New trends for new teaching strategies

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.

As education evolves, so do trends and strategies to deliver instruction in the best possible way. When educators are aware of ways to improve instruction, students benefit and can show increased achievement. This week, we’ve gathered some of those trends in one place for you, from a new approach to science intruction to turning virtual teachers into online learning experts.

Read on for more:

Are high schools teaching science backward?
U.S. high schools are teaching science in a backward sequence of courses that is a remnant of 19th century thinking, says former Harman executive and New Jersey Teacher of the Year Robert Goodman—and changing the order in which science courses are taken and the way they’re delivered can lead to profound differences in both STEM interest and achievement.
Cyber security course for teachers includes lessons on hacking
As the use of digital technology in education and among students for private use has grown over the years, so too has the threat from hackers, identity thieves and cyber bullies. Daniel Sigler, an 11th and 12th grade social studies teacher at Gadsden City High, said his school’s recent purchase of new computers for all its students opens the possibility of online threats.
Teachers say virtual reality would boost engagement
A large majority of K-12 teachers said they would like to integrate virtual reality in their classrooms, but just 2 percent of teachers have actually done so, according to a survey.
How this state is turning its virtual teachers into online learning experts
In Arkansas, as in most states, student interest in online learning is skyrocketing. While most students still take at least some of their courses in a face-to-face setting, the need to scale online learning opportunities for thousands of students has required new infrastructure, new curriculum, and, of course, new teachers.


14 surprising facts about educators’ social media use

A survey of 1,000 K-8 educators reveals surprising results about social media use

Social media has fast become an educator’s dream, with almost immediate responses to questions about teaching strategies, resources, and professional development opportunities.

But how are educators really using social media, and is it really as widely-used as everyone assumes?

FrontRow Education recently asked 1,000 K-8 teachers how they are using social media personally, professionally and as a communication tool with parents and students.

Here are some of the survey’s key findings:

Social media is not widely used to communicate with students or parents
• One in five teachers use social media on a monthly or more frequent basis to communicate with students or parents, with Google + the most widely used platform.
• Some teachers do use Twitter and Facebook to communicate; 13 percent and 12 percent respectively

For personal use, Facebook is the clear winner amongst teachers
• Seventy-one percent of teachers use Facebook daily for personal use, followed by Google + (33 percent), Pinterest (32 percent), Instagram (27 percent) and Twitter (18 percent)
• The differences narrow with weekly use, with 82 percent logging onto Facebook weekly, followed by Pinterest (69 percent), Google + (49 percent), Instagram (40 percent) and Twitter (32 percent)

Pinterest has the largest correlation between professional and personal use; Facebook the smallest
• While 69 percent of teachers use Pinterest weekly for personal use, 67 percent use weekly for professional purposes
• Facebook, on the other hand, is used for professional purposes by just 44 percent of teachers weekly vs. 82 percent for personal use

Where you teach reflects your social media habits both personally…
• Teachers in the West use Facebook the least for personal use, with 65 percent logging in daily; in the Midwest, that number jumps to 76 percent
• Teachers in the Northeast use Google+ daily for personal use, 17 percentage points more than those in the Midwest (37 percent vs. 20 percent)
• Nearly twice as many teachers in the Midwest (40 percent) use Pinterest daily for personal use compared to the Northeast (20 percent)

…and professionally
• Teachers in the West are least likely to use Google + daily for professional use (17 percent) compared to other regions, where on average 28 percent of teachers do so
• Daily Pinterest use for professional purposes is highest in the South (34 percent), and lowest in the Northeast (20 percent)

Age is more than just a number
• The survey found significant differences between teachers in varying age groups when it comes to social media habits.
• Google + is much more popular with the 50+ crowd, with 51 percent of teachers in this age bracket using the platform daily, compared to just 18 percent of those 29 and younger
• Forty-four percent of 29 and younger and 33 percent of 30-49-year-olds use Pinterest daily compared with just 21 percent of those 50 and older


5 essential apps for autistic learners

Apps for communication, visual prompts, and daily routines

Mobile technology has opened up a plethora of resources for students with special needs, including students with autism. Here we’re highlighting resources and tools that educators might find useful in helping engage students with autism.

