4 tips for making your data usable

K-12 and higher education institutions around the country have invested in data visualization software with the promise of better information and insights. Unfortunately, there can be lots of pitfalls along the way. Often, stakeholders can’t get what they need quickly and easily – and can’t actually gain the deeper insights they need – so they can’t use big data to drive decisions that transform programs, curriculums and student outcomes.

Here are four areas K-12 and higher education institutions should focus on to realize the most value from data visualization technologies:

1. Provide Training and Self-Help Materials

Many education professionals are not savvy about data or analytics. They need help learning how to understand data and interpret analytical reports correctly before they can make informed decisions. Institutions must offer appropriate user training and self-help resources, which can take many forms, such as video tutorials. Some institutions use a train-the-trainer approach, identifying key stakeholders whom they can educate and turn into effective, confident data consumers. Others provide hands-on user workshops in computer labs. Many utilize training provided by software vendors.

Regardless of the type of training used, complement it with additional self-help materials, such as user manuals and data dictionaries that define value hierarchies, data elements and more. These materials can be offered in hard copy or through context-sensitive online documentation.

2. Develop In-House Expertise

This is somewhat an extension of the first training tip, but this is what will sustain the data visualization effort for years to come. While a vendor is happy to help with consulting and technical support issues, it’s much more efficient to have someone on staff with deep understanding of the system.

Institutions should consider developing in-house expertise through two channels. Take advantage of the consulting offered by the software vendor during the development phase. That expert, on-site assistance can foster the knowledge needed to sustain the project moving forward. Supplement that with online courses, training classes, software manuals and programming guides.

Universities and colleges typically have an office of institutional research that executes and manages all data management, reporting and analytics activities. But this isn’t always the case for K-12 districts. Yet it is vital for school districts to have at least one person who is dedicated to becoming an expert in data visualization software, developing and executing strategy, creating reports, educating people, answering user questions and more.

(Next page: Data visualization tips 3-4)


7 sneaky ways to get students reading using technology

We all have had students in our classroom who dislike reading. You can spot them easily during their silent reading time: staring at the wall, using the bathroom, or attempting to sharpen pencils that clearly do not need sharpening. Sadly, the number seems to jump year after year. You attempt to cajole, differentiate, and bring in parents knowing that the only way to improve reading is to read.

Don’t give up hope! You can get these students reading, but it is time to get creative, smart—and yes, sneaky—about it. Sometimes, using something many students like (technology) can get them inspired to read.

1. Use a digital timer. Sustained silent reading time can feel like “forever” for a reluctant reader. To keep attention from wandering and to build up stamina, use a highly visible digital timer. It can be as simple as one built into an iPad (if you teach in a 1:1 environment) or a free one online projected onto an interactive whiteboard. The point is that students know the expectation and the timer helps keep them focused and reading until the expectation is met.

2. Create challenges and badges. Promoting reading with easy badges that students can earn is a powerful motivator. Create a series of digital badges, some of which are easy to achieve and some of which are slightly harder, that students can apply for by showing evidence of learning or completing a performance task. Free sites like Classflow and Edmodo offer easy-to-make digital badges that get linked to students’ accounts.

3. Promote multimedia books. Introduce books that have a multimedia component where the focus isn’t just on reading. A good author for these types of books is Patrick Carmen. His Skelton Creek and 3:15 series have readers going to internet sites to watch videos throughout key parts of the stories.

(Next page: Reading with technology tips 4-7)


After ethics review, Senate postpones vote for Betsy DeVos

According to the Washington Post:

“The Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions has postponed the vote on Trump’s education pick Betsy DeVos, hours after receiving the completed ethics review for the Michigan billionaire.

The committee vote, originally scheduled to take place Tuesday has been rescheduled for Jan. 31 at 10 a.m., according to a statement from the HELP committee chairman Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.). The announcement arrived after the Office of Government Ethics, an agency that examines nominees’ financial disclosures and resolves potential conflicts of interest, released its long-awaited report Friday. Alexander said he wants to give each Senator on the committee time to review the documents.

