3 easy ways to get students future ready

Expert recommends simple updates to regular classroom lessons to better prepare students for an uncertain future.

Change is inevitable, and while it’s important to design lessons with an end result in mind, it’s difficult to prepare students for a future that doesn’t exist yet. In the recent edWebinar, “The Future Ready Challenge: Improve Student Outcomes in 18 Weeks,” hosted by edWeb.net, Dr. L. Robert Furman, Elementary Principal and author of The Future Ready Challenge, discussed some painless ways to help educators prepare students for an unknown future.

“We are currently preparing students for jobs that don’t yet exist…using technologies that haven’t been invented…in order to solve problems we don’t even know are problems yet,” noted Furman’s presentation.

1. Use Technology only when Digital Skill-Appropriate

However, educators can do their best to prepare future ready students by focusing on the digital skills they will need to thrive in an increasingly digital world. It’s important to use technology in the classroom, but only when it is appropriate for the digital skill being taught. Recognize how students will benefit from the use of that technology, but don’t use technology simply because it’s the cool thing to do.

2. Make Lessons Practical, Like the Real World

To help improve future ready outcomes in students, Furman also recommends practicality. For example, by working a digital skill into each lesson, teachers can ensure that students will have built up their digital skills by the time they are ready for the real world.

Teachers should also strive to spend more time applying lessons to real world issues. Students are likely to find these lessons more interesting and might be able to apply them in a job one day.

He then suggests saving time during the day by removing unnecessary lessons and skills. If teachers don’t find it necessary for their students to spend 40 minutes a day on spelling, some of that time could be spent on something else.

(Next page: The last future ready tip)


Infographic: How lower-income parents view classroom technology

Lower-income parents are responding to changes in classroom technology use.

[Editor’s Note: Read “Infographic: The edtech challenges faced by immigrant students” here and read “Infographic: Why mobile technology is hurting some students” here.]

Lower-income parents generally see classroom technology as beneficial to their children’s education, according to a survey from the Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop.

The survey gauges how lower-income parents are responding to changes in classroom learning–most notably, an increase in technology tools and use.

Many initiatives encourage educators to integrate technology into their classrooms, and 80 percent of surveyed lower-income parents think using technology in the classroom improves education quality, while 18 percent think classroom technology use is a distraction that hurts education quality and 2 percent are unsure of its impact.

Most parents said their children are using technology frequently at school–30 percent said their children use computers or tablets in school every day, and 37 percent said their children use technology at school a few times a week.

(Next page: Do parents know details about their children’s technology use?)


Is the digital divide entirely different from what we think it is?

Interestingly, closing the digital divide within classrooms may have more to do with digital citizenship than hardware.

For a while now, there’s been a great deal of concern over the digital divide—the gap between students who have easy access to technology and those who don’t. Most debates center on choosing the best classroom hardware to bridge the gap: ‘Should we try to get a laptop on every desk? Tablets? Two-in-ones?’ However, the hardware debate obscures a deeper issue. It doesn’t matter what kind of technology a student uses, so much as what the student is encouraged to do with it.

The subtler, but no less harmful, digital divide is between the students who are empowered to be creators and problem solvers with technology, and those who aren’t.

The Most Important Tool is a Skill, Not a Tablet

Since students today live in a digital world, digital citizenship is one of the most important lessons schools can teach. Online behavior—social pressure, harassment, bullying—is a big issue with a real-world impact.

Good digital citizens know how to protect themselves (and their personal information), how to protect others, and how to behave civilly in online discourse. These are all things that we’ve taught students to do face-to-face in schools for years. But now schools need to extend these lessons into the digital space.

One of the best ways to teach digital citizenship—or better, to encourage—students to be good digital citizens is to help them become digital creators. We do not expect students to learn courtesy by reading etiquette manuals; we teach them by exposing them to real-world situations and helping them to correct their mistakes. Young people should not be unleashed unsupervised into a digital environment without preparation, any more than we expect to drop them off at their first birthday party with no adult supervision. They have to be taught to create speech in a digital space just like in a physical one.

