Digital is the plumbing; ‘One to the World’ is the vision

Observing the wonderment of kindergarten kids as they discover the world with the help of digital learning can be magical. In the kindergarten classes at Newton-Lee Elementary School in Loudoun County, Virginia, wonderment is at an all-time high as the students squeal with delight. Their eyes are glued to the Skype session with a zookeeper in Texas. The camera is projecting the live images of orangutans as they play with puzzles that the kindergarten students actually designed and shipped to the zoo for testing by the primates.

A few months earlier, the students had learned on another Skype call that orangutans can become naughty if they are not engaged with games and toys. One student in the class volunteered to become an orangutan puzzle designer. The whole class got behind the project and launched into a primate puzzle design team. Challenging five-year-olds to become orangutan puzzle designers is not in most lesson plans for kindergarten!

At Briar Woods High School in Loudoun County, high school students are researching the environmental damage caused by various de-icing agents that are applied after snow and ice storms. These students became a de-icing research group making recommendations to government agencies, private companies, and homeowners about what investments to make in order to minimize the negative impact of the de-icers applied to the county’s roads and parking lots in winter. Initial local success led the students to design a statewide public service campaign. Those high school students are on fire, looking for their next big design challenge.

Loudoun County administrators have created the expectation that educators will challenge students to contribute to the world. This goal comes out of a digital learning approach called “One to the World.” In One to the World thinking, the role of the student as a problem solver with a purpose is a critical tenet.

For years, I have been arguing that focusing on “on-to-one computing” as the name of our digital learning ramp-up to providing every student with access to a device does not naturally lead administrators to ask the most important questions about this historic transition to a connected world. The ratio of one student per one device simply does not capture the focus of the long-term transformation that we are all trying to figure out. While shifting a title does not solve the problem, I believe that words do count. By refocusing our work from “one to one” to “One to the World,” a new set of questions naturally emerges. For example, what should the relationship of our classrooms to the world look like?

Next page: How Loudoun County has created deeper learning through its One to the World initiative 

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Why this IT function is a K-12 edtech savior

K-12 IT teams have many challenges unique to their environments, including typically locally-funded public schools, and very rarely do IT budgets increase. Despite this, changes in educational approaches, and also the demands of parents and tech-savvy students, mean that schools are hard-pressed to adopt cutting-edge new technologies.

The increase in device purchasing and implementation is so schools can achieve an ideal 1-to-1 student-to-computer ratio. This means IT teams are on the hook for securing, managing, and tracking all of these machines. 

Shrinking IT Budgets Continue to Trend…

School budgets are generally tight, worldwide, and the US is no exception. According to The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP), most US states offer less money per student than they did before the recession of 2008.

“Some states are still cutting eight years after the recession took hold. These cuts weaken schools’ capacity to develop the intelligence and creativity of the next generation of workers and entrepreneurs,” the Center found.

Meanwhile The Consortium for School Networking (COSN) released a study on school spending. Less than a third of schools polled, 30 percent, had a budget increase. However, over half, 54 percent, don’t have the resources to “meet overall expectations of the school board/district leaders.”

What’s more, 70 percent of schools are facing static or declining IT budgets.

…which is Bad because Tech Improves Education

The International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) created Project RED to understand how technology is improving education.

Here are some of the key findings:

  • Proper implementation of technology is directly linked to education success.
  • Properly implemented technology saves money.
  • 1-to-1 schools that properly implement technology outperform all other

schools, including all other 1-to-1 schools.

  • A school principal’s ability to lead is critical to the success of an implementation effort.
  • Technology-transformed intervention improves learning.
  • Online collaboration increases learning productivity and student engagement.
  • Daily use of technology delivers the best return on investment (ROI).

As you can imagine, it’s difficult to accomplish these achievements without full commitment and/or IT funding. “Ubiquitous technology programs face difficult financial and philosophical challenges in today’s economic climate, in which superintendents and school boards must often cut programs and lay off teachers. In an era of high-stakes test scores and teacher accountability, it can be difficult to motivate teachers and administrators to move to more student-centered learning. And because the benefits of a ubiquitous educational technology program are realized over several years, many schools opt for short-term fixes and stopgap measures,” Project RED argued.

(Next page: This IT functionality can help produce results on a tight budget)

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Trump touts rural broadband internet access in $1 trillion infrastructure plan

Rural communities’ broadband internet access has become a key part of President Donald Trump’s $1 trillion infrastructure proposal, which would promote high-speed internet access across rural America, including schools, classrooms and libraries.

Schools’ access to high-speed broadband internet is not a new topic of debate, however–for years, policymakers and ed-tech stakeholder groups have advocated for more funding and better infrastructure to help schools establish reliable high-speed internet connections.

Much of those advocacy efforts have focused on the fact that rural students cannot develop the skills needed to compete and succeed in an increasingly global workforce if they cannot connect to the internet and use digital resources and tools.

“We have to make sure American farmers and their families, wherever they may be, wherever they may go, have the infrastructure projects that they need to compete and grow. And I mean grow against world competition, because that’s who you’re up against now,” Trump said in remarks delivered at Kirkwood Community College in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

Next page: This isn’t the first time broadband internet has been emphasized

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Librarians: How to get the digital generation to read over the summer

With students released for the summer, was sending them off with a summer reading list really the best way to promote independent reading?

Since research indicates that attention spans are waning for learners of all ages, teachers must do more to keep students interested in reading over the summer and prevent the summer slide.

In “Summer Reading 501: Helping Generation App Read This Summer,” Michelle Luhtala, library department chair, New Canaan High School, CT; and Jane Lofton, teacher librarian, presented creative ideas to get students excited about summer reading. For example:

1. Read Alouds

Partnering with the public library on certain initiatives, like having weekly read alouds, is a great way to keep students involved in reading over the summer. During a read aloud, teachers can sign up to read a book of their choice at the public library. Families can even join too.

Lofton advocated for having this sort of program for not just younger kids, but also older kids. “Middle school kids love to be read to too, I think we stopped doing that way too soon,” she said.

In addition to meeting at the public library, school libraries may be able to stay open a few days a week in the summer. Lofton recommended keeping the library open during hours that the public library isn’t available, so students always have access to books.

(Next page: More tips for getting Gen Z to read over the summer)

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App of the Week: Connecting kids to careers

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? 

C’reer begins by asking the user to complete a short quiz, which adapts to the user’s unique profile. The first questions ask the user to rank activities in order of favorite to least favorite. Then C’reer asks the user to imagine a hypothetical work scenario and rank corresponding activities in order of preference. Finally, the app asks users to rank how much they enjoy the activity in a photo on a scale of strongly dislike to strongly like.

Price: Free

Grades: 8-12

Rating: 4/5

Pros: Quiz results provide matching career choices and universities that provide corresponding training programs.

Cons: Simplified quizzes might lead to inaccurate or inauthentic results for some students.

Bottom line: For students who are unsure where to begin, this app helps jump-start the college and career application process.

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