App of the Week: Tools for wireless making

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? 

littleBits Invent utilizes electronic building blocks that can be combined and recombined to make endless inventions. Once built, creations are controlled wirelessly by a smartphone or tablet. Kids can follow directions to build a remote control car or a Burglar Buzzer that sets off an alarm if anyone tries to take their piggy bank. The power of littleBits lies in its Invention Cycle. Kids are encouraged to create, play, remix, and share their inventions. This engineering process with a creativity twist encourages kids to use craft materials to personalize the electronics they build.

Price: Free, paid

Grades: 2-8

Rating: 5/5

Pros: Kids have incredible flexibility and independence as they invent with littleBits.

Cons: Attaching pieces to the mounting board can be tricky, and costs increase as kids need different Bits for new creations.

Bottom line: Easy-to-use, versatile electronic invention set that works wirelessly with your hand-held device.


How media literacy is critical to saving our democracy

[Editor’s note: This post by Alan November, written exclusively for eSchool Media, is part of a series of upcoming articles by this notable education thought leader. Check back on Monday, January 23rd for the next must-read post!]

“At present, we worry that democracy is threatened by the ease at which disinformation about civic issues is allowed to spread and flourish. … If the children are the future, the future might be very ill-informed.” —Stanford History Education Group, 2016.

The fact that 80 percent of middle school students in a recent study could not distinguish between fake news and authentic news on the web shows that we, as educators, have to do a better job of teaching media literacy in the digital age. That means paying just as much attention to teaching students how to be smart consumers of information as we pay to what we filter in our schools.

Across 12 states and 7,800 student responses, the overwhelming majority of our students from middle schools to universities were easily manipulated into believing falsehoods to be true or credible. According to reporting by NPR about the study, “In exercise after exercise, the researchers were ‘shocked’—their word, not ours—by how many students failed to effectively evaluate the credibility of information.”

I am not shocked. As I have travelled the country visiting with schools, I have learned that many of our students have a false sense of confidence about their web and media literacy skills. In fact, it’s not unusual for students to laugh in disdain when asked if they know how to use Google. One fourth grader in a top private school instructed me, “Sir, if you have any question, you have to know how to use Google.”

Learn from the best innovations in education! Join education thought leader Alan November in Boston July 26-28 for his 2017 Building Learning Communities edtech conference, where hundreds of K-12 and higher-education leaders from around the globe will gather to discuss the world’s most successful innovations in education.

To expose students’ false confidence in their own skills, I will present them with a search challenge that I know will lead to bogus information in the top page of results. (Most students only look at the top page of results.) The scary part is watching students’ complete ignorance of any framework for questioning the validity of their results. The problem is that students don’t know what they don’t know.

I want to be wrong about this, but as with the Stanford researchers, I believe we are in serious trouble. Simply put, we are not preparing students to make informed decisions when it comes to Twitter, Facebook, Google searches, or web-based content. Even when students pass our print-based reading tests, they are basically illiterate when it comes to web-based content.

(Next page: How to ensure students’ media literacy)


In the marketplace: Schools expect digital learning budgets to increase

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.

Gallup, a global research and analytic company, just released Gallup’s Top Education Findings in 2016, and the list includes a key data point uncovered in Making Assessments Work for All Students: Multiple Measures Matter, results of a national education survey commissioned by the nonprofit NWEA. The full Make Assessment Work for All Students report includes findings from a survey of more than 4,200 students, parents, teachers, principals and superintendents. Overall it reveals that educators, parents, and students want a balanced approach to K-12 testing that utilizes a variety of academic assessments designed to support and improve teaching and learning. Read more.

The Learning Counsel has released the results of its third annual Survey of school and district digital curriculum strategy and transformation, sponsored by Ruckus Wireless. A total of 708 U.S. schools and districts responded to the national Survey, which showed a primary point of attention by schools now is on teacher effectiveness in the implementation of digital curriculum. The survey found that 78 percent of students nationally have access to a computing device for a good portion of the school day or the full school day. It also forecasts that district spending on hardware, networks, and major system software will see a slight increase in 2017, rising to $16.2 billion. Read more.

Almost a year into its partnership with Achieve3000, Margate Elementary School in Margate, Fla., is seeing greater than expected literacy gains among fourth- and fifth-grade students using KidBiz3000, one of Achieve3000’s differentiated literacy solutions. The goal of this long-term partnership, which started in November 2015, is to accelerate learning, improve literacy and put students at the school on track for college and career success. Read more.

