5 ways to make thinking visible

The high-stakes nature of state exams means that schools need to assess student understanding in real time rather than wait for scores at the end of year or even the end of a unit. And simply relying on more tests as formative assessments is likely to cause students psychological stress and prompt them to disengage from learning. What’s needed are ways to engage students that also enable educators to determine how and what those students are thinking.

Education researchers have discovered that back and forth communication leads to greater student engagement, deeper understanding, and increased retention (it appears to be particularly true of peer-to-peer collaboration). Also, talking about their work helps students develop critical learning skills that prepare them for future challenges and opportunities.

A Teacher’s Role in Making Thinking Visible

Listen to students talk: How can teachers encourage student communication and collaboration? In a recent webinar, noted education expert Alan November recommended that teachers find ways to speak less and listen more. He also advised teachers to have specific goals for listening to what he called “student voice.” One of his suggestions was that listening to students talk can alert teachers to any misconceptions those students may have and give ideas on how best to correct those misconceptions.

Encourage peer learning: In order for students to reveal what and how they’re thinking, teachers need to create opportunities for peer learning as well as environments in which students feel it’s safe to take risks. For example, the itslearning platform has an array of student-to-student communication tools as well as incorporate student-to-student tools such as discussion boards, surveys, peer assessments, course group folders, etc. Some of these, such as e-portfolios, blogs, messaging, and communities, are designed to be used outside of courses so that learners have ways to work and experiment together without worrying about the grade they’ll receive. And in all cases, teachers can easily see what and how each student thinks.

(Next page: More ways to make thinking visible)


New Google Classroom features make it easier to learn, teach, manage, and build

Google Classroom is designed for everyone involved in a student’s education. Over 20 million educators and students actively use it to teach and learn together, as do administrators who oversee how this tool is used across classrooms and developers who are building educational technology for the next generation. As everyone heads back to school to start the new semester, each of these users will find new Classroom updates designed specifically for them.

For students: Individualized work for differentiated learning

We know that one-size fits all teaching doesn’t always meet students’ needs, and we’ve been impressed with the workarounds Classroom teachers have found to differentiate their instruction. But starting today, Classroom makes it a lot easier for teachers to assign work to individual students and groups based on their unique needs. As they’re creating an assignment, post, or question, teachers can choose whether to share it with the entire class or only with a subset of students.

Juli Dalzell, a 7th grade teacher at Thomas A. Blake Middle School in Medfield, Massachusetts, says she likes how the new feature allows her to teach students who may grasp concepts at different paces. “I can assign different levels of questions or quantities of assignments,” says Dalzell. “Also, I can push out documents, such as answer keys, as students complete their assignments.”

With this feature, students can also discreetly receive extra practice if they are struggling with a new subject. Sara Enberg, a library media specialist at River Willow Elementary School in Hudson, Wisconsin, shared that the new update creates “an easy way to assign a reteaching or extension activity for students who are struggling… Just a quick simple video for a couple of students and they were back on track.”

For teachers: New notifications to manage student work

We understand the information overload that teachers feel as they balance a busy class schedule, a sea of papers to grade, and after-school activities. To help them stay on top of it all, teachers will now receive two new types of Classroom notifications – one when students submit work after the due date, and one for when students re-submit work. In addition, busy teachers can continue to use Classroom’s other notifications – like updates on their scheduled posts and comments on student work – to help keep them organized throughout the school year.

For administrators: Metrics to make the most of Classroom

Many administrators rely on the Admin Console to see how Google technology is being used in their schools. Starting today, Classroom data will be included in the Admin Console Reports, allowing administrators to see metrics on overall Classroom usage and how many classes and posts are being created, both in aggregate and by user. With these reports, as well as new ones to be added in the future, we hope administrators will have the insights they need to provide the best support possible to their teachers and students.

For developers: Even more coursework integrations

Lastly, we’ve added new capabilities to the Classroom API to make integrations with Classroom more seamless for developers. Integrated applications can now programmatically add materials to coursework or student submissions and can modify existing coursework they’ve created. Hundreds of educational applications have integrated with Classroom since the launch of the API, including tools like Flat.IO, Classcraft and Little SIS, and we’re eager to see what developers will create with these new capabilities.

With all these exciting new Classroom features, we hope that students, teachers, administrators, and developers will have a happy and productive return to school and work in the new year.