Ethics Director Walter M. Shaub Jr. had said a full vetting of extremely wealthy individuals, such as DeVos, could take weeks, if not months, much to the chagrin of Senate Democrats who wanted to review it before DeVos’s confirmation hearing, which took place Tuesday evening.”

(Read the full story on the Washington Post here)


6 districts going the distance to help principals

Four years into a massive Wallace Foundation effort to help six large urban school districts improve their principal pipelines, an independent study reveals all districts have made impressive strides in helping principals strengthen leadership and classroom instruction.

The report on the Wallace Foundation’s Principal Pipeline Initiative notes that novice school principals directly benefit from improved quality of their training, hiring, evaluations, mentoring and other support during their crucial first years on the job.

In fact, district superintendents and school leaders were so committed to the training program’s success that benefits were quick to come.

“To a striking extent, all six districts carried out the kinds of policies and practices called for by the Principal Pipeline Initiative,” said lead author Brenda Turnbull of Policy Studies Associates, the group that conducted the study. “The result has been that both superintendents and novice principals are already reporting changes for the better.”

(Next page: Key report findings and strategies to boost school leadership)


How 4 visionary schools are venturing into a new mixed reality

A new collaboration between Pearson and Microsoft is using a self-contained holographic computer to develop “mixed reality” learning experiences for students.

The collaboration will explore how mixed reality can help solve real challenges in areas of learning, ranging from online tutoring and coaching, nursing education, and engineering to construction and surveyor training.

Microsoft says its HoloLens is the world’s first self-contained holographic computer. Pearson is developing and piloting mixed reality content at colleges, universities and secondary schools in the United States and around the world.

Video: Hololens

HoloLens leverages virtual reality and augmented reality to create a new reality – mixed reality. With virtual reality, the user is immersed in a simulated world. Augmented reality overlays digital information on top of the real world. Mixed reality merges the virtual and physical worlds to create a new reality whereby the two can coexist and interact.

By understanding the user’s environment, mixed reality enables holograms to look and sound like they are part of that world. This means learning content can be developed for HoloLens that provides students with real world experiences, allowing them to build proficiency, develop confidence, explore and learn.

(Next page: Four schools using mixed reality)


App of the Week: Math gets adaptive

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? 

After taking an initial assessment to gauge their competency level, students are presented with a pie chart of competency, a timeline of content to master, and a number of ways to dive into that content. Once they select a subject, they’re given a fairly typical textbook-style lesson, with written explanations and vocabulary, worked example problems, and then a series of practice questions. ALEKS gives feedback on what students are doing well and struggling with along the way, and it either speeds or slows progression as it measures successful work. As kids get through lessons, sectors of their competency pie grow to reflect their emerging skill.

Price: Free to try, paid

Grades: 3-12

Rating: 4/5

Pros: Provides tons of data to teachers and students, and competency-based progression is far better than grades.

Cons: Math content is mostly traditional, decontextualized and dry.

Bottom line: For kids who crave a traditional mastery-style math learning experience and have good self-regulation skills, this is a great option.


Can robotics teach problem solving to students?

Throughout my 35 years of teaching, I’ve watched students grow up in what I lovingly call the “worksheet generation.” In this environment, students are accustomed to a very structured style of learning, where they are handed a worksheet, then asked to turn to page five in their math book and solve problems one through 15. This approach, however, often teaches students there is only one right answer and limits meaningful engagement and creativity.

My teaching experience has taught me that it is no longer possible to prepare students with the 21st century skills they will need for the workforce without moving away from this paint-by-numbers approach. Instead, teachers must develop curriculum that inspires students to not only find new solutions, but to also test their solutions, and improve on them, through trial and error. This can be done using hands-on learning tools like robotics, which intuitively teaches students how to problem solve using critical thinking.

