Why schools need a knowledge base

How to give students, parents, teachers, and administrators access to district information

When I have a problem with my iPad, I look to Google. Google is my worldwide knowledge base for fixing my toilet, unsticking my iPad, and figuring out the origin of that clunk sound my car started making. For every technology and almost every mechanical thing in my life, I can go to a website or run a general Google search to figure out how to fix it—or at least diagnose the problem.

Everything, that is, except how to get onto the wi-fi in my school district.

Technology is delightful and enriching. It connects students across the globe and invites them to explore the wonders of the world. But the ugly truth is that behind all this technology is a frantic, very overwhelmed IT team without the platform to manage the thousands of transactions asked of it each day. These IT people fully understand and support the promise of technology in teaching probably more than anyone. But when it comes to managing 75,000 K-12 students with brand new school-issued iPads or their own devices, there is often no knowledge base or even an adequate tech-support system in place to adequately assist them.

We’ve seen a mind-boggling assortment of school and district IT department configurations with specialized support teams operating in silos, each using different management protocols—and that assumes any protocol actually exists. Administrative functions, curriculum, libraries, media services, facilities, and security operate as completely separate IT departments. And, when the departments do work collaboratively, the roles, responsibilities, and dependencies are so intertwined it is difficult to see the beginning and the end of any single workflow.

(Next page: The importance of a knowledge base)


How to use data to increase student success rates

3 steps one district took to improve graduation rates

Roughly 10 percent of freshmen class students nationwide find themselves struggling to earn enough credits to pass ninth grade, leaving them with only a 20-percent chance of graduating on time. This past year, the Metropolitan School District (MSD) of Decatur Township teamed up with the University of Chicago to combat this issue by implementing a Student Transition and Enrichment Pathway (STEP), a research-based program proven to produce growth in academic achievement and graduation rates among high school students. With its new STEP program in place, Decatur Township experienced significant success in just six months.

Does your school district face the same problems with its graduation rates? If you’re looking to improve the success of your students these steps can help you get to the root of the problem and establish strategies to increase key graduation statistics.

Identify the indicators of falling behind
In order to effectively battle increasing dropout rates, educators need to first research statistics and identify specific indicators that lead to high school students falling behind. The STEP program identifies these indicators by reviewing each student’s academic performance and attendance. This allows educators to distinguish which students are “at risk” and need additional support and encouragement on their path to graduation.

Ahead of the next school year or semester, our district invited the identified at-risk students to participate in a pilot year of the data-driven STEP program. The program gives these students the opportunity to focus on literacy and math skills and core academic courses while receiving social and emotional support.

(Next page: More steps to improve student success)


How to be a collaborative leader

Effective collaborative leadership can improve teacher practice and retention

When the word “collaboration” is spoken in a school, it is not always welcomed with open arms. Educators or leaders who have had success or are comfortable working solo may feel they are being encroached on or that their ideas are being invaded. However, when your school community respects each other and acknowledges individual skills and participation, all staff can move forward in a positive environment while also becoming learners. Effective collaborative leadership provides teachers opportunities for improved practices through increased leadership opportunities and a feeling of being valued in a school environment.

The benefits of collaborative leadership
A collaborative leadership culture is more than merely leading a scheduled meeting, sharing lessons, or sitting through common planning-time sessions taking notes. Collaborative leadership requires transparency, honesty, integrity, dependability, accountability, and educators’ commitment to shared goals. A school or district that supports collaborative leadership must be fostered and supported by administration for lasting success.

Collaboration is a mitigating condition for teachers to grow in the profession and to accept and implement change effectively. Having leadership opportunities will provide teachers with workplace relationships that allow them to develop individual potential. When principals or superintendents support collaboration by seeking teacher input in decision making, offer sufficient teacher support, and create a community that fosters collaboration, teachers are more prone to remain in those schools.

As a principal for 11 years and a district leader for two years, I define collaborative leadership as the presence of opportunities for shared leadership, educator ownership, and sharing of instructional and pedagogical ideas. Collaboration is a talent and skill developed through humility, patience, and vision.

As Michael Jordan said, “Talent wins games, but teamwork and intelligence win championships.” My best years as a leader were the years when we had collaborative leadership present in the school.

