App of the Week: Digital lesson planning

Get beyond binders with a digital, remixable lesson-planning tool

Ed. noteApp 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? 

Ogment is a lesson-planning and curriculum-mapping web platform. It’s intended to be used at the school or district level: When a district buys a subscription, they can work with the developer to load resources from their existing curriculum maps and lessons plans onto a shared content library — called My Stream — that teachers and administrators can view. Teachers can clip content from the Stream and share it to their own My Stuff content library, where they can use tags to organize and develop their own collection of content.

Price: Free to try,Paid

Grades: 6-12

Rating: 4/5

Pros: Endlessly customizable features make it easy for teachers to remix content and share it efficiently with their students.

Cons: Some teachers and administrators might balk at having to start from scratch.

Bottom line: If you invest some serious time in pre-loading your content, this is an exceptional tool for building and using your lesson plans.


Think apps are over? Think again: 3 reasons apps foster effective learning

When used in the right way, apps can complement lessons and help teachers—here’s how.

As technology continues to evolve, it’s not surprising that apps are starting to be incorporated into daily classroom activities. With more than 80,000 apps considered ‘educational’ in Apple’s app store, educators will never have a shortage of applications to use with students while teaching various lessons.

And, while most educators welcome the use of applications into every-day classroom use, some educators and even parents are hesitant to leverage technology as a supportive piece of the curriculum. When used in the right way, apps can complement lessons and help teachers.

A recent study found that the use of tablets and applications improved both classroom learning and engagement. In this piece, I’ll discuss three reasons why apps are effective in the classroom.

 1. Enjoyment

It’s been proven that the release of dopamine has an effect on students’ wish to learn more.

Dopamine is released when a student does an activity they enjoy. For example: when a student plays an app they find fun, dopamine is released which encourages students to keep learning to maintain the level of enjoyment. When learning feels like a chore, many kids lose interest in the lesson his or her teacher is trying to teach. With applications that turn learning and lesson reinforcement into a game, learning is no longer a chore, but rather, a fun activity.

In order to avoid apps that are solely based upon entertainment alone, I recommend looking for applications that are not distracting to the learning environment. But, with a careful review of the app itself, students will have fun and look forward to playing games, while learning at the same time.

(Next page: 2 more ways apps can foster effective learning)


To turn around schools, first turn around the principals

A superintendent outlines the PD plan he is using to model and support excellence for principals in failing schools.

I oversee a portfolio of nine turnaround schools, all of which had an overall rating of F when ACCEL Schools first took them over two years ago. This means that, on average, fewer than 30 percent of students were proficient. As a charter organization in Ohio, our schools receive 40 percent to 60 percent less funding than traditional schools, because charters in Ohio rarely, if ever, get local funding. This means we don’t have the budget to radically restaff our schools.

When we started with these schools, I faced a high level of skepticism among the principals. They had been bombarded with change for change’s sake, so their trust in leadership had eroded.

The mindset was, “If I keep my head low enough, everything will pass and I’ll be fine.” To show that the climate had changed, the first thing we did was a book study on Mindset to get them reflecting on their own willingness and openness to be pushed, grow, and improve. This quest to improve is expected from all of our teachers, so it was critical that our principals shared that sacred belief.

Then we started the multi-year process of showing these principals what good leadership looks like and how they can become the leaders who will turn their schools around.

Summer 1: School Redesign Project

In their first summer with us, the principals took part in a four-week Summer Institute, during which they completed a school redesign project. Our aim was for them to focus only on academics and school culture, so we took nonessential tasks off their plate. Our back office handled operational compliance and reporting work so principals could put their energy into distilling what was truly core to them and effectively planning to operationalize it.

This laser focus on the key elements of school turnaround continued throughout the school year.

We asked them to explain why and how they would work with their existing teachers to make their plans a reality for students, family, and teachers throughout the year. Each principal set the vision and mission for their own building-crafting, refining, and articulating what was core to them as it related to their school’s culture and academic framework.

(Next page: Redesigning the academic year for amazing principals)


11 new grants for STEM and ed tech

Got funding troubles? These grants can help your school or district sustain important initiatives.

When it comes to schools’ and districts’ ability to implement new technology tools and programs, cost and shrinking budgets are consistently identified as top barriers to implementation.

And while budget woes won’t improve overnight, schools and districts can boost their available funds with grants that are targeted to different areas of need.

Want to improve infrastructure and close the homework gap? Do you need more funding to support youth-led community service programs? Or maybe you want to spread coding education via your school libraries.

Look no further. We’ve got 11 grant opportunities to meet various levels of funding needs.

(Next page: 11 ed-tech and STEM grants)


Fascinating library project has students award peace prize

A media specialist’s grade-wide interdisciplinary project shows students that their voices have power around the world.

