Report: Gamifying computer science is an easy place to start

With efforts to expand computer science education growing across the nation, some schools still grapple with a big problem: they don’t have the staff or space to accommodate a computer science course.

In fact, though interest in computer science education, and access to it, is growing, a recent report found that not enough students are taking high-quality computer science classes at the high school and university levels.

The report found that just half of U.S. states actually count computer science as a math or science credit rather than an elective, and 29 states lack computer science teacher certification programs.

But a new approach that teaches coding through gamification makes it easy for teachers with zero computer science background to teach coding to students.

CodeCombat offers a game-based platform through which students learn coding in an engaging manner. And this fall, schools are introducing the platform as a way to connect students to computer science and coding in a more permanent way.

Next page: Two districts that are implementing the platform this fall


5 ways to improve your school website design right now

These days, before visiting your campus or even speaking to anyone on the phone, the first impression anyone will ever have with your school is via its website. When researching existing schools, the majority of people will automatically undertake in-depth online research to learn more about their options. Therefore, it is crucial that your website contains enough relevant information that is eye catching and easy to navigate through so as to provide helpful information and not confuse the visitor, causing them to leave the website. After enrollment, the website will serve as a vital link between parents, students and school administration.

Content seems to be key here, yet it is not merely enough, meaning if it is not organized in the right way, it will be difficult to find or there will be too much of it, therefore it will not serve its purpose. This is where design plays its part in providing solutions for content display and organization.

That being said, design is not something you should fear since it does not present a difficult task given the development and advancement in the CMS that enable even those without much designer skills achieve great results. Yet, there are a few steps you should consider and implement if you want to maximize your website’s effectiveness.


Too many times we have seen great looking websites ruined by too much unnecessary content, complicated navigation, or both. The logic behind this seems to be — the more you are displaying, the more you have to offer. Instead, you should think like the visitor of your site thinks. Yes, beautiful visuals could grab the attention for a while, but information and content is what they came for, so don’t let the flashy stuff get in the way of information. Here are the most important features of a school’s website that need to be simplified in order to get results.

  • Home page content – While it is completely understandable that you want to impress your visitors into future clients, your home page must not be overcrowded with useless information and too much content of any kind. With the little help from elegant WordPress LMS themes you can have a beautiful and personalized home page and still keep it simple in terms of the content. Your home page should show a concise profile of your school with clear and easy to follow links to the most important pages such as school calendar, timetables, courses description, teachers’ profiles, contact page etc.


  • Navigation – Your website needs to have a natural flow, which means that users need to be directed to the desired pages quickly and easily so as not to get confused and eventually give up. Again, think like the visitor on your website, and place call to action banners, social media buttons, and menu bars where people expect to find them without having to spend some time looking for them.
  • User integration – Registration process as well as login should be simple easy and fast in order to feel seamless for the user. If you’re offering courses or tuition for purchase on the site, you need an efficient means of handling that, too (payment systems such as PayPal and WooCommerce are integrated into every modern LMS WordPress theme).

Next page: Visuals and multimedia tips for every school


3 ways the flipped classroom leads to better subject mastery

Now that the buzz about flipped learning is calming and the novelty is wearing off, the time has come to dig a little deeper into the natural outcomes of flipping. Specifically, flipping can change the type of work students complete and the way in which class time will be used; it can modify the nature of assessment, and it can alter the way in which teachers will report student work.

First and foremost, we should define some terms. On the most basic level, flipped learning occurs when instructors make use of video lectures outside the class in order to bring what was being done in the homework space back into the classroom. In short: lecture at home, homework in class.

Much of the conversation about flipping has focused on using teacher-created video as an instructional tool, but the real benefit of flipping the classroom does not come from video. The true benefit comes from using videos as a teaching tool to deliver direct instruction at home so teachers are free to reinvent classroom time.

