Here’s how you tie spending to student outcomes—with big success

When I first came on board as the CFO in Pueblo, Colorado, I asked my finance manager to compile a complete financial report of all of our budgets. As a new CFO, I thought I was taking a smart, proactive approach and could hit the ground running. Instead, my jaw hit the ground when she brought me back a 500-page report in a PDF format! I couldn’t believe it. Wasn’t there a better way?

Excel is a great program, but for finance staff managing millions of dollars of district spending over the course of many years, it has its limitations. Since our district financial system was so tied up in spreadsheets buried in the back end, it could easily take a day (or up to a few weeks) to pull a request for financial data. Often, when the report was pulled, it was too old or the data set was incorrect. We juggled managing the district-wide long-term forecast and the day-to-day budget management because, without accurate and up-to-date information, the efforts become fruitless.

Understanding Finance Systems

This process was even worse at the school level. Not many district administrators have a background in finance. I brought a unique level of financial knowledge and an accounting degree to my work in the district when I started as a teacher/coach. As I moved up to assistant principal/athletic director, principal, and eventually CFO, I saw many of our school administrative staff and program managers struggle with understanding how financial systems work. How do the financial codes connect back to individual programs and funding sources? Why is it important to correctly code transactions?

Initially, No Connection to Outcomes

In our district, we have 19 standard schools and two charter schools. The workload for school administrators is heavy and concentrated on staff supervision and instructional leadership.

Could school administrators and program directors connect spending to student outcomes? No. If they wanted to assess student outcomes, they’d look at the programs and their curriculum at the schools. When it came to spending, each school or program would spend the money allocated in their budget from year to year, but little was done to plan holistically across the district.

(Next page: Solving how to tie spending to student outcomes)


5 teacher-loved technology tools to meet STEM NGSS standards

The Science and Engineering Practices of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) require students to ‘obtain, evaluate, and communicate information’ (NGSS Lead States, 2013). As students engage in argumentation, verbal reasoning, and explaining with evidence, it is critical that they have access to dynamic technology tools to promote and guide such communication.

Despite this need to communicate with increasing clarity and creativity, oftentimes students and teachers rely upon common modalities such as Powerpoint presentations, Word brochures, and handmade posters when asked to communicate information within the classroom setting. While useful and rife with practical implications, these traditional options tend to be overused and are limited in their capabilities to communicate information in dynamic new ways.

Additionally, it is important that students learn to use a wide variety of technology tools within our 21st century classrooms (US Dept. of Education Office of Educational Technology, 2016). This article features recommendations for technology tools that enable students to communicate information in innovative, creative, and visually appealing ways. All of these resources:

  • Are free
  • Can be downloaded for offline use, emailed, and/or shared via social media
  • Are web-based
  • Have privacy mechanisms to ensuring students’ work is secure
  • Require an email address to create an account

Technology Tools to Meet NGSS Standards

1. Canva

From presentations to posters, eBooks to event flyers, and everything in between, Canva offers 63 different design types that students and teachers can easily use to communicate information in exciting new ways. Used by more than 10 million people worldwide, Canva’s mission is to “empower the world to design,” which is evident in their vast array of graphics, text options, icons, and templates. Canva quickly became a staple in my classroom, as it constantly inspires and facilitates many creative evaluation deliverables such as magazines, advertisements, and flyers.

2. Visme

Visme offers presentation, infographic, and banner tools to help teachers and students communicate information. Of this list, Visme is the easiest to use. Editing features are simple yet powerful, data can be easily incorporated in beautiful ways, and insertable options are usefully categorized, sparing you the annoyance of scrolling through seemingly unending lists of icons. As a bonus, the Visme Twitter account (@Vismeapp) frequently supplies useful tips and tricks to boost communication skills. However, Visme is the most limited in the number of free templates available for use.

(Next page: NGSS tools 3-5)


How to prevent accidental plagiarism in an online world

Everything starts with suspicion.

You take a student’s essay, start reading it, and it doesn’t feel right. The writing structure, word constructions, and deductions are unlike this mentee of yours! You go to PlagiarismCheck, Copyscape, or any other resource to check that essay for plagiarism and…ta da!

You were right. The essay has obvious signs of plagiarism.

Don’t hurry up to blame a student. They might plagiarize accidentally. A responsible educator, you can help students write original academic papers and teach them to distinguish whether they opine on the topic or simply paraphrase statements, taken from third party sources. Here’s how:

1. Teach Paraphrasing

A paraphrase is among the most popular types of accidental plagiarism, but it’s not evil when used right. Draw a line between plagiarism and paraphrasing for your students to avoid the issue.

When asking a student to write essays “with your own words,” they have brain freeze and start changing the word order of original resources so they look and sound different. Explain to them why it’s wrong and teach a proper paraphrasing.

For example:

  • A student should give credit to sources: direct reference to the author and provide citations and quotation marks for specifying the borrowed words.
  • It’s okay to rewrite in their own words, but students should use their writing styles as well as add new material to essays.
  • Shared language is fine, too, when using commonly accepted vocabulary, tech-related terms, or bias-free language.

Teach your students not to copy but understand the sense of information from a resource and then formulate it in their own words without looking to the text.

And yes, they can use synonyms, split compound sentences into simple ones, change the structure of passages and the word order when appropriate.

(Next page: Preventing plagiarism in an online world tips 2 & 3)


James Patterson School Library Campaign

The third installment of the James Patterson School Library Campaign, in partnership with Scholastic Reading Club, focuses specifically on teachers: 3,500 individual recipients will receive grants of $500 to enhance and supplement their classroom libraries.


$1,000 Teacher Appreciation Week Giveaway

We’re giving away ten $100 Target gift cards in honor of Teacher Appreciation. Whoo hoo! Think of all the mini erasers that could buy. Or better yet—a mini shopping spree just for yourself, with no classroom supplies in sight! Just remember to save a few bucks for an iced coffee to go along with your shopping trip, and enjoy!


We Are Teachers 2017 Teacher Appreciation Giveaway

It’s May! Time to give yourself a high-five for everything you’ve done to help nurture and grow young minds in your classroom this year. And we want to show you just how amazing you really are with this 2017 Teacher Appreciation giveaway of gift cards and gift baskets piled high with goodies for you and your classroom. The winners will go on a $100 Teacher Created Materials shopping spree for books, decorations, lesson plans—the works! Plus you’ll get lots of other fun stuff like an inspirational classroom poster, a Disney Earth DVD, and plenty of goodies.


SmartMusic Teacher Appreciation Sweepstakes

The SmartMusic Teacher Appreciation Sweepstakes will award three prizes to educators, and one grand prize winner will receive a free trip to attend the NAfME National In-service Conference in Grapevine, Texas on November 12-15, 2017.


REcharge Academy Educator Scholarships

The REcharge Academy is a week-long educator training workshop about renewable energy. The intensive training blends lectures from experts and tours of energy facilities with replicable hands-on K-12 lessons to give educators content as well as context. A REcharge Academy combines materials from REcharge Labs, WindWise Curricula, KidWind, and Vernier, as well as other materials we find applicable and useful in the classroom. After successfully completing an Academy, all attendees become REcharge Instructors, and are certified to teach REcharge programming in their own areas.
Note: Scholarship deadline has been extended.


Colocation America STEM Youth Program Grants

Colocation America proudly supports the development and integration of STEM learning opportunities for youth in the communities we serve. One of the ways we support these activities is by funding innovative Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) youth programs. Youth organizations and K-12 educators with STEM programming may apply and be awarded upwards of $7,500 for their new or reoccurring program.