Superintendents: The lessons we learned in 2016

[Editor’s note: This story is Part 1 of our 3-part series on Lessons Learned in 2016. Check back tomorrow for Lessons Learned by Principals.]

As 2016 drew to a close, we asked educators in variety of positions to reflect on what they have learned this year. Here, a quartet of superintendents offer thoughts on leadership, PBL, and the challenges of turning around schools and districts.

race to the top

Turning Around a District is a Marathon, not a Sprint

Coming into the 2016 school year, a key element of our work has been to devise a “local innovation plan” involving education leaders and community stakeholders to achieve approval as a Texas Education Agency District of Innovation. Innovative curriculum and instructional methods along with parent engagement and community participation have been major priorities in the district’s plan we set forth. One of our biggest lessons learned, has been the process in which we bring about change – in small incremental steps. We found including our school leaders first has worked well so they can continue to build community involvement on their campuses.

In partnership with myON, a personalized literacy environment providing thousands of on-demand digital books, we set out to promote innovation through literacy bringing together our students, educators, families, and community to share in closing the literacy gap. To this end, bringing about a community of readers has been a gradual and developmental approach along with conveying a message of working together.

With the strong literacy push, our students and teachers have started tracking literacy engagement by measuring time spent reading and analyzing data weekly to ensure improvement is happening in every classroom and on every level. This initial commitment has been a major step in the next phase of bringing aboard family involvement and community outreach. In 2017, we look forward to continued “Growth Through Innovation” in Manor ISD. —Dr. Royce Avery, Superintendent of Manor Independent School (TX)


PBL Teaches Educators Flexibility in Lesson Planning

Student engagement is critical in learning. Through student engagement, deeper learning takes place and students take ownership of their efforts while becoming empowered as critical thinkers. 2016 has been a year where educators at Congress Elementary School have continued to hone their skills in adopting project-based learning (PBL) while incorporating a cross-curricular STEAM focus. So far we’ve seen a dramatic increase in student participation, quality learning, and real-world application. Using pre-built curriculum resources, such as Defined STEM, helps support teachers in creating cross-curricular, project-based lessons, saves hours of time spent building lessons, and allows for students individual creativity to shine. As a school, we’ve learned that allowing for flexibility in what happens versus what was originally planned is another important aspect of PBL. Flexibility allows for the unforeseen to become a tremendous learning opportunity with great benefits. As 2016 comes to a close, we will continue to learn the benefits of PBL and real-world authentic problem solving to better engage our students while preparing them for careers of tomorrow. —Dr. Stephanie Miller, Superintendent and Principal of Congress Elementary School District (AZ)

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


Are you using popular culture in class? Why you should be

Educators know that when they find a way to engage students by making lessons relevant to students’ real-world lives, they’ve scored a win. Bringing popular culture into the classroom is one of those winning strategies.

It seems that students are always on their smartphones or tablets, and often, educators are told to use the topics and technologies students prefer in order to make learning more meaningful. It makes sense, then, to combine things that interest students, such as music and movies, with relevant classroom lessons.

Increasingly, linking learning material to popular culture such as music, celebrity statements on current events or the way different magazines tackle topics can be an effective way to get students to speak up in class, think critically and collaborate.

“Pop culture can be that catalyst to reading and to literacy,” said Frank Baker, founder of the Media Literacy Clearinghouse, during a School Library Journal webinar on pop culture and student engagement. “All media involve writing.”

Studying film is one way students can use visual literacy and develop writing skills. In fact, the Common Core State Standards reference film–seventh grade students are asked to compare and contract a written story, drama or poem to the audio, filmed, staged or multimedia version and analyze the techniques unique to each version.

Films can be read as texts, and in doing so students “unpack” the imagery in the scripts and analyze the techniques used to convey messages and meaning, Baker said.

(Next page: What lessons might look like when they use popular culture)


15 Hot Edtech Trends for 2017

edtech trends 2017<img width=”300″ height=”200″ src=”×200.jpg” class=”attachment-small-landscape size-small-landscape wp-post-image” alt=”edtech trends 2017″ srcset=”×200.jpg 300w,×400.jpg 600w,×533.jpg 800w” sizes=”(max-width: 300px) 100vw, 300px” />

With every new year comes new ideas. To get a glimpse into what the next 12 months will hold for everything from professional development to digital learning, and from communication to virtual reality, 15 ed tech luminaries looked back on 2016 edtech trends to help predict what’s in store for 2017. Here’s what they said:


stephen_downes2016 was The Year of Video

By Stephen Downes, National Research Council

Now there are different ways things can be a ‘trend of the year’. They can be something everybody uses; that’s how 2012 became the year of the MOOC, and why virtual reality will no doubt be widely cited as the trend of 2016. As that sort of trend video has come and gone. YouTube and Netflix are old hat; everybody’s watching video online today.