The autism spectrum disorder rate in children is about 1 in 68, according to current CDC research. As more students on the autism spectrum enter classrooms each year, technology has the potential to help those students have equal access to educational opportunities.

The now-closed website, which curated apps from Apple Distinguished Educators, suggested a number of apps pertaining to special education, communication, and helping students with autism.

Here are 5 apps to help children and adults with autism develop skills, learn, and interact better with others.

1. ABA Flash Cards, $1
Designed for young children with autism and other learning disabilities, has created flash card apps to stimulate learning and provide tools and strategies for creative, effective language building. Different apps include the alphabet, animals, sports, actions, emotions, earth science, famous places, and many more. Each category is a different app with stimulating pictures and a soothing voice to go along with each flash card.

Next page: Essential tools for daily routines, reading, and more


Chromebooks are on the rise, but Windows reliance remains

Schools are seeking browser-based solutions to simplify access to Windows applications

Sixty-two percent of K-12 schools participating in a recent survey support Chromebook initiatives, and 22 percent of those schools use Chromebooks as a primary classroom device.

While Chromebooks appear to be increasing in popularity, Windows presence remains heavy–92 percent of survey respondents said their schools use at least one Windows-based application, and 29 percent said they use five or more Windows applications for teaching and learning.

[Editor’s note: We’re always tracking mobile device trends for you; click here and here for the latest information.] 

The survey of K-12 educators and IT professionals from more than 1,500 K-12 schools comes from Ericom Software, a provider of application access and virtualization solutions.

Device compatibility with existing applications emerged as a top priority for survey respondents, with 43 percent saying their dependence on desktop and cloud-based Windows applications influenced their thoughts about Chromebook deployment. Sixty percent of respondents said browser-based access to Windows applications on Chromebooks would make them a viable solution.

Next page: Take our poll on Chromebooks and Windows 


How this state is turning its virtual teachers into online learning experts

A certification program is creating a new generation of online learning savants

In Arkansas, as in most states, student interest in online learning is skyrocketing. While most students still take at least some of their courses in a face-to-face setting, the need to scale online learning opportunities for thousands of students has required new infrastructure, new curriculum, and, of course, new teachers.

The state’s official response was to create a new program, called Virtual Arkansas, to manage its online courses and work with districts to find students who want to take them. The idea is to provide a full range of services, from catering to students in rural areas looking for a hard-to-find class to districts turning to online in the face of teacher shortages or budget cutbacks. Currently, about 30,000 students in the state take courses through Virtual Arkansas and the program employs dozens of teachers, whose experience with blended learning might be spotty at best.

Most teachers hired by Virtual Arkansas are brought on for their subject-matter expertise; few have ever taught an online course, let alone worked through the rigors of translating traditional curriculum to the online or blended environment.

“It’s a special skill set that our training programs do not generally cover,” said Cathi Swan, the state coordinator of digital learning and superintendent at Virtual Arkansas. “When you talk about online and blended learning, they don’t have the background for that. Depending on the quality of the course they’re teaching, that’s all they have.”

Blended learning — Virtual Arkansas’ preferred term to describe its model — might strike some as a bit of a stretch. Students and teachers could be located in any of one of 200 districts across the state, rural or urban, nestled deep inside the Ozarks or right across from downtown Little Rock. The distance naturally makes the face-to-face component of blended learning tricky, so the program has dispensed with it entirely. Instead, teachers and students meet twice a week for synchronous lessons and class discussions delivered in real time.

Without formal training on how to teach courses for an online environment, Swan worried teachers would approach their courses as they would traditional ones. Even more worrisome, they might not have any exposure to critical online teaching skills such as sifting through digital resources, managing the online platform, and hosting strictly-online discussions.

In response, Swan reached out to colleagues at the Technology Information Center for Administrative Leadership (TICAL) who introduced her to Leading Edge Certification, a national nonprofit that conducts training and certification programs for schools in a number of disciplines, including blended learning.

An intense experience

Developed as an alliance of dozens of nonprofits (Common Sense Media), professional learning organizations (ISTE, CUE), and local education agencies (Los Angeles County Office of Education), Leading Edge has collaboratively developed a number of certification programs for educators navigating leadership and best practices in a digital world. Alliance members co-design the programs and help deliver the actual training.

