How digital badges are shaking up teacher PD

The topic of teacher professional development has dominated discussions about teacher quality and retention for years. While some progress has been made, there is still no standardized means for teachers to develop a portfolio of credentials aligned with the always-evolving set of skills and strategies they bring to their classrooms.

Digital badging has arrived on the scene as a leading contender to close this gap and help provide teachers with a clear path to professional growth, and the micro-credentials to prove it. This is an important breakthrough for a profession in which a lack of career mobility too often leads to top talent leaving for administration roles or private sector jobs.

The Badging Benefit

Badges provide a unique opportunity to allow teachers to expand their professional knowledge in ways that are relevant, valuable and engaging.

Badges help teachers focus on relevant professional developments opportunities because they support personalized learning. Rather than the old model in which professional development is offered in a seminar or lecture setting, teachers can choose the learning they want to pursue based on what will be most relevant to them and their students.

Moving beyond the traditional credit-hour model of professional development to a competency-based system is another benefit of badge systems. Badges are earned based on learning evidence rather than just seat time. This means that teachers can display the competencies that they have developed throughout their professional careers. Should a teacher choose to move to another teaching opportunity, their badge profile will follow them and help demonstrate their value and abilities as their career progresses.

Badges are engaging in part because they employ game mechanics to inspire collaborative competition. When teachers are able to track their progress, and celebrate the work of their colleagues, excitement levels build to help generate enthusiasm around professional learning. In the Open Badges community at Badge List, we’ve seen many districts reach tremendous levels of excitement because teachers are able to share their experiences and get inspired by the projects and learning evidence of colleagues.

(Next page: Edtech as a starting point; looking ahead at digital badges for PD)

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5 technology trends for the new school year

It’s fair to say technology is ubiquitous in many classrooms, but because it changes constantly, educators are challenged to keep pace with what’s new and next in the classroom.

Sometimes, it’s difficult for educators to filter through the hype and identify the most pertinent technology changes to track.

To help educators stay on top of changes in technology, the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) has compiled 5 of the most important trends likely to impact education in the 2017-2018 school year.

Trends such as a larger focus on computer science and coding, along with real-time data access and learning feedback, will prove invaluable to educators, said ISTE CEO Richard Culatta.

(Next page: 5 tech trends to keep tabs on this year)

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Confessional survey: This is how teachers really feel about the state of education

More than half of educators in a recent survey (65 percent) said they feel confident about their ability to effectively use ed-tech resources in the classroom–a 7 percent increase from 2016.

Nearly all surveyed educators (98 percent) said they use some form of digital content, but they also agreed that roadblocks do prevent them from using technology to its full classroom potential.

Among the largest barriers to effective education technology integration are lack of time to plan for implementation of digital resources into instruction (46 percent), a shortage of devices in the classroom (40 percent), and lack of access to technology-focused professional development (48 percent).

The 2017 Educator Confidence Report: Setting the Stage for the Digital Age, commissioned by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and conducted by research firm MDR, was designed to give educators a forum to identify opportunities for improved educational outcomes as well as the challenges they face to that end.

(Next page:  Do teachers feel more positive about the state of education today?)

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2 starting steps to flawless tech implementation

We all realize that planning is paramount to a successful project, and no one understands this more than educators. From plans that guide daily lessons to plans that chart student learning goals, define disciplinary proceedings and facilitate college acceptance, it takes a great deal of planning to successfully shepherd a student from K through 12 and into the higher education system beyond.

That’s why it’s surprising that, when it comes to implementing technology in the classroom, school districts often don’t take the time to build a shared vision and bring all the key stakeholders into a planning initiative.

Schools are adding next generation displays, projectors, tablets, notebooks and other connected devices in record numbers, typically with the aim of facilitating 1:1 learning. Yet many of these programs are flagging, as teachers and students alike struggle to shoehorn technology into a system and learning model that was developed long before these devices existed.

By contrast, when implemented strategically, classroom technology can be an extraordinary enablement tool for new levels of interactivity, engagement and democratization of learning across students with different abilities and skillsets.

The key is for schools to facilitate teachers in the development of practical, tech-enabled lesson plans. How? By developing and implementing a strategic plan of their own, of course.

Step 1: Create a task force to define a shared vision and common language structure

For technology programs to be successful, stakeholders must first align on the purpose of the program. The first step is creating a task force to build and define a “shared vision.” Both of these words are equally important.

Shared – Task forces should bring together representatives from both sides of the aisle – technology and learning. This group should consist of teachers, school building leaders (e.g. principals), superintendents, parents, students, CIOs and tech implementers. Task forces should meet on a weekly basis and share ongoing communication during the planning phase, and continue to meet occasionally after the launch of the technology program.

Vision – The vision this task force creates should not be a technology vision, but a learning vision that uses technology to support and unlock greater levels of engaged learning.