But what’s new is that in 2016 video became something that everybody is making as well. We see this in various ways. Sharing and streaming video games has become widely popular and has grown to be one of the major uses of YouTube.  So has sharing and streaming just about everything else. From FailArmy to GoPro bits it’s like the old saying: if there’s no video, it didn’t happen.

The rise of video carried over into education. MOOCs continued to increase in number and attendance. Conferences ran streaming video events. Lecture capture became mature and campus video management and hosting services began to attract attention. Duke University ran a widely read lecture capture survey. Companies like Kaltura, Panopto and Warpwire battled through the year for market share.

Video may feel like it has been here a long time. And it has. But it surged in big way in 2016, below the radar, but touching lives like never before.

Stephen Downes works in the Learning and Performance Support Systems program at the National Research Council, a multi-year effort to develop personal learning technology and learning analytics. He is one of the originators of the Massive Open Online Course, writes about online and networked learning, has authored learning management and content syndication software, and is the author of the widely read e-learning newsletter OLDaily.

Video Observation for Teacher PD

By Rebekah Ralph, LaGrange College Department of Education

The use of video observation to provide feedback and support to teacher candidates is an ed tech trend that will experience significant growth in 2017. The LaGrange College Department of Education plans to continue to use ADVANCEfeedback® to support our teacher candidates on their journey to becoming teachers with exemplary knowledge, skills, and dispositions. Teacher candidates will use personal classroom videos uploaded to the platform to self-reflect on pedagogy, classroom management, and interactions with students; they’ll also share videos with peers and receive feedback from one another. These digital professional learning communities allow teacher candidates to receive support from a peer prospective, but they also allow teacher candidates to view content, pedagogy, and management strategies in diverse classroom settings. Additionally, we will use ADVANCEfeedback as a pedagogical tool in our courses as candidates reflect collaboratively around a common video before, during, and after class. This collaboration allows candidates to view theory in practice and makes learning on campus more authentic.

Rebekah Ralph is the instructor of educational technology and edTPA coordinator at LaGrange College Department of Education (GA). Follow her on Twitter at @TeachitRalph.

mmoschetto_highresheadshotUsing Technology for Energy Savings

By Marc Moschetto, Dude Solutions

In K-12 specifically, the 1:1 computing versus Bring-Your-Own-Device debate was a significant topic in 2016, with advantages and disadvantages to both.

Looking ahead, a renewed focus on energy will take place in 2017. Energy usage and costs are rising substantially in K-12 (it’s the 2nd largest operations budget line-item after labor). Utility costs are also climbing, especially HVAC and cooling usage in facilities. However, school districts are beginning to use technology to achieve energy efficiencies and savings. Additionally, one of the most prominent trends we’re seeing is the need to provide increasingly granular analysis and reporting. By leveraging data, public schools can demonstrate they’re being good stewards of taxpayer funds and both public and private schools can justify staffing and capital planning levels. Individuals from operations and maintenance management are using data in a more insightful and actionable way, which includes benchmarking their own performance against that of their peers.

A proven technology marketing executive with 20+ years of experience and deep Cloud/software-as-a-service domain expertise, Marc Moschetto serves as Dude Solutions’ Chief Marketing Officer. Marc is responsible for increasing Dude Solutions’ brand visibility and driving demand generation via a strategic and comprehensive integrated marketing program. Previously, Marc served as vice president of global marketing for WorkForce Software where his strategic and tactical leadership helped to significantly increase the company’s revenue and valuation.

The Boom of Real and Virtual Creation

By Kathy Schrock, Wilkes University

The trend I witnessed blossoming in 2016 was the makerspace. In conjunction with the studies of how to make classroom environments inviting and usable for students, makerspaces of all types have been put in classrooms, libraries and common areas in schools. Whether the makerspace is a technology-based one with a 3D printer and electronic components or a make-and-take area with all types of art supplies, having a makerspace to support curriculum activities and projects is a wonderful enhancement to the school.

One trend I am passionately interested in, and I see becoming more widespread in schools in 2017, is virtual reality. Not the tethered headsets and computer-based environments, but the simple Google Cardboard-compatible headsets with a smartphone as the “computer.” Bringing the global experience into the classroom with immersive images and videos can enhance lessons and is informative and engaging for students. In addition, there are apps that allow students to create their own 360° images and videos with the smartphone and many online places to host them. Students can share images from their school and community with the world! Tools are also available that allow students to add hotspots to their online images to provides links to additional information about the image for those that view it. I find this creation of 360° images enhances student skillsets in visual literacy, technology literacy, and attention to audience.

