HOT: Millennial parents are loving this school communication app

We are parents of a 1st-grader and are used to communicating with friends and colleagues instantly and often. Today, almost 90 percent of parents own a smartphone and technology plays an important role in our daily lives. Although we both try to leave work at work, we still check our email accounts several times a day. We regularly read articles, check our social media accounts, text, scroll through Pinterest, or even play Candy Crush Saga. Thanks to social communication apps like Facebook, we are able to easily connect with family and friends by sharing pictures, posting on their wall, or sending a message, all without having to dial a number or sit down and write a letter.

And now, this digital communication style has migrated into our school system, too.

Communication App for Easing the Minds of First-time Parents

Last year, we sent our sweet little boy to kindergarten. For us as parents, it was a bittersweet sign that our baby was growing up, but also a realization that he would spend a majority of his time away from mom and dad. His teacher, Laura Briggs, was familiar with the “nervous first-time parent” syndrome, and informed us that her communication style is completely paperless, and she uses the Bloomz communication app to interact with parents. We were so excited to have the ability to instantly connect with our son’s teacher, get updates on what he was doing throughout the day, and stay informed about school activities.

Ms. Briggs used her own phone during school to share photos or video, resources, and personal messages with all the parents through the communication app—all without sharing her phone number or email address.

Much like Facebook’s newsfeed, Bloomz has a scrollable feed that showed us photos of classroom activities, a description of what was happening each day, and ideas for enrichment at home. She also sent school flyers and announcements and scheduled school and classroom events using the calendar feature, so we never missed an important date.

(Next page: Speedy responses; collaboration)


3 better alternatives to “gotcha” tactics for teachers

[Editor’s note: This piece is the first in our May series on “Tales from Innovative Principals.” Be sure to check back every week for a new Principal POV story!]

I have been in school administration for 12 years now, and one of the things that I absolutely have learned to hate is the formal teacher evaluation process. In the past, it worked like this: I inform a teacher that it’s evaluation time, we have a pre-meeting, they put on a show, I take notes on the show, we sit down and we talk about the show that I saw (which in no way represents what they do every day), and then I give them an evaluation. The whole procedure was ridiculous to the point that I always dreaded it.

I wanted observation at Howard University Middle School (HUMS) to be a way for teachers to become better teachers, so for the 2016–2017 school year, we started asking them to capture videos of their lessons. The idea was that I could look at a video the way I wanted to: see a piece, stop, go back and look at it again, and then provide feedback that the teacher could use to improve their practice.

3 Better Teacher Evaluation Alternatives to “Gotcha” Tactics

Step 1: A Focus on Growth for Math Teachers

We started with the math department, because I was a math teacher before I became Head of School, and because HUMS has a focus on STEM and careers. Using the Insight ADVANCE platform ADVANCEfeedback, all the math teachers took a video of one class, and I used our instructional rubric to discuss different points that I saw in the classroom.

With a video as a common frame of reference, I didn’t have to comment on a show that they put on for me. Instead I said, “This is what I saw,” then they provided their feedback, and we agreed on what they needed to improve.

Some teachers were surprised by what they saw themselves doing. I remember one saying, “I really messed that part up. This is how I usually do it, and this is how I am going to do it differently.” To help guide the conversations in a positive direction, I used some of the techniques in the book Teach Like a Champion, and we talked about how they were going to implement the changes we discussed.

For this year, we are using video observation to focus only on growth. I have been asking the math teachers to capture videos twice a month—not necessarily of entire lessons but of aspects of their practice that they wanted work on. Most recently, I asked them to isolate two parts of a lesson that they wanted to improve. They took short videos aimed at helping us reexamine skills like questioning or transitioning.

One teacher wanted to make sure that students were following the systems that she had implemented in class: put your pencils here, put your device here. Video showed us clearly where this was and wasn’t working.

An added bonus of having video from classrooms is that when I see a teacher doing something well, I can take that snippet and show it to other teachers. I have internal PD going on in the building without having to schedule a meeting.

(Next page: Teacher growth tactics 2-3)


These schools are leveraging E-Rate for a complete digital transformation

Textbooks and blackboards have become a thing of the past in K-12 schools as educators collaborate with IT teams to shape a full digital core curriculum as part of their educational strategy for 2017 and beyond. In a 2016 survey conducted by the Consortium for School Networking (COSN), 90 percent of IT administrators at K-12 schools expect that curricula will be at least 50 percent digital over the next three years.