In the marketplace: Online makerspaces and innovative college prep

Tech-savvy educators know they must stay on top of the myriad changes and trends in education to learn how teaching and learning can best benefit from technology’s near-constant change.

Check below for the latest marketplace news to keep you up-to-date on product developments, teaching and learning initiatives, and new trends in education.

Stand Up To Cancer and PBS LearningMedia announced the opening of applications for the second year of The Emperor Science Award program, an initiative designed to encourage high school students to explore careers in science, specifically cancer research and care, through a unique mentoring opportunity. The program aims to empower high school students to become the next generation of cancer researchers and will award 100 students this year, the second year of a three-year commitment, with an opportunity to work with an esteemed university-level research scientist on a rewarding multi-week cancer research project. Read more.

Edgenuity announced the launch of UpSmart, a supplemental solution designed to help all students in grades 6–8 demonstrate mastery of state standards in English language arts and math. Using a completely adaptive learning engine and technology-enhanced assessments, UpSmart provides the right level of instruction and practice on each topic for each student. Read more.

Reading Horizons announced its upcoming webcast, Dyslexia: Best Practices for Instruction and Intervention. The webcast will take place on Wednesday, January 25, 2017, at 6:00 p.m. ET and will be hosted by Donell Pons, M.Ed., MAT. Pons is currently the Literacy Coordinator at American International School of Utah, sits on the board of Decoding Dyslexia Utah, and is a tutor at the University of Utah Reading Clinic. She became a dyslexia expert and advocate after her husband and two of her four children were diagnosed with the learning disability. Read more.

If students had the most innovative tools to help them see the future, what would they see? The Tiger Woods Foundation, TGR’s philanthropic arm, joined with Discovery Education to launch “TGR EDU: Explore,” an initiative for middle and high school students that helps navigate the college exploration process and introduces them to high-quality STEM-focused career paths for today’s jobs, and the ones that don’t exist yet. Read more.

Ed-tech company Workbench and Maryland’s network of public libraries have partnered to launch an online maker space for libraries throughout the state. Libraries are increasingly becoming hubs for the maker movement – providing virtual and augmented reality tools, programmable robots and drones, computer labs and collaboration spaces for students and adults to create, learn and teach. Read more.

Makey Makey, which produces invention kits, has partnered with project-based learning leader Workbench to launch Makey Makey Labz, an online community for students, educators and fans. The online community, powered by Workbench, is a place for users to share their Makey Makey inventions and find inspiration from other inventors around the world. Read more.


7 collaboration tools for the modern classroom

Smartphones, tablets and other technology tools have tons of potential to help students learn–if they’re used properly. And when properly implemented, those tools can help students build the collaboration skills they need to reach success in school and the workforce.

Most 21st-century learning models include collaboration as a necessary educational outcome. Collaboration skills are part of the Partnership for 21st Century Education’s 4Cs, a framework developed with educator input and designed to outline skills and knowledge students need in today’s global and connected society.

And collaboration isn’t simply a necessary classroom skill. Teamwork and collaboration are important abilities employers say they want in their current and future employees.

(Next page: 7 engaging collaboration tools)


7 signs of effective IT infrastructure

Seminole County Public Schools (SCPS) ranks among the largest public education systems in the U.S., with 67,000 students across 67 schools—and we’re continuing to grow, adding nearly 1,000 new students a year. While our large size may seem daunting, we’ve been recognized at every level, from state governments all the way to the White House, for our leading role in transforming education through technology.

We’re using technology to give our K-12 students greater choice in what, how, and where they learn by integrating digital learning that supports their interests. Such implementation has led to improved grades, test scores, and graduation rates, and more of our students are going on to attend college.

But our road to revolutionizing the way educators teach and how students learn did not come without its set of challenges. Our mission to give students a leg up on the road to entering a highly educated workforce includes introducing computer coding to kindergartners through play to providing high school students with impactful internships by partnering with local businesses.

Such a dedication to the growth of student learning, across all grades and ages, required an IT infrastructure that could deliver the performance and capacity needed by both physical and virtual environments to drive this collaboration and innovation.

Aging IT Infrastructure Limits Growth

An aging and inflexible storage area network (SAN) was holding us back from realizing the full potential of digital learning and integration. District school websites were often slow, resulting in frustrated users and triggering the need for support calls. We transitioned e-mail to the cloud to allow some leeway, but it wasn’t enough, as our resources were nearly exhausted.

