Teachers: 6 social assignments for online learning

A handful of customizable online assignment ideas that will keep online learning students interested and motivated in their work.

Online learning students, like any other students, like to spend time procrastinating before they get to completing assignments given in class. Many teachers struggle to come up with tasks and projects that really engage and motivate students to skip procrastination and get working.

Teachers: if you find yourself at a roadblock when it comes to designing engaging projects, here are a few easily customizable online assignment ideas that will keep your students interested and motivated. These assignments can also be applied to many different subjects, as they aim to test a variety of skills and abilities at once.

Let’s begin:

1. The Photo Online Assignment

If you need students to develop critical thinking and creative skills, use the “picture assignment.” Create a project and ask students to take a random photo and describe the scene with references to some theories and models used in the class. This way, you allow them to not only engage their creativity, but reveal personal interests; this helps to make the connection between what they personally care about with their classwork.

2. The Interview Online Assignment

Like the example above of the picture assignment, this online assignment refers to the interests of students if the teacher allows them to select the person they want to have a conversation with, such as a local politician, singer, activist, or even a friend or a neighbor. Make sure the interviews discuss specific topics related to the subject and then use the information obtained by the students to illustrate some concepts or theories studied in the class. Find some interview conducting tips in this article from Study Guides and Strategies.

3. The Observation Online Assignment

This assignment encourages online students to leave their homes and engage in first-hand learning from professionals. For example, if you are teaching a nursing class, arrange an opportunity to visit a local health care institution and observe how nurses and other professionals perform their tasks by observing. Also, the professionals could be asked for some tips and professional advice when possible to make the observation even more engaging for the students. As a result, students will be thankful for the opportunity to take learning outside the online classroom.

(Next page: 3 more customizable online assignments)


From virtual field trips to AR, here’s how projectors are the secret ingredient for success

Interactivity in new projection display technology allows teachers and students to create and learn in advanced ways.

The days of projectors only being used in classrooms to show movies or what is on the teacher’s computer screen are long gone.  With the advent of interactive projectors, improved light source and connectivity options, and software tools that take projection to new heights, it is an exciting time to be a teacher and a student.

Modern Projectors and their Technology

First, let’s cover the advances in the technology.  There is an incredible amount of power and features packed into these fairly small boxes. Projection display technology includes several components that can be categorized into three benefits:

  • Image Quality – There are several things that make up image quality: the resolution, the lumens (or brightness measurement), and the contrast ratio. Projection displays are now offering full HD resolution and high lumen projectors, from 3,000 – 4,000 lumens, are becoming affordable for the classroom. When considering brightness, it’s important to choose a projector technology that has equal color and white lumens such as 3LCD to ensure the best image quality with bright vibrant colors. In addition, contrast ratio is changing rapidly, especially with the advent of new laser projectors.  Laser projection displays offer incredibly bright images, with up to 20,000 hours of virtually maintenance-free operation and a dynamic contrast ratio of up to 2,500,000:1. And laser technology means projection displays can offer high lumens with little energy use for large venues such as gymnasiums and theatres.  Collectively this results in images that are incredibly crisp and accessible even in a well-lit classroom.
  • Image Size – When it comes to classroom projection, size really does matter. Students need to be able to see the content being presented no matter where they are sitting in the classroom. Ultra short-throw projection displays provide an image of 100 inches with virtually no shadow interference. This makes them a great solution for making a wall interactive when the projection display is on. Some projection displays also now offer split screen functionality which allows the teacher to project two images from different sources side-by-side. And, for schools looking to make an entire wall interactive, there are options like DuoLink which allows for the placement of two projectors side-by-side to create one massive seamless surface up to 280 inches (diagonal).
  • Connectivity – Projector connection options are really advancing. Most displays offer multiple HDMI ports to support multiple high-definition A/V devices. Also, there are now MHL ports being offered to enable educators to connect an MHL-enabled device such as smartphones and tablets to the projection display.

