3 ways to make classrooms more interactive

Key points:

  • Educators know that interactive instructional approaches are more likely to engage students, but they must integrate technology in meaningful ways
  • Gamifying lessons can help students focus while increasing engagement
  • Turn lectures into back-and-forth conversations between teachers and students
  • Consider peer instruction

Educators who want to reach students who favor interactive communication know that integrating digital tools into their lesson plans can be an effective strategy, and many have incorporated technology tools into the classroom in one way or another.

But to make a real difference, educators have to integrate technology in a meaningful way. It’s not sufficient to just use social media platforms as an alternate communication venue or post schedules on a class Facebook page.

So how can educators use technology in a more meaningful way? Following are three methods educators are successfully using to connect with a new generation of students in the classroom.

Next page: Three ways to make learning more engaging and interactive 


New CTE bill creates new routes to credentialing

U.S. Senators Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) and Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) introduced a bill to give more high school students the opportunity to take career and technical education college courses that can help prepare them for success in the 21st century.

The Workforce Advance Act will help strengthen and expand dual and concurrent enrollment and early college high school options as part of Perkins-supported career technical education (CTE) programs. Strong CTE programs can provide vital access to the knowledge and skills needed for job and career success.

“At a time when higher education is more important for success in the 21st century economy than ever before, we need to help create opportunities for students in high school to prepare for college and their future careers,” Bennet said. “Tens of thousands of kids in Colorado are already taking advantage of dual and concurrent enrollment opportunities, which has helped more of them enroll and do well in college. This bill will help improve career and technical education programs by expanding these opportunities across the country to allow even more students to benefit.”

“This bill creates a fast, affordable route for students to gain the skills and earn the credentials they need to compete in today’s global economy,” Hatch said. “Concurrent enrollment programs are demonstrably effective in helping young men and women prepare for their future careers. Take, for example, my home state of Utah: In 2015 alone, our students earned a variety of career certifications and collectively completed more than 180,000 credit hours of college-level courses-all before graduating high school. With each class students took, they were one step closer to finding a job or earning a college degree. I urge my Senate colleagues to help us empower America’s youth and strengthen our nation’s workforce by supporting this critical legislation.”

The Workforce Advance Act encourages states to examine how they can expand access to CTE dual and concurrent enrollment and early college high school courses. Dual and concurrent enrollment programs and early college courses allow students to earn college credit while still in high school. The bill would allow states to invest leadership dollars in expanding access and supporting teachers and districts to increase the number of courses offered. It would also encourage districts to strengthen CTE programs by incorporating college credit opportunities.

The bill would allow schools to use a portion of the funding they receive through the Perkins Career and Technical Education Act for tuition and fees for CTE college courses.

It also would allow school districts to use funding to support teachers pursuing the credentials needed to teach these courses in their high schools, helping to remove a barrier to providing access to college credit. Finally, the bill would allow the Department of Education to use national CTE activities to help identify successful methods and best practices for providing dual or concurrent enrollment programs and early college high school career and technical education opportunities.

Material from a press release was used in this report.


Getting struggling students to read requires both data and compassion

When I became an administrator back in 2008, I realized there were too many students flying under the radar and not reading at their grade level. If there’s one thing I know as an educator, now a superintendent, it’s that reading level defines success—period. Research shows that if a student reads on grade level, his or her likelihood of being successful dramatically increases.

Early in my educational career, I learned first-hand the impact of using student achievement data to guide my instruction, but assessment results don’t tell the whole story of a student. As part of my mission to see that no student falls through the cracks, all are greater than average, and everyone graduates knowing how to read, I developed an idea called “Truthful Kindness and Necessary Action” to help me balance objective reporting and empathy for students.

The ‘compassionate rescue’ is not enough

In my district, we talk a lot about being kind to students. While my teachers are extremely kind, there are situations where students are what I call “compassionately rescued” from their struggles. In other words, teachers may be allowing struggling students to slide through, or rescue them from the necessary struggle of having to master key skills, when they haven’t shown mastery.

Many times I find this is done out of love for the students. As a teacher, I hated to watch a student struggle to read or fail academic assessments. To save students from falling behind the rest of the class or being singled out, many teachers move them forward with the expectation that they’ll catch on. Although these teachers believe they are being kind to the student at the time, this has a major impact on each student’s long-term educational development.

Next page: How data guides students to become successful


Back-to-school GoFundMe promotion gives every classroom a $50 bonus

In addition to the tissues and graphing calculators on most school supplies lists, teachers might consider something new — a small cash donation. For its relatively-new back-to-school promotion, crowdfund site GoFundMe is gifting a $50 donation to classrooms that raise at least $250 from five different donors.

The campaign that raises the most money will also win a $10,000 prize for their school.

To be eligible for the $50 donation, classrooms must create their campaign using this link between Aug. 17 and Sept 16 (and with the hashtag #GFMtoSchool embedded in the description). Additional details are available on the contest page.