Today’s educators are facing the challenge of closing the wide achievement gap related to poverty among K-12 students. C8 Sciences, distributor of a brain training program used to help students improve thinking skills and academic performance, announces its findings that low-income students achieve significant improvements in math and reading scores when the ACTIVATE program is used in their classroom. Read more.

AASA, The School Superintendents Association, announced the finalists for the 2017 National Superintendent of the Year. This marks the 30th anniversary of the program, which honors school system leaders throughout the country. Read more.


5 questions to answer about OER use

As open educational resources (OER) grow in popularity, school leaders are tasked with identifying the best way to find, organize and use these resources.

But that process can be overwhelming, to say the least. As a result, many education leaders rely on best practices and success stories from other districts to guide the process.

During a CoSN webinar focused on using effective OER use, a panel of educators shared their experiences and offered insight on OER’s impact on education. Here, we’ve gathered their responses to critical questions on OER use and implementation.

1. How does shifting to digital resources change teaching and learning?

“It changes it dramatically,” said Andrew Marcinek, chief information officer at Worcester Academy. “I think the entire shift in pedagogy is something we’re looking at here, in ways in which we incorporate project-based learning, competency-based models and blended models.” Once those models and philosophies are established, the next step is to shift to the digital resources that support those models, he said.

“This is also a reexamination of what a teacher is in a classroom. More of a facilitator of learning. OER really allow for that to happen, and also allow students to explore more resources that are relevant and at their levels,” Marcinek said.

(Next page: Four more important OER questions)


Could zebrafish be the new science education recruiters?

Studying a zebrafish might be the key to increasing students’ science knowledge and attitudes toward science education–at least, that’s what a five-year evaluation of 20,000 K-12 students indicates.

Students taking part in the Project BioEYES program were tested before and after the one-week program and demonstrated significant positive gains in learning in the post-test. Of eight knowledge questions, elementary students demonstrated significant positive gains on seven. Middle school students demonstrated significant positive gains on 8 of 9 knowledge questions.

The program uses live zebrafish to teach students about basic scientific principles, animal development and genetics. The zebrafish embryo is clear, making it ideal for observations.
As of spring 2016, 100,000 students and 1,400 teachers in six states and two countries have participated in the week-long program.

During the week-long BioEYES experiment, students take on the role of scientists in a student-centered approach, a key strategy that has been shown to increase learning, researchers noted.

(Next page: How the experiment changed students’ views on science)


Educators: The lessons we learned in 2016

[Editor’s note: This story is Part 3 of our 3-part series on Lessons Learned in 2016. Click here for Part 1 on Superintendents. Click here for Part 2 on Principals.]

Educators made much of their learning opportunities in 2016, whether through professional development sessions, webinars, product demos, or even conferences. But when we asked educators where they learned the biggest lessons related to education and technology came, they largely told us it came from the classroom, through everyday interaction, failure, and perseverance among the students they see every day. Here, five school-level educators (teachers, coaches, and librarians) share their lightbulb moments during the past 12 months—and why they’re excited for the future.


Working on the Weekend

One lesson I learned this year, thanks to technology, is that there will be programs and applications you have set aside to learn about on your own time. As a teacher and tech coach, that’s hard to do, particularly with family obligations. However, in order to understand how these programs can be leveraged in the classroom, you may have to dedicate a weekend or two to exploring and playing around with the programs before introducing it to a class.

It’s easy to try to implement something new in the classroom without really understanding it and then giving up after the first failure because it is “too hard,” because “no one understands it,” or you “just don’t have time.” But on the flipside, we don’t tolerate that mindset with students, so we shouldn’t allow it in ourselves. In 2016, among other things, I took the time to focus on learning the ins and outs of ClassFlow collaborative learning software. Now I’m able to help other educators in my school implement the tool in their classrooms to create a digitally collaborative environment.

Next year, I plan to look at my growing list of websites, software, and subscription services and pick a few to dive into on my own. The goal? To truly evaluate and understand how they can be used in the classroom. No excuses necessary. Eve Heaton, Instructional Technology Coach, Beaufort County School District (SC)


Stepping Out of the Comfort Zone

2016 was a year of firsts for me as an educator. I changed schools and grade levels, and ventured outside my comfort zone more than once. After 10 years of teaching, I was set in my ways on many things. This year proved to me that even seasoned teachers can change. Teaching a new grade came with challenges: new Common Core Standards, new Next-Gen Science standards, and implementing full Daily Five. What stands out most to me, though, were my efforts to get my learners to collaborate with each other using technology. I strive to have my learners engaged and take ownership for their own learning. I understand the benefits of group learning, but the noise factor always seemed daunting to me.