Projection Displays Can Change the Way Students Learn

Now comes the fun part – there are so many cool things being done with projection displays and, as laser displays become more available, this is sure to explode. Projection displays incorporate tools that help students and teachers interact with each other and with the content being displayed.

New software tools allow teachers to manage student devices for two-way content sharing – both pulling student screens to the display and pushing content to each student device.  This is great when educators are teaching a math lesson, for example. The teacher can teach the lesson to the whole class and then push a math problem to each device. When students complete the math problem, teachers can show multiple students’ work on the large display.

This is extremely important in today’s Common Core era where educators help students learn from both correct and incorrect answers. This also provides great discussion opportunities for students to delve deeper into the problem being solved.

(Next page: Projectors for tech beginners; projection for virtual trips and AR)


What do students really think of math? And does it matter?

Such insights may help improve national math gains, experts say.

When it comes to interest in math, 51 percent of students participating in a recent survey said they are naturally interested, while 25 percent cited a good teacher sparked their interest, and 11 percent said the prospect of a better college and career path is what motivates them.

The figures come from a survey sponsored by The Moody’s Foundation and unveiled by the Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics. All students in the survey are participants in the Moody’s Mega Math (M3) Challenge, a national mathematics competition that involves high school juniors and seniors committing a 14-hour weekend day to using mathematical modeling to recommend solutions for real-world problems.

When grappling with a mathematics problem, almost one-third said they keep at it until they come up with an answer, with two-thirds reaching out to a teacher, the internet or a friend. When learning math, 64 percent of students said understanding the underlying concepts behind the formulas works best for them, while 23 percent cited practice at solving math problems to be most effective.

The Moody’s survey follows the December 2016 unveiling of results of an international math quiz by Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) that showed U.S. high school students lag behind their global peers in math, ranking 40th in math out of 72 countries last year. The U.S. score was down 17 points from 2009 and 20 points below the average of others taking the quiz, which saw Singapore come out on top, followed by Japan, Estonia, Finland and Canada.

(Next page: How poor mathematics skills can determine college success)


Why education is really a relationship business

Top to bottom, education is a relationship business. It’s everything. Here's why communication, and passion, define this arena.

For all our conversations about edtech and curriculum and funding and unions and building schools and transportation and testing and every other thing, education is about people.

More specifically, education is about relationships. Nothing happens in education without relationships. The relationship between a governor and his staff. The state’s relationship with its superintendents. The supe’s relationship with the board. The principal’s relationship with her teachers. And the teacher’s relationship with our learners. Top to bottom, education is a relationship business. It’s everything.

The Power of Story Telling and Communication in Education

Our ability to successfully communicate determines our success in almost every personal and professional relationship we have. Communication is a very nuanced thing. One of the reasons that translation software may never replace native speakers is the subtleties in language and context. It’s that command of subtleties that moves education. It allows us to exist and thrive and ultimately make changes in a world of bureaucracy that starts with a budget and ends with a child whose very future rests in our hands.

I love meeting people in the education biz. I like to hear each person’s unique story. What are they passionate about? What drives them to make a difference? Whether it’s the high school dropout who became a technology innovator, former investment banker who left riches behind to battle inequity as a public school teacher, the veteran principal whose single-minded focus from childhood was always to be an educator, or the struggling learner who was told she’d never go to college, yet earned a PhD, every single person in this field has a story to tell and important contribution to make.

The education industry is often and rightly called a small world, because when everyone is working toward a common good, we tend to cross paths often and become fast friends.

“Swimming in the Deep End”

One of my new friends is Jennifer Abrams. Jen is an author and speaker who travels the globe helping education-types communicate with each other. Jen is a breath of fresh air, and she puts the “can” in candid. She can be honest, direct, and to-the-point, all in a way that leaves all parties understanding the situation, objectives and, most importantly, each other. She knows that superior communication skills are a learned behavior, and fortunately for the education world, she shares these behaviors with school districts, ministries of education and independent schools at home and abroad.

