#1: The 7 questions every new teacher should be able to answer

Teaching for the 21st century looks a lot different. Here's what admins -- and teachers -- need to know for job interviews and beyond

[Editor’s note: This story, originally published on June 13th of this year, was our #1 most popular story of the year. Happy holidays, and thank you for tuning into our 2016 countdown!]

Not long ago, the leadership team of a school district I was working with asked me: “If you were going to hire a new teacher, what would you ask in the interview?” They were concerned that hiring teachers with the right skills now can save a district a lot of money in staff development later. Moreover, they wanted to hire teachers who would be open minded about changes to come. The problem is to balance the reality of today’s pressure for test scores and required teacher evaluation with the changes that can be anticipated during the next two decades.

As I wrote in my last column, the traditional skill we valued in teachers when paper was the dominant media—the ability to transfer knowledge of a subject—is becoming less important. Increasingly, a teacher’s knowledge can be found online and in various learning styles. As the internet drives down the value of a teacher’s knowledge, their ability to personalize learning with resources from around the world will increase. We will have more data generated about our students as we build out our online communities. We will need teachers who understand how to make meaning of this data to personalize learning for every student from a vast digital library of learning resources. Also of increasing value is their ability to teach students to be self-disciplined about how “to learn to learn.” Rather than losing overall value, teachers will be more important than ever.

The big change is not adding technology to the current design of the classroom, but changing the culture of teaching and learning and fundamentally changing the job descriptions of teachers and learners.

I offer seven questions we typically ask of teachers in the interview process, along with corresponding questions I think are geared to align with how the internet will force the redefinition of a teacher’s added value:

Current question: What do you know about your subject?

New question: How do you manage your own professional growth?

We typically hire teachers for what they already know, subject knowledge. But what may become more important is to hire teachers who have a great capacity for continuous learning. How do you find resources around the world that you can share with your students? How do you continuously learn?

I would hope that candidates would be able to demonstrate how they follow critical hashtags on Twitter and how they participate in professional communities online, sharing with other teachers from around the world. Or maybe they’ve taken online courses on their own, from sources such as EDX.org or Coursera.org

Current question: How do you share what you already know with students?

New question: How do you teach students to learn what you don’t know?

A common interview question is to demonstrate a lesson you’ve created. But at a time when knowledge transfer is less important than learning how to learn, we may need to reframe this question to: How can you teach students how you learn?

Increasingly, teachers are going to be in positions where their students will have jumped ahead in the curriculum as they explore YouTube and iTunes U for content in the subject. Increasingly, curious students will come to class asking questions about the subject and the teacher may not know the answer. Teachers can either encourage this spark of curiosity and “awe and wonder,” or not.

(Next page: Current question: How do you teach students to solve problems?)


#2: I made my classroom look like the real-world—and test scores soared

An elementary educator’s classroom simulates real life—and boosts test scores.

[Editor’s note: This story, originally published on October 7th of this year, was our #2 most popular story of the year. The countdown continues tomorrow with #1, so be sure to check back!]

Think about the jobs in today’s economy — the ones we’re supposed to prepare students for after graduation. Are employees evaluated using bubble-in tests to prove they know the ins and outs of their job? Do they learn and use new skills one at a time in a vacuum? The questions sound a bit silly until you realize too often that’s what students take away from their education. Why is the culture to drill facts into students’ heads just to pass a test?

Just like in the real world, my students show what they can do through projects, teamwork, and research. Is it working? Well, according to state science exams, my students consistently score higher than other science classes in my district.

I’ve never been a big believer in teaching to a test. Indeed, since my first year in the classroom I’ve used a project-based model with my science and social studies classes. On the first day of school I issue my fifth-graders a PASSPORT (which stands for Preparing All Students for Success by Participating in an Ongoing Real-world simulation using Technology) and explain that their yearlong adventure to “Johnsonville” starts today. The school year is a simulation of adulthood where students work, create, and learn about personal finance and entrepreneurial skills. They experience real-world situations and gain insights into global affairs. Students tend to view my classroom less as a “classroom” and more of an interactive city where all projects intertwine to create an ecosystem of businesses and homes.