The company’s last promotion, in celebration of Teacher Appreciation Week, gave more than $1 million to teachers through $100 donations.


Study.com selected by Department of Education for EQUIP experiment

Study.com, in partnership with Thomas Edison State University and Quality Matters, has been selected to participate in the Department of Education’s Educational Quality through Innovative Partnerships (EQUIP). The program will allow low-income students access to financial aid for nontraditional education and training programs through partnerships with select colleges and universities.

The partnership between Thomas Edison State University and Study.com offers a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration and a Bachelor of Arts in Liberal Studies. At least half of the coursework in these programs will be completed by taking Study.com video courses.

“I am honored Study.com has been selected for the EQUIP pilot. Equal access to a bachelor’s degree is the key to upward mobility for low-income students, and the foundation for success in today’s knowledge economy,” said Adrian Ridner, CEO and Co-founder of Study.com. “The Thomas Edison State University and Study.com program will provide an accelerated and flexible path to a bachelor’s degree at a fraction of the cost.”

The self-paced Study.com courses are broken down into 5-8 minute lessons which can easily be taken anytime, anywhere—even on a mobile device. The flexibility of program makes it ideally-suited for the increasing number of non-traditional students that are juggling school, work, and other responsibilities.
Quality Matters will be the program’s quality assurance entity to measure student outcomes such as earned credits, degree completion, cost compared to national benchmarks, and student satisfaction.

EQUIP falls under the Experimental Sites Initiatives, which allows the DOE flexibility of regulations regarding financial aid for postsecondary institutions. Through the EQUIP program, the Department seeks to learn about these new models and their costs and educational and employment outcomes for students, as well as explore new methods to measure quality.

“I’m thrilled that students will soon have access to these innovative programs, developed in partnership with colleges and new providers, with the help of federal financial aid,” said Under Secretary of Education Ted Mitchell. “As these innovative programs continue to develop, it will be increasingly important to understand what an outcomes-based quality assurance system looks like for such programs. I am encouraged to see that these colleges, providers, and quality assurance entities have stepped forward to provide models for doing so.”



Kids Discover Online unveils custom assessments feature

Kids Discover, a provider of engaging science and social studies curriculum, announced that its interactive digital library, Kids Discover Online, now includes custom assessment capabilities. Kids Discover Online enables educators to mix and match material from science and social studies to facilitate students’ exploration of big ideas through cross-curricular learning. The newly added Assessments tool gives educators full control to create, distribute, and assess custom quizzes, tests, and homework assignments directly within the platform.

The Assessments feature includes more than 5,000 pre-built questions covering more than 1,200 science and social studies topics. Question types vary to include discussion prompts, short answer, multiple choice, and true/false. Educators can save content to their Classroom and have questions specifically corresponding to a given article automatically populate the question bank.

“It is so important that our users know we listen to their feedback and requests. They are our best source of information on how to continue making our solution the absolute best for them and their students,” said Ted Levine, the president and CEO of Kids Discover. “With pre-built questions, customization features, automated grading, and Gradebook tracking, teachers will now be able to use our science and social studies content to accurately assess their students’ knowledge and understanding within those subjects.”

Using the question bank as a starting point, educators can create custom assessments ranging from short multiple-choice quizzes to longer mixed-question assessments. The tool was created to be as flexible as possible, giving educators the freedom to edit existing questions or create their own. With Assessments, educators can lock and unlock content during assessments to restrict what the student can view while the assessment is in process. This feature can also be used to differentiate homework assignments from exams.

Levine added, “Many of our users use Kids Discover Online daily, and know our content and interface inside out. They’re the experts, and to ensure we are making our product the best it can be, we often engage in phone conversations and emails with our educators to collect detailed, qualitative feedback on what we can do to make our tool even better. The Assessments feature was in high demand, so we built it.”

Teachers can save hours of time spent on grading by creating custom answer keys. Kids Discover will automatically grade all true/false and multiple-choice questions, giving teachers more time to focus on their students. In cases where connectivity is not readily available, teachers can print and distribute custom assessments to students as well.

The Gradebook feature enables educators to view and analyze students’ history on all past assessments within Kids Discover Online, including offline tests manually entered by educators. Gradebook automatically monitors students’ progress throughout the year and provides educators an analysis of where their strengths lie and where they need additional support. Students also have the ability to look at their own past performance or drill into a specific assessment to see which questions they got right or wrong.

As they can with all Kids Discover Online content, students will be able to take assessments on any device, including iPads, laptops, and even mobile phones. The Assessments tool is only for use by those with Kids Discover Online paid accounts.



Pearson unveils Beta-4

Pearson has unveiled the Beta-4, the latest revision of a nonverbal measure of cognitive abilities in adults, originally developed by the U.S. Army during World War I. With today’s Beta-4, clinical psychologists can obtain a quick assessment of adults’ nonverbal intellectual abilities.