(Next page: More student skills to close the digital divide)


5 education trends of the future catapulted by blended learning

A leading education researcher looks at the evolution of “a disruptive force that is increasingly changing how we teach and learn.”

[Editor’s Note: This story is Part 3 of our April series on Blended Learning. Click here to read Part 1 on what makes a blended learning initiative fail. Click here to read Part 2 on what blended learning really looks like in the classroom.]

As blended learning practices are becoming more widespread, it is increasingly challenging to collect accurate data on the number of schools that have gone blended, but by examining student enrollments in online courses and edtech vendor data, we estimate the number of students engaging in some kind of blended learning to be approximately 9 million, which represents about 20 percent of K-12 student enrollment.

With so many students engaged in this mode of learning, it’s important to examine current trends and technologies to try and predict where blended learning could take students in the future.

The Evolution 

Trend 1: More student choice and responsibility for learning

As teachers and students grow accustomed to a given model, they may find opportunities to take the learning experience another level deeper. We’re seeing teachers who have been doing blended learning for a while starting to crave elbow room from strict, structured classroom choreography. As we recently profiled in our playbook on emerging teacher “moves,” a teacher who starts off “managing” a blended model may, over time, start to release more responsibilities to the students, such as determining their own pace or path through a curriculum unit. When teachers are more confident with their blended practice, they often realize they’re ready to take personalization in the learning process to the next level.

Trend 2: Digitization

The theory of disruptive innovation enabled us to predict years ago that blended learning would become the dominant instructional method in K-12 education, but that prediction could mean two very different futures. On the one hand, this could mean driving down the cost of delivering learning by merely digitizing our old, factory-based model of monolithic instruction.

(Next page: More future-looking trends)


4 best practices for education data

Interpreting education data can be tricky--these industry best practices can help.

Data can be immensely helpful to educators–but anyone who hopes to learn from data must know how to analyze and interpret it.

Although the word “data” can raise red flags when it comes to protecting student privacy and sensitive information, it can help students, parents, teachers, and administrators learn from and adjust practices. The catch, though, is that these stakeholder groups need access to the education data and must be able understand what it means.

“Collecting the right education data at the right time, if the right people have access to it, can be a very powerful tool to help improve teaching and learning,” said Doug Mesecar, vice president of strategic partnerships at IO Education, who also has extensive experience with education data and blended learning solutions.

In a blended learning approach, it’s important that education data be used in real time, or near real time to provide a feedback loop so the data doesn’t go unused, Mesecar said. “It needs to be put to use by teachers in real time to make adjustments and provide interventions and supports.”

Too much education data can overwhelm, but looking at it constantly could cause educators to get lost and not see valuable trends. Finding a balance–perhaps weekly–is as important as knowing what to do with the data when it is accessed.

“We put data in front of people and say, ‘OK, take action!’ But you have to understand what it says first,” Mesecar.

(Next page: Best practices for education data)


This program could skyrocket AP scores

The number of students achieving qualifying scores in AP math and science increased more than 500 percent for one school.

Participating in a specific college readiness program could cause a massive increase in qualifying Advanced Placement (AP) scores for students.

Schools that complete the first year of the National Math and Science Initiative’s College Readiness Program see the number of qualifying Advanced Placement scores in math, science and English increase by an average of 67 percent, based on data from the College Board.

The increase at NMSI-supported schools is more than 10 times the average annual increase.

The program also is expanding its access to underrepresented student populations. NMSI’s three-year College Readiness Program has expanded access to rigorous AP classes in more than 1,000 schools across 34 states.

Among African-American and Hispanic students, the average increase in the number of qualifying scores is more than six times the national average, and for female students the increase is 10 times the national average.

(Next page: The impact NMSI had on 4 schools’ AP scores)


Superintendent: Gen Z achievement soaring with student choice

A superintendent shares his district’s approach to promoting literacy among today’s digital natives through student choice.

