4 components of your district’s next PD win

As instructional techniques incorporate more digital technologies and blended models, school principals must create and implement carefully-constructed visions for teaching and learning–and a new professional development (PD) program aims to help them on their way.

Thirty-five school leaders from the Rhode Island Association of School Principals recently completed a year of PD focused around building blended learning in their schools. The Leadership in Blended and Digital Learning (LBDL) PD program was developed by the Friday Institute for Educational Innovation at North Carolina State University.

LBDL is designed to specifically support school leaders as they move their schools into the blended and digital learning transition. The PD program includes five core sessions combining face-to-face and online components for participating principals and leaders. The sessions include vision and goals, culture shifts, teaching and learning, professional development, and implementation.

The two-phase PD project focuses first on training program trainers, who in turn work with principals and other school leaders to implement blended learning in their schools. In Rhode Island’s case, five school leaders received training from the Friday Institute to facilitate training for state principals, assistant principals and other school leaders.

(Next page: Four important concepts that made PD sessions impactful)


3 K-12 ransomware threats and solutions

In February 2016, South Carolina’s Horry County School District was forced to pay a $10,000 ransom to unlock critical data and systems following a ransomware attack. This certainly came as a shock, but unfortunately these types of attacks on schools aren’t all that uncommon.  But one has to wonder – could the attack have been prevented? Once it happened, could Horry County have avoided paying the ransom?

Ransomware is insidious and effective, and its use is growing fast. Increasing numbers of people in organizations of all sizes have experienced the profound dismay of showing up to work, only to find their files inaccessible and a ransom demand on the screen.

The good news is that with the right combination of protective measures, it is entirely possible to block most attacks—and to render powerless those few that may get into your network.

K-12 is a Prime Target—Here’s Why

Until now, K-12 IT professionals have been slow to adopt protections against ransomware, perhaps thinking that they are unlikely to be targeted. But as Horry County learned, any organization whose userbase includes young people and children is an especially tempting target for ransomware. Young users are simply less mindful of potential consequences, and more likely to open suspicious email and attachments, which is how most attacks begin.

Education budgets don’t normally include blank checks for cyber criminals. But an investment in effective anti-ransomware measures should be a priority for any K-12 organization that wants to avoid nasty, expensive surprises.

3 Measures Schools Can Take to Stay Ahead of Ransomware:

1. Training and Awareness

Most ransomware attacks begin with an email containing a malicious link or attachment. Consequently, the single most important measure you can take to reduce the likelihood of a successful attack is to train yourself, your students, families and your staff to practice safe computing and recognize red flags that indicate a potentially malicious email.

Ensure all users understand the following key practices, and maintain awareness with a program of regular reminders:

  • Don’t open suspicious emails. Pretty much anything unexpected or out of the ordinary is a potential attack, even if it comes from a trusted source. If possible, contact known senders separately to confirm the email is authentic before opening.
  • Learn to spot red flags. Some telltale signs of an attack include:
    • Unexpected grammar or spelling errors in a supposedly professional email
    • odd, middle-of-the-night time of sending
    • Typosquatting, in which the “From” domain looks legitimate at first glance, but is actually slightly misspelled or has things added—“hacker@bankofarnerica.com,” for example
    • Buttons and links in the email that connect to unexpected, suspicious URLs. To check this, hover the cursor over the link or button, and the URL will appear at the bottom left of your window. Train students and staff to do this reflexively.
  • When in doubt, delete!

(Next page: 2 more ransomware solutions)


How we used GIS projects to connect with our community

For history teacher Mariana Ramirez and English teacher Alice Im, education is viewed as engaging young people in the world, helping them speak up, ask questions, and contribute. Rather than racing to cover the content, these two spend a little time, dig a little deeper, and engage the students. GIS is a key part of this.

Every school year begins with these teachers, armed with computers, the internet, and a map waiting to be enriched, guiding 11th graders from the Math, Science, and Technology Magnet Academy at Roosevelt High School in Los Angeles as they work on their projects. Understanding their world is the general task, but they must focus on a specific issue; work in teams; be scientific in gathering social data; analyze it mathematically; and then present it so others see and grasp its impact.

Using Challenges as GIS Project Opportunities

Roosevelt is a generations-old school in Boyle Heights—a storied community in East Los Angeles. Students in the Magnet Academy come by foot, skateboard, and bus, some needing over an hour and multiple bus transfers. The Academy is over 90 percent Hispanic, and over 90 percent free or reduced lunch. Many of Roosevelt’s students speak Spanish at home, and many will be the first in their family to go to college. Physical assets in the school beg for upgrade, but Ramirez and Im use the challenges in their world as opportunities to engage the students.