Each student has the opportunity to become an entrepreneur, politician, banker, and more. They are given $1,000 in Johnsonville cash to begin their lives. Students must buy a house or rent an apartment, earn wages, and manage their finances. As the children buy and sell items I donate, they learn math skills along with life lessons.

As they would in a real business, they manage a database of their clients or suppliers, create advertising plans, and track their income to ensure they are making a profit. Students even learn different levels of government and hold elections for positions of power, including president and city council. Students can also earn extra money through academic achievements and good behavior.

(Next page: Classroom tips and test scores)


IT#1: What’s next in ed-tech? These 18 trends

Annual Horizon Report lists key ed-tech trends from collaborative learning to VR and wearable tech.

[Editor’s note: This story, originally published on September 14th of this year, was our #1 most popular IT story of the year. For last week’s #2 IT story, click here.]

I do a lot of speaking about ed-tech trends, and none of my talks seem to get larger audiences than those that address new or emerging technologies. Part of this is our never ending interest in what is “new,” and also that little voice in my head that says, “maybe I am falling behind.”

So, as an educator interested in technology — after all, you are reading eSchool News — what is the best source for tracking emerging technologies for learning? And, even more important, which of these emerging technologies address the chief problems you are trying to solve in your school or school district?

The answer to the first question is easy. Each year the New Media Consortium (NMC) and CoSN—the Consortium for School Networking — jointly create the Horizon Report. Produced with the insights of an international panel of experts, and with nearly one million downloads per year, this report on emerging technologies for learning is likely the most well-read report identifying key technology trends for primary and secondary education. (The 2016 Report is made possible by Share Fair Nation at go.nmc.org/2016-k12). This comprehensive report helps education leaders and practitioners develop future-focused digital strategies and learning approaches that mirror the needs and skills of the real world.

The answer to the second question of what trends are most important in your school/school district requires some work on your part. While the 2016 Horizon Report identifies what leading experts see as key trends, the most important conversation to have is to see if any of those trends relate to challenges in your community. The good news is that CoSN is also issuing a new Toolkit to accompany the 2016 Horizon K-12 Education Edition which helps start that conversation. Both the Horizon Report and Toolkit are free.

The toolkit lays the groundwork for you to share the latest education trends and inspire progress amongst your staff and community. From start to finish, the toolkit includes templates, suggestions and guidelines for school and district communication, presentations, and guides for hosting informational events–all in an effort to simplify the process and help you maximize the visibility of the report’s cutting edge results.

(Next page: The key trends

So, what do the experts think are the key trends, significant challenges, and important developments in technology in K-12?  Here you go:

Key Trends Accelerating K-12 Educational Technology Adoption

Long-Term Trends: Driving ed-tech adoption in K-12 education for five or more years:

  • Redesigning Learning Spaces
  • Rethinking How Schools Work

Mid-Term Trends: Driving ed-tech adoption in K-12 education for three to five years:

  • Collaborative Learning
  • Deeper Learning Approaches

Short-Term Trends: Driving ed-tech adoption in K-12 education for one to two years:

  • Coding as a Literacy
  • Students as Creators

Significant Challenges Impeding K-12 Educational Technology Adoption

Solvable Challenges: Those which we both understand and know how to solve:

  • Authentic Learning Opportunities
  • Rethinking the Roles of Teachers

Difficult Challenges: Those we understand but for which solutions are elusive:

  • Advancing Digital Equity
  • Scaling Teaching Innovations

Wicked Challenges: Those that are complex to even define, much less address:

  • The Achievement Gap
  • Personalizing Learning

III. Important Developments in Technology for K-12 Education

Time-to-Adoption Horizon: One Year or Less:

  • Makerspaces
  • Online Learning

Time-to-Adoption Horizon: Two to Three Years:

  • Robotics
  • Virtual Reality

Time-to-Adoption Horizon: Four to Five Years:

  • Artificial Intelligence
  • Wearable Technology

The first step to address emerging technologies for learning is to start by defining the type of learning we want. Once you’ve properly assessed your current situation, the next step is to look at the exciting new tools that will enable that vision.


#3: Classroom observations may hurt teachers more than they help, study says

Classroom observations -- one of the most widely-used forms of teacher evaluation -- might be setting teachers up to fail

[Editor’s note: This story, originally published on January 19th of this year, was our #3 most popular story of the year. The countdown continues tomorrow with #2, so be sure to check back!]