Truly personalized learning

Inevitably, a teacher who is new to flipping will use materials from previous years. In fact, beginning flippers often change only the time and space in which content is delivered and practice is completed. One main benefit of this basic form of a flipped classroom is that, instead of students completing homework assignments outside the observation of the teacher, they now complete all work under the direct supervision of the classroom teacher. Thus, in a flipped class, the time that a teacher once spent delivering new content can be used catching and correcting each student’s misconceptions.

One way to foster student engagement and to facilitate active learning is to give students the opportunity to choose what they will do to learn and practice. But teachers should also use professional judgement in the extent to which they offer choice. Limited choices are more appropriate for most learners than absolute autonomy. One practical way to facilitate limited choice is through choice boards or selecting from a list.

Flipped classrooms give students the time to explore what they need to learn, and new ed tech programs are helping teachers give students choices both in and out of the classroom. For example, software like ClassFlow allows educators to create and deliver lessons, assignments, and assessments. When students have anytime, anywhere access to content, learning can take place beyond the classroom and become truly personalized.

Next page: Bringing student choice to assessment


App of the Week: Google’s great free coding app

Ed. note: App of the Week picks are now being curated by the editors of Common Sense Education, which helps educators find the best ed-tech tools, learn best practices for teaching with tech, and equip students with the skills they need to use technology safely and responsibly. Click here to read the full app review.

Google CS First


What’s It Like? Google CS First is an online platform for creating, managing, and teaching a middle school computer science (CS) program. There are currently 72 programming explorations and lessons across nine domains (such as arts, gaming, sports, storytelling, and social media). Each lesson is ready to go out of the box and includes a minute-by-minute teacher script, student instructions, example projects, materials (with solution guides), and more. The site also features comprehensive help guides for everything from setting up and maintaining a club to tips for classroom management and discipline issues.

Price: Free

Grades: 4-8

Rating: 4/5

Pros: Fantastic lesson plans, turnkey resources, and club-organization tools make it easy to build a great CS program with little work or prior experience.

Cons: Lessons still rely heavily on watching a video and replicating procedures rather than exploring, plus some tricky setup is required.

Bottom line: If your middle school doesn’t have a CS program, now you do! It’s really that easy, and available content will only grow as time goes on.


6 ways to ensure public virtual schools serve all students

States are getting federal guidance to make sure students with disabilities attending public virtual schools receive the special education and supports they deserve.

In a letter to states, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (OSERS) focuses on specific requirements in the Individual with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) for public virtual schools.

“Over the last decade, there has been a proliferation of The guidance addresses the supervision responsibilities of states and the applicability of IDEA’s child find provisions to children attending public virtual schools,” according to the letter. The letter also clarifies states’ responsibility to provide a free appropriate public education (FAPE) to children with disabilities attending public virtual schools.

“Children with disabilities attending virtual schools have the same right to a free appropriate public education as children attending brick and mortar schools,” said OSERS Acting Assistant Secretary Sue Swenson. “States and school districts must ensure that children with disabilities are getting the special education and supports that they need to be successful in school.”

Next page: The letter’s key points 


The Friday 4: Your weekly ed-tech rewind

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

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

This week, our stories focus on one thing, which policy makers have said is a necessity, and not a luxury, in life: the internet. When schools have solid high-speed internet connections, students and teachers can access an infinite number of resources and tools that enhance learning. When a school has spotty internet, little or no wireless, or slow connections, a much bleaker picture emerges.

Read on for more:

Can your internet service provider help close the digital divide?
The digital divide is a reality for three out of four American families, meaning approximately eight million individuals under the age of 18 are living without internet access. According to Pew Research, 79 percent of surveyed middle and high school teachers report allowing students to access homework online with 76 percent allowing students to submit assignments online. However, only 18 percent of teachers reported the majority of students have access to the digital tools they need at home, which left those students without access to broadband at a significant disadvantage.

Distance learning fills core gaps at rural school
South Dakota is leveraging a statewide distance learning center to link students to core courses. Started 15 years ago, the Center for Statewide E-learning has worked to fill gaps at smaller, rural South Dakota schools, she said. The offerings have helped level the playing field between large and small districts.