Each year’s research project explores social justice, and they touch on the ideas through fall and winter as they build the mapping, data, and thinking skills needed for their big GIS project.

Over the years, student have tackled serious and vexing issues, such as:

  • Gentrification and community displacement
  • Patterns of pollution, income, and political power
  • Availability of green space
  • Relationships between community and law enforcement
  • Public art as heritage relative to commercial billboards
  • Fast food chains versus family-owned food trucks
  • Food deserts, public gardens, and plantable space
  • Expressions of prejudice against race, religion, sexual identity

To form some context around these serious issues, these teachers have turned to Geographic Information Systems (GIS).  Why is GIS so impactful in understanding communities’ most difficult issues?  And why is this skillset important to teach today’s students?

(Next page: GIS projects as community-building)


How to use student voice to improve engagement

When it comes to strategic planning, school district leaders know they must involve all stakeholder groups from the beginning. Though they are arguably the most important stakeholder group, students are sometimes overlooked in the planning process.

But now, especially because the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) requires school systems to factor nonacademic indicators such as student engagement into their accountability plans, many school districts are going directly to students and encouraging them to share their honest opinions about their educational experiences.

Many school leaders are finding that when they listen to student voice, student engagement and achievement improves. Dr. Michael Daria, superintendent of Alabama’s Tuscaloosa City Schools (TCS), said his district used feedback from a student survey to inform planning and instructional processes.

District leaders knew they wanted to stay true to their mission of serving all students, but they also wanted to know more about those students, their experiences, and how they felt the district was truly serving them.

“Our goal is always all students, but we’re a district where all students are not highly successful,” Daria said during a K12 Insight webinar on student voice. “Part of this work was to make sure the decisions we’re making for our students are wise decisions and that they’re meaningful for students. We wanted to affirm where we are with student engagement–what does it mean to be a student in the district, what is that experience, and does that experience match the experience we believe we’re providing for our students?”

And in order to do that, they had to go directly to the source–the students themselves.

(Next page: How the district turned student voice into new policies)


App of the Week: Play with Smithsonian resources

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? 

The Smithsonian Learning Lab brings the beauty, scholarship, and depth of over 1 million museum artifacts into your classroom. Its main features are searching and curating the resources for classroom use. Users can search for resources including images, videos, texts, audio recordings, and learning activities. Searches can be refined to include specific types of resources and museum locations. Once useful artifacts are identified, users can add these to their own collections and annotate the items.

Price: Free

Grades: 4-12

Rating: 4/5

Pros: Inviting interface, powerful tools, and the ability to curate, annotate, and share over 1 million Smithsonian resources.

Cons: There simply isn’t enough time to search through all the available resources.

Bottom line: This thoughtfully crafted, open-ended curation and creation tool has a place in most classrooms.


Is Betsy DeVos good or bad for edtech?

School choice, support of teachers unions, and her record in Michigan have been the leading controversial talking points in education when it comes to Donald Trump’s pick for Education Secretary, Betsy DeVos. But with a background in technology investment, could DeVos be a leader in the support of successfully-implemented edtech?

Here’s What We Know

She invests in technology

According to Philanthropy magazine in spring 2013, DeVos serves as chairman of the Windquest Group—a privately held, multi-company operating group that invests in technology, manufacturing, and clean energy—which she founded with her husband in 1989. The magazine also identified DeVos as “a member of several national and local boards, including the DeVos Institute for Arts Management at the Kennedy Center, Mars Hill Bible Church, Kids Hope U.S.A, and the Foundation for Excellence in Education.”

She advocates for edtech, specifically

In a 2013 interview with Philanthropy Roundtable, DeVos said when it comes to education reform strategies, she is most focused on educational choice. “But, thinking more broadly, what we are trying to do is tear down the mindset that assigns students to a school based solely on the zip code of their family’s home. We advocate instead for as much freedom as possible,” she said. “One long-term trend that’s working in our favor is technology. It seems to me that, in the internet age, the tendency to equate ‘education’ with ‘specific school buildings’ is going to be greatly diminished. Within the right framework of legislation, that freedom will ultimately be healthy for the education of our kids.”