Teachers might be at a disadvantage during classroom observation of their instructional practice, which is one of the most widely-used tools for high-stakes job performance evaluations. And whether or not students have a history of high classroom achievement could be the reason why.

Research from the University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education (Penn GSE) and the American Institutes for Research (AIR) indicates that evaluations based on observing teachers in the classroom often fail to meaningfully assess teacher performance.

The study, published in Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, adds to the ongoing policy debate over when and how teachers should be evaluated.

Researchers Matthew Steinberg, from Penn GSE, and Rachel Garrett, from AIR, found that students’ prior academic achievement is a significant predictor of teacher success in the high-stakes evaluation system.

“When information about teacher performance does not reflect a teacher’s practice, but rather the students to whom the teacher is assigned, such systems are at risk of misidentifying and mislabeling teacher performance,” Steinberg and Garrett wrote.

(Next page: Which teachers are more likely to be among top performers when assigned high-achieving students?)


#4: What does research really say about iPads in the classroom?

Two educators put the research to the test. When (and how) are iPads in the classroom most effective?

[Editor’s note: This story, originally published on February 15th of this year, was our #4 most popular story of the year. The countdown continues tomorrow with #3, so be sure to check back!]

Popular mobile devices may come and go, but the iPad has remained a hit in the K-12 classroom. But even though they’re in schools, our work with teachers has led us to understand that while many of them would like to use iPads meaningfully in their classrooms, they can’t because of time, access, and training.

So for the past year and a half, we’ve both been working with teachers and university students integrating iPad technology into the classroom in a controlled way. While doing this, we came across several outcomes that made us question and dig deeper into what the research actually says about using them in the classroom. Do students and younger teachers use them more effectively? Do they work better for some student populations? It’s probably not giving much away to say that the most important learning outcome we found was that experience is the greatest teacher.

First, a note about who we are. Jeanne is a teacher (elementary and part-time professor) and Tanya is a university professor (former special education teacher) who loved using technology as a teaching tool. Jeanne wrote several grants to bring technology into her school and her classroom but she kept noticing that she was flying solo—very few of her school’s teachers were using iPads in the classroom beyond the usual Friday afternoon fun time and as a reward for being “good.” We wanted to know more about this resistance and hesitation when it came to the use of iPads in the classrooms.

Much of the work done on iPads in the classroom is anecdotal and practitioner based, with limited research on student use of iPads. Surveys of student use of iPads report overwhelmingly that students enjoy learning and stay more focused when using iPads (Mango, 2015). The research on teacher integration and the results are much more limited. More commonly, studies report that teachers are often resistant to truly integrating iPads into their classrooms because of the constraints of time and training (Clark and Luckin, 2012).

For our own work, we had our university assign 15 pre-service teacher interns to Jeanne’s elementary school, and we gave those students training in how to use iPads in the classroom and how to troubleshoot problems. Great idea, right? It was, but it was also full of hurdles and, let’s not call them mistakes, let’s call them, ahem, “learning experiences.” We synthesized the research and connected it to not only our findings but our own teaching experience. What follows are our top 5 take aways.

Research says that digital natives can do it! (Prensky, 2006)

We thought “younger” teachers and our interns would naturally know how to use iPads. But just because they know how to use Instagram, Snapchat, and Twitter to meet up with friends or keep current on the latest hipster fashion doesn’t mean they know how to design and implement lessons that effectively integrate mobile technology. Working with mentor teachers, we found that they had an assumption that young student teachers would naturally know the latest and greatest. The truth is that some do but many don’t, so training is essential! We gave our interns time to “play” on the iPads—with and without kids. We also gave them lesson ideas and activities for the classroom.  They became models for the classroom teachers and were able to go into a room and help a teacher not only implement their lessons but also help with planning ideas.  Our interns got very good at saying, “Hey, there’s an app for that!”

(Next page: More iPads in the classroom research facts)


#5: 20 educational resources for new teachers

New teachers need support, research indicates, and these free online resources can help.

[Editor’s note: This story, originally published on April 14th of this year, was our #5 most popular story of the year. The countdown continues tomorrow with #4, so be sure to check back!]

It’s no secret that new teachers sometimes struggle to feel empowered in their positions as educators. In fact, a lack of support, experienced teacher mentors, and resources lead many new teachers to leave their profession within the first three years.