(Next page: 7 steps to becoming a collaborative leader)


How to bring global learning to your classroom

These tips can help you broaden your students' perspectives

The sun was high overhead as we stood in the open, slowly baking in the hundred- degree heat, which was abnormally hot for late October, even by southern California standards. It was late in the afternoon of day three of our expedition, and we weren’t sure what to expect as we got out of the van.

As one of 26 middle school teachers participating in EarthEcho International’s Water by Design Expedition, part of an annual program sponsored by the Northrop Grumman Foundation that leverages exploration and discovery to bring STEM education alive, I had been ferried about this bustling metropolitan area to learn how Angelenos use and manage their water. We were in good company, joined by various scientists, experts, and explorer and EarthEcho Founder, Philippe Cousteau, Jr.

Our destination was the terminus of the Los Angeles aqueduct, near the Van Norman Bypass Reservoir in Sylmar. Try to picture several hundred cubic feet of water per second cascading–no, raging–through a 12-foot diameter cement channel down the hillside and then leveling off in front of us. The snowpack in the Eastern Sierra Nevadas that feeds the aqueduct was abundant last winter, and the torrent of meltwater that had traveled over 400 miles to reach its destination was an astounding sight. I knew that I could use this powerful image with my students, along with the story of the aqueduct’s construction, as an engaging example of how people can engineer solutions to complex, real-world problems.

Being from Michigan, I can appreciate large quantities of fresh water, but nothing prepared me for what I saw and learned about in California: the commitment to conservation, the challenges of desalination, advanced water purification that turns wastewater into drinkable water in a matter of hours, and—most of all—the engineering marvel called the Los Angeles Aqueduct. This expedition changed the way that I think about water on a global scale, and it has changed the way I will teach my students about our rights and responsibilities regarding our freshwater resources.

(Next page: 3 ways to globally expand your lessons)


App of the Week: Math Science Music

Thoughtful tools teach STEM skills through music and creativity

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? 

For starters, Math Science Music is a great resource for music teachers looking for engaging tools to teach music theory and appreciation. The music cognition resources could also be an advocacy tool for music teachers trying to gather administrative support for their program. However, if it’s only music teachers who are using this resource, then the Math Science Music initiative is failing at its mission. The framework of this website, teaching STEM through music, makes this resource unique. Ideally math and science teachers will use this site to help them teach their standards, using music to show some real-world applications of mathematical or scientific concepts.

Price: Free

Grades: 3-12

Rating: 4/5

Pros: Interdisciplinary design boosts STEM and musical skills at the same time. Win-win.

Cons: Nontraditional site navigation without a menu and search function can make it difficult to locate resources.

Bottom line: Limited but quality content gives STEM teachers a new toolset for fostering engagement and understanding.


Can creativity be taught?

Here are some ideas to help your students think outside the box

I recently attended a conference and enjoyed the sessions and topics ranging from professional-development strategies to the emergence of artificial intelligence (AI). Throughout the day, one word that permeated discussions was “creativity,” and how this phenomenon is now one of the essential skills for success in future careers. Creativity is not a new term. We hear it often and we frequently tell our students to be creative and think “outside the box.” As teachers, we often include creativity as a required goal on our grading rubrics when assessing student presentations. Adding creativity lets students know that we expect more than content knowledge.

Growing up, I remember many opportunities to develop and show examples of creativity because the tools and resources to perform some tasks were not available. As children, we imagined other worlds, created our own games, designed areas to play, and solved mysteries on our own.

Creativity’s growing importance
As we look at future jobs and technological advancements, having creativity is essential in the workplace. Robots and AI will be able to handle many tasks, even replacing some types of jobs, but we will still need creative thinkers and designers to move ahead globally. As educators, how do we ensure that students learn this skill in our curriculums? Can creativity be taught? Why are some people more creative than others? If you tell students to be creative, do they even know what it means or where to begin?

(Next page: Ways to encourage creativity)


Video of the Week: Take classroom video to the next level

Learn how students can be active viewers when you use video in the classroom

Ed. note: Video of the Week picks are supplied 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 watch the video at Common Sense Education.