She knows edtech has the power to enhance learning

“What’s best for kids seems to be at the center of DeVos’ philanthropic, public speaking and political efforts, both in Michigan and in other states,” writes the New Hampshire Department of Education’s ET News. “And she may be open to ways that technology could help kids.”

ET News also notes that John Bailey, who worked with DeVos as the vice president of policy at the nonprofit ExcelinEd, otherwise known as the Foundation For Excellence in Education, said that “she was a great board member at ExcelinEd. She is passionate about kids and will always put kids needs first. She expressed deep interest in digital learning and how it could expand opportunities for kids.”

ExcelinEd—a reform group headed by former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush—states in its Reform Agenda: “Technology can revolutionize education and help ensure no student is bored or left behind. The Foundation supports the use of technology to offer students access to a high-quality, customized education and empower teachers to help their students succeed.”

Her charter school uses edtech

According to Fox News, DeVos and her husband support the West Michigan Aviation Academy, a public charter school they founded in Grand Rapids, through the Dick and Betsy DeVos Family Foundation. The school uses personalized learning facilities, including a separate computer science program and instruction in robotics. It even has a computer-aided drafting and design course.

(Next page: What we don’t know about DeVos and edtech)


5 state policies to sustain computer science education

Computer science skills are becoming a larger part of mainstream education with the emergence of Computer Science Education Week and efforts to introduce students to coding and programming.

Part of those efforts focus on actions states can take to ensure that computer science education is a priority year-round. After all, many of the jobs today’s students will hold in the future will require computer science and IT knowledge.

To keep the momentum behind computer science education moving, the Southern Regional Education Board, led by its 2015-16 chair, Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, convened a group of state legislators, secondary and postsecondary education leaders to formulate policies and actions that positively support computer science.

Those discussions resulted in a report detailing actions states can take to bridge the computer science education gap.

Jobs in computer science, IT and related fields are a large and growing sector of the nation’s economy. The Association for Computing Machinery estimates that by 2020, as many as 4.6 million out of 9.2 million STEM jobs will be computer-related.

By 2020, nearly 3.8 million jobs will be computer science-related, with about 70 percent requiring a bachelor’s degree or higher.

Millions more jobs in fields like advanced manufacturing, business and medicine will also require individuals to possess high-level computing skills in areas like software development, programming and network maintenance. These jobs are sometimes characterized as requiring “double-deep skills”–significant computing expertise in addition to knowledge of the field.

(Next page: 5 computer science education actions for states)


How our elementary school got a tech makeover

Kids gravitate to technology in the classroom, so it makes sense for teachers to utilize digital projectors—that is, unless no one can see the lessons they display.

This was our situation a couple of years ago at Northwest Elementary School in Chatsworth, Ga., in the summer of 2014. We were having challenges with the technology in our learning environments: Our digital projectors were eight years old, so the projections weren’t very bright anymore, and it was difficult for our students to see the images on the screen. Worse still, sometimes the projectors wouldn’t boot up at all, or conked out midway through a class, which frustrated teachers who needed them for the day’s lesson.

We wanted to include funding for these upgrades in the budget, but after planning for essentials, there just wasn’t much money left over. We looked at replacing a few digital projectors at a time, but we have 29 classrooms–how would we prioritize which classrooms would get the new projectors first? What do you eliminate from the budget so the kids can have another computer? It was frustrating. We thought there was no way we were going to be able to get everything we needed.

But–as you might have guessed–this story has a happy ending.

Taking the Plunge

Then our curriculum coach, Kristy Campbell, told me about the opportunity that would change everything: NEC Display Solutions was sponsoring a contest that would give the winning school $25,000 toward digital display and projector technologies. Mrs. Campbell suggested we enter–and we decided to go for it.

Our school produced a video, “Oh, it Froze,” based on the song “Let it Go” from the movie “Frozen,” featuring our students and teachers singing about our outdated computers freezing during class. And it wasn’t just a contest entry; it also was a fun way to improve morale. Teachers were dealing with curriculum changes with the implementation of Common Core, as well as the budget shortages that were affecting us all, and this contest really pulled our community together.

We sent the video off – and then, knowing that the manufacturer was choosing the winner based on the number of votes, we got to work: The district office emailed contacts throughout the state, and I handed out voting instructions as parents picked up kids after school. Even a local congressman helped drum up support.

Then we held our breath and waited.

(Next page: A digital projector ending; 3 tips to handle a budget shortage)