(Next page: Step 2 and a detailed edtech implementation plan template)

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3 ways to leverage elementary coding for NGSS standards

As our district has started exploring the role that computer coding should play in our students’ educational lives, more than once the following question has come up: What NGSS standards will this cover?

This is a critical question. If we are going to take instructional time to work with students to code more, we are going to have to quit doing something else in order to have the time to do it.

So, what should we give up? Will coding allow us to cover other standards to ensure that students will be well prepared?

Fortunately, there are good answers to these questions across all different grade levels. Here, we will focus on science. If a teacher were to give up some “science time” and teach coding to students, which of the NGSS standards would be covered?

Kindergarten Through 2nd Grade
: Even at this early age, the mental concepts that are developed while coding are good for student thinking. There are many advantages to using coding in the classroom, so what would be covered in the science standards that would deepen the student’s learning?

Engineering and design: The knowledge needed for mastery of these standards could easily be developed through a basic, early-literacy coding curriculum. “The teacher can develop and use models” is one of the three root standard areas. It includes students using and analyzing data about the outcome of different situations, students creating visual models to solve problems, and using new tools to solve problems. Students at this level can “code” without the use of language, but the concepts of “language” can be integrated as they learn it.

A great starting point for this is code.org and their unplugged videos. These give practical examples of how knowledge can be built from the early years to help get students thinking like programmers.

(Next page: Meeting NGSS standards through coding in other grade levels)

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What’s your district’s vision? Ask these 4 questions and find out

A vision is not just a picture of what could be; it is an appeal to our better selves, a call to become something more. —Rosabeth Moss Kanter

I was recently in a district-level administration meeting where we were planning for the upcoming school year. As is typical in our district, this meeting was relatively casual. Participants freely brainstormed and spitballed ideas for professional learning, campus initiatives, curriculum focus, data points, student progress—you know, the foundational elements of school.

Director after director, principal after principal, pointed to percentages and reports, surveys and scores, calling out goals that would “surely provide a clear vision of where we need to move as a district.”

“Our reading scores could be better. This year we’ll increase 11 percent in standard 3.XYZ.”

“Our survey showed that our parents don’t feel a strong sense of involvement with our campus. We need more PTO involvement. We’ll create a Facebook page that will increase awareness.”

“We want to include STEM opportunities; let’s host an Hour of Code.”

“We want to be sure we’re using our technology; we need to find a program that will track our students’ progress.”

‘Whats’ the Goal?

At first glance, these suggestions do, indeed, provide parameters. A principal or teacher could take any of the above and apply that lens to focus efforts for the school year.

In that way, goals are the “whats”—the efforts, the tasks, the steps, the procedures. Goals take into account a snapshot of the end-product that can occur if the proper steps are taken. While many of us agree that’s a step in the right direction, “whats” typically compartmentalize efforts and building tasks instead of culture.

Education is the business of learning; we are not product-based, but instead, are people-, interest-, and demonstration-driven. As such, we all—regardless of community, economy, demographic, age or any other data point—are compelled by one factor: belief.

We are called to the business of education because we believe in the potential of people.

As professionals, we’re pretty darn good at the “whats.” We know our content standards inside and out; we can quote and demonstrate development theory and brain science, citing the rationale behind pedagogical best practices; we can disaggregate a seemingly jumbled and disconnected series of testing reports and pull a thread of continuity to see where students are struggling, then determine a plan of action to improve their learning experience.

These are no small feats. However, if our “whats” don’t have a “why”—if our processes don’t have a passion—we lack true vision and will, ultimately, fall short. We cannot go through the paces of performing our “whats” every day if we do not truly see the intention behind our work.

(Next page: 4 questions for developing your district’s vision)

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Can your district afford this principal program? You might be surprised…

Establishing a principal pipeline could be an affordable path for school districts looking to reduce turnover and improve schools, according to a new report from the nonprofit RAND Corporation.

The study examined how six large urban school districts are investing in their leaders through a concept called “principal pipelines,” which help districts develop a better preparation, hiring, evaluation and support system for principals to ensure they are effective. The Wallace Foundation funded the initiative.

States and districts continue to struggle with a shortage of highly-effective principals, but there is little information about what level of resources would be required to develop such a pipeline.

“Districts can likely prioritize developing better principals with the resources they have now,” said Susan Gates, one of the lead researchers on the report. “Our research found the main expense of this effort was the salaries of district staff members who helped screen, support and evaluate principals – activities that most districts are already doing, just not in a strategic way.”

RAND researchers found that developing a pipeline to improve school leadership has been affordable for the six districts, which spent 0.4 percent of their annual budgets to boost the quality of school leaders.