The next generation of wireless services: Super-fast 5G
Federal regulators recently opened the door to the next generation of wireless services, making the U.S. the first nation to allocate a wide swath of airwaves to deliver super-fast 5G access.

5 tips for using live video in the classroom
New video technology, supported by a reliable internet connection, is making the classroom video chat option much more flexible and practical, too. A good mix of graphics, video chat, and interactions can deliver excellent educational values. This allows for far better discussion and communications opportunities.


Schools are gamifying science with this new STEM app

A new app that lets users upload photos of insects and animals is aiding the discovery of new species, NPR reports.

Photos uploaded to the iNaturalist app are accompanied by a location, and from there, amateur and expert naturalists can examine the photos to identify the species.

One of the app’s developers told NPR that making science fun and gamifying it can be challenging when a “mixed crowd” wants both technical capabilities along with open-ended exploration.

Activities and tools such as this app, which can be used for amateur biologists but also for classroom purposes, might be key to engaging students in STEM subjects.

A large majority of teenage students said they are interested in science, but most instructional approaches fail to bring the subject matter to life in an engaging way, according to a new survey.

“Students on STEM: More Hands-on, Real-World Experiences,” from the Amgen Foundation and Change the Equation (CTEq), was conducted to better understand what motivates U.S. high school students to study STEM.

Surveyed students said they want additional opportunities that will inspire them to explore careers in scientific fields, and teachers are uniquely positioned to stimulate students’ interest in STEM.

The survey found that many teenagers like science and understand its value, but common teaching methods, such as teaching straight from the textbook, do not bring the subject matter to life in the same way hands-on, real-life experiences do.

Eighty-one percent of surveyed students said they are interested in science, and 73 percent expressed interest in biology. However, only 37 percent of teenagers said they like their science classes “a lot.” By contrast, 48 percent reported liking non-science classes “a lot.”

When it comes to engaging students, those surveyed said two-way, hands-on learning, like experiments and field trips, are most likely to engage them in biology, followed by tools that help them relate biology to real life. One-way communication, such as class discussions or teaching straight from the book, are least interesting, but among the most common.


This city’s blended learning program has led to a big culture shift

Key takeaways:

  • A blended learning program in D.C. began in 2012 is freeing up time for more project-based learning by pairing ELA and math software with individualized lessons.
  • Both national and local grants are providing much of the funding.
  • A training program is helping teachers rethink lessons for blended learning.
  • One school has seen an 11-point increase in its math proficiency rate and a 4.5-point increase in reading.
  • “We’ve seen a real culture shift here and I suspect that we’ll see continued changes and a lot of success,” said one district ed-tech leader.

For the past two years, the Washington, D.C. Public School District (DCPS) has earned a sort of celebrity status with lawmakers, superintendents, and think tank heads filing in to see what, and especially how, students are learning. They have a good reason to visit. In a district that has been plagued with low test scores and student performance, several D.C. schools have seen student proficiency levels jump in math and reading in recent years.

Part of their success has hinged on the way teachers are using blended learning in the classroom.

“Blended learning definitely has been an important factor in the changes we’ve seen in our students, our teachers, and in our schools,” says David Rose, deputy chief in the district’s Dept. of Educational Technology and Library Programs.

In its simplest form, blended learning programs combine face-to-face instruction with personalized online learning using adaptive courseware that gives students some control over their pace and content of instruction.

Next page: How it works in practice


These high schools are putting students to work — literally

Two long-awaited high schools are opening this week in Baton Rouge, offering different pathways to college and the working world.

Opening Monday is Cristo Rey Baton Rouge Franciscan High School, the newest member of a Chicago-based network of 32 Catholic schools in 21 states and the network’s first in Louisiana.

Supporters have been working for more than two years to bring Cristo Rey to Baton Rouge. Its inaugural class of 78 ninth-graders will not only learn in the classroom, but starting Monday, they also will go to work. At least one full day each week, they will work at a white-collar job in town. In exchange, 17 Baton Rouge employers have agreed to underwrite part of their tuition.