While technology can be a great tool, finding the right technology or tool often proves challenging and time-consuming.

During an edWeb webinar, Shannon Holden, assistant principal at Republic Middle School in Missouri and a longtime educator, offered a list of websites to help new teachers find online resources quickly and easily.

“With the internet being what it is, you don’t have to re-invent the wheel every time you want to teach a concept,” Holden said.

Searching for educational materials online can reduce work time, Holden said, because many other educators have already produced the same exact resource another educator might be searching for. That resource can be tweaked or edited to meet individual educator or class needs.

(Next page: 20 websites to help new teachers find content)


App of the Week: A small group math experience

Innovative combo of live small-group instruction and solid online math lessons.

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.

What’s It Like? 

Zearn is an online math curriculum for grades 1 through 5, with supplemental skills practice activities for kindergartners. Students open up to a dashboard with tasks to be completed, which include a variety of fluency warm-ups that promote general number sense and lesson-specific skills, as well as guided practice with interactive video lessons that feature enthusiastic human teachers and school-age children (“The Zearn Squad”). Students will also find an independent practice and formative assessment activity rolled into one (called the Tower of Power) and a summative exit ticket.

Price: Free, paid for extra

Grades: K-5

Rating: 4/5

Pros: Thorough scaffolding and reinforcement of learned skills, it’s a great resource for live instruction and tons of useful data.

Cons: Could use more open-ended multiple-solution problems; practice is light on conceptual reasoning.

Bottom line: If you’re looking for the perfect balance of online lessons and in-person support, at home or in school, look no further.


#6: 13 apps that promote higher-order thinking standards

These mobile apps go way beyond games.

[Editor’s note: This story, originally published on May 31st of this year, was our #6 most popular story of the year. The countdown continues Monday with #5, so be sure to check back!]

Mobile devices are becoming increasingly common in schools because they cost so much less than computers—especially since so many students are willing to bring their own devices to school.

While mobile devices, tablets in particular, have been commonly used to reinforce math and reading skills through the use of games, they can also be used to promote the development of higher level skills and knowledge included in the National Educational Technology Standards for Students (NETS*S): creativity and innovation; communication and collaboration; research and information fluency; and critical thinking and problem solving. Here are a handful of high-quality apps that reinforce these skills and promote others.

Writing skills

Students who resist typical writing instruction with pencil and paper may blossom as authors when given the opportunity to compose electronically on computers and tablets. Some that struggle with the fine motor skills necessary for producing legible print are liberated by the ability to type. Although pressing letters on a flat screen without being able to feel them may be awkward for an adult accustomed to typing on a keyboard, students that learn to type on these devices when they’re young are likely to be as skilled on them as they are on a traditional keyboard.

Another advantage of having students compose their written work on mobile devices is the ability to save and organize work. The Noteshelf app allows users to type on the virtual keyboard or write with a stylus in a wide variety of colors, and includes the ability to highlight in several colors. PDFs can be imported or new documents can be created from scratch.

Collins Big Cat Books apps appear to be simple read-aloud picture books with beautiful animated pictures and sound effects. However, each one has a ‘Read by Myself’ option enabling the reader to read aloud and record their voice. Reading buddy activities could involve older students recording themselves so their younger partners can listen to them reading the book at any time. They have a ‘Story Creator’ feature that has several backgrounds similar to the original story, objects, characters, and speech bubbles that enable students to create their own picture book. This feature makes the C. Collins Big Cat Books apps appropriate for a wide range of grade levels.

(Next page: Apps for presentations, research, and more)


#7: The 4 essentials of a successful Genius Hour

Genius Hour projects may be open ended, but there are still some ground rules.

[Editor’s note: This story, originally published on January 26th of this year, was our #7 most popular story of the year. The countdown continues tomorrow with #6, so be sure to check back!]

What are you passionate about? What do you want to do more than anything in the world? Well I hope you said what you are doing right now. This is not always the case. Some people hate what they are doing. They may hate it because it pays too little, but being a teacher doesn’t make me very wealthy and I love what I’m doing. More importantly, people may hate their job because they would rather be doing something else. This is where I think we can do better in education.