(Next page: Per-principal spending)

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5 technologies that support differentiated learning

It’s no secret that 21st century teachers and school administrators are under enormous pressure to differentiate instruction to enhance learning for all students, regardless of ability or their innate interest in the material. The modern classroom is an increasingly diverse place, so it can feel more challenging than ever to reach every student.

Enter classroom learning centers. Although elementary school teachers have long been familiar with learning centers as a way to provide different activities for literacy and math, learning centers are becoming more popular in middle and high schools as a way to differentiate learning and keep students more engaged than they would be with an endless stream of traditional lecture-based lessons.

Instead of orienting a classroom to have all student desks facing a whiteboard at the front of the room, a flexible learning center model often includes modular workstations where students can break into groups as well as quiet spaces for individual study. Large tables and several display areas provide the flexibility to convene large and small groups throughout the day, depending on the goal of the lesson and the needs of individual students.

Technology: The Key Ingredient in Successful Learning Centers

Although the classic literacy or math center takes time to organize physically in the classroom, technology makes it easy for students to get to work quickly. A large screen display or desktop monitor ensures everyone in the group can see the material easily, and individual touch screens allow students to complete assignments at their own pace and submit them to the teacher electronically or for everyone else to see.

Classroom technology also makes it easier than ever to differentiate lessons appropriately. For example, the teacher can divide students into groups based on skill and tailor mini-lessons in centers based on what students need to practice. Software focused on personalized learning can also adapt to individual student needs and allow teachers to track their progress.

With individual devices, students can work at their own paces and always have something to do, ending the boredom of waiting for others to catch up or the frustration of falling behind.

What’s more, integrating technology into the classroom allows schools to meet Common Core standards about technology and digital media literacy. For example, the standards recommend that students be able to use technology independently, a skill they practice in learning centers while they study everything from Shakespeare to geometry.

Because technology is such an integral part of the modern world, the days of spending a few hours in the computer lab are long past: Today’s students need complete access to the internet and the hardware they’ll be expected to use in the real world.

Collaboration technology is quickly becoming an integral part of education, enabling teachers and students to take work created by different groups on multiple devices and share it with the entire class on the classroom’s main display, whether it’s a projector or a large screen display.

(Next page: 5 technologies for engaging learning centers)

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App of the Week: Photo editing for social stardom!

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? 

PicMonkey is an engaging photo-editing and graphic design tool for customizing pictures and images by applying effects, filters, and overlays such as text, drawings, and stickers (know that some stickers include toilet humor and alcoholic beverages, but it’s nothing too severe). While there are limited text-effect options and no background remover tool, PicMonkey is a great photo editor built for sharing creations online.

Price: Free, Paid

Grades: 8-12

Rating: 4/5

Pros: Excellent online resources and tutorials; paint-on editing feature gives precision to creations.

Cons: Built-in styles, themes are a bit kitschy. Free version has ads and no cloud storage.

Bottom line: A great, social media-friendly option for teaching teens design, layout, and photo editing, but the paid version is more competitive with other tools.

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3 ways to enhance communication at a multi-cultural school

As more and more ELL students enter the U.S. public school system, teachers are facing the twofold challenge of communicating not only with these students, but with their families as well. After all, non-English-speaking families have the same desires as native English speakers to know how their child is doing academically, emotionally, and socially.

I teach at Fort Sam Houston Elementary School, which is located on a military base in Texas. ELL students and families are very common at this school, because the military here has an exchange program with the surrounding nations, where military personnel can trade places with other personnel around the globe. The children of these foreign officers attend our school on the base, and as a result we have taught students from Germany, Mexico, Australia and South America.

This is a very important program and, as teachers, we want to help these families make a smooth transition into our community. Our particular situation at Fort Sam Houston Elementary may be unique, but the challenge of teaching non-native English speakers is one that more and more educators can relate to every year.

Here are three ways to enhance communication in a multi-cultural environment:

1. Through Classroom Tactics: Songs, Games, and One-Way Translators

This year I had a student from Peru, and both the student and her mother knew zero English. I communicated with this student by having another student, who can speak English fluently, listen to the Peruvian child and translate for me in English.

Unfortunately, my translator understood Spanish but couldn’t speak it, so she couldn’t respond to the Peruvian student in Spanish, but even having one-way communication helped ease some of the frustration.

Other tactics we use to bridge this gap within the classroom are music and visual aids. Songs can help ELLs learn context for vocabulary, while the melody helps the words stick in their minds with greater ease. Repeating a catchy song that’s stuck in their head means they are practicing language skills without even realizing it.

When teaching ELL students, visuals are also very helpful, especially since I don’t speak Spanish. My Peruvian student and I played a sort of game where I would hold up an object while saying both the English and Spanish words for it.

Though these tactics are incredibly useful when communicating with kindergarteners, they aren’t quite adequate when engaging in more detailed communications with the families of these students.

(Next page: 2 more ways to enhance communication in a multi-cultural school)

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