Complex, expensive and slow tape-based backup and recovery systems also proved difficult for our IT team to manage. It could take up to 32 hours to complete full backups of our critical administrative file server, and local restoration required a day to clone from tape. Equally time-consuming were recovery tests for off-site tapes—a plane ride was required to the contracted provider, coupled with countless hours to simply find and restore a single file.

Without a more powerful, flexible, and efficient storage infrastructure, our goal of furthering sustainable operations and scholastic excellence faced significant hurdles.

(Next page:  7 characteristics for successful IT infrastructure)


9 secrets of incredibly efficient districts

The most efficient school districts are those that leverage the technology tools available to them to improve teaching, learning, and internal processes.

Easier said than done, however, when district leaders grapple with teacher turnover and shortages, changing policies and mandates, and funding cuts.

So how do efficient districts focus on empowering teachers to do what they do best–teach? How do school district leaders eliminate countless hours spent

The answer lies in moving beyond the traditional, and oftentimes restricting, idea of the the “book,” said Michael Gorman, president of consulting firm 21st Century Educational Technology and Learning.

“Today, so many districts say books are great, but they aren’t the only thing,” he said. “As we get into this digital age, how do we go beyond the book?”

The emergence of new technologies such as open educational resources and interactive tools is certainly positive, but can lead to information overload as teachers juggle curriculum and standards, content and assessments.

(Next page: 9 ways districts use technology to improve efficiency)


How do parents really feel about student data?

Ask many public school parents about student data use and privacy, and you’ll likely end up with a heated debate about protecting sensitive, personal information. But what do parents really understand about school technology use and student data privacy?

The Future of Privacy Forum set out to do just that in 2015 and 2016, and surveys revealed that while parents understood the technologies used in their children’s schools, they were less informed about specific laws and practices that pertain to protecting student information.

As technology becomes more prevalent in classrooms, parents say they support technology’s increasing prevalence in classrooms, as long as they are informed about how their children’s information is gathered and used.

FPF’s report indicates parents are the most comfortable with student information use when it is used to directly improve teaching and learning.

Parents said they believe the most convincing reasons to use individual student information are to identify students who are struggling and who would benefit from earlier additional support (85 percent), to personalize learning according to each student’s strengths and weaknesses (82 percent), and to help schools build profiles on individual students for predictions such as best vocations or professions (57 percent).

(Next page: Student data recommendations for educators and policymakers)


The best PD webinars of 2016—did you watch?

edWeb.net just completed an analysis of their 2016 webinar viewership stats for 2016.  The professional learning community hosted 260 PD webinars in 2016 that were viewed by 165,000 educators – an average of 635 educators per webinar.  Thirty eight webinars (15 percent) were on early learning topics and had 45,000 (27 percent) of the viewers.  Early learning webinars had an average of 1,160 viewers, almost twice the average of all webinars.

Fourteen of the top 25 webinars of the year were on early learning topics, presented by some of the most expert and engaging early childhood educators. All webinars have been archived, and can be viewed by clicking the links:

  • From Chaos to Calm: Building a School Family where even the Most Difficult Children become Helpful and Caring presented by Becky A. Bailey, Ph.D., award-winning author and Founder of Loving Guidance, Inc.
  • S/he Hit Me First: Learn Proactive Solutions to Teach Social Emotional Skills through Daily Conflict presented by Jill Molli, M.A., Educator, Keynote Speaker, Instructor for Conscious Discipline
  • Jean: Brain Breaks to Help Students Move and Learn presented by Dr. Jean Feldman, teacher, consultant and celebrated author of more than 10 books on the topic of early
  • Teaching Numeracy to Young Children: A Responsive and Differentiated Approach presented by Brian Mowry, M.A., Early Childhood Mathematics Consultant and Specialist
  • Jump into Literacy, Math, & Science: Active Learning for Preschool Children presented by Rae Pica, Author, Keynote Speaker & Education Consultant
  • Much More Than the ABC Song! Music That Naturally Supports Children’s Language and Literacy Skills presented by Devi Borton, M.A., Early Childhood Music Specialist, Outreach Mentor, and Teacher Trainer at Music
  • Transition Activities that Build Young Brains, Manage Behavior presented by Ellen Booth Church, Adjunct Professor, Nova Southeastern University

(Next page: 7 more of the top early learning PD webinars of 2016)