She is also the Energizer Bunny. Whenever I call her, I find her in Australia or Europe or at her home in Palo Alto. And somehow during her whirl-wind tours, she keeps writing more best-selling books. Her “Hard Conversations” books have helped hundreds of thousands, if not millions, in education, between the administrators, teachers, and students who have benefited from her guidance.

Currently, Jen is finishing her new book about “Swimming in the Deep End,” designed to help new leaders navigate the waters of management. She is an education rock star, and of all my friends in the education biz, Jen’s contributions may have the most intrinsic value. Nothing happens in education without relationships. And Jennifer Abrams is making everything happen.

In Education, Passion is Also Everything

Education is an amazing business. For those of you that know me, you know that I came to it late in life. From the time I was a kid growing up in a small town in North Carolina in the 60s, I wanted to be in the media. I know that’s a strange ambition for a kid, but being a fireman or baseball player never appealed to me.

Maybe it was the lure of Daren Stevens, an advertising executive who was married to Samantha, a very 60s house wife with a twitching little secret, but advertising and the media just called to me. From the time I was 19, I worked in newspapers, then magazines, radio and television. Always fun. Always exciting. The media connects you in a way that very few professions do. But peel away the fun and excitement and there was nothing else there – at least for me.

In 2008, I found myself searching. I landed an editor’s gig for an education magazine and for the first time in my professional life, I found a home. Education became a mission. I love the passion among educators. I love helping learners. And I love the relationships.

In media, my life has always been about communication. Writing, speaking, creating magazines and television shows and radio broadcasts. Like Daren Stevens, I had the communications skills, and thanks to the love of my life Kristy Holloway, I had my “Samantha.” What education gives me, and the reason that everyone I meet is in the education biz in the first place, is a passion to help our children. I get excited when I make new friends, and I love to talk about those friends in the columns I write. New friends, full of passion and ready to help districts and schools, eager to provide a better future for our learners.

If you don’t know Jennifer Abrams yet, reach out. I know she stays booked, but if she could help your school or district, I bet you’d get amazing results. And even if she can’t get you scheduled in, you’ll make a great new friend. In education, that’s what it’s all about.


8 terrific learning podcasts for students

Bring fresh voices into the classroom with free, high-quality podcasts.

When podcasts first gained popularity in the early 2000s, they seemed to be a quaint throwback to radio. But that changed quickly as more and more people jumped in and started experimenting with the medium. Now, hits like Serial have launched podcasts into the mainstream. You can find podcasts on nearly every topic — from movie reviews to academic lessons to celebrity gossip — and in nearly every genre, from short fiction to in-depth journalism to comedy.

Podcasts are a great way to hook kids into learning about a topic. They draw listeners into the story in a unique way, providing different viewpoints from what students are usually exposed to. Teachers can use podcasts to supplement the curriculum with high-quality, free content. And you can find podcasts that will work for every grade level and subject area. Check out a few of our favorites to get started!

Wow in the World

Grades K–6

NPR’s brand-new podcast premiered on May 15, 2017. It’s the first NPR podcast to be aimed at kids, and the goal is to “guide curious kids and their grown-ups away from their screens and on a journey.” While the specific topics the podcast will cover remain to be seen, the creators say it will focus on important science and technology subjects and questions that families — or classrooms — can explore together.

Brains On

Grades 1–6

Every teacher knows that kids love to ask questions, and science provides plenty of questions for them to be curious about. Brains On tackles questions and topics that are totally relevant to kids’ interests, including slime, dinosaur bones, fire, lasers, and airplanes. Teachers can encourage students to take one of the topics and research it more completely or to use it as a jumping-off point for science experiments and research-related questions.

Science Friday

Grades 6–12

Science Friday with Ira Flatow covers a variety of complex science topics, which are great for high school students to use in research or when developing a project or paper. For middle school teachers, Kidsnet offers the Science Friday Kids’ Connection curriculum referencing the Science Friday material but in a form more digestible for that age group. Teachers can find any scientific subject covered in the archives, so no matter what you’re teaching, the podcast and accompanying curriculum can be priceless (and you may learn a thing or two as well!).


