App of the Week: Reach emotional goals

Uplifting one-stop shop for social and emotional learning 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? 

inspirED’s activities vary in duration from 10-minute exercises to one-hour lessons to project-based activities. The activities page also provides resources from CASEL (the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning) and maps these activities to the five core social and emotional competencies: relationship skills, responsible decision making, self-awareness, self-management, and social awareness. Resources are also presented with each activity, including TED talks, news articles, Edutopia resources, and research articles linked to that specific strand.

Price: Free

Grades: 8-10

Rating: 4/5

Pros: Activities are age-appropriate, direct, and powerful and vary from one-minute to unit-long projects.

Cons: The accountability piece may be missing for teens who use the website independently.

Bottom line: inspirED delivers exactly what it claims: empowering, easy-to-search content for social and emotional learning.


February’s 11 buzzworthy edtech tools

The month of February’s hottest, must-know edtech tools—right now.

[Ed. note: Common Sense Education’s Edtech Eleven is chosen by Common Sense Education every month and helps educators find the best edtech tools, learn best practices for teaching with tech, and equip students with the skills they need to use technology safely and responsibly.]

Things move fast in the edtech world, and we hear all the time from teachers how hard it can be to keep up. This is why we’ve created the EdTech Eleven: our monthly list of noteworthy tools generating buzz in the edtech world. While these aren’t recommendations or ratings (you have to check out our Top Picks for that), what you’ll find on the EdTech Eleven is a quick and current list of trending tools you might want to check out.

February 2017 Updates

What left the list? CommonLit, Dragonbox Big Numbers, ReadWorks Digital

What’s new? Checkology, Explain Everything, Toontastic 3D


Bitmoji — an app that lets users create their own personalized emoji — is the second most popular free app on the Apple store, and was bought by Snap in 2016. There’s no doubt it’s trending, but why did it make an edtech list? Because like Bitstrips before it, Bitmoji has caught fire with educators who we’ve seen use their Bitmojis to engage students as well as their PLNs.


In edtech right now, there’s nothing more novel — or generating more buzz — than BreakoutEDU. It brings the popular puzzle-room phenomenon to classrooms through purchasable physical kits or a DIY guide to building your own. What has really set them apart thus far, though, is their vibrant community of educators sharing stories and collaborating on new scenarios.

checkology Virtual Classroom

Created by the News Literacy Project — a nonpartisan nonprofit focused on building students’ digital literacy — checkology virtual classroom offers students a blended learning experience that helps them practice skills of separating fact from fiction using real-world stories and examples. We’ve heard some buzz around this tool recently and for good reason: it seems perfectly positioned to help teachers tackle the challenging media circumstances students now face.

Explain Everything

Explain Everything Classic has long been one of the most popular tools in the crowded interactive whiteboard and lesson genre. While we rated Explain Everything Classic highly, we noted the detailed but complex design vis a vis competitors like Educreations. With this brand new revision, titled simply Explain Everything, the app has undergone a total visual overhaul that seems to offer a more elegant, intuitive experience, and adds new features like collaboration on projects.


There aren’t many — if any — tools out there like GoNoodle, which provides video and game-based “brain breaks” of physical activity for students. That might explain why we’ve seen GoNoodle take a big leap this school year, emerging as one of the top trending tools on Common Sense Education.


(Next page: Edtech tools for February 6-11)


Looking inside classrooms can reveal surprising innovation

The eSchool Media and Xirrus Innovate to Educate Community Winner shares technology strategies to increase classroom engagement.

As any educator will no doubt agree, stepping outside of the traditional classroom box can lead to innovations that result in extraordinary experiences. And sometimes, as Arizona’s Yuma Elementary School District One discovered, those innovations are already sitting in the classroom, waiting to be discovered.

The technology-rich district has always put an emphasis on ensuring students have access to devices even before it rolled out a personalized one-to-one initiative. But educators wanted to take that richness to the next level.

“The technology wasn’t always being used to its fullest potential—there was a conversation about how to ignite that change,” said Christa Fairman, an educational technology specialist in the district.

“We would talk about the greatest resource we have, and that’s our students,” she said.

The district is one of two Community Winners in the eSchool Media and Xirrus Innovate to Educate awards program, which recognizes the unique ways schools and districts are leveraging technology to improve student learning.

When educators thought about bringing technology use to a new level by tapping into the district’s biggest resource, a new idea was born: the iTEAM KiDS Technology Ambassador Program.