As educators, we can help our students find and explore their passions. Once they discover what they’re truly passionate about, the learning and engagement will never stop. The best way for students to explore their passions is through Genius Hour.

Genius Hour isn’t new concept. Many teachers and businesses have been doing this for a while. Companies like HP and Google started “20 Time” so their staff could pursue passions projects and make their organizations stronger. Similarly, teachers have allowed students to read any book and present a book report in any format for a while now, giving them a chance to indulge their interests while learning. Of course, the true concept of Genius Hour is more open than a book report. It recognizes the need for students to have the freedom to explore their passions and not be restricted.

However, even with all this freedom, we still need some rules. The way I see it, the four rules to Genius Hour are: propose, research, create, and present. As long as your students are following this basic structure, they should have a successful Genius Hour experience. Here some tips for making those rules work in your classroom.

Let students explore their passions First things first: make sure kids have enough time to explore what makes them passionate in the first place. After all, they need to know what their interests are in order to be able to explore them in depth. I use Thrively as a starter. The kids use the site to take an assessment that will show them their strengths. They can then use this strength assessment to watch videos, choose a Genius Hour project, or look at events happening around them. Letting students explore their passions is an essential part of Genius Hour. Another way to help students explore themselves is to create a Wonder wall or a Problem-Solvers Wall. This is simply a space for students to put sticky notes with questions or problems the want to solve. These walls aren’t just impactful for the students. The teachers can learn a lot about their students by looking at their “wonders” and “problems”. Once the students have asked those questions and explored themselves they can now decide what they want their focus to be. I also use a worksheet so students can get their ideas out about who they are and what their interests are. The next step is for each student to make a Project Proposal.

(Next page: 3 more tips for a Genius Hour)


IT #2: 3 reasons why AI is education’s future

UX innovator discusses what forward-thinking schools are doing now, and what AI in education will look like in the near future.

[Editor’s note: This story, originally published on August 17th of this year, was our #2 most popular IT story of the year. The countdown continues next Wednesday with #1, so be sure to check back!]

If you ask kids today why phrases like “hang up” the phone or “roll down” the window exist, chances are they’ll have no idea. Fast-forward to the near future and “search the web” may also cause a few head scratches.

“We’re evolving, but remain electronic ‘hunters and gatherers,’” explained Ralph Lucci, cofounder and user experience director at Behavior Design.

But that’s about to change thanks to today’s quickly emerging artificial intelligence (AI) technology for practically every industry, including education. “The day will soon come when we’ll sardonically ask ourselves: ‘Remember when we had to visit a website and look around for what we needed?’ Now the data comes to us.”

And while mainstream AI isn’t at that level just yet, innovative industries and some schools are already either beginning to implement AI basics or planning to structure entire departments or services on the potential power of AI.

3 Reasons Why AI is Education’s Future


1. It will revolutionize the competition.

Almost every school or institution is currently vying for recognition among students that have become incredibly choosy consumers, and AI could be an effective way to stand out from the crowd, said Lucci.

“If an institution is embracing AI, students know there’s support and structure around these kinds of technologies and modernized learning; which is a good thing. Students will hold the school in higher regard and in turn the institution can attract more diverse and like-minded audiences, including professors and teachers! It’s a win-win situation.”

One of the more immediate ways Lucci sees AI working as a differentiator is via school portals or college and university websites. As he explains, AI provides a much different UX (user experience) than sites today are currently capable of.

According to Lucci, users consume online content in three ways–what behavioral designers call surgical, casual and assisted means. “Most websites employ solutions for quick access (surgical) and the ability to search, browse, and peruse (casual). The notion of guided (assisted) experience is typically only employed when necessary or relevant to the subject matter, e.g. wizards or calculators.” But Lucci noted that with the mainstreaming of AI, websites and portals will allow for this last tier to emerge as a means to simplify experiences and interfaces.


“It may begin as a complementary offering, much like a customer service representative or live chat agent, but eventually this strategy can be front and center in any interface,” he explained. “In either case, a simple “What can we help you with today?” can generate a response in many forms – whether that is a direct answer with next steps or a potential list of results/matches – that initiates a personalized path akin to a choosing-your-own adventure experience. Institutions can ‘test pilot’ AI and adjust accordingly after gleaning feedback about how it may best serve student and school goals.”

Next page: Can AI be personalized?