Grades 6–12

One of the largest oral history projects of its kind, StoryCorps consists of more than 50,000 interviews from more than 80,000 participants. Students at just about any grade level or in any subject area could use the StoryCorps interviews in a variety of ways. In a National Teachers Initiative section, listeners can find interviews between teachers and students or former students. The interviews can be used as writing prompts, discussion topics, primary sources for research projects, and more. Students also can record their own stories.

(Next page: Podcasts 5-8)


App of the Week: A go-to literacy source

Go-to news-literacy site is an excellent primer on media issues.

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? 

Checkology® Virtual Classroom is a news- and media-literacy learning platform created by the News Literacy Project. Checkology’s aim is to help students more critically navigate today’s ever-changing media and digital landscape. The site boasts four modules that each contain lessons, student challenges, and discussions. The lessons’ panelists are journalists from the New York Times, Buzzfeed, and the Washington Post, to name a few. There’s also a “check tool” that allows students to evaluate the credibility of any piece of news they may be uncertain of, following the news-literacy principles they learned throughout checkology’s lessons.

Price: Free

Grades: 7-12

Rating: 4/5

Pros: Unique site allows for exploration of multiple lessons, while the check tool allows students to evaluate credibility of news.

Cons: Lessons can be a bit too long and repetitive at times.

Bottom line: With “fake news” a pressing concern, checkology’s literacy lessons offer essential, if not totally comprehensive, skills to help students evaluate sources.


4 ways to strengthen computer science education

A new paper offers a progress report of states' efforts to implement computer science education.

States are progressing toward a number of goals that aim to make computer science education a priority, but there is still more to do–especially when it comes to adopting K-12 computer science standards, according to a new report.

State of the States Landscape Report: State-Level Policies Supporting Equitable K–12 Computer Science Education also highlights key strategies and issues state leaders must address regarding computer science education.

So far, 7 states have adopted K-12 computer science education standards. States are considered to have fully adopted K-12 standards once they have met three criteria: the standards cover elementary, middle and high school; they are publicly accessible on the state’s website; and they include computer science content at all levels.

Though relatively few states have addressed all the criteria, 8 additional states are currently in the standards development process.

(Next page: Strategies and critical issues surrounding computer science education)


How to use Snapchat for classroom learning success

How social media-savvy educators are finding ways to make learning fun for their students by incorporating Snapchat into lessons.

Snapchat is turning into more than just an amusing app that lets people send pictures and videos, only to disappear after a few seconds. Many educators are finding ways to make learning fun for their students by incorporating Snapchat into their lessons.

In “Snapchat: Creating an Engaging Learning Experience,” Shannon Holden, assistant principal, Republic Middle School, MO, reviewed why educators should consider bringing the app into their classrooms, and provided specific ideas on how to integrate the app into lessons.

Benefits of Snapchat in Lessons

As the most common social media platform for people ages 12-24, there is a strong chance most middle or high school students are already using Snapchat. The app has many benefits, and is a great opportunity for educators to take learning outside of the classroom.

With the story and loop features, teachers can spread out content and take advantage of repetition—two effective ways to learn new material.

Teachers can also use the app to post pictures and short videos to help summarize the material learned in class that day. If your school does not allow your classroom account to “follow” students, it can be used for one-way communication; your students can “follow” you and still see all of the content.

Educators can also offer students real examples of a subject, like math or science, being used in everyday life. The story feature offers a unique way to demonstrate different timelines, like moon phases or historical events.

In addition to a teaching tool for during or after class, teachers can also use Snapchat to prepare students before class by posting a discussion question at the beginning of the day, or even using it as an efficient way to send announcements on things like materials needed for class, or the schedule for the following day.

(Next page: Being aware of drawbacks to success)