Through the program, elementary and middle school students help teachers and other students learn to effectively use different technology tools and integrate them into instruction, assignments and projects. The students work with a teacher at each school and build problem-solving and teamwork skills.

iTEAM KiDS launched in the fall of 2014, and a year later, Fairman said teachers reported that the program was helping them manage and troubleshoot devices and introduce new apps and technology concepts to students.

(Next page: How the program helps different student groups achieve and excel)


Teachers in one district urged to learn in their pajamas

When the weather gets rough, technology and pajamas help teachers with PD days.

Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these [teachers] from the swift completion of their [PD]. You may be thinking of mail couriers, but this motto is also one used by an innovative technology and instructional coach in Iowa, who sees bad weather as a great opportunity to learn in a fun way.

Though teachers are often expected to make learning fun and engaging for their students, too often these same teachers are not given the same exciting opportunities for PD.

But Rachel Langenhorst, K-12 Technology Integrationist and Instructional Coach in Rock Valley, IA, is setting out to change that. Langenhorst, who was interviewed on Education Talk Radio for‘s monthly show by Program Host Larry Jacobs, talked about how her district recently held a PJ PD Day during an unexpected snow storm.

Talking to both Jacobs and Lisa Schmucki, edWeb founder, Langenhorst said the teacher-leadership team in Rock Valley had already planned for a full day of professional development, but had to quickly rethink their plans when the forecast called for a snowstorm. “Our days are very valuable…we didn’t want that to go to waste. We wanted to make sure we could use our time wisely,” she said.

A Rock Valley teacher participating PJ PD Day.

According to Langenhorst, her district team meets frequently to discuss PD plans, and during a past meeting the idea of a pajama PD day was brought up. However, this was something that required just the right opportunity to implement.

The day before the storm, the idea was reintroduced. With approval from the superintendent and a lot of re-working the next day’s plans, the pajama PD day was quickly put together.

(Next page: How Rock Valley managed to pull off their PJ PD day)


5 things schools can learn from the food truck phenomenon

Food trucks are becoming popular for a reason. Can schools learn from them by harnessing simplicity and specialization?

Unless you have been hiding out in the remote hills of the Appalachians, you have probably noticed the onslaught and popularity of food trucks over the last several years. Although street food is anything but new, almost every suburban and metropolitan area now has a plethora of food trucks serving everything from fusion to comfort food.

In my own town, we have several special events based on food trucks, as well as several new bars or pubs that allow food trucks to serve as their mobile kitchen. And even though they are using a familiar idea, why have food trucks become so popular? And better yet, what could schools and educators learn from the phenomenon?

1. Simplicity: Since food trucks are not large, they tend to simplify their menus. They can’t be like (too many) restaurants that try to prepare, sell and offer an unending list of seemingly unrelated foods. They have a handful of menu items people flock to, specifically because their simple menu often leads to the achievement of quality. Schools have long suffered from trying to do-or offer-too many things. Most schools have dozens and dozens of programs, initiatives and plans all trying to address hundreds of standards, needs and goals. If schools could focus (or simplify), they might find their schools more successful.

2. Specialization: Along the lines of simplification, there is specialization. Food vendors, and schools, cannot be good at everything. What is attractive about charter schools is that they tend to have a focus or specialization–they don’t do everything, but get very good at something. Too many of our schools are not known for being really good at something or being the best at anything, since most schools don’t specialize, they generalize.

(Next page: More school tips from the food truck phenomenon)


2017 Possibility Grant Sweepstakes

Enter the Possibility Grant Sweepstakes DAILY for your chance to win $10,000 for STEM at your school! “Fab” your lab with the latest and greatest gadgets, or purchase top-tier technology and supplies for STEM students. One school will be selected as our Grand Prize Winner in May of 2017. The Grand Prize will consist of a $10,000 Siemens Possibility Grant, awarded in the form of a check made payable to the winning school and intended to be used by the school for a science lab makeover and/or STEM-related equipment, supplies, or technology.


McCarthey Dressman Education Foundation Academic Enrichment Grants

The Academic Enrichment Grants provide funding for programs that nurture the intellectual, artistic and creative abilities of children from low-income households. The McCarthey Dressman Education Foundation awards grants to individuals in amounts up to $10,000 per year for a maximum of $30,000 over three years, provided the eligibility requirements continue to be met.


Lowe’s Toolbox for Education

Lowe’s will donate up to $5 million to K-12 public/charter schools and to parent teacher groups – at as many as 1,000 different public schools per school year. There are two deadlines each year: February 9 and September 27.
Deadline: September 27, 2017