Despite my apprehension, I tried a new online tool called pivotEd this year, which changed my thoughts on learner collaboration and assessment, because I could monitor each learner’s experience and connect in real time with each of them as they navigated through an assignment. A double bonus with pivotEd was that students could sign in through their Google accounts. My learners loved using it too, which made my job even easier! This web-based program was just what I needed to safely step out of my comfort zone and successfully have my learners collaborate. Malissa Etie, Third-grade Teacher, St. Catherine School, San Jose, CA

(Next page: Educators’ lessons learned 3-5)


Principals: The lessons we learned in 2016

[Editor’s note: This story is Part 2 of our 3-part series on Lessons Learned in 2016. Check back tomorrow for Lessons Learned by Educators. Click here for yesterday’s article from Superintendents.]

The best educational leaders are lifelong learners. They are constantly expanding their knowledge, refining their skills, and looking for creative ways to help kids learn. As these four principals look back at 2016, they recall the most important ed tech lesson they learned this year—and look forward to inspiring their staff and students anew in 2017.


Technology Usage Lowers Discipline Referrals

Based upon my district’s 7 Keys to College and Career Success, E.A. Cox Middle School has embarked on a transformational journey to turn around the school. Through the Leader in Me and an RTI2-B partnership with Vanderbilt University, the school is transforming its culture and addressing unrealistically high behavioral issues that inhibit learning. Attendance has improved and discipline referrals have decreased.

As part of the process, E.A. Cox Middle School focused on literacy, math, and lowering discipline referrals, which adds a social-emotional learning aspect to our plan. With myON, more than 12,000 books have been read and students have spent more than 4,000 hours reading. Lexile levels are climbing, and students are more engaged and motivated to read more now than ever.

Through DreamBox, more than 33,000 math lessons have been completed with a 29% growth among active students. One-third of the students are enrolled in advanced math and English. Student engagement is high. Parent and community support are strong. But this is only the beginning. Problem-based learning through Discovery Education and NextLesson are changing the way students learn and teachers teach at Cox Middle and across the district. Dr. Tim Webb, principal of E.A. Cox Middle School in the Maury County School District (TN)

student performance

Every Student Deserves a Voice

Looking back on 2016, one lesson shouts as the loudest of them all: the power of the human voice. Whether it is students negotiating the details of collaborative projects or debating the merit of Skittles versus Hershey’s in our candy bar election, or teachers posing a thought-provoking query and reassuring their students that we are all here together to build a better world, it is the human voice that reigns king.

As a principal, I search for tools that give voice to everyone on campus. We have talking devices for nonverbal students, word prediction software for learning-disabled students, and a megaphone for staff to yell “1-2-3 Go Mountain View” every morning. Adding to our collection, this year we’ve added classroom audio systems by Lightspeed Technologies. The systems allow educators’ voices to cut through the noise of a traditional classroom to increase student engagement and behavior, and give soft-spoken students a chance to be heard among their peers.

Lessons are at the heart of each and every day for educators. We imagine lessons, develop lessons, and deliver lessons for our students. Through Twitter chats, book studies, conferences, and more, we as educators devour lessons of our own. Embracing the power of the human voice and giving everyone an equal opportunity to be heard was my greatest lesson this year. Jennifer Goldman, principal of Mountain View Elementary in the Simi Valley School District (CA)

(Next page: Principals’ lessons learned 3-4)


How does your district’s broadband stack up?

A free tool from nonprofit EducationSuperHighway is intended to help district technology leaders compare broadband and connectivity information with other districts nearby and across the nation.

Compare & Connect K-12, which launched in beta in early 2016 and is now fully launched and available, displays public E-rate application data and lets users explore bandwidth speeds and compare broadband prices with school districts in a specific region or in any state across the country.

The goal is simple: transparency regarding school district broadband and bandwidth pricing data in an effort to help school districts get more bandwidth for their broadband budgets.

Schools need high-speed broadband and ubiquitous wi-fi to ensure all students have equal access to digital learning opportunities, advocates and stakeholder groups say.

Providing robust bandwidth today and ensuring scalability for future classroom needs is critical to enabling teachers and students to take full advantage of digital learning opportunities. While significant progress has been made, 21 million students across the country still lack the broadband they need to take advantage of digital learning.

(Next page: District success stories and highlights of the new tool)