You can look at all kids who are currently in grades K–12 as Generation Z. These students are even more enveloped in technology than the Millennials who came before them, and many educators now worry about how best to teach Generation Z basics—such as how to read—while competing for attention with digital devices. Parents and teachers are concerned how immediate gratification and a shortened attention span encouraged by regular device use might affect young student’s ability to learn and read.

But can the students really be blamed? In today’s modern classroom, technology is no longer just a past-time distraction; it’s an interwoven part of the daily education process. Everything students do now, from testing online and getting their score almost instantly to reading their textbooks and assignments on tablets, is all done digitally.

So how can educators find the perfect balance between traditional and digital approaches to better focus their student’s attention? How can they gain back control in a classroom full of devices? It’s easy: by sharing control with their students through student choice.

Building Student and Teacher Engagement

The most difficult part of such a transition falls in the hands of the teachers. Adults have to let this happen first, and handing over even a percentage of their control isn’t always easy. The solution then is to go slowly, make the changes gradually, and test parts of the transition out.

My education staff at Manor ISD are currently testing these methods to see how we can offer this choice and what that will look like. Personally, I’ve relied heavily on teacher and student stakeholder groups throughout the process, to brainstorm ideas and learn what each side needs and wants to achieve with their digital curriculum.

Choice is very important, but voice from the field is very important as well.

The student choice method works wonderfully well with reading. By giving students more freedom to pick the books and subject matter they’re interested in, school staff can feel more assured in their students’ engagement in the task at hand.

But the method works with other curriculum, too. Take project based learning (PBL), for example. At Manor ISD, I want our kids to feel that they can learn with PBL or not. From the start of the school year, they are given a choice of where they want to land from the curriculum perspective and then how they plan to work to get there. This allows kids to navigate through that constructional framework, finding confidence and engagement with their lessons along the way.

(Next page: Tools and support for student choice)


How an edtech innovation is giving performance assessments new life

Edtech innovation gives performance assessments a real chance thanks to replacing, not adding on.

Across the country, educators and policy makers are searching for ways to develop and implement innovative assessment programs to address accountability requirements and to reform instruction. As both local and state educators consider new assessment models, they find themselves coming up against many issues of time. It’s widely agreed that there’s too much time spent on testing and test prep, and there’s too little time to teach and take on additional responsibilities to transform instruction. Educators often feel that innovation represents an additional burden on their time rather than a benefit.

Since the last big push to reform instruction and assessment nearly a quarter century ago, we’ve developed new psychometric techniques as well as new technologies to assist us in our attempts to innovate.

Internet access, electronic collection of student work, and online distributed scoring, for example, can all play significant roles in making performance assessments more manageable and efficient.

Problem: Time and effort burdens

Many recent efforts have not adhered to a fundamental principle that must be followed if performance assessment is to have a chance of surviving this time around. That principle is this: Efforts to take performance assessment to scale must minimize or eliminate additional burden on local educators.

One way to follow the “minimal burden” principle is by providing time-saving instructional approaches and tools (e.g., online instructional resources) that replace or modify things teachers are already doing or using.  The general strategy upholding the principle is to replace; don’t add on.

An effective way to follow the “replace; don’t add on” maxim is to use curriculum-embedded performance assessments (CEPAs). As defined by Hofman, Goodwin, and Kahl (2015), a CEPA is a multi-day instructional module that consists of a series of instructional activities. Some of the activities lead to student work that can be used in both formative and summative assessment processes. The parts of the CEPAs that require students to produce scorable products or demonstrations are performance tasks built into the instructional modules from the get-go. Alignment of the assessment tasks to instruction is guaranteed.

CEPAs are used in place of, not in addition to, instructional units or parts of units that teachers have been using. Marion and Shepard (2010)  promote “replacement units,” which are similar to CEPAs, but focus exclusively on formative purposes. Because both types of units include recommended activities and resources and provide assessment tools, techniques, and scoring rubrics, the teachers, in effect, are given tried-and-true lesson plans.

(Next page: Teacher input and ownership for performance assessments)