The Online and Blended Teacher certification, used by Virtual Arkansas, features eight separate modules covering everything from deep dives into online assessment to appropriate pedagogical strategies for blended collaboration and project-based learning. Modeled on iNacol’s National Standards for Online Teaching, the program requires teachers to research and experience various digital learning tools before putting them to use as part of their learning. Throughout the course, participants create collaborative presentations, share reflections on social media use, and develop custom assessments. According to Swan, it’s not for the faint of heart.

“It is an intense experience,” she said. “It’s not for the administrator or teacher who says, ‘I will do this in my spare time.’ But it’s so relevant and it changes the way they do their jobs.”

Three years ago, Swan put 25 teachers through the program (which runs between four and eight weeks, depending on how much time is available). Now, 100 teachers later, she’s still moving teachers through 25 at a time each summer. As part of their contract, each Virtual Arkansas teacher is required to complete the program by the end of their second full year. At some point, she would like to secure enough funding so that teachers in other districts can participate as well.

By the end of the training, Swan says that teachers are much more aggressive in seeking out quality online resources and finding ways to incorporate them into their lessons.

“There is that balance between asking teachers to go out there and explore resources, but telling them you’re not going to be able to use every one of them because you have to vet it,” Swan said. “Is this the best resource, is it a viable resource, is it accessible by all learners?

“That’s when you start making that paradigm shift in teachers mindset when they’re planning away from what they learned in college, which is what they need to know, but then how to teach it in a blended environment. It’s that total curve to not just integrating technology but depending on it.”


Marketplace trend update: 5 tools to help you stay ahead of the curve

Don't miss this recap of the latest product news, reports, and research in the ed-tech world

It goes without saying that technology is always changing. School leaders are expected to help their teachers use current technology to enhance learning, but at the same time, they must keep on top of future technologies that might soon impact teaching and learning.

Changes in professional development delivery, virtual reality in classrooms, online learning innovations, and tools that enable students to share their progress and accomplishments are just a few of the fast-evolving areas educators must track.

Below, we’ve gathered some of the latest and most relevant marketplace news to keep you up-to-date on product developments, teaching and learning initiatives, and new trends in education.

KQED Teach, which launched on July 11, provides a series of free, self-paced courses to help K-12 educators develop the media skills necessary to bring media production and communication to their learning environments. These courses will take place in an online platform developed by KQED Education that tracks user progress and encourages sharing and feedback through an integrated social community. KQED Teach participants will have access to a wide range of social media and digital media tools allowing them to construct and remix media in multiple formats and across a variety of platforms while addressing many writing, reading, speaking and listening skills required by both the Common Core State Standards and Next Generation Science Standards. Read more.

Students are able to share their digital portfolio contents with parents and caregivers with ClassDojo’s Student Stories, an easy way for students to add photos and videos of their classwork to their own digital portfolio. Parents will be able to follow along with their child’s learning, whether it’s a photo of a poem they wrote, a video of a science experiment, or a reflection on finally solving a tough math problem, students can easily record and share their learning with parents. Read more.

In Arizona, all students in grades 9-12 in the Dysart Unified School District will be able to more effectively collaborate with school counselors to identify their strengths, plan academic coursework, determine career aspirations, find best-fit colleges, and discover scholarships using Naviance by Hobsons, a digital college and a career planning platform. Having tripled in size since 2000, Dysart is one of the fastest-growing school systems in the state, serving a high population of Latinos and English Language Learners (ELLs), as well as first-generation college-bound students. Despite its unprecedented growth, the district has maintained an 85 percent graduation rate among its four comprehensive high schools. Read more.

zSpace, Inc. is working with Google to create an end-to-end virtual reality classroom experience that combines the power of zSpace’s interactive Screen VR technology with the Google Expeditions Pioneer Program. Students will be introduced to learning content through the vivid photo and video Expeditions followed by in-depth exploration opportunities in zSpace. Google and zSpace will begin the program for back-to-school 2016 and showcase the virtual reality classroom experience at conferences and tradeshows in the United States. Read more.

