training period, advisers will be poised to help students navigate the complex college exploration process, retake college admissions tests, apply to colleges that are a good match/fit, complete the Free Application for Student Aid (FAFSA), secure financial aid and enroll in a postsecondary institution.

“We recognize personal contact is the key to guiding and supporting high school students as they evaluate their postsecondary education opportunities,” said Brandy Johnson, MCAN executive director. “MCAN is committed to placing well-trained recent college graduates in schools across the state to assist and supplement the dedication and hard work of high school counselors.”

The advisers will be recent graduates from 16 partner colleges, including Adrian College, Alma College, Calvin College, Central Michigan University, Eastern Michigan University, Ferris State University, Grand Valley State University, Kalamazoo College, Madonna University, Northern Michigan University, Oakland University, Saginaw Valley State University, University of Michigan-Dearborn, University of Michigan-Flint, Wayne State University and Western Michigan University.

The complete list of the 62 high schools selected through a competitive review selection process to receive the 49 college advisers is attached to this email. High schools new to the program are indicated by an asterisk and are in bold type.


Half of school leaders expect significant impact from ESSA

New survey reveals how school leaders feel about policy, tech-supported learning

Catapult Learning, Inc. released the results of its Annual Education Leadership Survey. The overall results of the inaugural survey reflect school leaders’ focus on meeting individual student needs and building teacher and leadership capacity within schools.

Catapult Learning, a provider of K–12 contracted instructional services in the U.S., developed the survey with the goal of better understanding school and district’s instructional and professional development needs. The survey’s 266 respondents represented more than 40 states and included over 100 superintendents, as well as assistant superintendents, district department heads, and school building leaders.

Survey questions ranged across the education spectrum and included the impact of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), technology-supported learning, increasing graduation rates, and serving special needs students.

The release of the survey, soon after the passing of ESSA, provided the opportunity to gather feedback from school leaders about the law’s impact on their schools and districts. While the law is not scheduled to go in effect until the 2017−18 school year, 54 percent of respondents expect ESSA to significantly affect systems in the 2016−17 school year, while 17 percent responded that they expect ESSA to never substantially impact their school systems.

The survey asked school leaders to rank on a scale of 1-5 their largest challenges when it comes to equitably implementing best practices in technology-supported learning. Training staff emerged as the biggest challenge, with procuring and maintaining hardware a close second. Other challenges include providing reliable internet access in every building, selecting software, and managing building logistics.

Two challenges emerged as topmost in school leaders’ minds when it comes to serving students with special needs: complying with policies that don’t align with students’ needs, and hiring and training staff efficiently. Other challenges including identifying effective program models, implementing e-learning solutions, and providing transportation.

Regarding how to increase graduation rates, responding school leaders ranked intervention based on early identification of at-risk middle school students as the most effective path, followed by credit recovery, alternate pathways, wraparound services, and partnering with other agencies.

A final open-ended question, which the majority of participating school leaders (68 percent) responded to, asked, “What is the most important thing you have learned in the past year that has contributed to the success of your school system?” The most common theme was related to meeting students’ needs (13 percent), followed by leadership (11 percent).

Jeffrey Cohen, Catapult Learning’s CEO, cited the survey results as both timely and significant in their findings. “As a company, our focus and priority is the students we serve and the academic outcomes that result from our services. This focus is very much aligned with that of our survey respondents and understanding this will enable us to strengthen our school and district partnerships and best serve our students.”

Catapult Learning’s Leadership Survey will be conducted annually, providing the opportunity to identify and compare educational leaders’ focus year-over-year, as the passing of ESSA marks the beginning of a new era of education policy.

Material from a press release was used in this report.


Ed-tech hardware spending increases by 7 percent

Chromebook sales see large boost in U.S.

Futuresource Consulting has published its annual strategic technology in education report, delivering a comprehensive view of the global education landscape.

“Total universe spending in the global education technology hardware market in 2015 increased 7 percent to $15 billion from 2014,” says Colin Messenger, senior analyst at Futuresource Consulting. “Growth has been strong, with an additional $4.5 billion being added since 2012.”

The products covered in the report represent the main ed-tech hardware used in classrooms across the world.

Choice of product can vary enormously, from the recent emergence of Chromebooks in the U.S., where personal computing is being driven by the move towards digital assessment and personalized learning.

In countries where front of class teaching prevails then display devices are having the most traction; such as the fast growth of interactive flat panels in China, interactive whiteboards in Spain, Italy and Russia and even to the rise of visualiser sales in Germany.

The Continued Rise of the Mobile PC

This increase of universe spending in education technology has been primarily driven by the uplift in the mobile PC market, which, at $10.1 billion, now accounts for 67 percent of total spending, up from 63 percent. Thailand, India, Mexico and Venezuela have all deployed significant projects.

Chromebooks were the biggest growth category within the personal computers segment, growing more than 42 percent ‘YoY’ in terms of revenue and generating more than $1.5 billion in 2015. The U.S. was the largest market for Chromebooks.

The Classroom Displays Category

In 2015, more than 2.5 million interactive displays were sold. The volume of interactive flat panels more than doubled. There is a proliferation of new models and new vendors entering the market. This is leading to increased competition, especially for interactive whiteboard vendors who have traditionally dominated the segment. The interactive projector market is expected to have continued growth over the next 3 years.

The Report

Technology in Education: Global Trends, Universe Spend and Market Outlook is available now from Futuresource Consulting.

The report includes the following products: mobile computing – notebooks, netbooks, Chromebooks and tablets; classroom displays – interactive whiteboard, interactive flat panel, interactive projectors, standard projectors, attachment devices, complementary devices – visualisers, lectern panels/pen displays, voice amplification, voting systems and slates/tablets.