Video Description: When you show video in your classroom, you want your students to be active viewers — to comprehend, not just consume. But why stop at comprehension? When it comes to video in the classroom, students shouldn’t just get what they’re watching, they should have something to say about it. Check out the video for our tips on how to help students become better active — and reactive — viewers in class. For more tips and strategies, visit this collection of resources for next-level classroom video.



“My Tech Essentials” for students with dyslexia

Here are 3 tools that can help students with reading challenges take ownership of their learning

Reading is essential in today’s world, from reading instructions on a test or a job application, to reading legal documents and safety information. Dyslexia can make reading even the simplest document incredibly frustrating for students. Without proper interventions, these students may struggle to read their whole lives, making it more likely they will end up in poverty or the criminal justice system.

My son was diagnosed with dyslexia in fourth grade. I homeschool him, and I understand first-hand how hard it is to watch your child struggle day after day. I also tutor several other students with dyslexia.

These are my tech essentials for teaching dyslexic students:

1) Reading Horizons: I first found out about this tool from Mary Ann Sutherland’s blog, Homeschooling with Dyslexia. Since my son is a little older, I wanted to find something he could interact with independently, without my guidance. It’s a digital curriculum that uses a special marking system to teach letter sounds and groupings. It allows students to work at their own pace and select reading passages that appeal to their individual interests.

(Next page: More tools for students with dyslexia)


15 metrics every superintendent should know

Sometimes, knowing what to look for is the hard part. Here’s help

From interoperability to dashboards, data accessibility is one of the most prevalent topics in edtech circles these days. For superintendents, simply knowing what to look for can be a challenge. These 15 metrics can provide significant value for any district leader.

Technology usage rate
Why it matters: A recent report on software usage and waste found the education sector to be one of the worst industries at using the tech it’s paying for, with a whopping 47 percent of enterprise-software licenses either unused or rarely used. Many technology budgets are jammed with line items that sounded good at some point, but never really took off. If those funds could be allocated to more meaningful pursuits, the average district could be looking at six figures or more of unexpected funds.

Questions to ask:
1. Which apps, licenses, and hardware haven’t been used at all in the past year?
2. What is the average cost per login for your niche, low-user-count applications?
3. How much functionality overlap exists between disparate systems?
4. What percentage of your larger investments, such as information management systems, is sitting dormant?

Where to find the data: Most tech comes with administrative tools to help identify usage patterns, so your technology team should have little problem pulling that data for you. When built-in reports are not available, surveys can be a valuable way to collect deeper information. The distinction needs to be made between what people think they want, what people say they’re using, and what people are actually using often enough to justify the cost. That’s the gap good data can help you fill.

(Next page: Whole-child support, parent engagement, and more)


What’s happening at FETC 2018?

After 38 years, the Future of Education Technology Conference is still going strong

Even if you didn’t need a reason to travel to sunny Orlando in January, the opportunity to attend FETC should have you packing your comfy walking shoes and an extra suitcase for all the swag. This is my 12th year attending FETC and I have never been more excited about the edtech trends being highlighted at this conference.

Security and data privacy workshops/sessions at FETC have tech leaders packing the house. With devices now integral tools in learning environments and so many of these devices in students’ hands, school districts, parents, and community members are hammering to find the right security options for their students. Cybersecurity companies are focusing their attention on providing school districts and parents with insurance that student safety and privacy both at school and in the home are guaranteed.

Educational scavenger hunts such as Breakout EDU peppered many of the sessions. The sessions focused on both professional-development applications and classroom applications. Microsoft OneNote was even a presence at some of the sessions. These types of educational scavenger hunts are trending as participants must work together to solve a variety of clues to open the Breakout EDU strongbox. The sessions I attended demonstrated the problem-solving skills needed to reach the goal and the teacher energy was through the roof!

Today’s technology-rich classrooms are clawing to get at the latest game-based learning tools and digital applications. Long gone are the early 2000s edtech games such as Reader Rabbit and Carmen Sandiego. The Game Based Learning Pavilion at FETC is a highlight for many of the conference attendees. The Agents of Discovery platform was one of the highlighted applications that transforms mobile devices into augmented reality (AR) games.

(Next page: A hands-on tech lab, interactive platforms, and more!)