This year’s D2L Brightspace Excellence Awards recognized the promise of online learning and its ability to connect more and more people to high-quality educational programs. Faculty dedicated to helping students learn online created robust online environments and high-quality tools to help students succeed in their online learning endeavors. This year’s crop of winners demonstrated progress and innovation in student and teacher engagement, student retention, and teaching and learning efficiencies that resulted in cost savings. Read more.


Report: Students’ tech use remains infrequent

An analysis of digital tool and technology use reveals students aren't using classroom technologies to full capacity

Students’ use of digital tools and other learning technologies remains relatively sporadic, according to a new study.

Based on direct classroom observations of 140,000 K-12 classrooms across 39 states and 11 countries, the study by the school improvement organization AdvancED found there are still relatively few classrooms in which the use of digital tools and technology is a regular part of a student’s school experience.

The findings come from an analysis of three years of data from AdvancED’s learning observation environments observation tool, eleot, which measures and quantifies active student engagement through learner-centric classroom observations, to determine how extensively technology is being used to engage students in learning.

Three eleot items focus specifically on students’ use of digital tools and technology for a variety of purposes:
1. Students use digital tools/technology to gather, evaluate and/or use information for learning.
2. Students use digital tools/technology to conduct research, solve problems and/or create original works for learning.
3. Students use digital tools/technology to communicate and work collaboratively for learning.

More than half of classrooms included in the study (52.7 percent) showed no evidence of using technology to gather, evaluate, or use information for learning. Roughly two-thirds of surveyed classrooms showed no evidence of using technology to conduct research, solve problems, or create original work, nor to communicate and work collaboratively for learning.

The lowest average rating (1.76) based on 142,585 observations was students’ use of digital tools/technology for the purpose of communicating and working collaboratively. Given that students are constantly using technology to communicate through chatting, blogging, emailing, texting and gaming, it is surprising that this routine part of students’ daily lives is not being leveraged for learning in their K-12 classrooms. Or maybe this should not be at all surprising.

The report cites Richard Freed, a clinical psychologist and the author of Wired Child: Reclaiming Childhood in a Digital Age, as saying that “high levels of smartphone use by teens often have a detrimental effect on achievement, because teen phone use is dominated by entertainment, not learning, applications.” (Barnwell 2016).

But perhaps this is a “which came first, the chicken or the egg?” dilemma, the authors noted. Teens were never asked or charged with using smartphones for learning, so their lived experience and reality command a different use. Well-orchestrated and deliberate learning applications for smartphone use in classrooms could change this, they suggested.

The study looked at data gathered in 20-minute observation periods during which specially trained observers conducted student-centered classroom observations in randomly selected classrooms, lessons, and schools at the beginning, middle, and end of class.

Dr. Ludy van Broekhuizen, chief innovation officer for AdvancED and author of the research study, notes that increasing student engagement may be a far more powerful learning tool than technology itself.

“When students are genuinely engaged in their learning around topics that connect to their lives and interest them, they are much less inclined to engage in off-task behaviors with or without access to technology,” he noted. “It is when students lose themselves in their learning that we have accomplished what we set out to do for them in the first place.”

Material from a press release was used in this report.


5 lessons learned from replacing whiteboards with touchscreens

Do your homework and test the tech carefully

We know that it’s no longer possible to prepare students for the real world and provide an excellent education without integrating technology into the classroom.

At Duval County Public Schools (DCPS) in Jacksonville, Fla—the 20th largest school district in the nation—our mission is to deliver educational excellence in each classroom and school, every day, to give all our students a chance at success. This includes using technologies to facilitate interest in learning.

Our educators had been using tools such as projectors and interactive whiteboards in classrooms for years, but there was no real across-the-board standard for our schools’ core classroom equipment.

Additionally, the equipment we had was aging. Projector bulbs were starting to dim and teachers would have to turn off lights to use them, which hardly energizes students. Some of the interactive whiteboard software was out of date, and not all schools had the funding to upgrade outdated equipment.

Our superintendent, Dr. Nikolai Vitti, gave us the opportunity to put new technology in, and worked to secure the funding. This presented a two-fold challenge: update and standardize our interactive classroom technologies while also being mindful of the taxpayer dollars used to fund the investment.