[Editor’s note: This piece is the first in our new monthly series focusing on Innovative School Libraries and Librarians. Be sure to keep checking back during the month of August for new library-focused articles!]

The Barrow Peace Prize is a cross-curricular project that allows 2nd-grade students to consider the character traits of peace and extend their voices to a global audience.

Named for our school, David C. Barrow Elementary, the project begins with each student selecting one of six nominees from civil rights history to research. They then create a persuasive video essay as well as a watercolor painting showing why their chosen nominee best displays the qualities of peace. The videos are voted on by people from all over the world, and the nominee with the most votes (and the students who researched them) is awarded the Barrow Peace Prize.

This project comes after students have studied Jimmy Carter and Martin Luther King Jr., and gives them an opportunity to explore additional historical figures beyond what is specifically listed in our standards. Each year, I begin by sharing Alfred Nobel: The Man Behind the Peace Prize by Kathy-Jo Warginalong with information on the Nobel Peace Prize. I also read Peace Is an Offering by Annette Lebox. Each classroom brainstorms a list of traits that someone would need to exhibit in order to be worthy of the prize.

Teaching Basic Technological Skills

Every year when we start this project, I’m overwhelmed by just how many technical skills are woven in.

Our students mostly use iPads in kindergarten and 1st grade, so this is their first use of a laptop for a project. We share a Google Doc graphic organizer in Google Classroom, so students must learn how to log in to their Google account, access Google Classroom, and open their document. They also must learn to navigate multiple tabs online, since they will have Google Classroom, PebbleGo, and their Google doc all open at the same time.

I show students how to copy and paste from digital resources, cite sources, and put information into their own words. I also show them how to use Google Explore to search for public domain images to use for their art project. Students have some familiarity with Flipgrid by 2nd grade, but sometimes they do need support to navigate typing in their code and recording their videos.

Two students are selected to design the peace prize in  3D, and I show them how to use Tinkercad and sit with them while they design to offer troubleshooting tips.

Even though it can be a challenge to use all of these new skills with young learners, they prove again and again that they can do it. If they start using these tools now, it will only strengthen the kind of work we can do together in later grades, when they have their own device.

One of the databases our students use for research is PebbleGo. Designed for students in the younger grades, it offers a quality base of facts about a variety of topics, which are broken down into manageable sections under each heading. We use many of the headings to craft our graphic organizer questions so that students are able to navigate the information related to the question.

(Next page: Embracing all students; a global audience; strengthening the community)


8 principles to help you advance to Flipped Learning 3.0

Flipped learning pioneer Jon Bergmann outlined critical steps to building an effective flipped learning school.

What is flipped learning? You might wonder why we’re asking, because the phrase is pretty universally known. But while the term is recognizable, definitions vary–and the wrong idea about flipped learning could be detrimental to schools.

At ISTE 2017, flipped learning pioneer Jon Bergmann introduced session attendees to Flipped Learning 3.0, and described the 8 principles that are crucial to any school’s flipped learning journey.

If you don’t know what flipped learning is, or if you want to get a solid grip on the concept before you present it to your teachers, here’s a primer.

In traditional classrooms, the teacher uses group space and time to instruct, and students use individual space at home to complete homework and other assigned activities. In flipped environments, students use their individual/at-home time to access learning and instructional material with a device. In the group space during class time, students are actively engaged in learning activities, though not always with a device.

Bergmann referenced the Flipped Learning Network’s definition as a pretty solid explanation for educators who are unsure: “Flipped learning is a pedagogical approach in which direct instruction moves from the group learning space to the individual learning space, and the resulting group space is transformed into a dynamic, interactive learning environment where the educator guides students as they apply concepts and engage creatively in the subject matter.”

(Next page: The 8 guiding principles for effective flipped environments)


Google continues its classroom climb

Google's Chrome OS is gaining ground in U.S. classrooms, though Apple's iOS leads when it comes to mobile devices.

Google’s Chrome OS is spreading throughout U.S. classrooms and is becoming an increasingly popular choice for computers, while Apple’s iOS platform holds the lead on mobile devices, according to a new survey from game-based learning provider Kahoot!.

Chrome OS accounted for 58 percent of the computer market in U.S. K-12 education in the first quarter of 2017, and iOS claimed 73 percent of the mobile market–up from 70 percent in 2016. iOS also dominates tablets, claiming 96 percent of the market.

The Kahoot! EdTrends Report found that Google Classroom/G Suite is the most popular productivity suite in U.S. classrooms, and in fact, surveyed educators said improving student productivity is their biggest incentive to adopt classroom technology.

Teachers’ top ed-tech priorities are to improve student learning and outcomes, to motivate students and to encourage more engagement in class.