Kathy Schrock is an online adjunct professor for Wilkes University (PA) and an independent educational technologist. She has been supporting teachers as they utilize technology to support teaching and learning for over twenty years and is well-known for her online resources for teachers.

kellyWhole-Class Learning is Here

By Kelly Bielefeld, Clearwater Intermediate and Middle School

As we reflect on the year that was in 2016, the Presidential election continues to loom as the largest event of the year. This will likely have a significant impact on the K-12 landscape for the next four years when it comes to charter schools, Title programs, and common core standards.  This election also continues the trend toward higher levels of state control over educational decisions. We expect for a Trump administration to continue this trend of de-federalization of education.

Turning to 2017, whole-class learning is taking off. While whole-class learning may seem old school, the fact is whole-class learning is a key aspect in the modern classroom.  Boxlight seems to be one company that understands how to integrate whole-class technology like their new ProColor Series of Interactive Flat Panel displays along with its MimioMobile application that fosters student collaboration and student engagement by linking all types of mobile devices in classrooms, whether owned by the students or the school district. Once equipped with the app, almost any device ‒ including Chromebooks and Apple or Android products ‒ can work together for effective collaborative learning as well as for formative assessment. As with any emerging technology, there is skepticism about effectiveness.  Regardless, the tool used well in any classroom can increase relevance for student and give them an experience like never before.  It is one to watch for in 2017.

Kelly Bielefeld is the principal at Clearwater Intermediate and Middle School, Clearwater USD 264 in Clearwater, KS.

(Next page: edtech trends 6-10: Better content, small data and neuroscience)


App of the Week: Composing music

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? 

Flat is a web-based tool for composing and creating sheet music. Users can create an account with Facebook or Google, and they can work from an existing score (by dragging and dropping in a file in MXL, MID, or XML format) or create a new private or public score. To create a score, choose instruments (such a piano or violin), a time signature, and a key signature, and then you can input your score using a MIDI controller or a mouse. There are menus for controlling and editing notes, articulations, dynamics, measures, lyrics, and chords, and you can roll over each menu to reveal built-in keyboard commands and helpful tips.

Price: Free to try, paid

Grades: 7-12

Rating: 4/5

Pros: Flexible features and great on-screen guidance make this a match for beginners and pros alike.

Cons: Some features can be a little slow to respond.

Bottom line: An excellent tool for writing and sharing musical creations.


Results of the 2016 National Digital Curriculum Strategy Survey

 The Learning Counsel 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.

The top three digital device trends the survey found were the following: 1) tablets are losing popularity; 2) Chromebooks have had the most significant gain in popularity, a trend that is likely to continue; and 3) there is no agreement among schools about the best device based on the age of the student. Further, even though schools cite 79–91 percent network coverage in classrooms and common areas, it’s not enough to support the burgeoning use of digital curriculum. The networks are considered “unreliable” by most teachers.

The Survey found that 86 percent of schools and districts expect to be spending more on digital curriculum in the new year. 56 percent of respondents say teachers already use 50-75 percent paid resources over free open-education resources for their digital learning objects. However, billions in spending on curriculum overall has yet to move from paper textbooks into digital: 80 percent of respondents said district curriculum budgets still haven’t shifted from paper-based resources.

2016 was also the highest year on record for digital curriculum spending. A 25 percent jump was due to years of non-adoption of textbooks in several states, causing more digital acquisitions at the same time that the market reached an inflection point of saturation of devices.

Out of $9 billion in total K-12 digital curriculum spending, the market “flipped” by an estimated $2 billion to be weighted more in organizational spending than individual teacher spending for the first time.  This is one of many signs the market is maturing.

LeiLani Cauthen, CEO and publisher of the Learning Counsel, said that the survey was developed as a tool to evaluate national trends in how digital transitions are happening, particularly from the view of software sophistication and its impact on device and network infrastructure. “Beyond providing all of education with that national view, it is an invaluable tool for every school and district to use to self-assess,” Cauthen said.

Kahle Charles, the Executive Director of Curriculum at St. Vrain Valley Schools, commented, “As our district was transitioning to digital content, it was critical to conduct a needs assessment early in the program planning and development process. The Learning Counsel’s Assessment Tool and Survey proved to be a valuable aide in this process. Through the survey, we were able to understand the extent of our digital content implementation, identify the gaps in our implementation of digital content, and gather the information about next steps in our action plan. This also provided a great opportunity to engage current staff members in the planning and implementation process.”

The Learning Counsel Community would also like to thank SoftChalk for its sponsorship of the awards ceremony for specially recognized participants in the survey.

Material from a press release was used in this report.