DCPS needed something that was easy to operate and affordable enough to be standard across all classrooms, but that was also innovative enough to change the landscape of the classroom and create a more active learning space—something that a teacher could use for the whole class as well as in small groups. After researching options to replace our somewhat outdated technology, we ultimately decided on a combination of 55- and 65-inch touchscreen displays.

5 best practices

We had success using the following best practices for implementing new interactive display technologies into schools:

Keep an open mind. We asked school administrators and teachers what they were looking for in a touchscreen technology to ensure we hit the mark, and narrowed it down to four vendors that each submitted a proposal to make sure we had enough options to choose from. In the end, we ended up with touchscreens from NEC Display Solutions.

Ensure ease of use. The displays we chose have software built in that uses native drivers within Windows. The fact that we don’t need to worry about software anymore is huge — these displays give us plug-and-play functionality, which eliminates any future issues with outdated software and the costs of upgrading.

Next page: Learning from the past


Brightspace Excellence Awards highlight innovation in online learning

Innovative educators and educational programs are recognized for taking this online learning to new heights

This year’s Brightspace Excellence Awards, announced at FUSION 2016 by global learning technology provider D2L, recognized the promise of online learning and its ability to connect more and more people to high-quality educational programs.

Faculty dedicated to helping students learn online created robust online environments and high-quality tools to help students succeed in their online learning endeavors.

This year’s crop of winners demonstrated progress and innovation in student and teacher engagement, student retention, and teaching and learning efficiencies that resulted in cost savings.

“This year’s Brightspace Excellence Award winners stand out for their ability to creatively use technology to address some of the most critical challenges facing education today,” said John Baker, President and CEO, D2L. “Students require affordable tuition costs, an engaging learning experience and the most advanced tools to garner the benefits of their education experience. Our award winners have made progress in each of these areas and we couldn’t be more pleased with how they have harnessed and unleashed the power of Brightspace.”

2016 Brightspace Awards for Excellence Winners

The Awards for Excellence celebrate inspiration and innovation in the delivery of a teaching and learning experience that is both unique and collaborative.

University of Akron: Jodi Henderson-Ross, Faculty Designer; Teresa Potter, Senior Instructional Designer

University of Colorado Boulder: Courtney Fell, Instructional Technologist/Designer; Doris Cheung, Learning Experience Designer, Academic Technology Design Team, Office of Information Technology; Aisha Jackson, IT Program Manager, Teaching and Learning Applications, Office of Information Technology; Rebecca Kallemeyn, IT Program Manager, New Student and Family Programs

Gwinnett County Public Schools: Alvin Wilbanks, CEO/Superintendent, Dr. Robert McClure, Chairman of Gwinnett County Board of Education

The University of Akron launched the GenEd Core Pilot Program in Fall 2015 to help increase access to higher education. The program used Brightspace to deliver blended learning courses designed with experiential learning elements that allowed them to be offered with significant cost savings. The Brightspace platform enabled students to personally craft their experiences to adapt to their learning needs, while quizzes and other formative assessments made sure students were on track for success. The design of a “master course” using Brightspace to coordinate and streamline student assessment across multiple sections and faculty members, resulted in new efficiencies that further contributed to cost savings.

To help address its strategic goals of increasing student retention and improving the graduation rate, the University of Colorado Boulder re-envisioned the on-campus student orientation as the online New Student Welcome Experience. Using Brightspace, the team created a robust online environment to accommodate the school’s largest incoming class of 6,208 students. The personalized and streamlined experience enables students to utilize checklists, content, quizzes and widgets through Brightspace to customize their orientation program. To increase motivation and completion rates of optional material, a reward system lets students unlock coupons and drawing entries for campus experiences as they complete modules and pass quizzes.

Gwinnett County Public Schools launched Brightspace in the 2014-15 school year to transform the instruction of its more than 172,000 students through the use of blended learning both in and out of the classroom. To ensure successful adoption of Brightspace across its 132 schools, the district partnered with D2L to develop and implement strategies to increase teacher capacity and adoption of effective practices, providing peer coaching, models of instruction, and effective tools to enhance instructional practices. The success of these efforts are evident: in January 2016, weekly engagement of Brightspace rose to 80-85 percent of teachers and 75-80 percent of students, a significant increase over 2015. Teachers, students and parents report that they see great advantage to digital learning.

