8 tips for your best Google Expeditions VR pilot

As recently as the 2016-2017 school year, nearly one-quarter (23 percent) of schools responding to a survey said they have tested virtual reality solutions, and while that number could certainly be higher, it’s an indication that the technology is expanding.

These days, virtual reality has moved from a hypothetical in vintage sci-fi movies to a legitimate learning tool that, when used correctly, helps students increase both engagement and achievement.

That same survey also noted that almost two-thirds of schools said they are somewhat unsure or not sure their IT infrastructure can currently support virtual reality technology, and some schools also mentioned a lack of available virtual reality content.

But as companies such as Google, Samsung and Sony expand their virtual reality tools and content, the technology’s use in education is becoming more and more real.

With so many educators hopping on the Google Expeditions bandwagon, classroom virtual reality seems like it’s within reach.

Google Expeditions are collections of virtual reality panoramas–360° panoramas and 3D images–annotated with details, points of interest, and questions that make them easy to integrate into curriculum already used in schools. They help teachers bring their students on virtual field trips to places like museums, landmarks and outer space.

In an eight-step infographic, Heather Kilgore, an instructional technology coordinator for Commerce ISD in Commerce, Texas, shares the lessons learned from her district’s Google Expeditions pilot program.

(Next page: 8 steps to your best virtual reality pilot)


App of the Week: Add a Spark to your online creations

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? 

Adobe Spark is a design and media-creation platform that’s best used on the web but is also available on iOS and Android (soon). The platform features three project types: Post (social graphics), Page (web stories), and Video (animated videos). Each of these features used to exist as a separate app — Adobe Post, Adobe Slate, and Adobe Voice — but now they all exist within Spark. Work is automatically synced across the web and iOS apps; published Page and Video projects are hosted on Adobe servers.

Price: Free

Grades: 8-12

Rating: 5/5

Pros: Lots of inspiring examples with ongoing updates, plus it’s easy to select and cite Creative Commons-licensed images.

Cons: Terms of use specify age 13 and up, and teachers should be aware of sharing settings.

Bottom line: This free, one-stop shop for creating sleek graphics, web stories, and animated videos is incredibly easy to use and challenges students to think critically about visual presentation.


An Overview of our Supplemental ELL Curriculum

Our digital English language curriculum is designed to help schools and districts to improve learning outcomes for non-native English speakers in grades 4-10. Watch this overview video to learn more about our ELL curriculum and how we are helping student expand their English language skills.


App of the Week: Troves of data for back-to-school

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? 

Data USA is a data-search and -visualization website that aims to make U.S. government data more accessible to the public. Data sources include the U.S. Census, the U.S. Department of Labor, the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute, and the National Center for Education Statistics. Data USA removes the tedium of finding and sorting through often esoteric and unappealing sets of data across disparate websites, instead giving students a one-stop shop for well-visualized research on a range of topics such as the economy, demographics, education, housing and living, health, and safety. They can find information organized by location, industry, occupation, and post-secondary school.

Price: Free

Grades: 8-12

Rating: 4/5

Pros: The data is extensive, relevant, and interesting, and it’s presented in a way that’s easy to read and understand.

Cons: While extensive, there are still limitations — you won’t find data for all industries, occupations, cities, schools, or other countries.

Bottom line: An efficient research tool that makes it easier to incorporate stats into a host of lessons or projects focusing on the U.S.


Technology teacher: These are “My Tech Essentials”

At Gordon J. Lau Elementary, of our 690 plus students, 68 percent are English language learners (ELLs). Many of our ELL students have come to the United States only a few months ago, some even a few days ago. For these students, their ability to successfully use the tech tools we supply them, regardless of their language, reading, or comprehension level, is crucial.

By using tech tools, teachers actively create, customize and enhance educational approaches to meet the new and growing challenges of the 21st century. The tech tools offer a practical introduction to and a reinforcement of requisite skill-sets for our students, who are English learners and native speakers alike. In this complex and increasingly “multi-plex” digital age, the tech tools ground instruction and learning in prodigious and “joyful learning.” This is done in a manner. which infuses a unique methodology that no other non-tech tool can imitate.

An Instructional Technology Resource Teacher’s Tech Essentials

1. myON provides exciting and engaging digital books for students. Appropriate leveled books are provided based on an initial reading placement test. With ongoing reading checks the student’s Lexile level is adjusted and the selection of digital books for the student is renewed. Comprehension questions for many of the digital books are provided. The number of books read, the student’s Lexile level, and the time reading are tracked and easily accessed in the teacher report module. Leveled books can be searched by teachers and assigned to students using “projects.”

Why it’s essential: 

  • Efficient provisioning of appropriate and challenging reading material;
  • Tracks student progress in reading with “hard” data useful and informative to both teacher and students;
  • Especially good for ELL students who need both exposure and skill practice in English. The books can be read to the ELL students and the ELL students can read the books on their own; and
  • Can be used offsite, encouraging further use and learning.

2. Lexia Core5 Reading software (more at learning.com) can be used for pre-K to 5th The software mainly develops phonics skills, vocabulary development skills, and some reading comprehension skills.

Why it’s essential:

  • Targets and identifies discrete phonic skills for improvement and practice;
  • Promotes cumulative phonics skill building using timely review practice; and
  • Alerts the teacher to students who need further explanation and support.

3. Google Apps for Education and keyboarding software (such as typing.com, typingclub.com)

Why it’s essential:

  • Builds skill competencies and proficiencies needed for the 21st-century digital world;
  • Empowers communication, research, collaboration, presentation, and personal responsibility to learn; and
  • Encourages critical and thoughtful thinking over rote regurgitation.