Beta-4 is easy to administer and score and is useful for reliably screening large numbers of people for whom administering comprehensive test batteries would be time-consuming and costly. The test has a variety of occupational and educational applications and is great for use with diverse adult populations within a wide range of language skills and levels of cognitive ability. Appropriate uses include prison systems assessing the intellectual ability of inmates, companies evaluating the employment readiness of potential new hires, and vocational schools determining placement of students. Available in both English and Spanish, Beta-4 is also appropriate for use with English as a Second Language individuals, as no reading or verbal response is required.

Updates in Beta-4 include new norms and test items; updated, contemporary artwork; extended age range; low floors for individuals with average and lower cognitive abilities; high ceiling with more challenging items; and simplified and streamlined instructions to make it easier for individualized administration or proctoring in group settings. Supported by research with clinical group studies, the Beta-4 includes five subtests: coding, picture completion, clerical checking, picture absurdities and matrix reasoning.

“At Pearson, we are committed to offering a wide range of solutions to meet the needs of professionals in a variety of settings,” said Aurelio Prifitera, Ph.D., managing director of Pearson’s clinical assessment group. “A quick and easy to administer and score, nonverbal assessment, the Beta-4 exemplifies that commitment.”


The Virtual High School, Quincy College announce dual credit program

The Virtual High School (VHS, Inc.), a nonprofit empowering schools with online learning programs, is announcing its new dual credit partnership with Quincy College, a two-year, municipally affiliated college with campuses in Plymouth and Quincy Massachusetts. Starting Fall of 2016, VHS students can earn college credit from Quincy College for taking online Virtual High School U.S History courses.

Developed by VHS and taught by VHS teachers that meet Quincy College faculty requirements, these online classes are now eligible for transcripted credits, which are transferrable within Massachusetts’ State College and University system. Students who register for dual credit will realize significant savings, since Quincy College offers a discounted rate to high school students, resulting in savings of at least 60% versus comparable State College or University credits.

“This is an exciting step forward for VHS. It has always been part of our mission to offer high quality programs for students who are ready and prepared to tackle college-level work,” said Amy Michalowski, Dean of VHS. “Now we’re able to help students earn college credit in an affordable way. This agreement will provide access to a program they may not have at their high schools, giving them a head start on their college careers.”

VHS plans to expand the dual credit agreement with Quincy College to other courses, including math offerings and additional social studies electives. Eventually, VHS hopes to integrate some of Quincy College’s offerings, such as criminology and accounting, as well.

“Quincy College is pleased to partner with excellent organizations like the Virtual High School to ensure that college is affordable, accessible, and of the highest quality for area high school students. Through the College on My Campus program, high school students can take courses that offer credit as part of their high school program and receive a Quincy College transcript for the same course. We look forward to expanding our partnership in the future with the Virtual High School to include additional courses,” said Michael Marrapodi, Quincy College Dean of Online Programs and Inter-Institutional Affairs.

For more information about Quincy College’s articulation agreements for High School students, please visit: http://quincycollege.edu/community-collaboration/#articulation-agreements—high-school.



Edmodo Envoys program connects local communities of educators through TeachUps

Education network Edmodo has launched its latest professional development program for teachers, Edmodo Envoys. The program is designed to help teachers find and network with one another at the local level and support each others’ professional development efforts.

Edmodo Envoys participate by hosting a TeachUp in their local area, with support and promotion from Edmodo. Tapping into Edmodo’s vast network of 67 million users, Edmodo Envoys can meet and exchange ideas with educators in their communities whom they might not otherwise have met.

TeachUps are meetups for teachers, counselors, administrators and technology leaders designed to foster a strong community of educators in local communities. Types of TeachUps being held around the world include everything from meet-and-greets for new teachers in the area to roundtable discussions around common topics of interest, such as how to make the most of technology in the classroom.

Edmodo seeks to connect teachers in local regions to foster strong local communities that can work in tandem with the Edmodo global community of 67 million unique users.

“From early trials, we could see that teachers found value in connecting and knowledge-sharing both on Edmodo and through local network building,” said Vibhu Mittal, Edmodo’s CEO. “Teachers are looking for ways to engage online and offline, and Edmodo-supported TeachUps help power the local community.”

Sheryl Place, a veteran teacher of English Language Learners, Edmodo Ambassador and Envoy, commented, “I’ve hosted several TeachUps now. Drop-In sessions worked well as we opened the doors to teachers and encouraged new teachers in the area to stop by. Our ‘clinic’ helped teachers have a deeper understanding of Edmodo and, for example, how easy the integration with GAFE and Microsoft works in the classroom.”

She added, “Edmodo is an exceptional platform and a great tool for any teacher to have in their tech toolbox.” Let’s connect and learn together! I can Edmodo that.”

The Edmodo Envoys program is open to teachers and education professionals internationally.