Brightspace Excellence Integrations and Extensibility Award Winner

The Excellence in Integrations and Extensibility Award recognizes those who have used Brightspace Valence, the extensibility technology that includes all APIs, client libraries and integration tools, to create a solution that has made an impact on productivity and demonstrates the power of bringing learning technologies together.

Smith School of Business at Queen’s University: Troy St. John, Associate Director,IT – Learning Technology and Application Development; Shane Mitchell, Web/Application Developer; Travis Smith, Web/Application Developer; Kimberly Sullivan, Web/Application Developer; Alex Arthurs, Web/Application Developer

The Application Development Team at the Smith School of Business at Queen’s University used the D2L Valence API to create a suite of tools and applications that work with the Brightspace platform. Tools including a bulk photo upload, auto assignment cover page creator and customized name card printer eased administrative tasks for staff and students, increased efficiencies and saved significant time and labor. Peer Review and Team Review tools enabled students to easily complete and evaluate both self-assessments and team assessments, inspiring teamwork and learning integration. Overall, the tools increased engagement of Brightspace among students and faculty and helped faculty keep their focus on teaching and creating unique learning experiences.

Brightspace Excellence Accessibility Award Winner

The Excellence Award for Accessibility honors those who have demonstrated a superior effort to make online learning accessible to all students, enabling them to reach their full academic potential.

Rochester Institute of Technology: Sandra Connelly, Instructor

In recent years, the General Biology course at Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) has experienced increased numbers of academically supported students and students with severe academic challenges. To address these learning needs, a fully online general education biology course was implemented through Brightspace to heighten student engagement, improve student time-on-task ratios, and decrease the time burden on instructors. The instructor embedded approximately 200 video shorts to include captioning, sign language interpretation and other contextual learning options for students. Since moving the course to fully online, students are spending on average 60 percent more time engaged in the materials, and as a result the average class grades have shown a consistent increase of more than 10 percent.

D2L currently serves learners in 50 countries, and the company’s track record of innovation has been widely recognized. In March, Fast Company Ranked D2L #6 on the Most Innovative Companies of 2016 list in the Data Science Category, amongst Google, IBM, Spotify, Costco, and Blue Cross Blue Shield. eLearning Magazine recently rated D2L as #1 in Adaptive Learning, and Brightspace was recently named the #1 LMS in Higher Ed by Ovum Research.



Free learning platform targets improved media literacy

KQED’s new, free, online learning platform will focus on improving educator media literacy in a safe, fun and social environment

KQED Teach, which launched on July 11, provides a series of free, self-paced courses to help K-12 educators develop the media skills necessary to bring media production and communication to their learning environments.

These courses will take place in an online platform developed by KQED Education that tracks user progress and encourages sharing and feedback through an integrated social community.

KQED Teach participants will have access to a wide range of social media and digital media tools allowing them to construct and remix media in multiple formats and across a variety of platforms while addressing many writing, reading, speaking and listening skills required by both the Common Core State Standards and Next Generation Science Standards.

“Increasingly, educators have demands placed on them to integrate media and media production into their curriculum, but a large percentage of them lack the 21st-century literacy skills necessary to make this transition,” explains KQED’s Vice President, Digital Media and Education, Tim Olson. “KQED Teach will improve educator media literacy and help busy teachers leverage media in their classrooms.”

KQED Education’s Lead Instructional Designer and project lead Randy Depew adds, “We want to give educators the opportunity to roll up their sleeves and start making media themselves, as well as with their students.” KQED Teach will also encourage educators to share their classroom media-making experiences with the KQED Teach community. Select stories will be published on KQED’s In the Classroom blog. Another feature of the platform currently in development will allow educators to earn open badges for achievement.

Examples of courses available at launch:
• Media Essentials reframes traditional media literacy concepts from an audience perspective to a producer perspective.
• Taking Charge of Social Media helps educators understand the ins and outs of social media tools and explore their applications for professional learning.
• Video Storytelling Essentials helps participants develop the specific knowledge and skills to begin telling great stories with video.

Through consistent, purposeful engagement with the social and digital media tools on KQED Teach, educators and their students can become active digital citizens who can gather, comprehend, evaluate, synthesize and report on information and ideas.