“Kids are at the center of who we are and what we do,” said Sean Gaillard, principal of Lexington Middle School in North Carolina, in the survye. “How is this best serving kids? Is this going to be inspirational to students? It’s not about the tool; it’s about the approach and how to harness it in an innovative, positive school environment.”

Nearly 60 percent of surveyed educators said they also hope to provide authentic context and connect students’ everyday lives with classroom learning.

Schools said they expect to see an increased use of digital platforms for teaching, learning and assessment, along with more personalized learning, in the coming school year. About 30 percent of surveyed educators said they also expect to see an increase in an emphasis on computational thinking, coding and robotics.

Tablet use experienced a slight decline, though, dropping 5 percentage points in the first quarter. Mobile use dropped 2 percent, while computer use increased to 46 percent–a 6 percent jump from last year.

Despite clear-cut goals for technology and knowledge of the benefits associated with classroom tech tools, public schools still struggle with budget restraints and lack of resources, which they named as their top challenge. Lack of training to understand new technology, and using technology only for technology’s sake, are other top challenges.


4 Fresh Approaches to Coding in The Classroom

Check out these new, inspiring spins on learning coding in the classroom from ISTE 2017.

I’ll admit I’ve been feeling a bit burnt out on coding tools. Coding is one of the most crowded categories in edtech. And while there are a ton of great tools for students of any ability level, many of these tools have hit on the same winning formula.

So does that mean coding is over? Not quite yet. In fact, the coding genre of edtech seems to be evolving.

One of the bright spots at this year’s International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) conference has been how many developers are not just iterating on the tried-and-true coding formula but exploring new frontiers that offer students new ways to learn — from VR and hardware hacking to monthly subscription boxes to courses and curriculum that blend technical skills with “soft” skills.


Hardware HackingPi-Top and Piper

Computer scientists and software engineers know that it’s important for coders to have an understanding of how computers are made and work. Knowing a bit about the hardware side of things helps inform a programmer’s understanding of why code works the way it does. As someone who likes to build his own computers, I can also say it’s just flat-out fun to put together a PC and swap in and out components. It’s like the nerdier version of hot-rodding.

Pi-Top and Piper both understand this, too, and have platforms that allow students — much like a littleBits kit — to assemble and modify modular computers that can then be used as coding platforms. On the coding side of things, Pi-Top has it own stylish game (CEED) students can use to learn about the basics of code, and Piper integrates with Minecraft.


Realistic, Cross-Disciplinary Game DesignZulama

A lot of tools out there simplify game design, offering approximations of real-life coding that make it easier for kids to jump in and make something quickly. There are also pro-level tools such as GameMaker Studio that some enterprising teachers have adapted for student use. However, the real work of game design isn’t only coding games but conceptualizing them, building them, testing them, and marketing them. This is a process that requires more than technical skills, from storytelling to business to so-called soft skills such as collaboration.

Zulama–based on the successful college-level game design and development curriculum at Carnegie Mellon’s Entertainment Technology Center–effectively combines all these diverse skills into a truly comprehensive curriculum. Courses range in length and focus (from 3D modeling to the history of North American play and gaming), but all feature discussions, true PBL, assessments, and online and offline activities. Don’t worry if all this seems intimidating: There are PD resources that promise to get any teacher up to speed.

(Next page: Two more fresh coding resources)


District chief: Why school success stops and ends with teachers

School district CEO learns that investing in the future for education starts by investing in its people-specifically, teachers.

I believe the hardest day of any job is the very first day. On that first day, the basic, most elementary parts of the workplace are foreign. Where do I park? Where is the coffee? How do I log in to my new computer? The list of things to learn goes on and on.

However, a new job also brings tremendous opportunity. The day I walked into my new role as CEO of Ohio’s Youngstown City School District (YSCD’s), I sensed the tremendous passion and promise of the district’s approximately 5,300 students and 500 teachers. While 99 percent of YSCD’s students are economically disadvantaged, I could feel the power and energy within the school system.

The question was, “How do we unlock our school district’s potential?”

My immediate objective was meeting with my senior leadership team to brainstorm ways to elicit the substantive change we knew would greatly impact the learning of Youngstown’s students.

Everything Hinges on Teachers

After much discussion, deliberation, and thoughtful review of reams of data, the team agreed that investing in the growth of YSCD’s teachers had to be the central pillar of our strategy. However, supporting every teacher within a single district is no small feat. We knew we needed an instructional focus and a strategy for building capacity.

Our focus was simple—How should the district’s senior leaders empower YSCD’s educators to create dynamic learning environments that placed students at the center of learning? In order to begin the transformational process of creating these types of learning environments, we reached out to our teachers for insight and clarity.

(Next page: How YSCD focused on teachers to elicit true school district transformation)