As the world undergoes a digital transformation—with connectivity and access to computers and mobile devices playing an increasingly prominent role in everyone’s lives—elementary schools know they need to incorporate technology in the educational process to prepare their students for future success. To support these initiatives, the Federal Communications Commission’s E-rate program has recently been expanded to provide schools nationwide with subsidies for high-speed broadband and gigabit wireless networks.

According to the “2016 Digital Curriculum Strategy Survey Report” sponsored by Ruckus Wireless, hardware and network spend is estimated at $16.2 billion in 2017. Whereas currently 78 percent of students have device and network access for almost a full day, the expectation for this year is that schools will have close to one-to-one access, or one device per student.

Wireless network coverage now stands at 91 percent, but, as the survey indicates, educators deem it unreliable and inadequate for full digital curriculums. What does this mean for schools?

More effort and funding will be directed to improving bandwidth and to upgrading networks—and the effort is being driven by both technology directors and officers and chief academic officers, including classroom teaching staff.

(Next page: How schools are currently using E-Rate for digital success)


Urgent: 3 reasons to track Trump’s latest education moves

President Donald Trump has signed an executive order to limit the federal government’s role in U.S. education and to return much of that control to states.

The order directs Education Secretary Betsy DeVos to conduct a 300-day review of K-12 education programs. She then will compile a report indicating which programs or actions overreached. DeVos also is an advocate for local control of education.

Many of Trump’s supporters have long denounced the federal government’s role in education.

“In 2015, there was a consensus that No Child Left Behind needed to be fixed and, remarkably, there was a consensus on how to fix it: Continue the law’s important measurements of academic progress of students but restore to states, school districts, classroom teachers and parents the responsibility for deciding what to do about improving student achievement,” said Senate education committee Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.). “Parents and teachers should welcome the president’s commitment to ensuring that the Education Department is faithfully executing the education law as Congress wrote it–putting states and local communities back in charge of their classrooms.”

“For too long, the federal government has imposed its will on state and local governments. The result has been education that spends more and achieves far, far, far less,” Trump said in remarks before signing the order. “My administration has been working to reverse this federal power grab and give power back to families, cities, states. Give power back to localities.”

(Next page: 3 reasons the executive order matters for U.S. schools)


8 things teachers want you to know about their profession

Teachers who are “career changers” and who have come to the teaching profession from other fields say their career change brings benefits to the classroom, according to a new University of Phoenix College of Education survey focusing on how K-12 teachers view their profession.

Those benefits include real-world experience, new ideas, teacher diversity, and unique teaching styles and perspectives.

Just in time for Teacher Appreciation Week, the survey takes a look at teachers’ satisfaction with their careers and also takes stock of the impact teacher shortages have on schools.

Of surveyed teachers who have worked in the profession for five years or more, nearly half (47 percent) said they have had more opportunities for leadership roles, including serving on special committees, mentoring, and running special after-school programs.

(Next page: 8 facts educators share about their profession)


Debunked: 5 myths about classroom technology

For decades, schools have been scaling up the technology incorporated into the classroom, from small computer labs designed to teach basic computer skills to student-assigned tablets for more complex, daily assignments (and occasional play).

Parents, lawmakers, and even some educators have spoken out against this trend, arguing that excessive classroom technology could end up doing more harm than good, but the foundations for most of these arguments are unsupported by empirical evidence.

Arguments against Classroom Technology in School

These are some of the biggest myths about classroom technology in school…and here’s why they’re unfounded:


1. Social limitations. Some argue that students who use technology in school regularly will be less socialized than students who are forced to interact only with other students. The idea here is that technology is a substitute for human interaction, and will have a negative effect on developing children’s social skills.

However, this is misleading for two reasons. First, technology can have a positive or negative effect on a person’s social development, depending on how it’s used—some technology can actually improve communication skills. Second, technology isn’t being used to replace social interactions—it’s being used to enhance them, and replace traditional textbooks and obsolete technologies.

2. Distractions. Some parents argue that technology poses more of a distraction than anything. Children could use their tablets to play games unrelated to the learning process, or refuse to follow the curriculum when a device is in front of them.

This is absolutely true, but it isn’t an inherent problem with technology—it’s an inherent problem with children. Anyone who’s been in a classroom knows that anything is a potential distraction, whether it’s writing notes on a sheet or paper or sending a text message. Technology doesn’t make the classroom any more distracting than it already is.