On Wednesday, students return to Lee High School historic home in the Southdowns subdivision after spending three years in a temporary location. They return to a new $54.7 million building and a new academic program. About 850 students in grades nine to 12 are expected to show up, nearly twice the number who enrolled last year; the public school eventually will grow to about 1,200 students.

A cross between a community college and a Silicon Valley startup, Lee High’s new campus has a commons building and three academies, focusing on digital media, engineering and biomedicine. Students will have the chance to amass a variety of college credits, ranging from mainstays like math and English to rare courses like cell genetics.

Cristo Rey students first arrived July 12 for a three-week orientation to get ready not just for school but their new workplaces.

Roderick Adams said her daughter Rakia, 14, learned about work ethic and conduct. For instance, she spent one session learning just about proper phone etiquette.

“You can’t just send a text message like you do with your friends,” Adams said. “You’ve got to be professional.”

On Friday morning, they returned dressed in blue plaid Catholic school uniforms. They sat in the pews next door at St. Gerard Majella Catholic Church to celebrate Mass and officially dedicate their new school.

“What a fantastic opportunity. You have a great privilege,” said an ebullient Bishop Robert Muench, who presided over the Mass. “You have a lot of people pulling for you.”

“If this sounds like a pep talk, that’s what I had in mind,” Muench continued. “I want you be fired up! Not fired.”

Yes, students at Cristo Rey can get fired. If that happens, they get second chances with a different employer. Students terminated twice, however, not only lose their job, they are expelled from the school.

Next page: Re-imagining once failing schools


Office Depot partners with district to develop high school STEM wing

Office Depot, Inc. announced the opening of a new STEM wing at Lovejoy High School, located in Lucas, Texas. The STEM wing was unveiled at Learning @ Lovejoy, a nine-day professional development conference with more than 50 sessions for every subject area, level and role within K-12 education.

The nearly 28,000 square foot addition features 12 classrooms, two engineering labs, five computer labs and one think tank incubator space, geared toward teaching science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). Office Depot, Inc. provided full end-to-end services from visioning to implementation of the furniture and equipment along with a financial contribution toward the incubator space, which was designed to facilitate a high-impact learning environment that fosters creativity and innovation.

“Today’s classrooms need to stimulate learning in an environment where technology and digital learning are integral components,” said Becki Schwietz, senior director of K-12 Initiatives for Office Depot, Inc. “The STEM program at Lovejoy exemplifies modern learning, and we are pleased to contribute toward this innovative educational solution.”

The STEM wing provides students with two distinct applied learning areas spanning two floors. On the first floor, students produce projects using work tables and traditional and digital tools under the apprenticeship of industry professionals and educators working with them to design, prototype and synthesize advanced products. The second floor, a think tank incubator nest, was created in collaboration with Office Depot, Inc. and overlooks the busy workshop below. This space facilitates ideation, observation and project management of the first floor production area. Although the two areas are separated, they were developed to facilitate collaboration through different steps within the same student-led design process.

The space was designed to resemble an industrial and advanced digital workshop with building systems such as plumbing, electrical, HVAC and some structural beams left exposed to highlight the systems in place that support and operate the building. The incubator space is outfitted with conference tables, high-definition smart TV monitors, and office chairs instead of the typical student seating. Learners and visitors to the space can also experience furnishings and digital tools that are common in modern STEM work environments.

The new STEM wing was developed with input from teachers, who worked with the district to outline the program goals. The STEM courses offered at Lovejoy High School support students in the practice of applying diverse subject area skillsets in order to solve real world and authentic problems, encourage creative thinking and problem solving, and enhance collaboration among students and teachers.

“Office Depot has been a tremendous partner in helping our district establish a 21st century model for educational design,” said Dennis Muizers, deputy superintendent for Lovejoy Independent School District. “The ability to be flexible in order to meet the needs of each student is the hallmark of our learning spaces and instructional goals, and we are thrilled to make this vision a reality for our students and take their education to an even higher level.”