The question is: how can teachers create a robotics curriculum that not only breaks students out of the “worksheet generation” mentality, but also shows them the possibilities of learning with trial and error? Here are four tips for teaching students how to problem solve using hands-on robotics as a tool:

 1. Set the expectation up-front that there is more than one answer.

Students today are accustomed to tests where the questions only have one right answer. When these same students are given a platform like robotics from which to learn, it can be a challenging process because they may not be used to the open-ended questions they face when working with robotics. Teachers should set the expectation up-front that there is more than one right answer and the first solution you try will probably change by the time you finish.

This teaches students the very important process of iteration to help find a solution. Students may have to try something that doesn’t work, but it is guiding them towards a solution that will work. Once students begin to feel more comfortable with the idea that trial and error are part of the process, they begin to look at the project more openly. This is how students start to learn the problem solving process that is crucial to honing 21st century skills: imagining, testing and improving.

(Next page: Robotics for problem solving tips 2-4)


Report: Broadband access making ‘dramatic’ progress

Eighty-eight percent of U.S. school districts have reached the minimum connectivity–100 kbps per student, as recommended by the Federal Communications Commission–to help students effectively use technology in the classroom.

The data comes from the second annual State of the States report from the nonprofit EducationSuperHighway, which analyzed 2016 FCC E-rate data representing 10,499 school districts and more than 38 million students.

According to the data, this mean that 88 percent of school districts–38 million students–are achieving the minimum connectivity goal.

Thirty-four governors across the U.S. took bipartisan action to upgrade their schools in 2016, with 5 states connecting 100 percent of their students to high-speed broadband.

“It’s really a tribute to the governors–they recognize that this is a foundational issue for their schools,” said Evan Marwell, CEO of EducationSuperHighway.

(Next page: Better broadband affordability)


Does growing student diversity mean a renewed focus on personalized learning?

Research shows that diversity in today’s students (e.g. socio-economic background, gender, race, and previous learning experiences) is greater than ever before. In fact, a conservative 30-40 percent of students may require an alternate learning path or support during their learning, since a diverse student body means different strengths and weaknesses for each individual student.

Personalized learning seems like a natural consideration as an effective learning option for such a high level of learner diversity. During a recent edWeb.net webinar, “Making Learning Personal for All: The Growing Diversity of Today’s Classroom,” sponsored by Digital Promise, Superintendent of the Vista Unified School District, CA, Dr. Devin Vodicka and Chief Innovation Officer at Digital Promise Vic Vuchic made the case for personalized learning as student diversity becomes a critical issue in today’s schools.

“With this level of diversity, if we don’t start building on the research and understanding of how kids vary, then we risk creating products and programs that are designed for the average,” said Vuchic, highlighting that by designing for the average student, we are not actually designing for any student.

Not Just Any Personalized Learning

However, according to Vodicka and Vuchic, in order to be effective, personalized learning must be strengthened by research and technology, which improves the precision of personalization and enables educators to explore exactly what parts of the curriculum should be personalized for students.

Vodicka described how Vista Unified School District’s journey to personalized learning began in a bit of a fog—although the community liked the idea of personalizing learning for every students, they didn’t know what it meant for the district.

(Next page: A personalized learning framework gets results)


DeVos confirmation hearing elicits intense reactions

Betsy DeVos, President-elect Donald Trump’s nominee for education secretary, emerged from her confirmation hearings with Republicans praising her commitment to school choice and with Democrats voicing concerns over what they see as a lack of experience to ensure equity for students of all backgrounds and abilities.

During the hearings, Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) did not back down as he repeatedly asked DeVos to address yes-or-no questions about a variety of education issues, including the Individuals with Disabilities Act–a key federal law that allocates federal funding to schools to ensure the needs of students with disabilities are met.

Kaine and DeVos sparred over the matter of whether all schools–public, public charter or private–should be required to meet IDEA requirements if they receive federal funding.

DeVos also raised Democrats’ eyebrows when she refused to give clear-cut answers about whether schools receiving taxpayer funds, including public schools, private schools or public charter schools, should adhere to the same and equal performance benchmarks.

“Do you not want to answer my question?” Kaine asked.

“I support accountability,” DeVos replied, but she stopped short of agreeing that all schools receiving taxpayer support should adhere to the same accountability.

(Next page: Strong reactions from both sides)