In sum, carefully chosen tech tools enable and empower educational growth through equity, access, accountability, individualization, and personal responsibility to learn.


The fascinating link between Minecraft and SEL

Educators across the globe are using Minecraft in intricate ways, and they are discovering how the sandbox game can help students with social and emotional learning (SEL).

A new report, How Minecraft Supports Social and Emotional Learning in K–12 Education, published by Getting Smart, investigates the connection between classroom use of Minecraft and the SEL outcomes of K– 12 students.

The report is based on interviews, a global survey and case studies as it offers an overview of SEL, an insight on gaming in education, and advice from educators on how to support a school-based SEL program.

Almost all of the teachers surveyed (97.7 percent) said problem solving is the top SEL skill their students learn from in-school and extracurricular Minecraft participation.

(Next page: Other key SEL skills that can be bolstered with Minecraft)


A tale of two states’ computer science programs

As computer science education grows across the nation, many states are making it a core subject and are counting it toward math and science requirements.

But progress across states varies. Here’s a look at how two different states, California and Maine, are faring in their computer science efforts.

In California, some think the state’s progress to make computer science a graduation requirement is too slow. An editorial in the San Diego Union-Tribune says the state’s is displaying “astounding lethargy” in its efforts to increase access to computer science.

And in Maine, the Portland Press Herald notes that “not too long in the future, almost all jobs will require some fundamental skill with computing, and many of the best new jobs will require a mastery of it. Yet computer science remains a subject on the periphery – if it is covered at all – in most Maine high schools, where students should be getting their first taste of this high-opportunity field.”

(Next page: Two editorials, both focusing on computer science)


10 districts share their invaluable CBE secrets

A new competency-based education (CBE) toolkit offers actionable advice from 10 school districts that shared lessons about their own CBE implementations.

The CBE Toolkit, from Digital Promise and Education Elements, is the culmination of more than a year’s work in the 10 districts and is intended to help other district leaders and teachers at any phase in the CBE implementation journey.

The CBE Toolkit was born out of the League of Innovative Schools, a coalition of forward-thinking district leaders. With support from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the League launched a toolkit that catalogues the thousands of hours and lessons districts across the country have learned in their individual districts.

(Next page: 6 areas where district leaders share their expert CBE advice)


Most districts say E-rate is critical for internet access

A large majority of E-rate applicants (87 percent) said the federally funded program is vital to their internet connectivity goals, according to an annual survey that tracks program applicants’ perspectives on the program.

In the midst of leadership changes in the White House and the FCC, as well as education budget cuts, ed-tech stakeholders have raised questions regarding the promise of the E-rate program to deliver safe and proper broadband connections to students in the U.S.

According to initial feedback from Funds For Learning’s annual E-rate applicant survey, E-rate recipients continue to rely on E-rate funding to provide connectivity for schools and libraries across the nation.

Seventy-nine percent of survey respondents said they have faster internet connections to their sites because of E-rate, and 78 percent said they were able to connect more students and library patrons to the internet because of the E-rate program.

“Certainly, the E-rate program is not without its challenges, but the fundamental nature of the program remains as strong as ever,” said John Harrington, CEO of Funds For Learning. “While the political climate has shifted, one thing has remained the same: E-rate is vital and will continue to play an indispensable role in connecting schools and communities.”

(Next page: How one school is putting E-rate funding to work)


Nowhere is tech more important than in curriculum-here’s why

Evergreen Public Schools is trying to answer a bold question: Can technology help ensure learning experiences are consistent across all of its schools, and at the same time promote personalized learning?

The district’s work in technology didn’t start with this question. Three years ago, officials decided to make an investment in one-to-one technology for the 27,000 students it serves. Once down this path, they quickly realized that the conversation had been primarily about the technology itself, and not how the technology would support personalization in teaching and learning.

By questioning how the technology could support teachers and students, the conversation and work in teaching and learning shifted away from technology and toward curricular resources that can be easily used to support the learning design focus in the district.

To date, the general model for curriculum has been the physical textbook. If a school district adopts a textbook, that became the base for curriculum. In recent years, many teachers are augmenting district-approved textbooks with texts and open educational resources, digital materials and links to PDFs—meaning third grade students in different classrooms at the same school may be experiencing the same content in a completely different way.

Evergreen’s leaders have decided to change how they think about curriculum to ensure equity across all schools.

Rather than thinking of curriculum as a physical thing, Evergreen is flipping the script by using curricular resources as a tool that works with their technological investments to better meet the needs of their teachers and students, and ensures coherent, quality instruction across their district. Such a tool needs to:

  • Be easily communicated and distributed to schools, teachers, and students
  • Be quickly accessed across devices
  • Provide an adaptive and flexible resource that can change with needs of students
  • Support students and teachers in a variety of classroom settings
  • Help measure learning to empower teachers and school leaders to track success and adjust accordingly

A textbook can be a part of the tools available to get these jobs done. In many districts, a textbook becomes the base of a plan chosen and put forward by district leaders. A textbook can be used to guide plans teachers create and use in their classrooms. Often textbooks have assessments as well to help measure learning. But there are also limitations to a textbook model. Specifically:

  • What if the textbook doesn’t capture the particular needs of the district?
  • What if teachers don’t get their textbooks?
  • What if teachers don’t use the textbook to plan and deliver instruction?
  • What if the textbook doesn’t speak to the needs of every student in the classroom?

(Next page: Harnessing Curriculum-as-a-Service for personalized learning success)