(Next page: Classroom technology myths 3-5)


App of the Week: Explore mysteries in space

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? 

Space by Tinybop allows kids to be virtual space explorers. Kids tap on a rocket to blast into space and then move around the planets to compare their size; they can also see how they rotate around the sun to compare the length of each planet’s year. As students explore, they can figure out the phases of the moon by tracing its orbit or zoom in on a planet to interact with the surface.

Price: $2.99

Grades: 1-8

Rating: 4/5

Pros: Beautiful interactives place space exploration and investigation right at kids’ fingertips.

Cons: Despite the developer-cited age range of 6–8, younger elementary school-age kids need more in-app directions.

Bottom line: Learn about the sun, moon, and planets through interactive open-ended play.


Researchers develop groundbreaking technology for student writing success

As with any skill, the key to better writing is more practice. But that creates a dilemma for the teachers tasked with helping students improve their writing skills: How can they build more opportunities into the curriculum for students to practice writing, while still giving students both timely and meaningful feedback?

The problem is especially challenging for high school teachers, who might have as many as five classes of 30 students each. That’s 150 essays they would have to read and respond to for every writing assignment they give.

One School is Finding Writing Success…

South Kitsap High School, a newly authorized International Baccalaureate World School across the bay from Seattle, has found an innovative solution to this challenge. It’s a technology-based platform called Revision Assistant, from Turnitin.

Using Revision Assistant has allowed South Kitsap teachers in all disciplines to give students more frequent writing assignments, without adding more work to their already-full plates. That, in turn, has helped better prepare the school’s students for the rigors of an IB curriculum.

…with Groundbreaking Technology

Powered by technology that emerged from researchers at Carnegie Mellon University, Revision Assistant uses sophisticated algorithms to analyze both the context and syntax of writing. Far more than a simple grammar checker, Revision Assistant is able to read an essay and then compare how strong the writing and content is with thousands of similar papers already in its database.

“Revision Assistant isn’t just essay grading software. It’s a complex program that compares essays against a series of standards and then makes recommendations to the student about how to make that paper better,” said Elijah Mayfield, vice president of new technologies for Turnitin.

In other words, Revision Assistant reads students’ writing like a teacher would, then provides immediate feedback to help students improve their writing skills.

Video: Teachers and Students on Revision Assistant:

For high school English teachers who have 150 student papers to read, it might take a week or more for students to get their papers back with the teacher’s comments. By that time, the teachable moment is gone. Revision Assistant provides the kind of detailed, constructive feedback that teachers would give if they had the time to do so for each student draft—and it does so instantly.

“Students learn in the moment,” said Kelly Ogan, an English teacher at South Kitsap High School. “Your best chance at helping them learn is at the very moment they did something wrong, or right.” Revision Assistant helps Kelly and her peers capitalize on that moment, because it gives immediate feedback when the student calls for a “signal check” to evaluate their essay in progress.

(Next page: An example of how this writing technology actually works)


Summer must! 5 ways to support struggling readers

With summer break on the horizon, it’s more important than ever to not only better help struggling readers in the classroom, but understand what helps them improve and want to read when they’re at home.

More than 10 million American students struggle to read, but only 2.3 million are identified and even fewer receive special help; therefore, schools must provide support for struggling students by creating a culture of reading. In “45 Ways to Support Struggling Readers: A School-Wide Approach,” hosted by and sponsored by Learning Ally, Terrie Noland, Learning Ally National Director, Educator Engagement; and Kristy Mathieu, Kiker Elementary, Austin, TX, presented tips for how schools can support struggling readers in the classroom and at home.

Here are 5 of those tips (for more tips, click on the link at the bottom of the article for the full webinar):

1. Provide Students with a Comfortable Place for Reading

Mathieu implemented flexible seating into her classroom, which allows students to sit in a more relaxed environment as opposed to sitting in rows. Seats that allow for natural movement, such as stools that move, are also helpful for children with attention issues.

2. Give Struggling Readers a Fidget Object

Mathieu even provides toys for students to fidget with while reading, like putty, because some struggling readers may become anxious while trying to read. Kristy commented on her classroom setup, “It doesn’t matter to me where you’re working—as long as you’re working.”

(Next page: Tips for struggling readers 3-5)